Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Movie Review: Avatar

This is the first movie I've ever seen in which my only remarks immediately following were, "Holy Crap!"

It was that good.

In my eyes there are 3 kinds of movies:
  1. Movies that suck.
  2. Movies that rock.
  3. Movies that I haven't decided on.
The method of decision is simple: If the day after seeing the movie I think about it in the shower, than it rocked. If I forget that I ever saw it, then it sucked. The 3rd category isn't ever too populated. There are exceptions, though - sometimes I reach a conclusion instantly. Avatar was an exception.

Avatar combines incredible, illustrious eye candy with a great sci-fi premise, a fantastically detailed and beautiful universe, excellent biology, physics, and anthropology, and, of course, bad guys getting what they deserve. True, it's quite predictable - but predictable in a gloriously gratifying way!

The mythological epicness of Avatar is akin to those of Tolkien or Lucas, while the stunning visuals can only be compared to the effects of the original Wizard of Oz on people watching it for the first time. The actions of the characters are heroic, the situation dire and utterly dichotic, and the colors - wow the colors - were magical and wonderful and beautiful and terrifying all at the same time!

Perhaps the highest accolade I can give the movie is that I actually gasped several times while watching it! A few of my gasps were in response to the incredible scenery but the best of all was in response to an incredible plot development. To avoid spoilers here, I'll just state that this plot development (I should have seen it coming) was utterly perfect. The magic was in the symbolism it carried with the fictitious natives. Their reaction was beautifully displayed, a true masterpiece of anthropological fantasy.

If you haven't seen Avatar, then do it! See it in 3-D if you can - it's worth the extra cost. And best of all, try to see it knowing as little as possible beforehand - it's best that way.
(Notice the lack of spoilers? You're welcome.)

Friday, December 11, 2009

How to Get...

I'm going to Europe this spring, but that has very little to do with this post. What is does have to do with this post is:

Today I googled "How to get cheap European plane tickets." But as I was typing "How to get" the menu popped up listing common search phrases beginning with "How to get." For your amusement, I took a screenshot and have supplied it here. Enjoy.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Wish List - Ugly Sweater - Zombies Attack

In the spirit of black Friday, and especially of Christmas (sarcasm), I'm going to make the lives of my most frequent gift-givers slightly easier by posting an especially random holiday wish list.

It is my hope that they will do likewise, thereby making my gift-buying easy and saving them the embarrassment of having to wear this sweater come Christmas time.The List:
An electric drill
Misc. tools
Anything from this website.
T-shirt-A Day Without Fusion
Book of Secrets
Electronic Gadgets for the Evil Genius
How to Survive a Robot Uprising
Pocket Reference
Sneakiest Uses for Everyday Things
The Zombie Survival Guide
Visual Guide to Lock Picking

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Utah Fireball

Last night at approximately 12:20-12:30 a.m. a huge fireball exploded over the state of Utah. The flash was so bright that for a moment it appeared as bright as day! Astronomers say the meteor was about the size of a washing machine and exploded with the equivalent of a thousand tons of TNT!

I saw the white flash through my blinds as I was on the computer. I looked over and thought to myself, "Hmm, that's kind of odd. Usually car headlights aren't that bright."

The following picture was taken at the height of the explosion - in the middle of the night!
Photo courtesy KSL.com

Check out the local news station's report to see some incredible videos, including the video the above frame was taken from:
Meteor the size of oven lights up the night sky, alarms Utahns

Coincidentally the annual Leonids meteor shower hit its peak yesterday, although spaceweather.com claims that this fireball had nothing to do with the shower.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Adventure Peeing

A discussion that comes up sometimes in male social circles is the notion of adventurous places one has urinated. Off a cliff, straddling the continental divide, on an exotic bush - you get the picture. These stories form something of a male birth right - to be a real man you have to have peed in (or on) some wicked cool places.

Well finally there is a way for the gentler (and less crude) gender to experience the thrill of adventure urination!

This is a picture of the new single-arch bridge being constructed at the Hoover dam, on the border of Nevada and Arizona. You can see the construction workers joining the last bit of the arch, after which the suspension cables will be removed allowing the arch to carry the full load of the future roadway.

Now look closely, what do you see? Four magnificent, glistening porta-potties!

People of the female persuasion, welcome to the world of adventure peeing.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

BYU Daily Universe Covers Salt Lake Astronomy Events

I was asked by the faculty advisors for the BYU Astronomical Society to write a response to a recent BYU Daily Universe article on stargazing in Salt Lake City. We found it odd that a reporter would travel all the way up to Salt Lake to talk about all of the University of Utah associated Salt Lake Astronomical Society events that BYU students should participate in - when we have a perfectly awesome Astronomical Society of our own!

The following link will download a pdf of the Oct 19 edition of the Daily Universe, with the article of interest on the 4th page, entitled, "People gaze at heavens at star party," by Monica Redd.


And here's my response, hopefully soon to be published:

Dear Editor,


I'd like to congratulate the Daily Universe on an informative and interesting article about a stargazing event held two weekends ago in Salt Lake City. Observing the heavens with quality telescopes and knowledgeable guides can be a thrilling experience.

An apt subject for next week's paper could be a week-old report on the BYU Astronomical Society's star party, held this past Friday night. You could speak about the number of quality telescopes the public looked through, the excellent local skies, or the subtle grandeur of the Veil Nebula showing the remains of an ancient stellar explosion. Better yet, you could inform readers of weekly star gazing opportunities on the roof of the Eyring Science Center, monthly star parties held just up the canyon near Vivian Park, or of the fantastic weekly planetarium shows presented right here on BYU campus.

While BYU Astronomical Society events can't boast "star dances," "star songs," or "the most powerful optical telescope in the Intermountain West," we can boast a great local dark sky location, frigid year-round star parties (when the stars are the best and a warm companion is a must!), and, of course, an undying loyalty to the Cougars and to the ways of righteousness and happiness (unlike our "star teacher" friends up at the U).

So next time instead of traveling an hour to learn about the universe from the red devils of the north and their friends try stopping by your local planetarium and save yourself some gas.

(And, for the record, BYU has the largest optical telescope in the state – it’s just not open to the public.)


Nicholas Herrick
President - BYU Astronomical Society

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Very Sad Post

For my 98th post, I'm going to write something very sad.

Remember that one time I talked about what I did over the summer? (here) Well it was all kinds of fun - I made great friends, learned lots of physics, and escaped Provo for a few months.

The biggest reason I enjoyed my summer so much was actually because of the people I met, specifically, three people: Tori, Jing, and Ethan - three graduate students who I grew to quite like.

Ethan was my mentor for the summer, helping me with the circuit I built and frequently providing ample entertainment. Jing and Tori worked on the experiment on the other side of room - something about molecules and really clean surfaces... All I know is the poor souls had to take their vacuum system down to 10^-10 Torr, ugh. But while they were waiting for their system to pump down (it usually took 3-4 days) they'd come over to the other side of the lab and talk to us and we'd laugh a lot.

I posted a picture of the entire KM research group - all 24 of us - including my three good friends. Here it is again, with some helpful labels:
Here's the sad part.

Last Sunday I received an unexpected e-mail from Dr. Murnane telling me that Ethan and Jing had been killed in a rock slide while hiking in China.

I didn't have much to say about it until today.

Having only known these two for three months, I can't claim to have been especially close. But having known them well enough, I knew that I liked them. I could see that were I to return to pursue a graduate degree that these people would become very good friends.

Tori is in Colorado and didn't go to China. I've talked to her on the phone a couple times since the accident. I imagine the rest of the research group is taking their deaths pretty hard.

Ethan and Jing were pursuing Ph.D.s in physics and were extremely intelligent - the kind of intelligence you don't find every day. There was incredible potential there, so much education and skill, so much goodness and genuine niceness - lost in one rock slide.

Perhaps the reason I liked Ethan and Jing so much was because they were so kind. Ethan actually shocked me with his kindness - he was so genuine and sincere - I haven't met many people like that. Jing was always happy, always smiling, even when her experiment wasn't cooperating.

In the week since I learned of their deaths I've spent an abnormal amount of time in my research lab here at BYU. I've really gotten into a LabVIEW program I'm working on for my experiment and countless times thought to myself, "Dang, Ethan would have known how to do this."

So that's my sad story - mostly rambling, but that's what this blog is for. For the rest of my life whenever I'm fighting with a vacuum system or bemoaning a miscreant LabVIEW program, I'll think of the two unusually kind graduate students I once knew who could have solved the problem much faster than I.

Here's to your next adventure my friends, I'm sorry it started so soon.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What I've Been Up To This Summer

I haven't posted anything on what I was up to all summer. Ya'll probably thought I just fell off the face of the earth or something! Nope, here's what I've been doing.

At the end of May I drove my little car from Utah here, to Boulder Colorado and the campus of the University of Colorado. I attended a physics conference for a few days up in Fort Collins and stayed in a hotel here in Boulder. Eventually I moved into a nice little apartment/dorm on campus a five minute walk from the lab.

I went to work for the Kapteyn-Murnane Attosecond Science and Extreme Nonlinear Optics Research Group at the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrohphysics (JILA), located on the campus of the University of Colorado. This group is huge consisting of Henry Kapteyn and Margaret Murnane (who are married) as principle investigators and an army of 15 graduate students, 5 post-docs, 4 labs taking up half of a floor, and 8 different sub-research groups.

I worked on an extreme ultraviolet (EUV) microscopy experiment attempting to image tiny samples with 13 nm coherent light. To be honest though, most of the summer was spent either 1)Fiddling with the laser, 2)Fiddling with the x-ray generation setup (high harmonic generation in a waveguide), or 3)Working on a laser safety interlock circuit to protect the delicate CCD camera.

And here's a picture of the laser safety circuit I built at the expense of many fried ICs and brain cells.

The picture above is the prototype, the picture below is one of the 2nd generation circuits being debugged. The metal casings have 3 in-board LEDs, 2 switches, 1 potentiometer, and 5 power/signal hookups of various types.

It was designed to prevent human error from destroying the sensitive x-ray CCD at the end of the laser path. The laser used is so bright, and the CCD so sensitive, that it would be irreparably damaged in a few milliseconds (or less). This circuit should prevent that from happening because of a careless user leaving a filter or valve open at the wrong time.

So that's what I was up to all summer, I had a great time. I really like the people I worked with in the KM Lab, and I especially liked JILA, the campus of UC Boulder, and Boulder itself. I'd love to go to graduate school there!

A Funny Story About My Poor Car

So, the other day a fence fell on my car. Yeah, it hurt.

As you can see it's one of those big heavy wooden fences. Perhaps too heavy for wind to knock over... Anyways, I have insurance, so they're gonna help me out, except for that pesky $500 deductible. The damage was actually pretty bad, as you can see in the next picture:

The side-view mirror is toast, and there's a gigantic dent in the door - that's the pricey part. The initial estimate was $890.33, but then I got a call saying things were worse than they thought and it'll cost (them) more to fix it. So I'll pick my car up tomorrow morning and pay Geico $500 (Geico by the way has been great through all this), and then I'll try to go after the place I'm staying at to get my money back.

Here's the funny part. Later that night after seeing a movie with some friends, I was driving home and saw a drunk guy crossing the street in front of me at a stop light. The guy was clearly soused out of his mind and was probably going to fall in the river or get hit by a car or something, so I offered him a ride.

Once he got in my car and I finally got him to put his seat belt on, he instructed me that he was going to throw up, so I put down the window and told him to aim outside. After driving around following his mostly incoherent directions, I finally stopped where I thought he might live, he opened the door of my car and fell out onto the grass and threw up there for awhile.

I decided to stick around to make sure he didn't die there on the grass or something. When he was done he got back into my car and showed me that he had barf all over his hands. I told him to not touch anything and then he told me he didn't live there.

So we drove around for a bit more until we were (apparently) close enough and I dropped him off and he stumbled away among the bushes, presumably to where he lived.

So the funny part about all this is a couple days later I took my car to the insurance agent to get my damaged door evaluated. As I took the agent to check out my car I noticed a whole boatload of bird poop on the passenger door. Slightly puzzled, I ignored it while I talked to the agent, and then all of a sudden I realized it - that drunk guy had barfed all over my fence-mangled door! Kinda added insult to injury.

So I just pretended I didn't see it and let the mechanics deal with it. =D

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Review: District-9

My standard rule after seeing a movie for the first time is to wait until the next day to pass judgement on it. But lately I've been making more and more exceptions to this.

I say lately, but as I sat in the theater today (technically yesterday...) I realized that I hadn't been to a movie theater since Christmas! So I suppose my exceptions aren't too infrequent:

District 9
By: Who cares who else was involved, it was by Peter Jackson.

The Short:
Sci-fi flick about aliens that end up as refugees on earth. Surprise surprise, we don't treat them that well.

Add a whole lot of action, interesting raids on the alien slums, a boat load of gore, and more f-bombs than you could possibly count (although if someone counts them I'll be impressed) and you get a great movie that could be excellent were it not for the excessive language and unnecessary gore.

The Long:
That last bit there is the kicker - why couldn't this movie have been PG-13? Not much of the gore was actually necessary - heads blowing up, arms being ripped from bodies and consumed, etc etc.

The movie could have had just as many wicked cool guns and just as many deaths without blood constantly being splattered all over the universe.

And then there's the f-bombs, holy cow! You really can't believe how many times they drop the freak fest. Now, I'll give you that a lot of the time the favorite f-word was spoken in a British accent, so was really quite funny! But why so much?! It really was overboard there Jackson - way overboard.

The premise of the story is incredible - simply stupendous. It'll have me thinking for days. Even better, there's going to be a sequel to tie everything up and hopefully see the aliens get some sweet revenge.

Conclusion:
If you want to see a movie with an engaging story-line, interesting parallels to racism, and possibly the most thought-provoking opening premise of any recent movie, I recommend District 9. Of course, this comes with the HUGE caveat that you have to endure endless f-bombs and blood constantly splattering all over the place. Very silly sacrifice if you ask me...

Saturday, August 1, 2009

World's Largest Vacuum Chamber

This is the world's largest vacuum chamber - a gigantic 122 foot high aluminum cage designed to simulate the airless environment of space.

NASA uses it to test spaceship prototypes and create giant marshmallows. (One of those statements is a lie.) In addition to vacuum, it can heat or cool the environment from -260 to 175 degrees Fahrenheit (111 to 353 Kelvin).

I wouldn't want to have to replace the o-ring on that sucker!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Rafting the Poudre River

On Friday I went whitewater rafting down the Poudre River in Northern Colorado with Wanderlust Adventures. Having always wanted to be thrown out of the boat, my dreams came true. Luckily enough a photographer was on the bank to capture the entire event.

I hope you enjoy the pictures as much as I do :D

(Click on any of the images for a larger version. Some of them are especially entertaining up close.)








Thursday, July 2, 2009

New Favorite Show: America's Got Talent

Yesterday I discovered a great show, America's Got Talent.

Why do I like this show so much? Because one moment I'm giggling myself silly, the next wanting to crawl into a hole, and the next feeling all warm and fuzzy. It's great TV! And great entertainment.

Here are three clips showing the three emotions of the show in case you've never seen it:

Giggling like crazy:


Oh my:


Warm and Fuzzy:

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Virtuality: An Unexpectedly Awesome Show

Holy crap!

Lately I've been watching some John Stewart and a few movies on hulu.com and today saw an advertisement for a movie I had never heard of called Virtuality. It looked interesting and since I didn't have anything to do tonight [ : ( ] I watched it. Having never heard of it, I wasn't expecting anything at all.

Virtuality is a space-type movie about 12 people in the not-too-distant future on a mission to another star system. The mission is supposed to take 10 years. So basically stick 12 people in a metal can for 10 years and see what happens. Oh, and mix in some neat sci-fi techno scenes for kicks.

The movie sure was aggressive in laying ground for character development, relationship development, and a lot of great psychological drama. I was completely hooked after the first few minutes!

45 minutes or so into the 1.5 hour feature I started wondering how they planned on wrapping all of the plot up in the next 45 minutes. To me, it seemed things were moving awfully slow in order to end things nicely...

To my amazement the movie ended on a complete and utter cliff-hanger. Seriously, there could not possibly be a worse cliff-hanger in all of movie history.

What the crap??!

This is easily the worst ending ever, of anything, forever.

In my anger I googled the movie and pulled up the wikipedia entry:

Virtuality is the title of a series pilot written by Ronald D. Moore and produced by the FOX Network.[1] Moore co-wrote the script with Michael Taylor. The two-hour pilot episode, directed by Peter Berg, aired as a movie, June 26, 2009

In an instant this became the most excellently awesome TV series ever. You really must watch the pilot (which I thought was a stand-alone movie.)

I sure hope this goes viral so that fox won't cancel it after one season like they did to firefly. (A sin the world may never forgive them for.... except now it's different.)

Watch the Virtuality pilot episode for a short time at hulu.com.
(No, I'm not getting paid to advertise for them. I wish!)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A More Godly View of Creation

I have long held that only an Omnipotent Being could be the master of evolution and the physical properties of the universe.

The fact that evolution works and that all the sciences harmonize so beautifully to allow intelligent life to exist is one of the biggest evidences for a God, not against. (This concept is known as The Anthropic Principle)

My faith is strengthened by science - in fact, I can't imagine science affecting me in any other way.

The article I've linked below introduced me to another way of thinking about creation. God is more similar to a gardener than a magician. Is it no wonder that Jesus taught using farming metaphors so frequently? It is by patience, effort, and miracles that God affects the world, so wouldn't his creation mimic this pattern?

Perhaps under this premise, "evolution" is a more Godly view of earth's origin than "creationism?" (Where "evolution" and "creationism" correspond to the trenches of the ridiculous debate that continues in some parts of the religious and secular community.)

I thought this article was enlightening and worth reading. I hope you'll agree.


Excerpt:
"...How can we value this Earth if we believe that it was an act of a wanded magician rather than a gardener? Is it any wonder that those who hold to a cheap creation also seem to be the first to ignore the peril of our planet? Who argue that we can ignore the global ecological crisis and be assured God can reproduce another planet like our Earth like a rabbit out of a hat?..."

An Unexpected Advertisement 2

As I was reading through some articles on the interwebs today, I ran across the following advertisement intriguingly placed on a computer how-to website.


"Self," I thought, "that font looks familiar." So I clicked on it.


No way! The LDS Church (of which I am a proud member.... but not that kind of pride, sheesh) was advertising on this computer website! I couldn't help myself, so I clicked to watch the movie, "Finding Happiness" that they were advertising.

It is a lovely little movie. I was thinking the whole time I was watching it how I might receive it if I was just a random guy reading a computer article and clicked on the nice Asian lady's face out of curiosity. I really think that it approaches those with little or no belief in God a very aptly, very logically but honest manner. Here's an example:
"Something in our heart tells us there is more to life, that real happiness and peace could be ours regardless of our circumstances, if only we knew where and how to find it."
So, I share this for a few reasons:
  1. I was highly amused that the Church was advertising on a computer website, and this blog is for all the various things that amuse me.
  2. I liked the movie quite a lot and this blog is for things that I like.
  3. I'm always trying to help people better understand and not fear or suspect the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I hope you'll enjoy the movie as much as I did:

video

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Iran: Seeing Our Heritage in Their Struggle


In the past week Iran has been a very exciting place. This rigged election fiasco has the potential to drastically change Iran's government, but has already improved Iran's image in the eyes of the American people.

Despite having never had to physically defend the liberties given me here in America, I, and I'd claim most Americans, feel a strong, almost guttural need to be free - and to do whatever is necessary to preserve that freedom. Maybe it's the American education system, or maybe it's because our ancestors were that way. But it really is, from my perspective, a very integral part of each generation of Americans.

But, Americans are often accused of being a self-centered country. We only watch American TV, listen to American music, and care about American news. I agree. But the reaction among Americans to the Iranian protests this week has been very different - we're glued to our TVs watching the events unfold with incredible reverence. In a way, we imagine ourselves watching our ancestors fighting for freedom back in the 18th century. Truthfully, we're somewhat puzzled by the extreme differences between our cultures and we can't just forget the hateful and ignorant rhetoric coming from the Iranian government. But amazingly, Americans are finding that we understand, sympathize, and even relate to Iranians more now than ever before. We don't speak the same language, have the same religion, or eat the same foods - but when we're lied to and manipulated by the government so clearly, just as they have been - we freak out and demand change just as they are doing now.

The Iranian people are, in essence, building a camaraderie with Americans - we're anxiously watching and hoping that they'll keep protesting - that they'll keep putting their lives, reputations, and lifestyles on the line for this, a cause that is truly important - one of the few causes worth dying for.

In a strange way, this upheaval of the Iranian government may lead to a less-extreme and more world-friendly Iran. To say it bluntly, this could be the best way to prevent the United States from eventually going to war with the almost-nuclear-armed Iran.

From one pseudo-pacifistic American to the world: I do not want war with Iran. I want Americans to like Iranians and Iranians to like Americans. I want our governments to tolerate each other and interact peaceably. When our nations throw insults at each other and when they refuse to talk to each other because they're enemies (which, in my opinion is the stupidest idea in the entire world), or when they beat the drums of intimidation and war I believe that we, the regular folks in the ditches, lose big time.

I can only anticipate the situation getting worse as time goes on. Already this unrest is leaving the realm of a rigged election and entering the realm of a complete government overthrow. Of course, we Americans do not want to see anything in Iran that is not in line with the will of the majority of the people.
We're not trying to overthrow the Iranian government - we're just secretly holding our breaths in the hope that the Iranians really don't hate us as much as their government says they do.
Is this the start of a truly democratic Middle Eastern State? Boy, that'd be great.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

New Address?

I'm soliciting the opinion of my readers - I'd like a new address for this blog. What do you think would be cooler?

blog.nherrick.com

or

www.nickolaspickolas.com

(Or maybe even blog.nickolaspickolas.com?)

P.S. I made this post from my iPhone. :D

Thursday, May 7, 2009

My Own Interweb Domain

I have a new personal website to keep me from feeling left out of the "I have a nifty website" clique:


Cool name, eh? For a ripe sum of $10 I purchased the domain through Google apps (didn't need to do that, cause it just went through godaddy.com anyways and cost more) and found a cheap hosting plan through 3ix.org for $12 a year. That's right, per year! It includes 40Gb of storage, and 100Gb monthly bandwidth. So you're looking at a grand total of $22 a year for my own domain, tons of space, and uber internet coolness.

The real reason I've gone and done this (other than being home now and having a lot of time on my hands) is because having an academic website seems like an important thing to have as of late. Many of my math and science peers have similar sites detailing their research accolades and such. I suppose it's like an extended resume, but, since resumes are now sort of considered universally pointless, I instead have a website!

For those folks who are desperate for a hardcopy of something to pretend is a resume, I have included a pdf of my CV. Sure, it may be short now, but just you wait! Someday it'll be 66 pages long like Dr. Kapteyn's (who I'm working for this summer).

Sunday, May 3, 2009

3D Math Movie

I finally purchased an iPhone on the internet last week, and as it still hasn't arrived, I've spent a good while downloading cool iTunes apps in anticipation of the joy that will surely be mine when I get my latest toy.

Per my eagerness to play with my new toy, I discovered a neat little program that is a nerd's dream come true. Spacetime 3.0 is a way cool and easy to use math program for the computer and iPhone.

Ok, I know, most of my readers won't care one diddly-squat about a program that most everyone can only use the tiniest fraction of, but I found it terribly fun! (Even though I can't use most of what it does.... yet.)

I found myself endlessly amused by all the little 3D movies of complex (and meaningless) trigonometric functions I made. It was so fun, in fact, I made a YouTube video of my results. Here ya go, enjoy:

Driving Across the Country

A couple weeks ago I drove across the entire United States. Guh. I've "driven" across the country about 12 or 13 times in my life, but none of them actually driving the vehicle. This was my first time driving the entire time.

It was incredibly boring.

Here's the route I took with markings for where I stopped each night. I was in no particular hurry, so took about 4 days to complete the trip from Provo, UT to Las Vegas, NV, and then to Harrisonburg, VA via I-40.

Along the way, I way highly amused by a podcast I discovered called "Stuff You Should Know" from Howstuffworks.com. I recommend it to anyone who has anything resembling a menial or repetitive task. I listened to such gems as:

How face transplants work
How redheads work
How flirting works (very educational)
How Ponzi Schemes work
How deja vue works
10 Bizarre ways to die
Where's the best place on your body to get shot?
How money laundering works
How could a cat scuba dive?

And the best:
Why is it so hard to say 'toy boat' three times fast?

Fascinating, I highly recommend 'em.

Monday, March 30, 2009

BYU Singers

Brigham Young University Singers is my favorite musical group in the world. (Here's what I've written about them before.) They're getting fancier and fancier! They recently released this impressive promotional video for their latest concert. I hope hope hope hope to be in the Singers someday (next year??). I listen to their music incessantly! In fact, the only available tenor spot was taken by my friend Steve, who, if you watch the video, is the blonde guy with the part in his hair talking about personification of something or other. :-( He's a great guy though, and my time will come.

You can listen to some of their works below on my listening application, but I encourage you most of all to buy some of their fantastic CDs at singers.byu.edu.


Leonardo Dreams from BYU Singers on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Secret Laser Experiments

On Saturday I had a big physics presentation that I had been preparing for for a couple of months. My professor wanted me to talk about research that we had done the past summer, but I thought it was all boring and wanted to work on something NEW. Well, this NEW thing (which I won't be mentioning here...) turned out to be a lot of work. I found myself convincing my own advisor that it actually is a doable experiment! So I think I've succeeded in that regard, now to find $20,000 somewhere...

The reason I won't mention the details of the experiment here is because, well, we don't want any other high-intensity laser labs to get any ideas. This experiment has never been done before and could potentially be very interesting. But I do love to talk about it, so if you want to know the secret, just talk to me in real life sometime. It has to do with LASERS oooooo! I love physics :D

Sunday, March 22, 2009

MormonMessages - The LDS Church Embrases YouTube



This video is one of a much larger collection of short YouTube videos produced weekly by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: YouTube MormonMessages

Thursday, March 19, 2009

This Post Needs No Title


Please submit captions for this picture in the comments section. The winner will receive a high-five, or if he/she is not local, a smiley face.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Friday, March 6, 2009

Navel Perplexity

Over the past six months I have consistently been finding copious amounts of lint in my navel.

This sudden arrival has caused me to ponder the genesis of the fibrous materials and their mysterious gravitation toward my umbilicus.

I have formed no hypotheses, but promise to enlighten you when I do.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Internet Inside Joke

I feel like part of the internet "in" crowd when I find the following hilarious. If you have no idea what's so funny, then you are definitely not "in."

Shown below are the first two comments to the article, Best Buy offers $99 iPhone to some reward members from Macworld.com.


Pig Poem

Here's a poem I wrote to a friend the other day in church:

There once was a lad
who wasn't too glad.
But then he learned a jig
from his best friend, a pig.

So the pig
and the jig
made the lad
much more glad.

And then he had some toast.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Crisis Appeased

Less than an hour ago Mark Zuckerberg, founder and owner of Facebook, posted the following clarification regarding the recent TOS changes:
A couple of weeks ago, we updated our terms of use to clarify a few points for our users. A number of people have raised questions about our changes, so I'd like to address those here. I'll also take the opportunity to explain how we think about people's information.

Our philosophy is that people own their information and control who they share it with. When a person shares information on Facebook, they first need to grant Facebook a license to use that information so that we can show it to the other people they've asked us to share it with. Without this license, we couldn't help people share that information.

One of the questions about our new terms of use is whether Facebook can use this information forever. When a person shares something like a message with a friend, two copies of that information are created—one in the person's sent messages box and the other in their friend's inbox. Even if the person deactivates their account, their friend still has a copy of that message. We think this is the right way for Facebook to work, and it is consistent with how other services like email work. One of the reasons we updated our terms was to make this more clear.

In reality, we wouldn't share your information in a way you wouldn't want. The trust you place in us as a safe place to share information is the most important part of what makes Facebook work. Our goal is to build great products and to communicate clearly to help people share more information in this trusted environment.

We still have work to do to communicate more clearly about these issues, and our terms are one example of this. Our philosophy that people own their information and control who they share it with has remained constant. A lot of the language in our terms is overly formal and protective of the rights we need to provide this service to you. Over time we will continue to clarify our positions and make the terms simpler.

Still, the interesting thing about this change in our terms is that it highlights the importance of these issues and their complexity. People want full ownership and control of their information so they can turn off access to it at any time. At the same time, people also want to be able to bring the information others have shared with them—like email addresses, phone numbers, photos and so on—to other services and grant those services access to those people's information. These two positions are at odds with each other. There is no system today that enables me to share my email address with you and then simultaneously lets me control who you share it with and also lets you control what services you share it with.

We're at an interesting point in the development of the open online world where these issues are being worked out. It's difficult terrain to navigate and we're going to make some missteps, but as the leading service for sharing information we take these issues and our responsibility to help resolve them very seriously. This is a big focus for us this year, and I'll post some more thoughts on openness and these other issues soon.
So I feel much better. It is interesting to note that this clarification was issued today - a full 12 days after the TOS were changed. Is this a response to my e-mail to the Facebook legal department?? Well... probably not. More likely it's a response to the nearly 300,000 people who have read the consumerist.com article I posted earlier. So, as Rachel said on my facebook entry, quantity, not quality, appears to have prompted a response this time! I feel something akin to a victory dance coming on...

Facebook Tricks Users into Irrevocable Contract

The following article on consumerist.com alerted me to the following situation that I find slightly disturbing:

Facebook's New Terms Of Service: "We Can Do Anything We Want With Your Content. Forever."

If you're taking the time to read this, then you should take the time to read the above article because I won't be summarizing it here.

After doing some sleuthing myself and finding that what they are claiming is indeed true (refer to the Terms of Service (TOS) dated before 4 Feb 2009 and the TOS edited 4 Feb 2009), I found the following paragraph in the current TOS interesting. As listed under the "User Disputes; Complaints" section:

"If you believe that the Facebook Service or Facebook's business practices are in any way unfair, fraudulent or unlawful, you agree to bring it to the attention of Facebook's legal department. If you do not report the issue or continue using the service after discovering the issue, you expressly waive the right to claim that the Facebook Service is unfair, fraudulent or unlawful with respect to that issue."

So I did. It took me awhile to find the Facebook legal department contact information, but here it is:

Facebook Legal Department
legal@facebook.com
Phone: 650-543-4801

I sent the following e-mail this morning:

Facebook Legal Department,

As referenced in your Terms of Service (TOS) revised 4 February 2009:

"If you believe that the Facebook Service or Facebook's business practices are in any way unfair, fraudulent or unlawful, you agree to bring it to the attention of Facebook's legal department. If you do not report the issue or continue using the service after discovering the issue, you expressly waive the right to claim that the Facebook Service is unfair, fraudulent or unlawful with respect to that issue."

I hereby am notifying you of my complaint regarding the following clause removed from the terms of service made effective on 4 February 2009:

"You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. If you choose to remove your User Content, the license granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content."

It is my opinion that the TOS are no longer acceptable and that it is my responsibility (see above) to notify you that I consider these business practices unfair. Namely, I resent that you claim rights to content that I have uploaded to your site indefinitely regardless of my status as a subscriber of your services. I respectfully demand that you alter your TOS to restore what I consider my right to restrict your indefinite use of my content.

Nicholas G Herrick
[my contact information]
I fully realize that my e-mail will have no effect on their legal practices, but is it my hope that perhaps others will complain and that the deluge of negative feedback will bring about a change of heart. After all, we're not dealing with Microsoft or George Bush here, it's Facebook! We like Facebook.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Idiot's (short) Definition of Optics

I recently became aware that while talking to my parents about my optics research, optics classes, and optics career aspirations, they had no idea what I was talking about. So, assuming that the physically uneducated masses are similarly in the dark about the definition of optics (pun intended), I will venture to give a palatable definition:

The physical field of optics is huge - it encompasses much more than the common person supposes. From simple everyday phenomena like colors, mirrors, cameras, computer screens, eyeballs, and eye-glasses, to technologically vital applications like lasers, microscopes, x-rays, satellite dishes, radios, and (of course) microwave ovens, you use light and all of its complicated electromagnetic theory constantly (heh heh, literally if you're reading this with eyeballs).

Optics has such a significant impact on your life you likely don't even realize it: You regularly use heatlamps, fiber optics (internet), DVDs, laser pointers, and laser printers. Not to mention you get sunburns, suntans, use sunglasses, and watch TV.


Some of the more subtle applications of optics include computer chip manufacturing, radar, digital camera CCD chips, WiFi, cell phones transmissions, and toaster ovens (well, maybe toasters aren't so vital).

I could keep going and mention how the upper atmosphere keeps us safe from nasty particles and high-energy cosmic rays by playing tricky optics games, or why some cars have blue headlights while most have orange. Or I could mention the color of the sky, the color of snow, or why the sun is so stinking bright. But I won't. I bet by now you realize you underestimated those funny little photons and all they do for you, didn't ya? So thank God for photons! (And for folks who understand them.) Cause the world would be awfully bleak without them.

(For the record, please don't ask me how rainbows work - they're so freaking hard to understand!)

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Interactive Interwebs

So, facebook has this chain going around asking people to list 25 random things about themselves. I was enjoying reading my friends' lists, so I figured I'd make my own! This is perhaps the first cool chain letter I've ever seen... Perhaps the interwebs are evolving into a more intelligent and sophisticated medium?

On second thought, no way. As evidence of the ridiculousness of the interwebs, I cite the following:
http://www.ufos-aliens.co.uk/cosmicapollo.html
http://allaboutfrogs.org/funstuff/jokes.html

So, although the interwebs are as silly as ever, I will indulge this particular chain letter for the purpose of aggrandizing myself in the eyes of the watching world.

25 Random Things About Me
  1. I love to sing, but only in choirs and when I’m by myself. Every other setting disturbs me.
  2. I am a Mormon, and a Democrat, and a scientist. Woah.
  3. As a little boy I danced ballet for 3 years.
  4. My telescope is bigger than your head. My next telescope will be bigger than you. My dream telescope will be bigger than your mom.
  5. I have been to every state except for Florida, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Michigan, Alaska, and Hawaii.
  6. One of my pet peeves is that I hate having to bring stuff in from the car.
  7. I have a dancing cactus named Carlos that has gone everywhere with me since my freshman year of high school.
  8. One of my favoritest things to do is aluminum machining.
  9. I like astronomy, but can’t stand the thought of doing it for a living.
  10. My secret desire when I grow up is to have a huge garage with every tool imaginable and to invent stuff. Kinda like Ironman, or Batman.
  11. I got a 35/36 on the English section of the ACT, and only a 26/36 on the science section – yet I am a science major. Go figure.
  12. I used to be a demon on the dance floor – until I went on my mission. Now dances bore me.
  13. I listen to choral music incessantly – almost exclusively.
  14. I have lived in six states and two provinces.
  15. Sometimes I act in stage plays – but only comedies.
  16. I still want to go to Space Camp.
  17. I have not had a girlfriend in 5 years.
  18. I have a beard. At BYU.
  19. I have a habit of buying interesting books, and then never reading them.
  20. I’m a co-author on a recent physics publication in a major peer-reviewed journal.
  21. I still have dreams about my favorite cat Moose, who died four years ago.
  22. I got a car for Christmas once. It cost $200 and lasted almost two years.
  23. I read online articles incessantly – about anything and everything. Aren’t the interwebs great?
  24. I like hubcaps.
  25. My idea of paradise is sitting under a waterfall on a sunny day. With a pretty girl in the near vicinity. And a picnic lunch. And no time constraints. And finding a really big crayfish. And tadpoles.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Canadian's Perspective on the Clouds

I was reading through some of my old mission e-mails, and I found one that I find quite entertaining. Is it bad to think something you wrote is entertaining? I sure hope not, because I think this blog is hilarious! Anyways, here's the entertaining bit, with a map of Creston, British Columbia to serve as a visual reference:

Creston, British Columbia

View Larger Map
The white line on the above map shows the US/Canadian (Idaho/BC) border.

"Hello Americans,

"One funny thing about the Creston Valley:

"I live approximately 20 km from a HUGE lake called Kooteney Lake. Kooteney Lake is 100 km long and over a thousand feet deep at times (or so I hear). Because of the size it creates its own weather system in the valley here making Creston and the surrounding valley unusually warm year round. Not only is this nice to live in, but it also allows for a large and productive cherry and apple season.

"The warm air causes a lot of cloud cover in the winter which extends only to the south part of the valley. Funny enough the valley ends precisely on the 43rd parallel, or the US / Canadian border. So looking south 8 miles from my house, I see the dense gloomy cloud cover abruptly stop right where the border is, then I can see below the nasty clouds right into sunny and beautiful America - The True Country. At times the smell of gunpowder and the flashes of patriotic fireworks wafts up to my homesick self and I can almost imagine a bi-plane flying through the clear blue sky pulling a giant American flag. The sweet tune of 'America the Beautiful' might be heard echoing up the purple mountains - until it gets to the gloomy, frozen nation of Canada.

"Ok, I do love Canada, but it is true that the states always looks sunny from here. I really do like Canada..."

Creston, BC on a semi-cloudy day.

Creston, BC on a clear day.
The 'X' on the mountain marks the Canadian/US border.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration: A New Beginning


From the text of President Barack Obama's Inauguration speech:

"A nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous."

"To all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more."

"This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath."



It is difficult for me to put into words my feelings after witnessing the swearing in of our new President. I am filled with hope, genuinely proud of my country, and excited to be a citizen of the US.

Pride and hope in my country is a new thing to me - ever since I was old enough to care about politics I have felt frustrated, no - angered, constantly put-down, subverted - and have nearly constantly lamented the decisions, or indecisions, of our leaders.

Today I feel refreshed, renewed, full of hope. I see the corruption and ineptitude of our government diminishing. I feel like I have had a say, like my voice has been heard.

What I have for so long yearned for I can now see on the horizon. Finally, it looks like justice will come to the poor and downtrodden of the earth. Finally, it appears that we'll reject the greed that has raped our planet, ravaged our sacred home. Finally, I see America becoming a leader in justice and rightness like I read about in history. Finally, I can hope that my children will look at my generation with gratitude as an example of conquering selfishness and propagating true freedom - not just freedom from tyrrany, but freedom of life, of health, of learning, and of self-respect.

May the Lord bless this country that we may serve the world and the meek by whom we will be judged at the last day.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Find a Way to Make Money Having Fun

"JobsRated.com offers help for uncertain job seekers by analyzing 200 different jobs according to 5 vital criteria: Stress, Work Environment, Physical Demands, Income and Outlook."

Here are the top twenty jobs from that list with their listed incomes:
  1. Mathematician - $94,160
  2. Actuary - $88,146
  3. Statistician - $72,197
  4. Biologist - $74,273
  5. Software Engineer - $86,139
  6. Computer Systems Analyst - $75,160
  7. Historian - $61,209
  8. Sociologist - $63,195
  9. Industrial Designer - $58,206
  10. Accountant - $59,173
  11. Economist - $83,222
  12. Philosopher - $58,200
  13. Physicist - $100,140
  14. Parole Officer - $46,169
  15. Meteorologist - $81,234
  16. Medical Laboratory Technician - $53,100
  17. Paralegal Assistant - $46,155
  18. Computer Programmer - $70,176
  19. Motion Picture Editor - $49,368
  20. Astronomer - $102,233
Here's to hard science! Also, please notice that the highest listed income (I'm assuming it's an average of some kind) in the top 20 best jobs in the US is an Astronomer - $102,233. Then, please notice that the second highest listed income is for a Physicist - $100,140.

So for all those accounting, business and pre-med majors who so haughtily study incredibly boring subjects with only the hope of obtaining riches beyond imagination, eat it!

I chose my major because I like it and, woah! what a surprise, I can make a heck of a lot of money doing something I actually like... what a concept.

Parsecs and Eons

I made a startling discovery yesterday. For the sake of non-physics types, I will define a few terms.

1 parsec is equal to 3.26 lightyears or 3.1 x 10^16 meters.
1 eon, as used in astronomic and geologic terms, is equal to one billion years.
The International Standard (SI) unit for speed is meters/second (m/s).
(Just think about distance traveled/time it took to travel, or miles/hour - that's your speed. If you say "I'm traveling in some direction at that speed", than you've also defined your velocity.)

Here it comes, are you ready?

Woah!! Coooolnes!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

What Hitler Thinks about BYU's Loss to Utah

A big thank you to whoever put this together. It expresses my sentiments exactly. Who woulda thought I'd have so much in common with Hitler...

Monday, January 5, 2009

At this time of economic uncertainty...

... remember the poor people who hurt the most.

video

Note: I absolutely cannot stand the title of this blog. Also I cannot stand: "In the current economic climate...."

Happy New Year

I hope all of you enjoyed celebrating the recent change in the Gregorian calendar.

As you look forward to the new year and reconsider your life, remember that the calendar system you and I hold so dear is completely arbitrary and has no real connection to anything.

(If you'd really like to celebrate something, just wait until 3501 when the Julian date changes to 3000000 - now that will be something to celebrate!)