#TheDress Explained

You know about "The Dress"? It first appeared on Tumblr? The one that's freaking out the Internet? Or at least, making it lose its composure? And Twitter's, well, all a-twitter about it, too? Yeah, that one. Here's the deal: some people look at the photo and see a black-and-blue dress. But others look at the same photo and see a gold-and-white dress. Wha--? How can that be?

Calm down, Internet. I'm here to explain. I'm a psychologist specializing in perception. I'm trained to handle situations like this.

What we "see" is affected not just by the pattern of light that falls on our retinas, but also by unconscious assumptions that we make about the visible world. Like, for example, the ambient illumination.

Say you "see" a piece of red paper. Is it red paper under white light? Or is it white paper under red light? If you don't know for sure about the light falling on the paper, your assumption about the illumination makes all the difference. Your unconscious assumption makes you see the object one way, or another. Same goes for the dress. (What if it's red paper under red light? Shut up. I'm trying to make a point here.)

Usually, our assumptions about things match the reality. We know what the ambient illumination is. It's obvious. But what if reality is ambiguous? That is, what if we don't know for sure what the ambient lighting actually is? Like, say, in a poorly exposed photo? Can we force our perception to change?

Let's try. Want to see the dress as gold and white? Try scrolling the photo so all you see is the topmost part--just to where the frilly ruffly bits start. Then tell yourself that the black neckline under bright illumination is actually a gold colour under low illumination. Also, think about the lighter areas as actually being white, again under low illumination. (Likewise, if all you see is a gold-and-white dress, imagine that you're looking at the dress under much brighter illumination.) You're using "top-down" perception, driven by your beliefs about the stimulus, not just about the "bottom-up" incoming signals from your eyes.

Still not working for you? Wait until it's dark outside, or go into a completely dark room. Download an image of the dress from the original Tumblr page. Pull it up in a graphics viewer. (I like FastStone.) View it full screen, with nothing else around it, just a black background. Now decrease the brightness of your computer screen, and turn off the lights in your room. At the lowest screen brightness, try again to convince yourself that you're looking at a white-and-gold dress. There's no guarantee this will work. I mean, maybe you're brain damaged, I dunno. It's late and I'm tired, and I want students from my classes to stop sending me emails about this dress. It's pretty ugly. (Sorry.)

There ya go, mystery solved. It's all about your unconscious assumptions. As to why some people can more easily see it as gold and white, whereas others cannot, well, that's an interesting question!
(By the way, the dress is actually blue and black, according to Amazon. That's the objective reality. So stop arguing.)

Why aren't you studying?

The Reading Week Reading List

Happy Reading Week! I don't have as much time as I'd like to read. Sure, there's all the stuff that I have to read (new textbooks, scientific papers and whatnot). There's also what I feel obligated to read: the newspaper (I've read the newspaper every single day since I was in grade 1. Not that I was reading about global socioeconomic events back then; just the comics. I was amazed to find comics in the newspaper. Now I do read about global socioeconomic events...and then read the comics to cheer up again.). Then there are the magazines I subscribe to. I have to read those; I'm paying for them. (For the record, these include Wired and Consumer Reports.)

And then there are the books I read for fun. Listening to audiobooks counts as "reading," right? I'm going to say it does. I "read" a lot during my commute: it makes the time pass by faster, and it's better than eyeball reading a book while driving. A lot of books I read are nonfiction, science-based and usually about psychology, but I enjoy other topics, too. Like economics. (What? What's wrong with economics? It can be fun. Well, maybe not macroeconomics.) I do read fiction, too, but not as much as I'd like. Anyway, here's a sample of some books I've read, or am reading.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
This one's right up my alley: A book for middle-aged white guys, full of references to D&D, classic video games, and '80s music. Apparently, other people enjoy it, too. The story itself is structured like a video game, making you wonder whether the protagonist will complete the final level and defeat the boss. Not only was the book filled with all kinds of coolness, Cline also wrote a working Atari 2600 game, The Stacks. This game was part of an online scavenger hunt; the winner was given a DMC DeLorean by Cline. This book is going to be made into a movie. Read the book, cuz we all know the movie is never as good. Atari 2600, eh? That brings me to...

Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System by Nick Montfort & Ian Bogost
Ah, more geekery. This book is about the inner workings of the Atari VCS, a.k.a. the 2600, the game console of my youth. It starts by explaining the technical workings of the system, like the horizontal blank and the vertical blank. And then it gets really interesting. No, really. It explains the development of six classic cartridges including Combat, Adventure, Pac-Man, and Pitfall! Even if you're not into the technical side of games, if you've ever played these games online, it's interesting to read about the stories behind the games. For example, I learned that Yar's Revenge started off as a port of the arcade game Star Castle. Neato!

Tasty: The Art and Science of What We Eat by John McQuaid
Although it sounds like this is a "food" book (another one of my favourite topics!), it's really about the sense of taste. You gotta love a book that starts off with a discussion of Edwin Boring's mistaken tongue map. Other chapters cover the quest to grow the world's hottest chili pepper: for the record (literally), the Carolina Reaper, and the effects of the miracle fruit. Although it seems like it's all about taste (per se), there's also quite a bit about flavour. What's the diff? You could just look it up on Wikipedia. Or you could take my PSYCO 367: Perception class. I'll be sure to add some interesting things from this book.
What are you reading?

Why aren't you studying?

The Awards: 12

It was my pleasure to be invited again to the ISSS (Interdepartmental Science Students' Society) Instructor Appreciation Night. Apparently, some nice person (or persons) nominated me, and ISSS decided to give me an award ("for excellence in teaching" and "In Recognition of Your Dedication to Undergraduate Teaching"). Thanks! On the left is a pic of the nice plaque I received. Congrats as well to the other 17 instructors and 13 teaching assistants who received awards. Special shout-outs to my psych department colleagues who also picked up awards, Dr Anthony Singhal and Dr Erik Faucher.

There was a nice reception in the PCL Lounge, followed by an even nicer dinner at the Faculty Club. I don't go to the Faculty Club often; I don't have a membership. (Contrary to what many people think, no one automatically gets a free membership. Membership costs $25 a month. And I'm a cheapskate.)
This dinner was the culmination of a big week for ISSS: Science Week! If you're not aware of all the services that ISSS provides to Science students, you should check out these services.

Somehow, I managed to get a seat at a table with a couple of Associate Deans. You've got to be careful in a situation like that. (It's not good to spill a drink on an Associate Dean.) There was some interesting information going around the table. Apparently there are some rumours going around about me, but I couldn't get any details. Does anyone know anything? Is there something in my teeth? Should I be looking for a new job? Are my ties not cool enough?

Why aren't you studying?

The Conference

On Friday, I was away at a conference. I don't go to conferences often. (OK, so I was away 11 months ago. But I called that a "business trip.") It wasn't a scientific conference--that is, it was not organized by a professional organization like the Association for Psychological Science or the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. (I'd really love to go to one of those conferences--but I've have to cancel a lot of classes. APS is in May, and HFES is in October. It was bad enough that I had to cancel my intro class on Friday. I feel so guilty...)

At a typical scientific conference, a lot of researchers present their findings as talks or posters. Plus, there are opportunities to meet with the researchers and with students. Usually, a notable person delivers a keynote speech. This conference was organized by a publisher (like my business trip last year), but it was filled with scientists (psychologists, mathematicians, and physicists) and people from the publishing company, Pearson. The conference was billed as a "Digital Innovation Summit."

Instead of presenting research papers, people discussed their teaching, with an emphasis on how digital technology is changing pedagogy. There were opportunities to talk with others over breakfast and lunch (I bumped into a colleague who, like me, is teaching in Science 100 this year), so that was nice. And the keynote was given by Professor Eric Mazur, who is on the forefront of innovations in teaching. (He is "author or co-author of 288 scientific publications, 36 patents, and several books" and has contributed to a number of startup companies, like Learning Catalytics.) He was amazing to hear, and I think his talk on changing how we assess students made all of us think about teaching in a different way.

There wasn't a lot of time for fun, but I did get tickets for Flyover Canada with my hotel room, so I checked that out. (Verdict: Fun; much like Soarin' Over California. The older ladies sitting next to me sure had a hoot.) Beyond that, though, there wasn't time for anything else. I had to zip back home for one daughter's soccer game (they won, and are now in city finals, yay!), and another daughter's birthday party. Still, if you're jealous, it rained. A lot. Like a 90-mm-severe-rainfall-warning lot.

Here's a photo out the window of the plane, and a crummy shot of Canada Place, where the conference was held:

Part of the conference was slanted toward the publisher showing us that they are serious about changing education for the better using digital tools, which is good to know. Will going to this conference influence me, making me more likely to pick their textbooks in the future? I try to be objective in selecting a textbook.

Full disclosure: although the conference--including breakfast and lunch--was free, I had to pay for my own airfare, hotel, and transportation. (I didn't have the breakfast.)

Why aren't you studying?

What I Did on my Winter Vacation (2014 edition)

In Fall term, the stars aligned and my finals were scheduled to be finished relatively early. As soon as my wife heard that, she said, "Hawaii." So my family went to Hawaii over the holidays. (Yup, again. Hey, it's been three whole years.)

There's a joke that every tour guide in Hawaii tells. If it's your first time to the islands, you're a malihini. "That means you're a newcomer," the tour guide says. If it's your second time to the islands, you're a kama'aina. "That means you're rich," the tour guide jokes. Har har. (Kama'aina actually means "child of the land," but it usually refers to someone who is a resident of Hawaii.) The joke isn't too far off the truth: it's expensive--expensive to go, expensive to stay, expensive to do anything. And the Canadian dollar being worth USD$0.85 also hurt. Ouch.

Here's the lagoon at the Hilton Hawaiian Village:

I love the flavours of Hawaii. Macadamia nuts. Having Kona coffee and a papaya for breakfast. And check out the cool flavours of yogurt (haupia is like coconut pudding):

I'm also a sucker for cereal--there are all kinds of wacky ones. Cap'n Crunch Oops! All Berries! Peanut Butter Toast Crunch! Hershey's Cookies 'n' Creme!

 My wife liked going to the beach, but the kids preferred the pool (no sand between your toes; no salty seawater getting in your mouth--yuck!). Me? I'm more of an iced-coffee-and-a-book-in-the-shade kind of person. What I like best, though, are the cultural experiences--the opportunity to learn about different cultures and showing that to my kids. In Hawaii, there's no better place for that than the Polynesian Cultural Center (having great food and enjoying an amazing show are great, too!):

Finally, there was Pearl Harbor, a poignant reminder of the human consequences of war:

How did you spend your winter vacation?

Why aren't you studying?

The eUSRIs

USRIs, of course, stands for Universal Student Ratings of Instruction. You know, the paperwork you fill out near the end of term, evaluating and giving feedback to the instructors of all of your courses. Until this year, that is. Hence, the “e” in eUSRIs.

After a limited trial of online evaluations, General Faculties Council approved the move to online-only evaluations on September 22, 2014. (That’s why my course outlines for this term still had a date set aside for evaluations to be completed in class. I created those syllabi in August. Warm, sweet August.) The trials took place in Spring, Summer, and Fall terms in 2013. The results are available at the VPIT's website.

This abrupt change caught a lot of people off guard--we were officially told only on October 7. Instructors received a curt email with a link to a very limited FAQ and an attached technical document that was of no use or information to anyone who does not have backend administrative access to IT systems. (No, most instructors do not get backdoor access to Bear Tracks, PeopleSoft, or any other system. I wouldn’t want it anyway--it smells like more work.)
So what’s driving this move to online evaluations? Although you won’t see it anywhere, the idea is to reduce costs. No more printing forms, scanning them, and (in some cases of very small classes) transcribing students’ written responses. The rumour mill has whispered that it’s actually costing more to do online evals this term; the software platform (CoursEval) isn’t free, and people have to be trained how to use and modify it.

The biggest downside to eUSRIs? Lower response rates. Online evaluations are notorious for having significantly lower uptake than paper forms that are distributed during class time. Which brings me to my point.

Please please please please please please please please please complete your eUSRIs! Please? The results of USRIs are important for things like promotion (of tenure-stream faculty) and rehiring (of contract academic staff). Written comments are tremendously useful feedback; I look forward to them every time. Plus, sometimes they’re, you know, interesting.

So won’t you take a few minutes to evaluate your instructors this term--please?
Here’s the link: eUSRIs. Thank you in advance.

Why aren’t you studying?

The Awards: 11

The Department of Psychology released the Teaching Honour Roll for Spring and Summer 2014 courses, and I am pleased to say that I earned Honour Roll with Distinction for both of my courses >blush<.

On the one hand, "intersession" courses are easier because they're smaller, and full of awfully motivated students. I mean, you've gotta be motivated if you're taking classes when the weather's great and you could be working to earn money for next year's tuition.

But on the other hand, they're also tougher to teach, because they're compressed into 6 weeks. That's why I decided not to teach my behaviour modification course--the self-management project I designed requires students to collect data for a total of 4 weeks, in addition to other assignments. Reducing the length of the observation period would decrease the likelihood of success of any behaviour change procedure.

Anyhow, on to the comments. As usual, sarcasm filters are off!

From PSYCO 258:

Dr Kloepelm is great =)

(Aw, thanks. You're great, too, pandasnuggles69!

I didn't have any problem with the course except I wished Dr. Loepelmann could speak a little louder.

This course was a pleasant surprise with how interesting and informative it is. The Instructor (Karsten L.) made this class! I have heard that it is a very difficult and dry class from others. He provided a lot of time to speak to him after class which was very appreciated!
Dr. Loepelmann was awesome as usual - passionate, clear, helpful and engaging. I really appreciated all of the engage activities throughout lecture.
Karsten explained everything very well, but his jokes made me angry. Best dressed prof for sure though.

Karsten is a great prof and obviously is very passionate about psychology. I would take another class with him. The only complaint I have about this course was the textbook. It is very dry and boring. Karsten is also very well dressed and I appreciate his shirt and tie combinations.
(Hey, thanks, I really appreciate the--wait, what? You like my clothes? I'll be sure to tell my wife, who picks them out for me. My jokes made you angry? Which one? "A Jewish person, a Polish person, and a visible minority person walk into a bar..."? I must be telling it wrong.)

From PSYCO 367:

You're a gem


This is my 4th class w/ Lopelmann, by far my favourite prof so far in university!

(Take one more class, and maybe you'll be able to spell my name right!)

Teacher was enthusiastic but sometimes spoke to us like 5-year olds.

(Aww, what's wrong pumpkin? You wanna have a lollipop? Oops, sorry. Though I was speaking to my 5-year-old.)

- I like the practical case studies you presented (eg: colours of hockey jerseys or detergent colour)
- update on the McCollough Effect: 2 weeks and going strong

(Call me when you get to 2 years. Maybe we'll write a paper.)

You were a blast when I had you in into psych in like 2003. You are still a blast. Thanks for being so enthusiastic about teaching. It was swell.
(2003? Whoa, that takes me back.Thanks for sticking with me for, er, 11 years. Are you going to graduate soon?)

Give the man a raise

(Hey, I do this for the love of it--not the money.)

Did a great job explaining concepts, but sometimes it is hard to hear him or he talks too fast.


I understand why you have fill in the blanks, but please explain + show them at the same time during lecture. Some people learn best with audio AND visual cues at the same time. I know you want people to pay attention but please consider this.
(Thanks for the feedback.)

Thank you for taking your time to make the course interesting. Your efforts definitely made an impact on my motivation to learn and pay attention in this class (=
(My pleasure.)

Great prof


Why aren't you studying?

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