David Kirkpatrick

November 25, 2008

Improve your email communications

With tips from this press release. If you’re reading this I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you do some amount of email communications.

The release:

How to improve email communication

Developing strategies to mimic face-to-face interactions

In a new article in the current issue of American Journal of Sociology authors Daniel A. Menchik and Xiaoli Tian (both of the University of Chicago) study how we use emoticons, subject lines, and signatures to define how we want to be interpreted in email. The authors find that “a shift to email interaction requires a new set of interactional skills to be developed.”

Unlike face-to-face conversations, email interactions leave out tone of voice, body-language and context, which can lead to misunderstandings. While these authors agree that there are difficulties, they believe that no way of communicating is actually superior to another.

Menchik and Tian argue that face-to-face and internet-based contexts each require a set of distinct interaction strategies. “People can cultivate ways of communicating in online contexts that are equally as effective as those used offline,” they write. “The degree to which … individuals develop unique conventions in the medium will determine their ability to communicate effectively.”

The research focuses on “the case of a well-known scientific organization that decided to replace occasional meetings of a research panel with ongoing email interaction.” The panel encountered numerous problems conversing via email. But the researchers identified several ways people were able to overcome these barriers.

“People innovate in response to the challenges of a new context for the communication of essential elements of language,” the authors write.

Capital letters, use of quotations, emoticons, exclamation points, punctuation, bullet points, style and even color help the sender communicate the meaning of a word or message. For example, “I feel betrayed” reads differently from “I FEEL SO BETRAYED!! ;)” where the capital letters and winking smiley face indicate sarcasm.

Participants also maintained their conversational flow by cutting and pasting from previous emails and using subject lines that referenced previous discussions. In email listservs these devices help address comments to a certain individual and help the discussion to stay on topic.

Signatures, disclaimers and other information about the person’s state of mind were also commonly used when writing an email. The authors found that subjects felt more comfortable communicating once they knew a little about each other, like the information included in a signature. They also found that indicating the frame of mind as a disclaimer, (i.e. “I wrote this at 5AM” or “on a blackberry while on vacation”) helped prevent the email from being misinterpreted.

Developers have picked up on these cues with the advent of linguistic monitors such as Eudora’s MoodWatch feature. This program tries to indicate to the sender that their email might be considered inflammatory, and to the receiver that they are about to receive such an email.



November 21, 2008

News from the galaxy

This is some crazy research.

The release:

Crash Test-Iconic Rings and Flares of Galaxies Created by Violent, Intergalactic Collisions, Research by Pitt and Partners Finds

Findings published in “The Astrophysical Journal” challenge existing theory about the formation of such galaxies as the Milky Way

PITTSBURGH-The bright pinwheels and broad star sweeps iconic of disk galaxies such as the Milky Way might all be the shrapnel from massive, violent collisions with other galaxies and galaxy-size chunks of dark matter, according to a multi-institutional project involving the University of Pittsburgh. Published in the Nov. 20 edition of “The Astrophysical Journal,” the findings challenge the longstanding theory that the bright extensions and rings surrounding galaxies are the remnants of smaller star clusters that struck a larger, primary galaxy then fragmented.

The study’s team consisted of Andrew Zentner, a professor of physics and astronomy in Pitt’s School of Arts and Sciences; James Bullock, a physics and astronomy professor at the University of California at Irvine; Stelios Kazantzidis, a postdoctoral researcher at Ohio State University; Andrey Kravtsov, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Chicago; and Leonidas Moustakas, a researcher at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology.

The team’s computer simulations of galaxy formation suggests that disk galaxies most likely began as flat, centralized star clusters. Smaller galaxies collided with and tore through these disks billions of years ago, casting disk stars outward into the wild extensions present now; the bright center is the original formation. In addition, vast bodies of dark matter-a low-density, high-gravity invisible mass thought to occupy nearly one-quarter of the Universe-swept through these disks and further pulled stars from the main disk.

The researchers’ scenario largely applies to the formation of the rings and long flares of stars that surround such galaxies as the Milky Way, Zentner said. But the model also presents a possible solution to how star spirals-the arcs of stars that radiate from the center of some disk galaxies-maintain their shape. Spirals form as a result of any disturbance to the star disk, Zentner said. However, the prolonged disturbance of a galaxy and dark matter expanse passing through a disk explains why the spirals seem to never recede.

“Our model suggests that a violent collision throws stars everywhere and continues moving through the disk, disturbing its structure,” Zentner said. “It also has been known for some time that for star spirals to develop and maintain their well-known form, there must be a prolonged disturbance. We show that large masses moving through a galaxy could provide that disturbance.”

The team’s findings were serendipitous, Zentner explained. They were modeling disk galaxies for an unrelated astrological survey when they inadvertently discovered that stars in the main disk scattered when satellite galaxies-smaller galaxies surrounding larger ones-passed through. They shared their results with colleagues a year ago, and the results have since been replicated, Zentner said.

“One of the major advantages of these results is that we didn’t set out to find them,” he said. “They happened as we simulated existing galaxies.”

The paper is available on Pitt’s Web site at http://www.pitt.edu/news2008/zentner_paper.pdf


Related links:

The Astrophysical Journal

November 13, 2008

Nanotech improving lasers and solar cells

The release:

New research expected to improve laser devices and make photovoltaics more efficient

University of Chicago research

University of Chicago scientists have induced electrons in the nanocrystals of semiconductors to cool more slowly by forcing them into a smaller volume. This has the potential to improve satellite communications and the generation of solar power.

“Slowing down the cooling of these electrons—in this case, by more than 30 times—could lead to a better infrared laser source,” said Philippe Guyot-Sionnest, Professor of Chemistry and Physics at the University of Chicago. “This, in turn, could be used to increase the bandwidth of communication satellites, allowing for faster connections.”

Guyot-Sionnest is the principal investigator on the research project, which was described in a paper called “Slow Electron Cooling in Colloidal Quantum Dots,” published Nov. 7 in Science.

The slow cooling of electrons in nanocrystals could lead to better, more efficient photovoltaic devices, he added. “This is because proposals to devise ways to extract the excess heat from these electrons as they cool are more likely to be realized—and to work—due to the fact that we now understand better what is going on with these nanocrystals.”

Slower cooling of electrons in nanocrystals was first theorized in 1990, but no one has been able to observe this effect.

Slow electron cooling in nanocrystals occurs because forcing the electrons into a smaller volume leads them to oscillate between their alternate extremes within a very short period of time. (This is analogous to the way shorter strings on musical instruments produce higher pitches.) The electrons in the nanocrystals used in this experiment oscillated so fast that it became difficult for them to drag along the more sluggish vibrations of the nuclei. As a result, the energy stayed with the electrons for a longer period of time.

The slower cooling effect was difficult to induce and observe because several different mechanisms for energy loss interfered with the process. By eliminating these other mechanisms, the researchers were able to induce and observe slower electron cooling in nanocrystals.




Anshu Pandey, a graduate student in Chemistry at the University of Chicago, did the experiments described in the Science paper, which he co-authored.

September 29, 2008

Testosterone linked to financial risk-taking

Not sure what this says about the current situation, but it sure is interesting.

The release:

Financial risk-taking behavior is associated with higher testosterone levels

Males with testosterone levels above the mean invest more during a risky investment game

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., September 29, 2008 – Higher levels of testosterone are correlated with financial risk-taking behavior, according to a new study in which men’s testosterone levels were assessed before participation in an investment game. The findings help to shed light on the evolutionary function and biological origins of risk taking.

The study was jointly led by Anna Dreber, of the Program in Evolutionary Dynamics at Harvard University and the Stockholm School of Economics, and Coren Apicella, of Harvard’s Department of Anthropology. The results are available online in Evolution and Human Behavior.

“These findings help us to understand the motivations for risk-taking behavior, which is a major component of economic theory,” says Dreber. “Risk preferences are one of the most important preferences in economics, and yet no one knows why they differ between men and women, why they change over age, or what makes men trade more in the financial market.”

Previous studies have shown that on average, men are more likely than women to take risks, and the researchers theorized that these differences could be explained by the role of testosterone. Another recent study also demonstrated that stock market traders experienced greater profits on days their testosterone was above its median level. However, this is the first study to directly examine the relationship between testosterone and financial risk-taking.

“Although our findings do not address causality, we believe that testosterone may influence how individuals make risky financial decisions,” says Apicella.

In the study, saliva samples were taken from 98 males, ages 18 to 23, who were mostly Harvard students. The samples were taken before participation in the investment game, so the researchers were certain that testosterone levels were not elevated as a result of the game. The researchers also assessed facial masculinity, associated with testosterone levels at puberty.

All of the participants were given $250, and were asked to choose an amount between $0 and $250 to invest. The participants kept the money that was not invested. A coin toss determined the investment’s outcome, and if the participant lost the coin toss, the money allocated to the investment was lost. However, if the coin toss was won, the participant would receive two and a half times the amount of their investment. At the end of the study, one person was selected by lottery to receive the cash amount of their investment, which created a monetary incentive for the participants.

The researchers found that a man whose testosterone levels were more than one standard deviation above the mean invested 12 percent more than the average man into the risky investment. A man with a facial masculinity score of one standard deviation higher than the mean invested 6 percent more than the average man.

The findings may help to explain the biological foundation of why some people are more inclined towards risk-taking than others.

“Financial risk might be comparable to other risky male behaviors associated with reproduction,” says Apicella. “Men may be more willing to take financial risks because the payoffs, in terms of attracting mates, could be higher for them. This is because women value wealth more than men when choosing for a mate.”

Further research will examine changes in testosterone levels in response to financial wins and losses.

“This will give us some insight into how changes in the market affect hormones, and in turn, affect decision-making,” says Apicella.

Finally, the researchers are also exploring the role of genetics in explaining risk preferences.

“Maybe we will be able to predict who becomes a trader,” says Dreber.




Apicella and Dreber’s co-authors were Benjamin Campbell of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee; Peter B. Gray of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Moshe Hoffman of the University of Chicago; and Anthony C. Little of the University of Stirling, Scotland. The research was funded by the Jan Wallander and Tom Hedelius Foundation.