Monday, May 17, 2010

Hemispatial neglect

Drawings copied by a patient with allocentric hemispatial neglect, in which damage to attention centers in the frontal or temporal lobes causes subjects to only perceive one half of every object.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Scott and Scurvy

Reading Scott and Scurvy, a fascinating post on Idle Words about the scurvy which plagued Robert Scott's 1911 expedition to the South Pole:

Now, I had been taught in school that scurvy had been conquered in 1747, when the Scottish physician James Lind proved in one of the first controlled medical experiments that citrus fruits were an effective cure for the disease. From that point on, we were told, the Royal Navy had required a daily dose of lime juice to be mixed in with sailors’ grog, and scurvy ceased to be a problem on long ocean voyages.

But here was a Royal Navy surgeon in 1911 apparently ignorant of what caused the disease, or how to cure it. Somehow a highly-trained group of scientists at the start of the 20th century knew less about scurvy than the average sea captain in Napoleonic times. Scott left a base abundantly stocked with fresh meat, fruits, apples, and lime juice, and headed out on the ice for five months with no protection against scurvy, all the while confident he was not at risk. What happened?

It's a fascinating story of how medical practice which lacks knowledge of underlying causes can become distorted over time. It's also kind of heartbreaking to read about the polar missions failing again and again all because they're working from the wrong model of scurvy as a disease.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Frequency components of music

From Spectra and Pseudospectra; click for full size.

Measured eigenvalues in the complex plane of a minor third A4# carillon bell. The grid lines show the positions of the frequencies corresponding to a minor third chord at 456.8 Hz. together with two octaves above the fundamental and one below. Immediately after the bell is struck, the ear hears all seven of the frequencies portrayed; a little later, the higher four have decayed and mostly the lowest three are heard; still later, the lowest mode, the 'hum', dominates. The simple rational relationships among these frequencies would not hold for arbitrarily shaped bells, but are the result of generations of evolution in bell shapes to achieve a pleasing effect.

Seems like this format could make a nice interface for designing new sounds; someday I'd like to get around to recreating it.