Lecture and presentation

Long time no see on the blogosphere. I’ve been busy during the summer with all the usual stuff, mostly learning and working. I’m glad to say that I’ve almost finished the Exploring Complexity: An Introduction book during the summer, and I was even able to get some of the mathematics out of the way. I think I was able to model a pretty neat animation on some of the methods demonstrated in the book, and I’ll try to post it soon.

I’ve also been saving up for going skydiving before the summer’s over… I’ve always dreamed of the skies (my first choice in college education was majoring in aeronautics, never quite made it though), so it’s only natural that I do something that involves full-contact with the air up there. Living on the student budget means that I have to work some extra jobs for that though. Some a bit more crazier than the others.

And of course, there’s always the DIYBio NYC. I’ve been trying to come up with some decent ideas, but everything I can think of at the moment mostly revolves around the kind of project that would require some sort of dedicated labspace. All I can do at the moment is to prepare for that inevitable day when we’ll obtain access to a labspace through independent studies. Some of the things I’ve talked about the members during a recent meeting regarding the state of the group and the processes that are involved in constructing artificial vesicles were very enlightening, and I intend to do a full-length post about that some time in the near future.

On to the main post…

During today’s twitter and identi.ca browsing I happened upon some interesting resources for scientists and potential scientists.

The first one is a collection of links and documents on how to prepare a scientific presentation. I haven’t had the time to read through it yet, but I know some of the posts on the list, and if the rest are like the ones I know, they are definitely worth a read, especially for an aspiring scientist like me. It’s amazing just how many things are involved in preparing a half-way decent presentation, and how most people are just plain terrible at it. I’ve sat through my share of lectures/symposiums/conferences and there’s nothing more painful than a horrible presentation with irrational powerpoint.

The second resource I want to share with you is osgrid. It’s a virtual environment tool like the second life except that it’s opensource. It’s relatively simple to download the environment and run it off your own servers, though it also means that you ‘need’ to run it on your own server for the whole thing to work. I’m really interested in finding out how this environment can be used for scientific research. Perhaps virtual laboratories running off university computer clusters? Open educations tool like a virtual university? A method for scientists to interact with their own 3D datasets in clean and intuitive manner? There are plenty of possibilities out there.

… I can also think of a few ways to utilize some of the stuff for the DIYBio community.

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Neal Stephenson notes

I’ve been googling some Neal Stephenson articles on the net in preparation for his new upcoming book, Anathem.

Here is an interesting excerpt from a Wired article I encountered from a blog about Neal Stephenson and his upcoming work (I recommend you read the full article as well if you are interested in current status of Neal Stephenson’s life).

Stephenson spends his mornings cloistered in the basement, writing longhand in fountain pen and reworking the pages on a Mac version of the Emacs text editor. This intensity cannot be sustained all day–”It’s part of my personality that I have to mess with stuff,” he says–so after the writing sessions, he likes to get his hands on something real or hack stuff on the computer. (He’s particularly adept at Mathematica, the equation-crunching software of choice for mathematicians and engineers.) For six years, he was an adviser to Jeff Bezos’ space-flight startup, Blue Origin. He left amicably in 2006. Last year, he went to work for another Northwest tech icon, Nathan Myhrvold, who heads Intellectual Ventures, an invention factory that churns out patents and prototypes of high-risk, high-reward ideas. Stephenson and two partners spend most afternoons across Lake Washington in the IV lab, a low-slung building with an exotic array of tools and machines to make physical manifestations of the fancies that flow from the big thinkers on call there.

“In Neal’s books, he’s been fantastically good at creating scenarios and technologies that are purely imaginary,” Myhrvold says. “But they’re much easier imagined than built. So we spend a certain amount of our time imagining them but the rest of our time building them. It’s also very cool but different to say, ‘Let’s come up with new ways of doing brain surgery.'”

That’s right–brain surgery is one of the things Stephenson is tinkering with. He and his team are helping refine some mechanical aspects of a new tool, a helical needle for operating on brain tumors. It’s the kind of cool job one of his characters might have.

This article seem to further compound my idea about Stephenson’s (or any other writer/artists’) almost instinctive urge to see the products of their written fantasies manifest in their world in a more corporeal form. Many artists throughout history seem to share that trait in particular, from Leonardo Da Vinci to Jasper Johns, methods of manifestation sometimes taking form of involvement in things of the ‘secular world’ or integration of their artistic ideas into lifestyles and memes. Such universally observed trait might as well be the reason that synthetic biology, or rather, any and all forms of artificial life holds so much promise for artists of the world. Synthetic/artificial life might as well be the catalyst needed to bridge the unreasonable cultural and intellectual gap between the arts and the sciences.

Indeed, I might even go as far as to say that the utility of artificial life in the field of arts would be an inevitable development of the future, based on the innate human desire to breathe life into immaterial thoughts.

Once I get past the deadline season, I might do a bit more detailed post on the matter of human creativity and obsession towards its manifestation…

Excerpt from Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

There is a passage in the book Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell that I’d like to share with you. It’s nothing significant, but within the context laid out in the world of the book, I found them much too rich and beautiful to keep to myself.

“…Strange walked away and became one of the many black figures on the piazza, all with black faces and no expressions, hurrying across the face of moon-coloured Venice. The moon itself was set among great architectural clouds so that there appeared to be another moon-lit city in the sky, whose grandeur rivalled Venice and whose great palaces and streets were crumbling and falling into ruins, as if some spirit in a whimsical mood had set it there to mock the other’s slow decline.”

One of the primary construct within the book’s world is the fairy road, which is closer to a whole world hidden within unseen corners of the reality rather than simple network of roads. Detailed descriptions and the depth of setting the author have devoted to the idea of fairy roads are rather pronounced throughout the course of the book, and every moment of it is memorable. Due to such extensive setting, even relatively simple passage as above, which might even come out mundane when read in other books take on certain profound qualities that forms a whole world on its own, like a sort of literary metasystem transition.

When a book opens a door within itself to be more real than is possible, the result is unreal. Even simple matter of nuances and styles open the door to a great number of interpretations, and such mechanic is not limited to literary works. Just as I instinctively note every description of the shadows and formations of birds within the world of the Jonathan Strange and Mr.Norrell, other mediums might lend significance to other little things, like the whispers of cicada or even the colors and musical tones within the artificial world.

When such understanding of artificial worlds have taken place, it is interesting to note just what kind of ‘mechanism’ an artificial life form can lend to the conventional understanding of reality.