ellipsix informatics

A look back at 2015

Well, that's it.

A whole year of me promising to write more blog posts has come and gone, and it hasn't happened.

In the spirit of not making excuses, I'm not going to get into why I haven't kept the blog updated this year (well, okay, a little: postdoc work and studying Chinese kept me busy, and some personal issues wrecked my motivation), but let me resolve that I'm going to pick up the pace in 2016. There will be a lot of interesting physics developments to write about! I still have an explanation of the months-old pentaquark paper on my to-do list, and there's a mysterious bump in the latest LHC data that could be nothing, but is attracting everyone's attention nonetheless. And that's not even including the updates about life in China.

So here's to 2016 being a year of rebuilding, off- and online.

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Checking in after a busy semester

Greetings, readers!

I've been absent from the blog for a while for a few different reasons — between some issues to deal with in my personal life and a bunch of projects for work, I haven't been able to focus on a blog post for about six months. But I thought that streak has gone on long enough. Here's a quick status update:

  • My group has put out a paper, which was just accepted for publication into Physical Review D! This paper is a generalization of the same calculation I did for my PhD thesis, which I'm 2/3 of the way into a series of posts explaining. The third post is coming at some point, I promise.

  • I'll be traveling to two conferences to talk about this paper. First, the Rencontres du Vietnam workshop on heavy ion physics, held at the brand new International Center for Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering (PDF), which is taking place next week. This is the first time I've been invited to present at a real conference! The venue also looks amazing.

    ICISE aerial view

    (image from the Rencontres 2014 website, all rights reserved)

    When the official schedule includes time for "Beach and informal discussions" you know it's going to be good!

    The week after that, I head back to the US for the APS Division of Particles and Fields meeting in Ann Arbor. The DPF meeting is not a major conference in my field — in fact, I fully expect that there won't be any other specialists in saturation physics there — but that's okay, since it gives me a chance to talk about my work at a less technical level.

  • On the "life in China" front, I've spent the past semester (March to July) taking a class in Chinese through CCNU. It's very intense: four hours a day, five days a week! And even after all that time, I'm barely able to hold conversations with Chinese people. But "barely able" is a lot better than "unable", so even that minimal level of Chinese is a huge help! That's one of the things you come to miss most about living in a foreign country where you don't speak the language: just the potential to talk to random people, even if you usually don't (like me), is comforting.

  • I hope to be posting a lot more about life in China, if not while traveling, at least later on this year. It's been five months since my last trip, and there are definitely parts of the expatriate experience that don't show up until you've been away from home for months, not just weeks.

  • And of course, there's some cool science that has been happening recently! The discovery of pentaquarks by LHCb (or so they think), the production of Weyl fermions, New Horizons passing Pluto, and those are just the headlines. Maybe I can get some posts up about these discoveries, if I have time.

But work has to come first. I'll be tweeting updates on the conferences I go to, so watch that feed for more!


A look back at 2014 on the blog

Every New Year's Eve I do a review of my favorite blog posts from the past year. And normally I have too many good physics posts to make a top 10 list like so many other sites seem to do. But not this year. It's been a pretty quiet year for blogging, especially for physics blogging (unless you count that one really big blog post they call a dissertation).

Therefore, New Year's resolution #1: write more blog posts about interesting physics. This is one I actually think I can keep.

For now, here is a short list of my favorites out of the 32 blog posts I wrote this year.


Ellipsix Informatics is on Facebook!

I finally broke down and made a Facebook page for this site. There probably won't be anything there other than blog posts, at least not for a while, but if that's how you want to find out when I post new things, have at it!


A look back at 2013 on the blog

Well, it's that time of year again. The end, that is. That is the time of year that it is.

Everyone else is doing top 10 lists to reflect on their output this year, but I'm not convinced there's anything so special about the number 10. Why stop there? With that in mind, here are all my favorite posts from the past year, representing a broad spectrum of topics: particle physics, thermodynamics, optics, fluid dynamics, rocket science, percolation theory, statistics, technology, law, and a few things just for fun.

Here's hoping for more of the same to come next year! Happy new year everyone!

(if you liked these, you might also like my top hits from the previous year)


I might not be unemployed next year...

I'm aware that my last post was all about how I was going to return to blogging... and yeah, that never happened. It turns out that about ten days is not enough to catch up on research, file ten more postdoc applications, and deal with about 40 intro E&M students panicking over their upcoming final exam. Oh, and SLEEP. (And not become a hermit. Sometimes time spent with friends is important too.)

At this point I have 35 postdoc applications filed. To put it another way: I've applied to almost every job opening in the world in my field of research with a deadline since late November. It really makes the point that this particular corner of particle physics is a niche subject. Anyway, my understanding is that each position receives roughly about 200 applications, on average. If I have 35 chances to succeed at something with a probability 0.005 (that's 1 in 200)... well, perhaps you know where this is going:

probability of getting job offers

Yep, that means I have an a priori 84% chance of not getting any offer at all. For the record, when you realize you've applied for all the jobs and it's still five times more likely that you don't get one than that you do, it can be pretty demotivating.

There is some good news though! One of the applications I filed got me an invitation to give a seminar on my research. It seems the lead scientist of this group is a fan. :-) Being able to present this work is good enough on its own, but it also implies that I made the (informal?) short list of candidates they're considering for the job! And don't worry, you'll find out where it is in due time.

On the other hand, I haven't heard anything from the other 34 applications. I suppose this means I'm not getting any other chances, but the optimist in my wants to believe they're just taking a long time to sort through them.

My inner optimist is not often right. I guess we'll see.


I'm back! NaBloWriMo continues

I filed 20 postdoc applications this weekend.

Estimated number of offers: 0.1. That's right, with 22 applications in, I have a one-in-ten chance that I might hear back from one of them.

Real life is no fun.

Anyway, now that my big batch of postdoc applications is filed, I'll get back to the posts I meant to write last month, still hoping to complete the 30 posts I wanted to write in November by the end of this year. There is still lots of interesting physics to cover!


My 12 favorite posts of 2012

Around this time of year, a lot of blogs list their 10 most popular posts of the past year. I was thinking about doing that here... but I didn't have the foresight to make my blog software log page views, so I have no idea what posts are the most popular. Instead, here are my somewhat arbitrarily selected favorite 12 posts of 2012, out of the 78 total posts I made this year:

All things considered, I think it was a good year for blog posts. But 2013 can be even better! Happy new year!


Wrapping up NaBloWriMo

If you've been watching my blog, you've noticed that my posting frequency has dropped off tremendously in the past week. That's mostly because I've been scrambling to finish a presentation on my research. It's now over, so in theory I have more time to make blog posts, but still I think it's past time to call National Blog Writing Month officially over.

Let's look back over the past 5 weeks and see how it went. Not counting this one, I managed to get in 25 blog posts, most of which were decidedly nontrivial. For fun, I decided to estimate a word count for each of these posts — now, I can't get an exact count easily because of the formatting, including math and especially pictures, but I can just run p.text_src.split() and it spits out some rough numbers. I want to get a sense of how this compares to the task of actually writing a 50000 word novel:

Total:17518 words. Not exactly a novel. That's okay though, how many NaNoWriMo novels are going to include equations and pretty pictures? Like this histogram of the word counts above (100-count bins up to 3500):

Histogram of word counts

Hmm... what if I try this with all my posts, since the beginning of this blog?

Histogram of all word counts

Looks exponential, maybe? I think one of this month's projects is going to be to figure out what distribution that is. :-)