The Calendar

Although I've written about my use of Google Calendar before, I want to revisit this topic to clarify some things, help you use it better, and offer a cautionary tale.

I am still using Google Calendar a lot. It helps me keep track of where I need to be, where I am, and where I was. Yup, where I was. Like, when was the last time I saw my dentist (Dr Xing Wu, highly recommended, BTW) for a cleaning? I look it up in my calendar. Last oil change? Look it up. Last haircut? It's all in there.

But most of the time, I don't actually go to

Although the events in my personal calendar live somewhere in Google's cosy cloud data centres, the calendar itself can be accessed as a standard ICAL (.ics format) calendar. That means you can use whatever app you want to access your Google Calendar--or any other publicly accessible calendar.

For example, in addition to my personal and family calendars, also I subscribe to CanadaHolidays. To see my calendars on my phone, I use Calendars 5 by Readdle, which shows all of my personal and subscribed calendars. On my computers, though, I prefer to use Thunderbird with the Lightning Calendar add-on. Or, yes, sometimes I go to Google's calendar website. But I don't have to.

Subscribing to a calendar is not hard. You just need a link to the ICAL URL. Here, Google tells you how to Add someone else's Google calendar, if you're using Google calendar yourself. No? S'ok, there are also instructions on how to Sync calendar with a phone or tablet (Android or iOS). One of the greatest strengths of subscribing to another calendar is that you can get notifications of events via SMS texts or email.

For a few years, I've been creating a custom calendar for each class I teach. You can subscribe to it, and get notifications of exams and assignments. Useful! If you don't use a calendar app, or don't subscribe to the course calendar, well, you won't get notifications and will have to rely on your brain.

Here's the cautionary tale. This past term, despite information on my syllabus, in Bear Tracks, in eClass, in my course calendar, and even in an email reminder I sent out, a student missed the final exam, thinking it was the next day. Oops. Your Faculty is not going to approve a deferred exam for that reason, and you will end up getting a zero on the final--and maybe even failing the course.

Why not just figure out how to subscribe to calendars? If any of your courses don't have custom calendars, you can manually enter important dates and events, set up your own reminders, and never miss an assignment again--or a dental appointment.

(I've written a bit of Javascript that updates the calendar icon on some of my course pages. Now the icon will show what day of the month it is. Sorry, it doesn't show the month. Or the year. You're on your own there.)

Why aren't you studying?

The Software Licensing (or, Thanks for Nothing, IST)

I got this message in my email today from IST (Information Services and Technology), which at first I thought was from Mordac the Preventer of Information Services:


You have been identified as an individual who has purchased or installed Adobe Creative Cloud, Acrobat DC or the Adobe work at home license through the Adobe Enterprise Term Licensing Agreement. Due to rising licensing costs for Adobe’s Creative Cloud software suite, Information Services & Technology (IST) has decided not to renew the Adobe Enterprise Term Licensing Agreement.

As a result of this change, you are required to take the following action by May 31st:

If you have installed a license through the Enterprise Term Licensing Agreement (ETLA) these installations will no longer be in effect after May 30 and must be uninstalled from your computer. This includes purchases and installations of Adobe Creative Cloud, Acrobat DC and the Adobe work at home license.

In order to comply with Adobe’s end of license terms, IST must receive confirmation the above outlined Adobe products have been uninstalled by May 31.

Please provide confirmation through the following link: Yes, by submitting my CCID I confirm all instances of Adobe Creative Cloud, Acrobat DC or the Adobe work at home license purchased or installed through the Adobe Enterprise Term Licensing Agreement have been uninstalled.

Content stored in Adobe Creative Cloud, Acrobat DC or the Adobe work at home license will not be accessible after the license expiry date. As such, important files should be downloaded prior to the expiry date of May 30.

For more information on the above licensing changes, please contact IST at or visit
So, seriously?

Literally in the middle of term, at the end of the day on a Friday, you send this out? I have to uninstall Acrobat from my home and work computers in 4 days? Seriously?

Yup, this will result in “significant cost savings to the university.” But, hey, so will cutting off our connection to the Internet. Or removing all computers from campus. Think of the savings.

Although you consider keeping Acrobat on computers in the Knowledge Common is “still providing access to core users,” that's not really true. Every time that I need to use Acrobat, I've got to walk from my office to the basement of Cameron Library, with a USB stick? Yeah, that's “providing access”...I guess. But then, setting up a computer with Acrobat for us to use somewhere in Stanley Park behind a tree would also be (technically) “still providing access.” LOL.

The alternatives you mention in your blog post do not include alternatives to Acrobat (the only Adobe software that I use). What do you recommend instead of that? I need something that has excellent usability, is cheap, will work with all my software, and won’t get in the way of my workflow. Oh, and I need it by, um, May 31. (Speaking of your blog, it’s curious that you do not allow comments to be posted on your blog. You do get what a blog is, right? Not just a data dump, but a forum--a place where people can share ideas. But then, you’re not big on the whole back-and-forth interactive discussion thing, are you? Never mind: Rhetorical question.)

Once again, you've gone ahead and made a decision without consulting the stakeholders--at all. The first I hear about this is a notice to remove this software from my computers? Not cool. You have a history of doing that; I shouldn’t be surprised. But then, in making a decision like this that impacts so many users, you must have thought through all the implications. Right?

You do know that some units on campus essentially require the use of Acrobat, right? Like SAS? I have to submit my exams to them in PDF format. Well, nope--not any more. Maybe you could break the news to them that instructors are no longer able to use Acrobat. (Do it soon, though. I have two students writing a midterm on Friday. It’s, you know, the middle of term.)

I know, I know: I'm not forbidden from using Adobe Acrobat or anything. I just have to hurry up and buy licenses for my computers: 1 university office computer, 2 home computers. I'm on the hook for $500 now. Um, explain “significant cost savings” to me again, please. (Also: I just bought new Adobe Acrobat DC licenses for my computers in November, a mere 6 months ago. Do I get a refund for those? Can you understand why I'm upset? Can you?)

So, in sum: A poor decision. Made in a poor fashion. Presented poorly.

Thanks for nothing, IST.

The Teaching Schedule

One of the most important aspects of my job is the classes that I'm assigned to teach. This really defines my life for that whole (4-month or 6-week) term, and what I do in advance of that to prepare for my assigned courses. So: important. This is how it works. In the summer, people in each research/teaching area have a meeting to discuss what courses will be offered, and who wants to teach them. I’ve been put into the Comparative Cognition and Behaviour group because I teach the high-demand PSYCO 282: Behavior Modification course, even though my other courses fit into different research/teaching areas (perception courses are part of Behaviour, Systems and Cognitive Neuroscience, and my human factors & ergonomics course is closest to Cognition). We don’t plan for the academic year that is about to begin, but for the year after that. (Yes, things are planned over a year in advance. There are implications of a professor taking a sabbatical, for example.)

In August, I submit my teaching preferences. However, as the term progressed, I realized that teaching two 400-level courses (Advanced Perception, and Human Factors & Ergonomics) in the same term results in a really high workload for me, because I do most of the marking of the short-answer/essay exams. So I asked that, in 2016/2017 my Advanced Perception course be replaced by PSYCO 367: Perception. The response: Sure, no problem. However, things are not a simple as that.

Many factors have to be considered by a department when deciding what courses to offer. Are there enough sections of each course satisfy demand? Are there too many sections? If someone is going on sabbatical, who is available (and capable) of taking over their courses? And then there’s the pecking order (I hate that term, but the only other alternative I could find was “dominance hierarchy,” which doesn’t sound right either).

Here’s how it works: professors get first choice of what to teach. Then come Faculty Lecturers, and then everyone else (i.e., other Contract Academic Staff: Teaching or “sessionals” and graduate students). This means that if I want to teach a certain course which has low demand, but there’s a professor who also wants to teach it, I’ll get bumped. It’s happened before a few times, like in the upcoming Spring term. In addition to PSYCO 258: Cognitive Psychology, I asked to teach PSYCO 367, but there’s a professor who wanted to teach it, so I got bumped. There’s not enough demand to fill two sections of that class. So then I asked for PSYCO 104. Strangely, though, I did not bump out the sessional who had been assigned to that class. Instead, the department created a new PSYCO 104 course section. This is pretty unusual to do--there is really not enough demand for two daytime PSYCO 104 sections (plus one night class) in Spring term. OK, well, whatever. (I want to be clear that I am not happy to “bump” any of my CAS:T colleagues. Work is hard to find, and the economy is not great. Costing someone a teaching assignment is not my choice; it’s the way Department policy works. I would be perfectly happy teaching Perception and Cognitive Psychology every Spring term, as I’ve done for many years, and not bumping anyone.)

Last week, I finally got access to my 2016/2017 teaching schedule in Bear Tracks--after students had already been granted access. I was shocked to see that the 300-level perception course was not on my schedule, but the 400-level advanced perception course was--and there were people already registered in it. What the...? So this time, I got bumped again--even though there is enough demand to support two sections of PSYCO 367 in Fall term. Clearly, there is some inconsistency in how policy is being applied.

Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not going to hate teaching Advanced Perception. I like it. But I had been spending my extra time since September working on developing PSYCO 367 instead. I wanted a year to rethink and restructure Advanced Perception. (I’ve been developing a new lecture on Illusion, Magic, and Perception, which is really fun--but it won’t be ready for this fall.)

So, what about my preferences for what times and teach, and in what rooms? Don’t get me started.

Why aren’t you studying?

On Being Picky

Some students consider me to be very picky, focusing on subtle, minute differences between words and phrases on exams and in marking, to the point of seeming almost completely arbitrary. For instance, the difference between the words since and because. They’re the same, right? In common usage, since is frequently used in place of because. “Since I am allergic to nuts, I cannot eat peanut butter.” Substituting the word because wouldn’t change the meaning at all: “Because I am allergic to nuts, I cannot eat peanut butter.” So, they’re synonyms, right?

What about this sentence: “I haven’t eaten anything since noon.” Substitute the (apparent) synonym, and... Wait, this makes no sense: “I haven’t eaten anything because noon.” The word since refers to the passage of time; the word because is used to indicate causality. In scientific writing, precision is very important, and selecting the proper word is essential when trying to explain something accurately.

Exam questions also frequently depend on particular meanings of words. If you change one word in a definition, it can completely change the meaning of the term. Take a look at this sample exam question:
Who is considered to be the father of psychology?
    a) William James
    b) Sigmund Freud
    c) Willhelm Wundt
    d) Ivan Pavlov
Know the answer? Some students will argue about a question like this. They’ll point out that there is no such person as “Willhelm Wundt”--it’s actually spelled “Wilhelm.” Thinking that it’s a trick, these students then pick anything other than choice (c), and come up with a rationale for their choice. (The answer actually is (c), but it contains a typo--it’s not a trick.) Faced with a situation like this, what should I do? Should I mark their answer as correct, because some random website somewhere supports their choice? (There are websites that support James, Freud, and Pavlov as being the the “father of American psychology.” the “father of modern psychology,” and the “father of Russian physiology,” respectively.) Should I reward their careful attention to detail and critical thinking skills? Or, come on, the answer is actually (c), and they should not get a mark for picking anything else.

Is this issue all about a simple misspelling? Or is the underlying problem really about the question being far too general? So maybe after fixing the typo, I’ll change the stem of the question to read: “According to the textbook, who is considered to be the father of psychology?” Or maybe even: “According to chapter 1 of the textbook, who is considered to be the father of experimental psychology?” (Wanna try, “According to page 6 in chapter 1 of the textbook, who is considered to be the father of experimental psychology?”) As you can see, the question becomes increasingly specific with every iteration. The advantage is that there is less wiggle room for students to criticize the question--but the disadvantage is that the question is becoming highly specific and, well, picky.

The result is that students will no longer argue about the structure of the question, but will complain that there’s no way that they can memorize the entire textbook. Now imagine that this happens with most of the questions on every single exam. Nit-picking forces me to refine my questions over and over, making them more and more specific. There are no longer any general questions, which are the most prone to interpretation and criticism. There are extremely few application questions, which people complain are subjective and arbitrary (even though they are not). The exam is now full of highly specific definition-based memorization questions.

Learning the meanings of and being able to correctly apply terminology is an important aspect of psychological science. In writing my lectures and exams, I select words incredibly carefully for utmost consistency, clarity, and accuracy. But over time, I have also made my exams far more picky than they were to begin with, because my behaviour has been shaped by students. So if I appear to be excessively picky (and, according to, I apparently am), you can thank the students who previously took my exams...and were very picky.

Why aren’t you studying?

The Quote (Revenge Ratings)

Image: Marie Espenido, The Gateway

I don't appear in the media very often. Occasionally, there's a mass email that goes out to Department of Psychology members, asking if anyone with a certain kind of expertise would mind talking to a reporter. A lot of the time, none of us are expert in what they're looking for. More often, you'll see a story on some of great research being done by UAlberta psychology researchers. Want to know the truth about "midlife crisis""? Maybe geographical differences in bird behaviours? Or why snunkoople is funny? Is the psychology of leadership your thing? Effects of screen time on young children?

I've been mentioned in the Gateway once or twice. There was the memorable front-page story about me proposing to my now-wife--in class. (I'm not going to do that ever again...) I also had a little story published in 1989 or 1990 about my experience getting to campus in the middle of a massive snowstorm (called "Black Friday" I believe).

Recently, I was approached by a student who writes for the Gateway. She wanted my opinions on the topic of "revenge ratings", online postings made by disgruntled students that trash their instructors. In particular, the article mentioned and how their policies (and postings) seem to have changed recently.

I had a nice chat with the writer--about 20 minutes long. I thought I had lots of really quotable things to say--but then, I always think that. She ended up using one line of mine in the article, published January 19.It's a good read, if you're interested: Rate My Prof’s “revenge ratings” offer nothing constructive.

Why aren't you studying?

The Sunshine List

You've probably heard that the Government of Alberta has a "sunshine list" that discloses the names and salaries of government employees who make more than $100,000 per year. (This number is indexed to inflation, and is now at $104,754.) The idea behind it is to disclose who is making what, and (presumably) to allow the public to speculate on whether the person receiving their hefty salary is worth it.

The Government, however, now wants to expand the sunshine list to include publicly funded people like doctors. The point of doing this is not clear to me. You can find physicians' fee schedules online. Want to know how much your family doctor is getting to do your annual complete physical? It's in there. Why would you need to know how much they're getting paid per year? What difference does that make to you, as a patient? If a doctor is getting paid more, is that better? Or worse somehow? If they're earning more, that means they're seeing more patients, working longer hours, working more days. The sunshine list data only gives the doctors' billings, it doesn't show what their overhead is. It's the doctors who have to pay their receptionists and nurses, pay the rent, update their equipment. But all you'll see on the sunshine list is their gross, not net, income.

Worse yet, the Government also wants to reveal the salaries of employees of post-secondary institutions. That means--yes--your instructors could find their salaries posted online. I'm okay with seeing how much the higher-ups in central admin are earning. This data has been discussed in the news before; it's not private, confidential information. And if you want to know how much academic staff, support staff, or graduate students make, the salary scales are easily available online (this includes my pay scale, for CAST). True, this data doesn't tell you how much a given individual makes--that depends on the merit increases they have accumulated over their careers, and and "top-up" funds that are often given when hiring academic superstars. But do you need to know how much your chem prof is making? Or your English TA? Do you care? Does it matter? Aren't there other data that are more relevant, like maybe USRIs? Or number of publications?

The Arts Squared blog has pointed out that the legislation contains no rationale for exposing professors' salaries, and that Alberta post-secondary institutions have been chronically underfunded for years. Are profs being overpaid here? Not compared to other universities in Canada: UAlberta (Full Professor, minimum) salaries are a pitiful 17th overall (see section 2)--awfully low for the 5th-ranked university in Canada. (It's also interesting to see how much less lecturers get than full professors.) If you want to shed sunshine on some numbers, it looks like we're substantially underpaid. What's more, some research suggests that sunshine lists will actually end up increasing salaries. (Incidentally, I'm happy with my salary. I love my job, and I'm not complaining. Academics, though, will leave a job if they can get paid more somewhere else. That will end up affecting the quality of teaching and research, and in a bad way.)

To me, it looks like this is a bad case of governmentitis: "Hey, this worked over here! Let's try it over there!" Seeing how much Alberta public servants make is one thing. Applying it outside of public workers makes no sense. There's no good reason for it. In fact, there's no reason for it at all.

Why aren't you studying?

What I Did on my Winter Vacation (2015 edition)

Happy holidays! That is, I hope your holidays were happy. Me? Nothing as exciting as last year. I went through most of November and December with a persistent cold that I couldn’t shake. Congestion, cough, and a sore throat that lasted 6 weeks. Bleah. That’s why these posts have been scarce lately. By Christmas, I was starting to feel (and sound) better.

If it seemed like last term dragged on longer than usual, it did. The new Reading Week prolonged Fall term by 3 days. Not a lot, but enough to notice. It seemed like I went directly from marking term papers to marking exams to prepping for Winter term. Although it was nice to have a break in the middle of term, I think I prefer being done earlier.

Hey, here are some pictures of Quad that I took in late November, coming back to get my car after going to dinner and a concert with some of my friends. Even though there’s no snow, I loved how it looked.

On Christmas Eve, my family was invited to a friend’s house for their annual Christmas party. There was lots of food, a lot of people, and a white elephant gift exchange. Much to our relief, the gift exchange all worked out okay in the end. I got a USB charging station, my elder daughter and wife ended up with the gift cards they wanted, and my youngest daughter stole the big box of chocolates/candies/treats that was one of the gifts we brought--and no one dared to steal it away from her.

A. Lot. Of. Chocolates.

Speaking of treats, some of my wife’s patients gave her boxes chocolates, candies, or cookies for Christmas, which was very generous of them. Um, too generous? I counted 12 boxes--and that doesn’t include the treats we got from my parents, sister-in-law, and Santa, or the two gifts-from-patients that haven’t been unwrapped yet, but sure sound like boxes of chocolates when you shake them. Hey, I do like sweet treats (I handed out over 200 chocolate chip cookies to one of my classes at their final exam last term), but I don’t want to end up in a hyperglycemic coma. These boxes of chocolates (the unopened ones) are going to find good homes, thanks to the Edmonton Food Bank.

Going out to visit friends and share a meal is a usual part of the holidays, and this year was no different. But we also have two birthdays to celebrate--which means going out for special dinners. All that food and lots of sitting around (I’ve barely broken 10,000 steps on my Fitbit in a month) mean that I’m going to resolve to...actually, I don’t make new year’s resolutions. But I better try harder to hit my goal of 10,000 steps a day if I want to fit into my Speedos by summer. (Just kidding about the Speedos. It’s a thong.) (Just kidding about the thong. I go to nudist resorts.)

Amidst the holidays were a couple of disappointments. Our furnace gave out (again). That’s our third inducer motor in 6 years. Grr! Oh, and I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Yes, it was a disappointment. Not just for all the many plot holes, but because it made me feel old, obsolete, and irrelevant--like Han, Leia, and Luke. (Did I mention I also had a birthday over the holidays?) My eldest daughter thoroughly enjoyed it, however. Hmm, maybe it’s time to pass my lightsaber on to the next generation...

Did the Force rock your world? Did you go anywhere exotic over the holidays? Ah, never mind. Keep it to yourself. No one posts comments anyway.

Why aren’t you studying?

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