ellipsix informatics

Ellipsix Informatics: the personal website and blog of David Zaslavsky.

I'm a graduate student styudying theoretical particle physics, and I also do a lot of computer programming. Find me elsewhere online:


The end

Well, that's it: as of today, I'm officially no longer a scientist.

Unofficially, of course, it's not that simple. My postdoc contract expired on September 30, but I'm still not done with a couple of projects I really wanted to finish before leaving CCNU. So I might wind up putting some things on arXiv this month and maybe even submitting one last paper, but in the long term, research and I are parting ways.

One of the last things I did before my official end was attending the Hard Probes conference here in Wuhan, which is a large international conference in my field held every two years in various places around the world. It was actually a great experience! The work I've done over the past 5 years (on next-to-leading-order forward hadron production cross sections, if you care) was referenced at least half a dozen times in various people's talks — and that's just what I saw. I got to meet several of the big names in the field, and some of them even actually wanted to be introduced to me! I had a bunch of people ask me questions about my papers and their followups, many of which led to interesting technical discussions. For the first time in my career, I really felt like the expert on something that other scientists actually cared about.

In all these conversations, one of the frequent questions was, where am I going next? Of course, I would answer them that I'm not continuing in academia — but I was surprised how many people responded that they thought I could get a good second postdoc somewhere. In prior years I'd gotten the feeling that my work wasn't appreciated by the community at large; that I was working on something without much interest from anyone else, and I'd always figured that meant my chances of getting another postdoc were low. Now, at this point I know there's no way I'd get another postdoc, since I have a measly two publications to show for my time here (and in most cases you need six). But it could be that I was too quick to dismiss my chances earlier, when I started at CCNU, and if I'd known that I might have tried a little harder.

Still, I think the decision to leave academia is the right one for me. At Hard Probes I got a sense of what it's like to be a real researcher, and let me tell you, it is exhausting. Conference activities ran from 8:30 AM to 6 PM every day, then I'd typically go out to dinner with a group which would last until 9 or 10 PM, then I'd get home and have calculations to do, emails to send, notes to review (and write), etc. etc., which would keep me up until 3 AM... then 3 hours of sleep and it's time to start all over. This is only slightly more grueling than the schedule I see the professors here keep on a daily basis. Every day. Weekends, weekdays, holidays, all the same. I can't handle that. Whoever can, I don't know how, but good for them... clearly, though, this is not the life for me.

There will be more updates here on whatever comes next!


Coming up: a week as @realscientists

I'm back, with a big announcement: next week I'll be curating the @realscientists Twitter account!

@realscientists is a rotating-curator account, which means that every week, a different person takes over the account to post about their work and life and anything else of interest to Twitter. Some weeks they have a traditional academic scientist posting. Other times it's a journalist, author, policy maker, an industry scientist, or anyone else who is involved with science.

Tweeting for @realscientists is kind of a big deal: the account has more than 35 thousand followers! I've wanted to do this for a couple years, though I didn't apply until just recently... for reasons that seem kind of silly now. As luck would have it, the original curator for next week had to cancel, so I get to step in at the last minute. Props to the Real Scientists mods for getting everything ready in about 3 days.

I'm really glad I got the chance to do this before leaving China. As far as I can tell, there's never been a Real Scientists curator from China before — probably not surprising, since Twitter is blocked by the national firewall. It'll be a chance to share a sector of science (and life) that most people don't get to see. So go follow @realscientists and join me on Twitter this coming week!


A look back at 2015

Well, that's it.

A whole year of me promising to write more blog posts has come and gone, and it hasn't happened.

In the spirit of not making excuses, I'm not going to get into why I haven't kept the blog updated this year (well, okay, a little: postdoc work and studying Chinese kept me busy, and some personal issues wrecked my motivation), but let me resolve that I'm going to pick up the pace in 2016. There will be a lot of interesting physics developments to write about! I still have an explanation of the months-old pentaquark paper on my to-do list, and there's a mysterious bump in the latest LHC data that could be nothing, but is attracting everyone's attention nonetheless. And that's not even including the updates about life in China.

So here's to 2016 being a year of rebuilding, off- and online.

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Technical problems this summer

It's been a while since I updated the blog — I've been busy, but there have also been some technical problems with the site, so I couldn't put up blog posts until I fixed them. I've got a lot to report about my adventures traveling over the summer, though! More to come soon.


A Virtual Welcome to the Rencontres du Vietnam

In my last post I mentioned how the coast of Vietnam, where the Rencontres conference series is being held, looks amazing — with photo evidence. You might have guessed that that image was a promotional picture, and you'd be right: it came from the 2014 edition of the conference's website.

This one I took with my cell phone:

view of Quy Nhon including the beach and mountains

Guys. Vietnam is really pretty!

I arrived in Quy Nhon Saturday morning after an overnight trip from Wuhan, about 15 hours door-to-door. So despite having a couple of free days before the official start of conference events tonight (Sunday), all I really managed to do was catch up on some desperately needed sleep, and snap a couple more pictures of the coast.

panoramic view of the beach

Of course, I have been enjoying the food. Vietnamese cuisine, or at least what I've seen of it so far, is not as strongly flavored as what I'm used to in Wuhan, where every other dish is spicy with a thick Szechuan-style sauce. But they do some great things with a more subtle flavor palette. We have all our meals provided at the hotel restaurant, arranged by the conference organizers. Steamed vegetables with garlic sauce, fried spring rolls, beef noodle soup (pho), and many other dishes, all with a distinctly Asian style but still it's a nice variation from what I've been eating the past few months. Don't get me wrong, a lot of Chinese food is great, but even the best food gets monotonous after a little while. I really need to find some good pizza.

beef pho at the conference welcome dinner

The Rencontres conference itself kicked off tonight with a welcome cocktail for attendees, followed by a buffet-style conference dinner (where I took the photo of the pho). Talks begin tomorrow morning. It's a very small conference, only 36 participants, with everyone giving a talk during the week, and lots of unstructured time for discussions. In that respect the structure kind of reminds me of Science Online 2014, which I still count as the best conference I ever went to, so I think this is going to be a good week. I don't want to promise too much, but I'll try to get in more blog posts with the interesting physics results as the week goes on, and I'll be live-tweeting the talks under the hashtag #renviet15.