January 28, 2009

Delightful Cognitive Science Fiction

I just finished the best novel of 2009 ... and while it's early in the year, I am confident this will still be towards the top of the list at the end of the year.

Stephanie Kallos' Sing Them Home is delightful, and also relevant to cognitive science, language, and library science. Here's how:
  • Cognitive Science. One of the characters, Larken, is an art history professor who sees people in color. She does this throughout the novel, and I was reminded of synesthetes each time. Here's an example:
"Sometimes Daddy was yellow - not Mommy Yellow (the color of egg yolks in the mixing bowl, prescrambled and paled by lacings of milk, the color of Hope [the mother] when they were reading together at bedtime), but his own special Daddy Yellow: intense, glossy: the pudding-y filling inside lemon bars served at church de bachs; dandelion flowers after a downpour." (p. 93-94)
  • Language. The novel takes place in the fictional town of Emlyn Springs, in southeast Nebraska near Lincoln with strong ties to Wales. Many of the characters speak or sing Welsh, and there are many Welsh rituals. Kallos' loving portrayal of the language and rituals, is touching and might be appreciated by those who enjoy language.
  • Library Science. One small but terrific scene takes place at a library in nearby Beatrice, NE; it nicely illustrates principles of good reference librarianship that I try to instill in my students. Viney, the not-quite stepmother, goes to the library to send an email to a Welsh acquaintance, and she asks for help. Emphasis is mine, with [comments] explaining just why this is such great reference service.
" 'I'd be happy to help you,' the librarian says, coming out from behind the information desk. 'Follow me.' This librarian is no pinched, spinsterish matron wearing a cardigan and spectacles. She's a big girl, twentysomething, and she walks like a man. ...

" 'I'm here to write an email letter. Can I do that?'
" 'You bet.' The girl lays her hand on a silver, dinner-roll-sized object on the desk and expertly starts sliding it around. ...
" 'This is called a "mouse,"' Addison remarks. 'Sadly it's the only named part of a computer that has any poetry.' "

Addison the librarian goes on to show Viney how to select a username in gmail and says "'While you work on that, I'll go help those folks at the counter. As soon as you've got something we’ll get you started, okay?' " [librarian gives patron information, lets her work, and goes to help other patrons, promising to return]

Viney thinks and tries several names until she finds one that works. "Addison is back. 'How you comin' along?' she asks." [returning as promised, still helpful.] They figure out a good username for Viney (Addison's is "Sad bison at gee mail dot com;" Viney ultimately selects nutriyogavine) and Addison explains how to write the "email letter:"

" 'Now,' Addison continues, 'We’ll get the cursor moved down to where you need to start writing ... Now you just start typing the way you would on a regular typewriter.' Addison's fingers move with incredible speed." She shows Viney how to send the message when she's ready, and then says " 'You'll do great. I'll be right over there if you have any questions." [Addison is so patient with Viney, and she ends the encounter with good closure, inviting Viney to ask for more help if she needs it.] (pages 290-292)
If I were writing this up for a reference observation paper (which is an assignment I ask my students to complete), I would demonstrate the many ways that Addison meets the ALA /RUSA Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers. And does a great job of helping a patron we care about in the novel ... as I know many public librarians do in the Real World.

Kudos to Stephanie Kallos for portraying good library assistance. The novel is good in a lot of other ways as well, but for the purposes of this blog, I recommend it for the cognitive and information science tidbits strewn here and there.

For More Information

January 27, 2009

Mind Not on the Road?

If you're driving and talking on a cell phone, your mind isn't on the road. Period.  And the problem isn't the the physical act of dialing, holding the phone, or listening to the person on the other end. The impairment comes from speaking; and in terms of accident risk, the impairment is comparable to driving drunk.
So says David Strayer, psychology professor at the University of Utah. Radio Times' Marty Moss-Coane interviewed Stayer on Monday's show, and it was a fascinating listen.  Some tidbits from the conversation, mostly derived from Strayer's studies in his lab's driving simulator:
  • Cell phone conversations are much more distracting than in-car conversations.  While conversation-making is a big drain on attention, if you are talking with someone in the car with you, the other person is paying attention to the road as well. 
  • The levels of impairment are essentially the same for hand-held and hands-free devices.
  • Text-messaging while driving is, not surprisingly, even more dangerous.
  • Listening while driving -- to the radio, to a book on CD, pre-recorded conversations to this interview on Radio Times -- is not nearly as problematic.  It's the generation of communication, according to Strayer, that causes the interference. (phew!)
  • Strayer said:  "driving also interferes with your ability to make good decisions while you're on the phone."  Because attention is limited, and because it takes attention to both drive safely and make good decisions, when your attention is divided, both driving and decision-making can suffer.
  • Finally, if you do business on your phone while driving, Strayer suggests that you might be putting your company at risk for liability if there is an accident.
The interview is a great listen; callers asked great questions to which Stayer provided fascinating responses.  A logical conclusion would be that talking on cell phones & driving don't mix.

For More Information

January 25, 2009

Interruptions & Watching Television

Apparently, television commercials serve a useful purpose in the enjoyment of television shows. Future Tense's Jon Gordon interviewed Jeff Galak, a doctoral candidate at NYU's Stern School of Business last week regarding Galak's research suggesting that "commercial interruptions make TV shows more enjoyable."

Apparently it's not the commercials themselves that make us enjoy the shows we are watching. Instead, it's the forced break; we get habituated to what we are doing and thus enjoy it less over time. Since the commercials stop the show, when we return to the show, we enjoy it more because we've had a break. From the abstract:

"...[S]tudies demonstrate that, although people preferred to avoid commercial interruptions, these interruptions actually made programs more enjoyable (study 1), regardless of the quality of the commercial (study 2), even when controlling for the mere presence of the ads (study 3), and regardless of the nature of the interruption (study 4)."

The article will be published August.

For More Information
  • Gordon, Jon. Study: Interruptions make TV shows more enjoyable. Future Tense, Jan. 20, 2009.
  • Nelson, Leif D., Tom Meyvis, and Jeff Galak (2009), “Enhancing the Television Viewing Experience through Commercial Interruptions,” in Press at the Journal of Consumer Research, 36 (August). [Paper; subscription required or check @ your library]

January 19, 2009

Leaving New England ... Moving to North Carolina!

The CogSci Librarian is on the move! I am leaving my position as Electronic Resource Librarian at the University of Connecticut on April 30. I'll be moving to North Carolina to serve as the director of the Park Library at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina starting June 1. I'm really excited about the new position, as newspaper libraries are my first love, and I'm thrilled to be going back to the field of journalism.
This is a great time of year to be thinking about moving out of New England -- we've got several inches of snow on the ground, and it's a wee bit warmer in Chapel Hill.

Once again, I'll be rethinking this blog, which is good for me and for the blog. There are interesting connections between journalism, communication, and library science,and I will be exploring those in some form, in some place. JOMC hosts some fascinating blogs, and I may move over there at some point.

For this semester, things will remain the same: I'll continue to serve the University of Connecticut ELibrary & troubleshooting; the departments of communication and psychology; and I'm teaching reference for Simmons GSLIS. Crazy, but I plan to blog things library science and cognitive science for a while yet.

January 15, 2009

Web 2.0 for my friends or, a Facebook Frenzy!

In thinking back over 2008, one of the best things about the year was the proliferation of friends, buddies, and acquaintances I met. For the most part, this meeting took place online, through various social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and FriendFeed.  Many of my library colleagues have written about how they use these tools for professional tasks, such as staying connected with distant colleagues, getting ideas, answering professional questions, and even keeping up with their patrons (for a great treatise on using Twitter in a library setting, see Brian Mathews' article "Social Eyes").  I've found these social networking sites to be a great addition to my professional life.
But I realize that my face-to-face (f2f), non-librarian friends are not quite as tech-savvy as my f2f library friends are.  I find that I keep up with my real life friends less now that I spend so much time online - my spouse and I even stay connected on Facebook!  He and I have talked about this, and we decided to hold a Facebook Frenzy.
This weekend, we've invited some of our f2f friends who are not as tech-savvy (or "tech-addicted") as we are over to our house for an afternoon of Facebook, Skype, and hulu.  We have wireless, and we've encouraged our buddies to bring laptops if they have them, and we also have some laptops of our own people can use if they don't have a traveling computer.  It's going to be informal, with us showing the three sites, answering tech questions (two friends have just gotten MacBooks, so I anticipate some questions there), and talking about privacy settings in Facebook.
From my own experience, I know I learn best when a friend shows me something - it happened with Facebook and with Twitter; if I hadn't had friends there, I probably wouldn't have explored them.  I want to take my teaching expertise out of the academy and into my personal life -- and I have an ulterior motive:  I want to hang out with my f2f friends online in addition to, well, face to face. 

January 06, 2009

About Vision Therapy, II

I get so many hits on my blog for vision therapy, mostly looking for material about Stereo Sue, so I take it for granted that all of my visitors know what vision therapy is. Bad librarian!

It's hard to find a good definition online of vision therapy from a reputable source, in part because it's somewhat controversial.  My impression of it, and this is from my own experience, is that it's a way of retraining the eyes and brain to work together to improve vision.  It's both a personal interest and a professional one, as effective vision therapy relies heavily on the brain's ability to change at any age (also known as brain plasticity).

Vision therapy has been used with people with learning disabilities, with traumatic brain injury, and vision problems like strabismus.  Athletes have used it to improve their hand-eye coordination (useful for baseball players, for instance).  In my case, it was used to correct a convergence insufficiency.  It is generally practiced by behavioral optometrists, whose goal is "to develop or improve fundamental visual skills and abilities" and/or "change how a patient processes or interprets visual information" (College of Optometrists in Vision Development [COVD]).

If you're looking for vision therapy treatment, my eye doctor recommends finding a COVD optometrist. Read what the COVD says about vision therapy; you might also be interested in their information about vision therapy for adults.

For More Information, check out these blog posts about vision therapy

January 05, 2009

Vision Therapy, a personal perspective

My vision buddy Heather has just started blogging about her experiences with vision therapy. She calls it "One Eyed Girl - My Life with Strabismus: [a] Journal of living with monocular vision and learning through Vision Therapy to use both eyes."

I went through a visual revolution several years ago through my own vision therapy, and I appreciate reading someone else's thoughts mid-therapy. I'd read that athletes and children were doing VT to improve their vision, but I didn't know anyone else doing vision therapy at the time -- except for the kids I'd see in my eye doctor's office before or after my appointment. My therapy resulted in a visual revolution -- colors pop, trees have depth, snowflakes are truly three-dimensional -- but I had no one but my eye doctor and vision therapist to tell about these developments. They were happy for me, but it wasn't the same as sharing the milestones with someone who was going through -- or had gone through -- a similar transformation

Heather's visual system is vastly different than mine, and so her rehabilitation is different, but still I like reading her accounts of how her vision is improving. Her descriptions of new visual experiences, large and small, are inspiring, particularly if you have gone through vision therapy. And if you're a vision therapist or behavioral optometrist, it's a nice insight into a patient's experience.