Aug 05

A Trip to Harpers Ferry

At the beginning of the summer, before it got hot, I actually went camping.  Well, it was still hot, but not like the 100+ degree heat we’ve been having in the mid-Atlantic recently.

I went to Harpers Ferry, WV and it was quite  a trip.  The town of Harpers Ferry is very nice.  Little shops and restaurants share the hillside real estate and look down on tubers who float down the Potomac (many of them a tad intoxicated.

One of the neat things about Harpers Ferry is that it’s the corner of three states: Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia.  It’s pretty much impossible not to cross state lines every day you stay there.  Another line involved is the Appalachian Trail.  Harpers Ferry is considered the “spiritual half-way point” on the AT and I think it would be a fantastic little place to take respite from the trail.  Here’s an interesting sign you don’t see every day!

We took a walk across the river at one point, a walk that parallels the old train tracks that still run by the once-thriving trade town.  They had to make a hole in the mountain to get the trains where they needed to go.

At the end of a long day at Harpers Ferry, its good to get a scoop or two at Scoops Ice Cream Café.  They have a TON of great frozen treats and even offer a discount for Boy and Girl Scouts!  I tried to claim the discount but the lady said I was too old!

The weekend went pretty well overall.  The camping part was a hassle and the decision to rent a site near the water was a mistake of bugtastic proportions, but at least I got to pitch my tent for the first time in years!

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 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!