Sunday, December 27, 2009

Avatar

I'm recovering from Christmas lasagna.  So this will be Q&A style.



Is the actual film better than what is presented in the trailer?
-Definitely.  Yes.

How are the special effects?
-Absolutely amazing.  Almost worth paying 13 dollars for a single movie ticket.  No uncanny valley with the humanoid characters, and everything else was breathtakingly well rendered.

How was was everything else?
-Incredibly average, even clichéd.  The story is basically Dances with Wolves in space and the characters don't really develop their standard action movie tropes.  Basically, this is exactly the kind of storytelling you'd expect from a James Cameron movie.

So it was bad?
-Not objectively no.  I'm really tired of these "going native" stories.  Although this is less offensive than say The Last Samurai, its really just another "white guy hangs out with non-white guys, learns from them, eventually gets accepted by them, and then eventually has to save them" kind of story.  However, all James Cameron's movies are basically standard plots with some awesome special effects on top.  Heck, the whole overzealous military plotline is almost identical to the one in The Abyss.  With all that in mind its hard to say that Avatar is bad, mostly its just kind of dumb. 

What about the action sequences?
-Say what you want about Cameron's tendency towards well worn plots and stock characters, but he certainly knows how to put together some action.  Putting together a coherent and engaging action sequence seems to be a dying art, but wow is there some breathtaking stuff in this movie.  Mecha vs. dinosaur fights played completely straight and somehow it works out and even seems believable.

So is it worth seeing?
I think so.  Mileage may vary depending on your tolerance for well worn plots and action movie violence.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas?! Comics!

Ok, before I get carried away, this is my last post like this.

From "Christmas Spirits" by Bill Willingham and Cory Walker. In the DCU Infinite Holiday Special #1.


 
 

Thursday, December 24, 2009

To be fair...

...Marvel Comics also has its fair share of ridiculous Christmas shenanigans.  I do think this is more forced than the DC stories though.



Christmas with Batman and Superman

Nothing says Christmas like jetbacks and random acts of violence.   Sequences like this are why I read DC comics.  


From “Yes, Tyrone, There is a Santa Claus” by Kirby Puckett and Pete Woods.  In the DCU Infinite Holiday Special #1.  


 
 

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Movies I liked in the 2000's: Kill Bill

Inglourious Basterds might just be a better piece of cinema, but I can't help but love the most unabashedly B grade movie of all time. 



For the purposes of this review, I'm considering Volumes 1 and 2 to be two parts of the same movie.  Though tonally that couldn't be more different, the whole thing really works best when you watch the two parts back to back.

Now, Kill Bill might just have the most ludicrous plot I've ever seen and it unashamedly steals from just about every genre film ever made, but somehow it all works.  What makes Kill Bill so amazing to me that it should really be the worst movie ever.  However, somehow the combination of klingon proverbs, insane fight sequences, anime, Ennio Morricone, Sonny Chiba, discussions about Superman, and stealing Bruce Lee's wordrobe not only works, but makes for some incredibly engaging viewing.

Movies I liked in the 2000's: City of God

I've heard a lot of comparisons between City of God and Slumdog Millionaire. While there are some superficial similarities, City of God is far and away a better film.



In many ways, The Wire is a better point of comparison for City of God than Slumdog Millionaire. Like the Wire, the story of City of God does not revolve around a single character but around a host of characters inhabiting a slum outside of Rio de Jineiro. Structurally, the film is made up of a series of interconnecting stories detailing the growth of organized crime within the slum. Stick-ups lead to drug dealing which leads to conflict over territory which leads to an escalation of violence that nearly engulfs the whole community.

The gangs throughout City of God, just like those in The Wire, are composed primarily of children and teenagers. This isn't The Godfather where grown men gun each other down whilst wearing suits and ties. City of God, which frighteningly is based on actual events, features children committing heinous acts of violence for reasons that are unclear even to them.

What makes the film so strong is the frankness in which it presents this fact. While the film has some unique cinematography, there is a distinct lack of aestheticization of violence. Every bullet thats fired has consequences, random shots end up having grave consequences. Even Knockout Ned, a character whose motivation for violence is initially laudable ends up losing his moral center as the violence escalates. The fact that the film ends almost exactly as it begins underscores how pointless and inevitable the cycle of violence has become.

I haven't seen the follow-up City of Men or the TV series of the same name yet.  But after rewatching City of God, I'm definitely going to check them out.

Life in a Lego House

Yes this is real. Yes this is awesome.



Read more about this here.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Movies I liked in the 2000's: Road to Perdition

A meditation on the consequences of living a violent life... featuring Tom Hanks?



This is everything Public Enemies could have been.  Normally I can't stand Tom Hanks, but he plays so far against type here that it just works.  Paul Newman and Daniel Craig also turn in great performances.  However, in my opinion, the best part of this movie is the Hopper-esque cinematography by Conrad Hall. Seriously, even if you don't like the story, the acting, the accents, or anything else about the film, its worth seeing for the visuals alone.

As you can probably guess, the film is a bit pretentious in spots. But it feels more like the cast and crew making use of their immense talent than just being pretentious for pretentious sake. Despite the pretension, Road to Perdition has quite the emotional core. The developing relationship between Michael Sullivan (played by Hanks) and his son is one of the most emotionally engrossing things I've seen committed to film.

Really, this was underrated when it came out and it remains so now.  If you like gangster movies or dislike happy, cheery Tom Hanks, check this out.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Movies I liked in the 2000's

I'm going to be posting some thoughts on movies I liked that came out during the 2000's. I'm a bit pretentious so expect a fair amount of violins and subtitles.

Also, these will be in no particular order as I'm not sure how one would go about quantifying these things without it being completely artificial.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

More Muppets



Regular updating begins again next week.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving Break

Content has been sporadic for awhile, but I posting will slow down for the rest of the year.  Between the normal end of the semester crunch and the holidays, I doubt there will be much in the way of interesting things to post anyways.

Using Grooveshark, I've compiled a list of the music I've really enjoyed from the last year or so.  There are a lot of things that aren't included on here for a variety of reasons, but in lieu of me posting anything interesting (and because I like posting more than just text), here is a sample what I've been forcing my labmates to listen to all year. 



The full mix (which only exists on my iTunes) has some South African rock music, some more folk-rock sounding things, and some incredibly happy sounding post-rock.  Nevertheless, I think there is a fair amount of variety here.  This is the kind of thing that results from me being forced to do programming for hours on end.

*Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Granger Causality

Who knew psychology would involve so much math?! Also, I'm glad I had conceptual understanding of Bayesian statistics (and prior probabilities) before I started learning about functional connectivity.

If you understand any of the above paragraph and are not a grad student or mathematician... go watch Mad Men or something.

Lecture Notes

For the approximately 0 people out there who are curious. Here is a snippit of my lecture notes from my last lecture. The paper copies I have are covered in scribbles and examples of things like "Too much GH = GIGANTISM" and "Talk about giant confederate soldier and his giant Canadian wife!" For the following segment of notes, I wrote things like, "Extended estrogen treatments not recommended by AMA- Not really useful for men."  Most of the grammar in these notes was put there as I was going through the material the morning of class. I didn't really read from these as I was talking, mostly I was writing on the board and getting chalkdust all over my pants.

This is about a 5 minute stretch about neuroplasticity in the hippocampus:


III. The Hippocampus
  • As we talked about on Wednesday, the hippocampus is a major target of stress hormones. However, cortisol is not the only hormone that affects the hippocampus.
  • Cortisol- We have already talked about how cortisol leads to hippocampal atrophy. What does this mean? Basically, the hippocampus shrinks.
    • Chronic (or even acute) exposure to high levels of cortisol can cause death of dendrites in the CA3 region or the hippocampus. The hippocampus has 4 major layers (CA1-4).
    • Cortisol in the dendate gyrus stops neurogenesis. Neurogenesis is the production of new neurons. This process continues as we age and is thought to be involved in some of the more general forms of plasticity discussed earlier.
    • These two changes can lead to memory deficits- underscores the importance of the hippocampus for learning and memory.
  • Estrogen and Progesterone- I mentioned on Wednesday that they had protective effects…
    • When given in appropriate amounts, these hormones have been shown to increase the number of synapses (cell connections) in the CA1 region of the hippocampus.
  • This synaptogenesis seems to occur via the NMDA receptor (N-methyl-D-aspertate).
    • NMDA is a glutamate receptor and is thought to be the major way to affect plasticity via the growth of new synapses.
    • Estrogen upregulates production of NMDA
  • How does it work? In the post-synaptic cell, the NMDA receptor will only become active if both the pre and postsynaptic cells are active at the same time. By acting as a coincidence detector in this way, NMDA helps in the formation of neural networks.
  • Reversible atrophy in CA3
    • This occurs mainly in ground squirrels and in other small rodent like mammals.
    • This occurs during hibernation.
    • This is very similar to the atrophy seen as a result of stress. However, this occurs much faster and is generally thought to be reversible.
    • The mechanism of this is not really understood.

Paranormal Activity

Though this featured some interesting bits of suspense, I literally laughed out loud when it ended.



While watching Paranormal Activity, I was less interested in the story and more interested in how the film managed to build suspense through incredibly simple means.  Loud noises and doors closing unexpectedly led to some gasps of terror from some people in the audience.  Had the film stuck to these simple things, I think it would have turned out better.  By far the weakest points of the film where when it lapsed into exposition and horror movie cliches.

I mentioned that I laughed out loud at the ending.  Not only did I find it completely ridiculous, but was a complete violation of the rules the film had set out for itself.  Any sense of realism established by the Blair Witch Project style cinematography was completely negated in the last 30 seconds of the film.   Honestly, it ruined the whole thing for me.

The Men Who Stare at Goats

Without such an amazing cast, this would have been pretty lackluster.  Definitely not the best movie of the year, but worth watching on DVD.



There is an amazing bit of meta comedy in this where George Cloony explains to Ewan McGregor what it means to be a Jedi knight.  However, aside from some amazing casting choices including Jeff Bridges essentially reprising his role from The Big Lebowski and Kevin Spacey playing a sociopathic psychic, the film never really fulfills its comedic potential.  There are some hints of a criticism of the excesses of military intelligence and the whole thing plays like a condemnation of the Iraq war, but neither of these things is fleshed out in a satisfactory manner.  Still, I'd recommend seeing this on DVD (or on student discount Thursdays), if for nothing else than for George Cloony's impeccable comic timing.

Where the Wild Things Are

Aside from maybe Inglorious Basterds, this was my favorite movie of the year so far.



Seriously, if ever there was a movie made to fit my very specific taste this was it.  There are monsters running around, weird things happening that aren't ever explained, the direction and cinematography are amazing, and the soundtrack is performed by a band I really like.  The feeling I get is that this is a bit too quirky for everyone's taste, but I really really enjoyed it.

Anatomy of a S.D.I.

There are several teaching requirements that I need to complete in order to get my degree.  The first of which is known as Supervised Direct Instruction (S.D.I.).  Essentially this is the same as a normal T.A. assignment but with some additional responsibilities.  Principle amongst these is that I have to do about a weeks worth of lecturing under the supervision and guidance of a faculty member.

I was planning on doing my S.D.I. next semester with my advisor and then doing my other requirements next fall (which would put me right on track to graduate on time).  However, my advisor and the professor I T.A. for colluded to convince me to do it this semester, for a class on hormones and behavior.  I didn't really object to this as normally the lecturing done by the T.A. is from the professor's notes.  Generally the professor and the T.A. work together extensively to ensure that the T.A. is ready and that the lectures go as smoothly as possible.

Well, I've just finished two weeks of teaching without any supervision whatsoever and I think it went pretty well.  I had to build three lectures from scratch, write a quiz, assign a reading assignment (from an academic journal), and write a set of open response questions.  All this without a textbook or anything resembling guidance.  Oh, and I was also expressly prohibited from using powerpoint (though I generally prefer to lecture unplugged anyways).  I'm griping here, and I was complaining to anyone that would listen earlier in the week, but mostly I'm just amazed it didn't turn into a complete disaster.

As far as the lectures themselves... I still need to work on some basic teaching things like talking slower and giving time for student questions.  Also, I need to work on not leaning back on the blackboard when I'm wearing a black shirt.  I finished each lecture a little early but no earlier than five or so minutes before the end of the class period.  I got stuck a few times with student questions, but it turns out saying "I don't actually know that, thats a good question." generally satisfies undergraduate students.

Overall, I think I managed to do alright.  Given how helpful she was during the rest of the process, I probably won't get any feedback from the professor so I won't know anything for sure until I get the teaching evaluations back from the students.  The one benefit of all this is that my advisor went to bat for me and had it out with this professor about making me do so much work without any direction.  This didn't really help the situation per se, but its good to know that she'll do that for me.

In terms of the students, the quiz and reading assignment grades are higher than normal despite numerous complaints about their difficulty.  No one came to my office hours while I was teaching, which I'm taking as a sign that my lectures were at least comprehensible.  And now, after months, everyone recognizes me as the T.A.

Like seemingly everything else in grad school I'm learning by jumping into the deep end.  Next semester I'm teaching a section of a research methods class.  Thankfully, I get to choose my own textbook and there will be a faculty member overseeing my progress.  My S.D.I was probably good preparation for this, but mostly I'm just thankful I don't have to explain the hormone changes that occur with aging to a bunch of undergrads again.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Downtown Chicago

I was waiting for the bus and the line at Starbucks was really long so I ran around taking pictures.


 
 
 
 
 
 

The Bean

When I was in Chicago I spent some time wandering around the city. Here are some pictures I took of the Cloud Gate sculpture at Millennium park. I especially like how you can photograph the reflection of the Chicago skyline.


 

Jon Stewert eviscerates Glenn Beck

I'm not really sure what motivated this, but boy is it great.  This is even more heated than Stewert's deconstruction of Jim Cramer.



For comparison, here is just a small dose of the crazy that is Glenn Beck.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ridiculous

Its a ridiculous thing to vote for taking away someone's rights. I thought Maine would be the one to turn the tide on that one. Guess not.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Some Pictures from The University of Chicago

While I was in Chicago, I stayed at the International House at the University of Chicago. Given that UChiago rejected my grad school application, I took the opportunity to run amok...

...and by that I mean I ran around and took pictures.



My Shining-esque hall at the International House.


My luxurious dormroom.


There were knights.  Seriously.


The buildings at UChicago make it look like Hogwarts.


The business school.


Gargoyles!
The main quad.  Just out of frame: people being studious.



The dining hall.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Some Pictures from Chicago

Consider this a preview for when I finally get around to posting about the conference.




 


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Liveblog from SfN

The most notable thing about the conference today is how much everyone looks like a zombie.  I never thought I'd be so glad to go back to Long Island, but five days of brain stuff is just too much.

I've seen some interesting research, met some incredibly talented scientists, ate an ridiculous amount of cheese.  I'll post some of my photos and some more of my (hopefully more organized) thoughts as I decompress from all this.

Random Notes from Chicago

1.  In real life neuroscientists are more quirky than they are stuffy.  For some reason, I expected to see more tweed jackets and less Dodger's t-shirts.

2.  Conversly, University of Chicago might have the coolest campus I've ever seen.  There are gargoyles, iron gates, latin inscriptions, and everything else you'd want from your academic institution.  Also, there are knights.

3.  Five 12+ hour days devoted to neuroscience makes my brain hurt.  We went to a restaurant where you could write on the walls and I drew a picture of the prefrontal cortex and then signed my name.

4.  Deep dish pizza is good.  Deep dish pizza twice in the same 48 hour period was probably a mistake.

5.  Optogenetics is the hot new thing in psychology.  I am kind of in awe of it.

6.  Magicians say really dumb things at neuroscience conferences.  Example: "There are more magicians in magic than women."

 7.  Neuroscientists say even dumber things to magicians at said conferences.  Example: "Has anyone tried to do magic with non-human primates?"

8.  No cab driver in Chicago knows how to get to Hyde Park.  Concordantly, the Metra sometimes decides to not stop there and abandon it's passengers in the middle of nowhere.

9.  Advisers go to venders to buy equipment that costs thousands of dollars.  Their grad students go for the free pens.

10.  Academics will wait hours in line for coffee.  I will wait minutes for chai tea.

11.  I want to go to California for a post-doc.  All the best research is either there or someplace cold.

12.  If you know where to go, it is possible to get incredible all you can eat sushi.

13.  Recovery of function data suggests that an intact prefrontal cortex responds in a load dependent manner supporting dynamic neuroplasticity as a mechanism of recovery of function.

14.  Even PhDs check facebook while during talks.  In fact, they might do it more than average.

15.  A group of PhDs will abandon their grad students in downtown Chicago at any opportunity.  Especially if there is a discussion of funding to be had.

1 Minute at SfN

I'll post a lot more from Chicago in the next week or so, but I thought I'd share this before I head home...

The last major talk of the conference was by Eric Kandel a guy who literally wrote the book on neuroscience.  I thought the talk was pretty interesting, but it gives a pretty good example of why my brain is so exhausted after four days of running around with a bunch of brain people.

I got some video.  Check it out.



Believe it or not, he is talking about memory formation.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Frantically Packing...

... I'm supposed to introduce myself to some very very smart people this weekend.  This is going to be an experience and a half.

Also, I'm shocked no one has made this (not at all amusing or even relevent) reference before me:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I love science

There isn't really much I can add to this and this.  Just click and enjoy that the fact that two highly respected physicists proposing this idea.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Very Autumnal Day

Over the weekend I went to a pumpkin patch out in the Hamptons with some friends. Turns out it was also an apple orchard. Because it's Long Island, there was a winery across the street. Here are some pictures.







Friday, October 9, 2009

This is stupid...

... but still kind of awesome.  I especially like the verse by Stephen Hawking.



My philosophy of science teacher in college absolutely detested Carl Sagan.  According to him, Sagan's oversimplification and folk-philosophizing completely ruined a whole generation in terms of critical scientific thought.  I tend to agree, but attempting to popularize the scientific method was probably not an altogether bad thing. 

...Plus it's not like we can autotune Copernicus.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Planetary 27

Finally.  The epilogue we've been waiting for for 2+ years.  We finally learn the fate of Ambrose Chase and I can finally buy the last paperback.

Check out the images below to get a glimpse of what I liked so much about this series.  The images are all from the last issue, but previous issues have included things like giant dinosaur monsters, a critique on the nihilistic comic heroes of the 1990's,  The ghost of a Hong Kong police officer who strongly resembles Chow Yon-Fat in Hard Boiled, and a criminal conspiracy involving both Sherlock Holmes and Count Dracula.

Fitting with the rest of the series, the ending is strangely optimistic.  Since the series is basically a pastiche of action adventure stories ranging from those of H.G. Welles to those of Jack Kirby it makes sense that it would end with the implication that there is still a huge universe (or 10,000 universes) to explore and a lifetime of adventure to be had.


 



Sunday, October 4, 2009

Heading to Chicago

...In a couple of weeks.  I'll be there for a few days to attend the Society for Neuroscience conference.  I'll also be spending some time of the University of Chicago campus, which will be fun as they neglected to tell me they weren't accepting graduate students when I applied there a couple of years ago.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Stony Brook Library...

...has nearly every film released by Criterion Collection. How did I not know this before now?

Watch as my productivity drops and my pretentiousness increases exponentially.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Dark Knight of the Soul

The story behind this thing is completely fascinating to me.  Legal disputes have prevented a proper release for the album, so instead a blank CD-R is being sold with all kinds of weird packaging including an undoubtedly disturbing booklet of photographs by David Lynch.  All the songs that were supposed to be on the album are available online through.... alternative channels.  The idea is that people will download these pirated songs and burn them onto the blank CD.

Complicating matters is that that the songs can be streamed legally through NPR's website.  I have no idea what kind of legal disputes allow for songs to be streamed free of charge but not sold in a physical medium.  Furthermore, I can't for the life of me figure out how the artists are getting away with selling blank CD-Rs and implying that people should commit internet piracy.

All I know is that the album is pretty great overall and has caused me to listen to a heckava lot of Vic Chesnutt over the last few days.  Also, I really enjoy the fact that David Lynch is contributing (absurdly creepy) lead vocals to a rock album in 2009.



Paul Pope does Dune


This might just be the best thing I've seen all week.  Unfortunately it's not a preview of a full adaption.  Still, no one does trippy sci fi comics quite like Paul Pope.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Return to the Giant Pool of Money

About a year ago I posted a This American Life podcast detailing what was happening the economy at the time.  Well... now there is a follow up.  It's interesting to hear how the lives of the individuals described in the previous podcast have changed for better or worse.  Normally I'd refrain from posting something so similar what I've posted before, but I think this is worse a listen. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Prisoner [Remake]

This actually looks pretty cool.  Appropriate levels of trippy weirdness and giant killer balloons.  I'm of the opinion that the original, while really good, hasn't aged very well.  In this case, I think a remake isn't a terrible idea.  Plus, it's hard to go wrong with Ian Mckellen.


Between Mad Men and Breaking Bad AMC has been doing some really interesting things lately.  Color me cautiously optimistic.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

I remain unconvinced

Apparently it's a good idea to retire to Natick, Massachusetts.  Looking at the other towns listed, I'm guessing they mean South Natick.  Either that or they thought that the elderly would really enjoy George's Pizza.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

15 things I learned at Patrick Swayze movie night

1. Point Break and Roadhouse are basically the same movie. One just involves surfing bankrobbers while the other involves a tai-chi practicing, philosophy degree from NYU holding bouncer.

2. Keanu Reeves is terrible. Also, he apparently hates dogs.  Conversely, Patrick Swayze is pretty cool and inexplicably polite.

3. Surfing is so expensive it forces a bunch of pacifist hippies to rob banks dressed as ex-presidents.

4. The Narrator from The Big Lebowski was once the most feared bouncer in Jasper Missouri.

5.  Only together can Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves defeat the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

6.  "Pain don't hurt."  Unless said pain comes from someone ripping your throat out and throwing you into a river.

7.  The FBI employs not only Neo from the Matrix but also that one guy from Predator 2 and Dr. Cox.

8.  Falling polar bears will knock you out for a few minutes but you'll be perfectly fine afterwards.

9.  While undercover with a group of bank robbers, it is best to use your real name.  Especially when you are a famous college football player from Ohio State.  Additionally, surfers in California will immediately recognize you as a college football player from Ohio State and invite you to join them in a friendly football game/gang initiation.

10. Telling someone you are going to kill them the old fashioned way means you are going to shoot them.  It makes sense to say this after trying to kill that same person with a knife and your bear hands. 

11.  Meatball sandwiches are delicious.  So much so that eating them prevents you from noticing a bank robbery.

12.  Jasper Missouri has a single musician who just so happens to play at every bar in town.  That musician is Jeff Healey.

13.  It is a very good idea to jump out of an airplane with a bunch of bank robbers who know you are an undercover FBI agent.  It will not end badly.  Not at all.

14.  Mess with the one rich guy in town and he'll firebomb your house, blow up your hardware store, kill your best friend, run over your cars with a monster truck, sic an evil version of Patrick Swayze on you, and cause some trouble at your bar.

15.  It is possible to identify bank robbers as surfers because they have tan lines.  In California.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Ridiculous Things (Mostly Relating to Academia)

1. Apparently I've been overpaying my rent. For the next three months I will be underpaying my rent to compensate.

2. Because Monday is a holiday and we've already had a large number of Monday holidays this semester, Stony Brook has now decided that Tuesday is Monday. Monday is now Sunday II, Wednesday is still Wednesday, and I am confused.

3. Regardless of Tuesday being Monday, my TA assignment for that day has been canceled. This effectively gives me more nights to work on a grant proposal a four day weekend.

4. My adviser is worried that people are spending too much time on their homework for her class. This is exacerbated by her grading system which makes it possible to get a 1.889 on a 2 point assignment. Her solution is to stop telling us our grades so we won't worry so much about them.

5. Progress meetings are really boring. Though being one of the few omnivores in a department of vegetarians (no Veagens... this isn't Clark) has it's advantages when pizza is served.

6. I've been printing off E-Books and instruction manuals for SPM and other software using my 40 page per day printing quota. This is going to take awhile.

7. Two weeks ago I brought my car to a garage because I had a check engine light on. Yesterday I brought it back to be inspected after said light had come back on. Miraculously it passed inspection and everything seems to be working fine. I am however down a quarter tank of gas between when I dropped it off and when I picked it up.

8. A 24 hour deli opened up down the street from me. It closes at midnight and serves breakfast.

9. Stony Brook is very worried about Swine Flu. Undergraduate students have been told not to come to class if they think they are infected. Undergraduate students need more excuses not to come to class.

10. I cleaned out my office over the summer with the hopes of keeping it better organized this year. Currently I have about 6 square inches of free space on my desk.

11. Undergrads really like it when classes get out earlier. Their TAs probably like it a lot more. Also, knocking on every door in the psych department is not the best way to find said TAs.

12. Almost every social psychology paper we've read in class so far has used fMRI. This makes my brain hurt.

13. Last year I would occassionally find my labmates sleeping in the lab. I thought this would end when most of them graduated. Apparently not. I thought I'd be the one to sleep on the lab couch first, I thought wrong.

This is why I haven't been blogging

I've been watching tv...



... ok, so thats not entirely true. I've just been really busy. Apparently grad school is a lot of work. I'll try to update a bit more often but posting will probably be a bit more sporadic than over the summer.

In the meantime, enjoy some more from The Office.

District 9

After being really excited for this during the summer, I finally saw this at the end of September...



More than any other movie I've seen this year, this was the victim of some serious over-hype. At it's core, District 9 is a decent little sci-fi action movie with some not-at-all subtle political allegory thrown in. The action scenes are nice, the aliens look pretty creepy, and the pseudo-documentary style cinematography keeps the story moving forward. However, despite the fact that there are extended sequences featuring mercenaries fighting alien mecha, I found myself getting bored. Despite the documentary feel, nothing is really explained adequately and the characters just aren't very interesting.

I think the weird mix of political allegory and sci-fi action adventure ultimately hurts the film. Pursuing either direction would have probably resulted in a better (or at least more coherent) film. As it stands now, District 9 feels a bit like someone wanted to write a movie about apartheid and then decided to play Halo instead. It's not bad, but I don't think it's as good as everyone's been saying.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Mixtapes

When I can't sleep I sometimes start making mixtapes. Instead of helping me sleep this inevitably causes me to stay up late experimenting with different song orders and listening to a ton of weird music.

I also do this when I have a bunch of free time. Such as on a long weekend where I've decided not to go into lab for once.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

XPlanes

XPlanes is a cool little website that I've spent far too long looking at today.


See all manner of weird, experimental, and downright cool aeromachines here.

I'm pretty bad at this blogging thing

We went out to the wineries yesterday and apparently nature does exist on Long Island. It's not all strip malls, Olive Gardens, and people with small dogs after all. There were farms with vegetable stands and horses and everything.

I forgot my camera.

Also, it turns out that wine grapes taste terrible if you eat them right off the vine. This was news to me.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Boondock Saints 2

Does anybody still care about this?



All the 14 year old boys who loved the original are now 24 and should now know better. I hope they do because this looks terrible.

First Week of Classes (Year 2)

1.  Thanks to the wonderful new MA program both my classes are well over the cap.  As fun as it is to see how many grad students can fit into a room, people probably should not have to sit on window sills.

2.  TAing has inexplicably become TAing + some lecturing.  This will fulfill some requirements so I'm not too upset.

3.  Despite my complaining, I'm actually kind of excited about classes this semester.  Social psych seems like it's generally outside my scientific worldview so I'll probably end up either learning a lot of new things that'll inform my research or arguing constantly about experimental method and scientific philosophy.  Either way, I'll keep myself entertained.

4.  I have Friday off (for labor day?).  With that said, I'll probably pull another 12 hour day because grad school is so much fun.

5.  Apparently I'm still on track to graduate on time.  Also, it's slightly worrying that the department chair has no idea who the head of my area is.

6.  Due to the addition of a recliner and some cleaning, my office now looks like a real office.  I expect I'll stop using it in about a week in favor of the lab.

7.  You know you spend too much time studying psychology when you spend significant amounts of time thinking about why people park where they do in the parking lot.  I'm serious, it makes absolutely no sense to me why people always park on the ends of the lot and never in the middle.

8.  I forgot that so many undergrads went to Stony Brook.  The campus is suddenly full of them.  I'd like them to take less time while printing at the library.  Other than that, it's just strange to see so many people around after no one being on campus for months.

9.  Turns out I'm completely dependant on Google products like GMail and Google Scholar... I might have to diversify a bit.  When Google went down I actually had do some real literature searching.

10.  Discovery of the day: listening to movie soundtracks while reading articles makes whatever your reading seem suddenly more dramatic and important.  The consensus so far is that Ennio Morricone works best.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Just Trying Out Some New Stuff...

...Nevermind the mess. I'm making some minor improvements.

I'm also trying some new ways of embedding media, specifically music from GrooveShark.







Also, in case you can't tell, I've been listening to a fair amount of music lately. This is what happens when I'm at school for 12 hours a day.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

School Starts Tomorrow

1. I'm taking Social Psychology because I have to and Cognitive Neuroscience because it's being taught by my adviser.

2. Research and writing will hopefully pick up a bit in the next few weeks. At some point I'll spend days and days looking at brains.

3. I have a vague notion of trying to be less stressed this year. Also, I'm going to try to leave school at a reasonable hour occasionally.

4. I'm inexplicably TAing in the library. I have no idea where the room is. Tomorrow is going to be an adventure.

5. There is a progress meeting this Wednesday. I'm expecting that my class is going to be incredibly stressed out after it's over. Luckily, there is going to be pizza.

6. I signed up for an art class. Seems like it'll be fun even if the description of how we're going to turn off our right hemispheres is a little disconcerting.

What does these random sentences all mean?

I will probably post less often. Though, maybe I'll start writing about things more meaningful than Batman.

Ok, so probably not.

Inglourious Basterds

Caught this last night with some friends and ended up enjoying it a lot more than I thought I was going to.



One thing I should say before moving on, the previews for Inglourious Basterds are ridiculously misleading. This is far from an action movie and at times, it almost callously subverts the tropes of a war movie. Major characters die quickly and easily, the heroes are shown to be as vicious and bloodthirsty as their enemies, and the action scenes are quick, brutal, and completely indiscriminate. There are long stretches of the film, including the amazing 20 minute long opening scene, where the characters do nothing more than sit around and talk. Despite all this, this is probably my favorite movie of the summer.

Tarantino's skill at writing dialogue is on full display here. While most scenes feature little action, tension is built to almost unbearable levels through the dialogue. Often these scenes result in a quick staccato of violence, but the dialogue keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat wondering how the heroes will extricate themselves from the situation. Given that this is a Tarantino film, they often don't. As the film inches towards it's completely insane climax, a large number of major and minor characters die.

The acting in Inglourious Basterds was a real highlight for me. Aside from Brad Pitt, the "Basterds" are all cast from non-traditional sources. Eli Roth is a (terrible) horror film director, BJ Novak is a writer (and castmember) for The Office, and Samm Levine was on Freaks and Geeks. The international cast especially Christoph Waltz, who did an amazing job as Hans Landa, were also quite good. Even Mike Myers of all people makes a cameo, which isn't nearly as terrible as it sounds.

I've read a lot of criticism of this film, and I think most of it comes from the terrible way in which it was marketed. As I've said, this isn't a war movie. In reality it is closer to a combination Spaghetti Western and French New Wave. In fact, these influences are made explicit in the soundtrack and cinematography. The trailer makes the film look like Defiance or Valkyrie or any of the other incredibly clichéd and mediocre World War Two films that have come out recently. Inglourious Basterds is really the antithesis of these films.

In fact, I'd argue that Inglourious Basterds is not even really about the war. Explicitly it's about two separate plots to kill high ranking members of the Nazi party, but as I was watching it, especially in the closing scenes, I kept thinking about how Inglourious Basterds is really a film about films. About the power of cinema to change and shape our perceptions of actual events. A propaganda film plays a central role in the plot, and even the hero of the film is eventually affected by it's content. If anything we are asked to root against the Nazis not just for the atrocities we see them commit, but for corrupting the cinema and using it as a tool for hate. Of course, I'm probably reading way too much into a film featuring a scene where a character from Boston beats a Nazi to death with a baseball bat while screaming about Ted Williams.

My own pretentious over-analysis of the film aside, Inglourious Basterds is worth seeing. I highly recommend it if even just to hear Brad Pitt's amazing Italian-by way of Tennessee-accent.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Mad Men

Maybe my favorite show on tv right now, Hulu is streaming the season premiere of Mad Men.



I've been following the show since it started and this looks to be the most engaging seasons yet. In the past some of the plotlines have been a little obtuse, and while that'll probably continue into the new season, the premiere features the beginnings of several stories that look to be among the series' best.

Yet another Batman Post

I got a good deal on Grant Morrison's run on Batman. It's an... interesting take on the character. Take a look at the pages below to see what I mean.













Now, as ridiculous as some of that looks, it all (sort of) makes sense in context. One of the things I really enjoyed about these comics is how completely off the wall they are. Batman faces off against his 10 year old ninja son, the "three ghosts of batman," and an individual who may or may not be the Devil. I like a realistic take on Batman as much as the next guy, but sometimes it's fun to see him face an army of ninja bat mutants in a Pop-art museum.