Also from the Radiological Society of North America's annual meeting, by way of PRNewsWire:
Novel Imaging Method Shows Abnormal Brain Anatomy in Children with ADHD (embargoed until 9 a.m. CT, Nov. 29)
Researchers at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in New York have discovered that children with h Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have abnormalities in the anatomy of their brains. Previously, ADHD was suspected to be a chemical imbalance, but this study shows physical abnormalities in the fiber pathways in three areas of the brain that regulate attention, impulsive behavior, motor activity and inhibition. A second study found that stimulant medications usually prescribed for ADHD actually correct some of these structural abnormalities. The studies will be presented by Manzar Ashtari, Ph.D.
A new study presented yesterday at the Radiological Society of North America yesterday showed differences in brain patterns when people are lying vs. when they're telling the truth. It's a small study (just 9 subjects) and it's not clear that fMRI would be any more reliable than a polygraph, but it's an indication of what's down the road...
Changes were detected in the frontal, temporal and limbic lobes — it's not clear to me how many of those changes might be detectable by the near-infrared spectral imaging I blogged about earlier, but if possible that might address some of the cost issues associated with fMRI...
For Bay Area locals, SDForum is hosting a forum on AI in Computer Games on the evening of Dec 8th at PARC. Panelists include Will Wright (creator of The Sims) and Damian Isla (lead AI programmer of Halo) among others. At $40 ($25 for members) it's pricy enough I won't be going, but should be interesting.
A major security hole has been found in TWiki which allows anyone with access to the search function to execute arbitrary shell commands with the privilages of the web-server process. Anyone running TWiki should read here and upgrade and/or take countermeasures immediately.
Last weekend I threw a house-cooling party, and I figure what can be better to cool a house than liquid-nitrogen ice-cream? I made up a big batch of unflavored ice-cream base, got some lN2 and had people bring whatever flavorings they wanted to try mixing into a micro-batch of ice cream. Having learned from my mistakes the last two times I've made it, this stuff was some of the creamiest, best ice cream I've had.
A few lessons learned:
The winning flavor of the night, by my taste at least, was the orange-raspberry sorbet. In the interests of posterity (and so I can find it when I want it next time), here's the recipe:
Mix sugar, water and orange zest together in a saucepan, stirring under low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Then bring to a boil and and let boil until you have a syrup — roughly 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. When cool, stir in orange juice, lemon juice and raspberry lambic. This is your sorbet base. (You could put this in an ice-cream maker at this point, should you want to make it the old-fashioned way.)
Put base in a large bowl, and don safety glasses. If the bowl is metal, you'll probably want those gloves as well. Slowly pour liquid nitrogen into center of bowl, mixing all the while with electric mixer. (We use a tough plastic mug with a handle to pour the lN2 — don't use a metal cup.) Stop every few seconds to blow the fog away and to break up any solid ice-patches that have formed. Keep adding lN2 until sorbet is completely frozen. Sorbet will still be soft-serve, that's OK.
I hear that for best results you should put the sorbet (or ice cream) into the freezer for about 15 minutes to even out the ice crystals and "set," but I've never had the patience for that. Do make sure all the lN2 has boiled away though before putting any in your mouth, or else you might get a rude surprise.
1 Ask your local lab-supply store or physics grad student for food- or medical-grade liquid nitrogen, or follow these three easy steps to make your own! 1) Collect about 1000 pints of air for every 1 pint lN2 desired. 2) Chill air until nitrogen condenses (around -320 degrees Fahrenheit). 3) Skim off liquid nitrogen and keep in insulated container. Should any liquid oxygen sublimate, save for making flambé!
There's a good article in today's NYTimes about Dr. Paul Bach-y-Rita's work in remapping human sensation — allowing the blind to "see" via tactile feedback on the tongue for example. Sounds like there have been some breakthroughs recently in terms of miniaturization and wearability (no surprise there), plus some good results in allowing people with damaged vestibular systems to regain normal balance unaided.
Amtrack is now starting to perform random ID checks on their trains, "as part of a broader program to improve security." As Bruce Schneier points out, "this works because, somehow, terrorists don't have IDs."
From the article: The security program is the result of a federal directive, issued in May, to protect rail passengers from terrorism. I wonder if this is an expansion of the same secret, need-to-know-basis directives that John Gilmore is suing over.
Maybe I just think in audio, but there's something about poetry being read aloud that I've never gotten from text. I especially love the way former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Colins reads his work — take this audio of his reading of his poem Litany.
It's 2008, a constitutional amendment has been passed to allow immigrants who have been US citiziens for more than 20 years to run for president, and in a surprise move Rupert Murdoch beats Arnold Schwarzenegger in the primaries and at age 77 becomes the nation's oldest president.
I gotta stop eating rich foods right before bed...
(As a side note, that constitutional amendment makes a lot of sense to me in this day and age. I've been pretty impressed with Schwartzenegger this past year too, for that matter...)
Google's got a new service for searching journals, conference proceedings and other scholarly writings called (appropriately enough) Google Scholar. Nice clean interface, and like Citeseer they're pointing not just to the official pay-for-download sites like the ACM and IEEE portal sites but also the free-for-download versions that authors usually put on their own sites (often in violation of copyright, but the last thing professional orgs want to do is piss of their own community).
NPR just did a 5-month investigative report on how Homeland Security is jailing non-citiziens without trial for up to two years, where they're being threatened or attacked & bitten by guard-dogs, beaten by guards and then eventually deported.
Guantanimo? No, New Jersey. It's all in response to a Clinton-era law calling for the deportation of non-citiziens who have ever in the past been convicted of a crime — even people like Hemnauth Mohabir who had been fined $250 for carrying about $5 worth of drugs, had a steady honest job, is married to a US citizien and has a child with her.
Cuddos to Representative Christopher Shays (R-CT) for speaking out against the Republican repeal of their own Gingrich-Revolution-era rule that would require Tom DeLay to step down as Speaker if he's indicted for violating state campaign finance laws.
"This is a mistake," said Representative Christopher Shays of Connecticut.
When the Republicans gained control of the House in the elections of 1994, "we were going to be different,'' Mr. Shays said.
But "every time we start to water down what we did in '94," he said, "we are basically saying the revolution is losing its character."
For you locals, there's a potentially interesting talk tonight at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco: U.S. Health Care in Crisis, by the two Time Magazine investigative journalists who just wrote Critical Condition: How Health Care in America Became Big Business -- And Bad Medicine. The interview on KQED's Forum was good — if I can somehow make it to The City in time I'll probably attend...
Seen at the DEAF'04 festival: Very Slow-Scan Television. Gebhard Sengmüller builds on Slow-Scan TV, a video-transmission system developed to send TV over Ham Radio at around 8 frames per second. Then he hooks it up to a large robotic ink-jet printer that injects cyan, yellow and magenta ink into bubblewrap, producing one frame in about 10 hours.
I'm not giving up using Keynote, but it sounds perfect for retro-folk who still like writing your slides in Emacs or Vi...
From an interview with Donna Ducarme of Democrats Abroad, in the November 5th issue of The Amsterdam Times:
I'm physically wiped and sore all over and mentally tired. I'm so angry I can hardly breathe. Those of us who fought for Kerry are very disappointed and frightened that he lost. We're worried for the future of America. I'm so angry that he conceded before all the votes were counted.
My thing was to register all the voters we could possibly register; one of the reasons we got them registered is that we promised that their votes would matter and then he conceded before any of our votes had been counted. Kerry has created a problem amongst individual members but he's also cut us overseas voting activists off at the knees because not only will potential voters not believe Kerry anymore, they won't believe us.
I personally believe he has disenfranchised every overseas voter. We're all voting by post and, when he conceded, all of our ballots were still sitting there in the boxes waiting to be counted. It's a betrayal of a sort I've never experienced in my political life. We galvanized voters who'd not been involved in politics since the Vietnam years because they thought they could make a difference. Are we supposed to wait another thirty years before we rally those troops again and what happens to our country in the meantime?
During the day the Red-Light district is mostly downtown shopping with cute fashion shops, Chinese restaurants and British sports pubs. OK, and hash bars and prostitution, but the vibe is still downtown shopping district. Come dusk every few blocks you'll hear a quiet whistle, and if you turned your head someone would offer to sell you coke or X (low quality, according to my tourist guidebook). The prostitutes were all out behind their windows, preening under red neon in bikinis or lingerie and looking rather bored.
Going down a side alley (I know, never go down the side alleys...) I ran into a very friendly gentleman who wanted to pick my pocket. We chatted for a while, him asking questions like "have you taken any pictures of your trip," and patting his pocket, as if to say "now you pat the pocket where your camera is!" I never gave him a lead and kept to the touristed streets, glad that I'd zipped everything in my inside jacket pocket. Eventually he asked if I smoked pot and I when I told him I didn't we parted ways, and I went to the Hash Museum.
(No pictures — even during the day I didn't want to take my camera out.)
The Hash, Marihuana & Hemp Museum was far more interesting than I expected, even after getting past my initial American surprise of seeing the potted marijuana plant that adornes the sidewalk entrance to this place. Their small establishment is full of the history of the use of the hemp plant as both textile and drug, plus a great collection of '30s & '40s anti-marijuana propaganda.
The best part was getting to meet Eagle Bill, a self-described "half biker, half hippie" and former canabis breeder and smuggler from the US. It's hard not to like Bill from the get-go — he's got an infectious smile and the same love and passion for his drug of choice that you see in wine growers and conesuirs up in the Napa Valley. He was demonstrating his vaporizor system for inhalation of smokeless, pure THC vapor. It's safer than smoking, obviously, but what surprised me is his claim that with vapors you get high (giddy, euphoric) but not stoned (zoned out). I've never done pot myself so this may be common knowledge in other circles, but when smoking he claims some breeds, like Indica, will get you stoned while others, like Sativa, would get you high. With the vaporizor you just get high. That makes sense if the vapor really is just pure TCH (the breed shouldn't make a difference then except amount of vapor produced) but it makes me wonder what the extra chemicals are in the smoke that makes one stoned instead of high.
Another interesting comment by Bill — his main complaint about today's pot is that it's too strong. Back when he started smoking it was about 4% THC, now the stuff you buy on the street is about 18%. It's still the same chemical (I assume, though see above), but now one joint is like smoking four old-fashioned ones in the same time period. Reminds me of the bathtub gin of the Prohibition era — when you're risking getting busted, you don't bother making a nice 4% alcohol Merlot.
[still clearing my backlog — this is from about a week ago...]
Amsterdam is gorgeous. Take a cross between Boston & San Francisco, remove the hills & homeless and replace them with a canal every 2 blocks and you've pretty much got Amsterdam. The canal district is Becon Hill, the Red-Light District is a cross between Haight-Ashbury & the Combat Zone (only with more overt illigal-drug sellers on the street and the prostitutes solicit from inside heated rooms), and in this alternate universe Critical Mass won the war.
It's very much my kind of town.
I happened to arrive the day of their 5th annual Museum Night, where 39 museums are open from 7pm-2am all for one price, with special events at each and free water-ferry & trams between them. I must've hit 7 museums, the highlights being the black-gospel choir at the Bible Museum, blacklight-painting exhibit at Rembrandhuis and the lit-up Botanical Museum. For continuity sake, I ended the night at the NEMO science museum to check out their Smart Fashion exhibit.
Update: pictures are now up!
Fusion of Wearables and Ubicomp: This is an area I've thought was ripe for a while, but apart from location-beacons and markers for AR (Augmented Reality) there's surprisingly little research that combines Ubiquitous Computing and Wearables. There are exceptions, like Georgia Tech's work with the Aware Home and some work in adaptive "universal remote controls" for the disabled, but it feels like there should be some good work to be done combining the localization of Ubicomp with the personalization of Wearables. It also nicely fits with Buxton's argument that the key design work to be done is in the seamless and transparent transitions between different context-specific interfaces.
Social Network Computation, Visualization & Augmentation: This research has been going on for awhile, especially at the University of Oregon and more recently at the MIT Media Lab, but it seems to be getting traction lately. This sort of research looks at what can be done with multiple networked wearables users in a community. Typical applications include automatic match-making (along the lines of the Love Getty that was the craze in Japan several years ago), keeping a log of chance business meetings at conferences and trade shows, understanding social dynamics of a group like whether one person dominates the conversations, and real-time visualization of those social dynamics.
AugCog / Wearable Brain-Scanning: As I mentioned in a previous post, this is potentially a big breakthrough. I don't mean in the sense that it solves problem the wearable field has been struggling with, but rather that this could open a whole new branch of research. Neuroscience has taken off in the past 10 years with advances in brain-imaging technology like functional MRI. The downside is that you can only see what the brain is doing when performing tasks inside a lab setting — it's studying the brain in captivity. Wearable sensors give us the ability to study the brain in the wild, and to correlate that brain activity with other wearable sensors. That plus the lower price should enable all sorts of new research into understanding how we use our brains in our everyday lives. That, in turn, will hopefully lead to new ways to augment our thinking processes, whether by modifying our interfaces to match our cognitive load, providing bio-feedback to help treat conditions like ADHD or perhaps addiction, or even physically stimulating the brain to treat conditions like Parkinson's.
That's not to say there aren't broad and potentially frightening aspects to this technology, but the issue that concerns me most applies generally to our recent understanding of the brain: I don't think our society is prepared yet to deal with the coming neuroscience revolution. Our justice system, religion and even our system of government is based on the worn-out Cartesian idea that our minds are somehow distinct from the wetware of our brains and bodies. It's been clear for decades that that assumption is false, but so far we've tried to ignore that fact in spite of warnings from science fiction and emerging policy debates about mental illness, psychoactive medication, addiction as illness and the occasional the-twinkies-made-me-do-it defense. The applications envisioned by AugCog are going to force the issue further, and societies doesn't make a shift like that without serious growing pains.
From a New York Times story on how San Jose police are struggling with the bad UI on their new touch-screen-based mobile-dispatch system:
Perhaps the biggest misstep of all, Mr. Marcus said, was that the officers themselves were not consulted beforehand, especially when it came to the design of the interface.
Yup, that'd do it...
One of the most exciting talks for me was the joint ISWC/ISMAR keynote by Dr. Dylan Schmorrow, one of the program managers for DARPA. The program managers are the guys who decide what research projects DARPA should fund — the best-known PM was probably JCR Licklider, who funded the Intelligence Augmentation research that led to the invention of the Internet, the mouse, the first(?) hypertext system, etc. The current program Dylan talked about was Augmented Cognition, which I'm now convinced could become the biggest breakthrough in wearable computing yet.
Intelligence Augmentation tried to support human mental tasks, especially engineering tasks, by interacting with a computer through models of the data you're working with — that was really the start of the shift from the mainframe batch-processing model to the interactive computer model. AugCog is about supporting cognitive-level tasks like attention, memory, learning, comprehension, visualization abilities and basic decision making by directly measuring a person's mental state. The latest technology to come out of this effort is a sensor about the size of your hand with several near-infrared LEDs on it in the shape of a daisy, with a light sensor in the center. The human skull is transparent to near-IR (that's how you get rid of all the heat your brain produces), so when it's placed on the scalp you can detect back-scatter from the surface of the brain. By doing signal processing on the returned light you can detect blood-flow and thus brain activity, up to about 5cm deep (basically the cortex). They've already got some promising data on detecting understanding — one of the things DARPA is especially interested in is being able to tell a soldier "Do this, then that, then the other thing... got that?" And even if he says "Yup" his helmet can say "no, he didn't really get it...." Outside of military apps (and getting a little pie-in-the-sky), sometime down the road I can imagine using this kind of data to build interfaces that adapt to your cognitive load in near real-time, adjusting information displayed and output modalities to suit. In the more near-term, these devices are starting to be sold commercially and cost on the order of thousands of dollars, not tens or hundreds of thousands. That means a lot more brain-imaging science can be performed by a lot more diverse groups.
[I've been trip-blogging this past week but haven't had convenient net access, so I'm afraid the real-time aspects of blogging are lacking... now that I'm hooked into the wireless at DEAF04 here's some of my backlog.]
Bill Buxton's ISWC keynote made a lot of points, but the one that struck me most was derived from three basic laws:
The problem then is how to deliver more functionality without making the interface so unwieldy as to be completely unusable. Buxton went on to talk about the trade-off between generality and ease-of-use: the more specifically-designed an interface the easier it is to use but the more limited its scope.
The key, he argues, is to make lots of specific applications with interfaces well-suited for their particular niche. Then you don't need a single general interface, but instead can concentrate on the seamlessness and transparency of transitions between interfaces.
It's a nice way of thinking about things, especially when thinking about the combination of wearables and ubicomp (see next post).
In other words, they [Red-State folk] disagree with us, but not so much that they can't be brought around or persuaded to vote for us based on other issues. Too often, though, a visceral loathing of being lectured at by city folks wins out and they end up marking their ballots for people like George Bush.
I think that's spot-on — and it works both ways too. My step-dad and I are a great example I think (hi Frank!) — we get along great and pretty much share the same core values when it comes to life, but go completely loggerheads when it comes to arguing politics. My sense (and he's welcome to correct me here) is the thing that sets him arguing most is any argument that smacks of intellectual/long-haired-hippie/lecturing elitism — almost regardless of the policy in question. I'm on the other side of that equation — I claim to hate Bush because of his incompetence and policy (and to some extent I do), but what really gets my teeth on edge about him is the anti-intellectualism he sides with and stands for. That more than anything is what drives me, a third-party-voting fiscal conservative who thought Iraq was a threat that needed to be dealt with, further and further taking the position of the Left.
Don't think for a minute that the pundits of both sides aren't doing this to us on purpose...
I remember back when Reagan was running against Carter the word mandate meant a clear sign from the people that they supported a candidate, but it seems the word has eroded to the point that today it means "squeaked by with a 3% margin." But at least he got more votes than the other guy this time, so I suppose that's at least a mini-mandate. The question is, what's it a mini-mandate for?
I'm pretty sure it's not a mandate for:
I expect most Bush supporters would agree on those points, though they may take offense that I'd even bring the topics up. I'm not nearly as certain it wasn't a mandate for these other points though:
Electoral-Vote.com has a nice pictoral map of how the states came out, normalized by population. Makes me feel a little less outnumbered than the traditional map, especially considering California is over 12% of the nation's population...
I'd also like to point out to those who keep talking about "Liberal California" that the split was only 54.6% to 45% for Kerry — lower than Hawaii or Illinois. It's a big state, we contain multitudes.
OK, I don't know where I'd put it or exactly what I'd do with it yet, but I want one of these. FogScreen is a large wall of fog kept in a thin sheet using laminar flow, then used as a projector screen. That part has been around for a while, but they've recently added the ability to "write" on the screen like some wizard writing runes in the air, using the same ultrasound-tracked pens used in virtual-whiteboard systems. Check out their video.
Like in previous years, the big theme here at ISMAR (the International Symposium of Augmented and Mediated Reality) seems to be registration and tracking — how to detect where objects and people are in the physical world so you can overlay graphics as accurately as possible. AR isn't my main field, but I've had a couple of conversations so far about how we're really reaching a point of diminishing returns. It's great that we're seeing minor incremental improvements in this area, but what we're really lacking are new, innovative uses of AR to push the field further. Unfortunately, it sounds like at least in part a lot of these new innovations didn't make the cut for the conference because they lacked in strong evaluation or quantifiable contribution to the field — it's much easier to judge the quality of a new camera-based image-registration method than it is to judge the usefulness of a brand new application.
The Software Agents field was a response to a similar stagnation in Artificial Intelligence. AI researchers had a lot of good but imperfect tools that had been developed over the years, but kept trying to solve the really hard general problems. Software Agents grew out of the idea that it was OK if your algorithm wasn't perfect in every condition so long as you cleverly constrained your application domain and designed your user interface to cover for those imperfections. It was a struggle to get acceptance of the idea at first, and in the end a few of the big players in the new domain went and founded their own conference rather than try to fit their own work to the evaluation metrics used for more traditional AI papers. Hopefully it won't take such a dramatic move on the part of AR researchers to breath new life into this field.
Every year I think it'll finally be the year we wearables folk can swap out our custom hardware for an off-the-shelf palmtop with a head-mounted display and one-handed keyboard connected to it, and every year it's just not quite there. Looks like we're finally getting there: Kent Lyons from Georgia Tech has now swapped out his CharmIT-PRO for an iPaq.
It's still not quite plug-and-play: he had to hack the original Twiddler-1 (the serial-port one, not the current PS/2 version) with a different power connector, and the CF-IO card he's using to connect the iPaq to his Microoptical display has a fairly limited bandwidth, so he had to hack his X server to blit out just the windows changes to the active window. Oh yeah, and he wrote a new Twiddler driver for the iPaq.
He's promised to put up a how-to guide on the Web soon — I plan to keep bugging him till he does :).
For many Californians there will be something of a reforendum in tomorrow's election that isn't on the ballot: paper or plastic. As you've probably heard, there have been serious and significant security issues with electronic voting machines. That's an implementation problem which is shameful, but not a fundamental limitation of the technology. A more fundamental issue with the smart-card system most of our touchscreen-voting counties are using is that the system lacks any kind of voter-verified paper-trail — meaning there's nothing to fall back on if you suspect electronic fraud. The argument I sometimes hear is that getting rid of paper eliminates the problem of hanging chads and the recount problems from Florida 2000. This is true, in the same way eliminating all financial accounting records would reduce fraud convictions.
Here in California, our Secretary of State has insisted that all voters be given the option to vote via a paper ballot... but many counties feel that's an extra burden so they won't inform you of that right, and some counties even plan to further inconvinience paper-ballot voters. My advice to those who are voting in touchscreen counties: ask for paper anyway. My hope is that Wednesday's headlines (under the one that says "Kerry Wins," of course) all report record numbers of voters requesting paper ballots and giving a resounding no-confidence vote in the shoddy technology we have this time around.
Over the next two weeks I'll be blogging from the International Symposium on Wearable Computers, the International Symposium on Mixed and Augmented Reality and the Dutch Electronic Arts Festival (busy couple weeks!).
I've already run into one other blogger here, Kerry Bodine at StyleBorg — she'll be blogging over the next couple days as well.