Sunday, January 30, 2011

Starting In A New Lab: Day One

"So," Natalya said to me, as we walked down one of the chemistry building's many long corridors. "First thing is to remember that Professor Luscombe is a stickler for lab safety. That's why you're to wear a lab coat, goggles, and at least three different holy symbols at all times when you're doing an experiment. The stockroom can provide some if you didn't bring any."
I nodded approvingly-- given my paranoia about lab equipment, I definitely prefer a healthy dose of caution with my experiments. Hearing that Luscombe had the same attitude was a good sign.
"You can use any of the equipment here that you're trained for, also. Do you have any NMR experience?"
"Er... not exactly." I coughed. "My undergrad thesis was in biochem, so I honestly don't have much practice in synthetic techniques."
"Hey, no problem. You've actually got a couple months before you're required to have any real results, so that should be plenty of time to get acquianted with the techniques we use here. Oh, although do remember that you can't use the NMR in this building. You have to go down to Chemical Engineering and use theirs."
"Yours isn't working right now?"
"Oh, it works just fine. It's just that the room, right now, happens to be the den of a very ill-tempered Tsathoggua."
"A what now?"
"Oh, you know. A Tsathoggua."
"I actually don't know."
"Well, let me break it down for you: Don't go into our NMR lab."
"Got it. Um, do you guys have a quartz crystal microbalance here, by any chance?"
"We sure do! Although you should probably read over the instructions, first. It might be operated differently from the one you're used to."

"Um. Any chance I might borrow one of your quartz crystals?"

Friday, January 28, 2011

I remember beginning in GenChem lab...

It was hammered into us before each lab that precision was really important. This is because at the end of each lab, a large part of our grade would consist of how high a yield we got (if our lab was synthetic in nature) or, for those that involved measurement, how accurate our measurements were. I can't speak for any other students; for some, those warnings probably were useful reminders that you can't just throw "about a tablespoon-ish" of reagent into a reaction mixture and expect good things to happen to your grade. However, this was not good advice to give me. See, I've never been one for working with my hands. I heard once about an engineering college, where a crucial part of the interview was that the would-be engineer is asked what some obscure gizmo in front of him does. The engineer is considered to have "passed" if he grabs the gizmo, fiddles around with it, maybe opens it up with a screwdriver, hits it a couple times, and comes out with at least a moderately good idea of what its purpose is. I'm not gonna lie-- I would fail that shit hard. My instinctive reaction when confronted with a tool I don't understand is to leave it the hell alone and don't touch it.

Get it away!

This is particularly true in chemistry, where (to take an example at random) forgetting to periodically vent glassware during certain types of reactions will cause said glassware to explode violently.

So with this fact firmly in mind, and with my grade riding on my diligence, I resolved very early on that, no matter what, I was going to follow the procedure EXACTLY and TO THE LETTER. When I got instructions to put 20 milliliters of dilute sodium hydroxide into a flask, I would measure that shit out with ultimate precision, carefully and painstakingly ensuring that the bottom of the miniscus exactly touched the 20 mL mark in my graduated cylinder. And after, I would very gingerly, very slowly, after double-checking the procedure to make sure I was doing the right thing, actually pour that 20 milliliters into my flask. The whole process took about three minutes. Which might not sound too bad until you realize that I haven't even begun the experiment yet. I've just been measuring things. And God help you if I was instructed to add 2 grams of reactant to a mixture, because our lab's scales measured down to ten-thousandths of a gram.

Therefore it came as absolutely no surprise when I would always be the last person to leave the lab. In fact, the resulting strain, between having to be precise vs. having to be quick, made me a little bit neurotic for that first year. Each time I'd go to a prelab lecture, I would start obsessing over tiny details of the procedure that the instructor glossed over. "Wait, how do we tell if the reaction is done?" "How exactly does one use a buchner funnel?" "How can we tell if we vented properly?" And while I'd obsess over those, the instructor would continue in the lecture, oblivious to the fact that my mind was now racing over an endless sea of possibilities, each more glass-explodingly horrifying than the last. The actual lab would find me a twitching, paranoid mess, spurred on by the dueling horrors of "leaving lab at 7:00" and "ruining the product."

Basically, visualize this guy in a lab coat.

How did I survive GenChem, you ask? THE WORLD MAY NEVER KNOW. Thankfully, OChem actually gave us lab groups, which meant there was some kind of check on my neuroticism. (This, you may gather, is when my lab grades started going up. It's also curiously much easier to learn and understand how to use equipment when you have somebody willing to verify that you're doing things right.) And now I'm in Grad School! No idea how that business happened.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

My Pet Peeve

So, question. Too snarky to mass e-mail out to the students? It bothers me SO MUCH. (Also, I've been seeing bunches of students doing this. I'm not just being nit-picky, am I? It's just the geometry is SO WRONG.)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Path!

So, I've finished Amnesia. I feel all accomplished and stuff, and also quite relieved that I no longer have to keep playing the game. (It's weird-- I found it compelling and interesting, but can't say I actually enjoyed it. I... respected it.)

Anyway, so I decided to go looking around for another game in the horror genre. I'm not sure why I am so entranced by that genre currently-- but regardless of why, I decided to give the Path a shot.

Oh man, it's so bizarre. I like it. So this game is based on the Little Red Riding Hood story-- a mother sends her daughter off to deliver bread to Grandma's house, which is waaaaaay out in the woods. Regardless of which character you choose (minor spoilers ahoy!), the goal of the game is to meet that character's "Wolf", which is to say, the person or thing that will cause their death. (Generally not a literal wolf.)

And after you do, the payoff of the game becomes evident. Because each time you arrive at Grandma's House, if you meet your Wolf you're treated to bizarre nightmare imagery and impossible geometries based off of (1) who your character is, and (2) what you did and found in the forest. A lot of these rooms are clearly symbolic of something, but I found most of it impenetrable to my tiny intellect. I think that's half the fun of the game, really-- figuring out what each room in Grandma's House means and then constructing massive Epileptic Trees to fit them all into some coherent whole.

My theory: Grandma needs to hire an interior decorator. Those curtains are clearly too big for this room.

Interestingly, none of the deaths are shown explicitly-- even the manner of death is more implied (via creepy imagery and split-second pictures) than actually stated outright. One highly enjoyable activity is watching people on forums come up with their own ideas as to what it all means. Some of these conclusions are highly questionable.

Theorist: "Okay, so. In this first room we see a bird. Birds fly up in the sky. The sky is often said to be "heaven-ward." The bird therefore represents Jesus. Your character is in Purgatory. Your character walks away from the bird, representing the Fall of Man."

"And then there's, like, a million toilet stalls. I don't know what that's all about."

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Panic Button

I've noticed I tend to get very pessimistic whenever the subject is something about Grad School. It's like there's a squirrely fellow in my head, ever-poised with his hand over the Panic Button, just waiting for a chance to spring into action.

This particularly comes into play at the beginning of a given semester, when I'm skeptical that I know everything I need to for a given class. This was especially true of the current semester of Advanced OChem. At first I was okay-- everything seemed pretty much straightforward-- but then the professor, who I'll call "Mister F", said:

Mr. F: Okay, this reaction uses a Dean-Sullivan Trap. I assume everyone understands what a Dean-Sullivan Trap is?
Class: (nod nod nod)
Mr. F: So we plug that into the reaction, and...

Well, this was slightly unnerving because I had never heard of one. I would've spoken up, but (and I admit this as a character flaw) I strongly dislike publicly appearing ignorant relative to other graduate students. So, I just resolved to ask the professor about this after class. Crisis averted!

Well, anyway, later on in the class the professor got around to asking:

Mr. F: Now, who all here is taking organometallics this semester?
Class: (2/3 the people raise their hands, not including myself.)
Mr. F: Excellent! Then you all will recognize...

But really, a third of the students aren't taking the course, so I should be fine. Right? Right.

So I caught up with Mr. F right after class, and asked him a few questions about the stuff we were learning, and also this group project where we are supposed to propose a novel synthesis of a compound we'd decide on. And it was going pretty well, I'd say! Until at one point he mentioned:

Mr. F: ...and in fact, Aaron, you actually should be able to draw inspiration from all the journal articles you've read last semester.
Me: I see.
Mr. F:
Heh. You know, confidentially, I kinda made the outline due a week from now to punish those students who didn't do much reading last semester for their labs. I mean, really, you guys should have been doing quite a bit of in-depth study when you were investigating which one to join.
Me: Ha ha ha! Of course! Foolish students. With their slacking.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Building a pathfinder character: IN PICTURES!

So, I'm starting a Pathfinder campaign. Pathfinder, for y'all who don't know, basically means 3.5 plus a few changes. Also they have new classes. WHICH ARE AWESOME. Particularly the Summoner, who's main shtick is conjuring up a creature called an Eidolon (which can be bipedal, no-legged, or quadruped) that gains "evolutions" as you level. Evolutions can be taken in any combination, and include such gems as:




"Mount" (you can ride the thing.)

"Swallow Whole"

and many, many others.

Inspired by the Rage Bear Next Door, I have decided to investigate possible Eidolon builds on this blog WITH PICTURES! Also their respective names. We'll start with the first, which I refer to affectionately as

"The Blind Horror of Deep Earth"

5-point evolution build: Burrowing , Serpentine, Bite, Reach (Bite), Grab (using Bite), OM NOM NOM

"The Dark Mother From Beyond Space And Time"

Evolutions: Tentacles, Tentacles, Tentacles, Tentacles, Mount (YEEEEEE-HAAAW)


"The Personified Void of the Space Between Worlds"

Evolutions: Proficiency (Simple Weapons), Constantly On Fire, Ability Bonus (Strength), Skill Bonus (Scrapbooking)

Which to choose...?