August 29, 2007

the Magic of Consciousnes, or, Teller Speaks

Interesting article in last week's Times about a recent conference by the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness (ASSC). George Johnson covered the event, and describes it: "After two days of presentations by scientists and philosophers speculating on how the mind construes, and misconstrues, reality, we were hearing from the pros: James (The Amazing) Randi, Johnny Thompson (The Great Tomsoni), Mac King and Teller — magicians who had intuitively mastered some of the lessons being learned in the laboratory about the limits of cognition and attention."

You can see some tricks from Teller, and some explanations about how his repetition and our assumptions aid the tricks at the video below (approx. 17 minutes).

Teller of "Penn and Teller" TALKS! ¦ about magic, consciousness and the art of visual illusion! from Dean McCall and Vimeo.

And on the ScienceTimes podcast, David Corcoran interviews Teller, who explains in more detail -- and less flourish -- about why his and other magic tricks work. He says that magicians exploit the way we see the world ... just for a minute ... just for fun.

For More Information
* Corcoran, David. ScienceTimes Podcast , August 21, 2007.
* Johnson, George. "Sleights of Mind", New York Times, August 21, 2007.
* Laureys, Steven. Eyes Open, Brain Shut. Scientific American, May2007, Vol. 296 Issue 5, p86-89. Teller refers to this article in which Laureys proves that when eyes don't move, they cease to see. [Full-text available in Academic Search Premier]
* Mind Science Foundation: Magic of Consciousness Symposium – Video Clips.

August 28, 2007

Romance, Sarcasm, Math, and Language

Thanks to Maura for pointing me to XKCD, an amusing and entertaining comic-blog covering "romance, sarcasm, math, and language."

Note their warning: "This comic occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)."

August 26, 2007

From Unregistered Words to OED3

Just heard a great lecture / podcast by Simon Winchester on the Oxford English Dictionary. Winchester spoke at TVOntario’s Big Ideas show in May and told fascinating stories about the genesis of monolingual dictionaries, which came later than the multilingual kind, and also spoke about the creation of the first edition of the OED.

Some interesting tidbits from his lecture include
* Samuel Johnson’s weaker definitions, including
** network: “Any thing reticulated or decussated, at equal distances, with interstices between the intersections.”
** oats: “A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland appears to support the people”
* the derivation of the word referring to a 4-legged animal that barks & has a tail. These creatures used to be known exclusively as hounds, until the Dutch came by and offered to sell the British a “dogge.”

At the end, Winchester briefly comments on the future OED, known as OED3:
* Work on the third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary began in mid-1990s
* It’s expected to have 40 volumes and 980,000 words
It was originally scheduled for release 2010, but is now scheduled for release somewhere around 2037.

In researching this for an upcoming lecture on dictionaries & encyclopedias, I found an article in theTransactions of the Philological Society by John Simpson and colleagues about the OED today. Simpson is Chief Editor, Oxford English Dictionary, and the article is a series of interlinked pieces“ presented at the Philological Society in June 2003 to marked the 75th anniversary of the first edition of the OED. The article includes some new entries (work on OED3 began with M) and a comparison of the “modal auxiliary must” in the first OED and in OED3 as part of the effort to address not only definitions but also historical syntax. Joy for linguists!

For More Information
* Johnson, Samuel. “Some of Johnson’s Dictionary Definitions.” c1775.
* Simpson, John, Edmund Weiner, Philip Durkin. “The Oxford English Dictionary Today.” 102:3 335-381, December 2004 [full-text available via Academic Search Premier]
* Simpson, John. ‘Preface to the Third Edition,’ 2000.
* Winchester, Simon. “Big Ideas [lecture].” TV Ontario, May 27, 2007. [mp3 no longer available].
* ---. home page (sadly outdated).
* ---. The Meaning of Everything : The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press. 2003.
* ---. The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, HarperCollins, 1998.

Blogged with Flock

August 14, 2007

Studying the Placebo Effect

The August 3 episode of ScienceFriday featured an interview with Columbia psychology professor Tor Wager about his research on the placebo effect. Wager and his team use fMRIs and PET scans to study how the use of "special creams" affects pain (high heat placed on skin). They first established where this kind of pain shows up in fMRIs. Then, in Wager's words, "... we put a cream on [subjects'] skin and we say this is lidocaine. It's an effective - it's a known pain reliever. We want to see how it works in your brain. So then we give them the same stimulus, the same hot, you know, hot plate on their arm, instead of a level eight, maybe it's a level six."

And later: "We find that some of the pain responsive regions of the brain actually showed decreases in activity when you have the placebo."

Finally, Wager states: "I think one of the sort of important and interesting take-home message is is that medical science has really, so far, ignored, to a large degree, people's beliefs and expectations, and pharmacology ignores it. But, in fact, because beliefs cause chemicals to be released in your brain, those chemicals actually can combine with drugs and do things that just the drugs themselves won't do."

For More Info
* ScienceFriday, August 3, hour two. Interview with Tor Wager, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, Columbia University. Transcript avaialable in LexisNexis. ScienceFriday also links to lots of other interesting stuff on the placebo effect, including an article from a 2004 issue of Scientific American: Scientists See How Placebo Effect Eases Pain and a 2007 episode of NYC's Radio Lab called simply Placebo

* Wager, Tor and team. Cognitive and Affective Control Laboratory @ Columbia University.

*Benedetti, F., Mayberg, H. S., Wager, T. D., Stohler, C. S., & Zubieta, J. -. (2005). "Neurobiological mechanisms of the placebo effect." Journal of Neuroscience, 25 (45), 10390-10402.
* Wager, T. D. (2005). "The neural bases of placebo effects in pain." Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14 (4), 175-179.
* Wager, T. D., Rilling, J. K., Smith, E. E., Sokolik, A., Casey, K. L., & Davidson, R. J. et al. (2004). "Placebo-induced changes in fMRI in the anticipation and experience of pain." Science, 303(5661), 1162-1167.
(citations retrieved from Scopus)

August 10, 2007

What the Flock?

Have you tried the Flock browser yet? I’m using it on a Mac, and it’s faster than FireFox & cooler than Safari.
Get Flock

Here’s what I like, so far...

  • Nice integration with Blogger -- I’m drafting this post in Flock and it’s very tidy.  No pesky logging in, no slow Blogger posts from within FireFox.  Incredibly easy to add images.  Maybe I’m behind the times in the way that I blog, but this is pretty darn easy.
  • Default search engine is Yahoo ... I know I could change that in FireFox or Safari, but I like the idea of supporting Google’s competition.
  • Very solid integration with Web 2.0 stuff:
    • Photos & other media: see a “Media bar” which shows new flickr / YouTube / other media feeds right at the top / bottom of your browser).
    • Blogs:  see & organize feeds in a special sidebar -- and on the “My World” page for Flock.  In “My World”, it shows me new posts to the blogs I’m following.
    • Not so much integration with Facebook -- I really like how Windoze FireFox works with Facebook.  Don’t see that on Safari or Mac FireFox, either. 
  • You can tag saved pages, write descriptions, and otherwise manage bookmarks.  This is a good idea in theory, but frankly, it’s hard enough for me to remember to save bookmarks at all, much less catalog them.  Still ... points for the thought.
  • On many Flock pages, they show me a photo of Evan, my “Community Ambassador.”  Great idea -- could we implement this “Community Ambassador” idea in libraries?
Tool with potential ... not directly Flock-related, but I found it through Flock, so they’re associated in my head.
  • The Me.dium plugin. This is a social networking / browsing tool that lets you see who else is on the site you’re on and you can chat with other people right from your web site.  This could potentially be scary ... but I see some interesting applications for librarians.  I’m sometimes logged in there as cogscilibrarian if you want to test it out.  Seems kind of like the “people-powered” search engine ChaCha in that regard.
(thanks to Mac|Life for the tip about Flock)

Blogged with Flock

August 07, 2007

Guidelines for Grading Papers

(Part 2 of my series summarizing John Bean's book Engaging Ideas)

Bean offers a lot of ideas on how to both make papers easier to grade for teachers AND more useful for students. Imagine that -- a process that works well for both parties! There's even a whole chapter called "Writing Comments on Students' Papers." Here are some of the ideas I want to incorporate into my paper assignments and grading:

* Bean goes through the whole paper structure offering concrete ideas for grading different sections -- thesis, organization (macro & micro levels), stylistic issues, and so on. Finally, he offers suggestions for "writing revision-oriented end comments", which he calls "strengths - major problems - recommendations":
---- Describe strengths ("you're on the right track with X")
---- Address 2-3 major problems ("sometimes I got lost when you ...")
---- Recommendations ("for your next draft, you need to do the following") (pp. 250-251).

* Bean offers several concrete suggestion for comments on page 244 ("Nice comparison of X to Y here" ... "Expand & explain -- could you give an example here?" ... "What's your evidence for this assertion?")

* Bean states that students' prose contains fewer errors than teachers sometimes perceive. Bean quotes Williams (1981) who "notes that many teachers read student essays with the the primary purpose of finding errors, whereas they read their own colleagues' drafts-in-progress for ideas." (p. 60). Definitely some truth there for me, which is humbling.

* Bean therefore recommends focusing on higher-level organization problems & argument-making rather than on sentence-level errors.

* Overall, he suggests limiting "... commentary to a few problems that you want students to tackle when preparing the next draft. ... [E]stablish a hierarchy of concerns descending from higher-order issues (ideas, organization, development , and overall clarity) to lower-order issues (sentence correctness, style, mechanics, spelling...) ... [L]imit your comments to only two or three of the questions; proceed to lower-order concerns only when a draft is reasonably successful at the higher levels." (p. 242-243)

* "Hold students responsible for finding & fixing their own errors" in rewrites. Teachers should mark sentence-level errors (i.e., grammatical, spelling) with a check in the margin & ask students to revise them in a later draft. If these errors are significant, teachers can mark the final grade down -- and revise it upward if the student resubmits the paper and fixes the errors. (p. 69)

One possible solution is to line-edit one early passage and then simply mark other errors in the margin. (p. 246) "This allows me to comment on papers as if they were drafts in progress and yet assign a grade as if they were finished products. Students are satisfied with their grades do not rewrite ... [T]he point of your commentary is to stimulate and guide revision." (p. 235)

* Suggest they read their writing out loud & then revise. Hmmm ... good ideas for any of us who are writing!

For me ...
* I will modify the Reference Observations paper assignment so that they write it for a new librarian, what to do & not do in a reference interview setting and why, based on observations and analysis of literature. (Clarify the audience for the paper).

* Require more detail about papers than just "topic & audience" in class. Perhaps 2-3 sentences about topic, audience, items to be discussed, etc. Bean says that "these ... sentences can reveal a surprising number of problems in students' drafts, enabling teachers to identify students who need extra help." p 222. And the goal for me is to improve their writing -- and therefore thinking! -- about the topics we're having them write about. Extra help is a good thing, if it helps students' thought processes improve.

* My new attitude for grading: first things first. Evaluate ideas and overall structure first, then notice grammar, spelling, etc. Allow rewrites when temporally feasible, and grade as if they will be rewriting.

I'm curious to see how all this plays out in the grading room.

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.

August 04, 2007

craigslist @ your library?

The conservative librarians' approach to library promotion: if the idea won't reach lots & lots of our potential audience, we don't do it.

With the new world, 21st century, Web 2.0, Internets(sic), etc., we need to change this thinking. Instead of trying to reach lots of people, how about efforts to reach SOME people? I'm doing that in Facebook -- I've "met" a few students there, and that’s good. Didn't cost me anything, I was there already, and I made it known that I was in Facebook to be contacted if folks wanted to. Some did. Most don't.

Today my husband discovered craigslist, which made me think: What about using craigslist to promote library services?

There's a section called "Services" and another called "Events" -- what if we listed our upcoming classes in one or another of those spots? Most of our classes are free ... public library classes are presumably open to the public ... and listings on craigslist don't cost anything!

I've poked around & found some examples:
* Origami @ your library (in El Cerrito, Calif.)
* City-Wide Friends of the Boston Public Library Book Sale
* People using the library as an office: Homework Help- $15/hour-Highlands Ranch Library
* Someone promoting an art exhibit in the Vancouver area: Artwork at Poirier Library July 2007 - Oana Cretu

This wouldn't get all of our potential patrons, or even a lot of them. But I bet it would get some who otherwise wouldn't know about our fabulous free databases, our reference assistance, our audiobooks, our classes on using the Web, our chess clubs, our Dance Dance Revolution, our game nights ...