Archive for October, 2011

Oct 07 2011

The Complicated Legacy of Steve Jobs

There is nothing I can add to the discussion of the technological and cultural legacy of Steve Jobs, who died on October 5th of probable complications of pancreatic cancer and liver transplant. He was a dynamic visionary who gave us the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. He also was the vision behind my favorite movie studio – Pixar.

Others who are in a better position to judge than I have called him the most successful CEO. He certainly made the world a more interesting place, and it is tragic that we lost his vision prematurely.

I debated whether or not to discuss his medical illness. He clearly wanted to keep the details of his health private. But at the same time he was a public figure, and there is already a great deal of discussion and speculation about his illness and treatment. I thought I would clarify a few points.

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Oct 06 2011


It’s just a matter of time. The cyborg revolution is coming (although I won’t dare to make specific predictions about the timeline).

All the necessary basic principles have been demonstrated. We can train animals and people to operate either a robotic or virtual actuator with their thoughts alone. We can trick the brain into occupying a virtual body or “owning” an artificial limb. And now we can even provide specific sensory feedback directly to the brain – so called Brain-Machine-Brain-Interface (BMBI – I wonder if the researchers are calling it “Bambi”).

Just published in Nature Magazine is research involving rhesus monkeys that were taught to control a virtual arm with their thoughts alone. This much has been done before – various research teams are working on this technology, either involving implantable electrodes or surface electrodes. The new research, however, adds a new dimension – providing sensory feedback to the monkeys.

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Oct 05 2011

Do Cold Drinks Alter Digestion?

A common theme of this blog is that there is a great deal of misinformation out there. The internet is a double-edged sword, providing tremendous access to useful information, but increasingly buried in a mountain of bad, poorly sourced, and often just incorrect information. So the savvy internet user needs to develop the skills necessary to distinguish reliable information from misinformation.

Here is just the latest example – I was recently sent a link to this article on Discover Fit & Health – Stop Drinking Water With Meals–Seriously. The articles carries the “Discover” brand, and many readers might confuse this for an indicator of reliability. The author, Sara Novak , is described as:

…writes about health and wellness for Discovery Health. Her work is also regularly featured in Breathe Magazine and on She has written extensively on food policy, food politics, and food safety.

So she is not some anonymous blogger, nor does she appear to be selling dubious supplements or some multi-level marketing scheme. She is a health journalist writing for a health magazine. And yet she gives her readers this whopper:

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Oct 04 2011

A CCSVI Meta-Analysis

Published by under Neuroscience

In April of 2009 an Italian vascular surgeon by the name of Zamboni published the first paper of chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency (CCSVI) in which he proposed that blockages in the veins that drain the brain are strongly associated with multiple sclerosis, and further “play(s) a key role in determining the clinical course of the disease.” The paper sparked a controversy that rages still, one I have been following fairly closely here.

Discussion has now been renewed by a just published meta-analysis of CCSVI trials. The authors of the meta-analysis conclude:

Our findings showed a positive association between chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency and multiple sclerosis. However, poor reporting of the success of blinding and marked heterogeneity among the studies included in our review precluded definitive conclusions.

In other words – the data are all over the place, making a meta-analysis all but worthless.

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Oct 03 2011

Learn from Your Mistakes – Or Don’t

Published by under Neuroscience

Psychologists are discovering that attitude is often a self-fulfilling prophesy. Richard Wiseman pointed out, for example, that if you feel you are lucky you will, in fact, have more “luck.” Specifically, you will create opportunities, you will take opportunities, and you will try harder because you are optimistic about the future. You will, in essence, make your own luck.

There is no magical “secret” to this effect, and no, you cannot change the world simply by wishful thinking. But your attitude and beliefs about yourself affect how you behave, and sometimes attitudes become self-fulfilling. The general principle seems to be – that it is better to be optimistic than pessimistic.

A new study is in line with this principle.  Researchers in this case focused on attitudes regarding the ability to learn from one’s mistakes. They gave subjects a simple test – identifying the letter in the middle of a five-letter sequence. This is an easy task, but when done over and over eventually people make mistakes. The research focused on how they react when such mistakes occur. Some individuals seemed to learn from their mistakes, increase their effort, and improve later performance. Others did not recover from the mistake and improve their later performance.

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