Wednesday, July 30, 2003


Here come the Ratbots

I just back from a meeting at UC Santa Barbara regarding an Army Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies (ICB). The purpose of the ICB is a center where joint interdisciplinary research between UCSB, MIT, and Caltech could be conducted. According to the Army's announcement of the ICB funding opportunity, the ultimate goal of the ICB is to "enable biotechnology-fueled revolutionary enhancement of performance of engineered systems and soldier survivability". My research doesn't seem to have direct relevance, but you've got to start somewhere.

One of the stranger things I saw yesterday was about flight control of flies, which is being studied by Prof. Michael Dickinson of Caltech. They eventually want to build a truly robotic fly. But one thing I suggested to them yesterday is, Why bother building a robot fly? Why not just learn to control the behavior of flies. Apparently flies sense where they are flying via their eyes, so you could place itty bitty helmets on their heads and then direct them remotely or something. I was told that maybe that was a good idea. And then I was told that some research had recently been done regarding remote control of rats. According to one article,

Remote-controlled rats could soon be detecting earthquake survivors or leading bomb-disposal teams to buried land mines. Signals from a laptop up to 500 metres away make the rats run, climb, jump and even cross brightly lit open spaces, contrary to their instincts. The rodents carry a backpack containing a radio receiver and a power source that transmits the signals into their brains through electrical probes the breadth of a hair.

I was told that subsequent research regarding the remote control of rats (and possible higher mammals) has now become classified. What does the future hold??

Ahhh, probably requires determination, patience, and maybe even a little math to hold the government accountable. Despite the effort, we should probably think about the deeper ethical and spiritual issues related to remote control of animals, be they cells, flies, super-killing-machine-grizzly-bears, or (gulp) modified robo-soldiers. One place to start is a proper reading of Genesis 1:28, which God spoke to humans when he made them

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. (King James Version)

What would Jesus say about 'ratbots'?

Okay, gotta go get my clothes outta the dryer. Tootles!

Friday, July 25, 2003



The last phase of my June journey.

I took the night train to Germany, finally arriving in Paderborn. I wandered around with a blister as big as Montana and slept some... it was weird, sleeping for like three hours in the middle of the day, but I was tired from being on my feet all day in Paris, giving birth to the aforementioned Montana.

Having left the sphere of familiar Spanish and French tones, I found myself surrounded by a linguistic sea of German. It was strange; I found myself saying German sounding things to myself as a walked around, as if subconciously trying to practice the sound. I guess I did the same thing in Spain and France, but hadn't realized it. In German, they have sounds that are deep in the throat... try trilling your r's in the throat and you'll get the idea. By the way, I've learned that English came originally from a language on the north coast of Germany called Frisian (like 1400 yrs ago).

The week in Paderborn was pretty cool. Most nights I spent hanging out with the good folks I know from the Dynamical Systems Group at University of Paderborn. The last day I was in Paderborn, they had a Sommer Festival `03 at Uni Paderborn. Apparently the universities in Germany are okay with using their campuses to host huge multi-stage concerts. So I heard some German rock, some Irish folk, and some Jamaican reggae. It was cool. And as an exotic visitor all the way from California, I was interviewed by a local paper. As a friend told me later, the following appeared in a local paper: "We have nothing comparable in L.A.", a guest
from California said...

As midnight approached, I realized I should get back to my hotel so I could catch an early morning train to Frankfurt and catch my plane. But I was waylaid by a group of British soldiers who asked me to carouse with them. We went to a couple of pubs and I found out that two of them had been part of operations in Iraq. Around 2 am, I left and made it to my hotel, set my alarm, and went to sleep.

I must have slept through the alarm because I awoke just my train was leaving. I high tailed it to the train station to see if I could catch the next train to Frankfurt and still catch my flight. It looked like a train was going to be getting into Frankfurt airport an hour before my flight left. It was gonna be risky. And I was nervous...

Alas, the nice lady at the counter told me it wasn't going to be possible for me to make the flight, even though it didn't take off for an hour. So I was going to have to wait for the next available flight... which was going to be in two days! The woman at the counter was very helpful, and took pity on me. She didn't even charge me for re-assigning a ticket, which would've cost $200.

All hope was not lost. I had a plan. Having remembered that Matt Stahl was going to be passing through Frankfurt on his way back from a mission trip to Kosovo. So I headed to the Best Western near the train station where I knew he and his crew would be coming in. Althought I was a bit peeved that I had missed the plane, I figured it gave me an extra day or so to work on my book. I saw Matt and we got a beer late on Sunday night, and then I got to the airport super early, so early that they didn't even know what to do with me. And I made it back safe and sound.

But that was a month ago... and a lot has happened since then. As you see, I'm not a very disciplined blogger. Maybe I'll do one of my political or philosophical ones next time. Or talk about what I had for dinner. Ciao!

Friday, July 18, 2003


Paris in a Day

So in France there's this city called Paris. It's been "lit up" several times I hear. Perhaps by revolutionaries or conquering armies or nightclubbers. I don't know.

Well I visited that city because I know my elementary geography. I was in Spain. And I needed to get to Germany. Well, France is in the way. So I figured, I'll hop on a night train to Paris. I'd never been there before, and despite Ryan's opinions of the aforementioned French megalopolis, I thought it would be an enlightening place to visit. If only just once.

Despite the heat, I got a good night sleep on the train. A night train is definitely a great way to travel; you don't waste any daylight sightseeing hours! I got pretty cozy with five people I didn't know. You share a little compartment when you take the kind of night trains I can afford. Not like the private compartments in those Golden Age of Hollywood films with Gregory Peck, tommy guns, dames, etc. But I digress.

As I rolled into Paris in the wee morning hours, I didn't know what to expect. Jessica had warned me that Iranian protesters were setting themselves on fire. "Check into that.... may be a bad social climate to be roaming around aimlessly." I looked forward to an exciting day filled with dangers and adventures untold.

I was so early, I had to wait for things like the Louvre to open. I took a stroll down wide empty boulevards surrounded by places with names like "Le Cafe" and "Chez Whitey." I tried hard not to smell the urine, just beginning to steam up from the sewer vents. Ah yes, I had entered another Old and Important European City.

I took in a Picasso museum, but wasn't much impressed. What I appreciated more was just wandering the city, schmoozing with the intelligensia. Failing that, I was willing to at least hang out with tourists that didn't look quite so dorky. I saw the gargoyles on the cathedral of Notre Dame and then headed to the Louvre, enjoying a five dollar coke along the way. At the Louvre, I found myself most interested in the ancient artifacts. The Indian Jones in me came out to play. Babylonian statues, the Code of Hammurabi, pottery from before the invention the writing... Cool! I figured I should focus on something, since I only had a few hours and the Louvre is friggin' huge!

I walked to another part of the city after the Louvre, nearby the Paris mosque. I also stopped by, of all places, the natural history museum, which they appropriately call the "Gallery of Evolution." In some part of town whose name I forget, I got one of those scrumptuous Nutella crepes! I gotta learn how to make one of those.

One of the wonderful things about wandering Paris was the live music. On nearly every street, I saw bands setting up and playing music, mostly alt/modern stuff or music with a Latin beat. I could see how if they did that in Pasadena, there would be complaints of disturbing of peace, etc. It's awesome to wander around on a hot summer evening and listening to live music.

My feet were killing me toward early evening, so I took a break in a big park and rested the aching bloody stumps on the bottom of my legs. Ahh, the relief.

As night approached, I went to the Eiffel Tower. I really wanted to see the city lights from on high. But I had to catch a night train to Germany at 10 pm, so I didn't think I would be able to see the lights. It was beautiful view anyway.

My time in Paris was nice, though brief. The smell of urine didn't even bother me so much, and was offset by the sweet smell of flowers and perfume which occasionally wafted my way. One day wasn't enough to experience the place. Just enough to get an overview. I'm pretty sure that one day I'll go back. Given a week or so, I may be able to get an idea of exactly how much the Louvre holds. Viva la France!

Thursday, July 10, 2003


Back in the Saddle Again

Okay, it's been a while since I posted last. So here I am by popular demand. Things have been pretty busy around here since I got back from my trip. I'm working with a team of four students this summer (3 undergrads and 1 grad) to work on several projects: the dynamics of binary asteroid pairs, optimal orbits around Jupiter's moon Europa, and spacecraft trajectory design in general. Also, I gave the introductory talk yesterday for a newly formed research group, the Nonlinear Astrodynamics Group of Caltech & JPL. I'd also like to begin studying galactic dynamics. Check out this wicked cool animation of a simulation of two galaxies colliding made by people at UC San Diego.

About the trip, let's see... the last place I posted was Bilbao. I also went to San Sebastian for a few days, a big surfing spot on the Atlantic. San Sebastian seemed to be a vacation spot for Spaniards; I didn't notice many northern Europeans. It was fun to walk and bike around the city. It was kinda lonely, but there were some adventures.

During my few days there, I went a few times to a cafe next to a boulevard perfect for people watching. I would sit there and read or write some prose. One time as I was enjoying the cool of dusk and the passing crowds, electrified with anticaption of the night's excitement, a woman dressed in garb you might expect in Haight/Ashbury came up to me and offered some pot. When she found out I was from near Los Angeles, she offered more dangerous drugs and asked if I was una estrella (a star, like in the movies). Then she sat down and started talking to me at feverish pace, as if making a hurried confession. She was rambling on about "un barco, un barco grande," trying hard to get me to understand. Others at the outdoor cafe turned and glanced, so maybe she was cursing quite a bit. She was hard to follow, but she was trying to tell me something about the boat that spilled oil around the Spanish coast last year, the Prestige. The incident seemed to horrify her. I don't know why she thought that the Prestige incident was important to tell me, but she did. As she seemed a bit out of it, I was glad to find out that some sober friends of hers were around. One of them who spoke a bit more English came around and took her, saying, "Very sorry. She is a bit off." As one who sees every incident pregnant with significance, I wonder what that encounter meant...

Another time I went out to try some sidra (bitter cider) and pintxos (Basque tapas). It gave me the idea of having a tapas party sometime! First I need to learn to
cook Basque cuisine. I had some delicious ham spread on bread, among other things, and camarones a la plancha (a shrimp dish). By the way, does anyone know of any tapas bars in the LA area?

My last night there, I thought I would check out one of the bars, just for a little while. Or so I thought it would be. I ended up meeting a Norwegian medical student on an extended vacation. He was about a month into his two month sojourn when I met with him. Like me, he was traveling alone through many countries where he hardly knew the language. He spoke English very well, and we talked for a good while, about Norway, Spain, war, life, religion, health, and such. We talked about how it's kinda rough traveling alone, especially when you've got a girlfriend. He's got a girlfriend, but she was on some other trip (to Cuba). Anyway, it was nice to find somebody to hang out with. I found some people from my hostel and we wandered back, tripping through the delightfully winding, narrow streets of San Sebastian, as if in a dream.

Later, I'll talk about Paris... Hasta luego.