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Aidan Randle-Conde | Université Libre de Bruxelles | Belgium

View Blog | Read Bio

Trapped on shift!

There are few things more terrifying than being forced to sit for hours in front of computers and stare at plot after plot after plot. I’m pretty sure that there is a circle of hell dedicated to those people who fabricate data or tweak their datasets to try to get a controversial result. Those people are condemned to spend eternity at a desk monitoring histograms as they fly by. And their on-call experts never answer the phone. And yet the ATLAS management hail this kind of behavior as laudable and give it the grandiose title of a “shift”. They even go as far as to set quotas on how many “shifts” a person should take. Some of us are even stupid enough to sign up to them.

Well last night was different. After slaving away for eight hours I had expected to be given my freedom and see the outside world. My replacement was supposed to show up at 6:45. By 7:05 he still wasn’t there. I was forced to shift against my will, staying at the same desk for 500 minutes, with no early release for good behavior. At some point this must become a crime against humanity, a form of illegal imprisonment. The Shift Leader (or should I say Warden) even came over and told me that I couldn’t leave, and he wasn’t allowed to let me leave.

The big house

The big house

Eventually, after 20 agonizing minutes of waiting, my replacement arrives! I’m free at last! I stumble out through the automatic rotating door, expecting to see sunshine and hear birds singing, perhaps see my mother waiting for me with some balloons and a tear rolling down her cheek. But no. It’s 7:00am (sorry, 7:10am) in October. It’s dark, and cold, and my mother is 500 miles away. So I head to the small gate that separates me from the rest of the world, wave my access card the scanner and wait a second. The reader gives me the green light, beeps, and the magnetic gate clicks. I grab the handle and push, waiting to be on the outside again, where I can see trees and eat fresh bread. Except the gate won’t let me. It’s stuck. And then it clicks shut again.

Strange. Perhaps I didn’t do it right. I wave my card again. Perhaps last time it didn’t read it properly. But no, it’s giving the green light, it’s beeping and the gate is clicking. But it still won’t budge. So I reach all the way around and wave my card over the scanner on the other side of the gate. Same story. I’m starting to get quite cold now, so I consider going in to get some help. Or at least a glass of water while I think it over. It’s been a long shift and I’m not thinking clearly. If I go in and ask for help, and it turns out I’m just too stupid to use a gate then they’ll laugh at me. And everyone else managed to escape without a problem. So finish my water and go out once more. I crack my knuckles, my eyes narrow, I reach down and grab my access card from it’s holster, I mean, lanyard, and let loose the fastest swipe in the West! Green light. Beep. Click. Push. Nothing. Click. Swipe. Green light. Beep. Click. Pull. Nothing. Click. What does it want from me? Why does it toy with me?! I just want to go home and sleep! I try once more, this time leaning almost all my weight on the gate. At this point I don’t care how much damage I’ll cause. Swipe. Green light. Beep. Click. Push. Push. PUSH. The gate opens! I’m on the other side! Sweet freedom! I can get in my car and go home!

Click. It’s closed again. Waiting for its next victim. The only person that sees me leave is the security guard. Perhaps he’s there to make sure the convicts don’t leave.

Perhaps my escape could have been worse...

Perhaps my escape could have been worse...

After spending so long on the inside I’m not the same man as I was. Instead of going home I come to Restaurant 1 for hot chocolate and a pain au chocolat. This morning, before I leave CERN, I will go to the CERN Hostel and try to find some accommodation for my grad student when she comes out next month. Being on the inside has softened me. But it won’t be the last time I see the big house. Something tells me I’ll serve another sentence at 11:00pm tonight…. (Possibly the automatic shift reminder that just E-mailed me.)

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