Notre Dame

Well, grad school has been both an excessive amount of free time and none at all at the same time. It’s hard to think that over two weeks of official classes, not to mention the entirety of the summer courses, have already passed me by. Of course, it’s not like I haven’t truly enjoyed my time so far!

First bit of news: I passed both of my qualifying exams! Since I passed, I don’t care what score I got, and I won’t need to worry about cramming/studying for that test ever again (as unfortunately some of my new classmates are worrying about right now). In fact, our entire summer class passed the first exam, and all but one passed the second, so our year as a whole is off to a good start.

Second: I’ve moved into an apartment with one of my classmates. It’s about two miles from campus, so I’ve been driving in every day, but I’ll be buying a bike in (hopefully) a few weeks, and that will help to mitigate gas expenditures, past when I need to drive to school due to weather or visiting friends or quidditch tournaments. I really like the place we’re living, I have my own room (and it’s set up essentially identical to my old place in East Lansing), and we have a ton of space! Of course, most of that will get filled when we finally get a dining table and chairs, plus an actual TV stand, but for now it just feels open. We even have a fenced-in backyard!

Third: Classes have been going great! While the homework is very challenging, I’ve been keeping up with it and understanding everything, especially when floods of memories from my undergrad courses come streaming back to me (like how to pick the generalized coordinates in Lagrangian mechanics or Einstein notation). While I’ve had my slip-ups (and started my first problem sets late due to slow shipping of textbooks), everything has been going well in my classes.

Fourth: I’m still deciding on my research field. While a month ago I was dead set on experimental nuclear astrophysics, most likely working under the umbrella of the Joint Institute for Nuclear Astrophysics (JINA) and giving me the possibility of doing research potentially back in East Lansing during my graduate studies and afterward, I am less sure of that now. It may just be nerves, especially since I’ve never really worked with accelerators before, or the fact that I would be programming much less and spending more time in grad school, or that I don’t know what I actually want to do. So, my decision has turned into a binary one: experimental nuclear astrophysics, or computational cosmology (focusing on large-scale formation within the universe and the intergalactic medium). Tough decision, but at least I don’t have to decide for a while, though I want to at least get a little started now even if it’s just reading papers.

Finally: I’m going to a wedding this weekend! My friend Carla, whom I met at MDRS, will be marrying her fiancé Mike (whom I met at the shuttle Atlantis launch in May 2010) down in Albuquerque. I bought my plane tickets and reserved my hotel room back in June, so now all that’s left to do is pack and actual get there!

And that’s the past month or two in a nutshell. Like I said, a lot has happened, but I’ve still had time to watch Doctor Who, help invent a new game, peruse the bars of South Bend, play some disc golf, and sleep. All good things.

Summer Qual Course

A week ago, I officially started my career at Notre Dame. I drove back from my little brother’s high school graduation ceremony (where he gave a great speech and won the top award for graduates!) straight to South Bend, tried to sleep that night but utterly failed, and woke up slightly groggy but excited all the same around 0830 Monday morning.

That first class was essentially what you’d expect any first class to be like. We all went around the room and said our names and something we liked doing (I think most were sports- or outdoor activity-related things…), then found out that the homework assignment had to be completed by that day, not for us to work on that assignment after class. So, ten minutes in and as a class we’re a day behind. Those first two days were rough getting caught back up, especially since the subject area (fluid statics and mechanics) will most likely be my rustiest, at least until I realize how much (or little) I remember of E&M and whatever else we learn next month.

Thankfully, the rest of the week went much easier, since we did waves and oscillations and had a whole weekend to do a relatively easy problem set on relativity. The ten of us that are in the class and work in the office got really close during those first five days. At first, everyone was a little hesitant, but after a few lunch trips and deciding that there was no point in not being comfortable around each other, but the bonding occurred eventually. A Friday-night trip to a few local bars definitely helped!

Like always, I worked on learning everyone’s names as quickly as I could. Having the list of names on the board was helpful at the beginning, but I have all twelve names down pat (“Who the fuck is Clark?” one of many inside jokes already) and, even more importantly, everyone is really nice. My favorite part about meeting new people is just the various personalities and watching how they react and interact with each other. Throwing ten strangers in a room for eight hours a day working on Physics problems would be a very interesting psychological study.

I’ve also been slowly learning the area better. My first trip down to South Bend caused me to get lost on back roads somewhere trying to find the next onramp to I-80/90, so I could only go up. I worked on finding my way to the grocery store and a few convenience stores (luckily which are all close together), then I slowly expanded outward. A big help in that regard has been my long-anticipated switch from AT&T and a half-working flip phone to Verizon and the Droid X2. After about thirty seconds, I was already in love with the phone, and aside from a minor problem that had my new phone replaced two days later, it has been nothing short of remarkable. Maybe my favorite piece of technology I own.

But back to the Physics course. It took a while to re-start my brain, especially since I had done almost nothing between graduation and starting the course academic-related (aside from some programming), which didn’t really help out the fact that the first two days were the hardest subject material. We all survived, some in better shape than others, but the first week is done! Just three more until the first exam, then four more, then the second exam, and then a break before fall classes start!

But who the fuck is Clark?

Too many languages…

Well, I completely fell apart on that promise… Oh well. Just a quick recap: I graduated, but only one of my degrees has so far been approved (Physics, my secondary degree), so I’ll have a fun meeting later this week in East Lansing to sort that out. Why will I be in East Lansing? I’ll be swinging through on my way down to South Bend to begin my trek for a PhD at Notre Dame. I’ve also spent my few weeks off doing nothing and something at the same time: pounding through episodes of Doctor Who, preparing to move, playing disc golf, and programming.

Yep, programming. I haven’t forgot about you yet! A month ago, I knew the following languages: Python, C/C++, Fortran, and shell scripting (if it’s kosher to include that last one), in roughly that order of fluency. But hey, you can never have enough languages, right? Plus, I might as well start programming for a purpose and not just for fun (although I’m still going to program for fun, of course!). With that in mind, I’m venturing out into a few new fields.

While technically I have already learned some HTML and CSS, it was never really in a structured manner. I just looked at source code from websites I liked and tried to piece it all together. In general, it worked for what I needed, but it doesn’t hold a candle to what’s out there. So, I’m going to actually sit down and learn the new standard, update my website (but at my fancy, new ND webspace!), and officially add it to my list.

ObjectiveC with Cocoa
For all you Mac-philes out there, this is the language for applications on your lovely Macbook Pro, as well as on the various iDevices that Apple sells. This is the language I’ve worked with the most so far, mostly because I figured that my knowledge of C/C++ would help out on the coding side of things. Plus, making my own applications has been in the back of my mind for a while…

Again, another useful language, only this time for Android devices. Right now, I’m still deciding between what phone to get once I leave AT&T, and since Verizon has both the iPhone and various Droids, I might as well learn both. Plus, since I’m pretty equal opportunity myself, I’d probably write an app in both languages and release it simultaneously for when I get to that point. And hey, another language is another language, especially when I can use this for other things as well. I haven’t even started working with this one yet, though, since the download of the Android SDK took longer than I would’ve liked, plus I’m doing other things with my time too…

Aside from that, I’m still writing a lot of Python (I got bored the other day and started writing a UNIX-like shell in python), since for me it’s the most fun. Plus, the only “learning” I have to do for it is looking up different function calls that I can use for the various modules; I get to focus more on the coding than anything else! Of course, in two weeks, I’ll be starting my summer course down at ND, so programming will again slow down for a bit, but I would mind, given what I’ll be working on!

EDIT | After reading a few articles and posts online, I’ve decided to refocus on just a few of my languages for now. I’ve decided that my first “real” phone will be a droid, but I’m not really keen to start programming for it until I see what’s out there. I’m still slowing going through the ObjC+Cocoa book, but I’m guessing that at the end of it I will be left with very little direction and only a cursory understanding of the language. Not good when a two-month hiatus is upon me. So, I’ve decided to get really fluent in Python and C; the Python portion will just be trying to learn those little things that I never encountered (like generators when discussing the Collatz conjecture HERE and HERE) or simply just different things to do with the language (like Google webapps…). Anyway, hopefully this will help save my brain while I relearn all of undergrad physics in two months!