Thursday, December 30, 2010

Notes from the Airport

I'm sitting at my terminal waiting for a flight that doesn't board for another hour and a half.  I guess when Delta advised me to get here excessively early they were being sarcastic.  Anyway, because I got here so early, I got to watch the TSA set up the security.  Turns out the whole processes is kind of ridiculous.

I got in line to get my ID check only to find that the women sitting at the counter was a random Long Islander rather than a staff member.  When the staff person showed up, she recited all the rules to the massive crowd of two people standing before her.  Meanwhile all sorts of staff were going through the detectors and checking their own bags.  Through out the whole process, everyone was quick to ensure I wasn't in the first class line.  Even though there weren't any passengers in first class.  Also I had to go through the entire cattle line even though there wasn't anyone else in line.

I didn't have to deal with backscatter radiation or a body search or anything, so I'm not really complaining.  Maybe the lack of sleep is just making this process seem funnier than it really is.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Exit Through The Gift Shop

Really interesting piece of art criticism.  Possibly also a documentary.

At one level, Exit Through The Gift Shop is a documentary about famous street artists including, most famously, Banksy.  On another level its about Thierry Guetta, a failed filmmaker turned superstar artist.  At yet another level, it is a critique on the way art is made and then consumed.  There is debate whether the events in this film are real, or if the entire thing is an elaborate hoax by Banksy and company.  Really, I'm not sure if it even matters.  If its real, then the joke is on those who seriously believed a fraud to be the next big thing in art.  If its fake, then the whole thing is a fraud and the joke is on everyone who takes street art too seriously.  Either way its an interesting comment on exploitation and branding in the art world that will hopefully be more enduring than the art it depicts.  Well worth checking out.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Favorite Music: 2010

Absolutely no one who reads this blog cares about this kind of thing, but I'm posting it anyway.

1.  Your Face Left Before You- Buke and Gass
2.  Helicopter- Deerhunter
3.  We Used to Wait- Arcade Fire
4.  BluzzBlood Ohio- The National
5.  Angela Surf City- The Walkmen
6.  Locust Valley- Women
7.  Manifest Destiny- Zola Jesus
8.  A More Perfect Union- Titus Andronicus

Some Notes:

1.  Normally I find The National to be incredibly boring.  But their latest album is just too solid to not be included here.  Same for The Walkmen, but to a lesser extent.

2.  I'm getting really tired of Brooklyn indie rock, otherwise this list would be twice as long and four times as pretentious.  I like a lot of it individually, but I think I've just been listening to too much music that draws from the same influences.

3.  I think the Buke and Gass album is my favorite of the year.  With that being said, Titus Andronicus is probably the best band I've discovered this year.  A Civil War concept album is just about the worst idea I've ever heard, but they really made it work.

Tree of Life

I'm going to let the trailer speak for itself.

The plot of The Tree of Life is still something of a mystery.  Though I'm not sure if it even matters.  Terrence Malick's films are generally not about story or characters, but about exploring ideas and feelings through images and dialogue.  As films, I'm not sure they always work.  As lyrical explorations of tone, I think they work magnificently.  

My prediction is that this will, like all of Malick's other films, become a cult hit critically while colossally failing commercially.  Only when film criticism catches up with Malick's current crop of films (This, The New World, The Thin Red Line) like it did with his first films (Days of Heaven, Badlands) do I expect Malick to get the recognition (and acclaim) that he deserves.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Writing Writing Writing

I'm furiously writing a paper.  Here is what it sounds like.

Finals week isn't fun for grad students either.

I'm not a fan of grading student writing.  At best it is only excruciatingly boring.  At worst it is so awful that I (not so temporarily) lose faith in higher education.

On Wikileaks

I'm fascinated with the whole concept of Wikileaks and with the immense activity surrounding the release of the first batch of leaked diplomatic cables I figured I'd write a bit about it.  I should mention, since this is becoming an issue, that I haven't actually examined any of the Wikileaks documents myself.

For reference, here is a TED Talk with Wikileaks spokesperson Julian Assange conducted in mid-July.

Just to clarify, because I think this has been confused in the popular media, Wikileaks is a platform for disseminating leaked material.  There is a conception that Wikileaks is actually stealing documents from governments and corporations, this isn't the case.  Wikileaks gets its information from whistleblowers (like, allegedly, Bradley Manning) and then releases them onto the web and to various news sources.  Supposedly all documents are verified before being released and on multiple occasions Wikileaks has asked the U.S. government to help them redact documents prior to leaking to preserve the security of soldiers in war zones.

Another clarification.  Julian Assange is not Wikileaks, and Wikileaks is not just Julian Assange.  Supporters and detractors both seem to have difficulty with this point.  Julian Assange is primarily the spokesperson for Wikileaks.  Other people are involved, Assange is just the least anonymous.  Whatever personal issues surround Assange (whether they be true or not) don't, in my mind anyway, have bearing on the issues that surround Wikileaks.

Wikileaks has recently lost its web hosting and has seen Paypal and other services cut off its ability to receive donations.  The loss of these services has come after comments made by Joe Lieberman and other political figures across the world.  While I'm not an expert on dealing with information security of this nature, this seems (to me anyway) like an incredibly myopic strategy.

Admittedly, the RIAA and MPAA haven't learned this either when trying to prevent the sharing of music and movies online, but knocking out a central distribution point hasn't exactly been shown to prevent people from sharing things on the internet.  Quite the opposite, and this is evident after the shut down of various media sharing websites by the department of Homeland Security, when a central distribution site gets shut down, users just scatter and start up new sharing points someplace else.  As a result, there are now five sharing points instead of one, and users have likely adapted against whatever caused the initial point to be shut down.  As these new points get shut down, the process continues ad infinitum.

This is already happening with Wikileaks.  Folders containing the various leaked documents are now being shared everywhere online, making it basically impossible to track or restrict.  The infamous "insurance" file that was once loaded onto Wikileaks' web-space, with its unknown- but potentially incredibly damaging- contents, can now be downloaded quickly and easily by almost anyone (although the file is still heavily encrypted).  Instead of damaging Wikileaks, these efforts have only decentralized it, making it more difficult to track and seemingly impossible to silence.

As I write this, Julian Assange is being arrested on charges ostensibly unrelated to his involvement in Wikileaks.  Wikileaks has already stated that this will have no effect on their planned release of more diplomatic cables.  If the charges are intended as a strike against Wikileaks (and I am not saying they necessarily are) then I think it is a misguided one.

Media outlets not calling Wikileaks a terrorist organization seem to be portraying Wikileaks as something akin to Anonymous, a group with a vastly different structure and motives (if Anonymous can even be said to have either at all).  In my mind both conceptions completely miss the mark.

To me, Wikileaks just represents the first iteration of 21st century journalism.  The extensive use of information technologies is part of this, but what sets Wikileaks apart is is its how it applies the information it receives.  Rather than interpreting information on its own (though that does happen too) Wikileaks releases primary sources into the wild, enabling others (traditional journalists, academics, etc) to mine the data and make their own interpretations.  This is a far cry from the typical soundbyte journalism and this sort of crowd-sourced reporting could potentially have huge implications on how people become informed about what is happening around them.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

This terrifies me

The use of scientific funding for ridiculous research is one of my two science-based pet peeves (the other being puns in journal articles).  But when I say ridiculous research I mean mostly flashy work designed to make the experimenter famous rather than expand human knowledge in a meaningful way.  What is being proposed here is completely horrifying.  The fact that NSF is the first target of Eric Cantor's YouCut initiative is bad enough, but ordinary tax payers should not be in charge of selecting what studies get funded or not.  Political arguments already play too big a role in how NSF hands out its grants and this sort of initiative will only make things worse.

When examined superficially, even the best research looks kind of silly.  Eric Kandel won a Nobel for his work and if you aren't a neuroscientist, the idea of poking at sea slugs to understand learning and memory might seem completely ridiculous.  However, the research that came out of it has had huge implications for a wide variety of disciplines.  To reinforce my point, here is a link to an academic paper about the soccer player research discussed in the video.  I'm not an expert in this sort of research, but if you bother to examine the paper in any depth you'll notice that the research actually has some major implications for understanding team-work in a variety of settings.  Again, I'm not an expert, but investigating new methods for understanding group dynamics and increasing efficiency seems like exactly the sort of thing NSF should be funding.

I don't want to get any more overtly political here than I already have, but I'm really not understanding how certain members of congress can endorse programs as budget saving measures while also holding everything else hostage (including an extension of unemployment, during a recession) in order to pass tax cuts for people making more that $250,000 a year.  I'm probably just biased being a scientist living in an ivory tower (to which funding is also being severely cut), but it seems like scientific investigation (which creates jobs and, and you know, saves lives) should probably take precedence over making sure rich people get to continue paying less taxes than they had to for the majority of the twentieth century.

Monday, November 29, 2010

David Lynch just released a new... song?

Its much more straightforward than I would have expected.  The strangest thing about it is that David Lynch wrote it.  I'm hoping that this is a sign that his next movie will be slightly more coherent than Inland Empire.

  Good Day Today by threeminutesthirtyseconds

Leslie Nielson

The first item on my Google reader this morning was an obituary for Leslie Nielson.  Though primarily a comedic actor, the first movie I remember seeing him in was The Forbidden Planet.

This probably has a lot more to do with the types of movies I grew up watching than anything else.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


For no reason at all, here is a random scene from a random episode of The Venture Brothers.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I'm too lazy to write full a full post...

...actually I'm just too tired.  So instead of writing out anything resembling a coherent post, here is a collection of odds and ends typed out at random.

1.  I piloted my labmates experiment today, making this my fourth fMRI in three months.  My advisor has joked about using my brain to track neural deterioration over the course of the semester.  She is mostly joking.

2.  Anatomical MRI scans (especially the MPRAGE) sound like a a really intense music cue from Inception... just drawn our for five minutes.  I can't tell if this means I've been scanned too many times, or if I see to many movies.

3.  I saw Harry Potter 7.1 last night with a bunch of people.  I enjoyed it, though the Harry Potter superfans in the crown enjoyed it more.  The inclusion of Nick Cave in the soundtrack was... strange, but cinematography was very nice and the story kept me interested for two and half hours.  I'm guessing 7.2 will be all action and Mrs. Weasley swearing at people.

4.  Literally all the previews before Harry Potter were for sequels or movies based on a book/comic book.  Here is where I reiterate how bad I think the Green Lantern movie looks.  Showing this preview immediately before Green Hornet seemed awfully redundant.

4.  I just found out that there is a California Pizza Kitchen on campus, and that it is absurdly popular.  There are many things wrong with this, not the least of which is people wanting to get pizza ostensibly from California while in New York.  To be fair, the local pizza places are rather mediocre and I've actually had some really good pizza in San Francisco.  My point still stands.

5.  Greek pizza is better than New York style in every conceivable way.  Sorry rest of the country, New England wins again.  

6.  Despite it being November, my advisor is planning on having a lab barbecue at some point in the near future.  Since she just returned from San Diego, I think her perception of the weather is off somewhat.  I'm also the only person in the lab who has ever actually barbecued anything.

7.  Because of the holiday this week, the university has switched the schedule for today and tomorrow.  Today is Thursday, tomorrow is Friday, and every single undergrad is confused.

8. I liked Duncan Jones' last movie, Moon, a lot and the preview for The Source Code looks interesting, but I thought Quantum Leap was already a thing that existed.

9.  There still isn't any more word on how the latest rounds of university budget cuts are going to affect the department.  Though with the rate people are taking leaves of absences (something like 7 students in the last year, plus some who dropped out last year), that might become less of a problem.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Jack Kirby's The Prisoner

For those who don't know, Jack Kirby is basically the most important artist in American comics.  I was looking for images from his 4th World material and I came across uncolored pages from a comic version of The Prisoner written and drawn by Jack Kirby.  It was never published, but had it looks like it would have been as trippy as his version of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  I think this is just about the coolest thing ever.


Can someone explain to me why fax machines are necessary in 2010?  I can send documents through e-mail just as securely and it doesn't cost me anything and is much faster.  E-mail also has the benefit of not inspiring rage in all who use it (well, most).

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cowboys and Aliens

This is so stupid that it might be the greatest thing ever.

Even if this is absolutely terrible, casting James Bond as a cowboy with alien weaponry so ridiculous that its kind of genius.

Green Lantern

Certain fans of Green Lantern that I know may disagree, but I think the trailer looks terrible.  I really have no interest in the movie after seeing this:

In general I'm mostly ambivalent about the Green Lantern comics.  If the creative team is good- like Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons level good- I think the concept can go in some interesting directions.  Otherwise its just issue after issue of paint by the numbers American superhero comics.  With that said, as a character, Green Lantern is rather popular with the 200,000 people who still read superhero comics month to month though, so it makes (absolutely no) sense that they are making the hugely expensive blockbuster movie.

The trailer makes it look like DC is trying to replicate the success of Marvel's Iron Man, but with an even more boring protagonist (Tony Stark is only ever interesting when he is Robert Downey Jr, Hal Jorden is never, ever interesting) and a much less talented cast and crew.  Couple that with the obnoxiously obvious CGI and I really have no interest in seeing this.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Apocalypse Now (Redux)

We've just been informed that the department's budget is going to be cut again. As of right now, the major cut is that the department will no longer be paying for travel to academic conferences for students or faculty. More cuts have been promised soon.

The travel thing is a big deal, but we can still get funding through grants and other organizations on campus. What I'm worried about, and what people are starting to panic about, is what is going to be cut in the coming weeks. Rumor has it that certain software is becoming too expensive for the department to afford... we'll see.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I like this

I enjoy the exploits of the British Batman.

From Knight and Squire #2 by Paul Cornell and Jimmy Broxton, DC Comics

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


This blog has been in a coma lately, mostly due to other projects (namely Grad School).  With any luck I'll be updating more frequently soon.

For now though, here is another playlist of stuff I've been listening to in the lab.

Sharpg- Sharon Van Etten
Life Prowler- No Age
Fountain Stairs- Deerhunter
Boys are Fine- Smith Westerns
Fed from Her Hand- Demon's Claws
Narrow with the Hall- Women
Youth Haunts- Weekend
Sink the Dynasty- Zola Jesus

Listening to everything in a row like this, I'm struck by how much the current crop of indie rockers sound like they're making music from the 1960's.  Check out the middle of the playlist to see what I mean.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Ordinarily this blog doesn't get much in the way of feedback. Recently though, I've started getting a lot of anonymous, mean-spirited, comments on posts made weeks or months ago.

Though I've been neglecting it recently, I like using this blog as a way to improve my writing and articulate my thoughts. Feedback, though rare, is a part of that. To put it mildly, the tone of the recent comments has been neither interesting nor constructive.

I'm not disabling comments or disallowing anonymous commenting, but I've changed some things in the background so that comments made on old posts (30+ days old) will be screened before they appear online. In the spirit of open and free communication I'd rather not screen comments at all, but I also don't want hateful comments appearing in a space that I ostensibly sponsor.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Bit of Fry and Laurie

I'm currently working my way through another free trial of Netflix.   Mostly I've been fooling around with the selection of stuff available to watch instantly.  The selection is still limited, but I've found a useful website for tracking the best stuff thats available.

Besides random episodes of Anthony Bourdain I've mostly been watching A Bit of Fry a Laurie, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie's sketch show from the late eighties/early nineties.  I've seen sketches here and there before, but watching the shows as they were originally broadcast really reinforces the (slightly) higher brow Monty Python tone.

I'm really enjoying it so far, though I feel like I'd probably like it more if I understood any of the cultural references being thrown around.  Still, its well worth checking out.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

True Grit

The Coen Brothers are making a western.  I want this to be in theaters immediately.

I've said this before, but casting Jeff Bridges in a role originally played by John Wayne is absolutely genius.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Apparently this weekend was all about watching David Fincher projects, present and future.

The original title of the book this is based on is "Men who hate Women" and given the subject matter, its incredibly apt.  I'm not really familiar with Swedish cinema, but the tone of this felt a lot like the original Insomnia with some pulpy crime tropes thrown in.  Though this film superficially is a crime thriller, underneath the labyrinthian murder plot, are a series of strong critiques of big business and misogyny in Swedish culture.  I think its worth seeing, but given how explicitly it deals with violence (physical and otherwise) against women, it makes for some really difficult viewing.

The Social Network

Really well made.  I didn't like it much.

There might be an interesting movie to be made about Facebook someday.  Its certainly emblematic enough of social and societal change in response to technology that its worthy of some amount of attention.  But to put it plainly, tremendous direction, acting, writing, editing, and scoring, just aren't enough to get me to care about the personal and professional conflicts between a bunch of elitist billionaires.

The film is worth seeing for how well it is executed technically.  The direction is interesting, the acting is strong, and the score is suitably moody.  Really, if you can get over the face that the central conflict of the film is amongst a bunch of explicitly elitist Harvard students, than this might be the film of the year.  I couldn't, so the film fell flat for me.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


My schedule is pretty rough at the moment with early mornings encroaching my usual late nights.  Coupling my inability to sleep in with the normal (for grad students) stress-induced insomnia has left me with a fair amount of free time at the beginning and end of the day.  Since I can only spend so long lying in bed thinking about life, the universe, and everything/ Star Wars/ various creative projects I don't have time to work on, I decided I'm going to use the time practically.

Right now I'm working my way through an computer science book.  Apparently computers will do tasks that I think are boring if I know how to ask them.  I really feel like someone should have told me this before.  Seriously though, turns out knowing a bit of programming really helps when analyzing fMRI data and designing psychology experiments. 

I'm also working through a refresher book on single variable calculus.  This one has much less practical importance to my day to day work, but I'm tired of looking at complex computational models of behavior and only barely comprehending the math involved.  Even if I get nothing out of this, doing math at 2am should help me get some sleep.

Of course, I also use a lot of this time to procrastinate and read comic books.  Last night, I got through two chapters of programming, one chapter of calculus, and six issues of Batman and Robin.  

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Internet Radio: Volume 2

This one flies off the rails a bit.  More indie rock.  The next one will be more eclectic probably.  Eventually I'll just put up random songs that probably shouldn't be in a playlist together.

Buke and Gass is a really neat example of a band that invented their own instruments.  On the other hand, Sleigh Bells are a band I am completely ambivalent to except for the song I posted.

Volume 2: Cartoon Faces

1.  Supertoys- Autolux
2.  Scissors- Liars
3.  Medulla Oblongata- Buke and Gass
4.  In Media Res- Los Campesinos!
5.  Daisy- Fang Island
6.  Twin Peaks- Surfer Blood
7.  Rill Rill- Sleigh Bells
8.  Brian Eno- MGMT

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

In which I rant about comic books

If you've looked at this blog for over 5 minutes, you'll know that I'm a fan of comic books.  I say comic books because I think saying "graphic novels" or "sequential art" sort of undermines the whole endeavor by implying that there is something inferior about comics that requires them to be dressed up to allow for public consumption.  Note that when I say comic book I don't mean exclusively superhero comics.  Contrary to popular opinion (and I'm including most comic fans in this) there is a huge variety of comics out there.  To paraphrase Scott McCloud, comics are a medium not a genre.

1.  Comics are (mostly) terrible
The impetus for this rant comes from a letter written by Kurt Busiek, a popular comic writer for both Marvel and D.C. Comics, about the state of the mainstream comic industry.  Though I disagree with the specifics of the letter (particularly the critique of Jonathon Hickman), it got me thinking about my relationship with mainstream comics.

My approach to comics has always, in some sense been academic, I first read Watchmen and V for Vendetta because of their reputation (this was before either was made into a movie) and I started reading Maus because of its literary status, not because of its status as a comic book.  I was never one to wait outside my lcs (local comic shop, obviously) for the latest issue of Spiderman or whatever, nor did have I ever particularly cared when a favorite character is killed off in a giant comic event.  With that said, I have been actively reading comics, thinking about comics, and writing about comics for a number of years now.

Writing it all out like that makes me sound more pretentious than I intend, but I think its important to know my perspective before you read what I say next.  Stated simply, I think the vast majority of comics are terrible.  Though there is some interesting storytelling here and there, I think the majority of comics are compiled from a boring story written over even worse artwork.  I don't mean to be particular harsh on comic artists.  However, comics are a visual medium, so (for me at least) bad art tends to ruin the experience more than bad writing (unless said bad writing comes from someone like Jeph Loeb).

2.  Comic fans are (almost entirely) terrible.
So I happen to think that most comics are boring and poorly drawn... so what?  In a very real sense my opinion doesn't, and shouldn't, matter.  I don't really buy comics month to month.  If I'm interested in a story I'll either wait for the collected edition, borrow it from a friend, or acquire it through some other means.  The problem lies in the fact that I'm not exactly outside the target demographic for most comics currently being published by Marvel and D.C.

Though they'll never acknowledge it outright, most comic publishers have long given up on selling comics to children (See D.C.'s Identity Crisis, most of Marvels output) and have begun to cater to a relatively small group of die-hard fans.  Further complicating matters, many of the current batch of comic creators are members of this same small group.  Thus, the industry is left with a small group of fans who are increasingly interested in comics for their nostalgia value and a crop of creators, including Kurt Busiek actually, who feel the same.  I'm not saying that no original comics are being written or drawn, though mainstream comics increasingly seem to be made up of the same ideas over and over, original work just doesn't seem to sell.  Matt Fraction's Casanova is a really interesting piece of sci-fi pulp storytelling... that is only being published because Fraction writes X-Men comics for Marvel.  Image Comics, once one of the biggest comic publishers in the country now publishes some really original stuff, all of which sell significantly less than 10,000 copies.  The only thing that seems to sell are nostalgia comics and big "event" style comics.  All over the internet (and in comic shops) you'll hear people complaining about this, but ultimately this is what brings people buy, so this is what the comic industry sells.

3.  The comic industry is startlingly behind the times.
Comic fans aren't entirely to blame with for the dearth of good comics.  The comic industry went through an exceedingly rough period during the mid to late 90's and in many ways has yet to recover.  Part of the reason comics are now marketed towards an increasingly older population is because no one else is buying them anymore.  I've already discussed some of the implications of this in creative terms without discussing the cause.  Increasing competition is probably part of it, as was the transition from a wide distribution of comics (in drug stores, newstands, etc) to the rise of the comic specialty stores.  However, the industry is suffering from an inability (or lack of desire) to adapt to the changing market.  Increasingly comic fans (including me) are buying collected editions of single issues at bookstores or online.  However individual collections are often difficult to find and generally lack simple things like page and volume numbers.

Piracy has been a problem for comics for as long as there has been copy machines.  However, the internet has revolutionized comic piracy.  Almost every comic published in the last five to ten years has been scanned and uploaded to the internet within 24 hours of its publication.  I know for a fact that the entire Vertigo line is available for easy download, as is the majority of both the Marvel and D.C. libraries.  Why comic piracy has been so successful probably has something to do with the rising price of individual issues (the industry is currently transitioning to a $3.99 per issue standard), but probably has even more to do with the high quality of the pirated versions.  Official comics released online are notoriously of low quality and are generally ignored.  In contrast piracy groups have created software that makes sharing high quality comics online incredibly easy.

The industry has long resisted any significant online distribution of comics, choosing instead to release terrible motion comics and low quality versions of comics from 20+ years ago.  The market is obviously there for online comics with the iPad and other tablets providing an incredibly appealing vector for such distribution, but I doubt the comic industry will embrace it before its too late.  Something like iTunes but including comics would probably do a lot to increase distribution to comic fans and non-fans alike.

4.  Final Crisis
This post is getting entirely too long and there is a lot I haven't talked about that deserves in-depth discussion such as creator rights, manga, webcomics, and non superhero comics.  I'm frustrated with the lack of quality and original work in the current industry because there is such a ridiculously large amount of potential for good, original work.  Though a lot of the writing and art in mainstream books is boring and mediocre, both major comic companies employ lots of really talented people.  Many of the more creative end up leaving to work somewhere with more creative/financial freedom and end up creating really interesting work that no one reads.  The medium of comics provides some really interesting methods for storytelling (See Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics for more on this) and there are certainly talented people working across the industry.  What is frustrating is how little any of this potential is realized.  A book like Pax Romana is a really original way of presenting a narrative, its just too bad that comic fans would rather read yet another story about Superman fighting Lex Luthor with barely passable writing and muddy art.

In which I rant about science

One of the science blogs on my google reader published an interesting review on PCR.  PCR is a widely used technique for quickly replicating and examining DNA samples.  The review is very much worth a read: check it out here.

First, the guy on acid thing doesn't even begin to cover the crazy that is Kary Mullis.

Second, this description is interesting in how much it highlights how completely problematic and subjective the "hard" sciences can be.

Psychology as a Science
My big science pet peeve (other than terrible puns in journal article) is when people insist that psychology is a "soft" science or generally unscientific.  Ignoring the blatent philosophical hypocrisy of using these labels without operationalizing them, separating psychology from biology, chemistry, and physics creates a false dichotomy.  To do the work that I do I have to learn, and be able to critically assess, material from fields as varied as neuroanatomy to chemical messaging to MR physics.  True, some fields of psychology share more characteristics with sociology and political science than the biology-oriented stuff that I do, but that doesn't mean that they don't apply the scientific method.

Subjectivity in the "Hard" Sciences
What I think the PCR article shows nicely is how all science, even the "hardest" of sciences, are built on assumptions.  Building on these assumptions is what allows science to move forward (well, maybe).  That Psychology is more open to the notion that its principles are just assumptions that may be altered or thrown out in the face of opposing evidence makes it epistemologically honest, not unscientific.  The techniques of physics, chemistry, and biology are, like those in psychology, are based on sets of assumptions and open to subjective interpretation.  To claim otherwise demonstrates either a lack of understanding as to how science really works or a failure of critical thinking.

Folk Psychology and Pseudoscience
Now, with all that said, I'm not going to pretend that there is nothing unscientific happening within psychology.  Studying human behavior seems to lend itself to more a more philosophical discourse than something like the study of plants or chemical reactions or whatever.  However, this sort of thing is unscientific because it doesn't follow the scientific method (which itself is built on a set of assumptions by the way) not because it is psychology.  Just as there are are unscientific elements within psychology, there are equally (if not more egregiously) unscientific elements within fields that are widely regarded as objectively scientific.

A Note on Voodo Correlations and Marc Hauser
I don't mean to lump these two things together, but they I think they highlight the scientific nature of Psychology.  While the Voodo Correlations business was ridiculously overblown, it did make researchers think critically about their methods.  This doesn't make Psychology unscientific, it just means there is an open (though overdramatic) dialogue about what methods should be used in what setting.  The Mark Hauser thing just demonstrates that Psychology data, like any other kind of data, is open to being faked.  The fact that Hauser's students (or assistants, I'm not so clear on this point) turned him in, demonstrates more open dialogue.  That these dialogues exist doesn't make Psychology unscientific, if anything it makes it more scientific than fields where such discussions either don't occur or are actively suppressed.

Final Notes
This isn't why I insist on calling myself a scientist, I just do that because I'm obnoxious.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Internet Radio: Volume 1

I've been looking for a way to easily share the music I like online for awhile now.  Grooveshark is so clunky that I thought I'd try 8Tracks.  Since 8Tracks, unlike Grooveshark is relatively above board, there are some license requirements that'll prevent you from skipping around on the playlist.  So, if you like a particular song (and I doubt most readers of this blog will care about any of this) check out the tracklist I've included at the bottom of this post.

This time around the track list is mostly, though not exclusively, New York indie stuff.  Expect much more eclectic selections if I keep this up. Mix titles will continue to be incongruous.

Volume 1: Darkseid Always Hated Music

1.  Pink City- Secret Cities
2.  Silver Soul- Beach House
3.  You Do You- Bear in Heaven
4.  Hand Me Downs- The Morning Benders
5.  Madder Red- Yeasayer
6.  When I'm Small- Phantogram
7.  Slow Motion- Panda Bear
8.  Beautiful People- The Books

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky looks to have make the strangest ballet movie of all time.  Even the trailer is creepy.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World

Based on Brian Lee O'Malley's great series of graphic novels, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is about growing older and accepting responsibility... in a world where veganism leads to psychic powers, indie-rock powered monsters fight electronica powered double dragons, and spontaneous Bollywood numbers are the norm.  This is probably the most ridiculous movie I've seen all year.  You should go see it immediately.

This was probably the most fun movie I've seen all year.  Though the film does deal with some serious issues, the action scenes and dialogue are amazingly entertaining.  I was worried that the film would get bogged down with fight scene after fight scene, there are seven bosses for the hero to defeat after all.  However, the battles were so varied in their execution, and so tied to the progression of the story, that none felt extraneous.  Though there is only minimal development for most of them, the characters are all memorable and interesting.  Even the music, an essential element to the graphic novels, is done really well.

The film is very silly and there are innumerable references to video games and indie-rock (Scott's ex is essentially an evil version of the singer from Metric) but these elements don't subtract from the film. Rather they add an extra layer of humor over a really dense and very funny plot.  Just like you don't need to be an expert on zombie movies to find Shaun of the Dead funny, or a fan of Bad Boys 2 to find Hot Fuzz funny, you don't need to be a big fan of video games and anime to enjoy Scott Pilgrim.

If you are a fan of Edgar Wright's other work, I recommend seeing this (and soon, I doubt it'll last much longer in theaters).  Even if you aren't a fan, there is still plenty to like.  See it for no other reason than the prospect of an extended fight sequence featuring Michael Cera vs. Jason Schwartzmann.

Monday, August 9, 2010


Though, I can't say I've noticed any behavioral effect (not that I would at this stage), my over-the-counter allergy meds are apparently chemically very similar to tricyclic anti-depressants.  Awesomely, they also seem to causing me to have a really dry mouth as well as really bad headaches.

I wonder if I could live without histamine receptors.  Mine seem to be increasingly rebellious the longer I stay on Long Island.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


In looking for clips for the last post, I stumbled across this:

Apparently there is also a version of Life on Mars floating out there featuring this collaboration. 

The degree to which David Bowie pops up around music I really like is kind of ridiculous actually.  

Friday, August 6, 2010

Terry Gilliam Directs Arcade Fire

Apparently this just happened... at Madison Square Garden?  Anyway, its basically exactly what you'd expect.  Musicians.  Robots.  Ping-Pong.

This Terry Gilliam guy might have a career ahead of him.  Arcade Fire playing Madison Square Garden is just incredibly bizarre to me though.  I blame the Where the Wild Things Are trailers.

I guess Owen Pallet isn't going by Final Fantasy anymore? Thats probably for the best, since thats also the name of some video game or something.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Good Work California

Way to make discrimination unconstitutional.  Pretty soon you might be as cool as Massachusetts.

From the decision (via CNN):

"Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional."

Seems logical (and about time) to me.

I think this makes me a good person

I take great pleasure in giving negative credit when subjects don't show up for my study.  For one thing, I enjoy the hour break from dealing with undergrads who apparently have no working memories, but mostly I just like being petty and  vindictive.

More on Inception

I've been reading a bit more online about Inception, and I wanted to scribble out some more thoughts.

1.  Exposition and Plot Devices

The major critiques I've read of the film are it either spends too much time on exposition or that it doesn't spend enough.  Complaints about the lack of exposition seem a bit unwarranted to me when the entire first act is devoted to laying out and explaining the rules of game.  Other details, like how the dream sharing machine works and the background of Ken Watanabe's character, are essential to film and would have overloaded the film with expository dialogue.  The dream sharing machine (dream machine? dream team machine?) is just a plot device, how it works doesn't matter to the plot and explaining it would have distracted from the neo-noir heist film milieu.  As far as Ken Watnnabe's character, he night as well have been named Mr. McGuffin.  His only purpose is to move the plot forward (instigating the whole "one last job" scenario, being the catalyst for the plan going awry, etc).  His own motives, though interesting, are far less important to the film.

In regards to the film having too much exposition, I can only say that the rules of the game in Inception are relatively baroque and having them laid out through expository dialogue seems to have been the only way for the film to make sense on first viewing.  Plus even though these early scenes were essentially characters telling each other how the rest of the film was going to work, they were visually interesting enough to be thoroughly engaging.

2.  Narrative Structure and Dreams

A strange critique I've come across is that the film does not accurately portray how dreams work.  Anyone who has seen Inland Empire could probably tell you why this is... movies based on dream logic aren't generally very compelling.  Also, the film makes it pretty explicit that the "dreams" are just constructs designed to make it easier for thieves to access other people's minds.

I was actually really glad the film didn't expand on the dream thing any further.  There was enough symbolism in the dreams that explaining things in greater detail would have opened the door for descriptions involving ridiculous Freudian or Jungian nonsense.

3.  On the ending

The following may spoil the ending to the film.  If you haven't seen it, I'd recommend skipping this part and just listening to Edith Piaf.

I've seen explanations of the ending ranging from arguments that the whole film was a dream to incredibly detailed descriptions of how the top was about to fall, just proving the final scene as reality.  Here is my interpretation:

The last scene is an inception.  Similar to Cobb's inception on Mal, the spinning top/jump to black leaves doubt in the viewers mind about the reality of the final scene... even though its actually real.  The last scene being a dream just doesn't make sense from a narrative perspective (when did the dream start? why would Cobb suddenly change his dreams?).  Even I, who likes when a movie has a downer ending, would have been left cold if the whole movie turned out to be a dream.  Plus, I happen to think Chris Nolan is a better writer than to have a "it was all a dream" ending.  I did like that it was left ambiguous though.

4.  Secret Messages

I didn't come up with this, I just think its cool.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Food Coma

Kobe beef cheeseburger with truffle butter and Muenster cheese.

Thats all.

Well, there might also have been avacado fries, fried pickles, and a menagerie of other delicious food items.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Even if I wanted to, I couldn't spoil this. 

First things first.  I've read a bit of discussion online about how this movie is too confusing and hard to follow... thats simply not the came.  True there are layers within layers (within layers, etc) to the narrative, but the editing is such that it is very easy to follow.  The rules of the game in Inception are established very clearly in the first act and the film keeps to those rules even as the plot moves in increasingly abstract directions.

With that said, despite the intricacies of the plot, this is pretty much a heist film.  We meet the team of antiheroes, we become privy to their plan for breaking into an absurdly secure location (in this case, the mind), and then things go horribly awry.  The fact that all of this takes place in dreams and that there are extended sequences featuring impossible architecture and Joseph Gorden-Levitt running around on walls and ceilings while battling Cillian Murphy's mental security force is almost secondary (although, these scenes are incredible).

Though there isn't much room for acting amongst all action, I thought the cast did a good job.  Though it does help when even minor characters are played by people like Lukas Haas.  Leonardo DiCaprio and Marion Cotillard both do a fine job in the lead roles, with Marian Cotillard's Mal appearing simultaneously empathetic and terrifying.

As a cinematic experience, I really enjoyed Inception.  The story is interesting, there are surprising twists and turns to the plot, the effects are spectacular while not distracting from the plot, and there are even some funny moments.  Most impressive of all, every second of the almost 2 and half hours of running time felt engaging and important.  I recommend seeing this in the theater (even the IMax if possible) as this was probably the best cinema experience I've had since the first Matrix.

Friday, July 23, 2010

So this happened...

Darth Vader robbed a bank near my house.

Tron Legacy: New Trailer

I have no idea how or why this is being made.  I'm still going to see it though.  If for no other reason than commissioning Daft Punk to write the soundtrack to a movie that takes place inside a computer is pretty much genius.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Moroccan Chicken

This is fast becoming a staple.  I've even made a chicken wing version that is significantly less healthy but equally good.

Moroccan Chicken


2 Cup Brown Rice
4 Teaspoons Paprika
2 Teaspoon Cumin
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Turmeric (or Saffron)
1/2 Teaspoon Cinnamon
4+ Garlic Cloves (Minced)
1.5(sh) Pounds Chicken
1/2 Cup Red Onion (Chopped)
2 Cups Chicken Broth
1/2 Cup Golden Raisins
1/4 Cilantro (Optional)


1.  Start the rice first.  With some luck it'll be done at the same time as everything else.

2.  While the rice is cooking, cut chicken into small pieces.  In a medium size bowls combine the chicken pieces with the spices (including the garlic).  Using your hands (or a spoon if you are afraid of raw chicken) mix everything together until the chicken is covered in delicious spices

3.  In a large skillet heat a small amount of olive oil over medium heat.   Add onion.  When the onion is soft and mostly translucent add the chicken.  Brown the chicken for 8-10 minutes or until sufficiently cooked.  When the chicken is done, add broth and raisons.  Drop the heat to medium and let the liquid reduce for about 5 minutes.

4.  Combine the rice and the chicken/broth in the skillet.  Kill the heat and let the combine everything together.

5.  Serve with fresh cilantro.  This is an ideal leftovers meal as it tastes much better the second day (its very good on the first day too).

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Moving Again

I found a new place to live.  If it works out, it'll be the nicest place so far.

For anyone who is curious, check out this map of where I've lived in the last year and a half.  To illustrate how ridiculous this whole situation has been, zoom out a few times.  There are seven blue points in all.

Click on the markers for a brief description of each place.

Living On LI in a larger map

Thursday, July 1, 2010


So if anyone is wondering why I haven't sent out my new address, its because I'll probably be moving again because my house caught fire.

Luckily nobody was hurt and the only damage is to the structure of the house and not to any of the things inside.  Still the insurance assessment has labeled the house as potentially unlivable for the next few months.  So... I'm scrambling to find a new place to live.

I wasn't home when it happened, but apparently the cause of the fire was a freak accident involving things in the basement.  Apparently the insurance company called it an "act of god."  I'll update this post if I get any details.

Let the fun that is house-hunting on long island begin again.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The New York Trilogy

I've been reading Phil Auster's The New York Trilogy lately and its a very interesting (and strange) take on detective fiction.  I'm not even really sure how to write about it, so instead just post an image from the graphic novel adaption of City of Glass drawn by the amazing David Mazzuchelli and give a summary.

The stories, as is probably obvious, all take place in New York City.  However, this is not the New York of Raymond Chandler-esque crime fiction.  This is a version of New York where identities are constantly gained, lost, and shifted.  A version of New York where everyone seems just 20 pages away from insanity.

I don't want to give too much away, and I probably wouldn't be able too even if I could, but the stories all seem to intersect.  Characters from the three stories may or may not interact with each other or may or may or may not assume each other's identities (its unclear).  In City of Glass, the narrator (who may or my not be Phil Auster) describes a meeting between the protagonist (who is pretending to be a investigator named Phil Auster) and a writer named Phil Auster (who is different than the actual Phil Auster).  Later, a character in The Locked Room assumes the identity of a fictional character introduced in City of Glass.

All and all, some very interesting reading.  Maybe not recommended for a week where everything conceivable goes haywire though.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

I think its fair to say...

That the current lab playlist has reached new levels of eclectic pretentiousness.

Though not all of it is entirely unrelated to psychology.

Like I said, its a bit eclectic.  When our new student arrives, I'm guessing this insanity will be reigned in a little.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Post Apocalyptic Movie Marathon Part 3: The Mist

So this isn't really post-apocalyptic in the same sense as The Book of Eli or The Road, but since the movie's main conflict arises from a fear of the end of the world (and, you know, giant Cthulhu monsters) I think it qualifies.

I watched this mostly because I was interested to see how the director, Frank Darabont, handles a horror piece.  Given how well directed this movie is, I'm pretty eager to see how his television version of The Walking Dead turns out.

Anyway, The Mist pretty much Stephen King by the numbers.  The acting and directing make the film engaging and adds some tension to the plot, but its all material that has been done before.  The focus on fear (in this case fearing of an impending biblical apocalypse) adds an interesting layer of drama to the story, but the writing isn't strong enough to support it and it ultimately peters out by the end.  Had the writing been better (and really, endings have always been Stephen King's weakness) this film could have been something really interesting.  With that said, the direction and acting in the film is good enough to make it worth seeing.

The film is becoming increasingly famous for its final scene.  While I think it was a bold artistic choice, I'm not sure how well it fit with the tone of the rest of the film.  I don't want to spoil anything, but it seems to me that ending the film like that leaves the major conflict of the film unsatisfied.  I'm perfectly happy with ambiguous endings, but when you have a film like this end in the manner that this film does, it ends up completely overriding everything that came before.  So, while I think it was an interesting way to end the movie, I'm not so sure it was the right way.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Scott Pilgrim

So this summer hasn't been so great for movies.  Besides Chris Nolan's weird fiction science noir epic  Inception, the only movie I'm looking forward to is Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe.

Its based on a series of indie comics that I actually haven't read.  However, the fact that its directed by Edgar Wright (of Spaced/Sean of the Dead/Hot Fuzz fame) and looks to have special effects created on a Nintendo is enough to make me want to see it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Disaster in Albany

I've mentioned the financial problems at Stony Brook here in the past.  One thing I might not have mentioned is that our problems are directly tied to problems in Albany.  Basically, the state of New York is in the middle of a ridiculous fiscal crisis and they are dealing with it partially by simultaneously drawing money from and cutting funding to to state universities.

The latest This American Life podcast details the crisis.  It doesn't touch on the university problems, but it is very much worth a listen.  Stream it here (or download it here).  Its almost comical how ludicrous the whole situation is.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Post Apocalyptic Movie Marathon Part 2: The Road

I actually ended up watching this the same night as The Book of Eli.  Though you'd think two films set in post apocalyptic futures featuring raving bands of thieves and cannibals would be similar, the two are drastically different in tone.  This is mostly because, while The Book of Eli had a significant amount of dark moments, The Road is completely morally nihilistic and uncompromising in its grimness.

Just to be clear, the trailer above is much more action packed and conventional than the actual film.  While other films portend to be about the end of the Word, The Road is about the complete and utter decimation of civilization.  When the plot is centered around the conceit that somewhere, anywhere there must be something resembling goodness in the world, you know you are in for a rough couple of hours.

The Road is very much worth seeing, you just might not want to watch it in a double feature with Grave of the Fireflies.

Speaking of Post-Apocalyptic Settings

Trying to drive on route 25 through Centereach during a torrential rainstorm might be the most ridiculous thing ever.  The water plus the innumerable potholes and insane drivers makes the whole experience a bit like The Road Warrior (if it wasn't set in a desert).

I should add that this is only a bit more chaotic than driving on 25 normally.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Post Apocalyptic Movie Marathon Part 1: The Book of Eli

After programming for 12-14 hours all day, every day for the last few weeks, I've gotten to the point where I need to just stare of at some flickering lights for awhile when I get home.  I didn't mean to do this, but I've ended up watching a series of movies involving the end of the world.

First up, The Book of Eli.

I really wasn't expecting much from this.  Though I really like both Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman as actors, the trailers made the film look like a bunch of mindless action.  However, while The Book of Eli wasn't exactly the most introspective movie I've ever seen, it did end up dealing with some much bigger themes than I was expecting.  

This isn't to say that I thought it was a great film or anything.  The discussions of religion throughout the film are much to overt to be very interesting and any and all allegory is thrown out when necessary to make way for a cool fight scene.  Still, this was significantly better than I was expecting and probably worth checking out.  Though a lot of the film is borrowed from more original sources, there are enough interesting ideas in The Book of Eli to merit a look.

Plus, you can't really go wrong when a film features both Malcom McDowell and Tom Waits in bit parts.

Addendum to the Previous Post

Doing research in the summer is especially frustrating.

I opened 20 slots for subjects to come into the lab and participate in my experiment for class credit for next week.  So far I have 2 people signed up and at least 1 will probably drop out.  This, more than any other reason, is why people do research with monkeys (Note: this isn't true).

Thank goodness I have undergraduate research assistants and other grad students that I can badger into participating.

On Designing Experiments and Collaboration

Sometimes Most of the time the research process isn't as parsimonious and collaborative as we'd like to think...

I've been busy the last few weeks getting an experiment off the ground.  We'll be using variants of this same study design in a few upcoming projects with a range of different collaborations.  What this means practically is that I've spent a long time programming (and reprogramming) and checking my math.  There are still some kinks to work out, but we're ready to start running some subjects.

When this study design was first conceived it was supposed to be run by one of our undergraduate research assistants.  Initially it was supposed to be work out to be a way for us to collect some plot data while fulfilled the requirements for her honors thesis.  By the end of last semester it become obvious that the data collected wasn't going to be useful due to a long and ridiculous series of programming, counterbalancing, and procedural errors.  Eventually I ended up having to take over all the programming and data analyses for a project I was only supposed to be supervising.

As a result of that catastrophe my lab decided that we would redo the experiment from scratch with better programming and data collection procedures.  Because I'm running a few other projects that are supposed to get going this summer, I was supposed to collaborate with another graduate student in our lab to set everything up.  A week or so it become obvious to me that I was doing the entire thing myself and that it was conflicting with some of my other responsibilities.  Not wanting to put down another student to their advisor (which I happen to think is bad grad student protocol) I just completed my side of the project and waited for my collaborator to finish their's.  It got to the point where I apparently showed enough frustration with the collaboration that my collaborator was pulled off the experiment and I was put in charge.

Now, running an entire experiment on my own isn't exactly a small amount of work but its much easier for me to be accountable only to myself when trying to set up all the practical details of an experiment that, from a subject's point of view, will be very simple.  All thats left is to train our new lab assistants to run subjects while I prepare the next set of experiments.

I'm in the early stages of a few other collaborative projects that I think will turn out to be much more productive than this one.  Mostly its just amazing to me that a something so crucial to what we are doing in the lab, and what we will be doing for years to come, has been so mishandled.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Artsy New Design

Blogspot finally updated their templates so I'll be messing around with things for a few days.

Monday, June 7, 2010

What I will be doing this summer (in as few words as I can manage)

The original version of this was submitted for a grant proposal.  I didn't get it, but I think the following represents a decent summary of the kind of work I'll be doing this summer.  Its a bit technical, but mostly geared to a non-expert audience.

Working memory (hereafter abbreviated as WM) is a limited capacity system responsible for maintaining and manipulating information necessary for task completion (Baddeley, 1974; 1986). This summer, we will examine a major limitation of WM capacity as well as the selection of items held within WM. In collaboration with a clinical psychology lab, we will also begin to examine WM in the context of major depressive disorder (MDD). Both lines of research will utilize behavioral and fMRI methods.

Though this conception is not undisputed (See, Bays & Husain, 2008), the capacity of WM is commonly discussed in terms of the number of items (Fukuda et al. 2010), with current estimates placing WM capacity at approximately four items (Cowan, 2001). Because WM has such a limited capacity, it is important that its contents be updated efficiently. Interference from previously relevant material, known as proactive interference (PI), is thought to be one of the major limiting factors in WM capacity (Jonides &a Nee, 2006). Attention-based processes that result in the selection of relevant material represent a method for overcoming PI (Oberauer, 2001). Our lab has previously examined the behavioral and neural correlates of PI (Yi et al., 2009) and WM selection (Oh & Leung, 2010). The goal of our research this summer is to examine the relationship between PI and WM selection.

Summer Research Plan
For all our experiments, we will utilize a delayed recognition paradigm with a selection cue inserted during the delay period. For each trial, subjects will be shown (and asked to remember) a series of 2 stimuli. After a brief delay, a cue will indicate to remember either a specific stimuli from this series or the entire set for the remainder of the trial. Following another delay, a probe item will be presented. Upon presentation of the probe, subjects will be asked to identify if the probe stimuli is the same (or not the same) as the stimuli or set of stimuli specified by the cue. Response accuracy and reaction time (RT) measurements will be taken for each trial. Trials with cues specifying to remember 1 item (WM selection) will be compared to trials specifying to remember both items (no selection). In order to measure PI, trials with highly familiar probe items (i.e. non-selected items from the initial stimulus set) will be compared to trials with less familiar probe items. In separate experiments, we will study the effect of the selection cue on holding faces, outdoor scenes, and words to determined in WM selection and PI behaviors are similar across stimuli-type. In preparation for our MDD project, we will conduct a separate series of experiments, using the same paradigm, using emotional stimuli.

Based on previous research, we expect to see a facilitation effect for selected items. Behaviorally, such an effect would manifest as higher accuracy and lower reaction time for selected items. Due to PI, highly familiar probes are expected to be associated with lower accuracy and higher RT than less familiar probes. In terms of fMRI results, previous work in our lab has found that both WM selection and PI are associated with activity in prefrontal and parietal regions (Yi et al., 2009; Oh & Leung, 2010). Similar patterns of activation are expected in the present study, though our analysis will focus on examining the processes together rather than independently.

In parallel to our research into the relationship between WM selection and PI, we will also begin a line of work focused on understanding these (and other) behaviors in the context of major depressive disorder (MDD). Though MDD is primarily considered an emotional condition, it is accompanied by a constellation of cognitive deficits including increased interference from negatively valenced material (For review, see Gotlib & Joorman, In Press). Recent work suggests that MDD may be associated with increased interference in WM regardless of stimuli valence (Joorman et al., 2010). Previous work has focused mainly on the ruminative aspects of WM interference (See Thomas & Elliot, 2009). In contrast, our work will focus on examining this interference from a cognitive neuroscience perspective. We will utilize non-emotional stimuli and a paradigm specifically designed to examine WM selection both behaviorally and neurally (Oh & Leung, 2009).

Because proactive interference represents a major limiting factor in working memory capacity and WM selection represents a method for overcoming PI, we feel that it is important to understand the behavioral and neural correlates of the interaction between WM selection and PI. Aside from providing additional insight into how and why WM is limited, this work also has significance for understanding a thus far under-researched aspect of pathologies that compromise WM capacity, such as major depressive disorder.

Works Cited Listed in Comments