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Back Buzz - October 25, 2008

pumping heartThe Cutting Edge, Level 5, Atrium, Sheffield Hallam University, Howard Street, Sheffield S1

Once again I apologise for this column being so late. Life just gets in the way these days, especially when one has to spend all one's time working for a living and applying for better jobs. I will try to be more regular...

Way back in the 20th Century -- when people still spoke Old English, using words like "Betamax", "8-track", and "IBM", and when computers filled entire rooms and all telephones had cords -- I went to university. At my California campus, frequented by brontosauri, pterodactyls, and sleep-deprived students, there were only two choices for coffee: a standard cup of drip coffee from the cafeteria or the student union, or else a thick paper cup of coffeelike sludge regurgitated from the vending machine in the Music Quad. Espresso was unheard of on most campuses.

At Sheffield Hallam University's Collegiate Crescent campus where I work, the only coffee available anywhere on the otherwise pleasantly green and leafy campus is either a very large cup of milk tinted with coffee powder from a self-serve machine, or a painful cup of what I call chocolatecoffeeteasoup from a vending machine. And I say painful because it's dispensed boiling hot into a thin plastic cup which instantly raises blisters on your hands if you are so brave as to actually pick up the cup once the questionable liquid is dispensed. This same chocolatecoffeeteasoup is dispensed whenever I press the "Cappuccino No Sugar" option, and it never varies. As a result, whenever my workmates and I feel like treating ourselves to a real espresso drink, one of us must steal away from the campus and head down nearby Ecclesall Road to find a coffee cafe.

This past summer, however, I was lucky enough to work at the City Centre campus which is bigger and offers many more amenities including 8 catering options. Three of these are located in the Atrium next to the Adsetts Learning Centre where I was working. The main cafe at the bottom, Heartspace, offers the same self-service pushbutton pseudo-cappuccino or latte available at the other campus, as does Essentials, the large cafe adjacent on Level 6. But if you happen to be a coffee-loving student, member of staff, or University visitor, then head straight for the cafe on Level 5, the Cutting Edge, as it's the only catering establishment with a real espresso machine.

Because the Cutting Edge's coffee menu doesn't have an espresso macchiato choice, I usually ask for a double espresso with a bit of milk foam, and whoever is behind the counter is always happy to oblige, turning out what looks remarkably like an espresso macchiato. The coffee is reasonable and it's Fair Trade as well, and the prices are extremely affordable. The cafe also sells sandwiches, snacks, and cakes.

Although there is plenty of seating on several levels throughout the Atrium, the view is best from the Cutting Edge as it serves as a balcony looking down through the layers of the open centre of the building. The Cutting Edge counter features an awning that resembles white bat wings, and there are lots of little tables and also some sofas on a carpeted area to one side. Above the cafe is the Atrium's glass ceiling with big white umbrella spokes, and to one side is a door suspended a level above the ground. As we sit and sip our cappuccinos this enigma of a door gives us something to contemplate. Is it an art project? Does it lead to a cafe counter accessible only to giraffes? Is it an exit-only door for expelling naughty students from the university? If we wait long enough will we see Peter Petrelli emerge from it, flying across the Atrium and crashing through the glass ceiling?

Speaking of defying gravity reminds me of a recent e-mail conversation with my Bay Area friend about the Large Hadron Collider:

You may know something about this - it may be in the news more over there than here. Some time ago I recall hearing about the Large Hadron Collider, the most advanced particle smasher which has now been completed at CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research near Geneva. In a radio news report I heard that it will be switched on this week. According to some reports there is a small chance that the collisions will create a black hole that could swallow the earth. Scientists cannot rule out the possibility. I suppose if it happens, we'll never know. According to this article in today's Independent the collisions don't begin until next month, so we have a little more time to get our things in order.

Another report said, black hole or not, the intense magnetic field created by the device will pull every metal object in the vicinity to the ground for the duration of the experiment. Since the thing is 17 miles in circumference, there may be quite a few people living above who would be pinned to the earth by their belt buckles, watches and jewelry. Definitely! The Guardian had an article on it a couple of months ago, and I've been very excited and talking about it ever since. I even wrote one of my blogs about it. And after I read about it I went online to the CERN website and read even more about it. A couple of weeks ago there was a BBC special on TV about it. But I was still wondering why I didn't hear any more about when they were going to turn it on, other than "towards the end of summer". Finally -- I think it was Friday -- I learned they're turning it on this Wednesday. How exciting! I didn't hear about the magnetic field pulling all the metal down. Since this is in Switzerland, will the country reverberate with the sound of smashing watches, Swiss army knives, and cuckoo clocks? I'm really impressed with a recently implemented feature in Google that displays an "autocomplete" list of matching topics as you type something in the box, along with the number of results for that search. It even tries to correct your spelling. I have no idea how this works, based on my knowledge of HTML forms and the browser / web server division of labor.

I had been wondering how many people might mistype "large hardon" while trying to search for information related to yesterday's test of the new collider at CERN. When I do this in Google I get this:

large hardon
large hadron collider 679,000 results
large hadron collide 100,000 results
large hadron rap 77,200 results
large hadron accelerator 243,000 results
large hadron collector 124,000 results
large hadron collider news 331,000 results
large hadron colliders 894,000 results
large hadron collider start date 37,000 results

Fortunately, Google does not force the spelling correction on me and prevent me from typing what I really want. If I do in fact search for "large hardon collider," I find that there already is a web site -- in fact a private domain -- devoted to this typo, which includes a sketch of a what such a collision might look like, as well as a link to a scanned image of a NY Times misprint in March 08.

So the benefits of this multi-billion euro project are being felt in the porn industry as well. As the LHC gets up to speed will it produce a massive outflux of e-mails promising to increase the size of everyone's penis?