time reversal

the stories of four physicists separated by the whims of fate

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Those tiny differences

July 23rd, 2008 by ben

More and more in my life I’ve found that all that is really important to me are the details, the small differences. It doesn’t matter if I’m talking about people, places, jobs, or songs. The difference between something that makes me happy and something that makes me sad or bored or annoyed…is really quite small. Sometimes small variations are the most important thing of all.

There are things about europe I like, and things I don’t. Walking along a street with buildings that have easily stood for hundreds of years is gratifying, but knowing that by the time I get home from work every store will have closed 3 or maybe even 4 hours ago is infuriating. It makes me nostalgic for home, for familiar surroundings. Working at CERN has made me miss MIT, not because they are incredibly different, but because of all the small changes. I only have one week at home in Massachusetts, but it gives me a little hope that returning to a setting for the fall that is at least thematically equivalent to MIT, Cornell, will be enough to stave off this “home” sickness. At CERN I goto meetings and I have to fight to be taught things, at MIT I’d have to beg for a meeting to be fit in between lessons. In Europe I have to buy delicious expensive coffee, but they only give me a tiny amount removing the pleasure of holding the cup and letting me savor it.  All these changes to my day to day life make living here a stressful experience, the slower pace of lifestyle, for me at least, just means a longer time to stew over these annoyances.

On Thursday all tours to ATLAS will be suspended. Why? I honestly have no clue, I’m in CMS: they don’t tell me nothing. Most likely however, they will be powering up their magnetic coils as I can assure there will not be any beam tests for quite awhile. Now, how exactly my co-worker came by the following fact he doesn’t remember, but yesterday afternoon he miraculously knew the name of somebody who might be able to take us down into the cavern to see the machine. And so without any hesitation we emailed this total stranger asking him to take hours out of his day to do our bidding (Funny story: On the way out of the cavern I passed Washington Taylor (he once offered me a urop!)). I don’t mean to imply that CMS is by any means small, but ATLAS is a behemoth. Just take a look at the scale on that picture and you’ll get the idea.  So for the trip today, every sign we saw, every railing, every hardhat was commented on by myself and my coworkers about how it differed from CMS. While many of the differences were small and unimportant, like the signs being written in russian as well as the normal english and french or the greater amount of lights in the ATLAS cavern, there were two differences which I found to be almost unbelievable both in there manifestation and the mere fact that I noticed them.

The ATLAS cavern had no jokes. There was no Giant Cooling switch. There was no signs instructing us not to feed the workers. There wasn’t even an emergency abort button in case of strangelet and/or imminent world destruction.  There was just less zaniness. (That being said, it seems to me having been here a month and a half that ATLAS is doing better than CMS and at least seems much farther ahead.)

I’ve tried thinking about what could possibly be so different about the collaborations that might cause this rift in behavior, but I can’t figure it out. As if that wasn’t enough of a difference that seems impossible to explain….ATLAS uses KDE and CMS uses Gnome.

What on earth could have made that distinction?? Did the two collaborations have a meeting where they just divvyed up choices for any binary decisions that needed to be made when building these incredible machines?

For that matter, why do I care? I’ve been so inundated with meetings and endless chatter of details recently that I feel like I’m losing my ability to imagine free choice. Free thought really. I’m tired of dealing with the implementation of X  and the minor detail of Y….its alright to do every once in awhile but I have not once heard somebody really sit down and just look at the big picture at least for longer than it takes to finish their small coffee.  Almost 3 or so years ago I considered majoring in Course 16 – Aeronautics and Astronautics. There was one thing that I was sure of though, I didn’t want to spend my life designing a better fuel injector. I didn’t want my life to be all about one small valve. Here at CERN I kinda feel like it is.

In three weeks I’ll finish my stay here at CERN, and will not be returning.

not fashionable

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