Archive for category CERN

Nine of Hearts: ISS vs. LHC update

ISSvsLHCsmall2A while ago I made a somewhat whimsical but as accurate as I could manage too-much-infographic comparing many aspects of the International Space Station with the Large Hadron Collider, and jokingly asking which would win in a fight. I’ve given that a bit of an update and put an annotated text version below for those whose pdf readers don’t show annotations. More importantly, since then, I’ve seen the crew of the STS-134 mission to the space station give a talk at CERN, and wanted to ask them which was more awesome, but was in one of the few spots without a microphone, and I don’t speak as loudly as my friend Hugo, who asked a question from right next to me, does. But at a later talk at CERN, I did ask NASA’s Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, William H. Gerstenmaier. This was his response, which you can find at around 50:45 in the video:

Oh, man. This is a tough question; I don’t know. They’re both unique in their own way, right? Both pretty special research facilities, right? And I think that, again we often talk about, you know, human versus robotic, right, it’s really human all the time, right? Even in a robotic space, the data’s analyzed by a human somewhere, and so, I think again it’s that spirit of exploration that we’re all pushing on. We all want to understand something new, discover something that nobody’s seen before, so at CERN, damn sure, that spirit drives you every day, you’re looking for new things. I see it in your papers: what is this theory? Are we changing physics? It’s the same thing we’re doing. How can I look at a physical phenomenon that occurs in one gravity, remove the one gravity term, and now get a totally different perspective on that same physical phenomenon, that then allows me to advance in a different area. So I think it’s that same passion that drives people. But I don’t know which one’s best.

So there you go. I’ve added this comment to the notes in the TMIGraphic, and also updated data relating to the ISS’s orbit and a few other things, and added a ‘Getting to Orbit’ section, but the best thing is the update to that ‘when to see it’ bubble on the LHC. You can see it at the CERN open days at the end of September. Two full days. The LHC is shut down for upgrades at the moment, so I understand this will be another chance to actually go underground and see it, which probably won’t be possible for a while once it starts running again. And even if you don’t see the LHC or its detectors (there are only so many people that you can get up and down in a lift in two days; 23 000 people out of 53 000 visitors visited the tunnels in one day last time), there are many other things you can see at the open day. I know this because I was at the last one. Maybe I should look through whatever videos I took that day and see if I can make an interesting montage. I know I have footage from various other tours which I should put online.IF

The pdf version of the ISS vs. LHC comparison has a lot of links and extra notes in the margins detailing where I got the figures from, how I chose the sources, how I found myself gingerly plugging values into a relativistic equation at a demoparty at 1:30a.m, and so on. But I suspect not everyone who looked at the original downloaded the pdf, and those who did might not have been using pdf readers that showed the notes well. Besides that, the infographic is sort of messy (that’s why I call it a too-much-infographic), although I think it does add something to the raw text. So I’ll reproduce all of the text and notes in table format below, show a far-too-small preview of the TMIGraphic version, and encourage you to download the pdf if you like circles and crisscrossing dashed lines and things that can be read while offline.

Sorry if the line spacing is inconsistent in this table; WordPress changes the style for the second and later paragraphs in each cell no matter how I create the paragraph breaks, and it tends to delete newlines, paragraph and break tags if I ever open the page in the visual editor, so the best I can do is put blank lines before the first paragraph in each cell to give that the same style, and then try not to accidentally open the post in the visual editor.

Aspect ISS LHC Notes
Physical Characteristics

Solar array: 73m

Truss: 109m

Modules: 51m

Dipole magnets:

Cold mass diameter: 0.57m

Vacuum vessel diameter: 0.91m

Length: 15m

See the ‘Orbit’ section for the size of the entire LHC.

Source for ISS size
Source for LHC dipole vacuum vessel diameter
Source for other dipole measurements
Diagram of dipole cross-section (also shown in infographic)


419 455kg (but it depends what’s up there)

37 600 000kg

(cold mass)

35 200kg

(detector mass, not counting

The ISS mass doesn’t include the contents of the station or any spacecraft docked to it. You’ll find different masses around the place depending on what they take into account.The LHC mass is much more than that (calculated from CERN FAQ – LHC the guide: “4700 tonnes of material in each of the eight sectors”.) The 1232 35-tonne dipole magnets alone weigh 43120 tonnes, and there are another 8468 smaller magnets, and many other things. But only 30 tonnes of each of those dipoles is cooled (by 120 tonnes of liquid helium and 10 080 tonnes of liquid nitrogen)

As my friend Rob Lambert (who works on LHCb) says: It's difficult to define the mass of "the LHC", because you'd probably want to weigh the concrete in the tunnel walls […] I think the "cold mass" is the best comparison to make, since that is sort of like the LHC payload. The rest is sort of comparable to the shuttles/boosters used to get the materiel up to the space station, which weighs a lot more than the station itself, of course.


368 730 000N

(just the cold stuff, ignoring altitude)

at least 3 614 899N
(using the stated mass at 422km altitude, the point of the ISS’s current orbit where it weighs the least)

For the LHC, this is just a simple matter of multiplying the mass above with standard gravity. The exact gravity where the LHC is wouldn’t be exactly that, due to the altitude, the distance below the surface, the mountains, the tides (which the LHC itself is sensitive can detect) and all sorts of other things that I don’t know how to calculate.As for the ISS, you might think the station is weightless, but it’s not; it’s in orbit. There’s still gravity up there, just a bit weaker than on the ground (where the station would weigh about 4 109 084N.) The station’s weight keeps it falling toward the Earth all the time. It’s just moving along fast enough that the Earth curves away beneath it, so it doesn’t get any closer to the ground. Things on the station seem weightless because they’re in free fall.Here’s a website which gives the formulas to calculate the force of gravity between two objects, and will calculate it for you. I used 5.97219e21 metric tons for the weight of the Earth, 419455kg for the weight of the station, and 6800km for the distance between them (the radius of the Earth, plus 422km.) I probably shouldn’t give the result that many significant figures.

Pressure Inside:
760Torr (1 atm)

10-10 — 5×10-8 Torr

For the ISS, this is actually the pressure at 500km; the closest altitude I could find authoritative-enough figures for. Outside the station, closer to Earth’s atmosphere, the value should be toward the high end of this range.I had a lot of trouble finding an answer to this seemingly-simple question; I found figures which varied by a factor of a billion. In fact it only varies by a factor of 20 depending on the space weather.

Temperature Inside: ~24°C

Outside: -157—121°C
Inside: -271.3°C

Outside: ~20°C

Lead collision point: 5.5 trillion °C

When I first did this comparison, it was possible to check the inside temperature of the space station in real time here at the bottom right, but the temperature doesn’t show for me any more.The inside temperature of the LHC is the temperature of the cold mass of the magnets, given here.The ‘Outside’ temperature is actually the temperature of the LHCb cavern when the detector is turned off. I assume the LHC tunnel should be about the same temperature.

5.5 trillion degrees is an estimate from this Nature blog post. This CERN page says: When two beams of lead ions collide, they will generate temperatures more than 100 000 times hotter than the heart of the Sun, concentrated within a minuscule space.

Power 84kW

from solar arrays

from French and Swiss grid (including the base load for the whole site)

Of the LHC total, LHC cryogenics uses 27.5 MW and the LHC experiments use 22 MW. It’s hard to say how much of the rest goes toward LHC-related computing, lighting, coffee-brewing etc, and how much goes to the many other experiments and activities at CERN.

Orbit and Altitude
Altitude 408km — 422km
(on 2 June 2013. Has been as low as 331.5km)
175m — 50m below ground

about 450m—380m above sea level

Here is a nice graph of the ISS’s altitude from launch to 2009.

Here’s the source for the LHC depth figures, and an explanation of why it was built underground. I estimated the altitude above sea level going by altitudes in Google Earth at roughly the points where the LHC is deepest and shallowest. I need to find better figures for this.

Orbit Diameter 13 558—13 586km
(on 2 June 2013)

I used the mean Earth radius of 6371km to calculate the orbit diameter of the ISS, . I guess I should have calculated the diameter at the actual angle the ISS orbits at, but as a maths major I don’t trust my arithmetic.

Orbital Speed 7 666.2m/s
(on 2 June 2012)

protons at 7TeV: 299 792 455m/s

(3m/s slower than the speed of light)

lead ions at 2.76 TeV per nucleon: 299 792 441m/s

(17m/s slower than the speed of light)

You can check the ISS orbital speed in real time.

Protons haven’t circulated in the LHC at 7TeV yet, but they will.

I got the 2.76TeV figure from the LHC FAQ document (which is very comprehensive and interesting, by the way. I recommend it.) A nucleon is just a proton or neutron. But I couldn’t find the actual speed, so I calculated it using this formula at 1:30a.m. I’m a maths major, so I can’t guarantee its correctness.

Wolfram Alpha can calculate this by itself if you ask it ‘relativistic speed of 2.76 TeV proton’ but the answer is so near to the speed of light that it rounds it off to 1c.

Orbital Period ~92 minutes

88.928µs (11245 orbits per second)
either protons or lead ions at full energy

The ISS data used to be on the real-time tracking page listed previously, and the LHC figures were here. I’m going to need to find new sources for those.

Getting to Orbit

Zarya and Zvezda modules launched by Proton rockets

Pirs and Poisk launched by Soyuz-U rockets

Everything else launched by Space Shuttle with the help of its solid rocket boosters

Protons accelerated by Linac 2, then the Proton Synchrotron Booster, the Proton Synchrotron, Super Proton Synchrotron, and finally the LHC

It’s all about protons and boosters. I’m all about tenuous connections and dubious puns.

Particle Detectors
Detectors AMS (Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer)
Calibrated using proton beam
Real data from cosmic rays
CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid)
Calibrated using cosmic rays
Real data from proton beam

AMS was designed at CERN, and one of those proton beams came from the Super Proton Synchrotron, which also accelerates protons to inject them into the Large Hadron Collider (see also the bottom half of the too-much-infographic.) The AMS control room is also at CERN.For a while the AMS was just across the road from my office. I took a few pictures of it just before it left, with my phone since my camera was broken at the time. One is shown below. The astronauts who installed it gave a talk at CERN a year after the installation, which you can watch online.

In development
LHCb (Large Hadron Collider beauty)
Calibrated using cosmic rays
Real data from proton beam
MoEDAL (The Monopole & Exotics Detector at the LHC)
In development
ATLAS (A Toroidal LHC Apparatus)
Calibrated using cosmic rays
Real data from proton beam
LHCf (Large Hadron Collider forward)
Simulating cosmic rays
using proton beam
ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment)
Calibrated using cosmic rays
Real data from proton beam
Countries Involved 16 111

The International Space Station’s Facebook page and also the International Cooperation page say 15 nations. NASA’s Human Space Flight FAQ says 16. I went with the higher number, because people from other countries are probably involved anyway. I know that at CERN, it’s usually the countries of the institutions that are counted, when there might be people from many other countries working for those institutions.

Here is a list of countries involved in CERN. As a maths major, I don’t trust my counting abilities, so I got the 111 figure from the LHC UK site. As explained above, the real number is probably higher.


1976 (Mir-2)

1984 (Freedom)

1986 (Columbus)

1993 (ISS)


Here’s an interesting document on the conception of the ISS, which was essentially the coming together of several separate space station projects.

The idea for the LHC (sometimes called the Juratron in early papers, after the Jura mountains) had been floating around since 1977 (see this talk by Lyn Evans for a nice history of the LHC) but 1984 was the date of the first conference about it. The idea was officially approved in 1994.

On-site Assembly 1998—2013 1998—2008

Of course, this depends what you count. The LHC date is from the start of civil engineering to the completion of the beam pipe around the entire circuit including the detectors. There was a huge repair effort after the cooling leak in 2008, and there’s work going on right now to upgrade the detectors and get the LHC itself up to the original design energy of 7TeV.

Operational Since 2000
(first astronauts)
(first beam)
(first collisions)
Operational Until 2020 2022
(after which it will be upgraded)

Some sources say the ISS could run till 2025 or 2028, but for now it’s officially funded until 2020.

There are so many plans for upgrades and successors to the LHC that I’m a little confused as to when the LHC itself actually shuts off, but I’m going by the diagram in this article.

Estimated Budget

$72.4billion in 2010 dollars
unofficial calculation, not counting shuttle missions

CHF6 billion

Having a real-life space station occupied continuously for nearly 13 years, and finding out what the universe is made of? Priceless!

For the LHC, the figure of 4.6 billion is given here, but I chose the CERN FAQ/LHC Guide as the reference since it is newer and probably more carefully checked by more people. This was the booklet given out to volunteers at the 2008 open day.


Shuttles driven by ISS personnel
(Kennedy Space Center to/from ISS, 1998—2011)
Soyuz driven by ISS personnel
(Baikonur Cosmodrome to/from ISS, 2000—present)

Powered flight
(Geneva Airport to/from any airport on Earth)
Shuttle driven by ISS personnel
(Geneva Airport to/from CERN Meyrin site)

Here is a picture of an ISS employee driving a CERN shuttle:Shuttle driven by ISS personnel

Around Unpowered flight

Shuttles driven by ISS personnel between various CERN sites

Unmanned cargo transport

H-II Transfer Vehicle
(Tanegashima Space Center to/from ISS)
(Baikonur Cosmodrome to/from ISS)
Automated Transfer Vehicle
(Guiana Space Center to/from ISS)

ROCLA magnet transport robots
Magnet alignment robots

I saw an explanation of the CERN robots at an event in Microcosm years ago, but haven’t been able to find much information on them online.

Challenges Faced
  • Insulating foam from Columbia’s external fuel tank
  • Sticky bolts
  • Micrometeoroids
The bird escaped unharmed but lost its bread.
Science 121
“International Space Station” papers on
more than 1000 “Large Hadron Collider” papers on

The paper count for ISS is from August 2012; when I checked again in June 2013, the count was 116, but I assume the other papers still exist. In any case, this is only a rough idea of how much science has been done with the help of the ISS. It shouldn’t be taken as a serious estimate of the benefits thereof.


Only fictional space stations can destroy a planet with an energy beam.

Only fictional particle accelerators can destroy a planet with their energy beams.

I haven’t even seen Star Wars and I still managed to get a reference in.

  • Firefighting
  • Cleaning landfills
  • Air purification
  • Golf clubs

and more.

  • Cancer therapy
  • Sterilisation
  • Radiation processing
  • Medical imaging

and more.

You can see more about NASA technology spinoffs, search for NASA technology available for licensing, or find out about CERN technology transfer.

When to see it

As it passes overhead just before dawn or just after sunset

When it’s not running; ideally the 2013 Open Days.

If you set your location and follow @twisst on Twitter, you can be notified whenever there will be a visible ISS pass in your area.You can see CERN’s other exhibitions, or book guided tours at any time.


Most awesome man-made thing in Earth orbit. Don’t make me compare it with Mars rovers.

Most awesome man-made thing on Earth.

They’re both unique in their own way, right? Both pretty special research facilities, right? […] I think again it’s that spirit of exploration that we’re all pushing on. We all want to understand something new, discover something that nobody’s seen before, so at CERN, damn sure, that spirit drives you every day, you’re looking for new things. I see it in your papers: what is this theory? Are we changing physics? It’s the same thing we’re doing. How can I look at a physical phenomenon that occurs in one gravity, remove the one gravity term, and now get a totally different perspective on that same physical phenomenon, that then allows me to advance in a different area. So I think it’s that same passion that drives people. But I don’t know which one’s best. — William H. Gerstenmaier at CERN on 6 November 2012

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Five of Hearts: Haiku Detector

A few weeks ago, a friend linked to Times Haiku, a website listing unintentional haiku found in The New York Times, saying ‘I’d actually pay for a script that could check for Haiku in my writings. That would make prose-production a lot more exciting! Who’s up to the script-writing-challenge?’

I knew I could do it, having written syllable-counting code for my robot choir (which I really need to create an explanation page about.) I told her I’d make it that weekend. That was last weekend, when I decided at the last moment to write an article about neutron stars and ISOLTRAP, and then chickened out of that and wrote a poem about it. So I put off the haiku program until yesterday. It was fairly quick to write, so here it is: Haiku Detector. It should work on Mac OS X 10.6 and above. Just paste or type text into the top part of the window, and any detected haiku will appear in the bottom part.

Haiku Detector looks for sentences with seventeen syllables, and then goes through the individual words and checks whether the sentence can be split after the fifth and twelfth syllables without breaking a word in half. Then it double-checks the last line still has five syllables, because sometimes the punctuation between words is pronounced. The Times Haiku-finding program has a database of syllable counts per word, but I didn’t need that since I can use the Mac OS X speech synthesis API to count the syllables. Haiku Detector makes no attempt to check for kigo (season words.)

The first place I looked for haiku was the Wikipedia page for Haiku in English. Due to the punctuation, it didn’t actually find any of the example haiku on the page, but it did find this:

Robert Spiess (Red Moon
Anthology, Red Moon Press,

How profound. Next, having declared myself contributing troubadour for New Scientist magazine, I fed this week’s feature articles through it, and found:

A pill that lowers
arousal doesn’t teach shy
people what to do

Meanwhile, there are signs
that the tide is turning in
favour of shyness.

So by 4000
years ago, the stage was set
for the next big step.

This heat makes the air
spin faster, so pulling the
storm towards the city.

Some will be cooler
and less humid — suitable
for outdoor sports, say.

The last ones seem almost seasonal.

I needed to stress-test the app with a large body of text, so I grabbed the first novel of which I had the full text handy: John Scalzi‘s Old Man’s War, which I had on my iPad on my lap to read while my code was compiling. This book has at least one intentional haiku in it, which Haiku Detector detected. Apart from that, some of my favourites are:

I hate that her last
words were “Where the hell did I
put the vanilla.”

As I said, this is
the place where she’s never been
anything but dead.

“I barely know him,
but I know enough to know
he’s an idiot.”

She’d find me again
and drag me to the altar
like she had before.

A gaper was not
long in coming; one swallow
and Susan was in.

They were nowhere to
be found, an absence subtle
and yet substantial.

And it stares at me
like it knows something truly
strange has just happened.

I haven’t got up to that fifth one in the novel yet, but it mentions a swallow, which I understand is (when accompanied by more swallows) a harbinger of Spring or Summer depending on which language you get your idioms from, so there’s the kigo.

Next I figured I should try some scientific papers — the kinds of things with words that the Times haiku finder would not have in its syllable database. You probably can’t check this unless your workplace also provides access to Physics Letters B, but I can assure you that the full text of the ISOLTRAP paper about neutron stars does not contain any detectable haiku. However, the CMS paper announcing the discovery of the boson consistent with the Higgs does:

In the endcaps, each
muon station consists of
six detection planes.

As is usual for CMS papers, the author and institute lists are about as long as the paper itself, and that’s where most of the haiku were too. Here are a few:

LHC Higgs Cross Section
Working Group, in: S.

of California, Davis,
Davis, USA

That’s ‘one hundred and two’ in case anyone who doesn’t say it that way was wondering.

And here are some from my own blog. I used the text from a pdf I made of it before the last JoCo Cruise Crazy, so the last few months aren’t represented:

Beds of ground cover
spread so far in front of him
they made him tired.

Apologies to
those who only understand
half of this poem.

I don’t remember
what colour he said it was,
but it was not green.

His eyes do not see
the gruesome manuscript scrawled
over the white wall.

• Lines 1 to 3 have
four syllables each, with stress
on the first and last.

(That’s not how you write a haiku!)

I don’t wear armour
and spikes to threaten you, but
to protect myself.

A single female
to perpetuate the genes
of a thousand men.

Kerblayvit is a
made-up placeholder name, and
a kerblatent cheat.

He wasn’t the first,
but he stepped on the moon soon
after Neil Armstrong.

He just imagined
that in front of him there was
a giant dunnock.

(there are plenty more where that one came from, at the bottom of the page)

She was frustrated
just trying to remember
what the thing was called.

Please don’t consider
this a failing; it is part
of your programming.

While writing this program, I discovered that that the speech API now has an easier way to count syllables, which wasn’t available when I wrote the robot choir. The methods I used to separate the text into sentences and the view I used to display the haiku are also new. Even packaging the app for distribution was different. I don’t get to write Mac software often enough these days.

Yet again, I didn’t even bother to deal out the cards because I already had something to inspire me. In my halfhearted attempt to find a matching card, I came across one about electronics in the service of ALICE, so I ran the latest instalment of Probably Never, by Alice, into it, and got this:

Or well, I have to
put up with getting called a
fake girl all the time.

The jackhole who called
me a “he/she” recognized
that he crossed the line.

If that sounds interesting, subscribe to Probably Never, and I could probably forward you the rest of that episode if you want.

And finally, two unintentional haiku from this very post:

Haiku Detector
makes no attempt to check for
kigo (season words.)

(there are plenty more
where that one came from, at the
bottom of the page)

Wait; make that three!

And finally, two
unintentional haiku
from this very post:

Have fun playing with Haiku Detector, and post any interesting haiku you find in the comments. Also, let me know of any bugs or other foibles it has; I wrote it pretty quickly, so it’s bound to have some.

I know what I’m doing for the six of hearts; I’ve planned it for a long time but still haven’t actually started it. It’s musical, so it will probably be terrible; brace yourselves. By the way, I keep forgetting to mention, but They Might Not Be Giants will be published in Offshoots 12. Yay!

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Three of Hearts: Phirmanator: The Sara Chicazul Chronicles

Three of hearts with ALICE, Sara, a die and a robotBack in late February, my friend  Alice sent an email asking people to cover The Doubleclicks’ Nerdy Birthday Song for Sara Chicazul, who had a birthday on JoCo Cruise Crazy 2 but not on JoCo Cruise Crazy 3. The idea was to put up one per day, so that she could experience the thrill and horror (previously reserved for Mike Phirman) of having a birthday every day. A lot of people did. I don’t usually sing anything more melodic than Chicken Monkey Duck when people can hear me, so I figured I’d dust off my robot choir (a little program I wrote to take text and a tune played on my MIDI keyboard, and turn it into TUNE commands to make the built-in Mac speech synthesis sing) and record a cover that way. It took a fair bit of dusting off, what with a new version of XCode and of the MIDI framework I used, and I think the metaphorical dust mites gave me cold-like symptoms, which is why I haven’t posted anything for a while. Anyway, today I finally recorded a cover, and here it is. Given that the third thing I ever recorded using my robot choir was my Macs singing Happy Birthday to the London Science Museum, I think I may as well rename my robot choir to ‘The Phirmanator’.

This recording starts off with just the Victoria voice singing, then at the first ‘you’re getting older’, Vicki joins in. I have a cameo saying ‘everybody!’ and then Agnes joins in and all three voices get a gospel choir effect. I added Zarvox (an intentionally robotic voice) at the end, partly because I thought it would be funny, and partly because Vicki sounds awful holding that ‘all’ note and I wanted to make up for her being so much quieter in that part. I noticed part of the way through that I’d used the wrong notes in a few places, so I fixed those, but there are probably others. I don’t know how to make music; I just know how to turn MIDI notes into frequencies. Also, I can barely even play my rainstick, let alone a stringed instrument, so it’s a robocoppella. I timed everything to synch up with the original song, and it sounds kind of nice if you play both together. By itself, well… it sounds like autotune became sentient and killed all the human singers.

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Let’s pretend this is the three of clubs: JoCo Day

Grand Unification: Strong nuclear force "freezes out" the original moustacheThis is a collaboration by many fans on Jonathan Coulton’s forums to celebrate Jonathan’s birthday, and it would have been nothing but an idea without everyone else, but I think I put enough effort into it (lyrics based on Pizza Day, video editing, and even singing) to count it as a card towards this Writing Cards project. It happens to feature the Jack of Spades, but I’ve already done two of those, so how about calling it a grand unification of JoCo fans. It’s the continuation of a tradition that started in 2009; I recommend watching the previous videos if you like this one. He seemed to like it.

This afternoon I might already record a video of what will probably be the four of clubs, a very short piece I wrote in the middle of the night which I feel like reading aloud. Then I’ll have brought my average back up toward one a week.

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Five of Spades: Options

Note: This is a song-like thing. Here is an mp3 of my Mac singing it to approximately the right tune, just so you can get the same tune in your head that I had in mine when I wrote it.

Feel free to make your own recording of it with human vocals and actual music if you wish. I make no claim of being musical, and I probably accidentally copied the tune from something. Sosumi.

If I can’t have this, then I’ll have that
If I can’t have a dog, I’ll have a cat
If I don’t like today there’s always tomorrow
If I can’t be Superman, I’m Bizarro
If I can’t have coffee I’ll have tea
If I can’t have a pool I’ll have the sea
If I can’t have chocolate, I’ll have cakes
If I can’t have cities, I’ll have lakes
But if I can’t have you there are no good fakes
So I’ll be very sad.

Well you can’t always get what you think that you want
But you can get something that’s just as nice
It is not very likely the thing that you crave
Will be the only thing that will suffice

If I can’t have Mars I’ll take the moon
If I can’t be first I’ll be there soon
If I can’t have shuttles, I’ll have Soyuz
If I can’t fly from you I’ll fly for youse
If I can’t have Skylab I’ll have Mir
If I can’t leave Earth then I’ll stay here
If there’s no zigazig I want all your base
If there’s no E.T. I’ll take the human race
But if I can’t have you there’s an empty space
And I’ll be very sad.

Well you can’t always get what you think that you want
But you can always want what you’ve got
It is not very likely the thing that you crave
Will be the only thing to hit the spot

If I can’t have ATLAS there’s CMS
If I can’t find the Higgs I’ll make another guess
If I can’t prove that, I’ll become a believer
If I can’t go to PAX I won’t be a reaver
If I can’t write songs then I’ll still write Things
and if my voice sounds bad my computer sings
If I can’t have Hexley, I’ll have Tux
If I can’t have a princess, I’ll have ducks
But if I can’t have you then that just sucks
And I’ll be very sad

Well you can’t always get what you think that you want
But you can always rehypothesise
It is not very likely the answer you seek
Is the only one that satisfies

If I can’t have some things I’ll have others
If I can’t have sisters I’ll have brothers
If I can’t have rhythm I’ll have rhyme
If I can’t have space then I’ll have time
If I can’t have proof then I’ll have trust
If I can’t make love then I’ll take lust
If I can’t have lovers, I’ll have nudes
And if I can’t have ladies, I’ll have dudes
But I can’t have you so we’ll have feuds
’cause I am very sad

Well you can’t always get with the person you like
but you can always find someone new
It is not very likely the one that you want
Will be the only one that’s meant for you

Well, they say there are plenty more fish in the sea
Though I don’t think they mean that literally
And while I can’t seem to stop the overfishing
I always can be careful what I’m wishing

‘Cause if I can’t be linked then I’ll be free
If I can’t have you there’s another three
And if I can’t have them then I’ll have me
And you’ll be very sad.
But you can deal with that:
Just find another lad.

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Eight of Diamonds: The Village of Silver

Although many stories end up coming full circle, the first step is always finding a few good lines to lead into it. The steps are too steep for me to climb, I will wait and watch.

All the best pictures have canoes in them. As the boat left the wharf, they did not know that they would soon be the first victims of the biggest eruption in history. They used the clock tower to localise themselves in time and space. The people did not know that the tower would soon fall. It was big.

The butterfly said, “Some creatures are bigger than they have any right to be. The problem with rankings is that the first and second always crowd out the third. I am not going to react to that in the way you expect.”

The butterfly does not know what you have called him, he just lives.

The frog said, “I know a man who collects frogs. Hair brushed back to impress you, he has addled your brains, you no can no longer call yourselves human.

Why do you keep calling me a bull? I don’t wear armour and spikes to threaten you, but to protect myself. Standing on the stump of what was my home, I can’t help but wonder if there is any more of a future for those who destroyed it. After all their adventures, one diamond is still missing.”

A line of spikes separated the riches from the untamed sea. Many colours, reaching to the sky. Each stalk is topped with a permanent snowball. Scientists rushed to tend to the glowing backbone. The crowd rejoiced as they saw their work fall away.

Their neighbour was richer than they thought. A giant living diamond thrashed its way forward through the sea. A single female to perpetuate the genes of a thousand men.

And a gold-crazed fool said, “This is no more possible than a flower growing from another flower. I sent e-kisses over the internet before my first real kiss. I have two pillows, but there is no room for another in this bed.”

The trick in gathering treasure is to leave room for more. They got on like two flowers in a pod.

A village of silver, covered in white snow, one lasts and the other is precious.


Rearranging the components of your point does not make it any sharper.

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Five of Clubs: Juratron Park

juratron-parkIf you pine for the mystery
before Noah’s ark
we’ve remade prehistory
at Juratron Park.

Come atoms, come molecules,
See what you were back then.
Come out for a frolic, you’ll
spin unperturbed again.

Those that wander can find
on our Memory Lane walks
they’re no longer confined
to a group of three quarks.

Before we were three
we were free from our tether,
and though we were free
we were closer together.

We loved antimatter,
we were one, nigh elation
to meet and to natter
’bout CP violation.

So come to a place
that’s more bright than the sun
where we’d meet face to face
‘fore they lost and we won.

Then back where you’re from,
bound together by force,
Go back to your com-
pounds, to never divorce.

We don’t all get on,
talk is charged and polemical
but each baryon
has its place in a chemical.

If protons complain
then you reach in and tell ’em, in
truth you all gain
when you’re each in your element.

You’re not vexed when you seek
unified universe
But you know you’re unique
when divided, diverse.

Make the world have this aim:
make the world we’re in different.
The more we’re the same,
the more we’re indifferent.

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Six of Clubs: Hydrogen Gas

Just over twelve hours to write something. I should have started sooner. I’ll start by reading the section on short short stories in Susan Tiberghian’s book, because it’s about time I wrote some prose. She says, ‘A story, be it short or book length, creates a dream in the reader’s mind.’ Can I create a universe in your head in twelve hours? How much of the real universe had been created after twelve hours? It didn’t take much more than seventeen minutes for the newly created protons and neutrons to band together into light nuclei.

Things go a little slower now, but perhaps I can do something similar in the time I have. First, I need some protons to start from. That’s easy. Take three random cards from my pile of sixes of clubs. With any luck, they’ll be different enough that merely finding a link between them will give me an entire story, but not so different that I can’t find a link. Three quarks to form a proton or neutron, two the same, one different.

An ordinary six of clubs. Why do the boring cards always come up when I do this? A close-up of a black spotted cow in Holland. Well, cows eat clovers. Spreading phlox in Canada. Sounds like something made up by Dr. Seuss. Too similar. Do the phlox and clovers vie for the cow’s attention? Can I write an interesting story about a perfectly ordinary cow eating clovers? Susan quotes Eunice Scarfe as saying, ‘If we have lived, we each have a story.’ What is the cow’s story? Perhaps the letter of the week can help me. H, from the Semitic letter ח. According to wikipedia, the form of the letter probably stood for a fence or posts. There are none, in the field where this Dutch cow lived.

Green clovers and phlox

I do not like this spreading phlox,
I would not like it with an ox.
I’d rather risk a mad cowpox,
by joining all the other stocks
and munching on a tasty clover,
but alas I can’t get over,
Thank goodness I’ve a bale of stover,
some for me and some left over.

No, this isn’t going anywhere. I quite like the CERN card this week though: formation of nuclei, or nucleosynthesis: Temperature is low enough to allow protons and neutrons to combine to form nuclei (deuterium, helium, lithium) Conditions similar to interior of stars. It could be an analogy for so many things.

Nuclear Bonds

At first, I was friends with everyone. Any kid who would play with me for five minutes was my friend for five minutes, maybe six. Later on, they tired of bouncing between playmates, and formed more lasting friendships. I flew through them alone, at times kicked here and there by their repulsion, at times accepted temporarily into a more neutral group. Finally I collided with another lone spark, and we bonded.

Not bad, I guess. But I don’t know how long I could continue it. What’s the letter of the week again? Ah… H is for hydrogen, which has the lightest nucleus of all, a single proton, which would have existed even before nucleosynthesis started. What can I say about hydrogen? I may not have much of a story, but I have the best title ever.

Big Bang Nucleosynaesthesia

Hydrogen’s green,
Helium too.
I didn’t know how,
but somehow I knew.

I used to think hydrogen was green. The letter H was as green as they come, and I didn’t know where else I would have got that association from.

My family had several old cars, often referred to as ‘old bombs’. One was exactly the colour of H, and I was burning to make a joke about it being an H-bomb. I always stopped just short of saying anything, because I couldn’t figure out what made H green. Was hydrogen green? It ought to be. Eventually, the frustration of not being able to tell this joke got to me, and I asked my dad whether hydrogen was green. It wasn’t.

Some time later, I gathered the courage to ask him whether the letter H was green. I don’t remember what colour he said it was, but it was not green. He said that perhaps the colours we associated with numbers and letters came from fridge magnets or alphabet books we had as children. A is for apple, so maybe that’s why it was red. Only, it’s more of a pinkish red.

When I was a teenager, I heard about something called synaesthesia, where people could taste colours, see sounds, and all sorts of other weird and wonderful combinations. How strange it must be to see a red apple and taste
a steak and cheese pie. How amazing it must be to see an entire symphony laid out like an intricately knotted carpet. How enlightening it must be to feel a graph tingling on the back of the neck, and linking intuitively with other information like a massage from a well-trained masseuse.

Synaesthetes were real-world superheroes, until I found out I was one. A few years ago I read about something called grapheme-colour synaesthesia, which means that people automatically associate letters and numbers with colours. Like all kinds of synaesthesia, it runs in families. Different people have different colours for each letter and number, although ‘A’ is quite frequently reported to be red. It does not seem to depend on the fridge magnets the synaesthetes were exposed to. Nor does it reveal any deep truths about the universe outside my head. On the other hand, people are talking a lot about hydrogen as a green alternative to fossil fuels these days…

Perhaps this idea would just about cut it. Perhaps not. The H fridge magnet which I’ll have to use to illustrate it is an incongruous red. An H in disguise; it took me a while to find.

Sunset. The faintly fading photons remind me that it’s time to fuse all these proto-ideas into the nucleus of a story. Perhaps if I force myself to write them, a link will reveal itself. But they stubbornly stay separate, isolated and inadequate. Perhaps that’s how it should be. Most of the universe today is made of hydrogen, those lone protons which slipped through the nucleosynthesis stage unaffected. I just need to embellish them with electrons, and send them electronically across the globe.

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Nine of Clubs: Grand Unification

Note: I wrote this with the tune and sentiment of Tom Smith‘s A Boy and his Frog (mp3) in my head. If you know the tune, please imagine that this poem is sung to the same tune as whichever verses it fits.

You might think that we’re just doing science
With a hadron collider so large.
But we’ve built this electric alliance
to give weight to our positive charge.

Take researchers from every nation,
Let the humans within them collide.
We will find the grand unification
when we see we’re all on the same side.

And with ev’ry race, tongue and religion
we’ll find how to give all the world mass.
If we’d all interact just a smidgen
with the openness through which we pass

we’d see life’s ups and downs become charming and strange,
when we face them head on, and what’s more,
seeking beauty and truth we can make a big change
with small change from the purses of war.

Take the light at the end of the tunnel,
and ensure it goes all the way round,
to illuminate more than the sun’ll,
and enlighten with what we have found:

When you’ve unresolved matters, and not enough kin,
and face too many forces to name,
if you cut out the din, and put energy in,
it turns out that we’re all just the same.

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Ten of Clubs: Still Point Five

This is to be sung to the tune of ‘Still Alive‘ by Jonathan Coulton. I will post a recording, and probably a video, some time in the next few days.

This isn’t TRIUMF
We’re sending a beam through CMS.
Can’t wait to see some novel interactions.

Popular Science
will call up their troubadour(k)y man
To sing in praise of all of us
and he’ll sound better than this.

But there’s no sense cheering over every beam
they’ll just keep appearing till you have an umpteen
when the celebration’s done,
do your calibration run.
Tell the crackpots they’re all still alive.

We’re not yet colliding.
But soon we’ll be lighting up the barrel
with 14 TeV of former protons
We’ll smash them to pieces
and slam every piece into a wire
except the LSP because
it will go all the way through.
Now our points of data come from crystals of lead tungstate,
and we’re out of beta we’re releasing a few years late
but the science gets done,
and more funding will come
now you’ve seen that you’re all still alive.

We’ll find the Higgs boson.
We’ll find that the answer’s forty-two.
Maybe we can even find the question.
We’ll blow up the planet.
That was a joke. ha ha, fat chance.
Anyway, this spaceplane’s great,
let’s try to make it collide.
Look at me still talking when there’s science to do
when I look up there I think I see a mu-mu.
But we need to repair
see you in the new year,
In the meantime the DAQ’s still online.

And believe me we are still online.
We’re taking cosmics and we’re still online
And when there’s beam we will be still online
And ISOLDE will be still online
Because those show-offs had beam all the time.
All the time
still online

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