Semester Update

October 7, 2008

It has been a busy, but unexciting semester so far. As I mentioned earlier, I am taking a lab and one course for credit, auditing 3 others and attempting to start up some new research on the side. In the copious spare time that remains, I also am trying to manage my family.

The hardest part is trying to keep tabs on the girls. For a change, all my classes are in the afternoon, so I don’t need to dash out the door early in the morning for a 9 am class. The tradeoff, though, is that I am not around when their school lets out 4 days out of the week, which is tough on the whole family.

The first lab report (Zeeman Effect) has been handed in – it should do well (the draft version got high marks). The second lab (Plasma Diagnosis) is in progress, but has been very troublesome so far. Tomorrow is the last reasonable effort I can make to collect the needed data – report due in one week!

My first (only?) mid-term exam is next Thursday, in Astrophysics. I am somewhat worried about that one – the instructor classifies it as a hard exam. This is the professor who thinks the homework is fairly easy, but it invariably causes stress for most of the class. At least we can bring a sheet of paper with whatever we want on it – and I can write in very tiny print.

My research is totally slacking – I’m supposed to be learning how the outer layers of the sun work hydrodynamically (in order to assist with other work I’m done – I’m not actually studying stars for this research). I’ve just been so swamped lately – in part due to an out-of-town medical emergency (now passed – hi, Mom!) which chewed up most of a week of mental time, in part due to me being a slacker still – that I have not taken the time to truly absorb the material. I need to get my butt in gear before he casts me off.

Right now, I am watching the 2nd Obama/McCain debate instead of doing homework or studying for the probability/uncertainty quiz I have tomorrow, but at least I’m not on the Xbox. And where are McCain’s manners? He ignores Obama while the latter is talking and various other rude moments tonight and throughout the campaign. The worst, though, is totally blowing off Obama’s hand shake offer at the end – he tapped Obama in the back to get his attention, and when Obama turned around with his hand out for a shake, McCain looked at it and turned away! Obama recovered well and turned to McCain’s wife (who did accept the hand) and then continued his business. Manners, Mr. McCain, manners – you must be civil to the Democratic nominee to the highest elected position in the country, even if you despise everything about him (as he must be to you, as the Republican nominee).

This Friday, I am taking a photo workshop with Washington Photo Safari (monuments at night), which could be cool (with the offset problem of possibly getting me too interested in photography again – like I have the time!).

Finally, I am attempting to keep up my training in krav maga at least twice a week – I was on a good roll until a few weeks ago when I lost two weeks in a row. Now I have to get my butt in gear again. I might add on a second type of training (perhaps muay thai) just so I can open up another night or two to work out – the krav sessions just don’t fit my schedule well this semester.


Warning: Don’t Vote!

October 2, 2008

Seriously… go register now. And please vote.


Gilbert and Sullivan meet the Boojums

September 21, 2008

Jim Easter has done a wonderful adaptation of a great song. (h/t to Tom Levenson)



September 10, 2008

The import from Blogspot to WordPress stripped all my inline videos. I have been putting them back in where I thought about it (Guitar Heroes and Mickey at Sea and Element Song), but if you read any old posts and I appear to refer to something not there, let me know, please! Of course, now the problem is that YouTube often shows “We’re sorry, this video no is longer available!” for inline videos, but the problem is on their end, not mine! If that happens, you can click on the up arrow (lower right corner), then on the symbol that appears, get the url directly and go straight there.


Large Hadron Collider to Destroy the Earth!

September 6, 2008

Well, not really.

However, it amazes me-although it should not-just how many folks apparently believe it will. Miniature black holes, strangelets, vacuum bubbles and more are expected by doomsayers to pop out and obliterate our world (and, occasionally, the universe).

It is all nonsense.

Even at full power, which the LHC won’t get to until next year, the power of the large hadron collider pales in comparison to the experiment the universe performs on us every single day. So far, cosmic rays striking the earth have performed the equivalent of about one hundred thousand lifetime runs of the LHC on us and, unless I missed a memo, we have not gone poof yet.

A blog on tgdaily.com today mentioned that now LHC scientists, including a Nobel laureate, are receiving death threats against starting up this marvelous machine. Dr. Brian Cox, as usual, has the perfect response. There are many sources explaining how not-at-risk we are here, although Wikipedia, as usual, has a good summary page on it.


Song of the Elements

September 4, 2008

George Hrab from Geologic Records (and frontman for the Philadelphia Funk Authority) also puts out a weekly podcast. He is also an excellent skeptic and freethinker. His music and references are frequently beyond me (I guess I am within the “hopelessly behind the times” part of life now), but I still find much of it enjoyable.

In any case, his July 3rd podcast #72 was awesome. For some time he had been writing little ditties about various elements but finally took the time to finish the entire periodic table. It’s a very humorous listen and some of the songs are very well done! (Others are just plain silly.)

I have only listened through it a single time so far (more times will happen), so I don’t have a favorite yet, although zinc’s response to an earlier song was funny as were the tunes for silicon and uranium. Generally SFW, although a couple cuss words here and there. Would be great for children if not for those!

Update: As Mike reminded me, Tom Lehrer did a single Elements song, going through all the elemental names within a single, somewhat known tune. Much fun as well!

Speaking of NSFW, below is his video for “Out of My Mind” off his Interrobang album. The song is very good and the video is… technically very interesting. Get over any hangups you have and watch the whole thing.


Hardware Hell

September 1, 2008

Still attempting to recover from my MacBook’s harddrive crash a couple weeks ago (to the – hopefully temporary – loss of all the vacation pictures from the summer), I began the process of setting up a backup system for our data this weekend.

The basic concept, stolen in its entirety from Mike Fischer, is that a Fedora server running in the basement will pull incremental data backups, using rsnapshot, from our laptops and sundry other machines onto a 1TB drive every four hours (one month expiration). That server, via CrashPlan, will copy the latest incremental snapshot across the street to the similarly-setup Fischer server (and possibly other locations) every day.

That is the basic plan. Simple, right?

So, first thing to do is create an install disc for Fedora. That should be easy. Except, apparently, my DVD-RW drive in the desktop no longer can write DVDs. (It writes CDs just fine, but this installer is 3.3GB in size.) In frustration, I head over to the old game machine (which will become the basement server) and turn it on to check for various functionalities. First thing I see is a drive failure notice. ARGH! No solutions found and cannot get past the message (found out today it is possible to get by it – it’s not a catastrophic failure, just a S.M.A.R.T. warning). Much time lost through nearly 2 am until I give up for the night. Next day, I try the DVD writing again with predictable continued failure. So I move to my Mac. Unfortunately, that doesn’t have a DVD-writeable drive, only CDs.

Time for Plan B – use the NetInstaller CD for Fedora and keep the entire image on my MyBook (the only USB device I have that’s big enough). Except… after a couple more hours… I finally realize that my Mac’s DVD drive is essentially hosed and won’t write anything. During all the retries, I cart all the hardware into the basement and set it up (hoping for magic to happen and make it all work). Eventually, thanks to Mike’s brilliant idea, I try burning the disc on Sue’s machine and finally succeed in creating a net install disc.

Now I head back to the basement server and plug things in to try to install and reach the next barrier – the machine (or the installer) is not recognizing the MyBook. Now what?

More angst. Heading to Plan C – set up the DVD disc image on a web server on my Mac. Fortunately, this option actually works pretty simply. The installer starts, I select the proper options, it announces it has found a disc image (yay) and heads off into install land.

After quite a bit of time (a bunch of options selected, the existing working HD reformatted into linux mode, etc.), it finally gets around to failing again – this time it cannot find some important files. After a bit (and another failed try at burning a DVD, this time with a DVD+R disc), we realized that I had not specfically pointed it to the actual Fedora directory but to the one immediately above it. Why did it then say it found a disc image? No idea. Once I redirected it, the install continued without issues (albeit taking a few more hours to finish installing the 1176 applications and then getting all the updates).

Now I have the bad HD removed completely and the new 1TB drive installed physically. However, it is a SATA drive which that machine does not support natively, so I have a PCI card installed which provides SATA ports (thanks again, Mike) and SATA power converters (makes me think of Luke Skywalker). However, I have no idea how to access that drive for formatting and mounting – I will need to wait until morning when I can ping the expert again.

I probably forgot a few more PITA moments, but that should cover the lot of them in principle. I implied but did not mention explicitly that Mike was my IM Expert during nearly the whole process today (including virtual handholding during the actual install process). It is not pushing things at all to say it would not have happened at all without his help. Thanks, Mike! Let me know when you want that steak dinner.