Monday, April 30, 2007

CNBC Interview With Dr. Vernon Smith

Those of you who have not yet had the chance to view the 2005 CNBC interview with Dr. Vernon Smith, 2002Nobel Laureate in economics, may want to check out .

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Personal belongings and eye contact

A new message repeatedly relayed over the PA system at LAX (at least in the American terminal) calls on passengers to "Maintain eye contact with your personal belongings at all times."

This raises two questions:

  1. Is this eye contact supposed to be mutual?
  2. Is there such a thing as "impersonal belongings?"

The iPodless life

Last Wednesday night, as I was waiting for the airport shuttle to pick me up, I realized that I had left my iPod back at my office. Not a particularly unusual thing to happen to a member of my profession, but a matter of some concern nevertheless. This meant that I would not have an opportunity to listen in the airport, on the plane, and during any other appropriate moments during my conference.

Fortunately, I did have some Supreme Court oral arguments on a thumb drive that I could play on my notebook computer. Unfortunately, I did not get the occasion to listen when it would have been convenient to boot up.

The iPodless life is definitely not something that I would like to endure frequently, but I managed this time.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Qualities of a good student

Back in high school, a teacher once posted a list of attributes identified by writers of an essay on the topic of "Qualities of a Good Student." I do not remember most of the entries, but three that I recall are:

  1. "Knows how to add and subtract."
  2. "Shows a new kid where the bathroom is."
  3. "One who is perfect and does no wrong."

An occasion of some sorrow

Yesterday was my last class meeting of the academic year. This was a matter of some sorrow to me, and possibly more so to many of my students. Yes, I know some people may consider me rather naive. ;)

Nevertheless, the coming months will allow me time to catch up on a number of things:
  • Writing my "un-holiday" letter. I have several years of events and issues to discuss.
  • Building up the Autism Education Foundation, whose purpose is to make educational materials on autism, for a variety of disciplines, readily available on the Internet so that instructors at junior high, high school, and college levels will find it convenient to cover the topic. I will now have the chance to send out solicitations for contributions.
  • Finally making some major updates to my ConsumerPsychologist web site.
  • Finishing my book Orbiting the Autism Spectrum: Looking In, Looking Out.
  • Catching up on my color research.
  • Reading a large stack of books that have been piling up during the academic year.
  • Preparing for the Fall semester.
  • Making more blog entries.
Except for a week in mid July discussed below, please do not call this my "vacation!"

This summer, I also plan to reinstate the "tradition" I started in the summer of 2005 of doing some traveling right after the Autism Society conference in July. The conference can be quite emotionally draining, so I realized that the week after the conference probably would not be all that productive anyway. Last summer, with the move, I did not find time for the diversion.

This year, by the way, will be the first time in many years that will not make any presentations at the ASA conference. It got too busy this fall to submit anything. There is plenty to read on my web sites.

Ever thought of a career in swine science?

Neither have I, but my first teaching job (part time) was at the University of Redlands--actually, in the satellite program in San Luis Obispo. I taught statistics and research methods. To make a sharp point about the power of graphical illustrations, I created a pie chart showing "Student Enrollment by Major" at the University of Pinklands. The chart showed 100% in swine science. (The chart was quite innovative for the time--back in 1991. If Excel was even around then, it was not well known. I used Quattro, a spreadsheet that had its similarities to Lotus 123 but featured much better graphics. The graphics offered by Lotus back then were, to put it mildly, relatively pathetic.)

Occasionally, I have featured the University of Pinklands on exam questions. I also once had a question about Yellowlands National University in Amarillo, Texas, which attracted "the best and the brightest students from around the World who wanted to major in banana science.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A definite attitude problem and quite possibly a parent's worst nightmare

Today, when I turned on my TV to watch a DVRed episode of Gilmore Girls, I caught a piece of an episode from the CourtTV series Cops. Apparently, some bozo had been pulled over for failing to stop at a stop sign. It was then discovered that he was smoking marijuana. The driver did not seem to appreciate the gravity of the situation. The frustrated officer then asked him if he would not be concerned if pilots of a commercial aircraft--a large frame of metal--were "stoned." With only a tiny bit of reflection, the driver replied that--because of "the kind of person" he was--he would not be concerned.

When presented with the citation to sign, the bozo asked whether, if he refused to sign the it, he could just deal with the matter by mail. The officer replied in the negative: "If you refuse to sign, I will haul you off to jail!" That, of course, is where he ought to end up.

Did the bozo learn his lesson? I rather doubt it. He rather flippantly told the officer that next time, he "would do it in the privacy of [his] own home." Sadly, the officer was fine with that idea.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Finals time

Well, the end of the semester is upon us, and I am in the process of creating my final. As some of you know, I like to create somewhat "unusual" questions.

There is something rather appealing about alliteration. Previously, I have had exam questions about the Porky Panda Restaurant. This semester, I am contemplating one about some organization named Sorority Surfers.

Another exam question will be about a rather nerdy country singer named Geek E. Bumpkin. His newest hit is entitled "I Was Drunk When She Broke My Hard Drive."

Another dream

Some of y'all might be tired about reading about some of my strange dreams, but for those who are not, here is another one I had last night:

I was on a trip. I am not sure where I started and where my final destination was, but I believe it involved a cross-country trip. I was flying Delta Airlines. My first step was in Cleveland. There I caught a plane to another Ohio city from which I was supposed to fly to Sacramento, then to Fresno, and then to my final destination. I actually woke up as I was scrambling to find my gate in the second Ohio city.

Why this dream? I am not sure. I do have a trip to San Antonio coming up later this week, but I did not have this dream (so far as I can remember) when I last went to San Antonio. The Delta connection may not be co-incidence. Back when I lived in Maryland, Delta used its Atlanta hub to route me from National Airport to Seattle once. The route in this dream, of course, appeared to be even more circuitious.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Possible hypocrisy

Some bozos have littered some of the bulletin board kiosks around campus with advertisements for job openings:

These jobs are supposed to be with an "environmentally responsible" organization. This behavior does not seem consistent with that assertion!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Real Geeks Usually Don't Leave Home Without a Thumb Drive

Well, would you dispute that contention?

In these days of counterfeiting, of course, the qualifier may be important.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kilgore Trout

Today brought the sad news of the passing of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.. Few people have ever been able to match his dry sense of humor. I was intrigued ever since I first read Player Piano in my 11th grade English class.

In Cat's Cradle, a man is stranded in a very poor country. To detract the poor from their plight, the guro who founded the Bokonon religion persuaded the dictator of the country to ban the faith as a way to increase its intrigue. People who were found to practice faced immediate execution with a giant hook. The Book of Bokonon is passed clandestinely among residents. The main character revels as having read the entire Fourteenth Book of this gospel, entitled "What Can a Thoughtful Man Hope for Mankind on Earth, Given the Experience of the Past Million Years?” The entire text of that book: "Nothing." (My impression is that, on top of being a bit of a cynic, Kurt Vonnegut was not particularly optimistic.)

A character who recurs in several books is the unfortunate author Kilgore Trout. Mr. Trout has one fan--an eccentric millionaire named Elliott Rosewater--but every time Mr. Rosewater attempts to contact Mr. Trout through his last publisher, it turns out that the publisher has gone out of business. (Perhaps Mr. Trout might have found more of a niche audience today, thanks in part to blogs and other online media). Even with book royalty checks never maerialializing, Mr. Trout does not get paid for his short stories, either. They are printed without payment by publishers of hard core pornography material who need some text to accompany their filthy pictures. In fact, the sleezy publishers don't even send Mr. Trout a "tear sheet" of his article, so Mr. Trout has to hunt for his published articles in used book stores. One day, Mr. Trout catches a ride with a truck driver, and the discussion turns to Mr. Trout's occupation. The trucker complains that he once had to spend a week-end in jail before his arraignment for a traffic violation. The jail was in a town that housed a major recycling plant, and old magazines are used in the place of toilet paper in the jail. The trucker remembers this awful short story he endured reading. As the trucker describes the story, Mr. Trout realizes that it is one he wrote.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Collaborative filtering and marketing sleuths

This week, we are covering electronic commerce--or Internet marketing--in my class.

Collaborative filtering is a process whereby an individual's purchases are compared against those of others. The actual algorithm used by Amazon is quite complex, but it basically compares what one customer bought against what was bought by others who shared one or ore of these specific purchases.

A simpler case involves the simple correlation of the purchase of a specific book with purchases of other books. Here, you will see the phrase "Customers who bought this item also bought:" and then a list of the books most frequently purchased by others who have bought this book.

To illustrate, I used the example of the author Jonathan Kellerman, who writes murder mysteries in which a psychologist applies his insight as a consultant to the police. I then off handedly mentioned that I had been toying about the idea of a rather eccentric and absent minded professor--purely fictional despite any possible resemblance to actual individuals--who solved murder mysteries. I then pursued my point: Fiction books can be difficult to classify, so a lot of people might enjoy Jonathan Kellerman books without ever learning that another psychologist--Stephen White--also writes murder mysteries with the protagonist being a psychologist who uses his gifts in much the same way. Using the correlated list, however, it only takes a small percentage of people who know of both for the knowledge to spread readily.

The same idea can be applied to music. What causes artists to be perceived as "similar," or, more precisely, "enjoyable from the same taste perspective?" This could be driven by lyrics, vocal sound, musical style, or a number of other factors. Without knowing the exact classificatory variables, correlated sales can again pinpoint such complementarities.

My grandfather was a bee keeper

This heading might sound like the title of a country song--or, for that matter, a hip hop or folk song. Opera or jazz might make less sense.

In any event, I actually did not write lyrics this time. However, yesterday morning, I was having breakfast at Denny's. On the table, not surprisingly, were small "pockets" of sugar and cream powder. This reminded me of my grandfather's habit, when dining at restaurants, of pocketing all the left over sugar packs on his table to make sugar water for his bees. Not a very efficient process, but my grandfather loved getting value for his money.

Way back before I was born, my grandparents, my mother, and my uncles were driving across the United States for some reason. (I suspect the reason for the trip was a rational one, but I never pursued that issue). At the time, a price war was going on among the different gas stations. My grandfather would keep tuned to local radio stations and would detour as much as ten miles from the route in order to take advantageof a good deal.

Could this be the theme of a country song? Maybe, but I need a bit more inspiration.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


In a recent episode of Gilmore Girls that was re-run tonight, Emily complains about the ills of the world, especially the failures of her club. "The most terrible thing," she protests, is the food--especially the fact that they rarely ever serve fish.

"That's terrible!" Lorelai exclaims in sympathy. "Especially for those who love fish."

Monday, April 02, 2007

Partial list of nightmares

In case some of you have lost track, this is a partial list of nightmares I have had over the years:

1. Receiving null results on a research study.
2. Neglectting to attend an English class for the entire term in college.
3. Having to maximize some likelihood in a multivariate statistics course in the Ph.D. program.
4. Neglecting to turn in my assignments for the whole term in my Ph.D. program course in econometrics.

I will revise this post and add items as they come to memory.

New nightmare--or warning not to do the things I have dreamt I have done!

Recently, I dreamed that I would have to face another set of doctoral qualifying exams.

Last night, I dreamed that I was back in the Ph.D. program and had--for reasons that were not clear--neglected to turn in my assignments throughout the semester in my econometrics class.

These specific dreams are new. Periodically, I have a nightmare that I am back in college and have neglected to attend an English--presumably composition--course for the entire quarter. This may be because I received advanced placement in English and therefore did not have to take the composition courses. The only English course I took was a course in the Bible as literature.

Let this be a warning to my students not to do the things I have dreamt that I have done!

Could this be material for a country song? The audience is probably not quite right. An opera might be more suitable, but I am not sure how commercially rewarding it is to write those.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Ernst & Young Tax Guide 2007 available for gift wrapping

Every now and then, automated online stores automatically generate content in product descriptions that a human would recognize as potentially unsuitable for the particular product. One book site, for example, encouraged those who had viewed the description of one book to sign up to receive notification when Wiliam Shakespeare comes out with his next book. (Yes, I know that it is widely believed that many of the works attributed to Shakespeare were actually written by other people, but nevertheless...)

Today, I noticed that Amazon proudly reported that The Ernst & Young Tax Guide 2007 was in stock and that "Gift wrap [was] available."