Monthly Archives: September 2011
As an example of the ways in which technology and psychology have developed together recently, I thought it would be fun to do a little case-study of a particular area of research which has benefitted from advances in computer software over recent years. Rather than talk about the very technical disciplines like brain imaging (which have of course advanced enormously recently) I thought it would be more fun to concentrate on an area of relatively ‘pure’ psychology, and one of the most important and fundamental cognitive processes which is present pretty much from birth; face perception.
In November 1991 Michael Jackson released the single ‘Black or White’; the first to be released from his eighth album ‘Dangerous’. The single is of some significance as it marked the beginning of Jackson’s descent from the firmament of music stardom into the spiral of musical mediocrity and personal weirdness which only ended with his death in 2009, but for the purposes of the present discussion it was interesting because of part of its accompanying video. Towards the end of the video a series of people of both sexes and of various ethnic groups are shown singing along with the song and the images of their faces morph into each other in series:
A brief anecdote – last week I had to fix a website. Doesn’t matter which one, but there was a link that needed removing. Easy, you might think; not so, unfortunately. The link was embedded in a piece of malicious code in a website theme, which uses a bit of web technology called PHP. Now, I know very little about PHP, but I managed to find the right bit of code on the server and opened the file, to be greeted with absolute gibberish – a totally unintelligible string of numbers and letters. A bit of googling revealed that the code had been intentionally obfuscated by encoding it in base-64 – sneaky. A bit more googling eventually turned up a base-64 encoder/decoder which made sense of it, I stripped out the offending link, and uploaded a new version of the file back to the web server (using this awesome online ftp client), which (miraculously) worked! Job done.
The point of this anecdote is that you can achieve a lot with computers with a tiny bit of knowledge and a lot of experimentation – or just hacking around. Read the rest of this entry