[Videogames/Retrogaming] NPR 09/18/2017 – Looking For Analog: Old Button-Mashing Arcades Come Back For A New Generation : NPR

Very interesting article from NPR. I got into the emulation about 20 years ago, using MAME and my old 14.4K modem. Yep, that was my college years.
I still remember that now extinct emulator called Replay+ that was capable of emulating Data East’s “Robocop”. It was such an amazing experience to enter the world of emulation and see the technical prowess of some programmers involved in the MAME projects and emulators, those that spend hours dumping EEPROMs from PCB arcade cabinets, but also seeing people tinkering arcade cabinets like Arcade@Home or even some attempting to rescue old PCBs and arcade cabinets from the fate of slow decay in abandoned warehouse (you have to Google that rescue operation of a abandoned cruise ship somewhere in the UK). I am still preciously keep my own little collection (Atari and SEGA, because SEGA did what Nintendon’t).
The arrival of the Raspberry Pi with frontend like RetroPie, as well as custom cabinets like bar cabinets (illustrated below), brings this glowing and warm feel that all these EEPROMs have an after-life as dumped ROMs and enjoy a second life amongst the retrogaming community.
There is still a legal grey zone about the legality of ROMs but it is also a formidable opportunity to ensure a proper archiving and storage of such precious creations. It is also becoming a run against the clock as prototypes and unfinished games bytes slowly decay from the aggression of time (floppies and hard drives getting de-magnetized, dumping machines dying from wear, dephasing of CRTs in favor of flat panels…..). Yet, the popularity is more than ever (Wreck-It Ralph anyone?). Just look how Nintendo creates a shark frenzy with his classic NES and SNES emulation consoles (don’t let me talk about ATGames, they have been doing terrible jobs in providing decent SEGA retro consoles).
Glad NPR brought this article about retrogaming and ignite the same passion for retrogaming. Who remembers “Silver Spoons” arcade cabinets inside the game room? This is not anymore a dream, almost anyone can have their own arcade cabinet at home. Hmmmm, I should definitely rethink about getting my hands with a hammer and some nails, a soldering gun and a saw….

 

Source: Looking For Analog: Old Button-Mashing Arcades Come Back For A New Generation : NPR

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[Metal/Melodic Death] Arch Enemy – Will to Power (90%)

Finally, after a week in waiting….got my Arch Enemy pre-order by mail including a tee and a digital version of the album (including a poster and three stickers, yikes!).
So how does Arch Enemy’s latest album hold? How does Jeff Loomis brings in the band? Interesting to do this review a week ahead on the 10th anniversary of their album “Rise of The Tyrant”.
Well you have the choice: the short or the long comment. The short one? A damn good AE album! The long one? Gonna have to read it through. This is an album made of 13 tracks totaling 54 minutes.
We got introduced by “Set Flame To The Night”, an instrumental opener that for AE fans reminds us the intro of “Khaos Legion” album. “The Race” brings on the big guns and set the tone of the album: its gonna loud, fast and furious. You know something from the good old times when Angie was fronting, that stuff that raises your adrenaline serum levels and gives you to jump into a mosh.
“Blood In The Water” slows down a bit, bringing the classical Michael Amott melodics riffs backed by Jeff Loomis, some classic AE style as I love it :). The “World Is Yours” marks this blend of the old and the new (brought with “War Eternal”). The tunes are catchy, certainly a great one as flagship song for promotion but I am not much impressed. That can be a great primer to the band if you have not listened to the band before. Listen by yourself and judge:

The fifth track, “The Eagle Flies Alone” is slower in pace but it is like the melodic power ballad with Michael and Jeff bringing on the riffs. Thats what I like about AE, powerful melodic riffs with fast-paced brutality. AFE!

“Reason To Believe” is the one posing as a power ballad, imagine stretching the Michael’s interlude into half a song with Alissa bringing on her experience on clean voices from the Agonist on that one, distilled inside this song. Turn on your lighters on that one. Oh yeah!
The seventh track “Murder Scene” brings back the brutal AE, good stuff but not too impressive. That compared to the eight track, “First Day In Hell”, starting like “We Are A Goodless Entity” only to bring it the heavy, hammering tough lyrics.
“Saturnine”, the the 9th track is this very nice instrumental interlude that Michael used to serve to each album. Short but sweet gothic one. “Dreams of Retribution” starts with Michael melodics a la Yngwie Malmsteen only to bring us the power melodic riffs surfing on some tunes we grew accustomed in “War Eternal”. Damn good track! “My Shadow And I” is nice but yeah not really talking to me much. “A Fight I Must Win” is a nice one to listen, straight outta AE playbook. The last song is “City Baby Attacked By Rats” is a very nice cover of the original punk song from GBH. I am not into punk music, but the cover is pretty rad. The original below.

So here we are at the end of the album. What can I say? I got introduced to AE via “War Eternal” and went into their discography retrospectively. Paradoxically, listening to “War Eternal” sounded one of the weakest link of their album. But, there is a big but here. I consider “War Eternal” as a transition and may explain this weakness. “Will To Power” brings the good old AE, Alissa settled into the continuation of Angie but in the same type pushing the band to foray into new avenues like “Reason to Believe”, there is also this idea of reaching out by Michael, maybe as his experience in pushing his Spiritual Beggars project, with the cover of “City Baby…”.
Arch Enemy brings on the big guns, followed by the engaging melodic riffs, bringing you in this state of frenzy prime for some memorable moments in the mosh! Thats some AFE album you handle here!

[Metal/Doom] Paradise Lost – Medusa (90%)

If you have been a long time follower, you surely have heard of the “Unholy Trinity” of doom (named after the record label) metaphorized under the UK doom metal bands Anathema, My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost. All three started very dark and heavy doom, only to evolve into their own artistic direction. As Anathema went more into the alternative scene, so did I drifted away from them. Paradise Lost, in my opinion more into death metal shores. They were bringing on the dark lyrics and blended in with the rage of death metal.
Then Paradise Lost came in with their 15th album “Medusa” last Friday. I don’t know if listening to the album alongside watching the very dark and pessismitic ending of “Twin Peaks: The Return”, it really left on me a very good impression by its heaviness and darkness, a sort of a return to their roots.
Lets go through the album, that is a 10-track (I guess this is the iTunes version) and lasting 52 minutes. We got into it with “Fearless Sky”, a majestic introduction sounding like the prologue of a funeral mass, with the growls and lyrics of Nick Holmes. Mind blown by it. Just read an excerpt of the lyrics:
Life’s contempt, a life of trial to unrest, vilified/I resent, morbid times so oppressed, soul divine/Lies torment, as I try to confess to a fearless sky“. The second track, “Gods Of Ancient” continues into the doom and gloom, is another gem of the album. The third track, “From The Gallows” brings up Greg Mackintosh melodics more upfront and damn I like Greg’s guitar composition. The fourth track, “The Longest Winter” is my opinion the track that brings up the influence of sludge reported by some reviewers but also showcasing the ease of Nick to sing both cleans and growls. Judge by yourself here.
https://youtu.be/ufs-kLZFyjU

“Medusa” welcomes us with a opening piano followed by the melodics on the guitar by Greg and by Nick Holmes vocals. Languishing and dark. “Passage for the Dead” is in my opinion the second track with a clear sludge tone to it. “Blood And Chaos” sounds more the modern Paradise Lost, this is also my least favorite one. No big deal, but yeah not really fond of. You can make your opinion on it since there is a official video on it:

“Until The Grave” continues into this more modern sound of Paradise Lost. Nice but not transcending either.

As a iTunes special edition, we have two extra tracks. “Shrines” is also a very nice song also harboring this heavy sludge metal influence in it. “Symbolic Virtue” concludes this album by bringing on the old and the heavy doom.

As the band slowly reaches the 30th anniversary of their formation, Paradise Lost show us that pain, sorrow and sadness never heal. That like Sisyphus, we are set fate to perpetually keep the sorrow of those who we have lost, of those we have broke our hearts on. Having a band that can maintain and reconnect to its roots while in the same explore new avenues (like sludge in this one) is in both times soothing and exciting. Brace myself, September is coming with a damn fine selection of great albums.

[BBB/Junk Sciences] Polysorbate 80 and the BBB or how to put anti-vaxxers into a blowing cognitive dissonance

Here we go again, anti-vaxxers keeping on moving the goalpost to fit their belief instead to change to adjust it to the facts. First it was mercury, then it was formaldehyde, then aluminum, today the “ingredient du jour” is polysorbate 80 and tomorrow they will blame it to PBS saline solution.

The latest fad as I have seen is to blame polysorbate 80 as a source of “vaccine-injury” with the bold claim that it breaks down the blood-brain barrier (BBB). Lets put the fact straight and debunk this one for all. But what is even better is the “what if” counter-argument. What if polysorbate 80 was indeed a good ingredient? I will come to that later.

Polysorbate (aka Tween 80) is a amphiphile compound   as you can see the molecular structure below (source Wikipedia):
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You can see the structure made of a lipophilic (loves fat) tail and a series of hydrophilic  (loves water) tails, loaded with oxygen and hydroxyl groups. This is a typical structure of a detergent: one side will mix well with water, the other will mix very well with fat and oils. The result? You can form microspheres that can dissolve well in water and dissolve fat into water. This is how a detergent works, it helps to breakdown fats into small spheres and dissolve them in the drain water.
Polysorbate 80, due to this property, is very good to dissolve drugs and medicines that under normal condition would barely dissolve into biological fluids. This is why we have it in vaccines, but we also have it in medicines. Thats the job of biopharmaceutics: finding formulations to dissolve drugs into the body and allow them to reach a concentration high enough to display their therapeutic activity.

The use of polysorbate 80 in drug delivery of anti-cancerous drug is probably the first and foremost main driving factor on investigating its effect on the BBB. Brain tumors (primary and metastatic alike) are up until now one of the most dreaded and deadliest form of cancer. For instance, the average expected lifespan upon diagnosis of a grade IV glioma (aka glioblastoma multiforme) is grim: 18-months, with less than 5% survival after 5 years. The major issue is being able to deliver drugs and chemotherapy across the BBB. As reported by Pr. William Partridge (UCLA) the BBB remains the bottleneck in drug development for the treating neurological disorders (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC539316/?fref=gc&dti=873247819461536)

The first report of the investigation of polysorbate 80 on the BBB is probably by Spiegelman and colleagues in 1984 (http://thejns.org/doi/pdf/10.3171/jns.1984.61.4.0674), investigating the effect of the solvent used in etoposide solution for treating cancer. According to their  result, they noted a statistical difference in the BBB permeability  (using Evans Blue and 99mTc as tracers) following the injection of 1.125ml/kg. According to their paper, 5mL solution contained 400mg of polysorbate 80 or a concentration of 80mg/mL. Based on this, we can assume that the BBB effect was observed for a dose of 90mg/kg. Thats a very huge dose.
If we go back to the manure anti-vaxxers say, the amount injected via vaccines is enough to cause a barrier opening. According to John Hopkins University Institute of Vaccine Safety (http://www.vaccinesafety.edu/components-DTaP.htm), the expected concentration of polysorbate is lesser or equal to 100mcg or micrograms. Thats 0.1mg per dose. If we assume such dose is injected to a newborn (average weight ~3 kgs), then the amount injected is about 0.033mg/kg. Thats 2700 times less than what has been reported to induce a BBB disruption. Also you have to factor the bioavailability of polysorbate (that is 100% upon IV route) making this number a very optimistic number.
Now, the interesting twist about polsyorbate 80 is its use to enhance some drug carriers and its widely used for finding novel formulation to enhance the delivery of anti-cancerous drugs across the BBB. You can find a list of publications on Pubmed about that aspect (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=polysorbate+80+blood-brain+barrier). What if polysorbate 80 not only will not injure your brain, but actually may help deliver drugs to help your brain fight disease?

 

Keep in mind that polysorbate 80 is good at dissolving lipid in water solutions but it is not good to let charged molecules accross the BBB, just in case someone comes with the claims that it conjugates with aluminum. Thats some high-school chemistry level.

 

 

[Metal/Symphonic Metal] Epica – The Solace System (EP)

September is coming. Back to school! Back to album reviews! A lot of albums are pointing their nose for this month: Paradise Lost, Arch Enemy…..
Epica just released their 6-track EP “The Solace System”, coinciding with the release of “The Holographic Principle” a year ago. As usual, Mark Jansen master craft almost every single Epica album, spoiling us like we would get spoiled on a Rembrandt painting.
The EP starts with “The Solace System”, straight outta of their previous album. Not much blabbering, just watch their official video:

We keep on the pace with “Fight Your Demons”, a track that feel so “The Holographic Principle” that for some reasons did not make the cut in the final iteration of the album. The third track “Architect Of Light”, in my opinion brings on the good old “The Quantum Enigma” in mind. The fourth track, “Wheel of Destiny” brings back on the nervous and fast-paced tunes. “Immortal Melancholy” comes in abruptly by its much more softening vibes. Purely acoustic, it is also worth to read the story behind this song (http://www.blabbermouth.net/news/epica-releases-video-for-immortal-melancholy/). Listen to it here below:

Finally, “Decoded Poetry” is the last track of the EP. Nice but not really my favorite. If you really liked “The Holographic Principle”, you should get this EP it is a kind of a nice addition to it. I wish however that such songs were included de facto in their previous album, in place of their acoustic cover that was in iTunes.

[Metal] Headbang local! Some hometown local metal albums I bought

Following my attendance of the scientific meeting in Paris, I headed back to my hometown (Strasbourg, France) for 48 hours before heading back in the US, taking advantage of an upcoming weekend to see my family.
I also took advantage for some shopping (in addition of the traditional gift shopping and souvenirs) to support the local record store (l’okaz de l’uncle Tom), one of the oldest and most favorite record store in town (that was my first experience going downtown with my brother when I was 10-11, bought my first AC/DC and ZZtop tapes from them). One of the niceties of the store is their decent selection of metal albums but what I really liked was their shelf dedicated for the local and national metal scene.
If you are a stoner, you may have heard about “Bull Terrier” that is a local stoner doom band. Not really much into stoner so I skipped it. But I found some interesting nuggets in my disc hunting.
The first was “Darkest Hours” from Khaelys, a local symphonic metal band original fronted by Kenza Rafi. This was their first of their two albums, released in 2009. I really liked it, probably because of the gothic atmosphere and the very simple but enjoying sound, not drowned over keyboards and studio processing. Although Kenza’s vocals were not the level of a mezzo-soprano, her voice remembered me a lot of the one from Jamie-Lee Smit (Azylya). Sad to also discover that the band disbanded in 2015, according to their Facebook page.

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The second album I purchased was “Unleash Your Wrath” by Bloody Pride, a melodic death metal band. I am not a big fan of death metal, but I enjoy some good melodic death metal from time to time. Nice album, nice tunes. The band has apparently a Bandcamp site, you should give them a try if you are looking for good French melodic death bands.
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Finally, the last album was rather a compilation playing on the word “Elsass” (the name of the region as cited in the local German dialect) morphed into “Hell’s Ass”. It’s an old compilation (2005), so I assume most of the bands have likely disbanded or went into a hiatus. It is a bit of a hodge-podge of different artists and different genres, a sort of melting pot that give you a glimpse on how the local scene was vibrant back then. I wonder how the scene stands right now.

 

[Sciences/Neurosciences] International/European Society of Neurochemistry (ISN-ESN) Meeting 2017 – Paris (France). A summary

Today is the last day of the ISN-ESN biannual meeting taking place this year in Paris (France). The venue was taking place at the Palais Des Congres near Porte Maillot (right on the periphery of Paris). I thought it was a great place for the venue, first by its location (excentered from inner Paris, giving more affordable options for lodging), but also by hosting a shopping mall in the basement level (with affordable lunch options including a Galeries Gourmandes and a Paul Patisserie). Another special perk was the presence of complimentary coffee during the morning and afternoon session breaks.
The presence of vendors was fairly minimal but the welcome package provided by ISN was fairly nice. It included:

A mug of your choice (I took molecular basis of disease of course),
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And a set of 10 RATP tickets allowing you to wander inside Paris when the urge of sightseeing overcomes your thirst of science:
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This is a first time I am attending a ISN meeting, following the acceptance of my paper by the Journal of Neurochemistry. It is a small conference (maybe 500 attendees, this is a high estimate) but it does not mean the quality of science was small too. The conference was taking place on four full days (21-24 August) with morning plenary lectures including a senior keynote speaker and a junior keynote speaker, followed by two breakout sessions (one morning, one afternoon) covering different topics including development, gene and genetics, synapses and neurotransmission, molecular basis of diseases, neurodegeneration or cell energetics.

One of the nice thing was this huge crowd-sourced timeline in which attendees could fill it with stickers indicating their first publication in Journal of Neurochemistry, their first enrollment in one of the different societies.
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Interesting fact, the first ISN took place in Strasbourg (my hometown) in 1967 and 50 years later, one attendee was still attending the same ISN meeting! Hail to the elders!

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Senior keynote lectures were very instructive including a keynote lecture by Pr. Tamas Horvath (Yale University, USA) on the selective depletion of Agouti-gene related protein neurons and its impact on feeding behavior. These neurons are present are very few numbers (3000-6000) but play important role in feeding. The take home message? Resistance (to chocolate cake) is futile!
Another interesting keynote lecture was from Pr. Yoshi Hirabayashi (RIKEN, Japan) on glycolipids, their known impact on Gaucher’s disease and more interestingly their contribution into Parkinson’s disease. One slide to highlight the complexity of the topic is this one summarizing the different types of glycosphingolipids present in mammalian brains. Yes, this will be part of your next biochemistry quiz.

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Finally, todays senior keynote lecture by Pr. Giovanna Malluci (Cambridge University, UK) on the importance of unfolded-protein response stress and its contribution to several neurodegenerative diseases (in particular on prion diseases), with the importance of elongation factor 2E (elF2E) as a rescue pathway in neurodegeneration. More interestingly was the description in the second part of the cold-shock response and the contribution of RBM3 as a neuroprotective agent. I was aware of the importance of cold in hypoxia tolerance (drowning in frigid water decreases the gravity of brain injury inflicted by hypoxia compared to warm water) but I was always skeptical on the use of cooling blanket on stroke patients to cool their body down. It seems there is some vestigial molecular pathways initially used in evolutionary adaptation in hibernating animals that maybe still present in non-hibernating animals via RBM3. It would be interesting to see how this pathway cross-talk with the HIF-1 pathway.

Other concurrent sessions were interesting including one on transporters in the CNS (especially one on glutathione handling in astrocytes through MRPs), the importance of TDP-43 in ALS and other diseases, SIRT6 and its importance in neurodegenerative (including the possible involvement of Wnt and HIF-1 pathways), mitochondria bioenergetics and the discussion and debate on mitochondria movements in astrocytes and neurons (with even the discussion on Eng Lo’s paper on mitochondria transfer following stroke injury) or novel aspects of neural development and neurogenesis.

The poster sessions were well designed with the exception of the manned poster sessions. Poster sessions were initially scheduled between the morning and afternoon concurrent sessions but the presence of poster authors was requested only during the evening socials after 6:00PM. By principle, I am done with science by 5:00PM if I have been bathing in since the morning, so I ended up seeing a lot of “empty” posters and wished I could have a chance to chat and talk to the poster authors. I think this is were SfN poster session is more adapted: you have half-day to showcase your poster and have a time period (2 hours) to stand next your poster. Maybe the organizers could take this into account for ISN2019 taking place in Montreal.

Finally, the ISN see themselves through the Neurochemistry consortium as funny people and hell yeah they know how to bring fun with a complimentary funny photomaton booth. Another opportunity for me to let the weird and funny coming out of me 🙂

See you in probably the ASN meeting 2018 in Riverside, CA and ISN2019 in Montreal (Quebec, Canada)!

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