Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Some Perspective

I should be marking student papers, but I got distracted thinking about the following "little" exercise. Most of my information came from the ever-helpful Wikipedia. Note that I pretty much had to stop after the age of 50, but I will try to add more in the next month.

How Old Are You?
  • If you’re 13, you’re the same age as Michael Jackson the year he and the rest of the Jackson 5 had four number one hits, including “ABC.”
  • If you’re 14, you’re the same age as Miley Cyrus when her debut album “Hannah Montana” went triple platinum.
  • If you’re 15, you’re the same age as Tenzin Gyatso when he was enthroned as Tibet’s 14th (and current) Dalai Lama.
  • If you’re 16, you’re the same age as Neil Patrick Harris when Doogie Howser, M.D. first aired.
  • If you’re 17, you’re the same age as Martina Hingis when she held the No.1 ranking in both singles and doubles women’s tennis.
  • If you’re 18, you’re the same age as RIngo Starr when The Beatles released “Love Me Do.”
  • If you’re 19, you’re the same age as John Tyler Hammons in 2008 when he was elected mayor of Muskogee, Oklahoma, a city of 38,000.
  • If you’re 20, you’re the same age as Bill Gates when he founded Micro-soft in 1975 (the hyphen was dropped shortly after).
  • If you’re 21, you’re the same age as Mick Jagger when he recorded “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” with the Rolling Stones.
  • If you’re 22, you’re the same age as Jayde Nicole, the 2008 Playboy Playmate of the Year.
  • If you’re 23, you’re the same age as Tiger Woods when he won his last four starts, including the PGA championship, and finished the season with eight wins—a feat not achieved in the past 25 years.
  • If you’re 24, you’re the same age as Lee Harvey Oswald when he assassinated John F. Kennedy.
  • If you’re 25, you’re the same age as Steve Jobs when he and Steve Wozniak released the Apple II computer.
  • If you’re 26, you’re the same age as Albert Einstein when he published his paper stating that e=mc2.
  • If you’re 27, you’re the same age as Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Nirvana, when he killed himself.
  • If you’re 28, you’re the same age as Julie Andrews when she appeared in "Mary Poppins."
  • If you’re 29, you’re the same age as Olivia Newton-John when she played Sandy in “Grease.”
  • If you’re 30, you’re the same age as Schubert when he died of typhoid fever (after writing nine symphonies and hundreds of other pieces of music).
  • If you’re 31, you’re the same age as John Lennon when he wrote “Imagine.”
  • If you’re 32, you’re the same age as Thomas Edison when he invented the electric light bulb.
  • If you’re 33, you’re the same age as Matt Groening when his first series of shorts called “The Simpsons” debuted on The Tracy Ullman Show.
  • If you’re 34, you’re the same age as Harper Lee when her To Kill a Mockingbird was first published.
  • If you’re 35, you’re the same age as Harrison Ford when he appeared in the first “Star Wars” movie.
  • If you’re 36, you’re the same age as Ann Bancroft when she played Mrs. Robinson in “The Graduate.”
  • If you’re 37, you’re the same age as Frances Crick when he, James D. Watson, and Maurice Wilkins co-discovered the double helix structure of DNA.
  • If you’re 38, you’re the same age as (Sherpa) Tenzing Norgay when he and Sir Edmund Hillary became the first people known to have reached the summit of Mount Everest.
  • If you’re 39, you’re the same age as Martin Luther King, Jr., when he was assassinated.
  • If you’re 40, you’re the same age as Isabel Allende when her first novel, The House of the Spirits (La casa de los espiritus), was published.
  • If you’re 41, you’re the same age as Ernest Hemingway when he published For Whom the Bell Tolls.
  • If you’re 42, you’re the same age as Elvis Presley when he died.
  • If you’re 43, you’re the same age as Tony Blair when he became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
  • If you’re 44, you’re the same age as Jerry Seinfeld when “Seinfeld” debuted its final episode.
  • If you’re 45, you’re the same age as Nelson Mandela when he was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964 for his involvement with the African National Congress.
  • If you’re 46, you’re the same age as O.J. Simpson when his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman were murdered.
  • If you’re 47, you’re the same age as Barack Obama when he won the nomination for the Democratic candidacy for the U.S. presidency in August 2008.
  • If you’re 48, you’re the same age as Jeannie Longo, the greatest female cyclist of all time, when she won her 14th French Road Race.
  • If you’re 49, you’re the same age as Gandhi when he led his first protests against the British in India in 1918.
  • If you’re 50, you’re the same age as Charles Darwin when he published The Origin of Species, the first time his theory of evolution appeared in print.
  • If you’re 61, you’re the same age as Abraham Lincoln when he was elected president.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Up, Up, and Away

A few weeks ago V. and I went on a hot air balloon ride over Brisbane for her birthday. Will spent the night before at our friends' house (where he enjoyed himself!) so that we could get to the balloon meeting point at 5:45 a.m.  It was the first time Will had slept away from both of us, so that was a bit of an event itself.

Anyway, we met up with the staff of Balloons over Brisbane in a park in West End.  We then piled into one of two vans, each pulling a trailer with a balloon basket and the balloon itself.   There are several places in the metro area where balloons can launch, with the particular location determined by the weather conditions that day.  We ended up driving to a vacant lot in one of the western suburbs. Interestingly, a competing balloon company was there as well.  It took about 20 minutes for the crews to unpack the trailers and inflate the balloons with large fans.  Once the balloons were nearly full (and still lying on their sides), the crew then heated the air with large gas burners.  In a matter of minutes we were climbing into the basket and we had lift off.

We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful morning to go up in a balloon.  Except during those moments when we had to climb higher by turning on the burners, it was extremely quiet.  We could hear all the sounds of each neighborhood as we flew overhead at less than 1000 feet (and usually around 500 feet).  Every dog who happened to see us would start barking, which would set off a cacophony of barking throughout the neighborhood.  Our captain told us that all that barking was the biggest complaint they received at his business.  We continued to peacefully drift westward, and slightly south, for the next hour, watching the city slowly wake up on a Saturday morning.
The landing was especially exciting.  It took about 20 minutes of low flying before our captain finally found a small park where we could land that was also in our flightpath.  In the meantime we flew so low that we brushed the tops of trees.  People on the ground could hear us coming because of the gas burners, so they would be waiting out on their verandas as flew over their rooftops and found them in their pajamas eating breakfast.  Everyone waved, and children chased after us on their bikes.  The ground crew that had been chasing us all along managed to run out of the van to grab us just as we came down.  When we finally landed with a big thump, several people in the surrounding neighborhood came out to meet us.  It took another 20 minutes to deflate the balloon and pack it back into the trailer.  We then headed back to the West End for a champagne breakfast.  What a great way to start the day!  More pictures of this trip can be found here.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Mac Nostalgia

I have been an owner of at least one Apple Macintosh computer for more than 23 years now (sometimes I have owned and/or personally managed more than ten Macs at once).  In fact, my very first Mac was the original 128K (the total memory of the machine) model, complete with a black-and-white, 9-inch screen and an 8 MHz Motorola 68000 processor.  Everything (i.e., all my files) was saved on 400 kB single-sided floppy disks, and you had to run all the applications off the floppy drive as well, as there was no internal storage.  I bought it as part of a university student package in the fall of 1984, which included a modem and an ImageWriter (a nice dot-matrix printer).  It cost me about $3000, which was equal to my entire federal student loan that year.  About a year later I was so in debt that I had to sell the whole thing off to pay some loans.  But, I quickly bought another Mac, and another one after that, and so on.  I remember watching other students working on their IBM PCjrs or clunky big PCs, always wondering why they preferred the ugly interface of their machines over that of my cool Mac--except, of course, I knew that their machines were much cheaper.

Anyway, I have endured many changes in my Macs over the years, and have spent tens of thousands of dollars on Mac products.  I finally decided to invest in Apple stock in 2002.  Lucky for me, I bought most of my stock prior to the launch of the iPod for Windows, and when I sold off my final Apple shares last year, I had made a very healthy profit, quadrupling what I had originally invested.

It's strange to think about how so many aspects of my life have been enmeshed with this specific computer line all these years. My Macs have helped me with dozens of undergraduate papers, scores of applications for graduate school and academic jobs, online chats with hundreds of people, thousands of email messages, statistical analyses of every research project, editing photos of my family, and even writing this blog.  Is it no surprise then that I get a bit nostalgic when I come across pictures of old Mac desktop screens, a story about the original start-up sound, and a link to download a collection of early OS alert sounds? Yes, I am sure that you Windows users have similar pangs of nostalgia, but I think they would be even sweeter if you had owned a Mac!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Opposite Days

Will has mastered the concepts of "up" and "down" in the past few weeks.  He loves repeating those words while he points in the corresponding direction.  Even during the drive home from his daycare he helpfully narrates every segment of our journey as we go up and down the hills.  

I am looking forward to the day when he can remind me of the seasons as well.  What I thought would be the most obvious and easiest part of living south of the equator has turned out to be one of the most challenging.  After decades of learning what to expect during October, January, or July, my brain seems unable to comprehend that everything has changed.  I didn't really enjoy the summer months the way I might normally do (it didn't help that the Christmas and New Year holidays interrupted things), but now, just when I am finally feeling ready for summer, it's getting cold in Australia.  Sure, there isn't any snow, and I will probably never wear gloves and a scarf in Queensland, but it just doesn't feel right turning on the heat and putting on a sweater in late May!  What's more, my friends and family in the U.S. keep mentioning their warmer days and the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, which I have long associated with the beginning of summer.

It appears that even long-standing transplants from the northern hemisphere never really master the opposite seasons.  I have noticed one American, for example, who has lived here over ten years but still refers to the upcoming "summer break" between semesters at UQ next month.  Another expat mentioned a "fall" conference that will occur in October.  The other day an Australian asked me, "when did you move here?" and I quickly answered, "last summer," which either shortens our stay or lengthens it by six months, depending how he interpreted "last."  To avoid such errors, I have been trying to rely more on using the months instead of the seasons in my conversations, but that feels quite awkward (e.g., "I am looking forward to getting a lot of work done next December-January-February").

Because Will will learn the opposite associations with the calendar, maybe he'll be able to help his father with this problem someday.  Of course, this might also create another source of confusion in the parent-child dynamic.  Perhaps then we'll just have to move to the equator.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Incompetent and Unaware

One of my favourite articles published in social psychology in the last 10 years is Justin Kruger and David Dunning's (1999) "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments," which was published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 1121-1134.  Across four studies, different participants were tested on their sense of humor, logical reasoning, and grammar. They were also asked to indicate what they perceived their abilities in these areas to be, relative to other people. Across the four studies, participants always believed they were better than average--sometimes dubbed in the literature as the "Lake Wobegon" effect, after Garrison Keillor's mythical Minnesota town, where all the children are "above average."  The problem, of course, is that everyone can't be above average.  In fact, half of the people are in the bottom 50% of scores on whatever ability we're talking about!  Thus, it turns out that the people who are most incompetent on a task are also the people who are most unaware of how incompetent they are.  You can see this pattern in one of the figures that appears in the Kruger and Dunning article:

In the years since this article was published, I'll admit that I have been prone to make occasional observations about other people whom I believed were unaware of how entirely incompetent they were, whether they were salespeople, clerical staff, students, or even other academics.  Interestingly, and predictably, I never really wondered about myself with respect to this article.  That is, as an academic (for example), I like to think of myself in the 3rd or Top Quartile in terms of teaching ability, creativity, writing ability, logical reasoning, etc.  But, of course, on any or all of these dimensions I am likely inflating my own competence.  In my defense, I should point out that in my occupation there are few objective measures of these talents. Regardless, the past month at work has been very challenging for me--which has caused me to re-evaluate my general competence as an academic.  On top of that, yesterday one of my manuscripts, which had been under review since December, was flat out rejected from one of the most prestigious journals in my field.  The reviewers' comments were somewhat harsh, such as, "one wonders what the point of this study is," and "who would want to read this article?"  I can't help (today) feeling a bit like I'm "unskilled and unaware of it."  To keep touch with reality, perhaps I should post the following amended figure above my desk: