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November 26, 2018

Mars InSight live landing coverage begins NOW (2 p.m.)

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From NASA: "NASA's InSight lander is scheduled to touch down on Mars at approximately 3 p.m. EST Monday, November 26. Live landing commentary runs from 2-3:30 p.m. The Entry, Descent, and Landing phase will be the final plunge of NASA's Mars InSight Lander through the Martian atmosphere. If successful, it will last about six minutes and deliver the lander safely to the surface of the Red Planet."

Watch here.

Note: contrary to rumor, Elon Musk did not sneak aboard.

November 26, 2018 at 02:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Drive Like a Spy

November 26, 2018 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

This is Your Brain on Jazz: "An fMRI Study of Jazz Improvisation"


The above-titled scientific paper appeared in the February 27, 2008 Public Library of Science (PLOS) ONE.

Long story short, from Greg Toppo's USA Today article: Scientists "... recruited six jazz pianists to play a specially designed keyboard while lying on their backs in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine [above]."

Here's the newspaper piece.


Brain scans tune in to personal nature of improvising music

From Eric Clapton to Miles Davis to Yo-Yo Ma, we've long heard that when musicians improvise, they're engaged in an intensely personal pursuit. A pair of scientists have scanned musicians' brains and now say that's true.

More precisely, when musicians improvise, they're using the same part of the brain that responds to a simple request: Tell me about yourself.

In new findings, researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders say they have located the region of the brain — the medial prefrontal cortex — that lights up when musicians improvise. It's the same area we all use when we're talking about ourselves — who we are, what makes us tick.

It makes perfect sense to Charles Limb, a Hopkins researcher and jazz saxophonist who holds a joint faculty appointment at Hopkins' music conservatory. "Because the person is spontaneously composing, they really are revealing themselves musically," he says. "It's like your own musical autobiography."

At the same time, he and a colleague found, improvising musicians turn off the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a portion of the brain linked to planning, careful actions and self-censoring.

Limb says most writing about jazz has traditionally stressed how great musicians "find their own sound." Now, he says, we know what that means in scientific terms: "It's basically sculpting your own identity, the voice you're going to use."

And he has the brain scans to prove it.

Limb and a colleague, Allen Braun of the communication disorder center, designed an unusual experiment. They recruited six jazz pianists to play a specially designed keyboard while lying on their backs in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine.

Subjects played scales, simple memorized pieces and improvisations on both. During the improvisations, a recorded jazz group played in their headphones.

When Limb and Braun examined the scans produced during improvisation and stripped away evidence of brain activity common to all playing, they were left with signals from the medial prefrontal cortex.

Limb says the brain fires similarly when people improvise while speaking, improvise solutions to problems and dream. Next up: brain scans of poets, visual artists and "non-artists asked to improvise."


Now you're nicely warmed up so let's go to the abstract of the scientific publication (below).


Neural Substrates of Spontaneous Musical Performance: An fMRI Study of Jazz Improvisation

To investigate the neural substrates that underlie spontaneous musical performance, we examined improvisation in professional jazz pianists using functional MRI. By employing two paradigms that differed widely in musical complexity, we found that improvisation (compared to production of over-learned musical sequences) was consistently characterized by a dissociated pattern of activity in the prefrontal cortex: extensive deactivation of dorsolateral prefrontal and lateral orbital regions with focal activation of the medial prefrontal (frontal polar) cortex. Such a pattern may reflect a combination of psychological processes required for spontaneous improvisation, in which internally motivated, stimulus-independent behaviors unfold in the absence of central processes that typically mediate self-monitoring and conscious volitional control of ongoing performance. Changes in prefrontal activity during improvisation were accompanied by widespread activation of neocortical sensorimotor areas (that mediate the organization and execution of musical performance) as well as deactivation of limbic structures (that regulate motivation and emotional tone). This distributed neural pattern may provide a cognitive context that enables the emergence of spontaneous creative activity.


More on the subject here.

November 26, 2018 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Matte Black Flatware

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As used on the SR-71 Blackbird... wait a sec.

Never mind.

From the website:


• Physical vapor deposition (PVD)-coated stainless steel

• Designed by Miguel Peixoto

• Hand made in Portugal

• Set of five pieces



November 26, 2018 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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