Friday, May 1, 2009

"Science Is Magic" is LIVE

YAY, my new blog is ready to rock and roll. Blogger, it's been fun, but once you go WP you never go back.

Science Is

Don't forget to switch your RSS feeds too! The new feed can be found on the right sidebar of Science Is Magic.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Jimmy 2.0: Moving On

With the advent of my next academic step (University of Maryland's PhD Program in Microbiology) it is time for Mason Tech Beat to transform into something less Masony and more sciency. For that reason....(drum roll)....I've registered:

It combines my love of science with my newer love of the magical arts! Also, it sounds kinda nifty too.

If you go there now (as of this posting) it will probably just be a parking page, but eventually I should have a wordpress blog up and running. I will probably just leave all these articles over here so they don't lose their value and break links, but eventually you'll see a big "go here instead" link on the top post of this blog.

Thanks to all my readers, whoever you are, and I hope you'll follow me over to the new blog as soon as it's ready to rock and roll!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Swine Flu is the Talk of the Town!

Today I published two new articles for Yan over at Geeks Are Sexy. Both of them were on the potential swine flu epidemic. It's been all over the news so I figured it would be a great new installment of my "Science is Sexy" series (playing off the GAS name).
Both of these articles went up today, but the first one actually got picked up by Neatorama, a notable blog in the top 15,000 sites on the internet (according to Alexa anyway). I love getting my stories promoted to impressive front pages and on my 4th day back, give or take, this is a great start!

*Also, by the time you read this I'll probably have recieved my 300th follower on Twitter! :)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Back from Hiatus?

Hey, so it's been a little bit but I'll try to make this update short, simply because it's the SECOND ONE IN A ROW!!!

Essentially I've been super busy working on school and furthering my magic hobby. Nothing terribly interesting has happened to me other than the few I'll list here:
  • First off, I got into the Microbiology PhD program at the University of Maryland - College Park. I'll be taking classes, teaching classes, and working in a lab...all at the same time when I enroll in the Fall. It's gonna be a 4.5-5.5 year process so wish me luck!
  • I just attended Magi-Whirl, which is a conference for magicians in the DC area. It was FANTASTIC and one of the lecturers (and the headliner) was Jeff McBride, who is a wonderful magician and all-around great guy. They're already advertising for next year, if you're also into magic (and the show for the public was AWESOME too, so bring your mom!).
  • That's about it I guess...
I just wrote my first freelance blog post in a long while, so if you want to see if your ideas about cancer are correct, head on over to and read about the cure for cancer. You'll even get a link to one of my favorite webcomics...

Friday, January 23, 2009

Let's get you caught up...

Hey all!  If you've noticed that I only have like 2 articles up for the entire month, there are some reasons.  I hate letting a blog go slack, but life's been crazy.  If you wanna get caught up on ME, here it is.

First of all, I'm in the process of applying to graduate schools.  I'm looking at PhD programs in Microbiology and Immunology and I've already shipped out 6 apps.  They took me forever to fill out because some of the schools have the MOST CONVOLUTED APPLICATIONS EVER!!!!  Some were actually very well organized, but others just drove me crazy.  I'll let you know where I applied and who I heard back from in a future post, just for the sake of clarity.  If you REALLY wanna know more, bother me on twitter.

That aside, the ThinkGeek post/video really went wild.  It took a long time to get everything straight and we were plagued by audio problems when uploading to YouTube (which is why it was originally on Vimeo).  Between all the video locations and syndications, we got over 150K hits on that video.  It's very exciting to make something that prolific.

What else?  Well at the moment I'm taking two steps back from my freelance blogging, just because I think I needed a little breather.  It's not hard to write good stuff, but it's hard to do it consistantly.  At the moment I'm only a contributor to MakeUseOf (was a staff writer before) and I'm still working for Yan over at GeeksAreSexy.  Hopefully I'll remember to keep this blog going with the lighter workload.

My other main hobby, performance magic, has become bigger and bigger recently.  I have done some small shows for parties that I've been to and my karate school in Richmond.  Now I'm even beginning to work on some mentalism, which is a whole lot of fun.

Lastly, I'm in my last semester of classes here at Mason.  I really wasn't expecting my courses to be that much fun because they are mostly stuff I had put off, but I have been surprised by the quality so far...

Hope everybody has a great end of winter/beginning of spring.  Keep checkin The Beat for my random stuffs.  Also, a new blog should blossom out of this one later in the year (leaving Mason heralds the end of Mason Tech Beat), so look for the eventual post on that too.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Makin' It to the Big Leagues: Diggnation!

Well it looks like my blogging career has taken another huge step forward. A couple months ago I was excited about getting onto the front page of Digg for the first time. Now it's happened 4 times, but better yet, one of my stories made "Top of the Day" and was noticed by none other than Kevin Rose of Diggnation! You can find my story at timecode 32:15.

Their analysis was a little critical, but actually most of the things they mentioned have already been planned out by Google and thus, I didn't mention them. The article was really just stuff that Google hasn't fully agreed to do. Also, my bad, spellcheck is in there, it just doesn't automatically work in some text boxes like those in Wordpress.

Overall, I'm super psyched to have gotten on a top podcast like Diggnation! This post is a little late because I've been behind on my subscription and didn't know I was featured until weeks later.

EDIT: Sorry for the autoplay it should be fixed now...

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Reflections on "ThinkGeek: The Interview"

If you haven't been listening to my rantings on Twitter and [insert social network here], I've been working on a very special interview for several months now.  While many of the top websites have been contacted by the press and had their guts spilled all over the internets, one of them has been all but silent to the world: ThinkGeek.

This is not entirely by happenstance.  ThinkGeek has a pseudo-policy of shunning the world, partly because they want to maintain an air of mystery about themselves and partly because that's really what geeks do, shun the world.  In any event, this stance has made them into a fairly mysterious company and getting in an interview was tricky.  I, along with my campus news website, tried to contact them several times, but their desire to remain an enigma ruled the day.  Then, I got a break...

One of the sites I write for, GeeksAreSexy, published an article on one of ThinkGeek's new toys, the Van De Graaff Levitation Wand.  This thing is kind of amazing and I pause here for a video of this awesome toy (I promise this is not just geeking out, it's also relevant to my story).

As it turns out, our story was picked up by Reddit and we sent over 40,000 hits to ThinkGeek's video.  After this, Yan, the owner of GeeksAreSexy, contacted Shane, from ThinkGeek's PR and Marketing Department.  Shane was happy with all the free publicity and Yan mentioned that he happened to have a "field correspondent" going to school not 3 blocks from ThinkGeek HQ.  Yan asked if it wouldn't be too much trouble to get an interview.  Shane said it would be his pleasure.

That "field correspondent" was me.

Now on my end, I had long been aware that ThinkGeek was based in Fairfax, VA (and cruelly close to my University), but I had never been able to get in for any reason.  The Mason news website, Connect2Mason, where I have done some freelance work, had been trying for many months to get in contact with ThinkGeek for some kind of interview.  Unfortunately, where the major tech press failed, so did our puny student organization (luv you guys!).

One day, back in November, I recieved an email from Yan.  His message was actually a forwarded note from Shane that filled me in on all of the publicity we had created with the Van De Graaff video.  It also included Shane's permission to do an interview (which could be video-based if we wanted).  I just about fell out of my chair!

For the next month or so, I played tag with Shane to get this thing worked out.  I made a deal with Yan to cut in Connect2Mason in return for their A/V support: namely beautiful cameraperson Natalia.  She's been behind the camera for all my Jimmy Chows Down videos, so I figured if we were gonna do an interview, she should be my wingman...or winggirl...or wingwoman...or whatever.

Finally, the date of the interview arrived.  Natalia and I packed up our gear (most of it borrowed from the school's A/V repository) and headed a couple blocks down the road to ThinkGeek World HQ.  The building itself, as we would later learn, was an old elementary school, so there is a playground and baseball diamond right behind it.  It's not exactly an imposing sight from the exterior [pictured above].

Upon entering the building, we were met with quite a few "No Place Like" doormats and some cardboard cut-outs of Boba Fett.  There beyond, it becomes hard to describe.  ThinkGeek items are absolutely everywhere - not in a disorderly mess, but in a well-organized arrangement.  This isn't their warehouse, so everything is either in use by the staff (for testing or for playing) or is a return waiting to be dealt with.

As we prepped our equipment, Natalia informed me that we had absolutely no audio!  After changing batteries on things and trying out multiple headphones, we decided to call it a day and apologized profusely to Shane.  We had to go back to Mason with heads hung low, planning to come back next week.  Even so, both of us were afraid that our hard work would never pay off and that this interview was doomed.

We did go back though.  The audio problems, which we did not experience again, were probably fortuitous - the staff was much less busy on our second trip.  The first thing we did was take a little tour of the offices.  Each little room was different.  The T-Shirt Gals had their own area with tons of t-shirt designs on the wall.  There were customer support, tech support, and the areas for getting and testing new products.  On one of the office windows there was a huge idea space, where the staff collaborated on the next blog post.  On another wall, Darth Vader reigned unchallenged.

The crowd was by and large fairly camera shy, so we decided to settle down with one of the friendlier geeks, John Frazier, a ThinkGeek buyer.  He was deemed the best man for the job because he actually procures the company's awesome products.  John was extremely enthusiastic about our little project and really bent over backwards for us.  He's also a Jedi model (for ThinkGeek anyway).  That's him on the left!

John's interview made up most of our final video.  He answered questions about the ThinkGeek "origin story," where they get their products from, and what it's like to there.  Some of the stuff that didn't make it into the video was also very interesting:

-John used to work in a computer store with the guy who now runs the group inside of Google that manages Google's infamous white board (containing their master plan).

-During the taping of my interview questions (we only had one microphone), John still gave answers (fake ones) but they mostly involved how most of ThinkGeek's ideas and apparel come from homeless people.  Dumpster diving also appears to be a large portion of his work (hopefully this will find its way into a blooper reel some day).

-That funny flashy thing in the video is a coaster that blinks differently depending on whose drink it is.

At the end of our interview, John took us on a surprise tour of the rest of the building.  We got to see where they make the ThinkGeek videos and photograph the products.  He also introduced to a lot of the ubergeeks up in the office that manages the site's backend.  One of the coolest places was the break room, where just about everything screams geek.  The refrigerators are labelled "Can Haz" and "Can Not Haz," the cutting board is actually a Space Invader, and there is an original Tron: The Video Game cabinet in the corner.  We taped for about 20 minutes in there, but sadly, not a lot of it got into the final cut for reasons of length.

Overall, it was an awesome experience.  I hope everyone will enjoy the video, but I wanted to write up this account to share some of the excitement I have about the place.  It's probably, as John says, "a whole lot of work" in order to keep things going, but I'll bet it's also one of the coolest places you could ever work.  

Bonus Video:

After a long day of walking around and taping the geeky wonderland that is ThinkGeek, then coming back and reviewing said tape, Natalia and I needed to take a mental break.  What follows is the result of that break:

It's been a great experience making "ThinkGeek: The Interview."  Make sure you check it out over at on January 6th, 2009!
The content of this page is completely the creation and opinion of James Rogers. He is affiliated with Connect Mason and formerly Broadside Online but the relationship only governs republication, not content.

Further, in the interest of full disclosure, this author holds minor financial investments in Apple, Inc. and Advanced Micro Devices.