Thursday, June 14, 2012

Link roundup

1. Washington Post:

In the ‘you-can’t-make-up-this-stuff’ category, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is spending about $1.1 million to develop a way to physiologically measure how engaged students are by their teachers’ lessons. This involves “galvanic skin response” bracelets that kids would wear so their engagement levels could be measured.
2. You probably suspected HGTV's House Hunters was at least a little staged. But did you suspect it was this staged and that the participants were paid so little?

3. Peter Sagal and Carl Kasell from Wait Wait Don't Tell Me as Lego Cubedudes.

4. From a review of Peter Watson's The Great Divide: Nature and Human Nature in the Old World and the New ($15 at Amazon):
The plentiful availability in Eurasia of animals just waiting to be domesticated ultimately led to the invention of the plough, the chariot, the wool industry and the pork pie. Meanwhile, what the peoples of the New World might have lacked in terms of horses or cattle was compensated for by a quite prodigious supply of naturally occurring hallucinogens. While the great intellects of Eurasia were busy inventing monotheism and the water-mill, their counterparts in the Americas were off their faces on drugs. This, combined with the fact that the New World is much more prone to extremes of weather and seismic activity than the Old, resulted in gods that were scarily in people's faces. "In the New World," so Watson argues, "the existence of a supernatural world was altogether more convincing."
Or the same thought from a different review:
Watson's rationale for the different religions that developed in the Middle East and South America does carry conviction. In the Old World, the regularity of the natural cycles meant that supplicative religions could be said to work. If your existence depends on the Nile flooding every year or the arrival of the monsoon, and you engage in rituals to implore these life-giving waters to return, and they do – the ritual is consolidated. But in the New World, the climate was extreme, with terrifying unpredictable events such as volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, earthquakes, violent storms. The gods were unappeasable and human sacrifice became the last resort. A reinforcing factor was the abundance of hallucinogens in South America; thanks to them, "the existence of the supernatural world was... more convincing".


  1. Actually the galvanic skin response (also known as skin conductance) thing is valid in an educational context. We have a secondary sweating system that is stimulated by psychological stimulus, not heat. It is an evolutionary adaptation to give us better grip during high stress situations, and in the informal sense 'sweaty palms'. You can use it as a measurement of arousal, for instance I did a study where we measured skin conductance during video game play and it was amazing to compare how much more the subjects were stimulated when compared to more passive media, like TV.

    I am not familiar with the Gates study, but skin conductance would be a valid way to tell times when students are bored with what they are learning from when they are into what they are learning. Believe it or not it is similar to why poker players often wear big glasses (when you are mad you send electricity to brow)

  2. The House Hunters news isn't a surprise, even at the extent of its staging.

    Two of the comments to the Grantland article describe things as more staged that the article itself reveals. One comment says that one home owner was replaced by his more "camera friendly" friend. Another links to a different article, which tells even more.

    But really, when you look at the other "reality" shows that are on... Like the pawn shop series that set up items in advance...