Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Thousand and One Sleepless Nights

A Thousand and One Sleepless Nights -

An interesting article full of good information and clear thinking.

If you need further information on sleep related issues, especially in babies and children of Northern Europe and the UK, click on this link to Dream Angus - Sleep Management website . Also available in Dutch

Things Not to Say to Learning Disabled People (or Their Parents) by Dr. Peter Flom | LDExperience

Things Not to Say to Learning Disabled People (or Their Parents) by Dr. Peter From LDExperience

An eye opener of a story and a brief introduction to Non-Verbal Learning Difficulties (NVLD)

Friday, February 26, 2010

Autism: Thinking and Understanding in Pictures

Temple Grandin, ("Autism is part of who I am.") was diagnosed with autism as a child. She talks about how her mind works -- sharing her ability to "think in pictures," which helps her solve problems that neurotypical brains might miss.

She makes the case that the world needs people on the autism spectrum: visual thinkers, pattern thinkers, verbal thinkers, and all kinds of smart geeky kids. More info.

Dr. Bruce L. Miller: UCSF Memory and Aging

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Pawan Sinha: Blindness and How the Brain learns to see

Project Prakash
Prakash = Outreach + Treatment + Study

About this talk
Pawan Sinha details his groundbreaking research into how the brain's visual system develops. Sinha and his team provide free vision-restoring treatment to children born blind, and then study how their brains learn to interpret visual data. The work offers insights into neuroscience, engineering and even autism.

Project Prakash website:

Project Prakash on Facebook

Research Paper: Vision Following Extended Congenital Blindness

Time Magazine Article:
Where Blindness is Epidemic

Nature Magazine Paper:
Look and Learn

Monday, February 22, 2010

Channel 4 TV Highlights Failing Number Skills in UK Children

In 2009 more than one in five children left primary school having failed to grasp the basic maths skills required by the national curriculum. In a two-part special, Dispatches asks why and how are we failing Britain's children when it comes to maths.

Dispatches follows a class of final-year pupils at Barton Hill Primary School in Bristol as their staff adopt a radical approach to teaching, in a bid to improve the maths ability of these children before they head off to secondary school.

The problem couldn't be more urgent. Research shows that failing to grasp the fundamentals of maths at primary school leaves only a one in ten chance of catching up by the age of 16.

Dispatches hears from leading lights in the worlds of business and academia - including the CEO of Sainsbury's, Justin King, and George Davies, formerly of Next and Asda - about the impact on the economy and on adult life of leaving school without basic maths skills.

In a provocative nationwide exercise, Dispatches examines the standard of primary maths teaching in this country by testing the teachers. No tricks; just 27 questions that a bright 11-year-old would be able to answer. The shocking results are revealed in the programme.

You can play a shortened version of the maths test by clicking the 'maths quiz' link in the left-hand column of the Channel 4 website page here.

Tips on How to Finish Homework Quicker | Pride Learning Center

Tips on How to Finish Homework Quicker | Pride Learning Center

Homework does not have to be a constant battle or an exhaustive undertaking every day. These few strategies can lighten the completion time and hopefully reduce the stress at home and at school

Obesity Lower at High Altitude

People who are classified as Obese may find it easier to lose weight at high altitudes, the results of a German study suggest.

Previous studies demonstrated weight loss in athletes and normal-weight subjects at high altitude, but this study focused on the impact of altitude on overweight people for whom weight loss is desirable.

Researchers from Germany took 20 obese men to a high altitude location for one week. No changes were made to limit their food or alter their exercise routines, in an attempt to isolate the impact of altitude on weight.

After one week, the participants were eating less, had lost weight and had a lower diastolic blood pressure.

Writing in Obesity, the researchers said that low levels of oxygen found at high altitude may cause a rise in the hormone leptin which is thought to suppress appetite. However, they say more research is needed.

- Obesity Online 2010
- American Obesity Association

- AOA Online Journal
- The Journal of the American Obesity Association

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Dyslexia: Music can Help Reading Skills

The part of the brain that interprets sound, known as the auditory cortex, responds faster in people with musical training and is better primed to pick out subtle patterns from the huge volumes of information that flood into the brain from our senses.

Neuroscientists have found that musicians benefit from heightened brain activity that allows them to process information from their eyes and ears more efficiently than non-musicians.

They found that the part of the brain that interprets sound, known as the auditory cortex, responds faster in people with musical training and is better primed to pick out subtle patterns from the huge volumes of information that flood into the brain from our senses.

Professor Nina Kraus, a neuroscientist and amateur musician at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, has also found that this part of the brain plays a crucial role in reading.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Diego on Saturday, she called for music to become a more important part of school syllabuses to help children develop better reading and language skills.

She said: "There is a strong argument for more musical education, especially in schools.

"Our eyes and ears take in millions of bits of information every second and it is not possible for the brain to process all of that, so the sensory systems in our brains are primed to tune into regularities or patterns in the signals it receives.

"People who are musically trained are better at picking up these patterns because they learn to recognise notes and pitches within melodies and harmonies.

"The better you are at picking up these patterns in music, the better reader you are. This makes sense as letters and words on a page are really just patterns."

Professor Kraus and her team have used a method known as electroencephalography, which measures electrical activity in the brain, to examine how musicians and non-musicians brains respond to different stimulus.

Dyslexia: Be positive

The Bluebird of Happiness and Positivity
It is often difficult but very important that you try to stay positive about dyslexia. The more positive you are the easier it will be to address and possibly overcome, the drawbacks and difficulties that you, or your children, may be experiencing.

A positive mindset always helps when tackling any ‘difficulty’ in life. It assists in keeping things in perspective and stops a ‘challenge’ that you are trying to overcome becoming a 'problem.'

Challenges can be FUN!
Challenges are achieveable goals and can often be seen as fun to tackle. Whereas ‘problems’ are generally perceived to be enduring, stubborn and near impossible to solve.

If you consider reading ‘difficulties’ as a ‘challenge’ to overcome, you will most probably do more reading each day in an attempt to improve your reading skills. Whereas, by seeing reading ‘difficulties’ as a ‘problem,’ you will most likely reduce the amount of reading that you do or avoid reading all together.

Easy to say
It may be easier to say that, having a positive mind set towards dyslexia helps, but it is easier said than done. Some children who suffer from dyslexia go through a predictable stage of being quite negative about their condition.

This is particularly the case for many children who discover later in life that they suffer from dyslexia. They have spent a long time trying to deal with it on their own terms and have built up a number of 'unofficial' coping strategies.

Having gone through this pain, they are now trying to make sense, not only of their new found ‘problem’ but also of all the past ‘failures’ in their lives, even if they now realise that they were connected to their dyslexia.

Late arrivals
Some ‘late arrivals’ look back over there school years and feel resentment for being let down by the educational system. They feel angry that their dyslexia was not spotted and that their needs have not only, not been addressed but have also certainly not been met.

Most, will feel the anguish of having been wrongly categorised and judged ‘stupid’ by teachers, friends and family. Many people become insular and depressed, feeling that they could have made more out of their lives if they had known earlier about dyslexia.

Acceptance and the Future
In such cases, it is neither easy nor realistic to expect that children will suddenly dismiss their feelings, switch off their negativity and start thinking positively towards dyslexia, even if it is the best path to take.

There is no future in living in the past. Let it go! It is necessary that they work through their feelings and emotions, to the point where they can accept and forgive the past for what it is, and position themselves to look to the future.

They will have self-esteem issues and these can be deeply rooted. They will need strong, reliable support to help them work their way through this. They will need positive re-enforcement to ensure they emerge outwards and upwards.

Maintain a Positive Attitude
If you are going to assist and support someone who suffers from dyslexia, always create a strong feeling of security, well-being and encouragement. Focus on, and maintain a positive attitude and outlook that lead to positive activities.

Think positively of the destination and take progressive steps to get there, the path and speed of travel are yours to select. Enjoy the journey!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Virtual Reality Improves Hand Function: Playing Games for Real Recovery

Remotely monitored in-home virtual reality videogames improved hand function and forearm bone health in teens with hemiplegic cerebral palsy, helping them perform activities of daily living such as eating, dressing, cooking, and other tasks for which two hands are needed.

"While these initial encouraging results were in teens with limited hand and arm function due to perinatal brain injury, we suspect using these games could similarly benefit individuals with other illness that affect movement, e.g. multiple sclerosis, stroke, arthritis and even those with orthopedic injuries affecting the arm or hand," said Meredith R. Golomb, M.D, M.Sc., Indiana University School of Medicine associate professor of neurology.

A pediatric neurologist at Riley Hospital for Children, she is the first author of a pilot study which reported on the rehabilitative benefits of these custom videogames.

The researchers also reported that improved hand function appears to be reflected in brain activity changes as seen on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans.

The three study participants were asked to exercise the affected hand about 30 minutes a day, five days a week using a specially fitted sensor glove linked to a remotely monitored videogame console installed in their home.

Games, such as one making images appear ("sliders") were custom developed, calibrated to the individual teen's hand functionality, included a screen avatar of the hand, and focused on improvement of whole hand function.

"Popular off-the-shelf games are targeted to people with normal hand and arm function and coordination. These games don't work for or benefit those with moderate-severe hemiplegic cerebral palsy and many other disorders that affect movement. They just aren't made to be used by or improve hands that can't pinch or grasp" said Dr. Golomb.

To read the full article click here

Developing Better Eating Methods - Mandometer

Mandometer was developed at the Section of Applied Neuroendocrinology and mandometer clinic, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.

It is a portable weighing scale connected to a small computer that can generate a graph representing food removal from the plate, with weight of food (grams) on the y axis and time (minutes) on the x axis.

The user puts a measured portion of food determined by a therapist on the scale and the computer records and displays, in real time graphics, the weight loss from the plate as the use eats: time zero on the graph effectively displays total portion size.

Removing food from the plate generates a gradually developing line on a screen that can be compared and matched to a pre-set eating line displaying the speed at which the therapist wants the user to eat.

Deviation from teh training line by eating too quickly or slowly ellicits a spoken request from the Mandometer to slow down or eat faster.

At regular intervals, a rating scale appears on the screen and the user rates their level of 'fullness': from 0 (no satiety) to 100 (full satiety). That rating appears as a dot on the screen, yeilding a "development of satiety" curve and allowing comparison of the development of fullness to a "normal" fullness curve again pre-set on the screen.

During the training the user gradually adopts a more normal pattern of eating and satiety by following these training lines and curves.

NB: This blog is provided for information only and is not in any way endorsing the Mandometer product.

Eating Healthily Can Mean Eating Slower

The British Medical Journal recently published interesting results regarding use of a mandometer with overweight kids.

A mandometer is a device used to gauge one’s rate of eating. Kids ages 9-17 that used the device were compared to children who didn’t. After 6 months, the mandometer-users had lower fat mass and an overall lower body mass index (BMI), and ate smaller portions and at a slower rate than their non-mandometer using counterparts.

Better yet, six months later the effects were still in place- the children continued to eat smaller portions at a slower eating pace. In other words, having spent time with the mandometer for six months really influenced a behavior change in users.

So what does this mean? It’s just nice when something we believe based on anecdotal evidence is proven through research—especially with results this significant. As a reminder, it takes our bodies anywhere from 15-20 minutes to recognise we’re eating.

The brain and stomach don’t connect the second we put food in our mouths. When you eat fast you may ingest an entire meal before your body recognises you’ve eaten. Then you reach for seconds, thinking you’re still hungry, and you don’t feel the discomforts of overeating until it’s too late. Eating too fast can also result in oesophagial reflux, gassiness, and bloating.

Past research has suggested eating too fast may also double a person’s risk of being overweight.

You can download and read the full report in PDF format. Click Here....

NB: This blog is for information only and is not in any way endorsing the Mandometer product.

FDA Issues Warning on 4 Asthma Drugs

FDA issues warning on 4 common asthma drugs -

The US government is taking steps to curb use of some long-acting asthma drugs taken by millions, issuing safety restrictions to lower an uncommon but potentially life-threatening risk that asthma could worsen, suddenly.

The Food and Drug Administration's warnings cover the drugs Advair, Symbicort, Foradil and Serevent. The FDA said they should be used only by asthmatics who can't control their lung disease with other medications — and then only for the shortest time possible.

"Our goal is to overall reduce the use of LABAs, to manage the risk while at the same time keeping them available for those patients who really need them," said Jenkins, a pulmonologist.

"The reality is the available options to treat asthma are not that great," he added. For patients not well-controlled by inhaled corticosteroids alone, "their options for additional therapy are, in and of themselves, drugs with a lot of risk."

Other warnings:

• Children and teens should be prescribed only the combination LABA drugs to ensure compliance with both medications. That mostly happens today, as pediatric use of the single-agent drugs has plummeted with publicity about the risk.

• Manufacturers also will be required to study whether combination LABA use indeed lowers the risk.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Scottish Software Company restores film critic’s voice

A legendary US film critic has been given his voice back thanks to a Scottish research team.

Roger Ebert, 67, lost the ability to speak almost four years ago, following life-saving cancer surgery.

He has since relied on hand-written notes, a form of sign language and a basic voice synthesiser to communicate.

Now a company based at Edinburgh University is using new computer technology to let him communicate with his own voice once again.

Mr Ebert is said to be "excited" about the move and he is expected to demonstrate the system in a TV interview with Oprah Winfrey.

Scottish firm CereProc is the company behind the development.

Chief technical officer Matthew Aylett said a prototype was delivered to Mr Ebert two days ago.

He said: "When Roger first heard it, he was very excited because he never thought he'd be able to communicate in his own voice again.

"We're very happy to have been able to use our technology in a way which is helping someone express themselves."

CereProc works with "text-to-speech" technology and specialises in producing voices which have character and emotion.

The research team became involved with Mr Ebert after he found out about their work online and contacted them last summer.

Fortunately for the veteran movie critic, his years of TV appearances and numerous DVD commentaries meant the research team had a wealth of audio material to draw upon.

The company was able to painstakingly reconstruct his voice by mining the recordings.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Hygiene Training for Kids - Germy Wormy

Germ Smarts for Kids with Germy Wormy®
Allegedly - Fun, Fast, Easy and Highly Effective

What if you had a fun, compelling puppet character who - in 15 minutes - teaches your little ones all about germs and healthy hygiene habits, and immediately empowers them with WHY and HOW they can stop getting and spreading germs?

What if you had way to capture their sniffly, coughy and sneezy germs and keep them from spreading all over the place?

With Germ Smarts for Kids with Germy Wormy®, kids quickly go from being unconcious about germs to a willing partner with you in stopping the spread of germs and creating a healthy home, classroom and community for a lifetime of better health for all!

Kids jump on the bandwagon with all of the health recommendations:

• Washing hands and face
• Keeping germs from their face
Coughing and sneezing into their elbow/sleeve

Does Genetic Testing Stop People Having Children?

Some of mankind's most devastating inherited diseases appear to be declining, and a few have nearly disappeared, because more people are using genetic testing to decide whether to have children.

Births of babies with cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs and other less familiar disorders seem to have dropped since testing came into wider use, The Associated Press found from interviews with numerous geneticists and other experts and a review of the limited research available.

Many of these diseases are little known and few statistics are kept. But their effects — ranging from blood disorders to muscle decline — can be disabling and often fatal during childhood.

Now, more women are being tested as part of routine prenatal care, and many end pregnancies when diseases are found. One study in California found that prenatal screening reduced by half the number of babies born with the severest form of cystic fibrosis because many parents chose abortion.

More couples with no family history of inherited diseases are getting tested before starting families to see if they carry mutations that put a baby at risk. And a growing number are screening embryos and using only those without problem genes.

The cost of testing is falling, and the number of companies offering it is rising. A 2008 federal law banning gene-based discrimination by insurers and employers has eased fears.

Genetic testing pushes hot-button issues: abortion, embryo destruction and worries about eugenics — selective breeding to rid a population of unwanted traits. Yet it is touching a growing number of people.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Universal Eye Problem Leads To Better Vision

Let's talk about 'Crowding' (macromolecular crowding), the phenomenon when people are less able to differentiate letters if they are surrounded by other letters. A recent study claims that it actually leads to better vision.

This is one of the conclusions of Dr Frans Cornelissen, who together with Dr Ronald van den Berg and Prof. Jos Roerdink is the first to succeed in explaining crowding with a mathematical model.

'At this moment in time our model is mainly interesting in a fundamental sense', says Cornelissen.

'In the long term, however, it may acquire practical applications, for example when designing learning material for children with dyslexia.'

In order to illustrate the phenomenon of crowding, Cornelissen makes the letter E, a cross and the digit 8 appear on his monitor. People who look at the cross in the middle are able to recognise the E and the 8 without any problems, even if they are standing off to the side.

However, once more letters and digits appear on the screen, the E and the 8 are suddenly unrecognisable. Everything runs into each other. 'And this despite the fact that nothing has changed in the E and the 8', says Cornelissen.

'The reason you can no longer recognise the E and the 8 is crowding. That limitation is locked into our brains and appears in everything we look at. You could call it a universal eye problem, because objects are nearly always surrounded by other objects.'

Image strengthening trick
Although crowding has always been regarded as a sight limitation, the research by Cornelissen and his colleagues has revealed that it actually helps us. 'In fact, people see better as a result of crowding', states Cornelissen.

'Our eyes are continually being bombarded with information, and our brains have to decide what is important. Simulations conducted with our model show that crowding appears to help make the important information much clearer.

If you look at pictures without crowding, the illustration always stays a bit fuzzy. However, if you then apply crowding, the edges of letters and objects in an image become much sharper.

Crowding is thus an image strengthening trick by the brain to differentiate between important and useless information. We have to do more research to determine exactly how this strengthening works. So far, the model has only been tested on a limited number of pictures.'

Cornelissen emphasises that the model is currently only interesting in a fundamental sense for a better understanding of our brain functions, but at the same time he sees a number of potential practical applications in the field of dyslexia.

'Previous research has shown that people with dyslexia have more problems with crowding. Our model can simulate how someone with normal sight identifies a text and how that differs from someone with more problems with crowding.

It will probably turn out that someone with extra crowding needs the letters to be further apart before they become clear. Our model can thus calculate the optimum way to present things to someone with dyslexia. This will probably not completely remove the dyslexia, because there's more to the problem than just crowding. However, it could certainly reduce the consequences.'

Source: University of Groningen

Monday, February 15, 2010

Dyslexic Brian’s Principles 1 | Dyslexic Brian

Dyslexic Brian’s Principles 1 Dyslexic Brian

Be clear about which area of dyslexia you are exploring

There are four main areas that are worth exploring if you are trying to increase your knowledge and understanding of dyslexia, these are:

- The subject area of ‘dyslexia’ i.e. professionals, academic opinion

- Other dyslexic peoples perspectives of dyslexia, i.e. their opinions, views

- Non-dyslexic peoples perceptions of dyslexia

- Your own dyslexia, i.e. how you conceptualise it, how it affects you, and how you are dealing with it

To read the full article click on this link

Mindroom - Learning Difficulties - Dyslexia Information

Mindroom - Learning Difficulties - Dyslexia Information

Dyslexia is characterised by specific problems in learning to read and write.
It is best described as a combination of abilities and difficulties that affect the learning process in one or more of reading, spelling, writing.

Dyscalcula - problems with mathematics

Dysgraphia - a learning disability resulting from the difficulty in expressing thoughts in writing. It generally refers to extremely poor handwriting.

There are three types of dyslexia– motor, visual, auditory

Associated features

  • Poor working memory – especially for sequenced, auditory – linguistic material
  • Difficulties with phonology – the sounds in words.
  • Problems in distinguishing left/right
  • Poor sense of direction
  • Difficulties with time and tense
  • Visual and auditory perceptual difficulties
  • Unexpectedly poor reading in relation to general ability
  • Spelling problems
  • Difficulty remembering telephone numbers and appointments
  • Bad handwriting
  • Difficulty learning things by rote e.g. months of the year
  • Poor concentration

Click here for further recommended reading on Dyslexia

Mindroom - Learning without boundaries

Mindroom - Learning without boundaries

About Mindroom
Mindroom is a Scottish charity dedicated to creating and raising awareness of learning difficulties. We are also passionate about providing direct help and support for children and adults with learning difficulties and their families.

Mindroom’s 2020 Vision
Mindroom's goal is to create such awareness, that by the year 2020 all children and adults in this country with learning difficulties will receive the recognition and help they need.

We will work towards our 2020 vision by:

•Offering direct help and support
•Arranging high profile conferences
•Setting up multi-disciplinary diagnostic centres - Mindrooms
•Setting up specialist schools

Mindroom was founded in 2001 by Sophie Dow, a journalist and mother of two. Her daughter Annie has severe learning difficulties and is the inspiration behind Mindroom.

Sophie Dow is originally from Sweden and her husband is Scottish. They raised their daughter in Scotland and despite the good intentions of the local health care providers, there was still a lot to be done to truly support the children and families.

Mindroom was set up to address some of the shortfalls and to act as a knowledgeable reference and trusted adviser service for teachers, parents and families, faced with the stress and bureaucratic maze that accompanies the many disorders that fall into the category of 'learning difficulties.'

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dyslexia: Understanding your child's difficulties

Evaluating your child's reading needs, planning their program, monitoring progress and requesting suitable modifications and changes along the way, requires you to have responsive and appropriate answers to many practical questions.
  • If my child is not performing at the correct level, at what level are they performing?
  • What do they need to learn that they are not currently learning? Where is the gap?
  • What services and instructions do they need to improve to support their learning? How do we fill that gap?
  • How do we compare and monitor the progress made?

A question that you need to ask yourself is whether the school is giving you the correct information. Are you getting accurate and appropriate answers in the right context? Are you getting all the answers you require? Do you feel you have the knowledge or level of expertise to manage the situation?

It is one of the greatest burdens that fall on parents, being the carer and manager of your child's education, intervention and educational progress. You are told that 'the more you know and understand about your child's learning difficulties, the better your child will do.'

What a huge burden that places on you. It is no easy task. It is a diverse and complex role that is difficult to excel in but you are compelled to play it. If it seems too large, seek help. Share the burden with like-minded people, other parents and carers that are experiencing or have experienced a similar situation.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Fabulous Valentine day gift wrappings

Valentine gift wrapping ideas click here for link

How the Brain Detects Silence: Research Discovery

A team of University of Oregon researchers have isolated an independent processing channel of synapses inside the brain's auditory cortex that deals specifically with shutting off sound processing at appropriate times. Such regulation is vital for hearing and for understanding speech.

The discovery, detailed in the Feb. 11 issue of the journal Neuron, goes against a long-held assumption that the signaling of a sound's appearance and its subsequent disappearance are both handled by the same pathway.
The new finding, which supports an emerging theory that a separate set of synapses is responsible, could lead to new, distinctly targeted therapies such as improved hearing devices, said Michael Wehr, a professor of psychology and member of the UO Institute of Neuroscience.

"It looks like there is a whole separate channel that goes all the way from the ear up to the brain that is specialized to process sound offsets," Wehr said. The two channels finally come together in a brain region called the auditory cortex, situated in the temporal lobe.

To do the research, Wehr and two UO undergraduate students - lead author Ben Scholl, now a graduate student at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, and Xiang Gao - monitored the activity of neurons and their connecting synapses as rats were exposed to millisecond bursts of tones, looking at the responses to both the start and end of a sound. They tested varying lengths and frequencies of sounds in a series of experiments.

It became clear, the researchers found, that one set of synapses responded "very strongly at the onset of sounds," but a different set of synapses responded to the sudden disappearance of sounds. There was no overlap of the two responding sets, the researchers noted. The end of one sound did not affect the response to a new sound, thus reinforcing the idea of separate processing channels.

The UO team also noted that responses to the end of a sound involved different frequency tuning, duration and amplitude than those involved in processing the start of a sound, findings that agree with a trend cited in at least three other studies in the last decade.

"Being able to perceive when sound stops is very important for speech processing," Wehr said. "One of the really hard problems in speech is finding the boundaries between the different parts of words. It is really not well understood how the brain does that."

As an example, he noted the difficulty some people have when they are at a noisy cocktail party and are trying to follow one conversation amid competing background noises. "We think that we've discovered brain mechanisms that are important in finding the necessary boundaries between words that help to allow for successful speech recognition and hearing," he said.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Effectiveness of Automatic Speech Recognition Software (ASR)

MOST of us talk to our computers, if only to curse them when a glitch destroys hours of work. Sadly the computer doesn't usually listen, but new kinds of software are being developed that make conversing with a computer rather more productive.

The longest established of these is automatic speech recognition (ASR), the technology that converts the spoken word to text. More recently it has been joined by subtler techniques that go beyond what you say, and analyse how you say it. Between them they could help us communicate more effectively in situations where face-to-face conversation is not possible.

ASR has come a long way since 1964, when visitors to the World's Fair in New York were wowed by a device called the IBM Shoebox, which performed simple arithmetic calculations in response to voice commands. Yet people's perceptions of the usefulness of ASR have, if anything, diminished.

"State-of-the-art ASR has an error rate of 30 to 35 per cent," says Simon Tucker at the University of Sheffield, UK, "and that's just very annoying." Its shortcomings are highlighted by the plethora of web pages poking fun at some of the mistakes made by Google Voice, which turns voicemail messages into text.

What's more, even when ASR gets it right the results can be unsatisfactory, as simply transcribing what someone says often makes for awkward reading. People's speech can be peppered with repetition, or sentences that just tail off.

"Even if you had perfect transcription of the words, it's often the case that you still couldn't tell what was going on," says Alex Pentland, who directs the Human Dynamics Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "People's language use is very indirect and idiomatic," he points out.

Despite these limitations, ASR has its uses, says Tucker. With colleagues at Sheffield and Steve Whittaker at IBM Research in Almaden, California, he has developed a system called Catchup, designed to summarise in almost real time what has been said at a business meeting so the latecomers can... well, catch up with what they missed. Catchup is able to identify the important words and phrases in an ASR transcript and edit out the unimportant ones.

It does so by using the frequency with which a word appears as an indicator of its importance, having first ruled out a "stop list" of very common words. It leaves the text surrounding the important words in place to put them in context, and removes the rest.

A key feature of Catchup is that it then presents the result in audio form, so the latecomer hears a spoken summary rather than having to plough through a transcript. "It provides a much better user experience," says Tucker.

Read the full article here ....

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Mediterranean diet may lower risk of brain damage that causes thinking problems

Mediterranean diet may lower risk of brain damage that causes thinking problems

The study found that people who ate a Mediterranean-like diet were less likely to have brain infarcts, or small areas of dead tissue linked to thinking problems.

The Mediterranean diet includes high intake of vegetables, legumes, fruits, cereals, fish and monounsaturated fatty acids such as olive oil; low intake of saturated fatty acids, dairy products, meat and poultry; and mild to moderate amounts of alcohol.

Effects of Cigarette Smoking and Family History Of Alcoholism Linked To Love Of Sweets Among Women

Effects of Cigarette Smoking and Family History Of Alcoholism Linked To Love Of Sweets Among Women

Despite the greater health risks, women derive more pleasure than men from the smell and taste of cigarettes, are more likely to smoke as a way to reduce stress and feelings of depression, and use smoking as a diet tool. In fact, many women who try to quit smoking often relapse because of concerns about gaining weight.

"Cigarette smoking and having a family history of alcoholism had different effects on sweet-taste perception and food cravings," said Julie A. Mennella, a senior researcher at Monell and coauthor of the study. "Women who smoked cigarettes were less sensitive to sweet taste than women who never smoked.

This means that women who smoke required higher concentrations of a sweet solution in order to detect sweet taste; we also found that the more years a woman has smoked cigarettes, the less sensitive she will be to sweet taste." Whether the reduced sensitivity for sweet tastes helps smokers control their weight is an important question that needs further study, she added.

"Distortions of perception of sweet taste and craving for sweets have been reported in patients with various psychiatric conditions -- depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, premenstrual syndrome, several forms of obesity etc.

Dyslexia Definition in Dutch (other languages)

Dyslexie (uit het Grieks δυς- dys- ("beperkt") en λέξις lexis ("woord"), dus beperkt lezen) (ook wel als woordblindheid aangeduid) is een verzamelnaam voor een aantal aandoeningen die gepaard gaan met problemen met vooral geschreven taal.

Er zijn verschillende vormen en gradaties van dyslexie met mogelijk verschillende achterliggende oorzaken. Er zijn sterke aanwijzingen dat erfelijkheid een rol speelt bij dyslexie.

To change the language, click on the picture or on this link...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Help with Reading Comprehension | Pride Learning Centre

Help with Reading Comprehension Pride Learning Center

Help with Reading Comprehension
Posted on 05. Feb, 2010 by admin in News

By Karina Richland, M.A., E.T.

For some students reading is just a frustrating, pointless exercise of reading words on a page. How can we teach our students to become active, engaged and competent readers? This is not something that comes naturally to most students. It is something that needs to be taught and practiced. Here are a few strategies and techniques teachers might use when teaching reading comprehension.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Demystifying Dyslexia Hosted by Olympic champion Bruce Jenner

To make you aware this is a US video that refers to sponsors and US legislation. But it contains some very insighful moments and shows a child's view of how they experience dyslexia.

This video is very encouraging because it also shows how we can work together to overcome the bias and disabling effects.

To see the Video please click on the picture or on the link here.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

22 Things to Consider when Communicating with Young Children

To ensure they get a flying start on the road to education, parents, teachers and students should all be encouraged to communicate with each other from day one.

Here are some suggestions to aid that communication:

1. Remember to use all your senses - Use drawings, dramatic gestures, actions, emotions, voice, mime, chalkboard sketches, photographs and visual materials to provide clues to meaning.

2. Repetition builds familiarity - Repeat your actions using the same simple structures and actions.

3. Avoid complexity - Simplify your message as much as possible breaking them into smaller, manageable parts to give newcomers a chance at comprehending.

4. Start with a bang - Make sure the children's attention is focused.

5. Pay attention to each child in turn - Don't insist, however, that they make eye contact with you when you are speaking to them. This is sometimes difficult for them and can be considered rude in many cultures.

6. Be aware of your delivery and speech - Modify it if necessary. Talk at a slow-to-normal pace, in short sentences. Use a pleasant tone of voice at all times.

7. Use simple sentence structures - Use subject-verb-object and high-frequency words

8. Use names of people rather than pronouns - they may not understand who 'he, she or it' refers to.

9. Pause after longer phrases or short sentences, not after each word. You do not want to distort the rhythm of the language.

10. Avoid using the passive voice and complex sentences.

11. If you have something important to convey, speak one-on-one to the student rather than in front of the class. The anxiety of being in the spotlight interferes with comprehension.

12. Ask simple yes/no questions. Accept one-word answers or gestures.

13. Be an active listener. Give full attention to your newcomer and make every effort to understand his / her attempts to communicate. Smile.

14. Talk in a calm, quiet manner. Raising your voice does not help comprehension

15. Demonstrate your patience through your facial expressions and body language.

16. Give your quieter children extra time to respond.

17. Encourage new children to act out or to draw pictures to get their meaning across. Don't jump in immediately to supply words.

18. Correct pronunciation and grammar by repeating the response accurately. Do not ask the student to repeat the correction. This can be very embarrassing.

19. Resist the urge to over critisize and correct. This will inhibit new children and they will be less willing to speak.

20. Allow children to use a dictionary to find words that they cannot acted out.

21. Check comprehension frequently. Don't ask "Do you understand?" This is not a reliable check since many students will nod "yes" when they don't really understand.

22. Never use irony or sarcasm - That would not be well understood and is an abuse of status.

Be patient: you are taking the children on a long journey and they need to find their pace and enjoy the benefits along the way. Stop occasionally and let them smell the flowers.

Wiley InterScience: In Pursuit of a Reading Application to assist Dyslexic Readers

Reading Application Study - Summarised

This is a story about the fate of a psychological application: from its conception to the optimistic vision surrounding its future.

We hope that this application – an enjoyable learning game (www or mobile phone-based, available free of charge to the end users) for children – can at best help millions of children in their reading acquisition in the future.

Its basis was created by following intensively the development of children with and without genetic (familial) risk for dyslexia from birth to puberty in the Jyväskylä Longitudinal study of Dyslexia (JLD)-project.

For further information on the full article in PDF format, click here