Sunday, July 16, 2006

Hearing words activates brain's speech center even before learning to talk

Science Daily has a report on a study on the relationship between hearing and speaking in infants.

Note: My posts will continue to be brief for about another two weeks.

Non-lethal sonic blasters for US National Guard troops

DefenseTech reports on the Pentagon's plans for deploying sonic blasters and other non-lethal devices with National Guard troops.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Posting will be light

Posting will be light for a couple of weeks due to work committments. If you are new to this blog, I encourage you to try the archives (see the right hand sidebar toward the bottom).

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Biometric ID cards for personnel at US federal agencies

Security Document World reports on the initial steps in implementing Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD) 12, which requires US federal agencies to issue biometric-based smart ID cards to all new employees and contractors by October 27, 2006.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Stroke victim wakes up with new accent

The Telegraph newspaper (UK) reports today that upon after emerging from a stroke a woman's Geordie accent had been replaced by a Jamaican one. Her condition, called the foreign accent syndrome, is a rare occurrence - there have been only about 50 recorded cases.

Best time for cochlea implants in children

ScienceDaily reports on a study by Johanna Grant Nicholas, Ph.D., research associate professor of otolaryngology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and colleague Ann E. Geers, Ph.D., from the Southwestern Medical School at the University of Texas at Dallas into determining the best age for a deaf child to receive a cochlea implant. The study found that the answer is before 24 months old if the goal is to have the child speak at the same level as other hearing peers. The National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders supported this research with funding.

Mapping where the brain processes tones

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen have published a paper (PLoS Biology, June 20, 2006) on the results of their fMRI study into mapping where the human brain processes tones and tone combinations. ScienceDaily has a good write-up on the paper for those with a basic technical understanding of how the auditory system works.

The study seems to have produced a more detailed understanding of the mapping between the cochlea and the Auditory Cortex Fields (ACF) of the brain, where the processing (is it separation and/or decoding?) of tones takes place, as well as the organization of the ACFs.

(Hat tip: ScienceDaily)


Marc Böhlen of Real Tech Support has an interesting take on surveilling people in a building - instead of mounting surveillance cameras up high and watching faces, he mounts them down low and images feet and shoes instead. The idea is to have a surveillance system for automatic people counting and safety that is less invasive of people's privacy. For example, security personnel could use it to know if there are any people in a particular area of a building in case of emergency.

As a concept, I think it is intriguing. Thinking about it from a systems perspective, however, the efficiency of emergency response would be improved by knowing what a person (not just their shoes) looked like as well as being able to more thoroughly surveil the area. Putting both systems side-by-side would allow one to leave the more invasive system inactive until needed, but that would be more expensive. What it seems to come down to is a classic tradeoff between privacy, security, and cost.

A link to his site is here.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Links between motor skills and language development in children

A recent study has (again) found a link between motor skills and language development. From the press release:
Youngsters who can lick their lips, blow bubbles and pretend that a building block is a car are most likely to find learning language easy, according to a new study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Psychologists at Lancaster University, led by Dr Katie Alcock, found strong links between these movement, or motor and thinking, or cognitive, skills and children's language abilities.
Speech therapists and pediatricians have known about a link between motor skills and language for some time. In fact, speech therapists use motor skill development games (e.g. the game with the small fish that move around and the minature fishing pole with a magnetic 'hook') in their sessions with children for that reason. It appears to me that the unique bit in this study is probably the correlation between the specific motor skills involving the mouth (i.e. blowing bubbles) and speaking. This make intuitive sense, of course.

So, this is indeed a study result that children can be happy about - chewing bubble gum is good for development!

(Hat tip: ScienceDaily)

PS. As a general point, please remember that finding a link is not the same thing as finding causality. In other words, two things can be related but not caused by each other but instead by something completely different. Statistically discovered "links" can also be due to coincidence if the study is not constructed carefully. More study is usually needed to reach the point where cause and effect are understood.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Computerized Voice Stress Analysis

The subject of Computerized Voice Stress Analysis (CVSA) has been brought up to me several times in the last month or so. Here is an article that sums up the issues in a non-technical way fairly well.

For the record, I believe that the prevailing opinion in the community is that CVSA should be viewed as an interrogation aid and not a lie-detector. Detecting if someone has micro-tremors in their speech pattern is not the same as detecting deception. Police departments should understand that it may be relatively inexpensive and simple to administer but it is no more reliable than the bit of folk lore about cops using a copy machine and letting the suspect believe that it was a lie detector.

Please don't put that hard disk in the bulk tape eraser

Scientists at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (USA) have been busy with a project for the military that may have future application to audio and video surveillance and forensics by law enforcement. It addresses the problem of not having a universal eraser for all magnetic media.

With the explosion of new types of digital recording devices and storage media, equipment and procedures for reliably and efficiently erasing the media will likely become a pressing issue. The community has been through this before though. When digital audio tape (DAT) came out, quite a few professionals made the mistake of thinking that their old bulk (analog) tape erasers would wipe them clean, but the magnetic fields used for analog tape eraser were not strong enough for digital tape.

ScienceDaily link is here.