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Boom! March 30, 2010

Posted by gordonwatts in CERN, LHC.

Do not start with a whimper… Start with a…


or perhaps you’d prefer a…


That first event – the small red track (click to enlarge) is actually a muon candidate. Something we almost could never see with 900 GeV collisions from last December – very little was powerful enough to make it out that far.

So, now the real work begins. Soon the press will pack up and we can get down to actually making sense of this fantastic new microscope we’ve been given! It is going to be a fun 18 months of first data!

For more event pictures, from all the experiments, not just ATLAS, see the main CERN web page.


Collisions March 30, 2010

Posted by gordonwatts in CERN, LHC.

Wow. It is almost 5 am. I have a meeting in 3 hours. It is a bit anti-climatic watching it alone in the dark here in Seattle. But still. This is the beginning. The next year will have many more sleepless nights. A job well done by everyone who has worked for so long to see these first collisions – many for 20 years or more!

More Input Types for the Logbook March 20, 2010

Posted by gordonwatts in Uncategorized.

The comments to that last post pointed out there were a few other things people want to put in their logbooks. I’m biased by what I use of course, and the way I filtered the previous email reflected that, I’m afraid.


Besides the comments I made last time, it was pointed out that integration with a cell phone is a definite plus. Modern cell phone cameras are already connected to wireless networks of one sort or another. It should allow you to add things into your logbook right away – similar to the Eye-Fi that I mentioned last time.

Actually, as far as I know, at least two programs already support this – Evernote and Onenote. In both cases you can view your logbooks on your phone, and insert notes, etc. I’ll talk more about the programs in my next post on this.


This got left off my previous list for two reasons. First is that over the last 6 months the amount of actual code I’ve written has been much less than normal – so I’m not thinking about this aspect of things nearly as much.

The second reason is code repositories, like cvs and svn. At least in particle physics almost all the code we write is in one of these two repositories. For those that don’t have experience with code repositories: they allow you to track all the changes you make to your code, and to specify a point-in-time where everything works. You can go back to that point in time whenever you like and get the code exactly as it existed then no matter what state it has evolved to.

As you might guess from the way I worded that last bit there – it sounds a lot like a logbook to me. It can even keep track of annotations. And, unlike the way we think of most logbooks, it is collaborative – frequently many of us work together on the same bit of code coordinating our actions through the code repository. For most of that code I never am too interested in putting it in the logbook. Rather, I will often mention in a sentence the “thing” that I changed or improved.

But if you are using something like Mathematica, or MATLAB, etc., to do a calculation then it may be almost simpler to paste in the code than write it up in words. In some sense, this sounds to me like being able to add TeX easily to the blog – but being able to execute it as well.

And, while speaking of code, possu pointed out this is really useful if one can also have syntax coloring (keywords, variable names, etc., highlighted in different colors).

Where did I go? March 18, 2010

Posted by gordonwatts in blog, life.

There was an almost 3 month gap between those last two postings. Several of you privately asked me if everything was ok, and a few publically (on the blog) as well. So, thanks for asking! And I’m just fine.

It was a collision of a bunch of things that took me out of posting. I don’t think any single one would have done it, but they came together. I thought it would be fun to list them – as it might give those of you not on the inside of this science-rat-race a picture of what goes on. On the other hand, most of you may find it amazingly boring and feel I’m whining as everyone is really busy.

That is mostly what it came down to: busy.

  1. I was teaching a graduate particle physics course. You’d think, as this is my field of research, I’d be expert in this. Well, some aspects I suppose, but basic field theory and phenomenology? Not really. I suspect that course was eating up about 20-30 hours a week, depending on what set of topics I was trying to teach.
  2. I am co-leader of the ATLAS b-tagging group over at CERN. This has translated into my traveling to CERN almost once a month for the past year and a half. Let me tell you – that trip takes a lot out of you. Sometimes when I get back my body declares enough! And I end up sleeping from 9pm to 7am several days in a row. For a guy that does most of his work late at night let me tell you – that takes a bite out of productivity. Another thing this job has caused me to do is often get up very early for European late afternoon meetings. Which means, in general, I’m more tired. But I wouldn’t trade these two years – doing this as data first rolls in has been exhilarating!
  3. If feels like our kid has started sleeping less or something else has changed – I get a lot less done than I used to on the weekends and in the evenings. Don’t read this wrong – our kid is about 3.5 years old and a hell of a lot of fun to hang around (and teach – she just learned how to spell her name with wooden alphabet blocks). But as any of you who are parents know, this takes real time!
  4. Some of the topics I often post about on this blog are causing me a good deal of frustration. In particular, watching what this state (and others) are doing to the US public education system. We already know that grade school and high school do not measure up well in the rest of the world. Our college and university system, however, is second to none. You’d think the obvious thing to do would be to try to bring the grade school and high school education up to par. Instead, we seem to be doing the exact opposite. And let me tell you, there is nothing more depressing, frustrating, and anger inducing for someone like me than reading the comments of the Texas board of education members after their vote recent textbook vote. At some point one gets worn out. 🙂
  5. HOLY COW. LHC DATA!!! Yes – that is right. And lots of it (ok, that is a relative thing). The group I help lead has produced lots of plots. Helping to guide these plots and analyses through ATLAS has been a great deal of fun, but it has also been 1000’s of emails and lots of headaches as everyone tries to figure out the right way to get these results out of the collaboration. Remember – technically all 2000 authors have to be given a chance to comment on these things. The resulting overhead is bound to be complex and will take a few iterations to get right. Further, the LHC has just restarted and now we are going to be running for an extended period at 7 TeV – it won’t be just performance plots anymore, but now real physics. And maybe hopefully some involving b-tagging. This means my summer will be “hell” [well, I’ll move to the south of France again for the summer, so hell is pretty relative].
  6. Facebook. Yeah, I know, I know. I do love that it has reconnected me with so many people and as a result I do spend probably an hour or two on that site during a normal week (much more when traveling or when I’m trying to write an exam or homework solutions! ;-)).
  7. Hobbies. These include things like photography and (yeah) computer programming (i.e. the deeptalk stuff). Actually, these have almost dropped to zero as well since December. Along with this blog I’m trying to restart them because they are, like this blog, things I enjoy and have missed.

I love my life. I’ve worked my butt off for many years to get to where I am now. Sure, there are things that could be better, but as far as it goes I’m amazingly lucky to be where I am now. Sadly, there are only 24 hours in a day, and so, sometimes something gets dropped on the floor.

At any rate, it is the start of finals week here at UW and next week is spring break. Which means I’m off to Chicago for a quick visit to Fermilab and my student and the D0 DAQ system, and then off to Geneva for a week long ATLAS meeting. But… no teaching. So I’m hoping I can get my blogging groove back.

But, honestly, the blog posts I do, I do because I like doing them. The second this feels like a chore… well… 🙂 At any rate, I should have something up for the logbook shortly – that is a fun topic to think about for a nerd like me!

You put *WHAT* in there? March 16, 2010

Posted by gordonwatts in logbooks, physics life.

It seems like I wrote the post asking folks what they used for their log book about a year ago. Ahem. Sorry.

The main goal of that post was to find out what people were actually using for a logbook. Looking over the responses and thinking a bit more, I decided that perhaps I should start off by a catalog of what people put in their logbooks first – before discussing what is out there. Actually, this might be a bit more interesting in the end than just a catalog of the stuff people do use.


This is probably the most popular thing I saw referenced. I’m speaking of things that you can easily type in… thinking on a typewriterkeyboard, perhaps a summary of a conversation or a thought. From personal experience these can range from a short sentence to a long diatribe. I suppose basic formatting (similar to this blog) is nice – but for a logbook the main point seems to be to get an idea down so formatting isn’t so crucial. The other thing people mentioned liking is being able to quickly search for things – which text does very well.

A sub-category here, I suppose, are latex documents. Latex is the premiere mathematical typesetting language. Useful also for writing long books or papers. It has been mentioned to me more than once that when some new mathematical expression needs to be written into a logbook, the person will just latex it and then insert that in the logbook.


I imagine many uses for this – especially if you are in a lab constructing things or perhaps inspecting something. As a result the logbook should have a simple capability to insert pictures from a camera. In general, what this turns into is insertion from a file (jpg, png, etc.). And if it to be easy on the computer it should be either automated or drag-and-drop.

This got me to thinking… if you had to do this often you could probably automate the process using something like the Eye-Fi SD card. You could take the pictures and by the time you got back to your office and had a cup of coffee, all the pictures you just took would be pasted into your logbook awaiting detailed annotation.

Ironically, the use I saw mentioned most in my post was to take pictures of handwritten notes. I’ve used this technique often to record a whiteboard or some paper scribbles – I can email it around to a student if we were discussing it or paste it into my logbook for later reference.

Screen Scrapes/Clippings & Plots

This was mentioned most commonly in conjunction with plots. You have your plotting program running one window and you now want that plot in your logbook. So you fire up your screen clipper (or perhaps it is part of your logbook) grab the plot, and then paste it into your logbook. Poof, the plot is in your logbook.

I’d like to point out two problems I have with this technique: when it comes time to make a presentation the screen clippings are rarely high enough quality for talks. The resolution is often small – and certainly not resizable. Second, the size of a screen capture of a plot is often quite a bit larger than the data in the plot (i.e. think about 10k or less for a histogram bin data vs the 100k or so for the image).  But for keeping track of some intermediate plots this sort of thing is just fine.

Storing the raw data of the plot would of course be ideal, however then displaying that is hard – if you are using a general program you would have to write a plug-in that would translate that data into the plot. Certainly possible, but…


This was mentioned much less than I would have guessed in the responses to my blog posts. I find myself constantly dragging files into my logbook to keep the notes I’ve taken on a paper or something like that close to other similar ideas. The most common file types are probably PDF’s for me. But I’ve done other sorts of files, including Excel and small ROOT files.


Ok. For this you gotta remember who is talking here. I’m Mr. Tablet and I don’t think I could part with the ability to write things. However, I claim as long as one is living in a world where one wants to write down this sort of thing:


Now, I’m totally sympathetic to the idea that one can take a picture of a whiteboard (as I’ve done here). But if you have to do this sort of thing with any regularity – and perhaps on your own – being able to write it down is much better.

The other great use for writing is thinking (a few of you mentioned this in your comments to my post). Free flow drawing, arrows, etc. does work. However, as my wife has pointed out on numerous occasions when I bring this up – most people learn how to think on a keyboard now and they don’t suffer for it!

I did a quick scan of my log book to look where I had handwriting:

  1. Markup of papers/notes I’m reviewing for physics correctness (i.e. I’m not going to send my markup back to the authors as much as I’m going to send a question like “If you make this cut here you are biasing your mass distribution here… please convince me you did this right.”
  2. Free thinking. Probably about 50% of this in my own notes could have been done on a typewriter – it is just handwriting organized line-by-line
  3. Class lectures and class lecture note preparation.
  4. Note taking during a meeting. This is not mostly something that could be done by typewriter – I tend to cut/paste in clips of slides that are being presented and then scribble notes to myself over them.
  5. Working through some problem involving mostly thinking. Say, an analysis problem. I’d say this follows the same 50% rule.
  6. Working through some problem involving a plot(s). What I mean here is if I’m trying to think through some issue that is driven by a plot. Essentially, as soon as I paste a picture into my logbook I draw on it and my reasoning flows from there. So for me this is very much a handwriting thing.

So, I guess #1 and #3 aren’t strictly log-book functions. For #2 and #4-6 I find having pen input invaluable. If you eliminate #1 and #3 I think my logbook is about 20% handwriting content. If you keep those in it is closer to 50%.


So… what did I miss?

Ok – next time I’ll go through some of the ideas people had. Some were very cool – I’d never thought of them; now that I have I could see how they would make a good alternative to what I’m doing. I hope that the gap between this post and that won’t be as long!