Category Archives: School

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.



With only fifteen days and counting until I graduate from Michigan State, I’m going to take the time to reflect on those things and events that shaped my undergraduate career for the better, that made my cup of life overflow (yep, Aerin, mine is too!). Plus, this gives me a chance to really think about how much I gained from these last four years, and what I’ll be missing come the end of May when I move to South Bend. Most of these will probably be a little on the long side, but hey, I’m covering four years of my life! Of course, the chronology of some things might be a little off, but it will be close enough for what’s happening.

In October, when the realization that I actually was graduating and leaving East Lansing started to dawn on me, I figured that I should just do anything I wanted, whenever I wanted. Hey, I was a senior, and after three years of studying and preparing for exams and doing homework, I could spend some time just having fun, acting like a kid again. I may have been 21 at the time, but that didn’t stop me from playing Pokémon again and taking my kite out on windy days. During a late-night conversation with my two roommates, I thought back to something I thought I knew but wasn’t so sure about: does State have a Quidditch team?

After a quick search through MSU’s website, I found that, yes, we indeed have one! I e-mailed the contact person listed, who told me to contact the actual coach Will, who then directed me to contact one of the club team coaches to get on their team, among a few other pieces of information. I sent the e-mail out to the Friday afternoon team’s captains, Jack and Ian, since I figured those would be the practices that I would most likely make. I showed up that next Friday (October 8th) for practice, broom in hand. That first practice was nothing spectacular, with only a few people showing up, but I got a more-or-less complete run down of how muggle Quidditch was played and I decided to return next week.

Over the next four weeks, practices were almost non-existant. A few people would show up, we rarely had the bag of balls so that we could actually practice, but over time I met what was essentially the entirety of my club team, the Notorious R.O.N. Every Friday, I walked across campus, broom sticking out of my backpack, to practice, talked with the people that showed up, and walked back. A few times we actually went over plays, and even invented some scrimmaging activities so that the practices wouldn’t go to waste. I payed my $10 to stay at some point during this time, and I decided to never miss a practice for the rest of the semester.

Eventually, a full club meeting was called, and I got to actually meet the other people that played Quidditch at MSU. It was there that I finally met the coach and signed up to go to the midnight premiere of Harry Potter with people I had just met. But, I couldn’t have been happier. I kept going to practice, even in the rain and cold weather, and I had my first actual games of Quidditch, my first experience actually playing the sport that I had signed up for. Those three games were some of the most fun I had, even with not really knowing all of the rules and sort of just running around. I went 2-1 on the day, with the last match being a marathon 240-190 win after 22 minutes or so.

Some time later, the team got together at Case to head off to the midnight premeire of Harry Potter. We arrived at the theater early to pick up the tickets (or we already had the tickets…?), and went to dinner. Most of the people there were on the official travel team, who had just gone to New York for the World Cup, and I was the new guy. I didn’t know how to play ninja, or samurai, or ugly fruit, and I spent much of the evening trying to remember everyone’s names (past the few from R.O.N. that were there). That was my first real Quidditch experience, and because of that I, along with Jack and Mark, decided that we would be trying out for the travel team come next semester when the second round of tryouts started (I had obviously missed the fall ones, but at the time I might not have even tried out for the travel team anyway, based almost purely on my experiences with the Ultimate team). I just had to get through the winter.

The club team continued practicing, but with the weather taking a sharp dive to unpleasant, much of our practice was inside Case and usually just consisted of us talking. We didn’t really have a real practice, and then the week before finals we decided that a practice just wouldn’t be a good idea. My first “semester” of Quidditch had ended… Or it would have if I didn’t meet up with a bunch of Quidditch people the Sunday before finals for a snowball fight and dinner. I left my study spot after around 26 straight hours, walked across campus in a snow storm, and hung out for a few hours with people I didn’t even know two months before. I had become a part of the team.

Even over winter break, I bonded with other players of the lunar eclipse, TRON Legacy, and who knows what else. I had one semester left as an undergrad, and I needed to make it count. I sent in the last of my grad school applications, and I was all set to leave State, but I still had one semester to go.

Notorious R.O.N. started practices up, but like the end of last semester, it was simply meet in Case to talk and grab some dinner. Those practices brought the six of us that consistently showed up–Dan, Ian, Jack, Mark, Steve, and myself–that much closer. Eventually, we just stopped pretending that we were going to hold practice, and we just got together every Friday to hang out (we barely brought brooms or athletic clothes). It even got to the point where people from other teams (mostly those that lived in Case) stopped by our practice for ninja games and to grab dinner; our team had become more than a team.

There were club games, and practices, and then tryouts. I showed up on a snowy day to prove that I could be a member of the club team. I ran, tackled, passed, caught, and quidditched in the snow for a few hours, then patiently waited to find out if I was on the team. I showed up at the official team/Team Lansing practice the following Sunday to see if I made it. We practiced, then I waited patiently to hear if the coach called my name…

And I made it! I was one of the new members of the Spartan Spitfires, and the number of practices I had per week rose from one to two. Practices continued, and soon I had my first taste of intercollegiate play, against the University of Michigan on our home turf. I was all set, ready to go, and the first game started… And ended; UMich caught the Snitch after what seemed like five minutes, and the first game had ended before I even stepped on the field. The second game went just as quickly, if not more so, with only a single quaffle score from MSU before UMich caught the snitch again (although I think I played a little in this one). After a quick discussion about the timelines for the next games, the refs gave the snitch more time to escape the field, and we won both of those games, the second by a wide margin. So, we left the day 2-2, but that wasn’t the end of it. We combined the two teams and moved around players and played Team Ireland vs. Team Bulgaria à la the Quidditch World Cup in The Goblet of Fire, with me on the losing Team Ireland.

This maybe even more than previous events really made me glad that I had decided to play. I got to face off against another college, against another group of people that wanted to play the same sport that I did, and I had a blast! The games also helped bring our own team together, especially with what would happen over the next few months, since we had essentially the entire team (plus players who didn’t make the official team) show up for the games. That was mid-February, two months ago, on one of the only nice weekends this entire semester. From the post-game Taco Bell lunch to the first of the Quidditch parties, that entire day was awesome.

The next day, of course, had a snowstorm and around a foot of snow. Only in Michigan…

The week after, R.O.N. had a club game in the still-thick remnants of the previous weekend’s blizzard. We had almost the entire team, so we had to borrow beaters from the other players that showed up. Since we didn’t have that many people, we didn’t have a snitch, so Will set up a time limit for the game based on his unknown system of multiplication, addition, and random numbers. We forced overtime against what was a majority of the club team (although R.O.N. has quite a few club players on it anyway…), then won by a single goal margin! Once that game finished, Steve showed up a little late, and he played a one-on-one game against Lawrence, who had refed the first game (but Steve lost…). It was a good showing, especially with the only practice our team had had either being our hang-out meetings or the members on the club team playing.

But the team didn’t only have club games. After Spring Break, a few of us traveled down to Penn State to play in a tournament; I saw a few since many people couldn’t go, and there were only two cars. Since I was more-or-less our only keeper, I ended up playing every minute of our three games that day, shutting out NYU and Youngstown State to bookend our loss to Penn State. It was great, especially for my first tourney, and I had a great time! We even ended the day with a massive ninja game, went out to dinner as a team after, and drove through a massive thunderstorm around midnight as we re-entered Michigan. All in all, it was about 22 hours of Quidditch and driving, and it was a great experience for me.

The very next weekend, we had a much shorter trip down to Eastern for another three-game tournament, which we swept! I again played keeper, although Bailey had returned from Japan and joined us for the tourney, so she jumped in the games as well, giving me a little rest. I again had a great time, except for one small event. When a chaser came down toward the hoops and evaded our defensive screen, I went and did what a keeper was supposed to do: prevent him from scoring at all costs. I run at him to intercept his route, then go to tackle him. My free right arm grabs him around the chest, but because of the mutual slipperiness of our uniforms, my arm slipped up to his neck.

The IQA Rules state that “tackling in the head, neck or groin area is strictly prohibited” (Section 12 – Physical Contact). Knowing this, I immediately let go of the chaser so that I could re-position my arm to tackle him under the rules. I knew that my arm shouldn’t have been there, and the slip was completely accidental, so I acted to counter that. The chaser, however, didn’t realize that or thought I was trying to take him down by the next on purpose, so he threw the quaffle at me (or punched me… I can’t really remember) and ran his mouth at me as he ran back down the field.

Before this, almost every Quidditch player I had encountered was generally nice. After all, we’re all just trying to have fun playing a sport from a series of books that we grew up with, and not many people want to act like assholes while just having fun, right? Sure, there were a few exceptions down at the PSU tourney, but a few out of sixty-some is pretty good. Anyway, that little spat put a little damper on the day for me, but the rest of the day was great!

The following week, we didn’t have a tourney, R.O.N. continued to practice every week (with a handful of people showing up consistently as well!), but we did have a travel team practice. As with most of our practices, we also had a scrimmage after, since all of us just want to play Quidditch anyway. It was a great tune-up for the following weekend, when we went down to Ball State for a pretty large tourney for the midwest. They and Purdue co-hosted it as a dress rehearsal for the IQA Midwest Regional this fall. Speaking of that, I don’t know what will happen for that tournament, but we’ll get to my post-State Quidditch career a little later.

The Ball State/Purdue tourney was quite the event. We got through two or three games before the rainstorm that had just been a constant drizzle completely erupted into a full thunderstorm, delaying games by two hours. We grabbed lunch, played ninja, had a massive singing party at the nearby pavilion, and just had a good time. Once games resumed, we quickly went through the last set of games, made some friends, and even found a potential team for next year! While goal reffing the St. Mary’s-Ball State game, I talked with a few of the players, then realized that St. Mary’s was right next to Notre Dame! I talked with one of the “e-board” members, asking if I would be able to be on the team next year, and I can. I will still be playing Quidditch after I graduate for a team, meaning that this sport I got into way too late will still continue.

We went 3-3 on the day, essentially losing tose three matches by the snitch catch (we would’ve tied the first game and won the other two). We also could’ve easily have won those second two, but we just didn’t… Especially the last game, against Loyola, we had just let our guard down and didn’t play like we had or we could. We did, however, pull off a successful Picard Maneuver (one of Will’s secret plays), which everyone was pretty happy about.

You can look at and purchase some professional photos from the day HERE. Simply click on “For Clients” and input “BSQL” when prompted.

The team made up for it the following weekend at Ohio State. Again, like the previous two tourneys, we only had twelve players because of a lack of cars, but we were now used to it. We did borrow a player from Ohio State, just to give us a few more feet to throw into the game. Our first game, against OSU, went really well! We scored ten times (three from myself at keeper!) and won by thirty after missing the snitch catch. I just simply had fun playing that game, which flowed directly into our next game against Denison, which we also won by a considerable margin, but still didn’t catch the snitch. I scored in that game as well: a dunk on the high center hoop that I just simply felt cool about afterward. So, we swept this tourney as well, and had a fun time doing it.

That tourney ended with a mixed teams game, similar to what happened after UMich, which I played some beater in. I just had a good time playing without worrying much about tactics and such, so I just ran around beating everyone I could. Will and I, since we were on separate teams, also had a few dueling beater standoffs near midfield, most of which had us simultaneously beat each other, forcing us to run back to our hoops then back out to centerfield to face off again. That last game was just pure fun. Once we finished, we packed up our things, grabbed dinner at a pretty fancy Chinese restaurant, then drove back home, getting back to State around 0300 Monday morning.

But with that tournament, my undergraduate Quidditch career was essentially over. There would be no more tournaments, and no club games due to Easter weekend, so the only things left were R.O.N. practices (which continued every week, further showing how close our club team had become) and the “closing ceremonies” on the season, which will be held this Friday at my apartment.

It’s strange to think about how I went from showing up at a practice mid-October not really knowing what to expect, not guessing that I’d actually become friends with these underclassmen that just happened to play the same sport, not even dreaming of gaining twenty-some new friends during the twilight of my time at State, but I did. I wouldn’t dream of changing it, and looking back I am so glad that I decided to continue showing up to those R.O.N. practices in October when they mostly just consisted of me walking across campus, standing around for twenty minutes, then walking back. I am so glad I went to the meetings, decided that I just wouldn’t care about things and just try to have fun (which led to going to the HP midnight showing), decided to try out, and decided to simply let lose.

When I graduate in two weeks, I won’t just be leaving behind the last four years of my life, these last four years spent living and studying in East Lansing. I’ll be leaving behind my first Quidditch team, a group of people from all walks of life and all over campus that become some of my closest friends. I’ll be leaving behind the team dinners at Brody, the runs to Meijer with teammates, the cooking of bacon in the middle of the night (well, not really…), and the feeling of being part of such a stellar group of people. While yes, my MSU Quidditch career may not be completely be over, I am moving on. It’s a tough move, but it has to happen.

Now I just have to stay alive until the team reunions…

Grad School Visits

This past week for Spring Break, I spent time with my family and visited the two grad schools I have currently been accepted to: the University of Notre Dame and the University of Connecticut, Storrs. While I’m still waiting to hear back from one school and a job opportunity, both of them were relative long shots, so it looks like my summer and fall (and the next five or so years…) has boiled down to a binary choice: ND or UConn?

This was the first school I visited, and man did things go well! Ms. Shari Herman, the “Second Mom” to everyone pursuing a physics Ph.D. at ND, took out all of the stops in setting up a stellar visit for me. I drove down Monday afternoon, right after picking my little brother up from school and visiting with my high school physics teacher, and it went fine. No traffic, I had money for the tolls, and I found my way to the hotel (the Morris Inn, right on ND’s campus) relatively fine. Once I checked in, I hung out in my hotel room, watching TV and lamenting the fact that I could not yet play Pokémon Black.

I woke up the next morning, showered, ate breakfast, and read through the packet of material that Ms. Herman had given me, then checked out and waited for the actual visit to start. I met one of the roughly 90 grad students, and we took a quick tour around campus before my meeting with the first professor on my schedule. Since this was my first time ever visiting ND, it was great to walk around and see the campus, especially with the student body still there since they weren’t on spring break. We eventually made our way over to Nieuwland Science Hall, home of the department and where I would be spending the next nine hours or so.

For the rest of the day, I went from visiting one professor to the next, sitting down and talking for half an hour about the research they were doing, different things going on around campus, how they got involved with ND and physics, and a bunch of other things. I also got a tour of the nuclear physics accelerator lab, got to sit in on a cosmology seminar (with a free lunch!), and got a glimpse of what I’d be doing my first year of school in the form of the grad TA first year lounge (alongside the end of my career with a few fourth- and fifth-years). All in all, a very full day that got added to twice while I was still there!

To end it, I went out to dinner with two other grad students to Legends, a local bar/restaurant establishment just off campus, all on the physics department’s tab. The food was great, and I didn’t really have to stop on the way back for any more food (huge surprise, but I did have a detour right at the beginning of my return journey…), and I had a good time just hanging out away from the more structured environment I had been in for much of the day. All in all, I had a great time, met some amazing people, and really enjoyed myself while I was there. I got back home around midnight, played some Pokémon Black, then went to sleep.

The next and final trip (so far…) was out to Connecticut to visit the department at UConn. I flew out from Detroit early Friday morning after delays on the runway from some of the freshly fallen snow from the night before. Once we took off, though, the flight was fine, the landing smooth, and the pick-up of the rental car (a relatively new Jeep Compass!) went perfectly. But I was still a little late due to that delay, so I showed up to the offices slightly out of breath from sprinting up the flights of stairs to the top of the building. Thankfully, Prof. Dunne (the person who had set up this visitation) didn’t seem to mind, and we talked before meeting a few grad students and heading out to lunch. Since UConn was on spring break, we didn’t really run into any students at all, but the campus was flooded with middle- and high-school students for some convention, so we still had to contend with a mass of hormone-infused saplings as we ate our meal.

Once the last of my meatball sub was firmly in my stomach, we took a quick tour around campus, which was beautiful! It reminded me a lot of State, since it was a little more open, a little disjointed, roads crossed through and around the buildings, and a couple places were under construction, so I felt right at home! While the campus was much quieter during this tour than ND had been, that was good since I could just focus on the buildings and the scenery and not look at the the students walking past.

We returned to the physics building, and I sat with a half-dozen professors to talk about their research to see how it would fit with my interests, just like at ND. Once that was over, I met again with Prof. Dunne to finalize a few things, then I was off to return the rental car to the airport and spend time with my relatives. I won’t go into that since this is about my grad school visits, but just know that I had a blast, and that it more than made up for missing last summer’s reunion.

From today, I have thirty days to wait for the last few pieces of information and make a decision, although I’m sure that I will be making a decision earlier than that. Unfortunately, ND lost to Louisville during the Big East tourney, so I couldn’t use the outcome of the ND-UConn championship game to make the decision for me!

Graduation Drawing Near

It’s already February. Not such a scary thought, except when you consider that in two-and-a-half months’ time I’ll know what I’ll be doing for at least the next four years, and in three months’ time I’ll have graduated. Right now, I’m just trying to make it through the semester that’s ahead of me, but with the prospect of the rest of my life looming ahead, it’s a little hard to focus. Here’s a few things that are distracting me:

Yep, the sport from Harry Potter. I joined one of the intramural teams this past fall, which has been great, and spent three hours in the sixteen-some inches of snow for tryouts for the travel team. The game is exceedingly fun to play, and it always garners a barrage of questions whenever it comes up that I play (wherever I may be at the time). It’s also pretty funny to look at the strange looks employees give me when I walk into, say, McDonald’s holding a broom in one hand and cleats in the other. With practices only once a week (or more, depending if my tryouts today went favorably), and games pretty infrequent, it doesn’t take up as much time as that other MSU sport I played, not like these semester grades mean that much anyway…

Here’s a State News article about the team following the World Cup (held in November in New York), and a video of the team playing Syracuse. Since I joined late, I wasn’t there, but hopefully I can go this upcoming fall, depending on what happens in my life.

I’m teaching myself C++! Why, might you ask? Well, I figured that, since I’ll eventually have to learn it anyway, I might as well. That of course was my initial reasoning, but now it’s also because I can get a job programming in C++, which will definitely help me out in the long run. Right now, I have two books on the subject, with one of them arriving earlier today (Programming Embedded Systems in C and C++ by Michael Barr). I haven’t started reading that one yet, since I’m still in the middle of my other book, but most likely I’ll flip back and forth between the two, especially since large sections of my first book were covered in one of my math courses last semester.

To go along with that, I’m still slowly working on my senior thesis. It’s just frustrating when scientific papers don’t include all of the details of their simulation runs, like what initial or final values they’re using for such uncommon variables as time or temperature, so I’ve been busy sifting through about a half-dozen articles trying to piece together some idea of how to move forward. Yes, I’m a little behind, but once I find those magic numbers, I just need to set it up and go and move on. In other words, mostly because of my newfound enjoyment of C/C++, I don’t like Fortran that much any more…

Grad School Applications
While all of my applications have been in for at least a month, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t still at the back of my mind all of the time. This is half of where my life might lead me, so it’s a big deal! I did, however, breathe a sigh of relief earlier this week when I found out that I was accepted into the Notre Dame Physics PhD program, meaning that at the very least I won’t be moving back home upon graduation! It actually kind of surprised me that I got wind of it so soon, but I think that it was just part of their first-round “draft picks,” as at least one of my other friends was also accepted.

Job Opportunities
Well, the last three things all hinted at this, but I may not be going to grad school come summer/fall. Obviously, that won’t be because I didn’t get in anywhere, but more a change in who I am as a person over the past two months (yes, the change was that quick!). You see, I’m not sure if grad school is something that I want to do right away, and what could I get out of it? A lot, in fact, but I’m not sure if I will still want what I get out of it when I get out of it. To that end, I’ve applied to a job that fits with all of my likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, hopes and dreams, etc. that I may take (if accepted) over grad school. I’m not going to mention that job here, but if you’ve talked to me recently you know what it is. I just think that, right now, being a commercial programmer for a growing company involved in one of my biggest interests may be a better prospect than continuing on in school.

Don’t get me wrong, though! I’ll still go to grad school eventually, just further down the road after working, and probably in a different field. I do think that continuing my education is important (hence teaching myself an additional programming language in my spare time), and I don’t plan to ever stop learning.

I’ll just be learning in a different way.

In other news, today is now the one-year anniversary of the end of my Mars Desert Research Station mission. It’s strange to think that a year ago I was leaving the Hab with five other people who had become family for good, after spending two weeks working and laughing and enjoying Carla’s amazing cooking. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything in the world.

Simple Semester Start

After trudging through my first week of classes, I finally feel like I’m prepped and ready to discuss what has happened to me since the new year and my thoughts on my last semester of study at Michigan State University. I knew that this time would come eventually, but it just feels harder than I had imagined, for numerous reasons that may become known through this post. First, though, let’s talk academics…

AST 410 – Astrophysics Senior Thesis
Work on my thesis went somewhat smoothly over break, with a lot of simulation runs to get a better feel for how long full net calculations would talk, adjusting initial parameters, and writing two auxiliary Python scripts for the projects (a short timing procedure and a data graph creator). I also looked up a handful of articles on the subject of computational nucleosynthesis, primarily to refine my data for densities, temperatures, and times, especially since I have started using non-constant parameters for those quantities. Of course, I still need to talk to my advisor for the first time this semester, but that will most likely come later this week or early next, once I read a few more papers and run some more simulations.

KIN 102K – Tae Kwon Do I
My fabled final credit to get two degrees, this class is my first and only fun course at MSU. Before this, I was taking 16-18 credits a semester of all academics, but as a second semester senior with not much else on my plate (and only having 149 total credits before this), I added it midway through last semester. While we’ve only had one real class (past syllabus day), and we haven’t started doing any actual Tae Kwon Do, I know that I’ll like this class and I know it will be amazing. I’m also glad that this will help kick-start my working out, since that usually falls by the wayside when classes get tough.

MTH 415 – Applied Linear Algebra
Based on what we’ve covered so far, what I remember from Linear Algebra I two years ago, and what was covered in Numerical Analysis last semester, this may be my easiest class this semester. Of course, with the schedule that I happened to wrangle up, that’s not saying much. I’m not worried at all.

MTH 442 – Partial Differential Equations
While ODEs were covered in Calc II for me, I don’t really remember it. My only exposure to PDEs has been through my two Quantum courses, but there is was basically just knowing which of two memorized solutions to use in the problem. From what we’ve done in class so far, this shouldn’t be too tough, but I’ll definitely need to keep an eye on it to make sure things don’t move forward too quickly.

PHY 451 – Advanced Laboratory
After a small mix-up that I’m rectifying in a few hours, this class will be interesting to say the least. I’ll only be doing two labs the entire semester, with the same partner, with each lab taking about six weeks (for a total of twelve lab sessions each), both culminating in a journal-like paper. So, based on that, it should just be a less monotonous and Physics-related version of my Bio II lab. Again, I haven’t started the actual lab yet since syllabus week was in full swing, so I don’t know how that will go. I do know that I will be consistently ten to fifteen minutes late every Wednesday to the recitation session, since Tae Kwon Do ends ten minutes before it out at IM West.

PHY 492 – Nuclear and Elementary Particle Physics
The other half of my senior Physics requirement, this seminar will be loads better than last semester’s, if only for the different professor. The material is insanely interesting, the book is pretty well written, plus I’m actually going to care about it this time around. A similar structure with exams and papers, this shouldn’t have too much work strapped on to my load. I mean, just look at that awesome cover! How can a class with that book not be completely epic?

I will also, once more, be leading Briggs Physics labs. With the expected shift of schedules right before classes started, I didn’t know exactly where I’d end up, but thankfully I know now. I have one lab on Tuesday at 1500, one on Thursday at 1130, and my office hours retained their same time slot (2000-2200 Wednesdays). Plus, I’ll actually be able to make it to the weekly meetings, which is good enough for me!

I’m still playing Quidditch, which I’m really excited about. If the little time I spent on the team last year was any indication, this is going to be an awesome spring season. I’m going to be trying out for the travel team, since I obviously missed those tryouts in the fall, which will be held in three weeks’ time. I’m a little nervous, but that may just be because I always get nervous before things like that. Hopefully with intramural practices starting back up this week, plus a scrimmage next Sunday, those feelings of nervousness will subside.

I’ve started learning C++, having bought a textbook geared toward giving an overview of the language specifically for computational physics purposes. It’s not that bad so far, but I did hit a rut in chapter nine with a ton of new topics (in the language) that I need to digest individually before I move on. Past that, I’m still using Fortran and Python, so I should be ready for whatever I may need to use in grad school.

Speaking of post-graduation activities, all of my applications are officially done, so now I’m just in the waiting game to see if I get in any where. If I don’t, I’m also in the middle of the application process for Teach for America, having gone through the initial steps. I also have a phone interview this Thursday, plus I need to complete an online writing assignment soon, but past that it will be interesting to see what happens with that. My final application, which right now is just talk, is sending off my information to SpaceX to see if I can get a spot on one of their programming teams. While I don’t have all of the academic credentials for the job, and I may not even know the language that they write their software in, hopefully they see past those superficial measures. Of course, at this point everything is just waiting around for things to fall into place.

I think that should be good for now. In other news, it’s almost been a year since my MDRS mission, I’m still playing guitar, I had a great time at a bar crawl on Saturday, and I did not deserve to lose in Spoons tonight.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon [Trailer Review]

If you haven’t yet seen the trailer, watch it HERE. It’s essential if you want to know what I’m talking about.

Let me first admit that, after the first Transformers, I wasn’t really interested in the story line anymore. Part of it was that, having vanquished their foe, I felt that any sequel would just be to rake in some more cash. Part of it was the fact that everyone suddenly was in love with Megan Fox, especially the adolescent boys that I watched over at camp. Part of it was this parody from Robot Chicken (slightly NSFW at beginning an the end). Yes, I did see the second one once it came out on DVD, and it was a pretty cool story, but nothing more. I don’t plan on seeing the third any time soon, even before watching the trailer.

Well, after taking a break from studying for finals, I left my room to see my two roommates watching the first Transformers, so I sat down and watching the ending fight sequence (I came in pretty late into that, so it was really just the last five minutes of the movie). After, I decided to finally watch the trailer for the upcoming se-sequel, Dark of the Moon, just to see what it was all about.

As a space, and science, fanatic, I couldn’t have been more appalled. Just look at the screen capture which shows the Command and Service Module Columbia on the way to the Moon (about 0:08). Notice that it’s just the CSM, no Lunar Module Eagle, no S-IVB third stage for trans-lunar injection. One of those needs to be shown for it to remain factually accurate: either the LEM is still inside the third stage of the Saturn V (which of course would require them to be slightly closer to the Earth, but prospective’s tough), or the CSM/LEM should be separated and heading to the Moon on their own. Seconds later (0:10, the absolute next scene), the missing LEM is magically shown docked with the CSM, in orbit around the Moon. I mean, I know that the general public is pretty stupid, but even they should be able to notice a missing spacecraft magically appear from one scene to the next. If I actually cared about seeing the movie, I’d hope they change that, or have a smoother transition when showing that part of the story.

The other gripe comes when the astronauts are on the Moon, after they’ve landed and uttered those famous phrases (and at this point, I’m getting pretty happy, since they’re using some of the actual footage from the mission, as well as the actual transmissions between the spacecraft, astronauts, and Mission Control back on Earth). I’ll ignore fake-Neil Armstrong’s really giant leap (0:32), where he leaps from the bottom rung onto the lunar surface, instead of first standing down on the footpad and placing his foot into the regolith, since it was obviously chosen for the “one giant leap” message in Armstrong’s famous words and, again, the general public doesn’t really know about it.

No, the somewhat larger gripe I have with the trailer, past the magic LEM, is when NASA decides to cut transmissions to the Earth to perform their “secret mission on the surface” (starting around 0:44). First, I laughed a little at having Tom Virtue, the Dad from Even Stevens, an old Disney show I watched that also starred Shia LeBeouf, working in Mission Control. Then I tried to figure out what was happening when they fed through the “loss of signal” report from Walter Cronkite (0:54), since they were already on the Moon and that transmission came when the CSM/LEM first passed behind the Moon while both were still in orbit. Then I realized the stunt they were trying to pull.

Most people who look at the Moon know that the same side always faces us. I mean, you can just tell by looking up and comparing the dark mare to what you remember of it as a full moon and determine that it’s not really rotating (Well, it is rotating, but since it is tidally locked with the Earth, it doesn’t appear to be rotating from our perspective. If you do a coordinate transformation to a rotating reference frame centered on the Earth, the only “rotational” motion of the Moon comes from its libration, but we can effectively ignore that). In doing so, if the astronauts landed on the near side, which they did, their transmissions would not be cut out until they launched from the surface to rendezvous with the orbiting CSM. That means that their transmissions could not be cut while still on the surface, not while the astronauts are still picking up rocks. It also means that the twenty-one minutes quoted makes even less sense, since the physical moon would have to be rotating around for that to happen at the same (more or less) speed that the CSM is orbiting. This also means that the shadows on the Moon should be swaying and moving, which is not so.

So, to recap: We have a complete disregard for the orbital mechanics of the Moon, which most people are intuitively away of; a disregard for the actual equipment required to get to the Moon, which is only slightly less unforgivable; a slight change in one of the greatest moments in human history, which is understandable for dramatic purposes; and the smearing of a historical event.

Honestly, if the lunar landings need to be messed with for the purpose of the story (unless it’s alternate history, where you have to mess with the past), you’re reaching too hard without knowing where your hand will fall. Good bye, Transformers, and good riddance.

netJina and Grad School Applications

This past Monday, I had my most recent meeting with Doc Brown about my Astrophysics senior thesis, which went well for a handful of reasons. From now on, what I’m doing for the research will actually be relevant for the final project. No more will I simply be just reading and learning things to get up to speed; I’ve actually started programming for the final project! But, before I get ahead of myself, let’s go over what happened:

gfortran was fixed…
After e-mailing my advisor to set up the meeting, he told me to grab the most recently updated files through the svn, read through them quickly, then compile them to make sure things worked right (just a ./clean and ./make_all to do everything). So, that’s what I did, but I got an error return during the make. I e-mailed him back soon after, and he said that I just needed to update my compiler (I think I was using gfortran 4.2 or 4.3), which I then set out to do. Note that this is all happening on Saturday, which I was thankful that he sent responses so quickly. For the next four hours, I scoured the interblags trying to download and install gfortran 4.6, the most recently released version. Nothing worked, and I got so frustrated that I decided to re-use my startup disk and clear out the bad files that had invariably started to litter my laptop. Come Sunday afternoon, I bit the bullet and stuck with gfortran 4.5 and hoped it would be fine. Thankfully, I could compile files again (something I had lost during the fiasco the day before), but I was getting a different error message back.

So, come the meeting on Monday, Doc Brown checked the error return and figured it out (he was actually using gfortran 4.4, so I didn’t necessarily need to waste all of that time on Saturday). The was actually an “error” in the ./clean command, since one of the directories wasn’t getting cleaned properly. I put that in quotes since it wasn’t an error, really; the command just didn’t clean that directory since the programmer didn’t want to have that directory cleaned. With that, frustration number one was gone, and I felt grateful that it both worked and that it wasn’t my fault it wasn’t working before.

…I’m actually writing the driver program now…
Once the world was in order, and the test (right) was successful, we started talking about the meat of the project: programming the driver program to run through the r-process! We went through the test_burn.f file just so he could explain a few weird points, I asked questions and understood what was going on, then we discussed a bunch of things related to the project. I’ll be writing two/three tester programs first, just to include the weaklib routines and try out a few different starting values, but my final project will be largely similar to the programs I’m writing now. He also pointed me toward a paper from a few years back to read during my programming to determine some start values and get an overview of an actual application of what I’m doing.

…and I have one reference letter lined up!
Finally, once things were said and done, and I was well-informed on my next steps in my senior thesis, I asked the question that was in the back of my mind for the last month or two: would you be able to write a reference letter for my grad school applications for me? Almost immediately he responded yes, which was a great confidence boost and an amazing way to start the week off. I just had to send him some files (statement of purpose, c.v., etc.) to help him write it, which I compiled and sent out earlier today. I’m just glad that I have one letter set, so I just need two more (I’ve e-mailed one prospect, and I’m going to try to catch one of the others tomorrow or Monday, but if not he’ll get an e-mail as well).

The meeting couldn’t have gone better, at least for the point I am right now. I’m just glad that one stressor has been removed from my life, so things should go much more smoothly now…