Charlie Rose

Charlie Rose


Health, Code Tech, Science

by maria on 26 Mar 2013 - 22:01  

I was on TV! Well, not really. My boss, Michael Shadlen, was on the Charlie Rose Show with Eric Kandel of Columbia University, Walter Mischel of Columbia University, Daniel Kahneman of Princeton University, and Alan Alda, host of the upcoming PBS program, “Brains on Trial”. But he showed some movies I made, so that's cool. There is a bit more information about the movies I've made for him here. The Charlie Rose show he is on is called "Public Policy Implications of the New Science of Mind" and it is part of his Brain Series. The whole show is very good, and I encourage you to watch all of it, but if you want to see the part where Mike talks about our research and shows the movies, go to 37:20. I created these movies by importing the experimental data into ActionScript and coding a re-creation of the experiment with the eye position of the animal superimposed on the re-creation of what she/he was seeing on the screen during the task. The spike train was added to the video, both visually and audibly, so you could get an idea of what was going on in the brain at the time. Link to Charlie Rose Show

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Sparkling Lies



by maria on 15 Mar 2011 - 03:07  

Attach:sparklingice.jpg Δ

A few weeks back I bought a drink called Sparkling Ice. It looked to be one of those flavored carbonated water drinks, and it said "Naturally Flavored" on the bottle. I took that to meant that it didn't have any artificial sweeteners in it. Silly me. I took one swig of the drink, and knew I had been fooled. Apparently sweet is not a flavor? I was irritated enough to find an email address for the company and complain. Someone from the company, let's call her Jess, emailed me back, and told me she would tell upper level management, and offered to send me "a sample of an all natural (organic) beverage we make that might be in keeping with what you prefer to drink". I thought that sounded nice, so I gave her my address and thanked her for listening to me.

About a week and a half later, I received a box of about six bottles of the Sparkling Ice product that I had complained about. With a note on the top from Jess, the customer relations person who had sent me the email.

I sent a thank you note to Jess and mentioned that she had sent me the same product I had been complaining about. She said, "I'm so sorry, I had a temp helping me and I didn't check her work. I'll personally resend product without sucralose." Which struck me as a little lame. Like my friend said, blaming the temp is pretty low. Own your mistakes. She did send me better drinks the second time. I am a fan of Talking Rain Sparkling Water, which doesn't have any sweeteners in it. She sent me that and some Twist, which is pretty good. So, I'd say mixed bag when it comes to Talking Rain Customer Service and Marketing Depts. Clearly making an effort, and I really appreciate my free drinks, but it was kind of like pulling teeth, more uncomfortable than you really want it to be. I still think one shouldn't be able to put "Naturally Flavored" on a beverage that has artificial sweeteners in it. She claimed that my "comments weigh very heavy into the decision making process", but I'm thinking probably not heavy enough to change their "Naturally Flavored" claim.

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Health, MyRamblings, Videos

by maria on 28 Oct 2010 - 14:11  

Wow. Check out this performance for a poetry slam. I tried to find out more about Katie Makkai, but didn't get anywhere. I'm hoping we will be hearing more from her.

I'm not sure that we are any more obsessed with beauty now then when I was in high school, but it doesn't seem to be getting any better. But, I do have hope that with more people having access to more real people all over the world via the internet, rather than only seeing a window to the rest of the world that was filtered by mass media like when I was a kid, that more people will realize how damaging our limited view of beauty is. One can hope. In the meantime, remember, you are beautiful.

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Health, MyRamblings, Science

by maria on 25 Oct 2010 - 18:06  

Our brains have to sort out a lot of stuff. We aren't consciously aware of most of the stuff going on, which is a good thing, since just walking across the room would be a serious challenge if we had to think about every bit of muscle movement. There was a bit on npr recently about a guy who had a stroke that wiped out his ability to read. English suddenly looked like some foreign language that he didn't know. But, his motor memory of writing was still in tact, so if he pretended to write the letters that he saw, he was now able to recognize the letters. But, that is a lot of effort, and if you had to think like that for everything you did, it would be difficult to get anything done. Fortunately, our brain takes care of lots of stuff behind the scenes, and we are unaware of it even happening. However, now we are discovering that some things our brains do without our realizing it may be causing us problems. I recently ran across an old article by Gavin Mandel, published in Science magazine in 2005, which was fascinating, and I hope people that missed it when it came out will take a look at it now. The basic finding is that we are profoundly influenced by our environment, but completely unaware of this influence. Not only that, but even when people/researchers try to make us aware when we have been influenced, we do not believe it, and our mind makes up stories to otherwise explain the influenced behavior. So, I guess when we sound like we are making something up to justify our actions after the fact, rather than explaining why we decided to do something, we may be doing just that. It does put an interesting light on our gut feelings.

The majority of the time, our unconscious does a stellar job picking out the relevant information, and making decisions based on that, but unsurprisingly, it doesn't always get it correct. It seems likely that the more we are bombarded by media trying to influence our decisions, the less reliable it may become. It is hard to imagine how our unconscious deals with such a large amount of, often conflicting, data, but scientists are starting to figure this out. It appears that there are certain rules that our unconsciousness uses to guide it. One is exemplified by a pantyhose experiment summarized in the 'Introspective Essay', and it points to a bias for the first thing the brain sees. One of the best studied biases is race. I am trying to find a source of various biases that our brains have constructed, because I think this would be useful knowledge for everyone to have when they are making decisions. Because intuition is not always correct, it is sometimes based on rules that we may not consciously agree with, but have internalized. I will close with a quote from cognitive neuroscientist Itiel Dror,

"Take what you believe is an absolute truth with a grain of salt," Dorr suggested. "Question yourself, and understand that we're all locked in our own brain, in our own perceptions, with our own experiences that paint the world. We may have a better understanding of the world if we know that what we see is not 100 percent the world itself, it iw us interacting with the world around us." *

* From the article, Experts Live and Die With Mental Shortcuts, from Miller-McCune.

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More disbelief in Science


Health, MyRamblings, Science

by maria on 21 Apr 2010 - 21:20  

Just read a very good article Convincing the Public to Accept New Medical Guidelines. It has me thinking about how to convince people to change their beliefs. It has long been obvious to me that people often discount or don't believe scientific studies if they conflict with their pre-conceived notions. Now we have research to back up that claim, not that it would matter to people who don't believe me. Plus, apparently people are more likely to believe what everyone else believes, regardless, or apparently in spite of, scientific evidence to the contrary, according to this article. Ugh. Not sure where this puts us. A very uphill battle, but says a lot about why people still believe that there is a connection between immunizations and autism. So, how can we take current scientific understanding and translate it into something that is popular? How can we use our understanding of why/how people believe things to get them to believe in scientific evidence, and to be willing to change those beliefs when new evidence surfaces? Tough questions.

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Red Herrings


Health, Politics, MyRamblings, Tech, Science

by Maria on 13 Apr 2010 - 21:10  

Herring (Kippered)

I very much enjoyed the TED talk by Michael Specter on the danger of science denial. His main point is that we will continue to do real damage to our planet and our communities, if we continue to ignore what science tells us. His two main examples are the trend to not immunize because of the supposed link between autism and immunizations, and frankofoods, iow, genetically modified foods. I think both of these cases demonstrate the publics tendency to take a scary finding, latch onto the first thing that comes along to blame, and then ignoring science and facts and beat the hell out of the red herring. In the case of the autism and immunizations, study after study has shown there is no link. But the original study, however misguided, did demonstrate that we need to continue to put pressure on manufacturers and the government to ensure that vaccines are safe to use, as some things were brought up that were questionable. We need to learn to accept science and facts when they become undoubtable, stop beating a dead horse, and look to new places for answers. That second point is very important. There is much money and time now being spent trying to convince parents that autism is caused by immunizations, money that should be spent on coming up with the actual causes and cures to autism. Not to mention this misguidedness is causing a crisis in immunization that could cause many diseases that we have not seen in decades to return to the United States. If you are unconvinced that immunizations do not cause autism, check out this pdf from

The second issue, genetically modified foods, is very interesting. In this case, the red herring is GMO's themselves. Although more research is needed, so far, it appears that the insertion of new genes does not, by itself, change the plant in a negative way. In Specter's talk he mentioned the noble ideas about adding vitamin A in rice and adding protein and vitamins in cassava, using genetic modification. He did not mention anything about adding resistance to pesticides or insecticides. These are the truly scary things, the things we should be up in arms about. The movie Monsanto's World is extremely interesting, and brings to mind the things we need to be extremely concerned about. First and foremost, are the ties between government and corporations. Monsanto has become a scary monopoly because the US government let it happen, and, in fact, encouraged it to happen. And, it can, and probably has, happened in other industries as well. It is the ties between industry and government that has caused the scientific data to not be scrutinized as it should be. Check out the wikipedia article about Monsanto, under Public officials formerly employed by Monsanto. Which brings up and interesting question. Who should be in charge of government agencies that oversee industries? In many cases, it seems the government decides that people from industry are the best choice, since they would presumably know the most about that particular industry. But, they also have the hardest time separating themselves from the corporations they use to be a part of, and present a real conflict of interest. Time after time, in many different industries, government has failed to enforce or enact the regulations it should in the interest of public safety, because of the ties with corporations. The other thing that we should be up in arms about is the abuse of patent law by Monsanto. Monsanto has used patent law to bully farmers, so that it now controls most of the U.S. corn and soy seed market, according to the non-profit Center for Food Safety. And there is no doubt that Monsanto and its connections in government have worked hard to suppress scientific evidence that its products are not as harmless as it claims. But, you shouldn't take my word on this, do your research. So, while I agree with Specter about there being good that can come from genetic modification, and while at its root, it is not much different from the modifications we have been making to animals and plants for hundreds of thousands of years by breeding, there is still some very scary stuff going on in the genetic modification industry, and most of it has to do with the corporation that controls a very large portion of the seed market, Monsanto, and allows farmers to completely douse their fields with herbicides and/or insecticides. And regardless of whether the food that has been modified to survive such dowsing is harmful, we already know that dowsing fields with herbicides and/or pesticides is terrible for the soil and the nature/people surrounding the fields. For the most common of these herbicides, Roundup, check out the wikipedia article.

Which brings me to another interesting article I have read recently. In the article Is it okay to ignore results from people you don't trust? by Ben Goldacre on He gives a nice example of industry scientists getting the results you would expect them to want, which was different from what non-industry scientists found. Repeated experiences like this makes it is easy for us to ignore results from people we don't trust. We have come to expect scientists from industry to get results more favorable to their industry (which is why the government should have been more critical of the data from Monsanto), but then he goes on to give an example of researchers you may not normally trust, publishing a study with a result that was both accurate and earlier then any other researchers. So, it appears that it is not enough that the public pay attention to scientific data, the public must learn to think critically about the data that they are given. Consider the source, but also consider the data itself. Ask questions. Be skeptical, but do not reject science simply because you want to believe in voodoo. And above all, do not look for studies to validate your opinion, because you will find them no matter how crazy your opinion is. Instead, look at everything you can find that examines the question with an open mind, consider the sources, the methods, the number of studies, and ask questions until you are satisfied. But when some new piece of evidence comes up, be willing to look anew at the question, and to reconsider your position. Yup, it is a lot of work, but it is so very important to our health and the health of our planet.

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Great Ad


Health, Videos

by maria on 2 Feb 2010 - 22:31  

Yup, it is an ad about preventing HIV transmission. very amusing, and hopefully effective.

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Week in Review


Health, Politics, Tech, Science, Videos

by maria on 31 Jan 2010 - 20:04  

Lots about death this week, but lets start with autism. Andrew Wakefield, the doctor who supposedly linked MMR and autism, is closer than ever to being banned from practicing as a doctor, according to NewScientist. Apparently the ban (on him and two co-authors) doesn't actually have to do with the autism claims, but has "concerned itself with the conduct, duties, and responsibilities of each doctor". However, the findings of the investigators does seriously call into question his integrity as a scientist as well, apparently peppered with words such as "dishonest", "irresponsible" and "misleading". It is so sad the panic this mans irresponsible claims have caused over immunizations. While true that the attention over this has caused manufacturers and regulators to pay more attention to the safety of vaccines, which is very important, it has also meant much valuable time and resources have been spent disproving this link. Time and resources that should have been going to investigate, more likely links.

Continuing on to the death theme, we move on to a very concerning development with the "suicides" in Guantanamo back in June of 2006. I highly recommend reading the Harper's article in full, but if you want the short version, watch the video at the bottom of the update. I am sickened by our government, and hope that the Obama administration will do the right thing, and come clean with all that has happened, before and since, they came to power, regarding Guantanamo and the policies of torture by the USA.

This afternoon I read an article in The New Yorker about dying and mourning. I had already been thinking about death after hearing an amazing podcast from Radio Lab. The 8th segment, at about 13:30, is a story by David Eagleman from his book, SUM, read by Jeffrey Tambor. I recommend listening to the entire hour, but this is the story that got me thinking down this particular line. It is sort of an echo of something that I had been thinking about, although better articulated than I could have done, and it's kind of a natural continuation of my thoughts about emergence. It is the thought that there is a connection that we all have at many levels. There is the connection between our atoms, molecules, cells and cell structures, organs, organisms, planets, etc., which form groups at various levels. Maybe it is true that at each level there is some awareness of the interconnectedness, and some feeling like loss when the group breaks up. Strange that a type of mourning that may happen to my atoms when I die is a comfort to me, and whose to say there is no awareness in atoms or planets? Next thing you know, I'll be following the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I do recommend the article in The New Yorker about dying and mourning, and which has nothing to do with the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I agree with Meghan O'Rourke, I think we do not do the death and mourning thing well in the USA.

Before we leave the death theme, I'd like to take a moment to join many fans, friends and family in the mourning of Howard Zinn and J. D. Salinger. Both made amazing contributions to our society, and I am very grateful for their lives, loves and works.

On the tech front, a scary thing happened with Facebook on AT&T phones. Apparently last weekend, some people with AT&T phones logged into Facebook, and found themselves in someone else's account. There is a good, but somewhat technical, article about what happened and what needs to be done about it at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

As a reaction to the crazy ruling recently by the Supreme Court, Murray Hill Inc. is running for congress. Hmmm.

Interesting article about skunk weed. According to the article, "studies have shown that pure, synthetic THC causes transient psychosis in 40 to 50 per cent of healthy people". Apparently, there is normally a compound in weed, cannabidiol (CBD), that counteracts the psychosis producing effects of THC. Guess we should stick to the other strains...

Finally, time for some fun. Start with the Ultimate Graphic Novel (in Six Panels). The first comment was almost as good as the novel. Also discovered a great music site,, and found a cool new video, Anna Rose "Picture":

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Health, Kids, myLife

by maria on 24.01.2010 - 14:21  

The bad news is that my daughter has another migraine. The good news is that I think we have discovered a major trigger. It appears she most often gets migraines when she doesn't get enough sleep. I've thought for years that it is very important for children to get plenty of sleep, and certainly this is the case for Tanika.

Here is a great link about children and sleep:

We have found that we need to put Tanika to bed at 9pm on school nights. She gets up around 6:30, so assuming it takes her 15 min. or so to go to sleep, she sleeps around 9 hours. This seems to be about right for her, as she usually gets up pretty easily on this schedule. I use to think that when she had a big assignment at school that she wasn't going to get finished in time, I should let her stay up to finish it. I'm rethinking this now. Since she is still in Middle school, I think it is probably better that she takes the hit on not having her assignment done, and gets her full sleep instead. And we teach her how to plan out her homework and not wait to the last minute, because school work is important, but school work is going to suffer without sleep, and sleep needs to take top priority, or else she literally suffers. While it is true that the migraines seem to occur when her sleep is seriously deprived (they seem to follow sleepovers most often), I think that even small losses in sleep are bad for her.

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Health Care


Politics, Health

by maria on 19.10.2009 - 02:56  

I think there are serious flaws with our (USA) health care system currently. I think all people should have basic health care, and our current system fails to do that. Not only do not all people have health insurance, but those that do can lose it when they need it most, all too easily. I believe the basic reason for this is the people who are suppose to be providing access to health care (the insurance companies) have an incentive to to NOT GIVE ACCESS TO CARE. If they give insurance to people who end up in the hospital for a long time, it costs the company lots of money, so they would rather spend the money figuring out how to not hold up their end of the bargain (usually cheaper to find a way to reject a claim/deny coverage), or spend the money figuring out how to only sell their insurance to primarily healthy people who are unlikely to cost them loads of money, not to mention advertising how great they are, to entice a large pool of people to choose the healthy people from. Oh, yes, and then there is all of the money they've been bloody spending to stop congress from changing the status quo. Hmm, wonder why they would want to keep the status quo? Their primary goal is to make money. For businesses where making the vast majority of customers happy means more business and more money and happy owners, this is okay, but when it is advantageous for a company to only keep the customers happy that do not require much, and advantageous to discourage other customers from even doing business with them, because this is what makes the most money and keeps the owners happy, this is problematic. And when it is a business that we as Americans think all people should have access to, this is doubly problematic. Medicare is successful largely because it does not have these incentives. They spend their money figuring out how to get the most people health care for the smallest costs, not in how to get out of paying for health care.

So, how to solve the problem? What about regulation? What if we say, okay, you can't deny someone coverage because of pre-existing conditions? Okay, that's easy, just charge them lots more money. Chances are they won't be able to afford it, and will still be out of insurance. So, how do you regulate a company to provide everyone who asks for it insurance at a reasonable price and force them to pay all reasonable medical bills? I don't think it is possible. I think unless you break the incentive to make money, insurance companies will find the loopholes, and continue to spend lots of money on not providing health care, and there will continue to be people without insurance and denied claims. One thing I have wondered about is what would happen if you required all health insurance companies to be non-profit. I think it probably makes more sense to have a public option, based on the medicare option, but I would not rule out the non-profit idea. I wonder if there are other solutions.

I also believe that having health care tied to your employer is a bad idea. Maybe it made more sense when people stayed with one employer for years, but I think it makes no sense today, where for years, the average person has been with their current employer for only 4.1 years As of Jan 2008. Why should we have to change insurance (and quite possibly doctors) when we change jobs? I once changed doctors four times in two years, because of various health insurance shenanigans. Not one of those times was because I was actually unhappy with my doctor. And why should health insurance be a factor when choosing a job? It seems crazy to me. I know people who hate their insurance, but can't change insurance companies because they don't want to change jobs. And, worse, I know people who have stayed in jobs they hated for years because they were afraid of losing their health insurance. It can't be good for your health... I think if there were a public option there would be less incentive for employers to use health insurance to entice people, and less incentive for people to choose jobs based on health insurance.

At any rate, I think we need to try something that is actually different then what we are doing now, and not just a couple of reforms or regulations, because what we are doing now just isn't working, and I don't believe it can be properly patched.


It appears at least some experts believe the current bill (which has no public option) could make things worse for patients LATimes Article.

</health care rant>

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