Wednesday, January 26, 2011

You know you're a nerd when...

Last night, the mighty Boilermaker basketball team decided that it didn't want to play the Ohio State team that awaited them on the court.  Thus, my day which I built up to epic proportions in my head ended before it started.  Literally, my cable company is based out of Michigan so I was stuck watching a crappy SEC 2OT game, and I never saw Purdue within 15 points of OSU.

With Purdue trying to hang on to their dignity I had to escape.  I am a loyal fan, but I was already pissed at my cable company and needed to take my mind off of the thrashing that OSU was giving Purdue.  (Every team has off nights and I liked the headline on the student newspaper this morning, "Not Even Close!")  I I turned the channel to comedy central for tosh.O and started looking for something else to do.  After checking my email and Facebook accounts I decided to tackle some Particle Design homework.  Yes, I choose to do homework to blow off some steam.  I actually got on a pretty good role until Excel decided that probability distributions were too hard for it.  And yes, I installed the Data Analysis add-in, but unless you know how to graph histograms with variable sized bins don't be hatin'! See below.  I finished 2 problems of 7 and felt somewhat better.

The x-axis numbers relate to the beginning of a bin.
They are clearly not the same size!  The overall area should add up to 1,
but it can't because of the unequal bins...damn you Excel!
It was not until I was laying in bed and thinking about the last problem that I realized that I had foregone watching Purdue basketball, however bad, to do homework....and I felt better about myself.  That got me thinking of the things I like to do for fun that are just plain nerdy.  For example;

-I own 3 types of Trivial Pursuit (Pop Culture, Wii video game, and the new Trivial Pursuit Steal) and have on more than one occasion had friends over just to play Trivial Pursuit.
-My top websites that I visit include,,, and  They rival my time spent on and easily.
-Every sci-fi movie is ultimately interesting to me because I ponder the reality of the situation.  Could something like this happen? You never know.

The list could go on and I know I'm going to get that comment that says, "Hey Matt, you are nerd!"  I understand that I just thought I would share that little insight with you all.  So, if you want, send my your "You know you're a nerd when..." story and I'll post it in the Friday Fragments!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Harnessing the Power

Duel-cores, triple-cores, quad cores, sex-cores (that's six for those who don't know their prefixes), it's hard to keep up with processing power these days.  I remember when my Dad bought our first family PC.  It was a Gateway 2000 and it was a serious toss-up as to what I liked more; solitaire on the computer or the cow painted box.  And I remember getting my first major PC game, NCAA Football '98 and it couldn't run on our computer.  It required the old Pentium II chip.  Well now I have upgraded my personal PC to the AMD Phenom X4.  Granted it is still on the old 65nm architecture as compared to the new Phenom II's that have 45nm, but it is quite fast.  And now both Intel and AMD have the "sex-core" processors on the market between the Phenom II X6 and Core i7.  "But Matthew, why do I care?"  You probably don't but I wanted to mark a reference for you when I explain the "computer" I am working on in my Computational Chemistry course.

Computational Chemistry is exactly what it sounds like.  It uses computer algorithms to calculate how particles act.  More specifically their energy in my current lab.  Now, I was frustrated that the lab consisted of a Linux Shell program not because it was Linux, but because we were given no formal background on coding in the system.  I think Linux is simpler and I hope to utilize it some day in the future but I began ranting and raving to a few friends about how I don't understand why we can't pay Computer Scientists to make programs for Windows/MAC that I can just input data into and read the output without being a coding expert.  This is a carry over from my statistical courses as they employ the same thing into programs such as SAS.

In my frustration I found myself searching for a "help section" for this shell program.  The program/project is called Steele and it is a compute cluster that can be used remotely on campus for calculations.  It is basically access to a computer that links many processors to together in order to make elaborate calculations housed on campus at Purdue.  This is where I found my surprise.  The Steele compute cluster (named after an old professor) houses an astonishing 902 8-core Dell processors.  902! That is 7216 cores for those of you keeping score at home!  Each processor consists of two Quad-cores that are linked together.  To a pion like myself, that is almost unfathomable.  Now I understand why we use this program.  The cores are separated into further clusters, the largest one being able to compute 46.53 teraflops (basically a calculation per second, it is more complicated than that but I'm not an expert and will probably mess it up).  A Phenom processor similar to mine was clocked at 6.7 gigaflops.  This is about a 7,000,000% increase in computations.  Wow!

Now, here's where I stopped thinking about these types of calculations...I ran a simple program that uses a random number generator to calculate the energy of a particle 10,000 times and it took the computer about 20 seconds to run this program. The computer with 7216 cores needed time to think about my simple little calculation. Now there are scientists running much, much larger calculations on much larger computers.  That is when I had to stop thinking about the magnitude of this computer and starting writing down answers.  So sorry Dad for complaining about not having that Pentium II processor.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Back from Break

It has been awhile.  Last time I wrote that it was before finals and that I would get back to posting after the Holiday break.  Well, it is now two weeks into the new semester and this is my first update.  Let me explain.

Over the break I anticipated outlining my graduate studies and getting started on a research project.  As it turns out, this process takes longer than one semester.  I have begun "laboratory" hours but this consists of reading research articles and papers within the my field of study in order to narrow my project focus.  Basically I will be doing background work for this semester before I actually start to outline my thesis work this summer.  How this relates to my blog...I fully intend to write about the every activities of a graduate research assistant.  Having worked with a grad student toward the end of his grad work, I know that I will have plenty to write about eventually; such as internship opportunities, guest lecturers, research symposiums, and interactions with the leaders in the field.  I want to share my experience with everyone and maybe even inspire a few people.  Unfortunately I am not quite there yet but for now, I will continue to write about any and all things relating to my experiences as new grad student at Purdue.   So....

Most recently College Gameday was here on campus.  It was an awesome experience and it was great to see the student body come together with alumni to cheer our Boilermakers.  Although the actual game revolves around the team, there was something very fulfilling about screaming my lungs out with 14,000+ other Boilermakers for 6 hours (4 for College Gameday and 2 for the game).  As a Purdue sports fan we our conditioned to support our teams through thick and thin.  We've been there when Drew Brees led us to the Rose Bowl and when Kyle Orton had "the fumble" when the football version of College Gameday was here on campus.  We supported out basketball team when the Big Dog, Glenn Robinson led Purdue to the first of three straight Big Ten titles and when Gene Keady had a farewell season to forget.  Overall, I personally believe the Purdue fan base and alumni are some of the most loyal and enthusiastic fans in the country and it is an honor to be apart of something as special as College Gameday.

In other news, the College of Pharmacy is starting a new mentoring program for undergraduate students.  Basically, they are matching up graduates students in the three departments (Pharmacy Practice, Industrial and  Physical Pharmacy, and Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology).  Now I am very excited to be a apart of this new program because I was essentially a mentoree for a grad student a few years ago, and it was because of that experience that I am in grad school today.  The interesting thing is that the undergraduates can either ask to matched with a grad student based on discipline or they can select the grad student based on a short presentation we give.  And when I say short, I mean short.  See the following powerpoint slide....

Yep, that's all they want from me.  I assume that at the end of the meeting this week, the line up us grad students like we are being picked for dodgeball teams in Jr. High.  It should be interesting.  (And yes, I am using a picture of my adorable nephew as a selling point, DON"T JUDGE ME!)

Be on the look out for the Friday Fragments (short bits on news in science).  I hope to keep updating the blog daily (or every other day).  Also feel free to email me at if you have questions about grad school, pharmaceutical sciences, Purdue, or anything seen in my blog.  Thanks for all the support!