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Archive for September, 2007


Friday, September 14th, 2007

Last week, I was at an electronics conference in Prague. Some of the talks had an definite engineering bent…and sometimes it all just went over my head (though I am fortunate to have learned a little from an ex about the processes used to make all the the electronics chips we use now). Though it makes me curious to learn more. I guess if I had infinite time, I could go back to school again. We’ll see. One of the most interesting persons I have met over the years was a retiree sitting in a Graduate Record Examination (GRE) with all these early 20-somethings. He was going back to school after taking an early retirement to learn geology. I thought that sounded like fun at the time. But maybe when I reach retirement it won’t seem like so great of an idea.

This week I spent most of my time underground. The experiment itself sits about 100 meters below the surface, and our electronics does as well. We have a control room that is a little dim and dirty (I am so tempted to start a rant about this – but I will let it lie…), and I’d much rather be in my office with a window. One does get used to it to some degree. Though I feel a little some burrowing animal in its den, only coming out at night to feed.

The weekend is here! I have managed so far to not work too much on the weekend, and because my in-laws arrive here next weekend, the work I do have to do involves our apartment. It is small (75 sq. m. = 800 sq. ft.), but it is ours. Yes, we did take the plunge and buy an apartment (very much like a condo in the States). We’re happy with it, and even if we don’t get much in return later on, at least we had a nice place to live, which was ours to pretty much do as we wanted to.

This weekend we get some rugby action. The Rugby World Cup is in France and the UK in 2007, so there is quite a bit of excitement. Tonight we watch a tape of US vs Tonga and see live (on TV) England vs South Africa. Rugby definitely has more action then football (soccer), but of course is quite a bit rougher. And those are some big dudes…

Anyhow…bon week-end et a la prochain…


Breaking into the Blogosphere

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

Welcome dear reader to my own corner of the blogosphere. It is rather crazy that people want to read what is essentially a “stream of consciousness” in written form, but people are known to do all sorts of strange things, so there you go.

How did I come to be writing this (I keep asking myself as I type)? Just got back from a 15 month stint at CERN, where I and my colleagues work on the CMS detector at the LHC. The idea was to spend one year basking in the “glory of new faculty” (hah!) and then spend significant amount of time in CERN, actually working on getting the experiment ready for this fall… errrrr… next May. I am being facetious, and not in fact true to myself – I am not uptight about delays to the LHC, because I reason that the physics that we are trying to elucidate is time independent – the Higgs boson will not disappear in the next 6 months, so if we’re a little late in getting going, it isn’t a problem. After all, on the scale of how long it takes to build the experiment and accelerator, a few months here or there is nothing really. Besides, it is much better to be fully prepared than to rush but not really be ready. I agree with the idea that a deadline is a great way to inject some urgency into the process, but still, forging ahead blindly when none of the participants are in fact ready is not wise, and there is a delicate balancing one has to contend with to get it right.
But I digress (isn’t that ok in blogs?). So, I took my two sons (now 10 and 12), my spouse, and myself to Geneve for a year, and started working on the CMS tracker commissioning with an excellent post doc and some students. In the process, my wife invited an old friend and husband to Turkey Day dinner (Americans tend to go to several around Geneve on different nights, since it isn’t a holiday over there) and this friend happens to be involved with US press at CERN, so I became the unofficial tour guide for CMS Tracker and CMS in general, chatting with reporters/editors from the NYT, Boston Globe, Chicago Trib, MSNBC, Nova/WGBH, NPR, Scientific American, and probably some others I can’t recall right now, because I was available and could show people around with some reasonable amount of knowledge about how CMS works. On my departure in the end of August, she asked me if I wanted to blog, and since I’ve always been jealous of Debbie and Gordon among others on Quantum Diaries I couldn’t resist.
Ah, but it is time to read Artemis Fowl to the kids before bed (giggles from Adam and remonstration for putting his name here…) More later…

PS It would help to know who reads this…


I mean, life’s tough enough when three experiments have a piece of you, but now I’ve committed myself to two physics blogs (that’s the “divided self” part — and William James looking at you from the right). As I did when I started working on Quantum Diaries (now defunct, but oddly still present — I just had dinner with Caolionn yesterday out here at BNL), I have tried to come up with a few rules:

  • Anything to do with ATLAS, US-ATLAS (the US component of the ATLAS experiment, for those arriving directly), CERN, trips to CERN, Europe, trips to Europe, and why the heavy ion program at the LHC will be an excellent complement to the continuing program at RHIC, will go here.
  • Everything else (New York, culture, amusing, frightening, quasi-personal, etc.) will land in my normal blog Entropy Bound.

That said, as life continues to speed up (all this and I’m getting married in 3 weeks), the conservation rules I discovered for myself years ago continue to hold. The obvious one is based on the Principle of Finite Time:

Life + Blogging = Const.

    Then again, the quality and quantity of well-remembered, fully-internalized time increases proportionally to the quantity and quality of blogging (no functional form, yet, though, although I do have Socrates glaring at you from the left, EXAMININ UR LIFE). So I have competing incentives. So it goes.

    Anyway, this should be an exciting year leading up to the May 2008 startup of the LHC. My personal angle will be slightly different than the others, with physics interests anchored in nuclear physics and the understanding of the quark-gluon plasma, pioneered by the RHIC program at BNL. So there’s a lot of LHC physics to ponder, even beyond the exciting discussions of the Higgs, Supersymmetry and extra dimensions. Heck, some of us have been wondering about how extra dimensions apply to existing experimental data for a few years now! How lucky we are to have a huge jump in energy to keep testing these ideas on even more data.
    In any case, glad to have you with us.



    Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

    As this is the first post, maybe I should talk a little more about what we are doing over here. Myself, and several scientists and graduate students, are installing a system of hardware, with supporting software for controlling it, that will be part of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment. Our portion is called the CMS Regional Calorimeter Trigger (RCT). It is part of the Level 1 (L1) trigger of the CMS experiment.

    The CMS detector is very large. Each sub-detctor in the experiment will keep its information electronically using a memory (much like a computers) for only a short time – as storing it all in their electronics is impossible since the LHC will collide protons in bunches at a rate of 40 million/second. The L1 trigger tells the sub-detectors what information to keep and send on for further processing – reducing the overall rate to 100000 saved events/second. The data is read out and sent to a big computer farm called the High Level Trigger (HLT). The goal of the HLT is to reduce the rate further to 100 events/second, each event about 1 MegaByte of data, so we can save it to an inexpensive data media, such as magnetic tape (much like a video tape).

    The Regional Calorimeter Trigger receives electronic signals representing energies in the detector sent from the CMS calorimeters (a calorimeter measures the amount of energy deposited in it – for CMS it is seen as an amount of light related to the amount of energy deposited). These signals are added together to form sums over larger areas, and also profiles of these energies are made to distinguish different particle types. There is a good article here on the RCT.

    Perhaps that is a good start – as for normal day to day life here – it is starting to become more fall like, which is nice. Hopefully this year the skiing is better. Last year was disappointing – too warm and not enough snow. We will keep our fingers crossed, but for now there is a Marathon on October 21 to train for. We’re making good progress, logging weeks with over 43 miles ran, but the longest run in the program, 20 miles, still seems a little short. We’ll see how we do, we aren’t going for anything but PRs.


    Monday Dreaming

    Monday, September 10th, 2007

    Monday mornings are difficult. Monday mornings after spending a week on the beaches of Montenegro. Excruciating.

    I got back to Geneva late last night from the former Yugoslavian coast, having spent the week swimming in the crystal clear Adriatic waters, laying around on the warm beaches soaking in the last days of summer. With not a care in the world.

    But monday mornings always come. And needless to say my ability to focus this particular monday is utterly and completely non-existent. But I do feel refreshed, tanned and ready to blog.

    My first trip to CERN and the Geneva area was almost two years ago. At the time I was still at student at Penn and had gone to CERN for a visit to see what it would be like to work there. Having been to some of the US national labs, I had a pretty good idea of what CERN would look like. Physicists are really into physics. Not architecture. If they have money to spend, they will spend it on some cutting edge piece of equipment, not office furniture. So I expected the buildings and offices to be very functional but not necessarily pretty and certainly not in fashion.

    Before leaving for CERN, my pilot friend Adrian explained it differently, however. According to Dan Brown, the bestselling author of ‘Angel and Demons’, CERN has beautiful brick buildings, a vertical wind tunnel for relaxation and an X-33 spaceplane. I think Adrian was hoping I might be able to negotiate a job for him as an X-33 pilot. For a brief second I thought, ‘Well. This IS Europe. Maybe?’ It was a very brief second, let me assure you.

    During that trip to CERN, I toured many of the amazing instrumentation and electronics facilities and both the ATLAS and CMS detectors. There were no brick buildings. Sadly no vertical wind tunnel. And even more sadly no X-33. But honestly given the choice between an X-33 and the electronics facilities, I would go with the electronics. No contest. Instrumentation and electronics facilities not only at CERN but in the US labs and universities are some of the best in the world. And I have a tendency to talk about them ad nauseam. Just a warning.

    But it is fun to dream. And I highly recommend this website which explores the truth in many of the popular notions about CERN.

    But if any eccentric billionaire has an old spaceplane collecting dust in his or her garage, the scientists of CERN would be grateful. Me especially.