Where magic, mathematics, and neuroscience meet !

I admit that some eyes glaze over when I start talking about this, and I also confess that I do not have the dexterity or the patience to become a sleight of hand artist.

Having said that, I was fascinated enough to acquire Fooling Houdini by Alex Stone . I found this a real fun and interesting read, as it combines an interesting personal narrative (with themes of failure and redemption), a lot of history of magic, some math, and a lot of psychology. The description of how Three Card Monte gangs operate to select, engage, fool and then cool out their victims is gripping. The explanation of optical illusions, in-attentional blindness and other cognitive processes is highly relevant to health promotion and communications, and while respectful to the academic sources, is told in a more interesting manner than most journal articles.

There is also controversy! Right or wrong, Stone does reveal secrets. Among other critics, sleight of hand artist, actor and author Ricky Jay wrote a blistering review in the Wall Street Journal.

After reading the review, I did end up reading “Magical Mathematics” by Persi Diaconis and Ron Graham. This book is also wonderful, full of tricks, history, and all sorts of non-magical applications (cryptology,  cable paths, etc), but the math is pretty demanding.

I also noted that Alex Stone does include respectful description of the work of Diaconis, who is one of a number of mathematician magicians (as was the late Dr. Nathan Mendelsohn who taught  “Basic Concepts in Mathematics” and ended our class with a show of stunning tricks which I vividly remember from over 40 years ago).

As for secrecy, Stone claims that most tricks have been revealed on the Internet among other sources. One proof test: finding out how David Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty is one Google click away. Take my word (sadly) for it. He’s right.

CDC’s MessageWorks now live

CDC’s MessageWorks is one of three tools proposed for HealthCommWorks, and as its name implies, it focuses on important message characteristics. In a series of seven easy steps, you define your situation, craft a message, and get a numerical score for that message, as well as recommendations to improve the message.  You can do this multiple times, saving them to an account as you wish.

You can see this for yourselves at the following site: https://www.healthcommworks.org/

Two things I really like are:

– the fact you can create multiple versions of the “same” basic message, and see how it scores AND/OR see how effective a given message might be with different audiences !

– to do the above, you need a sophisticated algorithm in the background, and in this instance, it is based on a meta-analysis by Keller and Lehmann (2008) – Dr. Keller also appears in a series of instructional videos within MessageWorks.