Thursday, March 11, 2010

New Blog

I've decided that I would enjoy blogging more if I wrote about something in particular that I am passionate about. So what am I passionate about? Well, alot of things, so it's as simple as that! I love learning, learning about how things work and about nature. Therefore I'm starting a blog where I'm going to write about stuff I learn and think is interesting.

It is at:

http://www.cosmicappetite.com

Enjoy!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bring it

The new year is here! 2010, bring it. I have no specific resolutions other than to be a more positive person and to learn more. Fortunately most of my enthusiasm comes from learning and thinking about new things so this should work.

On a related note, I’m taking two more classes this term. I’ll be taking molecular biology and statistical mechanics. I think they will be fun. I also started messing with electronics again which is great fun. It’s amazing what is out there and how easy it is to put stuff together. I have this little 16 bit processor that I programmed to read a GPS receiver and printout to a LCD screen. It’s fun.

I also downloaded a new album by a band called The Rural Alberta Advantage. It’s excellent, especially the song Don’t Haunt This Place.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Finals Week

I took the final for my graduate mathematics class on Tuesday. I have to say that taking a class with a full time job requires some dedication (that I didn’t always have). There were times I had to ask myself why exactly I was doing all this. To compound the situation, this stuff doesn’t come back easy. Sure, I’m very comfortable with math but this was the math course to end all others. After just one semester our final included topics on ordinary differential equations, complex analysis, partial differential equations, fourier analysis, tensors and linear algebra. I’ve taken most of these subjects as entirely separate classes, so to take one course with all of them thrown together 5 years out of school was… intense. It was a challenge though and I love a good intellectual challenge. This is all in preparation for a graduate degree in physics that I could earn on a part time basis. I really think I should have been a scientist so this is a way to ease back into it without nuking my engineering career and being broke. It is interesting and challenging which is what I was looking for. There is one thing I’ve notice though, Physics is definitely different from traditional engineering. It is much more formal with its mathematics and uses a broader more exotic swath of it. I like it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Excellent Book

I just finished “The Greatest Show on Earth” by Richard Dawkins. It was a brilliant, tight, and crystal clear summary of the major scientific evidence in favor of the theory of evolution. It was entertaining and fascinating just as any book would be that aimed to describe the way in which ALL life on Earth developed. I enthusiastically recommend it to anyone interested in ideas and is curious about the biggest discovery in the history of all of the world. Seriously, I would think even vehement creationists would read it if only for the intellectual challenge of understating the theory, because it really is a beautiful theory.
It starts off with a very funny analogy. Dawkins compares his present predicament with that of a professor of Roman history. The professor is eager to talk about the various innovations of the Romans, their literature, art and engineering. He wants to talk about their beautiful language and complicated societies and history of their military and political dominance. Instead though, he finds that a very large group of people (politically and financially backed) come to his class and disrupt it by asking questions like “How can you be sure the Romans even existed?” He is forced to abandon his class and talk about the evidence for the past existence of the Romans. He says that although we cannot see Romans now, the evidence for them is overwhelming. The people in back disagree and think there are various other explanations for the pottery left behind in the ground. The romantic languages are similar only through coincidence and the roads left behind that crisscrossed Europe were always there. Sadly, the Professor agrees to write a book about why he is convinced Romans existed.
So there you have it. It’s a great book. I really and truly do not understand why some people are so passionately against this area of science. For thousands of years most religions have hinted at a vast inter connectivity between all things. Isn’t it amazing that it is true?

400 years

Sarah bought a 15 dollar telescope and it’s been a blast to use. It was made for the International Year of Astronomy as a low-cost, high quality telescope to help celebrate the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first astronomical observations. Apparently she ordered it a while ago but it was sent to our old address, so I’m glad the present occupant contacted us. It came in a box all disassembled… and I don’t mean that a few parts weren’t attached. The actual lenses had to be sandwiched together and inserted. The focusing tube and main optical tube had be snapped together too. It was very interesting to literally put a telescope together, all the lenses inside are actually composite lenses, and it was fun lining them all up. The lens up in front is 2 inches wide and not bad at all for astronomical viewing. The eyepieces had smaller lenses that were more complicated to set up. There were two eyepiece types, one that simulated Galileo’s true telescope and one that was a little “better”.
The hardest part of using it is focusing it. It has a focusing tube that is held in place by a friction collar to the optical tube. You have to literally move it in and out to get the right focus, so no fine adjustment knob. I would apply force and get nothing until the whole thing shifted an abrupt half an inch ruining the image and hitting my eye. Ouch. I got better at it and eventually got it pretty sharp. Now I use a spin technique to get fine adjustments. Also, the image goes through 3 lens pairings so all the cues are reversed. That is surprisingly annoying to deal with.
So we put it on Sarah’s fancy tripod and started looking at stuff. It was great! We saw the 4 Galilean moons of Jupiter to start off with. Jupiter is out nice a bright in the southwestern sky so it was our first destination. The orb of Jupiter itself was way bigger than I thought it would be. I started thinking, hey this a pretty good telescope! There was no denying it, Jupiter is a planet. Last night however I went out a little longer, after my eyes adapted and I even saw one band of Jupiter! Of course the little moons had moved too, all strung out fireflies. I saw the faint haze of Orion’s Nebula and the moon looked absolutely amazing. I am inspired.
Viewing became even more difficult when I started using Galileo’s eyepiece. The viewing cues are correct but the field of view is pencil thin. It was humbling to see first hand what he went through. It must have been frustrating, not to mention he built his own telescope from vague reports of the original one built a year earlier… he even had to grind his own lenses. It is amazing to think this little instrument changed the world 400 years ago. In just that next year in 1610 Galileo published his Sidereus Nuncius, The Starry Messenger. He wrote about the phases of Venus, Jupiter’s moons and the mountain and crater shadows on the moon. He is accredited to be the father of modern science, something I think is so embedded in us we take it for granted. He was the first to differentiate science from philosophy and religion through 2 things. First, science and essentially everything in “the real world” can be modeled through mathematics that make predictions about future behavior. These models then are verified through experiment and can be revised to fit the experiments. This change in thinking “revolutionized” (hah) the world forever and I am glad I live AFTER that revolution. I hope this remains a time of reason.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Food

It’s official, I love food. I thought I just liked it a lot, but after really talking with people, I think I love it. I love going to grocery stores, I love cooking food, smelling food and finally eating food. My meals are one of the highlights of my day. Food is one of those special ways we interface with the world and with nature. If you think about it, most everything we eat was at one point alive, therefore eating is an especially rewarding communion with nature. As we nestle away in our buildings and sit in front of our computers for the better part of our lives, it’s nice to think about one of our last remaining portals to the natural world.
So naturally I’ve been cooking more lately and I’ve been enjoying it immensely. It’s funny… when I cook, everything kind of melts aware. Work worries evaporate away in saut├ęs. The smell of onions and sizzling steak put to shame the recycled air of the office. The sound of sizzling is more stimulating than that of telecons.
I’m amazed to hear that people don’t like the cuisines of entire countries. Indian? Chinese? Mediterranean and Thai? I remember the exact restaurants I first had most of these, most were in Boston. The experience was as thrilling to me as walking out into that country personally. It was seared into my brain. Ok enough with the bad puns.
So yeah, I love food. What do I hate? I hate rushing through meals, overcooked food, ground beef and potato salad. I consider potato salad a form of prison food. It is bland, mostly condiment and often served cold. It is the most disgusting food I have ever eaten and I’ve had boiled chicken feet, cow tongue and eel liver soup. As for ground beef, beef is too perfect a meat to be treated in such a horribly demeaning way. Ground beef in the grocery store is a horrible cocktail of animal fat and a few dozen cow scraps. If I need ground beef for some unforeseen reason, I’m going to ask butcher to grind a roast.
My favorite foods? That’s REALLY hard to say. For some reason eggplant parmesan is amazing to me, it is my comfort food. I used to eat eggplant parm subs all the time in college. I love Jamaican jerk chicken, conch fritters from Belize as well as their coconut ice cream. The food in Belize by the way blew me away. Indian food is amazing as well as Mediterranean. Japanese food is great too but after going to Japan I’ve had both the best food I’ve had in my entire life and the strangest. The single best bite of food I’ve had in my entire life is a piece of toro (fatty tuna) in Kyoto. Sarah videotaped me eating it. It was food nirvana, my entire head was a taste bud.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Books

I just finished a book called “Rocket Men” and it was pretty good. I would describe it as a wonderful jumble of anecdotes.. and I do mean jumble. I like it, I really do, but it is completely schizophrenic. The author jumps wildly as he describes various parts of the program, the astronauts and the hardware of Apollo. Seriously, I think the author fell into a synclastic infundibulum in the 60s and just started writing. (Any Vonnegut fans out there?) Anyway, it was still good and I finished it because I’m determined to start finishing books. My former self may not have. He did do a good job of finding quotes from Neil and Buzz. It was amazing to read how they described the lunar dust as smelling like ashes from a freshly put out fire and how the lunar module jolted and bucked while it guided itself to lunar orbit. There are many more anecdotes like that that made it worth it. Overall the book helps to answer that question that we all ask but NEVER get a good answer from astronauts… what did it feel like to go up into space?
It was good to read a book glorifying space travel for a change. The press seems to be so negative about it lately, or I might just be sensitive about it. The thing about space travel is that it forces us to build basically perfect machines. Nothing else does this. Our cars are very reliable but if they break it is no big deal, we pull over and call a tow. Planes however are manufactured to a much higher tolerance and have much more redundancy. They simply have to be made better. The parts are looked at through x ray machines and tolerances are phenomenal. This is because if a plane breaks you are in trouble, you’ll have to land or you might die. Now spaceships are yet a whole other level. They are incredibly expensive because they are much more complex AND they have to be for all definitions perfect. If it breaks, then you almost certainly die. The outcome is hardware that is only beat in perfection by nature herself. Like some unnamed government official said during the launch of Apollo 11, if just a sliver of this engineering perfection makes its way into the industrial sector, it will have paid for itself. If that is not a practical reason for a spaceflight program, an R&D program that produces historic achievements, I don’t know what is.
All that being said I’m not in it for the practical reasons.

I've started a few more books including a cooking book by Alton Brown. It's awesome. He describes EVERYTHING about cooking. How does frying "work" on the food? What really happens when you cook meat? And how can you use all of this knowledge to become a master chef. It's the difference between just doing a recipe and understanding how that recipe came to be. It is for the curious.