Monday, January 31, 2011

I heart The Guardian

Ipod Shuffle
My dad got me into the habit of reading The Guardian newspaper as he subscribed when I was a child (though he's since moved to the Times). I've stopped reading it at lunchtimes these days so I've started listening to their podcasts. The Guardian is a bit like Sun used to be, before they were taken over by Oracle, in that they look at the way the internet is going and then start giving stuff away. They've released APIs for their content so people can do things like today's Guardian. Whilst all this free stuff is great (e.g. Spotify) my worry is that people might go out of business because they haven't figure out a way of getting it to pay and then you stop getting the service. I think it's a while before we see how things pan out in the newpaper and music businesses, but it's interesting to watch it unfold.

Photo from iamthestig2.

Friday, January 21, 2011

New year's resolution

1280 by 1024 (end of geek joke)

A bit late I know, but more useful if I tell you of progress too.

I've really only had two.
1. Spend more time on Facebook. After slaving all day at a PC anything else PC related is a bit too much like work. However Facebook is handy for keeping in touch. I've cut down on some people I wasn't really that close to. So now I've got 139 of my closest buddies left. Not really, but maybe if I spend a bit more time on Facebook then they all can be close buddies. I'm not the only to cut down.

2. Make twitter not just seem like work. Looking at twitter during the Christmas holidays reminded me too much of work. I probably ought to do more with twitter lists at some point to sort out work-related people from the rest. Sometime. This year. Maybe.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Not quite neural implants

My blog piece of neural implants was fiction of course. However last night I saw a Horizon programme which had a couple of things that came close.

The first was a series of things (with a name I've forgotten) that are built into a helicopter pilot's harness that vibrate when he goes too high, or gets close to the ground. There's one near the belly button that shows you which direction you are moving. It's designed for situations like landing on sand where you have no visibility. They showed a pilot landing a simulator successfully with his eyes closed.

The second one was a belt with 8 vibrating pads around it. It was hooked up to a compass so that the pad nearest North vibrated continuously.

So whilst not quite being a heads-up display as my previous post predicted, it seems there's plenty of spare bandwidth with the sense to touch to get useful information into the brain.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Neural implants - a gadget from the future

Phantom Recorder / Revital Cohen

A gadget magazine from the future fell through a wormhole in time and it made very interesting reading. Here's an article from it about neural implants:

Neural implants are the latest essential gadget, but how do they work? Although they aren't the sort of thing you can get a demo of, we talked to a few of the early adopters to find out how they got on with them. The basic setup comes in two parts. The first is an implant which goes under the skull behind the ear in the motor section of the brain. The second goes on the optic nerve as it comes out of the back of the eye.

When you're first given them you don't notice any difference, apart from the after effects of the operation itself. This is the "discovery phase", when you're trying to find out which physical movements trigger the neurons that the motor implant has been attached to. The way you know you've found out is that you get a bright flash in your vision as the optic implant triggers. One person we talked to found out that what triggered their implant was reaching down with their right hand to scratch the back of their left ankle. So it's not a single movement, but a combination that triggers it, and it takes a while to find out what that combination is. Once you've discovered it, you don't actually have to do the movement, but to think about beginning to do it. Once that's been mastered finer control of the implant's functions can be achieved, rather than just triggering.

The second phase it to calibrate the optic implant. Although it's hooked into a number of optic nerves, it's not easy during the operation to determine which ones correspond to parts of the eye which are next to each other, so you have to teach that to the implants. On head-up displays it's usual to put the information around the edge of the screen, but that wouldn't be possible with the eyes. That's because the nerve density away from the centre of the eye is quite low, so we can only actually see clearly in the very centre of the field of vision. The reason we don't notice this is that we are able to flick our eyes around very quickly and look wherever we want. This is mimicked with the optical implant by it only being triggered as the eyes look into the "corners" of the field of view, such as top right.

Some people choose to have something displayed at all times, such as the ambient temperature, or their favourite stock prices, others turn them off until they choose them, using the motor implant. One of the first practical, as opposed to merely recreational uses has been hooking them up to a third implant in the bloodstream. Diabetics can now see their blood sugar levels at all times, and also turn on their insulin pumps. Although the electronic pancreas has been around a while the extra level of control is useful because an electronic pancreas doesn't know that you're about to go for a run, so you will burn up any excess blood sugar quite soon.

Other accessories needn't involve internal implants, as well as being more easily upgraded. So the internet/phone accessory is available as a number of items of jewellery.
Photo by Ars Electronica.