Due to some oddball United Airlines flights I took in the mid 90’s, I somehow ended up with an offer to transform "unused miles" into about a dozen free magazine subscriptions. That is how I ended up subscribing to Scientific American magazine.
As software / consulting people, we encounter many difficult business requirements in our career. Most the time, we love meeting those requirements and in fact, it’s probably why we think this career is the best in the world. I occasionally wonder just what in the world would I have done with myself if I had been born at any other time in history. How terrible would it be to miss out on the kinds of work I get to do now, at this time and place in world history? I think: pretty terrible.
Over the years, some of the requirements I’ve faced have been extremely challenging to meet. Complex SharePoint stuff, building web processing frameworks based on non-web-friendly technology, complex BizTalk orchestrations and the like. We can all (hopefully) look proudly back on our career and say, "yeah, that was a hard one to solve, but in the end I pwned that sumbitch!" Better yet, even more interesting and fun challenges await.
I personally think that my resume, in this respect, is pretty deep and I’m pretty proud of it (though I know my wife will never understand 1/20th of it). But this week, I was reading an article about the Large Hadron Collider in my Scientific American magazine and had one of those rare humbling moments where I realized that despite my "giant" status in certain circles or how deep I think my well of experience, there are real giants in completely different worlds.
The people on the LHC team have some really thorny issues to manage. Consider the Moon. I don’t really think much about the Moon (though I’ve been very suspicious about it since I learned it’s slowing the Earth’s rotation, which can’t be a good thing for us Humans in the long term). But, the LHC team does have to worry. LHC’s measuring devices are so sensitive that they are affected by the Moon’s (Earth-rotation-slowing-and-eventually-killing-all-life) gravity. That’s a heck of a requirement to meet — produce correct measurements despite the Moon’s interference.
I was pondering that issue when I read this sentence: "The first level will receive and analyze data from only a subset of all the detector’s components, from which it can pick out promising events based on isolated factors such as whether an energetic muon was spotted flying out at a large angle from the beam axis." Really … ? I don’t play in that kind of sandbox and never will.
Next time I’m out with some friends, I’m going to raise a toast to the good people working on the LHC, hope they don’t successfully weigh the Higgs boson particle and curse the Moon. I suggest you do the same. It will be quite the toast 🙂