December 31, 2008

Online Reading List Creation Tool? Not!

I'm teaching reference at Simmons again in the spring, and I am pulling together my reading list. (see the Fall 2007 reading list). That list looked nice and meets most of the criteria I have for a reading list:

  • Citations are formatted properly in MLA, and include the name of the database where I got the full-text as well as the date accessed. I am a stickler for good citation style in my classes, and I feel I should model that in the citations I give them.
  • The list is sorted on several levels: first by week, then by topic, and then alphabetically by author (or title if there is no author). This is important because I want students to easily know which readings are due when (tho' some find it confusing that you need to read week 2's articles BEFORE week 2's class), and under what topic.

The downside of this kind of list is that it's complex to maintain. It starts with the citation, which I email to myself, paste into a FileMaker database and fix the metadata, and then export with correctly formatted html, and then paste into the html file, which is finally uploaded to the Simmons server. phew! I'm tired just writing all that out!

It's been 18 months since I taught reference, and I thought there must be a better way. Ideally, I wanted a two-step process to export from the article to the bibliography: 1) find the article and 2) export to bibliography -- while maintaining good MLA citation style and complex sort order. My options seemed infinite, with so many bookmarking and social networking citation sites available. Sadly, none met all my criteria, so I'm back to manually coding my html file.

Here's what I tried. The links go to a few sample articles I wanted to share with my class, along with notes about why each product didn't meet my needs:

  • On the plus side:
    • It's RefWorks, which I encourage my students to use during their career at Simmons.
    • It's incredibly simple to get citations from EBSCO, CSA, etc. into RefWorks.
    • It's possible to create shared folders that anyone can view.
    • It's very customizable, with 15 user-defined fields and an infinite number of ways to format citations.
    • Simmons' RefWorks is OpenURL-enabled, so it's easy for students to get to the full-text of the article, PLUS they get early familiarity with Simmons' ArticleNow!
  • On the minus side:
    • The default view for RefWorks' shared folders is not customizable. The metadata doesn't display consistently across document types (article, book, web page), and the Standard View doesn't display in any recognized format (APA, Turabian, MLA). I wrote the company and was told that it is not possible to modify the Standard View.
    • The inability to easily display instructions for textbook readings in the Standard View (i.e., chapter number, title, and pages for the chapter, along with the book title) was the straw that broke this camel's back.


  • On the plus side:
    • Easy (theoretically) to add citations with a bookmarklet.
    • Citations are online.
    • Easy to add tags.
  • On the minus side:
    • None of the citations I tried to add through their bookmarklet actually loaded. I tried from Scopus, which is on the CiteULike list of "web sites". EBSCO isn't on their list, so I wasn't surprised that EBSCO citations didn't import automatically. That's a deal-breaker, as a large percentage of my citations are in EBSCO's Library, Information Science, and Technology Abstracts (LISTA) database.
    • The ads on the interface are distracting and leave little room for viewing citations.
  • On the plus side:
    • Includes date and time the citation was added to the database. The downside is that it's not in my time zone.
    • The default is to share citations.
  • On the minus side:
    • Not possible to automatically add from EBSCO or other Simmons databases; only via their bookmarklet.
    • The article's metadata is not added automatically via their bookmarklet. The default is to only display the title with a hyperlink to the article. It's possible to add complete citations, but that requires extra steps -- and the point of this exercise is to save time.
    • Lots of red on the page is tiring. Page is kind of cluttered.
    • Extra features like "related"articles and links to others who've linked to the same citation are not relevant to a class reading list.
  • On the plus side:
    • Clean, simple layout with professional colors.
    • Scopus citations imported easily.
    • Nice tagging.
  • On the minus side:
    • It works best with Elsevier databases. This is a problem for two reasons:
      • I have access to Scopus through my main job at UConn, but not through Simmons. So any citations I find in Scopus that I want to use for class have the UConn / Scopus URL rather than a Simmons-friendly (i.e., proxied) URL for easy access to the full-text. I'd have to copy & paste the URLs from LISTA for citations that are in Scopus.
      • Scopus doesn't index some of the non scholarly journals, so I had to manually add Stephen Abram's terrific Searcher article Evolution to Revolution to Chaos? Reference in Transition.
    • Making articles shared was a two-step process: clicking the "group" box AND agreeing to the pop-up that yes, I do want to share this article.
    • Finally, it didn't do well with textbook chapters -- too much manual metadata entry.

I also looked briefly at EBSCO's shared folders and Zotero, but neither seemed easily shareable, so I didn't actually test them. Briefly:

  • I love EBSCO's folders, but if you want to share them, you have to email everyone with whom you want to share the folder, and with 21 students in the class, that's too much extra work for moi.
  • Zotero's got great potential, but as it is now resident only one one browser, it's not ready for a shared class reading list.

I have used a wiki in the past for my source list (which looks a lot like a reading list, since many of the sources are books, and all need to be properly cited). I asked students to annotate each source on the wiki, and that was terrific. However, I still had to format the citations, both in html and wiki style. For next semester, I have put my sources in delicious, and I will use that both as the source list AND the annotation vehicle.

Back to the software under discussion: Please note that I have assessed these tools to be used as a reading list, which is not exactly what they were designed for. I have taught many UConn students and faculty to use RefWorks, and I will continue to do so. It's great for keeping track of citations. Similarly, the other products I've described have great features for researchers and scholars.

Sadly, though, none is robust enough to serve as the reading list for my upcoming class. I am keeping the list in the "cloud" though, using dropbox for its easy, everywhere access. Take a look at the Spring 2009 reading list -- it's in flux, but you might find something fun to read!

December 21, 2008

Favorite Songs 2008

One of my usual end-of-year projects is to create a CD of my favorite songs which came out in the past year.  This year, thanks to cool technology, I was able to upload mp3s of the songs to and I can share them with you all!

Here's the full song list, in order on the CD:

  1. Post It 4:02 The Aluminum Group Little Happyness
  2. Horizon 4:23 Ashby The Best of Marina Records
  3. Birthday 3:30 The Bird And The Bee One Too Many Hearts
  4. The Motorbike Song 4:23 Justin Jude 
  5. Beautiful Eyes 3:54 The Aluminum Group Little Happyness
  6. El Fusilado 2:32 Chumbawamba The Boy Bands Have Won
  7. Far Away 3:50 The Hampdens The Last Party
  8. Librarian 4:16 My Morning Jacket Evil Urges
  9. Je Suis Un Parisien 3:41 Jean-paul Elysee Pourtant
  10. Oxford Comma 3:16 Vampire Weekend Vampire Weekend
  11. Quotidien 2:57 Sandrine Kiberlain Putumayo Presents Acoustic France
  12. Walcott 3:42 Vampire Weekend Vampire Weekend
  13. Unstoppable 3:33 Santogold Santogold
  14. This Is The Life 3:05 Amy Macdonald This Is The Life
  15. How Am I To Be 3:05 The Watson Twins Fire Songs
  16. All This Beauty 3:20 The Weepies Hideaway
  17. You Don’t Love Me Yet 3:52 Winterpills Central Chambers
  18. Add Me 3:28 Chumbawamba The Boy Bands Have Won
  19. Secret Blue Thread 4:23 Winterpills Central Chambers
  20. One Fine Day 4:55 David Byrne & Brian Eno Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
  21. Lovely Day 3:26 The Aluminum Group Little Happyness

  • Due to licensing restrictions, I could only include 2 songs by each artist.  I'd only chosen 2 Winterpills songs, so they were safe, but I had to deselect something from the Aluminum Group; you can see their Beautiful Eyes video below.
  • I can only listen to 30-second clips from each song in my mix -- hope they sound ok to you!
  • If you like any of these songs or artists, please consider buying their CD!

November 26, 2008

Short Takes

Here are a few of my recent favorite things, for your Thanksgiving (U.S.) browsing pleasure:

Bora posts a great article on New and Exciting in PLoS ONE: an article entitled Whole Body Mechanics of Stealthy Walking in Cats and he asks for LOLCat submissions to illustrate the articles. I'd like to see that too!


I just bought the library a terrific book called Head First Statistics (O'Reilly, 2008), which I like for several reasons:
  1. It explains a bunch of statistics in a lot of different ways; and, quoting O'Reilly:  "brings this typically dry subject to life, teaching statistics through engaging, interactive, and thought-provoking material, full of puzzles, stories, quizzes, visual aids, and real-world examples."
  2. It's a great example of how books can be designed to effectively -- and professionally -- teach complex concepts.  (O'Reilly says the book "satisfies the requirements for passing the College Board's Advanced Placement (AP) Statistics Exam" so it's clearly no slouch!). I'd might even call it a 2.0 book?!
  3. I got some good ideas of how to present study tips to my LIS students from page xxxiii entitled "Here's what YOU can do to bend your brain into submission," using tips like "Slow down" ... "Talk about it. Out loud" ... "Do the exercises. Write your own notes."  Interactivity improves learning.
Check out the book ... either to learn statistics, or to get ideas on how to make reading tough concepts manageable.


Heard some interesting (but not uplifting) brain science stories on the News Hour:
  • Misdiagnosing Dementia (Nov. 12 2008):  "About 5 million Americans suffer from dementia -- about half of those from suspected Alzheimer's disease -- according to official estimates. Now, researchers are looking for new treatments in a field that hasn't seen a major advance since the 1960s."  
  • Military, VA Confront Rising Suicide Rates Among Troops (Nov. 10 2008)  "The Army says that suicides among active duty personnel have doubled in recent years, and multiple deployments might contribute to that increase."
Read the transcript, download the audio, or watch the video on the News Hour site.  (Note to the News Hour: nice way to keep your content vibrant in this multimedia age!)

November 17, 2008

Pre-1923 Psychology Books Online

You may remember that I recently wrote about UConn's project to digitize books published prior to 1923 ... focusing on 200 or so psychology published before 1923.  I've heard from lots of UConn faculty voting for various titles (thanks!) and I'm keeping an annotated list of print candidates for digitization in Google Docs; browsing the list, you can see which titles are popular.

I was also excited to find that many of these titles have already been digitized!  Since they already exist online, we will add them to Homer, our online catalog so that they'll be available to all.  In the meantime, if you want to take a peek inside some psychology classics, take a look below:
Most of these are available through the Internet archive, but others are available through Google Books or other electronic book sites.  All are free for anyone to use!

Please let me know if you don't like the quality of the digitized book already available online; I've been told that we will digitize titles that are already online if folks would prefer a better quality scan.  And let me know if you have any questions!

Note: no books will be harmed during digitization.

November 16, 2008

Deconstructing Scientific Articles

I spent some time this evening reading thoughtful, well-reasoned critiques of a few recent medical studies. On his blog, Genomics, Evolution, and Pseudoscience, Steven Salzberg describes 5 problems about the recent report that Cresor can result in "a 'dramatic risk reduction' in heart attack risk for men."

In Serious doubts about new study of statins and heart disease, Salzberg summarizes the studies: "[they] claimed that people with normal cholesterol levels could get significant health benefits [by taking Crestor]. If true, [these two studies] impl[y] that millions more people should start taking statins to protect themselves against heart attacks." He adds "[t]his new finding is rife with problems, despite the breathless news reporting about it" and goes on to describe 5 of them:
  1. "Both studies were funded by AstraZeneca, the drug company that sells Crestor," although Salzberg is quick to add that this is clearly disclosed in both articles.
  2. The lead author of both studies is Paul Ridker, who owns the patent on the primary test for C-reactive protein (CRP) levels, and he stands to benefit financially if more people are tested for CRP. Again, Salzberg calls this only eyebrow-worthy, as this is clearly stated in both articles.
  3. Although it suggests that a seven-variable method is more predictive than the traditional five-variable model, "the Circulation study didn’t report separately on the effect of CRP and family history of heart disease."
  4. "[T]he NEJM [New England Journal of Medicine] study actually reports a very small benefit: ... you’d have to treat 95 people for 2 years with statins to prevent 1 heart attack."
  5. "The patients in the NEJM study were randomly divided into two groups, treatment (Crestor) and placebo [and] there are 3 critical variables where the two groups are not identical."
It's a fascinating read, because Salzberg knowledgably disputes the articles' claims (and includes a few snarky notes about how the media covered the story).

If you like that post, you might like these:I like these posts because they debunk bad science ... and I also humbly suggest that they may be helpful in teaching science students how to evaluate scientific articles.

For the socially networked: I found this blog through my FriendFeed buddy Jean-Claude Bradley, who follows Lars Juhl Jensen, who linked to Salzberg's blog.

November 12, 2008

"Ripple Effect:" Weight Loss Among Couples

Maybe you heard about a weight loss "ripple effect" among couples over the past few months; the story had crossed my radar, but I didn't realize the study's author was a psychology professor at UConn. 

There's an article in the Nov. 10 issue of the UConn Advance, highlighting Amy Gorin's published study in the International Journal of Obesity which demonstrates that if one member of a couple goes on an "intensive weight loss program," their spouse will probably lose weight too.

Gorin's study looked at 357 pairs of participants in Look AHEAD, "evaluating the impact of intentional weight loss on cardiovascular outcomes in overweight individuals with type 2 diabetes" (quote from article abstract) to see the effect of this weight loss program on the non-participating spouse. In fact, the Advance notes that "[s]pouses of individuals enrolled in the more intense program lost an average of five pounds, even though they did not participate in the weight loss program themselves."

Why does this happen? The Advance quotes Gorin:
“When we change our eating and exercise habits, it can spill over in a positive way to other people. This is evidence that if you change your own behavior, you may motivate others around you and get them motivated as well.”
The article's abstract concludes:
The reach of behavioral weight loss treatment can extend to a spouse, suggesting that social networks can be utilized to promote the spread of weight loss, thus creating a ripple effect.
Yay for social networks!

For More Information

November 06, 2008

Digitizing Books @ UConn

UConn is participating in an exciting project whereby we are digitizing pre-1923 / out-of-copyright books as part of the Boston Library Consortium / Open Content Alliance project, with a goal of scanning approximately 1500 UConn books a year. The digitized books will be listed & linked in Homer, the Libraries' catalog, and will be online through Note that many pre-1923 psychology titles are already there, including these works by or about William James and psychology.

This relates to psychology because I get to select 50 titles to be digitized from over 200 identified psychology titles -- and I'd love input from the UConn psychology department. You can see the list of digitization candidates in Google Docs. If there's a title or two (or more!) that you'd like to see digitized, please let me know.  Note:  some of the titles we'd like to digitize are already available online -- if that is the case, they will be directly added to Homer.  My deadline is Dec. 1, so I'd like to receive comments by Nov. 20.

For More Information

November 05, 2008

Today's Front Pages

On special news days, I like to head over to the Newseum to browse the front pages of newspapers across the United States and around the world.

You can browse all 674 (as of today) or you can just look at the front pages by region, like the US, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, and more.  If you click on the thumbnail image, you'll see a blown up image of the front page.

You can also look at archived pages for special events, like when the Phillies won the World Series, the first day of the Olympics, or Sept. 12, 2001.

November 03, 2008

*new* Psychology & Communication Sciences Books

Thanks to WorldCat and Google Reader, I've created some nifty lists that highlight new books I've purchased in communication sciences (either communication or communication disorders) and psychology.  As new books come into the library, I add them to a list at WorldCat, which then goes through Google Reader, and ultimately onto my subject pages for my three disciplines.
Note that those pages are also home to lists of recent publications by UConn faculty in those departments; both pages change frequently, so check them out often!

You can see some of the recent book purchases here:

Please let me know if you'd like me to consider purchasing a book for your subject!

October 30, 2008

For Prospective LIS Students

I've talked to a couple of prospective LIS students this week and wanted to give them all sorts of information about what it's like to be a librarian.  Librarians show their affection and support with information, right?!

So I made a short web site with material I'd share with these two students ... and any others that may come along.

Take a look, and pass it on!

October 29, 2008

4-page Tip Sheet for PsycINFO

The American Psychological Association and EBSCO created a handy 4-page tip sheet on searching PsycINFO through the new EBSCO interface.

Using the magic of Adobe Acrobat, I was able to modify the document slightly, so that it contains UConn-specific information, including my name & contact info. and the direct link to get to PsycINFO (for both on- and off-campus access).
If you're a UConn student & want to easily access PsycINFO off-campus, try this link.  Did you know you can search PsycINFO & Medline at the same time?  Also from off-campus!  As usual, if you have any questions about this, please ask!

For More Information

October 28, 2008

Audiology Lectures @ California's Commonwealth Club

I've been listening to some terrific audiology lectures thanks to the Commonwealth Club of California, "the nation's oldest and largest public affairs forum." In May 2008, they offered a "Hearing Miniseries," in which three hearing specialists spoke for about an hour each on various aspects of hearing and hearing-related issues.

1. "How Hearing and the Brain Changes with Age," by Robert W. Sweetow, PhD, Director of Audiology at the UCSF Medical Center on May 15, 2008. Sweetow explains how hearing works, and notes that some age-related hearing problems are due to deterioration of the hearing systems in the ear. Other issues, he says, are more brain-related, because the brain is slower to process information as we age, and this includes processing sound and turning it into something meaningful. You can listen to the audio on the Commonwealth Club web site in real audio, purchase a CD of the lecture ($15), or look for it in iTunes (mp3). His part starts about 5 minutes into the ~66 minute lecture.

#2: "Cochlear Implants: Where Are we in 2008," by Lawrence Lustig, M.D., Division Chief of Otology, Nuerotology and Skull Base Surgery, UCSF, on May 22, 2008. Lustig explains what cochlear implants are and how they work, providing some history and some ideas of the future of cochlear implants. He brought two patients with him who talk briefly about what it was like to get cochlear implants and what effect the implants had on their hearing. You can listen to the audio on the Commonwealth Club web site in real audio, purchase a CD of the lecture ($15), or look for it in iTunes (mp3). His part starts about 6 minutes into the ~65 minute lecture.

#3: "The Future of Hearing: A Sound Investment," by Rodney Perkins M.D., Founder and Chairman of Sound ID, on May 28, 2008. Perkins talked about "hearing devices" (he abhors the term "hearing aids") in general, and then about two devices that his companies are working on. I liked his speaking style -- and I really liked his discussion of why dogs (and, I would argue, cats) perk their ears in different directions (to pinpoint the location of sound). You can listen to the audio on the Commonwealth Club via iTunes or via mp3. His part starts 4 minutes into the ~59 minute lecture.

I'd recommend these lectures to people who are personally interested in hearing -- either because they or someone they know is suffering from hearing loss, or because they are studying hearing / audiology and want some basic information presented in an engaging way. Of course, they're also very helpful for librarians supporting hearing professionals of all stripes.

October 24, 2008

Psychology Podcasts @ UConn

UConn psychology professor Dr. David B. Miller is recording small group discussions which enhance his two large psychology classes. One podcast is called iCube ("Issues In Intro"), about which Miller says:
[These] are informal discussions with students on course material following each week's General Psychology lectures. Students who participate have the opportunity to ask questions for clarification, as well as expand on course material and discuss issues not necessarily covered in class.
He supports the General Psychology class with two other audio sessions, called precasts ("short, enhanced podcasts previewing material before each lecture") and postcasts ("re-explanations of concepts that might be important and/or detailed and, therefore, justify repeating" which are created following some, but not all, lectures).

I am a regular listener to both, and find them very useful. First, the explanation of psychology topics is fun because of my interest in cognitive science. Second, the podcasts are a fascinating insight into how one of "my" professors works with his students in my liaison department. Finally, they are a great example of how all educators can use new technology to enhance our teaching.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to sit in on his recording session and it was a delight. There were about 20 students sitting around two tables, and virtually all of them were engaged with the conversation. I felt that I could see them learning, and that was a wonderful sight. The podcasts are a great, tech-oriented but not tech-dominated, way for Miller to provide additional information to students in his large introductory class. The beauty of them, it seems to me, is that they are helpful not only to the students who are able to attend the recording session, but also that they are available to other students as a podcast to listen to at their convenience, and as often as they like.

I liked the idea of podcasts-supporting-classes very much in theory, and I was even more impressed with the idea after having seen them in action. I am inspired to try to apply this to my own classes; instead of running exclusively text-based chat "office hours" for my GSLIS classes, I think I'll try Skype sessions next semester. Students who want to do text-based chat can do that, but students who learn more from hearing could benefit too.

But back to Miller: he has discussed his podcasts at various conferences and print publications; check out his 2006 article Podcasting at the University of Connecticut: Enhancing the Educational Experience in the October 16, 2006 issue of Campus Technology. Oh, and he's written his own theme song, PsychoBabble, which he discusses in a standalone podcast. For real!

For More Information

October 19, 2008

Searching for Reliable Medical Information Online

My medical librarian buddy David Rothman created a nifty Web search box that "searches authoritative and trusted consumer health information and patient education resources recommended by the U.S. National Library of Medicine and/or by CAPHIS (the Consumer and Patient Health Information Section of the Medical Library Association)." It's techically a Google Custom Search Engine (CSE),which is a nifty opportunity to create a Google search box that searches only web sites you select.

CAPHIS maintains a page on how to evaluate health infomation, which is useful, and it also lists some of the web sites they recommend. They also list the Top 100 Health Websites You Can Trust.

I've used David's search box for my own medical searching -- I was scrolling through commercial and vaguely unreliable results thinking "hmmm, there's got to be a way to search reliable health information on the Web. Then I remembered David's search engine and tried it with great success. I was happy to easily search medical sites that I know are reputable -- like medlineplus, the mayo clinic, and others. The search looks & works like Google, but it only searches those trusted sites.

For my CogSciLibrarian readers, I thought I would search some of the health-related topics that I've blogged about, such as
  • diabetes: see results from Medline and MedlinePlus, the CDC, the Harvard diabetes center, the Mayo Clinic, and (the American Academy of Family Physicians). Not surprisingly, there are few results for feline diabetes, since the search engine is focused on human health.
  • vision therapy: see results from Medscape/WebMD, HealthCentral, MedHelp, and more.
  • concussion: see results from (created by The Nemours Foundation's Center for Children's Health Media) and an interesting article by the CDC about their campaign with the Seattle Seahawks & the Brain Injury Association of Washington to help prevent young athletes from sustaining concussions, and information from the Medical College of Wisconsin.
Of course, there are terrific library resources for consumer health as well, such as:
  • Alt HealthWatch (from EBSCO) - the "alt" stands for "alternative & complementary"
  • Health and Wellness Resource Center and Alternative Health Module (from Cengage Gale)
  • Health Reference Center Academic (from Cengage Gale)
  • Health Source Consumer Edition (from EBSCO)
... and many more ... ask a librarian for assistance!

So ... if you or someone you know is doing consumer health research, check out David's Consumer Health and Patient Education Information Search Engine and browse the list of trustworthy general health web sites, or head to your local public library.

October 16, 2008

Library License Plate in Mass!

The Central Mass Regional Library System is reporting that the state of Massachusetts is offering a library license plate. CMRLS says that 
The idea for the plate emerged during a ‘promote libraries’ brainstorming activity at a CMRLS Executive board workshop.  After a joint meeting with RMV officials in April and consultations with other library organizations, CMRLS decided to launch the drive to gather the required prepaid applications to produce the specialty plate.
CMRLS states that "proceeds will benefit public, academic, special and school libraries across the state that belong to a Regional Library System" and notes that "funds will not be used to supplant library budgets."

The initial cost of the plates will be $60:  $28 for the Library Grant Fund; $12 to the RMV for manufacturing costs, and a $20 "swap fee" when you pick up the plate.  Renewals will happen every two years & will cost $81 ($41 RMV registration fee and $40 for the specialty plate fee that continues to go to the Library Grant Fund).

The RMV must have at least 3,000 pre-paid applications before they will commit to making the plates; after they get 3,000 applications, it will take approximately 6 months to manufacture the plates and for them to reach the RMV branches.

What an ingenious fund-raising idea!

For More Information

October 14, 2008

Interesting Research @ UConn

I'm catching up on some old issues of the UConn Advance, the newspaper of news and events at the University of Connecticut, and I noticed some interesting cognitive-related research going on -- in different departments, as you might expect.

Closest to me as the library adviser to the department of communication sciences, is the Sept. 29 article on assistant professor Melissa Tafoya, highlighting her research in "the dark side of human behavior," or as she elaborates: "the real-life stuff - infidelity, jealousy, aggression, and conflict." The Advance article describes her work in several areas, including assessment of the long-term relationships between step-siblings, and the physiological effects of communication. The Advance says:
In one study, she examined how people’s stress levels were reduced by expressing affection through writing a letter.

The participants’ cortisol levels, heart rates, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels were measured. “We found that participants’ stress levels were significantly reduced when they wrote a letter of affection to somebody they cared about,” she says.

I was also interested to read the October 6 article on the creation of a database to compare international sign languages. Linguists Harry van der Hulst and Rachel Channon are developing a database called SignTyp -- which will eventually be available on the Web for all to peruse -- that contains information on nearly 12,000 signs from six different sign languages. Van der Hulst is a phonologist who says “When I started studying sign languages, it changed my perspective on what human languages are. Sign languages are extra interesting in the domain of phonology, because the medium is not sound but visual display.” He adds that since linguistics has traditionally focused on sound, the field has to redefine what it means by phonology to allow for the fact that sign language doesn't have consonants and vowels.

Check out the Advance article for images of Van der Hulst demonstrating the sign for "recognize" in ASL; presumably a taste of what's to come in the SignTyp database.

For More Information
  • Citations to Professor Tafoya's publications are available on her CV.
  • UConn Linguistics Department SignTyp site.

October 01, 2008

Library Tip o' the Month: ILL *rocks*

There's a great library service for UConn community members who want library materials but don't have the time / energy / physical ability to come over to the Homer Babbidge Library

The Library's DD/ILL staff (library jargon for: "if we don't have it, we'll get it for you" department) is now scanning items at the Babbidge Library as well as items we don't own. 

What does that mean to you?  

If you want a journal article or book chapter, and it's not available online through UConn Links, request it through InterLibrary Loan (ILL) ... you should have a pdf of the item within 2 business days. My experience with this terrific service is that scanned items can come even more quickly than that.

There is currently no charge to UConn students and faculty for this!  (There is a charge to the University to do the scanning, so please ILL responsibly.)

Let me know if you have any questions or comments about this service.

September 28, 2008

Concussion Study Among Athletes

Twelve retired sports players have pledged to donate their brains to Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (at BU's School of Medicine) which is devoted to studying the long-term effects of concussions. The Center said last week in a press release that the brain of former Houston Oilers linebacker John Grimsley "... exhibited pronounced chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition that is often seen in retired athletes, such as boxers, who have a history of repeated concussions.

The New York Times notes that one of the NFL players who is donating his brain, former New England Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson, "... hoped the center would help clarify the issue of concussions’ long-term effects, which have been tied to cognitive impairment and depression in several published studies." The Times reports that the NFL believes that "... the long-term effects of concussions are uncertain."

Players do not intend their donation to be a condemnation of the NFL; the Times quotes Johnson: "I'm not being vindictive. I'm not trying to reach up from the grave and get the NFL. But any doctor who doesn't connect concussions with long-term effects should be ashamed of themselves." quotes former NFL linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski: "There might be a connotation that this is a witch hunt, point the finger at the NFL. It's just not like that."

Six NFL players' brains have been examined post-mortem, and five were found to have evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Dr. Ann C. McKee, a co-director of the new brain-study center, told the Times:
“I’ve seen thousands of brains of individuals with neurogenerative diseases and debilitating diseases. I can say this is identical to the pugilistica dementia that I’ve seen in boxers in their 70s and 80s. It’s milder because the patients are younger. But once triggered, it seems to progress. The people that develop this disease, most of them show symptoms 10 or 20 years after retirement. It progresses inexorably until death.”
While it's only five cases, McKee says, it is a strong argument for "unequivocal evidence that on-field impacts were a primary cause of the damage, perhaps in association with genetic and other factors her program will attempt to identify."

Boston University released a statement about the study on September 26, which includes some convincing images of brain damage which is an "an indicator of the degenerative brain disease CTE." The images from Dr. McKee show a "microscopic brain section from a 65-year-old control subject," along with a creepy image of linebacker John Grimsley's brain, and a disturbing image of the same cells of "a 73-year-old world-champion boxer with end-stage CTE and dementia."

The press release at Boston University quotes John Grimsley's wife Virginia, who says she plans to reach out to more NFL players, urging them to consider participating in the BU study. "The stigma needs to go away that you’re a sissy if you come out of the game and don’t go back in. A concussion is a big deal. It’s not just a ding."

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September 24, 2008

Brain Plasticity and Psychotherapy

Australia's terrific cognitive science radio show All in the Mind just had a two-part series called The Power of Plasticity in which host Natasha Mitchell interviewed psychiatrist Norman Doidge (Columbia University and the University of Toronto) and Jeffrey Schwartz (UCLA) about "neuroplasticians" (Doidge's term).

As Mitchell notes on the episode page, "the adult brain was a rigid, unchangeable organ, but that pessimistic perspective is now being radically revised;" she talks with Schwartz and Doidge about the many ways they know that the brain is, in fact, changeable and adaptable.

Schwartz discusses how people with obsessive compulsive disorder can take advantage of the brain's plasticity to actually change the wiring and minimize the disorder. He says that the part of the brain involved with OCD (the cordate nucleus) functions somewhat like the transmission in a car:
... what happens in obsessive compulsive disorder is you literally do get a stuck transmission and you get this error detection circuit coming in from another part of the brain in the front called the orbital frontal cortex locking, and you can't shift out of it and because you're locked in to an error detection circuit, you are bombarded with feelings that something is wrong, even though the rest of your brain and mind adequately can tell most of the time that even though this feels terrible it really doesn't make sense.
And apparently, according to Schwartz, "people could direct their own inner environment through this enhanced understanding. So I said [to myself] this is self-directed neuroplasticity."

Doidge talks about how psychotherapy can also change some of the brain's wiring; his analogy is to skiing:
plasticity is like snow on a hill in winter, if we're going to ski down that hill because the snow is plastic and pliable we can take many different paths down that hill, not an infinite number, there are rocks here and trees over there. And if we had a good pass down the first time, being human we will tend to favour a path close to that the second and third times and then because the snow is pliable and plastic we'll develop tracks which become ruts and we can get stuck in them, brain lock.
He adds that "many of the neuroplastic treatments basically find ways of setting up road blocks, so that you can get out of those ruts and learn about new pathways and grow new pathways etc."

Both Schwartz and Doidge tell some fascinating stories. The two episodes are well worth a listen, and you can read the transcript online if you prefer.

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September 16, 2008

Soda or Pop?

what is this carbonated beverage? 

Do you call it "pop"?  "soda"?  a brand name soda pop? I ran across a linguistics map showing who calls it what:

Read about it at the Strange Maps blog, The Pop Vs Soda Map.  They cite an article by Luanne von Schneidemesser, PhD in German linguistics and philology (University of Wisconsin-Madison) showing who calls "carbonated beverages" what.  They note that von Schneidemesser is a senior editor of the Dictionary of American Regional English.  

For More Information
  • Schneidemesser, Luanne von. "Soda or Pop?" (first page in pdf)  Journal of English Linguistics, 1996 Dec; 24 (4): 270-87.  [article that is basis for blog post]
  • Strange Maps.  The Pop Vs Soda Map. August 18, 2008.

August 31, 2008

Favorite Podcasts

I've had two conversations recently in which I was discussing favorite science podcasts. Since this blog serves as a long-term memory aid, I'm listing, in alphabetical order, some of the sci-tech podcasts I like right now. (read about earlier favorites)
Please add your favorite science podcast(s) in the comments!

August 28, 2008

My Public Schedule for Fall

In case you were wondering, there are a few places you can see me this fall, and if you can't come see me, you can read some stuff I wrote. Here are the details:

"Live Usability Lab: See One, Do One & Take One Home."
Thursday, September 11, 2008, 9 am-noon
Middletown Library Service Center Meeting Room
Free! Class limit: 20
Description: This innovative half-day workshop will provide background on usability and define the user experience (UX). We will offer a "live usability lab" with audience assessment of one library web site and provide time and resources to create usability scenarios for YOUR web resources. Attendees will participate in interactive usability testing to evaluate web-based library resources from the user's perspective. You will also develop questions and methodology to assess usability and the UX @ your library!

"Live Web Usability Lab," co-presenting with iCONN's Steve Cauffman and ECSU's Carol Abetelli.
CASL Conference 2008 (the Connecticut Association of School Librarians)
November 10, 2008, 2 identical sessions: 10:15 - 11 and 1:15-2:15
Crowne Plaza Hotel in Cromwell, CT
Description: What do your students think about your school library’s Web site? This session provides a dynamic way to see how usability testing can help evaluate Web resources from your students’ perspective. A panel of librarians will use an innovative, interactive method to assess iCONN; to demonstrate the potential and power of user testing; and to engage the audience by illustrating the process with live data instead of canned examples. This session is for all ages, but is best for librarians who have created web sites for their students.

Articles (forthcoming)

August 27, 2008

Library Tip o' the Month: Office Hours

I will be holding two office hours outside of the library this semester.
  • On Tuesdays from noon-1, I will be in the Communication Sciences building, in room 105a.
  • On Wednesdays from 3-4, I will be in the Psychology building, in room 190c.
You can come to see me during those times and ask me anything (preferably about library resources, but I'm game for other topics too) -- no appointment necessary!

I can help undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty improve searches in library "search engines" like PsycINFO, Medline, and Scopus. I can also help you manage the citations / articles you've found using a nifty tool called RefWorks. Bring your questions (and your laptop if you like) and stop in to see me!

Did you know?

About: Library Tip o' the Month

This summer, I was appointed the librarian for the department of psychology at UConn. UConn's department of psychology is organized into six sections, covering Behavioral Neuroscience, Developmental, Clinical, Perception, Action, Cognition, Industrial/ Organizational, and Social psychology. They also offer programs in Language & Cognition and Ecological Psychology. You can see some of the faculty's recent publications in this Scopus feed -- very interesting indeed!

This is great news for me, as I'm quite a psychology buff, and I'm excited to work with some actual cognitive scientists. As part of my new duties, I am going to integrate this blog with my work for psychology and communication sciences (where I am also the liaison). So interspersed with cog sci news & info will be periodic posts providing a "Library Tip o' the Month."

Stay tuned!

August 26, 2008

Seeing Sound

The Talking Books librarian blogs about an article at the BBC about software which helps the deaf to "see" sound. Using the newly-developed software Lumisonic, sound is represented by moving rings which radiate, and change depending on the pitch, volume, etc. It helps people with hearing difficulties understand the sounds they make, such as how loud it is, as well as its texture and quality. There's a neat video, which features kids using a Wii controller to change the sound that they are "seeing" on a computer: "I wanted to see some crazy circles" said one. As he said that, sound poured from the machine, which he was controlling, even though he can't hear.

The BBC article reports that musicians from the London Philharmonic Orchestra played for / with deaf children at Whitefields School in East London. They quote Dr Mick Grierson from Goldsmith's, University of London: "It gave them a way of interacting with sound and music, with musicians who are highly skilled. It enabled them to work with music in a way they haven't been able to before."

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August 24, 2008

Favorite Albums by Year

Finally, a meme I can (want to) write about! Liam, over at Panorama of the Mountains, lists his Favorite Albums by Year, starting with the soundtrack to Wattstax, back in 1973. I don't think I can go back that far (if I did, it would include things like Carly Simon's Hotcakes, Al Stewart’s Past, Present, and Future, and ELO's Out of the Blue) with my musical favorites. Instead, I'll start my list when I started making my "Favorite Songs of the Year" CD. I can't limit myself to one CD, so I'll list the best and the runner up.
  • 2001: Kirsty MacCall ... Tropical Brainstorm (RIP)
    • Runner up: Eliza Carthy ... Angels & Cigarettes
  • 2002: Mark Knopfler ... Ragpicker's Dream
    • Runner up: Raul Malo ... Today
  • 2003: Belle & Sebastian ... Dear Catastrophe Waitress
    • Runner up: Fountains of Wayne ... Welcome Interstate Managers
  • 2004: Chumbawamba ... Un
    • Runner up: Michael Franti & Spearhead ... Everyone Deserves Music
  • 2005: Winterpills ... Winterpills
    • Runner up: Dido ... Life for Rent
  • 2006: Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins ... Rabbit Fur Coat
    • Runner up: The Guggenheim Grotto ... Waltzing Alone
  • 2007: Camera Obscura ... Let’s Get out of this Country
    • Runner up: Steve Forbert ... Strange Names and New Sensations
Note that these are my favorite albums during that year, which doesn't mean that the album was released in that year. For instance, Today was released in 2001, but heard and fell in love with it in 2002.

If you're into this kind of list-making, consider yourself tagged for this blog meme.

August 19, 2008

Thoughtful Talk about Positive Psychology

Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology ("a field of study that examines healthy states, such as happiness, strength of character and optimism") spoke at the Ted Conference back in 2004, and the video has just been made available online:

He talks clearly about the state of positive psychology today, including some background. Psychology (arguably, clinical psychology, though he doesn't explicitly say this) has long been known for making "miserable people less miserable" - but Seligman argues that there is a cost to this: we become "victimologists," ignore "normal people" and genius, and we don't work on developing "interventions" on helping people become happier.

He describes three kinds of "happiness:"
  1. The "pleasant life" includes having as many pleasures and pleasant emotions as possible. Some drawbacks: much of this is "heritable," meaning that you are born with it or you're not; and like tasty food, pleasant emotions can be "habituated," (Seligman analogizes French vanilla ice cream: the first bite is scrumptious, but by the sixth bite, you forget it's the best ice cream you've ever had).
  2. The "good life," which Seligman describes as being about "flow:" when time stops, you have intense concentration, and you are totally consumed by what you're doing.
  3. Meaning. Knowing what your strengths are and using them to good effect for yourself and others.
Finally, Seligman talks about successful "positive interventions" which help improve people's happiness. He assures the audience that studies for these interventions are done in the same "rigorous" manner in which drug effectiveness is tested, including long-term studies, placebo controlled, and random assignment of therapies. He describes some interesting activities which enhance the pleasant life:
  1. Plan a beautiful day
  2. Gratitude visit
  3. Strengths date (with couples)
  4. Fun vs. philanthropy (note: philanthropy has longer-lasting "pleasant" results than fun)
Watch the video for details about these activities, and check out his web site for even more information.

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August 15, 2008

Olympic Medals & Emotions

My favorite brain science podcaster alerted me to a new-to-me psychology podcast called the Psych Files. In this week's episode, Psych Files host Michael Britt talks about the emotions of (some) Olympic medal winners.

Quick, who do you think is happier:
Silver medal winners?
Bronze medal winners?

(I think we can probably surmise that gold medal winners are the happiest of the three, but that isn't addressed in the podcast)

Answer: Bronze medal winners.

Britt summarizes a neat 1995 study in which non sports fans analyzed video of silver and bronze medal winners in the 1992 Olympics to see which winners were happier. With some degree of reliability, subjects agreed that bronze medal winners were happier. Britt and the study's authors suggest that this is because the bronze medalists were happy because they won a medal, while silver medalists were less happy because they didn't win the gold.

Britt's podcast summary is: "Psychologists say that winning the silver medal - coming in second - is actually less satisfying than coming in third - the bronze. Why is that? Sounds weird, but it also sounds right, doesn’t it? Have you ever come in second in a contest or received an A- instead of an A? Find out why winning the silver is…a bummer."

The article's abstract is:
Research on counterfactual thinking has shown that people's emotional responses to events are influenced by their thoughts about "what might have been." The authors extend these findings by documenting a familiar occasion in which those who are objectively better off nonetheless feel worse. In particular, an analysis of the emotional reactions of bronze and silver medalists at the 1992 Summer Olympics -- both at the conclusion of their events and on the medal stand -- indicates that bronze medalists tend to be happier than silver medalists. The authors attribute these results to the fact that the most compelling counterfactual alternative for the silver medalist is winning the gold, whereas for the bronze medalist it is finishing without a medal. Support for this interpretation was obtained from the 1992 Olympics and the 1994 Empire State Games. The discussion focuses on the implications of endowment and contrast for well being.
I particularly enjoyed Britt's analysis of the article, and his (minor) critique. He also offers some intriguing suggestions for extensions of the study. If you want some psychology to go along with your Olympics, this is a good place to look.

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August 13, 2008

Magic Research

Yesterday's Science Times described research published recently in Nature Reviews Neuroscience in which "a team of brain scientists and prominent magicians described how magic tricks, both simple and spectacular, take advantage of glitches in how the brain constructs a model of the outside world from moment to moment, or what we think of as objective reality."

See performances of one the magicians, Apollo Robbins:
(you can also check out his web site,

The Times article talks about the relationship between magic and perception, suggesting that the work of magicians can help neuroscientists understand the limits of perception. My non-scientific take on this is that magicians are exploiting known phenomena like the blind spot we have in our vision. The Times article highlights several magic tricks that rely on these "biological limitations" to trick humans into thinking that magic is being performed, while it comments on how the brain is misled:
The brain focuses conscious attention on one thing at a time, at the expense of others, regardless of where the eyes are pointing. In imaging studies, neuroscientists have found evidence that the brain suppresses activity in surrounding visual areas when concentrating on a specific task. Thus preoccupied, the brain may not consciously register actions witnessed by the eyes.
There are interviews with a few magicians, as well as a description of Apollo Robbins' performance at last summer's Magic of Consciousness Symposium.

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July 20, 2008

Favorite Children's Books

Two very interesting "sets of information" lately on my favorite children's books. (I say "sets of information" because one is a podcast of a lecture, and the other is an article / interview / podcast ... so what is the proper name for these bits of information? but I digress)

First, I read the article in last week's New Yorker about children's libraries, Anne Carroll Moore, arguably the mother of all children's librarians, and E.B. White's Stuart Little. Jill Lepore describes the "Department of Work with Children" at the New York Public Library and provides background on Anne Carroll Moore, the NYPL's first children's librarian, including details of how Moore championed good books for children. Lepore describes how Moore pestered White to write a book for children, but then recoiled from Stuart Little. Stuart himself prevailed, of course, and the rest of the article follows Stuart's progress. The New Yorker also includes a blog post by Lepore who "writes about how she got to the bottom of the Stuart Little battle" and a podcast discussion between Lepore and Roger Angell about the article.

Then I downloaded a podcast of Anita Silvey talking about some of the 100 best children's books to students and school librarians at Simmons Graduate School of Library & Information Science. I had the great fortune of taking Modern Book Publishing with Anita while I was at Simmons, and she is terrific storyteller. In this lecture Anita gives, in her words, "30 short book talks," which turns out to be 1-2 minutes about some delightful books for children and young adults. I was enthralled for virtually all of the talk, and I learned many interesting tidbits about some of my favorite children's books like ...
  • One series of books was written by a mother and daughter, although only the mother was credited as the author.
  • One picture book was rejected over 20 times, and one of my all-time favorite YA books was also rejected over 20 times.
  • One picture book was written during WWII and could be used today to comfort children who are concerned about family members fighting in Iraq.
  • One series of books was written by two German Jews and was smuggled out of France shortly before the Nazis invaded Paris.
Listen to the podcast to find out about these books and more! (or read Anita's books 100 Best Books for Children and 500 Great Books for Teens) Anita is full of fascinating tidbits, like "it doesn't matter how you get a great book" and arguments why publishers and librarians view controversy differently and "great artists do whatever needs to be done" to get a great book.

If you like (or liked) children's books, or if you have children who read, I highly recommend both the New Yorker article and the Anita Silvey lecture.

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