July 27, 2007

Harry Potter in PubMed (no spoilers)

Some Librarian points us to a 2006 article in Singapore's Annals of the Academy of Medicine entitled Interesting In- and Outpatient Attendances at Hogwarts Infirmary and St Mungo's Hospital For Magical Maladies.

PubMed's abstract says
"Ailments afflicting wizarding folk are underreported in the muggle world. The recent integration of muggles and magical folk with the return of You-Know-Who (aka He Who Must Not Be Named) may result in a similar affliction of inhabitants of both worlds. We describe interesting maladies afflicting muggles and wizarding folk alike, arising from the use and misuse of magic. We also provide a basic glossary of magical ailments, and describe their muggle corollaries. Further studies will hopefully result in the development of immunity against the unforgivable curses."

And you can read the full article at the journal's web site.

For More Information
* Lim EC, Pomfrey PM, Quek AM, Seet RC. Interesting In- and Outpatient Attendances at Hogwarts Infirmary and St. Mungo's Hospital For Magical Maladies (pdf). Annals of the Academy of Medicine (Singapore). 2006 Feb; 35(2):127-9.

July 25, 2007

(Laughing) Rats in the News

Did you know that rats laugh?

Jaak Panksepp, neuroscientist at Bowling Green State University, talks about how rats actually laugh. Science News Online quotes him as saying "but you have to know the rat."

And in this week's Science Times, Natalie Angier wrote about rats: "A host of new behavioral studies makes plain that the similarities between us and Rattus extend far beyond gross anatomy."

For More Information
* Don't look now, but is that dog laughing?,
Science News Online, July 28, 2001.
* Panksepp, J., Burgdorf, J. "Laughing" rats and the evolutionary antecedents of human joy?
Physiology and Behavior, (2003) 79 (3), pp. 533-547.
* Angier, Natalie. Smart, Curious, Ticklish. Rats?, New York Times, July 24, 2007.

July 22, 2007

Promotion ideas, from within & without librarianship

Another in an occasional series of posts about vendors helping libraries promote their wares.

The library database vendor EBSCOHost has created a series of Marketing Tools, like nice icons for various EBSCO products (both as gifs for the Web & other formats for print), links to marketing tips on external web sites, and some nifty special event kits.

One "out of the box" idea for EBSCO / libraries: leave flyers for the new Home Improvement database at town hardware stores & even Home Depot; promote the Auto Repair database with flyers at local car parts stores ... you get the idea. Why not?! Here's the tag line: "Fixing your car? Read how @ your library ... @ home ... for free!"

From Gale / InfoTrac
Gale's Customer Resource Center offers some interesting ideas, including ... adding a Gale search box directly on the library's home page, and showing journal covers on the home page which lead users directly into journals in Gale (I could see this being very handy for Consumer Reports ... and hey! why don't we put journal covers or logos into the OPAC the way we do book covers? but I digress). For school & public librarians, the suggest offering training materials and product information for parents. Some of the ideas are pretty basic, and they don't say _how_ to do some of the fancier stuff, like posting a Gale search box on your library page, but it's a nice start.

There is also some interesting material over at their Technical & Training Resources page. More info. on their AccessMyLibrary program, which is on my list to investigate. They also offer logos for their databases.

Looking at the logo for What Do I Read Next, I wonder ... could we put flyers for our Reader's Advisory databases in ... bookstores? Why not? Telling readers what else they might like should / could lead to more book sales in addition to circulations. And isn't that all good?

From Apple
Finally, we take a look at Apple. We look to them for all kinds of things, like the iPhone, for instance, but how about for marketing our training opportunities? A new Apple store opened in my 'hood on Saturday (see photos in Flickr), and they've done some good things for me.

First, they sent me an email telling me this. I've bought things from them before, and they know my zip code. Smart to tell me they're opening ... and offering me a free Apple t-shirt if I'm one of the first thousand people there on Saturday. Of course I will be!

They also sent me a list of their training opportunities. See the full descriptions for all of their workshops ... and look at the schedule for the sessions at my store. Nicely laid out, clearly marked. As always, nice design.

July 19, 2007

Podcast / Interviews I've Enjoyed

I've heard some very interesting podcasts / interviews lately & instead of blogging about each one, I thought I'd just list them with a very brief note about what was relevant for cog sci.
  • WNYC's Radio Lab is a fun 50-minute show covering various aspects of science very loosely defined. I just listened to the show on Time from 2005, and it was a fascinating look into various aspects of people's perception of time. Hosts Jad Abumrad & Robert Krulwich speak with Oliver Sacks, Rebecca Solnit, Jay Griffith, and physicist Brian Greene.

  • ETA I found it ... There was a great interview recently on WHYY's Radio Times, with Marty Moss-Coane, about bonobos. "How do baboons relate to each other and understand their place in the world and what can we learn from them about human behavior? Penn researchers Dorothy Cheney and ROBERT SEYFARTH, who joins us in the studio today, have been studying baboons and monkeys in their natural habitat for over 20 years. Their work is documented in a new book, Baboon Metaphysics: The Evolution of a Social Mind. Radio Times, June 7, 2007. Archive no longer available.

  • Dr. Ginger Campbell, of the the Brain Science Podcast, recently interviewed Elkhonon Goldberg, author of The Executive Brain: Frontal Lobes and the Civilized Mind (Oxford, 2001). Interesting discussion of the pre-frontal lobes, and how they relate to the other structures of the brain. Campbell also discuss some ideas about why the left and right sides of the brain differ, as well as several important ways in which the cortex, and especially the pre-frontal lobes differ from some of the older parts of the brain.

  • The SETI Institute has a terrific radio show called Are We Alone; the SETI's mission is "to explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe." They seem to like cognitive science, at least enough to have had a recent episode on consciousness called That Thinking Feeling (mp3). Show hosts Seth and Molly interviewed a bevy (?) of neuro* & *philo* folks, including Marvin Minsky, author of The Emotion Machine (Simon & Schuster, 2007); Nicholas Strausfeld, Neurobiologist at the University of Arizona at Tucson, who talks about how smart cockroaches are, and how he knows; and Susan Clancy, author of Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens (Harvard, 2005) (because of "sleep paralysis"?!

  • ETA ... Australia's All In The Mind offers another great episode, this time entitled Nature? Nurture? What makes us human? It's a podcast of the start of the 2007 Alfred Deakin Innovation Lecture series, and it features bits of Matt Ridley's lecture, in which he speaks about his book Nature Via Nurture : Genes, Experience, and What Makes Us Human (HarperCollins, 2003). Following his lecture, Natasha Mitchell speaks with Professor Robert Williamson A.O. and Rhonda Galbally A.O, for a fascinating discussion of the "nature vs. nurture" debate. note to former reference students: Dunedin features prominently. A print transcript of Ridley's lecture is available, as is a podcast, in addition to the All in the Mind podcast.

All shows are highly recommended!

July 17, 2007

Blog- or Print Publishing?

Which is better in library-land (or scientific-land), blogging or print publishing?

I seem to remember that Jim Rettig, vice-president/president-elect of ALA, wondered in a campaign statement if librarians were blogging or writing in the print library literature? [note to self: the fact that YOU can't find this statement by Rettig should serve to keep you humble when you try to help patrons who don't remember where / when they read something. but we digress]

Stephen Abram said, when I slobbered over how much I love his Stephen's Lighthouse blog at ALA, (and I paraphrase): "It doesn't matter where you write, just get your ideas out there."

In an interview with Ken Auletta at the The New Yorker Conference The Web: 2012 in May, the Huffington Post's Arianna Huffington said that in the future, there would be blogs like the Huffington Post and New Yorker style writing and not much in between. That is, short bits of (accurate) information online and longer, more analytical, background-y pieces in print.

All of which I agree with -- even tho' some bits contradict other bits.

What I wonder is ... does it matter that librarians are writing more on blogs than in print? That by the time our ideas are in print, they are almost old news? Who is the audience for print library literature, anyway? Is it those of us in the biblioblogosphere? Is it those of us who want more detail than our old eyes can read online? Is it those of us who don't read library blogs but need (arguably) to keep up with what the young'uns (and I mean young-at-heart, creative, if you will, rather than age-young) are thinking and doing?

Why would I write something thoughtful on my blog rather than try to get an essay published? Hmmm. First of all ... timing. I can write here and 30-40 people a day will hit my blog -- a mix of librarians & non-librarians. Quickly. Immediately.

Another reason: I control the writing. Good & bad -- I've had some good editors who have helped me shape my writing and make it substantially better. I've also seen published articles in that could have used a good deal more editorial intervention.

Which reminds me of what Chris Anderson said in an IT Conversation with Moira Gunn: in between writing his Wired article on the Long Tail and his book of the same name, he blogged. Wrote up his ideas, got feedback from readers, revised his thinking and writing, got more ideas from readers, retweaked his own writing, and ... his book was better for it. According to him, anyway.

Of course, if you're going up for any kind of peer-review promotion, you need to publish in peer-reviewed journals. At least, that's the old way.

What's the new way? I don't know... only that I've been thinking about this a lot lately. I'd like to hear from you on this, either on the blog or by email. Even better if we can get a conversation going on the topic from librarians, future librarians, and other kinds of folks, academics, interested parties, etc.

Blog on!

July 12, 2007

Engaging Teaching Ideas

Engaging Ideas, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways....

Been reading John Bean's book Engaging Ideas, which is designed to help teachers create writing assignments which will better help students learn. It's CHOCK full of great ideas that I plan to incorporate into both of my Simmons GSLIS classes. It's so, well, engaging, that it's taken me months to read it, and the book is stuffed with notes and papers sticking out with scribbles and pages are turned down and there's highlighting throughout ... you get the picture. In order to help me synthesize what I've read, I'm going to group my ideas together here. (potential study for the cognitive psychologists: does blogging help learn? ... but I digress).

Funny to be writing this and trying to figure out how to organize it, as Bean talks a lot about how to organize writing and how teachers can help students organize their own thoughts & writing. For one thing, traditional outlines often don't work because they are too linear, have bad connotations, AND people often don't think that linearly when writing. Plus, he suggests that many folks don't know what they're going to write about until they write it. Finally ... he suggests that teachers explain to their students how THEY write to give students confidence in what can seem like a shaky business, at least in the early stages. So here I am at the start, modeling one of Bean's major points. Ha!

For the record, I'm going to write out all the ideas I have scribbled down in margins & yellow scrap paper, and then I'm going to organize them in some fashion. Probably -- hopefully! -- by class (407 = basic reference; 454 = advanced reference), and then by assignment / date. I'm going to break this into several posts over the next few weeks, all of which will be tagged with "engaging ideas" if you want to follow along.

Today, we'll start with 407, which is the introductory reference class. If you teach, you can probably relate these ideas to whatever you teach -- library instruction classes, philosophy, cognitive science. At least, I hope so.

* For the source evaluation, have students write a brief summary in the form of an exam question (i.e., "Largest one-volume encyclopedia in English.")
* Offer more sample exam questions; offer some kind of quick review of topics covered in each class. Solution? Provide 3 quick sample exam questions at the end of each class. Good for source review, good for exam prep -- and, most important, good for learning sources, which is the point of the class. (one of them, anyway).

* Study group suggestion: have them compare lecture notes: what sources I mentioned in class, what people said about sources we reviewed, tips I gave about assignments, etc. Especially useful in preparing to work on homework (questions & papers).

* For teaching the reference interview, think about a time when they had to ask a question that was hard to articulate. For me, this is asking for wine I like in a liquor store. How can I explain what I like in a wine? I don't have the words, I feel stupid for not knowing what I like, and so I often don't ask but buy the same old wine all the time. Good way for students to put themselves in the patron's shoes.
* After teaching a service, like instruction or reference interview, ask them to write "minute paper": what is the most significant thing you learned about service today? what question is uppermost in your mind about this service? what do you agree / disagree with & why? And either submit to me at end of class or post to blog / WebCT.

Ideas to better incorporate Readings into class / assignments
* Ask them to write a paragraph about the Bradford reading for the 2d class. Consider ... what is confusing? what surprised you? what do you want to know more about? what do you disagree with? What would you like to ask author? And then have them reread for the final class & discuss.
* Tell them how I read articles -- sometimes carefully, with lots of notes (Engaging Ideas, for example) + when reading articles I will blog here; sometimes skimming quickly (LJ articles that are mildly interesting but not related to work or class). If reading for class, I ask myself these kind of questions: "how will this contribute to their knowledge of topic? How is it different from what I've already assigned? Is it better than (more current, clearer, different perspective) something I've already assigned? Does it focus on something I don't have experience with (i.e., school libraries, public libraries)?
* Note that reading for 407 is different than reading articles for Evaluation of Information Services (fka "Role of Research"). In 407 & 454, they're reading for ideas -- focus on introduction, literature review, and "discussion." If they've taken 403, of course, they can address some of the research problems if they've found any, but focus here is on content as it applies to reference.
* Tell them why I'm having them read articles / textbook.
---- Expose them to ideas not discussed in class.
---- Expose them to journals / magazines / blogs / podcasts they should know about as library professionals.
---- Start them early in the habit of reading professional literature.
---- Expose them to libraries besides where they think they want to work (i.e., all kinds of libraries -- school, academic, public, special).

Until next time ...

For More Information
* Bean, John C. Engaging Ideas : The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. Jossey Bass, 1996.
* Bradford, Jane T., Barbara Costello, et al. Reference Service in the Digital Age: An Analysis of Sources Used to Answer Reference Questions. Journal of Academic Librarianship. 31, no. 3 (2005): 263-272 (full-text available in Wilson Library Literature)

July 11, 2007

Sacking the Poem

The current issue of Poetry Magazine has a review of the 2006 New York Giants season. It's quite insightful.

This is my favorite part:

11/27: So we're up 21-0 with less than ten minutes to play against the worst team in pro football, and somehow still lose, 24-21. How do you lose to the Tennessee Titans? Let me count the ways: we fumble once, throw two interceptions, and do some other things that make you wonder if the guys didn't prefer to lose. For instance, on a fourth down that would have ended the game, Mathias Kiwanuka has got Vince Young, their QB, wrapped up in both arms. Instead of taking him down, he just lets him go! Young runs about twenty yards for a first down. Damnedest thing I've ever seen on or off a football field. "O, I die," Coach said after the game. "The potent poison quite o'er-crows my spirit." Finally: Coach speaks up! And not a moment too soon. Things couldn't get worse.

11/28: Things just got worse. The defense met to talk about their fourth-quarter collapse. One of the coaches asked Mathias what the fuck he was thinking when he just let go of Vince Young. "Coach," says Mathias, "I couldn't help it. Just when I grabbed hold of him, a clerihew popped into my head." I looked around the room, expecting everyone to be as confused as me.
But everyone--even some of the coaches--were nodding. "Are you ready to share it with us?" our gap-toothed defensive end Michael Strahan asks.

And--if you can believe this--Mathias gets up and says:

Vince Young
Your Fu is not yet Kung
Your hop ain't hip, your juke don't jive
I'm gonna eat your rookie ass alive.

"When it came into my head I remembered what happened to Coleridge and so I just reached into my pockets for a pen," says Mathias. "By the time I realized my uniform didn't have pockets, the QB was gone."

"You sacked the poem," says Osi Umenyiora, our defensive end. "That's what matters."

For More Information
Lewis, Michael. "Poetry in Motion: A Diary of the Collapse of the 2006 New York Giants," Poetry, July 1, 2007, Pg. 348+. Full-text available in LexisNexis.

July 10, 2007

Who Am I?

Finally decided to break my psuedo-anonymity here and tell you who I am:
Stephanie Willen Brown, Electronic Resource Librarian at the University of Connecticut. I also teach reference & advanced for Simmons College (@ MHC).

I have not been forthcoming with my name & title because I want to keep my blogging life separate from my work life. Please note that the opinions I express are strictly my own, not those of my employer, and the subjects I post about are my own interest, and are not necessarily related to the work I do. Some of them, of course, are, but I do not purport to be a (the) cognitive science librarian at the University of Connecticut.

So, if you've been wondering, now you know.

July 06, 2007

Blue Jay's Theory of Mind?

Fascinating article in the New Scientist about potential theory of mind in members of the crow family. Theory of mind (wikipedia), as you know, is the ability of one being to estimate what another being might be thinking or how he might respond to a given situation. For instance, I can imagine that my husband would want some strawberry shortcake if it were available, or that he would be excited if the Jets went to the Superbowl next year. Children as young as 3-4 years of age have some understanding that others have thoughts different from their own, but generally animals and birds are not thought to have this ability.

Research by Joanna Dally, associated with the Comparative Cognition Lab at Cambridge, writes about some interesting developments in crow and scrub-jay behavior that point to potential awareness of how other birds might respond to their actions. Nicky Clayton and Nathan Emery studied food-hiding and stealing habits of scrub-jays:

WhatBird.com"The allowed jays to hide worms either while they were alone or when another bird was watching, and to recover the hidden items in private later that day. Worms are the 'Belgian truffles' of the jay's gastronomic world, so the researchers anticipated that birds would make every effort to protect their stores. They found that when jays were allowed to return to their stash, those that had hidden worms under the gaze of a would-be thief moved them to new sites. Birds did not move worms they had hidden in private, however."

Further research carried out by Dally and Clayton showed that this was not the only strategy jays use to protect their worms: "we found that when hiding worms with another bird around, jays prefer to cache their meal behind a barrier that blocks their rival's view. That might not sound very clever," Dally continues, "but it suggests they may be able to see things from the visual perspective of another individual. In other words, they might understand that another bird learns about the world through its sense of vision" (emphasis mine).

Further research includes suggestions that jays are aware of what other birds know and when they know it (jays are more likely to re-hide food when they know that someone watched them hide it in the first place). Also, jays who have never stolen worms themselves are less likely to re-hide worms.

Fascinating suggestions about the intelligence of scrub-jays, and by extension, the crow family. Bird brains are notoriously small, but these jays are pretty smart about what other birds know about their food.

For More Information
* Dally, Joanna. "Don't Call Me Birdbrained." The New Scientist, 194.2609, 23 (2007): 34-37. [will be available on InfoTrac in a few weeks; now available in LexisNexis]
* Dally, Joanna, Nathan Emery, and Nicola Clayton. "Cache Protection Strategies by Western Scrub-Jays, Aphelocoma Californica: Implications for Social Cognition." Animal Behaviour 70.6 (2005): 1251-63.
* Emery, Nathan and Nicola Clayton, "Effects of Experience and Social Context on Prospective Caching Strategies by Scrub Jays." Nature, 414.6862 (2001): 443-446.
* Animal Consciousness, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2006.

July 01, 2007

Felis silvestris lybica: 10,000 million years old

Just as language has been tied to the growth of agriculture (see British & Irish genes: not that far apart, in which I discuss how the Celts may have brought agricultural tools and language to Ireland), so the origin of house cats may be tied to the "domestication" of wheat & barley by early human settlers in the Near East.

Carlos A. Driscoll and his colleagues analyzed the DNA of wildcats and house cats in Scotland, Israel, Namibia and Mongolia and determined that the DNA of house cats and fancy cats (what's the difference?) "falls within the Near Eastern wildcat cluster, making clear that this subspecies is their ancestor.

"... Wheat, rye and barley had been domesticated in the Near East by 10,000 years ago, so it seems likely that the granaries of early Neolithic villages harbored mice and rats, and that the settlers welcomed the cats’ help in controlling them."

This supports Vigne's 2004 assertion that cats were not domesticated by Egyptians but in fact have been domesticated far longer.

The Times quotes Driscoll as saying that " 'The cats were adapting themselves to a new environment, so the push for domestication came from the cat side, not the human side.'" Naturally this was the cats' decision: lots of rodents, warm fires -- what's not to like?

For More Information
* Driscoll et al., The Near Eastern Origin of Cat Domestication, Science, Jun 28, 2007; [Epub ahead of print].
* Vigne, JD et al., Early taming of the cat in Cyprus. Science. 2004 Apr 9;304(5668):259.
* Wade, Nicholas. Study Traces Cat’s Ancestry to Middle East. New York Times, June 29, 2007.