November 30, 2009

same diff?

Science is the search for beauty; art is the search for truth.

November 23, 2009

The (other) League of Zeugmatographers!

Prof. Paul Lauterbur (1929 – 2007) coined the term "zeugmatography" to describe the role played by applied field gradients in magnetic resonance imaging: they encode spatial position into signal frequency; they yoke (greek: ζεῦγμα or zeugma) frequency to position.

We would like to suggest an alternate meaning for zeugmatography.

A zeugma is a figure of speech, or rhetorical form, involving a yoking or coupling. My favorite zeugmas are syllepses, where one verb is applied to two nouns, but with different meanings, often concrete vs. abstract, as for instance in: "he lost his coat and his temper".

The form -tography is widely used to refer to writing or text. For example, "cryptography" does not refer to encoded images; it refers to encoded messages.

Accordingly, we would like to suggest that zeugmatography could also mean the writing of zeugmas, including syllepses. Thus, while I was typing "he lost his coat and his temper" back there, I was performing zeugmatography, or being a zeugmatographer.

What do you think, NeuroCooking friends? Would you like to join our League of Zeugmatographers? All you have to do is write a syllepsis!

November 20, 2009

If Philanthropic Foundations want to be Heard and Understood, they must Share Stories

My latest essay, on how foundations can cease being confounded by storytelling and start being heard, is now up at PhilanTopic, the Philanthropy News Digest blog.

November 18, 2009

will it go round in circles?

We've heard too many talks at scientific meetings with approximately this "logic":
If the moon were made of green cheese, it would be visible to the naked eyed.

See the moon!

Therefore, we have proved that the moon is made of green cheese.
[title refers to this]

November 17, 2009

"very worst idea in the history of..."

The 2010 annual meeting of the International Society of Magnetic Resonance in Medicine will include a "very worst idea in the history of magnetic resonance" competition. Because members are allowed to nominate only their own work, our prediction is that the number of submissions received will be zero.

November 16, 2009

without being disagreeable

When we recently stepped off an elevator into a museum basement, a museum guard said "May I help you?"

Which was more courteous & effective than saying straight out what he meant, which was of course, "What are you doing here?"

Likewise, in scientific discourse, saying "that's not my understanding" is both more courteous and more effective than saying "you're wrong".

November 14, 2009

baker, farmer, computer, photographer

The word "computer" used to mean a person who computed. (Think of a clerk adding up numbers in a ledger).

So, "computer" was like "baker" or "farmer", until it changed to refer to a machine, rather than a person.
Now that Sony has introduced the new "IPT-DSI Party-Shot Personal Photographer", an "innovative camera dock that pans 360 degrees and tilts 24 degrees, automatically detects faces, adjusts composition [reportedly using the rule of thirds] and takes photos for you", we wonder whether a similar transformation will take hold of the word "photographer".

what's the difference?

As a guy with big magnets, I have, from time to time been asked, what is the difference between imaging and spectroscopy?

An image is a graphical representation of the spatial distribution of a substance or property.

Spectroscopy is the use of electromagnetic energy to study matter, generally using the frequency- or wavelength-dependence of the interaction between electromagnetic radiation and matter, to probe the composition or structure of the matter.

Often, these are two sides of the same coin: Many interactions between energy and matter are used for both imaging and spectroscopy; many imaging methods are spectrally specific.

November 13, 2009

Last night, I had the supreme pleasure of seeing Dreamgirls at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. My husband was a member of the crew that was videotaping the show for promotional purposes. Because I was getting a ride back home with him, I waited as the crew packed up at the end of the evening.

I was charmed by the conversation and patter that occurring among the theatre staff that remained after the audience left, and by the beauty and intimacy of the theatre. I thought, "Wow, these folk invite strangers into their home every evening."

Waiting patiently for the crew, I stood quietly in the back of the theatre, reading email on my phone. When I did look up, a staff member noticed, came over to me, and with a big smile, said, "Oh, you finally looked up!"

I replied that I was simply trying to stay out of the way. He then smiled even harder and offered, "Don't worry, girl; you're home here."

Just what I was thinking. The play, by the way, is terrific!

November 12, 2009

Prof. Mildred Cohn (1913 - 2009)

"our band could be your life / real names be proof "

Prof. Mildred Cohn (1913 - 2009) was my scientific grandmother, twice over.

We speak of the trainees of scientists as their scientific progeny. Mildred (please forgive the familiar tone) trained Prof. John. S. Leigh, Jr. (1939 - 2008), who was my graduate supervisor, and Dr. Alan C. McLaughlin, who was one of my post-graduate research supervisors. So, because I am the trainee of two of her trainees, Mildred was my grandparent, twice over.

"Non-invasive biochemistry" is a good description of what we can do today using magnetic resonance spectroscopy to study metabolism and metabolic control without cutting into people to take biopsy specimens. Much of what we take for granted in this field is based on Mildred's ground-breaking work. I, and many of my colleagues, were delighted to see that she merited an obituary in the New York Times.

Something that was not in that obituary is a story that I once heard Mildred tell about herself; her late husband, physicist Prof. Henry Primakoff (1914 - 1983); and our colleague and then Director of the Johnson Research Foundation, Prof. Britton Chance (I'm transcribing here from memory, so please take the quote marks loosely):
"There were three students who were close friends. One night they were talking, and they took up the question of what is the most important thing in life.

I said the most important thing in life was science: The opportunity to ask questions, and answer them, and discover new knowledge, and make possible improvements in people's lives.

Brit said that was very nice, and those were noble goals, but you couldn't actually achieve them unless you had money, and that was why the most important thing in life was money.

And the other friend? He laughed, and said that we were both wrong, and that the most important thing in life was sex.

So I married him."

you'll feel better if you shut your eyes

If you're trying carefully to use your fingertips' sense of touch – whether to feel a biological specimen, or a produce item, or to seat a small screw in a machine – you'll do better if you close your eyes.

I learned this in ninth grade biology class in Clifton, NJ, from Mrs. Toth, who taught us how to feel a piece of fish.

The other thing I learned in ninth grade in Clifton was how to type. Lunch was a half-period; typing was something you could do instead of "study hall" for the other half-period. The typing room had student typewriters which were not just manual but blank. All of the keys were blank. There was a typing keyboard chart at the head of the room that was rolled up for tests.

So, you could say that in ninth grade in Clifton I learned a couple of things to do with my fingers.

“What’s the story of the story?”

Today’s Worldwide Story Network teleconference resulted in great insight from Paul Costello, head of The Center for Narrative Studies, and author of The Presidential Plot.

In examining cultural and political narratives, Paul advised us to ask, “What’s the story of the story?”

This means, in essence, to take a long view, and to take in the full context and complexity of the story. To “Get off the dance floor and look down from the balcony.”

Paul suggested that people “Think of some cultural and political stories as products. They are being sold to us, and they may very well harm or even kill us.” He spoke of our “narrative vulnerabilities”, our weaknesses to be both manipulated, and inspired, by emotional stories of greatness and aspiration. And the way in which political leaders and journalists, in particular, can appeal to these vulnerabilities.

Paul also suggested that we “think of story as a verb. We have choices; we are all ‘story-ing’ our lives.” For an organization looking to effect change, this would mean asking, in this order:
• What is the ending for which we are striving?
• How did we start?
• Where are we now?
• How can we get to the desired ending?

I’ve written in the past about my use of the basic story framework – beginning, middle, and end – to make decisions and find my way out of complex situations. When agitated, I will often ask myself, How do I want this story to end? This enables me to focus on the goal and take control over the situation. Once I articulate where I want to be and what is happening, I ask, How can I make that happen?

Having spent decades working on peace and reconciliation in both Ireland and the Middle East, as well as analyzing the memes of the last American Presidential race, Paul is expert in seizing opportunities to tell a new narrative. He advises people looking to change the accepted narrative or narrative to “find the space for retelling of the unique stories.” Where is there room for a new story? Where might there be a narrative vulnerability on which you can hook your new narrative?

And, short of finding the space in which to create an entirely new narrative, perhaps there is the glimmer an existing story that you can nurture. Perhaps you, your organization, or your issue can find a place in a different story. Creating a new narrative can result from “feeding a story you want to grow and starving the other” destructive narrative.

November 9, 2009

on an inter-group comparison of brain connectivity

She (reading a draft): So, the patients have more green blobs than the controls?

Me: Yeah, they're blobbier.

She: Whoa. Modern science.

David Rock, Your Brain at Work

On Friday evening, I had the great pleasure of meeting and hearing David Rock talk about his new book, Your Brain at Work. David is a management consultant and leadership coach, and co-founder of the Neuroleadership Institute. His work is compelling, largely because of the incredible passion and fascination that drives his interest in the nexus of brain science and human behavior.

(I do admit to being somewhat taken aback by the term neuroleadership
, the first time I heard it: "Imagine leadership without brains!", I wrote to Jim. David's sincerity and depth of knowledge, however, quashed my skepticism.)

I'll write more as I delve deeper into the book, but for now, let me share my notes and thoughts from Friday's presentation:

David believes "that there are five domains of social experience that your brain treats the same as survival issues. These domains form a model, which I call the SCARF model, which stands for Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness."

Essentially, these are the reward realms to which humans strive. "To create change," such as having a student learn, or an employee take desired action, David advises, "go for these rewards."

For instance, "Autonomy is about giving people choices; changing from a threat state to a reward state."

Relatedness is the building of relationships and connectedness. For instance, if you are presenting to strangers, it is important to say hello to individual participants upon arrival - it creates a relationship between you and your listeners, turning people "from foe to friend."

David's prescription for successful organizational change calls for the application of the SCARF model, and advise that "whenever you threaten one, balance it out with the others."

His model derives from his belief that "our limbic systems have very strong responses to whether each and everything is evil or good. The first thing we do is minimize danger and the second is maximize reward. ...There is no such thing as neutral: if you pay attention to something your brain will decide if it is good or bad."

David is suggesting, for example, that if you are asking people to learn something, you are threatening their status (you are telling them they do not know something), so balance your request by building their certainty with information, or their autonomy by offering choices in applying the new information.

Are you familiar with David's work? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

The chemistry of the perfect gravy

The Royal Society of Chemistry in the UK has announced "a chemistry-based recipe for the perfect gravy. The recipe includes soy sauce, to bring out the umami flavor of the gravy.

Happy Almost Thanksgiving!

some do it because they cherish privacy

Nothing against country music (e.g., we saw Lyle Lovett @ Strathmore Hall just last week) – but I can report, based on personal experience, that some people play country & western radio at work not so much because they like it, but because it keeps other people away.

November 8, 2009

rear all around?

Each Sunday, the Washington Post runs a car review by Warren Brown. This from the "nuts and bolts" callout accompanying today's review of the 2010 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LT Z71 (I have no idea what all those letters and numbers mean) :
Standard equipment includes ventilated front-disc/rear-disc brakes. This column prefers rear discs all around.

yes we did

Sometimes I think that the Apollo program taught generations of scientists that yes, we can get stuff done.

[Any advertisements appearing in the above video have nothing to do with NeuroCooking]

November 7, 2009

How do you define knowledge and expertise?

Reading an advance copy of Bob Penna’s forthcoming book, The Outcomes Toolbox, I was reminded of a conversation Jim and I recently had, about the difference between knowledge and expertise.

Exploring the difference between data, knowledge, and information, Bob writes,

“Shared data can be meaningless; but shared information is priceless.

“Knowledge… is more than information: it is familiarity, awareness, and understanding.

“Knowledge is also richer and more meaningful than information: if information is data organized so that its patterns and connections are made apparent, knowledge is information placed into a person or organization’s operational framework, so that its value, relevance, place, purpose and usefulness become apparent.

“Knowledge is derived from, builds upon, and synthesizes information. It results from making comparisons, identifying consequences, and making connections. Knowledge is information enhanced by experience, wisdom, insight, instinct, judgment, and ‘rules of thumb’ developed over time through trial and error.”

And, I would define expertise as the practical, prescient, and effective application of knowledge.

practically speaking

Working in the lab can be tough. One thing I've learned about setting up experimental apparatus is:

Never force anything.

On the other hand, one thing I've learned about balky electronics is:

Hitting things sometimes fixes them.

Of course, it's best to turn things off before you hit them.

On a historic note, I believe that Apollo astronauts fixed a malfunctioning television camera, on the moon, by hitting it.

November 6, 2009

faster everywhere

"Adding power makes you faster on the straights.
Subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere."

- Colin Chapman (1928-1982), founder of Lotus Cars.

November 4, 2009

But no simpler.

"A theory should be as simple as possible, but no simpler."

- A restatement of Occam's principle, "entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem" ("entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity"), attributed to Albert Einstein.

November 1, 2009

Psychiatrists say that the critical role is more comfortable than the analytic role.

It's easier to learn how to argue than to learn how to think, because to learn how to argue, you just need to learn how to challenge others' opinions, but to learn how to think, you need to learn how to challenge your own assumptions.


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