How Caffeine Does the Things It Does. Jun 14, 2014 I waste a lot of time preparing and drinking coffee. My coffee ritual (cleaning the press, filling it anew, boiling water, brewing, plunging the grounds, pouring) takes around 3 minutes of active attention, and I perform this holy rite 2-3 times each day. Reckoning roughly, at this rate I spend ~48 hours –two full days out of each year– making coffee, and this figure likely an underestimate… Worse still, I don’t even notice the caffeine anymore! ...
Introduction to the Neurochemical Foundations of Learning and Memory for Non-Science Majors Jun 4, 2014 This first in a series of posts about the biology of learning and memory has been written plainly, with much care taken to ensure its general-audience accessibility. TL;DR: neurons communicate with other neurons by releasing chemicals called neurotransmitters onto them; these chemicals bind to receptors on the neighboring neurons. When a neuron repeatedly “fires” on another neuron, this triggers the latter to produce additional receptors and can even stimulate physical growth toward the former; thus, the latter becomes especially sensitive to the former and more likely to fire when the former does. ...
Productive Procrastination - gnuplot GIFs May 3, 2014 As the semester draws to a close, assignments have this way of becoming suddenly due and needing immediately to be done… while everything else, literally anything besides these assignments has this perverse way of becoming, in equal measure, more enticing, distracting, rewarding… So, having just completed a final project for my C/Fortran programming course, and as other deadlines loom like so much Damoclean cutlery, I just can’t quit tinkering with gnuplot! ...
The Piteous and Worsening State of Keller's Academic Decathlon Program Feb 27, 2014 I am writing to voice my concern about the seriously decrepit state of Keller High School’s once eminent Academic Decathlon team. It’s been six years since I competed, but every February, about three weeks in, some sort of high school atavism reminds my unconscious that Academic Decathlon just had its Texas State meet and urges me online to acadecscores (which may be down; the servers are spotty this time of year…) to review the damage. ...
Hey, Eigenface! (DIY face recognition) Feb 15, 2014 I’ve been recently acquainted with a statistical technique of amazing utility and versatility that has its roots in matrix decomposition, a basic—though profound—concept in linear algebra. For the purposes of this discussion, we’re going to consider it a very elegant way of taking a large, confusing dataset with many variables and transforming it so that you can find patterns based on the correlations among the variables, thus allowing you to describe your data with fewer of them. ...
Idea Density, or, "teenage essays predict old-age Alzheimer's" Feb 11, 2014 Yesterday in the car I caught a couple intriguing snatches of NPR’s Radiolab, a program that has been, in my experience, very hit-or-miss (though I guess it’s got something for everyone). Anyway, the day’s topic was aging and dementia and they were reporting in their pop-sciencey way on findings from the “Nun Study”—a longitudinal study funded by the National Institute of Aging to examine the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in a population of some 700 nuns who have been participating in the study since 1986 (the youngest at the time was 75). ...
How a computer works, briefly. Feb 2, 2014 This post is going to be a long one, because I need to be thorough and deliberate if I am to be understood; my target audience consists of people who don’t know much about computers, and frankly I’m just a dilettante with no formal training on the subject. But disqualification on both ends notwithstanding let’s forge ahead and see what comes of it. First, you have probably noticed that computers are everywhere: to use a colorful, if somewhat perplexing, expression, you can’t swing a cat without hitting one these days, and when I’m not staring straight into one of my own, I’m probably still using one in some way or other: ...
This Week in R: Cluster Analyses Jan 28, 2014 No Content Found
KIC Scanners and one of Lindsay's pictures Jan 22, 2014 Earlier this month I presciently looked up and checked out the only non-reserve copy of a book that was required for one of my upcoming courses. Then, a few days ago, I got the dreaded but by now familiar recalled email, prompted by someone else’s request (doubtlessly someone else in my class who is just now getting around to reading the syllabus). I’ve got to return the book by the 28th, and I’m miffed about it. ...
New Zealand: Late Updates Jan 16, 2014 I love it here! This really is an amazing country! We got into Auckland in the early afternoon on NYE. Everything is beautiful: all of the plants are unique-looking and typical road-side terrain—berms and such—are often breathtaking. Driving on the left-hand side is like learning to drive all over again—not difficult really, but you feel that familiar tenseness and vigilance, with the car tending far too close to the curb. The weather is perfect, with both cool breezes and toasty sunshine. ...