Monday, July 21, 2008

Should you try to cut into that 3 hour iphone line?

Lance Arthur stood in line to get an iphone, and stood-up to a someone who slipped in right behind him, thus not waiting 3.5 hours.

The cutter asked, when Lance challenged him, "How does it hurt you?"

Game theorists have shown in several studies that people will pay their own money to punish a cheater.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sure, businesses often make big profits, but they deserve to, since they put up the money, they took all the risks...

2008, what a happy year.

With families and communities in misery (see recent journalism on this such as Moyer's pod-casts) following the subprime meltdown, the silver lining to devastated lives is that the American people may wake up to the truth of the business world.

The truth: A large section of the business world is less about deserved gains to those who take risks, than about ruthless greed combined with cleverness: how to secure risk-free methods for accruing wealth through manipulating the legislature and courts to enact regulations such that profits are kept and debs are paid by taxpayers.

Last year, and the year before, political progressives and anti-capitalists like William Greider or dozens, hundreds of other journalists and public commentators have made statements like the above. And they preached hard to the choir. But there's nothing like seeing and living it for believing it.

What is heartening to me, and why I call this a happy year, is the amount of media attention focused on this problem. For example, in his LA Times article, Peter G. Gosselin actually mentions in print the phrase "government-directed economy" as an alternative to markets run by crooks and profiteers:

"For a generation, most people accepted the idea that the core of what makes America tick was an economy governed by free markets. And whatever combination of goods, services and jobs the market cooked up was presumed to be fine for the nation and for its citizens -- certainly better than government meddling. No longer."

Another great article is Harper's cover story (pictured), The Wrecking Crew: How a Gang of Right-wing Con men Destroyed Washington and Made a Killing.

Profit is not essential to innovation, efficiency and growth. Many non-profits thrive around the world. Several government bureaucracies, the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health, do a reasonable job at using committees of expert peers to decide what scientific projects to fund. (Ha ha, they seldom fund mine, so I'm not sayings its a perfect system -- smile -- but I still admire these institutions). Indeed, American science has been the international leader in scientific innovator for decades because of the system of public funding and peer review. This format could be extended to chartering business. Community members, with experts, would decide whether a business would serve the public good.

Alternatives to free markets exist which are humane and fair. Let's open our eyes.

Post a comment if you have links to good articles or podcasts

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Got Pecs?

"Some women report finding the procedure uncomfortable."

Thus spoke the "reading material" provided by the Mammography clinic.

Whoa.... No kidding! Holding my breath to prevent chest movement, I was barely holding on to sanity for those few seconds my tit was being ground between two plates.

Looking at the images with the technician, I was interested to see the darker curve of muscle that formed an arc against the breast bone, next to which the fatty tissue of breast formed a lighter silhouette.

I queried the technician, "Do you think my pectoral muscles are big?"

"Oh, no, they're fine," was her jolly reply.

"But I work out!" I practically stamped my foot.

She tried gamely: "Oh, well, uh, you know, we see a lot of elderly, and they don't have any."

So that's that. One of the milestones of one's 40s, passed.

Gals, I recommend the bench press. Lie flat on your back, and push the bar straight up off your chest. No weights are necessary, the bare bar is 45 pounds and plenty to start with. Note: The photo on the page was the closest thing google image had of breast+pectoral muscles.

Now, there was one more note-worthy aspect of the trip to Brigham and Women's hospital for my first mammogram. When I checked in, they needed to update their records, and asked me two questions I've never been asked before at a doctor's office:

"Religious preference?"

"Atheist," I said automatically. The efficient clerk didn't bat an eye.

"Ethnicity? Like, you could say Irish, or Italian American."

She gave me choices so we'd both be done with a minimum of further explanation. And its pretty obvious to look at me that I'm from that tribe that took 10,000 years to get out of Central Asia.

"Northern European." She had no problem with that designation either.

But I had to wonder why these new questions. The ethnicity question could be part of medicine's gamble that persons whose ancestors originated in different geographical regions have slightly different susceptibility to diseases. For example, if your ancestors lived near the equator, they left you a nice ultraviolet radiation protection kit. Your doctor won't need to freeze off suspicious brown growths on your face, neck and shoulders (my Los Angeles living parents have to go through this a lot). In the U.S.A., if you have the appearance of being a member of an ethnic minority, the stress of guarding against negative evaluation ("microaggresions") puts you at heightened risk of heart disease. So maybe this ethnic info helps --- but some critics say, medical profiling, away. It leads doctors to zero in too quickly on the statistics specific to a certain group, as when a medical team missed a white kid's sickle cell anemia (specific case described in this ppt).

But what about the religious question? Maybe doctors have learned that if someone is Buddhist, let them try temple healing first, given the power of placebo effects. And if someone's an atheist, just give 'em their options straight up, with statistics and empirical evidence laid out in all their glory.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Adult males are a "suspect" if they speak to an unknown child

For the second day in a row the campus paper BU Today featured this story:

BU Police Issue Sketch of Day-Care Suspect
Likeness sent to area police, child-care centers

Boston University Police have released a sketch of the person who allegedly approached and spoke to a small child at the Boston University Children’s Center on Agganis Way late Tuesday afternoon.

The suspect, a white male about 5 feet, 10 inches tall, with an average build and a high voice, was dressed in khaki shorts, a gray T-shirt, and a white baseball cap worn backwards. He reportedly stopped by the bicycle area of the Children’s Center, which is adjacent to BUPD headquarters, and spoke to a young child in the center’s care. He left the area when a day-care staffer advised him that he would have to check in before he could make contact with a child. The sketch, based on observations of a day-care worker who witnessed the incident, has been sent to local police departments, the Massachusetts State Police, and area day-care centers.


What kind of assumptions are we making -- that the only reason a male in his mid 30s would chat with a child is predatory?

H said, "As a man, you just learn you're not suppose to talk with children you don't know. Hell, I cross the street when I see kids."

Scott Pare, deputy director of public safety for the University, says the BU Police and other departments are doing everything they can to locate the suspect. “We are reviewing all past reports of field observations,” says Pare. “We are studying videotapes. We have a description, and we are investigating every lead we have.”

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

I'll make conversation while monitoring for verbal clues

Given my stunning performance on the Cambridge Face Perception Task, the postdoctoral researcher at the Jamaica Plain Veterans Administration who is looking for prosopagnosics was eager for me to come to the lab. We reviewed my experience of face-perception difficulty and he decided to start off by checking some of skills that often accompany face perception difficulties: gender, age and attractiveness identification. This battery, The Philadelphia Face Perception Battery (pdf), also had an upright only face discrimination task (choose which of two choices was most similar to a target face). Surprise: I was normal on all 4 tasks.

The researcher later emailed me:

From the tests you've taken so far, it seems like you have a moderate form of prosopagnosia that is somewhat specific to facial identity. However, there are a couple tests that you were able to "beat", most likely through employing compensatory strategies.

The stategies were simple: I used skin tone, and fat/thin face shape. On the Philadelphia Battery, I only had to look at three faces and make one decision. In contrast, the CFPT is crazy hard, because on a single trial one is confronted with 7 faces: a target and 6 faces that have to be put in order. I now think that my problem with the CFPT was that there were so many faces that I couldn't pick out similar/differnet features. As I scanned across the row of faces, they all looked equally dissimilar to the target. Consistent with prosopagnosia, I showed no inversion effect (as noted in prior post).

My hypothesis is that my face perception abilties are good enough to process three faces at a time, but I break down under conditions of heavy cognitive demand.

Along these lines: I had some problems watching a DVD last night, La Guerre est finie. It was a black&white 1960s movie about anti-Fascist Communist revolutionaries scuttling back and forth between Spain and France, in French with English subtitles. I couldn't keep straight who was the main character vs. one of at least two other white mid-40s males with short black hair wearing a suit and tie. I've had this problem frequently before, but it seemed really acute in this particular movie. To figure out the political machinations I had to at least know who was the undercover agent from Spain vs. his friend in Paris. I just gave up and fortunately after this first half hour got used to his face and voice enough and the friend had receded in importance so only the main character was mostly in view, etc.

This fits the hypothesis of information overload. My face processing is exacerbated by on-going cognitive demands. The movie was black and white, so it was already a difficult person-detection task because of reduced cues for skin color, hair texture, clothing, AND I had to read subtitles so had less time to even look at the characters.

Yes, I'm mostly a single-channel processor. I dislike concurrent processing and turn off TVs, radios when I need to work, I find even a background babble of speech (like a TV in a distant room) annoying because it tugs at my attention (nonspeech is okay).

So... I have mild prosopagnosia compounded by poor concurrent processing, whaddaya think? And remind me of your name when we meet (smile).

Friday, July 4, 2008

The upright advantage in face recognition

I haz none.

Are faces processed differently than other objects?

One of the indications that face processing is special -- employs holistic or configurational processing that is more detailed and sophisticated than in ordinary object recognition -- is that people process, recognize and remember upright faces more accurately than inverted faces. This is called the upright advantage.

According to norms provided on the Cambridge Face Perception Task, most people process upright roughly twice as well as inverted faces.

On this test, my ability to process inverted faces was in the normal range -- but I was no better at upright than inverted. I showed no upright advantage.

My husband H took the same test. His inverted score was the same as mine (indeed, I was a few points better than him on inverted faces). But his upright face score was far above normal, in the superior range. Looking at our scores made us realize we were really different face processors. He had something I didn't have.

H and I then together took a couple tests that are available at the website of the Prosopagnosia Research Center at Harvard University. For a basic test of memory of novel faces, H got 100% correct, and I got 52% correct.

For this interesting and fun test of famous faces, H got 100% correct, and I got 72% correct.

After an anonymous poster to this blog told me about the yahoo discussion group, I found Bill Choisser's remarkable website. I really resonated to many of his experiences, such as this one:

I once had a job that involved going to buildings and getting their engineers to show me around. Inevitably they would all wear identical clothes and never have beards or long hair. My "tour guide" would take me to a distant part of the building and then tell me to come get him if I needed him again. When I'd go down to the office, there would be half a dozen guys there, all who looked just like the guy I was looking for. I couldn't just ask for the guy by name because if he was there he would get very upset that I had forgotten him completely in thirty minutes' time.


For me, when I'd get back to the place where'd there be half a dozen guys etc., I'd kind of start scanning them, waiting for someone to light up in recognition of me, or maybe I'd get lucky and recognize him based on my my kit of various recognition methods,and somehow hope it'd just work out. In recent years I've tried to anticipate this situation by memorizing the guide's face/outfit in some way before we separated.

I've frequently been stunned that fastfood workers can pick me out of a crowd of people when handing over my sandwich. (Any readers impressed by this?)

Next: I am invited to the Jamaica Plain VA Hospital for more tests...

In some cultures, being called a pimp is an insult

Recently watched the DVD Iraq in Fragments. (See trailer.) All in Arabic with subtitles, one young man was thrown the slurs, "You mule, pimp..."