A-to-Z Challenge Day Sixteen: Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters

April 18, 2014 1 comment

I like my brain, thank you.

The genius of the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster lies in how it shows the distance someone will go for a good drink.

I think this is a life lesson for us all.

A-to-Z Challenge Day Fifteen: Opera

April 17, 2014 2 comments

A few years ago I spent a week in Chicago with Anastasia. It was an amazing city, and I loved every minute of walking its various streets and running up my credit card debt in all of the amazing stores and restaurants. I stayed with her in Hyde Park at the University of Chicago, near the Museum of Science and Industry (which was AMAZING). Ana was attaining her bachelor degree at U of C (where fun goes to die) and I was still getting my bachelor degree at the University of Michigan. I thought it would be a fun idea for spring break to visit her and see a major city for the first time in my life. So we visited the Field Museum and saw Sue, the Tyrannosaurus Rex. We stopped by Mindy’s Hot Chocolate for some delicious food and dessert.

But one of the highlights was seeing the first live opera in my life. Oh, sure, I’ve seen operas on DVDs and a smattering of clips on Youtube, but that doesn’t really make up for not seeing something live. I remember when I saw my first live music concert when I went to a blues festival and it was a million times better than listening to a record. So I was excited at the opportunity to see an opera.

A day or two before we saw the opera, we took a tour of the Lyric Opera House. The history of the building and the operas that had been performed there was fascinating, as were the props we could get our hands on. They had a knife that had the tube for fake blood to simulate a cut. Perhaps the funniest bit about the entire affair was when Ana and I got yelled at, like little kids, for playing on the awesome and complex sets, which were apparently off-limits (we must have blanked out when that particular rule was read…).

Later on, they had a few trunks of costumes out for us to play with.

Soldier!Royalty!

I didn’t really try on any costumes; it’s not my thing. Anyway, the opera we saw was Handel’s Hercules. Luckily it was an English opera so I didn’t have to struggle to keep up with the translations that Lyric provides above the stage. The opera itself was repetitive and dragged on a bit (Ana says this is because it was written to be enjoyed as a social outing, while people talked and such). It wasn’t the best opera I have ever seen, but the experience of seeing it live was memorable. I’d like to go back to the Lyric or to the MET to see an opera like Aida or La traviata with Jonas Kaufmann or Anna Netrebko.

Even so, it was a pleasure to see the opera, and it was a pretty fancy event. I actually dressed up in a suit and Ana was stunning in her dress.

Anyway, I’ll post a few of my favorite opera bits to end this post. Thanks for stopping by and reading!

1. Sempre Libera, La traviata

2. Brindisi, La traviata

3. Habanera, Carmen

4. La Dolcissima Effigie, Adriana Lecouvreur

5. Ma se m’e forza perderti, Un ballo in maschera

A-to-Z Challenge Day Fourteen: Newton!

April 16, 2014 Leave a comment

No, I’m not talking about the delicious cookies with a fig paste filling.

Yum…

I’m talking about Isaac Newton.

Not so yum…

I consider Isaac Newton to be one of my personal heroes. Not someone I idolize, so I use hero rather loosely here. But if there is one person who, I think, deserves a lot of credit for modern civilization and our understanding of the workings of the universe it is Newton. Not just because he came up with F=ma, but because of what he represents.

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos covered Newton and his contributions to science, knowledge, and indeed our current civilization. It’s safe to say that we wouldn’t have gotten to the moon without Newton.  And, you know, here’s Tyson talking about Newton in a way that makes you feel wholly inadequate.

I guess I’m just kind of sad that we don’t have more appreciation for the search for knowledge and the great discoveries of humanity. I mean, the laws of motion are fairly elegant.

And this post doesn’t even tough on other great scientists, like Einstein, Faraday, Curie, Rosalind Franklin, and many others.

A-to-Z Challenge Day Thirteen: MARIO!

April 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Today, I’m hanging out with a friend and baking cookies.

That’s really it. I’m typing this out on my iPhone so it won’t be long because typing on this thing is like pulling teeth.

A-to-Z Challenge Day Twelve: Life, the Universe, and Everything

April 14, 2014 1 comment

To the LAB!

When I was a kid I wanted to be a mad scientist. I wanted the whole works: the lab, the lab coat, the vaguely fake-sounding German name (Von Derkenstein), the beakers of colored water with dry ice, and the lab assistant who serves as the audience to applaud my brilliance. The life of a mad scientist was alluring, mixing crazy Tesla contraptions with a 1950s art deco architecture to create, well, a geek’s heaven.

I think that, looking back on it, this was an extension of my natural scientific curiosity. Children like to explore and categorize the world in which they live, and this is a natural part of their development. It has been said before, but it bears repeating: we are each of us scientists in our own way. We interact with the world, and we learn how to live in it through experimentation and observation. I specifically have a memory of being a kid and doing experiments on the types of mud that made the best sculptures. A few years ago, my cousin Jordyn wanted to get some rain coats, go outside, and do “the mud project” and do science, probably for the same reasons I did when I was a kid.

So science and ordered explorations of our world are very important to us from an early age. And throughout life we rely on knowledge we gain from these personal explorations, and the products of more rigorous scientific study, such as modern medicine, electricity, and computers. We live in a civilization built on science and we can’t do much at all to escape the implications of that.

Sometimes we don’t look to science to give us answers to questions our philosophies ask. Perhaps this is because science isn’t able to answer the question (what is the meaning of life?) or maybe science has answered and offered an answer one might feel is objectionable (evolutionary biology). For my money, science is the best way to get the most reliable answers to the questions we ask that can be answered.

So what is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything? Well, I don’t know. But more than that, I don’t know that these are the right questions to ask. Why does life have to have a meaning? Why can’t life just be something to be lived? We have a scientific answer about what life is and what kinds of things qualify as alive, and how they reproduce and adapt. I think that, perhaps, seeking some kind of transcendental meaning to existence might be misplaced energy when we can find personal and communal meanings for existence.

Think about the things that you live for. Is it love? I would really hope that love, empathy, and compassion are qualities which define your life. What about money? It’s useful, but is it something really to live for? I don’t think so.

And I think this is what makes me remember wanting to be a mad scientist. I didn’t really want to channel any of that energy toward destructive ends, but ultimately toward creative ends. A mad scientist is often portrayed as some madman bent on world destruction of capitulation, sort of the end of a quest for power. But why can’t a mad scientist be a force for good? Eccentric, maybe a bit crazy, but ultimately exploring the natural world for the betterment of humanity?

See, that's not so evil.

See, that’s not so evil.

And I think that’s my meaning of life, the universe, and everything. Making things a little less terrible for people and learning as much as possible about the universe. I’m not technically a scientist (I don’t have a degree in science and I don’t work in a lab), but I like to think of myself as one. Maybe I’ve romanticized it a little, but I think we all do that to some extent or another.

So am I bothered by any lingering questions, like why are we here? Well, a little. Wouldn’t you be bothered if you couldn’t answer a question like that? I don’t let it get to me, though, and I think that there are vastly more interesting questions to try to answer, like what in the cheese is dark matter?

No, seriously. What is it?

A Brief Blogging Interlude

April 13, 2014 3 comments

Yesterday was not the greatest day I’ve ever experienced, and I kind of shorted all of you, my keen and lovely readers, out of a decent post. I thought I’d make up for that tonight by posting a series of eight questions from SF Signal about science fiction books.

So, without further or do, here we go:

  1. The first science fiction book I ever read was: Jurassic Park
  2. The last science fiction book I read that I’d put in my “Top 20″ list is: Earth by David Brin
  3. The last science fiction book I couldn’t finish was: Dune
  4. A science fiction author whose work I cannot get enough of is: Isaac Asimov
  5. A science fiction author I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t read yet is: L. Sprague de Camp
  6. A science fiction book I would recommend to someone who hasn’t read sf is: Foundation
  7. A science fiction book that’s terribly underrated is: Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut
  8. A science fiction book that’s terribly overrated is: Ender’s Game

I’ve also been thinking about what book I’d like to write about next as part of my series of posts that will be inspired by the A-to-Z post on the letter B. I think that I’m going to focus on I, Robot by Isaac Asimov.

A-to-Z Challenge Day Eleven: Keep On Truckin’

April 12, 2014 10 comments

I have a massive headache today. Last night was full of bad dreams, tossing and turning, and constant waking. I’ve been thinking about what to write as I’ve been trying to avoid computer screens and bright light sources lest the pain in my head become crippling.

So the only thing that comes to mind is to post something to keep up the challenge. And that still falls under the letter K, for having the perseverance to stare at a screen long enough to write an idiom for today’s post and this little blurb explaining it.

And now I shall seek rest.

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