The Case against Intelligent Design

The annual SLAC User’s Organization (SLUO) meeting is today. One of the talks was about the synchrotron light source science going on here at the laboratory. Included in that was rresearxh done to better understand the complex process of blood clotting. This is a topic embraced by Creationists and Intelligent Design advocates as “too complex to have evolved on its own.” It’s good to see real scientists hard at work to understand this difficult mechanisn, rather than throwing in the towel (and advocating our nation to teach its kids to throw in the same towel)

At the same time, today begins the court case in Pennsylvania that argues the Dover Board of Ed’s vote to force non-science into the science classrom is unconstitutional. It’s important to see how this progresses, so watch carefully!

BaBar’s Busy Little Month…

Last week was a real killer. After I spent a tough but rewarding Monday at UCSF, it seemed I didn’t get a single minute to myself. Now that the professors in my group are back at MIT, I’m trying to make sure that the students are making progress and that in general our group is functioning at SLAC. In addition, there are a number of priorities for my BaBar working group that needed addressing last week. Add on top of that the normal splurge of meetings from Wednesday to Friday, plus work on the Braidwood veto system simulation, plus BaBar analysis work, and you have zero time left. Even with Jodi out of town in Santa Barbara and me working til late at night, I barely kept up (and was EXHAUSTED by the weekend). The upswing was that Jodi had an equally rewarding but taxing week, so we both crashed this weekend.

Next week is going to be busy in a different way. Starting early tomorrow morning is the SLAC User’s Organization annual meeting. It’s a chance for users like me to get a real sense of the state of the lab, and my future role in its life. Starting Tuesday is the September BaBar collaboration meeting. And, I barely feel ready for any of this…!

Physics and Medicine

Today I had the *immense* pleasure of a day away from SLAC. Wait a second. That sounded all wrong. You see, the pleasure was not in the separation from my laboratory; the pleasure was the company I kept while away, and the work I got to do. I got into my Honda Civic this morning and headed north on 280, grabbed highway 1 to Park Presidio, then cut across to Divisadero via Geary. I was headed to the Comprehensive Cancer Treament Center at UCSF.

My friend and colleague Joseph Perl is the visualization coordinator for the GEANT4 collaboration. In that role, he’s interacted with a lot of physicists, and not just the particle variety. Many physicists in the medical community are exploring a wide variety of Monte Carlo simulation methods, among them GEANT4. As a result, he’s had the chance to start working with a number of these physicists. Today, I got the chance to try to help one medical physicist to upgrade his Linux cluster from Redhat 7.X to “Scientific Linux”:http://scientificlinux.org.

The morning begins as it should: coffee. I met Bruce Faddegon in his office in the cancer center, where he’d just learned that his new Windows PC was infected with a virus. We met up with his friend and colleague Inder and headed out the back door to Starbucks. Over coffee, we discussed physics, its role in medicine and society, and even science funding (OK… I’ll admit it… I got us started on that). When we got back to the lab we fired up one of the cluster machines and started the upgrade.

I had commented in preparation for this we should “plan to spend a day just trying to upgrade one machine.” This was meant to allow us the flexibility to change the upgrade strategy as new problems emerged. Needless to say, it was a sound strategy. By 6:30 tonight, we’d finally managed to find a strategy that worked, and Bruce had a new Scientific Linux machine ready for him to test. There’s still some tweaking left, but Bruce is extremely well versed in configuring a linux system and I have no doubt the rest will be cake by comparison.

All in all, the pleasure was all mine. To meet such fine scientists, interested in perfecting the means to treat some of the worst illnesses, was more than a reward for a few hours labor on Linux. It helped me to place in perspective my own work, my own search for little particles.

Rita on Final Approach to the Gulf

If Katrina was any indication, then we can make some predictions about tropical storm Rita. This storm, headed to the Florida Keys, is aimed straight at the heart of the warm Guld of Mexico. Katrina, a storm which ravaged Florida before entering the Gulf, soaked energy from the waters west of Florida and built strength before making landfall in Louisiana and Mississippi. “Given the information about the thermal content of these regions’ waters”:http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/media/wp-content/uploads/40742000/gif/_40742400_hurricane_inf416.gif,
it’s likely that Rita will suffer the same fate as her predecessor.

The satellite imagery of these storms is phenomenal (see below for Rita and links to weather.com). The projected path appears to have uncertainty that is roughly the same diameter as Katrina. That means that if the eye of the storm were to wind up following one of the boundaries, and you were located in the center of the original projection, you’d still catch the dangerous winds and rain at the edge of the storm. That’s no small deal, so please don’t take the statement “the storm is projected to hit 25 miles from <<your hometown>>” to mean you’re safe. YOU ARE NOT. Hurricanes, fully formed, can be HUNDREDS of miles across. 25 miles in any direction still leaves you facing furious damage.

That said, my thoughts are again with Florida and the Gulf coast. You have time to organize more evacuations. You have time to leave, if you have means to do so. Please heed these warnings, and get out of the way.