Stanford Linear Accelerator (SLAC) Suspends Tours

Just caught this late breaking news tonight… makes me really sad.

San Jose Mercury News: SLAC to suspend public tours

In the course of an hour Monday, retired physicist and tour guide Dave Grossman compared the research done at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center to major league baseball pitches, the hydrogen bomb, walking ants, a pool table and colliding Snickers bars. “Now I’m going to review the history of physics in three minutes,” Grossman said – and did.

Grossman is one of the 18 tour guides, many of whom are graduate students, who lead roughly 40 public and 500 private tours each year of the renowned research facility that takes up 5 percent of Stanford’s land, held the first World Wide Web address in the United States and has scored four Nobel prizes since it opened 41 years ago.

But beginning next month, the center’s popular tour program will be “temporarily suspended” due to both federal budget cuts that have already resulted in layoffs of 200 employees and a shift in the center’s scientific focus, said Lee Lyon, director of human resources.

While reluctant to say how much the center will save by suspending the tours, Lyon did confirm the program costs more than $25,000 and employs one full-time staff member.

“The actual tour is relatively limited,” Lyon said Monday. “It doesn’t cover the core science we’re doing here.

I remember my first tour of SLAC when I was a local seventh grader, and we toured the facility for our science class.  I still remember the lecture, and how they explained the discovery of Quarks to us.  I was only 10 years old, but I distinctly remember them explaining the 3 “colors” of quarks, and the 6 “flavors”.  I remember them explaining the fractional charges of the quarks – a down at -1/3, and an up at +2/3.  One up, two downs, and you get zero, a neutron.  Two ups, one down, and you get +1, a proton. Each of the three had to be a different color (red, green, blue).

It was another five years until I would take AP Physics, but it was a little taste of the future for me, and I never forgot it.  Over a decade later, I even took my fiancee on the tour, just to share the experience.

Fortunately, it sounds like there is some good news here.  In 2009, they will finally be opening the new research facility:

Much of the 0.5-square-mile facility is under construction to build the roughly $400 million laser, which will among other things, enable researchers to study the interior of white dwarf stars and take 4 quadrillion pictures per second, allowing scientists to do freeze-frame photography of chemical reactions, Grossman and Lyon said.

Due to open in 2009, the new laser facility is not on the center’s tour, nor are many of the other buildings, whose equipment is being used to study everything from gamma ray astronomy to what happened to the anti-matter produced in the Big Bang.

The tours, said Lyon, “don’t need saving. They need reconstitution.”

He said the center hopes to bring the tours back in 2009 and will still conduct quarterly public lectures, as well as the popular tours over Stanford’s graduation weekend which have drawn as many as 600 people on the Saturday before commencement, he said.

So, it sounds like there will still be opportunities to see SLAC.  You might want to take advantage of them while you can.

Using Google Spreadsheets as a Lightweight Database

Yes, I have nostalgic feelings for good, old Filemaker.  There, I said it.

I caught this post on the Google Docs blog last week, and thought I’d comment here about it, since it’s such a useful feature enhancement.

The enhancement?  The ability to create short web-forms that you can email out to people, without requiring login.  As users enter the data, it auto-populates the spreadsheet on the back-end.   Check out this explanation from the blog post:

We’re really excited to bring you forms! Create a form in a Google Docs spreadsheet and send it out to anyone with an email address. They won’t need to sign in, and they can respond directly from the email message or from an automatically generated web page. Creating the form is easy: start with a spreadsheet to get the form, or start by creating the form and you’ll get the spreadsheet automatically.

Responses are automatically added to your spreadsheet. You can even keep a closer eye on them by adding the Google Docs forms gadget to your iGoogle homepage, created by software engineers Valerie Blechar and Sarah Beth Eisinger (in her first month at Google!).

I’m not a big iGoogle user, but I could easily see embedding this type of gadget on my LinkedIn homepage.  There are so many simple workplace applications that still come down to the need for a very simple database (not even relational!) and a form-based front-end for users.  In the 1990s, Filemaker Pro was my weapon of choice for that type of problem.  I’ve looked into Quickbase a bit, but the pay-per-seat model through me off a bit.

Check it out, and let me know what you think.

Also, if you know of a good “Filemaker Pro meets Web 2.0” free web service that you like,  let me know.  I’ve got to believe there are dozens of them, since every other great desktop application class has made it to the web.

Do You Hate My New Blog Header?

I was getting a lot of abuse at work today over the new image header for this blog.

Obviously, it’s just a quick Photoshop job over the Leopard background from Mac OS X 10.5.  But people seem to be completely against it.  Elliot has gone so far as to say he refuses to read my blog from the site anymore – just the My Yahoo reader – just to avoid the new header.

Thoughts?  I can replace it with a plain vanilla color header.