February 26, 2007

You are in charge of your email!

Do you check your email first thing in the morning? Be honest! I confess to checking my email at least 2d or 3d thing, both at work and at home.

academic coach provides 5 tips on how to be more productive by spending less (but more concentrated) time with your email.

Starting the day with email is no good, says coach. Start by spending 30 minutes with your major work (she's coaching academics, so she suggests either your research or your dissertation, but this could easily be modified). Other suggestions include turning off the "You've Got Mail!" alerts (which I agree is more conducive to productivity) and closing email between sessions. This sounds very scary in my busy office ... I don't know if I can pull that one off. Then again, tip #4 "Decide on a reasonable number of times per day to check your messages" might be useful.

The ensuing discussion by Coach's readers is useful, too.

February 22, 2007

Pigeon Clusters (PCs)

According to this Google press release, they use pigeon clusters (PCs) to "compute the relative value of web pages faster than human editors or machine-based algorithms."

This is called "Pigeon Rank", and here's how it works:

"When a search query is submitted to Google, it is routed to a data coop where monitors flash result pages at blazing speeds. When a relevant result is observed by one of the pigeons in the cluster, it strikes a rubber-coated steel bar with its beak, which assigns the page a PigeonRank value of one. For each peck, the PigeonRank increases. Those pages receiving the most pecks, are returned at the top of the user's results page with the other results displayed in pecking order."

Read the press release for more details. Google assures us that the pigeons are well treated in their data coops and have adequate beak rooms for their convenience.

Thanks to tp for the heads up on this technology; I believe he found it through this terrific 2 page Google cheat sheet (pdf version) from adelaider.com.

February 19, 2007

LITA's Top Tech Trends Podcasting

LITA's (ALA's Library & Information Technology Association) got some podcasts going over at the LITA Blog. Yay! Now if you didn't go to ALA's Midwinter Meeting, you can still hear various library thinkers talking about their Top Tech Trends.

They say: "There are seven segments in all for about an hour and forty-five minutes of trending goodness. For the sake of immediacy, this is pretty much the raw audio–not much editing or finessing." I'm especially eager to hear Clifford Lynch (13 min), Andrew Pace (5 min), and the General Discussion (28 minutes).

Some, but not all, of these are also available in iTunes.

February 18, 2007

Do Animals Predict Earthquakes?

Possibly, argues Matt Kaplan in the Feb. 17 issue of New Scientist magazine.

"The idea that animals can predict earthquakes has ancient origins. Way back in 373 BC the Greek historian Thucydides recorded descriptions of rats, dogs, snakes and weasels deserting the city of Helice in droves just days before an earthquake of catastrophic proportions hit. It was the first in a long line of such anecdotes. There is also no shortage of theories about what might be going on. What has been lacking, however, is any real scientific data linking strange animal behaviour with earthquakes."

He reports that an unsuccessful study by Stanley Coren, psychologist at the University of British Columbia of dogs & depression yielded instead some intriguing insight into how / if animals -- dogs -- can predict earthquakes.

Instead of noticing any difference in their affect due to the season, Coren did notice that almost half of the dogs were agitated and extra-active the day before an earthquake about 200 miles away. The increase in both activity and anxiety were well above chance and may have been due to the impending earthquake. Coren speculated that the dogs may have heard vibrations: this was supported by the fact that the hearing-impaired dogs didn't show signs of agitation, while dogs with small heads had higher levels of agitation than the average (dogs with small heads apparently are more sensitive to high frequency sounds than others).

Kaplan concludes the Coren analysis: "Taken together, Coren's results present an alluring hypothesis. He suggests that the kind of high-frequency sounds that many dogs can hear are emitted before an impending earthquake, perhaps from rocks scraping or breaking underground."

So. Not resounding evidence, but definitely intriguing.

"Beastly powers; Surely it is too much to believe that animals can predict earthquakes when we haven't cracked it ourselves?" Matt Kaplan, New Scientist, February 17, 2007, pg. 34-37. Full-text not free online at the New Scientist web site, but you can get it from LexisNexis or Academic Search Premier (after a 1-month embargo)

February 17, 2007

Why I Love CogSci

The Feb. 12 issue of the New Yorker had an extensive article in Pat and Paul Churchland, philosophers of mind at UCSD. So much cool stuff!

I'll quote snippets of the article, but if you like this kind of thing, it's worth tracking down the whole article.

About marriage: "Paul sometimes thinks of Pat and himself as two hemispheres of the same brain-differentiated in certain functions but bound together by tissue and neuronal pathways worn in unique directions by shared incidents and habit."

About "truth": Paul (again) "... always remembers that, however certain he may be about something, however airtight an argument appears or however fundamental an intuition, there is always a chance that both are completely wrong, and that reality lies in some other place that he hasn't looked because he doesn't know it's there." (emphasis added)

and on to philosophy, sort of, and neuroscience.

About the study of the brain a few decades ago, quoting Paul but (I think) based on Pat's experience: " 'There were cases when a split-brain patient would be reading a newspaper, and, since it's only the left brain that processes language, the right brain gets bored as hell, and since the right brain controls the left arm the person would find that his left hand would suddenly grab the newspaper and throw it to the ground!' Paul says." Bingo! My right brain almost threw this article down many times, but my left brain was very engaged. Question for self: how to keep the right brain busy when working hard with the the left brain?

About Pat & Paul's notion of philosophy as it relates to science: "Philosophy could still play a role in science: it could examine the concepts that scientists were working with, testing them for coherence, and it could serve as science's speculative branch, imagining hypotheses that were too outlandish or too provisional for a working scientist to bother with but which might, in the future, yield unexpected fruit."

Pat, Francis Crick, and consciousness: " 'He [Francis Crick] thought the strategy of looking for the neural correlates of consciousness was likely to be fruitful, but I became very skeptical of it. It seemed to me more likely that we were going to need to know about attention, about memory, about perception, about emotions - that we were going to have to solve many of the problems about the way the brain works before we were going to understand consciousness, and then it would sort of just fall out.' " (emphasis added)

On language, "... both [Paul] and Pat like to speculate about a day when whole chunks of English, especially the bits that constitute folk psychology, are replaced by scientific words that call a thing by its proper name rather than some outworn metaphor. Surely this will happen, they think, and as people learn to speak differently they will learn to experience differently, and sooner or later even their most private introspections will be affected. ... The new words, far from being reductive or dry, have enhanced his sensations, he feels, as an oenophile's complex vocabulary enhances the taste of wine." Not sure how I feel about that, but it's interesting to contemplate, and the article gives examples of how it could be useful.

I'm skipping over the more substantive philosophy / neuroscience bits - largely because they are over my head! - and I also skipped the ethical issues they are addressing at UCSD with respect to legal aspects of neuroscience. Tell your right brain to shut up and read this article with your left brain fully engaged.

Larissa MacFarquhar, "TWO HEADS; A marriage devoted to the mind-body problem." the New Yorker, February 12, 2007, v 82 i 49, p58-69. The article isn't online for free, but you can read it in Academic Search Premier (AN 23916441) or LexisNexis.

February 16, 2007

Meet the Databases!

Leslie Porter, one of my former students, has created some innovative podcasts at Fairfield University. She started with a series called Meet the Databases, in which she interviews databases like Google Scholar (a surfer dude) and JStor (a soft-spoken gardener). You can see their avatars and hear the podcasts through Fairfield's iTunes U account in iTunes at www.fairfield.edu/itunesu (click on DiMenna-Nyselius Library & then on "Meet the Databases").

She's doing this as a Web Companion for English 12 at Fairfield, and she has also interviewed various faculty to get their perspectives on what makes a good thesis statement. She talks to folks from the English department, of course, and also folks from history, biology, and more. You can listen to these in either RealAudio or iTunes.

Pretty interesting stuff!

February 14, 2007

Seeing Red

An article from last week's New York Times describes the importance of the color red, just in time for Valentine's Day. In How Do We See Red? Count the Ways Natalie Angier talks about various meanings of the color red, including "shades of life, death, fury, shame, courage, anguish, pride", and not only for humans:

"Red is the premier signaling color in the natural world, variously showcasing a fruitful bounty, warning of a fatal poison or boasting of a sturdy constitution and the genes to match."

Angier quotes Dr. Nicholas Humphrey, a philosopher at the London School of Economics and the author of Seeing red : a study in consciousness: "Our visual system was shaped by colors already in use among many plants and animals, and red in particular stands out against the green backdrop of nature," he said. "If you want to make a point, you make it in red."

Happy Valentine's Day!

February 13, 2007

MyMusic on myspace

Ok, I'll out myself on myspace. Want to be my friend? Ha!

Anyway, I've decided to use my myspace to list the musical groups I like, plus a few librarians / libraries. :-)

So if you want to know what I'm listening to, head on over to http://myspace.com/cogscilibrarian and look at my "friends". You'll see some of my favorite groups, and if you click on one, you'll get to hear some of that band's songs.

Current favorites include Camera Obscura and The Bird and the Bee. Both are delightful, quirky, female vocalist, indie pop bands. You will hear "Again & Again" from The Bird and the Bee if you go to myspace.

Other myspace favorites include Jim Noir and my niece Rachel Austin.


February 11, 2007

School Librarians Rock!

Dodie Gaudet posts over at the Our Future blog about the terrific-ness of school librarians and is filled with Respect and Admiration for them.

I totally agree! I teach reference to future school librarians (among others) and since I don't know much about the field, I am doing some reference observations of my own. I have already visited two school librarians and have at least one more visit lined up. They are awesome. So much energy in the schools, so many different kinds of questions, students, teachers, resources, etc. Incredible.

The librarian I visited on Friday let me see some of the assignments her students had to complete -- with her assistance. Here are some of the questions that I will work into future reference assignments:

1. A student from the local vocational technical high school comes to see you one afternoon at the public library. For a health class, she has to find information on a career she would like to investigate. She's thinking about being an EMT or an emergency room nurse. She doesn't have a computer at home, she says, and she doesn't use them much at school. How can you help her?

2. You are the high school librarian and a social studies teacher has asked her students write a 1-2 page paper on a country of their choice. The assignment handout says they have to cover the following areas: population, religions, weather, customs, currency, education, life expectancy, imports & exports, industries, brief history and a map. That's a lot! The students will be in the library for 3 days to study this; what resources would you make available?

3. You are helping student who has to complete four of 10 questions for a Bill of Rights project. He's working on this one and is sitting at the computer looking very perplexed. He needs to “Create a large timeline that illustrates at least 5 of the major Supreme Court cases and their relation to the 4th Amendment.” You can definitely help him - but how?

Phew -- there is a lot to learn. Go school librarians, go!

DRM & Music

Some great interviews about music, DRM (Digital Rights Management), and eMusic on FutureTense radio, from American Public Media.

eMusic CEO says music industry should begin killing off digital copy protection schemes, January 17, 2007
Description from the Future Tense web site: "eMusic, the number two digital download service behind Apple's iTunes, recently sold its 100 millionth song.
"eMusic sells songs from smaller labels and independent artists, and unlike iTunes, Napster and Rhapsody, the songs are MP3 files with no copy restrictions. You can play them anywhere and make as many copies as you like.
"eMusic President and CEO David Pakman says the lack of "digital rights management" is a big reason for eMusic's success." (there's also a longer mp3 interview with Mr. Pakman at the web site, which is worth a listen if you like eMusic or iTunes, or care about DRM issues ...)


Is digital music copy protection on the way out?, January 19, 2007
Description from the Future Tense web site: "Ever since major record labels started selling downloadable music, they've built restrictions into the songs. This is called, perhaps euphemistically, digital rights management, or DRM. These restrictions prevent customers from making backup copies or playing them on different devices. A song from Apple's iTunes, for example, won't play on any portable device but an Apple iPod.
"Digital music journalist and blogger Eliot Van Buskirk sees signs record labels are beginning to see the downside of customer-unfriendly DRM, and may soon begin selling more music in the unprotected MP3 format.
"Van Buskirk, who writes for Wired News, says Amazon.com's expected entry into MP3 music is one sign of the changes to come."


Neighborhood record store invades iTunes' turf, January 23, 2007
Description from the Future Tense web site: "When a record store called Other Music hit the scene 11 years ago in New York's East Village, it chose as its location a little spot across the street from then-powerhouse Tower Records. The Tower chain of stores is gone, a victim of the downturn in the music industry. Now, Other Music plans to open a digital music store where it will sell songs in the MP3 format, without copy restrictions.
"Other Music co-owner Josh Madell says iTunes dominates the digital music space, but there's room for other players.
"Other Music's digital songs will sell for 10 to 15 percent more than iTunes, according to Madell." See the OtherMusic web site for info. about their digital download program...

February 10, 2007

More from Daniel Levitin

Daniel Levitin, neuroscientist at McGill University and professional musician, has been in the (science) news a lot lately. He just published This is your brain on music : the science of a human obsession, the New York Times wrote about him a few weeks ago (cogsci blogged; abridged article at the Toronto Star), a colleague just commented about his book on this blog ...

... and I've just heard him on two different podcasts.

WNYC's Soundcheck interviewed him on Dec. 27, 2006 in a show called Music on the Brain, and the News Hour reported on him on Feb. 5, 2007 in Music Illuminates Brain Function. Since we're talking about musical cognition, it's nice to hear these shows, as you can better understand what Levitin is talking about.

Both podcasts and the New York Times article talk about Levitin's ongoing research into our emotional responses to music. Quoting from the Times: "In April (2006) he took participants in a Boston Symphony Orchestra concert -- the conductor Keith Lockhart, five of the musicians and 15 audience members -- and wired them with sensors to measure their state of arousal, including heart rate, body movements and muscle tension." Levitin argues that we have a "music instinct", that "... music is an evolutionary adaptation: something that men developed as a way to demonstrate reproductive fitness. ... 'Music has got to be useful for survival, or we would have gotten rid of it years ago,' he said" (in the Times). Steven Pinker disagrees.

Either way, this is interesting research. Hear about it or read about it, but if you like music and / or the brain, pay attention.

Toyota on Emotional Design

(sort of)

Interesting read from the TED Blog about a Toyota Camry that's going to be racing in NASCAR: TED Blog: And in walked emotion. They're surprised, as am I, to be writing about NASCAR, but it's an interesting marketing strategy on Toyota's part.

From TED:
"Of course, the Camry racing in NASCAR isn't the Toyota you and I can buy -- it's a pure race car with a motor that you can't get feeding power to the rear wheels. So it's more of a Toyota "Camry", but it looks the part, and it gives current and soon-to-be Toyota fans something to hoot and holler about in an irrational kind of way. ...

"Racing in NASCAR is part of of a larger trend of emotional design sweeping the entire Toyota-Lexus-Scion range."

The blog entry also points to some exciting new Toyota products -- especially surprising when the words "Toyota" + "exciting" weren't used in the same sentence before. My former Camry was called the "mom car" (and I'm not a mom!); the newer Honda Accord is, frankly, a little more exciting. Maybe my next car will be an exciting Camry!

February 04, 2007

Hindering Tech-savvy Users

Guy Kawasaki’s blog, How to Change the World: A practical blog for impractical people, lists The Top Ten Stupid Ways to Hinder Market Adoption.

His comments are aimed at commercial web sites, but many are valid for libraries and our vendors as well. They’re mostly things that would annoy tech-savvy users / customers, but we in libraries don’t want to alienate our tech-savvy patrons, do we?

These include:
  • Long URLs (LexisNexis? Hello?)

  • Windows that don’t generate URLs (I’m looking at you, SFX)

  • Lack of feeds and email lists (RSS feeds for new books & other new library resources?)

  • User names cannot contain the @ character (or, in the case of Scopus / Elsevier, THEY generate the user names – who can remember stephaniebrown18? Who wants to?)

  • Supporting only Windows Internet Explorer (‘nuff said)

Also check out the lengthy comments from other readers of Guy’s post; there are even more good pet peeves!)

Science (Fact) Writing

John the Science Librarian just blogged Cognitive Daily: How to report scientific research to a general audience in his entry called Writing about science.

Since I have some time on my hands (not teaching this semester, gasp!), I've been reading a lot of popular science, so this topic is especially relevant. I've been thinking about what makes a science article (either spoken or written) that I like to read. I am rather fussy. You can tell some of my favorite sources for science writing:

- The New Yorker.
- The New York Times Science News (especially their weekly Science Times podcast!)
- Wired -- their in-depth articles rival anything in the New Yorker.
- Australia's radio program All In The Mind
- Harvard Medical School's fall lecture series Science in the News (a wee bit uneven, but the writing is properly geared to a mass audience -- science + clear).
- and a new old favorite - MIT's Technology Review

Strangely, I never warmed to Scientific American or their Sci Am Mind spin-off. I like my science more techie and/or more cognitive. I sometimes enjoy New Scientist, but I don't read it regularly.

Read the Cognitive Daily article's detailed suggestions for good science writing, or check out the Confessions of a Science Librarian blog for the summary.

(thanks, Emily!)

Baby Cognition

I'm finally getting around to reading a New Yorker article I'd clipped back in September:

THE BABY LAB. By: Talbot, Margaret. New Yorker, 9/4/2006, Vol. 82 Issue 27, p90-101. Online at the New America Foundation.

It's an investigation into Elizabeth Spelke's work at Harvard's Laboratory for Developmental Studies. The New Yorker does a good job summarizing the article:

"Margaret Talbot reports on the influential research of Elizabeth Spelke, a fifty-seven-year old cognitive psychologist who, over the past three decades, “has created a series of ingenious studies that have given us a picture of the baby mind which is far different from the long-standing view of it” (“The Baby Lab,” p. 90). Talbot writes that Spelke’s “signature idea,” which overturned many standard psychological precepts, is that “babies come into the world mentally equipped with certain basic systems for ordering it.” Karen Wynn, an infant-cognition researcher at Yale, says, “Spelke has done more to shape our understanding of how the human mind initially grasps the world than anyone else.” Talbot writes, “Spelke’s findings about how babies perceive objects—as solid and continuous, and perduring even when you don’t see them—have been widely replicated and are now firmly established in the infant-studies curricula. But her more ambitious theories of ‘core knowledge’ have their critics.” One of her most contentious ideas is her conviction that boys and girls are born with essentially the same cognitive tools. “We have a tendency, when we think intuitively about ourselves and other people, to greatly overemphasize differences,” Spelke says. “We think that differences we can see on the surface signal some deeper, underlying difference, and I think this is almost always an illusion.” "

If you're interested in infant cognition, or how scientists create experiments to test things -- especially in infants & toddlers -- this is a great read.

February 02, 2007

Consciousness hits the big Time

A former Hampshire colleague points me to the Jan. 19, 2007 of Time magazine, whose big story is The Mystery of Consciousness. It includes the cover article by Steven Pinker, in which he defines (in layman's terms) the Easy Problem & the Hard Problem:

"The Easy Problem ... is to distinguish conscious from unconscious mental computation, identify its correlates in the brain and explain why it evolved." (which can likely be done with existing technology)

"The Hard Problem, on the other hand, is why it feels like something to have a conscious process going on in one's head--why there is first-person, subjective experience. Not only does a green thing look different from a red thing, remind us of other green things and inspire us to say, "That's green" (the Easy Problem), but it also actually looks green: it produces an experience of sheer greenness that isn't reducible to anything else. ...
"To appreciate the hardness of the hard problem, consider how you could ever know whether you see colors the same way that I do. Sure, you and I both call grass green, but perhaps you see grass as having the color that I would describe, if I were in your shoes, as purple. Or ponder whether there could be a true zombie--a being who acts just like you or me but in whom there is no self actually feeling anything."

- A Clever Robot, Dan Dennett's response to Pinker -- they disagree on whether the Hard Problem exists.
- How The Brain Rewires Itself, in which Sharon Begley explains neuroscientist Alvaro Pascual-Leone's experiments with real and imaginary piano players. Turns out that the brains of those subjects who actually practiced the piano for 2 hours at a time and those who simply thought about practicing were expanded in similar ways.
- a short history of Understanding The Brain via various aspects of brain science, including ancient beliefs, psychology, anatomy, and neuroscience.

Plus a short definition of various aspects of consciousness by scientists such as Michael Gazzaniga, Antonio Damasio, and Bernard Baars, as well as some additional graphics and videos. It's a good introduction to consciousness and some other aspects of cognitive science.

More Football

Dark Days Follow Hard-Hitting Career in N.F.L.
Published: February 2, 2007

Former New England Patriot Ted Johnson has symptoms comparable to early Alzheimer's -- as did Andre Waters, whom I blogged about earlier.

This article has a nifty graphic on concussions. Apparently Johnson had several "dings" or mini-concussions shortly after a major one, which he & some doctors feel are leading to his depression and other cognitive problems.

Food for thought this Superbowl weekend.

New on Libraries 4 Friends

More Reading Ideas in which I tell Friend about Literature Resource Center and Books in Print's *awesome* Fiction Connection readers advisory tool. Friend is a big library user -- for taking out books 'n stuff.

He asked me if there was a web resource like allmusic does for music?

"Of course there is!" I replied.

After I emailed him my thoughts on finding authors to read in a certain genre, he wrote back and said that he'd seen that page but never imagined the riches that lay beneath.

Come on library people, what are we going to do about that?!