Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Cold fusion is back

It appears that cold fusion is creeping back into the spotlight, as can be seen from recent media coverage, for example via ACS and at forskning.no. There's also a video presentation on LENR by Pamela Mosier-Boss here, and there is a comprehensive bibliography and a set of full-text papers on cold fusion here.

Predictably, this resuscitates old battles and opens up new battle fronts, including one between chemists (primarily electrochemists) and physicists that I find to be particularly interesting. In the piece at forskning.no, two Norwegian physicists from the University of Bergen - Håvard Helstrup and Professor Egil Lillestøl - express severe scepticism towards any claim of cold fusion. Professor Lillestøl kicks the antagonism into high gear by claiming that "En fysiker vil ikke vil ha store problemer med å forstå at kald fusjon basert på kjemiske prosesser ikke er mulig" ("A physicist won't have great difficulties in understanding that cold fusion based on chemical processes is impossible").

That statement is very hard to take as anything but a stone cold diss of chemists and a chest-beating proclamation of the scientific superiority of physicists. I am going to have to find this dude's h-index tomorrow to see if he's got the credentials to back up such claims or if he maxed out by being the Knut Jørgen Røed Ødegaard of Thorium-based nuclear energy in Norway.

Update: Prof. Lillestøl last published in a scientific journal in 1990 according to ISI-WOS. While his h-factor is substantial, he is only first author on two papers from WAY back in the day. He typically appears smack dab in the middle of the author list among some 30+ other scientists on CERN-related publications, and unlike some of his co-authors, his biography is not on the ISI HighlyCited list. Dude is apparently highly renowned for his pedagogic skills and his popularization of physics though - good on him.

Friday, March 27, 2009

To reform or not to reform

From some recent posts, It would certainly appear as though I'm vehemently opposed to teaching reforms. Also; Anders' comments to the aforementioned posts have done little to diminish this impression :-)

Just to clarify my position; my default position to teaching reforms is very positive. There is no system that doesn't have room for improvement, and a conscious effort towards improving teaching and an aspiration of concomitant added learning and understanding for the students is definitely something worth striving for. Despite how my posts may appear at times, I'm no gatekeeper of teaching traditions. Traditional teaching practices are valuable in that they represent a standard set of well-defined input and output variables by which to measure alternative approaches. I am very sceptical towards any claim of methodological perfection; the best case scenario for traditional teaching methods is that they represent the best practices of the time, and there's no logical reasoning to back any reluctance towards change on the basis that we simply can't do any better.

So; if I'm pro teaching reforms, then what's my problem?

In short, it's the apparent complete absence of scientific method behind recent reforms, and the reluctance or inability to objectively quantify results and thus compare - for lack of a better term - teaching paradigms, in time leading to an iterative improvement of teaching. If a parameter change leads to measurably lower student learning, then don't continue in that direction. One variable at a time is a very simplistic approach to such a complex set of correlated variables as teaching and learning, but even this would be a massive improvement compared to the "reform by elimination method" we've seen. With all the data available, it would probably be a good thing to use multivariate analysis, but the strong inverse correlation between "politics + soft sciences" and math all but ensures a massive fail if this would be put into effect.

For all I know, this could be more of a political problem than a methodological one, in that various amendments not rooted in anything but rhetoric and party programs are piled onto the proposals after the teaching professionals are done with it. This, however, would probably be indistinguishable from bad science. The most recent reform is the so-called "Quality Reform" which was rolled out in 2003 under a center/conservative government coalition. Some notable changes which were rolled out as a result of this reform at the university level are: (1) the introduction of mandatory pedagogic training for academic staff, (2) more focus on student evaluation throughout the semester rather than by one single yardstick (the exam) via portfolio assessment, and (3) a change in the way education is funded.

(1) Mandatory pedagogic training for faculty members - the so-called PEDUP program. I've written about my experiences with PEDUP in several posts, like here and here, and although I recognize it as a good idea on paper, I'm not sure if we'll ever be able to measure the impact. During my PEDUP tenure, the staff refused to answer any questions pertaining to how much the implementation of PEDUP has improved teaching and concomitant student learning. The basis for their refusal to answer any such question was their firm and expressed belief that the quality of teacher performance could not be quantified. Not the ideal attitude towards an implementation based on a measured discontent with teacher performance and the assumption that an improvement of this would lead to better student performance, which is measured, averaged and evaluated like there's no tomorrow.

(2) Portfolio assessment isn't exacly a new concept, despite being touted as such by various politicians. Fact of the matter is; most traditional teaching schemes can be renamed as portfolio assessments without any change whatsoever, as long as more than one element is used in the evaluation. Interestingly, the number of cases of students cheating has increased tremenduously after the Quality Reform was introduced - predictably mostly for any other form of assessment than exams, such as written assignments etc., where students can lift phrases and even entire texts off of the interweb. However, it wouldn't be fair to put the entire blame for this on the reform, as recent years have also brought more attention to these phenomena, as well as educated the teachers in use of tracking software to combat fraud. The observation still remains, and this needs to be taken into account when comparing evaluation forms. After all, a grade is supposed to reflect the performance on an individual basis.

(3) The funding of education at universities and university colleges has changed from being a fixed amount based on the number of students to following each student. In other words; universities get paid according to how many students pass. And wouldn't you know it; the number of failing students has dropped significantly since the introduction of the Quality Reform. You think there might be some conflict of interest here? Also, this effectively introduces a serious covariance in the data set which makes it impossible to determine any positive effect of mandatory pedagogic courses etc. Not even with a neural network would you be able to untangle the effects of a) introducing changes meant to improve the quality of teaching, learning and evaluation and then b) roll out a system wherein the universities get a cash incentive to let students pass while at the same time c) let the university decide how many students pass or fail.

This is not very scientific. Not at all. As a matter of fact, I'd wager that if hereditary factors have any influence on intelligence at all, and the scientific and engineering communities were made up by the same people who constructed Reform 94 and the Quality Reform, humanity would still be sitting in caves, trying to figure out if rocks are edible.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I hate it when it happens...

Suddenly I'm forced to reconsider my love for vintage Nationals in specific and blues in general*:

I hate it when that happens...

*And maybe you as well, Wilhelm?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

At least they recognize what's important

The student organization (Elevorganisasjonen) claims that it's illegal to expel (for one day) students who are caught using snus (perhaps the brand and concept Skoal is more familiar to folks Stateside). Featured in the piece is a photo of the student organization leader, Håvard Vederhus, mugging it up for the cam with what I assume is his most intimidating yet intellectual look. At least it's good to know that the student organization really cares about the important things - you know; the quality of the education, relevance of textbooks, level of school with respect to requirements at higher institutes of learning.

This epic battle between "The Man" and the downtrodden is based in a new rule which a high school in Porsgrunn rolled out this week, wherein the school reserved the right to expel for one day any student caught using snus. According to the brilliant legal minds in the student organization, this is illegal. Equipped with their razor-sharp wits, years of legal experience and three episodes of Boston Legal Vederhus and his posse dug up a preceding case from a high school in Gausdal, where the Department of Education ruled that the school could not deny access to students who showed up late for class or forgot their books. Clearly the punishment must be proportional to the crime. Besides, the use of snus on school grounds should be legal as long as it doesn't bother anybody.

The school regulations reportedly include a total ban on the use of any form of tobacco on school property.

Do you think the legal juggernauts in this student organization have much of a case based on the above facts and statements?

Class of '89 reunion?

So I'm starting to get invitations and info pertaining to my junior high school reunion. What is the customary thing to do here, considering that a) I'd have to travel quite a bit to get to the "event", b) the sum total of people from this class roster I'm currently in touch with is zero, and c) the "event" is set to occur just around the time when my wife and I are expecting our firstborn.

Decisions, decisions.....

On a side note, the number of misspellings in the ~35 words that made up the official invitation letter make me inclined to believe that I've made it OK despite what junior high school I've went to rather than because of it...

Monday, March 23, 2009

Whut in the name of tarnation?

You better believe it's Monday today. I should've seen the writing on the wall when it turned out that the coffee machine was out of order as I rolled into work. That and other small kinds of mishaps flat out pale, however, compared to the horror of having to talk to the Norwegian equivalent of the INS due to some bureaucratic snafu with regards to the imminent arrival of a visiting professor. At least his arrival was imminent prior to the aforementioned snafu. Dude is supposed to arrive here Thursday night, and he applied for his VISA in January, where the duration as well as the starting date of his stay were specified and backed up by the invitation letter. Today he got static from the embassy, telling him that his contact person at the host university had to contact UDI on his behalf in order for the VISA to be issued.

As luck would have it, I am that contact person. Which entailed getting all the information together and calling their "hotline". The first time I called, I was on hold for about ten minutes before some fluke in the system - or an operator - hung up on me. Game over, back to scratch. Their phone service is one of the more sensory-depriving experiences I've been exposed to. Aside from the "Press 1 for English menu" option, and the interruption by some low-budget automated "All our operators are busy at the moment. Please hold." every ~2 minutes, there is absolute silence. No Sixties classics, no 90's elevator music - flat out silence. And the automated douchebag asking you to hold offers no information on the expected time you have to wait, or even the (probably staggering) number of people ahead of you.

The 'Gitmo people ain't got nuthin' on the INS. The first couple of times you call, you quit after ten-max fifteen minutes. At some point you figure out that you don't call these servants of absolute evil for fun, and that the only way to hopefully accomplish your bidness is to bite the bullet and endure the hellish holding period. By the time you actually get to talk to some carbon-based life form (as far as I know anyways), you're so deeply engulfed in Stockholm syndrome/have the Eye of Sauron on you that you forget the fact that you were on hold for - in my case - 40 minutes before you got to talk to anyone.

So was the situation resolved? That's a big, fat no - the person on the line told me that this type of application normally took three months to process, and that she could try to speed it up but she couldn't promise anything.

Funfact: When you apply for these things, you have to get the starting/arrival date approved before they even start to look further at the application. The application was submitted and pre-approved exactly TWO months prior to the arrival date. I don't know precisely who screwed up, but we're left holding the bag. One thing's for sure; the INS people need less meth and more math.

Outline of a song

...at least a rough recording of the basic riff, verse and chorus structures, with a some simple fills added. I can always add bass with teh Whammy and program some decent drums in Cubase, but it would be better if someone could add proper bass and keyboard. You hear me, Joe?

...oh; and this song structure is somewhat reminiscent of some three other bands. Anyone hear any resemblance?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

What music makes you dumb?

Average SAT scores (with standard deviation) plotted for different musical tastes. Any Lil' wayne fans in here? :-)

Source: musicthatmakesyoudumb.virgil.gr

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Martin Kolberg

I've got TV2's Tabloid on in the background right now. The topic is - surprise, surprise - "radical" islam and the fact that Labour/Arbeiderpartiet's Martin Kolberg appears to have jacked more than a few pages from Siv Jensen and the Progress Party's agenda.

Be that as it may; I'm seriously wondering how someone like Kolberg ever made it to televised debates. Is there anyone in the universe less charismatic than him? I'm betting that automatic door openers don't even register his old and wrinkly ass - dude probably has to wait until another person comes to enter the premises.

Social Intelligence Fail

Unbelievable. Today in the cantina I witnessed an early 20's dude make a big production out of 1) buying a carton of milk, 2) pouring it into a shaker already containing protein powder, 3) shaking it vigorously while still in immediate proximity of the counter, and 4) starting to imbibe the protein shake whilst walking, invisible suitcases in hand, towards a vacant seat accompanied by his buddies.

Now, fixin' yourself a protein shake in a crowded room and even trying to get attention for it is a great way to becoming a social pariah, save for amongst your three or four fellow short bus-riding compadres - irrespective of whether or not you look like your body requires extra-dietary protein. So; you might ask yourself - did he at least look the part? Was he the second coming of Kevin Levrone or Yates himself?

....the answer to that depends on whether or not you find the guy from the "Mr. Muscle" ads to be a monster.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Gov't to put the kibosh on traditional exams?

According to Dagbladet, the Government considers to discontinue traditional final exams in high schools. The arguments are presented that traditional exams are outdated, and that portfolio assessments are better indicators of student performance throughout the year without the stress and chance factors of everything riding on a single performance. Not surprisingly, this initiative comes from the Socialist Left party (SV). In an even less surprising turn of events, the student organizations are besides themselves with joy at the prospect of not having to deal with exams. From the list of blogs that have commented on this story, this proposal also gets high-fives from an antiquated soft-science schnuck.

The Minister of Education is quoted as saying: "Vi ønsker å måle elevenes kunnskaper på en måte som likner den de møter på universitetet og i arbeidslivet" (We wish to measure student knowledge in a way which more closely resembles what they will encounter at universities and in a job situation"). This statement is flat out depressing, since it demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that Solhjell knows nothing about higher education at universities, where the vast majority of courses evaluate student performance through final exams, which act as part of the assessment portfolio. Also, Solhjell states that the portfolios will be evaluated by external examiners so as to guarantee anonymity. We're still talking about high school here, with student numbers vastly eclipsing those at the higher learning institutions like universities and university colleges. I'm mentioning this because universities don't have the necessary funding to use external sensors on everything, so I'm very curious to see how Solhjell proposes to come up with the budget increase this requires.

While I'm not saying that the traditional (mostly written) exam is the best form of student evaluation in existence, I am very sceptical towards this proposal for several reasons:
  1. How are they going to measure any improvements unless both paradigms are run in parallel for a large enough statistical sample, in which case I predict the same student organizations won't be as enthusiastic anymore?
  2. The people who'd be implementing this reform would be the same geniouses who have implemented every other education reform since the massive failure sometimes known as "Reform 94". Past performance being the best available indicator of future performance, what exactly has changed to suggest that a new reform would be successful? Assuming that the people who brought us reform 94 could come up with a successful education reform if they want to is a little bit like hiring Dr. Kevorkian as the physician at your day care center.
  3. There's lots of talk about how Norwegian students are slipping compared to other countries, especially in natural sciences and math. Wouldn't it be a good idea to compare how student evaluation is done in Finland, Germany, etc.? There is mention of "other countries" who use portfolio assessments exclusively, but for some reason their identities don't come up.
  4. Being that a grade reflects the performance of a single student, wouldn't it make sense that each student deserves exclusive evaluation? While teamwork is a fine activity, it's not exactly a secret that there are some differences with respect to how much weight each student pulls, which is not reflected in the grade said team effort is rewarded with. Is it fair to reward slackers and punish those who put in more than their share of work? 'Cause traditional exams measure the performances of single students, whereas portfolio assessments carry a collaborative component.
  5. With respect to how exams induce stress; what types of jobs don't carry an element of stress related to maximum performance during short burts up against deadlines etc.? Also with respect to how well high school students fare at universities; isn't there enough of a rude awakening already?

Happy St. Paddy's Day

Monday, March 16, 2009

Saturday trials and tribulations

Saturday, we ventured into downtown Trondheim, lured by the nice weather and the hopes of the slack-jawed yokels with backpacks and cowbells local sports fans being up at Granåsen hooting and hollering on the occasion of the World Cup in something related to skis.

No such luck. Downtown was packed to the extent that we had to give up finding a parking spot following two hipster chicks and one elderly couple totally snagging parking spots we'd been waiting for. Following that, my anger and blood pressure spiked to levels which suggested that we'd get the hell out of the downtown area. On the way home, a skinny inbred douchenozzle hotshot NASCAR driver flipped me the bird because I was only doing 80 in a 70 zone, some 500 meters before his exit.

So my question is this: Beside the World Cup; what exactly was the deal on this particular Saturday that caused all the people who normally have seat reservations on the short bus to throw out their medication, get in their cars and re-inact scenes from "Dukes of Hazzard" in the Trondheim region?

Three movies for a Saturday in March

...starting with:

The X-Files: I Want To Believe (2008)
If only wishing made it so, but you know what they say: If "ifs" and "buts" were candy and nuts, we'd all have a merry f*ckin' Christmas. At the time this movie came to the theaters, the reviews pretty much stated that it was nothing but an extra long episode of X-files. That was good enough for me. Too bad it wasn't anything close to the truth, which apparently still is out there. First of all; jack $hit happens in the first hour. Imagine the first half hour of "Brokeback Mountain" but with the epic acting skills of David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson and some unnamed extras. The original X-Files really work for me, but that has very little to do with the acting. Fact is; in seasons 8 and 9, David Duchovny bailed out of the series and "Have you seen this boy"-guy from T2 jumped right in without any noticeable decline in the quality of the series. The less said about the "acting skills" of Gillian Anderson, the better. Suffice it to say that she managed to bring her trademark standing with her arms crossed and sighing a lot to the new movie. Much like Ben Stiller in "Zoolander", she also brought her two looks with her; the regular "Blue Steel" (mouth and eyes half open, very "ask your Doctor if Prozac is right for YOU") and the "Magnum" (deer in headlights mouth and eyes wide open) reserved for when $hit really hits the fan, which - mind you - doesn't happen very often. The X-Files work when the conspiracies and aliens are stacked wide and deep and the action is plentiful. The story depicted in "I Want To Believe" isn't even an X-file, but rather a run-of-the-mill illegal organ trafficking dealie, the likes of which shows like "Bones" do SO much better. Moreover, there is stem cell research in this movie. "Dr." Skully needs to use it in a "radical treatment strategy", so immediately following her having heard about it for the first time (some "Dr."), she GOOGLES the term (again, some "Dr."), and prints out everything she finds. A couple of days later she implements it as the "expert" on the medical team.

In the final analysis, f*ckall happens, it's not an X-File, Skully reinforces her already strong credentials as the suckiest on-screen scientist since Keanu Reeves depicted a physics grad student in "Chain Reaction", and the only link to anything even remotely connected to supernatural is a pedophile priest. Joke's totally on me though, as we freakin' bought the movie.

Cheaper By The Dozen (2003)
Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt with a stellar guest performance by Ashton Kutcher. Like the user comments on imdb say; excellent family movie. Feelgood family comedy to the max. Running this one back to back with "X-Files: One Last Hurrah", this Steve Martin flick looked like "Godfather II", "The Big Hit", "Drunken Master" and "Pumping Iron" all rolled up into one.

The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Seeing as how the previous Hulk movie flat out sucked, I didn't have particularly high hopes for this revamping of the franchise. This despite the lead role being played by Edward Norton himself, one of my absolute favorite actors. As luck would have it, Norton saved the day - this new Hulk movie thingy was an excellent all-out action flick. My faith in Marvel is at least partly restored.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Now with 100% more Flickr

In an effort not to jam this blog with photos of trees, I caved in and got myself a profile on Flickr. I'll try to keep the photos there most of the time. Anyone else here on Flickr?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

...more trees

Another pic from Rotvoll, right below the StatoilHydro research center. I'm quite happy with this one, and it works for me both on a small and large screen.

While I had all the time in the world to snap the first pic, my wife shot this from our (moving) car. This photo is awesome in my opinion. On the camera screen it looked like it needed to be cropped to only include the region around the tree, but in a larger format I think the entire shot works very well. Click on it to see the large version.

Walking the extra mile

John West Red Salmon...serious business

Monday, March 9, 2009

More landscape pics for Anders

Taken at Lade, close to Rotvoll.

Taken a 15-minute walk from our place, on a cold and windy January day.

Karita Bekkemellem's tell-all book

According to most online newspapers today, including Dagbladet.no, Labour (Arbeiderparti) politicians are worried about the upcoming tell-all book from Karita Bekkemellem, wherein she details her political life from the time when she should've gotten an actual education and up until her much-publicized retirement from professional politics this upcoming Fall. Apparently, her comrades are sufficiently worried that Bekkemellem will paint an unfavorable picture of Prime Minister Stoltenberg that they have asked that she postpone the book launching until after this Fall's general election.

And so the debate begins - those in favor of the current government and the PM in particular want Bekkemellem to postpone the (unfinished) book, while those opposed to the coalition government would like the book to be published in time to affect the election. The only thing everyone can agree on is that the potential for detrimental behind-the-scenes stuff on Arbeiderpartiet stirs up a lot of interest and a lot of absolutely free publicity for Bekkemellem.

Considering that all warfare is based on deception, and that Bekkemellem probably had at least a vague idea that a tell-all book about Arbeiderpartiet would generate more interest and thus product sold in an election year than in any other year, there are at least three possibilities here. 1) Bekkemellem is going to stage a nutty in her book, completely melting down and dissing whomever was in any form of proximity when she was fired from her minister position. Her recent criticism of the government with respect to the hijab debacle might support this alternative. 2) There's no dirt on the Prime Minister or anyone else of consequence in the book, but she just stole herself a big payday from the free media exposure. 3) There's nothing but love for Arbeiderpartiet in the book, and thus both herself AND Arbeiderpartiet will get tons of free, positive publicity.

If you think about it, there's no way Bekkemellem can major-league diss Arbeiderpartiet in general and Stoltenberg in particular without coming off as a complete nitwit herself. After all, this is the political party to which' service she has devoted her entire adult life and then some. She's on record being all about the Prime Minister so many times that her credibility in turning heel now is abysmally low. Unless she's prepared to state that either Arbeiderpartiet has changed radically within the last year (or since whenever she last gave the coalition government a verbal blowjob) OR she has drastically changed her party affliction and political belief within the same time frame, any such statement she might make could easily be dismissed as sour grapes. Anyone who claims that Arbeiderpartiet has changed radically within the last year or so would have a hard time bringing any form of evidence. And at the age of 44, a radical change in her own political beliefs would imply that her accomplishments are severely diminished. Moreover, this change would forever arm her opponents with the very reasonable argument that her new opinions have no credibility at all, seeing as how she has already changed them once - not immediately following her adolescence, but after having been sacked by her own party and concomitantly resigning politics at the age of 44.

If the (unfinished) book is showering Arbeiderpartiet and Stoltenberg with praise, AND it's released before the general election, she'll accomplish two things: 1) The aforementioned massive product push, and 2) Arbeiderpartiet will get tons of free media on how awesome they are at the time when they need it the most, just before the election.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Apparently, trees are my bag

I got a digital single-lens reflex camera (Nikon D60) from my wife for Christmas, and I've slowly gotten to the stage where I don't suck quite as much anymore. Don't get me wrong; I'm still a complete dilettante, but I'm getting better. I used to be the guy who'd take someone's picture and end up with a photograph consisting of 76% skyline and the actual motive out of focus. I also used to be the guy who'd keep insisting that we'd stop the car whenever we crossed Valdresflya or something of similar scenic value, so that I could snap some shots, completely neglecting that trying to take pictues of large, scenic landscapes with a small digital camera is a little bit like trying to drink water out of a firehose operating at full capacity.

No more of that - or at least I'm putting more effort into it. The technical aspect of photography is improving in what I do, although I'm still mostly clinging to the comfort of the "Auto" setting. The biggest change has to do with my finally starting to come to terms with the limitations of a camera lens compared to the human eyes. My ability to pick out motives and compose a picture is slowly improving. I don't really know why my ability to select motives has been so abysmal, seeing as how I'm used to microscopy and I'm more than competent at making PowerPoint presentations that are functional as well as easy on the eyes. This deficiency has also taught me that photography is one of them things that can be checked off as not being hereditary, since my dad is a really good amateur photographer.

In as far as selecting motives, my thing at the moment is how light interacts with trees under various conditions - trees are currently my bag.

Today is a good day

..to paraphrase 'Cube. When I checked my email this morning, I noticed that among the messages was one with the ominuous header "Decision on manuscript ID ..." from the very journal to which I submitted a revised manuscript on Tuesday. Incidentally, this is the result of the ~week's worth of lab work I managed to carve out for myself in late October. Since this was a very quick decision on a revision, I had some trepidations, as this pretty much meant that either the Editor bought our rebuttals and expansions hook, line and sinker....or he didn't, in which case the email would be a Dear John letter.

Turns out it was the first alternative, and we got our manuscript accepted. Today is a good day, and I'm not the least bit fazed by the discovery that someone has quoted another of my articles and taken our conclusions completely out of context in order for our hard work to support their pedestrian study.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Remembering stuff that was

On Wednesday March 18th, a very good friend of mine - whom I used to work on the same Ph.D. project as - will finally defend his dissertation, which in turn - higher powers allowing - will grant him his Ph.D. Although I'm not going to be able to be there in person to cheer him on, I'll definitely be there in spirit.

Me and - let's call him Joe, 'cause that's his name - go back more than seven years, to when I joined the project team he was on. At first, we worked on separate topics within this project, but after a team member, fellow grad student and very close friend of Joe's passed away (there are actual casualties in this project), we got paired up to "leverage our respective competence profiles to achive maximum synergy". That's not how anyone put it, thankfully, but it's essentially what happened. As it turns out, we worked very well together, and were able to churn out some really cool science, and we became good friends. Both Joe and myself have been through gigging with heavy metal outfits, although in Joe's case it was more successful, as his band ALMOST got signed by an L.A. label following their opening for Overkill in NYC.

THIS CLOSE to being signed, man...

These days, it's exactly six years since my wife and I left Raleigh, NCSU and UNC for Trondheim. A lot has happened since then, but we've managed to stay in relatively close contact the entire time. Every now and again I've perused the grad student listings at my old alma mater, and while the number of familiar names definitely has started to dwindle (the majority of my old department has even relocated to a new campus since then), I just now tallied five names that were in grad school with me or at least had started before I left.

Though I periodically miss good ol' NC and the people I used to work and hang out with, the thought that I might have still been in grad school is terrifying. Good luck, Joe!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Secrets of Navel Lint

...or "belly button fluff" as teh Brits call it. Turns out that an Austrian chemist spent three years discovering that body hair traps stray pieces of lint and deposits them in the navel. Dr. Georg Steinhauser collected his own navel lint for three years (to the tune of 503 pieces of fluff from his very own belly button). Among the new and shocking discoveries emanating from this study, we find: Navel lint is not only made up by fabric; dead skin cells, fat, sweat and dust are also represented in the composite material. No $hit, Sherlock; it'd be more surprising if there was gold in there. What else would it be? Another shocking conclusion which no doubt will beenfit humanity to no end comes from his stunning observation that if hairs are responsible for the deposition, navel lint can be reduced if you shave your stomach.

A small step for one man, a giant leap for Mankind.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Ad spots: How low can you go?

I gotta stop drinking Coca-Cola Zero and Coca-Cola Light (not that I drink a lot of soft drinks, but still) - there's no way I can sink money into a company that green-lights the kind of commercials and ad spots you see for Coca-Cola Zero (targeted towards a male demographic) and Light (targeted towards a female demographic). Especially the Zero commercials are the worst cases of lowest common denominator, insulting to both genders, crap commercials I've ever seen on network television in Norway. It might even be pushing the infernal "Axe" ad spots down from the top position.

In case you haven't seen it, it deals with a "morning after a one-night stand" scenario at the girl's place, where the parents come knockin' on the door right after the girl hits the shower. The situation appears dire for the boy, but then he takes a sip of a Coca-Cola Zero he finds in the fridge, and immediately, a SWAT-team breaks in through the window and airlifts the "hero" out with a helicopter. Just before the boy lifts off from the window sill, the girl emerges from the shower, and as he gestures that he'll call her, she enthusiastically approves. As the boy is lifted away from the window, the apartment blows up from an explosion.

Way to deal with a grown-up situation. On a side note, it's somewhat odd that the girl has a Zero in her fridge, seeing as how the entire premise is based on Zero being a boys-only soft drink. Why would she have it in her fridge? There are three scenarios which resonate with the overall premise: 1) the girl is cheating on her boyfriend (as was suggested by my wife), 2) there was an exchange of money for services provided, or 3) that this describes something right out of Aerosmith's "Dude Looks Like A Lady" and thus more "bromantic" than the commercial lets on at first.

Coca-Cola Light is for girls and Coca-Cola Zero is for boys......when was it decided that the consumers were so lazy-ass, howl-at-the-moon stupid that this was a reasonable market segmentation? Especially considering that the hook in the Zero commercials entail adult situations and thus targets demographics above the age of consent?

...and speaking of dumb-ass ads; in Dagbladet's "Magasinet" on Saturday, the inside cover featured a two-page ad from Norsk Sykepleierforbund (The Norwegian Nurses Organization), where they point to the unfortunate fact that women make 85 cent on the dollar compared to men. The punchline in the ad: "Eller må vi bli menn for å få rettferdig lønn" (Or do we have to become men in order to earn the wages we derserve?") You can see the ad and read more about it here. So on one hand the nurses point to the bogus fact that professions traditionally held by women are not as well paid as men with a comparable education (in years), but on the other hand they more than suggest that if they switched genders yet remained within the same profession, they'd make more. Congratulations on confusing the issues and looking downright moronic when there are legitimate grievances which should be resolved.

Monday, March 2, 2009

By the Beard of Beelzebub

..at least this Monday does. Pretty much everything that can go wrong has done so today, and additionally a couple of things have gone wrong which by most laws of reproducibility and thermodynamics ought to have worked. It's Monday and then some. A partial list of what's gone the way of the 8-track, the BetaMax and the laser disc would include:
  • I woke up with lower back pain. I NEVER have any form of back pain, and I didn't work legs or back at the gym yesterday. Just one of them things.
  • Once I got to work, some automatic update feature of the antivirus program malfunctioned, resulting in some inconveniences including random error messages threatening to shut down the computer without saving my work.
  • A colleague performed some experiments on some of our samples this morning to (hopefully) verify the features we observed by means of other techniques. It's taken some time to get to the point where we have a version of this system which really looks promising, so we were hopeful. He didn't verify our results so much as totally debunk them and annihilate our working hypothesis in the process.
  • In working on a revision of a manuscript due back to the journal soon, I was looking up and downloading references from Web Of Science to beef up our rebuttal letter to the reviewers. I had to start over twice, as WOS shut down on me and erased my "Marked list" on two separate occasions. Turns out I hit the jackpot and managed to attempt to download my list of references first when WOS performed a scheduled maintenance shutdown (which technically was my bad) and then later at the exact time when the WOS platform upgraded between versions 4.4 and 4.5.
  • Some of our nano-products actually revert over time, which by my account is dangerously close to violating the second law of thermodynamics. There's no way this type of product formation should be reversible at room temperature, and even if we'd added lots of energy and overcome the barrier, it shouldn't have re-traced the original reation route. T2 explicitly states that the sum of entropy changes in system and surroundings exceeds zero. And so the odds of a polydisperse system not exhibiting any significant hysteresis when reversing a reaction/process which ought to be irreversible........On the plus side, it could be cold fusion and not problems related to our system....
  • What started out as a straight-forward email exchange revealed some upcoming obstacles which in all likelihood force us to postpone the new course in applied nanotechnology one year.
In short, this Monday crapped out like a Skoda on a freeway.