Thursday, September 29, 2005

Days Like These

Are the ones I live for. Crisp autumn air that smells clean. The sun still lights the world, still closer to the top of the sky than the southern horizon. Early fall is a wonderful time. It really should last longer.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

What's Wrong With the World Today

... is that nobody drinks black coffee anymore. I am so tired of waiting in line behind people ordering iced coffee and coffee with whipped cream. Grrrr.

CommCognition Top 25 Week 4

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The awesome Monday game delayed the release. We will be watching the Vols on Jan. 1 or later. As much as I hate it, the Hokies are for real, and I have 3 PAC-10 teams in the top 11. What is the world coming to?

1. Texas
2. USC
3. Florida
4. Ohio State
5. Georgia
6. Tennessee
7. Virginia Tech
8. Florida State
9. LSU
10. California
11. Arizona State
12. Notre Dame
13. Michigan State
14. Alabama
15. Texas Tech
16. Miami (Fla.)
17. Auburn
18. Virginia
19. Texas A&M
20. Louisville
21. Wisconsin
22. Iowa State
23. Minnesota
24. UCLA
25. UTEP

Monday, September 26, 2005

Defining Moments

Americans live for an average of more than 70 years. Most of those days are marked by routine, repetition, and tedium. It's hard to define a life by the routine. Instead, it seems to me, that a life is defined by a handful of defining moments that shape who you are. It is at those moments that we are the most "us" we will ever be.

I recently regained contact with a young woman who played high school soccer while I was the sports editor of the Las Cruces Sun-News. She was extremely talented at the sport, but she was also a pretty amazing kid. She was bright, friendly, dedicated, and a joy to be around. During her senior year, I had a lot of fun covering that soccer team. Shortly before the season ended, I took a job with the Albuquerque Journal. At that time, it seemed important to be moving up in my career, to be moving to a bigger paper.

The soccer team made it to "state" that year. Before moving to Albuquerque, I drove out to the practice fields one last time. Several members of the team were there after practice, and they gave me a "LCHS Soccer" T-shirt in thanks for my work covering the team. I had already accepted the job in Abq and submitted my resignation in Las Cruces. But standing there on the edge of that field was a defining moment for me. If I close my eyes, I can see that day as clearly as if it were yesterday. The green field juxtaposed with the sandy brown dirt and the evening sun creating a reddish glow on the Organ Mountains more than 10 miles to the east. In truth, those girls and their coach gave me far more than I gave them in a few column inches of coverage. And standing there on that sandy dirt road, I felt that slipping away for the first time. Raised as a boy in America, I usually have no trouble holding emotion at bay, but I struggled at that moment. In our recent e-mail exchange, the former soccer player also remembered that day. This made me realize that perhaps humanity is defined by the intersection of defining moments.

It was a defining moment, all right. And I chose career advancement. Although I did not realize it at the time, I traded real human relationships for black and white prestige on a resume. It's true, I guess, that even mighty Casey strikes out.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Field Research, Purple People Meters

Several thoughts from this weekend are starting to come together in my head. Talking to my friend and lazy blogger Johnny Sparks this weekend, we talked about the problem of psychophysiological measurement outside of the lab. In that case, you would lose control, and you would have a hard time linking stimulus and response.

The mental mix adds to that conversation, the recent blog posting by colleague Rob Potter on portable people meters. The underlying technology has user-worn devices recording inaudible signals from the radio for audience analysis. Although this is good for the industry, what a fascinating way to see what people watch on TV.

For example, the cultivation branch of communication research attempts to link viewing habits with attitudes and such. The recent study by Arbitron shows what we psychophysiologists have always known about self report: the are inaccurate because people are subject to laziness, imperfect recording, and social desirability. However, the PPM would allow us to know what was on the TV in the room (we cannot guarantee that they were watching), and we could compare this with attitudes. Even more interestingly, perhaps, is that we could look at the hazard function for certain acts and/or content. That is, given a graphic homicide, how likely are people to change channels? How about a swear word (a current FCC crusade).

For reasons of economics alone we will not have PPM in the communications lab anytime soon. However, it's fun to consider the possibilities.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Land of Entrapment

There is at least one thing I have learned during my travels in academe. No matter where you are, the kids who grow up there want to move somewhere "better." This was true in New Mexico, where many wanted to escape the "Land of Entrapment." Although the economy stinks, you cannot buy 330 sunny days a year. Trust me. It has now been 6 years since I left New Mexico, and I sure wish I could go back. The picture shown here (when Blogger's upload is fixed) is from my dad in Las Cruces. It was taken Sept. 23, 2005. This is Picacho Peak, west of Las Cruces. It's hard not to like this.

Of course, there is a downside to New Mexico. Just a few hours after this picture was taken, the NMSU Aggies took on the California Bears on national TV. The stadium seats more than 30,000. About 11,500 showed up. Arrgh. How often does national TV come to town? Still, once the desert mountains become a part of you, your thoughts will never be far from them.

My dad's first job out of school was in New Mexico. His career took him to bigger markets. It took 4 decades to get back. I hope I don't have to wait that long.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Pep Boys Comes Through

Instead of doing the academic thing, I (and my wife) have been haggling with Pep Boys over warranty work this week. In the end, they did the right thing and totally covered the repair under warranty. Customer service lives!

I feel good about this because I have been doing business with Pep Boys since 1992, and everything has been positive. Now I have even better things to say about them, and I will remain a loyal customer.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Power of Sports

Having worked professionally as a newspaper sports editor, I have a moderate love for sports. This has been fueled by my move to Columbus, where we have a real sports talk radio station, 1460 - The Fan.

After hurricane Katrina, several columnists questioned the value of sport in the larger scale. I largely ignored this debate. Last weekend I attended the OSU football game versus San Diego State. The announced attendance at Ohio Stadium was 104,000+, and tickets cost at least $50. Even math phobics can see that adds up to $5 million before parking and concessions. That's one stadium in one town. Michigan (the devil), OSU, Penn State, and Tennessee all seat more than 100,000 in their football stadiums. That means on any given Saturday, we might account for $20 million of the GDP in four buildings.

So what? Driving to work this week, I heard on the radio that Reese Witherspoon's 'Just Like Heaven' led all movies nationally with $16,408,718. Although this was a weak showing for the top movie, the figure nonetheless included 3,508 theaters, according to Box Office Mojo. Thus, the top 4 college football games -- allegedly an amateur sport -- outdid thousands of movie screens.

The point is that the sports industry is big business. Although I would have readily included movie studios in that category, I never realized the relative power of sport.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

It's Only a Day Away

They're back. I had to park on the fourth floor of the garage today before 9:30 a.m. Nonetheless, I am excited to have the students back. I will spend tomorrow getting the final touches ready for the class and learning OSU's online course management program, Carmen. Perhaps the neatest feature is a class-based chat that allows for virtual office hours. We'll see how that works out.

The undergraduate class is up to 205 with a waiting list. It will be a good class, and I have a lot of new ideas to make sure the students enjoy the class and learn a lot. The successful ideas will be mentioned there.

Negative comment about Pep Boys retracted. Their customer service came through, and I thus have only good things to say!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

CommCognition Top 25 Week 3

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Several national football commentators blamed Ohio State's loss to Texas on the use of two quarterbacks. They listed numerous big games where the platoon system drew a big "L" on the scoreboard. This week it looks as if the Orange Nation fell victim to the same coaching virus. A rotund looking Phillip Fulmer alternated between signal callers Rick Clausen and Erik Ainge, and for the second week in a row a team with preseason national championship hopes finished with a loss. For the Vols' sake, I hope that they rebounded better than the Buckeyes did against SDSU.

1. Texas, 3-0, (def. Rice 51-10)
2. USC, 2-0, (def. Arkansas 70-17)
3. Florida, 3-0, (def. Tennessee 16-7)
4. LSU, 1-0, (OFF)

5. Ohio State, 2-1, (def. SDSU 27-6)
6. Georgia, 3-0, (def. La. Monroe, 44-7)
7. Florida State, 3-0, (def. Boston College 28-17)
8. Tennessee, 1-1, (L. Florida 16-7)
9. Purdue, 2-0, (def. Arizona 31-24)
10. California, 3-0, (def. Illinois 35-20)
11. Texas Tech, 2-0, (def. Sam Houston 80-21)
12. Virginia Tech, 3-0, (def. Ohio 45-0)
13. Louisville, 2-0, (def. Oregon State 63-27)
14. Arizona State, 2-1, (def. Northwestern 52-21)
15. Michigan, 2-1, (def. E. Michigan 55-0)
16. Notre Dame, 2-1, (L. Michigan State 44-41)
17. Alabama, 3-0, (def. S. Carolina 37-14)
18. Georgia Tech, 3-0, (def. Connecticut 28-13)
19. Miami (Fla.), 1-1, (def. Clemson 36-30)
20. Iowa, 2-1, (def. N. Iowa 45-21)
21. Auburn, 2-1, (def. Ball State 63-3)
22. Texas A&M, 1-1, (def. SMU 66-8)
23. New Mexico, 3-0, (def. NMSU 38-21)
24. Virginia, 2-0, (def. Syracuse 27-24)
25. Boston College, 2-1, (L. Florida State 28-17)

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Script Ohio

Today marked my first venture into Ohio Stadium. Although the outcome was right, the game was quite mediocre. The fans and the players seemed to phone it in while still reeling from the loss to Texas. The Buckeyes have a championship caliber defense and special teams, but I really worry about the offense. It is like watching Marty Schottenheimer's Kansas City Chiefs all over again.

It was my first time with 104,000 people. I loved the tradition of the 'Shoe, but the student section at K-State was much louder!

Oh, and a final point, the marching band's "Script Ohio" and dotting the "i" were very cool.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Watching Grass Grow

The fun in Columbus this week has consisted of a day and a half of new faculty orientation followed by printing file folder labels and filing 150 old journal articles. It's a party, I tell you.

On the plus side, we are finally under a week until classes begin. I just met with the teaching associate for my large undergraduate class -- principles of strategic communication -- and I am very excited about it. We are going to try a lot of things to reduce the anonymity associated with a large lecture class.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Organizational Memory

I wanted to briefly mention the newest research coming out of my Communication & Cognition lab at Ohio State. I am working on a collaborative project with fellow assistant professor, Ed Palazzolo. The new project brings together Ed's expertise on transactive memory and my knowledge of human memory.

In short, and I am surely not doing it justice, transactive memory describes organizational knowledge of who knows what. So when I need to buy something for my lab, I may not know how to get an OSU purchase order, but I know who knows. Furthermore, when I read something about audio research, I forward it to my friend and colleague Rob Potter because he is an expert in this area. Another way of thinking of this is that I am helping to increase Rob's expertise because when I learn something about audio, I make sure he knows, too.

There are great existing models of transactive memory, but they use lookup tables. And my cognitive science training tells me that you probably don't have a lookup table in your noggin. But you do have a neural network. So Ed and I are working to extend the transactive memory model using a neural network. Right now this involves Ed doing a lot of patient explaining and me doing a lot of Java coding. But the model is shaping up pretty nicely, and we are both learning something new about our field.

Syllabi Done

A week before classes begin, and both syllabi are finally ready. Whew! New faculty orientation is tomorrow. Ugh.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Missing the Limestone

Working in higher education ensures that you will move a lot. This is the only profession that I know of where the phrase "hire your own" is akin to leprosy. So, as you accumulate degrees, you move on. If one does things right, the next place is pretty good. Yet moving always seems to include the things you leave behind.

At both institutions where I obtained graduate degrees, the campus architecture was predominantly limestone. This provided a similar feel to both Kansas State University and Indiana University. Now I have left the limestone college-town campuses for an urban, predominantly brick campus at The Ohio State University.

In the university world, this is the time of year that everything seems new and exciting. This is certainly the case in Buckeyeland, as I am eager to begin both my classes and build my lab. Yet the cyclical nature of the academic world gives me a moment to pause and think of previous starts to the school year. I was no less excited to begin my master's program or begin work in Annie Lang's lab at IU. And moving on means leaving behind. And for this morning at least, I regret that second part of the equation.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

CommCognition Top 25 Week 2

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A painful week in Columbus. Nonetheless, we had an epic game, and Texas established itself as the team to beat. The Buckeyes have the consensus best linebacking corps in football, and they lost to Texas. Although USC would be able to put up more points against the Longhorn defense, they would not be able to contain Vince Young. Conference-wise, my native Big XII performed excellently this weekend.

1. Texas (def. OSU 25-22)
2. USC (OFF)
3. Tennessee (OFF)
4. LSU (def. Arizona State 35-31)
5. Florida (def. LA. Tech 41-3)
6. Ohio State (L. Texas 25-22)
7. Georgia (def. S. Carolina 17-15)
8. Florida State (def. Citadel 62-10)
9. Notre Dame (def. Michigan 17-10)
10. Virginia Tech (def. Duke 45-0)
11. Purdue (def. Akron 49-21)
12. California (def. Washington 56-17)
13. Texas Tech (def. Fla. Int'l 56-3)
14. Arizona State (L. LSU 35-31)
15. Michigan (L. Notre Dame 17-10)
16. Louisville (OFF)
17. Boston College (def. Army 44-7)
18. Alabama (def. So. Miss 30-21)
19. Iowa (L. Iowa State 23-3)
20. Auburn (def. Miss St. 28-0)
21. Georgia Tech (def. N. Carolina 27-21)
22. Virginia (OFF)
23. Texas A&M (OFF)
24. New Mexico (def. Missouri 45-35)
25. Miami (Florida) (OFF)

A Great Find

Score one for the good guys. My colleague, Rob Potter, found a neat trick where we can require word identification for Weblog comments. Even though I have not allowed anonymous comments -- to defeat SPAM -- some SPAM still sneaks through. Cudos to Rob for noticing this anti-SPAM technique.

Friday, September 09, 2005

The Big Game

Is finally almost upon us. The football world is focused on Columbus as 105,000 people will watch the Buckeyes take on the Texas Longhorns. From a media perspective, it is a spectacle. Almost every sports broadcast in the country is here. The fans are crazy about this game, and I hope the team does them proud. Since the tickets were going for $1,000 and up per pair on eBay, I will be watching the game on the couch.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Arousal Junkies

Flipping through this week's edition of Ad Age, I saw an ad that caused me to pause. The ad, for The O'Reilly Factor on Fox News, claimed: "#1 FOR 200 WEEKS AND COUNTING. Beats the Competition Combined."

Wow, I thought. How can that many people stomach that Inside Edition court jester turned want-to-be journalist? Then I remembered my old friend physiological arousal. Relatively early in my graduate career, Annie Lang gave a guest lecture at Cornell just months before I would move to Indiana to work with her. In an aside, she made the point that we watch sex and violence on TV. What do they have in common? They elicit arousal. We are arousal junkies. You see, arousing content reaches in and grabs a hold of something phylogenetically old in us. It compels our attention. We can decry it. We can complain. Yet in droves we watch.

Conflict is arousing, and Bill O'Reilly is good at this. He keeps the pacing of his program fast (also attention grabbing), and he creates conflict. If you dare disagree, he is skilled at making you look like an ass despite what the facts might be. We watch O'Reilly for the same reason we watched Baywatch and Springer. We are programmed to focus on arousing things because the should be important. So we tune out the truth and tune in the ranting idiot. As a scientist, I understand it. As a former journalist, I shake my head.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Teaching Effectiveness

Universities can be wonderful places ... if one takes advantage of the resources available. I happened to notice a link for Faculty/TA development the other day on the OSU Web site. The site listed many interesting resources. Since I will be teaching the largest class of my career this autumn, I scheduled a conference this morning to seek out tips on teaching.

The meeting was excellent, and I picked up several useful tips on making a big class better for everyone. I left with several handouts and even a book checked out from the faculty development library.

Among other things, I will be incorporating tips from the National Board of Medical Examiners on how to make multiple-choice tests better at gauging critical thinking. All-in-all, I am impressed with the resources available at OSU, and I am optimistic that my class will be better because of it. Sitting on the other side of the room, I continue to be amazed at how oblivious I was to the work that goes into teaching.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Where Ads Meet Editorial

In a piece I cannot quite figure out, Advertising Age has asked four designers how they would change The New York Times, affectionately known as the Grey Lady.


CommCognition Top 25 Week 1

1. USC
2. Texas
3. Georgia
4. Ohio State
5. Tennessee
6. Iowa
7. Michigan
8. LSU
9. Florida
10. Arizona State
11. Florida State
12. Virginia Tech
13. Purdue
14. California
15. Texas Tech
16. Louisville
17. Boston College
18. Notre Dame
19. Alabama
20. Virginia
21. Texas A&M
22. Auburn
23. Georgia Tech
24. Miami (Florida)
25. New Mexico

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Times-Picayune Editorial

The New Orleans daily newspaper, The Times-Picayune, is one of the most respected newspapers in our country, having won several Pulitzer Prizes. Read their open letter to President Bush:

Direct from The Times-Picayune.

Reprinted on

The Wheel of Death

When you work on a newspaper copy desk, you read just about every story that comes across the wire. A small portion of those make it into the newspaper. So you learn a lot about the world, and you learn a lot about perspective. If you take a news writing class, you will learn that proximity is a key news value. The closer something happens to you, the more important it is.

For instance, when I worked on the copy desk at the Albuquerque Journal, one of editors had a scale for converting misery into Duke City relevancy. I believe he called it the "Wheel of Death." Although it sounds morbid, we had to choose what made it into the paper and what did not. If someone in Albuquerque died through tragedy or foul play, that usually made the paper. Just one person. However, if a small mudslide in Bangladesh killed 5 people, that probably would not make the paper even as a brief. Whether they should or not, no one in the Land of Enchantment much cares about a few lost souls in Asia. The "Wheel of Death" sounds like a cold, calous way to debase human life, and perhaps it is. But it is also a cold, true equation that not all deaths are equally valuable. Thus, my former editor said that 5 people dying in Bangladesh was "like someone in Albuquerque getting a hangnail."

We had a real-life example of the "Wheel of Death" yesterday in America. The thousands of lives lost in the Gulf Coast region were suddenly cast aside when the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, William H. Rehnquist died. All of a sudden, CNN stopped talking about the hurricane -- a staple for the past week -- and focused entirely on a single individual.

I started collegiate life as a political science major with an emphasis on constitutional law, so I understand the importance of a new chief justice. Yet it was interesting to observe the "Wheel of Death" at work. One military official told CNN that the final death toll of Katrina will be "Maybe 3,000, maybe 5,000. God, we hope it's no more than 10,000." Thus, for one evening at least, the "Wheel of Death" equation yielded a ratio of perhaps 1:10,000. I make no judgment, but I offer this observation.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Buckeye Football

... is here. Bucks lead 7-0 over Miami (Ohio).

Friday, September 02, 2005

Some Idea of Corporate Response

Here is a tidbit of corporate response to Katrina from Advertising Age.

Stories We're Not Seeing on Katrina

My journalism roots have kept me glued to the TV this week. Having walked the streets of New Orleans just 15 months ago, I cannot believe the damage.

In an interesting observation from a relative who lives in Germany, European media are questioning why we keep seeing the same images. I don't mean similar -- I mean the same. This is not just true on CNN Europe. We are seeing the same images, too.

If I were a field producer, this is the story I would want. Since I know nothing of the logistics of this, I don't mean this as a critique. There are plenty of others blasting the government that I will leave that to them. Instead, I ask the following: If Cuba (for instance) had launched a surprise ground invasion on New Orleans on a given Monday night, how long would it have taken for us to get troops on the ground? How soon would paratroopers have been landing?

There may be a good explanation why we did not immediately send in hundreds or thousands of paratroopers to immediately secure the area and then immediately follow that with air drops. When I was in Germany in 1995, we drove by a U.S. airbase, and we could see thousands of palates of humanitarian relief supplies waiting to be air dropped in the Balkans. Why was that not done here? Again, I think it is of no use for me to allege that it could have been done, as I have no training here. But I would like to see CNN, Fox, or the Big Three flush this out. There may be a good answer. As a citizen and former editor, I want to know.

Secondly, what major corporations are headquartered in New Orleans? What are their plans? We know that most of "white collar" New Orleans was evacuated in advance of the hurricane. Where are those people? What are their plans? These are the kind of in-depth journalistic pieces that I would like to see but have not.

In other news, I just logged on to the Red Cross Web site and donated money. I urge any and all readers to do the same.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

First Kindergarten

Here is Chloe off to her first day of kindergarten just 20 minutes ago. She has her backpack and a sack full of school supplies. Chloe was not nervous, and she actually seemed excited to be going. Of course, she got beautiful sunshine where poor Isabel had to fight the rain. There were so many parents with cameras and videocameras that I felt as if I was aside the red carpet at the Academy Awards.