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!