Friday, January 16, 2009

What do I do without you?

In 2006, Paste Magazine listed John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats as one of the top 100 living songwriters. I was initially surprised that a rather-unknown indie guy made the list, but then I had to agree. Every time I listen to one of his albums I find a new favorite.

Here's the latest one, an amazing song about a break-up. (I swear I'm not dwelling on it!)

"Woke Up New" from the album Get Lonely (2006)

On the morning when I woke up without you for the first time
I felt free and I felt lonely and I felt scared
And I began to talk to myself almost immediately
Not being used to being the only person there

The first time I made coffee for just myself, I made too much of it
But I drank it all just cause you hate it when I let things go to waste
And I wandered through the house like a little boy lost in the mall
And an astronaut could've seen the hunger in my eyes from space

And I sang
Oh, What do I do? What do I do? What do I do?
What do I do without you?

On the morning when I woke up without you for the first time
I was cold so I put on a sweater and I turned up the heat
And the walls began to close in and I felt so sad and frightened
I practically ran from the living room out into the street

And the wind began to blow and the trees began to pant
And the world in its cold way started coming alive
And I stood there like a business man waiting for the train
And I got ready for the future to arrive

And I sang
Oh, What do I do? What do I do? What do I do?
What do I do without you?

It's weird seeing him sing in a video. I never knew what he looked like.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

This one's for the geeks and the recovering goths

When people ask what my thesis project is about, I tell them. It's about the growth and fabrication of gallium nitride laser diodes. And when they respond with a blank stare, I explain, "Have you heard of LEDs? They're kind of a glorified version of those."

I got into LEDs when I learned how they work, years ago in some introductory solid state electronics course. To me, they're pure quantum physics. Which is to say, they're magic. One ordinary electron, one single unit of electricity, in the right place at the right time suddenly transforms into a photon, a single unit of light. And the other cool thing about LEDs is they come in different colors depending what semiconductor they're made from. Gallium nitride, the semiconductor I work with, emits blue light (and violet and green in the right conditions).

I can very easily geek-out on how cool LEDs are, however, I wouldn't exactly call them my passion in life. So imagine me at work, painfully browsing through RSS feeds of technical journals, and suddenly I came across IEEE Spectrum's report on state-of-the-art LED light shows, namely Nine Inch Nails' "Lights In The Sky" tour. A technical journal writing about NIN? YES!

Say what you want about NIN, but they'll always be a guilty pleasure. Pretty Hate Machine is still one of my favorite albums. And they still put on a good show! I spent over an hour watching concert footage of theirs today and was thoroughly entertained. It actually made me appreciate big stadium rock concerts again. Plus, there's nothing better than watching music videos at work and convincing yourself, "If anyone asks, this is part of my research."

I love this video for "Only." Follow the link to watch it big in HD.

At first the band appears to be playing behind some kind of screen, and then 1 minute in, the stage explodes in dazzling layers of static. There's actually three screens, each comprised of a semitransparent grid of 90,000 LED pixels, each pixel a trio of red, green and blue LEDs. (Most people know this but red, green, and blue together make white light.) The band stood behind one LED screen and in front of another two to achieve a 3D effect.

There's more NIN footage atAsh512's Vimeo channel.

According to IEEE, several bands have used these things called Versatubes in their live shows. They're cylindrical lamps that house 36 LEDs and can be arranged in grids or arrays. There's some amazing Radiohead concert footage from their "In Rainbows" tour on TheLilBearBeeny's Youtube page.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Handpainted stoneware and other disappointments.

I was standing in my aunt's kitchen, eyeballing the tray of Christmas cookies, trying to decide which to try next. In my hesitation I glanced over at her big red butterdish, sitting innocently on the countertop. As I stood admiring the dish, suddenly I was taken back to four months ago-- you and I were still together and I was genuinely concerned about the state of our dishware.

Last August I took a trip without you to see my family. I sat at my grandmother's dining table with my mother and aunt, discussing which Polish Pottery pattern I wanted to replace the butterdish in our apartment. My mind reeled. All the women in my family have their favorite pattern. This could be my first piece in perhaps a lifetime of overly ornate collectible serving pieces. We compared patterns for several minutes but I decided to wait and ask your opinion. After all, you were part Polish. It seemed like a really important decision at that time.

Little did I know that we'd only be together for another week.

After you left, I got rid of our old dishes with the horrible pastel pattern that I hated, including the matching butterdish. I quickly forgot I ever wanted to replace it. Within weeks, my life completely changed. I now rent a room in another apartment. I go out more. I rarely cook. If I even have any, I keep my butter in the fridge, inside the door, haphazardly folded up in its wax paper wrapper. The way I used to do it, before you came along.

Sometimes I think my life has taken a giant step backward.

Sometimes I miss our old apartment more than I miss you.

There, in my aunt's kitchen, alone once again, I'm reminded of all the dish patterns I once considered.   Maybe I should buy myself that $40 Polish Pottery butterdish, anyway. Pack it away in a box somewhere. Just to have something to build my future around, some piece of the nest. Some souvenir for a home that hasn't happened yet.