One Semester Down!

15 12 2011

I don’t often do life updates but I figured the end of the first semester of my PhD program would be an appropriate occasion to do so. I should probably get in the habit of doing this more often.

So, I would say I had a fairly unique and easy first semester. Unique, because my advisor was not physically present at the university, nor will she be until next fall. She is on some unanticipated leave so that she can oversee the implementation of one of her projects. Good for her, interesting for me. It means that it can be challenging getting in touch with her on a regular basis.

It also means that I don’t have any ongoing research projects of hers to latch on to in order to get my feet wet and get some experience. This, in turn, creates another challenge for me. The social psychology program puts a lot less emphasis on coursework and more emphasis on research, so I’m expected to conduct a research project my first year and have results to report at the end of the year. So I’m starting to feel the pressure to get something going.

That said, my coursework was very light. I had only three courses and only one of them (my statistics course) had any exams. And I’m pretty sure I did well. Light coursework meant that I had lots of time to read social psychology literature and I love what I’m learning. I’m thinking of starting another blog where I discuss the research I read about. Apparently, it’s a fairly common thing for grad students to do.

In sum, I love being a student, I have a great 1st year cohort, I’m learning cool stuff and, so far, doing well at it. I’m sure it’ll start kicking my butt soon. Next semester I have more, and more difficult, courses, an extra TA assignment and the pressure to get a study done, so I’m sure I’ll be busy. I’ll try to make periodic updates like this one.

Now it’s off to San Diego and Seattle for the holidays!

Just in case I don’t blog again in the next couple of weeks,

Merry Christmas!!

The head of my program falls on the right side of this diagram (and he'll admit it, too).


Barf Empathy

14 12 2011

My darling wife isn’t feeling so hot right now and, to put it frankly, she has barfed. Now, I’ve tried to be nice and supportive by bringing her things and making her tea and all that but it occurred to me that I can’t really relate to what she’s going through. I lack barf empathy.

It has been a very long time since I’ve puked. When I was 18, I puked twice, once as a result of the “gallon challenge” and once after I ate 8 hamburgers in an evening and then drank too much water (I basically just barfed up the water, apparently I had no room left in my stomach). But I don’t remember puking because of sickness since the first grade. So when it comes to yakking, I am pretty inexperienced.

I bring this up only because it seemed curious to me. I wonder how many other people are like me and have gone through life relatively vomit-less and who have trouble relating to those who wretch every time they get sick. There’s my gross thought-provoking tidbit for the month.

Science is Awesome!

20 10 2011

Why I Support The Occupy Wall Street Movement

16 10 2011

For me, it has to do with the social contract. The actual social contract theory refers to mutual agreement between a people and its government but I feel the sentiment applies to an agreement amongst citizens as well. Nation-states can only exist upon the mutual agreement of its citizens to cooperate at some level. Some of us, namely the wealthiest Americans, are abusing this collective agreement.

First, to be taken seriously, I feel I should address some common complaints about the OWSers.

One, that many of the protesters seem inarticulate. Agreed. But this is true for almost any protest, anywhere, including the Tea Party protesters back in the day. Any news organization can cherry pick the dumb-looking protesters out of a crowd to show on TV. Some go a step further and call the protesters “lazy hippies” or some such thing. Personal attacks on the protesters are nothing but a diversionary tactic made by those who can’t or don’t want to respond to the protesters’ legitimate concerns. This is true of both sides of the political aisle.

On that note, two, the protesters demands are not clear and specific. While I think this is less true in recent days, I will still admit that the movement has not been defined by a clear set of demands. Having said this, I believe that the general purpose of demonstrating the collective discontent with corporate corruption and economic inequality is purpose enough. Again, I think that those who dwell on this “problem” are merely diverting attention from an issue that is notoriously complex and unpleasant to deal with.

Now, why I support them.

Few people will deny that there is a problem in the U.S. with corporate corruption and economic inequality. Until now, even fewer have taken any meaningful action to resolve those problems. Most of the U.S. population, including myself, implicitly supports the status quo of corruption and inequality – by shopping at Walmart, by driving fossil-fuel powered vehicles, by craving the latest fashions, by eating at McDonalds, and by not speaking up about the problems that exist.

Corporations and people who have the skills to become rich deserve to do so. That is the essence of the American Dream and it is a beautiful thing. The problem arises when people become too concerned with profits and when money becomes too involved in politics. Jobs get sent overseas, wages decrease, products become more expensive and so on. There is ample evidence that profits among the top 1% have steadily increased for decades while the remaining 99% continue to work for the same amount of money they did in the 50s. Americans continue to put the same amount of effort into their country but receive less and less in return. This is not the mutual agreement that Americans deserve. Corporations and the ultra-wealthy are taking advantage of a social contract in which all Americans have part, whether they know it or not.

People see these problems but rarely do anything but complain from their armchairs. I fall into the armchair category. Even though I am blogging about the issue, I have done little to change it. That is why I support the Occupy Wall Street movement, because they are willing to speak up.

Marketers Don’t Think We’re Very Smart

10 10 2011

I don’t know if it’s just because my psychology training is more salient these days but I’ve been getting bugged by some of the lame marketing ploys I’ve seen lately. Specifically, the new Samsung Galaxy S2 commercial really rubs me the wrong way.

The ad uses classical conditioning to make its product appear more attractive. This isn’t a new technique, everyone uses it. You pair an attractive woman with a soft drink and you’ll sell more soft drinks, that kind of thing. What bugs me about the Samsung commercial is the pairings it chooses to make. It uses images of Martin Luther King, Jr., Bethany Hamilton (the one-armed surfer) and from the film Rocky to suggest that by using this new Samsung phone you somehow fall into the same category as these heroes.

I hope I’m not the only one who is slightly offended at the blatant appropriation of these heroic icons to sell a phone. I like to think that I and the people I know are smart enough to see through this kind of marketing but I’m also smart enough to realize that they use this kind of marketing because it works with a lot of people. I also know that the effects of this kind of conditioning often happen outside of our awareness. So, in addition to complaining about Samsung’s disingenuousness, I also implore my readers not to be taken in by this ridiculous form of persuasion. That is all.

Just For Fun – My Job History

9 10 2011

It has been brought to my attention that I’m not posting enough. True enough.

The topic of this post is my job history. Maren has commented several times that I have had some very random jobs in my life and I agree. This little personal history snippet will be fun for me to recall and hopefully fun for you to read. It includes both paid and volunteer work. I may have missed some.

Beginning with the earliest job:

  • Budget Foods, Clinton, B.C. – Shelf-stocker, sweeper/mopper (duration: 1 year)
  • Ultrasave Gas (I think that’s what it was called), Clinton, B.C. – cashier (several months)
  • Precision Cartridge, Magrath, AB – Data entry (a month or two)
  • Morton Ranch, Del Bonita, AB – Ranch helper (I didn’t do much, but I got paid when I did)
  • Pretzelmaker/Little Monk Pretzels, Burnaby, B.C. – Pretzel maker (about a year and a half)
  • ASC Automotive Styling Center, Burnaby, B.C. – driver (a few months)
  • Landscaping for Mr. Fred George, Chilliwack, B.C. (a month)
  • Turkey barn cleaning, Chilliwack, B.C. (1 week)
  • Litescape Landscape Lighting, Chilliwack, B.C. – Cold calling (a couple months)
  • Union Station Foundation, Pasadena, CA – volunteer with homeless (6 months)
  • Window Gang, Houston, TX – window cleaner (9 months)
  • Formidable Foundations, Edmonton, AB – cribbing (4 months)
  • Canwest Properties, Edmonton, AB – maintenance helper (2 months)
  • BJM Painting, Edmonton, AB – Residential painter (2 months)
  • Edmonton Distress Line, Edmonton, AB – volunteer (9 months)
  • Catholic Social Services, Edmonton, AB – volunteer (1 year)
  • Liberty Security, Edmonton, AB – door to door salesman (2 months)
  • Rescom Landscaping, Edmonton, AB (2 months)
  • Barnes & Noble, San Diego, CA (4 months)
  • New Alternatives Inc, San Diego, CA – residential foster care (2 years)
  • Sharp Mesa Vista Psychiatric Hospital, San Diego, CA – volunteer (6 months)
  • No Child Left Behind, San Diego, CA – In-home Tutor (4 months)
  • UCSD OCD Research Clinic, San Diego, CA – Research Assistant (4 months)
  • National Children’s Study, San Diego, CA – household interviewer (9 months)
  • University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ – Teaching Assistant (current)

Addicted to Documentaries

8 04 2011

This year's Oscar-winner

So, I’ve been kind of addicted to documentaries lately. And I thought it would be interesting to put together a list of those I’ve seen in the last month or so. Each of them might end up inspiring a post of their own, but for now I’ll just list them with a brief description.

Exit Through the Gift Shop – Oscar-nominated film by famous street artist Banksy. Tells the story of an eccentric man who wanted to document street art and ends up being an accidental sensation.

Waiting For Superman – Award-winning film about the sorry state of the education system and the obstacles to reform. Very thought-provoking.

Capitalism: A Love Story – Michael Moore documentary about the ills of capitalism. Although some good points are raised, the treatment was a little too biased for my liking.

Restrepo – Oscar-nominated film that follows one platoon’s year-long deployment in Afghanistan and the brotherhood and sadness that comes with it.

The Cove – Oscar-winning film that documents a group of activists who infiltrate a secretive, dolphin-slaughtering operation in Japan.

National Geographic: Inside North Korea – An American reporter accompanies a humanitarian eye-doctor to North Korea and documents, as much as possible, the North Korean way of life. Very fascinating, and disturbing.

Which Way Home – Oscar-nominated film about Latin American children who attempt the long and dangerous journey to the United States in order to be with family members they haven’t seen in years. This one was really heart-breaking for me.

March of the Penguins – Oscar-winning film about the life of penguins. Great film. So crazy that they live where they do.

Waste Land – Oscar-nominated film about a Brazilian artist who creates art from junk and tries to better the lives of the people who work at the largest landfill in the world.

Inside Job – Oscar-winning film about the 2008 financial crisis. Made me mad. Good film, though.

Maxed Out – Pre-2008-economic-crisis film about Americans’ unhealthy reliance on credit. Made me want to get rid of all my credit cards. But not really.