December 29, 2010

"See also Lamellophone."

Just one sentence from the Wikipedia article on "Musical instrument classification":
"Metal idiophones are frequently called metallophones."
I read that, and I thought, well, how frequently? Would any old idiophone, just minding their own business, be at risk of being called a metallophone? Several times a day?

World's Worst Stories?

At a meeting last month with the smart folks at Extend, Chile's largest public relations firm, I was asked to name the international companies who are not telling stories, or who I think are doing a bad job at sharing their stories for positive results. Good storytelling, of course, results in good brand recognition and recall: it's difficult to think of the companies doing a poor job. But, I respect the questions, enjoy the challenge, and invite you to join in the discussion.

Here's some initial thoughts on global companies doing a poor job of sharing their story:

Of course, you can not separate a person from their experience; my observations are completely subjective. What are your thoughts? What global companies do you think are failing to share stories, or are doing a poor job of sharing their stories?

December 27, 2010

A Maxim (for the new year)

A Maxim

by Carl Dennis, printed in The New Yorker, June 7, 2010

To live each day as if it might be the last

Is an injunction that Marcus Aurelius

Inscribes in his journal to remind himself

That he, too, however privileged, is mortal,

That whatever bounty is destined to reach him

Has reached him already, many times.

But if you take his maxim too literally

And devote your mornings to tinkering with your will,

Your afternoons and evenings to saying farewell

To friends and family, you’ll come to regret it.

Soon your lawyer won’t fit you into his schedule.

Soon your dear ones will hide in a closet

When they hear your heavy step on the porch.

And then your house will slide into disrepair.

If this is my last day, you’ll say to yourself,

Why waste time sealing drafts in the window frames

Or cleaning gutters or patching the driveway?

If you don’t want your heirs to curse the day

You first opened Marcus’s journals,

Take him simply to mean you should find an hour

Each day to pay a debt or forgive one,

Or write a letter of thanks or apology.

No shame in leaving behind some evidence

You were hoping to live beyond the moment.

No shame in a ticket to a concert seven months off,

Or, better yet, two tickets, as if you were hoping

To meet by then someone who’d love to join you,

Two seats near the front so you catch each note.

More poems by Carl Dennis in The New Yorker.

December 25, 2010

December 24, 2010

We live in a universe not of clocks but of clouds.

An excerpt from a terrific post by Jonah Lehrer, Clocks and Clouds:

Functional MRI has been used to study all sorts of sexy psychological properties. You've probably seen the headlines: "Scientists Discover Love in the Brain!" and "This Is Your Brain on God!" Such claims are often accompanied by a pretty silhouette of a skull, highlighted with splotches of primary color. It's like staring at a portrait of the soul. It's also false. In reality, huge swaths of the cortex are involved in every aspect of cognition. The mind is a knot of interconnections, so interpreting the scan depends on leaving lots of stuff out, sifting through noise for the signal. We make sense of the data by deleting what we don't understand.

...Karl Popper, the great philosopher of science, once divided the world into two categories: clocks and clouds. Clocks are neat, orderly systems that can be solved through reduction; clouds are an epistemic mess, "highly irregular, disorderly, and more or less unpredictable." The mistake of modern science is to pretend that everything is a clock, which is why we get seduced again and again by the false promises of brain scanners and gene sequencers. We want to believe we will understand nature if we find the exact right tool to cut its joints. But that approach is doomed to failure. We live in a universe not of clocks but of clouds.

Read the entire post here.

December 23, 2010

Reading, Writing & Speaking

Being an authentic written communicator may be very different than being an authentic spoken communicator.

By authenticity, I mean being honest and generous with one’s knowledge and passion, and compassionately striving to fully and empathetically engage one’s reader or listener.

I may write a compelling and well-structured essay, with a clear point of view and takeaway, and woven together with pithy sentences. If I were to read it verbatim, however, it would sound horrific. If I were to get hung up on delivering each of those sentences, word for word, I would surely trip myself up; my attempt at delivering perfect paragraphs would result in my being frustrated, and then apologetic, and surely alienate my listeners.

I do have one client who writes each of his speeches out and is capable of reading and delivering them with gusto. He is an exception to most leaders.

Instead, when I deliver a keynote speech or facilitate a large program, I write my presentation out, allowing me to experiment with structure and vocabulary. Then, I read it aloud, several times, allowing me to recognize jarring transitions, play with rhythm, and toy with segue ways.

And when it comes time to present, I no longer distract myself with the fully developed expository speech. Instead, I glance at an outline. I have realized that I must compensate while presenting, with passion and engagement.

I do bring the fully developed composition with me, and reference it during program breaks. In this way, I get to bring up points I may have skipped while speaking. For me, the combination of outline plus composition provides the right measure of authentic engagement along with intellectual security and generosity.

December 21, 2010

What we mean...

What we mean by "inimitable" is that, were you to aim a million cameras at a million dogs in a million backyards, you would not get another photo like this.

December 20, 2010

re: Britton Chance (1913-2010)

A full-page appreciation of Britton Chance, by Prof. P.L. Dutton, has appeared in the 17 December issue of Science. From the opening paragraph:
"Recognized for his pioneering research on how living organisms capture, manage, and produce cellular energy, he leaves a rich legacy of laboratory and clinical instrumentation and a wide range of discoveries and principles fundamental to biological catalysis and energetics, and biomedical application."

Notes on labels & classifications.

Please note:

• Friends subscribing to NeuroCooking via email, vs. reading it on the web, are missing out (for reasons perhaps known to the feedburner team at Google, but not to us) on labels assigned to (or, as the kids say, "tagging") most entries. For example, the newest label is "dog".

• While we remain unaware of any classified material on NeuroCooking, the potential availability of steganographic methods means that we cannot absolutely guarantee the absence of classified material in NeuroCooking comments.

December 19, 2010

Dog-blogging: A beautiful millisecond.

[Backyard yesterday. Nikon 20 mm f/2.8 lens on D700 camera. Shutter priority: 1/1000 s at ISO 3200 gave f/10. Continuous autofocus, single exposure. Shot "blind" (without looking through the viewfinder) while crouching, camera held out, at about knee level, close to the dog. I am watching the dog and trusting the camera to do the same.]

December 17, 2010

Like Speaking Another Language

I greatly enjoyed working with my Chilean client, and recently delivering two programs in Chile. One of the great pleasures was the difference in language: rather than "persuasion", my client referred to "seduction". Instead of talking about the "framework" of the program, we discussed the "journey" of the day.

Although there were interpreters at each of the two programs, I was careful not to fall back on American English idioms. I avoided saying things like "fall back" and instead choose "revert". Instead of "come back", I would say "return". Instead of "want", I speak to "desire" and "intent". I looked to the Latin rhetorical roots so as to be better understood and to present information more efficiently and respectfully. Conversing became both more intentional and more surprising, and I cherished in the poetry of our interactions.

A colleague's son was recently studying vocabulary, in preparation for his middle school entrance exam. He remarked that it was "like speaking another language". Indeed!

Human word, syllable, combination
of spread light and the find art of the silversmith,
hereditary goblet which gathers
the communications of the blood --
here is where silence came together with
the wholeness of the human word,
and, for human beings, not to speak is to die --
language extends even to the hair,
the mouth speaks without the lips moving --
all of a sudden the eyes are words.

I take the word and go over it
as though it were nothing more than a human shape,
its arrangements awe me and I find my way
through each variation in the spoken word --
I utter and I am and without speaking I approach
the limit of words and the silence.

I drink to the word, raising
a word or a shining cup,
in it I drink
the pure wine of language
or inexhaustible water,
maternal source of words,
and cup and water and wine
give rise to my song
because the verb is the source
and vivid life -- it is blood,
blood which expresses its substance
and so implies its own unwinding --
words give glass-quality to glass, blood to blood,
and life to life itself.

Excerpt from Chilean poet Pablo Neruda's "The Word"

stranger in your bed

"Your synapses are consistently adjusting to take in your experiences over time: the brain you went to bed with is not the brain with which you woke up."

Carl Schoonover, at the New York Academy of Sciences, talking about his new book,
Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain from Antiquity to the 21st Century

Snow-day dog-blogging.

[backyard yesterday]

December 16, 2010

Slogan of the day.

According to today's Washington Post, thanks to a first-come first-serve free-speech policy, the historic courthouse in Leesburg, Virginia, will feature, this holiday season, on a prominent corner where, for forty years previously, a crèche had been found, a banner reading:

"Celebrating our Constitution: Keeping Church and State Separate since 1787."

Want to pay to ...?

Want to pay to sit around and watch other people drive fast through downtown Baltimore next Labor Day? Tickets for the 2011 Baltimore Grand Prix are now on sale.

Correction of the day.

"A music review on Monday about the German band Rammstein, at Madison Square Garden, misstated the title of one of its songs and the English translation. The song is 'Wiener Blut' ('Viennese Blood'), not 'Weiner Blut' ('Blood Wine')."

– from The New York Times.

Why You Should Keep Your Face Away From Big Fireworks

The mannequin’s Styrofoam head, filled with cornmeal to simulate brains, was close to a professional-grade explosive, with a “quick match” fuse that burns almost instantaneously.
Taken from POPSCI's Gallery: The Most Amazing Science Images of 2010.

Simple Science

Minimalist examples of scientific concepts.

A metacognitive approach to problem-solving.

"You're a pretty smart fella."

"Not that smart."

"If you're not that smart, how'd you figure it out?"

"I tried to imagine a fellow smarter than myself. Then I tried to think, 'what would he do?' "

- from Heist (2001) by David Mamet

December 15, 2010

Satisfying stroke sensation.

It's been a while since we've written about the Fuji FinePix X100, also known as the camera that oozes. The camera is not yet available, but the fancy website is, where we can read that the X100 offers "Satisfying shutter stroke sensation and cable release compatibility (screw type)".

Reading us is ok everywhere, we think.

NeuroCooking friends reading this from a computer at the United States Air Force may continue to do so, even though their access to the New York Times has been cut off; we have no word on whether they are physically searched upon entrance, to prevent them from bringing onto the base print copies of the newspaper.


Start at the "6:00" mark!

This is a cool introduction to photographic lighting. We suggest you start watching at the six-minute mark (although you just might have to go back and watch it again from the beginning!).

on intercourse & distinctions

"Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness POSITIVELY by uniting our affections, the latter NEGATIVELY by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions."

-from Common Sense by Thomas Paine, 1776.

December 12, 2010

"What is it that most people need, but don't know that they need?"

We were talking about Google's six billion dollar bid for Groupon, and she suggested that I think up an online business idea that would make us rich.

"What is it," she asked, "that most people need, but don't know that they need?"

"That's easy," I said, "What most people need is to be slapped upside the head. The hard part is getting them to pay."

"a form of security through obscurity"

We wish, once again, to clarify our understanding regarding the safety of accessing NeuroCooking from a f e d e r a l computer.

We have not ourselves, to the best of our knowledge, published here any classified information. However, we cannot rule out the possibility that reader-contributed comments on NeuroCooking may contain information that is classified. While comments are moderated, classified information differs from obscenity, which is easy to weed out, in being potentially inconspicuous. In particular, we cannot be sure that steganography has not been used to insert classified information into NeuroCooking comments.

At this time, we are unaware of any classified material on NeuroCooking. We will continue to monitor the situation closely.

December 11, 2010


Today we heard Steve Wozniak on "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me!" talk about how he has six smart-phones, and six brackets to hold all of them on his car dashboard, and six different navigation apps running on them, so he gets six different sets of advice on how to get to his destination.

Title of the week.

Week-end Dog-blogging.

[11:43 AM today]

NeuroCooking: Still Safer than the New York Times, We Think.

We wish to clarify our understanding regarding the safety of accessing NeuroCooking from a f e d e r a l computer: We have not ourselves, to the best of our knowledge, published here any classified information. However, we cannot rule out the possibility that reader-contributed comments on NeuroCooking may contain information that is classified*. At this time, we are unaware of any classified material on NeuroCooking. We will continue to monitor the situation closely.


*While comments are moderated, classified information differs from obscenity, which is easy to weed out, in being potentially inconspicuous; thus, we cannot guarantee that a recent comment was not an unattributed excerpt of a classified transcript of an intercepted cell-phone conversation between the French and Belgian Ambassadors to the United Nations.



(Except for the part about "the Times" - NeuroCooking is not the New York Times. NeuroCooking is safer than the New York Times.)

Coffee Break => Truth Data.

We've written here (& elsewhere) about the importance of making repeated measurements in order to understand their precision & stability.

Cancer imaging researchers get this. To assess imaging approaches, they repeat scans after a brief pause – just long enough to get the patient off the scanner table, and then back on. They refer to these short interval measurements as "coffee break studies" that yield "truth data".

December 10, 2010

NeuroCooking: Safe for Feds.

NeuroCooking friends reading this on a f e d e r a l computer have likely received recently a message containing the following:
"Each ... employee and contractor is obligated to protect classified information pursuant to all applicable laws... Unauthorized disclosures of classified documents... do not alter the documents' classified status... To the contrary, classified information, whether or not already posted on public websites or disclosed to the media, remains classified, and must be treated as such..."
We are happy to report that, to the best of our knowledge, NeuroCooking contains no classified material, and thus may be read safely using any computer.

NeuroCooking: Safer than the New York Times!

[Please note: Persons seeking legal advice should consult a member of their state Bar Association.]

Q & A on Functional NeuroImaging [a follow-up to NeuroCooking Live!]

Q: How do you use MRI to study brain function?
A: We make MRI movies of the "blushing brain", from which we calculate "activation maps".

Q: It blushes?
A: Changes in neuronal activity are accompanied by changes in blood flow and blood oxygenation (as has been known since the 19th century).

Q: You make movies?
A: We image the whole brain every two seconds (30 frames per minute).

Q: How do you calculate that "activation map"?
A: Generally speaking, we use the MRI movie to make a picture of where the "brain blushes" in time with stimuli or responses. Those colored blobs (that we overlay, photoshop-style, over a greyscale image of brain anatomy) show where the timing of the MRI signals agrees with the timing of the stimuli or behavior.

Q: What do those maps look like? What do they show?
A: They generally show a collection of brain regions, that do different things (principle of segregation), which work together (principle of integration).

Here's an example: A right-handed adult (who gave written informed consent to participate in IRB-approved research) was scanned for several minutes, during which they alternated, for thirty second periods, between holding still, and sequentially tapping the fingers of their right (dominant) hand – the thumb to each of the opposing fingers, in turn. Looking at just one "slice" – not even the whole brain – you can see four different regions that serve four different roles. Our understanding of these different roles comes from neurology, and from neuroelectrophysiology. MRI shows us the regions, but MRI doesn't see the roles.

Q: So, what do those regions have to do with the stimuli or behavior?
A: Well, it varies. And MRI can't tell. Correlation ain't necessarily causation; correlational neuroimaging cannot address causality. MRI shows us the regions that are correlated with the behavior, but not the different roles those regions serve.

December 9, 2010

Thank you, NeuroCooking friends

Thank you to all who called into NeuroCooking Live! yesterday. Jim and I were excited about the topic, the content we prepared, and the ability to connect more personally with our readers. We are both disappointed by the technical glitches we encountered, and delighted by the interest and turnout.

We hope to post a cleaned-up version of the call when provided by Worldwide Story Work, the hosts of the teleconference. And, we are considering several options for re-presenting the information. If you were on the call, please do share any thoughts or questions you may have: we invite you to help us hone the content of future presentations.

Thank you again, dear NeuroCooking readers!


We were standing at this spot for some time, gazing at the breathtaking scenery, when our guide asked, "Are you ready now to go to the viewpoint?"

The Chileans do not say "scenic overlook" - they say "viewpoint". And, boy, are they onto something.

December 7, 2010

On photographic verisimilitude (or, how to shoot a goat in the mountains).

To take excellent landscape photographs, you should use a big piece of slow film, small aperture, & long exposure; but to take good photos of active animals, you can't leave the shutter open for long.

So, can these competing requirements be reconciled, to take sharp photographs of live animals set in a rich detailed landscape?

Sure! By, in a word, cheating. Or, in more words, by "digitally merging" two images.

December 4, 2010

Seasonal blogging.

[first fire of the season]

No, what time is it, really?

In the 19th century, Captains in the British Navy who could not afford their own marine chronometer (used to determine longitude by celestial navigation) were issued one by the Navy, but Captains who provided their own were issued two, so that they would have three chronometers aboard ship – because you need three to know which one has gone wrong.

December 2, 2010

How 'bout them apples?

From the wikipedia entry on the "Raven paradox", (also known as Hempel's paradox) a lovely pair of figure legends:

December 1, 2010

re: Two-Faced Mid-Week Dog-Blogging

Seven days and counting!

Only one week to go until NeuroCooking Live!

Please join us!

Proofreading is important, part 2.

Department of proofreading: The Washington Post reports today that the conviction of a Virginia man for driving past a stopped school bus was overturned on appeal, because of a missing preposition in Virginia law, which had been amended in 1970 to criminalize failure to stop a school bus – not failure to stop at a school bus.

Mid-week dog-blogging (special two-faced edition).

[December 2004]


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