Brain-Computer Interfaces For The Locked-In – Episode 62

Today we’ve got Tesla getting push-back from legislators, unlocking brains, the most reliable hard drives, the Chevy Bolt reviewed, a Hackintosh Dell-enstein, and of course Content I Like and Today I Learned.


Welcome to Citizens of Tech, episode 62. Things you should know about the number 62.

  • It’s not prime, but it is a semi-prime. A semi-prime is the product of 2 prime numbers, and in this case, 62 is the product of prime 2 and prime 31. Since 62 is not a perfect square, it is also a discrete semi-prime.
  • 62 happens to be the atomic number of Samarium, discovered in 1879.
  • 62 is the direct-dial prefix for international calls to Indonesia.
  • And, oddly enough, it seems Sigmund Freud had a fear of the number 62.

And what are you getting in this, the 62nd episode of Citizens of Tech? Oh, our usual nerdery. But hey, if you don’t like what we talk about, you can go to the /r/citizensoftech subreddit, and upvote or downvote the stories there. We use your input to help us decide what to talk about as we feed the content we’re thinking about into the sub each week.

I am Ethan Banks @ecbanks, and Eric Sutphen is, as always, here as well. You can give him a tweet-hug @zutfen.

Eric, what’s on our semi-prime show today?

Today we’ve got Tesla getting pushback from legislators, unlocking brains, the most reliable hard drives, the Chevy Bolt reviewed, a Hackintosh Dell-enstein, and of course Content I Like and Today I Learned.

Let’s dive in with Tesla getting pushback from lawmakers.

Tesla’s Direct Sales Model Getting Pushback (link is a little old, data might not be 100%) (thanks /u/Mocedon!)

  • Number one upvoted story on Reddit this week.
  • Buying through a dealership is a law in many states. You can’t buy directly from the manufacturer.
  • This impacts Tesla, who’d like to sell to you directly.
  • I went up to, and verified. You can spec a car, and pay for it right there if you want.
  • “State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, has filed the House Bill 1592 that bans manufacturers of “all-electric vehicles” from selling directly to consumers.”
  • The whole idea originally was to prevent franchises from having to compete with automakers, who in theory could sell at a cheaper cost by cutting out the middleman.
  • Tesla is fighting this battle in other states as well.

Unlocking the Locked-In Brain

  • What is “Lock-In”? The obvious example is Dr. Stephen Hawking, who suffers from Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
    • ALS is a degenerative which causes the deterioration of the neurons used for voluntary movement.
    • Dr. Hawking has a means of communicating with the outside world using eye-tracking software and a specialized computer mounted to his wheelchair.
  • Then there’s “Complete Lock-In” which, to me, sounded like one of the most terrifying things I can imagine
  • No speech, no moving appendages, no eye movement, no… anything.
  • The reality is that there are people in this world who have perfectly normal, functioning brains that simply can’t move or communicate in any way shape, or form. While we have no metrics to quantify it, it can be presumed that some of these people are wrongly assumed to be in a vegetative state and are removed from life sustaining services and allowed to pass.
  • Enter the scientists!
  • More specifically, enter the BCI… a BCI is a brain-computer-interface and is generally embedded into the brain of the recipient.
  • Non-invasive BCIs have been developed before, but usually these use EEG technology which has proven ineffective in “locked in” individuals.
  • A team in Geneva, Switzerland developed a non-invasive BCI
  • The new system tracks blood flow changes in the brain using Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS)
  • This  allowed them to test with 4 patients over a period of weeks in 20-46 sessions.
  • They would ask open and closed questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no” responses.
  • They set a baseline for blood oxygen levels for “Yes” and “No” and were able to correlate the results to a reasonable degree of accuracy.
  • Somewhat surprisingly, the patients all seemed generally content with their lives – they made sure to ask them many times over the weeks and the response was largely the same each time.
  • Closed questions: “Is your husband’s name Joachim?” seem to be communicated correctly about 70% of the time.
  • Niels Birbaumer, the lead author said, “We were initially surprised at the positive responses when we questioned the four completely locked-in participants about their quality of life. All four had accepted artificial ventilation in order to sustain their life when breathing became impossible so, in a sense, they had already chosen to live. What we observed was, as long as they received satisfactory care at home, they found their quality of life acceptable. It is for this reason, if we could make this technique widely clinically available, it would have a huge impact on the day-to-day life of people with complete locked-in syndrome.”
  • The article goes on to posit that maybe the contented nature of their existence is due to an almost zen-like meditative state of mindfulness. In fact the EEG and fNIRS scans of people during meditation and a locked-in state display many similarities.
  • At the end of the day this has many applications for improving the quality of life for many locked-in individuals and in some cases, may help identify lucid, cognitive patients which will ultimately save their lives.
  • As BCIs advance, there may come a day in the not so distant future where locked-in people may no longer be locked in at all.

The Quest For The Most Reliable HDD Has 2 Winners

  • This was our number three upvoted story on Reddit this week.
  • Whenever I am assembling a new system and considering a hard drive, I look at failure rates in the comments.
  • At least, I try to get a vibe for just how many people are pissed because their drive was DOA or fried after a few weeks.
  • Some drives seem to have a higher-than-average failure rate, and that’s a part of the buying decision, along with price, capacity, and performance.
  • Backblaze is a service that backs up your data in the cloud, only their cloud is made up actual hardware. Disk drive and stuff. And they keep tabs on how well the disk they buy performs, and publish their data in reliability reports.
  • “The standout finding: three 45-disk pods using 4TB Toshiba disks, and one 45-disk pod using 8TB HGST disks, went a full year without a single spindle failing.”
  • Sort of…hmm. There wasn’t a very high count of these disks in use, so would have been nice to see a larger sample set before getting too excited. I think the HGST model with 7K drives and a 0.40% fail rate is a more interesting statistic.

Electrek Reviews The Chevy Bolt

  • This was our second most upvoted story on Reddit this week.
  • What is the Bolt? It’s an EV.
  • Four door hatchback form factor. Reads “Chevy” to me – similar body style to other Chevies I see on the road.
  • 200+ horsepower. 268 foot pounds of torque. 0.60 in ~6.5 seconds. Notable in that it’s NOT trying to set a speed trap record, but it’s still darn quick. All that electric motor torque. Quick 50-70 highway passing.
  • They say the interior is “huge” due in part to the battery packaging.
  • 238 mile range.
  • Front wheel drive.
  • High seating position, since you’re sitting on top of the 60kW battery.
  • 10.2” display with CarPlay and Android Auto.
  • One foot driving – regen.
    • Eric is not a fan of one foot driving, generally… special situations, like bumper to bumper traffic.
  • “I think everyone was a bit surprised when Chevy announced its EPA rating of 238 miles from its 60kWh battery pack. That is a lot of range for a $30K car (after incentives) and it will serve 99.x% of daily drives incredibly well. By the time we were done with our day of driving around San Francisco, we still had 100 miles left on the battery, even with the hills and acceleration tests.”
  • Comes with Level 1 charger – gets you 50 miles of range a night. But the inverter can handle 7.7kW (240V X 32A), which would get you full range every night. But you need the AeroVironment charger, which is a little more each month on your lease.
  • Probably not a road trip car. Charging infrastructure doesn’t seem to be there yet.
  • Will you be able to get one? Hard to say. Production isn’t likely to equal demand. Estimates are for 30-35K production for the 2017 model year.

Current Mac Laptop Pricing Got You Down? How About A Dell Hackintosh?

  • I am an Apple fan. It’s sort of embarrassing, really. I like the hardware, but I’m getting pretty sick of paying the Apple tax, maybe the biggest reason I didn’t order the new ho-hum MacBook Pros that came out a while ago.
  • I did run into a friend running Windows 10 on a Dell XPS 13. Gorgeous little machine. Well spec’ed for less than $1K. Not a powerhouse, but for portability, decent battery life, okay screen, it was a nice little on-the-go machine.
  • But Windows. UGH. I am spoiled by macOS. I am really dialed into it. But that Apple hardware price. UGH.
  • Possible solution? There’s a Github project that’s just about got macOS running on a Dell XPS13, aka the 9350 model. Not 100% perfect. Project is still being worked on. But pretty close.
  • That would mate my favorite desktop OS with a decent laptop chassis that’s more affordable than Apple hardware.
  • OTOH, you KNOW it’s gonna be a challenge to keep this thing running over time.
  • Not 100% clear which flavor of macOS is supported, or whether iMessage or FaceTime are working, as they don’t always do so well on Hackintoshes.
  • C’mon Apple. Legalize it. I mean…make macOS something that runs a little easier on more generic hardware. Or is that a bad idea? Part of the Windows experience is endless driver updates and crap breaking over time.

Content I Like

TED Radio Hour Series on Screentime

  • Impact of screens on us, our kids, etc.
  • Interesting science and studies.
  • Haven’t even finished part 1 yet, but it’s good, thought-provoking stuff.

Today I Learned

A strand of spider silk long enough to circle the Earth would weigh less than 500 grams


“In geometry, the rhombicosidodecahedron, or small rhombicosidodecahedron, is an Archimedean solid, one of thirteen convex isogonal nonprismatic solids constructed of two or more types of regular polygon faces.

It has 20 regular triangular faces, 30 square faces, 12 regular pentagonal faces, 60 vertices and 120 edges.

The name rhombicosidodecahedron refers to the fact that the 30 square faces lie in the same planes as the 30 faces of the rhombic triacontahedron which is dual to the icosidodecahedron.”


Until next week, you can stalk us and support us. Please do both!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *