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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Women Are Better Connected... Neurally

The search for differences between the brains of men and women has a long and rather confusing history. Any structural differences are small, and their significance is controversial. The one rock-solid finding is that men's brains are slightly bigger on average. Then again, men are slightly bigger on average in general.

A new paper just out from Tomasi and Volkow (of cell-phones-affect-brain fame) offers, on the face of it, extremely strong evidence for a gender difference in the brain, not in structure but in function: Gender Differences in Brain Functional Connectivity Density.

Here's the headline pic:
They used resting-state "functional connectivity" (though see here for why this term may be misleading) fMRI in men and women. This essentially means that they put people in the MRI scanner, told them to just lie there and relax, and measured the degree to which activity in different parts of the brain was correlated to activity in every other part. They had a whopping 561 brains in total, though they didn't scan everyone themselves: they downloaded the data from here.

As you can see the results were highly consistent around the world. In both men and women, the main "connectivity hub" was an area called the ventral precuneus. This is interesting in itself although not a new finding as the precuneus has long been known to be involved in resting-state networks. However, the degree of connectivity was higher in women than in men 14% higher, in fact.

The method they used, which they've dubbed "Local Functional Connectivity Density Mapping", is apparantly a fast way of calculating the degree to which each part of the brain is functionally related to each other part.

You could do this by taking every single voxel and correlating it with every other voxel, for every single person, but this would take forever unless you had a supercomputer. LFCDM is, they say, a short-cut. I'm not really qualified to judge whether it's a valid one, but it looks solid.

Also, men's brains were on average bigger, but interestingly they show that women had, relative to brain size, more grey matter than men. Here's the data (I'm not sure about the color scheme...)

So what does the functional connectivity finding mean? It could mean anything, or nothing. You could interpret the highly interconnected female brain as an explanation for why women are more holistic, better at multi-tasking, and more in touch with their emotions than men with their fragmented faculties. Or whatever.

Or you could say, that that's sexist rubbish, and all this means is that men and women on average are thinking about different things when they lie in MRI scanners. We already know that resting-state functional connectivity centred on the precuneus is suppressed whenever your attention is directed towards an external "task".

That's not a fault of this research, which is excellent as far as it goes and certainly raises lots of interesting questions about functional connectivity. But we don't know what it means quite yet.

ResearchBlogging.orgTomasi D, & Volkow ND (2011). Gender differences in brain functional connectivity density. Human brain mapping PMID: 21425398

Google denies plans for facial recognition application

Captioned article via Darren Nathan

Picasa already has facial recognition technology built in and a store of photos of many of us from every perceivable angle. How difficult would it be for them to apply this technology to a Smartphone app? 

Have you ever wondered why Google has a free offline/online photo album app in the first place. It's hardly inline with their core business strategy unless their core business strategy is finding out everything there is to know about YOU.

Google-is-watching-you-google-

If they wanted, Google could use apps they already have to log today what you read, what you write, what you say and who you do it with, (write and say that is). They could record where you go or where you are right now to within a couple of feet. What is there to worry about? 

Just so you know how crazy I really am, in the not too distant, a girl will be able scan a bar full of men with her Smartphone and an app will tell her which guy drives a supercar, has a bank balance in excess of a mill and his condom size. Guys will be able to scan a room full of women and an app will tell them which girls have a bra size minimum of 38C and lots of male contacts. Oh, and hasn't bought penicillin recently!!! Of course police could use the same technology to see who in the rooms got a police record, or is a friend of Public Enemy No 1. 

New technology in the right hands is a good thing, so long as those hands are mine!!!!!

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I Wanna Go Hawaii Now. LOL!

I wanna go Hawaii now. LOL!
I wanna go Hawaii now. LOL!

Thursday giveaway!

Today's giveaway is a BIG one! EmersonMade, the gorgeous fashion line from New Hampshire, is offering a $1000 shopping spree to one lucky winner! Eeks! They make beautiful clothes (including skirts and dresses and T-shirts) and accessories (like flower pins and gold coin necklaces). I'm in l-o-v-e with their jeans, and Toby wears their baby clothes! Their whole countryside life looks so dreamy and makes me want to move to a farm, wear a flower brooch and raise chickens. :)

For a chance to win, visit EmersonMade's online shop (and consider signing up for their Facebook and twitter), and leave a comment below telling us your favorite pieces. A winner will be chosen at random tomorrow. Good luck!

Update: Blogger allows a maximum of 5,000 comments -- apologies to those who wanted to enter but arrived too late! Mai from Seattle is our lucky winner. Thank you so much! xoxo

Embroidered book covers

How breathtakingly gorgeous are these embroidered book covers by Jillian Tamaki? She made them for Penguin Books, and rumor has it that they'll be available this fall. SO beautiful. (I'm sure Jane Austen would have wholeheartedly approved. I love Emma's little freckles!)

P.S. More + amazing + book covers.

(By Jillian Tamaki, via Black Eiffel)

Congratulations! Winner of a HP Photosmart Premium e-All-in-One C310a printer

Photobucket


HP/EastCoastLife Giveaway Contest

Congratulations to blogger :


who has won 

One unit HP Photosmart Premium e-All-in-One C310a
Retail price : S$369

I have just completed a draw for the lucky winner of a HP Photosmart Premium e-All-in-One C310a an hour ago with my students as witnesses.

There were 76 entries. Thanks to my overseas friends who submitted their entries. I would gladly send you the prize had you won. 

For those who commented on my blog post. To show my appreciation, besides your original email, I have given you an extra chance with a photocopy of your email for the draw.


All emails have been shredded to keep your particulars confidential.  


I will be contacting the winner to deliver the prize. :D


Thanks to all participants. See you in my next giveaway.

Songkran 2011

TAT's website for Songkran is showing the festival taking place on different dates in various locations around the country. Dates for Pattaya's Wanlai/Songkran festival are:

Songkran2

Is that long enough for you? 

It seems to me that additional days are added to the traditional 3 day festival every year. Also, in previous years I'm pretty sure Pattaya celebrated Songkran the week after Bangkok in order to attract Bangkokians down to Pattaya for Songkran part 2. This year the dates appear to clash. I guess I'll only really know when I get a bucketful in my face!!!! Roll on May... I know, grump, grump, grump. 

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I'M GOING TO HAWAII

I'M GOING TO HAWAII
I'M GOING TO HAWAII

Thor Hushovd is getting ready for the Paris-Roubaix

Wednesday giveaway!


Today's giveaway is from Moop, the Pittsburgh studio that makes beautiful handmade bags for men, women and kids. Their bags are soft and roomy and perfect for adventures around town. I'm lucky enough to have their blue market bag, and their new waxed canvas collection and Very Useful Tote (both pictured above) are gorgeous. They're offering one lucky winner any bag from their shop--you get to choose!

For a chance to win, please visit Moop, and leave a comment below telling us your favorite bag. A winner will be chosen at random tomorrow. Good luck! xo

Update: Melissa Hall is our lucky winner. Thanks for playing.

A handy guide to creating the perfect cheese plate

I may or may not be obsessed with cheese (are you, too?), so the fact that we live down the street from Murray's Cheese, the most amazing cheese shop that ever existed, is fabulous and a little dangerous. The shop is packed with incredible cheeses, meats, chocolates, breads and ice creams, and the cheesemongers are geniuses (and give samples!). Toby and I venture over there at least twice a week, and we're both fatter and happier for it.

So, my darlings, I'm thrilled to present this handy guide to creating the perfect cheese plate! I met with Murray's head cheesemonger Sydney Willcox to discover her tried-and-true tips, and the lovely Jamie Beck took photos. Here goes...
Overall pointers for putting together a cheese plate:
* When you invite friends over, buy one ounce per person per cheese; and stick to five to six cheeses total.
* Choose a fun variety of cheeses: different textures, countries, and all three milk types (goat, sheep, cow).
* Serve all the cheeses on one big board. You want your guests to start with the mildest and work up to the strongest, so place the cheeses in "clock order"--12 o'clock being the mildest and 11 o'clock being the strongest.
* Take the cheese out of the fridge at least an hour before serving. Cheese should be eaten at room temperature, when it's at its full flavor and texture.
* Put out a few different knives. Goat and blue cheeses crumble if you use a regular knife, so cheese wires are the best thing to use--if you don't have one, you can use dental floss! Softer cheeses work best with a butter knife. Harder cheeses, like parmesan, are good with a triangle-shaped knife. Cut circular cheeses in wedges, like a pizza.
* If you have leftovers, don't store the cheese in Saran Wrap, which will make the cheese sweat and leave a plastic-y taste. Cheese is living and needs to breathe, so wrap it in parchment or wax paper, and keep it in the most humid part of the fridge (usually the vegetable drawer).
Six cheeses for the perfect basic cheese plate:
(pictured clockwise from top)

1. Cremont is a bloomy, rindy, mild cheese, which debuted last year in Vermont. (The name "cremont" is a mix of "cream" and "Vermont"!) The cheese has both cow and goat milk. Luscious, coats your tongue, fudge-y, cake-y.

2. La Tur is the little black dress of cheeses! Everyone loves it. It's a mix of goat, sheep and cow--which is is pretty unusual. Flavorwise, you get a hint of all three animals--tang from the goat, lingering buttery fat from the sheep, milky sweetness from the cow. The texture feels almost whipped, like savory ice cream! At a party, this insanely popular Italian cheese will disappear first.

3. Pyrenees Brebis. Every single person I've has ever met loves this sheep's milk cheese. It's a huge crowd-pleaser. A lot of flavor, but very harmonious. Nutty, salty, floral, semi-soft. From the southwest region of France, where there are huge herds of sheep.

4. Cabot Clothbound Cheddar. Cabot makes lots of cheddars, but this is their artisanal (read: fancy!) line. What's cool about this cheese is that it's a partnership between Cabot and the Cellars at Jasper Hill--Cabot makes the cheese, which is then aged in the Cellars at Jasper Hill. There's actually a staff of guys (football-player size!) who flip these cheeses everyday, so they'll age evenly. The cheese is wrapped in cloth, which is a more English style of making cheese. Super strong cheddar; you get little crystals. You'll taste peanuts, caramel, earthy flavors. Eat from the inside out; then take the cloth off and then eat the rind--it almost takes like dirt, but it works so well with the other flavors. (P.S. It would make the best grilled cheese you'd ever have in your life.)

5. Pleasant Ridge Reserve. Made with raw Jersey cow's milk in Wisconsin. Very fruity and smooth. The American Cheese Society just named it "Best in Show" for the third time (it's the only cheese to have been awarded Best in Show more than once!). You've gotta try it.

6. Cambozola Black Label is a very, very delicate blue cheese. Just a tinge of that mineral flavor; very buttery with a bit of a cashew flavor. A great beginning cheese for people who think they might not like blue cheeses. (Once you put it on bread and add a grape, it will mellow out, if you’re feeling timid!) Blue cheeses and chocolate also go together really well--a great balance of salty and sweet.

Pair cheeses with: Dried cherries, walnuts, marcona almonds (I love these!), fresh grapes, crackers and French bread.
Yummy! Thank you so much, Sydney and Murray's! Have you tried any of these cheeses before? Do you have a different favorite cheese that you'd recommend? I'd love to hear...

P.S. More cheese-y posts!

(Photos by Jamie Beck for Cup of Jo)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Neuroskeptic Irreverent and Sometimes Profane, Study Finds

I was most surprised and honored to find out this morning that the Annals of Neurology has declared Neuroskeptic to be
Irreverent, sometimes profane, and can skirt the boundaries of good taste. Nonetheless, Neuroskeptic covers a rich mixture of important, engaging, or amusing topics focusing on the basic and clinical neurosciences, and does so in a data-driven, user-friendly, and comment-enabled format. Neuroskeptic is only one of a number of increasingly used web sites and blogs dedicated to promoting public education, rational discourse, and a healthy dose of skepticism around important issues in the neurosciences...
No really: Scientific literacy and the media. They also list a small number of other neuroblogs, although they leave out many outstanding ones including the blog that most inspired this one, and that everyone confuses me with, The Neurocritic.

Anyway, the editorial goes on to note that:

Last April, a series of sensationalist stories reporting the “creation of life” and a newfound capability to “play God” appeared in the national media following the demonstration that synthetic DNA could transform a mycoplasma species from one to another subtype(ref). This represented a tour de force of DNA synthesis, but probably only a modest step forward for the science of genetic engineering.

In response, President Obama directed his Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to prepare a comprehensive advisory report to help frame policies about synthetic biology(ref).

The Commission noted that sensationalist headlines may attract readers to scientific topics but do a terrible disservice by promoting “claims that fail to convey accurately to the public the current state of the field, the implications of research results, and the limits of scientists' present knowledge and abilities.” The Presidential Commission recommended creating a well-funded, interactive website... to monitor claims about new scientific discoveries and technologies.

Ideally, such a site would be only part of a wider effort to promote scientific literacy and critical thinking across all segments of society... In the coming years, scientific innovation is certain to play an increasingly large role in the global economy... The public discourse on these and related matters needs to be rational, evidence-based, and accurate.

Broadly speaking, this is why I write this blog, because it is indeed extremely important. Well, ok, the real reason is that it gives me an excuse to make funny pictures with MS Paint (someone accused me of using Photoshop to do those once - no, that would be too advanced). However, if a few people understand neuroscience a bit better in the process, I can live with that...

ResearchBlogging.orgHauser, S., & Johnston, S. (2011). Scientific literacy and the media Annals of Neurology, 69 (3) DOI: 10.1002/ana.22410

Six Weeks In Kauai, Hawaii

Six weeks in Kauai, Hawaii
Six weeks in Kauai, Hawaii

Miss Thailand Universe for 2011 - Crowning Moment

“Fah” will represent Thailand in San Paulo, Brazil next September. What does Fah get from this? Well a contract with Channel 7 for starters. So, after this whole beauty queen competition is over, get ready to see Fah all over your television screens, maybe.

Thailand: Tourism and the Truth – Stacey Dooley Investigates (BBC3)

The Luton shop assistant turned investigator of human rights abuse is getting beneath the gloss of the glossy holiday brochure on the holiday island of Phuket. What she finds really isn't nice – brutal working conditions, Mickey Mouse wages, rats. And locals being forced away from the homes they've always lived in by the inexorable spread of tourism.

Phuket

The brilliant thing about Stacey is she doesn't stop at the expose; she then sets about making it right. So she sets up a meeting with the hotel management to try to improve workers' conditions, and with the prime minister of Thailand, to save some sea gypsies. OK, so the PM doesn't show up, but his deputy does, and promises to save the sea gypsies. Stacy has got to see Thailand's Nick Clegg, and got a promise out of him. Let's hope he's better at sticking to them than his British counterpart.

The lovely thing about Stacey is that she's so incredibly nice to everyone and polite. She's my new journalism idol; John Pilger, you are so over.

via The Guardian

Ed - Looks like more bad news for the Thai tourist industry.

Pattaya Rag

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alessandro nesta soccer players pictures

alessandro nesta soccer players
alessandro nesta soccer players
alessandro nesta soccer players
alessandro nesta
alessandro nesta
alessandro nesta soccer players pictures
alessandro nesta soccer players pictures
alessandro nesta soccer players pictures