Saturday, December 20, 2014

Fall Quarter: A Post Mortem

Holy moly; finals week on the quarter system is way different than finals week on semesters.

These past seven days have been a maelstrom of crappy sleep, strained eyes, frozen mathematica notebooks, and far too much caffeine. Balancing studying for my own finals with massive amounts of grading and proofreading (of course we'd get proofs back on Tuesday) was tricky, but now it's over and I can breathe.

At least, of course, until the winter quarter starts. But until then, I am going to bask in the success of having a quarter of grad school under my belt. There were times where all seemed lost, but looking back on it all, I think I've set my self up well for what's to come.

Happy holidays.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Aaaand Exhale

After ordering my bagel from the coffee cart, I figured I'd have enough time to upload all of the constituent parts of our revised manuscript before it was done being toasted. Boy was I wrong.

After uploading the raw TeX file and the .bbl, I got kicked out of the upload form. Oh well, no problem, right? I log back in and am told that my revised manuscript is submitted pending approval of the compiled draft. Oh dear.

So at this point, it's after midday on the west coast which means it's almost time to go home on the east coast which is where the editorial office is. I ring them up but there's no answer. Did I mention today was the deadline to upload our revisions?

At this point, my bagel is cold and soggy, I've been sitting on the ground for almost a half hour, and I'm starting to lose it. I finally get a human on the phone and they inform me that the figures I uploaded weren't jiving with the TeX compiler they have. No one knows why I can't upload things anymore, but we get the necessary files in over email and get the revised manuscript approved. Phew.

Now that the paper is truly out of our hands, I feel relief but I also miss the project already. Classes are going to really infringe on research time next quarter, and I suppose that the finality of getting the revision in makes me realize that I'm going to miss the madness one inevitably has to deal with when doing science.

Anywho, I hope the editor enjoys our revisions. I really like our paper and think it's gonna be a hit.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hopefully, none of you will be near your computers and won't see this post. If you are toiling away on this holiday like me though, make sure to take a break at some point for some turkey or something pumpkin flavored.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Tao of Being a Burkie

Our group is really weird. The science we do is pretty unique, the way we talk about that science is even more unique, and the methods by which we interact with each other is also quite particular. It's nice; it gives our group a personality.

All of this can be difficult at first to adjust to, but I think that ultimately, being particular lets us be efficient because we all sort of know what to expect when receiving stuff from one another. In this spirit (I think), Kieron has started to roll out his Tao's of the Burke Group. These one page TeX files are a way to catalogue all the particulars of everyday interactions within the group. They include things like how to TeX, how to blog, how to send emails, and how to make pretty plots in mathematica.

I think it'll be tricky at first to populate the BGarch with helpful Taos and that a lot of things will have to be edited and changed but, overall, the idea seems like a solid way of initiating new Burkies and old Burkies alike to our way of doing things.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

NSF: Not Sure if Funded

Assuming my references get their letters in on time, my application for the 2015 NSF GRFP is complete. It might be a strange strain of Stockholm Syndrome, but I almost miss the process of writing and editing and writing and editing and drowning in self-doubt and editing...

Unearthing stuff from undergrad was pretty entertaining, but the actual writing was my favorite part. It was incredibly difficult, even frustrating at times, but it felt good to be creating something from scratch. The process also reminded me of one of my favorite aspects of our group; we care about writing.

That said, there are a few things from this experience I want to remember, so I'm recording them here. Hopefully they'll be useful to others, particularly new people if they happen to creep backwards in time through the Burke Blog.

  1. Think it's too early to start? You're probably a week late from when you should've started.
  2. If you're really stuck or don't know how to improve, just rewrite the whole dang thing (or if that's unfeasible, a big chunk). Justin suggested this and I used it a few times with good results
  3. Let non-Burkies (non-scientists for bonus points) read your writing. The science has to make sense, but the story needs to make even more sense. Speaking of which,
  4. Pick a story you want to tell and tell it. If you have to write a personal statement, don't just blabber on about yourself. Center the piece on something you think is interesting. This is true of science stuff too.
  5. Give letter writers as much time as possible to write their letter for you. They might wait till the last minute, but let them make that decision; don't make it for them.
  6. Print out things before you click submit. Read the thing out loud. Seeing typos is harder than you might expect.
  7. For sciency stuff, find textbooks and papers and see how experts talk about what you're going to talk about. There is usually a dialect already in existence and sticking to it will make you sound more competent. It also saves you the trouble of trying to explain stuff you may not really understand on your own.
  8. Don't be unnecessarily wordy. You aren't being impressive, you're wasting time and space. In the same vein, tighten everything once you've "finished" what you're writing. Often, parts of sentences can be rephrased to be more concise or removed altogether.
  9. Drink coffee. A lot.
  10. To quote Lori, "Know when to walk away." If the thing is due in 2 hours. You should probably stop adding to it make sure there aren't any tpyos.

Thursday, October 30, 2014


Right. So now the task of posting to the blog falls to me.

Initially, I planned on writing a little introductory blurb about who I am, but most of the people reading this already know me. Those who don't have possibly looked at the group website recently and noticed some strange kid with a d_z^2 orbital on his left arm and a bunch of holes in his ears. It's really a shame you can't see the rest of my arm in that picture. Ehrenfest's theorem is on it! Kieron has asked me a few times to upload a full picture of the entire thing. I gotta jump on that. Also yes; my username/pseudonym for this blog is a quantum mechanics joke. Get used to it. The puns will only get worse from here on out.

 Being in the Burke Group is a pretty surreal thing. I'm only four months into graduate school and my name is already on a manuscript with Kieron's. As a scrappy theoretical chemist who started out his academic life on the mean streets of Piscataway, NJ (which, incidentally, aren't so mean), I have to pinch myself at times to remind myself I'm working with the guy who has that functional named after him in Gaussian.

Anyway, after just submitting an NSF proposal only hours ago, I'm not really in the mood for waxing poetically about the existential questions one runs into in graduate school. I'll save that for another entry. Maybe I'll do a debrief of my experiences NSFing next post.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Last Blog Post

Dear Diary,

And so it is.  That was my blogging adventure. 

Looking back, I'm not entirely sure what I was trying to write about on this one.  Now someone else gets to try and figure out what exactly should be going on here.  To my successor, I give you this commemorative photograph since I've never actually shown myself on this blog:

Now I have a whole bunch of time to devote to my various duties.  ITensor needs a documenting and papers need writing.  I'll miss you, Diary.  Tah-tah.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Nine Deadly Attributes

Dear Diary,

Today we all got evaluated based on the latest new evaluation system:
  1. reliability
  2. conceptual
  3. little calculations
  4. big calculations
  5. analytics
  6. reading
  7. presentation
  8. writing
  9. social functions
These are Kieron's points for success and are graded based out of one point (half credit allowed).  Six points and you're respectable.  Go backward in any year and you might consider new employment.

I did not come out so favorably in this one.   Kieron delivered my utterly contemptable score (perhaps a group low...which was about the number of people asking me for things divided by 3) and then said, "You're doing fine."  In between trying to explain my side of the story...ok, well, I abandoned that fairly quickly.  Maybe I'll just resign myself to taking the advice or being a terrible student.

Coincidentally, NPR ran a story today saying that employee evaluations were bad for working productivity and morale.  That has been my big problem recently but things like this seem to keep finding me.  The lessons I took away from today were to focus more on the things I should be doing.  Perhaps I should relinquish more administrative control, stop saying yes to endless administrative tasks, and give up this pesky blog.   Find more solitary time.

But that would only get me 4.5 points--yikes.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Swan Song

Dear Diary,

I just got back from a conference held by the Far West division of the American Physical Society.  I had a blast!  There were tons of cool talks!   The casino we stayed in was really neat!

Reno was a nice place.  Apparently they get a lot of UC students who are looking for more education.  They have a lot of nice faculty at the University of Nevada, Reno.

My talk went well.  It was the last time that I'll be able to speak on my Master's degree stuff.   Now I can put my full effort into new things.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Not Obvious

Dear Diary,

For months now, I've been hoping to figure out what exactly Lucas did to derive the exchange functional.  Well, as fate would have it, I just did.

The trick involved taking a double integral in one dimension and noting that the integrand only contained the difference of the two coordinates.  The replacement is obvious if you wave your hands!  I get the feeling that this is a common trick in the ABCs but it must've flown completely over my head!  Li recognized the switch as from a particular class of problems (the Hooke's atom) but man...the math step was not obvious!

In my defense, I did ask Lucas several times for how he did this and nowhere in the notes was this trick.  I kept getting an exponential integral.  Playing Devil's advocate, however, I should have learned it during the now fifth ABC class I'm in!  Again in my defense, somehow this should have been exposed, you'd think.  Again playing Devil's advocate:  go and do your work!  Stop blogging!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Jury Summoned Again

Dear Diary,

I got a second jury summons since April in the mail.  It's just the sort of response I'd expect from Orange County for following the rules (aka 'You did exactly what we told you, now let's see if it can be done again!'). It's exactly the same response I've come to expect from pollsters!

Fortunately, I saved the 'get out of jury duty free' card they gave me which is good up to one year.  See, last we left the story, I wrote in asking them not to send me to jury duty because I can't really get to the court house (I plead the 5th on how I actually got there!).  There aren't any buses that run that early and I don't have a car.  In order to actually get there, I'd have to camp like a Star Wars fan waiting for front row tickets...and I'd probably get a ticket for doing so!  So, I sent in a letter, heard nothing back, went to court all fancy and dressed up, and then I came back and found that they'd send me a letter three days later saying I could postpone until December.

For the first few months, I thought they were joking.  But the law never chuckles and here comes December.  Now I'm worried that if I contest it, they'll just postpone the service again for next June and September 2016 (that'll teach me!).  But if they keep postponing, maybe there is a way out.  I could jury dodge to Canada!  See, down here I stick out like a sore thumb for actually doing things I'm told to do.  Up there, everyone is so nice I'd actually fit in.  Yukon, ho!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Second reception

Dear Diary,

I went to another lovely ARCS reception and had a blast. The members were so nice. One even commented that it's like having 50 more moms! Such nice people.

One area that I messed up in was introducing my work. I followed some advice and kept it short so I would not be condescending or confusing. But at the behest for more information, I introduced it like I wanted to, and it went over much better. I think I will follow my instincts more going forward. I really enjoy getting to know these people and the other winners.

I also need to remember that casual means dressed I normally do it! All the women got the message but the guys were not so keen. I must trust myself!

Interesting people!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Special Cup

Dear Diary,

Justin loaned me a cup some time ago as I am eco-conscious with our tea consumption.  I didn't want to use paper disposables from the coffee place anymore.

Well, I lost that cup.  Then I found it again today when I walked into Li and Raphael's office.  Huzzah!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Wasn't me

Dear Diary,

For once, it wasn't me.  I did not crash the cluster's head nodes.  For once.

Picture this:  I've been submitting a ton jobs recently, getting a lot of work done.  Steve and Kieron seemed to be real pleased that I'm getting all this done.  How could I remember not to crash any computers?  How about running less jobs so I make it wasn't me.

Ok, but there was some trouble around lunch.  I figured it has to me.  It's been me so many times that I'm now the guy  who is known as the guy who crashes the cluster.  To be a true player, you got to learn how to play.  But it wasn't me!

Nate was really nice to me this time and everything seems to be going my way.  Further, Miles and I are honing on the exact LDA that we've been trying to get for a long time now.  I mean, I have two numbers instead of zero now.

And with the whole cluster at my command, nothing can stop us!  (Unless I submit too many jobs and crash it.)  I was extremely nervous before I found out it wasn't me; now I need to go tell everyone and celebrate at the pub!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Fancy pants

Dear Diary,

I have had the pleasure of attending a reception by the ARCS foundation.  Boy was it lovely!  I got to chat with a whole bunch of people and hear about all the cool stuff going on.  I have to admit, after hearing the speaker speak and chatting with a few other people, I'm super motivated to do good science.  In fact, it made me question whether my science was any good in the face of such powerful and life altering work!  I have to do better!

In addition to meeting some lovely people, my sartorial choices were a hit.  I went plain with a white shirt and skinny black tie in my new dress shoes.  I would have given myself "best dressed," but there were a lot of other well dressed people there, I must say.  I did get the obligatory, "You clean up nicely" which made me rethink my daily attire.  I'll have to make sure to get fancier on a daily basis!

I also got to meet other winners from last year and this year.  What a treat!  Some great people to meet!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Insult to Living

Dear Diary,

Not one day after my roommate leaves (lucky guy), the fire drill occurs.  I think my last roommate also pulled the same trick.  Now, recall last year that I simply packed my bags and walked into work.  No so this year, there is a new $500 fine for doing that.  I even woke up at a comfortable 8am and wanted to take the morning slow (because I work so hard for this university on a daily basis; I need my free time to relax--there, I said it--sue me).

The utter mystery is that less than a week ago, they had a planned fire alarm that doesn't satisfy some state law to have an anonymous one.  So, I naturally spent more time away from home to avoid that first one.  Maybe these are good for the undergraduates who seem to set off their fire alarms about every ten minutes around dinner and lunch times by (I assume) leaving their stoves on.

There is something noisy that occurs every morning from garbage pickup to lawn mowing (you know, the lawns they over water during this drought) to people playing basketball until midnight...

...oh!  The alarms are going off again!  Are they playing a joke?!  Is their system faulty??

Once you're unceremoniously ushered from your apartment with threats of fines and more loud noise, you sign in (and if you're feeling sassy, act sassy to the poor people signing you in), and then you are given a donut.  Yes, a donut!  The healthiest of the American breakfast!  I declined.

I'm going swimming.

I will remember you

Dear Diary,

My roommate has moved out today.  I'm distraught.  Corey was one of the best roommates I've ever had.  Up there with the three guys I roomed with my first year at Long Beach before the landlord showed up unannounced and used a leaf blower to blow dust off the outside of the house.  Funny what having kids can do to some people.  Angry, formal letters by yours truly were sent to make sure we got our full security deposits (we did), and we all went our separate ways.  Happy times.

But Corey!  Now who will I come home to?  I can't keep doing this.  Going through roommates is tough.  You did your dishes!* That's like roommate gold! Two roommates in a row who did their dishes?  There must some regression back to the mean at some point.  And you always bought the toilet paper.  Remember the time we left the compost inside too long and got flies? 

My guess is that they won't fill the room for about a year.  It was awkward timing to do a fish project in Vietnam for housing contracts.  But seize the opportunity, Corey!

Who will I awkwardly negotiate bathroom time with?  Now it's just me and the bathroom.  I suppose my last, also very great roommate Ben moved out under similar circumstances.  He did get married, but maybe it was me.  Sometimes you have to look in the mirror and realize that you've got the whole place here to yourself and that's super awesome.  No, Corey and our third roommate (his significant other) loved spending time here because they basically had full control over the apartment.  With no furniture and a full work schedule, I'm a veritable non-factor!

He did leave a table.  Maybe I should have a party where I invite everyone and sit in my one chair.  That's enough, right?  I am slowly collecting furniture discarded from former roommates.  The first year I was here, I slept on the floor.  Not after Ben moved out.  Thank you!  A few more roommates and I could get to enjoying time at home!

*-The next one better too! 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

More than you can chew

Dear Diary,

Aha!  So this fellowship I won does have strings!  I was foolish to think otherwise!  But truly, this is exactly the type of thing I needed.

These are the strings you hope for.  Would Pinocchio be such a goodie two-shoes if he wasn't controlled by Geppeto maniacally for the first third of the movie?  Never!  It turns out here that the money I receive must be used for "things that help get me my Ph.D."  That's it!  The possibilities are endless because I have a long leash on this one!

Some brief examples that were told to me by my excellent contact were that I should put the money towards conferences and publication fees among other things.  Secretly, it costs a lot of money to put articles in journals, but this means I won't need to beg for money to do it!  I even have a few side projects with good friends who are probably jumping up in the air right now that I'll be footing the bill.  I accidentally made the mistake of telling one of them not to work too fast on one project--how will I tell them we need to publish while I still have funds?!  In fairness, I also need to do a few things on that and others.

The real winner here are Kieron, Steve, and the grants they have.  They won't have to pay as much for me; I will!  They just don't know it yet!  I think its exactly the kind of news Kieron and Steve are waiting for from me:  I'm cheap!

In other news, I should get to work on other news that Kieron and Steve will definitely enjoy.  I need to produce a paper!

...and what's this?  Miles and Kieron have sent me conferences to apply to?!  Wowie!  Heartfelt thanks ARCS!!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Cat Attack!

Dear Diary,

I've submitted a few jobs to the cluster.  Today, I got a friendly message from my good friend in Professor Furche's lab:

"hey tom this is brandon
you have a helluva buncha jobs that are requesting a ton of resources 8cpu/22gb
is this totally necessarYY?

Message from brandon...
                   .               ,.
                  l|"-.  _.v._   (" |
                  [l /.'_ \; _~"-.`-t
                  Y " _(o} _{o)._ ^.|
                  j  T  ,-<v>-.  T  ]
                  \  l ( /-^-\ ) !  !
                   \. \.  "~"  ./  /c-..,__
                     ^r- .._ .- .-"  `- .  ~"--.
                      > \.                      \
                      ]   ^.                     \
                      3  .  ">            .       Y  -Row
         ,.__.--._   _j   \ ~   .         ;       |
        (    ~"-._~"^._\   ^.    ^._      I     . l
         "-._ ___ ~"-,_7    .Z-._   7"   Y      ;  \        _
            /"   "~-(r r  _/_--._~-/    /      /,.--^-._   / Y
            "-._    '"~~~>-._~]>--^---./____,.^~        ^.^  !
                ~--._    '   Y---.                        \./
                     ~~--._  l_   )                        \
                           ~-._~~~---._,____..---           \
                               ~----"~       \

That thing is supposed to be a cat, and it is!  It is impressively drawn!  My copy and paste skills are not as good!  Brandon embedded a message in my bash shell asking why I'd submitted so many jobs.

See, Kieron and Steve's grant are up for renewal soon.  I have to produce something.  Further, the DMRG code right now automatically requests 8 threads in OpenMP.  This needs to be fixed, but I didn't want to fiddle with it for a bit for fear of never being able to run the program when I need it.  If I don't request 8 threads, then it will impede on someone else's job.  Further, I decided to go with the maximum amount of memory because A)  I'm using it anyway and B) it rates my jobs lower in the queue.  I really am a scourge of the cluster.  Yikes.

Another way to hide this large amount of jobs would be to break up the submission to the cluster in tiny, bite-size chunks of 40 or so.  Maybe I'll do that.

Sorry Brandon!

Monday, September 29, 2014

When Nothing Is Something

Dear Diary,

I decided not to come into the office this weekend.  It was awesome!

But it meant that I hadn't run any calculations that I was supposed to.  That was mostly because I couldn't figure out how to compile the program Miles had written.

So this morning I was informed by Steve and Miles that I should switch to a different branch.  Huzzah!  It all compiled!  Now things are running...

Just another example of how doing nothing can still be productive.  But now I have to be really productive.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Sad Truth of Getting Into the Group

Dear Diary,

Decisions on group members are done in the following way:  1)  A group member rotates with us 2)  gives a presentation on their former research and 3) receives a decision from Kieron about whether they are in the group after getting input from all of us.  We'll analyze this process below.

First, the big news.  Kieron called Dave into his office this morning and, after discussing his work, suggested that Dave start to look at other advisors.  So, he'll be investigating other possibilities for life.  He'll still finish the project he started, obviously, but won't start another.  Psych!  He's in the group!  And that fake account of what happened is exactly how Dave tricked me this morning.  Don't ever do that again, Dave!  Now I won't believe any bad news you ever tell me again!  The sky is falling?  Chicken little!  Cry wolf?  Go blow your horn!  Man made climate change is driven by excessive green house gases including carbon in the atmosphere?  Uh...well, ok I'll believe that one...

Let's take a moment to process the process of getting into the group.  One naturally wonders if our input matters.  Of course it doesn't!  We're not the professor!  At most we'll have to only put up with people in our offices for a year or two; Kieron gets a life sentence!  But let me chime in on the psychology of the process as I see it.  Without knowing exactly what you want, the thought process for me (and I suspect others) devolves into whether I'm a good fit in the group and whether the answer to that question can help meunderstand why I'm in the group.  Having published one paper as a secondary author and seeing now that Dave is about to put something out in his first two months and, well, it makes me wonder if I can possibly work up to Dave's impressive start.  And if its good enough.  I have no barometer for these things.  Since I have to make a personal website now and add him to email lists, I should have voted no.

But I voted for him.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

New Year, New Jobs

Dear Diary,

Today I took action.  The state of our union will be stronger, more efficient, and able to better our cause for a job change.

I will be relinquishing my secretarial duties during meetings to spend more time increasing my productivity for the group.  I have also passed on the cookie duties to Aurora.

David will take over the material acquisition position for the group since a new ordering system must be learned.  Aurora has done a wonderful job making sure our supplies are un-dwindled and now Dave must prove himself in the same way.  Ok, so he's not in the group, but he can handle it.  Previously I had only bought the same cookies each week which led to unenthusiastic cookie time.  This is the most important duty in the group.  I'm not kidding.  My cookies were a shame that persisted far too long that will be corrected with a new cookie procurement (though the cookies might still be the same each week--for the better!).  No one knows what happens when the perfect meeting meets the worst cookies (though I have bought some bad cookies); a paradox we will never meet with Aurora in charge!

With other duties, I did a disastrous job with the notes.  Rampant misquotes, incorrect facts, and too lengthy minutes.  In a closed trial, I was deemed incompetent by a judge, jury, and executioner of myself.  I have sentenced myself to a well-deserved exile to improve our union.  Justin will close these weaknesses in the notes and provide an accurate historical record for future Burkies.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Fail Mail

Dear Diary,

Mail is never good.  I have trouble thinking of pieces of mail that I've actually enjoyed if I didn't expect them.  Most often it's mail asking for a fee to be paid (the dreaded 'fee-mail').  Today I got the worst mail of all:  my grade from the workshop in Montreal!

Should I bother opening it?  Maybe if I just never know then it can't hurt me.  Maybe it's written in French and I'll have no hope of deciphering however they write their grades and numbers.  That's the advantage of getting a paper copy in the digital era.  There's no paper trail left on some server somewhere!  Oh, but what if Kieron or Steve gets the grades...ok, may as well open it...

A B+?!  What?!!

A disgrace.  I've really left myself down this time.  I have only myself to blame.  It is good for credit (oui).  But how will I explain this to Kieron, Steve, and the hard working taxpayer??  I tried everyone, really.  I thought I did alright on the test.  I figured out that you can't contract arbitrary tensor networks (it's an open subject).  Ok, maybe I guessed on some of the steps in DMFT, but I thought my homework was good enough for a A-.*  Maybe I could get a pass if I had a paper out, but we're still stuck on the thing I started on a year and a half ago!

Well, I did have a chance to get away and vacation.  Further, I got to learn about a few things that have come in handy very soon.  And I was in the middle of a review of a paper which required a lengthy answer to an angry reviewer.  I'll blame them.  Fie on you nasty reviewer for making me answer your uninformed questions and reducing my grade another .4 points!


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Fellowship Win

Dear Diary,

I got the Fellowship!

Either my presentation was dramatically improved based on everyone's suggestions or something else.  But my application went through!

Thanks everyone!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

How to Print

Dear Diary!

I just saw it!  More rare than a Yetti! More obscure than a Dennis Miller joke!  Less visible than the invisible man!

I just saw the printer's IP address!

Exactly everyone who has passed through this building has wondered what that number is so that they can print from their laptops!  And me being the (sometimes) lone office occupant must answer their questions about what it is with the obligatory, "I don't know."!

But I saw it as I turned it on to restart it from an error!  It flashed up there and now everyone may print!  Hard copies for everyone!  Will anyone believe me?!  Does it even work?!!

But this is totally worthless information in the end for me, personally. I went paperless a while ago...What irony have to have the office with a printer and endless print-iness but nothing to print.  Maybe that's why I'm trusted with it...

I suppose its better than the opposite where all I do all day is print and that's all that matters to me until the apocalypse occurs and I'm left weeping over a broken printer because, while I am the last soul on earth, I'm printerless.

Yay paperless!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Interview

Dear Diary,

I never know what to think of an interview.  I felt like it was an improvement over an abysmal practice session, but who knows?

Maybe I should have included more real world applications.  That might have been more the style that would have been appropriate.  We'll see what happens.  I had some answers, but I can always improve.

What I am sure about is that I look good in this finer wear.  I'm going to leave this on all day.  I went with the blue dress shirt, matching tie, and sunglasses with a jacket.  These sweet new shoes I picked up this weekend are stylish and amazing.  They will also permit me to dance at an upcoming wedding.

Ok, now to bottle up my enthusiasm (and fashion sense?) and sell it!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Riding along to a colloquium talk

Dear Diary,

Today I went back to my alma mater:  CSU Long Beach so that I could see Kieron give the weekly colloquium.  Kieron did a really good job!  I really am learning from an excellent speaker and master physicist!  Not only was I impressed, but so were the current students (none of whom I currently know).

I did get a chance to reconnect with my old advisor, Andreas, and sort through some things while Kieron visited others.  That's somehow still going on but winding down.

Kieron even mentioned me and my work (he needs more Dr. Who's!--Who doesn't?*).  But I wonder how much crowd pleasing that could have been.  Would we have been run out of town with pitchforks and knives if we hadn't glorified the Long Beach name?  Well, maybe not so violently, but Kieron did make fast friends with one Zoltan who was my favorite professor during my time there.  Ok, well, Zoltan prepared me for more than just physics.  He also taught me lessons about life (so it was literally the School of Hard Knocks!).

I'm glad they got along!

*-Joke.  Pun.  Haha.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Advancement Came to Me

Dear Diary,

I have been selected for an interview for that Fellowship I applied to!  Wowie!  I'm super pumped for the opportunity to talk about my research and career goals in front of a panel of real physicists!

...Hmm, that sounds a lot like the advancement to candidacy.  Why have I been putting it off, you ask?  Well, I wanted to get the initial project I was given  out of the way.  I am was so optimistic!

But now the advancement has come to me!  If I had played my cards right, I could maybe just do both at the same time!  Over the weekend, I'll have to prepare a presentation on things I've done, places I've been to, and interview questions both technical and simple!

But the sartorial choices are key!  I'll need to find some proper dress shoes and choose whether I wear the blue or the red dress shirt.  I just got new ties for both, so this is an excellent time to ponder endlessly about which one will be cooler to wear (it's supposed to be over 100 the next few days!).  Hmm...maybe the purple shirt...with the skinny black tie!  Eh...or the blue...or red...or plain white...

Oh, and I'll get a haircut!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Another Fellowship appears!

Dear Diary,

Kieron has brought another fellowship to my attention!  And I might even be the person they're looking for on this one!  Even better, I actually want to apply for this one--I want it!

What's this?  It's due tomorrow?!  Oh boy!

So I turned to the master of the fellowship:  John, former group member!  He provided some material on this particular fellowship and it was very helpful.  Now, I just need to scramble around and get four letters of recommendation, a few essays written, and modify my CV.  Then if I get through, I'll need to prepare for an interview.

[Editor's note:  It pays to hear about and start early.]

Friday, September 5, 2014

The business of America is business.

Dear Diary,

A quote I ran across about science from William Jennings Bryan (wow, he is the 1800s!) after the Monkey-Scopes trial:
Science is a magnificent force, but it is not a teacher of morals. It can perfect machinery, but it adds no moral restraints to protect society from the misuse of the machine. It can also build gigantic intellectual ships, but it constructs no moral rudders for the control of storm-tossed human vessel. It not only fails to supply the spiritual element needed but some of its unproven hypotheses rob the ship of its compass and thus endanger its cargo. In war, science has proven itself an evil genius; it has made war more terrible than it ever was before. Man used to be content to slaughter his fellowmen on a single plane, the earth's surface. Science has taught him to go down into the water and shoot up from below and to go up into the clouds and shoot down from above, thus making the battlefield three times as bloody as it was before; but science does not teach brotherly love. Science has made war so hellish that civilization was about to commit suicide; and now we are told that newly discovered instruments of destruction will make the cruelties of the late war seem trivial in comparison with the cruelties of wars that may come in the future.
Walker Percy seems to agree:

You live in a dangerous age, more deranged than usual, because in spite of great scientific and technological advances, man has not the faintest idea of who he is or what he is doing.
He also seems to think you can get all A's but still flunk at life.  Ok, back to physics!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Classic Element of Theoretical Work

Dear Diary,

Dave, my new office mate, is busy doing something.  He had an issue finding the number of particles from a density, so he asked me what could possibly be wrong.

I immediately leapt to the error that I always (and still sometimes do) make:  we work in one dimension, so integrating the density requires just integrating the density.  Then, all of a sudden, maybe Kieron asks a 3D question in the ABCs and you forget to put in the Jacobian (4*Pi*r^2).  But once you realize that, everything is solved!*

He then promised to take me to dinner, but I'm not sure if I earned it just yet...and now he's excited dancing--sort of mosh pit style.  You go, Dave.

*-Oh comes a harder question about Thomas-Fermi theory and Lieb-Oxford bounds...

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

So much physics

Dear Diary,

Looking back over the past few weeks of posts, I've been accidentally ending everything with some sort of statement that I'm going to get to work or being productive.  And that is only half as useful as you'd think because I do get to work, but nothing seems to get done!  I'm going to give up declarations like that for the next few posts and see how bad the withdrawal symptoms are.

Yesterday, the project I've been working on for quite a while came to a head.  It was both Steve and Kieron in the same room getting on the same page.  When two professors talk physics, it's the students who are in the middle!  I decided to type as fast as my little fingers could go so I could reread their comments for later.  The script read something like:

Steve:  How are you?
Kieron:  Not too bad. You?
S: Fantastic.  I'm headed out of town.
K:  So am I.
Dr Who:  I haven't done anything.
K:  Have something for us when we get back.
S:  [Complicated physics that was above my head]
K:  [A brilliant response]
S:  [Another brilliant response]
Dr Who:  [I say something]
K: like I was saying...[more brilliance!]

I pasted that verbatim from my notes!*  But we finally figured out what's been plaguing everything and some possibilities to fix it.  I swear I had the final suggestion running around in my head, but I hadn't gotten an opportunity to say it.  It seems like it's important to be on the same page as your bosses so you A)  don't get off track and B) keep them in the loop.  Kieron really liked the figures I showed him; I'll do more of that.  Steve had some great test calculations for me to run that illuminated everything.  I will admit that I brought this whole thing up a bit ago and it took even me to realize the full implication and fix of what was going on over the last week and a half since I first mentioned it.  Now that Steve and Kieron have set me straight...err...hmm, I'll back away from that one.  Close call.

On to progra-...!  No!  Whew, that was close.

But all that's past us now.  I can---er...yikes.  It has been a long time since working on this project, but I honestly feel like I'm accomplishing my goals as far as learning the material;  I guess I can learn!  But I have little to show for it as far as papers.  So....uh....nevermind.

Ok, it's ti-....No, I won't do it!  I won't make a declaration about heading back to work or progressing!  Oh, shoot, there it was...

[*Editor's note:  That is not actually what was said at the meeting.]

Friday, August 29, 2014

Beyond Controllium

Dear Diary,

Kieron has a rule that labeling as much as possible in a paper is a good thing.  But I think I've found the example that proves the rule.

Apparently someone posted an ArXiV paper on the emergence of consciousness (two words I find to be too much).  It alleges that 'perceptronium'....something, something, blah blah, what is perceptronium?

Ok, fine so I didn't read this and maybe indeed someone will make use of it, but perhaps also the ideas in this paper have abnormally high levels of Beyond Controllium.

That is, "Professor, the fluid we put too much perceptronium has come to life and is destroying the city!  It's levels of Beyond Controllium are too high!"

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Another summer's come and gone

Dear Diary,

It's only a few weeks left until school starts.  That means people will be dropping by my office wondering where the 1100 rooms are (hint: the other end of the building!).

Ah!  But it is not my office anymore!  I have two new officemates.  One is David.  He is trying to get into the group.  The other is John.  He is also trying to get into the group!  They are working on stuff together while they try to get into the group!  With Kieron!

In the meantime, I find it nice to have some company.

Katrina left yesterday.  We went  downtown* for some noodles.  Good luck, Katrina!

[Editor's note:  The collection of shops just outside of campus is not strictly a downtown.]

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Student Representative

Dear Diary,

I just heard that I'm the new Student Representative for the Far West division!  After running for three times, I finally got elected!

Now, I better get back to work so I can keep up with my own stuff!

Thank you so much to all who voted for me!

Monday, August 25, 2014


Dear Diary,

This weekend, I had the opportunity to go and help out at a GRE workshop primarily for students who come from places without graduate schools.

While I was there, I had the distinct feeling that I didn't have time for it, so I'll have to get working hard today.  But it was good to go and help out.  Time well spent, I think.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Katrina's Talk

Dear Diary,

Yikes!  I missed Katrina's talk!  She's the undergraduate who was working on some things this summer...and now I'll never know what they are because I missed the presentation!

Ugh, I feel terrible.  I didn't remember to set an alarm for it, so I only remembered when the clock struck 8:40....I even missed Kevin's talk at a meeting because I didn't know which room it was!

I guess I'm shaping up to be not very supportive.  I think it's important to go to peoples' first talk and be there to congratulate them.

But I need to actually do that!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Gap

Dear Diary,

Remember how I kept crashing the computer cluster so much that I was temporarily blocked from using it?  Well, I've finally figured out why that was happening:  it was physics the whole time!

Turns out that the systems I was looking at are (tinily) gapped, so I was trying to converge something that is really hard to converge!

Now, I'd run the gamut of thinking about what it could be:  my problem, their problem, science broke...but it was physics that prevented me from getting the answer.  Fortunately, we have enough other systems to look at that this doesn't hamper us.  Further fortunate is that I made those systems months ago and was finished with the project for some time!  Kieron would have been so pleased if I'd only known it!  Good thing I started working on something else in the mean time...

Ok, well now that I've finally gotten all my computer privileges back, I don't need the cluster for a bit.  Oops!  Sorry computer administrators and everyone for causing a pain!  It looks like physics can't solve all your problems!

It's very strange to get the end of the physics education and realize that all the important lessons were contained in the great works of art, classic literature, and recess.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Dear Diary,

Stefan showed me a way to manage of a lot of code.  More specifically, Xcode or Eclipse with the former being only for and required on Macs.  What this handy bit of software does is to sort through all of your programs that you're writing.

The most useful thing I've found so far is that if you right click on a function you've defined, you can have the program show you where it is defined.  Neat!  I always looked down on Xcode when I programmed earlier because it was the default for opening program files, but I see it has more use than just making apps and being slow!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Back to...

Dear Diary,

Aha, the first full day of the first week of work; now back from vacation.  Now, I can start learning DMRG!

Err...what's this?  The postdoc, Stefan, that I'm supposed to be learning from with various questions just got a job at a software company on his vacation!  He's going to leave very shortly!  Wow!  Congratulations!

Hmm, I guess that means my time table must be moved up...better get to it.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Dear Diary,

Greetings from UCLAke. We're under a lot of pressure these last few days. The main thing is not to break down. But I'm afraid we'll get hosed if we're not careful. Luckily, a lot of the material is watered down if vast. Still, we get water breaks. Good thing, I'm thirsty.

Now, not to flood you with news, but someone at the conference actually (no joke) had a baby today (congratulations!) after their water broke! Yay! Rejoice!

Ok, I'm running dry on material. I'll keep you up on all the topics here as quickly as they come out. Things are going swimmingly.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Dear Diary,

I once thought Irvine used a lot of water to keep its lawns green. Then a water main at UCLA broke today.

We're stuck in the conference room on the other side of campus learning (mainly the news coverage). At some point, we will have to make our way back to the dorms. We have the option of either fording the river, caulking the wagon, or using the oxen to pull it across. And we'll still have to pan for gold once we get there.

Man, what weird week for California. There have been ten water main breaks (by a quick Google news search) in the last two weeks and a rogue lightning strike struck the beach just down from some people going to the conference who were at the beach. All of them are fine, but not everyone is so lucky. Here's to being safe with this flood!

Justin is at SpaceX right now. I assume his escape plan will involve a large rocket and a space suit, so I'll just keep my thoughts on my situation.

[Editor's note: Emergency personnel tell us going into the water is an electrocution risk.]

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Longest Yard

Dear Diary,

Can I brag?  I feel like bragging.  One should always celebrate for a few minutes before getting back to work after getting good news.  It only took one year and three journals but now my paper is accepted.  It was slightly less time than my first paper which took one year at the same journal.

It's a relief to finally have that on the books and to submit the rest!  Let's see...Kieron is aching for three papers that I need to learn a big computer code to do the next step, I've made data for secondary authoring on two more, and I have three more papers written from my Master's degree.  Man I'd like to be able to do what Kieron wants me to do.

Hmm...seems exactly the same as last year.  Oh, boy!  If I get all of those done, I can do the other things we've been talking about and that I've been dreaming up!


[Editor's note:  It is also necessary to go outside and walk around every once in a while...and eat.]

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Kieron, I...err...?

Dear Diary,

Kieron's mastery of disguise and subterfuge has come with him to the conference.  I saw him walking around with a different name tag!  But it looked mysteriously like Kieron!

Then later, I saw someone walking around with Kieron's name tag, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't Kieron!  Maybe this is where they make Kierons....

But there can be only one!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Evil Spock

Dear Diary,

Today I met a lot of nice people from all over.  One of them was a parallel universe shattering event, however. To illustrate, in one Star Trek Episode, Spock meets evil Spock.

At the poster session, the very same parallel universe twinsies meeting happened with me and one other participant.  Except that I was evil Spock!  I could tell because I had the facial hair while my reflection was clean shaven!  My do-gooding doppelgänger is trying to learn what I'm learning (no doubt to disrupt my villainous plans!) and works for an advisor I found interesting but didn't come to Irvine.

The worst part is, I barely recognize my desires to go down that other path.  I have fallen into evil completely!  I actually like working for Kieron!  And Steve!  What has happened to me?!  I have become powerful! MWHAHAHAHAHAHA!

[Editor's note:  Evil Spock in on the right.]

Sunday, July 20, 2014

IPAM Today, IPAM Tomorrow

Dear Diary,

I've received a wonderful opportunity to come and learn from some of the DFT greats here at the Insitute of Pure and Applied Mathematics (IPAM) at UCLA.  It really is a great opportunity to meet some of the people whose papers I read and hopefully not mess up too badly in front of them!

Before coming here, I noticed that Lucas sure seems to be popular.  The nice graduate student in charge of putting together all of our poster teases says hi to Lucas!*  But Lucas didn't know he was that popular at IPAM!  Now, there is an identical Lucas running around out there (the original Lucas) whose papers we often misattribute to our own Lucas.  But I've learned not to doubt Lucas' charisma, charm, and popularity!

Everything starts tomorrow, so we're to be up at 8am for breakfast.  But they haven't announced a menu.  IPAMcakes?

*-see the post from a few days ago.

Friday, July 18, 2014


Dear Diary,

You see, Diary, we work in one dimension where some normal descriptions of matter break down.  We like one dimension because things are often easier to solve, but we need to be careful to avoid nasty physics (or hard math) that differs from problems we might want to solve in two or three dimensions.

One such instance is the description, known as a Fermi-liquid, that describes excitations that are close to the Fermi-surface very well in three dimensions (and two).  But if you try to calculate the quantum field properties in one dimension, you get a bad answer.  Specifically, the self-energy has a big imaginary part to it.  That's bad because it means the quasi-particles (or hypothetical weakly or non-interacting particles that would act like the many interacting particles) in our system have a short lifetime.  That means it's a bad description!  Ideally, we'd like the true quasi-particle that only weakly interacts in our system.  This means the math we wrote down to describe the system can be solved (perhaps more simply than the original problem if we find the right quasi-particle!).

For a real world example, let's describe how SCARY would tell the story of the camping trip last week.  A lot of that story would contain an untruthful description of the real events of that system that have a large imaginary part, but that means a made up story wouldn't have a very long lie-fetime!  One would say the made up quasi-particles in that system are a bad description of the actual events that happened.

You see, physics is useful for describing things.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Pretending to be Justin

Dear Diary,

Today I walked into Kieron's summer class to proctor some quizzes.  Justin is the official TA and had some car trouble (oil change).

So, I went in and pulled Kieron's old trick of introducing yourself as someone else so they'll take the heat if something goes wrong!  Normally if I introduce myself as someone else in the group (we're all interchangeable, really), then things go swimmingly.

Not so much this time.  The students practically called the police on me.

Gotta dash!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The radius of convergence is zero

Dear Diary,

Let's talk about a Taylor series' radius of convergence for a minute.  When you're writing down a mathematical structure for a particular object, sometimes the best you can do is generate the Taylor series in a small area of the problem.

I'll liken this to a color gradient.  If you have a panel that slowly varies from red to white like this:

If you start on the white side of the figure and move towards the red, you need to slowly add red to the spot you're standing on.  This is what a Taylor series is doing.  As you move around on the color gradient from right to left, you need to add more color...but in the physics or math problem, you add more mathematical terms to the Taylor series!

You can also a define a radius of convergence of the Taylor series.  This would mean, how far can you want with your Taylor series.  Say our gradient abruptly turned blue to the left of the above gradient.  You can't add more red to get to blue, primarily.  So, the radius of convergence of that color set up would be the width of the rectangle.

There are some things in physics that have a radius of convergence of zero.  As soon as you take one step away from where you started, the Taylor series is already bad!  Most famously, this happens in quantum field theory when you try to see how far away the electron's mass is from the bare mass in the Lagrangian.  You get an infinite distance; in other words, your Taylor series is a miserable description everywhere!  Instead, you can only use the experimental mass in your computation and then everything works!

But there are also real life examples.  For starters, consider the distribution of camping trips I've been on in my entire life.  The one I went on last week had a radius of convergence of zero about it.  You can't Taylor expand to compare it to any other camping trip!  It was that bad!  I have a bunch of trips that were good, bad, and otherwise interesting, but this one was SCARY!  I find it hard to compare to any other experience.  A description from any other experience would not be adequate.  Just like a Taylor series with a radius of convergence of zero.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Gettysburg Address

Dear Diary,

This is the year of 2014 which is exactly 88 years after Schrodinger published his famous equation for quantum mechanics.  Kieron approached me and Lucas last year about commemorating the event by sneaking in some snippets from Abraham Lincoln's infamous Four Score and Severn (87) years ago speech.

But we didn't publish last year.

Luckily, Thomas-Fermi theory, a commonly used approximation for the kinetic energy that matches up with a uniform gas was published in 1927.  That's exactly 87 years ago from this year!  So, we thought, why not just honor this other paper?

We did!  But the editor's caught us.  Kieron was a little disappointed that the reviewers didn't mention it in their reviews, but during the proofing stage, a savvy literature guru at Physical Review noticed it and the Dante's inferno reference placed there by Lucas.  So, they would change the wording.

But the joke was still on!  They didn't remove enough from the paper to take out the intention!  It's still there!  Kieron did fess up to the editor's, but one should note that the Physical Review Letter from last year referenced a Tale of Two Cities in the first line.

While the original wording was changed, the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Back in the Saddle again

Dear Diary,

It's great to be back!  I really mean it this time!  Physicists have a long tradition of getting outdoors and coming back for great physics.  Robert Oppenheimer, leader of the team that made the nuclear bomb, loved horseback riding and took physicists up to his cabin in the woods for some rest and relaxation.  He also made sure there were many (epic? lame?) parties while everyone was working on the Manhattan project.  What a guy!

This last week, I went on a camping trip with a physicist whom I actually did a lot of productive thinking with in terms of physics (and ideas!), but we also had one other person who completely ruined the whole thing.  I may feel the need to refer to this person again in the future as SCARY.

I suppose the less on here is to only take people who have a vested interest in getting out of the woods in one piece on a camping trip.  Further, we came up with an idea that I could implement as soon as I know DMRG!  How exciting!  I better get to it!

It does look like I was more productive while I was away, though.  The paper I'm on with Lucas, Miles, Steve, and Kieron got published an editor's choice (see the publications page on!).  Wow!  I must say the review process on this paper was leaps and bounds easier than any paper I've ever submitted!  We didn't even need to appeal any decisions!  I also resubmitted another paper, got some data for Attila, and now have to figure out a new Kuali purchase order form (whatever the hell that is).  So, while I should have spent extra time here, I guess I didn't get too far behind.

But time to get moving!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Bull Wink

Dear Diary,

I took a week off to go summer camping, got tons of mosquito bites, and now I'm super raring to go on the physics.  I had a good time.

Looking back, it's been a little over half a year since qualification exam, and I think my strength is back.  Things are starting to slow down and I'm getting back into the need to turn physics around quickly.  Oh, and that problem I've been doing for a year now?  Yes, it's still unsolved, but I just made big progress that I need to finish the notes of.

And present in a group meeting (eek!).

[Editor's note:  Actually, this post was written before the trip, so the author could actually be stuck under a boulder somewhere.  Tune in next week when it will be: Two for the Ripsaw... or Goodbye, Mr. Chips]

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Poster Tease

Dear Diary,

Today I learned about the other great Greek wise figure:  Postertes.  You see, at some conferences, if you bring a poster, you must present a few teaser slides to attract anyone to come and see your work.

In Greek culture, it was common place to do this and one wise man, Postertes, did such a fine job that he attracted all manner of gods and mortals from Mount Olympus and Beyond that the likes of Socrates, Homer, Zeus, and Hercules, came by to hear his work.

Now that I have to do this, I will show Kieron my sales pitch during the next group meeting.  Maybe I can put together a good poster tease like the Greeks.

[Editor's note:  This is not a history blog.]

Monday, July 7, 2014

Flying Circus

Dear Diary,

Due to a recent string of highly antiquated jokes (about U2, Dr. Strangelove, etc.) from the pre-90s, I've been designated as the official joke-getter.

Unfortunately, I have not fulfilled my duties completely.  Kieron was working on showing errors were small at one end, large in the middle, and then small again at the end.

That was, *ahem*, a reference to a Monty Python skit:

That I had maybe seen once before.  Halfway through watching it again, I got it!  Oh no!  I guess I just wasted the lead I had by correclty identifying the song "Stuck in the Middle with You" and the band: Steeler's Wheel (and that there's a cover by The Eagles of Death Metal).

Monday, June 30, 2014

Justin: unemployed

Dear Diary,

Justin's employment was terminated today.  He will now be working for the American taxpayer via the National Science Foundation as he won the prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship.

Fly little bird!  Spread your wings and go wherever the wind may take you!  He's now up in a big office on the second floor with the postdocs and other funded students.

The rest of us have to keep working for Kieron in the basement...Kieron also mentioned something about this being a lesson for the rest of us (eek!).  I'd better get to work!

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Quantum Spin Explained

Dear Diary,

I had these grand plans to figure out what exactly the hell a spin in quantum mechanics came from.  It's this little physical fact that only has a finite number of configurations (like 2: can be up or down...weird!) and every electron has one that interacts with magnetic fields.  But it isn't clear in physics texts that there's a better physical description other than it is measured.

I swear I had this idea that you could get a spin from the path integral semiclassically and evaluate motions with electrodynamics involved.  I even went so far as to ask Raphael a few months ago if you could get thermodynamic properties of solids from the path integral to coyly ask if you could do it with a charged particle and a spin.  Wasn't I clever to have outsmarted really, dangerously smart people from hundreds of years of staring at math on pieces of paper?

But blast!  I've been scooped by several decades!  Those old physicists are crafty foxes, they are!

It turns out that the American Journal of Physics ran an article by Ohanian (author of a widely used book on physics) in 1986 that explains exactly how a spin comes about from the electromagnetic field which summarizes previous efforts to do so by Belinfante.  It's actually pretty simple!  Using a few conservation laws and Dirac's equation, it comes out that photons have spin 1 because of the way electromagnetism works.  Meanwhile, if you quantize things, electrons get the half spin, just like I wanted to show!  Basically, it's a consequence of the electric field from the point charge.

Oh man, I had all these plans to derive something super cool and be "that guy" that made future generations of physicists have to learn all about that damn spin (*eye roll*).  I'd be cursed by successive generations of everyone for making their lives harder for learning more! Glorious! But now I see I would have just been Belinfante!

Previously, I had only read that two guys:  Uhlenbeck and Goudsmit tried to actually say the electron itself is spinning! (The story goes that their advisor, Ehrenfest, poor guy who wound up committing suicide because physics was becoming too mathy and he had a major life crisis, submitted it saying that since the pair was young, they could afford a wrong caused quite a stir nonetheless).  But making the charged particle actually spin implied it was spinning too fast to make sense with the rest of physics (about 10 times faster than the fastest thing there is, light).  That article I linked to you above presents a solution without those problems; it works with lots of other things like quantum field theory.

Well, this is surely a taste of bitter physicist's medicine where you realize that nothing that you do will ever be important.  Ever.  I guess the only thing left to do is get physical exercise, talk to people, and find an inner purpose in life.  I also ought to get back to whatever Kieron wanted me to do...something involving spin, actually.  This is somehow proving karma exists, no doubt.

But I should avoid getting too into my work!  There's more lessons to be learned from old physicists than just the physics.  Good thing I skipped out on work yesterday to watch the USA win against Germany 0-1 and advance in the cup!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Welcome back, Professor!

Dear Diary,

Kieron came back from his epic summer quest.   We're all ecstatic!

Today we are all Vinnie Barbarino.  But we're keeping up the hard* work.  Unfortunately, this morning, I had a meeting, and then another meeting, and then another meeting with some meetings in between.  Tomorrow, I'll do some physics.  But it looks like I'm prime position to carry over some momentum from getting so much done last week that this could be a productive few days too!

Whew, it's been a bit hot in here recently.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Goal of Graduate School

Dear Diary,

A recent graduate, Beau Martini gave an electric group presentation today.  I'm really glad Kieron recommended him; he did really good work!  Very inspiring!

Oh man, I need to devote my full attention to the presentation and get soccer off my mind.  You see the GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAALLLLLLL of this project is to score some sweet alternatives to Fourier transforms.  But if there's noise in the data, it's a problem for the method to work properly.  That's a major red card...err, flag.  At this point, things got a little bit Messi since the math is quite problematic.  But we're looking for the last gasp equalizer...

Forget it.  I'm going to check the soccer score once this is over.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Case of the Disappearing Kieron

Dear Diary,

Kieron is out this week, so it's a perfect time to get caught up on all those things that I haven't had time to do between requests for editing, meetings, and everything else.  Basically, I'll have a chance to get all those things done that I'm not supposed to be working on and hope I can work fast enough to have something for Kieron when he gets back.

For example, Attila asked me some time ago to make some data.  With all this extra time, it's nearly finished!  In fact, I'm looking at a lot of little numbers on one side of the screen right now!  They're getting lower!

Oh, and the world cup is going on right now.  Very exciting!  But I need to take advantage of this week, so I'll only watch the games from the Netherlands, Argentina, and the USA.  Oh, and maybe Germany, Colombia, and Switzerland.

And perhaps England, France, and Japan.

Ok, but that's it if you also include Honduras.

Monday, June 9, 2014

How to not (!) bar hop in Montreal

Dear Diary,

While I went to sleep last night, some of the other people decided to hit up the local pub in town and, this is the best the pre-eminent physicists of our generation could come up with, ask girls if they would buy them drinks.  Careful planning went into this by looking up certain useful French phrases, and scouring The Guide to First Impressions by Franz Kafka, from which the conversation went something like:

Physicist [translated from accented French]: Could you buy me a drink?  I don't have any money.
Local:  No.
Friend of aforementioned physicist:  No, but he doesn't have any money.
Response:  [Nothing]

For the record, one response is to ask why the friend can't give the original questioner some money, but the people around here are much smarter than that.  They just start ignoring you.  No attention, no responses in English, and no money.  $mart people!

The funny thing is that the next morning when they were relating their triumphant (?) adventure, they seemed to have enjoyed getting stifled.  Good for them!  But something still doesn't add up.  After they told me their story, I started asking them for some money, but they wouldn't give me any!  They just laughed at me!  But, really, I don't have any money!

Rose:  No, really, Dr. Who doesn't have any money.

You know, I should have seen this coming.  A few days ago, one of them asked me to  buy them a drink, and I did thinking they'd pay me back!  I was a practice run! They were testing their tricks!  And I was foolish enough to let it work!

The only real winner here was one of the more suave students wore sunglasses which were a big hit!  He was wearing his sunglasses at night!  Nobody else got any attention except from some travelers from Montreal who were also having no luck getting any money from women.  It's not like the pockets of the locals are bottomless!

Word to the wise:  dress up when you go out.  Everyone else will.  If you look like a hobo in a sweatshirt and ask for money, it gives the wrong impression.  A dress shirt and sunglasses are a must.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Not your American Summer Camp

Dear Diary,

Here at Jouvence, the main inhabitants during the week are young tween-ish or younger kids led around by their eclectic band of adult leaders.

Why just today I saw one holding a kid's hand in one hand and playing an accordion with the other while singing in French.  Some kids in front of him were sort of skip-jumping wildly, enthusiastically and singing along.  The leader was just missing a beret and a cigarette to keep it from being too French!

Another time, me  and some others were playing volleyball when a bunch of kids showed up with adults in fluffy, enormous hats and various brightly colored clothes.  They rolled in, started a fire, and sang songs.  It was all disorganized and frolicky; like they just let the kids play. Lorenzo whistled "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands" and all the kids clapped and started singing, giggling.  So fun! It looked a lot more fun than the American camps I've been to.

Ok, back inside to listen to some more physics.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


Dear Diary,

Ok, doing some stuff with ABINIT and mastering their loop stuff.  I'm glad the first programming language I learned was Fortran because ABINIT is based on it.  Oh my, what's this?  In the tutorial it reads:

We will use the Perdew-Burke-Ernzerhof functional, proposed in Phys. Rev. Lett. 77, 3865 (1996)

Hmm...I wonder if that's the same Burke.  I'll have to ask Kieron when I get back.  It sure does take a bit longer to run than LDA...but the numbers get slightly better.  For the bond length, that is.  LDA does better on the atomization energy.

Do not forget that the typical accuracy of LDA and GGA varies with the class of materials studied...

[Editor's note:  By slightly, we mean a few fractions of a Hartree which is a big unit.  A small increase in a big number is a big number.  Idiot.]

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Vive le Jouvence!

Dear Diary,

I'm here in beautiful French Canada from the epic forest resort: Jouvence.  One could say it has a certain je ne sais quoi about it.  I've been really enjoying cavorting about the woods and breathing in clean air.  It finally stopped raining, too, so the weather's nice and crisp.

I even brought my hiking boots.

Now, there is some physics being presented too...and I'm learning a lot!  But my subconscious is cunning.  My dreams are now in French!*  I don't really understand what they're saying exactly, but maybe by the end of this trip, I'll be fluent!

We also caught some hockey games.  The local team, the Habs, lost in a close one on Thursday.  That was pretty good since they were down 3-1 on Tuesday, won 7-4 and then lost 1-0 in the next game.  C'est la vie!

Hmm...How do I explain to Kieron that I'll be taking French classes when I get back?

*-Without subtitles!

Monday, May 26, 2014

President Pro Tempore

Dear Diary,

Every so often in a tyrants life, a vacation is taken because no one can tell them not to.  In my case, the best vacation I could get was a grueling 2-week boot camp in French Canada where I'll be tested and pitted against the nation's best young physicists.  Yikes!  I might need a vacation from this vacation!

So, I'll be missing two group meeting.  Raphael will have to run them in my stead.  I've given him full reign over what we plans including just working through massive derivations that he doesn't have time to show people regularly.  Since we only get 30 minutes of meeting time with Kieron, these group meetings are a nice chance to update everyone and show Kieron exactly what we've been doing.

...well, if we don't have anything better to do.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Graduate Students are Meant to be Seen and Not Heard

Dear Diary,

A memory comes to mind this evening.  Please, sit with me and remember.

Back in my younger days, I was taking a laboratory class that involved messing with radioactive material.  At some point in the school's history, a student (not me) believed that the radiation badges they had you wear couldn't possibly ever be checked.  So, they stuck the badge in a very dangerous place where it was assured of registering a severe health risk.

When they checked the badges a few days later, the student was pulled out of class and given a full medical exam after which they confessed they hadn't actually been exposed.

When the teacher explained this to us on the first day of my class, and then said that if some huge radiation leak occurred this story would definitely mean we'd hear about it, I blurted out, "Party at my place if that happens."

And no one was amused.  Have a happy Memorial Day.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


Dear Diary,

During my individual meeting with Kieron, Li walked in and asked if Kieron would go see a poster presentation by Kevin or if he should.  Kieron, flabbergasted that that was even a question allowed Li to answer:

"Or should I go as you?"

So clever! This must be how Kieron gets so much done...

Monday, May 19, 2014

Canada, ho!

 Dear Diary,

Whoa!  What a whirlwind day!  I came in early to find that I'd been rejected from a journal yet again.  As I was clicking send on the response, I got another rejection from the same journal on another article!  Then as I was clicking send on that response, Steve asked me for some information for a grant renewal!

As I was clicking send on that, I got into a summer school for DMRG!  It was a huge last minute thing and I only had 5 hours to complete the registration or that message was going to self-destruct!  So, I bought a plane ticket that was luckily cheap considering this is one week away and matched the private shuttles I'll have to take to get there.  Lucky me, I also had a valid passport and you don't need a special visa to go to Canada.  I also need to make a poster, eek!

So, I submitted all of that and I'm headed to French Canada.  It'll be a nice two week break!

Or WAIT!!  I picked the cheaper registration to save money...and apparently that means you receive a grade from A+ to F!  Oh no!!!

I better set all that computer stuff I've been meaning to run for approximately 4 (plus or minus) people I'm working for!  This is gonna be close!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

What goes bump in the night

Dear Diary,

Other campuses that I've attended had their own special brand of vermin that invaded the streets at night time:  Brazilian cockroaches that a biologist accidentally let loose, ferral cats, coyotes, me, etc.

But Irvine's animal control is absolute.  Nothing has a chance of lasting very long.  And the biologists work with fish that won't last in this weather!  Yet, there's one animal the beast can not control:  bands of wild high school students!

Recently, I sat down in one of their more exotic gathering places: chipotle, and saw them communicate in their native Snapchat.    It really is amazing how much of their social energy is spent with cellphones.  They could be programming!  Or blogging!  Or looking at each other!

Don't be fooled, though, the wild teenager is crafty like a fox.  Irvine boasts one of the top schools in the country.  A high school student I once spoke with saw college as synonymous with the University of California or the Ivy League. Anything less, like where I went to, is a mistake!

But perhaps that's apples and oranges.  The high schools around here occasionally send me pamphlets about how their students are in the upper whatever percentage of test scores in the nation.  I imagine if one of those high schoolers catches me looking up some physics knowledge while observing them, they'd interrupt me like this:

"What are you working on?" they pry.
"Oh, this is just some multi-dimensional physics [jargon] blah, blah, blah." I respond trying not to blow their minds.
"Oh, we just did that Tuesday in our string theory class," they ask and grab my phone briefly scanning through the document like Data from Star Trek.
"Well, why don't you just..." [the student trails off and solves it by writing the answer in salsa on the wall of the restaurant]
"Go do literally anything else!" and I quit since Mind=blown is the only equation that comes to my mind.

PS  Apparently there's an enormous hullabaloo about a new high school in the area being built on a toxic waste dump.  I don't know, sounds smart to me to enfuse these impressionable super-geniuses with super powers imbued by the ooze!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Jury Duty again!


Blast!  I've been summoned again!

I tried to get out of jury duty because I don't have a car.  Luckily my roommate helped me out!

But they responded to my letter late by postponing my service to December.  Luckily, you can't be called for jury service twice in a span of 12 months.  Since they scheduled my service for 7 months from now, it looks like I just made it!

I'll have to send in another kind, well worded letter though, explaining that I actually was there.  Good thing I kept that "you served your jury duty" slip!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Jury Dutied

Dear Diary,

I got the be a juror for exactly no time at all!  My duty as a citizen is fulfilled!

I got up really early to head to the courthouse.  My very gracious roommate let me borrow his car, and I ambled up to the courthouse.  Everyone was really nice who worked there.

A judge led the opening announcement and has some interesting facts:
  1. There are more people living in Orange County than there were in the 13 original colonies.  This makes jury service a bit different from how it was originally conceived.
  2. The courts count on you to get it right!
  3. About 6-8 people per year get married after meeting on jury duty.  So, keep your eyes peeled!
As it turns out, they didn't call my name and I went home.  That was easy!

Friday, May 9, 2014

The bet

Dear Diary,

Kieron bet me that I was wrong today.  How exciting!  He thinks a calculation that I've done fits the data not well enough and has bet me one beverage that the result will not hold.

But Kieron's refrigerator only holds the finest:  he has offered me the king of beverages if I am to win!  Now I need to go and calculate the extra stuff he asked me to do to check it!

We'll see how this goes!  I wonder what happens if he I give him a beverage?  All I have in my refrigerator is almond milk and a bottle of ketchup!  Who knows which one would be better!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Cosmic Rays in my Computer

Dear Diary,

Steve told an interesting story today.  See, I've been running these enormous DMRG calculations on our local computing cluster.  Sometimes the data comes out a bit funny.  There's several reasons why this happens, but here's some of the more entertaining:

Cosmic Rays

No joke.  If a cosmic ray comes in and hits one of your memory units in the right way, you get a loss of data on that one bit. This happens especially for longer calculations, but there are ways of managing the errors in pricier computing chips.


Heat can also do this.  Apparently back in the early days of computing if you suspected your results were wrong because of this error, you ran a diagnostic, took a panel off the side of the computer, and held a blow dryer up to scan across each memory unit.  If you got an error, with your blow dryer over this spot, you knew the bad node was in there.

Yay modern computing!  I don't have to do that!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Renormalization Group

Dear Diary,

Let's go back to our stick in the ground analogy for coherence lengths.  Recall that we likened a coherence length to the shadow of a stick stuck vertically in the ground.  The coherence length measures how much day or night there is and when we see a phase transition between day and night, the coherence length goes to infinity.

Now let's pretend we're blind, somehow, and all  we see is shadows.  We'd like to measure them because maybe there's a different "y" shaped shadow that looks new.  Why would we like to measure them?  We want to know something about the objects they come from or maybe because we're worried that we're losing our minds and need to make sure the shadows act regularly.  No surprises, sneaky shadows!  I won't let you get the jump on me by measuring you!

The trouble is, how do we measure it?

We need another stick, a measuring stick.  So, let's make one that is exactly one coherence length long.  But at what time of day should we choose the length of the stick?  The answer is that we can choose!  But it's best to always choose the time of day that you want to measure!

So, consider the measuring stick's length that is made at 12:01pm (just after noon) so that it's very short.  It would take a long time to measure a shadow at 5pm because the length is longer!  Say the shadow is many times longer, you'd have to use your ruler many times to see what length it is!  If you'd used your 5pm stick to measure something at 5pm, it would take exactly one measurement to get the same answer!

When measuring something in nature, the answer better not change if you measure it in two different ways.*  Quickly, pick something nearby on your desk or out the window.  If you measure it's length and someone else measures it's length, you better get the same answer...but picking how you chose to measure the object doesn't matter!  Go ahead, ask someone with a lot of time on their hands to measure it with you!

This idea of picking a different ruler for different situations is what is called renormalization group, in the condensed matter sense.  There's another permutation/consequence of renormalization group that is related, but we'll get to that later.

*-There's a notable conceptual hurdle to justify this statement in some places like relativity. Maybe we'll revisit this.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Soft Linking

Dear Diary,

I have two folders that I want to access the same information.  Like, let's pretend I have a pdf of something totally swanky that I put into one folder.  For my own filing system, I want to have another folder with a different name that accesses the folder with my swanky pdf.

All I have to do is soft link!  By typing

"ln -s [original directory] [new directory]"

the computer makes a folder that if you go into it, you go to the original folder!  This also works with documents!  I just made one for our journal club tomorrow so I don't have to move all the documents over.  I use them all the time if I see two projects need the same thing:  I soft link both to the relevant whatever!

Our little in-house server has a lot of these.  Many times, students have tried to go wandering around and document the directory tree, but few have made it out!  There's so many soft links everywhere that it's turned into a maze rivalling Crete and only now generates headaches!  But no Minotaur (I think...)!

In fact, the streets of Irvine and many foreign countries such as cities in Spain are set up like this.  The idea is that if you have windy streets, then you can get away from bad guys more easily by running until you're lost yourself.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Movers and Shakers

Dear Diary,

It's another office shuffle!

Aurora and Justin moved up to closer to Kieron for motivation and coffee.  The rest of us are left down here enjoying the wide open office atmosphere.

The moves tend to go like this:  The person at the top of the seniority picks a new desk.  Then the next person moves, etc.  I had to wait until the end to get the desk by the window that Aurora had. Aurora even mentioned that a bird enjoys pecking at the glass if the blinds are open.  So cute!
Better yet, a trap desk is now set for the careless of seat.  Once a new member takes my old seat, and sits in my old desk, they'll be me at the bottom of the seniority!  I'll get to gently deliver the line, "It's a trap!"

Now if I a could get a couch placed where that desk used to be, then all the visitors will have cushy supports for their weary legs.  And I'd have an auxiliary chair when I read things...but no naps, diary!  I don't live that far away and need to get some things done. Or risk that Kieron would catch me napping!

Oh no!  House rules say no couches in small offices!  Instead, a bunch of old computers were placed where I used to be.  Maybe it's a signal to work harder or end up like those my old desk!

PS  The Webmaster updated everyone's contact information.  Yay!

Monday, April 21, 2014

What is big?

Dear Diary,

Let's talk about length scales again. Consider the number


This number has a 'scale' of 10^5 since we can rewrite it as 4.14503 x 10^5. Let's look at  it on a graph:

To illustrate my point, I've also plotted the number 4.1 x 10^5.  It's almost the same! You can barely tell the difference!  But trust me!  Now, I only put the y-axis in steps of 10^5 because that's all we care about--it's our scale.

Let's really drive this pedantic point home by adding something way less than our scale--like the number 301 (=3.01 x 10^2).  It's of order 10^2.  The sum of those two numbers is


I've plotted it on our graph.  Again, you can barely tell the difference!  In fact, if you're not pulling any tricks, you can't!  Big numbers don't care about little numbers.  Sometimes, it's a good approximation to just concentrate on big numbers because if you added in smaller numbers, you'd basically get the same answer.

Let's look at the flip side.  10^8 is a huge number--it's on a bigger scale.  Let's add it to our first number:


On our new 10^8 scale, this number basically looks like plain old
10^8 (you couldn't tell the difference between the two on a graph with a scale of 10^8--or realistically, the y-axis are marked by 10^8).  I probably could have just put up a one with eight zeros after it, I certainly wouldn't have checked. This number is basically infinite on our old length scale, it's too big for our puny 10^5-scale to handle!

Lastly, for a real world example, consider you, a person!   Then consider the moon.  You can not handle the moon!   From our analogy above, it's too big a number to add to you without it just appearing that there is only the moon (I'm thinking of it crashing into you, sorry). You + moon = moon!  Only things on the same scale 'matter'...or we need to consider a different scale.

[Editor's note:  Perhaps in a future post, the author will muse on chaos.  This would be an example system where small numbers have big impacts on large ones.  The point remains, find the big numbers in your theory and you'll get a pretty good answer even if you left out some small ones.]

Monday, April 14, 2014

What is a Phase Transition?

Dear Diary,

I recently was wandering the woods and thought of a good analogy for a coherence length.  Condensed matter is rife with coherence lengths while something like particle physics deals with energy scales.  Really, these two things are the same since there's a relation like

Energy ~ 1 / Length

Consider a big stick stuck in the ground with the sun shining on.  This setup can only be in two phases:  day or night, but without looking at anything else, we can determine if it is day or night (or how much day there is) by looking at the stick's shadow. The length of the shadow is the coherence length for "day phase".

Now, consider what happens as set-up goes from day to night.  The shadow grows and grows and grows until there is a point where the shadow has infinite length but just for one instant.  You blink and you miss it.  What do you miss if you blink?  You missed the phase transition from day to night!  The coherence length went off to infinity.

Now, this happens all the time in physics when there's a phase transition.  So, the coherence length for solids goes to infinity when we transition to a liquid and so on.

Monday, April 7, 2014

A New Focus

Dear Diary,

Ok, this month we're going to get back to basics.  No more publishing fiascos,* funding nightmares,** or other distractions;*** I'm taking charge of my time here and going to tell you all about physics.  This April, it will be the physics information month between us.

Buckle your seat belts.

[Editor's Notes:
*-Ok, well, there'll probably be more of those
**-Well, that's a constant worry.
***-Yeah...sure. ]

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Let them eat cake

Dear Diary,

Here's a bit of retro-posting for you.  I'm going to tell you about one of the all-time legendary computers games that probably influenced me to become a physicist.

I'm talking about the original Half-life.

The game opens on a scientist going to work in a secret, private corporation's complex by tram past, among other things, a radioactive pit.  The subtitles inform you that you are Gordon Freeman, a theoretical physicist from MIT.  Now, as a nine year old, that theoretical physics thing sounds super dope because no one who is nine years old knows what physics is, so it must be something completely wicked.

That first subtitle holds up well and good until you start thinking about what kind of work Dr. Freeman actually has considering his background in theory.  His job is to be blithely ignorant to all things going on in the facility and push samples into laser beams.  He does this excellently.  But, why did they hire a theoretical physicist to do this?  Is it that an experimental physicist would know too much about pushing samples into laser beams and the work is hyper-classified?  If their goal was to find someone who would definitely never figure out why their experimental appartus was a bad idea, they picked the right guy.  Rather, the game should be focused around you sitting at a desk and pushing math around on a piece of paper.

When Dr. Freeman activates a resonance cascade opening a trans-dimensional portal to allow aliens into our world (almost the first thing you do), he immediately becomes the "hunky, studly" sort of life saving scientist (a la Tony Stark/Ironman, but without any dialog or attitude) and you start to wonder how he knows how to deal with headcrabs (class at MIT? PHYS 301: Monster Management? PHYS 302: How to Save the World from your Research?).

What are the teaching people at MIT, anyway?  How did he get through MIT if he doesn't know what a resonance cascade is?  Does the physics department there also include courses on how to use weapons in case your physics research opens trans-dimensional portals...or is that something he learned at his first postdoc?  Maybe it's a product of the Manhattan project?  Could Dr. Freeman not get a regular postdoc and so had to settle for causing an alien invasion?  I know the job market is bad, but whoa...

Let this be a lesson to all of us:  theorists cause the alien apocalypse working in a theoretical job.  This game is really a lesson in hiring people with the proper job training...and not getting too over-invested so you get impatient waiting for Half-Life 3 to come out.