Saturday, September 26, 2009

TCD and then Vote No:

Trinity College Dublin:

Were a murder committed, an eccentric British investigator called, a cooky professor implicated, and a star "maths" student expelled for some silly reason, the whole thing would be filmed at this place:

It's got Giant Doors, cobble stones, intimidating statues, that book o' Kells, and smart students. 

Now then...

Vote No:

Sitting on a bench reading something about connectionism (the answer to all cognitive questions) I was asked by a homeless man, "How come when I steal from my boss, I go to jail...but when he steals overtime, tips, and raises from me, the economy goes up?"  Good question!  Which brings to a tid-bit of current Irish politics: The veritable Lisbon Treaty!  Ireland voted against a treaty that would broaden it's ties to the EU by providing it with a partial voice on a EU economic council, among other things.  Now the same vote is back, because the folks in power think Ireland got it wrong.  Far lefties, like the anarchists, socialists, Sinn Fein, Greens, and People Before Profit, along with far right nationalists are against the treaty.  The lefties are generally opposed to globalizing economies, which they see as largely responsible for Ireland's economic collapse, while the nationalists see EU involvement as European (and probably UK) capitulation which would of course be the ruin of Ireland.  Centrists from Fine Gael and Fine Fail are promoting the treaty and mainly responsible for it's re-appearance on the ballot.  In my opinion, I'm with the lefties.  It strikes me that economic treaties, such as NAFTA, CAFTA, and this Lisbon treaty (smaller but similar) erode workers' rights by consolidating markets across borders where less protective and increasingly opportunistic companies can exploit human labour.  It is, however, a fine line.  There are no jobs in Ireland.  Not a single one.  A treaty, as proposed, would indeed create jobs, which is important, but at the cost of devaluing new and existing employment, and more importantly devaluing labour in general.  I'll stick to the socialist party line on this, and pretend to vote no.

Monday, September 14, 2009

As it Turns Out

Cognitive Science is pretty neat.  Another neat thing that turns out to be true: fMRI is the Mother Of All Brain Imagining Techniques.  So far, the only reasons to do anything /but/ an fMRI is that you can't, won't, or just really like scans with names like "CAT" and "PET".  As it turns out, MRIs (functional and otherwise) use GIANT MAGNETS (awesome!!!) to align those little dipoles we like to call hydrogen atoms.  And then the gizmo measures the time it takes your dipoles to discombobulate.  In turn, this tells us something about someone's brain.  What's particularly audacious about these things is how dramatic the post-processing needs to be in order to get something useful.  First you have to compensate, computationally of course, for movement along all three spatial axes.  Then you gotta antialias your voxels.  Then you're looking at collating your slices into a 3D image.  And, of course, you have to choose your imaging type, probably T2.  Lastly you'll want to take relative averages against your baseline for each time-slice.  And Voila!  You have a vague idea that something may have happened...and you know vaguely where it happened.  Now we're cooking.

In another not-so-recent not-so-scientific breakthrough, it turns out that single-speed bikes--you know, the ones people like because they're cheap and simple--are both expensive to buy and complicated enough to stump the most Irish of bike-store people.  So it goes.

But!  I have a number of nifty ideas for a cognitive psychology question.  As it turns out, coming up with smart questions really /is/ almost as hard as answering them.  We had to come up with a question concerning human cognition for this week's class.  My ideas are here in list form:

1) How do people separate words in spoken speech?
2) How do people simplify language for assumed learners (baby talk, pet talk)?
3) How do, if at all, people find the meaning of made-up adjectives?
4) How well can people make up a verb for a given noun?
5) How accurate are people at determining projectile trajectory in 2D?
    5a) How fast can someone /decide/ accuracy?  And how is this speed related to accuracy?
    5b) How might visual distractions affect accuracy?
    5c) Does technical knowledge of spatial geometry have any effect on accuracy or speed?

What interests me most about number 5 are the potential evolutionary aspects.  For instance, there's an obvious advantage to determining the accuracy of parabolic curves (so as to throw something accurately...or dodge that dodge-ball).  There may also be advantages to accuracy in linear prediction.  But might we be significantly less accurate for logarithmic or exponential curves?

As it turns out, you'll have to check back in seven years to get answers to any of these questions.  And, as it will likely turn out, the answers won't make anyone better at basketball.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Moderately Uninteresting Update

I'm in Ireland.

Interesting things: wonderfully friendly people...everywhere...I'm talking smiles on the streets friendly. Already got caught in the rain. Oh well. Roommates are sweet folks, though two are from the US. Hah! Two more from Ireland and one from Japan. Went to an Anglican church service this morning—ye olde Holy Communion Rite 1—all words, no songs. But lead by two women reverends. Way to go Church of Ireland. Now I need a Book o' Common Prayer. Next up is hurling. Rough sport. Then there's the Irish language...sounds pretty sweet to me. Then you have the proxied internet connection here are UCD. Not very nice. But I think Skype will work. Oh and one other not very nice thing: big college campuses. Oh well. One high note to end on is that classes start tomorrow.

Here's the rundown on classes. Advances in Neuroscience: primary literature review in the field. Not sure what to expect. General Linguistics: “A tour of the ologies.” Meaning semantics, syntax, phonology, and morphology. Then we have Cognitive Psychology, a computer science module. This one is being taught by a particularly professional looking gent who happens to head the department. Oh well. Lastly is Neuropsychology where “the primary purpose of this course is to demonstrate how data from brain-damaged patients and from functional neuroimaging are used to test theories of normal cognition, and how cognitive theories and methods are used to understand brain-behaviour relationships.”

Oh well.