Friday, July 31, 2009

The List

Every collegebound senior has one at some point. The List. The plethora of colleges that one will grace with an application, praying, quite possibly in vain, that an acceptance letter will come from one or all. This week I've confirmed several entries on mine with visits to Brandeis, Tufts, and Harvard. I'm sure it will metamorphasize quite a bit more befort the apps actually go out, but mine, right now, looks like this...

Brown, UPenn, Harvard, Tufts, Brandeis, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Lehigh, Penn State Schreyer Honors College. And there's still the possibility that I will visit/add a few more, and possibly eliminate as many as three from the current list (Lehigh, I'm looking at you. And ish Hopkins and Cornell. Not really. At least Lehigh.)

And the craziness continues.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Taser Taser Taser!

A small tip for y'all before I leave for Boston tonight: This is want you want for your birthday.

"This" is the TASER X3, which is the most efficient weapon for keeping the "peace" without "lethal" force, by allowing the user to shoot three (yes, three) taser probes in quick succession. Comes complete with laser sight and a "warning arc" to encourage "voluntary compliance".

Basically, now you can tase someone (bro) three times as much. Wicked.

See you Sunday!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Boston Soon

Leaving for Boston mid-Tuesday to tour some colleges. Harvard, Tufts, and Brandeis, look out! You're about to have your atoms disrupted by a prospective student. Yeah. It's that serious.

Still, the college tours and info sessions and random roaming don't usually last past the early hours of the afternoon. Which means I'll have plenty of time to explore around the city of Bawston. To which I have never traveled. Hopefully they've got some interesting stuff to do: Giant statues of pandas, 6-foot-tall ferris wheels, and as much papaya-babaghanoush flatbread sandwiches as you can eat. Oh, wait, that's that place I was in in my dream last night. No wonder every woman in town looked like a hybrid between Emma Watson and Megan Fox. And all of the men, for some strange reason, looked like Nicholas Sarkozy.

Yeah, hopefully Boston will be more exciting and, er, realistic. Onwards!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

This is How Much Fun a Wedding Should Be

Picked this up from another blog (known as Pleasantries). This video made me smile and laugh and appreciate how cool people are.

This is exactly how fun every wedding should be.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sufjan Stevens - Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois

This song (mentioned in the title) is possible one of the more beautiful pieces of music I have ever heard in my life. Sadly, it clocks in at only about two minutes. To me, that makes it all the more miraculous.

It is composed mainly of piano, woodwind, and vocals. The piano melody is... indescribably serene and heart-wrenchingly beautiful. Or so I think, at any rate. Maybe that makes me a pansy. But at least I have good musical taste. In Sufjan Stevens.

The song comes from the album Illinois. It's a great album. You should get it. In the meantime...

Saturday, July 18, 2009


Amidst all the hype about Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I take a different direction today. I recently saw a movie called Adventureland, you see, and I'm doubting that HP6 will be able to top it. You should see it. Fo serious.

Adventureland, in a way, reminds me of Juno: It's a classic coming-of-age comedy (or so the critics tell me.) The main character, played by Jesse Eisenberg (who has an amazing ability to look exactly like Michael Cera, and act like him but be way cooler) is a recently graduated, somewhat nerdy literature major who for the first time must deal with real life by working at a sub-par carnival called Adventureland. It's about him growing up and facing the real world, as it is, without fanfare or cuddling.

The film blends the sharp sting of reality, juxtaposed against the assumed clear sail to the finish line by the smart and supposedly successful members of society with the awkward stylings of young love, who appears in the form of fellow lead Kristen Stewart.

It's just a good film. It's funny, it's awkward, it's touching, it's sometimes strikingly moving, and may hit close to home. You should watch Adventureland. You won't regret it.

This is a trailer. It doesn't do it half justice.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Album Review: ...And the Ever Expanding Universe

They say a band often hasn't reached full maturity until its third LP is complete - once the trifecta is finished, they have graduated, and arrived. For some (*Cough* I'm looking at you, Coldplay), the third time is not the charm. For Canadian indie group The Most Serene Republic, the third attempt was somewhat in the middle with ...And the Ever Expanding Universe.

The album can never really seem to define itself. TMSR continues with their classic style of layered indie pop, but they can sometimes get lost in their own sound. Some tracks, such as the breathy, mellow-then-disturbingly-distorted Phi, are somewhat uninspiring in their overthought structure and overstressed looseness. I'm not exactly sure where the band is trying to go on tracks like All of One is the Other, what could be best described as a spacey piano ballad with lots of synth waves, ultimately coming together in a whole bunch of piano trills while lead singer Adrian Jewett warbles out an uninspiring attempt at being inspiring and dramatic. Or maybe they meant to do that, and it just didn't strike me as all that great.

Despite its lack of continuity and sometimes purpose, and despite the occasional pockets of confusion and meh (as I've found on all TMSR records), I still love this record. Perhaps it's just me; I'm listening to it a few times over, trying to see what they're hitting at in some of these tracks. Maybe it's just too indie for me to quite see.

Don't get me wrong; there are some great, great, tracks on this record. The opening track, Bubble Reputation, is stunning, leading in with an epic horn introduction, and then taking the listener on a wild ride of distorted piano and driving guitar... which then slows to a well-executed piano bridge, eventually building to an ending that builds, fades, and finally explodes into a topsy-turvy end. Pristine.

Another favorite is the twinkling gem that is The Old Forever New Things (featured on an earlier blog post.) It is largely a very mellow track, with a breathy vocal duet by singers Adrian Jewett and Emma Ditchburn, with a suave bassline giving the song some groove. Some masterful acoustic guitarmanship, distorted just enough, gives this track a unique feel that you don't often get. The band's neurotic attention to detail leaves the listener satisfied with each jangle of the guitar string and small piano riff.

The band really shows off their brilliance on Patternicity, a six-minute orchestral opus that truly embodies TMSR at their best. It is meticulously scored, and is so perfectly out of place in an indie rock album that it left me with my jaw dropped for the first minute, and grinning from ear to ear by the end. It is not only the audacity of putting such a track on the record that amazes me, but how well it fits with the album. It just works, against all odds, just because it's scored so well, almost a pop-like glance into the world of classical music, complete with swooping violins, chirping woodwinds, and a climactic and satisfying conclusion that still holds you to the last note.

The album has some other nice songs as well, from the driving, synth-heavy, psychadellic Don't Hold Back, Feel a Little Longer to peppy lead single Heavens to Purgatory. A few of these songs pop out, never quite fitting into the jigsaw of the album, and feel a bit lonely juxtaposed against their just-slightly-dissimilar neighbors, but are nonetheless quite enjoyable to listen to (oh no, I ended on a preposition!)

On the whole, ...And the Ever Expanding Universe is about on par with TMSR's last album, Population in maturity. Their sound continues to get better and better, and I really think they did a wonderful job with this one. They just need to put all of their great talent together and churn out an album that flows a bit better. But for all its scattered glory, this album is still likely one of the best indie releases of the year.

No, I don't give numerical ratings.

If you sign up for their newsletter (Army of the Republic), you can listen to a full stream of the album at this link.

Otherwise, ...And the Ever Expanding Universe can be purchased and downloaded from iTunes, GalleryAC, or Amazon.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Insides - Jon Hopkins

Asked to categorize the music of Jon Hopkins, one might think that his music is electronica. This is certainly the case when considering that his compositions are mainly computer-generated. But it fails to truly capture the depth, breadth, and beauty of his music, in a genre often categorized by peppy dance tunes and techno beats.

Insides is Jon Hopkins' third album, following Contact Note (2004), a somewhat experimental album, and Opalescent (2001), which drew from more ambient origins. It is undoubtedly his most ambitious and deep record yet, as he transcends into bolder and more intimate waters.

Insides really has no genre that it sticks to, but what stands out about all of the tracks is the precision with which they are executed, drawing the listener in with flowing electronic melodies and a rumbling bass that seems crisper than one might find from other artists. The tracks seamlessly flow together, creating a fluid, complete listening experience.

Hopkins goes everywhere, in terms of feeling and genre. He begins the record with The Wider Sun, a rustic, hopeful, and layered violin lament that would go perfect with a sunrise and a crisp morning chill. On the next track, Vessel, he shifts to a much darker and mysterious, sometimes even hurried atmosphere as he pulses bass over a delicate, yet sinister piano melody. Yet later he conjures up an inspiring, driving, and energetic piece in Light Through the Veins, snippets of which can be heard in the intro to Coldplay's Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends, in the track Life in Technicolor.

Throughout the album, Hopkins lays down a few delicate piano tracks, showcasing his skill as a master pianist. This can especially be heard on Small Memory and Autumn Hill, which are truly beuatiful, fragile snowflakes that you can't help but admire.

Admittedly, there is dissonance in the record. Some tracks, like Insides and Colour Eye, are really... frankly, creepy. They juxtapose numerous odd sounds that make you feel as if you've been thrown into a bad aural acid trip. It's interesting, absolutely, but after a minute or so one starts to wonder when the order will be restored to the universe. And sure enough, it is, in brilliant fashion.

To quote, '"With Insides, Hopkins has created a symphony that paints in binary; a canvas where bucolic instruments caress the dreamy digital soundscape like never before... " I don't think I could've put it better - Insides is an audacious album that seems much like a work of art in itself. It creates soundscapes that suck the listener in and don't spit them out until the last piano key fades away. It is complete, and like no traditional form of music I've ever heard before.

That said, take a listen.

If you like it, maybe show some support and buy the album on iTunes.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Our third of three animations in this brief series of Oggy-cheesiness is a short piece called Colours. It is animated in the same style as the prior two; surreal, with very bright, well, colors. It's fun, it's playful, and it's something you'll be watching for the next two minutes.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Test of Doom

Part 2 of our animation series finds us with an Oggy-cheese animation called the Test of Doom. It's very cute and playful, following the adventures of two more or less amorphous blobs in their quest to... be eternally happy or something. Either way, there's a Test of Doom. And crazy rave music. It made me happy.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Gravity's Just a Theory 2

Today marks the first in a series of three animations, all by the same guy: A Newgrounds flash artist by the name of Oggy-cheese. Yes, Oggy-cheese. Either way, he's pretty talented, and does a nice job with some colorful, simple animations.

First on the agenda is my personal favorite, an animation called Gravity's Just a Theory 2. Makes no sense, has no plot, and is totally cool. Begin!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

WoW Freakout

Okay, World of Warcraft is dangerous, alright? It's addicting. Like, meth addicting. Don't do it. This may save your life one day.

This is a video of a child whose WoW subscription was cancelled without his consent. Note that he has been reduced to a primal state. He appears to be being possessed by evil, Satanic spirits, based on the convulsions and animalistic sounds he is making. Do observe.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Stem Cells: A Primer

So, if any of you are wondering where I've been wasting away my summer hours (while I'm not blogging), look no further. I'm currently participating in the University of Pennsylvania Institute for Regenerative Medicine summer internship. Translation: I'm working in a stem cell lab at UPenn. It's really cool. My main job: Doing qPCR, or Quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction. Basically means amplifying DNA so you can count how much of a gene is being expressed in a sample. Cool beans.

Now, stem cell research is one of the hottest medical fields out there, and it's generated a lot of political backlash as well. Here's a little explanation of what they are, and why it's politically sensitive.

A stem cell is basically a functionless cell that turns into another cell. You're made up of about ten trillion little cells, all of which have a specific function. Stem cells become those cells. You actually have a bunch of stem cells in your body, called adult stem cells, which replentish the cells in your body. They're not as important to research, because they can only become a few specific cell types and aren't very cooperative with scientists.

The cool ones are embryonic stem cells. About 3-5 days after conception, you are a tiny ball of these cells, which eventually become all of the specialized cells that make you you: Heart, lung, eye, spleen, and so forth. Basically, these little guys can become any type of cell, plus they can renew themselves forever. Why is this cool? Because you could theoretically take a bunch of stem cells, say "become heart cells!", and they could become heart cells. Then you could repair damaged hearts from people with heart attacks, or just better study the heart without cutting someone open.

What it means, potentially, is that you could cure heart disease, cure brain diseases like Alzheimer's, diabetes, all those crazy bad things, even repair blindness or spinal cord injuries. Or you could test drugs without having to use human subjects. Point is, the cells are really powerful and could cure lots of diseases.

Problem: Embryonic stem cells, the ones that matter, are only found when you're 3-5 days old. As in, in an embryo. And taking them out to study them kinda kills the embryo. So, a bunch of people have said "You're a-killin' babies!", and thus, we have a problem. Solution: People found a way to develop cells just like embryonic stem cells from normal cells. Without killing babies. Problem solved.

What I'm doing is studying them. It's a really new field, and they're not totally understood. I'm working in a lab that's trying to understand, basically, the way that stem cells turn into other cells, and what makes a stem cell a stem cell. It's really complex, involving a lot of genetics and stuff that's way over my head. I just do a lot of testing.

But, yeah, that's the basics on stem cells. Now you know more about things than you did before. Woo hoo.

Next week: A discussion on ecstasy and its current legality.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Remember chatrooms? Those old, antiquated rooms for a specific topic that you'd log onto from AIM or Yahoo! or whatever your messanger of choice was. I was never a big fan - they all seemed to be completely pointless to me, really.

Now, here to redefine the meaning of "procrastination" and "pointless" is Omegle. It takes the concept of the chatroom and the extends it further.

It's a one-on-one conversation between you and a complete stranger. Total anonymity, no preconceived topics. Basically, it can either be very, very boring, or very interesting. Might as well check it out.

Sort of reminds me of that scene in Fight Club where the narrator meets Tyler Derden on a plane. Except, more often than not, Tyler screams "COCKS" and jumps out the window. (Paraphrased from xkcd, by the way.)