First exams and moose hunting

This week we had our first exams, one in physics and another one in mathematics. I found both easy and am confident that I did well. I also noticed that taking those exams and solving the problems was fun and that I enjoyed taking the exams and showing what I can do. Especially I enjoyed the moment when I was able to apply some theoretical ideas and concepts to solve this one problem, the answer of which would have otherwise eluded me. The task was to calculate the work done by a force when moving a given radial distance in the gravitational field induced by the force. The function for the potential energy was given (U(r)=Cr, where C is a constant), but I had trouble deciding whether the work would have a positive or negative sign. However, using the definition of a potential inducing, and thus conservative, force and that of work done by a force I was able to decide that the sign is negative.

The moose season started two weeks ago and last week we got our first two. The other one, a large bull, died in the middle of woods and with roughly ten men left we had no way of getting it out in one piece by hand. Luckily one of our party members had a tractor available so we didn’t have to cut the carcass to pieces in the woods. The day ended up lasting until 9 pm before I was back home, thirteen hours since I had left for the hunt. I enjoyed the day to the fullest and was happy to be chasing moose after a four-year pause.

Laboratory experiments, text editing and sports

Last week we had our first laboratory session at the university. We were given the task of measuring the mass of a lump of play-dough without using a laboratory scale. We did the obvious thing and measured the spring constant of a light spring using known masses. After that we measured the displacement caused by the play-dough hanging on the spring to calculate its mass.

The experiment was simple and the first of six we’ll be doing this autumn. For me the main aim was to learn more about using Latex for scientific writing and getting familiar with additional tags and commands. It took me over eight hours to write the report, but it was well worth it. Writing these first reports with Latex will make the work all the more easier when the experiments and subjects become more complex and I need more time to concentrate on the subject matter. In addition, I found writing with Latex more concentrated since one can separate formatting from subject matter. This aspect is often mentioned as an advantage of Latex over word processors like Microsoft Word but one must experience it firsthand to appreciate it. Using Latex allows one to write in a more concentrated manner and produce text uninterruptedly, when formatting is not done on the fly and the formatting of the text does not keep changing continuously in real time.

During the last weeks I’ve also returned back to bouldering and done some bicycling, both of which I have enjoyed very much. Making a 30 kilometer tour on a bike in the fresh autumn air in the early morning is very energizing. Bouldering is also very enjoyable after a six-month break. I like to think how to use my body’s joints and limbs to maximize leverage and make my way to the top as easy as possible. Yesterday I was again climbing and was pleasantly surprised how I was able to read the pattern of the grips and plan a good way of climbing the route in front of me. After a few tries I was able to refine my approach and reach the top without too much effort and using good technique. Now I have to improve my grip strength and endurance to be able to climb more demanding routes. At the moment I am capable of climbing routes with ratings around 6B to 6C.

Starting the physics studies

During the last two weeks I have gotten to know people, other freshmen at the physics  program, taken care of administrative and reviewed some high school mathematics. On September 5th we’ll have our first lectures on mechanics and mathematics. During this autumn and the coming spring well go through the classical mechanics and electromagnetism, supplemented with the necessary mathematical tools. I am very much looking forward to getting my hands on the equations and problems.

At the moment I feel there’s little to write in my blog, but I’ll try to keep up the habit of weekly posts so stay in the groove. Likely some interesting physics and mathematics related topics will find their way into posts, as long as I’ll have the time to write them.

It’s official now

Today (June 28th 2017) I received the official admission to University of Helsinki to study physics. Obviously it was a relief to finally have the official results in my hands, or rather on my computer screen. I immediately registered for the next autumn and spring semester and also applied for a department at the local association that rents apartments to students only. Additionally I now have a long list of things to take care of before or soon after starting my studies: getting a student card, starting to plan my studies on the longer term, register to the first courses, get to know other new students and so on, not forgetting to say goodbye to all the important people here in Switzerland.

Having done all these preparations already ten years ago gives me confidence and a certain calmness, but I still have butterflies in my stomach. Starting studies at a university is very exciting, even the second time around, but this time I am somehow more excited. Reading the course descriptions fills me with enthusiasm: quantum mechanics, basics of the theory of relativity, mathematical tools in physics and so on. These ideas and areas of physics have always fascinated me, and now I am going to dive into them head first. Of course my current layman’s view on these topics is very naive and romanticised. After all, the topics are very math heavy and some of them hardly intuitive. Quoting Richard Feynman, ”I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.” But I am going to try, assuming that I wil specialize in quantum mechanics and not in some other interesting field of physics, like meteorology or geophysics.

At the moment I feel, that theoretical physics, with its thought experiments, mathematical intricacies and incomprehensible laws is the field I want to pursue out of intellectual interest.

This post was originally written on June 28th 2017 and finalized on July 2nd 2017.

What have I achieved since November 2015?

My blog got started thanks to the blog challenge from Live Your Legend. It’s a recurring challenge that calls you to start a blog, make writing a habit and thus learn more about yourself. I started my blog in November 2015 and still actively writing. Since I have now come to a cross-roads in my life and have chosen to pursue studies and later a career in the field of physics, I decided it was time to reflect on my past writing. In the first half of June 2017 I read some of my earliest blog posts from November and December 2015 to compare my thoughts and goals then and now; whether I have achieved targets I set to myself one and a half years ago, and whether I have internalized some thought models and tools that I vouched for then.

Writing actively

In my first blog post I explicitly stated regular writing as a purpose of my blog. That I have been doing now since November 2015. Initially, I also planned to publish some fiction in my blog. On that front it has been rather quiet, apart from two small pieces, but I might publish some fiction again in the future. What is completely missing is a public reading my blog and commenting on my posts; cultivating ideas via active discussion is something I believe in, so here I have to improve, whether it’ll be live discussions or getting more publicity for my blog.

About networking

In another one of the earlier blog posts I discuss networking and how I’ve never felt comfortable doing it. I still don’t, but I think I have gotten a bit better in it, learnt how to approach people and gained a grain of self-confidence to do it marginally more often than before.

Being grateful

Having been born, at all, and especially in Finland is something I am very grateful for. This farm life  has been enriched by many different experiences and people. Even when I have a rainy day, I try to remind myself how well my things are and that I can have an impact on my future, while still being humble to the randomness of life.

On trying

One of my earliest posts discussed how I was proud of having started my blog as a channel to get my thoughts in the open and trying to keep up with the blog challenge from LiveYour Legend, although I had fallen behind the schedule. This attitude, being proud of even trying, is at the core of what helped me resign in June 2017 and take the leap back to university and start a physics study from scratch with a M.Sc. in industrial engineering already in my pocket. Although my blog did not lead me to participate more actively in the societal discussion as I thought, it helped me raise my voice, try new things and be less afraid of potentially not succeeding in my plans.

I quote here the last paragraph from my post from November 25th 2015 where I wrote about trying and seeking my passion. I believe continuous curiosity and seeking to be the right path in life:

“At the moment I am proud of taking the step towards my dream and passion, whatever they may be. Just actively looking for them is on its own something worth doing, since I have a clear goal and meaning for the actions I take. I hope that those of you, unsure of their direction in life, will also take the step towards finding your passion and purpose. The trip will be worth it. Not trying is failure without alternatives. Trying and not succeeding is not failure, just success in a different form as initially envisioned.” 

My elevator pitch

As prescribed in the blog challenge from Live Your Legend, I created my own elevator pitch to tell what I am building, what I care about and what I am passionate about. In November 2015 my elevator pitch was:

“I am building a person, who is active in his own small town community, helping organize great events and letting others experience the small everyday moments of happiness. I am building a person who helps people learn and grow as persons.

I care about people and their well-being. Seeing someone smile, hearing them say thank you, even in their own head, makes me happy, makes me want to do more for them. Knowing that I do matter, that I can help make a difference, keeps me going further. I also care about myself, knowing that I have to help myself before being able to help others.

I am excited about sports, about nature, about good books, about writing. I am excited about hearing people’s wild, even crazy ideas and making them come true. Unfortunately I have lost some of this characteristic after my university times, but I can still feel the flame and hope to bring it again to its full force. Being unconventional, unpredictable and uncommonly good is an exciting and challenging ideal.”

The first paragraph in this elevator pitch was inspired by a youth camp of my then sports club. I participated as an instructor and had great fun at the camp, thinking that I might want to get more involved in the local community. Yet, I didn’t do it, and now I think that I might not be such a person after all. I don’t feel a burning desire for very active participation in local associations taking an active role in the local society. However, becoming a person who helps people learn is definitely me; as a future physicist I want to expand our knowledge and understanding of the world and educate people.

The second chapter is a bit vague, but in line wity my current thoughts: smiles and thank-yous make me happy and I want to feel I am making a difference. I think one reason I wasn’t happy in the business world in a large company was the feeling of being a minuscule cog wheel in a giant machine without making any difference. Helping others is also something that brings me joy, while I also take care of myself.

The third chapter still describes the things I get excited about: nature, sports, books and writing. Now I would add physics, science and learning to the list. The part on making crazy ideas come true might become more prevalent again when I am at the university, surrounded by other students, many ten years younger than me, with their wild ideas and passion to make things happen.

Summing my current thoughts together, my current elevator pitch is:

I am here to increase the human understanding of the surrounding world, and asking questions like “why is the world such and such” is important to me, something I care about very much. I am passionate about searching for answers to these questions in co-operation with like-minded people, while having fun doing it and not taking even science too seriously.

Making a difference

In a later post from December 2015 I still entertained the thought of becoming more active in our sports/gymnastics club. I ended up becoming the club’s treasurer in February 2016, but I think I had made the decision to apply already before the December 2015 blog post. I did not become more engaged in our sports/gymnastics club, but I think that as member of the club’s board and as treasurer I did a decent job. Becoming more engaged in the administrative activities and arranging events just wasn’t my cup of tea, although I very much enjoyed getting into the trenches and taking care of clear tasks and chores at our events, such as setting the scene and the props between performances at one of our larger, bi-annual events.

My revolution

As clueless as I was in December 2015 on what revolution I would want to lead, I still have no clear picture, but I might find an answer in the area of science and physics. Since I am passionate about learning and science, maybe my personal revolution will take place somewhere between science, learning and teaching.

About team work and learning

The blog post on learning and working in teams from December 2015 discusses some of the difficulties in affirming the required knowledge and level of knowledge for a task. Sometimes, before you set out to do something, you do not know what kind of skills and knowledge are required, which might make the successful completion of the task very difficult later on. The post is not very original in that respect, but the last chapter contains two good pieces of advice: […] as individuals we should have the courage to say two things, the first being “I do not know.” and the second “Could you please help me?” These two phrases I have learnt to use more and will keep them in my active vocabulary.

Matrices and matrices in Latex

I present you yet another post on mathematics. This time I concentrate on some basics of linear algebra and matrices and introduce you to a good video series on the subject. Below the embedded pdf file you will find the links to the referred web pages.



video series on linear algebra

video on change of basis

video on eigenvectors and eigenvalues

Reviving a language

When still at the university, I studied Russian, got quite good at it and even spent a semester as an exchange student in Russia. During the last few years I have not used the Russian language very actively but have tried to maintain my skills by reading Russian newspapers, short stories from Russian writers and having the odd discussion in Russian with Russian friends and colleagues.

Such infrequent and unsystematic usage is hardly enough to maintain my skills at their previous level, not to mention improving them. Since I like languages and had thought about learning a new one, I instead decided to brush up my Russian. I signed up to iTalki, actually a few years ago, but was not active there until now, where hobbyists and professional teachers offer help in studying and learning different languages.

I have now taken two lections with a teacher in Russian. During the first test lesson we disced my current skills, difficulties with the Russian language and my learning goals. During the second lesson I gave a short introduction of myself and my work,  we reviewed the main differences between the use cases of the imperfective and perfective verb aspects and discussed about the city of Minsk. In the coming lessons we will still keep our focus on the verb aspects, a speciality of Russian language, and I will compose short texts on topics that interest me in order to improve my vocabulary.

I would recommend iTalki at least to anyone already knowing a language to some extent and wanting to either refresh the already learnt, learn more in a structured way or just wanting to have casual conversations in a foreign language. I don’t know how well iTalki is suited for studying a language from the beginning, but I don’t see any obvious obstacles or limitations:  communication per Skype allows face to face discussions and oral practice, while texts can be produced and sent also electronically. Maybe I’ll give some new language a try in the future,  after I’m up and running again with my Russian.