Saturday, September 20, 2008

Front Page News

Yeah, yeah, $700 billion is a lot of money, but the real front page news is a bit below the fold: Problems Stall Action for Collider. CERN's DG Robert Aymar email to CERN personnel tells the story more precisely:
Incident in LHC sector 34

Dear Colleagues,
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.

Best regards
Robert Aymar
But 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.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


I can't add too much about his importance to fiction in general than the various obits that are appearing as I write, but I can say that for a quite a few years, David Foster Wallace's writing was a guiding presence in my life. Infinite Jest was a beautiful, sprawling mess, but one that got me through my year of thesis writing (e.g. it took me almost half of that year to plow through it), and taught me things about Boston that simply living in Cambridge wouldn't ever achieve (and taught me the fun of the egregious footnote). A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, among other things, consolidated a lingering fascination with pro tennis that IJ seeded, and made consider the abstract beauty and physical elegance of the sport (and I've still never taken a cruise). Everything and More was a manic trip through the life and work of Georg Cantor that, despite it's verve and love of the subject and vain hope to explain it to the literate masses, made me question the very existence of editors in the publishing industry. And Consider the Lobster made me do just that, although the drastically abridged audiobook iTunes sold me, that got me through quite a few rides back and forth to BNL, made me deconsider it just enough to eat them again.

Needless to say, I'm crushed by his passing. WTF, DFW?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Tune-in (to XKCD "Turn On")

Things will only get sillier.

A Great Day

There's the NYTimes home page taken up with the LHC and Apple (a shameless fanboy, here). On the other hand, Lehman starts going down the tubes. On balance, a great day then, and no surprises so far.

BNL Media Event

I'm trying to keep up with this but there's a lot going on today. Have a look at my flickr set if you want to see the fun.

Wrong Way, Google (or, the Googlon)

Very cute, Google, but the logo shouldn't be going into the collision. That's what a stable, ultramassive black hole would do - and we aren't likely to make any of those (but maybe some of the unstable, microscopic kinds!). Rather, we're looking for things emerging from the collision, like a Higgs boson. That said, if you guys want to put up some funding, I'm sure someone will find something to name for you all: a Googlon, anyone?

Begin the Begin

It will be hard to avoid today, but it's all over the LHC blogs, with pictures.