Friday, 24 October 2008

Under pressure

A mini-flood of overnight email, more exchanges at 7am while trying to wake-up, two crises meetings, the regular observatory work and an impromptu tutorial made today one of those that make you want to tear your hair out, but on the other hand, one of those that I love. It certainly focuses the mind and I got into troubleshooting mode, which is one of my very few talents.

Last week I had planned to have a meeting with one of our engineer-technicians but it was postponed due to a flu-like bug I picked up. So we had it today instead. The meeting was the sole idea of the engineer, he wanted to learn more about what astronomers actually do with the telescope and instrumentation that he and his colleagues spend so much time maintaining and fixing. What an excellent idea! I was more than happy to oblige. So I booked our conference room because even though I only expected this one person to be there, perhaps with one other, it has multi-media capability so it's easier to present images and the various technical web-pages I had in mind.

Of course I didn't prepare anything. Why should I? It would be a question and answer session with a couple of curious engineers at most. So at 10am, after I'd spent a few minutes trying to get my laptop to work with the projector, I'm suddenly in a state of shock as I see nearly all our engineers and technicians walk into the conference room.

Oh no! Some of these guys know a lot more about the telescope and instruments than I do. They may not know much about the astronomy, but now I have to make sure I don't embarrass myself about how the instruments work and why they're designed the way they are. They know this already!

I think the ad lib tutorial went OK in the end but I was sweating. Thinking on your feet is one thing, doing it in front of so many colleagues is another! Only one person left halfway through and that's OK, I told them they could if they wanted to and was actually surprised that nearly everyone saw it through - and some even stayed afterwards to ask some difficult questions!

I hope they learned a little about what astronomers do. I also learned something about woofers and tweeters that I never knew before, so at least one person came out with a little more knowledge than before. This was such an admirable idea though and I was more than happy to oblige - these are the guys that keep the observatory running and despite that are rarely acknowledged. If there's anything I can do to help them I'll do so because they deserve it.

There will be payback for our chief engineer though. He found out about the meeting and minutes before it was supposed to start he went to all the engineers and technicians and suggested they attend. I don't know if he did this thinking it was a good idea or if he did it to wind me up. I suspect both. He was the only one that didn't attend...

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