Saturday, September 20, 2008

Congrats to the LHC

In the early 1990s I was in grad school doing research for the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC).  I worked at the Texas Accelerator Center, where the "first foot" of the SSC was built.  Then I went to Fermilab, where I spent a couple years learning high energy physics and building a new type of calorimeter that would work at low-angle regions after the collision (where the radiation levels were particularly high).  

Congress started reducing the funding for the project, then cut it entirely in 1993.   My project lost its funding, and I escaped with my MS in Physics.  For years I was bitter over that whole episode, but eventually I realized that my life would have turned out very differently, perhaps for the worse, if I had stayed with the SSC.  Also, my experiences there - writing programs for data analysis, building a test system - started me down my current career path.  I can't be bitter about that.

In the 15 years since then, I've lost track of the cutting edge of high energy physics, but I still try to read up on it once in a while.  I was very excited on September 10th when they activated the Large Hadron Collider (the New York Times wrote a nice piece about it from a layman's perspective).  

So, cheers to everyone involved with the LHC.  When I was at Fermilab there was a sort of rivalry between us and CERN (where the LHC was being built), but I'm pleased that at least someone will be slamming protons into each other.  

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Structural mechanics kit

Last month I received an email for a "complimentary copy" of an Introduction to Structural Mechanics Simulations CD.  It comes from Comsol, a company that writes software for physical modeling.  According to the email, the contents include tutorials on simulating:

- Static linear analysis
- Thermal stress
- Fluid-structure interaction
- Fatigue analysis
- Nonlinear materials
- Multiphysics user stories
- Tour of COMSOL Multiphysics

Now, I am in no way a mechanical engineer.  One of my very first jobs was as an engineer in an aerospace firm, and yes I did do some analyses of stress levels, gear matching exercises, and other mechanical engineering 'grunt work'.  But that job also taught me that if you dig into the details, then mechanical engineering is a serious discipline.  

But, if any of you out there are interested in this, here's the website:

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Optimizing LabVIEW

Last month I attended a local NI-sponsored  LabVIEW seminar.  Usually I don't bother with those things.  They are aimed at novice users and are usually frequented by consultants looking for new work.  But our NI rep assured me that this one was aimed for experienced users.  Since they were also serving free lunch, I figured it wouldn't hurt.

It was actually pretty good.  The title was Advanced Performance Optimization in Labview, and the focus was improving programs using memory management.  Because of the unique ways that LV treats data, there are some tricks to speed up your programs.  I mean, if all you want to do is run an instrument and take data, these tips won't help.  But if you're controlling half a dozen instruments and dealing with reams of data, then you probably need all the help you can get.

The presenter was a guy named Brian Powell.  I listed his blog , Open Measurements, as a useful one this past summer.  He obviously knows his work well.

Anyway, I have a PDF of the presentation (including his notes).  If anyone wants it, email me and I'll forward it on to you.