December 29, 2006

Adopt a Cat, "Berkley", MSPCA, Springfield, Massachusetts

My goodness, adopting pets has changed in the past 13 years!

It's almost time to get a new kitty (young, male, preferably in the grey / black tones). You can see what pets the Springfield MSPCA has available for adoption.

You can even see some videos of their adoptable pets, like Berkley, at Google video.

Berkley is a 3 year old male grey tabby, grey and white tabby.
Loves sitting on your lap.
Contact the MSPCA Western New England Animal Care and Adoption Center. 171 Union Street, Springfield, MA 01105

December 26, 2006

Security of Gmail

This is kind of dated, now, but I'm behind on my Technology Review reading (note to self: must subscribe!!), so I just saw this about Google & privacy:

In Google We Trust // Internet users should think carefully before relying on Gmail
Technology Review, Dec 05 / Jan 06
by Simson Garfinkel.
"Google's Gmail raises important questions about the security and privacy of our personal information -- questions that should matter not just to users of the free Web-based e-mail system but to everyone who exchanges e-mail with Gmail users.

"And since the technical underpinnings of Gmail might very well be the prototype for the next generation of desktop-computer applications, the answers to these questions potentially affect everyone."

Garfinkel talks both about the privacy implications of Google and about the security of your data. For privacy, since Google has all of your mail since you joined Gmail (up to 2 years ago?!), criminal or civil litigation could go after your Gmail archive at Google if they needed evidence. The security issues may mitigate that: Garfinkel reports that Gmail's Terms of Use don't indicate that your mail will be retained indefinitely. So they could "lose", or lose, your data at any time -- and you'd have no recourse to retrieve it.

There are some interesting implications for the future of "free" online services, too; Garfkinkel posits Google's users as products rather than customers.

Definitely worth a read.

December 23, 2006

American Heritage: __scriptive dictionary

Cute story in today's Times about the American Heritage Dictionary: is it prescriptive or descriptive?

Read bits about its history, Webster's Third, and the Oxford American Dictionary. And find out about the panel who decides what's in & what's out.

Personally, I'm in the David Foster Wallace camp: "Syntax Nudnik of Our Time, or Snoot"; Wallace says "A fellow Snoot I know likes to say that listening to most people’s English feels like watching somebody use a Stradivarius to pound nails. We are the Few, the Proud, the Appalled at Everyone Else.”

Wordsmiths: They Also Serve Who Only Vote on "Ain't"
Dec. 23, 2006
The Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary is working to make a dictionary descriptive as well as

December 22, 2006

Hollywood's Usability Bloopers

Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox for December 18 is called Usability in the Movies -- Top 10 Bloopers, and it pokes fun at computer user interfaces as depicted in the movies.

Kind of funny, esp. the line from Jurassic Park in which a 12-year old says "This is UNIX, it's easy" -- and proceeds to save the day.

But does funny mean anything? Nielsen asserts that it does have a negative effect, and user interface design aficionados would appreciate his conclusion:

"Users blame themselves when they can't use technology. This phenomenon is bad enough already; it's made worse by the prevalence of scenes in which people walk up to random computers and start using them immediately. "

December 21, 2006

Libraries 4 My Friends

Coupla posts going up at my sister blog, Libraries 4 My Friends.

Today's is about using / Find in a Library. You've used it, right? If not, search for a book -- any book (cd, dvd, manuscript, anything!!) in the box to the left of this post -- you'll see who in the world owns it.

Soon I will post something about using bloglines to keep up with all your blogs.

Just a little treat for my friends who aren't librarians - but like what libraries have to offer.

December 20, 2006

The $100 laptop, from an econ. perspective

The December 2006 issue of MIT's journal Technology Review offers this article from economics writer James Surowiecki: Philanthropy's New Prototype // Will the [$100 laptop] Save the World? It's an interesting look at the economics of the $100 laptop (which is more likely to cost $150, at least initially).

Surowiecki writes "Negroponte [cofounder of MIT's Media Lab, Nicholas Negroponte] has said that the $100 laptop will not go into production until he has firm commitments from governments to buy at least five million units." Yipes! The One Laptop per Child (OLPC) group, hopes to get 5 countries to commit to one million each; so far only Libya has signed a contract for one million units.

One unexpected component to the article is that it opens with a one-page history of the Carnegie libraries. Surowiecki talks about the cost to launch a public library and compares the OLPC project to Carnegie's project over 100 years ago.

(see also part 2 and part 3 of the article)

Is Simplicity Overrated?

Fascinating column by Donald Norman about simplicity, design, and marketing. In Simplicity Is Highly Overrated, Norman argues that while people may say they want "simplicity" in their products (cars, washing machines, etc.), how they feel about products and what they're willing to pay for is a different story. He describes a Korean toaster: "It had complex controls, a motor to lower the untoasted bread and to lift it when finished, and an LCD panel with many cryptic icons, graphs, and numbers" for $250! Why? "Make it simple and people won’t buy. Given a choice, they will take the item that does more. Features win over simplicity, even when people realize that it is accompanied by more complexity."

Found this article via the Dec. 2006 issue of Current Cites, where reviewer Leo Robert Klein argues that "it's hard to say what impact this approach should have on design decisions, particularly on the Web. We're not buying products for ourselves after all but making them for others. If features in this context were so attractive, then 'Advanced Search' would be the first stop of even our most neophyte users."


December 19, 2006

Boomer Brown, rest in peace

Here's a site for animal lovers of all domestic stripes: They say that the site provides "reliable, up-to-date animal health information", and "they" are "veterinarians and experts of the Veterinary Information Network."

My vet recommended Vet Partners -- it has well-written and clear information about many aspects of animal health. Nice links to external sites. You can search by disease or browse by species (cats, dogs, reptiles, and small mammals).

this post in memory of Boomer, 4-7-1993 to 12-19-2006. Rest in peace.

December 15, 2006

One of My Favorite Reference Books

Ah, the Statistical Abstract of the United States. 2007 edition is out, and the Times has a story about it:
Who Americans Are and What They Do, in Census Data
Published: December 15, 2006
"Americans drank more than 23 gallons of bottled water per person in 2004 — about 10 times as much as in 1980. We consumed more than twice as much high fructose corn syrup per person as in 1980 and remained the fattest inhabitants of the planet, although Mexicans, Australians, Greeks, New Zealanders and Britons are not too far behind."

Amazingly, this story interests lots o' people; right now, it sits atop of the Times' "Most Popular" stories list.

See what the GPO has to say about The Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2007 or check out the data itself, at

December 13, 2006

Science in the News Seminar @ Harvard Med School

I am listening to a great series of public lectures on various aspects of science in the news, sponsored by Harvard Medical School this past fall. Each session is approximately 90 minutes, broken into three segments (conveniently, each segment is its own podcast) and is presented by a different graduate student at HMS. The sessions are complete for the year, but there are so many of them it’ll take a while to listen to them all.

Topics included “Diet and Cancer Prevention”, “Obesity & Diabetes”, and “Mental Health.” Both pdf and mp3 files are available on their web site, or you can subscribe via iTunes or other podcasting options.

A Moral Grammar?

Interesting podcast from Australia’s All in the Mind about the evolution of morality. See their description below:

“Moral Minds: The Evolution of Human Morality
“Incest, infanticide, honour killings - different cultures have different rules of justice. But are we all born with a moral instinct - an innate ability to judge what is right and wrong? Could morality be like language - a universal, unconscious grammar common to all human cultures? Eminent evolutionary biologist Marc Hauser and philosopher Richard Joyce take on these controversial questions in impressive new tomes, and to critical acclaim. But could their evolutionary arguments undermine the social authority of morality? Is biology the new 'religion'? “

I’ve seen Marc Hauser speak (thanks, Hampshire!) and he’s very interesting. He’s got an online Moral Sense Test where he and his team at Harvard’s Cognitive Evolution Lab “study … the nature of human moral judgment.” I won’t tell you about the moral dilemmas presented in the test, but they are challenging! See for yourself.

You can download the podcast or read the transcript from All in the Mind.

November 26, 2006

Librarian Comedian

Dan, former GSLIS student, librarian, and comedian has a video of a recent show up on YouTube.

I haven't seen him live myself, but some parts of this clip made me laugh out loud.

See also (heh heh) Dan's page, danthelibrarian.

November 24, 2006

Treating Dog Cancer

Today's New York Times has an article about dog cancer. Seems some dogs are participating in clinical trials to assess the effectiveness of cancer treatment in humans and animals. Boomer, c2000Those in which the treatment succeeds are indeed lucky dogs.

If only there were such treatment for those suffering from cat cancer, like Boomer.

Business: In Trials for New Cancer Drugs, Family Pets Are Benefiting, Too
November 24, 2006
Dogs are receiving groundbreaking drugs or other treatments
for cancer, a leading cause of death in older dogs.

November 22, 2006

Face Blindness

Fascinating article in the November 2006 issue of Wired magazine about Prosopagnosia or face blindness.

Prosopagnosics cannot recognize faces; they are otherwise usually quite functional and can recognize people using auditory or contextual cues. They sometimes don't even recognize themselves in the mirror. The article does a nice job of explaining the problem from the perspective of several different sufferers, as well as a biography of a researcher who is very interested in the topic.

Neuroscientist Brad Duchaine wanted to work with prosopagnosics but he thought they would be hard to find; it was previously believed that the disorder only occurred in stroke victims or others who had been shot in the brain. Luckily, he was referred to Bill Choisser who had started a Yahoo! Group for other folks suffering from this disorder. (It started as a Usenet group that has since morphed into a Yahoo! group). Now that Duchaine had some sufferers to interview and study, he was able to conduct some research. He works the Prosopagnosia Research Centers at Harvard University and University College London; see his list of publications (many in pdf).

What was most helpful to me was the photographs which gave a sense of what face blindness must be like to those 2% of Americans (or 6 million?!) who suffer from prosopagnosia. Here's another image (from Choisser’s book Faceblind) that illustrates the problem.

You can read more about prosopagnosia from the Wikipedia or browse the material at the Prosopagnosia Research Centers’ research page .

November 21, 2006

Google Calendar

Playing around with Google Calendar for my class next semester.

Fast-forward to February 2007 to see anything even moderately interesting ...

What do you think?

November 19, 2006


Just read about a new search engine called ChaCha on Stephen's Lighthouse.

It does search (they say it's real-time) and there are ratings / collections from various human guides on the results page.

What I really like about it is the live guide feature. You can do a search or you can click on [search guide] and chat with a "guide" (someone paid by cha cha; probably not a librarian ...) who will help you with your search and even "push" sites to you.

Shouldn't we be doing this?! I want to implement this in our database search engine! And wouldn't it be swell in federated search?! This + meebo = really innovative library service.

2 Clicks 2 Stuff

I'm listening to Roy Tennant's keynote at the Access 2006 Library Conference. He's terrific, as usual, and what I'm really struck with is his suggestion (challenge?) that we get our users to "stuff" within 2 clicks.

A good example he gives is a Google search for the book Before Taliban. First link is the book online in full-text. When you click on that link (click count = 1), you are at the book's table of contents, from where you can see any of the book in full-text (click count = 2).

Two clicks to get to the full-text. How happy would that make your users?!

Compare this to ... oh, just about any search in any OPAC for either an e-book or a conventional print book. In my catalog, it's 2 clicks to find out that we own the item; this also gives us the call number, and several steps (literal) to actually get the book. Good for us! In another catalog I've known (but don’t yet love), it's 4 clicks to search and discover the call number. Plus more literal steps to actually find the book. And that's a book with a relatively unusual title that's in the 6 college catalogs I checked. It would be more clicks to find a book with a more common title (I dare you to find whether MHC owns the Economic Report of the President in print -- search their new catalog & see)

And then compare this to finding just about any full-text article from any library database. If you're lucky enough to a) do a good search and b) the database you're in has the full-text, you can probably do it in 2-3 clicks. But if you have to use a link resolver like SFX or Serials Solutions, it's going to take at least 2 extra clicks to get the full-text. This makes me want to enable direct linking from the SFX button directly to the article whenever we can. Might be a hard sell internally, but it's better for the user.

Download Roy's talk & listen! (there are lots of other good ones, too ..)

November 17, 2006

Teens @ Your Library

Heard a great podcast of a SirsiDynix webinar on Engaging Youth on their Own Terms: Instant Messaging and Gaming in Libraries. The presenters were Sarah Houghton-Jan (Librarian in Black) and Aaron Schmidt ( They talked about how important it is to get teens into your library -- not because someday they'll be adult patrons but because we serve everyone in the library. (Remember Ranganathan's 2d law, "Every person his or her book" ?!)

They shared some useful examples of actual chat sessions they've had with teens -- reader's advisory becomes very important in chat, as does, well, chatting about nothing in particular.

Aaron in particular talked about having game nights in the library for teens -- we have knitting groups for the 50-somethings, so why not game night?

And how about Meebo ...

The collation tool segment is not to be missed, as is a useful set of library pix from flickr.

You can listen to the mp3 audio via iTunes, or watch the video (PC only, I think), or download the PowerPoint as a pdf. The PowerPoint is worthwhile for screen shots of cool technology implementations.

kthx bye

November 11, 2006

Library Systems Too Complex!


A few months ago, I started the Libraries for My Friends blog, in which I try to help my friends use their local library. I'd send this to some non-library friends, and one of them just asked if I could help her brother find audio books in his library.

Sounds easy, doesn't it? Especially for a super-librarian such as myself? (modesty mode OFF). You'd be wrong if you thought that.

First, I found the list of Oklahoma's libraries. Not intuitive for someone not from OK. I browsed around to see if I could find a list of databases available statewide; preferably something that included Overdrive or maybe even an Audible account.

Nope; had to do an reference interview with my friend to find out where in OK her brother lives. Answer: Oklahoma City. Back to the list of OK libraries to find the Oklahoma City Library page. Since it's called the "Metropolitan Library System", I am not positive I'm on the right page, but I'll take it on faith.

Poke around to see if I can find a list of databases, preferably something that lists audio books. No such luck. Go to their catalog link. Wha ... ??

Gamely click on "logon anonymously". Again I said "wha ..." ? Clicked on "catalog" at the top and said the now-familiar "wha ...", sighed, and went back to he Metropolitan Library System home page. Searched for "audio" and found some tips for finding audio items in the catalog (under resources for the visually impaired).

You can read the uncensored version of the instructions at the L4MF blog.

But really: why does it have to be so darn hard? Libraries I actually work in are not much better; I really don't mean to pick on OK City. It's no wonder our patrons don't come to us for help -- it's so much easier to go to Google, buy from Amazon (if we're lucky to have $$) or do without.

Chickens, Dinosaurs, and Wikipedia

This is my student Erin's idea, but it's so funny I wanted to share it more broadly:

Great dinosaur cartoon about vandalism and Wikipedia. The dinosaurs want to take over the chicken entry in Wikipedia and vandalize it -- that way, all other Wikipedia entries will be safe, and hey, everyone already knows about chickens, so it's ok to vandalize that entry.


Erin also points us to the actual Wikipedia entry for chickens, which suggests that perhaps dinosaurs *have* visited the Wikipedia chicken entry after all.

Definitely a great teaching moment.

November 07, 2006

Evaluating Health Information

I’m going to post this on my other blog, Libraries For My Friends, but I thought some of you might like it too:

MedlinePlus offers a great set of material on how to evaluate health information online. It includes links to …

A votre sante!

November 06, 2006

Chomsky to speak in support of the Endangered Language Fund

Noam Chomsky is giving a lecture in New Haven on November 15th. This is a benefit lecture for the Endangered Language Fund, to raise money for the documentation and revitalization of nearly extinct languages.

His talk is entitled "Why Are There So Many Languages? Diversification From An Underlying Unity."

Full event information

(thanks again to Ross for the info)

October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween from Ask

Have you seen the page today? very impressive. Nice contrast to the google logo.

Who says searching isn't fun?

October 29, 2006

Choice in the Library

Heard another *terrific* TED Talks podcast (and no, I have NO affiliation with Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED) at all -- I should be so lucky!) about the value of choice in our lives. From the TED Blog: "Barry Schwartz is a sociology professor at Swarthmore College and author of The Paradox of Choice. In this talk, he persuasively explains how and why the abundance of choice in modern society is actually making us miserable."

My interpretation of what he said is that no choice is bad. Some choice is good. Lots of choices is really bad. Problems with too many choices include: lingering doubt ("maybe I should have bought both the black *and* the navy shoes. Why!! didn't I buy the navy shoes, too?!") and self-blame if the choice doesn't pan out ("darn it! I would have been so much happier if I'd bought the navy shoes instead of the black shoes") -- you can probably imagine more. Or you'll listen and hear Dr. Schwartz' ideas.

That's the interesting cog-sci element. But, as happens so often, cog-sci does meet lib-sci: we offer our patrons so many darn database choices -- it's no wonder they are confused and prefer Google. Not only is the search box simple, but the *choice* of which search engine to use is pretty simple, too.

We should make a greater effort to simplify our patrons' choices. Perhaps this is heresy; listen to the podcast and you might change your mind.

October 27, 2006

Clear Message, at thetruth

Have you seen the commercial with the Singing Cowboy without a tongue?

It's sponsored by About the ad, they say "There are over 8.5 million Americans living with tobacco-related illnesses. With this in mind we saddled up a horse, found a cowboy with a hole in his neck as a result of smoking, and asked him to sing a little ditty." The song is called "you don't always die from tobacco" (and I still hear the chorus in my head).

Its relevance to the CogSciLibrarian? It's one of the CLEAREST mass market messages I've ever seen.

We need to make library messages that clear (tho' fortunately ours aren't so dire).

Check out the site -- click on the TV link to see the Singing Cowboy ad.

October 25, 2006

Access (Canada) Podcasts Online

"The Access Conference is the pre-eminent Canadian library technology conference and typically attracts librarians and information technology professionals from all over Canada, and in recent years the United States and even Europe." said Randy Reichardt (STLQ) about the 2005 conference. It's probably equally true of the 2006 event.

I have downloaded (but not listened to) presentations by Clifford Lynch, Roy Tennant, and many others on topics like Library 2.0, Social Media & information, and more.

See Access 2006 conference speaker presentations & podcasts.

Thanks to LITA for the information -- I'd never heard of the conference, but that's clearly my bad.

October 24, 2006

Universal Grammar in the Wall Street Journal?!

Yes, it's true!

"That's Not Baby Talk It's Your Kid Testing Her Grasp of Chinese "
Sharon Begley. Wall Street Journal. Aug 11, 2006. pg. A.7

Not much to post, since the WSJ isn't free online, but here's the lead paragraph:

"IF A BABY GROWING up in an English-speaking home squeals 'a my pencil!' dad might correct him, saying, 'That's "my pencil," sweetie.' If a toddler points to an older brother and complains, 'tickled me,' mom might say, 'You mean, "Joey tickled me." ' And the toddler who declares, 'I don't want no spinach,' is told to say, 'I don't want any spinach.' "

A newly-appointed University of Pennsylvania linguist, Charles Yang, argues that these kids are actually speaking perfect grammar *of another language*. In his new book called The infinite gift : how children learn and unlearn the languages of the world he writes that "Children's language differs from ours not only because they occasionally speak imperfect English but because they speak perfect Chinese" (according to the WSJ) -- and this is consistent with Noam Chomsky's theory of universal grammar.


(thanks to Ross Buck for the article)

October 23, 2006

Friendly Buildings

Kathy Sierra posted on Creating Passionate Users that Reducing fear is the killer app. She has photos of user-friendly medical ofices, such as a dentist with a coffee bar, and a hospital which looks like an upscale hotel. And she describes some awesome customer service in the context, of all things, a mammogram.

Lots for librarians to learn here about providing good customer service, esp. in light of Dorothea Salo's Design Speaks article I posted yesterday.

October 22, 2006

ooh: Boston Public Library eCards !!

from the BPL Online Registration and eCard FAQ :

Can I register for a library card online? yes!!
For a limited time, Massachusetts State Residents can sign up for a temporary (6 month) Boston Public Library eCard via the web!

What is an "eCard"?
BPL eCards are virtual 6-month library cards that allow users immediate access to all of the Boston Public Library's electronic resources, including magazine databases, downloadable audio, video and music. eCard users who wish to check out library materials will be asked to upgrade to a standard BPL card (see below).

Who is eligible for an "eCard"?
Anyone who lives, works, attends school, or owns property in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and is at least 13 years of age may register for an eCard.


(thanks to my student Pen for the info)

Library Journal on L!brary 2.0

Two good articles in the Oct. 15, 2006 issue of netConnect, Library Journal's quarterly technology supplement.

1. Design Speaks by Dorothea Salo. "These are the messages conveyed by the design of most library services and buildings: 'We are not you. We are not even like you. You have to think the way we do.' From the jargon on signs in our buildings to the unexplained options in our OPACs, libraries are indelibly stamped with librarian-think."

She refers to a conference called User Experience Week sponsored by Adaptive Path. Looks very interesting; sadly, it doesn't look like any libraries participated. (Then again, UEW 2007 is over $1500 to attend ...)

2. A nice response to the Design Speaks problem is Karen Coombs' article Planning for Now & Then; she argues that every library "should have its 2.0 degree by 2010."

see also Beth Evans' article Your Space of MySpace? which describes the Brooklyn College Library's myspace experience.

ps, if you're more aural, check out the LJ netConnect podcast. Haven't heard it myself, but it's interviews with the netConnect editor and the folks who wrote the articles.

October 12, 2006

Laurie Anderson & Antonio Damasio

Found an interesting upcoming event mixing art & cog sci, from our new library art / multimedia database called Rhizome:

Laurie Anderson will present a special audio-visual lecture exploring the
intersections of art, science and creativity. One of the premier
performance artists in the world, Ms. Anderson has consistently intrigued,
entertained and challenged audiences with her multimedia presentations.
Anderson's artistic career has cast her in roles as various as visual
artist, composer, poet, photographer, filmmaker, ventriloquist,
electronics whiz, vocalist and instrumentalist. Following her
presentation, Ms. Anderson will be joined in conversation by
neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, director of the USC Brain and Creativity
Institute and a leading researcher of cognition, emotions, and neural

I believe that the audio will be available live from HASTAC, and I hope that it will be available following the conversation as a podcast or other transportable file.

Laurie Anderson: Recent Works
Saturday, October 21st
University of Southern California's Norris Theater
7 p.m. (PDT)
Free and open to the public!

October 09, 2006

Chat Transcript

Ok, so maybe you can't read Maureen Dowd's faux POTUS chat transcript for free (TimesSelect membership or LexisNexis required), but it's hysterical. Featuring decider, Rumstud74, Rover08, DarthV, and my favorite, sexylibrarian. Great sense of chat etiquette combined with political sensibilities. Brilliant.

Death by Instant Message
In a world where everything is instant, the delaying and
censoring mechanisms that contributed to a civilized life
are gone.

October 08, 2006

David Pogue on TEDTalks

Listened to David Pogue podcast on TEDTalks last week. It was awesome! He's funny, articulate, good with a tune, and a definite advocate for good design.

Watch the video here:

or download the podcast from the Ted Blog.

Check out other CogSci & librarian-friendly TED stuff on the Ted Blog.

Elephants are Like Humans, and They Are Angry

Fascinating article from today's New York Times magazine called An Elephant Crackup? illustrates why elephants are like humans (including, but not limited to their long memories and strong familial attachments) -- and describes their anger at humans and rhinos.

A long, very good read.

October 8, 2006
NYT Magazine: An Elephant Crackup?
Attacks by elephants on villages, people and other animals are on the rise. Some researchers are pointing to a species-wide trauma and the fraying of the fabric of pachyderm society.

October 01, 2006


Been remiss in posting lately, mostly because of teaching, work, and ... the article I'm writing for Library Journal on teaching part-time & working full-time. Yipes.

Anyway, here are some podcasts I plan to listen to this week:

  • Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Dennett, and David Pogue on TedTalks -- you can download mp3s of their ~20-minute talks, or watch them on video. They say: "The TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference is an annual event where leading thinkers and doers gather for inspiration."

  • ScienceFriday talks about closing the EPA Library: "the US Environmental Protection Agency plans to close the library at its Washington headquarters on October 1, with materials currently available to staff and the public being boxed up for possible later digitization. Leaked budget documents say that similar 'deaccessioning procedures'may be on tap for regional libraries in Chicago, Dallas and Kansas City."

  • Judy Woodruff talking about advertisers & facebook on the NewsHour. Maybe some useful ideas for librarians-as-marketers?

Just finished listening to Simon Winchester read his book Krakatoa [the day the world exploded, August 27, 1883]. Not quite cognitive science, but very intersesting, well-told, and well-read science nonetheless. If you have 10 hours to listen to something, and you have even a moderate interest in volcanoes / tsunamis, this is worth a listen.

Splogs = bad news

An article in the September issue of Wired: Spam + Blogs =Trouble answers the question "why do I have to type 'zvtmzu' to post a comment on your blog?!"

Because of splogs & link farms. Blech.

Jon Gordon on Future Tense interviewed Charles C. Mann, the author of the Wired article. Listen to the podcast or read the article (or both) to find out about this creepy world of creating faux blogs & links to generate advertising revenue.

Interesting side note: I read this article a few weeks ago when my print copy of Wired appeared in my mailbox; the article didn't go onto Wired's web site until Sept. 5. Good way for Wired to keep some mystery & $$ but also make the article available for free -- after some time passed.

Mind & Brain Portal, from Wikipedia

Wikipedia may be controversial, but that's because some stuff is good & some stuff is, well, not reliable.

That said, the Mind & Brain Portal (which I found through Sci Am Mind) is "an interdisciplinary point of entry to such related fields as the philosophy of mind, neuroscience, linguistics, and psychology."

It links to wikipedia topics like artificial intelligence, consciousness, cognitive science, perception, and philosophy of mind. It also links to people in the field of cognitive science, such as Christof Koch, David Chalmers, and Noam Chomsky. There's a list of people & concepts that are missing; if you want to contribute to wikipedia & know something about intentional system or simulation theory of mind, here's your chance.

Interesting way to use Wikipedia. Nice for browsing or sharing with students.

September 26, 2006

Emotional Control in the Brain??

Again from the mailing list of friends of colleagues, etc. Isn't the Internet grand? Anyway ...

Emotional Control Circuit Of Brain's Fear Response Discovered (press release)
Source: Columbia University Medical Center
Date: September 22, 2006
Columbia University Medical Center researchers have identified an emotional control circuit in the human brain which keeps emotionally intense stimuli from interfering with mental functioning. These results significantly enhance our understanding of the neurobiology underlying psychiatric disorders involving emotional control, such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression.

The research employed a novel test in which subjects were forced to detect and resolve attentional conflict created by emotionally powerful stimuli. Brain activity was monitored using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) that can detect moment-to-moment changes in neural activity. fMRI is a version of the widely-used clinical MRI scanning technique.

The study, which is published in the Sept 21, 2006 issue of Neuron, was led by a Columbia University Medical Center M.D./Ph.D. student, Amit Etkin, who explained that, "Tremendous knowledge exists about how our brains deal with cognitive distractions, but we know very little about how we deal with emotional distractions. This is something we constantly do in our everyday lives, otherwise we would be overwhelmed by every emotional trigger we encounter."

The article itself is at
Etkin et al.: "Resolving Emotional Conflict: A Role for the Rostral Anterior Cingulate Cortex in Modulating Activity in the Amygdala." Publishing in Neuron 51, 871–882, September 21, 2006. DOI 10.1016/j.neuron.2006.07.029.

Robots & emotions ...

From the mailing list of some friends who know some people who like cognitive science comes this fascinating story:

Antisocial robots go to finishing school

Imagine having your own humanoid robot. It is great at its job so your floors and windows are gleaming and spotless, but it has an annoying habit of vacuuming the living room when you have a headache, or offering you a meal just as you are drifting off to sleep on the sofa.

If you sometimes have difficulty reading other people's expressions and emotions, imagine how difficult it will be for silicon-brained robots. They will only ever be able to respond to us in an appropriate way if they can understand human moods.

What robots need is kansei. The Japanese term encompasses a raft of emotional notions, including feeling, mood, intuitiveness and sensibility. Without kansei, says Shuji Hashimoto, director of the humanoid robotics centre at Waseda University in Tokyo, the service robots being developed around the world will not be able to acquire the social skills they will need to get along with tetchy, emotional humans.

Antisocial robots go to finishing school
19 September 2006
Paul Marks
New Scientist Tech
Magazine issue 2569
(unfortunately not available for free online -- but what a concept!)

September 24, 2006

Ask is the new Google

Ask is (trying to become) the New Google.

And the Librarian in Black, just posted her 10 reasons to use Ask instead of Google.

Might want to check out ...

September 21, 2006


Great post over on the Creating Passionate Users blog.

We need to think like our users! We need to figure out a way. This chart will help me keep them in mind. Hopefully you too, and then we can start changing the world, one tiny web page at a time.

be provocative is pretty good too -- the sketches are terrific.

thanks to Stephen's Lighthouse for the referral!

September 11, 2006

Watching Thoughts ...

(Credit: Stefan Posse, University of New Mexico)

Technology Review has an interesting article called Watching a Single Thought Form in the Brain in which researchers at the University of New Mexico show that when "a volunteer thinks of a word, researchers detect brain activity in Broca's area (yellow arrow), a part of the brain involved in language."

Sort of mind-reading, but not quite. Still if this fMRI technique evolves, it could be used for clinical diagnoses and to help researchers understand how we learn.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006
Watching a Single Thought Form in the BrainNew techniques to capture single thought processes open up new possibilities for neuro-imaging.
Technology Review
by Emily Singer

see original research at
Reproducibility of activation in Broca's area during covert generation of single words at high field: A single trial FMRI study at 4 T.
NeuroImage, Volume 32, Issue 1, 1 August 2006, Pages 129-137
Andrew R. Mayer, Jing Xu, Juliana Paré-Blagoev and Stefan Posse

(thanks to Ross Buck for the link)

September 10, 2006

TV 2.0 for babies?!

Last Tuesday's Times reports on a study by Vanderbilt University researchers suggesting that interactive television can actually be good for children's development. Earlier research showed that 3-5 year olds who watched Blues Clues "score better on tests of problem solving than those who haven’t watched the show."

What about younger children? It turns out that live interaction between babies and an adult is best for babies' learning, and only a few babies learn from traditional or "Television 1.0"-type interactions. However, the Vanderbilt research "... showed that 24-month-olds are more apt to use information relayed by video if they consider the person on the screen to be someone they can talk to." TV 2.0 anyone?

September 5, 2006
Health / Mental Health & Behavior: When Toddlers Turn on the TV and Actually Learn
Should babies and toddlers be exposed to television at all? Is there any chance that they could actually learn from the screen?

original research
Young Children's Use of Video as a Source of Socially Relevant Information
Georgene L. Troseth, Megan M. Saylor, and Allison H. Archer
Child Development
Volume 77, Number 3. Page 786 - May/June 2006

September 06, 2006

Snark, Librarians Bringing the

Have you seen the blog A Librarian's Guide to Etiquette? It’s snarkingly funny, if you work in a library and have a certain sense of humor. It’s not for everyone, but I was ROTFL the other day when I read the summer’s posts. Couldn’t explain any of it to my non librarian husband (see the related libetiquette post, Incest, Professional) – but this blog is sure to keep me smiling.

I’m hoping for entries like: Library Jargon, Implementing and Learn Our Ways, Forcing Users to.

snark on.

(thanks, Emily!)

September 04, 2006

"An Evolving Collection"

The Sept. 1 issue of Library Journal addresses Evolutionary Biology in its Collection Development feature.

It includes older books that shouldn't be weeded such as Ronald A. Fisher's The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection and Julian S. Huxley's Evolution: The Modern Synthesis.

Some newer books they recommend include Encyclopedia of evolution, edited by Mark Pagel & published by Oxford; Richard Dawkin's The ancestor's tale : a pilgrimage to the dawn of evolution; Sean Carroll's Endless forms most beautiful : the new science of evo devo and the making of the animal kingdom; and Kenneth Miller's Finding Darwin's God : a scientist's search for common ground between God and evolution.

Also check out the web sites LJ reviews on the topic; they include:
* Darwin Digital Library of Evolution from the American Museum of Natural History
* Understanding Evolution from the Paleontology Museum at the University of California–Berkeley
* National Center for Science Education

If I were still at Hampshire, I'd be going on a buying spree!

Snakes on the Brain

Great editorial by UC Davis anthropologist Lynne Isbell in yesterday's New York Times about snakes and the evolution of vision in primates.

Isbell argues that "[n]ew anthropological evidence suggests that snakes, as predators, may have figured prominently in the evolution of primate vision — the ability, shared by humans, apes and monkeys, to see the world in crisp, three-dimensional living color." She offers this further proof: "The hypothesis draws further support from what we know about the evolution of raptors: Eagles that specialize in eating snakes have larger eyes — resulting in greater visual acuity — than eagles that don’t."

September 3, 2006
Opinion: Snakes on the Brain
There's a deep connection between snakes and primates, one that may have shaped who we are — and how we see — today.

September 03, 2006

Signage in libraries

The great Stephen Abram, in his Stephen's Lighthouse blog points to a Flickr site on Library Signage. There are some good ones & some bad ones. I'm going to use this in my reference class as a discussion point for how the reference area should look, and how it *does* look to patrons.

Web 2.0 sure is good for teaching library school!

August 26, 2006

Learn to speak Iraqi

Read about this in Wired:

Tactical IraqiTM is a computer-based, self-paced, learning program that in about 80 hours teaches English-speaking people totally unfamiliar with Iraqi Arabic how to speak enough to accomplish tasks and missions in Arabic.

According to a blurb in the Sept. 2006 issue of Wired (not online), "The system's user interface and artificial intelligence simulate life in a real-world community, as in The Sims. To advance to higher levels, military personnel must converse with various characters by speaking into a mike, not only using the right words and phrases but also pronouncing them correctly."

coming soon:

August 22, 2006

Geniuses, part deux

The July 2006 issue of Wired has a great article called What Kind of Genius Are You?. Daniel Pink discusses University of Chicago economist David Galenson, who studies geniuses in art and devised a theory suggesting "that creativity comes in two distinct types – quick and dramatic, or careful and quiet."

Essentially, Galenson argues that genius "comes in two very different forms, embodied by two very different types of people. 'Conceptual innovators,' as Galenson calls them, make bold, dramatic leaps in their disciplines. They do their breakthrough work when they are young. Think Edvard Munch, Herman Melville, and Orson Welles. They make the rest of us feel like also-rans. Then there’s a second character type, someone who’s just as significant but trudging by comparison. Galenson calls this group 'experimental innovators.' Geniuses like Auguste Rodin, Mark Twain, and Alfred Hitchcock proceed by a lifetime of trial and error and thus do their important work much later in their careers."

How did he make this assertion? He studied the relationship of an artist's age with his success as measured by the appearance of illustrations in art history textbooks and created an age / image frequency regression. He found that "Some artists were represented by dozens of pieces created in their twenties and thirties but relatively few thereafter. For other artists, the reverse was true."

Fascinating! Also love this quote: "Galenson, a classic library rat, began reading biographies of the artists and accounts by art critics to add some qualitative meat to these quantitative bones." (emphasis mine).

Gives some of us old-timers a wee bit of hope ...

What Kind of Genius Are You?
By Daniel H. Pink
Wired Magazine, July 2006
A new theory suggests that creativity comes in two distinct types – quick and dramatic, or careful and quiet.

Geniuses in the News

Recent issues of both Scientific American & Wired have featured articles about geniuses / expert minds, from two different perspectives.

The August, 2006 issue of Scientific American looks at The Expert Mind (full article online!) from the perspective of a chess player. Why? Chess skills can be measured very precisely and is very popular with cognitive scientists studying "thinking." Plus, of course, chess is for smarties.

Apparently much of the skill is linked to "chunking", whereby chess masters condense large bits of data into small chunks. Much as we can remember phone numbers (ideally) of 7 +/- digits, so chess masters can remember chess in bits, or chunks, of 7 +/- bits. BUT the expert can parse much more information into each chunk, so they can process new information much faster than non-experts.

This expert-ness happens only with LOTS of practice, and the practice needs to be of a certain level -- that is, the student must always be working at a level just beyond his current level of expertise to show consistent improvement.

Scientific American: The Expert Mind [ PSYCHOLOGY AND BRAIN SCIENCE ]
By Philip E. Ross
Scientific American, August 2006
Studies of the mental processes of chess grandmasters have revealed clues to how people become experts in other fields as well.

I'll report on the Wired article tomorrow.

August 21, 2006

Finding Liars?!

Interesting article from Time about finding liars -- another way of addressing the behavioral "profiling" now hot in airports & other security checkpoints. Ross Buck, from UConn's Com Sci department points to this article, which is much like the one in last week's Times. Must find some scientific articles on the topic ...

Anyway, Time mentiones some techniques that could be used to help determine if potential terrorists are lying. They discuss fMRI, ERPs, and eye scans. They also point out some shortcomings of these testing systems.

How to Spot a Liar
Time Magazine
Sunday, Aug. 20, 2006

ps, Last week's ScienceFriday discussed Behavioral Profiling a bit, in an interview with Rafi Ron, President and CEO of New Age Security Solutions and former Chief Security Officer Israeli Airport Authority. Not very scientific, but interesting.

August 17, 2006

Behavior Screening

Been thinking a lot about this behavior screening they’re talking about doing at airports. I’m curious about the science behind it – definitely behavioral & cognitive science-related!

Today’s Times seems to share my curiosity, as they published Faces, Too, Are Searched at U.S. Airports, complete with a graphic on seeing emotions in faces .

The article describes the Transportation Security Administration’s "behavior detection officers," apparently attempting some techniques adopted at Israelis airports.

Here's what state police officers at Logan tried after September 11:

"The officers observed travelers’ facial expressions, body and eye movements, changes in vocal pitch and other indicators of stress or disorientation. If the officers’ suspicions were aroused, they began a casual conversation with the person, asking questions like 'What did you see in Boston?' followed perhaps by'Oh, you’ve been sightseeing. What did you like best?'

"The questions themselves are not significant, Mr. Robbins said. It is the way the person answers, particularly whether the person shows any sign of trying to conceal the truth."

This has been expanded in the past 9 months to more airports, and of about 50 people turned over to the police for intense screening:

"[H]alf a dozen have faced charges or other law enforcement follow-up … because the behavior detection officials succeeded in picking out people who had a reason to be nervous, generally because of immigration matters, outstanding warrants or forged documents."

There are problems with civil liberties, of course.

August 11, 2006

The Teen Brain

Fascinating article from Scientific American Mind about the development of the adolescent brain (in the US). "When teenagers perform certain tasks, their prefrontal cortex, which handles decision making, is working much harder than the same region in adults facing the same circumstances. The teen brain also makes less use of other regions that could help out. Under challenging conditions, adolescents may assess and react less efficiently than adults."

Not quite sure when the teen brain starts to better balance the decision-making load; "Full maturation of executive function occurs only as a completely integrated, collaborative brain system emerges, in the late teens and even in the early 20s, according to psychologists."

What are the implications for parents? For librarians serving YAs and college students?

Note that critics "say there is no such thing as a teen brain ... Adolescents in certain cultures are not racked with the turmoil off American teens, indicating that environment, not inherent brain development, may underlie troubled behavior."


The Teen Brain, Hard at Work // Under challenging conditions, adolescents may assess and react less efficiently than adults (entire issue available for $5)
Leslie Sabbagh
Scientific American Mind, August 2006 (supposed to be in Academic Search Premier, but not yet there ...)

August 08, 2006

Woo hoo! You can now search WorldCat directly, without an account, and find out what libraries anywhere carry the book / CD / DVD / etc. that you want!

See the box to the left of this post? Try it out!

Note: this will *not* work if your library hasn’t put its holdings into OCLC. Long story, for library geeks only.

Found this through the OCLC It’s All Good blog.

August 06, 2006

Synesthesia in fiction

Just finished Julia Glass's terrific new novel the Whole World Over. Saga, one of the characters, is a synesthete - with words. Here are some examples (taken from the NYT review on June 11, even tho' they fail to identify Saga as a synesthete).

According to the Times, "Saga is afflicted with ... a strange gift for visualizing words: ''The word rape -- a very dark purple, strangely royal.' ''Godfather: Red as a ruby, bottomless vibrant purplish red, a big word, impressive but airy, the silk dragon in a Chinese parade.' ''Accommodations. (A long, long train, all its cars the same dark blue.)' "

There are many more of these lovely word associations, and the book is a great summer read.

August 03, 2006

Citation Tracking

Roy Tennant's excellent library literature abstracting service Current Cites points to an interesting short article about citation tracking:

Bakkalbasi, Nisa, Kathleen Bauer, and Janis Glover, et. al. "Three Options for Citation Tracking: Google Scholar, Scopus and Web of Science" (pdf) Biomedical Digital Libraries. 3(7)(2006). - You want a citation database that gives you the highest number of citations possible for articles. Should you use Google Scholar, Scopus, or Web of Science? This article is "an observational study examining these three databases; comparing citation counts for articles from two disciplines (oncology and condensed matter physics) and two years (1993 and 2003)." Its findings: which database is best depends upon the discipline and the year of publication. - CB

Current Cites - ISSN: 1060-2356 is hosted by the community at

Copyright 2006 by Roy Tennant

August 01, 2006

More library promo ideas

One of my students recommended, which I resisted out of fear of a time sink. Then one of my favorite professors suggested we search YouTube for librarian videos, which I also resisted for the same reason.

Then I succumbed. Oh my.

You *must* watch the THE ADVENTURES OF Super Librarian - an advertisement for the McCracken County Public Library in Paducah, KY. Their comments about the video:

"Faster than free internet
More powerful than a stack of reference books
Protector of Knowledge and Free Entertainment"

We definitely need to do more of this to promote ourselves!

July 31, 2006

Wikipedia's Picture of the Day

What fun: wikipedia posts a Picture of the Day, with high-resolution images often available.

Today's picture (link goes to July; scroll to the bottom to see) is a lovely shot of Mount Hood in Oregon. I've also found — and downloaded for my desktop — photos of hereford cattle; an upside down White-breasted nuthatch; a painting of Charlotte Corday (reminding me of the Al Stewart song of the same name, which it seems he recorded, or at least sang, with Tori Amos, but I digress); and some gorgeous Radiolarians (amoeboid protozoa) .

Ok, enough procrastinating. Back to work!

July 28, 2006

Links for Vision Therapy

If you're interested in learning more about vision therapy, behavioral optometry, or developmental optometry (in reference to my post about Stereo Sue and my eye doctor), here are some links which will provide additional information.

First, according to my eye doctor, find a doctor who can provide a good diagnosis of your vision problem and provide a customized vision therapy plan. Ophthalmologists do not practice vision therapy, and neither do many optometrists. Behavioral/developmental optometrists are trained in optometric vision therapy, and most are members of the College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD). You can search for a Fellow of COVD, ie a doctor with FCOVD listed after his or her name, at the COVD site.

The following sites are part of the Optometrists Network:

  • VisionStories Read many answers to the question "What changes have you seen as a result of a Vision Therapy program" or "How has Vision Therapy changed your life?"

  • Vision3D Explains what stereo vision is and provides lots of games and puzzles and optical illusions

  • Public Information about vision therapy. Provides links to information about vision therapy, convergence insufficiency, double vision, lazy eye, and strabismus. Some links are within while others are off-site.

  • What is Vision Therapy? Links about vision therapy, FAQs, and definitions.

Other sites:

Hope that helps!

July 26, 2006

World Music

Last week, Future Tense had an episode about National Geographic's World Music site.

From the Future Tense web site: "National Geographic is known for bringing the world alive through its magazine and television documentaries. Now it's aiming to educate the world about diverse cultures through music. National Geographic World Music is a music store, and includes videos, photos, maps and features from National Geographic Magazine."

Songs are 99c each, and you can listen to them in a nice streaming audio format. I liked a woman named Souad Massi, whom they say "writes some of the most gorgeous Algerian pop to be found on either side of the Mediterranean." You can hear 1 minute snippets of each song from her album Mesk Eli, so you get a real flavor of the CD.
Incidentally, eMusic has the album, translated to Honeysuckle .

Nice way to hear new music!

July 24, 2006

Preserving Languages

Fun podcast recently from Science Friday about"a plan to preserve dying languages before they disappear entirely. The National Science Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Smithsonian institution are planning approximately $2 million in funding to fight the 'imminent death of an estimated half of the 6000-7000 currently used human languages.' "

Joe Palca interviewed D. Terence Langendoen, who has the fabulous title of "Director, Cyberinfrastructure / Co-Director, Linguistics Program / Division of Behavioral & Cognitive Sciences at the National Science Foundation." Read about some NSF linguistics & cog sci grants!

The show starts out with a guy speaking Dena'ina, and you can read about that language and hear the Dena'inan word of the day (a recent word was "hnalqin", which means "warm/hot"). You can browse over 200 sound recordings (sadly, you can't hear them); you can read a bit about the Dena'ina language; and you can see a map charting the Athabascan family of languages.


July 20, 2006

Neuroscience Links online

I'm just getting around to reading the Spring 2006 issue of Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship and especially enjoyed the article called Mapping the Brain: Resources for Researchers in Neuroscience by Victoria Shelton, George Mason University.

Shelton says that her "webliography annotates selected web-based resources for researchers in neuroscience and is primarily intended for librarians who assist neuroscientists engaged in research."

Here are her Top 4 web sites for neuroscientists -- but there's much more (including links to online brain atlases)

July 19, 2006

SirsiDynix Institutes are Podcasting!

Check out SirsiDynix's podcasts! I've posted about their Instutites before -- they cover topics like wikis for librarians, customer service, and the one I saw, on electronic resource managers. They feature well-known names in library-land talking about hot technologies, services, and products in library-land.

They're free and very professional.

My only beef with them has been that the Institutes (live webinars) play only with PCs. So I either had to watch them live, which I did once, or try to catch them some other time while I'm at work and have access to my PeeCee.

But now! They're available as podcasts! Yippee!

Podcasted topics include a discussion of The OCLC Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources Report; a 2-part series called Beginner's Guide to Podcasting; and Steven M. Cook on The Center of it All: How Libraries Can Be in the Forefront of Building Active Communities.

Haven't heard one yet, but they are available for subscription in iTunes. I couldn’t find tem when I searched SirsiDynix in the ITMS (iTunes Music Store), but I was able to connect directly from the Sirsi web site. This itunes graphic link should work, too, but ymmv.

(also found some podcasts from the recent Special Libraries Association conference.)

July 17, 2006

Animal Planet podcast

Heard a fun podcast from Discovery's Animal Planet called Ultimate Guide: House Cats (mp3 file; full list of Animal Planet podcasts ). Covered some scientific studies (did you know that cats can measure speed with their paw pads?) and some human-cat interactions.

Here’s what Animal Planet says:
"They've been living with people since the beginning of civilization, and yet the've become domesticated without losing their essential "catness," their independence, their ability to live without us. But they obviously do like people, and a lot of people do liek them. People and cats: it's a partnership. Learn all about our feline friends in Animal Planet's Ultimate Guide to House Cats."


July 16, 2006

Off-topic: new favorite band

Heard these guys a few times on XM's fabulous music channel the Loft (which, frankly, is why I'm listening to fewer podcasts ...), and I want to promote them my own self 'cause they're so great:

The Guggenheim Grotto are *terrific*. You can hear / download a few songs from their web site, and their CD "Waltzing Alone" is on iTunes & eMusic. You can't buy their CD in stores, yet, as they only just signed with a record label.

If you like Winterpills and/or Kings of Convience, you'll like these guys too.

July 15, 2006

Promoting Libraries Locally?

So I was at a soccer game the other night (s), and across the field, I saw a large advertisement / poster for "Ludlow Community" ... Immediately my thoughts turned to the library, but I kept reading, and reread "Ludlow Community Market."

This got my brain whirling: what if libraries advertised at soccer & other local games?

"Ludlow Public Library" in large letters, followed by Sweet!

And later, I heard on the PA system, "Follow the Pioneers on WKRAP radio" and "Watch highlights of the game on WONK tv".

What about this, too: "Read about soccer at the library."

And you know how when you go see local theater, music, etc. the playbills are full of ads for local businesses? How about if they could give some discounted or "public service announcement" space to the local library?


In related news, I have started a blog explaining to my non-library friends how to use the local library system. I'll post infrequently, but I hope it helps people use our great resources more effectively. Let me know (here, not there) if you want to play along.

Check it out at Libraries for My Friends.

July 13, 2006

Scholarly Research on Vision Therapy

There's not much scholarly material about vision therapy, but here are links to searches in PubMed on related topics:

About Vision Therapy

Got a few posts from people wanting to know what I did for vision therapy so they could do it themselves. Well, I'm a librarian, not a doctor -- and I started VT over 5 years ago -- so I don't feel comfortable promoting the exercises *I* did.

Instead, as a librarian, I recommend doing some targeted research. I'm going to pull together some useful web sites & post 'em here, but in the meantime, here's a good approach:

You need to find a doctor who can provide a good diagnosis of your vision problem and provide a customized vision therapy plan. Ophthalmologists do not practice vision therapy, and neither do many optometrists. Behavioral/developmental optometrists are trained in optometric vision therapy, and most are members of the College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD). To find such an optometrist, go to and click on the Find A Doctor button. Look particularly for a Fellow of COVD, ie a doctor with FCOVD listed after his or her name.

There are some doctors who may provide some "vision therapy" but are not rigorously trained in the techniques as my eye doctor was. An FCOVD doctor is well trained.

Here's some info about vision therapy - it's from a doctor's practice, but it might be useful and doesn't look too commercial:

Try this Google search for educational sites about vision therapy, developmental optometry, or behavioral optometry:

site:edu "vision therapy" | "developmental optometry"| "behavioral optometry"

Hope this is helpful -- more later.

July 12, 2006

New book: Designing Interfaces

I just started reading a cool new book called Designing Interfaces. The subtitle is "Patterns for Effective Interface Design", and it's about ways that "interfaces" (software applications, web sites, PDAs, etc.) can be designed to best meet the needs of users.

Bookpool's blurb says "Designing Interfaces captures those best practices as design patterns -- solutions to common design problems, tailored to the situation at hand. Each pattern contains practical advice that you can put to use immediately, plus a variety of examples illustrated in full color. You'll get recommendations, design alternatives, and warnings on when not to use them.

"Each chapter's introduction describes key design concepts that are often misunderstood, such as affordances, visual hierarchy, navigational distance, and the use of color."

So far, so good.

Designing Interfaces: Patterns for Effective Interaction Design
Jenifer Tidwell
O'Reilly Media, Paperback, Published November 2005, 331 pages, ISBN 0596008031

July 11, 2006

Mirror Neurons & Video Games

Been reading about mirror neurons a lot lately; first in the April issue of Scientific American Mind (abstract only) and now in the New York Times (from June 4, subscription may be required).

SciAm suggests that mirror neurons are how we learn from the world — learning language, for instance, but also maybe why we yawn when someone else does (are you yawning? I am ...). My buddy Ramachandran is quoted as saying that mirror neurons may be as important to psychology as DNA is to biology.

The New York Times says that some golfers and Nascar drivers make use of mirror neurons by playing video games to improve their skills. It helps them visualize situations they will encounter in their sport. The Penn State football coach is using Madden's NFL game to help train his new players.

Both articles are referring to research conducted by Marco Iacoboni, a mirror-neuron researcher at UCLA's Brain Mapping Center. You can see some of what he's written "recently" from Google Scholar.

Finally, the radio show / podcast Future Tense recently discussed research showing that "that surgeons who warm up by playing video games perform better at simulated surgery." They didn't mention mirror neurons in the podcast, but I bet there is a connection ...

Scientific American Mind
April 2006
A Revealing Reflection
By David Dobbs
Mirror neurons are providing stunning insights into everything from how we learn to walk to how we empathize with others

New York Times
June 4, 2006
Sports / Play Magazine: The Home-Screen Advantage
Hooray for mirror neurons! It turns out that video games can be good training tools. Just ask a Nascar driver or a Penn State QB

Future Tense
May 30, 2006
Jon Gordon
Surgeons who warm up playing video games make fewer mistakes

July 08, 2006

Malcolm Gladwell on Cesar Milan

Have you seen the Dog Whisperer on the National Geographic channel? It's fascinating, as a pet owner (cats, not dogs, but I can make some leaps) and as a fan of animal behavior science. Cesar Milan seems to have an instinctive understanding of dog behavior — don't know if it's good science, but it certainly seems valid intuitively.

In the episodes I've seen, Milan mostly tells the dog owners to spend more time with their dogs, preferably walking / exercising them. He says the three things that are most important (not sure of the order here) are: Exercise / intellectual stimulation; Discipline; and Love. Many owners are heavy on the third but lighter on the first two. I will watch more to see if there are any dog tips which can be applied to cat lives. "More exercise" would not interest my felines. But I digress.

Malcolm Gladwell interviewed Cesar Milan in the May 22 issue of The New Yorker. There's also a New Yorker Q&A with Gladwell at the New Yorker site.

WHAT THE DOG SAW. By: Gladwell, Malcolm. New Yorker, 5/22/2006, Vol. 82
Issue 14, p48-57.
Sadly, this isn't on Gladwell's blog yet ... maybe soon? It's in Academic Search Premier & the other usual library databases, though.

July 07, 2006

User Interface & Search Screen Design, from JASIST

Finally! I'm recovered enough from teaching to start reading the journals that have piled up patiently awaiting my attention.

The Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology recently had a special section entitled "Perspectives on Search User Interfaces: Best Practices and Future Visions". There are some fascinating and short (i.e., easily readable) articles on various aspects of screen design and the user interface.

I'm working on a project to redesign the public interface of a (confusing) database, and I found several nuggets very useful:

Regarding the ability to match a user's search term to "what the database calls it" (as I explain it to my students), Resnick and Vaughan say, "Jefferson and Nagy ([2002]) report that the probability that both a searcher and search system will apply the same term for a given concept is only 10-20%." WOW!!! Only a 10-20% chance that the user and the database will be using the same term?!

Resnick & Vaughan continue with these best practice suggestions for the search user interface:
  • "Simple ideas such as increasing the size of the text input box to encourage users to input longer queries have shown some promise." and

  • A recent study by Bandos and Resnick ([2004]) found that users generate more effective queries and are more satisfied with interfaces that contain brief guidance on search syntax and semantics. These were provided in the form of search hints, located adjacent to the search query input box.

Peter Gremett, who does UI Design at AOL, reported on a usability evaluation of Amazon, and said: "The majority of the time users browsed first and then searched when necessary. Search was typically used when browsing areas became too busy, ambiguous, or lacked visibly relevant content."

And finally, in a nice summary of the user search experience, Barbara Wildemuth summarized Shneiderman, et al's research suggesting that "the search process consists of four phases:
  • formulation of the search strategy,
  • the action of submitting the search,
  • the review of the search results, and
  • the refinement of the search strategy (indicating that the entire process is iterative)."
(bullets mine)

It's a great, easy-to-read series of articles and if you're doing any kind of search design, I highly recommend them. You can read the abstracts for free at the Wiley / JASIST site, and you can get the articles you want via your library or Interlibrary Loan.

July 06, 2006

Alcohol => Hippocampus => Blackout

That's what I got out of the frightening story in Tuesday's New York Times story The Grim Neurology of Teenage Drinking. Apparently adolescent rats are more severely affected by serious alcohol consumption than are adults; this seems to be true for adolescent humans as well (tho’ much harder to test). What is most affected is the hippocampus, which affects learning (rat testing) and memory. Scientists discovered that teens experience many more blackouts than previously known.

I read the story on Tuesday and listened to a podcast interview between Science editor David Corcoran and the reporter, Katy Butler, on the Science Times podcast today.

Very troubling.

July 03, 2006

All right!

From yesterday’s Times comes a treatise On Language used in rock music, specifically the difference between "all right" and "alright".

Judge for yourself!

July 02, 2006

More than Déjà Vu?

Some interesting insight into memory, déjà vu, déjà veçu, and more from today's New York Times magazine:

July 2, 2006
Déjà Vu, Again and Again
People with a syndrome called déjà vécu spend much
of their time living through experiences they are
convinced have happened before. Researchers think the
phenomenon may be a clue to some of the enduring
mysteries of memory.

July 01, 2006

Stereo Sue and me

My eye doctor was interviewed by Oliver Sacks last year! He wrote about her in the New Yorker! (that's about as close as I'll come to being published in the New Yorker, so I'm rather excited).

Here's the deal: Dr. Theresa Ruggiero prescribed vision therapy for both "Stereo Sue" and me (tho' not at the same time). We both had miraculous recoveries of our stereo vision. Truly amazing, in my experience -- my biggest revelation was three dimensional vision, especially on paper, and especially with colors.

Stereo Sue had an equally amazing experience, which she shared with Oliver Sacks, who wrote the aforementioned article about it. If you want to read that, you can go to you local library & look it up in Academic Search Premier, LexisNexis, or another database with the full-text of the New Yorker.

Here are the details:

STEREO SUE. By: Sacks, Oliver. New Yorker, 6/19/2006, Vol. 82 Issue 18, p64-73.

She was also recently on NPR's Morning Edition -- read about her experiences on the NPR site, see photos of her (including one with Dr. Ruggiero & Oliver Sacks) then track down the New Yorker article.

Fascinating stuff!