Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Triple 100 Celebration!

Today marks Barack Obama's 100th day in office.

It also marks the airdate of the 100th episode of Lost.

Coincidence? Well, if that's not enough, today I make my 100th post!

My post frequency has picked up noticeably in the past three months. This is largely due to my increased enthusiasm brought by having actual readers (I really didn't do any publicity or networking in the first six months of the blog, content merely to be writing my thoughts down). I have also started making posts that are more about my personal life, rather than the almost exclusively sci-fi/fantasy/showbiz-themed posts I did before, which gives me more material. In any case, here I am at 100.

How should I celebrate this momentous occasion? I could look back at some of my favorite posts so far, but I've already singled out most of those in the sidebar to the right. I do sometimes wonder whether anyone has poked around in my older blog posts, though. Do you, dear reader, know the significance of the pictures decorating my blog's sidebar and header? Do you know what the subject of my "Mechanics of Solids" term paper was? Do you know what inspired me to write an awful (but rule-abiding) sonnet? Which Final Fantasy game have I played? Who directed my favorite commercial? Scavenger hunt!

Just kidding (unless you want to...). Many of my posts are probably not worth going back and reading, though you might be curious about the pictures and you would probably be amused by the term paper (really!). Anyway, to celebrate this day that is a 100 landmark for so many good things, I thought I'd make a list of 100 good things that I have written about on my blog (roughly in the order that I mentioned them).

100 Good Things I Have Talked About in My Blog
  1. Long skirts
  2. Lord of the Rings
  3. Harry Potter
  4. His Dark Materials
  5. Wheel of Time
  6. Shannara
  7. Redwall
  8. Watchmen
  9. Firefly
  10. Battlestar Galactica
  11. Lost
  12. Heroes
  13. Pushing Daisies
  14. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
  15. Chuck
  16. Star Wars
  17. Pirates of the Caribbean
  18. The Matrix
  19. Batman Begins
  20. The Dark Knight
  21. Iron Man
  22. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
  23. X-Men
  24. Garden State
  25. Robin Hood: Men in Tights
  26. Baldur's Gate
  27. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
  28. Neverwinter Nights 2
  29. Diablo II
  30. Morrowind
  31. Hellgate: London
  32. Mass Effect
  33. Pokemon
  34. Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog
  35. Neil Patrick Harris
  36. Joss Whedon
  37. Nathan Fillion
  38. Felicia Day
  39. Hawaii
  40. BioWare
  41. Justice League Unlimited
  42. Got Milk?
  43. Shakespeare
  44. Animaniacs
  45. Minsc (and Boo)
  46. Fringe
  47. Dr. Denethor
  48. How I Met Your Mother
  49. The Big Bang Theory
  50. Desperate Housewives
  51. Eli Stone
  52. Dollhouse
  53. Gay marriage
  54. Artificial languages
  55. Ice cubing
  56. Spider-Man: The Musical (the idea of it)
  57. Shindigs
  58. Ice-planets
  59. "The number of 'fleeting' penises we expect to see on broadcast television is zero."
  60. Sonic the Hedgehog
  61. Bad sonnets
  62. Homer in space?!
  63. The Bridge of Khazad-dûm
  64. Wicked
  65. Barack Obama
  66. Batman, Turkey
  67. Surge protector power strips
  68. Heath Ledger
  69. Avenue Q
  70. Life
  71. Wall-E
  72. Diablo III
  73. Million+ crowds in D.C.
  74. The Oscars
  75. Slumdog Millionaire
  76. Sea kittens
  77. Computer game romances
  78. Independence
  79. Free trip to Hawaii
  80. Mass Effect 2
  81. $1 billion movies
  82. Dev Patel
  83. "I haven't seen The Reader"
  84. Hapas
  85. Video game commerce
  86. Snow days
  87. Silhouette's kiss
  88. $4 candybars
  89. Vampires cooking
  90. The discovery of phosphorus (ew)
  91. McDonald's Taro Pie
  92. Susan girl power
  93. Going out
  94. Star Trek
  95. The Onion
  96. College nostalgia
  97. Cherry blossoms
  98. Scuba diving
  99. Rainbows
  100. Metaphysics
I'd also like to celebrate this 100th blog post by reformatting my blog. A bit. I will have to figure out a better color scheme at another date.

Anyway, I hope you've been enjoying my blog (and will continue to enjoy it). Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Metaphysics geek dream week

Warning: Major geeking out ahead (metaphysics and sci-fi!!!). Also, MAJOR HEROES SPOILERS from the 4/27/09 episode.

Last night's Heroes totally one-upped last Friday's episode of Dollhouse!

In the April 24 episode of Dollhouse, a murdered Dollhouse client named Margaret Bashford was temporarily resurrected when her mind (which had been copied a few weeks prior to her death) was downloaded into Echo's body. The resurrection was only temporary because at the end of the episode Echo/Margaret's mind was wiped. Then in the April 27 episode of Heroes, Nathan Petrelli, who had just had his throat slit by Sylar, was resurrected when psychic Matt Parkman made Sylar believe that he (Sylar) was Nathan; Sylar's power to know the complete history of any object (or person, I guess) that he touches allowed him to fill in his memory. Heroes went even further than Dollhouse, though, because Sylar's power to shapeshift allowed him to look exactly like Nathan.

We definitely have a theme going on here. Making copies of people's brains to grant them life after death. This is a fascinating plot device because it raises fundamental questions of identity. Is Margaret Bashford still alive? She knows everything that Margaret knew (up until three weeks before her death), thinks like Margaret thinks, and believes she is Margaret, but she is in Echo's body. And who is the man left standing at the end of the Heroes episode? He thinks he is Nathan, and he looks like Nathan, but is he Sylar? The tiny teaser at the end of the episode showed Nathan obsessing over a clock (something very Sylar, if I can turn him into an adjective), hinting that a bit of Sylar remains underneath. But if the transformation had been complete (without any remaining vestiges of Sylar), would he then actually be Nathan Petrelli?

I love thinking about these kinds of dilemmas. Even though I was an engineering major, I managed to fit two philosophy courses in metaphysics into my schedule. And identity was always one of my favorite topics, due in part perhaps to its frequently sci-fi nature. Some people can't stand discussing the issue: "What does it matter? We can't really scan in brains and download them into other people! This is pointless!" But these theoritical scenarios raise questions of how we define ourselves. Am I a certain cluster of molecules? Am I this body, which is allowed small, gradual changes? Or am I this specific set of memories and thoughts and feelings and natural disposition? What makes me me? To the uninitiated, I will attempt an introduction to these sorts of dilemmas (to those who have studied this before, I don't think I present anything new).

One simple explanation of one's identity is one's body. This independent form that looks like me and has all these parts exactly like my parts is me. But this is not a satisfactory explanation by any means. After all, I do not look very much like how I looked when I was three years old. My body may not even have any of the same molecules that it had when I was three. Cells die and I eat food and make new cells. If the completely same body is required for a person to be me, then we are constantly changing identities as we shed cells and make new ones. One could say, "Well, I'm not the same person that I was when I was three," but on the level of identity that I am talking about, that is absurd. If we are constantly changing identities, then I haven't met any of the people in my family, and they haven't met me either. The friends I grew up with are gone. I am a new person, I did not graduate from college, and thus my grad school application was a lie, but I can't be punished for it because I wasn't the one who submitted it. Okay, so the completely same body must not be a requirement for identity. We must allow a gradual change in body in the maintenance of identity. My body is not completely different moment to moment, so as long as it proceeds to change bit by bit, I will still be me.

Another definition of identity is my brain. Not my physical brain, since that is a part of my body, but my memories, tendencies, way of thinking, etc., which I will refer to collectively as my "psychology". This also changes constantly but, like with the body, it is a gradual change; the same defense of this definition of identity may be used.

So which am I, the body or the psychology? Are both required, or just one? Which one is more important? Consider death. P1 is alive at t1, but dies at t2. The psychology is gone, but the body remains (at first... though unless cremated it will continue to change gradually). The neighbor hears the gunshot and comes in to find a body, P2, dead on the floor. Is P2 the same entity as P1 (does P1=P2)? To those who say no, consider a case of sudden brain death. The body P2 is still alive, but the psychology is totally gone. In this case, does P2=P1? If P2 is not P1, then who is he?

Now, what if P1 knew that he was going to go brain dead at t2, so at t2 he arranged to have his entire psychology scanned into another body, P3. The plan works, so now we're left with P2, a brain-dead empty shell, and P3, who in spite of a new body feels quite like his old P1 self. Which of these is P1? The body P2, which is molecularly the same as P1, or P3, whose psychology is the same? They can't both be P1; if P2=P1, and P3=P1, then P3=P2, which is definitely not true (the brain-dead person has neither body nor psychology in common with P3; they are not the same person). So which is it? Consider the reactions of the family members. Assuming they get over the shock of having their loved one talking out of the body of P3, they would probably embrace P3, who knows them and loves them, and leave the brain-dead P2. This is similar to the Margaret Bashford case, except that in her case P2 is actually dead, not just brain dead, and P3's psychology is a continuation not of P1, but of a P0 who had her brain scanned three weeks before her death at t2. Does this make a difference in the question of identity? Does the body of P3 matter? If P3's body once belonged to a different person, does that make us less likely to accept that P3=P1 than if the body were a synthetic Cylon skin job type of construct (which looks like a human). If the body of P3 looked exactly the same as the body of P1, would that help confirm that P1=P3? This is similar to the Sylar/Nathan case.

Are you still with me, or have you ready to haul me to the loony bin? I'm going to switch gears slightly to one of my favorite examples: the Star Trek transporter. Now, I am not entirely certain of how transporters are supposed to work in Star Trek; I am totally psyched about the upcoming movie, but I am not a Trekker. However, this is a thought experiment, so whether or not this explanation is true to the Star Trek world doesn't matter.

Captain Kirk steps onto the transporter and says, "Beam me down, Scotty." Scotty presses the button, and the transporter scans in all the information that is Captain Kirk, vaporizes his body on the ship, then reassembles Kirk on the planet using the molecules on the planet into exactly the same configuration that Kirk was in on the ship. Kirk down on the planet brushes himself off and commences to explore the planet. Is the Kirk on the planet the same person as Kirk on the spaceship? The people in the Star Trek universe certainly believe so. The other option is that Kirk died in the vaporization, and this man on the planet is an imposter who has no right to the title of "captain". In the world of Star Trek, transportation is not murder, but a convenient way to get from here to there. They believe that K2, Kirk on the planet = K1, Kirk on the ship.

Now, let's say that the transporter is not working properly. K1 steps onto the transporter and says "Beam me down, Scotty," and the transporter scans him in and reassembles K2 down on the planet as in the previous case. The only problem is, the vaporization didn't work, so now we have K3 still standing in the transporter saying, "Scotty, what went wrong? Why am I not on the planet?" while K2 is happily exploring the planet without knowing that anything went wrong. It is clear that K2 does not equal K3, since one is on the planet and the other on the ship, but then which one is the same person as K1? In the previous example, we, and the denizens of the Star Trek universe, had decided that K2 was the same person as K1, but now it is hard to imagine that K3 is not K1. K3, after all, has the advantage of being continuous in both psychology and body to K1. But K2 has the advantage of intention: K2 is the one who is supposed to exist; K3 is a mistake. Imagine the epic showdown between Kirk2 and Kirk3: It's a fight to the death, winner takes all!!!

It is probably clear by now that I could go on and on about this topic. I hope you don't think I'm entirely insane. Hopefully you appreciate the relevance of this issue (no, it's not as immediately important as what you're going to eat for lunch today, but it still is a sort of fundamental question about our lives). And maybe you find it interesting and will now spend some time thinking through these questions and coming up with scenarios of your own. If that is the case, then welcome to my world.

There's a new episode of Fringe tonight. As a show about the fringe sciences, this scenario is right up their alley. I've got my fingers crossed...

Friday, April 24, 2009

Soon to be published!

In a matter of months, I will officially be a published author.

This isn't quite as cool as it may sound. The work of mine that will be published is an original report of scientific research results in a journal that focuses on nearshore marine systems. The journal's impact factor was recently around 1.5, so we're not exactly talking Science or Nature, here. Plus, I was only one of seven co-authors on the paper. But the journal is still a must read for scientists in a certain field (including most of the people at the lab I'm working at now), and I am the paper's first author. First authorship of a paper in a peer-reviewed scientific journal is pretty exciting, especially for someone without a graduate degree.

This paper has been a very long time coming. The main issue I think was that there were seven co-authors. That means seven people had to approve everything. And a group of scientists is only as fast as its slowest collaborator. I wrote a number of drafts with my supervising PI, and we sent out our "final draft" to the co-authors in January of 2008. It took until June 2008 before everyone was satisfied with the manuscript draft. After the series of edits from each of the different co-authors, it starts to be a bit like Final Fantasy (This is the final fantasy... No, wait, this one is the final fantasy... No, this one is really the final fantasy!)--I have saved documents with names like "final final FINAL draft with changes". So the manuscript was first submitted last June. We got back reviewer comments at the beginning of November. The comments were fairly minor, but it still took us five months to get the revised draft past all the co-authors. We resubmitted last week. And now it has been approved. Phew! I will try to avoid such multi-authored papers in the future.

So what is my paper about? It's a numerical modeling paper. The sad truth is that it's just the kind of paper that I always hate reading. Boring, boring, boring. I can barely stand to skim the abstracts of papers like this. Yes, I realize this makes it seem like I'm going into the wrong field. Maybe I am. Maybe it's just that discovering and writing about these things is more interesting than reading the reports. So basically, I can't exactly recommend that everyone go read my paper. Still, it's my first paper--my baby--and I love it.

> Update 6/2/09: The journal article is now up online. I'm still not sure which month it will appear in the printed journal. I'd add a link to the paper, but that would very much destroy my anonymity. And it would bore you, anyway.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Where's the pot of gold?

Not long after I walked back from work in the rain this evening, I noticed the sun shining brightly through my window from the west. Like any sane person would do, I immediately snatched up my camera and darted outside to look for a rainbow. The full double rainbow reached its peak a few minutes later. I might have gotten a better picture if I'd walked down to the river, but the ground is really muddy (it's been raining a lot lately), and I might have missed the rainbow's peak in brightness. Here is one of the photos I took:

I've seen brighter, but the cool thing about this one is that the rainbow ends right on the lawn, in front of the bushes. It may be a little hard to tell; it always looks brighter in person. So where's my pot of gold?

Interestingly, what I was doing when the sun started shining through my window was watching the new Funny or Die video "A Gaythering Storm" that spoofs the "Gathering Storm" anti-gay marriage ad. "Gathering Storm" would be laughable in its own right if it weren't for the fact that a significant portion of people in this country agree with it. "Gaythering Storm," though, is pretty funny.

Anyway, it was a pretty nice rainbow. And what better way to celebrate Earth Day than with such a beautiful wonder of nature?

My TV shows from the 2008-2009 season

I made a post last fall about the various TV shows that I thought I might end up watching this season. Now that this season has happened, I feel I should report on what I actually ended up watching. So here are the shows that kept me busy this past year, and what I think of them. There are a few other shows, like House, that I watch on occasion, but these are the ones I've followed faithfully. "My shows", as I call them.

The Big Bang Theory - Yes, the four nerds are pretty outrageous, but they are all lovable in their own way. Sheldon is especially epic. I think being a nerd helps one enjoy this show, since nothing beats hearing Sheldon go on a rant and realizing, "That actually kind of makes sense!"

How I Met Your Mother - Best comedy on TV, in my humble opinion. The characters are all fun, the storytelling is fast paced and wild, and the plot lines can be pretty sweet. Neil Patrick Harris is just awesome.

Chuck - This one I catch the next day on Hulu because it conflicts with BBT and HIMYM and our TV gets CBS better than it gets NBC. Chuck's three Buy More friends are getting increasingly annoying (Morgan is okay, but Lester and Jeff just seem to be two geeky creeps without redeeming qualities), but the main storyline is staying interesting and amusing enough for me to keep tuning in.

Heroes - I'm hanging in there with Heroes. I think it might be getting back on track, but it's been a shaky ride ever since the great first season. Most episodes still go by with at least one "That really makes no sense" moment, but at least I'm starting to care again.

Castle - ABC's new procedural with the wonderful Nathan Fillion. I hope it stays around--that guy deserves a hit. The two leads (Stana Katic plays a good tough cop opposite Fillion's childish writer) are charismatic enough to keep me interested. It's an honestly funny procedural, which I'll take over David Caruso's stupid sunglasses any day.

Fringe - Every few weeks or so, they pull out something really disgusting (most recently, maggots bursting out of the stomach of a corpse, threatening to do the same from a live person's belly), but mostly the show is just creepy and riveting. They try to keep the show episodic so the non-faithful can follow, but it's best when addressing the big picture plot threads.

Pushing Daisies - Tragic casualty of the writers strike and poor scheduling decisions by ABC. This was a bright, funny, and unique show that I absolutely loved throughout. Occasional singing by Kristin Chenoweth and Ellen Greene made it even better. I can't wait to see the final three episodes when ABC airs them this summer, and I'll definitely be getting the full DVD set of Daisies' two brief seasons.

Lost - After so-so seasons two and three, Lost came back strong last year, and this year's season five has kept up the momentum, which I don't expect to break at all before the series finale next year. Season five has delved even deeper into the mysteries of the Island, reveling in the show's true sci-fi nature. Some fans might complain that it jumped the shark with the time traveling, but I think the smoke monster, ghosts, and future-seeing Desmond should have tipped them off a little earlier that this wasn't going to be a totally realistic series.

Eli Stone - Another mid-season cancellation. It was a legal show with heart... and musical numbers. Pretty delightful. ABC will air the final episodes this summer.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles - It may not have always made sense, but it was always fun to watch, with appealing stars and exciting action. The season two finale, which has become the series finale since the show wasn't picked up for a third season, was a fitting end. It gave a great answer to the big mystery of season 2--what "Mrs. Weaver" was up to--and stepped into a new wild stage in its story. I think it's for the best that it got canceled, though, since maintaining main characters in two different times would have been too difficult not to mess up.

Dollhouse - It took a little while to hit its stride, but lately it's been pretty great. I hope they can keep up the mystery, since too many "regular mission" episodes could get old. I hope they also keep up the humor that's finally starting to come out.

Battlestar Galactica - They ended it on their own terms with an amazing final season that had me on the edge of my seat the whole time. The series finale was intense, wrapping up so many threads in surprising and clever ways. Its absence has left me feeling a little empty inside. I can't wait for The Plan, an upcoming TV movie, and I'll definitely check out the planned prequel series Caprica.

Desperate Housewives - Not as good as last season when I started watching this show (last year had Nathan Fillion, and Dana Delaney's Katherine was new and interesting, whereas this year she's been kind of sidelined). But it's still entertaining, and the characters have grown on me. And what else do I do on Sunday evenings?

Other shows I follow:
Jeopardy - It airs when I like to eat dinner. It's how my schedule works out.
The Daily Show and The Colbert Report - I started watching these during the fall election coverage. Now it's a habit. I still find them both entertaining; there's still material, even with out the elections.

I shouldn't have, but I just added it all up. Now, some of these shows never overlapped because some are new and some are over, but in recent weeks, I've apparently watched as many as 16.5 hours of TV in a week. Not very healthy. I don't know if I can maintain that next year when I become a student again. But it's been fun!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Grad School Decision, Take Two

Once more, with feeling...

I announced my grad school decision the other night in a totally depressed manner. That was inappropriate. I should not be feeling sorry for myself and poor Professor A. I should just be really excited and happy about grad school. So let's try this again.

I am moving to Honolulu this summer to begin studying for a Ph.D. in physical oceanography at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa! Yay! I will be doing a project that involves coral reefs, and I will probably get a scuba certification and go scuba diving for my research. My advisor is a really nice guy, and I'm sure I will have a wonderful time. And, I mean, I get to live in Hawai'i!

Hawaiian monk seal I saw last summer in Haleiwa

The weather is always warm but never gets too hot thanks to the trade winds; most houses don't have air conditioning because all you need to do is open up the windows and the breeze will keep you comfortable. It rains, but usually stays sunny while it's raining--"liquid sunshine" as they call it--which means there are lots of beautiful rainbows. I'll be able to go to the beach year round, get a beautiful tan, snorkel and boogie board and maybe even learn to surf. I'll eat fresh tropical fruits for breakfast and get shave ice whenever I want. There will be great Asian cuisine of all types and inexpensive sushi.

Look at that water!

My grandparents live in Honolulu, as do many of my relatives on my mother's side, so they are thrilled that one of their grandchildren will be living near them again (my mom and her two siblings all live on the East Coast). I envision many dim sum parties with second cousins and aunties and uncles and barbecues out at Haleiwa. With time, I may be able to shed the "Mainlander" designation and earn the title of "kama'aina".

Not actually a relative of mine, but still cute, checking out the honu (green sea turtle).

And hopefully once I get settled in an apartment, my friends will come visit me! It's an expensive flight out to Hawai'i, but off-season tickets when bought far in advance can be reasonable, and free boarding on a futon may tempt people out for a visit. Where I live now there is basically nothing interesting to do, so I haven't exactly had all my college friends come to visit. But living in Hawai'i, I'll have a reason to invite them.

Aloha, Hawai'i, here I come!

Daisies airs, Fringe goes viral, Star Trek coolness, and more

Well, the stories have been collecting since my last entertainment news post...

Robert Downey Jr. has confirmed that Mickey Rourke, Scarlett Johansson, Garry Shandling, Don Cheadle, Samuel L. Jackson, Sam Rockwell, and Gwyneth Paltrow will all be in the Iron Man 2 cast (IMDb). Rourke has been cast as Whiplash, Johansson will play Black Widow, and Sam Rockwell will play Justin Hammer. Cheadle takes over the role of Rhodey from Terrence Howard. Paltrow will reprise her role as Pepper Potts, and Jackson will return as Nick Fury. I'm not sure at this point who Garry Shandling will play. I loved the first Iron Man movie, so I'm looking forward to this one.

Universal Pictures, which made a three-year production pact with Dark Horse Comics, is planning to make an "Umbrella Academy" movie (Variety). The story is about a dissolved band of superheroes who reunite following their adoptive father's death to carry out his plan to save the world. Mark Bomback, who wrote Disney's recent Race to Witch Mountain, has been chosen to write the adaptation. The Witch Mountain credit doesn't make me immediately confident, but we'll see how it goes.

Gore Verbinski has told Disney that he is done with the Pirates of the Caribbean movies (Variety). He will not be directing the planned Pirates 4 film, instead choosing to move on to other projects, including a movie adaptation of the video game BioShock (which came up briefly in a post I wrote last July). Verbinski's Blind Wink Prods. is also working on a movie adaptation of Hasbro game Clue and a drama based on the Wall Street Journal article about how online fantasy roleplaying (particularly focusing on Second Life) can negatively affect people's real world lives.

Michael Sheen has been cast as a vampire in Twilight sequel New Moon (IMDb, Variety). He will play Aro, the head of Italian vampire clan the Volturi. New Moon director Chris Weitz says of the character, "Aro is, on the surface, a very gracious and friendly vampire, but beneath that he is a tremendous threat." I have never read any of the books, so I don't know the characters, but judging by Weitz's description, Sheen is probably a good fit for the role. He can transition easily from gracious and friendly to threatening and dangerous, and he is overall a very talented actor. However, the first role I ever saw Michael Sheen play was the werewolf Lucian in Underworld. I think having Sheen play a vampire violates some sort of... mythical creature law, and we all may be in very grave danger.

ABC has announced they will air the leftover episodes of some of their cancelled series on Saturday nights at 10:00 starting May 30 (Variety). This means that the final three episodes of my dear show Pushing Daisies will finally be aired from May 30-June 13. Eli Stone, which I also followed, will have its final unaired episodes shown from June 20-July 11. Though I'm still sad these shows were cancelled, I am glad that I'll get to see whatever the shows' creative teams managed to pull together to end the series. Before I go and buy the complete DVD set of Pushing Daisies.

Speaking of cancelled series, while FOX is still not ready to make an official announcement, Entertainment Weekly has confirmed that Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles will not be returning for a third season ( Season 2 ended last week with some pretty exciting revelations and cliffhangers, but I think it was a satisfying end for the show. The question now is What will Summer Glau do next?

FOX is conducting some sort of viral campaign for Fringe (Variety). Michael Cerveris has appeared in character as the mysterious Observer at a number of live events broadcast on FOX, including American Idol, an NFL divisional playoff game, and a NASCAR race. FOX has not commented on the campaign, possibly to make the promotion a little more mysterious, but due to the character's hairless nature, insiders have apparently nicknamed the campaign the "Where's Baldo?" initiative. I am much amused. Unfortunately, I don't watch any of these live shows on FOX, but viewers have posted clips on YouTube, and FOX has not been complaining about it. See them here: Idol, NFL, NASCAR (I'm pretty sure the Lance Reddick voiceover in the latter two clips was added and not actually aired live).

Finally, I must admit I'm getting pretty psyched about the new Star Trek movie coming out on May 8. I am totally jealous of the people who got to see it at the surprise screening of the movie in Austin on April 6 (NYTimes blog). I'm really not any sort of Star Trek fanatic; I consider myself a casual fan of The Next Generation, but the only original Star Trek that I've seen is the whale movie. I am, however, a fan of J.J. Abrams, and I'm excited about what he's done with the franchise (i.e., reboot it with a cool movie that is accessible to people like me). I am also totally digging the cast. The only movie I've actually seen with Chris Pine (Kirk) is The Princess Diaries 2: The Royal Engagement (yes, I've seen it), but he's cute and, from what I can tell from the trailers, good for the part. Zachary Quinto (Spock), of course, is Sylar from Heroes. I'm still not sure about his voice (Leonard Nimoy has such a nice deep voice, which is not Quinto's natural tone), but I'm still rooting for him. Simon Pegg (Scotty) is hilarious and brilliant (I loved him in Hot Fuzz... still haven't seen Shaun of the Dead). Karl Urban (Bones) was Eomer. Zoe Saldana (Uhura) I noticed in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie because I already knew her from that ballet movie Center Stage (her big screen debut). John Cho (Sulu) is Harold of Harold & Kumar, which is awesome. And Anton Yelchin gets two super summer blockbusters within two weeks of each other, playing not only Chekov in Star Trek but Kyle Reese in Terminator: Salvation, which opens in theaters on May 21. Busy kid. I really hope the movie lives up to all the buzz. I can't wait.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Grad school decision

Time for me to stop moping. The decision has been made.

I got a call around 7pm tonight saying that today (the 15th) was the deadline to respond to UH. I had thought it was the 20th. I just sent my formal acceptance as well as notifications to the relevant professors (or whoever I thought was relevant--they did not make it abundantly clear in their letter to me just who the "us" was of "please respond to us").

I chose Professor B. I feel like crap. I should not feel like crap. I feel bad about not going with Professor A because I liked him so much and he tried so hard, but I should not feel bad because I think that Project B is better for me. But knowing that I shouldn't feel bad does not make me feel any better. I still feel like crap.

I need to go to bed. Hopefully tomorrow will bring some sunshine (it has been surprisingly cold and rainy the past few days) and a little clarity.

...I would also just like to complain about forwarding someone's personal communications to other people. I took the time to write separate emails to Professors A and B as well as the department chair because I did not want to say the same things to any of those three people. So when the department chair goes and replies to me (with a copy of my original email to him attached) and cc's Professors A and B, it really pisses me off. Maybe they won't read it and even if they do it's not a big deal, but I specifically told the department chair that I was notifying Professors A and B myself, so I found his sharing of my personal email to him unnecessary and rude. Boy am I cranky. Okay, now it's really bedtime.

Update 2 on the Grad School Dilemma

So I haven't made a post in almost a week now. I was away for the weekend spending Easter at my uncle's house. Both of their children are far away--one is in Florida, the other in China--so I was their substitute child for the holiday. My aunt--uh, I mean the Easter Bunny--gave me an Easter basket on Easter morning, which was really sweet. We watched Mamma Mia! (fun but exceedingly silly, even cheesy at times) on demand and saw I Love You, Man (highly entertaining and enjoyable) in the theater, and I spent a lot of time sitting by the fire (it was surprisingly cold outside for this time of year) patting their dog. My thoughts, however, have been occupied for the entire past week by my grad school dilemma. I just can't get away from it, and I really, really need to make a decision--like, now.

At some point over the weekend, I came to the realization that my ideal situation would be working with Professor A on Project B. Professor A, the one who wants me and would give me a lot of attention, and Project B, the one that involves field work scuba diving around coral reefs. If that were an option, I'd jump right on it. The thing is, when I first learned about Project A, I thought it sounded pretty boring. Sure, I've learned more about it since then, but the fact is that Project B is much closer to what I had originally envisioned working on for my degree. But then Professor A did such a good job of selling his project, and he was so nice and tried so hard to get me to work with him. Yes, I put more "Pros" on my list in favor of Professor A, but it's my empathy that wants to work with him because he needs a student and has been trying so hard to get me, my vanity that wants to work with someone who singled me out, and my pride that is lured by a project that could make me a superstar (though there are no guarantees there). Everything that I've said regarding how interesting I find Project A has simply been my attempts at justifying my desire to work with Professor A for emotional reasons.

This was an epiphany that clearly pointed toward Project B. But my moment of clarity did not last long. I started to wonder if maybe the only reason I was siding with Project B was so I could get paid to go scuba diving. I should not let myself be bribed by such shallow pleasures when it comes to choosing a career. The project would still involve a lot of computer modeling work like Project A. Project A is a really good, important project in high demand, and Professor A is a rising star who wants so much to work with me. So I was once again left without a conclusion.

These thoughts have been churning through my head since the weekend. At one point, I had a moment of crisis thinking that neither project was what I wanted to do, but luckily this panic quickly subsided. But the fact is that this dilemma has left me feeling mentally drained. It's a good decision to have to make--either way, I get to go live in Hawaii!--but it is the most painfully torturous good decision I've ever had in front of me. It's even been haunting my dreams--the past two nights, I've had dreams about making this decision.

Lately I've been leaning back toward Project B, because it is closer to what I wanted to do and it involves more field work which I think would be good for me. I still feel bad about not working with Professor A, but I know that I really shouldn't feel bad about making the decision that's best for me. That's where I'm sitting now. But I'm not sitting comfortably.

Sorry I've been so mopey lately. I'll get back to some more normal posts soon.

"How can you know what you want 'til you get what you want and you see if you like it?"

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Update on the Grad School Dilemma

Ever since my last post about grad school at the conclusion of my Hawaii visit, I have been agonizing over my grad school decision. I mean, this is the next 6+ years of my life, most likely. My entire career path may rest on this decision. The decision will even affect the non-career portion of my life. As my mom put it, "Six years or more? You might be 30 by the time you finish. You'll probably meet your husband while in grad school!" Thanks, Mom.

I've already basically made my decision of where to go to grad school. To review, I only have two choices, and one of them is a considerably more exciting school than the other. For the record, I have heard through the grapevine that I was on a shortlist of seven applicants for one spot in the MIT-WHOI program; once you're on that shortlist, everyone is qualified and it's a matter of matching interests (for example, a certain professor may be looking for a student who particularly wants to work on jellyfish). Yes, my pride was hurt by my rejection there, and yes, this makes me feel somewhat better. Still not thinking about it too much. So anyway, one of my grad school offers is at the lab where I currently work. I even just learned that I won a two year fellowship to go here, which I guess is pretty exciting. Still, Hawaii is Hawaii. So I'm going to go to the University of Hawaii.

The problem still remains of which professor I will work with. I have two very tempting options. Allow me to organize my thoughts "out loud".

Option A

Professor A is a new faculty member who hasn't had any grad students yet. I would be his first, along with "Germany is a landlocked country" girl, who recently accepted his offer (though she said she might switch advisors after the first year--she's starting as a TA, so I think she has different rules than I do). But in spite of his inexperience, he comes with rave reviews from his colleagues. One professor said that of all the hires she's been around for, she is most excited about him. Another called him "both smart and really really nice". And Professor B (who will be discussed next) said he "thinks the world of him". He was also one of the three main professors who hosted us prospective students on our visit to Hawaii, so I got to spend some time with him, so I can confirm that he is really, really nice.

Furthermore, he wants me. Because he is a new professor, he is trying to form his lab group, and he needs students. He just won a load of money for an exciting new project, and he thinks I'm the person to take it and run with it (the project, not the money). It's cutting edge stuff that is in high demand with very few people actually working on it. He told me that if I work on this project, he thinks I could be a "superstar". I could win my own grants, give talks at conferences, and have my pick of the world when I graduate. Basically, he's doing a really good job of selling it. It's working. I worry, however, that he has been trying so hard that I'm starting to feel guilty about not accepting him already. And guilt is not a good thing to enter into the equation when making this decision.

So what is the topic of Project A? It is something that is way over my head at this point, and I could try to explain what little I understand about it but you would just find it boring. It is highly theoretical model analysis stuff, and I'm pretty sure it would not involve any field work. I think it sounds potentially interesting (I like math-y puzzles), but since I don't really understand exactly what it is I would be doing on a day-to-day basis (programming in Matlab? running ANOVAs?), it's hard for me to tell how much I'd enjoy it. Maybe I'd love it. Maybe I'd find it really dull. I am certainly tempted by the thought of being such a "superstar", but that sets me up to be a huge disappointment if I am merely mediocre.

To sum it up, I think Professor A would be a great advisor, and I'd get lots of attention. I'd probably love my project (though it's hard to tell at this point) and be very successful, but I'd have to put up with lots of questions from my friends and family: "Now, what is it that you do again? How is that relevant?" But I've dealt with that before.

Up until 3:30 pm on the last day of my UH visit, I was completely prepared to sign on with Professor A. But my last appointment of the visit introduced me to Professor B.

Option B

Professor B has been around longer than Professor A, but he is probably about the age of my parents. So not exactly the Old Guard. He has four students right now, and one of them gushed to me that "he is probably the nicest professor in the department." I did get to talk with him for half an hour, and I concur--he is very nice. Apparently, he tends to be busy because he is so nice that everyone wants to work with him. Still, he always finds time to help his students.

He has not been anywhere near as persistent as Professor A in convincing me to work with him. The fact is, he is planning to go on sabbatical for at least next semester, if not next year, so he had not intended on taking any new students. But he said that if it would help me choose UH, he would offer to be my advisor. It's almost like he is offering to be my advisor as a courtesy to the department. Because he is not as eager as Professor A is to get me as a student, he has done much less selling, and I think this causes an unfair bias in my assessment of the two options. How cutting edge is Professor B's project? Will I be a superstar? Being wanted by an advisor who's ready to devote his time to helping me is a valid advantage to consider, but choosing something due to flattery is not the way to go.

So what is Project B? To be honest, it sounds much sexier than the other project. Project A may be cutting edge, but Project B might actually interest a non-oceanographer. Basically, it would involve going out on boats and scuba diving around coral reefs. Yeah. Again, I'm not sure what the analytical part of it would involve (likely computer modeling, statistical analyses, and more). The project is more specific and probably not as universally applicable as Project A, but did I mention the scuba diving around coral reefs? Getting money to scuba dive sounds like a pretty sweet deal.

To sum up Professor B, his project is more accessible than, but not as unique as, Professor A's. He was very nice to offer to be my advisor, but he will probably be away for much of the time my first year and he hasn't shown that much excitement and passion about having me as a student. Still, if he were my advisor, I'm sure he'd be great.

Time to review the pros and cons:

Professor A:
-Really wants me
-Cutting edge project, I could be a "superstar"
-New professor, so would devote a lot of attention to his student
-New professor, so may not turn out to be a great mentor
-Project is very technical and, let's be honest, would bore most people to tears

Professor B:
-Sexy-sounding project
-Experienced professor, proven mentor
-Busy in general, and he will be on sabbatical for the first semester or year
-Project may not be universally applicable or cutting edge
-Not overly excited about me

The emotional side of me wants to side with Professor A. It's nice to be wanted, and to have someone think I am the perfect match for a project. The pragmatic side of me also wants to side with Professor A. Who can argue with being a superstar in high demand once I graduate? But Professor B's project sounds like so much fun. Scuba diving will probably be a very small portion of it time-wise, so it won't all be fun and games, but it still sounds pretty cool. So what are the "right" reasons to choose an advisor? How do I filter all these different emotions and reasonings? How can I make the best decision for me without knowing how each will turn out?

I need to make a decision soon. People keep telling me that both are great options, so it's a win-win situation. But if both are great, and choosing one means I'll miss out on the other, a part of me can't help but see it also as a lose-lose situation. How will I ever break this standoff?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Cherry Blossom Sunday!

While many Christians were out at church celebrating Palm Sunday (as a kid I always did like waving around those palm leaves), I was in Washington, D.C. with six friends for the National Cherry Blossom Festival. The cherry trees were a gift to the U.S. from Japan; Mayor Yukio Ozaki gave 3,000 trees to Washington, D.C. in 1912; 3,800 more cherry trees were given to the city in 1965. Apparently we gave Japan a bunch of dogwood trees in return; they're pretty, but not as nice as cherry blossoms. The festival celebrates the beginning of spring as well as the friendship between the U.S. and Japan. This past Saturday was the biggest day of the two-week festival, and Sunday was pretty crowded (though not even comparable to the Inauguration).

The cherries were in full bloom, and the weather was absolutely perfect; high of 69 F and sunny. Not too hot, not too cold, and pink cherry blossoms everywhere. And when the light breeze blew, some of the cherry petals would flutter like pink snow to the ground. We couldn't have asked for better conditions to see the city, which was especially nice since four of the people with us were internationals who were seeing our nation's capital for the first time. Don't tell them that in a few months it will be gross and hot and humid. But today, it was sublime. One of those moments where it's enough just to be.

Again, my camera screen wasn't working, so I'm mainly glad that I managed to take any pictures at all; it occurred to me while I was clicking away that I might just be pressing the button, with nothing actually happening.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

A Saturday stroll down memory lane

So on Thursday, Sebastian did a bit in his blog looking back to a LiveJournal entry from four years ago in which he enjoyed some Xtreme cheddar cheese. This made me wonder what I was doing four years ago. As it happens, very close to four years ago (in February 2005), I began keeping a journal on my computer, which I continued through the rest of my college career. Now, this journal was for my own personal use, so it's a bit different from my blog. It doesn't have damning secrets or discussion of inappropriate things, but it is unedited and rather vague in parts. Sentence fragments sometimes stream-of-consciousness-like. But anyway, let's take a trip down memory lane and see what I was up to four years ago...
BIG MISTAKE (sort of): Going to see Million Dollar Baby without having a clue what it was about (other than just boxing).
Now, granted, in retrospect, the fact that it won best picture, best actress, etc. at the Oscars should have given me a clue what to expect. Still, I was totally not prepared emotionally to see that movie. It was very good, but oh my God... One hundred times over, it destroys my record previously held by Movin' Out.

You see, I was not always as knowledgeable about current movies as I am now (though I think four years ago was about when I started following entertainment news). Anyway, in this entry, I am referring to the fact that Million Dollar Baby marked the first time that I ever really cried in a movie. I mean really, really cried. I'd gotten teary-eyed in some movies, and when I saw Movin' Out (live theater, not a movie) in Boston I had a couple tears roll down my cheeks. But in Million Dollar Baby, I was sobbing non-stop, tears and snot everywhere, for at least fifteen minutes. That movie just opened up the floodgates. Since then, I have cried in movies much more than I did before Million Dollar Baby. But nothing has yet beaten Million Dollar Baby's record for oh-my-gosh-I-need-a-tissue-well-at-least-I-have-a-cotton-shirt-sleeve.

Moving on... Apparently, four years ago I was embroiled in my first play through Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Good times. In fact, a surprising proportion of my early journal entries are all about KotOR.
I'm starting to think that I've been spending an unhealthy amount of time playing KotOR... Sara and I were going over a fluids problem about air flowing over a hut, and finding the force acting on the hut, etc., and all I was hearing was "Blah blah blah Hutt. Blah blah blah Force blah blah..." Yeah, seriously, that was what I was thinking.

I was taking a class on fluid dynamics. Clearly, my game was interfering with my studies. I had a similar problem last summer while engrossed in Mass Effect. I attended a seminar in which the speaker kept talking about nutrient flux, and all I could think about was the Flux club on the Citadel, which of course made me think about the Flux dance (see the contest BioWare held here; see female Shepard showing off her moves here; see a pretty good entry here). It was all I could do to keep from giggling every time the speaker said "flux".
So I was playing KotOR...
I had just gotten the third piece of the Star Map, and I was just going to make a quick trip back to Dantooine and then stop for the night.
And then, boy did the plot thicken.
I'm sort of in shock. I've never been good at guessing what's going to happen in movies and books, but I just don't know what to say here. I never thought a computer game could be so... moving and complicated and amazing. It was like a religious experience. I'm like on a high, or something.

This wouldn't really make sense unless you've played the game. I'm being a little over dramatic, but that is how I felt at the time.

Last entry for today's post:
I'd just like to say...
A most traumatizing thing just happened to me. I was coming back from class walking in front of [one of the dorms], and in a gust of wind, a bee flew down my shirt. I'm sure it was traumatizing for both of us.

A few seconds of mumbled profanity and potentially embarrassing motions followed. Luckily, disaster was avoided.

That's all for this trip down memory lane.

Friday, April 3, 2009

New Star Trek, Peabody for Lost, and more

Let's see what we've got in entertainment news this week...

Writers, assemble! Marvel, which has been excitedly greenlighting movie adaptations of its franchises (including Thor, Captain America, and The Avengers) after last year's encouraging Iron Man success, is hiring a bunch of writers to develop its properties into films (Variety). Each year, it will ask up to five writers to work on various plots, characters, or future films, providing the writers with specific pitches. These projects may involve some of Marvel's lesser known properties, such as Black Panther, Cable, Doctor Strange, Iron Fist, Nighthawk and Vision.

Even though the new Star Trek reboot movie is still more than a month away from bowing in theaters, Paramount has smelled its upcoming success and gone ahead and hired writers for a sequel movie (Variety, IMDb). The script will be written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who wrote the script for the new Star Trek film, along with Damon Lindelof, who co-developed TV show Lost with J.J. Abrams, the director and producer of the new Star Trek film. J.J. Abrams will be a producer on the sequel, though there's no word yet on whether he will be directing again. Paramount bosses are reportedly hoping to get William Shatner, who does not appear in the new film, to make a cameo in the sequel (IMDb). They've really hyped this upcoming reboot, and J.J. has done well in the past. I hope the movie delivers. Just wait for May 8.

Inception, Christopher Nolan's planned contemporary sci-fi actioner, has added to its cast. Leonardo DiCaprio is already set to star, but Ellen Page, Marion Cotillard, and Cillian Murphy are in talks to join the project (Variety). Page and Cotillard were both 2008 Academy Award stars, nominated for Juno and La Vie en Rose, respectively; Cotillard won the award. Murphy has worked with Nolan before as Scarecrow in Batman begins (with a small role in Dark Knight).

I've sort of been following the development of Spider-Man: The Musical (officially named Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark). Apparently, director Julie Taymor has dismissed the rumors that Evan Rachel Wood, who starred in Taymor's movie Across the Universe, is set to play Mary Jane in the musical (IMDb). Taymor is holding auditions across the country to find her leads, apparently looking to cast unknowns in the starring roles.

Now for some exciting news for Lost fans: Lost has won a Peabody Award! (IMDb). The Peabody Award website says of Lost:
"Breezily mixing metaphysics, quantum physics, romance and cliffhanger action, the genre-bending series about a group of air-crash survivors on a mysterious island has rewritten the rules of television fiction."
Well, at least they've rewritten rules of nature. Battlestar Galactica won a 2005 Peabody Award, and I am excited to see yet another one of my TV shows win this prestigious award. After a couple rocky seasons, last year Lost got back on track, and now it has been rightfully awarded for its excellence. Congrats!

Speaking of Battlestar Galactica, I would like to end this post with a bit of fake news from The Onion that amused me greatly:
Barack Obama depressed, distant since "Battlestar Galactica" series finale
It speaks for itself.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Dancing with the Woz

I do not watch Dancing with the Stars. I mostly steer clear of reality/competition programming, though I will admit that I have been watching So You Think You Can Dance the past three summers. Anyway, though I don't watch Dancing with the Stars, I am generally aware of any particularly notable happenings on the show (e.g., there have been a surprising number of injuries this season). So I know that Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, was a contestant this season. And I know he was supposed to be a pretty bad dancer. On Monday, as I flipped through the channels trying to find something suitable for my housemate to watch before I left the room (I know my own TV show schedule, so I usually don't need to channel surf), I came across Steve Wozniak performing on Dancing with the Stars. And thus I saw his dancing for myself. Yes, it was kind of sad. I felt bad for his partner (How do they decide which dancer gets paired with which star? How did my sweet SYTYCD gal Lacey Schwimmer get stuck with Steve-O?")

As it turns out, The Woz got voted off the show on Tuesday night. Considering that from the beginning he had consistently received the worst marks from the judges, it was impressive that he had already survived two rounds of elimination. How did he last that long? On Dancing with the Stars, the judges' grades are combined with call-in votes to determine who will get kicked off each week. And despite Wozniak's extremely low scores from the judges, for the first two weeks he received enough viewer votes to keep him in the game. So who was voting for him and his poor attempts at dancing? The geeks, of course!

People commenting on Dancing with the Stars this season have not hesitated to attribute Wozniak's success to the "geeks." CNN reported, "What he lacks in technique, Steve Wozniak makes up for in geeks" ( I haven't been following the story on very many news outlets, but I found that IMDb has also made free use of the term (March 25, March 31, April 1). I suppose that as a geek I might find some pride in the geeks' ability to band together and collectively support and sustain a hopeless contestant in a popular reality contest (Dancing was the third most watched show of last week, with a 12.9/19 rating). But that's not where I'm going with this. Instead, I have taken issue with this branding. Granted, I am only very, very mildly miffed. But here's why.

I am a geek. A huge geek, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. But I have not been voting for The Woz. Why would I? I feel no particular allegiance to him. Half of the time I'm at work I use a Mac, and I use iTunes, but that doesn't make me feel any connection to him. I guess some of the idea may be that a geek would vote for Wozniak just to support a fellow geek. But that would require a hardcore computer nerd, not a computer game-playing, fantasy-reading, sci-fi-watching geek. Basically, I think "geeks" is too broad a category for the people voting for Steve Wozniak. Shawn Johnson, another contestant on Dancing this season, would not be said to be receiving the "jock" vote. But I bet she is getting votes from gymnastics fans. Perhaps it would be appropriate, then, to say that Steve Wozniak is getting votes from Apple fans.

Who, if the Mac commercials are to be believed, are decidedly not geeks. No, PCs are for geeks. Mac enthusiasts are the cool Justin Longs of the world (which is sort of funny because Justin Long's first screen role, and thus the one that I will always remember him for, was as the super nerdy fan in Galaxy Quest). If Apple fans are so cool and normal, why are they rallying for the nerd who can't dance? Answer that, Mac Geniuses.

So maybe this isn't the most logical argument I've ever presented. But I did say that I was only mildly miffed; I can't justify being outright offended. I'll just end this with my suggestion of what the Dancing with the Stars producers should do if they really want geeks to watch their show and call in votes. Two words:

Summer. Glau.