Friday, January 30, 2009


So let me get this straight.

Despite having a 4.00 GPA, and having completed 36+ units towards my Ph.D in physics...
Despite having endured the Physics Oral Exam, not once, but twice...

I have absolutely no freaking clue what it is they want, what is expected, or how to pass.


I suppose I shall have to file some sort of protest. But to whom, and how?

Monday, January 19, 2009

The H&R Model 926 Revolver


Back in December my buddy Scott and I went to what is one of the largest gunshows in the country, the Phoenix December Crossroads of the West/ Small Arms Review West show. That's a total of seven State Fair pavilion halls full of boom sticks and accessories, plus more vendors in the tents between some of the halls. I've never actually managed to see the whole show.

So amongst all of the $450 AR lowers and $1200 AKs there were actually a few neat things. You had to look hard though.

My buddy Scott picked up a High Standard .22 target pistol for $173 (Model B I think). It had been freshly re-parked, which brings it's value down a bit, but certainly a more than fair price.

I picked up a sweet little H&R top break in .38 S&W. Model 926. Bluing is easily 98-99%, still has it's original diamond checkered H&R grips. (Lots of minor scratches all over) Date code places it at 1971. Got it for 2-bills even, (came with a 1/2 box of Remington ammo) Based on prices on Gunbroker and Gunsamerica I got it for a fair to good price.

(It Turns out there was an intermittent problem with the action due to a broken part. I suspect the seller knew this. While it usually worked fine, it sometimes would not cock all the way. A quick perusal of, and 2 days later I had it returned to perfect working order)

Now here is what is interesting (to me at least)

This is a quintessentially American revolver. Look at it. It's not the weapon of a a policeman, or a gunfighter; they would favor a swing out cylinder, for speed and capacity. It's certainly not that of a cowboy or drover, they would require a heavy bullet of at least .429 caliber. It's not even really the weapon of a firearms aficionado, after all, the .38 S&W was made obsolete by the .38 Special in 1902. While small enough to conceal, it's certainly not optimized for it.

No this is the weapon of a shopkeep or a grocer. Perhaps that of a workman who kept it at home, just in case. There is almost no holster wear, but there are fine scratches, indicating it was kept in a drawer, or under the counter, ready, in case of need. As I said, quintessentially American.

H&R started business in 1871. Their primary business was what I will call "working class" firearms. No high polish, no fancy engraving, just function. They also made M1 Garands, M14s and M16's for the US military. They finally gave up in the 1980s (in the era of the cheap autoloader) and are now part of the Marlin/NEF/H&R conglomerate.

As you can see, it's functional and straightforward. Five shots, with a manual ejector. Target sights, and magna-type grips are rather nice upgrades. She still shoots ok as well.


Friday, January 16, 2009

Oral Comprehensive Exams - Unce more unto the Breach

Well as they say, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy...

So I get there early, and after several minutes manage to get my computer talking to the overhead projector. The ROE (rules of engagement) say I'm supposed to give the same talk as last time.

I am prepared. I have my talk ready, and I have added two slides to clarify a few points. I have a second talk prepared, discussing the research done this Fall as a backup.

The professors show up.

Dr Smith: We've seen this presentation before haven't we.

Me: Well yes sir, the rules say I;m supposed to give the same talk.

Dr. Smith: Well that's rather silly, we've heard it before. I think we all agreed that Mark did fine on the talk portion didn't we.

Dr. Sankey: Well, yes we did.

Me: Well, this was the research we did last Spring, I have another talk prepared discussing the research we did last semester if you are interested.

Dr. Sankey: No , that's fine, we know you can give a competent presentation. Let's just skip ahead to the Question Portion. Unless the Student Objects..

Me: No sir, it really is essentially the same presentation. I've only added two slide to clarify a few points that were not necessarily the most clear last time.

All right then, go ahead and turn off the projector..

Sankey: Now, why don;t you go ahead and write down Maxwell's equations.

Me: Um ok, it's been a while. I write down Del dot E equals rho over epsilon naught.
I write down Del dot B equals zero. I hem and haw a bit and eventually I managed to write down d/dt B = -Del X E and d/dt E = J + Del X B (technically wrong since there is should be a minus sign in front of J)

Sankey: Ok number those from one to four. Now, what is the physics behind the first one.

Me: Um well is says this (I forget what I said)

Sankey: no that's not what I'm after.

Me: Um, are you after Coulomb's law?

Sankey: Ok, yeah, sure. How do you get Coulomb's law out of that. (it's actually Gauss's law, but we can get Coulomb's law out of it)

Me: well, coulombs law says this, I start writing Coulomb's law, Um, do you want the electric field or the potential version... I end up writing the E-field version.

Sankey: ok, so how do you get from here to there.

Me: well...

Sankey: how about Gauss's law.. Do you remember that.

Me: well Gauss's law states that you can convert a volume integral to a surface integral. (according to Wikipedia this is actually Gauss's theorem, not law)

We then spend several unpleasant minutes, working out a derivation, in which I keep insisting I need a 4Pi, and Sankey insists I do not. We eventually find our missing 4Pi

Dr Bauer: can you tell us about the chemistry of the LEDs you used for this other project.

Me: well, sure. Does everyone know what Dr Bauer is talking about? Ok, well then let me give you a little background so we are all on the same page. I then manage to spend several minutes discussing the research from last semester, thus killing around 5 minutes.

Me: So, for the Blue, Green, and white LEDs I'm certain the chemistry was InGaN, because that is the usual composition for those LEDs, I;m not certain what the che3mestry for the amber LED was.

Bauer: yes but, what do you know about the electron bands of an LED.

Me: well a modern high brightness LED builds in a quantum well structure to trap the electrons, thus increasing the output. (I'm more than happy to draw the electron band structure for the quantum well)

Bauer: No, I mean E vs. k.

Me: Um ok. I draw a generic E vs k diagram for a direct bandgap semiconductor. I proced to discuss that for a substance with an even number of valence electrons the valence band will be completely full and the conduction band completely empty, I discuss why we might dope the semiconductor, and then I draw an E vs density of states diagram. (take that)

Dr Bauer says something about electrons and photons, so I then discuss the difference between direct bandgap semiconductors and direct band gap semiconductors, and that optical semiconductors need to be of the direct type.

Bauer: why?

Me: because this is an E vs. k diagram, so in this case over here, a photon can make a direct transition, in the indirect case, the electron has to interact with a phonon, because there is a momentum shift.

Bauer: but doesn't the photon have momentum?

Me: Well yes.

Bauer: well what is the momentum of the electron?

Me: well the momentum of the electron is inversely proportional to... Wait, let me be clear here, the effective mass of the electron is inversely proportional to the curvature of the band.

Bauer: Yes that is correct.

Me: That is why here, at the top of the band, you can't add any energy to the electron, it's effective mass is infinite. you cant just kick it a little and have it move, you have to provide a large quanta of energy, in the form of a photon, then the electron makes a vertical transition.

Bauer: why vertical?

Me. Because a vertical transition involves zero change in momentum. Over here (points to indirect bandgap sketch) you need to interact with a phonon. That means in order to make the transition, you have to either add or subtract a vibratory more to the entire lattice. That, interaction os far less favorable than in the direct case.

(At this point, I swear Dr. Bauer actually similes at me)

Dr Sankey to Bauer: You happy with that answer?

Bauer: Oh yes.

Bauer: now, you mentioned black body radiation in your paper, can you tell us about that?

Me: well, any material object that is heated, such as a tungsten filament, gives off radiation the spectrum of which is known as black body. The traditional example is you take a metal box, punch a hole in it to let the photons out, and then heat up the box. The spectrum that comes out is known as black body or Plankian radiation.

Bauer: can you write the formula for the distribution:

Me: well, not from memory. I can derive it though.

Bauer: well what does it look like?

Me: (I write down the thermodynamic distribution formula for a Bose gas)

Bauer: what's that?

Well, this is the Bose-Einstein distribution. If I solve it for energy, that will give you your answer.

Bauer: no we don't have time for that. Just draw a picture.

(I draw a graph showing spectral power vs. lambda for several temperatures.

Bauer: Do you like lambda?

Me: Generally, yes I prefer to work with wavelength. (either wavelength or frequency is ok actually)

Me: So, these lines would represent different temperatures, the key here is that as the temp increases, this curve gets higher, and the peak shifts this way, towards the visible. The problem with a tungsten lamp at the VATT, or at your house even, is that the visible spectrum, (I draw a line) ends here, so only 10, 15 percent of the energy given off is energy your eye can use, the rest is near and mid IR.

Bauer: You have written power up there, how does the power relate to the photons that exit? I mean their electric and magnetic fields.

Me: well the power is given by the Poynting Vector, (I write S = 1/mu-naught times E X B) um, I may have this constant wrong, I think it's one over, but it could be the other way..

Bauer: we are not interested in the constants... (I had it right by the way)

DR Smith: Ok, well as I recall last time you had a little problem with some derivatives, sankey asked you to solve the wave equation.

Me: actually Dr Sankey asked me if I could prove the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Which, actually I can. It's a rather interesting derivation.

Smith: could you sole the Wave equation for us.

Me: sure. I write down Schrodinger's equation.

Smith: Well, that's one Wave equation, how about the generic wave equation.

Me: Um, you mean Laplace's equation equation. I write down Laplace's eqation.


Sankey: how about the vibration of a string.

I finally write down Del squared Psi + k squared Psi = zero.

Sankey: ok solve that.

I write down a "proposed solution" take the derivative, and successfully solve the equation.

Sankey: Ok so what kind of wave is that?

Me: it's a standing wave. Wait, technically it's only a standing wave if the two constants A-1 and A-2 are the same.

The professors: Hey yeah, he's right.

Me: smile

Sankey: so what's the solution then.

Me: well it's either a series of sines or cosines depending on where you set your zero.

Sankey: look at the equation, that equals 2 Cosine.

Me: (look at the equation.) Oh, yes it is. but we can shift our coordinates to get either sines or cosines.

Sankey: draw a string.

I draw 2 points label them zero and "L", and draw an arc between them.

Sankey: Make it look more like a cosine.

Me: This is correct for the fundamental mode, but ok. (I draw the 2nd harmonic, which looks like a Cosine)

Sankey: so what are we missing from our solution?

Me: we are missing the boundry conditions. by applying periodic boundry conditions we get a solution that is a sum of cosines.

Sankey says something...

Me (forging ahead) no, the wave has to go to zero at the endpoints so the solution is

k^2 Cos (n Pi/L)

Sankey: you forgot the x.

Me: oops, yeah we kind of need an x. (I add the x)

The point I am trying to make is that the cosines form an orthonormal basis set, Sankey is after something else entirely.

I don't see any time dependence in here, how does the string vibrate.

Well, we can add a time dependent term, I ad a minus omega tee to each exponential.

Eventually we get to where we need to replace the K-squared with an omega squared. Sankey asks what that is.

Me: well it's the dispersion relation in the material.

Sankey: explain

Me: Well, the dispersion relation tells you the relation between the material, the velocity of the wave in the material, and the wave vector.

Sankey: Just write down f = 2Pi omega.

(I comply)

Sankey: so...

Me: well f = v/lambda

Sankey: where'd that come from?

Me: Um, I know it.

Sankey: laughs, but that's what I wanted you to prove!

Me: oh, well, lets go backward then
(I work the algebra backward to get where he wanted)

Smith: so write down the proper wave equation then.

Me getting frustrated: (I write down the wave equation for Minkowski space: which looks like Square Psi = zero, The square is the De'Lambertian operator)

Sankey: Oh come on.

Me: no, that's correct. Ok fine, I'll expand it out. I write 1/v^2 d^2/dt^2 Psi - Del-squared Psi = zero)

Sankey: make it one dimension.

Me: (I write an x subscript on the Laplacian operator)

Sankey gives me "a look"

Me: ok fine 1 v^2 d^2/dt^2 Psi = d^2/dx^2 Psi

Sankey: you lost a minus sign.

Me: no I didn't, I moved this over to the other side of the equation.

Sankley: oh, you're right.

Sankey to the rest of the group: I think we're done?

(general agreement)

at this point there is discussion of whether I need to leave the room, or if they should decamp and discuss stuff elsewhere.

I propose that they leave, so that I can clean up, since the room is supposed to be used for another exam in a few minutes, and that I should erase the board, and get he room ready for the next student.


So, general impression...

I did better this time. First, I was expecting an ambush, so I wasn't thrown for a loop when they asked off the wall questions. Second, I pounded Bauer's question about bandgap materials out of the park, if it's one think I do know, it's bandgaps and semiconductors.

We should know the results in around 2 weeks. I think I passed, barely. Certainly I feel better about round two than round one.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Crimes of Eric Holder

An open letter to Senator John Kyl


Dear Senator Kyl,

I am writing to you not only because you are my senator, but because of your position on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will shortly be holding conformation hearings for the President Elect's nominee for the position of Attorney General.

While I general I believe that a President should be allowed to pick the members of his cabinet, the Advise and Consent function of the Senate exists for a very good reason, namely to prevent such an unqualified person as Eric Holder from assuming such an important office.

Holder's blatant disregard for both the United States Constitution, basic human rights, and the rule of law clearly disqualify him from the position of Attorney General.


* As a Federal Prosecutor, Holder refused to prosecute FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi or any of his superiors for the murder of Vicky Weaver at Ruby Ridge.

* As Deputy Attorney General under Janet Reno, Holder was in charge of defending and covering up for the government in the Waco Massacre.

* Holder was the official in charge of the Elian Gonzales affair and ordered the pre-dawn SWAT raid to seize the 6-year old Cuban refugee from the home of relatives who had legal custody of the boy.

* After the terrorist attacks of 9-11, in which the terrorists used box-knives and airplanes as their weapons, Holder called for new restrictions on firearms sales and transfers.

* In the Heller case, Holder signed on to an amicus brief arguing in support of the DC gun ban and the “collective right” theory of the Second Amendment.

* Holder has called for federal investigation of every firearm transfer – even between relatives – and the registration and licensing of all firearm and firearm owners.

* Holder has called for federal restrictions and controls on the internet and limits on internet speech and privacy as well.

* Holder handled Clinton’s pardon of a group of Puerto Rican terrorists who murdered a number of people in New York City as well as the pardon of billionaire tax evader Marc Rich.

* Holder has been an outspoken advocate of stricter gun control, greater government control, and more police powers – though he opposes the death penalty, supports closing down the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, and opposes any kind of “harsh” interrogation techniques.

Taken together, Holder's lifelong record indicates an individual who under no circumstances should be allowed to obtain the position of Attorney General for the United States. I would ask you to do everything in your power to block this nomination from coming to a vote on the floor of the Senate, including mounting a filibuster if necessary.

Sincerely Yours,
Mark E. Horning


Feel free to use any part of this you like when talking to your representatives. The list of Eric Holders crimes comes from Jeff Knox.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Lil' Dan Revolver

It's no secret that I am a fan of the Dan Wesson line of Revolvers, see:

Dan Wesson has been in and out of business several times. (They are currently a wholly owned subsidiary of CZ-USA) The reason is, that despite an excellent product, DW was plagued by bad business decisions, or perhaps charitably what could be called "right decisions at the wrong time".

In the 80's, when the hot item was high capacity 9mm self-loading pistols, Dan Wesson concentrated on marketing .357 revolvers.

In the 90's when state after state was adding right to carry CCW laws, Dan Wesson concentrated on marketing extra-large framed revolvers for Silhouette shooting. (and stopped making small carry revolvers)

In the 00's, when companies such as Smith and Wesson were busy introducing new large framed revolvers, DW decided to enter the very crowded 1911 market.

Now the DW .357 Revolvers are very good revolvers. At roughly midway between a Smith K and L frame they are as robust as an L frame, and handle almost as well as a K frame. Their tensioned barrel means they can outshoot almost any Smith product, and their modular nature makes them far more versatile.

The .445 Supermag (a lengthened .44 magnum) was introduced as metallic silhouette shooting was loosing it's popularity. It's actually far to powerful for silhouette, .44 mag and .357 Maximum are sufficient to the task. It's an incredible hunting cartridge though, with greater penetration, ballistic coefficient, and retained energy than the .454 Casul.

The DW 1911 series is frankly very good, but lets face it, it's a pretty crowded field right now. ( I still want a Dan Wesson 10mm Bobtail Commander though)

All of these products were simply cursed by being introduced or marketed at the wrong time.

In my opinion though, their greatest business failing was when they discontinued their snub offering, again, ironically, just as states were passing pro carry legislation.

The Dan Wesson Model 38P was a 5 shot snub nosed revolver, essentially the same size as a Smith and Wesson J frame. As with standard DW nomenclature a 7 in front of the model number indicates a Stainless Steel gun. (Smith uses a 6 for this purpose, obviously 7 is one better than 6)

Now, on a Smith, you look under the crane to determine the model number, on a Dan Wesson, you need to look in the catalog, as the model number is nowhere on the firearm itself. As a result, the 38P/738P earned a variety of nicknames and was generally (and affectionately) referred to as the "Little Dan" or "Lil' Dan" revolver.

The lil' Dan is actually a fairly rare little piece. I have only ever seen one example in the flesh, and seen a total of two ever offered for sale. Because of it's rarity, I know a good number of folks who actually doubt its existence.

Values tend to be fairly low, both because the Dan Wesson name is not that well known, and because the primary buyer for such a piece would be someone who already owns a Dan Wesson revolver, and wants a matching CCW, (identical controls and all that)

I can say for certain however that the lil' Dan does in point of fact exist, and offer the following as photographic evidence. In the first picture one can see the forward mounted cylinder lock that DW was known for. The second image, though somewhat out of focus, shows the nut for the removable barrel and shroud that the Dan Wesson is famous for.




Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope

The VATT, viewed from the LBT - Photo Credit me.

The Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT) is a 1.8 meter telescope located atop Mt Graham near Safford AZ. The location is aproximately 10,300 feet above mean see level.

The weekend before Christmas I was privileged to spend the night at the telescope, where we installed the new flat fielding device that I designed and built for last semester's Physics 500 research rotation. I'm happy to report that the device I built worked perfectly.

The next morning I got a tour of the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT). The LBT consists of a pair of 8.4 meter diameter mirrors. That's a BIG telescope.