Will and Beyond

Six Months in New Mexico: The Lab


It’s actually been about seven now, but that doesn’t sound as good. I’ve posted a few times since I moved here and grad school and my post-grad school vacation ended, but nothing substantial, or really about being here. So where to start, there’s the lab, Santa Fe, and the commute between.

In short, the lab is really excellent, but very different. It’s one of the biggest labs in the world, with some history that you’ve probably heard of. I ended up in a materials science group, which has some chemists, but many other engineers, etc, and definitely a different feel than a normal chemistry group. It’s been a fun and interesting adjustment, getting to work a lot of different things, but also has moments of “What do you mean there’s no pH paper around, this is no chemistry lab! Oh… right.”

Definitely a great change, being exposed to all sorts of new areas of science, and seemingly no end to new projects. Being a postdoc gives you tons of freedom to more or less research whatever you want.

lanlThe size of the lab is different in terms of both number of groups, scientists, and facilities, but also size. There’s almost every possible imaginable resource, if you can figure out who has what. In terms of size, given the origin of the lab, there are a lot of things spread out, so you do a lot of driving just within the lab. There are government vehicles available for use most of the time, so you don’t end up racking up tons of miles of your own gas, which is nice. (Unlike the commute…) My horrendous sense of direction has been getting a good workout; finally starting to not get lost every other day.

Comparing academia to government is interesting. I don’t have any current aspirations of professorship, so the national lab system seems pretty perfect for me right now, giving you lots of research freedom, without the teaching aspects. I could see going to academia someday down the road, but not in the near future. That isn’t to say the research experience is the same as in academia, there’s definitely a significant amount of things which go a lot slower.

safetySafety culture is huge. If you are not trained and authorized to do it, you’re not doing it. There’s no “oh, I can figure it out”, “oh, he can just show me how then I’ll be fine”, no. This has its ups and downs, in theory being safety/proficiency and slower progress/unnecessary(?) bureaucracy, but overall I can’t argue with it. I’m not without my fair share of grad school accidents, so when I have to sit through hours of training, there’s definitely some moments of, “yeah, I did that, ouch”.

You probably spend your first three weeks doing nothing but various forms of training, and lots of reading. If you weren’t warned about this, you’d probably be really frustrated. I was, so I just pushed through it. It’s really mostly in the beginning, so you just sit through it all once. There’s lots of refreshers along the way, keeping different types of training active, but it seems to be spaced out enough that it’s not bad.

Once you get going, everything picks up with whatever speed you want it to. There will be things which get in the way and take a while to get approval, etc, but remember, you have lots of projects at once, so if you’re without things to do, it’s probably your own fault.

Like I said in the beginning, super fun so far.

That ended up being a lot more than I thought, so I’m breaking this up into a couple parts, next up, New Mexico itself.


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Combining a raspberry pi with XBMC yields raspBMC. A super cheap and convenient media center, with the feeling of accomplishment since you built it yourself. (Even though it’s absurdly easy, I mostly just followed the Howtogeek walkthrough.)

Hooked up to an external hard drive and wired to the internet (sadly no Netflix because of Silverlight licensing), controlled with your phone (via Yatse, although the latest raspMBC update has broken it temporarily), easy stuff.


R.I.P. Reader, Long Live Reader

I should get back into the habit of posting again. I’ll start light.

bacon reader

Apparently, along with Google Reader’s demise, so goes the RSS support of Google Alerts. Damn, no more automatic ego-surfing.

Feedly is serving me well. I tried out Netvibes and The Old Reader, which had their perks, but were too buggy.


Curse you, RRoD

Most people out there are familiar with the BSoD, the blue screen of death. It haunts Windows users, inciting fist shaking in Microsoft’s direction. For Xbox 360 players, an even sadder sight is the red ring of death:

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The RRoD tells you what type of error it is, depending on the number of lights. Three is the number you never want to see, which indicates hardware failure. I could return it to Microsoft, but since I’ve owned this for about 5 years now, it’s well out of its 1 year warranty, and would cost $119 to fix otherwise.

There is an alternative, unorthodox method to fixing the 360; wrapping the machine in towels and praying:

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This actually works sometimes. Essentially, there is a part in the machine which will come loose from overheating. By wrapping it with towels, and leaving it on, you’re forcing overheating, which can reform the connections.

I did it, and it actually worked… for a week. Now it red ringed again, and I need to try it more legitimately, by opening it up and using some thermal paste. Buying a new 360 wouldn’t be ideal, especially since the 720 isn’t far off.


A full 3 months after my arrival in LA, I’m actually getting around to posting this, and maybe finishing off the Dr. Will’s Transcontinental Victory Tour series.

LA was an excellent visit, which was made even more amazing by Andrew’s expert itinerary making skills. This was seriously ridiculously detailed. Amazing.

I started the day wandering around Chinatown, and then explored Exposition Park, including the Rose Garden. The only thing is the Rose Garden was apparently closed, and I only ended up wandering in there by first going through a film shoot, and had trouble escaping. Entertaining. This was mostly killing time until the California Science Center opened, which was filled with tons of cool stuff, most notably, the Endeavor:


After wandering there for a few hours, headed to the Grove and had Umami Burger, mmm. Next up was LACMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; fun stuff.


Went over to Beverly Hills and wandered around, and finally met up with Andrew for Korean BBQ, and crashed at his place. In the morning I rented a bike and biked around Venice Beach:


After a few hours of biking around, went up to the Getty Center, which had some great art, but the center itself was amazing, in terms of architecture and the view of LA.


Headed down toward Hollywood to wander around, and wow, that is not the glamorous, glitzy neighborhood I was imagining, rather think Times Square before it got cleaned up. Met up with Andrew and we went to Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles with Sangwoo. Finally went to the Griffith Observatory. They had a periodic table with samples of each element:


Definitely a fun trip; I can’t see myself living in LA, but a fun city to visit. The tour is almost complete (well, the documentation), only Portland left to go.

Scientific Knowledge

“Scientific knowledge grows like the accumulation of bric-a-brac in a vast and disorderly closet in a house kept by a sloven. Few are the attempts at ridding the closet of rusty or obsolete gear, at throwing out redundant equipment, at putting things in order. For example, spurious distinctions are still made between reflection, refraction, scattering, interference, and diffraction despite centuries of accumulated knowledge about the nature of light and matter.”

Craig F. Bohren, Penn State
Handbook of Optics, Vol. 1: Fundamentals, Techniques, & Design, 2nd edition: 1995.

Year of Brains





[Igor Morski via Illusion]

Time to reduce, Mr. Bond

Dr. Ångstrom: You see Bond, I figured it out. Figure out why you are called double 0 7.

Bond: What do you mean?

Dr. Ångstrom: The room is slowly filling with hydrogen.

Bond: You mean to blow me up?

Dr. Ångstrom: Not at all! You see, the floor is nickel and very soon-

Bond: Damn you! You know my weakness.

Dr. Ångstrom: Yes Mr. Bond! As the temperature increase hydrogenation will weaken you!

Bond: Too bad you didn’t try an ozonolysis Dr. Ångstrom!

Dr. Ångstrom: What? How did you get free?!

Bond: Simple Dr. Ångstrom, by reducing me to be a single bond I was capable of rotating and-

Dr. Ångstrom: Why, of course! How could I have been so foolish?


Bond: Still.. so.. weak..

Bond Girl (Asstitine): Bond! Why not let me help you return to your double bond status.

Bond: But how?

Asstitine: Well I was thinking that perhaps a halogenation might help?

BondRaises brow suggestively

[Reddit via Reddit]

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