Mountcastle’s spatial cerebral discovery

For many months I’ve had a magazine clipping on my desk, an obituary of Vernon Mountcastle.  The late Dr. Mountcastle is best known for his 1957 publication that contains the words “topographic” and “cats” in its title: “Modality and Topographic Properties of Single Neurons of Cat’s Somatic Sensory Cortex.” What did these poor cats help Vernon figure out?  That the brain cells (i.e., neurons) that react to a particular stimulus (i.e., a touch) are themselves aligned in a vertical pattern (rather than randomly located, or arranged horizontally). We now know this as the columnar organization of our cerebral cortex.

Like when Watson and Cricks (after work of many others) were inspired to envision a twisting double-helix. Spatial thinking contributes substantially to all knowledge, in one way or another.

the spatial thinking of staircases, horse mounting, and needle work

Every so often, things cross my computer screen that remind me of how fascinated I continue to be with spatial thinking. It started with my friend’s Facebook sharing of how needlework helped her with calculus, just like this article says. Next thing you know, I’ve tumbled down the Internet rabbit hole and learned that castle staircase designs were not random, nor were other elements of medieval defense. Maybe it’s not as obvious now that we’re all driving motorized vehicles but road-side-driving-preference also has historical rationales. What do these all have in common?  Spatial thinking, of course.

Sea Hero Quest: game to aid in spatial cognition tasks

Here’s a new mobile app game that simulates virtual navigation: Sea Hero Quest. It’s been developed by researchers interested in spatial navigation, including Hugo Spiers. I got a chance to meet Hugo during a workshop on education for spatial thinking last year.

They aim to test this on patients with dementia and assess its effectiveness as a diagnostic tool. They’ve had 600,000 downloads so far, especially young teenagers, and want to sample the population across age groups. I’m looking forward to giving it a go. Anything to help ward off dementia, and for the sake of research too.

You can find it here at the Apple Store and here at Google Play.

Citrus inspiration for cartographers

New challenges for the projection-minded. What new types of distortion can be created with these?

The Art of Ornamental Orange Peeling, circa 1905

braids and twists

braids and twists

Geographicity? Say that 3 times fast.

Learned a new word today, geographicity. It’s in the title of an upcoming edX MOOC offered by a group of Swiss geographersExploring Human’s Space: an Introduction to Geographicity. A class designed to “explore how geography, cartography, urbanization and spatial justice play a role in shaping the notion of human space.”  Sounds marvelous and could be, if done well, an interesting entry into the somewhat opaque social-science side of my beloved discipline of geography.

The word itself – geographicity – is unlikely to ever make the OED. It was coined sometime after 1999 by two philosophers, Gary Backhaus and John Murungi. I first saw its definition (geographicity = the spatial component of all phenomena) in the preface of their 2007 book, Colonial and Global Interfacings: Imperial Hegemonies and Democratizing Resistances.  Geographicity also figures prominently in Esoscapes: Geographical Patternings of Relations, and Lived Topographies and their Mediational Forces.

passage about geographicityHere’s a passage from where I first saw the term discussed, from the preface of the Colonial and Global Interfacings books. Go ahead, read it through and challenge yourself to understand. I have, several times, and I’m still clueless.  Absurdly and gratuitously confusing academic-speak.

I really do have much respect for social theorists. Some of my best friends are social theorists. (okay, not really).  I’ve enjoyed the rich dialogue between fellow geographers about just this topic recently.  In this case, it’s philosophers writing and not geographers, but, still, I’d argue that this passage lies at the extreme edge of English-language communication.

Uncommon situations that warrant spontaneous purchases

I’m finding the development of location-based services to be both intellectually intriguing and amusing.  The ThinkNear mobile advertising business endeavor of Telenav intrigues me because I like the ways they’ve grappled with explaining the complexities of geospatial location to business-minded novices. Seeing their current home page ad has been an amusing highlight of my day. Definitely an advertising location_based_services_ad (800x385)idea thought of by a man, but I admit it’s clever. Makes me want to send it to my friends and see whether they get it.

Foo Fighter frenzy

Until this summer, it’s been years since I’ve paid attention to the Foo Fighters. They were always one of Chris’s bands, along with ones like Rush, King Crimson, Sugar, The Charlatans, Urge Overkill. Usually there were a couple of songs from each group that I liked, but for the most part, I couldn’t really listen to some of these bands for very long.  I’d try. How many times I’ve tried to listen to Bob Mould, knowing how much C loves him. But I just can’t, and that’s okay. There are plenty of musicians that Chris and I have in common, and plenty of hours of life for us to enjoy our own favorites.

Summer 2015, the renaissance of the Foo Fighters in my life. It began in July when the internet brought me the story of these wacky Italians who organized 1000 of their closest friends to play Learn to Fly together as a mass invitation for Dave Grohl to play them a concert.  Of course Dave agreed, in his own charming way. I loved the group video and spent some days thinking about what person or group I adore enough to make such an attempt. Honestly, can’t think of anyone. Though I once almost bought a $500 plane ticket to see Rodrigo & Gabriela again.

Anyway, listening to Learn to Fly just reminded me of how much I did enjoy certain FF songs. Which meant some evening sessions playing their old albums, and then Chris brought home a few episodes of Sonic Highways on Netflix. And for 3 nights this week, we learned about the music scenes of Chicago, Washington DC, and Nashville. I now have a fan-crush on Dave Grohl.  Did you know he grew up only about 20 miles away from me, in the greater Washington DC area?  Did you know he’s actually 2 yrs younger than me?  Needless to say, our paths never would have crossed during our adolescent years. His first concert was the Rayguns. Mine was the Beach Boys, followed a few months later by Shaun Cassidy.

Fast forward 40 years. Those first few episodes of Sonic Highways were great. I learned about how clueless I am about the DC rock scene, and all rock scenes for that matter. I’ve only been to the 9:30 Club once in my life, to see Adrian Belew and The Bears, maybe sometime in 1986 or 1987, after his King Crimson years. How did I even know about Adrian Belew, or King Crimson?  Chris, of course.

Sonic Highways taught me too about the Zac Brown Band, and Tony Joe White, and this thing called Go-Go music. Yes, that musical style was being launched during my childhood and teenage years in the DC area, and I was ensconced in my suburban neighborhood.

Zac Brown is playing next week in Saratoga Springs, less than 4 hours from where I live.  Road trip!