Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Three Thoughts

One month from now will be Christmas, and I will have a physics degree.

Two months from now will be my 23rd birthday, and I will be in Kyoto, Japan.

Three months from now I can't tell you where I'll be, short of somewhere in South East Asia.

What an extraordinary thing, this life I get to lead.

Quarked: Campus Mysteries

Here is the most recent installment of Quarked, which covers a variety of things I have noticed around campus that I never quite figured out and figure I probably won't by this point. I'm not sure how entertaining some of the things are to those who don't know my university, but I write for a campus newspaper and figured I should cover a few more 'local' things as well.

Entertainingly enough, this column is not without controversey, due to the following passage-

Inscription plaque in Rockefeller - Our physics building was built in 1906,
but if you actually look at the dedication plaque, (between the two sets of
doors as you're coming in from the Quad) the dedication date for the building is
written as "MDCCCCVI." This is, of course, not the way you write Roman numerals
- you use subtraction notation, meaning you can only have three of anything in a
row and 1906 should actually be written "MCMVI."

I don't know what is more disturbing, the fact that the physics department doesn't know how to count, or the fact that I am the first person in over 100 years who has noticed this.

As it turns out, there is some controversey as to when exactly Roman numerals were "standardized" as we use them today- the Romans liked to use "IIII" for 4 instead of "IV" like we do due to superstition, but were fine with "IX" for example. Long story short, I now know more about this than I cared to know.

I mention this because it turns out some people writing to point out errors are not as nice as others, and one went as far as saying "the physics department is owed an apology by the snarky columnist." I always thought I was more curmudgeonly myself... Anyway, this led me to wonder who exactly I'd apologize to should anyone care. Myself? My friends, my professors, or my friends who are professors? The department chair who has shown up to my parties?

This is why letters to the editor are funny, by the way. They can take one person's opinion and totally blow it out of proportion so you'll remember it a long time even when everyone else has long forgotten the incident at hand.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Across the Universe

Sitting here doing physics homework, watching the snow fall and listening to The Beatles. Which leads to an interesting question in my mind- how many people have ever fallen under this description of activity? Many of the material physics classes you take haven't changed much in recent years- or at least since the 1960s- and the decades in between cover millions of physics students, Beatles listeners, and snow watchers respectively. Surely these categories of people overlap to at least a decent several thousand.

It's funny how united in experience we can be, even if we never stop to think about it.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

New Toy

In the fashion of college students everywhere, my computer these past few years was a graduation present upon finishing high school four years ago. Said computer, a Dell laptop, has performed admirably for the most part, but in recent months it's started to get slow and cranky as computers do after a few years (particularly one that has been used and abused as much as mine). There were even a few worrisome moments where the darn thing refused to turn on for several minutes- quite worrisome, to say the least- and I decided I would feel better if I got a new computer to supplement the old workhorse. I've been eyeing a Mac (yeah I know, shut up) but galavanting the world makes one hesitant about carrying around an expensive thing, and combined with the weight factor I decided to pick something else.

Final result- the computer shown above, which arrived yesterday, an Eee PC 901. Weighing just around a kilo (a hair over two pounds), this little guy has six hours battery life, 20G storage space and, here's the entertaining bit, runs Linux. Which is totally exciting, if only because it turns out there's a game in Linux that's essentially Mr. Potato Head but you have the option of decorating a penguin if you desire. It's what my stuffed kiwi is so engaged with in the above photograph, actually...

(At this point I would like to kindly reassure my geeky readership that I do know my way around several versions of Linux, and I know it has more going for it than just this. But you gotta admit, the Mr. Potato Head game is a definite bonus!)

Anyway, in case you can't tell it turns out the Eee PC is tiny- check out the following picture, with my graphing calculator for scale-
This means I am no longer worried about portability in any sense of the word, but I am spending a little time trying to get used to the condensed keyboard. My main issue is I tend to use the right-handed "Shift" key but the up arrow is currently where I usually strike, so I'm down a few words a minute for now until I get used to things.

Other notes- I am now in the market for an external harddrive to carry music/movies while I'm on the road (no DVD player, as there's just no space), and I suppose I need iTunes on said external as well since my main gripe with Linux is it's not compatible with my iPod. It hopefully won't be too impossible to work around, but if this is my only gripe with an ultraportable $400 laptop I figure life isn't too bad at all! (You can run XP on these, but in the interest of conserving space I'm sticking with Linux for now.)

So to conclude this initial review, if you want to travel the world and not do much more with your computer than update your blog, play with your photos, and play an occasional movie then you should consider one of these guys. Particularly if you don't have chubby fingers.

And with that you'll have to excuse me- I'm still playing around with the preloaded software, and it turns out there's a "sky over your location for any given time/place" program! Must investigate this further...

Monday, November 3, 2008


I am not one to beg you to go vote only to get pissed if you don't vote for the person I want to win. I just want you to vote, as it is your duty and privilege to do so.

If you want brownie points check your local state's League of Women Voters page and get informed on the other things also on your state ballot. There's usually some other important stuff in there worth your attention!

And finally, for fun, as a few of you know I was an election official (aka poll worker) in the 2004 election. Cuyahoga County still did punch card ballots in 2004- we do paper ballots that look like the bubble sheets you use for standardized tests now- but it was one of the more unique experiences I've ever had. No time to do it this year again, unfortunately, I wrote a summary that I have dug up in honor of this anniversary:

Well the first thing to note about being a poll worker is it's rather
tiring or at least it was this time around. In my precinct we had all
told 466 votes cast whereas four years ago the same precinct saw 188
voters! Yep, we were one of the ones that had a line outside an hour
before the polls even opened and didn't let down from utter
pandamonium for about four hours after opening (here meaning a long
line that made voting maybe a half hour affair). We were relatively
uneventful compared to other precints in the ward however: some of the
other precints had a few dead people show up to vote! Which later led
to an animated discussion on just what we'd say if a dead person
showed, I was for "oh, you must not be feeling well, why don't you go
back home and lie down for awhile" but we never had to actually do

I was by far the youngest poll worker which means to start off with I
was in charge of tearing stubbs off the punch cards and putting
ballots in the ballot box etc to make sure that didn't get messed up.
I was also, as the only non-Democrat in the place being of "no party,"
the automatic Republican who had to be the second witness whenever
someone needed help in reading the ballot and such.

Later on in the day I got to keep the books and I was deemed "good at
it" (when my mom heard this she laughed- apparently on her father's
side there's a long line of bookkeepers) so I had to make sure the
signatures equalled the number of ballots cast etc etc. Rather
irritating when you realize you are ten off after counting all those
signatures and the only way to check is count them all again!

But I gotta admit, it was incredibly exciting last night to realize
that Ohio was going to decide the fate of the nation! And it made me
proud to realize that as far as Cuyahoga County 9-N goes there's no
grey area between what "should have" happened and what actually did.
Don't know how this election will go down in the books but I have the
feeling that down the line the fact that I was an Ohio poll worker for
Election 2004 will be a story for the grandkids.

Tape, X-Rays, and Why Physics Is Awesome

Check this out-

We saw this in one of my classes earlier today and I haven't gotten over it. What you're basically seeing is doing something very simple in unrolling tape and releasing ~50keV of energy in x-rays. That is a lot of energy in there, and no one knows how or why it would be so concentrated.

And this is why I love physics. Because there is always something new and fascinating that shows up no matter how much you think you have things figured out.

Quarked: Trip Around the World

My column this week was devoted to my trip around the world to address a few details about the whole thing and discuss the concept of crazy dreams in general. Because it's fun to talk about crazy dreams, isn't it?