OK, now I'm really starting to fall behind. In a few minutes I'm off to Sicily for a week to participate in the International School of Subnuclear Physics (ISSP) at the Ettore Majorana Centre. I'm really honored to have been invited to give a lecture on RHIC physics, with a lot of interesting new stuff from Quark Matter 2005. Stay tuned for updates soon.
(Pardon yet another seemingly-unnecessary Dylan reference...)
Now you know it's the World Year of Physics when even the Rolling Stones want to get a piece of the action. This is the cover art for their upcoming album "A Bigger Bang". Even beyond the so- beyond- trite- it's- funny innuendo of the title, damn, these guys look more like mad scientists unlocking secrets of nature (on their outrageously shiny tabletop, no less) than we scary RHIC people do. I knew I should have been a rock star after all.
And I just noticed that Paul McCartney's new album will be called "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard". What are these guys doing with all their royalty money? Can't they give it to the professionals instead of going it alone on their tabletops or backyards?
Not to be the last one at the party, but the buzz over Intelligent Design and its discontents is increasing in intensity. Just last week in the New Yorker we had Hendrik Hertzberg's assessment of ID and its relation to the Bush administration, following on the President's recent suggestion that "both sides ought to be properly taught". Hertzberg's anger is palpable, and his indictment is dead-on:
From the beginning, the Bush White House has treated science as a nuisance and scientists as an interest group—one that, because it lies outside the governing conservative coalition, need not be indulged. That's why the White House-sometimes in the service of political Christianism or ideological fetishism, more often in obeisance to baser interests like the petroleum, pharmaceutical, and defense industries-has altered, suppressed, or overridden scientific findings on global warming; missile defense; H.I.V./ AIDS; pollution from industrial farming and oil drilling; forest management and endangered species; environmental health, including lead and mercury poisoning in children and safety standards for drinking water; and non-abstinence methods of birth control and sexually-transmitted-disease prevention. It has grossly misled the public on the number of stem-cell lines available for research. It has appointed unqualified ideologues to scientific advisory committees and has forced out scientists who persist in pointing out inconvenient facts. All this and more has been amply documented in reports from congressional Democrats and the Union of Concerned Scientists, in such leading scientific publications as Nature, Scientific American, Science, and The Lancet, and in a new book, “The Republican War on Science,” by the science journalist Chris Mooney.
Of course, for a lighter take on the same issue, we also have this funny piece in the Onion. Funny as in "chilling" of course. Finally, the New York Times has started a whole section covering this issue.
But when you Google around to see who links to these things, one bumps up against some very well-organized groups, using tools developed by scientists (e.g. the web) to advocate their positions and monitor the opposition, like the so-called "Access Research Network". The threat to scientific method is real, and seems to be making inroads.
Now obviously, I'd be the last guy to say that we shouldn't always be questioning our fundamental beliefs, and challenging our current conceptions of the world. Scientific "consensus" has been wrong before so it's often healthy to remind ourselves about why we believe well-tested hypotheses like Darwin's evolution, and to push the envelope of its predictive power. But it's an enormous leap between an open-minded, critical scientific debate, and boldly asserting "if we don't understand it yet, it might as well be divine intervention". Far too many phenomena have revealed their mysteries under persistent scrutiny -- based on empirical methods, not religious faith -- to give up that easily.
So to rebut Bob Dylan's Ballad of a Thin Man, there is certainly something happening here, and I think Hertzberg has pointed quite clearly at what it is. And we better keep our eyes on it.
(Thanks to Alex, Dick, and Jamie for drawing my attention to various articles, and for some fun discussions.)
One of the highlights of a typical summer at Brookhaven is the series of "Summer Sunday" open days, where the community is invited to stop by, see the various BNL facilities, and chat with scientists about BNL and their work. I've given my share of tours and introductory lectures over the years, but this year I arrived as a spectator (read, blogger ;-)) since only STAR and PHENIX were open to the public this year (PHOBOS and BRAHMS having, um, manpower limitations apparently). Then again, this left me far more freedom to run around to the other experiments, which I tend to see quite rarely despite working down the road, and document the experience a little bit more than usual.
Above is Carla explaining elliptic flow (check out her hands compressed into an almond shape!) to a rapt audience, with the enormous PHENIX apparatus in the background. It was really neat to see just how many people were packed into the STAR and PHENIX halls (they were kept rotating via a set of school buses going around the ring) and how much fun my colleagues were having explaining what we do. It was also really amazing to remind myself just how big these experiments are. Check out the crowd dwarfed by the STAR TPC and magnet. Even more impressive to me was my first time in the STAR interaction region, where the RHIC beams cross. Normally, STAR is actually sitting in that open space, now bookended by various endcap detectors.
But big rigs aside, the real action was in the one-on-one conversations, where people could really ask questions and get useful answers at their own pace. From firsthand experience, and from watching the fun everyone was having, it's clear that this is the essence of these open days. We really like what we do and we really like talking about it (to a fault, sometimes!). So if you missed it this year, mark your calendars for next year everyone...
August 22, 2005 at 08:35 AM | Permalink
They say that jet lag is the time it takes for your soul to catch up with your body, and they also say that it takes about 1 day per time zone. And when you're waking up at 3am, heart racing after really odd dreams, this description seems particularly apt. But considering that I got back on Wednesday, and it's Monday, I should be catching up with myself pretty soon. And yet, it seems that I've just barely started catching up with the blog, as things just Keep On Happening.
Anyway, I know I've spent my year running in fear from the "what I had for dinner last night" posts, but here's where I got my jetlag recovery dinner last thursday. Margot Restaurant is fairly inconspicuous if you just look at the storefront in it's upper Broadway Washington Heights location - but it makes the most delicious Dominican food in the neighborhood. It has the added attraction to me of making me feel like I'm in another country, since most of the staff and clientele speak very little english. But somehow or another, the process always works (even if you're never precisely sure what you've ordered...) and I always leave happy.
August 22, 2005 at 08:10 AM | Permalink
I just noticed Gordon's agonizing post. Agonizing because my photo/music archive disk also died (with a pathetic 'click-boing... click-boing... click-boing...') two days ago. My only "backups" exist but in a random way, e.g. my 60GB ipod and since I recently switched laptops so I kept a lot of recent photos on it, but these are generally incomplete and unsystematic, so i also lost a few months of photos. Thus, i fully sympathize, since even losing a few days can break your heart if the photos are of a new family member, or particular special occasions.
So after talking to a mac repair guy today about my flaky LCD (anyone have other powerbook horror stories?), I asked him about how much it costs to recover broken disks. He suggested that the people who do such things charge anywhere from 3.5 to 212 THOUSAND dollars. 3.5 THOUSAND dollars for a few measly GB of photos...But they have you over a barrel, for sure.
I know that I should be backing things up, but a tape library which can hold 100s of GB can cost thousands of dollars (way more than my entire setup at work AND at home). So can anyone tell me: what are consumers supposed to do to maintain our growing GB of photos & music? Disk drive capacities grow exponentially, but backup solutions (like writeable DVDs) have been capped for several years now, with maybe a factor of 2 expected from double-layers, another factor of 2 from double-sides, and maybe another factor of 10 from the next gen technologies (HD-DVD or Blu-Ray). But even these numbers can't remotely begin to keep up with 1$/GB...
I can't forgive my writer's block, but I can try and explain it, by showing what I managed to see/do in Budapest in 4 days. I've also posted a set of photos covering the whole two weeks here . Anyway, here's my reconstructed itinerary:
Train from Vienna
Castle & Old Town
Lunch w/ Friends in Buda Hills
Varosliget (walk by Szechenyi Baths)
Andrassy utca blocked by Spielberg film
Walk across chain bridge
Witness aftermath of Car crash in front of Hotel
Paris in Budapest
Thermal Bath & Swim
La Traviata @ Opera House
More Spielberg espionage
Funicular up to castle/Failure to see Munkascy (closed)
Lunch @ Gundel / Zoo Entrance
Downtown Pest (Parisi Udvar)
Thermal Bath & Swim
Sziget & Nick Cave
Funicular up to castle/Failure to see Munkascy (long lines)
Szobor Park (monument to Soviet sculptures from communist era)
Thermal Bath & Swim
Last Meal (Goose liver...)
Early to bed
Fly home to NYC
So one step at a time, since some of the stories are actually interesting.
August 18, 2005 at 01:49 PM | Permalink
Time to bite the proverbial bullet and start catching up with the last week. To be honest, there's actually so much I can talk about that it's fairly daunting to try and do it justice. So I think I'll try and stick to photos where possible, a few linked to my main flickr archive, but mostly just stray images, chosen more for interest than documentary relevance.
The post-Quark Matter adventure began with a stunning afternoon train ride from Budapest. Of course, it's no mean trick to buy a train ticket (even after I cut in line with a colleague who had been waiting, the woman in the booth disappeared for 1/2 hour, and we ended up getting tickets via *another* colleague in a different line...) and to even find the track (the train was 45 minutes late!). But the countryside was gorgeous, especially in the setting sun. My favorite sight was the enormous number of Energy Windmills scattered in the farmlands.
The workshop itself took place in the yellow room shown above (which caused no shortage of hallucinations at times, with the yellow desks blending into the yellow walls, with seemingly-disembodied heads peeking over them). After the chaos of Quark Matter, where one had to run from session to session just to see the talks one wanted, often leading to my missing the Q&A, here we could basically discuss things in real-time, and we did. People had seen many of these talks in Budapest, so the grilling was quite intense at times. Fun.
I missed out on the second day, since I was intending to use at least some of my Vienna time for sightseeing. Vienna's a compact place, especially for tourists, and even offers a pleasant beach bar where the Ring road meets the Danube canal (shown in a previous post!) I was really into the Secession Museum, where I pondered Klimt's famous Beethoven Frieze for quite a while. Vienna's also a great place to go out in the evening, with excellent food and bars. I can't say it was the healthiest way to go, after a week of 5-hours-of-sleep nights at Quark Matter, but why fight it?
August 18, 2005 at 10:55 AM | Permalink