Science is not in the business of certainty

I first heard this phrasing at the American Geophysics Union Fall Meeting last December. I was reminded of it recently when reading The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman.

Science is not in the business of certainty. Many people consider the purpose of science to be the pursuit of “Truth”. Or an effort to understand how the universe works. Both of these things suggest that there is a deterministic answer to the questions science asks. That’s just not true in most cases.

In reality, certainty is not the goal. Consider the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, for example. It’s a fundamental concept of Quantum Mechanics that you’ve probably heard about. Basically, the more we know about the position of a particle, the less we can know about the momentum (or velocity) of the particle. There’s an inherent uncertainty in the system such that even if we go looking for the answer, we’ll never be able to pin down both the position and the momentum of the particle at the same time. This is a prime example of the inherent role of uncertainty in science.

heisenberg-uncertainty-principle-xkcd-comic Continue reading

10 Years of International Travel

For the first time in my young life, it’s time to renew my passport. Hard to believe it’s been that long. In one sense,  it’s a reminder of how times have changed. 10 years ago wasn’t the first time I travelled outside the U.S., but back in those days you didn’t need anything at all to go from the U.S. to Canada as a kid in the backseat. All the same, it’s fun to think that 10 years ago was the first time I travelled overseas to a new country.

passport-international-travel-renewal

After so many years of safeguarding my passport, it’s weird to be dropping it in the mail and hoping for the best to get a renewal. But I won’t complain about the relatively simple process. I’m realizing for the first time just how expensive passports are, though. There are a lot of reasons why only 46% of Americans have a passport, but the cost is a valid one for many. At $165 for a new passport and $140 for a renewal, I can see why even those Americans living along our borders may not have gotten around to that quick jaunt to Mexico or Canada.

At the very least the process is relatively painless. Renewals can be done through the mail and passport photos are available at a lot of post offices and pharmacies these days. This may be the end of a chapter, but I’m looking forward to beating my current record of 6 international visits per 10 years next time around.

Photos Discovered from the Ross Sea Party Expedition, 1915

Last month, 99-year-old photo negatives were discovered in Scott’s Hut near Cape Evans on Ross Island in Antarctica. Ross Island is also the location of McMurdo Station and Discovery Hut, which I visited and posted about a little over a year ago. Some of you may have seen this story when it hit the news last month, but I thought it was worth bringing up again because it’s just so amazing.

The photos were recovered by conservators with the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust (NZAHT) who are currently working on preserving 4 expedition huts in Antarctica which were originally built for early exploration of the continent by people like Earnest Shackleton and Robert Falcon Scott. As you can see in my Discovery Hut post, despite the harsh environment in Antarctica, the cold lends to preservation even after 100 years. My visit to Discovery Hut was before any of the restoration work had begun, and the condition of the items inside — from clothes to pots and pans to cans of food — was remarkable, even without conservation efforts.

Continue reading

Graduate Student Taxes

It’s tax time here in the U.S. Figuring out how much your taxes will be is a headache for many, including grad students. Each semester seems to bring a different set of circumstances.

Earlier in the semester I went to a seminar held by the university to help domestic grad students navigate their taxes. I think it helped me to understand the nuances a bit. I use tax software to get the job done since it’s proven to be more efficient and more accurate than me sitting down with my 1040. But it’s always nice to understand what’s going on inside that black box of TurboTax or whatever you might be using.

Of course, I don’t have to tell you that I’m no tax expert and claim no responsibility if things go wrong on your taxes. But hopefully this information will help other grad students unsure about how to maximize their tax benefits.
Continue reading

Switzerland On a Budget

A few weeks ago I went to an evening class at my local REI about how to plan a budget trip to Switzerland. I don’t have plans to visit Switzerland in the foreseeable future, but I sometimes like to go to these sorts of events for inspiration and to pick up travel tips.

I highly recommend checking out the calendar at your local REI to see what kinds of things they’re offering — many of the classes are free and typically range from local hiking trails to international travel tips to planning for a backpacking trip. They also offer paid weekend courses on such things as bike maintenance and wilderness first aid.

Anyway, I thought I’d share the best budget tips I learned, for my own future reference and in case any one else has visions of Switzerland in their future.

natgeo-switzerland

National Geographic

Continue reading