Monday, July 28, 2014

Golden Gate bridge, San Francisco

Thanks to

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Break a Car Window with a Headrest in an Emergency

With luck, you'll never be trapped in a car with the need to break the window from the inside, but if you are, and you don't have the right tools, your salvation may be right behind your head. Here's how to use your car seat's headrest to break your car door window. You don't have to speak Japanese to understand what's going on in the video above—it shows you what you need to know in a couple of seconds. Just take your headrest off of the back of the seat, then push one of the pegs from the headrest attachment down into the space where your window retracts, just where the seal is. Jam it down in there a few inches, and then pull the headrest towards you. Doing this flexes the window glass laterally, and the result is a break, usually at the other end of the window. Since it's usually safety glass, it'll shatter and crumble, falling away from the door (although not completely or in several pieces). This works because automotive glass is built to take significant direct impact, perpendicular to the plane of the glass, but if you flex it or hit it along the edge of the glass, it's much more fragile. This method will work in a pinch or someone else's car, but for your ride, we'd be remiss if we didn't suggest keeping an emegency hammer and seat belt cutter like this one in the glove compartment or under the passenger seat in case of emergency too.

How to Harness Your Brain's Dopamine Supply and Increase Motivation

I spent an hour on this opening paragraph. The hour wasn't time well spent, mind you. Sure, I was working—writing, deleting, fiddling with words here and there—but my paragraph-per-hour pace was more the byproduct of a stubborn lack of motivation than of indecisiveness. This post originally appeared on the iDoneThis blog. I spent five minutes in email, ten minutes on Twitter, and fifteen minutes doing who-knows-what on Tumblr. Just kidding, I know exactly what I was doing: looking at dog pictures. Sound familiar? Motivation is a tricky thing to corral. Tricky, but not impossible. The Origins of Motivation: It's in Your Head To trace the source of motivation, let's begin in the brain where neurotransmitters spark chemical messages to keep us alert and on task. One specific neurotransmitter that plays a role in motivation is dopamine. Dopamine's chemical signal gets passed from one neuron to the next, interacting with various receptors inside the synapse between the two neurons. This simple arrangement becomes much more complicated when you multiply the effect through the entire brain. Consider: there are different types of receptors, neurons, and pathways that neurotransmitters can take. Things get complicated fast.
For motivation specifically, it matters which pathway dopamine takes. The mesolimbic pathway, which originates in the middle of the brain and branches to various places like the cerebral cortex, is the most important reward pathway in the brain. One of the mesolimbic's stops is the nucleus accumbens. Increased dopamine in the nucleus accumbens signals feedback for predicting rewards. Your brain recognizes that something important—good or bad—is about to happen, thus triggering motivation to do something. But Wait, I Thought Dopamine Was All About Pleasure Common knowledge is with you on this one. The dopamine-pleasure connection has been curated by scores of different studies and media reports. The pleasure reputation is well-earned because it's true. Dopamine is the brain's pleasure chemical. But stopping there would be missing the complete story. Pleasure is just the tip of the dopamine iceberg. Dopamine's impact on the body is felt in many different areas, including motivation, memory, behavior and cognition, attention, sleep, mood, learning, and oh yeah, pleasurable reward. You hear about dopamine and pleasure because of its sticky associations with sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll. The media refers to dopamine in scare stories about addiction (some for good reason, some not). Pleasure and all its dangerous slippery slopes is a sexier topic than attention, cognition, and motivation. Studies of dopamine began with pleasure until researchers began noticing peculiar phenomena. They saw spikes in dopamine during moments of high stress. Dopamine rose in the case of soldiers with PTSD who heard gunfire. Stress and gunfire are not pleasurable phenomena, yet there dopamine was. What gives? It was clear that dopamine went beyond mere pleasure, and it turns out dopamine's true effect may be motivation. Dopamine performs its task before we obtain rewards, meaning that its real job is to encourage us to act and motivate us to achieve or avoid something bad. Studies confirm the motivation-dopamine link in a number of interesting ways. Behaviorial neuroscientist John Salamone confirmed the link in an animal study on rats who were given the choice of one pile of food or another pile of food twice the size but behind a small fence. The rats with lowered levels of dopamine almost always took the easy way out, choosing the small pile instead of jumping the fence for greater reward. In another study, a team of Vanderbilt scientists mapped the brains of "go-getters" and "slackers" and found that those willing to work hard for rewards had higher dopamine levels in the striatum and prefrontal cortex—two areas known to impact motivation and reward. Among slackers, dopamine was present in the anterior insula, an area of the brain that is involved in emotion and risk perception. As Salamone explains, "Low levels of dopamine make people and other animals less likely to work for things, so it has more to do with motivation and cost/benefit analyses than pleasure itself." Can Motivation Be Hacked? All this information's well and good, but what happens when I'm sitting at my computer for an hour, writing an impossible opening paragraph and fighting the unbearable urge to do anything but? Am I a slacker who's genetically disposed to low dopamine and lack of motivation? Not necessarily. The brain can be trained to feed off of bursts of dopamine sparked by rewarding experiences. You create the dopamine environment, and the brain does the rest. One way to achieve this is by setting incremental goals, according to neurologist Judy Willis. In essence, what you are doing is rewiring the brain to attach a dopamine response to the task you want as a reward. Allow yourself to experience frequent positive feedback as you progress through a series of goals. Dopamine will flow as a result of your brain's positive reinforcement every time you complete a step and meet a challenge. Another way to look at the dopamine-motivation angle is to revisit the study mentioned above about go-getters and slackers. You'll notice that dopamine was present in both types of participants, and you'll remember that dopamine engages a vast set of reactions in the body. Dopamine is involved in both ends of the motivation spectrum, both in lighting a fire to persevere and in waving the white flag. Through this lens, motivation becomes less about increasing dopamine, and more about digging deep and being diligent. It should be a marriage of both. Dopamine has a biological connection to our motivation to achieve. If there's anything we can do to increase the flow of dopamine like reinforcing positive feedback through incremental progress, embrace it. Along with this, we must include effort. Sometimes, the cure for low motivation may simply be old-school determination and perseverance, sticking with doing things even when we don't want to. Where to Go from Here It took me an hour to write my opening paragraph, and it took me five minutes to write this one. The difference is more dopamine, released to my brain as I met incremental goals along the way and received positive feedback from a blank document filling with words. Understanding where motivation comes from makes it easier to recognize what you need to do when it's missing. The next time you lack for motivation, try this: Break your indomitable task into smaller goals, and trust that dopamine will build up as you achieve your way through to the end. Should trouble or distraction interfere, push through with focused determination and deliberation.

The Drama Teacher’s Survival Guide

Let’s put on a show! Problem is, you have never put on a show before. A veteran high school drama teacher dispenses some great advice on how to shepherd your school or community towards a rousing performance. She walks you through the whole process, check-lists in hand, assuming you’ve never done it before. How long/often to schedule rehearsals, what to audition, how to cast, how to block, when to set the lighting, how to make effective costumes on the cheap, all the way to what to do about tickets. I’ve used four or five other beginner production guides but they tend to dwell on the technical aspects. Johnson’s guide tackles the whole multi-month long adventure. This unassuming but dense guide is aimed squarely at high school drama productions, but it works great for camp directors, small-town community theater, or any other newbie hoping to put on a show. The Drama Teacher’s Survival Guide Margaret F. Johnson 2007, 256 pages $20 Available from Amazon Sample Excerpts: Off-book rehearsals (five to six days) Off-book literally means that the actors go through the segments without using their scripts. The key word for these rehearsals is memorization. Your actors are giving the characters life and need to begin developing relationships with other characters. They cannot do that if their heads are in their books. You need to check that each actor has memorized both their blocking and their lines. This means that the actors do not have any scripts in their hands. These rehearsals are hard, frustrating, and extremely important. You must stick to your guns. No books allowed on-stage during this group of rehearsals or afterwards – ever, ever, ever! No “nanny” blankets for the actors! You are inflexible here.
Principles of movement The following principles of movement have been developed through stage experience. They are not rules – acting in the theatre defies rules. The following principles of movement need to be modified at times to fit the needs of you and your actors. Usually, characters: Cross toward the objective point. If grace and beauty in the scene are desired, then cross in a curved line. Cross on their lines. Break up their speeches while they cross behind others. When crossing with another character, the speaker walks Upstage and slightly ahead of the other, turning his or her head Downstage to speak. When entering with a group, the speaker enters first. Food that is eaten If people have to eat, then either the real food or a look-alike substitute that can be swallowed easily must be on-stage. Mashed potatoes work well for ice cream or anything requiring that kind of consistency. Just tint them the color you need. Angel food cake is easy to eat, can be colored and cut into shapes, and goes down easily, not causing anyone to choke. Slices of bread with a half of an apricot in the middle create fake fried eggs. Drinks: Tea is a great substitute for alcohol or coffee. [If you are going to do a show where characters use alcohol be sure it has been cleared with your administration. Many districts have strict rules about seeing students drinking on-stage.)

Kindle Paperwhite

I’ve been reading books on mobile devices since 1997 when my first daughter was born and I learned that I could hold a Palm Pilot and her at the same time. It was good to have an illuminated screen so she could sleep in my arms in the dark while I tapped my way through a novel. Since then I’ve owned lots of different e-readers: Sony Librie (2004), Kindle (2007), iPhone (2007), iPad (2010), Kindle Fire (2011), and Nexus 7 (2012). They all have their own pros and cons, but none of them comes as close to perfection as the Kindle Paperwhite, which I bought in 2013. A Paperwhite is better than a tablet because there’s no screen glare — an iPhone, iPad, Nexus 7, or Kindle Fire is useless outdoors on a sunny day. The Paperwhite is better than my original Kindle because the display is illuminated, so I can read it in bed with the lights out while my wife sleeps. The Paperwhite also has much better battery life than any of my other e-readers, even the original Kindle, which requires recharging every couple of days. The size and weight of the Paperwhite allow for comfortable one-handed reading. (The iPad requires propping on a pillow for reading in bed.) I prefer reading on my Kindle over print books because I can look up definitions, translate foreign phrases into English, order new books for instant delivery, and read Wikipedia entries without leaving the page I’m on. The “X-Ray” feature tells me about the fictional characters in a book, which frequently comes in handy when I forget who someone is. The Kindle also predicts how much longer it will take for me to finish reading a book or chapter. I’m sure a better e-reader will come along one day, but even if it didn’t I’d be happy with the Paperwhite for the rest of my reading days.
Kindle on left, Kindle Paperwhite with screen illumination on right.

Kresto Hand Cleaner

This is the best hand soap for getting the grease and grime off your skin. Nitrile gloves work great, but they are expensive, not very environmentally friendly, and you lose dexterity with them. Plus, with heavy use they tend to rip, causing you to have to clean your hands where the gloves didn’t protect. Kresto uses walnut shells for abrasive. It looks a bit like light-colored mud when you squirt a bit of it into your hand. Along with some water, and maybe a small scrubbing cloth, Kresto will clean even the deepest ground-in dirt in no time. You’ll be surprised at how much faster and better it works than the orange pumice hand cleaner you buy at the auto parts store. It’s more expensive than the cheap stuff, but you’ll use less, because it works better. The only downside is that you have to rinse the walnut shells off the sink when you are finished with it. The manufacturer claims it is biodegradable and won’t clog pipes. Kresto is sold mostly for industrial use, but is available on Amazon and other retailers. It comes in wall mount dispensers that use 2 liter softpacks, or in 1/2 gallon pump jugs or in tubes for occasional use.

Rockabye Baby!

“What‽ You let your baby listen to Metallica‽” Indeed I do… albeit lullaby renditions of “Enter Sandman” and “Fade to Black.” The Rockabye Baby series consists of instrumental lullaby versions of a wide array of tracks, featuring artists/groups including The Beatles, Nine Inch Nails, JayZ, Green Day, plus many others. The covers are generally very well-done (Queen and Journey are my personal favorites) and just as calming for our little one as any of the traditional standards. What’s particularly great is that despite much repetition, this music doesn’t grate our nerves the way a lot of sing-songy children’s music does. Plus, it’s quite entertaining to hear certain tracks — Guns-n-Roses ‘Mr. Brownstone’ comes to mind — reinterpreted as innocent-sounding melodies through the use of chimes, bells and vibraphones.