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Hearty laughs at the CMS meeting January 18, 2007

Posted by dorigo in humor, news, personal, physics, politics, science.

Well into the second afternoon of an otherwise boring series of meetings, dubbed “Physics Days”, I had a moment of real hilarity during Patrick Janot’s talk on software validation activities in CMS.

Patrick had just started his talk, and he had slide three on the wide screen in room 40-S2-A01, one of the meeting rooms in the basement of the building hosting the CMS and Atlas offices. No less than eighty collaborators were sitting in front of him, plus maybe thirty more connected via VRVS.

As he discussed the slide, which started to list the several activities completed in 2006, he made the point that he had not included in the slides any of the names of people involved in the huge effort of software porting and validation which had taken place, “because the slides would have doubled in size otherwise”.

I was sitting in the front row, and Patrick was at reach of my voice. Since he was looking in my direction as he was making the remark – which had the clear intent of making it clear how many had helped with the effort he was presenting, and how grateful he was to them – I intercepted him by remarking aloud “Your name is there, though!”, pointing at the bottom of the slide being projected, which indeed had a not-so-small footer with his name, the name of the talk, the name of the meeting, and the date: each slide in his talk had indeed the same information. 

There followed bursts of laughter in the room, and I got some embarassed mutterings from Patrick in return, plus a frowning look by Paris Sphicas (the organizer of the meeting), who did not know whether to look reproaching or amused.

What was at work was a quality I possess and I highly admire of myself, that of bringing myself to speaking up that the king is naked, when the case arises. Tradition has it that people from Venice are quick-mouthed and won’t be silenced easily…

Of course this gift (which brings me sound laughters and offers good humor to my company at times) does not come for free: it is just as much a defect as a quality, because I sometimes end up being or looking cocky, arrogant, abusive. Oh well. I yam what I yam.


1. Bee - January 21, 2007

🙂 I always enjoy laughs in talks, no matter on whose expenses.

it is just as much a defect as a quality, because I sometimes end up being or looking cocky, arrogant, abusive. Oh well. I yam what I yam.

Don’t worry, that will only happen to those who don’t take the time to get you to know better. Humor is a complicated thing, esp. when different nations and traditions are mixed up. E.g. humor in Europe seems to be somewhat different than in North America. Maybe less naive.

Two years ago, I gave a series of talks during the summer, some conferences, seminars, you know. It wasn’t always exactly the same talk, but the introduction was. I had a joke I made on slide 5. I made that joke 6 times with different audiences. Only in the last talk some Finnish guy sitting in the first row, far left, got it. This taught me only to rely on very, very obvious jokes, where the audience is sure they are allowed to laugh.



2. dorigo - January 21, 2007

Hi Bee,

that is true – the audience at conferences and seminars is usually not accustomed to being presented jokes, and when it happens the reaction is not what one would expect. I.e., they do not laugh, but rather try to figure what is it that they did not get and make sense of what cannot make sense. Much different is when one is sitting in the audience, when one is somehow _expected_ to make funny remarks. At least in some environments.

My congratulations for the stubbornness you showed by repeating a unsuccessful joke six times anyway🙂

And yes, it happened to me too, to have to reduce the scope of my jokes in my talks. I learned that one has to go to real extremes to trigger a amused response.

One day I did precisely that, at a conference at Stony Brook. I had two projectors (it was back in 1997 when plastics were still used for slides) and I was using only one of them, when I came to introduce the two detectors of which I would be presenting results. These were CDF and D0, and the conference was about hadron collider physics: so people not only knew very well the detectors, but had been nauseated by the repeated information on these instruments from the string of previous talks. So I said “I will not discuss the detectors in detail, but I leave cutaway views here for reference” and I slapped the two plastics of CDF and D0 views on the second projector, stacked one on top of the other.

Well, this stupid move triggered such a burst of laughter I had to stop my talk for a moment… Unbelievable how low a level one has to keep in one’s humor in such situations!


3. Bee - January 22, 2007

Hi Tommaso,
🙂 yeah, that’s true. The most stupid things work the best. I’ve had a talk with a similar slide to your ‘two on top’ where the usual ‘unsolved problems’ kept popping up on the slide until it was completely crowded. Also totally dump, when I’m talking about black hole radiation, I’ve a slide about the three phases, the first one ‘black hole looses hair’ comes with an ad for a product against ‘hair loss’… wait, where is it… Ah, here🙂



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