Monthly Archives: November 2011

Movies, the science of dream-hacking and some blatant self-promotion

A very minimal post just to point you towards something else I’ve written that you might find of interest. It’s putatively a review of the film ‘Inception’ but I end up talking about some other movies too, and especially about some recent developments in neuroscience that are related to the ideas in the films. You can read it here at Scientific Kitty. There’s lots of other great reviews by scientists on SK as well (including my earlier review of ‘Limitless’) so make sure you have a good poke around while you’re there.


Data-mining in neuroscience – the next great frontier?

The connectome - some people think this is what represents 'you' in the brain. Yes, 'you'.

The really-very-excellent Ben Thomas (of The Connectome) recently posted something on facebook which got me thinking; it was a link to a project called NeuroSynth, which is an ongoing collaboration between several high-profile brain researchers and groups (details here) to provide an easy method for performing automated large-scale analyses (or meta-analyses) across a large portion of the neuroimaging literature. Briefly, the builders of this system have developed a way of automatically parsing the full text of published articles, and extracting 1) the parts of the brain which are active (as reported in the paper by a commonly-used 3-axis coordinate system) and 2) the topic of the paper (by looking at which terms are used with high frequency in the paper). Using these two bits of information, a huge meta-analysis is then conducted, and brain-maps showing areas which are reliably associated with particular terms in the literature can be produced. Wonderfully, they’ve made the brain maps available on the web, and you can even download these maps in the standard NIFTI (*.nii) format.

Give it a try with some common terms, e.g.:

Fun, huh? One of the best applications that immediately springs to mind when looking at these data is that these brain maps could be used to constrain the search-space in new brain-imaging experiments – for instance, by using these maps to define ROIs for hypothesis-driven analyses (something which I’m very keen on), or for defining regions for multi-voxel-pattern-analysisRead the rest of this entry

Fabulously nerdy and in-depth article on data storage technology

As kind-of an adjunct to the last post, which was on data storage and management, I just wanted to point you (dearest readers) towards a genuinely fascinating article on data storage technology (past, present and future) on Engadget here. This is really worth a read, and by the end of it you’ll know probably more than you ever wanted to about how hard drives and solid-state memory work. It does contain serious levels of geekiness, but then if you’re reading this blog, you probably already guessed that, huh?


None of your data is safe. Ever.

It occurred to me recently that I had never addressed one of the most important and fundamental issues involved in computer use – the implementation of a sensible and secure backup policy.

A lovely 2Tb 'My Book World Edition' NAS server, by Western Digital. If you live in a shared house, you need one of these.

Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking – “yawn“. However, when (thats when not if) your laptop hard-drive fries itself and you lose your 10,000 word thesis because you haven’t backed it up, don’t come whingeing and crying to me. A quick google search for “I lost my essay” turns up 1.4 million results, and most of them are tales of abject woe and desperation. Any form of data-recording media is vulnerable to catastrophic failure, and the chances of getting your data back once that happens are slim-to-nothing.* In this world of laptops and portable storage it’s not just mechanical failure that’s the problem either – laptops/hard-drives/USB keys can very easily get lost, dropped, or stolen.

Nowadays data storage densities are so ridiculously cheap that you really have no excuse for not making adequate backups. Plus, the availability of Cloud-based storage services like Dropbox  and Google Docs can also make life easier. A truly ultra-secure backup system usually involves three copies of all your important data – one ‘working’ copy (say, on your laptop hard drive), a primary backup (say, an external USB hard drive) and a secondary backup in a separate location (another external hard drive which you keep at your friend’s house). This way, if one drive fails you always have two backups, and even in the worst possible scenario of your house burning down (destroying your laptop and primary backup) you still have your secondary backup.

This might be over-kill for the purposes of most students though. If I were still an impecunious student, living in shared accomodation, the system I would implement would be this: Read the rest of this entry