December 22, 2013

"The matter of the dog."

In the novel Watt, by Samuel Beckett, Mr. Watt works in the home of Mr. Knott. Mr. Knott is served lunch and dinner daily, and whatever is left over from those meals is eaten every night by a dog. Mr. Watt considers, at length, how such an arrangement might have been arrived at, reviewing and rejecting various possibilities. He then presents his understanding of the current arrangement, in a single sentence (found on pages 78 through 80 of the Grove Press edition):

"Passing on then to the solution that seemed to have prevailed, Watt found it to be roughly this, that a suitable local dogowner, that is to say a needy man with a famished dog, should be sought out, and on him settled a handsome annuity of fifty pounds payable monthly, in consideration of his calling at Mr. Knott's house every evening between eight and ten, accompanied by his dog in a famished condition, and on those days on which there was food for his dog of his standing over his dog, with a stick, before witnesses, until the dog had eaten all the food until not an atom remained, and of his then taking himself and his dog off the premises without delay; and that a younger famished dog should by this man at Mr. Knott's expense be acquired and held in reserve, against the day when the first famished dog should die, and that then again another famished dog should in the same way be procured and held in readiness, against the inevitable hour when the second famished dog should pay nature's debt, and so on indefinitely, there being thus two famished dogs always available, the one to eat the food left over by Mr. Knott in the manner described until it died, and the other then for as long as it lived to do the same, and so on indefinitely; and further that a similar young local but dogless man should be sought out, against the day when the first local man should die, to take over and exploit, in the same way and on the same terms, the two surviving famished dogs thus left without a master, and without a home; and that then again another young local dogless man should in the same way be secured, against the dread hour of the second local man's dissolution, and so on indefinitely, there being thus two famished dogs and two needy local men for ever available, the first needy local man to own and exploit the two famished dogs in the manner described as long as he lived, and the other then, as long as he drew breath, to do the same, and so on indefinitely; and that lest, as might very well happen, one of the two famished dogs, or both the famished dogs, should fail to survive their master, and follow him at once to the grave, a third, a fourth, a fifth and even a sixth famished dog should be acquired and suitably maintained at Mr. Knott's expense in some convenient place in a famished condition, or that better still there should be at Mr. Knott's expense on some favorable site established a kennel or colony of famished dogs from which at any time a well-bred well-trained famished dog could be withdrawn and set to work, in the manner described; and that on the off chance of the second poor young local man's passing over, into the beyond, at the same time as the first poor local man, or even before, and stranger things are of hourly occurrence, a third, a fourth, a fifth and even a sixth poor young local dogless man or even woman should be sought out and by fair words and occasional gifts of money and old clothes as far as possible be secured to Mr. Knott's service eventually in the manner described, or better still that a suitable large needy local family of say the two parents and from ten to fifteen children and grandchildren passionately attached to their birth-place should be sought out, and by a handsome small initial lump sum to be paid down and by a liberal annual pension of fifty pounds to be paid monthly and by occasional seasonable gifts of loose change and tight clothes and by untiring well-timed affectionate words of advice and encouragement and consolation, attached firmly tor good and all in block, their children and their children's children, to Mr. Knott's service, in all matters touching this matter of the dog required to eat the food that Mr. Knott left, and exclusively in these, and that to their care the kennel or colony of famished dogs set up by Mr. Knott in order that there should never be wanting a famished dog to eat his food on those days that he did not eat it himself should be once and for all handed over, for the matter of the kennel was one that touched the matter of the dog."

December 21, 2013

(It's no wonder that camera sales are falling.)

On a recent visit to south Florida, I took some iPhone snapshots of waterbirds (and their reflections):

White Ibis.


Tricolored Heron.

(Click any image for full-screen.)

December 20, 2013

Perhaps something.

"To be together again, after so long, who love the sunny wind, the windy sun, in the sun, in the wind, that is perhaps something, perhaps something."

-From Watt by Samuel Beckett (p. 133 of the Grove Press edition).

December 14, 2013

"... greyen, redden, greyen, redden…"

"Watt saw, in the grate, of the range, the ashes grey. But they turned pale red, when he covered the lamp, with his hat. The range was almost out, but not quite. A handful of dry chips and the flames would spring merry in appearance, up the chimney, with an organ note. So Watt busied himself a little while, covering the lamp, less and less, more and more, with his hat, watching the ashes greyen, redden, greyen, redden, in the grate, of the range."

-From Watt by Samuel Beckett (p. 30 of the Grove Press edition).

November 20, 2013

November 11, 2013

Chunking & Curating

Whether you read my articles and posts, attend a program I deliver, or engage in executive coaching with me, I have the same goal: that you will have a moment (if not moments) of epiphany as well as validation. In other words, I am working toward your having both an Aha! of great and practical insight, and a self congratulatory, Yup, I am so right in my approach.

Seventeen years ago, I was a Fellow in Leadership NewJersey. It required a monthly overnight commitment, and whenever I went away, my friend Betty would say, “Oh, you’re going to camp for the gifted and talented.” Betty helped me to truly appreciate my participation in the program, and to take the time to reflect on the lessons I was fortunate enough to learn each month. Her words continue to resonate, and I now apply that respect to all of my clients:

If you are investing time with me, I want you to be rewarded.

If you are doing something right, I want you to recognize that, and do more of it.

Last week, for the first time in a long time, I got to be a camper again instead of a counselor. Coming off a year of non-stop work, I attended the Neuroleadership Summit in Washington, DC. Here are some select notes of what I learned:

Josh Davis, Term Assistant Professor of Psychology, Barnard College, Columbia University presented the AGES model for learning, saying that Attention, Generation, Emotion, and Spacing “must all be high for our brain to encode information optimally.Davis said, “We grow our memories. We don’t just put them in a file box. There are structural changes that have to occur. That is why spacing helps in learning.” He also noted that, a little bit of emotion is good for learning. It can be good or bad. There are, however, more benefits to positive emotion: easier collaboration, more creativity, better focus.”

Things must be learned in chunks. This was validating, as it is the adult learning method we use at Thaler Pekar & Partners: introduce the concept, enable participants to explore and work with the concept, facilitate reflection, then move on to a new concept.  As a result of Davis’ session, we will now be asking ourselves, How can we raise attention, generation and emotion in each chunk?

Tony Bingham, CEO of the American Society for Training andDevelopment (ASTD), said that “The majority of learning that occurs within an organization is through social tools, and they are not being dealt with by training leaders! The majority of learning is informal, yet not being optimized.” Bingham said it is time for trainers to “move from Sage on a Stage to more of a curator and facilitator. The analogy that hits home is museum curator: a curator takes what is hidden in the basement and brings it out for all to appreciate. This is what brings about curatorial success.”

Curator was an interesting way to think about the work we do helping smart leaders and organizations find and share stories. We facilitate the uncovering of memories and experiences and we are thoughtful about which ones are shared and in what ways. There are high ethical considerations and standards to our work, and we think deeply about both the person sharing the story and the people who will be reading/watching/listening to the story. Respect for both is paramount.

In summary, I offer this Edmund Burke quote that I saw at the conference: “To read without reflecting is like eating without digesting.”

November 9, 2013


I shared on Facebook photographs of Weston model 301 milliammeter number 480782, made in Newark, NJ; acquired by the MIT Department of Electrical Engineering; surplussed by the MIT Department of Physics. Check it out.

November 5, 2013

Triangle vs. Circle!

If you're going to drive (or even walk) in Germany, you really should know the difference between these two signs:

Do you know the difference? For the answer, click here.

October 29, 2013

Brains are different like bikes are different.

The dominant analogy for the brain has tracked the leading technology of the day.

The human brain was like a clockwork, then a hydraulic system, then an electronic circuit, then a digital computer, then a computer network, – until the present day, when, according to Stephen Kosslyn & Wayne Miller, writing in the Wall Street Journal, the brain is like a bicycle:
Our brains are not engaged in some sort of constant cerebral tug of war, with one part seeking dominance over another. (What a poor evolutionary strategy that would have been!) Rather, they can be likened roughly to the parts of a bicycle: the frame, seat, wheels, handlebars, pedals, gears, brakes and chain that work together to provide transportation.
The distinguished scientist and journalist continue:
Although the ... parts of the brain are always used during all of our waking lives, people do not rely on them to an equal degree. To extend the bicycle analogy, not everyone rides a bike the same way. Some may meander, others may race.
To be sure, Kosslyn &  Miller are right: Brains are like bikes.

But Kosslyn &  Miller are wrong, in that brains are not different like bikers are different; brains are different like bikes are different.

The apt bike analogy for inter-individual differences in brain function is not inter-individual differences in how people ride bikes, but rather inter-individual differences in bikes. Road bikes, mountain bikes, cyclocross bikes, touring bikes, BMX bikes, commuters, recumbents, etc. – bikes are different.

Brains are like bikes, and brains are different from one another like bikes are different from one another – not like how cyclists ride differently from one another, okay?

Because otherwise, you're just putting Descartes in the saddle.

October 26, 2013

"He's silent, wherever he is." [On metaphorical terrain.]

"By now one more American sheep the shepherds have temporarily lost track of, somewhere in the high country above this ruinous hour, cragfast* in the storm."

-From page 402 of "Bleeding Edge" by Thomas Pynchon.

*From the Oxford English Dictionary:

October 23, 2013

October 22, 2013

"She finds herself gazing out the window." [Towards the Deseret, a (fictional) apartment house.]

"She squints past roofline contours, vents, skylights, water tanks and cornices under this pre-storm lighting, shining as if already wet against the darkening sky, down the street to where the cursed Deseret rears above Broadway, one or two storm-nervous lights already on, its stonework at this distance seeming too uncleansable, its shadows too many, ever to breach."

-Just one sentence (the prior one provides this post's title) from page 199 of "Bleeding Edge" by Thomas Pynchon.

October 17, 2013

O Lucky Man!

(self-strangling morning glory; 
no cameras or photographers were harmed making this photograph)

I am very fortunate. 

I recently came upon a Serious Warning in my camera's user's manual: 

"Sunlight focused into the camera when the sun
is in or close to the frame could cause a fire."

And another: 

"When operating the viewfinder diopter adjustment control with your eye to the viewfinder, care should be taken not to put your finger in your eye accidentally."

I am very fortunate! Taking photographs – many photographs – without having heretofore consulted these Serious Warnings, I never set the camera on fire, nor stuck a finger in my eye. I shall give thanks for my good fortune, next month on Thanksgiving, once I get my finger out of my ear.

October 8, 2013

Is the paint made from crushed pearls, and applied by magic elves wielding brushes of unicorn hair?

Did you know that there's a hybrid car with a $63,000 paint option?

That's not the price of the car; that's the upcharge for the fancy paint.


Why do you think it's called Fall?

(in the air)

September 29, 2013

Early-Autumn Dog-Blogging!

28 September 2013
(click image for full-screen)

September 25, 2013

Don’t bring a data set to a food fight!

The takeaway message of the 2013 Sackler Colloquia on The Science of Science Communication, which I attended Monday and Tuesday at the National Academy of Sciences, was the importance of trust to being heard.

Much of Susan Fiske’s presentation confirmed how I approach communication for smart leaders:
  • “People are not idiots. It’s up to us to figure out what things mean to them.” Later, Dietram Scheufele pointed out, “The same information means different things to different people.” This is because all communication is contextual. And because “we process incoming information based on the ideologies we have.”
  • Trust is the neglected side of communication! Communicators are ineffective if they are not trusted.
  • People trust people who are like themselves. They are motivated to support these people.
  • We figure out whom to trust based on both warmth and competence.

Melanie Green, who is conducting compelling research on persuasion, built upon this last point: You will be perceived as an expert if you use statistics. You will be perceived as being a warm person if you use story. 

Given my own motivated reasoning, these points confirm my Heart, Head & Hand™ approach to communication: first, establish trust, often by sharing a story; then, share information; and be sure to invite your listener to apply or act upon your information in some way.

There was also a fascinating presentation by Noshir Contractor on the importance of leveraging social networks for the effective dissemination of information. He identified four kinds:

  1. Social networks – who you know
  2. Cognitive social networks – who they think you know
  3. Knowledge networks – what they think you know
  4. Cognitive knowledge networks – what who you know knows

Contractor said it’s impossible to leverage your networks if you don’t see yourself embedded in all of them. And that most people who accomplish anything do it because of what they know and whom they know.

He also offered research showing that new media helps people connect, but mostly with people just like themselves. There’s an echo effect. He suggested that to address this, we use network analysis and look at the bridges and the brokers who operate at the crossroads.

The final panel was on narrative, and Michael Dahlstrom proposed that stories, as a communication tool, are becoming a focus of attention because “people want to make things closer to human scale”, and stories accomplish that goal.

This was the first conference I’ve attended in a year in which I did not present, but had the simple joy of solely participating. I’m thinking about ways in which to make my work even more practical, and I’m interested in focusing my writing on audience-identified challenges. So, I spent a lot of time listening to the Twitter feed. And then I got sucked into Twitter participation. You can read many Storify compilations for the sessions here.

All of The Science of Science Communication sessions will be available for viewing on line, and I will post a link when that becomes available.

Despite the smart presentations and some enthusiastic reception of the science of effective communication, I left with the sense that many scientists shun responsibility for audience engagement. Many believe in only imparting information: in telling, not sharing. Many came eager to hear about what the audience must do, but repelled any onus on the part of the scientist to communicate empathetically. 

Public Relations Executive Peter Zandan provocatively noted, Businesses are spending $9.5 billion a year on research on the effectiveness of their messages. These methods come from the social sciences! Yet, when we work with the sciences, they do not have the appetite to use the very methods they developed!” As a marketer, however, I’m uncertain that Mr. Zandan had the trust of the audience to be heard, let alone for the scientists to act on his message. 

All communication is contextual. People hear only what they want to hear, from trusted sources who have demonstrated warmth. Perhaps this can be best remembered by Marty Kaplan’s admonition, Don’t bring a data set to a food fight!”

September 16, 2013

"How impressive you find modern pop Bumpology depends in part on whether you believe that there are a lot of people who still think like that."

"In the same way, even the neuro-skeptics seem to agree that modern Bumpology remains an important corrective to radical anti-Bumpology: to the kind of thinking that insists that brains don’t count at all and cultures construct everything; that, given the right circumstances, there could be a human group with six or seven distinct genders, each with its own sexuality; that there is a possible human society in which very old people would be regarded as attractive and nubile eighteen-year-olds not; and still another where adolescent children would be noted for their rigorous desire to finish recently commenced tasks."

-from "Mindless: The New Neuro-Skeptics" by Adam Gopnik in the September 9th issue of the New Yorker.

September 1, 2013

August 30, 2013

USA Labor Day Weekend Supermarket Photo-Blogging!

"aisle 6. snack time: soft drinks and soft drinks"

Magazine Cover (detail):

August 27, 2013

So that's how they do it!

"The building almost seemed to glow from somewhere deep within its base, as if lit by a big pile of burning money."

-from the article "Idealized or Caricature, Architectural Renderings Are Weapons in Real Estate" by Elizabeth A. Harris in today's New York Times.

August 14, 2013

Proposed: Understanding the brain doesn't suck.

"... recall the famous quip from Jeff Hammerbacher, a former Facebook engineer, who said, 'The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks.' We contend that working in biostatistics using complex neuroimaging data to solve the biggest puzzle of them all – understanding the human brain – is a worthy alternative."
-from "WANTED: Neuro-quants" by Brian Caffo, Martin Lindquist, and Ciprian Crainiceanu, which appears in the the Huffington Post.

August 6, 2013


We are pleased – and honored! – to announce that Bucky has accepted our invitation to feature in this, the 1000th NeuroCooking post:

3 August 2013 (click image for full-screen)

H-index, I10-index, Etc.

Dear NeuroCooking friends, my Google Scholar Profile is now public.

August 4, 2013


When I saw Wilco open for Bob Dylan at Duluth's Bayfront Park last month, these folks heard the concert without having to buy a ticket:

(click image for full-screen)


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