July 30, 2009

healthy men are hysterical

Just one sentence from the abstract of "Hysterical Traits Are Not from the Uterus but from the Testis: A Study in Men with Sexual Dysfunction", by Bandini, et al., in J. Sex Med.:

Hysteria, previously considered as a typically feminine psychopathological trait ..., should now be considered as an index of better masculine sexual well-being.

July 29, 2009

regarding Mr. O'Reilly's Great Moment in Statistics

The question was: "Has anyone noted that life expectancy in Canada under our health system is higher than that in the USA?"

Mr. O'Reilly answered: "Well, that's to be expected, Peter, because we have ten times as many people as you do. That translates into ten times as many accidents, crimes, down the line."


Which does raise the question, across countries, how does life expectancy relate to population? Right now, the data look like 
this, courtesy of Wolfram Alpha (h/t: Dan P.):

And you can view historic data, to follow the relationship over time, (click that big link, then hit the "play button") thanks to gapminder (h/t: Brian C.):

As an avid (yet humble) empiricist, I am grateful to Mr. O'Reilly for giving us this opportunity to look at some data.

July 25, 2009

on combinations

Neuro-, and cooking. Put them together, and you have NeuroCooking.

General, and motors. Put them together, and you have General Motors.

Performance, and luxury. Put them together, and you have Cadillac.

DISCLAIMER: NeuroCooking is (still) not (yet) sponsored or endorsed by General Motors, nor does any mention herein of any trade names or products thereof signify our endorsement. Not even this link to the fastest V8 production sedan in the world.

July 22, 2009

NeuroCooking celebrates the Brand New GM

Our slightly-belated congratulations on the birth of the new General Motors, out of the bankruptcy of the old. Herewith, a 1994 performance of Brand New Cadillac, by the Brian Setzer Orchestra.

DISCLAIMER: NeuroCooking is not sponsored or endorsed by General Motors, nor does any mention herein of their products necessarily constitute an endorsement thereof. But, if you want to give us a couple of Cadillacs, that's cool. We both like grey.

moon walk [nothing to do with Michael Jackson]

Just one sentence from the Apollo transcripts of 20 July 1969, as published in the New York Times of 21 July 1969:
TRANQUILITY BASE: Houston, our recommendation at this point is planning an EVA [Extra Vehicular Activity] with your concurrence starting at about 8 o'clock this evening, Houston time.
I love the rolling rhythm of Armstrong's weird, undoubtedly scripted, language (it sure ain't English!), and I especially love that acronym.

July 21, 2009

I'm lost in the valley

Your “young leaders” grow up to be “leaders”, who then grow up to be “visionaries”, or some other categorical definition. Stop inventing new categories and further segmenting your donors, staff, and other stakeholders. Approach your people seamlessly, or you risk loosing them in the valleys between defined categories.

One of my clients has a “young leaders” donors group, modeled after the New York Public Library’s well-known Young Lions program. Two women, college roommates, joined at the same time. One woman, unmarried and non-parenting, remains in the group, quite active. The other, married, homeowner, with two small children, feels she no longer fits the membership profile and has left. Neither does she share the financial or professional profile of the organization’s formal Board of Directors. Her engagement with the organization is threatened by her lack of fitting into one of their tightly defined subgroups.

I’m no longer young. Nor am I old. Where, exactly, do I fit in? Where are my thoughts and experiences valued? Nonprofit organizations, leadership programs, even retail promotional offers: many fail to offer me a special place or preferred access. Too many institutions are letting their relationship with me wane. As a result, they will have to expend enormous energy and resources to engage me once again, as I climb the curve back up into their tightly defined category.

Such peaks and valleys of membership also limit inter-category conversations: young learning from old. Knowledge fails to be shared, and opportunities for mentoring, and for innovation are lost.

Be careful not to be seduced by the short-term gains of segmentation: think about the benefits of continuity, and the sustainability of your goals and objectives. What would it look like if your organization truly valued what every stakeholder was thinking?

July 16, 2009

Create Meaningful Communications

Does it matter to you that your surgeon has logged over 1000 hours of operating time? Sure. But what is most meaningful is if she has experience performing the specific operation which you will be undergoing. Likewise, does it matter that your pilot has logged over 1000 hours of flying time? Sure. But what is most meaningful is, if you are flying over the Rockies in winter, that she has similar - if not exact - experience, and has not logged her flying hours in Bermuda.

the danger of assumption

There is a difference between sharing information and projecting information onto another person, or inviting information to be projected onto you. Be clear about the connection you are trying to make: are you really communicating what you wish to be communicating?

Beware of making broad pronouncements and assuming that your listener comprehends your intended meaning. For example, we often tell people where we grew up, where we went to school, or what kind of work we do, out of an actual desire for our listeners to make certain assumptions about us. This is lazy communication: disingenuous, disrespectful, and potentially dangerous to the outcome of our conversation.

If it is a value you are trying to communicate, explicitly communicate that value. Share a story that illustrates that value. Do not assume that your listener understands the underlying values and intended meaning of your broad statements.

If you are asking your listener to take action, perhaps even to significantly change his or her behavior, both of you need to be clear about the motivating force for that action. That's the only way to sustain behavioral change.

Assumptions rob you of a chance to express and define your values and to be truly heard and understood. In our rush to connect with people (or our desire to manipulate them), we make broad pronouncements, actually inviting assumptions and stereotyping about our character. When we invite our listeners to assume things about us, we are letting them know that we are freely assuming things about them. True discourse has been halted.

Authentic Leadership

Michelle Walker, a savvy Ed.D candidate in the Teachers College Urban Education Leaders program, articulated the essence of effective leadership: it is about authenticity; "What you are about, and how you show up."

July 15, 2009

"so to speak"

From "How to Think, Say, or Do Precisely the Worst Thing for Any Occasion" by Prof. Daniel Wegner in the 3 July issue of (the very prestigious journal) Science:
In research on sexual arousal per se, male participants instructed to inhibit erections as they watched erotic films found it harder than they had hoped, so to speak ...

the fickle liter (or "litre" in the rest of the English-speaking world)

We take the constancy of some things for granted. The speed of light, the love of a dog, the metric system. But!

Of course, a liter is a cubic decimeter (dm3); that's why a cc (cubic centimeter) equals an ml (milliliter).

But did you know that, from 1901 to 1964, a liter was not one, but rather 1.000028 dm3

You could, as they say, look it up.

[Turns out that the liter is like the hour and the day. It it not really an SI unit; it is a non-SI unit that the SI will accept.]

"like a tennis player waiting for the service of his opponent"

You don't see too many sports metaphors in the neuroscience literature. But this one is not only rare; it is also spot on.

From "Key role of coupling, delay, and noise in resting brain fluctuations" by Gustavo Deco, Viktor Jirsa, A. R. McIntosh, Olaf Sporns and Rolf K├Âtter, PNAS:
Metaphorically speaking, the [brain's] resting state is like a tennis player waiting for the service of his opponent. The player is not statically at rest, but rather actively moving making small jumps to the left and to the right, because in this way, when the fast ball is coming, he can rapidly react.

July 12, 2009

on overthinking rock 'n' roll

Yesterday we saw Samantha Crain and the Midnight Shivers play a great set of rock and roll in the plaza in front of the National Museum of the American Indian. They rocked. But what bothered me a little was that it seemed that many of the songs were so close to other artists' stylings that they could have come from their records - one song could have been left out from Neil Young's _Harvest_; another from Lucinda Williams _Car Wheels_; one even from Bowie's _Diamond Dogs_... So I asked myself if I was being unfair to this singer-songwriter, in thinking that perhaps such strong echoes of others lessened the originality of her work. Then I remembered how closely Dylan studied "the classics" (meaning Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music), thought about the relationship of Maggie's Farm to Penny's Farm, and decided to stop being bothered and just enjoy the words, music, unique personalties, and special treat of great live rock and roll in an intimate setting on the National Mall.

July 9, 2009

I wasn't expecting agony.

I was thinking about useful measures of tortuous networks. (Tortuous networks such as the blood vessels of the brain, or channels in a Teflon-based membrane catalyst for Hydrogen fuel cells). So I used wolfram alpha to look up the word tortuosity.

Anyway, I got, among other things – and I hadn't seen this feature before in wolfram alpha results – a "synonym network":

I really wasn't expecting agony.

July 8, 2009

Nuclear Power (and Knowledge Management)

Yesterday, I had the incredible opportunity to tour the PSEG nuclear power facility in Salem County, NJ, the second-largest nuclear campus in America. It was a great experience: I pressed buttons in the simulator room! I walked among the turbines and the generators of the Salem I reactor! I looked through a temperature scope used to spot infiltrators! My overall impression is that it is a highly secure, extremely well-run facility, staffed by extremely smart, exceedingly well-trained professionals, with a deep commitment to safety and community. Having had the experience of touring the facility and meeting the staff, I will certainly be more, and differently, engaged in future discussions about nuclear power.

I am also left with questions about the staff's preferred sense of balance between self-policing and oversight by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. And, with many questions about nuclear waste, reprocessing, and the responsibilities of privately run nuclear facilities for disposal and reuse.

Here are some reflections on communications from staff, their use of knowledge management techniques and rhetoric, and some facts I gleaned:
  • The first speaker commences by pointing out the osprey that live on the transformer wires right outside the facility, setting a pleasant frame of natural beauty. (The facility is in a bucolic setting of wetlands, cornfields, and grazing pastures.)
  • 50.5 % of all electricity generated in NJ comes from nuclear energy! This compares to 19.4% nationwide. (Texas, fyi, generates 25% of their power through wind.)
  • In the last 10 years, electricity use in NJ has grown by 25%. Much of this is due to large, flat screens TVs.
  • Preferred term for nuclear energy: "Clean Central Station Power".

William Levis, the President and COO of PSEG Power, is a gifted narrative leader, using story to motivate, teach, and lead. He opened his remarks by reflecting on how, in 1973, his after high school activities were cancelled due to the energy shortage, and his senior prom was almost cancelled. And then, during the second energy crisis of the '70s, he slowly drove from PA to ID, to his first Naval assignment, buying only the allotted 8 gallons of gas at a time. These experiences, he said, motivated him to work in energy. A terrific example of how to connect with and establish trust with listeners.

In response to my question about sharing knowledge between an older generation of highly experienced staff and a younger generation of new employees, Bill said they employ a rigorous program of knowledge transfer:

First, they go through a program to determine critical knowledge.
Then, knowledge is transferred in three ways:
  1. Through painstakingly detailed procedures and protocols
  2. Through extensive training (for instance, every six weeks, nuclear operators spend 2 full weeks training in the simulator)
  3. Through the quality of management supervision. This includes the sharing of Bill's poignant story about visiting Chernobyl.


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