Sunday in the Park with Pandemic

Scenes from Collin County, TX.

Sidewalk chalked with Biblical messages, presumably ahead of Easter. “Spread hope, not Coronavirus” one implores. The sidewalk runs in front of the park. It’s a city park. A sign is staked into the ground nearby, indicating the park is closed by order of the city.

Children climb the monkey bars and run around the playsets. The park is host to a cluster of children. They laugh and climb and play. Their hands run over the public surfaces, not cleaned because the park is closed.

This is in Collin county, home to 128 known victims of COVID-19 and 1 known deceased from the infection.

The Routine

Get up at 6am, or thereabouts. Grab Chromebook. Head to living room. Make coffee. Read newspapers. Shower. Dress for work. Attend morning meetings. Eat breakfast and plan day with Jodi. Start normal work day in the home office. If it’s a Tuesday or Thursday, prepare for class; otherwise, focus on research projects. Check in with students and other colleagues. Go for a run. Eat lunch. If it’s a Tuesday or Thursday, teach. Office hours and other afternoon meetings; if none of those, keep on research projects. Grab a snack. Virtual research break at 4pm; see if anyone drops in. Finish work day. Get out of work clothes and into something more relaxed. Go spend time with Jodi over dinner, reading, TV, etc. Pick up laptop and do some late day work. Head to bed around 8pm. Work until 10pm. Go to sleep.

Sleep fitfully. Wake up in the middle of the night wondering if the sore throat is because you’re thirsty or because of Coronavirus. Go back to sleep. Wake up again. Go back to sleep.

Get up at 6am. Repeat.

Exercise without distraction

One benefit of social distancing and self-isolation has been exercise. Because my work is conducted out of my home office, and because I am not interrupted by unscheduled things that erupt in my workplace, I am able to better focus and stick to my need for regular exercise. As a result, over the past 3 weeks I have been able to maintain a very regular and nearly habit cycle of running (when whether is good; elliptical machine in the home gym when it is not).

I’ve been struggling with tendinitis in one of my hamstrings for about a year; in the same period I’ve been dealing with the beginnings of plantar fasciitis in one of my feet. This has meant a greater commitment to stretching muscles and minding my footwear. The payoff has come in the last month. My hamstring, with regular exercise and stretching, is finally free of pain for most of a week. My fasciitis seems under control as well.

I’ve committed to regular, predictable, short runs. I don’t push things much past 5k loops on a regular day. Today was special. The air was cold; it was only in the 40s Farenheit, so I buttoned up in long pants and a long-sleeve over-shirt. I decided to run around a local golf course (there is one in every compass direction in this part of Texas). People were out on the paths, but it was generally low-traffic and quiet today… even at midday. The recent rains took a toll on the running paths. At one point, I had to double back; there was no way around a large, flooded section. At two other points I crawled through mud and brush to get around a flooded section.

6.5 miles later, I was home.

I hurt. But it’s the right kind of hurt. It’s not hamstring inflammation or a sore foot. It’s the deep gentle whole-body ache of a good run. No worries there: feet up and TV on, and I’ll be just fine tomorrow.

Since getting back into an exercise routine earlier this year, I’ve worked off about 6-7 pounds. I’m slowing clawing my way back against a 20-lb gain that happened from the autumn of 2018 to the end of 2019. It’s nice to be able to concentrate on physics while not sacrificing my health.

For now.

What I learned this week

I have really thrown myself into physics, since I am stuck at home (a) because there is a pandemic and (b) because SMU won’t let me on campus until tomorrow (because I was abroad when they ended work-related international travel 2 weeks ago). This has been a grand opportunity. Here are some things I learned this week.


UPROOT is awesome. It lets me utilize natively in Python files created in ROOT. No more do I need to have ROOT compiled in the background, along with its Python interfaces. I can just import UPROOT and load ROOT files into Python Pandas dataframes, which anyway are how I prefer analyzing data these days.

UPROOT was introduced to me by my former PhD student Matthew Feickert and my current PhD student Chris Milke. I’ve been using it for several weeks to work on a project with one of my undergraduate research students. However, for high-level physics operations, like dealing with four-vector mathematics, ROOT is hard to beat. Turns out, there is a solution.

UPROOT-methods! These are implementations of interfaces akin to C++ classes in ROOT that do cool physics things… like vector arithmetic! I just learned about this today and already did some Lorentz Transformations on particle vectors. I’m pretty happy about this.

MatPlotLib Subplot Gridding!

Sometimes you just want to layout a bunch of graphs in a single plot in a non-uniform way. Consider the following graph:

An analytic model is fitted to data from a muon detector at SMU. The top plot is the number of muon candidates vs. their measured lifetime. The bottom plot is the “model pull” – the difference in each bin of the lifetime measurement between the real counts and the fitted model prediction, divided by the standard deviation of the counts in the bin.

I need to show the fit of an analytic model (an exponential lifetime model) to the data coming from a muon detector in the basement of Fondren Science Building at SMU; below that, I need to show how well the model describes the data after optimizing the model parameterization to reproduce the data. To do this, I need a big plot at the top and a short plot at the bottom. I needed plot grid layouts!

I found this article extremely helpful: (it’s how I made that figure above!)

Online Teaching Tips

How do you mute all those jerks with hot mics in Zoom? WHY WON’T MY F**KING MAC LET ME SHARE MY DESKTOP?!?!?!

Check out these tweets.

Planning new experiments and particle colliders is fun

I’ve been participating in a workshop (online only) hosted by Temple University on physics and detector design ideas for the Electron-Ion Collider, a project planned for construction at Brookhaven National Accelerator Laboratory. I’m still just beginning to think about bottom quarks and how to use them to probe structure in protons and nuclei, and the discussions at this workshop have got me thinking about how this problem changes when going from the LHC to a different collider designed to probe such matters with high precision.

What have I learned? I have a lot to learn.