Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Why it Matters: Beakman's World

Was I born with special engineer genes? Genes that built my entire body and brain protein by protein to constantly wonder, "How does that work?" Did God himself plan from the beginning of time that I would build model rockets, learn chemistry in my spare time for fun, and work on my own car? Probably. There were other factors, however, that helped me along my path to becoming an enginnerd: my parents, my grandparents, and Legos, to name a few. One TV show in particular was hugely influential in shaping my future. 3-2-1 Contact? No, too boring. Bill Nye? Getting warmer, but still boring. Beakman's World? Abso-freakin-lutely.

If you've never seen Beakman's World, you missed out. Seriously. You might have become a scientist. Beakman made science more fun for me at age 7 than pretty much any program before or since (except maybe Radiolab). It had everything a 7-year-old could want: rockets, explosions, airplanes, 6-foot-tall rats, talking penguins, goofy sound effects literally every two seconds, a techno-accordion theme song by Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo, and a host with a lime green lab coat and hair that sticks up a foot above his head.

Below is a segment about rockets from Beakman's World. This segment in particular shaped who I am today. Throughout the course of elementary school, I launched dozens of air and water powered rockets in my backyard. I designed and built new and better ones. One exploded with a near-deafening boom as I was pumping it up. That was maybe the most fun rocket I ever built. I designed (though never successfully tested) gyroscopic guidance systems with gimbaling nozzles for these water rockets. This six minutes of television provoked literally dozens, probably hundreds of hours of childhood R&D, which I believe has made me a better engineer and a better person.

A few more notes about Beakman's World:
  1. Josie (Alanna Ubach) was the best assistant by a long shot. Her replacements, Liza and Phoebe, were not nearly as fun.
  2. Air pressure was the scientific principle behind pretty much everything in the first couple seasons. Pressure and fluids have been a particular engineering interest of mine. I don't know whether this is directly because of Beakman's World, or if it's just a coincidence. Regardless, pressure is cool. It makes airplanes fly, rockets launch, and bombs explode.
  3. The relentless sound effects may have contributed subliminally to my love of sounds today.
  4. I did not understand at age 7 that the name "Professor I.M. Boring" was hilarious.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Lady Gaga

The post below is a comment that I posted on my friend Luke's blog, in response to a post in which he confessed to liking Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance".

I have recently gone through this same phase of shame for liking Lady Gaga, but the song that snared me was Paparazzi. However, I have actually pushed through my shame and have come to embrace Lady Gaga and all her ridiculousness, and here's why:

Unlike so many of the other pop divas that have been hyped and marketed to the status of supercelebrity, I think that Stefani Germanotta (if not her Lady Gaga character) actually has some brains. First, she writes her own songs, which, superficial and overproduced as they may be, are actually carefully and cleverly crafted. Second, she has not always been Lady Gaga. It's a persona. She's thought about the Lady Gaga songs that she's written, and has designed a character to be the perfect subject for those songs. How much of this character has been created by her, and how much has been engineered by her managers? I'm not sure. I'd like to think that she is the sole creative force, but I'm sure that's not true.

Regardless, she has now become Lady Gaga not only on the stage, but in all facets of her public life. And that is what is most intriguing to me. I can think of three possible explanations for her transformation. 1: She has always been the fame addict that she portrays in her music. This celebrity status is where she always hoped her music career would lead. 2: Lady Gaga began as a joke, an experiment, but she has enjoyed her success so much that she has now embraced the lifestyle that she once lampooned. 3: Stefani Germanotta is still in the middle of creating a years-long piece of performance art: a satire of the United States' culture of celebrity worship.

I hope (and believe) that explanation number three is the correct one. Will anyone ever know for sure? I doubt it. Until I find out, I'll enjoy her distilled 180 proof pop, knowing that she has at least a spark of creative talent, and that she has not simply been chosen, engineered, and spoon-fed to me by a money-greedy record industry.