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Knocked Back to the Dark Ages April 26, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in computers, life.

Ugh. A as-yet-undiagnosed hardware problem took our our group’s small mail server. I’m amazed at how much of a crimp this has put in my ability to get work done! I feel like I’m back operating in an environment about 10 years ago.

I guess the key thing about the way I work is I use multiple computers – regularly 3 of them (big machine at office, big machine at home, and portable). I’ve carefully set everything up so that if I do something on one machine about 5 minutes later I can look over at any other machine and see what I did. This is fantastic for traveling: I can be working on my home machine, finish. About 5 minutes later pack up my portable and jump in a taxi to the airport confident that the document I’d been editing on my home machine has propagated to my portable without me having to do anything extra.

One major component of this synchronization strategy is my Outlook mail server. It keeps contact lists, tasks (around which I organize about 80% of my professional life), and, of course, my email, all in sync across the various computers and my cell phone. This is now gone – which means when it comes to these three things each computer has become an island. All that work I did on making public versions of the paper – and the to-do lists I was keeping track of? Well, they are all back on my home computer. Not with me here in Geneva where I really need them.

There are temporary work arounds. I can log into my home computer from here and see what I was doing. I’ve redirected my email to a regular account run by the university, etc., but it feels like I’m spending real time keeping my computers in sync now, rather than getting work done. No wonder many of my colleagues have given up multiple computers and just carry a portable around everywhere, or split their computers by task so there is minimal reason for them to talk to each other.

BTW, I used UW’s web interface for email. Compared to the full interface I’m used to that wasn’t very pleasant! One of these days I need to spend some time trying out the various online services to see if anyone has done it better (I’m sure that is the case). Hopefully the hardware will be online Monday sometime! Of course, that is Monday USA time, by which time I will have already made it all the way through the day!


Pink Light District!? March 29, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in life, travel.
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I’m just finishing up a short stay in Paris to check out my new nephew. I’m staying near the Sacre Coeur Basilica. It is famous – you recognize it:


My hotel is right around the corner from there, as is my sister’s home. My sisters house, on the hill approaching Sacre Coeur, is in a very nice area – lots of small streets and restaurants – almost exactly what comes to mind when most people think of Paris. My hotel, on the other hand, which is about another 200 meters away, is in a totally different area:



I’ve been to Paris more times than any other city outside of the USA other than Ottawa and Vancouver. I had no idea there was anything like this in Paris (duh – how did I miss it?)! This isn’t the red-light district (which is around the corner from Gare du Nord) – where you can see prostitutes everywhere. There is a two block length of the street is one sex show after another. And in between are bars and dance clubs, and just off the main drag are lots of good restaurants. The place is teaming with people – even tonight (Sunday night) of all types, from the expected desperate men to normal couples. No one seems phased. The barkers for the clubs are pretty aggressive, they step out and grab you with cards offering a free drink or similar and are just as likely to be a middle aged guy as they are to be a middle aged woman. It is surreal walking down this street – everyone treats it as normal.

BTW – this is right around the corner from the Moulin Rouge – which tourists line of for 100’s of meters to see. Craziness:


You have to look carefully – but the queue is there! It’s a famous old French cabaret.

These Waffles Are Not Drugged March 21, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in life.

At least, that is what they at Sofia’s Cosmic say. But I don’t believe them.


I always fall asleep after I eat those. We all do. Drugs. I’m up in Vancouver doing nothing for two days. It is the last days of our final exam week back and the University; my class is totally done. Next week is spring break for us – and I’ll be in Prague at CHEP (woo!). More when I get to Prague on Sunday nigh!

A picture is worth 1000 words… March 17, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in life.
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Some decent fraction of my retirement is in the stock fund that that has had the below performance since 1998 – which was about when I started putting money in:


While it is nice that the markets went crazy last week, it is going to take a while…

From A Distance March 10, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in life, university.

I have been lucky so far – this economic slowdown had not affected me directly until last Wednesday (and even then it was minor). The worst has been a few less restaurants to go to, for example. Perhaps the worst has been watching some of my friends get laid off.

Out jobs are pretty secure. Both my wife and I are are quite productive – both in teaching and research. We bring in some decent sized grants to the university in connection with our research. Students don’t complain about our teaching very much. Further we have tenure, which makes it that much more difficult to lay us off.

But budget cuts are coming to the university, no two ways about it.

This last week we found out about the first direct impact – no raises this year. This is no surprise – we were all expecting this, we just didn’t know when it was going to become official. Indeed, it would have been quite hard (embarrassing) to take raises when staff around us is getting laid off! The staff hasn’t been laid off yet – in fact, Washington (and thus the university) won’t know its budget until the end of this month. But I don’t see how staff won’t loose their jobs here at the University.

I’m hopeful that our family will suffer no more than the loss of our raises. But it is hard to believe that will be it. Looking around – car sales fall about 50%. The 8.1% unemployment number… Breath taking.

I’m very curious to see how the budget for Washington state and higher education here works out. The noises coming out of the legislature are all over the place – doubling the class load, turning off research (which makes no sense considering how much cash it brings into the state), no reduction in numbers of students in the entering class, no tuition increases… Many of these things don’t sum to one (i.e. in geek physics speak: violate unitarity). So far the University doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job explaining how it works to the state legislature. I hope it will improve – if it does perhaps we will only get a 13% cut of our budget…

UPDATE: Ron pointed out in the comments that my statement above “The U doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job explaining…” might be more harsh than I intended. The climate down there is almost impossible – and very complex. After all, it is a lot of people interacting and it is very easy for messages to get crossed. For the most part the university is doing quite well. There is a small army of people – a number of whom donate their time because the believe in the mission of the university – who spend a lot of time down in Olympia trying to make sure that legislators are making decisions based on facts and not rumors. Perhaps I was overly depressed hearing a few people who I know where directly talked to still seemed to entertain incorrect notions of how a university like UW operates and how its finances work (deciding to cut is one thing, but deciding to cut and citing incorrect facts to justify it is another). Apologies if I angered anyone who is spending time down there. I’ve lobbied congress and spent considerable effort convincing one or two aides that a particle accelerator is not a source of energy – I know how hard it can be sometimes.

John Mortimer March 4, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in life, TV.
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mortimer_john[1]Who knows this guy? I mostly knew John Mortimer because of the PBS series Rumpole of the Bailey. I used to watch it as a kid, when I got older I read the books and watched it again. Rumpole was an English barrister – as was Mortimer it turns out. He would only defend, never prosecute. And rarely lost. A curmudgeon who liked cheap claret. Leo McKern, who played Rumpole, was a joy to watch.

McKern died a while back, in 2002. Mortimer died mid January of this year. Though he stopped adding to the Rumpole series a while back, I’ll miss him!

Your CV is boring February 14, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in life, physics life.

My brother-in-law forwarded us an image of someone’s CV:


For comparison, here is what mine looks like:


Who would you hire!?

The Sun Should Not Flicker!! February 1, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in life, travel.

I just flew over to Geneva from Seattle. I was seated right behind the wing, and the sun set behind us gave the clouds and the plane a fantastic color:


But here is the weird bit – the light on the bottom of that first cowling (??) was flickering – rapidly. I did my best to capture it with my camera’s video. Look at the end of the video. You can just make out some rapid flickering. It isn’t so obvious with the camera – but it was quite obvious looking out the window.

What causes that? We were in very smooth air at the time – so it couldn’t have been the bouncing of the plane. The only thing I could think of was there were some clouds on the horizon that were blowing by and obscuring the sun briefly. Unfortunately, without opening the plane door, I couldn’t check! Is that it?

Whatever it was – it was very spooky – the sun is supposed to be rock solid! 🙂

Making Bread January 15, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in Food, life.

IMG_9451This was a New Year’s resolution. I would make bread this year. I used to do it all the time – I would make sandwiches for work on my bread, for example. But as I grew older I fell out of the habit. Too much work to do, is what I told myself. For the same reason I stopped cooking for myself and started eating out all the time.

I thought I’d start simple – French bread. This is single rise, so it is easy and doesn’t take that long. Less than two hours start to finish, and it can be ignored for about an hour and a half of that two hours. I also had some help, which made it go faster.

In the end it came out looking very good:



But there was a problem. Just before New Years I slipped and fell on some ice in a hotel parking lot near Fermilab. I fell and a rib or two absorbed the full force of my fall when I hit a curb. It didn’t break – the emergency room called it “Skeletal stress.” Whatever, the upshot is it is still too painful to do something like knead the bread. So I had to use one of those MixMaster 5000 things to do most of the kneading.

Paula pretty much had it: “It is like the French Bread you buy in a French Supermarket.” The bread is still good, but it has a level of uniformity, and it isn’t chewy enough either. Darn. Hopefully I’ll try this again next week and my back will be in good shape.

Crazy Weather – Marseille Edition January 12, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in life, Snow.

The French city of Marseille is not one you would normally think of being under snow. After all, it is right on the Med. But a lot of places are getting hit by snow that don’t normally get hit by snow. We lived there for a year last year and we never saw snow. I think we may have seen a few flakes… but nothing actually hit ground. As one of my friends there put it:

Snow in Marseille. Has not happened in at least the last four years. Nobody has snow tires and the city says they cannot find the salt truck (seriously).

Another friend of ours put it thus: “Great for the kids, sucks for the adults.”

Here is a picture I took from the apartment balcony last year when we were in Marseille:


and here is what it looks like now (taken by the current residents of the appartment):

The images from flickr are impressive. My friend has been walking around the city taking pictures, and just the general pictures posted all over flickr.

And Marseille isn’t the only place that has been crazy. For a little while last week Seattle was cut off from the rest of the country. Both of the big interstates out of town were cut off – I5 and I90. Water and snow was closing them!