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The jump May 14, 2007

Posted by dorigo in humor, news, personal, social life.
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Last Saturday I took Filippo to the athletics field of villaggio S.Marco, where he participated in the last lesson of a course he had taken this year. 

It was a sunny day, and it was pleasant to look at the children playing and running under the directives of their trainer. I was in the company of a few fathers of some other kids, and we assisted with interest to the session of long jump of the kids.

And then, the real sporting soul sprung out… When I see a real chance to test myself -particularly, to see if I am still able to use my body other than for warming chairs- I take it, and besides, long jump is my favourite discipline as far as athletics go.

So I took a few jumps. And the other fathers took pictures. Obviously, being a die-hard blogger, I have no shame to spare, and so I am posting the only one I got back from them this far. 

 

You can see Filippo in the background, slightly surprised at seeing me misbehaving. The jump pictured here was not measured, but was evaluated at about 4.70 m by some by-standers. Not too bad, considering I was not even wearing any sporting gear…

The most pleasant thing to report is that I did not strain any muscles.

Conference dinner and A Miserable Future March 27, 2007

Posted by dorigo in astronomy, humor, science, social life.
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Yesterday evening the conference banquet was served at 170, Queen’s Gate. Of the almost 140 names listed in the participants list, only 45 or so could attend the event due to space limitations – but in the end there were a few empty seats nonetheless. However, the dinner was good, the atmosphere cheerful, the venue was charming, and wine ran aplenty.

Below are a few pictures of the tables. You might recognize a few faces – I will not attach names to them, but only mention that you can spot a fellow blogger in one of them, as well as institutional figures like Tom Kibble.

After the dinner, we were treated by a nice presentation by Lawrence Krauss, titled “A Miserable Future“. Lawrence cheered us up by explaining that since everything is receding from us at the speed of light, cosmology will become impossible to do in the near future, due to lack of any chance of exploring anything beyond the local group of galaxies.

 

His talk was full of humor and wit, as when he discussed anthropic reasoning, claiming that there are different ways of applying it. One of them, shown below, dictates that we live in just the right universe that allowed Queen Elizabeth:

In a few minutes his real talk will start… I should stop blogging and concentrate on the real thing now.

22 years March 23, 2007

Posted by dorigo in personal, social life.
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My apologies to those of you who read this blog for the physics content… The following is a personal note of which you might well say you cannot care less. Oh well… I have no energy nor time to run four different blogs, one for the Physics, one for the chess, one for the Astronomy, and one for my private matters!

So, 22 years ago I for the first time kissed the lady who would later become my wife.

On the evening of March 22nd 1985 a party was thrown at the big house of Mariarosa’s family, and lots of friends were invited. We were celebrating both Mariarosa and Giovanna for their 20th birthday on a date equidistant to the two actual birth dates (Giovanna’s is March 15th, Mariarosa’s is March 29th). As usual, wine flowed easily. Boys had fun talking about politics or soccer, and girls talked about university issues and general gossip…

I was not really a womanizer 22 years ago. I had never had a real girlfriend in my life. In my teenager years I had been overweight – not obese, but just enough on the fat side to be the odd one in the pack. Because of that, I had grown insecure about myself with girls: the thought that girls were not attracted to me was losing strength as I approached 20 years of age, but it was still there.

My insecurity did not mean I was not looking around for hints, though; only, the few positive signals I at times received from girls caused my brain to launch an effective post-processing rather than trigger immediate action, and usually alternative interpretations of those signals were quickly found, and they invariably looked more probable than the girl’s invitation to seek contact. 

Wine could help in several ways… Girls would emit more frequent positive signals and higher intensity ones, my brain would have more trouble with its post-processing, and contact would be easier.

That evening, Mariarosa and I were both a bit drunk – but not overly so. The party was in full swing, and people had dispersed in small groups around in the big house. I remember entering a poorly lit room for no particular reason, and finding her standing next to the door. She was holding a glass of wine, and she was wearing a nice sexy shirt we had given to her as a birthday present just an hour before.

She said no word, but she gave me a look which for some reason was not post-processed. I reached for her and kissed her. It was sweet and very passionate, although I suspected I was just being an extemporaneous birthday party entertainment: my brain was still trying to find more rational, less risky solutions to the situation than a girl’s sincere attraction to me. Risky would have been the illusion that something was starting. Or maybe it was risky, judging it from 22 years downstream. Oh well.

Some time later, we emerged from her bedroom. The party was still in full swing. People had realized what had happened, and surprise was mixed with grin -and envy in some case- in the faces of our friends. I felt at the top of the world.

But that was not the start of our relationship… Three more years would pass before we understood we were meant to be together.

Quarks, BJ, and me February 21, 2007

Posted by dorigo in humor, personal, physics, science, social life, travel.
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The Nobel prize winner James Bjorken is pictured in this rare archive photograph with the famous physicist Tommaso Dorigo, co-discoverer of the heaviest quark:

The date of the picture is unknown, but it looks like BJ is considering Tommaso’s ideas about assigning partons a variable fraction of the proton momentum through a continuous variable x.

Jokes aside, this was taken in 1996 at a SLAC summer school in Stanford, CA. We were really discussing quarks, in truth: the six-jet decay mode of the top pairs recently discovered at the Tevatron – my paper on that signature had not been published yet.

I stumbled in this picture, which I long thought lost, while putting some order in my messy hard drive… 

Ilaria turns four February 20, 2007

Posted by dorigo in games, personal, social life.
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Today Ilaria turns 4. For my experience with kids, four is a turning point – they are no longer babies, but individuals who can surprise you with their independent thought. They become easier to manage, but harder to command.

We had a party on Sunday with a few schoolmates of Ilaria, plus a few of Filippo’s friends. Ten kids all in all, but it was as usual very hard to keep them quiet. But I had prepared for that. I put together a crossword on a big board, and bought prizes. The kids had to guess the words from simple definitions (I had two sets, one for the 4-year-olds, and one for the 8-year-old friends of Filippo). It went surprisingly well, since they participated in the game and were quiet for more than a half hour.

Below Ilaria is dressed up and waiting for her friends next to the party table:

Still under siege February 19, 2007

Posted by dorigo in astronomy, personal, social life, travel.
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This evening I arrived in Venice with a train from Padova at 7PM. It took me about three minutes to get past the crowd pressing to enter the train – forget London-style orderly queues: people were nudging and pushing in all directions.

Once past the crowd, I stopped in front of the train station to take a picture of the setting crescent moon, just two degrees north of brilliant Venus. Notice the crowd. Not extraordinary, but this is a Monday evening.

Venice under siege February 18, 2007

Posted by dorigo in news, personal, politics, social life.
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Today it is the Sunday of Carnival, and Venice is under siege. More than half a million people are visiting the city today (as they did yesterday), to walk around in fancy costumes, have fun, and enjoy the sunny and warm weather of this warm February.

Here is the view from my kitchen’s window:

Usually the calle besides my house is quite calm, but today I am hearing people sing, drums, voices, simply noise. It is nice to look at all these people having fun. On the other hand, every time I see Venice flooded with tourists I cannot help feeling that this anciet, beautiful city is being raped.

The thing is, Venice is slowly dying. It is becoming an entertainment park no less than its copy built in Las Vegas. Less than 55,000 people inhabit it, whose average age is about 55 years. Young couples cannot afford the expensive housing, the lack of facilities, and the trouble of living in a place where you have to walk your kids to school rather than drive them there, or bringing groceries up and down bridges by feet rather than in the trunk of your SUV.

I have nothing against the people who come and visit Venice, even for just an afternoon of fun. But I think we could exploit the attractiveness of this city by applying a small entrance fee. If it is an amusement park, let’s preserve it with money from visitors. The income from a 1-euro/day ticket would go a long way to keep the city alive – 50 million euros a year could indeed create job opportunities, help social policies, and prevent further exile of its citizens.

Who opposes this ? Of course, the owners of hotels, restaurants and bars. They fear a loss of income from a entrance ticket. And the city bows to that lobby… Yes, Venice is not far from becoming a theme park and nothing else. Maybe I should stop worrying about surging water levels (I worry for my children more than for me), and plan to leave myself.

Mexico in my mind January 30, 2007

Posted by dorigo in personal, social life, travel.
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Four more weeks and I’ll be sunbathing in the riviera Maya, 50 miles south of Cancun. After three years of wishful thinking and mutual promises, our friends Gino and Petra have converged with us to a reservation of a private villa next to a very nice sandy beach close to Playa del Carmen, in Yucatan.

Organizing the whole thing was not easy – and it is not over yet. We had originally planned for an all-inclusive vacation in Providenciales, in the Turks and Caicos islands; but making two separate reservations from Italy and the US was not easy to manage, and after some wrestling with travel agents we decided it was impractical. Next, we turned to villas for rent in Provo, but that also turned out to be difficult – reservations were already set for the period we had in mind.

In the end we chose Yucatan, and after studying the region a bit I am sure I will be happy about the choice. Tickets are bought, the villa is reserved, deposits are paid – and there is no turning back. My family and I will be leaving from Venice, flying through Madrid and Mexico City, and finally landing in Cancun on Sunday, February 25th. Gino and Petra and their two lovely kids will have an easier time with a direct flight in the morning of the same day from Chicago. Each family will get a rental car and we will hopefully meet at the villa.

If the place is half as gorgeous as we inferred from the pictures and description (see http://www.brisacaribe.com/margarita-villa.htm) I will be even a happier fish than what we discussed over at the backreaction blog the other day! The villa is directly on a nice bay, with a private stretch of sand, a small pool, and four bedrooms. I can’t wait.

I also learned that there are several aquatic parks in the area. We will certainly spend a day or two there. And the Tulum ruins will also the subject of a dedicated trip. However, I am now in the process of thinking in advance about all the possible show-stoppers and unforeseen problems we can run into, to travel well equipped with the necessary information, paperwork, drugs. One thing we already took care of were vaccinations against typhoid fever and Epatitis A – something many do not even bother doing before going to Mexico. Then I will have to carry something against mosquitos – the outbreaks of Dengue fever in the region advise some caution. Finally, I will have to educate my kids about some hygienic rules they do not usually follow in Italy. Eating and drinking will also be the subject of care.

Am I being too paranoid ? Maybe. I think everybody knows the recipe for their own self assurance. Mine involves taking seriously low-probability risks and planning beforehand to minimize them.

I am sure my planning does very little to counter the many possible mishaps of a long travel abroad. But it sure has a relaxing effect on myself…

A trip to Paris in 1977 January 20, 2007

Posted by dorigo in Art, personal, social life, travel.
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This post is triggered by a question by Fred: “Were you, as a youngster, able to accompany your father on his trips? If so, where was a memorable place you visited[...]?”

Today I do feel like writing about that. I had my most memorable travel experience with my father when I was 11, in Paris. Not one of his business trips, but still a nice travel experience together. It was the summer of 1977.

(more…)

Carter, Maria, Joao, and Michael January 15, 2007

Posted by dorigo in personal, physics, social life, travel.
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I am at CERN since yesterday evening. I come here infrequently, and whenever I do I run into some friend I have not seen in a while. The amusing thing this time is that in a day I stumbled into four of my former colleagues in the Harvard HEP group!

I was not surprised to find Joao Guimaraes just outside building 40 – the headquarters of the CMS and ATLAS experiments. Joao is a faculty member of the Harvard HEP group, but he was a post-doc for HU right when I also had a fellowship with the group. Joao is a very nice and skilled person, and CDF has lost something with his departure… Now he works for the ATLAS experiment, so we are competitors now.

Minutes later, I passed in front of a unknown office inside Bldg 40, and was called back by a loud voice. Maria Spiropulu, who is now permanently at CERN, greeted me from her office with a broad smile and kissed my cheeks. Maria was a undergraduate at Harvard in the years I was working in the group. I was happy to see she is as beautiful as in the old days, and even more charming now. I had not seen her in three years, but we are always good friends – and maybe we’ll have time for a coffee before I go back this Thursday!

By another turn of chance, I exchanged e-mails with Carter Hall today, maybe four years after having lost track of him. Carter was a brilliant graduate student when I worked for Harvard, and he is now a professor at University of Maryland, where he is quite busy with very interesting experiments in double beta decay. He is getting married with a surgeon in May – all the best to him!

And finally, I stumbled in Michael Schmitt in the canteen. Michael is the professor who hired me at Harvard nine years ago. He was a true inspiration for me back then with his unextinguishable enthusiasm and encouragement, when we put together the extension of the CMX system for CDF II – arch sectors made of layers of drift chambers sandwiched between scintillation counters. Michael moved to Northwestern University, and now he works in CMS too.

Now let’s see… There’s a few more ex-Harvard people still in HEP… I guess I have a chance to meet a few more of them tomorrow!

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