Monthly Archives: June 2011

Computers and brains get closer together: Brain-like computing components

The brain is like a computer; this is the fundamental metaphor at the heart of 1980s cognitive psychology. To an extent this was a useful way of thinking about the brain, it certainly stores and processes information just like a computer, and you can even (perhaps) draw some rough parallels between parts of the brain and computer components.

However, in at least one important respect, the brain appears to function very differently from a computer. A computers’ processing power is highly centralised in a single processor (or perhaps a dual/quad core processor – doesn’t matter – still centralised). The processor does all the computational work, and the hard disk stores all the data that the processor works on. This means that data is constantly being shuttled back and forth from the hard disk to the processor (using the RAM as an intermediary, to avoid the hard disk spinning up and down all the time) and this transfer of data is slow, inefficient and creates a bottleneck which restricts the maximum speed at which computers can run. Read the rest of this entry

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Computer skills checklist for every (psychology) student.

I decided to put together a computer skills checklist. A lot of the things on this list are not specific to psychology and should be part of the training of every student. I would advise students to work through the list and note down any entries that you’re not comfortable with – finding out how to do these things and ticking off every item on the list will definitely advance your knowledge and help you out in future. Some of the things on the list have already been covered on this blog, and some I’m planning to cover in the future. Let me know in the comments if you think I’ve missed anything!

Green text denotes a basic/essential skill, orange means intermediate, red means it’s an advanced skill. Most students should be able to tick off all the green ones straight away – if you can’t you’ve got some work to do! Read the rest of this entry

E-textbooks – a tiny update.

The future - you can touch it.

I blogged the other day about e-textbooks and how they might change the way we study and consume information, and have just come across this page on the Nature site (via the never-less-than-excellent GrrlScientist). It’s an online biology textbook, published by Nature, full of beautiful illustrations, you can read it anywhere you have web-access, on any device, and it’s constantly updated, so it never goes out of date. The future – it’s here!

Psychology and cloud computing – Google Docs, DropBox, iCloud.

My favourite cloud-type - you can't beat a nice bit of cumulonimbus.

Following Apple’s announcement of ‘iCloud‘ last week, I’ve been thinking about how the current trend towards cloud computing might have an impact on psychology students, teaching and research. Not so much about the psychology of cloud storage itself (although I definitely think there’s an interesting discussion to be had there) but more about how as psychologists we can use the cloud to make our lives easier. Read the rest of this entry

fMRI Software (FSL, SPM, BrainVoyager) for beginners – how to choose?

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) has now become a pretty mainstream activity for researchers interested in the workings of the human brain, and since its inception in the early-90s a whole load of software has been developed which can enable even the most clueless or Unix-averse researcher to (reasonably) easily perform complex analyses on fMRI datasets. I wrote a brief earlier post about fMRI software based on a presentation, and thought I’d expand on it a little more in a future series. There’s obviously a great deal to say about these pieces of software in terms of advanced features, UI etc. and I’ll get to all that at some point in the future. This post will focus on the very basic aspects of three popular choices for fMRI analysis: BrainVoyager, FSL and SPM*; what platforms they support, and the basic features of each. Read the rest of this entry

2D maps of brain connectivity

Just a quickie – found this site, which has some awesome google-maps style interfaces for Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) data, showing neural connectivity in the brain. Very nice. Also a downloadable application which looks very nice too. Worth checking out.

Kno for iPad, and e-textbooks – the future of studying?

E-textbooks - the future?

OK, I know I ragged on the iPad (and tablets in general) somewhat in this post, but there’s just been a very interesting announcement from a company called Kno, and what can I say, I’m capricious. This company had previously put out a massive piece of hardware, which consisted of two 14.1 inch tablets stuck together – they were marketing this as a digital textbook. The device was generally poorly reviewed, and it looks like they’ve come up with a different strategy – licensing their software for the iPad. You can download the Kno app, and then have access to a store which will sell you e-textbooks for (they claim) 30-50% off the list price.  A quick perusal of their store reveals many common undergraduate psychology titles (although quite a lot are labelled as ‘coming soon’). This has to be better (and cheaper) than carrying around a load of massive textbooks, right? Their software looks pretty good – you can make annotations, share stuff through the normal social-network channels, zoom-in on illustrations etc. Read the rest of this entry