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Posts Tagged ‘acronyms’

Nerds and Names

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

If there’s one thing that makes me jealous about planetary scientists, it’s how many things they get to name. They also seem to have an awful lot of fun with it. Consider these typical naming processes:

  • Experimental particle physicists: “Jeff Weiss did an ‘availability search” of the Greek alphabet and found that the Greek letter Upsilon was not yet used”. [1]
  • Planetary scientists: “Woooooooo, another mountain range! Let me get my copy of the Silmarillion!” [2]

They also seem to have snuck in a Marvel Cinematic Universe tie-in while naming one of Pluto’s newer moons.


But wait, you may ask, doesn’t particle physics have whimsical names?  A few, sure. But it was the theoretical physicists who named things like “quarks”; by the time we discover them, we already know what they’re supposed to be and don’t get to make up new names.  New particles with 5 quarks?  We’ll just be literal and call them “pentaquarks”; the specific states can be Pc(4450)+ and Pc(4380)+[3], names which give useful information about charge and mass but aren’t really any fun.  Really, the most fun we ever get to have is with tortured acronyms [4].  It’s just not fair at all.

But seriously, congratulations to everyone working on New Horizons.  Enjoy your fun — you’ve earned it. And maybe the next particle we discover, we’ll take a page from your playbook.

[1] J. Yoh (1998). “The Discovery of the b Quark at Fermilab in 1977: The Experiment Coordinator’s Story“. AIP Conference Proceedings 424: 29–42.

[2] Not an actual quote (as far as I know). But since yesterday, Pluto has a “Cthulhu” and a “Balrog” and Charon has a “Mordor”.

[3] See Adrian Davis’s Quantum Diaries post from yesterday.

[4] ATLAS Collaboration (2008). “The ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider.” JINST 3 S08003. See the acronym list appendix.


Lost in Acronym Translation

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

My first impression, once I got myself properly into the CMS databases and joined the requisite forty or so mailing lists, was that CMS has a lot more acronyms than I was used to. Particularly jarring were the mysterious PVT (“Physics Validation Team”) meetings, and the many occurrences of “PU” (“pileup“) always looked to me like “Princeton University” until I realized that made no sense in context.

But then I remembered all the acronyms on ATLAS, and learned that “PU” has gotten more common there too now that the increasing pileup is a frequent subject of discussion. (I really wasn’t paying attention generally to either ATLAS or CMS for the year where I did my analysis and wrote my thesis.) So although the culture of acronym use may be a bit different, it’s really just a matter of translating from one experiment’s terms to another.

For example, I recently learned that a JSON (“JavaScript something something”) file indicates which LumiSections (not an acronym, oddly) are good in a set of runs — in other words, for which times are the recorded data for all parts of CMS in good shape? On ATLAS, it would have been a GRL (“good run list”) indicating which LumiBlocks were good.

I still think that acronyms are thrown around in conversation a bit more on CMS than on ATLAS. Fortunately, there is a public list of CMS acronyms to help me. I’m sure I’ll figure them out eventually.


ATLAS Real Language

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

The main language within ATLAS is not English or French or Italian. It is the language of acronyms. Ask any new person what the most difficult thing about ATLAS is and they will say understanding what people are saying. Oh yes, they can understand all the words and syllables but not the encoded meaning of the acronyms.

The number of acronyms is a little out of control. We have webpages devoted to our acronym definitions. ATLAS itself is a bit of a kluge of an acronym.

ATLAS: A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS

I think this is a great example of deciding on the acronym first and then settling on the meaning.

Additionally with so many acronyms, you end up having acronyms that are phonetically the same. Such as

DAQ: Data Acquisition System
DAC: Digital to Analog Converter

This leads to conversations like

Person one: I am trying to measure the exact setting of the DAC
Person two: But we know what value the DAQ is setting. It is written out to the log file.
Person one: What are you talking about?
Person two: What are you talking about?
Person one: The DAC setting. D-A-C!
Person two: Oh. Right.

And then it is inevitable that you get to acronyms of acronyms. Like


which fully stands for Read-Out Driver Crate Data Acquisition System

And then there are acronyms like this….

OTSMOU (pronounced Ots-moo) meaning the Operation Task Sharing and Maintenance and Operation Update.

This is my personal favorite acronym of all time. This acronym is genius for so many reasons. a) Seeing the full meaning of the acronym offers the reader zero insight about what exactly this is. ‘Maintenance and Operation Update’? Is that a group of people or a software package? It is unclear. b) The word ‘Operation’ is used twice. c) The acronym just exudes management. It is difficult to create an acronym that once spoken instantly conveys the image of management to the listener. Yet, this acronym accomplishes just that. And d) the person inventing this name clearly must still be laughing.

My only comfort is that if people (management excepted) continue to stick to the TLA (Three Letter Acronym) rule, we will eventually run out of combinations.