I've spent this week learning how to be a better microscopist. It was a very useful course; the leader, Michael Peres from RIT, is really obviously a natural teacher. And there was lots of hands-on time to try out all the new techniques and improvements he'd mentioned in the lecture part. It was also very exhausting, spending hours in a darkened room staring at tiny, tiny things and absorbing lots of new information. I thought that since I was on a course with a defined timetable (instead of doing experiments which tend to overrun), I would have plenty of time in the evenings for sorting out my trip, but I ended up so tired that I wasn't good for much.
I learned: what all the knobs and settings on a scientific microscope actually do, and what kinds of tweaking of both the microscope and the camera improve the results. That was definitely the most useful part! A few specialized imaging techniques, such as DIC and polarized imaging, as well as bits of things like darkfield and phase contrast which I was already familiar with. Most of the students were pathologists for whom phase contrast is new and exotic, but I work with cells so that's the most basic technique for me. Fluorescence imaging, which is what I actually do. Also got to play with a flashy confocal microscope, which is always fun. Basically, it's like being in a simulator which lets you fly through, say, the tubules inside a kidney in 3D. Also a lot of really useful Photoshop technique, how to make the detail clearer without interpolating anything. I do wish compilerbitch could have been there!
It's very satisfying to be on the steep part of the learning curve, so you can see clear improvements from one day to the next. Here's an early attempt; it looks kind of pretty, but as scientific data it's hopeless. It's not properly in focus, and I had set up the camera slightly wrong so everything has a greenish tint. I was also using one of the poorest microscope and camera combinations in the classroom, but this is at least as much bad workman as bad tools! And then at the end, I started taking decent pictures and then further improving them in Photoshop, as you can see in this example. (Sorry that's so big, but at less than 900 x 900 you won't really see the effect.) I don't actually know what it's a picture of; it's some kind of very thin slice through some poor lab animal or biopsy subject's organ, with some muscle (the pink stripy bits) surrounding a gland (the purple lobed bits). I don't work with this kind of thing, but only with individual cells. The photos I took of my actual experiment (cancer cells with specific proteins labelled with fluroescent antibodies) are more interesting scientifically but less interesting visually, so I'm not showing examples.
Oh, and my boss was not too annoyed about my lack of real productivity over the summer, so while it's still a problem, it's not compounded by being "in trouble".
Not a particularly major event, but something to note: Making Light posted a link to kd lang singing Hallelujah. If you haven't heard this already, you really should; it's the first time I've been motivated to find software for saving YouTube videos (though really I only want the soundtrack, the video is just of a concert at Sidney Opera House). I am a purist about that song; I care too much about Leonard Cohen's original to like most covers. And I don't generally like kd lang all that much. But this performance is seriously awesome. And then there was some discussion about Cohen covers and I found out that the Jennifer Warnes cover album Famous blue raincoat has been rereleased. And it's even on eMusic, so now I have a copy of Warnes' duet with Cohen himself, Joan of Arc, where she sings Joan and he sings the fire. rysmiel played it to me when I was in Montréal in 2005, and it is just about the most emotionally powerful song I have ever heard.
On the planning front, well. I tend to stress about travel more than is really required, and in this case I'm not nearly as pre-organized as I would like to be. However, I have booked all the travel from here to London via Finland, Estonia, Germany, Holland and briefly Belgium, and all the accommmodation I need at the stopover points. That's the important thing. I reckon once I'm in England I can be flexible and if some of my planned meetups don't work out, well, it's a pain that I don't get to see people I'd hoped to see, but at least I won't be stranded. And I haven't planned what I'm going to do in any of the cities on my whistle-stop tour of northern Europe. But if I'm only going to be in each city for between a few hours and a day and half, I think I can get away with just wandering around and soaking up the atmosphere, rather than going to specific Tourist Sites. (I have to do it all on a 64Mb camera memory, which should be an interesting discipline, as apparently they no longer make the cards that fit my camera.)
Not connected to anything else at all, but while I'm posting, have a link to the writer Catherynne M Valente's thoughtful and personal essay on porn.