Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Dr Olaf is on Amazon!

I came across the Amazon page for Dr. Olaf van Schuler's Brain during a morning cup of coffee/googling of myself. Wow! Seeing the book (even sans cover) on Amazon was truly exciting. Looks like the release date is September 9.

In other odd and exciting news, the Amazon page had a list of "Tags Customers Associate with Similar Products," including "wingnut welfare," "costa rica," "sex guide," and "kindle swindle." I will have to look more closely at the similar products.

In the meantime, if you would like to add your own tags, or pre-order the book from Amazon, here's where to go!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Heartbeat in the Brain

In 1970, Amanda Feilding drilled a hole through her skull with a dentist drill and captured the procedure on film (titled "Heartbeat in the Brain"). Shown only to select groups in the years that have passed between now and then, the film came to my attention via Cabinet, a quarterly magazine on arts and culture. Amanda Feilding, now in her sixties, speaks to Christopher Turner:

I ask her whether she envisages a utopia in which, one day, we all have holes in our heads and access to a higher plane. "On the whole, people remain just as disappointing untrepanned or trepanned," Feilding laughs. "Just because someone is trepanned it doesn't mean that you like them any more."

Still, she remains "a supporter of the procedure, and has started up the Beckley Foundation to commission research into the possible benefits of trepanation". The Beckley Foundation, which is also working on an LSD study with human subjects, is working with Prof. Yuri Moskalenko, head of the Brain Circulatory Laboratory at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Saint Petersburg, to study the effects of trepanation on aging.

For more information about the ancient art of trepanation, see the piece on Wikipedia.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Moth Brain

Awhile back, the Register and others reported DARPA's Hybrid Insect Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (HI-MEMS) program, designed to create a "brain-chipped cyborg moth" that could be remotely controlled and used as a spy. Provided that no one swatted them, remotely controlled lepidoptera could collect information and, at least according to Rod Brooks of the MIT media lab, could be developed relatively cheaply. "This is going to happen," he asserted.

In January 2008, Cornell University researchers succeeded in creating the moth cyborg. From LiveScience:

Cornell University researchers have succeeded in implanting electronic circuit probes into tobacco hornworms as early pupae.
The hornworms pass through the chrysalis stage to mature into long-lived moths whose muscles can be controlled with the implanted electronics. The research was showcased at MEMS 2008, an international academic conference on Micro-Electrico-Mechanical Systems that took place from January 13-17 in Tucson, AZ.

Man has mastered the moth brain! Well, mastered may be too strong a phrase. But we can, evidently, cause tobacco hornworm blade muscles to move via a "driving voltage of 5 volts."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

More Promotional Expenses

Today's promotional expenses include: One record player.

Indeed. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that while filming a brief promotional video for Dr. Olaf (think digital camera in video mode), I broke our record player, which I believe has been around since the early 70s, and is the only way we can listen to such classics as Meat Loaf's "Bat Out of Hell" and Styx "The Grand Illusion."

The brilliant spinning head effect in the video below was achieved with manual propulsion provided by my husband, Dave, who also served as cinematographer. I did the voice work, though I tried to get him to do that, too. This is the second take; the first one we had the camera turned 90 degrees, which meant that the phrenology head was spinning on its side. I'm going to add this to my redroom.com page where I'm certain it will get the attention it deserves. But you can see it here, first. Enjoy!

The Brain Museum!

Today I discovered a true brain repository: The Comparative Mammalian Brain Collection, which provides "images and information from one of the world's largest collection of well-preserved, sectioned and stained brains of mammals". Not only does it offer photographs of over 100 different mammals (including humans) and their brains, it links to other interesting sites, such as Brain of the Florida Manatee and Brain Maps.

Visit the site to see the brain of a Lesser Horseshoe Bat, a two-toed sloth,a Zebra, or learn about how brains are prepared and extracted. The description of the physical characteristics and distribution of humans is also of interest.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Pig Brain

The New York Times published a story about pig brains and a strange illness that causes symptoms that appear to involve nerve damage. All of the afflicted patients worked at Quality Pork Processors, using (or near the person using) compressed air used to blow out pig brain. From the article:

Her most recent job was "backing heads," scraping meat from between the vertebrae. Three people per shift did that task, and together would process 9,500 heads in eight or nine hours. Ms. Kruse (pronounced KROO-zee) stood next to the person who used compressed air to blow out the brains. She was often splattered, especially when trainees were learning to operate the air hose.

"I always had brains on my arms," she said.

She never had trouble with her health until November 2006, when she began having pains in her legs. By February 2007, she could not stand up long enough to do her job. She needed a walker to get around and was being treated at the Mayo Clinic.

What causes these symptoms? Currently, investigators believe in "a seemingly bizarre theory: that exposure to the hog brain itself might have touched off an intense reaction by the immune system, something akin to a giant, out-of-control allergic reaction." I wonder what other substances have this effect on humans?

According to the article, the blown-out brain is shipped to China and the "American South" (where people like to eat blown brain with eggs).