It's been five years since I left Wilson High School and went on to higher education. At times it's been the longest, most tedious challenge I've ever faced – and I've almost given up. Other times, it's the most fast paced, fun and exciting time of my life and I never want it to end.
The 23rd annual Distinguished Speakers Series continued Wednesday, featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson, whose accolades in astrophysics include demoting Pluto from being a planet, running the Hayden Planetarium in New York City and the host of NOVA scienceNOW. Tyson started the speech by assuring his PowerPoint slides were working and said most people use these lectures to promote a new book. "This is no exception," he said, putting a slide up of his most recent novels. He then stated he needed to empty his pockets and as he was getting comfortable, the famed astrophysicist also took off his shoes. He launched into his presentation by explaining the vast amount of stars in the universe and that our star, the sun, is just one tiny grain of sand on an entire beach. Tyson explained the numbers scientists use to describe such large numbers – using scientific notations as their method. Starting with one, Tyson kept multiplying each number by 1,000. "Drug dealers are not unfamiliar with 1,000, also known as kilos," Tyson said. As he worked his way up to a billion he showed that McDonalds has claimed to sell over 99 billion hamburgers. To put it in relative terms, he explained, the amount sold could wrap around the earth 52 times, with enough left over to stack up to the moon. As he continued to count up he reached the number one sextillion, which is a one, followed by 21 zeros. "This number is ten times larger than all sounds or words ever uttered by all humans who have ever lived," Tyson said. "It is this number, that is the amount of stars in the observable universe." Tyson went on to say that astrophysicists do not try to make the terms they use complicated and joked about other fields who use big and fancy words. "In astrophysics, we tell it like it is," Tyson said. "When we find spots on the sun, we call them sunspots. If we find a big red star, we call it a Red Giant. You know what we call the rings around Saturn? Saturn's rings. We speak so we can understand it." Tyson continued by talking about the origins of life by breaking down the elements found in the far reaches of the universe to the same elements within our own bodies. Displaying a slide on the screen of some of the most common elements found in space, starting with hydrogen and going down in order, helium, oxygen, carbon and nitrogen. He then showed a chart of the most common elements within the human body – an exact match. "This is what I offer you," Tyson said. He was displaying a picture taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and requested the room to go completely dark. At first glance the picture looked like thousands of stars, but Tyson explained only three of the dots were. The image on screen showed thousands of galaxies, from just one section of the universe, each containing hundreds of billions of their own stars. "The ingredients of the universe are traceable to us, the ingredients to us are traceable to the universe, we are in this universe, the universe is in us," he said. The crowd was completely silent, and he paused for a moment. "The number one thing we should all know about the universe – we are stardust." E-mail: email@example.com
Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of the lead men responsible for declassifying Pluto as our solar system's ninth planet. Yet, Tyson is perhaps the most famous living astrophysicist. He is the director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, host of NOVA scienceNOW and a graduate of Harvard, University of Texas at Austin and Columbia University. He was also People Magazine's "sexiest astrophysicist". The resulting debate stirred up protestors, hate mail and left a permanent mark on Tyson's career. I was invited to an informal question and answer session and prior to his presentation at Alumni Arena. I spent nearly an hour and a half with the distinguished scientist as we talked about TV, Buffalo, his love for pens and of course science. The guest list to the Q&A included children from local grade schools and members of UB's physics clubs. Basically, I was surrounded by brainiacs of all ages and I felt quite out of place. The 6-foot-2-inch scientist strolled into 145A Student Union to a round of applause. His style was quite casual, matching the atmosphere of the room. Tyson's dark jeans matched his charcoal gray sport coat, which he wore over a beige vest and collared shirt that had the first few buttons undone. The first question came from a fifth grader: "Why is Pluto no longer a planet?" Tyson explained that nothing about Pluto has changed, saying the planet is that what it always has been. But what scientists have learned has changed. With bigger and better telescopes, scientists have discovered many similar objects like Pluto, which resulted in a new classification for "dwarf planets." "Pluto is much happier now," Tyson said. "It's the first in a class of new objects." He followed with a story of the time he appeared on The Today Show and Al Roker said comparing Pluto to other planets would be like comparing a regular size car to a Mini-Cooper. But, according to Tyson, this was far off. "The realistic comparison [of Pluto to Earth] would be to compare the size of a matchbox car to a regular car," Tyson said. After a few more questions regarding Pluto, a young girl wondered why every star doesn't have a name. Tyson said about two-thirds of visible stars have names and said it's difficult to name every star. He explained that when a telescope is used, that even more stars become visible. With even bigger telescopes, stars are so abundant that it is impossible to name them all. "There aren't enough names in the history of Earth to name all the stars," Tyson said. He added that many names of stars have Arabic names because the first people to actively name them were people in the deserts of the Middle East. He went on to explain how the first cultures to discover something in science typically name things accordingly, which is why constellations have Roman names and why recently discovered heavy elements on the periodic table have American names. After the session ended, I spotted Bill Regan, the director of special events. He had gotten me in this conference and I was relying on him to set up the next steps. A car ride was in order. I'd be accompanying the pair, along with a few others, on Tyson's trip back to the Center for the Arts. The vehicle was a university-owned Dodge Caravan. A few of us piled in like we were off to soccer practice and I was ready to fire away a few questions to Tyson, who took shotgun in the van. As we were getting situated, I asked Tyson if he was more of a Star Wars or Star Trek fan when he was younger. "Star Trek, for sure," Tyson said. "It was on TV and was all about space and exploring new frontiers." He knew at a young age he wanted to focus his life and career on matters beyond Earth. "I couldn't believe people wanted to do anything else, like be lawyers or accountants. This stuff is cool stuff," he said after talking about his inspirations to study the heavens. One of many reasons came from visits to the Hayden Planetarium in Tyson's hometown of New York City. The planetarium resides in the Museum of Natural History, the same setting for Night at the Museum. I asked where his favorite place in the world was to stargaze. "Inside a planetarium," he said very quickly. "It gives you the best night sky. The only other thing better is getting way into the countryside. A good way to analyze if a place is good for looking at stars is by checking your cell phone service. If it's really bad, then [observing] will be good." As the mini-van pulled onto Putnam Way and we headed to Alumni Arena for a sound check, I asked Tyson which one of his many talk show appearances were his favorite. "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno was my biggest achievement," Tyson said. "It's rare that he has a scientist on as a guest … it was a great opportunity to talk about breakthroughs in the space frontier." The two-minute ride was over already and we walked into an empty Alumni Arena. Tyson was led up to the stage. Nobody stopped me from following. Tyson came prepared, setting up his own Macbook, leaving the A/V team to stand around. "Do you need a VGA adapter for that?" a technician asked. "Now, who do you think you're talking to here?" Tyson replied jokingly, pulling the device out of his black bag. Tyson is not afraid to label himself as a geek, nerd or dweeb. During the Q&A, a student wearing a physics-related shirt asked a question. Tyson started by complimenting the shirt and saying, "It might not get you a lot of girls, but you wear it proudly." The black NASA bag he pulled the adapter from was home to pocket after pocket, some which had more zippers within them. The bag was as endless as a black hole. "I couldn't even begin to tell you what I have in there," Tyson said. When testing the equipment, a sneak-peek into the entertaining night to come was evident in Tyson's behavior. He commands the stage and was not afraid to make a sudden outburst or to express the importance of something through exaggerated hand or body motions. This was just practice. During the microphone check, he made clear that the sound technicians should not adjust the microphone while he was speaking. "I really like to get loud for effect, I can tell if you're adjusting it and I will just have to talk even louder. Then I'll lose my voice," Tyson said to a technician whose walkie-talkie came in clearly with someone on the other end saying, "We need to tweak it a little." Tyson heard this, then spoke directly into the mic: "Tweaking is good, I like tweaking, testing, testing, one, two, three." As he was leaving the stage, he turned and saw the big golden bull set behind the podium and asked if it had a name as he tapped its head. "It's Victor," I told him. "Victor?" he replied. "Yeah, Victor E. Bull." He started laughing. "That's pretty good." We walked off the stage, down a few dark steps, then past an area filled with expensive gadgetry – dials, meters, buttons, boxes I couldn't name and laptops, all controlling the sound, video, PowerPoint, lighting and everything else that was scheduled to happen that night. These technicians and this equipment are the unseen and underrated backbone to every one of these events. They're hard at work, testing everything to the point of perfection, assuring all will run flawlessly. Back into the van, we were down to three now. I wondered if he had the chance to get some chicken wings while in Buffalo. He had. For lunch he stopped at Lake Effect Diner and ordered chili, then realized he couldn't leave Buffalo without trying the one food the city is so popular for. "It's really a compliment to Buffalo to be known for something so good," Tyson said. We pulled up to the back doors of the Center For the Arts. Tyson said I could join him while he signed some books. We talked about the impact technology and computers have had on astronomy over time. I asked him about the Large Hadron Collider. But what really caught my attention was his collection of pens. The man loves fountain pens. In fact, he collects them, especially pens with cosmic themes. And the things are heavy, too, with as much density as a white dwarf – making the average Papermate feel like a speck of cosmic dust. "To keep me writing, I will buy a new pen after every new book contract," Tyson said. "I just can't justify buying a pen without it … these [pens] range from $300 to $2,000." He moved the sledgehammer of a pen like it was weightless and signed the last book. Our time had concluded, he was off to a reception upstairs and I was left to think about what a diverse character the man who killed Pluto is. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Nischal Vasant was never in love with politics. Growing up in Mumbai, India, he never envisioned he would work for the University at Buffalo's Student Association, yet alone become president of the organization. As of last Thursday, Vasant became UB's first international SA president-elect, winning the election with 1,153 votes. When choosing where to study after grade school, Vasant, who speaks three languages, wanted a "global perspective" and said he was thinking about Australia and Singapore, but came to America because of the freedom offered in coursework. "UB really promotes itself outside of the U.S.," Vasant said. "I didn't know what I was getting into with the weather, though." In Mumbai, according to Vasant, the temperature rarely gets below 70 degrees. His first experience with snow was the infamous October Storm. "I was excited. I'd never seen snow before," Vasant said. "It was literally piled up to my head. But I had a lot of fun that day. There was no water, electricity, nothing, but it was a lot of fun." Vasant also enjoys the summer months in the Queen City. He said the highlight of the summer is Thursday in the Square. "I love live music, that's one of my favorite things, and so Buffalo during the summer is an absolute blast," Vasant said. The future SA president has also traveled to New York City and Toronto, but hasn't ventured too far into the surrounding areas of Buffalo. Vasant left behind his hometown – which he labels the New York City of India – and his family to study at UB. Upon winning the election he immediately called home, but to no answer, as it was 4 a.m. halfway across the world. However, he did finally get a hold of his parents, and said they were thrilled and very proud of his hard work and that he has gotten so far on his own. He is confident that his involvement with SA will garner interest in more international students, which he says makes up about 11 percent of the UB student population. "It's kind of humbling … to know that I am the first international student [to win]," Vasant said. "I feel like it leaves a potential to open the floodgates, so to speak." A computer engineering major and current SA Senator, Vasant said becoming president wasn't always on his to-do list. Starting as a Web site manager for SA in 2007, he saw potential for the organization to change and become better under his leadership. "I could tell that SA was not reaching its full potential," Vasant said. "As a student government, you should be focusing more on trying to help students rather than to entertain." Vasant said entertainment is a necessary part of what SA does, but there are many other issues to focus on, including cuts to UB from the SUNY level. "It's important when this comes up to figure out a solution from our end and to be prepared for the [UB] administration and for Albany," Vasant said. "With these cuts to the SUNY system we need more rallies, we need to send buses full of students down to Albany to show the legislators that we're going to do something against it, I think this is something SA should do." Along with preparing for the worst, Vasant said the first thing to do is set up a base in which he can deliver on his platform. He said he would also like to see SA become more open to the students. He added that part of his plan is to set up short-term and long-term goals for his presidency. "[I want] to say, ‘This is where I'd like to see SA going 10 years from now, and these are the things we're going to do this year that will move SA in that direction,' " Vasant said. When it comes to opening up SA, Vasant says it's a tricky ordeal, especially with 19,000 students. "Some [students] are very involved, some of them are very opinionated, and some of them are not," Vasant said. "But I think it's very, very, very important that SA is listening to the students and at least making a legitimate attempt to reach out to every student." E-mail: email@example.com
The Student Alliance will not be allowed to campaign in the Student Union Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m., due to overspending on the allotted campaign funds. The party admitted to going over the $300 dollar limit by $77.22 and was cited by Josh Boston, the elections and credentials committee chair. The new campaign limit was lowered from last year, which allowed each party to spend $400. Also new to this year's election is a change in punishment policies, which, according to Boston, allow for the suspension of campaigning in the Student Union. In the past, candidates were sentenced to community service hours after the election had ended. This year, however, the E&C committee, along with the Student-Wide Judiciary felt more drastic punishment was necessary. Kelsey DiGiovancarlo, campaign manager for the Student Alliance, thinks the punishment is a fair one. "It's a great idea," DiGiovancarlo said. "In the past community service has just been written off, I'm glad to see SWJ doing something about this." The Student Alliance has also received two additional referrals by the E&C Committee for a potentially defamatory sign and incomplete expenditure reports. The sign, stating, "Attention SA Clubs, Jordan Fried cannot freeze your budgets, Vote Student Alliance," is an alleged violation of campaign rules, but according to DiGiovancarlo, states the truth. The party's accused incomplete expenditure reports stated they used professional videographers and photographers for campaign material and for the party's Web site, which DiGiovancarlo says is untrue and that neither one were professionals. Stay with The Spectrum for more up to date information on the elections. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ten thousand years ago, our ancestors would have never dreamed of paying for dinner with little pieces of paper. A hundred years ago, our great grandparents never thought about purchasing concert tickets with plastic cards. Twenty years ago, our parents couldn't have guessed they'd be buying movies from eBay using Internet-based accounts to settle the debt with an overseas supplier. And now, I can't believe where ecommerce has gone. PayPal now has an iPhone application, Twitter users can acquire funds from friends and co-workers through Twitpay and online banking has made handling digital money all too easy. The Internet is home to millions of vendors and companies selling anything and everything. The problem with the Internet is trust. I don't trust a single site or user of eBay with my credit card information, which is where PayPal comes in. PayPal is "the safer, easier way to pay" as the site claims, and allows users to pay for goods through the site keeping their banking and credit card information safe. The downfall and dangers to this site, along with all ecommerce, is the ease of use. When you have your credit card linked up to your PayPal account, its easy to get carried away, it's easy to believe you have more money available than you actually do and its very easy to get behind on your bills. Shopping online requires only a few clicks, a password and sometimes a confirmation e-mail. It never actually feels like money is being spent. The balance from one account gets lower, another account gets larger and a few days later a new video game arrives in the mail. Without the feel of money, the handling of cash, I think it's much easier to get into to debt. Whenever I have cash, I'm much more careful with how I spend it, I can watch as a 10 or 20-dollar bill leaves my pocket, and how much change comes back. With a credit card, it doesn't matter the cost of something, just swipe – or enter the numbers – and it's yours. During my first job back in the early 2000s, I would actually receive a paycheck. I'd have to take it to the bank, cash it and then have currency to prove I washed dishes for 20 hours. Now, with both of my jobs I have direct deposit, and can't remember the last time I've visited a bank – or had lots of cash around. Direct deposit has made it so money holds almost no value to me, and with online banking, I can manage those digital dollars whenever and wherever I find it convenient. I hardly ever handle mass amounts of cash, it's been years since I cut a check and even longer since I sent a bill through the mail – a great advantage to online payments and Internet banking. Just imagine how many tons of paper we would save if everyone switched to e-payments. I've switched every one of my credit card bills, car insurance and all banking statements to e-mail only. It's a small part to help the environment, but it makes a difference not receiving five bills every month. We've come a long way since trading sea shells and cows for goods, but with the advancements in all the technology, banking has become simple as has purchasing, but just be careful how you spend, before you know it, you'll wish we were still trading farm animals. E-mail: email@example.com
University Police have completed a search through Lockwood Library and have found nothing, according to UPD. Amherst Police left the scene around 6:45 p.m. after a preliminary sweep through the building. University police cleared the building an hour later and it will remain closed for the remainder of the night.
Students registered in Professor Filiatrault's graduate-level engineering classes may have been happy to see a 'class cancelled' sign posted on the door last week. What they may not have realized was their professor was off serving a country in desperate need.