Friday, March 24, 2006


This morning I was listening to the latest Malcolm Gladwell talk in my collection, a November 2005 address to the Hamline University law school. About ten minutes into the presentation he talks about the student evaluation example out of the Blink book. The idea is that students make quick decisions about their professors at the first class meeting, and those impressions don't change much as the semester progresses.

I listened to it on my way to the annual Central California Regional Conference on Excellence in Teaching and Learning. The plenary talk was "Creating desirable difficulties for the learner" by Robert Bjork. Both Gladwell and Bjork talk about how our "common sense" is flawed about student evaluations of instruction. From Gladwell we have to question our assumption that more data is better (administering course evals later in the course don't change the outcome much), and from Bjork we saw if you use effective teaching techniques there's a good chance that students will give you lower evaluations than if you'd use less effective techniques.

Both are problems with introspection, and remind me of the infamous "unskilled and unaware" of social pyschology.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

We needed this at JPL

Too bad blogs and flickr weren't around when I was at JPL. We needed someone to obsessively blog about employee parking habits, like this collection of images from the Yahoo! lot.

One day I circled the JPL parking lot many times and finally found a spot that I could get the car into, but then I couldn't open the door :) It reminds me of this situation :)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Three questions

An MIT professor came up with three questions that, according to SmartMoney magazine, "seems to predict whether you will be good at things like managing money".

You can find the three questions all over the web, but here they are directly from professor Shane Frederick -- give yourself 90 seconds:

  1. A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? _____ cents
  2. If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets? _____ minutes
  3. In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake? _____ days

The explanation of the questions, and interpretation of the answers, are on page 27 (the third page of the pdf file) of "Cognitive reflection and decision making", Journal of Economic Perspectives, Fall 2005. While you are looking at the pdf file, check out Table 1 on page 29 (fifth page of the pdf file). It shows the results of administering the test to students at nine universities. Yikes :)

Friday, March 17, 2006

Rilly vs Reely

How you pronounce "really", or whether you say "pop" or "soda", says a lot about you, or at least about where you learned english.

The NY Times had yet another article about dialect. That reminded me of the really-reely-rilly and pop-soda questions, and the various dialect maps on the web.

Here's a collection of maps about pronunciations, and although they are pretty I don't find them credible since everyone knows that "the City" refers to San Francisco and not those other places (I cite this Wikipepdia section as proof :)

As entertaining as maps are, audio is better yet. You can listen to dialect samples by state, here's California. The first sample is from a "self-confessed 'Valley Girl' does indeed have the glottalization, the 'questioning' intonation, and the creaky voice associated with that dialect."

Extra credit if you find a sample from the upper midwest that sounds like the characters from the movie Fargo.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Brain interfaces

A long time ago (2001), Jessica Bayliss and I wrote a paper about brain-computer interfaces.

I hadn't thought about it recently until I saw these videos showing two people using non-invasive brain interfaces to play pong and to type messages by just thinking.

2001 was a good year for me and brain interfaces. I presented a poster at the Perceptive User Interface (PUI) conference summarizing a paper co-authored with Martha, Christoph, and Curtis about using physiological feedback. That paper was about the emotion mouse (see a picture of it here), not brain interfaces, but the keynote by Melody Moore was about invasive (implanted) brain interfaces.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Goal accomplished

Back in December I talked about goals for 2006. One was accomplished this week by hearing Malcolm Gladwell speak at BbWorld 2006. He did 45 minutes without notes or glaring mistakes. If I could do that maybe I could charge a similar speaking fee (see the third paragraph of this interesting article from FastCompany), but I doubt that Universal and Warner Brothers would bid on movie rights to my story, or that Leo D would star :)

It looks like I will have to wait for either EDUCAUSE or the Campus of the Future conference to complete my goal of hearing Thomas Friedman. Or, if I had more money than time, I could've skipped BbWorld, EDUCAUSE, and Campus of the Future to see them simultaneously in Connecticut next month :)