Apr 02

Spring Has Sprung!

Well, it’s that time of year again!  The bees are buzzing, the birds are chirping, and everyone has realized that…they haven’t cleaned, their todo list is an epic poem, and finally it’s warm enough to get outside again!

For me, this means it’s time to dust off all my old hobbies and see what’s fallen by the wayside…

Research

My first priority right now, of course, is grad school.  I have a Research In Progress talk (RIPs) coming up in the middle of April.  This means I need to give a 30 minute or so talk about what I’m working on at the moment.  It’s also the first time I’ve had to speak publicly about my research to the department!  I’m a little nervous.

Magic

After that, I’ve got Magi-Whirl coming up.  It’s a mid-Atlantic conference for magicians of all shapes and sizes.  The headliner there is going to be Losander, who is considered one of the greats of levitation!  It’s also just a great weekend to enjoy the company of fellow magi and great lectures.  Plus, vendors will be there, hawking all of their fabulous (EXPENSIVE) goods!

[By the way, if you’re up for a great magic show, all of the greats at the convention will be doing an evening show for the public…tickets are 15 bucks and WELL worth it (these are international talents, what did you spend on your last local rock concert?)!]

The conference has also gotten me worried though.  I’m afraid my recent hiatus from magic has left me rusty.  I’ve been breaking out all my go-to books and trying to at least get my regular repertoire up and ready again!

Writing

Lastly, I’ve been working super hard on my new-found love of writing.  I still don’t know if I have any particular talent at creating fiction, but I feel like I’m at least getting better with every attempt.

My recent energy has been focused on a longer piece (maybe 7k words when I finish with it?) that spans space travel, galactic machinations, and close-quarters squabbling.  An early reviewer said she thought it was very interesting and much better than my first piece, Let’s Do Lunch, which I am still trying to sell.  I’m about 4/5ths through it, so I just need to ride out the end!

That first piece has now been rejected about 10 times.  I expected as much, as no matter how inspired, one’s first works are usually pretty horrible.  That said, I don’t think it’s unreadable.  Also, after reviewing more over at Critters, I realize how my particular story is not particularly novel in its construction.  There are MANY pasty white guys out there trying to sell a neat idea with no plot or drive to back it up.  At least it has been a good lesson on the overall process!

Just before now, I finished writing another short story called Real-Live Thinking Cap, which has a decidedly more whimsical tone.  It’s about a boy who buys a contraption out of the back of Boy’s Life – delightful adventures ensue.  There is a decidedly less “hard SF” ethos to it, so I’m hoping the experience will allow me to broaden my writing style.  Until now, I’ve mostly stayed within a few well-defined tropes.  The story is going up on Critters next week, so we’ll see how it fairs!

That’s it for now.  I hope to publish a LITTLE more frequently in the future. :)

Nov 17

Writing Up A Storm!

As you can probably tell by the lack of post on this blog, it’s been a BUSY fall! I’ve taken on two sections of microbiology lab (only had to do one last semester and NONE over the summer) and that has kept me busy enough on its own.  On top of that, my research is continuously picking up steam and I’ve spent a lot more hours in the lab recently.

Beyond academic obligations, I’ve also been exploring a new hobby: SF writing.  Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I read the works of Asimov, Bradbury, and other “Golden Age” science fiction greats.  They inspired me to think scientifically and to consider alternate worlds and cultures.  I did also attempt some sci-fi writing (my favorite format has always been the short story).  Looking back on those early works, I see I was lacking a lot of the basic writing skills I’ve acquired through school and freelance blogging.

Recently I began working my way through The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge (above: Analog, a magazine I’d LOVE to publish in some day; the cover of the aforementioned book).  Vinge’s science fiction isn’t the absolute greatest out there, but he DOES have the distinction of having coined the word “Singularity” as it pertains to the field of Futurism.  As I read into his vastly complex stories, I began to get the old itch again, the itch to create something of my own!

I set down at my computer and figured out a really neat idea based on some thoughts on physics.  After some analysis, though, I determined that my theory wasn’t quite as interesting, original, or even feasible as I thought.  I needed to find something else to base my story around.

A few days later, I had an interesting conversation with a labmate about The Singularity and some “endgame” scenarios proposed by Ray Kurtzweil.  I won’t go into detail, partially to protect the plot of my story, but essentially the entire universe becomes this enormous computer.  I took that idea and ran with it, putting together a dialog-driven short story.  The first draft FLEW out of my head and into the Word file and in two sittings I was done.

For the last month or so I’ve been proofing, drafting, and handing the story out to a choice number of people.  My ultimate goal is to publish in a reputable (read: paying) magazine or SF website.

I’ve been reading essays all over the web about how to write in the science fiction genre.  One of the best resources is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America website.  If you sit down and read all of their “new writer” articles you’re well on your way already.  Of course being able to write is important too…

Another important tool I have discovered is the Critters SF and Fantasy Workshop.  Part of the larger Critique.org, Critters is a wonderful place to submit your manuscripts and critique manuscripts of others.  In order to keep away story thieves and, more importantly, bad critiquers, Critters has an activity ratio system (similar to how a private torrent tracker works) so that you must pitch in and write great critiques before you can get your own work reviewed.  Here’s their banner, since banners are fun and I want the community to stay nice and large:

Unleash your inner Shakespeare at Critters.org

If you’re interested in reading/proofing my story, feel free to @me on Twitter.  Otherwise, I’ll keep you guys posted on the story’s progression and if I ever get it sold!  I’ve sold TONS of articles to blogs and a few to print publications, but fiction is a new area for me and it’s a little intimidating to be honest.  Wish me luck!

[Cover Art Image from DarkRoastedBlend]

Aug 06

It’s Been a Long Hot Summer

Good day everyone and welcome back to my blog.  I’m sure you’ve been wondering “where’s Jimmy gone?” That is, unless you’re one of the many people who sees me on a regular basis…

In any event, I am not a summer person.  Summer has the effect of really slowing me down…too hot to work out, too hot even do much thinking, so I mostly have just been sitting on my duff.  All that said, I still got a few things done recently.

First of all, I HAVE actually gotten some blogging done.  I’m still writing a few articles a month for Bright Hub.  I have never really enjoyed “SEO baiting” types of assignments, but I think Bright Hub has set it up so the experience feels less like selling out and more like a network for answering questions that people may Google.

My writing for Geeks Are Sexy has decrease a bit (I think it’s just cyclical…sometimes it’s nice to take a little break), but I also got one story out for them as well.  I tend to write in order to AVOID work, so when I have little to do, I tend to slack off on blogging itself.  Hopefully once I’m nice and busy again, the freelancing will be a nice little diversion.

Here’s the latest:

For the most part, the rest of my time has been spent puttering about in the lab.  Working in a lab over the summer can be tough because sometimes your experiments kind of hit a wall and you can’t figure out how to move forward.  I’ve spent a lot of time reading protocols or trying to make found protocols work in real life.  Thus far about half of the stuff I’ve tried has worked and the others just give me nothing!

The semester (and my move into new housing) is fast approaching though, so I should be neck-deep in new responsibilities fairly soon.  I’m ready for summer to be over and for autumn to rush in and take its place!

Jun 24

Driving, Star Trek, and Other Adventures

Well Summer is FINALLY here (though I think the heat of Spring kind of stole its thunder).  I’ve been busy these last few weeks, mostly trying to enjoy the season while not getting killed by oncoming traffic.  So far in the last month or two I’ve been pulled over twice for incredibly minor stuff and have had my car crunched on from each end (fortunately I’ve had very minimal damage).  I don’t seem to have incurred any injuries, so that’s good.

On the topic of relaxing, I attempted to attend Crystal City’s showing of Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan out of doors (which was also attended by Think Geek).  I say attempted because I made it all the way down there, but just as the movie was starting, it began to really pour and soggied up the ground.  While Wrath of Khan is a great film, it wasn’t quite worth it to sit on wet ground for two hours, so the trip was aborted.  Don’t worry, though, I later watched it on Netflix streaming in all of its glory (and I got some Think Geek/NASA swag before I left the showing)!

Speaking of the internets, I have been kind of a busy blogger recently.  I wrote a few more stories for GeeksAreSexy.net this last month and have also realigned myself with BrightHub.com.  The latter is network for bloggers to write more “Googleable” stories.  Essentially the idea is to answer those questions that people ask directly of the Google search box.  It’s a great little site because even though the per article pay is fairly low, you get a large part of the revenue from long-term ad sales.  So far I’ve made a noticeable amount from the 14 stories I wrote two years ago, so I’m willing to give it another go!

Here are my GAS stories:

Here are my first Bright Hub syndicated articles:

Anyway, I’ve got some more stuff to share on the ol’ blog, but this post would be too long if I crammed it all in, so I’ll update it again in a short while.  Have a nice Thursday!

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]