Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Home Telephone

Alexander Graham Bell's notebook entry of March 10, 1876, describes the first successful experiment with the telephone, during which he spoke through the instrument to his assistant, Thomas A. Watson, in the next room. Bell writes, "I then shouted into the mouthpiece the following sentence: Mr. Watson--come here--I want to see you.' To my delight he came and declared that he had heard and understood what I said.

And Stern (1994) "The telephone rings, it jingles our psyches, jangles our nerves.  We are seduced and soothed, rattled and betrayed by it.  Wherever it is-on the desk or street corner, the high seas or highway, in our bathrooms or briefcases-it has, for a machine, an allure like no other.”

The telephone has become an integral part of our life, our society and psychology. In recent years, the home phone has almost become a thing of the past. A mere one-in-five people use their landline for making regular personal calls, with over half of the population keeping it solely for the purpose of accessing the Internet – meaning they pay for unused line rental, on top of their monthly broadband fee. Another poll found one in three people has given up on a home phone, rising to 48 per cent of those aged 18 to 34.

So whole generations grew up in a world of “the” home telephone. This influenced the way they communicated, the immediateness, the crackle of old telephone lines, and not to mention parents yelling at their kids. I need to use the phone.., I don’t like that boy calling you on the telephone, hang up the other line, you hang – no you hang up first, An entire social structure evolved around the home telephone.

Courtship was different then too. Many a love songs are written around the use of the telephone; they seemed far more innocent in their day (see examples below).

In the New York Times recently, reporter Alex Williams mourns “The End of Courtship.” Texting is to blame for dating’s demise. “Instead of dinner-and-a-movie, which seems as obsolete as a rotary phone,” young people today “rendezvous over phone texts, Facebook posts, instant messages.

I think he could have touched on sexting, as well.

Here some words from lyrics from the past. You may well know many of these songs.

Calling on my telephone
Well, somebody calling me, over my telephone
Well, keep on calling, tell them I'm not at home.
Moanin' at Midnight, Howlin' Wolf

Have you read any good telephone books lately?
If you ain't then let me recommend one
I've already read that Tulsa telephone book through
Tulsa Telephone Book, Tom T. Hall

Telephone operator
Why can't I see you later
Telephone operator
Telephone Operator, Pete Shelley

Mr. Telephone man
There's something wrong with my line
When I dial my baby's number
I get a click every time
Mr. Telephone Man 1981

The Portland water they swillin' cold
and it swills my body but not not my soul
Oh the call up to Portland on the public telephone.
The Portland Water, Neal Casal

I'll try again tomorrow.
Over again, as time passes by.
Telephone Exchange, you've got the same old line.
Telephone Exchange, Angel

Feeling unknown
And you're all alone
Flesh and bone
By the telephone
Lift up the receiver
I'll make you a believer
Personal Jesus, Depeche Mode

Talking on that telephone, oh she's always talking on that telephone
Well she must be lonely 'cause she's at home alone
There Goes My Baby, Rick Nelson

Hello operator i would like to place a call
to the pale grey telephone that is hanging on her wall
i know this sounds crazy but could you patch
Hello Operator, Headphones

Friends or relations
On weekend vacations.
We won't have it known, dear,
That we own a telephone, dear;
Love Is Here to Stay, Bill Evans Trio


Monday, May 25, 2015

The era of positive computing

Computers have ever since their inception been largely used as a productivity tool. But recently there has been an increasing interest in the use of computers foster wellbeing – this is being referred to as positive computing.

Digital technologies have made their way into all aspects of our lives that influence our wellbeing - affecting everything from social relationships and curiosity to engagement and learning.

Psychologists have generally focused on the negative impacts of using Internet technologies or on the potential of these technologies to be used to help those suffering from mental health problems. However, recent advances in the development of tools go beyond prevention of disorders to actually promote wellbeing.

In fact, we may be entering an era of positive computing, in which technology will be designed specifically to promote wellbeing and human potential.

Future technology designed to foster wellbeing has the potential to affect population-wide positive change on an unprecedented scale. Thanks to new research, health professionals are now increasingly turning to technology-based interventions to promote physical and psychological wellbeing.

Sydney University’s Positive Computing in Health Systems project node draws on expertise across the disciplines of medicine, psychology and technology to explore how design strategies and technology use affect user behavior and health. This will enable the development of new knowledge and strategies that support wellbeing and more sophisticated technologies to promote better health outcomes.

Using the Charles Perkins Centre themes of Nutrition and Physical Activity, Exercise and Energy Expenditure as a knowledge base, the collaboration between psychology experts and technology designers allows for investigation of how psychological factors such as motivation, autonomy and self-efficacy support wellbeing in relation to nutrition and physical activity.

In the first instance, the project node aims to develop technological models that can inform existing Charles Perkins Centre related projects. Technological models developed from this study will also have wide potential for application to other health and wellbeing research.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Can depressive disorder be the outcome of an infectious disease

One in five Australians aged 16-85 experience a mental illness in any year. The most common mental illnesses are depressive, anxiety and substance use disorder. These three types of mental illnesses often occur in combination. For example, a person with an anxiety disorder could also develop depression, or a person with depression might misuse alcohol or other drugs, in an effort to self-medicate. Of the 20% of Australians with a mental illness in any one year, 11.5% have one disorder and 8.5% have two or more disorders. Almost half (45%) Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime.

Recently Psychiatric News ran a story with at least one researcher asking if major depressive disorder is the outcome of an infectious disease? This question arises from the belief that a variety of infectious pathogens affect the central nervous.

Patients with depression exhibit sickness behavior. Also, depression is significantly associated with infectious agents, including viruses like Borna disease virus, herpes simplex virus-1, varicella zoster, and Epstein-Barr virus. Parasites like Toxoplasma gondii may play a role. And even if every case of depression isn’t caused by an infectious agent; given its prevalence, even a subset of patients would still add up to a large number of cases. We know, for example, infectious agents have been known to affect the brain and cause psychiatric disorders. Syphilis helped fill America’s mental asylums in the late 19th century.

It’s said that among patients with diagnosed major depression or bipolar disorder, those with a history of suicide attempt had higher Toxoplasma gondii antibody titers.

Another possibility is the “leaky gut” hypothesis, suggesting that cytokines increase intestinal-tract permeability to lipopolysaccherides from gram negative bacteria and that antibodies to the LPS are found at higher levels in depressed patients.

The key may not be a disease, however, rather an inflammatory reaction caused by disease given that higher levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines are found in people with depression. A recent report, drawing on data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children in Great Britain, found that children with the highest levels of the systemic inflammatory marker IL-6 at age 9 were more likely to be depressed at age 18.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Most Toxic Types of People to Avoid at Work

Anyone who has ever worked in an office knows there’s more to succeeding at your job than just doing the work itself. A big part of almost any position involves relationship management – in other words, knowing how to get along with different personality types.

But being a team player and navigating office politics can only take you so far. Even experienced employees can quickly feel like they’re drowning in quicksand when working with toxic people.

While it’s impossible to avoid all difficult people at work, learning to recognize common problematic personalities can be helpful, and in some cases, it can save your career. Once you know the type of person you’re dealing with, it’s easier to shift gears from business as usual relationship management to specific strategies that can minimize the damage such people can do to those around them when left unchecked in the office.

Here are tell-tale signs of three toxic types of people you may encounter in your company and how to deal with them most effectively.

Constant complainer

Negativity is draining and depressing, both for the person complaining and those around him or her. While there are certainly plenty of legitimate issues one might complain about at work, beware of people who seem perpetually dissatisfied and are constantly complaining about issues at work that can’t be changed.

While you may initially feel compelled to lend an ear, associating yourself too closely with this personality type can mark you as one of the same.

If you join in negative talk with the depressed complainer, other colleagues may notice your dissatisfaction and be repelled by you. Instead of showing sympathy or chiming in you may wish to avoid it.

Boundary-less BFF

It’s nice to have allies at work, and over time, some colleagues may consider themselves to be friends as well as co-workers. But when a peer or boss comes on too strong and quickly in the friendship department, see it as a red flag.

When starting a job in a new workplace, the first person who wants to be your best friend may not be genuine.  Beware the office gossip who takes a personal interest in you. That person may be mining for information to be used against you.

The “too close” personality can be seen in some supervisors who want to be pals with their direct reports, grabbing lunch every day and hanging out together after hours. This has become more challenging with the over-sharing of social media and more of a blended work philosophy.

Perhaps keeping your own boundaries strong by limiting the outside-of-work activities and including others in the plans, like by setting up a monthly full-team after-hours event.

Office bully

According to 2015 research by Connectria Hosting, more than half of all professionals surveyed have been bullied by a co-worker, and 65% say they have dreaded going to work because of a colleague.

While you may not recognize the signs of bullying in the office as easily as you do on the children’s playground, bullying of adults is very prevalent and can damage a professional’s esteem and performance quickly. The Workplace Bullying Institute describes bullying as “a systematic campaign of interpersonal destruction that jeopardizes your health, your career [and] the job you once loved.” Common experiences include being constantly undermined in meetings and told your work isn't good enough no matter what you do, as well as being yelled at and ostracised by others.

Name this type of harassment for what it is – bullying or emotional abuse – rather than pretend it isn't happening. Consider taking time out to recover from the effects of bullying before you feel ready to deal with it. Almost all companies these days have workplace support systems, anti-bullying and harassment policies and procedures.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The colour of our office space - the impact of colour on our psychology and productivity

I have written extensively on the subject of light and colour elsewhere.  However I wanted to share some thoughts here on colour and its impact on our psychology and productivity.

Light signals from the retina is analysed by retinal ganglion cells, which compare the stimulation of neighbouring cones, and calculate whether the light reaching a patch of cones is more blue, yellow, red or green. These signals travel to the brain where they are divided into several pathways - throughout the cortex. For example, visual signals from the photo-receptors pass to retinal ganglion cells, which code colour information, and then to the lateral geniculate nucleus in the thalamus (hypothalamus, which governs our endocrine system and hormones, and much of our activity) and onwards to the primary visual cortex. The primary visual cortex preserves the spatial relationships of images on the retina. Colour processing, perception building and interpretation is a complex mind function.

It’s also been shown that what defines whether a colour is stimulating or soothing is not the colour but rather its intensity. A strong bright colour will stimulate while a colour with low saturation may help soothe. Research has also shown that each colour affects a different part of us. The four psychological primaries are: red, blue, yellow and green. And they affect the body (red), the mind (blue), the emotions, the ego, and self-confidence (yellow) with balance between the mind, the body, and emotions (green).

And so back to your office….

  • If you and your colleague are doing mind-work all day consider painting your office blue; however introduce some yellow or orange where possible.
  • For and office of designers wanting to promote creativity, use yellow to stimulate ego and spirit; This may also help increase the level of optimism.
  • Productivity of physical work might be improved by red.  It’s said that red might contribute to physical strength and stimulus.
  • If you’re in an environment where having a strong sense of balance is most important, green might just be the colour. As well it’s balanced, calming and reassuring.
Colour, like a musical note doesn't actually evoke much of an emotional response until it’s combined with other colours.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Cracking the code

If you’re the parents of 6-year-old Massimo who has been diagnosed with a rare brain disorder, so rare it has no name. And all you’re told is that the myelin, the insulation that surrounds the nerves of the brain is missing or breaking down. What do you do?

Massimo's developmental milestones stopped and he was regressing. He could not stand or speak. Stephen and his wife Sally were losing their son; and his prognosis was dire.  

This is a story of a father's search to find a diagnosis, and ultimately a cure, for his son's mystery disease. The family teamed with geneticist Ryan Taft to map their genome in an attempt to discover the cause of their son's illness and in the process developed a diagnostic tool that will revolutionise diagnoses and treatments of diseases as complex and rare as Massimo's leukodystrophy.

Previously, trying to find a specific gene mutation that might be responsible for a disease was a million times harder than finding a needle in a haystack. Stephen, Massimo's dad suggested that Ryan align the genomes, or DNA blueprints, of himself, his wife Sally as well as Massimo, to find any unique variations and thereby create a smaller haystack was previously untried. Stephen convinced Massimo's neurologist, Dr Rick Leventer at Melbourne's RCH, that it was just a case of technology, statistics, data, and money, but that it could be done.

Once Taft was able to locate and isolate the specific genetic mutation of Massimo's DARS gene, the hunt was on to find other children with the same genetic mutation so that the diagnoses could be confirmed. With the help of Dr Adeline Vanderver at the Children's National Hospital in Washington DC, along with Prof. Marjo van der Knaap and Dr Nicole Wolf in Amsterdam, they were able to locate several other children with DARS mutations and have now moved on to the next phase of Mission Massimo: finding a cure.