December 26, 2005

Interspecies Communication?!

Boomer has adopted a new vocalization to tell me he wants to be picked up, placed on the bathroom counter, and have the water turned on for him. This has prompted me to search for cat vocalization articles for my e-friend Eliot.

Found something different, but possibly equally interesting:

A Comparative Study of the Use of Visual Communicative Signals in Interactions Between Dogs (Canis familiaris) and Humans and Cats (Felis catus) and Humans. Miklósi, Áam; Pongrácz, Péter; Lakatos, Gabriella; Journal of Comparative Psychology, Vol 119(2), May 2005. pp. 179-186.

Dogs' (Canis familiaris) and cats' (Felis catus) interspecific communicative behavior toward humans was investigated. In Experiment 1, the ability of dogs and cats to use human pointing gestures in an object-choice task was compared using 4 types of pointing cues differing in distance between the signaled object and the end of the fingertip and in visibility duration of the given signal. Using these gestures, both dogs and cats were able to find the hidden food; there was no significant difference in their performance. In Experiment 2, the hidden food was made inaccessible to the subjects to determine whether they could indicate the place of the hidden food to a naive owner. Cats lacked some components of attention-getting behavior compared with dogs. The results suggest that individual familiarization with pointing gestures ensures high-level performance in the presence of such gestures; however, species-specific differences could cause differences in signaling toward the human.

Full-text available in any flavor of PsycArticles, probably at your local college or university library.

Emotions are All in the Mind

ABC Radio National’s All in the Mind just ran a 4 part series on emotion. They covered Sexual Desire (arguably not an emotion), Anger, Jealousy, and Joy.

They feature comments from real people who experience the emotion in question, interspersed with interviews with scientists in the field. Tidbits that I liked:

From Jealousy:
David DeSteno (Associate Professor, Psychology Department, Northeastern University):
“Engaging in satisfying relationships is associated with all kinds of wonderful things: lower cardiovascular threat, greater immune system response, greater wellbeing. And so what jealousy does is it alerts you and impels you to the threat that your relationship is going to be lost.”
DeSteno categorizes jealousy as a “social emotion” rather than a more basic emotion like anger and fear, adding that social emotions “help us navigate our social landscape, much as more basic emotions help us navigate the physical one.”

From Joy:
Lea Williams (Associate Professor, Brain Dynamics Centre, Westmead Hospital and University of Sydney) and Susan Turk Charles (Assistant Professor, School of Social Ecology, University of Southern California) suggest that as we age we get happier. Well, they can’t prove it in so many words, but Williams has found “the part of that that regulates negative emotion actually becomes better able to do that with older age, and, in a sense, takes the brakes off the positive emotions.”

Charmin Härtel (Professor of Organisational Behaviour, Department of Management, Monash University):
“There’s an old saying that if you took three people and you put them in a room and two of them were positive and one of them was negative that they’d all come out depressed. And there’s a little bit of truth in that, it’s a lot easier for the emotional tone of a place to go negative than it is for it to go in a positive way or create a positive environment.”

Transcripts, citations to articles for more information, as well as podcasts & RealAudio of the show are available for all stories.

Does Usability Change with Events?

The New York Times reports today that during last week’s transit strike, the New York City news site displayed a “stark black-and-white page with basic blue headline links” rather than its usual flashy graphics. Folks at NY1 say they streamlined their site to help site visitors get information quickly (hits increased from an average 30,000 to 100,000 during the strike). The Times suggests that NY1 stripped it down to prevent potential load problems — odd, they argue, since the site is owned by cable Internet provider Time Warner which should have the bandwidth to handle anything.

Either way, it’s an interesting approach to a crisis: make an important web site more usable. Then again, why not make the site more usable ALL THE TIME?! [sigh]

When News Breaks, Flashy Content Loses Out
New York Times, December 26, 2005
Visitors to seeking news about the city's transit
strike found a stripped-down design featuring basic blue
headline links and no photos.

Two Cool Webcasts

MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory celebrated its formal opening on Dec. 1 with a “major scientific symposium” entitled the Future of the Brain. The event focused on the future of neuroscience research, and included several Nobel Laureates, and experts in neuroscience, memory, and consciousness. They have posted a webcast which features the whole 7 hour session broken into two parts.

On November 17, 2005, the New York Public Library sponsored a debate about Google Print, entitled "The Battle Over Books: Authors & Publishers Take on the Google Print Library Project". It featured Larry Lessig, Stanford Law Professor; Chris Anderson (editor-in-chief of Wired magazine); Paul LeClerc, president & CEO of the NYPL; David Drummond, Google’s VP of Corporate Development, and others. Larry Lessig reports on his blog that various electronic versions of the event are available. You can download an mp3, a video torrent,view a QuickTime movie, or listen to the audio via QuickTime.

Isn’t technology great?!

December 12, 2005

Technology + PubMed Searching Tips

The University of Washington Health Sciences Libraries has created a very cool set of training “videos” online for PubMed. They use the Camtasia software to capture both actions taken on the screen as well as accompanying audio to create an online training “video.”

The Libraries have divided the videos into 18 categories, with each lasting 30 seconds to almost 5 minutes. Topics include Clinical Queries, the MeSH database, and Basic Search.

Now that I’m at UConn, I need to learn to be more proficient in PubMed – from this video, I learned how to limit my search to humans (or animals). And this is a great way to explain PubMed (and other databases’) advanced features to undergraduates, public library patrons, and even library school students.

Thanks to Greg Notess’ “On the Net” column in the Nov/Dec. 2005 issue of Online magazine. (Note: the article isn’t freely available online, but most major databases offer this in full-text, including Expanded Academic and Academic Search Premier).

December 11, 2005

Science & Consciousness Review Online

Articles and other information about science and consciousness at the online SCR. They review articles about science and/or consciousness, including abstracts and links to the full-text of the article in its native format (i.e. ScienceDirect or Nature Neuroscience). (wish they had an RSS feed...)

Recent articles cover synesthesia and New Scientist’s Special Report on the Human Brain. Check out the side bar where they list PubMed articles on related topics.

Of interest to librarians, is the HubMed interface — see what they’ve done with this article on Where is the Brain in the Self? — links to the original PubMed abstract, the full-text at ScienceDirect, and a demo SFX pop-up menu. Very cool.

Thanks to MindHacks for the link.

Tech Fun with the Washington Post

ResearchBuzz reports that the Washington Post has a blog. It’s not a traditional blog, but rather the Washington Post Remix is a site where people share what they’re doing with Washington Post online content. Current examples include a link from Post book reviews to Amazon and Rebotcast, which converts Post text content to audio.

Definitely worth following — love watching traditional media catch up with new technology. Kind of like what libraries are doing!

December 09, 2005

Free continuing ed for librarians!

Saw a terrific SirsiDynix Institute “webinar” this week on the Digital Library Federation‘s Electronic Resources Management Initiative. Tim Jewell hosted this event, which was a lecture and accompanying PowerPoint. It was informative and very professional.

Next up: Lee Rainie—Director Pew Internet & American Life Project, talking about “When Everything Connects to Everything: The Impact On People's Relationships to Each Other and to Information“ It’s free! Wednesday, Dec. 14 from 11-noon, EST. register

Archives are available — see the PowerPoint and hear the audio for Jewell’s presentation and many more (including Stephen Abram on Google).

Windows’ LiveMeeting is required; the audio doesn’t work on a Mac. However, you can download the slides as a pdf.

Arf! The dog genome is complete

The New York Times reports that the journal Nature reports that scientists have decoded the dog genome “to a high degree of accuracy.”

Scientists can now compare the dog, human, and mouse genome to see what makes a mammal a mammal. Apparently humans and dogs have more “brain function” genes, possibly because the social nature of our lives requires more computing power.

Tasha, the boxer whose genes researchers sequenced, was chosen because boxers are very inbred “easing the decoding task.”

New York Times, December 8, 2005
Science: Dog's Genome Could Provide Clues to Disorders in Humans
The dog genome gives researchers insight into the evolutionary history of humans.

Nature, December 8, 2005
"Genome sequence, comparative analysis and haplotype structure of the domestic dog"
Kerstin Lindblad-Toh, et al.
"Here we report a high-quality draft genome sequence of the domestic dog (Canis familiaris), together with a dense map of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) across breeds. The dog is of particular interest because it provides important evolutionary information and because existing breeds show great phenotypic diversity for morphological, physiological and behavioural traits."
Full-text available for a fee, or check your local (large) library.

December 07, 2005

Interview with Donald Norman

The Fall, 2005 issue of Technical Communication Quarterly features an interview with product design / usability guru Donald Norman. He talks about his latest book, Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things. The article covers lots o’ things that interest me, such as emotions & design (there are so many designs I hate; I’m looking at you Microsoft Windows; and many that I love – yes, that is an iPod surgically connected to my hip); the intersection of technology and communication; and Norman’s research at Northwestern / University of California, San Diego.

I [heart] Donald Norman

Mark Zachry. "An Interview with Donald A. Norman"
Technical Communication Quarterly.
Autumn 2005. Vol. 14, Iss. 4; p. 469.
Full-text available in ABI/Inform, Communications & Mass Media Complete, and Wilson OmniFile Full-text.

December 06, 2005

New Books at UConn

The Evolution of Intelligence, subtitled “Are Humans the Only Animals with Minds?” by James Fetzer (University of Minnesota, Duluth), published by Open Court, c2005. Amazon says the publisher says “Through a fascinating exploration of the mental abilities of species ranging from bacteria to mountain gorillas, noted science philosopher James Fetzer … offers an important new theory of intelligence - one grounded in evolutionary theory and by which machines can be ‘intelligent’ without possessing minds.”

Looks like a big review article on animal intelligence and philosophy. Fetzer has also written extensively on “assassination science” .

Another big review article is Making Sense of Secondary Science: Research into Children’s Ideas by Rosalind Driver, Ann Squires, et al (published by RoutledgeFalmer c1994). It reviews studies done about what secondary school students think about the natural world. Findings are divided into three main sections: life and living processes; materials and their properties; and physical processes. Looks like a good way for high school science teachers to figure out how their students think about science; would also be good for college professors who teach students to be science teachers …