Friday, August 29, 2008

TGIF Funny stuff...

...this time for the readers of this blog that's into rap and pumping iron...



Dragonforce: Ultra Beatdown

Received the newly released "Ultra Beatdown" from Dragonforce yesterday, and have listened to it almost twice today. As it turns out, Dragonforce is excellent music for writing conference abstracts.

Ultra beatdown represents no departure from the melodic extreme power metal of their earlier efforts, so if you didn't like the previous three albums, odds are you should shy away from this one as well. Most of the time, it feels like Dragonforce just re-released it's first album for the third time, which suits me fine, as I thoroughly enjoyed "Valley Of The Damned". As a matter of fact, I'd be a happy camper if Yngwie had kept spewing out minor variations of "Fire & Ice", if Running Wild had recorded "Death Or Glory II", and if Magnus Karlsson had reassembled Last Tribe for a return to their "The Ritual" sound. So that don't matter to me as long as I enjoy the product. Truth be told, "Ultra Beatdown" does offer some variation, with more tempo and time signature changes, and at least one song dropping to a (for Dragonforce) leisurely pace of 120 bpm for almost a full minute. Moreover, there are some traces of influence from bands like Rhapsody Of Fire and Blind Guardian, plus the song "Heartbreak Armageddon" offers an ascending chromatic bridge immediately before the chorus. I likes it. I even likes it more than I did the previous albums, despite the lack of the obvious "Through The Fire And The Flames" type of single.

I sprung for the "special edition", which comes with two bonus tracks (one of which is titled ""Strike Of The Ninja"...) and a DVD which features "The recording of..." material and a feature on the making of Herman's Ibanez EGEN signature guitar. The studio material is quite entertaining, with Sam complaining about being sick and tired of "playing the same fucking solo on the same fucking song", plus other studio stuff that wannabe musicians like me find interesting. Interestingly, they record the bass and guitar directly into the board. Interesting, because I'm short one Pro Tools license from having their guitar recording facilities. The feature on the Ibanez EGEN development is kinda' interesting, but I suspect you'd have to be a guitar geek like me to find it even remotely interesting. The EGEN is basically a tricked-out version of their new Ibanez SV, which features 24 frets and a deeper cutaway. Apart from that, the EGEN has a new floating bridge, an EGEN Wizard neck (a Wizard I with scalloping on the upper 4 frets like the Jem), some custom-made pickups from DiMarzio (of course), an even deeper cutaway for easy access to the upper frets, and a grip formed after Herman's right hand on the upper horn - for more facile fancy stage moves. I totally love the Ibanez S series, but I think I'd rather have a custom model based on the new SV. The improved floating bridge is awesome and stuff, but I don't use what David Lee Roth refers to as the "dick stick" all that much, and since I'm about half a meter taller than Herman Li, I'm not sure how this grip feature would work for someone of my proportions.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Office relocation completed


..or rather; I've piled all my stuff into one office and vacated the other.

Damn did I ever underestimate the time it'd take to move to this new office - epic time management fail.

GQ3: Mexican Standoff - Round 4

Fourth round. Still no possible bonus points.


Submit your answers to mfactorquiz (at) gmail.com by the end of Monday 090808. Each song holds the potential of two points - one point for artist and one point for the song. Answers will be posted on Tuesday 090908.

Song number 156:



Song number 157:



Song number 158:



Song number 159:



Song number 160:

Parking FAIL


Driving to work this morning, this was the sight that met me when I entered the parking house. Some bonehead has left his car in the middle of nowhere on the first level, effectivly preventing anybody to get in and blocking in those who already had found a space. Parking FAIL!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

David Lee Roth - Crazy From The Heat



In my opinion, David Lee Roth is the ultimate frontman. If only he could sing, he'd be even better. After reading the Van Halen biography, this book seemed all the more appealing. The brothers Van Halen spend a lot of time putting all the blame on their lead singers, and especially on David Lee Roth. The funny thing is that most of the time, what they blame Roth for and which they claim broke up VH mark 1, is that he wanted to do a side project - his famous or infamous covers of "California Girls" and "Just A Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody". Problem is; by then Eddie Van Halen had already recorded "Beat It" with Michael Jackson, recorded some solos for a KISS album, done some movie soundtracks for his then wife's made for TV movies, and so on. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. This, combined with the fact that Diamond Dave is an extremely extrovert, eloquent and loquacious individual, makes for an interesting and entertaining autobiography.

Which leads me to another thing; it ain't ghost written - it's pure Roth. Choice of words, mannerisms - everything is exactly like an interview with Roth, so this is the real deal. So much the better. The book is not a chronological account of the life and times of Mr. Roth - which rules, 'cause being exposed to the excruciating minutia of what his mom made for dinner and what his second grade teachers were like is something I can do without. Neither is the book a detailed description of his backstage antics - also something I can do without. Besides which - you know he did all that stuff, so there's no mystery there - the rest is a description of kinesiology and pharmacology. What this book IS however, is an awesome collection of short stories and accumulated wisdom from none other than Diamond David Lee Roth, the man, the myth, the living legend himself. Moreover, while the Van Halen book would've been reduced by at least 30% if one was to remove all the Dave-bashing, there is very little Van Halen bashing to be found here. Much props for that.

I really, really enjoyed this book. Some of his stories of life on the road sort of come out of left field, yet are really funny. Like the description of how during the most active touring they'd leave a town as soon as possible after a gig to get to the next venue in time. Which means that beside the hotel and the venue, there was no time for anything (well; almost). So after a couple of days on the road, there's the onset of road amnesia, where everything becomes a blur. One particular problem described by Dave Roth emerges when every hotel room looks exactly the same yet the room you're in now has a different architecture than the one you had last night. This becomes a problem when you wake up in the middle of the night and head for the bathroom - which ain't where you remember it was, so you keep running into walls and whatnot, as you can't locate the light switch either.

Somewhat surprisingly, Diamond Dave really lashes out at sensationalist journalism. A lot of what he writes on this topic mirrors my own opinions. Just to digress - when we lived in NC, there was a horrible explosion at a chemical factory in Wake County, with plenty of casualties and horrific, stomach-churning injuries. At that time I was spending a lot of time commuting between NC State in Raleigh, and UNC Chapel Hill to do some flashy experiments on some tiny particles coated with something which makes them do whatever. On the way, we had to drive by the hospital in Chapel Hill, and every time Joe and me would drive past that place, for several weeks, there would be hordes of these supposed journalists stacked wide and deep outside the hospital entrance, waiting for someone with horrible disfigurements to emerge, or even better, for some grieving families to come out in tears. Whenever someone would come out - typically one or two adults huddling with some kids, these vultures would swarm on them with cameras and microphones. The images would be available at the 10 PM news, and in every news pitch before that. The public has a right to know what a crying widow looks like half an hour after her husband passed away from being too close to an explosion? F*cking vultures - have some compassion and basic human dignity! The most disheartening part was that the vultures were mostly from the major, so-called serious news agencies - the local schmoes from Channel WKGB-Douche were by far in the minority.

Back to Dave. If you've read more than two rock star biographies, you'll know that all of them have apparently had the same managers, who in turn screwed them over, leaving them in debt to their record companies while they rode happily into the sunset with the band's earnings. Dave has written a chapter called Business 101, wherein he outlines precisely how the manager, accountant and lawyers screw you over. Totally awesome - this book should be required reading for any professional musician. I'm not gonna provide any spoilers here, as I'm of the vehement opinion that you should read this book - at the very least this chapter.

Best rock biography this side of "The Dirt". Buy it today!

Do Norwegian politicians care about research?

According to the CEO of the Norwegian Research Council (NFR) Arvid Hallén, Norwegian politicians don't care about science. Recently, NFR sent out an invitation to our national politicians at Stortinget, encouraging them to define and discuss their opinion on research and science policy. Less than 25% showed up.

Me, I'd really like to know who showed up, so that I can use that information to vote more strategically come next Fall. Can't say that I'm surprised. Every election year, politicians of all genders and political orientations utter a variation on the following into TV cameras with a straight face: "We need to put more money into research and higher education. If we're elected, we'll see to it that research contributes to 3% of the GNP within (enough time that people have forgotten, but still a time frame)". Last election, I read the programs of each registered party, and the majority echoed the 3% of GNP goal. The exception: The Progress Party (FrP), which more or less comes right out and says they don't give a damn about science, and as a matter of fact they don't much care for people with skills within science either. They strongly support science education, as long as it doesn't progress beyond high school level. All things in moderation, dontcha' know.

But at least the Progress Party is honest - to the extent politicians have the capacity for honesty - about the fact that they think scientists suck and that universities are a waste of perfectly good bowling alleys, night clubs and pre-owned car sales lots.

The time-tested promise of more science and education, only to never mention said promise again - conveniently supported by the opposition which never intended to make good on that promise either - is a play straight outta' ye olde Switch-and-Bait for Dummies manual. After all, it sounds awesome to be all about science and research, but when it comes down to it, how many people work within higher education and R&D? Who's gonna be the "disgruntled nurse/kindergarten teacher" equivalent? Some professor or that walking stereotype they dust off and display every time there's an eclipse? Good luck getting any sympathy from the general population. Imagine the following televised debate between Professor Feynman J. Oppenheimer-Hawking, PhD, and I.P Freely, 15 study points in art history (E average), black belt with matching shoes in sophistry and televangelism, representative of the Neanderthal Party:

Prof. Oppenheimer-Hawking: During the last election, your party, as well as your coalition partners, promised to increase the research council budget. Three years in, you have cut the NFR budget with 75%, put a 100 kNOK cap on budgets for individual grant applications, and publicly expressed a plan for what you refer to as "our moon landing" which you have promised will occur within the existing budget limitations. If you try to match the projected costs with the existing funding - even without including personnel expenses - you end up having to take the square root of a negative number.
I.P. Freely: We have to prioritize and spend the money where the situation is most dire. For example, the last administration failed spectacularly in providing kindergarten capacity for all children in Norway, whereas we have literally constructed tens of kindergartens within the last three years.
Prof. Oppenheimer-Hawking: Considering that your promised deadline for full kindergarten capacity expired two and a half years ago, this is hardly impressive. How do you expect Norway to meet the expressed goals - expressed by you, I might add - of becoming, and I quote: "World leaders in science and hi-tech stuff within 2020" when you routinely reject any grant application exceeding 100 kNOK? When my department applied for grant money to purchase a new electron microscope last year, we got a rejection letter suggesting that we try to squint really hard through two pairs of glasses.
I.P. Freely: This is all about determining how the money can be spent for the greater good, not about appeasing your self-indulgent research. We need to improve the roads, so that all the commuters can drive faster while drunk, if they want to. Also, we need to focus on collective transportation, because car traffic is bad for the environment. And we need to lower fuel costs, because people can't afford driving their cars to work. And won't someone PLEASE think of the children.....

I'm the world's worst politician, but it would take me three seconds to derail a debate like this into focusing on something which affects the general population more directly.

Southern man don't want him around...


...according to Lynyrd Skynyrd, but Neil Young was more then welcome in Bergen. As a last minute decision, I went to see this Mexico North rocker last night. Not a huge fan of mr. Young, but he has some good tunes and I also want to check out Koengen as a concert arena, so I figured it was worth the ticket.

Mr. Young put on a really good show. For most part of the show, it was electric fueled rock'n'roll, but he had an acoustic session (sometimes solo) in the middel of the show, including some of his classic songs like Golden Heart, Old Man and Needle And The Damage Done. The dude really knows how to carry these acoustic numbers and the audience was really into it, which can be really tough to pull off live between more loud electric numbers. Of the electric numbers, Hey Hey, My My was the second he played, and he had the audience in his pocket from that moment onwards. Cinnamon Girl was also a highlight, but I must admit that I'm a sucker for Rocking In The Free World. Real good song, singalong chorus and powerchords, everthing a real rock song should have. And old Neil and his band really put some energy into this song. All in all, a great way of spending an evening. A short clip of Hey Hey, My My and a review of the concert can be found on BT.

As for the venue, Koengen had a decent sound for an outdoor venue. Yes, it's never going to be really great sound outdoor, but I've seen worse and Valle Hovin got nothing on Koengen. Thou I have to admit, Dio had better sound when I saw them earlier this year on Kopervikfesivalen. Also, last week the weather forcast said an evening in rain, but even if we had rain in the morning, the sky was without a cloud trough-out the concert, and it was even warm enough to be outside in the evening without a jacket. The rain only started when I drove back home. God loves me.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Answers GQ3: Mexican Standoff - Round 2

Was this round a hard one? From the answers, it appears so. The songs were:

  • Song 146: Gloria Gaynor - I Will Survive. With a li'l something extra by way of extra notes and more distortion. Disco classic deluxe, and a song which was first taught to me by Dr. H back in the late 90's. I never thought about it then, but it's essentially the same song as the next:
  • Song 147: Ozzy Osbourne - Mr. Crowley. From the "Blizzard Of Ozz" album, it's by far my favorite Ozzy song, with my favorite Randy Rhoads solo. If you found this one, you'd know that I lifted major parts of the interlude and second guitar solo and superimposed it on "I Will Survive" - hence the possibility of an extra point here. 1) It's the same song, and 2) I put an entire section of one song into the other. So there.
  • Song 148: Destiny's Child - Survivor. Keyboard lick transcribed for guitar. Didn't Destiny's Child put this one out right before Beyonce went solo and ended the group? I'm a survivor/I'm not go'n give up indeed.
  • Song 149: Bee Gees - Stayin' Alive. From the movie with the same name, it's THE disco anthem. Not necessarily a good thing, but still.
  • Song 150: Black Sabbath - Black Sabbath. At least two of you got the band right but went for "War Pigs". Compared to the slow drone of their self-titled song, "War Pigs" is like "Through The Fire And The Flames". Even though the main theme is really simple and often recognizable, we never played it live, on account of me not being able to play this few notes in a song. And this particular diabolus in musica kinda' loses it's ominous qualities when you're blasting some harmonic minor tapping or sweeping lick as it goes - trust me on that one.

Still quite close spacing on the results when we look at the Score for round 2:

  1. Cathy/Marius/Sondre (tied at 7 points)
  2. ...
  3. ...
  4. Anders/Pigeon/Torbjørn (tied at 4 points)

Without further ado, here is the Total Score:

  1. Cathy/Sondre (tied at 15 points)
  2. ...
  3. Anders (12 points)
  4. Pigeon/Torbjørn (tied at 10 points)
  5. Marius (9 points)

Congrats to teh winners and good luck with round 3!

Monday, August 25, 2008

A realistic plan?

I read a sligtly interessting article in Dagbladet today. I'm still haven't found the original source, but the the main points can also be found in this article in English, for our non-Norwegian readers (you know who you are).

Basically it is the dilemma that development countries don't have access to (the newest/ best) medicin due to high cost, while they at the same time has the most severe health problems. Professors Pogge and Hollis suggest to launch an insitution (Incentives for Global Health) that for a periode payes the pharmacuatical company a fixed prize for new drugs calculated after the impact the drug has on international health. In return, the pharmacautical company will wave their right to sell the drug at marked price and sell at cost price. The patent protection should be the same as before.

So, I was just curious: What do the readers of this blog think of this plan?

(Yeah, Wilhelm, I know that Pogge and Hollis have their PhDs in philosophy and economy, but let us see past that for now).

Sunday, August 24, 2008

GQ3: Mexican Standoff - Round 3

Third round. No possible bonus points.


Submit your answers to mfactorquiz (at) gmail.com by the end of Monday 090108. Each song holds the potential of two points - one point for artist and one point for the song. Answers will be posted on Tuesday 090208.

Song number 151:



Song number 152:



Song number 153:



Song number 154:



Song number 155:

Friday, August 22, 2008

Movin' on up

Finally I'm moving into my new office. I had no idea I'd hoarded all this crap during the time since I last was a participant in office chess. My new office will be my fifth since relocating to this institution.

Some of the stuff is baggage from way back though - I've even got some of my work from undergrad studies in Bergen. In browsing through some of that, it's amazing and possibly shameful how little work I appear to have done - as evidenced by very thin or non-existing notes from courses, etc.

If the Norwegian university system had adopted the concept of American high school year books for undergrads back then, I'd surely have been voted "least likely to pursue an a career in academia" if the criteria were solely headcount during lectures and amount of studying actually done.

Of course, by the time I got to courses that actually were interesting to me, this changed a bit, and I put a ton of work into my Master's degree.

Still....Note To Self: Do not give out advice on study habits. Ever.

Olympic fail!

For some unknown reason, I logged into www.vg.no/ol to check out the latest results from the olympics. This was what came up:



Olympic fail!

TGIF from me as well

video

Mad props to my good friend Prof. G for forwarding this video to me. Have a good weekend, y'all!

Go Rocky (TGIF)

Now in English, so even our foreign readers who haven't put in an effort to learn the languange when they moved to our country and stole our jobs can enjoy Rocky.

Have a nice weekend, y'all!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Breaking news and cutting edge research

Today I found a story on forskning.no about how people with epilepsy have a higher risk of drowning than people without epilepsy. At first I thought it was a joke, but I followed the link provided by the journalist at forskning.no to the original research article; Drowning in people with epilepsy: How great is the risk?, Bell et al., Neurology, 2008, 71, 578-582. No joke. I suspected that it was a crap piece of journalism, but upon reading the article, it turns out it was crap research instead. Using a spreadsheet, obituaries and medical records, they have figured out that compared to the general population, people with epilepsy have a 15-19 fold increase in the risk of drowning.


So let me get this straight; some hapless UK funding agency actually shelled out money to fuel some quasi-research concluding with a quantitative confirmation of the fact that if you have a disease which makes your entire body cramp up and leads to temporarily paralysis etc., you're more likely to drown if immersed in a body of water than the general population, everything else being equal.

Ya think?

Tell ya what; I've got some other research ideas for this particular group of "scientists", and I'm not even gonna claim co-authorship - as a matter of fact I demand that I NOT get my name on any paper associated with this bunch. Here we go:

* Does being blind significantly hinder a career as a NASCAR driver?

* The amputee and the ass-kicking contest: How much harder would one REALLY have to work?

* Running with scissors: Effect of crowd density

* Deaf/Mute telemarketers: Career detriment?

I think Good ol' Darth said it best:




Dealing with reviewers - addendum

As important as what you write in response to what you perceive as unreasonable and pedantic reviewer comments is what you leave out. Make sure to scour your response letter for four-letter words, and pay particular attention to the final phrase before the standard finale which typically goes a little something like this:

"Sincerely,
Your Name Here".


Avoid ending that final sentence with "..and the horse you rode in on", "..or brake for you if you cross the road" or similar phrases. In general, it's better to write a separate letter if you feel the need to involve the reviewer's mother in any way, shape or form as part of your reply.

Tobi...es ist gut jetzt

One recurring problem with being a metal fan is that there are way too many bands - and fans - who take themselves way too seriously. Manowar and pretty much all the black metal bands spring to mind here. As a counterbalance, you've got bands who pretty much parody the metal scene, with (intentionally) funny lyrics played over serious music, like Dream Evil, Nanowar and Absolute Steel. And then you've got bands who are capable of doing both. Edguy is such a band. Fronted by Tobias Sammet (also of Avantasia), Edguy is an excellent power metal band (if you like Gamma Ray and Helloween) capable of doing serious lyrics as well as include some more off-beat songs. While I don't have the entire Edguy back catalogue, there's at least one intentionally funny song on each of the album's in our record collection. They're often easy to spot as well - like "Hair Force One" from their album "Rocket Ride", or "Lavatory Love Machine" from "Hellfire Club" - the video from which can be found below. Supposedly Tobi Sammet ain't a big fan of flying, which kinda' sucks when you're touring Asia and South America on a regular basis. According to Sammet, he came up with the lyrics to this song on a flight to Brazil, when he was thinking about what would happen if the flight went down, and how he'd rather spend his last moments. Tobi is pretty easy to spot in the video - it's the only dude with star qualities in the band...


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Slash's Autobiography



Slash - by Slash with Anthony Bozza

Yet another rock star autobiography, huge sections of which are probably ghost-written by some dude. In this case, the dude is Anthony Bozza, who also "helped" Tommy Lee write "Tommyland".

Slash is best known for being the lead guitar player of Guns'N'Roses, but also for having recorded with Michael Jackson ("Give In To Me" and "Black And White") and for his two post-GnR band incarnations - Slash's Snakepit and Velvet Revolver. The latter is basically Guns'N'Roses sans Axl, as it includes drummer Matt Sorum and bass player Duff McKagan. Whether or not that's a good thing depends entirely on whether you think the vocals are the strong point of GnR or not. At any rate, if you're a Guns fan, Velvet Revolver is pretty much where it's at for record releases though, because "Chinese Democracy" has been a long time coming, and there's no realistic release date in sight.

As can be expected, most of the book is about Saul Hudson's time in Guns'N Roses. Luckily for me, this entails more than just tales of drug use, groupies and overall debauchery, as songwriting, recording and even auditioning new members is dealt with extensively. The latter is what I really enjoy reading about, but I'm also a sucker for any description of the mythical Hollywood/Sunset Boulevard scene of the 80's.

Being the autobiography of a rock star with a sizeable ego, "Slash" contains plenty of sections dealing with how he's an awesome guitar player and how other guitarists suck, and how GnR was not at all like the glam scene back at Sunset, but rather not being caught up in all that hair metal nonsense. Quite early in the book, Slash describes how he used to play guitar in a band which at one point had featured shredder extraordinaire Paul Gilbert. According to Slash, he could also play fast like Yngwie and Paul Gilbert, but he didn't want to, 'cause it wasn't his thing. Right. This, buy the way, is written some two chapter prior to him describing how it took a really long time for him to be able to nail the lead riff in "Sweet Child O' Mine" without messing it up live. Axl also gets high praise as "by far the best singer in LA during the 80's". Moreover, the other LA bands (with the exception of Mötley Crüe) also played out of tune and generally sucked. This is quite funny considering that the two things which have always stood out to me whenever I hear a live recording of guns are i) guitars are out of tune, and ii) Axl rose sings off-key. Compare this to live recordings of, say, Poison - which are relentlessly belittled in this book - and you'll find that Bret Michaels doesn't sing off-key, and CC DeVille, although quite limited from a guitar-technical standpoint, stays in tune more often than Slash/Izzy. Funny how rose-tinted the vision of days gone by can appear. Slash's oft-repeated contempt for the hair spray and make-up of the general 80's hair metal band also appears somewhat hypocritical if you take a look at pretty much any band photo of Guns - especially Axl and Duff.

Overall I really enjoyed this book, despite the fact that it's obviously written by Anthony Bozza. I don't see high-school drop-out Saul Hudson using words like "sartorial" and "wherewithal" that often. I've certainly never seen him use them in any interviews.

What would be really interesting is an Axl Rose autobiography......

Answers GQ3: Mexican Standoff - Round 1

We've got some more contestants, which is always cool. And without further ado, the songs were:


  • Song 141: AC/DC - Thunderstruck. Maybe sped up a little - not much. Played this song many a time, but I overcomplicated it when I first learned it. I used to pick every single note, when in reality it's all left-hand tapping. At least it got me practicing alternate picking very early on.
  • Song 142: Gary Moore - Still Got The Blues. One of my favorite Gary Moore songs. This one blew me away when the album came out, and I practiced REAL hard to learn the song. Always a crowdpleaser - if ya play it well, that is.
  • Song 143: Joe Satriani - Ten Words. Archetypical Satriani ballad, which I believe he's performed at various shows and awards - probably why it seemed familiar yet none could figure out who or what it was.
  • Song 144: Bon Jovi - You Give Love A Bad Name. Another crowdpleaser, and one you can't not play if you're doing 80's rock covers. I really enjoyed Anders' tale of a small-time french band called Trés Bon Jovi, featuring Miou-Miou on backing vocals.
  • Song 145: Europe - The Final Countdown. The solo, rather. I didn't do John Norum justice at all with this recording - mea culpa. I can do better.

This means that we've got the following Score after the first round/total score:

  1. Anders/Cathy/Sondre (tied at 8 points)
  2. ...
  3. ...
  4. Pigeon/Torbjørn (tied at 6 points)
  5. ...
  6. Marius (2 points)

Congrats to the winners and plenty props for participating. Good luck with round deux.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

NTNU and Tour de france some more

In an earlier post, I was complaining about how NTNU decided to use money for sponsoring the premier event of a sport more ridden with drug controversy than pro bodybuilding. Turns out many of the academic staff members and students at NTNU also criticized this sponsoring, much for the same reasons. Marketing experts also threw their hat in with NTNU faculty and called this sponsoring "throwing money out the window". This idea was deemed a bad one by faculty, students and a marketing expert.

In a not-so-surprising turn of events, NTNU Press Secretary Christian Fossen disagrees with the criticism, and labels the ad campaign an unbridled success, where NTNU got it's money's worth. Moreover, he claims to have data to back him up. I found that to be interesting, and was prepared to eat some crow and admit I was wrong as I clicked on the link to read the piece.

Turns out I was right after all, but that it's possible to put a positive spin on the situation. You see; whomever was in charge of deciding to sponsor TDf and subsequently launched the project was clever enough never to publicly advertise the desired measurables of the project. Thus, a statistically significant change in any ol' variable can be claimed as a success after the fact, because you never advertised what you were after in the first place. Simply wait for a change in the dataset and claim that's what you planned all along.

Which deliverables can be reported after the ad campaign? Something Fossen refers to as "uhjulpet kjennskap" (unassisted familiarity). I had no idea what this concept encompasses, but luckily the piece offers a definition by example: One of the questions asked by pollsters is whether the interviewee can name any Norwegian universities. If the person lists NTNU among the universities, this is checked off as "unassisted familiarity" - in other words the interviewee was familiar with the name at the time of the polling. Prior to NTNU sponsoring TDf, NTNU had an "unassisted familiarity" of 39%. In other words; only 39% of the people being interviewed could name NTNU as a Norwegian university. Pretty dysmal. Fossen offers the explanation that many of the interviewees had answered NTH, AVH or the University of Trondheim, two of which are the old names for the institutions which were merged to form NTNU. After TDf, the "unassisted familiarity" had increased to 59%. According to Fossen, this qualifies as an unbridled success, and money well spent.

The trick is lowering the bar, it appears. I can see now that in my boundless naïveté, I thought that for sponsoring to result in a success for the sponsor, said campaign would have to result in primarily increased revenue (spend money to make money), or by improving the image of the sponsor so as to increase the revenue potential. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the vast majority of the financing for a university comes from a) funding which follows each student, b) the Research Council (be it directly from NFR or via EU projects), c) collaborations with industry, and d) special financing directly from the government to launch research or teaching in targeted areas, like CO2 capture. As such, any venture intended to increase revenue should either cajole more students to join NTNU, or somehow infuse more capital from funding agencies and industry.

I fail to understand how increasing the "unassisted familiarity" from 39% to 59% helps NTNU in any significant way, shape or form. As far as I know, NTNU does not have an image problem - much less one that can be remedied by sponsoring TDf. The fact that more people in general are cognizant of NTNU being a Norwegian university than before doesn't do much for me. After all, we don't have that many universities in Norway, and I'm hardly impressed that less than 60% can name the second largest one. Just having more people know that you exist isn't exactly a guarantee that this mere fact can be translated into a revenue-generating machine. Nor does it guarantee that this inspires people to know more about said enterprise. A lot more people know that there's a large company named Haliburton now than before 2000/2001, but that doesn't mean that the majority knows what Haliburton does specifically, and it really doesn't mean that more people are interesting in sponsoring Haliburton or working for them.

Exactly how the mere fact that more people know that NTNU is a Norwegian university can aid in getting more students is also kind of a mystery to me. Last time I checked, and as I wrote in my previous post on the topic, high-school students get all kinds of information about what opportunities exist for higher education their senior year (and earlier), and they've probably been offered a tour of NTNU and other universities. If NTNU sponsoring TDf is what makes students choose that particular university, I'm inclined to think that such a particular batch of students would leave NTNU holding the bag. As for the odds of this advertising should increase funding from government and industry, that's just insulting to both NFR and industry. Is Fossen suggesting that someone high up in StatoilHydro was sitting around at their research center (located in Trondheim, btw) thinking "Damn; if only I knew of a university located not too far from here where we could procure some R&D services and sponsor future employees. Let's turn on the boob tube and see what's on - I've been wanting to check out this Tour de baguette thing or whatever the hell it's called. Hey wait; something called NTNU is sponsoring this event, and they're saying it's a university. Quick; to the StatoilHydromobile! Must.......Throw....Big Bags...of Money...at them....NOW!"

Naaah...I don't think so. Way to set the bar low. Essentially they paid a lot of money for people who are unlikely to attend or sponsor them, in return for a larger percentile of faceless strangers knowing that they existed in the first place. Self-ownage.

I discussed this briefly with a colleague earlier today, and he wasn't sure what signal NTNU was sending to it's employees by sponsoring TDf. He narrowed the possibilities down to either (i) encouraging more people to use their bicycles to commute (which is a good thing), or (ii) to encourage use of performance-enhancing chemicals and other drugs among the employees (not so good).

Monday, August 18, 2008

GQ3: Mexican Standoff - Round 2

Second round. And this one comes with the possibility of bonus points. The first two songs (Song 146 and Song 147) have something in common. Figure that out, and you've got yourself an extra point.


Submit your answers to mfactorquiz (at) gmail.com by the end of Monday 082508. Each song holds the potential of two points - one point for artist and one point for the song. Answers will be posted on Tuesday 082608.

Song number 146:



Song number 147:



Song number 148:



Song number 149:



Song number 150:

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Dark Knight v2.0

..much improved over the cinema experience:

Book Fail: The Emperor's New Mind

I give up. I've been reading this book since June - which for me is almost a record for how long it's taken to read a book - and I've finally decided to throw in the towel. On paper, "The Emperor's New Mind" by mathematician and physicist Dr. Sir Roger Penrose (insert the rest of the letters in the alphabet here) is something I'm heavily susceptible to enjoying.

In practice, it's mindbogglingly boring. Even though I consider myself to be rather mathematically inclined, I found this book to be a struggle. Not wanting to leave any reader behind, the author has set the bar quite low with respect to prerequisite math knowledge, and instead opted to introduce what i suspect is a rather steep learning curve for his intended audience as the book progresses. Thus, the book is well-stocked with DIY Mandelbrot sets and other math puzzles, and concomitant pages filled with nothing but numbers corresponding to the answers to reader exercises.

Not what I signed up for. I read two-three pages, and have to switch to something else out of sheer boredom. I liked the section on entropy and the laws of thermodynamics, though.

As a side note, I noticed one serious bug in the Turing test after reading this book. As far as I can tell, Alan Turing was kinda' vague on the criteria the human subject has to pass. Specifically, the test appears ill-suited to tackle particularly pedantic, inanimate and humourless individuals, resulting in under-shooting the intended criteria. To put it differently; if Martin Kolberg had been the human subject, our electronic bathroom scale could have found to be Turing compliant.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Where's the justice?

I'm finally done with the continuation exams for the year, and I'm pretty darn close to figuring out what courses I've got to teach this semester.

THIS close now.

I wonder how fair the continuation exam system is to students, though. Due to the number of students taking the continuation exam typically being a low fraction of the number of students taking the class, it's quite common to switch from written to oral for the continuation exam. From an administrative point of view, this rules, because you don't need to hire exam guards for the day, and it's much less taxing on the central administration.

But is it fair to the students to use two different kinds of exams when we know full and well that they (the students) respond differently to oral and written exams and have different expectations with regard to the outcome and process? I'm not so sure that it's fair, although I certainly don't set out to screw someone over. Next year I think I'll just have both exams written, just to see how that works out. Still; the students opting for the continuation exam - either through choice or by necessity - have got two extra months of study time.

I just can't win here, can I?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The m-factor guitarquiz 3: Mexican Standoff

We're back! And now would be the time to join if anyone else is interested in competing.

Pre-emptive apology: These songs are basically recorded after a 3+ month hiatus from even touching the guitar, so sorry 'bout some of the recordings being less than stellar. My technique is slowly getting back to where it ought to be, but it's taking time. However; if you listen to the songs and go "Dude; What the F*CK, man" and feel the need to post meltdown comments about it, feel free.

In my estimation, four of these songs are super-easy, and one is really hard - let's see how my predictions hold up.


Submit your answers to mfactorquiz (at) gmail.com by the end of Tuesday 081908. Each song holds the potential of two points - one point for artist and one point for the song. Answers will be posted on Wednesday 082008.

Song number 141:



Song number 142:



Song number 143:



Song number 144:



Song number 145:

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Epic Math Fail

Today as we went to get some groceries we saw one of those signs at the adjacent Narvesen: "One of our customers has won 3.1 MNOK in Lotto"

So freakin' what?

The fact that one person handed in a winning lottery ticket at that location means two things for future odds of repeating this statistically insignificant occurrence: Jack and Shit. And Jack is outta' here, 'cause he just won the lottery and moved to Aruba.

If someone won the lottery with numbers submitted at that location it does nothing to enhance your odds of winning. It also does nothing to diminish your odds, unless there's a secret government conspiracy wherein each lotto dealer/location is allotted a finite lottery purse.

Do signs like this one actually affect the sales of lotto tickets?

All about the comics today

In response to Anders' post, here's some more, courtesy of PhDcomics.com.







The M-factor... (get it?)


This just seemed fitting. Somehow I get the feeling that it's not only Kellerman who are inspired by you, Wilhelm...
;-)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Dark Knight...

...can kiss my white ass.

Frankly, I thought the movie sucked like there was no tomorrow - a thought which quite frankly occurred to me as the flick never seemed to end.

"It's darkest just before dawn" - are ya freakin' kiddin' me? Epic cliché dialogue, even for a superhero movie.

This movie reminds me of why I - when faced with the choice - prefer Marvel to DC. Within the Marvel universe, the villain at least has some specific goal in mind, whereas in the DC universe, it's always order versus chaos. Nothing else.

Batman and Robin ruled compared to this one - at least there was Arnold.

Friday, August 8, 2008

080808

Eight eight eight....four thirds the Number Of The Beast:



Excellent cover by Angra. Checketh out the bass/guitar duel at the beginning. Kiko Laureiro is the Man!

Dealing with reviewer comments

This is a recurring topic for most if not all actively publishing scientists, I wager. For all it's demonstrable benefits, the peer review system can feel like a crap shoot sometimes, wherein the outcome of the review process depends more on the identitis of the reviewers than on the quality - in the sense of impact factor - of the journal. Bluntly put, reviewer comments can be really annoying and unreasonable at times. Which is not to say that my reviewer comments don't come across as vexing and preposterous to the recipient authors, of course. Still; I have compiled a mental note of what I personally feel constitutes purely annoying and unreasonable from my own experiences, and I try to make sure that I never include these types of comments or demands whenever I review a manuscript, and the list is ever-growing.

Whenever your results contradict earlier findings of other authors, or alternatively if your proposed mechanism deviates from what is accepted, by which I mean published in peer-reviewed journals, the probability of encountering a variation on the following Catch-22 reviewer comment is high: "The data/mechanism in section XY of the manuscript contradicts earlier findings on similar systems reported by D. Ouchebag et al. Please provide either direct experimental evidence or supporting literature for these data/this claim."

Already published data has by definition more credibility because the work in question has passed through the rigors of peer review. Your manuscript currently under reviewer scrutiny has not, and thus it's particularly difficult to get something published if it conflicts with earlier reports, despite the fact that a) earlier reports might be erroneous due to substandard equipment or analytical techniques, b) although the vast majority of said published work could be top-notch, the particular section or even paragraph contradicting your findings could be substandard, and c) new data/mechanisms/etc. replacing old hypotheses is how science is supposed to progress, dammit. Of course, the aforementioned discussion holds true with the caveat that your research is valid, your data reproducible and your discussions/conclusions sound. Without this trifecta, you're just another windbag Don Quixote.

The problem with this particular reviewer comment then becomes obvious within the context that many molecular mechanisms and such can only be addressed indirectly, and obtaining direct evidence could be somewhere between problematic and impossible, often closer to the latter. If so, you're left with the conclusion that if something is on the interweb, it's true. Which is somewhat suspect.

So what does one do? Include more random paragraphs in manuscripts for purposes of later citing, thus beating the system but violating ethical codes? Make an entry in Wikipedia for your obscure topic and refer to that? Or simply live with the fact that publising results which are not in complete agreement with other work is much harder than it perhaps ought to be.

On a related note, I've noticed that on the occasions I get poor marks for language or "clarity of presentation", the reviewer writes his comments in the most epic broken English imaginable for someone with a PhD who supposedly writes and publishes peer-reviewed research.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Ideas for the next installment of the guitarquiz

FINALLY my studio is up and running, which means that I can start recording again. In turn, this opens up the possibility for another installment of the m-factor Guitarquiz. However, I might throw in some new ideas here, specifically I'd like to include some way of giving out bonus points so as to get a better point spread of the field. My preliminary idea for introducing bonus points is simply:
  • Themes. Each round, or some rounds, could center on one theme, which could be music from an era, say the 70's, from the soundtrack of one specific movie, or bands - presumably well-known - which are linked through one band member. Etc. The basic idea here is that you need to get the majority of the songs right in order to get the bonus points, or it's welcome to Guessville, population You. In other words, for each round, to whom doth possess much, more shall be given.

....comments or suggestions for more ways to introduce bonus points? Especially if each installment is limited to 50 songs or less, there is a need to separate the field more than what's been the case up until now. However, a bonus question like "who was the bass player on the original recording of this song" is quite, quite useless when everyone and their mother can look it up on the interweb provided the song has been found. Unless that's ok by y'all - the possibility of bonus points based on recognizing specific songs and using Google-Fu for the additional info needed.

Let's hear it.

EDIT: Of course the idea with the themes would be that you get bonus points by figuring out what the theme is. I guess that wasn't very clear from the text.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

All aboard the Monofail

..a collection of failures - both minor and epic



Enjoy!

What happened?

Back at work, and it feels like I'm wading through a sea of molasses. A million things to attend to, but where to start?

By a stroke of genious/sheer luck (strike whichever's not appropriate) I was proactive with my email - enough people knew that I'd be away on vacation for my inbox not to be completely full. I'm unsuccessfully trying to pat myself congratulatory on the back as I type.

However, I've still got to revise a manuscript, devise a continuation/makeup exam, figure out which courses I'm actually supposed to teach this Fall (thanks to the miracle of the "it's learning" web interface the 5th year specialization courses have the same code for each specialization branch, save for one digit. However, by some administrative decision the distinction between courses from that last digit is not accessible to the subject teachers. How very practical.) and such. The process behind continuation/makeup exams at this institution also leaves much to be desired, something which acknowledged by pretty much everyone except the administrative branch in charge of this particular topic. We - the subject teachers - don't get to know a) whether anyone's registered for this exam or b) when this exam is to be held save for a two-week window until mid/late July, at which point it's not uncommon to be on vacation. To top it off, we only get the information about the exam date electronically - the list of candidates is only distributed by departmental mail as a hardcopy. SO; going into the vacation you don't know if anyone is going to take the exam OR when it's supposed to be given. Within the entire period where Norwegians normally take their vacation, you don't know if anyone's going to take the exam unless you check your mail box at work. And you can't call the administration because - that's right cats and kittens - they're on vacation. I only found out that someone was indeeed registered for this exam because the student in question had found my cell number online to ask me some questions. Some other faculty members at this department weren't so lucky.

I've also got to write up and finish a manuscript which is fast turning out to be more hardcore spectroscopy than what we expected when going into the data collection - to my endless delight, but also much to the chagrin of my post doc, I wager.

Another week of vacation would've been good right about now.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Symphony Of Construction - 2nd Movement

FINALLY the front porch is as good as done - sans a second coat of wood lacquer for the stairs. There's some work waiting to happen next Spring, as the impregnated wooden parts need to dry out for about a year before we can apply paint, but for all intents and purposes, we're finished for the year. The attic is also about done now, meaning that my studio will be up and running in 2-3 days, and in another week or two, the library will be all installed. Sweet doesn't even begin to describe it.

The entrance to our house now looks completely different, and way more swanky. Also, doing something like making a new front porch plus stairs leaves a wonderful sense of accomplishment - even though it's practically taken our entire summer vacation to finish the project. Moreover, what in my opinion adds to this sense of accomplishment is that we did this without going all Tim the Toolman Taylor - everything is cut by hand saw, etc. No power tools were used, with the exception of an electric drill and an electric screwdriver ('cause manually doing all those ~400 screws for the porch would suck bigtime). Unless you've got a serious tool fetish - and I don't - I see absolutely no use in purchasing many kNOKs worth of professional equipment which gets used once every four years or less.

This appears to be one of the "guy genes" I'm missing, like the "watching soccer and sports gene", the "beer gene", the "car interest gene" the "shopping aversion gene", and the "not asking for directions or reading manuals gene".

Studio in T-2 days.