Brain Week Brain Teasers

Brain teasers page

Science and creativity are two things Rhode Island is really good at, and Brain Week RI (Mar 10 – 18) aims to showcase both in a week full of fun and educational events designed to promote research into mental illness. We spoke with co-founders Hakon Heimer and Victoria Heimer-McGinn about the upcoming events. “This year I’m really looking forward to the Providence Brain Art Fair at the Museum of Science and Art on the opening Sunday of Brain Week RI,” said Heimer of the event that will serve as the opening reception for Brain Week. As a former teacher, Heimer-McGinn knows how important events like these are in inspiring future scientists. “My favorite part of Brain Week is the school visits. I love motivating kids to care about their brains and inspiring them to consider research as a career.” She is intrigued by brains on the other side of the age spectrum as well. “I am excited about the events addressing aging and Alzheimer’s disease, especially the free screening of Still Alice followed by an expert panel discussion. It’s never too soon to start thinking about our aging brains!” How meta! For a full list of Brain Week events, go to brainweekri.org/schedule-2018.

1. Am I left-brained or right-brained?
You may have heard that creative people are more “right-brained” while people who are more logical are “left-brained.” You might have even taken a quiz or seen an infographic on Facebook trying to help you figure out which best describes you. But as it turns out, everybody uses both sides of their brain in almost all situations. The two hemispheres of your brain are mirror images of each other, meaning you have two copies of each structure. While some computations rely on one side more than the other (scientists call this lateralization), overall behaviors, like understanding language, require both hemispheres working together. The ability to recognize words, for example, occurs more heavily on the left, while understanding words within sentences relies more on the right, but both sides are needed to understand the emotion the sentence conveys. The same goes for music; computing the tempo or pitch of a musical chord relies heavily on the left, while processing its place in a song relies on the right and appreciating the overall mood it conveys requires both sides. So the more creative and complex a piece of music is, the more of your logical left side it requires!

2. The 10% Myth
You may have heard that we only use 10% of our brains and if we accessed 100%, we could develop superpowers. This popular myth has many proposed origins, all dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, before the dawn of brain imaging techniques. The reality is much more exciting – our brains are so active that throughout a single day we utilize every part of it. In fact, every task we perform activates unique neural circuits. On your commute to work alone you have remembered where your keys are, navigated a route, coordinated the movement of your hands and feet to steer, recognized objects around you such as stop signs, understood their meaning, made a decision to follow them or not, paid attention to the unexpected pedestrian and reacted appropriately. What a workout for your brain! If you had been in an MRI machine during that time, doctors would likely have seen every part of your brain light up!

3. Emotionally charged memories
Have you ever noticed that it’s easier to remember events when emotions are involved, both good and bad? Scientists are still trying to map out exactly how, but research tells us that the key is in how brain areas connect, ie, the neural circuitry involved in forming memories. It turns out that areas of the brain that process emotion, like the amygdala, are integral players in the memory pathways that allow us to store and later remember events. Stress hormones, for instance, activate the amygdala, which can moderate activity in the hippocampus, an area involved in storing memories. Even more surprising, the degree to which emotions modulate memory may be gender- and age-specific. This may be why older adults tend to be better at forgetting negative memories formed later in life. In any case, this explains why it’s easier to remember something that made you happy or angry compared to a neutral memory that incited no emotion.

4. Our own personal supercomputer
Our brains are composed of specialized cells called neurons that are responsible for the production of thoughts, emotions and actions. There are about 85 billion neurons, each making connections with about 10,000 other neurons. Compare that to the entire world wide web, with about 8 billion devices connected to probably less than 10,000 others. That’s one amazing supercomputer in your head! To add complexity, there are about 10,000 types of neurons, each with a unique role. It’s no wonder scientists in the robotics field have their work cut out for them. Even behaviors that our own brains can perform with ease, like gently picking up a fragile glass, are difficult to model in robots.

5. Fully mature at 21?
While we may be allowed to drive at the age of 16, vote at the age of 18, and drink alcohol at the age of 21, it is only when we are able to rent a car at the age of 25 that our brain has fully matured. Up until then, the brain undergoes extensive changes, such as synaptic pruning in adolescence (eliminating connections between neurons to optimize and refine the important ones) and cortical rewiring (strengthening communication between brain areas). As a result, stressors such as drugs, alcohol and concussions, which affect the immature brain more adversely than the adult brain, continue to be particularly dangerous well into early adulthood. Interestingly, while a hangover might be worse in your 30s-40s, binge drinking in your 20s will have more long-term impacts on your cognitive abilities as your neuronal circuits are still being shaped.

6. The brain uses 20% of the total blood and oxygen produced in our body
Despite being only 2% of our body’s total weight, our brain requires a lot of blood and oxygen to keep our 100 billion neurons happy! Our brain usually generates about 12 watts, but during mentally intensive tasks, our brain could produce up to 23 watts.

Fall Guide 2014 Cover Artist: Ryan “Ryebread” Rodrigues

 [click the image for a larger version]


August 2014 Cover Artist: Eric Fulford

This Month’s cover illustration is done by the talented Eric Fulford. Check out his portfolio here: http://www.ericfulford.com

July 2014 Cover Artist: Dariel Filomeno

The cover of this month’s issue is done by the talented Dariel Filomeno.

Check out his portfolio here: http://darielfilomeno.prosite.com/


This Year, Ebenezer Makes Some New Resolutions

Ebenezer Scrooge here. Whilst on my way to market this morn, I passed a new shop whose window was filled with those moving picture boxes called “televisions.” Each box had the letters “FOX” emblazoned in the corner, with young men and women talking angrily about our troubled times. One lady, a beautiful lass with hair of gold, caught my attention as she bore a striking resemblance to my Belle. Her dewy eyes and pursed lips captivated me. There I stood for the next several hours, watching the moving pictures until I could bear not another moment.

The spirits could learn a lesson from those foxes, as I once again feel inspired to change my wretched ways, but without so much fuss and effort. I humbly declare and publish my New Year’s Resolutions:

Create jobs. My charity apparently hasn’t helped anyone. In fact, I’ve just learned that charity makes the masses lazy. Look at Tiny Tim. I paid for his reconstructive surgery and still he sits there on his stool by the fire. Wouldn’t it be better if he were gainfully employed? I hear many clothing factories will hire young children, even lame ones. As a proud business owner and wealthy man, I am a job creator. I, therefore, resolve to create as many jobs as possible, as long as I can pay minimum wage with no healthcare benefits.

Grow the economy. In the spirit of giving, I will continue to spend my riches on presents for friends and family. Rather than bringing yet another goose or fully adorned Christmas tree, this year I shall buy my dear nephew and his lovely wife a Lexus. Perhaps I’ll buy two; one for each of them, both wrapped in large red bows. Such extravagance is not simply for show, but rather for putting money in the pockets of my fellow shopkeepers. Let’s make this a December to remember!

Help rid the world of Obamacare. I’m not quite sure what this Obamacare actually is, but given the treatment it received from the golden-haired lass, I’m quite certain it’s the work of the devil. It’s destroying us job creators! I will, therefore, do my share to rid the world of Obamacare. Just don’t touch my Medicare.

Finally, and most importantly, combat the war on Christmas. Did you know there is a war on Christmas? Indeed there is. Anyone can see it. Why, just the other day I browsed the many stations on the radio and was saddened to hear that only two of them played Christmas songs exclusively. What kind of world do we live in? I hereby declare my own war against all Christmas naysayers. I shall decorate my shop with an enormous manger and will utter a loud, “Merry Christmas!” to all who pass my way.   Any idiot who goes about with “Happy Holidays” on his lips should be boiled in his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. To Hanukkah, Kwanza and all those other non-Christmas holidays, I have but one thing to say, “Bah, humbug!”

Two thousand and fourteen shall be a banner year for this Scrooge. Now I must go.  I hear some chains rattling in the other room. In the words of Cratchit’s boy, “God Bless us, everyone!”

The Not So Great Gatsby: A Night Out With Scrooge

Dear Nick,

I’ve really enjoyed my first year at Motif. 2013 has been a wild thrill ride of a year, and writing this column has been the icing on the proverbial calendar cake.

I met Ebenezer at the Avery so we could decide what Christmas sites we’d see around the state. Someone had finished JR’s supply of Pappy Van Winkle, so I had Kelly pour me a Blanton’s, and I waited for Scrooge to saunter in. He arrived while my ice cube was mid-melt, and we sat down to plan our night.

“Ebenezer, how have you been keeping?”

Christmas at Blithewold

“You know me.  I can’t complain, but sometimes I still do.”

“You and Joe Walsh both!” I said. “I heard that Blithewold Mansion in Bristol has some great events during the season. A bonfire, hot cocoa and a singalong. What do you say we start there?”

“Bah. Fire? Is that safe? Bristol is so far out of the way. My singing voice isn’t prepared to carol in public. What else could we do?”

“I heard the Christmas tree lighting at Bowen’s Wharf is a lot of fun. Santa arrives by boat and there is music there as well. From there we could tour the mansions done up in their holiday splendor.”

“So we’ll have to go over the bridge? And pay tolls both ways? You may get along with the mansion set down there, but that is not my speed. What else?”

“We could see The Nutcracker at Festival Ballet, or Coppelia at State Ballet.”

“The only problem with those ideas is that they are Baaah-let and Baaah-let. Humbug.”

“The West Side Neighbors do a caroling night around the West Side of Providence.”

“I was serious about not singing. And I am not a fan of walking in a winter wonderland.”

“The Arcade just reopened downtown. We could go take a walk around and get some Christmas shopping done. Some of the new stores sound cool and they have a coffee and whiskey bistro.”

“I paid for a fatted goose last year. Am I supposed to get gifts every year? This whole gift thing wasn’t a one-time deal?”

“No. In fact there are some great art sales all over the state. From galleries to the Armory in Pawtucket, you can get some really unique gifts for everyone on your list.”

“I am not artsy fartsy like you. I wouldn’t know a Monet, but I know my money. And art costs a lot of it.”

“No, you can find something in your price range. Whether you are a pauper or a Pell. How about going ice skating down at the Bank of America skate rink?”

“I’m going to pretend you never even said that. Let’s just say I don’t live my life based on what Brian Boitano would do.”

“I have one last idea. Not sure if you will like it or not. We could check out a holiday play I heard about. It’s called A Christmas Carol and it’s playing at The Artists’ Exchange in Cranston, The Stadium Theatre in Woonsocket and at Trinity Rep in Providence, so you actually have to go out of your way to avoid it. What do you think?”

“I love that idea. I heard the main character is a handsome, generous sort. And tall. And good looking. At least that’s what I heard. Call and let’s get tickets.”

I looked at my watch and down at my second Blanton’s. We had missed that night’s curtain we had done so much rantin’. I had spent the whole night listening to Scrooge’s rude rumbling, it had gotten so late that my stomach was grumbling. I was filled with the spirit, but needed food to make me whole, so across the street we went to North (which is close enough to “North Pole”). Ordered country ham and some oysters… didn’t speak ’til they were done. Merry Christmas to all, now go have yourself some fun.

Ho Ho Ho,


Eating Cthulhu

In honor of Lovecraft’s birthday and this weekend’s Necronomicon, we thought we’d look at some of H.P.’ s monstrosities and turn the tables. The dinner tables, that is. While traditionally his ancient beings eat us helpless mortals, these images show that we can also consume them.

Thanks to Dori Blacker, who actually created the cake and cookies, and William Deleo of Tagitup.com and Theo Callahan of I get it, who presented the pie.

Finally, a couple of fun links follow the photos.

Cthulhu Cookies
Is that an old one in your cookies?

HP Lovecraft Cake

Eat me
feeling crusty?

https://plus.google.com/114914868853386178357/posts – It has your cake and it’s eating it too.

http://www.thegreenhead.com/2009/07/cthulhu-hot-dog-roaster.php – Not the wurst idea we’ve seen.

http://www.starling-fitness.com/archives/2009/03/06/how-to-eat-a-buddha-hand/ – Cthulhu will squash you.

Not so Great Gatsby’s Visit to Wooly Town

wooly-faireDear Nick,

It was one of the days this summer that was neither raining nor hotter than Hades in August. I was taking the morning news in my usual way: reading The New York Times, watching Bloomberg and listening to NPR simultaneously.  If you haven’t tried this technique, I highly recommend it. It’s like being put in one of those booths where the money blows around and you try to hold on to whatever you can, and like those booths I rarely hold on to any of the stories that envelop me, but I feel satisfied in my attempt.

Distracted by the number of papaya stones in my fruit salad (it’s unfair to eat fruit salad with mango, pineapple and papaya and call the seeds “pits.” Nothing can be the pits when devouring such a delight.) a pundit was shouting about Asian currency when the Motif phone chimed out, waking me out of my fruit-induced daydream. The request on the other end of the line asked that I check out the Wooly Fair and let them know what I found. I pondered the penultimate pineapple, picked up my pen and hit the street.

The only knowledge I had of wooly was the malapropism sung by Nuke Laloosh in Bull Durham.  And armed with the information that women sometimes get wooly wearing that same shabby dress, I entered 351 Kinsley Street prepared to try a little tenderness. The maze of old mill buildings behind Harris Ave is difficult to navigate, but the juxtaposition of a lost era and the dawn of a new age.  Trainless tracks pull up to loading docks that have been vacant since choo-choos made house calls. But inside something exciting and modern was happening.

The Wooly Town Fair happens August 16 through 18 at the Steel Yard in Providence in the same industrial maze as the prep area, but the Steel Yard is a bit more ready for prime time. There will be music and art and installation pieces, and the loose theme is a kind of temporary town, a utopian arts community that seeks to combine the artistic spirit and human innovation. The music and lights will all be powered by bicycle-powered generators, which is why the slogan this year is “off the grid and on the lamb.”  What’s exciting about this versus your run-of-the-mill art and music festival is that Wooly invites, nay, encourages, attendee participation and is a hands-on, feet-shuffling, toe-tapping, finger-snapping full body and mind experience.

I saw the Woolies working with wood and whitewash, building what will become for one weekend a town of creativity and experimentation. In a world where even our “reality” television is scripted word for word, it’s refreshing to see a group dedicated to trying something new, something fun, all inclusive and inspiring.  I think I’ll head down to the Steel Yard mid-August, old sport, to have some wool pulled over my eyes.

Yours Truly,



(Wooly Fair is 8/16-18 for more information and tickets: woolytown.com)

Bottleneck in EZ Pass Transponder Delivery

Newport-Bridge-toll-boothsIt was a radio ad that caught a lot of people’s attention.

There’s an easy way to make sure you pay the lowest tolls in Rhode Island. Beginning June 25th, they’re discounting transponders to just $10.

Half-price, plus another $10 credit toward the tolls, making the purchase virtually free. It was a promotional offer by the Rhode Island Bridge and Turnpike Authority geared toward the start of the highly publicized tolling on the new Sakonnet River Bridge this month.

And it was an offer that Lou Najjar couldn’t pass up.

“I was taking advantage of the ad on the radio to get them less than half price what you normally pay for them. Plus you got a $10 credit in your account toward the tolls. So it was a sweet deal and I took advantage of it,” Najjar told The Hummel Report.

Najjar, who lives in Cumberland, wasn’t really concerned about the Sakonnet River Bridge tolls. He wanted a transponder because he was driving to Florida to visit family.

“It was about 2 1/2 weeks later. I didn’t receive anything in the mail and I tried to call and the phone would just ring and ring. I sent a couple of emails and there was no reply,” Najjar said.

That brought a quick response – and apology – from Bridge and Turnpike Authority Chairman David Darlington. “Clearly we should have answered the phone. Clearly we should have gotten back to him,” he said.

Darlington added that the advertising campaign was a huge success and then some. “There was some pent-up demand from folks who wanted to get the EZ Pass anyway and probably thought there would be some sort of arrangement and offer when new tolling came on line. It’s an excuse, but the excuse is we were a little overwhelmed by what happened. We’ve added and added and added and it’s grown and grown and grown, so we haven’t been able to quite keep up.”

Lou-NajjarDarlington says the authority received a total of 28,000 orders for the promotional period, 10,000 in the last three days when they announced the discount program was ending earlier this month.

That means the authority has now sold 173,000 transponders since the EZ Pass program began in late 2006. “I think a lot of folks sitting on the sidelines saying, ‘I still have time, I still have time,’ really came out and jammed up the AAA locations. And they certainly jammed up the center here,” Darlington said.

Najjar said there was no question the transaction went through. “As soon as I submitted the application online there was an acknowledgment that they received it and at the same time it was immediately charged to my credit card. (I felt) kind of misled. There wasn’t anything on their website that indicated that there was a delay or any way to find out what the holdup was.”

Darlington responded, “I apologize to anybody who’s tried to reach us in the last couple of weeks and been unable to. We’re prepared to handle the volumes that come in from this point forward.”’

In fact, Darlington said the authority hired additional people to process and package the transponders, which are being shipped from the authority’s headquarters in Jamestown. They also brought in extra personnel to a call center to answers questions, and explain delays.

“I understand there’s probably going to be a delay,” Najjar said. “I understand there are a lot of people who are waiting for their transponders who ordered at the same time I did. What’s frustrating is not getting an answer. If there was any way they could have communicated to me – or anybody else for that matter – that it would be a 20 to 30 day wait before getting them, I’d completely understand. But there were no phone calls and no response to emails.”

Darlington said what happened is simply unacceptable. “I think most people don’t think the government really cares about what’s going on. I think we start at a disadvantage so we try to go further over the top to make sure folks understand that we get it. I’m a Rhode Islander.  I have the same sense of that when I deal with government, so when it happens here it sort of lights everybody’s hair on fire.  Because we know we have to do a better job than that.”

Najjar received his transponder shortly after we inquired about it – and just in time for his trip to Florida.

The Hummel Report is a 501 3C non-profit organization that relies, in part, on your donations. If you have a story idea or want make a donation to The Hummel Report, go to www.hummelreport.com. Or mail Jim directly at jim@hummelreport.com.


I Am Providence

Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s profound influence can be seen in nearly every artistic medium, horror or otherwise. From graphic novels to video games, horror novels and films, there have been multiple adaptations of his work. There are also countless pieces that are based on, influenced by, and deal with his many themes and concepts. Progressive ideas such as cosmicism and deep time are now associated with being integral principles of Lovecraft’s work so that when his contemporaries deal with the same concepts, they are said to be employing “Lovecraftian” ideals. Lovecraftian, in its basic sense, refers to a type of horror fiction that focuses on the unknown instead of gore. Although some of Lovecraft’s stories contain gore, his main focus was dealing with his characters’ states of mind. His stories are written with a first person perspective, allowing the reader insight into the character’s state of mind and often the deterioration of the mind. Detachment is also a central theme in Lovecraft’s work. The heroes in his stories are typically advanced thinkers, scholarly types, but also loners in the sense that they seek isolation above socialization.

All accounts of Lovecraft confirm that he was a sheltered child, attached to his mother. Once his father died of syphilis, his relationship with his mother became more complicated. Perhaps it was her fear of losing the boy as well that led her to viciously attack his self-esteem. She reportedly called him hideous and ugly, forcing him to lock himself away in the attic of their house on Angell Street. This is where he began to imagine macabre stories of freakish, monstrous, grotesque creatures who hide and lurk in the shadows.

He became an Indifferentist, believing that things much older than mankind, older than Earth, are looking down upon us with indifference. His work was a departure from the traditional gothic horror and dealt more with a maligned world where the creatures don’t really care about humans. He created gods on earth – creatures that would haunt and terrorize the humans that Lovecraft despised so much. These characters were his self manifestation, his desires, him.

Through astronomy, he learned the boundlessness of the universe and the insignificance of man. Cosmicism is a philosophy that asserts there is no divine being in the universe, no God. Humans are merely insignificant specs existing inconsequentially in a vast, boundless galaxy. The insignificance of the human race can be proven through the theory of deep time, the idea that there existed a time before man. Man is self-involved and self-centered; only egotism exists. Therefore, a concept such as deep time may be hard to come to terms with. This can be illustrated by looking at a scene from the 1990s TV show “Growing Pains.” During the sequence, Mike Seaver (Kirk Cameron) pretends to be sick and stays home from school. Everything is going swimmingly until, while watching an episode of “Gilligan’s Island,” Mike hears the school bus outside. He becomes incensed with the idea that school, or life, has continued without him, which is a real turning point in the character’s life. The fear that the world doesn’t start and stop at your convenience (to quote Walter Sobchak) can be quite demoralizing. But not for Lovecraft. He pointed to Man’s potential inability to exist in the infinite spaces that science opens up, the large emptiness of the cosmos to which Man is as insignificant as dust. Lovecraft’s feelings that human beings are not the most important of beings on the planet, what’s called anti-anthropocentrism, is a central theme in all of his work. It is believed that he held an overall disdain and mistrust of people in general. This misanthropy can be seen not only in his creative work, but also in many of his personal correspondences with friends and family members.

These themes are worth noting if only for the uncanny parallels to Lovecraft’s life. Like most writers he wrote what he knew, drawing from his own experience to create, and most likely escape to, an imaginary world.

Truly studied horrorphiles are all students of Lovecraft, whether they know it or not. They are all tiny specs, creating art under his divine guidance. After all, he was Providence.