The Personal Blog of Stephen Sekula

Writing slides in Ely

I’m scheduled to give the “wine and cheese” seminar at “Fermilab”: on August 25, so part of my vacation has to be spent writing slides for the talk. I’m planning to give the audience a promenade through recent results using searches for leptonic decays of heavy mesons. BaBar is what I like to call a “five quark” experiment – saying that is akin to giving you enough information to figure out what kinds of physics we can do. It’s also fairly unambiguous – if we can produce five quarks, we can also produce all six known leptons. Experiments like CLEO-c are “four quark” experiments, also capable of producing all six known leptons, while the Tevatron detectors are “six quark” experiments.

So I have to work a little on my vacation. At first, I was really having a rough time writing this seminar. I’ve never given one this long (50 minutes), and to me the key to writing has always been the theme. Without a guiding thread for the entire effort, it’s just a random and pointless collection of results. A theme offers a chance to unify the results, give meaning and purpose to the presentation, and carry the audience rather than lecture them. I found my theme, largely in part thanks to my exposure to Russia and the memory of a theme I once used for a presentation in my graduate field theory class. I’ll save the final choice as a surprise, just in case any of my loyal readers (who ARE you people?) are Fermilabradors… or, whatever you call yourselves.

Needless to say, all that time wasted producing crappy novels and shitty poems as a teenager and early twenty-something’er is coming in handy in the real world of science. Some of those writing skills are actually useful, and not just for editing papers. Talks like this one are a chance to break the mold of scientific presentation, offering the added dimension of creativity often stifled during the publication process. You can’t be witty and amusing in PRL, but you damn sure have to be witty and amusing to carry an audience for 50 minutes.

Having to do all this writing, I chose a very pleasant place to do it. I learned during the writing of my thesis that the white noise of coffee shops, coupled with the music and the smells, makes for a perfect place to write anonymously. Witness the fact that both my presentation, and this blog entry, are being composed at a two-person table near the south-facing door of the Front Porch Coffee House in Ely, Minnesota, 20 minutes from Soudan. The other benefit of coming to the coffee house is the finding of a roadsign which, when reworked slightly, will make a perfect ending to my talk. I just hope my photos came out OK.