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!