January 31, 2007

Dan Dennett on All in the Mind

Natasha Mitchell did a great interview with Dan Dennett which aired a few weeks ago on All In The Mind. He discussed his new book Breaking the spell : religion as a natural phenomenon, and pleasantly asked the tough questions she asked him. They had a nice rapport, and it was a fun interview.

You can listen to the podcast or read the transcript. When All In The Mind is hot, it's a terrific cog sci listen!

January 28, 2007

Usability Talk

I'm going to do a short presentation on usability for Simmons GSLIS (West) on March 24. I'll talk about good usability principles and show some examples from some recent testing I helped do at work. If you're part of the GSLIS community, I hope you'll attend!

Here are some basic readings to get you thinking about usability:

  • Cobus, Laura, Valeda Frances Dent, and Anita Ondrusek. "How Twenty-Eight Users Helped Redesign an Academic Library Web Site." Information Technology & Libraries 44.3 (2005): 232-46. Academic Search Premier.

  • Krug, Steve. Don't make me think : a common sense approach to web usabiliity. Que, 2006.

  • Nielsen, Jakob. Top Ten Mistakes in Web Design. Alertbox: Current Issues in Web Usability, 1996, updated 2007.

  • ---. Usability 101. Alertbox: Current Issues in Web Usability, 2003.

  • Nielsen, Jakob, and Marie Tahir. Homepage Usability : 50 Websites Deconstructed. New Riders, 2002.

How Doctors Make Decisions

Interesting article in this week's The New Yorker about how doctors think / make decisions. What's the Trouble, a medical dispatch by Jerome Groopman is subtitled "How Doctors Think." I'd say it's also about how they make decisions, and specifically three kinds of thinking that lead to bad decisions on their part. Malcolm Gladwell covered this a bit in Blink : the power of thinking without thinking, but this is a personal essay on topic.

Groopman describes three kinds of thinking that adversely affect doctors' decision making, with three different anecdotes.
1. Representativeness errors -- you believe what you see and "fail to consider possibilities" that contradict your mental template. The opposite of Occam's razor?
2. Availability errors -- when you see six patients in a row with the flu, and the seventh presents with similar symptoms, you're more apt to diagnose the seventh with the flu too (kind of like word priming, I'd guess); first described by Tversky & Kahneman, in Availability: A heuristic for judging frequency and probability. Cognitive Psychology in 1973. (wikipedia on availability)
3. Personal feelings for a patient -- The good Dr. Groopman admits to missing a diagnosis because he was reluctant to subject his "favorite patient on the ward" to an extensive (and buttocks) exam.

This is interesting for the medical profession, but it has (less dire) implications for librarians too -- I know I make assumptions at the reference desk which color the questions I ask. Sometimes I guess right, but not always, and then I have to backtrack, and occasionally start over.

Finally, Groopman refers to Achieving quality in clinical decision making: cognitive strategies and detection of bias, by Pat Croskerry, published in the 2002 Academic Emergency Medicine for more info.

January 22, 2007

Oxford DNB Podcasts!

Wow, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) is offering podcasts podcasts of some of its entries. You can get them in iTunes, or browse their past (podcast) biographees online. They include Maurice Gibb, of the Bee Gees; Alan May, physicist and spy; Barry Sheene, racing motorcyclist; and Denis Thatcher, prime ministerial consort (ha!). There are new podcasts daily.

Great way to move an awesome print resource into the digital age. Browse some entries in the old-fashioned print format.

January 21, 2007

Brain Trauma --> Concussion

Very sad story in last week's New York Times about the suicide of former Philadelphia Eagles safety Andre Waters. Turns out there is a strong connection between repeated concussions and depression (leading to suicide), and also a strong correlation between repeated concussions and early-onset Alzheimer's.

In fact, "neuropathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu of the University of Pittsburgh ... determined that Mr. Waters’s brain tissue had degenerated into that of an 85-year-old man with similar characteristics as those of early-stage Alzheimer’s victims." Yipes! Waters was 44.

I love football as much as the next girl (ok, probably much more than the next girl), but I don't like to see my boys get hurt like this. I especially like the part where this connection was made by former football player / wrestler and *non-scientist* Chris Nowinski. Fascinating story.

Expert Ties Ex-Player’s Suicide to Brain Damage - New York Times
see also the accompanying graphic Cost of Concussions, showing tissue from Waters' brain and that of a normal brain.
Byline: Alan Schwarz
published on: January 18, 2007

January 19, 2007

Readers' Advisory via LibraryThing?

Heard Tim Spaulding's talk at last October's NEASIS&T Embedded Library program (link to podcast & more info) about LibraryThing and I got inspired. I'd heard about it for ages, of course, but finally I had some time to play with it today.

I plan to use it to keep track of the novels I read. I can never remember what I read before the current title (and I go through about 1 a week) and it seems like a loss not to remember these books. Some of them are great, many are good enough (esp. since I stop reading if they're no good) -- but I only remember a very few.

I had been finding book reviews in LexisNexis, printing them out, and storing them in a binder. I have about 3 years worth of reviews, but I gave that up last fall -- just too much work. But now, a few months into not tracking what I'm reading, I miss it.

I (loosely) cataloged about half of my recent reads in LibraryThing -- I can remember my current book (easy enough to double check that title!) and the one just before that, but earlier than that? No way. Maybe LibraryThing will do the trick.

As I was madly adding books, it occurred to me that this is a great Readers' Advisory resource. I came up with several books I want to read based on what I'd already added to LibraryThing, which I tagged 2B Read (and indicating which books are at UConn!).

Wouldn't this be a fun thing to do with patrons at the desk?

Facelift for the Blog

Just doing a bit of renovation on the blog. Perhaps I've been watching a bit too much This Old House ...

January 18, 2007

Presentation Tips

I attended two half-day training sessions recently on presentations & public speaking & came away with several great tips. I'm writing them up here so I don't forget them -- and maybe they'll help you, too!

The training itself was terrific and the presenter modeled what she was teaching us. The teacher was Chris Hand Parliman, principal of FALCON (Future Advantage, Learning, Consulting and Organizational Networking).

Tips for a good intro
* I have a great concept of how the session should start: with a quick beat of silence. I did this by accident during the training session -- I was trying to find the second hand on the clock so I could keep my presentation to 1 minute as requested -- and the silence & expectant looks of the audience were empowering and almost enticing for the class. I want to do that again!
* The intro should take ~10% of the class time (50 minute class = 5 minute intro; three hour class = ~20 minute intro -- that seems a bit long for a weekly class, but we'll see ...). The end should also take ~10% -- same # of minutes as above.
* Tell class / students:
* "Don't be afraid to say 'I don't understand'."
* "Share your experience & knowledge with the class if / when it's relevant"
* "You are all adults & if you have needs (bathroom, stretch, another cup of coffee -- take care of them. Don't need to ask me!"
* Interesting icebreaker: talk to the person next to you and find out enough about them to say whey they're you're hero. We got some great responses in our session!

Tips for the classroom
* Reorient folks after the break -- quickly say something like "we finished our discussion of X before the break, now we're going to talk about Y."
* Maybe have classical music playing in the background as they walk in? (this was an idea generated in the session, but I'm not sure it was Chris'). I will try this with naxos -- a wee bit distracting, comforting, maybe will make folks more comfortable talking among themselves?

Tips for presenting more generally
* Keep your thumb right where you're speaking on your notes -- and move the thumb when you switch to the next topic. That way, when you look down at your notes, you know where you are in your presentation.
* Remember to breathe & put spaces between words so the audience has a chance to digest what you've just said. Try to avoid "ums" and "uhs" -- distracting for audience & doesn't leave time for processing. (I'm sure there's some great cog sci research on this!)
* Pay attention to the side of the room that is your non-dominant hand. If you are left-handed, you'll have a tendency to look at the left side of the room, so try to consciously pay attention to the right side of the room.
* Fidgeting takes away from your point, so have something small to fidget with (I think pens are too big, but that's what I like -- 'cause then you can write with them, too). Also, try to time your body fidgets -- i.e., movement -- with a change in point. So if you're talking about X and X and X -- stay in one place. Then M_O_V_E when you start to talk about Y.
* If you ask for questions and there are none, say "last time I taught this class, people asked ABC" and answer ABC question. Even if it's not true, you can imagine a
* Tell them what you're doing when you're not speaking -- i.e. look at your notes and say "I want to make sure I covered everything. Hmmm. Yup, that's it."

* Another cog sci tip: if you use notes, put some blue / green / pink paper behind your notes so that the audience doesn't see WHITE paper by your face. It's harsh and can be distracting. Some of my classmates tried their presentations with blue or pink paper, and I was much better able to focus on their face & what they were saying. Fascinating but true!
* Don't speak when writing on the board. This helps you write better, and it helps the audience take in what you're writing. After you're done, you can review what you wrote -- and they can read it. :-)

What about problems?
We talked about some problems that can arise from the audience -- here are the answers to four I identified with ...
1. Hostile response from someone(s) about what you're saying.
Them: "You mean I have to ... &*(^@# ?!"
You: "I know you know a lot about this PersonName -- but let me get through this part and then we'll discuss during the Q&A. Don't let me forget!"
Take control back, but don't forget them. Chris emphasizes that your setup is very important here -- if you've said there will be Q&A at the end (at 1:45, say), then in this situation, you can say "I'll be done with my part in 10 minutes, and then we can discuss this." And *do* discuss it -- but on your terms, not theirs.
2. Comments that aren't relevant in the middle of your presentation.
Them: "blah blah blah blah blah blah blah "
You: "Good point, PersonName. Does anyone else want to comment on that?"
You step in when they breathe and MOVE to another spot as you say your phrase. You're changing the focus from them back to you.
3. They interrupt your awesome presentation when you don't want to be interrupted.
Them: "I think that we should be talking about the environment"
You: "Great idea -- we'll come back to that in a few minutes / during the Q&A"
You praise them for a good idea, then defer the comment until YOU want to talk about it. AND you walk away while you say your thing to indicate that you're going back to YOUR topic.
4. If a few of them are talking while you are, stop and say "Your talking is distracting me and the rest of the class. You can ask me a question if you don't understand, or take the conversation into the hall, or talk to me during the break - - but please stop talking while I am."

Great ideas -- thanks Chris!

January 16, 2007

Cog Sci Publications @ Hampshire

Just discovered a cool way to use Scopus author affiliation + RSS feed to create a dynamic list of new publications.

Check out what folks in the School of Cognitive Science at Hampshire have written lately:

Note that this is only publications that are indexed by Scopus, so it may not be a comprehensive list. Also, if you're not at an institution that has Scopus, you won't be able to see more than this list.

Still, it's a great mix of technology & LIS, and a nice way to promote current publications by faculty, colleagues, etc.

(you can also see what the UConn Communication Science faculty have written lately...)

January 14, 2007

Labels (tags) on Blogspot Blogs

Wow! Labels (aka "tags") on posts for Blogspot blogs. Just had some fun creating labels for my last 100 posts.

Take a look:

Find labels on posts that interest you, and find "more like this". Neat!

All in all, I like the new Blogger. Definitely more Safari-friendly!

January 13, 2007

Cooperative Eye Hypothesis

Story on the evolution of vision in humans & primates:
Opinion: For Human Eyes Only
New York Times, 1/13/07
"Trying to explain why the whites of human eyes are larger than those of other primates leads to one of the deepest and most controversial topics in the modern study of human evolution: the evolution of cooperation."

Tomasello describes some fascinating work in which he & his colleagues study how humans & primates follow their fellow's eye / head movement. Human infants, it seems, follow eye movements and ignore head movements of their mothers, while primates follow head movement and don't pay much attention to eye movement of other primates.


Tomasello says "One possible answer, what we have called the cooperative eye hypothesis, is that especially visible eyes made it easier to coordinate close-range collaborative activities in which discerning where the other was looking and perhaps what she was planning, benefited both participants."

Browse some Google results for "Cooperative Eye Hypothesis" for more info, or check out his article in the Journal of Human Evolution; "Reliance on head versus eyes in the gaze following of great apes and human infants: the cooperative eye hypothesis." In Press, Corrected Proof, Available online 20 October 2006, by Michael Tomasello, Brian Hare, et al. ($30 for the non-library savvy, or request from Interlibrary Loan).

January 10, 2007

Usability Results Very Promising!

I spent the past year working with some colleagues on a redesign for our Research Database Locator. That's the database mechanism we use to maintain & deliver the Libraries' electronic resources to our end users.

You can see the existing product (we call it the ERM, for "electronic resource manager") -- it can be a bit overwhelming, even to those in the know.

And here is the redesigned Research Database Locator, now in beta.

It looks nothing like I thought it would, but early usabilty results indicate that it is wildly usable!

Want One

Apple's new iPhone.

Hmmm, and my current cell phone contract is up in March ...

edited to add: see David Pogue's New York Times column on the topic, and also his answers to frequently asked questions about the iPhone.

January 08, 2007

Lexicographical Timeline

Merriam-Webster has posted a nifty timeline of "Milestones in American lexicography—1806-2006", "From Noah Webster to Merriam-Webster".

Thanks to Gary Price's Resource Shelf ...

January 07, 2007


See some notes about using PubMed at my Libraries For My Friends blog.

Welcome Darnarian

We couldn't stay a one-cat house for long, so last week, we adopted Darnarian McCats. (no relation to, but name inspired by, the Eagles' wide receiver Darnerien McCants).

We think he's mighty cute, if a wee bit stinky.

I've been reading Linda P. Case's textbook the Cat: its behavior, nutrition & health which has *lovely* illustrations of various cat behaviors. It's introductory level an is a useful primer on aspects of cat behavior -- and there is a handy (current) bibliography and list of references.

I also recommend Stephen Budiansky's The character of cats : the origins, intelligence, behavior, and stratagems of Felis silvestris catus.

But back to Darnarian. Favorite food? Any. Favorite beverage? Water. Favorite water source? Toss up between the toilet and the tub. Favorite activity? Galloping. Favorite game? mousie soccer. Age? roughly 12 months, give or take.

(eta: photo of sister Emma, who is not included anywhere in this blog. apologies & crunchies to her for the oversight)

Fiction Science

I just finished a fabulous novel: Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. Ishiguro wrote The Remains of the Day, and while this shares the exquisite sadness and beautifully-drawn characters of the 1989 novel, it's really nothing like it.

Never Let Me Go is more like Harry Potter meets The Handmaid's Tale. I won't say any more, because I don't want to spoil the story.

But if you like Harry Potter & Margaret Atwood, I highly recommend this one, too. Lemme know what you think.

January 02, 2007

MRI as Telescope

Great descriptive article about what an MRI is & what kinds of information can be gained from using high-end MRIs (fMRIs, DTIs, etc ...) in the Dec 2005 / Jan 2006 issue of Technology Review.

MRI: A Window on the Brain by Paul Raeburn, 12/14/2005. They say: "Advances in brain imaging could lead to improved diagnosis of psychiatric ailments, better drugs, and earlier help for learning disorders."

Raeburn quotes Robert Desimone, director of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, who indicates that MRI is "the most powerful tool for studying the human brain. I liken it to the invention of the telescope for astronomers." Desimone notes that the arrival of the telescope did not immediately revolutionize the scientific understanding of the universe. That took time, as researchers learned how to use their new tool.

The article explains a bit about MRIs (in layman's terms!) and talks about how they could be useful in diagnosing bipolar disorder and possible problems with premature babies. Fascinating stuff.

The Technology Review web is worth checking out too ...

UConn Cog Sci Colloquia -- spring 2007

Here are the upcoming Cognitive Science Colloquia for spring 2007:

  • February 9th: Richard Ashley, Northwestern University, on musical cognition.

  • March 30th: Randy Beer, Indiana University, on coordinated behavior.

  • April 13th: Mark Changizi, Caltech / RPI, on theoretical neurobiology.

The talks will be held at 4pm on Friday afternoons at UConn / Storrs.

btw, there was an interesting article in Sunday's NYTimes about musical cognition.
Music of the Hemispheres
Sunday, Jan. 31, 2006
eta: abridged article available free at the Toronto Star

Images from an experiment to locate the neural regions of the brain involved in listening to music. Daniel Levitin and another scientist scanned the brains of 13 people as they listened to scrambled and unscrambled versions of a tune.
"Images from an experiment to locate the neural regions of the brain involved in listening to music. Daniel Levitin and another scientist scanned the brains of 13 people as they listened to scrambled and unscrambled versions of a tune."