November 29, 2010

re: Britton Chance (1913-2010)

An obituary of Britton Chance may be found in today's New York Times.


In MRI, "F.A." (often written without periods, as "FA") can stand for either flip angle, which measures how much of the refractory longitudinal magnetization is converted into detectable transverse magnetization, or fractional anisotropy, which expresses the degree to which the diffusion of water is directionally non-uniform.

November 28, 2010

"... it is too narrow for that."

In a 1953 letter, Wolfgang Pauli related to Carl Jung a comment that Ernst Mach had made, some decades earlier, regarding Freudian psychoanalysis:

"These people try to use the vagina as if it were a telescope so that they can see the world through it. But that is not its natural function – it is too narrow for that."

November 26, 2010

"My feeling about you is just the opposite."

In 1926, Wolfgang Pauli attended a lecture by Paul Ehrenfest. Afterwards, Pauli made many criticisms, and an exasperated Ehrenfest said:

"I like your publications better than I like you."

Pauli responded:

"Strange. My feeling about you is just the opposite."


"... I walk out to make a point."

December 7, 2008:

"I didn't come there to try anything," she said. "I just thought, Whoever else is on that show, they have to die tonight. I haven't had the opportunity to be adored already when I walk out onstage. Still, when I walk out, I walk out to make a point. If I have to rise to the occasion of killing you, I will."
-from "Long Time Coming: Bettye La Vette gets her due" by Alec Wilkinson, in the November 15, 2010 issue of the New Yorker.

November 25, 2010

A Thanksgiving treat!


*Today is Thanksgiving in the USA; Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October; our friends in the United Kingdom give thanks on July 4th.

November 23, 2010

We weren't "built for" anything.

Living beings are products of evolution – that is, random mutation & natural selection – they were not "built for" or "built to do" anything. The false belief that organisms are made for a purpose is known as teleology, from "the Greek τέλος - telos, root: τελε-, 'end, purpose.'"

And the same holds for the components of living things. It is true that you walk on your feet, but that does not mean that feet were "made for" walking. It is true that your brain is a prediction machine, but that does not mean that brains were "made for" predicting.

This distinction is important, because if we mistakenly adopt the teleological view, we deprive ourselves of the insights that come from an evolutionary perspective – in fields as different as ecology, comparative anatomy, & medical genetics.

November 22, 2010

Be here now, or be sad?

"The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost."

400 hours until NeuroCooking Live!

Segregation, integration, & seduction!

Correlation, causality, & inference!

Only 400 hours to go until NeuroCooking live!

November 21, 2010

"... nothing ... more beautiful ..."

Just one sentence from Patti Smith's comments at the ceremony celebrating her National Book Award for nonfiction for "Just Kids":
"Please, no matter how we advance technologically, please don't abandon the book – there is nothing in our material world more beautiful than the book."

November 19, 2010

Who wrote that?

Scientists are used to anonymous review, but not to anonymous publication.

Manuscripts submitted to scientific journals undergo peer review, which is usually anonymous, such that the authors do not learn the names of the reviewers. The editors know who the reviewers are, but the names of the reviewers are hidden from the authors (and usually also from the other reviewers).

Of course, when we read articles in scientific journals, the names of the authors are not hidden.


In 1970, the prestigious journal Nature published, anonymously, an article entitled "Effects of Sexual Activity on Beard Growth in Man".

November 18, 2010

Name that (opera) blog!

NeuroCooking friends seeking either free tickets to a dress rehearsal at the Washington National Opera, or merely the glory concomitant with winning a challenging contest of wits, may be interested in entering the WNO's "name the blog" contest:

Not a punk band.

Many concepts in science, engineering, and mathematics are encapsulated in parameters that have opposites or inverses. For example, in electricity, resistance (measured in Ohms) and conductance (measured in Siemens) are inverse measures.

I learned recently that there is a flipside to correlation. The linear dependence between two variables is expressed by Pearson's correlation coefficient, usually written as r. It turns out that the square root of the quantity one minus r2 is sometimes used to express the lack of linear dependence between two variables; this parameter is referred to as the coefficient of alienation.

Hey, didn't they open for Black Flag?

November 17, 2010

Save the Date: NeuroCooking Live! on December Eight.

Join your two favorite NeuroCooking correspondents* live on the phone, for a free teleconference on the story of the science of story!

When: 4 - 5 PM (EST) on Wednesday, December 8th.
Where: In the comfort of your own office, tree-house, or hot-tub**.
How: Dial 1-218-936-4700 then enter Access Code 710691

We promise it will be less funny than this, and less wrong than this.


* Dr. Pekar's participation in this activity is for fun. All opinions expressed and implied in this activity by Dr. Pekar are solely his and do not represent or reflect the views of the Johns Hopkins University or the Johns Hopkins Health System.

** NeuroCooking is not responsible for water damage to your telephone.

Britton Chance (1913-2010)

We note with sadness the passing yesterday, at age 97, of Britton Chance, Ph.D., Sc.D. (Cantab.), M.D. (Hon.), Member of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), Foreign Member of the Royal Society (London), Member of the American Philosophical Society, Fellow of the American Physical Society, American Olympian (Gold Medal, Sailing, 1952), recipient of the Presidential Medal of Science, engineer, scientist, and mentor to generations. He will be greatly missed and long remembered. Our sympathies go to his wife, children, friends, and colleagues.

In the early Spring of 1983, a bunch of us from the lab left Philadelphia for a long weekend to go to Mantaloking, New Jersey, in order to go sailing with Brit on his boat. Soon after we were out on the water, fishing tackle was distributed, so that we could fish for flounder. Now, from my childhood, I was familiar with flounder: It came in the form of a whiteish fillet, with some paprika powder, and a lemon wedge.

I was the first person to get a hit on my line! I was excited, but managed to reel it in gently but firmly, until the end of my line broke water, revealing a hideous flattened slimy greenish-grey creature, with both eyes on one side of its head. I said "Eeew! What's that?" And Brit replied, "It's a flounder, you idiot. Get it over the boat before it falls off your line." So I did.

Mid-week dog-blogging (remembrance of snows past).


November 15, 2010

NeuroCooking goes to Hollywood!

In the 2006 crime thriller "Lucky Number Slevin", when title character Slevin Kelevra, played by Josh Harnett, says that he suffers from a condition called atarexia, he is referring to a word (Ἀταραξία) from ancient Greek philosophy that translates roughly to "tranquility", and which was used by the Epicureans to refer to "the only true happiness available to a person".

November 14, 2010


To most of my colleagues, ROI means "region of interest", a connected collection of pixels on a radiological image, and ACC means "anterior cingulate cortex", an interesting and important part of the brain (comprising Brodmann areas 24 & 32). But.

In the world of business, ROI means "return on investment", ACC means "average cost of capital", and their difference, ROI - ACC, means profit. Or loss.

November 13, 2010

Our first Bad Example Award!

Mark Twain once said that "No man is truly useless. He can always serve as a bad example."

The first NeuroCooking Bad Example Award goes to Mr. Konstantin Ravvin.

November 11, 2010

Honey, that ain't junk.

NeuroCooking friends with an Apple 1 in their attic should be aware that Christie's thinks it's worth about two hundred thousand dollars:

£100,000 - £150,000
($159,800 - $239,700)"

When do those birds expire?

A new US government website,, provides examples of re-writing to eliminate ambiguities, including this one:

This rule proposes the Spring/Summer subsistence harvest regulations in Alaska for migratory birds that expire on August 31, 2003.

This rule proposes the Spring/Summer subsistence harvest regulations for migratory birds in Alaska. The regulations will expire on August 31, 2003.

November 8, 2010

A Day with Edward Tufte

I had the delight of spending today with Edward Tufte, preeminent author on information design, professor of computer science, Presidential Appointee, and sculptor, at his gallery in Chelsea. Okay, I
paid to spend the day at his course, Presenting Data and Information, and was prompted because it was uniquely being held in his gallery, ET Modern. It was a day of inspiration, epiphany, and art appreciation. What follows are quotes from Professor Tufte, in the order in which they were delivered:
Making a presentation is a moral act as well as an ethical and intellectual act.
Your spirit of inquiry should be: Whatever it takes to explain something.
Show causality. Linking lines in a chart equal verbs.

We never need boxes. The 2-dimension of the noun is shown by the 2 dimension of the font. Boxes reflect insecurity in design. You should be suspicious when you see boxes and bold face - maybe there could be content there.

There are 2 things you are doing in every presentation you give:
1. Explaining the story
2. Explaining why you believe the story
Everything is about credibility. Everything we do when presenting should encourage belief.

I happen to think that public health organizations are inherently noble.

You want an open mind, but not an empty head. Balance skepticism and knowledge. That's called judgment.

In evaluating presenters, incompetence is greatly under-estimated! And conspiracy and malice is greatly over-estimated.

The people in your audience are probably more like you than any other group in the world (next to your family). Start out with great respect for them.

No wonder they are called Power Points - they are intensely controlling! Let people pull their own relevant information from your presentation, using their own cognitive style.

The only thing worse than a presenter reading a PowerPoint is the dreaded Slow Reveal. In that case, audience members should rise up and declare, "The knowledge presentation at this meeting is quickly approaching zero!"

Much of today's design is narcissistic and shows us a poverty of information.

The human eye/brain link is processing information at 20 megabits a second, in 16 colors, and is a sophisticated editor that can remember, forget, and cluster.

Here we are with this ability. So why are we sitting in meetings looking at a large screen with 4 numbers?
Have we suddenly gotten stupider because we came to work? [This was a recurring lament.]
Clutter is an attribute of bad design. If the audience is confused, fix your design.

We will do whatever it takes to reason by causality.
For all you Neurocooking narrative fans, Tufte shared the following quote from Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories (discussed and graphed in Tufte's book, Visual Explanations)
…the Water Genie told Haroun about the Ocean of the Streams of Story, and even though he was full of a sense of hopelessness and failure the magic of the Ocean began to have an effect on Haroun. He looked into the water and saw that it was made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one a different color, weaving in and out of one another like a liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity; and [the Water Genie] explained that these were the Streams of Story, that each colored strand represented and contained a single tale. Different parts of the Ocean contained different sorts of stories, and as all stories that had ever been told and many that were still in the process of being invented could be found here, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was in fact the biggest library in the universe. And because the stories were held here in fluid form, they retained the ability to change, to become new versions of themselves, to join up with other stories and so become yet other stories…

1 +1 = 3. The first mark, the second mark and the space relationship between the two. Sculpture is the relationship of the object to its surroundings.

There are only two industries that describe their clients as "users": illegal drugs - and computers.

Any chance you have to get something real into the room, do so. Most of us spend most of our time staring at one dimensional representations of things.

You want to annotate everything. Have sentences pointing to items of substance. Show people how to read the architecture of information.

All tables should be thought of as performance tables. Order the data by performance. When you put things in order by measure of performance, your audience may learn something new.

Never, ever do Lowest Common Denominator Design. You're trying to get everyone in the audience into the elite, to make them smarter. They can't get smarter unless you give them knowledge.

Gain credibility by showing Mastery of Detail - of one small part of the presentation. Be authentic. Don't be generic. Don't pretend to be something you are not. Talk about what you are good at.

92% of every web page should be content, and navigation does not count as content.

Agencies, departments, and organizations don't do things - people do things. People's names should be on things to foster both accountability and pride.

Most design today is based on fashion and style, and what technology throws up. Analytical design must be based on analytical thinking.
Tufte's Fourth Grand Principal of Analytical Design is Integration of Evidence
Completely integrate words, numbers, images and diagrams. [On the fallacy of left/right brain thinking]: Thinking tasks don't care about mode of display. Why should we let the plumbing of the brain decide the cognitive tasks we are doing? This is like letting your gastroenterologist be your chef.

The reason you are giving a presentation is content. And design can't salvage failed content. The finest typography won't turn lies into truth. Relevance is a content property. The best way to make improvements in your presentations is to get better content.

Woodcuts look like woodcuts. A lot of PowerPoint presentations look like PowerPoint itself. They don't look like content.

No matter how beautiful your interface is, it should be less ugly. The idea is to zero out the interface altogether and be left with nothing but content.

To clarify, add information. If information is in chaos, fix the design.

The best visualizations in the world are those published in the journal Nature.

How to Make a Presentation
Use PowerPoint solely for full screen images. (Stay away from cognitive stuff.)

Until we all have iPads, use an 11 x 17" paper, folded, as a handout. This holds the equivalent of 200-250 PowerPoint slides. Put a Super Graphic [Tufte's term for the one graphic that perfectly encapsulates your information] on the inside. Deliver a high resolution data dump.

Sentences are smarter than bullets. They have agency in them; a subject and a predicate. Use sentences to describe the problem, its relevance, and the solution you are presenting. If the roof falls in, you'll have it all out there.

People can read 3 times faster than you can talk.
  1. Have your audience read.
  2. Then, you point out a few things.
  3. Finally, you take questions.
This will result in 30% shorter meetings!

If presentations where you work are about positioning, then maybe you want to work somewhere else. The willingness of an organization to sacrifice spirit for length of meeting is indicative of a serious problem.

The best advice I ever got about giving a presentation is to show up early.

Tufte was asked about the best presenters out there:
Steve Jobs. He's got a mix of enthusiasm and content. He's got some nice signature moves.
The worst presentation: I've had my heart broken once every 5 years at Bob Dylan concerts.

On consulting:
I wasn't very good at it. I always learned more from my clients than they learned from me. It's hard to be on the outside.

I asked him, If resources were unlimited, what would be your dream project?
I thought the government work would be, but I haven't put the necessary time and energy into it. I'd rather be in Chelsea 3 days a week than in DC, which is what it would take to do right, at a minimum.

I don't do anything for the people. Everything for the people is in my books. I like to make sculptures.

...About 10% of my books is about the war against stupidity. And that is a war that will never be won. My sculpture is about joy and lightness and happiness.

Stop staring at the glass. Get off the sofa, and fly into 3-dimensional space and time.

Because this ain't Hebrew. (Not that there'd be anything wrong with that).

We generally eschew photoshop. Sure, we'll crop a little, and rotate by a few degrees (to level things out), but otherwise we leave our images pretty-much as-they-were-captured-by-the-camera. But.

Yesterday we helped brew a batch of lager, tentatively named "Leaping Lurcher Lager". We plan to put our leaping lurcher photo, from May of 2009, on the label. However, in the photo, the dog is moving from right to left, while the label will, of course, read from left to right.

So, we will "flip" the image, such that, on the label, the dog will be leaping in the same direction as your eyes are now moving while reading this.

November 6, 2010

Spare change?

For our NeuroCooking friends looking for rock-and-roll on Sirius satellite radio, we offer this handy mnemonic: Nickel, dime, & quarter!


November 4, 2010

On the generosity of nature.

[We note that the lecture begins with a joke: " It is not a lecture about one scientific journal paying respects to another..."]

I am neither a Gaiaist nor an animist, but, like Brenner, I am grateful for the generosity of nature, for had she not given us abundant atomic nuclei with magnetic moments, and hemoglobin with oxygenation-dependent magnetic susceptibility, we would not be able to use magnetic resonance imaging to view the brain in action.

November 3, 2010

"A healthy shove ..."

Time-traveling with Mark Trail does create a sense of responsibility: If we can see the future, aren't we obligated to act upon it? Which is why we say, today, regarding tomorrow: "Look out, Mark!"

[If you get a "permission denied" message, then click on this link, and then on the "Look out..!" link above. Cookies, I guess.]

Mid-week dog-blogging.

[Backyard, 3/24/10]

November 2, 2010


This is the 500th post on NeuroCooking. Or, for those who prefer roman numerals, this is post D.

We enabled Google Analytics in June; since then, NeuroCooking has had visitors from:
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Thank you all!

Election Day!

Dear NeuroCooking friends who are Americans (and not convicted felons),

Please vote! It's important.

Thank you.

November 1, 2010

The boy who cried "You can now see for the first time!"

In the piece, an "expert" is quoted as saying:
"You can now see for the first time the spaghetti-like structures and their connections."
You can now see for the first time?

Well. Don't take our word that the visualization of brain white-matter pathways from diffusion tensor imaging data has been going on for more than a decade. Take google's:

"For the first time", indeed. So, who is hurt by such puffery? A short list would include:
  • Other workers in the field, whose contributions are slighted.
  • The general public, who are misled.
  • Students – potential future scientists! – who become disenchanted upon discovering the gap between what-is-"reported" and what-is-true.
Our point here is not to criticize the person who was quoted; we do not know whether they were quoted accurately. Our point is that science reporting should be done without needlessly embellishing the originality or significance of any particular contribution – out of respect for readers, researchers, and the common good. Because otherwise, science reporting risks losing its credibility, and "even when liars tell the truth, they are never believed."


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