Brain Scan

I participated in another fMRI experiment the other day. This one attempted to study latent memory.

The experiment comprised three parts. The first was a guided learning session, I believe, lasting 24 minutes. I held a two-button controller and a series of instructions was flashed on the screen of the goggles I wore into the MRI machine, taking me through a decision tree with images of fractals indicating the "state," and the dynamics being controlled by the left and right buttons of the controller.

In the second session, also 24 minutes long, I had to try to reach end states for a given reward ($0.25 for one, $0.10 for another, and $0.00 for another).

Lastly, some anatomical scans were taken to ensure, I guess, that I had a normal brain. This process took about 10 minutes, though it seemed to take too long.

The first stage had a single possible value, and you could make two decisions- left and right. With a certain probability, depending on which button you pushed, one of four images would come up. Then, there was a second step where the process repeated, only the tree collapsed down to three different states there, again with differing probabilities.

The second 24 minute session was the moneymaking phase. The prompt would come up and I was supposed to navigate to the final state, attempting to maximize my earnings. It was fairly simple to do so, as I had figured this was the goal coming in and paid attention mostly to the consequences of the first choice in the learning session. I noticed that one choice led overwhelmingly to outcomes one and three ($0.25 and $0.00 payouts, respectively), and the other overwhelmingly to two and three ($0.10 and $0.00, respectively). I took the first few trials on the payout round to further prune the decision tree.

In the end, I won more money than the experimenter had ever seen. Plenty of money for lunch this week!

After the experiment, I asked if I could get a picture of my brain. Well, he wouldn't give me one, but he showed me some of the anatomical scans with the 3D rendering. The cerebellum looks delightfully leafy. The major blood vessels are huge--and one of my eyes is noticeably lower than the other. My corpus callosum seemed huge, and the lobes were generally quite fluffy in appearance.


SNAFU Resolution Training

After our exciting evening Saturday before last, we had several solid days of cleanup left to do...

Industrial fans were set up and directed to dry out our most important equipment. Gallons and gallons of isopropanol were used for scrubbing, wiping, and mopping the floors, walls, and crevices. Toothbrushes and canned air were used to clean off circuit boards.

Many things were voltmetered and examined with dental mirrors and bright lights.

I even went and examined the insides some of our passive air ducts. That was fun.

Current status: it appears that our SEM will work, though the computer that controls it has passed into the realm of shadows; two-thirds of our ICP-RIE/PECVD cluster tool (see below) is okay; we've got to replace a bunch of cleanroom ceiling tiles before we can 'seal' the room again, probably we'll have to change our HEPA filters out.

We took advantage of the disaster to correct a few problems we've had for a while. We put our vacuum pumps on elevated, wheeled, frames with drip pans below. We're getting some safety equipment we needed to install years ago...

All told, things are still broken, but progress is being made.


Sunday was my birthday!! Yay!


Après le Déluge

Last night Max, Demetri, Susan and I attempted to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I say "attempted," because just before we arrived at the theater, I received a distressing call for help.

You see, very early Saturday morning, some construction at school required the shutoff of our building's chilled water. As a result, the temperature in our cleanroom climbed up to about 120F. This necessitated a shutdown of basically all our equipment. We thought we were safe.

We were decidedly not.

Sometime from 7-8pm, one of the fire sprinklers in our cleanroom, weakened by a day at fairly warm temp, went off. The amount of water it put out was epic. It flooded our cleanroom to a couple of inches, spraying a couple of million dollars worth of (thankfully powered down) equipment with nasty sprinkler water. Water flowed down the hall, getting into two of our other labs, though not as bad.

I arrived on the scene at about 8:30pm, and we worked until about 1am vacuuming and mopping and scrubbing up what must have been a few hundred gallons of water, and then setting up fans to dry our precious equipment.

The consequences of this flooding will be difficult to assess. Not least because it may be days before we can even begin to try to turn on our equipment and see what is broken, and what is not. It was a great Saturday night.


Nightmares in Customer Service

Apparently, Sony doesn't take their Sony VAIO customer service very seriously. Read on to enjoy a lengthy tale of woe:
My new Sony's hard drive died last month. This is not Sony's fault; components fail, especially (weirdly) when they're new.

The service, on the other hand, is agonizing. After repeatedly explaining that there was an I/O error on the drive preventing me from booting, I was told to try reinstalling the operating system. This, of course, did not work, because . . . there was an I/O error on the disk, which did not magically disappear when I inserted the recovery CD.

Eventually, I persuaded them that the disk had indeed failed. Fine, they said; we will send you in which you can ship it back to us. The box will get there within 48 hours; it will be expressed back to us, and we'll turn it around in 7-10 business days.

Two weeks without a computer isn't insurmountable.

That was two weeks ago. Unfortunately, it took a while for the box to arrive, because they'd gotten my address wrong. For some inexplicable reason, they'd entered "Clarendon, Virginia" after the correct street address.

Now, this is not a conceivable error on my part. I have never lived in, or near, Clarendon, Virginia. I'm not even sure I knew it existed until the rep told me that that was where my box had gone.

Unfortunately, by the time the box had arrived, I was out of town, being unable to plan my travel schedule around Sony's ineffable errors. When I returned, I boxed it up per the instructions and took it to Fedex.

You can imagine my surprise when, two days later, Fedex delivered my computer to me. At least the address was right in one place: on the "To" section of the label, which was erroneously addressed to me, instead of Sony's repair centre.

That was the end of last week. So today I called to arrange for service. Sony, out of the kindness of their heart, offered to . . . send me another box.
Suffice it to say, I'm glad that I haven't landed there, yet. It is only a matter of time, though.


Ninja Driving School

At the Ninja Driving School, you'll learn:
  • To disappear into the blind spots of other drivers, and reappear when least expected!
  • To strike with the deadly Toyota, Honda, and Nissan techniques!
  • To utilize darkness, light, and the Element to confuse your target!
  • To jump dozens of places in a line of autos!
  • And much more

Docters That Have Mortars

Apparently, the immigrant medical community in the UK has a bit of a problem keeping to the tradition of the Hippocratic oath.