Listening to a segment on WBEZ’s Worldview about the a recent massecre I came to a very simple realization: Philippines starts with ‘Ph’ and Filipino starts with ‘F’ (also there seems to some disagreement on the necessary number of ‘p’s). I know it isn’t Earth shattering, but what’s up with this?


Colliding Particles documentary update

Colliding Particles, the documentary that I have mentioned previously, has come out with their fifth episode, “Collidonomics”.

The documentary follows a few ATLAS physicists, doing a very nice job rendering the realities of the occupation. This episode begins with a funding review in the UK. We have just passed through the season for similar reviews in the US, where funding comes via the Department of Energy and to a lesser extent the National Science Foundation.

The DOE does a site visit every year; professors, post-docs, and some students give presentations outlining the progress of the experiment, their recent work, and what is planned for the coming year. I did a short presentation on my project for which there were some interesting times: my train hit a car on my trip back to Ann Arbor, the speakers before me ran long and squeezed my 10 minute slot to just a smidge under 0 minutes, and then both the wireless keyboard and mouse controlling the slides ran out of battery power simultaneously.

This episode of Colliding Particles also went along to the Les Houches workshop where can enjoy the Alps and get the classic scenes of physicists chatting over coffee. There certainly is great progress made in these cafeteria chats, but to someone who has followed an inordinate amount of LHC media coverage it often feels like physicists and the journalists that love them have few limits to the praise they’ll heap on the CERN Restaurant and it’s powers to birth theory and discovery. Office conversations, too, are possible (though crowding in the building 40 offices along with the openness of the remaining workspace pushes conversations away somewhat out of politeness). Also, I can’t say that I have been party to a lot of cafeteria conversations where people were just throwing around crazy ideas, most of the time you are merely following through on a topic that was just discussed in a meeting. The cafeteria is just the incubator, not the whole chicken.

The remainder of the episode is about the graduate student making a presentation in the Higgs working group. In these huge experiments the collaborations have to break up into working groups, each covering a broad physics area or an aspect of the detector operation. Roughly, presentations to a working group fall into one of three major categories,

  1. An update on the status of an analysis or study,
  2. Describing a technical issue that needs to be considered by the group, or
  3. Introducing a new technique to be blessed by the group.

In this case it is the third type.

In the end, if you want any of your work in the experiment published, you need to have all the members of the collaboration agree to your methods and results. The process of outlining your plans and progress is best started early, especially if you plan to employ an innovative technique (something everyone should be doing in some way). Usually results are discussed with an adviser or at a small subgroup meeting, until the results are refined; then a presentation is made to the relevant working group. As they say in the video, this is the point at which you most commonly run into someone who takes issue with what you’ve done. Usually this is because your work seems to improve on something they are invested in, and often their argument is that your results are not comparable to theirs. But, for the most part the comments and questions you get in these meetings are very helpful, and hopefully with a little extra work you can address the quibbles your collaborators have. It looks like this presentation goes just fine: with a few people almost nodding off and a couple basic questions near the end it’s very typical.


Sesame Street videos

Reddit recently had a run of Sesame Street videos that brought me a lot of joy. The first one is “Fat Cat Sat Hat”, I think the poster on Reddit titled it “Hipsters discovered in New York City”:
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Another great video presents the stories of Capital I and Lower Case N. The first story is a simple one: some little guys live in a large capital I, and of course you’ve got to keep it clean. The second story takes a handful of cinema’s great topics; love, aliens, the alphabet, and singing on mountaintops; and smashes them together. What comes out is unexpected and somehow perfect. One should never underestimate the power of a good tune. The Children’s Television Workshop could make a sharp stick to they eye into good times.
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Links to additional videos of interest are offered up in the discussion on Reddit. They include

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Documentary about ATLAS physicists: Colliding Particles

There is so much reporting about the LHC and ATLAS that it seems much more common to find new items via my general browsing rather than the ATLAS announcement lists. CERN is big these days it’s even staring alongside Tom Hanks this summer. This is one example. I found it on BoingBoing Gadgets:

A well produced documentary series called Colliding Particles: Hunting the Higgs follows a small group of ATLAS scientists. It’s not overloaded with flashy shots from the ATLAS cavern, but it does integrate some fun little animations and solid explanations. There is definitely a nice personal angle to it and an effort to show the practicalities of work as a theorist and as an experimentalist. The first episode is embedded below. There are a total of four episodes: Codename Eurostar, Bing Bang Day, Conference Season, and Problems.


Putting the blog back in Zomb(log)ie

OK, I shall make a pointless confession: this blog is dead.  I know.  You already knew that.  Thank you very much.  It’s about time it rose from the grave, and if it returns with a redoubled taste for brains, so be it.  So, I now promise new posts from here on out.  As reliable as the infernal sun rising to burn this blog’s loam-dappled tatters of pale flesh, posts will appear.

I hope.

We’ll see.

Wish me luck.

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Bill Clinton is a bad-ass

This is a sweet clip of Bill Clinton laying into the Republicans over the MoveOn “scandal”.  Check it out.  If you haven’t heard, the basic issue is an ad MoveOn, a liberal advocacy group, placed in the New York Times referring to General Petraeus as “General Betray Us” after he reported that many things are going just swell in Iraq.  The House and Senate have now passed resolutions of condemnation.  Now I’d have to agree that MoveOn’s wording was a little harsh, and I don’t doubt Petraeus is has served our country extremely honorably, but I can see how they got carried away with the word-play.  Plus, I wholly agree with what Clinton has to say.  The Republicans have gained advantage from far more heinous attacks on our veterans in the very recent past: Jim Kerry and Max Cleland are great examples.

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Mandelbrot Set

Chalkboard animation in fractional dimensions: a music video for Jonathan Coulton‘s song “Mandelbrot Set” by Pisut Wisessing

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Hipster Olympics

Consider this video posted with an overall level of nonchalance and a reticent air of superiority.

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More of CERN in the news

new_yorker_cern_icon.jpg…but first a word from our sponsor: HP references CERN in an advertisement.

With the LHC (hopefully) ready to turn on in the very new future higher energy physics (HEP) is in the news plenty. We begin with the most far reaching: the New York Time (Feb 9) discusses the International Linear Collider (ILC). HEP is in the awkward position these days of requiring apparatus that are so huge and complex that they are 10 or 20 years in the planning. The ILC is the sort of machine that will be difficult to motivate without very strong evidence of new physics at the LHC. But of course the LHC hasn’t even started running. So where’s the motivation? For the moment, in our hopes and dreams mostly.

Three months later (May 15, to be precise) the NY Times follows with an article about the LHC.  And nearly that same day (May 14) the New Yorker publishes a long article on the LHC. Of all these I think the New Yorker article is my favorite. The author seems just a bit more comfortable employing some technical terms while mercifully dancing around some topics that can be hairy to explain,

Arkani-Hamed spent nearly two hours trying to take me through the details of just one of these—the so-called “hierarchy problem.” In the process, he consumed four or five or six cups of espresso—even this I lost track of.

I also liked this bit,

The L.H.C. is a kind of Babel built underground. Dozens of countries have manufactured its components, and dozens more have lent manpower and expertise…. When I ate in CERN’s lunchroom, I heard people speaking English, French, German, and Italian, as well as several languages that I couldn’t identify. The place was so crowded that it took me five minutes to pay for a cup of coffee, proving the elemental truth that man can build a superconducting collider but not a functional cafeteria.

Despite a redesign, which does open up deperately needed space, the cafeteria still has problems.  The natural places to line up still end up getting in the way of everyone else.  Also, the silverware is at the entrance, when it should logically be at the exit after you know what you are going to eat (I hate to commit to a knife that I may never use).  Of course they did put napkins at the exit, but right before you pay, somehow insuring that I always forget to get one.

Finally, there was an NPR story on the the LHC back in April.  (Yes, another old article, but I doubt you have come to expect too much promptness from me.)  I missed the live version, but the NPR archive is a wonderful thing (they throw in some bonus web content too). Unlike a lot of science stories it left me with a great big grin.  Though the focus is on the enormity of it all and the quickly approaching startup, I thought they did a nice job of representing the science, it’s challenges and goals.  David Kestenbaum approaches the topic with just the right mix of respect and childish glee.

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Robert Gober causes earthquakes

Well, maybe no causal relation has been scientifically identified; yet… In Basel the Swiss are causing magnitude 3.4 earthquakes with their lust for energy. Not even the US can say that (and maybe we should be, 13 million exajoules can’t be wrong). It’s a boilerplate sci-fi apocalypse waiting to happen. And, meanwhile, Monica is suggesting that I risk my life, or at least the staediness of my footing, to see some Goober Gober’s legs sticking out of a wall.  Pshaw! As interesting as the Gober’s work seems to be, the Earth hasn’t swallowed me up yet and I plan to keep it that way.


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