Thanks to all who responded to the previous entry. The comments were much appreciated. As a side note, I had tried to get last Thursday's seminar postponed by one week, until today, as I knew that we (i.e., the T2K collaboration) would be releasing new results this week. In retrospect, I am rather glad I did not succeed in moving my presentation, as RSD would not have lived long enough to see it. Tis an odd realisation, knowing that in a career spanning decades, my talk was the last physics seminar he ever saw.

That said, Monday's entry was also rather grim. I shall endeavour to correct for that now, by writing a much cheerier accounting of my Thursday morning.

This entry is being written, as so many have before it, from Ye Olde Oxford Tube, as I make my way into London for the "morning" commute. Tis noon, so you could be forgiven for thinking that your friendly neighbourhood Nomad has been having a bit of a lazy day. Not so, however!

This particular Nomad has been awake since half past six and busy as the proverbial bee. Although nothing world-shaking has happened [yet] today, the morning has been filled with various unusual events, some amusing and other rather satisfying. If you read on, dear friends, you will find nothing shocking or vital... but I hope that perhaps you will share some of my good feelings for today.

For ease of reading, I will break each part of the story into a separate chapter, concerning a different topic. Read only the ones that interest you, or read them all! Enjoy!
In Moscow right now, attending the 16th Lomonosov Conference on Elementary Particle Physics. Feels somehow appropriate to finally write an LJ entry in Russia.

Wallet currently contains €28.97 (Euro), £200.45 (Pounds Sterling), and руб 1400 (Russian Rubles). None are there for "historical" reasons -- all three are currencies that I have spent within the past twenty-four hours. It's a fun life!

Post with first impressions of Moscow to follow later, including view from my hotel room. Right now, the second session of the morning is about to begin. My talk ("Recent Results from T2K") is third in the session.

ETA 1: Am well aware that the "Current Music" is doubly inaccurate, as (a) I've never been to Russia before, and (b) the USSR ceased to exist in 1991. Still feels like an fitting choice, though. (Er, the title of this entry -- taken from Roger Waters's Radio K.A.O.S. -- might be somewhat inaccurate, too; I may be British now but am most definitely not Welsh! Zeroth order approximation?)

ETA 2: Talk went reasonably well. Only got one question, from a fairly argumentative woman who refused to actually listen to my reply. Got a couple of compliments afterward, though... and one person who expressed sympathy at the unreasonable questioner.

ETA 3: After lunch session has started with Higgs boson talks. Never thought I'd see the day when Higgs talks had become downright boring. "There's a Higgs. It's completely consistent with the Standard Model prediction. Have a nice day." Still, should probably stop typing on LJ and pay attention, though...

I'm in Japan this week, doing a week of shift at Super-Kamiokande. I often get asked by non-scientists what "shift" means in this context.

I like to describe it as "babysitting" for our experiment. Generally speaking, when a particle physics experiment is running, it runs around the clock -- we don't limit our data taking to regular business hours. (That would be astoundingly inefficient!) Thus, there always needs to be somebody present to keep an eye on the experiment, to make sure all is running smoothly and nothing goes wrong. And, of course, to make things right again when something does go wrong!

Doing shift is generally boring. In fact, you hope it is, as "interesting" usually means that something has indeed gone awry! I've heard shift described as "hours of boredom, broken up by moments of terror."

Each collaboration has its own rules for how to distribute shifts and what constitutes a fair quota. The starting point is usually to add up all the shifts required in a particular year, then divide by the number of collaborators. This number can then be tweaked in various ways, giving more important people (i.e., senior faculty) a lighter load having less important people (i.e., graduate students) make up the difference. Usually, though, everyone ends up doing shift at some point. In my current experiment, T2K, I end up doing one week of shift each year, based at our far detector -- Super-Kamiokande.

What that means is that, for this week, I am sitting in the shift room for eight hours each day, watching the event display and -- every two hours -- running through a list of periodic checks. The event display shows a realtime readout of what our detector is seeing. It is the end result of a large number of systems, so if that looks good then all is likely well.

In fact, the event display is actually rather pretty. Don't take my word for it, though! There is a realtime feed on the web, so you can see for yourself:

[N.B. Originally, the event display was supposed to be embedded in this entry, because that would be pretty. Far prettier than an external link. However, it appears that something as simple as embedding a webpage into LJ is not trivial. Why LiveJournal chose to disable standard HTML embed commands -- and replaced them with a custom lj-embed that is effectively undocumented -- is beyond me. Feh.]

In other news, there was an amusing moment this evening when one of the secretaries came into the shift room. Her English is not great -- and my Nihongo is even worse! -- so it was a bit of a challenge to communicate. She said that she wanted to talk to me about board games on the internet. Not something that I would have expected! Then she mentioned YourTurnMyTurn. Again, strange. I certainly use the site -- have done so since [ profile] wolfpeach introduced me to it back in March 2011.

She went on to explain that she is on the site. One of my collaborators, RW, told her about it and set her up with an account. Okay, that makes a little more sense -- I told RW about it some time back, and we played one game of Go there. So not quite as random as I had thought.

Then she continued to say something that I couldn't quite make out at first. Was she saying that we should play a game together some time? Sure, I would be okay with that! No, I heard her wrong... she was saying that we had already played a game! Really?

Turns out, she was right! Back in January, she and I faced off against each other in a game of go-moku, during a tournament. I vaguely recall the game in question -- I remember it being quite close... but, ultimately, she won. Of course, I had to immediately challenge, er, invite her to a rematch!

Although this was not as random as I first perceived -- having been part of the chain of events which led her to the site -- it is still fairly odd to find out that I gamed with one of the Super-K secretaries back in January... and didn't even know it at the time!
anarchist_nomad: (Default)
( May. 18th, 2013 08:33 pm)
In Japan now. Today's big adventure was a magnitude 6.0 earthquake that shook us up quite impressively during the last session of our T2K collaboration meeting. Earthquakes in Japan are normal, and I've felt at least three during the nine days that I have been here this trip. Even so, today's episode was strong enough -- and went on just long enough -- that we started to suspect it might be something more than a routine shakeup.

Happy to see that we were wrong about that.

Tomorrow morning, I am off for Korea. For my next adventure, I am scheduling a tour of the DMZ...

ETA: I leave for Korea in five hours. I just noticed this article in the New York Times. Hmmmmm.

At Narita Airport now. The T2K collaboration meeting ended yesterday, so now the second leg of my trip has come to a close. I left Tokai this morning and, in about an hour, I will be leaving Japan.

The third, and final, part of this trip will be spent in Taiwan, where I shall be visiting with the lovely [ profile] bonzifan. I am rather bouncy about this! I've never been to Taiwan before. As far as visiting parts of China go, I have been to the People's Republic of China (specifically Beijing and the Great Wall), and I have been to Hong Kong (back in 1996, about a year before it was re-absorbed by the PRC). But I have not yet been to the Republic of China (i.e., Taiwan). Exciting! Plus, of course, there is the added bonus of spending time with the awesometacular [ profile] bonzifan -- truly a classic win-win situation!

Before I leave Japan, here is one more picture for you, gentle readers. This year's sakura season has well and truly passed in all but the highest portions of Japan. Yet I leave you -- and the country -- with one more photograph taken whilst they were still in bloom. Enjoy!

(click for full-sized version)

On that note, I had best close the computer and pass through security -- boarding begins soon!

The weekend started with a most excellent party on Friday and Saturday, courtesy of the lovely R and the awesome [ profile] wolfpeach. Many fantastic new people to meet, cuddle, et cetera! Plus cake and sauna and cabaret and ritual! Huzzah! As best I can tell, a fantabulous time was had by all!

After everything wrapped up, the rest of yesterday was spent at home, sharing some quality alone time with my beloved [ profile] cheshcat. We stayed up until nearly three o'clock in the morning, playing games, sharing pictures from my recent trip to Berlin, and other stuff.

This morning, I got up early again. These days, it seems that the nights where I get more than four or five hours of sleep are few and far between. I think it has happened once in the past week, on Thursday. As the observant [ profile] wolfpeach noted, it seems like I'm not only burning the candle at both ends... but taking a flamethrower to the middle, as well. One of the reasons that I love the man -- he says the sweetest things![*]

Today, the early rise was motivated by the need to pack. As I mentioned last month, the bulk of April will be spent in Japan, splitting my time between Mozumi (for shift at Super-Kamiokande) and Tokai (for the T2K collaboration meeting). After it all wraps up, in about three weeks, I will be popping over to Taiwan for a four day holiday. Exploring a new country is always fun -- I am particularly looking forward to ascending Taipei 101, the tallest building in the world from 2004 to 2010.[**] As an extra special bonus in my travels, I will get to enjoy the splendid company of the lovely [ profile] bonzifan, who will be showing me around during my stay in Taiwan.

As I write this, the adventure has already begun.[***] Right now, I am sitting on the Oxford Airline bus, making my way towards Heathrow. I expect that we will arrive in just a few minutes. Nearly time to check in and buckle down for the long[****] flight. Next stop: Tokyo Narita!

Happy Easter, everyone! See you from the other side!

[*] Odd as it sounds, I'm not actually being sardonic here. For one trying to live life to the absolutely maximum, complements on productivity are a sure-fire way to bring a smile to my face and warm the cockles of my heart! (One of these days, somebody is going to call me an "overachiever"; when that happens, I may just melt away!)

[**] Currently ranked #3, behind the newly completed Mecca Royal Hotel Clock Tower and the record-shattering Burj Khalifa -- the latter of which is the tallest structure of any sort every build by humans. Tis nearly as tall as one Sears Tower placed on top of another!

[***] Albeit the less adventurous part of the adventure.

[****] Twelve hours.

anarchist_nomad: (Look Like An Egyptian)
( Nov. 16th, 2011 11:57 pm)
Haven't played this game in a while, gentle readers. Here goes:
  • CHUTE: Am writing this entry on the Oxford Tube, during the trip that never ends. Leaving London after 22:00, we immediately got stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the A40. Not exactly what I would expect at that hour. After finally making it through the jam, we seemed to be moving along well... until the motorway (M40) got closed off. So we are now diverting through High Wycombe -- whee! Eventually I will return home. I think.

  • LADDER: Yesterday, I went to Cambridge. There, I presented a high energy physics seminar on the first results from T2K at the Cavendish Laboratory. It went rather well, I think... with some post-talk discussions that may prove rather fruitful in the future. So now I have spoken at both Oxford and Cambridge -- spiffy!

  • CHUTE: I have just learned that one of our darling kitties -- probably The Boy -- has puked all over the bed. Feh. So on my arrival home, after midnight, I will need to strip off the sheets and put clean ones on. Irksome. I love him dearly, but I wish that his walnut-brain were keen enough so that he knew better than to vomit where he sleeps.

  • LADDER: The reason that I am coming back from London so late is that I had a very nice dinner in South Kensington with my high school history teacher. She is one of only three teachers that I actually liked in my high school (and only two of those are still alive). We last saw each other in October 2007, when I dropped in during a visit to NYC. However, she is now living in London for a year and looked me up online. I was rather pleasantly surprised, and it was a lovely evening of chatting and catching up. We have tentative plans for her and her partner to come visit Oxford next month, where I will treat them to one of my now-famous tours.

  • CHUTE: The new Muppets movie -- which comes out next week in the United States -- will not be released in the UK until February! What the...?!? I have no idea why some films are released concurrently in both countries, whilst others have an enormous lag. The latest cinematic adaptation of Jane Eyre, for instance, had a whopping six month delay -- coming out in March for the US and September for the UK. I very much hope that this Muppet movie will still be in the US theatres come late December, because I really don't want to wait three more months!!

  • LADDER: Quite by surprise, I appear to be headed to Berlin in March! Apparently, I am taking a five day holiday with the lovely [ profile] faerierhona (plus one other). Rather excited about this, as I have not yet been to Germany properly... and Berlin is very much on my list of European cities to visit. As an added bonus, it looks like she has found us a splendid apartment for the trip -- located right on the Ku'damm! Excellent -- couldn't ask for a better location than that!!

  • LADDER: Speaking of plane tickets and March, the ever-exuberant [ profile] tawneypup and the fabulous [ profile] jadesfire55 have now purchased their tickets to come visit us in Merry Olde Englande! Huzzah! Looks like there will be much happiness and excitement in Oxford (and beyond) during the last week of March!

Additionally, there is one more ladder. It is a sooper sekrit ladder that I cannot talk about in this space... yet. If things go well, all shall be revealed in time. Stay tuned, true believers!

anarchist_nomad: (Mailbox Madness!)
( Nov. 11th, 2011 04:42 pm)
In the hopes of getting back to blogging more, here is a simple entry that details what I did yesterday:

The day started with the annual ritual known as The Imaging of the Kidneys, which originated in my 2009 kidney stone incident. In addition to the stone (now long passed) that was being problematic on my left, the CT and ultrasound images also showed a small (3mm) stone dwelling in my right kidney. The good people of A&E (or the ER, if you prefer), observed that this might never be a problem. So long as it stays small and remains in the kidney, this stone should not cause any harm and no action need by undertaken to pulverize it. In short, the stone and I reached an understanding to continue our coexistence on good terms. To ensure that the stone is indeed meeting its end of this bargain, we now take annual images of my kidneys via ultrasound. Just to be certain. Yesterday's peek showed that all is indeed well, so the stone and I shall continue to peaceably cohabitate. Stay tuned next year, gentle readers, for the next exciting installment!

After cycling back from the Churchill hospital, I hopped a bus to the Oxford rail station. There I met my darling [ profile] miss_amaranth and a couple of people from channel 4 who are making a seven part documentary series on love & relationships. One of these parts will focus on polyamory, which was the focus of yesterday's meeting. The four of us strolled to the St. Aldate's G&D's where we proceeded to chat for two hours over bagel sandwiches and hot drinks. I indulged in a new creation known as the "holy cow", which adds a scoop of ice cream to a mug of hot chocolate -- delicious!! More about this experience will likely soon be found on the lovely [ profile] miss_amaranth's polyamory-dedicated blog, Love Is Infinite. For now, I will just say that my initial impressions were positive -- much more so than when we were dealing with Nina Clement at ITV2, earlier this year.

Around 13:00, [ profile] miss_amaranth needed to return to Winchester and I came back to Chiron Beta Prime to attend the bi-weekly collaboration-wide T2K analysis meeting. The collaboration has a rotating pool of people to take meeting minutes and, as one of the suckers who volunteered, it was my turn once again. So I paid even closer attention than usual and jotted everything down as we went. After the meeting ended, RT and I had a brief follow-up meeting one-on-one, then I did some work on my own.

In the evening, I hopped a bus back into town and made my way to the University of Oxford's Examination Schools. The Exam Schools building dates from the Victorian-era, completed in 1882. Although I have walked passed it many times, I had never before been inside of this architectural lovely. [ profile] cheshcat once did a tour, via the Oxford Newcomers' Club back when we were newcomers in Oxford. However, before last night, I never had the opportunity or the pleasure. So yesterday evening started on a high note just from getting to stroll about within. I had come to the Examination School to hear the inaugural lecture from Oxford's new "Programme on the Impact of Future Technology." Last night's talk was titled: "Exploring A Timeless Landscape: What physics tells us about the potential of advanced nanotechnologies." The speaker was Eric Drexler, the so-called "father of nanotechnology", who I had met the week before at a Halloween party. The lecture was interesting and largely focused on the increases in manufacturing productivity that could come about from developments in nanotech. It also introduced me to the concept of "exploratory engineering", which is a term that Eric invented to describe the region that science says is possible but is beyond the engineering scope of current technology. When the talk ended, I stuck around for a few minutes to ask another question, then hopped on a bus to get back home.

After a grazing a light dinner, I cycled down to the Barton Leisure Centre for some exercise. I jumped in the pool and swam my canonical mile -- sixty-four lengths of crawl -- which felt great. Due to recent travel, it has been some time since I last did this and it was excellent to get back in the water. I then cycled home again and did various and sundry chores whilst waiting for my beloved [ profile] cheshcat to return from an evening out with colleagues. When she did, we wound down for the evening together before retiring to the bedchamber.

All in all, I can say that yesterday was a splendid day! I did not leave Oxford at all, yet there was much local goodness to be had. Ah, I do so enjoy living in the City of Dreaming Spires!

anarchist_nomad: (The cape as red as blood)
( Nov. 9th, 2011 08:17 pm)
Greetings, gentle readers! Your friendly neigbourhood Nomad has been a bad, bad blogger. Very little about the past month has been written in these pages. Tsk tsk! Thus, the occasional "Week In Review" post has temporarily been upgraded to a "Month In Review". Here are the highlights of the past month... or at least those that I can remember at the moment!

  • P**T***: The Sooper Sekrit October Pagan Festival went very well, as it usually does. This year was particularly poignant, as it is the last time that we will be in buildings that have been our home for over twenty years now (and for all of the fifteen years that I have been attending). Also, my beloved [ profile] cheshcat and I seem to have found ourselves running P**T*** 2012. Ooops. This time, it will be as part of a team of seven experienced organizers, rather than on our own, that were elected to guide the community through its transition year.

  • US tour: After coming to the States for P**T***, we stayed for nearly two weeks. This gave [ profile] cheshcat and I the opportunity to do lots of nifty things! Whilst in New York City, we went to see a fantastic piece of experimental theatre called Sleep No More, recommended by the lovely [ profile] jeneralist. SNM is loosely based on MacBeth and set in a six story hotel; guests don spectral masks and wander freely through the rooms as the action goes on around them. Later, [ profile] cheshcat and I made the journey back to Chicagoland; I drove and she read Sense and Sensibility to me. She reads rather well, adopting different voices for each character. In this way, we finished almost the entire book. Back at the Event Horizon, we spent some excellent time with the grand [ profile] gyades. We also had a wonderful visit from the wonderful [ profile] tawneypup. Together, the three of us enjoyed breakfasts at the ever-delicious Butterfield's; we explored the Morton Arboretum in all its autumn glory (including a wonderful art exhibit of a glass pumpkin patch!); and we played many games. The Event Horizon Halloween party was also a huge success, as I wrote about in a previous entry.

  • Theatre: Besides the rather spectacular Sleep No More, my darling [ profile] cheshcat and I have been to several shows in the past month. The Oxford Playhouse is on a particularly good role, with a nifty student production of The Picture of Dorian Grey, an excellent new show called Family Business, and the thought-provoking Earthquakes In London. Perhaps best of all, however, was a trip to Milton Keynes last week, where we saw Slava's Snowshow. What an absolute delight! Pure, unadulterated joy! Seriously!! If anyone gets the chance to see this, please treat yourself! The entire show is amazing... but the ending alone makes it worth going!

  • Samhain: This year, my Samhain was nice... but not terribly intense. I cannot pretend to be surprised -- it seems normal that when one Samhain is very highly charged, the following year is much more mellow. For instance, Samhain 2006 was extremely intense... and 2007 barely felt like Samhain. Similarly, Samhain 2010 was very powerful, with many rituals to cut cords and burn away baggage... culminating in my first salt circle. In contrast, this year Samhain was relatively quiet. Our coven of five performed our traditional ancestor rituals of the feast and the toast, thus completing another Wheel of the Year. I am very pleased to say that, once again, we managed to WORK all the sabbats during the cycle that just ended. I am even more pleased to say that the year which has now passed was a very good year in many ways -- [ profile] cheshcat and I received our indefinite leave to remain in the UK, no relationships ended and the existing ones grew stronger, I travelled to a couple of new countries and explored more of Great Britain. Definitely a much better year than the one that came before, which was rife with drama, tension, and strife.

    Probably the most important part of this Samhain was a ritual that I ran for somebody else. I was pleased to serve as HP for doing such vital work.

  • Work: Lots going on right now. Fiducial volume optimization with one of my graduate students; particle interaction studies on neutrino-induced charged current positive single pion interactions; professional seminars and outreach talks; you name it!

  • Misc: After being on a de facto hiatus from bell ringing over the Summer, due to travel, I am back to regular ringing at least once per week. That is very good for me. Gaming sessions have also happened a couple of times since my return to the City of Dreaming Spires. Oh, and I met Eric Drexler at a Halloween party last week; we spent some time chatting about supernova and neutrinos as well as projects that fall in the gap between physics and engineering. He is giving a lecture on nanotechnology tomorrow afternoon, which I am very much looking forward to attending.

On that note, gentle readers, I must end this entry. For I am writing from Ye Olde Oxford Tube once again... and we are very nearly home! Have a lovely evening, dear friends!

Happy September Equinox, dear friends![*]

As I post this, the Sun should be passing over the subsolar point on the equator, and the [imaginary] line connecting the center of Earth and Sun will be perpendicular to the Earth's [less imaginary] axis of rotation! Huzzah for Mabon! Pretty soon, the days and nights will be equal length -- at least for those of us up here in the North![**]

Meanwhile, we have just completed our day of physics here in Tokai. A day in which my former thesis adviser and our current International Co-Spokesperson[***] narrowly declined to bet his wife and kids against neutrinos travelling faster than light. It is worth nothing that, except for a small string of about five e-mails, no one mentioned this potentially enormous discovery at an experiment very similar to our own. Yeah, I don't believe it, either.

Completely unrelated, I mentioned in my previous post that Day One of this trip to Japan contained both a typhoon and an earthquake. The quake turned out to be a magnitude 5.2, just slightly weaker than the 5.8 that hit Virginia last month. I think that it felt stronger to me because, as this map shows, we were sitting practically on top of the epicenter.

After getting off to that exciting start, here is a summary of how the rest of my trip is shaping up thus far:

Day One: Welcome to Japan. Typhoon, then earthquake.
Day Two: Boring day: No typhoon, no earthquake.
Day Three: Less quiet: No typhoon, but another earthquake.

We had a M5.0 about an hour or so ago, during the last session of the afternoon. The speaker paused for a moment and sat down. Then, before the shaking had fully subsided, the discussion resumed. Methinks we are getting acclimated. For my part, I simply turned to the person next to me and calmly asked: "What do you think? 5.1?" Turns out, I was not far off.

Also, it seems that my "Keeper for a Day" pictures were a bit of a success. With adorable animals like that, I am not surprised! There were some requests for more pictures from the outing, so here are a couple of extras -- enjoy!!

  1. Feeding a capybara. These "little" guys are the largest species of rodents living in the world today. Cute, too... and fun to pet!

  2. A boy and his tenrec. These awesome animals are a bundle of contradictions -- spiny, yet soft; able to go very flat, or roll into a ball! Getting some cuddle time with one was an excellent experience... as you can likely tell from the smile on my [poorly lit] face!

  3. Finally (for now), the lemur pictures were so popular that I had to throw in one more. Here you go, gentle readers: A lemur and I share a quiet bonding moment. (At least until the food was gone.)

Tis all for now, my friends! Until we meet again, have yourselves a merry little equinox!

[*] To avoid North/South confusion, I have adopted the convention of referring to September and March equinoxes, rather than Autumnal and Vernal ones.

[**] Not so much "huzzah" on this one, as I greatly prefer Summer to Winter. Perhaps a return to Argentina is in order?

[***] Who happen to be the same person.

anarchist_nomad: (Big Hair)
( Sep. 14th, 2011 11:17 pm)
Before writing today's entry, I want to thank everyone who contributed comments to yesterday's post. It has been both interesting and amusing to read the replies on morality and ethics!

As for today? This update will be relatively short, as tis time to wind down for bed -- there are several long days ahead. Today, I visited the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) for the first time. Although the lab is located very near to Chiron Beta Prime -- only sixteen miles away, near Didcot and still in Oxfordshire -- I have never had cause to go there before.

Having finished testifying before Parliament and being Spokesperson for the T2K experiment, my ever-awesome boss was recently made the Director of Particle Physics for the Science and Technology Facilities Council. For those who don't know, the STFC is the main UK funding agency for our research. This means that he spends a lot of time at RAL now. One of my professional responsibilities is handle the day-to-day research supervision of one of his graduate students, who is planning to move to Oxford and work half-time at RAL. Which means that I will be spending a lot more time there, too. That is fine by me, as the lab seems like a nice place to work -- reminding me somewhat of my time at Fermilab, actually -- and the commute is much shorter than the Oxford-to-London ride!

Anyway, said student met me in Oxford this morning and I drove us both out to the lab. Being a Londoner, this student has spent very little time in Oxford before. I met him near the coach stop and walked him back to Chiron Beta Prime so that we could get into my car and go.

It was only upon returning home alone, eight hours later, that I realised it had never even occurred to me to point out that my neighbour's roof has a large shark sticking out of it! We walked right by and the thought of mentioning it never crossed my mind! Oooops! (Indeed, were it not for a tourist in the road taking shark pictures when I returned home, I doubt that I would have realised it then, either!)

I suppose that I really have been living here for too long, if a giant shark sticking out of a roof has become commonplace!
No coherent subject for today's entry, gentle readers. Just taking a snapshot of the week and using this space to jot down a few of my current thoughts. Enjoy!

  • Concert: As expected, the Roger Waters show on Monday was phenomenal! To describe The Wall Live as a "concert" is a bit of a misnomer. Tis more of a total immersion experience, really! Having seen it once before, the experience was somewhat different -- particularly with a different audience[*] and seated only a few rows from the stage -- but no less intense! Seated in the row ahead of me was a man who had flown over from Lebanon to see this performance. At the interval, the person two seats over from me commented that he had lived for twenty-four years... but the preceding hour had been, without a doubt, the best hour of his life. Also during the interval, I ran into a couple of kids from back home -- New Yorkers who had seen the show three times in the States and had popped across the pond to see it again!

    I later learned that the excellent [ profile] bethanthepurple was also at this performance... though we did not chance to run into each other in the crowded arena. It makes me curious, though: Has anyone else on my f-list seen this show??

    After the show ended, it took over an hour before the parking lot had cleared enough for me to try to leave. No matter, though; twas a cool Summer evening and I sat by the waters of the Birmingham canal and listened to Roger Waters songs that were being loudly played by somebody in the car park.

  • Speaking: This afternoon, I received an invitation to present a seminar on the recent T2K results to the High Energy Physics group at Cambridge. This is a very happy-making thing, and I quickly accepted. Since my seminar on supernova relic neutrinos at Imperial College two weeks ago, my professional speaking calendar has been empty for the first time in many months! Tis good to have something on it once again.

    As a complement to my professional speaking, I also received an invitation on Monday to present another outreach talk. I have been asked to speak to the Deep Sky Section of the British Astronomical Association at their meeting in March. As it will be just past the 25th anniversary of Supernova 1987a, the theme of the meeting with be the death of stars. I have specifically been requested to discuss what SN 1987a has taught us about supernovae; since this is the only supernova that humanity has ever detected neutrinos from, there will be much to talk about. My outreach calendar is in rather healthy shape, with an engagement in October to present to the Astronomical Society of Glasgow in October and a return to co-host the Oxford University Cosmology Day in November with two lectures.

  • Housing: Just for fun, I was recently looking at real estate in Oxford. It is unlikely that we will buy anything in the near future as (a) I need to sell at least one of the two houses in the States first, to provide the down payment[**], (b) I would prefer to have a more permanent position at one step up on the career ladder before committing to a long term purchase, and (c) right now, by renting, we can afford to live in a nicer place than we would be able to buy. I estimate that, with a 10% down payment and a 30 year mortgage, our absolute maximum buying power on a home would be £250,000.[***]

    During my search, I found this listing. Tis our old Flat With No Name, where we lived from November 2008 through October 2010! It is not as nice as Chiron Beta Prime, where we are now, and is significantly smaller... yet it is listed for £235,000. Ouch! With approximately 30% more space than our old flat, I shudder to think of what this place would cost! Also, even with the extra space, I would not want to buy Chiron Beta Prime. Although a flat is fine for the time being, I ultimately want to purchase a house.

  • Fuel: Last weekend, my beloved [ profile] cheshcat and I had a lovely three-day trip to the Lake District, returning for the first time since 2007. That deserves its own entry -- complete with pictures -- which is forthcoming. In the interim, though, it is worth noting that we drove just over 700 miles on the journey. Tracking fuel costs allows me to calculate that our current cost for transport is about 17 pence per mile driven. At the current exchange rate of $1.60/£1, that works out to about 27 cents per mile. Ouch! Bear in mind, dear friends, that this is with a car that gets about 32 miles to the US gallon (or, for those who prefer metric, 8.5 miles to the litre). Petrol prices are currently about £1.35 per litre at the pump -- or about $8.20 per US gallon -- making these road trips a bit more costly than they were a couple of years ago! Ah, well. Still worth it for the gorgeous scenery and a splendid escape with my darling life partner!

With that, I believe that we have reached the end of today's journaling. The beautiful [ profile] miss_amaranth will be arriving in two hours and I still have much to do between now and then. Stay tuned, as upcoming posts will include the promised pictorial travelogue of the Lake District, a mid-year review of 2011, and details of the annual Event Horizon summer party!

[*] Birmingham bringing out a different flavour of crowd than New York City.

[**] An event that seems likely to happen in the next six to eighteen months.

[***] By a very happy coincidence, this is precisely the price that one can buy a home for without paying any Stamp Duty Land Tax.

anarchist_nomad: (Doctor Nomad)
( Jun. 15th, 2011 01:11 pm)
In recent days, gentle readers, you may recall me mentioning within these pages that there were significant new results on the way from the Tokai-to-Kamioka long-baseline neutrino oscillation experiment (or T2K for short). After weeks of checking and validation[*], those results were released to the world today and can now be shared.

This morning, my boss was on the BBC Radio 4 programme Today to discuss the new announcement. Press releases can also be seen by clicking on one of the following links:

  • The UK's Science & Technology Facilities Council [STFC] (Click here)

  • The Japan Proton Accelerator Research Complex [J-PARC] (Click here)

To summarize, there are three known types of neutrinos but, thanks to the wonders of quantum mechanics, they match up differently depending on how you look at them. In one way of looking, you get three distinct "flavours": the electron neutrino (which pairs with an electron), the muon neutrino (which pairs with the electron's heavier cousin, the muon), and the tau neutrino (which pairs with the beast of the lepton family, the tau). If you examine the neutrinos by mass, you also see three types -- or three distinct masses. So far, not terribly surprising, right? Well hold on, because here comes the good part:

The three mass states and the three flavour states do not correspond to each other. If you take a garden variety neutron and wait about fifteen minutes, it will decay into a proton, an electron, and an electron neutrino[**]. That electron neutrino has a definite flavour... but not a definite mass. Its mass is actually a mixture of the three mass states. Since objects of different mass with the same energy travel at different speeds -- consider, for instance, pitching a baseball versus a bowling ball -- the three mass states of that electron neutrino travel in a manner that is slightly different for each. When you later go to look at that neutrino again, the mixture may have changed enough to make that electron neutrino look like a muon neutrino. Or a tau neutrino. Wait a bit longer and look again, though, because it may well have changed back into an electron neutrino once more!

This is a process called "neutrino oscillation" and it is not a part of the Standard Model of Particle Physics! It was first discovered by my thesis experiment, Super-Kamiokande, in 1998, when they measured a lack of muon neutrinos (caused by some of them turning into the much more difficult to detect tau neutrinos). Since then, other experiments have replicated these results: The K2K and MINOS experiments have produced beams of muon neutrinos to confirm this disappearance, and both Super-Kamiokande and SNO have seen electron neutrinos from the Sun disappear as they turn into the two other types. Similarly, the KamLAND experiment noticed electron anti-neutrinos from nuclear reactors vanishing as they turned into the corresponding other types of anti-neutrinos.

Since there are three types of neutrinos (call them ν1, ν2, and ν3), there are three types of mixing possible: mixing between 1&2, mixing between 2&3, and mixing between 1&3.

The initial discovery by Super-Kamiokande in 1998, described above, is mixing between types 2&3. So is the mixing studied by K2K and MINOS. The Solar neutrino studies by Super-Kamiokande and SNO measured mixing between types 1&2. However, there has been no strong indication of mixing between types 1&3. Until now. This is the big news from T2K. Although we have only collected about ~3% of our expected total data[***], we already see compelling signs of this mixing! Exciting, no?

For those who may still be unimpressed, I should point out that measurements of the three types of mixing is an essential pre-requisite for measurements of another property of neutrinos, which is called "CP violation". The "C" stands for "charge conjugation", which is basically means flipping a particle to its anti-particle: An electron to a positron, a proton to an anti-proton, et cetera. The "P" stands for parity; if you look at your hands, you will see an example of a parity flip -- the two are the same except for a mirror image transformation. It was once believed that matter and anti-matter were the same if you flipped both "C" and "P". We now know that this is not quite true. That is a good thing, as were they the same in every way, equal amounts of matter and anti-matter would have been created in the Big Bang... then subsequently annihilated together and left nothing behind to make us! So CP symmetry is not exactly; however, the small amount by which this symmetry is violated amongst the fundamental particles known as quarks is not nearly sufficient to explain why we live in a universe that is filled with matter. Measuring the CP violation amongst neutrinos may give us the answer.

For those who are interested in learning more, feel free to download a pre-print of our publication, which was submitted to Physical Review Letters on Monday and will be available on the arXiv server tomorrow. There is no need to wait, as you can get a copy of the pre-print here.

Also, if any of you have any questions about this result, dear friends, do feel free to ask. I anticipate the next few days being particularly busy, but I will try to answer any questions as quickly as possible!

[*] Which was the reason that I postponed my trip to Seoul until next year.

[**] Technically, this case gives an electron anti-neutrino... but don't worry about that difference right now. For the sake of this explanation, the two can be treated as the same.

[***] And will be getting no more until about early next year, thanks to the East Japan Big Earthquake and Disaster.

Friday evening and here in the Kenkyutou it is vewy vewy quiet. I am all alone in the US office as I write this entry. Whilst one might normally expect as much on a Friday night, the contrast from recent days is rather striking. Indeed, it is not just the Kenkyutou: All the mailing lists that have been frantically abuzz for two weeks -- including some based in the UK where it is very much still the working day -- have fallen silent.

Two weeks of non-stop analysis and meetings reached their crescendo last night. Everything came to a head in a three hour international video conference that garnered record attendance and lasted until one o'clock in the morning. The mad rush is now over; we have completed the validation checks and settled on our results, which will be released to the world next month.

For certain, there are still tasks to be done. Sitting on my desk right now is a technical note and a paper draft, both of which need to be read and commented upon. There are "i"s to be dotted and "t"s to be crossed; this will take time. But the palpable energy that left the Kenkyutou perpetually charged as we raced to check and double check our pre-earthquake data has dissipated, with the relevant tasks now completed.

The newly concluded push was the reason that I postponed my trip to Korea and delayed my return home. According to the original travel plan, I should have completed a four day holiday in Seoul yesterday and arrived back in Oxford last night. There is no doubt in my mind that remaining here was the correct decision; for the past week, Mozumi was the place to be. As all the commotion settles, however, I begin to look forward to going home on Monday.

In the meantime, there were a couple of comments on this entry requesting more photographs of Japanese signage. Happy to oblige; please to see the following! Also note that the images posted below are links -- click on the picture to see a larger version!

  1. Mad cow alert!!

    The first picture was taken in the nearby town of Osawano, not far from the flat where I used to live. I snapped this shot from the window of my rental car as I drove by on my way back from a grocery run. The cannibalistic cow looks far too pleased with himself; meanwhile, the look on the pig's face speaks volumes: "WTF??" or "Ewwww! I don't want to see that $#!+"

  2. The magic of a first date!

    Because, clearly, when you think about first dates, this is precisely what pops into your mind, right? Oi! Perhaps the idea came from somebody who gets very nervous on dates?

    This image also came from Osawano, taken in the supermarket Valor, which is part of the Green Valley complex.

  3. Beware of angry water!

    In particular, dear friends, I should call your collective attention to the images at the bottom. Here are [non-clickable] close-ups for better viewing:

    The boy in those pictures[*] is not having a good day! First he gets shocked, losing his cap in the process, and then the river gets angry! On the other hand, who uses a fishing rod so immensely long that you can hit the electric pylons with it??

    With this picture, we return to Mozumi once more. The sign is located a short walk from the Kenkyutou, just before you cross the elevated bridge over the river. The pylons really are exceedingly high up -- in addition to their natural height, there one must navigate a considerable before reaching the river. It is quite beyond me to know what people were thinking when they decided to erect this sign. Which, incidentally, has been in place for many years. When I first arrived in 1998, it was already standing!

    Lots of kana and kanji on this one for anyone who fancies giving their Japanese language skills a whirl!

  4. Bear with me

    Originally, I had intended to end the current set of images here. However, when I was taking an evening stroll today, something happened to make me add one more. Below, please find a notice that is posted at the entrance to the dormitory:

    (Clicking the image will make it easier to read the text)

    These warning notices are relatively new. By which I mean that there were not in place when I worked here between December 1998 and June 2003. Taking a walk on one of the many trails of Mozumi is an old habit, so I thought nothing of the notices and went along my way as always. Thus, it came to pass that I was rather shocked when I did indeed happen upon a bear during my sunset stroll during my sunset stroll!

    The Asian black bear[**] is a relatively small species of bear. Nonetheless, I was not terribly eager for an up-close-and-personal encounter. One such meeting of bear and human happened not far from here less than two years ago. The results were not pretty!

    Although we were not separated by much distance, the bear took no notice of me and continued walking in the opposite direction -- the same way that I had initially been heading! Watching it for a moment, I considered following to take a photograph as it rounded the bend and dropped out of sight. On further consideration, I decided that it would be best to turn around and trek back to the Kenkyutou. Having ignored the warnings at the dormitory, I was not armed with one of the "bear bells" that they supply to walkers.[***] Remembering the lessons of the onboard biologist from our 2004 Alaska cruise, I removed my shirt and prepared to hold it over my head to make myself look big... just in case the bear changed its mind about being uninterested.

    Needless to say, I made it back to what passes for civilization in a safe and unharmed state. A fellow researcher was rather surprised when I told him that I had indeed encountered a bear. Actually, the little guy was kind of cute[****], and I am rather pleased to have run into him!

[*] Who I deduce to be the same [fictional] individual, based on clothing and hairstyle.

[**] Click on the link and scroll down to see a picture of a cub in a tree! So adorable!!

[***] Also, to be honest, I am somewhat skeptical of the effectiveness of a handbell as bear repellent.

[****] The bear, that is -- not the researcher!

Sunday night and, as suggested in the previous entry, I am indeed still in Japan. Spending eight extra days here, which will cost our travel budget a pretty penny between the rental car, the changed flights, et cetera. I estimate that my extension will cost between £150 - £200 per day. Still, when I suggested it to my boss, he was not only supportive of the idea... he all but insisted that I stay. As he put it, this is a key moment in the life of a £500M experiment. In contrast, another thousand quid or so is pretty paltry. Additionally, I sent my student on his way back home today, which makes me the last "Brit"[*] working in the Kenkyutou at this critical time.

One consequence of this extension is that I will not be going to vacation in Korea, at least for now. As usual with these things, I am simultaneously delighted to be staying and disappointed to be postponing my holiday. Ah, for the powers of Jamie Madrox! What is it with me and Korea, anyway? I was supposed to visit last May... and that got preempted by the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud that grounded all flights out of Europe for a week! Nevermind, I will get there eventually.

Another consequence is that I am technically homeless tonight. My dormitory reservation was made with the expectation that I would be leaving today. New reservations are not possible on the weekend, so I cannot get another room until tomorrow. Shouldn't be a big problem; I will likely crash in the sleeping room in the Kenkyutou or, if that is already occupied when I am ready to zonk out, on the couch in the video conference room. Won't be the first time that I've slept in the Kenkyutou -- not by a long shot! Though it will be the first time that I sleep here because I don't have anywhere else to go. Usually, it results from working until the wee hours preparing a result that needs to be shown at an early morning meeting!

Which brings me to another point worth musing on. Being here again, especially for an extended period, is weird. I worked here half-time from December 1998 through June 2003. I first arrived at the age of 23, which makes it strange to return to work here at the age of 36. So many ghosts and so many memories. Here's the seminar room, where I watched the Diamondbacks defeat the Yankees in game seven to clinch the 2001 World Series; [ profile] cheshcat and Resourceress and the Kiddo were online watching with me from afar. Here's the video conference room, where I watched the Twin Towers fall two months before that. Here's where I slipped away to have long phone chats with Resourceress in Spring 2000, as we got to know each other in the earliest days of our relationship. Oh, wait, I can't go into the room where I bawled my eyes out after Grampa died in January 2000, because it is a locked clean room now. There's the area where I first sat when I arrived, wet behind the ears, at this world famous experiment in December 1998 -- not knowing anyone or anything, but eager to learn. You get the idea.

This is not a bad thing... just very, very strange. Is it déjà vu if you really have done this before??

I suppose that I should really write more about Mozumi itself and post some pictures for visual effect. Especially now, as everything is all lush and green with the Spring. I started writing a post on Tuesday, but the work intensity dial has been turned up to eleven on a ten point scale, so I've not yet had time to finish. Perhaps tomorrow.

Speaking of work, I should get back to doing some, as I have a Skype meeting with RT in a little while. Before I go, though, here is one somewhat touching story from this afternoon:

I went into Toyama to extend the contract on my rental car for the duration of my trip. The clerk there was a funny guy who knew a fair bit of English and used it to tease me about being a big brain doctor studying neutrinos and dark matter. He asked when I would win my Nobel prize. All in good fun, of course. Then he got a bit more serious and, realising that I am a US-ian, thanked me for all the help that has been given in the face of the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and Disaster. He thanked me several times and, in particular, thanked President Obama, too. I am rarely -- very, very rarely -- proud of the United States for anything, but I could not help feeling just a little touched by his obvious gratitude.

ETA: It is one o'clock in the morning and there are still a good handful of us still hard at work here. I'm hacking away at some new particle simulations and listening to Pink Floyd's Shine On You Crazy Diamond in the background as I work.[**] I love this feeling of late night camaraderie and productivity!

[*] In these international collaborations, the nationality of your home institution generally matters much more than your individual country of citizenship. Thus, for all intents and purposes, I am a Brit on T2K. This is not terribly unusual. Of the five senior people (i.e., non-students) in the T2K group at Imperial College London, three are US-ians, one is French, and one is Japanese. Not a true Brit amongst us!

[**] Another habit that dates back to when I was working here circa May 1999. (Twelve years ago???)

Current travel plans have me heading off to Korea on Sunday, for four days holiday before returning to Merry Olde England on June 2nd. However, I am now seriously considering postponing this vacation until next year so that I can spend an extra week in Japan to continue working. For reasons that I cannot go into, the current state of play here at Super-Kamiokande is very interesting and everything is particularly exciting right now.

Heh. Only a physicist would decide to forgo a vacation in an exciting new country in order to continue working!

I don't know it is possible to change my flights at this late date, especially for a multi-destination journey, but I will call the airlines tomorrow to find out. It may be that I am "forced" to vacation in Seoul after all; we shall see...
anarchist_nomad: (Default)
( May. 20th, 2011 08:25 pm)
Today is a very earthquake day! I just felt what must have been the third or fourth quake of the day shake the room -- it is frequent enough that I am starting to lose count![*]

Today was also [probably] the most interesting day of our collaboration meeting. Can't say why yet, at least not publicly.

Today is also the one-and-a-half-year mark for my relationship with the beautiful [ profile] miss_amaranth. Half a year left to plan where we want to go for our second anniversary!

Today is probably other things as well... but those are the ones that occur to me right now.

[*] Largest one was a magnitude 5.6 at 09:46 this morning, about fifty miles away.

anarchist_nomad: (Doctor Nomad)
( May. 19th, 2011 02:12 pm)
Looks like I failed to dodge the jetlag bullet on this trip. I've been in Japan for about 78 hours now... and have slept for eleven of them. In bursts of two hours, two hours, three hours, and four hours. This works out to about three hours and twenty minutes sleep per day.

Back in my hotel room now; skipping the afternoon session of ND280 analysis talks to take a nap. Ideal? Not so much. However, there is at least one talk this evening, starting around 18:00, that promises to be interesting and important. I want to be as focused as possible for this, so resting now is a fair trade-off.

Meanwhile, just to see what cleverness my dear friends can come up with, I leave you with a game before I sleep. Starting with one line from a particular song, the idea is to come up with another line -- from a different song -- that shares a phrase. Then somebody else can use a different phrase from your line as the input for adding their own. Use the comments to play, and let's see where this goes. I will start with several lines, by way of example:

1) "Benny and the Jets" (Elton John)

2) "When you're a Jet, you're a Jet all the way" (West Side Story)

3) "Let's go all the way" (Sly Fox)

4) "Hey, ho, let's go!" (The Ramones)

5) "Hey, ho, wish you well!" (Slade)

Clear? Good!

Now it's your turn, gentle readers! Check the comments, find the latest line to be added, and continue on from there. Ten points to each person for every line contributed! I'm off to bed for a couple of hours... give me something interesting to read when I wake!

Writing from Japan now. Landed in Tokyo about three hours ago and have just arrived at my hotel in Tsukuba. Cannot write much now, as the T2K collaboration meeting began two and a half hours ago -- just as I was walking out of Narita Airport!

On the bus, one thing was was instantly obvious to myself and the two colleagues with whom I traveled: During the thirty-five mile drive North, we were struck by how utterly normal everything looked. To find evidence that an earthquake -- indeed, one of the four largest ever recorded -- had struck, one needed to look carefully. Even then, the signs were infrequent and subtle: a patched stretch of road here, some cracks in the pavement there. Tsukuba is two hundred miles from the epicenter of the quake and, two months later, life here seems perfectly normal. We have electricity, the roads and trains are functional. To my eye, all is well. I noticed a row of chipped ceramic tiles at the entrance to my hotel; other than that, I've not yet seen any sign of the quake in Tsukuba.

Meanwhile, the weather here is sunny and mild. Mid-Spring, specifically April and May, is really my favourite time of year to be in Japan, as it is so beautiful here! Indeed, the icon for this post was taken in Japan in May, at the annual Tonami Tulip Fair (see here and here) some years ago.

Must run now. More later, gentle readers!
Greetings and salutations, gentle readers! Today, I am going to impose on your collected wisdom. One hundred points to anyone who provides me which information that ultimately helps me resolve two situations. One is in Boston and the other here in the UK... so you may only want to read the section that is local, or regional, to you (if either applies).

1) Let's start with the Boston situation: After my beloved [ profile] cheshcat's mother passed away, back in 2004, she co-inherited a condo in the Boston area. North suburbs, to be more precise. City of Gloucester[*], to be quite specific. We would now like to sell said condominium. However, the only two real estate agents in the area that I know of are both bozos[**] that I would not trust with the task. I decent fraction of my f-list lives in the Boston area -- can any of you recommend an agent near to Gloucester that I could engage for this task? If not, contact information for a competent agent closer to the city of Boston would be the next best thing, as I could ping to see if they had any recommendations slightly further North. Of course, one can easily find a plethora (and a half) of real estate agents online... but I would prefer to go with a specific recommendation for such an important task. Thanks!

2) Next, for those of you who are in the United Kingdom, I was wondering if you might recommend unto me a trustworthy place (preferably online) where one can buy and sell concert tickets. As I have mentioned previously, I am in possession of two tickets to see Roger Waters perform The Wall in London. Having already seen this show in New York, last October, I know that it is absolutely incredible! I believe that "fan-freakin-tastic" was the phrase that I selected at the time. One of the three best concerts that I have ever attended. Oddly enough, I have found it impossible to find somebody to take the second seat for the May 15 performance -- everyone that I have approached is either not a fan (e.g., my beloved [ profile] cheshcat, who had right of first refusal) or not available on that date/time (e.g., [ profile] josington). I would have imagined that giving away a free seat to such an amazing show would have been exceedingly easy. Shows what I know!

In any case, I am happy to go by myself, just as I did in May 2008 when Waters was performing Dark Side of the Moon in the same venue. Additionally, the date that I have tickets for is not ideal, as there is a T2K collaboration meeting that begins in Japan mere hours after the concert ends, Very difficult to get from London to Tsukuba that quickly! Thus, I have a cunning plan! If I sell both of my existing tickets, I can use the money to purchase a single seat to one of the earlier shows, on either May 11th or 12th. In all likelihood, going from two tickets to one means I can probably get a better seat for myself. And, of course, I can then leave for Japan on Saturday May 14th, arriving in time for the first day of the meeting at KEK.

Tis a good plan... but I have zero experience in the second-hand ticket trade within the UK. Tis far too easy an area for scammers, which I obviously wish to avoid. In the States, The Kiddo has achieved good results with StubHub; does anybody know a British equivalent that they could recommend? Thanks!

[*] Because every place in the NorthEastern United States is named after a place (or a person) in England... unless it is named after the native tribes that were killed to obtain the land for said place.

[**] Yes, that is the technical term.



anarchist_nomad: (Default)


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