Monday, April 1, 2013

If you want us to take you seriously as a planet, Pluto, you shouldn't come by on April fools!

Caltech astronomer Mike Brown is best known as the man who killed Pluto.  It so happens that his office is nearby, and that today a ghost of planets past came to haunt him.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


Howdy Folks.  Do I ever have a treat for you!

Some background:  There exist a system of steam tunnels under Caltech, and for many years (at least 40 or so) undergraduate have been running amok in them causing all kinds of trouble.  There is apparently access to every building on campus through these tunnels, and there is a written and artistic history of undergraduate life painted and Sharpied onto the walls.

So I came by these photos of some grad student hoodlums exploring these tunnels.  Since this blog is so intimately linked with my identity at Caltech, lets leave names out of it, shall we?  Anyway, some of the photos were so outstanding, I decided they needed to be shared here, on Coffee Nanoparticles.

 Figure 1: Wow, Caltech undergrads.  That brings about an awfully visceral and disturbing image.  Must help to keep the god-fearing folk out of the tunnels.

  Figure 2:  The entrance to the tunnels proper.  Into the rabbit hole.

   Figure 3:  This is what the tunnels look like.  Some of these pipes carry steam, so it is quite hot in there. (Or so I hear)

  Figure 4:  True dat.

  Figure 5:  So this one deserves a bit of a story.  The Dean of Undergraduate Students here (Rod Kiewiet) has instituted a strict and obviously well-respected rule to no longer go into the steam tunnels, citing "safety issues".  So someone was kind enough to immortalize this rule on the wall of an alcove somewhere under Bridge Laboratory.    

   Figure 6: HAH valence band.  GET IT?!

  Figure 7:  Caltech legend tells of a bet made by Nobellist and well-known badass Richard Feynman of QED fame with the undergraduate physics class.  If they performed up to Feynman-par (likely about an A++ average or thereabouts), he would live in the tunnels for a week.  Naturally Caltech undergrads cheated or something and did not disappoint, leading to Feynman setting up a couple mattresses and a supremely creepy swing-set here in the steam tunnels.

  Figure 7:  There was also a "SAY N2O to DRUGS" graffito somewhere.

 Figure 8: It really looks to me like the one on the right is saying "Kiss me, I'm Irish", and for some reason the one on the left looks awfully good at being crazy smart.

Well, that was mostly full of figures, but I hope you got a bit of a taste of what the tunnels are like.  It is really too bad we're not allowed to go down there.  In a hypothetical world in which we were, I would surely be well on my way to mapping it and exploring every nook and cranny.

Lets take a look at my allowed domain, then.  I just moved into a new and improved office!  My lab dominates about 90% of the basement of Noyes Laboratory of Chemical Physics, which means that no one has an office with a window.  But now at least I have a couch, a table, a whiteboard and a sweet monitor.  Check it out!

  Figure 9:  It is super duper comfy, cats and kittens.  Srsly.

  Figure 10:  OMG SO BRIGHT.  Who do those awesome happy-looking orange lab goggles on the wall belong to?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

New Website

Hello folks,

I've put together a semi-professional website and given it the honour of being  It just has a bit of a speil on yours truly and background into my past research and publications.  It also has a super sweet photo of me that I chose out of every single photo ever taken to be the most representative of me.

Hey look, it's me doing SCIENCE in JAPAN. (See those squigglies to my right?)

I'm talking about it here and linking it above (hey, let's do it again!) since I know that Google crawls this page, and now Google will follow those links and crawl my new page.

Also, let's add a link here for Michael Beverland's website.  I did him a favour and gave him my stylesheet to put together a pretty website with very colour-coordinated (if a little bit camp) images.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Rudyard Kipling was good for more than Engineers' oaths.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Google+, Tau Day and Margaritas, or Blake's Recent Past.

So what's with this Google+ thing guys?  Google has tried to get into the social space a few times before; does anyone remember Orkut or Google Wave? Yeh, me neither.  This time it seems to be a full-on attack on Facebook, with friends and news feeds and privacy-violating default settings and everything.  Whether they can beat Facebook at their own game is anyone's guess, but I'd say most guesses would be no.

But my buddy Anup sent me an invite yesterday, so being the awesome and cutting edge guy I am, I decided to go full on with the early adopting.  I'm also way too cool for Facebook, so I've been looking for an alternative forever.

My thoughts exactly.  Get out of my head, Randall Monroe! (Source:

Just based on first impressions, I'd say at the very least the "friend" organization system has its merits and by association, the very closely related privacy/sharing system is a breath of fresh air.  I wouldn't be surprised if the largest effect of Google+ is Facebook adopting some of its cooler features.  I also really like the Android application, in particular its location-aware news feed and "instant" upload of photos (really just auto-upload to a private album immediately after capture to be available if you ever want to "upload" them).  

And come on, I just trust Google.  Whatever they do, I'm going to be all over it until death (or first minor inconvenience),  I even used Google Wave for a week or so.

So June 28 was Tau Day, (τ being defined as 2π, or one τurn of a circle, hence 6.28 or 6/28).  I went to a Tau Day party on Caltech campus that night, organized and hosted by the guy who invented this constant (Michael Hartl).  He put forth a very complete and cogent argument as to why π is ill suited as a circle constant, since nearly everywhere in mathematics π appears with an annoying 2 infront of it.  Some easy examples include the Gaussian (Normal) distribution

    f(x) = \frac{1}{\sqrt{2\pi\sigma^2}} e^{ -\frac{(x-\mu)^2}{2\sigma^2} },
the Fourier Transform
\hat{f}(\xi) = \int_{-\infty}^{\infty} f(x)\ e^{- 2\pi i x \xi}\,dx,
the Cauchy integral formula
f(a) = \frac{1}{2\pi i} \oint_\gamma \frac{f(z)}{z-a}\ dz ,
the reduced Planck Constant
\hbar = \frac{h}{2 \pi}.
In other words, Archimedes screwed up in making π the circle constant.  And to show his disdain for all things π, Michael Hartl published his Tau Manifesto outlining his argument and offering Tau day as a much preferred alternative to Pi day.  This party which consisted of some of the nerdiest people I've ever had the pleasure of smelling was concluded in a fantastic manner by twice as much free pie than one could reasonably eat.

Down with π!  Google had better make a Doodle for τ day next year, or they're losing one fanboy.

In other news, today in the lab we had some Canada day festivities.  My labbies figured it was time to initiate me into the group all-proper-like, so we went out to the local Mexican dive bar for some margaritas as a pre-Canada day celebration.  This is the Independence Day long weekend here (4 full days off), so it had to be today.  Wow, these margaritas were potent and so our little lunch outing ended around 5:30pm and everyone headed home for the "weekend".  Unfortunately, I've got a robot making me some oligopeptides overnight and some cells growing me some phages that I have to check on periodically, so I'll be back at least once a day over the long weekend.  I'm a SCIENTIST.
There were some requests for more pictures of my digs, so voila:

Here is my bedroom, with a bit of Slevin in the bottom.  Apologies for not being too tidy.  I'm just so glad I have a blanket and sheets now.  

My kitchen.  We're cleaning all the cutlery and pots which just arrived in my mom's parcel (along with the aforementioned bedsheets), which is why everything is out and aboot.  Its pretty great though.

Our common room.  Mickey got a very nice new TV and finally set up his drumset somewhere.  Theres a great couch that I was sitting on while taking this photo too.  It may very well be more comfortable than my bed.

The side of campus facing my apartment complex.  This is one side of the new Bioengineering building.  Mickey may eventually get an office here if he plays his cards right.

The same Bioengineering building, with the Beckman Institute green infront of it, and the big palm trees along the road between my apartment complex and campus.  My walk to and from work is pretty much just this green.

My walk to work.  Google maps pegs it at 3 minutes.  But I tend to take the hypotenuse.  

Monday, June 27, 2011

Goodbye again, Canada. Hello Cali!

Some updates, ladies and gents.  I've graduated and convocated!  As proof, I present my refrigerator:
My Bachelors of Applied Science in Nanotechnology Engineering.  Mickey's is there too.

In other words, I have left Canada again.  Goodbye Waterloo.

Don't worry guys, I haven't gone back to the exceedingly far east or anywhere like it.  In fact I've gone to the west coast, first to LA and just a little bit backwards to Pasadena, California.  I've found a new academic home at the California Institute of Technology, or Caltech.  Now I know I said I wanted to go to Princeton or Berkeley or MIT in my last post, but come on guys, Caltech is in (or at least very near) Los Angeles!  LA comes with some perks such as being 25-30 degrees and sunny 350 days per year.  Hollywood, Disneyland, Long Beach, Comicon, need I say more? If I do need to say more, its arguably the best science and technology school in the world.

Besides, Princeton is in New Jersey, everyone at MIT is depressed (hopefully excepting my good friend Farnaz) and Berkeley is a STATE school (sorry Simon :-\).

Pretty much what Caltech is like.  Courtesy of NUMB3RS.

I've been here for about a week, and I've got to say that its been quite great.  Everyone has been incredibly friendly, even by Canadian standards.  Moving in with my furry friend presented me with no problems, and the apartment is a veritable mansion by Japanese standards.  I walked into my bedroom, and its maybe double the size of my entire house in Japan.  And theres a WHOLE APARTMENT outside!

I live about a three minute walk from my lab, which is pleasantly situated in a basement's basement.  At least it'll stay cool during the long, hard summers?  In this lab, I'm working on super hardy, super specific AND super general artificial antibodies for HIV diagnostics.  Wrap your mind around that one.  It'll keep me busy at the very least until September, when my classes begin.  At which point I'll have to prove my mettle to all the genius-level intellects running around this Institute.  

Its SoCal guys, the infinite corridor can be outside.  (Also a frequent filming site for NUMB3RS, see above)

So at the rate I've been reviving this blog, by the next time I post, I'll have finished my PhD and be moving into wherever I do my post-doc.  Hard to move up from this place though.  I think this place will become a pretty great home for the next 4-8 years.

I've become such a goddamn American already.  Mickey got a big TV and American's Got Talent has been on for the last 3 hours.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hello, Folks.

Hello cats and kittens-

Yes, I've resurrected this blog from the depths of Japan-induced depression where I last left it off. Wow, we had some dark days, ladies and gentlemen. Of this there can be no doubt. But it all seems like a bad dream now. But as a wise man once said:
Coming home from very lonely places, all of us go a little mad: whether from great personal success, or just an all-night drive, we are the sole survivors of a world no one else has ever seen.
Now I'm not claiming that no one else has ever seen the wrong end of an 8 month sentence with Co-op Japan, but like many people I enjoy relating to wise-sounding quotes. Lets leave it at that, and forever drop the Japan topic. From now on its the N-word, okay? Okay. Moving on.

Everyone can see that I've updated the subtitle of this blog. Yes, I am now a Starbucks® chemist (or Barista, as they're more generally known). Today I considered how well it jived with my blog title, and it is because of this realization that you're reading this post at all, instead of catching up on Ally McBeal or Reading Rainbow or something. Anyway, I submitted the online application for the Starbucks job a few weeks back. This was an arduous process which involves answering about 50 questions of a Myers-Brigg type personality test (I'm an ENTP beeteedubbs; "the visionary") as well as a bunch of fuzzy-wuzzy behavioral questions "What would you do if a customer asked you to help him buy coffee, even if you knew he was pursuing litigation which would eventually lead to the abolishment of abortions in this country?" and the sort.

I guess my answers were to their liking, as I received a call soon thereafter asking if I would come in for an interview the next day. I only made a complete fool of myself during ONE of the interviews, and even then a quick recovery resulted in only my pants being soaked in coffee. I feel this may have aided in my interview, as I must have smelled like I perspire an Arabica blend. So I've done all the official-business and I start my first training shift on Tuesday at 1:30pm. There are eight training shifts in total, I'm sure this is necessary in order to master the multiplicity of obscure Starbucks® jargon which I will soon use every day. I'll be sure to let everyone know how it goes. I've gotta say I'm really looking forward to the free drinks during my shifts and the free pound of coffee a week. I think I know what everyone is getting for Christmas!

In other news, I'm applying to graduate schools these days, and I'm hoping that being qualified to get a job at my local Starbucks® is enough to get me into one of my top four schools (MIT, Cornell, Columbia, Berkeley). Heres hoping, folks.

I've renewed this domain for another year, so you have lots to look forward to.

Later days,