Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Time to Work: ICA Adventure Complete

While at the International Communication Association in San Francisco, we made an outing to a Giants game at AT&T Park. Barry Bonds was 0-for-4.

Time to start anew after a refreshing conference in San Francisco.

The Texas Tech contingent represented our new college of mass communications well in my estimation.

More importantly, interactions with colleagues recharged my batteries to write the many papers that need written.

I am excited about research and my lab, and that makes the nightmare flight worth it.

It was especially fun to mix my Indiana past with my current lab members.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Red Raiders on the Golden Gate

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Texas Tech contingent freezes atop the Golden Gate Bridge. Wendy Maxian, me, and Wes Wise.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Career Began in Northern California

Ten years ago this month I was assigned to The Modesto (Calif.) Bee as a copy editing intern. It's a great newspaper. And I loved it there.

My assignment to Modesto came as a quirk. Having gone to school at New Mexico State, the decisions committee at the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund slated me for the Tucson Citizen.

I still remember the phone call clearly (but probably not as well as I think). Dr. Bill Tillinghast called to offer me the job. I trembled with excitement as I heard the news. I wanted that internship more than anything I ever wanted in life.

Dr. Tillinghast explained that I would attend the center for editing excellence at San Jose State for two weeks (read about a related memory) before heading back to Tucson.

I'm still not sure what came over me. I told Dr. Tillinghast that I might never leave the Bay Area once they got me out there.

He paused.

"We have an opening in Modesto, " he said.

"Where is Modesto?" I asked.

"About 90 miles east of San Francisco," he said.

"I'll take it," I said, pumping my fist in the air.

Life took a left turn in that moment. My love affair with the Bay Area only grew. In 1997, the goal of living in the Bay Area nearly consumed me.

So off I went.

Things went well. My dad drove out with me. We visited San Francisco together. It was amazing.

Dad flew home. I went through boot camp with Dow Jones (the greatest educational experience of my life), and I moved to my apartment in Modesto. My wife, Emily, joined me in Modesto after her summer class.

I had an interview with the Contra Costa Times, an east Bay paper. Life was awesome.

My wife became pregnant about that time. Although I had finished my degree at NMSU, she had a year left. There was no way that I was going to be apart from my first born. Life took another left turn.

So I picked up the phone. I called Harold Cousland at the Las Cruces Sun-News. I asked Harold for a job. Ten weeks before I competed with his paper as the editor of the NMSU student newspaper, the Round Up. That day I wanted a job.

Luckily Harold had a job for me.

So on August 31, 1997, I loaded all of my belongings into my white Pontiac Sunbird, and I headed south on Highway 99.

I left Northern California in the rear-view mirror that day, and I have not been back since.

In the interim, a decade went by. I tired of journalism's long hours and low pay. I wound up with a Ph.D. and three daughters.

In two more days, I'll fly into San Francisco again. In many ways, it will be as if the decade never passed by.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

San Francisco on My Mind

We leave Thursday for the International Communication Association conference in San Francisco. It is difficult to think of anything else.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

High Arousal Evidence for DELCAM Model

One of my passions is studying attention. Most often I talk about paying attention to mediated messages, but the general principles also apply to non-mediated environments.

I have attempted to model real-time human attention and emotion in an artificial neural network, which I have called dynamic, embodied limited capacity attention and memory, or DELCAM. You can read about DELCAM in the current issue of the journal Media Psychology (also read more about DELCAM in this blog posting).

DELCAM was born in 2003 when I tried to formally model Annie Lang's limited capacity model of mediated message processing. Although Lang's model has been instrumental in my thinking, it was difficult to formally implement.

This failed implementation set me back, and I had to spend some quality time with the brain. I had seen enough evidence to believe that attention was limited-capacity, but I needed to spend some quality time with the brain attempting to figure out the nature of this limitation.

Eventually I settled upon the idea of physiological arousal forcing the brain to focus more closely on the central object at hand and less on the periphery. It's a simple idea, really, and it incorporates both common sense and the thinking of several of leading scholars.

Importantly, however, DELCAM correctly predicts that recall increases in arousing contexts, whereas recognition will suffer (again, you can read more about this here).

Because I study mediated messages; however, I do not work at the extreme ends of arousal. Although you get pretty scared watching a horror movie, it does not compare to the horror of having a villain with a knife actually chase you.

In those cases of extreme arousal -- when literally your life is on the line -- what happens to attention. Does it fit with the conceptualization of DELCAM?

I found a partial answer while reading Malcom Gladwell's book, Blink.

Although television shows police officers drawing their guns all of the time, the vast majority of police officers navigate an entire career without ever firing a gun ... ever. So when presented with the necessity to use deadly force, the police officer is in the rarest of circumstances. And afraid for her or his life.

The sympathetic nervous system surges, and the heart pounds as if it will tear through the chest.

Here's Gladwell quoting a police officer in David Klinger's book, Into the Kill Zone.

When he started toward us, it was almost like it was in slow motion and everything went into a tight focus ... When he made his move, my whole body just tensed up. I don't remember having any feeling from my chest down. Everything was focused forward to watch and react to my target. Talk about an adrenaline rush! Everything tightened up, and all my senses were directed forward at the man running at us with a gun. My vision was focused on his torso and the gun. I couldn't tell you what his left hand was doing. I have no idea. I was watching the gun. The gun was coming down in front of his chest area, and that's when I did my first shots.

I didn't hear a thing, not one thing. Alan had fired one round when I shot my first pair, but I didn't hear hm shoot. He shot two more rounds when I fired the second time, but I didn't hear any of those rounds, either. We stopped shooting when he hit the floor and slid into me. Then I was on my feet standing over the guy. I don't even remember pushing myself up. All I know is the next thing I knew I was standing on two feet looking down at the guy. I don't know how I got there, whether I pushed up with my hands, or whether I pulled my knees up underneath. I don't know, but once I was up, I was hearing things again because I could hear brass still clinking on the tile floor. Time had also returned to normal by then, because it had slowed down during the shooting. That started as soon as he started toward us. Even though I knew he was running at us, it looked like he was moving in slow motion. Damnedest thing I ever saw (Blink, pp. 223-224).

DELCAM suggests that limited-capacity cognition allocates attention toward the "target" as physiological arousal increases (an ironic choice in terminology, as it turns out). This police officer's recount suggests that this reallocation can continue along a continuum until superfluous channels -- in this case audio -- are altogether removed from conscious processing.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

NBA's David Stern Is an Idiot

Update: 7:46 a.m., May 17: In what I find to be a bit of hilarity, keyword analysis shows lots of traffic coming to this blog off the search terms "David Stern idiot." Hilarious. Mr. Stern, you have lost this public relations battle. Poorly played.

Listening to David Stern try to defend the suspension of the Phoenix Suns' Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw made me lose any respect that I had for the man.

The Spurs have played a cheap series, and their cheap shot led to Stoudemire and Diaw walking toward injured teammate Steve Nash.

No punches were thrown.

San Antonio loses a bit player for two games.

Phoenix loses an all-NBA star and his backup for a pivotal game 5 tonight.

This is insanity.

The criminal is rewarded, and the victim is punished.

It's wrong, and a real leader would have made it right.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Gladwell's Blink: Speedy Cognition

Although I hope to expand upon this in a future post, I am enjoying reading Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, which arrived today from Amazon.com.

As a scientist, I tend to favor academic outlets to mass market ones; however, there is something impressive about the ability to translate complicated works into easy prose.

Since Blink dovetails closely with my research, I am far too late in reading it.

If you haven't read it, I highly suggest that you give it at least two seconds.

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Save Money: Spiderman 3 Is Awful

What a waste.

Spiderman 3 had a handful of excellent points, but mostly it felt as if it were going to drag on for eternity as weak plot elements were woven together.

And it did not help that some idiot brought their 2 year old to the show, and the poor kid cried the whole time. Granted the movie was lame enough to bring one to tears.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

I Want to Write TVs Shows When I Grow Up

Last night, I was sitting here watching a TiVo'd episode of Desperate Housewives.

The episode was really telling four different stories in parallel:

1. Susan tried to pick between Ian and Mike

2. Edie attempted to keep Carlos via her kid

3. Lynette flirted with the chef, Rick

4. Gabrielle abused her new found mayoral power

Watching the show, I was impressed with the way the stories were advanced together and intersected and key moments. It was really cool, I thought.

You see, I study story-telling and the role of emotion. And as a former journalist, I once was a story teller. But I'm not now.

And the more I think about it, the more I am curious about the process that goes into writing a television drama. I hope, someday, to sit around one of those tables for a few weeks. I'd like to see what goes on. I'd like to see how they decide to weave plot lines together.

After measuring the effects of their handiwork for several years, I'd like to see what goes into the handiwork.

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

3 Year Old Gets It: Brands Belong to You

When I was a teen-ager, they opened a new dining establishment out in the southern part of Overland Park, Kan. (an upscale suburb of Kansas City). I believe it was on Metcalf Ave. The novel part of this restaurant involved combining a Kentucky Fried Chicken, a Taco Bell, and a Pizza Hut in a single building.
We called it Ken-taco-hut.
This novelty lured me there exactly once.
This is somewhat amazing because my full-time high school occupation was driving. As my grades could attest, I didn't do much studying. If I was awake and not either in school or at my parents' advertising agency, I was driving.
My father was kind enough to supply me with a series of nice vehicles and a gas card (my mother probably thought it unwise). So we drove.
And we drove in the neighborhood of the Ken-taco-hut fairly often. But we didn't stop. Why? Well, then as now, the combination of Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and KFC is just not that cool.
As teens, we didn't eat much Pizza Hut or KFC (unless the parents bought it), and if we wanted Taco Bell, there were more convenient ones at which to stop.
Thus, the take-home point is that we were loyal to Taco Bell. That was our brand.
It seemed kind of cool to stick one in a building with two other restaurants (this was years before they started sticking Subways in gas stations), but not cool enough to deal with the extra people.
We were the consumers. We decided what brands were important to us. The brand belonged to us. That's what makes it a brand and not just a stupid logo.
Yum! Brands still does not understand this. Still.
I was watching the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, which is not surprisingly located in Kentucky. Yum! Brands also is located in Kentucky. As I see it, the Derby, KFC, and bluegrass pretty much exhaust the state's potential (I forgot Ashley Judd. My bad). So, not surprisingly, Yum! Brands was a major sponsor. The logos were everywhere.
"Idiots," I thought.
Almost a year ago, I decried Yum! Brands for wasting $2.7 million in Kentucky Derby publicity by using their obscure logo instead of one of their flagship brands.
Free advice. And they ignored me.
Shortly after Street Smart won the race, NBC went to commercial, and Yum! had a montage of their three major brands. About that time, my three-year-old daughter walked in the room.
"Taco Bell," she said. "Mommy, I saw Taco Bell."
She gets it. She cannot read yet. But she recognizes Taco Bell instantly.
Allow me to try to impress upon you how amazing this really is.
We have lived in Lubbock, Texas, for just over 10 months. We have eaten at Taco Bell exactly once in that 10 months. Once! You see, Lubbock also has Taco Bueno and Taco Villa. So there are not too many Taco Bells. There are so few Taco Bells that Texas Tech doctoral student Wendy Maxian threatened not to come here unless we actually had a Taco Bell.
We do not drive by a Taco Bell on the way to my daughter's preschool, and we do not drive by one on the way to my work. We do not see it that often.
And the next-to-last time my daughter ate at Taco Bell, she was barely two and a half years old.
But she had instant recognition for the brand in a video montage.
Imagine the impression that could have been made with a well-thought-out advertisement for one of the brands.
Yum! Brands' logo means nothing to her. Or me. Or you. We just do not fall in love with conglomerates.
I love Ben & Jerry's ... not Unilever.
I love Tide ... not Procter & Gamble.
You get the point. My 3 year old gets the point. Kevin Roberts gets the point. Sadly for stockholders, a bunch of Yum! Brands marketing executives completely miss the point.
This means that I will probably be writing this same post next year at this time.

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Ultimate Playground: The Human Mind

I am mired in the middle of grading a class of 155 people. Ugh. This is truly the ugly part of education.

All the while, however, I never cease to be amazed by the human mind.

Yesterday I was watching television, and the cat walked by, dragging his tail against my foot.

And even though I wasn't looking at it, that touch localized my foot in space. That is, I felt it, and it made me aware of where my foot was.

Keep in mind that all of the cognitive processing was going on in my brain ... some 6 feet from my foot. These kinds of simple phenomena are amazing computational tasks.

How can you feel away from your brain? When you open your eyes, why does the world look as if it is out there instead of inside your head (Walter Lippmann notwithstanding)? Why should your heart slow down when the television changes a scene?

We're working on these questions. Some are full-time pursuits. Some are just fun to ponder.

But they're all reasons why it is more fun to go to work every day as a cognitive scientist.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Come on Horse, Let's Go for a Ride

Photo credit: Unknown.

Today I was sitting having lunch at the brand new Jimmy John's with master's student Wes Wise.

I grew to love Jimmy John's at Indiana, and I was glad to see one open up near the Tech campus.

While enjoying my #5, I saw a horse driving down Broadway Ave. Sticking out of the window was the head of a live Shetland pony.

Wow. Wes and I remarked at the oddness and carried on.

About 10 minutes later it clicked. I had seen that fool pony before. In an e-mail sent around last summer with a title something like "Only in Lubbock."

I found the picture. And sure enough. Same pony.

Welcome to Lubbock. The Giant Side of Texas.

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