ultranos: XKCD: stand back, i'm going to try science (science warning)
2011-05-16 09:45 pm

Your Brain is a Computer: "What is it you do, exactly?"

I've been meaning to make this post for awhile, but I was waiting until I had the links for it.

Many times in the past year, I've had to try to explain exactly what it is I do. The simplest answer is that I'm a lab tech. (My actual job title is "Technical Assistant".) I work in the Synthetic Neurobiology Group in the MIT Media Lab.

This is roughly the point where I start getting blank looks.

Think of the brain as a computer. A computer processor is made up of millions of tiny transistor circuits that are electrically driven and are used to process all the data we input into it via keyboard, mouse, and all other devices. So, over a decade ago, Dr. Ed Boyden asked a very simple question: if we already use the metaphor of a computer for the brain, why don't we treat the brain like a series of very complex circuits? And if we do that, can we use something less damaging to the structure of the brain, like light, instead of electricity and chemicals?

Actually, Dr. Boyden is the head of my lab, and thus my boss, and was invited to speak at TED this past spring. The following talk explained the field of optogenetics, which is genetically modifying cells to be receptive to light, and what we're doing in the lab, from overcoming fear conditioning to possibly cure PTSD, to restoring visual behavior in blind mice, to possibly stopping epileptic seizures.



My main job in the lab, by the way, is to make a lot of these prototypes needed in these experiments, such as those tiny fiber arrays seen in the video (that thing's about the width of your thumbnail, by the way). They're absolutely fascinating manufacturing and design problems, from weight to material choice to size. It's all pretty exciting stuff, really.
ultranos: Actual MIT hack of roadsign. "MASS AVE BRIDGE CLOSED / SUNDAY 04/22/07 6AM-3PM / TO APPEASE GODZILLA" (have you appeased godzilla today?)
2011-05-10 12:07 am

Steam is quite possibly the worst thing that ever happened to my wallet

I'd picked up Hydrophobia: Prophecy on Steam on a whim a few weeks ago when it was on pre-order. Okay, the whim was entirely driven by the trailer with the very pretty fluid dynamics, and I'm very happy to say that said fluid dynamics were not pre-rendered. Apparently, the studio who made the game had an aerospace/aeronautical engineering PhD formulate new equations for the fluid mechanics in the game, to make it as realistic as possible with current hardware and the engine. This is significant. Fluid Dynamics Are Hard. Trust me. As it is, I am pleased with this.

It came out today, I've played through Act 1, and I'm pretty sure this was $10 well spent. The setting is some underwater city/boat, it's attacked by terrorists, and who's the one on the job that's gonna save everyone or at least get out alive (because it's the PC, and we know how these things work)?

That's right, the goddamn female engineer. *pumps fist*

Damn straight.

(Kate is having A Bad Day. Her computer stopped working, it's her day night off and she's apparently a workaholic, and then goddamn terrorists attack and now she's swimming up elevator shafts and dodging fire and shooting dangling cables so she doesn't get electrocuted because the entire place is flooding. Oh, and has to hack through her own security system.

Clearly, she and Chell need to go commiserate.)

Apparently, my recent games have featured a female protagonist. Considering my list of games to go through, unless I decide to go play Assassin's Creed 2 or something, this trend is going to continue for the near future. I AM TOTALLY OKAY WITH THIS.
ultranos: greyscale photo of laptop and coffee mug filled with some beverage (coffee and data)
2011-05-01 03:27 pm

Steam, Digital Distribution, and Me

I've been playing my way, slowly, through a second run of single-player for Portal 2, taking the time to really appreciate the level design and voice acting that Valve put in here, not to mention just trying for Achievements (in interest of not spoiling, two with the least-spoiler-tastic names I'm working on are "Smash TV" and "Overclocker", which I keep missing by seconds, damn it). I'm also playing through co-op with a friend, which is also a lot of fun and takes some amount of mind-bending to figure out.

Which means I'm also glad that Valve announced Friday that they're going to be releasing free DLC sometime this summer that includes new test chambers and challenge levels. Score.

The "problem", and I use that word lightly, here is that the time I spend playing Portal 2 means time I'm not playing any of the other games on my very long list of games on Steam. Or on the PS2. Or PS3 or 360. My life is hard.

In which I wax philosophical about Steam and my relationship to digital distribution )
ultranos: arisato minato listening to music in minimalist colors (beat of a different drum)
2010-06-09 01:14 am

The value of excising the word "impossible" from your vocabulary

I meant to do this earlier, but got distracted. So here's a Three Weeks post that's me being all ranty.

So, I was surfing around on my Network page earlier today, and came across the ONTD_feminism feed. Specifically, this post about an article on an article in the New York Times basically about how my generation (Generation Y, although, for crying out loud, can you please at least use the term "Millenials"? Do not define us by how we are NOT the generation that proceeded us. It is insulting.) is spoiled, arrogant, and generally going to screw things up.

I'm going to stand on your lawn, and you can't shove me off. )
ultranos: kendoka in full bogu, possibly positioned for dô strike (kendo)
2010-05-16 02:22 am

On two martial arts I somewhat practice

This is a little late to the party, but well, life's been crazy and better late than never, right?

Anyway, [personal profile] rydra_wong asked me like three weeks ago if I could write about kendo and American Jiu-jitsu. So here we go.

On my current experiences with kendo and American Jiu-jitsu )
ultranos: XKCD: stand back, i'm going to try science (science warning)
2010-05-04 03:08 pm

In which I babble about my research

Okay, so this "Three Weeks for Dreamwidth" thing is now just an excuse for me to find even more New and Exciting ways to babble about my thesis. Because it's approximately all I can think about, and since you lot have had to put up with me swearing at it, maybe I can explain what it's, you know, about. That, and I need to write the abstract and this will help me formulate the words.

Onward for more about building energy efficiency monitoring than you probably ever wanted to know )

But one of the beauties of engineering/scientific research is that "this doesn't work, don't do this" is just as valuable as "this works!".