Here and There

By Sean Carroll | April 15, 2011 4:46 pm

Collected things before I hop on a plane for France:

  • I’m hopping on a plane for France. Spending next week at the Pope’s old palace in Avignon, conferencing with fellow cosmologists about the latest and greatest in the field. I have apparently been appointed to honorary Grand Old Man status, as I’m giving the closing talk at the conference. The title is “White smokes and Dark smokes in cosmology,” and I presume you all understand the reference. I didn’t pick the title, I swear. No live-blogging, but if I’m feeling energetic I might drop in with updates.
  • I’m still thinking about the Open Science idea, haven’t forgotten. But I haven’t really homed in on an appropriate project if we were to try it out. Ideally (I think) you would have something relatively modular, where people could work on separate sub-tasks and then bring them all together. But my own kind of research really isn’t like that; it’s more like I have a single idea that works or doesn’t, and we work out the basic consequences. But still contemplating.
  • Subsequent to the post about NASA giving up on LISA, more official words have come from NASA itself. (The original posts here and elsewhere were based on emails from officials to scientists.) You can read more at Steinn’s blog, or some words from project scientist Robin Stebbins at Jennifer’s Discovery News blog. As far as I can tell, NASA has indeed given up on LISA, but they’re saying that “funding for gravitational wave astrophysics is unchanged,” which is certainly great news.
  • Also at Discovery, Jennifer blogs about Silent Sky, a play by Lauren Gunderson about Henrietta Swan Leavitt. Well worth checking out for you Southern Californians. Amazing what ground-breaking scientific research the women “computers” at Harvard College Observatory managed to do, essentially in their spare time.
  • Sad news out of Yale: an undergraduate physics and astronomy major was killed in a machine shop accident. Thoughts go out to her family and friends.
  • U.S. Federal prosecutors, clearly sitting around bored with nothing better to do, have indicted leaders of online poker sites, and attempted to shut down the sites entirely. There is some legal confusion concerning the status of online poker, stemming from a silly piece of legislation called the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. It’s fairly clear that the people who wrote the bill intended to make online poker illegal, but the sites contend that they’ve found ways around the constraints, and have been operating openly for quite a while now. (I personally play at Full Tilt Poker.) Even more clear is that people should be able to play poker for money legally if they want to, and this is an absurd overreach by the government. But it might very well be the end of online poker, at least until the legislation is repealed.
  • Interesting in giving a TED talk? Here’s your chance: they’re accepting auditions. Make a one-minute video that blows them away, and you might find yourself speaking in front of a global audience. Think of it as American Idol for ideas instead of voices.
  • And while we’re talking about videos, the Dunlap Institute at the University of Toronto has a new effort to put science videos online. Right now mostly focused on their own videos, which have an astronomy slant, but they’re planning to branch out. Worth a look.

Off to Old Europe with me, see you on the flip side.

  • Albert Zweistein

    Sean: “U.S. Federal prosecutors, clearly sitting around bored with nothing better to do, have indicted leaders of online poker sites, and attempted to shut down the sites entirely.”

    Note that the ultimate irresponsible gamblers of the financial sector, who destroyed their companies, lost the investments of people who trusted them, nearly destroyed the US economy, and waltzed away with 100s of billions of dollars in their back pockets, are merely questioned a bit by congress and then allowed to continue their unregulated gambling and “bonusing” with abandon.

    Who is running this show, one wonders? Looks like an “Inside Job” to me!

    Albert Z

  • Mark Weitzman

    Please never use the term gambling with reference to wall street. All they know is other peoples money and heads I win tails you lose. As a professional gambler I like 99% of all pros use our own money in an open and fair game ( absent the now fairly rare cheating) . If only the financial world operated with the same principles and integerity of most professional gamblers the world would be a much better place.

  • dave chamberlin

    I watched my son win the down payment for his house playing on line poker. Damn, it was exciting. The online sports gambling sites are getting shoved to various countries and transferring money in and out of them is getting increasingly difficult. Bookies are scum, they let people get into debt and then send their vicious collectors after the suckers. On line betters are by the most part like me, throwing 10 bucks on a game to make it interesting. Knowing over the long run we are going to lose slowly, the way I look at it, my “vice” is fun and cheaper than renting a movie. For a while I was even able to gamble at an online book that paired me with someone who wanted the opposite bet and the house take was only one half of one percent. My hundred dollar deposit would last the whole season as long as I kept bets to a small fraction of what I had in my account.
    What people don’t want to know about online gambling is that it can be fun and cheap even for the 95 plus percent of us who are going to end up losers. My grown son has moved into the business world with great success, in part due to the skills he learned playing and winning in the fascinating strategy game of Texas hold-em.

  • Tintin

    Le Palais des Papes, à Avignon? Couldn’t you have found a more appropriate place to discuss cosmology? I realize that the Vatican thought it appropriate few days ago, to celebrate Galileo’s first unveiling of his telescope, 400 years ago, but I think you are all taking chances with these miscreants . Many “Princes of the Church” are STILL thinking about the “good old days, and I wouldn’t be surprised if, when they have you all gathered in the same room, they will lock the doors, and terminate your conference in a grandiose cosmological auto da fé.

  • Ronan

    I hope no one uses Pont d’Avignon as an analogy for String Theory in the conference

  • Herman

    @Ronan lol! Avignon is a great city to visit. Downtown reminded me of the classic computer text game ‘Adventure’ circa late 70’s where there is… “You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike and the old Vatican sitting majestically on top of the hill has one room with the ceiling painted depicting the night sky. Enjoy your sojourn Sean.

  • Sai Ganesh

    Sean, your #2 pondering got me thinking along similar lines only to hit upon a Facebook for researchers — ResearchGate. Here’s an NPR article on that Of course, this is just a first step towards a large collaboration such as the one you mentioned earlier.

  • Carl Brannen

    The accident was a tragedy. Long hair and metal lathes is a bad combination. In addition, no one (student or otherwise) should be using heavy equipment while alone.


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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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