A line is drawn around the corner of awesome.

I tried to make a vlog. It was awkward, but less eye-popping stress inducing than trying to type more words. Provided I do more vlogs, I promise they will eventually overlap with the mission statement listed above.

Posted in Whimsy | Tagged | Leave a comment

So I’m a little burnt out. Here’s something random.

I’m going to demonstrate how well I know my audience by perfectly predicting what you want to see on this lovely Friday afternoon. If it’s not a map of the location of all the GPS satellites at 1am UTC on November 1st over a Mollweide projection of the earth with the ones above the horizon in Cleveland highlighted in green, then you are not a part of my target demographic.

GPS Satellites at 1am November 11th UTC

This has been brought to you by data from the USCG, Python, and a really weird academic feud.

Posted in Whimsy | Tagged , | Leave a comment

IFAQ: Dealing With Delicate Situations

IFAQ: Infrequently Asked Questions

When thinking about mental health is front and center, feelings can be delicate and how to proceed can be unclear. There can and will be times when you’re close to someone in hard place mental health wise but you need to advocate for yourself. You don’t want to add to the load being carried by your friend, co-worker, or family member–but remember you also have to take care of yourself.

So if your friend or loved one is doing something that affects you negatively–if they’re irritable and shout at you or if they don’t seem to be picking up on how uncomfortable a certain conversation is becoming for others, just as a pair of examples–it will be helpful to both of you if you can talk about it. I’ve been on both sides of such a dialogue and it isn’t simple for anyone, but I can offer two generalized bits from my experience that are relatively well vetted by the literature and mental health professionals in my life.

First, use “I” statements, e.g. “I feel … when you … “. This way you take responsibility for your own feelings without assigning blame. This way you get to say how you feel and own your feelings without accusations. Second, if possible, pull the person aside or bring up the issue in private. Naturally, it’s best to avoid potentially causing anyone to feel shame publicly.

So if you’re at a party with a physics geek who won’t stop talking about the awe inspiring mysteries of the universe and you have trouble following or participating in the conversation you might say, “I feel left out when you talk about your work like you’re with your co-workers. Can we talk about something else?” It’s very likely that you will then be in the midst of a conversation about a local sports team, which may or may not be more agreeable to you, but you’ll feel like your feelings were recognized and they’ll feel nice–if slightly embarrassed–for recognizing and accepting your feelings.

Posted in General Miscelany, Mental Health | Leave a comment

From the Vault: Guitar Physics–The Humbucking Pickup

I play guitar as a hobby–a little bit of training in jazz, and self-taught from there. It’s fun. I own three instruments, two electric, and both of those are fitted with something that is a very common sight in hard rock and heavy metal: the humbucking pickup. I love this gadget because it’s like a little physics detector, designed for maximum signal and minimum noise. In case you’re not familiar, here’s a handy reference.

Electric Guitar DiagramIn an electric guitar pickup there are two fundamental pieces. There is a permanent bar magnet, much like the one you might use to tack reminders up on your refrigerator, and there is a wire coil wrapped around the magnet. The other critical piece is in the guitar’s strings. These must be weakly magnetic, in the same way your refrigerator will attract a magnet, but not your silverware (even if it’s made of iron). When you bring a magnet nearby something like iron, the iron acts as if it were a magnetic mirror and becomes magnetic itself as long as the external magnetic field is present, with the poles of this “magnetic image” aligned with those of the external field.

Pickup DiagramNow for this next part I have a bit of a hacked-together diagram, but I think it helps get the point across nicely. As the string vibrates, it will move with relation to the coil directly below it. Since the string is also a small magnetic dipole thanks to the bar magnet inside the coil, this will create a changing magnetic flux through the coil. Magnetic flux is the magnetic field strength in a two-dimensional area, in this case a circular slice of the coil. This changing flux is very important, because of something called Lenz’s law, which says colloquially that “Nature abhors a changing flux.” This means that the changing flux induces in the coil an electromotive force and current which will produce a magnetic field to oppose the changing flux.

A current-carrying loop is one of the simplest entities in magnetostatics. If you use the “right hand rule” and curl your fingers in the direction the current is flowing, your thumb will point in the direction of the magnetic field. From this, we can determine the direction the current will flow when the string moves back and forth across the top of the coil–it will create an alternating current with the same frequency as the vibrations in the string. So all we need to do is use a known resistance to get a changing voltage, which will become the signal that is amplified to produce sound.

But there is a small catch! Electromagnetic fields are everywhere. And unlike the first chapter of an E&M textbook, they aren’t all constant. So even without the string vibrating, the magnetic flux through the coil could constantly be changing. In fact, this causes a humming sound in single-coil pickups which you can hear with enough gain. This hum is eliminated in the so-called humbucking pickup first designed by Seth Lover for Gibson guitars.

The first coil and magnet arrangement is oriented exactly as it would be in a single-coil pickup, but then a second is added. This second is effectively inverted–the magnet’s polarity is reversed and the winding on the coil goes in the opposite direction. If you take your right hand again and check to see the direction in which current is flowing when the string is vibrating, you’ll see that both coils have current in the same direction. Since they are effectively current sources, their signals can be “added” by simply connecting both leads and treating it as a single pickup. Invoking the right-hand rule once more, when the changing flux has the same sign in both coils (as would be the case for ambient fields), you’ll see that the current in each coil opposes the other. These two signals will mostly cancel out, resulting in a less noisy final signal being sent to the amplifier.

Cool, huh?

Posted in Rock'n Roll, Science | Leave a comment

A Chilled Bicycle Works Better?

So the Northern Ohio weather has done its Northern Ohio weather thing enough so far this autumn-winter that I have a few data points and can comfortable report that I get much better performance out of my rear derailleur when it’s cold outside. How? What? Why?

What I really need is to go in for a tune up. In the meantime, I’ve been living with some clunky shifting and a few gears that just don’t want to get a good catch. Except when it’s cold. In the below ~40 F regime everything is smooth as glass. Which makes for a super nice ride into campus, but is unfortunately distracting from other pressing issues. Can I make the case that this is sufficiently important to invoke How to Procrastinate and Sill Get Things Done?

I have two thoughts. The less likely of the two is that there is a change in the viscosity of my lubricant (teflon-based). The one I’m more inclined to believe is that there’s thermal contraction that results in a tightening of the chain. Now I could whip up a simulation and dust off my computational physics skills from that class I took years ago. I could also go over and re-purpose the temperature regulated chamber we use to stress test electronics to measure the length of a bike chain at various temperatures.

Alas, I’ll just pitch the question out there to the world and plug myself back in to LaTeX.

Posted in Science, Whimsy | Leave a comment

The Time is Nigh. It Has Begun!

2013-10-23 10.34.39

I’d like to officially declare that thesis writing has begun. There’s a pretty slick custom LaTeX document style class sitting in a folder in my home directory. I scribbled some incoherent outline notes into my log book with my fountain pen–which was pretty great, thanks for asking.

Right now it’s excitement. I get to pick something I’m currently excited about (probably GPS timing stuff) and start cranking out words. We’ll see how long it goes before the mental chaos settles in.

Posted in Graduate School, Personal | Leave a comment

For the Love of Order and Smug Superiority

I need to take a day to reflect on things I think are pretty great. Before I get to that I have one issue germane to the larger discussion that is nominally taking place here. I’ve mentioned how much love and comfort I get from what might seem like a monotonous routine. Which brings up a common misuse of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) that was actually summarized relatively well by the sometimes funny, sometimes informative, mostly always less annoying than Buzzfeed, Cracked.com in an article Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior.

2013-10-21 12.16.33 When I make my coffee I weigh the beans before grinding them myself. I prefer a single serve pour over or a Chemex. Could I tell you the difference between that and similar beans prepared with a measuring spoon in an auto drip machine? Maybe? I don’t know. Part of the joy I get from it is the ritual and ceremony of preparing a cup of coffee. There’s a certain zen to it that I just enjoy.

When I bake cookies I roll each proto-cookie dough ball into a sphere. It doesn’t make the cookies taste better or bake more evenly (in most situations–this is actually important if you’re making crackles). It’s just a ritual that makes me feel good. And I get incredibly round cookies.

I love pens. I go through several Micron archival pens every year. They come in super fine point sizes, don’t bleed, and make a line with nearly constant thickness. I also love fountain pens. My script handwriting is awful, but there is something incredibly satisfying about using a pen that just lets ink flow using only its own weight–no pressing necessary. It just feels really good. I don’t get upset using a ballpoint, I just get joy from using my Microns or my fountain pens.

My point is that people tend to call this kind of thing “OCD”. It isn’t. Not only does this perpetuate a mythical version of OCD through our culture, it also puts a negative spin on something I think we should celebrate–little tiny details that we don’t have to notice or care about but when we do anyway they just feel so nice. So I’m going to actively solicit responses either here or on Twitter from folks who have read this far. Let’s talk about some tiny details that may seem like nothing until one goes all Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain on them. 

Carry us out current Internet-based hero and modern renaissance man John Green:

…because nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff… Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can’t-control-yourself love it. Hank, when people call people nerds, mostly what they’re saying is ‘you like stuff.’ Which is just not a good insult at all. Like, ‘you are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness’.

Posted in Mental Health, Something Subjectively Beautiful, Whimsy | Leave a comment