Wednesday, March 2, 2016

I'm trying to build a robot and a movie prop, and it's paying off at work (???)

I've been working on a lot of projects lately.  I haven't finished anything substantial recently, but I've got ambition.  So I've started several personal projects.  Mostly electrical.  And I'm excited, because recently some tasks at work have dove-tailed with the personal projects I've been working on in remarkable ways.

The two main ones are these:

1) An Underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV)

2) A wearable replica of the Arc Reactor used by Tony Stark in the Iron Man movies

The ROV has been this long-time goal of mine.  ROVs are used to explore the bottom of the ocean.  I saw one in operation on an expedition back when I was studying oceanography.  Here is a picture of the one we used: it's a widely popular one used by most of the field of deep sea biology called Jason 2.


I miss the exploratory aspect of natural science.  I've always liked space and the ocean.  The thing is, there are ways to enjoy a pursuit like this without doing it professionally.  You can go diving.  Also, you can also build an ROV.

One of the things which entices me about this is the weirdness of the concept that this isn't even an unusual hobby.  Google it.  There are high school contests to design ROVs.  There are numerous forums for designing ROVs, there are apparently two rival movies about the same high school contest to design ROVs...

Anyway, it just seems sick to build a robot and send it out to explore areas uninhabitable to humans.  Plus, I believed that these were skills which might be professionally valuable eventually, which would be great.  I've gotten a few parts and started tinkering.

Meanwhile, I'm also trying to build a replica of Iron Man's Arc Reactor.  I'm building it because it's a cool prop, and also Julie discovered how empowering it feels to walk around pretending to have a fusion reactor embedded in your chest.

Robert Downey Jr. and Jeff Bridges in Iron Man (2008)

She originally bought one from a craftsperson online, and wore it during a convention we went to in Los Vegas.  She was enjoying getting into character, and accepted a cigar from someone we met right before we went with some friends to a diner inside the Hard Rock Cafe hotel casino.  While I was getting a table, she went over to the main bar in the center of the gambling floor to get a drink to take back to our table in the diner.

As soon as she walked up to the bar a guy next to her warned her that the bartenders would make her leave with her cigar.  It had just happened to a friend of his.  Before Julie could respond, the bartender approached her.  He glanced down and asked something like, "Oh, is that an Arc Reactor?" and then went on with taking her drink order.  And then he went off to make it.

At this point the friend of the man who'd warned her that they don't allow cigars returned, either from finishing his cigar at a safe distance from the bar or putting it out.  He turned to Julie and began to warn her.  "Oh, they're going to make you put that out."

Before she said anything his friend said, "No, it's okay, 'cause she's female."  He was clearly -- and rightly -- incensed by what was a clear double standard.  Julie replied that she really didn't think that it was due to her gender.  The man pressed her to offer another reason why the bartender  was clearly enforcing rules differently for her.  The bartender at this time is in direct sight, clearly making Julie's drink first despite having taken other orders before taking hers.  She replied something like, "Maybe he knows who I am..."

The bartender returned with her martini (extra dirty).  She paid for it.  Then he shook her hand, and said, "Thank you, Mr. Stark".  Not in an exaggerated, fantastic way.  In the utterly normal, courteous manner of a bartender serving a guest.

It made Julie's trip.  It practically made my trip, and I'd just been across the casino floor for it.  The friends we were with loved it, because they'd been having fun running on and on with the pretense that she was Tony Stark.

Anyway, the prop she'd been wearing was nice, but I noticed it was a little fragile, and a bit more clunky than it needed to be, and I ended up deciding to build a better one.

What's great is how directly this leads into some business at work.

I can't wait to go into the details of this project in another post, but I'd like to get onto the project at work.

There really is a lot to unpack here.  Dhruv wanted to try a newish but rapidly growing new experimental technique called Optogenetics, and that technique requires the user to turn lights on in a controlled pattern.  There is a commercial product that does this called a "Multiwell optical stimulation device" and it looks like this.


So I began looking into it pretty seriously on Monday, and as of today I actually think I can build something like this.

I'm seriously excited to be trying something this ambitious.

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