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.