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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Where did I go? A rather long update but one that will fill you in on where I am and where I am going...

I never left.  The past few months were noteworthy for me but not for the purposes of my blog.  Here are a few things that kept me busy since my last post:

1.  The loss of my mentor.   On October 10th, 2015 - 2 days before my last post, my graduate advisor Lee Sechrest died.  His death was both expected and devastating simultaneously.  I admired Lee for who he was not what his life's accomplishments say he did.  He was more than a set of accomplishments - often listed as a brand left upon those who survived him.  Lee had a profound impact on who I am today.  Here is a picture of Lee, Kathy and me sitting in our shared office space at the University of Arizona:
I celebrate the time I had with him and will forever pay forward the kindness he showed me throughout our time together.

2.  Working.  Yes, I work as well as play.  Over the past few months, I dedicated myself to a few projects that are now finally starting to pay off and produce more interesting results.  Many of you know that I am a professor and I love my job, students, and lifestyle.  What you may not know is what exactly do I study.  Well, here are a few things I am starting to work on that may prove to be quite ambitious but hopefully fruitful.

  • Rapid prototyping of measures:  My students and I - along with my great friend and colleague Todd Kashdan - started developing several measures in a way that few if any have used before.  We brainstorm ideas, construct questions (or items), conduct cognitive think aloud sessions to refine the questions, and then (and here is the novel part), we deploy them on the web using Amazon's Mechanical Turk, Reddit, Facebook, or any other outlet that helps us collect data rapidly.  Once we get our initial data, we analyze the data to see if it provides us with what we expected or, better yet, something novel.  The latter is the most exciting.  After the initial data collection, we revise the instrument, go thought the entire process again, and keep doing so until we refine what we want and what we collect.  Pretty cool, eh?  This process would not be possible without the help of many people across many different disciplines.  Thanks to a great team, we have a few measures about to hit the academic journals and, perhaps even more important, to the public as useful instruments to gain insights where they may have been difficult to gain before.
  • Naturalistic observations and the processes of behavioral change: We all want to know what works for us when it comes to behavior.  Think about the behaviors you wish to change - eating habits, exercise, time management, and the like comprise most of our new year's resolutions.  Despite our will to change, we rarely do or at least those changes decay quickly over time.  I am interested in observing behaviors in places where behaviors matter the most. Observation is not really my goal.  I want to learn how to observe these behaviors unobtrusively and learn what helps us change them the quickest way with the least amount of effort AND maintain those changes.  So, where are the place I refer to above?  Well, the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, office, and other "personal places" come to mind as the locations where behaviors matter the most.  Do you eat well, sleep 8 hours a night, brush/floss, wash your hands, focus on work when working, and remain reasonably active throughout your day?  If I asked you those questions, you would often say yes - especially if I asked you around others who watched you respond.  That type of response is what social scientists refer to as reactive responding.  I want to know and employ unobtrusive measures whereby the observation takes place without the person knowing they are being observed.  This observational process is not like "Big Brother" from Orwell's 1984 but rather a personalized approach to each person monitoring his/her behavior.  In our lab, we are setting up remote sensors to help people monitor their behavior and for us to observe these behaviors in more public places where they may be more indicative of health, social, and occupational functioning.  
  • Tons of work with STATS.org:  As you all know by following my blog, I am interested in statistics, data visualization, and science.  I found a great home with kindred spirits in my own lab and with the folks at STATS.org - housed in my own university.  We review and comment on science reporting to help journalists accurately and fairly evaluate scientific contributions.  The journalists are wonderful because they are open to new ideas and readily learn the nuances of scientific reporting.  I learned a fair bit in the short time working with the group and look forward to more work in the near future.  Some of the pieces we worked on recently involved toxicology reports about BPA and various other projects kept all of the STATS.org folks busy for the past few months.  I have a few other posts coming that focus on "hot" topics you might find compelling including the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome (specifically the PACE trial), the evidence about artificial sweeteners in humans, and the effects of salt on our health and well-being.  Please browse the STATS.org site and send us comments or suggestions should they arise. 

3.  Finally, sorting out the details of 3 adventures:

  • ADVENTURE 1:  Denali.  I mentioned in previous posts that I planned to help out my friend Dave Williams on his quest to climb the 7 Summits by running from the sea to the base and then climbing the mountains.  Dave just successfully climbed Aconcagua after 2 previous failed summit bids.  He dedication to his cause is remarkable and admirable.  To show my respect, I volunteered to help him climb Denali this May.  I love his attitude.  He is a trooper and the climb should be fun.  Right now, we are finalizing plans.  I will post more details about the climb but for now, I will say that this is quite an adventure.  Dave had to coordinate the run from the sea to the Kahiltna glacier and that is just the warm-up!  After that approach, he will climb with me and several others.  Right now, we are bracing for some odd weather given the huge El Nino effects that seem to be affecting all parts of the Pacific Northwest - including Alaska.  
  • ADVENTURE 2:  Catalina Channel and English Channel week.  Yep, I plan to do them one week apart.  I turn 50 on July 5th and there is no better way than to spend it swimming for the next few weeks.  Right?  My Catalina Channel swim begins on midnight July 11th, 2016 and my English Channel swim begins one week later (weather permitting).  Right now, I am in San Diego where I just completed my 6-hour qualifying swim in the Pacific Ocean - just off the shore of Solana Beach (more on that swim in my next update).  Now that I am done with that step, I can submit my final documents for both swims.  I am committed and ready after yesterday's awesome adventure.
  • ADVENTURE 3:  Mountain Ride 2016.  My family and friends plan to ride our bikes form Salt Lake City to Denver (500-600 miles with 25,000 feet of climbing and 24,000 feet of descending) sometime in August.  I think we will do the ride over 8-10 days so only one week of vacation is necessary for those who actually work during the summer.  If any of you want to join us, feel free to do so.  Expect more details in the upcoming posts.  
So, there you have it.  I've been busy preparing for all sorts of things in life, work, and play.  Expect more frequent updates this year.  I have a plan to submit my posts every Sunday to keep me on track.  OK, more later....