Archive for January 7th, 2009

New research gives ‘having an open mind’ an entirely new meaning: Scientists can now actually see what you are thinking/dreaming

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

Scientists in Japan (yes, I know, yet another mention of Japanese innovation–but is it my fault that the Japanese are doing so many cool things with science and technology as we sit by and debate who should be America’s Next Top Model?) are now able to reconstruct the images inside a person’s brain and display them on a monitor.  Let me say that again–scientists can intercept images in your brain and see what you are dreaming about using a form of MRI technology. It’s currently limited to black and white, but the researchers say that as the accuracy of the technology improves over the next 10 years, they will be able to reproduce color images from your brain as well as, ultimately, reproductions of other sensory data and emotions.

The article appears in Neuron Magazine, Volume 60, Issue 5, 10 December 2008, Pages 915-929.

Here’s the abstract:

Perceptual experience consists of an enormous number of possible states. Previous fMRI studies have predicted a perceptual state by classifying brain activity into prespecified categories. Constraint-free visual image reconstruction is more challenging, as it is impractical to specify brain activity for all possible images. In this study, we reconstructed visual images by combining local image bases of multiple scales, whose contrasts were independently decoded from fMRI activity by automatically selecting relevant voxels and exploiting their correlated patterns. Binary-contrast, 10 × 10-patch images (2100 possible states) were accurately reconstructed without any image prior on a single trial or volume basis by measuring brain activity only for several hundred random images. Reconstruction was also used to identify the presented image among millions of candidates. The results suggest that our approach provides an effective means to read out complex perceptual states from brain activity while discovering information representation in multivoxel patterns.

The first thing I think about when I see this research is "Oh no, we’re getting closer to ThoughtCrime police".  The next thing I think is: "wow, job interviews are going to get really interesting".  The third thing I think is: "Will people in the future get paid to sell movies of their dreams?"  Gives a whole new application for YouTube.

Every time I think something really amazing is happening, I find out something even more amazing is happening.

Believe it–Blu-ray exceeds the hype

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

Though I am very interested in technology and especially in technology that optimizes the creation of art and the enjoyment of art (video, images, audio, etc.), I am not an early adopter of technology by any means.  I didn’t buy a DVD player until they had been on the market for several years, didn’t buy a flat screen HDTV until they had been on the market for a number of years, etc. 

I finally got a Blu-ray player, the Samsung BDP-2550 for $349. You can read a CNET review here. It’s equivalent to the BDP-2500, except that it’s exclusive to Best Buy; you can buy the BDP-2500 almost anywhere else.  There are a couple of reasons I got this one in particular: a) it has the REON HQV processor in it which is like a supercomputer-on-a-chip for upsampling standard definition DVDs to close to High Definition quality–no other Blu-ray players that I know of have this processor, though it does appear in several very high-end AV receivers; b) it has an ethernet port which allows you to (if you already have a Netflix subscription like I do and have a broadband connection) stream movies directly from your Netlifx queue to your TV in real-time and c) you can stream Pandora internet radio directly from the InterWeb to your stereo.   I was able to update the firmware over the ethernet connection and it added some audio decoding and the Netflix streaming capability as part of the update.


So, do Blu-ray discs live up to the hype? No, they exceed the hype.  Rarely in consumer products of any kind, much less electronics, does this happen, in my experience.  However, if you pair a good blu-ray deck with a great TV (I have a Pioneer Elite 50" Pro 1120, which I purchased 4 years ago for more than I would like to admit), you get something which is truly beyond all reasonable expectations in improvements in quality.  It’s like you’ve been watching something through a piece of gauze (standard definition) and you don’t realize it until it’s been removed (blu-ray).

The first movies I got on Blu-ray were 2001: A Space Odyssey (also the first movie I got on DVD when I bought my first DVD player, and my favorite film) and Hellboy II: The Golden Army, which I raved about earlier on standard definition DVD.  Both look amazing.  However, as great as they are, they pale in comparison next to the BBC documentaries Planet Earth, The Ganges, Wild China and Galapagos (which I was able to get as a boxed-set through Amazon for $99–remember you can buy things at Amazon through the portal on this site, and I get 4% of your purchases–wouldn’t you rather give it to me than to Amazon?).  I have never seen anything better in the home.  It’s the closest thing to looking through a window that I think you can achieve on a display at this point.

Will you notice a difference? Yes, unless your vision cannot be corrected to 20/20.  Is it worth buying now vs. later?  That depends upon whether you watch DVDs (vs. watching broadcast/cable/satellite TV).  If you mainly watch TV (I don’t get any kind of broadcast signal in my home, so all I watch are DVDs and AVI files), then it’s probably not worth it.  If you watch primarily movies like I do, it’s very worth it.  Netflix rents blu-ray now, so you can watch almost all of the new releases in a far better format than previously possible.

Also, if you have sufficiently decent AV receiver and speakers, Blu-ray delivers sound quality which is audibly better than that delivered via AC3 on DVDs.  In fact, there are a number of famous musical artists, like Neil Young, who are going to release strictly audio recordings on Blu-ray because the sound quality is so much better.

The best blu-ray players at this point for under $500 (and unless you’re rich you shouldn’t pay more than that) are: PlayStation 3, Panasonic DMP-35K, and the Samsung I bought. The Panasonic is the least expensive of the three–you can get it for as little as $249. 

I’m currently watching Pan’s Labyrinth in blu-ray and it is amazing.

Let me know what you think of blu-ray once you get it.

Are you wearing a ‘Space Toilet’ or are you just happy to see me?

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

Space toilet --


This is from the ‘what won’t they think of next’ department–a wearable toilet for astronauts that is being developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.  Although targeted at space explorers for obvious reasons, it doesn’t take a genius to think of many practical and hilarious applications for this. 

For instance, if you’ve ever tried to find any public restroom in downtown Berkeley, California, much less one you would want to use, you might not find a wearable toilet such a bad idea.

Think of the possibilities for software engineers at startups who don’t want to take a break from their programming, or MMORPG players who don’t want to leave their clans even temporarily or long-haul truckers who don’t want to stop their rigs for bio breaks. The possibilities are endless (no pun intended). 

Clean and easy to use, the envisioned space toilet is designed to be worn like a diaper around the astronaut’s waist at all times. Sensors detect when the user relieves him or herself, automatically activating a rear-mounted suction unit that draws the waste away from the body through tubes into a separate container. In addition to washing and drying the wearer after each use, the next-generation space toilet will incorporate features that eliminate unwanted sound and odor.

You can read the whole story here, at PinkTentacle.

In the 1950s, the Russians beat us in the race to Space…in the 2000s, the Japanese are beating us to the race to eliminate waste in Space…oh, how far we’ve fallen.