Too Hot (Hot Damn)

This morning I bid farewell to my boyfriend, as he is off on the Navy’s bidding for a few weeks. I also dealt with a malfunctioning air conditioner (a lizard fried himself on a capacitor, poor guy) in 90F+, extremely humid weather, a morass of bug bites on all my limbs, and the cavalcade of documents that go along with a mortgage. I also had to talk on the phone multiple times, which for me is super unfun. All in all, it was A Day, and I could be forgiven for letting my first day back at studying slide.

But! I did not! I guess I’m just stubborn enough. Or scared enough. Or I actually enjoy doing this enough. Well, a little bit of all of it, I suppose. In any case, once the internal temperature settled back down into the 70s, I was able to focus on learning more about matrices. In today’s sections, I got to the key part about determinants. No wonder I was having trouble remembering how to do this—they are, like many matrix-related things, supremely annoying to calculate. I am not sure if it the spatial element of it (if I am not careful I will get my rows and columns mixed up halfway through) or something else, but I have to go slow and frequently use my finger to point at the numbers I am trying to work with within a matrix. However, they are useful little beasties, and doing these sorts of calculations by hand is only for the theory of it and so a little painstaking is fine.

I read through another chapter in Bob today as well, this one on light and the electromagnetic spectrum. After having gone through this at least a little rigorously in my physics text, it was nice to get the astrophysics perspective here. A lot of focus on blackbodies, magnitude, and luminosity, which are key to our observations of the universe. Surface temperatures in the thousands of Kelvin! Distances in parsecs! I also re-learned some interesting info about color indices and getting a little bit into the practical side of things, with at least some attention given to correcting for instruments, atmospheric effects, etc.

One thing popped up that illustrates the downsides of using my old college textbooks for studying. For the most part, it’s quite adequate, as the things I am reviewing have been settled science for many decades, but sometimes the time gap rears its head. In this case, the text referenced an upcoming NASA mission called SIM PlanetQuest. It sounded quite interesting, and I was intrigued about a mission I had never heard of. So I pulled out my phone, googled it…aaaand it was canceled in 2010. Well damn. Better luck next time!

Back to the Grind!

But in this case, it’s not so bad, since the grind is just studying math and physics at my leisure. ☺ I’ve got it good right now and I know it!

I went up to Chicago this past week to attend my cousin’s wedding and do some house hunting. I was pretty worried about this, as I found out my current lender doesn’t finance co-ops, which wiped out like half my favorites list, and a lot of the units I liked had already gone off the market. But after a lot of visits, I ended up putting in an offer on the very first one we saw! And it was accepted today, so if I’m lucky it’ll go all the way to close and I can spend tons and tons of money having some place to live. Yay! It’s definitely nice to not have to keep stressing about the house hunt—although of course, it ain’t over til it’s over. While we were there, I stopped by the campus and showed my boyfriend around a little, but I felt too shy/nervous to go inside. Yep, introvert!

I gave myself a free day when we got back, but yesterday I put some things down on my study schedule and got back to it! I ran out of time before we left to finish my vector chapter, so I worked through the last sections of that. Then I broke open Bob, aka the Big Orange Book, aka An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics, 2nd Edition by Bradley Carroll and Dale Ostlie. I already ready chapter one a couple months back, so I hit up chapter two, which delved into heliocentric theories, Kepler’s laws (which we already know I love!), and the theory of gravity. Very interesting stuff, including a detailed derivation of Kepler’s laws from Newton’s laws and a basic breakdown of conic sections and orbits. This reminded me that I have been dallying in my reading of the Celestial Mechanics book I’ve been working on!

After that, it was back to Mathematical Methods to start on the chapter dealing with matrices. This is important stuff and I am definitely very rusty on it. It’s a long chapter, so I’ve broken it down over 3 different sessions. This first one mostly dealt with laying the groundwork (and making my brain hurt by trying to nail the concept of M-dimensional vector space) and some basic matrix math: addition (easy), subtraction (easy), and multiplication (painstaking).

In all, it felt good to get back to it! September is getting closer every day, and I am trying my best to get all the pieces to fall in place. I still don’t really have any clue what to expect/what I will be doing come fall. That’s making me a bit of a nervous wreck, but at least I am taking some proactive steps to help assuage my anxiety. That being said, it’s a holiday weekend, and my boyfriend is about to leave for some Navy crap for the rest of the summer, so I’ll be taking a few days off to chill with him! But Wednesday it will be ON again!

Square Cut or Pear Shaped, These Rocks Won’t Lose Their Shape

The end is drawing near for Tipler and Mosca! Today I read two chapters: Solids and Relativity. There was an optional relativity chapter in the first volume, so that was mostly a repeat but always a good one refresher to get! More fun brain benders like the twin paradox and non-synchronous simultaneity. And a bit of general relativity too, which wasn’t in the first relativity section.

As far as the material about solids, that was interesting but also a bit difficult to follow because most of the math is hand-waved (too advanced for this text), so it becomes a bit abstract. There are a lot of interesting practical effects that are very important to the world today condensed into this chapter, such as semiconductors, transistors, etc. I had to laugh because one section talks about current technology and lists laptops and appliance processors as cutting edge. No mention of smartphones because, back when I got this book, smartphones didn’t exist yet! Yes, that’s right kids, the very first iPhone was released when I was in college. I got a BlackBerry Curve my senior year and thought I was fancy.

Over on the math side of things, I started the chapter on vector algebra. This was pretty easy, since I haven’t forgotten how to do vectors and they’ve been all over my physics textbook. Of course, Mathematical Methods manages to make topics that I already understand sound confusing, but I figured out what they were trying to say eventually. I can’t say I really understand the order that this book is going in, but that’s okay. I think it’s intended to be more of a reference than a book to work through, so I’m not using it in the most optimal way.

Today’s fun “new” fact: Superconductivity (a truly bizarre situation in which a material has zero resistivity and can sustain a current indefinitely without an emf source) is due to electrons forming Cooper pairs. Because the pairs act as a unit, they become bosons (integer spin) and are no longer bound by the Pauli exclusion principle. Although, as with most things in quantum physics, I believe this is more of a way of explaining it rather than a precise description what is actually happening.

(And as a bonus fun fact, Cooper pairs are named after physicist Leon Cooper, who is also the namesake of fictional physicist Sheldon Cooper on the TV show The Big Bang Theory.)

I Ain’t Trying to Do What Everybody Else Doing

Another day another dollar! Except not, because I have no dollars coming to me at all right now. Which is fine. This is fine. (Actually, it is fine, because I planned for it, but it is a little…unnerving?)

Today I got some more modern physics refreshed into my brain. I read two chapters, Atoms and Molecules. As advertised, I got to learn about both atoms and molecules! It was a very interesting perspective on things that are familiar from high school science classes. Ionic bonds! Covalent bonds! Except now with added quantum physics! Which I think is pretty damn cool. Suddenly the why of rather arbitrary things, like having 6 electrons in each p-orbital, makes sense. Or at least, makes as much sense as quantum physics ever does. =) Reading about the spectra for molecules made me think about taking spectra of exoplanet atmospheres and I got all excited all over again about what I get to do.

And then I got scared.

Forgive me for waxing a little personal/philosophical here, but reading about all these amazing physicists like Schrödinger and Dirac and Pauli is intimidating. These people were brilliant and able to come up with these new ideas that changed the way we understand the universe. I certainly can’t hope to do that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a pretty smart cookie. And I’m really good at learning physics. But am I good at doing it? I honestly don’t know. And this is part of the reason why it took me so long to pursue this path. Anyway, it’s scary, but I just have to button up and carry on. I’ll do my best and not get ahead of myself.

In other news, I finished up my Python course today! That was pretty exciting. Do I feel like a coding genius? No, not even close. But I have a better understanding of the language now, and I feel more confident about my ability to tackle it and make it work for me. Overall, I think the Codecademy course was very helpful, and I recommend it to anyone trying to get the basics of Python down. Plus free is always a good price! But it’s definitely only a stepping stone and not a full education in a language.

I think I earned myself some ice cream!

Today’s fun “new” fact: The letters used to identify the l quantum number (s, p, d, f for l=0,1,2,3) were not just arbitrarily chosen to frustrate young chemistry students. According to a footnote in my textbook, they are “remnants of spectroscopists descriptions of various spectral lines as sharp, principal, diffuse, and fundamental.”

A Whole New World

Today I got to start on the part of the physics textbook that deals with the somewhat-misleadingly-named modern physics (dating back about a hundred years now!). Excitingly enough this is also the last section of the textbook. The end is drawing near for Tipler and Mosca! So today I read two chapters, Wave-Particle Duality and Quantum Physics and Applications of the Schrödinger Equation, and these were an introduction to quantum physics. They’re actually a pretty well-written introduction, explaining Schrödinger’s equation and wave-particle duality and probability densities in a matter-of-fact way that makes it sound like, okay that makes sense, and not like that is Totally Fucking Weird, which probably should be the default reaction to quantum physics. It covered some of the stuff that had previously been mentioned in the light chapters, and it was a good recap plus adding Schrödinger and some of the quantum things that arise that are classically forbidden like tunneling and partial reflection.

Math-wise, I worked on integrals today. It was actually a pretty easy chapter—I did the whole thing in one go—on multiple integrals. Basically integrating over areas and volumes. The trickiest part here is defining the limits of your integrals, and there was a fun section on change of variables which didn’t make a whole lot of sense because it was said to just use the determinant of the matrix, and if you don’t know what that is we’ll cover that in two chapters. I don’t really remember anything about matrices so that was not quite so helpful for me, but other than that I do feel like I have a good handle on the material in this chapter. I was pretty comfortable working through the problems, although I got a little bogged down in some of the actual calculations. But that’s just me being out of practice and doing stupid things like dropping random x’s when I was doing multi-line integrals.

Really, it was a good day. I feel happy with where I’m at, and I am looking forward to the rest of this week. It’s a little bit of a short week because I’m going to Chicago on Friday, both to go to my cousin’s wedding and to look at houses for when I move to Chicago in just a couple months now! I’m looking forward to that, and I’m a little nervous and hoping that all the places I see don’t suck and that I can find something I can afford. I’m also excited to show my boyfriend Hyde Park so he can get a feel for where I’m going to be living—and for me to get a better feel it because I’ve only been there once!

Today’s fun “new” fact: While I remembered the Pauli exclusion principle, I forgot that it can be seen in the construction of anti-symmetric wave functions, where if both quantum numbers are the same, the wave function will go to zero and so therefore, while it is still a valid solution mathematically, it is rejected as a wave function because it cannot be normalized. It’s a simple way of thinking about a complicated assertion.

Mysterious as the Dark Side of the Moon

Good morning and happy Monday! I had another nightmare about grad school last night. That was fun. My brain needs to just get over being anxious! I’m a grown-ass woman, I shouldn’t be this nervous about making a huge, upending life change. Oh wait. That’s totally normal.

Before I dive into my books this sunny Monday, I wanted to finish my Friday/Saturday update so I don’t fall so far behind again. Because I basically forgot to do a section on Thursday, I planned to do three on Friday. That didn’t quite work out, but I only pushed one and I got it done Saturday. So I did meet my goals last week! Just a teeny bit off-schedule.

Friday morning I finished off the chapter on partial differentiation. This got into some pretty interesting stuff, including deriving some of Maxwell’s thermodynamic equations, the Boltzmann distribution, and a series of problems where I got to solve systems of equations with some fun middle school algebra tricks. It took a bit of doing, but I enjoyed the problems.

In the afternoon, I turned back to trusty Tipler and Mosca. I had set a rather lofty 3-chapter goal that included the entire Part V on Light with the chapters Properties of Light, Optical Images, and Interference and Diffraction. This pretty much covered the entire (non-quantum) spectrum from wave-particle duality to color to rainbows to interference rings and ray diagrams. There was even a neat section about a rough physical model of how the eye works. Plus lasers, measuring the speed of light, and more! Light is a pretty cool topic, and one quite relevant for astrophysics, so this was a good refresher. They even included a few examples from astro, which is always nice to see.

After my lengthy physics read, I didn’t get to my Python course, so I tackled that on Saturday, finishing a lesson on classes. I wanted to do two lessons, but I also have a life and a boyfriend so that didn’t happen. Only one lesson to go before the final project! That’s on the schedule for this week, and I’ll do the final when I get back. I’m pleased with what I’ve learned so far and think it will help me out a lot going forward.

Today’s fun “new” fact: Mirages are due to the differing densities, and therefore differing indices of refraction, of air of different temperatures. Hotter air closer to the ground (near asphalt, for example) creates a boundary with the cooler air above. Some of the incoming light is reflected.

(Binary Solo) 0000001 00000011 000000111 0000111

It was only as I went to write a blog post for today (welcome to the present!) that I realized I hadn’t actually finished my studying according to my plan. Yes, for the first time I have failed to meet my study goals. But given that it is 9:30 PM already, and I am rather tired, I think it is prudent to not try to learn the latter half of the chapter on partial differentiation right now. After all, the goal is to study, not just to put a check in the box. It will just mean a rather busier day tomorrow, or perhaps having to push something into the weekend. Not the end of the world!

What I did get done today (besides an assortment of personal errands and such) was another couple lessons in my Python course. I’m up past 80% complete now! I have another session scheduled tomorrow, and I plan to finish everything except the final project then. Today I learned about bitwise operators, which meant the joy of trying to think in binary. Not impossible, but never as easy as good old base 10!

So today was a little light on the studying, but I’m still satisfied with what I accomplished and looking forward to crushing tomorrow!

Here a Field, There a Field, Everywhere a Field Field

Only one day into the past, which doesn’t even call for the time machine, really. Just a time jump. Oh, you don’t know how to do that? Pity. *wahoo!*

This morning started out great with the first half of the chapter on Partial Differentiation. I’ve always liked partial derivatives. They almost feel like cheating, right? Like you have this whole mess of an equation with a million variables but…we’ll just ignore them all and only deal with one! Mwahaha. So it was a genuine pleasure to work through these sections. Even the one on changing variables that took me three pages of looseleaf and numerous cross-outs to work through.

The afternoon was not quite so great. For one, I didn’t get started until pretty late. You wouldn’t think I’d be so busy, being unemployed and all, but the days really do get away from me. By the time I went for a run and made lunch and washed dishes and so on and so on, it was already late afternoon. And my boyfriend and I were planning to go to a baseball game (free tickets since it was Military Appreciation Night, and we got vouchers for free hot dogs), so I had to knuckle down and get to work. And of course I had given myself three chapters that totaled over 90 pages: Magnetic Induction, Alternating-Current Circuits, and Maxwell’s Equations and Electromagnetic Waves. The magnetic induction material was especially long and took me a lot of effort to power through. I get frustrated sometimes trying to think through these problems. One moving charge creates a magnetic field which changes and induces an electric field which causes charges to move and create magnetic fields…okay, I know it’s really not that hard, but it just takes a lot of focus. By the time I got to poor Maxwell I couldn’t even be properly excited about him putting everything together!

But luckily I finished just in time to head out for the baseball game. (The Riverdogs won!)

Today’s fun “new” fact: Flux is quantized, and the small unit of flux is called a fluxon. That just sounds like some mad-scientist shit right there.

I Just Want to Feel Attractive Today

And now we have only a short hop back to Tuesday, June 13. That’s practically today. Tuesday, Thursday, who can keep track of all the T days? *doo-doot doo-doot*

Today I took a break from the mind-bending math but continued with good ol’ Tipler and Mosca. After the lengthy chapters on Monday, I ended up with a short pair of chapters today on The Magnetic Field and Sources of the Magnetic Field. I probably could have balanced this out better when I was making my schedule for the week, but I was just going based off a chapter list. In any case, these were interesting chapters. I especially liked that there was a good section about some practical applications of very basic magnetism concepts—velocity selectors, mass spectrometers, etc. Also I got a chance to look like an idiot at my desk by constantly doing the right-hand rule as I followed along with examples in the text. Good thing I study at home alone!

After the magnetic chapters on magnetism, I picked up with my Codecademy course on Python. Progress has been slower here than I like, but as the lessons are getting a little more complex, they take more time and brainpower, hence slower progress. Still, the end is in sight. I got to play around with creating mathematical functions, which actually felt useful (even though these are actually built in to Python), and got to start on “advanced” topics. Nothing too crazy, but it’s starting to feel a little more natural to get the code down. I also spent five minutes debugging something that turned out to be a single misplaced indent. Oops!

Today’s fun “new” fact: Two straight wires carrying parallel currents will attract each other due to their generated magnetic fields. And in fact, this attractive force is how the SI unit ampere is (currently) defined! The coulomb is then reverse-defined from the ampere.

Photo by Guy vandegrift / CC BY-SA 3.0

Everybody to the Limit

Okay, now we’re only jumping back in time to Monday, June 12. So long ago that was! The main news story was Trump’s bizarre Cabinet meeting. Ah, the good old days. Anyway… *bleep bloop blorp*

After a nice, relaxing weekend, I was ready for Monday morning, even though it brought the remaining sections of the Series and Limits chapter. I was a little worried, but it ended up being not nearly as strenuous as the first part of the chapter. What a relief! I got to practice convergence/divergence tests and practice taking limits. I finished pretty early in the morning and had plenty of time for my lunch break. Which ended up being most of the day, as I decided to make a layer cake for my boyfriend. It was delicious and time consuming! And I didn’t return to my studying until late in the evening. But that’s the joy of setting my own hours!

Of course, if I had known how long my physics section would take, perhaps I would have not been so determined to finish. I had assigned myself three more chapters on E&M: Electric Potential, Electrostatic Energy and Capacitance, and Electric Current and Direct-Current Circuits. They weren’t overly difficult, but by 10 PM I was having trouble concentrating. But even if I had to read some of the paragraphs a few times before I really read them, I did get through it!

I got a lot of flashbacks to the first time I went through this material, back in my Electricity and Magnetism I class my sophomore year of college. Our instructor was the most cliched version of a physics professor, with the big gray/white afro and same 2 ties in rotation and so many bad jokes about the subject matter. He always called one the “loneliest number” (a reference I didn’t get until years later) and referred to hippopotami that carried charges between the plates of a capacitor (an analogy that never made sense, but I guess it worked since I still remember it over ten years later!). Ah, Professor Korman. Hope he’s still puzzling the kids and telling bad physics jokes over at USNA.

Today’s fun “new” fact: Another math one today, but I couldn’t resist. I actually exclaimed out loud when I saw “L’Hôpital’s rule!” Because it’s so fun to say, of course, and because I had totally forgotten about it. It’s a simple and wonderful trick that allows you to take a limit of functions that tend to 0/0 or ∞/∞. You just take their derivatives and voila! It’s like magic. Except it’s math.

Photo by Papa November / CC BY-SA 3.0