Thursday, December 27, 2007

Two Stories

1) Yesterday I went ice skating for the first time in a year with my best friend from high school. I used to do this a LOT, but stopped going as frequently in high school for a variety of reasons so it was interesting. I was rather uneasy on the ice, and my brain immediately thought "wow, that looks really cold and hard!" to which my stomach thought "hey, let me see!" I then remembered that I never really liked ice skating very much, but it does provide the good opportunity to chat with an old friend so we stuck with it awhile longer. In the end I was nicely humbled by all the little kids speed-skating in circles around us and have some really impressive bruises on my kneecaps for my effort.

2) Tomorrow the Cendes family will climb into our car for the exciting 12-hour drive to New Hampshire. We tend to avoid NH at this time of year (because the low next week will be 8F, the high will be 12F and the like), but I have a cousin getting married in a huge multi-day weddings this weekend in Portsmouth, NH, so away we go. It'll hopefully be fun- I have a pretty fuchsia dress, my cousins are a fun group to hang out with, and odds are there will be one or two entertaining incidents we'll all talk about for years to come. Hooray!

If we don't freeze to death, we will also try and get a few ski runs in the week after the wedding. Unlike ice skating, I have no qualms with barreling down a hillside as fast as a car so I'm really looking forward to this! Hopefully there will be pictures assuming I find my camera charger between now and tomorrow...

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Christmas

My sister has returned from Australia, and she has introduced me to the fun of Australian Christmas carols. The current favorite is the one above, telling the story about how Santa goes through Australia with six white kangaroos instead of reindeer (it's summer there, after all) and how they helped a joey find his mummy. How exactly a sleigh is pulled through the snowless Australian outback confuses me a little, but I suppose if the Aussies are ok with it than I'll just accept what they say.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Few Links

Done with finals but I'm still reveling in my newfound ability to waste time. There are a lot of YouTube clips to catch up on for starters- for example, the trailers for the next season of LOST are looking interesting, and Leonard Nimoy's Ballad of Bilbo Baggins has to be one of the most disturbing bouts of desperate-for-money-in-the-seventies psychedelic things I've ever seen. And at this time of year there are a lot of "best of the year" lists to peruse of course, like the best astronomy pictures and the best unanswered questions...

Oh, and Text Twist. Lots and lots of Text Twist. Hooray for winter break!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Night Before Finals

This week's "Quarked" marked the first occasion where my editor actually cursed at me. Luckily her "good Lord, Yvette!" was followed by a "thanks for making my day," so I guess I still get to write my column next semester.

The reason for the curse was because I decided to get into the holiday spirit a bit and write a poem commemorating the most important event in December- final exams! And because I am proud of the result and suspect I won't be writing anything new here for awhile, here is the unabridged version of a poem I've titled "The Night Before Finals." [Note for those not from Case: "SIs" are "Student Instructors," aka undergraduate TAs.] Enjoy!

The Night Before Finals
By Yvette Cendes

T’was the night before finals
And all through the dorm
Crazed cramming and panic
Was quite the norm.

The students were restless
And none touched their beds
While theorems and formulas
Danced in their heads.

With textbook in hand
And a bright pink highlighter
I had settled down
For another all-nighter.

Then outside my room
There arose a great clatter,
I raced to the door
To see what was the matter.

And who do you think
Appeared before my eyes
But a wizened old Prof
And a bunch of SIs!

From his terrible wardrobe
And long, unkept beard
I knew right away
This was gonna be weird.

“I’m the Prof of Tests Future!”
He said with a shout,
“I’m the one who writes finals
You’re so scared about!

“On English! On Physics!
On Psychology!
On O-Chem! On German!
On Astronomy!

“I choose from the topics
You’ve learned of all fall,
And mark away, mark away,
Mark away, mark away all!”

I stared at the Prof
With incomprehension
And thought a few things
Which here I won’t mention.

“You’re from the wrong story!”
I said with a wail,
“Isn’t this from Dickens’
A Christmas Tale?

“Besides which, dear sir,
Though try as I might,
I don’t know why you’re here
So late, late at night.”

Said he, “I showed up
To give some advice.
Listen closely now
So I don’t give it twice:

“Though you might want to fret
And get all stressed out
That’s not what exams
Should be all about.

“So don’t be a wreck!
Don’t get over-stressed!
Study hard as always
And just do your best!”

I looked at the Prof
And then looked at my text,
If I slept a few hours
I’d be much less perplexed…

Plus I’ve advice of my own
That I have to admit:
When you start to see visions
Then it’s time to quit.

So I waved to the Prof
And then closed the door
I ducked under covers
And started to snore.

And I heard someone say
As I started my rest:
“Happy finals to all,
And to all a good test!”


No luck with Chicago. C'est la vie. Here's a good question for you all though- how many people think they actually found another Hungarian chick for the part? Just idly wondering...

Monday, December 3, 2007

Come On Babe, Why Don't We Paint The Town...

Just so you guys don't hear any wild rumors, I auditioned for Chicago earlier this week. Explanation: every semester there is a musical on campus for students, and next spring the musical is going to be everyone's favorite musical about 1920s murderesses and flapper girls. It's really a great show and it just so happens that there's a small role of a girl who only speaks Hungarian. The fact that she gets to be in one of the best songs in the show and it's a small enough role that a physics major can manage it didn't hurt either!

So Monday evening I went to tryouts with the song 42nd Street prepared (and by prepared I mean I sang it a few times to myself over the weekend sitting in my room and got a suitemate to listen a minute before I headed over). The hall was teeming with theatre people who are not quite like the average student from these parts: they're all rather loud and interesting, I'd say, and a lot of them were borderline annoying because they liked to be overly dramatic. (Go figure.) I think what annoyed me most was how every girl in the place was auditioning for either Roxie or Velma, the two leads, meaning perhaps 20 girls auditioning for those parts. My mathematical skills indicated that perhaps a few of them should try for secondary roles but I suppose you can't tell that to a drama queen... Oh, and they all were saying "ohmigawd I'm so nervous!" like they suddenly weren't going to be for the actual production.

When I go into the audition room the auditioning board (ie perhaps 7 students) immediately noticed off my form that I speak fluent Hungarian. "Have we got the part for you!" they gushed, and I sang my little song and I think it went alright.

Then they handed me a typed sheet that they'd copied monologues from various roles, including the Hungarian part. I started reading it aloud but stopped a few words in, saying "wait, this is formatted wrong!" Everyone laughed really hard, and the one guy said I get 30 extra points for that comment alone. (Yay!) I got to read from the actual script instead, but unfortunately stumble a little because it's Hungarian and I'm not that good at it. Hopefully they understood that was the problem.

After I finished they asked a few clarifying questions (dance experience, if my email was properly written), so I left the room grinning a bit since I thought it went well. It left all the nerve-wracked theatre kids wondering what on Earth I'm so happy about because you're not supposed to be happy after an audition dammit!

So that's where things stand right now. They said that the callback list will come out Wednesday (as in, in the next few hours) so with luck I'll be very excited soon, and callbacks themselves will be Saturday. Even if I don't get it, though, it was definitely fun to delve into this world I haven't touched since doing musicals in high school and I'm glad I tried it!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

How Fast Are You Moving When Standing Still?

First of the month, that means it's science article publishing day! The article this month that I wrote for JYI addresses the simple question of how fast you are moving when you're standing still- because the Earth is spinning, we're orbiting the Sun, which is orbiting the galactic center... you get the idea. I'm rather proud of this one because I could calculate all the numbers and speeds out easily on my own up until the very end, and it's always satisfying when you can (gasp!) apply what you learn in class to something else.

(And for those too lazy to read the article but still want to know the answer, you're essentially traveling the distance from New York City to Los Angeles every five seconds. Neat isn't it?)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Old College Try in Gardening

I'm going to start this off with the disclaimer that I am not much of a plant person. Really. If you want to meet a plant person you should introduce yourself to my mother, who is the sort of person who knows the name of every plant you'd ever come across and goes on about them the same way I am capable of going on about stars. During my childhood it was a given that my mom would carefully nurse a stray plant or two from wherever we were so she could replant them at home, customs be dammed, and that we'd need to set aside a day to visit the local botanical garden. Trust me, there is no way I will ever count as a plant person in comparison to my mother.

But regardless of the extent of my green thumb some of those genes certainly passed over, and compared to the average college denizen I am a plant person. Here's what my motley little garden looks like-

In the back, the big one in the middle is an African violet with pretty purple flowers, the one on the right is a crawling ivy that grows incredibly quickly, and the one on the left is a potted palm that I got at the poster/plant sale at the beginning of the year. (I called my mom up at the time to see what she'd suggest. "Get the palm," she recommended, "because they've been around for millions of years, so it will be hard for you to kill anything that evolved to be so tough.") The front row seats next to the window are given to the pepper plants I grew from seeds acquired at the cafeteria of all places- I started the one on the right at the end of August, and the two on the left in early October.

The next immediate question, of course, is what's with that odd-looking shelf they're sitting on? Originally the plants were all sitting on that windowsill in the picture but they kept getting knocked off when I closed the curtains, so I decided to build a nice shelf for them a few weeks ago. I, ahem, commandeered the wood from the discarded scrap in the physics shop which is why it has holes in it- beggars can't be choosers! For the legs I raided my bookcase, which is filled with these lovely thick physics textbooks that I need to hold onto but only use for reference perhaps once a semester, in which case I can temporarily dismantle said shelf until I find what I need and then reassemble it. All in all this works great on two levels because it leaves much-needed free space on my bookshelf and allows me to quickly disable it when it comes time to move out (because when you move around as much as I do, a concrete piece of furniture is the last thing you need!).

So that's the current plant situation in my room. I might add one or two when the second semester starts (a cactus would be nice, and I used to have this wicked red clover...) because once the snow really flies a bit of green is always appreciated.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Turkey Day Cometh

I'm leaving for Thanksgiving tomorrow, and things will slow down here a bit. (Because they were going so quickly to begin with, obviously.) So I will leave you with this picture of me posing with my senior thesis project thus far-
Basically, that black tube you can sort of see is a photomultiplier tube (PMT) which is supposed to detect faint Cherenkov light from cosmic rays. The problem with it is Cleveland is not exactly a prime dark-sky location, so we had to design what's called a Winston cone that will only let in light we want above a certain degree (because most light pollution is from the horizon) and will bounce back all the stuff we don't want from lower angles. Pretty nifty!

(Disclaimer: I am nowhere near good enough to make this stuff in the shop, and have the awesome physics shop people to thank for the lathe work and what not. My job is more the "sit on the roof and wonder why it's not working" part of things.)

By the way in case you haven't heard the Auger Observatory is the hottest thing since sliced bread because they came out with results two weeks ago showing that there is a correlation between high-energy cosmic rays and supermassive black holes called Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN). This makes us very happy because no one knew where they came from before, and it funds the next leg of the project, Auger North! So here's the press release for the publication that got Auger onto the cover of Science and into every major international newsmedia there is
(like The New York Times and the BBC), and here is the CWRU press release on the subject where I make an ever-so-fleeting appearance.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Quarked: Thanksgiving Column

In honor of Turkey Day next week, Quarked this week is titled "Good Gravy, Thanksgiving is Almost Here!" Exerpt-

As some of you might have prematurely realized, there will be no Observer next week. This is because one week from today the Observer staff will be recovering from Thanksgiving, meaning we will be lazily lying on sofas across the country and munching on leftover turkey sandwiches while watching Star Wars or James Bond on TV. There are always a few instances that not publishing the campus fun-page-with-newspaper-attached is justified, and commemorating the day the Pilgrims told the Indians, "Thanks! By the way, we want the entire country," is one of them.
And because I am obliged to have one little complaint about the editing each time here's the one for this week- they left out the line "Hell, I didn't realize my friends weren't acting a little too canine by eating 'puppy chow' until maybe a year ago." I might remedy this transgression by making said chow for the next Observer luncheon so my editors are properly enlightened.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tales from the Vinyl Cafe

So here's something most people don't know about me: while most people guess I was born in Pittsburgh and gather I'm Hungarian after hearing me speak with my parents, most people do not know that I am half Canadian. Really! My dad grew up around Windsor, Ontario along the Detroit River, and went to graduate school at McGill University in Montreal, and most of my family on that side lives in the Toronto area. The one exception is my dad's brother and his family, though oddly enough my uncle never bothered to get his US citizenship until just last year.

My Canadian-ness doesn't show up very often since I've never lived there (though if you pay attention I do use some Canadian English, even the occasional "eh?"), but I've always liked the country and really wouldn't mind living there someday. There is one thing odd about me and Canada though: I am in complete love with several Canadian radio shows. This odd little fetish comes from high school when I used to listen to shortwave radio obsessively, and Saturday morning the best thing on the dial was Radio Canada International because they played "The Vinyl Cafe" and "Quirks and Quarks" between 10am and noon. The Vinyl Cafe was a variety show and Quirks and Quarks is the best science radio show you would ever listen, so I spent most Saturday mornings in high school waking up around 10 and listening to the radio before crawling out of bed. Arguably weird, but I'm still an arguably weird person so you reap what you sow.

My hands-down favorite out of all this, by the way, was getting up to hear Tales from The Vinyl Cafe, whose revolves around stories from the world's smallest record store with the motto "we might not be big but we're small." The music was pretty good and the host Stuart McLean was a riot, but what I hands-down loved most about it were the featured (fictional) stories about Dave, his wife Morley, and their two children Sam and Stephanie. These stories are incredibly funny and sort of like "A Prairie Home Companion," but I never really thought there was a comparison to be made, as The Vinyl Cafe was always way better. I can't tell you how many times during high school I spent those Saturday mornings laughing under the covers so I wouldn't wake up my sister next door, or how much I looked forward to that one story a week.

Anyway, the sad thing about this is that I moved to college and no longer wake up in time to hear The Vinyl Cafe, even assuming I could get the reception in my dorm room. I missed it terribly. But then recently I discovered something I'd been waiting for ages to hear: there is finally a Vinyl Cafe podcast! Hooray! So now I can revel in tales of class trips to Quebec City and Remembrance Day and all sorts of wonderful things people in the US never seem to fully appreciate. You should take a listen too, and subscribe to the podcast.

In case you just want a taste though, my favorite story, by far is the one posted last week called Dream Bunnies. It's a beautiful tale about a stuffed animal bunny Stephanie had that she took everywhere as a child, and her father trying to come to grips with the year she finally didn't take Bunny to college with her. The reason I love it so is because I had a stuffed animal bunny just like that as a kid (called "Honey Bunny" because she was yellow), and I cannot tell you how many times Stuart McLean was describing something straight out of my life during this particular story. I suppose that's why the best stories end up touching our hearts.

It's also worth noting, btw, that The Vinyl Cafe does broadcast in Cleveland now Sundays at 3pm on WCPN 90.3 FM if you want to hear the whole show. I always feel terrible about this though because I've yet to actually listen to it here because for whatever reason I always have something incredibly pressing to do Sunday afternoons and miss out...

Anyway, go listen to The Vinyl Cafe. You won't regret it, and it's always fun to take a moment and enjoy tales from the Great White North.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Been busy around here. Among other things, I need to figure out what exactly I want to take next semester as far as what I already need to take, with a projected graduation date of December 2008. So I've been poking through the course catalog a bit, and in short things fall into two distinct lists-

The "I Must Take This Or Will Not Graduate" Requirements:

~ E&M I (3 credits)
~ Quantum 2 (3 credits)
~ Senior Project (3 credits)

Pretty self-explanatory.

The "Don't Need To Take This But It Would Be Silly Not To" Courses:

~ Camerata, aka String Orchestra (1 credit)
~ GRE Seminar (3 credits)

The GRE one's kind of funny if you don't know how the physics department at CWRU works and how important the Physics GRE can be when applying to American graduate schools. It's listed just under "seminar" for the simple reason that the College of Arts and Sciences won't let us list it as a "study for the GRE subject test" class because none of the other departments offer such a course. So we just fly under the radar and don't tell them, and everyone's happy.

So in the world of trying to be a slacker, 13 is enough credits to be a full-time student and move on with things. But there's only one problem: while I may not be the best student I am not a slacker, and my history minor is calling my attention because I enjoy it and it requires such minimal work on my part. So I've winnowed down the course catalog to the interesting stuff/ interesting profs/ good times but don't know if I can do it much further; if anyone's got an opinion here let me know.

The "Yvette Wants To Take a History Class But Can't Pick" List-

~HSTY110: Roman Civilization- I was a Latin scholar in high school. I still like Romans. Veritas!
~HSTY135: Intro to Modern African History- I like history from odd places, but my main reason for considering this one is the professor who's teaching it. He's a really entertaining guy who I had once already and keeps sending me messages to consider signing up for whatever class he's offering, but also happens to be head of the history department so he only does one class a year. He tends to favor the spring, so I'm suspecting I've reached the "now or never" stage of things.
~HSTY202: Science in Western Thought- Essentially this one's a history of science course. I like the idea of taking one of these but honestly read so much that I suspect I might already know a lot of what goes on in a basic introductory course which would be boring/ a waste.
~HSTY210: Byzantine World 300-1453- This is a period of time I don't know much about, yet an awful lot happens. I mean you have the fall of the Roman Empire, the rise of Islam, and the great city of Constantinople and its fall to the Turks... I suppose there's something about this corner of history that seems very exotic to me. Must be the Mediterranean air.

There are many times when I have wished I had several lifetimes to have a chance to study everything I want to, and pouring through the course catalog is one of them. Hmmm...

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Let It Snow

I snapped this picture of the football field outside about an hour ago-
No, the field is not white because of the glare from the lights, it's because it's covered in a layer of sleet. A mix of rain, hail, and snow has been falling on and off for the later part of the afternoon, and while I wouldn't call it "snow" proper it definitely qualifies as slush. It's let up for now, but we're expecting one to three inches of proper wet snow tonight...

So for all intents and purposes, the first snowfall of the year is November 6th, which is a bit earlier than I'd like but I'm fairly certain my opinion will have no effect whatsoever on the outcome. I will say though that I'm glad my parents came this weekend to bring me my winter things! I'm also worried because most of the trees still have leaves due to the unseasonable fall we've had up to this point, meaning in other parts of Ohio in particular a lot of power lines will be snapped due to falling branches. I'm also annoyed because the heat in my room for the past week hasn't turned off at all during the evenings, making my room a nice sauna only countered by opening the windows but I don't want to let several inches of snow into my room. Hmmm, will need to think up a solution for this one...

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Weirdest Comet EVER

Gorgeous, just gorgeous-
The image shows Comet Holmes, which I talked about earlier and is now larger than Jupiter in size. Wow! It's gotta be the oddest comet anyone's ever laid eyes on, and while no one's entirely certain what's going on it's speculated that there was some ice vents that exploded... or something. In short, no one knows. It's wonderfully exciting.

The comet, by the way, is still a treat in a telescope and is visible in the night sky as a visible disk, as opposed to a star like before. We looked at it Friday night from here in Cleveland- and it's surprisingly easy to spot just because in that general area of the sky it's easy to note that one of the stars is fuzzy and just doesn't look "right." Here is a sky map for all interested parties...

And on a completely random note, I really like the phrase "sky map." There's a romantic ring to it and reminds me of one of my other favorite astronomical terms, csillag mező (the Hungarian term for "star field"). The reason I like it so much is because "mező" is the word you use for "meadow" rather than "field" in Hungarian, so this word always evokes an image in my mind of a small forest clearing where there are stars growing like wildflowers.

But anyway, enough of me playing around with nuances of language. Go see the comet!!!

Friday, November 2, 2007

How to Pick a Major

This week's Quarked focuses on a joke examination of how to choose your major, and just what each subject is about. A sampling-

Physics – Physics is a major for those people who want to sound a lot smarter than they really are, and who want to kill themselves but do it with a bit of style. Further, if you think it would be nice to pass your classes despite knowing only half the material you are responsible for and at times understanding absolutely none of it, be sure to consider physics!
Chemistry – Chemistry is for everyone who is a closet pyromaniac but doesn't want to be charged for arson. I'd say more, but that really does sum it up perfectly.
History – The point of history is to learn that events repeat themselves. Using this knowledge, you can learn the lottery numbers for the past few decades, pick the ones that have repeated, and thus have good estimate on what numbers to try. If you become a history major you are not allowed to take a class on statistical probability.

And so forth. By the way, the first issue of The Athenian finally was distributed today (it's not online, sorry!) so if you're around Case and want to read everyone's favorite humor magazine find yourself a copy!

And I will have more Halloween pictures up once I get ahold of someone's pumpkin drop photos, I promise...

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Halloween Begins

So if you care to find me
Look to the Western sky!

As someone told me lately,

Everyone deserves a chance to fly...

The comment I get most about my bicycle from people is "you look like the Wicked Witch of the West on that thing." I decided to have a sense of humor about this, with damn impressive results if I may say so myself. (Though I was going more for the Elphaba from Wicked type of witch rather than the one from the movie.)

This picture's from a Halloween party I went to last night. If you missed my dressing up I'll be doing it again on Wednesday, of course.

The pumpkins my friends and I carved yesterday afternoon. It was a fun time.
My pumpkin this year- my family traditionally didn't do jack-o'-lanterns but rather pumpkin carvings even before that idea spread, some of which were incredibly intricate. We didn't have really nice and proper pumpkin carving tools yesterday and I was a little late, so this is what I did on short notice.

Though for the record, I think everyone was a little disappointed. You see, my design last year might have not been too complicated but it was certainly the one that everyone talked about-
This was only exasperated by the fact that one friend who shall go nameless promptly picked up the pumpkin and went around with it pretending to be the Headless Horseman. Ah, memories!

(And before anyone asks, that's my friend's ball python on my wrist. He's a great snake, though a great deal bigger now.)

There will probably be more pictures here on Wednesday, when it's actually Halloween and not just the Saturday closest. Stay tuned!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Fall Break 3- Newport, Rhode Island

My mom, dad, and I weren't sure what to do on Tuesday before our respective flights left Boston (my brother had to leave a day prior), and then my dad mentioned Newport, Rhode Island. We'd never been there and it's only an hour or so outside Boston and supposed to be very nice, so why not take a look? Always on the lookout for a new state (I've been to 27 at last count, but never Rhode Island), I thought this was a great idea so Tuesday morning we set off.

This is what most of Newport looks like- a nice little New England seaside town, complete with lots of little tourist stores and places that sell wonderful clam chowdah. Start heading towards one direction of town, though, and you start seeing big piles of stone like this-
Back in the Gilded Age (and even now, to some extent), all the wealthy Yanks came up to Newport for summer and built lovely places that they called summer homes and everyone else called mansions. Now a lot of them are museums so you can go and see impressive pieces of real estate.
As we were there for only a few hours, we only toured one house: The Breakers owned by the Vanderbilts. It's quite large and has a nice view onto the ocean, but to tell the truth it wasn't the most exciting and lovely place I've ever toured. It was built to imitate a French or Italian villa, but was also built to impress anyone who might be visiting the Vanderbilt estate, so true to the era it was built in every surface is gilded or flourished or embellished. A touch overdone so the house overall isn't that pretty, but I suppose if your aim was to impress everyone with how much money and power you had it would work pretty well.
There aren't too many pictures of Newport just because I wasn't there for very long, but I wanted to show this last one from the main street. Why? Well if you don't know, it clearly means you're not a fan of Family Guy so I have to tell you that in Family Guy the town the family lives in is Quahog, Rhode Island. (And the bar is called "The Drunken Clam," hehe.) Further, I admit that the entire day I had one of the Family Guy songs stuck in my head called This House is Freakin' Sweet from an episode where the Griffins inherit a Newport Mansion of their very own.

Anyway, I like Newport well enough, though I suspected that a great deal of this had to do with the fact that I went in October and not the summertime when the tourists must be elbow to elbow to each other! Plus hey, now I can say I've been to 28 states! Even if that number's not going to budge for awhile, as most of those states are the boring ones in the middle you don't even get airport layovers at. Oh well.

Fall Breat 2- Boston

Hooray for Boston! I love this city. It's got to be one of the best ones there is, and we headed over Sunday evening because my dad had buisness in the city on Monday.

Of course, everyone knows what's going on in Boston right now that would make it really fun to spend a night on the town in Boston, right? That's right, baseball!
Sunday night was Game 7 of the last round before the World Series, which was against the Cleveland Indians. I'm really not a baseball fan for various reasons (the same thing happens over and over, the Pittsburgh Pirates were never good, etc), but it's a bit infectious to go into a bar filled with rabid Red Sox fans. I do confess that I ended up telling people who asked that I went to Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh rather than Case, just because I didn't think it would be a good idea to say I had any affiliation whatsoever with Cleveland.

Except, of course, we didn't pay all that much attention to baseball because the Steelers were playing!
This is my brother and his friend from high school proudly showing their stuff. We found the one bar in Boston that was airing the football game in the basement, and I decided I liked baseball so long as there was a football game to watch too.

The next morning, we went exploring a bit around town...
This is the view from Cambridge towards downtown Boston. The Hancock Tower is the big shiny glass one on the left, which was famous when it first opened because large plates of glass kept falling off of it due to the wind.
Because it was right next to our hotel, there was a brief forray made into the Boston Museum of Science, where I spent a ridiculously large amount of time as a child considering the fact that I never actually lived in Boston. (But you can't tell, right?) I hadn't been there in years, though, so it was nice to walk around thinking "aha, there's the tree ring display with the giant sequoia slice!" or "man, I will never tire of the lightning show from the giant van de Graaff generator." This particular shot shows a sculpture (Archimedian Excogitation) they have in the lobby where little balls follow metal tracks in various cool ways- enlarge the picture to see what I mean. I spent many a happy time observing the motions of the balls as a kid and still did for several minutes now, but who was counting?
This is Prudential Center in a pretty nice sunset shot if I may say so myself. I will note that it gets dark freakishly early in Boston- nearly an hour before the sun sets in Cleveland- and I guess that's what the time zone/ change in latitude does for you.

It was also nice because the unseasonable warmth meant you could still eat outside for dinner, which I couldn't imagine ever doing in late October in Boston if I hadn't done it myself!

Ah, Boston Boston Boston. Remind me to live here at some point in my life, as I'm sure I'd enjoy every minute of it.

Fall Break 1- New Hampshire

Time to start putting up the fall break pictures! I was in New England for virtually all of it, which is always really fun to do in the fall because of the leaves changing-
So pretty! For the weekend part (Saturday and most of Sunday) I was in New Hampshire, and the weather was utterly, completely gorgeous to match. Blue skies, unseasonably warm... to be honest it made the leaves not quite as nice as they often are in most years due to the warmth, and despite being past the peak for foliage there were still quite a few green leaves out there.
This is my mom and dad, canoing by. I post it because my mom made the astute observation that it was the sort of weekend that they take all the postcard and tourism photographs in so as to get everybody to visit New Hampshire, so I'm doing my part.
I paddled along in a kayak, as kayaks are way cooler than canoes will ever be.
This is probably my favorite tree I saw, just because of how vivid it is. Don't get me wrong, the red trees are nice too, but they're a little overrated and trees that turn pure yellow are much more stunning.
We also took advantage of the scenery by climbing up a little hill called East Rattlesnake not too far away on Saturday. East Rattlesnake overlooks Squam Lake, which is where the movie On Golden Pond was filmed (which if you're my age you probably haven't seen or heard of, but almost won the Best Picture Oscar in the early 80s).
My brother, Patrick, deciding to end it all at the top of East Rattlesnake. Ok not really, he was jumping to a ledge not visible to the camera in an attempt to get a good Facebook picture, but we had to do it over a few times to get it timed right from several angles. And all the while my mom and dad were criticizing us for some unknown reason...
Rainbow! Saturday just before sunset there was a very brief rainstorm, which resulted in the most beautiful and perfect rainbow I have ever seen. It was vividly bright and went from one side of the sky to the other without breaking, and there was even a double bow... ah, so beautiful! The colors even repeated a bit in the rainbow itself- as in, there was a second stripe of purple under the first- and I'm not exactly certain what causes something like that but I'd never seen it before. Some odd reflection within the water droplets I guess?

Anyway, New Hampshire was gorgeous and if you ever get the chance to go there in the fall you should unquestionably take it. Here's one last nice fall picture for the road-

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Comet Holmes Pictures

I should act before I write. I just went out for a lovely few hours, and took a look at Comet Holmes! It is really bright out there and easily visible to the naked eye even from downtown Cleveland- here's a picture from my friend Steven Janowiecki that he took earlier and has kindly allowed me to repost here-
The point of light circled in red is the comet (click to make the image larger). Notice how starlike it looks right now: Comet Holmes has no visible tail, which is completely weird and I'm not getting over just yet. The reason for this is it's still so far out that no tail has developed and most comets don't get bright enough until a tail is developed, whereas Holmes won't be at its closest to the sun until December 1. The fact that it still has over a month to approach the sun, during which it will release more gasses and (very probably) increase in brightness, means the show probably is just starting with this puppy. I'm incredibly excited!

Through the telescope was also interesting. The most obvious feature of the whole thing is that it's yellow, with a greenish tint. Astronomical objects rarely have color, especially not comets so far as I can recall, because your eye just plain isn't sensitive to such faint colors. Further, it has a very compact center with a nice ring of haze surrounding it- a very compact coma! There is not even a hint of a tail either, which is how the comet can look so starlike in the night sky.

Here's a picture that I took. Please realize this was just with my little digital camera placed against the eyepiece of the telescope in a rather cheap operation, and I didn't even bother to set the exposure longer than the default of the camera. (My camera isn't really one made for astrophotography.) However, the fact that my camera could image Comet Holmes under such conditions is impressive in itself! If you want to see some actual astrophotography, though, take a look at the galleries as they're shaping up to having a great collection.

Last but not least because my sister asked- Comet Holmes is just barely visible in many parts of the southern hemisphere, but it really depends where you are and if you know where to look. People have already sent in pictures from Queensland, Australia so it's definetely doable, and a quick game of latitude reveals that you ought to just see it with an unobstructed horizon from a latitude like Melbourne or Auckland.

I can't find a southern sky finderchart, but here is the northern hemisphere one. Happy comet hunting, everyone!

Comet Alert!

Yesterday, Comet Holmes exploded in the night sky from 17th to 2nd magnitude, which corresponds to 400,000x brighter in the course of just a few hours. Incredible! It's now visible to the naked eye in Perseus after sunset, so if you have clear skies the next few days you should check it out (finderchart here).

So this begs the question: who in Cleveland wants to go comet-hunting with me during the weekend? Our weather's not looking perfect, but according to clear sky clock we might have a few clear hours and it's not going to fade so quickly that the 9.5" refractor won't make it look cool. (You never know, it might still brighten! But I get ahead of myself.) Let me know.

PS- I have many nice pictures from fall break, but I've been too lazy to post them. I'll get around to that soon.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Top Ten Most Important Astronomical Images

No Quarked this week due to midterms, but I had an article in the Journal of Young Investigators this month that I don't think I've mentioned. So who wants to read a run-down on the top ten most important astronomical images? As chosen by my own personal authority, of course, because everyone knows these lists are just as authoritative as the opinion of the person who writes them.

This article appeared a few weeks earlier this month, but I haven't posted it here until now because I've had some problems with it. For obvious reasons, it was rather important that the right images go with the right pieces of text for the article, but the graphics guy (in the trend of graphics guys everywhere) took the liberty to find some "more interesting" images when he happened to not think one of mine as cool enough. Now for a few of these it worked out alright, but the graphics guy completely messed up when it came to extrasolar planets. The image I chose (shown to the left) was considered "too boring," so he substituted in an artist's rendition instead!

I find this to be an interesting premise, you see. I mean, if I were going for the "prettiest" images then yes, the extrasolar one probably doesn't cut it, but images that are the most aesthetically pleasing rarely translate into the ones that contribute to real science. (I'd expound on this point more, but I already did in said article so I won't regurgitate.) And while I like my editor and think JYI is a nifty organization and laud their goal to produce an undergraduate science publication, I've noticed that it's really, really hard to get mistakes corrected once they're printed. You know how it is in the college world- everyone has ten million different things going on so it's kind of hard to convince anybody to go back to a job that's already "done." Particularly when no one's getting paid to do anything and it's midterms month.

I could probably go on about this but I don't think it'll help much. Besides which I have other things to do- it's the last day before fall break and I have a plane to catch to New England a few hours, and lots to do before then! So see you guys next week; I should have lots of pretty "New England in the fall" pictures to share.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


You wanna know how to tell if a place is in the middle of nowhere? Wait until an earthquake hits the region, and then see what's written up about it regarding the damage. The South Island of New Zealand was hit by a magnitude 6.7 earthquake yesterday, with aftershocks as high as 6.2. The epicenter of the quake was near Milford Sound in the southwestern part of the island.
A 6.7 quake, I'd like to remind everyone, is the same magnitude as the Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles in 1994 which sent that city into complete chaos and killed 72 people. But what happened in New Zealand? Well, according to the article-

Betty's Liquor Store manager Christine Gilbert said seven bottles, worth $350, were lying broken on the floor when she arrived at work at 7.45am this morning. Another 12 bottles were on the ground but unbroken.
Which raises an even more important question in my mind: what kind of stuff are they selling at Betty's Liquor Store that it's $50 a bottle? (NZ dollars, but still.) I recall the booze as being cheap in that country...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

How to Advertise a Physics Talk

If I've learned one thing about undergraduate talks, it's that the advertising for them is slightly different than what you do for the proper seminars and colloquia. The undergraduate Physics and Astronomy Club is hosting a talk this week, and here's the flier we're distributing.

I mean, everyone wants to hear about physics, but your best bet is to emphasize the free food and avoid the "pop vs. soda" controversy if you want people to show. This form of advertising worked well last time, as we ran out of pizza and set a record in attendance (I think word filtered to the graduate students). Further, these talks always start at 5:30 as that way we can snag everybody just getting out of lab at 5:15- by comparison, the colloquia at Case start at 4:15 which is completely stupid because then none of the undergraduates can attend.

By the way, I sent out an email to our list earlier today too, which consisted of the basic information, a mention of Professor Kash's nickname per us students ("Momma Bear"), and a signature "love and snuggles, The Physics and Astronomy Club." There's nothing like a warm and fuzzy feeling when thinking about a semiconductor lecture!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Golden Kiwifruit

I found golden kiwifruit in the supermarket this weekend, which made me incredibly excited. (For those of you who have never had them, golden kiwifruit are a special type of kiwi that isn't fuzzy and has a sweeter taste, and obviously looks different than the average kiwifruit.) According to the little sticker they were a "Product of New Zealand," and while they were a little mushy I was so excited to find them that I didn't mind.

Stereotypical as it is, I miss kiwifruit. They were easier to find in convenience stores than apples, and often cheaper... Not gonna lie, you don't want to know how many times I ended up just having kiwifruit for breakfast. Nor do you want to know how many wheels of brie I went through, once I realized you could get a pretty big one for NZ$3: it might've been two islands in the middle of the Pacific, but there were distinct advantages to living in a country that was essentially one big farm!

God, I miss New Zealand so much sometimes that it hurts. Am I allowed to go back yet?

Quarked: PostSecret

Today my column about PostSecret appeared in The Observer. You know, the one I scored the free books to review for?

Turns out the PostSecret book, A Lifetime of Secrets, is at #50 right now on Amazon's bestseller list and still moving upwards. It's always nice to know you jumped the bandwagon for a bestseller!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Listening Through "Drastic Fantastic"

One of my favorite current artists out there is KT Tunstall, who is a singer/songwriter from Scotland. In fact, it turns out that my music collection is more gender biased than a physics department, and Tunstall is the only female musician I keep track of so the release of her new album, Drastic Fantastic, counted as a big deal in my world.

(By the way, if you don't know who KT Tunstall is, check out Suddenly I See or Black Horse and Cherry Tree and come back after that. If you follow recent music at all, you should be able to recognize these.)

Anyway, Drastic Fantastic. I like it. I already suspect that Hold On is going to be one of those songs I play endlessly on my iPod, as well as a few others, and while I might not like all the songs individually (but honestly, does anyone ever like all the songs?) it is definitely a great album to just listen to in the background. My one problem with it, though, is how (with the possible exception of Hold On) there is no loud, upbeat, I-am-going-to-take-over-the-world soundtrack of which there were several on her first album. (The first album, by the way, is called Eye to the Telescope. Turns out Tunstall's dad is a physicist!) I admit I have high expectations in this, as Suddenly I See has the #1 spot on my most played playlist and Black Horse and Cherry Tree isn't far behind. But hey, songs take some time to grow on you, so we'll see what happens in the next few days/weeks.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Looking Back on Sputnik

The 50th anniversary of Sputnik's launch was yesterday, and everyone's favorite geek column in The Observer covered the issue. From this week's edition of "Quarked"-

I must admit though, I am a little disappointed; the future prophesied at the beginning of the space age has not come to fruition. Space has not panned out to be the exciting final frontier it was promised to be: we haven't been back to the moon since 1972, and fewer than 500 humans have ever made it into space. NASA's Space Shuttle does not have an incredible amount of modern technological prowess either, as the fleet has been used for over a quarter-century and the computers haven't been updated since 1990. Your iPod has more computing power than the Space Shuttle, and it's not susceptible to falling chunks of foam to boot!

Now lest anyone get me wrong, I will be the first to say that the human presence in space has provided us with an incalculable wealth of new science, technology, and inspiration about the cosmos. Who doesn't feel a sense of awe when looking at the latest Hubble pictures, or see the advantages to a global positioning system? It's just that when it comes to manned spaceflight in recent years, I do not think NASA has much to show for their efforts. We did the whole Apollo program for just a fraction of what the International Space Station will cost when it's finally completed, even when adjusting for inflation, and space still remains inaccessible to all but a tiny handful. If you want to be an astronaut, you will probably have a better chance hitching a ride with a private company like Virgin Galactic once they begin operations in a few years, even with an initial price tag of $200,000...

Comments? Let me know either in person or here, as I like to know how these are received.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

How to Score Free Books

Got these in the mail today-
How? Here's the story: one of my regularly scheduled Internet stops on Sundays is at Postsecret, and last week they mentioned that student writers for university papers could request an advanced review copy of the book A Lifetime of Secrets, due out October 9th. I realized with a jolt that hey, I'm a student writer!, and after a few emails with a very kind publicist the book was sent with the understanding that I'll be writing a piece on Postsecret next week for The Observer. Currently I'm just envisioning it as another column for Quarked rather than a proper book review, but we'll see how things go.

So anyway, the package arrived for me today and to my surprise there was another book too! Yay! This second one is Jubilee City: A Memoir at Full Speed by Joe Andoe (an artist chap). It came out this past summer and has great reviews on Amazon, and I'm really looking forward to reading that one.

I'll post whatever article that comes out of this once it comes out, of course, and let you know how my free book turns out as well. But this entire chain of events has really made my day, as it's not every day you snag free advanced copies with a retail value of $50! Perhaps there's something to this writer thing after all...

Sunday, September 30, 2007


We've wanted to do this for awhile, but four of us physicists (and one token astronomer) finally got our schedules worked out and went camping this weekend. We went to Findley State Park, which is an hour or so to the southwest of Cleveland. It was an absolutely perfect weekend too- nary a cloud in the sky and warm enough during the day for shorts and t-shirts, which is very odd for this part of the country at this time of year.

This was also, it should be noted, my first time going "fun camping" with the exception of when I was in New Zealand. What I mean by this is I spent fifteen years of my life (from age 3 until I graduated high school) as a Hungarian Scout, so while there was a lot of living in tents during my vacations and what not it was all very structured and there was usually somebody yelling at you to do something. Here, on the other hand, it was very nice to wake up in the tent realizing that no one was going to make you jump out of your sleeping bag first thing in the morning for a few calisthenics (Hungarian Scouts have some sadistic traditions) or shout because my campfire wasn't in perfect tepee form or whatever. Ahhh, the joys of not having to abandon sleeping bag warmth at seven in the morning!

We (John, Alison, Nick, and me) arrived Friday night just around when it was getting dark, so while there was a lot of marshmallow consumption I don't have pictures as it was (obviously) a little dark. After breakfast and what not I took this picture as we headed out to explore the park because it amused me: nowhere else but Ohio would it be so flat that they warn you about an approaching hill! To make things further amusing we never found the hill, and so far as I could tell no hill exists in the area. Hmmm...
John examining the spillway that we came across, which had a sign that just guaranteed we were going to come closer for a second look.
A gorgeous thicket of purple wildflowers. I'm not entirely certain of what they are (do any of you guys?) but they were blooming everywhere in a last touch of summer. To top it off, a lot of the leaves on the trees were beginning to turn wonderful colors as well; it looked like someone had dipped a paintbrush and thrown brilliantly colored paint haphazardly throughout the woods.
Alison standing at the edge of the lake, which is around thanks to a natural dam towards one end of it. It's 93 acres all told, so we rented canoes and spent the afternoon exploring the inlets, admiring the foliage, observing the herons and egrets, and splashing each other in a good ol' fashioned canoe war. Fortunately (or incredibly?) enough, it was so warm yesterday that you didn't feel cold at all getting a little wet, and the sun took care of things quite quickly.

(Alas, no pictures from the water as I wasn't stupid enough to take my camera what with all the splash threats, even though that was probably the most photogenic.)
Once we were back at the campground we settled down for a bit of R&R while waiting for Steven (who had to work on Saturday and was joining us late) to arrive.
The second night's campfire, where Steven spent a lot of time trying to get our improperly ventilated fire going through excessive uses of fanning with a piece of cardboard. There was much joviality, and since we're physics geeks a lot of jokes that I'm sure most of the general population wouldn't completely understand. Nick also played his guitar a bit for us, which he's quite good at- I plucked a few strings but still need a lot of practice!
Steven looking pensive over his morning bagel- we broke camp and left around 11. All in all, we had a great time and hope we'll have time for another camping trip later this year.

Spotted in Cosmology Class

What a professor writes on the board when he realizes his joke somehow didn't work-

"I will not quit my day job." Good to know, because how would I possibly learn cosmology then? :-)

(For those who do not know, cosmology class is often a time of much merriment and laughter. Perhaps because it's right after lunch, and because after talking a lot about the absurdity known as the universe there's little left to do.)

Chalking it Up (part 2)

I just realized that I never posted chalkings from the second day of the chalk festival two weekends ago, and since a lot of you never got a chance to visit it'd be best if I posted them. So these are from Day 2 of the chalking extravaganza outside the Cleveland Art Museum...The above is a little map I did as my first chalking of the day on Sunday (I posted Saturday earlier). I spend a surprising amount of time looking at maps thanks to Ham radio so I wanted to see how well I could get away with the US from memory... not too bad overall I think, though the southern border needs some work.
After that I had an urge to draw something really, really colorful, so what was better than a peace sign? After all, not there's always a slight lack of it in the world...
These are my three drawings overall, plus some of the tools I used. Notice that the peace symbol really stands out compared to everything else- this is because you usually use a sponge to smooth out the colors, but I instead used the "wear down the chalk" approach instead on that one. Clearly, it works better, but only for smaller pictures because else you'd run out of the stuff.
This was the chalking of the guy who was working next to me, which was really cool because I got to see how the drawing evolved as he made it. Note that the source of light in the prism isn't clear- it's intended so that it could be coming either from the book or from outside sunlight.
This was a two-day effort by two ladies who were also in my general area. Looks just gorgeous!
Just another one I thought was lovely.
So much great work! This is one of the ones made by a professional artist, but I still felt really out of my league with all the great talent around... Unfortunately, we did get rain a few days ago in Cleveland so most of the chalkings are probably gone, but some of them might still be visible. I'll have to go check.