Those of you who still rent DVDs from time to time, have you noticed if there is a scratch on the DVD, it follows that there is a high likelihood of the skip or freeze occurring at either the climax or during a scene where something important to the plot is revealed? This recently happened to me two nights in a row. After repeated incidents over the years, I think I have seen a real pattern. I have to wonder it’s a feature of DVDs created by devious designers.

Brain-like computers

At NextBigFuture: Energy-Efficient Neuromorphic Computers

Also recently at The Economist: The machine of a new soul

Digital computers do certain types of things extremely efficiently, such as storing exact numerical data losslessly and performing predefined mathematical operations rapidly. On the other hand, many tasks that involve low signal-to-noise, incomplete data sets, and real-time data streams can be done much more efficiently by analogue or neuromorphic computers. It will be interesting to see what some of these projects bring…



An awesome post from The Rationalist Conspiracy:

Consider a self-aware computer, somewhere in the space of minds. It’s smart enough to think about itself. But it can’t have perfect self-knowledge, due to Godelian infinite recursion issues. Hence, some of its parts must remain mysterious upon self-reflection.

The computer, realizing this, needs a label to describe the parts whose behavior can be observed, but whose detailed workings are (to it) inherently mysterious. In humans, this label seems to be “consciousness”.

I grow tired of many of the pontifications on this topic. This one is a gem. If the human brain were simple, we’d be too simple-minded to understand it. I could not have said it any better.

Objective look at publishing

I found this linked on a few other blogs. I think it’s a very fair analysis of traditional versus self-publishing.

Grafting 101

In a previous post I wrote about how an immersive virtual reality (IVR) system would have to work and how many portrayals in popular television and movies get it wrong. I established that such a system would necessarily be invasive, having to connect itself to every neuron in the peripheral nervous system. Warning: What follows is a rather technical discussion rife with medical and engineering terms.


The crude cables shown in The Matrix, though definitely invasive, do not begin to capture it. To reiterate, every retina cell, every cochlear hair cell, every olfactory sensory neuron, every proprioceptive (joint position) neuron, and every other neuron in peripheral nervous system would have to be freely modulated by such a system. Every channel of sensation would have to be controlled. Anatomically, each of these channels is kept separate until it is highly processed by the brain (separately), and only after each are processed (separately) do specialized areas of the brain integrate them. As a consequence of the channels being processed in parallel, there is no one convergent area that could be targeted or manipulated for the purposes of an IVR system. Thus it has to be the complete peripheral nervous system, i.e. all the neurons comprising the 24 cranial nerves and 62 spinal nerves.


How might this be accomplished? My own idea, while still fanciful and well beyond current technologies, does have a certain conceptual soundness to it. That is, it would work in theory. I call it a peripheral nervous system graft. Rather than a surgically-installed device, the PNS graft would sprout and grow into the body as a synthetic organism. I imagine an genetically-engineered virus that would ‘infect’ peripheral neurons selectively and transform them into syneurons. The syneurons would function identically to and maintain the same connectivity as the cell from which they were born, but would bud and form new connections with a central hub. As the central processor of the device, the hub would implement the control loop that I described previously. I picture it residing somewhere in the abdomen.


Thus, sensory input from the real world would be blocked and simulated reality from the hub would be fed in instead. Likewise, motor output from the brain would be captured and applied to the simulated environment (to a virtual body) and the proxy software would generate whatever motor output it was programmed to do for the real body.

Imagine hanging out with your friends in a virtual club while your proxy does a work-out routine with your body in the real world. You could have virtual feasts on simulated food and return to the real world with an empty stomach. Sound good? Here is where one’s imagination can take off.

There is much more to say about devices such as these, but what is particularly interesting to me are the ethical, moral, and societal implications. My novel delves into just a few of them. It is true that, while theoretically sound, the above is just speculation on my part today, but as we see increased use of mobile computing (smart phones and tablets) and augmented-reality devices (Google Glass), we will begin to grapple with many of these issues.

Why is the doctor angry?

A recent post on resonated with me. A patient of the author did not follow through with his treatment plan and badness ensued as a result:

Did we rush to the emergency room, to salvage his life? Of course. Were there innumerable tests, complex treatments, multiple consults and an ICU admission? You bet.  Did I patiently explain to him what was happening? Yes. Did I look him in the eye and tell him that I was upset, that he had neglected his own care by not reaching out and in doing so he violated the basic tenants of a relationship which said that he was the patient and I was the doctor?  Did I remind him what I expect from him and what he can expect from me?  You better believe it, I was really pissed!

The practice of medicine for most doctors is fueled by a passion to help our fellowman.  This is not a vague, misty, group hug sort of passion. This is a tear-down-the-walls and go-to-war passion.  We do not do this for money, fame, power or babes; we do this because we care.  Without an overwhelming desire to treat, cure and alleviate suffering, it would not be possible to walk into an oncology practice each morning. Therefore, just as we expect a lot of ourselves, we darn well expect a lot out of our patients.

I’m still early in my career and have not had something this severe happen, but I have answered calls from ERs about my patients who did not refill their medications in time and had a seizure or and MS flair. I do my best to keep them doing what they want to do and out of the hospital, but it doesn’t always go as planned. Practicing medicine is frustrating and often thankless, but I still love it.