Archive for September, 2011

It was nice while it lasted

Today, the month of September draws to a close. I can’t believe how fast the year is flying now. Of course, as soon as I start writing my thesis and they discover (maybe) faster than light travel this was bound to happen. >rolls eyes< Keeping on task is absolutely necessary. I think I did okay overall this month, but I definitely hit a much better stride starting this week. This is the pace to meet or beat, I’d say.

Also in September I did a pantry stash challenge that I told you all about. Since the month is over, I guess it’s time for a final update! So, I did pretty well at finally using up a few things lingering in the pantry, like some boxes of crackers that got shoved in the back or some drink mixes that only had a small amount in the bottom. I also ended up finishing off some staple items, like sugar and cooking oil, that needed to be replaced. That’s fine, since I do use them regularly and keep a rolling inventory. However, there are still a few things that I used but didn’t completely use up. I did make some quinoa again, but I still just don’t care for it. I will try to be motivated to cook it and use it in some stuff so as not to waste it, but I don’t think I’ll be purchasing more in the future. Also in the freezer I have lots of meat left, some of which I just never know how to cook. DH and I agree that a lot of it we can turn into ground meat, which I use constantly. That will make it exponentially more useful and appreciated. Maybe this is something we can focus on in October. So, since I didn’t completely get through all the lingering stuff, this will be ongoing event after the official challenge is over, but at least now it’s in the forefront of my mind and I can be intentional about it.

The other part of the challenge was to reduce grocery spending for the entire month. I may have barely squeaked in under my monthly average, but not by much. I did great at first, but what really hampered it was stocking up on regular items that I found on super sale. It would be irresponsible to not purchase an item I’ll absolutely use when after sales and coupons it’s a good savings, even if that means putting up the cash (even if it’s overall less) upfront. Over the course of months, my spending will gradually decrease with this method, but it didn’t help for this challenge. Oh well; at least in principle I was successful in saving money somehow. 馃槈

To finish out the month and begin the next one, this weekend I will be on a women’s retreat with my church. It’s always a great weekend, plus it’s wonderful to go up into the mountains during the fall, but since I am involved with the planning and the program, I sometimes feel like I need a retreat after the retreat! Regardless, I do look forward to it, although the preparation and the being gone for the weekend has put a little strain on some tasks I need to get done around the house. But with some planning and rearranging I was actually able to find time for some of those tasks.

As I stated on Monday, two of the urgent tasks are completion of two baby blankets for friends who are due very, very soon. I’m happy to say that one of those got put in the mail just this morning; whether it will be delivered before the baby is unsure and totally not important at this point. 馃槈 For the second one, all the pieces have been knit, and now聽 have to stitch these ten pieces together. Seaming takes a surprising amount of time, but I finished one of the nine seams last night and I brought some to work on during my free time this weekend. I will certainly be able to finish it before next weekend, which is the baby shower and thus the deadline.

Well, good-bye September. You were nice while you lasted…are you sure you need to go so soon?

Britney Spears’ Guide to Semiconductor Physics

I have spent the last three days slogging my way through the basics of semiconductor physics and the operation of semiconductor photodiodes, such as those I have been using in my research. I’ve actually gotten about three thesis pages written on it, and that doesn’t include the diagrams I’ve made to illustrate these structures. More importantly, however, I really feel like I’ve absorbed the information and have a good physical understanding of the model and how it works. That was the point, after all!

However, I can’t BELIEVE that I forgot about Britney Spears’ Guide to Semiconductor Physics! I had stumbled onto this page a long, long time ago, but it just came up again as I was searching around the internet for information. I suppose that, in an effort to make learning about p-n junctions and donor atoms more fun, the author of said website decided to integrate pictures of a young Britney Spears into his (or her?) explanation of various aspects of semiconductors.

Maybe it’s the pictures of Brit, or maybe it’s just the fact that I like to corroborate information from many different sources, but I absolutely intend to read through this website! Oops, I learned it again??

Oh my gosh;聽 looking at these pictures of Britney Spears makes me feel so old!!

Slipping away like a greased pig

Behold, yet another beginning of the week! I’m finding it a bit difficult to stay focused so far today, as I’ve had numerous Monday items to take care of. Hopefully most of the little fires are put out now and I can turn my attention to the thesis. My writing goal for the week is to study the basics of semiconductor photodiodes and write those associated sections of my thesis. It seems like it could be a relatively quick and simple task, but it also seems like it might be tricky and long, too. I think I just want to get some words on the page with a few good references, and I can edit it later on with the rest of the thesis if needed. We’ll see how it goes.

On top of constantly thinking about my thesis and how utterly fast the last half of the year in which to write it is flying by, I have a lot of other projects and events going on in life. It feels like so much that I have to stay on top all of it of lest they slip away like a greased pig before I realize they’re gone. I’m already thinking about Christmas and the preparations for that, plus I have my birthday and our wedding anniversary and Thanksgiving and, well, you get the idea. This is on top of four or five smaller craft and home projects I’m dealing with at the moment. If I can just make a push to get through those smaller projects, I am going to feel a lot less stressed out. Plus, I can make the conscious decision to NOT take on any more projects for the rest of the year. There are only so many hours, people. I don’t have a huge amount of free time this week, so I can’t be too optimistic to finish them all. However, my goal for the week is to finish one of them; namely, I have two baby blankets on the knitting needles, and if I could get one of them completely finished, that would be a huge burden lifted. They are both only a few hours away each from completion, so this is not an unreasonable goal, but I do have to be intentional about it.

I am also going to be gone for a couple of days this weekend, so that is contributing to the feelings of urgency and stress. Besides spending my free time this week getting ready for that, I won’t have the normal weekend time to take care of the other projects going on. However, DH is back from his trip now, so he has been a great help getting the household tasks knocked out. Between the two of us, I think we can make it through the next week or two and get back to a calmer pace through the end of the year. It’s all about making your decision ahead of time to NOT do more stuff! Once our current obligations and tasks are complete, I intend to decide not to do a lot of things the next three months. I think it’s going to be a very, very good thing.

So that’s the status update for this week. I’m optimistic for some writing progress, so I guess I’d better stop writing the blog and start writing on my thesis instead!

Faster than the speed of light?

You might have seen an article about it somewhere in the last day or so, but such a controversial topic in physics can’t be neglected here! Evidently, researchers at CERN, a high-energy research facility near Geneva, have observed that a type of neutrino, a super small sub-atomic particle, beamed to a receiver facility in Italy is actually making the trip about 60 nanoseconds sooner than a particle traveling at the speed of light. This means that these particles appear to be traveling faster than the speed of light–a claim that, if true, would rock the foundations of the last century of modern physics.

Einstein’s theory of relativity is fundamentally based on the assertion that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. To do so has multiple ramifications, the most tantalizing of which is that of time travel. While we shouldn’t be dusting off our Delorians yet due to this announcement, if this claim is proven to be a reality, not only will proponents of time travel be somewhat vindicated at least in principle, the whole of modern physics as understood by 20th and 21st century scientists must be completely reviewed and possibly revised.

Rest assured, however, that nothing can be definitively concluded just from this claim alone. This was a phenomenon observed multiple times over three years by one group, evidently solid enough for them to come forward to the scientific community as a whole as if to say, “well, what now? Let’s all scratch our heads a bit over this one” while not making a bold, radical claim lest a reasonable explanation comes up and they look foolish (which has happened a few times before in science history!). Now that it’s out there, many groups of researchers will put their efforts to ferreting out what’s actually going on, and maybe one day we’ll have an explanation of the matter.

History is peppered with many scientific discoveries that were utterly shocking and seemingly unthinkable at the time. Claims that the earth is round, not flat. The idea that it rotated around something, not all things around it.聽 Quantum mechanics. Every time, the models we had constructed and that worked for us for centuries, even millennia, were shown to be inadequate as new breakthroughs in technology allowed us to dig deeper into realms never before explored. This could very well be another of these events; however, it’s just as likely to be a false alarm. Either way, rigorous experimentation and corroboration of evidence will eventually show one way or the other whether the speed of light is the ultimate limit in the universe, or if the rules are, indeed, made to be broken.

A possible solution to spam texting?

This summer I blogged about one of my biggest pet peeves in the entire world…text messaging. Not that I have a problem with texting, but I have a problem with the lack of control over incoming messages, particularly since DH and I don’t have texting plans and are charged when any doofus sends us some junk text.

In the last three days, I have gotten four unsolicited, spam text messages from who the heck knows who. All I can see are dollar signs and all I can hear is the ca-ching! of the cash register every time one of them comes across. I know it’s only a few cents, but it’s the principle that I am charged for something I can’t control and don’t want that really irritates me. HOWEVER, spurred on by this annoying increase in text spam, I did what any self-respecting twenty-first century woman would do….I googled!

After hearing from a friend who had his texting shut off completely because he had no other recourse to prevent unwanted incoming messages, I didn’t hold out much hope. But I guess I had some shred of hope since I thought it a worthy enough topic to search. To the contrary, I actually came up with a possible solution! This is so astounding to me that I just have to share this with you all in hopes that it can bring even one other person relief from this frustration.

Here are the two links that I clicked on that talked about this problem:

How to聽 stop SMS text spam…..from theinternetpatrol.com

How do you block annoying text message (SMS) spam?….from howtogeek.com

The first one I read, well, first. There I learned that most spammy texts are actually sent from the internet to your phone via a special email address that is something like yourcellphonenumber@yourcellcarrier.com (check the article to see the actual formats for your cell carrier). Instead of blocking all texts altogether, some carriers give you the ability to completely block all SMS messages that are generated from the internet. That means some spammy bot sending out a thousand texts to people from a computer can be dissed, while your friend messaging you from her phone can still go through. This article tells you to call your carrier and get them to set this up for you and also complain until they remove the charges for those unwanted texts (if that works). It also claims you can report text spam to the FCC, although it’s debatable whether that will actually make much difference.

The good news is that this blocking option is available for AT&T and Verizon customers. The bad news is, as far as I can tell, Sprint and T-Mobile aren’t much help to you聽 here.

The second article describes a few ways you can attack the problem based on which phone or carrier you have. Since I have an iPhone, there isn’t much that Apple is going to let me do from my phone to filter my incoming messages; Androids seem to have some options in that regard. My option was to go through my carrier, which is AT&T.

So, if you have any phone on AT&T, here’s what you can do:聽 first, go to mymessages.wireless.att.com and set up an account (even if you already have an AT&T account, this is a separate service, for some strange reason). Then, under Blocking Options, check the two boxes for blocking all incoming texts and multimedia messages coming to you as an email. Also select “Block” to prevent messages coming to you as yourcellphonenumber@yourcellcarrier.com.

Now, it might be possible that someone you know does want to be able to send you texts as emails (it is, indeed, cheaper for them as they don’t have to pay for an outgoing email as a text). What you can do is set up an alias; instead of yourcellphonenumber@yourcellcarrier.com, go to message options and create an alias, preferably something sneaky that won’t be picked up by spam rovers, so that you can be reached at yoursneakyalias@yourcellcarrier.com instead. If you have bots as friends, be sure not to give them your alias! It’s probably okay to give it to your grandmother or something.

I am subscribed to a few legitimate text alert systems, such as one through the university that alerts students and staff to campus incidents, closures, and the like. For such a large listserve, they probably do their sending via emails such as I just blocked. I do, however, get actual emails to my student address, so the next time I get one of those I can check to see if I got the text as well. I check emails pretty often, so the text alert isn’t as big of a deal, but if it doesn’t work I can figure out how to change my options at that time.

I promptly took these actions just now, so we will see how it goes. To be honest, I don’t usually get that many spammy texts, but I’m not a fan of the ones I do get. And given the recent influx of text spam, I wonder if I am now on somebody’s list or something, in which case I hope this works immediately. Maybe they were just out of the blue, too. At any rate, I’ll have to update if it turns out to be an abysmal failure.

I am also waiting impatiently for Apple to release their new iOs5, which claims to have iPhone-to-iPhone free texting capability. So many people we would consider texting with do have iPhones, so that will be a huge and awesome help to us. Still waiting, though.

Well, I hope that this information helps someone out there who was as annoyed as I was about text spam. If you have success, let me know, and also spread the word to others so we aren’t all helpless minions of our cell phone companies! Oh, what am I saying. I’m as addicted to my phone as the next guy; I’ll be in their clutches forever now. 馃槈

Easy Peasy

It’s Monday again, and it’s back to work for the week. Last week, a group of us began working on this joint experiment I described last week. Of course, nothing in science is ever easy, so it took longer to get started than expected and then we ran into some problems we couldn’t quite ferret out before the end of Friday. It appears that we’ll be taking another stab at it this afternoon, though I can think of much more interesting things to do than stand around watching other people try to decide if 60 Hz line noise is leaking into the circuit somewhere. Some of those things might involve writing a little more on my thesis, though I can’t honestly ascribe the quality of being interesting to that activity, either. Maybe “directly useful” instead? :p

Well, at any rate. The goal for the week is to, hopefully, complete this measurement, though it’s possible it might take a little more time. The group of us has also made quite a few measurements with the new diodes, and it appears to be time to gather our results and present them to the group who manufactured the devices. This won’t be my direct responsibility, but I think I can help organize and motivate getting that project started this week. As far as the thesis, I think a small and reasonable goal for the week is to finish putting references from my earlier paper into the LaTex bibliography format, or BibTex. It’s kind of like EndNote, if you’re familiar with that. Basically, I have one large text file with separate, labeled entries for every reference I will use in my thesis. Then, when I am writing my thesis and need to cite an article, I just call the label right in the text, run BibTex when I compile the file, and it automatically sucks the information from the BibTex file and chronologically numbers all the references in the thesis without my having to sort out which one I used first, etc. Then it automatically generates the bibliography at the end of the thesis. Easy peasy. The hardest part is inputting all the references into one enormous file, but I prefer that kind of busy work to actually reading the references and writing about them in the thesis!聽 It is a good project to work on between lab issues.

At home, DH has been gone since last Thursday and won’t return until Saturday or so. It’s not too bad being by myself, even if the dog and I drive each other crazy after a while. However, I do miss him. I particularly miss discussing things with him and getting his opinions and perspectives because he is in the middle of nowhere and has no access to phone or internet at all. So, when something stupid or amusing or frustrating happens, I can’t just immediately nudge, email, call, or message him to get his reaction as I normally do (and take for granted). I guess it’s amazing how much meaning and perspective I derive from little things that happen day to day just by his response to them. I don’t think that’s silly, or that I’m being weakly dependent upon some other human being, as some schools of thought might imply from my seeming dependence on another. I conversely believe that it adds a whole new level of context and intimacy to life to be that close to someone else and building one life that links the two separate experiences together. Yes, I am capable of making my own life and decisions, but part of being married is making that life with two as one.

All that to say, I would like for DH to hike up a mountain somewhere and find one or two bars of cell signal and call me sometime. Although, typically when he does call after a long absence I never know what to say and thus get annoyed with myself (and, unreasonably, with him for not calling when I actually had something to say :p).

Finally, after much contemplation, I have decided to scale back my posts from every day to three times a week. It does take time and effort to put together a quality blog post (not that every single one is as thoughtfully crafted as some of them ;)), and since I am now dedicating more time to writing my actual thesis, it seems reasonable that I should pull back a bit in this area to accommodate more time for that work. No worries, though; I will still keep you abreast on all the fascinating happenings from around the lab and my progress on my weekly goals. I might even sneak an extra post in if I find I have something particularly of interest to share. But do stay tuned as I start writing in earnest; who knows what sort of new challenges pop up about which I will have to discuss and rant!

“Incontrovertible”

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Adjective: Not able to be denied or disputed: “incontrovertible proof”.

*******************

Today I saw a news headline about a Nobel Laureate in Physics. Even without yesterday’s events, this headline would definitely have caught my eye any day. I was very much compelled to read this article (linked here for your reference).

Dr. Ivar Giaever, 1973 recipient of the prize for investigation of tunneling phenomenon in semiconductors, announced his resignation from the American Physical Society because of its autocratic public stance regarding climate change. APS, the self-proclaimed representative of physicists to the “masses,” in 2008 passed a public statement definitively describing the society’s stance, and therefore by association the stance of every member of the society, toward man-induced climate change. The society avers climate change to be “incontrovertibly” linked to human influence; that is, man-made climate change is gospel truth, completely proven and inarguable fact.

Well, it’s one thing for there to be facts. However, as any group of physicists should know, rarely is anything that we know “incontrovertible.” Many ancient scientists knew many “incontrovertible” facts that were, with advances in technology, later proven wrong. Even quantum mechanics is constantly being refined; that’s why it’s still a theory, not a law. It takes a LOT of evidence over many, many years and consensus of the scientific body as a whole to agree that a theory can become a physical law.

Plus, it’s fundamental to understand and remember that science is about making observations and then making reasonable interpretations of the data. Observations (often strings of number data) are taken objectively, but each scientist has a lens through which he subjectively interprets this data, being his understanding of a physical model or, rarely but unavoidably, based on what he wants the answer to be. This is why collaboration and consensus of a large group is very important; it keeps those with an agenda about heated topics from pushing an idea, not a reliable scientific model. However, those with agendas can, and have many times in the past, usurped the voice of dissenters and thus mislead society for centuries.

The problem is, man-made climate change is NOT one of those theories. I am not out to prove one way or the other that it is or is not man-made exclusively in part. I only mean to argue that there is yet neither enough evidence nor consensus for this to be the case. There is an ever-widening rift in the scientific community among those who study climate change; that is not consensus. Plus, every few months it seems we hear another instance, be it substantiated or no (most often it is) of someone falsifying data or making erroneous conclusions from data to support one side or another. We may study it further and find that it is definitively man-made or, more likely, not at all or some superposition of natural and man-made elements. But as of today in 2011, I cannot be convinced that this is an “incontrovertible” effect.

APS put their statement to a vote in 2008, to much consternation of the body as a whole. I know, because I am a member of APS and have been since I was a senior undergraduate seven years ago. Now, I am still a meager graduate student, but I am not completely stupid. I am learning the scientific process so that I can become a solid scientist and reliable researcher. When I found out that APS felt the need to make a society-wide statement on climate change, it didn’t feel right to me. When I read the statement, I felt completely taken aback. I heartily voted no and left them my opinion about their opinion. However, the tide pushed it through.

This stance has not been met with rainbows and cupcakes, however. As shown in this article, I was not the only one who objected to this. In 2010, after initial adoption of the statement, the APS made an addendum to the statement that tried to make everyone happy but didn’t really change anything about its stance at all. As I mentioned yesterday, I consider Nobel Laureates to be good company. Dr. Giaever as well as other senior members of APS fought vehemently against such a public statement, saying that this topic is nowhere near being one that constitutes “incontrovertible” science. Hence, in a public statement of his own, he has now resigned from the American Physical Society.

I salute Dr. Giaever. I have also, many times in my association with APS, have wanted to resign over a number of their strong opinions that they force upon all of their members, blatantly calling out any who might think otherwise to be wrong. Sometimes this is a very subtle thing, but much of it is just the culture of the society and exudes from pretty much every periodical they publish that I, as a member, am a recipient of. I am now to the point where some monthly missives of theirs go immediately into the recycle bin because I recognize it as being the same uncompromising propaganda with no real edifying value. They preach diversity and inclusiveness so that we don’t “miss out” on the viewpoints of different cultures and backgrounds, yet anyone who has a “deviant” outlook is berated and practically humiliated.

I also do not appreciate the occasional, very subtle allusions to all outside of the society as the “unwashed masses” of non-physicists to whom we have an onus of delivering knowledge and understanding. What about those who are not physicists, but chemists, biologists, and engineers? While I do think that a respected body of scientists giving expert analysis on matters of worldly import to those in government and society at large is a great service, I do not feel that the APS gets it entirely correct.

While, again, I respect the intent of a society of physics reaching out to politics and the public, being so narrow-minded and then claiming to represent all physicists is egregious. I now have half a mind to resign myself, although the departure of a mere grad student who probably didn’t know anything anyway would mean little to anybody. It’s entirely possible that I will discontinue my membership when it comes up again . I get nothing out of it than those questionable, uninteresting periodicals anyway.

At any rate, I thing Dr. Giaever did a great thing by standing up so. He will probably face ridicule and derision from his colleagues, but with the respect that a Nobel Prize garners as well as what I assume is a career of solid scientific work, it will be hard to call him out too much. I hope this is a message to many that we do need to be careful with our statements and present factual, helpful statements, even if we do have to say we can’t make a definitive final conclusion at the moment. It’s okay not to know everything!