Monthly Archives: August 2010

Level 50 Geek

If anything about my life is at critical mass for describing who I am as a person, my overall geekiness is the closest. Ask me a question about almost anything science or science-fiction related, and I may talk for an hour or more straight, stopping only to wake you from the information-induced (or boredom-induced…) coma so that I can either keep talking or apologize for talking too much, which evidently also requires more talking. In any case, I figured with the start of the semester only a handful of hours away, I figured an inventory of my geekiness would be in order.

Fortran and Python
I’ve always loved programming since my first forays into it back in high school with my TI-84+ Silver calculator. It’s just so cool to write something that causes a machine to do things for you! While yes, those early programs were almost all games, the fact is that I could manipulate text to display whatever I wanted on the screen. I haven’t lost that feeling, and in some cases that feeling has grown. Right now, the language I’m most comfortable with is Python, just because I’ve been using it for almost four years now pretty consistently. Second place would be Fortran, since I’ve been quickly learning it for my senior thesis work, but that’s a great language too. Plus, knowing both won’t hurt when I move on to grad school.

Science Fiction
I’ve had a strange relationship with science fiction. As a kid, I loved Star Wars and Jurassic Park and Space Cases, drew spaceships and aliens and planets all of the time, played games like Outpost 2 and Sid Meyer’s Alpha Centauri and Starcraft, read space-themed Choose Your Own Adventures and other space-related books, and wanted to be an astronaut. I just never thought of all that as science fiction, or related it with that genre that I had sort of heard about but never thought about what it meant. That was my life (loving sci-fi without calling it such) until my junior year of high school when my then-girlfriend sort of slapped some sense into me. I started reading more sci-fi, “discovered” Ben Bova and Orson Scott Card, watched Stargate SG-1 followed closely by Battlestar Galactica, and immersed myself more into the genre. Even then, and now to some extent, I was behind the game. A month ago I hadn’t seen a single episode of Firefly, but I own both the series and Serenity and it holds the Number-Two spot (tied with Warehouse 13) on favorite sci-fi series. In any case, I could go and list every bit of sci-fi that I love, although that would be a post on its own!

I also wrote a short novella set in the Warhammer 40K universe. Check it out!

School and Education
At this point in my life, the only holiday that rivals birthdays and Christmas is “Back to School Shopping.” Buying textbooks, pens, pencils, notebooks, and everything else I need is just so much fun! This year, when one of my roommates told me that he was buying his books tomorrow, I immediately asked if I could go with him, then I couldn’t sleep that night since I was so busy thinking about the cool books I’d be buying for the upcoming semester. I’ve even already started flipping through one of them (my Numerical Analysis text, although this is more due to my senior thesis work). This semester, I have four classes, my senior thesis, and working as a Physics LA in Lyman Briggs, and I couldn’t be happier.

Board and Video Games
I’ve been playing RISK almost my whole life, and recently have played Axis & Allies primarily with my little brother. Both of those games are really enjoyable, although my favorite plastic-and-dice game has to be Warhammer 40K. I’ve been playing that for a decade, am a prominent member of the online community revolving around my chosen race, and I love painting the actual models (…and enter 40 Year Old Virgin jokes…). Past those tabletop games and the game that I’ve been working on (which has stalled due to other constraints), I love video games, but I must also express a small caveat with that. I love older games for the most part, with only a handful of more recent titles that I’ve really enjoyed. Part of that is not actually owning a gaming system of my own (the Wii I got for my birthday a handful of years ago turned into a family possession), but the other half is that I really enjoy the older games. I have versions of Pokémon and Zelda and Mario and Kirby and the original Final Fantasy, among others, on my computer, and I still have my old GameBoy Color with a few old games. There’s just something about those older games that I just love so much…

Music
…such as their chiptune soundtracks. One of my roommates introduced me to Pulse Blast, a very talented chiptune composer who is unfortunately no longer active, but from the first time I heard one of his songs (We Share the Same Sky), I knew that this was music I’d enjoy. More recently, I found Anamanaguchi, who also did some songs for Scott Pilgrim plus the soundtrack for the game, but past that I haven’t listened to many chiptune artists. I also enjoy the insanely geeky songs, like Kill Dash Nine, Mandelbrot Set, and the Large Hadron Rap, by an MSU alum, just because they appeal to my inner geekiness.

What also should be mentioned in this section is that my current ringtone and message tone are from the original Pokémon (intro theme and pick up item, respectively), which I had just switched from music from the Zelda series (Hyrule theme and “Link finds a secret!” respectively).

Conclusion
While I could theoretically go on and on about this, what I have down so far is a pretty good introduction to who I am as a person, especially with regards to what nerdy stuff I like. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to watch some BSG before WH13 comes on.

Advertisements

Inception

Last night, I saw Inception for the second time which gave me a better outlook on the events of the movie. If you haven’t seen the movie, watch it as soon as humanely possible, and if you’ve only seen it once, watch it a second time. It’s well worth the money. I’m also going to issue a general “Spoiler Alert,” not because I feel like ruining the movie, but I know that some people (namely, me) don’t like to know anything about the actions or events in a movie before seeing it, at least not past a good trailer. I’m just going to discuss a few of my favorite parts, at least from my own geeky point of view.

First, the weightless fight scenes in the Hotel (Dream Level 2) were amazing! The correlation between the tumbling and turning van and what was happening in the hotel were astounding, more than enough for me to appreciate the time and effort that went into them. During the tumbling van sequence, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character expertly handled himself while fighting the various projections that he encountered, all while the direction of gravity was constantly shifting. Filming that scene must have taken a ton of takes, especially considering that the actors had to consider both their moves and actions as well as the changing gravity (which I assume was marked by some light off-screen). Continuing in the Hotel, when the van had already left the bridge, the zero-g maneuvers just seemed soo cool, especially since you don’t commonly see those inside of commercial buildings.

Second, the second time that Ellen Page’s character goes into the dream state with Leo DiCaprio and starts fusing with things… I loved how this student architect just had a look of amazement and wonder as she manipulated the world around her at her own will, like a kid with a box of LEGOs. When the two of them start walking, and the bridge overpass just springs up for the roadway below, with Page not even breaking stride toward it, that was cool! One of the most interesting parts of that sequence was that, while Page had already started crossing the bridge, it was still creating itself to fit her image of it. This was given away during the close-up of DiCaprio when the various columns and beams appear and combine around him, even with Page halfway across the bridge.

Finally, the closing scene with the spinning top. I know that this is one of, if not the, most discussed portions of the movie, but here’s my take on it. Of course, this is a major spoiler alert if you’re trusting my judgement on rotational stability. After spinning the top, DiCaprio walks away toward his kids, with the top still spinning on the table. It wobbles, re-stabilizes, wobbles again, and then the movie cuts to black. Based on a completely un-scientific counting of the seconds to toppling shown previously in the movie, plus a visual comparison of the stability of the top after it has begun spinning, you can extrapolate that the top almost definitely fell over, planting DiCaprio in reality. Every other spin sequence had the same general instability patterns, while the few times we saw the top spinning within a dream level, it was way more stable, barely deviating from its central axis or the position on the surface it was spinning.

Well, my quick overview of the more geeky scenes in the movie, plus my thoughts on what happens after the movie ends. Again, go out and see it if you haven’t, or see it again if you have.

AST410 Senior Thesis

On Friday, I had a meeting with Prof. Ed Brown about him potentially being my senior thesis advisor as well as deciding what the thesis would actually be. Needless to say, I was pretty nervous for the two days before the meeting following that first half-begging e-mail out to him (especially since I’ve never met the man before). I couldn’t sleep the night before, which was also partially due to some Dr Pepper I had at dinner, but I was just worried that he wouldn’t like what I wanted to study, or that it was too broad or narrow (since I didn’t even really have a full idea on what I wanted to study either), or he didn’t have the time to advise a student or already had too many students to advise. Yes, I commonly think about the worst that could happen first, then gradually improve my outlook.

I had read a few (three) papers involving r-process nucleosynthesis, all of which revolved around the simulation of the supernovae and various variables that could lead to or prevent the r-process from occurring in the simulation. Each one looked at slightly different areas, so I figured that would give me a good base for discussion with Prof. Brown so that I didn’t look like a total idiot.

Well, after stumbling over my words and trying to defend myself to prevent him from dropping me, we discussed what my first courses of action would be (get acquainted with Fortran, read a handful of papers and notes he’s e-mailing me, etc.) that will carry me through the first month(s). We also settled on a topic, at least tentatively, which means that I’m not learning all of this all for naught! The only thing left to make it official is to fill out the PA Department form for the thesis topic, get it signed by him and Prof. Smith, turn that in, and start doing the actual work (downloading and installing a bunch of things right now to make things work).

What is the topic, you ask? Well, right now, it’s a methods-based research topic centered on two different reaction networks. I will be developing and programming a driver program (most likely in either Python or Fortran, although it could end up being a mix between the two) and comparing the end results, based on inputted variables, between the two reaction networks. This will be the first time where my programming abilities will have to be used, and I’m really excited about that!

Also, I think that I’m going to like using Fortran

Preparing for Life

In twelve months’ time, my next four-to-six years will be set and laid out for me to simply follow. While for some this long-range plan may be a little disconcerting, I’m looking at it as my first official steps away from my childhood and into the life of an adult, no matter where I eventually find myself in twelve months, or where I wander between now and then.

Senior Thesis
I’ve just started reading articles in preparation with meeting with my potential advisor to discuss my senior thesis, a requirement for every Astronomy/Astrophysics major at MSU. After trying to decide what I wanted to study for the first couple months of the summer and the end of last semester, I finally settled on an area that I both enjoy and would continue studying in grad school if given the option: r-process nucleosynthesis in supernovae. This attracted me for a number of reasons, the top ones being that it’s not fully understood and that, as theoretical work, it relies highly on computer simulations and coding. Both interesting things to be a part of! Since I haven’t met with the professor yet, I can only hope that he’ll decide to be my advisor, otherwise I’m a little short on luck.

Bike and Build
After finding out about the Bike and Build charity a few years back, I’ve been really excited about applying (this coming October) and hopefully taking part in the program. Riding a bike across the U.S. and building homes for those less fortunate? Sign me up! If I am not accepted into the program, it won’t be like my summer will be meaningless, since I’ll be able to pack/prepare for the next stage of my life and also work at the MST@MSU summer camp again, which would be sweet anyway.

Graduate School
I’ve taken the GRE General Test (M:800, V:550, E:5), and the only standardized test I have left as an undergraduate is the GRE Physics Subject Test. I’ve signed up for the October test date (the first of the year), downloaded the provided pack, and will be picking up a book or two to help me prepare for the test. That score will end up meaning more for admissions to grad school than the general test, since I am going into a Physics-related field, after all. At this point, I have two months until the exam, which should be enough time to prepare so long as I start studying sometime within the next week. I’ve also tried to narrow down my list of school, mostly by collating my various lists into one, so that I can start to figure out where I may be living for the next part of my life.

Programming
Should the subject test (and the retake) go sour, or admissions staff think I’m not up to stuff at any school I apply to, I’ve already started looking at potential jobs that I could post-graduation with my degree. While getting ready for that, I’ve decided to fully flesh out my programming skill set in two areas. First, bring my UNIX/bash abilities close to where my Python skill is, and second, learn C/C++. I haven’t decided between those two languages yet, but I am leaning toward C++ since I feel like it would be slightly more useful. Of course, I have very little idea about which is actually used more in the field, although I’m guessing that it will vary greatly from one place to the next. Mostly this was spurred by a job offering that I will most likely either not be qualified for in any case, or the position will already be filled once I can apply, but in any case the added skills won’t hurt.

Relationships
I’ve decided that, since this last year is very important for the rest of my life, I’m not going to date or try to date anyone for the next year. I’d rather just simply have to worry about me and my own problems for the time being than mine and someone else’s, plus if I’m moving across the country in twelve months I’d want to be single anyway. In some cases, it may be tough, but I think it will turn out for the better for everyone by bringing the inevitable up to the present.