Monthly Archives: March 2010

The Importance of the Self

I had an amazing weekend these past few days, and it has probably been the best (or, at very worst, second-best) since returning to Earth following my MDRS mission. A lot happened this weekend too, not even considering two amazing wins by the MSU Men’s Basketball team: first date, “Compton” reunion pub crawl, cleaned my room, and started GRE prep, among other events. I also had a chance to reflect on who I was as a person, and who I wanted to be in the future. Quite the mental exercise for someone still in the middle of an exam season and only a month away from finals.

What did I determine? Well, I’ll need to break this up into a few smaller categories, since they only have mild connections. Plus, it’s easier to read (and write!) if compartmentalized like this, even if the categories are somewhat broad.

Academics
I recently ordered and received my first GRE Prep book: Cracking the GRE: 2010 Edition. Since I don’t really have the time to go to a bookstore to pick things up, I usually just order from Amazon, and this book (along with a vocab book that will be arriving tomorrow) was no different. I also really like picking up packages from my apartment complex’s office, which was just icing on the cake.

Right now, I’m trudging through the English-related sections of the book, and I’m slowly realizing how inadequate the current extent of my vocabulary is. Yes, I do know quite a variety of words, but there are many more that I have no idea even existed (or ones I thought I knew, but really didn’t). I haven’t looked at the Math-related sections yet, but I’m sure I’ll be fine with that and the essay, but that English section is just freaking me out a little bit. Hence the inclusion of a vocab-specific book to aide in my studying. I have two months to prepare, but at the same time I’ll be focused/distracted by actual schoolwork that actual study time will invariably be much less. I did give myself a window of two weeks following finals before the actual exam, so that should help make up for any deficiencies stemming from completing my junior year.

Speaking of that completion, I’m doing reasonably well in my classes. I just had two exams last week (Quantum II and Analysis I), and I have one more this upcoming Friday. Tomorrow night I’ll be completing homework for the classes that require it so I can more fully dedicate the tail of the week to preparing for that exam, especially considering that it is currently my worst class grade-wise. Using some gained knowledge from after the first exam, I should be in a much better position than I was (and I won’t be coming off missing seven straight classes), so I am not as worried about it. Of course, we’ll see on Friday exactly how much that pays off.

Non-Academic but close to it
I started work on the UURAF poster this past week (Research on Mars: Limitations in a Martian Analog Environment), although I am still far from completion. I’m still trying to pin down exactly what I want to discuss on the poster and during the judging phase, so my work has been more of a detailed outline than anything else. Thankfully, Jason Black at Plot to Punctuation offered to proofread my poster before the presentation, so I’m planning to get that to him by the end of the week. That will most likely mean sending him an e-mail by next Sunday following a weekend of just working on the poster due to my other time restraints.

I’ve done almost no programming following the Collatz Conjecture exercise, not including some basic class construction exercises. I did find in some of my freshman notes a description of a problem that I was contemplating solving as part of my Calculus I H-Option but discarded in favor of my coin flipping simulation. I’ll probably go back on work on that, since it will combine a few different techniques that I’ve learned so far in my studies. Of course, this has lower priorities than everything else, so it may be a while before I can even start actively thinking about it.

Personal Gain
Right now, I am training for a 10-kilometer race, which I am currently two weeks away from. This will be the longest race I’ve ran since the Capitol City River Run I completed my sophomore year, as well as the first race I’ve actively trained for since the end to my high school running career. So far, I’ve racked up a couple dozen miles, and my per mile times are down to around 7:20, which isn’t too bad considering starting from basically scratch. I figured, with Opportunity surpassing 20k and the missed opportunity to run a 5k completely in sim, a 10k was the least I could do. Plus, my dad and I will be carbo-loading the day before with Pizza House, which is definitely a plus.

I’m also working on eating healthier, starting with the complete elimination of soda from my diet. This mostly stemmed from MDRS not having any on hand, and I’ll tell you that it’s really tough to turn down a 24-pack of Dr Pepper soon after starting. Yes, I could’ve just lapsed for a few days until my roommates and I finished those off, but then what would stop me from relapsing over and over again? I figured that it would just be easier to not drink it then, making it a better chance that I wouldn’t drink it in the future. I figure that, if I keep this up, then all the better for my overall health. On the food side, I’m working on making sure I get enough calories (but more just guesstimating…) to fuel my athletic and academic pursuits, plus eating a wider variety of foods than just pizza, cereal, and peanut butter sandwiches.

My room is also clean, and I’m going to keep that trend going for as long as I can. On a similar note, I’m not going to buy any new clothes for a while, after noticing exactly how many t-shirts I own and how many I don’t wear. I had contemplated buying a new one (or two) a week or two ago, but decided against it because of some other purchases I had made earlier in the week, but now I figure that I don’t need any more for a while. Yes, I’ll be buying at least one shirt should I get a summer internship (still waiting to hear back from all of them, but NASA should be getting back to me this week), because I will need something that echoes back to my host institution.

And that’s basically it. There’s a few other things in there that I didn’t put down, plus my still-active New Year’s Resolutions, but it shouldn’t be too hard to figure those out. Plus, there might be a life-chaning event coming up soon for me, so mentally preparing for that goes hand-in-hand (or is directly a part of) all of these other things…

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T-Minus Two Months

In less than two months, I will be on summer vacation before starting my final year as an undergraduate, and possibly my last year at Michigan State. This being the first day back from Spring Break, I figured that now was a good time to take a “life inventory” to plan out these next weeks, plus some things that I am looking forward to or should happen within that time frame.

First, it was extremely hard to wake up this morning. Originally, I had planned to wake up around 0800 to schedule my last year as an undergraduate, but after getting an e-mail at 0300 (yes, I was still awake then) stating that my enrollment date wouldn’t be until the beginning of April, I decided to go back to my normal wake-up schedule. When the alarm went off at 1020, I surprising didn’t think about hitting the snooze until after I had shut off the alarm, when it would take much more time that it was worth to re-arm my alarm for ten minutes later to grab some extra sleep. I slowly made my way around my room and apartment getting ready for my four classes, although I’m sure that I’ll be well adjusted to early wake-ups by the end of the week. That first one is just always the hardest.

Classes went by fine, with me taking pretty good notes (except in Quantum due to a sub… I just can’t focus when the normal professor isn’t yielding the yellow chalk) and paying attention. This is a good start to my and my roommate’s plan to simply spend the next two months studying and preparing for finals, exams, and classes in general. I didn’t get off to the best start this semester, so I’ll need to kick my ass to pull off some good grades, but since I’m not going to be greatly distracted by interplanetary travels, I should be fine. I’m getting back into my pre-MDRS habit of finishing homework much earlier than it’s done (I’m half-way through Quantum, which is due on Friday), which is a good first step, especially with my second exam season coming up.

I have officially been accepted as an LBC Physics LA for next year (I only need to turn in the acceptance letter), which is a big relief for me. Yes, I knew that I already had the job, but having it official just makes it feel so much better. What I still don’t know about, however, is my summer plans. I’ve been asked back to work MST @ MSU 2010, which was a great camp last summer, but since I have no idea about my internships, I will probably have to decline since the deadline is coming up. In fact, I won’t be hearing from two of my internships until after the deadline for MST passes, even if I was notified on the first day. In case I get shafted everywhere, I probably will be able to get a job at the NSCL or somewhere else in East Lansing, just so that I don’t have to go back home for the summer again. Plus then I could make cameo appearances at MST…

And right at the end of this two-month window, and a week after finals, is the planned launch of the Atlantis! With some recently-developed problems which may be fixed soon, the Discovery launch, slated for April 5, may slide back to the next launch opportunity, forcing Atlantis back as well. This would put the Atlantis launch in the middle of one of my summer internships (should I be selected) or anything else that happens this summer, decreasing the chance that I’ll be able to go. Based on recent reports, however, the launch schedule should be fine, but I still worry…

And that’s basically it. Exams, homework, classes, and finals are basically all I have coming up. My programming will also take a minor hit, since actual schoolwork comes before the work that I’d like to do with Python, but I’ll have a lot of time to still work on it nonetheless. It will just be a busy and stressful two months.

Problematic Python Programming

A few days ago, my core group of friends finally decided to give me my “Welcome back to Earth!” gift that they had gotten for me. After tearing through the layers of tissue paper, duct tape, newspaper, Franzia and Hot Pockets boxes, I finally got to the actual gift: a Python programming book! Technically speaking, this Python programming book. Since I’ve never learned a programming language from a book, or in any systematic manner whatsoever,* this is a pretty new experience for me. Yes, I do have a PDF book that one of my past Astrophysics professors gave the class, but I haven’t really dipped into that one (just the first few chapters, mostly covering things I already knew). So, for the past couple of days, I’ve been learning Python according to the way a group of four computer scientists feel it should be taught.

And I have to say, they did a pretty good job! The only problems I’ve had with the book so far (I’m 93 pages in) is the fact that some of the modules required to complete some of the exercises or test the examples aren’t compatible with Python 2.6.4, which is what I’ve been using. They are only compatible up to version 2.5, so I may “downgrade” to 2.5 so that I fully utilize the book. Unfortunately, those modules are also the pretty cool ones, like media that allows you to edit and display images. For that reason alone, I will probably drop down, but I haven’t fully decided to make that plunge yet.

I also recently encountered a problem with the open() command that took a while to solve. I encountered this on page 92, and spent a good hour sifting through various documentation sources to figure out why it wasn’t working for me. I finally concluded that Python was setting the working directory to the root (/Users/mikemoran), so only files there could be opened. Using some of my Unix-based knowledge, I figured that I could include the path to a file in the open command to access files elsewhere, and I was right! It’s the little triumphs that really matter, after all. Once I solved that, I decided to take a break from the book for the night, and to grab some sleep (since it is pretty late here…), and coincidentally, write this post up.

So obviously I got distracted, but not just by this post. I checked out XKCD, as I always do to read the most recent upload, and as always, I clicked the previous button to check that I didn’t skip a comic. Of course, I read this comic on Friday when it came out, but I didn’t really think about it that much. This time, however, I decided to read up on the Collatz Conjecture on Wikipedia, and while doing so, I decided to write a program to print the step sequence for a given integer:

def collatz(start):
    print start,
    if start > 1:
        if start % 2 == 0:
            start = start / 2
            collatz(start)
        else:
            start = start * 3 + 1
            collatz(start)

collatz(10)
10 5 16 8 4 2 1

Of course, this doesn’t save the output since it was just a fun little exercise for me to get back into writing actual programs instead of just copying those examples in the book or editing some of my older ones. Plus, it’s really interesting, and I’ll get to expand and improve that simple command as I get bored with the book. For example, it needs error checking to make sure that “start” is an integer, among other small edits and tweaks.

I’m hoping to finish half the book by the end of Spring Break (which started on Friday for me), since I do have to work on actual homework at some point as well. I want to get ahead in school, after all!

* – I’ve only learned the various programming languages (Python, Unix, TI-BASIC) and webpage design (HTML and CSS) by teaching myself and through someone else giving me some initial guidance. I would just look things up online as I needed them, check out examples and try to figure them out by myself, and figuring things out as I stumbled through the learning process. Unix and Python are also the only ones that I had any outside guidance on, from Kiri Wagstaff and Prof. Robert Bell, respectively. Of course, once their tutelage ended, I was back to figuring things out as I went along.

Senior Scheduling

This Monday morning, to start off my last week of school before a Spring Break filled with schoolwork, sleeping, and a huge dose of anticipation, I met with my Physics advisor to discuss my final class selections as an undergraduate at Michigan State University. Pretty exciting, especially considering that I’ve done so much in these past three years that I couldn’t imagine doing anywhere else. It will be a sad day when I finally walk and get that diploma, but for now I’ll just be extremely excited about my classes. While my advisor did help out in one area a lot, he didn’t help much at all in another area, which I’ll get to shortly.

For now, I’m going to post up my schedule, broken up by semester, along with my initial thoughts on the class. While these are really rough, there are a couple that I’m pretty excited about, but you’ll see shortly enough.

Fall Semester 2010

AST 304 – Stars : My last classroom Astronomy course, plus I get to have Dr. Horace Smith (who I had for AST 208 last year) as my professor again, which should be great! I really enjoyed him as a professor, plus I did talk with him a few times about my original MDRS research project (Algol-type variable stars) before it got scraped. The class should be interesting as well, since I am thinking about getting into Nuclear Astrophysics in grad school, but that’s still up in the air too.

PHY 451 – Advanced Lab : Last lab of my undergraduate career, but I haven’t heard anything about the class. I’ve never really done that well in my labs, but based on how Electronics is going, maybe it was just the introductory labs that I didn’t even care about that I did poorly in?

PHY 481 – Electricity and Magnetism I : The last of the “introductory” physics courses that I need to take. I’ll most likely be in a class with a bunch of juniors, since usually people take this before their senior year, but that should be no problem. I already don’t really talk to people in my classes anyway, so really no difference.

PHY 491 – Atomic, Molecular, and Condensed Matter Physics : Part one of my physics capstone course, and I have no idea what to expect. It should be extremely interesting, so I’m pretty excited.

MTH 340 – Ordinary Differential Equations : I’ve had DiffEQ work before in a number of classes, but I’ve never really had a class completely devoted to it. My advisor helped me pick this one out as one of my three remaining math courses, but I kind of already knew that it would help me out.

AST 410 – Senior Thesis : This is where my advisor did not help. Last year, when I asked him about a student double majoring in Physics and Astrophysics and capstone requirements, he said that I only had to take one. An older student also confirmed this last semester, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to check. So I asked, and he said I needed to take both. I’m not sure if he thought I said double degree (which I would have to take both), but now I’m not sure what to do. I think that I sign up for it, but then ask again about it later this semester to figure it out for certain. We’ll see…

Spring Semester 2011

AST 410 – Senior Thesis : Another reason why I want to find out if I need both: I have to sign up for two semesters of it. That’s an extra four credits that I’d rather cut from my schedule if I don’t need to take them.

PHY 482 – Electricity and Magnetism II : The second semester of the class, which I’m taking just for better grad school prep (just like Classical Mechanics II and Quantum Mechanics II). Should be some work for my last semster, but I don’t mind too much.

PHY 492 – Nuclear and Elementary Particle Physics : Second half of the capstone, and I’m pretty excited for it as well. Not much else to say for it, except that a lot of work for one of my last classes. Then again, it is physics, so I’ll like it anyway.

MTH 442 – Partial Differential Equations : SImilar to ordinary, this will really help me out in more advanced physics work. I have no idea how different it is from Ordinary, but I’m guessing that it will be similar to the difference between Calc I and Calc III. That’s just a guess, though…

MTH 451 – Numerical Analysis I : This class, I’m pretty excited for. Based on an old description, it’s using math and computers to help with analyzing data post-experiment. Since, at least until I get the AST 410 thing cleared up, I won’t be able to take a real programming class, this will have to be good enough.

And that’s it. I know, 31 scheduled credits isn’t exactly a walk in the park for a senior schedule, but I can handle it. It’s less credits than I took this year (33 credits), plus I may or may not be going back to MDRS for two weeks again. I will, however, be working as a physics LA for Briggs, which may or may not be more work than my current calc position. I think things will work out, like things usually do for me. We’ll see, especially once I get out and schedule classes.