Two things of note this week: I received distinction on my Comps, and submitted the first draft of Character in the Dark, my new book, to Blurb. If the copy I get back looks good, I’ll put it up for sale.

I originally intended to work with Engage Print like I did for Sampling Error, but I’m running into logistical constraints. First, it’s not really practical for me to bind more than 6 copies by hand, and I’d like to make the book available to a wider audience. Second, Engage’s Indigo printer can only run up to 12x18", which is slightly too small to really give the images good space on the page.

Hence, I’m sacrificing the pleasure of hand-making the book, and having good control over color/paper, for the convenience of Blurb’s automated print-on-demand system. I’m guessing price will be somewhere around $60; details when I finish the final version.

My comps is done.

I just finished writing version three—the final release, as it were—of my senior thesis, or “comps”, for Carleton. It’s an introduction to the Casimir effect, integrating aspects of quantum electrodynamics, thermodynamics and statistical mechanics, numerical modeling, material science, history of science, and a sampling of experimental literature. There is no original research here (save correcting a typo in the parallel-plates derivation which I suspect everybody knew about). It’s just an exercise in figuring things out, and explaining them to others.

I wrote the paper from books, papers, and discussions with my advisors and peers over the last six months. Last term, I also delivered a 70 minute general-audiences talk, which went pretty well. Since then I’ve been integrating feedback from faculty and peer advisors over two rounds of review. Since the beginning their feeling has been positive, but I have finally (I hope) addressed all remaining concerns with the paper. This version may be tagged “stable”.

Well, I gave my comps talk (senior thesis) on the Casimir effect last week. It went surprisingly well, though it took much longer to prepare a 70 minute lecture than I expected. There are few graphics on the web which really explain the effect in a sensible way, so I had to draw most of them myself. The audience even seemed to follow quite a bit of it—impressive for starting from ground zero and moving rapidly to quantum cavity electrodynamics.

When I went in to meet with my faculty advisor the next day, I was surprised to learn that the reason he had not kept any of our meetings, or indeed showed much interest in discussing my comps at all, was because he had somehow not realized that he even was my advisor! Apparently, when I finished the talk and he saw his name on the final slide, he was very startled and realized his mistake. I am somewhat disappointed by this, but on the other hand, it was nice to get away without significant critique.

All in all, he said it was a very nice talk, so I’m happy with it–even though I did place a-dagger instead of a on my vacuum cleaner. :) There are still two drafts remaining, but somehow this feels like the finishing point of comps.

In a discussion tangent to our research, Arik just managed to explain the mechanics of Zeta-function regularization in the Casimir effect in a (mathematically) action-packed half hour. This conversation cleared up two days of confused scribbling--because now I accept that infinity is, in fact, equal to -1/3.

I'm dreaming math again. I had the weirdest semi-conscious dreams about water slides and renormalization theory. When my first draft goes in, I am going to enjoy taking the weekend off. Two weeks left!

-25 degrees absolute, -50 with windchill.

Okay, even I am prepared to declare that it is now cold outside... Laura and I tried to go to Stadium this morning, and my eyelids started freezing. AWESOME!

Term’s almost over; one final left. Research reached a nice finishing point this week; I finished the comparative Lyapunov analysis and prepared the graphs for submission. Noise really kills the linearity we’re looking for, but it does suggest an experimentalist will see some unexpected things, which is what the original paper tried to show with power spectra–and moreover, the figures are in the right ballpark for More on that when we draft a response to PRL.

Tested for 2nd kyu this week. It was tough–especially remembering the right vs. left distinctions for techniques that sound very similar in Japanese! Mechanically things felt pretty solid, though, which was nice. I was even able to clear 3 feet on jumping-over-partner, which was a great feeling. Plus, the front strike continuation is just plain awesome.

Other than that, planning a second book, which will explore the various off-limits parts of Carleton, getting ready for Comps, and starting the post-graduation job search. Now, back to that last paper!

So, life continues insanely unabated. This week in lab we're a.) measuring the speed of light, and b.) weighing the galaxy, which means we get to spend time on the roof playing with the radio telescope! Gave the talk on pi0 photoproduction, which Nelson says went pretty well. Pre-2nd kyu test is coming up next Wednesday. Still working on The Book, which is rapidly acquiring more capital letters.

Anyway, the awesome news is that I drew Scott 300, a townhouse apartment! Reid, Josh, Laura, and Jennifer will be rounding out our amazing house. Should be a terrific year!

These are pictures of various transverse electromagnetic modes for the laser we’re working with.

Laser beams aren’t constrained to being nice little smooth dots, though that’s one of the possible modes (TEM00). Since TEM00 has the most tightly focused beam, and the fewest irregularities, it’s the one many laser manufacturers force their device to operate at. There are other possible solutions, with varying patterns. The subscripts here indicate the number of divisions in the beam—I’m guessing on some of the higher ones. There’s also a strange pattern which looks like it has radial, not rectilinear, divisions; I’m not sure what that is, exactly.

tem00_thumb.jpg TEM00 tem01_thumb.jpg TEM01 tem02_thumb.jpg TEM02
tem11_thumb.jpg TEM11 tem22_thumb.jpg TEM22 tem23_thumb.jpg TEM23
tem33_thumb.jpg TEM33? tem35_thumb.jpg TEM35? radial_thumb.jpg Radial mode?

Winter term concluded nicely: solid work through 9th and 10th week, then caught a ride with Anna out to Madison for a couple weeks with Justin & company. Finished up my finals and emailed them in from WI–everything was either a paper or take-home, so I was able to take my time, put in my best work on everything, and turn them in without a 4 hour drive. So, spring break felt like 3 weeks, which was a really nice change. I needed the space to decompress, get to know myself again.

I’m taking up the guitar again: bought an old Suzuki from a guy in Madison through Craigslist, which sounds pretty good. Deeply resonant sound, bit of a buzz (in the tuner?) on the open G string, but otherwise plays nicely. I ran into Dirk’s Guitar Page, which pleasantly has many of the same pieces I played as a kid: Carcassi, Sor, Paganini. Progress has been surprisingly fast, but I’m a long way from playing well.

Carrie, Justin, Jenny, Bobby, and I all trekked down to Florida for Spring Break; my first independent vacation! It was really nice to spend the time with friends; screaming through the Tower of Terror at Disney World, swimming and hanging out with new friends from Ohio State at the beach, learning to play tennis, and just relaxing on the beach. I do regret not reading more of Quantum State Diffusion, but that’s a small complaint.

One of the things we’ve been discussing in Metaphysics this term has been the problem of motion through time, and whether or not Russell’s at-at theory sufficiently explains our everyday perception of change as occurring through time. Meanwhile, in Quantum Mechanics, we’ve been talking about the Hamiltonian operator as the generator of translations through time, analogous to the momentum operator generating translations through space.

I’ve got two weird ideas at the moment. First, momentum and position space are Fourier conjugate pairs of each other: you can convert states between them with a symmetric Fourier integral. I wonder if a similar relationship exists between the energy basis (or some other space related to the Hamiltonian) and time.

The other question is whether the perception of change in time really involves any real change at all. Augustine was content to measure the extent of time periods through the duration of his mind, which, I suspect, could be adequately explained as the spatial relationship of neurons in the now. That would sort of eliminate the now as any privileged reference frame, but could retain the important perceptions of the past as having happened.

After six months, I’ve finally tested for pre-third kyu. Sophie was amazing, practicing techniques endlessly, putting up with hundreds of bad throws, and smiling through it all. Thanks to good teachers and hard work, the test went beautifully. I’m really happy about the whole thing: techniques feel more natural, timing comes easier, and now that it’s over, I can take more time to work with beginners! There are a couple of new students who are putting in a lot of hard work, and I’m really excited about how fast they’re learning. I hope some stay!

Being treasurer has been an adventure this term. I finally got the budget figured out… kind of… and then the test came! Proofreading all the paperwork then accounting for various fees and forms took several hours last night, but I think it’s finally in order. Now that I’ve fumbled my way through this test, I think the next ones are going to go a lot better.

The physics ultimate team, Physbee, is still undefeated! The last few games have been spectacular: playing an hour before dusk, the light rolls over the clouds and sweeps over the whole campus. I wish I had real shoes, though: much as I love my hiking boots, they are not the best for sprinting. ;-) Maybe I’ll try and get some this weekend.

O battle-scarred Guildmistress!

I engaged and killed a redheaded tall person in the CMC lab. I left two taped nerf darts, black with orange tips, and Kennedy's grenade.

I then returned to Nourse, where I came up the stairs to third only to find myself in the middle of a firefight--Kristine and Reid firing from the lounge, and Grace, Berlinm, and Brucenta on the other end of the hallway. They retreated to the south stairwell, Kristine, Reid, and I advanced. I came down to second, and moved to the bottom end of the stairwell. I killed Berlinm and Brucenta with two perfectly placed nightfire shots to their respective breast and stomach, and engaged Grace at length.

Her tactical acumen was clearly evident, as she fired off salvos of rubber bands at my feet. Swiftly dodging each volley, I returned fire, missing her narrowly several times. Finally Kristine and Reid bravely threw themselves onto the unrelenting arrows of misfortune, sacrificing their love for the good of the Nourse cause. I ran swiftly up the stairs after she had unloaded her last rubber bands, and delivered the coup de Grace to her suddenly vulnerable chest.

Her screams of abject terror still resounding in my memory, I shared tales of triumphant adventure and misfortune with my largely now-deceased floormates, and retired to bed.



P.S. I'm sorry I killed your roommate. ;-)

P.P.S. If this tale of high adventure and glory did not satisfy your tastes and therein earn my pardon for accidental death of a civilian, O Guildmistress, then I fear my cause is lost indeed.

Our esteemed and glorious Guildmistress,

It is with a sad heart that I must convey to you this most recent news: I have been fatally shot in the side by an Enforcer. At breakfast in the LDC, I noticed a very wary Nate leaving the dining hall. I sat down at a far table, planning to don a mask after eating and induce the inevitable demise of one Mr. Morrow, his eponymous occasion having finally been reached.

Before being able to put my plans into action, however, Nate returned, wearing an ominous mask and wielding a fully loaded Maverick. I leapt to my feet, ran around to the upper dining hall, and drew my concealed lightsaber. Bullets were useless against this fearless oblivion personified, and as I blew through the heavy wooden doors at the entranceway, I felt his inhuman breath chilling the very air around me. Knowing my end was near, I duck, spun quickly, and made a cut across his arm, but alas, it was too late! His pistol had already fired, dispatching shards of deadly foam and rubber into my lungs.

The medics say it is too late for me: I wish these last words to reach you, O dark princess of carnage, and evoke within your paranoid heart echoes of the deftly vengeful spirit we Assassins all strive to attain.



So, I’m back in town! That was fast!

Managed to get out of school okay: finished my two papers on time, and despite my notes disappearing managed to make it through finals without too much difficulty. The papers are actually pretty cool: for Philosophy of Physics I got to look at two accounts of the mass energy equivalence relation, and talk about how we revise the scientific process for education. I didn’t get to explore that thread as much as I would have liked, but I did get to read all of Einstein’s work on special relativity. I know it’s been said before, but the guy’s a genius. The reasoning itself is straightforward, but he makes these intuitive jumps that are very surprising unless you know where he’s going.

My roommate for spring term moved out early in finals week. Or at least, he himself moved. Most of his stuff stayed behind, and the friends he said would come pick it up never arrived. Hence, at 22:00 the night before flying out, I found myself reluctantly dropping cubic meters of clothes, games, books, and food down at the Lighten Up donation area. That was kind of a tough break, and I hope his friend manages to save my roommate’s stuff in time.

To sum up the last term:

I took three classes: Ordinary Differential Equations, Japanese 205, and Classical/Computational Mechanics, affectionately (though with a thin edge of nervousness) referred to by many physics majors as “Classy” and “Compy”. These last two ate me alive: the average weekly problem set was 18 hours in length, although one went up to 25 hours. I spent a lot of mornings (9:00 P.M. – 3:00 A.M.) in Olin, the physics building, staring at Mathematica and struggling through Lagrangians. “You know, the windmill is really pretty at sunrise,” my friend Max told me. “You can see it through the windows of the Olin hallway.”

The last two weeks of the term were consumed by a massive final project: building and modeling a tinkertoy siege engine with the use of Lagrangian and Hamiltonian mechanics. My partner and I wrote hundreds of lines of code, and dozens of pages of equations, trying to model the energy transfer between the pendulum falling and the motion of the wheeled base. The problem consumed my life; walking to dinner, waiting in line, even in other classes, I’d think about drag models, wheel inertia, and projectile efficiency. We worked somewhere around 60 hours per person over two weeks.

Classes haven’t killed me yet!

It’s eighth week, and time for overdrive. Two take-home finals (one expected to take two weeks!), an ODE lab, an 80 hour final project for Computational Mechanics analyzing the dynamics of our tinkertoy siege engines, and all the regular Japanese and ODE coursework on top of that. Of course, this can only mean one thing: it’s time to take harder classes.

So I’m registering (hopefully) for Partials, Electricity and Magnetism, and some mysterious third course. I’m thinking about Epistemology or Philosophy of Physics, although those courses fill pretty darn fast. Philosophy of Physics looks particularly awesome, talking about issues with non-locality, causality, and the far-out world of quantum. Only a few spaces left, so I’ve got my fingers crossed.

So stuff here has been busy as heck the last few weeks. Classes are beating me up: Classical Mechanics, Ordinary Differential Equations, and Japanese 205 this term. Aikido hasn’t been going at all recently, which is sad. First week I caught whatever cold was going around, then this Monday I knocked my shoulder out of commission on one of the 4th kyu sacrifice throws. It’s slowly coming back, but I’m still not up to rolls, or really much of anything with that arm. Realistically speaking, I’m probably not going to test this mid-term: I’ve just missed too many classes.

This week was full of out-of-town visitors: Des and Bitsy came out here for the weekend, which was full of Aikido, reading, and photography. Bitsy helped me out with the alumni interview for Physics, which was more informative than I had initially expected.

When it came time to head back to the airport, Max, Des and I borrowed Pechous' car for the trip–or at least his keys. Turned out the car was across campus, encased in snow, low on gas, and incapable of starting. Luckily, as we were just about to give up, Chase arrived! He pulled out the jumper cables, which after extensive maneuvers eventually reached between the cars. We *still* couldn’t get the car to start, so Chase kindly offered us his car for the trip. After he left, though, Max couldn’t get the car started! I tried, but the keys just wouldn’t move. As it turns out, starting the CRV requires focusing very intently on the engine turning over and rumbling into life, and believing the car to be in motion. After buying gas by committee, I restarted the car for Max, and we made it to the airport in record time.

Today was a great day in Psych. We were discussing the formation of phobias (specifically, classical-conditioning models of phobia response creation), and went over some common phobias like:

  1. The fear of flying
  2. The fear of spiders
  3. The fear of snakes
  4. The fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of one’s mouth.

It's 11 PM, and once again I'm stargazing on the hill of three oaks. There is no trace of human activity here--only the full moon for light, the soft sound of snow crunching beneath my boots, and winds slipping fiercely past my coat. An hour at these temperatures concentrates the mind; one's world contracts to the blazing, tingling flame igniting in one's fingers and toes from the cold, the taste of blood flowing from frozen, cracked lips, and the howling of the wind against one's face, slowly numbing into a frostbitten simacrulum of one's former physiognomy. At the same time, there's nothing else like looking into this white expanse, tinged blue by the cold light of the moon and stars; to wonder at the majesty of the trees which stand here year after year, etched in black against the sky; to look up, and fall softly to the ground at the sight of ten million brilliant and specific stars.

I lay here, and wait to become a part of the landscape.

It's snowing today: dry flakes swirling down through the cones of light from the street lamps. -17 degrees celsius wind chill, says the observatory's weather station. Walking to work at this hour of the night is an exercise in self-control, moving from step to step with care to avoid slipping on the icy walks, squinting to keep the flurries of snow from smacking into the eyes, and keeping hands tightly within pockets to keep the frigid air at bay.

Really, though, the snow and the cold make me happy. The vortices of air swirling around buildings whips the flakes into an intricately fractal frenzy, and the biting cold is a reminder of how crisp the world can be, absent of warmth. Tomorrow morning, I look forward to opening the door onto a landscape transformed into smooth forms of black asphalt, white snow, and grey stone and sky. Black and white has a certain, quiet, eloquence.

This week hasn’t been especially good for me, but I’m somewhat amused at the fortuitous timing of last night’s storm. The power got knocked out briefly last night, and when I came home I found my computer shut down with a note from my roommate:

“Your computer was making beeping noises so I turned it off.”

Sure enough, it’s making an awful siren noise on boot, the kind of sound I associate (after years in the IT industry) with sheer terror, expensive purchasing orders, and CPUs melting in some kind of perverse recreation of a Salvador Dali painting. The whole thing is rather suprising, considering the surge protector and decent power supply. I’m running it down to the SCIC as soon as I can get a cart, but I don’t really know what broke, or where I can get replacement parts from in time. Did I mention this is the start of finals week? >_<

My introduction to Cara Chomski went something like this:

“Cara? She’s frighteningly competent.”

“At what? Classwork, sports, discussion…”

After sneaking through a temporally claustrophobic schedule punctuated by moments of enjoyment vis. retroactive Russel recovery and crowbar defense 101, I managed to assemble a costume and enjoy a happy Halloween. In keeping with Nick, Max, Russell, and the two Rachels’s theme of Fight Club, I was an evil minion. It’s somewhat anticlimactic when your everyday clothing is suitable for bringing about the downfall of civilization, but it fit the part well.

Visited the haunted Evans and Nourse, which was amazing. The volunteers put an incredible amount of work (and ketchup) into converting the dorms, and it really paid off well. The image that sticks in my head afterwards isn’t the zombies, knives, or blood stains, but the old tunnels covered in graffiti. Poems, drawings, satanic inscriptions and promises to loved ones, marks of furtive exploration and drunken success, logos of sports teams emblazoned in white and blue spray paint, paintings from “Where the Wild Things Are”, lyrics of songs and fragments of descriptive prose, all carefully preserved within a musty corridor, unobserved beneath the feet of passers-by. One could spend hours simply reading and exploring these endlessly annotated passageways. It’s something no photograph can capture, though I wish it were possible to do so.

Maybe some day I’ll have the opportunity to return.

Yarr, Halloween is here. Pechous shaved and dyed his hair, which makes him a completely different person bearing an uncanny resemblance to himself. There are gorillas walking into the dining hall and sitting down with trays full of bananas--whether for Halloween or sociology, I can't tell. As for myself, well, it's my goal to find materials to become a Mr. Hand. This may or may not be feasible.


It's a crisp autumn morning, the trees are alight with midwestern color, and cool sunlight defines sharp shadows on the pavement, grass, and leaves. I'm making my way down to the dining hall for lunch, and observing the trajectories of warmly bundled students flowing towards the chapel for convocation. Suddenly I realize that the half-familiar melody chiming across campus is not the bell tower's usual sonorous intonation, but the Hogwarts theme from Harry Potter.

I love this place.

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