Sunday, July 31, 2005

Saint Helens

Saturday, we went to Washington (the state) and visited mount Saint Helens, an active volcano. It was really impressive. St Helens had a major eruption in may 1980, when a bulge on the North site of the mountain exploded and blow out a mixture of steam, ash, dust and lava in a horizontal direction (in stead of the more general vertical eruption) with 300 mph and at 320 kmph destroying everything in a 230 square mile area. This blast lasted an hour and had a force comparable to 27000 atomic bombs like used in Hirosjima. With this the top 1300 feet of the mountain slided downand glaciers were melting for 75%. This caused the largest landslide in recorded history and a devastating mud stream which buried pieces of the valley in as much as 600 feet of mountain leftovers and filled the rivers with mud and trees. 57 people died as a result of the eruption and the ash cloud darkened two states. Ash was found all over the United States. In the last 20 years vegetation has worked on a comeback, but there's still a huge area of dusty ground without vegetation and a lot of trees are still just laying there pointing away from the mountain as silent witnesses of the '80 blast. Last year geologist recorder some earthquakes under St. Helens and since than the volcano has been smoking andshe's steadily growing. When we were there we could see the little pointers record some movement and actually today (one day after we haven been there) they have measured an earthquake under the mountain again. No one knows if and when st. Helens is going to erupt again, but it sure is an impressive area to walk around... For more pictures you can click here...


Another week has passed. Can't really recall what I've been up to. Guess nothing too exciting, just work at the lab. I am figuring out what's the best way of recording head movements in our new setup. Using a search coil system seems to be most accurate. Here you put to orthogonal coils (of a couple of mm) on the mouse's head. If you then put the mouse in a Helmholtz cube frame in which two orthoganal uniform magnetic fields are present, you can measure the orientation of the coils (and thus of the mouses head) by recording the magnetically induced voltage from the coils. The voltage recorded depends on the amount of the magnetic field that passes through the coil, so a coil orthogonal to he direction of the magnetic field would have the highest induced voltage and a coil alligned with the magnetic field would have no induced voltage. In between every position is reresented by a gradient in voltage. I hope I explain this basic physics clear enough so someone will understand it... The problem with such a system is the uniform magnetic field that has to be created by a framework of three pairs of opposing coils. This configuration is called a Helmholtz cube or field coil and is not cheap. Our lab does not own a Helmholtz cube. So I'll gues we might have to abandon the ideal method for something else. We're also exploring the possibility of using gyroscopes, little sensors that record rotation in a way I will not try to explain. The problem with gyroscopes is that they will need a hand made circuitry of chips which will be an awful lot of work. We'll see what we'll use in the end. The good thing is that just recently two papers were published claiming that measuring the vestibulo collic reflex (stabilizing head position in space by compensating head movements) is a valid method of measuring the state of the vestibular system. This has great advantages over measuring the vestibulo ocular reflex (stabilizing the image on the retina by compensating eye movements) because, well mice just have pretty small eyes....

Furthermore I am trying to schedule the road to graduation. I got my working with animals licence course scheduled for december and I might do an online course on conscious and unconscious perception with the University of Amsterdam fom september to the end of november. This would only leave me with a thesis and a graduation presentation in the new year and I might be ready to start my job in march instead of april, which is benificial for all of us.

Well there's some interesting stuff coming up about volcanoes and birthday parties, but I guess I'd better put that in a new post because everybody will have stopped reading even halfway my explanation of a search coil system..

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Downtown Portland

Took a bus to downtown Portland today and wandered around the city. Public transportation is ok in Oregon, it's cheap ( I paid $3,50 for a day card) and more or less comfortable. In the city centre it's even totally free. But since I didn't really have a destination I only walked around. Of course the batteries of my camera went dead after about 4 pictures, but hey, I was in the city centre so there had to be a place that sold batteries. And of course there was, so my photoblog has some nice new additions. I picked a perfect day since it was very sunny, but not incredibly hot. I guess summer has finally started and all that "it will be nice weather from the fourth of july till at least september"- talk I've been getting starts to make sense. We're averaging about 80 Fahrenheit which is about 25 degrees Celsius, but we're up for some more heat as this picture will show you:

Thursday, July 21, 2005

New layout

I couldn't sleep last night so I started making a new layout for this blog. Didn't finish it though, but I managed to do the last bits in some lost minutes at the lab... So here it is. Less standard than the previous layout. I had to do quite a little bit of html, but that's not too difficult. Comments turn up on this page now too, rather than opening a new one and the text is lined out nicer. Let me know what you think about it..

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Don't Panic

Yesterday evening I went on a mission to get the new Harry Potter for my aunt (and of course I want to read it myself too) First I went to Target in Tigard, but it was sold out. Yeah, they had some special collector's items left but at about four times the regular price.. So I went on to the mall to discover there was no book store in the mall. Later I was told there was a book store but it was located in the food-corner (don't ask me why) so I didn't look there. I was already on my way back home when I passed a Barnes and Nobles; a big bookstore that was open till 10pm and still had the book I was looking for in stock. Then it happened again. Why can I never leave a bookstore buying just one book? I don't know, but this time I once again walked out with four books. I got my aunt the new Harry Potter, bought the Ultimate Hitchhiker's guide to Galaxy for my uncle (can't believe he has never read that, it's one of the funniest books I know. Still curious about the movie, has anybody seen it?) and for myself I bought The long and dark tea time of the soul, another Douglas Adams book, starting with the promising sentence; It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression: "as pretty as an airport" . Airports are ugly. I also got myself the chronicles of Narnia, since I was talking to my aunt about it and I remembered I read it when I was about 12, but did not remember much more then that it involved a magic closet that was a port to another world, a huge lion which had to be sacrificed on a stone table and an evil witch... and that I liked it. So I decided to re-read it.

In the lab everything is going steady but slow. Designing a complete new setup for an experiment involves a lot of thinking, construction and looking up possibilities. We have e long way to go but we're on it. Today we celebrated my colleague Tim's birthday and went to a Mexican restaurant called Chevy's for lunch. The food was good but a bit heavy on the stomach for lunch. We had a good time though and that's most important.

Tonight after dinner I went for a swim again. I did 1500m this time since I was later and the pool closed. It went way better than last week. I adjusted my starting speed so I could go on longer without resting. It's still not even remotely like it used to be but it's getting better. I hope I can keep up my weekly kilometers in the pool. It's a nice workout, altough at the moment my arms feel like lead and I'll probably pay for my efforts tomorrow.

Also today I found out that the Osdorp Posse released a new dvd-box. For those of you that don't know the Osdorp Posse; they were the first hiphop band in the Netherlands to start hiphop in dutch, the so called "Nederhop". They started out translating NWA lyrics literally at the end of the eighties but soon started writing their own lyrics. I used to love them when I was 13 till 19 or something, but didn't listen to it since. Now there is this dvd-box with documentaries on the origin of "Nederhop" some live footage and a new album. I asked my brother (who turned 22 yesterday, happy birthday Bo!) to buy the box for me in the Netherlands and I downloaded the new tracks as a preview. I must say that I am not as enthousiatic about them as I was back in the nineties (ough...that sentence hurts) but it's still pretty okay. I also got a copy of the new Queens of the Stone Age, that is definately worth listening to. I haven't really "listened to it" (like in focussing on the music) but in the car and during work it sounds good... By the way, if anyone has any music they recommend me to listen to; I'm always curious to discover new sounds so share your enthousiasm and tell me about it!

Sunday, July 17, 2005

the Pacific

Last sunday we went to Sweet Tomatoes, an all American restaurant. You get to load your plate with salad, then you pay and after that you can get as much soup, pasta, pizza, fruit and icecream as you want. The working week was spent on building the new experimental apparatus. I first tried to do it with all the stuff that was just laying around, hiding in all kinds of different boxes and drawers in the lab, but since I seemed to miss key-parts with every different aproach I decided that I was being silly to try to do it with old junk and went out to buy some new materials. That was apparently a good decision since everything was a lot easier with the new stuff. So I build our adjustable restraining box that was supposed to keep our mouse from turning around and mess up recordings, screwed it to our vestibular stimulation platform and.... discovered our little pen-motor was not strong enough to move the entire construction... So now we have to build a new motor as well, with all new kinds of "problems". Keeps you busy though.

On thursday night I went to the recreation centre and swam 2 km. Ouch, that's a lot, I know. And all the time I was fighting against the memory of how easy it used to be. For all of you that don't know; I did competitive swimming for about ten years, but stopped about six years ago and didn't really swim during those years. So at my thursday night attempt I was getting tired so incredibly fast..... But still, I took my time, did a fair distance and took a short stay in the sauna afterwards. Pretty nice altogether, but the pain in my arms and shoulders made it clear they weren't used to something like this anymore. But it' s a nice kind of pain...

Friday afternoon I took off a few hours early because we were going to the beach! We would be at the Inn at Spanish Head in Lincoln City for the weekend, were we would meet my parents again and get our fair share of Pacific breeze. At the moment I'm sitting in our living room, posting with the wireless connection the Inn provides and I'm looking straight at the ocean. This picture is the view from our balcony. We're on the seventh floor and if you take the elevator down to one you actually get out on the beach; fabulous!

Yesterday we went to Newport to see the Oregon Coast Aquarium; Otters, sea lions, stingrays, sharks, jellyfishes turtles and many more. The biologist in me enjoyed himself thoroughly, but hardly as much as Max and Bella, who had a fantastic day (we did too, but you just can't beat the enthousiasm of a 1 or 5 year old). We had dinner at Mo's were they sell the world famous (their own claim) Clam Showder, my dad's so lyrious about. And I must admit; it was GOOD!
On our way home we also stopped at Otter Crest, from which you have a great view over the Pacific and Devil's Punch Bowl.

My stomach has almost recoverd from the champaign brunch my parents just treated us on. An incredible amount of delicious food and they keep filling up your champaign and coffee (or something Americans like to call coffee, but is more like warm coffee lemonade). In an attempt to taste as much I could, I kind of overdid it but now, after an hour of easily digesting I am fine again.

Counting the days right now. Not that I am getting bored with the USA or life around here, not at all, but it's only three weeks before Sita (bird girl :P) gets here!! Wow, looking forward to that...

By the way; I added some very nice pictures to my photoblog. Check 'em out!

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Multi-compartmental long story....

This long post could and maybe even should have been a couple of short stories. All I had to do for that is update this thing every time or half the times I thought about doing it. A combination of being busy and a reluctant I'll-do-that-later-attitude has led us to a blogless week with a large post on satyrday. I'll ake you through the week quickly with some pictures to ease the reading. Pic1; the house is on the market. Not totally finished but the ads have been placed and responses are coming in. I wonder how fast it will sell...
Pic2. I witnessed the United States in one of it's great patriotic moments; the fourth of july. We went to Tigard high to watch the fireworks from the football field. I must say I was not totally comfortable when the entire crowd stood up and faced the flag to listen to the national anthem with their hands on their hearts. It's strange, but maybe it's just me lacking a great sense of patriotism :P Fireworks were fun though and the kids didn't seem to have any problems staying up so late.
Weather is getting better, it has been so sunny almost the entire week (real icecream-temperatures: Pic3) The fourth of july was a free monday which caused the working week t be shoerter and fly by. We came up with the idea to do a new kind of behavioral test to strengthen the validity of the other research. We have to build a new device for it and test if it works the way we think it will. And if it does, we will run in to a recording problem that we have not entirely solved on paper yet. We will build the device and run some pilots next week and then we'll decide wether it's worth the effort. The basic idea is to put a mouse on platform that is moving (vestibular stimulation) and have a screen with optokinetic information in sight of the mouse. We will then test with mice that have a damaged nodulus and compare them with 'normal' mice. We will record the headmovements to show (or at least we expect to show) that the nodulus is primarily involved in vestibular processing and not that much optokinetics. This will probably not make any sense to whoever is reading this, but then again, I don't really believe you people care about the details and maybe I'll explain stuff better later (their we go again postponing...)
I did some more sightseeing last week which resulted in a couple of nice pictures that I will put on my photoblog (see link on the right side of this page) right after I will finish this post.

My parents arrived last wednesday, but they will move on to washington and Canada on monday already. They will however meet up with us next weekend when we will spend some time at the beach. I'm looking forward to that; always been kind of a sucker for oceans :D

The electonic trouble department has been cleared thoroughly. After 2 formats my iPod's working again. I have lost all my music but it's still on my computer back in the Netherlands and for the last 4 months (time flies) in the USA I have my sources that have provided me with some nice music. Thanx Bo and thanx Martin. Good thing you guys have a proper sense of music... I am writing this post on my OWN laptop. After three months I finally got it back, with a nice new screen..........and an erased harddisk. I don't really get why you need to erase the harddisk to replace a screen, but it's all working now, so I will not mention it again.

Sita has her ticket and stuff arranged as well and she will arrive 3 days after my parents leave. August 8 I will see my girlfriend again... that'll be great!

Enough for now. I wonder how long I'll be able to postpone the next post.. we'll see...

Saturday, July 02, 2005

I accepted...

Thought about for a day and a half, slept a night on it so to say... Of course I knew about the project for a while already, so it wasn't really that hard to decide. Guess I needed some people to show some enthusiasm about it for my final decision to arrive. After all accepting means I know what I'll be working on until 2010. It also means I get to do what I like (and studied for), with people I like to work with in an international prestigious project and get paid for it (wow, I'll have my weekends back). So I did it; I've just send out the email accepting the job. I will get my PHD in Neurobiology at my very own Utrecht University.....

Friday, July 01, 2005

Job offer aka my future

I just received an email with the official job-offer to get my PHD at the Functional Neurobiology department of Utrecht University. It's the project I talked about earlier. The official title is; Neural mechanisms of voluntarily control: shaping conscious visual perception. It's one of the High Potential projects of Utrecht University, physics of men and functional neurobiology working together. I did not accept yet, but I'm pretty sure I will within the next 24 hours. I just need to process this first and not respond within 5 minutes. Besides the aim of the project (finding the neurophysiology of controlled perception, popularly "willpower") and the techniques (electrophysiology, psychophysics and fMRI) the internationally oriented approach of the project appeals to me very much. Utrecht University will be cooperating with Harvard, Princeton, Salk Institute and the University of Sydney. With all these unemployed academics out there, I'm pretty lucky to get this offer months before I even graduate and get my MSc... And I didn't even have to attend a job interview (which would have been pretty hard, with me being in the USA and all). It helps that the principal investigator is the guy I worked with during my first internship last summer. He already knows me and the way I work. Guess he liked it. So now I can start planning for real, because the moment I accept I'll be settled till 2010. Returning to the Netherlands, write my masters thesis and find a $%#@ course to officially complete my BSc (yeah, I forgot to do one and we discovered that only when I had already planned my internship in the USA. It's a free choice course, so I can do whatever I want at a level I had 3 years ago, so it's really quite silly). I think can attend a course and write a thesis at the same time, I think I can even write a thesis on a topic anticipating the PHD project, so ill must be able to start March next year. Official graduation will be in April. I'm totally off with the order of things here. Usually one gets a BSc, then a MSc, then when starts looking for a PHD-student position. I will probably start of with accepting a PHD student position, then finish the requirements for my MSc and the last thing I will do is fullfilling the requirements for a BSc. Yeeeeeeeeh me, rebel :P