Reading, Writing, and Watching User Manuals

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whetting-my--app-etite----too-many-apps

Maybe it is my aging. Maybe it is a lack of motivation. Maybe it is a lack of focus on my part. Gone are the times when I used to master a new piece of software or a new computer in a few hours—exploring every drop down menu. Gone is my ability (or the time needed) to write a succinct user’s guide for the new machine and feel comfortable being a resident expert of its capabilities. Ah, my TRS 80 Level I machine—sometimes I miss you!

Fortunately now there are increasingly available excellent screencasts which clearly explain features of software. I find of special value MacMost Videos, Screencastsonline.com, and the superb presentations by David Sparks. When I am producing my own screencast I find most useful Screenflow though I am becoming impressed with Clarify‘s didactic potential.

Just downloaded the new OSX Yosemite Operating System onto one of my Mac’s. I find that it is worth the investment to purchase online tutorials that hand-hold one through the different features. I’ll have my undergraduate research assistants go through them before we install it on one of my office machines. In the interim I need to cycle through all my apps and see which ones work with the new OS, which don’t but are essential for my needs, and which ones I no longer need or have totally forgotten



“I’m not sure if you will remember me, but …”

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The letter was posted out of state on April 29, 2014. It appeared in my campus mail box a few days later. I glanced at the hand-written envelope (too) quickly, guessed that it might be a (sigh, yet another) solicitation for a letter of recommendation, and didn’t have a chance to open it until the following Saturday while I was proctoring my first final exam.

Dr. Simpson,

     I hope that this letter finds you in good health and spirit. I’m not sure if you’ll remember me, but you did something for me that I’ve never forgotten.

The letter-writer (a former academic advisee and not the academically strongest of students) had graduated three years after I had been diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer. Therefore, he might have been aware of some of my health issues while he was a student here.  Alas, he’s right that I am not as good at remembering students as I once was. I suspect that some of that memory failure is age-related; some is caused, I think, by how Carroll has changed. Some by the sheer number of students I have taught in the past 36 years. And though I had no immediate recollection of the particular event he shared, nonetheless I recalled him in some detail even without going to my filing cabinet and pulling out his advisee folder.

In 2004 ,,, I called the College to inquire about online classes. The adviser I spoke with told me that you changed one of my grades allowing me to graduate. You gave me my life and I can never begin to thank you enough. … I never contacted you because I was embarrassed, but always so thankful for it….[B]ecause of what you did I have been able to get my Masters… and have the current job I hold.  I am about to leave for Afghanistan … And just want you to know that I have never forgotten what you did for me and have always tried to earn it and will continue to. Thank you so much. Respectfully,

I have only a vague recollection of the particular circumstance alluded to (but I verified its occurrence).

A student, about to graduate fails a final exam in one of my courses. Were there personal circumstances affecting their performance? Is this part of a pattern? Is there justified reason to give them an additional chance—say, an oral exam?

A student is just a few points away from the next higher grade needed to graduate. This is easier for me to resolve, because of my extensive training in statistics and measurement error I am aware of and sensitive to the imprecision of measurement. I am quite comfortable in this situation under certain circumstances allowing some subjective (human, humane?) factors to enter into my final judgment of the student’s demonstrated abilities and likelihood of future success.

I most assuredly would change a grade if I myself had made a clerical error in assigning a grade. My vague recollection is that the latter was the case in this instance.

Simple acts of kindness, even when unintentional, can have long-lasting effects. This I believe. I was overjoyed to hear from him and communicated my thankfulness for his letter and best wishes for safety while serving our country.

Two Simple Studies with Potentially Impactful Results—if Replicated

When I was a graduate student, I would religiously read every article in every journal to which I subscribed. Alas, I have fallen out of that habit. One of my resolutions for the new semester is to invest more time in reading the scholarly journals to which I subscribe—and weaving the knowledge either into my teaching or my life.

As I prepare for a research oriented semester (two sections of Statistics and Experimental Design) and a Research Seminar, two articles in the December 2013 issue of Psychological Science intrigued me because of the simplicity of the experimental design and data analyses and the import of the results (if replicable).

In a short report entitled “Tryptophan Promotes Interpersonal Trust” Colzato et al. exposed 40 healthy adults to either an oral dosage of TRP a food supplement which is an essential amino acid contained in spinach, eggs, soybeans, and fish) or a neutral placebo. After an hour participants interacted in a game designed to measure trust. The participants who had ingested the TRP exhibited behavior indicative of trust to a significantly greater degree than participants who had received the placebo.

In an  equally intriguing group of studies reported in the same journal issue entitled “Aging 5 Years in 5 Minutes: The Effect of Taking a Memory Test on Older Adults’ Subjective Age” Hughes et al. experimentally demonstrated that older (but not younger) adults felt subjectively older after taking (or even after expecting to take) a standard neurological screening test which dealt with memory! Tremendous implications here for future research on the effects of context on self-perceptions of aging.