Friday, September 21, 2007

Fall is coming!

During this last hectic week, there were two glorious, glorious days where the sun did not shine as bright, the temperature was below 90 degrees, and there was that delicious, smoky, change is on the way smell in the air. I do not know if anyone else gets quite as euphoric and nostalgic as I do when that autumn smell comes drafting in from wherever it drafts in from, but it is my favorite time of the year.

By coincidence, I am taking a neuroscience class this semester, and one topic this week happened to be on scent recalled memory associations, although it was not covered in quite as much detail as I would have liked. I am sure most have heard that your strongest memories are tied to scent, and yes there is an anatomical/physiological basis for this too. Beyond this, much is not known, as most of our consciousness is a mystery still. The mystery of consciousness is why it is wonderful to be alive, yet it is also depressing in that it reminds us of our own mortality.

I digress though. The euphoria that the fall air gave me (I must have had some pretty enjoyable events in my life around fall to make me feel like this!) got me thinking about other memories that are associated with smell. To my surprise, I found that I have mostly pleasant memories associated with smell. For example thanksgiving dinners, the smell of grass, cucumber-melon, and even slightly burnt engine oil from an out of tune truck, strangely enough, which I tied back to my grandfathers pick-up.

So this brought up the question, what pleasant memories can I make for my daughter? What will she remember? Hopefully she will remember baking cookies, thanksgiving dinners, running around in the grass and myriads of other pleasurable events that will bring emotions flooding back at a single smell.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

More Nomadic Preacher

Courtesy of, a photojournal of Brother Micah preaching. He is a nomadic preacher, going around, preaching about all kinds of people going to hell. See previous post for more background. If anything, it should provide some serious entertainment if you have not had the pleasure of witnessing this guy. Be sure to turn your volume up.


EDIT: I know this is off topic for the blog, so all I can say is that maybe you should warn your kids about guys like this just like warning them about the neighborhood crazy. Let them voice their opinion, but treat with caution.

Apathy on Campus

Continuing this theme of inaction by recent generations, I would like to illustrate some examples going on at the campus I attend right now. Most of these policies do not affect me, but the ones just entering college. No one protests however:

1. Playboy magazines banned for sale on campus.

Sales were banned based on the preferences of a few, and not the student body on a whole. There will always be a minority that objects to anything, but banning something like this on a college campus, an inherently liberal institution, strikes me as strange. Sales have not been re-instituted because no one has said anything. Never mind the simple reason of the first amendment.
2. ...But crazy preachers are given free reign
What is even more disturbing is that a nomadic preacher, Brother Micah, was given free reign in the name of free speech, even though he was downright offensive. There was a ton of student protest but nothing happened, which actually I believe was for the best. Freedom of speech was protected. People are protesting the wrong things. For reference, here is a good synopsis of this guy from (no this is not exaggerated):

"Micah Armstrong, also known as Brother Micah, is a nomadic preacher who graced the University of Old Mississippi with his presence last week. He's a friendly bloke who yells at students walking to class, tells them they're going to hell, makes everyone feel bad about themselves and has probably never had any friends his entire life.

Micah Armstrong comes from Miami (City Motto: "Crazy people. Drugs, too.") and has been traveling across the United States judging people and making babies cry.

Brother Micah carefully outlined that most people in this world do not get to go to heaven. Some of those who don't are as follows:
•Mother Teresa
•People in sororities
•People in fraternities
•Independents, obviously"

3. Students are now required to an 8 hour!! alcohol safety examination before they are allowed to register for classes.
OK this one is pretty nuts. Everyone except seniors basically has to do this before any semester. This does not affect me, but to get the full sense of absurdity for this policy, you must read number 4:

4. No alcoholic beverages containing less than 5% alcohol will be permitted in any area before football games.
That's right. Whiskey will not get you more drunk than beer. I am really really not sure what this was supposed to accomplish. Again there was a general sense of WTF around campus, and questions were asked, but there was no widespread involvement to try to get answers to this policy or even try to change it. Actually, I found lots of people asking questions online:

"Can anyone explain to me how they came up with the conclusion that liquor is permitted in the grove over beer? I mean who in there right mind beleives that liquor is safer than beer."

But, as Colbert illustrated, armchair protests. What people need to do is come together for a common cause. From the short time I have been in college, I have seen it go from a pretty liberal state to a pretty restricted state. I cannot imagine what people from decades ago think of the college culture now. I can't help but think that students today are become more and more like automatons, and I sincerely hope this changes before my daughter starts absorbing this kind of thinking.

Colbert on Solitarity

I was watching the Colbert Report last night and his "The Word" segment was quite...moving for lack of a better word. His Word was regarding the student getting tazered at a Kerry debate. If you have not seen it, well basically, it looks as if the kid was asking questions, someone cut off the microphone, and police hustled him away and tazered him. More poignant however was the total look of boredom and apathy seen on his fellow students faces. No one stood up to protest, no one said anything, they just looked on with apathy. What happened to the people of this country? Colbert implies it is because that most have become armchair protesters, posting on their blog, and Digging their way to make a difference. Colbert cleverly equates Digging to masturbating :) It is made even more ironic by the fact that every week or so there is a surge of people calling for action instead of sitting on their computers on Digg, yet you never see anything come of it.

I cannot quite put my finger on what has made the current generations, my own included, so apathetic. I am aware of my own apathy at times, and strive to overcome it, and I hope I can pass on a more involved sense of action to my daughter. In my opinion, apathy is contagious, and the more indifferent people there are the harder it is to overcome the apathy gradient. It's depressing really.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Non-stick chewing gum!

Wouldn't it be great if gum never got stuck on your shoes, carpet, in your kids hair? Gum is popular, especially with kids. So if you have a kid, chances are your kid has chewed gum, whether you let them or not, and chances are you have had gum stuck in the strangest of places.

"Revolymer, a Bristol University spin-out company, claims that it has created a new material which can be added to gum that makes it much easier to remove from surfaces."

"The material is formed from long chains of molecules, called polymers, which have both water-loving (hydrophilic) and water-hating (hydrophobic), and therefore oil-loving, properties.

The polymer's affinity for oil means that it can be easily mixed into the rest of the ingredients needed to create chewing gum; but it is its attraction to water that gives it its non-stick abilities.

Chief Scientific Officer of Revolymer, Professor Terence Cosgrove, said: "The hydrophilic coating means that you always get a film of water around the gum and that is one of the reasons it is easy to remove - and, in some cases, doesn't stick at all.""
The only problem I see is that it may dissolve very fast in the mouth. Oh well small price to pay for the following results:

"The team also tested the gum on one of the most tricky surfaces - hair. Using the company CEO's daughter - who said she was due a haircut - as a volunteer, they attached commercial gum to one side of her hair and Rev7 to the other.

The commercial gum eventually had to be cut out, but Rev7 could be mostly removed using water, shampoo and a comb. "

There is no telling where and when this will be released into the United States though.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Children can step into the minds of storybook characters

A large part of enjoying a good book is getting immersed in the life of a character, especially a character's thoughts and feelings. A new University of Waterloo psychology study shows that preschoolers can already perform this impressive perspective-taking feat and get into the minds of story characters.

The study used an innovative approach to explore children's storytelling ability, focusing on how well they comprehend stories instead of how well they tell them. The study, entitled The Emergence of the Ability to Track a Character's Mental Perspective in Narrative, was published in the July issue of Developmental Psychology.

"Children around the ages of three to five are fairly limited in their verbal abilities, and many previous studies have relied on methods requiring children to tell a story orally, potentially underestimating what they can do," says lead researcher Daniela O'Neill, who did the study with graduate student Rebecca Shultis.

O'Neill, an associate professor of developmental psychology and head of the UW centre for child studies, says that's why the study introduced an innovative approach to look at children's storytelling ability. It offers a new method to evaluate storytelling ability that can pick up differences in the abilities of the younger children.

"I believe children as young as age three to five are developing in important ways with respect to their narrative ability, we just need new ways to look at it."

"In essence, rather than looking at how children are able to tell stories, it looked at how children understand stories, and whether, like adults, children build up a 'mental model' of the story," O'Neill says. "By this, I mean, are children, like adults, able to build up a model of the story in their mind and 'step into the mind,' so to speak, of a character.

"It turns out, from the results of our study, that indeed this is one important way in which children appear to be developing with respect to their understanding of stories during the preschool years."

The researchers had the children listen to a story about a character who was in one location, but was thinking about doing something in another. "Tracking the thoughts of characters to different locations they are thinking about is something we do very easily as adults and really is an impressive perspective-taking feat," O'Neill says.

"But can children also do this" It turns out that five-year-olds can, pretty much like adults, but that three-year-olds have much more difficulty doing this."

The youngest children tracked a character if he or she physically moved between two locations, but they did not seem able to track a change in location if it only happens in the character's mind.

In the study, two models were placed in front of the children depicting the two locations -- a barn and a field. In both locations there was a cow. Children were told that the character was in the barn, but was thinking about feeding the cow in the field. Then, immediately after this sentence, children were asked to point to the cow.

"This is an ambiguous request, since there are two cows present," O'Neill explains.

"But we hypothesized that if children were tracking the thought of the character to the new thought-about location (the field), then they would point to the cow there. If they were only able to think about the character where the character physically is, then they would point to the cow in the physical location (the barn)."

It turns out five-year-olds pointed to the cow in the thought-about location and three-year-olds pointed to the cow in the character's physical location, and only switched if told the character had actually gone to the other location.

"We are excited about these results because they help us to better understand how children's narrative ability is changing and developing very early on in a new way we didn't know about before when studies focused mainly on having children tell stories which they are really not very good at yet," O'Neill says.

"Children with delays in their language use also often have difficulty with comprehending and producing narratives," O'Neill says. "This can become quite an issue once children reach school and are faced with many more tasks that require good story comprehension skills."

The study potentially provides a new way to understand some of these difficulties and differences in perspective-taking ability that may hinder story comprehension and production.-Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council

Mother’s milk a gift that keeps on giving

The University of Texas Medical Branch has released a research paper that, surprise, there really is a ton of benefits to breast feeding over formula feeding! I think the main idea is that people are still uneducated about what is best when having a baby. Many still believe that formula=breast. People do not realize that they have no control of what goes into formula, except for the purity of water they use. The paper is not freely available online, unfortunately, but the University of Texas Medical Branch has released a news article about it. Here is an excerpt:

"UTMB professor of pediatrics David K. Rassin, a co-author of the paper (with Baylor College of Medicine assistant professor of pediatrics Judy M. Hopkinson), said, “Although many of us assume that everyone knows breastfeeding is best for infants and the American Academy of Pediatrics has come out with really strong recommendations in favor of it, the prevalence of breastfeeding in the United States is only about 65 percent right now.” Rassin elaborated: “Historically, we had a rapid increase from about 25 percent in the Sixties up to the area of 60 percent in the late Eighties, and it’s only very gradually crept up since then.”

“Within the United States, where we’ve got clean water and don’t have a lot of the diseases associated with formula feeding in Third World countries, I think we still have this concept that there really isn’t any difference between breastfeeding and formula feeding,” Rassin said. “One of the points we tried to make in this article is that even in this country there are definitely some health risks associated with formula feeding - they just tend to involve diseases that take a long time to emerge but may reflect lack of breastfeeding.”

Friday, September 14, 2007

Dear God

Not sure if these are real or not, but they sure are funny! If my daughter ever asked God "Instead of making people die and having to make new ones why don't you keep the ones you got now?" I would cry for lack of an explanation.

Daneil Cook vs. the Seven Year Old Surgeon

Just curious if anyone remembers the Oprah episode with Amazing Kids. This episode was especially amusing. On it the first featured kid was Daniel Cook. I am sure most of you know this kid:

"Daniel began hosting his own series, This Is Daniel Cook, when he was just 6 years old. Since then, millions of American and Canadian children have tuned in to follow along on his exciting adventures. Daniel has done everything from feeding animals at the zoo to digging for dinosaur bones." Impressive CV right? Imagine Daniel's sense of inferiority when Oprah's next guest was introduced:

"At an age when most children are learning their ABCs, Akrit was reading Shakespeare and assembling a library of medical textbooks. When he was 5 years old, he enrolled in school. One year later, Akrit was teaching English and math classes.

Akrit developed a passion for science and anatomy at an early age. Doctors at local hospitals took notice and started allowing him to observe surgeries when he was 6 years old. Inspired by what he saw, Akrit read everything he could on the topic. When an impoverished family heard about his amazing abilities, they asked if he would operate on their daughter for free. Her surgery was a success."

Daniel's response? "I rode in a fire truck one time!" Seriously both kids are talented, it was just amusing that such a wide difference in skill sets were juxtaposed.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Health Insurance for the Low Income Families

Being in college is like being sheltered from a lot of the problems of the world. One thing however, affects us as college students as it affects those not in college. Health insurance. My family, except for my daughter, has been without health insurance for quite a while now. We will have health insurance again, provided by the school, as soon as I start graduate school in January. I had looked previously at independent health insurance offered by Blue Cross et. al. and was not surprised to see a family health insurance package starting well out of our meager price range. When looking at school provided health insurance I found it much cheaper thankfully, averaging about 200 dollars a month. If it was not provided by school it averaged about 500 dollars a month for my spouse and I. The only problem is that it must be paid for a full year up front, and I cannot just jump on in the middle of the year. I keep telling myself graduate school will be worth it, I just do not want to put my families health second!

Bias Against Mothers

There is a great article over at about the bias against mothers in this country. Not sure how to go about addressing these problems, but I wholeheartedly agree that paid new mother leave, as well as child care reforms and health care reforms. To be fair and avoid bias, I believe the following article could be applied to single father's as well:

"..Very few Americans realize that there is deep bias against mothers in this country and that we are undermining family's ability to care for children. I began to understand this a few years ago when I learned that equal pay for equal work is just as big a problem today as it was 40 years ago. I was shocked! Women without children now earn 90 cents to a man's dollar, mothers earn 73 cents, and single mothers earn about 60 cents to a man's dollar. A study done last year revealed that a mother is 79 percent less likely to be offered a job when all other factors -- including resumes, education, and job experience -- are equal. Ever wonder why there are so many women and children in poverty? Every wonder why there are so few women in leadership? Since over 80 percent of women become mothers I would say that women have a long way to go before they have equal opportunity in this country. Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner and I wrote The Motherhood Manifesto and launched in 2006 and in 2007 with policy and culture change in mind.

Why is there deep bias against mothers? It turns out our country lacks basic supports for families. Out of 173 countries, only four have no paid leave for new mothers -- Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, Liberia and the U.S.A. (One of these countries is not like the others.) Our health care system is the most expensive in the world per capita, yet our child mortality rate is 37th. Paid sick days are not required, quality child care is hard to line up and often more than parents can afford, the list goes on. It turns out that having a child is the top cause of a "poverty spell" for families, a time when income dips below what's needed for basic living expenses like food and rent. What a sad statistic. Frankly, the U.S. is missing basic family supports, which most other countries take as a given -- and the kicker is that countries with family-friendly policies and program in place don't have the wage gaps we do here. We know how to fix this problem...."

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Indian food is not fun for the whole family

In an effort to boost my blog posts from such a scant week, I will relate a story that has to do with Indian food, a skeptical 2 1/2 year old, and a disgruntled wife. There is a new Indian restaurant in town that has some pretty interesting looking meals. Great I thought, a change from the countless Mexican establishments throughout town! I convinced my wife to try it with me.

Beans of all sorts, pureed vegetables, curry, flat bread, and rice pudding graced our sight upon entering. What's not to like! "Mmmm easily digestible said I", *blank stare* said wife. The meal was progressing nicely enough, not too many complaints, until we decided to try the rice pudding. I was the first to taste, and I thought it was pretty good. So I told my wife this. She grabs a spoon as I ready a taste for my daughter. As my wife spoons some rice pudding into her mouth, I do the same for my daughter. Within seconds both of them are literally gagging, with accompanying retching sounds, and no these are not the fake ones that children make when they exaggerate how bad their peas taste. My daughter's pudding goes onto the floor, my wife's onto her plate. I'm looking at the owner who just passed by and stopped short at the spectacle.

Feeling somewhat embarrassed and generally bad for putting my family through eating something they obviously did not like, I was preparing to pay and leave. The owner then came out with a pureed mango frozen desert for my daughter. I guess he did not want us to leave on a bad note. The drink was delicious, my daughter spit it out, my wife would not try it, and I was left feeling uncomfortable for the rest of the evening.

Sparse Updates

There have been pretty few updates this past week (if any) by my wife or I. The final semester of school is in full swing. Working at minimum wage in a work-study setting, I am getting valuable research related experience, but am gone most of the time. I have been getting to see my daughter for a couple of hours a night on weekdays, but it is not very much quality time. Most of the time I am home is spent cleaning up, because, well, I am sort of a neat freak. This leads into my science article for the day:

"The Hygiene Hypothesis: Are Cleanlier Lifestyles Causing More Allergies For Kids?

Science Daily — A little dirt never hurt. But in today’s super-clean world, vaccinations, anti-bacterial soaps, and airtight doors and windows are keeping dirt and disease-causing germs at bay.

While staying germ-free can prevent the spread of disease and infections, leading a cleanlier lifestyle may be responsible for an increase in allergies among children.

“It’s called the hygiene hypothesis,” says Marc McMorris, M.D., a pediatric allergist at the University of Michigan Health System. “We’ve developed a cleanlier lifestyle, and our bodies no longer need to fight germs as much as they did in the past. As a result, the immune system has shifted away from fighting infection to developing more allergic tendencies.”

Basically, we are programmed to deal with foreign substances from birth. It is our nature. Evolution does not happen in a few generations, where the rate of change from our grandparents to our kids has been enormous. Just as humans are symbiotic with many bacteria, certain parts of our immunity are made to work by exposure to foreign materials. Time to notch down the level of clean from clinical research laboratory to slightly dusty old person house!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Great Snack for the Whole Family

This is not necessarily a good thing. Usually I am not one to like sweets. I am more likely to eat something salty. The thing is though, we just got these Reeses Snacksters Peanut Butter Explosions on chance. Since the first box, we got 2 more within 2 days! These snacks look just like leftovers from the Reeses factory, little peanut butter chips, crunchy bits, looses Reeses Pieces. I think I like them so much because they do not cause much bloating. They are very light on the stomach, and they aren't TOO sweet. Honestly my daughter has not had too many of them, we eat them so fast! My vote for guilty pleasure of the year for sure.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

And now for something totally unrelated

A little comic relief never hurt anyone...

Walk It Out, Fosse

Pirouette Like it's Hot.

The Caffeine has gotten me!

Funny story. I have recently begun drinking caffeine 2 weeks ago. I did not have any when I woke up today. I felt tired, shaky, weak, and had a bad headache. The hypochondriac in me kicked in. OMG I Took tylenol then I drank 4 beers my livers failing! WTF Do I do?!?! Then I thought about the coffee. I had a cup, and sure enough I was better. I don't like feeling like that, but I need the stimulation at this point of my life. Note to self: don't let kid get so overloaded that she needs stimulants to make it through the day.

Before getting that new toy on sale, check this out!

We all know how hard it is to be vigilant at watching prices when shopping (OK maybe it's not hard for everyone, but it is for me!), but keep this new article from Science Daily in mind when shopping for toys, clothes, anything really that is marked at a discount. Everyone knows that sometimes things aren't even on sale, and stores just put a sale sticker on it anyway, but this is another trick to keep in mind when shopping!

Sales Prices: How Right Digits Affect Perception of Discounts

Science Daily — The amount of the discount may be less important than the numerical value of the farthest right digit, explains a new study from the Journal of Consumer Research. Keith S. Coulter (Clark University) and Robin A. Coulter (University of Connecticut) are the first to identify a visual distortion effect that may influence how consumers look at sale prices.

The researchers show that "right-digit effect" influences consumer perception of sale prices. When the right digits are small, people perceive the discount to be larger than when the right digits are large. In other words, an item on sale for $211 from the original price of $222 is thought to be a better deal than an item on sale for $188 from an original price of $199, even though both discounts are $11.

In addition, the researchers find that when consumers view regular and sale prices with identical left digits, they perceive larger price discounts when the right digits are "small" -- less than 5 -- than when they are "large," or, greater than 5.

"When consumers examine multi-digit regular and sale prices in an advertisement, they read those prices from left-to-right. If the left (hundreds) digits are identical, consumers will pay less attention to those digits, and instead will focus primarily upon the disparate right-most (tens and units) digits in the price comparison process.," the authors explain.
"Our findings indicate that comparative price advertising can distort consumers' perceptions in ways unintended by the seller."

Reference: Keith S. Coulter and Robin A. Coulter. "Distortion of Price Discount Perceptions: The Right Digit Effect" Journal of Consumer Research: August 2007.

Balancing work and play

Today has been a mediocre day, actually this whole weekend has been pretty mediocre. One problem that faces any parent that has a lot of stress in life, e.g. college and work, needs to find the time to balance interacting with their children and personal recreation time. I am sure many of you agree, this is very hard to manage. For example, I have been going to college and working at college for the past year, 8:00 - 5:00ish everyday during the week. This leaves Friday evening, Saturday, and Sunday to accomplish the above mentioned tasks. For the most part, we have not been doing anything personally for us, not in the least part due to the lack of funds. This weekend we tried to do something for us one day, something for our daughter another day, and have a "lazy day" on memorial day. This did not work out so well. It has been so long since we tried to go out and do something that we could not decide on what to do. On Saturday, we just kind of went in circles and stayed around the house. Today was a bit better. We actually got to the pool, went around shopping a bit, went out to eat, and even managed to clean up the house!

Perhaps the next weekend will be a bit more decisive. When the stress levels get high, I think a lot of people forget that this rubs off on their kids too. I for one am in an absolute need to get out more at this point in my life. I think it would calm me more during the week, leading to more productivity, including better parenting!