Friday, December 18, 2009

Did they see it?

Has dark matter been detected (rumours were abound)? The CDMS (Cryogenic Dark Matter Search) experiment has detected some potentially tantalising evidence for the first direct detection of WIMPs - it saw 2 events! (I think the paper will be on the arXiv here.) However, they make no claim for detection, as they say:
In this new data set there are indeed 2 events seen with characteristics consistent with those expected from WIMPs. However, there is also a chance that both events could be due to background particles. Scientists have a strict set of criteria for determining whether a new discovery has been made, in essence that the ratio of signal to background events must be large enough that there is no reasonable doubt. Typically there must be less than one chance in a thousand of the signal being due to background. In this case, a signal of about 5 events would have met those criteria. We estimate that there is about a one in four chance to have seen two backgrounds events, so we can make no claim to have discovered WIMPs. Instead we say that the rate of WIMP interactions with nuclei must be less than a particular value that depends on the mass of the WIMP. The numerical values obtained for these interaction rates from this data set are more stringent than those obtained from previous data for most WIMP masses predicted by theories. Such upper limits are still quite valuable in eliminating a number of theories that might explain dark matter.

so these results can't be heralded as a significant for a while (with the events having a one in four chance of being background you're not going to convince anyone), but there is maybe room for some excitement - and setting upper limits is still fun! Right! It's nice to have definitive results in science, but in new discovery fields like this (and probably as will happen in my own field of gravitational wave detection) you need to take your time.

What's particularly ironic (from a UK perspective) is that yesterday's STFC funding announcement dropped the Dark Matter experiments at Boulby mine!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Administrative error

After posting about the current financial woes of the physics and astronomy community I saw some other depressing fiscal news. It seems that Watford may be facing administration! We're being asked to pay back almost £5 million in loans (from a salad supplier!) by close of business today, which looks kind of unlikely. If we do fall into administration then the Football League will automatically deduct 10 points from us, and leave us just above the relegation spots - not a fun place to be. I really hope we don't go the way of Luton.

[Update: We seem to have been saved from administration after our major shareholder Lord Ashcroft stepped in and agreed to pay off our loan. We out of the worst for now, but there may be other problems going into the future. Unfortunately we lost our game today.]

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tomorrow, tomorrow

Tomorrow sees the announcements from today's STFC science prioritisation meeting (hilariously title "Investing in the future: 2010-2015" [my emphasis]), which will describe how UK funding for Astronomy, Particle Physics and Nuclear Physics will be distributed over the next few years. Due to certain issues there are likely to be some big cuts in many areas where the UK has been doing excellent science, and many people are on tenterhooks waiting to see if their area (and in many post-docs cases their jobs) are on the line. Other people have written in more informed, and better ways, about this, so I'm not going to add anything other than the obviously selfish thing of hoping that my area of gravitational wave research fares well. I hope things aren't as bad as predicted and most people (in all STFC-funded areas) see their funding at least kept at its current level, but that's probably hoping in vain.

[Update: The report can be found here. Gravitational waves fared well, but even we can expect to have to deal with cuts of order 10% (maybe more) - I think we'll do this through various efficiency savings. There is a lot of discussion online of the aftermath of this report and its effects over all the STFC areas (for example see the comments on Peter Coles blog, or the #sftc tag on twitter.)]

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Heading south for the winter

Another week, another kayaking trip. This time we sought out warmer climbs by heading south to the River Nith - this is a grade 3/4 river depending on the level, although for us it was mainly grade 3 or less. It was an intermediate trip, but I think that the Nith was a new river for everyone on this trip, so we didn't really know what to expect.

When we got down there we first went for a look at one of the rivers that flows into the Nith, the Euchan - we didn't really plan to paddle it (fortunately!), but wanted to have a scout out for possible future trips. It did look fun, but there was a gorge section containing a very narrow channel that looked potentially rather nasty. After this diversion we headed back to the Nith to find a suitable get in. We decided not to start at one of the regular get ins at Sanquhar (which to me is a bizarre name for a village - it contains an inappropriate "q"), but head a bit further down stream to where the river looked a bit more interesting (and to cut down on the length of the shuttle run, seeing as we only had a bike for that). We found a good spot about two miles further along the road, although we didn't realise quite how long it would take for Mike to make it back on the bike after taking the bus down to the get out - at the time we thought he was just being slow, but we felt quite bad about that when we drove back along the road after paddling and saw just how far it was.

There were a couple of minor rapids soon after getting in which we all got over fine, although at the bottom of one I stupidly came a cropper on a eddy line and capsized. I tried a couple of rolls, but failed and some had a pretty lame swim - my general ability getting into and out of eddy's is still pretty poor and something I should really practice more often (and have practised more on this trip too, as the other were quite nifty at getting into small eddy's behind rocks). Unfortunately there were then large sections of pretty flat water between the rapids until we got to the gorge section. From then on the rapids were a more closely spaced and things got more fun, but the light was drawing in, so we couldn't hang about and there wasn't much time for people to play about in the waves (I was generally avoiding playing about anyway, as my early swim [and uncomfortable boat] had slightly dented my confidence). I had another swim during, or just before, the gorge section (we weren't too sure where the gorge started, but it was just before a point where there was a large tree stump in the middle of the river). Again this was quite a lame swim, as I just got through the rapid fine, but capsized at the bottom and again couldn't quite manage to roll up. The rapids near the end were a lot more fun, and we did most of them blind due to not having the time to hang about. There was only one more swim on the trip, although not from me this time (and at a point just off the last drop on one of the rapids, where a swim is much less lame).

I think the general consensus was that there was far too much flat water on this trip, but the end section was good. It'll probably be a while before the Nith is done again as a club trip, but it could be better in higher water, or if you just do the gorge.

For the journey home, at the insistence of Tom ;), we decided to try and get Reggie Yates (on his Radio 1 requests show) to play Meatloaf's I would do anything for love. We all texted in, and Ben even managed to get through on the phone and have his details taken, but unfortunately our request went unheard.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Scrolling drum tabs

Since playing Rock Band and Guitar Hero I've thought that having a scrolling drum tab in the same style would be brilliant for learning to play new songs. Well fortunately I'm not the only person to think this and someone with some coding skills has actually mocked up a working code to do this. It seems that at the moment it basically takes in a text file with a tab that someone has already written (I don't know what format would be required), and then you sync that up with the music from the song. It would be nice if you could just pass it the music files and it works out the tab, but that's probably asking a bit too much ;) Anyway, I'm not sure if the guy who wrote this code is planning on actually making a production version and selling it, but I'd definitely be a customer if he does.