Thursday, January 26, 2006

Snowglobe Joins Family

I learned a lot about research working in Annie Lang's lab at Indiana University, but I also learned to collect snow globes. The tradition is to add a snowglobe to the lab's collection whenever a research paper is presented at an academic conference. But it is also pretty cool to have snow globes in general.

As a Christmas present, I received my coolest snowglobe to-date from relatives in Kansas City (thanks Amy and Bev!). This Ohio State snowglobe not only depicts actual campus buildings, but it also plays Carmen Ohio, a song central to OSU. This makes it a perfect complement to my "7-Time National Champions" OSU snowglobe from my colleague James Angelini, which plays the OSU fight song.

You can read more about our IU snowglobe tradition -- and see a horrible picture of me -- in IU Telecom's alumni newsletter.

Pattern Recognition Research

Here is a link to an article about interesting research coming out of Ohio State's Computational Biology and Cognitive Science Laboratory. The research involves pattern identification, a task that many humans find trivially easy.

However, I have found that attempting to model such recognition in a computer is exceedingly difficult. Never take your eyes for granted!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Strategic Communication Growing

I just found out today that the number of applicants for our undergraduate major in strategic communication continues to grow. This is good news for the students and for the faculty. As we attract more students, we will better be able to create new courses to expand the major.

Since the School of Communication manages enrollment, we will be able to keep quality high while increasing enrollment. Our students are really quite good, and three honors students in the strategic communication sequence already are working in my lab.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Lab Moves Closer to Data Collection

This continues to be an exciting quarter in the Communication & Cognition lab. The final few pieces to the lab continue to trickle in, and we are moving closer to data collection.

Several talented students already are working in the lab. Their data collection will coincide with mine, and this is exactly the type of lab environment that I hope to foster here.

Toward the end of this quarter, we will collect data on memory for television, brand attitudes, physiological responses to interactive ads, and physiological responses to censored images.

All of that fun must wait, however, for the project of the day, which is to clean my office. There's no escaping the tedium.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Media Critic: No Such Thing as Blogger

Here's an excerpt from an interesting opinion about Weblogs from Advertising Age. This is related to -- and yet unique -- to my own observations.

Why Blogging vs. Traditional Media Has Been Oversold

By Simon Dumenco
I’ve been thinking of what I am -- about what any media person in the digital age is -- since having coffee last week with a 30-something newspaper editor who bemoaned the fact that newspapers keep on setting up blogs as these separate, exotic add-ons to their Web sites, instead of integrating blogging into their usual newsgathering operations. There’s simply no good reason to segregate the functions, he insisted.

And it occurred to me that there is no such thing as blogging. There is no such thing as a blogger. Blogging is just writing -- writing using a particularly efficient type of publishing technology. Even though I tend to first use Microsoft Word on the way to being published, I am not, say, a Worder or Wordder.

It’s just software, people! The underlying creative/media function remains exactly the same.

See the entire posting at:

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Lab Research Moves Forward

This was a productive week, although as usual not as productive as I had hoped.
  • The new stimulus computer is in and ready to be set up.
  • I began discussing a collaboration with colleague Mija Shin of Washington State.
  • Another manuscript was pulled out of the desk drawer, and revisions are being pondered.
  • A revise and resubmit went out the door.
  • Some office cleaning took place (a miracle).
  • And we had our first lab meeting of the quarter.

Success, I suppose in academe is managing to keep small steps of progress moving forward. Although there were no ground-shaking developments, progress was made!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Startle Reflex Humor

Much of my recent research involves the startle reflex (SR). The SR is a pre-attentive measure that is thought to be a protective mechanism. Think of the funhouse full-body startle as an extreme example.

In my lab -- and that of my advisor -- we elicit the reflex through a loud, brief burst of white noise. Although I will not bog you down with details here, emotion and attention affect the magnitude of the reflex. We measure this by measuring muscle activity below the eye, as the eyes blink as part of the reflex.

However, when you read about the SR, you notice that there are many other ways to elicit the reflex. One of those ways is through a sudden puff of air. Personally, I have always found that somewhat amusing.

Fast forward to today when I was sitting in the dentist's chair with my eyes closed. Out of nowhere (to me), the dental assistant hit my gums with the air "gun," and I immediately felt the characteristic jerk of my shoulders and an eye blink (even though my eyes were closed).

So in a true bit of nerd humor, there I sat with two sets of hands in my mouth, would-be smiling as I was all proud of myself for experiencing an air puff startle. I tortured the dentist and the assistant with a total-geek explanation of the whole deal. At any rate, you know you're a nerd when ...

As a sidenote, my dentist, Dr. Melissa Mariani, is like the best-ever. She needs some kind of award. If you can make me like the dentist, you are a miracle worker!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Sadly, Negativity Dominates Weblog

I've said it here before, but Tiffany Ito had it right when she said "Negative Information Weighs More Heavily Upon the Brain." Nonetheless, I apologize for the recent spat of negative posts.

The next one will be positive ... I promise.

Default Color Scheme Plagues Science

The biggest trouble with science today is the default color scheme used by Microsoft Graph. If I have to sit through another presentation with those ugly dark blue and neon pink colors, I will scream. Nevermind the ugly grid lines and other default looks.

These colors are so ugly, that I can only imagine that someone in Redmond, Wash., picked them as a cruel prank on humanity.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Journalism Versus Academics

I can easily think of dozens of reasons why it is better to be a professor than a journalist. Among them are holidays and weekends.

However, one major advantage of journalism occurred to me this week. At every paper at which I worked, there was a deadline. At that time, you were done ... at least for the day. You did the best you could, but at a certain point it was done.

To put this another way, there were no revise and resubmits in journalism. I am currently revising a piece for resubmission to a journal. For those unfamiliar, this is a process where three anonymous reviewers pick apart your work and tells you all the things to change or do better. This helps to protect science from bad research. However, too many reviewers end up telling you about they study they would have designed if they did your study. And that is not the point.

These particular reviews are pretty good, and the revision will go out next week. Nonetheless, there are some days where a career full of revisions and resubmissions make me miss the newsroom -- but only for a moment.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Research Protection Process a Nightmare

There is no doubt that past researchers have abused people participating in their research. We needed to step in and protect them. But the process has become a farce ... a joke. We need protection from the protectors.

I have participated in the Institutional Review Board process at four research universities. Each has been progressively more bureaucratic, small-minded, and simply idiotic. And in each case, the roadblocks thrown in front of my research have had nothing to do with the protection of human subjects.

I have been stalled for:
  • Incorrect margins on the template they supplied
  • Incorrect font size
  • Failure to provide sample responses when application clearly stated "yes/no"
  • Failure to provide demographic questions based on the university's questions

There have been many more inane such stalling frustrations. In the meantime, hooking people up to sensors has never been of concern. This is the problem. We are no longer protecting subjects. We are protecting our legal rear ends. And the bureaucracy is spiraling out-of-control.

A prominent psychophysiologist once told me that if they IRBs got any worse, she would be tempted to move into industry. If she had been at OSU, I imagine that point would have been surpassed. You see, down the road in Cincinnati at Proctor & Gamble, they do not have a governmental IRB. They do what they want. They look out for their research participants because it is the right thing to do and it keeps them out of court. But I seriously doubt they ever question the font size on an application.

I submitted my first IRB application at OSU today. Stay tuned for the results.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Annual Review Brings Tedium

The tenure process requires assistant professors to submit an annual review of what they have done the past year. Even though I officially have been an assistant professor since Oct. 1, I am in the process of my annual review today.

Although it is interesting to reflect upon one's career, the process itself is extremely tedious. The first year is, of course, the most difficult because you have no template from which to work. And I am spending so much time on this annual review that I want to list it on next year's annual review as a major accomplishment.