Archived entries for John Iversen

snorkeling

Today I went snorkeling off of La Jolla Cove with my cousin and I saw tons of fish whose names I will look up later, some kelp, and some reefy areas. We went into a cave that was absolutely gorgeous, and the limited light made the water this really excellent turquoise. But the highlight was swimming amidst sea lions, even though I balled my hands up into tight fists because I was afraid my fingers might be mistaken for a delicious lunch treat. It was kind of like this but instead viewed from above:

Even in water that was three feet deep, tons of fish were swimming around. These dinner-plateesque white and gray striped fish were in schools of about ten, winding in and out of waders’ legs. I was in this part of the Pacific two weeks ago, and had no idea of the animal diversity.

All of this is well and good, but I digress from my reason for posting. Our snorkel tour guide was this kid named Kevin, an ex-Navy diver who now leads snorkeling and scuba tours for San Diego Excellent Adventures. Quite the upgrade if you ask me. I told him what I’m doing in San Diego and after apologizing for changing the topic, he told me one of the coolest things ever that ended up not being a change in topic at all but instead an expansion of the topic.

He was leading a tour with this woman who would swim in the ocean all the time with those underwater headphones Olympians use during their hours of practice. (My cousin told me about this Olympian thing and all I can say is thank goodgollygosh that someone invented these things because can you imagine hours and hours and hours of only hearing own thoughts and the water splashing? I’d go crazy). Anyway, she had pretty eclectic tastes and would listen to a host of genres in the water. When she listened to rock or country or hip-hop or whatever, nothing weird would happen, but when she played jazz with high-pitched trumpets, dolphins would swim with her. DOLPHINS!

Although his phenomenon is not directly related to my research project here in San Diego, Ani and John do work with animals and their relationship to the music they hear and create. I cannot wait to tell them this tomorrow.

magic & techno

This past Thursday, a magician visited the Neurosciences Institute. I heard rumblings of his presence over lunch, but I had failed to cross paths with him until I went on a hunt for the owner of some unattended, unrecognized items in the conference room. I needed to do some sound testing in that room but didn’t want to inconvenience the person whose stuff was there, so find the owner I did. And I’m glad I did.

Enter Mark Mitton.

I found him in the office/lab of robotics engineer Donald Hutson, the mastermind behind the speaker apparatus for the music therapy study. After a few moments of creepily lurking in the doorway and eavesdropping on the conversation the two were having with John, I joined in the fun. Mitton’s friend and NSI contact David Edelman, a Swarthmore alum, walked in the room with a handful of brown paper lunch bags and hands one to each of us. Mitton taught us how to throw up an imaginary ball and have it land in the paper bag. He even taught us how to play catch with these imaginary balls. Amazing!

Even though this was the only trick I saw Mitton do and the secret was revealed, I know that Mitton is a good magician. Between his wit, intelligence, and energy, he could outsmart the curls out of my hair! He also tends to switch from topic to topic, as one word of a conversation reminds him of story, experience, or article. His voracious thirst for knowledge combined with his composed excitement manifest with full commitment to the amazing questions, phenomena, and truths that pervade his(/our) world.

As Donald, David, John, Mark and I were tossing around the imaginary ball, we eventually started to sync up. Mitton noted that once, at a conference, a woman approached him after the ball-throwing activity saying that her partner-in-catch was exuding all kinds of good chemistry her way: he caught every ball she threw. Here, the sensorimotor experience led this woman to feel an emotional connection. Indeed, this is not an isolated incident. John mentioned a line of research in group cooperation where people are more likely to cooperate successfully in problem-solving tasks if they first tap the same rhythm together. Mitton noted his experience singing in the chorus as an undergrad, where his school’s group would combine with the other two in his consortium and he would come out of the experience feeling truly connected to everyone, even the people he didn’t know. (P.S. What consortium was this? None other than the Tri-Co, where Mitton was a graduate with the Haverford Class of 1982 with a B.A. in Economics. Cool!)

Appropriately, the conversation skipped to DJs, who draw upon their ability to sense, understand, and interact with the audience in a large-scale, macrocosmic version of the bag trick-induced sensorimotor effect. While many concerts are a give-and-take between artist and audience, DJ performances seem to come with greater expectations. Just as early disc jockeys spun records based on the mood of the audience or the mood they were trying to instill in the audience, current DJs like Tiesto and deadmau5 have the ability to align and extend electronic blips in ways that make overjoyed puppets out of the audience members.

For an example of what the magician was talking about and what I’m trying to reiterate here, compare the first video to the second. The first shows Nosaj Thing, an LA-based electronic and remix artist, performing a DJ set by himself in a room at the Seattle radio station KEXP. The second is a live recording of Nosaj at the Low End Theory Club in LA. There are obviously other variables aside from audience that differentiate the videos (i.e., venue and presence of video projection), but it is pretty clear how Nosaj is reacting to and manipulating the audience.

the worth of viral infection

The other day I walked into lunch thirty minutes late and sat at table with some familiar faces. They promptly left, and I met some new folks. One of them, David Edelman, went to Swarthmore, and we had a great conversation about the liberal arts experience on the Main Line. I also met Geoffrey Owens, whose most recent work (as I understand it) concerns extracting photosensitive genes from bacteria and using viruses to infect rats’ brains with them. He uses fiberoptics to shine a light onto the area of the brain where the gene is expressed and observes how it affects their behavior.

Today at the hospital, I mentioned this to one of the fellows and she was like, “Oh, that sounds sort of like gene therapy.” I’ve spent the past ten minutes on the Wikipedia page for gene therapy, and I’m pretty much in awe. It is essentially the insertion of genes into cells and tissue to treat conditions where a mutant gene is causing problems. Many of the vectors for this gene insertion are viruses, which have perfected the art of infiltrating cells with their own genetic  material. Most notably, gene therapy has been quite a successful cancer treatment, but it is not yet widespread.

In recent history, when you hear “virus,” it is either being discussed in regard to H1N1 or some computer bug that managed to wipe away years of documents (and, if really unlucky, gigabytes of songs).  Yet another popular application is the “viral video,” or a video that has gathered a substantial amount of Internet fame and on occasion, infiltration into other forms of media or intellectual engagement.

A perfect example of this “infiltration” is marked by one of Ani and John’s recent research forays. They came across the video of the cockatoo Snowball dancing to “Everybody” by the Backstreet Boys.

They noticed that it seemed to be keeping the beat as it danced and wanted to determine whether it actually was. As I noted in a much earlier post, vocal learning is the ability to produce complex sound patterns based on auditory input. This phenomenon also exists in songbirds, hummingbirds, whales, dolphins, bats, and seals.

Last Sunday, CBS Sunday Morning had a feature on Snowball and this research:

They left out an important finding, though. John and Ani changed the tempo of the same song to see if Snowball would be able to synchronize to the altered tempo, and he was! The study results have been published in several places, authored by Ani, John, a UCSD affiliate named Micah Bregman and Snowball’s owner Irena Schultz. One of them, “Experimental Evidence for Synchronization to a Musical Beat in a Nonhuman Animal,” is available here.

day one

So much about which to blog. So little energy left. So I’ll give a quick rundown.

Today marked my official first day of work at the Neurosciences Institute. Finally, NSI has become a place where living, breathing people do incredible science instead of a series buildings that had been entering my dreams on an increasingly regular basis.

Although I included a nearly identical photograph in an earlier entry about the Institute, this picture was taken with my camera.

Upon arrival, I had some lunch (catered by NSI, tasty, intended to encourage interdepartmental dialogue) with Dr. John Iversen, one of Ani’s colleagues and the second researcher involved with this summer’s NICU project. Towards the end of lunch, Ani met up with me and we ventured to Rady Children’s Hospital to meet with Dr. Gail Knight. The three of us went over some of the more logistical things regarding the study, and then Ani and I returned to NSI. I got acclimated to my office, and that was pretty much it for day one. Today, it became clearer than ever the degree of intelligence that will surround me this summer. I’m already honored.

After work, I took an extremely congested route to join UCSD’s gym and it took me approximately thirty-five minutes in rush hour traffic. Upon arrival, the receptionist told me a much easier way to get there: drive two blocks. Thanks, GPS. Your system may have succeeded at positioning me globally, but it lacked efficiency, to say the least. Stressed, frustrated, and a little stir crazy from the car (I need to get used to the amount of time I’m going to spend in a vehicle), I went to the Torrey Pines Glider Port.

Before I left the house this morning, Penny suggested that I go there, and this suggestion was seconded and thirded by  gentlemen at lunch. I sat down, read, and slowly ate my dinner (avocado, tomato, mozzarella, caramelized onion sandwich on baguette bread). There is nothing like an hour and a half of listening to the ocean while watching the sun pierce the clouds to relax you. It was a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Pacific Ocean. Hopefully next time we can get a little more intimate.

I would say that my destress period was perfect, save for one detail. I didn’t have headphones and could not listen to the music that I craved: Sigur Ros.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sUVm77WjE0

When I finally returned home, I was catching Jay and Penny up on my adventures when the phone rang. One of their lovely family friends called to let me know that PBS was airing a NOVA program called “Musical Minds.” We watched it together; blog entry on the topic to come soon.



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