Saturday, December 27, 2008


In Afghanistan, the CIA has been getting information about the Taliban from local chieftains in exchange for a few little blue pills. I don't like it... it reminds me too much of the British giving the Chinese opium at the turn of the century. Plus, don't you need a prescription for Viagra? Isn't that illegal distribution of drugs? (But I guess it's better than giving them weapons and money - which has normally been the case).

Friday, December 26, 2008

New meaning to brain waves

This was recently posted on Brain Stimulant blog (good to know that my young field has reached into the blog world). Researchers at the Arizona State are investigating the use of ultrasound to stimulate the brain. They've done some in vitro studies and found some pretty cool effects (it can cause cells to fire and release neurotransmitters). It has some potential benefits that TMS doesn't such as the possibility to target deeper and smaller structures. Of course, since ultrasound has been used to kill tumors, safety may be a factor (though for brain stimulation a much lower intensity is used).

Arizona State has a press release about it also. One thing that struck me is that they're already talking about using it to treat diseases and create artificial memories like in Total Recall. I understand that to get it out into the media (and to get it funding) you need to make it sound sexy, but that's a bit far fetched (and misleading).
Ultrasound of brain (for imaging purposes, not stimulation)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Read this, Democrats

To understand how angry and disappointed many Democrats are that Barack Obama has invited evangelical preacher Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inaugural, imagine if a President-elect John McCain had offered this unique honor to the Rev. Al Sharpton -- or the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. I know, it's hard to picture: John McCain would never do that in a million years. Republicans respect their base even when, as in McCain's case, it doesn't really return the favor.

Only Democrats, it seems, reward their most loyal supporters -- feminists, gays, liberals, opponents of the war, members of the reality-based community -- by elbowing them aside to embrace their opponents instead.

An opinion piece in the LA Times. My opinion is that with the great diversity that exists in this country, a two-party system just doesn't work. If the democrats continue making friends with republicans then I'll be doing my part to make another party more prominent.

Friday, December 19, 2008

If only I could have made this show...

Jay-Z and Phish, you don't get that everyday. Oh well, but I'm pretty excited that Phish is getting back together (although it makes that 26 mile walk I made on the way to their so-called "last show ever" less meaningful)... maybe after I get that playa hatin' degree this summer, I could go to some shows.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Come on, Mr. President-Elect - we dont' need more of this

Barack, the people who've backed you from the beginning and the people who have elected you want us to move away from nuts like this having prominent roles in our politics. We've voted the extreme right out, you don't need to and shouldn't pander to them. These are the same people who called you a muslim terrorist and made half-concealed racist remarks against you and your family... why do you keep supporting them??? All it does is reinforce them in their spread of hate.

I have little confidence that much of Bush's misguided policies will be reversed by someone who is so much into "reaching across the aisle" and afraid of offending the republicans.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Winter is cool!

Not really, it's my second worst season (fall is my worst, 'cause you know winter is coming). However, a cool snowflake photomicroscope at Cal Tech sure makes the white stuff I hate cleaning off my car look pretty nice. My favorite is the triangular crystals that occur at around -2 C (28 F, which would be a considered a heat wave right now where I am).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The holy cerebellum

Saw this on Pharyngula. Apparently a woman sees the virgin mary in her MRI. So obviously she tries to sell it on eBay (it's going for $610 so far). Well, I've got hundreds of MRIs just sitting there. Maybe I could find a virgin mary of my own. That's how I could make all this research pay off.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Henry Gustav Molaison

As a brain scientist, Henry Molaison has been a big part of my eduction. Just 2 weeks ago I heard Brenda Milner (my neuroscience great grandmother!), the neuroscientist who had been studying him for the last 50 years give a very personal talk about him. I wonder if he knew he was dying (or did he discover it over and over again)?

War on Christmas

As with every year when Christmas time comes around, along with the nonstop carols, holiday sales and special Christmas episodes of essentially every TV show, comes the religious right and their anger over the (pseudo)war on Christmas. As long as taxpayer money isn't being used, most secular people, including myself, don't give a crap about people saying "Merry Christmas" or stores having Christmas displays*. In fact, to me "Happy Holidays" is just as bad (it's not like I don't know which holiday you're talking about). Either way, Christmas is a holiday that's so heavily used for advertising that it has essentially become secular. The religious right, if they really cared about their religion should, instead, be pissed that their holiday is being exploited for marketing purposes.

So, onward Christmas warriors... the sales are waiting. Meanwhile, I'll enjoy those cartoon Christmas specials. (D'oh, embedding doesn't work with this video, click here to see it.)

*-However, don't expect me to share your holiday cheer, as far as I'm concerned its the start of another cold, snowy winter with ever shortening days... and this is ridiculous!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Pakistan - 4 countries for the price of one

As many expected, the terrorist attack in Mumbai last week was carried out by a Pakistani group. The government denies any connection with the attackers. The problem is that there's really no one effective group in charge in Pakistan. I could think of at least 4... There's the (new) weak central government headed by Zardari. (which itself is fairly fragmented and has a lot of in fighting). There's the military (which has staged a couple of coups in the last 20 years). There's the Pakistani intelligent service (the ISI), the dealings of which the other groups are often unaware of. Finally, there is the several autonomous tribal groups who answer to no one. With all these independent groups with their own interests, no one branch of Pakistan's "leadership" knows what the other is doing. This has ruined Pakistan's economy, fostered extremist groups and led to instability in the whole region*. It's already bad, but things could get much worse (i.e. Islamic fundamentalist revolution with nuclear weapons). More than Iran, N. Korea, Syria (i.e. the axis of evil), this is where the world's attention needs to be.

*Read Ahmed Rashid's Taliban for a good example of various factions of Pakistan attempting to influence Afghanistan's civil war.

Fuel Surcharges

When a barrel of oil went up to $150 this summer, all the airlines started adding extra "fuel surcharges" of tens to hundreds of dollars. For example, the actual fare for a flight from New York to London could be found as low as $160, but with $350 in fuel surcharges and another $50 in various airport fees, all of a sudden you're paying almost $600. Now that oil is less than $50, you'd think they'd drop those fuel surcharges, but I still see them. I know that airlines are suffering from the recession, but it's a bit dishonest of them to have ridiculously high fuel surcharges when when fuel no longer costs that much. They should be honest and just raise fares.

On the pleasant side, I just filled my tank for less than $20 (it was $60 only 3 months ago).