Monday, November 21, 2005

CERN receives supercomputing award

The European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) is the place where the World Wide Web was developed. Even the uncultural people who don't care about the existence of the Higgs boson or the superpartners may have noticed one of the by-products of high-energy experimental physics, namely the web.

Despite some rumors, Al Gore did not invent the web. The only discovery in computer science that Al Gore has made are algorithms. :-) Despite the contributions of the unsuccessful 2000 presidential candidate to computer science, you should keep in mind that most websites start with Dubya Dubya Dubya.

The Large Hadron Collider should start operations in 2007 and it will require many gradual technological advances to occur. Look at this article:

In this article, you can remind yourself about the immense amount of data that CERN will generate and that will have to be analyzed. Even if the people do not care about particle physics, experiments like the LHC represent a very natural playground to improve technology - such as grid computing - that can become useful in many other contexts in the future. Of course, these results are not the goal of particle physics but rather a by-product; but they are another reason why people may find investments to pure science - and high energy physics in particular - to be a good idea.

When I mentioned the LHC, there is one more LHC associated with CERN: "Les Horribles Cernettes" were a music band whose photograph became the first image ever displayed on the World Wide Web. Their 9 songs were so excellent that they have even be remade by your humble correspondent (lhc-*).


  1. Lubos:
    The award was for the "public awareness" part, not for the technology part. Technology wise, there is nothing worth bragging on the high performance computing or grid computing on CERN's part. Any one who exams the code written for LHC@HOME would have to agree it's a piece of junk written by some one who does not know how to write computer code. Those are the worst code I have ever seen.

    I predict that for all practicality LHC is doomed. It will probably starts up early or later 2008 instead of 2007, due to the project cost over-run and some technical difficulties. But that is not a problem. If every thing goes as business as usual, it will be built, turned on, operate for a few decades normally and even produce some useful results.

    Unfortunately business as usual is no longer possible now, due to the fact that we are approaching, and maybe have just passed the world peak of oil production. From now on it's a downhill road where the world energy supply goes down year by year while demand continue to climb up. It's an un-precedent crisis facing the whole humanity.

    The latest I heard, thanks to a link Lubos provided, that they are planning to operate LHC on a half year basis, to save some electricity bill. Wouldn't that sound very odd that after you spend tens of billions of dollars build the machine, you don't want to run it continuously to get the best bang out of the bucks. It is as if to say you spend all the money built the Apollo spaceship that can land on the moon, and some how you decide to just circulate the moon and not land on it, so as to save one half of the rocket fuel. Odd isn't it?

    The LHC is an incredibly complicated machine and it requires lots of patient and time consuming fine tuning of all its parts, to get it working at all. It's not something you can just flip the switch one and get result. I do not think you can operate this thing on half year basis and expect to get it working. Half year is not long enough to fine tune every thing. Once you think you are getting there, you shut it down and thaw it for half year. when you cool it down again, parts have moves and the characteristics have changed due to the thermal expansion and contraction cycle, and you need to start over again to re-tune the machine.

    The bigger problem is whether Europe can afford the electricity to run the machine at all. LHC consumes half of Geneva City's electricity once turned on. There is a huge energy squeeze coming this winter, due to depletion of the North Sea oil and gas production.

    Tony Blair is already talking about maybe shut some big industries and allow people to work a 3 day work weeks, if this winter becomes too cold and there is not enough fuel to heat homes. The experts are already crunching numbers to figure out that the death rate of Great Britain will increase by 8000 persons, for each one extra degree celsius that the average temperature this winter is lower than normal.

    The point is under a crisis situation the energy consumption will be prioritized based on importance. Fundamental particle physics research is nice. But it is in no way more important than saving enough energy to keep residential homes warm so less people will die in the winter. So by the time LHC is finished, local residents might well vote to deny electricity supply to LHC once the energy crisis becomes a clear reality.


  2. Related link of the looming UK energy crisis.

    I feel the crakpots in the establishment camps are so detached from reality that they can not comprehend it. They have great interests to discuss a highly unlikely catastropy in the remote future, and propose all sorts of wacky ways to deal with it. Like what if a asteriod will hit the earth, killing a couple million people. But when it comes to an imminent and completely realistic pending catastropy, like the peak oil, which could lead to massive dieoff of the bulk of the 6 billion world population, they have absolutely no interest in discussing.


  3. This is from Bloomberg. Gas price TRIPPLED IN JUST 10 DAYS. And the crisis is not just UK since wholesale electricity prices THROUGHOUT Europe surged.

    To put things in perspect. The current UK gas price is 11 times what it was in USA in 2000.

    Does any one still have an illusion that they could actually afford to turn on LHC in 2007 or 2008, and can pay for the electricity bill? North Sea is depleting at 20% annual rate!


  4. The LHC is the utter apotheosis of Boondoggle Science - an obscenely expensive and dangerous grotesquerie which threatens to obliterate the planet for the sake of "research." Boondoggles like the LHC should be presumed indefensibly dangerous until proven safe. That no credible scientist has yet to speak to the safety of running absurd black-hole creating experiments complete with strangelets and new mini-universes illustrates for all to see the amorality of a significant portion of our scientific elite.

  5. You raised a legitimate question. We know, from textbooks, that blackholes may be generated on LHC. We also know that according to the Hawking theory. The blackhole will evaporate in no time, causing no danger at all to the earth.

    BUT! It is important to know that the textbook COULD BE WRONG. Our current collective knowledge about blackholes COULD BE WRONG. We have not observed a single blackhole up close and verify, experimentally, that Hawking evaporation indeed occurs. I believe Kawking is probably right. But there is always a small possibility that we could be all wrong.

    The point is, when the consequence of us being wrong, is as bad as anihilation of humanity itself, we can not afford even the smallest chance of being wrong on the dangerous side. We would rather prefer to be wrong on the cautious side.

    Until some one can guarantee, in the name of the whole humanity, that Hawking, as well as the textbook, is absolutely right and there is zero chance the blackhole can last long enough to swallow the earth, I think we can not take the risk of LHC, no matter how small you think the risk is.


  6. Well said, Quantoken. Unfortunately, we are two voices in the wilderness.

    I am also watching the National Ignition Facility - another promethean boondoggle.

  7. corrected link: