Last one…just kidding

The weird thing about EEG studies is that you can do data cleaning throughout the entire process of data collection but you really can’t tell what your results are until all the data is collected. So other than saying “this person didn’t respond to five of the stimuli” or “hmm, his brainwaves are nice,” there’s a lot of hours of doing work with zero knowledge of whether it will pay off. Granted, many of those hours involve sitting and waiting. Or else waiting, pressing a key or typing a word, and waiting some more. I’ve become quite good at Soduku and have finished watching all 160 episodes of How I Met Your Mother (I started in July) available on Netflix.

The analysis uses two programs: MatLab and EMSE. MatLab is pretty, well, mathy. You type in a bunch of numbers that I honestly don’t know the meaning of- one of them involves Euler’s constant (you know, that little e you use to say that the following number is an exponent. The one from calculus that you forgot about until just now?)- and then you watch as words you don’t know the meaning of scroll across the screen for half an hour. Actually, you might know them if you’re into engineering, computer science, or any of the other fields that use MatLab on a regular basis. But me, if a sentence has more numbers and angle brackets (the “>” things) in it than words, than I’m not going to understand it.

The point of MatLab is to turn all the data you collect into a succinct file that can be cleaned and eventually analyzed through EMSE. EMSE shows you all the brainwaves you collected on Acquire, which is the program you use to actually collact the data during the experiment, in a variety of colorful squiggly lines reminiscent of a toddler’s artwork. What’s cool is that you see the scribbles turn into smooth curves as you remove outliers, eye blinks, and data from broken electrodes. Let me tangent on Acquire for a moment, though. Remember all the complaints I made about E Prime? Ignore them. Acquire is the most user-unfriendly program I have ever encountered. Sorry to anybody out there who’s related to the inventor(s) of Acquire, but I have reason for my frustration. After I started getting the hang of running participants, it seems that I formed a habit of double-clicking rather than single-clicking the “START” button in Acquire that begins recording the ERPs. Double-clicking is pretty standard, right? I double-clicked word to open the document I’m typing this in. I quadruple-clicked iTunes when it was slow opening this morning, but in Acquire when you double-click something it nullifies your click. As in double-clicking “START” makes it as if you never clicked the button at all. Does it tell you that it’s not recording? No. Does it look or act any different than when it does record? Nope. The pretty green lines rise and fall across the screen, and when you’re done you can press “STOP” same as always. I lost data from six participants because this program has a personal vendetta against me. Maybe it’s jealous of my mad Sodoku skills.

In conclusion, EMSE is like the Batman to the Joker that is Acquire. It makes everything better. The end. But not really.

According to the summer blogging guidelines from the Charles Center, this is my last blog post. But guess what? I’m still working on my project. And guess what else? I got another grant to keep working on my project. You know what that means? If you guessed “more blog posts,” you’re right! Look forward to two more blog posts coming up this semester, and if you’re really lucky, I’ll tell you the actual purpose of my study at the Research Symposium February 2013. Because sometimes, summer’s just not long enough.