Tuesday, July 31, 2007

University of Florida project

A post hit Slashdot on the University of Florida Neuroprosthetics Research Group, headed by Justin Sanchez, and their efforts to develop a neuroprosthetic 'chip'. The article is horribly vague, but discusses stimulation as well as recording, and using intracortical signals. However, the emphasis on the EEG performance in the past makes me think this is something like a subdural grid. But, then it goes on to say that the signals will be recorded from a wire the width of a human hair. Wow, I hate science journalism. I cringe at lines like, "The initial goal? To correct conditions such as paralysis and epilepsy." That all?!?!? Pffft. Slackers.

From what I can gather, they are working on an intracortical electrode plus on board DSP which will detect early seizure activity and send a patterned pulse to disrupt an identified pre-seizure pattern. It will probably be entirely self contained and use some type of power supply similar to the Medtronics electrodes, or a long lasting on board battery in the control unit, which will probably be secured to the skull (no craniotomy to replace battery, have to crack the skull anyways to get the device in place, well established technique, etc.). But this is all just a guess. I know I've heard of Sanchez's work, I just can't place it...

As always, I like posts on sites like Slashdot because the article may actually be pretty crappy (like this one), but the user feedback is interesting, and sometimes funny. You have to be curious about what people outside the actual field think of the technology, besides that it's 'cool'. There's even a post from the perspective of a guy whose father-in-law has a DBS system.

Amusing article title of the day

From Nature Neuroscience, a book review of "An Introduction to Nervous Systems" by Greenspan:

"Dr. Strangeslug, or how I learned to stop worrying and love the brain"

Monday, July 30, 2007

Quick note

I realize that I haven't posted a Super Paper Friday for the last few weeks. That was due to my trip out west. Don't worry, all those papers will be posted in this Friday's edition. Data-licious.

Dymaxion sleep

So, I make no secret about my insane sleeping issues. In high school I averaged 3 hours per night, and as an undergrad people would call me the hall's vampire (they'd wake up @ 4 am to use the bathroom and see me doing laundry, wide awake).

Sometimes I can wrangle it in, or schedule it so that I 'flip' on a certain day (rotate a full 12 hours so that a particular day has me awake during 'normal' hours). Yes, I've tried everything from stimulants in the morning and sleeping pills at night, to light therapy and melatonin, with no results. I've had sleep studies done, and I hit REM in 4.5 minutes (40+ is normal), and get about 33% more than the average person. You can probably see why I'm mildly obsessed with the topic. I had a blast teaching a review session on sleep to some undergrads, who were entertained by my story.

I'm bringing this up because I'm doing a little experiment. You might have heard of Polyphasic Sleep -basically sleeping less time overall, but in many segments. I'm going to try a particular flavor used by Buckminster Fuller called Dymaxion sleep. Basically, you sleep 30 minutes in every 6 hours. Sound crazy? Good. Bucky said that everyone should try it, and as I have yet to a Nobel, who am I to question him? I'll post any significant observations and an update in a week.


Best title I've read today: Bonobos: Free-loving hippies or chumps with better PR

Rather than blather for a few paragraphs on a summary of an article, here ya go. Okay, quick word. The perception that bonobos are all cuddly and oversexed is based on observations of a small group in captivity. They're extremely hard to find in the wild, but there is documented footage - I saw it when taking a primate psychology class with Franz DeWaal at Emory.

People seem to have the idea that they live without conflict, humping and boinking the days away in total bliss, but that's far from the case. They're actually very stressed and use sex where other primates use food or submissive behavior, but they can definitely be little brutal monkey bastards. There are plenty of possibilities for gigolo reputation - maybe they have better insight into their own savagery. They might have better knowledge of the consequences of an irate bonobo. From what I've seen, in a very limited number of videos, they attempt to quell conflicts immediately, almost frantically, making the prospect of good behavior by fear of reprisal more likely. Have to admit that I do like their form of currency! ("Excuse me. I ordered a non-fat latte." "Alright, come back here behind the counter...")

Why's this on a BCI blog. Cuz I like monkeys.

Literally kicking it old school

Who needs robotic whatchamadoozy whirlygig prosthetics? World's oldest prosthetic toe unearthed in Egypt (complete with world's oldest sock lint).

via BoingBoing

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Emergent People

And last one for the night...

This one goes out to all the engineers/computer scientist types that ask me if the brain is just like a digital computer. If you are new to neuroscience, this idea has probably crossed your mind (it did for several of the first year undergrads I TAed). The answer is, as you are first learning, that isn't a bad way to think about it. But, after a year of study, you should be properly convinced that this is far from the truth. Some mentors don't even like to entertain the idea and consider it in poor form to promote such an inaccuracy, but I think computers and computer technology speaks to the understanding of information processing that most people can relate to. Personally I went from:

Brain as a computer (in high school) -> Okay, I understand computers better. Brain is a multiprocessor, parallel computer -> Okay, I understand biology better. Brain as a horribly imprecise computer filled with error correction (mid-undergrad) -> Brain as a probabilistic, nonstationary, computational grouping of evolutionarily molded structures intimately interwoven and so hypercomplex that we're still scratching the surface of what is happening at the very edges (now, though I would need much more space if I wanted to be accurate).

I guess my point is that in order to teach/learn neuroscience, you have to start from some point of reference you are comfortable with, and using the digital computer as that point doesn't bother me. It does warrant a few disclaimers, but unless you intend to go into hardcore molecular neuroscience, the comparison works. After all, it is a comparison, not an equivocation.

Anyhow, here ya go. A couple quick media articles that my radar picked up, spanning a few years. There's plenty out there, but internet news bites don't substitute for a good foundation in neuroscience.

Nicolelis video

For those of you who haven't had a chance to see the inner sanctum of a BCI lab, here is a little video about Nicolelis' most famous experiment, complete with cheesy sound effects and British narrator. Even if you've read about it, there's something about watching the footage that adds to the experience.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Old Telegraph article

Alright, back in town and the great Oregon Pinot is finally leaving my system (sadly). I'm going to try to keep up a schedule of at least one post per day, whether it is one line and a link, or posting my thesis.

Quick link for today: A layman's overview of BCI and prosthetic device technology, and what lies over the horizon once we get past 'as good as human'.

In media news, the first episode of the Bionic Woman ran. I have it, but have not had a chance to watch it yet. I'll post a few words once I get a chance to.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Quick site note

I'm away at a wedding in Oregon, so updates will have to wait until after I get back or I find a few free/sober minutes. :) If you get a chance, the American Northwest is just beautiful country. Portland is surprisingly big, and the folks are very friendly.

In the meantime, enjoy some screaming beans.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Exciting! I'll be at the Neurobotics summer program in Volterra, Italy Sept 16-21. Anyone else out there attending? This will be my first time in Italy, making it even more exciting. I'm thinking about taking a couple extra days to see Florence and/or Pisa. Not sure yet.

(This week I'm off to Portland, Oregon for a wedding and meeting with the Digital Trends folks. Add that to SfN and an upcoming trip to Osaka, Japan and/or Florida, and that's more travel than I'm used to. I don't know how people can do those jobs that require weekly travel - just flying wears me out. All that breathing recycled air. Yuck.)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Site Note

Sorry updates have been slow lately. I'm gearing up for advisor meetings, a presentation, and then tech site meetings, a wedding and travel across the country this week. Yeah, good week for me, sucks for you. There will be a torrent of updates once I get through it, though.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Super Dead Tree Friday Minus Trees

J Neurophysiol. 2007 Apr;97(4):3109-17. Epub 2007 Jan 24.
Shaping the effects of transcranial direct current stimulation of the human motor cortex.
Nitsche MA, Doemkes S, Karaköse T, Antal A, Liebetanz D, Lang N, Tergau F, Paulus W.

J Neurophysiol. 2007 Apr;97(4):2976-91. Epub 2007 Jan 17.
Eye, head, and body coordination during large gaze shifts in rhesus monkeys: movement kinematics and the influence of posture.
McCluskey MK, Cullen KE.

J Hist Neurosci. 2007 Sep;16(3):320-31
The discovery of motor cortex and its background.
Gross CG.
Spatial Updating in a Three-Dimensional World
from Journal of Neuroscience current issue
by Ryan, S., Pellijeff, A., Preston, C., McKenzie, K.

Anterograde Transport and Secretion of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor along Sensory Axons Promote Schwann Cell Myelination
from Journal of Neuroscience current issue
by Ng, B. K., Chen, L., Mandemakers, W., Cosgaya, J. M., Chan, J. R.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Jul 6; [Epub ahead of print]
Baseline brain activity fluctuations predict somatosensory perception in humans.Boly M, Balteau E, Schnakers C, Degueldre C, Moonen G, Luxen A, Phillips C, Peigneux P, Maquet P, Laureys S.

Nat Neurosci. 2007 Jul 8; [Epub ahead of print]
A functional link between area MSTd and heading perception based on vestibular signals.Gu Y, Deangelis GC, Angelaki DE.

J Comput Neurosci. 2007 Jul 7; [Epub ahead of print]
A computational study of synaptic mechanisms of partial memory transfer in cerebellar vestibulo-ocular-reflex learning.
Masuda N, Amari SI.

Exp Brain Res. 2007 Jul 6; [Epub ahead of print]
Specificity of practice results from differences in movement planning strategies.
Mackrous I, Proteau L.

Science. 2007 Jul 5; [Epub ahead of print]
High-Speed Imaging Reveals Neurophysiological Links to Behavior in an Animal Model of Depression.
Airan RD, Meltzer LA, Roy M, Roy M, Gong Y, Chen H, Deisseroth K.

Science. 2007 Jul 6;317(5834):43; author reply 43.
Comment on "Wandering minds: the default network and stimulus-independent thought".
Gilbert SJ, Dumontheil I, Simons JS, Frith CD, Burgess PW.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Video games

Mark my words: Video games will be the biggest driving factor outside of traditional research for the BCI field. You have at the same time fine and robust input control, reward, motivation, community, and accomplishment all wrapped up in a neat little package. Add to that art, music, plot, and history, and you have a task that not only seems rewarding, but is also life enriching (things that might appear to be lacking in Pong or Super Mario Bros.).

So, I will be adding bits and pieces of video game news, as they pertain to interface and assistive technologies. If you don't like it, too bad. You'll thank me later. (Ask the people that didn't believe me in 1995 when I said the most important advancements in the internet will not be in 'finding' information, but 'filtering' it.)

First, we have One Thumb to Rule Them All, linked from Gizmodo. An inspiring story about a writer and gamer who plays mainstream games with only his thumb (due to spinal muscle atrophy).

Next, we have TecEBlog, with a mini-survey of various alternative input devices, like EOG, EMG, BCI, tongue, etc. Nice little gallery of videos.

And finally, the latest in non-neural, neural control of games, the OCZ Actuator. This has been making the rounds since the press release, and there are plenty of videos on YouTube if you're interested. If you watch carefully, you'll note that the player's muscle movements are driving the game.

Walk like an Egyp... human

As mentioned yesterday in jest, learning from what we cannot do is just as important as important as making new rules and associations. This appears to be the case with motor strategies as well. For some reason, I never really considered the fact that it takes a wiggling, squirming baby years to develop significant non-stereotyped, coordinated movements until Gerry Loeb mentioned it at an NIH workshop (along with a doomsday, dismal progress report on the state-of-the-art). Sure, it makes sense for things we ascribe to general 'knowledge', in the folk psychology sense, but just moving seems so fundamentally biological that we somehow set it aside as 'natural'.

Movements that minimize discomfort and maximize muscle efficiency is the focus of a robotics lab at MIT. (Why do their profs always have the most wicked cool pictures?) I think there is a special place in every movement-related BCI scientist's heart for robotics. Sure, work from the big names, like Reza Shadmehr, is great, but there's something about seeing decoding ideas performed by a cold, hard steel that just appeals to the geeky sci-fi kid in us all.
There was a great article on Cognitive Daily on the subject of detecting artificial movements. It looks like there's still some use for old-fashioned psychology experiments yet. Not surprisingly, this has been looked at on a more neuroscientific level, and localized, in part, to the Superior Temporal Sulcus (STS).

Monday, July 9, 2007

Late night

So, I guess I won't be sleeping tonight (4:30am here). Here's one to keep you up late at night. Try to come up with contradiction in the usefulness of a scientific invention or study as reported by the media, with another scientific invention or study as reported by the media.

I'll get it started. Within the last two weeks...

Drug can dampen down bad memories
Study Reveals Why We Learn From Mistakes

When I make mistakes I can take a drug to forget the trauma, but if I can't remember my mistakes due to the drug...

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Skeletor's Travel Luggage

If you picked up a sleek, new Spine Light, you might also be interested in this ribcage wheely luggage. You might also want to be a little less creepy. Seriously, you're scaring the children.
On thing's for sure - not gonna have trouble finding it at baggage claim!

Super Paper Fri, er Sat, um... Super Paper Day!

Hey, it's Saturday somewhere in the world still.

A couple notes this week. First, I've added a few off beat papers that are still topical. Don't worry, that won't become the focus. I thought some might find them interesting. Also, as noted before, this is a hodge-podge of links from PubMed, ScienceDirect, and some journal sites. It takes about 1-2 hours to put this list together as is, so until I find some nice way to automate this, just try to make do with the annoying ways things are linked and the inconsistent formatting.

Some articles are revisions of earlier articles I posted which were in press at the time. Also, I have gone through and tried to directly link to pdfs and full text when possible. If those links are missing, feel free to post them in the comments, along with any papers I might have missed. Again, I am not in the visual or auditory prosthetics field, so things here tend to be motor-centric. Feel free to post related articles in the comments.

Cyberpsychol Behav. 2007 Apr;10(2):286-9.
Training cognitive skills in virtual reality: measuring performance.
Tichon J
HiRes for printing (45.8 KB) - PDF Plus w/ links (49.8 KB)

Ear Hear. 2007 Apr;28(2 Suppl):11S-18S.
Communication development in children who receive the cochlear implant younger than 12 months: risks versus benefits.
Dettman SJ, Pinder D, Briggs RJ, Dowell RC, Leigh JR.
Fulltext PDF (429 K)

Emotion. 2007 May;7(2):275-84.
Emotional state and initiating cue alter central and peripheral motor processes.
Coombes SA, Cauraugh JH, Janelle CM.

Curr Biol. 2007 Jul 3; [Epub ahead of print]
Nonvisual Motor Learning Influences Abstract Action Observation.
Reithler J, van Mier HI, Peters JC, Goebel R.

J Neurophysiol. 2007 Jul 5; [Epub ahead of print]
The trial-by-trial transformation of error into sensorimotor adaptation changes with environmental dynamics.
Fine MS, Thoroughman KA.
FREE Abstract - PDF

Int J Neurosci. 2007 Jul;117(7):1039-48.
Influence of mirror therapy on human motor cortex.
Fukumura K, Sugawara K, Tanabe S, Ushiba J, Tomita Y.

J Comp Neurol. 2007 Jul 5;504(1):17-41 [Epub ahead of print]
Organization of the projections from the posterior parietal cortex to the rostral and caudal regions of the motor cortex of the cat.
Andujar JE, Drew T.
Abstract References Full Text:HTML, PDF (Size: 4079K)

Neuron. 2007 Jul 5;55(1):103-17.
Standing waves and traveling waves distinguish two circuits in visual cortex.
Benucci A, Frazor RA, Carandini M.
Summary PDF (1325K) Supplemental Data

Neuron. 2007 Jul 5;55(1):143-56.
Hierarchical coding of letter strings in the ventral stream: dissecting the inner organization of the visual word-form system.
Vinckier F, Dehaene S, Jobert A, Dubus JP, Sigman M, Cohen L.
Abstract Full Text + Links PDF (1124 K)

Eur J Neurosci. 2007 Jun;25(12):3758-65.
Anticipatory changes in beta synchrony in the human corticospinal system and associated improvements in task performance.
Androulidakis AG, Doyle LM, Yarrow K, Litvak V, Gilbertson TP, Brown P.
Full Text HTML Full Text PDF (374 KB)

Eur J Neurosci. 2007 Jun;25(12):3766-74.
The dual nature of time preparation: neural activation and suppression revealed by transcranial magnetic stimulation of the motor cortex.
Davranche K, Tandonnet C, Burle B, Meynier C, Vidal F, Hasbroucq T.
Full Text HTML Full Text PDF (249 KB)

J Neurosci. 2007 Jul 4;27(27):7168-73.
Pursuit eye movements involve a covert motor plan for manual tracking.
Maioli C, Falciati L, Gianesini T.
Abstract Full Text (PDF)

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Jul 3; [Epub ahead of print]
Phase maps reveal cortical architecture.
Fischl B, Wald LL.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Jul 3; [Epub ahead of print]
Reduced gap junctional coupling leads to uncorrelated motor neuron firing and precocious neuromuscular synapse elimination.
Personius KE, Chang Q, Mentis GZ, O'donovan MJ, Balice-Gordon RJ.

Cereb Cortex. 2007 Jun;17(6):1350-63. Epub 2006 Aug 18.
Temporal evolution and strength of neural activity in parietal cortex during eye and hand movements.
Battaglia-Mayer A, Mascaro M, Caminiti R.
Abstract FREE Full Text (PDF) Supplementary Material

Expert Rev Med Devices. 2007 Jul;4(4):463-474.
Brain-computer interface systems: progress and prospects.
Allison BZ, Wolpaw EW, Wolpaw JR.
View/Print PDF (442 KB) View PDF Plus (454 KB)

Target Interception: Hand–Eye Coordination and Strategies
Leigh A. Mrotek and John F. Soechting
The Journal of Neuroscience, July 4, 2007, 27(27):7297-7309
Full Text Full Text (PDF)

SPARC from Olfactory Ensheathing Cells Stimulates Schwann Cells to Promote Neurite Outgrowth and Enhances Spinal Cord Repair
Edmund Au, Miranda W. Richter, Adele J. Vincent,1 Wolfram Tetzlaff, Ruedi Aebersold, E. Helene Sage, and A. Jane Roskams
The Journal of Neuroscience, July 4, 2007, 27(27):7208-7221
Full Text Full Text (PDF) Supplemental Data

Pursuit Eye Movements Involve a Covert Motor Plan for Manual Tracking
Claudio Maioli, Luca Falciati, and Tiziana Gianesini
The Journal of Neuroscience, July 4, 2007, 27(27):7168-7173
Full Text Full Text (PDF)

Noninformative Vision Causes Adaptive Changes in Tactile Sensitivity
Justin A. Harris, Ehsan Arabzadeh, Clinton A. Moore, and Colin W. G. Clifford
The Journal of Neuroscience, July 4, 2007, 27(27):7136-7140
Full Text Full Text (PDF)

Why Don't We Move Faster? Parkinson's Disease, Movement Vigor, and Implicit Motivation
Pietro Mazzoni, Anna Hristova, and John W. Krakauer
The Journal of Neuroscience, July 4, 2007, 27(27):7105-7116
Full Text Full Text (PDF) Supplemental Data

Seeing with Your Fingers: A Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Investigation of Multimodal Sensory Perception
Angela Chapman
The Journal of Neuroscience, July 4, 2007, 27(27):7081-7082
Full Text Full Text (PDF)

Nat Neurosci. 2007 Jul 1; [Epub ahead of print]
Adaptation reveals independent control networks for human walking.
Choi JT, Bastian AJ.
Full text Download PDF

Cereb Cortex. 2007 Jun 29; [Epub ahead of print]
Enhanced Cortical Activation in the Contralesional Hemisphere of Chronic Stroke Patients in Response to Motor Skill Challenge.
Schaechter JD, Perdue KL.
Abstract Full Text (PDF)

The non-invasive Berlin Brain–Computer Interface: Fast acquisition of effective performance in untrained subjects
Benjamin Blankertz, Guido Dornhege, Matthias Krauledat, Klaus-Robert Müller, and Gabriel Curio
Abstract Full Text + Links PDF (1521 K)

Extraction and localization of mesoscopic motor control signals for human ECoG neuroprosthetics
Justin C. Sanchez, Aysegul Gunduz, Paul R. Carney and Jose C. Principe
Abstract Full Text + Links PDF (5490 K)

An MEG-based brain–computer interface (BCI)
Jürgen Mellinger, Gerwin Schalk, Christoph Braun, Hubert Preissl, Wolfgang Rosenstiel, Niels Birbaumer, and Andrea Kübler
Abstract Full Text + Links PDF (1898 K)

Phasic spike-timing-dependent plasticity of human motor cortex during walking
Michelle M. Prior and James W. Stinear
Abstract Full Text + Links PDF (281 K)

Modulation of motor cortical excitability following rapid-rate transcranial magnetic stimulation
Eman M. Khedr, John C. Rothwell, Mohamed A. Ahmed, Ola A. Shawky and Mona Farouk
Abstract Full Text + Links PDF (130 K)

Increased functional connectivity is crucial for learning novel muscle synergies
Adam McNamara, Martin Tegenthoff, Hubert Dinse, Christian Büchel, Ferdinand Binkofski, and Patrick Ragert
Abstract Full Text + Links PDF (329 K)

Activity- and use-dependent plasticity of the developing corticospinal system
John H. Martin, Kathleen M. Friel, Iran Salimi and Samit Chakrabarty
Abstract Full Text + Links PDF (856 K)

The missing link between action and cognition
Deborah J. Serrien, Richard B. Ivry and Stephan P. Swinnen
Abstract Full Text + Links PDF (1386 K)

A network for audio–motor coordination in skilled pianists and non-musicians
Simon Baumann, Susan Koeneke, Conny F. Schmidt, Martin Meyer, Kai Lutz and Lutz Jancke
Abstract Full Text + Links PDF (638 K)

Short-interval intracortical inhibition is modulated by high-frequency peripheral mixed nerve stimulation
Takenobu Murakami, Kenji Sakuma, Takashi Nomura and Kenji Nakashima
Abstract Full Text + Links PDF (237 K)

Curr Biol. 2007 Jan 23;17(2):R54-5.
The neurochip: promoting plasticity with a neural implant.
Lemon R.
Abstract Full Text + Links PDF (152 K)

IEEE Trans Neural Syst Rehabil Eng. 2007 Jun;15(2):207-16.
Performances evaluation and optimization of brain computer interface systems in a copy spelling task.
Bianchi L, Quitadamo LR, Garreffa G, Cardarilli GC, Marciani MG.
(No Linky because IEEE is a bunch of hosers about letting non-subscribers even look at abstracts, and I'm not on campus.) Here's the PubMed.

IEEE Trans Neural Syst Rehabil Eng. 2007 Jun;15(2):295-309.
Feasibility of prosthetic posture sensing via injectable electronic modules.
Tan W, Loeb GE.
(No Linky because IEEE is a bunch of hosers about letting non-subscribers even look at abstracts, and I'm not on campus.) Here's the PubMed.

Exp Brain Res. 2007 Jun 30; [Epub ahead of print]
The influence of correlated afferent input on motor cortical representations in humans.
Schabrun SM, Ridding MC.
PDF: Entire document HTML: Open Full Text

Friday, July 6, 2007

Quick Site Notes

We are just passing the one month mark here at DNI, and I thought I would let you all in on how things are going. I'm using Google Analytics and Site Meter to track traffic, and I think the pictures speak louder than words...

(For bar graphs, yellow = site visits, red/orange = page views)

Not bad for a little side project in a tiny niche market. I intend to make a push for more readers sometime after my prelim and before SfN. I know I need to start boosting the original content, but I find myself playing catch-up with the news and then little time to write. Still finding that sweet spot, I guess. Still, this is exciting! Thanks to all you guys and gals out there!

Super Paper... um...

Sorry folks. Due to technical difficulties (okay, oversleeping) Super Paper Friday will not appear until tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy this monkey washing a cat.

Thursday, July 5, 2007


Now that my little roadblock is out of the way, I thought I'd just post a quick random post (much like the earlier on on coffee, but more topical). So, here's my way of organizing all the random stuff that is invovled in research. I may end of cutting this short and finishing up later, because the first item is important enough that it deserves its own post.

And that item is...

1) Tablet PC

As I mentioned, I do product reviews for Digital Trends in order to compensate for my gadget obsession. This allows me to play with just about any device on the market, as long as we haven't posted a review yet (and even then I can 'finagle' it is I try hard enough). I am about 7 months into using my first TabletPC, and I can say with much certainty that I will probably never own another laptop that doesn't have the tablet functionality.

The system I currently use is the Gateway CX210. 2.33GHz Core 2 Duo, 2GB RAM, 160GB HDD, ATI 1400 GPU, 14" widescreen, to be more precise. Before I get into how I use it, here's some buying advice. There are really only two options is you want a fast, capable tablet: The Gateway CX210 and the Toshiba M400. Both offer similar specs, but I found the Gateway to be cheaper, better for writing on, latches better in tablet mode, and more customization options when buying. These both offer near desktop replacement power for running things like, oh, Matlab (chugging away in the background as I type). If you are the type that likes to just have a single computer - no companion desktop, lab computer, etc - this would be the best option for you. Be aware that the screen are never as nice as the regular laptop screens, as many have been tuned for better daylight visibility and they have a second layer of coating, which causes more internal reflection or the backlight. That being said, it's not 'bad'.

If you are the type that likes an on-the-go notebook with a powerhouse desktop for gaming/analysis/video editing, then consider one of the many 12" tablets with a slower processor and lighter form factor. My 14" is about the size of a 15.4", due to the area around the screen and the extended battery pack, and weighs around 8 lbs. I do have the huge extended battery, which lets me work without suckling on a power plug for around 5-6 hours (4-5 with heavy use and no power saver options, 7-8 with all power saver options and no WiFi). The 12" variety generally have an ultra-low voltage Core Duo processor, weigh in at 4 lbs, and are available from more companies. Two nice options worth looking at are the Gateway C120x and the HP tx1000 (video) (both reviewed on DT, both got a 7, but really deserved better (long story-post a comment if you're really interested)). There are a few 'slate' tablets - tablets that are just a screen. Rather than rotating the screen around and folding back on the keyboard, these have either a detachable keyboard, or a compact USB external keyboard. A nice option here is the Motion Computing LE1700 (though overpriced, IMHO).

So, why the tablet? I knew about tablets for a while before buying one, but had heard many horror stories about memory bugs and poor performance. Then, while sitting in on a lecture by Michael Paradiso, a tablet PC owner, I watched as he presented to a class of 450 neuroscience undergrads by writing notes on a PowerPoint slide. I thought, "Wow, that really is the best of both worlds." PowerPoint, as we all know, is the devil. It inspires laziness and substitutes crazy graphics for actual content (usually). Handwriting notes are annoying to copy, hard to organize and mostly unsearchable. When it come to teaching, I'm a Luddite, really. There's something to be said about the procedural experience of teaching, and how ideas evolve throughout a lecture, and watching as the professor lays out the information as it is important. PowerPoint throws up a gob of information, the professor justifies putting it up there, and then throws up another colorful data barf. It is possible to make elegant PowerPoint presentations, it's just that very few people do it.

There's also an 'organic' aspect - I grew up writing notes, than organizing (sometimes) on the computer. The two have very different representations to me internally. I remember more of what I write, and remember more about the circumstances around organizing than actual content. The tablet lets me kinda fuse those two aspects of learning.

Okay, okay, you want more concrete examples. Fine.

Paper. I don't print out papers anymore. I don't have to rifle through stacks or file cabinets of highlighted reference material. I download pdfs constantly (*cough*Super Paper Fridays*cough*), and save them to categorized folders. Then I use either PaperPort or Foxit Reader to read them in tablet mode, like a book, and highlight right on the screen. Save them, and voila! You have highlighted papers you can email, categorize and search. I find highlighting with a pen much more comfortable and efficient compared to using a mouse.

Notes. I go to a decent number of meetings. Decoding meeting, lab meeting, in-house seminar, guest speakers, project update meetings, advisor meetings, journal clubs, etc. Using Microsoft OneNote, I have a separate notebook for meetings, with a separate section for each one. I can sit back, and take notes during the meeting, draw out diagrams, record audio of the meeting (I do this sometimes if I'm really sleep deprived and delete the recordings as a matter of security after I listen to them), and sync it up with the actual written notes. If I have a meeting with an advisor, I can copy bits of emails, write some notes, drop in a diagram/figure/video clip, and have a nice outline of what I want to talk about. If I want to call up something we talked about in the past, but can't remember when, I just search through the old notes with the find command (notes are kept as handwriting, but text recognition runs in the background). And, most importantly, because I use the tablet for nearly all aspects of student life, I always have all my notes, and all my papers with me. If I get inspired, or suddenly come up with a question/to do item, etc, - bam! Tap one button, tap my to-do notebook, and write it down. If you're as scatter-brained as I am, this is invaluable. (No more tiny notes in margins, or the back page, or the cover in my spiral notebooks). Try taking notes in any math/stats class with a regular laptop. I dare you!

Diagrams. How many times have you been trying to explain something, and said, "if I could just draw it out, it would make more sense." Now you can. Even better, IMO, is that when you're just brainstorming, you can draw things out, draw arrows from one point to another, erase mistakes instantly, and save as many iterations as you like.

Everything at your fingertips. Remember PDAs? I say remember because PDAs are pretty much non-existent now - swallowed up by the smartphones. I loved my PDAs - Apple Newton 2000, 2100, Palm III, Palm V, Sony Clie NR70V, NX70. Now I have a SonyEricsson P910a smartphone, and as nice as PDAs/smartphones are, they simply can't compare to having a full PC on you. You are always stuck in the Land of Compromise. Because the tablet is so useful, there are few times you'll find yourself without it (which is why you might want to consider a light model). I didn't mention it above, but there are also the Ultra-Mobile PCs (UMPCs) which have drastically reduced processor power, touch screens, and full versions of Vista in a super small form factor. Most have 8" screens. I got to play with the Sony Vaio UX mini-laptop before its US release (got lots of stares int eh coffee shop), and I have to say they actually are capable machines, though you lose many of the tablet benefits due to the tiny screen. My point is that while convergence of devices is great, there are always major trade offs. Once you use a full blown Tablet PC, a PDA seems sadly incapable.

Here's what a typical day is for me. Wake up, throw the tablet in a bag and head out to coffee shop or campus. If campus, probably a meeting - take notes on tablet, check to-do list, download papers, possibly present presentation, fire off emails. If coffee shop - spin tablet around into portrait mode and read a paper or two, highlight on the screen, jot down a few thoughts in OneNote, make note for next advisor meeting, fire off emails, update blog, do some coding. I use FolderShare to automatically sync all my files between my desktop and tablet. So when I leave the coffee shop, any highlighted papers are synced and so are the new scripts I wrote. I get home, start an analysis session on my desktop, check my personal to-do list, add a few things, erase a few, reorganize what I need to do and make a schedule for the rest of the day. Run off to another coffee shop/campus and write out some notes for my prelim. Reorganize by dragging and dropping. Sketch an outline, covert to text, drop into Word (or if for a presentation, PowerPoint). At night, lay down in bed and read a paper and highlight or an ebook, or a watch a downloaded show. For the entire day, I only have to carry one thing around, and all my important documents are automatically backed up to my home PC in case anything happens on the road.

Is this impossible to do on a regular laptop? Of course not. But, just like the iPod was nothing special except a nice interface on old technology, the same goes for the TabletPC. Tablet functionality is built into the core of Windows Vista, and the improvements over XP in this department make it a must (Bill Gates uses a tablet for meetings, so you know he gave his $.02 to the developers). The handwriting recognition is the best I've seen, and the system adapts to your style. There are all sorts of fun little tweaks, like swiping your stylus upward quickly across the screen will scroll the screen (just like the iPhone).

Ah, I knew I would dwell on that too much. For more tablet info, check out Student Tablet PC. I <3 that site.


My lord. Don't you hate it when it takes a friggin week to debug a program, and you find out you just forgot to clear one stupid variable. Ugh. Double Ugh. Now dance, Matlab! Dance!
(Needed to vent, sorry.)

4th of July news purging

Happy fireworks day USA!

It might not be "new"s but it's not quite "old"s.
(Fun trivia fact for the week - the word "news" has a controversial history. Some think it comes from the word "new", pluralized for multiple items of new interest, but I have heard from at least a few people in the media that "news" was adopted by English speaking people because it stood for "North East West South". When English magistrates would receive reports on the status of their more distant provinces, they received them by location. The overall report was called the NEWS. This may not be the case entirely, but I have heard similar stories, and thought it made for an interesting little tidbit to think about.)

- 'Brain fitness' has made the rounds in the media, thanks to Ozzie Osborne being enrolled in a program. There were mentions of Posit Science's program and the Nintendo DS game "Brain Age". There are plenty of other games out there, and an almost equal number of programs or book that promise to increase your mental abilities. Here's a thought: If you practice at a particular skill you get better at it. If it happens to be one you use outside 0f practice task, that ability transfers. Silly unscientific people.
[correction: This is not THE Ozzie Osborne, but some unfortunate grandparent with the last name Osborne whose kids thought it would be funny to nickname him Ozzie. Buncha freaks probably dress their dogs up in costumes and eat soup with a fork. Thanks to the awesome Natalia for bringing it to my attention.]

- Hebrew University scientists have successfully watched the generation of new neurons from undifferentiated cells; declare it more boring that watching paint dry.

- A new push for an ALS cure has started. More info at Prize4life.com

- An interesting look at training race car drivers based on neuroscience. This is the neuro-geek equivalent of those motion capture systems used on baseball pitchers and tennis players to perfect their movements.

- Brainy and Techy new book reviews. Yum.

- Who would have thought that an exercise machine that shakes you rapidly and violently would cause brain problems? Oh, wait. Everyone.

- Stems cells, an always popular election year topic, have been shown to aid in spinal cord regeneration following injury. Membrane protein techniques get a little funding boost.

- Ah Japan. The fact that you treat your scientists like rock stars makes me love you even more. (Planning a trip to there to visit a friend sometime in October! Exciting!)

- Ah DARPA. You're sure to lead us to ultimate destruction. But it will be such a friggin cool one, I don't mind. Cyborg moth spies? Oh you better believe it! HI-MEMS program info.

- Out of nowhere, there's an article on the relation between neural noise and learning in motor cortex. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute bulletin highlights Sebastian Seung's work on drifting motor cortical configurations of equal output, and how good ole noise allows small shifts in bias. If you work on motor system research, definitely worth a quick read if you're not familiar with it. One of those interesting thought experiments is to consider that 'noise' is only noise because we can't trace back the activity or account for all the variables (minute changes in glucose, minuscule ionic concentration changes around active cells, glial uptake of nutrients, eddies created by Nodes of Ranvier, etc.). Try to think of how many factors contribute to changes in discharge patterns, and the complexity and resulting simplicity are just beautiful.

- From the "Awesome Topic, Crappy Explanation" department we have a TMS study on viewing contortionists (in progress). From what I can gather, they look at possible vs impossible poses but use TMS over "various regions" to localize the site of somewhere in the mirror neuron system... This just doesn't make sense. First, you want possible, difficult, and impossible poses (use a program like Poser to make it REALLY impossible - we've all seen contortionists and know those poses are 'possible'). Second, use a friggin fMRI, then TMS to mess with it. It's an interesting idea, though, and has BCI implications as far as reducing the state-space of possible prosthetic positions. Original info here.