The Classical Planets


Another assignment from my tenth grade English class was to write a pantoum. The format, with repeated lines in different stanzas, struck me as rather silly, but I discovered that I was able to write several about planets and ended up deciding to make a complete set of the five classically-known planets that I think are fairly nice.

Small Mercury,
a tiny rock,
close to the sun,
most hard to see.

A tiny rock,
it trails the sun,
most hard to see,
and leads it, too.

It trails the sun,
a tiny speck,
and leads it, too,
in the bright glare.

Small Mercury,
close to the sun,
a tiny speck,
in the bright glare.

Venus is the
brightest of all,
planet of clouds,
bright inner world.

Brightest of all,
leading the sun,
bright inner world,
following it.

Leading the sun,
the morning star;
following it,
the evening star.

Venus is the
planet of clouds;
the morning star,
the evening star.

Red world called Mars,
a ruddy speck,
a rocky world,
the Earth’s brother.

A ruddy speck,
brighter than stars;
the Earth’s brother,
colder, smaller.

Brighter than stars,
a world like Earth,
colder, smaller,
frozen and dry.

Red world called Mars,
a rocky world,
a world like Earth,
frozen and dry.

Great Jupiter,
the largest world,
bright in our sky,
with many moons.

The largest world,
planet of gas,
with many moons,
colorful disk.

Planet of gas,
with telescope,
colorful disk,
four moons are seen.

Great Jupiter,
bright in our sky,
with telescope,
four moons are seen.

Frozen Saturn,
huge world of gas,
slow-moving world,
with icy moons.

Huge world of gas,
far from the sun,
with icy moons,
orange Titan.

Far from the sun,
telescope shows
orange Titan,
encircling rings.

Frozen Saturn,
slow-moving world,
telescope shows
encircling rings.

A Visit from the Papist


Back at the start of May, the Papist came to Boston to visit me for a weekend. Although it was a short visit, and a bit exhausting, it was a lot of fun. We spent Friday touring the MIT campus, went to a MIT Science Fiction Society meeting, and then joined a bunch of Caltech and MIT people for a dinner mob to a Jewish deli in Inman Square. Afterwards, we got ice cream and spent over an hour in the park at the corner of Mass Ave and Main Street talking.

Saturday, which was largely consumed by a dim sum mob with a different group of friends and a wandering tour of downtown Boston and the Back Bay, and Sunday, which involved a pierogi-making party, will be the subjects of separate posts. On Monday, though, we wandered around Cambridge a bit more and ate a somewhat unreasonable number of lunches with a series of different Caltech people who all had rather different schedules, including the Internet. This was the first time in well over a year that she has manifested for someone not named Alex, so we were properly impressed.



As I mentioned in my previous post, my first poem for English class in tenth grade was going to be about Venus, until my partners on the project were annoying enough to make me switch to something that didn’t rhyme with sexual organs. As soon as I had the opportunity—I don’t recall if it was for another, non-group, assignment or if it was something I did on my own—I decided that I did want to write a poem about Venus anyway, and I came up with this. I think that it’s a lot better than the Mars poem, honestly.

Oh, we have scorned you, Venus—hellish world.
For, like your namesake, you, with magic belt,
caused us to love you most of all the worlds,
and cast us back in horror at your face.

An opal siren calling us from far,
you made us love what lay beneath your clouds:
the swamps and seas of seltzer or of oil,
we would have walked among them if they were.

A hope you gave us that we might soon see,
a jungle world, a place like Earth had been,
a chance to look for native life that might,
by chance, have mind glim’ring in its strange eyes.

And now we know the truth you hid so long,
that Maxwell, Ishtar, Aphrodite lie
as continents, but not upon a sea:
no sea could last in your eternal heat.

Of all the worlds that dwell around the sun,
you surely are the most unloved by us:
you have no moon our feet might touch and live;
your sea of brimstone air would quickly kill.

Oh, we have scorned you, Venus—hellish world.
We bid you leave us to our peace and not
so torment us with beauty hiding hell.
Forbidden fruit shines brightest in our skies.

More photos from my lab…


I really haven’t posted very much about my research here and I ought to post more. In the meantime, though, I can at least give you some photos and, since it’s the Fourth of July, a video of a couple small explosions.

Now, for the explosions. You may recall a post from a month ago in which I discussed using nitric acid to remove a screw. Well, afterwards we had a bunch of used 70% nitric acid that needed to be neutralized. I wasn’t able to buy any weak bases at the VWR stockroom on campus, so I ended up having to use potassium hydroxide pellets. Now, potassium hydroxide is a very strong, very reactive base, so I was expecting that the reaction might be a bit violent. I wasn’t expecting them to explosively dissolve and produce a metallic clanking sound that I initially thought had to be a coincidence not related to the reaction.

Once I figured out what was going on, I got the Medieval Grad Student to take this video. The voice in the background is Twilight Sparkle Grad Student.



Recently, I looked over the poetry I wrote in high school—of which there was really quite a lot—and I found that some of it was more interesting than I’d remembered. Since I hadn’t looked it in years, most of my friends have never seen it, so I thought that it might be a good idea to post some of it on my blog. I’m going to post one poem with a bit of commentary every four days throughout July and August, at least until I run out of poems.

This poem, “Mars”, isn’t really very good, but it’s worthy of some note because it was the first poem I wrote in high school. I know that I wrote some poems in elementary and middle school, including one, “A Schoolhouse Without Walls”, that I got to read at my middle school graduation ceremony. However, I suspect the texts of these poems are all lost: they never got typed up as far as I know, and I don’t know where the paper copies might be. I also suspect that they generally sucked.

I started writing poetry again in my tenth grade English class because we did a unit on poetry and were required to write a number of poems. This got me interested in attempting to do so again, and also taught me enough about poetic meter to make some attempt to use it: previously I’d not known about meter and just tried to rhyme. This first poem, “Mars”, was the result of a group project to write a poem. I’d originally wanted to write one about the planet Venus, but the other people in my group insisted on keeping chanting “Venus rhymes with penis”, so I decided to pick another planet.

Dry desert world of sand and rust,
Ice, canyons, mountains, frozen dust;
The Tharsis shield volcanoes rise,
Approaching salmon-colored skies.

The cratered south is like the moon,
The northern desert, ocean floor;
The valleys once held flowing streams,
The lowlands were beneath a sea.

But water never carved at all,
The greatest canyon of them all;
The Valles Marineris is,
A long fault line that’s very wide.

A rock that fell from skies above,
Carved out the Hellas basin as,
Small rocks did scar with craters like,
Great pockmarks carved from high above.

No great moon here doth make the tides,
No monstrous world like Artemis;
But Fear and Terror are small rocks,
That shine above the rusted sands.

Third brightest dot in Earth’s fair skies,
The red world captures many eyes,
Kasei, Nirgal, Ares, Mars,
And many other names it has.

The Mars of Weinbaum is not real,
Nor is the Mars from Heinlein’s books,
Yet once this world was wet and warm,
And life may well have flourished here.

Though Mars is not a garden now,
There may be life beneath its sands;
The red world can be shaped for life,
If we choose to take up the plow,

Reheat the world and bring in plants,
And water deserts; thicken air,
Let sand make soil, restore old seas,
The frozen wastes may be made green!

Visiting Providence and Brown


Back in late May, I visited a friend in Providence one Saturday. We ended up spending most of the afternoon wandering around the Brown campus: the pre-graduation prayer ceremony was being broadcast to a large quad full of chairs on a huge screen and we wanted to figure out where it was being broadcast from. (It turns out that there was a private, graduates-only ceremony in a nearby church and that was what was being broadcast.) In any case, the Brown campus was fairly pretty in the same way Harvard Yard is, and felt very similar. I guess this makes three Ivy League campuses I’ve been to (Harvard, Princeton, and Brown). We also visited the Rhode Island School of Design library, which was very pretty, because apparently Brown students are allowed in. (Both Rhode Island School of Design and Brown seemed to require a university ID to enter the library.)



In my introduction to the poem “Stars”, I explained that “Moonshine” was its twin, written later the same weekend, and likely as an attempt to deal with the same themes in a poem that wasn’t free verse.  However, while Moonshine—also written in a courtyard at Caltech at night, this time the main courtyard in the Mods—is perhaps my favorite of my poetry, it doesn’t really make too much of an effort at regular rhythm or rhyme.

The moon shines down on cities
as she shines upon the seas:

     And though we brighten the city light,
     our myriad lamps cannot hide her glow--
     the flames the Titan gave us are too dim
     to outshine the Huntress's power.

The moon shines down on cities
as she shines upon the plains:

     The laws and tools Athena gave us
     allow us build e'er higher, e'er stronger,
     and yet we cannot forget the old wild ways
     and rebuild ourselves in the Grey-Eyed's form.

The moon shines down on cities
as she shines upon the wilds:

     And though the arts Apollo gave us
     have made us say we're civilized,
     it was the Huntress who raised us and so
     we cannot forget the wild ways.

Walks in March and April


I really did not get outside enough this spring while the weather was comfortable and good for walking. Unfortunately, a mixture of the same lethargy that was keeping me from getting much done in lab and a feeling of guilt for not getting more done in lab kept me from doing as many fun things on the weekend as I otherwise might have. However, I did manage a few trips, and have a number of photos from various walks that may interest or amuse you all.



When I said a few posts ago that I’d written very little poetry in grad school, what I really meant is that I’d written very little poetry since the start of sophomore year of undergrad. In fact, I think that “Tunnel Vision” was probably the last poem I wrote at Caltech. However, in the middle of January 2006, a couple of weeks into winter term of my freshman year, I apparently had an impressively productive weekend of poetry writing, with two different poems (admittedly on similar themes) written the same weekend.

According to my notes, the first of these two poems, “Stars”, was also the first thing I’d written in free verse, and I was fairly annoyed with myself for having done so. Perhaps that annoyance explains why I completely forgot I’d written the poem: I was a bit surprised to discover it when I was looking through my old poems for things to post here. I was even more surprised when I found out that this one is a twin to “Moonshine”, written at about the same time and on a similar theme, as that is perhaps my favorite of my poems. Since “Stars” apparently came first, and I was unhappy about its being free verse, I suspect that the inspiration for “Moonshine” may in fact have been specifically wanting to rewrite “Stars” in a form I was more happy with.

In any case, it seems that “Stars” was written while sitting in Avery Courtyard and looking at the sky, waiting for a quizbowl practice to begin:

Beyond our puny grasp yet just above our heads,
they march along appointed paths, obeying written laws.
Too far to touch, they remain sterile, lifeless:
unsullied by the plagues that mar the Earth.
     ---unsullied by the touch of our unclean hands.

Though we map Orion and we plot his path,
and though we learn the laws that govern him,
no threat from us can make him raise his shield;
no call from us can bring him to turn his head.
     ---our deathscream itself will pass him by unheard.

The endless wonders that spread above us in the sky
persist without a care for our thoughts or will.
Is it any wonder we scorn to care for them,
and seek to blot them with our dust and lights?
     ---seek to forget what will not yield to our strength?

Some Photos from Lab


I haven’t talked about lab here much recently. This is largely because it hasn’t been very interesting and has been rather depressing. The Scary Grad Student finally left with an MS back in April, but I haven’t gotten nearly enough done since then, mostly due to a lack of sufficient motivation and energy. Still, I do have some lab photos that may amuse you. The first set are the result of Twilight Sparkle finally publishing the paper that he’d been working on for two years this April. It ended up being sixty-four pages long, which was kind of absurd, and the Medieval Grad Student and I were impressed enough that he’d finally decided to publish it that we got him a plush Twilight Sparkle. The rest of the photos are of various things seen in and around lab in April and May.


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