Category Archives: Misc Bytes

Cool things that just don’t fit into a run-of-the-mill category!

Scientists Use Functional MRI to Read Peoples’ Minds

Scientists are using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to reconstruct images seen by people and read their thoughts. This technology, which is relatively new compared to x-ray imaging techniques, uses the nuclear spin of hydrogen nuclei to construct an image. This makes the technology especially well suited to the imaging of soft tissues, and if you happen to know someone who has received an MRI it was mostly likely for a tumor or joint damage.

fMRI is related to traditional MRI, but provides less information about structure and instead focuses on what researchers refer to as the BOLD signal. BOLD stands for blood-oxygen-level-dependence, and what that means is that the scan is looking at what areas of your brain are using oxygen. Basically, it shows which areas of your brain are being used to process information. Sound confusing? Here is an image from an fMRI study I participated in several years ago; it is showing which areas of my brain were activated when a citrus scent was applied to my nose.

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The New Polygraph?

Now scientists are using this same technology to try and read peoples’ minds. It sounds a bit dramatic at first, but really is only another tool that’s not all that much different from a polygraph. It is not the type of device that will just tell us flat out whether or not someone is lying.

What researchers have done are experiments where subjects are shown a card. Some of the subjects are asked to lie about their answers while the others tell the truth. The scientists then look at the different regions of the brain that are activated between the liars and the truth tellers. After this calibration run, different subjects are put through the same experiment, but the scientists don’t know beforehand who the liars are and who the truth tellers are. Various studies are showing accuracies between 80-90%. Although these claims are much better than the current polygraph technology, it still requires vetting by the MRI community to confirm these claims. Research into this field is also being met with moral and legal reservations.

The Moral and Legal Implications

There are definitely concerns being raised over the morality of these studies. Researchers involved in this line of work are currently receiving millions of dollars in funding from the federal government and interested corporations. Some of these companies are already using these types of experiments to determine the effectiveness of their advertising campaigns, Viacom the owners of MTV and Nickelodeon being one of them.

Civil libertarians worry that this technology could eventually undermine the 5th Amendment’s right not to self incriminate. Another argument is that the jury should be the final arbiters determining the truth and not some technology. By removing the human component of trials and replacing it with a biometric, the legal system would be forever changed and not necessarily in a good way. No Lie MRI, a company that is currently using fMRI technology to this end, has already tried submitting this type of evidence to courts. So far none of the courts have allowed their work to be submissible as evidence.

Another concern is the potential to exploit the technology by using it on unsuspecting people. Right now, this is not feasible. MRI machines use a very large superconducting magnet that is cooled to just tenths of a degree above absolute zero. They weigh several tons and require ground floor installation on reinforced concrete. In order to take the image, your head has to be inserted into the bore of the magnet. If a remote brain imaging technology were ever developed, it certainly won’t be based on MRI.

Bio: Alexis Bonari is currently a resident blogger at College Scholarships, where recently she’s been researching scholarships for agricultural students as well as interest on student loans. Whenever this WAHM gets some free time she enjoys doing yoga, cooking with the freshest organic in-season fare, and practicing the art of coupon clipping.

Living on the Web with the Google Cr-48 Chrome Notebook

On Valentine’s Day, the UPS man dropped off a suspicious package. I wasn’t expecting anything, and there was really no indication on the outer box to tell me who it was from. Once I opened the inner box though, I started to get excited…could this be a Chrome notebook? I’d registered for Google’s Chrome Notebook Pilot Program just over a couple of weeks before, but I hadn’t received an email telling me I’d been selected or rejected.

Turns out it was a Cr-48, and I happily unboxed it and opened it up. The Chrome operating system booted up spectacularly fast, and then I connected to my wireless network and was asked to go through a quick setup, where I signed in with my Google account and allowed the notebook to take a quick picture of me. That picture is used as an icon for my own user account, and I can create other user accounts if family or friends want to use it regularly. For the casual friend who just wants to take it for a spin, I use the built-in Guest account.

chrome notebookI agreed to use this as my regular computer and to report any bugs or good things back to Google often, and believe me, I do so with great pleasure.  When the notebook is powered on, the Chrome OS starts up quickly and the Chrome browser is automatically opened. Life exists in that browser, pretty much. There’s no desktop, no corrupted folders or outdated apps, none of what we’re accustomed to. In fact, Chrome updates itself from the web if updates are available. The Cr-48 is just the right size for balancing lightly on my knees on the couch or sitting with it pretty much anywhere. And I certainly don’t miss waiting for Windows Vista to boot up and get logged in! There’s no Caps Lock key on this keyboard, but instead there’s a key that opens up a new tab in the Chrome browser.  The brave can get to a command line if they want to talk a little more intimately to their Cr-48 with Linux commands, but so far I’ve only done that once, to see what was there.

I’ve used online banking, Zoho and Google apps, Gmail and Yahoo mail, online shopping, Evernote notebooks, and many other online avenues for a long time, because I tend to work on those things in various places and never wanted to worry about which computer my documents were on or my mail client was installed on.

The Chrome notebook has been wonderful. A few days ago I created a new niche site, and that included exporting my Thesis settings out of this blog and then importing into the new site so that I wouldn’t have to insert the custom code for the header look or worry about the colors for the other areas.  The little notebook handled that task just fine, sending downloads into my Downloads folder (always accessible by Ctrl-o) and automatically retrieving the Downloads folder when it was time to upload the file into the new site’s Thesis settings.

I’m not usually one to print a lot of stuff, but when I did have to produce a paper document I was able to do that easily using Google Cloud Printing. Essentially I just had to sign into Google on my old desktop PC and activate the Google Cloud Print connector in the Google Chrome browser. Now the local printers for that PC are available to the notebook.

How can you get a Cr-48? There’s a questionnaire at the site of the Chrome Notebook Pilot Program, and it will ask you various questions to determine if you’re a good fit for the program.  Essentially you do need to be ready and willing to live on the web, and I’m soooo happy to comply.

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Two heads actually ARE better than one, if both are competent and communicate!

We may assume or generally believe that collaborating with others helps us to solve problems more effectively and make better decisions, but is it really true? Scientists at University College London and Aarhus University, Denmark did a study that showed that two heads can definitely be better than one, if both partners are competent and are able to discuss Continue reading

10 Amazing Invoicing Apps for Freelancers

This is a guest post by Melissa Tamura. You can find out more about Melissa at the bottom of the post.

As a freelancer, one of your biggest obstacles is ensuring that all your clients are invoiced as needed. You will find that there are a large selection of invoicing apps available, but finding the one that fits your needs best can take some time. These amazing invoicing apps for freelancers can help you create and send Continue reading

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It’s official: On Facebook, people enjoy actively searching more than just browsing

University of Missouri researcher Kevin Wise is interested in what people really do on Facebook and how they feel while doing “social browsing” versus “social searching.” Other studies about social networking sites have involved asking people to recall their online behaviors and feelings, but Wise went farther: he recorded what thirty-six participants actually looked at, as well as the physiological responses they had which were associated with motivation and emotion!

Wise categorized participants’ Facebook activities into two different groups: social browsing and social searching. He defined social browsing as looking around on Facebook without a specific goal in mind, such as looking at one’s own news feed or wall. He defined social searching as searching with the goal of finding certain information about a specific person, group, or event. In the study, it turns out that the participants spent most of their time on social browsing and social searching, but the physiological data indicated that participants experienced more pleasure during the course of social searching than they experienced during social browsing.

“We found a more positive response from participants during social searching, or when they had homed in on a particular target,” Continue reading

Personal Development for Smart People

The following is a review I wrote last fall on a previous blog, but since I referred to this book again only last weekend I was reminded of how jam packed with great information it is. Steve Pavlina has been studying personal development for a long time, and if that doesn’t interest you (I wasn’t sure it interested me), he makes a full time living from his website. Naturally I’m all ears to any advice he may give on that score!

I was honored to receive an advance copy of Steve Pavlina’s book Personal Development for Smart People: The Conscious Pursuit of Personal Growth for review. It took me a couple of weeks to read it, because I was just reading a little bit each evening, filling the pages with little PostIt flags, because every page is crammed with great information and I wanted to process and remember it all! This book is not fluff or platitudes. Steve is an extremely intelligent man who started programming computers at age 10 and is a very analytical thinker, and he examines personal development as a field that must obey universal laws just like physics does! After two and a half years of research, he found three core principles, truth, love, and power, and four secondary principles which are combinations of the first three (think of three primary colors then the colors which are made by mixing two or more of them). The secondary principles are oneness (truth + love), authority (truth + power), courage (love + power), and intelligence (truth + love + power). The book devotes one chapter to each of these principles, explaining it fully with many examples, then there are six excellent chapters on how you can apply the principles to your life: “Habits,” “Career,” “Money,” “Health,” “Relationships,” and “Sprirituality.”

I obviously can’t condense or summarize this book, and will not attempt to do that. You really must read this book at least once. I will tell you about a few of the things I marked with my PostIts:

In one part of the Truth chapter, Steve urges us to admit to ourselves things we have been trying to bury and deny. Did we take a wrong career path, or did we marry the wrong person? Since we may feel there is no choice left for us, we may not want to admit those things to ourselves. Steve assures us it is better to admit those things to ourselves, even if we don’t intend to do anything about them. “Whenever you’re faced with a part of reality you don’t like, and you feel powerless to change it, the first step is to accept the truth of your situation. Say to yourself: ‘This situation is wrong for me, yet I lack the strength to change it right now.'” He examines the reasons we might continue to live in situations we know are wrong for us, and he offers suggestions we can try in order to figure out what the right choices are for us. Somewhere in there we know the answers all along, but we manage to obscure them with denial and distractions.

In part of the Love chapter, Steve states, “Every day you’re compelled to make connection decisions…..If you want to grow consciously, you must decide which connections you’ll strengthen and which you’ll allow to weaken. Such choices ultimately determine the shape of your life.” He talks about connections in this world and how to consciously connect and communicate more deeply.

In part of the Power chapter, Steve talks to us about our ability to consciously create the world around us. He states, “If you want different results, you must go out and create them yourself……You must actively make your life happen instead of passively letting it play out.” He talks about setting goals and when to know if a goal is not right for you. A goal should start improving your present reality, not just be a reward you hope will be at the end of a miserable time of suffering and sacrifice. He also gives many suggestions on how to make sure you start achieving something toward your goal once you know what it is. He shares with us how he launched StevePavlina.com in October 2004, with the goal of having it be the best personal development website on the internet. He knew he felt tremendously motivated whenever he thought of the goal, even though for the first four months the site didn’t have much traffic and the fifth month only earned him $53. Wouldn’t most of us “realized” that is was long past time to give up on that “empty dream?” Instead, he kept going, and over the next three years, the site grew to include hundreds of free articles, and traffic grew to two million visitors per month! The site began to earn tens of thousands of dollars per month. His goal was achieved when StevePavlina.com became acknowledged by many to be the most popular, practical, and down-to-earth personal development website.

In the Oneness chapter, Steve talks to us about many things, among them empathy, honesty, and contribution. He actually had had a very successful computer games business before launching StevePavlina.com and was helping game developers, but he saw he could make an even bigger contribution to the world by going full time on personal development.

In the Authority chapter, we learn that each of us is the one true authority in our own life. We make the decisions and we take the actions. He talks to us about effectiveness and persistence, pointing out that when you fail, the failure wasn’t a “waste.” Instead, you have learned some valuable things that will allow you to choose more wisely and do better as you go along. In this chapter he urges us to focus on what really matters to us and realize what things are a total waste of our time. He shows us how to “triage” projects and tasks so that we spend our time on the important things that need our time in order to succeed. We are also urged to run some experiments so that we can learn how to make ourselves more effective. Why sit and wonder how things would go if we got up earlier each day? Why not try it and see?

In the Courage chapter, Steve starts to give us the secrets to getting off that incorrect path we may know we’re on but feel helpless to remedy. He tells us ways to prepare ourselves to get on the correct path, whether that means educating ourselves a bit, progressively training ourselves to overcome fears, or just making commitments in advance to do things we’d like to be able to do but are afraid of.

The Intelligence chapter talks about being authentic and actively seeking growth, and Steve gives us a lot of concrete small questions we can ask ourselves as a self-assessment of where we are on the seven principles, plus seven sets (one set for each principle) of “Growth Blitzing” exercises we can do to increase our alignment with every principle.

The six final chapters are each crammed with great information about applying the principles to your own life. Since I have run on so long here, I will not try to tell you about the things I marked. :-) I will say that to me the Career chapter alone would be worth the price of the book. For you, it may be the Relationships chapter. Personal Development for Smart People: The Conscious Pursuit of Personal Growth can replace dozens of books you might have bought about one small area of personal development (like a book on marriage or how to eat in a healthy manner).

The last sentence, which really sums it up, after you’ve read it, is this: “Live consciously.”

9 mm SFX Custom Contact Lenses – MiscBytes Niche of the Month!

This month’s niche of the month is 9 mm SFX , a custom contact lens company which specializes in theatrical and special effects contact lenses. Their contact lenses are responsible for a lot of the cool ocular special effects we see in many, many movies, commercials and music videos, and in fact 9 mm Special Effects is the worldwide leader in custom theatrical contact lenses. Enough of this boring talk! I know you want to see some pictures. Here are just a few of the lenses which I think we could use in our everyday lives.

Imagine it’s Friday and you want to leave the office early. Extra early. How about wearing the Ebola or Virus B or perhaps Jaundice lenses? I know if I’m your boss I’ll insist you go home immediately if you look like one of these!

You’re going to the prom and want to have something extra fancy for the evening. I’m sure your date would really be impressed if your eyes look like one of these!  Or maybe you have a blind date you really want to impress.  I’m sure if you show up wearing Jaws lenses he/she will never forget you! 

A contact lens prescription is required if you’d like to order lenses from 9mm SFX.  The prescription will give your base curve and diameter, so a contact lens prescription is needed for that purpose whether or not there is a vision correction prescription associated with the lenses.   A few of the lenses are totally opaque, but those are noted as “No Vision” on the web page.  These lenses currently range from about $150-450, and with proper care they can last for years.  Why not grab some before that next class reunion?

Flatland – colorful math fun for all ages

I saw FLATLAND: THE MOVIE a few weeks ago, and as a math lover I found it very geeky cool and wanted to share.  Apparently I am not supposed to buy the personal copy of the movie then display it for the rest of the world here, go figure.   So I’m going to embed the trailer from YouTube. 

In the full length movie, our main folks are in a two-dimensional world, Flatland, and as far as they know, that is the ultimate all-there-is world. They can’t conceive of three dimensions, but then comes the Sphere… We also see a guy whose world is only a single point, and he thinks his world is all there is.   How would he know otherwise? Then there are the ones who live in a one-dimensional world, a line, and they get “freaked out” when they hear someone speaking from outside the line.  Of course as a math/science girl, I couldn’t care less about any political or social crap to do with this movie. :) I simply loved enjoying the fun with the shapes and thinking about dimensions and how amazing and cool it would be to start to perceive a dimension that is not present in one’s current world. My favorite line in the movie, which soon became my tag line for instant messenger for the following month: “Configuration makes the man!” So true, don’t you think? ;)

Once again, I’m sorry this trailer is all I have. I’d love to grab my favorite mind-altering beverage, Mountain Dew, and see the whole movie again on a nice big screen.

Flatland Trailer