Weekly Head Voices #98: Lemons.

This, the ninety eighth edition of the WHV, looks back at the week of Monday August 10 to Sunday August 16, 2015.

Today we took a brief walk up into the mountain, as one does around these parts. This is what False Bay looks like from the Helderberg Nature Reserve:

false_bay_from_helderberg_nature_reserve.jpg

When life hands you lemons, build a battery

Genetic Offspring Unit (GOU) #1 had to do a show and tell at school, so I helped her to construct a battery from 4 lemons. Besides that because of this I got to refresh my own knowledge (can you remember exactly why a battery such as this works?!) we got to chat about molecules, atoms, protons, neutrons, electrons, atomic numbers and the periodic table.

The next day she quite coolly took the whole kit to school, proceeded to connect up the disassembled kit before the class, and got the little LED to switch on, all the while explaining in high-level 9-year-old-ish how it worked.

In case you’re wondering, the experiment looked like this:

lemon_battery.jpg

With zinc-covered screws and heavy duty stripped copper wire, we got about 0.9V per lemon. There was enough current to light up a small 3V LED.

(Will GOU#1 one day become an engineer? Stay tuned to this blog for the next 10 years to find out!)

Taking a break from Facebook

One of my more interesting Facebook friends announced that she was taking a break from Facebook, because “this stuff is toxic and no good”.

This made me evaluate what I thought of FB at the moment.

Toxic is a strong word, but after thinking about this for a while, I have to admit that a large part of the time I spend on the site is probably not that good for my karma. The problem is that there are a whole bunch of friends I really would like to stay in contact with, but for the most part they are quite silent. The people that do pipe up the most on FB are people with some or other silly and/or misguided agenda.

Although I have learnt to stop correcting the infinite number of people who are wrong on the internet, I’m still reading their contributions, getting slightly worked up, formulating a response, and then resisting posting it, all of this a number of times per day.

To the question whether seeing the one or two positive and life-affirming posts is justified by a seemingly much larger number of the opposite, my response has also become to take a break from Facebook and to see for myself.

I’m not going to cancel my account, so I will receive notifications for example when people message me, but I’m just going to stop checking the site completely. I am also giving myself permission to post new WHV editions there now and then: It’s sometimes the best way to reach some of those silent but desirable FB friends I mentioned, because not all of them are subscribed to this blog. THAT’S A SUBTLE HINT SILENT BUT DESIRABLE FRIENDS.

(BTW, I’m almost 3 days in now, so far no problems. I’ll report back in future WHVs.)

The mind is a terrible thing to taste

This week I learned about fascinating sleeping brain research (that summary is from the NIH, also see this one by Science Magazine) that was published in 2013.

In short, when mice sleep, the area between their brain cells is temporarily increased by 60% (!!), and the cerebro-spinal fluid between the cells flows much more rapidly than when they’re awake. This rapid flow literally flushes out of the brain the toxins that build up during the waking hours. HOW COOL IS THAT?!

sciencemag_brainwash.jpg
Toxins flushed out via bright blue channels between brain cells. Image from Science Mag summary linked above.

Going down one detail level, the researchers showed that the glial cells (the non-neuronal cells in the brain) control the flow of cerebro-spinal fluid through channels in their cell membranes. By using different coloured dyes, they showed that there was significantly more flow during sleeping than when awake, clearing out toxins twice as quickly.

This research took place in mice, but the researchers hypothesise that this same mechanism operates in humans, and are working on verifying that this is the case.

Original article full text: Sleep Drives Metabolite Clearance from the Adult Brain, Xie et al., 2013, Science.

This is the end my friends

Have a great week kids, and do remember to get your sleep!

Facebook Like, Share and Retweet buttons in your WordPress

Hey man, I’m really busy at the moment, but it took me unnecessarily long to get those really hip facebook like, facebook share and retweet buttons everywhere on my blog, so I thought I’d try and save you some time by dropping a quick note on how I did it.

Adding the Facebook Like button functionality wasted the most time, because there are far too many plugins and howtos that claim to work and don’t quite. I ended up using the Like plugin (official wordpress page and plugin website), because it has the best documentation that includes details on all the ways in which things can go wrong, and there are many.  I’m using the IFRAME option, also because that seems to work most of the time.  I had a hard time finding this plugin in the built-in directory, so I downloaded and installed it manually.

For the facebook share button, I use the Facebook Share (New) Button plugin, and for the retweet button, I’m using the Topsy Retweet Button plugin.  I installed both of them from the built-in “Plugins | Add New” directory.

In all three cases, I made use of the plugin options to have the buttons placed all over my blog, instead of manually editing the theme.

I hope that you enjoy your shiny buttons, and I look forward to seeing you for the next Weekly Head Voices!

P.S. feel free to click on my buttons, right below this post.

Weekly Head Voices #7: The Answer, a STAR is born, post-human YouTube

I know that I said that I’d excuse myself from writing one or two editions of the Weekly Head Voices due to the upcoming VisWeek 2009 (and 2010, yes I will be blogging from the future) and the live-blogging explosion it will most likely lead to, but I somehow couldn’t stay away from my beloved WordPress installation. Oh well, so be it!

Welcome to the Weekly Head Voices #7, a lucky number for a blog post dealing with week #42, a week that could potentially have something to do with the answer to life, the universe and everything. Auspicious is an understatement.  (Oh my word, I just realised that week #42 is only starting as I write this.  Week #41 is the one just behind us and hence the subject of this post.  Oh well, just add 1 for the answer to life, the universe and everything!)

First the customary (but more uplifting than usual) visual element, I’ll get back to it at the end of this post.  Watch it to get in the mood:

YouTube Preview Image

A brilliant and excellently debauched Tuesday evening with friends in Rotterdam led to an exceedingly difficult Wednesday, the difficulty of which was definitely not alleviated by my 6 scheduled meetings. Fortunately a number of the meetings turned out being quite energising, leaving me with an energy surplus by the end of the day.  Beer: 0 Charl: 1.

On Thursday and Friday, Jorik and I helped the famous Jelle Feringa with a workshop he set up to expose architecture M.Sc. students to the Wonderful World of Scientific Visualisation (!!!). Jelle has somehow managed to bring our two fields together with great effect, and was trying to impress some of this magic onto the students. I found it quite challenging explaining bits of Python and VTK programming to a class of students that had for the largest part never seen source code before, but by the time we had gotten to extracting surfaces and direct volume rendering with DeVIDE, things were going just swimmingly. At least that was my impression. :)

On Friday, I submitted a rather extensive proposal to write a Eurographics State-of-the-art Report (STAR) together with a number of similarly interested colleagues. I’d love to tell you what the STAR’s about, but would prefer waiting until we know whether it has been accepted or not. In any case, if it is indeed accepted, we will have the privilege of publishing the full-length survey article in the Proceedings of the Eurographics, giving a 90 minute (!!!) presentation during the conference next year, and submitting a revised version of the article to the journal Computer Graphics Forum. That’s like Graphics/Visualisation-scientist crack man!

Because this is my little soap-box, I have decided to conclude with one of my typical “I love the 21st century” RA RA moments.

First, as you all know, one can easily upload photos and videos to facebook by mailing them to a special per-user email address: Go to facebook.com/mobile – the special email address is on the bottom left under “Upload Photos via Email”. This is especially useful for sending absolutely useless but seriously incriminating media directly from your cellphone, especially exactly when you shouldn’t be doing so, for example at 3 in the morning.

I’m probably one of the last to come across this, but youtube of course has similar functionality! Login, then go to your account page, then settings and finally mobile setup to find your upload email address. This means you can upload your incriminating media at 3 in the morning to yet another site, except that this one has a far, far greater reach than facebook.

Is this why I love the 21st century? Well, it’s a minor reason amongst many others. A slightly more meaningful one is the fantastically uplifting video clip embedded at the start of this post. That’s a real wedding (and what a wedding it was!), the clip was posted in July of this year and has since been watched more than 27 million times. That’s crazy! In what other century can a visual memory of your humble, although very original, wedding be seen 27 million times and so brighten up the respective days of millions of people that won’t ever even know you?

That’s just so beautiful, it’s post-human.

P.S. The sound-track to the clip is Forever by Chris Brown. Instead of suing the love-birds, Sony (the label) and Brown decided to work together with Google to monetise the occasion. Notice that when playing the video, there’s a box underneath with the name of the song and a “Buy Song” button. It turns out that due to this video, the single was slung back into the top 10 charts, more than a year after its release. This GoogleBlog post describes how everybody involved wins. It’s gratifying that labels are slowly waking up to the new order. May those that refuse to smell the coffee wither away as quickly as their irrelevance seems to indicate.

P.P.S. My mother now has a Blackberry.