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Food fight in the Nobel Cafeteria January 20, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in politics.
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I’ve really been enjoying reading Paul Krugman‘s blog:

Urp. Gack. Glug. If even Nobel laureates misunderstand the issue this badly…

Both Krugman and Becker, who he is taking a shot at, have won the Nobel prize in Economics.

So happy Gore invented this series of series of tubes!


Thank you, J-mo! January 19, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in DOE, NSF, politics.
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The Obama stimulus package is taking shape. From the point of view of science, it looks rather good:

  • Extra 3 billion for the NSF
  • Extra 2 billion for the DOE’s Office of Science
  • Funds to help states cover some education costs

The first two are a big boon to research grants – like the one that supports me and my students. The last won’t totally cover the 10% cut that UW is currently facing from state funds, but it will help!

The overall proposal is breath taking in size. The question is… who will pay for it in the end? My guess is the young folk… 🙂

2009. Ready or not January 2, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in ATLAS, CERN, D0, Fermilab, LHC, politics, science.

We’ve made it through the first day of 2009. I have mixed feelings about this coming year.

  • Federal Science Funding Levels. The economy is crashing down around our ears. Business responds quickly (layoffs :() – government is a bit slower. If things followed their natural course of action that would mean science funding, along with everything else, will take yet another hit. However, the incoming Obama administration seems to be committed to spending the USA’s way out of this recession, so in the end funding might not change very much. I am hopeful that hard sciences funding will remain at least stable.
  • Federal Science Funding Directions. Climate change is what the Obama administration is focused on. There is a good chance that if you are researching something connected with climate change you may have access to increased funding opportunities. I would expect a funding profile similar to NIH’s funding during its years of increase. I would like to think that funding will spill over into the physical sciences – it should because there are connections between the physical sciences and clean air technologies. All of this is applied scientific research. I hope that the pure research funding gets an increase as well, as an investment in this countries future (particle physics is pure research, of course). I’m feeling neutral here.
  • Federal Science. Obama’s science team is just a BLAST of fresh air when compared to the current administration’s. After all, his DOE nominee is a Nobel prize winning experimental physicist. Even if the science advisor isn’t elevated to a cabinet position (PDF), there will be someone in the room that knows a great deal about science, research, and how it is done. Even if there are cuts to science funding, I’m very hopeful there will be intelligent cuts rather that unscientifically motivated cuts. I’m very hopeful in this respect.
  • State Universities. The economy in states is depressing. Some states, like my own (Washington) that rely on sales tax are being hit hard and very fast. State universities can’t escape that, obviously, and my university is no exception. Unfortunately, this usually translates to reduced raises, inability to counter offers from outside, reduced support for research, etc. In our own department I wouldn’t be surprised if some people left for other universities that, for whatever reason, were able to make good offers in this awful climate. There is, in fact, already evidence this is happening. The only consolation is most universities are in the same boat, and so most of them are having similar problems. I know less about private universities, but I do know the endowments of many of them are also having difficulty. I’m very downbeat about this: it will be a rough two years at least, I think.
  • My Science. When it comes to the Tevatron and the LHC… Well, I see no reason that the Tevatron shouldn’t continue to break records in luminosity (they just broke one earlier this week). And the experiments will continue to be flooded with data. While it is possible for one experiment or the other to have a catastrophic failure, I doubt that will happen. And they should continue to produce papers and science at a furious rate. I also am looking forward to real LHC collision data this year. While I hope it will be at the full 14 TeV, I suspect it is more likely to be at 2 TeV, just a hair above the Tevatron’s luminosity. We’ll hopefully know what the machine scientists think about that sometime in February. I’m really hopeful about this.
  • New Years Resolutions. Well, I made only one. That way I have a hope of keeping it: make bread more often. 🙂 I think there is a chance that I will keep this one. Especially now that I’ve said it publically. 🙂

Of course, this should also be a fun year, as noted by the Beacon News:

Frustrated with their failed attempt to destroy the world in 2008, the scientists at Fermilab and their counterparts at Switzerland’s CERN physics lab resolve to perfect their new device, the Large Planet-Sucking Black-Hole-o-Tron.

Here is to another great year of data collection and science at the Tevatron and first collision data at the LHC!

Cultural Damage: the last 8 years December 26, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in life, politics.

IMG_9082We got our kid a LEGO set this year. I had thousands of bits and my sister and I spent endless hours building things from them (including self-supporting 5 foot long space ships). LEGO is good clean kid fun! It promotes imagination, it definitely isn’t a one-trick toy, after all!

After J-mo opened the present and started playing with it my wife noticed something: there were people (cavemen) and dinosaurs together. Now, no big deal, right? This is a toy, after all. Pretend, and just for fun. 8 years ago I don’t think any of us would have noticed this. Now however, things are much more polarized. It just amazes me that we even thought about this. How is it that imagination has been this ruined by these 8 years of cultural wars? To take the edge of the fun of LEGO?

I really hope that the change in presidency is more than just a change at the top and we can waste less time on these cultural wars and get back to making the USA work. What a waste.

I had a fantastic Christmas; I hope everyone else did as well! [Ok, odd note to end the post on…] And I hope your travel was a lot less traumatic than mine was!

13 Is A Bad Number December 22, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in politics, university.
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The governor of the state of Washington has proposed a budget for the next two years (2009 and 2010). She had this to say (quoted in a Seattle PI article), which I thought both nice and also apt:

Gregoire said of her own budget: "I hate it. … Nothing went untouched, and I’ve told people whom I respect and admire and who have folks that are going to be dramatically affected by this budget, ‘You’re going to hate it.’ I’ve told legislators, ‘You are going to hate my budget. There’s something in there for everybody not to like.’ "

I guess that is what happens when you have a projected 6 billion dollar short fall over two years in a 33 billion dollar budget.

Everything is hurt – just read that article, but what I’m here to write about is how UW and higher learning is affected. Depending on which document I read it looks like a 13% cut to UW’s state budget. At first this doesn’t sound too much: the state pays only 400 million a year out of UW’s annual 1.2 billion dollar budget. Until you realize everyone is paid out of the 400 million!! I think I can safely say that I won’t be getting a raise next year (and I am grateful to still have a job in this economy!), but what I’m really curious about is how UW (and other institutions) will make up the rest of that difference. Will we shut down departments? Kill all TA support?

It is tricky. For example, if you just eliminate professors then you eliminate grant money. The university skims money off the top of that grant money, so if you aren’t too carefully cutting professors also cuts your income! How about cutting staff? Same deal – the university can’t function without its staff. You cut too much of it and it falls over. What if you only eliminate only small departments or departments that don’t bring in a lot of funding? That is a very slippery slope. For example, because of the projects we do, science tends to be much better funded than the humanities. That scale doesn’t seem right either! And do you just hunker down for two years because you expect it to get better, or do you suspect that this will be 10 years of pain and so you might as well do the worst now? Finally, given all this, how do you make sure your really good people remain here at UW and aren’t poached by others? I suspect whatever the university does it will be about as popular as the governor’s new budget!

And I should also note, this is only a proposed budget. Next stop is the legislature. As is clear from the article I linked to at the top there are a lot of folks ready to push on our state’s legislature to change the budget. So perhaps 13 is too low or perhaps it is too high. Who knows, but I guess we’ll see it over the course of the next several months.

Poof! Your life’s work… December 20, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in life, politics.

I was reading up a bit on the Madoff Ponzi scheme. The sheer size of the money involved is just amazing! Charities totally destroyed. For example, I found the following on the Elie Wiesel Foundation’s web site:

We are deeply saddened and distressed that we, along with many others, have been the victims of what may be one of the largest investment frauds in history. We are writing to inform you that the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity had $15.2 million under management with Bernard Madoff Investment Securities. This represented substantially all of the Foundation’s assets.

Poof! All their work is gone just like that. Imagine a group of people committed to some cause working for a large part of their life on it and then to have the rug pulled out from under them.

And this foundation is small potatoes compared to some of the foundations losses.

I suppose the key is trust. I trust my bank not to loose my money – or the federal government get it back to me if my bank fails. There are no such guarantees once you get beyond 100,000 or so bucks. But the way the economy was going over the past n-years there were lots of places I would have considered it was just fine to park my money that now look quite shaky.

I like Krugman’s summary of the whole mess:

Yet surely I’m not the only person to ask the obvious question: How different, really, is Mr. Madoff’s tale from the story of the investment industry as a whole?

So… how much of the boom of the last 10 or 15 years in the USA was actually fake? Even if we didn’t participate in making loads of money we certainly were a part of the USA – economically invincible [I’m going to totally ignore the war issue here]. How we have fallen! I hope it minimally affects other parts of the world, but as this Madoff mess shows, that isn’t likely.

Bombings in Mumbai November 27, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in life, politics.
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I just saw this in the NYTimes:

Coordinated terror attacks struck the heart of Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, Wednesday night, killing dozens in machine-gun and grenade assaults on at least two five-star hotels, the city’s largest train station, a movie theater and a hospital.

I was there – visited one of the hotels that was bombed, was in that train station that was bombed, when I was attending the CHEP 2007 conference. The city is fantastic – so crowded it makes New York City look deserted. I loved it and the people. So it is very sad to see something like this happening. I don’t pretend to being to understand the politics in a country as large and diverse as India – but it looks like this attack was particularly confusing (i.e. none of the various new sources I read have any idea what drove this attack). But it sounds like it was much worse than before: American and British hostages. 😦 Best wishes and I hope no one reading this is unfortunate enough to be directly connected with any of the victims; and if you are, I can only wish you best of luck.

N.B. Clicking on the picture brings you to pictures in flickr tagged with “mumbai”. When I look at the list there are a bunch of unrelated pictures at the top (i.e. life goes on). Scroll down to see lots of user generated content.

A Very Large Middle Finger November 23, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in politics, university.
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From the latest What’s New:

Burton Richter, the American physicist who shared the 1976 Nobel Prize with Sam Ting, showed up on CNN yesterday afternoon … The Chevy Volt, Richter said, could cut US oil consumption by 60%, however, CEO Rick Wagoner had ignored his advice and pushed the arrogant Hummer, which a young lady in my class described as a very large middle finger. Any bailout of GM should be predicated on total conversion to a maker of small high-efficiency vehicles.

Emphasis mine. To any professor that doesn’t think students are smart… 😉

The LHC is too big to fail! November 17, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in politics, science, USA.


A friend of mine and I were discussing the bailout. The consensus seems to be that large companies – like GM and Chrysler – are too big to fail.

Can we say the same thing about a science experiment like the LHC? 🙂 Could we apply for extra science funding under the bailout program?

When Scared Gets Scared November 11, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in politics.

Yeah, it can be scary out there. Chuck Norris kind-of scary out there. On one had you have:

Chuck Norris destroyed the periodic table, because he only recognizes the element of surprise.

and on the other:

Chuck Norris tried to roundhouse kick Barack Obama, but he blocked it. With Hope. To this day, Chuck Norris has a Hope-shaped burn mark on his shin.

I stumbled on that posting when I was looking for an open letter Norris had written to Obama. I started the blog posting with those quotes to lighten the mood. The letter is exactly what you would expect from someone on the far right of the political spectrum – basically turn on every campaign promise you’ve made and govern the right way. My way. The only reason I can think of that he wrote that letter was so he could say later: “Well, I tried to tell him!” or… well, I can’t really imagine. But the calls warning of Obama dictatorships are already starting. Whatever.

The real reason I’m writing this blog posting is that web site. Wow. The first add I saw was a flash add from a colledge guide (www and .org) that starts with the nice tag line “Don’t throw your money away! Find the whole truth about America’s top schools” and then it slides over to “Co-ed bathrooms!? Political indoctrination!? Sham academics?!?” Tee shirts for sale “I’d rather be water boarding”. Another cool article headline from the site: “How many wise men saw Jesus in a manger? Not 3!” I actually clicked on that before I realized it wasn’t some archeological find rather than a different reading of some bible verse…

Napster advertises on that web site. Oh, what lows…