Thursday, March 30, 2006

Out of the blue

Out of the blue, I got this Email from Bee inviting me to contribute to her blog. And who could say no to a charming personality as Bee?

The first thing I had to do was to create a username. So I started thinking and decided for one and of course it wasn't available. I started thinking again (and again and again) and figured that a lot of stuff I would probably be writing about in this blog would be about me feeling like a complete alien in the country of the free. And then I had this nice conversation/discussion over lunch with one of my bosses who attested me, that I was really thinking and arguing like a european - whatever he wanted to say with that! Well, therefore I decided to go for "Eurogirl", which - of course - was also taken, so I became "Eurogirl_de".

Would be nice if some superhero powers and a fancy superhero outfit would come with this username - so I could bring the absolute basic necessities to this country, for example: ground nuts of all sort for an affordable price, bigger tampons, eatable cheesecake, toilett paper with more than one layer, mineral water that acutally contains minerals, ...

Well, I guess I got a little pissed this week. Eventually I found the time to have my car washed. Besides the fact that my order "basic wash, underbody wash and wax" was understood as "basic wash, underbody wash and vacs" everything went fine there. Taking some time to appreciate that my car was shiny again I saw some spots on the hood and took a closer look on my 3 month old car (it's a nice, beautiful and really small Chevy). Obviously some stones had hit the hood and left some marks/scratches there - so far nothing really to worry about - I ordered a small bottle of the paint a few weeks ago, so I was prepared. However taking a closer look I spottet rust! On my 3 month old car! Well, I guess that was bound to happen - taking into account the quality of roads and the amount of salt on the streets. Definitely have to make a mental note for that. Wash your car every month and check for scratches. Great - but hey, what's the problem? I got soooo much free time!

Okay, so I still have my job to cheer me up. Hah. Okay, I admit it wasn't that bad this week and I really stumbled across a really nice homepage. Actually I was looking for some information on Christoffel Symbols that I had come across while reading a paper. Not that this things were used in this paper - but what the heck, probably the authors thought that they might show the rest of the world that they now this stuff. Nevertheless I finally wanted to know what these things are and googled for some information on general relativity (at least that much I knew) and found this really weird homepage (regrettably most of it is in german):Principle of Existence - dedicated to "proof" that special and general relativity are wrong and are basicaly only a conspiracy theory and all experiments and everything else around it has been forged or misinterpreted. Ah, the main point: Everything can be explained by "The Principle of Existence". Splendid! He really put a lot of effort there - so if your bloodpressure happens to be too low - this site is a real cure for that. Especially the forum.

Oh, the real highlight of this week: I found new hope to get good bubble tea in the area.

Have a good one,

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Peer review II

Last week, I received a manuscript that I was asked to referee. Since already 3 other manuscripts are lying on my desk (somewhere) waiting to be refereed, and the topic was pretty outside my field, I decided to let the editors know that I am not suitable as a referee. Being blessed with one of these online services, I clicked on the wrong link in the email and got thanked for having agreed to referee the paper.

Now I actually have to read this thing. Though at second sight it turned out to be more interesting than I initially thought.

Anyway, I had an engaged discussion on the weekend on the publishing issue that I would like to share with you.

We all know that the pressure to publish in peer reviewed journals is not improving quality in research. On the contrary, it leads people to favor publishing more of less quality. The reasons why some papers get published, whereas others don't, are sometimes just mysterious, sometimes clearly due to the authors names. Peer review, it seems, does not work as it should. And the number of publications, and their citations are - at least in my opinion - not necessarily a way to single out good research. However, the question is, what can there be done about it.

Some points that we came up with.

  1. The referee should have some advantage from refereeing a manuscript. In such a way that (s)he is motivated to think about the content and make reasonable suggestions. I am mostly thinking in terms of credibility. I suspect that most journals probably have an internal ranking for referees anyway, but what does the referee ever get out of writing good reports? One might also consider giving some kind of bonus for writing reports in time. I would happily pay $ 50 for actually receiving a report within 2 weeks!
  2. Being mentioned in acknowledgements should be rated higher. People who are frequently mentioned in acknowledgements show that they are engaged in discussions, are able to understand and criticize theories, and are active part of research. This is the more important, as those who don't want to be part of fashion waves often end up with less publications. As to my papers, the quality improves significantly with every person I can discuss its content. (Restrictions apply).
  3. The number of citations should be normalized to the number of active workers on the field. At least approximately.
  4. I would find it enormously helpful if the arxiv would allow reviews on the papers, maybe similar to those at amazon. You might argue that a good physicist should be able to judge on the quality on a paper by himself. Though that is in principle true, it is absolutely inapplicable if you are new in a field and try to get into it. Some kind of quality index, or references to basic papers on the field will help newcomers to get to the central questions much faster - and with less wasted toner. In addition, the possibility of having reviews on the arxiv would make it unnecessary to have follow up papers titled 'A note on gr-qc/...' and 'A remark on a note on ...' etc.

Another point that I have argued against is the idea of double blind refereeing process. First, it does not work when the papers are already on the pre-print archive before submitted to the journal. You then would have to make sure to only accept manuscripts not on the pre-print server, which would make the pre-print idea completely absurd. Second, it would only lead authors to write their papers such that for everyone in the field it's clear who the author is. Third, I actually do think that the credibility of the author is an input the referee might want to consider.

If you have further suggestions, let me know!



Monday, March 27, 2006

Finally, I made it.

After the third trial (and two errors) Bee's invitation was not dismissed by my spam filter and finally I made it: my first contribution to Bee's blog.

One thing right away: it's not gonna be something great I am about to post and I might not have the time to post stuff very often (I suppose this will keep the average quality of the contributions much higher than in any other possible scenario :-) ).

What's new on my side: nothing in particular. I am going to spend some time this week listening to talks from Frank Wilczek, whose visiting, one of the scientist who identified asymptotic freedom as a property of QCD. His public lecture has the title: 'The Universe is a strange place' which might be true, but somewhat even more so because we human beings make it one locally (although I don't think the latter is the subject he is going to talk about).
Elsewise I am going to give three lectures, two on quantum mechanical scattering theory and one on statistical mechanics this week.

Not much room for new scientific discoveries with this dense program,
anyhow, I try to figure out - like the last few months - what associate particle correlation measurements can tell us about the properties of the QCD medium in heavy ion collisions:
indeed, 'the universe' might be 'a strange place'.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Joerg told me yesterday that Los Alamos now has a Starbucks. That is progress in physics!

Last week, I stumbled across this paper

String theory and the crisis in particle physics
Authors: Bert Schroer

which I still haven't finished but I would recommend it anyway. Not so much because I like it - its pretty agressive, something that I don't think is going to help in any regard. But because its good that there are people openly discussing their problems with string theory. It might sound silly, but when you are a grad stud and you try to decide which way to go, string theory looks like a save bet. At least it used to. It's promising and promising and promising.

Anyway, when you have gone far enough to actually understand the not so promising sides, it's most often too late, or at least inconvenient, to change field. And, probably, you are hooked by the community.

Yeah, I confess, I wanted to become a string theorist at some point. Didn't work out though. I probably wasn't promising enough myself. And the community wasn't really so thrilling.

The more critical voices there are, the more people will discuss it, the more opinions the ongoing physicist will hear. Even if every string theorist will stand up and argue against it, the impression that will last is that there is doubt. And that is better than nothing.

For the Germans, see also the article in the SZ (thanks to Stefan for scanning).

Schleifen statt Faeden

The translation of the last sentences is roughly

However, Hofmann sees his commitment more in fundamental physics than in one of the fields. "When they beat each other up, one has to mediate between them and say: go out and play, then we will see which tower falls."



Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Peer review

Folks, you might have seen this very interesting paper

Interpretation of Quantum Field Theories with a Minimal Length Scale
Authors: S. Hossenfelder

which I have discussed and discussed and discussed on New Year, then forgotten, then rediscovered on my desk, rewritten, more discussed and eventually posted on the arxiv!
Yeah! Its always a great day when a paper is so finished, SO FINISHED, its screaming to be read by as many people as possible.

Reactions so far: none.

Except the ususal email from Padmanabhan, who claims I should cite every single of his papers, related or not. Which reminds me that I looked up his website at some point, and read this absolutely great article, which let me laugh the whole day. Some quotes:

God expects us to be moral, kind to others and brush our teeth twice each day.

[Note: Since this set encompasses most of the religions, obviously there are variations in the theme; some Gods expect us to brush the teeth only once a day. Such differences of opinion, of course, have led to major conflicts and wars.]

[...] Once this is realised, it is clear why all the answers given above are correct or why all of them are incorrect and -- most importantly -- why it does not matter. In fact, all those answers -- and millions more which can be constructed -- are all the same answer in different disguises. In a way, they are not even different from the questions!

I hope that clarifies everything. Maybe I should send the latter remark as an answer to the referee's report. When I obtain one.

As a side remark: at the same day I submitted a manuscript to PRD and another manuscript to PLB. The day PRD acknowledged receipt of the manuscript, PLB accepted its manuscript for publication...

Monday, March 13, 2006


And I always thought it never rains in Southern California! Unfortunately, its been raining the whole weekend. Stefan was surprised to find that it is actually true what I told him again and again. If its raining, water stays in the streets and runs into the houses. Someone should tell the poor Californians that its not so really smart to have the middle of the junction be the deepest point of the road! Even my favourite Cafe was closed due to flooding. And no, the rain was not really heavy.

Anyway, so I stayed at home and tried to sort out some papers. I have been trying lately to get some idea what the mysterious Loop Gravity is about. I still don't know. I made one or the other attempt to look at Lee's lectures. Which you find very nicely commented on Christine's blog. The only thing I learned so far was the sentence 'Don't trust me on the signs.' Which could be written in the abstract of all of my papers.

What I found very useful though was

An Introduction to Spin Foam Models of Quantum Gravity and BF Theory
Author: John C. Baez

Which seems to be understandable if one takes more than a weekend to look at it. What that has to do with Quantum Gravity or, even worse, reality, is still very mysterious to me.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Der alte Winter in seiner Schwäche

Somehow, winter in Germany seems not to come to an end this year. I can not remember that there has been for once so much snow still in march. But at least, daylight is already clearly longer, and this afternoon was nice and sunny. So, I decided to stop working at six, got in my car and drove in the Taunus, using the Autobahn along Bad Homburg to Oberursel, and went up to the Feldberg. This is a nice place to walk around in the snow and with a great view of the Frankfurt region. In springtime and summer, there are always lots of bikers up there. Not today, of course, but instead, funny enough, there were lots of caravans parked in the snow. I was quite amazed about this first, and there were dogs barking all around, but then I realized that there was or will be some dogsled race.

There is a look-out tower on the Feldberg, and although night was already falling, I decided to climb up. Its costs you 1.60 € and some 120 steps, and ususally is worth the effort, since the view from up there is not blocked by trees.

The photo shows the view in the direction towards Frankfurt. The hilltop in the foreground is the Altkönig, where some celtic remains can be found. The lights to the right are Frankfurt International Airport, and at the left, one can guess the city skyline.

Unfortunately, when I was up there tonight, the view was not the best, with new snow showers approaching from the west.

But that gave me the chance to take this silly photo when I was down from the tower again and it was really getting dark. You guess what it is?

No, not some stars in the sky - just snowflakes in the flashlight of my small camera...

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Long distance

Today I was one the phone for HOURS. Discussing elementary questions like which flower arrangements I want on the wedding reception. Having repeated several times that I absolutely don't care, my mother insisted on hearing my opinion. I went for white white (as opposed to cream white) and burgundy (though I said blood red). Needless to say that my mother immediately objected and told me I want apricot.

Then why does she ask for my opinion in the first place.

Not to mention that my boss dropped in when several photos of bridal dresses suddenly plopped around on my screen. You see, getting married is really funny.

Okay, I am being unfair. Just that my mum doesn't get the point that I am at WORK when she calls at 9pm from Germany.

Sadly that's a problem I have heard from many others. Time shift 6 hrs and up causes problems in the best relationships. Sometimes I think my poor fiance :-) just never sleeps.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Is America Flunking Science?

Two weeks ago I read this very amusing article in TIME

''Are We Losing Our Edge?'',10987,1156575,00.html

which roughly states that science in the US is getting worse. Some attempts were made to analyze the issue which didn't lead anywhere. E.g. the political situation is completely underestimated. I know lots of people who leave the US because they simply don't want their children to grow up in a country like this. After a rought count, I found that I know about 40 people who went for research from Europe to the US. Only one stayed longer than 10 years.

The reason why I bought the magazine at all was that I found the amount of self-criticism astonishing for US citizens! But maybe not surprisingly, the statement that America is 'flunking science' (for the Germans: flunking means 'durchfallen') could not be left standing alone. Therefore the article is followed by the comment

Don't Believe the Hype. We're Still No. 1
What the doomsayers don't say: America is a marvel of creativity,10987,1156589,00.html

where it was basically stated that no other country is as great as the US. I absolutely love this comment:

[...] the U.S. leads the world by an immense margin in just about every measure of intellectual and technological achievement[...]

America is heartily disdained by its coddled and controlled European cousins for its cowboy capitalism[...]

I suspect most Europeans would pity America for its cowboy capitalism, as well as for this statement.

Anyway, I wrote a letter to this article. Which naturally was not printed. When I find it, I post it sometime. Best,


Unhealthy Internet

When Bee asked me to join her blog, I first felt very honoured, but then I thought, oops, what can I write about?

Well, on the othe hand, there are often lots of things and curiosities one comes across during the course of a day, for example that using the internet is unhealthy. This was a piece of news in the big German news service spiegel online, citing a Health warning for internet users in the Australian Sydney Morning Herald, which again reported a survey conducted by some North American technology and market research company called Forrester research.

But, I guess, even when this piece of news has travelled around the globe once, it is a bit silly, nevertheless: It should be evidend to everyone that working at a computer screen is not the best you can do to your eyesight and your back. On the other hand, it is also known that using the internet in general goes hand in hand with a reduced use of television. Now, is laying on my sofa with my ibook and browsing the internet more unhealthy than watching TV? The important thing to do would be, in any case, to follow the advice of my grandma and eat enough carrots (but oops, was she really right with that?)... Or, even better, not to spend the whole evening in front of the screen, and that's why I stop for now with my first post. Luckily, I have already some idea about what to blog next.