Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #11715 on: Nov 3rd, 2014, 10:43am »
What Is It Like to Control a Robotic Arm with a Brain Implant?
How one woman learned to use the electrodes implanted in her brain as an extension of her nervous system.
November 3, 2014 By Sandra Upson
Jan Scheuermann is not your average experimental subject. Diagnosed with spinocerebellar degeneration, she is only able to move her head and neck. The paralysis, which began creeping over her muscles in 1996, has been devastating in many ways. Yet two years ago she seized an opportunity to turn her personal liability into an extraordinary asset for neuroscience. In 2012 Scheuermann elected to undergo brain surgery to implant two arrays of electrodes on her motor cortex, a band of tissue on the surface of the brain.
She did so as a volunteer in a multi-year study at the University of Pittsburgh to develop a better brain-computer interface. When she visits the lab, researchers hook up her brain to a robotic arm and hand, which she practices moving using her thoughts alone. The goal is to eventually allow other paralyzed individuals to regain function by wiring up their brains directly to a computer or prosthetic limb.
The electrodes in her head record the firing patterns of about 150 of her neurons. Specific patterns of neuronal activity encode her desire to perform different movements, such as swinging the arm to the left or clasping the fingers around a cup. Two thick cables relay the data from her neurons to a computer, where software can identify Scheuermann’s intentions. The computer can then issue appropriate commands to move the robotic limb.
On a typical workday, Jan Scheuermann arrives at the university around 9:15 am. Using her chin, she maneuvers her electric wheelchair into a research lab headed by neuroscientist Andrew Schwartz and settles in for a day of work. Scientific American Mind spoke to Scheuermann to learn more about her experience as a self-proclaimed “guinea pig extraordinaire.”
[An edited transcript of the interview follows]
Can you describe a typical day in the lab?
After I arrive in the morning, my assistant twists off the top coverings of the two pads on my head and wipes whatever’s sticking out of them with alcohol. She then connects me to two big cables and twists those down until a signal starts coming through.
Next we train with the computer and the robotic arm for about 20 minutes to half an hour before starting with the tests of the day. Usually it’s something like, pick up an object from one side of the table and move it to the other side as quickly as I can. We might take a quick break for lunch, and then I leave around 1:30. It’s usually about a four-hour day.
What was it like to use the robotic arm for the first time?
When I first started, I learned to move it left and right, and up and down, and after that I learned to open and close the fingers. Then I turned the wrist. With every new ability they gave me, I was reminded of what most babies do at some point. When my kids were three or four months old, they learned finally that they could control the things at the ends of their arms. I remember seeing them slowly turning their wrist this way and that, grasping and ungrasping their fingers. And eventually it became automatic for them, too. That image kept popping into my mind. I felt like a baby learning to use my hands.
How do you approach a new task?
At first we train with the computer. The computer does it while I watch and pretend I’m doing it. Then the computer learns how to interpret my brain signals and what I want to do, and then I start doing it. As I practice I get better and better.
Sometimes I adapt to the task very quickly and it’s all so natural. Other things require more concentration to learn. After they’re learned you do them over and over until they’re automatic.
What strategies do you use as you learn?
It’s interesting, there are two ways to do a task. One is to think about each move I’m making. So if I’m picking up a cube, I could think “move left, move forward, turn fingers left, clench fingers around object.” The other is you just look and go for it. That works much better than when I try to figure it out step by step.
There was one trial several months ago where I had to move the robotic arm back and forth over two lines as many times as I could in 60 seconds. I tried as best I could and I got 24. Then I had to do the same think while distracted, for instance while carrying on a conversation. And I got 24—the same thing! Then the distraction was counting backward by threes from some random number, and that was the same, 24, which is really fascinating. Sometimes not trying too hard is best. Let the hand do the task without thinking too much.
Have these experiments changed the way you think about your own brain?
I guess I’m just reassured to know that once our brain learns how to do things it doesn’t forget them just because we can’t do them anymore. If I magically got my limbs back, through stem cells or something, my brain won’t have forgotten how to walk. Or how to reach out and grab something or how to hug someone. The muscles might not be strong, but they’ll know how to do things.
I also have come to appreciate my brain even more. I’ve seen people who have arms that work and legs that work, but their brains don’t. They’re mentally handicapped. I’d so much rather have my brain than my legs. You know that quote, ‘you are more than the body you live in’? That’s so true for me.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #11718 on: Nov 4th, 2014, 11:23am »
GOOD MORNING SWAMPRAT, Z AND ALL OF OUR UFOCASEBOOKERS
Astronomers solve puzzle about bizarre object at center of our galaxy: Enormous black hole drove two binary stars to merge
Date: November 3, 2014
Source: University of California - Los Angeles
For years, astronomers have been puzzled by a bizarre object in the center of the Milky Way that was believed to be a hydrogen gas cloud headed toward our galaxy's enormous black hole.
Having studied it during its closest approach to the black hole this summer, UCLA astronomers believe that they have solved the riddle of the object widely known as G2.
A team led by Andrea Ghez, professor of physics and astronomy in the UCLA College, determined that G2 is most likely a pair of binary stars that had been orbiting the black hole in tandem and merged together into an extremely large star, cloaked in gas and dust -- its movements choreographed by the black hole's powerful gravitational field. The research is published today in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Astronomers had figured that if G2 had been a hydrogen cloud, it could have been torn apart by the black hole, and that the resulting celestial fireworks would have dramatically changed the state of the black hole.
"G2 survived and continued happily on its orbit; a simple gas cloud would not have done that," said Ghez, who holds the Lauren B. Leichtman and Arthur E. Levine Chair in Astrophysics. "G2 was basically unaffected by the black hole. There were no fireworks."
Black holes, which form out of the collapse of matter, have such high density that nothing can escape their gravitational pull -- not even light. They cannot be seen directly, but their influence on nearby stars is visible and provides a signature, said Ghez, a 2008 MacArthur Fellow.
Ghez, who studies thousands of stars in the neighborhood of the supermassive black hole, said G2 appears to be just one of an emerging class of stars near the black hole that are created because the black hole's powerful gravity drives binary stars to merge into one. She also noted that, in our galaxy, massive stars primarily come in pairs. She says the star suffered an abrasion to its outer layer but otherwise will be fine.
Ghez and her colleagues -- who include lead author Gunther Witzel, a UCLA postdoctoral scholar, and Mark Morris and Eric Becklin, both UCLA professors of physics and astronomy -- conducted the research at Hawaii's W.M. Keck Observatory, which houses the world's two largest optical and infrared telescopes.
When two stars near the black hole merge into one, the star expands for more than 1 million years before it settles back down, said Ghez, who directs the UCLA Galactic Center Group. "This may be happening more than we thought. The stars at the center of the galaxy are massive and mostly binaries. It's possible that many of the stars we've been watching and not understanding may be the end product of mergers that are calm now."
Ghez and her colleagues also determined that G2 appears to be in that inflated stage now. The body has fascinated many astronomers in recent years, particularly during the year leading up to its approach to the black hole. "It was one of the most watched events in astronomy in my career," Ghez said.
Ghez said G2 now is undergoing what she calls a "spaghetti-fication" -- a common phenomenon near black holes in which large objects become elongated. At the same time, the gas at G2's surface is being heated by stars around it, creating an enormous cloud of gas and dust that has shrouded most of the massive star.
Witzel said the researchers wouldn't have been able to arrive at their conclusions without the Keck's advanced technology. "It is a result that in its precision was possible only with these incredible tools, the Keck Observatory's 10-meter telescopes," Witzel said.
The telescopes use adaptive optics, a powerful technology pioneered in part by Ghez that corrects the distorting effects of the Earth's atmosphere in real time to more clearly reveal the space around the supermassive black hole. The technique has helped Ghez and her colleagues elucidate many previously unexplained facets of the environments surrounding supermassive black holes.
"We are seeing phenomena about black holes that you can't watch anywhere else in the universe," Ghez added. "We are starting to understand the physics of black holes in a way that has never been possible before."
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #11719 on: Nov 4th, 2014, 11:28am »
Watching for Aliens in the UFO Capital of Scotland
November 4, 2014
By Chris McCall
Bonnybridge is a small town in central Scotland that to the casual observer looks fairly unremarkable. Once home to a variety of industries, from brickworks to iron foundries, it is now largely another commuter dormitory thanks to its proximity to Glasgow and Stirling.
But Bonnybridge enjoys a remarkable international profile out of all proportion to its modest size. To those who still believe The Truth Is Out There, this is Scotland's Roswell, where hundreds of UFO sightings have been reported over the last two decades. The town--if the sightings are to be believed--became an intergalactic tourist hotspot following an incident in 1992, when a man claimed to see a star-shaped object hovering over a road. Subsequently, more than 600 reports of sightings were made between 1992 and 1994 alone.
Residents packed out town hall meetings to discuss the phenomenon and a local councillor began writing letters to 10 Downing Street demanding answers. What had started as an amusing story for the Scottish press quickly escalated as film crews from as far away as Russia pitched up to record features and hopefully catch a glimpse of an alien spacecraft.
Sceptics pointed to the fact that Bonnybridge is under flight paths serving Edinburgh and Glasgow international airports, and a commercial airfield operates only a couple of miles away in Cumbernauld.
Local interest in UFOs seemed to have petered out when I first visited Bonnybridge in 2010 as a local news reporter. I was aware of the legend but, like most people I spoke to, I viewed it as little more than a 1990s curio--a product of a time when The X Files was promoted to BBC1 and Hollywood still made films about little green men.
But Bonnybridge's reputation for UFOs never diminished completely. In 2011, Time magazine listed this part of eastern Stirlingshire in a "6 UFO Hot Spots Around the World" feature. Despite the flame still lingering, it was something of a surprise when I was invited along to a "skywatch" on the night after Halloween, as part of the first Scottish Paranormal Festival in Stirling.
The premise was simple: anyone who was interested should meet at 10.30PM, before travelling to a rural spot in an elevated position outside of the town. A couple of UFO experts would give talks on sightings, but the main element appeared to be looking for bright lights in the sky that couldn't be explained as Boeing 737-800s carrying Scots abroad for some late autumn sunshine.
I was dubious if anything out of the ordinary would be spotted, but I was interested in meeting some of the people who describe themselves as "ufologists", and to see if I could find out why this most unlikely of Scottish urban legends has persisted over two decades.
I roped in my brother for the ride, figuring another pair of skeptical eyes could only be a good thing at such an event, and we found ourselves standing in a Co-op store car park on a typically dark and wet Scottish November evening, as locals in fancy dress walked past on their way to warm-looking pubs.
I was surprised by the numbers that turned up. Around 35 people, ranging from early-20s to over-60s, had donned water proofs and woolly hats to voluntarily spend their Saturday night in the cold. Many had travelled impressive distances, with at least half a dozen venturing from south of the border. The mood was one of quiet excitement, like a work team-building exercise to a paintballing center.
Malcolm Robinson, an amiable Scottish ufologist who has written on the Bonnybridge sightings for over 20 years, was one of the event's two organisers. "What brings us here tonight is the numerous UFO sightings that have occurred across the Stirlingshire skies," he explained.
"Do I believe in UFOs? Do I believe there's something in the skies above Bonnybridge? You better bloody believe so. I wouldn't be here if I didn't think there was something very real, very tangible occurring."
The other organiser was Dave Hodrien, the 37-year-old chairman of the Birmingham UFO Group--a man whose interest in the subject is such that he married his wife on the outskirts of Area 51. "I think interest in UFOs remains around the same level as it has been in the past," he said.
"There are sadly less people prepared to actually turn up for meetings or events than there were in the past, but this doesn't mean interest has waned, it has just moved online."
We followed a convoy of around a dozen cars out of town and along narrow countryside roads before arriving at an isolated spot near Craigburn Woods. There were no streetlights here, and a biting wind had lowered the temperature several degrees. But the mood remained cheerful. Many seemed happy just to be out doing something different.
"We're not really into UFOs, to be honest," said Robert Sheehan, who had arrived with his pals from the Paranormal Festival. "I'm skeptical we'll see anything--but I have seen something strange, years ago, driving home to Liverpool. We looked up at the sky and there was this triangle, turning in the sky, at Bristol. We dismissed it at the time, but we found out three months later there had been loads of similar sightings."
With midnight approaching, Billy Buchanan, a long-serving Bonnybridge councillor, explained that UFOs are not a subject that elected representatives tend to treat seriously. "We've faced mass ridicule over the years," he said. "I remember going to our local MP and telling him I had about 130 people who had seen something that they could not explain. He told me it was electoral suicide.
"Every prime minister since 1992, myself and Malcolm have contacted asking for answers. We don't seem to be getting any closer to the truth of the matter."
We huddled around listening to more talks from Dave and Malcolm, both of whom had an impressive knowledge of various sightings from across the country, but mostly we admired the panoramic views of the Ochil Hills looming in the distance.
While we didn't see any UFOs, we were afforded clear sightings of those other great flashing objects in the sky--star constellations. If you live in a city like me, that's a rarity in itself. After a while we called it a night, but we left behind a sizable group who seemed in no mood to leave.
The following day I was eager to hear a more local perspective. I spoke to journalist Kevin Schofield, chief political correspondent at The Sun and a Bonnybridge native. In the mid 1990s, he filed regular stories on sightings as a local reporter. He was sanguine when asked about his home town's extraterrestrial reputation, but added that not everyone felt the same.
"I've lost count of the number of times people reply 'ah, the UFO capital of Scotland' when I tell them I'm from Bonnybridge," he said. "I find it quite funny, but I'm probably in the minority in the village, where folk would probably rather not be reminded of it. Anything that puts Bonnybridge on the map is fine by me, but it would be nice if it was something other than UFOs."
It's hard to think of another reason why a disparate group from across the UK would choose to visit Bonnybridge. The skywatch might not have proved that aliens are visiting central Scotland, but the idea of UFOs are still drawing visitors from far away.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #11721 on: Nov 4th, 2014, 7:56pm »
The subject of spirit twins and twin flames came up with a family member who has been having dreams and interacting with a presence in what appears to be real time. I did not encourage him nor discourage him save to make certain that this is not a negative influence.I had another family member suggest a doctor as well just to rule out sress, or some other physiological problem. This had to be done tactfully of course. I found this latest quantum mechanics research finding interesting and it made me think whether the ufo/spirit contacts and sightings people are having is related to quantum mechanics. Quantum Phenomena Modeled by Interactions between Many Classical Worlds
Quantum mechanics provides our most fundamental description of nature, but there is a long-standing and passionate debate among physicists about what all the math “really” means. We provide an answer based on a very simple picture: The world we experience is just one of an enormous number of essentially classical worlds, and all quantum phenomena arise from a universal force of repulsion that prevents worlds from having identical physical configurations. Probabilities arise only because of our ignorance as to which world an observer occupies. This picture is all that is needed to explain bizarre quantum effects such as particles that tunnel through solid barriers and wave behavior in double-slit experiments.
Our “many-interacting-worlds” approach hinges on the assumption that interactions between deterministically evolving worlds cause all quantum effects. Each world is simply the position of particles in three-dimensional space, and each would evolve according to Newton’s laws if there were no interworld interactions. A surprising feature of our approach is that the formulation contains nothing that corresponds to the mysterious quantum wave function, except in the formal mathematical limit in which the number of worlds becomes infinitely large. Conversely, Newtonian mechanics corresponds to the opposite limit of just one world. Thus, our approach incorporates both classical and quantum theory. We perform numerical simulations and show that our approach can reproduce interference with a double slit. As few as two interacting worlds can result in quantumlike effects, such as tunneling through a barrier.
Our approach, which provides a new mental picture of quantum effects, will be useful in planning experiments to test and exploit quantum phenomena such as entanglement. Our findings include new algorithms for simulating such phenomena and may even suggest new ways to extend standard quantum mechanics (e.g., to include gravitation). Thus, while Richard Feynman may have had a point when he said “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics,” there is still much to be gained by trying to do so.
We investigate whether quantum theory can be understood as the continuum limit of a mechanical theory, in which there is a huge, but finite, number of classical “worlds,” and quantum effects arise solely from a universal interaction between these worlds, without reference to any wave function. Here, a “world” means an entire universe with well-defined properties, determined by the classical configuration of its particles and fields. In our approach, each world evolves deterministically, probabilities arise due to ignorance as to which world a given observer occupies, and we argue that in the limit of infinitely many worlds the wave function can be recovered (as a secondary object) from the motion of these worlds. We introduce a simple model of such a “many interacting worlds” approach and show that it can reproduce some generic quantum phenomena—such as Ehrenfest’s theorem, wave packet spreading, barrier tunneling, and zero-point energy—as a direct consequence of mutual repulsion between worlds. Finally, we perform numerical simulations using our approach. We demonstrate, first, that it can be used to calculate quantum ground states, and second, that it is capable of reproducing, at least qualitatively, the double-slit interference phenomenon.
I found this to be quite interesting and it seems opens up a plethora of possibilities not mere mathematical speculation which we might be able to see a connection .
« Last Edit: Nov 4th, 2014, 8:02pm by Sys_Config »
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #11725 on: Nov 5th, 2014, 11:41am »
Vaccine-resistant polio strain discovered
Date: November 4, 2014
Source: Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD)
The global initiative to eradicate poliomyelitis through routine vaccination has helped reduce the number of cases by more than 99% in 30 years, from an estimated 350,000 cases in 1988 to 650 reported cases in 2011. However, major epidemics are still occurring today, such as the ones in the Republic of the Congo in 2010, Tajikistan in 2010, and China in 2011. The epidemic outbreak in 2010 in the Republic of the Congo differed from the others in its exceptionally high mortality rate of 47%: out of the 445 confirmed cases, nearly 210 died. The researchers first attributed the seriousness of the epidemic to low vaccine coverage.
Newly identified mutations of the virus
In reality, the cause was something completely different. An international team including IRD researchers has just identified the virus responsible and sequenced its genetic material. The genetic sequence shows two mutations, unknown until now, of the proteins that form the "shell" (capsid) of the virus. On the face of it, this evolution complicates the task for the antibodies produced by the immune system of the vaccinated patient as they can no longer recognize the viral strain.
The researchers then tested the resistance of this variant of poliovirus on blood samples from more than 60 vaccinated people, including volunteers living in neighbouring Gabon, where part of the research team was based, and German medical students. Their antibodies were shown to be less effective against the Congo strain than against the other strains of poliovirus. The researchers estimate that 15%-30% of these people would not have been protected during the 2010 epidemic.
At a time when the global campaign to eradicate poliomyelitis is entering its final phase, researchers fear that other variants of the virus may emerge among populations immunised with the vaccine. Undoubtedly, these strains are circulating in nature. While quite rare, they could lead to fatal epidemics such as the one in 2010 in the Republic of the Congo if they reach areas where the more common strains have been eradicated, but where vaccine coverage is insufficient. The researchers are calling for better clinical and environmental monitoring to completely wipe out the scourge of polio.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #11727 on: Nov 6th, 2014, 10:38am »
GOOD MORNING ALL
Awesome Glowing Roads That Could Be the Highways of the Future
By Liz Stinson
Highway N329 lit up by luminescent lines along the road. photo by Studio Roosegaarde
In a small town about 60 miles southwest of Amsterdam lies a stretch of road with no streetlights. Instead, along some 15,000 feet of Highway N329, cars follow stripes of glowing green paint that illuminate the edges of the road like an airfield landing strip at night. Designer Daan Roosegaarde calls it the highway of the future.
For the past several years, Roosegaarde and his team of Dutch designers have been working on making these glowing lines a reality. This road in the Netherlands is the pilot project for Roosegaarde’s ambitious vision of replacing passive infrastructure with smart roads that communicate with drivers. He has big ideas—things like roadways that charge electric cars and color-changing paints that alert drivers to icy conditions. As cars get smarter, he argues, so too should the infrastructure that supports them.
“The road industry is one of the most conservative industries out there,” he says. “But I love them because they determine what a city looks like much more than the cars do. In a weird way, nobody cares about them. I think that should change.”