Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Do you want to be an astronaut?

I'm really interested in what the Mars Phoenix lander is doing. You probably heard that it recently discovered water ice, a huge finding that lends a lot of credence to the theory that Mars used to be much more like the earth - warmer, wetter, greener - and potentially habitable for life. The news about ice was first announced on Twitter. The lander has its own account, and the posts are written from the perspective of a robot on another planet. It's fantastic.

Today Phoenix posted a link to a job announcement on NASA's website. The job? Astronaut, class of '09. Here's the announcement:

RELEASE : 08-158

Deadline Approaching to Apply for New NASA Astronaut Class

HOUSTON -- NASA's deadline for accepting applications for the 2009 Astronaut Candidate Class is July 1. Those selected could fly to space for long-duration stays on the International Space Station and missions to the moon.

To be considered, a bachelor's degree in engineering, science or math and three years of relevant professional experience are required. Typically, successful applicants have significant qualifications in engineering or science, or extensive experience flying high-performance jet aircraft.

Teaching experience, including work at the kindergarten through 12th grade level, is considered qualifying. Educators with the appropriate educational background are encouraged to apply.

After a six-month period of evaluation and interviews, NASA will announce final selections in early 2009. Astronaut candidates will report to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston during the summer of 2009 to begin the basic training program to prepare them for future spaceflight assignments.

To apply to be an astronaut, visit:

Really? According to this, I will be a legitimate applicant for the position of astronaut in a couple years. Bachelor's degree, significant experience in science, teaching experience, yeah, that's me. If I can somehow commandeer a jet and learn to fly it, I am totally in. Seriously though, do real astronauts, those people that actually go to space, apply for their jobs this way? The image of some rocket scientist/top gun sitting at his or her laptop, filling out an online application to enter the space program is so hilarious to me.

There's more information at the NASA Astronaut Recruitment site. With a job like this, some travel is involved, they say, including "Texas, Florida, California, Russia, Kazakhstan, the International Space Station and the moon." HAHA

You know, it couldn't hurt to apply. I'm still not sure what to I want to do after getting a Ph.D, and it's probably smart to keep my options open, stay open minded. If you're interested, time is running out to get into this year's class. Deadline is July 1st. Continue reading "Do you want to be an astronaut?"!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


I just downloaded the Spore Creature Creator, a limited version of the game that will come out later this year. There is a free trial version, which is what I got, and a $9.99 full version, which I will probably get later. Okay, so, this game was MADE for me. The only part of the Sims that I ever really liked was building/outfitting houses. Maybe it reminds me of earlier times, when I seriously considered becoming a engineer. With Spore, they add in this awesome biology element - which greatly appeals to me - in that you can "evolve" a creature from single celled to civilized.

Well, okay, so there isn't much basis in actual biology and evolution. I guess it's not inconceivable that a creature would evolve a horn growing out of its ass, twelve legs, and beard, but variations of those traits would have to confer some advantage to individuals in the local environment for a long long time before they developed. Nevertheless, this is still going to be an awesome game, scientific accuracy or not. I spent a few minutes building a creature, Arthropodiculous, shown below in dance-party mode.

Continue reading "SPORE"!

Monday, June 16, 2008

R.I.P. Stan Winston

(Photo from LA Times)

Very sad news, Stan Winston, designer/creator of the practical effects and makeup in movies such as Aliens, Terminator, Jurassic Park, Predator, Edward Scissorhands, and Batman Returns died of cancer yesterday. His last completed film was this year's Ironman, and he was next slated to work on Terminator 4 and James Cameron's Avatar. It's amazing that one person was responsible for so many iconic and enduring movie moments, some of my favorite, for sure. You've got to admire the dedication to detail and ingenuity needed to produce models that not only look realistic, but move and interact with other characters. When you see something in a movie that you know is real, not computer generated, in my opinon, it's much more evocative of that wonderous feeling movies are supposed to generate. (This had the effect of producing considerable terror when I, at 10 years old, saw Jurassic Park for the first time.) Practical effects put limitations on how a movie is shot and, often, this leads to more dramatic composition. Just look at how shadows and mist are used in the Alien films, or The Thing. CG effects are nigh ubiquitous in movies these days, but I hope the Winston tradition will carry on in his absence.

My favorite Winston creation? That's a tough choice, but I would have to go with the queen from Aliens.

The LA Times has some nice pictures and a summary of Winston's career. Continue reading "R.I.P. Stan Winston"!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Ann Arbor has Street View

I wish I had known they were photographing, would have stood outside my apartment to be immortalized in Google Maps. So, a brief tour of Ann Arbor.

My street, the one I live on

I work in the big brick building, same street as before. My sphere of influence is rather small.

The Brown Jug. For my program, this is sort of The Max, or The Bronze.

Tree-lined block. Most look like this.

Main Street. Usually a lot of people walking dogs here.

There, now you never have to visit. Continue reading "Ann Arbor has Street View"!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Wednesday, with some bonuses

Long day, busy organizing for an experiment that starts tomorrow morning. It was also hot.

When I got home, two surprises awaited me. One was my latest Netflix movie, I Am Legend. I never got around to seeing it in theaters, even though I wanted to, and now I know a lot of spoilers about the plot, but I'm still interested. One question does remain, however. Does Will Smith say "welcome to earth!" or "get off my car!" to the vampires? I doubt it, but haven't given up hope. Will Smith never lets me down. The second main character appears to be a dog. That's also good.

The second surprise was my new Western Digital My Passport 250 gb portable hard drive (hat tip James Foreman). I've never been responsible about backing up the information on the computers I use. I don't have a system, just data strewn about. Now, with this tiny new drive, I'll have no excuse not to back up often. My back up anxiety stems from an irrational fear of accidently erasing everything, permanently, in the process. I know this isn't as easy as it is in the movies, where people sit down at a computer, hit ENTER, and suddenly a dialog box appears, displaying FILES DELETED. Regardless, I'm getting back up for this backing up. Nick, brother, soon to be world traveller, and, importantly, knowledgeable tech person, has promised support. If I'm not spotted on the internet for a few days, it means my computer exploded and someone should send help.

UPDATE: I Am Legend is really good, though the third act is a bit discombobulated. Will Smith is excellent. Oh, if I'm ever stuck in NYC in the aftermath of a worldwide viral epidemic, I want a highly trained German Shepherd beside me. No humans necessary. Humans get in the way. Continue reading "Wednesday, with some bonuses"!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Free of distractions (almost)

Chicago was a blast. I explored the city on foot and by subway, taking pictures all the way.

Many more pictures on Flickr.

There were a few good science talks, but I spent most of my time away from the conference, eating, walking, enjoying Dunkin Donuts and museums. The Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and Art Institute of Chicago offered a nice diversion from the formal structure of the conference. I tried to soak up a little culture all weekend.

I opted to take a train home, rather than ride with a friend as planned. This was my first AMTRAK ride, first long-distance train ride of any kind. I have to say, as one with some experience riding in airplanes, train travel is orders of magnitude better. Better service, better comfort, better efficiency, better cost, better everything. If train travel can be optimized in such a way that it is more practical for more Americans, I think it can alleviate some of the current stress on the airline industry. This is tricky, in part because of the logistical concerns associated with fast long-distance American trips, but that shouldn't stop investment in better train infrastructure. Picture Japan's system, then multiply by 1000. That's doable, right?

My trip to Chicago (and other brief, recent departures from Ann Arbor - one to a wedding, another to an art show) provided generous distraction from the ever-increasing pressure of graduate school. Summer is now in full swing, and I have three months to produce solid work before teaching and classes begin in September. With my mini-vacations over, I have no more excuses to put off digging into this work. I'm happy about this, actually, because as exciting as those distractions were, they were never powerful enough to rid my mind of guilt over not working. They gave me an easy out, an excuse for putting off the inevitably time-consuming effort I will have to put into my upcoming projects. Now, hopefully, I can focus on my current experiment, fellowship applications, and the writing of a review paper that has been on the back burner for two months.

I say my distractions are over, but that's not true. This weekend, family and friends are scheduled to visit, and they will certainly keep me from thinking about data. Instead, I will be hard-pressed to come up with fun things with which to entertain them. I take this responsibility seriously, even if my guests don't care. Though my head will be racked with grad-school guilt, I will also know that my worries of procrastination aren't totally legitimate. Such distractions - vacations, events, visitors - no matter how intrusive on my science goals, are nevertheless essential to my overall sanity. One thing I have decided is that I do not want this program to rule my life when it doesn't have to. I can take the time to maintain friendships, visit family, and venture out of Ann Arbor from time to time. If that means sacrificing the occasional opportunity to work, so be it. Continue reading "Free of distractions (almost)"!