December 2009 Archives

December 22, 2009

New Laptop Time

{I am getting} {scary messages} in {curly brackets} in my laptop's {dmesg}.  The universal warning signal for imminent hard drive death and data loss.  I get dropouts of about 30 seconds at a time with no hard drive activity (before the kernel realises and reset the link), during which time the computer is mostly frozen (no HDD I/O possible), and this seems to be happening more and more often.  In addition, the power connector is broken - the central pin in the laptop's connector snapped off.  Since the pin stays fixed in the hole in the adaptor's plug, it still just about works if it's carefully pushed in and the cable wrapped round to put pressure in the right way.  However, I don't know how long either of these will hold out.

Of course I'm backed up to the hilt with distributed version control, so I'm not in immediate danger of losing anything particularly important.  However, it's apparent that I'll need to buy a new laptop in the near future.  At the moment I'm looking at a Lenovo Thinkpad T500 with WSXGA+ (1680x1050) screen and Radeon graphics, but does anyone have any other suggestions?  My non-negotiable requirements are:

  • Linux-friendly wifi and graphics.
  • Dual core, or at least HT.  This really does make a huge difference.
  • Widescreen.  1680x1050 with a 15.4" screen gives a resolution I like.
  • UK keyboard layout (i.e. UK market, ideally with delivery to Germany possible).
  • DVD drive.
Ideally it would also have:

  • Decent battery life, or the possibility to buy spare or larger batteries during the next few years once the original one becomes a plastic box of jelly.
  • VGA output.
  • Fast-ish hard drive (7200rpm or higher.  I'm not sure how much of a difference this makes, but I do a lot of compiling and so on.  No need to go overboard with solid-state disks for hundreds of extra pounds.
I'm not too bothered about:

  • Bluetooth (I don't use it at the moment).
  • Huge hard drive - I get on fine with only about 80Gb at the moment.
Any suggestions on a comment or email to this address..

December 20, 2009

Trip to Stanford

On Friday I got back to Hamburg from San Francisco, where I'd been taking part in experiments at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Cente.  We used the LCLS to zap various kinds of object and measure the resulting signals.  Without going into too many gory details, I'm happy to be able to say that the experiment was a great success and we got several terabytes of useful data, which we'll be analysing for many months to come.

I hardly had any time to escape the campus or to explore, but I did manage to find some sites of geeky interest.  Here's a photo of the research stations at the end of the two mile long linear accelerator, which is hidden by the trees at the back of the picture.  The large concrete building on the right is End Station A, where the first experimental evidence for the existence of quarks was recorded around 1966.  Their experiment was like a much larger version of Rutherford's scattering experiment with alpha particles and gold foil.  Today, End Station A contains test experiments to prepare for the International Linear Collider.  I wasn't able to go inside - it's probably possible, subject to the particle accelerator's beam being directed elsewhere and talking to the right people, but there wasn't time and I wasn't keen to push the limits of my security pass (I also couldn't find the door..).

pc170019.jpgThe similar concrete monstrosity on the left is End Station B, which probably contains similarly cool things (remember what I wrote about concrete?).  The long building which comes out between and runs off the picture to the left is the LCLS beam transport hall.  Standing where I took this picture, below me and to the left would be the undulator hall, which contains magnets which cause the electron beam to emit X-ray pulses of unimaginable brightness and brevity.  The tunnel emerges on the other side of the hill I'm standing on, where the electrons and X-rays move into the building where we worked.  The electron beam is dumped (basically by directing it into the ground) and the X-rays make their way into our experiment.