Archive for November, 2010


dispatches from conference-land

November 30, 2010

Greetings, internet.  I just finished up day two of the Materials Research Society (MRS) fall conference, which has the fabulous distinction of being the first major conference I’ve attended.  My feet hurt, and my brain hurts (in a figurative, non-migraine sense), so I must be having a productive time, right?

Also, what the hell is this?

The only time I will have used my umbrella since moving to Colorado will be on a trip to Boston. What? We just don't have this 90% chance of rain business. Or really, rain in general.

My poster presentation was tonight, and it went almost disappointingly smoothly.  I was expecting some challenging discussion from our collaborators (and ex-competitors, forced together by our mutual love of ridiculous amounts of funding) at another national lab, and not a one of them stopped by to chat with me.  Boo.  I think this is in part because their PI, Dr. KGB, bailed on the MRS to go to another conference today.  In Cancun!  No fair.

Dr. KGB scares the shit out of me in a science sense (he’s very personable otherwise).  Not only is he one of the guys who pioneered my field (the other one being my advisor), he has the build and the accent and the interrogative questioning style to seem like he’s ex-KGB.  I gave a teleconference talk last week that he was on, and it was mostly because of his questions that my “25-minute talk” lasted for at least 40 minutes.  Absolutely terrifying for someone like me, who’s a bit insecure (heh, a bit, right) about my research competency anyway.

As a quick example of how awesomely personable Dr. KGB can be, he came to my rescue when I was talking to someone in his group on Monday morning and started floundering when trying to explain why I was curious about some of his results in relation to my own work.  He also keeps trying to get me to spend the summer in his lab doing some time-resolved measurements, which is kind of flattering that he thinks my work is interesting enough to mention it several times now.  Too bad a) I’m leaving, and b) Dr. KGB’s lab is in the middle of nowhere.

I’ve learned a lot about my science so far.  Also, even more importantly, I’ve learned a lot about my co-workers.  I got a huge “yay, it’s okay to suck and then recover” boost at the bar yesterday, when I learned that Dr. Ultramarathon failed his quals.  Dr. Ultramarathon does really well-known work and is pretty much awesome.  His talk packed the room today.  Yay!  There’s hope for those of us who don’t do so hot at first…not that this persuades me that I should stay in grad school.  It’s just reassuring.

The education symposium at a technical conference is fun, except for the posters.  I kind of thought educators might do a better job, and, y’know, have pictures, and use bigger than 12-point font on a 3.5×5′ poster.  Wishful thinking, I suppose.

It’s nice to go to the education symposium and a) meet people who might later give me a job, b) fully understand what all the talks are about, and c) be remembered when I talk to people one-on-one a day later.  I am now a member of NISE Net (how I hadn’t heard of this before, since I have done both education and nanoscale research, I have no idea) and get a cool green ribbon to stick on my conference badge.  Hooray!

Speaking of cool things, I went to a talk last night about the National Ignition Facilty (NIF), which is the foremost fusion lab on the planet.  It’s not just cool.  It’s HOLYSHITOMGAWESOME.  There are so many things about it that are absolutely insane that it’s really almost shocking that it exists at all.  To summarize: everything has to be simultaneously huge and incredibly precise.  For instance, the sample holder is on a 5-meter boom, but the positioning of that sample has to be accurate to within 1/20 millimeter.  Yeah.   Also, they take 192 lasers — each of them the world’s most powerful — and focus them onto a spot that’s about a millimeter square.  Yeah. Also also, they have nonlinear crystals that are several feet across (these are usually fingernail-sized, and are tricky to make).  Yeah. Most yeah-inducing of all, though, is the fact that they’re surprisingly close to getting useful fusion in the lab.  Yeah. My lab-mates and I spent most of the talk making crazy astonished faces at each other.

Strange tidbit I learned from the talk, that has nothing to do with fusion or lasers or really, much of anything: Legos are size-consistent to within 10 microns (1/100 millimeter).  WHY?

Another strange tidbit from the talk: we have a megawatt laser mounted on a 747.  Apparently it’s for shooting missiles out of the air.  To give you some context, a megawatt is one million watts.  I sometimes use a ten-watt laser, which is more than enough to set things on fire almost instantly (it was an accident, I swear).  This laser is one hundred thousand times more powerful.  NIF’s systems, when all 192 are concentrated down to the fusion target (and after losses are accounted for), produce a pulse of about 500 terrawatts.  That’s five hundred trillion watts.

On a more mundane note, my new shoes that are part of the “comfort collection” (they’re flats! really innocuous, nice-but-comfy-looking flats!) of some shoe company make my feet bleed.  I would advise strongly against wearing any exciting new (well, thrift-store new) shoes to an event where you’ll be walking everywhere and later be on your feet talking about science for three hours.  It was too late for blister-prevention tape by the time I had a chance to get some.  The whole ordeal has made me want to nuke them with a 500 terrawatt laser pulse.


recent observations: the (six) mile high edition

November 28, 2010

It amuses me that “the mile high club” actually refers to actions perpetrated at several miles’ worth of altitude.  If we were technical about it, we’d have to admit most Colorado citizens to the club.

I am writing this from 30,000 feet over the great lakes [I’m posting it from six stories above sea level], on a Boston-bound flight.  The upper midwest looks too snowy to be somewhere I’d want to live.

JetBlue is way more awesome than I thought they’d be.  I think this is mostly because I confused them with AirTran, who sucks.  JetBlue has far tastier cookies than AirTran (and actually than everyone except Delta, because Lorna Doodles are the best airline cookie out there).  They also have cashews instead of peanuts.  Further, they get bonus points because the flight attendant accidentally made a farting noise into the microphone earlier, and the entire flight crew cracked up.  Passengers were unsure whether it was okay to laugh.

I did not have to wait in line at security (because I took the super secret security option at DIA, rather than the terminal mess).  Nor did I have to enter the dreaded nakedness machine, or get groped.  This rendered all Thanksgiving dinner discussion of whether I should go to the airport packing sadly moot.  Yes, my Thanksgiving conversation was more interesting than yours, and no, I did not actually go to the airport packing (I lack the proper supplies, and observe buy-nothing day when most are enjoying black Friday).  Before you get concerned about any acts of total idiocy on my part, know that the packing I refer to has nothing to do with guns, and everything to do with gender expression.  It’s unfortunate that not everyone is able to make it a choice, or gets the good TSA luck that I had.

I swear half my lab is on this flight.  The other half is spread between two later flights to Boston.  Sharing a cab?  We’d need a bus.  Or, the T, which is probably what I’ll do [indeed, it is what I did].  Carpe per diem — what most business travelers think of as an allowance, students think of as a fabulous bonus.

Sunday after Thanksgiving, mid-morning departure, and not a single baby on this flight.  I was prepared for the worst.  Guess that’s what’s keeping me content with being next to the lavatory for a cross-country flight.

The airplane headache took three hours to set in!  I must be getting better still.

I filled five notebook pages on this flight, front and back.  Expect a few real posts in the near future.


dinner at 1:30am

November 24, 2010

File under “why bother?”  Because I still have frozen curly fries and chicken tenders from last week’s comfort food day, that’s why, and sitting down with a plate every night helps me feel human.  Also because one fun-size Almond Joy does not really fill you up, even if your cubicle-mate gave it to you with the kindest intentions.

Staying at the lab until midnight thirty to finish and print a poster, when you don’t leave for the conference for another 5 days: file under, “why bother?”  Because this way I get to spend meaningful time with an old friend who’s in town to see his sister, instead of just token turkey-eating time.  Said old friend, notably, is the person I’ve known the longest who I’m still in touch with (not counting blood relations).  Congrats, old friend, you’ve been around better than 60% of my life, and now I can be around for 60% of your visit.

Pushing through another solid week of data analysis (second in a row), when you had a vague story to explain your results already, and you’re leaving the lab forever soon: file under, “why bother?”  Because that push bought me a story that finally I believe, and gave me something great and concrete to talk about at the MRS next week.  Also because it’s incredibly empowering to feel like I’m contributing to my field, and yet know I want to leave it.  I’m making the right choice.

Posting all of this nonsense on the web, at 1:45 on a Wednesday morning: file under, “why bother?”  Because sometimes I lose sight of things, and I want to remember that I do it all because I care about something.


an open letter

November 22, 2010

Dear Science,

This is not the answer I was looking for.

What exactly is this plot of? I don't even know anymore.

In fact, I don’t think you have told me a single thing with this plot, except that you are complicated and I need more coffee.  Thanks for nothing.  In the future, I hope you will be a little less resistant to my efforts to get to know you.

No Love,

Lady Quantum


fried friday

November 19, 2010

Sometimes, I have days where I feel like friends might know I had a bad day if they take a look in the freezer.  Today is one of those days.  I went to the grocery store moments ago and bought three items. Now, packed in amongst the frozen vegetables, are a bag of fried chicken tenders, some curly fries, and rocky road ice cream.  The first two are half-empty, and I’m waiting on them to come out of the oven.  The growler of FYIPA in my fridge is helping me endure the wait.

Mmmm.  It’ll cure what ails you…as long as what ails you isn’t heart disease.

Update: Haha, one of my roommates came home as I was pulling the deliciousness out of the oven, and asked, “That bad, huh?”  ❤


like escaping from lava wearing swim fins, dragging an unwilling puppy behind you

November 18, 2010

Okay.  This blog is in the sidebar, but I know for a fact none of you click on those things (see, I’ve got spying-on-you-stats), so I’m going to tell you here that you need to visit it.  Go to Hyperbole and a Half right now and read about moving with dogs.

I have not laughed so hard in months.  Seriously, I was in tears at my desk last night, cackling like a madwoman.  This is so Pecan, every bit of it.  She’s like a horrific combination of both dogs described.  And the first time she wore booties (because her feet freeze to the sidewalk in the darkest depths of winter here), she looked just like this cartoon from the post:

Your legs still work, dog. I promise.

This post also fills me with terror, because there’s a solid chance I’ll be moving several states away in the not-too-distant future.  I know firsthand that moving with dogs is one of the least fun things in the world, and I’m not at all excited to be doing it again.

Stock up on benadryl (for drugging the puppy, seriously, it’s vet-approved), is my only advice.



new fragrance from bear creek cosmetics

November 16, 2010

New!  Introducing…

Poop on the Creek ™, by Bear Creek Cosmetics

This all-natural, 100% organic fragrance will rock your world.  Channel the peaceful, earthy fragrance of a mountain stream watering hole, and no one will be able to resist your allure.  Just rub it on and get ready to be loved!  Also great for internal use.  Your special lady will literally shower you with attention!

Check out this testimonial from one satisfied customer!

I was skeptical at first, but once I got a whiff of Poop on the Creek ™, I just couldn’t stop myself.  When I took my sexy lady out for a walk this morning, I smeared myself with Poop on the Creek ™ and let me tell you, it just drove her mad!  As soon as we got back to my place, she jumped right out of her nice clothes.  It was so hot, she had to hose me down — twice!

M. Mutt

Don’t wait, get your supply of Poop on the Creek ™ today!