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Brain to Brain Interfaces: Rats Get them First, but Death Row Inmates Next?February 28, 2013
We’re pretty squeamish about doing inhuman experiments on people. But most of us don’t think twice about being inhumane with animals. There are so many examples out there and it is not just testing for the development of cosmetics. How about breeding mice so that they are likely to get cancer so that we can then test out anti-cancer drugs on them? There are lots of things that we do to animals that we wouldn’t want happening to us. And don’t get me started on the ethics of raising intelligent animals like pigs so that we can kill and eat them.
Maybe comparisons with other species is not fair because humans are “special” and we should not have the same standards for humans that we apply for animals. But there are so many interesting experiments that might be very informative and helpful, if they didn’t have ethical problems. And not all of those experiments are conducive to using animal models.
Sometimes we are able to do what would otherwise be unethical experiments in special circumstances. Consider the case of electrodes implanted directly into the brain. Normally the ethical way to record brain activity is to use electrical recordings from the scalp (EEG) or a form of medical brain imaging (e.g., PET or MRI). Each of these approaches has problems. The EEG data is noisy, and it is not well localized to specify areas in the brain. MRIs and PET scans are good at showing structural details in the brain but they are not good at saying when exactly something happened. The more ethical indirect recording methods don’t provide the fine spatial AND temporal resolution available from electrodes implanted in the brain. But we have found a way around these problems in some cases. For instance, people with severe physical disabilities sometimes get electrode arrays implanted inside their brains so that can communicate with computers by thinking. Ideally it’s a win/win situation where they provide research data while also getting a means of interacting with the world. And some people with severe epilepsy have had their brains probed with electrodes to collect scientific data about the brain works (while they are having brain operations to try and relieve their seizures).
But even though we have been creative in using special populations to carry out brain research that would be considered inhumane for the general population, there are still many fascinating experiments that we can currently perform on animals but can’t perform on people.
Consider the case of direct brain-to-brain communication. Imagine that you could know exactly what another person was thinking. It may not be for everyone, but intelligence services would love to have it when interrogating spies. Recently, fascinating research on this topic has been carried out with rats (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-21604005) by Professor Miguel Nicolelis and his colleagues
(http://www.nature.com/srep/2013/130228/srep01319/full/srep01319.html) at Duke University.
According to the BBC summary of the research: “The researchers first trained pairs of rats to solve a simple problem – pressing the correct lever when an indicator light above the lever switched on, to obtain a water sip [this was obviously a thirsty rat].
The researchers then placed the rodents in separate chambers and connected their brains using arrays of microelectrodes – each roughly one hundredth the diameter of a human hair – inserted into the area of the cortex that processes motor information.”
One rat was designated as the “encoder”. Once this rat pressed the correct lever, its brain activity was delivered as electrical stimulation into the brain of the second rat – designated the “decoder”.The decoder rat had the same types of levers in its chamber, but it did not receive any visual cue indicating which lever it should press to obtain a reward.
In order to receive the reward, the decoder rat would have to rely on the cue transmitted from the encoder via the brain-to-brain interface. The following figures show how the experiment worked.
How to Get the Credit Card Company to Avoid Canceling Your Card When You are TravelingFebruary 28, 2013
Of course the credit card companies are doing us a big favor. They make everything so convenient and it would be very difficult these days to book things online without them. Maybe they feel like all this convenience should come at a price, over and above the cut that they take on each transaction. So they get us to call them up before we travel anywhere and each time we do that we have those wonderful skill testing questions.
You could try taking multiple credit cards for redundancy when you travel, but if all the credit card companies play the same loss prevention game, then you could just end up with multiple frozen cards instead of just one.
It seems annoying don’t you think? If you travel fairly frequently then it can get a bit onerous. And what if you are a frequent traveller with a bunch of different credit cards? That’s a lot of phone calls.
Make Sure you Only have a Four Digit PIN Code on Your Credit CardFebruary 28, 2013
So the geniuses at TD Visa offered to send me a new card while I was in New Zealand, but thank goodness I turned them down. If I had got the new card it would have had a different number and all my subscriptions would have failed. Plus it would probably have arrived after I left the country. The last time I got a new card with a different number (when I was travelling around the time my card was expiring and they sent me the replacement card too late) I couldn’t ride my BIxi bike for a couple of months (when you add credit card shenanigans to a slow reset process in another company it really gets messy).
Spring Sale and Weekend Deal At Vera Bradley!February 23, 2013
Spring has arrived at verabradley.com! Now through March 6th they’re offering 25% off these colours: Camellia, Doodle Daisy, Ellie Blue, Priscilla Pink.
$20 off Men’s & Women’s Boots Plus Free Shipping at Timberland!February 23, 2013
Save $20 off men’s and women’s boots from Timberland plus free shipping until February 25, 2013. And don’t forget about their clearance sale event going on while supplies last!
The International Antarctic Centre in Christchurch: Last Stop Before AntarticaFebruary 23, 2013
The Impending Death of the Credit Card, we hopeFebruary 22, 2013
I find encouragement in a report that just came out (http://www.mobilepaymentstoday.com/article/208561/UK-Payments-Council-foresees-mobile-eclipsing-plastic).
“The Payments Council, an organization representing the interests of the U.K. payment industry, has released a new report on the way Britons pay for things. According to the group, the trends are pointing towards a future when plastic is eclipsed by the mobile device…Kamellard said the 2000s were the decade of the debit card but the 2010s are likely to be the decade of the mobile phone.”
Will the credit cards port their services to mobile devices, or can we hope for a kinder future where more enlightened service providers take over.
I like the idea of credit cards going the way of bad cheques, but I don’t want to be too hopeful just yet. There is something about money that seems to attract the wrong kind of people.
Art 2.0: Coffee Art is the Latest Reason to Carry a Digital Camera/PhoneFebruary 22, 2013
It used to be that art was self-conscious. It was created by artists, supported by patrons and hung on various walls to be admired. Or it might take pride of place in a city square or a church. But traditional art is so old-fashioned and so Art 1.0! Just like Web 2.0 has turned anyone with access to a blog into a publisher (feel the power!) so Art 2.0 is allowing anyone to be an artist. I don’t know what the art professors would classify as Art 2.0, but I’m going to use the old catchphrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and paraphrase it as “art is whatever people think it is”. So Art 2.0 is everywhere and if people love that picture of the dogs playing poker when it’s pinned on Pinterest, then hey, that’s Art 2.0 as far as I’m concerned.
Of course, when a term that is as cool as “Art 2.0” is coined, there are going to be competing visions of what it is. Go to the Financialist (http://www.thefinancialist.com/art-2-0-when-seo-meets-picasso-online-art-auction/), for instance, and Art 2.0 is being used as a kind of e-commerce for art.
“It appears that the next wave of Internet speculation has found its target. It’s been dubbed Art 2.0 and it’s generating buzz everywhere from Silicon Valley to Soho galleries to art-buying sites like Art.sy, Paddle8 and ArtSpace. These sites promise to revolutionize the way art is discovered, viewed, and—most importantly—sold.”
I’m actually a few years late in coining the term Art 2.0. In 2009 interartive.org (http://interartive.org/2009/06/art-digital-space/) posed the following questions about Art 2.0:
– Is it a new way of saying digital arts?
– Is it some sort of a tool, a method in order to strengthen the relation between art and ITC?
– Is it an abbreviation of something?
– Is it a new version of art with particular aims and objectives such as dialogue, development, freedom, peace, etc?
– Is it describing the current facility in making art that ensures interactivity with the public through today’s technology?
– Is it related to the term Web 2.0?
– Is it the name of a coming era of art?
– Is it describing the tools and methods that make it easy to create a work of art?
Here is my definition of Art 2.0:
“Art 2.0 is the democratization of art where a work of digital art can be created by anyone, and where the term ‘art’ is not assigned based on the role of the artist, nor by art critics, but rather by general acclamation by a critical mass of people.”
Perhaps we can go further and define “Intrinsic Art 2.0” where something is a work of art according to some universal standard. Perhaps this is the art critics view of Art 2.0. And then there is “Extrinsic Art 2.0”, exemplified in my initial definition by the designation of art is an appellation bestowed by the Internet masses.
So where are we likely to find Web 2.0 art? Instagram, Pinterest, Flickr, and Facebook of course. So many pictures, and many of them are no doubt works of art in their own way. In some cases the art may come from the photographer, choosing just the right angles and lighting, etc. In other cases the art may be inherent in the object, and the scene, and the photographer is simply capturing and recording that work for posterity. Digital capture now allows so much that is artistic, but ephemeral, to be preserved and posted as Art 2.0.
Let’s take as an example of Art 2.0 the wonderful and surprising domain of coffee art. Surprising to me at least. Growing up in a world prior to Starbucks, colour television was a big surprise, and coffee art wasn’t even on the radar. As a teenager I would have expected us to land on Mars sooner than create art in cups of coffee. But here we are, and I claim that the following images of cups of coffee are excellent examples of Art 2.0.
The first one is Disney yes, but considering that it is in a cup of coffee, I say that it is art.
Is this one Jimi Hendrix without the afro or someone else? I’m not sure, but I think it’s art. The facial expression has been handled beautiful. A Mona Lisa in a coffee cup!
This one is a bit strange, but no stranger than “The Scream” I suppose.
Maybe the aesthetics of the next one depends on your politics. Can you imagine Nixon in a cup of coffee?
The next one looks like one of Miyazaki’s anime girls. Kiki perhaps? Art to some, that’s for sure.
Not everyone might think that this rabbit is art, but enough people think it’s art, than I say that it is. I’m still waiting to find the Barrista who can do the dogs playing poker in a coffee cup!
and here’s our final art work. Some kind of elfin scaramouche perhaps.
New: Target Free Shipping Test!February 21, 2013
Target is excited to announce that from March 10th-23rd Target.com will be testing a new free shipping threshold: spend $75, get free shipping – no exclusions. Go ahead and start shopping the latest spring trends!
What is Food Like in New Zealand?February 21, 2013