Archive for the ‘news’ Category

Colin Powell

Monday, May 4th, 2009

I shook Colin Powell’s hand today. Then I washed my hands because of “swine influenza.”

Both cats smell like cats. Something might be wrong.

Just links today

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

How to fake an economic downturn: (,2933,482986,00.html)

The cost and motivation of the economic stimulus bill: (,2933,480710,00.html)

Young Democrats behaving badly: (

Cultural Para-stimuli

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

The phenomenon named in the title of this post does not exist.  As I pointed out in my last post, it is a theme in Tom Wolfe’s novel I Am Charlotte Simmons.

A similar phenomenon does exist, but it’s name isn’t so sexy.  It’s called Observational Learning and it’s one of the main ways we humans pass our culture from one generation to the next.  I said before that I thought B. F. Skinner had discovered the effect.  I was wrong.  At this point I’m not entirely sure who first demonstrated observational learning in pigeons, but I do know who proved it exists in cats.  That distinction goes to E. Roy John, Phyllis Chesler, Frank Bartlett, Ira Victor who, in 1968, demonstrated that observer cats who watched a student cat learn to hop over a barrier when cued by a buzzer developed the same behavior more quickly when placed in the experimental apparatus than cats who didn’t watch other cats learning the behavior.  In fact, some of the observer cats demonstrated their mastery of the barrier hop from the first time they were cued to perform it.  [“Observation Learning in Cats,” Science, New Series, Vol. 159, No. 3822 (Mar. 29, 1968), pp. 1489-1491]

Similarly, I think we who watch media aggrandizement of arguably maladaptive behaviors learn to adopt the abnormal behavior precisely because our society heaps praise upon disruptive individuals.  For more on that subject, see Ann Coulter’s Guilty: Liberal “Victims” and Their Assault on America.  I know humans pick up behaviors this way because of another experiment in which participants’ consumption choices (of either animal crackers or goldfish crackers) were influenced by watching other participants’ cracker choices on a CCTV monitor [Robin J. Tanner, Rosellina Ferraro, Tanya L. Chartrand, James R. Bettman, Rick Van Baaren, “Of Chameleons and Consumption: The Impact of Mimicry on Choice and Preferences,” Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 34, No. 6  (April 2008), pp.754-766].  The abstract of this paper follows:

This article investigates the effect of mimicry on consumer product consumption and appraisal. We propose and test two paths via which mimicry may influence product preferences. In the mimicking consumer path, we suggest that individuals automatically mimic the consumption behaviors of other people and that such mimicry then affects preferences toward the product(s) consumed. In the mimicked consumer path, we argue that being mimicked leads to increased prosociality, which affects preferences for products presented in dyadic interactions. Three studies confirm the two paths and suggest that mimicry can indeed influence product preferences.

To summarize the results, people who watch other people naively performing  behaviors – such as eating animal crackers instead of goldfish – that demonstrate a preference for one option over another tend to choos the same option as the person they’re watching.  This effect is present even when the person watching has previously expressed a preference for the other choice.

I veer, here, into opinion land.

I think Obama’s campaign ended in his election because he ran it for so long that the passive social demonstrations of preference for him (among other factors, of course) pushed observer voters to learn that liking Obama was a beneficial behavior.  After all, knowing you and a few dozen of your new closest friends can get a huge dopamine rush whenever you chant, “Yes We Can,” is a huge draw.  The Chameleon paper pertains to increasing the number of brand-based decisions consumers make by getting consumers to repeatedly associate their choices with an unconscious sense of social belonging.  I’d say the authors got scooped by about a year.

Whatever.  I serve my country.

Why I like Ann Coulter

Saturday, January 17th, 2009

Because she’s funny.  If you like any comedian who bitches about conservative beliefs, say Bill Maher or that Daily Show guy, you have an inkling already of what I see in Coulter.  Here’s an article in Intellectual Conservative that expresses my sentiment in 5,000 words.  When she makes me laugh so hard that I wonder if her story can possibly be true, she’s thoughtfully provided a citation at which I can laugh in outrage all over again.

Except today.

To my conservative friends:  I’ve said for a long, long time that if we hear the same memes often enough we’ll being to believe them in spite of our better judgement.  Supposedly that’s a known phenomenon called cultural para-stimuli discovered by Victor Ransome Starling, a Nobel Laureate by virtue of discovering the syndrom in cats.  Read all about it in the forward to Tom Wolfe’s novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons.

Wait, what?  This seems wrong doesn’t it?  I checked the Nobel Prize Nomination Database for the names Starling, Victor Starling, Ransome Starling, Ransome.  The guy doesn’t exist, or at least he was never nominated for a Nobel Prize.  You can verify that he wasn’t awarded a Nobel Prize even more easily at  In fact, the only authoritative-ish place I found informaiton about him was in a book review in the Washington Post.  Why have I even heard of this guy?  Because Rush Limbaugh made a big deal about him a couple of days ago and now the meme has spread around the blogosphere.  The idea rings true to people because we do observe the effects of a similar process.  The spread of theVictor Starling meme is a limited example.  The spread of the Bush Air National Guard meme is a similarly trivial example perpetrated with considerably more pomp and bluster.

I discovered the meme via a link on  The link is to an article on the BigHollywood blog.  While I agree with the grist of the article, the reliance upon this fictional scientific result discomforts me.  The spread of memes is a better model on which to base the author’s conclusions.  To be sure, I can’t cite scientific studies of the meme phenomenon, but I’ll assert that no citation is better than citing bogus science.  My dear, conservative brethren: please stop spreading the cultural para-stimuli meme.

Shelly smells like griddle-browned sausage and flapjacks smothered in maple syrup.  Ciaran smells like deep woods soil just before the first frost.


Friday, July 18th, 2008

I haven’t posted in weeks. The news is:

My weekly wheat bread continues to bake up neatly.  And yummily.

I’m learning to de-bone chicken breasts.  I know that’s normally called “boning” a breast, but that sounds too kinky for this early in the morning.

I’ve developed a consistent coffee brew that I really like.  I’m going to share. I brew 45g of ground beans (and a pinch of kosher salt) in 48 fl. oz. of  water (or 1,361g if you prefer).  You can scale that up or down by the ratio 1g:1fl.oz. (or 1:30 if you insist on measuring metric units).  As for scaling the salt… I don’t know precisely.  After filling my filter, I sprinkle kosher salt over the top of the grounds.  We’re talking a fraction of a gram, here, which is less than my scale can measure.  It’s coffee; enjoy experimenting with it.

So, why salt?  Because Navy rules.  Also, it cuts the acidity of the coffee oils making it more palatable to drink black.  Additionally, the salt boosts the tastey flavors of coffee just like it does every other food on earth.  It’s a panacea!  You’ll want to use a pinch of salt on your grounds because when you go through coffee as fast as I do, you buy the store brand – which needs a little help.

The kitty on my belly needs loving.  Later.


Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

The sourdough starter turned out very badly and had to die.  Whatever yeast it had to begin with were eaten by a smelly bacteria that took over one I put the jars into the fridge.  My regular yeast wheat bread continues to improve.  I”ll post pictures of my recent, pretty loaves later.

This post is about Seymour, my current personal project; that’s Seymour as in, “Feed me!”.  It’s a webapp I began writing back in February – the day after I made the NYC Stories post in fact.  The idea is it’ll keep track of your favorite restaurants and and suggest a place to eat when you can’t decide.  It will attempt to rotate your picks so you don’t repeat too often.  Sometimes it’ll throw in random new places that other users have set up and that seem to mesh with your faves.  I got the idea when my lunch crew’s food oracle refused to choose for us any longer.  That started a pre-face-stuffing conversation thread for the next couple of days from which I captured the basic requirements.

Oddly, after Maggie posted her request for a random resturaunt picker on her LJ, my foil Bigtimes generated almost exactly the same set of requirements as I did for Seymour.  Maybe now that I know of another group of potential users I’ll feel inspired by profit motives to write the database chunk of the app.

Fluffy, Beautiful, Airy Bread

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

You can’t see it, though, because my camera is broken.  This time I made every mistake I know, but the bread blew up beautifully and tastes wonderful.  I have an idea that I made a couple of my classic mistakes more intelligently than usual.  I don’t care to elaborate right now (I ended up doing long rises in the refrigerator rather than at room temperature – oops, elaboration), but I’ll come back with more thoughts after my next loaf, which should be made this weekend, since I’m probably taking the rest of this one to work.

Shelly smells like maple and sausage – so that’s normal. Ciaran smells like a memory of cappuccino.

Also, Ciaran’s tail is broken or bruised or something.  It’s healing up very well and he still has feeling/mobility to the length of it.  There’s a crook in it, now, about four inches from the base.  That was hurting him earlier in the week, but it seems to be a non-issue, now.  He doesn’t complain when I touch it, and it’s moving more or less like a tail – go figure.  My big indicators are he still grooms it all the way to the end, it’s warm, and the end waves like grass in a gentle breeze.  Any of that stops and I’ll worry.

Where’s My Snow?

Saturday, March 8th, 2008

How come Mississippi and Tennessee got snow, but I didn’t?  That’s not fair.  Stupid lake effect.

I met a nifty woman on OkCupid. Finally.  I’ve had an active profile on that site since 1998 when it launched.  I search it weekly.  In ten years, I have now met one woman I really want to meet.  Granted, I met a half dozen wonderful women out in the real world in that same time frame.  I’m just blessed all around, I guess.

I can’t tell what the cats smell like because my apartment smells like baking bread.

I’m sad and I’m gonna blog about it

Monday, February 18th, 2008

I got stood up on a blind date tonight.  It was arranged through an OkCupid spin-off called  It’s kind of a neat idea, and I’ll do it again.  That’s the second bunko date they’ve arranged, though, so I’ll be out of patience soon.

I baked a third loaf of bread today.  It was too big for the loaf pan, but it mostly grew straight up because of the way I slashed it.  Came out looking like a lopsided mushroom cloud.  You know I liked it.

Shelly smells like maple syrup again.

Ciaran smells like recess.

NYC Stories

Friday, February 15th, 2008

Got to Manhattan on Wednesday afternoon.  I have, at last, seen the Statue of Liberty.  I came to see it – and other stuff – before, but only on very rainy/foggy days.  I had seen the dark patch of fog where it should be, but now I have seen the massive, copper bulk of the thing.  Hooray.

I went on a walking tour of downtown Manhattan, from South Ferry to Central Park and halfway back.  That was all mostly by accident, but I enjoyed myself.  I stopped in at a Korean Barbeque on 32nd Street; it was excellent.  I think it was called Chung Moo Ro.  Ah, yes.  Google found it at 10 W 32nd Street, just south of the Empire State Building.

I also dropped in at Gstaad and met Ande, Chloe’s sister.  She is a supermodel, as I expected.  I’m going to head that way again tonight if any of you cool cats want to hop a jet and meet me there.

Of course I did work this week, but that’s some boring stuff and now it’s time to forget about it.