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Pam Klabbers | USLHC | USA

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Monday, September 22nd, 2008

I recently spent a week at a conference on and island in sunny Greece, Naxos.  I had my phone and e-mail access, but it is amazing how fast you feel left out.  Some of it is because I unsubscribed myself from some overactive mailing lists, and some happens because folks have assumed that I would be 100% offline.  

I even started to work on a post, but was sidetracked a bit by talks (and nice sunny weather).   It has been increasingly difficult for me to post with any regularity.  I am as excited to be working here at the LHC as everyone else, but somehow that energy gets spent on things other than blogging. So this is my last post, I’ve decided not to continue any more.

Since I started we went from a very incomplete system (cables missing, etc.) to one that is an integrated part of CMS.  A lot of hard work, some scrapes and sore muscles, some very long days (and nights)…all for a better Regional Calorimeter Trigger.

The recent delay was a discouraging, but these things happen. The LHC a very complicated system, running in a very new way. I hope that we can use this time to polish our system. 

Thanks to everyone for their interest and comments.  Its been fun!

All the best,




The Colors of the LHC

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

Tomorrow is the big day – we are getting lots of briefings about what to say and what not to say, where we are allowed to be, etc.  I have read a lot of press about it too.  But what I find most amusing about the articles are the comments.  It tells me more about how people see us than anything else, which is wildly different from person to person, based on what they see as important to them in relation to the this big experiment.

Science has always been about trying to understand some sort of phenomena.  For high-energy particle physicists it is about exploring the nature of matter, at energies never seen before.  

But the LHC and all its experiments have a human side too, because nothing this size could ever have been built in isolation.  To construct something this large required collaboration on a grand scale, both money and resources:  human and material.  People work together, towards one common goal, with no concern for the other person’s origins or affiliations, since we have a job to get done, in time.

It has been wonderful to meet and work with people whose countries I may never have the chance to visit, and I think it is something people often forget about when they comment in these articles. We have overcome personal prejudices and barriers put up by our own countries to come together and work towards a common goal.  

I am as anxious as the rest to see it work and analyze all the data, but I don’t want to forget all the wonderful people I have had the pleasure to work with.


Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

I’ve been slacking. I don’t think I have written anything for more than a month for sure. I can’t blame being busy, because that is the usual excuse. I can find time to write a short blog, I think. But it has been, well, my car was in an accident and was totaled (no one hurt, thank goodness), we’ve had several shorter versions of the CRuZeT described in earlier posts, and we’ve been off to Montreux for a day of jazz, and somehow training for a marathon (the next run is 20 miles long) in September. By the end of the day, I’m shot, and honestly, uninspired. But today, I was at least inspired.

I am reaching a point now, after working on hardware for nearly 6 years straight, that I have to actually begin to look again at what comes out of it with software tools. The problem is, the tools have changed. Not necessarily for the better, but they have changed, and this dog has a few new tricks to learn.

One of these tools is an analysis and graphing package, that I need to use to turn columns of numbers, for example, into a graph to get something I can look at use to make a decision, for example, on timing. It is called ROOT which I think stands for R(?) Object Oriented Tool or something like that. I don’t really know. I was raised on PAW (Physics Analysis Workstation), another analysis and graphing package, based on FORTRAN, and got my paws wet with that. I spent years working with PAW, and now I have to switch to ROOT. I am basically learning by reading web pages and such, but for awhile today it completely flummoxed me. But finally, I got it, and I have to admit, some things are better, like the C++ like programming. But I still have a long ways to go…

The other I am trying to figure out is our CMSSW (CMS Soft Ware) package. I can now get it to run for me and produce some output that might be useful, but I needed lots of hand-holding to do that. Slowly I am getting it, but I am not yet ready to change the base code. I’ll leave that to the Graduate Students for awhile longer. I’m liable to throw a monkey wrench into the works.

Now I am going to work on a talk with another tool that seems to have changed significantly in its new release, ugh. Thanks Mr. Gates.


Desperately Seeking Summer

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

It is now June 17, four days until summer, and I wonder, will we have one at all? Normally, I like this time of year the best. Crisp mornings to jog in with warm afternoons to relax in, light early and late into the evening. Instead its been primarily cool and damp, and totally disappointing. I grew up in the California desert with >40C summer temperatures, so I like it warm and dry. The extra daylight here is a nice bonus.

We had a lovely April, so I went out and bought a nice outdoor table and chairs, so I could eat and relax on my terrace. I’ve just used it once – the weekend I bought it. Every weekend after that its been too wet or too cool. I finally had to bring the wood table top inside to treat it since it didn’t stay dry long enough to do it outside.

The potted plants, however don’t seem to mind too much, and there is enough sun for them. They keep flowering and growing, so I guess it isn’t as bad as I thought, since they’re happy. But I’m cranky from not being able to go and sit outside in the evening after work.

I’m going to file a complaint with Mother Nature.


Running, CRuZeT II, and Football

Monday, June 9th, 2008

It was hectic week, though only four days long (we had family visiting up until very early Tuesday morning). Every day I had a meeting of some sort. I had a couple of slides to prepare. A relay race to run in and “train” for (see Monica’s post – BTW that is me second from the left, in the womens’ team with matching black shirts – which definitely improved our running 😉 ), and late Thursday until 10:00 pm doing a study (see this post about a previous one).

This week we spend another short spell running our detector for five days, like I described here. I am grateful I have no shifts (especially the 11pm-7am) and that the whole thing ends on Saturday afternoon. Just in time to join my husband for a two-day late anniversary dinner in downtown Geneva. Three years and counting (though I have known him much longer – since 1996).

So there is more hardware to prepare tomorrow morning and to check out. By the way that stands for Cosmic Run at Zero Tesla. Pronounced Crew-zay, due to the French influence around here.

On top of it all, EURO 2008 (soccer/football) has started. This time it is in Switzerland & Austria. I have never seen so many national flags on display, nor as much energy emanating from a crowd, than I did on Saturday while I was out shopping at a Geneva area mall. So, since I have almost all my paternal-side family in the Netherlands, now I head home to watch them play Italy. If they do well, I might finally buy the orange (eek) jersey for myself. You can see Dutch fans for miles…


Whacking Moles at the LHC

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

When I was in undergraduate school at UC-Irvine, I lived in a Newport Beach summer rental during the winter, so it was fairly cheap for the area. It was next to the beach, so I could fall asleep to the sound of the ocean. Nearby, there was an entertainment area, Balboa Fun Zone, with an arcade (the area was in an INXS video “Devil Inside”). It was full of video games (late 1980’s) which I am generally bad at. However, it did have Skee-Ball, where you roll a ball into a series of rings, the smallest at the center giving the most points. You collected tickets as you played, and could redeem them for a prize at the end. I loved the Skee-Ball, and would play for quite a while, redeeming my tickets for some useless trinket at the end.

At the same arcade, there was a game called Whac-a-Mole. This consisted of little mole heads that popped up and you hit them back down again (with a mallet that looks like a giant marshmallow on a stick). I tried this once or twice, but it was too close to video games for me. I am not great at the hand-eye coordination exercises.

Today we are doing studies with the trigger again. I am using this period of time to check and see if two fixes I made worked. They seem to have worked, but two more popped up! I was just reminded of this game. I take my (soft) mallet and whack the moles down, and then they just pop up again, somewhere else. I hope when the game is done, and the moles are gone, I get enough tickets to redeem them for a really nice prize.


Nearly 4 am and over 1 Million events

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

1143536 events at the second I started typing this, to be exact. We are currently operating a portion of the detector again for a week, with many goals, but the biggest is to run as many parts of the detector together as possible. The RCT is in this one, working well, helping collect data. At about this point you start counting the hours until you can go home and crawl into your bed. Shift ends at 7am. Its a bit like flying overseas, and when you only do one day, it is tough. I have had coffee, diet coke and sugar…and I’ve just run out of coffee. There is a machine here, but at some point you have to stop, or you won’t sleep, or at least I won’t. It might take a lot for that now, though. Smooth running is super, but a bit boring. The room is a little cold, which probably doesn’t help the sleepiness either. But it is mostly empty:


Though there are a few of us dedicated souls here, including Jessica, a Wisconsin graduate student:


I will not think about warm beds, or that my husband and cat are in my warm bed…until later.

P.S. I apologize for the lack of clarity – my cell phone was used to take the pictures.

P.P.S. Just read Monica’s blog, and I now know how I can fill the last few hours: I can write documentation!


Little Dramas

Sunday, May 4th, 2008

The other day, I was sitting in a French branch of an American fast-food chain (I’m sure you can guess which one) grabbing a quick lunch during shopping on a typically busy Saturday. I was waiting for my husband to return with a couple of sundaes for dessert, and I watched life’s little dramas from our little table going on around me. One little girl completely dumped a salad on the floor, her mother just looked back and sighed as the worried-looking girl was deciding what to do about the matter (it was left there, but the box was carried away, and it was cleaned up a few moments later by an employee). Another youngster followed his family into the restaurant, then promptly stood fixed and proceeded to start crying (perhaps it was too busy for him at 12:30 pm). The matter was resolved by one of the adults picking the child up and bringing him to their table.

The little dramas occur all the time here. While we rarely have any sort of tantrum (though at times I feel like it), sometimes we do stand or sit there wondering what we do now, curse a little, or just sit there, head in hands.

Mostly, these occur because we have forgot some vital step or value to enter, and we cannot figure out why its not working. Though we are getting closer to the 1-click configure, there is still some way to go.

Sometimes we’ve done something stupid. On the computer, I’ve pressed the wrong button and wiped out all my e-mail programs Inbox. Sheepishly, I had to ask our system manager to restore it if he could restore it.  I only lost a few recent ones, luckily, I guess.

Or just plain bad luck. After hours of work, we finally start going, and the cooling fails.  On Wednesday we had a brief, CERN site-wide, power outage. Then on my way to the experiment to turn things back on, I hit a curb with my car, the front tire went flat, so I changed the tire.  After I got there, I found a board that blew its fuses, and spent hours trying to get something to configure, as the program kept crashing (with no useful information), and then I tried power-cycling one of the crates I was using.  After that, it worked.  At 7pm I was finally ready to go home.

A la prochaine

p.s.  Sorry this is late!  Family came to visit and I just lost track.  Next week we have a period of running the detector, so there should be some new and interesting stuff going on!


Delicate Timing

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

I have been remiss. I haven’t written anything since the beginning of March. Can I blame my husband and my apartment? He’s been working really hard so I have been picking up some of the slack at home…and we’ve been painting our little apartment. I am certain that in the 10 years its been in existence, it hasn’t been painted even once, so it is very necessary. Our walls are heavily textured and suck up the expensive and thick acrylic paint like a sponge. It was hard work, but it looks way better!

CERN recently had Good Friday and Easter Monday as lab holidays, so the whole lab quieted down for a four day break. Just before it started, I decided to do a study of the relationship of two clocks used by my system.

In order to capture the data coming on our links from the calorimeters we have one clock at a specific frequency. It has one tick every 8.33 ns (0.00000000833 s), or 1/3 of the LHC machine’s tick of once per 25 ns (every LHC tick is a possible collision). We do this to speed up the rate at which our data is processed on our boards.

Our second clock has one tick every 6.25 ns or every 1/4 of a LHC machine tick. We have a specially designed high-speed chip, called the Phase ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) which takes the data coming from the links every 8.33 ns and rearranges it to run at the 6.25 ns clock. This way we can process lots of data quickly, in parallel. However, the clocks’ phase has to be good, that is the relative ticks have to be aligned in a certain way. This is pretty delicate and requires careful study.

I spend two evenings, until 10pm, clicking buttons on display to make a study of this relationship. I can’t say it was exciting. It was necessary to take frequent breaks to avoid clicking too soon or missing one…about like watching my paint dry. But at the end I had a nifty plot, which gave me a great idea of where I should set those clocks.

This has to be repeated, but the next time I will automate! I didn’t have the tools then, but I do now, thank goodness. It can even run without me.


Into the fray, and finally flammkuche

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

Another CMS week has come and gone. A very intense one. I spent part of the week in meetings – and only two of them were officially scheduled. Most of Tuesday, half of Wednesday, some of Monday and Thursday were spent in meetings. I even wrote a talk (though short) for one on Monday. The bulk of Thursday was divided between people asking questions, needing help, and needing my system configured. The remaining hours were divided between juggling users of my system, answering phone calls and e-mails, and trying to organize a work plan for a presentation on Tuesday next week. I felt like I spent a lot of timing describing various parts of the system, which I was happy to do. But sometimes, I am left with some lingering self-doubt, as I wonder do I really understand what I am talking about.

A few years ago our first engineer retired, and I had to validate one of the remaining boards (and re-validate the others, as their new-and-improved versions came in from the manufacturers). As much time as the engineer and I spent together and went over things, there were still holes in my knowledge. Tossed into the fire, I had to really begin to understand the schematics, the parts on the boards, and the data flow in gory detail (and ask plenty of stupid questions of the new enginneer). Was this system going to do what it was designed to do? I have done my darndest to make sure, but sometimes I feel like I am missing something. I guess that it is a good thing, but even though, we sometimes overlook the most crucial. I hope that hasn’t happened here, but in the end we are all human.

Happily, I had Friday off, and went to lovely Strasbourg to catch my breath, see the sights, and to have yummy Tarte Flambée (Flammkuche to the German speaking world), a delightfully simple combination of crème fraîche, bacon (lardons), and onions often on a crispy, almost cracker-like crust. With a nice Riesling, pure heaven. One nifty version had no bacon, but real Munster cheese on it. (If you can’t tell, one of the joys I get from traveling is sampling the local specialties.) By the way, Strasbourg is a lovely city. We want to go back and spend some more time exploring the Alsace.

This week, back to frozen pizza.

A la prochain…