Washington D.C. – an audio diary?

Next week, I will be co-leading a team of physicists from the SLAC community to Washington D.C. As I remarked in my professional blog, the number of research physicists in Washington D.C. may spike next week in a historically unique way [1].

I haven’t done any audio projects in a while – “The Two Body Problem” fell by the wayside years ago and I still haven’t recorded any music – but I thought I might put together an audio diary during my trip next week. NO, I will not be recording my meetings. But, I might interview some of my colleagues and teammates during the trip and get their reactions and feelings. It might prove a useful documentation of a very unique affair – the coming together of three user communities to fight for the the physical sciences.

We’ll see how that goes. It might suck, or it might be fun. I’ll let you know if I really intend to post it or not.

[1] http://steve.cooleysekula.net/goingupalleys/2009/04/24/physicists-in-washington/

The Physics of “Bones”

This last week’s episode of the TV show “Bones”, named “The Science in the Physicist”, featured the Large Hadron Collider. Specifically, a suspect in the murder of a theoretical physicist sent over a hundred death threats to the victim because he feared the end of the world when the LHC turned on. In the show, he quotes the chance of such a thing happening as 1/50,000,000, and states now that he knows the victim is dead he will sleep 50,000,000 times better.

What the show failed to note – and here, I do understand that there is only so much science  one can cram in these programs – is that the LHC has already happened about 400,000 times in the earth’s atmosphere since the earth formed [1]. The suspect claimed to be very smart and also an “agnostic” (and therefore due to the latter could not be a young earth creationist). The show’s main character, Dr. Temperence Brennen, is usually snarky in her rationality, so I’m surprised that a writer didn’t stick the comment about the earth’s atmosphere in her mouth.

It’s worth keeping in mind that while “Bones” is a fun show, with quirky science (as my wife noted in her public lecture, why did it take the characters a whole hour to figure out that hydrofluoric acid was dissolving the bones of a body without harming the tissue?), it’s a TV show and it doesn’t get everything right. It does capture the fear of these kinds of unknowns in a palpable way, albeit putting them in the mouth of the wrong character. The right character to be afraid of the LHC destroying the earth would have been somebody who didn’t understand the energy of cosmic rays, the age of the earth, or many other things.

This character claimed to have a degree in physics, but be working in the private sector. Somebody with a degree in physics should have thought about this problem a little, about the tremendous energy of cosmic rays and the tremendous age of the earth.

The difference between the natural version of the LHC, and the human made version of the LHC, is simply this: we get to see it happen this time. But all the so-called bad effects should have already happened. Thanks, earth.

[1] http://steve.cooleysekula.net/blog/2008/09/09/black-holes-and-peer-reviewed-revelations/

My Day

Everybody needs a day that’s just about them. Birthdays don’t count – people see that coming. You need one of those great, unexpected  my days, one that is delicious because you spring it on people.

OK, mine wasn’t all that spontaneous. I spent my Sunday afternoon two Sundays ago, and almost all of last weekend, helping Jodi with her public lecture at Sonoma State University last Monday. I like helping Jodi with things like that, but for anyone who has ever had to work on a public lecture the process is extremely draining.It was draining for Jodi and draining for me, who tried to help her out by listening to practice talks – three  of them in 48 hours. Jodi promised that she’d give me back a weekend this weekend, that it could be all mine to do whatever I wanted.

I think she’d thought I’d just want to lie around and do nothing. Nah. Too easy. Instead, I did something I’ve wanted to do for years – I crossed every bridge spanning the San Francisco Bay.

While the day was about the space between the lines, the poem itself did have lines. We started out going to IKEA for Swedish meatballs. I know – that sounds insane. But I am a sucker for Swedish meatballs. As you can tell, I also enjoyed a delicious cup of coffee. Oh coffee. Can you do any wrong?

Afterward, we set off on 84 east across the Dumbarton Bridge, and exited into the Coyote Hills. These hills are a park on the eastern side of the bay, affording to those happy to climb them an unmatched view of all points on the South Bay and all the way up to San Francisco and Oakland. The day was blue and cool and sunny, with just the right amount of wind. We hiked about three of the hills, took a ton of pictures, and looped back on the main road past ruddy-colored ducks and Canadian geese.

We set off north on 880 and then cut west on 92 across the San Mateo bridge. This took us to the Hillsdale Mall, where I enjoyed a leisurely stroll through the Apple store (and Jodi decided the iPod shuffle was about the dumbest thing she’d ever seen).

After a quick snack at the food court (and a lot of lemonade), we set off north on 101 to 80 east, across the Bay Bridge. Braving stop-and-go traffic in Berkeley, we diverted off onto 580 west across the Richmond bridge. We passed a tangle of refineries and storage tanks, crossed the bridge (right past the exit for San Quentin!), and got onto 101N.

After dinner in Petaluma, we headed back south on 101, cross the Golden Gate bridge, and then headed home. It was a great day, with great weather and a lot of different activities. Enjoy these shots of the bridges, and a panorama from the top of the Coyote Hills.