Jun 07

Two Movie Reviews: The Prince of Splicia

Well today was a pretty tiresome day for me personally.  Where I would have rather have been researching and obsessing over WWDC’s iPhone launch (look for my take on that later), I was instead trapped in a body shop and then a auto repair garage getting all of the many things that are wrong with my car fixed.  Even so, here’s my take on two recent movies:

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Review)

A few weeks ago, I saw Prince of Persia: Sands of Time.  I have to say I was very impressed. While it was certainly not the greatest movie of all time, for a video game movie it did very well.  I’ve never played the game upon which it was based, but I found the plot very interesting and approachable.

The action sequences were great and many of the chase scenes mirror (some very closely) the chases in the animated Aladdin movie of yesteryear.  As a child of that time period, these chases had a very strong appeal.  Think throwing apples at bushy-bearded guards with scimitars and you’ll generally get the idea.  Oh and it always helps when the leading man and lady are both fairly attractive!

I would have to say there is some complexity in the plot, but only from the mystery and sharp turns in the plot, not from any deep philosophy.  That being said, it’s nice to have a fun action/adventure movie unburdened by the dark overtones or deep psychology that has become some common among modern movies.  Also, it’s family friendly without losing its edge.  Definitely see it with friends or family before it leaves theaters!

Splice (Review)

Also in the theaters this week was Splice, starring Adrien Brody.  I saw it with @jbrown915 on Friday and it’s hard to even describe this one.  The story follows a couple of scientists (both in the plural and dating sense of the word) who are working on creating new life forms.  This iteration of “artificial life” (which might be better described as “synthetic life” because it just borrows from nature) combines the genes of several different organisms to form these gelatinous blobs.  These early creations don’t look very good, but they produce proteins important for pharmacology.  Things go awry when they add in human DNA and all of a sudden things get out of control.

My first big problem with this movie is that ALL of the science is essentially a distillation of public misconceptions about genetic science.  They make most of their discoveries over the course of a busy week (which pushed forward the idea that “scientists just need to work harder!”) and it also proposes that there is something magical about human DNA.  For some reason splicing in DNA from people is WAY harder than DNA from closely related mammals, and once they succeed, it turns into a horrible humaniod monster!

The real reason NOT to see this movie is the middle to second half of it.  I don’t want to give away too many spoilers to the poor souls who subject themselves to this film, but essentially the female lead develops this VERY creepy maternal complex that her boyfriend (husband?) never notices.  After this, the plot begins to follow the same lines of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, only with graphic detail where the cult classic leaves much to the imagination.  The circumstances, stupidity of the characters, and the incestuous suggestions really take the more visceral scenes way beyond the pale of a normal scifi thriller and into the realm of “why did I pay to watch this?”  Overall, unless you’re needing a feature film that feels like two B movies crammed together, skip Splice and don’t even rent it.

Hope you enjoyed my doling out reviews and general wisdom.  Let me know if you agree OR disagree in the comments!

[Prince of Persia image from Walt Disney Pictures | Splice image from Gaumont]

Jun 03

Exploits in the “End of School” Season

Contrary to popular belief, things DID happen to me during the downtime of my site.  Here’s a few examples…

School pretty much finished up until Fall.  My TAship is paused until I teach (probably) micro lab again, so I have all kinds of time to focus on the lab.  I also finished my unnerving but nonthreatening genetics course with a B.  Overall I guess it was a good semester, though mostly because it was much less hectic than the first.

I HAVE done a little internet-related work.  Mostly writing articles for GeeksAreSexy.net again.  This time I created Science Is Sexy: What’s The Big Deal About Synthetic Life? and REVIEW: Is Betterment.com Really a Better Way to Grow Your Money? It was nice to get writing again and find something I genuinely wanted to write about.

My lab work is going really well!  Thus far I have created a very successful transformant (a kind of genetically modified bacterium) and am currently working on deleting a gene from that bacterium.  If I can remove a gene and then replace it with my modified version, I’ll have essentially completed the “mutation and rescue” paradigm of molecular genetics.  Feel free to ask questions in the comments.

As an added treat for those interested in the above, here’s a picture of said transformant (the change is that one of its proteins is now fluorescently marked, so this is a fluorescent microscopy image), click it for a large view:

Right now the above bacteria are being a bit stubborn about giving up their genetic material (I mean I only want to blow up their outer layers and strip out their identities, geez!) so I’m cycling through a number of techniques that SHOULD be helping.  Thus far, no luck.  It’s still nice to feel like I’ve already done SOMETHING in lab this season.

As it goes with magic…I am kind of taking a little break.  Hobbies are only fun when you’re mentally engaged.  Just like my writing, sometimes the activity gets a little stale and I need some time away so I can miss it.  I’m pretty much just in maintenance mode…I still carry cards and can entertain a bit, but not a lot of new stuff is coming out at the moment.  I think it’ll probably pick up in Fall (also, Summer is horrible for card magic…humidity and “stickiness” are no fun for paper).

Lastly, on a pop culture note, I just saw Prince of Persia and LOVED it!  If you would like to see Disney’s Aladdin in live-action form, this is the movie for you.  The plot is pretty compelling too!

I’m so glad all this registration nonsense is behind me.  Now I can just get back to guilting myself into blogging at a regular pace!

[“Stand Back” image from XKCD]

Mar 03

A Day in My Life: Yesterday

Here’s a look at my usual schedule during the busy times of grad school:

6:30-7:30am
Awake repeatedly to multiple alarms (needed from lack of sleep).

8am
Leave for school

8:30am
Begin prep for the lab I TA (Microbiology)

9:05-11am
Teach the lab and handle the 20 things that will unexpectedly go wrong

11:10am-11:50
Grab some lunch at the food court (while tasty and filling, not too nutritious)

12-3:30pm
Work in the lab doing a number of protocols including enzyme digests, PCR, bacterial cell culture, and numerous gels (did most of those)

3:30-4pm
Chat with other grads waiting for class to start

4-6pm
Take graduate Genetics (looking at gene expression in detail)

6:15pm
Head home in medium traffic on Rt. 1

The rest of my evening involves a combination of dinner, grading papers/project/exams, reading several journal articles (avg. length 10 pages), and diverting myself with Hulu.  It should be noted that Twitter and podcasts permeate the whole day.

At about midnight (hopefully) I get to bed and wake up around 6am for the first time, clocking in about 5 hours of total sleep…starting the whole saga over again.

Overall, a very stressful way to be…part teacher, part student, part experimental scientist.  At least it’s never the same two days in a row!

Feb 28

I’m Internet Famous! – An Interview with Discovery News

feedbagLogoWowee I have been so super busy since my last update. More details on that in a bit, but first I have a neat announcement!

A couple weeks ago it my editor over at GeeksAreSexy.net (for whom I freelance occasionally) asked me if I wanted to do an interview with Discovery.   I was surprised at first that they would even know we existed, but it turns out that all of our sciencey stories over the last year have come to the attention of one of their podcasts.

The Discovery News Friday Feedbag podcast takes a few science stories each week and discusses them in a casual atmosphere.  They have a growing listener base and one of those loyal listeners forwarded our site to them.  Last Thursday (after quite a bit of planning and then snow and then more planning) I chatted with them via telephone on the show.  It was an incredibly fun experience and I’m glad that new media gives me a chance to share it with all of YOU.

Here’s the link to the podcast’s episode page….or if you don’t want to subscribe on iTunes, copy the link below into your browser URL bar to get the MP3 file. I’m about 1 minute into the file.

Also here’s our announcement about it on GeeksAreSexy.

Aside from being famous on the internet I’ve mostly been hard at work in grad school.  I have gotten a little closer to understanding my research project and ran my first successful PCR (which I got right on the first try).  If you don’t know what that is, just think of it as a complex chemical reaction which occasionally decides it’s not going to work at all!

Classes have been pretty interesting this semester, as they are significantly more microbially centered.  I’m really enjoying Microbial Pathogenesis, despite it’s 8AM meeting time.

On Friday I saw a talk by Dr. Robert Gallo, co-discoverer of HIV.  While I already knew the story of the virus pretty well, I was impressed by how amusing some of his personal stories were.

Lastly I’ve been helping out with new grad student recruitment and look forward to meeting the second batch of applicants next week.

Jan 18

A Little Science (and Magic) Update

The Majestic Green Sea SlugAfter a few weeks back in the lab I seem to have little to show for it. My transgenic bacteria from last semester all seem to have succumbed to the cold, dry environment of our lab fridge so I’m starting somewhat from scratch at this point. I was able to save my original B. megaterium strain; though, so I haven’t been set back too far.  Also, I’m going to work on a new method for preserving my stocks in a colder freezer, so this lesson might have saved me from losing future (and more important) work.

On another science front, I used my time over winter break to write a few articles pertaining to science for my old friends over at GeeksAreSexy.net.  Here’s a list:

Some of the articles got rather nasty comments, so it wasn’t the greatest ego booster, but I think readers sometimes expect everything they see nowadays to become comprehensive and include every possible detail.  It seems like sometimes there’s no space between layman and expert anymore.

With more paid articles came more ways to promote my blog and my Twitter account.  For that reason I actually started POSTING again to said Twitter account.  Feel free to follow me if you aren’t already via the Twitter tab on the right.

Lastly, I haven’t mentioned the great art of magic on here in quite a while, but after a bit of a hiatus and a period of only doing the same tricks over and over, I have started working on some new material.  In fact, I recently started actively routining my effects to flow easily from one to another (less “what should we do next” in the future I hope).  The newest effect I’m working on at the moment is very challenging and requires a lot from me.  But I hope in a few weeks to be able to debut it for you all!

Thanks for reading my update.  The best way to follow my hijinks on the web is Twitter, as I’m always posting there and sometimes to Facebook.