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Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Blood Hemoglobin Saturation and Pressure Breathing Data

We are now posting some of the results that we found from our altitude investigation on Mount Kilimanjaro. For the purpose of explaining these results to the lay-person, a colleague of mine has given his own interpretation of the results (why the graphs below look the way they do) and his own experience at altitude intermixed with my writing below.

Phil: Some of the early results of our altitude experiment are illustrated in the following plots. Essentially, the data speak to the idea that what I would call "intense" pressure breathing and rest stepping contributes to larger SPO2 levels than moderate to no pressure breathing. Note that this assumes that all persons from whom data were collected are somewhat similar in physiology related to oxygen transport from the atmosphere into the blood. The data collected are from males between the ages of 35 and 57 years of age. (No significant correlation of hiking SPO2 with age was found (corr=-0.72 n=4; -0.95 would be required for n=4 at p=0.05). Measurements were taken so as to not distract (too much) from their hiking experience although each time a measurement was taken, that hiker was informed of their SPO2 level and heart rate and encouraged to keep their SPO2 numbers high. You will note in Figure 1 that a different number of measures were taken each day. The values in Figure 2 were calculated using a daily average (for each of days 2, 3, and 4) so as not to weight one day more than another in the statistics derived. Hiking SPO2 data were not recorded for day 1 or our final ascent on the summit (day 5).

Figure1: (click image to enlarge) SPO2 levels for various measurement taken while moving during the hike up on Kilimanjaro. SPO2 AVG indicates the average calculated across the group at each for each recorded point. SPO2 AVG2 refers to the average calculated across a subset of the participants (SB2, 3, and 4).

Figure 2: (click image to enlarge) Comparison of hiker SPO2 levels and the typical "home" SPO2 for "hiking" and "resting" conditions. In the hiking condition, persons were stepping with approximately the same weight backpacks and where moving forward at approximately the same speed (as a group). In the resting conditions, persons were seated in a chair (at the end of a day of hiking) for approximately 20 minutes before the measurement was taken while seated. Noticeably, the hiker (SB1) indicated by the blue bar of the left-side of this figure does not have standard error bars that overlap with those of the other hikers. When listening to the breathing of all hikers, SB1 was doing noticeably much more intense pressure breathing than the other 3 hikers. During the post-data collection interview, hikers SB2, 3, and 4 indicated that they were not confident in the pressure breathing process and adopted their own versions of pressure breathing that they preferred. SB1 is the youngest hiker (age 35) out of a relatively even spread of age across the group however given how the SPO2 levels fall towards those of the main group in that hiker when intense pressure breathing is not used (data not provide), it is unlikely that age is a differentiating factor. In addition, hiker SB2 is only 5 years older than SB1 and SB2. 

Comparing Figures 1 and 2, for participants SB2,3, and 4, one notices that the "resting" SPO2 levels are higher than the "hiking" SPO2 levels. (For SB1, the resting SPO2 level was comparable to the resting SPO2 of the other climbers; data not provided). Two things are noteworthy in this comparison.  First, the SPO2 levels for SB1 doing intense pressure breathing while hiking fall in the range of SPO2 levels for resting suggesting that this hiker maintained "resting" levels of SPO2 even though he was working physically to get up the mountain. Second, hikers SB2, 3, and 4, had significantly lower SPO2 levels while hiking than they did while resting. This suggests that they might have more cognitive impairment (and be facing additional physiological issues) while hiking than while resting.  That said, it isn't clear what impairment might continue into the post-hiking period (while resting) from the low SPO2 levels experienced while hiking.

There are two additional pieces of information that we do not have data for that would impact altitude health and cognitive function: tissue CO2 levels, and a measure of blood vessel dilation in the brain that is related to CO2 levels. I briefly describe why these measures are important in a post on my company website and why we should collect these data next time.

If you haven't quite figured it out yet, SB1 refers to data collected from myself. I am the one that is concerned about having my own oxygen levels fall and any subsequent lasting cognitive impairment related to altitude and mild anoxia. Bringing this into perspective, this whole investigation is about figuring out how to enjoy very high mountains safely and understanding how the tools we are presented with (in this case, pressure breathing and rest stepping) impact our altitude health and our health thereafter.

Gord: (the 57 year old member) what does SPO2 stand for Phil? That was a great hike! As a novice at altitude, I kept wondering what the teams who blasted past us on the trail were doing (if anything) about the ever-increasing effects of higher-altitude. My experience with having my SPO2 levels regularly recorded was that I variously felt like a) I'm in a scientific experiment b) I'm striving to reach a huge goal c) I'm on a team going for the top and not just doing this for myself.

While being "in an experiment" mode I really did consciously change my breathing to bring my SPO2 levels up. Two reasons - I'm a bit competitive in a team environment AND I wanted to avoid the experience of suffering AMS again. In the end I really believe that my rest-stepping and increased breathing helped get me comfortably to the summit. Those techniques helped me feel more in control of the outcome rather than wondering if I was going to one of those who arbitrarly gets dragged off the mountain.

The first graph (fig 1) moves up and down depending on the steepness of the trail (if I remember correctly) and, for me, what was going on in my head at the time. Distractions meant lower breathing rate, which is my natural tendancy. The lines heading down to lower SPO2 levels with higher altitude make sense. Our scientist's encouragement to stay above 80 finally sunk in on summit day for me. Before then I felt strong and capable on my own. On summit day I knew that any tool which increased the odds of making it to the top without getting AMS was worth adopting.

BTW I finally figured out what "pressure breathing" was (for me) on the way DOWN from the summit. Before then I was just breathing as deep as I could. I'm not yet sure how to describe it in words. I do know it sounds like what I imagine a steam engine sounds like. More to come on that later.

Phil: SPO2 stands for "Saturation (peripheral) of haemoglobin with oxygen" which is a percentage ratio compared to fully saturated haemoglobin. Basically, it is how filled your red bloods cells are with oxygen. At our home altitude (sea-level) we measure approximately 98%.  Of course, these meters often have a error of 2%.  At any rate, we're close to complete saturation at our home altitude.

On our final ascent towards the summit of Kilimanjaro I distinctly recall 2 things: some people being helped down the mountain by their guides, and every once and a while reminding the team about their oxygen levels.  On our training hike to the summit of White Mountain Peak, I recalled that SPO2 levels below 60% were definitely bad news (at least for us tourists at altitude).  Again, on that particular ascent I wanted to look after myself so I worked to maintain an SPO2 above 86%.  That said, I picked that number because I seemed to be OK there. I don't know if it is a good guideline; we will get more data on this topic.  What I have noticed for us is that levels in the 80% seem to relate to some mild cognitive changes (we joke around a little more, things are funnier, my sense of time is way off), in the 70s there is some distinct drunkenness (altitude drunk), loss of balance, and loss of body awareness, and in the 60s loss of color in the skin and look a bit ill.  After we got back to Victoria from White Mountain Peak, I found this information about SPO2 levels on the internet (; I have not verified the information at this link). The information on this site seems a bit arbitrary because they have put the boundaries of the altitude effects on body function in steps of 10%.  Still, it supports the idea that we want to keep our oxygen levels high.

I noticed that if I got into a conversation with someone while hiking, my oxygen levels would drop quite quickly.  I talked to one of our guides for a while in French and it seemed really easy (I speak terrible French at sea-level; presumably it was equally terrible at altitude).  It is easy and even fun to get 'distracted' from breathing.  On one of the days I borrowed a porter's radio, gave him my camera to make video recordings, and then rocked-out to Shaggy for a good 10 minutes (or something like that; remember that I seem to have poor sense of time at altitude). While I was up to these antics, I was not pressure breathing (or taking measurements). That said, I did this for a relatively short amount of time.

The descent at the end of the day as the sun was falling was 'interesting'.  I remember measuring some "too low" oxygen levels and noticing the temperature fall. I was genuinely concerned about getting back.  And we did- we did get back to our camp and crashed-out in our chairs for dinner. The guides and our support team did a fantastic job getting us down safely and supporting our recovery.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Rest-stepping and pressure-breathing on the caldera ridge of Mount Kilimanjaro

On the morning of September 1st, 2011, shortly before our flight leaving Seattle for Amsterdam and then eventually Kilimanjaro airport, Emily McIntyre gave our team of four men a short explanation and demonstration of pressure breathing and rest stepping that she herself had learned prior to a recent ascent to the top of Mount Rainier. (See wiki describing the rest step .) Ten days later on September 11th, 2011, we used pressure breathing and rest stepping to make our final ascent and subsequent descent of Kilimanjaro.  Prior to that impromptu lesson in that Seattle eatery, I had not seen pressure breathing and the idea stepping in the manner shown to us would have not occurred to me. Thank-you Emily.

(Video: Rick Armour, Michael Bocsik, Gord Knox, myself, our guides and some of our porters near the summit of Kilimanjaro. While this video might serve as a small example of pressure breathing and rest stepping, it is not the best example. We'll be providing some good demonstrations in the near future.)

It all make sense however; use your lungs -- completely--, and at the end of each exhale, create negative pressure in your lungs, and move very, very efficiently. If you have an SPO2 meter you can actually see how subtle variations in breath style and moving style change your hemoglobin saturation.  I found that there is a big difference between my "walking" SPO2 and my "standing" SPO2 at 3000 meters.  There is an even larger difference above 5000 meters. Simple limb movements use oxygen in ways that you can see it on the meter.

One of the striking characteristics of pressure breathing is the frequency of breaths per step and how the ratio of required breaths per step actually changes depending on the altitude.  At approximately 4000 meters, I had to take 2 or 3 steps per breath-- if I took fewer steps, I would actually get light headed.  If I didn't pressure breath while I was moving, my SPO2 levels would drop to the 70's.  If I pressure breathed my SP02 levels were in the high 80's.  Let's just say that I maintained my levels in the high 80's and low 90's for my own health and fear of "brain fog".  At the summit of Kilimanjaro, I actually was completely comfortable doing 1 pressure breath per step and by doing so, I could maintain a level of 86%. To get this high of an SPO2 however, I was required to move very, very efficiently.  As soon as I would increase my stepping rate, my SPO2 levels would fall.  Taking a very big breath and exhaling at sea-level over and over again is nearly impossible to do at sea-level -- I've tried.  At sea-level it actually makes me want to puke and fall over sideways.

Will I do this again?  The plan is to get in touch with some more altitude people and share information.  I will be at altitude again.  This whole experience has opened some exciting new doors in both my professional and personal life and now find myself with new collaborators and new friends.  I'm very happy to be in this place.  The video that I have been recording is being shipped (200 GB of high definition video) to a new colleague of mine who works in the film world. We'll see what we can put together in our spare time...

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Successful ascent and descent of Kilimanjaro

All four persons on our team are in good health after our Kilimanjero expedition. We will be disseminating information in the weeks to come.

This trip was a sucessful marriage of science, adventure, endurance, perseverance, decision making ability, self-preservation, preservation and care of others, and strength of character, while under the burden of both physical and emotional stress. I seem to be well-suited for this type of activity; I found this challenge very revealing of myself, to myself, and to those around me. I found that my activities of pressure-breathing and rest-stepping kept my hemoglobin saturation levels high and I retained my health and decision-making abilities. I will be posting some very informative data when I return to the office.
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Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The Adventure Starts Today: our altitude research project has officially started

After a good number of days of preparation, I finally managed to fit all of the research equipment and my own clothing and survival gear into 3 sacs. The ferry for Seattle leaves in 1.5 hours and I'll be on it!

Our official sponsors for this project include: Johnson and Johnson, Stepforth Web Marketing, and the University of Victoria.  Thank-you for your help towards making this project happen.

If you are interested in following various random blog posts throughout our trip or if you're interested in learning about or signing up for our research project, you can find information on our FaceBook page:

Our blog:
Study sign-up info:

Friday, 19 August 2011

Humans vs. a can of Coke at high altitude: measuring body response to altitude

I just completed a quick and dirty video montage of our White Mountain Peak adventure and posted it on this site.  Enjoy! (FYI: I'm not saying in the video that Coke is bad at altitude.  I'm saying that I might get a sugar rush and start running around at 14,000 feet-- not good.)

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The 'Renascence' of Age-Related Brain Disease: detection and intervention

A data processing methodology that is sensitive to detecting a trajectory of changed brain function (from a baseline) related to low oxygen at altitude on the side of a mountain could very likely be successful at detecting a trajectory of changed brain function related to a progression towards Alzheimer's.

I am looking for partners (private or university) to join me in a line of investigation towards doing very early detection of Alzheimer's and other age-related brain diseases.

Recently, there as been an increase in the number of publications describing research where the investigators show very promising success rates classifying the EEG of persons with Alzheimer's Dementia from matched controls.  What is notable is that the groups examined are essentially persons characterized as having mid- to late-stage Alzheimer's Dementia.  This means two things.  First, we are getting to the point where we can have a tool that helps psychiatrists, and neuropsychologists help their patients and their patient's families figure out why the patients are having difficulties doing day-to-day activities. The second thing to note is that these investigators are only doing successful classification of mid- to late- stage Alzheimer Dementia; there are no successful investigations classifying early stage Alzheimer's Dementia from controls.(None that I have found as of this date.)  The main problem is that it is next to impossible using our current behavioral and interview evaluation methods to determine who has early stage Alzheimer's dementia, or who as some kind of mild cognitive impairment, or a plethora of other things going on.  Simply, we can not do a 'classification' of early stage Alzheimer's dementia.

In contrast to a classification of early stage Alzheimer's dementia, what we can do is attempt to predict who will develop mid stage or late stage Alzheimer's dementia.  The idea is simple: for a given individual, we record their trajectory of brain function over time and then see if they are moving in the direction towards one of those unwanted brain function conditions.

To develop and demonstrate that such a system of prediction works would normally require a number of years as one measures the brain function (using EEG methods) of many people while they are healthy and then each year measures each person's brain function until a subset of those persons develops a classifiable dementia. (I'm generalizing now because what we are really interested in is identifying unhealthy changes in brain function, or identifying 'brain malfunction'.)  There is an alternative to measuring brain function over many years that can jump-start the design and evaluation of the processing methods applied to an individual's EEG data.  The trick is to measure the brain function of a large group of people while they are at their home altitude and then measure their brain function as then ascend to high altitude.  We know that when persons are not properly acclimatized, altitude causes all sorts of malfunctions in brain function due to the reduce availability of oxygen at altitude. The area of the brain that is particularly susceptible to the effects of low oxygen is the hippocampus which is very important in memory.  Interestingly, it is failing memory that is one of the key characteristics of Alzheimer's.  Hence, a data processing methodology that is sensitive to detecting a trajectory of changed brain function (from a baseline) related to low oxygen at altitude on the side of a mountain could very likely be successful at detecting a trajectory of changed brain function related to a progression towards Alzheimer's.  Hence, this analogy could be used to design a system that provides very early detection of Alzheimer's Disease.

Below is a short video clip that I put together while I was outside training for my ascent to altitude on Kilimanjaro.  (The exercise if creating these clips and posting them to the web is an effort to improve my videography, editing, and extemporaneous communication skills.  You should see a marked improvement over time.)

I have done quite a bit of reading on the topic of high altitude effects and injuries and it has been enough to put some fear into my bones.  That said, I hear about many people (and have talked with some of them) that ascend to the summit and the descend successfully with no reported change in their ability to function in the world.  My own understanding of anoxia is that is starves brain cells and even kills them depending on the severity and duration of the exposure. My colleagues recently published an article on the topic.  The issues are, for a given person: (1) what oxygen levels are a problem (this is dependent on the person's activity level as physical movement descreases blood SPO2), (2) how long is too long to go without the 'home levels' of oxygen (again, this depends on many, many individual factors), (3) what recovery do we get after damaging some neurons, (4) how do we best promote recovery?

Paper: Paper: Hypobaric hypoxia impairs spatial memory in an elevation-dependent fashion

Paper: Spatial Deficits in a Virtual Water Maze in Amnesic Participants
with Hippocampal Damage

Paper: Human spatial navigation: cognitive maps, sexual dimorphism,
and neural substrates

Paper: Hyperbaric oxygen therapy improves spatial learning and
memory in a rat model of chronic traumatic brain injury

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Areas of the brain particularly susceptible to anoxia are important for spatial navigation

The hippocampus is an area of the brain that is particularly sensitive to anoxia, low glucose levels (the brain needs glucose to function), and glucose toxicity (too much glucose).  One of the classic ways to investigate activation of the hippocampus and it's role in allocentric processing (spatial navigation) is by use of the Morris Water Task.  This particular task dates back to Richard Morris who used the task to show that lesions of the hippocampus impair spatial learning.

Since we will probably be affecting our hippocampal function when we ascend to altitude, I thought it would be useful to describe allocentric processing (or spatial navigation) and an example of when we use it. (Some of us actually use it quite often.  And I'd swear that other people have no idea.)

In the video below, I describe how we use allocentric processing of the information around us to find the location of a hidden rock beneath the surface of a lake. Basically, we have to use our brains to triangulate where were remember the location of the rock to be based on distance from shore and the distance from various landmarks or features on shore.

The next video illustrates an eye tracking methodology that we use in the lab to help us identify where people look when they use allocentric processing while navigating a virtual 1st-person perspective environment (such as when they play a video game).

For information discussing the hippocampus, spatial navigation, and brain injury, see the following references:

Goodrich-Hunsaker, N.J., Livingstone, S.A.*(now Lee), Skelton, R.W.. Hopkins, R.O. (2010). Spatial deficits in a virtual water maze in amnesic participants with hippocampal damage. Hippocampus, 20,  481-491.
Livingstone, S.*(now Lee), Skelton, R.W. (2007). Virtual environment navigation tasks and the assessment of cognitive deficits in individuals with brain injury.  Behavioural Brain Research, 185, 21-31.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Ice Climbing: Blue Obesssion Trailer by: outskitheyeti

I rarely re-post other people's videos but I had to cross-link this one so that everybody can see what this person is doing.

(definitely watch this video on YouTube (click on the playing video) and watch it as full screen and high definition)

Thanks for the inspiration and thank-you for creating this video and making it available for all of us to see!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

White Mountain Peak Pictures: July 2011: AMS is not fun

Below is a small sample of some of the photos and video I recorded on White Mountain Peak and a very short account of our new found experience with altitude mountain sickness (AMS).  I will be positing additional photos and video in the weeks to come as I find time to communicate our knowledge and wisdom around high-altitude climbing.  I look forward to hearing any of your comments and critiques; I further invite you to add this site to your RSS feed, to your Chrome Gadget page, or to your iGoogle page so that you can stay on top of our adventures. To add us to your feed, click on the RSS icons under the "subscribe to" heading on the right-hand bar of this page.

(click playing video to watch enlarged on YouTube)

(click photo to enlarge)

Right now my head is swimming with our experience on the mountain and the value I discovered in having a portable SP02 meter with us to measure our blood hemoglobin saturation to help us adapt our breathing style on the mountain and to forecast potential problems.

(click photo to enlarge)

We started from Victoria, British Columbia (sea level) on Tuesday evening and drove all night to finally arrive in Bishop, California at around 7pm the next day.   Upon arrival in Bishop, we packed ourselves into a hotel room and got a good night's sleep.  The next morning, we got up and drove to the parking lot on the mountain (approximately 12000 feet) and started hiking towards the top of the mountain. Four of us began the ascent.  Two of us made it to the top. Two did not go to the top.  One person became ill and was escorted down by one of the original four.

(click playing video to watch enlarged on YouTube)

At altitude, with slightly reduced O2 saturation, we experienced a bit of euphoria and subtle changes in our perception of our surroundings.  While this was quite fun and interesting, this was also dangerous and we do not fully understand the long-term impact when O2 levels go "too low".  In fact, I don't believe we really know what the SPO2 number is for "too low" or how long is "too long" for "too low".  If there is one piece of wisdom to take from this blog, it is to purchase an oximeter that provides you with an indication of the percent oxygen saturation of your blood hemoglobin. You can use such a meter to learn how to breath "properly" to maximize your oxygen consumption and you can use it to decided if you are receiving enough oxygen, if you are exerting too much energy, or if you should perhaps get off the mountain.

(click playing video to watch enlarged on YouTube)

For reference, when I sit at my desk at my office in Victoria my SPO2 ranges between 96 and 99%.  When I  was at rest after driving to Bishop CA (roughly 18 hours later) my SP02 was approximately 92%.  My perception is of course subjective but I believe I could notice differences in my clarity of thought even at 92% in Bishop.  I could maintain a SP02 of between 86 and 92% on the mountain with the breathing technique I adopted and stuck with.  The meter was instrumental in helping me develop my breathing style and keeping my SPO2 above 80%.

I found that each movement of my body and each force that I exerted would lower the SP02 if I wasn't focusing on deep breathing. I now have first-hand experience as to why they say "pole, pole" on Kilimanjaro (step slowly).

My primary purpose for ascending high altitude and measuring how our bodies respond is to investigate brain function changes related to low air pressure and the related hypobaric anoxia.  Often people who ascend to high altitude perceive changes in their own brain function such as differences in the way things sound, a feeling of euphoria, a bit of a disconnection from our bodies, and subtle changes to our vision among other things. We noticed some of these experiences ourselves at only 12000 feet since we gave ourselves essentially no time to get used to altitude.  Our plan is to investigate brain function using EEG equipment on our forthcoming trip up Mount Kilimanjaro.

I carried the equipment that I will be using on Kilimanjaro to assess brain function to the top of White Mountain Peak so that I could try out the weight and balance of a backpack full of equipment and warm clothes for mountain survival.  However, I did not do any brain function measurements at the top of the mountain given the short time we had available and our recent encounter with AMS.  As a team, all of us were not ready to climb to an altitude of 14000 feet because only 2 days before we were at sea level.  I did however experiment with recording EEG data using the Emotiv EPOC on White Mountain peak at an altitude of 13000 feet.  The video below shows me recording ambulatory EEG data using the Emotiv EPOC while my colleague participates in a computer-based cognitive assessment task.

(click playing video to watch enlarged on YouTube)

Before I scare too many people into staying inside their homes this summer, there is a simple concept to digest to make you feel at ease.  This concept is acclimatization-- get used to the altitude slowly and let your body's physiology adjust to the change in air pressure.  There are various stages to this change.  The first stage I would call "conscious behavioral changes".  This is when you decide you will take it easy, move slowly, and breath hard.  The second change is a change to the characteristics of your blood (takes about a week).  The third change is a change to the capillary proliferation in your body to reduce the distance between  your blood supply and your cells (takes about a month).  There is a research station on the mountain at about 12000 feet and another one at 14000 feet on this mountain and  I assume that when people are properly acclimatized there is little problem.  People actually work at this altitude!

(click photo to enlarge)

I titled the previous blog posting "AMS for fun?".  The question mark was included in the blog title because I really had no first or second hand experience with AMS.  I now say that it is "not fun".  I didn't develop AMS but a friend of mine did. Having a friend develop AMS wasn't pleasant for anyone on the mountain, nor was it pleasant for the person who was sick.  In a week or two I will post some more detail of our account at high altitude and the insights we had that will help us on our ascent to the top of Kilimanjaro.

(click photo to enlarge)

As an afterthought to this story, I've posted additional information for people interested in data collection at high altitude.

The photograph below depicts one of us wearing an Emotive EPOC that I plan to bring on our Kilimanjaro trip to record EEG data. For information on the Emotiv EPOC, go to the Emotiv website.

For more information about blood oxygen levels and what it might feel like to be at high altitude, see the website:  (I have not verified the information on the anesthesia website.)

I just found this video of John Severinghaus describing why the research stations were created on White Mountain Peak and gives some history of high altitude research.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

A bit of AMS for fun? White Mountain Peak

A group of us are headed out from Victoria on a road trip to visit White Mountain Peak (; to get a little taste of high altitude.

The plan is to drive to Bishop, California (2400m) and spend the night in a hotel.  In the morning, we'll drive up to a gate (3560m) on our way up to a weather research station at the top of the mountain. Our hike will start at the gate and continue to the summit at about 3800m.

It seems to me the drive up to 2400m in a car might be a bit challenging; especially when one considers we're starting our road trip at sea-level.

Our intention for this road trip and high altitude hike is to give some of us a taste of what ascending Kilimanjaro might be like.  The summit of Kilimanjaro is, of course much higher than the summit of White Mountain Peak, at an altitude of 5895m.

Monday, 18 July 2011

How does measuring EEG at high altitude relate to understanding the aging brain?

I am often being asked to describe how all of my projects fit together. For those of you 'in the know', I'm not only examining brain function related to high altitude and developing the processing algorithms to do so, I'm also working on a project to measure brain function in relation to health and physical exercise.  We are currently working on the processes involved in both projects.  That is, we're figuring out how to collect reliable data that are indicators of fitness and brain function from people in settings that are outside of the experiment laboratory.

In addition to identifying procedures for collecting reliable data, we're also developing algorithms to process the data that detect the information of interest contained in the data and reject noise sources in the data.  This is where an investigation of high altitude brain function comes in handy.

An investigation of changes in brain function in relation to a mountain ascent provides the opportunity to collect data having progressively 'changed' brain function (as the climber ascends the mountain) in the space of a week.  Once these data are collected, I can sit down and create an algorithm that mines the data for features that correlate with the anoxic effects of altitude (changed brain function that relates to the fundamental operation of our brain) the following week.  It is the algorithm that is developed on these data that can be applied to data collected from the average aging person that could be sensitive and revealing of changes in the fundamental operation of the brain due to disease and aging.

What is of primary interest are brain function features contained in the EEG that relate to lasting brain function rather than temporary divergences from normal brain function such as those caused by low blood sugar, low oxygen, too much coffee, or inadequate sleep.  That said, our behavior is our brain function and if we are having a day of significantly unusual brain function, our behavior should also be affected.  Yes, I'm building an, "I'm having an off-day" detector.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Extreme exercise fatigue on Finlayson: my blood sugar and my brain

On Saturday, during the Mt. Finlayon Madness competition, a colleague and I hiked to the top of the mountain and 'prototyped' part of our High-Altitude Brain Function on Kilimanjaro experiment.  Throughout the day, I ran up and down the mountain as a participant in the competition. Each time I reached to top of the mountain, my colleague, Megan Yim, went through the procedure of measuring my blood glucose, blood pressure, heart rate, EEG, and ran me through some of our computer-based cognitive evaluation processes.  The weather was perfect for debugging our examination procedure; it rained most of the day and we had to come up with ways to keep the equipment dry. These wet and cold conditions helped reveal weaknesses in our data collection paradigm and presented us with an opportunity to creatively shore up these weaknesses.

In addition to providing for an 'alpha-test' of our high-altitude paradigm, it also revealed to me how my body responds to extreme exercise fatigue. This race gave me an opportunity to push my body harder than I have in the past.  It wasn't the ascent and decent of Finlayson that was the real challenge for me (says my ego); it was the fact that I did it during a fast. The morning before the race I drank about 1 litre of chocolate milk to get me going before arriving at Finlayson.  Other than that, I didn't consume any calories until about 3pm that afternoon.  Of course, I drank as much water as needed.  Doing this helped to simulate a physically and mentally strenuous activity and I had to work really hard to get to the top of the mountain.  The first thing that I learned is that I am truly a competitive person. I didn't like fasting and watching other people eat cookies, while they pass me on the way up the mountain.  It wasn't so much that they were eating cookies in front of my that bothered me;  it was that I incapacitated myself enough that I couldn't keep up to some of them.  Yes, my ego took a beating. Upon my 4th ascent up Finlayson, I was in hurting;  I imagine that this is similar to what I'll be facing over a multiple day ascent to the top of Kilimanjaro. On Mt. Kilimanjaro however, it won't be blood glucose that will be in short supply-- it will be oxygen.

During this prototype experiment, I discovered that what I eat and when I eat during high-level physical output has a very profound impact on me and I'm now wiser having had this experience. However, there was a time in my life when my wisdom was lacking.  When I was in high-school I used to play rugby.  I played as a back; they put me on the wing.  It was my job to run as fast as I could, keep slightly behind the other backs with the ball, and when the time was right, they would pass the ball to me and I would score on the other team.  At least, that was what was supposed to happen.  For me, whenever I got the ball, I would usually not make the best decision about where to go to get between the other players and score.  It always seemed like I couldn't think and run hard at the same time. It seemed strange to me that I had difficulty thinking while I was running with a ball, attempting to doge my opponents, to score points for our team.

Some personal insight as to why I might have had difficulty thinking clearly while playing rugby when I was in high school came when Megan and I were on Mt. Finlayson.  After my first ascent up the mountain and during my fast, my blood sugar was in the low range (the "you should probably eat" range"). I had difficulty with our cognitive tests; I felt cold and distracted.  After my second ascent up the mountain, my blood sugar actually increased a bit to a range were I felt like myself; I felt pretty good. And I did OK on our cognitive tests. This was also the case for my 3rd ascent up the mountain.  On my 4th ascent, I felt terrible.  I really had to push myself hard; it wasn't my legs that were the problem, it was that I was felling terrible from the inside; it was really difficult to move forward. But I did-- I had food waiting for me at the top of the mountain.  When I reached the top, we collected my info:  my blood sugar was very low and my cognitive test scores were terrible.  After collecting data, I gorged myself on cookies, chips, and scones. This is where I learned something about my rugby days; when we measured my blood sugar again about 20 mins after eating, it was very, very high. While my blood sugar was high, I did our cognitive tests and did terribly. Maybe eating Jello before each game didn't help with my decision making during rugby games.

Interestingly, after the next descent and subsequent ascent, my blood glucose returned to the normal range and my cognitive exam scores were great.

When we ascend Mt. Kilimanjaro this Fall, it will be the oxygen that is in short supply.  During conditions of low air-pressure, our brains will not function as they should and we will likely feel a fatigue similar (or greater) to what I felt on my 4th ascent up Finlayson while fasting. I'll be able to give you a comparison of a glucose low and an oxygen low very shortly; some of us are headed up White Mountain (4344m altitude) this week to find out what a short high altitude exposure is like.  Interestingly, we can drive up to 3560m before going for a hike to the summit.  I have a feeling we're going to be hit hard by the altitude given that we will have basically no time to get used to the altitude.

Overall, our high altitude endeavors are to add to our understanding of the cognitive effects of mild anoxia, and to our understanding of the impact this has climbers and mountaineers. Our planned Kilimarjaro study will be used to inform a larger study for the purpose of developing recommendations for high-altitude adventurers to detect impending problems at higher altitudes and perhaps even optimize training in order to preserver decision making.  We will continue to post information pertaining to our preparation and our actual trip up Kilimanjaro over the months to come.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Mt. Finlayson: EEG and extreme exercise fatigue

As part of my preparation for our Kilimanjaro project, my colleagues and I will be collecting a similar set of data while I participate in an extreme endurance race this weekend.

This Saturday, a competition called "Mt. Finlayson Madness" will take place on the steep Mt. Finlayson hiking trail. During this competition, participants will ascend and descend Mt. Finlayson as many times as possible within a time of 12 hours. (  While I am very interested to know how many times I can get up and down the mountain in the space of 12 hours, I'm even more interested in how my brain function changes while I throw myself up and down a mountain in a competition against other people.

Multiple types of physiological data will be collected. We will collect EEG data using the Emotiv EPOC headset. We will also collect blood glucose, heart rate, blood pressure, and blood oxygen level data.  In addition to these data, we will also experiment with some neuropsychological tests.

If the data are interesting, I'll be sure to post them to this blog for other people to see.  Along with data, we will also post some video of the event.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Officially 35 years old

I'm now officially 35 years old!  Have I reached the middle of my life?  Hard to say.... I'm told that things keep getting better.  At any rate, I haven't discovered a downside to being 35, healthy, and active.  Maybe those that are older than me are too wise to speak of such a thing (a downside).

I also thought about what it means to be 35 and living the life that I have right this moment.  Right now my own opportunity is to challenge the established assumptions about the world and perhaps accelerate or re-direct some of our social and technological momentums.  Being 35 means that I have the opportunity be mentored by, and get to inject enthusiasm into, those with much more life experience than myself and I get to teach and mentor those who look for examples in their lives.

A question that popped into my head as I ate my birthday dinner asked what the world will be like in another 35 years.  The only thing I can say for certain is that in 35 years I'll be looking at the world through the eyes of a 70 year-old. In truth, I really have no idea if I will still have my health.  I am hopeful that I'll still be as open-minded as I've become with a continued capacity to have new ideas, and objectively weigh the values, and be a part of the opportunities, the next generation introduces. I know that I will continue to have people in my life that will keep my mind open and challenge my assumptions.

Thank-you everyone for this life I have and for sharing it with me!


I recently discovered that "35 years old" is a popular search term on the internet.  This got me thinking a little bit about why some people might using this particular key word search.  Some possible reasons:

You really just want to see more of my Action Adventurous blog:

You're interested in finding some love?: Try a dating site :)
A colleague and I are currently writing an article that provides an analysis of which dating site to use.  We should have the full article posted in a week or so and I'll be sure to add a link to the article from this page.
For now, I'll give you what our analysis found would be a good site for a typical 35 year old male with a graduate school education: FYI: I am not a member of this site.

Adventure? What do I do now that I'm 35? What's next?
Consider a mountain adventure. There are many guiding companies available.

RMI Guides: (I have some friends who use this company)
Team Kilimanjaro: (we used this company for our trip in 2011)

Perhaps you're into some adventure charity:

Across the divide:

Finally, maybe your next step is to go back to school:

University of Victoria:
University of British Columbia:
Stanford University:

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Research: Right temporal cerebral dysfunction heralds symptoms of AMS

I just read through an article written in 2007 today that found specific features in scalp EEG data, measured at moderate altitude, might predict the occurrence of AMS. You can download the study from the web if you have access to PubMed. I have put the abstract and title of the article at the bottom of this blog entry.

In their study, the authors investigated AMS in relation to brain function, cerebral blood flow, and end-expiratory CO2 and found effects related to AMS in the right-hemisphere scalp EEG. Supportive of this EEG finding are correlated changes in expiratory CO2 and an increase in cerebral blood flow velocity in the right middle cerebral artery.

Notably, changes in the EEG that were determined to be related to AMS occurred before changes in cerebral blood flow and end-expiratory CO2. (Significant changes in the EEG occurred before changes in the cerebral blood flow and end-expiratory CO2.)  Hence, changed EEG at moderate altitude might be a good way to identify who will get AMS at high altitude.

While the study showed some encouraging results, the study also has some weaknesses that can be addressed with some replication and some data processing modification. The main weaknesses of the study are: (1) the low number of participants that participated in the study beginning to end (22, at most) and (2) the low significance threshold of 0.05 (for the number of comparisons) that was used. In addition, data plotted in the paper show that for a few participants, the effect of altitude on the EEG was in a direction that was inconsistent with the group.  This inconsistency could be artefactual in nature and could arise for a number of reasons unrelated to brain function.  A replication of this study would add weight to these findings and offer an opportunity to investigate EEG processing methods that are less susceptible to noise.

Hence, it is worthwhile to do further investigation of EEG as a predictor of AMS in various circumstances, at a variety of altitudes, and investigate how varied training regimes prior to ascent modulate the likelihood of occurrence of AMS.

The abstract and author information obtained from PubMed is given below.

J Neurol. 2007 Mar;254(3):359-63. Epub 2007 Mar 7.

Right temporal cerebral dysfunction heralds symptoms of acute mountain sickness.
Feddersen B, Ausserer H, Neupane P, Thanbichler F, Depaulis A, Waanders R, Noachtar S.


Department of Neurology, Klinikum Grosshadern, University of Munich, Marchioninistr. 15, 81377, Munich, Germany.


Acute mountain sickness (AMS) can occur during climbs to high altitudes and may seriously disturb the behavioral and intellectual capacities of susceptible subjects. During a Himalayan expedition 32 mountaineers were examined with electroencephalography (EEG) and transcranial doppler sonography (TCD) to assess relative changes of middle cerebral artery velocity in relation to end-expiratory CO2 (EtCO2), peripheral saturation (SaO2), and symptoms of AMS. We tested the hypothesis that O2 desaturation and EtCO2 changes precede the development of AMS and result in brain dysfunction and compensatory mechanisms which can be measured by EEG and TCD, respectively. Contrary to our hypothesis, we found that subjects who later developed symptoms of AMS between 3,440 m and 5,050 m altitude exhibited an increase of slow cerebral activity in the right temporal region already at 3,440 m. Cerebral blood flow increased in these mountaineers in the right middle cerebral artery at 5,050 m. These findings indicate that regional brain dysfunction, which can be documented by EEG, heralds the appearance of clinical symptoms of AMS.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Research: Why revelations have occurred on mountains? Linking mystical experiences and cognitive neuroscience

I found yet another interesting article while investigating the effects of high altitude on brain function. However, this time the article is of a more spiritual nature; the article describes how anoxia can impact specific parts of the brain and cause a knock-on spiritual experience. This is an interesting and entertaining read. Find and download this article. And if you're wondering, I do have a spiritual side. (link)

Why revelations have occurred on mountains? Linking mystical experiences and
cognitive neuroscience

Shahar Arzy a,b,c,*, Moshe Idel d, Theodor Landis b, Olaf Blanke a,b
a Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience, Brain-Mind Institute, Ecole Polytechnique Fe´de´rale de Lausanne (EPFL), Lausanne, Switzerland
b Department of Neurology, University Hospital, Geneva, Switzerland
c Department of Neurology, Hadassah Hebrew University Hospital, Jerusalem, Israel
d Faculty of Humanities, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel
Received 26 March 2005; accepted 21 April 2005


The fundamental revelations to the founders of the three monotheistic religions, among many other revelation experiences, had occurred on a mountain. These three revelation experiences share many phenomenologicalcomponents like feeling and hearing a presence, seeing a figure, seeing lights, and feeling of fear. In addition, similar experiences have been reported by non-mystic contemporary mountaineers. The similarities between these revelations on mountains and their appearance in contemporary mountaineers suggest that exposure to altitude might affect functional and neural mechanisms, thus facilitating the experience of a revelation. Different functions relying on brain areas such as the temporo-parietal junction and the prefrontal cortex have been suggested to be altered in altitude. Moreover, acute and chronic hypoxia significantly affect the temporo-parietal junction and the prefrontal cortex and both areas have also been linked to altered own body perceptions and mystical experiences. Prolonged stay at high altitudes, especially in social deprivation, may also lead to prefrontal lobe dysfunctions such as low resistance to stress and loss of inhibition. Based on these phenomenological, functional, and neural findings we suggest that exposure to altitudes might contribute to the induction of revelation experiences and might further our understanding of the mountain metaphor in religion. Mystical and religious experiences are important not only to the mystic himself, but also to many followers, as it was indeed with respect to the leaders of the three monotheistic religions. Yet, concerning its subjective character, mystical experiences are almost never accessible to the scholars interested in examining them. The tools of cognitive neuroscience make it possible to approach religious and mystical experiences not only by the semantical analysis of texts, but also by approaching similar experiences in healthy subjects during prolonged stays at high altitude and/or in cognitive paradigms. Cognitive neurosciences, in turn, might profit from the research of mysticism in their endeavor to further our understanding of mechanisms of corporeal awareness and self consciousness.

Research: General introduction to altitude adaptation and mountain sickness

I just read through a research paper written by Bärtsch P., Saltin, B. General introduction to altitude adaptation and mountain sickness. Scand. J. Med. Sci. Sports 2008 (Suppl. 1):1-10.

I have put a few excerpts from the paper into this blog to inform my fellow climbers.  The text below is a mixture of paraphrasing and quotes from the paper.  This is a really good paper and I highly recommend tracking it down and giving it a complete read.


The key elements in acclimatization aim at securing the oxygen supply to tissues and organs of the body with an optimal oxygen tension of the arterial blood. In acute exposure, ventilation and heart rate are elevated with a minimum reduction in stroke volume. In addition, plasma volume is reduced over 24–48 h to improve the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood, and is further improved during a prolonged sojourn at altitude through an enhanced erythropoiesis and larger Hb mass, allowing for a partial or full restoration of the blood volume and arterial oxygen content. Most of these adaptations are observed from quite low altitudes [1000m above sea level (m a.s.l.)] and become prominent from 2000 m a.s.l. At these higher altitudes additional adaptations occur, one being a reduction in the maximal heart rate response and consequently a lower peak cardiac output. Thus, in spite of a normalization of the arterial oxygen content after 4 or more weeks at altitude, the peak oxygen uptake reached after a long acclimatization period is essentially unaltered compared with acute exposure. What is gained is a more complete oxygenation of the blood in the lungs, i.e. SaO2 is increased. The alteration at the muscle level at altitude is minor and so is the effect on the metabolism, although it is debated whether a possible reduction in blood lactate accumulation occurs during exercise at altitude. Transient acute mountain sickness (headache, anorexia, and nausea) is present in 10–30% of subjects at altitudes between 2500 and 3000ma.s.l. Pulmonary edema is rarely seen below 3000ma.s.l. and brain edema is not seen below 4000ma.s.l. It is possible to travel to altitudes of 2500–3000ma.s.l., wait for 2 days, and then gradually start to train. At higher altitudes, one should consider a staged ascent (average ascent rate 300 m/day above 2000ma.s.l.), primarily in order to sleep and feel well, and minimize the risk of mountain sickness. A new classification of altitude levels based on the effects on performance and well-being is proposed and an overview given over the various modalities using hypoxia and altitude for improvement of performance.


Erythropoiesis is the process by which red blood cells (erythrocytes) are produced. It is stimulated by decreased O2 in circulation, which is detected by the kidneys, which then secrete the hormone erythropietin. This hormone stimulates proliferation and differentiation of red cell precursors, which activates increased erythropoiesis in the hemopoietic tissues, ultimately producing red blood cells. 

Notes of Interest:

A significant increase in red blood cell mass may already occur after 3 wees at a minimum altitude of 2100 m a.s.l. (Schmitd & Prommer, 2008) and this gets more pronounced as altitude increases.

During the first 24-48 h, at even a low altitude (15000-2000 m a.s.l.), Hb concentration is elevated by 0.5-1.0g/100 mL blood, which may correspond to a loss of plasma water of 0.2-0.3 L.  At 3000 and 4000 m a.s.l., the rise in Hb concentration may amount to another 0.5-0.8g/100 mL per 1000m, indicating a decrease in plasman volume of 0.600.9 L (Saltin, 1966; Svedenhag et al., 1997; Calbet et al., 2004).

Classic high-altitude training involves living and training at altitudes between 2000 and 2800 m a.s.l. for a period of 2-4 weeks.  Living high and training low, introduced by Levine & Stray-Gundersen (1997), consists of living about 20h/day at an altitude of 2800 m a.s.l. and training at an altitude of 1200 m a.s.l., which already impairs maximum aerobic performance in well-trained subjects.

AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness)

There appears to be a threshold altitude of about 2100 m a.s.l. for significant development of AMS (acute mountain sickness) with exposure to hypobaric hypoxia at rest (Muhm et al., 2007).  At altitudes between 2500 and 300 m, the prevalence of AMS is betwen 10% and 30%, depending on the population and the definition of AMS.  At these altitudes, AMS is usually mild, transient, and does not progress to more severy symptoms of altitude illnesses, such as cerebral or pulmonary edema. [PHIL: note, they say nothing about cognitive function or neuronal damage].  At altitudes of 4000 - 4500 m a.s.l., the prevalence of AMS is 40%-60%, and in some susceptible individuals treatment with oxygen, dexamethasone, and descent ar necessary for improvement and prevention of progression to cerebral edema (Bärtsch & Roach, 2001).  When going to altitudes above 3000m, staged ascent and /or prevention of AMS by acetazolamide (2 x 250 mg/day may be necessary to avoid physical discomfort within the first few days of altitude exposure.  A low hypoxic ventilatory response (HVR) may be associated with increased susceptibility to AMS (Moor aet al., 1986; Richalet et al., 1988a), and HVR tends to be lower in endurance-trained athletes (Schoene, 1982). [PHIL: This means that if you're an endurance-trained athlete, it is a good idea to learn how to breath properly for a trip to the top of Kilimanjaro.)

The text below discussing HACE and HAPE comes directly from Bärtsch & Saltin, 2008.

HACE (High-Altitude Cerebral Edema)

HACE is usually preceded by progressive symptoms of AMS. It is characterized by progressive truncal ataxia, clouded consciousness, and variable focal neurologic symptoms. Without treatment, coma usually develops within 1–2 days, and death occurs rapidly because of brain herniation. Vasogenic edema has been demonstrated by MRI (Hackett et al., 1998). Treatment consists of administration of supplemental oxygen, dexamethasone, and descent. HACE rarely occurs below 4000ma.s.l. (Fig. 2), and the prevalence at 4000 5000ma.s.l. is 0.5–1.5%. HACE can be avoided by preventing AMS or by fast and adequate treatment of AMS.

HAPE (High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema)

HAPE is a non-cardiogenic edema that is due to a non-inflammatory capillary leak caused by an abnormally high hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction (Bärtsch et al., 2005). Early symptoms are dyspnoea, decreased performance, and cough. In advanced cases, dyspnoea at rest, orthopnoea, and pink frothy sputum occur (Bä rtsch, 1999). HAPE is rare below 3000ma.s.l. and is usually associated with abnormalities in the pulmonary circulation. Prevalence of HAPE after rapid ascent to 4550ma.s.l. within 24 h, including an overnight stay at 3600m a.s.l., is 6% in a general mountaineering population (Fig. 2) and 60–70% in HAPE-susceptible individuals (Bärtsch et al., 2002). Susceptible individuals are characterized by an abnormal increase in pulmonary artery pressure with exposure to hypoxia and also during normobaric exercise (Grünig et al., 2000). This abnormal response pattern of the pulmonary circulation can be found in about 10% of the population in Germany (Grünig et al., 2005). The rate of ascent, the altitude of exposure, and exertion are the major risk factors for development of HAPE, in addition to individual susceptibility based on an abnormal pulmonary hypoxic vasoconstriction. HAPE can be avoided in susceptible individuals with slow ascent (300–400 m/day above 2000ma.s.l.). If slow ascent is not possible, HAPE can also be prevented by drugs that lower pulmonary artery pressure, such as nifedipine (Baürtsch et al., 1991), sildenafil, or dexamethasone (Maggiorini et al., 2006). Treatment consists of administration of supplemental oxygen, application of pulmonary vasodilators (nifedipine or tadalafil), and descent. Mortality is estimated to be 50% if no treatment is possible (Lobenhoffer et al., 1982), while adequate treatment leads to a complete recovery without sequelae.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Physical Preparation to Ascend Above 5000 Meters

I've been doing quite a bit of reading on the topic of the effects of high-altitude on brain and body.  Data collection for this type of research generally takes one of three contexts: (1) in a hypobaric chamber where the air pressure is artificially reduced, (2) on a mountain during an ascent, and (3) at a 'base' air pressure in a 'before' vs. 'after' comparison.  Each context has its advantages and disadvantages.  What this research tells us is what happens on average.  And many of us like to think of ourselves as "better than average".  Take a minute to decided if this is actually the case and if we might consider following recommendations derived from average people.

I assume that each person ascends Kilimanjaro with the expectation that their brain and body will continue to function as it did before they started.  I think this is the expectation for any extreme sport-- that we won't become permanently injured. I have had my share of injuries and fortunately I think I've fully recovered from most of them.  What is common to all extreme sports is the inherent risk of injury; those of us who undertake these activities accept risk as our way of life. What is clear from the research I have read is that we will encounter a significant reduction in the oxygen available to our brains and bodies.  While this is well-known, it is not well-known how each of us individually will be affected by the reduction in oxygen and and air pressure and how each of us will 'bounce-back' from oxygen deprivation.  The research is clear that above 5000 meters (5000 is a nice round number), for those of us essentially starting at sea-level, on average the risk increases.  That said, their are many individual variables to account for that have an impact on the calculation of one's own individual risk such as the duration of time above 5000 meters, the physical preparation beforehand, our own genetic dispositions, and so on.  The list is long.  It would be extremely valuable to have a little machine in our pockets that could tell us our individual likelihood of returning home with an injury. One day such a device might exist.

The human body is an amazing machine that ultimately gets stronger when you work it, within reason.  When a buddy and I rode our bicycles 7600 km in 57 days to cross Canada in its entirety, various bike parts wore out but our feet, legs, and knees got stronger.  With the goal of completing this challenge and coming out stronger than we were, we must strive to be at our physical best before making the ascent and we must be wise in our activities on the mountain.  "Pole, pole", they say.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Requesting community support to spread the word: link and share

Hello everyone (friends, colleagues, and fellow adventurers)

My colleagues and I will be heading up Kilimanjaro this Fall to have an extraordinary adventure. In addition to reaching the summit, my plan is to bring some equipment up with me to study brain and body changes related to the high-altitude ascent. Given climbers volunteer to participate in the study, I will write-up some some interesting research papers.  In addition to all of this, I plan on putting together a video documentary of the trip. (This is of course all depends on the weather, and the physical and emotional obstacles that will be encountered.)  In any event, for the purpose of bringing arm-chair adventurers, outdoors persons, and other curious people together, we would like to create a lot of publicity around this excursion.  If your are a supporter of mountain adventure, please share this blog with your friends and colleagues.  I'll do my best to keep it updated and share any interesting and humorous video as we get closer to the start date of our African safari and our trek up Kili.

Thanks to all of you,


Hero HD camera - my ride to the Stepforth Web Marketing office

Today was my first attempt recording video using the Hero HD camera.  I purchased one yesterday to use on our Kilimanjaro expedition coming this Fall.  If you take a look at the video, you can see the picture quality is quite good recorded at 1080p @ 30fps.  However, you'll also notice that there is quite a bit of vibration/jitter in the video and by the looks of it, jitter removal algorithms will have some difficulty removing jitter at 30 fps. (The low sampling rate and camera vibration caused by my bicycle tires inflated at 120psi causes jumps in the video that are greater than just a few pixels.)  Fortunately, I can bring the sample rate up to 60 fps however with a reduction in video resolution to 960p.  I'll try this next time and apply a jitter removal algorithm and see what I can get.

Overall, I'm happy with the quality of the camera and the various helmet and body mounting accessories.  We'll soon see how well it operates at -30 C when we do the freezer test on our equipment.  I'll post video of some of my research team and I in a walk-in freezer in the weeks to come.

Incidentally, if you run the video posted above to the end, you'll notice that I arrive at the Stepforth Web Marketing office on my ride into work each day.  When I started my company ABVSciences, Ross Dunn at Stepforth provided me with a desk and space for my computer equipment.  I still spend each day with the Stepforth gang.  From my point of view, I've gained a tremendous amount of knowledge about marketing on the internet and web and search engine optimization by being in their environment and collaborating on the future of marketing.  Thanks Ross, you've become the official web marketing sponsor for this trip!!

Friday, 10 June 2011

Brain activity at 5,895 metres (19,341 ft) above sea level

The other day my research colleagues and I where throwing around some fun ideas about combining our professions with some of our day-to-day activities.  Myself: I'm a scientist and developer of new signal processing technologies and methodologies to better understand brain disease and function. I'm also an avid outdoors man and weekend warrior.  The colleagues in the room at the time of this discussion also boast a fine mixture of scientific curiosity and enjoyment of the outdoors. Together, we came up with this crazy notion: use an Emotiv EPOC EEG headset to measure brain function during the ascent to the top of Kilimanjaro.  "I'll do it!", was my response.

The plans are not yet concrete and we have some technical issues to figure out but it looks like this is actually going to happen.  We'll be doing a "technical" test to see how feasible this will be in a 'race' held on the 16th of July near Victoria, BC, Canada (  The objective of this 'race challenge' is to see who, out of those persons entered, can go up and down Mnt. Finlayson the most times in 12 hours. (It is just crazy enough to get my attention.)

Our "Climb Mount Kilimanjaro" Facebook page:

Friday, 11 March 2011

Pictures and Videos Related to my Bicycle Trip Across Canada

Below are links to some text, pictures, and video related to a bicycle trip across Canada I did with one of my good friends in 2008.

Link to my company website

Below is a link to the website of my company.  Thank-you for the support (time and resources) to make this trip happen!

Applied Brain and Vision Sciences was founded to change the way we understand brain function and treat brain diseases. Simply, we believe there is a ‘better’ way to diagnose and treat brain disease and dysfunction. We believe that through appropriate therapies and objective measures of functional brain activity during the course of these therapies, we can significantly impact lives.

Link to Old Posts on University of Victoria Site:

I thought I would add a link to my previous blog on the University of Victoria (Engineering) website.

Climb Kilimanjaro September 2011

Approximately 6 months ago I was invited to join some other men on a trip to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro and my immediate response was, "hell ya!".  At the time and had no idea how I would manage my prior commitments but my gut told me that to not go given this opportunity landing in my lap would be a tragedy. How could I pass up the opportunity to travel the highest altitude I've ever experienced with two feet on the ground?

For interested persons:

See our Facebook page:  Facebook page:

The company we have booked with is:

Currently, I'm in preparation for a high-altitude experience: cardio exercise including running and cycling, swiming, and yoga. In theory, I shall be in very good physical condition for this journey.