Thursday, June 26, 2014

Conditioned to Food?

The other day, I was walking by a small plaza when my nose was assaulted by rich, mouth watering scents. The strongest of all was the smell of greasy, cheesy pizza.  I continued on my way, but my mouth was salivating, and as I walked I started to wonder, what is it about the smell of food?  More specifically, how come the smell elicits such a response to cause my glands to salivate and my stomach to grumble?

You may think that's a weird question. I mean, it's food. When we eat, we salivate, so why not when we smell food, too?  Why question it?  Nevertheless, I had this query.  I wondered: is there something in the smell itself that causes the phantom hunger pains, or am I conditioned to the smells of the foods I come in contact with? That's right, I just delved into classical conditioning--which is when a neutral object or stimulus is paired with another object/stimulus that elicits a certain response.  Through this pairing, the response is transferred from the eliciting object to the neutral one.  The most famous example can be found anywhere on the web, so instead, I will use an example that occurred in the TV show the Office.  (Gotta keep life interesting, you know?)   Throughout the show, Jim likes to mess with Dwight with different practical jokes.  In one episode, he starts shutting down his computer and with each shut down, the computer makes the classic Windows noise.  With the noise, he turns to Dwight and offers him a candy.  He does this repetitively throughout the day until the last time when he turns off the computer and Dwight puts out his hand before Jim says anything.  Dwight was conditioned to expect candy at the sound of the computer shutting down.  

So with regard to that, my question is: If I had never eaten pizza or it's ingredients, would my body still have found the smell mouth watering?  Our nasal passageways assist with taste and so when we eat foods (like pizza) we can't help but smell them as well.  Is the smell then the conditioned stimulus and my salivation the response?  If I were to eat a meal composed entirely of dishes foreign to my culture with foreign ingredients, would the smells have any effect on my hunger?

Again, maybe to some this seems like a stupid question, but I can't help but wonder.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Bike Adventure

Yesterday I had the pleasure of going for a bike-ride down by Lake Ontario along the Waterfront Trail.  If you are not familiar with the Great Lakes, then you are probably not familiar with the Waterfront Trail (you may not be familiar with it even if you live near the trail, too, I don't know what you know).  The trail currently stretches from east of Cornwall on the Saint Lawrence river all the way to just north of the border at Detroit (roughly).  The goal is that one day the trail will extend and connect the Saint Lawrence to all of the Canadian Great Lakes (Sorry Lake Michigan!).  The lakefront treks make for lovely, peaceful scenery and it's always a pleasure to travel the trail.

Yesterday morning, the air was crisp and the only wind was generated from my own forward motion.  For the most part, the morning was clear and almost too bright as the sun rose above the treeline.  The only haze or mist gathered above the eastern horizon.  Few people are out on the trails on a Sunday morning, and even better, fewer people are out on the roads (side note: if you are practicing driving and want empty streets, Sunday morning is prime time!) meaning that I had a smooth ride.

Some days, when I get on my bike, I feel like I could go forever.  Honestly, yesterday was almost one of those days.  I originally planned to bike down to the lake and then run a bit along the trail, but as I flew over pavement, I found I just wanted to keep going--I just wanted to push further and faster than I'd gone before.  I would love to go on a cycling trip.  My dad has many stories from when he was in his early-to-mid-twenties of his own bike trips.  For instance, he and a friend from university went from Waterloo University to the Maritimes in a 21 day trip (eating mainly peanut butter and honey sandwiches as I'm told).  To me, that sounds like a lot of fun.  Sure, it would be a lot of hard work, too, but I think there is something to be said about going somewhere with your own strength.  Nowadays, almost anyone can hop in a car and drive somewhere, but to cycle it?

Unfortunately, at this point in my life, I'm not in a place where I can go on a bicycle adventure. (1) I don't have the time--I work a contracted job and can't have a couple weeks off to cycle somewhere. (2) I don't have the necessary supplies--namely, my bike is not built for hardcore riding and I would need a different one along with the necessary bike bags and camping equipment that would fit on a bike. I would also need to learn how to better service a bike as anything can happen in the middle of nowhere.  (3) I'd need a bicycling buddy.  As much as I want to go on a trip like this, I don't want to go alone.  I can't think of any of my friends wanting to take part in such an adventure though.  None of them are big cyclists or campers, let alone both.

So, at this point, I can't see a bike adventure happening in my near future.  I hope for someday.  Until then, I will go where and when I can.  Ever aiming to go the greater distance--that little bit farther into the unknown.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Pooped Peonies

Gardeners across southern Ontario are torn between their love and hatred of the peony plant this late spring. After a long winter, the peonies are just now beginning to bloom. Bright splashes of pink bring gardens to life causing spectators to oooh and ahhh in appreciation.  One cannot help but notice this beautiful plant.
Many blossoms in full bloom.
Many blossoms in full bloom.
And yet, already the voluminous blossoms have surpassed the weight limit of their thin, twiddling stems. Perhaps the flowers have grown so big due to the undying love and affection they receive from their caretakers.  Perhaps instead the flowers themselves have mutated to be disproportionate due to soil content, nutrient, chemical fertilizers or other factors. Perhaps. Whatever the case, peony blossoms everywhere hang like dumb bells, bringing their stalks low to the ground and causing the plant to look windswept, ragged, and plum-tuckered out.  
Peony blossoms drooping low to the ground.

Gardeners mourn for their sad looking gardens.  "I love the peony," says one resident, "but every year I must tie the stalks to posts just to get the plant to stand.  It's an annoyance, really."  Many have had to resort to providing supplementary support to their plants and before the season's over, many more will.

Maybe one day we will find a way to provide rest for the pooped peonies of southern Ontario, but until then, these bodacious blossoms are left hanging.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Misusing Hashtags

Over the past five years, hashtags have taken the world of social media by storm and can be found on popular websites like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest... and probably others.

I am not a fan of hashtags.  At least, I am not a fan of misused hashtags.  How are they misused?  I am more than willing to vent.

The purpose of the hashtag is to help categorize things by theme.  By adding the # symbol before a word, it becomes "clickable" and serves as a way to find other posts that contain like content.  If you are on any social media, this shouldn't be new for you, but if it is, here is an example.  By incorporating #OntarioElection into a post (our election is tomorrow after all), people reading would be able to click on the tag and find other posts that also talk about the election.  In this way, the hashtag serves a useful function by helping people find certain information.

However, culture has taken the hashtag and have distorted it.  Urban dictionary has a couple of amusing definitions:
A hashtag is a stupid thing people put in front of random words for no reason. It is just the pound sign you can find it on social networks like Facebook or Twitter. It is just another 21st century made up thing.
[A hashtag is] The battlecry to hipsters.
People have started to add a number of tags that either make no sense.  A status/statement doesn't need a paragraph of tags:  Went for a walk today! #sky #birds #trees #park #kidsplaying #soccer #air #walking #walk #nature #beautiful.  This is just excessive. To be a good, a tag should stand out and should not be lost among a sea of others.  It's purpose is to highlight the nugget of gold--the key point.

My other peeve is when people use hashtags it in contexts that don't make sense.  In other words in a text (you can't click on it to find like messages in a text.  That's ridiculous.  If you are using hashtags in a text you are just being foolish), or in real live conversations.  Maybe you know people who do this:

Person A: What did you do this weekend?
Person B: Went up to visit my grandparents and cousins.  Hashtag family reunion!  There was so much food and it was delicious. Hashtag yum!

I look at that an cringe.  I don't understand the purpose of using a hashtag in conversation.  It just doesn't make sense and like in a text, it just seems foolish.

Maybe this is a bit excessive and maybe you find my opinion extreme (you probably do if you're one of these hashtag misusers), but what's the point of creating things with specific functions if we ignore these functions?

Monday, June 09, 2014

Memory, Sorrow and Thorn: A Review

Memory, Sorrow and Thorn is a trilogy written by Tad Williams.  I picked up the first book in the series, The Dragonbone Chair, a couple months ago based off a recommendation on Goodreads.  It was one of my first times using the recommendation feature, but am I glad I did!  This is one of the best series that I've read in a long time.

Image via Google
The lowdown?  The trio is a fantasy story about a kingdom plunging into darkness.  The newly crowned High King Elias and his evil priest, Pryrates, have begun to commune with powers better left alone: the powers of the ancient Sithi Storm King.  Killed hundreds of years ago, the Storm King's soul seems to be in an interim state, festering in its hate of mortals.  When we first meet our young hero, Simon (also called Seoman), he's working in the High King's palace, a distracted and lazy kitchen boy.  However, he soon becomes caught up in the early tides of the battle and is forced to flee from his home after finding the High King's brother, Josua, held captive by the priest.  That is the initial turning point in his story.  From there, he is thrown reluctantly into adventure and quest.  Along the way he meets many new friends with whom he tries to stop the High King and prevent the Storm King from winning and destroying all mortals.  Through it all he slowly he grows into a man.

And that is the bare bones summary of the three books.  There are so many details and I don't want to spoil it in anyway by trying to cram a bunch of plot points here.

I really liked the way Williams reshaped the classical fantasy elements into something I hadn't seen before. There were dragons, knights, princesses, running for their lives, disguises, deceit, magic... And many more other things/creatures.  Williams introduces us to different immortal creatures, the two more important "groups" being the Sithi and then the Norns.  In the beginning, I was thinking of them sort of like elves, but they really stand alone as their own species.  In comparison to the mortals their way of life is drastically different.  Through the interactions between the mortals and the Sithi, you can grasp the mortals confusion concerning this ancient race.  They often feel out of place and uncomfortable around them and Williams conveys that well.

I also liked the dynamics between the characters.  There were so many different people that at the start I thought I was going to have trouble keeping track of everyone, but each was able to stand alone in my head and did not mesh into one character as time wore on.

And my last like: I did not see the ending coming.  I thought I had a general idea of where things were headed and then with roughly 150 pages left (these are big books) all of a sudden everything shifted and I was holding my breath in frantic anticipation and anxiety.  As it came to a close, I was satisfied and there is nothing like closing a book and being satisfied.

No matter how much I like a book, there are usually one or two things that I am not a fan of.  In these books, there were certain moments when I felt like the passage I was reading was a little drawn out.  There were a few instances where characters were wandering in the dark passageways alone and I thought that Williams said a lot more during these scenes than he needed to.  A minor erk, but one nonetheless.  

In Betweens
Williams employed a changing narrator style and so often we would switch between point of views and places, sometimes many times within the same chapter.  At times, the change was pleasant and I enjoyed jumping to see how other characters were doing.  However, sometimes the changes were really brief and I found myself not caring much about the character I was following.  I wanted nothing more than to hurry on to the next switch.  In The Dragonbone Chair, we meet a character named Tiamak.  At this point in the story he isn't involved in the main intrigue and his narratives are merely setting up his later importance.  Those brief sections were really dry for me and I wanted to skip them.

Williams occasionally reminded the reader they were reading a book.  I know that there is a literary term for when an author reminds the reader that they are reading, but I can't recall it at this point in time.  I found this slightly amusing as it was often in a ironic way (e.g. " 'Someday we will perhaps be in someone else's book,' Tiamak offered, smiling, 'and whoever writes it will be very certain about how everything came to pass.' " (To Green Angel Tower, book 3) ).  He did this maybe three or four times over the course of the third book and by the last time I didn't find it as amusing.  Done well, reminding the reader isn't a bad thing, but when I read, I like to immerse myself and lose myself in the plot.  I don't always like being bounced back into my chair.

I loved the books and would recommend them to fantasy lovers everywhere.  I think I even remember reading that this series helped inspire the Game of Thrones, so if anyone likes those books, I think there's a good chance that this trilogy is also up your alley.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Today, I am a Graduate

Some would say that today marks a milestone. Convocation; graduation from university.  All of the time, the work, the. stress and (maybe most of all) money that I've poured out over the last four years lead to this day--to one slip of paper.

Today I received my diploma for my Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Psychology. I arrived the designated hour and a half early to the festivities to don my robe (thankful that it was heavy enough to keep my dress from blowing up) and then proceded to wait in a large tent with the other graduates in my convocation slot. The wind was strong today, every gust wrecking hairdos like a tornado destroying houses. As one, we girls would turn into the wind, hoping to salvage whatever we could.

At last, it was time. They lined us up and we made our way to the stage. The ceremony was short and sweet, always nice and greatly appreciated. I look back to my high school graduation with a shudder (3 hours is way too long!). We took some pictures, ate some food and then were done. I returned my gown, collected my diploma and that was that.

All in all a lovely day. I'm really happy to have accomplished my undergrad. In all honesty, it seems a little surreal and a part of me feels like I should be going back to Trent in the fall. And yet this stage of my life has come to a close.

Some would say that today marks a milestone...


Things I've learned about France (or at least Normandy)

Well there we go, my second European country. In some ways, very similar to England (a lot of meat and potatoes, fancy churches, pay toilets...