That's a picture of my baklava to the left there. To get my mind off feeling sick and miserable, I decided to make baklava. Sure, I could easily stop by Paradiso Pastries (11318 134 Avenue) on the way home. But there's just something about creating using your own hands.

I'm a fan of the blog dinner with Julie, written by a (*choke*) Calgary mom, cookbook author, radio personality, caterer, and (obviously) blogger. Coincidentally, she also made baklava recently (I made mine first). I've made a few of her recipes, but this time I just wanted to get rid of some phyllo I've had in the freezer since, well, er...since before my kids were born. It was still good, amazingly.

My recipe came from my main man, Alton Brown. I thought his recipe was interesting, using three different kinds of nuts. Instead of walnuts, though, I opted for cashews. Also, to put a Canadian spin on it, I added some maple syrup to the honey syrup. Yum!

How does this relate to psychology? Well, I am talking about the psychology of food and eating in my Advanced Perception course, and I'll be talking about hunger, eating, and weight in intro psych soon. Hmm, after eating all this baklava, maybe I go and weigh myself...

Why aren't you studying?

The Laryngitis

I'm sorry for the state of my voice this week. I know I sound like a frog with, um, a frog in its throat.

I was hit by a particularly nasty virus (picked up from my oldest daughter, via daycare or school, grr!) that decided to settle in my lungs, turning into a lower respiratory tract infection--likely pneumonia--activating my asthma, and giving me bronchitis. The result of all this was a cough that was so bad that my wife took her pillow and went to sleep in a different room. Wearing earplugs.

I started taking antibiotics for the infection, and maxed out on daily doses of inhaled steroids to open my airways. Unfortunately (I am coming to a point here, really; this isn't just about me describing my illness, honestly), one of the side effects is a hoarse voice. Or, in extreme cases, laryngitis: an inflammation of the larynx, which includes the vocal apparatus. Hence, my sounding like a goat that's eaten, um, a Smart Car. Wait, that doesn't even make sense. Did I mention I've got a fever, too? But look, you're learning all about parts of the body. Yay!

I always try my best to work through whatever illness I've got. It would be nice to put up my feet at home, and snuggle into an easy chair with a bowl of chicken soup to watch Oprah. But I don't see that as being professional. If I miss a class (or two, or three), that throws a monkey wrench into my schedule. Do I cut things out of the lecture? Do I just talk really, really fast to get through it all? Both of those are not fair to students--the paying customers. So, the show must go on.

Obviously, if my voice goes completely, I've got to give up. So complete laryngitis is one of the few things that will keep me out of the classroom. The others are explosive diarrhea and projectile vomiting. Of those three, I'd pick laryngitis.

So, what do you think? Should I stay at home with Oprah, or try and croak through my lectures?

Why aren't you studying?

Anatomy of a Lecture: Part 3

So far, I’ve talked about deciding on a new lecture topic, and the prep work that went into it. This time, I’ve got a collection of links to websites on synesthesia. I know I promised a “ridiculous” number of links, but these aren’t all the resources I used; I’m not going to link you to scientific journal articles, and, er, I can’t link to an actual book. Still, there’s lots of good stuff out there (and it’s not overly technical).

Tests: Think you’ve got synesthesia? Take one of these tests and find out for sure (the first one is a “real” test, the others are not so hot).

  • The Synesthesia Battery is David Eagleman’s rigorous, standardized test of synesthesia
  • Synesthesia tests has a number of different, um, synesthesia tests (unfortunately, it’s in poorly translated English)
  • Synesthesia Test assesses your grapheme → colour synesthesia (but if you simply click on the same colour over and over though, it hilariously thinks you have synesthesia!)
Simulations: If you don’t have synesthesia, it may be hard to imagine what it must be like. Here are some simulations of it.
  • animator Samantha Moore's video An Eyeful of Sound  represents her visual experience of sounds, in collaboration with Dr Jamie Ward
  • a sort-of simulation of grapheme → colour synesthesia: type letters and watch them change colours
  • a strange Java applet that turns visual images into sound, called The vOICe
  • here’s a musical sketch pad that turns your drawings into sound
  • choose colours for sound at
  • experience sound generated from watercolour paintings by an artist
  • the Music Animation Machine lets you turn any piece of music into a coloured visual display
Documentaries: Here are the best documentaries I’ve found--some from TV, some web-based. If you come across a particularly good video, send it my way.
  • I think the best one so far was produced by the BBC series Horizon, called “Derek Tastes of Earwax” (love that title). It also aired in the US as “When Senses Collide” and “When Senses Overlap” (available on YouTube)
  • ResearchChannel has another good one, called Red Mondays and Gemstone Jalapeños: The Synesthetic World (available on YouTube). BoingBoing has an abridged version as well (available on YouTube).
  • The Discovery Channel show The Real Superhumans and the Quest for the Future Fantastic has an episode on synesthesia (available on Disclose.TV).
  • Another Discovery Channel show, One Step Beyond, has a brief video on synesthesia that features interviews with David Eagleman and noted synesthete Sean Day (available on HowStuffWorks).
Magazine articles: (sorry)
Books/book authors:
Websites by/for/about synesthetes: Sometimes, it’s best to hear what synesthesia is like first-hand, from those who experience it.
Other good stuff: These links don't fit into any other category, but are worth a look.
Research groups/researchers: If you want more hard-core knowledge, you can find lots of peer-reviewed research articles here.
Qualia: “Qualia” is the term used by philosophers to mean our internal subjective experience--you know, do you “see” red like I “see” red? Synesthesia has been called “qualia becoming deranged.” If philosophy is your thing, here's some more about qualia in general.
And if that isn’t enough for you, Crétien van Campen has collection of over 50 synesthesia websites, and a bibliography of Synesthesia in Art and Science that's over 50 pages long. Is that ridiculous enough for you?

Why aren't you studying?

(01/17/2018: Links updated)

How to Get Free Marks

You want free marks? Sure, no problem--all you have to do is prove to me that I'm wrong.

It doesn't happen often, but it does happen. Earlier this term, Melissa T. asked me why the teaching assistant had marked an answer wrong on one of her assignments. She had written an alternative answer that sounded plausible to me, so I told her about my free mark policy. Melissa came back a couple of days later with a strong journal article supporting her point, and she ended up with a free mark! (To be fair, my TA stuck to the marking guide I provided, so it's not the TA's fault Melissa initially lost a mark. It's impossible to create a marking guide that covers every possible answer, and every variation on an answer. But that's another post for another day.)

You might have learned something in another one of your classes that contradicts what I say (or what the textbook says). This shouldn't be surprising--"facts" change all the time in science. (Like, old-time doctors used to prescribe smoking. And cocaine. Nice going, stupid old-time doctors!) The instructor of one of your other classes might be up on some brand-new study that hasn't worked its way into the textbook I use, into my lectures, and into my exams. So why should you be penalized for knowing more? Or, perhaps, for knowing something in more detail?

So, to get a free mark, all you have to is:

  • find an error in the marking of an exam or assignment (sorry, no free marks for correcting an error in the textbook--that is worth $2, however--and no free marks for pointing out an error in my lectures, although you will have my genuine gratitude)
  • find good (i.e., peer-reviewed) evidence to support your answer (sorry, Googling some random website or even finding empirical evidence cited in a textbook is not good enough--it's got to make it through the peer-review process)
  • find current evidence (sorry, digging up a peer-reviewed paper from 1847 may not qualify if subsequent research has undermined it)
This is a great win-win situation: you end up getting a free mark, and I end up with a exam or assignment question that's more relevant, up-to-date, and fair.

Why aren't you studying?

Anatomy of a Lecture: Part 2

(As you read in part 1, I've been working hard on a new lecture, on synesthesia.)

How long does it take to prepare (or "prep") a lecture? There's no simple answer to this. Different people will take different amounts of time. Some topics may take longer than others. And I don't think anyone actually keeps track of how long it takes (because that would take time, too; also, the final number would probably be a bit depressing). Plus, doing background research takes a certain amount of time, as does typing the lecture notes, as does creating the PowerPoint slides, as does creating the notes for the web. Do you count all of that time?

Looking around on the web, there are warnings to about how long it takes to prepare lecture material. A common one is that it takes 10 hours for a "new prep" (a course you've never taught before), and 3 hours to update a previously taught class. However, the book Advice for New Faculty Members by Robert Boice recommends that instructors try and reduce prep time to 2 hours for every hour of class, otherwise too much time is wasted, taking away from time doing research. I've also read recommendations that instructors should ask to borrow other people's lecture materials! (Note to anyone who's going to ask: The answer is No. Why? Aside from students, the sum total of my working life since 1995 is my lecture notes. Go do yours yourself.)

I haven't kept close track of how much time I spent on my new lecture on synesthesia. But I'd put it at over 100 hours. This includes listening to a whole bunch of podcasts, watching several documentaries, reading paper after paper after paper, reading (all or parts of) six books, and going to dozens of websites. I'm not telling you this to show off or anything. Maybe I'm a terrible instructor, and that's why it takes me so long. Perhaps somebody else could have whipped this off using the 2-hour recommendation: there are 3 hours of lecture to fill, so they would have spent no more than 6 hours of prep time. Yeah, I wish.

The synesthesia lecture I created is one of the largest I've created that focuses on a single sensory/perceptual phenomenon: 83 PowerPoint slides. Object Perception in PSYCO 267, in contrast, clocks in at 104 slides, but I've got a ton of image-only slides. Perception and Art in PSYCO 365 is a whopping 126 slides--but there are oh-so-many gorgeous pictures of fine art and not a lot of wordy words.

One of the hardest things to do when creating something is edit: deciding what to include and what to (*sigh*) leave out. I left out a lot of things about synesthesia, sometimes because they weren't directly relevant, and sometimes because they were just redundant with other studies. I felt obligated to talk about the current state of theories about synesthesia, and the evidence surrounding them--it turns out that research on synesthesia is exploding with the use of brain imaging techniques. In fact, from 2000-2006, there were 60 studies published (compared to less than 20 in the 1990s). I don't want to brag or anything, but I doubt there's anyone on campus who knows more about synesthesia than I do right now. Ok, I'm bragging.

If you have an interest in synesthesia, part 3 will have a ridiculous number of links to more info. Ridiculous!

Why aren't you studying?

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