Saturday, July 25, 2009

California, Here I Am

I have finally arrived in Bakersfield!

My friend Beth flew into Tulsa to keep me company on my trip. We left last Saturday and spent Saturday night in Albuquerque. The drive went pretty smoothly except that somehow I almost ran out of gas on the highway. I think I had a few gallons left, but the empty light was on, and we were somewhere out in the middle of no where desert (Texas I think) with no civilization in sight. I had enough gas when we passed the last gas station that I didn't even think to fill up again, but apparently they are really spaced out. When the empty light came on I started freaking out, and Beth suggested turning off the AC to make the gas last longer... not the most comfortable thing to do in the middle of the desert. We told my GPS to look for a gas station, and luckily it said there was one coming up in a few miles. We made it! It was a tiny place, but it did the job. Also there was a Dairy Queen next door, and we figured we each deserved a blizzard after that ordeal.

The only unplanned thing that happened on Sunday was the traffic at the Hoover Dam, which is right on the way into Las Vegas. We stopped to take a few pictures and then just kept creeping along in the traffic. The dam was really interesting though. I wish we'd had time to go on a tour. I'd love to go back sometime. We were going to stay in Vegas on Sunday night and continue to Bakersfield on Monday, but we decided to stay an extra night in Vegas. It was my first time there, and it was a lot of fun. We wanted to stay at the Luxor, but we didn't reserve a room ahead of time, and they were booked by the time we got there. So were Excalibur and Mandalay Bay, and we were eventually told that it was because of a huge conference going on. We finally found a room at the MGM Grand. Once we got settled in our room, we met an old friend of mine for dinner at the Paris buffet. On Monday we walked from the MGM (almost at the end of the strip) all the way to the Stratosphere (the other end of the strip). It was so hot, so we stopped in a lot of the casinos along the way. Strangely enough, I think we had the most fun at Circus Circus in the "AdventureDome," basically a huge enclosure with rides and carnival games. We also shopped for quite a while. I wanted to look for some nice sunglasses because it's really hard to find ones that actually fit my face, so I knew I'd be struggling to find a pair whenever my current ones get lost or broken. I decided I wanted a pair of designer sunglasses, so we went around to all the designer stores trying on different pairs. I ended up going back to the very first pair I had tried on - black Armani sunglasses with a GA on each side at the hinge. I love them!! My first real designer item and my only splurge in Vegas. Then we decided to eat a late lunch at the Bellagio buffet, which was amazing. I highly recommend it. There was a lot of seafood, really good meat, a lot of interesting condiments (I tried apple dill mayo and spicy mango ketchup), and a huge dessert selection. Beth and I got seven desserts to share. Each portion is pretty small... we almost finished them. That night we were planning on riding the roller coaster at New York, New York, but it started raining! I didn't know it ever rained that hard in Vegas. So that was unlucky. We went back to the MGM and looked for a blackjack table with a low minimum, but there was nothing open. We checked Excalibur too; same story there. We finally found a $5 table at the Tropicana. I put down $60 and lost it all, unfortunately. First time playing though! It was really fun. But I'm glad I limited myself. I really wanted to see a Cirque du Soliel show, but non of them were playing on Monday nights. I'll just have to go back!!

On Tuesday morning we started driving toward Bakersfield. When we got here, I got settled in my temporary apartment and then went into the shop to meet my manager. I also met some of the other engineers, and everyone seems really nice. My manager gave me time off until this Tuesday, but I ended up going in yesterday to get some paperwork out of the way, and I'll also go in for a little while on Monday to do a commentary drive with the driving guy.

Since I arrived I have been searching for an apartment and shopping for furniture. I finally found an apartment close to work in a new gated complex. I will be the first person to live in my apartment. It is a two-bedroom (I don't think a one-bedroom has enough storage space for all my stuff) with a small but cozy kitchen and a nice master bedroom with a huge walk-in closet. I have spent about 10 hours shopping for furniture so far. Yesterday I finally decided on a sofa, coffee table (plus end tables), lamps, chair, dining set, and mattress. I move into the apartment on August 1st, and a lot of the furniture will arrive the 2nd, so I'll try to post a picture as soon as everything gets there. But I'm worried that I won't have time to get fully situated for a while because my work schedule might be pretty hectic.

I still have a lot to do, but I'm well on my way to getting comfortable here. I hope I'll like it. It's really hot here, but at least it's not as humid as Tulsa.

Come visit me!!

Skidding and Spinning

Before leaving Tulsa I had to complete Schlumberger's Light Vehicle Training (LVT). Most of this was kind of boring: sitting in the classroom or doing commentary drives. For a commentary drive, you drive around town and tell the driving instructor whatever you see going on around you and why you are driving the way you are driving. You're supposed to be showing that you are using the techniques taught in class and that you are a safe, defensive driver. For example, "There's some oncoming traffic so the right lane is safest at the moment, I see a red signal light up ahead, I'm checking my mirrors before braking to make sure no one is following too closely... light is green, I'm scanning the intersection before proceeding, I'm leaving a safe follwing distance in front of me" and so on, as a fairly constant stream of speaking. Actually, after doing it for a while it feels weird to not talk when the instructor says you can rest your voice. But anyway, there was actually an exciting part to the driver training. It was called Advanced Skill Maneuvers, where we learned to avoid head-on collisions and control skids. The training center has a driving course with a big pad that's covered in something that makes the surface really slippery when it gets wet. We each got in a pick-up specially rigged for this, and we got to feel what it's like to go into a rear wheel skid and a front wheel skid. On the rear wheel skid, the instructor said to cut the wheel hard to the side to make the truck spin around. It was actually a little scary even in that controled environment, but it was really cool. Then on the next pass we had to control the skid by gently steering in the direction of the skid to keep the vehicle facing forward. It was good practice because although I've driven in the snow, I've never been in a skid that serious. The Schlumberger trucks normally have antilock brakes, but they were disabled on these trucks so that the wheels would lock up for the skidding. We also learned how to avoid a head-on collision in a non-ABS truck, where steering and braking have to be separate actions. We were taught to brake hard, then turn the wheel quickly while letting up on the brake. We drove through a course where something would pop up in the road for us to avoid. It was really fun, and definitely a good thing to be comfortable with, although I'm still not sure if I'd be able to do it in a panic situation.

Overall, LVT was pretty fun, and it was especially nice to not have homework! It was a relaxing end to my time in Tulsa. The only bad thing is that my roommate Carla had to leave early because she dislocated her elbow and couldn't do the driving! So the apartment was a little lonely for a few days. But we all promised to meet up again at some point, so hopefully it won't be too long before I see her.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Tulsa Training

I have barely even had time to think in these past few weeks, much less post!!

I am currently in Tulsa, OK, training for my job. I was supposed to be in Bakersfield, CA, by now for some on-the-job training. I was going to come back to Tulsa for school/training in a few months, but my segment's schedule got changed so that we are doing our "on-the-job" training AND school here, although we won't actually be going out on real jobs. I think we'll be here for another 14 weeks or so. Right now we're still living in a hotel because they haven't had room to move us into the apartments. I guess the late schedule change meant that they had to put us where ever they could find room on short notice.

I am really enjoying it so far. It's certainly not easy, but I like what we're learning, and I like the people. Our first class ended on Friday, and we start the next (harder) class tomorrow. Let me see if I can explain what my job will actually be. First of all, Schlumberger is an oilfield services company; they don't actually own any oil. So the oil companies are out clients. I am in the Wireline segment of Schlumberger, and we come in to the life of an oil well right after it has been drilled. Wireline lowers tools into the well and collects data from them (this is called logging a well) to help the client make decisions about how to produce the oil . This might sound straightforward, but there is a lot that goes into this process. In the last few weeks we've been doing a lot of classroom work. We learned about some of the different tools and how they work (physics!), and we learned the basics of the software that we'll be using to prepare the data for our clients. It's completely different from any other software we've ever used, so it took some time to figure it out. We've also had a little bit of practice out in the field, although just at the training rigs and not actually at a real site. But it was still really cool. We worked in groups of five under the supervision of an instructor, and we practiced connecting all the tools, lowering them into the well on the cable, controlling them from a truck on the surface, and monitoring the data being sent back from them. Then we went inside to put all the data together in a package for the "client" (our instructors). The whole process took about seven or eight hours, but I'm sure it will be quicker once we practice more and get down the rhythm of what we're doing.

I haven't had much time to explore Tulsa, but it seems cooler than I thought it would. Some of us have been to a country bar called Caravan a couple times, where there's a big dance floor and line dancing. We've been out to dinner a lot because we don't have kitchens at the Best Western, and a few of us walked along the river yesterday, which was nice. The weather has been weird, but I guess I'm used to that from Ithaca. Since I've been here we've had a few hot days (in the 80s), a day with about six inches of snow, a few heavy thunderstorms, a tornado watch, and pretty much everything in between. I'm hoping it will get warmer soon and stay that way.

I really miss my friends, but I've definitely found people here who I get along with really well. The sad part is that we'll all be going our separate ways after training is over (though that is still a few months away). The company is huge, with locations all over the world, but I do have a feeling that, just like the rest of the world, it is small in a way. I'll probably end up working with some of these people at some point because we will likely be advancing in the company at a similar rate. Good thing I like them!

I need to get some sleep for the first day of my next class tomorrow! I got 10 hours of sleep last night, but I still don't think I'm caught up, and this week will be just as bad as the last few!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Day One at Schlumberger!

As most of you know, I am in Houston for orientation/training for my new job as a field engineer with Schlumberger, an oilfield services company (pronounced shlum-ber-zhay). Today was my first day! It was long, but I am really excited about the job. There are about 45 of us here for the training (10 females). Most everyone seems nice so far, and I've already started to get to know some people, especially people who will be working in my segment of the company, even though they won't necessarily be in my location. Today we got laptops and steel toe boots, and we got fitted for our two pairs of blue Schlumberger coveralls.

I'll write more later about what my job will be, but right now I am so tired and have to get some sleep for another long day tomorrow!

Blacksburg to Houston: Day Three

The morning of Day Three was fairly relaxed. I woke up earlyish again and spent some time filling out forms for work. Vincent and friends were enjoying the porch as I packed up my car.

The sun can be both a curse and a blessing when driving west. It made driving in the evening really frustrating at times, but it gave me a lot of opportunities for good pictures!

I finally made it to Houston after another long day. Driving in/around Houston was a little scary - I don't like big city driving! The picture below is of my stuffed cat named Peaches sitting on my hotel room (king size!) bed. We all get our own rooms, which is really nice. I took Peaches with me on my trips to Europe when I was younger, and for some reason we have pictures of me and Peaches at various places, mostly when waiting at a train station or something like that. So I decided to take a picture of her here too!

I stayed up way too late finishing things for my first day that ended up not even mattering, but that's okay. I got some sleep and got up on time in the morning!

So ends my trip from Blacksburg to Houston. But the traveling is not over yet!

Blacksburg to Houston: Day Two

On Day Two I got up early (for me), and had a wonderful breakfast with my hosts: bacon, eggs, toast with fig and ginger preserves, and chocolate bread that my mom and I made as a gift for them. Their daughter and her two little girls came over for a while, which was so nice because I had never met the granddaughters before.

It was sunny and warm as I got ready to leave their house in Birmingham:

I saw a billboard along the way for a cute-looking store called Wisteria Cottage, but I didn't see the exit number. I stopped to get gas a little while later, and lo and behold, there was Wisteria Cottage!

So I went inside. It was nice, and I actually bought a couple small things. The woman who helped me recommended going to the place next door too. She called it a candy store, but it is mainly a pecan place.

I got some honey glazed pecans, chocolate covered pecans, and pecan brittle (don't worry, I'll have help eating them!). Then I saw the ice cream and realized that I needed some because the south is hot!!

I saw some neat things while driving, including the bridge below. It's interesting how a lot of the highway has to be raised above the ground in Mississippi and Louisiana because of all the water/marsh. It makes for some cool long bridges.

Here's some nice sunset pictures from the end of Day Two. Almost to Biloxi!

I conveniently planned to stay with Vincent (a friend from middle/high school) in Biloxi. With the help of my GPS, I easily found his house. We went out for dinner then went to see a play that two of his friends were in. Day Two was much less driving than Day One, but I was still exhausted!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Blacksburg to Houston: Day One

Today was the first day of my eventually-cross-country move! My Honda Pilot is really coming in handy. I had to pack for the next six months. The car is pretty full because I'm bringing all my (warm weather) clothes, maybe a few too many pairs of shoes, and all the other random stuff I think I might need. My car is big enough, so why not?! I feel sorry for the people who are flying.

I started out from home this morning and drove to Birmingham, AL. It took longer than expected because I got stuck in traffic near Chattanooga for at least an hour and a half. I wish I were doing this trip over more days (and with a friend) so that I'd have more time to stop at random places. My one spontaneous stop of the day was in Tennessee where I saw a sign for "Cheese Farm and Store" or something like that. And I love cheese. So I had to stop. It was a cute little place, seemingly in the middle of no where (which I guess makes sense... that's where the cows are!). There were lots of free samples, and the two women working in the shop were really friendly. There were big windows in the store, looking into where the cheese-making actually occurs, but nothing was happening while I was there. I ended up getting three cheeses: sharp white cheddar, colby, and buttermilk. The buttermilk cheese was so good (yes of course I sampled it) - mild with a slightly creamier feel than cheddar, though not actually creamy.

I finally got to Birmingham around 8:30 pm (central time). I'm staying with some family friends. They were our neighbors in Blacksburg when I was growing up, and they have always been so good to me and my parents. They moved to Birmingham a few years ago to be closer to family, and we miss them a lot on our street. I'm glad they are conveniently right on my route! They served me a delicious dinner and have been wonderful hosts.

Tomorrow I will be driving to Biloxi, MS, and staying with a high school friend there. I love knowing people all over the place!

Things I learned about Tennessee today:
1. It is bigger than it looks
2. It has lots of pine trees
3. It has many towns whose names are normally associated with another state or country (Philadelphia, Athens, Charleston, Cleveland)
4. The Chattanooga area is really pretty!!

Here are some pictures from today!



View from the cheese shop

Pretty mountains, ugly traffic jam

Monday, February 23, 2009

Why do white clothes glow under blacklight?

I haven't posted in a month! I'm sorry for the hiatus. I wish I could say that I've been getting ready for my big move, but I still haven't done much. I have a week longer than I thought I would though, so I have a little time yet. I'll be leaving on March 6th now.

I recently went to a show with a few friends. While the bands were playing, most of the normal lighting was replaced by blacklight, so our white clothes were glowing, including Katie's skirt:

She asked me why white clothes glow under blacklight and said that I should write about it here, so that's what I'll do.

Let's review some basic physics/chemistry first. Electrons in an atom have some base amount of energy. An electron can gain energy from some outside source (e.g. light or electricity), putting it momentarily into a higher energy state. The electron can then lose this energy by emitting light - more specifically, by emitting a photon (light particle) that has this exact amount of energy. This energy corresponds to some wavelength of light. This is, for example, how a neon sign works. The electrons in the neon gas are excited into a higher energy state by electricity, then they lose the energy and "fall back down" to their lower energy by emitting light (predominantly orange light in neon's case).

As I mentioned above, an electron can be excited by light as well as electricity. When an atom absorbs a photon, the energy of the photon gets transferred to the electron. The electron can then lose the energy by re-emitting a photon of the same energy. In other words, the incoming photon and re-emitted photon have the same energy.

And now I can confuse you and tell you that this is not always the case. In an atom, these electron transitions are the main way for energy to be gained and lost, but in a molecule there are other ways. A molecule consists of multiple atoms and the bonds between them. When a molecule gains energy, the increase in energy can still manifest itself in electron transitions OR in rotations of the molecule OR in vibrations of the bonds between the atoms. This means that when a molecule absorbs a photon, not all the energy has to go into one type of motion - for example, vibrations and an electron transition can both occur on the absorption of a photon. The vibrations of the molecule can die out quickly (mainly because it runs into the other molecules around it), but the excited electron still has to fall back down. But since some of the energy has already been vibrated away, the re-emitted photon will have less energy than the incoming photon, which corresponds to a longer wavelength of light. (For example, a molecule might absorb blue light but emit green light.) This process is called fluorescence when the absorbed light is in the visible or ultraviolet (UV) range.

Back to the question at hand: Why do white clothes glow in blacklight? Blacklight is mainly just UV radiation. If you've been to a natural history museum, you may have seen certain minerals glowing under blacklight in an otherwise dark case. The glowing clothing is the same thing... but why just white? White cloth and paper are actually treated with a special substance (an optical brightener) to make them look even whiter. The brightener absorbs UV radiation and re-emits blue light, which balances/hides any yellow or brown tones in the cloth or paper. This is not obvious under normal lighting because the cloth is mostly reflecting visible light; the optical brightener is just a small enhancement. But when there is little visible light and an abundance of UV radiation, the brightener has a lot to absorb (and not much to reflect), and the re-emitted blue light is very obvious. This blue light is the glow!

You may have also noticed that teeth glow under blacklight too, but they glow a slightly different color. This is not because of any sort of brightener. The chemical makeup of teeth simply causes them to fluoresce greenish under UV radiation.

Katie, I hope this helps! Keep the questions coming!

I usually like to find better sources than wikipedia, but it has some good information in its "fluorescence" article.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Inauguration Day

My trip to DC for the inauguration was absolutely wonderful! I got to spend time with some of my closest friends, eat good food, drink good drinks, and witness a huge moment in history. On inauguration day I tried to take at least one picture every hour near the :44 of the hour (of course because Obama is the 44th president) to chronicle my day. I slacked after the inauguration was over because the day got much less exciting, but I think I got some good pictures from earlier. This was my day:

My two friends and I got up around 4:00 a.m. Yes, I got up that early! I don't think I got more than maybe two hours of sleep because Leana and I couldn't fall asleep and stayed up talking instead! But we still managed to drag ourselves out of bed. We got up so early because we decided to volunteer with Julie. We were supposed to meet on the mall at 4:45 a.m. We decided to take the metro because it was still so early, and it was cold enough that we didn't want to walk all the way. We were a little bit late and ended up walking to the metro around 4:44.

Julie and Leana walking to the metro, around 4:44 a.m.

We thought things would be fairly deserted, but we were wrong. The metro was already crowded, and it took us at least 15 minutes to get out of our destination station after getting off the train. Everyone had to be funneled through the metrocard readers, which caused a big backup. When we finally got out, we started wandering toward the location where we were supposed to meet our team leader for volunteering. It was cold and dark, but the streets were already full of life, and it was exciting to be out.

Bright capitol, lots of people, around 5:44 a.m.

Red-hatted volunteers gathering (unfortunately not our group), around 5:44 a.m.

Even when we made it to our location on the mall, we still had to wander through the groups of volunteers to find our leader. I stopped to take a picture of the lights and the Washington Monument.

Washington Monument, illuminated, a little after 5:44 a.m.

We finally found our group, and we moved to 14th Street near Independence Avenue. We were supposed to be welcoming people, directing them toward the mall, etc., but very few people were actually walking down our street. I think there were too many volunteers to begin with, probably because so many people wanted to be involved. We stood around a lot, but we got cold, so we ran and danced some. It warmed us up, and it hopefully also entertained the people waiting in their cars in traffic on our road (I think I heard that they were government employees waiting to park somewhere nearby). This was the view from where we were stationed:

14th Street near Independence Ave., tip of the monument, exactly 6:44 a.m.

Around 7:30 a.m. we started to get hungry (all we had was oatmeal at 4:00), and we had also seen some volunteers with cups of hot chocolate, which sounded like the perfect buffer for the cold. We left to get the hot chocolate, and we decided that we didn't really want to go back to volunteering because we weren't doing anything in the first place. We waited in line for food at a tent near the Museum of American History.

Waiting for food in front of the Museum of American History, around 7:44 a.m.

Sunrise while waiting in line for food, around 7:44 a.m.
(Amazing because I'm almost never up early enough to see the sun rise)

I got a hot chocolate and a pulled pork sandwich, which was actually very tasty (not what I expected from the food tents). We saw a crowd of people waiting outside the museum, so we joined them hoping that the museum was opening at 8:00 and that we might be able to warm up in there. It did in fact open at 8:00, so we went in, sat down and rested for a bit, then looked at a few exhibits, including one on past first ladies' inaugural dresses.

Mamie Eisenhower's ball gown and shoes, Museum of American History, around 8:44 a.m.

We also went through the Abraham Lincoln exhibit, and I took my next picture overlooking the lobby while waiting for Julie to finish the exhibit.

Main lobby of the Museum of American History, around 9:44 a.m.

A little after 10:00, we decided we should go get a spot on the mall near one of the big TV screens. It was of course very crowded already, but we managed to squeeze in pretty close to a screen. We were on the mall across the street from the Washington Monument. This is what our view looked like (or rather, what a taller person's view would have looked like - I had to hold my camera up pretty high to capture the crowd).

The view from our spot on the mall, around 10:44 a.m.

We were there for a while...

Sniper on the roof of the Museum of American History, around 11:44 a.m.

Obama, around 11:44 a.m.

The ceremony was exciting, and Obama's speech was great, though it was too idealistic; but I guess there's no other way to be at your inauguration. We also went to the opening ceremony/concert on Sunday, and I enjoyed Obama's address during that too. When speaking about everyone working together, he included "gay and straight," which made me really happy as a strong supporter of gay rights. I was hoping he would include something similar in his inauguration speech.
The closest he got was talking about equal rights for everyone, which I guess is good enough for me right now - there wasn't time to address every specific issue! Afterward we started making our way toward the edge of the mall... or at least we tried. We moved in one direction with the rest of the crowd, then people ahead of us started turning around. That side of the mall was closed off because it was close to the parade route, so we had to go all the way to the other side. I think the exit could have been planned better, although I'm sure it's nearly impossible to plan for that many people. We were stuck in that crowd for over an hour (I think... I lost track though), from the time we started trying to get out to the time we actually got off the mall and broke free from the crowd. It was so crowded and slow-moving that my friend commented, "Why don't people just break down the barriers? What could they really do to us anyway?" People actually started chanting "Let us out! Let us out!" at one point. Luckily everyone was generally in high spirits, so no one charged the barriers or anything, though I'm sure many were thinking it. Here's the exiting crowd.

The crowd in front of us trying to get off the mall, around 12:44 p.m.

The crowd behind us trying to get off the mall, around 12:44 p.m.

That brings me to the end of my hourly pictures. After getting off the mall, we went back to my friend's apartment and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. I napped for maybe an hour and a half, then I ended up going out that night to celebrate (getting back around 2:00 a.m., LONG day), but otherwise we watched the rest of the inauguration festivities on TV. So that was my day! It was hectic and tiring, but it was worth it. I'm not sure if I'd do it again any time soon, but I really enjoyed myself, and I'm so glad I got to experience all of this!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Miracle duck!

This duck walks on water!

Okay not really. It's been cold enough here to freeze the little pond near my neighborhood, but during the day today, the sun melted the top in some places. Cool effect though, don't you think?

Monday, January 12, 2009

The physics behind the name

As promised, I want to explain the name of this blog. Tonight I am being a complete dork (as if I were ever anything else) and writing about physics while watching Star Wars on TV. Ahh, this is the life!

Let's start with "Simple Harmonics." First of all, it's musical! But mathematically, which is what I'll focus on here, a simple harmonic is the same thing as a sine or cosine wave. These are important in many areas of physics. Those of you who took intro mechanics learned about simple harmonic motion. This could, for example, be the up-and-down bouncing motion of a ball hanging from the end of a spring. When you graph the motion of the ball, with time on the horizontal axis and the vertical position of the ball on the vertical axis, you get a sine wave. I spent way too much time making an animation of this using Mathematica. I know I could have gotten one from another website, but I wanted to do it myself. I finally got it to look right, and I was so proud of it, but now it won't upload! So I'll keep trying to figure that out.

Simple harmonics are also important in electromagnetism. All types of light waves can be expressed as some combination of sine and cosine waves.

And finally, they show up in my favorite area of physics, quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics deals with phenomena that other areas of physics can't explain. You probably learned at one point that light can act like both a wave and a particle. This is true not only for light but for everything else too! Quantum mechanics deals with this wave nature of other particles (such as electrons). It also explains the strange fact that the energies of these particles are only observed at certain quantities - a particle's energy jumps from one discrete value to another instead of increasing/decreasing smoothly through all values. The vehicle for this explanation comes in the form of the Schroedinger Equation, which is to quantum mechanics what Newton's F=ma is to classical mechanics. It is a way of predicting the behavior of a particle. But unlike Newton's law, which predicts behavior with certainty, the Schroedinger Equation deals with the probability that a particle will be at a certain position at a certain time.

Simple harmonics are the solutions to a basic quantum mechanics problem called the infinite square well. Imagine a particle, let's say an electron, that can only move along a line (i.e. in only one dimension) and that is in between two infinitely thick walls so that it can never escape. According to classical mechanics, it would just bounce back and forth between the walls. It would be able to move at any constant speed (which means it could have any amount of energy), and it would spend an equal amount of time at all points between the walls. But according to quantum mechanics, the particle does not have an equal probability of being at all locations, nor can it have any amount of energy. Solving the Schroedinger equation for this situation gives a set of simple harmonics, where the horizontal axis is the distance between the two walls. The vertical axis corresponds to the probability that the particle will be at each position between the walls. (Technically, the vertical axis of the square of the simple harmonic is the probability.) I called it a "set of simple harmonics" because there are many ways a sine wave can fit between the two walls. If the wavelength is shorter, more peaks of the wave will fit between the walls. These different configurations correspond to the allowed discrete energies of the particle. Below you will see the simple harmonics corresponding to the five lowest energies of a particle confined between walls at x=0 and x=10.

As I mentioned above, probabilities are actually calculated from the squares of these graphs. The squares of the above graphs look like this:

Let's look specifically at the second graph above (in bold). It's telling us that a particle confined between x=0 and x=10 and in the second lowest allowed energy will most likely be found at x=2.5 or x=7.5. It also says that the particle will never be found at x=5! If it can be found on either side of x=5, how does it not pass through that point? The answer: I have no idea! In general, it is because particles are not just particles; they are particles that also act like waves. But I've never been able to find a more specific explanation. I'm not sure if there is one yet. Quantum mechanics is very strange. It exhibits phenomena that we know to be true but that we still don't understand.

Hopefully this has given you an idea of what quantum mechanics is and why simple harmonics are important to the basic calculations of the infinite square well. If you think this all seems crazy and counterintuitive... good! It is certainly very different from what we experience and what we know about the motion of everyday objects. We know it's there, but we don't see it because it happens on such a small scale.

Well that should do it for simple harmonics. Now on to "transmitted reflections."

Transmitted reflections is a contradiction. In optics, they are opposites. The light that doesn't get reflected from a surface gets transmitted through the surface. But the phrase also reminds me of something called Frustrated Total Internal Reflection. Regular total internal reflection occurs when light traveling inside a substance completely reflects off the inside of the substance. This is, for example, responsible for the sparkliness of a diamond ring. Diamonds are cut so that the light that goes into the top of the diamond doesn't come out the bottom - it reflects within the diamond and comes back out the top, making the diamond look brighter. Now imagine this happening in a simple block of glass. If a beam of light traveling through the glass hits the side of the glass at the correct angle, it will completely reflect, and no light will leave the glass. However, something does leave the glass - it's called an evanescent wave. It decays very quickly (exponentially, in fact), and it doesn't carry any light or energy. Normally it has no effect on anything. But something interesting happens if you put a second glass block close to the first one, with just a small gap of air in between. Because the light doesn't escape the first block into the air, it seems like no light should make it to the second block. But the evanescent wave is still present in the air gap between the blocks, and the interaction between this wave and the second block disturbs (or frustrates) the electric field in such a way that some of the light passes from the first block through the air gap to the second block. This is Frustrated Total Internal Reflection, and it's probably the closest thing to a "transmitted reflection" because the light transmitted to the second block should have been a reflection and would have been if not for this bizarre interaction.

I was determined to find a physics-related name for my blog that could also be otherwise meaningful. Think of "simple harmonics" as the many layers of my thoughts and experiences, the ups and downs of my life, the analytical nature of my mind, and the uncertainties that can result from even a basic problem or event. Think of "transmitted reflections" as my written interpretations of all of these. If not for this blog, they would remain my personal reflections and never be transmitted.

I will welcome any questions about the physics in the post!!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Monk and Psych

Instead of going out tonight as I thought I might (sorry Carly), I will instead be staying home as usual and watching the new episodes of two of my favorite shows. "Monk" and "Psych" are both great shows, and I'm always surprised to hear that a lot of people have never seen them. I keep recommending them to my friends, but I don't know if any of them have watched yet. Although there are, of course, some underlying stories that span the episodes, most (maybe all) episodes can also stand alone, so don't worry about not understanding what's going on. If you know the premise of each show, it will be easy to pick up on who's who and what's happening.

Psych is basically the "Scrubs" of the crime show world. Actually someone commented to me that they are pretty much the same show. And although they do have some striking similarities, I disagree with this. Some of the main characters and their relationships are similar, but the situations and style are different enough that one couldn't be substituted for the other. If I had a burning desire to watch Psych, watching Scrubs instead wouldn't really cut it (even though I like Scrubs too). Psych is about a guy who is good at noticing and interpreting details that other people don't notice. He pretends to be psychic, opens a detective agency, and works with the police to solve cases. He and his sidekick are extremely entertaining, but the show does not rely on this alone; the plot is always interesting as well.

Monk is a more sophisticated but still amusing crime show about an obsessive-compulsive detective. I didn't start watching from the first season, and I actually still prefer the newer episodes. Monk got a new assistant in season 3, and I like this character/actress much better than the previous one. And Tony Shalhoub's portrayal of Adrian Monk is consistently genius.

So if you have nothing better to do on Friday nights, check out Monk and Psych!


I just enjoyed some yogurt with Wegmans Organic French Vanilla Granola (from the bulk section of course) that was left over from my trip to Ithaca a few months ago (I forgot about it... but it was still crunchy and flavorful after all this time!). I really miss Wegmans, and I'm disappointed that it doesn't exist in California. Here's an interesting article on Wegmans. It's from 2005, but I'm sure a lot of it still applies. If Wegmans ever goes public, I'll definitely be investing.

And the planning begins

Most of you know that I won't actually be moving into my own apartment until about six months after I start work (and hopefully I'll be starting in March). I'll be living in some sort of company housing or hotels for my six months of training, which is nice in a way because I won't have to pay any rent, but I'm really looking forward to moving into my own place.

Even though my "real" move won't be for a while, I've already had to start planning for it. Today (well technically yesterday) a woman from the moving company came to the house to see how much stuff I'll eventually be moving. Half of my basement is full of stuff, plus I'll be taking a double bed frame and a dresser. I was hoping to go shopping (preferably with someone who owns a pickup truck) for some more furniture so that I wouldn't have to worry about as much when I start trying to furnish my apartment, but now I don't think I should add anything else major, since the moving company will base everything on what I showed this woman.

My requirements for an apartment: large kitchen, allows pets, washer/dryer or washer/dryer hookups, stress-free parking, enough storage space for all the random things I've accumulated over the years that I know I'll need as soon as I get rid of so I don't get rid of them.

I've been spending some time on Bakersfield's craigslist. Looks like there are lots of apartments and houses being rented right now. I hope it stays that way for a while.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Tale of the Logo

I'm eventually going to explain the name of this blog, but first I want to explain the origin of and thought behind the logo at the top of the page.

It took me almost all day to decide on a name. I had it narrowed down to "Simple Harmonics" or "Transmitted Reflections" but ultimately decided to use both (especially after they were tied 2-2 in a very scientific poll of four friends). Thanks to Katie, Tom, Alex, Lisa, Dave, and John for reading my many options and giving their opinions. Katie had the brilliant idea of making "Transmitted Reflections" look like a reflection of "Simple Harmonics," so I played around in Photoshop, and the result is now under the name!

The logo did not start out looking like this. At first I had this:I was happy with it until my physics kicked in and I realized that it wasn't a true representation of a reflection. In this figure, "transmitted reflections" could be a shadow, but it couldn't be a reflection. If "simpleharmonics" is sitting on a flat mirror and you're looking straight at it, its reflection will never look skewed (diagonal/angled) like this; the reflection will always look to be directly below it and straight. This is because reflection only happens in a plane perpendicular to the mirror. The light has to get from the object to your eye, and there's only one plane in which this can happen - the one that includes the object and your eye and is also perpendicular to the mirror, like so:This means that the reflection will always be directly between you and the object, which means that it will look like it is directly below the object and never skewed to one side.

I was not satisfied with a shadow! I wanted a true reflection because of the blog's name. And I wanted something more interesting than a straight, head-on reflection. I decided that maybe it would be right if I "turned" the words (of course achieved here by squishing the right side to look farther away), like this:I thought it looked better, and I asked my dad what he thought of it to get another opinion. I explained to him that I didn't think the other was physically correct, and I began to wonder if this one even was. We proceeded to lay out my full length mirror and experiment with the writing on the top of a shoe box for at least half an hour. Even though reflection is a fairly straightforward phenomenon compared to the rest of optics, it's actually pretty interesting! We rotated the words all sorts of ways and looked at them from many different angles. We came to the conclusion that this second design was also not physical. Again, it could be a shadow, but not a reflection. This is because of the same reason explained above. You're still seeing "simpleharmonics" in an upright position, it just looks shorter because you're seeing it at an angle. The reflection will show this change, but it still won't look skewed.

The solution? The reflection will only look skewed if the words themselves look skewed. One way to achieve this is to rotate the words in two different directions. As we saw above, rotating in only one direction doesn't cause anything to be skewed. But what if we rotate the words like we did above and then also rotate them toward the mirror? When they are distorted in two directions like this, the words themselves will look skewed and so will the reflection. Hence the final logo! Both the top and bottom are squished on the right and skewed by the same angle in the same direction. Go find a mirror and try it out. I had to see it to realize what was going on and to figure out how to represent it in two dimension. I'm not sure that this is the only way to achieve skewing, but it is definitely physically correct, unlike the previous designs!

I haven't had much experience writing about something related to math/physics for a potential audience of non-physicists, so I'd love to get some feedback on this! Hopefully I'll be able to improve and write about more complicated topics.

My first post!

Welcome to my new blog! I decided I should be doing something with all my extra time, so I'm going to attempt to blog on a somewhat regular basis. Hopefully I'll write some informative posts about physics along with the other possibly mindless posts I might write in the midst of my boredom. I also anticipate having a lot to write about once I start my new job. I don't know much about oil drilling, so I know I'll be learning a lot, and I'm looking forward to writing about my new experiences.

The next steps: make this page look more exciting and write about why I chose "Simple Harmonics, Transmitted Reflections" for the name of my blog!