Friday, March 31, 2017

Replication and effect size

There has been questioning about the sturdiness of some psychological research.  The terms "replication" and "effect size" are often used.  If I do a study and you can get similar results when you do a similar study, a common term is "robust".  Sturdy studies, robust studies give similar results even when the original experiment was not completely duplicated.

Clearly, complete duplication is not really possible.  It may sound picky, but the moment when some experiment was conducted will not occur in time again.  And, of course, we don't expect the very same people to go through the very same procedure again.  Even if they did, they would have gone through that procedure once before, which toughens them or alerts them or fatigues them.  Besides, that is not what we want anyhow.  We want to be able to pick different people and find that the same kind of result happens with them as happened in the original study.

Effect size is a measure of how much difference something makes.  If we say we can capture more flies with honey than with vinegar, the effect size of using honey will give us an idea of how much more effective honey is.

When I began fulltime graduate school, I had been teaching the 5th grade for four years.  For a PhD at that school, I needed a minor.  I couldn't decide between psychology and philosophy and I completed a minor in both subjects.  At first, I assumed that psychology would be more relevant and more helpful but over time, philosophy has been mind-expanding and thought-provoking.  I think it is fair to say that philosophy has helped me ask better questions.  It has never seemed surprising to me that getting really new insights into myself and others is going to be rare.  I find lists of psychological principles supposedly based on research that are often things that poets and philosophers have understood for millennia.  Here is a recent and responsible one:

Thursday, March 30, 2017

When to concentrate

This business of being a live mammal is puzzling.  You have to concentrate on what you are doing to get it done.  On the other hand, if you concentrate on what you are doing, you won't notice the fire in the kitchen.  So, should I concentrate or not?

It is the same old answer: it all depends.  I am going to concentrate enough to get the job done, enough to follow the film, enough to communicate my feeling of love.  But I am going to switch to emergency mode when bad guys encroach, when the tax is due, when the power goes out.  I don't want the bother of a special secretary who alerts me to special problems while isolating me from traveling salesmen and dunning phone calls.  I think my judgment is as good as hers about how and when to concentrate and when to switch to another matter.

I admire the character of the hound dog in the cartoon movie "Big".  He can be talking to someone and suddenly interrupt himself with an alert snap of the head and a shout of "Squirrel!"  He is so alert to squirrels and his need to chase them that he gives them over-riding priority.  Good manners, adequate concentration, everything takes a back seat to a squirrel that is spotted.  I take his position to be a misguided sort of idolatry, the worship, the uncritical devotion to spotting and chasing squirrels to the point of ignoring all other issues and possibilities.

My friend tells me that the Acropolis has three mottoes of advice for good living for the ancient Greeks:

  • Know thyself

  • Everything in moderation

  • Make no promises

Know yourself is difficult, partly because you are always changing.  Maybe improving but changing, regardless.  A good idea but hard.  No promises is not a bad idea, either.  Quite a few fairly tales show the way a hero can get all snarled up because of a promise to his dying grandmother.  I guess the Greeks were aware that promises made today cannot take tomorrow's conditions and needs into good account.  However, in today's world of credit and loans and such, promises are very important.

Moderate attending, moderate searching and switching, moderate indulgence and moderate discipline and application seem to be a valuable approach back then as well as today.  Ads, urgings, attempts to persuade and enroll and enlist are always asking for an immoderate promise these days.  Some are a good idea but moderation is needed.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Where have all the good names gone?

I remember a young woman mentioned that there was a band called "Toad, the Rusty Sprocket".  I laughed and assured her that there was no such group.  She opened her trunk and produced a compact disc with tracks labeled by the group.  I have learned that the names of bands, the names of video games and the names of books, especially fiction but non-fiction, too, cover a wide range.  I knew I had probably written about Jacques Barzun's notice that "plastic" can mean flexible [he has a plastic personality] and rigid [the chair is hard plastic].  So, I used the search window on the web page of my blog at  

As I look up my uses of the word "plastic", I find that I have done some good writing.  I can be so interesting!  When you have been writing more than 2700 statements over a period of nine years, the whole business can cover a wide range of topics.  It is probably more or less inevitable that some interesting topics and some catchy language will come up.  It is surprising how this post or that picture can grab my attention and get me thinking.

I don't really think all the good names are taken.  Beyond that, I think that people are clever at inventing ways to make good names in new ways.  I recently ordered some business cards.  I know from experience that naming a business or creating an email address or naming a book or a recipe can be brain-stretching.  A name should be pronounceable.  Not a good idea to use something like "ZXPPD".  Despite my idea that would not be so good, I just put that combination of letters into Google and got nearly half a million hits.  You can see why a new band might have some trouble getting a name that is not already being used.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Not knowing what to do with myself

I know that for some people there is no more shameful state of being than not knowing what to do with oneself. If you have really absorbed the idea that the devil finds work for idle hands to do, you may run to a crossword puzzle to keep busy.  You may benefit for puzzles or knitting or fishing or woodcarving and that is fine.  But sitting in neutral for some minutes can pay off, too.

Here is Prof. Peter Vishton:

You start by relaxing—calming yourself, willfully placing yourself into a state of as complete a relaxation as possible. Not everyone is very good at this, by the way. It sounds easy—sit still, do nothing, focus on your breathing,focus on relaxing all of your muscles one at a time. But if you're tense,especially if you are plagued by fears, this can be a challenge all by itself.Regardless, with practice, almost everyone can get good at calming their mind and body.

Vishton in another passage:

OK, here's my first tip about what to do when you're having trouble getting started working on a project, how to break free of the grip of a particular bout of procrastination: sit quietly and think for 15–20 minutes about what you're going to do. This is a counterintuitive tip. If you want to get started doing something, doing nothing doesn't seem like it would help, but it often does. Usually, procrastination doesn't involve doing nothing. When I don't want to get started on writing a new lecture—just a hypothetical here,of course—I don't sit and do nothing. On the contrary, I find something that will engage me so I don't have to think about the thing I'm avoiding.I clean the kitchen. I organize my closet. I walk the dog. I alphabetize my bookcase and straighten all of the piles on my desk. Maybe I respond to some emails. Put this all together, and now a few hours have passed; I'm tired. The workday might be winding down. Maybe it would be best to get a fresh start on that lecture tomorrow. And voila, I've gone another day without working on the one thing that, ironically, is most important to me.

As becomes clear in retirement, without the structure and needs of a job, one comes face to face with oneself, the raw you.  The basic you may be confused, tired, stressed, overexcited, torn between alternatives. Whether you call it "sitting quietly to check out body and mind and feelings" or "meditation", doing nothing for 15 or 20 minutes can go a long way to clarifying what you most want to do and when and how.

Monday, March 27, 2017

When the Sunday coffee shop is too crowded

Lynn attends Quaker meeting, where everyone sits quietly.  It is not always pure silence since if someone feels moved and inspired, they might stand and speak for a bit.  There are customs in place to try to keep statements on a high level, worthy of being spoken to people intent on being close to God. Afterwards, there is some time for socializing. Then, those who are interested gather at a coffee shop.  

It is a popular place where groups of bicycle riders, walkers, college students and others may gather on Sunday for lunch.  Sometimes there is a big sports tournaments of one kind or another and the coffee shop gets really crowded.  They have a sign that says "Friends don't let friends drink Starbucks" but the coffee area and the sandwich shop are run like a Starbucks.  You just wait in line while the people ahead of you order a large (not "tall") decaf latte or a specialized smoothie.

On some Sundays, it is very crowded and we can see that it will take a long time to get coffee.  Theirs is very good but there are limits.  The sandwich side takes even longer for each order and that line and the time to get the order can too long.  That's when we head over to Father Fat's, our only tapas restaurant.  As far as I know, "tapas" is a Spanish idea.  You get much smaller servings that in other places but they are cheaper.  More importantly, they can be gourmet dishes and being small, you can try more foods.  It is not inexpensive and they serve all sorts of drinks so going there is going to cost more than coffee and a wrap.  This morning was a Father Fat's time and it was fun.

We had a small trout with a layer of crab, a dish of oven-roasted vegetables, a selection of mini scones and muffins, and I had a "White Russian Discussion", their version of a White Russian mixed drink and a small bowl of mushroom bisque. The man who runs the place also has two other restaurants in town and all three are too noisy for our taste.  The price tag accumulates as various mini orders appeal but it is a fun and different sort of experience.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Critical thinking

If there is one idea that many teachers and educators and professors approve, it is the value of critical thinking.  Go ahead: look up critical thinking in Google.  You will get this:*

The link leads to more than 91 million links.  Granted some of those links are probably ads for hot dogs or tennis rackets, but the general idea that schooling should lead to better thinking seems obvious and acceptable.  However, as St. Paul mentioned, we often reap what we sow.  Ask for critical thinking and then you may get critical thinking.

It's like many teachers.  You try to get an idea across to the kids but some don't get it.  You start to wish for bright kids.  Then, you get some bright kids and WHOA!  They start to get it!  Then, they get it.  Then they keep on thinking.  They ask questions.  They wonder.  They even doubt.  Doubt what you, the teacher, are telling them.  They doubt the textbook.  They wonder what evidence has been collected in favor of an important idea you are explaining.  They wonder what evidence was collected against the idea you are telling them.  They wonder why more evidence hasn't been collected and whether the evidence they can find is all there is or has it been slanted, modified, filtered.  They begin to imagine ways to collect their own evidence. OMG, they are thinking for themselves!!!

Critical thinking is a frequent subject of educational discussion these days.  I have written about it before.  Put this in your browser's address window and you can see what I wrote before.  Some of it is pretty good.

As with anything, teaching critical thinking, and practicing critical thinking can be overdone.  The most common criticism of too much doubt and investigation comes from those who want more obedience and unquestioning cooperation.  We often need or want those qualities in people but we have learned that too much leads to trouble.  The other difficulty I have run into it is so much doubting and criticism that there is nothing to be happy about or to believe it.  It is ok to believe in a friend or a partner or a guide, to just commit yourself to trusting and supporting as long as you can.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Fwd: Why the Border Wall May Not Matter, School Suspension Disparities, and More

Brookings scholars and free newsletters can be helpful and uplifting.  I usually just read further in if the subject is of interest.  Almost everything in the future, near or far, is a bit questionable but predictions can vary according to one's knowledge and intent in writing.
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Brookings Brief <>
Date: Sat, Mar 25, 2017 at 6:35 AM
Subject: Why the Border Wall May Not Matter, School Suspension Disparities, and More

A guide to the French election, how Trump's budget hurts educational TV, and negotiating strategies for Trump's administration.
View this email in your browser here.
The Brookings Brief
March 25, 2017
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New this week

Undocumented immigration from Latin America will slow to a crawl. As part of the Spring 2017 edition of the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, economists from the University of California San Diego find that weak labor-supply growth in Mexico and other Latin American countries will cause young, low-skilled workers to stop crossing the border entirely by 2050—even without the implementation of Trump's border policies. Read a quick roundup of the latest economic research presented at the BPEA conference this week or read all six papers in full.

A brief guide to the French election. This week, candidates took part in the first televised debate of France's presidential election, arguing over the EU, security, and more. With just one month left before the first round vote, Philippe Le Corre provides a handy guide for getting to know the top contenders. 

Racial disparities in school suspensions. An analysis of data from California schools finds that African-American students continue to be suspended at a higher rate than other ethnic groups. Listen to Tom Loveless discuss his findings and explore the full 2017 Brown Center Report on American Education to also see what foreign exchange students think about U.S. schools and how American students are performing on international assessments.

How the Trump administration can start negotiating from strength. As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reschedules his NATO meeting with foreign ministers, Bruce Jones and Will Moreland explain how the session can set the stage for renewed security cooperation among trans-Atlantic partners. They highlight a recently released bipartisan national security strategy that concludes a policy of building "situations of strength" with allies—especially in Europe—will best serve U.S. interests.

What Trump's budget means for Big Bird. Sesame Street itself may survive proposed budget cuts, but Melissa Kearney and Phillip Levine explain what children from disadvantaged backgrounds miss out on when they lose access to educational programming. 

What our experts are reading

Impressive interactive: Tax Credits under the Affordable Care Act vs American Health Care Act: An Interactive Map (@davidmwessel)

This is a thoughtful overview from Tanvi Misra on pros/cons of Baltimore's decision to raise its min wage to $15/hour (@berubea1)

Heartening example of the potential of online learning for refugees (@MaysaJalbout)


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Some thoughts

I sat next to an interesting man yesterday on our flight.  As I talked with him, I realized that I had several thoughts I wanted to put down on a blog page.

What is the most common reason people abandon meditation?

Right up near the top is the feeling that I must be a failure at meditation because I keep finding my mind wandering.  Actually, finding that you have wandered into an issue or story of interest is the whole point of mindfulness meditation.  Each time you notice such a wandering, you are increasing your awareness of where you have allowed your attention to settle.

Secrets of a long marriage

John Gottman, PhD, is the best known researcher of marriage.  He has several books, including "The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work".  I have a marriage of 56 years and my seat partner asked me what is the secret of having a long marriage.  First, I don't really know.  Second, it is probably luck.  Third, both Lynn and I dated many people before we met so we had experience.  Fourth, she is really smart and I appreciate that, even when she uses her intelligence to show me wrong, again.  Fifth, we argue frequently.  Gottman says that showing contempt is a major factor in separating couples.  It seems as though we never feel contempt for each other.  Sixth, I think anyone can love anyone if they try steadily.

Who to read on the subject of Buddhism?

There are many excellent authors.  I usually cite Jack Kornfield as a good place to start.  In my limited experience, Americans will do better if they read an American author of current times rather than an Asian.  Asians may have very different ideas of what life is about, what happiness is and how one should behave.  I recommend the book "Buddhism or Bust" by Garfinkel or "After Buddhism" by Batchelor if you are looking for some background on current Buddhism and its history.  Listening to "The Higher Self" by Deepak Chopra also proved very valuable.  Nothing about expanding one's ideas and range of thought has to damage or limit or change one's fundamental beliefs and feelings about life or death or ultimate things.

What value is there to being mindful?

Working at focusing on a single point of attention for 10 timed minutes increases one's awareness of the use of the mind.  What good is that?  It improves the ability to note when you have gotten off the subject without meaning to.  It improves the ability to note that you are tending to switch to angry thoughts or sad thoughts when you didn't mean to or want to.

Garson O'Toole's list of sources of quotation misattribution

I acquired the ebook "Hemingway Didn't Say That" by Garson O'Toole, a man who specializes in checking out who really said various quotations.  What got me turned on was his explanation of the various ways misattribution happens.  I have mentioned that I get a lift reading the chapter of the Old Testament called "Ecclesiastes".  It is beautifully pessimistic and says, "Face it, Pal, you are going to die.  Not only that, but after death, you and all your good works will be forgotten."  You may not like to read statements like that but I do.  In exploring this odd piece of writing from more than 2000 years ago, I learned that the attribution of authorship to the son of King David was a strategy more common in pre-trademark and marketing times.  The idea is I could attribute my writing to some famous and important person in order to garner attention and retention of what I write.  I recommend the book for the excellent discussion of how what one person says or writes comes to be considered the work of someone else.

Friday, March 17, 2017

How am I doing?

We used to have a children's book, maybe the one called "Where Did I Come From?" or the one called "It's So Amazing!".  It showed a lineup of males from young boy through old man.  I was impressed at how accurately the artist captured the features we use to distinguish a man's age.  I often tell myself that I am primed by nature and seconded by the media to know that a trim, muscular body is the best one, the optimal one.  Nature and the media tell me that even when that picture is wrong.

We don't expect babies to be born looking like Mr. Universe with muscles all standing out.  We might think we want old men to look the same way.  The photographic essay "Old Age is Not for Sissies" shows some very impressive men in their 80's who do look like Mr. Universe types.  

I might be able to exercise more, eat more protein and lift heavier weights.  I might be able to look several decades younger than I am but why should I?  I am very confident that I won't look very good at age 145.  I will almost certainly be very deteriorated and probably yucky.  I am already rather wrinkled and wasted.

A certain amount of maintenance and self-care makes sense.  A little respect for myself, my body and social customs can assist me in keeping what I have in pretty good shape.  But trying too hard to look like I am in my 20's seems mistaken.  When you do meet someone in their 60's or older who looks 30, you immediately think of vanity, surgery and fear.  I guess I can do a little cost/benefit thinking.  If walking and some weight lifting feels good, doesn't hog up too many of my hours or dollars, that expenditure could be worthwhile.  

I have observed what many older people before me probably found, too.  If I pay attention to someone else, what I know of that person and what they are doing with their lives, I can often have more fun joking or lifting their spirit.  It is more uplifting than getting the same old wolf whistles from others.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

That's not what I meant!

I have explained previously that I have difficulty keeping a good relationship between my fingers and my brain.  I type on a keyboard for my blog and do many other things by typing.  My error rate, the probability that I will strike the wrong key, one I didn't want to strike by accident, is too high.  Keep in mind that I am thinking of what I do when I write for my blog or for an email to a friend: compose ideas in my head, create words that seem likely to express the ideas and type those words.  I type to create, not to provide a typescript of handwritten or previously made documents.

I wrote about my history in typing in this blog post:

But I was about 10% younger then and I have matured somewhat.  I have typed a heck of a lot since then.  Peter Vishton assures me that if I do any activity enough, I will improve at doing it.  Maybe I have improved.  I find the prospect of careful observation, timing and analysis of my typing, boring.  I find the rapid correction of misspellings and fat fingering (nipping a neighbor key as well as the targeted one) fun.  I guess if I could accept that I am never going to be a champion typist or executive secretary and so forgive the backspacing, the retyping and re-retyping, I might be even happier.

I am interested in error and error analysis since those subjects can lead to interesting discoveries.  I know that it is the modern American fascination with IMPROVEMENT that can lead to isolating the most common errors and then working on ways to lessen or eliminate them. That is certainly a common and worthwhile approach.  But there are other directions, too, as there usually are:

Freudian [how come so many of my errors have to do with calm?  Am I too stressed?]

Structural [many of my errors seem to relate to using my outer fingers, not the index fingers.  Does that call for a new keyboard design?]

Inventive [I often have trouble with the word 'analysis'.  Can I invent a new spelling of a word that leads to fewer typing errors?]

Dr. Kaufman and some others have expressed being impressed by my "dedication" to writing daily.  What they often don't realize is that it is fun.  Of course I like it when you get tickled by what I write.  But when you are too busy, I still get all sorts of fun.  I began this post at 8:30 and it is now 10:16.  What the heck?  Nearly two hours to write 445 words. I just used Excel to find I have been typing about a word every 15 seconds.  Slow!  Very slow!  But I have written to friends, checked all sorts of things on Google and learned a bunch.  I make errors but normally I am not entering crucial data, like instant stock orders (where 20,000 shares was mistyped as 2,000,000,000) and desired airplane descend angles (where a pilot meant angle of descent but set the wrong gauge, the speed of descent).  Look up big deal typos and fat-fingering.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Traffic both ways

I am listening to "Outsmart Yourself" by Peter Vishton, one of the Great Courses.  Their courses can be purchased in CD or DVD format and can be streamed to a computer, tablet or phone.  I haven't found a good way to fit Great Courses into my life except while driving around town on errands.  So, if a course is so visual that it is only sold in DVD - video format, I don't try to watch it.  The few times I have tried, I haven't gotten to the material.  


Vishton is a psychology professor and he tries hard to get recent research that is applicable to a typical difficulty most people have.  He organizes the course around "tips", clues that allow better living.  For instance, one of his tips, backed up by some research, is that you may be more creative in your thinking if you are standing up rather than sitting.  He goes so far as to hypothesize that mathematicians may be good at solving complex problems because they often work standing at a blackboard.

In discussing the various ways that our brains work, Vishton emphasizes that the notion of the brain being in charge of the body is being modified.  It is clear that actions and uses of the body influence the brain.  So, traffic and influence travel both ways: from the brain and into the brain.  The book "The Brain that Changes Itself" by N. Doidge, MD and his follow-up volume make body and activity influence and modification of the brain clear and interesting.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Just seeing old books

We cleared out our books in about 2008.  We were getting swamped by them, piles stacked here and there unable to fit on the over-crowded shelves.  About the same time, came into our awareness.  They offer the Kindle, I think, at first for about $450.  I read with disbelief that the little book-like object could get books WITHOUT being connected to a computer or other connection.  The best explanation seemed to be an analogy to a cellphone call, except getting a book file, instead of a conversation.  Not only that but the price of a book was about half of a paper book.  Not only that but the print could be enlarged if needed.

So, we got rid of about 500 books.  

At the same time, though, Amazon was developing its algorithms and practices aimed at being sure I learned about books that might interest me.  Over time, they get to know me very well and sometimes, I don't resist.  The Secret Life of Fat and The 10,000 Year Explosion are current examples of books that have genuinely increased my awareness and knowledge.

These days, I can run into a title of interest that is too old and specialized to be in Kindle form yet.  I check Google Books and Barnes and Noble for electronic files of older books of interest but usually if Amazon doesn't have it in e-form, nobody does.  A good book may cost $50 in special eform and 1 cent in a used copy. Plus, the university and the local library are very good at finding a copy of anything, getting it here and loaning it.

In preparing for today's talk about teaching teachers, I needed to find my dissertation.  I have a copy online but I thought I would look up the one paper copy I still have from 1968.  Seeing it and looking through the list of references again showed me an effect of having books from one's earlier years around.  The books, their covers are souvenirs,  objects that stir remembrance.  In my mind's eye, I can see books that I used over and over.  I know some of their content but that is not the point.  The physical book, like the face of a friend, recalls scenes from the time of its acquisition, its use, my steady dependence on it.

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