Building a 3D Printer, Burying Your Father-in-law, and Other Ways to Spend the Summer

This summer has been pretty nuts.


In June, our department encouraged participants to pitch an idea in 5 minutes that could be funded with $3,000.  I suggested that we buy a 3D printer and won.  This meant that I got to buy a 3D printer for our department and establish guidelines for its use.  It also kicked off my boss' long-held interest in 3D bioprinting.  Regular 3D printing binds plastic into complex shapes in order to make 3D objects out of plastic.  Bioprinting is a very experimental process in which cells are arranged in 3D instead of bits of plastic in order to create 3D objects made of of cells.  So we bought a kit and now I'm building a 3D bioprinter in addition to the regular 3D printer that I'm having a lot of fun with.

On the right is our department's first printer.  On the left is our lab's new experimental bioprinter.


I've been working (so... so... slooowwly) on my underwater robot.  It's been one 'learning experience' after another, but that's how these things go.  I also got a new computer and a couple of games.  I'm playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which is an RPG about a guy who works for a synthetic biology firm that engineers replacement organs and parts.  I find this funny, because it's like what I do in real life (if I were a former cop injured by terrorists and saved on an operating table by millions of dollars of cybernetics).

It's a robot.  Look closely, I swear it is!


Jack landed a job at SpaceX working as a production optimization engineer.  The production team that builds the rockets constantly needs specialized new tools or modifications to existing tools to make their work easier: a custom parts rack, a table with holes for connecting wires, a clip to hold something in place during assembly, etc.  This isn't a team of people, it's just a single position to help out the production folks.  I met some of Jack's coworkers last Friday for the first time, and when they were telling me what their jobs were one of them remarked that Jack's job sounded cool, which confirmed for me that it wasn't just me who thought that it sounded like a lot of fun.  It's long hours, but he seems to be digging it.  


First off, I'm going to start referring to Julie as "Tony" on this blog from now on because it's what I've called him for a year now.  I'll also call him 'him'.  Or sometimes I'll call her Julie because I don't think about it too much and I suggest that you don't either.

Tony has been having a stressful summer at work, where he has felt that human resource limitations have been hindering his ability to do his job effectively.  He's been writing fiction with a partner over email as a hobby for months and months, and doing so has brought several things into focus:

1) He really enjoys writing, particularly fiction.

2) He's good at it.

The second is a subjective point, but I'm a critical reader, and I believe that if I didn't know Tony I would gladly pay to read the stories he's shared with me.  You can judge for yourself ( I know that he's dreamed of being a professional writer his whole life, but like me he is a practical type who thinks that creative careers are generally the pipe dreams of people lacking technical skill and a sober understanding of the challenges of getting paid to make art.  But I'm also aware that someone actually does have to get paid to write the novels, technical manuals, online humor, screenplays, and comic books we all enjoy, and if Tony is better than most of them then why the fuck shouldn't he compete for their jobs?  So I told him to go for it, and after lots of consideration he's agreed to begin pursuing freelance writing with the plan to leave his current job at the end of the year.  I won't be surprised if he has to find part-time work to make up the difference.  It probably won't be fast, and it might not work out at all.  But it also might, which would be awesome, and I think it's worth a solid shot.

Julie's Dad

Oh, he's dead.  

Unfortunately, Julie's father passed away at the age of 71.  I spent the last week in Illinois with Tony and his family as they organized arrangements and processed the loss of the family patriarch.  I can relate.  I lost my dad similarly in 2012.  The best thing you can have when this comes is a proud absence of regrets.  I knew and loved my Dad.  But Tony had gone through several years of estrangement with his father.  For several years, Tony's dad wasn't talking to any of their children.  But fortunately,  relationships had mended over the last several years.  Tony's grandfather and great-grandfather both passed away while not on speaking terms with their sons.  But in a toast to their father, Tony congratulated his brother that they'd broken 'the McGinn curse'.  It's no small achievement and it's no small solace in times of loss.  

I'm deeply grateful to the way that Vincent Paul McGinn welcomed me into his family.  I had doubts.  He was a devoutly old-school, conservative Catholic, and I was a godless secular Jew with unimpressive earnings and no doctorate or military service, his premier and only marks of official worth.  But ultimately, he expressed enthusiasm about making me a part of his family.  As we mourned, his widow, his sister, and all of his family made clear that I was a part of their family as though I were a blood relative.  It meant a lot.

Tony's Dad, circa 2002, at his 25th wedding anniversary.

My Grandmother

My mother, stepfather, and grandmother are currently at an antiques fair in Toronto, which is incredible because my grandmother broke her femor -- her fucking femor! -- in the end of March.  It's been almost five months exactly and she's walking around a convention.  I think she may have more in common with the cyberneticly augmented protagonist of Deus Ex than I do.  From my professional opinion working in regenerative medicine, I have no idea what the doctors did to my grandmother and I'm super glad they were able to repair her femur. 

Do you know what the femur is?  It's the upper leg.
Go check the link.  She broke it 5 months ago.  This is crazy.

My Computer

Remember how I mentioned I got a new computer? 

Oh, it's dead.

Well, not completely.  But it is completely inoperable at the moment.  It won't start up ever since I let Window's install an update.  I think I can fix it, though.  It appears that the update overwrote the partition table.  This means that during the update, Windows saw the file my computer reads at startup that tells it where to find all my files and said, 'Hold my beer'.  I am currently backing up the hard drive before I start trying to replace the partition table, which is why I'm blogging on my old laptop.  We'll see how it goes.

Dolly, the house guest

A friend in need of some assistance is crashing with us for a few months.  She's been a great house guest, and both Tony and I appreciate the help around the house, particularly in walking and cleaning up after Carlisle.  

This seems like enough for now.  Oh!  And look!  I got through the whole thing without talking about government and politics.  Nice!


  1. Now that you have a bio-printer you should try convincing people that you made Jack as a test sample, and that the copying feature is totally functional.


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