Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Name That Tune

Datdat DAT dat DAT dat…

Tap that rhythm… Do you recognize the tune?

Or are you looking at that string of letters wondering why you are reading this post in the first place if it doesn't make sense?

This is actually a representation of a concept commonly known as the “Curse of Knowledge”.  I absolutely know what song that is; I’m the one who chose it.  Where does the breakdown in communication happen?  Between you, the reader, and me, the author, because I know what I mean but you don’t live in my head (ha! You’re thankful for that, trust me).  I knew that I was giving you the rhythm for “Happy birthday to you…” but you did not have all of the relevant information to give it enough context to understand.

In a fantastic book about what makes ideas memorable (Made to Stick 2007), Chip Heath and Dan Heath explore concepts such as this one, the Curse of Knowledge.  This idea is that the “tapper” has all the pertinent knowledge that they are trying to get across to the “listener”. The difficulty lies in the tapper remembering that the listener doesn't have the same information and figuring out how to “un-know” a lot of that so the person they are communicating with can understand them.  The Heaths take a look at a 1990 psychological study by Elizabeth Newton who had a whole slew of volunteers be tappers and listeners.  One of the most notable points of this study is that the tappers estimated before they started that 50% of the time, the listener would guess the song being tapped.  Turns out, that was overly optimistic and the actual percentage hovered around 2.5%!  What does that mean for you and me?

It means that while we want and try to be good communicators, it takes more than desire and knowledge to get your point across.  You need to make sure that whoever you are communicating with has all of the necessary information to create a context so that they can understand the message.

This idea was brought back to me due to a string of texts from a friend of mine.  Texts and other forms of social media communication have done wonders for helping people stay connected, easily passing information and communicating jokes at lightning speeds (never underestimate the power of a good joke).  However, since both the senders and receivers of information are lacking a lot of other cues (tone of voice, body stance, facial expressions) miscommunication can be rampant.  Now, I can’t necessarily offer a tried and true method of sending understandable messages but maybe I can remind you that the person you are talking to doesn't have your frame of reference to work from so you need to create a shared one before you are communicating well. 

This is the holiday season and maybe many family uproars and Facebook dramas can be avoided if we make the effort to practice our own end of communication skills.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

To Snark or not to Snark... Book Review

Science… for Her! By Megan Amram

--Spoiler Alert—

I didn't like this book.

Now that that’s out of the way, I can tell you why.

Normally, I like satire and sarcasm and snarky comments.  There is an element of danger when putting it in writing, however, because snark doesn't always transfer from speech to text.  This book is an excellent example of how the intelligence and humor from sarcasm can backfire and make the author appear unintelligent, crass, and downright disgusting.

Laid out in a interesting hybrid of science textbook and glossy Cosmo magazine, Science… for Her! starts out visually interesting but the experience goes rapidly downhill from there.  I think part of the problem is that it appears to be one of the current crop of science and math books that presents dry material in fresh, colorful ways to entice potential learners who are anesthetized by the intense graphics of video games and television.  But, as our cataloger will tell you, nowhere in any of the subject tracings (different choices of things that the book is about to help us decide where to put it on the shelf) is there anything relating to science.  This “science” book is filed solely under humor.  But even that is debatable.

I've heard several different sides in the male/female debate about empowerment, male dominant cultures, male bashing, feminism… the list goes on.  But I contend that it doesn't matter your gender or orientation, crude is crude and disgusting has its limits.  There is a point at which humor is lost and it seems as though an author is racing to reach the limits of decency—this one won that race. Whether insulting religion, politics, personal preferences, or just talking about sex, Sex, or SEX, Amram shoots past humorously insulting and aims straight for offensive and disgusting, losing any credibility or reputation for intelligence in the process. 

Book Jacket for: Science...for her!

Agree or disagree?  Join the debate by commenting below...

Monday, 10 November 2014

Sci-Fi and Fantasy

It's Sci-Fi month!

Why?   (For those of you who don’t care why, skip this paragraph)

            30 years ago an author by the name of William Gibson wrote a book called Neuromancer [not to be confused with the term “necromancer” which is dealing with the dead].  The effect of this book is that this was the first time the word “cyberspace” was given form and presence and created the term “cyberpunk”.  You’ve got to celebrate a book that popularized a phrase that has become a household term for over 30 years!

Now one popular question is: What makes science fiction different from fantasy?

The most common explanation is that science fiction is based on the concept on what is actually possible, even if improbable.  Fantasy does not have to even touch reality and a of good fantasy has elements of magic.  Now, there can be quite a bit of overlap and many subgenres found under each category.  A good breakdown of these can be found here (SF Site) if you’re interested in the details.

One of the things about science fiction is that it is created based on what could be, scientifically speaking, but can become outdated when technology progresses or bypasses the proposed advancements.  However, it doesn’t have to detract from the entertainment value of the work.  I think our own reference librarian, Jean-Ann, sums it up quite nicely, “Fantasy is fantastical, like Lord of the Rings and magical.  But while the lines between fantasy and sci-fi are less important because we know some things are just impossible, it still adds to the fun.  Like Star Trek using a warp drive. It’s ridiculous* now but it wouldn’t be as much fun if they couldn’t go all over the place.”

In our collection at the Alamogordo Public Library, you will find Science Fiction and Fantasy shelved together in their own section so you don’t have to wade through the general fiction to find what you’re looking for.  So whether it’s space travel or magic, just browse the shelves to find it or come and ask us and we’ll be happy to help.

I think the best rule of thumb to go by is: if you like it, read it!

*Disclaimer from Jean-Ann!! This is a debatable term in this context but read more:  http://www.nasa.gov/centers/glenn/technology/warp/warpstat_prt.htm

Monday, 3 November 2014

Book Review: Hollow City

Hollow City—The second book of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Hollow City: The Second Novel of Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children

So, ever finish a book and want to throw it across the room?

That was my reaction to Hollow City.  I had eagerly awaited it while it was on hold at the library for me, having finished the first one about a month ago.  I really enjoyed it without expecting to (see review) and was happy to get the second book.

Why violent reaction, you ask?

--Spoiler Alert (kind of)—

Because it’s actually the second book in what is becoming a series!  So while I got excited that the characters were developing and making progress, I neared the end of the book thinking, “Hmm, there seems to be a lack of closure.  Maybe this is one of those books that hits the climax and the resolution is only 1 or two pages.”  But I got closer and closer to the end until *BAM*, the last page sounded the knell of doom: “DON’T LOOK AWAY: The next volume of the Peculiar Children series is coming soon.”

Gaaaah!  I don’t want to have to wait for the next one to find out what is going to happen next because it left on a cliff-hangar.

Oh well, I’ll just have to wait it out until the next one comes out—whenever that is because I can’t find it listed.  The first book was published in 2011 and the second in 2014—I might have some time to wait.