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...