How to spot a liar

Pamela Meyer, the author of Liespotting: Proven Techniques to Detect Deception, has a TED talk title “How to spot a liar.”  After watching it (and many episodes of Lie to Me), I wanted to list small signs that suggest lying, but the most important thing in this talk isn’t the techniques she talks about.  The most important thing, and she says this at the end, is creating your world that values truth.

As for the list: You can look for shoulder-shrugging, saying-yes-while-nodding-no, lack of contractions, and brief smiles all you want.  And you’ll definitely find them.  Remember that you need to take it all in context before calling someone a liar.

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Protocol for collecting the ephemeral

After many snows, I finally had a decent snow to try and collect snowflakes.  This snow had nice flakes that weren’t all stuck together in huge blobs.

My procedure quickly came back to me.  The biggest thing is to make sure everything is cold, including your gloves.  Any heat will quickly melt your snowflakes.

Equipment: microscope slides, cover slips, cyanoacrylate superglue (not the gel), cardboard boxes

1) Put superglue, microscope slides, microscope cover slips, and paintbrush in the freezer for as long as possible.  It’s March and I’ve had mine in the freezer since December.  A couple of days is fine.  One hour is not.  I recommend separating the microscope slides (and cover slips) from one another before putting them in the freezer.  I used a small thin box that chocolates came in and stored the microscope slides and cover slips in that.  If you don’t separate them now, when you pull them out of the freezer, they will be hard to separate (especially with gloves on) and also have some condensation on them.  If you do wait to separate them, separate them and cover them outside; it will only take a couple of minutes before the condensation is gone and they are ready to use.  If the outside is really cold, I suggest leaving your stuff outside for 15 minutes or more to let everything get colder.

2) If your stuff isn’t outside already, run everything outside.

3) Expose the slides to the snowfall.   I have them in a box and take the lid off.  If you don’t get good snowflakes, wipe the slide off with your gloves or cold paper towel and keep waiting.  If you see a good one (being careful not to breathe on it!), place a drop of superglue on the snowflake and put on a cover slip.  Don’t plop the cover slip on, but put one edge on the microscope slide and slowly lower the opposite edge to the slide.  This will remove many air bubbles.  Also be quick, I’ve had new snowflakes land in the drop of superglue.

4) Let the superglue dry.  I usually have another cold box to store the snowflakes.  I once tried to run the snowflakes through the house to the freezer, but had mixed success.  I think the best thing is to leave the slides with the snowflakes outside for a couple days, assuming the weather will stay below freezing.  I haven’t played with the time component, so I don’t know exactly how long it takes superglue to dry at below freezing.

5) After the superglue dries, bring everything inside and look at snowflakes with a magnifying glass or microscope.

Although letting snow fall on the microscope slides works, you have to wait.  I have also set up a piece of cold cardboard or cold fabric outside to catch snowflakes and then transfered the snowflakes to the microscope slide with a paintbrush, but I am still working on that technique.  Currently, I let the snowflakes fall on the slides.

On a side note, I think the freezer is a great place to store superglue.  It seems to stay liquid longer, but store it in a ziplock bag in case it leaks.

Previous thoughts on snowflakes: Collecting the ephemeral, Collected the ephemeral

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Earth Evolution: The Intersection of Geology and Biology

HHMI poster of Geology and Biology

I went to Science‘s website thinking I could find some free articles to talk about, but I will have to explore the free content more.  What immediately grabbed my attention were the results from the 2012 International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge.  I’m a sucker for some awesome Viz.

In the Posters and Graphics section, honorable mention went to Earth Evolution: The Intersection of Geology and Biology.  I love this poster for the simple fact that, as the title states, it links geology and biology.  We see the different eons, eras, and periods along the left side, and the tree of life along the right side, with key events and explanations of concepts for both biology and geology, such as Greenhouse Effect and Origin of Eukaryotes.  The poster does a wonderful job of showing how nothing much happened biologically for a very long time and humans have been around for very little time.  I like the world maps that show the arrangement of the continents coupled with the phylogeny.  I like it so much that I’m envisioning a poster focusing on the more recent eras and the location of the continents coupled with phylogenies.  Although the big tree of life may be interesting, more specific trees (such as plants only) linked with the current species distribution and the locations of fossils may be more interesting.

According to the Science website, the poster is from Mark Nielsen and Satoshi Amagai  (Howard Hughes Medical Institute), Bill Pietsch and Davey Thomas (Astronaut 3 Media Group), and Andy Knoll ( Harvard University).

In case you missed the link above, you can download the poster from and see other posters.

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Use Video Game Engagement in Real Life

Tom Chatfield (in7 ways video games engage the brain; embedded at the end) says that wanting combined with liking equals engagment.  This simple equation keeps people engaged in video games long enough to accomplish minor quests that are the basis of pretty much every role-playing game and major in-video-game tasks, such as building a battleship.  I like this talk because Tom mentions that video game designers have tapped into the evolutionary history of humans and expectations to make video games engaging (and keep us clicking) and we can turn around and use what video game designers have determined and use those techniques in the meat-space video game called life.
He goes through 7 points, but I see them more as talking points as opposed to explicit mechanisms.  The seven points and my comments are:

1) Experience bar measuring progress
See yourself as a progressing character.  He has an interesting perspective that grades in education should be a process of building (although that may be simplifying his ideas too much).
2) Multiple long term and short term goals
Mix up the short term and long term goals to keep life interesting.  I would also suggest making short term goals that help accomplish the long term goals.  Need to write a paper?  Make the short term goals X number of paragraphs.
3) Rewards for effort
Reward even trying and failure.
4) Rapid, frequent clear feedback
Tom mentions that doing something and seeing an immediate reaction is the best way to learn.  I agree, although the reaction is not immediate in life (like with his example of global climate change).  Although this could be the foundation for computer simulation driven education modules.
5) An element of uncertainty
The one point I didn’t really get.  I think it comes down to: What we know is a known reward is good, but one that surprises you (or you aren’t sure you are going to get) is better.  Maybe this would be: a known raise works well, but a raise that comes out of the blue makes you feel better.  Maybe you can list 6 rewards.  When you acheive a short term goal, you can roll a die and determine what you get.
6) Windows of enhanced attention
This felt like more of a potential use of science and what we learn, as opposed to what video games are doing.  But it has some really interesting implications.  If we can determine when we learn best, or are about to learn best, we can be ready for that and use it.
7) Other people
Everything is better when you collaborate or can brag 😉

Enjoy the video.  He’s a great speaker.  Also check out my post of the game layer on top of the real world.

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What you produce vs what you want to produce

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.

Produce.  And produce lots of it.  I’ve seen this in myself: I am producing something and it’s just not right or it’s off and doesn’t feel as good as I could be, but I can’t make that jump to making it as good as it should be.  And making the jump requires experience from having produced a large amount of material and constantly practicing.

I found David Shiyang Liu Kinectic Typography of  Ira Glass’s comments on storytelling through some means (maybe #30daysofcreativity, maybe jmheather‘s kinetic typography of Jonathan Coulton’s Shop Vac) and really enjoy listening to the snippet.  Basically, Ira says that we know what is killer and awesome, but our ability to produce a killer product requires experience and practice.  And I don’t think that experience and practice is stressed enough.  We often see the final product or the product of someone working in a field for many years, but we don’t see the process, all the iterations, and all the failures.

You can listen to Ira Glass on “This American Life“, but I think the snippet comes from this series of videos (part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4), and I have no clue what those videos are from.

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“I will work harder.” -Boxer

The phrase “I will work harder” from Boxer in George Orwell’s Animal Farm has me thinking not about the Russian working class or unquestioning belief and trust, but about consistency and choosing what you will work harder on.

There is working harder and getting a lot done  and there is also not working harder, but still getting a lot done.  I’ve been working with low-power devices that need to operate for a year or two without changing the batteries.  With these devices, a power draw of 1 milliamp per hour may not seem like much, but it will drain a AA battery in 96 days.  So in one respect, small (consistent) things can add up quickly to take over our life.  In another respect, small (consistent) things can add up to have big effects.

I haven’t been consistent with this blog at all.  Much of the silence comes from other priorities that could not be ignored or jettisoned.  But maybe the lack of consistency also comes from the overwhelming aspirations of everything I wanted to do with this blog.  And the feeling that if you can’t do everything, you shouldn’t do anything.  I have to remember it’s a blog.  It’s first and foremost my thoughts and bookmarks, not tutorials and deep musings.  I’ve gone back through some older posts and was reminded of cool things I had found and had forgotten about and reminded myself that’s what I want this blog to be about – keep track of my thoughts and stuff I find.  I want it to be my virtual field notebook.

I started thinking that an update three times a week with various types of updates would be do-able.  And we see what that has produced.  So a change is in order.  The change is to produce one post a week.  One post a week for a year is 52 posts – about the same number of posts I have already produced.  That’s my goal.  My calendar is broken up into weeks, so anything written during that week counts for that week.  I will allow myself to have a post written for times of vacations, but multiple posts in a week will not count for future weeks.  Some posts may take multiple weeks to write, such as tutorial, but that will only count as a single week’s post.

To post 1!

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The Art of Keeping a Field Notebook

Right now, I am on a naturalist kick.  I’ve picked up books about drawing nature and have almost finished reading Tinbergen’s “A Curious Naturalist.” (Get a used hardback = cheaper).  I don’t remember how it hit my radar, but “Field Notes on Science & Nature” came out and I snapped up the copy from the library and want to buy it at some point in the future once I have some more space for books.

I’ve been thinking more about keeping a nature notebook (as I already have data notebooks) and I have plenty of journals with unused pages.  I’ve been working harder to use my journals and write down my thoughts so I can have more, better thoughts (what I write inside each of my journals), whether the thoughts are about my research or about a current side project I am working on (fractal antenna design anyone?).

I tried a spiral notebook, only to watch it fall apart.  I’m going to stick with the bound journals, although not the same bound journals I use for research.  I also need to figure out how to have multiple uses for a journal.  Not necessarily the Grinnell method (discussed in the book) of journal, species account, and catalog, but something where I can have longer, thought out ideas coupled with space to capture small quick thoughts (Hack 13 in Mind Performance Hacks: Tips & Tools for Overclocking Your Brain).  A big theme I noticed throughout the book was the idea that the written word lasts forever.  And there are many examples of researchers using journals and notebooks from 100 years ago to study changes in species distributions and phenology, but also using more recent notebooks to protect and preserve lands.

While reading, two big take home messages kept getting repeated:

1) write down everything.  Not the mundane (I ate breakfast), but the observational (An ocelot stalked it’s prey, an agouti, down to the creek bed.  The agouti ran across the creek, but the ocelot stopped and turned back into the forest), as you will never know what is important and what will spark a new question.

2) write down everything so that the future can use the information. The future can be the future you or future people using your notebook for their research.  Write legibly.  Write clearly (no abbreviations unless you define them).  What is the weather like?  Use maps, GPS coordinates, and sketches to convey the information in the easiest and clearest manner possible.

Read the book not just for the how-to of maintaining a science notebook, but for the experiences, stories, thoughts, and examples littered throughout the book as told by and shown by the  ecologists, artists, paleontologists, naturalists, and scientists (although those descriptors all overlap within all the authors) who lived them.  From an artistic perspective, the advice to draw the negative and not the positive, hit home as it helps you look at an object from a different perspective (what do I have to take away to represent the object as opposed to what do I need to add to represent the object).

My data journals already contain sketches and maps (I focus in spatial ecology), but I need to make an effort to include more of my observations, not just about my study organism, but about the system.  Here’s to the fun journey of working on my journaling abilities.  And from the book, it’s going to take me a long time and a lot of (fun) practice before I do it well.

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My Evolving Book Population

I’ve been studying my population of books the past couple of years and have noticed some trends.

Early on, most of my books were about dinosaurs.  I also went through most of Judy Blume’s work, Encyclopedia Brown, and some crazy choose your own adventure novels.  I don’t remember much about my middle school books.  I think I was playing point and click adventure games then (book like).  In high school, most of my books were fiction from many of the authors I was reading in class, such as Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Kerouac, although Terry Pratchet, Piers Anthony, and Asimov made appearances.  This trend continued through college but more undergraduate technical books began to migrate into my population.  Many of my undergraduate books have since migrated out of the population or died.  My population contains overlapping generations, with many of my original books still persisting.

Recently, my books have been more technical, but not by relaying information, but by relaying skills.  I’ve picked up many of the O’Reilly’s hack series, such as Mind Hacks, Mind Performance Hacks, and Spidering Hacks, books related to my field of study, such as spatial statistics, statistical analyses, Bayesian analysis, and books about my current interests, such as Visualizing data, building and designing electronics, and Processing.  All these books work to teach you skills and how to get stuff done.

One can easily read through them and gain knowledge, but I want to start using these books.  I’m part of the TechBookClub with Collexion, which gets a group of people together to discuss a technical book every few months.  Currently, we are working on Visualize This: The FlowingData Guide to Design, Visualization, and Statistics.  But some of my books require a different approach.  For example, the Hacks series presents lots of little projects.  Each project itself could become a huge behemoth, or could just get the job done.

I’m going to work my way through Mind Performance Hacks: Tips & Tools for Overclocking Your Brain by Ron Hale-Evans.  I can’t say that I’ll try every hack.  And some hacks will take longer to experience than others.  But along the travels, I’ll hopefully pick up some useful skills.  Or just have fun.

I’ll keep you posted.  Chapter 1 is memory.

Maybe I should get @lifetinkerer up and running so we can have a virtual TechBookClub.

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Visualizing Data

As part of TechBookClub, we decided to read Nathan Yau’s ( book Visualize This: The FlowingData Guide to Design, Visualization, and Statistics. Working through Chapter 4, I grabbed the census data from 1790 to 2010 for the cities of Lexington, Kentucky and Lousiville, Kentucky, as well as the for the whole state of Kentucky from their respective Wikipedia pages.

And I started plotting.

At first I worked with pure population numbers.  And I immediately ran into the order of magnitude problem.  For example, Louisville increases from 200 people in 1790 to almost 750,000 in 2010 – a change in three orders of magnitude.  Kentucky itself went from almost 74,000 people to 4.3 million people.  If you only plot these numbers, you only see the large values and you lose the small values.  When your Y axis goes from 0 to 4.3 million, 200 people (0.000200 million) looks a lot like 0.  To account for changes in the orders of magnitude in your data, you can log transform your data or plot the data on a log graph.  These techniques allow you to compare small numbers and large numbers without losing the small numbers.  But it didn’t work in my case.

Change in plans.  I decided to divide the city population by the population of Kentucky at that census.  This gave me the proportion of people that lived in the city.  I could then see how this proportion changed over time and get an idea of urban growth.  If the whole state was increasing in population equally, the proportions wouldn’t change over time.

Immediately, I saw that the proportion of the population that lived in Lexington greatly decreased from 1790 to 1800.  One could account this to the census itself.  Maybe the first year wasn’t as good as it could have been.   From a historical perspective, it appears that many treaties were signed in the ten years between censuses.  These treaties focused on control of land and also put a stop to many raids against outlying forts, making it safer to expand westward.  Are these the causes of the increase in population in Kentucky, yet decline in the Lexington population as people could get land and feel safe living on the land?  I don’t know.

The other drastic change occurs when Louisville’s population is counted as residents in both the city and the county (2010) as opposed to only the city (2000 and before).

You can click on the image above to get a larger, nicer looking version or right click all this.


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Five ways to be smarter

Andrea Kuszewski wrote a guest piece for Scientific American about how to increase fluid intelligence, which is your capacity to learn new information, remember the information, and use the new knowledge (and be creative!).  She gives five basic steps for doing this, which I’ll repeat here mainly so I always know where they are.

  1. Seek novelty
  2. Challenge yourself
  3. Think creatively
  4. Do things the hard way
  5. Network

She goes through each of these five points and gives great references and insight into what she means by each point and what you can do to incorporate these points into your life.  I recommend reading the article.  I feel that the advice boils down to make yourself uncomfortable (don’t take the easy route, don’t rely on technology (such as GPS), learn/use a skill you aren’t proficient at, etc) and once that becomes comfortable, find something else that makes you uncomfortable.

She also reminded me of the dual n-back test, which is a hard core audio-visual multitasking task which helps increase intelligence.  And it looks like there are many programs for many operating systems, which means I may have to add a brain training session to my morning.  I remember trying it once and getting beat down, but heard it gets easier with practice (as does everything).

The article did introduce me Robert Sterberg‘s PACE Center which looks at innovative teaching methods.  I grabbed his “The Theory of Successful Intelligence” paper and will read through it looking for techniques I can use in the classroom and in life.

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