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.