Advertising Schizophrenia

Another odd title, I know, but it suits my subject.

You see, over the past year or so, I’ve noticed a very worrying trend in advertising. It isn’t as insidious as the ultrasonic “sound spotlights” (which can beam adverts at you that only you can hear (!)), or as dangerous as all the political advertising that’s going to be plaguing us in a few months, but it is still worrying: all the advertisers have gone insane.

I first began to notice this in car commercials. Then, it was restaurant ads. Now, it’s spread through most of the advertising community. It seems that the advertisers have gotten so good at manipulating us that they think they no longer need to design ads that actually make sense. Perhaps it’s some sort of attempt to bypass our reality filters and inject the “Buy our crap” message directly into our cerebral corticies, but either way, it’s damned annoying.

An example: the other day, I was sitting down with my parents to watch some television, when an advertisement for Kentucky Fried Chicken came on. It showed a bunch of jovial, racially-diverse young people sitting down and biting into Photoshop-enhanced chicken wings (that would probably rate as beauty queens, as far as fried poultry goes, and that, incidentally, look nothing like the real thing; but I guess I should be used to that by now), then, they acted surprised (incidentally, where do they get these commercial actors these days? It must be the suburbs, because only a white suburbanite is so good at dripping with insincerity), and said something like “Wow, I wasn’t expecting that!” Apparently, it was an advert for KFC’s new “Sauceless Hot Wing.” I wasn’t sure I’d heard that right, but I’ve seen the ad a few times since then, and that was, indeed, what I was seeing. What the hell!? Is this what the advertisers expect us to see as “innovation”? “Hey, look, we’ve got a hot wing without any sauce! Buy our crap!” And before someone counters, “Well, it’ll be nice not to get all that sauce on your hands,” allow me to provide a blistering rebuttal: No it won’t. The messiness of hot wings is part of their charm! It’s part of the experience! And people who really like hot wings don’t mind the sauce, anyway.

But this rant isn’t just about fat-fried poultry. Car ads, too, are getting worse and worse. None of them make any sense, or if they do, their messages are painfully obvious. So, apparently they think we’ve become so simpleminded that all it’ll take for us to buy a new car is a bunch of loud music, pretty people, and nice graphics. Well, actually, now that I think about it…that probably is all it’ll take to get most people to buy a car. Sorry, I forgot I was dealing with Americans here.

Well, since I’m already railing against advertising, I thought I might as well rail against something more serious: pre-movie advertising. A week or two ago, I went to see Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (the disastrous result of which can be found here). Before the movie, there was the standard parade of random advertising. This parade has been getting longer and longer, to the point where it has approximately the same length as an actual parade, and is just about as boring. Then, an ad that was recognizably one of the new (schizophrenic) ads came on. It was loud, it was fast, and it was terrifying. The noise and the flashing lights drowned out my thoughts, and I got the extraordinarily unsettling feeling that somebody was trying to crowbar their way into my brain. So, since they haven’t figured out how to actually manipulate our minds (yet), they’ve done the next best thing and figured out how to make it impossible to think. Wonderful. Before long, I’m sure we’ll be seeing ads promoting Ingsoc and reminding us that Big Brother is watching.

Those are my (disjointed) thoughts.

Advertisements

SimHeart 2.0

It seems that every time I sit down to work on my heart-simulation project, I get a lot more done than I was expecting. In my last post on the subject, I talked about how I wanted to integrate a more realistic model of the atrioventricular (AV) node, the little bundle of nerve fibers that carries the contraction impulse from the atria at the top of the heart to the ventricles on the bottom. Apparently, I’d entirely misjudged the difficulty of this effort, since, once the solution occurred to me, I was able to implement it in about five minutes.

Here’s what I did. As I said before, each cell in the simulation has two variables assigned to it: ARefrac, which determines whether or not an atrial impulse can pass through the cell; and VRefrac, which determines whether a ventricular impulse can pass through. I solved the AV-realism problem by simply introducing a global variable called AVRefrac that determines whether or not the AV node can accept an impulse. Basically, every time a simulated electrical “spark” strikes the simulated node, as long as AVRefrac is equal to or less than zero, it sets AVRefrac’s value to a user-specified constant I call AV-delay. So, basically, now the ventricles can only respond as fast as the AV node will allow, just like a real heart! When I saw how beautifully my little fix had worked, I was thrilled!

So, my simulated heart is now more realistic than ever. For example, I did a few runs with the refract-length value (the value that determines how quickly cells recover their ability to fire after each firing) set very short so that arrhythmias would occur frequently, so that I could study their effects. Before long, my simulated heart went into atrial flutter/fibrillation (a condition where the small pumping chambers at the top of the heart expand and contract quickly and chaotically, often leading to a dangerously fast ventricular rate. I was amazed to see something very similar to the many atrial-fibrillation EKG’s I’ve looked at:

(Note: in the simulated EKG, I’ve separated the atrial and ventricular signals, since whenever the ventricular rate got very fast, it obscured all the atrial activity, and I wanted to be able to study the atrial activity as well)

Given my tendency towards oversimplified simulations that produce peculiar behavior, the resemblance this bears to real supraventricular tachycardia (fast heart rate caused by the atria, which is often seen in atrial flutter or fibrillation) was frankly, surprising. After about half a second of atrial flutter, the atria begin to fibrillate, producing that classic irregular ventricular response.

Note the extremely high ventricular rate that shows up towards the end of the ECG. That’s a rather unrealistic product of my simulation, since whenever one of the waves of excitation collided with the back of a previous wave, it had a tendency to collapse into a tachycardic or fibrillatory spiral.

There are some forms of supraventricular tachycardia that terminate on their own. They’re called “paroxysmal” supraventricular tachycardia, and my simple little simulation actually managed to produce a run of it!

Some forms of atrial fibrillation occur in the presence of heat block (which, in its most common form, is basically a very slow AV node that doesn’t conduct every impulse that passes to it). In those cases, the fibrillation is frequently asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic, since the heart doesn’t end up racing. When I set the AV-delay parameter higher than usual, I observed this very same phenomenon.

Eventually, the aforementioned wave-collision problem had become annoying enough that I decided to re-write part of the simulation so that there was a small probability that an electrical spark could actually cross a cell that had not entirely recovered. That solved a lot of my problems.

In the re-written simulation, atrial fibrillation still produces that classic irregular ventricular heartbeat, and this time, since the waves are more collision-tolerant, the behavior doesn’t immediately degenerate into ventricular fibrillation, which gives me a chance to actually study it properly.

More updates as they’re warranted. And for those reader(s?) who are wondering what the hell has been wrong with me lately, don’t worry, I’ll be turning the blog over to my old cynical, sarcastic self very shortly.

UPDATE:

I was sitting around without much to do, so I opened up SimHeart and let it run in the background. When I checked in on it again a few minutes later, I’d discovered some very interesting behavior:

Apparently, some of the standard sort of atrial fibrillation had started, then, spontaneously self-organized into a coordinated wave spiraling cyclically through the atria. You can see the wave in the screenshot.

This really grabbed my attention, so I watched it for a while, and discovered that, strangely enough, the wave was quite stable.

Not even the normal sinus beats, which occasionally inserted themselves in the path of the wave, were very good at disrupting it. Not long after this screenshot, it degenerated rather suddenly into normal atrial fibrillation.

Then, while having a look at the pictures a few minutes later, I realized something: my simulation had produced true atrial flutter. What I saw before and called atrial flutter was really just organized fibrillation. This, though, exhibits all the classic features of atrial flutter: rapid atrial waves with a sawtooth shape. In this case, since I had the ventricular response set to be fairly quick, it turned into quite realistic atrial tachycardia.

I tried to save the state of the simulation so that I could study it later, but as there are some features of NetLogo with which I’m not entirely familiar, I wasn’t able to do it. So, for now, I guess I’ll just keep running HeartSim in the background until I see that rhythm again.