Brain 2013

Several years ago, I stopped making New Year’s resolutions. I had always been pretty good at accomplishing goals I set, but I was starting to find it harder and harder to follow through on something like those annual resolutions. I was also finding it hard to locate particular words when I was looking for them; and I long ago decided that if something is not written down, it does not exist…at least not for me and my overburdened memory.

My proposed solution to the challenges facing my aging brain is something Seth and I named ‘Google Brain’. It is the chip that will be implanted into our brains to be augmented by Google’s outrageous computers and search capabilities. While I have no advance knowledge of Google working on such a project, I have hope that they are doing so…and that it will be available while I can still benefit from it. They are even welcome to the name I have chosen for their project!

Several things have popped into my awareness lately to make me hope my fantasy will one day be a reality.

At the beginning of January, some psychology colleagues on a technology listserv of which I am a member mentioned an episode of 60 Minutes in which a young man successfully participated in a stair-climbing event in a 103-story Chicago building. This man has a prosthetic leg that he controls by his thoughts.

Another colleague responded indicating that there are many projects in the works that extend that same technology. Neuroscience has become the ‘hot’ research field related to mental health and behavior. It has many practical applications, but can seem so complicated as to be off-putting to some. That is why a video explaining some of the technology and research tools being used is so delightful. This is a clear and visually appealing explanation of semantic mapping in the brain, something that has fascinated me since the very early brain research demonstrated the storing of memories in particular regions of the brain, and their recall through electrical stimulation during brain surgery. The use of fMRI to advance this purpose is very exciting. These are important arenas for behavioral health providers to be informed about. It might well be the future of this field.

We certainly are approaching what many of us thought might be the distant future. Verizon together with cellphone producer HTC has started to communicate the image of humans enhanced by technology with their Droid DNA phone and ads. Google released their new Google Glasses in 2012. These are glasses enhanced with computer, camera, and internet connectivity. When I wrote about two books that used these glasses and fMRI in 2011, I knew the technology was available somewhere but did not know it would soon be here for the rest of us to start to access.

I love finding out about technologies like this that may be available to all of us in my lifetime. Maybe I will even be able to make and carry out New Year’s resolutions again with the help of some of these tools-in-the-making. Are there things in your world that provide the same kind of  excitement and hope for you? New tools, new toys, new ideas? Please share your comments below.

 

 

Favorite Technology Tools

I know that most of you work in behavioral health organizations. You probably use the technology that is provided to you even if you know of better tools that would make your work life smoother and easier. After all, the goal is to serve consumers of substance abuse and mental health services, not to the be the coolest technology shop around.

But maybe that is not totally the case. . . . Do you have a favorite technology tool that you love to use in your practice or workplace or at home? Is there something that has become so indispensable that you cannot imagine getting along without it?

I am not a big searcher for new software programs or apps for my Android cell phone or Amazon Fire. I tend to try things that are offered by family or friends, choose the ones that work for me, and then leave well enough alone. If I have chosen well, the updates offered by the company from whom I have purchased the product almost always keep up with and even anticipate my needs. But that is not always the case.

A few years ago, I was considering creating a training video for our electronic claims module. I saw some information about a program named Camtasia Studio, by TechSmith. I liked the description so much that I tried the free demo.

I was in love! This program does everything I need a video-creation tool to do, and it does it simply. I started with Camtasia 4 and am now at version 7.1. Like I said, when I find a tool that works for me, I tend to stick with it.

This is the sort of video you can create with Camtasia.

When I first started doing these movies, I let our web server handle them and just gave the direct link to the file to the customers we wanted to see them. This got the training module into the right hands, but did not make the video available at large.

Now I want to go farther. I want to be able to create videos and to embed them here on my blog or on our web site. Even though I am not an expert video maker, I want to create more of them and get them out there. The more I do, the better I will get at them.

What cool tools do you have that you rely on every day? Is there some program or app that you cannot do without?

Please tell me what you think. Your feedback and comments are always appreciated.

Psychology Podcasts: Current info on the Internet

I know all of you have huge amounts of time on your hands, right? Of course, that is not true. We are all terribly pressed for time. One way that many busy professionals have learned to increase their exposure to recent information in their fields of expertise is through listening to podcasts on an iPod or other mp3 or mp4 player.

Wikipedia defines podcast as “a type of digital media consisting of an episodic series of files (either audio or video) subscribed to and downloaded through web syndication.”

Those of you are under 30 are asking why I am defining the word podcast. Certainly, everyone knows what a podcast is. I am doing so because there are many of us in the 40+ age group who have never listened to or viewed a podcast, even if we know what it is. We are still getting up to speed!

I wanted to let you know that American Psychological Association (APA) mentioned the growing availability of psychology podcasts in the January edition of the Monitor on Psychology. There are shows that focus on the brain and behavior, others on the mind, others are interviews with psychologists and neuroscience researchers. It is an extensive list!

Obviously, there are lots of ways to find podcasts that might interest you. A quick Google search for ‘Podcast Directories’ turned up 63,600,000 results. You are bound to find some interesting ones in these listings.

I have not yet downloaded podcasts. I do, however, have benefit of listening to some of those Seth has downloaded. One of my favorites is Science Friday, an NPR radio program that also uses the podcast format. They frequently have psychology and mental health-related shows.

I hope you will try out some of these resources to determine if they are a good way for you to access information in your field of expertise. If you are already hooked on podcasts, please share the names of some of those you like, whether related to behavioral health or to other areas.

 

 

Daemon: Thought-provoking book by Daniel Suarez

Do you play multi-player interactive games on the internet? How involved are you in the world of those games? Have you ever wondered how those games relate to the real world…or if they do?

I recently finished reading Daemon by Daniel Suarez. I was so fascinated by the ideas in the book that I just downloaded the free chapters of the sequel, FreedomTM and have requested the book from my local library. While I am waiting, I have been thinking and doing some research.

The premise of the book is that a dying computer game writer creates a program (called a daemon) that initiates upon news of his death. The extent of the infiltration of that program into the worlds of the rest of us is amazing. The book explores the worlds of computer and credit card hackers, drug cartels and crime syndicates, and all the government and quasi-government but private organizations potentially involved in these events.

This book is written by a computer systems person who consults to Fortune 1000 companies. His presentation of the events and concepts makes for a very exciting though violent story. It is called a techno-thriller. I call it science fiction….but all the technologies are current, so the events could occur.

I work in a high tech industry. We write software, so I thought I was at least somewhat informed about the technological world. This book revealed to me that I am totally ignorant of this whole realm. That is part of what is interesting to me about it. How can I live and work in the sphere I do and still have no idea about this arena?

Techies find this book and its sequel pretty fascinating. An article written by Josh McHugh in 2008 in Wired magazine talks about how the author got serious credibility in the geek world after self-publishing the book.

An organization called The Long Now Foundation . . . that is focused on encouraging and supporting long-term thinking about and responsible action in our world . . . had Suarez present a seminar about bot-mediated reality to members. As with most things I find interesting, the links I find in the cyber-world about my starting point are equally fascinating!

I have tried not to be a spoiler about Suarez’ books. That may have made this article a bit too vague. I hope you are interested enough to take a look at the links. Maybe it is time for us to balance our focus on the present and too many things to do with thought about the future and where we are taking ourselves.

Please share your comments below. Since I have no history with computer games, please share your experience and insights in that world.

 

 

 

 

Goodbye, Mr. Jobs: Thanks for all you’ve done

I was a little surprised at my reaction of sadness Wednesday night when I heard of Steve Jobs death. I have never used an Apple computer or any other Apple product, so I could not be considered a fan by anyone’s definition. And yet, I feel a real loss.

I know that many of you were born after 1980. You have never lived in a world without personal computers. Those of us who are a bit older remember a very different world than the one we live in today . . . and one of the primary differences is the universal presence of personal computing devices.

At this moment I am sitting in my doctor’s office writing this post on my phone. Thirty years ago, I might have been reading a book or a journal. I could not have imagined that I might one day be doing this.

But Steve Jobs could imagine it.

The likes of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak and Bill Gates envisioned this world and helped make it real. The rest of us get the daily benefit of their ability to innovate. Some of us even got our careers because of their vision.

When Steve Jobs was working on the Apple I, I was finishing my doctorate in clinical psychology and looking forward to a long career as a psychologist. When my partner and I opened our first private practice in 1980, we had a word processor and bought Kaypro 4 computers. The computer seemed like a fun way to work and a powerful tool, so we bought one for each of our desktops. Within five years, we had started Synergistic Office Solutions and Seth was consulting with psychologists, building computers for them, and ultimately writing software for practice management. Because of the creation of an industry that did not exist when I started graduate school, I am twenty years into a second career. Without Steve Jobs and the work he did, I would not be writing to you . . . even though I have never used an Apple product.

In the next few years, we may see the passing of the personal computer into oblivion as tablets and super smartphones and today unimagined devices are created. But we are likely to remember that there was a very small group of incredibly bright, creative and productive individuals who imagined, innovated and then manufactured machines that have changed our lives.

Thanks, Steve.

Please feel free to share your own thoughts and reflections about Steve Jobs and about the changes in our world he helped create.