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An Interview with Cap'n Refsmmat


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#1 Cap'n Refsmmat

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 01:43 AM

I'm now Internet-famous! I was recently approached for an interview by a blogger publishing interviews of science and technology related people, and it's now published:

http://thefastperfec...nce-forums.html

On that note, I'll open this thread up for questions. Want to know about SFN's history or how it's run? Fire away.
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#2 Appolinaria

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 05:35 AM

Congrats.

Who do you admire most in the world of science or who inspires you?
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#3 mooeypoo

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 05:39 AM

Awesome, Capn! Yay!
Now I want an audio interview.
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#4 imatfaal

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 12:14 PM

Woo Hoo fame at last!

I knew one day I would find out where that strange handle came from without asking a direct question!
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#5 PhDwannabe

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 12:59 PM

I'm now Internet-famous!


Someone finally post that video from your honeymoon?

I was recently approached for an interview by a blogger publishing interviews of science and technology related people, and it's now published

Oh. Just that, then.
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#6 Cap'n Refsmmat

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 04:52 PM

Who do you admire most in the world of science or who inspires you?

I can't really pin it down to one person. As a physics student, I'd naturally say that Richard Feynman is inspiring -- but not simply because he's a Nobel-winning physicist who was popular with the ladies. No, Feynman had a gift for communicating his ideas (in writing and in speech) that is inspiring. He seems to have so much fun doing it:



But really, the inspiring people aren't famous scientists. They're people like SFN's resident experts, who constantly amaze me with their depth of knowledge, and regular scientists who make interesting discoveries or write lucid explanations. And as a hobby programmer, I can be inspired by anyone -- the proliferation of open-source software means it's not uncommon to find a particularly clever piece of work written by a bored Canadian during his days off from work.

It's not just the famous people that are inspiring. It's the people who do clever things and interesting work on their own initiative, and who know how to communicate their results to a wide audience.
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#7 Klaynos

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 04:56 PM

What's been your best and worst experiences on sfn?
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Klaynos - share and enjoy.

#8 Appolinaria

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 05:34 PM

So many people have mentioned Feynman to me on here. I watched the video and was surprised by his demeanor Posted Image
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#9 imatfaal

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 05:46 PM

Surely you're joking

He would have been known as a great man and recognised as a famous raconteur even if he wasn't one of the greatest theoretical physicists of the 20th c
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A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again.

- Alexander Pope

 

feel free to click the green arrow  ---->

 


#10 Appolinaria

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 06:04 PM

I like seeing brilliance that's still human.


I respect him off the bat for his use of an analogy. That method works... Some people overlook the importance in an analogy because it comes across as simple.... but the use of an analogy signifies a genius to me! (mainly because I'm a Layman and I glorify the hand that feeds me).

Edited by Appolinaria, 11 November 2011 - 06:42 PM.

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#11 jimmydasaint

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 09:01 PM

Cap'n, I know you are into Science education, as am I. However, do you favour the establishment of specialist Science colleges for students who love the subject and can spend all day studying it, or do you think we can turn out educated, critical thinking future members of the public from our current educational systems in the US and the UK?
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#12 mooeypoo

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 09:44 PM

I have a few question too!

1. What do you plan to do with your physics degree? (I think we talked about this, but things changed somewhat so I'm curious)

2. Do you think your experience in SFN -- as an admin but also as a moderator and as a participant in the discussions -- helped you in whatever you're going to do in the future? And how?
3. Related to the above question -- You once told me that you grew up a lot since you joined (at age 12), and I assume you didn't just mean the numerical age ;) -- do you think SFN had a part in that growth? How much did participating here affected your way of thinking, or your goals, etc?



~mooey
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If I was helpful, let me know by clicking the [up arrow] sign ^^

No trees were harmed in the creation of this post.
But billions of electrons, photons, and electromagnetic waves were terribly inconvenienced during its transmission.

 

Adventures in Algorithms http://moriel.smarterthanthat.com

Advocating Science http://smarterthanthat.com


#13 Cap'n Refsmmat

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Posted 12 November 2011 - 02:21 AM

What's been your best and worst experiences on sfn?

Hard to say. I don't think there's one specific experience I can point to as the best or worst. However, there've been a few times where I've been discouraged by crackpots. Generally, people with ludicrous theories (and I mean truly ludicrous I-think-all-of-science-is-wrong theories, not just speculating laymen) are simply amusing, but some are so clearly misinformed and opposed to learning science that it's annoying. My warped sense of humor helps most of the time, but sometimes it's just frustrating.

Cap'n, I know you are into Science education, as am I. However, do you favour the establishment of specialist Science colleges for students who love the subject and can spend all day studying it, or do you think we can turn out educated, critical thinking future members of the public from our current educational systems in the US and the UK?

That's hard for me to say. I've benefited from a university with more than just science courses; so far, I've taken courses in the philosophy of religion, ethics, the New Testament, the early history of Christianity, and American foreign policy. It's all been fascinating, and I wouldn't want to deny that opportunity to science students who'd like to diversify.

On the other hand, I'm an assistant for a physics course this semester, and it's clear to me that many students -- even physics and engineering majors -- arrive at school with subpar mathematics and science instruction. (A few weeks ago I had a student write that 210-20=20-20, which is quite a few orders of magnitude off.) I'm eager to see middle schools and high schools actually teach what their curriculum says: basic algebra, precalculus, and perhaps calculus. Sure, students are passing those courses and graduating, but they have not mastered the subjects, and they are absolutely essential if you want to take college courses.

I think quite a few college physics classes would be substantially easier for students if they only understood their algebra and basic calculus better.

1. What do you plan to do with your physics degree? (I think we talked about this, but things changed somewhat so I'm curious)

I'm not sure. As I said, I'm a hobby programmer, and I'd like to learn more about formal computer science, along with numerical analysis, since simulations and computational physics are hugely interesting fields, and very few physicists are also trained programmers.

On the other hand, I enjoy teaching, since it presents its own unique challenges: how do you reduce a complicated concept into something approachable? Which topics need to be introduced first? How do you make students understand the material, instead of memorizing it? I certainly see the need for better science education, and I'd like to contribute.

I also enjoy writing, and I somewhat envy Donald Knuth, whose job (in retirement) is essentially to write a series of books summarizing everything he knows about computer science. I'd like to be paid to learn everything about a topic and then write it back down again, condensed. That's like paying me to go to college, except I have to find better ways of explaining everything the professors say.

2. Do you think your experience in SFN -- as an admin but also as a moderator and as a participant in the discussions -- helped you in whatever you're going to do in the future? And how?

Definitely.

I have learned a lot about teaching, writing, and debating from participating on SFN. The asynchronous nature of forums means that debaters have time to carefully and patiently pick apart every detail in your posts, so you must be sure to make coherent, concise, and pointed posts. Irrelevant details will merely serve as points for others to attack, even if they're not important for your main point.

SFN has forced me to be a better writer and a better explainer. It's very difficult to criticize someone's argument, craft an explanation of your own position, and cite examples without being confrontational enough to make your opponent defensive -- because as soon as that happens, you've lost, since they'll search for ways to prove you wrong instead of listening to what you have to say.

SFN's also taught me how important clear communication in science can be, given how many crackpots and physics deniers we've seen.

3. Related to the above question -- You once told me that you grew up a lot since you joined (at age 12), and I assume you didn't just mean the numerical age ;) -- do you think SFN had a part in that growth? How much did participating here affected your way of thinking, or your goals, etc?

A lot of this goes back to the previous question, but also, my oldest posts make it clear that I thought I knew nearly everything. I recall once responding to a post saying "The Moon doesn't technically orbit around the Earth -- it orbits around the barycenter of the system, which isn't quite at the center of the Earth" with "But do you have PROOF?!?!" like it was some kind of radical crackpot statement, when it's in fact a basic statement of Newtonian mechanics. That taught me a lesson about being too self-confident, I suppose...

The responsibility of moderating discussions also led me to develop a sort of philosophy of discussion, which has influenced how I go about arguing. I outlined it in a couple of blog posts. I still catch myself on a couple of those points, such as "never be confrontational": I've had people attack my posts, and I immediately start thinking of witty retorts and counterarguments and holes in their argument, before realizing that I haven't actually considered the possibility that they're right. I think more people need to have that feeling, once in a while.
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#14 pantheory

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Posted 12 November 2011 - 05:49 AM

Cap'n Refsmaat,

Congrats on a great interview.
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#15 iNow

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Posted 12 November 2011 - 06:01 AM

If you could have sex with anybody you wanted, who would it be?

If limited to star trek characters, which would it be? Captain Janeway due to similar rank, Tasha Yar, Counselor Troy, Uhura? (and, if you say Uhura, be sure to specify which).

Edited by iNow, 12 November 2011 - 06:02 AM.

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#16 michel123456

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Posted 12 November 2011 - 10:09 AM

Cap'n, are you really 19 years old?
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Michel what have you done?


#17 timo

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Posted 12 November 2011 - 02:09 PM

I'm not sure. As I said, I'm a hobby programmer, and I'd like to learn more about formal computer science, along with numerical analysis, since simulations and computational physics are hugely interesting fields, and very few physicists are also trained programmers.

That is very close to a very dangerous assumption: Do not fall for the fallacy that a good programming background was very helpful for a career in computational physics. Good programming knowledge is very helpful to get positions up to post-docs - every group leader likes members who shut up, work on the project they are being given, and don't need constant supervision. But beyond that level, programming skills (beyond those that everyone in the field has anyways) are of little help, in my opinion (*). Professor positions in physics are not given for being a good programmer, they are given for being a good physicist. Also, irrespective of prior programming experience, I have never encountered a physics PhD student who was seriously limited by his programming skills. People are limited by not knowing enough physics, math, experimental techniques, and current development in their field.
There is of course nothing wrong with being more competent in computer science - just don't expect it to give you a real edge.

(*): I recently encountered someone who disagreed with that and claimed that technical details like the order of loops in your code are important in computational physics. It is not in what I do, but obviously cannot speak for all of computational physics. Ironically, that someone works in finance because he couldn't get a position in academia.
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#18 mississippichem

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Posted 12 November 2011 - 02:44 PM

That is very close to a very dangerous assumption: Do not fall for the fallacy that a good programming background was very helpful for a career in computational physics. Good programming knowledge is very helpful to get positions up to post-docs - every group leader likes members who shut up, work on the project they are being given, and don't need constant supervision. But beyond that level, programming skills (beyond those that everyone in the field has anyways) are of little help, in my opinion (*). Professor positions in physics are not given for being a good programmer, they are given for being a good physicist. Also, irrespective of prior programming experience, I have never encountered a physics PhD student who was seriously limited by his programming skills. People are limited by not knowing enough physics, math, experimental techniques, and current development in their field.
There is of course nothing wrong with being more competent in computer science - just don't expect it to give you a real edge.

(*): I recently encountered someone who disagreed with that and claimed that technical details like the order of loops in your code are important in computational physics. It is not in what I do, but obviously cannot speak for all of computational physics. Ironically, that someone works in finance because he couldn't get a position in academia.


I think I have a demonstrative example of your sentiment here.

The lab I work in collaborates with a computational physicists (We make materials with tuned dielectric properties). I was recently talking to one of our collaborators about how much programming he knew and he informed me that they have one guy who is a full fledged computer scientist and the rest of the team knows little programming.

Thats not to say that extensive programing knowledge isn't useful. I think the labs of the future, in all disciplines, are becoming increasingly digital and will require scientists to become increasingly computer savy.

If I knew more programing I feel like I could more efficiently operate some of the finer points of some of the spectroscopy units we have. I've seen people dial in specialized NMR experiments before straight from code.
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You've come a long way. Remember back when we defined what a velocity meant? Now we are talking about an antisymmetric tensor of second rank in four dimensions.

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#19 Cap'n Refsmmat

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Posted 12 November 2011 - 05:11 PM

If you could have sex with anybody you wanted, who would it be?

If limited to star trek characters, which would it be? Captain Janeway due to similar rank, Tasha Yar, Counselor Troy, Uhura? (and, if you say Uhura, be sure to specify which).

If we're picking Star Trek characters, I'd have to pick one of the alien women Kirk seduces. Somehow they're always similar enough to humans to be seduced by Kirk, but they'd give you an interesting story to tell for the rest of your life.

Cap'n, are you really 19 years old?

Yes. Although that will be inaccurate in about two weeks.

That is very close to a very dangerous assumption: Do not fall for the fallacy that a good programming background was very helpful for a career in computational physics. Good programming knowledge is very helpful to get positions up to post-docs - every group leader likes members who shut up, work on the project they are being given, and don't need constant supervision. But beyond that level, programming skills (beyond those that everyone in the field has anyways) are of little help, in my opinion (*). Professor positions in physics are not given for being a good programmer, they are given for being a good physicist. Also, irrespective of prior programming experience, I have never encountered a physics PhD student who was seriously limited by his programming skills. People are limited by not knowing enough physics, math, experimental techniques, and current development in their field.
There is of course nothing wrong with being more competent in computer science - just don't expect it to give you a real edge.

(*): I recently encountered someone who disagreed with that and claimed that technical details like the order of loops in your code are important in computational physics. It is not in what I do, but obviously cannot speak for all of computational physics. Ironically, that someone works in finance because he couldn't get a position in academia.

Well, I don't mean to learn theoretical computer science. I intend to take courses in numerical analysis and perhaps algorithms, so I at least understand how to estimate solutions to integrals and differential equations, and interesting data structures for storing complicated data.

Other than that, I figure the most important advantage is to just get some experience. Practice will tell me what's important and what's not.
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#20 Appolinaria

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Posted 12 November 2011 - 05:49 PM

smh -_-
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