I’ve been digging into the research on the focus of attention. Professor Wulf has done a great job of synthesising all the research every few years and publishing a review. One of the latest reviews is Attentional focus and motor learning: a review of 15 years. I particularly enjoyed the tables that listed all the studies and the tasks used. They allowed me to quickly find all the research that has used a stability platform for further investigation.

I still need to read about Professor Wulf’s 2016 Optimizing Performance through Intrinsic Motivation and Attention for Learning (OPTIMAL) theory of motor learning. I’ll post an update on that soon.

How broken is University

January 15, 2017

I read an interesting article in PCMag (of all places) called How broken is college, and can we fix it? It is a short but well-balanced read about the challenges and successes of modern post-secondary education. One interesting argument is that post-secondary education isn’t broken for the wealthy but it is broken for the less wealthy students who are increasingly recruited by universities. It was also interesting to find out that decreased public financing of post-secondary education is not a current trend – it has been occurring for 40 years!

If you would like to know more about increasing tuition rates and student loan debt, then I recommend the 2014 documentary Ivory Tower. The trailer for it is a bit sensational, but the documentary is a well-balanced investigation of the business models of American colleges and the impact on students.

I’ve been setting up my lab at Texas Tech University. My main requirement is a motion capture system, and I compared and tested several systems. I was looking for something far less expensive than the Optotrak Certus by Northern Digital with similar capabilities. I decided on the Improv by PhaseSpace, and I’ve been impressed by the system. There is more testing to do and so I will have more to share in the next few months. Below is a picture of the six-camera Improv system in my lab.


You can see eight LED markers on the surface of the table. These attach to a small wireless micro driver. You can track up to 24 markers at 270 Hz (48 markers at 135 Hz). A key feature is that the markers are active markers and so there is no marker swapping, as there can be with passive markers in the Vicon and Optitrack systems. This allows measurement of markers even when they are right beside each other, which I will need to track the fingers during reach-to-grasp movements.

Setting up the hardware was easy. I like how small and light the cameras are (about 10 x 10 x 6 cm and 400 g) and that they can be attached to a standard tripod. The software is also easy to use. It took a few calls to PhaseSpace to figure out a few things, mostly because PhaseSpace doesn’t have a detailed manual yet (I might post my own later).

I’m currently writing a C++ program that will allow Matlab to make calls to the PhaseSpace application programming interface (API), similar to what I’ve done before with the Optotrak. I’ll post my notes on that when I have it figured out.

There are definitely problems with our reliance on p-values and null hypothesis significance testing (NHST). One common problem is setting your alpha to .05 and then getting a p-value of .06. This is a non-significant results, but what do you do when your thesis/postdoc/tenure requires publications? It seems that many of us invent colourful language for how close the test was to being statistically significant. These were collected in a blog post called, Still not significant. Some of my favorites are below.

  • Closely approaches the brink of significance
  • Flirting with conventional levels of significance
  • Just above the arbitrary level of significance
  • Not significant in the narrow sense of the word
  • Teetering on the brink of significance

One funny thing about this practice is that you don’t see the reverse statements when the p-value is just less than .05. Could you imagine a result that “approached non-significance, p = .04”?

To solve the problem with null hypothesis significance testing, we need to stop relying on p-values. I recommend reading Things I have learned (so far) by Professor Jacob Cohen to understand the problem and how to start fixing it (especially The Fischerian Legacy and following sections). The article includes one of my favourite quotes about p-values, “surely, God loves the .06 nearly as much as the .05” (Rosnow and Rosenthal 1989, p 1277).

That article by Professor Cohen was published in 1990 and we still continue to abuse p-values. Professor Cohen wasn’t even close to be the first to suggest that we should de-emphasise p-values. I just noticed a follow-up article, entitled “Things we still haven’t learned (so far),” by Ivarsson and colleagues (2015). The first sentence of the abstract hilariously captures our inability to stop using p-values. “Null hypothesis significance testing (NHST) is like an immortal horse that some researchers have been trying to beat to death for over 50 years but without any success.”


Below is a neat pie chart from an article in University Affairs (the data was from a report by the Conference Board of Canada).


I had previously heard that about 20% of PhD graduates end up as full-time university professors, which is pretty close to the reported value of 18.6%. Unfortunately, that 18.6% includes tenure and non tenure-track positions. I don’t know the division between those two categories, and it may be impossible to delineate them in the future with the invention of tenure-track professor of teaching positions.

In total, 39.4% (18.6 + 20.8%) of PhD graduates end up with some role in academia. The 60.6% majority end up out there in the real world, with large percentages in government, management, sciences, and health.

The article noted that with so many PhDs finding careers outside academia, we need to do a better job educating employers, and PhDs, about the worth of their specialised education. For example, “They [PhDs] can help business interface with universities and academia. As a personal aptitude, PhDs are extremely hard working. They are driven and focused. They know how to take a huge problem or issue and break it down into manageable steps and address it.”

Wired recently posted an article entitled, Governors can design higher education for the future, by Associate Professor Rhett Allain (Physics, Southeastern University). I enjoyed his view on the roles of universities in society and his helpful and humorous analogies. Dr. Allain has an older article on the same topic, Education, robots, and cosmos, which you might also enjoy.


SCAPPS 2015: Edmonton

October 23, 2015

university_of_albertaScapps was in Edmonton this year, both downtown and at the University of Alberta. It was a memorable conference for many reasons. The entire crew was almost reunited, were were just missing Dr. Cressman. Dr. Cameron and I shared a room at the hotel, which brought me back to when we were both studying at UBC. Dr. Chua expertly delivered the Wilberg lecture, which detailed the origins of the crew and our academic ancestors.

I had the honour of being the Franklin Henry young scientist award winner for motor behaviour. I was anxious before the presentation, but I did have fun presenting (click here for my presentation slides). Not sure how many opportunities like that I will have in my life!

I was impressed by the posters and presentations; I think they might be getting better every year. My golden chalice award goes to Dr. Bernier’s presentation entitled, Delta band oscillations predict hand selection for reaching.

I hope to see everyone next year in Waterloo!