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Long Live The Train! August 21, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in travel.

How many of you have seen this NYTimes article, or a similar one, over past 6 months? It contains paragraphs like this one:

In just a few short months, the airlines have discovered to their glee that their customers are willing to pay for most everything from checked bags to soft drinks to pillows and blankets — and are doing so without much fuss. With that knowledge in hand, the airlines aren’t about to stop.

Fees for checked baggage. Fees to let you reserve a seat — any seat. Fees. Fees. Fees. My favorite line was the following:

“You complain at Starbucks, you get a freebie,” she said, “If you throw a fit at an airport, you could be picked up by the T.S.A.”

So — don’t complain about those fees! 🙂 On our recent flight on Brussels Airlines from Marseille to Brussels (on the way to Prague) I looked into buying a Coke. It was 3.10 euros for one of those plastic bottles. That is $4.52!!! At the local 7-11 in Seattle those things go for about $1.50. And the best thing was there was a line at the bottom of the menu that said the prices in the airport were the same, so they weren’t raising the prices unfairly!!! Wow!

Ok — as things settle, they will remove the fees perhaps? Like a drug addict willingly leaves heroin behind:

Given that [analysts have said airlines will benefit from new fees and the currently dropping jet fuel price], Mr. Ridley says he believes that the airlines, which are grounding planes and cutting about 8 percent of their available seats this fall, will not rush to remove the charges, which he likens to “fee heroin.”

I have traveled only a little this year by plane. Spending most of it in Europe. The result is next year I won’t be a frequent flyer. And now that I have a kid I probably won’t fly nearly as much as I used to. Add to that the fact that science budgets are going down and airplane ticket prices are going up. So this means I’ll get to experience this mess first hand. I’m not looking forward to next year. Riding the train from Marseille to CERN has been so nice…


DZERO Workshop Redux August 18, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in D0, life, travel.
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IMG_4573Well, if there is one thing to be said about the DZERO workshop, it is that the recent breaking of the Higgs SM limit line by CDF and DZERO has certainly injected excitement into the experiment. On the other hand, the LHC startup is right around the corner (officially, Sept. 10). Many of the talks given were infused with both of these themes. The theme of the workshop isn’t hard to guess: the Tevatron is schedule to give another 4 fb-1 of data or so — doubling our current dataset — is the experiment ready to absorb that? Especially as people drain away from the Tevatron experiments to the LHC experiments.

On one hand, many of the future talks would split the physics they discussed into physics that only the Tevatron could do vs physics that both the Tevatron and the LHC could do. The implication being, of course, that the LHC would quickly produce better results once it was up and running.

For the Higgs searches, it was the opposite — there is a small window of opportunity that must be grabbed while the grabbing is good. Indeed, I think it is safe to say that most of the experiment is focused on getting the Higgs signal.

At the last minute I was asked to give a talk on my daqAI work. This is artificial intelligence for the data acquisition system at DZERO. Actually, there is nothing “AI” about it – it is just a bunch of if-then-else statements that recognize a problem and either tell the shifter or attempt to fix it themselves. The up shot is better up time. Actually, DZERO’s data taking efficiency is amazing. Above 90%. When we hit 80% we claim we’ve had a bad week. Our competition, CDF, is not doing so well. While I’d like to think that daqAI helps towards this (and I suppose it does a bit) the real reason is the people we have working on this. CDF – if the Tevatron is going to say anything about the Higgs then you guys need every drop of data… Get to work! 😉

Another really interesting session I went to was the b-tagging one. I used to co-run the b-tagging group at DZERO. It was especially satisfying to see some large projects that I attempted to get going while I was the co-convener actually completed. They weren’t completed because they continued using myself – people mostly started from scratch – bit still… And the fact that ex-students of mine had a hand in getting those things done. Very cool! And, of course, there is all the ongoing work – some of it rather interesting.

Lots of other interesting stuff, but I can’t talk about it of course.

Finally, our Prague hosts did a great job. That picture above is Julia dancing to traditional Czech music. 🙂

I’m on vacation now, in Cyprus. My wife was full time Mom last week while I was attending the DZERO workshop. This week it is her turn – she gets to keynote at the physics education conference here in Cyprus while I’m a full time Dad. After that we will be busy moving back to the USA. In this hotel they charge 20 euros a day for internet… so I’m not sure if my blog will be updated much! But we’ll see…

I’m Not In France Anymore! August 10, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in D0, physics life, travel.

IMG_4250That is Pork’s Knee (or Pork’s knuckle as it was labeled on the menu). And it was good. Big enough to search two, and J-mo ate a little too. Somehow I don’t think you would ever find a dish quite like this in France. And the beer along with it – I’ve not tasted beer that good in months! I love French food and wine, but there are some things done better elsewhere…

I’m in Prague this week, along with the family, attending D0’s yearly workshop. I don’t know how much posting will occur (probably not much). And the week after I’m on vacation being a Dad and Paula attends a big conference. I’m pretty sure almost not posting will occur then.

In the mean time I’m going to enjoy as much Czech beer as I can!

Internet In European Hotels July 7, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in ATLAS, travel.
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I’m at the ATLAS overview week conference in Bern this week. My hotel, which is excellent – big, comfortable, in the old section of town so really nice area… has no Internet. As a result, you may not see many posts from me this week…

Actually, I lied. I can pick up an Internet I can pay for if I stick my portable out the window. Not exactly comfortable… I guess I’ll have to take a mini-vacation during the evening…

Depressing June 23, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in Marseille, travel.
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IMG_2594Just booked my first flight after I arrive back in North America on August 31st. I’m going to miss Marseille.

Two Scary Moments at ATLAS b-tagging workshop May 7, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in physics life, travel.
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IMG_1947Graduate student and advisor bonding over Joss Whedon and Buffy.

Having to go from 8pm to the next morning at 9:30am without a portable. Didn’t get to write a talk I was asked at the last minute to talk about and also got a full 8 hours of sleep. Not done that in months.

A less scary moment was getting lost on the streets of Genova, Italy. This city is packed to the gills with buildings – it is impossible to get a lay-of-the-land unless you are on the side of a hill.

I have pictures, as usual. Along with some from a pretty stunning hike.

Excess April 29, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in France, life, travel.
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IMG_1557A few weeks ago my Dad visited me here in Marseille and we took a trip along the coast to Nice. We went the slow road – a long the coast – right a long the coast. At one point we got caught in the traffic jam that is St. Tropez. St. Tropez is a playground – made famous by Brigitte Bardot.

The harbor was packed with boats that were… well excessive. Most of them were large motor boats, but there were plenty of sailboats.

However — it was cool to see that it was a sailboat that took the “excess” grand slam gold metal title. That is the picture you see here. The thing is completely computer controlled too. In fair weather I wonder if you could sail it with one person? We also joked that it probably made sail “snapping” and luffing sounds so the captain could hear what was going on — being so far away from the actual sail!

And how deep does the keel go!?!?

I’ve got a few other excessive pictures, including a panorama that shows exactly how out of hand it was in that small port.

On Fleecing Tourists March 5, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in CERN, travel.

I visited Lausanne last night to have dinner with some friends. I don’t have a rental car on this trip to CERN. So I had to take public transportation. Round trip that was 6 CHF for the bus/tram and 41 CHF for the train. That comes to 47 CHF – which is about $47 bucks for about 1 hour of being on public transportation (and standing at bus/tram/train stops for about 40 minutes). That is some serious money!

On the way out I ran into a friend that happens to live at CERN. She makes that commute every day – so of course she gets passes to make things cheaper: 10 CHF round trip.

The 5 bottles of wine that were consumed over dinner took some of the edge off, but that was a crazy expensive! It is cheaper to rent a car for one day – about 35 euros!!

Timing is Everything January 21, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in France, life, travel.


After spending a month in the States visiting family, working at Fermilab, attending conferences (well, my wife, at least), we will arrive back in France on the 24th.

What better way to re-integrate ourselves into France than to be at the wrong end of a strike! Yes, our timing is impeccable. The SNCF is on strike again in the continuing battle between Sarkosy, the French president, and workers over benefits, working hours, etc.

The last time I was returning from the Unexpected conference I also got caught. That wasn’t too bad — I did make it back in the end, just late. But I was on my own. This time it will be the two of us, a boat load of luggage and Julia. Wish us luck!

Trains are so much better December 27, 2007

Posted by gordonwatts in travel.
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I flew to Chicago today, from Ottawa, and was reminded why taking a train to get from Marseille to CERN is a so much more pleasant experience. First was the 30 minute drive to the airport. Then I stood in line for almost 40 minutes – because the ticket agent for United Express had gone on break. And there was only one ticket agent. I think there were over 50 people queued up by the time she got back (United Express — what were you thinking!?). Indeed, the backup was big enough that our flight was delayed departing. Then there was security – shoes off, portable out, cell phones out. I didn’t get selected for an extra search, including a pat down, but the person behind me did (and it was her first time flying – how do you get to 22 and not fly!?). And then waiting for another 35 minutes to board.

But I’m back in the good old USA. I shouldn’t complain: there is no way to deal with travel any other way but planes and cars. But I can dream…

And I have home made fudge with me… I was going to share it with people on the owl at the Tevatron, but it looks like my shift might be canceled!