Death to Hot Bois

By: Danny Geisz | November 16, 2020

Project: Quark Gluon Plasma or whatever

Sup Fam, it’s Dan (a lil slant rhyme for those of you keeping score). Whilst perusing mine blog, I couldn’t help but notice I have a bunch of hanging projects. It just so happens that most of them flopped, so I thought I’d take some time and take out the garbage, if you will. Do some bloggular pruning, if you won’t. And to that end, let me tell you why I no longer study hot bois.

First of all, by hot bois, I of course mean quarks and gluons (duh). This particular post probably should have been written several months ago because I stopped doing “research” at LBNL around April, and you’ll notice it’s currently… let me check… oh yes! November. Whatever, you don’t care, and neither do I.

What you do care about is why I say “no” to hot bois. The simple answer is that almost every single moment I spent “studying” quark gluon plasma felt like a raging waste of time. That’s your ol’ tl;dr in case you don’t want to read the next 37.3 pages I’m probably going to write.

Now, before I go on a religious rant about why my research experience was dumb and stupid, I should say a couple things. First of all, the Professor in charge of my old research group is simply fantastic. Her name is Barbara Jacak, and she’s simply one of the best faculty members with which I interacted at Berkeley. Barbara was incredibly kind, generous, and made every effort to help me find meaningful research. And it’s not like she wasn’t already incredibly busy. Last I checked, she was working two full-time positions. Not only was she a full-time professor, but she’s also the director of the Nuclear research department at lbnl. So yeah, she’s fantastic. Basically, if for some reason someone reads this who’s looking to study hot bois at Berkeley, try to be friends with Barbara, and while you’re at it, congratulate her on being a genius and incredibly kind. Actually maybe don’t. That’d make her uncomfortable.

I also liked most people in the research group. I didn’t really get to know anyone super well, but a couple of the grad students were really nice to me, and super helpful.

Unfortunately, the research kinda sucked. Let me tell you why.

My first “project” with the group was to try to learn how to use this particular software that reconstructed particle trajectories from collision data. To use more approachable language, I was using some nerd code to find where and when hot bois be. I’ll spare you the physics lesson on how the hot bois came to be in the first place, mostly because you don’t care and it’d be boring.

On paper, this is a fine project. Readers of the ol’ bloggerino know I’m a sucker for learning new software tools that do cool things. Unfortunately, there were a couple inherent issues. The first is that physicists write some of the most disgusting, unintelligible, bug ridden garbage on the face of the planet. And to make matters worse, everyone working on CERN typically insists on using the insidious language of C++.

As a brief side note, I should mention that C++ has absolutely changed the world. A huge portion of your digital life is probably powered by C++ code. It has a lot of great things going for it. It’s super-fast, it has classes, a great standard library, all that jazz. And, it’s not C, which means it’s a gift from the heavenly dieties. So why do I hate it? The stupid, stupid physicists who abuse C++ magic to write disgusting code that manages to still run pretty well.

Also, C++ isn’t memory safe, and I don’t think it’s strongly typed. Gross. Nothing worse in the world than a piece of code crashing because “Segmentation fault. Core dumped.” I’m filled with a deep rage even writing those words.

Anyway, the piece of software I was supposed to be learning was gross, and it wasn’t built to run on Windows. That’s an issue because my lil beasty of a computer happens to be an XPS 15, and you best believe I’m rocking Windows 10. I’ve toyed with fully switching to Linux, but I really just don’t want to. That’s all. You happy??

So anyway, at the end of the day, the software I was learning really just didn’t want to download on my computer. And that’s not fun.

But that’s not what was really painful. It’s not unusual for experimental software to require a 1-2 hour battle to properly download and run smoothly on a non-linux computer. (I’m fairly certain that last sentence was a grammatical catastrophe. Keep your eye out for those, cause I’m sure as frack not going to change them). However, blessed, blessed reader, this particular physics software took a bit longer to download than 1-2 hours. How long did it take, you ask? …well… THREE WEEKS. I SPENT THREE WEEKS DOWNLOADING A PIECE OF $&^#%*@ SOFTWARE.

Lads and lasses, I didn’t enjoy that. But you know what the worst part was? After those three weeks, after I finally got it to compile on my WSL, after I finally wrassled the CMAKE file to submission, after I re-configured ROOT (different physics software) for the fourth time, it crashed. You want to know what the error was? “SEGMENTATION FAULT, CORE DUMPED.”

If you’ve worked with C++ or C at all, you understand that in that moment, I was barely a man. My soul was so crushed and weak I barely had the will to live. And typically when you get a memory bug, you’ve written all the code and you at least know where to look. I hadn’t written a single line of the probably 10,000+ line codebase.

Anyway, suffice it to say that I waltzed on over to Barbara’s office not too long afterwards, and I got a new project.

While I was writing this, I realized I think I already told this story in my last post about this research. Eh, whatever.

Anyway, that all probably happened in February or March. I thought I was home free after I got my new project. I was not.

I’m not even going to attempt to describe what my next research project was supposed to be. Instead let me tell you the gist of why I quit.

First, I could never really tell what anyone was trying to accomplish. Sure Barbara had explained what the group’s short term goals were, but I’m talking big picture goals. Basically I kept on reading academia propaganda about how this research could help us understand more about the Big Bang, and the early universe. BUT HOW? HOW?? I’ve heard researchers talk amongst themselves about or write in papers this sort of sentence over and over again. You know, the sort of “My research is important because it helps us understand X topic better.”

Every time I see something like that, I want to scream, “HOW does it help us understand X better? And why the @#$% does that even matter at all??” (My irritating resolve against the use of expletives when blogging is really starting to bite me in the butt. You’re welcome, mom).

Anyway, I never really found answers to those two questions with regards to research about quark gluon plasmas. To get uber utilitarian with it, I guess you could say that researching these physical systems could potentially allow us to find new, efficient, and stable processes that could power new technological movements, but aside from that, it seems kinda pointless. If you wanted to get super trattagarian with it, you could say the knowledge is intrinsically valuable and beautiful and worth pursuing in and of itself, but I kinda hate that argument, and it seems incredibly emotionally driven and kinda dumb. Take that. I might write a post dissecting this sentiment a bit more because I think it’s actually super important.

To put it in the simplest terms possible, deep down, I don’t care about hot bois. I really don’t. And I don’t want to pour my time into something that seems kinda meaningless. I imagine you understand. Some of you more STEM-inclined readers might take issue with my saying studying hot bois is meaningless, and I don’t actually mean it, but I don’t want to take the time to clarify my position, so you can go shuck a duck.

However, not only did it seem like my research was kinda pointless, but I couldn’t figure out why anyone else was studying it either. People didn’t seem passionate about hot bois at all (except for Barbara and a couple grad students, bless their souls). After talking with the group members, it kinda seemed like they were doing it just because the Berkeley culture makes it seems like the thing to do. That statement is obviously a major oversimplification of the complexity that is someone else’s lifestyle and life choices, but that was my main impression.

Anyway, I’m out of that life now. Wow a lot has happened since then. Back in April, I wanted to start businesses and build apps. Man, stuff has changed.

To put a bit of a bow on this post, when I quit Barbara’s group back in April, I thought I was done with research. It seemed stupid and dumb. Ironic that’s basically what I’m doing now. Except no physics and no hot bois. I’m done with those. The end.