Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Oh no, not again...

The cycle is starting again: extreme cold, followed by moderate cold and 10" of snow, followed by extreme cold, followed by moderate cold and more snow, followed by...

WI does have four seasons, but to the untrained observer three of them are indistinguishable from winter. Oddly, knowing that I've lived through this before does not give me confidence in my ability to do so again. It just makes me nostalgic for my previous ignorance. Damnit.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


I'll be surprised if this ever happens again, so I would like to publicly note that downtown Madison is even more filled with drunk screaming people than usual, and I empathize completely. Even I am slightly hoarse. :-D

Monday, September 1, 2008

Amusing flashbacks

If a good party is one that's highly entertaining for the people there without causing irreparable property damage, a really awesome party is one that continues to entertain people two years after the fact - including people who weren't actually there.

I'm not sure if my readers will recall the gingerbread Columbia party that was thrown by my suitemates during the fall of our senior year. It was, without question, the single most awesome thing my suite did. Recently a librarian at CU came across the evidence on Flickr and sent links to the pictures around to one of the library mailing lists (one of the recipients emailed one of my suitemates for an explanation and she forwarded it along to the rest of us). The consequence of all this is that I've gotten to watch as the number of views of some of my pictures rapidly increased over the last week. It's pretty cool.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Forays into civilization and the pursuit of shiny objects

Well, it's been over a month since my last post. For half of that time I was on vacation back on the East Coast. It was unnerving to discover, on my first trip into Manhattan after an absence of six months, twenty-six days, and sixteen hours (not that I obsessively monitor these things), I had totally forgotten proper street-crossing technique. So, in an effort to avoid an untimely death by speeding taxi I had to resort to waiting for the light to change color. *sigh.* On my second day of walking around, however it came back to me: Step into street, look in direction opposite oncoming traffic for bike messengers, step farther into street, look in direction of oncoming traffic, proceed across street in between cars, arrive at destination on time. Now I'm back in Madison, but I haven't readjusted my street-crossing mentality yet, so I've caused several people to flinch by walking into the street well in advance of the walk signal turning on, after verifying that I was not going to be hit by anything. Ha! This weekend, however, I am going to Chicago to visit a friend who's starting grad school there. I will have to be careful. Chicagoans will definitely try to run me over.

Anyway, I went to the Met when I was in New York, and found the current roof garden exhibit (sculptures by Jeff Koons) to be highly amusing. Specifically, there's a sculpture of a 10'-15' tall balloon dog made out of yellow high-chromium steel. It's very shiny and reflects the skyline and Central Park and fills my inner child with glee. There's another, smaller (I think), orange version of this sculpture (and another one of a rabbit) currently on exhibit at the Meuseum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. This, after visiting my aforementioned friend and generally enjoying a final weekend of urban life before classes start is my main reason for going.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Roommate hunting, some true observations

A few months ago, I realized I was going to need new housemates to replace my current ones and that these new roommates were not going to materialize out of the blue. So, I, the intrepid protagonist, put an ad on the university's off-campus housing listing site. This, I assumed, was likely to attract a random sampling of graduate students, who may be irresponsible in their own absent-minded ways, but whose situation I can relate to and who I would, therefore, trust to pay the rent. The alternative was craigslist, which, in the stories of one of my current roommates, attracted several normal people, one recently paroled, extremely jittery, homeless person with $500 who was hoping to move in immediately, and one other guy who seemed ok and was permitted to move in, but had to be kicked out again when it became apparent that he was a verbally abusive, asocial, kleptomaniac. Right. So. University listing for me.

The responses to my ad came from mostly grad students, which I consider a success. However, for future roommate-hunting purposes, I have learned that ads aimed at reasonable grad students will not produce potential roommates who are all a) grad students, b) observant, or c) obviously capable of taking care of themselves.

For example, I received phone calls from the fathers (and it was always the fathers) of several undergrads who were looking for housing for their incoming freshman children. The questions I asked myself before failing to return their phone calls included: What parent, who has raised children I want to deal with, calls potential roommates themselves instead of making their 18 year old kid do it? As a >21 year-old, what <21 year-old would I want to assume the legal liability of living with (assuming I will neither hide, nor constantly monitor my inventory of judgment-impairing beverages)?

There were also a few incoming grad students (all of them for non-PhD programs, though) who came to visit with their parents. This did not inspire my confidence. When I moved to a new city, I managed to find accommodations for myself. I realize I'm unusually independent, but my grad student friends also found housing for themselves. If you want me to believe that you're old enough to feed and dress yourself and be a grad student and live without a babysitter, you probably should too.

Finally, there are my favorites - the women with cats. Necessary background information: the listings allow you to specify pet policies as "No pets", "Cats only", or "Pets negotiable" and then has a text box to explain the negotiability. My listing has "Pets negotiable" and the explanation says, "No cats. Dogs negotiable." So I've gotten a number of emails from people (always women) looking for someplace they can live with their cat(s). The first one said, "I know your listing says 'No cats' and I have a cat. However she's a very cute and well-behaved cat, does that make a difference?" I replied, "Unfortunately, that won't work. The prohibition on cats is not only because I dislike them, but because I'm allergic." The second one came today and said, "I know your listing says 'No cats' but I'm looking for a place to live in Madison with my two cats, is the room still available?" I haven't replied, because I have been unable to convince myself that the correct reply is "No, sorry the room has been taken." What I want to write would have the same effect, but would require lying: "Yes! The room is still available, and how fortunate! You have two cats. I hadn't previously noticed the typo in my listing, which I intended to read 'No cat' - singular. I would be allergic to one cat, but of course, everyone knows that if you have a pair of cats the dander from cat 1 will counteract the dander from cat 2, leaving me and my respiratory system happy and functional. Hooray!"

So anyway, I did successfully find new roommates. I don't think any of them will require extensive looking-after. They don't seem to have overbearing parents. They're all of legal drinking age. And when everyone is moved in, we will be able to bond over our shared hatred of cats.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

I've caved

In search of new and exciting ways to procrastinate, I caved in and set up a twitter account for myself. I don't know yet how much I'll use it, but it's here: http://twitter.com/lazyphysics/ if you care.

Note that this doesn't mean I'm abandoning the blog, it just means that I will no longer feel obligated to wait until I can think of a complete sentence to write something. There will probably be a post here at some point in the next week or so.


Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Paul Simon-mobile lives!

I am the proud owner of a car that is no longer sitting in my driveway unable to start. Woohoo! Now I can go purchase $50 of gas and drive around the upper Midwest to my heart's content. This should also have the result of making evening/weekend social outings less of a pain- on several recent occasions there have been one or two cars, seating between 2 and 4 passengers legally, to take between 5 and 7 people from point A to point B and back(the upshot has been that we're all much closer friends now).

In other news, if anyone cared about my camping trip - my dry socks hypothesis was disproved. I had exactly the needed number of socks. I could have done with an extra pair of sneakers though, as mine got completely soaked through with mud on the first morning and I had to wear boots for the rest of the trip.

Friday, June 20, 2008


I am celebrating the solstice by going camping in Southern WI with some friends for the weekend. Happily the campsite where we're staying in has not been flooded recently - but the forecast calls for scattered thunderstorms today and tomorrow - so I will have an opportunity to test my dry socks hypothesis (I'm bringing twice as many pairs of socks as I *should* need... we'll see if that works). The park in question also has a large bat population, which presumably means no mosquitoes. Sweet. Anyway, I need to go finish getting my stuff together to leave.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Happy Friday the 13th!

I noticed it was both the 13th and Friday today. Then I thought for a while and realized that exactly 5.5 years ago was also a Friday the 13th... memorable as the day I got into Columbia. Today has not been quite so good a day - its major selling point so far is that the torrential rain and tornadoes finally stopped and the sun came out. :-)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

In which the protagonist's uncharacteristically brilliant planning is thwarted

So, when you're going to do something outside, you know how it usually turns out that if you forget to consider bringing extra socks or you think before leaving the house, "nah... I probably won't get that wet," you end up really wishing you had something dry to put on your feet? I have a theory - it says that if you bring N pairs of dry socks with you, in hindsight you'll always realize that the correct number to bring would have been N+1.

On Sundays, as long as it is not snowing and people don't have homework to worry about, a bunch of friends and I spend the afternoon playing soccer. Usually, after soccer, I am sweaty and covered with dust (or mud, depending on the condition of the field), however I only occasionally remember to bring a change of clothes/shoes so I can stay at work in clean and dry clothes for a while before I go home. Today was one of those rare days... anticipating a rainy afternoon, I figured I should bring a complete change of clothes so as to have something comfortable to wear for dinner and the return journey to my house. We played for two hours, and while the sky looked mildly threatening for a while it didn't actually rain. When I got back to my office I put on all my clean clothes to avoid being sweaty and smelling as bad as I otherwise would have. Then, I went out to dinner with some fellow soccer players.

Now, in some incredibly cruel twist of fate, it began pouring while we were at dinner (roughly half a mile from the building we work in and where I'd left my stuff) so my previously dry clothes got soaked on the way back to the office to retrieve my laptop and my soccer stuff. What's even worse is that the shoes in question were the my last pair of dry sneakers. My other pair were taken sailing on Friday and ended up completely water-logged... they're still damp. And ironically, the jeans in question had just been washed as they had also gone sailing (they smelled suspiciously like lake water when they got home). So, despite my best efforts, I had to come home and immediately change clothes anyway... and because it's been thundering like crazy for the last hour I will need to change again after I can finally take a shower. Gah.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A hypothetical question

I am not going to name names here, but I recently heard a story that was both puzzling and amusing. Say you work on some sort of science experiment that measures something. It measures it relative to a particular coordinate system, with some known accuracy, which one might want to transform into another coordinate system. The question is, assuming the transformation from the initial to the final system is non-trivial, do you need to injure yourself writing code to make the transformation accurate to 1/1,000,000th of the accuracy of your initial measurement?

While I understand that one needs to avoid introducing errors in the coordinate transform, I strongly suspect that making it six orders of magnitude more precise than the initial measurement is a waste of time.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

An account of a recent dinner adventure

This evening, confronting the possibility of having to a) walk to the grocery store or b) eat ramen for dinner I talked one of my roommates into going to the Greenbush Bar (otherwise known as the most awesome place to get pizza in Madison) for dinner. So we left our house at around 7pm. The events that followed are listed here, in rough chronological order.

7:10 - We arrive at the bar and are put on the waiting list (wait estimated at 15-20 minutes)
7:25 - We are seated, and get menus and water.
7:27 - Our waitress stops by briefly to say that she will be back to get our orders in a minute.
7:47 - We start to suspect that we've been forgotten.
7:50 - The waitress comes back and takes our order. She apologizes for our wait, offering the explanation that "people" keep showing up and buying the staff shots. She maintains that she's only had one. We're skeptical, but amused. She takes the menus, promises to bring us bread and more water, and leaves.
7:55 - The waitress comes back to take out order and apologizes for the fact that we don't even have menus. We point out that we've already ordered. We're still amused. She promises to bring us more water.
7:57 - We get bread.
8:00 - The waitress comes back and writes down our order again because she can't find it.
8:03 - The waitress will be back in a minute with our water.
8:15 - We get more water.
-- Intermission --
The people at the table to the left of me (same server) have gotten their bill and seem puzzled and somewhat annoyed. They ask the waitress to remove their beer from the bill because it never arrived. We begin to fear for our food. The waitress doesn't seem to know what to do and begins hassling the guy who pointed out that they were not going to pay for the beer that they didn't get. The host is recruited to mediate. He apologizes profusely, fixes the bill himself, and provides the manager's phone number to the aggrieved parties. The waitress continues to argue.
-- End Intermission --
8:25 - My roommate gets her salad. She asks for a fork.
8:35 - We get more bread. My roommate asks for a fork again. The people sitting to my right, who have been amused by our plight offer her one of their unused forks.
8:38 - Our waitress returns with napkins and silverware. We're slightly less amused.
9:10 - We realize we haven't seen the waitress for a while and start trying to decide what our chances of getting our pizza are. It occurs to us that if our waitress was on something to start with the effects of one shot might have been massively amplified.
9:12 - We spot our waitress as she tries to give a carry-out box to some people who haven't had and leftovers boxed. We decide that we're not going to leave a tip and debate leaving enough cash to cover the bill, without actually getting the bill on the theory that this will reduce the time we spend waiting for our waitress to not be distracted. However, I point out that this plan assumes we actually *get* our pizza. We are not amused.
9:30 - We ask the waitress for the table next to ours if she would mind checking on our pizza. She returns with a pizza with tomatoes and olives and asks if it looks right. We point out that we ordered tomatoes and *basil.* She offers to put the order in again - but we decide we mostly just want to eat.
9:32 - The neighboring table's waitress comes back with another, cold-looking pizza with tomatoes and basil. Apparently, it had been sitting around for a while, but wasn't labeled with the table number... My roommate explains to the useful waitress that we actually had our order taken twice, so maybe it was actually sent into the kitchen twice. The waitress laughs, leaves us the second pizza and tells us that we should make sure we only pay for one.
9:45 - Done eating, we ask the neighboring waitress to box up our extra pizza and bring us our check. She obliges. We conspire with the people at the table next to us to leave the tip at their table, to ensure that *our* waitress doesn't get it.
9:55 - Our waitress collects the bill (with my roommate's debit card) and promises to return shortly. We're skeptical... but she does manage to return in under 10 minutes and, amazingly, with the correct card and bill. My roommate puts no tip on the bill and we leave.
10:00 - We return to our house. I am slightly scared to go back - lest I have to endure the same awful server again. It's depressing, because the pizza is really good (the service is also generally very good). However, it seemed like all of the staff was pretty aware that there was a problem, so perhaps the waitress won't last very long.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The protagonist, who should be doing a pset, takes a break

Greetings, intrepid reader. In the month since I last remembered to blog anything it has only snowed a few times, and I haven't had to shovel at all. This makes me realize that the combination of grad school and horrible WI winter have reduced the list of things I can usually think of to write to a) complaints about snow and b) complaints about cold.

This afternoon, however, I can report some actual news. I had my first run-in with the maintenance arm of my rental management company this afternoon and was pleasantly surprised. Granted my expectations were so low, it would have been really impressive if I was disappointed, but the plumber showed up within two hours of my calling the emergency maintenance people, and fixed the toilet seal so it would stop dripping water into the ceiling above the kitchen cabinets, and promised to send the regular maintenance people by to fix the hole in the ceiling tomorrow.

Also, effective very soon I am switching research groups. I will be working on an experiment more closely related to the one I worked on as an undergrad than the one I work for presently. Although I am disappointed that I will have to find a new way to go to the South Pole, I'm excited about my new project and the possibility of being sent to Hong Kong. (Recent research into the topic suggests that Hong Kong has more skyscrapers than NY by a considerable factor, a respectable population density, and a large English-speaking population. If they also have bagels, I'm sure I'd like it.) Anyway, before I switch groups, I need to get a talk together and finish a quantum mechanics problem set... all before 8 a.m. Tuesday... and while recovering from a cold (i.e. without the option of pulling consecutive all-nighters). So I'm going to get back to that now.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

In which the protagonist.... oh nevermind

WI vs. OR seasons
Originally uploaded by lazyphysicsmajor
Laura drew this sometime in February... apparently she was unhappy with the weather as compared to that in the Pacific Northwest. In sympathy, I added an illustration for August in NJ compared to WI. It made my advisor laugh.

Anyway, since we just got another seven inches of snow yesterday I decided to check the season snowfall total with the NWS. We're at 99" if I recall correctly - only 2" behind Buffalo, NY and they are also having a snowier-than-average winter. I realize I said I was going to stop complaining about the weather, but really, this does totally suck.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

In which the protagonist secures a library card

Things have been pretty busy lately, but I'm still around. Since last post I've survived the first prospective grad student visiting weekend, midterms, and the first half of Spring Break. I still need to finish my taxes, jump start my car, and, tomorrow, it's supposed to snow half a foot. Gah.

Anyway, yesterday I went to get a library card for the Madison Public Library. It was my first excursion into the central branch of the library, which is amusing because it's immediately next to the building where I work downtown and I've walked past it hundreds of times since I got here. Anyway, a cool thing about Madison is that it's a large enough city to have several library branches and in addition it's part of a 7-county group of libraries so I can request almost as many books as I'd be able to get from the university libraries. They also have lots of DVDs and many copies of the popular ones. So, for example I expected it to take several days or a week for me to get the first disc of Firefly episodes, because I was the fourth person requesting it, but it showed up for me to collect within 24 hours of my request. w00t.

More later, perhaps, unless I'm busy watching movies. :-)

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Warmth! Sunshine! w00t!

Last week it was sunny every day, and we got less than one inch of snow in total. Happiness! Presently, it is 43 degrees (sadly not sunny anymore, although it was this morning), and for the next week highs should be in the mid-to-upper twenties. I've never been this ready for spring to start. Now that there are only 13" of snow left on the ground in most places, if the current weather trend continues, I'll be able to see the grass again in about two months. :-D

Edited: According to the NWS, our current snow depth is not 8", which I had estimated, but 13"

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

In which the protagonist, accepting that it will never improve, gives up on complaining about the weather

...except to say that she's betting that she will have shoveled more than 5' of snow this winter (having left some of it to housemates) when all is said and done, and she's not happy about it.

Anyway, as of today I am officially registered to vote in the state of WI. However, I did *not* register with any particular party, because WI doesn't require one to (actually, I probably would have, but I didn't see the option on the registration form and I wanted to leave the polling place as soon as possible). My polling place is in the moderately sketchy area that I go half a mile out of my way to avoid when walking home from work at night... but whatever. WI uses paper ballots, which confuse me mightily. I neglected to study the layout and determine whether there was a write-in option anywhere (not that I foresee wanting to vote for persons not on the ballot, but these things are good to know).

Earlier this evening, I was amused that CNN called WI for McCain before any results were officially in, and that they waited all of 20 minutes before calling it for Obama. w00t. This makes me optimistic that I have possibly voted for the winner of a national election for the first time (since my 2004 choices for presidential nominee (Dean) and President (Kerry) both lost).

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Obama in Madison

The following speech was given at the Kohl Center (I was all the way up in the nosebleed section).

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

More snow; the descent into madness continues

Another foot today. We're at 7' total since the beginning of December (the normal amount is about 2'). WTF? I miss being able to see the ground. I also miss the sun, as it tends to be cloudy while it's snowing every day (and on the special occasions when the sun does come out for whole hours at a time it's usually because the temperature have dropped below 10 degrees).

I had to trudge home from the downtown office over more than a mile of unshoveled sidewalks and several snowdrifts up to my knees. Adding insult to injury, while I was walking, I was passed by a bus. Then five minutes later I was passed by another bus on the same line, which is completely wrong. They're supposed to run every half-hour and there were not supposed to be any around the time I left the office (hence my decision to walk). I hate infrequent, scheduled public transportation - it's f*ing useless when the weather is crappy and it gets off schedule (which, of course is the only time I'd want to use it).

I got home to find our walks in need of shoveling for the third time since this morning (I shoveled once in the morning and one of my roomies redid them during the day... I also think someone may have shoveled last night). The snow mountain in front of the house is now taller than me. And it's spawned a second snow mountain at the end of the driveway, which is also about my height. So any future snow will have to be carried halfway down the block so I don't hurt myself trying to fling it over the top of a 5'6" pile.

Spring can't come too soon (although someone pointed out that around here snow is not unheard of in May).

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Qual, an icequake, and other disturbances

I took the qualifying exam last weekend, and got my score today. I think it was a remarkably good score considering that it was a six-hour test on any/all of undergraduate physics with no formula sheet. So I will be most likely be allowed to remain in WI for another 4 winters or until the weather kills me. Which it continues to try to do. For example, with the wildly fluctuating temperatures (from a sunny tropical 40F to -10F and then back to the reasonable low 20's in the last three days) the lake north of campus apparently had enough and a bunch of ice shifted, shaking several campus buildings (including mine) enough to cause calls to security/facilities. As far as I know it didn't actually damage anything - but still. The weather is insane.

Also, attempting to start my car in the ridiculous cold apparently killed the battery, so it still doesn't start and I don't have time to deal with getting it jumped. Great. Or, perhaps I do have time to get it jumped, but I foolishly spend it writing blog-rants. Whatever. In any case, though I am tired and cold and increasingly out of food that isn't milk, eggs, bread, peanut butter and jelly, or ramen, I'm in good spirits. But busy; blog posting will resume at some date TBD.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


Whether being cold builds character I couldn't say. However, it is amazingly effective at building perspective and tolerance for cold. This morning, I went outside to try to start my car (all attempts were unsuccessful)*. For this adventure I wore long underwear under my usual jeans and tshirt, a winter hat, a hoodie (hood on), my jacket with its fleece liner (hood on). I was probably not in immediate danger of freezing, but I could still tell that it was pretty cold. It was about -9 F (wind chill: -27 F). However, a few hours later (temperature: -4 F, wind chill: -25 F) when I went outside without my jacket and with only one head covering to empty the recyclables can I was fine. I also suspect that I will be *happy* when the high temps go back to a balmy 15 F in a few days.

It will also be interesting to see what happens tonight when I will probably walk ~1.2 miles to go to a juggling show and then, depending on the bus schedule, walk home (unless I decide to go to a party downtown after the show... which will add alcohol and two additional miles of walking to the equation). If no one hears from me for a while, it may be safe to assume that my hypothermia-inducing stupidity has been removed from the gene pool (alternatively, I may be busy studying for quals).

*The Paul Simonmobile has another interesting problem also. Last time I took it out, a lot of water condensed on the insides of the windshield and windows... then it froze and it hasn't thawed since. So, if the car starts again before spring, I will probably need to scrape the *inside* of the windshield before I can actually go anywhere. W00T.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Returned from civilization

I'm back in Madison. On the plane from Newark to Detroit there was thin cloud cover everywhere and I saw a rainbow from the plane (and since it was below me, I saw the entire ring... it was pretty cool). Also, Northwest is the only airline I've flown on more than once that has a perfect record for getting my luggage onto the correct planes at the correct times and not causing me horrendous pain during any of my flights (and they earn bonus points for giving me an entire can of soda on one of my flights instead of just a cup). I will never fly with them again because they've clearly been setting me up for some sort of optimism-crushing mishap. Bastards.

Anyway, much of the snow melted in my absence. My car is no longer stuck in the driveway. However, I had been hoping that I would be able to see the ground and because it snowed yesterday or early this morning (or both) that didn't happen. *Sigh.* I'm not going to see the grass again until March (if I don't freeze to death before then).

I got most of my errands out of the way today, tomorrow will be back to studying and then on Monday I will need to go to work. Joy.