A lovely visit from lovely people

Alex and Adria paid us a visit and we had so much fun and they are very very lovely people.  Here are some photos from our outing to the Palace of Fine Arts.

The fog is normal. It was like 4 pm?


I guess this structure was originally built for a World's Fair, and then people decided they liked it. It's a lovely park now.

Grrrr, friends!

This li'l doggeh was very pleased to peek at us as we walked by.


This last photo makes a good segue into an upcoming post, in which we all went to Aptos and made wine.  Wine-making photos!  Coming soon!

I found a secret gym!

We can talk later about my exercise proclivities.  For now, let’s just say that I find most hotel “fitness centers” to be seriously deficient.  Two ten-pound dumbbells and a treadmill just don’t cut it. I require a squat rack. Squats are the best.

So when I was in Chicago a couple weeks ago, I poked around for a more adequate gym.  Of course these are plenty of gym franchises everywhere you look, but these have their own drawbacks.  They’re crowded, they blast terrible music, and their main focus is always on making a hot dollar.  So it’s common in one of these franchises to see rows and rows of gleaming elliptical trainers (because these impress newcomers) and then maybe one dusty ol’ squat rack in the corner (because newcomers don’t know from squats).  Some of these places forbid deadlifting, olympic lifting, and even moderate grunting.  Lame.  Unacceptable. But with a little effort I found “Unicus Fitness Lair”, the best, weirdest, secret-est gym in Chicago.  I’d like to share it with you.

It’s a legitimate secret.  You really, truly can’t find the gym without help from the owners.  Seriously.  You can’t just stumble on it by yourself because there are no signs.  I had to call them, get directions, and have them put my name on a list so I could get through security.  You can’t walk in off the street because … Well, let’s just go through the directions, step by step.

First, find this building. It was designed by Mies Van Der Rohe and is featured in the first few minutes of that movie "The Dark Knight".


From the front door, it looks like this.

Go inside and show your ID to the guys at the security desk. They have to open a gate for you.

Take the elevator to the 30th floor.

Oh, but the gym is on the 32nd floor and the elevator doesn't go that high. So find the spooky stairwelll and climb up the last two floors.


Once you're finally there, it's ENORMOUS. I'm about to show you several photos, each of a different room.

I chatted with the owners for a while, so I can tell you confidently that I’m not actually giving away any crazy secrets.  It’s not a super-exclusive club, it’s just that they found a big, unused space and jumped at the opportunity.  It works well for them, since they don’t care too much about pulling people in off the street.  They’d rather train a few dedicated people than a bunch of treadmill bunnies with no motivation.

I felt irrationally cool for finding this place, though.  After my first trip there, I told my friends in hushed tones about the secret skyscraper gym I’d found, feeling totally like somebody who was “hip” and “in-the-know”.

More Chicago Fun

I was back in Chicago recently for a conference!  It was intensely busy, but I managed to find a little time to have fun.  In particular, the conference hosted a dinner at the Mid-America Club, located at the top of the Aon Center (a.k.a. the Standard Oil Building).  The Aon Center is huge!  And we got to the 82nd floor!  I kind of sound like a country bumpkin right now but I totally don’t care!  82 floors is a lot of floors!

Lake Michigan

The Mid-America Club is kind of a trip.  I think it’s normally a place for rich executive-types to have expensive dinners, but we had it all to ourselves that night.

It's all decorated this way. I walked around pretending I was Eddie Murphy from "Trading Places".

Here are some photos of the beautiful panoramas we had!

Skyline at night, over the top of 2 Prudential Plaza.

Even their bathrooms have a beautiful view! Hilarious.

Some of my friends and I managed to stay pretty late, so on our way out the enormous, cavernous building was deserted.  That was a sight in itself, since the place is usually packed with bustling business types.

The deserted lobby. It's bigger than it looks in this photo.


Looking up from the ground floor at night. Pretty overwhelming.

And then a couple more photos of the architecture, just because Chicago is beautiful:

Aqua, my favorite skyscraper ever.

The Wrigley Building, with the Trump International Hotel and Tower in the background.

The Chicago Tribune building at night. NB: I didn't mess with the colors on this photo. That's just the way it looked.

As far as metropoli go, I might really love Chicago.  It’s a different kind of love than my love for San Francisco, but it’s just as strong.  Of course, I haven’t spent any time there in the winter.  But look: Chicago has all the wacky different types of people that New York has, but they’re running around a city that’s stunningly beautiful.  You should go there and check it out!

What on Earth am I doing for a living?

Aerial photograph of Fermi National Accelerator Facility in Batavia, IL

Aerial photograph of Fermi National Accelerator Facility in Batavia, IL. Photo credit: Fermilab Visual Media Services.

This is going to be the first in a series of posts in which I try to describe my job.  I say it’ll be a series of posts because there’s a lot to talk about.

I think it’s not enough to say “I build particle accelerators”.  First of all, it takes hundreds of talented people to build even the smaller sorts of machines.  In the grand scheme of things, I’ve got a very specific and kind of complicated role.  And then, it’s not enough just to describe my role.  How does it fit into the larger picture?  What are all the other accelerator physicists doing?  And why do we want to build these things in the first place? Accelerators are big and complicated and not exactly cheap. Finally, since this is my job, what’s it like? Is it hard?  Are the hours ok?  Do I have a boss? To say that I’m working on the refurbishment of an 805 MHz pillbox cavity for R&D towards a muon ionization cooling channel … well, that’s accurate, but it doesn’t give you a lucid picture of my day-to-day, does it?

I’ve started writing this post quite a few times over the past month or so, and I always end up  with an insanely long, dense chunk of text that nobody will ever read.  Finally I hit on the (obvious) solution of breaking it down into chunks.  So without further ado, here’s chunk number one, a post on


For most of the people in my field, getting a PhD represents the beginning of a career.  I know that sounds totally bonkers, since most people are in their late 20s or early 30s by the time they get their doctorates.  Just think of it as an apprenticeship for science dorks.  Sure I spent a few years at the beginning of grad school doing schooly things: taking classes, doing homework, studying for tests … basic school stuff everybody can relate to.

But for most grad students, at some point there’s a crazy, stressful milestone.  Maybe you study  for and pass a scary test, maybe you earn your Master’s Degree, or maybe some Klingons jab you with pain sticks. After that hurdle, you’re what’s called a Doctoral Candidate — you’ve earned the right to try to get a degree.  And usually, from that point forward, you just do research.  No more classes, no more tests, you just have a low-paying job with extremely long hours.  This is the part that’s basically an apprenticeship.  After several years of doing research, you graduate!

What happens next?  Well, some people are smooth enough to waltz straight out of grad school and into a sweet professorship. It’s way more common, though, to spend some years after your apprenticeship as a journey(wo)man.  In academic jargon, we call that sort of person a postdoc, short for post-doctoral fellow.  A postdoc is typically a 1-3 year temporary position that pays better than being in grad school but not quite as well as a more permanent position. (If my paycheck was dinner, it would be somewhere in between instant ramen noodles and a really nice lasagna.)  I’ve got actual responsibilities, my work is more or less self-directed, and I answer to a supervisor who helps to integrate me into the larger work of the group.  If it all goes well, I’ll become a “staff scientist” in 2013. That means I’ll be involved in some of these projects for the long haul, which is pretty exciting since I love my work and there’s a lot I want to contribute.

So I’m a journeyman, but you’ll notice I haven’t said anything yet about what I’m actually doing.  That’s a topic for an upcoming post.  Stay tuned!

Chicago architecture tour

I was at Fermilab for work stuff when my birthday rolled around.  Anaïs came out to do birthday stuff with me!  We boated around the Chicago River looking at architecture (photos below), ate way too much delicious food, saw a really, truly excellent concert, and hung out with good friends.  What a day!

A word on the concert: If somebody asks you whether you want to see Charles Lloyd play live with two dudes named Zakir Hussain and Eric Harland, you say “yes yes yes yes yes”.  That’s what you say.  They play some crazy combination of classical Indian music, bop, and free jazz that is like nothing you will ever hear anywhere else.  I’ll make it easy for you: here’s their tour schedule and here’s a little sample.

What a good birthday.

Ok, so here are a bunch of the photos I took during the architecture tour.  I’ve tried to include the names of all these buildings and, parenthetically, either the style or a little factoid about each one.

A quick little California vignette

A quick little post today, since I’m busy.  This is a photo of the table next to our front door, in which I haven’t changed or arranged anything.  I think it’s a nice little haiku about our life in California.  From left to right:

  • a little bowl for loose change, so we always have something to give the inevitable panhandler on our way to anything
  • a vase of flowers! We get produce and flowers on a weekly basis from Full Belly Farms, our CSA. The vase was made by my Dad! (You can check out his Etsy shop here.)
  • a guidebook for hiking.  Last week we went to Point Reyes National Seashore. (Check out the photos below.)
  • a catch-all public transit card for our enormous network of buses and subways that we totally use all the time

Like I said, it’s not a very profound post today.  Still, it’s a nice little snapshot of what we’ve been up to lately.  Now, as promised, here are some photos from Point Reyes:

Music what huh

A short post today, containing two factoids from the indie music world.  These factoids are alike in that they wrinkled my brain something fierce.

Factoid number one:

The Feelies have a new album!  They haven’t released a new album in twenty years!  This is not an exaggeration.  Twenty years.  I’ve only heard bits of the new album, so this factoid does not constitute a full-blown recommendation.  But I love the band.  Good job, Feelies! Here’s a link to a thing NPR did with them:


Factoid number two:

Arthur Russell did a rap with Vin Diesel in 1986. Yes, that Arthur Russel, the cellist. And yes, that Vin Diesel, the star of Iron Giant and the Riddick movies.  Really.  You can listen to it.

The world is a fascinating place to live.  Oh, and since I’m talking about music today, I’ll just mention my friend Wes Swing, who is making pretty music you should listen to.

Ok, that’s it for now!

I was away, but now I’m back.

I assure you, my lack of posts for the past month or so stems from a full schedule and not from disinterest! I hope you are assured.  A week at Fermilab, a week at SLAC, family events and holidays … the blogging hours quickly dry up.  Over the next week or so, I’ll try to blog my way out of this post deficit.  Pending topics:

  • travel
  • household developments (We have a garden now!)
  • Linux evangelism
  • what on Earth I could possibly be doing for a living
  • assorted nonsense

Please stay tuned!  All this and more is yours to read about, if only you will dip a little deeper into your well of patience.



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Chicago, by Carl Sandburg Hog Butcher for the World, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler; Stormy, husky, brawling, City of the Big Shoulders: They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, … Continue reading