Sunday, December 30, 2007

Books about writing part I

As an academic, writing is a pretty integral part of my job, and can be a make-or-break factor in getting articles through the Portals of Publication (aka peer review and journal editors) and getting grant proposals through the Gateways of Green (aka grant reviewing commitees). Bottom line is that you can't overemphasize the importance of writing.

In learning how to develop your own style of writing in academia, you're often left with few alternatives beyond emulating the style of your advisor, or to pick and choose from the core articles in your reference literature. In my experience, this is how most graduate students get started with their writing, and there's nothing wrong with that, provided you do get some input from your advisor and perhaps also from your peers. Sure - there exist courses on scientific writing, but you might not have the opportunity or inclination to follow one. Before grad school they might not have any appeal, and once you're enrolled in grad school, odds are your department won't allow a scientific writing course count towards your required course load. Luckily there are some awesome books which make developing your own voice easier. In this miniseries I'm going to describe some books I've found to be helpful, starting with:

A Writer's Reference - Fifth Edition by Diana Hacker
This book is a freakin' treasure of a reference manual. It even lies flat so it's easy to consult while reading or revising a draft. Each subsection is clearly marked with a tab and an intuitive title such as "C: Composing and Revising", "D: Document Design", "S: Sentence Style", "W: Word Choice" etc. The chapter about composing and revising actually inspired me to try some new approaches to writing papers, and the sections on sentence style and grammatical sentences. This book is gonna lie open on my desk while I work on manuscripts on Wednesday.

You NEED this book!

Friday, December 28, 2007

"Blind Test" question/category

Piggybank and Cathy: Here's an idea for the next "Blind Test" - let's have a yay or nay. Anders - throw your hat into the ring as well.

I'm thinkin' about a category where I play guitar parts from famous, guitaroriented songs. Let's say the song is "Sweet Child Of Mine" with Guns'N Roses. I'll start by playing, say, the verse. If you guess the song, it's two points for you. If nobody gets that, I'll play the main riff that everybody and their mother have heard. Getting that yields one point. Get it? Difficulty and points are directly correlated. Bonus questions could also be involved.


Deuce Books

.....both picked up in airport book stores, starting with:

Special Topics In Calamity Physics - Marisha Pessl (2006)
Why did I buy this book? First of all, the title appealed to me, second, it's a crime story taking place in North Carolina, and third, I vaguely remembered this book getting rave reviews by, the New York Times and pretty much everybody else. I thought it started really well, but then the main character, Blue Van Meer started to annoy the everloving crap out of me. Seeing as how the life stories of Blue Van Meer and Marisha Pessl shares too many similarities, including physical appearance, for this to be coincidental, Marisha Pessl started to annoy the crap out of me by extension. Why? The main character is a spoiled bookworm who compares herself to Jane Goodall when observing her classmates in the various prep schools she visits until ending up in good ol' NC. Which is kind of difficult to interpret as anything but her viewing herself as better than her classmates. Blue/Marisha takes all kinds of AP (that's Advanced Placement for y'all not familiar with the American educational system) level classes, and is quite frantic about writing down every word uttered by the instructors, which is indicative of learning by parroting, which is what you do if you're an overachiever with less than stellar mental faculties.

Her dad, Gareth Van Meer, always backs her up and whines to her teacher about how Blue is the ONLY choice for Valedictorian, and that the school has never seen the likes of his spawn's charisma, talent and overall Divine Presence. Gareth Van Meer is a perennial Visiting Professor/Lecturer who never stays at an any one academic institution for long. In the book, the reason is that he is so damn brilliant, and that everybody else is so far beneath him that their jealousy and incompetence simply makes it intolerable for him to honor their institution with His Immaculate Presence. Of course, anyone even vaguely familiar with the US academic system will recognize this as a sure-fire way to identify a grade-A, 100% guaran-damn-teed academic loser incapable of getting tenure.

At some point, Blue Van Meer is allowed access into the most exclusive society at the prep school - the Bluebloods - which consists of the most rich, spoiled and privileged kids, by way of a teacher. This society shares a startling number of similarities with the Life And Death Brigade in which Rory Gilmore gains access in the TV series Gilmore Girls - a storyline which aired in good time for Pessl to "borrow" from it. The one distinguishing feature of Blue Van Meer is her complete lack of personality - she becomes her surroundings like the true Tabula Rasa she is. One final annoyance from the book: referencing. Like the true overachiever she is, Pessl violates most rules for referencing by going completely overboard - if she writes "A bird was sitting in a tree outside my window" there'll be a reference after "bird" to "Encyclopedia of all living things, page whatever". Annoying, Thy name is Marisha Pessl.

The Dice Man - Luke Rhinehart (1971)
Picked this one up this month, as I thought the concept sounded really kewl. Psychiatrist Luke Rhinehart leads a normal family life until he accidentally notices that his success in treating patients is completely uncorrelated with psyciatric methods, after curing several patients by switching their case files and consequently their treatments (including mistaking one patient for his secretary). Rhinehart then starts to let a pair of dice govern every decision in his life, leading to some pretty bizarre behavior on his part. In theory, this is a way cool concept, but in actuality the novel reads like a second-rate work by Henry Miller, which means it's a second-rate copy of a poor imitation of Hamsun's "Hunger". And that ain't nothin' to be smilin' about - read Hamsun instead. Rhinehart - whose real name is George Cockcroft, which goes a long way towards explaining the use of an alias - wrote a cult bestseller with this book, said on the back sleeve to be "Funny, shocking and subversive". In the beginning it's funny, but never really goes anywhere. Meh.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Flash of the blindingly obvious

One of the three parties in the red-green coalition currently running Norway claims to be the go-to party for academically inclined people with a sense of social conscience and a concern for environmental issues. At least, this is how SV - the "socialist" party is portrayed. What was specifically promised before the election in 2005? The red-green coalition would be all about education, science and the environment. What have they accomplished?
  • Norwegian universities and schools are dropping like anvils on international academic rankings. At the same time, an increasing number of colleges have gotten university status, thus effectively diverting the available funds and pushing the student quality toward the shallow end of the pool. Way to go!
  • The allocations to the research council are lower and still dropping despite a stated goal of research activities contributing to 3% of the GNP by 2010. The solution: Push the deadline for this goal back ten years. In other words, don't make an effort to reach a goal, just lower the standards. Kudos!
  • Norway was gonna be a beacon in the fight against climate changes and other environmental issues. As of December, both Denmark and Sweden spent five times more money on research into alternative energy. Norway, on the other hand, spends ten times more on petroleum research. And did I mention that the much-touted CO2 removal technologies were going to be in place before any gas-to-electricity power plants were to be put in active duty were swept under the rug? Congrats!

0 for 3 for the "socialist" party. Essentially, if you're an academic and you plan to vote for SV in hopes of improving anything concerning academia/education, research or the environment, you're either a masochist, or you need to get your head examined. Grand Theft Credibility.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

To quote the late P.T. Barnum...

...there's one born every minute. 'Tis the season - albeit early - for diet fads. Checketh out the following story in Dagbladet: Gå ned 2 kilo til nyttår (Lose 2 kilos by New Year's eve). How do they propose you accomplish this? Why the Atkins diet, of course - here dubbed the "GI method", GI being Glycemic Index. In short; don't eat fast-acting carbohydrates (high GI), as cuttin' down on carbs will increase fat burning. Go with lo-carb and hi-protein. The Atkins diet is one of the quickest routes to weight loss, it says. Here in Norway, we have our own version of Atkins - "Dr." Fedon Lindberg, a fat but not jolly greek dude whose philosophy on diet coincides with that of Atkins (and on what bodybuilders have referred to as the ketosis diet since the fifties or sixties), with the added twist that what we typically eat in Norway is crap, while what he used to be fed by his mom when he was a kid in Greece is the perfect food. What are the odds.....

If you're looking for a diet strategy, you might want to check out, or simply google the guy. Simply put - stay as far away from this strategy as you possibly can. Any degree of common sense will tell you that a diet strategy in which eating unlimited amounts of butter, bacon and eggs probably isn't gonna do wonders for your health. The American Medical Association has issued an official condemnation of the Atkins diet, and if that isn't enough for ya, then consider this: Atkins developed a heart condition around 2000 and subsequently died from kidney failure.

Losing weight ain't rocket science. Losing fat and retaining muscle still ain't rocket science. Just stay in a slight caloric deficit while increasing the activity level over a long period of time will work wonders. Just don't think that there's a magic short-cut without severe consequences for your health. Like 'Cube says - chickety-check yo'self before you wreck yo'self.

The Simpsons Movie

Happy Holidays, y'all!

Got The Simpsons Movie (2007) for Christmas by my wife, and seeing as how I missed it in the theaters, I was really anticipating this one. It's been a long time comin', as the cliché goes.

Since I'm a sucker for all things Simpsons, I'm not really capable of giving an objective review of the movie, but if you like The Simpsons on TV, you'll like the movie. Simple as that. Sure - I'd have loved to see more of personal favorite characters (mostly done by Hank Azaria) such as Comic Book Guy, The Bumblebee Man, Professor Frink, Gil The Incompetent Salesman and of course Snake. Having Sideshow Bob in the movie would also have been kewl, Kelsey Grammer's schedule permitting. But that's just nitpicking. One good thing about waiting for the DVD is the bonus material. By that, I don't mean the "exclusive commentary from the gaffer" or "exclusive interview with that dude who brought Matt Groening a bagle back in 1995" - I'm talking about bona fide material, such as "Simpsons as American Idol judges". Real kewl stuff, I tells ya'!

Just watch it already....

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Three more movies, y'all

Fantastic 4 - Rise Of The Silver Surfer
True; my flesh is trong but my spirit is weak - I wanted to watch this movie despite having seen the first one. Joke's on me and all that. The sad thing is that the sequel far surpasses the first one. Even worse, I can't guarantee that I won't rent the third installment which will inevitably show up.

Varg Veum - Bitre Blomster
A Norwegian movie, of all things, based on a novel by Gunnar Staalesen. The story takes place in Bergen, and the scenic shots are great. Kind of cool that I recognize a lot of the locations as well. Varg Veum is, quite frankly, the first Norwegian movie I've seen from after 1970 that I didn't think sucked donkey balls. Norwegian movies have for far too long been plagued by a shallow pool of horrible actors, the same two directors and the same storyline frankensteined between genres. Varg Veum sort of breaks the streak of Norwegian cinematic fiascos for me, so I might even start watching more domestic movies.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Fifth installment of the HP saga..........gettin' old, brother, gettin ooollllddd.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Evaluating Researchers

With the recent bickering about the ranking of universities and how or whether the emergence of a host of new universities in Norway has lowered the overall standard of higher education and research, I thought it would be kewl to shift the focus to the individual researcher. As an academic and a scientist, I'm being evaluated every time I submit a grant application, negotiate a raise, teach a class or submit a research article. Even more so when applying for a job within academia - when I applied for my present position, my credentials and academic potential was scrutinized by an international commitee which compared the merits of the applicants with the international standard for the same type of position. Since then, I've been evaluating researchers and graduate candidates myself in lower-level commitees (i.e. not for hiring of faculty members, but for PhD and post doc positions at two universities). From my own experience, it's sometimes been very hard to distinguish between candidates (conversely; some times it's hardly been a competition at all), and with commitee members emanating from different backgrounds, it can be quite an ordeal to agree on a common set of rules for how to evaluate researchers. Granted, this is a lot easier when evaluating candidates for a PhD position, as grades then become the primary measure. More specifically, a candidate might be evaluated by:
  • Relevance and level of education: If you've got a BSc in art history and you're applying for a PhD scholarship in plasmonics, then you're 0 for 2.
  • Grades: Nag and complain all you want about the relevance of grades, but unless you've got a better system of objectively evaluating the student's ability to learn new material in a given time frame and demonstrate the acquired knowledge at the end of this period, have a big, tall glass of stfu. The better the average grade, the better the student is at absorbing new information and demonstrating new knowledge. For one particular course there might be cases of "Man I got the worst luck on this exam", but averaged out over the fifty or so final exams you take during your undergraduate years...I don't think so.
  • Relevant grades: If two students have equal/similar average grades but one has done poorly in introductory phisosophy while consistently having good grades in the topics most pertinent to the job description, while the other candidate has so-so grades in the relevant topics but excellent grades in all the perspective courses, then the selection process is a no-brainer.
  • Relevant experience, other: If you've got relevant experience from industry or something which is pertinent to the job description, it definitely counts in your favor. However, being President of the Partying Down Chapter of the Student Union five years running probably only gives you a high risk of kidney failure or liver problems at an early age.

Post docs are often much more tricky to evaluate. The number of publications counts of course, but this has to be weighted against the number of years since graduating. Teaching experience may or may not be relevant depending on the position. For hiring new faculty members, I'm thinking the equation is even more complex, despite having more criteria to check off, like:

  • Does the candidate fulfill the formal criteria. (i.e. does the applicant have a PhD from an accredited academic institution, and not just some diploma from some fictional university like University of South Ucklahoma - U. SUck)
  • Teaching experience: Some countries and institutions only look at the teaching experience a candidate can put on a paper, while others require applicants to either have or to complete a pedagogic course within a specified time frame. Since the job description calls for 50% teaching (at least in Norway), it's a great idea on papyrus to introduce a pedagogic course in order to bring everybody up to a minimum required level. It's a great idea on paper...
  • Management experience: ....'cause you're gonna have to do a lot of paperwork if you get a faculty position.
  • Prospects of candidate: How valuable to the institution is the applicant going to be? The "Young and Promising" factor.
  • Quality and productivity of research: The meat and potatoes of the competency.

The quality of the research and the productivity of the researcher can, as luck would have it, be evaluated semi-objectively through the publishing record. Or rather; by asking

  1. How many publications does the candidate have?
  2. What is the publication frequency?
  3. Where does the candidate publish/median impact factor?
  4. Where on the author list does the candidate consistently appear?

All these four questions are important, because the first two are related to the productivity of the researcher, the third is related to the quality of the research (assuming that a higher impact factor - roughly estimated as the number of expected citations after three years for a given journal - is correlated to quality and not just readership), and the fourth is indicative of the candidate's relative importance to the emergence of the research findings and subsequent publication (assuming the research group follows standard protocol for positioning authors). Most academics I've talked to agre that all these factors are determining, but agreeing on the weighting of these factors is more troublesome. Luckily, some physicist fella from UCSD at La Jolla named Jorge E. Hirsch published an article in Proceedings of the National Academy Of Sciences of the United States of America titled "An index to quantify an individual's scientific research output" (PNAS, 2005, 102(46), 16569-16572).

This index, typically referred to as the h-index or Hirsch-factor provides an objective bibliometric measure of the distribution of citations relative to the total number of peer-reviewed publications for a given researcher. Hirsch defines this index as "A scientist has index h if h of his Np papers have at least h citations each, and the other (Np - h) papers have at most h citations each". What's so cool about that? It looks at the overall publication trend of a researcher, which can then be used to see whether that one "Science" paper was a fluke, or whether this researcher really is this good. Moreover, the h-index is available as a tool on Web Of Science, making it easily accessible to other researchers. Awesome; I gotta get me some of that. Are there limitations? Sure - including but not limited to:

  • Limited by the number of total publications. If a brilliant scientist churns out only five publications, but these five are sufficient to yield a Nobel prize and spawn new technologies or scientific paradigms, said scientist is still limited to h = 5.
  • The h-index is sensitive to self-citations
  • Does not in its present form limited by citation data bases; publications such as books do not count.
  • Suffers from a time lag, meaning that the h-index for "new" academics is misleading.
  • Does not account for the number of authors.
  • Does not account for gratuitous authorship, in that it doesn't distinguish free-loaders from hard-working researchers

A number of people have made modifications to the h-index in order to overcome some of these difficulties, like the h-b index, wherein Michael Banks of the Max Planck Institute shifted the focus from author to topic: "For the case of a topic it is useful to define the h-b index in terms of the number of years, n as h = nm If the h-b index is linear with the number of years, then m is given as the gradient. In this respect, a compound or topic with a large m and h-b index can be defined as a hot topic". How much of an improvement is this? Not much, as far as I'm concerned, especially when the task at hand is ranking scientists. Besides, it doesn't take a genious or a spreadsheet to figure out that anything "nano" is going to have a higher h-b index than, say, phrenology. A more mathematical approach was taken by Leo Egghe in defining the g-factor: "Given a set of articles ranked in decreasing order of the number of citations that they received, the g-index is the (unique) largest number such that the top g articles received (together) at least g^2 citations". Note that the g-index suffers from approximately the same shortcomings as the h-index.

I am all for use of the h-index as a guideline, in case it wasnt obvious, as it provides a documented yardstick which is easily accessible for scientists. The fact that it only takes peer-reviewed work into consideration doesn't really detract from its usefulness in my opinion.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

RIP Muddy Waters

Just got the news that my favorite beer joint and blues club from when I lived in Oslo, Muddy Waters, is closing after 8 1/2 year. The club is to be a part of yet another mall. Like Oslo needs a one more mall, even next door to GlasMagasinet. What a shame. I have some really good memories from that place.

'Tis The Season

It's almost Cristmas, dagnabit, so I thought I'd list some of my favorite Christmas music - the songs I've gotta hear in December. Y'all feel free to add yall's own favorites now, ya heah.
  • Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas - Lou Rawls
  • O Helga Natt (O Holy Night) - Jussi Björling ( no other artist will do)
  • White Christmas - Bing Crosby
  • Let It Snow Let It Snow Let It Snow - Dean Martin
  • The Christmas Song - Nat King Cole
  • Nella Fantasia (Gabriel's Oboe) - Rein Alexander
  • Last Christmas - Wham!
  • Driving Home For Christmas - Chris Rea
  • Sleigh Ride - Ella Fitzgerald
  • Silent Night
  • Det Lyser I Stille Grender
  • Do They Know It's Christmas
  • Happy X-mas (War Is Over) - John Lennon
  • When You Wish Upon A Star
  • Bella Notte
  • Winter Wonderland - Dolly Parton
  • Mistletoe & Wine - Cliff Richards
  • Deilig Er Jorden
  • Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
  • Home For Christmas
  • Julekveldsvisa - Nora Brockstedt
  • Jingle Bells
  • Julekveld I Skogen - Rolf Just Nilsen
  • Christmas Time - Creation
  • Sonjas Sang Til Julestjernen - Hanne Krogh

...and that makes 25

The Loaner - sound sample

So Reverend Willy Malmsteen (is that a blues name?) finally recorded a version of what started out as a Gary Moore inspired tune. As I understand it, the tune keeps changing so whether this is the final take or not, I don't know.

The tune itself started it's life, as w-boi says, when he was noodling around on some GM songs. And what I like about this one, is that when you start hearing the "obvious" GM song and know what's next, W. then throws in a little run or something as a twist. Which I really like; this separates a tune from being just a cover to something else.

Is it perfect? No, but it's a fun little tune that you really could do a lot with (which Riffin McWilly already has done by experimenting with different time signatures, added and removed things, etc).

So here is Le Samplé as they say in france, The Loaner:

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Really cool movie from 2007 starring Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling. An engineer plans and executes the murder of his wife after finding out that she cheats on him with a guido/cabana boy/cop hybrid. He refuses legal council and represents himself, challenging the hotshot prosecutor to prove that he did in fact commit the murder.

Maybe it doesn't sound like much, but with awesome acting and a few surprising twists, this turned out to be a cool movie. It was refreshing to see Hopkins as anything but "I'm a cannibal and my name is Hannibal". Silence Of The Lambs was a really good movie, but by now we've had "Hannibal", "Red Dragon", "Christmas With The Lecters", "Hannibal: The Difficult Years", "How Hannibal Lecter Stole Christmas", "Alien Vs. Predator Vs. Jason Vs. Hannibal Lecter", "Mighty Morphin' Hannibal Lecter", "Return Of The Son Of The Director's Cut Of The Sequel To Hannibal Lecter" and "The Hills Wear Bifocals When They're Visiting The Village Where Hannibal Lecter Lives".

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Loaner - Teaser

The blues instrumental which I have been so uncharacteristically preoccupied with - and which has been keeping me from recording Caprice 24 - is almost recorded and done. By almost, I mean that I've recorded four takes, but that I need to record about ten more before I find one version I'm sufficiently happy with. One problem here is that I decided upon recording the entire piece in one take, which means four minutes per take. Normally, I would record sequences of anything between 2 and 12 bars, and mix them together after everythign is said and done, which saves a LOT of time compared to recording the entire thing. Depending on what music and what quality I'm after, I'll record anywhere between one and 50 takes per layer of guitar. I've got the option of copying layers for overdub purposes, but I'm way too hung up on being able to double the tracks exactly to accept that option, so I usually end up logging hours with the metronome instead. Good for technique, not so good for productivity. Seeing as how this is blues, or rather bluesy (right, Anders?), I'm thinking that I'll let some glitches slip right by.

One of the reasons I decided to record the entire thing in one take is that I wanted to play it in "free time". This decision came about after tinkering with multiple time signatures and listening to the results. First of all, I didn't feel that I managed to get one coherent mood or flow throughout the song by stop-starting the recording as I would inevitably do by recording, say, 12 bars at a time. Second, I struggled with making the piece sound the way I wanted to when adhering to typical blues time signatures like 12/8 or 6/8. Before you ask - yes; I do realize that these time signatures give quite different results, but I experimented with this a whole bunch. It just didn't sound right when I completely tracked the metronome. Maybe it's because I'm unfamiliar with blues time signatures or because no blues ever was recorded on time anyways - what do I know.

I wondered for a long time whether I was gonna have a backing track, but after several attempts, I just thought it sounded better as a solo piece. Who knows - maybe I'll modify it and add several voicings to it with time, but for now, it's one guitar, one take, one layer and one track.

Choosing the guitar was on the other hand very simple. From the first time I came up with the main theme, I gravitated towards my Ibanez S270, and I can't really conceive of using any of my other guitars for this. That mahogany tone is just what I'm after in this case. I'm still playing around with amp settings and overall guitar tone, but odds are I'm gonna use a very Satriani-esque tone based off of a Mesa Boogie setting on the Line6 amp. Right now, I'm recording each take using different tones in the hope that I'll end up with a tone I'm really happy with by iteration. As soon as I record one take where I'm really happy with tone AND satisfied with technique and performance, I'll just let go. I'm also debating whether or not to use a volume pedal off of my Line6 Floorpod for the outro, as that would definitely bring back some of the Gary Moore vibes that have gradually receded into the background out since the inception. Some Parisienne Walkways-like volume swells would perhaps make it a little bit Moore like Gary, if ya know what I mean.

Still not sure what to call it - The Loaner is a good start, seeing as how I came up with the first, Gary Moore-like phrases while noodling around and suddenly playing what turned out to be a variation on the second theme of "The Loner" from GM's Wild Frontiers album. Other musical references that I can think of are the aforementioned "Parisienne Walkways" and "Nothing's The Same" - both Moore compositions. If one were cynical, one might argue that all of these Gary Moore songs plus "Still Got The Blues" are minuscule variations on the same theme, but since Moore is a true guitar icon, I'd never do that... Influences outside the realms of Gary Moore can be listed as "Blue" by Yngwie Malmsteen (bluesy instrumental off of his Alchemy album. In addition to my overall adherence to everything Yngwie - including his "More is More" adage - I really love the tone and phrasing here), "The Forgotten part II" by Joe Satriani (from Flying In A Blue Dream - as always the tone is awesome, but more importantly the overall mood here is very much what I was going for) and "Blue Monday" by Vito Bratta of White Lion (from their Mane Attraction album - it's actually a tribute to the recently departed Stevie Ray Vaughan). I really feel that I restricted the technical aspect - no technique for the sake of playing fast. We'll see how that plays out.....

It'll be done soon.....

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Dos Movies del Muerte

Two movies seen lately:

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
Totally awesome from where I stand. Nothin' but net - all y'all dweebs who keep insisting that James Bond is da bizzomb better realize that there's a new sheriff in town - Matt Damon and Jason Bourne. Whether or not they're gonna release more Bourne movies is immaterial.

Mr. Brooks (2007)
Schizo movie starring Kevin Costner, William Hurt, Dane Cook (unless you've watched Comedy Central, totally unknown, I guess), and *sigh* Demi Moore. Costner portrays businessman who leads a double life as a serial killer. Demi Moore is the cop assigned to bringing the "Thumbprint Killer" to justice. Not only that, but the role Demi portrays is a stereotypical "won't bow down to the brass, in divorce negotiations, refuses to have a partner badass ultraloner cop" - a concept which was tired and overused already in the late 70's. The fact that a woman uses the same cliches typically reserved for Clint Eastwood doesn't make it original, or cool for that matter.

Jason Bourne totally rules!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Public speaking

You know that old and tired joke about 75% of people fearing public speaking more than they fear death, so technically you'd be doing somebody a favor if you offed him or her the day before the scheduled public appearance? Anders - you heard a minor variation on this in August, from what I recall. As did I.........

I'm starting to think it might actually be true, as an inordinate percentage of people appear to be seriously affected by the prospects of having to face an audience. A LOT of passive voicing in that there sentence - I know. Still; the fact remains - way more people than I thought struggle with public speaking. Worst of all, some of these people flat out fear public speaking although it's an integral part of their job. Hypothetically, if you were a faculty member at a university in Norway, 50% of your job description consists of teaching, which means having to stand in front of an audience for a bunch of hours every week. Plus you have to factor in all the presenting and parading that comes with the research part of your job. So if you get physical reactions to public speaking - as I've seen (again hypothetically speaking) more than one permanent staff member do over the last year - then why in the blue hell would you want to have this job? No job is flawless, but if you absolutely hate and fear approximately 50% of your job, you should SO quit and find some other avenue of life in which to use your talents - somewhere you don't have to fear going to work. I guess a certain tension before going into action might enhance performance - what the hell do I know, but if you're pale, your hand is unsteady and your voice is trembling while you're obviously sweating profusely, I refuse to believe that you are "all that you can be".

Why I started thinking about this? I witnessed final-year student presentations today...


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Getting closer

Nearly there year student report almost graded (deadline Tuesday), fifth-year student presentations to be observed and evaluated (two and a half hours tomorrow), one more exam to make and carry out on one branch of molecular spectroscopy (Monday), and then........

...some time to write scientific articles before Christmas. AKA Equation and Moreover Time (E&MT).

I might even have time to read up on some theory before Christmas. Big Whoop!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Carlos Mencia in da hizzousseeeee

To celebrate the fact that I turned in the last assignment of my pedagogic course, check out this here clips of Carlos Mencia.

Disclaimer: If you're easily offended, you might want to stay clear of them here jokes.

Don't say I didn't warn ya

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

T minus one

I made it through what I hope was my last all-day pedagogical seminar! I did my 30 minute-presentation, report was handed in last Friday, I participated in the room discussions, and overall did my part. Now all that stands between me and my pedagogic diploma/degree is a 2000 word reflection memo on what I've learned. Seeing as how I'm good at piling on the words, I should be done with this memo by lunchtime tomorrow, at which point my debt to academe has been paid in full.

As long as I skimp on the honesty and lather on the political correctness I'm so known for, this should be a walk in the proverbial park.

Trials and tribulations of travel

Can you believe it - yet again we got snake eyes in the rental car lottery and ended up with a french car - a citroen c4. I can only speculate that this particular car was given its name from the fact that c4 has about the same odds of blowing up on ya.

As soon as we got the car at Bergen airport Flesland, we were puzzled by the fact that the c4 was supposed to be in the "Golf" class despite the fact that I had a really hard time fitting behind the wheel. Even in the way-back position, my legs were severely squeezed between the seat and the steering wheel. Way back in 2001 and 2002, we used to rent a Nissan Micra for our Norwegian vacations which had way more legspace than this freakin' piece of french "engineeering". Not only was it small, it was damn small.

This particular car had a number of features not mentioned in the brochure, including: side-view mirrors not adjustable by other means than by pushing/forcing each mirror to its desired position (using the electric controls only resulted in the mirrors being retracted into their parking position, regardless of which way the controls were manipulated), electric window being locked in the "down" position (which is a slight disadvantage in Norway during December), the windshield wiper locking up sometimes (that's a real treat when the thing won't freakin' stop), a "parking sensor" which started screaming and beeping whenever the vehicle would get within a five-meter distance of another object, and another "convenient" sensor which starts beeping and complaining plus displaying "Risk of ice" whenever the temperature would drop to or below three degrees Centigrade - yet another plus in wintertime Norway. Not to mention that it ranked somewhere between cardboard and styrofoam on the hardness/durability scale. Whenever we would do something drastic to the external structure of the "car", like close the doors, the exterior would ripple. In short, we've had a bunch of different rental cars over the years, including the brands Peugot, Renault and Citroen, and let me say that without a shadow of a doubt, Renault and Citroen are the worst cars I've ever driven. Ever.

On our way back to Trondheim, our flight was - surprise, surprise - delayed. More specifically, it was two hours delayed due to "incoming aircraft being late", which turned into "technical problems". To pass the time, I I took a second stroll past the two-bit scum-of-the-earth douchebags who have frequented Norwegian airports lately with their incessant credit-card offers. "Excuse me - do you use Visa?" Apparently, they weren't prepared for my response: "No dude - we're paying for all our transactions with pearls of glass and polished sea shells".

Friday, December 7, 2007

Norway's Got Talent

In a staggering display of Grand Theft Originality, the Norwegian TV network TV2 is gonna launch the same concept as "America's Got Talent" - named "Norske Talenter" (Norwegian Talents). For those of you not familiar with the concept - it's a talent show which compiles all the essential aspects of Idol, Celebrity Dancing and other shows. They claim that if you've got some kind of talent, you can audition and possibly have the chance to win half a million NOK. As has been proven through the American version, you can get pretty damn far if ya can freakin' juggle, so they might be right about this one. Still keeping with the American tradition, the Norwegian judging panel is going to consist of a bunch of has-beens - like "comedian" Thomas Gjertsen. For reference, the American version has David Hasselhoff, some dude with a British accent and Brandy of the 90's sitcom Moesha. Big whoop.

Auditions for this show start in January, so it'd almost be interesting to show up claiming "bionanotechnology" as my talent. Or claiming to have downright demonic skillz in statistical thermodynamics.

Other talents I'd like to see on the show include:

  • Owning people on da intanet
  • Ability to drink hot coffee really fast
  • Biggest ego-to-skills ratio
  • Meditation
  • Frequently abducted by UFOs while sleeping
  • Biggest realtor douchebag
  • Championship level comb-over
  • Ability to re-enact scenes from Lord Of The Rings or Monty Python
  • Most rambling anecdotes
  • Worlds largest midget

Other "talents"?


Freakin' Thieves

Did ya know that if you rent a car through teh internet using, say, Hertz, you can give the nice rental company folks your flight number so that they can make sure you get your rental car when your flight arrives? That's massive cool, especially if - again hypothetically speaking - your flight was scheduled to land dangerously close to the far end of the opening hours of said enterprise. That way you can get the service you've procured even if your flight is delayed, or if your flight arrives with zero time between touchdown and closing of the rental car service.

What the Hertz - and other rental agencies, I'm sure - web pages do not inform you of, however, is that they have an additional fee of 300 NOK + 25% tax if you use their connect-to-flight service. What the hell? When you shop around for prices at different rental agencies, you want to know all the costs so that you can decide for yourself which company you want to use. For all I know, the other agencies might use higher rates for this service, but that ain't the point - especially seeing as how the opening hours vary between agencies.

Freakin' thieves!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Legendary Iron Warrior of Steel

Tonight as we ventured to our gym to do our thing, we witnessed first hand an Unstoppable Force of Nature. To set the scene - the night was dark and cold. A wind was howling across the gym parking lot, sending icy chills down the spine of us mere mortal gym franchise customers. As we made our way past the counter, up the stairs and into the area designated for weight training, the leg press machine came into sight. The machine was stacked with more wheels than a car chase scene in Smokey And The Bandit - there was nary any room to load more weights onto the machine. We could sense that an Epic Iron Warrior was seated on the machine, the recycled air filled with the electricity of anticipation, and the Mighty grunts and Snorts from what obviously must be a Legendary Conqueror of Steel - no mere mortal would be brave to load the leg press to capacity and expect to wield the excercise with impunity. Although the Brawny Beast was not in our sightline, we just knew that he was a swole monster. Strong was his Steel, Dark was his Mind, Carmine the Ground that he Treads.

With a mighty roar, the Warrior unhooked the safety, and started grinding out reps, all the while grunting and screaming. After completing a mindboggling six reps with 15 cm range of motion, he let the Unholy Weight crash back onto the safety with a mighty roar. The Warrior, whom for his demeanor ought to outsize both Dorian Yates and Lee Priest, arose from the conquered apparatus, invisible suitcases at the ready, and gave the room a staredown whilst sporting a mighty growl.

What did the Epic and Brutal Warrior look like, you might ask.

Wait for it.............

Waaaaaaaaaaaiiiit for it


BBBOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!!!!!!!!!! Take a look at this Hunk of Man!!!!

Freakin' nerd! This picture is pretty close to what "he" looked like, though

Everybody Wants Some: The Van Halen Saga

....authored by Ian Christe, and published by the good folks at Wiley in August 2007. I bought it a little while ago after P-gangsta told me of its residence in the campus bookstore.

There are several kinds of rock biographies on the market. You've got the star-struck fanboi accounts that emanate from the drool-soaked (and who knows what else) keyboards of the President, Accountant and Honorary Member of the fanclub of whatever artist or band the biography deals with - unfortunately, I've got an Iron Maiden biography which fits this description to a tee (Run To The Hills - Iron Maiden; The Authorized Biography by Mick Wall and Chris Ingham). Ditto for the overhyped "Hammer Of The Gods" about (fittingly) Led Zeppelin. Then you've got the biographies written by detail-obsessed Overlords of Nitpicking, which do not move forward in any significant way owing to the author's overly detailed descriptions - like Ben Hur times ten. Third, you've got biographies written by fans with some sense of critical thinking, which typically results in awesome biographies (assuming said fan has some writing skillz), like Justice For All: The Truth About Metallica by Joel McIver - I totally recommend it. Other categories include the ghost-written autobiographies which admittedly can be totally awesome like The Dirt or Tommyland (and Crazy From The Heat by David Lee Roth, I wager).

Everybody Wants Some falls somewhere between these categories - the author is definitely a fan, and even spent the time necessary to learn how to play "Eruption" so as to be able to fully appreciate the art and complexity of Eddie Van Halens guitar playing. At times, this biography walks in the shadow of greatness, yet sometimes it strays into the harsh light of mediocrity. What plagues this book the most is its inconsistancies, however; seeing as how the book is made up mostly from interviews from every VH era, the author is not so much to blame as the band members, in particularly the Van Halen brothers Alex and Edward for their fleeting relationship with reality. Still, the author should have pointed these contradictions out instead of glossing them over. Case in point; in parts of the book Edward Van Halen claims that he always sounded like him because he was unable to emulate anyone else - from the earliest cover band days his guitar tone and phrasing was Van Halen. Two pages later, dude's lamenting the big transition from "being, playing and sounding like Clapton" to carving his own identity as a guitarist and songwriter. Also, in stark contrast to the other band members, including the total of three singers which have passed through the at times revolving doors of Van Halen, the brothers Alex and Edward are incapable of admitting that they were at least co-responsible for any of the problems the band encountered. Everything bad that happens is everybody elses fault. When Sammy Hagar was the singer, all the previous problems were due to the former singer - Diamond David Lee Roth, who is arguably the most charismatic frontman in the history of rock. When they got Gary Cherone, formerly (and now yet again) of Extreme, Sammy was the Root of All Evil. During their long period of inactivity, the bass player, Roth AND Sammy were the ones that screwed everything up. Amazing. Sensibility - Thy Name Sho' Ain't Van Halen.

Still, I totally recommend the book if you're into Van Halen - or even Roth - at all.

If ya don't really want answers....

...then don't ask questions.

This is something I'm betting our pedagogic instructors are pondering after they asked us for constructive criticism after today's all-day session. Go teamwork. The head instructor guy might be making a voodoo doll in my likeness as I write this, as I was elected spokesperson for my "team" when it came time to handeth out teh feedback.

And for all their talk about how it's important to give students continuous feedback throughout the semester or academic year, they still haven't assessed any of the assignments we have turned in since freakin' January.

Practice what you preach ain't just a really bitchin' Testament album.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Hope springs eternal

The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) has plummeted from second place (behind University of Oslo) to fourth place (now also behind University of Bergen and University of Tromsø) among Norwegian universities, according to a recent ranking. Also, the Norwegian universities have overall dropped a bunch of places on the list. Not so good.

For NTNU, this is quite a wet blanket, as the mission statement according to the web pages is to become one of the top ten technical universities in Europe by 2020. This recent development is hardly a step in the right direction.

This annual ranking from The Times is also somewhat in conflict with the more famous (and some say more accurate) Shanghai-ranking, where Norwegian universities in general do a little bit better. I've got no particular opinion on which ranking is more or less accurate, but I wonder how objective these rankings are and exactly what criteria must be met (and weighted how) in order to yield a high score.

According to the article, the Times ranking is based on evaluation of 1500 industry leaders and 5000 researchers (whatever the hell that means - the wording made it impossible to decipher), the percentage of international faculty members, the fraction of international students, the number of students per faculty member, and the number of citations per faculty member. No mention of how these factors are weighted, and also, other rankings use other criteria. So; what do these riteria mean, and how can they be affected?

The percentage of international faculty members appears to be a good measure of the university status, as it means people are willing to relocate to the country and university in question, presumably because getting a job there is good news for ye olde resume. However, it could also mean that people relocate because they are unable to get faculty positions in their home country, either because the jobs are extremely hard to come by and the quality is very high, or because the system limits the number of senior faculty staff (Professors) like they have in among other countries Germany. Without stating something about the criteria for hiring international candidates compared to the same criteria elsewhere, I'm not so sure how meaningful this factor is. On the other hand, it provides a good measure of the level of institutional inbreeding, but this can also be accomplished by measuring the fraction or eprcentage of faculty members with an education from other universities than where they are faculty members.

Next criterion is the fraction or percentage of international students. No offense, but what the hell kind of criterion is that? In this day and age, where the need for internationalization has prompted large subsidies of international exchange programmes, having international students is simply a way of getting outside funding for the universities involved. Technically, all that's needed is that someone - like the government - allocates funding for exchange between two universities either within a region, like Scandinavia, or between continents. In other words, having lots of exchange students is hardly a measure of quality, unless some other specifications are included.

The number of students per faculty member tells you just that, and can be regulated without concern for quality. Fire half of the faculty members and watch this number increase by a factor of two while saving money. Again, not necessarily a measure of quality, as it does not in any way, shape or form pertain to the quality of either students or faculty members.

The number of citations per faculty member, however, is in my opinion one of the few objective measures of the quality of an academic - as quantified through the Hirsch-factor and other such measures. The number of citations, although linked to field of study for individual researchers, says a great deal when averaged over the entire institution, as it pertains to the number of publications, where the work is published, and also how the articles stack up within the target publications.

But still - how can one rank academic institutions without leaving the criteria wide open for influence?

Economy of Content

Two days ago, I received the "Sum Total" of the immense pedagogical knowledge amassed by us poor mortals from the Infinite Fountain of Wisdom bestowed upon us from our Immaculate Pedagogical Instructors. Specifically, I received the only measurable output of the course besides a nifty diploma - a Collection of the Pedagogical Development Project Reports from my "class". This document is about 200 pages, and after browsing through it, I'm quite frankly amazed by the fact that it doesn't hover above my desk from the complete lack of actual content it contains. Economy of style is a concept that has its place, what I'm witnessing here is Economy of Content, which makes for a very nice slogan but little else.

I can't help but wonder - if I spent the rest of my life searching and travelling around the world - would I find anybody who cared about what's in this document? Apparently I can exclude our instructors, seeing as how I can verify that nobody have actually opened and assessed any of the numerous documents I have turned in since January.

Does this mandatory course serve any other purpose than providing jobs for a seemingly vast number of pedagogic faculty members and their administration? The search goes on.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Golden !!

This is just amazing !!!