Monday, November 30, 2015

Writing Motivation - Slaying this Dragon

I have a pretty sweet collection of cards with old school fantasy and sci-fi art on them (much like these images). I've had those cards since I was a kid, though I have no idea where I got them from. One of my favorite themes is the knight slaying the dragon. Much like the modern connotation of the biblical story of David and Goliath, the knight slaying the dragon (or really any character slaying a dragon) makes us think of situations where great foe can be conquered, usually with some bravery and hopefully some intelligence. That's kind of how I feel with my current writing work. This paper that I'm writing is my dragon. I know that I must slay this dragon. It is a great foe, but I know, somewhere inside, I am greater. Write On!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Writing Motivation - "writer s surf"

writer s surf, by Medi Belortaja
I most certainly need motivation right now to continue working on a current research article, which is also going to be part of my graduate dissertation. Beyond my habitual coffee, I like to jump into my writing by first reflecting on the work ahead and by considering the thoughts and creations of others.

Sometimes, writing seems to come naturally to me, while there are other times where it most certainly requires some personal taunting, teasing, inspiring, and just plain ol' "sucking-it-up-and-getting-it-done". In looking for a quick spot of motivation on my day's writing, I found this beautiful cartoon by Medi Belortaja. He titled the piece "writer s surf". 

"Writer s surf" brings to mind those feelings of the surge of a wave under my board as the ocean picks me up and thrusts me toward shore (a feeling I haven't experienced in reality in too many years). The piece also evokes the feeling of being sucked in to a work of writing or of reading. Some writings (be they short articles, fantastical stories, scientific research reports, or epic journeys into other worlds) really do take the author/reader on rides, much as surfing a wave.

Belotaja brings forward in his cartoon the feeling of riding the page, surfing the written word, and embracing the motions of the cosmos as we engage with a moving force of nature. Write on!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

How Do You Take Your Coffee?

Coffee is one of the most consumed products on the planet. Especially among Northern European nations (Finland actually ranks the highest) but also growing in countries like India and China, coffee consumption has become a daily part of life for many people. Some people take their coffee black, some like a little cream and sugar, and some people prefer all the dressings of flavors, creams, sugars, and foams that lattes and the like have to offer.

Some of my best moments with my family when I was younger was when we would sit around, drink coffee, and talk about anything and everything in life. Nowadays, I tend to enjoy my coffee with either lots of fat or with some nice spices. 

Coffee with Butter and Oil

If you pay any attention to nutrition fads and trends, fitness media, or anything related to Crossfit, then you've probably heard of Bulletproof Coffee. If not, then be warned: you might find this gross. But, then again, you might really like it. I do.

Bulletproof Coffee is a recipe (but also a brand) created by Dave Asprey, who goes by the handle, The Bulletproof Executive. He's taken the Asian idea of Yak Butter Tea and introduced it into mainstream America in the form of coffee with lots of fat. Asprey's original recipe called for 1-2 tablespoons (~15-30 mL) each of butter and medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) added to a cup of coffee and blended. One great source of MCTs is coconut oil, which is also tasty.

I don't really care right now to argue for or against the health benefits of getting lots of fat in your diet. There's a lot of information out there in that realm, and maybe I'll write a post some day about MCTs and why I choose to get lots of fat in my diet, but, for now, let me just say that I love drinking my coffee with butter and oil! 

I personally rock about about 3 tablespoons (~45 mL) each of butter and coconut oil in my coffee each morning. I like to drink it while checking email, doing some brain training, and reading articles online. I estimate that it gives me about 700 calories, mostly in fat. Most mornings, that's all that I have for breakfast and I usually feel awesome for most of the day after that.

Want to give it a try? Do it! You might hate it. You might love it. However, please take this warning: try it the first time with a very small amount of coconut oil. When people start including coconut oil or straight MCTs into their diet, they tend to get diarrhea. No one wants to get through their morning coffee only to have the runs waylay them before they can kick some ass out of their day!

Sometimes a Little Spice is Everything Nice

Even though I rock my morning coffee with lots of fat (see above) sometimes I like to have a second coffee in the day, usually in the early-to-mid afternoon (evening coffees can also be fun from time to time, but they're also good at messing up sleeping patterns). When I have that second coffee in day, I tend to prefer it with some spice, specifically with some cinnamon and nutmeg. 

Cinnamon and nutmeg, along with spices like clove or allspice, are the kinds of spices that are great at adding lots of flavor and enjoyment with just a small dash of the spice. There are plenty of arguments out there for the health benefits of using these spices as well, however, again, I choose not to get into that here. I just want to talk about the coffee! 

I like a little flick of cinnamon and nutmeg in my coffee along with some half-and-half cream or some heavy whipping cream (none of that low-fat stuff for me!). It tastes super yummy and the spice seems to help me with taking smaller sips (maybe I just want to savor each sip all the more).

I've told you about two of my favorite ways to enjoy coffee. So, tell me, how do you take your coffee?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Fever Ray - If I had a Heart - Theme for Vikings

We've been watching the History Channel show Vikings lately. It's a pretty sweet show. A good mix of history and fantasy with an enjoyable story arc (at least, there is where we're at in the show so far). The theme song for the show, "If I Had a Heart" by Fever Ray, is a chilling tune and one that sticks in your head for hours after you hear it. The song has been used in a variety of shows and films. I thought I'd share the original music video for this epic tune here, on A Cosmobiologist's Dream. Enjoy!


If you'd like to play this song on guitar, user diseasedfox at Ultimate Guitar has helped to make that possible. Find the tab here.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Phobos on My Phone

This pic of the Martian moon Phobos is rockin' on the background of my phone today. I recently downloaded the NASA App, which allows you to set up your phone to display a new picture very day from Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD). The app also let's you download cool ringtones and notification sound-clips that are made of up of sounds from space (rockets launching, the sounds of the planets, and sonified transit data from Kepler light curves). Definitely get this app on your phone. Then you will also be able to rock sweet images, like this one of little Phobos, every single day.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Da Vinci's Notebook - Another Irish Drinking Song

I love you all, so here's a video for "Another Irish Drinking Song" by Da Vinci's Notebook:

What's that you ask? "Why can't I get drunk and sing this song as well?" Well, ask no more. Raise a glass or seven and sing along with the lyrics below:

Gather 'round ye lads and lasses, set ye for a while, 
and harken to me mournful tale about the Emerald Isle. 
Let's all raise our glasses high to friends and family gone, 
and lift our voices in another Irish drinkin' song. 

Consumption took me mother and me father got the pox, 
me brother drank the whiskey 'till he wound up in a box. 
Me other brother in the troubles met with his demise, 
me sister has forever closed her smilin' Irish eyes. 

Now everybody's died, so until our tears are dried, 
we'll drink and drink and drink and drink and then we'll drink some more. 
We'll dance and sing and fight until the early mornin' light, 
then we'll throw up, pass out, wake up and then go drinkin' once again. 

Ken was killed in Kilkenny and Claire she died in Clare, 
Tip from Tipperary died out in the Derry air. 
Shannon jumped into the river Shannon back in June, 
Ernie fell into the Erne and Tom is in the Toome. 

"Cleanliness is godliness," me Uncle Pat would sing, 
he broke his neck a-slippin' on a bar of Irish Spring. 
O'Grady he was eighty, 'tho his bride was just a pup, 
he died upon the honeymoon when she got his Irish up (hey!). 

Now everybody's died, so until our tears are dried, 
we'll drink and drink and drink and drink and then we'll drink some more. 
We'll dance and sing and fight until the early mornin' light, 
then we'll throw up, pass out, wake up and then go drinkin' once again. 

<Mexican Hat Dance> 

Joe Murphy fought with Reilly near the cliffs of Alderney, 
he took out his shillelagh and he stabbed him in the spleen. 
Crazy Uncle Mike thought he was a leprechaun, 
but in fact he's just a leper and his arms and legs are gone. 

When Timmy Johnson broke his neck it was a cryin' shame, 
he wasn't really Irish, but he went to Notre Dame. 
MacNamara crossed the street and by a bus was hit, 
but he was just a Scotsman so nobody gave a shit (OCH!). 

Now everybody's died, so until our tears are dried, 
we'll drink and drink and drink and drink and then we'll drink some more. 
We'll dance and sing and fight until the early mornin' light, 
then we'll throw up, pass out, wake up and then go drinkin' once again. 

<Hava Nagila> Ole!

Me drunken Uncle Brendan tried to drive home from the bar, 
the road rose up to meet him when he fell out of his car. 
Irony was what befell me Great Grand Uncle Sam, 
He choked upon the very last potato in the land. 

Connor lived in Ulster town, he used to smuggle arms, 
until the British killed him and cut off his lucky charms. 
And dear old Father Flanagan who left the Lord's employ, 
drunk on sacramental wine beneath the altar boy (HEY!). 

Now everybody's died, so until our tears are dried, 
we'll drink and drink and drink and drink and then we'll drink some more. 
We'll dance and sing and fight until the early mornin' light, 
then we'll throw up, pass out, wake up and then go drinkin' once again. 

Someday soon I'll leave this world of pain and toil and sin, 
the Lord will take me by the hand to join all of me kin. 
Me only wish is when the Savior comes for me and you, 
He kills the cast of Riverdance and Michael Flatley too. 

Now everybody's died, so until our tears are dried, 
we'll drink and drink and drink and drink and then we'll drink some more. 
We'll dance and sing and fight until the early mornin' light, 
then we'll throw up, pass out, wake up and then go drinkin' once again, 
then we'll throw up, pass out, wake up and then go drinkin' once again, 
then we'll throw up, pass out, wake up and then go drinkin' once again.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thomas and the Swiss Coffee Break

A few years ago, in October of 2011, I traveled to Switzerland along with my graduate research adviser, Alexis Templeton, and then lab-mate Emily Knowles. We had flown to the land of fine chocolates, melted cheeses, secretive banks, and elegant watches to conduct some x-ray spectroscopy research at the Paul Scherrer Institute's synchrotron particle accelerator, The Swiss Light Source (SLS). 

SLS is a pretty funky place. There's a particle accelerator ring where a variety of magnets are used to shoot electrons along the ring's 288 meters (about 945 feet) of circumference at 2.8 billion electronvolts (2.8 GeV)! There are a bunch of experimental end-station, called beamlines (instrumental setups that use x-ray beams produced by the electrons), for doing stuff like protein crystallography, x-ray tomography, x-ray absorption spectroscopy, and a range of materials science and geochemistry work. 

The work being conducted at SLS is pretty awesome, but maybe of more interest to some folks is that the place itself looks like a flying saucer landing in a field in thee Swiss countryside!

SLS is the flying saucer on the top right in this image of the Paul Scherrer Institute 
I'm not really writing this post about the SLS, awesome though it is. I'm writing this post to share a story about something that happened to me while we were there all those years ago. This is a story of a coffee break. Or maybe it's the story of a coffee break that never was. You decide.

Our work at the SLS involved the use of the X07MA/B PHOENIX beamline, where we were using microscale x-ray fluorescence and x-ray absorption spectroscopy to map the distributions and types of sulfur compounds in Emily's samples of altered basalt and my samples from the Arctic. That kind of work can become quite tiring and delirium easily sets in when you've been working for hours upon hours to collect data at a synchrotron. Luckily, there was a small cafe in the building adjacent to the SLS. I made quite a large number of stops to that cafe to drop a Swiss Franc or two to pick up a boost to keep me going while I continued slogging through x-ray data collection and beamline data processing. 

There are two interesting things that I learned about having coffee in Europe during that trip. Thing One: Europeans serve coffee in very little cups. Thing Two: if a European invites you to "go get a coffee", they mean they'd like to sit down, relax, and talk while slowly sipping a cup of coffee. Let me explain.
This is NOT how coffee is served in Europe

Thing One: Europeans haven't gone overboard with trying to "supersize" everything the way that Americans have. In general, in Europe, if you order a coffee you are very likely to get something that is 4 or 6 fluid ounces of coffee in a very small cup. I've had plenty of European friends who claim that this is because their coffee is so strong, and, in some cases, that's true. 

There are a lot of places in Europe where ordering a coffee means you're pretty much getting a shot of espresso. However, that hasn't been my general experience in most cases. Most of the times when I have ordered a coffee in Europe it has been just a regular drip coffee in a little cup. It's not the 20 fluid ounces of joe that we Americans tend to inhale as part of our morning rituals. 

At the time when I was working at SLS, I was still fairly deep into my academic-driven addiction of coffee. Needless to say, I drank little cup after little cup of coffee while in Switzerland on that trip.

"This just will not do!"

Thing Two: Here's the thing that motivated me to write this post. I made a bit of a coffee faux pas while on this trip, and the experience taught me a deeper lesson about myself and about the culture of my nation.

During one of the longer bouts of wrestling with data analysis and trying to figure out how to proceed when things seemed to be going all kinds of wrong, there came a moment of sangfroid amongst those of us working the beamline. Dr. Thomas Huthwelker, the beamline scientist who operates the PHOENIX beamline and helps users to figure out stuff, had shown up to, well, operate the beamline and help us users figure out some stuff. We got a small break in the action as things started working well again. At that point, Thomas (pronounced kind of like "Toe-Mahs") asked if any of us would like to go get a coffee. I was feeling like I could use yet another boost at that point so I decided to join him.

We walked to the cafe, where I dropped my Swiss Franc for a little itty-bitty cup of coffee and waited by the door for Thomas. I figured we'd grab the coffee and head back to the beamline to continue working on the next problem. I then saw Thomas coming out of the cashier's line. He had a little tray with a pastry on it and his little cup of coffee. He looked at me and I heard him go "oh!" and then he said, "I'm going to have a seat for a moment, if you don't mind." I honestly didn't mind, but rather than join him (which would have been the appropriate and probably more enjoyable thing to do) I walked back to the beamline to slug down that coffee in two sips (seriously, those coffee cups are really small) and continue working.

Why didn't I think to take that coffee break as an actual break? Why didn't I choose to join Thomas for a short sit and some time to think about anything other than work? Because I come from a nation where we're too often taking our coffee and our food to-go so that we don't have to take any time away from work. As a graduate student, I'm made to feel guilty whenever I'm not doing work (grad school is seriously depressing). I grew up with the ingrained thought that productivity means always being "on" and rarely taking a break. We Americans can get shit done, but we've honestly taken it too far when it comes to work. We don't have a culture that values a work/life balance. And that is a huge problem.

My missed coffee break with Thomas in Switzerland all those years ago taught me to stop every now and then and take a break out of work to sit and relax. Sometimes it's good to walk away from work and not give a shit about the fact that the work is still there. We as a nation need to work harder to remove the drive-thru mentality from our lives. 

I'm now at a point where I'm working about 60-80 hours a week on my graduate work. I have very little of a social life because, well, because grad school sucks and is a necessary evil that needs to be entirely restructured. With all of the work that I'm doing of late, I need to remind myself now more than ever to take a breaks, often. It should be possible to stay on top of our work without entirely losing ourselves and not stopping to think sometimes "hey, a few minutes out right now won't hurt anything". Admittedly, right now I wouldn't mind meeting up with Thomas again and having a break over some very little cups of coffee.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Amos Lee - Arms of a Woman

I've been humming, whistling, and singing this tune on and off for the past few days. Arms of a Woman, by Amos Lee, is just a sweet, mellow tune that sticks with you. The instrumental side of the song is played softly, making plenty of room for Lee's soulful voice to dominate. The lyrics remind me of something between the lament of being far from home (which is a huge reality for me; I live 1700 miles from my family) and the warm feeling you get when you're with someone who fills voids in your life without even trying to. I'm taking a break from writing with a finger of Laphroaig whisky and thought it would be a good time to share Amos Lee's Arms of a Woman. Cheers!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Running with Wolves: A Guided Meditation with The Honest Guys

One of my favorite forms of meditation is a form where the practitioner goes on a journey within their mind. Traveling through wilderness or even through urban constructs, I've found the practice to be an enjoyable way to focus my mind, as I have to create the experience of the journey with my mind and my body. The Honest Guys offer many fantastic guided meditations, including several that guide one on a journey. I just tried one of their new guided meditations and really enjoyed it. This one took me on a journey of running with wolves through the wilderness at night. I could feel myself breathing in the night air and I could smell the forest as I was running. It was a great way to wind down at the end of the day.

If you're looking for a new journey for your own meditations or maybe if you want to give guided meditation a try, then I highly recommend checking this one out. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

"You Have No Respect for Logic"

A Movie Clip Worth Sharing

"Contrariwise, if it was so, it might be; 
and if it were so, it would be; 
but as it isn't, it ain't. 
That's logic."
-Lewis Carroll                 

It's late and I'm feeling a tad snarky, so why the hell not share this awesome video clip of one of my favorite scenes from the 1988 movie Twins?

This scene describes how I feel pretty often when reading public commentary on the internet. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

John Butler's "Ocean" - Some fantastical guitaring

Just caught this video of John Butler rocking his song "Ocean" on a well-worn eleven-string and absolutely loved it. Groovy.

Take a load off and have a listen:

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Tom Kucy's "Ground Control: Apollo Archive" - a video memorial of Apollo

...And if she faintly glimmers here, 
And paled is her light, 
Yet alway in her proper sphere 
She's mistress of the night. 

- from "The Moon", Henry David Thoreau

This past month, the NASA-affiliated Project Apollo Archive released a large collection of thousands of images from the Apollo Moon missions on their Flickr page. It's a study in awe and wonderment to sit and click through the images. The archive offers amazing views of the Earth from space, still shots of the astronauts hard at work onboard their spacecraft, and some of the most incredible imagery of humans working on the surface of the Moon. I highly recommend taking some time to revel in the images. 

If seeing these images of our world's largest natural satellite is as fantastical for you as it is for me, then you might also enjoy the following film produced by Tom Kucy and titled "Ground Control: Apollo Archive". Kucy took some of the images and edited them together with audio to provide a short film that is absolutely stunning:

Here's some info from Kucy regarding the video:

"GROUND CONTROL is a small personal project, bringing NASA's Apollo Archive photos to life. I utilized Adobe Photoshop, After Effects and Audition to complete this project. In order to achieve the subtle and weightless movement of each scene, I used an animation technique known as parallaxing. I shifted each image element ever so slightly to push forth the notion of how large and vast space truly is. 

I would love to bring more missions to life, and may pursue a small series based on the most memorable Apollo missions."

I for one would love to see Kucy create some more mission-based videos.