Monthly Archives: May 2008

Coins

I must have like $15 in small coins, sorted into piles on my dresser. I always keep change, because I need quarters for laundry, but this has left behind all the smaller coins. What do you do with years of accumulated coins?

New Roommate Redux

My roommate Simon has just gotten engaged to his lovely girlfriend, and they are moving in together. That means that he’s moving out (and up), so I need another roommate. It also means that of the three of us currently living here, I’m the only who’ll still be here in August.

We’re looking for a new roommate to start July 1st. Both short-term and long-term leases will be entertained.

Let’s try this again…

Mem Day

I came home for ~30th Annual Memorial Day Picnic. It was good to be among old friends.

In the evening, we saw Iron Man. I appreciated the wearing of the Brass Rat (MIT class ring) by both the superhero and his sidekick. It was a silly movie, but it also had a real technical sensibility about it. The imagined technologies that drive the movie, while a bit contrived, are at least presented in a fairly consistent way. At no time did I cringe at mumbo-jumbo, even when they were “hacking the mainframe”.

Weird fact of the day

I just realized something pretty wacky: the orientation of an atomic nucleus is almost completely decoupled from the orientation of the surrounding electrons and electronic lattice. This means that if you’re walking and then turn right, the nuclei of the atoms in your body are still facing the same directions that they were before you turned. The nuclei are sort of gimballed, you could say, so that when solid objects rotate, the nuclei just slide along without reorienting. I’m not 100% sure about this, but it seems to be implied strongly by the success of Magic Angle Spinning in NMR.

Interestingly, this property is clearly false for electrons. If you pick up a refrigerator magnet and turn it over, the magnetic field is now pointed the other way. That magnetic field is generated by electron spin. I wonder why. I have an urge to measure this effect, but I’m not sure what it would be useful for, or how to measure it.

Done!

The semester is over over over. I have officially completed my first ever university teaching job/requirement/assistantship/fellowship. It was a lot of fun, mostly because I got to talk a lot and people had to listen.

Now I have only one job: learn about NMR so I can write my PQE.

Locked

Harvard locks their buildings on weekends, and I keep forgetting this. Therefore, I scheduled a review session today in a room that I couldn’t actually enter, and neither could the students. It didn’t really matter, though because only one student showed up, and he already had access to the building because that’s where his lab is. Of course, I was sitting outside, locked out, so he came, saw no one in the room, and left. I stayed there, hoping someone would come, until it started raining.

While I was there I saw a couple of skeevy-looking guys practicing Parkour. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before in person; it was quite impressive.

Grain Inflation

Arnolds is a big corporate bread maker. They make mostly whole wheat bread. They’re big enough that for a while they were advertising on the Boston city buses. Today I went to the supermarket to buy bread, and Arnolds was having a sale to launch a new bread lineup, so I took a look. That’s when I discovered grain inflation.

It used to be that white bread was the standard, and whole wheat was for crunchy types, or the sort of people who like pizza crust better than pizza. Then in the late 90s there began a yuppie food wave, perhaps echoing their hippie parents. Soon even Wonder Bread sold whole wheat, and to distinguish themselves the specialty breadmakers introduced “multi-grain” bread. Multi-grain typically includes some oats in addition to wheat, and maybe some flaxseed to make it crunchy. And once multi-grain caught on, the manufacturers began advertising just how many grains their bread contained, perhaps 4 or 5.

Fast forward to 2008: Arnolds now sells 4 varieties of multi-grain bread. They are: “Healthy multi-grain”, 7 grain, 12 grain, and 15 grain. That’s right; Arnolds will try to sell you a bread whose dough contains 15 different grains. I dare you to try and name 15 different grains. I’m sure I can’t, and I looked at the label. A bread company that sold any one of these breads would be pretty silly; to sell all four is absolutely ridiculous. As a nod to the indistinguishability of these lines, they were all marked the same price.

I bought the 12 grain. It was cheaper than the store brand, because of the sale. We’ll see if it’s any good.

EDIT: It’s tasty.

Investing

I’ve started investing. With interest rates around 2% and inflation much higher than that, holding cash is a losing proposition, even in a savings account. So I’ve started investing. Nothing fancy; no stock picking. Just your basic, obvious mutual funds and ETFs. Everything I’ve bought so far is passively managed, tracking some standard index with minimal overhead, spread out across markets and sectors. This is, as far as I can tell, your basic cautious long-term investment strategy.

It’s also bloody scary. I used to observe the financial section of the New York Times with a bit of amusement and disdain; now I find it absolutely terrifying. Any time the price of oil changes, I can see the ripple effects in red and green arrows in my account. It’s really quite nerve-wracking, and I’ve only just begun. It is fun though.