The other night, after 5 years of putting it off, I finally completed Mass Effect. I see now why it’s so well-regarded.
Briefly, here’s what I think was awesome:
Nothing is ever perfect, though. I have the following critiques:
All up, though, Mass Effect was excellent, and good motivation for me to move on to the next one.
Since arriving at UW almost four years ago, I’ve been involved in student politics. I’ve not talked about it here as most of it is rather prosaic and, for those not at UW, largely irrelevant. Every now and then, though, something comes up which might be of wider interest..
In early May, GPSS, the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, ran its second Science and Policy Summit, an event for academics, policy-makers, and the general public that looks at the interactions between scientific research and policy development. This year, we ran two panels, one on the impact of bioinformatics on preventive medicine, and the other on the role of science in public political discussion, focusing on the US Presidential debates. As well as the panels, we also ran a series of short talks, inspired by the TED model.
There were about 10 talks, 10 minutes each, delivered by a mix of graduate students, post-docs, and faculty, and of a very high quality. Here’s a few topics to whet your interest:
We recorded all of the talks, and they’ve now been posted to YouTube. They’re all rather interesting, and worth at least a look, even if the film quality isn’t all I’d hoped when I filmed them.
Spacey fun at the symphony last night, with Legeti’s Atmosphères and Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra, both used in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Holst’s Planets.
Atmospheres was subtle, relaxing, and almost entirely without melody – a piece for meditating to, if stark and slightly scary. I really needed that, as Thursday was just one of those days – at one point, I’d even been the target of a precision bombing run by a passing bird. Two things about this piece. Firstly, most recordings don’t do it justice, because it’s all about orchestral color, and that often just doesn’t come through. Secondly, it’s very quiet in places, which offers a great opportunity to really appreciate the inability of some people to simply sit still and be silent.
The opening of “Also Sprach ..”, unsurprisingly, did its best to shake my innards to jelly with awesome – the sheer weight of the music is that much more spectacular when you’re up close with full orchestra and pipe organ. Like most, I wasn’t too familiar with the rest of the piece, but I’m now inspired to fix that.
Sadly, no Blue Danube.
The Planets, being one of my favorite pieces, were up for more criticism than the rest. They played it alongside a sequence of photos and reconstructions from various space probes, many of which were awesome. Unfortunately, while most of the performance was serviceable, there were a number of missed notes in the lead brass portions in several movements. I also think the conductor stuck too rigidly to the meter in places, and as a result, certain sections came off a little mechanical and slightly too fast. That said, my reference performance was conducted by Karajan, and he’s famous for interpreting the meter and tone of a piece in his own way.
The idea is that if someone is warned of an imminent seizure in advance, say 20 minutes out, they can remove themselves from unsafe or embarrassing situations, take other precautions (lying down, perhaps), or take fast acting drugs that might stop it from happening. This is a big deal, as it helps the 30% or so of those suffering from the disease for whom conventional drug treatment doesn’t work. It may also allow some of those receiving drugs to come off them, reduce their dose, or shift to less effective drugs with fewer side effects. It might also help reduce the number of deaths from epilepsy-related accidents – 50,000 annually in the US, apparently.
The technology’s actually fairly simple. There’s three main parts, none of which appears to be particularly magical.
It’s in trials at the moment in Australia, and is apparently performing well, with no known associated adverse events.
Apparently, this all started out with Jaideep’s PhD research into the sensorimotor function of moths – he basically designed chips and implants small enough to put in a moth, then studied the different nerve signals associated with its wings as it flew. They also did trials of the epilepsy detection technology on dogs, as they also suffer from epilepsy. Unfortunately, I was unable to find copies of the cute pictures he showed in the talk.
If you’re interested in hearing more, there’s a 5 minute video article from ABC News in Australia talking about it. It’s formatted a bit weird, so you might need to download it and switch to the second audio track in VLC.
Edit: Apparently the electrodes are implanted beneath the dura mater, but outside the arachnoid mater. So, between the second and third membranes that encase the brain.