Monday, September 26, 2016

We don't need no education

Dear Diary,

 It's the fall-time right of passage.  Each Burke student must teach the ABCs at some point before they leave the program, just as they must take the program for credit before they leave.  The only question is always:  Who has to teach?  And I'm sure for the incoming students, they ask: What do you think the teacher's gonna look like this year?

Well, diary, I will be teaching at least some of the course this year.  Fun, fun.   Yep, it finally comes to me:  preparing, teaching, grading, answering questions without messing up, reading the text for the first time, being just another brick in the wall, etc.

[Editor's note: Hey, teacher, leave them kids alone]

Friday, September 23, 2016

All used up

Dear Diary,

After many long, hard journeys, my travel grant is all used up.  Ok, well, I spent three more dollars than the allotment, no joke!  Thank you ARCS for the funding.  It really brought me places and physics I wouldn't have gone otherwise.

Your sincerely,
Dr. Who

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

More puzzles

Dear Diary,

John von Neumann was a mathematician alive when quantum mechanics was getting big.  Allegedly, he was faster and smarter than Bethe.   Somehow I can't quite believe that...Bethe was used to calculate mental math to check the first computers.

But anyway, there's a story about von Neumann and a puzzle:  Given two bikes twenty miles apart and on a course to collide (each bike travels at 10 mph and starts 20 miles apart), a fly travels from one tire's edge to the tire on the other bike repeatedly until is it squashed (always at 15 mph--it turns around instantaneously on reaching the bike).

How far does the fly travel?

There's an easy way to get this answer and it's to recognize that it takes the bikes 1 hour to meet, so the fly travels 15 miles.

But there's a hard way, and apparently von Neumann calculated this instantly on hearing the question.  Once answered, the questioner said, "Oh, you must know the trick." (solution presented above) But von Neumann said, "What trick?  I just summed up the geometric series."

Oh man, diary!  How do you even set up the geometric series for this?  I'd love to know!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

And then there were three

Dear Diary,

It was great to hear from Dave about his experience in graduate school and get a reprieve from the blog.  I wish him the best.

It turns out we've had a mass exodus from the group recently.  Raphael is leaving for San Diego, Paul took a job in northern California, and Li is secretly working full time on secret things.  The worst part about all of this is updating the information on the website.  Let's just focus on the alumni section.  Each alternating person has either a white or gray box and these need to be set by hand in our html code.  This is a huge pain if Dave (last name starting with "F") needs to be inserted in the top of the list and all following entries changed.  Sad!

Now we're down to three.  I'll be removed from my one desk Hilton on the ground floor, where the sun never hits that side of the building (keeping it cool in the summer time and refreshingly chill in the "winter"), to the second floor office where air remains unmoved, hot and stuffy.  My beloved white board and I will part, but the Cheshire cat grin of hallway noise will follow.  My only compensation is a larger desk and the ability to retreat to my Fortress of Solitude in another building.  I secretly tried to get two postdocs, my current neighbors, who currently have tiny desks to move into there and prevent this.  They requisitioned another office instead, telling me to try and be happy.

He that commends me to mine own content
Commends me to the thing I cannot get.
 I, to the science, am like a drop of water.
That in the ocean seeks a postdoc, who, failing there to find a fellowship,
Unseen, uninspired, publishes his worth:
So I to find a degree and an escape,
and in that quest, unhappy, lose myself.

I to Spain for a few weeks, as the world turns beneath me.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Saying Goodbye

It's time I come clean about the radio silence that has washed over this blog.

Back in April of this year, I started to realize that things between grad school and I weren't going to work out. I'd found myself failing to really care about my research and, though things were going well in practice (time spent at a national lab, papers, presentations, etc.), I could tell that there was a gap in principals between me and science.

I've spent my entire life labeling myself as a scientist. It's really the only way I know how to describe myself. I have a sleeve of science tattoos adorning my left arm (that now seems a bit shortsighted) and have always been captivated by the quantum world. But in the process of breaking the news to Kieron (who was cooler about the whole thing than I could have ever hoped for), I verbalized that my intrigue is only fascination. It's not the sort of deep passion that makes a theoretician grind through a hard derivation. It's not the sometimes-harmful drive that causes an experimentalist to want to work in lab until 3 in the morning.

It's a sort of grit. And I have plenty, but I don't have that kind of grit. I like the process of problem solving, and using data to tell stories. But science in and of itself doesn't grab me. And it's crazy to admit that, because the last decade of my life has been spent trying to better understand science.

But in some ways, I was really using science as a way to better understand myself. My grad school experience has taught me a variety of things, but most valuably, it taught me who I am. And for that I will always be grateful.

Life beyond my feeble attempt at a PhD will start in NYC with me as a back-end engineer at a data-driven marketing company. I'm excited, nervous, and thrilled to be on the cusp of a new adventure. And I look forward to using the problem solving prowess I've developed trying to understand the strange, strange world of density functional theory.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016


Since the beginning of 2015, I've been the honorary cookie person for the group. My job is to bring tasty treats to the group meetings to compliment the delicious coffee that Kieron makes.

Every so often, we collect money from everyone to pay for the cookies, and our funds are running low. We'll have to get some more cash during the group meeting today. Wanting to make this a smooth process, I dove into the recesses of our old minutes from previous group meetings to find out the rates each person pays ($5 for grad students, $20 for profs etc).

Using my mad UNIX skills, I started grepping around for the word "cookie" and oh me oh my did I find something marvelous. The following is the output I received after typing "grep cookies *.tex" into our minutes subdirectory:

130528.tex:Raphael - group leader - cookies, journal club, toner
130723.tex:Special guest:  Steve White and delicious purple cookies courtesy of Eunji Sim.
130723.tex:Cookie money is to be collected so we can continue to have cookies.  The pricing will remain
130723.tex:Kevin also has to pay but wonders if not eating the cookies means he can get out of it. There is a cookie mandate, however.  The tax collector is Raphael for those who still need to pay. No visitors are charged.
130917.tex:There are no cookies today.  Lucas misses them especially.
130924.tex:Cookies come extra fancy today with only three gourmet cookies per plastic tray.  They disappear quickly.
131015.tex:%Tuesday duties:  calendar, cookies, meetings, emails...
131022.tex:Justin bring cookies!  Stefan joins us!  Everyone has lunch!
131022.tex:I ate a bacon cookie!  It was delicious and it made me delirious!
131112.tex:Many jokes about smart cookies are made.
140121.tex:Li:  Today we have soft cookies.\\
140121.tex:Kieron: it's not a real cookie if it's a soft cookie.
140422.tex:Justin:  Are cookies ever accomplished?\\
140603.tex:The cookies are slightly stale and in low supply.  Raphael was doing so good as temporary group manager.  Was.
140708.tex:Kieron just stole Tony's cookie.  Justin laughed hard -- maybe unreasonably hard. 
140708.tex:Li suggests that in the future Tony licks all his cookies before he sets them down.
140826.tex:with the cookies.  But it was only Peter, Dhonyong, and Attila which was not
140922.tex:Aurora will get cookies.
140923.tex:Aurora will get cookies.
150414.tex:Dave is the new cookie guy because Aurora is set to disappear at some point.
150414.tex:Also, cookies are supplies and he is the supply guy.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Going Thermal

One of the downsides of not writing frequently is that this entry is going to clash in tone quite a bit with my last update.

Research is going awesome! I finally have a version of my derivation that looks (vaguely almost sorta kinda) presentable and my code for the thermal version of the calculation is up and running. I'm getting pretty plots and things are looking pretty good. I might be able to start testing different response functions soon. Which would be super cool.

I was completely and totally overwhelmed by my project up until a few weeks ago. Something suddenly clicked. I finally saw how all the pieces I was working with fit together and my results started to make sense to me. I'm beginning to even understand what comes next, which is a pretty cool feeling. The ABCs of DFT is also going really well, and one of the most exciting effects of the class has been a general increase in my understanding of many parts of my research, as well as what other people in the group are doing.

On the downside, I shaved my beard off because I was curious and now I look like I'm 12.