Hearing WiFi

New Scientist has a fascinating article on Frank Swain who has hacked his hearing aid to allow him to hear WiFi.

It’s a great idea and riffs on various attempts to ‘extend’ perception into the realm of being able to sense the usually unnoticed electromagnetic environment.

I am walking through my north London neighbourhood on an unseasonably warm day in late autumn. I can hear birds tweeting in the trees, traffic prowling the back roads, children playing in gardens and Wi-Fi leaching from their homes. Against the familiar sounds of suburban life, it is somehow incongruous and appropriate at the same time.

As I approach Turnpike Lane tube station and descend to the underground platform, I catch the now familiar gurgle of the public Wi-Fi hub, as well as the staff network beside it. On board the train, these sounds fade into silence as we burrow into the tunnels leading to central London.

I have been able to hear these fields since last week. This wasn’t the result of a sudden mutation or years of transcendental meditation, but an upgrade to my hearing aids. With a grant from Nesta, the UK innovation charity, sound artist Daniel Jones and I built Phantom Terrains, an experimental tool for making Wi-Fi fields audible.

Do also check out a fantastic radio documentary by Swain we featured earlier this year which is a brilliant auditory journey into the physics and hacking of hearing and hearing loss.
 

Link to NewSci article ‘From under-hearing to ultra-hearing’

Spike activity 07-11-2014

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news:

The odd beauty of 60-Year-old preserved brains from the Texas State Mental Hospital. Photo series from the Washington Post.

The Concourse has an interesting piece by an ex-con who discusses violence as a social currency in the US prison system. Interesting contrast between forensic treatment and inmate views of how violence works.

The latest series of BBC Radio 4’s All in the Mind has just started and has hit the wires.

‘Taboo’ sexual fantasies are surprisingly common according to a study covered by Pacific Standard – see also the epidemiology of internet pornography.

The Scientist has an interesting and extensive piece on advances in face perception research.

Robots for the brain and neuroprosethics for the mind. Interesting Olaf Blanke talk.

Excellent retrospective of 50 years of methadone in Washington Monthly.

We’re Sexist Toward Robots. Sounds trivial but stay with it, actually quite an interesting piece in Motherboard.

Reddit AMA with Vanessa Tolosa – neuroscientist who develops implantable neural devices.

Fascinating BBC News article on the prehistoric population of Europe and the mystery group who brought farming with them.

Beautiful online neuroscience learning

The Fundamentals of Neuroscience is a free online course from Harvard and it looks wonderful – thanks to them employing animators, digital artists and scientists to lift the course above the usual read and repeat learning.

The course is already underway but you can register and start learning until mid-December and you can watch any of the previews to get a feel for what’s being taught.

As you can see from the syllabus it focuses on the fairly low-level operation of the biology of brain but it’s all essential knowledge that will undoubtedly be a joy to encounter or re-acquaint yourself with.

You need to register to access the full content but there’s plenty of trailers online. Great stuff.
 

Link to ‘Fundamentals of Neuroscience’ course.

Hallucinogenic bullets

An article in the American Journal of Forensic Medicine & Pathology discusses the history of ‘modern toxic antipersonnel projectiles’ and it has a short history of ammunition designed to introduce incapacitating hallucinogenic substances into the body.

As you might expect for such an unpleasant idea (chemical weapon hand guns!) they were wielded by some fairly unpleasant people

The Nazi Institute of Criminology then ordered a batch of more powerful 9-mm Parabellum cartridges that could be used with the Walther P38. This time the bullets contained Ditran, a mixture of 2 structural isomers comprising approximately 70% 1-ethyl-2-pyrrolidinylmethyl-alpha-phenylcyclopentylglycolate and 30% 1-ethyl-3-piperidyl-alpha-phenylcyclopentylglycolate (also known as Ditran B). Ditran B is the more active of the 2 isomers, both of which are strong anticholinergic drugs with hallucinogenic properties similar to those of scopolamine. Victims are thrown into such a state of mental confusion that they are incapable of reacting appropriately to the situations they find themselves in…

3-Quinuclidinyl benzilate, also known as QNB and coded BZ by NATO, is a military incapacitating agent. Like Ditran, it is an anticholinergic causing such intense mental confusion as to prevent any effective reaction against an enemy. These bullets were featured in the arsenal of the Serbian forces invading Bosnia-Herzegovina, particularly in Srebrenica in the 1990s.

 

Link to locked article ‘Modern Toxic Antipersonnel Projectiles’

Mind Hacks – Live!

At the end of November, we’ll be celebrating 10 years of Mind Hacks, and we’re putting on a live event in London to celebrate. You are cordially invited.

Mind Hacks – Live! will be like the blog, but live, and with less scrolling.

Some of the details are still under construction, but here’s what we know:

Tom and Vaughan have hired London’s Grant Museum of Zoology. which will be like having the event inside a Victorian display case of science. But instead of looking at the exhibits, they’ll be looking at us. Awesome and wonderfully weird venue which you shouldn’t miss.

It’s in Central London, and Mind Hacks – Live! will be on Thursday 20th November 7pm to 9pm.

We’ve also got some fantastic speakers lined up:

  • Science wrangler Ed Yong will be talking about the real science behind media favourite oxytocin.
  • We’re hoping neuroscientist Sophie Scott is going to give us a whirlwind tour of the neuroscience of laughter.
  • Blogger, neuroscientist and international man of mystery Neuroskeptic will be talking about “something cool”.
  • Neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore is going to be debunking myths about the neuroscience of education and the teenage brain.
  • Cognitive scientist and Mind Hacks mastermind Tom Stafford is going to talk on ‘The Game’: Are ‘Pickup Artists’ the ultimate Mind Hackers?

And we’re going to end on a serious note that should also serve as a stark warning to us all.

The sex scene from Susan Greenfield’s future-noir novel 2121 will be given a dramatised reading with Neuroskeptic and Vaughan Bell playing the protagonists who struggle to remember how to have sex because their brains have been mashed by the internet. Live and direct, people.

If you miss a ticket for the event, come have a drink with us after anyway. We’ll be just round the corner at The Marlborough Arms on Torrington Place (WC1E 7HJ) after the event and we’d love to see you.

Tickets for the event will cost £4 to cover costs, and you’ll receive a free commemorative email with every purchase.
 

Link to buy tickets for Mind Hacks – Live!