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    Saturday
    Dec012012

    Broca's Area Episode 116 - I can't do that thing with that other thing

    As usual, on the Canadian National Day of Podcasting, Isabelle and I revive our old podcast, Broca's Area.  We recorded the first part in the grocery store and in our brand new Ford Escape.  In part 2, Madeleine and Jonathan joined us after dinner.  Between the two parts we heard 'Shotgun Loudmouth' by Battery Life.  

    Apparently, we may be coming back, according to Isabelle......

    Enjoy the episode.

    Tuesday
    Sep042012

    Psychology 3306 (Learning) and Psychology 3196 (Human Evolutionary Psychology) slides available here

    Well, it is that time of year again.  The time when I start podcasting my lectures again...  The podcast is available at my course blog site or on iTunes.  The slides are available right here, for both whole courses, right now (just click on the banner links above).  Individual links will be posted on the course blog throughout the term.  Enjoy....

    Thursday
    Aug022012

    My Introduction of Sara Shettleworth at CSBBCS 2012

    Back in June I had the pleasure of introducing the Hebb Award winner, Sara Shettleworth.  The Hebb award is given by the Canadian Cociety for Brain, Behaviour and Cognitive Science for distinguished contributions to experimental psychology.   It is basically a lifetime acheivement award.  Well, this years' winner was Sara.  I did my PhD (and MA) with Sara at U of T.  So, I was asked to introduce her.  I rarely write such things in advance, but hell, I did not want to screw this up.  Sara will be publishing a paper based on her talk, but my intro won't be part of it.  Wait, I have my own publishing outlet, right here, so umm yeah here it is.....

    I am really happy to be up here today to introduce Sara Shettleworth.

    I imagine that most of us here take for granted the idea that evolution and cognition go together.  Indeed, it would seem almost to be a given that our (meaning all animals’) cognitive systems are the products of natural selection.  It would probably surprise many of you to know this way of thinking was not always the case.  Oh sure, we all knew it, but nobody really paid attention to it.  

    I would think it would surprise you even more to know that this was the case in people studying animal cognition.  Again, we all knew about the importance of natural selection, we just didn’t put that knowledge into practice.

    This all changed in the past few decades, and one of the reasons was the work done by Sara, among others.  Her 1972 paper ‘Constraints on Learning’ was, to use a cliché, a game changer.  I once asked her about this paper, as I figured she wrote in while a grad student.  Her characteristic reply was ‘Oh I was just in the right place at the right time’.  (Sara has never been much on ego, indeed, when John Krebs was visiting our lab and we showed him my MA data he said ‘Brilliant’.  Sara said ‘well yes, his birds are…..’)

    The idea of integrating ecology and psychology has been a running theme in Sara’s career.  I think many people who study only boring humans think that those of us who study animals just study a single species (rats, or, more exotically, pigeons).  I remember Sara telling Rob Hampton and I that she was at some ornithology conference somewhere and a person asked her what species she studied.  Her reply was ‘I study problems, not species’. 

    The idea of constraints on learning and cognition (due to evolution) and the study of adaptive specializations lead to a number of theoretical works such exemplified by my favourites, 1993’s ‘Where is the Comparison in Comparative Cognition”.

    I was in Sara’s lab from 1988 – 1993, and near the end of my time there Sara started talking about her book.  This book, which came out in 1998 (the second edition came out in 2010), Cognition, Evolution and Behavior, is probably the most important book in the field of comparative cognition.  It integrates ecology and cognition in an almost seamless fashion.  Indeed, one might say in a Hebbian fashion…

    Sara always gave credit to her students, and was always telling us (or maybe just me) ‘you need to end that paper with more PR, you did some really great work there’.  I use that phrase with my students today.  She took us to conferences, even as MA1 students, and sent us to others.  In 1991 or 92 we were at psychonomics together.  Of course I, as a grad student, could not present, but she could, and she presented some of my data.  (I was listed as first author of course).  Now, on this trip the airline had lost my luggage.  Being the early 1990s, I was dressed in big black boots with chains hanging off of them, jeans with holes in the knees, a black beret and a t shirt with some band’s name on it (for that was the style at the time…)  I had not changed in 24 hr, and, umm, I may have been drinking the night before.  So, Sara is presenting my stuff, and someone asked a question, I think it was Ron Wiseman.  I looked at Sara up there and though ‘well, she knows this stuff as well as I do, I am sure the answer will be good’ and she says ‘this really is Dave Brodbeck’s work, you should ask him, stand up Dave’.  I stood up, answered the question, semi-coherently, and sat down.  It was only later that I realized, getting over my shock and fear….  that most of the presenters did not do that, they just answered the questions.  She was giving me credit, and promoting me, and that was pretty cool, if unnerving as hell. 

    She always treated our opinions as important.  Did she guide us along the way, of course, that was her job, but she did take our input seriously.  I remember being at U of T for a week, and Sara giving me her NSERC grant and asking my opinion.  I read it thinking ‘umm, what the hell does she want my thoughts for?’  I think I ended up saying the font was nice…..

    I could stand up here for hours and tell you all stories about Sara, but I already did that with Rob Hampton in 2008 when Sara was honoured by the Comparative Cognition Society.  Plus, I want to hear what Sara has to say.

    Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a great privilege, and honour, to introduce the 2012 Hebb award winner, Sara Shettleworth.

    Saturday
    Jul072012

    Futures in Biotech 95 - So Long and Thanks For All The FiBs

    With a cast of thousands and no subject matter, oh and a large number of skype crashes, it's FiB 95.  FiB is leaving the TWiT network, and off to hopefully bigger and better things.  Anyway, I was on this one, though they did not use video of me....

     

    Saturday
    Feb112012

    Changing Your Facebook Status Will Change The World (In Case You Can't Tell, I Am Being Sarcastic....)

    Red, Black, White, Plaid

    Remember that from a few years back?  Or was it just yesterday, the damned internet somehow distorts time or something….  Anyway, you remember though right?   It turned out to be some  sort of ‘meme’ (fuck I hate the misuse of a term invented by Richard Dawkins, but I digress) that was supposed to ‘raise awareness’ of breast cancer.  Raise awareness.  I can think of at least two friends off of the top of my head who have had breast cancer.  One of them is dealing with it right now.  I imagine most of us know about the existence of breast cancer.  But no, we need to ‘raise awareness’.  No, I am sorry, we do not.  This sort of bullshit slacktivism makes me want to set fire to every little ribbon worn for every cause ever. (On a side note, the first time I saw this run of colours on a status I thought it was a reference to Babylon 5, man I am a geek....)

    Oh but Dave it does no harm.  Bullshit.  This sort of crap makes people think they are doing something when they are doing fuck all.  So, they then, I would argue, think they have contributed somehow.  So, instead of actually contributing to charities, or volunteering their time, they just change their facebook status.

    Now, there are legitimate cases where ‘raising awareness’ is actually sensible.  Like putting up a poster for something with actual information.   If you know me you know I wear a cause bracelet.  It is for the Brain Tumor Foundation of Canada.  I lost my Dad to brain cancer a few years ago.  I give money to the brain tumor foundation.  When people ask me what the bracelet is for I tell them about brain cancer, about my Dad, and about how to donate.  It is also a way for me to honour the memory of my father.

    Don’t even get me started on ‘for every share of this picture, facebook will donate a dollar to cause x y or z’.  Are you people morons?  Do the math.  (I never said there would be no math).  There are 800 000 000 people on facebook.  Let’s say something actually was shared by 1 percent of fb users.  That would put whoever is supposedly donating, on the hook for 8 million dollars.   Snopes is your friend, use it.

    Get out there, give money or time to charities.  The aforementioned Brain Tumor Foundation, the Red Cross and Amnesty International are my three favourites, and they get money from me every year.  But don’t change your facebook status and think you have made a difference.  All you have done is clutter up everyone’s timeline.

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