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Ken Bloom | USLHC | USA

View Blog | Read Bio

Sorry, can you repeat that?

This post is meant to have a positive tone. Really.

The LHC experiments all rely heavily on some form of teleconferencing to get their work done. As experimental collaborators number in the thousands, we can’t get by without conversing with each other. And with collaborators all over the world, we can’t expect people to physically appear at every single meeting. This could work fifteen or twenty years ago, when people typically participated in experiments on the regional or national scale. I know a whole fleet of professors who used to drive a car or take a plane to Fermilab once every two weeks, or even every week, so that they could be in the room for some particular meeting. Now that we are spread over so many miles, it seems too much to ask. But teleconferencing has allowed us to move past that era. It is absolutely not as good as being there in person, but given the monetary costs of moving people around, and the amount of people’s time that can be wasted in transit, not to mention the wear and tear on all of us when we are away from home, it makes sense to take advantage of teleconferencing technology.

The good news in all this is that we have reached a point in teleconferencing technology where anyone who has a computer with a microphone, speaker and network connection can take part, from any office that they might be sitting in, making teleconferences much more convenient than ever before. The bad news, of course, is that we have reached a point in teleconferencing technology where anyone who has a computer with a microphone, speaker and network connection can take part, from any office that they might be sitting in. Not all microphones are of such high quality. Some microphones tend to be rather close to computer speakers. Some connections are unreliable and have limited bandwidth.

So today I found myself on yet another conference in which we had to remind people to mute because we were hearing other speakers echo through their sound pickup, and had to work our way through some parties becoming inaudible or distorted at times, and had to listen to the occasional background conversation, and had to ask people to repeat themselves, a little louder please. It is, honestly a bit of a drag. I’ll admit that I pine for the days when you really just could sit around the table with a couple of co-workers and point at the plots in your notebook and be done with it.

But this post has a positive tone, really. I just try to keep in mind that yes, we are able to work with people who are scattered all around the globe, and actually get things done, thanks to this technology, even though it gives me fits.

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