June 29, 2015

Character Strengths and Virtues


Character Strengths and Virtues‘ (CSV) is a 2004 book by psychologists Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman that presents humanist ideals of virtue in an empirical, rigorously scientific manner. Seligman describes it as a ‘positive’ counterpart to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). While the DSM focuses on what can go wrong, CSV is designed to look at what can go right.

In their research they looked across cultures and time to distill a manageable list of virtues that have been highly valued from ancient China and India, through Greece and Rome, to contemporary Western cultures. Their list includes six character strengths: wisdom/knowledge, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence. Each of these has three to five sub-entries; for instance, temperance includes forgiveness, humility, prudence, and self-regulation. The authors do not believe that there is a hierarchy for the six virtues; no one is more fundamental than or a precursor to the others. Continue reading

June 23, 2015

The Cuckoo’s Egg

Markus Hess

The Cuckoo’s Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage’ is a 1989 book written by Clifford Stoll, an astronomer turned systems administrator of the computer center of the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (LBL) in California. It is his first-person account of the hunt for a computer hacker who broke into a computer at the lab.

In August of 1986 his supervisor asked him to resolve a US$0.75 accounting error in the computer usage accounts. He traced the error to an unauthorized user who had apparently used up nine seconds of computer time and not paid for it, and eventually realized that the unauthorized user was a hacker who had acquired root (high-level) access to the LBL system by exploiting a vulnerability in the movemail function of the original GNU Emacs (an open-source computer program that moves a user’s mail to another file). Continue reading

June 22, 2015


Vaimanika Shastra

Vimāna [vi-mah-nuh] is a mythological flying palace or chariot described in Hindu texts and Sanskrit epics. The Pushpaka Vimana of the demon king Ravana is the most quoted example. Vimanas are also found in Jain texts. The word literally means ‘measuring out, traversing.’

Oxford Sanskrit scholar Monier Monier-Williams defined it as ‘a car or a chariot of the gods, any mythical self-moving aerial car (sometimes serving as a seat or throne, sometimes self-moving and carrying its occupant through the air; other descriptions make the Vimana more like a house or palace, and one kind is said to be seven stories high).’ It may denote any car or vehicle, especially a bier (a wheeled altar for transporting coffins), or a ship as well as a palace of an emperor, especially with seven stories. Continue reading

June 19, 2015

Learning Curve

street fighter by David Soames

A learning curve graphically represents the amount of experience it takes to learn a given task. Skills with a steep learning curve are difficult to learn quickly, but progress comes rapidly once past the initial hurdle. Activities with a shallow learning curve, by contrast, are said to be ‘easy to learn, hard to master’ (Bushnell’s Law of video game design).

The term can refer to individual tasks repeated in a series of trials or a body of knowledge is learned over time. It was first described by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885. His tests involved memorizing series of nonsense syllables, and recording the success over a number of trials. The translation does not use the term learning curve—but he presents diagrams of learning against trial number. He also notes that the score can decrease, or even oscillate. Continue reading

June 18, 2015



Some bodybuilders, particularly at professional level, inject substances such as ‘site enhancement oil,’ commonly known as synthol [sin-thawl], to mimic the appearance of developed muscle where it may otherwise be disproportionate or lagging. This is practice is referred to as ‘fluffing.’ (Synthol is also the name of an all natural mouthwash available in France since 1920 that is also packaged as a gel and spray for the treatment of muscular pain.)

Site enhancement oil is 85% oil, 7.5% lidocaine (a local anesthetic), and 7.5% alcohol. It is not restricted, as it is ostensibly sold for topical use only, and many brands are available on the internet. The use of injected oil to enhance muscle appearance was abandoned in the late 20th century as it can cause pulmonary embolisms (blood clots in the lungs), nerve damage, infections, skin lesions, stroke, and the formation of oil-filled cysts in the muscle. Sesame oil is often used, which can cause allergic reactions such as vasculitis (inflamed blood vessels). An aesthetic issue is drooping of muscle under gravity.

June 17, 2015



krebs cycle by Andrew Twist

Metabolism [muh-tab-uh-liz-uhm] is the name given to the chemical reactions which keep an organism alive. A chemical reaction is the transformation of one set of chemical substances to another. Organisms require myriad reactions to grow, reproduce, maintain their structures, and respond to their environments. These reactions are catalyzed by enzymes (aided by reusable proteins that change the rate of chemical reactions).

Most of the structures that make up animals, plants, and microbes are made from three basic classes of molecule: amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), carbohydrates (sugars), and lipids (fats). As these molecules are vital for life, metabolic reactions either focus on making these molecules during the construction of cells and tissues (anabolism), or by breaking them down and using them as a source of energy, by their digestion (catabolism). Continue reading

June 16, 2015


Remote Skylight

The Lowline, formally known as the Delancey Underground, is a proposal for the world’s first underground park. The subterranean public space would be located under the eastbound roadway of Delancey Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan (adjacent to the Essex Street station).

Co-founders James Ramsey and Dan Barasch have suggested natural light would be directed below ground using fiber optics—described in the proposed plan as ‘remote skylights’—to provide an area in which trees and grass could be grown beneath the city streets. Continue reading

June 13, 2015


token black

Tokenism [toh-kuh-niz-uhm] is the policy and practice of making a perfunctory gesture towards the inclusion of members of minority groups. The effort of including a token employee to a workforce usually is intended to create the appearance of social inclusiveness and diversity (racial, religious, sexual, etc.), and so deflect accusations of discrimination.

Employment tokenism misrepresents the person possessing inferior intellect, job skills, and work capacity, relative to the other workers of the group, as well as a superficial personality that is sufficiently bland and inoffensive to not affront the sensibility of superiority inherent to white privilege. Alternatively, the differences of the token person might be over-emphasized and made either exotic or glamorous, or both, which are extraordinary conditions that maintain the Otherness that isolates the token worker from the group. Continue reading

June 12, 2015

Ambiguity Tolerance

Ambiguously Gay Duo

it's pat

Ambiguity Tolerance is a psychological construct which describes the relationship that individuals have with ambiguous stimuli or events (situations where familiar cues are either lacking, overwhelming, or misleading). Individuals view these stimuli in a neutral and open way or as a threat.

Psychologist Stanley Budner defined ambiguity intolerance as ‘the tendency to perceive (i.e. interpret) ambiguous situations as sources of threat…’ and its counterpart, tolerance of ambiguity, as ‘the tendency to perceive ambiguous situations as desirable.’ Continue reading

June 11, 2015

Greedy Reductionism


Greedy reductionism [ri-duhk-shuh-niz-uhm] is a term coined by cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett, in his 1995 book ‘Darwin’s Dangerous Idea,’ to refer to a kind of erroneous reductionism. Whereas ‘good’ reductionism means explaining a thing in terms of what it reduces to (for example, its parts and their interactions), greedy reductionism occurs when ‘in their eagerness for a bargain, in their zeal to explain too much too fast, scientists and philosophers … underestimate the complexities, trying to skip whole layers or levels of theory in their rush to fasten everything securely and neatly to the foundation.’

Using the terminology of ‘cranes’ (legitimate, mechanistic explanations) and ‘skyhooks’ (essentially, fake—e.g. supernaturalistic—explanations), Dennett states: ‘Good reductionists suppose that all Design can be explained without skyhooks; greedy reductionists suppose it can all be explained without cranes.’ Continue reading

June 10, 2015

Benevolent Prejudice

jewluminati by jennifer daniel

model minority

Benevolent prejudice is a superficially positive type of prejudice, opinions formed before becoming aware of relevant facts,  (e.g. ‘Asians are good at math,’ ‘African Americans are athletic,’ ‘Jews are good with money’).

Though this type of prejudice associates supposedly good things with certain groups, it still has the result of keeping the group members in inferior positions in society. Benevolent prejudices can help justify any hostile prejudices a person has toward a particular group and act as a wedge keeping outsiders from assimilating into the mainstream. Continue reading

June 9, 2015

Illusory Correlation


Illusory [ih-loo-suh-reecorrelation [kawr-uh-ley-shuhn] is the phenomenon of perceiving a relationship between variables (typically people, events, or behaviors) even when no such relationship exists. A common example of this phenomenon would be when people form false associations between membership in a statistical minority group and rare (typically negative) behaviors as variables that are novel or salient tend to capture the attention. This is one way stereotypes form and endure, which can lead people to expect certain groups and traits to fit together, and then to overestimate the frequency with which these correlations actually occur.

The term ‘Illusory correlation’ was originally coined in 1967 by psychologists Loren Chapman and Jean Chapman to describe people’s tendencies to overestimate relationships between two groups when distinctive and unusual information is presented. The concept was used to question claims about objective knowledge in clinical psychology through the Chapmans’ refutation of many clinicians’ widely used Wheeler signs for homosexuality in Rorschach tests. Continue reading

June 8, 2015

Lady Tasting Tea

Muriel Bristol

In the design of experiments in statistics, the lady tasting tea is a famous randomized experiment devised by English statisticia Ronald A. Fisher and reported in his book ‘The Design of Experiments’ (1935). The experiment is the original exposition of Fisher’s notion of a ‘null hypothesis’ (what you expect to happen before you run an experiment, i.e. nothing). Fisher’s description is less than ten pages in length and is notable for its simplicity and completeness regarding terminology, calculations, and design of the experiment. The example is loosely based on an event from his life. The lady in question was biologist Muriel Bristol.

Bristol claimed to be able to tell whether the tea or the milk was added first to her daily cup of tea. Fisher proposed to give her eight cups, four of each variety, in random order. One could then ask what the probability was for her getting the number she got correct, but just by chance. She got all eight cups correct. In popular science, David Salsburg published a book entitled ‘The Lady Tasting Tea,’ which describes Fisher’s experiment and ideas on randomization.

June 3, 2015


how children succeed

Grit in psychology is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or endstate, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective. This perseverance of effort promotes the overcoming of obstacles or challenges that lie within a gritty individual’s path to accomplishment, and serves as a driving force in achievement realization. Commonly associated concepts within the field of psychology include ‘perseverance,’ ‘hardiness,’ ‘resilience,’ ‘ambition,’ ‘need for achievement,’ and ‘conscientiousness.’ These constructs can be conceptualized as individual differences related to the accomplishment of work rather than latent ability.

This distinction was brought into focus in 1907 when American psychologist William James challenged the field to further investigate how certain individuals are capable of accessing richer trait reservoirs enabling them to accomplish more than the average person, but the construct dates back at least to Victorian polymath Francis Galton, and the ideals of persistence and tenacity have been understood as a virtue at least since Aristotle. Although the last decade has seen a noticeable increase in research focused on achievement-oriented traits, there continues to be difficulty in aligning specific traits and outcomes. Continue reading

June 1, 2015



NeuroRacer is a video game designed by a team of researchers at the University of California, San Francisco led by cognitive neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley as a way to help with mental cognition.

It was designed as an intervention for ‘top-down modulation deficits in older adults.’ A study on 60-85 year olds showed that the multitasking nature of the game caused improvements in tasks outside of the game involving working memory and sustained attention.

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