Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Monday, December 08, 2008
Saturday, December 06, 2008
Thursday, December 04, 2008
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Dear friends and colleagues,I can't think of any good reason not to sign, so I did.
I am writing to enlist your support in our protest against new funding cuts and hiring restrictions that threaten the future of Italian research. These new laws were described in a recent article and editorial in Nature (455, pp. 835 and 840). In the specific case of the INFN, these cuts put most of the temporarY staff (including most young researchers) at risk.
I would like to ask you to read and consider signing our petition on our web site:
Under the heading "In English" there is much additional background information for the international community (including links to the Nature articles). We would also be greatful if you could bring this issue to the attention of your interested colleagues.
This is fantastic:
In 1958, William "Willy" Higinbotham designed what he considered to be a simple electronic game using an analog computer, two clunky metallic controllers and an oscilloscope screen. Named Tennis for Two, his game would become part of the groundwork for a multibillion-dollar industry.
At the time, Higinbotham was a nuclear physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton. Looking for a way to draw people to the lab's annual visitors' day, he came up with the concept of the game.
On Friday, the laboratory will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Tennis for Two with a re-creation of the game and a tour of the instrumentation division where it was created. Bob Dvorak Jr. remembers being the first child to play the game.
I knew this story, but never thought of it before as an equivalent to the WWW being invented at CERN. If this is what physicists do for fun (i.e. spawn multi-billion dollar industries), maybe the world (and specifically the US) should Fund. More. Physics.
Anyway there's also this nice article at BNL.
And of course, a video:
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
I went canvassing for Obama several weeks ago, and when the good folks in Bucks County, PA asked me why they should vote for Obama, something like this jumped to mind, although I wasn't sure if I was just overreacting -- so it's nice to find out that I'm not alone:
Her vaulting ambition scares the living daylights out of me.
- Kieslowski muse Irene Jacob (Red, Double Life of Veronique), daughter of Maurice Jacob
- Character actor Josh Pais, son of Abraham Pais
- Pirates of the Carribean director Gore Verbinski, son of Vic Verbinski (nuclear physicist at Oak Ridge)
- TV Star Jon Stewart's (nee Liebowitz) estranged father was apparently a physicist
Sunday, October 19, 2008
I dug around for a bit and found out that it was designed by Es Devlin, a European set designer:
The visual elements are a direct instinctive response to the qualities of the music. The band will be caught within a Naum Gabo-inspired romboid structure surfaced with gauze and punctuated with radiating tensioned cables which will catch the light in a more lyrical way than a pure saturated block of back light - we might combine them and counterpoint them with pure blocks of backlight too. What the fans see will be a visual expression and counterpoint to what they hear allowing them the space to project their own interpretation of the music and the courage to intensify it.I'm still not sure this tells me exactly what I wanted to know (I didn't associate the word "romboid" with this kind of pattern...), but fun nonetheless. Naum Gabo, eh? The word seems to be "linear construction" but there has to be a more general term for this kind of thing, especially the "fixed" points these twists generate. Live and learn.
And I just remembered, I've blogged about these guys before. Feels like a lifetime ago, so I feel even older now.
And for fun, here's the silk screen poster (I got 87/400), keeping up with the "linear construction" theme. Strange that just a few hours beforehand, I was admiring a set of multi-layer lithographs at a Chelsea gallery by Stefan Kurten. Much more intricate than this, but a neat coincidence.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Incident in LHC sector 34But really, folks: these machines rarely come up quickly and problem-free. RHIC has been running for years, but people never mention that it had a very tough first year, and every start-up each year had its scary moments (including these repairs involving "warm-up" of the superconducting helium, which necessarily take weeks to months). So we should all keep our fingers crossed, but I doubt that it's time to be overly worried at this point.
During commissioning (without beam) of the final LHC sector (sector 34) at high current for operation at 5 TeV, an incident occurred at mid-day on Friday 19 September resulting in a large helium leak into the tunnel. Preliminary investigations indicate that the most likely cause of the problem was a faulty electrical connection between two magnets which probably melted at high current leading to mechanical failure. CERN's strict safety regulations ensured that at no time was there any risk to people.
A full investigation is underway, but it is already clear that the sector will have to be warmed up for repairs to take place. This implies a minimum of two months down time for the LHC operation. For the same fault, not uncommon in a normally conducting machine, the repair time would be a matter of days.
Further details will be made available as soon as they are known.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Needless to say, I'm crushed by his passing. WTF, DFW?
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Friday, August 29, 2008
Friday, August 22, 2008
Anyway, it's given me more time to read the paper, where I noticed this gem in a Times article about Usain Bolt, the Jamaican runner who shattered the previous 200m record by two one-hundredths of a second, which apparently sets "new parameters on what humans can achieve":
“You have people who are exceptions,” said Stephen Francis, the coach of Bolt’s main Jamaican rival, Asafa Powell, the former 100 world-record holder. “You have Einstein. You have Isaac Newton. You have Beethoven. You have Usain Bolt. It’s not explainable how and what they do.”Who can argue with that, and especially with using two physicists as points of comparison?
Saturday, August 09, 2008
Saturday, July 26, 2008
And yes, I saw the movie last night, but didn't see any alpine sunsets anywhere -- just that crazy Joker everywhere.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Saturday, July 19, 2008
For those curious, the fort is a drive about 20 minutes southwest of CERN (just between Meyrin and Saint-Genis-Pouilly, straddling the border), at a "notch" in the Jura just below Collonges, which looks like this (thanks, Google):
So it gives fantastic views towards the Alps to the east, especially Mont Blanc, which features prominently in a few of the photos.
Friday, July 11, 2008
Sunday, June 22, 2008
Needless to say, that despite a major work trip coming up the next day, my wife and I will be lining up to catch Wall-E when it opens this week. The NYTimes article yesterday (today?) made sure that resistance would be futile, at least for us.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
I actually spent time on Capitol Hill when I was in college, working for a Congressman. Fascinating time, but that was a major inflection point in my life story, when I decided to do science instead -- hoping to avoid some of the messiness of politics in my real life. Of course, do science for a few years and the messiness of it comes roaring back at you: so I really respect these guys trying to roll up their sleeves and interject fact-based reasoning into the policy-making process.
Friday, June 06, 2008
In fact, it was also notable that last week was when PHOBOS was finally taken from BNL and brought to MIT by van (see loading photos below), where various sections will be shipped to the participating institutions -- the physics equivalent of a hunting trophy. Of course this is kind of like a hunter mounting a gun on the wall instead of the deer. Too bad you can't put a "perfect fluid" (or whatever) on the wall -- since, although small, we were an active participant in that hunt since the very beginning.
Monday, June 02, 2008
Sunday, June 01, 2008
Saturday, May 31, 2008
Friday, May 30, 2008
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Thursday, May 08, 2008
The main disconnect I sense with her argument (and full disclosure: I haven't read the book yet, but have only heard interviews and read some of her writing online) is between her sense of wonder about the lab as a child, with her fear and loathing of it as an adult.
The wonder, from her Mother Jones piece:
As a child, I imagined the lab’s buildings were made of an igloo-like substance, and the rooms inside were full of metallic file cabinets, clinking glass test tubes, and notebooks full of secret codes. Men and women in crisp white lab coats and plastic goggles coaxed new species of frogs and lizards out of mottled purple eggs. Others hovered over milky glass globes of light whose kinked antennas sparked blue shots of electricity into the dim, silent air.And the loathing, in the same paragraph:
My neighbor worked as a maintenance man at the lab, and he often teased that he glowed in the dark. After he died of brain and lung cancer, my imaginary lab became a much darker place—a small, sinister pocket hiding in the pines.The strange part for me is that I can identify with the disconnect between the childhood fantasy and the adult reality, but mine is a different trajectory than hers (and don't assume I'm unaware of the emotional trauma of a close loved one with cancer).
I gravitated toward a scientific life with fantasies of sci-fi movies running through my head, with large machines emitting lightning at the flip of a huge Frankenstein-type switch, or several people poring over softly-glowing computer screens as an experiment produces fantastic data in real-time, and great discoveries are made. I thought this kind of thing actually happened even as I started grad school (even if I had never seen it in my various research summers...)
Unfortunately, the gap between fantasy and reality is as large as the gap between a scientific experiment and comprehending its implications. Things always take a long time to get started, a long time to happen, and a long time to understand, and often involve false starts, misundertandings, mistakes, retries, etc. This is because we have to constantly test our hypotheses against what we observe in the world around us, either through our own experiments or by scouring the literature (which also takes forever) for similar results. Kind of like a journalist, come to think of it. Bottom line is that the daily work of the scientific life just isn't as colorful -- or ever as sinister -- as McMasters seems to imagine (the conferences and talks etc are another matter -- fun as can be).
That said, maybe I speak as someone who is officially allowed to enter my lab on a daily basis (a privilege I share with 2500 other employees, less than 1000 being scientists, I should add). I suppose if you are put off by the fact that someone at the gate asks who you are, then you might wonder if the lab is hiding something, and develop a sense of mystery to justify one's feeling as an outsider. Then again, you might not have noticed that they have public lectures and musical recitals (always open to the public) almost every week. But it's possible that I only perceive the friendly-and-open side of things -- some bias of this sort is unavoidable, it seems.
So the child in me always wishes someone would take me to the secret parts of the lab --where the lights are flashing, and lightning strikes, and green goo runs out of a vat into the ground, i.e. where the wild things are. But maybe no-one seems to know where they are anymore -- or maybe they aren't there, and were never there. Or maybe I've just grown up a bit and actually taken a look around.
But when you get down to it, it's a bait-and-switch: when you are growing up, no-one ever tells you that things aren't so colorful and mysterious, so by the time you finally realize that it's not, you've found a much more interesting -- albeit prosaic --real world to ponder.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
I know it sounds very academic, but it's not (I know I doth protest too much). When you try and "run the movie backwards", starting from this,
it's important to consider various scenarios of how things looked just as the collision occurred, and not just at the end of the day, when the particles arrived for your perusal.
The only involvement I can claim with this excellent post by Sabine on Backreaction is finally pushing her over the edge (with this) to blog in public about her take on the non-dangers of black holes, micro or not. It's a great read -- with something to say to many people, including the folks in the media who have really been milking the doomsday story dry.
But who the heck made this crazy video of the earth being swallowed by a fictional black hole Beyond a certain point this goes beyond speculation, and becomes manipulative demagoguery.
Friday, April 25, 2008
Although equations are a concise and accurate way of describing mathematical ideas, they frighten most people. When I wrote a popular book recently, I was advised that each equation I included would half the sales. I include on equation, Einstein's famous equation, E=mc2. Maybe, I would have twice as many copies without it.Maybe someone can construct an empirical test of this phenomenon?
And #1 hit record or not, shouldn't this have come out in 2005?