Post-collaboration stress disorder

PCSD is the feeling of accomplishment after a collaboration meeting, accompanied by the tremendous stress of knowing you just got 50 new things to do. I can only imagine what this must be like for a larger experiment, and oddly enough my observations of smaller experiments suggests this effect plateaus, but never ever EVER drops to zero. In fact, I’d say it remains pretty damn far from zero – there’s always something to do.

Much of the next year will be spent in intense analysis, in my own case working with many others to make sure the fruit of the Upsilons is properly picked. It’s doing to be a long, hard slog – but that’s what we wanted from this unique dataset.

One of the things that I really noticed at this collaboration meeting is that there is still momentum in making improvements. I’ve never experienced this fully an experiment in its post-data-taking period. I was just a summer student at LEP, and not there when they actually shut down. For me, this is a new experience. It was heartening in the past winter when so many new faces appeared at the BaBar Analysis School [1]. It was just as heartening to see a thousand modest improvements to the data quality, the reconstruction, and many other aspects of BaBar analysis come together at this meeting to paint a picture of opportunity for many physics analyses going forward. One thing I particularly liked was the stress on how computing, and all the things associated with it, are really central to our analysis effort. We depend on them, and they depend on us for physics feedback when any changes are made.

Early on, all collaborations are difficult. It’s a trust-building exercise, but there’s no retreat to a camp, no weekend in some hotel where you spend hours doing lame group exercises to learn to get along. There’s a detector, that has to come together on time and on budget. There’s an accelerator, that has to circulate billions of positrons and electrons for hours at a time, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. There’s data, and data quality, analysis, credit, publications, reviews, a thousand meetings. And you all learn to do it together, all at once, no weekend retreats. You make it work together, or you all fail.

Now we are in no less a critical period. We have the responsibility of a tremendous data set. It may not grow because we are collecting it, but it grows in richness as we refine it, improve it, understand it. We all have to work just as hard to reap, as hard as we did to sow.

[1] http://steve.cooleysekula.net/blog/2008/02/17/pant-pant/

Collaboration Meeting!

Well, it’s that time again: time to collaborate in person. BaBar has its autumn collaboration meeting this week, starting tomorrow morning. I have so much work to do before I present in a few days. God. That one month trip was great, but things have a tendency to pile up when your hotel internet sucks and you’re busy meeting colleagues during the day. I can’t complain, but this week I will.

Monday is a break in the action (kind of): we have a BaBar symposium, celebrating the life of the experiment, topped off with a public lecture by a colleague of mine. The topic: antimatter. BaBar and Belle figure prominently in confirming the view of the world put forth by some recent Nobel prize winners.

The view is simple. In order to explain CP violation, you have to have at least three generations of matter. In realizing this, Kobayashi and Maskawa predicted the existence of the bottom and top quarks. As well, all the CP violation you can measure in the quark system is explainable by this three-generation view. It’s been a thrill to be part of confirming that picture – I had the pleasure (and, to be sure, the pain) of being involved in the very first CP violation measurement of the BaBar experiment. I was a green grad at the time, but I played my part and I learned a lot.

For now, it’s back to the world series.

Innovation and “Overhead Projectors” on Science Friday

Today’s Science Friday program was super-timely. The second hour of the show contained a discussion of McCain’s reference to money for the Adler Planetarium as a pork-barrel earmark, and a discussion of promoting innovation in America. Here is the audio:

Regarding the projector, I enjoyed one of the interviewee’s comments that it’s ironic that McCain’s website spends time talking about science support, and yet he continues to call out money for upgrading a science education facility a pork-laden earmark.

No more, the children of Cincinnatus walk in Gotham?

I heard today that Mayor Bloomberg of NY has succeeded in persuading the city council to vote in favor of extending term limits for elected officials [1]. This struck at my moral center for leadership, which I elaborated on a few weeks ago [2] – the Cincinnatus model. Cincinnatus was a Roman consul, called by his people to serve as dictator in a war against an invading enemy, and who cast aside the mantle of power as soon as the crisis was over. To me, this is the most noble form of leadership – the leader who recognizes that though weilding power longer may allow them to accomplish more, power corrupts and it is better to limit it and turn over leadership.

Mayor Bloomberg cited the current financial crisis as the reason for this emergency term limit extension. In fact, the people of New York have voted consistently with large margins to limit terms to just two for the Mayor and other elected officials. In contrast to the Cincinnatus story, it is not the people who have called Mayor Bloomberg to serve in a crisis – it is the mayor himself.

In the Cincinnatus model, this is the paragon of corruption. The leader who thinks that they are needed to keep the situation stable, who in the face of the law and the will of the people appeals to crisis to extend their power, is a sign of the susceptibility to corruption. I know nothing of Bloomberg and his relationship to the Wall Street firms that were part of this current financial mess, but it’s at least worth asking if it would be better to have a new mayor if only to avoid the possibility that Bloomberg himself is part of the problem.

Both on the radio today, and in this article, I heard the same story: the extension of term limits is needed to have steady leadership in a time of crisis. Yet, it’s the elected leaders themselves making this determination, not a public outcry for more terms. This is a moral disaster for a democracy, and sets a sleazy precedent for other cities to enact this kind of power-grab.

No more, it seems, do the children of Cincinnatus walk in the halls of power.

[1] NYC mayor wins fight to extend term limits

[2] http://steve.cooleysekula.net/blog/2008/10/08/the-namesake-of-cincinnatus/