Amazon MP3 Downloads: Linux users add $2.00 extra per album.

I like Amazon’s MP3 downloads. They’re cheaper than iTunes, they’re often on super-sale, and they’re DRM-free. However, there are two costs they carry that are a worth noting:

1. Non-obvious DRM-like restrictions:  When you buy albums, you don’t (as you might naively suppose) get to just download them. Oh, no. They are added to your “cloud player,” and you can only download them to an approved device. And if you want to download the whole album in one operation, you need to install their bloatware downloader application on your computer.

2. Linux users get a bit screwed. If you happen to be using this OS, you’ll find you can’t download an entire album at once. No workarounds (that I know of); you just can’t do it. Amazon briefly had a Linux downloader then, for unexplained reasons, discontinued it. You can download your album from your cloud player one. song. at. a. time. That means each album is more expensive for Linux users, because we pay in time what others save in cash.

The math: Let’s say I buy an album (I just did). Let’s say it was about $10. Let’s say it has about 15 songs on it. That takes about 5 minutes of my clicking time to download on Linux, assuming all goes smoothly (it was actually closer to 10 minutes in this particular case).

The average American’s time is worth about about $24.00 per hour (in purely money-based income terms).

As a Linux user my album costs me $10.0o in cash plus 1/12 of an hour of work (i.e., 5 minutes). The extra time cost is about $24.00 * 1/12 = $2.00

So now, when I look at albums on Amazon that I like, I will mentally add $2.00 to the price.

Job searches are fun

I can’t say anything about the details of our candidates (of course), but I do want to say that hiring–for all its stresses–is a really fun process. Our candidates this year are top-notch. Listening to their research presentations and meeting them is a nice, bright window into other career and educational worlds, and a reminder of just how many intelligent, competent people exist in this world.

PSY 2401 – HW1 survey

In PSY 2401 (basic statistics for psychology), I’ve been offering the students surveys to let me (and each other) know how they perceived the homework assignments. So far, I only have one dataset–homework #1. I have learned a few things, the first of which is that Blackboard is not a user-friendly (or terribly useful) way to deliver surveys. Not its strong suit, so to speak. Other things I’ve learned are below:

Age: No surprises here.

Mostly traditional students.


Sex: This is how it is in psychology.

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Blackboard Learn is of the devil. THE DEVIL.

Today’s first I-Hate-Blackboard experience: Availability Follies

I have a merged course in BbL. Although about 65 students are enrolled, I have 105 in Blackboard, and they (plus more) will all be there for the rest of the semester, because apparently it’s very difficult to remove them or something. So my gradebook has a pretty poor signal-to-noise ratio.

I’ve been assuming that about 65 of those students were my true enrollees and the rest were irrelevant to the course. The fact that 30 of the students have the course listed as “unavailable” in the gradebook seemed to bear that out. Now I find out that some of the students for whom the course shell  is not available are actually enrolled in the course and blocked from participating. I got a helpful email from the online learning tech folks showing me how to make the course available for those students. Here’s the process:

  1. Go to Users & Groups
  2. Choose Users
  3. Find the students whose availability is set (for reasons I still don’t understand) to “No”.
    • Note 1: the list, in my case, must be repaginated to display everyone at once–with a predictable increase in page load times–because BbL is incapable of remembering which page of the list I was on, otherwise).
    • Note 2: No, of course you can’t just sort the list by the “availability” column and put all the “No” users at the top. That would be crazy.
  4. One by one, for each name:
    1. Hover by the name so the little “options” button appears
    2. Click the button
    3. Select the option to change availability
    4. Wait for the new screen (a full screen takeover, not a pop-up) to appear
    5. Mouse to, and click, the availability selector drop-down
    6. Select “Yes” and click
    7. Mouse to the other side of the screen and click <submit>
    8. Repeat 30 times
  5. No, you can’t do this to multiple users at once–why would you even ask that?

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Blackboard Learn Cannot Do Basic Math… on Math Tests?

I am so fed up with BbL it’s kind of pathetic. My most recent gripe: BbL seems  to be unable to do basic math… in test items designed to create math questions.

I created a “calculated formula” question as part of a self-test of my undergraduate statistics students’ math preparedness. The question asks the students to evaluate this expression (with variables generated by random processes):

([a] – [b])2 – [c] + ([d]2 + [f])

Looking at the randomly-generated values, I checked the answer on this variant:

(6 – 5)2 – 7 + (72 + 4) –> I calculated 47. BbL said it was -59.

BbL seems to be solving the expression like this:

(6 - 5)2 - 7 + (72 + 4)
  (1)2   - 7 + (49 + 4) 
   1     - 7 + 53       <-- So far, so good
   1     -     60       <-- Oh no! Working right-to-left!

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Tech Hell: MiKTex, TeXnicCenter, & Sumatra

I spent most of today stuck in tech hell trying to launch myself into the LaTeX world while using Windows 7 64-bit (instead of Linux). I couldn’t get TeXnicCenter to compile/build PDFs (or was it Sumatra, the PDF application?). I got the dreaded “cannot execute command” error from… somewhere.

I tried a LOT of stuff.

So here’s what finally worked:

1. Install MiKTeX 32-bit (I don’t know if this was important, but I wanted to keep all the apps 32-bit). Note: I had to go to the package manager and get the beamer class installed, because that’s what I want to use.

2. During the above install, choose “YES” for downloading packages on the fly. I think this was one of my fundamental problems: the compiler got stuck because a font wasn’t installed or (as it turns out) installable at runtime.

3. Install Sumatra PDF reader.

4. Install TeXnicCenter 32-bit. Note: after I pointed the installer to the MiKTeX binary directory, the installer intelligently set all the options in the output profiles that there are so many detailed web posts about. I guess the newer version (2.0 beta 1?) has that stuff all figured out. Nice.

5. Change the executables of the previous two programs to run with administrator rights and run in compatibility mode for Windows XP SP3.

And that’s all… I hope. I think it’s up and running now, but I really can’t make myself believe (as a few people online seem to) that it’s actually *easier* to use LaTeX with the beamer class than a WYSIWYG editor like PowerPoint. I think the elitism has gone to their brains. LaTeX has lots of advantages, but ease of use ain’t one of them, when you’re trying to make lecture slides.


EDIT: I think the problems above were as I finally conceptualized them, and limited to those areas. I installed the software on my laptop and it went very smoothly. But Beamer is still a slow, ponderous behemoth monster to use for creating slides, compared to PowerPoint or whatever the OpenOffice/LibreOffice option is.

Graphs with multiple variables

I’ve been trying to get some graphs prepared from the Knowledge & Attitudes data from Fall 2012 (K&A 2012). One of our chunks of data was a series of questions given to survey respondents about their views of the immorality and probable harm caused by various sexual situations (I call these the scenarios): each scenario specified an initiator, a recipient (for lack of a better term), and the age (15 or 21) and sex of each. The initiator was described as “starting a sexual relationship” with the recipient. They always engaged in the same activities: kissing and touching each other’s genitals. There are a lot of variables. Here’s one way to look at them:

  • Initiator sex
  • Initiator age (2 levels: 15 or 21 years old)
  • Recipient sex
  • Recipient age (15 or 21)
  • Immorality rating (DV)
  • Harm rating (DV)

To make things slightly more complex, I simplified the survey forms by cutting out some of the potential crossings of the variables: initiator and perpetrator sex are fully crossed (M/M, M/F, F/M, and F/F conditions) but the ages aren’t–15-year-old initiators are always paired with 21-year-old recipients, and vice-versa. For analysis (but possibly not graphing) purposes it’s also important to know that some comparisons happened between subjects (there were two more-or-less randomly-assigned forms) and others within subjects, with the order of presentation (sadly) fixed. In the future I may do this with more rigorous crossing of all the variables.

I could present subsets of variables in graphs, but I’m really interested in getting as many (independent) variables as possible represented in a single chart, not least because I expect higher-order interactions, and only showing a few variables might obscure those or even mislead the viewer. Here’s an initial stab with only some of the variables:

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PoPS: Nine Circles of Scientific Hell

The APS’ excellent journal Perspectives on Psychological Science has hit a nice little zinger: Dante’s nine circles of hell, but for sins against science 🙂 (if the graphic from the article doesn’t appear here, that means they moved the URL or something). I worry, like some others do, that sometimes we get caught up in publishing (or even in discovery) and forget that progress in science depends on individuals painstakingly implementing scientific principles, study after study.

Dear SPSS: We Have To Break Up

Dear SPSS (or PASW or whatever you call yourself these days),

It’s not working out. For the past few years I’ve tried to pretend everything was all right–and even before that I wasn’t completely satisfied, but I never really expected to be, because there’s no such thing as a perfect statistics application, right? So who’s to say what’s “good enough” in this crazy, mixed-up world? Maybe my standards are too high if I’m not content with your admittedly vast array of analytical features. I guess what I’m trying to say is, It’s not you; it’s me. Continue reading

The Robbers Cave Experiment: If you don’t know about this, you should.

On the Scientific American “Literally Psyched” blog, writer Maria Konnikova has an excellent and easy-to-grasp description of Sherif’s super-duper-famous (because it was super-duper awesome) Robbers Cave experiment. This was one of those awesome studies that didn’t have a single, hyper-specific research hypothesis, though it certainly had important questions to investigate and excellent methodology. It belongs in the same category as Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment and Rosenhan’s Sane People In Insane Places. This kind of study is rarely done these days (or at least rarely reported in mainstream psychology journals), for reasons that make quite a bit of sense when you dig into them, though the end result is that, I think, we have lost an important avenue for exploring human phenomena in rich, layered, multicontextual ways.

Go check out the blog post. It’s great.


Interview with James Flynn – Intelligence a-go-go

This excellent interview with James Flynn (the guy the “Flynn Effect” is named after) covers a lot of ground regarding intelligence changes (gains?) over the past century, the uneven field of these between nations, and even the modern phenomenon of “teenagers” and their sudden refusal to speak like their parents. Fascinating listening (in my case, on my MP3 player on a walk to campus this morning).

WinMagic SecureDoc Whole-Disk Encryption + Dual-Booting Windows 7 and Linux = Bad Things, Man

My university is, laudably, becoming more security-conscious. So they mandated that everyone with a university-owned laptop had to do whole-disk encryption. They invested in WinMagic‘s SecureDoc Whole-Disk Encryption (WDE) as their enterprise choice. It seems like a fine choice. But I didn’t think things through, and it almost cost me big.

I downloaded the installer for my 64-bit Windows 7 installation, then I followed the instructions and ran it. It’s a nifty little application that does everything for you, and that should have been my red flag. I’m one of those problem children at the university (there are several of us, actually) using non-Windows, non-Apple operating systems. In my case, it’s a dual-boot of Windows 7 (provided by the university) and Debian Squeeze (provided by the efforts of thousands of awesome coders around the world). And that means there’s a bootloader.

I should have realized that SecureDoc would need to install its own bootloader, but I wasn’t paying enough attention to what I was doing or thinking far enough down the road. The first step of the process finished, SecureDoc rebooted my computer, and… freezola. The ASUS logo (it’s a U30Jc) popped up, then the word “GRUB” and nothing. Not even a prompt I could work with. I think the SecureDoc program needed to boot back into Windows 7, was only set to do so one way (i.e., a single-boot situation with no GRUB2 in the way), and got very stuck when that didn’t happen.

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Faculty (and other) Salaries at UTPA

Recently, I had yet another, um, discussion about this. Someone described all higher-education salaries as “bloated,” among other characterizations of the field. I won’t argue that all faculty are models of taxpayer-funded efficiency (and I’m not sure that’s their most important role anyway), but I do feel the need to correct two ideas: first, that the halls of American academia are stuffed with rich government leeches who do nothing for their money; second, that rising university costs are directly attributable to faculty salary increases.

If the reader believes the characterization of college faculty as lazy, I invite him or her to look up how many hours per week faculty–including tenured ones–at American universities tend to work, and how many of them actually stop working during those much-misunderstood summer months. But that’s another isue. Here, I’d like to share the results of my own exploration of salaries at the University of Texas-Pan American, my university. It’s one of the hundreds of workhorse universities in North America serving the millions of students who can’t–or don’t want to–go to Yale or MIT. I got my data, BTW, from the web because, you know, my salary is public information. Weird. I think it’s the 2011-2012 salary data.

First, here is the distribution (in a kind of ugly-but-who-cares-I’ve-already-wasted-too-much-time-on-this presentation) of faculty salaries by academic field. The thin vertical line in each graph is the median for the group (also listed below each panel of the chart), the X-axis is annual salary in $1000s, the colors are kind of hideous, and the N is not always visible because please see the first parenthetical comment in this paragraph.

Faculty Salaries at UTPA by Academic Area

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Military Patriotism: American Exception to Corrections for Stereotyped Emotional Responses?

I’ve just been reading “Blackout/All Clear,” by one of my favorite authors, Connie Willis. There’s a moment when someone recites the St. Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V. It always makes me feel all proud and choked up, though I have never been in any military-type “band of brothers.” It made me think about the stereotyped emotional reactions (let’s call them SERs) that many (most?) subgroups of humans have to certain social situations. I see many of them in daily life. Here are a few:

  • Sexual arousal when we see hotties (however that’s defined for each of us)
  • Indignation when we hear about powerful individuals abusing less powerful ones
  • Anger or defensiveness when we perceive a threat  (the ANS “fight or flight” response)
  • Tenderness or protectiveness when we see children (as long as they’re not being monsters

And many more. Obviously, these SERs seem to have cultural, and perhaps biological/evolutionary, usefulness: they help us reproduce effectively, minimize social ills, protect our loved ones and our lives, and shepherd our vulnerable young toward independence. This perspective is well established in anthropology, social psychology and evolutionary psychology. We also seem to collectively understand that many of these emotional reactions must be moderated — we should often fail to act on them, or at least control the way we act. For instance, most of us would agree that it’s a bad idea to react to every sexual impulse we have; and clients of anger management programs and anxiety-disorder therapy alike work to rein in their fight-or-flight responses.  We recognize that these emotional reactions can be misguided — we can be tricked by our biological and cultural predispositions into doing something that is not truly a good response to the situation. We are taught, and we teach our children, to carefully manage how we react to many of these situations. Perhaps I could call that, for the moment, the correction for stereotyped emotional reactions (CSER; see how I just made up that acronym out of nowhere? That’s what we academics are trained to do).

So, finally, we’re at the questionably deep thought of the day (QDTD): why do so many of us  (I’m especially talking about 21st Century Americans) seem to think that some of these knee-jerk reactions should be immune from the CSER–there should be no correction. Specifically, I suspect that many people in the US would be confused or even upset if someone were to suggest that it is not a good idea to swell with military/patriotic pride (the “band of brothers” response from the beginning of this post) every time a leader gives some version of the St. Crispin’s Day speech. Those same people would, however, probably agree that not all sexual impulses should be acted upon, and that we should not join riots whenever we feel like it. This “exception” from any CSER to military/patriotic emotional responses (and probably other categories) obviously serves some political agendas, but I don’t think that alone can explain why it happens. I think progressives/liberals, who generally want to think carefully about wars, if not avoid all of them, do have a CSER to this type of stimuli, but I feel that many public progressives are tentative about suggesting that others should examine their emotional responses–perhaps because they feel that this suggestion would be unpopular.

Placebos everywhere

I found this article about placebos kind of charming. Placebo elevator buttons (I knew it!) and placebo “walk” buttons at intersections (I suspected it!). But I wonder: is this really the placebo effect? Shouldn’t a true placebo somehow provide part of the benefit that the real thing is supposed to give? Placebo ≠ faking it.

Placebos via Slashdot

Not Psychology – UTPA Mariachi at the White House

Having heard UTPA Mariachi perform, I can attest that they are awesome. The harmonies are tight, the vocals are bold and rich, and the instrumentation is gorgeous. So, imagine my surprise to see them turn up at the White House!

Come to think of it, perhaps that’s why the Tea Party won all those congressional seats. Perhaps the Mariachi distracted President Obama.