Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Only two out of three???

Friday, May 26, 2006

Friday Random Ten: 26 May 2006

Sorry that posting's been light the last couple of days. I'm still settling into the new job during the day, and remembering what you humans call "relaxing" during the night. This will all correct itself soon enough.

In the meanwhile... is it wrong to enjoy sitting around all day, teaching oneself how to code while re-learning basic math? Because it's turning out to be a lot more fun than seems reasonable. I must have finally turned into a Big Dork.

1. The Soviettes - Go Lambs Go!
2. Dick Dale - Calling Up Spirits
3. Turbonegro - Monkey On Your Back
4. Atom Heart - Data Haiku
5. Cibelle - Gracefully
6. Pailhead - Don't Stand in Line
7. Ella Fitzgerald - Louisville, KY
8. Jello Biafra & the Melvins - Enchanted Thoughtfist
9. Banco de Gaia - Kuos
10. Lard - Forkboy

Breaking News

Breaking news: CNN's front-page banner is reporting that shots were fired in the Capitol building. They're apparently reporting on it on CNN Pipeline, but I'm too cheap to pay money to just find out about somebody maybe shooting a Congressperson. Anyways, more as it develops--unless I get as lost in math as I got yesterday.

EDIT: Story now up. Hopefully updates will be visible here as time goes on.

10:34 AM EDIT: Article updated. Now contains the most informative quote of all time:

He noted that Capitol Police have a firing range in the basement, but a congressional source said the shots were not heard from that level.

Yes. There's a firing range in the basement of the capitol building. I think we can all rest a little better at night for that knowledge.

11:17 AM EDIT: It's slowly becoming quite clear that nothing is going on.

Which is sort of sad, really. As it's quite boring here, with me and my arcs. And my laptop lagging out while trying to detect printers on the network.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Maybe I should think about plastics

I'm starting to wonder a bit if this job is for me... I just spent a good fifteen minutes trying to remember the equation for plotting a circle. Succeeding in that, I realized that the reason I was getting crazy bizarre results is that I'd forgotten how to include the radius as a variable.

Of course, each time I spent about five minutes trying to figure out the craziest result I could get from inputting different radii.


Having to teach myself all the MATLAB stuff that's actually useful would be enough work without being haunted by shades of forgotten geometry.

EDIT: No, I was attempting to include the radius correctly. I was just failing in practice, giving me a circle defined by x = r*cos(theta) and y = sin(r*theta). Which, as I'm sure you can imagine, is wrong.


Internet = Free Stuff, Part 37

Tod Browning's classic horror fillm, Freaks, is now available on Google Video. How long will this last? I dunno. Quality's only okay.
(thanks to we make money not art)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Not That I Personally Have Anything Against Consorting With Male Prostitutes

So Paul Kiel at TPMmuckraker put a piece up today on the White House's continued refusal to release records about visits by Abramoff & Jeff Gannon/James Guckert:

Well, now it appears doubtful that the White House will ever turn those records over. We may never know how many times Abramoff really visited the White House... or who Jeff Gannon/James Guckert, the male prostitute and White House correspondent, met with there. The White House has records that would show all that. But in a departure from the policy of the Clinton White House, the Bush administration seems determined to keep them forever out of public view...

...But the WAVES records should also provide more details of James Guckert's many visits to the White House, beyond the simple times of entry and exits, as were disclosed in ACRs turned over last year as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request to the Secret Service. The FOIA request was filed by Reps. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and John Conyers (D-MI). They also filed a FOIA request with the White House's Office of Administration for Guckert's visits. But they never got a response. I incorrectly reported last week that they had.

Okay. This is really simple. All we need is one White House correspondent to ask during the press gaggle, "Judicial Watch, along with two Congresspersons, report that the White House is refusing to release records about visits by Jeff Gannon aka James Guckert & Jack Abramoff. Why does the White House refuse to clear this up?" If Tony Snow claims he need to discuss this with staff, ask again the next day.

Then, no matter how he obfuscates, you've earned the right to put up the headline, "White House Stonewalling on Abramoff, Prostitute Visits." I'll even give you the first couple sentences of this front page article: "Did President Bush personally meet with Jack Abramoff? How about a gigolo? These are the questions that the White House refuses to answer."

And the best part is, it's not even "have you stopped beating your wife yet," because it may actually be TRUE. Would this be great journalism? No, it smacks of extortion a bit, at least the way I just set it up. But at the same time, it seems like no one's really thought about the fact that the White House still refuses to confirm, deny, or comment on visits by A PROSTITUTE. That sort of cuts down on the whole "family values" thing a bit, doesn't it?

Quick music linkblogging

So Saturday night, everyone was talking about Lordi winning Eurovision. No, really. Well, not really. A couple of people were, which is enough: you'd think we'd have something better to talk about, being in Minnesota and all. Anyway, I was really dissapointed to check them out and discover that they totally suck.

I could see myself thinking about playing them once or twince back when I was DJing a METAL show at Mac, but that's about it.

Much more entertaining was LT United's We Are the Winners, which has a lot of campy amusement going into it even before you get into the fact that it reminds me of Leinad's Vote4Me (which is claimed to be available here, but I haven't tried), which is a true classic.


If anybody could get me a list of the rest of the National Review's greatest conservative rock songs, I'd be very indebted. I refuse to pay them money to find out how dumb they are. Or put work into it myself.


Rapper denied entry to US for lyrics? Hard to comment on this as I know little about her work (which I intend to correct shortly), and this is the sort of situation where it's always difficult to judge the accuracy of such vague statements. But if it's true? It's worth setting aside a little bit of a day's total outrage output for.
(thanks to push loud pens)

Monday, May 22, 2006

Wherein your author is finally tempted by cutting-edge fashion

I could seriously see myself getting a piercing for wearing glasses:

* Get pierced - an internally-threaded barbell that goes through the skin above the bridge of your nose
* Use a tabletop mill to cut the L-shaped metal pieces that screw onto the barbell
* Attach rare earth magnets to the glasses; these hold the glasses on.
* Don't get rid of the bridge pieces; they let the lenses sit on your nose and take the actual weight of the lenses.

I would have to wait until this is available for purchase... I'm totally not DIY enough for that. I also feel a bit paranoid about how a bridge piercing might interfere with microscopy. But if the magnet's strong enough this seems like an excellent compromise between glasses and contact lenses. And it looks great:

MATLAB training, Day 1

Sort of interesting and sort of boring. And by "sort of boring," I really just mean that during the second half of the day I was sort of tired and it was sort of a lot sunny outside.

Even if we didn't cover as much as I would like--or the sort of things I need to know more about--it was good practice to just play around with the interface a bunch, which I think will end up being useful for more than just MATLAB. For instance, I now have a much better understanding of the appeal of R, along with a greater desire to play with it. We'll see if that lasts more than a couple of days, eh?

Down for a few days

I'm off to my MATLAB training conference, day 1. I'm assuming I'll have no internet access during the day today or tomorrow--and no time even if I did--so don't expect any posting until the evening.

Peace out.

The step too far was far too long ago

Sy Hersh brings us a new round of information about the NSA's wiretapping in The New Yorker. For me, the key passage follows:

Instead, the N.S.A. began, in some cases, to eavesdrop on callers (often using computers to listen for key words) or to investigate them using traditional police methods. A government consultant told me that tens of thousands of Americans had had their calls monitored in one way or the other.
(emphasis mine)
I think everyone has a crazy conspiracy-happy friend. Or maybe I just have disproportionately crazy friends. Regardless, over the last ten years or so I've certainly had several friends who would always warn everyone else not to say key words over the phone: those were the ones the NSA would listen for. And once they heard any of those words, they'd listen in on the rest of the call. The rest of us have always politely nodded our heads, occasionally pointing out that there are laws about that involving warrants, and often just not arguing because it would be pointless.

So I would like to thank the President of the United States of America, for doing his best to make sure the conspiracy nuts are right about government, while the non-paranoid among us are consistently the most wrong about their activities. I've been converted; I now look forward to future leaked revelations that the administration was complicit in the events of 11 September 2001, acting on behalf of our reptile overlords.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Not just a desperate attempt to generate ad revenue, I swear

I never thought I'd find myself linkblogging to my paid ads... which I think I've already done once or twice, so whatever.

Anyways, you really do need to check out this link to iMusic, a product which claims to be music that can enhance your cognitive function. Check this out:

Finally the time has come. We now have the technology and understanding to create a powerfully effective and easy to wield method of channeling the mind into its optimal state. At will, we can replicate the brainwave patterns of those astonishing individuals that lead rather than follow and win rather than waver. With the advent of IMAGINCE© it is time to stop dreaming...

Independent-Modulating-Acoustics-Generator for Inducing Neuro-Cognition Entrainment

"Independent-Modulating-Acoustics-Generator for Inducing Neuro-Cognition Entrainment"??? Doesn't that sound delightful? Wouldn't YOU like to induce neuro-cognition entrainment? Preferably by use, perhaps, of an independent-modulating-acoustics-generator? Or by other products whose title involves an overuse of hyphens?

On their page titled Scientifically Proven, they have 2-3 dozen "related studies and white papers that support iMusic" listed. However, I'm a bit suspicious of their claim, since it includes such specifically applied reviews as:

Kooi, K. A. (1971). Fundamentals of Electroencephalography. New York: Harper & Row.


Miller, E. E. (1987). Software for the Mind: How to program Your Mind for Optimum Health and Performance. Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts.

Now, obviously I haven't seen the latter, but it certainly doesn't sound like either a study or a white paper. Perhaps they have an alternative definition, though... since there don't actually seem to be any white papers in the list.

They've also conducted a survey in which "110 teachers of grades 3 through 8 were requested to play iMusic | Volume One for their class over a 2 week period." The results they've claimed:

- 98.7% of the teachers surveyed felt their class was better poised for learning while iMusic was played.
- 89% of the teachers surveyed observed their classroom to be quieter and less noisy while iMusic was played.
- 100% of the teachers surveyed observed their students to be more focused and attentive while iMusic was played.
- 95.3% of the teachers surveyed felt their students were more productive and made better use of their time while iMusic was played.

Um, I hate to point this out? So beyond the fact that it's pretty difficult to believe that any survey could get results that huge without paying people off; you can't actually get 98.7% with 110 teachers surveyed. 108/110 = 98.2, and 109/110 = 99.1. This may be picking a nit... but it's a bit sneaky-looking, especially when you already sound like you're peddling snake oil.

Finally, one thing I'd like to make clear: I'm highly skeptical of the efficacy of this product, but I certainly haven't studied the science behind it myself. So I could be wrong: and if the makers of iMusic would like to convince me that I am, I encourage them to try.

Laughing While I Still Can

I imagine that in a few years this will seem as close to Hell as I can possibly imagine; but for now? Still hilarious. The Onion: Heroic Computer Dies To Save World From Master's Thesis:

WALTHAM, MA—A courageous young notebook computer committed a fatal, self-inflicted execution error late Sunday night, selflessly giving its own life so that professors, academic advisors, classmates, and even future generations of college students would never have to read Jill Samoskevich's 227-page master's thesis, sources close to the Brandeis University English graduate student reported Monday.

"This fearless little machine saved me from unspoken hours of exasperated head-scratching and eyestrain, as well as years of agonizing self-doubt over my decision to devote my life to teaching," said professor John Rebson, who had already read through three drafts of Samoskevich's sprawling, 38,000-word dissertation, titled A Hermeneutical Exploration Of Onomatopoeia In The Works Of William Carlos Williams As It May Or May Not Relate To Post-Agrarian Appalachia. "It was an incredible act of bravery. This laptop sacrificed itself in order to put an end to Jill's senseless rambling."

And speaking of Master's theses, I would really like to see one titled Crazy-Ass Philosophies Inspired by Schlocky Sci-Fi Novels. I think that's pretty much a guaranteed hit, right there.
(Gor link from Mike Sterling)

Friday, May 19, 2006

Because you know, the world COULD end on my birthday

So I had this great idea for a new internet meme, which I came up with while listening to Johnny Cash's cover of "The Man Comes Around" on my way home from work. This would consist of finding the verse of the Reverse of St. John the Divine that correlates to your birthday. Unfortunately, I sort of screwed myself by forgetting how short the chapters are, and chapter five is only 14 verses long (although, on a side note, I must point out that anyone born in the first half of June is totally set since they get the opening of the first six seals).

But anyways, I decided I'd go old school and check out the book of Daniel, since half of the Revelation is ripped off of it anyway, and that didn't work out too bad. In context, from the NRSV, with my verse in bold:

Then Daniel answered the king, "Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another; nevertheless I will read the writing to the king and make known to him the interpretation. O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father kingship and greatness and glory and majesty; and because of the greatness that he gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him; whom he would he slew, and whom he would he kept alive; whom he would he raised up, and whom he would he put down. But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he dealt proudly, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him..."

So what do you get for your birthday?

Birthday Random Ten

My computer loves me. I know this, because it gave me an awesome set.

Ruby - Lilypad
Jello Biafra & Mojo Nixon - Where Are We Gonna Work (When The Trees Are Gone?)
Jah Wobble - The Kings of Asia
Junkie XL feat. Peter Tosh - Don't Wake Up Policeman
Karsh Kale - Home (Midival Punditz Higher Salvation Mix)
Cibelle - Train Station
The Gits - Another Shot of Whiskey
Bad Religion - I Want to Conquer the World
Bad Religion - Do What You Want
Tito Puente - Take Five

Nice & schizophrenic; just the way I like it.

28 Candles

So it's my birthday today. When I think back to everything I intended to accomplish a year ago... well, mostly I wish I'd written it down. But hey: I graduated from college (again), got the first job I've ever thought I'd really like, and am still sane. That's a pretty good start, I suppose. More than most years.

Anyways, please feel free to shower me with congratulations, fawning and adulation below. You'll feel much better for having gotten it off your chest.

Birthdays I share:
Johns Hopkins, 1795
Ho Chi Minh, 1890
Malcolm X, 1925
Pol Pot, 1925
Nora Ephron, 1941
Andre the Giant, 1946
Grace Jones, 1948

Is there anyone out there born on the 17th willing to swap Idi Amin for Pol Pot? I'm sure historians would never notice...

Anne Boleyn, 1536
Miyamoto Musashi (really the only reason I bothered with this list), 1645
TE Lawrence, 1935

Finally, although it's not JFK's birthday; it IS the anniversary of Marilyn Monroe singing, "Happy Birthday, Mr. President," which is pretty awesome.

Latest US Gay Marriage Ban Passes Committee

Reuters: here.

This stuff rather frustrates me. It's hard to find words to explain how pissed off I feel at seeing people try to write bigotry into the constitution once every year, like clockwork. So I think I'll just leave it at that.

But some moments I'd like to call attention to:

  • Sen. Feingold (D-Dreamy) storming out of the hearing. There's a super-cynical level on which I see stuff like this and think he's grandstanding in preparation for his 2008 run. And then I think, wait a second, it's Feingold! And it's hard to convince myself that I wouldn't be acting with significantly less decorum were I in his shoes.

  • "Georgia state court struck down a state ban on Tuesday"? Could someone fill me in on what I missed?

  • The good:

    Just over half of all Americans oppose same-sex marriage, according to a March poll by the Pew Research center, down from 63 percent in February 2004.

  • The hilarious:

    Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the committee's top Democrat, said the gay marriage ban was a waste of time for a committee that needs to tackle a wide range of other pressing issues, from judicial nominations to oversight of the National Security Administration's domestic-spying program.

    "I didn't realize marriages were so threatened. Nor did my wife of 44 years," Leahy said.

    Leahy said Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, who supports the ban, has expressed support for polygamists in his home state of Utah.

    "I never said that," Hatch responded. "I know some (polygamists) that are very sincere. ... Don't accuse me of wanting to have polygamy."

Unfortunately, I'm lacking a bit of the context for that last quote by Sen. Hatch (R-Moroni); but it seems as though he's arguing that one can believe that people can be serious in their love for each other, and still be arrested for practicing it.

At least his actions are consistent with his words in that respect, I suppose.

What's next? The underground kitten black market?

Yahoo news clip: Puppy trafficking industry grows

No, I haven't watched it. Come on, I'm at work. But the headline enthralls. It is enthralling. Alluring. All-consuming.

I'll watch it in a bit.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Robot Arms and the Force Fields Who Love Them

When I last discussed what I actually do at my new job, I sort of intended to pick up the dropped ball rather soon. Like... when I got up from my nap. Or Tuesday night. That'll show me, I guess.

So the first thing I'll need to do is show you my favorite part of my new job: the manipulandum.

That's the one in our lab, randomly found online. So why is the manipulandum so awesome?

Because it's a robot arm that simulates force fields. I will never fail to entertain at parties so long as I can mingle with a glass of wine in one hand and say, "I work with force fields generated by robot arms."

Chick MAGNET, I tell you. Try it yourself some time.

Now that I'm done with my geekgasm; the robot arm is connected to a computer that we can program boundaries into. Within or around those boundaries (depending on the configuration), the user can explore the workspace with relative impunity. But when they connect with a boundary, the robot arm opposes their movement. This simulates a force field in that location. The user can then explore this boundary by moving the manipulandum against those areas where it resists their movement.

Generally, manipulandum experiments are done while the subject is blindfolded to prevent them from utilizing visual input about their hand location in determining what the boundary 'looks' like. Why is the person above not blindfolded? Obviously, she's cheating.

Just kidding. Manipulandums (manipulandi?) can also be used for motor learning experiments, and probably other things I haven't even bothered to think of yet. Check the page the image came from, if you're curious.

So what can the manipulandum tell us? From the papers I've read so far, there seem to be two main categories. The first is data about the exploration process. When a subject is exploring a certain type of boundary, do they move more quickly or more slowly? Do they run past certain parts more times than others? How much force do they apply at each point?

The second is data from replication. In our lab, depending on what we're working on, there are two main ways people can replicate an image. The first is with the manipulandum itself. After someone feels they have explored a boundary enough, we can turn off the force fields and allow them to "sketch out" the shape they perceived with their handle. There are some problems with this, though: how much of the sketch is due to the picture they've synthesized through haptic exploration, and how much of it is just a replay of motor memory? And since they can't see what they're drawing with the manipulandum, how much of the error in the sketch is due to errors in the initial perception, and how much of it is an error in skill at reproduction? To comparatively answer these questions, we also have a touchscreen display. Some subject can use this to draw the shapes directly onto a monitor. Since this requires a shift in both facing orientation and in the plane of reproduction, this should prevent the subjects from reproducing an image entirely from motor memory. Also, subjects can decide whether or not an image looks appropriately like what they sensed and decide whether or not to keep it. The main problem with this technique is it also allows for confounding of error by introducing visual distortions on top of haptic distortions.

We can then compare the data drawn on the touchscreen to the data reproduced on the manipulandum to determine how faithfully people can reproduce and how faithfully they can perceive the forms presented to them by the manipulandum. We can also compare this to the data taken by the manipulandum during exploration to find out what techniques lead to higher haptic acuity, and what types of data impact a subject's accuracy in haptic perception. Does exploring in a certain direction improve haptic acuity? In a certain part of the workspace? Are people more reliant on changes in speed or force, or do they take either of these measures into account at all?

These are the sorts of basic questions that had to be answered before more complicated ones could be covered. And in the next section, I'll get to a few of those and cover some of the papers I had to spend the first half of the week obsessing over.

Work, Day 4

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday morning: papers, papers, papers.

Wednesday afternoon: being an experimental subject for a grip experiment our partner lab is working on.

This morning: discussion of papers, and the first experiment I'll be working on.

Last two hours? Doing literature research to make sure no one's done anything like what we're planning on, and looking for visual illusions that might be relevant to the haptic one we intend to create.

Obviously, I can't tell you anything about that; but I can tell you that I've never seen this visual illusion before, and it really impressed me.

EDIT: I forgot to mention that on Monday and Tuesday next week I'll be going in for a two day training session on MATLAB. That's what having a real job is all about...

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A few feed changes...

If I understand correctly, I think I've just set it up so that the blogspot xml feed now redirects to the feedburner feed, and have made a few cosmetic changes to the feedburner feed to boot. If this particularly pleases or irritates you, please comment below so I know whether I'm safe making further changes or if I should throw them out.

EDIT: I'm pretty sure the key phrase there is "if I understand correctly...", which it's now clear I didn't. So, um, never mind.

International Day Against Homophobia

Thanks to Dorian; otherwise, I would've wandered about clueless that today was the International Day Against Homophobia:

In addition, individuals who are concerned about the problem of homophobia, but who think that they may not have a place in the LGBT Pride Day marches, are nonetheless provided a means to voice their concerns through the Global Day. Similarly, but on an international level, in those countries where it is impossible to organize a LGBT Pride Day march, a campaign against homophobia may be undertaken on the Global Day Against Homophobia, particularly where, officially at least, homosexuality is not condemned through enforced laws. In this way, the Global Day may constitute a political lever in addition to that provided by LGBT Pride Day campaigns for individuals or countries that cannot (or will not) participate in the organization of Pride marches.

Seems like the sort of thing that would be best known about in advance... so mark it on your calendars for next year.

Basic violation of the NFL Theorems?

I just got back from a quick jaunt to the bookstore to pick up a new lab notebook to discover a note that read as follows:

Thesis Defense
Free Food
Downstairs by Coke machine

I must've just missed it or something. Although he may have meant the lecture room down the hall from there... in which case it seems like a bad idea to wander into some random person's thesis defense fifteen minutes in just so I can grab a fruit plate.

Yeah, I know: give me a few months.

Regardless, I think this will quickly become one of my favorite parts of working in academia...

Another article I have to read... someday

Published last week in the Journal of Neuroscience: Individual Differences in Reward Drive Predict Neural Responses to Images of Food

From the BBC:

The researchers showed people pictures of highly appetizing foods (eg chocolate cakes), bland foods (eg broccoli), and disgusting foods (eg rotten meat).

At the same time, they measured brain activity using a sophisticated fMRI scanner.

After testing, the study participants completed a questionnaire that assessed their general desire to pursue rewarding items or goals.

The results showed that the participant's scores on the reward sensitivity questionnaire predicted the extent to which the appetizing food images activated their brain's reward network.

I was sort of frustrated at the lack of detail as to which sites in the reward pathway were being activated, until I saw the Guardian article:

The study identifies how this relationship operates in the brain. It shows that individuals with higher reward sensitivity show increased activity in five key areas of the brain implicated in motivation or reward, and that this increase happens when they simply look at pictures of appetising food.
(emphasis mine)
Five areas seems impressive, but I don't have a lot of knowledge of fMRI work in reward pathways. So it could just be because I'm used to reading papers by people who can only work in one--or if they're really lucky or really good, two--brain area(s) at a time. Anyways, it seems worth checking out.

(Thanks to Neuromarketing)


Originally uploaded by Mal Cubed.

I just find the cartoon of the guy getting shocked infinitely amusing.

A sign from the hallway leading up to the rat lab.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Protein Synthesis: The Movie

Oh, happy day!
Oh joy!

Many effusive thanks to RPM for posting a link to a video I've been on a quest to find for a few years now. He's right: it is, in fact, the greatest educational film ever made.

And it must be seen by anyone remotely interested in protein synthesis. Or Lewis Carroll. Or hippies. Or who has, in fact, ever synthesized a protein. You know; on a cellular level. Just click on the link already.

By the by? I've had some issues with it crashing RealPlayer, which seems to be the only thing I have on hand that'll play it. But click on the link anyway: it's worth it!

Game for the Blind?

This has to be the most bizarre form of public service I've ever heard of:

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, have designed an online game that aims to harness players’ brainpower to help make websites more accessible to blind people.

Visually impaired people often use text-to-speech converters called screen readers to listen to the content of web pages spoken by a synthesised voice. However, the pictures on most websites remain inaccessible because very few have detailed captions to accurately describe them.

The online game "Phetch", which will be made available at http://www.peekaboom.org/phetch/, is designed to encourage other web users to generate these missing captions. Played in groups of three to five people, it randomly assigns the role of "describer" to one player; the rest become "seekers".

'nuff said.

How Prozac Stimulates Neurogenesis

New Scientist brings word of new research into how Prozac stimulates the preduction of new neurons:

So the team engineered mice with nuclei in their nerve cells that glow green during neurogenesis. This made it easy to count and compare the number of developing neurons. By tracking other factors associated with different stages of neurogenesis, Enikolopov’s team found that only one step was influenced by Prozac.

The drug did not promote neuron growth by stimulating stem cells, but rather by stimulating the division of cells just "downstream" of the stem cell, called amplifying neural progenitor cells, which have already committed to becoming neurons.

But what's really interesting is where the lab is going next:
Now the researchers are testing a range of treatments – from different drugs to deep brain stimulation – to see if they influence the same step in neuron development.

If these different treatments are all acting on the same step, that would provide a precise target for development of new therapies, Enikolopov says, and potential therapies could be screened more quickly.

But if different therapies target different steps in neurogenesis, that could make different treatments appropriate under different conditions, he suggests. For example, Parkinson's disease is associated with depression. Doctors may be better off treating such patients with an antidepressant drug that acts downstream of the step where Parkinson's attacks, in order for the treatment to have an effect.

In either case, Enikolopov asks: "How is the generation of new neurons translated into improved mood? That is the most critical and unanswered question."

Here's the article in question, courtesy PNAS.

That's all for now.

The absence of absentees

Sorry posting's so slow. I guess there's just no news today.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Captain Obvious Award

Sometimes you really have to wonder what universe reporters live in. Case in point: on what planet is the headline "Chat Rooms Help FBI Hunt for Pedophiles" news?

First Day of Work (Part 2)

Very tiring. Although that was mostly the bout of insomnia last night. Here's a hint: try to get more than 4 hours of sleep before a day where you know you'll basically be spending 8 hours reading papers and taking notes. If so, you may be capable of finishing more than two.

So I'm working as a Junior Scientist in the lab of Dr. John F. Soechting. As such, I'll also be working closely with my former advisor, Dr. Martha Flanders. At this point, the lab focuses primarily on interception (basically, visual tracking of a moving object) and the project I'll be working on, synthesis.

I think that haptic synthesis is best explained by the old parable of the blind men and the elephant. Of course, in this instance "best" in not necessarily equivalent to "simplest," so much as "most entertainingly." For those who aren't acquainted, here's probably the best-known version, from 's Tales from Masnavi:

Some Hindoos were exhibiting an elephant in a dark room, and many people collected to see it. But as the place was too dark to permit them to see the elephant, they all felt it with their hands, to gain an idea of what it was like. One felt its trunk, and declared that the beast resembled a water-pipe; another felt its ear, and said it must be a large fan; another its leg, and thought it must be a pillar; another felt its back, and declared the beast must be like a great throne. According to the part which each felt, he gave a different description of the animal.

In this tale, each person is performing haptic synthesis: the perception of objects by touch. Contrary to what the fable implies, haptic synthesis in humans is in fact surprisingly accurate. It's what humans generally rely on for the manipulation of objects. Close your eyes and pick something up off the desk in front of you. How long does it take you to decide what it is? Not very long, I'd imagine.

How do we go about investigating this perception? Well, I'm so tired that I'm about to pass out so I'll leave you in suspense for now.

Do you want to have superpowers? Are you willing to be a Scientologist?

The Church of Scientology is preparing to unveil its much-awaited, classified program, "Super Power." Rather depressingly, it does not seem that they will teach you how to fly, crush steel with your bare hands, or even how to hypnotize people with your teeth and make them give you all their money. Rather, its purpose seems to be to improve your 57 senses. Wait a second--57???

Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard taught that people have 57 "perceptics." They include an ability to discern relative sizes, blood circulation, balance, compass direction, temperature, gravity and an "awareness of importance, unimportance."

I would just like to state for the record that I am immensely curious as to whether or not any human being has ever proven capable of distinguishing between gravity and alternate, parallel forces.

So how, exactly, does one go about improving all 57 senses? The same way you get to Carnegie Hall, my friend; practice, practice, practice.

Super Power uses machines, apparatus and specially designed rooms to exercise and enhance a person's so-called perceptics. Those machines include an antigravity simulator and a gyroscope-like apparatus that spins a person around while blindfolded to improve perception of compass direction, said the former Scientologists.

A video screen that moves forward and backward while flashing images is used to hone a viewer's ability to identify subliminal messages, they said...

...Scientologist Ron Pollack, who donated $5-million to the Super Power fund after making millions in hedge funds in the 1990s, said he got a sneak peek. The head of fundraising for the project showed him a photo of "some high-tech thing" developed by engineers in Southern California that offers different aromas on demand. It's for a drill to enhance one's sense of smell, he said.

Looking at this list, I'd be perfectly willing to believe that some of these will work. Will smelling and being forced to identify a slew of distinct aromas enhance your ability to distinguish odors? Almost certainly: it's common sense. I'd even be willing to believe that getting spun around and forced to guess a compass direction might improve your navigational skills or your ability to detect magnetic north. But is there anything super about this? Let's look at one more quote from the article:

Feshbach now lives in Belleair, where his wife, Kathy, runs a Scientology mission. Because he donated millions to the Super Power building fund, he was invited to undergo the program.

It's geared toward creating a "more competent spiritual being," he said. "I'm not dependant on my physical body to perceive things."

He offered this anecdote:

He had just finished his perceptics training and was at the Los Angeles airport, preparing to fly home to the Tampa Bay area. He stood at a crosswalk with perhaps 20 others, including a woman and her son, an antsy boy 6 or 7 years old.

As the light turned green, the boy bolted into the street, ahead of his mother. Feshbach perceived a pickup bearing down on the boy, driven by a young woman.

He yelled and saved the boy's life by a quarter of an inch, he said.

Coincidence? Feshbach doesn't think so. No one else saw the pickup, he says. He believes that, through the Super Power program, he elevated his perceptive abilities beyond those of the others at that crosswalk. His enhanced perceptions have played out numerous times since, he said.

Does anyone else think this sounds sort of crazy? Let's run through a list here:
--Anecdote? Not the singular form of data.
--Mr. Feshbach's new "spiritual" ability to detect pickup trucks running red lights? Not very impressive. I'm not quite sure exactly how this is supposed to be independent of your physical body: it's a truck. Driving towards an intersection. You can gloss it up however you like, but it's difficult to imagine a situation in which ESP would be more useful for truck-detection than vision or hearing would be.
--Is this worth the "tens of thousands of dollars" Scientology regularly charges for its upper-division training classes? Probably not. For twenty bucks, I'll put a blindfold on you, spin you in a circle, and ask you to point at magnetic north. For thirty, I'll hit you with a baseball bat when you get it wrong.

No, wait, I lied. I'll hit you with a baseball bat for free.

I really hope that when Tom Cruise shows up for his Super Powers training course, he's as let down by all this as I am. Because maybe then, they'll start up the training course in hypnotizing people with your teeth. And I'd totally sign up for that.

First Day of Work

It's my first day on the new job today. If I'm lucky, maybe I'll be able to get something out on a break or something; otherwise, don't expect any posting until tonight.

Cephalapod Interrogations

This seems like something that has to be old hat to the rest of the internet. How else could I explain never having previously heard of...

Ask the Giant Squid.

(Thanks to Discoflamingo)

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Would you like to stay for lunch? We're having links!

I should really give up on making any of these links from the past couple weeks into longer posts... and so I'm going to.

Here you go:

The winner of Science Magazine's 2005 Visualization Challenge in illustration was Graham Johnson, for this representation of a synapse:

(via Neurofuture)

While we're on the art topic, here's an online transhumanist gallery of nanotech-themed art, also courtesy Neurofuture.

Brainethics on the generalist genes hypothesis.

A few weeks ago, OUP published 23 Problems in Systems Neuroscience (link to Nature review) which sounds pretty nifty. Not available in the US yet, but it can be purchased from BritLand if you're looking to get your favorite Neuro-Blogger a birthday present.

ScienceDaily: Watching The Brain Switch Off 'Self'

Has the Society for Neuroscience abandoned NOLA? The Neurocritic argues "yes."

Video of Nick Bostrom on cognitive enhancement, courtesy the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies.

I found the following entries from the Time 100 particularly interesting:
Richard Davidson by Andrew Weil, MD
Jim Hansen by Al Gore
Steven Levitt by Malcolm Gladwell

Alex Palazzo totally beat me to the rant I've always wanted to make about journals. But, if you give me a half an hour, I'm sure I can come up with plenty to add to the list...

Columbia News: videos from Art and the New Biology of Mind (via Neurofuture)

Reuters: FDA OKs Pfizer Anti-Smoking Pill

Nature's Nascent helped publicize the launch of the Neuroscience Gateway, a collaboration with the people who brought us the Allen Brain Atlas. Which seems pretty neat. Plus? All available for free. So tell me... Why was this posted in Nascent and not Action Potential, the blog of Nature Neuroscience?

PZ linked to a funny comic that makes fun of deranged people... yeah, yeah, I'm shocked too.

I really wish I'd noted who linked to this... because it's awesome. It's a year old, but it's Popular Mechanics taking on the top 16 conspiracy theories about 11 Sept. 2001.

Robot Cockroaches. Need I say more?

They Walk... er, Perch Among Us

So really, my main question is, is the first female robot? I only ask because there have been a few gendered robots before now, but this is the first female I've seen, and it seems like something worth tracking in terms of keeping an eye on public perception of these things. Oh, I'm sorry, what am I talking about?

Korea has developed its own android capable of facial expressions on its humanoid face...

...the android, which has the face and body of a woman in her 20s, is 160 cm tall and weighs 50 kg. Ever-1 can move its upper body and “express” happiness, anger, sadness and pleasure. But the robot is still incapable of moving its lower half. Ever-1's skin is made from a silicon jelly that feels similar to human skin. The face is a composite of two stars, and its torso on a singer.

The 15 monitors in the robotic face allow it to interpret the face of an interlocutor and look back at whoever stands near it. Ever-1 also recognizes 400 words and can hold a basic verbal exchange.

Also? One or two of the articles I saw gave the name as "EveR-1." Which had me instantly converting from Korean to American to get "R-1 Eve." Somebody's been reading Isaac Asimov, I suspect.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Building a Better Popemobile

Today I am forced to thank whatever mystical, supernatural powers that may control human destinies for bringing me this brief discussion of the break-neck competition over who gets to build the new Popemobile:

In just about a week, Mercedes-Benz will display its own JPII-era Popemobile at a new museum dedicated to the history of the automotive industry. Today, the competition is fierce between that company and others to provide the current pope, German-born Benedict XVI, with a new set of wheels. Based on his reported penchant for all things stylish, odds favor his choosing a sleek model from one of Germany’s renowned carmakers. Sadly, though, their reputations for speed won’t be put to good use in a vehicle that rarely putt-putts beyond a few miles per hour.

Thank you Jesus, Cthulhu, or Monster of Spaghetti that Flies. And thank you LiveScience.

Quote of the Day

Imagine you're training a rat to discriminate a square from a rectangle by giving it a piece of cheese every time it sees a particular rectangle. When it sees a square it receives nothing. Very soon it learns that the rectangle means food; it starts liking the rectaingle--although a behaviorist wouldn't put it that way. Let's just say it starts going toward the rectangle because it prefers the rectangle to the square.

But if you take a longer, thinner rectangle and show it to the rat, it actually prefers the second rectangle to the first. This is because the rat is learning a rule--rectangularity. Longer and thinner equals more rectangular and, so far as the rat is concerned, the more rectangular, the better.

--A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness by V. S. Ramachandran, Chapter 3, p. 43.

Quick couple of links

Via the the Neuroethics & Law Blog comes this Wired article on using brainwaves as an identification technique. At the absolute minimum? Neat.

And this Mixing Memory post on various studies based around the working hypothesis of "it's fun to torture smokers" is a must-read.

Stupid People Tricks

Your humble author, attempting to explain to his girlfriend what it's like to be done with college for the second time:

I can read. I can pick a book off the shelf, and I can touch it... WITH MY EYES.

Dale 2008

The Dick Dale show last night was great. Phenomenal. Etc. The fidelity was astounding: I seriously don't know if I've ever heard a show that sounded that good before. And the acoustics at the Cabooze are pretty poor, so I don't think it's just that I've accustomed myself to the patented "Wall of Mud" sound you get at local Clear Channel club, the Quest.

Also of note: House of the Rising Sun and Amazing Grace are officially dead to me. I have now seen the ultimate, perfect version of those two tracks performed live. Any further listenings will merely bring a wistful look to my eyes, as I stare into the sunset and ponder better days... specifically, that one day, yesterday.

The cover of Ring of Fire was also pretty good... just not definitively amazing. And Fever was phenomenal live. Not to mention all the instrumental tracks I couldn't name to save my life (except for the Peter Gunn theme: too short!), but loved regardless.

So anyways: if you've got a chance to see him later in the tour--or in later years, since he seems to do this every May--and have any interest in surf or just in guitar virtuosos, then you should definitely check it out.

This message brought to you by "Citizens For Dick Dale."

Friday, May 12, 2006

Today's paper that everyone is talking about

Could viruses (which I still insist should be pluralized viri) have played an integral role in the transition from an RNA world to our DNA world? Patrick Forterre argues that not only is such the case, but that three independent transfers underly the three domains of life (Archaea, Eubacteria, and Eukarya).

I could synopsize this argument for you, but I've been beat to the punch: John Timmer has already covered it for Ars Technica, and Carl Zimmer for Science (free version available on his website here). I'd throw in my two cents, but I've got to go do my hair before the Dick Dale show tonite.

Just kidding. Only losers do their hair for a show. Besides, I did mine over an hour ago.

I'm sorry, but we've already filled our opening for "Stupidest Person on the Planet."

Excerpts from the Portable Diebold.

Computer scientists who have studied the vulnerability say the flaw might allow someone with brief access to a voting machine and with knowledge of computer code to tamper with the machine's software, and even, potentially, to spread malicious code to other parts of the voting system...

..."For there to be a problem here, you're basically assuming a premise where you have some evil and nefarious election officials who would sneak in and introduce a piece of software," he said. "I don't believe these evil elections people exist."
(emphasis mine - JME)

Yes, you heard it here: Diebold is producing election equipment under the stated operating approach that no one would ever try to steal an election. That is so head-smackingly stupid that I really don't think I can say anything further. I mean, I could stutter for a while. And maybe swear a bunch. But that's about it.

(thanks to Political Animal)


I've been done with classes for five hours and I'm already checking the grades online, just in the hope that one or two are up already.

I'm a junkie.

Political Scandals? SEXY.

A week to the day after Porter Goss abruptly announces his resignation as director of the CIA, and there's a joint CIA/FBI raid on his home and office? That's magically delicious.

Edit: I wouldn't be on the internet if I could proofread my own writing. The raid today was on the home of Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, Executive Director of the CIA; not on Peter Goss, Director of the CIA. The Neurophile regrets this error, mostly because it makes me look dumb.

The Origins of the Discoverer of Memory

Via the Loom, Carl Zimmer's profile of Eric Kandel for the New York Academy of Sciences.

But really? The major discovery for me is that the NYAS runs a podcast series that includes some selection of their presentations. In addition to having Kandel's recent lecture up, they also have a presentation by VS Ramachandran on his theories about art and synaesthesia, Oliver Sacks, and other interesting people/topics. I'll definitely be queueing that up for a metaphorical rainy day (not literal, since it is in fact raining RIGHT NOW and yet I don't intend to listen to them today).

Conversational Fodder For The Next Month (at least)

Blender gives us the 500 Greatest Songs Since You Were Born (assuming you were born in 1980; or that you were born before then and nothing good came out between when you were born and 1980, which is quite possible).

Three weeks from now, my friend Phil and I will see each other and one of us will say, "I think Army of Me should have made it at LEAST to the high 100's." And then we'll laugh a lot.

The Old World Dies; And With It, The Old Ways

So... I'm done. Done with finals, done with my second undergrad. As of tomorrow, I should be the official owner of a BS in Neuroscience, and can officially start walking around and insist people refer to me by my title, Bachelors Ehrich. Yes, I'm THAT guy.

There's a bit of a weird anti-climactic feeling to all of it. Another 3.5 years of school, obsessing over school work 11 months out of every year, and then eventually I have to get up WAY too early in the morning (last final was at 8:00 AM... in St. Paul), and on the bus ride home it occurs to me, "Huh. I guess I won't have to do this again for a while." I guess it'll sink in eventually; but at the moment, it feels like more of an accomplishment just for having gotten through this week.

And on that note, I would like to thank the following musicians & albums for having provided studying music throughout the week:

- Datacide II
- You Are Here
Cibelle - About a Girl & The Shine of Dried Electric Leaves
DaKAH Hip Hop Orchestra - Unfinished Symphony
- Calling Up Spirits
- Deep Space & Fly
- Extended Play
Mylene Pires - Mylene

And also the following albums for giving me the energy to keep going:
- Sinsation
- Master of Puppets
- 21st Century Jesus
- Electric Religion

Celebration? Dick Dale show tonite, that's for sure. Combined with the Ice Cube show last week, this is already the best month for music in around a year.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


To add to the complexity, there is growing evidence that not just total fat but where the fat is located has important consequences. Specifically, people with mostly abdominal fat ("apples") are at greater risk for developing serious conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases than people whose fat is mainly in the lower body ("pears")--on the buttocks and thighs. There is currently no agreement as to the explanation of this phenomenon, but there are important differences in the physiology of adipose tissue cells in this region.

--Vander's Human Physiology 10th Edition, Ch. 16, p. 640. EP Widmaier, H Raff, KT Strang.

Do you like my hat? It's made out of links!

Sex. (Sex!)

Drugs. (Drugs?)

Sorry, we're fresh out of Rock and/or Roll. But we do have a demo on how corporate managers will survive the coming climate apocalypse. Just in case you were worried.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

I'm Creeping Death!

Jenna inadvertently reminded me that I've been meaning to put up a flickr badge... and it has been accomplished. So let it be written, so let it be done; to kill the first-born Pharoah's son, etc.

If it gives you issues or anything, let me know and I'll pretend to do anything about it.

Here in the Wastelands

The sound of blowing wind and the imagery of tumbleweeds brought to you courtesy of UMTC Finals Week (TM).

Monday, May 08, 2006

Studying for Finals

"All nucleated animals contain the seeds of their own destruction..."

--Molecular Biology of the Cell, Fourth Edition, Ch. 17, p. 1012. Alberts, Johnson, Lewis, Raff, Roberts, & Walter.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Have some Links

Busy busy busy. Time for real post tomorrow, I'd think.

ScienceDaily: Watching the Brain Switch Off 'Self'

WorldChanging: Vampire Power

College Humor

Seed: Monkeys Match Humans at Instinctual Counting

Friday, May 05, 2006

A Brief PSA

Try tasty science-filled blogs on Blogspot! Our motto is, "No God Damn Tornadoes!"(TM)

Glenn Reynolds as Physicist: A New State of Wrongness?

Sean Carroll (no, this one) demonstrates that he is a Mad Genius. In the good sense of the term.

Go clicky now.

Oh, hey, um. Hot.

That's all.

Friday Random Ten: 5 May 2006

Didn't bring any books to campus today, because I'm still worn out from illness + Don Mega, and I knew I wouldn't have any free time today. Two hours of browsing the net later... sigh.

Karsh Kale - City Lights
Jack Dangers - La Tino's Beat
Jah Wobble - Fly 7
Goblin - La Chiesa
Pailhead - Trait/Anthem
Marvin Gaye - What's Going On
Publin Enemy feat. Paris - Invisible Man
Turbonegro - Saboteur
Ella Fitzgerald - Louisville, KY
Non Phixion - Futurama

Breaking News

CNN seems to have just put up a banner ad that Porter Goss is resigning--no, make that has resigned.

Hookergate's first victim?

EDIT @ 1:10 PM: Confirmed.

AP article gives no reason; MSNBC tries to spin it as part of Bolten's shakeup; both give a quote from Bush that implies that he's leaving because he was always intended as a transitionary director. I'm gonna have to say I agree with Josh Marshall on this one: the director of the CIA doesn't just walk over to the President and resign with no advance preparation for any of these reasons. Based on past experience, I'd say we could expect an indictment by the end of the month?

A New Era of Medical Safety

I think I'm coming at this from an entirely different direction that Orac... Sure, on the downside there's a new organization dedicated to physicians and surgeons who want to spread the creationist gospel (by implication). But on the upside, we no longer need fear of potential accusations of blacklisting should we decide we feel uncomfortable being treated by creationist doctors.

Why is that? Well, we no longer need a list... they've provided one for us (pdf).

So keep an eye on it as time goes on, and make sure you know which doctors in your state have signed on. Fortunately, Minnesota has yet to make the list.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Maybe maybe some day, maybe next week?

One of the things I'm looking forward to most about my imminent graduation is guilt-free reading time. For some reason I can convince myself that it's okay to relax by watching movies, playing video games, or even spending countless hours browsing the web... but as soon as I pick up one of those all-text paper things, or even looking at something serious online, I get all guilty about the time I could be spending working on homework or reading for class.

And although I have a lined-up reading list for once I'm done that tends to stray away from my areas of expertise (examples 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc...), another of the things I'm most looking forward to is actually being able to keep up on new publications in areas I'm interested in. The new Neuron headlines jsut went up, and I'm just paging through the abstracts and drooling:

Memory Reconsolidation: Sensitivity of Spatial Memory to Inhibition of Protein Synthesis in Dorsal Hippocampus during Encoding and Retrieval by RGM Morris et al, with commentary by Howard Eichenbaum

A Clock Shock: Mouse CLOCK Is Not Required for Circadian Oscillator Function by JP DeBruyne et al. This one is of particular interest to me because this article was just pointed out to me yesterday.

Pten Regulates Neuronal Arborization and Social Interaction in Mice by CH Kwon et al, with preview by JM Greer and A Wynshaw-Boris. Again, of note due to a role in addiction.

This one sounds fascinating enough to even include the abstract:
Reward-Motivated Learning: Mesolimbic Activation Precedes Memory Formation by RA Adcock et al

We examined anticipatory mechanisms of reward-motivated memory formation using event-related FMRI. In a monetary incentive encoding task, cues signaled high- or low-value reward for memorizing an upcoming scene. When tested 24 hr postscan, subjects were significantly more likely to remember scenes that followed cues for high-value rather than low-value reward. A monetary incentive delay task independently localized regions responsive to reward anticipation. In the encoding task, high-reward cues preceding remembered but not forgotten scenes activated the ventral tegmental area, nucleus accumbens, and hippocampus. Across subjects, greater activation in these regions predicted superior memory performance. Within subject, increased correlation between the hippocampus and ventral tegmental area was associated with enhanced long-term memory for the subsequent scene. These findings demonstrate that brain activation preceding stimulus encoding can predict declarative memory formation. The findings are consistent with the hypothesis that reward motivation promotes memory formation via dopamine release in the hippocampus prior to learning.

A review on prions, New Insights into Prion Structure and Toxicity by DA Harris and HL True

And finally, I'm only interested in Dopaminergic Control of Corticostriatal Long-Term Synaptic Depression in Medium Spiny Neurons Is Mediated by Cholinergic Interneurons by Z Wang et al (preview by CJ Wilson) because I sort of secretly hope that it will turn out to apply to corticoaccumbal LTD, although that seems unlikely.

They're terribly comfortable; I think everyone will be wearing them in the future

Thanks to we make money not art for introducing me to ENKI. What, you may ask, is ENKI?

Well, read it in their own words:

ENKI uses the bioelectric information from live Electric Fish to trigger human Brainwave Entrainment. It uses sound and light pulses - to induce a state of 'extreme relaxation' similar to the way traditional Sound and Light Entrainment devices (SLEDs) work - the difference is that ENKI uses the electric communication signals from Electric Fish rather than a pre-programmed chip. Ultimately ENKI offers the possibility of becoming one with the mind of 'nature' - and by default, achieving an altered, beneficial state through this experience...

... Unlike pre-programmed 'Brain Machines', ENKI offers you a completely unique experience, it is interfaced directly with an electric fish using sensors in an aquarium. You experience the electrical activity of the fish directly. The electrical fields are converted by ENKI into 'binaural beats', and light - experienced via Light frames - to stimulate FFR (Frequency Following Response)

These electric fish are a special in that they use 'mildly' electric fields in order to navigate and communicate (see electric fish), with ENKI your own bio-electric field is connected to the aquarium allowing the fish to sense your presence. (see film of Black ghost interacting with sensor), There are several set ups possible - the most complex uses multiple species of fish and processed via USB to MAX MSP.

I'm not sure I buy it, but I can think of many worse ways to spend your money than an electric fish hooked up to a SLED. However, they are looking for volunteers, if you happen to be somewhere UKish. If anyone from ENKI happens to be reading this, and is looking for a blogging endorsement from an actual honest-to-god Junior Neuroscientist, get in touch.

That said? The skeptical, cynical, and snarky need to look at this page.

NaPrAlert back up

Today's health update: Not healthy enough to work on my homework or provide you with intelligent posting; but healthy enough to buy tickets to see IMFC tomorrow night. After all, one must keep one's priorities straight, no?

Anyways, if you're failing to keep yourself informed/entertained tonite, here you go:

So, NAPRALERT is finally back up and running. For those who aren't aware, NaPrAlert is a website for looking up most interesting ethnopharmacological data: you give it a species, it gives you a list of citations with ethnomedical data, a list of compounds that have been found in it sorted by publication, and any sort of biological testing that's been done with extracts. You give it a chemical compound, it gives you a list of organisms in which it has been found, and similar testing data. You can also search by pharmacological activity keywords and by author. The annoying thing is that they now charge you by citation: for 100 citations or less, you pay $0.50 each. For more, it's $0.25 apiece. That seems like it can get pretty pricey pretty quickly. On the upside, they tell you how many citations they've found before they charge you so you can narrow down your results; on the downside, it means you have to narrow down your results before you actually see them.

But for people who might be able to convince someone to get a site license, this seems robustly useful for people interested in pharmacology, ethnobotany/ethnopharm, or even just secondary metabolites in general.

Thanks to Professor DJ McKenna for the link; who, by the way, was recently on a couple episodes of Mike Hagan's radiOrbit. I know nothing about the show, I'm just passing along Dennis' self-pimping.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Fulfilling My Moral Imperative To Keep You Entertained

I'm still coughing up fairy dust. At least, I hope it's fairy dust. Because if it's not some magical pixie thing that can make me fly, I don't wanna know WHAT it is.

Some light linkblogging:
Improv Everywhere: Mission: Even Better Than The Real Thing

GNIF Brain Blogger: Traditional Chinese Medicine: A Westerner's Pilgrimage - The Popular Sector

EurekAlert!: Prenatal cocaine exposure not linked to bad behavior in kids

Michael Berube: Blog Against Disablism Day

EurekAlert!: Melatonin improves mood in winter depression

Knight Ridder: Generics will benefit as 75 drugs lose their patent protections

Tokyo Times: Bear Blaster

Monday, May 01, 2006

Fortuitous Synchronicity!

Hey! I acted in solidarity with the immigrant walkout today! Entirely by accident!

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it! And I shall continue to stand by my use of exclamation marks!

With The Burning White Passion of a Thousand White Hot Suns

That's how much Blogger hates me on Mondays lately. So if you notice a dearth of posting? That's probably not why. But at least you have something you can use to pretend.

Ichthyoallyeinotoxism: Hallucinogenic Fish

When you go out to eat, there's always the potential for concern about contaminants. Worried about salmonella? Trichinosis? How about hallucinating:

Two men have suffered terrifying visual and auditory hallucinations after eating a popular local seafish in Mediterranean restaurants.

According to a clinical study on the patients, which is due to be published in the journal Clinical Toxicology, the men started seeing and hearing things after contracting a rare form of hallucinogenic poisoning from the Salema fish they were dining on.

The species is a popular food fish and is not normally hallucinogenic...

...Indoles, with similar chemical effects to LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) are believed to be responsible and may be consumed when the fish eat algae or phytoplankton containing the chemicals. All of the species effected by ichthyoallyeinotoxism are algal grazers.

Others have claimed that different species of ichthyoallyeinotoxic fishes, such as Kyphosus fuseus, contain much more potent hallucinogens, such as dimethyltryptamine or DMT, which is considered to be one of the world's most mind-bending hallucinogenic chemicals.

(note for link to Clinical Toxicology article: get the pdf. The HTML version is almost non-readable.)

I can't comment on the previous cases they refer to, but in the two case studies covered in the Clinical Toxicology article, the experience sounds much more like the literature description of the effects of a tropane alkaloid (found in the ) than those of an indole alkaloid or a tryptamine. The key reasons I'd suspect that are here:

At that point, he began to experience blurring of vision and hallucinations involving aggressive and screaming animals. Agitation and disorientation led him to seek medical assistance (he was not able to drive anymore as he was seeing giant arthropods around his car)... During hospitalization, the patient recovered rapidly with complete resolution of symptoms within 36 h post ingestion. He was unable to recall the hallucinatory period.

Despite popular opinion to the contrary, reports of cohesive imagery--possessing verisimilitude--are somewhat rare after ingestion of indole alkaloids or tryptamines. Probably a bit more common with tryptamines, from what I've read. Also, you almost never encounter reports of hallucinations that one can't distinguish from reality with those drugs. With tropane alkaloids, on the other hand, it is quite common to encounter reports of horrific imagery (although PZ might disagree on how horrific giant arthropods might be...) that one can't distinguish from reality; it's also common to not remember anything before the ingestion when one wakes up the next morning.

On the other hand, I have no idea what the active half-life of datura alkaloids is: 36 hours is a pretty long duration of activity. And the tropane alkaloids have a fairly narrow toxicity index, so you would also expect to see as many cases of fatal poisonings as you would of hallucinations. So in the end, what do I know?

Thanks to Bitwise for pointing this out.

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