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Where is your logbook? January 24, 2010

Posted by gordonwatts in logbooks, physics life.

This is old school:


What is new-school?

Some friends and I had a fairly heated discussion concerning logbooks the other day. As anyone who has been through a college (or high school) level lab-based science course knows, the importance of a logbook has been… well, drilled into your head. Use it to keep track of your experiments. It might be important in a patent dispute (this came up a lot during my high school lab courses for some reason), etc.

But now, in the modern age of computers and smart phones everywhere… I’m curious: where do you keep your logbook? In paper? An e-log? Do you keep plots in it? Do you even need a log book any longer? Just text files on a computer? What is the point of a log book now (as far as you are concerned)? Or any other log-book related thoughs. Please – dump them here.

Then I’ll collate them and tell you my opinion. And I’m sure you can guess that I have an opinion… 🙂


Tablet Musings January 20, 2010

Posted by gordonwatts in computers.

Rumor has it that Apple will be announcing a tablet computer next week. As a user of Windows tablet computers for over 5 years now (I’m on my third), I thought I should write something. Perhaps, I should say that this provides me with an excuse to write something… 🙂

I have always owned a convertible tablet pc. In one mode it is a normal laptop, and in the other mode the screen flips around and lays down flat – and I can write on it or otherwise interact with it as a tablet (mine is a >2 year old Lenovo X61T:


How much do I like this? Well… I will never own a different type of computer as long as they make something like this for a reasonable price. The reasons for this are many fold, but I think the big ones are the following.

First, I think with a pen. It is either my age or how my brain is wired, but I need to draw little pictures and arrows to help me organize my thoughts. I like taking a plot I have and writing on it – just the way I did in the old days with my log book, for example. Or if I have to review an analysis paper I mark the PDF up directly with the pen… it is sooo much easier and intuitive than marking up a PDF with Acrobat’s mark-up tools. Due to this feature I’ve almost completely stopped printing out papers.

Second, I lecture. I project my tablet on the very large overhead screen, and write my class lecture notes directly onto the tablet. Given my handwriting this is much easier to read than my chalk-board writing. As an added bonus I don’t get chalk dust all over my a** or dry-erase all over my hand. That last one can be quite an issue, actually, as I’m left handed!

Third is an application called OneNote written by Microsoft. It is part of the Office series. When it came out in 2005 I’d never seen anything like this. The closest that exists now is EverNote and it is still quite a bit different from OneNote. It has replaced the big heavy logbooks I used to carry around. I have close to 4 gigabytes of information in this notebook format now. And it is all searchable (including my handwriting).

As far as I’m concerned, this tablet technology totally revolutionized the way I use and interact with computers, so I’m a huge proponent of it (obviously).

That said, things aren’t perfect. For example, the X61T is both a laptop and a tablet. As a result it isn’t the best it could be for either. The tablet screen could be brighter in laptop mode, and it could have a track pad rather than a joystick. In tablet mode it is carrying along all that extra hardware to be a decent laptop, as a result it is too heavy in this mode. Don’t get me wrong – this laptop is over two years old and at the moment I don’t really feel any desire to buy a new model. Ideally, I’d love a slate computer – this is just the screen and the computer bit – so much smaller. Like a thick pad of paper. And also a light laptop to carry around. Then I could have the best of both worlds. However – this is too expensive. The combination would be well over $3K, and would weight more in my carry-on baggage when I went flying. Also, the X61T is old enough that the very high resolution screen (which makes PDFs look very good) doesn’t have touch. That would be a nice addition for browsing the web.

I have only rumors to go on for the Apple tablet. It sounds like it will have only a touch sensor on the screen – like a bit iPod Touch or iPhone, rather than the very high resolution pen digitizer required for writing. If that is the case this announcement won’t be very interesting to me. However, I’m very much in the minority here – I’ve not met many people who are as passionate about their tablets as I am – and there are a lot of people who own these machines (but many of them never use them in tablet mode at all). Indeed, I worry that a computer you can write on will become a smaller and smaller market due to things like the Apple tablet, and that will only drive the price of my kind of tablet up, eventually forcing me back to paper. 🙂

Tevatron Saw the Haiti Earthquake January 19, 2010

Posted by gordonwatts in D0, Fermilab, physics, physics life.

The Haiti earthquake registered was a 7.0, and devistating, as everyone knows. Illinois and the Tevatron are about 2500 miles away from Haiti – but the Tevatron did see the earthquake:

haiti_quake2[1]What you are looking at there is an ACNET plot. I stare at plots similar to this when I’m on shift all the time. The top two plots – the green and red, are position monitors on the quadruple magnets just outside CDF and D0. They are quite stable until the earthquake. The Tevatron was running when this happened, and you can see in that lower red plot that some protons were knocked out of the ring by the ground shaking.

Note these movements are so small you never would have been able to detect them unaided. However, as my wife put it, “that is one expensive seismograph!” 🙂

The Higher Ed Protests in California January 18, 2010

Posted by gordonwatts in politics, university.

I suspect most readers of this blog have seen or heard about the protests in California staged by students at the Berkley, Davis, and other campuses. As a member of a state that that had the worst single-year cut in its support of higher education until California whacked its system, I was quite happy to see some folks complaining about it in a way that got real press. Of course, this took more than it should have: they shut down buildings, there were some mass arrests. I don’t think anyone was seriously hurt (but I’m not sure). Things have been amazingly silent up here in Washington. Students have staged small protests, but as far as I can tell no one in the papers noticed.

I’m getting most of my information about California from a recent New Yorker article, A Letter From California, which tries to give an inside look at what has been going on there. I don’t like the article too much – it spends most of its time concentrating on one woman, only to suddenly decide at the end that perhaps she isn’t the real story. However, it does a good job at explaining many of the moving parts. Short conversations with some of my friends in California seem to back this version of events. I also was attending a workshop in UC Davis, arriving the day after students took over a building and the police brought in helicopters to flush them out.

The students have (as far as I can tell) two targets: high administration salaries and tuition hikes. The second one they should definitely be mad at. Ca is raising their cost of in-state tuition by 32% in one year! One year! UW is raising it 14% two years in a row – so 28% – almost the same as Ca, just spread over two years. Ouch! That said, both institutions are doing their best to put financial aid in place to help students who need it pay for the increases, and compared to private schools these two public, state, institutions are still an good bargain. It is important to keep in mind that in Ca the university system has direct control over the tuition and in Washington while the legislature has direct control, UW doesn’t have to raise the fees even if the legislature gives them permission – so it seems logical that university administrations be a target over the anger in tuition increases.

Second: the administration. I’ve seen the president of the Ca system, Yudof, and the president of the UW system, Emmert, have both been targets of their respective school student’s anger. And, it would seem, main targets in some cases.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I can see why they are easy targets. They make boat-loads of money. In some respects, they are a symbol of the general corporate drift of public universities – and get paid to match (i.e. they get paid a lot). And cutting their salaries and those of the top administrators down would certainly free up some cash.

But in the grand scale of things – it won’t free up that much cash. For example, the budget that was put together for UW last year by the state had our funding dropping by 26%. That is close to a 70 million cut in UW’s yearly budget. If you slashed all the administrators salaries to be mine, I suspect you’d save about 2 million per year. Those salaries aren’t the main problem!

The problem is the what the state! Higher education is not a priority. In California they spend more on prisons than they do on higher education! That doesn’t seem right – invest in the future, not the past! In Washington higher education is one of the few expenses that isn’t required by some law – so it is also something that gets cut often:

emmert_budget[1]That red line on the right hand side is the funding per full time student (adjusted for 2009 dollars) from 1990 until the present. While this last drop was steep – this has been going on a long time. Public universities all over the USA have been seeing similar trends – this is not unique to California or Washington – it is just particularly bad here.

And, I think, that is where most of the anger of the students should be directed. The president of UW, Emmert, has decided that the state really doesn’t care any more – and that red curve will never return to its former level – so it is time to stop acting like it will and move on and negotiate a new relationship with the state. Still a public university, perhaps, but not in the same way. No matter what there will always be a better deal for in-state students – but that only works to the level that the state continues to kick in some cash. I suspect he is right – and it is too bad.

While the anger might sometimes be misdirected (and it sounds like the Ca administration made some pretty serious missteps), I do hope that in the future most students target legislators and other government officials. Who knows, perhaps a constitutional amendment is the answer?

I Came This Close… January 9, 2010

Posted by gordonwatts in eReader, physics life.

With the release of Barnes & Noble’s e-reader, the nook, I came very very close to getting one for myself this Christmas. When it finally arrived in stores I went to look… it is tiny. Really tiny.

I have no idea how I’d really use one of these eReaders until I get it, but I’ve been wanting them to fix one big problem in my life: the shear number and weight of magazines I carry back and forth every time I go to Europe. I get the New Yorker and the Economist – both weeklies – and often I have a stack of 10 or 15 of them that I try to read while on the plane or while drifting off to sleep in a hotel room. Storing them on a eReader would really help quite a bit.

The good news is that both the New Yorker and the Economist are available in eReader format. But… !!! Most pictures are not in the Economist version and most cartoons aren’t in the New Yorker eReader version! Sorry – I’ll have to stick with paper. I wonder what it is about the eReader format that makes it so unfriendly to this sort of thing.

A third thing I’d like to be able to do is read my physics papers on them. These are usually stored as PDF’s and can be downloaded from just about everywhere. The main problem here is that PDF files do not reflow the text – so that full 8.5×11 image will be on the screen all at once, or a portion of it will be on the screen and I would have to constantly scroll. On a slow eReader that would be very painful. I would really need to have something like the Kindle DX or one of these new ones that is coming out soon (maybe at the CES shows that are going on right now?).

The other thing holding me back is the general dissatisfaction I hear when these devices are used for text books or other scholarly journals. It sounds to me like the current design has really nailed reading a simple book of text (novel, etc.). But almost nothing else.

Yet. 🙂

Happy New Year January 7, 2010

Posted by gordonwatts in life.
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I’m back in Seattle after a nice several week break. I hope everyone had a fantastic break and a good New Year. This year should be fantastic. The LHC will get its first decent slug of data at (we hope) 7 TeV. The Tevatron should pass 8 fb-1 of data for each experiment. Perhaps someone will release a Dark Matter result.