Wednesday, March 26, 2008

In the meantime...

... go get yourself a brainlamp! Made with a 3D printer and MRI of the creator. No price listed.

Light at the end of the tunnel

My laptop is arriving tomorrow, so things should be back on a normal, brisk schedule this weekend. That includes Super Paper Friday and the Tuesday Link Dump.


Monday, March 24, 2008

NSFW or L(ab)

Okay, not safe for lab, but I had to put this somewhere (gratuitous use of the M-F word). Hilarious!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Random Sunday Randomness

Remy Wahnoun sent in an article on a UCLA project of significant BCI implications. Self healing, power generating muscles. Cool on every level. As always, you can go to that ENgadget article and get the, "OMG that's so kewl I will be robo-1337 and pwn at video games" comments on Engadget, or get some more interesting feedback from the world at Slashdot. (Have I mentioned how I'm not a fan of Engadget?)

There was a nice rundown of how computers and brains differ - a topic taht the engineers tend to underestimate on oh so many levels. Oldy, but a goody.

Eye controlled surgery robot that maps the surface the surgeon is looking at in 3D and uses this map to stabilize the image and arms. Wicked awesome stuff.

And a robot riff-raff-chaser-away thingy that has been on the news and mentioned a few times by various net news outlets.

Aaaaand random fun brain stuff at Of Two Minds.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

More on the inevitable robot uprising

Perhaps Houdini's historic struggle against our soon to be metal masters should be put in context. What if the great art works of our time reflected a world where man and machine lived side by side?

The time for wondering those thoughts is GONE! We must not be weak! We have already given them a taste of human blood as machines of battle and industry, even at our own insistence. Imagine death from above, as the our diminutive circuit board superpowers that be watch from the skies.

But, are we willing to give up our newly revitalized BattleBots TV shows (OMGOMGOMG YAY!) and Roombas (and their knock offs) in exchange for this? And what if they combine their consumer level powers to form monstrosities truly terrifying, like videoed below? Keep idolizing them, sharing them with our children, and reporting on science for 1 freaking minute out of 5 hours of news material, and I'm sure this day will sneak up on us, just as we taught them. Now get me another beer, beerBot!

Mind Hacks
Robot Gossip (love it, but needs more updates!)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Off the cuff comic item

I'm watching the latest Totally Rad Show, which is a best of the past year episode, and they mentioned a comic called The Surrogates. Might be of interest to you BCIers out there, since it revolves around the idea of neurally interfacing with robots that go out and live the person's life while the controller remains at home. It brings up interesting topics, like if you 'kill' a surrogate is it murder?

For more comic goodness from the independent comic scene, check out Independent Propaganda.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Cruel prank

So, you have a friend with Vista, or XP planning to upgrade to Vista, or a Mac person upgrading to Leopard. Well, here is your chance for the perfect storm of pranks.

Vista SP1 was just released today (downloading it now - had to refresh Windows Update a few times to get it to appear, but was 65MB, vs 450 for the standalone installer). Any of these semi-major upgrades of computers could always have "unresolved issues" deflecting the troubleshooting-est of troubleshooters towards software problems.

Sooooo... if you were to get one of these random keystroke generating USB ditties, they would probably go insane before figuring out the problem.

Interface design

Oh, sweet, sweet procrastination. I have defragged my hard drive, run a virus scan, reindexed all my files, but there is always you, Internet. You are my favorite source of procrastination. Uh, (cough) sorry.

(Edit: While typing this, you might think I just had an idea shot down or a frustrating meeting. that's not the case. The articles linked toward the end were the thing that inspired me to write this.)

When designing tasks, especially for human types, it makes sense to take a step back and make sure you covered the basics. Too many times I see task design go to committee when all that does is soak up time and energy. There are two parts to any interface design: Style and Technical. Style is that inexplicable, non-critical bias we all have. Technical ensures that the task answers the intended question. This all goes awry when we start nitpicking. By nitpicking, I mean minor changes based on loose evidence that happens to be significant in some cases, but not in the one in question. I strongly, strongly, strongly urge all labs involved in interface design for behavioral tasks to do two very simple things:
1) Limited the number of people designing the task to 3 at the maximum.
2) Make a checklist that every task must pass.

Three people? Yes, well no. Two people! The process goes like this:
START with style. The 'creative' person (who also implements the task) should design the interface. The 'technical' person should ensure that it answers the question. I'm assuming a lab situation where no one is an idiot, so the technical person is really scrutinizing the actual science and comparing it to other similar tasks with a more critical eye wile the creative person is more concerned with fitting it into their overall scheme/study. The creative person should be the less experienced, the technical a post-doc or PI. Any concerns pointed out by the technical should be handled by the creative in whatever way they see fit. The result should be discussed between the two and then presented to the third, who has had no influence on the design. This meeting should be no longer than 30 minutes.

So, it goes: Creative -> Technical -> Creative -> Technical/Creative -> Outside Confirmation (-> back to Creative/Technical if significant issues identified)

You may say, "That's what we do!" I doubt it. Having worked in five labs and three companies, no one has an actual process. It generally begins with a discussion in a group where personal bias is introduced and emphasized before the actual task or interface creation. Advice is sought by multiple people, sometimes because of expert opinions or a wish to collaborate with a specific person, which means the nice linear design above branches by N! times as each change and objection is propagated throughout all involved members.

It is still important to get everyone's feedback and make sure other lab mates know about the tasks, so presenting it to others is still a good idea (isn't that partially what lab meetings are for?), but when presenting, do the following:
- Any idea that doesn't relate or has previously been discussed between the group of three should receive a, "that's a good idea, I'll look into it" response. Do not explain, do not argue, and at most ask why that's significant. You do not need to rehash the last 4 months of interface design to someone that wasn't involved. They were interested, they had a good point, thank them, maybe rehash in your head what your previous conversations were about concerning it, and move on.
- Any undiscussed ideas or unknown sources ("The X lab did something like that, but did X(i)") should be written down and assigned a value 1 to 3. 1-not important, 2-medium or UNKNOWN importance, and 3-Crap, should have thought of that. Address those issues in that order. Address the #3 issues immediately after the meeting and look up the info for unknown sources. make sure all three people have assigned the same values to the identified issues and leave the creative/subordinate to iron them out. Repeat the linear approval process above once these new issues have been resolved.

You are now done. Sounds long, but it really is about 1 week. Each step should take around half a day so you have time to mull over the info. Don't throw things up the line that aren't done, don't meet in between to discuss anything other than the vital issues and any possible implementation problems. The creative person is the one most vested in seeing the task done right, and will make sure the design goes through.

This is how businesses work when they hire designers. The designer(s) (usually 1-3 people), meet with the client, find out who they are trying to attract, get enough technical details to know what the business is and is not, leave and take time without any company involvement until the next formal meeting, meet to present several sketch ups of the final product, return to the studio to alter the chosen mock up to the specifications, call/email/fax the final design, get the approval, and make the widget. For bigger things, like whole websites with many categories, each meeting will discuss a specific subcategory after an initial unifying design meeting (similar to a student meeting with the PI to discuss his/her thesis work).

In order for this linear design to work, each hand off of the task should be preceded by a checklist.
A) Who else has done this task? What were the major problems and are they more or less a concern for you?
B) It is technically and financially feasible?
C) What about the currently available setup needs to be changed?
D) Does it conform to the following (what inspired me to write this whole babbling article):

LAST) Does it still answer the questions you are looking to ask?

Alright. Back to work.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Latte Art

I was going to try and tie the below coffee printer with this study on how touch can influence taste in some crafty way. Then I decided not to. (Oh, and here's some more milk foam art! Yum!)

4-Legged robotic menace

Wow. Just wow. The first 35 seconds or so are a little boring, but keep watching until at last 2/3 of the way through. You might want to mute it (the noise it makes is kinda annoying).

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Link Dump

So, I still got plenty of good stuff from 2007. Here are some tasty tidbits.

Media related items:
- Newsweek had an article on "Life 2.0" - the idea of creating new lifeforms based on our understanding of genetics.

- Book review of a novel on how people recover from brain damage.

- Yeh! New movie coming from DreamWorks dealing with government conspiracy and brain implants.

- Tooting our own horn, our lab was mentioned by CNet in a brief article titled "Pondering Our Cyborg Future."

- Neural substrates of planning

- Modeling spontaneous activity (paper linked)

- Conceptual Metaphor Memory - VERY interesting look at a cognitive linguistics theory that metaphor-like associations are the primary means of experience building. Read this before going to bed.

- Neuroinformation theory video


- Stem cell therapy shows promise

- How implants ease Parkinson's symptoms

- Two types of cells lost

Site note

Yes, I know, post drought. Not having a laptop has had the biggest impact on DNI, since I post when I am between meetings on campus, when downloading papers for Super Paper Friday, when at the coffee shop, etc. When on my home PC I'm in MatLab/Digital Trends mode - kinda a state-dependent learning/place selective behavior situation. I will be posting a flood soon, but I won't be offended if you wait until Friday to check back (I get my new lappy on Thursday).

In the meantime, the Digital Trends Podcast is back in full swing. The first/newest episode is a little shaky on several fronts, but it will get much better. I promise. I just wanted to get this edition out the door, even though there were several major annoyances (technically, content-wise, organization-wise, etc.).

Oh, and add to that that I just spilled coffee on my keyboard, and have had to resort to my 'backup' keyboard, the Alienware cheap-o free one which feels like I'm typing on marshmallows, and you have the perfect post-pausing storm. I will be replacing it with this shortly:

Thanks for understanding. While I'm on, I'll post a few tidbits...

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Site note, Hard drives, and OCZ

Few quickies (possibly more later tonight - I'm feeling ultra-productive again).

1) In order to be more timely with news, I'm going to begin a weekly link dump on Sunday for the previous week's items. I'll try to make it as enjoyable as possible. This will begin next weekend (seminar to prepare for on Monday). Also, I'm still waiting on my laptop, and as soon as I get that, I will post Super Paper Xday. I don't like dealing with the slowdown of VPN access to campus and I download all these papers as I compile the list.

2) Another few hard drive developments worth noting. I mention hard drives alot because I know we all deal with gobs of data regularly. Hell, right now, Matlab is about 4 hours from filling up my main hard drive.

As we all have seen, the last major upgrade to hard drive technology, perpendicular recording, has run it's route. So, there are a few things on the horizon. Most notably, Sony recently announced a new method of increasing the density of data on each platter, predicting 2.5TB notebook and 5TB desktop drives within the next few years (I'm guessing 3-4).

Short rambling aside. Don't sit around waiting for solid state drives to make their spinning, magnetic brethren obsolete. These two technologies will exist side-by-side for at LEAST another decade. Why? Hard drives rely on more specialized technology that really only hard drive manufacturers and a hand full of physicists work on. Flash gets all the benefits of modern IC research, along with the reduction in dye sizes, etc that is constantly being reinvented. That means, a) the technology used in flash memory will top out 'sooner'. Sure that's in the distant future, BUT look at it this way: hard drive technology is still more viable even with all those resources benefiting this other technology. b) any truly novel approaches to form factor, like 3D storage, will eventually filter BACK to hard drive design. Remember that flash has already been pigeon-holed as portable and small. While that doesn't mean that it can't be made big and bulky, little research has been done on how exactly that will impact speeds and failure rates. Flash has the potential to be faster, but currently isn't. Bulky hard drives are much more acceptable. I dare say it, but I would not be surprised to see a return of the 5.25" hard drive. If I could buy a 5TB 5.25" hard drive right now for $50 more than a 1TB 3.5" I would jump at it in a heartbeat. Hell, there really is no reason why two sets of platters couldn't be merged into a single housing (a kind of like a fully motherboard agnostic RAID setup). So, short term - flash will show impressive density increases, long term - hard drives remain dominant. Either way, both will likely undergo major form factor changes within the next 5 years.

Other news: 64GB Solid state drive in ExpressCard format. Sweet.

Seagate has finally updated the Cheetah drives to a max of 450GB. This makes an excellent system drive, with 15k rpm and the fastest sustained rate available. The previous generation topped out at 137GB, and once 1TB drives hit, the speeds were no longer worth the price premium (and were generally beaten by mainstream drives). The current ones improve on the previous as much as 28%.

And last, I just got a 32GB flash drive. You should get one, too. $130 at NewEgg.

3) Engadget had some 'heads-on' time with the OCZ Neural Impulse Actuator. Imagine my surprise when they said, "The unit seemed to primarily concern itself with our forehead muscle contractions, but other subtle motions seemed to come out of nowhere when we moved our eyes or concentrated just right." *cough cough "80% muscle EMG, 17% eye EOG, and 3% neural EEG." cough cough*

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Wii in research

You knew it was coming. Nevermind the lack of data on the internals delays or trajectory correction algorithms that no one has access to because it is a proprietary device, but it looks like the Wii has made it into academic research. Psychologists, feh. They're probably using it all wrong. I'm just jealous. The PLoS paper looks at the combined experience of procedural and declarative memory, and how one impacts the other.

via ScienceDaily
Paper link

For the datanimals

The 500GB Samsung laptop HDD announced at CES has officially been released in Korea. Standard height, 5400rpm, 8MB buffer, and $299. Those are the only number you need. via Electronista.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Buy stuff!

Some more from the consumer in me.

You like tea. BUT, there's something missing. Something you can't describe... It can only be one thing: the delicate touch of a monkey's poop covered fingers! That's right! Monkey-picked tea is now available at Think Geek. Get this snazzy teapot to go with it!

Tea too wussy for ya? Nothing but a good cup o' Joe will do, eh? Prove that you really mean it with the MUG!. via Gizmodo.

So, you like to build life, instead of destroy it. Say it loud, say it proud, with the Genome TShirt from AAAS. Again via Gizmodo.

But you can't suppress those savage urges to kill all the time. So next time you sit down to belt out a few frags on your favorite shooter, strap on your FPS Vest. (Since people ENJOY dying during video games, according to a new study, does this make the whole experience even better?!?! Does that idea bother anyone else?)

Another consumer BCI

The OCZ Neural Impulse Actuator, made by a mostly gaming RAM and peripheral company, is nearing completion and is set to become the first official consumer BCI. This is no Emotiv system, with only a few measly dry electrodes in a headband, but who freakin' knows? I have already placed a review request using my press creds, but will post the info here as well. The below German video is the best, I think. Watch the user's forehead twitch to control the system. There are a few others on YouTube.

The breakdown of signals will probably be something like 80% muscle EMG, 17% eye EOG, and 3% neural EEG. By that I mean the usefulness, since EMG will complete wash out any EEG and probably all EOG, depending on many factors. What will be interesting is trying to actually push the EEG portion. If/when I get ahold of one of these (I'll buy one if I have to), you can bet I'll be trying to hack the crap out of it (eventually. in the short term I'd like to see the waveforms, if the bundled software doesn't show them to you). The post here will be meant to compliment the Digital Trends post, which will focus on usability, with a more critical look at the science behind it.

Like always, there's that divide I talk about between what is really using neural signals to perform a useful action, and what is using some mesh of signals to perform a similar action in a more convenient package. The scientist side of me says, "Bah! What trash!" But the gadget geek side says, "Awesome! I want one!" Unfortunately, the gadget geek side always wins in issues concerning purchases.

Via Engadget
Official OCZ press release