Thursday, June 16, 2005

Work at the Lee Group

For those of you who know me, you’ve probably either figured out by now or have had me tell you that I am in Ithaca (at Cornell University) doing x-ray crystallography and research on gallium (III) phthalocyanine hydroxide form I, a compound related compositionally to form V, which is used as a discharge agent in high-end Xerox photocopiers. The interesting thing is that whereas form V discharges very quickly, form I does not possess this property. The only difference between forms I and V is their crystal structure. I am trying to find the crystal structure of form I (form V is already known).

Now, what I have done is go through the Cambridge Structure Database and select all relevant (and similar phthalocyanine compounds) and use a program known as Cerius2 to calculate a theoretical x-ray diffraction powder pattern. This powder pattern is compared to the given powder pattern from Xerox (the company that is paying me, in a manner of speaking) and similarities noted. The interesting thing about crystal structures is that it is not the actual atoms that change a powder pattern, but their relative orientations. So I have taken the structures of the known phthalocyanines and edited them so that they correspond to those of HOGaPc-Form(I) (you take a guess as to what that stands for).

The next part involves running something called a VASP calculation on the modified structure. This calculation essentially attempts to minimize the sum of the kinetic and potential energies of the electrons in the structure. The tricky part is that the position of the electrons isn’t known, so there’s something akin to a recursion in the calculations for potential energy. Anyway, out comes the output and we refine the calculation again and again.

Results yet to come…

Posted by aSo, 05:58 PM /

Monday, May 30, 2005

Group Work

Lately, the Big Party has been receiving hits from places outside Canada and US. And they want to hear about our world famous education system.

One thing I hate about school is group work. Its not because I don’t like working with others, its because they don’t like working with me. Actually, it has nothing to do with me, because they don’t like working at all. The best way to do group work, is to do it individually. Essentially, the workload is broken down into several parts and distributed evenly (a la divide and conquer). One problem with this is that some parts are more equal than others (somebody has to do the dirty work). The second problem is that most people don’t show up with their work done [well] (and most often the mark is split evenly too).

In Canada here, we have another problem: often the task is dumb, and people just can’t agree how to break it into parts. Unfortunately, we are too damn creative (I don’t only mean it in the good sense). Oh, we also have in-class group work: Basically, we are split into groups of 3 and 4 to brainstorm a topic, write our ideas in point form on a large piece of chart paper, decorate it and present it to the rest of the class (who were doing the exact same thing). Yeah, school is fun.

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 05:53 PM / Comments (10)

Monday, April 4, 2005

Probability and Induction

Lets go back to the official definition of induction - the examination of the the particulars or specifics in an attempt to develop generalization. To this process, people assign statistical quantities such as probability. This, as we know is a theoretical jump. Probability just doesn’t apply (nothing is random, and nothing to choose), and it wouldn’t give a meaningful result even if it did.

Theoretical Induction: Lets test out the “Theory of Gravity” (it isn’t exactly a good thing to call a theory, but for goodness sakes, it clearly doesn’t matter). Suppose I let go of an apple. According to gravity, it is going to fall (whether you attribute the falling to gravity or not). No, wait, Gravity doesn’t say that. Gravity says that it would accelerate downward with -9.8m/s^2 or whatever that value is. Falling is a consequence based on all forces applied to the object. You see theories don’t really tell you what exactly is going to happen, but what could happen with the model provided.

Remark — Of course, we expect that theories give pretty accurate results for all (sufficiently) practical purposes, but Gravity explains objects falling on Earth “well” enough.

Class Induction: Okay, suppose I meet tons of white sheep, where by “tons”, I mean “a whole lot”. Induction would tell me all sheep are white. This is not a theory, because it (the final result) wouldn’t lead anywhere (deductively). Now, lets just suppose that I meet a black sheep. The probability of me meeting another black sheep wouldn’t change very much. You would argue that it is an anomaly, but suppose then I meet another black sheep, and yet another black sheep, and yet a whole more black sheep. Then, you would be willing to bet that the next sheep I would meet would be black, even though probability would tell you otherwise.

Remark — You see something: human intuition is more based on recurrent thinking. We believe that things happen in an orderly manner. We predict the future based on recent findings. And while we find quite a few anomalies, in the example above, the colour changes only once.

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 06:39 PM /

Friday, April 1, 2005

Watch and Learn

We may never truly know what is really “real”, but it doesn’t stop us from explaining the world nevertheless. Theoretical development isn’t a search for the ultimate truth - or “The Theory of Everything” as its called, for theory is independent of truth. However, we would still want to apply it to practice. Practice has the problems of being imperfect, and subjective… that one would begin doubting it, that it is some kind of illusion.

But somehow we want to trust practice (up to a certain degree). So, I wouldn’t say that it produces illusion, but rather it can be deceitful (theoretical jumps), i.e our intuition leads us to false conclusions. However, this conclusions are only false when we go beyond the system (ω-incompleteness), and other forces begin to gain significance.

For instance, we all know that “the Earth is round.” But for me to make use of this, I would have to travel around the world. However, I obviously don’t do this very often, and on a day-to-day basis of zooming across Toronto, it is much more convenient of treating the Earth really as flat. And indeed, its true, at every point locally, the Earth really is a plane (hence a 2-manifold but thats besides the point).

So to know what goes on in a system, we don’t need the exact truth, we need good enough truth (i.e statements which are true and applicable in the system). We explain phenomena with the simplest available theory (a la Ockham’s Razor). When that system ends, another one begins. The bigger the picture, the more precise we need to be - the more complicated the model.

Experiments serve two purposes: First, they help in theoretical construction. Most of the time, we don’t know what is going on, and before we can describe it, we have to see it. Seeing is believing. The second purpose is to help verify theories. By verifying theories, it means taking care of the theoretic jumps. If the theory is falsified, we can blame it on the fact that we don’t know what is going on. A good self-saving clause, perhaps.

Think of them like a drawing. The graph of a mathematical function is an invaluable, irreplaceable aid for understanding the function, but by no means is a valid proof. It inspires Theory. Once we can see the bigger picture, we push theory in that direction. Without the practice, the Theory could never come into existence.

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 08:20 PM /

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Attention to detail

So the history test just passed away. I wrote two pages, but some have wrote considerably more. And for what? The questions weren’t that hard. They did not need long, complicated answers. All we have to do is to get the facts across. People just don’t bother to read the questions and understand what they are asking for (especially when the teacher gives them a handout with all the prompts).

In history, on the grade 12 level anyway, people get marked for substance. Detail, on the other hand, is largely irrelevant. Its memory work, not critical thinking. And luckily, thats not where marks come from. I write little (as you can see from my blog posts), but its good info. Gets the point across, too. Writing a lot, simply loses it. And I get marks for it accordingly. If a question is worth 5 points, you need to bring in 5 different ideas. Not 5 details about a single idea. If you want to do extra work, its fine with me… but otherwise, why do it?

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 04:12 PM / Comments (2)

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Performance Tasks

The worst part of school, definitely, are performance tasks and other in-class activities… They don’t test knowledge… or even effort for that matter. I mean if you just do them, you pretty much get the marks. Not all the marks - that heavily depends on the teacher. Well actually, they are more or less assigned randomly… is it a 95? or a 100? why is it a 95 and not 100? why not 200?

They are easy marks, and most likely they push the averages up. They are the sort of marks you get for “proper” completion, process marks they’re called. The teacher doesn’t really even bother to really mark them (most likely they just worry about the semantics rather than actual substance)… Some teachers get their students to mark them, while others just count the sentences you write or number of points you underline (lesson learned: don’t underline).

The idea is that students actually do well on tests. Well, these quizzes and other in-class evaluations are designed to bring those marks down.

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 10:03 PM /

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Eulogy for the local paper

The Bulldog will go out of business soon. That’s right, you heard it here first. So what was The Bulldog? It was once a mouthpiece of student opinion, a respectable newspaper of Don Mills Collegiate. However, things have changed that. With a lousy management, the creative set of writers simply couldn’t live up to their full potential. Their once good articles became mediocre. The readership has folded in half.

Nowadays, the front page is regulated by teachers and “others”, who wish to dictate the political movements of the school. Student opinion and the articles became irrelevant - this essential flaw will soon culminate in the Bulldog’s unsurmountable demise. The opinion at the end is misinformed. The horoscope just sucks. The pictures by the Cyber Arts kids are ugly. The content is boring. The writing is littered with tons of spelling and grammar mistakes. How much more bad can journalism get? It is only a matter of time until The Bulldog takes its place in the recycling bin of history.

The students of Don Mills Collegiate need something better to read. The commission of Oleg’s Big Party has looked over this demand, and as a result, will be instituting a print form of the blog. The commission has secured a deal with a local publisher - Arash Joushaghani. He and other top men shall lead negotiations with whatever is left of the Bulldog and attempt merger. The public file of the transactions may be obtained here.

This paper is written in the style of a non-expert. Adrian So assisted in the writing of this paper.

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 12:45 PM / Comments (6)

Friday, February 11, 2005

Uh... exponent laws, anyone?

I have, at Cornell, a job. The reason why I have this job is to provide myself with the necessary financial resources to pay the exorbitant cost of education at this “renowned” institute of “higher” education. But I’ve ranted about money enough before.

So what, then, is my point? Let us begin with a simple mathematics question, which, I would expect, all of you being readers of Oleg’s blog (and therefore not losers, though that is totally irrelevant to the problem at hand) to be able to answer.

Now the question goes like this:

Simplify x^2/x^3. (In case you are a complete nutjob or have a number neurons equal to the largest even prime number, I shall give the answer at the end of my entry.)

Okay. Now we have about enough information to give a short summary of my experiences at my job. Of course, I haven’t yet told you what my job is, so maybe you don’t really have enough information after all. I help tutor mathematics at a math support center for MATH111: Calculus I (or whatever they call it) Thursday evenings. In case you are curious, the topics start with continuity and limits and end with the integral version of the power rule.

So, as a tutor, you would expect that I would see a lot of people who need help with calculus - fair enough, that sounds reasonable to me. But here lies the great big problem for me. It’s pretty difficult to teach calculus when people don’t know exponent laws or that when you square a number the result is always positive. When was the last time you saw someone use a TI-89 to factor (x^2 - 2x + 1) or to graph y = 1/x? Yes, my friends, this is what I see every time while tutoring. Painful? You bet.

So here is my question, and I raise it rhetorically, though perhaps you may be able to answer it. Even as the reject Ivy (everyone I know at Cornell was rejected at another Ivy League school, with the exception of the engineers, who are all MIT and/or Stanford rejects), you should be able to assume some level of mathematical competency in all the students. Not knowing how to simplify x^2/x^3 is simply pathetic. What are all these ‘people’ doing here at Cornell, an Ivy League institution? (No Cornell jokes, please - I insult the school myself enough. And besides unless you’ve come to the hellhole that is Ithaca, you really don’t have a right to complain or criticize. Don’t get me wrong, Cornell is an awesome place to study and research - more on that at a later time, perhaps.)

Now, I will make a somewhat flimsier assumption that the regular readers of Oleg’s Big Party know something about programming. In most languages, it is common practice that to assign a variable a value, you type something of the following form:

variable = value

I am in the Introduction to Computer Programming course (as a requirement for a math major). Several lectures ago, we spent about thirty minutes explaining why

i = i + 1 %i is a variable

was a valid statement for MatLab (and various other programming languages as well, though you may prefer i++). Apparently to most people, the boolean equals operation (==) is the same as the assignment equals (=). I don’t know about you, but I count two characters in the former and one in the latter. Computer Science class would be so much nicer in the afternoon for me; after all, it’s pretty hard to take a nap at 9:05 in the morning.

So my point? Standards are low. I must come off as sounding pretentious, stuck up, and intellectually snobby. If you think that, bite me.

(Oh, and as I promised, the answer is x^(-1) or 1/x)

Posted by aSo, 07:49 PM / Comments (3)

Monday, February 7, 2005

Note from Politics

Politics is over, replaced by history - same teacher, just different subject. Well, the class is bigger, and the room is bigger too… but the fun is all the same. One time, I had this thought, not that I agree with it:

I don’t feel sorry for a soldier who spends several months in war - they know the risks ahead of time, they know what they are getting into… at least they had the honour to die for their country knowing that thanks to them, others will be saved. I feel sad for the soldiers who died on their first day of fighting, which didn’t even fire a singe bullet…

Ironically, thats how life goes. Experienced soldiers (with combat experience) know how to keep themselves alive. Those who have just finished field training; however, do get wasted fast.

Posted by Oleg Ivrii, 09:34 PM /

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Journey to Western...

Those who have read the classics of Chinese literature will understand the somewhat lacking - but nonetheless present - allusion in the title. As I mentioned before, after visiting UW, I then went on to visit the University of Western Ontario. Unlike the industrial brutalist UW, UWO possesses a much less intimidating campus. The weather there was poor, but at least there were no buildings to loom over you and cast their gloomy shadows over you as you walked through the campus.

By this time in the trip, I had become exceedingly lazy and did not take many pictures. After all, taking pictures at a university is the mark of tourist (then again, that was exactly what I was). The buildings are not oversized like the ones at UW, nor are they all built from concrete. However, the complaint I have about the buildings is their uniformity. Each building’s exterior is the same - unevenly shaped, but fitted, stone. Architectural conformity, just as at UW.

Posted by aSo, 12:02 AM / Comments (1)

Friday, January 14, 2005

University of Waterloo

I recently went on a tour of two Ontarian universities, which explains Oleg’s recent complaint to me about not having written much in a while. The conversation goes like this:

O: you know what Adrian, you haven’t been posting much lately
A: No, I have not.
O: slacking off
A: I was going to write something tonight [now] though.
O: I will cut your salary in half :(

I was at the University of Waterloo for the last weekend and in London (where the University of Western Ontario is) for Monday through Wednesday morning. First, my impressions of Waterloo.

To all of you from UW, I’m sorry. You have one of the most depressing university campuses that I have ever been to (bear in mind that I go to school in Ithaca, New York, which is a hellhole if there ever was one). It’s one thing to be like Cornell and have one industrial brutalist building on the university, but to have a campus full of them is just painful. Unfortunately (rather fortunately), I haven’t many pictures of Waterloo - two notables are the arts library and the math/computer science building.

Another strange phenomenon that I have noticed with respect to Waterloo is about the weather. While all I have is a semi-complete inductive proof to this phenomenon - perhaps we can say that all I have is the proof for n equals 1 - that the sky at Kitchener/Waterloo is always overcast and gray. I have been to the University of Waterloo thrice (including this excursion); each time, the sun was obscured by clouds. As for this trip, just look at the pictures. They are consistent with my observation.

I realize that the topic of my trip to Waterloo was not promised in my last entry, but heck, promises are made to be broken.

Posted by aSo, 10:13 PM / Comments (3)

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