Wednesday, January 23, 2008

1000 Genomes Project

Today's post is going to be slightly nerdy, but I think it's important. A new web site just went up detailing the 1000 Genomes project. It's pretty much like it sounds, in that researchers now want to map the Human Genome over a sample of 1000 people (since doing one person didn't turn out to be as nearly as hard as they thought).

The obvious question: Why? The human genome has variations between each person, but those variations are a small percentage of the overall genome. Human DNA has a lot of redundant information, and finding a specific gene is the proverbial needle in a haystack. By identifying which genes are always the same or most likely to be different between individuals, you can narrow down the search. This is especially helpful for researchers looking for specific genes that are contributing factors in diseases. Knowing where to look for genetic variation can turn that hunt into something manageable. Past research has been forced to look for these genes by clever guesses and brute force, so this will help shorten the time to find variant genes dramatically, and speed up the process of finding cures!

Monday, January 21, 2008

If Dogs Could Speak

I saw an interesting article about researchers who have developed software that can distinguish the types of dog barks. The idea is to get the computer to tell you if the dog is happy or sad, wants food, needs to go out, etc.

News article about dog barks

My first reaction was to think that dogs really aren't that hard to figure out. They are pretty much driven by a few basic needs and so this all seems rather academic.

Yesterday, I was watching the NFC and AFC championship games and this Bud Light commercial came on that summed up my thinking about understanding dog barks in hilarious fashion.

Update! I found a vid on youtube. Enjoy!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Open Pipe Do Not Use

Open Pipe Do Not Use
Originally uploaded by Dan Bailiff
Our office building is undergoing major reconstruction. The workers have completely gutted the place except for our offices, and so we get to deal with the chaos of things like using the back entrance and sharing a restroom with construction workers. Let me tell you that is no picnic. I'm a guy, so I'm used to seeing men's rooms kinda dirty in general. I avoid public restrooms unless I really gotta go and then I try to avoid touching anything. Construction workers seem to take it to a new low, as there is a constant mess on the floor of sheetrock dust, mud, and various, um, fluids. As if the bathrooms weren't bad enough they have closed them several times for hours at a stretch on different days to (allegedly) work on them. My cube happens to be on the opposite side of the wall of the men's room, and so I get to hear everything. The first time this happened the workers found something so hilarious that their laughing drowned out my headphones for over 15 minutes. I don't even want to know what they found so funny in there. The most recent episode involved me using the restroom after their most recent "fix" to find that a drain had been covered over with duct tape with the message "Open pipe do not use" scrawled on it. I seriously had to ponder why such a message would be necessary, as if men were in the habit of using a floor drain for questionable purposes. After awhile I realized that the proper use is for draining the mop water (although it looks like it hasn't been mopped for weeks, and this doesn't help things), and that water down this drain would probably just splatter on the floor below somewhere.

Also, most men don't wash their hands after. FYI

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

U2 3D The Movie

I've been a long-time fan of U2. Not fanatical, but very appreciative of their music and who they are off-stage. I haven't been to one of their concerts since 2000, mainly because it is nearly impossible to get tickets, especially here in the Boston area.

Well, now there's the next best thing to being there live. It's a movie in 3D, appropriately named "U2 3D". More info is at the official web site. For those of you in Boston, you can see it starting January 25th at the Aquarium Imax.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Bred for its skills in magic!

This is the most awesome thing I've seen all week. Ligers aren't just some made up animal from a pop culture movie, they exist and they are HUGE. It has something to do with the resultant genes of the liger are missing the specific gene that limits growth.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Guitar Heroes and Living Room Bands

I am very lucky to have a wonderful girlfriend. There's lots of reasons why this is true, but besides being pretty and intelligent, she also appreciates and encourages my geekiness. For my fellow geeks out there, you can understand where I'm coming from. The latest incarnation of her wonderfulness was to give me Guitar Hero 3 for Christmas. Granted, I had to tell her it's what I wanted but after playing the demo in a local Best Buy, I could tell that she was hooked. Of course, I soon felt bad for asking because the Xbox 360 version was nearly sold out this Christmas season. With a little help from me, we managed to find a copy at and it arrived the day before I left to visit family in Vancouver, WA. I packed the guitar in my suitcase, and bought a laptop bag for the express purpose of carrying on my Xbox 360 with me (no way in heck I'm gonna check that baby with all the other luggage).

During my visit to Vantucky, I played GH3 almost every day, and I had plenty of company to do it with. Both my brothers insisted I bring it with me when I would come over to visit, and Cort borrowed a neighbor's guitar from GH2 and we finished the entire career mode together on Medium in just 2 nights. I even had my Dad playing at one point - the guy who told me that rock was the Devil's music when I was a kid was playing a game with said Devil music. Tiger Woods '07 was more his speed, but it was incredible to see the broad appeal of this game to all my family and friends. My friends Brian and Lizzy invited me and bunch of friends to a brunch during my visit and they had packed along Rock Band from their apartment in Seattle. Adding the drums and a singer was kick in the pants and a great way for people to hang out. I got hooked on the coop mode and so when I came back to Boston, I used a gift card from Mom & Dad to go out and buy GH2 with the (older) guitar. Lisa and I played all weekend, and there were times when I had to demand she stop and take a break, even if it was just so I could check the scores of the wild card games.

I gave you all that history so you could see that I've tried them all to give my rather biased opinion on these new music games. This might seem a little scattered because I have so many thoughts on what works and what doesn't.

GH3 does so many things right, so the few things wrong really stick out in my mind, even if most of these nitpicks don't affect gameplay. Having all of the songs be master tracks, as opposed to cover versions, was a brilliant move. It really adds to the feel of the game, and the familiarity with these songs contributes to the fantasy of playing in a rock band. The graphics are great, and I loved the artwork in the game as well as the cutscenes. One of the missteps is the boss battle mode. Having to beat a boss in a challenge that is more or less the ability to memorize a song you've never heard before playing the game, and then hope the right power ups drop to defeat the boss - well, that's an exercise in frustration. I hated this part of the game because it seemed so arbitrary and it broke the fantasy element of the game. It sucks out the fun in a hurry. The coop mode is fantastic, but one oversight is the lack of a career mode for the bass player. Someone actually went through all the trouble of coding up the bass lines, but the only way to learn them is to play them in coop mode. Seems like a missed opportunity to me.

I played GH3 before I tried GH2, and so alot of the criticisms I've read about changes to the next version now puzzle me. I can't understand why someone would complain so much about the newer version which is clearly superior in almost every way. It felt like I'd taken a giant step backwards both in presentation and gameplay. Early complaints about the characters looking "ugly" are silly. The graphics are so much better overall and the animations are superb.
I also found GH2 less forgiving especially when it came to hitting notes early. GH3 is a bit more sloppy on the early side, but I found that GH2 encouraged you to play all the notes late rather than screw up by playing even a tiny bit early. GH3 seems to compensate for this by making the hard and expert arrangements a bit harder. Some Rock Band fans point to this as a flaw (more on this later), but I found that on Hard the arrangements were indeed hard but not unrealistic. I even tried a few songs on Expert and did fine until I got to solos which pretty much require memorization and practice to complete. Being a musician, I enjoyed the challenge as Medium became much too easy very quickly. GH2 graphics were also disappointing and the artwork seemed crude and inconsistent, which GH3 has a rather well-defined art style and just feels more polished. Even the menus seemed easier to navigate than in the old version. Which reminds me, the absence of coop career mode in GH2 was just a plain oversight that I'm glad they included in GH3.

Rock Band was fun for different reasons. Overall, I found the guitar parts MUCH easier than GH3. Even on the hard setting, I could get through a song on the first try without any trouble, and could score well even on the solos. I play a little bit of drums IRL, but even I had trouble getting used to the drum pads, but I'm sure I could play well with a little practice. I found the bass/snare patterns to be inconsistent, but perhaps that was because I was only playing on Medium so it's "simplified". My leg got sore fast! The buttons are poorly placed because I paused the game several times accidentally much to the chagrin of everyone playing. I didn't enjoy the singing at all, but then I've never been fond of karaoke. The art style was cool, but the changes to the notes sliding down the screen were harder to read, mainly because they are designed to be thinner. It made some of the timing hard to read but I guess it's something you get used to. I still like the bigger round buttons on GH better. I wasn't that fond of the song selection but then I'm not sure if my friends had unlocked the entire library yet, nor did I play that many of the songs.

Speaking of song lists, GH3 rules in this department. GH2 had a few good songs I liked, but even those were penalized for being mediocre cover versions at best. Having the real tracks in GH3 is just too much fun. Rock Band has master tracks as well, but considering that most of the time someone is singing into a cheap mic with way too much reverb on top of the original vocal track, it gets noisy really fast, and you can't really hear the original mix coming through very well. Unless all the players are dead on, it can sound like a garage band doing a bad cover of the song. Whereas in GH3, even screwups don't sound that bad, and when both players are tracking well, it sounds exactly like the real deal.

The one area that Rock Band is leaving GH3 in the dust is in downloadable songs. They've already got 3 times as many songs, with promises of more on a weekly basis, while GH has a pretty limited selection of DLC with no word on any future releases.

Overall, I have to say that GH3 is still my favorite to play in spite of some of RB's advantages. RB is a great party game, but doesn't really shine unless you have at least 2 or 3 people. At $180, it's only a deal if you know you've got family and friends to play with on a regular basis. I enjoy the challenge of GH3 by myself and can still enjoy coop with a friend, too.

New Music for January

I was watching Conan O'Brien last night and saw Nicole Atkins perform a song. I honestly can't remember which one it was, and the show's web site is lacking updates (another victim of the writer's strike?), but after listening to her album Neptune City this morning, I can highly recommend it. She's got an incredibly rich alto voice and the production is top notch with full orchestras and choirs and such which seems rather odd but wonderful for someone who sounds more like an indie artist than another product of the mainstream studios.

Another standout in the singer/songwriter category is Sara Bareillis and her album Little Voice. You've probably heard her single "Love Song" on the radio, and the rest of the album is just as good.

One more interesting song caught my attention this morning: "Don't You Evah" by the band "Spoon". (Edit: I had mistakenly called the band "The Spoons". Oops.) I have yet to check out the album but this single definitely has a cool vibe.

Also, if you aren't already subscribed to some kind of music service that lets you try all of these wonderful new artists, you are seriously missing out. iTunes is so yesterday (at the risk of sounding 13), so get yourself a Rhapsody subscription or something similar. I foresee the future of music where people pay to listen without buying music. If that seems backwards to you, then open your mind. I pay $12 a month to listen to anything I want (with a few notable exceptions, like the Beatles) and there's even options to take your subscribed music with you and of course you can still buy music if you really gotta keep it. But the freedom to try new music cannot be understated - it's opened new musical horizons for me. Things I wouldn't have tried before simply because of cost, I've been able to listen to without hesitation. Another bonus for me has been going back and getting my musical education. Ever hear people describe certain bands and songs as being part of the fabric of rock and roll and our pop culture? But can you really afford to go out and buy dozens of albums from past decades to catch up on what you've missed? Why buy when you can have that whole library at your disposal? Go sign up at already.

Dueling banjos

I've neglected this blog for too long. I really do enjoy writing, but there are also plenty of other things I enjoy doing and blogging tends to get shuffled to the side unless I make a point of it. I make a point of reading about a dozen different blogs every day, so why can't I make a point of writing one? I got spoiled reading a friend's blog while she took a trip to Europe, and when her trip was over the blog seemed to end. I bargained with her to keep writing, and in exchange I would start writing again. We'll exchange blog entries and see how it goes. I'm not sure this one counts, so I'll write another one at lunch.

Hear that, Wellard? I'm gonna make you keep writing! hehe