Adieu

Well, as a lot people seem to have written in my high-school yearbook, “it’s been real.”

I’ve enjoyed standing in for Dr. Oilcan and appreciate his gracious offer to have an experimentalist representative on his guest-blogging squad. As Aaron said, I don’t know how he does it, but whatever juice he’s on, he sets a high bar. The number of posts I had envisioned before I started outnumbers the actual number by about a factor of three, and I’m sure you’re sad at the lack of six more book reviews and at least two interminable posts about rugby (Caltech rugby in particular). Maybe next time.

So, without further ado- stay sweet! Keep in touch!

Huzzah!

Ah, what loyal citizen of California doesn’t remember singing the state song, I Love You, California, every morning. Or was it saying the Pledge…my memory’s hazy.

The reason I bring up state songs is not to bring up the ill-fated campaign to make “Born to Run” the New Jersey state song (this town rips the bones from your back; it’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap; we’ve gotta get out while we’re young.) but rather to point out that the state I currently work in (but do reside in; I’m taxed but not represented, myself) has its own state song, Maryland, My Maryland! Astounding, jaw-droppingly “war-of-Northern-aggression”-style lyrics below the fold.
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Teh AMO hottness

I should probably sneak in a few posts before Chad gets back. It’s been a hectic week, as the time came for my current experiment (as it does for all experiments) where one stops futzing around trying to make things better, and takes the actual data, with an eye to moving on. This means that you want good, clean runs with lots of attention to detail (as opposed to the semi-qualitative exploration of parameter space, when you’re first seeing an effect), and the first thing life-wise that suffers during this phase is blogging.

But the second-worst blog post in the world is the why haven’t I blogged post, so I’ll shut my trap. An astro friend of mine asked me to post on what I think is really cool in atomic physics these days, which is just too huge of a task to do exhaustively, but I’ll throw out some stuff off the top of my head. I’m sure I’ll forget some wildly important subfield, but I haven’t had my coffee yet and I’m trying to beat Aaron to the next post.

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“It’s a monstrosity,” Brown said.

A little while ago, intrepid reporters from the Baltimore Sun dropped by my lab to investigate the newsworthiness of a paper (also on the ArXiv) that had just been published, about which I might talk a little bit before Chad gets back. Surprisingly, the article actually got published, complete with photo and great quotes.

I’m tragically not in the picture, as I was gone that day, but also wasn’t an author on the paper; the data were taken last summer, before my arrival, which gives you an idea of the delay in this business between data, writing, and publishing. Highlights from the article include us cooling down atoms to -460 Fahrenheit, which if you know your numbers, is below absolute zero. We expect our phone call from Sweden next week, thank you very much.

At the moment I’m sneaking in a few data runs before getting some needed rest; I’m rising early to catch a 6am flight to Oakland, and the BART to Berkeley, to carouse with old chums and watch Cal beat Tennessee. As much as you crave my handicapping insight, I won’t jinx things by offering a spread. I’m a little nervous; the further I’ve gotten from undergrad, the more I’ve become emotionally invested in Cal football. They’ve gotten a lot better since the seven straight Big Game losses that started my sophomore year, so I guess it could be worse– I could be a fan of the (forgive me) L.S. Junior University.

Software for experimentalists

A long time ago, all you needed to think about and record the data you were interested in was a pen and some vellum, and maybe a few candles and a trusty manservant. Somewhere along the line, the chart recorder got invented, and when combined with the oscilloscope and those awful scope cameras, a whole new world of data recording and storage was available. Having one’s own ENIAC was pretty helpful, too, especially once manservants (and really, all of bored-noble-of-means science) became gauche.

These days we’re a little bit more sophisticated. Computers are indispensable parts of every physics lab, and there’s various pieces of software that have become somewhat ubiquitous. If I ever have the blessing or curse of grad students, here’s what I’d want them to be able to use, and what I try to be useful with myself:

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In case you were happy

I’m here to depress you a little.

First off, we have the upcoming anniversary of Katrina, about which Jane Dark has a tough tale to tell:

The abandonment of a great city to time and tide is indeed both symptom and mark of empire on its downhill slide; it bears noting as well that pathetic, delusional and desperate regimes are equally an indicator of this decline.

I’m interested in what she has to say, but Ozymandias references are sooo AP English. She also disses on Stardust here, but I’m not touching that with a ten-foot Worldcon program.

Second, we have gender issues in physics again! One of the former Quantum Diaries bloggers makes a bit of a scene by writing well and interestingly about a Harvard theoretical physicist’s talk on black holes at the LHC, with the unfortunate addition of a detailed look at her clothes, hair, and body. Good times. It’s a good blog otherwise, and worth reading; I’m hoping that this is a either one of those writing-style misunderstandings or a Teaching Moment. Clifford got to it before me, but I’m mentioning it for the three of you who read this blog but not his.

This site says the Los Angeles Dodgers only have a 25% chance of making the playoffs, or thereabouts, which should depress you. The host runs millions of sims daily, basically Monte-Carloing major league baseball. It’s a little weird that each game is a coinflip, but I guess for a first effort it’s at least amusing. What it doesn’t say anything about is why Brad Penny can’t seem to be good in the second half, while everyone knows the age-old conventional wisdom: if you’re 6’5 and 260, you can’t pitch worth a damn after August. So much for another Cy Young.

To fix this horrible depression, you should listen to “C’mon Sea Legs” by The Immaculate Machine. Or just buy the whole damn record. I heard it in a hotel room recovering from exuberance the other morning in a Denver hotel (a Princeton string theorist marrying an MIT biochemist: more brainpower in connubial bliss I have never seen) and it blew my mind.

And that, as they say, is the memo.

Bill Gibson is cooler than you

But he’s not cooler than me. Which is one of the things I thought of several times while reading Spook Country, his new novel. If you don’t want the long version, here’s the gist: it’s decent, he’s still pretty good, buy it in hardcover, move to Vancouver, buy a Powerbook, learn Mandarin, get hooked on benzos, run a startup involving art, and find yourself some new cocktails to drink.

Minor spoilers ahead, but no big ones.

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Penguin suit

I’m off to Denver for a long weekend; two friends of mine are getting married (both PhD scientists, and exemplars of the two-body problem: one’s doing a postdoc at Princeton, the other at MIT…) I get to wear a tux, which is nice, because no one looks bad in a tux. In fact, a tux makes all guys looks hot. I wish I owned one myself, or more properly, got invited to more events that would make owning one even remotely sensible.

I have a couple half-days to kill while I’m there…any recommendations for things to do in Denver when you’re there?

Fiction for the plane: (I’m bringing some papers to read, too, and some paper and pen for an outline I need to make, but the best laid plans…)

Taltos, by Steven Brust. I’m rereading his Vlad books. I remember this one being one of my favorites, so I’m looking forward to it.

Rubicon Beach, by Steve Erickson. A kind-of obscure guy, recommended to me. We’ll see how it goes.

What is this “blog” you speak of

Some things I’ve noticed lately:

Anton Zeilinger (Vienna) has a blog. It’s in German, but that shouldn’t be a problem, right?

I found that out at Michael Nielsen’s place, where he’s started blogging again after a little hiatus.

In an effort to improve on my bibdesk+bibtex+folder-full-of-local-pdfs system, I’ve been playing around citeulike, Papers, and Nielsen’s Academic Reader. Papers is crippled for physicists by its sole reliance on PubMed for metadata, but shows a lot of potential. I’m also definitely curious to see where Academic Reader goes as it grows; as it’s being developed by physics people, it should end up being the optimum solution…

Street Anatomy is a medical illustration blog. It’s cooler than it sounds; you should browse through the archives.

I probably don’t need to tell this scene about LibraryThing, but in case you haven’t been there and played around with what they’re doing, you should. It’s an indispensable site for me now, both for keeping track of my own books and for getting word of ones I should get.

Finally, and unrelated, when Stephen King reviews the last Harry Potter book and refers to the epilogue as being “gorgeous” (thanks, Galley Slaves), I don’t know what to say. A friend said that it read like a teenager’s first attempt at fanfic, and I agree.

Sigh

I see below that (in what comes as a total surprise) the string thread has already gotten lively. As an experimentalist doing quantum mechanics at the ultra-low-energy end, I don’t have a strong opinion on string theory qua theory, and I really don’t have a strong opinion on the sociology-of-theory business, beyond saying that I’m not a cynic, and that I find articles in the popular press about Str1ng Warzz a bit tacky.

I’m also not really qualified to weigh in: my only particle theory background was a year of QFT from a phenomenologist out of Peskin & Schroeder, and while I came out of it with a certificate saying I Could Now Calculate Any Cross-Section in QED, which was nice, the last quarter pretty much lost me.

So I think I can summarize my vague feelings on the business as such: theory is hard; experiments are also hard; it would be nice to see more connections to experiment; conspiracy theories are bad; acting like five-year-olds is also bad; and Brian Greene has caused me more grief from my relatives than Hawking ever did. Am I boring or what?

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