Gratitude (Feb. 15 – 21)

  1. Seeing Moana with my wife and children of our friends
  2. Recognizing one of the constellations in the night sky in Moana
  3. Buying tickets for a German dinner next month
  4. The day off for Presidents’ Day
  5. Beautiful weather this weekend (Feb. 18-20)
  6. Participating in the Feb. Rapid City Community Conversations on the 16th.
  7. Dinner with friends in Spearfish (Feb. 18)
  8. An excellent concert from the Offutt Brass.
  9. Starting to read Lakota Woman
  10. Getting old files moved into a more accessible location
  11. Yoga class resuming for the semester
  12. A huge crowd at Mines Myth Busters
  13. Our physics demonstrations went well, especially the plasma ball
  14. The kids had fun at my demonstration, and I learned lessons for future events
  15. Good planning meeting for our upcoming conference
  16. My wife was able to organize the community meal while I was at the Myth Busters event.
  17. Enjoying time with friends at karaoke (Feb. 17)
  18. Having fun singing karaoke
  19. Good discussion of Daniel with friends at the Wobbly Table (Feb. 17)
  20. A nap before karaoke.
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Tonight! Mines Myth Busters Experiment with Fire!

Two colleagues and I will be there from the physics department. Join us as we “test household items for radioactivity” and show how strong you can be using a rope and broomsticks!

Tonight! 6pm. Surbeck Center, SD Mines Campus

RAPID CITY, S.D. (Feb. 2, 2017) – Can you tell a tall tale from the truth? Faculty and students at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology will team up for Mines Myth Busters & Super Science to debunk or prove some of history’s most popular urban legends and offer interactive experiments from 6-7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21, at the Surbeck Center ballroom on campus.  Watch as Mines myth busters experiment with fire, test household items for radioactivity, offer hands-on green chemistry activities and more. Find out which myths make the cut and which get busted with Mines’ signature twist of explosive experimentation. This event is free, and all ages are invited to attend.

Source: Mines Myth Busters Experiment with Fire Feb. 21

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Gratitude (Feb. 8 – 14)

  1. Extremely helpful and useful meeting with a former student
  2. Dinner with an old friend (Feb. 8)
  3. Lunch at one of my favorite restaurant’s in Batavia
  4. Talking with a good friend via Skype
  5. Dinner and catching with good friends in Illinois
  6. Seeing the baby son of a couple of my friends again
  7. Seeing and catching up with colleagues from Fermilab and around the world
  8. Joining the social media team on NOvA for a meeting with the Fermilab social media director
  9. Good food and fun stories at the NOvA Collaboration Dinner (Feb. 10)
  10. Cake celebrating celebrating the NuMI beam achieving 700 kW
  11. Welcoming new institutions to the collaboration
  12. Connecting my grad student with the NOvA collaboration
  13. Keeping in touch with my wife during the trip
  14. Safe drive to the airport
  15. Safe flights home to Rapid City
  16. Ride home from the airport with my wife
  17. Good lunch at O’Hare and dinner in Minneapolis
  18. Productive group meeting upon my return
  19. Picking up my bike from the shop
  20. The city bus system was sufficient to get me to work without my bike
  21. It was also sufficient to get me from work to the bike shop to pick up my bike
  22. Turning in my travel paperwork
  23. Joining the IV prayer group again
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How Do We Know That Newton’s Gravitational Constant is Really Constant?

In his “banned” TED talk, Rupert Sheldrake claims that the uncertainties in the measurements of Newton’s gravitational constant (“big G”) imply that it might vary with time. This constant determines the strength of all gravitational attractions in the universe, from an apple falling to the orbit of the sun around the center of our galaxy.

He further claimed scientists unfairly and dogmatically assume that G is constant without real proof. Both of these claims are demonstrably false; however, he asks a very interesting question, what if this constant did change?

After a bit of thought, I realized that if G varied with time, we could detect these variations as instabilities or anomalies in the orbit of the moon, since G is one of the factors determining the period and shape of the moon’s orbit. This is actually true for any orbiting objects we can observe, but thanks to the laser reflectors left by the Apollo and Lunokhod spacecraft, we know the distance to the moon to within 2 cm. This is so precise that even tiny variations in G would be detectable.

In the course of my research for this question, I discovered that many scientists have, in fact, tested for the stability of G using the moon’s orbit! Müller and Biskupek find that G has varied less than 0.2 parts per trillion per year over the course of the 35 years we have been making lunar ranging measurements.

Furthermore, multiple astrophysical methods are used to constrain the variability of G over much longer timescales. Mould and Uddin use distant supernovae to “set an upper limit on its rate of change” in G “of 0.1 parts per billion per year over 9” billion years. See also Table 1 of their paper for a nice collection of other methods and their results.

These constraints are at least ten thousand times smaller than the errors about which Dr. Sheldrake is speaking. They also show, contrary to his accusation, that scientists are actively testing the hypothesis that these constants of nature are actually constant. So far, for G, the hypothesis has been validated.


Jürgen Müller and Liliane Biskupek, “Variations of the gravitational constant from lunar laser ranging data” (2007) Class. Quantum Grav. vol. 24 p. 4533

Jeremy Mould and Syed A. Uddin, “Constraining a Possible Variation of G with Type Ia Supernovae” (2014) Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia vol. 31

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Gratitude (Feb. 1 – 7)

  1. My wife discovered a “slightly on fire” object outside of a campus building. We were able to report it, and it was safely contained. It was actually exposed live wires of a demolished light fixture.
  2. A book on hold arrived for me at the library; it contains the short story on which the movie Arrival is based.
  3. Lunch club at the Smiling Moose, which was a first visit for me.
  4. More travel money in our grant than expected, so we will be able to fly rather than drive on an upcoming trip.
  5. Productive group meeting this morning (Feb. 6)
  6. Another book is available at the library: Lakota Woman.
  7. See a fellow church member at the Legislative Crackerbarrel (Feb. 4)
  8. Learning more about upcoming bills at the crackerbarrel
  9. Getting the house prepared for my wife’s birthday party
  10. All the fun we had, including learning a new game, at the party (Feb. 5)
  11. Delicious, potato-themed food, at the party
  12. Many wonderful words to my wife in her birthday cards
  13. A deeply encouraging belated birthday card for me
  14. Time to rest the day after the party (Feb. 5)
  15. Good discussion on the difference between wants and needs at The Well
  16. Starting  a manuscript study of Daniel with friends (Feb. 3)
  17. Helping my wife with ideas for labs in her class
  18. My wife gave me a ride to the airport (Feb. 7)
  19. Getting quickly through security at the airport
  20. Despite a delay in our departure flight, we made our connection and arrived in Chicago on time.
  21. Talking with my wife before going to bed.
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Edward Bouchet was the First African-American to earn a Ph.D. in Physics

In 1876, he became the first African-American and the sixth person of any race to earn a physics Ph.D. in the Western Hemisphere, and went on to have a four-decade science teaching career.

The selection of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University emeritus physics professor Joseph A. Johnson III for one of Yale’s 2016 Bouchet Medals has special resonance with the honor’s namesake. Johnson also earned his Ph.D. from Yale, in 1965, and went on to do pioneering fluid dynamics research in both academia and industry, as well as work to increase the representation of minorities in the sciences. He is an APS fellow and the 1995 recipient of the APS Bouchet Award, which he helped establish. Johnson received his medal at the Annual Yale Bouchet Conference on Diversity and Graduate Education held at Yale in early April, where he proposed a “new Bouchet epoch” combining recent advances in scientific discovery with progress in diversifying science.

That his name would one day adorn awards, honor societies, academic conferences and institutions around the world would probably have surprised Bouchet, given that he did not receive major recognition in his lifetime.

No known copy of Bouchet’s doctoral thesis remains, Mickens says, but his experiments probably tied into then-growing interest in geometrical optics and mineralogy.

Source: Edward Bouchet Continues to Inspire

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Gratitude List (Jan. 25 – 31)

  1. I’m getting better at playing the tuba with facial hair
  2. My beard has filled in nicely
  3. Making chicken a la king
  4. Making mashed potatoes
  5. Helping my wife transplant herbs into bigger pots
  6. Cleaning off a table in preparation for a party
  7. Good food at the “Ethnic Night” physics department social
  8. Fascinating discussion with colleagues at the social
  9. Learning what “arbitrary precision” is in COBOL
  10. Trying a new restaurant (MacKenzie River) with good results
  11. The proceeds from our dinner there went to the Hope Center
  12. The ability to communicate with our state legislators electronically and in person
  13. Started reading a new book: The Gifts of Imperfection
  14. Takeout Sunday brunch from Kōl
  15. Being a “pioneer” in testing the prototype workload spreadsheet
  16. Payday coffee and cookies (Jan. 31)
  17. Learning that the first Dean of Engineering at the University of South Dakota (Alexander Pell) was actually Russian terrorist Sergey Degayev.
  18. Community meal with friends (Jan. 31)
  19. The vegetarian “beef tips” at the meal were surprisingly good, although their texture was more like meatballs
  20. All of the fun comments on Facebook about this photograph my wife took of me:
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Time flies like an arrow. Fruit files like a banana.

Time flies like an arrow.
Fruit files like a banana.

With those two sentences, my colleague at the School of Mines, Dr. Toni Logar, illustrates the difficulty computers have in understanding the English language. For more of her fascinating interview, click the link below.

Dr Antonette Logar is talking about the programming competition and other topics including her work on artificial intelligence and her efforts to support young women in math, science and engineering careers.

Source: Toni Logar On World Programming Contest, Artificial Intelligence, & Computer Science | SDPB Radio

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Gratitude List (Jan. 18 – 24)

  1. Starting a second lunch club in the Physics Dept. for those who have a schedule conflict with the main one (Jan. 18)
  2. Unexpectedly high attendance for Lunch Club 2
  3. Visiting El Mariachi restaurant for the first time
  4. A colleague gave me a tour of our department’s machine shop
  5. I used the machine shop to make a mounting plate for a piece of equipment for our lab
  6. Meeting with University Relations to plan for the 2017 Conference on Science at the Sanford Underground Research Facility (CoSSURF).
  7. Attending my first meeting of Rapid City Community Conversations (RCCC), which is “a native-led grassroots movement. Our mission is to foster a citizen dialogue that collaborates with community leaders to design innovative approaches to steadily reverse the long history of institutional and individual racism in our community.”
  8. Meeting people at the RCCC meeting
  9. Good food and very important conversations at the RCCC meeting
  10. Good discussion and planning at the Wobbly Table
  11. New faucets in our kitchen and bathroom
  12. Meeting with a representative from the President’s office to plan for CoSSURF
  13. Visiting Kōl restaurant for the first time as part of Rapid City’s Restaurant Week
  14. Listening to legislators and fellow audience members at the first Legislative Crackerbarrel of the year.
  15. Asking both of my questions at the Crackerbarrel
  16. Talking to a local legislator about a bill after the end of the crackerbarrel
  17. Beautiful and fascinating birds at a local greenhouse
  18. Buying some new houseplants (mostly herbs) at the greenhouse.
  19. Testing a new antenna on our TV
  20. The ability to connect to the DUNE collaboration meeting at CERN via internet video connection
  21. Good discussion at the well about “wearing” lies and truth
  22. Hiring a new student to work in my lab this semester
  23. Getting sufficient sleep despite collaboration meetings at CERN being in the middle of the night for me
  24. A review of what new construction in my lab’s building will do to my lab
  25. First IV prayer group of the semester
  26. Friends who braved bad roads to attend Community Meal at our house
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Reading Goals for 2017

Some of my friends read dozens of books each year. I will be lucky to reach one dozen.  Last year, I had a long list I wanted to read, and I finished 7 of them. I don’t want my book reading to be about placing stress on myself to reach arbitrary self-imposed goals. So, this year, I am dividing my reading list into tiers of different priority. I will be satisfied with however many of these tiers I finish.

I think part of the reason I read so few books each year is that most of my selections are serious non-fiction. I include at least one “fun” book or story in each tier to offset potential seriousness overload.

Tier 1

These are three books and I am already reading and want to finish this year along with two short stories that are the basis of science-fiction movies.

20160109_101547Love Wins
by Rob Bell

Before Kelly suggested we read this book, all I really knew about it was that it was condemned as heretical by the American evangelical church when it was published. We have been reading it together slowly for more that a year. So far he is asking a lot of difficult, but reasonable and important, questions about what “salvation” and Jesus really mean.

ReachingStudentsReaching Students
by the National Research Council
edited by Nancy Kober

A survey of the latest in Discipline Based Education Research that I hope will reinforce what I learned at  a workshop presented by the American Association of Physics Teachers in November 2015. My goal in attending the workshop and reading this book are to improve my students’ learning.

Self-Esteem, 3rd Edition
by Matthew McKay and Patrick Fanning

A lack of self-esteem (a.k.a. lack of acceptance of God’s love and forgiveness) has been a major hindrance to my life, and I have only realized how significant a problem it is in the past few years. I am working on this with the help of a counselor, who has been guiding me through this book. It is a dense book full of exercises and practical steps. It is not a book to be read as much as a book to be worked. So far, the work has been more than worth the difference it has made in my life.

Farewell to the Master
by Harry Bates

This is the short story upon which The Day the Earth Stood Still is based. If I had to pick a favorite science fiction movie, that would be it. We will see if the story is better than the movie in this case.

“Story of Your Life”
by Ted Chiang

The film Arrival is based on this story, and I want to read it before I see the movie. I put it in the first tier so that I will read it while the move is still playing in a local theater.


Tier 2

These are all books from last year’s list that I did not read yet.

LakotaWomanLakota Woman
by Mary Crow Dog

“A unique autobiography unparalleled in American Indian literature, and a deeply moving account of a woman’s triumphant struggle to survive in a hostile world.” The author was from the Rosebud reservation, less than 3 hour’s drive from my home.

OhitikaWomanOhitika Woman
by Mary Brave Bird

From Goodreads: “The dramatic, brutally honest, and ultimately triumphant sequel to the bestselling American Book Award winner Lakota Woman, this book continues Mary Brave Bird’s courageous story of life as a Native American in a white-dominated society.”

20160109_101554The Gifts of Imperfection
by Brené Brown

This past year has been a watershed year for me in terms of accepting my imperfections and believing that I am loved and valuable anyway. The title seems like an oxymoron, but I look forward to learning more about why it is not.

wrath-and-dawnThe Wrath and The Dawn
by Renee Ahdieh

This “retelling” of One Thousand and One Nights was Jackie’s favorite book of 2015.  “Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi’s wit and will get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.”

I had this book on my list last year, but I did not get to it. My biases against it are still present. Admitting one’s biases is the first step to removing them, so here are mine.  The description makes it seem like Ahdieh has written this book to get a fictional serial rapist (I’m presuming none of these girls consummated their “marriages” willingly) and mass murderer off the hook. What next? “ISIS not evil, just misunderstood!” “Fall in love with Jeffry Dahmer!” “Hitler was just a tortured soul!” “John Wanye Gacy, record-breaker and heart-throb!” “Boys, do you have trouble getting girls to like you?  Here’s the solution! Become a dictator, serial rapist, and mass murderer!”

Now that I have that out of my system, I still want to read it because of the incredible reviews it has received, and I want to know what unimaginable (to me) device the author uses to absolve Khalid and why Shahrzad lets him live long enough to fall in love.

Tier 3

BlackKidsCafeteriaWhy Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?
by Dr. Beverly Tatum

The blog By Their Strange Fruit has been difficult but eye-opening reading about my faith and race. The author says that the “writings of Dr. Beverly Tatum have shaped much of my early journey on race and race relations, particularly” this book.

20160109_101530The Joy Luck Club
by Amy Tan

This was Kelly’s book before we got married, and it has been sitting on our  bookshelves ever since.  I decided it is time for me to finally read it. I’ve never seen the movie, but I know the book is usually better anyway.

rest-of-usThe Rest of Us Just Live Here
by Patick Ness

As Jackie says, “I loved the concept: very, very few of us can be ‘the Chosen One.’ While Harry Potter was off saving the wizarding world, most young wizards were just trying to get good grades in double Potions.” I love it too; of all the books Jackie has recommended in her blog, this one seems the one I am most likely to enjoy.

20160109_101541The First Men in The Moon
by H. G. Wells

Last year, I read the Space Trilogy by C. S. Lewis for the first time. Many of the science fiction elements of this series were influenced by Wells’ novella. Of course, probably every science fiction writer of the past 120 years has been influenced by Wells in some way.

Tier 4

If I finish all of the books above, I will be surprised. So, if there is a tier 4, I want to leave it open for books I haven’t considered or don’t know about yet. In other words, I want to leave space for spontaneous reading.

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