17 November 2007

Whatever cat the latest version is

Today I finished my upgrade to Mac OS X 10.5 “Leopard.” So far I haven't encountered any features I can't live without (I don't have Time Machine set up; I use an svn repository for my personal documents). Indeed, I've already found a few things that seemed more limiting than previous versions, especially in Spotlight-based “smart folders.” You can no longer choose what columns in list view are available inside a smart folder: you can only see the name, kind, and last opened date. Unless I'm missing something, this means that you can't sort a smart folder or search option by modification date. Additionally, you can no longer choose which folder or volume to search via a new query. It's a kind of hit-or-miss thing where you must click on the folder you want to search, and then use the search item in the toolbar.

Another thing is that it doesn't seem as stable. I spent half an hour trying to track down a Finder crash related to modifying permissions. It turns out that it's a problem related to ACLs (access control lists) and the more full integration with the new system. Finder apparently balked at using folders with standard UNIX permissions. Changing a parent directory's permissions and telling it to apply recursively solved the problem to an extent; apparently you can also use chmod to change ACLs without having to mess with the Finder.

The translucent menubar doesn't bother me; my backgrounds are usually pretty uniform and dark along the top edge. I have also changed the dock to the less visual distracting uniform grey via this hint.

It's not all bad though. Spotlight is significantly quicker; the quick preview thing is pretty handy, and it's nice to finally have a unified appearance.

06 November 2007

More of the Same

I found out today that at UMich, at least in the nuke department, Ph.D. students are discouraged from doing a master's thesis. It's usually a function of coursework: I think it's something like 30 hours have to be taken.

Also, qualifiers are given at the end of January and May. (School starts Jan. 3 and ends April 20.) I might take mine next May, since I am told that the reactor theory course I am taking this semester factors heavily into it.

ANS meeting next week: I present in 7 days 12 hours.

27 October 2007

Centrifuge enrichment

So yesterday I had the probably-once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit a uranium enrichment facility, in Portsmouth, OH. It used to enrich with gaseous diffusion until the mid-80's when the slump in the industry caused it to shut down. At its peak, it was consuming 2500 MW of power, running up an electricity bill in the tens of millions per month.

Recently a company called USEC has leased the facility and classified centrifuge technology
from the Department of Energy. They have improved upon the centrifuge technology and set up a pilot cascade of about 12. Each centrifuge is about 45 feet tall, and has a capacity of around 350 SWU, around a factor of 10 larger than the european centrifuges. The centrifuges consume 5% of the power of the gaseous diffusion plants per SWU -- the technology level required (even if you had schematics you would still require high-tech materials and precision machining) is much higher than gaseous diffusion.

On the tour we got to see the outside of six of them assembled -- the inside of course is highly classified -- and walk through the building where they will work. (The part where their prototype cascade is built is sealed off from the area in which we were allowed to be escorted. There was a gate at the edge of the property, a fence around the whole building complex near the parking lot where we were badged, a fence inside the giant buildings where the centrifuges were to be housed, and finally the fourth covered fence inside of which only those with a Q clearance could enter.)

So this looks to be pretty promising. The main obstacle is that right now, enriched uranium imports are reduced by protective tariffs that will be disappearing at some point in the near future. It is unclear whether USEC can become operational before and cost-competitive at that time. If they are able to, then they will be making a lot of money, because once the megawatts-to-megatons program stops providing utilities with enriched uranium, and with the likely upsurge in nuclear power brought on by the impending energy crisis, the demand for enriched uranium will guarantee that these guys will be operating at full capacity.

05 October 2007


I seriously get a lot of my best work done during colloquium/seminar.

10 August 2007

Nuclear data, of a sort

Your exercise of the day is to show with trigonometry and geometry that lim(n*tan(pi/n), n→∞) = pi. (I got this while playing around at work with finding the equivalent area of a circle and a polygon with n sides.)

My landlady gave me, at my request, a bunch of pamphlets I discovered lying around. They're educational booklets published in the mid-'60s by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commision, printed right here in Oak Ridge. They're really cool -- they vary in subject matter from space nuclear power to physical attributes of plutonium to medical uses of radioisotopes. It provides a fascinating look into the past. For example, one of the medical uses was injecting [Na-24]Cl into a patient's bloodstream and placing shielded detectors at points in his body, using the intensity to calculate where flow constrictions might be. I really doubt they do that nowadays. (I assume it was superseded by MRI.)

I was curious to see if any of that detailed information on plutonium had been reclassified, so I did a little googling and came up with this interesting site. There is some really cool (and some useful) information there, but the organization that hosts it seems kind of questionable. Do they think that by posting a bunch of that kind of information, they'll make the US decide to release all of its nuclear secrets into the public domain and simultaneously cease development of advanced nuclear weapons? I hope not.

07 August 2007

It works again!

Maybe six months ago, iTunes refused to sync photos to my iPod with an "error -50." Because I'd been having other problems with my iPod at the time, I gave up. But someone's hint gave me the solution.

Go to the terminal, type "xmllint ", and drag the file called "AlbumData.xml" inside your iPhoto library to the terminal window. Press enter, and it will hopefully spit out a few lines of text that say it had an error. It might be an album name or a comment in your photos (it was the latter in my case). Go to iPhoto, search for that comment, select all and delete in the comment box, and retype it. Quit iPhoto, and hopefully iTunes will start working again.

22 July 2007

Harry potter post

This really would have been more useful a few days ago, but since I've been doing it verbally for most of the evening, I should post what I made.

Who kills whom?

14 July 2007

Bike tires

On our way to the Smokies today, we stopped at a Subway and ate outside where a lady had parked her bikes. During the middle of our meal there was a tremendously loud "pop" from her direction. I thought she had a gun and it had gone off. It turned out to be the front tire on her bike. As our ears rang and we talked about her biking trip and her fortunate ability to replace the ruptured tire with a spare, something extremely unexpected happened. As I was looking at the bike, the second tire exploded, releasing a puff of condensed air along with an equally loud noise. It was literally no more than two minutes after the first tire had gone. She had ridden some 45 miles and had her bike parked in the sun, but it still seems incredible for both tires to go in such a short time span. (She ended up calling her husband to pick her up in his truck, and my friend and I continued on our way.)

14 June 2007

Pinky and the brain

After watching a few episodes of Pinky and the Brain yesterday, I have a new respect for the writers based on their choice of music snippets. In the episode where Brain creates a new Chia-Earth, the musical score is based on Dvorak's Symphony No. 9, the New World Symphony. I also recognized the music from an episode where Pinky poses as a painter to sell his works: Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition." Extremely classy.

02 June 2007

DOE takes the axe to another program dear to my heart

After 56 years of operation, the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory is shutting down due to budget cuts from the Department of Energy. It was established to monitor the environment surrounding the Savannah River Site, to ensure that the tritium and plutonium production operations were not interfering with the environment.

I spent a week and a half in the area as part of an award trip through the DOE Science Bowl. It was an amazing learning experience that not only showed the null effects of the present-day operations on the ecology but also enhanced the scientific repository through the invention of new techniques and the discovery of new species in the southeast marshlands.

Even though it's possible that the funding may well be spent in better places, I'm sorry to see it go.

14 May 2007


Each night this week, the pollen fairies have sprinkled their magical yellow powder on my car. It's allergy season, and you know what that means... yep! It means the State of Tennessee thinks I have a meth lab in my basement.

28 April 2007

National Science Bowl 2007

Well, I've been in Washington, D.C., for two days now. Science bowl is a science competition for high schoolers in which I participated back in high school; it was probably my favorite part of all 12 grades.

This year I asked to come back as a moderator -- basically like Alex Trebek, except cooler, and there are a lot of us and we don't have moustaches and aren't on syndicated TV. But it's the same general idea. The actual competition starts tomorrow, although we moderators have spent most of today taking turns as moderators and competitors among ourselves (tons of fun, but still kinda exhausting over an 8-hour time period).

Yesterday and the previous evening we've been around the downtown area. I broke off from the rest of the group on Friday and walked around the museums on the mall. The Hirshorn modern art museum didn't have very good exhibits this time around (when I went two novembers ago it had some pretty cool stuff). I browsed quickly through the new Native American museum; its most interesting blurb was about an American Indian who dressed up in traditional clothes and lay down with his eyes closed in a glass box in a real museum as though he were an exhibit, as a rebellion against the idea that their traditions and heritage are only a thing of the past.

My favorite exhibit of anything in DC is by far the gems and minerals exhibit at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. It is amazing.

Yesterday evening I met up with my friend who graduated and moved up here to work for the NRC -- we had a good time. The day before that I walked around the chevy chase neighborhood admiring the cherry and dogwood trees in bloom; it was pretty. Also, the house two doors North of the 4H campus has a Lamborghini in its driveway.

It's also weird to be around 350 high schoolers for most of each day. Especially when so many of them are so incredibly pretentious. A lot of them are brilliant, but that's still no excuse for the way they behave. The Secretary of Energy spoke to us on Friday morning -- one kid asked him a question about uranium reprocessing. The Secretary gave a very competent answer, but apparently it wasn't what the kid wanted to hear -- he actually started talking back to the guy about U-238. It must have taken incredible patience for the guy to say, "Yes. I know," and to continue unfazed. When you're speaking to someone that important who knows so much more than you do (not only has he been informed from whatever briefings he gets, but also he has a Ph.D. in chemical engineering or something) you need to ask your question, learn from his answer, and sit down. The kid wasted the time of both the Secretary and the rest of the audience, and he made himself look like an idiot in the process. Ugh.

But besides being around those kind of people part of the time (my roommate is sort of like that -- it's obvious he and his accomplishments are the only thing he cares about) it has been a lot of fun. Plus, my friend from high school and A&M is volunteering as well.

25 April 2007

Graduate school

Last weekend, I visited Texas A&M's graduate nuclear program. It made my decision of where to go a lot tougher than I anticipated. Their team of transport and reactor people is top-notch. After lots of careful consideration, talking with people, and praying, I've decided that Michigan is where I should go. So I'm going to Michigan!

01 April 2007


I love this photograph. There's something exciting about industry, something powerful and impressive about furnaces and giant steel pipes and their manifestation of the power of Man. I recognize it as being a bit idealized, of course, and admit that ironworks and factories are not the most impressive force in the universe. Yet the love of the power of humanity to shape, mold, create, and transform the world around us can't be denied. My grandfather's friend has spoken about some deeply-rooted love he has for seeing earth moved, for using bulldozers to fill in valleys by scraping off hills, creating land for farming and living. It may seem a little old-fashioned, but I think everyone, at least deep down, has some feeling of this.