The View Up Here

Random scribblings about kites, photography, machining, and anything else

Sailing Soon and SPIE Posters

Posted by Tom Benedict on 01/06/2012

Good news! Sailcare sent word that our jib is in the mail. Now the only question is when it’ll show up. I’m guessing at some time next week, so next weekend we should be on the water. Today I went through the list of things left to do on the boat and started hammering out the last of the little things. County-issued VIN sticker on our trailer? check! Public boat ramp fee stickers? Check! Verified daggerboards can be inserted the full length of the trunk? Er… not checked… But by the end of the weekend, the only thing left should be to put new telltales on the jib.

Meanwhile I’m getting ready for the SPIE Astronomical Instrumentation 2012 conference, which starts in Amsterdam a month from Monday. Manuscripts are due by the 6th, and mine is almost done. I got the last of the figures in this afternoon and sent it out for edits. The only other task left after the paper is to put the poster together. Technically I can finish the poster the day of my poster session, so long as I get it printed in time. That seems needlessly risky to me, though. I’m planning to print it before I leave and take it with me on the plane.

I like making posters. I don’t mind public speaking, even though I get terrible stage fright. But putting together a talk isn’t nearly as fun, to me, as putting together a poster. I don’t really like the traditional academic or engineering poster formats, so I take posters as a chance to have fun with graphic design. I look at it this way: The whole point of a poster at a poster session is to grab the eye, make it easy for a bystander to get the gist of what you’re saying, and give them enough information to ask you at least one decent question. You don’t need to reproduce the entire contents of your paper on your poster! In short what you need is eye candy.

This is my poster from SPIE 2010:

SPIE 2010 - Espadons PCC Poster

Not your typical conference poster. But hey, it was a lot of fun to make! And if you look at it, the bulk of the information from the paper is in it in visual form. It does its job.

The poster for SPIE 2012 will be more of a challenge. The paper discusses some of the unexpected consequences we ran into from our conversion from liquid nitrogen cooling to closed-cycle cooling (the topic of the poster shown, above). So there’s no clear road map on this one. It’s a scattered collection of problems, investigations, findings, and revelations we had along the way. In the end we got a new set of guidelines for good practices when designing closed-cycle cooled cryostats. But presenting it that way misses the real thrust of the paper: that we were clueless when we started.

“Clueless”. Actually, that’s inaccurate. We had clues. What we didn’t have was answers.

And that’s how I’d like to present it: as a whodunnit. Troubleshooting doesn’t follow a logical progression from A to B to C. It’s closer to a murder mystery, where the intrepid detective gathers clues, interrogates witnesses, forms a hypothesis, and eventually builds a case. This paper, and the associated poster, is really targeted at the troubleshooter rather than the instrument designer. It’s one thing to say, “Unless a cryostat is cooled below 77 Kelvin, the getter will be unable to pump nitrogen, and some other mechanism must be employed.” It’s another to say, “When we switched vacuum gauges, all of a sudden our cryostat couldn’t hold vacuum! It’s like we’d introduced some sort of leak into the system. But we never found anything with a leak check, and our RGA showed no uncharacteristic abundances. What was going on?!” A troubleshooter might read the first sentence and not see how it relates to a problem they’re having. But that same troubleshooter might read the second and say, “Hey! That’s just like my cryostat! How’d they solve this?!” Just like a murder mystery, the whole idea with a poster is to hook the reader (or viewer, in the case of the poster.) Everybody loves a good whodunnit.

Now I just have to figure out how to do that with a poster…

– Tom

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One Response to “Sailing Soon and SPIE Posters”

  1. Jasja said

    Looks sharp that poster! I am designer a more-image-then-text for my summer conferencet too.

    Are you planning to stay in holland after the conference and do some KAPping? If so, feel free to drop me a line. It’s always fun to exchanges KAP tricks and ideas.

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