fallingI’m reading a lot of books at the moment. I’m reading Flowers for Algernon and The Great Gastby (again) as part of my summer school ELA teaching experience. I’m also reading Flip Your Classroom in preparation for the next school year. Most importantly, I’m re-reading When You’re Falling, Dive which was given to me by a dear friend a few years ago and has been quite influential on me.

When You’re Falling is basically about acceptance of life as it really is, and about counteracting the conditioning that we’ve learned over the years. Here are a few quotes for the first section followed by my current thoughts on each:

“It’s not that we gain the power to change circumstances; we develop the skill to determine our experience of those circumstances.” (page 4)

This is one I really picked up on the first time I read it. Now, when I’m feeling blue (for a reason or just because I’m having an “off” day) I let myself experience it. I don’t try to fight it; I accept that being sad at times is part of life.

“I’ve stopped trying to make myself better, and I’m happier.” (page 43)

This one is particularly interesting. When you think about it, self-help books in general are feeding the conditioning that says “I am not good enough as I am” under the guise of helping you.

“…dissatisfaction is at the root of our addiction to distraction.” (page 52)

How much of life is about distraction?  Entertainment or work or even love can be a way to distract ourselves from the reality of life. What are we afraid to face?


seI’ve recently seen two movies with a focus on psychology. The first was the new Steven Soderbergh release, Side Effects. Rooney Mara is amazing as a young woman who takes an experimental antidepressant (the fictional Ablixa, which has its own website). The first half of the story exposes psychiatry for the pseudoscience that it really is at this point, as well as the influence of pharmaceutical companies over doctors and a bit of the ridiculousness of our pill-popping culture. They movie takes a twist in a more conventional direction from there but is still enjoyable. I also admired the cinematography; there are some interesting focus effects that enhance the mood. ★★★½ out of 4.

admA Dangerous Method I saw at home on my own theater. This David Cronenberg picture is a semi-historical take on the early days of psychoanalysis. The film focuses on the relationship between Carl Jung, his patient (and later colleague) Sabina Spielrein, and Sigmund Freud (well played by Viggo Mortensen in an atypical role). The screenwriter didn’t have to embellish too much since Jung actually did have an affair with Spielrein in real life (though I have no idea if the kinky sex was part of the real life relationship). They highlights to me were the discussions between Jung and Freud about the nature of emotional issues. The influence of Otto Gross on Jung was also quite interesting, as it made clear that the psychologist has to figure himself out as he evolves while trying to do the same for the patient. ★★★ out of 4.


Update: Last night (3/9) I saw Silver Linings Playbook and absolutely loved it. This movie has it all: bipolar disorder, romantic obsession, OCD, dysfunction families, Halloween, football and dancing. The acting is terrific across the board, but Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Tiffany is especially compelling. Her character has a habit of calling people out with remarkable insight, defying social convention by speaking hard truths. Bradley Cooper’s Pat is less constructive with his social issues, and is solely motivated by trying to win back his wife (which under the circumstances isn’t realistic). The chemistry between the two is palpable and makes the movie sing. My only criticism is that Pat’s mental issues seem to magically resolve themselves late in the movie, but that doesn’t stop this from being a totally charming, intelligent movie. I can’t wait to see it again.  ★★★★ out of 4.

Don’t worry, be happy

January 26, 2013

happy-facesThis week I watched a documentary on Netflix that is in line with my thinking of late. Happy, directed by Roko Belic, illustrates the nature of happiness across the globe.

A few highlights:

People in general think that good or bad major events (getting married, losing a job) are far more important than they really are when it comes to overall happiness. In reality, the highs from these don’t last very long and neither do the lows.

Flow, or being “in the zone” is an important part of happiness. This can be achieved through exercise, sports, or even everyday tasks like gardening or cooking.

Acts of kindness and compassion, even if minor, make us happy.

The part of happiness that is determined by the circumstance of life (job, money, house, relationship) is a mere 10%. The rest is genetic (50%) and habit based (40%).


January 22, 2013


This morning I read an article on Ars Technica about something called “revenge porn.” Essentially it’s when someone posts nude or erotic photos of a former girlfriend (or boyfriend, though this is less common) on sites designed for this purpose. Amazingly, they also often post the name of their ex and sometimes even phone numbers and email addresses.

So what is the matter with these people? This is a ridiculously classless move. If you’re not going to delete such photos upon breaking up it’s the least you can do to keep them as secure as possible. Sharing them online should certainly dissuade other women from dating such men. Perhaps someone needs to create a site where women post the names of men who post the photos and names of women (or even better, people could be less bitter and not post in the first place).

I would think these types of sites would dissuade the fairer sex from sending or posing for such photos, though apparently this isnt the case as it’s alarmingly common amongst young people these days (from what I hear). My generation seems to be wise enough to avoid this trend for the most part (swimming pics don’t count).

Seat Time Genius

August 13, 2012

I’m re-reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers (truth be told it’s part of a professional development assignment – we could pick from three choices and I chose the one I’ve already read to save myself time for other projects). If you’re not familiar with the book, it’s basically an analysis of why certain people are extraordinarily successful (The Beatles, Bill Gates) as well as the concept of accumulated advantage, which is when early success or advantage is compounded by increased opportunity for development and success. His example of Canadian hockey players is compelling – the majority of professional players are born in the first few months of the year and benefitted from their age advantage in youth hockey (based on the calendar year) over those born later in the year (players start very young so a 10 month age advantage is quite significant). He also repeatedly mentions the 10,000 hour rule, which is supposedly the amount of time it takes to become an “expert” at something.

The book got me thinking about some of my favorites  – notably the music of Prince and the movie Amadeus. Lately I’ve been listening to what in my opinion is Prince’s greatest work, Sign o’ The Times. Released in 1987, this double album is celebrating its 25th year and sounds amazingly fresh to this day (though it’s in dire need of re-mastering for digital), and it’s kind of hard to pinpoint why. The songs are certainly well-crafted (he had definitely reached his 10,000 hours by then since he was 29 at the time of his release) but there’s something more to it than that. I can listen to songs like “Adore” or “Play in the Sunshine” on headphones and certain parts of the songs will give me goosebumps. I’ve heard those songs over 1,000 times and yet the effect is not diminished. It’s remarkable, really. I don’t know if it’s the combination of apparent simplicity with incredible levels of detail or what, but it resonates with me. I can remember playing it on the boom box in the graphic arts room my senior year in high school. My friends there listened but being eastern-Connecticut born and bred they cared for little beyond classic rock. An album which melds R&B, soul, rock, jazz and even a little country was far too different from what their brains had been accustomed to for them to make any sense of it (note that Purple Rain, his most commercially successful album, is very much a rock record with easier to digest hints of R&B). My brain was used to this fusion, having been introduced to his music in 1982 when my brother Adam bought the album 1999.

Around the same time (and in the same school) I saw my favorite movie for the first time. I remember my one and only trip to the music room in high school was to watch this film (apparently I lacked access to music education). It’s a long movie (in a time when motion pictures very rarely crossed the two-hour mark) but I was totally captivated. It’s not so much the music of Mozart that was the draw (I do enjoy it but wouldn’t really consider myself a classical music fan). No, the appeal to me was always the nature of genius. The fictional version of Salieri was a dedicated and talented composer whose world was shaken to the core by the arrival of Mozart and a level of talent beyond anything he knew. While he experimented with different iterations of a musical phrase over and over to get it right, Mozart would instantly come up with something fresh and far better at his first attempt. What’s particularly interesting in the movie was that Salieri was one of the few who could see the genius. Others thought the music to be very good but not particularly special. This makes sense for music (or an idea) that is ahead of its time. The world needs to catch up in order to understand.

All of which brings us back to Gladwell. Every artist I’ve mentioned has put in the 10,000 hours (including the highly successful Salieri), as have countless local musicians of varying quality. Perhaps Gladwell’s accumulated advantage is at play in that quality discrepancy. In any event, the 10,000 hours idea has been used in education circles as a reason to expand the school day and year. After all, reaching 10,000 hours of learning will be easier that way, right? But that superficial application fails to take into account what I believe is the single most important factor in learning… motivation. The musicians mentioned in this post surely were passionate and excited about music as children. The parents of those young hockey players probably had to drag them off the ice. In an age of nearly unlimited information resources (thank you, interweb) it is merely the desire to learn that is necessary. So how do we inspire that desire to learn in our students? Where does that thirst for more knowledge that some of us possess come from? And when it is there, what happens in the brains of the outlier that allows a masterpiece song to be conceived of in mere moments that you or I could take 10,000 hours and still not approach?

Back to the Bedroom

August 3, 2012

Yay, another post about sleeping! It’s probably just because I tend to write these in the morning these days, combined with another not-so-great night of sleep. No bad dreams last night (I remember a dream where I was at Fenway Park trying to watch a game but kept getting text messages) but I couldn’t quite get comfortable. This time my restlessness was caused by a lack of finding a comfortable position, which was probably because I was a bit sore from yesterday’s workout (I pushed a bit harder than usual).

So this morning I looked up sleeping positions and couldn’t find much (a Google search brings up a lot of pages relating to SIDS and sleep positions). But I did find this breakdown of sleep position preference compiled by Professor Chris Idzikowski:

Fetus (41%) – curling up in a fetal position.

Log (15%) – lying on one’s side with the arms down the side.

Yearner (13%) – sleeping on one’s side with the arms in front.

Soldier (8%) – on one’s back with the arms pinned to the sides.

Freefall (7%) – on one’s front with the arms around the pillow and the head tilted to one side.

Starfish (5%) – on one’s back with the arms around the pillow.

No preference (11%) – doesn’t need to be explained

I really like the clever names of these. I’m with the 11% of people who don’t have a preference. I will fall asleep in almost any of those positions. I do tend to always sleep (or begin sleeping) on the left side of the bed for some reason though. According to a survey conducted by Premier Inn in the UK, I am sleeping on the “right” side. They found that left side sleepers are cheerier, calmer and more confident.

As for couples, Travelodge conducted a survey that found that 50% of couples sleep back-to-back, with a bit more than half of those touching while doing so. Spooning was second with 28% and the “lover’s knot” (face-to-face with legs intertwined) next up at 10%.

(I searched for a pic from Ghostbusters with Sigourney Weaver levitating above the bed but couldn’t find one. Whoya gonna call?)

One Man’s Oneirology

July 25, 2012

I woke up grumpy and sad today. I have no reason to feel that way, but I had an unpleasant dream which affected me even after I awoke. Even now I’m still struggling to shake off the negative feelings so I can enjoy my day. As part of that shaking off process, I did some dream research (oneirology).

I discovered that negative emotions are far more common in dreams than positive ones. Anxiety is #1, sadly. To make it worse, sexual content appears in less than 10% of dreams. The world would be a happier place if those were reversed. Oh, and juvenile dreams about driving a Kia Optima around a racetrack filled with bikini models are nonexistent. 95% of all dreams aren’t remembered, but if you wake in the middle of having one you are highly likely to remember it. Women are more likely than men to recall dreams, and apparently you can train yourself to remember your dreams more frequently.

Most of this information comes from human studies, but all mammals dream. Anyone who has watched their dog “running” while sleeping knows this to be true (I hope the negative feelings bias is human specific). Dolphins are minimal dreamers, humans are mid-pack, and possums are prolific dreamers (probably dreaming about being something other than a possum).

I don’t know if the possum can do it, but lucid dreaming is a real thing. If the dreamer is aware of the dream it qualifies as a lucid dream. In some cases the dreamer (the oneironaut) is able to exercise control over the dream. I once saw the movie Waking Life, which was clearly made by someone who was high (or dreaming). In the movie the dreamer knew it was a dream because the digital alarm clock couldn’t be read no matter how close it was.

Like that alarm clock, dreams are enigmatic. Despite being studied since the dawn of humankind, we still don’t know the purpose of dreams. There are many theories, of course. Freud theorized dream content was driven by wish fulfillment. Jung moved slightly away from that to say that dreams are messages to help resolve emotional issues. Perls argues that dreams represent an uprising of sorts from the parts of the self that have been ignored or suppressed. These last two could explain the prevalence of negative emotions in dreams. In any event, this exercise was therapeutic and now I’m off to have some fun.

Back in 1996 I saw the movie Se7en on video (back then we actually drove to a store and rented movies on VHS videotape – DVD wasn’t introduced until the following year), and to this day it is the movie that has disturbed me the most. I remember having trouble sleeping for a couple of weeks after watching it. The villain in the movie (Kevin Spacey) is “illustrating” the seven deadly sins with a series of crimes that are being investigated by police played by Brat Pitt and Morgan Freeman. I watched it again recently and wasn’t as affected but could appreciate the quality of the movie more than I did previously.

I bring this up because this month’s issue of Mental Floss has an article about the seven deadly sins (can you name them all before looking below?) that presents scientific information showing that these sins aren’t all bad. Here’s my ultra-condensed recap for your edutainment:

Sloth • People who work less have lower levels of stress, depression and death!

Gluttony • Chubbier politicians were deemed more trustworthy than thinner ones in a photo survey.

Envy • Jealousy of peers is a strong motivator, and may even explain the spread of the Arab Spring via “democracy envy!”

Greed • Swiss economist have determined that a moderate level of greed in a society is better than a low level.

Lust • Men who have sex more than once a week live more than two years longer (oh man!) and women who enjoy sex live eight years longer!

Wrath • A UC Santa Barbara scientist did an experiment that showed that angry subjects demonstrated better judgment and sharper analytical skills.

Pride • It turns out that pride (even if unjustified) prevents depression! Plus pride allows people to take leadership roles and take risks.



June 11, 2012

Okay, that headline is making fun of my lack of posting lately – the end of the school year is a busy time and combined with my app work this site has been neglected. But I’m back and this is my 100th post! The subject is time, brought about by watching the movie “In Time” starring Justin Timberlake (he’s not a bad actor, really) and Amanda Seyfried (who is most notable here for continuing the much-appreciated-by-me trend of short hair on beautiful women in Hollywood these days). The concept of the movie is interesting – in the future people are genetically engineered to stop aging at 25. After a person reaches that age, however, the must continue earning time in order to go on living. If done well, a person can live indefinitely barring being hit by a bus or killed in some other fashion. Most people in the movie, however, live day to day.

The film wastes that concept a bit by using the old “greedy rich vs. noble poor” theme that seems to resonate with people that can’t get over the “unfairness” of life. The two protagonists even go the Robin Hood route and steal and distribute time to the oppressed population. This distracts from what should be the focus of the movie – that every day is precious and should not be wasted. The big flaw those preoccupied with income disparities tend to overlook is that above a certain financial threshold (and it’s not that high) happiness is not a function of income.

The movie could have also expanded on the idea of alternate currencies. The time as currency model is quite interesting compared to our fiat money, and the movie doesn’t clearly explain the reasoning behind the extreme rationing of time (population control is the most likely and is briefly mentioned). It got me thinking about some of the informal currencies at play in our world. In romantic relationships levels of beauty, physical fitness, youth, status, intelligence, and humor are all currencies which are evaluated by the “buyer” to determine someone’s value as a partner. The weight of each factor (and the addition of others) varies from person to person. Some may find an equal distribution amongst all these as desirable while some (ahem, some men) may value just one attribute (hotness, for instance, a combination of beauty and fitness). Since in love as in business most transactions are voluntary the perceived value of your romantic partner can be assumed to be of equal value to your own. Therefore the higher your partner’s value is the higher yours can be assumed to be, which is why many people derive their self-worth from their romantic relationships.

Angry Capsters

March 5, 2012

So I finally listened to a Missed in History podcast yesterday. It’s been a while because I’ve been enthralled in Dostoyevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov” in audiobook form (a great format for Russian literature since pronouncing the names is tricky for English speakers). The podcast was about the Lincoln assassination, but sadly there was little I didn’t already know since I watched a documentary about it a year or so ago. But in their wrap-up they mentioned Mad Hatters in a literal sense, which compelled me to look it up later.

It turns out that in 18th and 19th century England mercury was used in the production of felt that was used in the making of hats. The workers in these factories (the “hatters”) were exposed to significant quantities of the toxic substance and some suffered from dementia as a result of mercury poisoning. It was common enough that “mad as a hatter” came to be synonymous with “crazy person” during this period.

The phrase is usually associated with the character The Hatter in “Alice in Wonderland,” which was written in 1865 (Lewis Carroll never actually uses the term “Mad Hatter,” though the character is clearly insane and the Cheshire Cat refers to him as “mad”). Carroll grew up in Stockport, where hat-making was a prominent trade, so he would have very likely been aware of the phrase.