After I discovered that morning faces improved my mood, I tried to maximize the effect — determine the the best time, distance, size, and so on. One evening I went to a screening (Taxicab Confessions) at the UC Berkeley journalism school. It started about 7:30 pm and lasted about two hours. Over the next few days, I discovered that the morning-faces effect was gone. It took a few weeks to return. Read the rest of this entry »
A Lifehacker post by Leo Widrich said you should tell a story instead of giving a Powerpoint presentation with bullet points. Widrich did not make his point using stories. He made the written equivalent of a Powerpoint presentation. He wasn’t trying to be funny — at least, not that I could tell.
This semester I’m teaching a class on Academic Writing. Yesterday’s class marked the switch from personal statements to other sorts of writing. I decided to mark the transition with a lecture. I had just one piece of advice for my students: tell a story. For fun, and to avoid the oddity of Widrich’s presentation, I decided to make my point two ways: without and with stories. Read the rest of this entry »
- Better sleep, less likely to catch a cold. Subjects were exposed to a cold virus. Those who’d slept longer during the preceding weeks were less likely to come down with cold symptoms. Likewise, those with higher “sleep efficiency” (fraction of time spent in bed that you’re asleep) were much less likely to come down with cold symptoms. When my sleep greatly improved, I stopped getting obvious colds. The implication is that if you get obvious colds, your sleep (and immune function) may have room for improvement.
- Redesigning the save symbol (undated)
- Bacteria in Japanese pickle prevents flu
- Some surgeons are much more dextrous — and their patients do better — than others. The only way you can find out about a surgeon’s manual dexterity, it seems from the comments on this article, is to ask a nurse.
Thanks to Sean Curley and Alex Chernavsky.
My theory of human evolution says that fashion (changing preferences for well-made goods) evolved so that artisans — the innovators of long ago — would not do the same thing over and over. In an excellent interview, music producer T Bone Burnett says something similar:
I don’t believe in crowdsourcing [for artists] because you’ll end up doing the same thing over and over again. People tend to want artists to do the same thing, and it is incumbent upon artists to do something that the audience doesn’t want — yet.
I’ve had a hard time finding interesting work by economists on the causes of innovation. It isn’t just institutional structures (“extractive” versus “inclusive”), as Acemoglu and Robinson say in Why Nations Fail. (Better title: One Reason Nations Fail.) An exception is Nathan Rosenberg, an emeritus professor at Stanford, for example this paper about aircraft design.
- Genetics less important than claimed…again and again. The article’s html name says “human genetics successes and failures” but the article is almost all about failure.
- Why I left (tenured) academia. “We shouldn’t expect [a college president] whose experience is in leading gigantic, dominant corporations to create an environment that rewards original, interdisciplinary, potentially disruptive research. Their previous success (such as it is) is from operating in an inherently conservative environment, running an organization that thrives in the status quo.” It isn’t just the college president. That such people are chosen as college presidents shows how little people at the top understand or value innovation.
- Monitor Me. BBC TV show about high-tech self-monitoring. My self-monitoring is mostly low-tech, except for brain tests done with a laptop. My experience is that I needed to do everything right — good understanding of previous research, good experimental design, good measurement, good data analysis — to make progress. A talk by Larry Smarr, one of the people in the BBC show, supports this. Smarr has colon inflammation. His design, measurement and data analysis are excellent. However, he chose to test treatments (antibiotics, steroids) known to be poor. They didn’t solve the problem. It would have been wiser to try to figure what in the environment might be causing the problem. It certainly wasn’t not eating enough antibiotics.
- Fecal self-banking
Thanks to Linda Stein.
Most days I wake up feeling more tired than when I went to bed the night before, however I find that if I take up to a tablespoon [15 ml] of raw honey immediately before bed I almost always wake up feeling totally refreshed. I’ve suffered from low energy, brain fog, fatigue and sore muscles for years. I tried eliminating food groups (dairy, grains, nightshades, etc) but that didn’t fix the problems (although wheat has been problematic) but taking the honey did. I usually sleep without any problems that I’m aware of — even if I awaken feeling unrefreshed I will still sleep through the night and won’t awaken early or whatever, but the crucial thing is I feel rested when I wake up, if I get that right I can even eat bad food and feel good all day. I tried coconut oil and coconut oil combined with honey but they didn’t work.
I hadn’t heard that before. I searched “health benefits of honey” but didn’t find it. A Wikipedia entry about the health benefits of honey doesn’t mention it. In China, many people think honey is a health food, yet a Chinese friend of mine, who eats honey daily, hadn’t heard this. The uses of honey in Traditional Chinese Medicine lie elsewhere. Honey as sleep aid is briefly mentioned (with a question mark: “Key to a restful night’s sleep?”) in The Honey Prescription (2010).
Many say or assume something quite different. According to Dr. Mercola, to sleep well “avoid before-bed snacks, particularly grains and sugars”. A Huffington Post writer says, “You already know which edibles to avoid before bedtime — namely, alcohol, coffee and sugary desserts.” Honey is half fructose, which UCSF professor of pediatrics Robert Lustig calls “poison”. Lustig says fructose is “one of the most egregious [= worst] components of the western diet, directly contributing to heart disease and diabetes, and associated with cancer and dementia.” John Yudkin, a well-known nutrition professor, wrote books about the harm done by sucrose. He considered fructose even worse. Nutrition researchers rarely study time of day effects. For example, nutritional epidemiologists ask what you’ve eaten but don’t ask when.
I found a bit of evidence supporting what Stuart found — namely, two comments here:
Just started honey and vinegar hot drink 2 weeks ago. Am amazed at the increased quality of sleep and relief of night time pain. Thought I was imagining it so did not have my drink one night. Didn’t sleep and was racked with pain again all night. . . [my recipe:] 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar and 1 tbsp honey with 1 cup hot water.
Honey knocks me out and I actually wake up in the morning feeling refreshed and ready for the day–amazing. I’ve been using the honey for a few months now. The difference has been “night and day!”
I asked Stuart how he discovered that honey improved his sleep. He replied:
I read something that Tim Ferriss said about having a small snack before bed [Ferriss advises protein and fat, not honey -- Seth], I think he mentioned that unrefreshed sleep was due to low blood sugar. At the time I was doing carb back loading (I’ve since stopped that as carb restriction gave me problems). I would have a snack before bed but it didn’t always work. I think the small fructose amount in honey was what helped, starches didn’t always help. I did some research and came across your blog and Dave Asprey’s blogs on sleep, Dave mentioned raw honey. He encouraged people to take MCT oil with the honey to stay ketogenic, I tried coconut oil with the honey instead but it didn’t work. If anything it made my sleep worse with stomach cramps. I think there is an amount where benefits end, I think anywhere between a teaspoon or a tablespoon is about right. . . . The first time I did it I couldn’t believe it, I felt so good the next day.
He added later:
I have noticed that if I eat a lot of sugar during the day (soft drinks, desserts and so forth) then I don’t feel refreshed [when I wake up] regardless of the honey. Perhaps there’s something about honey that helps regulate blood sugar. I think it works better on an empty stomach/lightly fasted. So if you had dinner at 7 pm you might not eat anything after and take the honey at 9 or 10. In the past I’ve had a late dinner then maybe some dessert or fruit in the following hours, then added the honey just after and I don’t think it worked as well. When I first tried it I used commercially available heated honey and it worked great. I’ve tried 2 tablespoons, but I don’t think that worked any better than one and sometimes as little as 1 teaspoon is enough.
In summary, three people reported great improvement in sleep from honey at bedtime. Stuart found several other things: 1. If he ate a lot of sugar during the day, the effect went away. 2. Other carbs didn’t work. 3. An empty stomach was important. 4. Effective doses ranged from 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon.
I believe Stuart has discovered something very important. My belief rests on several things:
1. Repetition. I started eating honey (1 tablespoon) at bedtime. My sleep (much better than Stuart’s to begin with) clearly improved, even with 1 teaspoon. I felt more rested when I awoke and more rested throughout the day. The improvement happened night after night. One evening I didn’t eat the honey on an empty stomach. The improvement didn’t happen, just as Stuart would have predicted. I told a friend about it. He took 1 tablespoon at bedtime. His sleep immediately improved by a large amount. He stopped waking up in the middle of the night and stopped needing a nap in the afternoon. Another friend has tried it once (so far). “When I woke up the next morning,” she wrote, “I’d realised I’d slept all the way through the night without waking up in the early morning (a nice change) but had a terrible case of the jitters (a not-so-nice change).” A third friend tried it twice. She slept better the first night but not the second. Maybe she failed to eat it on an empty stomach or had too many sweets during the day.
2. Strength increase. As soon as I started the honey, I got stronger — a complete surprise. For years I have done one-legged standing to exhaustion several times per day because it improves my sleep. To reach exhaustion sooner, I stand on one bent leg. Recently I’ve been doing it four times per day (right leg twice, left leg twice). For a year, I’ve averaged about 3 minutes to exhaustion. After I started the honey, the length of time until exhaustion quickly increased. Here are the measurements:
Each point is a different day; each is the average of the two durations for the first right and first left leg standing of the day. The 2013 tick marks the start of 2013. Nothing changed except the honey. The strength increase was also clear in other ways. In Beijing, I live on the sixth floor of a walk up. It became noticeably easier to climb the six flights of stairs.
The strength increase astonished me. The dietary change was tiny, did not happen before exercise, and involved a safe widely-available food (in contrast to the drugs athletes use, such as steroids). I believe better sleep increased muscle growth. I predict that taking the honey at other times, such as in the morning, would not have the same effect. My earlier observations that lots of standing and one-legged standing improve sleep make more plausible causality in the opposite direction: something that improves sleep will increase muscle growth.
When I described my strength increase to Stuart, he replied:
I have noticed that when I do the honey, my weight goes up over the next week or two, perhaps by 400-500 grams [yet] my waist doesn’t increase (I measure it with a tape measure) even after a few weeks. I also have been sure that I noticed rapid muscular growth around my chest, shoulders and arms, similar to what I have noticed when going hard at the gym after a few months off. I kind of assumed that maybe I had more stored muscle glycogen from the honey, but had also considered that improved sleep as you said was the reason.
3. Evolutionary explanation. It has been a mystery why evolution shaped us to like sweetness so much. Israel Ramirez (whose research led to the Shangri-La Diet) pointed out that the usual explanation (sugar is a source of energy) makes no sense. If it’s because sugars provide energy, why don’t potatoes and rice taste just as good? They don’t. Nutritionists lump sugars with other carbohydrates, thereby ignoring the puzzle. No anti-sugar advocate — not Yudkin, Lustig or anyone else — has provided a good explanation of why evolution shaped us to like the taste of a “poison”.
There are several related puzzles. Why are meals divided into main course and dessert? In other words, why do we eat the sweet part separate and later? If we like sugars because they provide energy, this makes no sense. If sugars are simply carbs, this makes no sense — we eat plenty of carbs during the main course. The separation of dessert and main course, if it reflects brain mechanisms, must mean that sugars are quite different than other carbs. Somehow we benefit from this division. A few people, in particular Elizabeth Capaldi, an experimental psychologist, have figured out that sweet food tastes worse if we are hungry (enough). This is why dessert comes after the rest of the meal. Yet other carbohydrates do not taste worse. Stuart pointed out something else along these lines, which I had not heard before but which is clearly true: We eat dessert much more after dinner than after lunch.
Stuart’s observations explain these mysteries. All four observations (liking for sweetness, separation of main course and dessert, sweet things taste bad when hungry, dessert after dinner but not lunch) make sense if we have evolved mechanisms to push us to eat sweet foods near bedtime. Long ago, these foods would have mainly been fruit. Because sleep is so important for health, there would be powerful selection for anything that improved sleep.
4. Basic physiology. The brain runs on glucose. In my brain tests, sugar drinks, cupcakes, and other sugar-rich foods make an obvious difference 30 minutes to 2 hours later. (I get faster.) And the brain controls sleep, an enormously complicated and time-sensitive process. Too little blood sugar during sleep could easily disrupt sleep.
5. Basic nutrition. Honey is half glucose, half fructose. When you eat it, the glucose enters the blood quickly and would supply glucose to the brain in the first half of the night. In contrast, the fructose turns into glucose and enters the blood slowly (fructose has a low glycemic index). This would supply glucose to the brain in the second half of the night. Many fruits, such as bananas, figs, and grapes, have a similar composition (similar amounts of fructose and glucose). Most fruits have plenty of fructose and glucose. A 50/50 glucose/fructose mixture makes honey near the start of sleep a good source of blood glucose over an extended period without food. Notice that you need both — glucose and fructose — in roughly equal amounts to get a roughly steady supply over six or seven hours.
6. Basic engineering. When you are asleep, there can be no “course correction”. You must subsist for the next six or so hours without any behavioral help, such as drinking water when thirsty. So it makes design sense to do something shortly before sleep that will provide a relatively steady supply of glucose throughout the night (“time-release”). That won’t be a lot of glucose at once. You need a food that is a mix of sugars.
7. Support for general idea. A few weeks ago a woman told me that when she ate very low-carb her sleep suffered, so she ate more carbs and her sleep got better. This supports the general idea behind what Stuart found — that the brain needs a certain amount of glucose to work well during sleep and it is best if it gets at least some of it from carbohydrate.
8. Explanation of correlation of sugar and bad health. Why is sugar consumption often correlated with poor health? This is easy to explain: sugar at the wrong time is the problem. Too much sugar during the day interferes with the bedtime benefit (and may also interfere with sleep in general). Stuart found exactly this: Eating lots of sugary foods during the day disturbed his sleep and eliminated the honey effect (“if I eat a lot of sugar during the day . . . then I don’t feel refreshed [when I wake up] regardless of the honey”). Too much sugar during the day could make it harder to get optimal glucose levels during the night. For example, too much sugar during the day might raise insulin levels, causing too-low blood sugar at night and/or causing a fructose/glucose mixture eaten at bedtime to be digested too quickly. Anything that harms sleep will increase disease. Good health, good sleep and good immune function are closely connected. An example of the evidence is that shift workers get more cancer than non-shift workers.
9. Reichenbach’s Common Cause Principle, in my paraphrase, is lightning doesn’t strike twice in one place for different reasons. If two rare events might have the same cause, they probably do. In this case, lightning has struck three times in one place. 1. Huge sleep improvement from tiny dietary change. 2. Huge strength improvement from tiny dietary change far from time of exercise. 3. Evolutionary explanation of why sugars taste good, why dessert exists and follows the main course, and so on. Before this, no one has come close to a plausible evolutionary explanation. The absence of an explanation is remarkable because two of the phenomena — sweetness tastes good, sweets are eaten separately after the rest of the meal — are so obvious.
I believe Stuart’s discovery is important for two other reasons that might not impress anyone else. One is similarities with my earlier work. First, I’ve found other “cross-over” interactions with time of day, where something helpful at one time is harmful at another time. Vitamin D in the morning improves sleep, Vitamin D at night harms sleep. Morning faces improve mood, evening faces harm mood. Second, wondering why we like sour, umami and complex flavors was the first thing to suggest to me that we need to eat plenty of fermented food to be healthy. Many facts later, I’m sure this is true. Finally, evolutionary reasoning has helped me find several new experimental effects (morning faces, Shangri-La Diet, flaxseed oil, standing and sleep).
Finally, Stuart’s discovery explains something puzzling I’d noticed repeatedly for years. Now and then I slept unusually well. I’d wonder why — how was yesterday different from usual? — and see that the only unusual thing was that I’d had dinner at a friend’s house. At the times, I guessed that seeing faces in the evening was somehow improving my sleep. This did not make sense in terms of my morning faces work, but a connection between social contact and sleep was well-established. Now I realize that dinner at a friend’s house is one of the few times I eat dessert. A friend told me that when his partner has dinner parties, she serves dessert long after the main course.
This report suggests that different honeys may differ in important ways.
I told a Dutch friend about this. She said it was common in Holland to have milk and honey at bedtime, although she herself didn’t do this. I asked why. No clear reason, she said. An excuse to have something sweet? Could this be why the Dutch are so tall? Children grow when asleep. Better sleep, more growth. My strength increase suggests what a big effect this could be.
A Chinese friend of mine had a cold. After a few weeks, she was still sick. I suggested she eat meat — it would provide the amino acids needed to make antibodies. She did want to eat meat, she said, but her mom thought that meat was bad for a sick person — an idea from Traditional Chinese Medicine, I guess.
Yesterday I had a desire to eat meat. That was odd; I didn’t usually feel that way. I ate all the meat in the refrigerator (slices of cured meat) but it wasn’t much. I ate three eggs. That, too, was odd — usually one egg is plenty. In the evening, I distinctly wanted more meat but decided against going out to get some. This morning I woke up with the flu. I could tell by the joint pain. So that’s what joint pain is, I thought. I’d read about flu and written about it, but, before this morning, cannot remember having it. How is the flu different from a cold? I once tried to find out. I might not have come down with today’s case of the flu were it not for two events: yesterday’s decision not to eat meat; and, the day before, running into a friend who had just left the house after being home-bound for four days with the flu. He shook my hand twice.
Humans (including me) are exceedingly gullible; my evolutionary explanation is that this makes us easier to lead. Gullibility — we believe something just because an authority says it — is cement. It keeps members of a group together. Better that 10 people do one thing (e.g., live in one place) than ten things, in many cases. Pointless to waste time on unresolvable and divisive arguments. Doctors, both Western and Eastern, take advantage of our gullibility. As my friend says, “doctors hurt you” because they tell you to do something different from what you want to do (e.g., eat meat). What you want to do is actual wisdom. We’ve been shaped by evolution to want to do what is good for us and what we want to eat is a giant clue to what we should eat. In nutrition research, this line of thinking, which is called dietary self-selection research, is nearly moribund, in spite of a great 1939 article about what happened when young children ate what they wanted. The idea that we want to eat what we should eat is what first led me to think we need to eat fermented foods to be healthy. Fermented foods, much more than other foods, satisfy our desire for sour, umami-flavored and complex-flavored foods. For example, it is easy to produce complexity via fermentation; it is hard to produce it in other ways.
As for my flu, I went to the store and got pork and duck. By evening I felt much better.
Two years ago, a professor of decision science wrote me to say that Vitamin D3 in the morning greatly improved his sleep. Recently he wrote again:
Once again you have dramatically improved my life through your blog.
In this Assorted Links post you offered:
The back pain of a friend of mine, which had lasted 20 years and was getting worse, went away when he followed this doctor’s advice
I read the link about Dr. Sarno and went to Amazon to check out his book, “Healing Back Pain”. 700 reviews with a 4.5 star rating. I spent two hours reading the reviews. Person after person saying, “my back is better” and nobody really described what the book had them do. I bought it two weeks ago.
In a nutshell, Sarno says that this type of back pain is caused by oxygen deprivation of some back muscles/tendons, and that the mind has does this as a defense mechanism so I don’t have to confront my subconscious anger.
I don’t have to pinpoint the source of my anger. I don’t have to come to grips with it and stop being angry. I just have to acknowledge the anger. That’s it. I read half the book in one sitting. I thought, this is crazy, but it has 700 4+ stars at Amazon. Maybe it does work.
My wife and I have two cars. One of them is a small Saturn. I hate it. It hurts my back to get in or out of it, and if I drive for more than five minutes I have to squirm to keep the back pain under control. Last week I took the Saturn for two half hour drives with only one wince of pain. Today I took it to the gym (a five minute drive) but it didn’t hurt to get in or out.
In the morning, to get out of bed, I have to roll over and swing my legs out toward the floor and then prop myself up into a sitting position. At least, that’s how I’ve done it for the past year. This week, I just sat up in bed with no pain. Every morning.
I am still a bit weak in the lower back, after more than a year of restricted physical activity. But this is amazing.
- Do they read this blog? ”Eventbrite, also in San Francisco, offers a treadmill desk (max speed 2 miles per hour) and a kitchen stocked with a Vitamix blender, fresh fruit, almond milk, hummus, Greek yogurt, flaxseed and kombucha.”
- The high cost of drugs. Note the disinterest in prevention, which is an extreme version of a cheap cure.
- Ars Technica tries home-brewing apple cider. Impressive.
- Stagnation of economics. “The courses are nearly all maths.”
- What caused my bladder cancer?
In 2010, Doctor’s Data, an Illinois clinical lab, sued Stephen Barrett, who runs Quackwatch, for making false and misleading statements about them. The lawsuit is still in progress. I am glad they sued. As far as I can tell, Quackwatch does contain false and misleading statements. Read the rest of this entry »
- Probiotic increases Vitamin D in the blood
- It’s hard to criticize Jared Diamond. “You’re just a nit-picking specialist.” Steven Pinker & Jared Diamond: separated at birth.
- Concern about academic freedom at Duke University’s new Kunshan campus in China. “In a preprandial discussion with [Duke President] Brodhead, the professor expressed concern over academic freedom [at Kunshan] — and Brodhead shot back at him that he is a “worrier.” . . . He told the professor if he ever needed a worrier to serve on a committee, he’d be picked.” Kunshan sinkhole.
- Butter is not as bad as we’ve been told. “The motto has been, if you want to sell crap, make sure it’s low-fat crap.” Related BMJ article.
- Sleep cleans brain of toxins. Have you heard of the glymphatic system?
Thanks to Claire Hsu.
A Chinese friend of mine learned about my discovery that it was much easier to study Chinese while walking on a treadmill than sitting. This led her to buy a treadmill. She began to study English (e.g., GRE vocabulary words) while walking on the treadmill. “It worked very well,” she told me. She found that if she studied words while walking, she could remember them four days later. If she studied them sitting down, she could remember them only a day later. With Anki, the default settings assume you can only remember what you’ve studied for a day — the first time you learn a word, you will be tested a day later.
This reminds me of Allen Neuringer’s finding of better memory for material learned while moving, but the size of the effect my friend observed is still shocking. If you can remember words four times longer before you need to review them, you can learn four times as fast. The effect that Jeremy Howard and I observed was of similar size. We could only study 10 minutes sitting down but could easily study for 40 minutes or more while walking.
In a recent post, I described how much easier it was to meet with students while walking than while sitting. The content of the meetings stayed the same. I met with them after my Academic Writing class to help them with their writing.
I asked my students what they thought of these meetings. They had three complaints:
1. I walked too fast.
2. It wasn’t so easy to avoid bicycles and listen to me at the same time.
3. It was cold.
I told them that I found the meetings less tiring. They did not notice this.
I considered walking inside the teaching building but it turned out to be too dark. Instead, we walked outside the building in a nearly-deserted alley (solving Complaint #2). I walked more slowly (colving Complaint #1). I couldn’t do anything about Complaint #3.
The students could choose the length of the meetings. Last week all five of them chose 15 minutes. After 1 hour and 15 minutes of walking meetings, I felt entirely refreshed. As if I had done no work at all.
After I discovered that butter made me faster at arithmetic, I started eating half a stick (66 g) of butter per day. After a talk about it, a cardiologist in the audience said I was killing myself. I said that the evidence that butter improved my brain function was much clearer than the evidence that butter causes heart disease. The cardiologist couldn’t debate this; he seemed to have no idea of the evidence.
Shortly before I discovered the butter/arithmetic connection, I had a heart scan (a tomographic x-ray) from which is computed an Agaston score, a measure of calcification of your blood vessels. The Agaston score is a good predictor of whether you will have a heart attack. The higher your score, the greater the probability. My score put me close to the median for my age. A year later — after eating lots of butter every day during that year — I got a second scan. Most people get about 25% worse each year. My second scan showed regression (= improvement). It was 40% better (less) than expected (a 25% increase). A big increase in butter consumption was the only aspect of my diet that I consciously changed between Scan 1 and Scan 2.
The improvement I observed, however surprising, was consistent with a 2004 study that measured narrowing of the arteries as a function of diet. About 200 women were studied for three years. There were three main findings. 1. The more saturated fat, the less narrowing. Women in the highest quartile of saturated fat intake didn’t have, on average, any narrowing. 2. The more polyunsaturated fat, the more narrowing. 3. The more carbohydrate, the more narrowing. Of all the nutrients examined, only saturated fat clearly reduced narrowing. Exactly the opposite of what we’ve been told.
As this article explains, the original idea that fat causes heart disease came from Ancel Keys, who omitted most of the available data from his data set. When all the data were considered, there was no connection between fat intake and heart disease. There has never been convincing evidence that saturated fat causes heart disease, but somehow this hasn’t stopped the vast majority of doctors and nutrition experts from repeating what they’ve been told.
- Michael Wolff on Edward Jay Epstein’s new book about the Kennedy assassination and Warren Commission Report
- Order Without Law: How Neighbors Settle Disputes (1991)
- Peking University expels liberal economist (via Marginal Revolution). Plus China’s Nobel Prize in science prospects.
- Paleo bakery in Amsterdam. A friend compared this to dehydrated water, but I am less sure that there were no sweets in Paleolithic diets.
In an interview about his new book The JFK Assassination Diary, Edward Jay Epstein was asked how he, a Cornell undergraduate, managed to talk to the people who did the research behind the Warren Commission Report. “It was a different age,” he said. “People actually communicated by sitting across a desk from one another and talking.” When I heard this, I was amused. I had just discovered that it was much better to meet with students walking than seated. What Epstein considered the good old-fashioned way (seated meetings) was to me the crazy new-fangled way.
As I’ve blogged, this semester I am teaching a class about academic writing. I am trying to apply my no grading/no lecturing method that worked well last year in a much different class (Frontiers of Psychology). In the writing class, my plan was/is to meet with students one-on-one right after class, in the same room. They choose the meeting length. During the meeting they show me what they’ve written and I make comments. During the next class they give a brief talk (e.g., 10 minutes) in which they tell the rest of the students what I told them. The course is much easier to teach than usual: no lecture, no grading, no written comments. Yet the students get as much one-on-one feedback as they want. I think spoken (face to face) comments are much better than written ones because they allow the recipient to ask questions. Read the rest of this entry »
I met Mo Ibrahim, a high school teacher in New York, because of his Behind the Approval Matrix blog, which I admired. I interviewed him about his I Got Uggs! blog. Recently he has become interested in finding out if my ideas about teaching can help him teach better. This is the first in a series of posts by him about that.
I went to college at Chicago State University, a commuter school in Chicago. I started in the late 1980s. I considered a career as a teacher when I was there, but changed my mind after I visited the education department and learned about the student teaching requirement, which seemed like a drag. Later I visited the premed office. Mostly I studied biology and graduated with a degree in Independent Studies. By graduation, I had been accepted at University of Illinois School of Medicine, in Chicago.
I started there in 1995. The summer before I enrolled, I had been verbally promised a whopping three scholarships. One was from my State Representative, the other two from a non-profit organization that helps African-Americans get into medical school. I did get the scholarship from the State of Illinois, which covered my tuition. However, I never got the other scholarships, which meant that my living expenses weren’t covered. Between the time of the verbal promise and my enrollment, the organization had started a policy of only giving scholarships to students in the second and later years of medical school. Too many African-American students dropped out in the first year; the foundation reasoned it was wasting its money.
At the medical school’s financial aid office, I was informed that my only option was to take out a loan. This was something I had sworn I would never do. I’m Muslim; interest-based loans are against Islamic law. Despite being told that it was virtually impossible to be a medical student and work, I got a job during the graveyard shift at a seedy hotel on the North Side. I avoided drinking coffee to stay awake because I didn’t want to go to the bathroom and compete with the rats for a stall. Without coffee, I fell asleep. I was only there a week. A tenant who owed the hotel over $1,000 moved out while I was asleep. I was immediately fired. Three months later, I withdrew from medical school. I couldn’t afford it.
My first real job after medical school was in the medical records office at St. Francis Hospital. A co-worker was taking a computer repair class at a community center and suggested that I join him. I didn’t take the class, but I purchased a used computer, some computer repair books, and studied for the A+ Certified Computer Repair Technician exam. I passed the exam on the first attempt and got a job making five times what I was making at the hospital. I did computer repair and network engineering for five years. Unfortunately, the work seemed to be drying up. I started at $100/hour but after five years was making $9/hour. Toward the end of the five years, my wife and I took a vacation in New York City. In the subway, I noticed an advertisement for the New York City Teaching Fellows (NYCTF) Program. I liked the idea of being a teacher because of the job stability and the idea of giving back to the minority community. NYCTF automatically puts you in an “underprivileged” school. The deadline for applying to the program was quickly approaching and I filled in the online application as soon as I returned to Chicago.
I was invited back to New York for an interview. After I taught a sample lesson and did group and one-on-one interviews, I was accepted into the 2004 NYCTF program. That summer I enrolled in a Master’s degree program in in Education at the City College of New York. I also got a job teaching at an underprivileged high school near Columbus Circle. Ten years later, I am still trying to determine the best way to teach my students.
In 1995, I discovered that seeing faces in the morning raised my mood the next day. For example, seeing faces Monday morning improved my mood on Tuesday (but not Monday). Study of the effect suggested we have a face-sensitive oscillator that controls mood and sleep. The oscillator needs morning-face exposure to work properly — faces “push” the oscillator as you would push a swing. Long ago, this oscillator synchronized the mood and sleep of people who lived together. The synchronization helped them cooperate. It is much easier to work with a happy person than an unhappy person and, of course, much easier to work with someone awake than someone asleep.
My results suggested you need to see morning faces on the order of 30 minutes to get a big effect. The faces need to be similar to what you’d see in a conversation. Looking at people on the subway doesn’t count. Nowadays, as far as I can tell, hardly anyone gets the right input. In extreme cases, this causes depression, poor sleep, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorders. What else might it cause? Read the rest of this entry »
I haven’t seen This is Spinal Tap but I am a big fan of Harry Shearer’s Le Show, a weekly podcast. For the last few months, one segment has been about the misuse of so: People use it to start sentences that aren’t about consequences (“So we were standing there minding our own business. . . .”). I wrote Shearer to say he should change the name from Le Show to Le So. Not long after that, he ended the so segment with “here on Le So“.
- Probiotics reduce frequency of colds, Cochrane review finds
- A dentist says prophylactic removal of wisdom teeth is a bad idea. “Ten million third molars (wisdom teeth) are extracted from approximately 5 million people in the United States each year at an annual cost of over $3 billion. . . . More than 11000 people suffer permanent paresthesia—numbness of the lip, tongue, and cheek—as a consequence of nerve injury during the surgery. At least two thirds of these extractions, associated costs, and injuries are unnecessary, constituting a silent epidemic of iatrogenic injury.”
- Duke University trustees defend endowment secrecy in funny ways. “David Rubenstein ’70, the Trustee chair, [says] Duke can keep a student’s grades secret — available only to a few administrators — and the principle is the same with Duke’s money.”
- Self-assembling robots
Thanks to Allan Jackson and Bob Levinson.