Thursday, December 3, 2015

Winter is coming...

Well okay; "winter" as far as OC is concerned. And actually, come to think of it, that reference doesn't really apply to what I'm writing about, but whatever. I'm committed now (because I miss GoT and really want the next season to come out already).

This quarter was tough. Like, seriously tough. I realized earlier this week that my expectations of theory research were completely and totally incorrect. More to the point, I went about this first project almost entirely the wrong way, taking to the problem like a bull in a china shop. Which, in case you're curious, didn't work too well.

I've recently started getting into lock picking (just as a hobby; no plans to recreate Oceans 11 any time soon) and what I enjoy most about it is how deliberate one has to be to get through a 6 pinner with security pins. You can't just jam two ends of a paperclip into the lock and expect the thing to open. It takes time, finesse, and patience.

Theory is a lot like that. I'm sure that as I learn more, things will go maybe a little smoother, but the fact is, there is always going to be something new in any problem worth researching just by the nature of how research works. I often tell people that theoretical chemistry is neat because it lies at the intersection of chemistry, physics, and mathematics. The past week or so has made me realize that I was regurgitating this lip service without realizing what it actually means.

I wish I'd gotten more done this quarter, but working through this has been really valuable. It's a cliché, but I almost feel like I've learned to crawl over these past few weeks.

Now it's time to try and stand up.

Friday, November 20, 2015

That moment

when you hit "shift+enter" on a mathematica notebook and the fraction you've been waiting to see for over 2 months pops out and you make this face:

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

All Aboard the Strugglebus!

Sometimes research doesn't go well. Other times, it really doesn't go well. And sometimes, it's a veritable dumpsterfire. I've slid through all three of these stages this quarter and my project doesn't seem to be relenting any time soon.

The most frustrating part of it all is that, just by looking at the integral I'm wrestling with, I know I should be able to compute it. I know the answer, I know the integrand is well behaved (in most places at least), and I know for sure that people have done it before. But calculating this thing is like baking a soufflé: if anything is done even slightly incorrectly, you're gonna have one floppy, deflated pastry. And nobody wants that.

One thing I have learned from all this struggling however is that I have a good support system. I've of course been complaining to my family and friends whenever I've gotten the chance, but I've also received help from various group members, both previous and current. The integral is inadvertently teaching me an enormous amount of many-body physics, UEG stuff, a dash of perturbation theory, and more than I'd care to know about Fourier transforms so even struggles are, I suppose, time well spent (though often it doesn't feel like it). Regardless of the future research I do with this thing, it's been a hell of a teaching tool.

I just hope that the finite-temperature form isn't too much worse...

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Dumpster Fire

This week is the coolest week ever.

1. Our DFT midterm was given to us on Sunday. It's due next Monday. It looks like fun.
2. NSF is due Friday.
3. My research project is currently just trying to integrate a stupid two dimensional function. And I can't do it. Oh and I've been doing this for almost a month.
4. I destroyed my leg during a long run on Sunday so I can't relieve stress.


Monday, October 19, 2015

Writing, writing, and more writing!

First off, I should apologize to my faithful audience for my absence. I know I said I'd write up a little thing about Spain and whatnot, but research, NSFing, and DFT class have been all-consuming and it's felt wrong to take time away from those things for blogging. But! Blogging is important so here I am. Writing a blog post.

Which is fitting in some respects because recently, all I've been doing is writing. The NSF GRFP stuff is due in 11 days (hoooooooly moly) and I've been frantically polishing and rewriting and polishing and fixing and editing and pruning nonstop it seems. It's a lot of fun though. I've always enjoyed writing and I really have to put a different hat on when I'm writing sciency stuff. This stream of consciousness style I write in for this blog is really how I prefer to write, but that doesn't jive when you only have two pages and (presumably) an exhausted reader who probably wants to go home. Conciseness is key and I'm way too flowery in my writing.

Luckily, Kieron is really good at taking long sentences and turning them into a handful of words. Justin has been invaluable as well in fixing my word choice. It's nice having people to help you out! Then again that's been my experience in this group since I first got here.

Research has been progressing more slowly recently, though that's thanks to Apple's new operating system which un-taught my computer how to compile fortran and TeX, and my general lack of knowledge concerning physics-y stuff. DFT class has been a blast though, particularly since a lot of what we're learning is more about how to think about quantum mechanics. Which is weird. Quantum stuff is weird.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Grad School Year 2: The DFT Strikes Back

At some point, I'll write up a little something about the whirlwind tour of Spain that Justin and I enjoyed, but for now, the quarter starts today! It's weird being a second year. Over the next 10 weeks, I will have only one class to worry about, no teaching to distract me, and a whole lot of research to keep me busy.

It's exciting, frankly. I enjoyed my classes last year for sure but, thanks to LANL, I know what it feels like to just do science without other stuff gumming up my time. And I want that back. Being gone for two weeks was cool and all, but mostly I just want to return to "routine" (if there is such a thing in grad school) and dive into DFT.

The class starts today and I look forward to seeing how the class will enhance my understanding of the research I've done and the research I will do. Speaking of which, I should probably finish up the homework that's due in an hour.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Hola, ¿qué tal?

Hooray, Spain! After enduring my first trans-atlantic flight and a french-filled connection in Brussels (a place I will definitely visit in the future), I found myself in a rather alien place full of non-perpendicular roads and buildings that looked older than anything I'd ever seen before. San Sebastian is a very popular holiday location for europeans and I can absolutely understand why. The views are utterly breathtaking and the food is to die for. Since I don't speak spanish, I often just smile confusedly at the waiter or waitress who has been tasked with serving me until they suggest something, to which I always reply, "si, si. Gracias!"

Other than the sheer deliciousness, eating in Spain is a wholly different process because socializing outdoors is way more prevalent here than it is in the states. Lunch is a communal affair, lasting a few hours and a number of courses. Meals always feature alcohol (sometimes whether you order it or not) and coffee or espresso. The waitstaff never comes to ask you how you're doing because you're always busy chatting and, I must say, I'm completely taken with the way they do things here.

I lament that I can't speak the lingo because I feel like I'm missing out on the immersive nature of spending a week+ in a completely foreign place. Luckily, the conference is in english so I'll know just how little DFT I know.

Speaking of the conference, I'm currently at it. I'm sitting in an empty lecture hall trying desperately to digest the delicious food I ate for lunch while running some calculations. It's all fantastic. I like it here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


I totally forgot to write last week because I was back in Irvine.

I've returned to UCI and I gotta say, it's nice to be back. As much as I was loving the extracurriculars out in New Mexico, I missed the sort of science we do here. We ask deep, theoretical, fundamental questions about DFT and that was not the sort of thinking/problem solving I was doing out at LANL.

I'm already working on something with Kieron and Aurora, which is really cool. It's nice to be on a project that feels as though it's wandering in uncharted territory. I'm also really engaged with the project because it's a finite-temperature kinda thing; that's the stuff I'm gonna be up to my eyeballs in really soon.

And the finite-temperature stuff looks so cool! The math is really pretty. There's all this groovy stat mech language lying underneath everything and I'm looking forward to seeing how everything ties together.

I'm also finishing up my first-year exam, as well as making a poster for Spain. Both of which are next week.

Hoooooly moly I'm going to be in Europe in like, 11 days.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Week 10: So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye!

So that's it then. Dan and I finished our final project, uploaded it to the git repository (which crashed like, 16 times before everything was said and done), and had our final meeting with Charlie and Marc. They were both super cool and thanked us for our work this summer. Charlie also mentioned that either of us were welcome to come back next summer, which was nice to hear.

Saying goodbye was hard. I won't miss New Mexico all that much; I'm looking forward to moving back somewhere a bit more dense. I won't miss Los Alamos much either; it's beautiful for sure, but other than hiking and camping, there is absolutely nothing to do in that town. I will however miss the people. 

Over the course of these 10 weeks, the science has been fun and the green chile has been delicious, but above all else, I will remember the crazy camping hijinks, the late nights spent just talking about the inevitable existential questions one encounters while in grad school, the road trips all across New Mexico, the rock climbing followed by intense renditions of Don't Stop Believin' at karaoke night, and the 22 people I shared that dingy basement with.

It's been real, Computational Physics Workshop.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Week 9: Warning - This Post is Actually About the Program I'm In

On Wednesday, I woke up at 5:30 in the morning. I didn't need to, but my body pulls this stunt every time I know I have a presentation to do. It's a mixture of anxiety caused by the fear of oversleeping and anticipation because my god, do I love giving presentations.

I managed to fall back asleep for a half hour or so until waking up again, this time just 30 seconds before my alarm was going to go off anyway. I rolled out of bed, spruced up the beard, brushed my teeth, showered, picked out a shirt and tie, threw on those socks my dad got me for christmas that are covered in mathy equations, fed my landlady's cat, and began walking to the bus stop.

The bus seemed to travel far slower than usual this morning. The greens and browns of the northern New Mexican high desert smeared past the Park 'n Ride shuttle window while Green Day (Nimrod, in case you're curious; it's a solid album) wafted out of my earbuds. Once we arrived in Los Alamos, I wandered past security up to Research Park. I found the conference room that would be my home for the rest of the day, located the free coffee, and engaged in the nervous but pleasant chatter that always proceeds a "big" speaking engagement.

The day was split into two parts. First, we'd each give a quick, 3 minute presentations that would outline the longer talks we would give later in the day. The higher-ups at LANL would attend these quick-looks and use them to decide which talks they'd like to see in the afternoon. It was made very clear early on that between the short and long talks, the short ones were the important ones. Our coordinator also made sure to explain that the 3 minute time limit was a hard one. We had a schedule, and we were going to stick to it.

After finishing my cup of coffee, I found my partner and complimented his outfit. The dude wore a full on suit and looked sharp as hell. I felt silly but was glad I'd decided to at least wear a tie. As 9 o'clock drew nearer, we were told to grab seats towards the back so that the important people could sit in the front. The clock struck precisely 9:04 and we began. The first few talks flew by pretty quickly and I could feel adrenaline slowly leeching into my bloodstream as group after group inundated the room with their concentrated morsels of science. The first warm dense matter (WDM) group (who ran orbital free stuff) went up and dropped a few of our punchlines but before I knew it, Dan was up.

His presentation went really well. In it, he detailed what WDM is, why it's tricky to model, why we care about it, and how to calculate electrical resistivity using the Ziman-Evans formula. Before I could blink, he was done, the audience was applauding, and my presentation was already up on the wall.

We were mandated to provide an introductory slide before getting into the science so naturally, I dotted it a few jokes, a Star Wars quote (both of which went over well), and self-depricated about being from New Jersey. Then I got down to business. Our most exciting data was on display for the whole room to see. I felt like I did a solid job of explaining what our conclusions were, why they were significant, and why it was worth coming to our longer talk later in the day. We had a story and it felt pretty compelling. It was over before I knew it, but apparently Dan and I made a convincing argument for coming to see our talk.

When the afternoon session rolled around, there were far fewer people in the room. Friends had come by for the earlier talks (probably because they were short and came with the prospect of free coffee) but now, only summer students, mentors, and a few lost lab employees were present. That is until the WDM presentation(s) started. The room noticeably swelled up and I saw some faces I recognized. Obviously, Charlie and Marc were there since they were our mentors, but there were some other DFT-ers in the room, too. The long talk was an utter joy to give. Dan and I were really able to get down to the meat of how our calculations worked. I got to explain how we eliminated a handful of models, how we selected our exchange-correlation functional, and what our future goals with this code might be. We even got some questions, and I was even able to answer them. It was pretty groovy.

Then our presentation was over. And all the WDM people left. And the room was far less full. It was cool. Our science felt important. The rest of the afternoon was... long. The presentations were good, but four hours of constant exposure to 20 minute snipits of science is exhausting. By the end of it though, we were all relieved to be over this penultimate hurdle (I still have to write this paper-thingy). We all felt accomplished. It was a clear demarcation in the program.

The program is almost over.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Week 8: 748 Miles

Sorry for the late post, but this was one heck of a busy weekend.

First, I suppose I should mention something work related. The bug hasn't been fixed, my plot is still kinky, but our results are solid everywhere else and the project is drawing to a close. This week we will be giving our final presentations and I can't wait to do so. I've always enjoyed giving talks and I've been sitting with this data for so long that it will be nice to talk about it with some strangers. It also sounds like we might get a paper out of this summer which is nice.

On to the fun though. On Friday, myself and four other students piled into the back of a Subaru Outback and began traveling towards southern New Mexico. The first destination on our list was White Sands National Monument. If you're ever in New Mexico, you need to make it a point to get down there. The park is completely covered in white gypsum sand and is so large that you can very clearly see it on google maps. We spent the better part of an evening there and camped nearby overnight. Seeing the moonrise over that place was seriously spine tingling.

Then things got even better. We broke down camp and traveled over to Carlsbad Caverns, the largest cave in the US (contiguous maybe? I don't remember). The cave itself is broken down into a few rooms that have paths laid out for you to walk on. Pictures don't do it justice (and also I haven't ripped them off my phone yet). The cave was originally a sea and most of the features down there are either fossilized coral or stalagmites which have formed from drips and drops over the course of millions of years. If you head there and have somewhere nearby to stay at for the night, you can watch the bats fly out around 7 pm. We however needed to find another place to camp, so we left after doing the hike.

We ended up camping at Bottomless Lakes State Park, a place I'd happily camp at again. The views were lovely and we got to watch a series of thunder storms (that were safely far away from us) light up the sky. The clouds recessed and left us with an incredibly clear sky full of stars and another beautiful moon.

Moral of the story: if you like to be outside, you need to head to New Mexico at least once. Possibly twice.

I know I'll certainly be back before too long. Oh also, 748 miles is how far we drove. Over the course of three days. I'm just now starting to get feeling back in my legs.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Week 7: Kinks

That title is totally click-bait. But I swear it's relevant!

I finally hit a massive obstacle in my project earlier this week. One of the plots I generated had a pretty nasty kink in it where it shouldn't have had one. This lead to a number of days spent under the hood of my code debugging, re-writing subroutines, checking types, and making sure I didn't exceed the 132 character/line limit (thanks for nothing, Fortran 90).

Today, I finally had a break through. The plot I was generating featured points whose y-values came from an integrand. The integrand is chock full of... interesting quantities that are computational expensive to calculate. The two most complex are the external potential and the structure factor, both of which come from a program that, for all intents and purposes, is a black box to me.

None of my other plots had any issues, so from the outset I was suspicious that the issue was in my code. Still, I started from the top of my integration routine and worked all the way down until it had to be something in my integrand itself that was misbehaving. I checked the fermi-dirac function I was using, the physical parameters that gave the integral correct units, the fineness of my grid, and even how many digits of pi my code was using. Finally I came to the potential and the structure factor. It had to be one or the other. Removing each separately showed that there was an unusual jump in the potential where my kink was. Victory.

The win is hollow though. I still have no idea why the potential is misbehaving and although it looks like that's the issue, I can't really be sure. I just hope that whatever the issue is, it won't have affected the rest of our results.

I can't believe that it's already the end of week 7. Before I know it, I'll be back at sea level and won't need a cryptocard to check my email.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Week 6: Descent

Today at work, it became really clear to me that the summer is almost over.

I've alluded to our progress in a few of my other entries, but Dan and I are truly at the production stage of our project now. There are a few tweaks and optimizations being done, but most time is being spent crushing the Moonlight data cluster with thousands (literally) of calculations all at once. I sure hope the HPC guys and gals don't completely hate us.

The time one has while jobs are running is a very slippery thing. It's easy to get distracted by an article or a book chapter or (honestly, more commonly), a funny picture of a cat. I'm also not used to having downtime while calculations are running because I haven't needed any HPC for any of my code in grad school up until this point. Sure, I ran stuff in undergraduate, but that was eons ago and I had classes + homework to keep my occupied.

One of the best aspects of having free time at work is that I get to write. Fleshing out the story of our results is far and away the most fun part of doing science in my mind, and goodness me do we have a cool story to tell. I'm not entirely sure which parts of it I'm allowed to talk about and which I'm not, so I'll have to be vague, but the true star of our project will be a set of data that totally and completely surprised us. We predicted that one of our models would behave a certain way and it did the opposite. There's a rationalization we're happy with,  and the result is consistent with our other data, but I love a surprise.

Results that confound and befuddle remind me why I like science in the first place; until you set up an experiment and parse the data, you can't be sure of anything.

Sorry that this entry didn't feature any mortal danger or cattle.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Week 5: From Pecos, with Love

Last weekend was one of the most interesting 4th of July weekends I've ever had.

Because the 4th landed on a Saturday, we had work off on Friday. I was planning on going into Santa Fe and just relaxing all day when, at about 10:30 pm Thursday night, I got a call from my friend L. Turned out she'd planned on going backpacking with our coworkers G and BC over the holiday and asked if I wanted to go.

A few things worth mentioning at this point; I like the great outdoors and have been hiking loads of times. I fancy myself as reasonably in shape and figured I'd be able to handle ~20 miles of hiking over three days, even if it featured over 3,000 ft of climbing. That all said, I didn't have any of the equipment required for an undertaking like this. Still, L promised that she had enough bits and bobs to cover for me, so I figured what the hell. Why not. I'll go into the Wilderness with L, an avid backpacker, and two other wannabe-adventurers who, like me, had never gone backpacking before.

What could possibly go wrong?

The first day, went splendidly. It took us roughly 3 hours to hike the 6 or so miles to our first campsite. I was surprised how light the 30lb pack on my back felt. It was a cool feeling knowing that the four of us had enough supplies for us all to be completely isolated for an entire weekend. We set up camp near a beautiful mountain lake, summited the peak near Pecos Baldy Lake, ate some s'mores, and relaxed. Other than an overly curious elk that wandered into our camp right as we were going to go to bed, the first day went off without a hitch and I was rather smitten with this whole backpacking thing.

The view from the top of the baldy was pretty awesome.

Saturday continued the good vibes. We hiked another 6 or so miles into the Wilderness and arrived at yet another mountain lake. Along the way, we had to walk along the Trailriders Wall, a beautiful ridge that runs between two heavily forested areas and is about 10,000 feet up. There is essentially nothing up there, so you can see for miles in all directions. It was breathtakingly gorgeous.

Seriously. Miles.

After traversing the wall, we arrived at a mountain pass that was occupied by a herd of bighorn sheep. Keen not to upset them, we stopped for lunch and let a gap open between us and them so as to avoid incident. The rest of the hike was fairly wet, as there's been a lot of rain this season, but we made it to the second lake just in time to start hearing thunder. At this point, we weren't sure whether we should just camp out near the lake, or try and take the return loop back towards the car. The thunder made staying by an elevated and exposed body of water far from enticing, so we opted to plunge back into the forest and began making our way back towards the trailhead.

Thanks to the wet summer we've been having, the loop back to the car was simply gone. In its place was a stream which made it impossible for us to loop to the car. We instead decided to hike back to Pecos Baldy Lake, camp there one more night, and then head back on Sunday as planned. It would be a longer hike, but at least we knew the area around the lake.

At this point, we weren't really hearing thunder anymore, the trail was mostly downhill, and the bighorn sheep were gone! Looked like smooth sailing to the campsite. Then we got back to Trailriders Wall and me oh my did the you-know-what hit the fan.

After climbing back up to the top of the wall, we had only covered a few hundred feet when we started to hear thunder again. But this time we saw the source of the noise: in front of us was a sky completely covered in very, very angry looking clouds. Some of the clouds furthest from us were definitely spitting out rain, and even more were splitting air with a few hundred thousand volts of electricity. Fun.

At this point, we were so far along the wall that we weren't sure what to do. Turning back and returning to the forest for a quick tent-pitching seemed difficult, since there was no cover back the way we came. If we continued forward, there were a few small clusters of pine trees that could at least lure the lightning away from us. We figured pressing on towards the other campsite was our best option.

Then a lightning bolt struck the ground ~300 ft away from us.

I don't actually remember throwing my pack off, but before I knew it, a lightened me and my three friends were full-on sprinting towards the pine trees for cover. We huddled there for a while, begging the storm to relent. It got worse before it got better. The thunder was incessant and we became drenched. There was hail, too.

Luckily for us, the storm did capitulate and we were greeted by a happy rainbow and sunny skies. We decided that another night of camping would be as welcomed as another storm, so we rushed back down the trail, hoping to get to the car before the sun went down. On the way back, we ran into more silly elk, a herd of overly-friendly-to-the-point-of-being-unnerving cows, and heard some coyotes howling as we plunged into the final forest we had to pass, but incredibly, we made it back to the car.

Lots of people say that the Wilderness changed them, and as much as I love defying clichés, I feel the same way. Sure, it was terrifying at times, but there's something special about being that far out in the middle of nowhere. The break from office life was well-appreciated, and now I can't wait to get back to SoCal so I can check out the San Mateo Wilderness!

Smiling atop Trailriders Wall. Like a moron.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Week 4: Thundercat

In case you don't know, Thundercat is this groovy musician who was featured on Kendrick Lamar's most recent album. I've been listening to Thundercat's new album on repeat while making some tasty plots in mathematica for my project. If you're curious, here's my favorite track by him:
Aaaaanyway,  plots! I had some spectacular tutelage in the art of plot-making back in the fall when Kieron, John, and I published that JCP article. I still use the mathematica code Aurora sent me and it always yields compliments. Being at the point in a project where I'm mashing data and words together in a TeX file feels pretty awesome. Few things are as satisfying as taking a step back and realizing how much stuff you've done over the course of a project.

Dan and I also got an opportunity to present some of our data during a little mid-summer report on Wednesday. The idea was that each group would spend 5 minutes discussing goals and means to achieve those goals before the summer was over. Since we already accomplished some stuff we'd aimed to do by August, we took the presentation as an opportunity to show off some of our results. In spite of being incredibly pressed for time, the talk went pretty well. I really wanted to go into details about the DFT we were doing because we're using the KSDT functional, also known as finite-temperature LDA! It's so cool, but we barely had enough time to talk about our results. I can't wait for the end-of-summer presentation where we'll have time to talk about some of the finer details of the calculations we've run.

Anyway, I should get back to plot-making. Listen to that song I posted. Seriously.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Week 3: Sick

Having a fever in an un-air conditioned house in 90 degree weather is torture.

Worse than that though, the security at LANL is set up so I can't work from home! I'm stuck in bed watching Seinfeld and daydreaming about structure factors and pseudized potentials.

This story of having something get in the way of my research has been a common theme in 2015. All throughout the winter and spring quarters, I really wanted to nudge my little baby research project (which primarily involved writing a 1d Schrodinger equation solver for arbitrary potentials) towards completion, but I'd forgotten all the fortran I learned last summer so progress was slow. Oh yeah, and grad courses are time consuming. And so is teaching.

My project this summer is almost at a milestone. We are almost done running calculations. I figured I'd be done by tomorrow and could finish analyzing all the stuff we have. Now that I've lost a day (maybe two), it seems unlikely that will be the case.

The best part of this frustration though is that it isn't out of fear. I'm not worried that this'll make me fall significantly behind or anything. I'm frustrated because I desperately want to know the conclusion(s) we're going to be making based off of the work we've done. This model I'm working with is so simple, and it's really incredible how good some of our results look.

Instead of writing about science I should probably make more tea and try and take a nap.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Week 2: Progress

 Two weeks down already? Really? Huh.

            Time truly does fly when you’re making progress. When we first set off on this project, I gotta say, I was pretty intimidated. Dan (my coworker) had the harder of the two approaches, but my fortran skills were pretty shabby and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to bite into the skeleton code that Charlie gave us. In spite of this, both Dan and I have made serious headway on our respective projects.  And we’re just a fifth of the way through the summer!
            Some of the most instructive moments came from finding bugs in my code.  Though incalculably annoying, bugs are great teaching tools because to fix them, you have to first locate them, then understand what the code is doing, and finally change the code so that it does what you want. Along the way, you often figure out stuff that might be useful down the road. A bug to one code is a clever solution for another.
            As entertaining as my project has been, the real delight of this summer has been the other students. Let’s face facts: sciencey people can be a bit of a drag and aren’t known for their social graces. This group, however, can swing from having nuanced conversation about radiation transport to arguing about which of the grilled cheeses at Smith’s is best (it’s a serious debate [though everyone knows the milano melt is the best]). As fun as the science has been so far, I’m happy to be sharing space with 20+ interesting, multidimensional people.
            On a completely unrelated note, I went to Albuquerque last weekend! It was neat. If you're ever there, check out the Marble Street Brewery. Their DIPA is pretty slammin'. If you need somewhere more quiet to get work done, head to Winning Coffee Co. They make a pretty mean cup of joe and have comfy seats.

I think I've drunk my body weight in americanos already.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Week 1: Enter XCP Division

Man that looks cool in print.

National laboratories are way different than academia. That’s been the overwhelming thought ringing in my head since I got out here. It’s more than just the lack of classes, the lack of formal teaching responsibilities, and the significant increase in security (I’m not really sure if I’m even allowed to make a joke about this…). There’s a really big difference in terms of the culture. People talk about science differently.
Sometimes I almost feel like I’m on the floor of some stock exchange, at least back when people actually went to the floor. Discussions of approximations and models still occur with the same amount of frequency, but utility is the overarching motivation for most things. I gotta say, I kinda like it.
I’m working for Charlie Starrett and Marc Charest and goodness me those guys are smart. They’re fun to work with, too. Marc is a brilliant computer guy from Canada, charged with teaching my workmate, Dan, and myself how to program properly. Charlie is a WDM/DFT guru from across the pond. He’s got a dry sense of humor and doesn’t hesitate to throw in a quip if the opportunity is afforded to him(sound familiar?), but he’s also incredibly helpful and quite good at explaining why we use the code we’re using.
The project is all to do with simulating WDM with DFT and already, I’ve got results! In spite of wanting to learn a more modern language, all of our stuff is in fortran but goodness me have I learned a lot of fanciness in fortran 90. More than the experience at a national lab or exposure to new DFT stuff, the programming experience I’m gaining is outta sight. I can’t wait to use what I’m learning for my own research when I get back to UCI.
I won’t be using the code I wrote at LANL though. That’d be a federal offense. And I don’t like the prospect of prison. Speaking of prison, I still have to finish my take-home final for Vladimir’s math class.


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Week 0.5: Let's open up a restaurant in Santa Fe

Santa Fe deserves a post of its own.

Despite being quite travel weary when I arrived, I didn't spend much time of my first day in Santa Fe standing still. I arrived in town at around 2 o'clock and lost the entire rest of the day wandering the beautiful streets of what is the oldest capital in the country (it was founded some time in the 1600s by spanish conquistadors).

The first thing anyone will tell you about Santa Fe is the food. And my god do I understand why. It's impossible to order anything, even a burger, without being offered some green chile. As a non-native, you might at first be put off by the idea of singeing your eyebrows any time you eat anything, but once you make the right choice once and answer yes to that very important question, you'll never look back. The bars out here are good fun as well. There's a wide variety of types ranging from sports bars to dark, dim speakeasies. I went to a sportier one called Junction to watch the Champion's League final on Saturday and was delighted at how talkative everyone was.

Oh, that's another thing; strangers relish a good conversation out here, which is a delightful change from the almost automaton-ish way that most southern californians act. I got caught in a thunderstorm on that same Saturday and was running towards cover when I got to chatting with another displaced east coaster who was also looking for protection from the sudden thunder, lightning, and hail that had taken over the afternoon.

The real stars of this city for me, however, are the coffee shops. They each have a wonderful personality all their own and I'm convinced I'm going to gain 100 lbs this summer from the amazing baked goods they all sell. My favorite place is a coffee place/bookstore called Collected Works. The barista, Ashley, makes a spectacular americano. I've begged her to tell me where they get their beans  but it's apparently some big secret. I'll have to hone my charming skills over the next 10 weeks to see if I can find out more info.

Anyway, I'm trying to avoid talking about LANL because I'll be posting about work-ish type stuff on Friday. For now, I leave you with this piece of advice; if you ever EVER have an excuse to come to Santa Fe, do it.


Friday, June 5, 2015

Week 0: Big Ol' Jet Airliner

Waking up at 5 in the morning is never easy, but it's slightly less painful when you're doing so because you're about to go on a trip.

Maybe trip is an understatement. Starting Monday, I'll be working at Los Alamos National Laboratories. That sentence still feels a bit weird to type. It feels like just yesterday I was advisor-less and just trying to figure out where the hell the pub on campus was. Now I'm a year into graduate school and about to spend the summer away from UCI.

I relish the opportunity to be away from academia for a while. I love teaching and researching, but I'm intrigued by the notion of 9-5 science. I've worked in industry and toiled in academia. It'll be interesting to see what the third option is like. Plus too, I hear Santa Fe has fantastic food.

My project is pretty nifty. I'll be simulating WDM with DFT (something called an averaged atom method) which just so happens to lay perfectly inline with my PhD thesis. Hopefully, running computations will make me a more conscientious theorist. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that people will (hopefully) be using our results some day.

Anywho, blogging in an airport is distracting. Thanks to Dr. Who for writing a bit while I was being inundated with all the flotsam one encounters during their first year of grad school (read as: I was lazy and forgot to do this thing).


Tuesday, June 2, 2015


Dear Diary,

Kieron made an analogy about us, Stanford, and Moneyball today.  I couldn't help myself but say three times: "We're not the Oakland A's in your analogy."

Rather, we're more like the Boston Redsox in the early 2000s: we'll win a few victories here and there but with the aid of money.  Stanford is the Yankees and some other school is the Tampa Bay Rays.

So, once for the record:  we are not the Oakland A's.  None of us are Billy Beane.  We're not the Oakland A's.

We might have the Greek God of Walks in our farm system, though.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

I'm only this much burned out

Dear Diary,

I need a break, bad.
And simultaneously,
I do not take one.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Bike Repair

Dear Diary,

While walking around this evening to clear my head, I happened upon someone with bike trouble.  E, as we'll call her, needed to replace a leaky tube.  I wondered outloud if using a tire iron would be better than fingers, so we had some indirect conversation and I went home to get my tools.  By the time I got back, she'd already taken off the tire and had everything replaced.

Self-sufficiency!  Good luck, E!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Back to the Blog

Dear Diary,

Been a while, eh?  Well, after getting the Nth compliment for you and waiting for N^Nth day for Ehrenfestival to fully take control of this thing, I'm picking up my keyboard and throwing a blog down.  I'm back!

Lucky for you, you didn't miss out on anything over the past year.  No meaningful results were produced.  This is actually quite common in graduate school.  It's a wonder anyone finishes.  I'm actually delaying graduation so I can get all my neat little projects done.

I would say we're close, but I said that about 1.5 years ago!  Ok, so I'll check back on you in a few days.  Pardon any infrequent postings.  I just can't keep up with my former pace.  Maybe once a week?  Yeah, see you then.