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.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Scientific Nursery Rhymes

For reasons that I won't go into, I was thinking a bit about Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star recently. It's a rather misunderstood piece of work actually- contrary to popular belief, Mozart did not actually write it, it was just a popular French ditty he wrote variations on, and there are also several stanzas after the well-known first one.

So Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star is probably the most popular scientific-oriented song/poem out there, but you know what irks me a little about it? The chorus line of "how I wonder what you are." I know I'm being a stickler about this, but we now know what stars are thanks to one of the most astounding bits of scientific discovery in the 20th century. We should modernize accordingly. And in case you don't know what I mean, here's my modest example in case I was in charge of this; feel free to sing out loud-

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star (Revised for Modern Audiences)
by Yvette Cendes

Twinkle, twinkle, little star
I don't wonder what you are!
Through spectroscopy it has been
Derived you're made of hydrogen
And you shine brighter than day,
It's just you are quite far away.

Twinkle, twinkle, shining bright
Shimmering throughout the night
This is caused by, I'm aware,
Your light bending through the air
So you glitter when I see
Your photons coming to me.

Twinkle, twinkle, ball of fire
Shine for all who you inspire,
Though your secrets have been told
Your beauty never grows old,
And I'm awed by what you are,
Twinkle, twinkle, little star.

I feel like there are probably a few other explanations of stellar properties I missed, but it will have to do for now. And yes, I'm kind of worried about what I will be teaching my children someday too...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

New Hampshire Primaries Held Last Tuesday

... or at least, that's what the headline should have been. But what is the headline for my column this week instead? "Early, Rapid-Fire Presidential Primary Elections Skew Results." Um, yeah. Can't say I'm a fan, not as much because it's a terrible headline as much as I know a lot of people will start reading the article not realizing it's supposed to be satire, and get confused. Which makes me sad, as I spent a lot of time trying to balance seriousness and humor in this one.

I must say, this isn't the first time my article headlines have ended up meaning something completely different rather than what I intended. (Which is not good. It's September.) I usually don't have my articles run by me as there are only slight changes for clarity, but perhaps I should ask if I could know what headline they run under from here on out.

On the plus side, I have moved up the ranks and am now the number-one ranked column in The Observer! Hooray! Today The Observer, tomorrow The New York Times editorial page... muahahaha, it's all going according to plan...

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Chalking it Up

Today was a fun day! Gorgeous weather to counter those hurricane remnant clouds passing through last night, so I headed over to the 18th annual Chalk Festival hosted by the Cleveland Museum of Art. It's ongoing all this weekend (Sunday's hours are 12-5) and the artwork will last until the next rainfall, so you should all go check it out as it's really awesome.

As you can see, most of the people who participate are just families from Cleveland and such- you can pay for a certain-sized square and they'll give you some fine-quality chalk, so you can just get to work on doing whatever you want. There are also a few professional artists working too-
But yes, lots of creative chalkers! Here's one I particularly liked, titled "Snakes on a Plane"...
Here's another gorgeous set, which honestly look for all the world like a few Monet paintings just walked out of the art museum and laid themselves on the pavement-
Here's another nice one, which is clearly a work in progress and wont' be finished until tomorrow. A lot of people get really serious about the chalk festival, and are there the whole weekend. (For those who don't recognize it, the building is Adelbert, the CWRU administrative building where the president and provost and all those lovely people hang out.)
After seeing all this great artwork, I decided to throw my lot in the ring and do my own chalking. I was a bit intimidated by the other artists to be honest- I can't draw most things at all, and forever envy those who do- but I do have a good cartoonish style of many a deep space object thanks to years of doodling in my notebook margins and having a one-track mind. So after two hours, here's my end result-
Hooray for the Mars rover! This is probably the biggest piece of artwork I've ever done by the way- here's a picture with me in it for scale-
So anyway, I am quite proud of my piece and now get to obsessively worry about the prospects of rain for a little while (luckily we're in that time of year with perpetual blue skies, so it says "sunny" for the next ten days of forecast!). I had a lot of fun though and still have quite a bit of chalk, so perhaps tomorrow I'll be heading back to do another square. And if I don't, no one will complain too loudly if I use my meager artistic skills on some other nice piece of sidewalk around campus, right?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Steelers vs Browns

My column this week focuses on the infamous Pittsburgh Steelers vs Cleveland Browns rivalry. For those of you who don't live in the country and might not know the first thing about "American football," the Steelers and the Browns have one of the biggest rivalries in the National Football League and thus it can be mildly dangerous at times to be a Steelers fan in Cleveland. There's a lot of question as to why this is, but in short both cities are places where football team pride is not so much about the football as a residency requirement and are just a few hours from each other, so things can get a little heated.

And while I wasn't expecting it, my column was complimented by the editorial cartoon in The Observer week-

The two cartoonists for my friends and fellow physicists Miriam and Wiggles, where Miriam is the illustrator and Wiggles is the writer. This is their first year doing the cartooning, but they do a great job of it... It should also be mentioned that another fellow physicist, Alison, is the News Editor, so between the four of us one can argue that the CWRU newspaper is run by the physics department. You know, part of the secret plan to take over the universe that all physicists diligently follow. (Shhhh!)

Friday, September 7, 2007

Quarked: Mysteries of the Universe

The second installment of my column was published today in The Observer! Because I know that utterly no one cares if I post it, here it is for those too lazy to click on the link...

Quarked: Mysteries of the universe revealed

Yvette Cendes, Columnist

I don't know a lot of things. I honestly don't. I don't know how to imagine a world with no hypothetical situations, I don't know why you have a light in the fridge but not the freezer, and I don't know what color a Smurf turns when you choke it. I don't know why Case has a persistent logo fetish when they had a perfectly fine one for several decades, and I don't know who, upon reviewing architectural plans for the renovation of the Cleveland Art Museum, pointed at the ghastly one they chose and exclaimed, "Yes, this is exactly what we were looking for! We could do no better than investing millions of dollars in this design!"

Perhaps these mysteries all have perfectly decent explanations behind them. If it's enlightenment you seek on these topics, I am simply not the one to ask.

I mention all this because I am a physics major. For those of you who have little experience with physics, the field is filled with pressing questions no normal person would think about unless in a state of intoxication. What happens exactly when I smash objects together really fast? Why does time move really quickly when I'm on a hot date, but really slowly on the dull ones? Why is there something instead of nothing in the universe, and why is so much of it on my desk? Why is this object – wow! – really, really shiny?

I'm oversimplifying things a little, of course: we know a lot more about physics now than we used to. Nowadays if you want to smash things you usually need an excuse to use a particle accelerator. But you get the idea.

When I first declared my physics major, one of the main reasons I wanted to do it was to answer a few questions about this universe we call home. And while there have certainly been moments of enlightenment, one of the things that has most impressed me about this journey is how 10 new questions always seem to take the place of the one I just answered. The universe is complicated and refuses to give up its secrets without a good fight.

The best thing about physics? While it may be true that the universe is big and we are small and none of us can really say we know what's going on half the time, I still find the universe wonderfully exciting. This place is a lot more grand and wonderful than anything we can possibly imagine, and there will always be something new to ponder. We need never be bored thanks to all the things we have left to discover.

And while you're all busy pondering, I have a favor to ask. If you ever come across an asphyxiated Smurf, could you check on his color and get back to me? I'm dying to know the answer to that one.

When not doing something else, Yvette is a fourth-year physics major.

RIP Madeline L'Engle

Madeline L'Engle, author of A Wrinkle In Time, has passed away at the age of 88.

Honestly, I'm very sad- we talked about her in my creative writing class just two days ago, actually, so somehow it seems very fresh. Further, A Wrinkle In Time was my complete, utter favorite book in 5th grade (until I read The Golden Compass in 6th), and I am sure millions of other schoolchildren like me loved it because we spent a lot of time wondering about 5th dimensions, the tesseract, and the importance of the indavidual. For this, I will forgive her for the sleepless night I spent during my first read-through of the book because I kept having nightmares about the giant, totalitarian IT. Here's a scary thought for you that I could never get over: you realize that IT never "dies" or anything, and is still somewhere out there in the L'Engle universe? Scary.

Unfortunately, I tried reading her other books, but with the exception of Many Waters I just never could get into them. A Wrinkle In Time was a complete gem though, so for that I salute her.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

A Trip to the Ivy League

Time for a trip! I spent this past Labor Day weekend in New Haven, Connecticut, which is the home of Yale University. But my main reason to be there wasn't academic at all- I was there to see Katherine!
Katherine is, for those of you who have never made her acquaintance, my best friend from high school. She's in her fourth year of history right now, but unfortunately led as busy a life as me this summer so I hadn't seen her since January. A long weekend was just perfect for a visit... Oh, and while I didn't realize it until Katherine told me, we apparently met exactly ten Labor Day Weekends ago at a pool party where neither of us really wanted to get into the water. Hooray for anniversaries!
When we weren't spending time hanging out with a bunch of very kind students, we spent a lot of time taking a grand tour of Yale University and its environs. Yale has to be one of the loveliest universities I have been to- founded in 1706, the entire thing is modeled after a British university, from the lovely Gothic style of the buildings (the library is above) down to the fact that the students stay in residential colleges rather than dorms. They even pour acid on the stones to make them look older.
The view from the reference room of the library, or more specifically from the table where I worked on my cosmology homework Sunday afternoon. (Yale students were still doing orientation and just started classes today, so while Katherine was busy meeting first years I worked on homework a bit.) It was mildly amusing to work here because a lot of tourists/visitors come in the doorway, snap a photo, and leave. And while the above clearly indicates that I'm not exempt from this, I must be on several dozen photos by now looking for all the world like a serious Yale student... or something.
The furthest away part from where the students live is Science Hill, which is also home of the Yale Physics Department! Yay! The building itself is probably a little bit smaller than CWRU Physics's Rockefeller Building (though Yale has a huge building devoted to astronomy to make up for it), but alas I never got inside to poke around. They still use actual keys on the doors as opposed to card swipes and it was a Sunday, and two grad students refused to let us in despite our asking very nicely. Hmph. Guess I'll need to pay them a proper visit on my own steam sometime.
This is the view from East Rock, which is a hill a half-hour walk from campus that overlooks New Haven and the university. If you have a clear day like we did, you can see all the way to Long Island. As the picture sort of shows, Yale is basically New Haven- according to Katherine they're the number one employer in the city, with number two being the university hospital. Either way it's a cute little city- they have good pizza too if you're a fan of thin pizza!

So all in all, it was a great weekend for sure and I had a lot of fun. I will confess, however, that it never felt like I was completely in the "real world" for a large chunk of it. I suppose this is because while Yale students are all intelligent and lovely people, they didn't seem to view the world the same way college students I usually hang out with do. Virtually everyone went abroad to an exotic country this summer, often to volunteer in an orphanage or conserve wildlife or something, and while this is quite commendable I have never heard of a CWRU student doing such a thing for the simple reason that CWRU students need their summer pay. Further, there were a few instances where the degrees of separation between me and Famous and/or Influential People reduced to scantily tiny numbers in what were otherwise normal situations, and if you never do double-takes when these things happen you've probably been away from the normal realm of things for a long time.

(Special thanks to Katherine for being my ever-splendiferous hostess!)