Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Quantum physics still = awesome

Quantum physics still = awesome

The Christian Science Monitor -
Scientists examine nothing, find something:
Two studies of vacuums suggest that the speed of light in a vacuum might fluctuate, pointing the way to a quantum mechanical explanation for why the speed of light and other so-called constants are what they are.

(Malcolm Denemark/Florida Today/AP)
By Eoin O'Carroll, Staff / March 25, 2013 at 6:33 pm EDT

Where did the speed of light in a vacuum come from? Why is it 299,792,458
meters per second and not some other figure? The simple answer is that, since 1983, science has defined a meter by the speed of light: one meter equals the distance light travels in one 299,792,458th of a second. But that doesn't really answer our question. It's just the physics equivalent of saying, "Because I said so."
Unfortunately, the deeper answer has been equally unsatisfying: The speed of light in a vacuum, according to physics textbooks, just is. It's a constant, one of those numbers that defines the universe. That's the physics equivalent of saying, "Because the cosmos said so."

Or did it? A pair ofstudies suggest that this universal constant might not be so
constant after all. In the first study, Marcel Urban from the University of Paris-Sud and his team found that the speed of light in a vacuum varies ever so slightly.
This happens because what we think of as nothing isn't really nothing. Even if you were to create a perfect vacuum, at the quantum level it would still be populated with pairs of tiny "virtual" particles that flash in and out of existence and whose energy values fluctuate. As a consequence of these fluctuations, the speed of a photon passing through a vacuum varies, about 50 quintillionths of a second per square meter.
That may not sound like much, but it's enough to point the way toward a new
underlying physics.
Before 1905, when Albert Einstein formulated his special theory of relativity,
scientists regarded space and time as composing the backdrop of the universe, the immovable stage upon which motion takes place. The only problem with this model is that light seems to move at the same speed regardless of the speed of the source, creating an apparent paradox. Einstein's theory resolved this paradox by replacing Newton's absolutes of time and space with a single absolute, the speed of light.
But if even that can vary, what's left for us to hang our hat on? Nothing, it turns out.
But, as we just noted, nothing is something. Urban's paper suggests that the speed
of light and other constants "are not fundamental constants but observable
parameters of the quantum vacuum." In other words, the speed of light emerges
from the properties of particles in the vacuum.
In the other paper, physicists Gerd Leuchs and Luis L. Sánchez-Soto, from the
Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Light in Erlangen, Germany, hypothesize
how this emergence occurs. They suggest that the impedance of a vacuum –
another electromagnetic 'constant' whose value depends on the speed of light –
itself depends only on the electric charge of the particles in the vacuum, and not
their masses.
If their hypothesis is correct, it answers our question of where the speed of light
comes from:It emerges from the total number of charged particles in the universe.
Time will tell if this hypothesis is correct. And of course, by "time," we mean "space and time," by which we mean "the speed of light," by which we mean "nothing," by which we mean "the properties of the quantum vacuum."But in the meantime – or whatever – you can thank us for informing you that, as the speed of light in a vacuum continues to fluctuate, so too does the length of the meter. Think nothing of it.

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Dear English speakers

Topic 1: 's: What is it for?
When you use an apostrophe s (ie a 's) it usually signifies possession. In some cases 's can be used as a contraction.

Example (posession): The cat's food was not acceptable to her delicate pallet.
The cat possesses the sensitive pallet.

Example (contraction): It's annoying that she only eats the most expensive organic canned food available.
It is annoying that the cat does this.

However, an exception to the use of 's to indicate possession is when the object is owned by more than one person.

Example: The students' drinks were the cheapest on the bar menu.
There is more than one owner, so 's changed to s'.

Topic 2: What is the difference between your and you're?

People get these two confused, possibly because of the widespread use of abbreviations in online chats, or possibly because the general population is idiotic.

You're is a contraction. It's short for you are.

Example: You're an asshole, and I love you. (P!nk)
P!nk is saying her husband is an asshole.

Your is a word indicating possession of something.

Example: Your face looks like a butt.
I am saying that the face that you possess looks like a buttocks.

BONUS: Yore is a word referring to the past. It's hilarious to use this word instead of one of the above to confuse the hell out of people.

Topic 4: There, their, and they're- are they interchangeable? (No.)
There refers to a place other than here.

Example: You can set the pile of exams to be graded over there, my desk isn't sturdy enough to support them.
I'm indicating that the exams should be set down somewhere other than my desk.

Their is used to describe something that is possessed by multiple people.

Example: After her angry outburst, their mouths hung open for a few seconds in silence.

They're is a contraction of the words they are.

Example: They're a bunch of jerks, which is why I snapped at them.
They are poop heads, and deserved what they got.

Topic 3: To, too and two
To is a word that you should not google because, inexplicably, pictures of asses in teeny thongs pop up.

Example: They delivered the dishwasher right to the door.

Too means "also."

Example: My friend doing her PhD at BU said she's drinking alone too!
My friend is also drinking alone on a Friday night.

Two is a freaking number.

Example: One, two, three.
Watch Sesame Street.

I hope this entry helps everyone brush up on their English. I will not be accepting any more emails, especiallyvia dating websites, that ignore these rules.

Friday Night's all right

Ultimate grad student Friday night in:

Leave work ~7pm. Come home, feed cat and load dishwasher. Take nap with kitty, falling asleep to the soothing sounds of your glorious new appliance gently cleaning your week's worth of dirty dishes. During nap, move once or twice as needed due to sounds of neighbors celebrating the end of the work week.

Wake up disoriented. Respond to texts from mother. Comfort kitty, who is hungry because she refused to eat what she was fed because you accidently bought turkey and rice instead of turkey and chicken.

Boil water for pasta; in the meantime, empty dishwasher. Ignore pleas from cat for different food. Make sure to reward yourself for emptying the dishwasher with  a mixed drink, made from whatever you have in the house (in my case, this is usually Godiva brand chocolate vodka, mixed with nutritious powdered coco)(I'm just kidding, it's not really nutritious). Your dinner can be enjoyed in front of the TV (Netflix, because everything on cable on  Friday night is inspired by the Jersey shore) with the cat begging for scraps.

Enjoy the rest of the night relaxing to the sounds of Law and Order, while your brain slowly recovers and reminds you of the various problems with your current project, your singleness, and low cashflow.

But hey, you don't have to hand wash your dishes, so life is good. :)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Trapped by circumstance

Or: pro (little) choice

Sometimes everything in your life might feel very negative and out of your control. I don't think anybody likes this, whether they admit it or not. But sometimes the very key to recovering from feeling like a helpless dory in a storm-tossed ocean is recognizing the power you actually have.

Control is a word that has some negative connotations. But in the context of one's life, control is about choices. Being a PhD candidate is often difficult because other people are largely in control of your life, making decisions that most adults have more control over than grad students do. Oftentimes your PI, not a calendar, will decide when your vacations are. A committee "recommends" what classes you take and how many at a time. There are no options for advancement either in terms of management or salary until a group of professors- or worse, the editor of a scientific journal who has never met you- decides that you're ready to leave.

Maybe this isn't so different from other walks of life. Anyway, my point is that as frustrating as this is, the best option is not to fight it but to ride it out and gracefully sail through the rough waters. Personally, I try to keep my sanity and my spirits up by recognizing the options that are under my control. The department faculty might decide what class I have to TA, but I get to choose to spoil myself with an extra snack after lunch. A panel of big wigs might decide if my grant gets funded, but I get to choose to use the special fancy spoon to eat my oatmeal- every day. A faceless and evil administrative office might decide whether or not to reimburse my receipts but I get to decide if I cut my hair or keep it long (cut!!) If you're like me, then every time you see evidence of your-in a sense- victimhood, you'll feel some echos of anger and helplessness. But by the same token, seeing things that represent choices that you were able to make might remind you of the power you do have, as well as pride in your decision (I picked out that couch myself!)

The important thing is to appreciate and fully participate in the decisions you do get to make, and ride out the ones outside if your control. The exception to this of course is that the decisions you don't make should still, in some sense, be moving you closer to your goal. If they are not, then the scary-and wonderful- thing is that you can override all of those decisions by changing your goal or approaching it from another angle. My family watched reruns of The Wonder Years when my sister and I were growing up, and one of my favorite plot threads was when Kevin's dad quit his job to start his own business. He had always been too afraid to because he thought it would be too hard and so he let his boss control his work life-until he got fed up and finally quit. Then life was hard in a different way, but was balanced by his freedom to make his own choices about his new career.

It's not only professional situations this applies to, but the personal sphere as well. You can't make people include you, or like you, or treat you the way you deserve. But you can choose how much of this you're exposed to, and what to do with the time that you have "nothing better" to do. Sure, I wish I were in a relationship. But I ll be damned if I'm going to waste my time with someone that doesn't treat me right- I'd rather look back on a cozy Friday night with a good movie and some online shoe shopping than meaningless time with someone who leaves me feeling worse about myself.
And my ace in the hole for the decisions game is that choosing to spend some time adoring the kitty never leaves one with regrets.
posted from Bloggeroid

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Perks of having your own apartment

Not using coasters

Leaving clothes on the floor

Piling mail on the table

Hanging sheets and curtains over doors to keep out drafts

Never having to worry about someone else using the last of the coveted soy milk

Watching 27,000 episodes of Law and Order: SVU in a row

Trying to reason with the cat ("Now please eat slowly, we don't want you to throw up again like last night.")

Only washing dishes on special days (ie, never)

Unabashedly singing along with P!nk when you do finally wash the dishes

Obsessing over your pores in the bathroom mirror

Leaving towels in the dryer until you need them

Never having to confine food to certain shelves

Catcalling Viggo Mortensen when he's on TV

ALWAYS having all the kitty face rubs to yourself

Monday, March 11, 2013

A restrained response

Woman: I make my own food for my cat. You can just boil the chicken, then it's not much work.

My verbal response: Yeah, that's not bad.
My internal response: Lady, sometimes beans from a can with quinoa is the most complicated thing I make all week for MYSELF, never mind the cat.


Professor who knows nothing about my work: Have you read about this new discovery? I'm going to talk about this news story and then introduce you... it's fitting that this story segways into your presentation very nicely... actually, wow, this is PERFECT to introduce your work!

My verbal response: It's very interesting.
My internal response: This has absolutely nothing to do with my work. If it was seminal to my presentation, don't you think I would be presenting it???

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Random insults

I'm in kind of a bad mood this week so here are some random insults (disclaimer: these do not necessarily apply to YOU). 

Denser than a rock.

Slower than a sloth's bowl movements

Voice more annoying than listening to a cheerleader flirt with your crush in 8th grade.

Head so far up their ass they were invited to join the US Olympic Gymnast Team.

So dumb they can't tell you're from your.

More dramatic than Taylor Swift.

As fat as Maru, but not as cute.

Instead of it would actually be more useful to have a communications major because at least they wouldn't PRETEND to understand science.

Sluttier than the original version of Yes Sir, I Can Boogie.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Hopefully barefoot

Earth's crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes - The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning