Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Ahhh so busy!

Grad school is like being kicked in the face all day by an adorable kitten. Yeah, it's not exactly unpleasant, but you're still getting kicked in the face all day.

On that note, it is time for some brainless cuteness.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pittsburgh Police

Starting from the WPU lawn:


Starting from the Schenley Plaza:


This is MY fucking campus these cops are locking down; I've been part of similar "curiosity sit-ins". Those lawns are where I used to sit and smoke my cigarettes; it's between two of the busiest buildings on campus and RIGHT NEXT TO THE DORMS. I know, being a Pitt alum, that when you see something like riot cops marching in formation out your window, you're likely to come down and check it out. And it didn't look like much of a fucking protest to me until well after the cops started the push - and I've been at plenty of protests, some of which were actually ON those lawns.

During the memorial service for those three downed officers, there was even more of a crowd on the WPU lawn than in this video - people paying their respects.

I feel angry and sick.

Fuck the police.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Fallacies 101

Cherry-picking and ad hominem.

Orac and White Coat Underground make my life a little bit more worthwhile.

fMRI is a useful tool - you just have to use it right!

Some dudes at Dartmouth put a dead fish in an fMRI scanner, "instructed" it in a task, and (using crappy statistical methods) found a couple significant voxels in the fish's brain. This is used to demonstrate the importance of using good statistical methods in analyzing fMRI data so that you minimize the false positives. (There's a good summary over at Neuroskeptic.)

But for some reason, my friends who've forwarded me the Wired article about it are all like, "SEE- just like I've been telling you, imaging studies are silly and untrustworthy."

Grrrr.

See, here's the big thing that the dead-fish peeps point out. When you're making statistical comparisons, you shoot for a certain confidence level. Let's say we're shooting for 95% confidence. That means, even if we do everything completely right, about 5% of the time we're going to get wacky results - completely by chance.

In an fMRI, you're making thousands of statistical comparisons, one for each voxel. So even if you are shooting for 99.999% confidence, there's enough voxels that some of them are going to, completely by chance, show weird and unlikely things. Like "activity" in a dead fish's brain.

As the Wired article says:
Bennett’s point is that a suite of methods known as multiple comparisons correction can allow researchers to maintain most of their statistical power while keeping the danger of false positives at bay.
But people, even smart people, even psychologists, look at the fishy fMRI and go, "OH WOW FMRI = USELESS LOLOL U STOOPID IMAGING PPL".

Ugh.

Monday, September 21, 2009

I've been so freakin' busy...

...I don't even have time for video games. But that won't stop me from trying, damnit! I started the original Fallout game on the PC, and a combination of limited time and me sucking has led to very very little progress.

Here's a good gameplay overview. It's comfortably Dungeons-and-Dragons-esque, and it has that Ultima Online 2.5-D style. I love the 1997 graphics, and so should you.

Because I am a complete n00b, I died repeatedly the first time I played. Dying is serious business, and it made me generally unhappy.. especially because there is no such thing as autosave. Then I made a new character with better starting stats, and stopped being stupid. (Protip: If you don't have high strength, you'd better have a high first aid / doctory skill. And don't be afraid to bitch-run. Also, save your game a lot.)

I really really really want to play more [and post more, and post more things of substance, heh], but almost all of my time is spent between school, lab, and starting a new social circle in my new home town.

I'm thinking about playing for a half hour or so before I get some sleep.. or bringing my laptop to school so I can catch a quick lunch-break level or two.

In the meantime... I'm off to do some SCIENCE!

Friday, September 18, 2009

I am a big fat lying liar!

So...

On Thursday, I had an in-class presentation that would have made me late for the Great Faith Debate... and additionally the person who was supposed to drive me was overloaded with work. So I didn't have a ride.

You can read about the debate on Reuters, and there's a decent blogospheric review done by Josh Colwell.

Looking at the review, it didn't look like I missed much. And instead I went to a Greek restaurant to celebrate a friend's birthday, so it worked out well!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Omg meatspace.

Something you should all have figured out by this point: graduate school keeps a person busy.

BUT I do have a neat little surprise for any loyal readers!

I'm going to The Great Faith Debate between Christopher Hitchens and Dinesh D'Souza with a couple of friends. This happens on Thursday evening, and I plan on writing it up here for you guys.

So stay tuned!

Monday, September 7, 2009

The sound of computation:


PalMD is my new hero.

This. This this this. THIS.

Bremner: If you're going to criticize Pharma for something (insufficient evidence, poor sources, conflating bias with fact).. make sure you're not doing it yourself. Glass houses. Stones. Etc.

PalMD is the coolest mofo on the planet.

That is all.

(If you know me personally, feel free to call me up for details.)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The coolest thing about grad school...

The coolest thing about grad school is being able to socialize with respected, influential people as if they were peers. I'm still squee-ing every time I talk to someone whose reputation precedes them, and I'm in absolute disbelief that they actually take me seriously.

On a semi-related note, a couple science-bloggers have been commiserating with me on a topic that I find suddenly more relevant than I'd like. I will link-dump massively when I have time, I promise.

Pax hominibus.

Friday, September 4, 2009

One more argument against the existence of deities...

My pal takes on some silly ad campaign trying to convince us heathens that God is realz0rz, and is also Jesus. He makes some good points - I especially like his refutation of the anthropic principle (though no one can best Douglas Adams' puddle analogy). I'm not going to approach the subject that my good friend Noisy Queer Vegan covered, as he's taken care of that quite well indeed, but I will go off on my own tangent..

Since I've recently moved to a new location and am surrounded by people who don't know me well, I've gotten to explain why I'm a deterministic atheist to a good handful of fairly educated, non-judgmental people. I think it's gone down well, and I've learned how to succinctly explain what I believe and why.

Basically, what I think is that the God-belief-thing is really statement about what a person believes is the nature of the universe at its most basic level. If you take away all the matter and the energy and the spacetime (if you can do such a thing), what's left? In a theist's conception, the basic and default nature of the universe is an infinite consciousness, with desires and thoughts and feelings, which can create and destroy through sheer will.

That seems pretty damn unlikely. And it certainly poses more questions than it answers. From what I understand about how reality works, things start out simple and then, over time, things develop progressively more complex emergent patterns. A very simple "first cause" would require a lot less explanation for its own existence than a very complex one.. and I can't imagine anything more complex than the infinite consciousness that I described above.

Thus, I do not believe in a God. I am not sure what exactly the basic, default state of the universe is (my best guess - empty spacetime?), but I can say with confidence that God ain't it.

In sum: Ultimate 747 + Occam's Razor = o'rly.

BTW: I got to where I am, philosophically, from watching Scott Clifton's vlogs. I may or may not be desperately in love with this man.