Thursday, December 18, 2014

A [baker's] dozen of the best Moby-Dick art

So my favorite piece of written anything is Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, or The Whale. I read it every Christmas as a birthday treat to myself. It's a work that demands your full attention for long stretches of time, no slacking off on deck, keep your eyes peeled at the horizon. There's a gold doubloon for you if you spot the beast. Harpoon at the ready.

About a week ago, I went to an impromptu dinner with some of my friends, and I learned just then that one of them, DK, was reading Moby-Dick for his English class. At Berkeley, engineers do have to take some humanities classes, and it always seems like we mope about them rather than enjoy those courses for what they are. To my delight, DK, an EECS through and through, loved reading it. We spent dinnertime talking excitedly about Moby-Dick, from spout to fluke, every symbol and sign and every theory we had, and we got DK's CS project partners, new friends of mine, eager to read this book for the very first time.

A clump of engineers talking about Moby-Dick over burritos and chips - now that's something I live for. I love that book. I love it. It's cliche and it's bombastic and operatic and so heavy-handed, but I love that book.

Anyhow, this post is really just to get me excited for my birthday read. From Pinterest, I culled my favorite pieces of art for or inspired by Herman Melville's leviathan.

Moby Dick! Lesson kids is don't hunt whales or you're going to regret it! - Omar Todd.

12. Japanese cover - unsourced

The only one here where Moby-Dick is not a white whale. A stylistic choice here, and I do like the woodblock-effect. My favorite theme of the work appears here - note the stars in the water. The ocean as the Universe, Moby-Dick himself as the Universe, as God, the Creator, the Destroyer.

11. Moby Dick - Max Bardin

The baleful whale. The only Jaws-styled piece that I'll include here, though you'll see many diving poses in this post. Anyhow, this is very moody and very simple, which is fine by me.

Rockwell Kent-designed cover for Moby Dick by Herman Melville

10. Rockwell Kent, one of many

Rockwell Kent has done quite a bunch of Moby-Dick pieces, but I liked this one for the very Art Deco look. It's different. I sort of like it a lot.

Moby Dick Woodblock Print by Erika Gallagher, via Behance

9. Moby Dick, Erika Gallagher

Again with the woodblock. This one is more striking and frenetic, which fits the situation. Whatever sort of maritime feelings it stirs in me - and it really does inspire me to quit college and run off to 19th century Cape Cod...sort of - I can't ignore that it looks like Moby-Dick has baleen, and that the boat has a sail.

Moby Dick Framed Art Print by Rachael Shankman | Society6

8. Moby Dick, Rachel Shankman

I like this style. It's modern and I particularly like the colors. Of the pieces shown so far, this has got to be the most oversize whale, but given that we are told that the whale can smite folk with its fluke, that's no issue.

Book Covers by Umberto Scalabrini, via Behance

7. Moby Dick, Umberto Scalabrini

This one. Now this one gets it. It's so simple, but it's so effective. It's striking. Look at it. Who is that in the whale's eye? Is it Ahab? Ishmael? Starbuck? Me? Probably me. How are we compared to the whale? To the Universe and God? What does that eye see? Questions. Mysteries upon mysteries.

Moby-Dick; or, The Whale [ARION PRESS]. Wood engravings by Barry Moser. Designed by Andrew Hoyem.

6. Various, Barry Moser

Again, I love this style. Woodcut/block-like. Also, look at the dude riding the dolphin,

Moby Dick by Rachel Wong

5. Moby Dick, Rachael Wong

Truly this is the white whale. I think the way everything is staged, the wake and the deep, the beast itself, everything looks good. However, I have no idea what that boat is - the harpooners' boat or the Pequod? Really, I'm wondering.

Moby Dick - re-read it every year.

4. The Penguin Classics edition

One of the most common covers you'll see. It's a beauty. It's so clean and simple. It's beautiful.

Moby Dick. It took me a few tries to get into this book, but it was worth it. thanks to my friend Leigh, who guilt-tripped me into it ;)

3. The Folio Society - unsourced

The Devil's in the details. I've mentioned stars in the water, but here, with the stark white of the White Whale, the utter lack of title, we truly have a representation of the Universe on our hands. Vassal fish by the fluke, and a stream of water/bubbles/energy/whatever from the blowhole. There are harpoons on the spine, and all in all, it's a beautiful, beautiful cover.

Listen to ‘Moby-Dick’ as Read by Tilda Swinton, John Waters, David Cameron, Stephen Fry and More ( )

2. Unsourced

It's a shame that I can't find who made this - and the other unsourced ones, of course. This one is great. The various characters scattered about Moby-Dick really make it for me. Note the small Queequeg in the corner, floating on his coffin. Retroactive spoiler alert.

'Fictional Feasts: Mouth-Watering Moments of Literary Gastronomy', Flavorwire.It has been my whale for over ten years! I decided I MUST read it when I couldn't answer the trivia question: "What famous book starts with the line 'Call me Ishmael ?'" I have started it no less than 6 times, get to about page 100 and get stuck every time in the section about the physiology of the whale. One day, one day. - Angie
1. Both unsourced - of course

Just look at these ones. By now, you'll know I love the Moby-Dick is the Universe/God/everythingandnothing but the first one really hammers it home. The White Whale takes up the sky, the entire space. There is nothing but whale. The bottom cover is one that I see quite a lot in stores, and it pretty accurately/comically portrays the last standoff between Moby-Dick and the men of the Pequod. It's a wonder. They're both wonders.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thanksgiving weekend

The view from my workspace

So Thanksgiving came and went, and in a few hours I'll be back in Berkeley bracing myself for the last week of classes. Getting Thursday and Friday and the weekend off really did wonders for my sleep debt - I got about ten hours of sleep each night I was at home - but I hardly got anything done. It seems that my professors all took Thanksgiving break as an opportunity to give heavier assignments, which sort of makes me sour.

I guess I took Thanksgiving differently this year than I did in previous years. For the first time, Thanksgiving break came in the wake of a few very important, very pervasive social issues that mean a great deal to me. The Ferguson saga continues with the non-indictment of Darren Wilson, the UC Regents recently approved a $3000 increase in tuition, 43 students remain missing in Mexico, and, on a personal level, the return to the Peninsula for break.

My family recently moved south along the Peninsula, and now I am a good half-hour away from my hometown. Now, even returned home, I am removed from my old friends and old haunts, from the boutiquey, bougie downtown of my teen years - so, I guess, peace and quiet. I did a lot of relaxing at home with my sister and parents and cat, a lot of dodging of homework and projects and obligations, and some meager attempts at writing.

For quite some time now, Black Friday was a social event for me and my friends. It wasn't so much about actually buying massive amounts of stuff, since I don’t really enjoy shopping with other people, but every year in college, I find that I do some of my only clothes shopping over Thanksgiving break. I didn't go shopping with them this year - late night/early morning is not for me - but I did manage to spend a lot of money on Saturday.

So, with all of the recent public/personal criticism of the consumption circus that is Black Friday, why was it that I willingly participated? I commend the protestors and the die-ins and the calls to action, but I did just what they were trying to advocate against.

Short answer - I've had specific items that I wanted to acquire, and prices are low this weekend. I also seldom have the time to dedicate to truly fastidious shopping for myself during the school year.

Long answer - ...not really sure.

I listened to this album over and over this break. It's rare that I show my sister music that she actually ends up tolerating.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

UC Botanical Garden

We went to the UC Botanical Garden last week.

Left: my friends in the arid house. I think my height is almost precisely the mean of our group.
Right: Lithops, a genus of succulents.

Left: the Puya raimondii, the 'Queen of the Andes' 
Right: the SF Bay in the background. On a clearer day, we'd be able to see the Golden Gate Bridge.

Left: in the tropical house
Right: still in the tropical house

Left: in the carnivorous plants and bromeliads house
Right: the redwood grove. Redwoods should feel old hat - our apartment is surrounded by them, and they're all over campus - but even a cultivated grove is pretty spectacular.

My roommate and I went to the UC Botanical Garden last week with some friends and got to play amateur botanist for awhile. The UCBG is one of my favorite places in Berkeley, and while I've visited several times since the summer, I always learn something new with each trip. My roommate and I started the day off right by making the 50-minute trek up to the UCBG from our apartment. For those unfamiliar with UC Berkeley geography, the gardens sit up on the hills by the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in Strawberry Canyon, so we had our fill of redwoods and oak brisk morning air.
Simply put, there is no way to see our diverse collection in one visit. I often recommend a 2-hour visit with the expectation that you will return again and again. With our 12,000 different kinds of plants, a 2-hour (120-minute) visit would require that you see 100 different kinds of plants per minute to experience our entire collection.
Dr. Paul Licht, the director of the UCBG, put it well.

I think I'm about done with strolling and looking at plants - we didn't have time to go through the self-guided tour, but next time, I'll pay more attention, and go through the garden with the aim of learning a thing or two. Field trips in elementary school had the right idea.

It was a good day. A few days later, I returned for a Bio 1B (botany, ecology, evolution) field trip where we walked around the garden listening to pairs give presentations. The areas of the garden that we covered were those that I never paid much mind to - California chaparral and alpine ecology - but I'm more motivated than ever to learn about it now. My next visit will have to be more attentive.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Early evening walk

Left: the view from right outside my door
Right: outside my apartment

Left: about-face from the previous picture
Right: Soda Hall 

Left: some very fragrant jasmine outside Etcheverry Hall
Right: a beautiful house across the street from Etch

My apartment got ridiculously hot at about 6:30 PM so I decided to take a very brief stroll. I intended to drop by lab for a second, but time got the better of me and by the time I came out, the sun had sunk down pretty far and my plans for walking around the big houses a few blocks north campus were shot. Those will have to come later, but it was a good, brief breath of fresh, crisp air, and a good chance to stomp around in my new boots.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Undergrads, bribed by nice catering, volunteer to talk to smart kids about their research

This Saturday, I ate this very delicious box of food.*  A more accurate statement - I started eating this delicious box of food on Saturday for lunch, took home a second box, finished the first box for dinner on Saturday, and then ate the second box for lunch and dinner on Sunday.

An even more accurate statement - I attended this event that you see advertised, at which these delicious boxes of catered sandwiches were served.

On Monday, our PI and a grad student got a few of us undergrads to volunteer for something we in lab just called Biomechanics Outreach Day, and that's more or less how I'll refer to it. I jumped in at the last second because the grad student organizing it realized that the best way to entice undergrads to do something is free food, and because I realized that Yom Kippur and Eid took out a chunk of potential volunteers, and as I don't celebrate either, I felt more or less obligated to help out.**

The event itself was put on by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth (CTY), which is apparently pretty large of an organization. The event consisted of four groups of kids (eighth to tenth grade?) and their parents, each spending about 45 minutes at each of the biomechanics labs in our building. There were two such rotations, lunch, then two more. What our lab ended up doing was putting the undergrads upstairs in a classroom with an activity for the kids and a mini-lecture of what we do, then having the grad students downstairs in the lab to demo one of our pieces of heavy machinery.

I was a bit apprehensive going into this event. I spent my high school specifically avoiding any sort of 'gifted and talented' money-shelling opportunities (save one), and so I and my lab pals sort of anticipated some arrogance from know-it-all teenagers and their pushy parents. In some ways, this did pan out.

The Good

Some of the younger ones (seventh and eighth grade) got really into the activity. They were the ones who hadn't yet taken physics, and had the most raw, enthusiastic interest in our research, a brand new topic for them. Science is cool! Engineering is cool! We tried to ply them all with questions to try to get their gears turning, and they played along. They got involved, asked their own questions, and brought me back to their age when I was just beginning to enjoy science and math.

I anticipate this will be something I talk about a lot on this blog, this whole concept of STEM education, particularly for little girls. The day had a pretty even split of boys and girls, and if 13 year old me had the opportunity to go tour four research labs at UC Berkeley, I'd be pretty damn excited. The mechanical engineering department is a fairly genial department anyways, pretty kid-friendly, and we undergrads really did try to be as engaging as possible. At lunch, we all reflected on how off our predictions were, and that we really did have fun.

The Bad

Some of the older ones were arrogant know-it-alls. Our activity was fairly simplistic at first glance, but they really didn’t try after their initial answers were wrong.

We wanted to eat lunch inside because it was blazing hot outside. The program director had us undergrads sit outside and mingle with the attendees, but once we saw one lab's grad students clump up together, then another lab's grad students clump up together, we naturally found our own spot and cliqued up. That was pretty bad on our part.

The Ugly

A mom asked me why I didn't go to UCSD because their bioengineering program is ranked higher (forgetting that my lab is technically a mechanical engineering department and that UCSD and Berkeley's programs are ridiculously different). She then asked me why I didn't go to JHU and then why I got rejected. She then asked me my SAT scores.

A dad asked us why we all did research if we only got units for two semesters.

Long story short

I had a good time volunteering at the CTY event. It was unexpectedly fun for me and the other undergrads - four of us at any given time, not sure how the pair of grad students held up - and we had a great time interacting with some pretty sharp kids that were, for the most part, interested in our research. It was a welcome, refreshing change to talk about our research, which is old hat stuff for us at this point, our day-to-day routines, with people who were genuinely awestruck by it, who had no idea what biomechanics research could mean for medical technology, who were eager to learn about it from us and after they left our campus. This event renewed my commitment to spreading the STEM love, and my enthusiasm for my own work.

I'm damn lucky to be where I am, doing what I find cool, what my 13 year old self would have found cool.

* Lunch included: roast beef and pesto sandwich, potato chips, huge cookie, salad. This is substantially better than what undergrads normally get to eat.

** On the same day, this was happening on Sproul Plaza. Excuse me while I vomit.