30 March 2007

Politicians floating on a cloud of words

Jean Véronis, a researcher and lecturer in the Université d’Aix en Provence, and a specialist in Corpus Linguistics, has made available to the readers of his blog a database of all the speeches of all the French presidential candidates. Today, he invites the readers to play with the collocations of key words in the speeches, for each of the candidates. The program shows the words most often used beside the key word by the candidate, and this appears in cloud form. His search centered on “work”. I tried with “femmes” (women) and “immigration”. Interesting results, nearly poetic. I wish there was a possibility of playing the same game with speeches from the Irish candidates and party leaders.

29 March 2007

Brain storm

Superhero supplies from Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co.

Last week’s New Scientist has a very interesting article on mental time travel and references to « autobiographical memory network » in the brain. In short, the same area of the brain is used for to stock memories and to imagine the future, and memories are used to project into the future. They explain that the constructive nature of memories can help us to anticipate the future, but also causes us to form false memories. They also reiterate that scientists, for the past 50 years, have known that our brain can work independently from our control.

This grabbed my attention, for I have had the brain on my mind for a while. The idea of a brain working on its own brought back memories of a cartoon I used to watch with the two Big Sisters when they were small. What I remember – and it could be a “constructed” memory, is little men at work through the body, and the control center in the brain organizing the whole day, with no input whatsoever from the “person”, who was actually totally irrelevant. I have been wondering about those little men (why not women?) and about what this PhD business is doing to my brain. For over a week now, if I wake up naturally, and not jerked into wakefulness by the Little One jumping on my bed/the cat scratching at the door/assorted family members wondering very loudly about breakfast, if and when I wake up on my own, I wake up to thinking about The thesis. I don’t wake up, wonder about the day, and think about the thesis, I wake up to my brain thinking about the thesis behind my back, and stumble into the conversation. It is a strange feeling. I have tried admonishing my brain “what are you doing, thinking without me? What if I don’t like what you’re thinking about?”, but my brain is becoming sneaky. Already, it has stopped me from reading novels for months on end. I pick up a thriller, settle myself comfortably on my bed, away from the bedlam that is the rest of the house, and… nothing. I read a page, sigh, read another page, feel bored. I love thrillers, but my love is thwarted for weeks and weeks. Then, suddenly, my brain lets me read thrillers again, and refuses to concentrate on articles.

It has become so contrary, a little bit like a sulky teenager intent on freedom at all costs, and intent mainly on testing my resolve and my power over it. So it works without me. Maybe to my advantage, mind you. In a lecture room the other day I found a very strange questionnaire. Question 1 was “do you think you have super powers?” Yes, YES, of course I have super powers. I think in my sleep! Not a very useful superpower, I hear you snigger. Maybe, but superpowers can be improved, I have read enough comics and seen enough films to know that much. I could very well go back to my home planet/attend a special school/wear a new superhero outfit, and wham, zam, new super powers. Never mind about my brain, I really want my hands to start typing while I’m sleeping.

22 March 2007


I wonder does all research have an autobiographical element? There are many layers of autobiography to my research interests; diaries, journals and even blogs are part of life writing, and choosing to study life writing necessarily leads to writing your own life. I started writing my life in 1971, in an extremely cool apple green locked diary (with a drawing of a girl wearing flares, an indian tunic and beads on the cover; in my memory, she is dancing). My diary had a name, that I shall always swear I do not remember... I started reading blogs in 1999, on my first computer, in the bedroom of our apartment in Paris while the Little One was sleeping. See how things intermesh; one of the blogs I read every day is being written from an apartment in the same XVème arrondissement. Back in Ireland, as I went back to college to study for a Master’s in Translation Studies, the Very Big Sister started a blog. When the time came for my dissertation, I chose to study French and Irish adolescents’ blogs, and then decided to continue towards a PhD. I now also read research blogs, and some political or current events blogs, but always go back to what Herring et al calls the journal-type blogs. The more I read, the more I find that even in research blogs, even in journalistic blogs, the private comes to the fore, pushed maybe by the perceived intimacy between the writers and their readers, and the negotiation of the author’s voice. But see how things converge: I was talking to the Big Brother yesterday about the ways of finding Irish adolescents’ blogs in a sea of English language, and about culture-specific search words. His profound and intimate knowledge of Irish teens’ vocabulary was an invaluable help. We narrowed it down to some specific words, such as skangers, some specific and teenage-altered place names, Belvo for Belvedere College, the Wez or Oxegen for going out, and altered spellings: mon, roish, loike that aim to mimic the accents of the well-heeled amongst teenagers (obviously non-skangers). It took me two words and three clicks to land on the Big Brother’s Bebo page, which up to now I had studiously avoided.

15 March 2007

Two things

Two things today: widget-related, and tag-related.

I have finally added a widget, even though the name had been bothering me and keeping me away from widgeting. But I gave in, mostly because my delicio.us is in a terrible mess and I have no time to clean up. So a widgetory glance can tell me which entries I have been noting on the work front; the tarte tatin aux endives is not entirely related to work, but it could be. And because I am entirely serious and not at all prone to attacks of procrastination, I do not include the really intriguing blog entries, such as The One On How to Get Rid of A Body or The One with the ExpletivOMeter.

Which leads me nicely to the realisation that I do not need tags on this blog, so single-minded am I in the pursuit of procrastination. And I rue the day when I picked its name; rumble strips should slow you down a little, not bring you to a halt every 100 meters.

12 March 2007

I came across this, in one of my procrastinating meaderings, and it felt like serendipity. I have started writing on expectation of privacy in adolescents' blogs, and my readings today had taken me to some journals of psychology, to self-disclosure, transient self and abiding self scales, as well as construction of identity online... from there to proof of identity is one tiny step that I am glad to take, at least for one second, until I go back to my work. No more procrastination.


I also found an article on procrastination, although I was at the time avoiding procrastination like the plague, and dutifully sticking to academic journals of relevance. What do you do when procrastination comes looking for you? This is the abstract for the article:

The Nature of Procrastination: A Meta-Analytic and Theoretical Review of Quintessential Self-Regulatory Failure. Steel, Piers; Psychological Bulletin, Vol 133(1), Jan 2007. pp. 65-94. [Original Journal Article] Abstract: Procrastination is a prevalent and pernicious form of self-regulatory failure that is not entirely understood. Hence, the relevant conceptual, theoretical, and empirical work is reviewed, drawing upon correlational, experimental, and qualitative findings. A meta-analysis of procrastination's possible causes and effects, based on 691 correlations, reveals that neuroticism, rebelliousness, and sensation seeking show only a weak connection. Strong and consistent predictors of procrastination were task aversiveness, task delay, self-efficacy, and impulsiveness, as well as conscientiousness and its facets of self-control, distractibility, organization, and achievement motivation. These effects prove consistent with temporal motivation theory, an integrative hybrid of expectancy theory and hyperbolic discounting. Continued research into procrastination should not be delayed, especially because its prevalence appears to be growing.

They research procrastination AND they have a sense of humour...