Monday, July 27, 2009

Trekkie Moment

You want to know what I find bizarre? I've watched nearly every episode of Star Trek TNG, and this scene has played out at least 5 times, with negligible changes.

(Doctor Crusher, Captain Picard, and a random guy in a coma are in Sickbay. Worf has just kicked the crap out of a Romulan/Borg/Race of the Week.)

Doctor Crusher: Captain, he has massive internal injuries. A five year old with a tricorder can cure cancer these days, so if I can't fix him, you know this guy must've been fucked up something fierce.

Captain Picard: Is he conscious, doctor?

Doctor Crusher: Yes. He just comes from a species that enjoys lying on tables in alien spacecraft. No, of course he's not conscious!

Captain Picard: Can you wake him?

Doctor Crusher: Can I wake him? Are you retarded? Do you have Klingon Dipshit Syndrome? Did your mother fuck a Pakled to spite your dad? You just spent half of our CGI budget on shooting fucking magic laser beams at this guy just so you could knock him unconscious, and now you want me to wake him up?

Captain, if this man comes out of coma before his body has a chance to recover, he will die. If I touch him anytime between today and 6 months from now, his body with catch on fire and he will DIE. If I come near him with-

Captain Picard: (Angrily) Do it!

(Doctor Crusher injects the patient with a miracle hypospray that instantly brings you out of coma and makes you healthy enough to walk around and argue with the captain. The patient does so.)

Captain Picard is a conscientious man, with a strong moral compass and just oodles of compassion and empathy. Except if he's responsible for putting you in Sickbay. Then he doesn't give a shit.

Now don't get me wrong, I LOVE Star Trek TNG, and I'm not too averse to the occasional TOS episode, as long as Kirk doesn't have to engage in physical combat. Still, the tropes and cliches that are a part of every Star Trek episode are a bit distracting. I mean, it IS a military ship, those kind of guys like standard procedure, but I think anyone who's watched more than three episodes knows that the transporters are going to be malfunctioning as soon as shit goes down, and will pop up again ready to work about 4 minutes before episode's end.

Here's a list of things, in no particular order, that piss me off about Star Trek. Keep in mind that pissed off is a relative term; I still like Star Trek more than I like most people.

  1. Why do Romulan ships insist on decloaking in front of the Enterprise? While cloaked and while decloaking, ships are have no shields. Decloaking in front of a ship is like standing up in the middle of a market in Fallujah, struggling to put on your bulletproof vest while eating a bucket of popcorn and doing the Soulja Boy dance. Related suggestion: when a Romulan ship decloaks in front of you, SHOOT IT PICARD FUCKING SHOOT THE INVISIBLE FUCKING SHIP BEFORE THEY KIDNAP YOU AND TELL YOU AN ERRONEOUS NUMBER OF LIGHTS.
  2. Troi can detect if someone is lying. Why doesn't she make a hundred million dollars a year working as a professional lie detector? She could set her own hours, work an hour a day, AT MOST, and actually get famous instead of being voted the person least likely to be useful on an away team.
  3. Speaking of dollars: I realize that Earth has no need for money, since everyone swtiched to hugs and flower necklaces during the 23rd century. But, do you know who does use money? FUCKING EVERYONE ELSE. Seriously, who the hell spends five years on a spaceship getting into ridiculously dangerous situations for free? There have been several times on TNG when the crew has faced complete oblivion; not death, not destruction, but falling off the fucking universe and you're telling me they do it for what? Personal advancement? Let me get this straight: A cadet enrolls in Starfleet Academy, which is like Harvard except with spaceships, works his ass off so he can get put on a shitty spaceship, so he can more likely than not crash on an alien planet or die of a disease so that the Enterprise can have its weekly adventure time, and if he's lucky enough not to die he just gets promoted, gets more responsibilities and more dangerous assignments and he gets shot at and kidnapped and knocked out cold every fucking mission, just so he can go to Counselor Troi for therapy, and be told that he needs to get in touch with his feelings more. The cadet does all this and gets nothing in return but room, board and holodeck. It sounds like our military, actually.
  4. Why don't we hear any contemporary music on Star Trek? Its not just Earth, either; we never hear any kind of music that isn't either several hundred years old (i.e. from our time). Am I expected to believe that everyone in the 24th century listens to classical and jazz? Where is the trippy space-techno that I was promised?!
  5. This is a society where you can have as much of any kind of food you want, any time you want it. Not just human food, either, it turns out aliens know how to make a mean pasta salad, too. Even the Borg pack sandwiches when they go assimilate a planet. So, can anyone tell me why there isn't a single obese person on the entire ship? I can think of one instance where a fat guy got on the ship, and he literally had 30 seconds of screen time. Everyone else seems to have no problem with temptation. Either that, or Doctor Crusher had some time between nursing Picard's victims to cure obesity. If you get a gut, Crusher just melts off your flab with a phaser. It take about 5 minutes and doubles as laser hair removal surgery. Better hope you don't get a fat head. Speaking of temptation, how does anyone have a social life when the holodeck can allow you to do the disease-free nasty with anyone you could possibly imagine? No pregnancy, no condoms, and no drama; finally, the masses cry, a girl who forgets the night before without being roofied!
That being said, if you asked me if I wanted to enroll in Starfleet, I would join up, make as much cool shit as I can on a replicator, and then quit immediately. Shortest. Commission. Ever.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Well, you guys seem to have taken my advice from last year. Nobody asked me what I wanted for my birthday, and I got exactly what I wanted: A nice relaxing day with my girlfriend Nancy, and about two liters of booze, legally obtained less than 10 minutes after the liquor store opened.

I'll be having a party next week, with lots of beer, music and people. It'll be good knowing that if the cops show up, I don't have to jump out a window and run into the forest, like a high schooler.

Any ideas for music? Post a comment now, because I know that at least one of the hundreds of thousands of people who read this blog has good music taste.

Saturday, I woke up at 5:30 AM, and went on an epic journey over the UMass campus, looking for Nancy's parents. Apparently, Mapquest blows, even when its supposed to take you to the second tallest building in the entire city of Amherst.

Also, I found out yesterday that my uncle Eddie got me an iPod touch. I am such a technology whore, but its good to have relatives who know me so well. Eddie is a ridiculously generous guy, by the way. He got me my G1, which is basically everything I could ever need ever, but in my pocket. He takes me out to dinner when I'm there and doesn't ask a thing in return. He's not bad-looking either; any single ladies want a nice Lebanese boy? I'll give you a number.

Nancy got me a twelve-pack of Ferrero Rondnoir chocolates (fantastic) and half a kilogram of Twizzler's licorice (also fantastic). She also got me a set of really good cat ears to wear on my head. You might be wondering, "Why does Taylor need a set of cat ears?" To which I respond, "Cause I look good in damn near everything, cat ears included."

Friday, June 19, 2009

400 2 20 126 150


I hereby declare victory over the P-2000 Micropipette Puller! Remember these numbers, my friends!

400 2 20 126 150

Those are the Heat, Filament, Velocity, Delay and Pull values for the project I've been working on for two and a half weeks! I got to use a really great optical microscope for to look at the finished product, and let me tell you something; the old tips we used to use just look like crap compared to what we have now. Also, the old ones are really brittle, but the ones I made break far less often.

Next week, I'm gonna be able to put my tips under an SEM, or Scanning Electron Microscope. That'll give me a nano-scale image of the tip so we can see just how sharp it really is. I'll post images when I get them.

Now, I never really explained why we needed these super thin optical fibers. Well, they're going to go into what is called an NSOM, or Near-Field Scanning Optical Microscope. Its a type of microscope that uses laser light to excite the electrons on the surface of a sample, and uses that data for topographical information. The sharper our tips are, the better they act as a guide for the light waves to where we need to scan.

I don't know what they're gonna have me do next week. The NSOM isn't quite in working order yet,the SEM is broken and we're waiting for a technician to fix it, and my professor is in Switzerland for a conference. Maybe they'll let me play with the laser? I can make infrared marshmellows! Well, whatever I get to do will be exciting, and I'll kick ass at it, so no worries!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Pullin' Fibers

This is the Sutter P-2000 Micropipette and optic fiber puller. It uses a CO2 laser to heat up glass and then pull it into very thin strands. I have been working for nearly two weeks to get this machine to make the correct shape on my optic fibers, and I'm so close I can smell the burnt quartz. I calibrated the thing, felt joy when it pulled its first optic fiber, felt despair when it failed. I've gone through a good 8 meters of single-mode optic fiber. That's the cheap kind, but still, its annoying. Until otherwise instructed, my job is to find the one magical configuration of parameters that makes this machine pull an optic fiber into a long, gracefully tapered tip.

The machine gives me control over 5 different parameters:
  • HEAT: Goes from 0-999, and controls how hot the laser gets. The tips tend to get thinner as the heat goes up, but too hot and they start to curl up.
  • FILAMENT: Goes from 0-15, and controls how wide a section of the fiber gets heated up before pulling. According to the manual, you never need to use more than 0 on optic fiber, but I've been experimenting with really high filament values to some good effect.
  • VELOCITY: Goes from 0-255, and in a roundabout way controls how hot the fiber is before the machine gives it the final hard pull.
  • DELAY: Goes from 0-255, and controls how long before or after the laser shuts off the machine should start pulling.
  • PULL: Goes from 0-255, and controls how hard the machine pulls.
I've gotten so close so many times, I don't know if I can go on for much longer without going insane. I'll pull a tip, it'll look perfect and then I'll take it down to the microscope and my grad student mentor tells me "Close, but not quite" really nicely and then she'll show me a good tip under the microscope and I'm completely off. Here's my basic problem:

Guess which one I've been getting?

And what's worse, apparently nobody on the internet has the same problem as me, cause there are no forums or help sites about this machine.

Next article won't be me complaining, don't worry.

Edit: I just found out that Sutter publishes a "cookbook" of programs for pulling micropipettes. 2 problems: I need programs for optical fibers, not micropipettes, and I they haven't published one for my machine, only for the P-97 puller. The P-97 uses an electric filament, not a laser, so it can't melt quartz as well as the laser on the p-2000. Dammit.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Project Natal

So, Microsoft finally decided to try and muscle in on the Wii's Motion Control Monopoly. But check out the impressive(if wildly speculative and ambitious) preview video for Project Natal; the name is a hint about how far along they are designing the thing. 

Did you notice the songs at the beginning and end? That's right loyal readers, that was "Clunk-Rewind-Clunk-Replay-
Clunk" by Los Campesinos! Its the 36 second pop masterpiece that you wish was 4 minutes longer and had intelligible lyrics! Score one for Nintendo for supporting good artists!

PS: This is Aleks Campesinos, the female vocalist for Los Campesinos. 

She quit the band to attend school. The band still loves her, and the fans will all miss her sweet, airy vocals, and the great contrast it made with Gareth's hectic style. I saw her up close at a Los Campesinos show in Boston. Turns out she's actually three lawn gnomes standing on top of each other. Also, she was very nice.

Good Luck Aleks. Hope you don't miss being a rock star when you're working on a term paper.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

American Idle

Ugh, I share a birthday with an American Idol winner. Now my hipster friends won't love me anymore.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

RIP Armando Gerstel: The Burial

We buried him today. Ever since Grampi died, the weather has alternated between overcast and torrential. My mom went to go identify his body at the funeral home. She came out crying, which didn't surprise me. My uncle Henry went next to say goodbye. That's the first time I've ever seen him really cry. People break down over the most random things when they've been emotionally drained like we all have. Henry hated the fact that Grampi's body was just lying there on a cold table, when he surely deserved far more comfort than that. My mom collapsed on the podium as soon as she started her eulogy.

I am a practical person. I knew in the back of my head that my grandfather was ill, that his days on Earth were soon to come to an end. I had always hoped, however, that he would be able to hold out at least until I got married. What really killed me inside about his death was that I would never be able to introduce him to my girlfriend, Nancy. He and Nancy had spoken on the phone, and I had told Grampi all of the wonderful things about Nancy, and vice versa. Nancy thought that Grampi was handsome, and loved hearing stories about him. Her grandfather died a long time ago, and was a right bastard, to put it mildly. She told me that she liked imagining Grampi as her grandfather too. 

Nancy and I have been dating for nearly two years, and have decided to get engaged in about a year. She is not Jewish, and I don't plan on converting her. She would do so if I pressed the issue, but the Jews haven't forcibly converted people for 5700+ years, and I'm not about to be the first. I anticipate friction in the family because of this. Grampi and Annie were the first to learn anything of these plans. Annie giggled when she saw me wearing a titanium promise band on my ring finger. Grampi told me he would never forgive me if I went anywhere else but his shop (as if) for the engagement ring. Grampi was Jewish and Annie is a Christian, so he had a special understanding of the ways that an inter-religious couple had to compromise in order to work. Annie even suggested a rabbi she knew who would perform a marriage between a Jew and a Gentile.

I feel a little guilty wanting to prolong my grandfather's suffering for that long. Its just that I can't think of another person that I'd rather have at my wedding than the man whose warmth, generosity and personality I looked to for my entire life. Nancy and I decided yesterday to name our first son Armando Esformes, in honor of my hero.

When the final scoop of dirt was shoveled onto Grampi's grave, the rain stopped and the clouds parted, and the sun shown brightly for the first time in 4 days. God can be so maudlin sometimes, I swear. I would never have believed a story like that had I not witnessed it myself.

Friday, May 15, 2009

RIP Armando Gerstel

My grandfather died today. I just got done watching my sister be the best Cat in the Hat that a Suessical has ever seen, and I got the call right after. I wanted to tell my mom about it when we got home, but she got the call in the car and freaked out. She got out of the car, got on the sidewalk and laid there for 20 minutes. 5 cars stopped and asked if she was alright. I got her home and in bed, she took 3mg of Xanax and I think it's starting to hit her.

I cried for about 30 seconds when I heard, and now I feel numbness over my whole body. If I had to describe it, it would be like just coming down off a really bad drug trip; the numbness, the dizzyness, the vague anger at the whole world, its not a pleasant feeling.

My mom just asked me if she thinks Grampi left us anything. I can tell she's trying to be funny and cheer me up, but I don't feel anything right now. Twinges of sadness now and again but nothing else. The man was a millionaire, so he's probably left us something, but I can't for the life of me think of something I would want to buy with money. It sounds ridiculous to me. 

Armando Gerstel was a man of the highest character and integrity, a shrewd salesman and a loving and caring grandfather. He was very generous, and he was probably the only jewelry salesman in the world who wouldn't fuck you out of your money when you bought something from him. He was devastatingly intelligent and could play poker like a shark. Seriously, the guy could've made a good living playing poker. 

I seriously can't believe he's dead.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

My Maudlin Career


I've been a fan of Camera Obscura for a long time. I've heard about them through my favorite band Belle & Sebastian; the 
lead singer for B&S 
produced the Camera 
Obscura album Let's Get Out of This Country. 

Anyone who thinks that "twee" is a derogatory term has never listened to Camera Obscura. The violins they seem so found of make a sweet sonic background for the lead guitar, who whimsically noodles around with the melodies that singer Tracy-Anne Campbell weaves. You will hear no diva-esque belting out of weepy ballads here. Tracy-Anne doesn't scream when she's sad, she sits by the window quietly and sings to herself in a light, airy voice. Luckily, she lets us listen in every now and again.

Since most of you have probably never heard of Camera Obscura, I'm gonna suggest some songs that will get you immediately hooked, and demand that you buy them sight unseen and listen to them obsessively until you want to hug somebody in the rain. In fact, if you're still reading this, just go right now and buy all four of their fantastic albums. Go on, this blog'll be here when you get back.

From My Maudlin Career

1. Honey in the Sun
Really the only song where saxophonist Nigel Baillie gets to shine, probably because he had to leave the band soon after the album's release due to a new baby. Lively, fun, with lyrics that display emotional depth unheard of in anything on the radio in the last ten years. The saxophone manages to lift the listener's spirit up and down like a ragdoll, just like the singer's.

2. French Navy
Oh, Tracy. How many times do we have to say it, "Stop having flings with deep, enigmatic strangers." And a sailor? C'mon, you know he's gonna have to leave you, no matter how much he loves you. Again, lyrics like the best novel you've ever read, and violin work that makes you wanna dance. I would've bought this album on the strength of this one song alone.

3. My Maudlin Career
It's strange to hear Camera Obscura using electric guitars to make the ambience usually made with violins, but as usual, they pull it off very well. Delicate, tinkling pianos and unusually blunt lyrics remind the listener that this band still has a lot of innovation left in them after four albums. When Tracy-Anne says, "This maudlin career has come to an end," we can only hope that she's talking about her sadness, and not about the band.

From Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi

1. Happy New Year
One of the happy ones, obviously. No violins, but Tracy-Anne makes up for it with a livelier-than-normal tune and an excellent duet with pianist Carey Lander.

2.Eighties Fan
I would call this an anthem for disaffected teenage girls, but it's missing something. Even when it shows sympathy
 for the girl in song, it also gently reminds her that she is just a teenager, and she's not gonna make everyone love her, no matter what she does.

3. Houseboat
Another great duet with Tracy-Anne and Carey, and the perfect love song for couples.

From Let's Get Out of This Country
1. Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken
One of the more rock-oriented Camera Obscura songs, with a fantastic video that makes 50's TV romance look as creepy as it should've looked in the 50's.

2. Tears For Affairs
Remember when I said that Tracy-Anne 
cries by the window when she's sad? Well, after that, she gently mocks herself for getting too caught up in a fling. Until the next guy comes along, of course.

3. If Looks Could Kill
Another lively twee-rock masterpiece. Tracy threatens to kill her favorite guy if he doesn't cheer up.

From Underachievers Please Try Harder

1. Suspended From Class
Lovely horns frame this relaxing duet about breaking people's hearts and feeling naughty for doing it.

2. Before You Cry
One of the few songs where Carey Lander is the lead singer, this song about a tempestuous relationship has a pleasant country tone to it, including a devastatingly emotional harmonica solo that communicates hopeful heartbreak better than anything else could.

3. Let Me Go Home
Camera Obscura's foray into the realm of dance music is an addictive little ditty that manages to maintain its twee tone even when the singer talks about his records getting crushed because everyone rushed over to the liquor.

I picked three songs from each of their albums, as you can see. Still, even though they can be a bit mellow at times, Camera Obscura's worst song is still miles ahead of anything that you'll hear in mainstream pop today. Too often, when an artist is described as emotional, it means that they scream  and cry into their microphones and rail at the unfair world that they're forced to inhabit. I'm not bashing those bands; I'm a huge My Chemical Romance fan. Camera Obscura achieves an astonishing level of emotion in their music with nothing but thoughtful lyrics, catchy tunes and fantastic lyrical talent. Who would've thought that would be enough?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Spring Break 2009

This was the first Spring Break I've had in a long time where I didn't spend the entire time in my room, snapping at everyone because I was bored out of my mind. I brought my two roommates with me to Miami, where much fun was had by all. Here's the day-by-day breakdown:

Day 1: We got in at midnight, stayed up till 3 eating pizza and watching King of the Hill. There's a show that's just funny enough to stay on the air, and not funny enough to get censored by the FCC. We wake up at 6PM, and marvel at how quickly our sleep cycle changes in one direction but not the other. Day 1 was a punt day.

Day 2: Wake up at noon, eat a lazy breakfast/lunch. Lay by the pool. Go back upstairs and play video games. Tomorrow, my grandfather is coming down to gamble, and he's got us a hotel room at a casino so fancy, the smallest steak they serve is 38oz. We go down to Miami Beach for the night. I take my roommates to a Cuban place called David's, a place I was only vaguely sure even existed until I managed to smack right into it. If only the people of Cuba knew that their food cost 60 dollars for three people in Miami, there would be a second Mariel Boatlift. There's a bowling alley here where the waitresses wear short skirts and high heeled boots. The lanes are half as long as normal, which is why I break 100 for the first time since I was twelve. After ogling/bowling, we stop by a music bar can Base. There's an enthusiastic indie girl behind the counter, the first black hipster I've seen besides Kele Okereke. Just kidding, I forgot about TV on the Radio. There are walkmen superglued to the bar. You ask the bartender for a CD and obliges you for as long as you need. I buy the new Franz Ferdinand album out of obligation, and the new Morrissey album because he's fucking brilliant. My roommates buy techno for the ride home. I'm in a new car, a bright orange Hummer with chrome wheels. I get pulled over for speeding on the way home.

Day3: I got lost on the way to the hotel. Fucking Mapquest. The stupid thing is, I saw the hotel, or what I thought was the hotel. I thought it was the hotel because it was the only nice building we had seen in the entire Indian reservation that we had driven through. It struck me that I had driven straight across the Seminole nation in about ten minutes. How many dead indians do you need to buy an acre of land in Florida? Anyway, I drive by this gigantic white behemoth in the middle of a lush sea of palm trees and limousines. I drive by it and assume that I must be looking for the OTHER billion dollar resort. Their is a cigarette store near the hotel, made of adobe clay and painted such a bright red that I tapped the brakes when I saw it.

My grandparents are happy to see me, the feeling is mutual. My grandpa traded in his walker for Bono shades. Good for him, as long as he doesn't go off and try to solve the AIDS crisis. That guy only used the walker to lull his enemies into a false sense of security. I got my badass genes from him. My roommates and I go to our rooms and change for the pool. There's a water slide here, with a clearly posted weight limit of 200 pounds. 2/3 of our group chose to ignore that rule, and get fun was had by all. Poolside bars charge 9 dollars for a strawberry daiquiri, 6 for a virgin one. They also don't card. 

That night, we eat dinner at the most expensive steak house in the universe. The three of us order the prime rib king cut. Its a 42 oz. steak, with a side of Yorkshire Pudding. Yorkshire pudding is dough, mixed with all the juices of a cooking steak, and baked. A beef muffin, if you will.

My grandma gives us each a hundred bucks, tells us to knock ourselves out. As a scientist, I will rarely be able to do something like that. I need to invent a virus that eats garbage and poops Reality TV, then I'll be rich. It was 9, so nothing was open yet. That was kinda funny to me, actually. We waste some time in the room and then go to a Billiards bar. The sign outside the door clearly says, " MUST BE OVER 21 TO ENTER." I am twenty, but cocky. I hand over my ID, which has not been modified in anyway, and get in without a bit of trouble. The lady must've looked at the year I was born, figured I was a few months from 21 and she could say she misread my ID.  She needed the tips anyway. We play pool and dance to hip-hop videos. I don't listen to hip-hop unless its playing over a PA in a club. I decide to be Cocky McCockerson and order a Guiness. The waittress gives me a look, but brings me one anyway. Plausible deniability.

We decide that the evening is not complete if we don't go dancing. Going dancing on a monday night is like trying to go scuba diving on Christmas; people look at you funny, and you end up having a less than stellar time. The resort we were at has 3 night clubs, but none of them were open, so we went to an Irish pub that I knew had a band. My roommates and I are the only ones dancing in the entire place. Everyone else is staring at their table with a drink in hand and a cigarette in their mouth. Fun. This was the only band I've ever seen in my life where the drummer was morbidly obese. I thought that by nature of the job, all drummers would be at least somewhat fit. You learn something new every day.

The next day, I win 90 dollars at the slots. That about pays for the drinks, ice cream, and food I splurged on during our little night out on the town.

That about covers Days 1-3. I'll write more on the topic if I feel it'll be interesting.