August 31, 2005


So sorry about what’s happening in New Orleans and Mobile and the rest of that Gulf coast.

If you’re a newsie, the two blogs I recently blogged are doing a swell job of reporting the humanity behind the stories. So I’m going to repeat them. It’s not much, but it’s all I can think of to do at the moment.

The Daily Nightly, from NBC News is full of snippets from NBC reporters, writers, and producers who are down South.

And the TV Newser features snippets from various tv news organizations’ coverage of Katrina.

Neither is exploiting the situation, just reporting. Lemme know about other good professional, but not-too-slick, news blogs.

And G-d bless.

Intelligent Design -- Computationally

My former colleague Lee Spector wrote a terrific op-ed piece arguing against Intelligent Design in the August 29 issue of the Boston Globe. (free registration required to read the article).

Lee is into evolutionary computation, and he creates computer programs to simulate evolution. The one I remember involves the evolution of bird-like widget-y things, who “learn”, over several generations, how to maximize their access to food. I’m greatly simplifying some work he did a while ago, but it was fascinating to watch these widget-y things change their behavior over time.

Lee’s piece argues that he can program this software to have widgets and the like evolve - but he can’t program them to evolve directly or in such a sophisticated manner -- often in ways he couldn't even imagine. “…[E]volutionary computation and biological evolution are both fundamentally driven by random variation and selection, and the successes of one hint at the power of the other.”

I’m not saying it as well as he did, but I’m very glad to see another strong scientific opponent to intelligent design. Read his piece for yourself.

August 30, 2005

Taxonomies of Animals

Fabulous taxonomy / English-Latin name translator site for the Animal, Plant, Fungal, and 2 more kingdoms from the US Dept of Agriculture. ITIS, the Integrated Taxonomic Information System, lets you search by common name or scientific name of just about anything living.

Try a search for barnacle goose -- you'll see the taxonomic rank of the goose, its French name (bernache nonnette), its Taxonomic Hierarchy, and a few references. At the bottom of the page, you'll see an option to do a search for "Other Off-Site Resources", which includes BioOne and Google Images. A mini-, free, and workable federated search!

The off-site resource option searches the scientific name (Branta leucopsis), and at Google Images, you'll see just how cute the barnacle goose actually is.

August 28, 2005

TV News

Very interesting development in TV News: blogging by the news presenters. Brian Williams, NBC’s nightly news anchor, has a blog (can’t link directly; click on "The Daily Nightly" to see the most recent entries). An August 25 New York Times story discusses the blog and Williams' approach to it. Maybe better than therapy?

Anyway, interesting to see behind the scenes of television news production. The blog also features entries from other reporters as well as news writers and producers.

And on a related note, TV Newser is a cool blog about, well, tv news.

August 26, 2005

Print is mighty, too

Have you seen the New Dictionary of the History of Ideas yet? Very impressive! The new edition is 6 volumes (compared with 4) and has some very topical and cognitive entries.

There are several having to do with consciousness, the philosophers among you will be pleased to note. There's a several-page entry on consciousness itself, as well as entries on Mind, the Philosophy of Mind, and Dualism.

Another interesting (if long; 13 pages!) entry is called "Visual Order to Organizing Collections". It could have a better name, but it's about using images to organize or provide information about information. Very meta. Several great (BW) photos, as you'd expect on such an entry.

Hampshire's got the new set, as do many libraries. Take a look, and be warned: you could spend LOTS of time with this one. Complete citation: Horowitz, Maryanne Cline, editor in chief. New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. 6 vols. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, (2005). It's online via Gale's Virtual Reference Shelf, but I haven't seen that one yet.

August 21, 2005


This is why it's great to have women covering football. In Sunday's Times , Karen Crouse says of Laveranues Coles:

"He came to the interview room wearing a fetching mint green suit, which is as colorful as he gets in front of reporters."

Fetching, I tell you, fetching.

August 16, 2005

Pssst ... gossip is good for you

Well, something like that. According to an article in today’s New York Times, it serves a serious purpose among social groups -- helps keep people within social norms (read the part about how people who want to leave work early are shunned by their colleagues in a group whose ethic is to work horrid hours).

The study didn't quite say that it was ok to gossip, but since it is so prevalent *and* serves to keep people in line, maybe it's ok after all?

Reminds me of Laura Sizer's question: what purpose do emotions serve (anger, love, etc.)? Why did we evolve to have these emotions? Today's question: Why did we evolve to gossip?

River's amygdala?

Turns out that Firefly’s River has had her amygdala removed, probably by the government. Summer seems to overreact to things and is emotionally unstable. I’m not sure that her characteristics are consistent with someone whose amygdala has been removed, but maybe a philosopher or psychologist among you has an idea?

Maybe we’ll find out more when the movie comes out?!

August 14, 2005

If you liked the book, you'll love the blog!

Mind Hacks, that is. Great fun for a hot afternoon! Sample articles include:

  • Using "trippy neuroscience videos" to test "synaptic neurotransmission - the process by which chemical signals are passed between neurons." Learn about the Multimedia Neuroscience Education Project at Williams College.

  • Read about an article in the Economist about why we laugh. Is it emotions? Is it socializing? Are you scared of being laughed at?

  • Find out about a journal for synaesthetes called Syn. Created by a British graphic design student, the journal includes articles entitled "theresa tastes words", "happiness is blue" and "color of orange". It's a nifty introduction to synaesthesia (people who hear color, see sounds, etc.)

  • Thanks to Rochelle's Tinfoil + Racoon for the tip.

    August 13, 2005

    ERIC to begin updating again

    Finally, some content for the education folks among the Cog Sci audience!

    Gary Price is reporting that ERIC (the education research database) is releasing content to database vendors, which is to say, there will be new articles in ERIC pretty soon. Once the content (going back to early 2004, if my math is right) is updated, ERIC will add new content weekly.

    Hampshire's CBD Program

    Looks like Hampshire's Culture, Brain, & Development program is gearing up for another good year!

    See: interesting lectures around the Five Colleges this fall (including one on emotions and file), and some good lectures in Spring 2006 in philosophy and the psychology of music. I'll post more info. as it becomes available.

    Plus, check the archives for info. about past lectures, including a bibliography on "Matters of Life and Death". I'm still thinking about that one!

    One or Many Consciousnesses?

    Turns out there may be many areas in the brain that handle consciousness, rather than just one. The July 23 2005 issue of New Scientist, which reports on a study conducted by Anna Berti at the University of Turin in Italy. Berti and colleagues studied patients paralyzed on the left side and found that damage to the brain was in "premotor areas – regions that are known to plan and execute movement." New Scientist continues that "... consciousness about what a body part is doing seems to be housed in the same areas of the brain that prepare it to move"; Berti concludes that consciousness may arise from many discrete areas of the brain. My old friend VS Ramachandran agrees that there may be more than one part of the brain that deals with consiousness.

    Definitely a hard problem!

    August 12, 2005

    Cognition in babies

    Newsweek's cover story for Aug 15 is all about "Your Baby's Brain". Reads like a literature review lite on cognition in babies -- fascinating, and simple enough for non-scientists to understand. That's the way I like my cognitive science!

    Turns out babies are very aware of others.
  • Sybil Hart at Texas Tech shows that at 6 months, babies can be jealous. Emotions, anyone?

  • Italian researchers, building on work by NYU's Martin Hoffman, shows that "infants" will cry when they hear tapes of other babies crying, but not when they hear tapes of themselves crying

  • Charles Nelson (Minnesota / Harvard), demonstrates that babies can distinguish chimp faces at 6 months, but they lose that ability at 9 months.

  • Patricia Kuhl at the Univ. of Washington, has been studying babies' ability to learn language; her recent research with 9-month-olds indicates that they'll learn another language from a real person, but not from a tape. Take that, baby Einstein!

  • The article even mentions some practical applications for all this research.

    There's a nice chart showing various aspects of the baby's brain; probably worth looking at the issue in print.

    This post is dedicated to Marie Evans & her new "subject".

    August 06, 2005

    Podcasts Rock

    Well, I am a complete convert to the joys of (listening to) podcasts. Now that they're in iTunes and easy enough for a person's father to use, I am finally using them. (And there will be lots of commuting time in my future during which I can listen to my collection).

    There are some great science podcasts, which will help me keep up with cog sci in my new life. On July 2, 2005, Science Friday spoke with Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel about memory, learning, and the human brain. Less about the human brain, really, and a bit more about slug brains, but Dr. Kandel made it interesting. You can stream the show here, or search iTunes for Science Friday and then look for July 2.

    In non-CS related podcasts, I love Slate Magazine's podcast. Andy Bowers (former correspondent for NPR) reads a story a day from Slate online. Nice to hear his voice again, and very interesting to hear some random Slate articles.

    Oh, and just one more -- haven't listened to this yet, but I will real soon: WordNerds! The most recent 'cast covers collective nouns for ~40 minutes. A linguist's delight!

    Another CogSci Blog

    Cognitive Daily is a scholarly blog about CS. Here's what the Mungers say about their blog:

    "Cognitive Daily reports nearly every day on fascinating peer-reviewed developments in cognition from the most respected scientists in the field.

    "The research isn't dumbed down, but it's explained in language that everyone can understand, with clear illustrations and references to the original research."

    Take a look at their face perception post and see what you think.

    August 04, 2005

    Going to UConn

    Dear faithful readers,

    The CogSci Librarian may be no longer. I've left Hampshire to take a job at the University of Connecticut / Storrs. I'm not going to be affiliated with any aspect of cognitive science, at least not academically. :-(

    I will be working with lots of electronic databases (yay) and some really great librarians. I have been working with some wonderful folks, both in the library and in the School of Cognitive Science at Hampshire, and I'll miss them.

    The question remaining is: should I continue the blog?

    hmmm. Stick around and find out.

    August 03, 2005

    Very tangential to CS, but interesting nonetheless

    The New York Times covers football -- but this year, they have three (3!) *women* covering the NFL. At least preseason. Haven't seen many men over there writing about football. See: Judy Battista, Karen Crause, and Lynn Zinser.

    Great to see that women like football too. Ahem.

    Go Giants.

    The Digital Divide, c'est nous?

    Tom Freidman's August 3, 2005 column in the New York Times is disturbing: he reports that the US is 16th in the world for broadband connectivity (disturbing for a librarian, he doesn't cite his source). He also mentions how primitive it would be to make a 911 call from the New York subways.