Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tripping on Network Fractals

As I was flying over LA at night it looked like an electric circuit, which set me to thinking about how circuits, the human body and cities all have parallel structure.
How do circuits work? Take a bunch of specialized components - capacitors, inductors, resistors, diodes, transistors - make larger specialized components - like an op-amp or cpu - and attach them with wires, which lead to bigger wires... from specialized components a structure emerges that performs a complex task.
This is like our bodies, where we have specialized cells which group together to make organs, bones, and tissues, which then group together to make the body, where microvessels merge to vessels which merge to arteries, yielding access to all components.
And, this is like cities where we have specialized components - homes, bakeries, laundromats, law offices - which group together to make larger specialized components - business district, residential neighborhood, agriculture - connected by lanes which lead to roads which lead to freeways.
One analogy that emerges is that people are the current of cities; the difference is that humans themselves are complex systems, whereas electrons are simple 2-state systems, fundamental particles...or are they? We discovered that protons and neutrons are comprised of quarks and gluons, and are now probing to see what those are made of. Could electrons also have a complex structure?
Similarly, given an electron's Hamiltonian, the evolution of the system is probabilistic, so given a human's Hamiltonian, is our behavior also probabilistic?
Can we make a single electron carry information from points A to B, or is it going to forget the information along the way?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

House Hunting Update

House hunting has been an absolute roller coaster.
When my mother and I first came out to Columbus we saw a beautiful brick 5 bedroom home with 10 off-street parking places and a nice backyard, in a good part of town for 270K. Just by the time we got the ball rolling in terms of getting pre-approved, it had sold.
Then my Dad and I found the foreclosing house, and after raising our offer from 90K to 105K the bank countered with 118K. Considering how much work it would take to fix up the place it was decidedly not worth raising the offer, so negotiations stopped there.

My parents and I set out to look for a different house, and we found one that was ideal for a ready-to-move-in house. It was listed for 165K, had four levels, 3 bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, great kitchen, a nice back deck. We made an offer of 155K hoping to get it for 160K.
"Wow! Pizzaz!" the realtor wrote
for the listing, and we agreed
Right after signing the papers with our realtor my mother and I got in the car and were driving back to my apartment when we get a call from our realtor...the house is "in contract" (which means escrow although there are some technical differences). Someone, the day before, had put in an offer and it was accepted; the sellers' realtor forgot to list that it was no longer for sale. Our realtor was pissed, we were devastated - our spirits were so high having found such a great house, and having it yanked it away was painful.
It took me a few days to recover, and today I went out with the realtor again to look at more houses. But, none of the houses were on par with the one that was snatched away. Too small, too much work/updating necessary, too expensive, etc.
Its interesting to me how emotional house buying can be. Excitement, disgust, amazement, amusement, disappointment.

So, at this point I think that I need to start turning my focus towards renting a place. Its nearly July, and school starts in September. An escrow takes a month to close, which means August. Most people would want to have a place lined up at least a month before school starts, which also means August.
I'll give it another week.
"The Oval" at Ohio State taken with my iPhone from the top floor of the main library

Monday, June 20, 2011

Beats Off the Top of My Head

...occasionally I choose to press the ole voice memo button to record what's going on inside that noggin o' mine.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Start Co-op Housing at Ohio State!

Left - Happy cooperative living at Loth
Right - It costs $300 to escape Bowles, and worth every penny
UPDATE 8/28: I made a student organization and have a website now!

I lived all over the place during my undergrad:
Bowles, Fall '07
Stebbins, Spring '08
Went home to Santa Barbara, Summer '08
Kingman, Fall '08 - Summer '09
Padova, Italy, Fall '09
Lothlorien,  Spring '10 - Summer '10
Cloyne, Fall '10 - Spring '11

That's a total of 4 different co-ops, and I loved all of them.
I didn't start out in a co-op though; I started out in Bowles, the university-run all male dorm, and although I did my best to look on the bright side, I really despised the place. Then my sister's friend suggested that I try out the co-ops, and I took her suggestion: I paid my $300 dorm cancelation fee, and moved into Stebbins for my second semester freshman year. Stebbins was the best thing that ever happened to me that semester. The energy, style of living, wild parties, great food, it all just rocked my world. I was hooked, and tried out as many co-ops as I could. Which was my favorite? To me they're all equally awesome but in different ways - I love the food at Cloyne, the sensuality at Loth, the roofdeck at Kingman, etc.

So now I'm in Columbus Ohio, home to 55,000 students and 0 student housing cooperatives at Ohio State.
The idea is running through my head, "you should start a co-op at OSU!", but in reality I'm going to be focusing on school and won't have time. Starting a co-op would be a full commitment, and school is a full commitment, and the jack of all trades is a master of none. Maybe I'll start a Facebook page, "If There Was Co-op Housing At OSU I'd Join!" or maybe "Start Co-op Housing at OSU!", and drum up support for the idea and go from there.

Okay, I made the Facebook group,
Start Co-op Housing at OSU!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Buying a House - An FHA Loan for a PhD Student

I have arrived in Columbus, Ohio to do research over the summer, getting a head start on my PhD in physics at Ohio State. First things first, where am I going to live in this foreign land? 
A co-op, like the ones I lived in at Berkeley for three years? Nope, they don't have 'em in Columbus. 
Well, how 'bout an apartment? I could, and am this summer...
But why not buy a house since I'm going to be here 5-7 years? What would the risks be? Do I have enough money? How would the payment compare to renting?
I just made my first offer on this house last week, and learned so much in the process. The house prices in Columbus are incredibly cheap, about 1/3 of what you'd pay in Santa Barbara, so even though I hadn't yet worked out the details, my intuition before coming to Ohio was that I just might be able to afford buying one.
The listing price at 119K is especially low because it's a foreclosed home (and needs some work), and at my realtor's suggestion I offered 90K since its been on the market for 3 months without any action. My realtor said that I might be able to get it for 100K because the bank often negotiates to show on paper that they worked hard to get as much money as they could, on average settling for 8% more than the initial offer.
A day later the bank rejected the offer outright.
So I raised the offer to 105K, and don't want to go any higher because we expect to be putting 20K into fixing the place up. Will the bank negotiate now? I'll find out on Monday.

So why does it make sense for me to buy a house?
The first thing I learned is that there are two kinds of loans:
- Conventional loan, where you must put down about 20% and the private lender bears all the risk, or
- Federal Housing Authority (FHA) loan, where you put down only 3.5%, and work with a private lender, and it's insured by the government.
An FHA loan requires inspection of the property by an FHA representative so that it meets their standards because you are required to live in the property, and it requires mortgage insurance, but even with the mortgage insurance an FHA loan and conventional loan end up having the same total mortgage payment. Actually, the mortgage insurance is often tax-deductible so it ends up being cheaper than a conventional loan.
FHA insures loans because it's their goal to help Americans become homeowners. I don't have enough credit to get a conventional loan, nor do I have the 20% capital, but through an FHA loan my parents co-sign which allows me to be on the loan, and at 3.5% I do have enough capital. With a conventional loan they consider all parties signing, so if I tried cosigning a conventional loan they would look at my parents' credit and say okay, then look at my credit and say nope!
What you can't do with an FHA loan is buy a house and rent it out to other people without living there yourself, but I need a place to stay so FHA will do!
Okay, so 3.5% of 105K is \$3,675, and I've got that much in the bank. But how much will I expect to pay each month on that size of a loan?
There are a bunch of websites that calculate the principle+interest rate mortgage payment (like bankrate's calculator), and it comes out to be \$543 a month for 30 years. That's on par with rent for a 1 person apartment here! But wait, there's also tax, which is about 4K per year (\$330 per month), expected maintenance, say \$250 per month, utilities about \$400 per month, and home insurance which is about $60 per month.

Add that all up and you get mortgage+taxes+maintenance+utilities+insurance = 543+330+250+400+60 ~ $1583 per month total.
Now, if it's a four bedroom house, at \$500 a head that's \$1500 a month from renters, which means that the house is paying for itself.
That's if everything runs smoothly; if I can find tenants to pay that much and no incredibly costly maintenance issues arise. There's risk, but it seems reasonable...

Monday, June 6, 2011

Driverless Cars

In the US 40,000 people die per year in automobile accidents. Worldwide, 1.2 million people die per year in car accidents.
It is amazing that our world would stand by and accept such an atrocious transportation system, and not pull out all the stops to fix it. What is keeping our society from jumping at innovation, like driverless cars?
"Politics, of course, is often geared toward preserving the status quo, which is highly visible, familiar in its risks, and lucrative for companies already making a profit from it," rants Tyler Cohen on the the issue, which is the bureaucracy that slows innovation to a halt. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Physics Books and Solutions Manuals

Here are some books and solutions manuals that come in handy, all in PDF form (zipped):

Lea Mathematics for Physicists: Solutions Manual
Griffiths E+M: Solutions Manual 
Griffiths Quantum Mechanics: Solutions Manual, Book
Griffiths Particle Physics: Solutions Manual, Book
Kittel Thermal Physics: Solutions ManualBook
Kittel Solid State: Book
Taylor Classical Mechanics: Book