Author: Robin Glover

The Caffeinated Campus

When we think of military-grade performance enhancers, secret trials in the desert come to mind, cover-ups, and maybe a sprinkle of spooky side effects, but you might be surprised to learn that the focus of cognitive enhancement studies for soldiers is none other than caffeine!  As college students, how can we use this knowledge to our advantage?

A quick survey of classmates and coworkers revealed an astonishing discovery—most people don’t consume caffeine regularly.   The aversion to drinking caffeine regularly is logical in the sense that you might think that when you really need it, say during finals, your pinch hitter will be out of the game with a sore shoulder.  Furthermore, caffeine is rightly labeled a drug, and as such has side effects and warnings.  Perhaps illogically, these same students had no problem chugging down Four Lokos like it was a gift from the party gods, but in our defense, college is about honing our decision-making skills, right?

If this is your worry, and I suspect it’s a common one (our parent’s generation tended to be leery of long-term OTC therapy), a little information can help you gauge how effective your caffeine usage is.

First: Know your target effect.

You want to feel alert, focused, and faster than normal.  If it were a “this is your brain on drugs” commercial, there would be a hyper-focused squirrel in the frying pan.  Caffeine is called a “stimulant” but it’s actually an antagonist–it blocks the adenosine receptor from receiving signals of tiredness and blocking up neural pathways.  Of course, too much caffeine and the results go haywire as too many pathways are opened up, leading to stress and confusion.

Second: Dose effectively.

From a New York Magazine article: “Women generally metabolize caffeine faster than men. Smokers process it twice as quickly as nonsmokers do. Women taking birth-control pills metabolize it at perhaps one-third the rate that women not on the Pill do. Asians may do so more slowly than people of other races.” In The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World’s Most Popular Drug, authors Bennett Alan Weinberg and Bonnie K. Bealer hypothesize that a nonsmoking Japanese man drinking his coffee with an alcoholic beverage—another slowing agent—would likely feel caffeinated “about five times longer than an Englishwoman who smoked cigarettes but did not drink or use oral contraceptives.”

The second consideration is timing.  Research supports small, measured doses throughout the day rather than large amounts all at once that lead to a rollercoaster effect of peaks and dips in energy.  Those soldiers I mentioned chew caffeinated gum with small doses all night long, a technique researchers say could help civilians as well, if caffeine weren’t the cultural phenomenon it were.  Going out for caffeinated gum doesn’t have the same dating possibilities.

Third:  Get some sleep.

The rule of thumb to not drink caffeine after midnight drives me crazy.  Not one adult that I know has trouble falling asleep after a cup of coffee after dinner.  Trust your gut and use your common sense.  One-size-fits-all is nearly always a misnomer.

-WonderBread

I’m reading Precalculus with Limits: A Graphing Approach

Bankruptcy and Student Loans

Disclaimer:  This post is intended to educate students about their options, not to encourage fraud or irresponsible fiscal behavior.  Bankruptcy, no matter what kind,  will severely limit credit for an entire decade if not longer, and makes future bankruptcy next to impossible, even in light of catastrophic circumstances, like outstanding medical debt.

Student loans, like child support payments and criminal fines, can be garnished from wages.  Garnishing means you never see the money.  Like taxes, the payment is sent to the debtor before you receive your check.  That means if you’re a server, when you receive your paystub it will show a negative amount.  Not a pretty scenario.

This circumstance came about when the government (taxpayers) became the sole backers of student loans.  They put banks out of originating federal student loans, presumably to keep banks out of the lucrative fee business on a young, fiscally unknowledgeable group.  At 18, it’s much easier to sign on the dotted line without reading the fine print.  Why?  Because no one has ever held scary amounts of debt over your head, making threatening phone calls and initiating wage garnishments, and Democratic representatives in the Senate fought to keep it that way.  As a result, policy for loan forgiveness on the Federal side is directly tied to taxpayer dollars and private loan options are shrinking.

Fast forward 10 years and some uncomfortable truths require reckoning: students with no assets to speak of are bad creditors by definition, and the sheer size of loans (up to 4x the annual salary of the average graduate, after securing a full-time job with benefits).  Declaring bankruptcy for student debt is very difficult, accruing interest and destroying credit in one fell swoop.

Of course, there are a lot of resources for students and graduates who are delinquent on Federal student loans, including reduced payment plans as part of “default diversion” programs and options to postpone payments in times of temporary hardship.  If the hardship isn’t temporary, students need to know their options, and bankruptcy, though a last resort, is one of them.

A common test of undue hardship is the Brunner test which requires a showing that 1) the debtor cannot maintain, based on current income and expenses, a “minimal” standard of living for the debtor and the debtor’s dependents if forced to repay the student loans; 2) additional circumstances exist indicating that this state of affairs is likely to persist for a significant portion of the repayment period of the student loans; and 3) the debtor has made good faith efforts to repay the loans. (Brunner v. New York State Higher Educ. Servs. Corp., 831 F. 2d 395 (2d Cir. 1987).

It’s very difficult to prove undue hardship, but if it does occur, know that bankruptcy isn’t impossible, and in some cases, even prudent.  Keep an eye out for reforms, which may make it easier to discharge student loan debt in the future.

-Wonderbread

I’m reading America: A Narrative History, Brief Volume 1

Healthier Versions of Common College Staples

Trade #1: Ramen noodles

When I was ten my Mom started rationing my Ramen intake.  In the dark mires of a 2-pack a day habit, I called Top Ramen and asked for some advice to make my Ramen less “nutritionally deficient than a bag of potato chips” (mom’s words not mine).  The call center woman recommended I put frozen vegetables in it, gave me coupons for a 35 cent package of food (thanks?) and promptly disconnected.

15-some-odd years later I still believe putting vegetables in a perfectly balanced flavor profile is a load of crap.  Meet Koyo Tofu and Miso Ramen.  The rewards for trading in this ubiquitous college staple?  A 25% reduction in salt, half the calories, twice the fiber, and higher-quality slower-digesting carbohydrates.  Granted, at $1.25 a pack you’re looking at a 38% price hike, but that’s still a heck of a low price per meal.  Throw some chicken in there and you are well on your way to a meal that would make your mom proud.  Not that you like, call her every day or anything.  Or care.  We won’t tell anyone.

With flavors like Lemongrass and Garlic Pepper, its organic wheat noodles, and politically correct names like Asian Vegetable, it’s quite the grown-up version of Ramen.

 

Trade #2: Upgrade Your Spaghetti

You thought I was going to tell you to go whole wheat, right?  Well, you’re half right.  Allow me to introduce Spelt, an “ancient grain” with a different nutritional profile from wheat.  A lot like gluten-free products, ancient grains have been overhyped a bit.  According to an LA Times article, marketers have led consumers to believe they are safer for people with wheat sensitivities and richer nutritionally—neither of which is true. The main advantage over wheat the ancient grains have is variety.  Wheat is a great source of fiber but it’s everywhere–delivering the same trace minerals and vitamins day after day.  Spelt has a different mineral profile, a somewhat nutty flavor and is a welcome change for most.

I’ve tried out this brand and had good success with it:

 

 

 

As for toppings, tomato sauce is pretty free of nutritional sins.  It always wins over creamier sauces like Alfredo although Progresso does a light sauce that won’t ruin you for a week.  (Olive Garden’s Fettucine Alfredo has 1220 calories!)

The only gripe I have with tomato sauce is its needlessly high sugar content.  A simple tomato sauce with a little olive oil and spice is yummy in its own right.  I recommend Hunt’s No Sugar Added Pasta Sauce.  If the flavor doesn’t float your boat (we think it will—5 stars on Amazon!), there are tons of things you can do to change it up.   Red pepper flakes, some grated parmesan, garlic, olive oil, or Italian spices are what the fancier sauces have anyway, and if you have them on hand it’s not a big deal to add them.

Trade #3: Cereal for… Omelet Muffins!

Ahh, wouldn’t it be amazing if every morning you woke up with perfectly tousled hair, fresh breath and plenty of time to make and eat an omelet?

In the real world, these egg muffins are a great sub for your usual starchy cereal and/or banana combo.  Diabetics have known for a long time that starches in the morning = blood sugar level spike = food cravings mid-morning for more starch (i.e. junk food).  The best thing about these little egg muffins?  They can be pre-made then nuked in the microwave, creating the ultimate hot grab-and-go breakfast.

 

Here’s the Recipe:

  • 6 eggs
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup cooked meat, cut or crumbled into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup diced vegetables
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp ground pepper
  • 1/8 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/8 cup water
  • Optional Ingredient Idea: Make a Mexican Omelet Muffin by adding 1/4 cup shredded cheese, onions, and lightly drained salsa to the eggs.

Directions:

1)    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease 6 muffin tins with butter or coconut oil or for easier removal line with paper baking cups. The baking cups also help the muffins hold their shape.

2)    In a bowl, beat the eggs. Add meat, vegetables, salt, ground pepper, and any other ingredients and stir to combine.

3)    Spoon or scoop into the muffin cups.

4)    Bake for 18-20 minutes until a knife inserted into the center of an muffin/omelet comes out almost clean. The omelets will continue to cook for a minute or two after removed from the oven.

5)     Remove the omelets from the muffin cups and serve, or cool completely and store for another day.

 

Sources:

http://articles.latimes.com/2011/feb/19/health/la-he-ancient-grains-20110220

http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/carbohydrates.html

http://www.olivegarden.com/Menu/Nutrition/

http://www.marksdailyapple.com/omelet-muffins/

 

Wonderbread

I’m reading Writing Today

How To Go From A “Good” To A “Great” Paper

Ask any one of my buddies.  When I have to write a paper, I want to literally shoot myself in the face & end it all.  I’m dramatic and whiny but I always get it done, correctly and on time.  I can’t make the process any more enjoyable but hopefully these tips can take your paper to the next level.

#1 Don’t worry about filling up pages.  This is the number one way to get a C or lower on a paper.  It leads to rambling repeated ideas rephrased and a lack of coherent structure. Instead, try to find more facts to back up your thesis statement or main points. Include graphs, charts, figures or anything else that will reinforce the message you are trying to get across.  Nobody can argue with the facts; words are wind.

#2 A great way to avoid #1, determine the scope of your paper.   Scope means the size of the question you want to answer.

I’ll give you an example of a prompt I received in an ethics and public policy paper.

“Which is more important: maximizing happiness or minimizing rights violations?”  The reading for the paper was 200 pages and the scope of the original question is HUGE.  A doctoral thesis could be written on that question alone and I only have 3-5 pages to work with.  So I change the question.  Instead of addressing everything, I answer ‘maximizing happiness is more important that minimizing rights violation when conditions A, B and C exist.  Boom, thesis and scope knocked out in one fell swoop.

Which naturally leads to step…

#3 unpack your ideas.  Focus on two or three points for a paper of 3-5 pages and then thoroughly argue them.  How do you achieve this?  Think of every objection you can think of to the point you are trying to make and address those weaknesses and objections.  Addressing counter arguments makes your thesis stronger, not weaker and it builds up to that page limit constructively while leaving the writer with only a few points to address well. That is, in a nutshell, what unpacking is.

One last word of advice, it is such a rookie mistake we have all been guilty of at one point or another, and it will bite you in the butt every time.  The thesaurus is not a data mine for you to intellectualize your paper with more eloquence. The thesaurus is to tease out nuances for an idea you are trying to express (ex. I don’t just want to beat my opponent, I want to hammer him).  Use with caution!

Good luck, I hope this helps!  Questions are welcome in the comments section.

 

Wonderbread

I’m reading Campbell Biology: Concepts and Connections 

How To Get Away With Napping In Class

Does this post even need an intro?  Well-timed naps are like… sweet ambrosia to a man who’s been in the desert for a week.  Like a cool breeze in the dog days of summer.  Naps are a single flower blooming in a wasteland.  Basically, they are the shizznit.  Get some.

  • Sunglasses are your friend when it comes to napping, but they won’t earn you any friends in the class or with your Professors.  You will probably look like a jerk, but at least you’ll be a very well rested jerk.
  • Make a comment so the teacher knows you’re there.  The more intelligent the comment the better, and answer the no-brainers too, so they won’t call on you later.
  • Try slumping in your seat and propping your head up by putting your elbow on the armrest and shielding your eyes with that same hand; like you would if you were shielding them from the sun.  Use notes as a prop or a laptop.  It’s not totally discreet, but it’s not super obvious either.  Professors understand that sometimes students are tired but will appreciate if you show up and show some discretion.
  • Sit in the back and wear a hoodie.
  • Set a silent alarm on your phone for the last ten minutes or so of class—when your professor is likely going to summarize what he’s said.
  • Don’t go to law school.  I hear they do a lot of cold calling.
How To Get Away With Napping In Class

Happy Napping!

Happy napping!

 

Wonderbread

I’m reading Legal Environment of Business