I wasted four hours last night bughunting something weird in my analysis code. It’s silly, so I’ll spare you the details. I spent four hours watching variable addresses magically and erratically change, then gave up and asked Eric(office next door.) He walks in, patiently listens, and points out the problem in under a minute. Thanks, yo. He was really humble, saying that he didn’t even understand what the code was doing. All I needed was the perspective of someone who wasn’t on the verge of seething murderous foaming rage. It never ceases to amaze me how sometimes someone with no experience with the particulars of the problem is the best person to solve it.
During my bughunting, I realized I needed to take a break to avoid taking an axe to my workstation. To use the time constructively, I was (re(re(re)))writing the introductory part my thesis. This is hard, because I’m supposed to sum up the history of particle physics in two paragraphs to sound like a linear, errorless set of discoveries which culminate in my Ph.D.
I found out that John Dalton got the chemical formula for water wrong: he though it was HO. Can’t be right all the time, eh? Here’s a nice historical overview of the development of the periodic table which is helpful if anyone needs to write an intro section. The best part is it shows you many of the blind alleys that happend along the way. This is real science. 100 people trying, 100 attempts, and maybe only one is the least wrong. Dalton also believed that atoms pack like hard spheres, that their size was proportional to their mass, and that gasses were made of individual atoms. This didn’t mesh with the work of Gay-Lussac and Avogadro, but because the whole atom thing was clearly a good idea, people wanted to believe these things too. “…the full acceptance of the atomic theory and Avogadro’s Law took almost 50 years.” Life goes on and empiricism plus self consistency is a narrow path. I wish they could teach science this way.