It’s Funny How Motivation Works…

I tweeted recently that a networking meetup focused on careers in the games industry didn’t go my way. I had been very excited to start discussing how I could approach the industry and what people want. It failed to meet almost every one of my hopes, and in the weeks since I’ve realized that I wasn’t blameless in this. Cue a serious bit of self-reflection.

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The “Best” Game Mechanic.

An acquaintance posed a difficult question to me today:

“What is the most interesting game mechanic you have seen?”

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Beep, beep!

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Hydrogen Wavefunction “Holiday Update”

I took some time off this week to visit some family and do some wedding planning. It was fun, and while I was away I took some time to write an update to my Hydrogen Wavefunction project on GitHub. In short, I upgraded the text functionality to be robust against weird inputs (i.e. it’s now more user friendly) and started clearing up code in functions which could be used as good example functions for the main features of the toolbox.

In doing this update, I learned how to use regular expressions – something I had never really worried about before undertaking this project. It was nice to expand my horizons, as I’m aware how useful and ubiquitous regex is as a toolset.

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The “P” in PhD stands for Programmer.

I’ve been looking at future careers recently, and one general piece of advice I had for most of the careers I’m interested in involve showing rather than telling people about my skills. I definitely consider programming one of my best skills (I’m self-taught and I speak 5 languages to different degrees of competence), so how do I show people my coding projects?

I’ve actually written thousands of lines of code for my PhD, most of which is throwaway, but it would be nice to show some of my more generally approachable projects. To that end, I’ve started up my GitHub account and started uploading things which I think are interesting. The first project I’ve picked out is a very recent thing I wrote called Hwavfn.m. It’s a toolbox designed to let a Matlab user visualise the Hydrogen wavefunction. It doesn’t stop there: you can actually use it to look at how superpositions of wavefunctions behave.

This is a representation of the electron orbiting a Hydrogen atom - The "hotter" parts of the image are where it is more likely to be found if you were to observe it. This is the ground state of the Hydrogen atom - it would look like this "normally", until you do something to it. This state is known as the "1s" state for historical reasons.

This is a representation of the electron orbiting a Hydrogen atom – The “hotter” parts of the image are where it is more likely to be found if you were to observe it. This is the ground state of the Hydrogen atom – it would look like this “normally”, until you do something to it. This state is known as the “1s” state for historical reasons.

This type of program is significant to my PhD, which revolves around controlling atoms which behave a lot like Hydrogen (they are known as Rydberg states), and demonstrating that I can control the shape and size of their wavefunctions in quite a sophisticated way. I use the toolbox to visualise the kinds of things I can do to the atoms, as shown in the picture below.

This is a much more complicated state of the Hydrogen atom - I have put it in a superposition of the 1s, 2p+, and 2p- states (which all have different shapes). The cool thing is that I can make real atoms do this, and they are not in *either* of the states, they are in *all the states at once*.

This is a much more complicated state of the Hydrogen atom – I have put it in a superposition of the 1s, 2p+, and 2p- states (which all have different shapes). The cool thing is that I can make real atoms do this, and they are not in *either* of the states, they are in *all the states at once*.

What’s most cool about my usage of this package though, is that I can use it to simulate what the atom looks like over time. When you make a complicated state like the one above, it actually changes its appearance over time. If I leave the state in the picture above for a few picoseconds, you are more likely to find the electron in a completely different location!

The Hydrogen atom in the same mixture of 1s, 2p+, and 2p-, but this time left for a few picoseconds. It's showing something which Physicists refer to as an "interference" behaviour. I'm effectively showing the effects of the electron - a *particle* - behaving like a *wave*. Isn't that cool?

The Hydrogen atom in the same mixture of 1s, 2p+, and 2p-, but this time left for a few picoseconds. It’s showing something which Physicists refer to as an “interference” behaviour. I’m effectively showing the effects of the electron – a *particle* – behaving like a *wave*. Isn’t that cool?

Anyway, I have digressed a bit. I will be developing my toolbox to be a bit more user friendly (as well as refactoring some code and making some of the things you have to edit a bit less dumb). I expect that it can be used as an interesting teaching tool for showing what Hydrogen wavefunctions look like; for showing how superpositions work and what the results of the Time Dependent Schrödinger Equation look like. It’s quite exciting!

I’m expecting to update the package weekly, and hopefully I’ll achieve my goals for it in the next month or two. Currently it’s in the “practical but ugly” state which I had to leave it for work, and I’m looking forward to making a much better job of it over time.

Posted in General Science, Maths, Physics, Research Blogging | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Word Therapy

Funny thing, time. We don’t really understand it properly. We treat it in different ways in different areas of Physics, where it might be continuous or discrete; real or “parametric”; independent or fundamentally woven into space. It’s not usually very clear why time goes “forward”. But, as we all know, it does.

So I come in a roundabout way to my present and future. The main source of content for this blog died off about a year ago (and, correspondingly, its traffic). That was for a variety of reasons, but the demands of my PhD have had a lot to do with it. Mine has been an unusually rough ride*, what with a field swap; regular international travel; uncivilised working hours, etc. It has changed me profoundly over its course, and much of that has been for the better. Still, I regret not being able to pursue my theorycraft. I’m working towards new subjects upon which I will have things to say.

I’m a matter of months from finishing my PhD, though. My mid-term future is uncertain – I have yet to line up a job; I don’t know where I will be living come July; I still have a thesis to write. Right now is a scary time for me.

I’m still dreaming, though, and I’ve been diversifying my programming skills in an attempt to show how well I can apply myself to industries like software development. I am now writing in Python and C#, though the former is proving challenging due to mediocre support on Windows. I turned my hand to graphic design, and now I have some snazzy new business cards. I am putting together a portfolio of code on my GitHub account. All of this is pretty exciting.

The future is bright and scary and poorly understood. I’m rushing headlong towards it with hope.

*  – Well within three sigma, though. Not enough for a discovery.

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A Heartfealt Sense Of Loss

We are all complex balls of thoughts and emotions spinning through a void of time and space. Most of our interactions with people are meaningful, but don’t perturb the others’ paths much. Sometimes, another person comes along and they set you spinning along a new path; your personal trajectory is forever changed by these people.

Such was the case with an old raid buddy of mine – a man who persuaded me to start raiding and began my career as a healer. This man taught me a lot of things: about leadership, about discipline in team-working environments, about giving honest feedback to friends and colleagues. While I was still working out my own personal identity, the few months we raided together left a lasting effect on my personality. I would not be the same person today without his example. Today I learned that he passed away, and now I am mourning the loss of a stranger who changed my life through the ones and zeroes of the internet.

Most of the time, you don’t realize who affects your trajectory until too late. You can but remember, and be thankful: for their life, and the bits of it they gave to you.

Thank you dude, and rest in peace.

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A Review Of :: Gnomoria

“Fortress-Like” Gameplay In Beautiful Pixel-Art Aesthetic

Gnomoria is perhaps the best example of a “Dwarf Fortress BUT” game I’ve encountered. This game takes the fundamental fantasy of the genre (oversee a group of beings and help them survive by defining the rules for their community) and gives it a facelift with pretty pixel art, and a point-and-click GUI.

What’s amazing is that’s all it really needs. The ant-farm style gameplay is engaging at its very core, and the constant drive for resources and security will keep you playing for a long, long time. The replayability comes from meeting the challenges of procedurally generated terrain (especially mining) and incrementally improving your strategies for maintaining your empire.

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If you’ve never played an ant-farm game before, know what you’re buying; games like this can be unforgiving and they require some practice. Your Gnomes are clever, but they only work within the rules which you set – learning how to manipulate those rules will take time. In many ways, this is the major limitation of the genre.

If you’re coming to this from Dwarf Fortress; you won’t find as deep an experience, but you will gain accessibility. Where Dwarf Fortress is notoriously bad, Gnomoria is better than average. Gnomoria *wants* you to play it.

There are other limitations to the game – some notable game-breaking bugs with the way your goods are stored and traded can ruin your kingdom. Bugs like these tend to be fixed given time, but beware of their existence. Importantly, the game tends to chug a bit – maybe because there’s a lot of complicated decision trees to run through under the hood. When you have a big kingdom running, it can become laggy and difficult to play.

Having said all that, Gnomoria’s good parts massively outweigh its bad parts. The game is cheap, replayable, challenging, with a long but approachable learning curve. There is depth, and room to grow. The developer is active and still providing content updates, and there is a notable player community. It’s worth every penny.

Perhaps most importantly, Gnomoria is “Dwarf Fortress BUT playable”. That’s, ultimately, a very good thing.

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