Monday, December 31, 2012

Markt man

I had a good gallivant around Austria. I returned to Graz and caught up with some old friends named gluehwein and feuerzangenbowle. No longer sure the latter is my friend, but I’ll warm up after another few days. Oh, I also saw many human friends, who I do miss. Then Steyr, and then Baden, near Vienna. Even the little villages have their Christkindlmarkt, or baby Jesus market. Yet, as I mentioned last time, not even Vienna had a market for baby Krampus, even though the Austrians believe in Krampus about as fervently as Jesus. I proposed Krampuskindlmarkt on Facebook and then, after the enthusiastic reaction of at least one very drunk person (who probably misunderstood me), I tried to encourage the locals to actually implement it. I mean, it would take less effort than a booth in Christkindlmarkt, since you don’t have to worry about quality. It would be a great way to unload badly made gluehwein, rotten bread, poorly crafted (ideally dangerous) wooden toys, old clothing, badwill, stress, and every Austrian’s latent desire to terrify children. Why Krampus, if they don’t like scaring kids?

Christmas market in Vienna.

Santa Claus is typically fat and jolly. So Krampus must be even bigger so he can intimidate and overwhelm Santa. We need a really scary Krampus with the muscle, temerity, personality, and language skills to not just beat up Santa but ensure that fat fuck never puts on a suit again. Ideally, someone who once played football for the Graz Giants and gloats about bench pressing on FB. And if he smells bad and has poor fashion sense and terrifies children just being himself, why, all the better. Yeah. You know who. No, Clemens. Not you.
Austrians also have bowling. Sort of. Actually, a weird 9 pin variant with smaller bowling balls. You only get one try to knock down pins, and they are connected with strings to facilitate resetting. Otherwise, pretty similar to western bowling. I went out with the g.tec team in Steyr and our team won. I had declared that the winning team gets a hug from Christoph Guger, but he refused, so I transferred it to Gerv instead. 

Austrian bowling near Schiedelberg.

I made Mexican food for the gtec office in Schiedelberg. I didn't really bring any enchilada sauce, or any Mexican ingredients, so had to make do with whatever I could buy at the local Inter-Spar. I put out a decent buffet, with tortillas, taco shells, fresh guac, sour cream, taco sauce, 2 kinds of shredded cheese, lettuce, ground beef, and chicken. And nothing spicy. They seemed happy. I'll have to remember the enchilada sauce next time.
Mexikanisch essen.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Flies of fancy

Marble columns. String quartets. Black graduation gowns. Flies. Urinals. Some things convey class more than others. I was recently back in Graz, a charming city as always, and went to a graduation ceremony to see my homey Teo get elevated to doctordom. Their ceremony was in a pretty nice room, with all the fancy accoutrements noted before. I'm a little annoyed. I got a PhD too. I got none of the fanciness at my ceremony. And this was before the era of budget cuts. I guess modern UCSD graduates get flies and urine, and have to like it.

Of course, since I flew through Munich for the first time in 8 months, you know why I was thinking of flies and urinals. I couldn't wait to see if my old friends were still hanging out in the Munich airport urinals, right at the aiming point, just taunting me to piss them off. I was ready. And I thought they might be extra tired, too, since the fucking inefficient Germans cut off the corridor between the H and G concourses, forcing all of us international travelers to exit and then go through the security checkpoint again. This tired me out too, but it was presumably worse for the urinal flies, since we all know they have triple the hassle removing their shoes. Yet the tenacious little buggers held on tight, through a full assault of processed coffee and wine, without even batting one of their very many eyes. They should consider guarding Buckingham Palace.

Germanic regality is also somewhat offset by their signs in bathrooms. You can leave a room with marble columns and string quartets and black robes, walk down the hall, and there's a bathroom with a taped paper picture of a guy brushing his teeth with a toilet brush. Perhaps he is confused by the lack of spaces in the title. Yes, that really is one long word.

This sign is very common in Austria, which makes me wonder if it really is a problem for them. I mean, they do drink quite a lot. Perhaps, if they sobered up, they would realize that designing toilets like smart people would greatly reduce the need for toilet brushes. Their toilets make you poop onto a plain porcelain plateau rather than water, which I once noted is more like dumping the kids on the diving board than dropping them off at the pool.

Another problem with such a high porcelain shelf is the greater risk of urine splatter. Hence another common toilet sign....

Dude. No. Men pee standing up. This sign is in an office with 15 engineers. This means almost all men. Yet you walk in and the toilet seat is down. Dude. Dude? Dude!!

Lest I come off as overly nationalist, I shall supercilicize my own country. During the workshop tour through the Great Plains, I noticed a lot of shops along the freeway for fireworks, Mexican food, and porn. All of these are associated with the underside of society, and lead to explosions in their own way. It is sort of understandable given the appropriateness of "Great Plains." They are great. They are plain. On and on. There seemed to be a disproportionate number of nasty smells, too, little stretches with eau de skunk, sewage, or smoke. I brought a nutmeg with me, which I would scrape whenever we hit a noisome streak. it worked, but now I associate nutmeg with all that is foul instead of Christmasy.

Speaking of Christmas, it is that time here in Austria too. Had my gluehwein and saw a few different Christmas markets. They call some Christkindlmarkt, which means "Baby Jesus Market." I doubt I am the first to wonder if they sell Jesuses, but I bet I am the first to propose Krampuskindlmarkt, or "Baby Krampus Market." It could be like a foul, fucked up version of Christkindlmarkt, with rotten gluehwein and rude staff dressed up like Krampus and burnt pastries and nasty-scented incense and poorly made crafts that break on you.

Yes, Austria, I missed you too.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

BCI Flaneur

It's hard entertaining people all day during a science lecture and demo.

Dr. Guger could not be here today, but he kindly provided this picture of his daughter playing with several of his amplifiers. This shows that the systems are durable and flexible. They are not just useful for recording EEG, but also for toys for children and, as I will show later, for supermodels as well.

This is a map showing the location of Austria. Austrians often like to joke that Americans are uneducated and don’t know geography, and that Austria does not have kangaroos. This is not true, though. I have a picture of me in the Vienna zoo next to a kangaroo.

Austrias are very proud of Mozart, who did a lot of composing in Salzburg. If you ever want to have fun with the locals, tell them that you went to Salzburg to see their greatest musical work, which is the Sound of Music by Rogers and Hammerstein. They will spit on you.

This is a picture of a model wearing an electrode cap. I have been living in Germany and Austria, and can tell you that these things are all the rage. Models at the London and Paris fashion shows wear them routinely, and I used to wear them in bars to meet people. Be warned that, if you choose to wear an electrode cap during the demo., people will stammer around you and try to buy you drinks. This is because wearing an electrode cap makes you look like a supermodel. You see that this person in the image is, in fact, me.

We used to try demonstrate this SOCI system with World of Warcraft during the workshops. But I would be up here, yapping away, and see poor Nick in the back trying to get it working. At UCSD, Nick discovered that the system didn’t work because the UCSD network blocked the ports for World of Warcraft. Then we found this again at UCLA, UCSF, and other universities, as if so many students ruined their academic careers playing WoW that they had to block the ports or it would be the end of the world. Of Warcraft. So we don’t try this demo at universities any more. We did try the demo at Blizzard Entertainment, and their network did not block the ports. One of their staff wore the cap and used it pretty well. However, everyone in the audience, most of whom worked on WoW, kept yelling advice. Cast this spell! Go left! Kill the ostrich! When he finally killed the ostrich, a cheer went up, as if he actually accomplished something by ridding the world of one more virtual ostrich. They also cheered when we told them that the universities blocked their ports, as if they were proud of destroying so many students’ lives.

Actually, ECoG systems are not typically implanted for research purposes. We could really make some advancements if we could implant them in humans for research, but there are ethical issues there, as well as the cost. Neurosurgeons do these implantations for much more serious reasons, such as on a dare or because they are very drunk. 

Please don’t hesitate to take extra food, since we have some left over. Grad students get priority, since we know you are all underpaid, underfed, and underappreciated. It’s not much better as a postdoc, trust me. Besides, if we have any food left over, we have to send it back to Austria for legal reasons. Then it will get all moldy, and Christoph will get sick.

Please note that this syringe is not very sharp. It has no needle and will not penetrate the skin. So, it is OK to wiggle it around a little inside each of the electrode holes ot move hair out of the way and get a good contact with the scalp. We did this workshop at UCLA and some bastard stole our syringe. So I have to emphasize these are not good for injecting through the skin. If you want a syringe to shoot up heroin, steal it from someone else.

When you mount the cap, you also have to clip on the right earlobe electrode. Now, I know that some of you are not from medical backgrounds, but does anyone want to guess where on the body the right earlobe electrode goes?

Now that the cap is mounted, you might want to take a picture of the volunteer. But, you might also want to wait until we start applying gel. People widely agree that feeling electrode gel in your hair is the most wonderful experience they have ever had, so you want to get their faces when this happens.

Sometimes, the BCI does not work for some people. This does not mean that you are stupid, or have a weak brain, or anything. Maybe you are stupid, but we can’t tell with a BCI. Seriously, if you can’t use a BCI, it is not your fault, but the system designer’s fault. So if it doesn’t work, it is not your fault; it is Christoph Guger’s fault.

Sometimes, people like to test our system by not complying with the instructions. I can understand if you are suspicious. We enter the word WATER. Then, we have a lot of flashes, and it spits back WATER. Maybe you are not impressed. But in fact, being a good scientist means not just being skeptical, but strategically skeptical, I promise you wil have a chance to test the system later, when we switch from copy spelling mode to free spelling mode. But for now, please play along. 
Now that we’re doing the feedback run, you might have a strong reaction if the BCI does not work. Sometimes, if it spells the wrong letter, people will yell, curse, or hit the table. Indeed, we’ve learned some great curses in foreign languages during these workshops. We don't know  what they mean, but we trust they are great curses. ut please try to remain still, or you will just produce EMG noise and make it even less likely you will get the next letter right.

For our last run with the intendiX speller, we have a competition. The winner of the competition will get to take some extra leftover food, and (if you ask nicely) I will even squirt extra electrode gel in your hair. Best of all, you will earn a hug from Christoph Guger. You know that Germanic people are very informal, warm, and affectionate and love to hug people. In fact, even casual male friends will routinely kiss each other on each cheek when they greet each other. Really, I swear, that part is true. So hugging must be trivial to them. So when you see Christoph at a conference, don’t say hi or give any warning, just walk up and give him a big bear hug. And tell him it is from me. No, tell him it is from Gerwin Schalk. He is a very strong man.

This is the end of the BCI demos, but we need help with the two most exciting demos of all. I know you may not trust me anymore, and you would be wise. But really, these are the two greatest demos, called the cap washing demo and putting everything away demo. Please help us, because we actually prefer to just use the same caps every time without washing them.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Magik of Mozartkügeln

Just finished the West Coast workshop tour, sharing the shock and awe of BCIs with hundreds of eager students, doctors, professors, and the occasional freeloader. Perhaps shock isn't the best word choice with a technology that only passively reads brain activity, but fatigue is even more permissive than alcohol, and a more socially acceptable excuse.

We had to stay in hotels in San Diego, LA, San Diego again, Irvine, San Fran, Portland, Vancouver, and Seattle. Astute readers who know American geography, like my Austrian homeys, will note this is not quite a straight shot up the west coast, but we have to accomodate the hosts' schedules. The hotels were typically four star hotels, some new, some not. Dr. Nick Anderson, who was on the tour with me, noted that our only problems were with the older hotels. I admit that words like "historic" and "quaint" did sound appealing. Yes, the antique (-looking) marble columns Austrian crystal chandeliers in the Historic Hotel Whitcomb did dazzle, thought their little museum to their own history was too pretentious even for me. The moldy smell and stained carpets were enough to drive Nick and Elizabeth away. I tolerated it, and other signs of unrenovated fading glory, but agreed with Nick's decision to stick with newer hotels in the future. Despite over five years of traveling flaneur, I still have much to learn. And share. Old = warning flag.

And here's another helpful lesson. Mozartkügeln aren't just handy for charming mothers (and, periodically, daughters). In all of the hotels, I tried a new trick when checking in. Go for the female staffer, if possible, and mention that you have Austrian chocolate if they give you a free room upgrade. It sounded absurd to me too until it worked at every hotel except one. I'm in a suite now, and got a King's Suite at the Palomar on Wilshire Blvd. Said suite was so snotty that they had a room service menu for dogs:

It has four items. They include a veggie plate and "fruit delight" with blackberries, blueberries, and sliced apples. Mmmmmm. Sounds delicious. I could go for one right now. I think that dogs, even near Beverly Hills, prefer meat. They probably prefer the turtle I put above the menu, which they might deem more edible even though it is made of towels. Yes, the whirlpool tub was graced with a turtle made of towels, meaning that the maid was paid to assemble cloth origami every day. Great room overall. Not a bad upgrade for a piece of chocolate that cost me less than a dollar.

The keys seem to be that Austrian chocolate is both unexpected and foreign. Austrians are not typically known as chocolatiers. I doubt a bribe of American chocolate would have worked in the states, even good chocolate. I bribed the Vancouver hotel with California fudge, and that got me a big room with a great view.

Of course, there's always the null hypothesis - chocolate and charm are irrelevant. Maybe I got the room upgrade just because I asked, and because we typically arrived late and usually stayed for only one night and they had the room available. But this would imply that I wasted a bunch of chocolate and a blog post for nothing, so fuck you. The upcoming east coast tour will also be graced with a little night music called Mozartkügeln.


Three pictures in front of the warg rider statue in front of Blizzard Entertainment, last week. One picture is with Nick Anderson.

Three pictures from 2009, with Anton Nijholt and Guenter Edlinger. Note the (cheaper) Mozartkügeln I'm holding.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

g. Force

I started this blog about five years ago, figuring my move to Europe would inspire some good writing. It did, amidst a fair amount of drek, but evidently not enough to drive you away. So I'll try again.

BZA Flaneur has been quiet recently, due largely to my move back to the US. Over the last couple weeks, I was on a workshop tour with g.tec, and visited Georgia Tech in Atlanta, ETSU in Johnson City (East Tennessee), Duke in Raleigh, Old Dominion University in Norfolk, and Uni Cincinnati. I forgot how much of my home country was worth visiting, especially after five years away.

Saw some old friends in Atlanta, which was characteristically humid enough to quell any regret for being away since 2005. I did get to introduce sweet tea (the table wine of the South) to Christoph Guger. His facial expression was priceless, and quite different from giving Europeans pop rocks. Our workshop was in the J S Coon Psychology Building, so I had to explain to him why this is an ironic name in Atlanta. He waited until I was off guard and then asked "What does coon mean?" rather loudly in a crowded hotel. Crowded with people who might well have been offended, and not vicariously. I said before that Germanspeakers do have a sense of humor. Somewhere.

I avenged myself by teaching him two driving maneuvers: the California stop and California sweep. The former is a term I didn't just make up to fuck with him, so you can find it online. The latter refers to lane changing from the leftmost lane, through ongoing traffic, to make an exit on the right. He innovated the Austrian sweep, which is doing so and then heading back to the far left. Yeah. Germanspeaker humor.

We had an extra day in Tennessee, which Christoph decided would be best spent waking up at 5.30 and hiking with some of our BCI buddies. I dubbed him "Crazy Christoph" for his general penchant for doing everything in a more extreme way with less sleep. Somehow, though quiet and seemingly demure, Dr. Guger forced us all to join him through pure g.force of will. We made it to the top of Mt. Mitchell, which they claim is the highest peak east of the Mississippi. I am suspicious, because I think Austria has higher mountains, let alone the Himalayas.

Duke was a whirlwind; we arrived after midnight (having hiked all day, then driven from TN) and then immediately went to Norfolk. There, we had an extra day for some hiking and hanging at the beach, where I thoroughly mocked the waves, though less than they deserved. Did see a new kind of lizard.

We then drove to Cincinnati, stopping for a half day to go kayaking on the James River. Yes, I am wet. Yes, the river does seem quite calm. Yes, it is a beginner kayak. Yes, I did capsize. But I did it on purpose. Just to fuck with Crazy Christoph. It did give me a sudden advantage in our ongoing paddle-splashing fight. The safety video told us to avoid horseplay, and being mature PhD professionals in our 30s, we didn't. I am still worried he's going to sneak attack me somehow. Germanspeaker humor. And sneak attacks. Dangerous combo.

And, finally, the workshop in Cincinnati, where a photographer got me in action leading the hands-on workshop where people with no training or experience all spelled perfectly with their brainwaves:

Now I am in San Jose, ostensibly to relax, but in fact am stealthily trying to apply my BCI-workshop-leading skills to help a patient. More on that later.

The flight to Cincinnati was long, and covered a lot of America. It is still great, perhaps all the more poignant after five years. (Not Cincinnati.) The Great Plains and then the Grand Canyon yawned beneath, on and on, for almost an hour of flight time, surrounded by mostly unexploited natural beauty. Enjoy it while you can, for more people, improved fracking, or at least faster planes are inevitable.

Friday, March 30, 2012


I just arrived in Budapest, and am killing time before my old friend Victor Wang arrives. Both are relatively new. Never been to Budapest, and haven’t hung out with King Victorious in over ten years. Then, he was a lab tech and I was a PhD student. Now, he’s an MD/PhD starting a neurology residency, and I am a senior postdoc. At least until tomorrow. Ah, change.

Can anyone suggest a new title for me? I am, technically, soon to become a Visiting Scientist at UCSD. It is a fine title. But a more accurate one would be freelance consultant, or writer. The problem is that both of these are well-known euphemisms for “unemployed and bullshitting about it”, and if I really am a writer, I should be able to think of something better. “Neuronaut” requires explanation. So does “mad scientist”, and it also scares the humorless. And they don’t laugh when I say I was kidding. Cause they’re humorless.

Since I have no new pictures for this blog post, I’ll explain some ones from my last Barcelona trip. Believe it or not, I didn’t go there planning to photograph protestors wearing California shirts. My plans included some lounging in the hotel and using various spa facilities. Sadly, the hotel had British tourists there, further reaffirming why so many Europeans hate them. All day, they were drunk, loud, and thoroughly unconcerned with anyone else. Most of the day, ten of them sat in a Jacuzzi, which should be a health violation or at least the start of a joke. (What do you call ten limeys in a jacuzzi? Heisse Zitrone! Well, Germanspeaking readers think it’s funny. Or would, were they not humorless by definition.)

Or how ‘bout this one? How many British people does it take to fill a jacuzzi? Ten!

(Pause for laughter.)

But the main goal was not anything specific to Barcelona, a magnificent city I’d already seen aplenty, but to hang out with Sam, an even older friend than Vic. It was an epic trip, including the most expensive meal I’ve ever eaten, at Gorria, a restaurant whose wine menu covers are made of cork. Too cool.

We got in to the VIP party for the World Congress at the Museum of Rock. There, I saw the next evolution of karaoke, called jameoke. This differs in that the band is live. No other difference. Still, people from the audience come up to sing. Still, they’re usually drunk and amusing. Another difference became apparent when a drunk audience member asked to grab the bass guitar. They let him. So audience members have the freedom to not just sing badly, but also play instruments badly. With not one but two bad performers, the jameoke session was on the verge of collapse. The drummer and guitarist, both obviously professional, tried to keep up. Egad. Then someone from the crowd emerged and took the guitar. I saw audience members wince, as I would have had I not known that Sam was a master guitarist. It was fun watching the audience figure this out, slowly, drunkenly, joyfully. I managed to contribute by grabbing the mike just after the lyrical part of “Hotel California” ended, which is the perfect time for me to sing.

We also had a fitting amount of Guell tourism, as Americans must.

My last day in BCN, I walked along the beach pretty much all day. Odd to get sentimental over missing a city I never saw until 2009, but then, I saw it quite a lot since then. Surfers tried comically to surf tiny waves, and I hung out with some Mexicans on the beach. That's about it. Some things never change. Not so different from SoCal in many ways, except for the waves.

Monday, March 5, 2012


I was sitting in my hotel in Barcelona, working on some revised documents as per the dicta of the European Commission, when I heard the unmistakable sounds of a mob. The chanting was pretty loud, and I went down to see what the local Calalunyans were protesting. It was a fairly big protest against cutting funds for the universities. In typical Spanish style, it just went on and on. It was sunny and pleasant, with nothing to really discourage the crown from meandering indefinitely.

Two pictures of protesting Spaniards.

With the climate and ample spoken Spanish, it looked and sounded a lot like protests against the funding cuts that gouged universities in California. Two things were different here. More people wore Catalan flags and California shirts.

In fact, I noticed so many California shirts among the crowd in BCN that I started photographing them. Within 20 minutes, I had the following:

Why, he's wearing the flag of my home state! Good fashion sense.

Someone in the left of the picture the flag of their home state! And another guy with wearing Laguna Beach, California.

This shirt represents the San Francisco Giants.

See? I told you.
Not familiar with this group.

The grey sweatshirt says "Hollister", like 10% of all shirts I see in Europe. Hollister is near Gilroy, which is east of Monterey.

The guy on the left is wearing a sweatshirt for the university where I will speak next month. The guy on the right is wearing a shirt with the Los Angeles Police Dept. What a coincidence! I will be in LA next month too, though I plan on avoiding their police.

True, there is a large American population here, and maybe they were just wearing their colors. Two problems. First, as mentioned, Californians never wear California shirts. Second, I talked to these guys. In Spanish. Quickly. They're locals (from BCN) or from other regions of Spain.

This parallels other comments I made during my five year Euro-adventure, which is soon to end. They may complain about American politics, militarism, economy, etc, but they sure do follow our culture. Music, movies, TV, fashion, still heavily influenced by America, and especially California. In Spain, the weather, too.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Quite to my surprise, my little brother is now married.

Marriage isn't high on the list of surprises. You might not be all that surprised to be surprised by, say, a call from an old friend or a party on your birthday that you ostensibly didn't expect. Marriages typically do not surprise, especially outside of Nevada. But they'd been trying for months, with all kinds of bureaucratic hassle. They were initially told "go away, foreigner", a message suddenly common around here too. They tried different cities and considered going all the way to Canada or America. One day, they found out that foreigners actually can get married in China, but with the right "procedure". I figured this would involve such extensive bribery and paperwork that it wouldn't happen. But, they're quite shrewd and agile out there, and not long after learning the procedure, it was time for wedding bells to ring in Nanjing.

Yeah! You westerers never saw wedding photos like that before! My little brother got married in a kung fu suit!! Fuck yeah!

I must admit the locals here have some good wedding costumes too. Conventional American wedding attire looks pretty dull by comparison. We need a revolution in American fashion dress, which could begin with you - yes, you - wearing a kung fu suit to your next American wedding. You'll really make a statement, and absolutely nobody will try to fuck with you. Or wear full Styrian regalia. You'll also stand out, and you might get elected governor.

Here I am in my Sun Tzu outfit in Beijing. I tried to crash a wedding with these two friendly people. I think it was some big government official getting married. My lawyer says I might be able to return to China in another life, if I can absolutely provide that I was never me.