Monthly Archives: October 2006

Hello, I’m Johnny Cash



halloween costume 06, originally uploaded by arcanegazebo.

Recorded for posterity: my Halloween costume for this year, put together from clothes in my wardrobe. I considered the Zombie Johnny Cash version of the costume, but didn’t have the time/energy to do the zombie makeup. I did learn chords for “Ring of Fire”, “Folsom Prison Blues”, and “I Walk The Line”, and played them so poorly I might have summoned the real Zombie Johnny Cash.

I went to a small party mostly attended by physics students, where much fun was had and Corpse Bride was watched. From the comments I received, I conclude that I should dress like Johnny Cash every day.

Halloween Thread 2006

Buffy: Great. I was gonna stay in and veg. The one night a year things are supposed to be quiet for me.
Xander: Halloween quiet? Oh, I figured it’d be a big old vamp scareapalooza.
Buffy: Not according to Giles. He swears that tomorrow night is, like, dead for the undead. They stay in.
Xander: Those wacky vampires! That’s why I love ’em! They just keep you guessing!

Last year’s Halloween thread was a success so here’s another one. Anyone wearing a costume tonight (or right now)? What interesting costumes have you seen?
I’ve seen a few costumes on campus so far today, but have been without my camera. It seems a bit too cold today for that American Indian costume I saw. Meanwhile, motivated by laziness I have devised a costume for myself which merely requires dressing in black and carrying my guitar around.

365 Photos

I’m intrigued by this idea (via Lifehacker) of taking a photo every day for a year to compile a year-long photographic record. I’m thinking of doing this (starting either on 22 November or 1 January); the challenges would be remembering to take a photo every day, and finding sufficiently interesting subjects for the photos. (Similar to the challenges of blogging regularly, which I don’t quite achieve as often as daily.)
Naturally I would post the photos on my Flickr page; I could also post them here, but it might get annoying for those who come for the text (one photo post per day would become more than 50% of the content). So it might be better to put them on a separate page, and only post highlights here.

Stuff I saw while driving yesterday

Unfortunately my camera was in the back of the car.

  • The intersection of Fountain and Fairfax in Los Angeles, which provides the title to an excellent Afghan Whigs song (unless they have a different city in mind). However, the intersection itself was spectacularly uninteresting.

  • A deer running across I-5 almost right in front of me (and through some moderate traffic); after reaching the median it turned around and went back across, and apparently survived. Are the deer fraternities hazing their pledges or something?
  • A confused truck which claimed to be carrying “unportable water”. That’s strange, it looked entirely portable to me. Language Log has also noticed instances of this.

Yes, the LA-SF drive is pretty boring…

NYT Magazine on science fraud

The New York Times Magazine has a piece about another instance of scientific fraud, this time by a clinical researcher:

Poehlman pleaded guilty to lying on a federal grant application and admitted to fabricating more than a decade’s worth of scientific data on obesity, menopause and aging, much of it while conducting clinical research as a tenured faculty member at the University of Vermont. He presented fraudulent data in lectures and in published papers, and he used this data to obtain millions of dollars in federal grants from the National Institutes of Health — a crime subject to as many as five years in federal prison. Poehlman’s admission of guilt came after more than five years during which he denied the charges against him, lied under oath and tried to discredit his accusers. By the time Poehlman came clean, his case had grown into one of the most expansive cases of scientific fraud in U.S. history.

I was initially surprised by this passage describing the alteration of data from one experiment:

The fall that DeNino returned to the lab, Poehlman was looking into how fat levels in the blood change with age. DeNino’s task was to compare the levels of lipids, or fats, in two sets of blood samples taken several years apart from a large group of patients. As the patients aged, Poehlman expected, the data would show an increase in low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which deposits cholesterol in arteries, and a decrease in high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which carries it to the liver, where it can be broken down. Poehlman’s hypothesis was not controversial; the idea that lipid levels worsen with age was supported by decades of circumstantial evidence. Poehlman expected to contribute to this body of work by demonstrating the change unequivocally in a clinical study of actual patients over time. But when DeNino ran his first analysis, the data did not support the premise.
When Poehlman saw the unexpected results, he took the electronic file home with him. The following week, Poehlman returned the database to DeNino, explained that he had corrected some mistaken entries and asked DeNino to re-run the statistical analysis. Now the trend was clear: HDL appeared to decrease markedly over time, while LDL increased, exactly as they had hypothesized.

From this it sounds like Poehlman took potentially interesting data that went against existing hypotheses, and changed it so that it lined up with the conventional wisdom in the field. In other words, he fabricated data to make his results less interesting. This is the opposite of how scientific fraud usually works—consider the Jan Hendrik Schön case in condensed matter physics, where Schön invented spectacular and unexpected results that other groups were unable to reproduce.
But reading further in the article, it makes sense: this is how Poehlman was able to present fraudulent data for so long without getting caught. His results seemed solid enough to be impressive, but not surprising enough to draw too much attention.

The length of time that Poehlman perpetrated his fraud — 10 years — and its scope make his case unique, even among the most egregious examples of scientific misconduct. Some scientists believe that his ability to beat the system for so long had as much to do with the research topics he chose as with his aggressive tactics. His work was prominent, but none of his studies broke new scientific ground. (This may also be why no other scientists working in the field have retracted papers as a result of Poehlman’s fraud.) By testing undisputed assumptions on popular topics, Poehlman attracted enough attention to maintain his status but not enough to invite suspicion. Moreover, replicating his longitudinal data would be expensive and difficult to do.

It’s a pretty sad story, and I wonder what medical discoveries might have already been made if this guy had not been obscuring these issues with fabricated data.

Protest Signs at Birge Hall


protest signs
Originally uploaded by arcanegazebo.

Both UCB Chancellor Birgeneau and and UC President Dynes are members of the physics department. This is perhaps good for departmental prestige but also draws protestors. Yesterday a rally for higher custodial wages made a stop at Birge Hall. (In fact, neither Dynes or Birgeneau are typically in the physics buildings–the only time I’ve seen Birgeneau in the department was the day Smoot won the Nobel.)
Not pictured: my office window, which is two windows to the right of the frame. I was down in the lab at the time, and missed it.

Killer Parties

Live: The Hold Steady with Sean Na Na and Black Fur at the Great American Music Hall: I arrived about ten minutes before the nominal start time of 8 pm and found about ten other people there. This did not give me confidence in the opening band; I was unaware that Black Fur were even on the bill and was expecting Sean Na Na to be the first act. In any case, the lack of people on the floor when I arrived allowed me to get very close to the stage. Black Fur did come across as unprofessional, with problems such as forgetting to plug in the guitarist’s pedals and some indeterminate flakiness in the bassist’s amp, and their drummer was a jackass who at one point spat beer into the audience. But despite this I actually enjoyed their set (once they got their equipment working). Certainly they sucked far less than the opening act at last year’s Hold Steady show. They were followed by Sean Na Na, who didn’t make much of an impression on me and I can’t really even remember what they sounded like.
The Hold Steady then came on and proceeded to play an outstanding set. Maybe it’s just that I was closer to the stage this time, but it felt like they had a stronger stage presence than last year and there was more interplay with the audience. All the songs sounded terrific, although during the first few Craig Finn was almost inaudible until they turned up his mike. Highlights: Of the new songs, I probably enjoyed “Massive Nights” the most—it was in the middle of the set when they were well warmed up and they gave it a great treatment. At the beginning of “Don’t Let Me Explode”, Finn told the story of the martyrdom of Saint Barbara, who is apparently the patron saint of Not Letting Things Explode (really), hence the line in the song: Saint Barbara I’m calling your name. As the second to last song they played a blistering rendition of “Your Little Hoodrat Friend”, during which a string broke on the bass, and the rest of the band improvised while the bassist replaced it, after which they picked up where they had left off.
This was all eclipsed by the encore, where “Hornets! Hornets!” was followed by “Most People Are DJs” during which the crowd was whipped into a frenzy. The song then transitioned smoothly into “Killer Parties”, the lead guitarist pulled someone out of the front row and put him on guitar, and then the band members started pulling people on stage as fast as they could. And did I mention I was up in front? As the show ended I was up on the stage with the Hold Steady and a crowd of other audience members, all dancing and singing along to the last lines of the song: I remember we departed from our bodies. We woke up in Ybor City…
It seems to me that any concert that ends this way should get a perfect score. Rating: 5/5
Hold Steady setlist below the fold (I was close enough that I could read it off Craig Finn’s copy):

Continue reading

Between Stations [Open Thread]

Hmm, maybe I should have bought tickets to see one of Yo La Tengo’s shows this week as well, they’ve got three consecutive nights at the Fillmore. But that would give me no time to devote to Valkyrie Profile. Tonight I’ll see the Hold Steady, almost exactly a year after the last time I saw them.
TV on the Radio: Return to Cookie Mountain: This album has been widely hailed as a breakthrough record for TV on the Radio, a substantial leap over their previous work. Basically, I agree with all of that, so I can outsource my review to the various glowing pieces that have appeared in music publications. The opening track, “I Was A Lover” is a bit weak, but is followed by “Hours” which is the first of a number of awesome songs. My other favorites are “A Method”, “Dirtywhirl”, and especially “Wolf Like Me” on which David Bowie makes an appearance (listen here). One of the best CDs of the year. Their live show is also spectacular; they were my favorite act from Coachella this year. Rating: 4.5/5
Live: Ladytron with CSS at the Fillmore: CSS is a band I’d heard of but not actually heard before last night. They are from Brazil and are nearly an all-girl group, with a 1:5 male/female ratio. The music was competent dance rock with a synth and usually three guitars (sometimes two guitars and two basses). Their singer was very bouncy and jumped into the crowd several times, quite the opposite of Ladytron’s reserved demeanor. What I could make out of the lyrics sounded pretty amusing, as if Art Brut songs were rendered in broken English.
Ladytron started out with “High Rise”, a perfect opening song but performed somewhat anemically. They didn’t sound warmed up until they played “Evil” a couple songs later, but from there they were able to keep the energy level pretty high. When I saw them at Coachella the band members maintained an air of aloofness, but here they were a bit more relaxed and interactive, Helen Marnie even dancing around the stage during her singing parts. The bands I’ve seen at the Fillmore are always overwhelmed by the history and prestige of the venue, and Ladytron were clearly not immune to this.
The setlist was fairly straightforward, most of Witching Hour plus older singles. The only thing really out of left field was a cover of “Send Me A Postcard” by Shocking Blue, a perky song that one wouldn’t ordinarily associate with Ladytron, but they did include the original on their compilation CD Softcore Jukebox. “Soft Power” was a highlight: the band had a collection of lights on stage which might have been primarily intended for this song, red arc lights and warm yellow bulbs suggestive of candlelight. The combination of the eerie lighting and the strength of the musical performance really brought out the witching hour aspect of the song, making it feel like an incantation drawing out magical energies. “Beauty*2″ came close to this effect as well. They saved “Destroy Everything You Touch” for the very end and pulled out all the stops for a spectacular ending to a strong show. Rating: 4/5
Ladytron setlist below the fold:

Continue reading