Archive for May, 2008

Courtney Byrd @ U of Texas

May 26, 2008

Ever wonder if she stutters? Gee, I’d like to have a colleague like her.

Office: CMA 7.204
Email address: courtneybyrd@mail.utexas.edu
Phone: (512) 232-9426

Courtney T. Byrd received her bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University-Shreveport, her master’s degree from Texas Christian University and her Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University. She is the recipient of the National Institutes of Health Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (F32). Upon completion of her NIH postdoctoral fellowship, she was appointed to an assistant professorship at The University of Texas at Austin in August 2006. To facilitate her research, she recently opened the Austin Center for Stuttering Intervention and Research (ACSIR) here. Her primary research focus is the combined contribution of linguistic processing and motor planning to the onset, development and maintenance of childhood stuttering. A secondary line of research focuses on the development of evidence-based treatment programs for children and adults who stutter. She has published in the American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, Journal of Fluency Disorders and Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research. She has also published book chapters and presented her research nationally and internationally. The courses she currently teaches include Fluency Disorders and Voice Disorders.

Carlos Kleiber – The Dancing Conductor

May 17, 2008

Carlos Kleiber was a conductor. Sadly, he passed away in 2004, so the only way to see him is on the screen. But watching his conducting makes me happy – it is like following him, walking in the spring garden, dancing around the flowers, singing to your loved girl. It just gives me all the great feeling of the happiness and joy of life.

His conducting style is different. It is like dancing. And I see he really enjoys the music, he loves the music. He conducts the symphony as if he wants to pass on his joy to the others. He smiles, he closes his eyes, he yells silently, and even with so many movements, he remains elegance. He is like a king, standing in the orchestra pit, commanding his troops, gaining one victory after another. I have seen some video recording of Leonard Bernstein and Herbert Von Karajan, and neither of their style is liked by me. Von Karajan conducts like doing a surgery, and while Bernstein does with passion, he might need personal guidance of choreography. Passion and elegance, these are things I have only seen in Carlos Kleiber. Of course, others may have these traits but have evaded my eyes.

Kleiber is a German. Obviously his spontaneous and inspiring performance contradicted my stereotypical concepts of Germany conducts – Thanks to von Karajan. However, according to wikipedia, Kleiber rehearsed meticulously. So he still had some typical Germany mind, and specially, with the rehearse, he could have more freedom to impromptu, and add his passionate love to the music to his personal style.

Here is a video clip of Radetzky Marsch, from youtube. For more, I’d suggest to have the 1989 and 1992 New Year’s Concert in Vienna. I got them in Shanghai, cheap!

In Search of Memory

May 15, 2008

Years ago, in college, I happened to grab the book, In Search of Excellence, translated in Chinese in Taiwan. Once I opened the book, I was caught by the power of the ideas and the beauty of the language. I was inundated with the ideas. I was thrilled by the book.

Later on, I tried to find the same book. I saw another translation, but this time reading was not the same experience. The elegance of the words and ideas was lost. I guessed it was because of the translation. Now I have an original version in English, and I could not start reading it. Maybe I am anxious, am afraid not to have the same experience of being overwhelmed by the book.

So I bought the book of Eric Kandel, the 2000 Nobel laureate of medicine or physiology, In Search of Memory, his autobiography. I saw it must be a great work, one of the best popular science writings of the year, according to some reviews. Holding a high expectance, I decided to wait till I have a few free days.

And just as I expected, books like this should only be read continuously. No intermittence. No stop. Finish it as if to watch an action movie. In this way I read this book in 4 days.

Eric Kandel wanted to become a historian during his Harvard time, then he turned his interest to psychoanalysis under the influence of his girl friend’s parents, and wanted to practice it, that was why he came to medical school, with a big yet naive question of localizing the ego, id, and superego in the brain. He had the chance to do some research in the last year, when he repeated other’s experience and listened to the bang! bang! bang! of the action potential. The first success of research changed his life projectile, and he could not work long as a psychiatrist. He applied for a job in NIMH and learned anything about memory and mind. Lucky for him, the famous patient H.M. was known at that time.

He then realized that it is better to use reductionism in his search for memory. He wanted to have a simple and big nerve cell to study on. He found the aplysia, or the sea hare, a snail that can be one feet long. What he found about the inter- and intra- neuronal communication, the electrical and biochemical ways, have already printed in every current neuroscience textbook. With the knowledge base in my mind, it made the reading much easy for me. Still, it was fascinating, as if the detective is telling you the inside story of their decisions, how one hypothesis leads to another, how their actions are diverted by new clues, etc. Even the answer is already known, the listeners can still feel the intensity and emotional fluctuations of the detective.

And which textbook of neuroscience is as readable as this personal account of science exploration? This is his emotion, his feeling, his thought, his life, of the past over 50 years of active research. The textbooks are blank and insipid; they cover everything but nothing is emphasized.

As I read the book, I could not help thinking of my research on stuttering. It seems that right now, science depends on the analytic, reductionist method. So to study memory, Eric Kandel first looked into synaptic communication. Even when he studied memory on life, he did it on Aplysia and then genetically modified mice. And he only tried to study the feeling of fear in the animal kingdom. What about human language? What about human language fluency? I don’t think there is any possible animal model for my research. No place for Zebra finch, nor for apes, bonobos, etc.

I need to keep thinking of it. Time may not be a problem. If Eric Kandel could have fun working with the sea snug for a few decades, sure I will have more fun working with human in a longer time.

Call for donations to the Sichuan Earthquake Relief Fund

May 13, 2008
Please click here.
The whole procedure is easy and you can pay by your google account.

A massive 7.9-magnitude earthquake hit South-western China
on Monday, May 12. The epicenter was Wenchuan County, Sichuan
Province.  Xinhua News Agency reported that almost 10,000 people died
from the earthquake in Sichuan and neighboring provinces of Shaanxi, Gansu, and
Yunnan and the death toll could reach far higher as the search and rescue effort
continued.  It was the worst natural disaster hitting the region in the last
three decades.  The damage to the property in the vast region is beyond
estimation.

The following local Chinese community organizations have joined together to call upon all people in North Carolina
to make a tax-deductible contribution to the Sichuan Earthquake Disaster Relief Fund.
All donations received will be forwarded 100% to the Red Cross Society of China
for the Sichuan earthquake rescue and relief efforts.

A Motor Toy Car in 1938

May 11, 2008

I started to read the autobiography of the Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel, In Search of Memory. As like many other Holocaust survivors, his memory starts with a violent banging on their door in their Viennese home, when he was only 9 years old. He just received a birthday gift, "a battery-operated, remote-controlled model car". The Nazi police told them to stay in another family for a few days and take only things needed. When young Eric came back a few days later, his shiny toy car was already taken. This became Kandel’s never forgetting memory and even seventy years later, as he manifested, he still remembers vividly the banging on their door, the beautiful model car, and its loss.

I could not help asking myself, did I ever have a toy car? Or something similar?

Sadly, after searching my memory again and again, I could not find something even close to that. I even did not see any battery-operated, remote-controlled toy car in my first 9 years. Boys at that time played with mud and paper, cigarette packages, and fist fought each other. It might be that time that I first saw a TV set, the only one of almost a hundred homes. It might be the next year, when another family moved into the neighborhood, that I had the chance to see, and luckily to play for a few times, some of the toys.

I did not realize the huge contrast in civilization between my childhood and the Western society until I came to USA and paid a visit to the kindergarten as requested by a psychological course. The kids were just playing all the time, they had every kind of toys imaginable, they could do whatever they wanted to do, nobody would ever talk loud to them, they were taught with good manner, they were developing good communication abilities… All in all, these kids in America are enjoying their time when they should not worry about anything. It was that time that I understood why America is called the children’s heaven. I like those kids in the playground, and I want to have some fun time with them. Looking at them in play, it was as if I could travel in the time and go back to my childhood and start to enjoy the time in a more civilized way.

Things in China have changed just so fast. Nowadays, my niece is enjoying her childhood almost similar to that of an American kid. She has a whole room of toys and the number of them keeps increasing. I am guessing that she will not have a specific memory of one toy car, or a toy bear, just because she has so many, and will have more.

It may be this dream to go back to the childhood and enjoy the worry-free time that I have the obsession of collecting games, though I don’t have time to play.