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 08

My Thoughts on iPhone 4

Today, I want to share my enthusiasm for the new iPhone.  I don’t think it’s as revolutionary as the original device (despite Apple’s claims), but I definitely it allows the iPhone and its platform to move to the next level.  The details and specs are all described well by Engadget, so I’ll leave you to read up on them if you want that level of knowledge.  Here are the highlights though:

The phone has a new shape. With square sides and its antennas wrapped around its edge, it is the first significant form-factor change we’ve seen in a while.  Also, both sides are made of a super-hard glass that is (as always) resistant to scratches.

The screen is SUPER high quality and has a level of detail above that which can be recognized by the human eye.  Essentially they claim to be approaching the appearance of “ink” instead of “dots.”  For me, this is definitely one of the most impressive feats, as picture quality is becoming much more important in this generation of smartphones.  I’ll have to see it in person to really know if it’s better, but first-hand accounts seem to generally support Apple’s claim.

The iPhone now has TWO, count um TWO, cameras. One on the face, one on the back.  This was expected based on leaks and such, but even so, it’s a big step for Apple’s golden device.  The video chat/video call function doesn’t really exist outside of Skype and enterprise users, so it’s fairly uncharted waters.  Personally I expect very slow adoption of video calling, primarily because people are so used to doing other things while talking on the phone.  You can’t really carry out a video chat while grabbing your groceries or doing household chores.  Even so, much like the iPad, maybe people will find a place for it in their lives.

I don’t really need a new iPhone at the moment, as I have the 3GS and that is getting a lot of the new software perks for FREE, but if I DID I’d definitely pick the iPhone 4 over any Android out there at the moment (even though The Incredible is very compelling).

[iPhone image from The Guardian’s PDA Blog]

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]

Jun 02

Science Is Magic is BACK ONLINE!

So after my registrar, Dotstrar, vanished, leaving only a vacant website and email accounts that bounced-back all incoming messages, my registration lapsed and I lost the domain.  Fortunately my host was able to hold of my data (read: blog posts) on their servers until now.  I have transfered my domain over to a new registrar (GoDaddy, who seem to be the cheapest without being based in some 3rd world country) and the Science and Magic should be uninterrupted from here on out!

I hope some of you are still aware of this blog’s existence…I should have a new update post out this week!  I’ve been busy during all this downtime!