I’m “Digging” EyeWire (See First Photo For Evidence)

Last week the Great Office of EyeWire had another visitor from the Colorado College Neuroscience department.

Michael Murney in virtual reality. Picture by William Silversmith, friendly mocking by Nina Friedman

Michael Murney in virtual reality. Picture by William Silversmith, friendly mocking by Nina Friedman

Here, Michael is having his first virtual reality experience using the Oculus DK. He is suspended in a neuronal circuit in the retina, so all he sees is neurons in space. When he turns his head to the right, he appears to have turned his head to the right in the virtual world, and he sees the neurons from a different angle. These are neurons traced in EyeWire. I had done this earlier, and was super excited to show it off!

Currently I am working on in-game trivia for EyeWire. I am creating questions for players to answer in the chatroom, and players will receive points if they are correct. Some of my questions are about neuroscience, and some are theme based according to competitions. The most recent competition I wrote for was Cryptozoology themed. Here’s a sample of in-game trivia, where a bot named “inquizator” presents the questions:

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I’m learning tons from the Wikipedia bottomless holes I get to travel down when looking for trivia questions. I’m still learning the most just from being in the office. I think a lot of my learning is unconscious, but I am also thinking about the little things that EyeWire does that I hope my future employer also does. I am also still picking up tech vocab and such. Stay tuned for a post about silly happenings in the commonspace, aka Nina essentially presenting you with a wework ad.

Adventures in Zion: The Ultimate Spring (Block) Break

There are many things I love about Colorado College, and Block Breaks are one. Opportunity knocks not just once but 5 times throughout the year for you and your pals to gallivant around the land for four days. If this isn’t neat enough, CC students also get Winter Break and Spring Break. I have always taken advantage of my Spring Breaks to spend time with my family. This Spring Break, we traveled 12 hours to Zion National Park, in Utah. I was, at first, mildly astonished at the popularity of Zion amongst my CC peers! At least three different groups of friends traveled to Zion at one point over Spring Break. But, as we drove into the park, my astonishment faded into appreciation for the majestic beauty of Zion, and understanding of why Zion was such a sought after location.

Majestic: that is the best way to describe Zion National Park. The towering canyon walls, perfect in their imperfectness, made your body fill with awe for the ability of nature to create beauty. The small Virgin River meandering through the canyon inspired you – this little river had, through the years, dug down, down, down through rock.

The first day, we armed ourselves with neoprene clothing and a walking stick, and attacked the Narrows. The Narrows is not a typical hike, rather, hikers literally walk through the water. As I walk through strong currents and over slippery rocks, I occasionally raise my head and look above me at the never-ending rock walls. There is less sky than I am used to, the canyon walls dominate my view. Biking consumed the second day in this wonderland. We biked through the suburbs of St. George, and through the desert in the scorching heat. I was amazed at the difference in landscape between St. George and Zion. So different, yet similar in beauty.

On the morning of the third day, we dined on a hearty breakfast and began our hike to Angel’s Landing. This hike is only 2.5 miles one way, yet has an elevation gain of 1500 feet. The hike was not dissimilar to a slightly drawn out version of the familiar jaunt up the Incline. Hiking through 27 switchbacks called “Walter’s Wiggles,” we arrived at the top. Half of our party continued up 0.6 miles among sheer cliff paths to the final endpoint of the hike. I, along with my mother, elected to stay back and take in the views. Having exhausted the activities that Zion had to offer, horseback riding presented an intriguing alternative to physical exertion.

On the last day of the journey, we awoke at 6:00am to travel through tunnels to arrive at a location which overlooked 2/3 of the canyon. We watched the sun rise color the rocks with a beautiful show of lights. Then we drove home.

As I sit here, typing away, at my carrel in Tutt, I am filled with the same awe and appreciation I felt looking at the canyon walls for the first time. My heart learned how to sing the song of Zion National Park, and I will be forever graced with its music.

Farm to Function: Pre-Research Rambles

“What is it you research here?” The German guy in the backseat asked in broken English as we drove out of Frans Josef and towards Fox Glacier on the West Coast of New Zealand. His name was David (pronounced Dah-veed) and the first of many hitchhikers to ask me about my research.

Initial conversation with hitchhikers usually goes something like this:

-       A brief discussion of whether or not I’m heading somewhere helpful to them

-       A lot of shuffling around and asking “think you’ll fit?” as we move bags from the backseat to the trunk

-       An exchange of where we are each from

-       An exchange of our names

-       A gift of chocolate from the glove compartment

-       An exchange of how long we’re in New Zealand

-       An exchange of what brought us each to New Zealand

-       And natural conversation tends to flow from there

It’s in the exchange of what brought us to New Zealand that I get asked about my research. I told David, like I told the rest of the hitchhikers, that I was in New Zealand to research wool and fabric production. Everyone has been interested and wants me to tell them more, so I dive into the story:

“Well,” I say, “it all came from this realization that people (myself included) are very disconnected from the processes behind the objects we are so attached to. My goal is to illuminate one of these processes- the process behind wool fabric and clothing.”

I go on…

There are so many components (human, animal, and machine) that play a role in the making of fabric that are hidden in the final product. When we see a wool blanket, we see a wool blanket- we don’t see sheep and farmers, shearers and mills, dyeing and spinning, weaving and knitting, artisans and machines- just a wool blanket. This concept of mistaking a part for a whole is termed the “fallacy of misplaced concreteness” by philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. He’s a big guy in the pre-research part of my research.

I want to illuminate the forgotten process in a way that people are interested in learning about it. While might be thrilled to curl up with a whole novel about fabric production, I know I’m among the few. People have no reason to want to sit down and read a research paper about where fabric comes from. As a photographer, I think a much better and more accessible way to bring this process to light is to really show it through a series of photos. People need to see the process from farm to function.

I often compare the idea with the “Farm to Table” movement sweeping over the U.S.- people are getting more and more concerned with knowing where their food comes from and how it was raised, so why not get more concerned with where our clothing comes from and how it was made?

This whole idea sparked my interest several months ago during my second block class, Reenchanting the World. Side note: if you are a student and ever have a chance to take that class- please just do it. Before I could illuminate this process for others, I felt as though I needed to go through the whole process myself. I had the opportunity to do that for my final project for that class and made this short film:

After I went through the process myself, I wanted to figure out a way beyond the little film to show the process to others… so here I am. Sitting at some strange, but really rad café/found item art gallery called The Lost Gypsy in the Caitlins.

Why did I come all the way to New Zealand to photograph wool and fabric production? Well, New Zealand is home to 4 million people and 31 million sheep- a pretty good ratio for what I’m looking at. Before I started my research, I toured around a little visiting people and places and thinking I was going to stop at every sheep farm I passed… that was a bold thought. You can’t drive 10km anywhere in this country without hitting another sheep farm. Here’s some proof and sheepy eye-candy for those interested:

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Next up on the blog: a mill visit in on the South East coast of the South Island… Stay Tuned!

Very limited wifi during my travels, but I’ll do my best to keep everyone posted!

On Automation. Read Me Even Though There are No Photos.

Happy St. Patty’s day-week from the land with Sean Fitzpatricks o’ plenty! This past week I’ve been thinking a lot about automation.

(Excuse me while I go on a tangent, I promise to return to the topic of EyeWire soon) With the current technological boom paving the way for computers and robots to automate most back office processes, the job market for human labor may shift. I have no idea whether automation will mean less work for humans to complete, or different work for humans to complete. Thinking about just the United States, I don’t believe that past technological booms have ever permanently decreased the job market, as today it seems most people take part in the workforce, with the unemployment rate hovering around 5%. Using this oversimplified “unemployment rate” statistic, we decide that any automation that has occurred thus far has only shifted the job market, creating jobs as it automates them.

So now, some of the jobs that were created through automation involve software engineering and computer programming. Human’s have made some pretty far out computers and robots. It almost seems we can automate anything. Well… we can’t yet because we haven’t automated neuron tracing clearly (or EyeWire would not exist). But EyeWire does use Artificial Intelligence trace neurons, it’s just that the AI makes extensive mistakes. This is where humans come in- they trace what the AI has missed. EyeWire’s AI actually uses machine learning, meaning that the computer teaches itself how to get better at coloring by looking for patterns in the way players color in EyeWire. So EyeWire’s AI, which was built by people, is now improving on its own. It is now building itself.

Woah. We’re building computers and robots that can improve themselves. And there are self-building robots out there. I think this technological revolution could actually lead to a decrease in human labor need because of this. In the not so far off future the EyeWire AI will be able to map neurons itself. Eventually AI will be able to do everything that humans can do and more. And when this happens, we’ll have more free time. And playing EyeWire is about being productive with one’s free time, and getting value from contributing to something real. I wonder where citizen science and other crowdsourcing projects will go if people have more free time because of technology. Will there be a surge in these projects, because people have so much free time to spend? Will we need to crowdsource manpower when technology is so advanced that people have this free time? Will the work of people be too obsolete to use manpower instead of AI?

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out, and to be a part of the world as this plays out.

I cannot offer you photos on this post because my internet connection has been sad recently. I will go on a quest to find good internet and post SO MANY PHOTOS soon.


Ugh guys I’ve been horrible about taking pictures. This past weekend I went to PAX East, the massive game convention. I took some un-representative pictures while there.


11042612_10152771534256234_1617278580_nThese are unrepresentative because they don’t show that there were hundreds of tables where people were playing board/card games and at least a hundred booths for game companies (like the YouTube one seen above). I went in the context of EyeWire. I don’t consider myself a gamer, but I did realize that everyone is a gamer in a sense, because games are ubiquitous in all walks of life. Games are not just Halo and Legend of Zelda, they are also Scrabble and Candy Crush and ping pong and tag. I should have connected with this idea better before attending the convention, as I am working for an unconventional game, but I was a bit intimidated by those who knew so much more about gaming than me and thus I did not want to define myself as a gamer. At the convention I did feel out of the loop, not recognizing any of the big names in the gaming industry, but I still had a lot of fun checking out the booths, seeing different concepts that people have dreamt up, and people-watching. I am less intimidated now, and even more fascinated by this culture that I could know so much more about. The whole gaming industry is so relevant to citizen science projects like EyeWire, as they too are trying to create an online environment of fun, relaxation, and community.

Lanzendorf Concert

As I mentioned int the last post, Lazendorf came and played a concert on Thursday. They call themselves an experiment, not a band. They rarely record songs and have nothing written down. Lanzendorf is made up of Bryan Devendorf, Scott Devendorf, and Ben Lanz. Bryan and Scott are brothers, both play with The National. Bryan is the drummer and Scott is the bassist. Ben often plays with The National, among other groups and they all seem to be good friends.

I walked into the concert at Packard Hall. Packard often has classical music, I could tell this was going to be different. The hall was set up with three tents, two on the stage and one up above. Inside the tents there were some lanterns and the stage lights were dimmed down. Lanzendorf walked onto the stage with green jumpsuits on, they did not say a word and began playing. The music was like being in a trance. It was incredibly mellow, they were jamming the whole time improvising every song. They all had a true mastery of their instruments and the digital looping equipment. There was a surprise band member whose name I think was Kate. Kate was holding a microphone and would hold it up to the amp occasionally. Then out of a secret door a man with a beard. also wearing a green jumpsuit would emerge fiddle with something and then leave. Ben would occasionally start singing incomprehensible lyrics and then stop. It was hard to know if they played one continuous song or many songs without pause. After about one hour of playing they stopped, people did not know whether to clap or remain silent.

Ben took the microphone and said a few words of thank you for being at Colorado College and being able to share their music. Then, they picked their instruments back up and the concert continued. They played for another half hour, there were times when it seemed very distorted and others when it seemed incredibly melodic. After the music stopped some people started leaving, but others started coming. The concert has a very different feel than most I have ever seen. The ebb and flow of people made the concert a lot less static than most. On the whole I really enjoyed the concert, the distorted feel made the music exciting and the melodies served as a good relief. I was incredibly impressed by how well they were able to play together especially knowing that they were improvising. The concert had a magical quality that was great to see. I am glad to know that Packard s has now seen more than just lovely classical music.


Host Response to Pathogens Week 1

On the first Monday, 12 Biology majors filed into an Olin classroom, unsure what the course BY359: The Host Response to Pathogens, taught by Dr. Stephanie Schittone held in store for us. As a second semester senior, this course would complete my major in Biology, and would be the last science course I would take at Colorado College.

As an upper level biology course, the class consists of students who are both well-versed in general biology prerequisite classes (genetics, microbiology, etc..), yet simultaneously offer a wide array of knowledge, diverse experiences and course histories, This makes for an interesting, exciting, engaging course with intelligent questions, fun anecdotes, and exciting “Eureka!”moments every day. Eureka moments are one of my favorite things about science classes. That moment where a connection is made in your head, and you get chills down your body at the synthesis of new knowledge. You have done it! You have learned! You are now smarter than the moment before. This is so exhilarating, so enthusing, this is what feeds my soul. Learning is the most exciting thing that life has to offer.

One Eureka moment I had during the first week was concerning an element of the immune system. In the immune response, there are different levels of the immune defense that increases with strength and specificity as time goes on. One of these defenses is through immunoglobulins. Immunoglobulins are antibodies that recognize and bind to foreign antigens (from pathogens) to neutralize the effect of the antigen in the immune system. There are different classes of immunoglobulins, each with specific, different functions. Let’s delve into an example. Immunoglobulin E (E for epsilon) is a class of antibody that recognizes parasites. Parasites have been eradicated from the United States due to water purification regulations. Thus, Immunoglobulin E has found itself bored, with nothing to do. What do you do when you are bored? The answer, of course, is obvious. You find something else to do! The theory is that Immunoglobulin E  found itself something to do. Now, the exact mechanism of how this next part works is a little unclear; but supposedly, Immunoglobulin E has evolved to identify other molecules as potential dangers to the body. We call them allergies. While there is also a genetic component, allergies are the antigen that Immunoglobulin E “entertains” itself with. This theory is strengthened by the frequency of allergies in countries and continents with parasites. Allergies are very infrequent in countries with parasites. This can be explained by – anybody know it? – the fact that Immunoglobulin E can be found mounting a defense against parasites, and cannot find the time to be bored! AMAZING STUFF ISN’T IT.

Everyone knows what the stomach bug is. The common cold is …… common. More severe bacterial infections like MRSA have sparked public fear around the country. But what happens inside your body? How does the body fight off these pathogens? The 12 of us have begun a journey inside the body, into the lives of immune cells, and into the fight against pathogens.

We delved into the basic immune response almost immediately, and I was struck with how skilled the body is at protecting itself. Various levels of immune response work together to activate higher and more specific attacks on foreign bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. The body is an exquisite work of art.

I’ll let this sink in. We will get more specific in a bit. Get ready!
Talk to you soon.


Getting Indie

The past couple of days we have had the chance to meet some especially cool people. The first were Bruce and Gabe.

Bruce is a graphic designer, he started a company called Post Typography. His interest in graphic design began in high school, where he published zines ( hand made magazines); he was scolded by his principle for making the zines. Bruce is a tall man with glasses, he seems quite nerdy. He was also part of post-punk band called Double Dagger. A double dagger looks like this: ‡, the band name and its songs paid tribute to typography.

Gabe is a photographer and film maker, he started Folk Hero Films. Like Gabe, his interest in aesthetic began making zines, he also got in trouble for their publications.  Gabe’s first break as a photographer came when a National Geographic photographer took him under his wing. The photographer took pictures of tigers and rhinoceros, Gabe assisted. Once he got chased by a rhino while on the back on an elephant. His first complete story came with the documentary The Harvest. The Harvest explores and organization like Make a Wish, except these kid’s last wishes are to go on an epic hunt.

Through Gabe’s work on The Harvest he and Bruce began their collaboration. Bruce made all of the opening sequences for the movie, which consisted of old paintings of hunters. The main collaboration, however, has been working on Gabe’s documentary If We Shout Loud Enough. If We Shout Loud Enough is about Double Dagger, their influence on the Baltimore music scene, and their last tour before they called it quits. Gabe and Bruce epitomize many of the concepts that we have covered in class. They embrace the DIY spirit, through music, typography and film.

The second guests came to our class today. Scott Devendorf and Bryan Devendorf of The National and Ben Lanz of The National and Beirut. Together, they formed a band named Lanzendorf, a combination of their last names. I asked them how they felt about the concept of selling out, which we have discussed in class. Some background, about twenty years ago selling out meant anything to do with conforming to mass media. This included changing your sound to become more commercial or licensing a song to advertisements. They responded that they felt changing your sound was “not cool” but that some National songs have been on commercials and TV shows. They told us that musicians no longer make money from CD sales, so putting a song in a commercial is an easy way to make some money. They told us that they had never really meant to pursue music, but had always loved it. Lazendorf started when the opener for the National did not show up, it is experimental and jammy. They are playing a concert tonight!! Talking to people that have such a connection to the indie scene has been a true highlight of the class.

Subcultures, punks, and indie music

During our first few days of indie rock and culture I was surprised to hear that some of seminal bands that began what would become the indie movement were not great musicians. Bands like the Sex Pistols were made up of 4 men who could only play a couple of power chords and were not great singers. What the band did have, was an embodiment of the anti establishment, troubled youth sentiment that was running through England in the 1970′s. Bands like the Sex Pistols and the Clash were true punks who knew you did not need to know how to play the guitar to be successful. They believed and embraced the DIY (do it yourself) image. They were part of  subculture ( which I’ve learned is a word that cannot be properly defined) but essentially means people that do not identify with mainstream society such as punks, hippies and now, hipsters.

In the 1980′s Sonic Youth and Nirvana came along. Nirvana emerged from the grunge movement of Seattle. Made up of people that were dissatisfied with society. Kurt Cobain, front man of Nirvana, dealt with issues of authenticity and legitimization of music. As a musician that was thrown into the spot light he wanted the world to know that he was more than a man in a grunge band. This made me question whether all musicians want to feel a sense of wanting to be true musicians and why.

As a result of these movements and many others indie rock emerged. It was made up a group of musicians that did not want to support mainstream music and big record labels. The main discussions we’ve been having in class is whether or not indie music is for the high class. Bands like Vampire Weekend and the Dirty Projector came from ivy league schools. They were exposed to many different types of music that then influenced their songs. Some critics have called Vampire Weekend “ivy league post colonials” which I think is both funny and insightful. Personally, I think that while indie music has been associated with privilege a great thing about it is that it makes an effort to include many cultures and hopefully attract a diverse group of people.




Eating IS studying. . .

Hello again from Lima! It’s a cool Sunday afternoon here in Miraflores as we progress through CC’s Anthropology of Food in Peru.  Our most recent development is that we have started to undergo the research and writing process for our final projects.  Our professor allowed us to select a random topic from a hat, which contained various ideas about regional, cultural and festive food items.  Behind this seemingly simple and tasty research project is a challenge–Mario deliberately chose these topics because they had less literature available.  Thus, we’re forced to go out and eat these foods, talk to people and experts on streets and restaurants and overall become less reliant on our standard student methodology of immediately hopping on research databases and Google. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the great variety and history in Peruvian food, our topics include items such as:

Pachamanca: a pre-Hispanic form of barbecuing the involves the cooking of different foods (most often meats) in the ground upon a hot bed of coals, enclosed by rocks, leaves and other insulating materials. The real slow cook! Several varieties of this method exist in New Zealand and Hawai’i.



Ceviche: A very popular dish in Peru, Ceviche is a mixture of fish, lime, onions and other spices.  However, it is unique because the fish is cooked using “denaturization,” which uses the acids of lime juice to deconstruct the proteins within the fish (essentially cooking it, but without heat).  The result is a scrumptious dish of “cooked” fish served chilled and commonly accompanied by camotes (sweet potatoes) and choclo (a variety of large-grain corn grown in Peru).


At first this was a difficult transition for us because we simply couldn’t find anything on the internet or within printed texts. How the heck are we supposed to approach a topic as pioneers of the field? We don’t know anything! But thanks to the aid of Shelley and Mario throughout the process of narrowing down our topics, we now stride confidently through the streets of Lima in search of pachamanca and ceviche restaurants.  In addition to talking about food theory and cultural dishes in class, our group has also taken a few recent excursions to places like El Barrio Chino (Chinatown in Lima) and El Museo Nacional de La Gastronomía Peruana (National Museum of Peruvian Gastronomy). As we continue to learn more about the roots of the many different foods here, we move closer towards understanding better both the unique diversity of cultures in Peru and the life of an anthropological foodie.

museo nacional

These large ceramic containers were often used in the pre-Hispanic period for a primitive version of fermentation in order to make the famous Peruvian drink “chicha.” In the Incan empire, it was considered dangerous to drink water by itself, since contaminants were known to cause epidemics.  Thus, plenty of chicha was made during this period with the aid of saliva from many different community members. Yum!

barrio chino nuevo ano

Según el calendario chino, el 2013 es el Año de la Serpiente (Foto: USI)


When we originally set the date to visit El Barrio Chino, we had no idea it would be Chinese New Year! Upon arriving, the streets were teeming with people, bamboo shoots and crazy dragons dancing around. Definitely the right day to visit.


Until next time!

¡Hasta luego!