Thursday, August 20, 2009

What I've Been Up To This Summer

I haven't posted anything on what I was up to all summer. Ya'll probably thought I just fell off the face of the earth or something! Nope, here's what I've been doing.

At the end of May I drove my little car from Utah here, to Boulder Colorado and the campus of the University of Colorado. I attended a physics conference for a few days up in Fort Collins and stayed in a hotel here in Boulder. Eventually I moved into a nice little apartment/dorm on campus a five minute walk from the lab.

I went to work for the Kapteyn-Murnane Attosecond Science and Extreme Nonlinear Optics Research Group at the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrohphysics (JILA), located on the campus of the University of Colorado. This group is huge consisting of Henry Kapteyn and Margaret Murnane (who are married) as principle investigators and an army of 15 graduate students, 5 post-docs, 4 labs taking up half of a floor, and 8 different sub-research groups.

I worked on an extreme ultraviolet (EUV) microscopy experiment attempting to image tiny samples with 13 nm coherent light. To be honest though, most of the summer was spent either 1)Fiddling with the laser, 2)Fiddling with the x-ray generation setup (high harmonic generation in a waveguide), or 3)Working on a laser safety interlock circuit to protect the delicate CCD camera.

And here's a picture of the laser safety circuit I built at the expense of many fried ICs and brain cells.

The picture above is the prototype, the picture below is one of the 2nd generation circuits being debugged. The metal casings have 3 in-board LEDs, 2 switches, 1 potentiometer, and 5 power/signal hookups of various types.

It was designed to prevent human error from destroying the sensitive x-ray CCD at the end of the laser path. The laser used is so bright, and the CCD so sensitive, that it would be irreparably damaged in a few milliseconds (or less). This circuit should prevent that from happening because of a careless user leaving a filter or valve open at the wrong time.

So that's what I was up to all summer, I had a great time. I really like the people I worked with in the KM Lab, and I especially liked JILA, the campus of UC Boulder, and Boulder itself. I'd love to go to graduate school there!

A Funny Story About My Poor Car

So, the other day a fence fell on my car. Yeah, it hurt.

As you can see it's one of those big heavy wooden fences. Perhaps too heavy for wind to knock over... Anyways, I have insurance, so they're gonna help me out, except for that pesky $500 deductible. The damage was actually pretty bad, as you can see in the next picture:

The side-view mirror is toast, and there's a gigantic dent in the door - that's the pricey part. The initial estimate was $890.33, but then I got a call saying things were worse than they thought and it'll cost (them) more to fix it. So I'll pick my car up tomorrow morning and pay Geico $500 (Geico by the way has been great through all this), and then I'll try to go after the place I'm staying at to get my money back.

Here's the funny part. Later that night after seeing a movie with some friends, I was driving home and saw a drunk guy crossing the street in front of me at a stop light. The guy was clearly soused out of his mind and was probably going to fall in the river or get hit by a car or something, so I offered him a ride.

Once he got in my car and I finally got him to put his seat belt on, he instructed me that he was going to throw up, so I put down the window and told him to aim outside. After driving around following his mostly incoherent directions, I finally stopped where I thought he might live, he opened the door of my car and fell out onto the grass and threw up there for awhile.

I decided to stick around to make sure he didn't die there on the grass or something. When he was done he got back into my car and showed me that he had barf all over his hands. I told him to not touch anything and then he told me he didn't live there.

So we drove around for a bit more until we were (apparently) close enough and I dropped him off and he stumbled away among the bushes, presumably to where he lived.

So the funny part about all this is a couple days later I took my car to the insurance agent to get my damaged door evaluated. As I took the agent to check out my car I noticed a whole boatload of bird poop on the passenger door. Slightly puzzled, I ignored it while I talked to the agent, and then all of a sudden I realized it - that drunk guy had barfed all over my fence-mangled door! Kinda added insult to injury.

So I just pretended I didn't see it and let the mechanics deal with it. =D

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Review: District-9

My standard rule after seeing a movie for the first time is to wait until the next day to pass judgement on it. But lately I've been making more and more exceptions to this.

I say lately, but as I sat in the theater today (technically yesterday...) I realized that I hadn't been to a movie theater since Christmas! So I suppose my exceptions aren't too infrequent:

District 9
By: Who cares who else was involved, it was by Peter Jackson.

The Short:
Sci-fi flick about aliens that end up as refugees on earth. Surprise surprise, we don't treat them that well.

Add a whole lot of action, interesting raids on the alien slums, a boat load of gore, and more f-bombs than you could possibly count (although if someone counts them I'll be impressed) and you get a great movie that could be excellent were it not for the excessive language and unnecessary gore.

The Long:
That last bit there is the kicker - why couldn't this movie have been PG-13? Not much of the gore was actually necessary - heads blowing up, arms being ripped from bodies and consumed, etc etc.

The movie could have had just as many wicked cool guns and just as many deaths without blood constantly being splattered all over the universe.

And then there's the f-bombs, holy cow! You really can't believe how many times they drop the freak fest. Now, I'll give you that a lot of the time the favorite f-word was spoken in a British accent, so was really quite funny! But why so much?! It really was overboard there Jackson - way overboard.

The premise of the story is incredible - simply stupendous. It'll have me thinking for days. Even better, there's going to be a sequel to tie everything up and hopefully see the aliens get some sweet revenge.

If you want to see a movie with an engaging story-line, interesting parallels to racism, and possibly the most thought-provoking opening premise of any recent movie, I recommend District 9. Of course, this comes with the HUGE caveat that you have to endure endless f-bombs and blood constantly splattering all over the place. Very silly sacrifice if you ask me...

Saturday, August 1, 2009

World's Largest Vacuum Chamber

This is the world's largest vacuum chamber - a gigantic 122 foot high aluminum cage designed to simulate the airless environment of space.

NASA uses it to test spaceship prototypes and create giant marshmallows. (One of those statements is a lie.) In addition to vacuum, it can heat or cool the environment from -260 to 175 degrees Fahrenheit (111 to 353 Kelvin).

I wouldn't want to have to replace the o-ring on that sucker!