Monday, May 31, 2010

A Summer of Nuclear Research conCERN

Congrats, fellow Anteaters! You have (almost) made it through spring quarter. Maybe for your first time, maybe for your last. For at least one soon-to-be second year, this summer means the opportunity of a lifetime.

This July, physics major Matthew Kelly will join professor Whiteson, a particle physicist at UCI, near Geneva on the Swiss side of the CERN complex to do scientific research.

You may know CERN (formally The European Organization of Nuclear Research) for its dramatic appearance in Dan Brown’s “Angel’s and Demons,” and we will forever be in its debt for creating the World Wide Web in the early ’90s. Now the people working there are focused on more fundamental matters.

The center has made headlines recently as home of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The LHC is the largest and highest energy atom smasher in the world. Scientists there, including Professor Whiteson, hope that they will be able to break up protons by crashing them into each other at incredibly high speeds to prove the existence of a currently theoretical yet fundamental particle: The Higgs boson. This particle is such a big deal that they say finding it would explain the origin of mass in the universe.

It takes a lot of space and energy to make the particles collide fast enough to do this. The LHC is about 17 miles in circumference, is buried about 570 feet deep and is so large that the complex lies under both Switzerland and France.

Matthew isn’t even 19 yet, but he’ll be among 2000 representatives from 540 universities worldwide doing scientific research on site at CERN.

He’d never previously programmed in any language and had to learn everything on his own when the professor made him part of the team earlier this year.

Of the experience he says, “Opportunity doesn’t arise from the skills you currently have, but the work you’re willing to put in to learning something new.” Professor Whiteson wants Mathew to put schoolwork first, but he works on his programs for hours each week and reports his progress via Skype every Sunday at midnight.

It won’t be all work in Europe, though. During off time, he plans to be a normal tourist and would love more than anything to visit Paris.

Quoting physics legend Richard Feynman, Matthew says, “I was born not knowing and have only had a little time to change that here and there.” Matthew is definitely getting an early start on that. While he gets ready to lend his brain to the discovery of unknown particles that make up our universe, spend some time to consider what you’ll be doing this summer.

published in the New University newspaper, 1 June 2010

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

More Bang For Your Books

The Best Deals in Course Book Buyback
by Ariana Santoro

As fundamental to the college experience as top ramen and weekly all nighters, course book buyback is an entity both loved and despised by students everywhere. We end the quarter happily with a few bucks to pad our pockets but continue to complain since the amount we receive in no way equals that which we actually spent on our books in the first place.

It makes no sense that we receive so little for such an expensive necessity, and it was not easy to figure out why that’s so. The UCI Bookstore staff was a little less than helpful in clarifying any of my concerns, but after being put on hold many times and transferred twice because “We don’t know” a number of things about buyback policies, I was finally able to piece together the mechanics of the whole ordeal.
As it turns out, two different groups run our campus book buyback. A UCI Bookstore phone representative tells me they will buy your books at any time during the quarter at the Customer Service desk.

At the beginning and end of the quarter, a wholesale book company comes to Ring Road for them.

The UCI Bookstore is decidedly not out to gouge your wallet. It is non-profit business, so all of their remaining funds are given to programs in the department of Student Affairs. The prices they charge for their books are determined in a very straightforward manner, which I found right on their website.

You can sell your course books to the Bookstore for a fixed 50% of the book’s original price, even if you have highlighted and written in it. The only thing barring payment is liquid damage. If you want to know what you’ll get before you sell, their website now offers a handy price check. Just enter the book’s ISBN to see the offer. Of course, they note (not surprisingly) that book values are subject to change without notice.

You will get the best prices from the Bookstore during finals week. At that point faculty have requested books and the store staff knows what’s in demand. To get the full 50%, make sure you’re selling a book wanted for the following quarter. For example, I know Quantum Mechanics is only offered spring for physics, so I would sell my book at the end of winter. Of course if you wait you run the risk of encountering the dreaded new edition, which depletes any demand at all.

I can’t say much about the wholesale book company. One of my Bookstore phone representatives very mysteriously said, “We’re not allowed to talk bout them,” while another said it was hard to know anything definitive since they change frequently.
In general, the wholesale companies buy books that are in much lower demand than the ones the Bookstore keeps, so the prices they offer are usually 10%-30% of the original price of the book. Their expenses, which include labor and equipment as well as transportation of the books from our site to storage facilities, are also much higher than the Bookstore’s.

These are not the only places to sell your books, though. For those willing to risk mailing them, will actually compare the amount that a variety of online companies are willing to pay. The highest offer I got for my Quantum Mechanics book is $58.78 from in the form of a gift card (all of the other sites offer cash). This is just under 40% of the cost for a new book.

You might try selling your course books to friends. The most you can reasonably expect to get is the price of the used copies in the Bookstore, but if you really want the cash and aren’t they type who can sell binoculars to a blind man, your prices will need to be competitive. As in really low.

There is a recently formed Facebook group UCI Textbooks that serves as a place to sell course books to peers. Discussions list books selling for around $20 and $30. Ironically, the page administrators purport to be frustrated the “microscopic amount of money” you receive at buyback when these prices in no way compare to the 50% of the original price that you really get from the Bookstore.

Of course you can always impress your roommates and visitors by supplementing your primarily trash and trinket filled shelves with the scholarly works. Maybe you’ll never need to know how to solve a differential equation again, but the fact that you could if you wanted to is pretty sweet.

If you really do want the cash though, put your preconceptions aside. The UCI Bookstore offers the best buy back deal, and neither they nor the wholesale companies are out to cheat you.

Published May 11, 2010, New University paper

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Questioning Open Relationships: a look at alternative forms of dating

Spring is upon us and it is officially becoming mating season. For those still single among the coupled lovebirds, it is becoming increasingly apparent that monogamy tends to limit the pool of availability. Unfortunately, the most common solution to this problem is what we call an open relationship, or rather forming spiritual, emotional or physical connections with people other than your significant other. In my experience it’s better to just continue the search for The One.

My problem is not with openly dating a number of different people in general. In fact, I was a notorious dater for a while. I went out when asked, but never seemed to be attached to anyone. I think that’s where this judgment formed.

It’s been a year now, but the details of the confusion that is an open relationship have yet to leave the confines of my tortured head.

From the outset of this particular relationship we agreed that we could see others if the opportunity presented itself. At the time, I didn’t like to talk to people about being with this guy because when I tried to describe what was going on between us, it didn’t seem like we were together at all. But we were, weren’t we?

We went out, spent a lot of time exclusively together, showed up to events together, and definitely acted like a couple. I didn’t push very hard to define our relationship because I was afraid of pushing him away, and as the serial dater that I am, I wanted to keep my options open.

There were times that I felt he wanted me to break up with him and take the burden off his shoulders. But in the back of my stubborn head I figured we weren’t really together anyway, so if he honestly wanted to end it he could do so himself.

In the end, it didn’t matter how many times I actively questioned at the seriousness of this open relationship. Even though I was allowed to see others, my heart still hurt when he decided to announce what I already knew: that he just didn’t like me enough to be with me and me alone. In retrospect, I should have known that it wouldn’t work. He frequently withheld the truth and couldn’t bring himself to just say what he meant or wanted (but ironically hated even the smallest lies).

Like I said, my problem isn’t the open relationship itself. My problem is calling what was being done a type of “relationship” at all. By saying it was I felt that he opened our partnership to the possibility of endurance and official status.

I like things frank and well defined, and frankly I find the definition of an open relationship to be fundamentally flawed. If the most appealing aspect of this form of partnership is in fact the lack of obligation or ties to a single individual then it seems to me that ‘relationship’ as a socially accepted romantic bond between individuals has no place at all in the description. Indeed it seems to me there is no bond at all!

Extending this reasoning further, if sex is involved – which it often is –, I don’t think you should kid yourself by euphemizing. It’s only a hop, skip and a naughty little jump over a fuzzy grey line into Friends with Benefits territory. And hey, if that’s really all you’re looking for, at least be honest with yourself and call it what it is.

Flexibility and variety aside, how is an open relationship any better than a regular one? Security’s obviously not important if your significant other can see anyone ,and if you’re just looking for a good time, commitment’s not an issue.

Maybe an open relationship will really suit you. Before you jump to it, I’d like you to consider these questions.
1) How much attention do you need to be happy? Are you willing to share that attention with others or do you feel that you need to be the tope priority?
2) What do you expect to gain from being in a relationship? Do you just want to get physical or are you looking for something a little more personal?
3) How willing are you to except others and be flexible and accommodating with their time with your lover?

If these questions have assured that an open relationship is still right for you, then by all means, go for it. But, I implore you to make sure you and your partner set mutually agreeable limits and agree to be open and honest with each other.

In the meantime -- maybe it’s the ever-living hopeless romantic within talking -- I’m holding out for the one who is willing to win me over and stick by me only.

Published 22 February 2010, Volume 43, Issue 13 the New University paper

Best Valentine's Chocolates

There are only a few days left before Valentine’s Day and you’ve forgotten a gift for your loved one. While everyone in California should know that See’s Candies offers the best chocolate in the state and now a convenient online ordering and delivery service, not everyone can meet their steep prices. Let’s face it, we’re all a little strapped for cash right now.

For the budget conscious, the local grocery store carries everything you need to melt your lover’s heart and excite his or her taste buds. Now it’s time to ditch the Kisses. They may be cute and punny, but they in no way approach the crème de la crème in this selection.

When it comes to the solid grocery chocolates, the milk and dark varieties of the same brands conveniently ranked the same on my taste-o-meter. Listed below from worst to best are your main contenders.

6 – In last place we have the British confection, Cadbury, which is too sweet for a truly sophisticated chocoholic. One bite will leave your mouth begging for a quick rinse.

5 - Hershey’s classic bar is chalky and has a funky aftertaste too. You shouldn’t feel compelled to stick with well-known names like Hershey when better quality is just a shelf away. And please, save your palate by kindly passing over Hershey’s Bliss.

4 - For the environmentally friendly, Wild Harvest makes organic milk and dark bars from freely traded beans. Both are very dry but have no aftertaste. Unfortunately, neither has the incredible chocolate flavor either. So if you really must indulge in fairly traded goodies, head over to Trader Joes.

3 - Trader Joe’s carries a Swiss chocolate made from fairly traded beans, but their silky smooth texture doesn’t make up for the pronounced aftertaste.

2 - While Trader Joe’s “classic” bars are comparable to the Hershey’s in presentation, their composition is better by far. These bars are smooth, have no aftertaste and don’t melt nearly as fast. The store doesn’t release information about suppliers though. Since they’re known to change without warning, the chocolate you taste now might be different the next time you try it.

1 - Now for the winner – and a surprising one at that – Dove has the best all around texture and taste. It manages to be sweet and smooth without coating your mouth with goop. It costs only 50 cents more for a bag of foil-wrapped heats – solid or filled – than a bag of Hershey’s mistakenly named Bliss. If you’re looking to make this chocolate gift-worthy, buy an assorted bag of these treats for less than five dollars to fill a unique container.

As for the filled chocolates, at number 5 on our list is again Cadbury. Their caramel filled confection has the same overpowering sweetness that dries your mouth as the solid bar. Moreover, it’s nearly impossible to cleanly remove any configuration of bite-sized squares. Caramel spills out of those you leave attached, and even if you’re skilled enough to remain clean in the breaking, the square itself is liable to crack before you can even get it to your mouth.

4 - A surprise contender on this list can be found wrapped in pretty purple stripes modestly nestled between the grocery’s organic selection and more luxurious Lindt. Though Seattle Chocolate’s Espresso Truffle Bar is a tad dry, it’s also very soft, has a distinct coffee flavor and an interesting, just slightly grainy texture and crunch. This is definitely a must-try for the more adventurous chocolate enthusiast.

3 - Lindt offers the smoothest selection in this group but may not be satisfactory to a true chocoholic. Their bars are wafer thin and therefore only manage to provide minimal satisfaction. Still, they have a number of intriguing flavors. My favorite in their selection is “Intense Orange.” The name may seem a little fierce, but the flavor added by slivers of almond and orange in no way overpowers the dark chocolate taste.

2 –The spherical shape of Lindor’s truffles is novel but somewhat difficult to handle. Even so, the hard shell and creamy fillings are definitely satisfying if you’re looking for a taste that’s rich and sumptuous. As an added plus, the individual packaging makes it easier to gift than most bars.

1 – And for the winner in this category, while Ghirardelli’s solid bar is – sad to say – not remarkable, their selection of filled chocolates beat all others by far. Want something a little more exotic than the staple milk chocolate and caramel combo? Try their raspberry filled dark chocolates.

The bottom line? Steer clear of big names like Hershey and Cadbury. If you have to get your chocolate from the grocery store, the best to gift – and easily the best tasting – are individually wrapped, bite-sized bits. Happy munching!

Published online, New University website 7 February 2010

Dodgeball Breaking Records

Imagine if you will, thousands of people facing off across a field of green. The members of each side clad in a uniform colored to represent their party, weapons placed between them. At the sound of a mighty call, the two sides will rush toward the other in hopes of being the last standing.

What reads like the battle scene straight out of Braveheart is actually the scene planned to take place this upcoming May 22 on the sports fields of our very own Anteater Recreation Center.

The weapons? Dodgeballs. The battle? The 2010 UCI Super Dodgebowl, UCI’s valiant attempt at breaking the Guinness World Record for largest dodgeball game played. Taking over for Mel Gibson? First year, Sam Shaw.

His blonde hair is gelled but messy as if he has other things to worry about. His knee is bouncing like he’s on the move. He talks with his hands, smiles a lot and he hasn’t kept still for a moment during our meeting. One conversation with Sam is enough to understand what he calls “the burning passion” that he has for this record-breaking attempt.

So how exactly do you decide to break a world record?

As Sam tells it, his brain was wandering while he was going to sleep one October night and he thought it might be cool to break a record. During an outing to Barnes and Noble he discovered the Guinness record category for largest group participation. He decided UCI was ready made for this record category.

The University of Alberta currently holds the Guinness World Record for largest dodgeball game played. With two teams of 600, the Canadian university broke the record early this February, but Sam thinks that UCI should be more than able to beat their 1,200 players with at least 2,000.

And why not? There are 22,000 undergraduate students, 5,500 postgraduates and thousands of faculty and affiliates associated with UCI. With anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 people showing up to the annual Wayzgoose festival held by ASUCI every spring in Aldrich park, 2,000 for a few hours of carnal competition on a Saturday afternoon isn’t an unreasonable goal.

Breaking a Guinness record may sound like a lot of fun, but it’s no small task. Sam has been working since October to make this happen. He first had to confirm that it was possible and get permission from various administrative campus groups. He had to find space big enough to accommodate thousands of participants and vendors. He had to confirm through the Guinness organization that this would in fact be a valid attempt at breaking a record.

Sam’s involvement in ASUCI and KUCI were nothing but helpful in understanding the channels he would need to navigate to make this happen, but he recently realized that despite his active university life, he’d need a team to work with if he really wanted to break the record.

Working with him now are best friends and Mesa suitemates Chase Davis, Jordan Lau and Michael Ernst. While he continues to run the administrative aspects of this attempt, they focus on recruiting participation and sponsors.

So far, Mikasa has agreed to donate the hundreds of dodgeballs needed to play the game, but they’re looking to get an additional $5,000 for an official Guinness affiliate to verify the success of the event.

For Sam, this wasn’t just a random musing. Once he found a record that he could actually go about breaking, his mind was set and there’s no stopping him now. A big fan of motivational quotes, he tells me, “There’s a genie in all of us. People are silly when they limit themselves; they need to actually attempt things instead of just thinking about them. I mean if you shoot for the moon at least you’ll land among the stars.”

He knows that there will be other attempts to break the record for the largest dodgeball game played, but he also knows that the campus population alone puts UCI in a great place to break it now.

Sam did all of the preliminary work alone to get things rolling, but he doesn’t want this event to be all about himself. He loves being an anteater and hopes to pass his infectious enthusiasm and school pride on to everyone else. In the end he hopes to connect UCI in a common goal and incite the lacking morale and school spirit that everyone’s always talking about. This is about UCI coming together and making history.

So come together, Anteaters! To sign up and make history at UCI go to After all, we can’t let the Canadians hold this record forever.

Published 27 April 2010, Volume 43, Issue 26 of the New University paper (features cover!)