Student Loan Repayment...

Given all the fuss over the last couple of weeks i have been trying to sort out whether i think the student loan proposals are more progressive or not. I don't really agree with them in principle, but am not massively against them either. Its a slightly tricky thing to judge because you need to make a bunch of assumptions to start with about income...

I tried modelling a number of career profiles and based the loan amounts on the maximum London weighted amount that I took (and am still paying for) for the old scheme over 4 years.

remembering that in both cases we pay 9p in the pound over the limit (15k old, 21k new) and the new one we only pay for 30 years. I assume an interest rate of 5%...

There has been no adjustment for inflation which makes you pay back less over time.
in general you repay £450 less per year in the new system

case 1 (a familiar physicist)
starting on a moderate graduate salary of £26k and rising to £30k in a few years then the rate of increase slowing.
old system - total repaid (over 21 years) £31.1k
new system - total repaid (over 30 years) £31.7k

case 2 (low paid flat rate - not really realistic)
starting on £26k and not rising at all
old system - total repaid (over 42 years) £41.5k
new system - total repaid (over 30 years) £13.5k

case 3 (low paid but rising steadily)
starting on a low graduate salary of £17k and getting a £500 pay rise every year
old system - total repaid (over 50 years at which point you die of debt exhaustion) £64k
new system - total repaid (over 30 years) £10k, not paying anything for the first ten years

case 4 (professional)
starting on a good graduate salary of £30k and rising by 3% a year
old system - total repaid after 13 years £24.6k
new system - total repaid after 30 years £71.7k

case 5 (high flyer)
starting on an excellent graduate salary of £35k and rising by 5% a year
old system - total repaid after (9 years) £22.5k
new system - total repaid after (20 years) £66.3k

So to conclude, in my opinion the new system is more progressive than the old - people with low paid jobs pay less at a lower rate than before, whereas people like me pay the same and people at the top end pay more.

The only slight unfairness seems to be that if you are super rich then you pay some less overall than if you are only normally well off. I hope thats not what the protesters are campaigning against.

My caveat to all this is i assume you take the maximum loan in both cases, if you can afford to pay the fees upfront now and not in the future case then you will be worse off. Again i think this really affects the middle of the distribution not the lower end, so for better or worse its still something of an improvement in terms of progressiveness and helping social mobility.

News at 11, mob fails to do the maths...

LHC now at world record energy

I just received an email from CERN's Director General informing me that we have now exceeded the energy of the Tevatron and the LHC is now officially the world's highest energy particle accelerator (i don't think we have to wait for the guys from Guinness before it becomes official in this case). It isn't clear is whether there have been collisions yet, but as its not explicitly mentioned i suspect not.

This means that there is still time for you to go and hide from black holes under the bed.


So i am back running my second testbeam in as many months and have just started a 10 hour shift on a glorious saturday morning. Since those of you who have not delved into the jargon laced madness that is HEP will have little idea what im talking about i thought i would while away some of our time explaining what it is i'm doing.

I have put a matching set of photos on my flickr page here .

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On my daily trawl through the beeb's steadily deteriorating news pages i found the following statement i thought i would share with you nice folk in lj land...

"Greenhouse gas emissions from food production and car travel in the fatter population would be between 0.4 to 1 giga tonnes higher per 1bn people, they estimated. " (no formatting changed)

So would it not have been more informative and more instructive to the general population to have omitted the giga and the billion, re-normalised the numbers, divided by 10^9 and said 0.4 to 1 tonne per person on average. After all a ton per person still seems like a lot to me.

This seems like another example of slack reporting by the science team reprinting verbatim nonsense press releases.

Worthy of note however is the purity of the intent of the original material, rather than go for the dry science they have plumped to combine two superlative media stories, obesity and global warming. Hats off to "Dr Phil Edwards, study leader and researcher at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine" for this piece of media savvy, obviously science needs more of this type of chap. If the intentions of this merry band form the school of tropical medicine and celebrity gossip weren't clear enough the beeb end the piece with a quote..

"this is a calculation that deserves a bit more attention" ..... don't we all


Leaving Imperial

Just to Let people know today is my last day at Imperial. I will be going to work for CERN, for the MediPix collaboration for 18 months. Essentially I will be working on understanding the performance of their new radiation imaging sensor.

I will be heading to Geneva for a week on Monday for induction etc, then heading to Holland for six weeks where i will be working with a company called PANalytical, a Philips spin out. I intend to be back at weekends. Then in the middle of November I'm going to be moving to France full time.

So the end of an era, I have missed the decade at imperial by 3 days... my contract at CERN starts on the 1st and my first day at college in '98 was the 3rd (don't ask me why i remember that). I don't know what i think tbh, slightly sad at leaving the place i have stayed the longest of anywhere in my life, but also fairly excited to be doing something new.

I will have a spare room at the place in France so if people would like to invite themselves over for a long weekend they would be most welcome.
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Making a wokbench

Today i completed my long running workbench project. The idea was that i needed a very sturdy table in my shed to accommodate my grandfathers metal lathe and associated machines and also have a place to make things on. After looking at some cheap flimsy rubbish and some very expensive things i decided i had better make my own. This escalated when i decided to do it properly - partly for my own amusement and partly because i felt it was somehow inappropriate to use my inherited carpentry tools to make something a bit bodged together.

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From the Conference

so i've just returned from the 10th bi-annual ICATPP conference on instrumentation in particle, astro-particle and medical physics. I delivered my talk with aplomb and only a little procrastination and have returned to report to you good people.

The conference itself was held in the lovely but crumbling Villa Olmo in Como, right on the shore of Lake Como in Italy. The villa was magnificent with painted arched ceilings and lots of marble things, although it looked just slightly unloved, like a bunch of muppets had been using it for conferences for 2o years...

Como itself felt slightly stuck in the 70's, just a little too much orange and plastic about, but was very pleasant, the food being the obvious stand out winner. "What you only want ONE main course?? you weak foreigner you!"

By and large the other talks were a mixture of interesting topics, mind numbing detail and incomprehensible accents. No i don't want to see photographs of your electronics boards.

Two however stood out form the crowd for their sheer lunacy value. Scanning the world for neutrinos with a giant boat based detector, and *listening* for ExaElectronVolt neutrinos fomr the galactic centre.

The first of these was a geophysics experiment, turns out we really don't know whats going on down there.. there are still some big gaps in our knowledge, things like "why is the centre of the earth hot?", and "whats it made from?" are still being debated. One theory is the world is partially heated by a sort of slow burning nuclear reaction of naturally occurring uranium deposits. This reaction will of course give off neutrinos that are able to escape and we can detect. Step up our old favorite the liquid Cherenkov detector. This time a large tank full of clear oil (with a nice high molecular mass for those pesky particles to interact with) surrounded by single photon sensitive photo tubes, much like the mighty Super-K. Ok all well and good, except we cant distinguish what coming form underground and whats coming from space...bugger. No wait, if we move the big tub-o-oil and see a local change that cancels out the background doesn't it, ok so we need a way of shifting this about... A BOAT! So the diagrams show a purpose built barge, but i suspect they secretly want a decommissioned oil taker for bragging rights. The image of a bunch of physicists sailing about the high sees with a tanker of baby oil telling passing fishermen they are scanning the centre of the earth is one i really will savour. That and its a really neat bit of science, since they could correlate any structure they see to the tectonic plates and really start to get some answerers.

Ok good as that was its not even close in my mind to listening for neutrinos... thats right same dudes, neutrinos the most non interacting particle that we have actually seen, weighting almost exactly noting this group expects to be able to listen for them. And lets be clear this isn't listening as in measuring cosmic pressure waves this is terrestrial listening with microphones.. Sounds mental but actually not so much, turns out that the most high energy neutrinos (ones that happen only once in a blue moon) that pass through the earth with approximately an ExaElectronVolt, or one with the energy of an electron accelerated in a field of 10^18 volts each contain about a joules worth of energy... thats a hell of a lot for a subatomic particle. And when one of these chapies actually bothers to interact it produces a pretty big hadronic shower, depositing all that energy in a fairly small region. Now suppose we assume that one of these guys hits the sea and somewhere underwater interacts with an unlucky molecule pf H2O, smashing both of them to pieces and spraying a pile of subatomic debris along its trajectory, you get a cylinder of energy deposition in the water about 1cm round and ~10m long, now in that volume of water a joule isn't very much, but a joule delivered instantaneously at the speed of light produces a noticeable noise (pressure wave) form the expansion of that column of water in the otherwise incompressible sea. Not only that its a very short pulse that you can use Fourier analysis techniques to pull out of all the other noises. So now all we need is an array of seabed microphones calibrated to detect the quietest of quiet noises, shame the ideas so crack-fueled, well never get the cash to build that lot right... Step up cold war paranoia, turns out the good old US navy and HMRN have just the things you want. So these guys presented their preliminary results of using the submarine sonar nets to listen for the lightest least interacting subatomic particles from the centre of the galaxy. The highlight of which was when he pointed to an uncorrelated noise peak and said "we don't know whats causing this noise, we hope its not some sort of fish."

BBQ Chicken Satay

After a request here goes my recipe for an Indonesian style chicken satay. This is not an authentic recipe, i am not Indonesian, and only lived there before the age of two. It was picked up by my family and repeated so often it became a regular feature of my childhood.. heres how a reasonable facsimile of that experience can be achieved in the uk.

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First National Electrical

Ok heres a quick warning to everyone out there searching for First National Electrical (aka 1st National Electrical) especially the Buckinghamshire branch of this useless company. Don't use them. This is my internet revenge for the day off work i squandered waiting for their electrician to turn up. Well at 4pm i phoned them to make sure everything was ok. Turns out it wasn't. He couldn't come today after all. He might be able to come tomorrow, but unfortunately I've just used up what little goodwill was left at work by taking today off so i cant do that.

What really bugs me is that they knew from about lunchtime he wouldn't be able to make it and also knew i had taken the day off, but still failed to phone me so i could do something with my day. So if anyone reads this and decides not to use this bunch of muppets i would be very happy.

I am now officially fed up with tradesmen and delivery companies who insist that you take a day off work for them to do their job and then fail to do theirs. So please add comments with any companies you would rather people at large didn't use as punishment for their disregard for their customers time.

Remember thats First National Electrical or 1st National (google this means you), they also do plumbing and drain clearing, and i suspect are equally unable to show up to do either of them.