Archive for July, 2006

Psychology of Revenge

Posted in Science on July 27, 2006 by Mike Procario

The New York Times has an article on how hard it for people to strike back at an offence in a appropriate way. By my reading it says that people are not perfectly empathic. People underestimate the pain they inflict compared to the pain the receive. I do not think this would be surprising to anyone, but most people do walk through life believing that when they retaliate they do so in an appropriate and justified way.

The results were striking. Although volunteers tried to respond to each other’s touches with equal force, they typically responded with about 40 percent more force than they had just experienced. Each time a volunteer was touched, he touched back harder, which led the other volunteer to touch back even harder. What began as a game of soft touches quickly became a game of moderate pokes and then hard prods, even though both volunteers were doing their level best to respond in kind.

Each volunteer was convinced that he was responding with equal force and that for some reason the other volunteer was escalating. Neither realized that the escalation was the natural byproduct of a neurological quirk that causes the pain we receive to seem more painful than the pain we produce, so we usually give more pain than we have received.

Research teaches us that our reasons and our pains are more palpable, more obvious and real, than are the reasons and pains of others. This leads to the escalation of mutual harm, to the illusion that others are solely responsible for it and to the belief that our actions are justifiable responses to theirs.

Clearly these cycles need to be short circuited before serious harm is done. This dynamic seems to apply all the way from sibling spats to international relations.

Big Physics Needs Big Trucks

Posted in physics, Science on July 24, 2006 by Mike Procario

The forward hadron calorimeter, called the HF, of the CMS detector is one of the smaller subdetectors. It is only 300 tons. The calorimeter arrived while was visiting. The photo below shows the HF and part of the team who built it.


This is the truck that brought it. Only half of the trailer is visible. There is another set of 10 axles inside the building.


Visiting CERN

Posted in physics, Science, Travel on July 20, 2006 by Mike Procario

I am at CERN, and I have spent the last three days getting a whirlwind tour of the detectors and the accelerator. Most of the detector components have been built and have arrived here for assembly. The number of people here has exploded as physicists from all over the world have arrived to install and commission their detectors. I have taken about 80 photos so far, but I thought I would start out with a small selection.

CMS_detectorWe arrived just before the CMS detector was to be closed for a test of it magnet. You can still see the inner detector in this photo. The cylinder inside the octagonal structure is a solenoid magnet. Inside that is the hadron calorimeter. The tracking detector is not yet installed. It is a large detector as you can see from the people standing in the lower right corner.

ATLAS_shaftThe ATLAS detector is even bigger than the CMS detector. It is being assembled underground, and I had trouble taking a picture that could truly capture its size. This is the shaft that parts of the detector are lowered down. The detector is 100 meters below the surface, This provides shielding from the radiation produced by the accelerator.

LHC_quadrupoleI got a tour of the accelerator also. The US contributions to accelerator were mostly in the interaction regions. Here I am in front of a quadrupole magnet built by Fermilab which has been installed in the accelerator. I am on the left.

Reducing Distractions When Working with Computers

Posted in Technology and Software on July 14, 2006 by Mike Procario

This article by Jon Udell discusses the distractions that a multitasking computer can introduce.

Consider the effects of the graphical user interface. At hospital admitting desks, in accountants’ offices, and at video retail stores, I watch people perform tasks for which the desktop metaphor — with its cluttered surface and overlapping resizable windows — is at best a distraction and at worst an impediment.

I have a personal laptop that is better than my work supplied desktop, but I am not allowed to connect it the LAN. I have been doing some of my recent writing on it, and I have discovered that not being connected to the Internet is a good thing sometimes. No emails interrupting my thoughts, and I just make a note to look up that fact on the web rather than stopping and doing it immediately.

Odd Column on Global Warming

Posted in Science on July 5, 2006 by Mike Procario

Robert Samuelson wrote an odd column on global warming today, which claims that recognizing warming is due to greenhouse gases is not useful to solving the problem. He claims that only technology will solve the problem.

The trouble with the global warming debate is that it has become a moral crusade when it’s really an engineering problem. The inconvenient truth is that if we don’t solve the engineering problem, we’re helpless.

Well that’s a no brainer. Samuelson has concentrated heavily on economics in his reporting, so it is surprising that the question he seems to be avoiding is: Where will the economic motivation to replace fossil fuels come from?

Governments can put in place policies to make fossil fuels more expensive or limit their use, but only if people are convinced that it is necessary. The recent boom in windpower has come about due to tax incentives, and wind power has become more competive.

First you have to recognize that you have a problem. Recognition by itself does not solve the problem, but neither does sticking your head in the sand.

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