You know it’ll be an interesting day when…

…the Big Scary Laser in the lab starts making an ominous humming sound and the Swiss lab technician working on the laser shouts “PANIK!” and waves his arms around.
Fortunately, he just ended up pushing the button and everything was ok, but that’s a surefire way to get an adrenaline dump early in the morning.

Ballistic Monte Carlo Methods

This is a paragraph I never thought I’d see in the academic literature:

“[W]e advocate the use of ballistic-assisted (i.e. projectile-based) random sampling methods because they are both easily accessible and parallelizable. In particular, shotgun-assisted random sampling seems very suitable becaues of the presumed abundance of shotguns in cataclysmic times and the speed at which they can generate samples.”

– Vincent Dumoulin, F?lix Thouin – “A Ballistic Monte Carlo Approximation of ?

Awesome. That’d make for an amazing grant application.
See here for a summary article that explains things for non-mathematicians.
Edit: Somehow I borked the initial post by forgetting the title and screwing up a link. I’ve now corrected these errors. If you’re still seeing those errors in your feed reader, please refresh the feed.

I wonder…

…if anyone at the Mars Curiosity mission control named the rock they recently lasered “Alderaan”?
If I were them, I totally would. I’d also say “Commence primary ignition!” if I were the guy sending the “go” command, or “You may fire when ready!” in Tarkin’s tone if I were one of the directors.
Hey, if you can’t have fun shooting lasers at rocks on another planet, what can you do?

Science with Crossbows

From today’s seminar: “Of course, you cannot do this experiment in ordinary atmospheric pressure. It will explode. We observed this. It was quite messy.”
Also, the presenter was a German scientist with a group trying to model planetary accretion. Their experiments needed to propel marble-sized samples into a 1kg dust target in vacuum. The found the best way of doing this was with a small holder mounted to an arrow which was fired from a crossbow. The crossbow was placed in the vacuum chamber and was fired remotely. The holder and arrow would be stopped as soon as they were no longer accelerated by the bowstring and the samples would then fly out of the holder to the target.
It’s worth pointing out that the title of the presentation was “What can Wilhelm Tell teach us about planetary accretion?”
I imagine the paperwork needed to approve the purchase of the crossbow for the lab went something like this:
Item: Crossbow
Quantity: 1
Reason: SCIENCE!

Been Busy, No Shooting

Hi folks,
Things here in Switzerland have been exceedingly busy.Who knew that pursuing a graduate degree in physics would require time and effort?
While my wife has been having a lovely time, meeting new people, and traveling around to nearby European countries, I’ve been madly studying, programming, and otherwise keeping busy.
Even though Switzerland is known for being a gun-friendly place, I haven’t had a chance to go shooting since I got here. It probably doesn’t help that my German is awful (I can order drinks at the bar but otherwise it’s terrible; language has never been one of my strengths). Perhaps in the new year?
When I’m focused on my work, I don’t really have much time to be homesick, but on the few occasions when I have some time off I really miss home — the locations, the people, the food, even some of the familiar brand names and businesses. Switzerland is without a doubt a wonderful country, but I spend so much time in the lab and classroom that I don’t really get a chance to meet people, practice my German, and integrate well. My wife’s having a better time at it, for sure.
We’re really looking forward to Christmas — my parents and sister are flying out here and we’re going to celebrate Christmas here. Afterwards, we’ll be traveling to Egypt and Jordan for about two weeks. Gotta get more stamps in the passport!
As the semester closes in a few weeks, I should hopefully have some more time to post. Otherwise, I’m really bogged down with work. Sorry.

School’s In Session

So, Monday was my first day at graduate school. So far, I’m a bit less worried about the whole “grad school” thing as I am with the “learning to speak advanced German necessary for doing advanced physics”.
While the program information mentioned that the classes would all be conducted in English, this is not the case: several are in English, but a few have English lectures and German-language handouts/PowerPoints, one has German lectures and English handouts/PowerPoints, while another is all-German.
Being that the local language here is German and the majority of students are Swiss, I don’t fault them for wanting to teach the majority of students in their native language. I’ve privately met with professors to discuss the issue, and they’re willing to be flexible and work with me so that I can succeed. That’s nice.
Fortunately, I am very much a learn-by-reading person, so I was pleased when one professor recommended a few textbooks that would get me the same information as the lectures.
The whole situation is mildly frustrating, to be certain, but it gives me more incentive to study harder. It also gives me an excuse to improve my German.
Note to those looking to study in a country or region that does not speak their native language: caveat emptor. Even though the courses here are listed as being conducted in English, this isn’t necessarily the case.

Educational Updates

Long time, no post.
The results are in: I was accepted into three graduate schools: the University of Oslo in Norway, and the Universities of Zurich and Bern in Switzerland.
All are fine research institutions, but I ended up going with Bern, as it combined excellent research with a much more reasonable cost of living than Zurich or Oslo. We’ll be moving at the end of July.
In short, I’ll be spending the next two years of my life at a place like this:

Well, not quite. I’ll actually be in the science building, but it’s right next to the fancy old university building. I’ll probably be in the basement, though. Oh well.

It looks a lot nicer on the inside.
Alas, as the Swiss are nearly universally excellent shooters, it’s unlikely that there’ll be any need for me to introduce new shooters to the sport. Oh well. All the New Shooter Ammo Fund ammo is marked and store separately here in the US, so it’ll be available for teaching new shooters when I return to the US.
While the Swiss do permit me to import firearms for personal use, there’s a nominal bit of paperwork involved and I don’t want to deal with the hassle during the main move. Perhaps I’ll get the guns when I come back for holidays or something.
Much of my time in the next few months will be spent preparing for the move, so posting may be lighter than usual (amazingly enough).
I know it’s been a while since I last posted, which is mostly due to living in Arizona (arguably the least-restrictive state in regards to firearms laws, which makes things really boring when it comes to writing about firearms-related legal developments) and not having the time or money to get out and shoot as often as I’d like. Hopefully after moving to Switzerland, I’ll have a bit more opportunity to shoot. We’ll see.

On Distant Things

Voyager 1 has passed the range of solar wind (subatomic particles streaming out from the sun). After examining the data transmitted back, scientists determined that this has been the case since June.
It’s moving at 60,000 kph, and in just a few more years it’ll cross the threshold to interstellar space ((The heliopause.)) and become the first manmade object to make it into enormous emptiness between the stars. “Enormous emptiness” doesn’t come close to conveying how hugely enormous and empty the space between stars is.
According to the Wikipedia, it’s been 33 years, 3 months, and 9 days since the probe was launched, and it’s been on-mission for 31 years, 11 months, and 10 days. That’s pretty incredible, considering the technology of the day.
Its radioactive power sources have enough fuel left to power the probe (with decreasing functionality as available power decreases) until about 2025.
Although it’s merely a tiny thing hurtling through space, it pleases me that it’s been operating since before I was born, and will continue its journey — albeit out of power — long after I’m dead. I can only hope that at some point in the future, humanity will venture to the stars. I hope that when that happens, they leave Voyager to coast though the inky blackness of space as a testament to the vision of those who sent it.

Some Apps Out

I’ve been submitting graduate school applications like crazy, and have submitted several.
In the past, I’ve normally waited until just before the deadline, but I’ve decided to get things out early — the application to the University of Oregon got out within a week of the opening of the application period, and the applications to schools in Sweden were out within a day of the period opening. International mail, while usually reliable, can be somewhat delayed, so my applications to schools overseas are getting sent out early to avoid any such problems.
In less then a year, I may have to change the name here to “The Swiss Rifleman”. Now there’s a thought…

It’s a Small Step…

…from robots cleaning your living room to robots cleaning the Earth of humanity.
I’m staying at a friend’s place this week, and there’s an iRobot Scooba driving around the living room cleaning.
As amazing and futuristic as this is, it’s somewhat creepy.