20 June 2006

Optics nerd camp

The University of Rochester's Institute of Optics is one of the finest optics schools in the nation. Poor saps like me, who learn the field skimming textbooks at cafes, finally have a way to attend. For a couple of days. In the summer.

Ok, look, it's summer school, and I'm excited about it. They offer classes on geometrical optics and devices! Fourier optics! A holography lab! And... polarization (cough).

I had to miss the first day, but here I am after a few travel hiccoughs. Which put me in after midnight.

In a pickup truck.

At a Best Western.

Across the street from a Hooters.

Yee-haw! I'm driving a "Colorado" pickup truck.

Food? Word from a co-worker is that I should try the "garbage plate," a Rochester college-town specialty. (Honest, it's worth clicking here to see some photos. The thing even has a WikiPedia article.)

Day 1: Nerdvana!

Oh my God. I cannot believe what I just injested. More on that in a sec. First:

I am in absolute nerd heaven up here in Rochester, after spending 9am to 8pm learning and doing nothing but optics. Fourier optics (how edges of things bend light, optical "computation," etc.) and polarization, complete with a little take-home baggie of polarizing filters, cellophane, and other neat stuff. This is perfectly incredible.

Took two lab courses tonight. In the first, we studied a 4F Optical Processor; that is, how sticking various filters in a two-lens laser-illuminated system with the lenses in just the right spot can optically process the pattern on a slide. (This was big in the 1950s, when computers took way too long to do Photoshop-like stuff such as "image edge enhancement" or "blurring in just one direction.") Although it must sound esoteric and dorky, it's something I've read about for years and never quite believed could really truly work as advertised. It does!

In a second lab, we made a rainbow (i.e. "Benton") hologram. That I am taking home. Hoo-ee!

To celebrate all this opto-goodness, I broke my promise to myself and found Nick Tahou Hots for a garbage plate.

This was the most amazingly gawd-awful styrofoam-enshrouded concoction I've ever seen. Even getting it was a challenge:

"Hi, I'd like a... 'plate' please. With hamburger."

"What sides?"

"Uh... fries. And macaroni and cheese."

"The works?"

"What's 'the works?'"

"First time here?"


"Then don't ask any questions." (Turns back to yell at chef-crew.) "Hamburger garbage. The works. Fries. Mac." (Back to me.) "You'll like it. If you don't, money back. You won't hear that anywhere else."

He handed me a box of... jeez, it looked like a squadron of eagles barfed carrion on a macaroni salad. I couldn't believe my eyes. It was a pile of cold mac salad, chunky hamburger, mustard, ketchup, hot sauce, onions, fries, and... oh, two tightly-wrapped pieces of unusually dense bread.

Like this, with hamburger pattis and fries: (There's even a version called "Fish." Sounds like evil punishment.)

Image hyperlinked from What's Cooking America.

I ate it.

Well, 80% of it.

Then, I found a Krispy Kreme, polished off two donuts, took a coffee back to the hotel, and read about more optics.

Tomorrow? Radiometry, which in the real world could be called, "How to have educated arguments over what power light bulb belongs over the oven as not to spook the neighbors or irradiate your pet."


ps I followed a suggestion from JPod and looked on top of the TV armoire. Nothing.

pps Actually, this Best Western is ok by me. Sure, it's run-down and the hallways smell like a combination of body odors from 1962, but the rooms are nice. Flat-screen TV, DVD player, free Wifi...


TroopOfChimps said...

Wow. And to think that N. almost went to grad school at Rochester. I could have been having "garbage plates" every month.

Anonymous said...

It's Nick Tahoe's. And there ain't nuthin' like a garbage plate..JMK

G-Fav said...

Dude! With all your gourmet-itude, I was wondering what you'd think of it. You've had this junk???

You sure it ain't "Tahou"? Unless the garbage fried my brain along with my stomach. Shall we take this argument outside, big man?

Oh yeah you went to college 30 minutes from there, right?


GEB said...

I can't stop laughing.

We're flummoxed by our food on the other end of the spectrum these days, having purchased an organic veggie farmshare for the first time (what we used to eat was probably closer to the garbage plate). What do you think Nick Tahou/e's would recommend I do with 5 pounds of kale and a pound of garlic scapes??

G-Fav said...

I'm envious; the equivalent of an organic farmshare in this town would be some gravelly dirt and a Dunkin Donuts bag.

Believe it or not there's a "vegetable" garbage plate but just typing that phrase makes me want to gag.