Tuesday, May 29, 2007

New Proverb

A full stomach comes before an eager mind;
An empty stomach can overwhelm a hungry heart.

- Colin Burch

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Meditating for a better brain

From the June edition of Men's Journal:

"In a University of Wisconsin study of Buddhist monks, researcher Richard Davidson used electroencephalograph readings to prove that monks can generate gamma waves, which are associated with attention and learning, for minutes at a time; mere mortals can sustain a few seconds of gamma activity at best. The same monks also showed an unusual amount of activity in the left side of their prefrontal cortices, which are associated with positive feelings. Sure enough, the monks were startlingly alert and happy....

"When Harvard researcher Sara Lazar recently compared the brains of American meditators to a control group, she found that parts of the cortex responsible for attention were on average 5 percent thicker...."

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Guinness is good for you -- even better than Snapple

I found the nutritional breakdown of several beverages in a magazine back in April. Compare and see why Guinness is, indeed, good for you. At least better than many no-alcohol options.
(1 pint, or 16 oz.)
168 calories
13.3 grams of carbs
10.7 grams of sugars
Snapple Fruit Punch
(16-oz. bottle)
220 calories
58 grams of carbs
54 grams of sugars
Naked Juice Blue Machine Superfood
(15.2-oz. bottle)
319 calories
77 grams of carbs
54 grams of sugars
Rockstar Energy Drink
(16-oz. can)
260 calories
62 grams of carbs
60 grams of sugars
Mountain Dew
(12-oz. can)
170 calories
46 grams of carbs
46 grams of sugars
The moral? When taking your health into consideration, drink Guinness.

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Neurofeedback gets into the toy market

Just as my family has become convinced of the value of neurofeedback, the science behind it is being used to create a new generation of toys -- perhaps the most "interactive" toys ever.

My wife, daughter, and I have have benefited from sessions with neurofeedback, a clinical process that trains the mind to rewire itself to overcome attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, and a host of other struggles. When an individual has one of these problems, it is sometimes due to a clustering of the brain's electrical patterns in one area, rather than a more typical distribution. These electrical patterns are observable through electroencephalographic brain imaging.

I was skeptical when my wife and daughter began going to neurofeedback sessions, but then I observed their progress. I especially considered my daughter's progress, and figured a six-year-old couldn't be faking consistent improvements in emotional stability and comprehension of her school work.

My daughter sometimes watches movies during neurofeedback sessions. With gentle clips on her ears and a sensor on her head (attached with a conductive medical paste), she relaxes and focuses on the screen. When her attention laps or she tenses up, the movie frame might shrink, or the sound might stop. She learns how to focus and relax, reinforcing the accompanying electrical patterns in the brain, thus keeping the full movie experience. In my experience, I usually have a video-game style image of a race car on a track. The more focused and relaxed I am, the faster the car goes around the track.

Lately I've been seeing news articles about NeuroSky, a California company that is tapping the brain's electrical waves to control toys. This one is from News.com.au:

In California, a life-sized Darth Vader stalks the beige cubicles of a Silicon Valley office, complete with ominous black mask, cape and light sabre.

It isn't a man in a silly costume. It's a prototype, years in the making, of a toy that incorporates brain wave-reading technology.

Behind the mask is a sensor that touches the user's forehead and reads the brain's electrical signals. It then sends them to a wireless receiver inside the sabre which in turn lights up when the user is concentrating.

The player maintains focus by channelling thoughts on any fixed mental image or by thinking specifically about keeping the light sword on. When the mind wanders, the wand goes dark.

Engineers at NeuroSky have big plans for brainwave-reading toys and video games.

(Read the full story at http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/story/0,23663,21711660-7486,00.html?from=public_rss .)

The psychologist we see for our sessions said many in the U.S. medical community remain skeptical of the clinical value of neurofeedback.

However, an article in the January 2007 edition of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry said that studies have shown that neurofeedback has produced "performance improvements in real-life conditions," as well as "improved cognitive and behavioral variables" in children with ADHD. The article was written by researchers at two Germany universities.

For my own testimony, I'll just say my organizational abilities are improving and my ability to focus on my studies (without my mind wandering) has improved.

-Colin Burch

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Monday, May 7, 2007

'How to Sink a Newspaper'

Walter E. Hussman Jr. has an interesting commentary in today's Wall Street Journal, titled "How to Sink a Newspaper." He says that newspapers are hurting themselves by offering free news online. Here's an interesting paragraph:

"The Inland Cost and Revenue Study shows that newspapers will generate between $500 and $900 in revenue per subscriber per year. But a newspaper's Web site typically generates $5 to $10 per unique visitor per year. It may be that newspaper Web sites as an advertising medium, and free news, just can't generate the revenue to sustain a valued news operation."

The Wall Street Journal happens to be one of those Web sites that charges for its content, so you might not be able to access Hussman's article, but here's the link: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB117849835415093994.html?mod=opinion_main_commentaries

Speaking of which, The Wall Street Journal Online has 931,000 subscribers, which is huge for a Web site. To compare that to old-school print, every other newspaper in the U.S. has fewer subscribers except for The Wall Street Journal (print edition), USA Today, and The New York Times.

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Uh, beer bill passed... last week

I got busy and pre-occupied last week, and thus failed to post the good news: Governor Mark Sanford signed the bill allowing the commercial sale of beer in South Carolina to be 14 percent alcohol by weight, or 17.5 percent alcohol by volume. Here's some info from Pop the Cap South Carolina: http://ptcsc.wordpress.com/2007/05/02/south-carolina-has-popped-its-cap/ .

Meanwhile, in this coming Thursday's edition of The Weekly Surge, I'll have some comments from Myrtle Beach commercial brewers.

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Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Editing the classics, even the Bible

In another dispatch from the short-attention span culture (of which I am a part), The Times of London reports:

“To howls of indignation from literary purists, a leading publishing house is slimming down some of the world’s greatest novels.

“Tolstoy, Dickens and Thackeray would not have agreed with the view that 40 per cent of Anna Karenina, David Copperfield and Vanity Fair are mere ‘padding’, but Orion Books believes that modern readers will welcome the shorter versions.

“The first six Compact Editions, billed as great reads ‘in half the time’, will go on sale next month, with plans for 50 to 100 more to follow.”

It’s hard to take this seriously. Editing great works of literature is supposed to be funny.

For example, the Reduced Shakespeare Company is touring the United States with its live performance of “The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged).” Robert Brustein, founding director of the American Repertory Theater, called it “absolutely outrageous and absolutely wonderful,” adding that it’s “totally irreverent and I think anyone who sees it is going to have a whale of a good time.”

What’s the difference between the Reduced Shakespeare Co. and Orion Books?

Orion Books isn’t trying to be funny.

The rest of The Times article on Orion Books is at http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/fiction/article1652629.ece .

The Reduced Shakespeare Company’s Web site is http://www.reducedshakespeare.com/ .

-Colin Burch

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