Archive for February, 2012

Happy Leap Day!

Happy leap day! I hope you are enjoying your extra day of the year. I suppose I should be thankful for one extra day, but I think the graduate school just shifted all the graduation deadlines forward to offset it. :p

A leap day is probably one of the most obvious and impacting timing corrections made on a regular basis. Since the Earth doesn’t have an orbit of exactly 365 days around the sun, our calendar would eventually get off course with the actual seasons (dictated by the Earth’s location in its orbit). Therefore, every four years we pop an extra day into the calendar to accommodate for the slow shift.

It’s always interesting to be reminded that the calendar isn’t our timing mechanism at all; it just  counts the “ticks.” Every “clock” has two parts: the part that provides constant and relatively consistent oscillations, and the part that keeps track of how many have gone by, generically called a counter. In an actual timepiece, the oscillations are given by a pendulum or a quartz oscillator, something that has constant cycles. The counter is the face of the clock, either hands or a digital interface that tells you where you are. But even then, you have to look at a calendar to see what day it is to know where you are in the overall Flow of Time. Of course, since we don’t know when “time zero” was, we are only measuring Flow of Time relative to some arbitrary start date, but it works well enough for timekeeping on the scale of Earth’s history, at least. It’s still mind-boggling, though…time seems so simple, yet it is so complex!

As I mentioned in my last post, my “time counter,” the calendar, indicates that March is tomorrow and that I am gung-ho about pushing to the end. Monday and Tuesday were quite good this week, but today I’ve hit a bit of a wall. I am sick of the writing and don’t care about the data, so that certainly doesn’t motivate me to keep going. But I have to, regardless of how I feel. I just feel so crappy about it all. Hopefully I’ll have a change of heart soon and not be so pessimistic, but I still have to plow ahead despite my temporary existential quandry.

Six weeks from tomorrow…



Marching on

Yesterday after church I met with one of my good friends, and we talked and prayed about the things going on in our lives. We both have some major things coming up, so we both appreciate the moral support! After discussing how February was somewhat passive for both of us, we both had the same philosophy going into next month…being aggressive and intentional to confront the obstacles ahead. I said we were going to march forward in March, and we both laughed and thought that was the perfect watchword for both of us.

The first thing that came into my mind was the line in La Marseillaies, the French national anthem, that says, marchon! Marchon! That is, “let’s march, let’s march,” as into battle. Le jour de gloire est arrivé…”the day of glory has arrived!” Well, my day of attaining this PhD has arrived, and I’m going to march toward it with intention.

I really, really don’t enjoy the writing, the revising, the searching for data, the worrying that I’ll have to go take more data, the arranging of dates and rooms, the constant weight on my shoulders. It’s not surprising that I let myself get distracted from writing and getting things done…it’s uncomfortable, and I want to divert that feeling, even momentarily. However, I don’t have much time now…just six weeks until the defense, and I have to have the thesis ready for my committee before that. I could continue to shy away from the discomfort and difficulty, or I can decide to meet it head-on and just get the thing done. I am serious; it really is a struggle for me to stay focused, but I really have to pull out some major willpower to overcome this constant urge that I’m always giving into. I just have to.

While primarily referring to a greater spiritual struggle, I feel this Scripture also relates when thinking about a temporary burden to be soon surpassed by something much greater..not even just a degree, per se, but the personal change this whole thing is making inside of me:

2 Corinthians 4:17: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”

This Scripture also comes to mind–it uses the imagery of a runner who makes one last push with all his energy toward the finish line and the prize:

Philippians 3:14: “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

The message here? Just like La Marseillaise…..march on, press on, the day of glory has arrived!

The urge to purge

In the last two weeks, I’ve been overpowered by an incredible urge to purge. I guess this is the time of year many folks get spring fever with an increased desire for spring cleaning and organizing the house, and I am no different. I find this to be a very common feeling every year, so I’m not surprised that I’ve got the desire to toss and scrub lately.

I have made quite a bit of progress so far. First, I pulled the pile of clothing donations out of the bottom of the closet where it’s been residing for maybe a year or two and got it ready to actually donate. DH and I then went through our remaining items and culled a few more, and I hit a couple of dresser drawers, though I probably need to do more. Now everything is ready for us to drop them off when we get a chance.

Last weekend, we hit the basement. First to go were the accumulation of cardboard boxes that got broken down and tossed in the recycle bin. Next, we attacked the would-be garage sale pile. Normally, our HOA organizes a neighborhood-wide garage sale day each summer; almost everyone has it on the same day to maximize advertising and customers. We had a little pile going for last year, but it never happened. We really didn’t have enough stuff to have our own without mooching off the traffic generated by a whole neighborhood. Thus it sat there all winter, presumably waiting for a chance again this summer and accumulating more items, but I finally decided it was just becoming a mental burden. Most of it was junk anyway, so we recycled or threw out the dross and will take the rest of the better household goods with us when we donate clothes. There are a few items still left to deal with, but hopefully it’ll get completely done while I’m still on roll.

Before Christmas, I went through my stash of knitting yarns. I had to be honest with myself and set aside the stuff I knew I would never use. I hoped to donate it to groups who were knitting hats and blankets for the homeless, and I even contacted two separate groups through Craig’s List, but neither one of them ever responded. Therefore, a couple of weeks ago I decided to just give the yarn to my friend who runs a special-needs daycare; she was very excited to get it, and I know her kids will love playing with it. I’m glad it has gone to someone who will use and appreciate it.

I already mentioned how we sold the drum set on Craig’s List, and we’ve listed a few other things as well, including my old acoustic guitar; I bought a new acoustic with a built-in electric pickup in it, so I really don’t need two anymore. I have two other items of some value I’d like to list, so we’ll see if I can get rid of those for a few bucks. There are also other specific groups of items around the house that I would really like to sort through and reduce, such as old electronics, books, and home decor items.

But for me,  getting rid of stuff isn’t always easy. If it’s junk that I know has no value to me or anyone else, I do not hesitate to recycle it, or toss it if I have to. If it’s something that has real obvious value, like a guitar or drum set, I’d really prefer to try to get a little cash out of it, even if it’s not a lot…just something. Even if it’s moderately sentimental, I can usually part with it eventually, even if it takes a couple of years of debating and not tossing it. And I certainly don’t feel guilty about keeping some sentimental items, of course. But if it has some value, but it’s not obvious who might want it…that’s when I can get bogged down. I know many organizations will take donations of clothing or household items, but what about books? Someone might be interested in reading it, but who? How do I find them? There are groups out there that help facilitate the redistribution of this kind of stuff from one person to another, helping those with something find those who want it. Freecycle is something I’m looking into, and there are also book trading clubs online. Lots of nice options, but I obviously don’t have a lot of time or energy to devote to it, at least at this point. Hopefully I’ll find the right balance of how to get rid of stuff during my current urge to purge…if it has to go to the landfill, fine. But the efficient engineer in me greatly desires to repurpose what I can.

Finally, while I am focused on removing things from the home, I’ve found it important to think about how stuff comes into it in the first place. I think it would be fascinating to thoroughly log the intake and outflow of physical stuff through our doors for a week, just to give myself an idea of the sheer volume of grocery and stuff trafficking at our house. :p Groceries are probably the majority of things that come in and associated food paraphernalia that go out, but other household items and impulse purchases can be easy to overlook or ignore. I certainly don’t believe that I shouldn’t purchase something fun or useful once in a while, but in order to keep situations like the one I’m in from happening in the future, I should be more conscious of “do I really need that?” I think DH and I have actually been pretty good about this, but maybe our one downfall would be crafting items…well, you know. It’s a hobby…and maybe the annual spring cleaning is another hobby of mine, too. :p Gotta leave something to go through every February.

Sometimes, the truth Hertz

I know, two blog posts in one day, gasp! But I just found out that today is the 155th birthday of Heinrich Hertz, German physicist and one of the pioneers in electromagnetism and frequency. You probably recognize that we honor him with the unit of frequency, the Hertz (one cycle per second). He was the first to conclusively provethe existence of electromagnetic waves and did many experiments that shape our modern understanding of the field. His discoveries would later enable development of such technologies as wireless telegraph, radio, and eventually television. He died at the untimely age of 36 from Wegener’s granulomatosis.

Google has honored him today with a Google Doodle on their search page.

I should also note that he obtained his PhD at the age of 23. Overachiever.

And while we’re also talking about important birthdays on this date, we also give a shout-out to George Washington, whose 280th birthday is today and was observed on Presidents’ Day on Monday. And finally, lest we tire of old geezers, happy birthday to my best friend Laura! I’m so glad I’m not the only 30-year-old anymore. 😉

So, is there cake somewhere?


Last night, I had a grad student nightmare. I was in the physics building on campus (something that doesn’t happen very often), and I was checking my department mailbox (also doesn’t happen very often). To my horror I discovered about nine manilla envelopes full of students’ homework assignments sitting there. Evidently, at the beginning of the semester I had gotten a TA appointment grading papers for a physics class, yet I was completely unaware of this obligation. The professor had just been stuffing the envelops full of assignments into my mailbox and for some reason never contacted me in the meantime when I wasn’t returning them (or even looking at them, as he could have plainly seen from them piling up in my box). I was absolutely horrified…first of all, the idea of failing at an obligation, albeit one that I didn’t know I had and didn’t even ask for, makes me cringe. But even more horrifying was the fact that I had to somehow grade all these papers this semester AND finish writing my thesis so I could graduate. Definitely a nightmare if I’ve ever seen one!

Thankfully, it was just a dream. I certainly didn’t volunteer for a TA, and I know for a fact that I casually scanned the TA assignment email this semester, and my name wasn’t accidentally on it. :p Plus, no professor I know of would be so timid or negligent regarding a TA who was not performing his or her duty.

In the real, waking world, I finished a revision of a chapter. It’ll go back to my advisor at least once for further polishing, but probably not for a while. I’ll just let it sit for a bit. Now I’ve run out of distractions for this data chapter I’ve been piddling with for weeks, and it’s time to, as they say, git ‘er done. I’m almost certainly going to have to retake some data for it, but my advisor agrees with my assessment that it just needs to be fleshed out with words and structure, and any additional measurements can be shoved in later. I might even propose a reckless goal for getting a super-rough draft of it done today. Possible? Sure, I think it’s possible. Reasonable? Probably not. But hey, as I’ve said many times, a goal is mostly for just having something to work for, even if you don’t accomplish it exactly on time. I’ve got a busy morning, but we’ll see how on task I can be this afternoon. Wish me luck!

Physics Grad Student, Defined

I’ve seen this new meme floating around the internet recently, and I couldn’t help the burning urge to make one of my own. A few items are a bit specific to me, but I hope the sentiment can be appreciated by other physics graduate students. 😉

Momentum into the weekend

The week ended on a good note; while it started slow, I managed to pick up speed through the end of today. I never thought I’d say this, but too bad it’s a three-day weekend. Ok, I typed that and I still can’t believe I said it. :p

Yes, Monday is Presidents’ Day, yet another federal holiday that I technically get off of work. In fact, this is one of the few that DH actually gets off, too. While it’s always good to rest so I don’t go absolutely crazy, I probably don’t need to rest three whole days. I’m taking some work with me to try to do at home, and I’ll probably come in anyways on Monday. Hopefully my new-found momentum will carry over. I guess I can have vacations and holidays when I am done.

But regardless, it is the weekend, and I do have plans for some fun. Saturday night we’re having dinner with my fellow cohorts in pain, I mean, my other two friends who are frantically working to finish up their PhDs soon. According to the wife of one of them, we all look like we need a break. 😉 I also have super nice dinner plans with DH tonight. We’re celebrating belated anniversary, Valentine’s day, and some good news we got this week. Can anybody say prime rib?

Speaking of prime rib, DH is on the way to pick me up right now, so I’m off. Hope you all have a great weekend, too!