Friday, June 28, 2013

Say hello to Seattle

I was in Seattle last year for the largest annual behavior analysis conference--which was terrific--and now I get to return.  I'm thrilled to be presenting in the Seattle Science Lectures series at their Town Hall on Thursday, July 11 (7:30).  My other public talk in the area is at Tacoma's King's Books on Monday, July 15 (7 PM).

And while I'm there, naturally, I'll be doing some birdwatching--possibly even Mt. Rainier!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

More on Signals: Reviving "Over"

My most popular blog post to date is last September's on "Extra Signals."  In it, I provided examples of the benefits of "extra" signals like the color coding for the "Send" button in gmail.  I still muse over these daily applications of the science of consequences, so here's a not-entirely-whimsical suggestion as a follow-up.

Ever get slightly annoyed when a phone conversation turns into an awkward tussle over taking turns?--where you and your phoner jump in at the same time, or, avoiding the unpleasantness of an interruption, you let the phoner drone on about something far too long?  The visual cues in a one-on-one are lacking. 

Clear and efficient communication is especially critical for airplane-control tower conversations, among others.  We all know from movies and TV that "over" is a standardized signal that the speaker is ready to become a listener. How about bringing this into our ordinary phone conversations?

Speaker 1: Yadda, yadda, yadda . . .  And by the way, I wonder how your daughter's been doing with that.  Over.

Speaker 2:  Well, she yadda, yadda, yadda . . .

If anyone tries this, let me know how it goes!  Over and out.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Discriminating Pigeons

We know pigeons can categorize classical music, apparently in similar ways that we do.  We also know they can distinguish a Monet painting from a Picasso.  These and many other pigeon feats are in my book.  But who would possibly have thought that pigeons could learn to categorize children's "good" and "bad" art? 

One of the neat things about being on a book tour is learning from members of my audiences--stories from their lives or their reading.  In Minnesota, one audience member told me about this recent study in Animal Cognition by the same researcher (Shigeru Watanabe) who did the Monet-Picasso study.  The "good" and "bad" art was judged by people, of course, 10 adults and an art teacher--but the pigeons readily learned similar standards.  Then they generalized to novel examples of children's art.

What is it that makes for "bad" art?  It was messier and harder to identify objects, for one.  But defining the basis used for categorizing wasn't easy even for the art teacher.

Using clever tests, Watanabe showed that the birds were using color and pattern as a basis for their choices.  We do too, of course.  Does that mean that the birds would enjoy viewing the "good" art?  It's not an outlandish question.  We know that a species of sparrow prefers melodic music over dissonant sounds, after all (also courtesy of Dr. Watanabe).  And pigeons have great vision, unlike our closer companions, dogs.

Kind of makes us look at these common street birds a bit differently!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Minnesota book tour highlights

I'm back from beautiful, rainy Minnesota, where I gave four book talks, two separate book signings, attended a conference, tried an Afghan restaurant, watched dog "flyball" practice, and fit in a bit of birdwatching with colleagues.  It was an eventful week!  One of the highlights:  Roughly 250 attended my invited address at the Association for Behavior Analysis conference (a group that specializes in the science of consequences).  Wow.  That's my biggest book tour audience yet.  Another highlight was visiting St. Olaf College, where I taught 20 years ago, and catching up with an old friend.  Actually, there were a lot of highlights!  Doing the book tours is more fun than arranging them, no question.  Rain or not.