Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How to Pay LDS Tithing Online

Here's how to pay tithing online for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka Mormons or Latter-day Saints [LDS]).

If you're anything like me then you almost never use checks. The only day-to-day uses for these dinosaurs of the financial world are to pay rent and tithing. But more often than not I forget my checkbook when I go to church. After all, I don't carry it with me anywhere else! This habit has resulted in sporadic donations in which I try to figure out how many paychecks have come in since I last paid and then try to catch up.

(For those who may not know, Mormons usually pay 10% of their income to the church in the form of tithing. These funds support the growth of the church, building construction and maintenance, and other managerial things. They don't support a paid clergy (the LDS church has none at the local level) or humanitarian relief - there are separate donation avenues for helping the poor, victims of disaster, etc. Tithing does pay the administration costs of humanitarian aid so that 100% of money "given to the poor" actually goes to help the poor.)

Well I've finally found a solution. I heard a rumor that members can pay their tithing online somehow, so I fired up google and figured it out last night.

Here are directions to set up online tithing payment:

1. Download the necessary form from this website:
The Bill Payment Service Electronic Donation Information Form. (The version dated 21 May 2010 doesn't work, download and use the one dated 21 August 2008.) Fill it out on your computer and e-mail it to donations@ldschurch.org. You'll need to know your membership number, which you can get off of your temple recommend or from your ward clerk.

2. After you have e-mailed the form you'll receive a detailed response on how to set up your electronic bill payment through your bank. You'll need to figure out how exactly to configure bill pay for your bank. I use Bank of America and it was relatively easy to set up.

The e-mail you receive will provide information on how to set up separate bill payments for the following:

  • Tithing
  • Fast offerings
  • General missionary fund
  • Book of Mormon fund
  • Perpetual education fund
  • Other
Each bill payment you set up will use a different biller name. These names must be entered exactly as shown below and are case sensitive.

  • LDS-Tithing
  • LDS-Fast Offering
  • LDS-Missionary (General)
  • LDS-Book of Mormon
  • LDS-PEF
  • LDS-Other
You will be identified by your membership ID which you enter as the account number on your banking website.


Lastly, take care to enter the Pay To address and phone number correctly as shown.

A few notes on donating tithes and offerings electronically:
  • Any donations you send will go to church headquarters and will not be seen by your ward clerks or bishop - for good or for bad.
  • You can't donate to your ward missionary fund online, only to the general missionary fund.
  • The donations office can't accommodate special requests towards ward fast offerings or ward missionary funds.
  • You will receive monthly statements to verify that your payments have been successful as well as yearly tax receipts. You can receive these statements via snail mail or e-mail. If you choose to receive them via e-mail, this is what they look like:
Good luck! Hopefully this will be useful to folks like me who always forget the checkbook before church.

ORIGINAL: 3/15/10
UPDATE: 7/27/10 Updated directions to download the working Bill Payment Service Electronic Donation Information Form. Also mentioned the new ability to receive statements electronically.
UPDATE: 11/9/10 Added example image of a monthly electronic donations statement. Re-published with today's date.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

To Woo

From the Wikipedia article on courtship:
...Acts such as meeting on the Internet or virtual dating, chatting on-line via instant messaging or e-mail, sending text messages, conversing over the telephone, writing each other letters, and sending each other flowers, songs, and gifts constitute wooing.
 LOL.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

T-Rex vs. Mars Rover

Comment sections are usually full of idiots. Case in point:
jjeherrera Jul 30, 2010 6:17 PM
I've always found it hard to understand why there is so much insistence in manned space exploration, when it has been proven that robots are infinitely better at it.
Wanna know what I say?
Top speed of the Tyrannosaurus Rex, the mightiest dinosaur: 25 mph
Top speed of the Spirit Mars rover: 2 inches/second
Human space flight ftw!

But seriously, "...it has been proven that robots are infinitely better at [space exploration]." Huh? What planet are you from? (Maybe one where T-Rex and Mars rovers can peacefully coexist?)

Right now robots are the method of choice for exploring the solar system because they don't want to come home when all is said and done. And nobody has a fit when one or two burn up in the atmosphere. But to do serious exploration, robots just won't cut it forever.

Imagine trying to design a robot to
  1. Land in the Rocky Mountains (and survive!)
  2. Move about successfully (good luck)
  3. And then discover dinosaurs.
It's utterly unthinkable.

Do you think that's a bizarre scenario? Consider for a moment that Mars has both the highest mountain (Olympus Mons) and the biggest canyon (Valles Marineris) in the solar system. Mars used to have vast oceans, huge rivers, and gargantuan lava flows. It still has dust storms, polar ice caps, and massive amounts of water ice just below the surface. The possibility of fossilized microorganisms is very real - not to mention the chance of native life just below the frigid surface.

If we're ever going to do space exploration any justice we'll need to get our feet dirty. Humans are infinitely better at space exploration than robots!
Thanks for the drawing Brook!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Value of Creative Science

When you hear the word creative you don't necessarily think of science. But science is an extremely creative process and has occupied some of the most creative thinkers in human history. Many of the problems in the world can be solved by science, such as rising energy costs, global warming, starvation, and disease.

Admittedly, the following video was made for corporate propaganda purposes, but it does a beautiful job of illustrating why science is an alluring, creative field with the mission to change the world.

I am a scientist because I love the thrill of creatively solving a difficult problem. The prospect that in some small way my work might change the world for the better turns a fun career into a great one.

And of course, nothing says science like Asians in lab coats. :D
video
Did you notice the boiling cryogen at the beginning of the movie? Cool.

Monday, July 26, 2010

More Blog Changes

Blogger has implemented a new native visitor statistics program (no, not a program that tracks native visitors, a native program that tracks visitors!). It's fairly new, but it told me that currently my most popular post is How to Pay LDS Tithing Online. Yay! So I've gone an updated a few things that have changed about the program since I wrote about it in March.

Blogger also has a great new preview button to use when writing posts. This feature works much better than the previous one (which was mostly useless) and I'm happy. I can also use more-normal keyboard shortcuts for formatting on while blogging on my mac such as command-I to italicize something instead of control-I (which is pesky on a mac). Yay for progress!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

My Senior Thesis is DONE

After hundreds of hours of machining, wiring, troubleshooting, programming, fiddling, head scratching, fixing, typing, agonizing, and banging my head against the optical table...


It's done! And aaaaalllliiiiiiivvve!


My senior thesis. (<--- see that period? My thesis is as done as that period! Uhmph!) ..... I just noticed a typo.


Controlled Attenuation of Laser-generated High-order Harmonics for Extreme Ultraviolet Polarimetry


Abstract:
We constructed an extreme ultraviolet (EUV) polarimeter which utilizes laser- induced high harmonics as the light source. This device is capable of making absolute reflectance measurements as low as 0.2% over a wavelength range of 8-89 nm. The polarimetry positioning system allows incident reflectance angles of 0–40◦. In order to increase the dynamic range of our EUV detector we introduced a low-pressure gas downstream from the harmonic generation region to predictably attenuate EUV flux during incident measurements. We also used the gas cell to measure the photoabsorption cross sections of hydro- gen and oxygen compared to that of water vapor, revealing the influence of chemical bonds on EUV absorption.

If you still wanna read it, then click here (.pdf) . It has pretty pictures, I promise!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

BYU Library's Old Spice Body Wash Parody

I loved the original version of this commercial I actually went out and bought Old Spice body wash. Now, this parody comes out from my own school! It already has 1.1 million hits on YouTube:

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Book Review: "The Passage," by Justin Cronin

“It happened fast. Thirty-two minutes for one world to die, another to be born.” First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the monstrous product of a chilling military experiment...

Aaaaand that was enough for me! What a great book! You can read the whole back cover (don't worry, it doesn't reveal much) here. I listened to it for free on my iPhone from audible.com.

If you sign up with audible.com they give you a one month free membership and two free audio books - this was my first. The entire book took around 40 hours to listen to - I was enthralled the entire time!

Review:
The Passage is a sci-fi thriller taking place around the year 2016. That's about all I'm going to say - I'm happy that I knew so little before I started listening to it! Justin Cronin tells the story so wonderfully and helps you fall in love with the characters and actually care about whether they live or die (some live, some die, some do... other things).

It's a classic tale of good versus evil where the good are REALLY good and the bad are REALLY bad - innocent little girls against mindless monsters, you know the drill. He uses themes throughout the book to build a sense of fear, especially darkness. I actually found myself yelling (in my mind), "Don't go in the building! It's dark in there!"

The book was complete with love and adventure and lots of guns and explosions! I recommend it to anyone with some time on their hands this summer.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Blog Facelift

You may have noticed that I've changed the template for this blog. I had a pretty great template before, but because it was from an external website and was written substantially in javascript, I had very little control over it. Several components were broken and I didn't have the ability to fix them.

The reason I originally went to that system was because the Blogger templates I had been using didn't allow enough customization even though everything worked seamlessly. Well Blogger has released a new custom template system which gives me the level of customization I want while making sure everything functions correctly.

Of course, it could just be artistic boredom and these are excuses.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

US National Debt

The total U.S. national debt for June 23, 2010 was: $13,041,849,923,645.94.
(That's thirteen trillion, forty-one billion, eight hundred and forty-nine million, nine hundred and twenty-three thousand, six hundred and forty-five dollars and ninety-four cents. phew!)

Click here for yesterday's national debt number!
(The total national debt is tabulated each day for the previous day.)

These numbers are taken from the public treasury website, treasurydirect.gov.

The following is a graph of the total national debt from 4 January, 1993 to 23 June, 2010. I've left out all context with the exception of the terms of Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama.

If these data bother you at all, may I suggest making a contribution to the federal government? Just click here to donate to the "Gifts to Reduce the Public Debt" account. No joke, try it! It's for reals; Last year $3,063,057.05 was donated to relieve the public debt.

Why on earth did I do this? I was looking up the value of my savings bonds and started exploring the treasury website. I saw the link for "Debt to the Penny" and couldn't resist. I also love graphs. And I love data. And I'm getting rather tired of all the huffaw about spending - in my opinion no one cares about deficit spending until it's the other party doing the spending! Take that for what it's worth.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Iceland Adventure: Day 2

Oh wow, I thought I had published this about three weeks ago. That goes to show how much fun I've been having in London! Well, enjoy. I'll write more soon. This entry is for Tuesday, May 4th.

Today I woke up at 4am starving. Dawn is very early in Iceland - I don't really know when the sun rises, but I sleep next to the window in my hostel. I sleep in a room with 9 other people (10 total), mostly men. I met an American chap who happens to be LDS - pretty neat coincidence. But there's no breakfast until 7am. So I laid in bed and read the New York Times until I got up and washed my face at 6 am.

Breakfast was muesli and toast downstairs. The lobby was also a cafe where people hang out - it's pretty cool. I had no plans when I woke up, so I spoke with the attendant and he hooked me up with a Golden Circle tour starting at 8 am for 8000 isk (about $60). When the tour arrived it was just a nine passenger van with three other passengers and the tour guide - pretty cool!

First stop was Iceland's newest geothermal power plant - the Hellisheidi power plant outside of Reykjavik. This powerplant is built right on the volcanic zone centered over the mid-Atlantic ridge. It taps high-pressure steam from 2 km below the surface and generates 213 MW. Hot water separated pre-energy production is sent through pipes to Reykjavik for space heating and domestic hot water use. This means that none of the buildings have chimneys on them because they heat everything with geothermal water! 97% of the city is heated this way. Also there are almost no water heaters because hot tap water comes from low-temperature geothermal wells.

Reykjavik has so much excess geothermal energy that they've begun to heat their roads, parking lots, soccer fields, and even a golf course! Not to mention greenhouses out the wazoo and five public outdoor heated swimming pools in the city. That is SO COOL. Iceland uses 99% renewable energy for electricity production (mostly hydroelectric with the remainder geothermal). This country is awesome, too bad geothermal and hydroelectric energy aren't as readily available in the rest of the world. :(

Next stop was an extinct volcanic crater filled with beautiful blue/green water. The country is covered with treacherous lava fields that came from volcanoes like this within the last 1500 years.

We stopped by a "small" waterfall that anywhere else would be the pride and joy of the country. Here, there are so many gorgeous waterfalls that this one is practically ignored. I didn't even catch the name.
It turns out that the only Icelandic word to become entrenched in world vocabulary is 'geyser,' which is taken from the original geyser, Geysir (GAY-seer). [location] For awhile "they" thought this was the only such object of its kind in the world. It wasn't until geyers were discovered in America that they realized that half-a-dozen or so exist in the world.

Within the last fifty years earthquakes have mostly deactivated Geysir, but the nearby geyer Strokkur erupts every five minutes or so. It's really neat because you can stand quite close as it erupts.

Watch the video I took of a double eruption - way cool.

Geysir is located in a hotsprings area with a bunch of adjacent hot pools and boiling pots. Enjoy the pictures - the fluorescent blue one actually took my breath away! The one with the cave was tricky to take a picture of because of the steam, but I mostly succeeded.

Next we visited the Gulfoss waterfall [location] - neither the largest volume nor the highest waterfall in Iceland, but probably the most famous. It has three levels facing different directions, the last gushing down into a very narrow canyon - far to narrow for a waterfall this big! That just goes to show how geologically young the country is. Iceland = waterfall heaven.
Gulfoss falls. Note the people on the edge of the cliff for scale.
video
Last stop on the golden circle tour was Þingvellir National Park (pronounced THING-vuh-leer NA-shun-uhl Park). It is a Unesco world heritage site and the location of the first European parliament in 930 AD. Vikings would gather here yearly to work out government things and drown witches and such (see picture at right). Þingvellir is located in the rift valley of the mid-Atlantic ridge. This rift valley is formed as the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates diverge by about 2 cm a year. Huge chasms open in the earth and fill with glacial water forming some of the most beautiful fresh-water diving destinations in the world (top 5, apparently). The edge of the North American plate can be seen behind the ancient parliament location in the picture below. You can also see a beautiful little waterfall placed by the vikings so they could have a waterfall in the vicinity of their meeting place. That's my kind of logic!



After the tour I talked to folks in the hostel for a couple of hours, then took a nap which ended up being all night. A good day.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Iceland Adventure: Day 1

Today, or yesterday, I'm not quite sure which, I flew into Iceland. I slept most of the seven hour flight from Seattle to Reykjavik, Iceland, but woke up to see the sunrise over Greenland :D

Notice in the picture the interesting "triple sun" phenomenon - you can see a bright blob about 15 degrees to the left of the sun (and there's another one to the right not pictured). I've never heard of it or seen it before, any ideas about the cause? The second picture is of my location during the sunrise.

As we landed in the Keflavik airport about 20 minutes southwest of the capital, Reykjavik, I saw a cute little church just off of a black beach on the Atlantic. The terrain was incredibly flat - a perfect place for an airport! Customs took awhile - mostly because they had to re-screen all the passengers - ugh.

After retrieving my luggage I bought a round-trip bus ticket to Reykjavik for 3,500 isk (about $30 USD). Last week I scheduled a bus trip to the Blue Lagoon and I found out in the airport that during peak season (June - August) buses go directly from the airport to the Blue Lagoon only 20 minutes away and store your luggage for you! Note to self: Next time I have a layover in Iceland for a few hours, definitely hit up the Blue Lagoon. (You can rent swimsuits and towels and take a shower afterward to be back in the airport in about 2 hours!)

Once I got to Reykjavik I made my way to the Downtown Hostel (part of the HI hostel network) where I had previously made reservations. I thought they would just store my luggage, but they let me move in right away because it wasn't full the night before (the time was 9 am Iceland time - but about a million pm Nick time!). I put my valuables in a locker in the (very nice!) dorm room and the stored my luggage in their secure luggage room. I had breakfast (Muesli, toast with jams, and orange juice - mmmmm) and then caught the bus to the Blue Lagoon at 10:30 am.

So far I've noticed that Icelanders love sweaters and jackets. They pretty much wear them year-round from what I can tell. All the models pictured in store windows or airport advertisements are dressed very warmly. Public Immodesty is not a problem in Iceland!

The capital, Reykjavik, looks generally clean with very low traffic. The roads downtown are incredibly narrow - the bus drivers are very brave. Everyone seems to speak English well-enough, but they sure do love the Icelandic language. Apparently the language is such a pure remnant of the Viking language that most Icelanders can read the ancient Viking texts. They also love compound words. Looking out the window of the bookstore right now I see Islandspostur (Iceland post), Ausurstraeti (I have no idea), and vioskiptavinir (again, no idea). Long words! Sometimes it even sounds like they're speaking Russian...

11 am Iceland time, 5 am Utah time, ugh. Pushing through - time for adventures! Check out these awesome pictures of the Blue Lagoon!


You're not seeing things - the water really is blue! It's apparently caused by the perfect balance of minerals and blue-green algae - all natural of course. They've built a resort out of it, but this place has been around a lot longer than anyone ever cared enough to get to it. This has to be the most rugged terrain I've ever seen. Getting to the Blue Lagoon without roads would be a nightmare. These lava fields make talus slopes look like fairways. I can't imagine how difficult it would be to try to move any pack animals or even people across it without taking an enormous amount of time to blast out a road. The Vikings named it the "Evil Lava." It was formed about 300 years after settlement began - it must have been a huge eruption lasting months.

The Blue Lagoon is a large hot springs resort. In the pools where people swim the water is a very pale green but where it's undisturbed it's a milky blue that's out of this world! There are warm and warmer spots all around the extensive pool which visitors can swim in. The almost-freezing-rain at whipping through the lagoon produced copious amounts of steam rising from the hot water. Visibility in the air was only a few feet at times:
The water itself was cloudy - visibility drops off after a couple inches. The water was very salty, but not really ocean salty - it wasn't quite as traumatic in your mouth as the ocean. Floating was easy because of the extra buoyancy provided by the high salinity. The water over time has deposited thick layers of white minerals over the lava rocks making the pool bottom smooth and white.
The whole experience was eerily quiet. There were a few dozen other visitors exploring the pools of different temperatures and covering themselves with the white "therapeutic" sand. The pools were surrounded by dramatic lava rocks completely covered in moss and lichen.

Despite the perfect combination of driving rain and gloriously warm water - I was definitely overheated when I finally got out about 90 minutes later. In Japan, where they've perfected the public bath, I would then get in very cold bath for a few minutes to bring my body temperature back down before I shower. Somehow standing in the cold wind isn't the same - it stings all the time instead of just the beginning! So in this respect, Europeans have a lot to learn. I couldn't even get the shower to give cold water.

So after dressing (which isn't fun when you're really hot) I started looking for a water fountain. Oh yeah, I'm in Europe. They don't believe in drinking fountains here! (Or so I've heard.) So I had to settle with buying a soda for 200 isk. But wait, Europeans don't believe in ice either! Nooooo! So here I was standing in the driving Icelandic rain drinking a warm soda trying desperately to cool down. Iceland: Plus 10 points for the beautiful warm water, minus 1 for no ice! So much for the name.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Urban Dictionary: Dinosaur Kiss

I'm the proud author of an Urban Dictionary entry! When I learned that the definition of "dinosaur kiss" on urbandictionary.com was horrible, I submitted my own and here it is in all its glory:

To lick another person's face from the tip of the nose to the hairline. A particularly good way to end a first date.
Brad: Oh man, dude, Melanie totally gave me a dinosaur kiss after our date last night. Score!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Why are all the bathrooms closed?

A collection of poems
By Nickolas Pickolas

The bathrooms are closed
They clean them all at once
I have to go now


It's late and I'm needing the bathroom
I'd wait, but then there'd be no room
Cuz the cans are all closed
and so, I am hosed!
The next thing I'll do is go boom!


It was late
At night.
My bladder was pleading.
So I searched
Everywhere I found yellow
Yellow signs
They all said "bathroom closed"
"At the same time?"
Asked I.
And my bladder answered
"Yes."

Amen.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

LabVIEW Matching Game

This is my first distributed LabVIEW program. Matching Game is exactly as it sounds - a simple game of matching pictures.
It draws from a pool of 100 small pictures, chooses 10 and randomizes them. As you play the game it records how many turns it takes you to win and prompts you for your name to record in a high scores list.

It's very simple for now, but I'll add more things to it as I go, such as:
  • Color/B&W option (B&W images are slightly more difficult to match)
  • Grid size choices - right now it's limited to 4x5.
It requires a working version of National Instruments' LabVIEW 2009 to run. I'll probably downgrade it to also run on LabVIEW 8.0 and I have the option of exporting a stand-alone executable that anyone could play (but that file size would be >200 Mbs, compared with <1 Mb).

If you have the right software, give it a try and let me know what you think! I thought writing it was fun. You can download it from my website: http://nherrick.com/files/Labview.html

Monday, April 5, 2010

iPad: Will it Blend?

If you haven't seen this video series before, here's the latest and most entertaining, Will it Blend? The iPad:

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Response to Daily Universe Opinion: "Unrighteous Hordes"

In a letter last week to the editor of the Daily Universe (BYU's Student Newspaper) a student wrote the following:

Wed 03/17/2010

Sadly, I was unable to attend this Tuesday’s devotional (for very personal reasons). I am a regular attendee of Tuesday devotionals and forums and was horrified to discover I am part of a startlingly small minority of students that actually attend, even though a healthy majority patently should. When I had to miss last Tuesday’s devotional, I happened to be passing through the library where I observed literally hordes of students busily placing academic duties above religious ones. What’s worse, I observed many students simply napping, playing games or checking Facebook. To place school over spirituality is bad enough, but to bypass a weekly walk down the straight and narrow for an idle stroll though Babylon is an abhorrent waste of the tithing dollars used to subsidize the tuition of transgressors. A call to action is in order.

To devotional goers: Be aware! As a proportion of the studentbody, there are less of us than you probably assume. Encourage those around you to stand a little taller. We are our brother’s keepers.

To devotional sluffers: Be advised! Tuesday morning complacency is a recipe for disaster.

To the administration: Be aggressive! Stand up to this deplorable development by proactively taking measures to stem its source. Close the library for the devotional hour, or at least power down all the computers.

We can be better, BYU. And we would already know that if we were all in the Marriott Center every Tuesday.
Brett Myers
Orland, Calif.
I loved it! So much so that I sent in a response. Here it is, I will post a link to the published letter if and when it gets published.
Letter: Mind Your Own Business

In response to “Unrighteous Hordes”: It is fitting that you should throw the first stone, seeing as you are a “regular attendee of Tuesday devotionals.” Pray tell, what were the “very personal” reasons you referenced in your letter? If I am to be your keeper, as you propose, then I will decide if your absenteeism was warranted or not.

Nevertheless, as one of the healthy majority of subsidized transgressors, I’m grateful for saints like yourself who descend from the realms of perfection to pass through the library of sin and affliction.

It’s people like you, who faithfully warn of the woes of devotional delinquency, that keep people like me on the straight and narrow. May we always revere those who make our business theirs for the sake of righteousness.

Ahem. Excuse me. I couldn’t quite tell if your letter was sarcastic. Is mine a little more clear?

From the words of an early Mormon creed, “Mind your own business.”

Nicholas Herrick
Linville, Virginia

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Impress Your Date, Provo Style

I laughed so hard when I saw this, I just had to memorialize it here. Welcome to Provo.

fail owned pwned pictures
see more Epic Fails

Monday, March 15, 2010

Weird Physics Units

First prize in Nick's Weird Physics Units contest goes to:

fb−1
The Inverse Femtobarn!

The "inverse femtobarn" (fb−1) is a measurement of particle collision events per femtobarn. Inverse femtobarns are often quoted as an indication of particle collider effectiveness.

It took Fermilab over a decade to achieve 1 fb−1.

A close second was the shed, which is equal to 10−24 barns or 3.86 x 10−58 square miles.
Third place goes to the einstein, which is a mole of photons (6.022 x 1023 photons) .
Honorable mentions go to the henry, zeptoweber, and of course, snap, crackle, and pop.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Nature of Energy and Spirit

I participate in a question and answer service online called Yedda in which people ask questions and others answer them. Pretty straightforward. Today I got an interesting question:

Energy
What is the nature of energy? How does it differ from spirit?

And here is my response:

Energy and Spirit from a Scientific Perspective
Energy in physics is a broad term that can mean a number of different quantities. Among many possible examples: Kinetic energy is the energy of a moving body, potential energy is energy yet to be released (such as gravitational potential - a rock at the top of a mountain if pushed will show a lot of energy as it rolls down the mountain), and light has energy proportional to its frequency.

Perhaps the broadest approach to the nature of energy was Einstein's, who's equations show us that matter and energy are essentially the same substance and can be converted back and forth. This is the meaning of the equation E=mc^2, where E is energy, m mass, and c^2 is the speed of light squared. This equation shows that even a small amount of mass when multiplied by the extremely large c^2 term will yield a lot of energy. This is the process by which nuclear fusion and fission produce energy - a small amount of mass "disappears" and turns into energy. This energy takes the form of heat mostly.

Spirit is not a measured or observed quantity, so therefore science has nothing to say about it. This doesn't mean it doesn't exist, it just means that it is not in the realm of science at this time. There are many things that exist in the world that science can't quantify, such as the beauty of music or love. These things are real, but are very difficult or impossible to measure with a scientific instrument. Don't fall into the trap that just because science can't explain or understand something that that means it doesn't exist.

Energy and Spirit from a (Narrow) Religious Perspective
I am not an expert on world religions, so all I can say is what I believe and hope that people of other faiths will answer this question after me. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – but people often refer to us as Mormons.

I believe that matter, energy, light, spirit, and truth are the same substance – just in different forms. A few quotations from some of the scriptures of my faith will show my point – even if they offer no explanation on the subject:

Doctrine and Covenants 131:7
All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes;
Doctrine and Covenants 84:45
Whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
Doctrine and Covenants 93:33
The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy;
You should read the surrounding verses of those I have cited so that you can understand the little context there is for these somewhat out-of-the-blue statements.

I'll readily admit that I don't understand this as well as I do the science side of it, but nevertheless it is there in my belief system and I gladly accept it. I like to keep in mind that my understanding of both science and religion is always growing, so I am content to temporarily have incomplete understanding of some of these fringe topics of my faith. Nevertheless I look forward to the day when I can learn the true nature of the universe – and therefore energy and spirit – without the lens of my limited understanding, whether that understanding is religious or scientific.

Perhaps a Buddhist with knowledge of this subject can offer an explanation? I seem to remember there's more of this type of discussion in that faith.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

High-speed Pursuit

I can't remember the last time I had this much fun. You definitely want to read this.

Tonight as I was leaving a friend's house just before 1:30 am I was walking across a street and a maroon minivan slowed down and a water balloon came flying my way. I calmly watched as the as-yet unknown object spattered about five feet away from me and then looked both ways to cross the street.

I thought I was being pretty cool by not reacting at all. But as I walked the block or so to my car I got an even awesomer idea. Mwahahahahaha...

I hopped in my little red zoom zoom car (stick shift) and went looking for them. Luckily, they were easy to spot because they pulled a U-y down the road as they trolled for more unsuspecting pedestrians. They took a left in front of me and pulled over to the side of the road - to reload maybe or come up with some not-lame plans. I turned and pulled right up behind them - even sticking out in the intersection a bit. I kept my lights on right in their mirrors but lowered the sun visor to hide my face.

Then I sat there. Mwahahahaha.

They didn't know who I was nor did they have any idea that they had thrown a water balloon at me, but I bet they got nervous real quick. They pulled out into the road and I followed, made a left turn, I followed, and then a right, and I still followed. They then pulled over again. To be safe from errant water balloons, I pulled over a few parked cars behind them and, keeping my lights on, waited again.

This time they sat longer, obviously trying desperately to convince themselves that this was all a strange coincidence. As the possibilities narrowed in their simple little minds I imagine they became more and more panicked.

Suddenly they pulled back into the road and took off like a bat out of hell. Panicking, of course, which is what teenagers do best.

This was the fun part - I'm in my little red zoom zoom stick shift car (which is way fun to drive) and they're a bunch of high school chumps driving mom's maroon minivan.

Let the evil laughing begin! Mwahahahahaha.

We tore through the dark residential streets of south Provo. Many of the intersections in this part of town have yield signs instead of stop signs. This allowed our high-speed chase to be extra exciting! Finally after a series of screeching turns they got far enough in front of me that I lost sight for a moment. When I rounded the corner where I had lost sight of them I didn't see them anywhere - they had vanished.

But I knew they weren't far enough in front of me to get around the next corner without at least catching their tail lights. So I pulled my car over on the side of the road and turned it off.

I sat in my car laughing for about 5 minutes when a high school kid with scrubby hair walked out of a parking lot immediately behind me. I watched him through my rear-view mirror as he passed behind my car and across the street pretending to be just a dude walking home. I almost believed him - until I caught a tiny glance over his shoulder - then he pulled out his cell phone.

Mwahahahaha!

As he nonchalantly walked away and talked on his cell phone he clearly become confident that I hadn't noticed him and that he was getting out of sight in the darkness. I then caught three direct glances as he relayed the information to his friends parked in the dark parking lot behind me.

I turned my car on and drove away.

As soon as I was out of sight I gunned it - burning rubber to come around the block and catch their getaway. Just as I rounded the corner, I saw the same maroon minivan trucking it the opposite direction from where I had left.

Perfect! Mwahahahahaha!

They drove past me not realizing I had them and the pursuit started anew as they crapped their pants in fear.

If you've ever driven a stick shift, you'll know how much fun it is to go fast. Especially when said vehicle is small with moderately good suspension. I can't remember the last time I had so much fun!

This high-speed pursuit lasted longer and was much faster, taking us into neighborhoods that I didn't know as well. Eventually we came around to the main road that it all began on and they really took off. The speed limit was 45 mph and they were going about 70. Not willing to go much faster than 60 mph (law abiding citizen, right?) they gained a lot of ground - weaving in between cars to get ahead. Their winning maneuver, however, was to catch a perfect yellow light, leaving me stuck behind unsuspecting civilians at the intersection.

As I sat at the red light watching them disappear around the corner I flashed my lights at them to signal a game well played.

Ah, stupid high schoolers. You're so fun and predictable.

Although I do hope they wore their brown pants today, for their sakes.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ender in Exile

Last night I finished reading Ender in Exile, a new book by Orson Scott Card in the Ender's Game series. Ender in Exile takes place between the end of Ender's Game and the beginning of Speaker for the Dead and draws heavily on the content of the shadow series of books.

I quite enjoyed the read, mostly because it was good to get back in Ender's head and watch him run mental circles around bad people! There's something very gratifying about seeing a good character who's much smarter than everyone else going to town on bad guys.

The book fills in a lot of holes, and not just temporal ones. It explains how Ender lives so long through the rest of the series (because normal relativistic travel couldn't account for the time), why Valentine joins him for the rest of his life, and why he never returns to Earth.

My favorite parts, of course, were the descriptions of the ships and how they work. Definitely a sci-fi nerd! But of course all the mental circles were fun too - seeing Ender tricking people. etc.

Overall, if you are a fan of Ender's Game then I imagine you'll enjoy Ender in Exile, even if you didn't enjoy Speaker for the Dead.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What Does Nick Do When He Has Time on His Hands?

Prepare for rambling!

This is a pretty easy semester for me - I'm taking nine research credits! (Plus a few other little classes.) So I've had a lot of extra time on my hands - you know, I come home at 5 or 6 pm like a regular person. I'm reading three books right now:

Ender in Exile, by Orson Scott Card
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Ender in Exile is all kinds of cool. It is the direct sequel to Ender's Game that ties it into Speaker for the Dead. So far I'm enjoying it muchly.
Hitchhiker's Guide is gigglishly enjoyable. What else is there to say?
Treasure Island is an oh-so-typical pirate tale. Actually, I imagine the definition of pirate tales came from Treasure Island! How neat.

I've also been playing a few computer games (discovered Mass Effect. AWESOME. The physics is rocking my world.), organizing my life, and playing with electronics.

Yup, you heard me. Yours truly has a new hobby - electronics. Now I don't mean using electronics like everyone does, I mean building them. Sooo much cooler.

Right now I'm finishing up my first project - a high-voltage plasma Jacob's Ladder. It's all kinds of neat. A 20,000 volt plasma arc forms between two steel rods and travels upward on air currents expanding and getting louder and brighter until it dissipates (see example picture). Then it does it again and again. So cool! I'll surely post pictures/movies of mine when I get it done, which should be this week.

After this project I plan to build a high-energy pulser device that stores ~3000 Joules and discharges almost instantly. This can be used for all kinds of neat stuff like electromagnetic mass accelerators, aluminum can crushers, and killing rodents (not really, but I bet I could...). The problem is that the capacitors for the pulser cost around $600. :( So I'll be saving my pennies and trying to find deals on ebay. Then you can come over to my house and I'll crush your cans with my super magnet. Whoa.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Psychoactive Spiders

My Dad forwarded this to me which came to him though colleagues in the James Madison University Biology Department. It made me giggle.

Friday, January 1, 2010

LHC Rap

Warning: May contain physics not suitable for liberal arts majors.
Viewer discretion is advised.