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What Do I Spend My Time On? How do I Choose a Topic to Write About? March 25, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in blog, physics life.

One one of my lasts posts about computers and HEP, Kevin left a comment.

OK, this post forces me to ask this question: can you estimate the amount of time you spend on “science” questions versus methods development, programming or other things? After reading your blog (and enjoying it of course) for over two years now, I feel you have discussed a lot of issues in programming, ROOT, C++ vs other languages, computers and other things that are tools to do science but which are not themselves science (or at least not physics).

I am fundamentally lazy. Other bloggers — like Tomasso — are not. I’m afraid I do not spend much time on these blog posting (spelling errors!? Me!? Never!). As a result, I tend to write about things I can clack off without having to do any reading or extra research. This usually boils down to physics I’m working on or support work I’m working on, hobbies, or my social/family life. I don’t understand how Tomasso has the time to read and digest all those papers. I suppose once you get going you can do it more and more and more quickly, but I have not been willing to take the time.

The physics, however, suffers. For example, I’m working in the Higgs group at D0 – well, mostly my post-doc and my graduate student are this year – but I can’t really talk about some of the very cool stuff that is happening there. That is a sure way to get hit on the head by the collaboration. In ATLAS I’m also doing some stuff I would love to talk about – but ATLAS has an official blogging policy (i.e. don’t, unless the result or thing is public).

Now, part of the reason I got into HEP is I like that it lives at the corners of physics, software, and hardware. Since D0 has matured, I’ve not been doing very much hardware. The software side of things I’d always done as a hobby. I have always been a big fan of software and have made some fairly flexible and sophisticated frameworks for use in physics analysis. Since that, and watching people who are not me try to understand and read my code, I’ve come to believe C++ just isn’t all that great as a productive programing tool. Now here is the thing: no one cares about software! The byproduct of that is I can talk about software freely on this blog, as I work on it. Take ROOT for example, I recall trying to get a new plot out for single top. With that plot we were able to understand that the way we were doing our b-tagging in our background sample was correct. But in order to make that plot I had to fight through a ROOT bug. Guess what I can write about in the blog?

So, now a direct answer to your question. I’m on sabbatical this year. I would say it was about 50-50 for me. When I’m teaching a course I understand, it is probably 40% physics, 30% software, and 30% teaching. When I’m teaching a class I’ve never taught before it will probably by 10% physics, 10% software, and 80% teaching (ask me in November).

Thanks for the question/comment Kevin. I hope I’ve answered it!


1. dorigo - March 25, 2008

Hi Gordon,

it’s been a while… Yes, I read (but do not digest) many papers, as part of my duty as a devout blogger – and I try to report on them. See, I mutated from the original scope of my blog. I have found out I can really do some decent outreach if I work hard on it.

Time is always short. You are right, blogging is a time-consuming occupation. I save time from other activities, like exercising, playing chess online, or doing research. Shame on me, but really, through my blog I met interesting people, I got refereeing offers, got to write newspaper articles. Hell, I even got invited to talk at conferences through my activity as a blogger. I got to talk to Ed W. It really is not only a game for me – rather, a work tool. I have learned more physics explaining it in my blog than in the five years before I started blogging. And I still enjoy it immensely…


2. Marco - April 2, 2008

Uh… “ATLAS has an official blogging policy” … really? Can you point me to an official document? Partly curious, partly cautious… 🙂

3. gordonwatts - April 2, 2008

Yep! I was there when we voted on it. I don’t remember exactly what document it made it into and if that document is public. But I do remember the policy being common sense: don’t talk about things that haven’t been released. Don’t trash talk your fellow ATLASians. Stuff that one hopes everyone follows.

4. gordonwatts - April 2, 2008

Sorry — I meant to add — I’ll see if I can track down that text and post a link here.

5. gordonwatts - April 2, 2008

So — I found it. But I can’t show it to you as it is behind a password protection. Basically, if you are a member of ATLAS you can find it by going to the collaboration board web site, then clicking on the “CB Approved Documents” and then scrolling to the bottom and then look for the document A57.

It basically says that if you discuss any results that haven’t been released via the official channels first your name is mud.

6. Gauges - April 17, 2008

i have read your article and it was so good. i just love reading your article coz i learn something new. 🙂 hope to read more soon 🙂


7. zwebdesigner - April 28, 2008

kudos gordon! way to speak up about freedom of blogging!

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