Tag Archives: visualization

Brain Surgery Live!

This is quite amazing. “On May 9, 2012, neurosurgeon Dr. Dong Kim gave an inside look into the OR during brain surgery with a live Twittercast.”

All I can say is Wow.

You can view the Twittercast, complete with videos, on Storify: http://storify.com/memorialhermann/brain-surgery-live-on-twitter


Retirement – what does that really mean?

Prudential is a large insurance company that has a brilliant marketing scheme, which just happens to also be a wonderful testament to retirement.

The Day One project consists of photos and videos documenting the very first day of retirement for each of hundreds of people across the United States who retired in 2011. I do not know how it is that the specific people in this project were contacted, but their stories are interesting, touching, inspiring, and a vivid reminder that – barring circumstances beyond one’s control – we will each eventually reach that ripe point in time when change is ours to make; when we may leave our jobs and craft an adventure; when we redefine how we spend our time.

What is retirement? Last year my husband left his job of twenty-seven years. He was successful at what he did, highly liked and admired by colleagues, and on the younger side in terms of typical retirement age. People figured he was retiring, or taking a sabbatical. He replied that he was taking an adult gap year, for sabbatical implies returning to one’s position, and he was definitely not returning. He absolutely did not want to retire; he simply wanted a change.

Synonyms for retirement, according to one online definition, include retreat, seclusion and withdrawal. Yikes! These couldn’t be worse prescriptions for one’s long term cognitive health! Take an aging brain and induce it to retreat, seclude itself and withdraw, and you have a recipe for old age decline.

So what did my husband do? He is taking courses at Yestermorrow in Vermont, focusing on a sustainable building and design certificate program. He is teaching AP Computer Science online. He is engaged in experiments revolving around his sustainable architecture practicum, which involves a curved roof system. He is reading books, both online and in print. He is tweeting. He is writing a book. Well, more accurately, he is taking a book that he hand wrote over part of a year, rereading it one chapter at a time, editing it and posting it online. He is thinking about ideas. He takes daily long walks. He has time. He makes his own time. And the stress lines are gone from his face. And he’s dropped a few pounds. And he cooks dinner every evening.

I’d describe this as retooling or retreading, but not retiring. And perhaps there are even more apt words to describe this next phase of life. When the time comes for you, what will you call this phase?

Notes from a 6th grade session on Stress

There are three 6th grade sections at the school where I currently teach. These sixth graders have an enlightened and passionate Science teacher who makes study of the brain their main focus throughout the year. Among the many topics explored, she guides the students to learn about how they learn – metacognition in real time! She invited me to do a session with each section about stress and relaxation. Below are my notes.

If anyone has suggestions for improving this session, please leave a comment. Thanks!


Room Setup – this was done in the Science classroom where all the furniture was movable. We moved the tables to the perimeter of the room and placed the chairs in a semi- circle (a large C shape) on the inside of that perimeter, facing the board. We tried to have equal room between the chairs to facilitate movement activities. My chair was part of the circle and near the board for easy access.

The movement portions were accompanied by music played on my laptop using external speakers.

How’s everyone feeling? Introductions

Talk about how there are butterflies in my stomach due to: not knowing any of the students and being excited to teach a topic of huge interest to me. Further note that, due to nervousness and excitement, I will likely not remember everyone’s names.

Nonetheless, to try and help me recall names, please introduce yourself and tell me something about you. (Depending upon the time – for the first two groups we had 45 mins, for the third group we had 90 mins – have the kids also make a movement with their arms or body as they introduce themselves.)

Synovial Joint Warmup to music (Wade in the Water – about 4 mins)

  • toes & ankles
  • shoulders
  • gentle neck roll – avoid dropping head back
  • wrist rolls
  • squat knee circles
  • hip circles
  • empty coat sleeve twists
  • hokey-pokey right arm, then left arm
  • hokey-pokey right leg, then left leg
  • mouth & eyes
  • whole body

What happens inside your body when everything is pretty much feeling fine?

  • HOMEOSTASIS (homeo = same; stasis = stable) – a fairly stable balance in your body between the energizing & calming chemicals inside you
  • the SYMPATHETIC (activates “fight or flight”) & PARASYMPATHETIC (activates relaxation response) nervous systems are in synch with one another

Stress, anyone? What happens in your body when you fall out of homeostasis? i.e. out of balance –> you experience STRESS

  • “fight or flight”
  • release of CORTISOL
  • confusion
  • a sense of learned helplessness
  • a sense of feeling threatened

What’s the deal with CORTISOL?

  • a little bit is helpful for energy
  • helps enhance long term memory, i.e. learning
  • LIMBIC system is the Drama Department of your brain – memory & learning are enhanced when there is an emotional component
  • however, too much emotion in either direction results in more cortisol, which is detrimental towards learning b/c too much cortisol can kill neurons in the hippocampus, which is a major player in forming memory i.e. in learning
  • insufficient sleep can increase cortisol

Long-term effects of too much cortisol include:

  • decreased immune system, i.e. more likely to get sick
  • reduces memory ability, i.e. ability to recall existing memories & form new memories
  • impacts social skills & creative skills

What can cause stress? (below is a generic list –> rather than share these, do the BALANCE ACTIVITY listed below) 

  • lots of excitement
  • deadlines (school work, being late)
  • intense competition
  • hectic environment
  • really fast music
  • strong feeling of impending failure
  • surprises
  • being held accountable
  • feeling out of control
  • trying to accomplish something but not having what you need
  • an unusual challenge
  • insufficient sleep

Positive and Negative Stress – BALANCE ACTIVITY

  • talk about the Balance Scale (like the scales of Justice – one cup on either side of the center) – discuss what the balance represents
  • hand out index cards to each person and have them write down the negative stressors in their lives and the feelings associated with those stressors
  • ask the kids to each share one item from their list, and explain that it is quite possible that some kids will have the same or similar stressors
  • have the kids come up and place their Negative Stressor index cards on one side of the scale – what happens to homeostasis?
  • leave the cards in place on the balance and hand out a second set of index cards to each person – have them write down the positive stressors in their lives and the feelings associated with those stressors
  • ask the kids to each share one item from their list
  • take the negative stressor index cards off the balance and place them to the side – have the kids come up and place their Positive Stressor index cards on the other side of the scale – what happens to homeostatis?
  • kids will often quickly comment that the negative stressors need to return to the scale in order to return to a balance – discuss what this means in terms of themselves

How to deal with stress  (below is a generic list –> rather than share these, do the SUGGESTIONS ACTIVITY listed below) 

  • exercise (but not if it’s 4 hours or less before sleep)
  • eat a light, non-spicy dinner
  • get sufficient sleep
  • drink plenty of water –> there’s more water in your brain than anywhere else in your body (followed by muscles, then kidneys) and the stress response kicks in if access to water is restricted; within 5 mins of drinking water there is a noticeable decline in corticoids
  • lack of water is #1 reason for daytime tiredness –> hits your muscles and your brain
  • and try these relaxation techniques (we did a yoga session that includes various poses, breathing techniques and guided relaxation AFTER we did the SUGGESTIONS ACTIVITY noted below)

Dealing with Stress – SUGGESTIONS ACTIVITY

  • go around the room and have kids share what they do to destress
  • keep a running list on the board
  • do not judge the ideas (for instance, if they resort to eating comfort food that is filled with sugar)

Follow-up activities

  • using the list of kid-generated destressors as the basis, discuss positive ways to deal with stress
  • go further into the LIMBIC system
  • lead into a discussion/lesson on the Teen Brain

The Games of Life

I just finished reading Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal. There is a reason her book resonated with me, but that reason will have to wait till another post. Meantime, below is the list of games that Jane describes throughout her book. Do any resonate with you? Which ones? Why? (At the end of this post is Jane’s TED Talk, where she describes why game playing makes sense to her.)

[UPDATE June 26, 2011 – McGonigal’s newest game, Find the Future, receives a positive review in the NYT article Putting the Library on Your Smartphone.]

Bounce is designed to help jump start conversations between people of different generations, specifically, between you and people old enough to be your grandparents. You have likely heard of doing random acts of kindnessCruel 2 B Kind takes that idea one step further and turns those random acts into game play. And maybe you just want to make someone feel good? PlusOneMe(+1 me) “helps you acknowledge people’s strengths.” Or maybe you know someone who is not feeling very well, and needs help with recuperating and recovery? Try the game SuperBetter. Here is Jane McGonigal’s six minute Ignite talk describing SuperBetter. 

Chore Wars is the perfect way to get anyone, from a kid to an adult, to do those niggly yet necessary house chores.

Anyone out there who loves to fly? Congratulations if you answered “yes”. Most people I know are reluctant airplane passengers, and if you fall into that category (or even if you love to fly :-), The Day in the Cloud Challenge, created by Google and Virgin America to make your in-flight time more enjoyable, is an “online scavenger hunt played simultaneously in the air”. Another game for flyers is jetset, designed to be played on your mobile phone while in the airport.

Looking for game simulations that will help you make a difference in the future of our world? Try Evoke, “a crash course in changing the world.” Another game along these lines is Lost Joules, a way to get you thinking about your use of electric power. Superstruct was a future-forecasting game designed to get people thinking about problems humanity will face in the future, and brainstorm ways to cope with, solve or maybe even prevent those problems from manifesting. This game was created by the Institute for the Future. One more game is World Without Oil, “a massively collaborative imagining of the first 32 weeks of a global oil crisis.” What better way to figure out potential solutions to future problems than to harness people power!

Simply want to volunteer but are dulled by the “same old” types of ideas? Check out sparked, “the microvolunteering network.” You can read more about this idea on the sparked blog.

Back in the days when he lived at home, my older son loaned some of his home computer processing power to SETI@home. Several science departments at the University of Washington have a similar plan for solving science puzzles requiring lots of computing power, in particular the folding of proteins.

Want be less of a home-body? foursquare is designed to get you up and out and socializing. Similarly, if you like to dance or would like to like to dance (!), Top Secret Dance-Off is designed to help you get over your shyness hump when it comes to dancing.

Increase your vocabulary and help donate rice to hungry folks through the World Food Programme with Free Rice.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum commissioned a clever alternate reality (ARG) game, Ghosts of a Chance, to help museum goers have an immersive experience with the museum.

For the 2008 Summer Olympics, McDonald’s, AKQA, the International Olympic Committee and Jane McGonigal teamed up to create The Lost Ring as a way to give non-Olympians a way to participate more fully in the feel of the games. There is a video and case study of this project available here.

Many of you have probably heard of the marriage of Nike running shoes and an iPod or iPhone to not only provide music while you exercise, but also track your performance. Surely you realized it’s a game!

My younger son would be tickled to know that a game he plays, spore, was included in Jane McGonigal’s list. And why not? It’s all about creating a universe populated by creatures of your own crafting.

If you like playing games, or are just plain curious, the Come Out & Play festival “is an annual festival of street games that turns New York City [or perhaps other cities, as well] into a giant playground.” I haven’t attended this festival, but at a quick glance it reminds me of flash mob games such as The Sound of Music at the Central Station in Antwerp, Belgium or those organized by Improv Everywhere. A company that organizes games in this genre is slingshot, a British-based company that creates “games for people and cities.” Another company that crafts games of this type is Citizen Logistics, makers of Groundcrew. And yet another, this one based in the United Kingdom, is Hide & Seek.

Speaking of the UK, one of the more intriguing games is Investigate your MP’s expenses, a game designed by the Guardian [a newspaper] to garner citizen assistance in wading through thousands of pages of scanned documents released by Parliament. Apparently, a number of British MPs had rather high expenses that were not exactly legal… This is an example of how crowdsourcing can be used to enhance citizen participation.

Believe it or not, there is at least one school, Quest to Learn, that translates “the underlying forms of games into a powerful pedagogical model for its 6-12th graders.” You can read more about Q2L in their Overview. If anyone knows of other schools like this, please add them in a comment below. Thanks!

Here is McGonigal’s 2010 TED Talk: Gaming can make a better world.

And so it (thankfully!) flows – our Blood Vascular System

For the first 13 or so Human Anatomy lectures by Marian C. Diamond, I was an enthralled and eager student. Since the session on Cardiology, and continuing on with the last two lectures on our Blood Vascular System, I have remained enthralled and eager, but another adjective has been added to that list: tingled. Not quite squeamish, just tingled. Bones and muscles fascinate me because I enjoy being active and am curious about what I “see” – my skin covers my muscles and bones, but I can visualize those body components easily and imagine how they are impacted by my various physical activities – walking, yoga, swimming and kayaking.

For all intents and purposes, my muscles and bones are not continual moving parts. They move when I tell them to move. On the other hand, the blood coursing through my body, my heart continually moving to pump that blood – these are the “moving” parts of my body that function regardless of whether I “tell” them to move or not. Thank goodness for that, yet it is their very “movability” that tingles my learning about this process. Okay, I am still enthusiastic, but my stomach tingles when reading about blood!

Systemic Circulation

Our blood takes a distinct path through our bodies. Arteries take blood away from our heart, beginning with the Aorta exiting from the left ventricle, then funneling into arterioles followed by capillaries, with each type of vessel being smaller than the previous type. The capillaries, though the smallest of the arteries, have multiple microscopic branches feeding into our tissues. These arterial vessels transport freshly oxygenated blood, bringing nutrients and gases to our body, and picking up wastes.

As blood courses through our bodies it eventually returns to our heart via the Veins, beginning with the small venules that funnel into the larger veins. As it heads to the heart, blood from the lower extremities collects in the inferior vena cava while blood from the upper extremities (except for the heart) collects in the superior vena cava. Inferior and superior refer to location below and above the diaphragm.

Gravity helps our arteries do their job, but on the return trip the veins get some help from our skeletal muscles. To prevent blood from flowing backwards, our veins have valves that open to let blood pass and then close to prevent backflow.

Pulmonary Circulation

As our veins return blood to the heart, the blood needs to be cleansed of waste products, such as carbon dioxide, and pick up more oxygen before it can be pumped through the heart to exit back to our body via the arteries. This cleansing and refreshing of our blood happens in our lungs.

Blood reenters the heart via the right atrium and is then pumped to the lungs by the right ventricle. After circulating through our lungs, the blood returns to the heart via the left atrium where it is pumped to the left ventricle to start the process all over again.

Tweets & Lectures 16 & 17

@brainbits: M.Diamond–Blood Vascular System lec: 1/3 US deaths due to heart attacks, so we should know how to care for our hearts

@brainbits: Bone & muscle have relatively few moving parts (except for when we purposely move them) compared to our heart and blood vascular system.

@brainbits: Factors impacting blood pressure:age, sex, weight, race, mood, physical activity, posture & socioeconomic status. http://amzn.to/bukZ9q ch 19

@brainbits: Benefits of exercise on cardiovascular sys–heart increases in size&strength, heart rate goes down+stroke volume rises–result in next tweet!

@brainbits: Ongoing exercise–>lower heart rate = Heart relaxes more, beats less + HDL blood levels improves & LDL levels reduced.

@brainbits: Our muscular & cardiovascular systems have mutually beneficial relationship nourished by regular exercise. It’s summer, decouch &get moving!

@brainbits: Marian Diamond suggests keep your bodies strong & healthy so as you age, if you fall, you can protect your head from hitting the ground.

@brainbits: M.Diamond’s UC Berkeley Human Anatomy lec 17 – Our blood vascular system is complex & beautifully organized.

@brainbits: And on blood’s return to the heart, the longest vein is the Saphenous, which runs from the arch of your foot all the way up to your thigh.

@brainbits: The Aorta–largest artery from which all other arteries stem. Just imagine, where it exits your heart it’s approx the size of a garden hose!

@brainbits: Systemic Circulation sends the freshly oxygenated blood throughout our body, transporting nutrients, gases and wastes.

@brainbits: Pulmonary Circulation sends deoxygenated, high CO2 blood coursing from our heart to our lungs to pick up oxygen & drop off carbon dioxide.

Summer Houses

I know this house inside and out, almost as surely as if I’ve lived in it. Yet it does not exist. Well, that’s not entirely accurate.

The house exists, but only in the digital world. This house is one of a collection of fantasy buildings designed and crafted by my husband using SketchUp. I’ve been thinking about this house, and others he has created, as we spend portions of our summer vacation renting other people’s summer homes.

We tend to wind up in cozy homes within walking distance of the ocean. Last summer we stayed in an old windmill on a cliff (see pic below) in Orleans, overlooking Pleasant Bay on Cape Cod. Last week we stayed in this cottage (see pic at right) in the woods of Gay Head, on Martha’s Vineyard, where the sound of the waves from Philbin Beach lullabyed us to sleep each evening. (Though we didn’t need much of a lullabye, having used all our energy body surfing, swimming and kayaking, when we weren’t watching the FIFA World Cup games!)

A favorite of mine is this acorn house, one of Fred’s early designs inspired by the plethora of acorns in our neighborhood. I had serious fun imagining us playing tag inside and poking our heads out the different windows, yelling “Yoo hoo, I’m over here!”

And on a languid summer’s day, in need of a bit of cool,
With Seussian playmates, we plunk into a pool.

Imagination. 🙂