28 April 2008


For the past year and a half—maybe a bit more—my iPod Photo hadn't been quite working correctly. It would, on occasion, lock up in the middle of a song and restart with a frowny face icon. I discovered that when I put my ear up to it as this happened, I could hear a "click-peeew. click-peeew.click-peeew." sort of noise. And then I found that slapping it horizontally against my hand would cause it spin up properly and keep working.

During this time, it's been working for the most part, but freezing up more often (requiring sharper and even more frequent slaps in the past month or two). Finally, about a week ago, I slapped it and heard the terrible sound of the read/write head gouging the disk itself. And it didn't work again.

So I bought an iPod nano. Every time I look at it, I'm awed by how far miniaturization has come. Seven years ago, when the first iPod came out, I was amazed that they could fit 5 gigabytes of music into something the size of a deck of cards. And now I'm holding in my hand a device that's an tenth of the size, has a bigger video-playing screen, and lasts more than twice as long on a charge. It's just so tiny!

19 April 2008

Modern research technology

My class was assigned a sort of literature review project for our nuclear fuels class. I'd been to a presentation by Argonne on fast reactors, and one of the things they mentioned was how metallic fuels would probably be superior to metal oxide fuels in a sodium-cooled reactor.

So my partner and I chose metallic fuels for our topic. Well, basically, thanks to the amazing technology that's only shown up in recent years in available consumer technology, my life and ability to communicate information was fantastically simplified.

The first step was to use Google Scholar to find some good references. So I searched for "metallic fuel" fast reactor and found a few to start with. There's an option in the preferences to show a link to import the bibliography information into BibTeX format (like so). With Michigan's library subscriptions I was able to follow the link to ScienceDirect and other sites and actually download a digital copy of the article as a PDF. [Brief aside: I just realized that PDF format is one of those redundant acronyms.] So with the copied BibTeX information, I opened up BibDesk, created a new entry that now has all of the bibliography data, and dragged in the PDF. From this, I can automatically generate a bibliography in the report and citations and so forth (which, with LaTeX using BibTeX, is a piece of cake).

In short, I was able to easily find a lot of useful references, organize them, and use them. But one of the coolest things actually made itself useful during our presentation. Someone asked a question about iodine and technetium radiotoxicity, and how fast reactors transmuted those to less harmful elements. I couldn't recall anywhere in the papers offhand, but I opened up BibDesk, entered "iodine" in the search file content field, and double-clicked on the paper that showed up. It opened the publication in Preview, and inside that it had automatically highlighted eveywhere that "iodine" appeared in the document. Then I dragged the window over to the projector screen to show the relevent plot and text. So in about 10 seconds I was able to find exactly what information he needed. Pretty sweet! And to think that 25 years ago graduate students were lucky if they didn't have to use a typewrite to write their thesis.

13 April 2008

Typography issues

A pet peeve of mine is when a zero and the letter "O" are unintentionally interchanged in text (usually noticeable by the width and eccentricity of the glyph). The most common transgression is for people to write "H20," presumably because having a numeral nearby makes people's brains translate the "oh" sound ("O" for "Oxygen") into the number that is often read as "oh." Of course, I've seen in signs and other text where the converse has taken place.

I grant that I'm occasionally guilty of mistakenly hitting the wrong key (since "0" and "O" are adjacent on the keyboard), but I usually notice and correct it immediately...

09 April 2008

Not very nice

I got a letter in the mail from a company I had never heard of that began,
Dear Seth Johnson,

“Congratulations, this letter constitutes our formal offer to you for a position with our company, Proto-Power Corporation.”

Yes, this could be the opening line of your offer letter after you interview and are accepted for a position with Proto-Power Corporation.
So apparently using quotation marks gives a person the license to say whatever they want, as long as he states after the fact that it was a hypothetical situation.

"Go away and never talk to me again! Also, I killed your puppy."

Yes, that could be a blog post here if I hated you, and if I killed your puppy.

01 April 2008

Happy Aprilday

I definitely had fun with this combined with a Perl script that continually cycled it producing flashing error messages (ERROR: I am lonely, give me paper, and love) etc.