Monday, February 28, 2011

CSI: New Haven

"Sir, sir! Commissar Johann's dead!"
"What! How?!"
"Sir, he was at a nightclub chatting up this pretty girl, sir, and suddenly her, uh, d├ęcolletage just exploded with this vile green stuff, and he melted, sir! Commissar Johann melted!"
"Oh, I see. Well then, any bystanders injured?"
"Nossir; it seems to have been a targeted strike. If I may say, sir, you don't seem very surprised at this development."
"Well.... no. At the risk of seeming callous, Jenkins, Johann's not the first Terran to fall to a..."

"Baneling bust."

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Distillation/The Attraction of the Gothic

So I was freaking out today about doing a distillation on Monday (ridiculous-sounding to all y'all chemists in the audience, what with me being a grad student and all, but bear with me-- it's been a few years) and then I realized that YouTube would almost certainly have an instructional video on how to do said distillations. And then it did, and I watched it three times. Awesome.

Different Topic!

So I'm a big fan of Adult Swim's Robot Unicorn Attack. Specifically, the Heavy Metal Version, aka the hilariously macho version of the regular robot unicorn attack. Exactly the same gameplay mechanics, but instead of fairies and stars there are pentagrams and imps flying around a landscape whose primary features are tentacled mountains. But really, aside from the obvious Lovecraftian overtones (of which I'm a big fan, obviously) what really draws me in is the music. I'll give you the chorus, which is rather representative of the song as a whole:

War and anger shall reign /The clash of iron can be heard/ By blindness you're driven insane /I'm lost in anguish and grief/ Sorrow won't wane 'til you die/ A shattered body deeply hurt/ And darkness will cover the light/ It's gone forevermore

Gloomy stuff, right? Thing is, I'm not entirely sure why, but I've got a really intense attraction to moods that could only be described as Gothic.

Wrong kind of gothic.

That unicorn knows it's hopeless. Standing in his way are innumerable imps, pentagrams, and flying hellfish, and the only possible result is eventual death via hurtling into an inanimate object. But you know what? He does it anyway. Just to show 'em.

Here's to you, Robot Unicorn!

CSI: Mass Effect

"Commander Shepard! Local cook, murdered. Blood everywhere. Should never have docked in Omega. Biotics involved. Repercussions-- possible."
"Hold on, now, Mordin. I'm told that random deaths happen all the time on Omega-- it is, after all, a hive of scum and villainy. How does this concern us?"
"Tavern chef. Indulged in drinking games with Jack. Decision... inadvisable. Heated argument. Death occurred six hours later. Jack's whereabouts unknown. Circumstances-- suspicious."
"I see. In that case, Mordin, we'll have to investigate; hopefully this isn't how it looks. Put the crew on alert-- Jack's not at her most stable, and I can't be sure what she'll do. And take anything you need from the armory; after all, the ship medic should never be without his..."


Friday, February 25, 2011

Team Roles

So Starcraft 2 doesn't have classes. Nobody's actually designated as The Tank, or The Deeps, or the Healer. But somehow, things just kinda line up so that our personalities shine through, and we take on one or two responsibilities for the whole team. This is particularly true in 4v4 and 3v3 matches, where I find that people tend to fall in a few roles:

The Reaver: Early game this player does nothing-- just watches, and waits, and works on his economy. Then, when all seems lost for his teammates, he bursts onto the scene sporting void rays and all manner of high-tech weaponry, like some kind of deranged alien Koo-Aid Man, and lays waste to all around him (including potentially his teammates "for the lolz.")
Common Players: Will, Blake.

The Trollface: This player doesn't generally build much of a conventional army; typically, he goes for the fastest, most irritating air units he can find. And then he runs around the back of each enemy's base, killing workers and forcing them to babysit their mineral lines for fear of heathens running amok, rapin' their churches, burnin' their women, knocking over everything. Just a bad deal all around. And this player tends to be the scout, which can be worth it all on its own just so everyone else knows what to build.
Best Candidates: Protoss with their Phoenixes (vs. Zerg); Terrans with their Reapers (against non-Zerg); Zerg with their mutas (vs. everyone)
Common Players: Blake (vs. Zerg), Branden (vs. non-Zerg), me (when I'm underdroning)

The Scout: Overworked. Underappreciated. This is the guy who's always looking to See What They Are Up To. Not very glamorous, highly APM intensive; and for that reason much of the time we just get one scout in the beginning of the game, and that's it. But he's valuable, oh yes. Without one of these guys, your team's a bit like a blindfolded matadore: not gored yet, but by God he will be. The Trollface will often play one of these implicitly, since while rampaging through undefended mineral lines you're bound to see a tech building or two.
Common Players: Any trollface; otherwise, Jesse.

The Punching Bag: This player is the first to be targeted for early-game rushes (typically a Zerg, since they can't wall off.) His one and only role in such situations is to drag out his defeat for as long as possible; if he holds off the first wave of zerglings and marines, anything else is basically a bonus. A very, very common game pattern I've noticed is

Step 1: Get 6-pooled by multiple enemy Zerg players.
Step 2:
After 3-7 minutes, crumble under the combined might of their 6 pools.
Step 3:
Watch as your high-tech allies surge into defenseless enemy bases and take allllll their apples.
(Damn, but I could go for an apple right now. Where was I? Ah, yes.)
Common Players: Any Zerg at the beginning of the game. Particularly Jesse. But particularly MEEEEEE.

The Frenchman: So called, of course, because French folk love their cheese.
Common Players: You know who you are. (Also me, but only when I'm playing Protoss.)

The Economist:
"Ahhh, the start of a new game. Time to macro!"
"Ohh, an attack starting. Looks like a good time for an expansion."
"Sorry, guys, I'd like to help with the battle, but these mineral lines aren't gonna saturate themselves."
"Fine, fine, take some Corruptors. Leave me alone, I'm expanding again."
"What? The game's over?"
Common Players: Me, Jesse.

The Commadore: The player whose job it is to ensure the armies of our disparate factions don't get too far separated, who leads first strikes and last-ditch defenses, who reaps the glory of victory, and the agony of defeat; whose brow hangs heavy with the fancy hat of command, and whose job it is to ensure that, if we die, we at least die valiantly! "SC stands for SHARE CONTROL!"
Common Players: Blake.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


So I just got my topic paper reviews back, and I seem to have bombed completely. Not hugely surprising, in retrospect; in a synthesis-oriented class, I wrote up a paper about polymer chemistry, which didn't exactly lend itself to the purpose all that well. I brought up my concerns to the professor beforehand, to which he suggested I just try writing the topic paper, and see how it goes. Which I did, and it went very badly.

But oh, man. Seeing the professor's comments was not fun at all. It's always kinda painful to get dinged as "below average" on any assignment; but to really understand the effect of it on me, you've got to know that this project has assumed a peculiar status in my mind for the last month. Even to think about it was agony, due to my ever-worsening suspicion that it would not lend itself well to a proposal; I would keep it locked away in the recesses of my brain, letting even the idea of it out only as absolutely necessary (such as to do the topic paper), shooing it back in immediately as the need was passed, convinced that it would be-- like my senior thesis-- one of those things that I was worrying needlessly about, and that would work itself out eventually.

So to find out that these worries were quite true and valid-- definitely a shock. But you know, there's a certain clarity to gazing directly into the abyss, directly at the horror I had been mentally shying away from. A comfort, even. Now that it's out, I can do something about it-- that something, in this case, being a change from my topic of "polymer synthesis" to "total synthesis of a complex molecule." A topic that I think lends itself quite well to the class, and that I think will work out pretty well. There will be a great deal of work involved, yes, but with that work will come a banishment of the fear I've known for these past few weeks.

Can't say I'm actually all that sorry about writing my failed topic paper; even if it doesn't work well for this class, I learned quite a bit about my research in Luscombe's lab from doing the legwork necessary to write the thing, though it does mean I'll have my work cut out for me over the next couple weeks to get another topic paper in.

Good end?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Reviewing papers!

So you know that topic paper I talked about yesterday? I'm actually reviewing four of them right now, at the behest of the Good Professor. However, I've run into a bit of a snag because of two facts:

1) We have to rank the papers we reviewed from best to worst. I strongly suspect that the professor is going to use these rankings to grade the topic papers.

2) Some papers are all about ORGANOMETALLIC REACTION MECHANISMS! While others are all about the TOTAL SYNTHESIS OF NATURAL PRODUCTS! While others (like my own) are about CLASSES OF COMPOUNDS, AND METHODS OF MAKING THEM! And I gotta tell you, an awesome paper of the first kind looks and sounds veeeeery different from an awesome paper of the second and third kinds, making any sort of direct comparison very tricky.

It's a bit like being asked to rank apples against oranges, while having to control for the fact that you happen to really like apples, and also think that listening to an orange go on all day about reaction mechanisms is basically a one-way ticket to Snoozeville, and then you start worrying about the low grade forcing the orange to drop out of grad school just because you hate hate hate theoretical studies of organometallic catalysts, but that's not the orange's fault, now is it?

No. No it is not. It's your fault. How can you bear it?

I'm not sayin' anything. I'm just sayin'.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


So over the past couple of weeks (prior to Monday) I was working on this topic paper, wherein I was trying to figure out the current state of block copolymer syntheses related to one specific polymer called Poly-3-Hexylthiophene. (P3HT, if we're being less formal.)

It's really difficult to use scientific literature to learn about things that you don't know much about. The reason for this, I think, is that every paper that's out there builds on the ones before it. Which makes it a bit like joining a very complicated and reference-filled conversation several hours in, and trying to puzzle out what all the participants are talking about. (Also, the conversation is in some crazy moon-language, and is being filtered through tinny loudspeakers while a crazed Swiss man yodels in the background.)

Actually, I'm gonna say it's a cross between that, and trying to learn a made-up language by reading a dictionary that's partially written in that language:

Text: "We subsequently found a hijarabab increased the rate of reaction by 40%..."


Hijarabab. n. 1) The stopholoctus of a ministor.

The nice thing, though, is that once you finally figure out what the key reactions and goals are (those ones that everyone's referencing) the rest just kinda falls into place. I think that I've gotten to that point with this polymers topic paper; I gotta say, though, I wish I'd looked into Chemical Reviews articles far earlier than I did, because those are really excellent for just starting on a topic.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Philophical Hydralisk's thought for the day!

The roads to macro perfection and moral perfection are quite similar. Allow the Philosophical Hydralisk to demonstrate!

"A hivemind is a terrible thing to waste."

In Starcraft, the way to get better is to

1) play a bunch (naturally), and
2) figure out how to get better by watching your replays. Specifically, your losing replays, because while watching your winning replays it's tempting to think

"By Jove, what a fine player I must be to have won that game!"

But when you're watching a losing replay, you're forced to come to grips with inconsistencies in your build order, and the fact that you forgot to vomit on your hatchery for like a whole minute while you were microing your gigantic army of tunneling Roaches across the map. Day9 did this bit where he talked about "triggers" for errors in Starcraft-- like, watching your replays while asking questions like, "What are the circumstances that make me forget to vomit on my hatchery?" The hope being that when you're back playing an actual game, you'll be able to think to yourself-- "Okay, now I'm microing an attacking force, so that means I'm probably forgetting to vomit right now, so I should go do that." And in ingraining this mode of thought as a habit, we make ourselves a better player.

And while chances are good that we won't ever achieve anything like perfect macro-- I'll bet even the pros have moments where they momentarily forget to spawn larvae-- perfect macro is an ideal forced on us by the sort of game Starcraft is, so even our failures in this can't stop us from picking ourselves up and trying again. Because of course, every instance of bad macro will do us harm-- probably in the present, and definitely later on (specifically when our Protoss opponent 4-gates us.)

In conclusion, banelings.


Monday, February 14, 2011

NMR training!

So today I was trained on the NMR machine! I'll spare you the details, except for a little anecdote the supervisor was sharing with us while showing us how to shim:

Okay, so NMR spectroscopy (for those of you who don't know) depends on having a really, really even magnetic field over a certain space. It's this field that fundamentally allows us to analyze molecules to see what they are. Now, this field can be disturbed pretty easily by even something as simple as tapping your foot on the floor or a door closing (which jiggles the machinery), but these smaller disturbances can be damped out by floating your NMR in just a liiiiiittle bit of water. So that's good, as far as it goes. Except this works only on high-frequency vibrations. Low-frequency stuff-- like trains going by, for example-- can't really be dealt with effectively, and are basically guaranteed to screw up your measurements.

So there was this huge uproar when Seattle wanted to have the Amtrak line going by the UW Physics department. Which the city didn't particularly care about until all the Nobel Prize winners started gearing up to leave the UW, at which point the city was like "FINE, FINE, you guys win" and moved the planned Amtrak line...

...right by the Chemistry and Chemical Engineering departments. As you can imagine, basically the same scenario occurred-- the famous Nobel chemists BAWWWWWWW'd, the city caved-- at which point they shuffled the Amtrak line...

...right by the Nanoscience department. Who apparently didn't quiiiiite have the clout to get it moved out of their backyard. Poor guys. No precision instruments for you, Nanoscience!

The moral of this story: Chemistry always wins in the end.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Rather Mild Bane of My Current Existence

Engineers. Don't get me wrong, I love engineers. The culture-- at least to judge from Harvey Mudd's wild and crazy ITR events-- is totally my bag, and I share with the engineers and mathematicians their love of gratuitously graphing commonplace events. Plus, they're the members of society whose sanitary systems ensure I'm not going to die of The Cholera. So I'm grateful to them, on the whole.

Still, I find the mechanical engineers with whom I'm grouped with in my interdisciplinary Nanoscience class to be an odd bunch. We're doing this project, see, where we're supposed to write a 10-page paper on three applications of organic thin films. For some reason, two of my three (engineering) group-mates feel like we have to include a table of materials and their properties at the beginning of the paper. We had this dialogue:

John: So we should include a table of material properties at the beginning, before we start talking about applications of the materials.
Me: Wait, why would people care about the materials' properties if they don't know what the applications are yet?
John: They can choose which ones to care about.
Me: (blank stare)
John: (blank stare)

I'd think this was just an idiosyncrasy of John's, except both my group-mate and my professor appear to like the idea for reasons unknown to me.


Saturday, February 5, 2011


GENTLEMEN! And LADIES! All of us tower/Washington folk are joining a Minecraft server, run by Branden!