Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Next step, Newt Gingrich

The accomplishment is a first step toward creating a complete computer model of the brain that will allow a deeper understanding of how our noggins work — and what causes them to malfunction, according to the scientists behind the feat. 

For a starting point, researchers at the Max Planck Florida Institute are focused on how the rat brain processes information gathered by a single whisker. 

They did so because studies in their lab and elsewhere have shown that a single whisker is able to detect, in complete darkness, whether a gap is safe to jump over and, if so, trigger the order to jump. 

What's more, there's a specific region of the brain "that is dedicated to processing information from a dedicated whisker," Marcel Oberlaender, a researcher at the institute and the first author of a paper explaining the research in the journal Cerebral Cortex, told me today.

That region is called the cortical column, a vertically-organized series of connected neurons that form a brain circuit and an elementary building block of the cortex. 

The cortex is the part of the brain responsible for many of the higher functions, such as memory and consciousness.

To build the model, the researchers studied the cortical column in awake and anesthetized rats as well as brain slices and then used computer software and other tools to reconstruct it.

"The model we built is really based on a complete reconstruction of these nerve cells," Oberlaender said. "So how the model looks in the end resembles how it would look in the real animal."

It is composed of 16,000 neurons, each of which can be divided into one of nine different cell types that has characteristic functional, structural and connectivity properties, he added.

The model can now be used to run computer simulations that show, in realistic detail, how signals flow within the brain. So, they can begin to understand, for example, what neurons fire as the rat detects the gap and decides whether or not to jump.

Until now, researchers have only been able to see how a single neuron or a small group of neurons interact during such a process. "We can now, in simulation experiments, mimic what is really going on in these circuits," Oberlaender said.

Going forward, the researchers should be able to use the methodology developed to build this model to add more parts to it, thus incorporating other brain functions such as the motor system that sends a signal down the spinal cord and makes the limbs move so that rat can jump over the gap.

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John Roach is a contributing writer for To learn more about him, check out his website.

Monday, December 12, 2011

My Marie > Fifty Two Years Later

When I was a very, very young and lucky fellow, I dated a dark haired, ravishing, buxom beauty named Marie (accent over the 'e'). We were inseparable at school, after school, movies, sandwich shops, parties and so forth. It was a very serious affair for a pair of 16 year olds.

Finally I thought I'd better bring Marie home to meet my parents just in case we decided to get married. She was okay with this but understandably nervous.

Marie, a dresser as well as a looker and sex goddess, donned one of her finer outfits: a beautiful but modest blouse with a full skirt maxed out by all the undergarments of the time, did up her hair and makeup in demure fashion, to prepare for this august occasion.

When I saw her, I was both pleased and relieved by her appearance. And so I took Marie home to meet my parents. 

We arrived and the folks met us outside on the front lawns along with our boxers Junior and Cleo (as in 'patra'), Rita, the pet black white goat and the mini-dachshund, Chiquita.

And there stood Marie, hand outstretched, greeting first my father (whom I think she momentarily flirted with as this was her way) and then my mother, the Empress.

It was a very warm day and I was sweating it but everything seemed to be going well as I watched the expression on my parents' face for a sign.

Meanwhile, one of my faithful Boxers (it was Junior) ambled up to Marie, walked between her legs, stuck his head under her crinolines, looked straight up and started panting.

For a moment, Marie tried to be 'cool' and ignore it, thinking it was a momentary aberration which would disappear on it's own. But Junior didn't move and the seconds seemed like hours.

It must of been dark under all those crinolines so I don't know what he was doing but Marie was finally forced to step back and gather herself and her skirts, thus utterly destroying this important teenage moment.

Of course everyone apologized for Junior's bad behavior except me as I couldn't blame him for reading my mind.

Anyway, the following year I was away at boarding school and Marie ended up with a different guy.

Last I heard, which was many years later, she was married with five kids.

I've never seen her again.

December 2011

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Few Minutes With Andy Rooney (Written before election day when I lost my bid for a seat on the Board of Selectmen, when it snowed & the lights went out...... for 8 days)

From The Ridgefield Press November 10, 2011
Written by Jan Rifkinson 

Win or lose, I wanted to use this space to thank everyone who gave me a few moments of their time, who worked on my campaign, who signed my petition to get me on the ballot, who voted for me. And to congratulate my opponents who were re-elected.

But this weekend another kind of outage interrupted the campaign. Andy Rooney died & I want to write about the few minutes Carol & I spent with him & how we remember him.

Andy Rooney was a principled man. He made his living writing as a member of the Writer's Guild of America. When CBS technicians struck, he was one of the few who refused to cross their picket line.

After an editorial spat, he left to PBS for a few years but then returned to the CBS family. We all respected these things about him.

I worked with Andy & Harry Reasoner on television specials with titles like "Essay on Doors", "Essay on Women". Andy & Harry were good friends. Andy wrote for Harry & Harry -- also an excellent writer -- read Andy's words beautifully.  Both had old Mercedes diesels .

Years later, Carol's office was opposite Andy's. She was working on a program called "West 57th" and Andy was doing his "60 Minutes" gig. Frequently, Carol & Andy walked to the garage together & chatted about the day's events.

And many, many years later, Carol & I were strolling through an antiquing warehouse in Stamford & we spotted Andy shuffling along.

"Mr. Rooney" I called out. He ignored me (he despised notoriety).

"Mr. Rooney", I said again, introducing myself & Carol. "I worked with you & Harry on the Essay Shows." He stopped & we reminisced for a few moments. Then he shuffled off.

That was the last we saw of him.

He was a principled man.

You can't make this stuff up

Check out clerk @ local Stop 'n Shop to Carol who was next in line:

"Please be patient w me. I have A.D.D. & I just had a hysterectomy. "

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Six Degrees of separation or one strange day

The other day I attended a senior lunch at the Ridgefield Community Center, also known as the Lonsbury House. It's a beautiful place,  built by former CT governor, Phineas C. Lounsbury, in 1896. It's right on main street, Ridgefield.

Before lunch was served, I sat down on a rocking chair on the front porch next to a gentleman, also in his 60's. I introduced myself & discovered that we shared a common denominator. His mother was Puerto Rican & I was born in Purto Rico. So we chatted on about Puerto Rico.

As we moved inside for lunch, we found a table with two  ladies. already seated. Soon, several others joined the table. Joe sat to my left. I introduced myself to the senior woman to my right. Her name was Ginny. And I reached across her to introduce myself to her friend, another senior lady, named Carol.

After a few seconds I looked at them both & said, "I will never forget your names. The first love of my life was a beautiful girl named Gini. The second love of my life was a girl named Carol to whom I've been married for 39 years."

We all had a good laugh.

So you tell me, is this what is meant by six degrees of separation?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Fascinating display > Syncing 250 camera flashes to music by Bright Siren group

No Truer Words Have Ever Been Spoken by a Navy Seal Commander

The top commander of U.S. special forces says he thinks it's time for women to go into combat as Navy SEALS. 

A Navy SEAL himself, Admiral Eric T. Olson said at the opening session of the 2011 Aspen Security Forum that he would like to see female SEALs in combat roles. 

"As soon as policy permits it, we'll be ready to go down that road," said Olson. 

He added that being a SEAL is not just about physical strength. "I don't think the idea is to select G.I. Jane and put her through SEAL training, but there are a number of things that a man and a woman can do together that two guys can't," said Olson. [...]