Saturday Tweets: Raccoon Steals Donut

How to craft a New Year’s resolution and why you should keep them to yourself

someecards-new-year
I think we’re poster children for why you shouldn’t publicize your New Year’s resolutions. Re-listening to our New Year’s resolution podcast of 2015 was just plain painful. Looking back, the results weren’t pretty.

A large body of research going back to the early 20th century explains why it’s a bad idea to let other people know about your goals. When we tell other people what we’re going to do in the coming year, that act of telling deludes us into thinking that we’ve already accomplished the goal. Blogging and social media, I think, makes this even worse in that it gives us all the ability to let hundreds or even thousands of people know what goals we’d like to accomplish in the coming year.

But there’s some subtlety to the research. As this Scientific American article points out, if you let all your Facebook friends know you intend to run a marathon, this can trick you into thinking you’ve accomplished the goal. If, however, you conceptualize a goal as a form of commitment rather than progress, you’re more likely to succeed. A study the article cites puts it this way,

This implies that a behavioral intention worded to indicate a strong commitment to the identity goal (e.g., ‘‘I want to write a paper to become a great scientist’’) should be less negatively affected by social reality than a behavioral intention that implies progress toward the identity goal (e.g., ‘‘I intend to write a paper, as is done by great scientists’’).

In other words, I think there’s a parallel to the way Alcoholics Anonymous frames sobriety as a commitment rather than something that’s achieved.

I’ve decided that publicizing goals on this blog or on the podcast is a bad idea because I don’t think I can adequately distinguish between progress and commitment unless I keep my goals to myself. It’s too easy to fall into bragging mode on a blog that’s dedicated to domesticity. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to make resolutions. I’m just going to keep them those commitments private.

SMART New Year’s Resolutions
And I’m going to be smarter about those goals. Another research-based Scientific American article suggests that our goals be “SMART”:

Specific
Measurable
Attainable
Realisitc
Time Framed

An example of a bad goal would be, “I’m going to lose some weight.” A “SMART” alternative would be, “I’m going to lose 10 pounds by July 1.” The article also suggests that goals be inspiring and difficult but realistic. So, for instance, an uninspiring goal might be, “I’m going to walk more often.” A more inspiring and difficult goal might be, “I’m going to run a 5k.” An unrealistic goal (a lot of newbie runners fall into this one) would be trying to run a marathon without first having years for running experience.

With these studies in mind I’ve set a modest (under 10) number of specific, time framed goals that I have written down. I’m not telling anyone what they are and I’ve decided to review them every day.

Have you set some goals? How did your New Year’s resolutions go in 2014?

Preparing For El Niño Storms

We begin this post with a gutter cleaning selfie showing the precipitous drop from the front of our house as well as a view of the “flipper fence” handrail I built for the in-laws.

The much promised El Niño rainstorms are on our doorstep this week. For those of you in the rest of the world who might be unfamiliar with the phenomenon, every decade or so weather conditions in the Northern Pacific conspire to heat up the ocean which, in turn, causes unusually heavy rainstorms to hit California. Climate change only makes this condition worse.

Most of the preparations I did are things I should do every year but have been lazy about due to the drought. But with January here I finally:

  • Cleaned the gutters and French drains. This is no fun, especially since the gutters on the front of the house are difficult to access. I discovered that the front gutter was completely clogged with loose asphalt roofing material.
  • Channeled some of the water from our gutters to the backyard garden. Since our house is on the hill I have to send the rest of the water down to the street, unfortunately.
  • Made sure to have working flashlights with fully charged batteries. Our electricity has gotten increasingly unreliable over recent years.
  • Charged the 2 meter ham radio (it’s also a scanner).
  • Got a supply of dry goods that can be cooked without opening the refrigerator/freezer.
  • Fixed the foundation (I did this ten years ago and am happy I did it, though it was expensive).

One thing I still need to do is get a charger for my cell phone. If any of you have a recommendation I’d appreciate it.

Other than pitch a Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson El Niño disaster movie is there anything else I should do? What have you done to prepare for El Niño?

More boneheaded plant representations from Hollywood

not poison sumac

Writing about the Star Wars Romanesco cameo reminded me of a truly egregiously bad plant representation I saw on TV recently. I have to admit that these rants probably only serve to illustrate how trashy my taste in entertainment actually is–so I have to admit that I pretty much deserve to be disappointed. Yet I cannot remain silent in the face of such horror.

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 1.24.05 PM

In the deeply unpromising pilot to the YA series The 100, a group of handsome teens are walking through a stand of ferns in a redwood forest-type biome. The ferns (and, indiscriminately, the adjacent moss tufts) have been studded with purple pansy heads by the set designers. Nevermind that ferns don’t flower. One kid picks a pansy head and tucks it behind his love interest’s ear. A smarty pants kid watching this interaction notes that they’ll be sorry, because, he says, the plant is poison sumac. He’s not joking or positioned to be wrong–his character is written as somebody who knows plants.

I ask you:

Would James Bond engage in a high speed chase in a 1995 Toyota Corolla?

Would the makers Friday Night Lights have the high school football players carry basketballs instead of footballs in the game scenes, because after all, a ball is a ball?

Would Carrie Bradshaw slip on a pair of Crocs and call them Jimmy Choos?

No, no and non.

We’d never make mistakes like that justify them as being unimportant because they were just small details in a silly movie or TV show. Details matter a lot when the objects have cultural significance, as designer shoes and footballs do. This is why it is fine to be  stupid about plants, because nobody cares about plants, and we have lost every last vestige of plant literacy.

I don’t think this is a case of me being picky. I’m not being a plant geek here, pointing out some minutiae of botany. I’m talking about the misuse of really common plants that people do know, or should know.

Ferns, for example, are a plant that even the most determinedly uninterested person will still be able to identify as a fern. If you can only identify five plants, a fern would be one of them, along with grass and roses. Pansies are not as easily nameable as ferns, though they are incredibly common. Even people who don’t know what a pansy is called will still probably recognize them as a flower they’ve seen in flower beds. So why mix ferns and pansies and call the resulting Frankenplant poison sumac? This combination of laziness and arrogance takes my breath away.

More, it’s sorta dangerous. Bear with me here. In this degenerate world, no one needs to know the name of any plant to get by day to day (food plants excepted), but if a person ever intends to go outside (optional, I know) they’d better know how to identify local plants which cause contact dermatitis. Like poison sumac.

Poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) is a shrub or tree which grows in wet spots in the Eastern parts of the U.S. and Canada. It looks nothing whatsoever like a fern. Or a pansy. It is apparently even more toxic than its itchy relatives, poison oak and poison ivy. Any teen who thinks to romp in those woods should know the difference between a fern and a poison sumac bush, and The 100 is doing a real disservice to its young audience by misrepresenting that plant. May the producers be looking at their iPhones the next time they sit down at a picnic, and miss that patch of poison ivy. My curse be upon them.