Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Random errata (is that redundant?)

Ouch. You know what hurts worse than walking a mile uphill to school while sore all over? Walking a mile downhill from school while sore all over. I don't pretend to know the muscles involved, but it hurts a lot more going in a downward direction. (Thus providing more support for my firm belief that it's going downhill that's the hard part; going uphill is a snap, comparatively. At least, it is for me. I've only met a few people that agree with me on this point.)

I've blogged before about my love of \(\LaTeX\), the document markup language that takes what you write and makes it look beautiful. While writing my first homework assignment for Thermodynamics this morning, I stumbled upon a cool package for it that let you write chemical formulae and equations simply and naturally. Alas, despite my best efforts, I was unable to install it because of the exceedingly simple fact that the program was looking online for a repository with the .tar.bz2 extension, while the actual repository had the .tar.lzma extension (it took me over an hour to find this out, after trying every conceivable way to manually install it). Needless to say, I was bit bummed, as it would have reduced the work needed to write CO\(_2\) everywhere it would be needed in the paper. (In case you're wondering, \(\LaTeX\) can handle writing CO\(_2\) just fine, it just means an extra couple of commands each time I want to write it.)

Tonight my Hawaiian teacher is having our class over for a party, so I made cookies to take. Hooray for cookie sheets! My cooking repertoire is vastly improved now that I have some. And hot-pads to handle them with, too.

Monday, August 30, 2010


Saturday afternoon I enjoyed a game of soccer with my housemates Josh and Jonathan and some other people from school and the BCM. Yes, I enjoyed it. I know that will be a surprise to those of you who know I have historically disliked playing sports. Indeed, I am now sore in pretty much every muscle of my body. I am a little surprised myself. Still...on the off chance I don't get enough exercise walking ten miles to and from school each week, I may take advantage of the chance to work up an even bigger sweat now and then.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

New classes, new teachers, a new semester.

Once again, a new semester of college begins, a time of new classes and new things to learn. I must confess, it is not busyness that kept me from posting this week, I simply haven't felt like it. Part of that was that I didn't want to write about my classes without seeing how they were going. Having completed my first week of classes now, I can say that this semester looks like it will be as I planned: a lot easier than last semester.

For those who are interested, I'm taking Thermodynamics, Optics, Galaxy Evolution and Data Reduction, Stellar Astrophysics, Hawaiian 101, and Physical Sciences Seminar, for a mere seventeen credits. I feel a little strange as this is the first semester since I started college, three years ago, that I don't have a math class. That should mean an easier semester for me, allowing me to continue to work with Dr. Takamiya on her research project.

Other than that, not much to say...little homework to speak of yet, but I'm sure that will change in the next week or two.

A hui hou! (till next time!)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sleep and school (not together, mind you).

It is an interesting detail I've noticed that the mere fact of having a bed raised some distance above the ground makes it easier to get up in the morning. I'm not sure why this is so, but I theorize it has something to do with having some potential energy in the morning, rather than having to haul yourself out of bed completely on your own strength. It also seems to produce more restful sleep, though again I'm not sure why. Of course, this will come in very handy with school starting on Monday, a fact I'm still having trouble impressing on my mind.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Epinephrine, or: How to REALLY throw off your sleep cycle.

Have you ever had the experience where you're quietly falling asleep, just about to drift off, and something startles you violently awake? Imagine that "something" being a three-and-a-half-inch centipede crawling in your hair, and you have my night last night.

I'm very, very thankful that in my sleep induced stupor I didn't put my hand to my head to see what it was. I am also, for the first time, thankful that my bedside clock puts out so much light -- normally it keeps me awake, but I was really happy to have it last night, as I turned my head to see a long black form crawling over my pillow.

That's when the adrenaline kicked in. Hard.

I'll spare you the details of how I finally evicted the critter from my bed, and killed it after many repeated shoe-smashing attempts, and simply note that it is nigh impossible to sleep on a pallet on the floor in the dark with adrenaline coursing through your veins. This was made all the more ironic because I specifically went to bed early last night to catch up on my sleep, instead waking up this morning feeling even more groggy than usual after a night of uneasy dreams. (Adrenaline is also know as epinephrine, by the way, hence the title.)

As of right now, my pallet is now up on a nice folding camp bed I found at Wal-mart (cheaper than making my own out of cinder block and 2-by-12's...yes, I checked. And more convenient, too). I'd heard from other people that the centipedes here were something else, but this is the first time I've actually seen one (fittingly enough, on the anniversary of the first day I arrived here).

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mean Weekly Victual Cost™ (MWVC)

Well, yesterday marks the first time I have spent more than a hundred dollars in one grocery store run. It's a bit special for me, because I've been priding myself on keeping it below a hundred dollars each trip, despite the high cost of food here. Mostly it was so high because I was restocking on necessaries now that I'm back from California, though I did cave to a few luxury items (Parmesan cheese is expensive...and milk! Gallon for gallon, it's worth more than gas in California. You'd think they have to pump it out of the ground or something).

On a whim, I went through all my receipts over the last semester, and figured out how much I spent on food, then normalized it by the number of weeks in the semester to figure out my Mean Weekly Victual Cost (MWVC). While the total figure took my breath away ($850.73), my MWVC looked a lot better: a mere $36.99. That's right, I can feed myself happily for less than $37 a week. In fact, I could probably feed myself contentedly for a lot less than that, since I could admittedly have gone without certain beverages (and after getting two cavities filled over vacation, I'll be cutting back on them quite a bit this semester!).

I did the same thing for the previous semester, and while I don't remember the exact figure I know it was between $40 and $50, so I'm getting a little bit thriftier. The challenge is on, now...I shall do the same thing this semester, and see if I can't lower my MWVC even more.

Oh, and don't forget to vote in the poll!

Friday, August 13, 2010

On the difference between quantum and classical belts.

While I was back in California, I switched my well-worn quantum belt of many years for a new, classical one. When I say "classical" I am not talking about Greco-Roman styles, since I'm pretty sure the belts those guys used were of the quantum variety. Confused? "Quantum" and "classical" refer to two modes of thought in physics, depending on whether or not something comes in discrete units, or is infinitely sub-divisible. We know, by many experiments, that we live in a quantum world. Electrons orbiting the nucleus of an atom cannot have just any energy they like. There are very specific energy levels they must stay at, and they can only jump between them by giving or receiving exactly as much energy is required to make up the difference between the levels they jump. However, in our everyday ordinary affairs, the world doesn't seem at all quantized. On macroscopic levels, we rarely encounter quantum effects (one of the few readily accessible is the laser, which works on quantum principles). We don't experience things moving in quantized jumps, so it is no wonder, then, that early physicists took the world at face value, giving us classical physics based on experience. The non-intuitive quantized description of the microscopic world took a long time to develop and acquire enough evidence to convince the general scientific community (starting around the beginning of the 20th century, and developing throughout the rest of it).

What does this have to do with belts, you ask? Well...most belts are quantized in such a way that you can only adjust them in discrete increments. This is sometimes a problem (especially for me, who always seems to fall somewhere between two holes). The belt I got works by friction, and can be adjusted, for all intents and purposes, to any size I want. Thus, I have passed from a quantum to a classical belt.

Oh, and to deflect attention from my lame physics joke (it sounded better in my head, I promise), I've put up a new poll! I originally intended to have a new poll every week or two, but couldn't think of questions to ask and then kind of forgot about it. I'm just curious how frequently people check in to see if I've written anything new. I know, I've been pretty bad about updating the last few weeks while on vacation, but I'm back now! I'll try to put something fresh up here every couple of days.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Encounters of the statistically-improbable kind.

Well, I made it safely back to Hawai`i last night after three separate flights and 11 hours of traveling. I got to fly through Kahului airport on Maui on my way in, which was nice. I only wish I didn't have to go west to Honolulu and back east of Hilo after that. (Interestingly, looking up at Haleakalā, the volcanic mountain that makes up the east side of Maui, from the airport reminds me of looking up at a mirror-reversed image of Mauna Kea from Hilo; they both have small mounds on their flanks that look similar, and nearly matching coloration patterns. Of course, a close inspection reveals many differences, but they are remarkable look-alikes, at least from the perspectives I mentioned.)

On getting in to Hilo, I had the fastest encounter with the baggage carousel I've ever had. I'd hardly been standing waiting for 30 seconds when first one, then both of my bags popped out on the track. I had them off, and was walking away in under a minute. I guess I've flown on airplanes enough in my life that such a statistical anomaly was bound to strike eventually.

All in all, it went smoothly, and I can now buckle down to prepare for the semester. (First order of business, finding another class to take in place of the Quantum Mechanics class I was going to take that got canceled due to lack of enrollment...)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I'm off to Hawai`i (again)

Well, today I leave once more for Hawai`i, off for my second year of studies. It's not much easier than last year, really. The inertia generated by three and a half weeks being home takes some serious force to move.

At least, this time I'm returning to familiar places and people rather than strange new ones, and my school schedule seems much easier compared to the hectic daze that was last semester. Tonight, the sound of crickets at night will be replaced by the sound of frogs, night will come a lot sooner (and quicker), and new constellations will rise tantalizingly above the southern horizon. The old ones, however, will still be there, merely shifted in position. The beauty of knowing the night sky intimately is that it is always there, no matter where you go.

And, thankfully, we have an understanding of electromagnetism born of Maxwell's Equations that makes communication at the speed of light possible (an incredible thing, when you think about it), so I don't have to be out of communication with those I care about any longer than I choose to.

Bring on the semester!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Memoirs of a family trip.

In contradistinction to my last post, I haven't been especially busy for the last week, other than a family trip to Mendocino County over the weekend. I've just been enjoying my vacation, and too lazy and unmotivated to write anything. I thought I'd post some pictures from the trip, though.

Banana slug near the hotel we stayed at.
We went to an old Russian fort, saw the famous Chandelier Tree that you can drive through, and toured a large botanical garden, but the coolest experience for me was at our unplanned stop to change drivers and stretch our legs at a random spot on Highway 1, deep in the coastal mountains.

A little mountain stream was making its merry way way down the valley not too far from the road, so we climbed down to investigate it. The majesty of the place was amazing -- coastal redwoods stretching hundreds of feet above our heads, the noon-day sun falling through chinks in between the branches in soft rays of cool sunlight, reminiscent of the grandeur and beauty of a cathedral. But pictures speak better than words sometimes, and I think this is one of those cases:

The stream at the bottom of the dell.
We also stopped at the Chandelier Tree, the famous tree that you can drive your car through. It was, unfortunately, too short to allow our huge van to pass through, but I got a nice shot of Abigail nosing it in before we were sure we couldn't make it.

She set her Facebook status to
 "Drove the van into a tree." when we got home.