Archive for October, 2011

How to gain super powers by sneaking into a particle physics lab

In the film Spider-Man 3, escaped convict Flint Marko jumps over a fence marked:


Particle Physics Test Facility

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And ends up getting caught in a some kind of beam and becoming the Sandman, a being made out of sand who can change his shape at will. I watched it in the theatre with about a dozen people from CERN (all of them named Maikel), and one of them exclaimed, ‘Run to building 40, get a coffee!’

Unfortunately, you won’t turn into the Sandman by sneaking into CERN. But you might just turn into something like the Silver Surfer. Well, okay, maybe you wouldn’t travel faster than light, but you could levitate.  I finally got to do so on their superconducting scooter at the Supra Show to celebrate 100 years of superconductivity a couple of weeks ago:

And you don’t even need to jump a fence! Just keep an eye on CERN’s homepage and MaNEP’s homepage, and sign up to the Globe’s mailing list to find out when there will be interesting talks and demonstrations for the general public. There are also a few other events coming up where it might make an appearance. I’ve seen the scooter at a couple of different events, and I don’t know how often they bring it out, but there are many other interesting talks and demonstrations.

There’s more information on how the superconducting scooter works in the video description. It’s essentially superdiamagnetism, as far as I know. Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as Superman, but hey, it’s real! Welcome to the future. Here’s a nice explanation which begins with a Superman reference. Incidentally, you don’t have to be a superconductor to levitate due to diamagnetism. Even frogs can levitate, but it’s not easy.

Of course, the other way you could become a superhero is by using Generic™ brand hair gel.

By the way, the song in that video is Liquid Nitrogen, by CERN’s other LHCLes Horribles Cernettes. My other superpower is knowing a song about almost every topic. Today, somebody brought up Malcolm Gladwell’s idea that becoming an expert at something takes 10 000 hours of practice, so I decided to find out how much time I’ve spent listening to funny music. I wrote an AppleScript to sum up the time spent listening to the selected songs in iTunes, and selected all the songs in my Silly Songs playlist. Alas, I have only listened to it for 3026 hours, at least since April 2005 when I dropped my iPod and lost all that information. So if it turns out there’s something I don’t have a song about, it’s because I’m not an expert. I am an expert on all of my music, including the ‘normal’ stuff, though, with 11 242 hours.

Back to superheroes: Could somebody who understands more about the relationship of electric power to superconductivity please make a joke involving Spider-Man’s ‘with great power comes great responsibility’? As far as I can tell, with great power comes the same great power, circulating forever, but that’s not very funny. Just like immortality without immunity to pain isn’t very funny after the Sun burns out, when you’re just floating through space for eons on end, occasionally getting stuck inside a star or black hole until it goes supernova or evaporates.

Addendum: I finally wrote a short story about that last sentence.

Addendum 2: Someone I know only as arthurd006_5 suggests ‘with great power comes great coercivity‘ but isn’t sure whether that works electromagnetically. It does sound nice though, and outside of electromagnetism, great coercion seems to come with great power.

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AppleScript: Fixing tags of free music podcasts in iTunes

I’m a bit of a free music junkie. Free as in beer (or doughnuts, since I don’t like beer) is good, free as in speech is better, but this post is about the free as in doughnuts kind, which costs nothing until you get a taste for doughnuts and then end up buying out the whole Krispy Kreme, travelling around the world to have different doughnuts with different people, and getting too fat for your iPod. Download free music responsibly, kids (okay, I guess the beer metaphor would have made more sense.) Anyway, back to free music. One way I discover a lot of music is through podcasts which regularly publish individual songs. However, I use iTunes, and iTunes gives podcast tracks the name and artist given in the podcast feed (often taken from the title of a blog post) over whatever was set in the ID3 tags of the mp3 file itself. This might be a good idea for non-music podcasts, and maybe some music podcasts, where the details aren’t necessarily filled out, but for some of the music podcasts I subscribe to it doesn’t really work out. Particularly if there’s a blog post associated with each podcast episode, the title tends to include the artist name and sometimes some other information.

I can’t be bothered fixing all of the tracks manually, so a few years ago I wrote a few AppleScripts to fix up the metadata of the music podcasts I was subscribed to, and also add the tracks to my Songs playlist (which I use as the basis of most of my smart playlists) and turn off the ‘Remember position’ and ‘Skip while shuffling’ options that are turned on by default for podcast tracks. I’ve since subscribed to and made scripts to fix a few more music podcasts, and it occurred to me that other people might find the scripts useful, so I’ve just tidied up the code and added a way to choose which playlist to add the tracks to. There are links to the scripts and related podcasts below.

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