ellipsix informatics
2013
Dec
03

I'm back! NaBloWriMo continues

I filed 20 postdoc applications this weekend.

Estimated number of offers: 0.1. That's right, with 22 applications in, I have a one-in-ten chance that I might hear back from one of them.

Real life is no fun.

Anyway, now that my big batch of postdoc applications is filed, I'll get back to the posts I meant to write last month, still hoping to complete the 30 posts I wanted to write in November by the end of this year. There is still lots of interesting physics to cover!

2013
Nov
26

So much for NaBloWriMo... ish

At the beginning of this month, you may remember, I set out to write 30 blog posts in 30 days. Well, there are four days left, and I'm barely a third of the way to my target of blog posts. It turns out that applying for postdoc positions will take up all your time, and then some, leaving precious little for blogging. Which is kind of a shame, because I had some good sciencey posts lined up.

Most of my postdoc application deadlines are coming up this week or early next week, so I have to prioritize those for now. To make it up to you, my reader(s), once I'm done with applications I'll keep going with all the posts I had wanted to write this month. With any luck, I can crank out all 30 by the end of December.

2013
Nov
01

National Blog Writing Month 2013

It's that time of year again! November, as you might have heard, is National Novel Writing Month. All around the US, amateur writers strive to create a 50,000 word novel in a month.

I'm no novelist, but I am a blogger, so in the past couple years I've been trying my own variant: 30 nontrivial blog posts in 30 days. So far, I haven't made it, but regardless, it's a great excuse to catch up on the blog posts I haven't made in the preceding months.

And this year, boy do I have a lot of them! I've been busy with other things since July or so, which means I didn't get to cover some of the great science that's been done since then. Things like

  • Nondetection of dark matter by the LUX experiment
  • Statistics of Tesla fires: are they really safer than gas cars?
  • The Mpemba effect, why hot water freezes faster than cold water
  • Could time be an artifact of quantum mechanics?
  • How the web is changing the way we do science
  • The role of gravity in determining cell size (and why that's interesting)

Plus, I promise at least one post on just what I've been up to these past four months that kept me from writing about other stuff. Complete with pretty pictures.

It's going to be a good month — I hope you'll come along for the ride!

2012
Dec
08

Wrapping up NaBloWriMo

If you've been watching my blog, you've noticed that my posting frequency has dropped off tremendously in the past week. That's mostly because I've been scrambling to finish a presentation on my research. It's now over, so in theory I have more time to make blog posts, but still I think it's past time to call National Blog Writing Month officially over.

Let's look back over the past 5 weeks and see how it went. Not counting this one, I managed to get in 25 blog posts, most of which were decidedly nontrivial. For fun, I decided to estimate a word count for each of these posts — now, I can't get an exact count easily because of the formatting, including math and especially pictures, but I can just run p.text_src.split() and it spits out some rough numbers. I want to get a sense of how this compares to the task of actually writing a 50000 word novel:

Total:17518 words. Not exactly a novel. That's okay though, how many NaNoWriMo novels are going to include equations and pretty pictures? Like this histogram of the word counts above (100-count bins up to 3500):

Histogram of word counts

Hmm... what if I try this with all my posts, since the beginning of this blog?

Histogram of all word counts

Looks exponential, maybe? I think one of this month's projects is going to be to figure out what distribution that is. :-)

2012
Nov
29

Checking in on NaBloWriMo

Back at the beginning of this month I set myself a goal: 30 nontrivial blog posts in 30 days, to coincide with National Novel Writing Month.

Now it's nearly the end of the month. Did I make it? Not even close — although it's the 29th of November, I've only written 22 posts total (well, now 23), several of which are decidedly trivial. Partly, though, that's because I've been sick for the past week. Being sick is very much not compatible with a strict writing schedule. Better to sleep to blog another day, I suppose.

Because I've been sick, I'm making the executive decision to extend NaBloWriMo for a few days into December. Probably not long enough to make it to the 30-post goal, but really, it's not like anyone (except me) cares about that anyway, and maybe it'll give me the incentive to put the finishing touches on some more interesting posts I've been working on.

2012
Nov
03

Local measurements: the Rosslyn escalator

On my way to (and from) China last month I passed through Rosslyn Metro station, which has the distinction of hosting the third longest escalator in the world.

Rosslyn escalatorHow long is it?

So long, you could... okay, I won't bore you. But seriously though: suppose I wanted to actually measure how long the escalator is? The obvious method is to pull out a measuring tape and run it along the length of the escalator, but that's hard without a helper.

What I need is a measurement method which is local: roughly speaking, something I can do using only objects within reach. Fortunately, physics provides such a method. I can (and did) time how long it takes to ride the escalator from one end to the other, then wait at the bottom for that much time and see how many steps passed by. Then the length of the escalator is just

\text{length} = \text{length per step}\times\frac{\text{steps}}{\text{second}}\times\text{time of ride}

On my way down, I timed the ride at 140 seconds. I didn't feel like waiting a full 2+ minutes to count steps (people would have thought it kind of weird, and I was running late as it was), but I did pause for 20 seconds and counted 21 steps slipping under the plate at the bottom of the escalator. And finally, I would estimate that each step corresponds to a length of about \SI{32}{cm} going diagonally downward, or \SI{20}{cm} of height. That makes the length of the escalator

\SI{32}{cm}\times \frac{\SI{21}{steps}}{\SI{20}{s}}\times \SI{140}{s} = \SI{47}{m}

or its height

\SI{32}{cm}\times \frac{\SI{21}{steps}}{\SI{20}{s}}\times \SI{140}{s} = \SI{29}{m}

That's \SI{96.5}{ft.}, which is quite close to the presumably correct value of \SI{97}{ft.} (from Wikipedia). Hooray, it works!

This might seem like I'm making a big deal out of nothing, and in this case I am, but the idea of a local measurement is very important in relativity, where you start out without even having a consistent definition of distance to use. In those situations, local measurements represent what each individual person (or really, observer) measures, in a way that is meaningful without having a globally consistent distance.

2012
Nov
01

"National" Blog Writing Month: Take 2

November is National Novel Writing Month, where both professional and amateur writers around the world try to write a 50000 word novel in a month. While it sounds like a fantastic goal, I would be terrible at it. Writing 50 thousand words on one topic would take me forever.

But I do have a blog, as you know if you are reading this, and last year I had the bright idea of doing a blogger's version of NaNoWriMo: 30 nontrivial blog posts in 30 days. Last year, it was a spectacular failure. So of course, I'm trying it again. Let's see how it goes!

2011
Nov
03

NaBloWriMo

Last night I noticed that I've posted something on this site every day for 5 days in a row. In comparison to my usual pattern of posting maybe once every two or three weeks, this feels pretty good. It's nice to see my site looking "dynamic" or whatever.

As it happens, this streak coincides with the start of National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo. The concept of NaNoWriMo is that you force yourself to write an entire novel between November 1 and November 30. (By the way, NaNoWriMo people: the idea is great, but you seriously picked the worst abbreviation I have ever seen.) Of course, I couldn't hope to write a novel in a month, but writing is writing, so I'm setting myself a goal of averaging one blog post per day for the entire month of November. National Blog Writing Month, I suppose. If nothing else, it'll be a good excuse to finish up some of the posts I've been meaning to make for ages. Let's see how this goes!