November 29, 2005

Wireless Philly & the Digital Divide

Philadelphia hopes to become the largest city with wifi available throughout the city. They're in negotiations with Earthlink to provide $10 to $20 per month broadband Internet access to all residents and tourists.

The NewsHour reported last Tuesday that city nonprofit agencies are using similar low cost wireless availability to make the Internet and computers available to low income residents. Terrence Smith mentions the People's Emergency Center, which is helping city residents get computers and wireless, and training them to use both.

The cool part is that the People's Emergency Center is training kids to do maintenance and troubleshooting of the computers – a win-win situation for the kids (who learn useful skills) and the neighborhood (who gets free computer support).

Great story. The text of the transcript is on the NewsHour site, or you can listen to it via RealAudio (or by podcast via iTunes).

November 23, 2005

Powerpoint Much?

Garr Reynolds’ blog Presentation Zen is a must-read for anyone who makes powerpoints. Great sensible ideas for creating good “slideware” with examples – the comparison of Steve Jobs’ and Bill Gates’ presentations are eye-opening (and more positive for Jobs than Gates).

Stuff I already knew and do:
- use the [b] key to “blank” the screen while talking; forces the audience to pay attention to you rather than your slide.

Stuff I will try to incorporate into future presentations:
- less text, more images (even moving images!)
- use slide transitions; Garr says it’s ok to use 2-3 per show. I might use them to differentiate between one segment of class from another (i.e., from “ready reference sources” to “ethics” to “bibliography assignment” in basic reference).

See also Garr’s
- analysis of the Lessig Method (yup, Larry Lessig) and the Kawasaki Method (former Apple guru Guy Kawaski: ten slides, ten ideas), and his
- presentation tips; all three sections are useful.

Can we get lots o’ librarians to read these? Make ppt better for all!

Real Life Librarian Blogs

These two blogs are great for prospective reference librarians – they tell what reference library work is really like, as opposed to sources and formal reference theory which is what I teach at Simmons. Both have graciously allowed me to use their experiences in class, but if you want to know what it’s like for 2 different librarians, check out …

Feel-Good Librarian, who "works at the reference desk of a midwestern library" and
Vampire Librarian "Because those are the hours i keep and that's the job i have"

November 22, 2005

This Is Your Brain Under Hypnosis

Today’s New York Times reports that hypnosis may, in fact, change perception in the brain. Sandra Blakeslee reports on a study which supports this. Dr. Amir Raz demonstrated that the Stroop effect was “obliterated” in the “highly hypnotizable people” he studied.

Read the popular version in the Times article; read the full study in the July 12 issue of the The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:
Hypnotic suggestion reduces conflict in the human brain.” by Amir Raz, Jin Fan, and Michael I. Posner PNAS 2005 102: 9978-9983. (note: this article is free!)

Finally, did you know that in the 19th century, “physicians in India successfully used hypnosis as anesthesia, even for limb amputations.” Yow!

November 21, 2005

Meet "America's Lexicographical Sweetheart"

Erin McKean, dubbed "America's Lexicographical Sweetheart" by National Public Radio, will speak in the Greenwich (Conn.) Library Meeting Room Thursday, December 1 at 7 p.m. Ms. McKean has just finished editing the new Oxford American Dictionary. Among the new wave of top lexicographers, she is one of the younger wordsmiths who have taken over guardianship of the nation's language, disproving Samuel Johnson's definition of a lexicographer as "a harmless drudge." McKean is in fact the youngest editor in chief of the "Big Five" American dictionaries. The rise of young, hip lexicographers reflects changes in the culture at large. The computer revolution has given these editors a huge tech-savvy edge.

For more info.

Interview with Tim O’Reilly

The October 2005 issue of Wired magazine features an interview with O’Reilly publishing founder Tim O’Reilly and offers some nice synergy between computer science & library science (or at least publishing).

My favorite story: Tim O’Reilly gave copies of the Whole Internet User’s Guide and Catalog to every member of Congress, then went to DC to preach the gospel of the Internet (in the early 1990s) to congressional aides. A guy from the House IT department pulls O’Reilly aside and says “We don’t want you to get the aides too excited about the Internet, because we’re not going to give it to them.” Hmmm. Some things never change! Of course, O’Reilly got them fired up anyway.

Apparently “O’Reilly’s radar” is as potent now as it was then. Here are some things on his radar now:

- The Participation Era, as embodied by wikis, open API’s in places like Amazon & Google, and RSS.
- VOIP “disruption”, where Voice Over IP “completely undermines” the telecos.
- DIY – see O’Reilly’s Make magazine.
- Geography-based Mash-ups – merging geographic data like apartment rentals with maps from places like Google Maps.
… and more

If you like O’Reilly’s computer books, or you’re interested in the next phase of the Internet, check out this article.

November 20, 2005

Looking Away -- Personal or Concetration?

Cognitive Daily reviews “a new cognitive psychology article nearly every day”. On Nov. 8, they reviewed an article about gaze & face-to-face conversation. They ask “… do we look away because we’re self-conscious, or because it helps us concentrate?”

CD reports that Gwyneth Doherty-Sneddon and Fiona Phelps have devised a study with 8-year-olds to attempt to answer the question. They asked the kids questions of varying levels of difficulty either in person or by videotape and measured when / if they looked away. Their research shows that we look away both because of self-consciousness at physical proximity and that looking away helps us concentrate.

For more, check out
Doherty-Sneddon, G., & Phelps, F.G. (2005). Gaze aversion: A response to cognitive or social difficulty? Memory & Cognition, 33(4), 727-733.

November 16, 2005

Lecture: "How the Imagined Shapes the Real"

postponed Rescheduled date to be announced.

CBD Program Distinguished Lecture:
"How the Imagined Shapes the Real" by Jerome S. Bruner, at Hampshire College, Franklin Patterson Hall, Main Lecture Hall, Monday, December 5 at 5:30 p.m.

Jerome Bruner received his doctorate in psychology at Harvard. He has taught at Harvard, Oxford, and is presently University Professor at New York University School of Law.

His interests have always centered on how human beings construct their realities -- how they acquire, retain, and transform knowledge about the world in a way that makes it possible for them to get on with their own lives and to get on as well with others in their culture.

Bruner has received many honors, and was the winner of the coveted Balzan Prize in 1987. Professor Bruner played a leading role in the Cognitive Revolution of the 1960s, the movement that brought psychology back to the study of mind.

Find out more about Bruner on the Le Moyne College Narrative Psychology Web site.

Sponsored by the Foundation for Psychocultural Research - Hampshire College Program in Culture, Brain, and Development (CBD).

November 14, 2005

Three New Books

Here are two new cog sci books in the UConn library, which might be of interest to the greater cog sci community:

The Sage Handbook of Cognition, edited by Koen Lamberts & Robert Goldstone (c2005). Sections include Perception, Attention, and Action; Learning & Memory; Language; Reasoning & Decision-Making; and Cognitive Neuropsychology; and Modeling Cognition. Amazon’s got it for $140.

Abducted, by Susan Clancy, published by Harvard (c2005). Booklist, quoted on Amazon, says “In this informal and entertaining report on her research, Clancy shows that the group of abductees she studied in 2002 were more likely to create false memories in the lab and scored high on measures of fantasy--proneness and schizotypy (personality characteristics that include perceptual aberrations and magical thinking). … She speculates that an abduction memory, though horrific, is ultimately a religious experience that incorporates contact with a higher power…”

And if you want to read more about confabulation, try Brain Fiction, a study of false memories & perceptions, by William Hirstein (a former student of Ramachandran), published by MIT (c2005). You can “search inside the book” at Amazon, if you want to peruse before buying / checking out of your library. Sections include What is Confabulation; Philosophy & Neuroscience; Confabulation & Memory; and Liars, Sociopaths, and Confabulators.

November 13, 2005

Future of the Brain?!

MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory will celebrate its formal opening on Dec. 1 with a “major scientific symposium” entitled the Future of the Brain. It’s a day-long event focusing on the future of neuroscience research, and includes several Nobel Laureates, and experts in neuroscience, memory, and consciousness.

ScienceFriday's Ira Flatow will be the moderator; wonder if any of these sessions will be podcast?!

Thanks Elton!

November 12, 2005

More about Al Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language

The New York Times reported on Feb. 1, 2005 about a new sign language developing in the Negev desert of Israel. More recently, New Scientist covered the story as well, in their Oct. 22, 2005 issue.

In A language is born, Michael Erard reports several interesting aspects of the Al Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language (Note: subscription is required, or check your library’s LexisNexis database for the full-text.
). This language developed in isolation and is very different from two nearby sign languages, especially in preferred word order. Rather than being subject-verb-object or verb-subject-object, like Hebrew & Israeli Sign languages or colloquial Arabic (respectively), ASBL is a subject-object-verb.

Some of the linguists from the nearby University of Haifa wonder if this preference suggests an innate linguistic trait. Further, because ASBL is spoken by relatively few people, it isn’t getting the “critical mass” needed to set it to develop more sophisticated patterns. Sadly, the children’s language seem to be influenced by nearby Israeli Sign Language, so ASBL may not tell us how many brains it takes to make a language.

But the possibilities are fascinating. You can read more about it in the The emergence of grammar: Systematic structure in a new language, published in the Feb. 7, 2005 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (should be free to all; it’s an open access journal)

November 10, 2005

Again with the Daily Nightly

Fascinating to watch NBC News embrace blogging (see the Daily Nightly) in which Brian Williams, news correspondents, and producers blog about the news that’s going to be in that night’s telecast (as well as some that isn’t). Now they’re “netcasting” the night’s newscast after 10 pm (after it airs on the West coast). Best news of all, for this new podcast aficionado, is that the newscast is available as a podcast from iTunes.

New media is definitely the wave of the future. Fun to see it happen so well at NBC.

November 05, 2005

Podcast updates

The New York Times is podcasting some of its select content. You know, the kind you have to pay for, but you really want to read, like Maureen Dowd, Frank Rich [coming soon], and Bob Herbert Bob Herbert's columns. I’m a Times News Tracker subscriber, so the podcasts work for me; your mileage may vary. They’re read by a “professional announcers”, not the columnists, so don’t expect to hear Maureen’s or Tom Friedman’s voice. But still, this is pretty cool.

In other podcasting news, both New Scientist and Nature are podcasting. Haven’t listened to either yet, but they look promising. New Scientist is running this as an experiment and will send you the podcast URL when you sign up to be notified. So far, neither is doing much with cognitive science, but I’m sure they will sooner or later.

And besides, life isn’t only cog sci, is it?!

WildFinder -- Geog for Animals

WWF’s WildFinder “is a map-driven, searchable database of more than 26,000 species worldwide, with a powerful search tool.”

Hmmm, this might have answered a reference question I heard about recently: what are the fauna local to Holyoke, Mass? Shows 376 species in “Northeastern coastal forests”. They’re sorted by scientific name by default, but you can sort by common name, class, and threat status. Click on the “Images” link to do a search for that creature in Google Images.

When you do a search by species, you see what ecoregion supports the species, get a description of that region from either National Geographic or the WWF itself. Not a lot of info on the animals, but quite a bit about their habitat.

It’s a slow site, but pretty cool.

From the World Wildlife Fund. Found via the NSDL (National Science Digital Library) which is worth checking out if you haven’t yet.