Friday, April 30, 2010


This is definitely the "season of lasts:" I turned in my last research paper on Wednesday, I just sat through my last college lecture at ACU, I'm going to my last chapel in the next half hour, and so on. Many of these "lasts" I'm looking forward to. The conclusion of my undergraduate career is a huge milestone and each little reminder that I'm almost finished is welcome. I'm really looking forward to a job where I can go home in the evenings without stuff hanging over my head. School is never over. You go to class, study, work, and run errands during the day, but when you go home there is a pile of homework, projects, and studying still to be done. There is never an end to the to-do list since, I usually turn in one assignment only to see it replaced with another one immediately. However, this week, when I turn in my last homework assignment for Dynamics on Monday, there won't be another one to take it's place. When I take my last Quantum Mechanics test on Thursday, I won't have to start reading the next sections in the text book in preparation for class the next day. It is a relief.

However, there are lasts that I am not looking forward to: the last hugs, the last meals with friends, the last adventures, the last Sunday worship services with my family. To be honest, it really hasn't set in yet that I'm leaving, possibly never to return, possibly to never see certain people again. It's still normal to hit the road at the end of the Spring Semester and go home to Montana for the summer, the abnormality is not having to prepare for school again in the Fall. But at some point next week, even though I've never been an emotional person, I'm worried that the clash of emotions going on inside me is going to come out; sentimentality and nostalgia will rise to the surface and might even induce some tears.

I don't really know what kind of conclusion I'm trying to come to with this post. It's nice to try and express this inner struggle with wanting to "cut loose" of undergrad, ACU, and dry, flat, brown, west Texas and not leaving the friends, family, and "home" that I've come to enjoy so much here in this place. Thankfully I still have a week to wrestle with it, say my goodbyes, and put off as many of the painful "lasts" as possible.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Finished Paper...?

PHYS 491, or Quantum Mechanics is an upper level course taken by all physics majors here at ACU (and even some crazy Math majors...). As per University requirements, each degree plan has to have a "writing intensive course" where the students have to write a 750-1000 word paper taking a persuasive or analytical stance on a currently debated issue in the subject. Unfortunately for us all currently debated issues in QM are so far over our heads at this point that to express any of the ideas in a non-technical paper would be impossible. So we're cheating a little bit and just finding some topic in QM that would be interesting to write about. My topic is Quantum Computers.

For a brief foray into the realm of Quantum Mechanics, let's consider an example. Let's say that my paper can be in one of two states, completed or not started. Classically speaking (as opposed to Quantum-ly) the paper must exist in one state or the other. However, in QM it exists in both states at the same time. There is a certain probability that it is completed and a certain probability that it is unfinished represented by some probability distribution function. It's not until you "probe" the particle (in this case, my paper) that the wave function "collapses" into a certain state.

So as I sit here in total procrastination mode, I find myself justifying the avoidance of my paper based on the fact that it is already finished. Never mind the probability of that particular state being the one that I will find when I actually go and open the document happens to be extremely low...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Red Dirt Adventure Challenge 2010

Last Saturday the ACU Outdoor Club hosted its 5th Annual Red Dirt Adventure Challenge and Lake Abilene in the Abilene State Park. Months of preparation, hours of effort, and gobs of time paid off as the event went off without a hitch. In years past we've had course problems up the wazzoo: racers not following the marked course, not going to all the checkpoints, high winds, cold temperatures, high or low water levels... This year's curveball: rain and mud! It rained pretty hard the day before the race and a pre-Race Day ride made us conclude that much of the proposed course was impossible to ride or run. However, we didn't get rained on heavily on Race Day, just had to swim through a misty drizzle all day long.

I have to give a big thanks to all the volunteers for making this event possible. We had an amazing planning/organizational team that was willing to put in a lot of time and effort. Thanks to my good friend Laura for the phenomenal pictures. Enjoy the colorful montage:

Me manning the Biking Challenge Checkpoint: the Chocolate River. I'm standing in front of my "Flying Diamond" lean-to (Thanks Dad!) set up in case of heavy rain.

Group photos of the volunteers and helpers after the race was complete. What an awesome crew!

Asa and I handing out the "Special Award" at the Awards Ceremony. Robert had raced almost the whole course with a flat tire... What a machine. By the way, the awards ceremony was a ton of fun: we had a lot of prizes to give away and it was easy to get really enthusiastic about it all.

Carrying a heavy load wrapping up the race. I rode my bike back from the checkpoint out in the "boonies" and picked up the course markers along the way. One racer asked me how I got stuck with the "short end of the stick" and had to be out by myself at the check point. I told him that I had volunteered for it because I feel like I probably have a higher propensity to suffer than most!

Ready, set, GO!

A number of International Students raced this year and even had some supporters come out as a cheering squad.

Even with the rain, mud, and fatigue everyone was having a great time. Mark's (on the left) bike even broke because of the mud...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Spring Break Post 2

Here is the second installment of my Spring Break adventure this past March. I hope that the lag time between these posts and the actually date of the trip will not affect your interest.

Marc "hangin' out" at the Summit Climbing Gym in Grapevine, TX while Nathan belays. (See that blur in the bottom right-hand corner? That's a black belt ninja, aka Nick, Marc's younger brother, who also happens to be a heck of a climber.)

Nathan and I left Abilene on a drizzly dreary Tuesday morning and headed out East to meet up with our roommate Marc, his girlfriend, and some of their family at a climbing gym. We had a great time! Everyone in our group climbed to his or her heart's content (at the expense of finger tip skin!). For me, the true pleasure came from seeing my friends have fun doing something that I am so passionate about. Sometimes when you do something so much there is a sense of novelty or a feeling of excitement that gets lost. But when you are around other people for which it is a unique experience, you get to catch a glimpse of that thrill again through their eyes. Thank you Marc and Bonni for sharing that with me.

Look at that enthusiasm! Go Bonni!

With stomachs rumbling, Nathan and I headed over to Richardson to have dinner at Grandy and Grammy Pickle's house. It happened to be their wedding anniversary, so we lucked out and got to spend a wonderful evening celebrating the occasion with some of Nathan's family. And boy, does Grammy know how to host people! Their house is immaculate and well prepared and the food was outstanding.

The next morning was crisp, people were showing their St. Patrick's color, and Spring felt like is was in the air: a good day to be outside. Unfortunately we faced a long drive. To combat the boredom, we made sure and take a morning walk with Grandy and the mandatory stop at the REI store before we left town. Thankfully the roads were dry and the weather nice and we just rolled along without any trouble out of Texas, straight through the "Natural State" of Arkansas, and over the Mississippi River into Memphis, Tennessee on route to meet up with friends Nick and Sarah Moore.

That first evening we took a walk along the River (Nick and Sarah live really close to a riverside park) catching up on each others' lives. It was very cool to visit with them about their lives outside of undergraduate college life especially since I'm facing the same transition in the near future. The rest of the evening held more conversation over some good food ("Mighty Migas") and a climbing flick called "Progression."
Me standing in the river-side park in front of the mighty Mississippi River. Note well the Outdoor Club shirt. Long live the OC!

On Thursday, upon Sarah's recommendation Nathan and I spent the day in Otherlands, a very eclectic coffee shop with an extreme "hippy" vibe. Very fun. I guess if you call sitting at a table working on homework all day fun. That evening we decided to change plans a little bit and head further east into Tennessee for our climbing adventures, avoiding some bad weather projected for Arkansas. Before trucking off to Nashville to stay at Sarah's aunt's house that night, our friends took us out to eat at Porky's BBQ where I gorged myself on some outstanding dry-rub ribs.
I'm becoming convinced that friends make the world go 'round.

Friday began our actual climbing adventures. Stay tuned...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Don't listen to Galatians while hiking...

So today was exciting: Eric, Alex, and I went out climbing rocks, like we usually do, but ran into an unexpected visitor. Eric was leading the way on the hike in listening on his iPhone to the book of Galatians in preparation for a rhetoric paper he is working on. Thankfully he was also carrying the crash pad and tossed it around a tree before scrambling through a constriction in the trail. As the pad hit the ground, a buzzing sound erupted from the dirt: we had spooked a rattlesnake! The bugger then decided to make his new home under our pad. "Rattled" as we were, we managed to scrambl around on the boulders above, flip up the pad, and dispatch the snake with very long sticks. I had never seen a living rattlesnake outside of a zoo before, and I don't exactly want to repeat it in the near future. We very cautiously continued down the trail, suspiciously poking every nook and cranny in the rocks and jumping at the rustling grass. We've learned now to expect the unexpected, to hike in boots and pants while in potential rattlesnake country in the summer, and will most likely not listen to our iPods as we walk down the trail anymore...

Friday, April 9, 2010

Laser Research

ACU's Undergraduate Research Festival has been in full swing with poster sessions presented by various students from departments all over campus. It will conclude with more student presentations, a banquet, and a key-note speaker Monday. I feel very fortunate to be studying at an institution that strongly supports research at the undergraduate level, its not exactly something that happens at every university. The physics department itself has done a great deal paving the way for the rest of the student body. We've always had an incredibly strong representation at area and regional conferences, doing work in particle physics at national labs that is usually reserved for doctoral candidates.

I never took advantage of the opportunity to do summer research while here at ACU, mostly because I felt like I had a better offer working for the Engineering Department of the Flathead National Forest back home in Kalispell. Thankfully my friend Nathan and I were able to do some work outside of class in the Optics laboratory as part of a Honors Contract. The picture above is us presenting our poster last Wednesday.

Nathan and I, along with 4 others, were in an Optics course together which had a lab component to it. For our final projects in the lab, we had the opportunity to construct tunable, infrared diode lasers over the course of the last 6 weeks of the spring semester 2009. After much toil none of the three groups finished their respective lasers. However, Nathan and I really wanted to finish two lasers for the department so as to facilitate the assembly of a magneto-optical trap (MOT).

You are probably wondering, "What's a tunable, infrared diody-thingy and how does it make a trap?" We purchased diode lasers, which are a little smaller than the size of a pencil eraser, from a manufacturer and built an apparatus to hold it and make it easier to use. The diode uses semiconducting technology to produce light when a current is put across the leads, emitting them from a small aperture. The light coming from this little hole has a big divergence (meaning it spreads out really fast) and a range of frequencies of light, all in the infrared (meaning they're "too red" to see with the naked eye). Our apparatus solves the former by putting a lens to focus the light down to a usable beam and the latter by using a reflection grating to set up some optical feedback thus locking in a desired frequency. Now, I appreciate you've suffered through my "geek speak" here long enough so I won't go into greater detail here. Just think about us having the ability to control the output frequency of light with some external controls.

Our goal was to complete the two lasers and be able to use them in a MOT, another larger assembly of optical components used to trap and "cool" atoms. Some experiments with MOTs have been able to cool atoms very near absolute zero where all atomic motion stops. When it's this cold, "temperature" is essentially the internal vibrational energy of the atom. Although we were unable to finish the lasers and see the MOT constructed ourselves, we laid some important groundwork for students to follow behind us. As I mentioned earlier, many ACU students are able to pursue research at big national labs, but having some optical research capabilities on campus is exciting.

Einstein on Race and Racism

I just finished reading a book by Fred Jerome and Rodger Taylor entitled Einstein on Race and Racism. It was a fantastic read that I would recommend to anyone. Everything that I've ever heard about Einstein has been about his career in physics: struggling in school, becoming a patent clerk, doing amazing physics "thought experiments" on the side, etc. You can't study modern era physics without mentioning Einstein's postulates or E=mc^2 or theories of relativity. The subject of this book, however, seeks to open people's eyes to another side of the brilliant scientist.

As a Jew in Nazi-era Germany, Einstein knew well the harsh realities of racism. Thus when he came to Princeton in 1933 he immediately felt a connection to the black community in a town well known at that time for being socially segregated. He took walks in the streets holding the hands of young black school children, visited with his black neighbors, and otherwise treated them with kindness and respect. Jerome and Taylor do a wonderful job incorporating quotations from people who actually knew him during this period in his life. During the latter part of his life, Einstein became an active anti-racist, using his influence gained from being a renowned scientist to condemn racism on local, national, and international levels.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Driving Rant

I have a problem with the driving in Texas. Now, I'm not saying that I don't enjoy one of the finest Department of Transportation's in the US, the highly maintained road surfaces, or the friendly waves of passing vehicles; thankfully there will always be good things to counteract anything bad. No, I'm complaining about the "ethic" of Texas driving to pull over onto the shoulder and allow a faster moving vehicle to pass when there isn't room, more often than not in a double-line/no pass zone. And there is an expectation from some that if you aren't going fast enough you should move over to let them by.

I imagine this practice started when good ol' farm boys with beat-up pick-ups or equipment needed to use the road and they were trying to be nice and allow faster moving vehicles room to pass. Then it is fueled by the incredibly wide shoulders of Texas highways (I'm not kidding, they have to be wider than a regular lane in some places). But the potential for accidents is too high with people driving on the shoulder: three cars abreast while passing on a highway spells disaster, the car on the shoulder could get "trapped" right before a bridge or dead animal or stalled vehicle suddenly appears, even a bicyclist could be using the road for transportation or training. They just aren't maintained to be used as a lane of traffic.

I'll get off my soapbox now. Thanks for hearing me out. Just remember to think twice about the implications of driving on the shoulder in the future.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Spring Break Intro

Over two weeks ago I enjoyed my final Spring Break as an undergraduate at ACU. It was filled with everything I could ever ask for: many adventures and great company. Now when I say “filled,” I mean packed like herrings in a kipper snack can. Starting off I traveled with my buddy Eric down to Lake Brownwood for a day of climbing with Ben, Mary, Jarrod, and John. It was an absolutely perfect day (I wrote about it earlier…) especially since it was the first strong day of climbing for me since I succumbed to mono. The next day I spent some time with my friend Brad, also a native Montanan, out on the single track mountain bike trails north of campus. Monday was a rest day, to catch up on things around the house and look at my textbooks, before heading off of an amazing journey with my housemate Nathan on Tuesday.

Plans for our trip had begun a very early in the semester and actually much before that if you count the initial whispering of thoughts that eventually led to full blown scheming. However, if our plans were analogous to a Constitution then they received many Amendments over the course of the week. Thankfully we were only a crew of two, making it far easier to reach a unanimous vote and in a much faster time than the US legislature deciding the future of health care.

Hopefully I’ve been able to pique your curiosity. Expect more posts and updates concerning the adventure in the near future.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Projects and Progress

Why rock climbing is so much fun Number 2,562: Projects. Projects in the climbing world happen when you attempt to climb a route at the limit of your ability and don't finish on the first try. It might take someone the rest of the day or the next month or even next year to climb the line from top to bottom. It's common enough that it has even become a verb.

When we were on Spring Break I had the opportunity to watch the climbing video "Progression" and feel that the title sums up what climbing is all about. The sport progresses as it becomes more accessible or more popular as well as when the limits of what we thought were possible are exceeded. In the beginning of climbing route ratings, the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS) was scaled so that 5.10 were the hardest routes that would ever be climbed. These days the grades have surpassed that 5.10 limit and are pushing into the 5.14 and even 5.15 range. On the video mentioned earlier, professional climber Chris Sharma finishes a project that took him years to climb calling it Jumbo Love. It has a proposed rating of 5.15a making it the hardest in the world (of course in the spirit of progression, Sharma has now climbed a 5.15b).

Climbing buddy Matt on my former project, Burlfest, with Eric spotting, Fall 2008.

I will most likely never climb a 5.15, or even a 5.13 for that matter, but I don’t think that’s the point of climbing. My progress needs to be measured in pushing my limits: the difficulty of routes that I am able to climb and the skills needed to scale more and more technical routes. My friends and I have our own personal projects: routes that are at the limits of our ability level, but for whatever reason seem to call to us. The past couple of times traveling to Brownwood have been really special. I’ve been able to see Ben, Mary, Laura, and Eric all climb lines that we have desired to scale for a long time. In particular, I finally got to the top of a climb called Burlfest that I have been attempting since I was a Freshman at ACU. It was such a cool feeling of accomplishment and relief, and I loved being able to share it with my companions. Eric also sent a route that he has wanted to climb since he first began climbing at the lake. You can see how pumped he was at the top of Jack in the Box in the video at Abilene Climbers.

It’s a very powerful thing to be able to set a goal and see it through all the frustration, difficulty, and disappointment until you reach success. When you have to work for something it has more meaning. And when you look back on where you started and realize where you are now, your confidence soars. Like an avalanche you are then able to surmount bigger obstacles, gain more confidence, etc. Makes you want to go and do great things doesn’t it?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Paul(s), Barnabus(es), and Timothy(s)

When I play sports, it’s inevitable that I classify those playing with me into three categories based on their ability levels. The first group includes the players that are better than me, whether through technique, strength, or experience. The second includes people with less skill, although depending on the sport there may be fewer in this group than any other. And then there are those that are equal to me in skill. It is the most fun playing with this group since we can often push each other to our best performances.

Rock climbing is an activity in particular that exemplifies this categorization because of its inherent nature to be a partner oriented activity. There are plenty of examples of famous climbers, such as John Gill, John Bachar, and Dean Potter, who have avoided climbing with others both as a way to push themselves and in a search for spiritual enlightenment. However, for those of us who don’t push the limits of what is safe and sane in the climbing world (I mean who wouldn’t want to use a rope to protect you while you’re 100 ft above the ground?) a partnership with at least one other climber to share belaying duty is a necessity. So I find myself climbing with the same types of friends that I do any activity with: those who are better than me, those whom I can outperform, and those who have similar abilities.

These categories of friendship and partnership carry over to all aspects of our lives, not just in sports and recreation. Making a Biblical parallel, these different groups of people remind me a lot of the relationships between Paul, Barnabus, and Timothy. Paul was a great leader of the early church, making grand journeys across the known world at that time, converting many, establishing churches, and writing many letters of encouragement. He was an excellent mentor, especially to the young man named Timothy, and passed on his wisdom and knowledge of the grace of God. From the other point of view, I believe that Timothy became an amazing church leader mainly because of the instruction and guidance that he received from Paul. Barnabus, worked with Paul in several missionary journeys and seemed to have a special knack for encouraging people, as his nickname the “Son of Encouragement” suggests. Paul most likely owes much of his success preaching the word of God to the relationship that he had with Barnabus. Having a contemporary doing the same thing beside you and encouraging you to give your all is a powerful thing. It is from these men of God that I label the three categories of people that I have mentioned several times earlier.

Mentorship is very important, as is having friends that walk beside us encouraging us all along the way. I am extremely thankful for the “Paul(s)” and “Barnabus(es)” that have been a part of my life over the years and I hope that I am able to adequately give back to the “Timothy(s)” that I get to spend time with. Take this time to identify in your mind the people that have been mentors and positive friends in your life and then think about people you could be mentoring, passing on the blessings that you have received from others.