Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time

This week, the BBC Radio 4 programme In Our Time (“Melvyn Bragg and three guests explore the history of ideas”) is on ‘Perception and the Senses’ (it must be neuroscience week at the BBC!).

Listening to it now, it’s a fantastic romp through the low-level neuroanatomy, visual perception, how senses are integrated and so on, and higher-level topics like illusions, what does the brain do (make and test hypotheses, says one guest). Great fun, and really good to hear super-smart guests talk about concrete examples (the McGurk effect, say), then the nitty gritty, and next bump up a few abstraction layers to talk about their personal models of the brain. I’m learning a lot. Near the end they discuss one of my favourite topics: intuitive physics.

The whole show is available as an MP3 download, and this episode will be up till next Wednesday (4 May), so grab it while you can.

See the In Our Time ‘Perception and the Senses’ archive page (where you can listen to the show in Real format even when the MP3 has gone), and download the MP3 here.

Since I’m here in the cafe at Foyles

I just have to send a big appreciative Thanks! to the folks at Foyles, not just for hosting our talk the other week (and suggesting it!), but for making Foyles the store in London to buy Mind Hacks, and being great fun with it too. There are three people in particular: Anna, Dominic and Michael in the computer books dept. So if you’re passing (it’s just outside the cafe), give them a fright and go say Hello from us 🙂

Do you really want to quit?

I have a question about dialog boxes on my computer. This is something I mentioned last night, and I’d appreciate some help.

Below is a picture of a well-assembled dialog box. UI folks say that dialog box options should be verbs, not nouns, but that’s not important here. (ie, you should have options “Don’t save” and “Save” for the question “Save this document?” instead of the buttons “OK” and “Cancel.”) I’m going to talk about why it’s well-assembled, but first:

Mac trivia! While the Mac (actually, the Lisa, but the Lisa informed the Mac) was being designed, the “OK” button did used to be an action: it used to be labeled “Do It.” But the space between the two words was too small, and the users read the button label as “dolt” and got kind of offended and wouldn’t push it. True fact!

dialogbox.jpg

Back to that dialog box…

Continue reading “Do you really want to quit?”

Mind Hacks at Foyles, March 23rd

When I was a kid, I remember making a trip to London and visiting Foyles bookshop for the first time. In the days before book superstores, Foyles was unimaginably vast, and dense, and amazing. That was a special day. Years later, there aren’t books piled everywhere, the maze of shelves and rooms has been untangled, and it’s been updated: you no longer have to get a little green ticket from an attendant before paying. It’s still got its charm, one of the best (and biggest) book selections in London, and my favourite cafe in the centre–one of the few cafes to have free wifi, good coffee, heavy wooden tables, and jazz.

What I’m coming round to is that Tom and I will be speaking about Mind Hacks at Foyles on Wednesday, March 23rd, and it’s enormously exciting to be talking in a place with such history. If you’re in London, you should come along (it’s at 6.30pm, after work, in the Gallery on the 2nd floor). It’ll be great fun–we’re going to show off some of our favourite hacks, talk about what we learn from them, and try some [gulp] audience participation in the experiments too.

More info on the Foyles site (you’ll need to get a ticket), and the publicity blurb’s below. Do come, and spread the word!

Let’s try something else too: If you use Outlook, click to add Mind Hacks at Foyles to your calendar. If you use Apple iCal, click here to add the event.

Release follows…

Continue reading “Mind Hacks at Foyles, March 23rd”

Waving, not designing

I got a wave messaging power-up cover for my Nokia 3220 phone. It’s got a line of LEDs along the back of the phone, and when you wave it, you can spell out messages in the air. Check this out:

mindhacks-wave.jpg

(That’s me, by the way. I posted more about this to my other weblog, if you’re interested, but I’m going to continue here about embodied interaction and visual affordances.)

Continue reading “Waving, not designing”

UK-a-Go-Go

It’s taken a couple of weeks to cross the Atlantic, clear customs, and get through the warehouses… Mind Hacks is now in stock at Amazon UK, with a dispatch time listed of 3-4 days. And if you order now, you get 30% off.

Buy Mind Hacks at Amazon UK, and get it in time for Christmas.

(Also available to purchase from Amazon.com, currently at 34% off. You’ll need to order soon if you want to get it as a gift.)

Read on for the sales bit.

Continue reading “UK-a-Go-Go”

Sinister Research

A couple of interesting bits of research on handedness in the news today.

Chimps brains are asymmetrical in similar ways to human brains, and this is reflected in whether they’re left or right handed too. Why we have a preferred hand is still being debated, but this research shows handedness isn’t a consequence of the same brain asymmetry which arose with language (the language centres are on the left side of the brain). Handedness must have arisen much earlier, and been present 5 million years ago.

Continue reading “Sinister Research”

Applying the hacks

flickr.png It’s good to try some of the ideas in Mind Hacks on real-world problems. We have a piece up on the O’Reilly Network today, using visual attention concepts to comment on Flickr’s Daily Zeitgeist toy. Photos continually fade in and shrink down on a grid of pictures–what does this mean, from the perspective of change blindness and the attention-grabbing nature of rapid movements?

Read the full article for more: Paying Attention (or Not) to the Flickr Daily Zeitgeist.

(To situate this in the book, we’re making use of “Blind to Change” [Hack #40] for not noticing the photos fading in, “Grab Attention” [Hack #37] for noticing them shrink, and “Glimpse the Gaps in Your Vision” [Hack #17] for not being able to see where the photo has shrunk to because your eyes are in motion as it does so. See the book’s table of contents for which chapters these are in.)

Caffeine rituals

Ah, this is good to see. There’s a hack in the book about the rituals around coffee and tea. It’s on the O’Reilly catalog page for Mind Hacks as a free sample, Hack 92: Make the Caffeine Habit Taste Good. It’s like Pavlov and his dogs. He conditioned them to associate a noise with food so that they started salivating when they heard the noise. As with that, the ritual of making coffee gets associated with the caffeine high, and so the ritual becomes part of the buzz.

Anyway, here’s someone who has found the same thing.

My particular ritual seems to be boiling the kettle, putting the teabag and water in the mug to brew, and then forgetting about it for the next 20 minutes as I suddenly get back into work again.

Rrrrroar

dinosaur.png “So, I’m not really comfortable with the fact that my mind is actually something physical.” — at Daily Dinosaur Comics [via introvert.net]. Hey that freaks me out too, knowing that the thought “that freaks me out,” is not just accompanied by but actually is some kind of arrangement of the actual physical stuff in my head, which represents (in this context) “that freaks me out.”

There’s a lot to say here, on the philosophical aspects, but I refuse to be drawn into discussion on the nature of representation, emergence, and where “self” is stored by a cartoon T. Rex stomping on a house. Forgive me.

Matt

I guess I should introduce myself. I’m Matt Webb, I co-authored the book with Tom. Hello! Mostly I post notes to my personal weblog, Interconnected, and sites that I run across to the Mini Links–that’s probably the best way to find out what I’m interested in. What I’m not is a psychologist or neuroscientist (my day job is in social software, internet stuff), but I’ve been immersed in the academic literature for the past N months. Hopefully that means I’ll be able to bridge some of these brain ideas over to the tech world, which is the one I usually inhabit.

It has been great fun writing Mind Hacks. Actually, what was possibly more fun was trying out all the experiments, mucking around with mirrors, or a pendulum, or sitting by the road watching the traffic. I’m aiming to post the same kind of stuff here, things to try at home (or on your friends), and to do the same as in the book: dig a little deeper, see what’s really happening in our heads. If there’s something you think we should give a go, email in. If it’s not too embarrassing I’ll put photos up.

Dragon’s Head

Speaking of eyes following you around the room, this Dragon Optical Illusion is pretty cool. You make it out of paper and sellotape, and move around it with one eye closed. The head seems to move and follow you around. (There’s a PDF to make the model, and a video to watch if you can’t be bothered.) Here’s the one I made:

dragon.jpg

The head’s actually folded inwards, but we’re so used to 3D objects bulging outwards that we see the model as if it’s moving instead of its true shape. You don’t even need to close one eye–from a few feet away it’s pretty compelling. A neat instance of the visual system’s assumptions dominating our current knowledge.