Archive for the 'brain' Category

16
Oct
13

DNA Computers–Think Origami, or Brain Folds

Scientists have struggled for over thirty years to market a DNA computer to the masses. It can play tic-tac-toe and solve the Traveling Salesman Problem (best way for a national sales guy to visit twenty-thirty cities–quite relevant to everyday people). Now the experts are considering using DNA computer apps to fight disease. But, for us middle Americans, we are far from benefiting from the power, affordability and tiny size of DNA computers.

Here’s a clever idea I stumbled across on MIT’s blog. We all know that the reason the brain can do so much is it relies on the folds that cover its surface. Technically, they’re not ‘folds’; they’re Gyri or Gyrus (singular) and the ‘valleys’ between the Gyri are called Sulci or Sulcus. Anyway, Mother Nature added these to give that umph to our brains in power, storage capacity and speed that no computer comes close to matching. Why not add them to DNA computers? Here’s a discussion:

DNA Origami for Faster, Smaller Computer Chips

Using DNA structures, researchers may be able to construct tinier, cheaper chips

Artificial, self-assembling DNA structures may help make smaller and cheaper microchips, according to research presented in the latest issue of Nature Nanotechnology. Tinier microchips would allow faster computers and other electronics.

Researchers from IBM and the California Institute of Technology used a technique known as DNA origami, where a long strand of DNA is folded into a shape with many shorter strands dubbed staples, creating a three-dimensional shape. In the paper, the researchers demonstrated using DNA origami-shapes as a scaffold for carbon nanotubes–a trick that could eventually be used to create nanoscale microchips.

The DNA structures are tiny enough to have features measuring six nanometers–the current industry standard for microchips is 45 nanometers. The process could replace the expensive tools manufacturers currently use to make tiny chips, although IBM suggests that it could take up to 10 years to test and refine the process for manufacturing.


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15
May
13

Book Review: Singing Neanderthals

The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and BodyThe Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body

by Steven Mithen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have avoided this book in the past because my personal interest extends to an earlier time than Neanderthals, but I shouldn’t have. The title is misleading in that he extends to man’s earliest Homo habilis days, not those relatively-modern Homo neanderthalensis times. He explains the importance of music to man’s ability to use symbols, to express ideas without the vast lexicon we currently possess. He shares his definition of music as ‘human sound communication outside the scope of language’ (borrowed from Bruno Nettl) and describes a believable scenario for the co-evolution of music and language. All in all, a well thought-out book with lots of factually-based opinions.

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30
Apr
13

Did You Know: Early Man Was Pretty Smart

mankind“…Homo erectus of 700,000 years ago had a geometrically accurate sense of proportion and could impose this on stone in the external world. In effect, without paper or ruler, mathematical transformations were being performed.” Mental Abilities of Early Man: A L0ok at Some Hard Evidence John A. J. Gowlett 1984, Academic Press, London


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blog,Technology in Education featured blogger, IMS tech expert, and a bi-monthly contributor to Today’s Author. In her free time, she is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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14
Sep
11

Book Review: Runaway Brain

The Runaway Brain: The Evolution of Human UniquenessThe Runaway Brain: The Evolution of Human Uniqueness

by Christopher Wills

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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In my lifelong effort to understand what makes us human, I long ago arrived at the lynchpin to that discussion: our brain. Even though bipedalism preceded big brains, and we couldn’t be who we are without that upright stance, I believe we would be little more than vertical apes without being followed quickly by an explosion in our brain size. And, I’m not talking about volume–quantity–as much as quality. Neanderthals taught us brain growth must be in the correct part of the brain. Bigger, stronger animals require bigger stronger brains, but that doesn’t mean they are more efficient or effective. Neanderthals had a brain bigger than modern man, but it was used to drive their life style, not their evolution.

It is this topic that Christopher Wills investigates in his wonderful book, The Runaway Brain: The Evolution of Human Uniqueness (Harper Collins 1993). His approach is not so much a simple discussion of our brain’s changes over time as a focus on how those changes turned the genus Homo into the most unique animal on the planet. His writing is fun, easy-to-understand and almost like a thriller as we are forced to turn pages long after we might have put the book down. Why? We must see what happens next. He discusses not only evolution, but brain growth in modern man–how does the brain mature throughout our own lifetime. I learned most of this in my child psychology classes, but reading it through his eyes was so much more fun than the way my professors described it.

The real meat of the book is his discussion of changes in the brain that enabled our evolution to Thinking Man. So much of what we are wouldn’t be possible without drastic changes in the brain’s structure. Mutations, certainly, but we’re thankful for them. Our ability to speak as we do is one. Our interest in art and music–symbolic thinking, where we don’t just say things in a black-and-white sort of way, but use mental pictures. As recently as the early 1900’s, this sort of symbolic thinking allowed primitive tribes to travel their habitat without ever getting lost–even to places they had never before been.

How did we come up with counting? How did we decide to adorn ourselves with paint and jewelry? These would not have occurred without changes in our brain that made these seem normal. Why does man problem-solve? Most other species follow instinct. If there isn’t a solution that’s hard-wired into their genes or they can learn from a parent, it’s out of their reach. Not mankind.

These are all part of the Runaway Brain. Jump in and don’t let go. If you borrow the book from the library, you’ll end up purchasing it because you’ll want to refer to it over and over.


Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-fifth grade and creator of two technology training books for middle school. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman.  She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com, an ISTE article reviewer, an IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything and Technology in Education. Currently, she’s working on a techno-thriller that should be ready this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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06
Sep
11

Some Scientist Stole My Storyline

My day job is teaching tech at a K-8 school. My night job is writing–everything. I write, blogs, book reviews, Amazon Vine Voice reviews, columns for ezines…

And books. My first book was on the paleo-life of Homo habilis. It shared my educated guess on what life was like for man when Nature ruled and we just hung on for dear life. I called it Evolution: A Biography. I started the sequel (Born in a Treacherous Time) about the paleo-life of Homo habilis‘ successor, Homo erectus. By this time in man’s history, we’d acquired tools, rudimentary problem-solving and a small amount of control over our lives. I read a library of books to learn what I needed to know to create these worlds, many of them reviewed for you here.

I still love paleo-history, but a publisher I was trying to convince to publish my paleo-histories, suggested I bring my stories into modern time to widen their appeal. OK. I didn’t mind trying that. I decided to create stories where the sizzle of science and the brilliance of our big brains created the plot’s drama, crises, climaxes and resolutions. I wrote my first thriller about a brilliant scientist, a former Navy SEAL, a quirky almost-human AI named Otto (you see the palindrome?) and how they saved the world. It involved some intriguing science about magnetic signatures and artificial intelligence. I called it To Hunt a Sub. Continue reading ‘Some Scientist Stole My Storyline’

06
Apr
11

Book Review: Singing Neanderthals

The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and BodyThe Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body

by Steven Mithen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have avoided this book in the past because my personal interest extends to an earlier time than Neanderthals, but I shouldn’t have. The title is misleading in that he extends to man’s earliest Homo habilis days, not those relatively-modern Homo neanderthalensis times. He explains the importance of music to man’s ability to use symbols, to express ideas without the vast lexicon we currently possess. He shares his definition of music as ‘human sound communication outside the scope of language’ (borrowed from Bruno Nettl) and describes a believable scenario for the co-evolution of music and language. All in all, a well thought-out book with lots of factually-based opinions.

View all my reviews

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28
Mar
11

Did You Know: Early Man Was Pretty Smart

“…Homo erectus of 700,000 years ago had a geometrically accurate sense of proportion and could impose this on stone in the external world. In effect, without paper or ruler, mathematical transformations were being performed.” Mental Abilities of Early Man: A L0ok at Some Hard Evidence John A. J. Gowlett 1984, Academic Press, London

 

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Discover the sizzle in science. It's not that stuff that's always for the smart kids. It's the need to know. The passion for understanding. The absolute belief that for every problem, there is a solution. The creative mind seeking truth in a world of mystery. The quest for the Holy Grail.

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Books I’m Reading

Great Science Books

Assembling California
Born On A Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant
The Forest People
Geology Underfoot in Southern California
The Land's Wild Music: Encounters with Barry Lopez, Peter Matthiessen, Terry Tempest William, and James Galvin
My Life with the Chimpanzees
Naked Earth: The New Geophysics
Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are
The Runaway Brain: The Evolution of Human Uniqueness
Sand Rivers
The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body
The Tree Where Man Was Born
The Wildlife of Southern Africa: A Field Guide to the Animal and Plants of the Region
The Worlds of a Maasai Warrior: An Autobiography


Jacqui's favorite books »
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RSS Fact and Fiction about Early Man

  • Ki'ti's Story, 75,000 BC December 11, 2016
    author: Bonnye Matthews name: Jacqui average rating: 4.25 book published: 2012 rating: 5 read at: 2016/12/11 date added: 2016/12/11 shelves: early-man review: […]
    Bonnye Matthews
  • Meeting Prehistoric Man October 4, 2014
    author: GHR von Koenigswald name: Jacqui average rating: 4.00 book published: 1492 rating: 5 read at: 2014/10/04 date added: 2014/10/04 shelves: early-man review: Meeting Prehistoric Man by GHR Von Koenigswald is a journey throughout the world in discovery of early man as paleoanthropologists understood him during VonKoenigswald's time, circa 1950' […]
    GHR von Koenigswald
  • Letters from the Field, 1925-1975 September 13, 2014
    author: Margaret Mead name: Jacqui average rating: 4.21 book published: 1977 rating: 5 read at: 2014/09/13 date added: 2014/09/13 shelves: early-man review: If you didn't read my last week's post, you may wonder why I am so excited about Margaret Mead's eye-opening book, Letters From the Field. Even if you read me last week, you may wonder--I […]
    Margaret Mead
  • The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind's Greatest Invention January 12, 2014
    author: Guy Deutscher name: Jacqui average rating: 4.16 book published: 2005 rating: 3 read at: date added: 2014/01/12 shelves: early-man, research review: Dr. Deutscher has done a scholarly, thorough discussion on the roots of language, but I believe he started too late in time. I'm of the persuasion that language involves more than the spoken word. I […]
    Guy Deutscher
  • She Who remembers November 3, 2013
    author: Linda Lay Shuler name: Jacqui average rating: 4.11 book published: 1988 rating: 4 read at: date added: 2013/11/03 shelves: early-man review: […]
    Linda Lay Shuler
  • The Runaway Brain: The Evolution Of Human Uniqueness July 25, 2011
    author: Christopher Wills name: Jacqui average rating: 4.12 book published: 1993 rating: 5 read at: date added: 2011/07/24 shelves: science, early-man review: In my lifelong effort to understand what makes us human, I long ago arrived at the lynchpin to that discussion: our brain. Even though bipedalism preceded big brains, and we couldn't be who we are […]
    Christopher Wills
  • The Origin Of Humankind (Science Masters Series) July 25, 2011
    author: Richard E. Leakey name: Jacqui average rating: 3.97 book published: 1981 rating: 5 read at: date added: 2011/07/24 shelves: early-man, history review: If you're interested in man's roots, there are several authors you must read: Birute Galdikas Dian Fosse Donald Johanson GHR Von Koenigsman Glen Isaacs Jared Diamond Ian Tattersell Lev Vygots […]
    Richard E. Leakey
  • Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind July 24, 2011
    author: Donald C. Johanson name: Jacqui average rating: 4.11 book published: 1981 rating: 5 read at: date added: 2011/07/24 shelves: early-man, science review: I read this book when I was writing a paleo-historic drama of the life of earliest man. My characters were Homo habilines, but they cohabited Africa with Australopithecines, so to understand the co-st […]
    Donald C. Johanson
  • Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe July 24, 2011
    author: Jane Goodall name: Jacqui average rating: 4.25 book published: 1990 rating: 5 read at: date added: 2011/07/24 shelves: early-man, science review: I have read every book that Jane Goodall wrote. She has an easy-going writing style that shares scientific principals easily with the layman. Probably because when she started, she was little more than a no […]
    Jane Goodall
  • In the Shadow of Man July 24, 2011
    author: Jane Goodall name: Jacqui average rating: 4.32 book published: 1971 rating: 5 read at: date added: 2011/07/23 shelves: early-man, science review: I read Jane Goodall's In the Shadow of Man (Houghton Mifflin 1971) years ago as research for a paleo-historic novel I was writing. I needed background on the great apes so I could show them acting appr […]
    Jane Goodall
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