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.