Do you recall those days in college when a project or assignment was due and you had to pull an all-nighter to get it finished by the due date? Perhaps it was because you procrastinated and waited until the last minute to get started on it. Maybe it was because you just had a really tough time with it and started running out of time to finish it. At any rate, anyone in an engineering major is surely familiar with the concept of an all-nighter regardless of the reason. To put things into current vernacular the idea is to keep calm and pull an all-nighter. I find looking at that expression a little strange though as I was hardly ever calm when having to pull an all-nighter! I was quite stressed about the impending deadline approaching when that project was going to be due!
Pulling an All-Nighter – Keep Calm!!1
I can recall a particular project in sequential logic design that was very difficult and ultimately caused me to have to pull an all-nighter or two in order to finish. I can still recall those mornings after being in the lab all night working on that project. I was so incredibly wiped out and tired. Back then I stayed caffeinated on Mountain Dew to keep me going and even those stopped working after a certain point in the night. I lost count on how many of those I drank to try to stay awake in the lab working! Ultimately, I groggily made it through the night. After all the hard work and lack of sleep I was ultimately able to submit the project on time.
Fast forward a few years and I had the pleasure (ahem, misfortune perhaps) of pulling an all-nighter once again. Needless to say it has been a few years since my college days and I am indeed not as young as I used to be. The reason this time was also a bit different. If you recall from last December I wrote in my blog, Lit Up Like a Christmas Tree, about doing radiation testing down at the cyclotron at Texas A&M University. It was such an interesting experience to see control room and the radiation beam at the cyclotron. I’ve included a few images to refresh your memory on what things look like. A lot was learned during this session of testing. Based on the results we worked on generating some additional tests to more thoroughly evaluate the radiation performance of the device we had tested originally. After all that is part of the nature of being an engineer. It is ingrained in us to experiment, analyze the data, and do more experimentation.
Control Room and Radiation Beam at the Cyclotron at Texas A&M University
One of the lessons learned from the first test session was that a longer continuous stretch of time would be required to adequately test the device in the radiation chamber. Recall from my previous blogs about Murphy’s Law and how things can go wrong. Hence, the plan was made to increase the amount of time allotted for the testing. This was done to allow for completing all the necessary tests and also just in case something unforeseen occurred. For these tests I had to generate several Python scripts to perform various tests in order to assess the radiation performance of the device. Recall from my recent blogs how valuable it can be using software to aid in testing.
So let’s now take a quick look at that all-nighter. Time is reserved in 8 hour slots at the cyclotron and for this testing we had lined up two consecutive slots for a total of 16 hours of beam time to perform the required testing. The prudent thing to do is to arrive early and set up the test equipment onsite just outside of the test room to functionally test the setup and make sure everything is in proper working order. Recall that there is a data room with a setup area outside as shown in the photo.
Data Room and Setup Area at the Cyclotron2
We did just that on this occasion and were quite fortunate that the folks who had reserved the beam in the 8 hour slot before ours had finished up a few hours early. We were scheduled for beam time from 4:00 PM on a Thursday until 8:00AM on Friday. Thanks to those generous folks before us we were able to actually get started at about 2:00 PM on that Thursday. This was quite a delight for me as I was nervously watching Hurricane Harvey gain strength in the Gulf of Mexico. I was not very interested in sticking around in Texas when Harvey made landfall so I was intent on getting the testing completed and flying back home beforehand if at all possible. Obviously, as you can tell so far, I had a few different reasons for pulling the all-nighter in this case.
There was no procrastination here, just thorough planning ahead of the trip. Thus, the testing part of this trip to the cyclotron was well thought out. The all-nighter was actually planned ahead of time to be able to perform all the testing required. I am sure we did so well as to plan out our all-nighters in college, didn’t we!?!? It is important in any task to make good plans ahead of time and this was no exception. The original plan was to have this 16 hour time slot as well as additional beam time on Saturday in a similar time slot if necessary. Knowing that things could potentially go wrong and time would be required to compensate the extra time slot was arranged prior to the trip. However, as I was eyeing Harvey’s approach it quickly became our goal to complete testing in the first 16 hour time slot and fly out of Texas ahead of the storm’s arrival. As luck (and great planning) would have it, we were able to utilize the extra bit of time in the afternoon on Thursday, work through the night into Friday morning, and finish up with about 15 – 20 minutes to spare.
As we made our way back to the hotel, my first thought was getting the airfare changed to make our way out of Texas. American Airlines was kind enough to allow all those in affected cities to make changes to flight reservations free of charge. We were fortunate to be able to change our flight to leave College Station on Friday afternoon on the 2:00PM flight. Even though I was looking at about 2 – 2.5 hours of sleep ahead of the flight and then a nearly midnight arrival back in Greensboro I was more than happy to make the change to our flight so that we could avoid meeting Harvey. The lesson here harkens back to my blog on Murphy’s Law. Arguably it is pretty hard to predict several months out when and where a hurricane might strike. Even the best laid plans cannot account for such an event. However, the planning we had done allowed us to efficiently perform the necessary tests and fly back safely. It was quite an exhausting trip to make pulling an all-nighter and flying back so late, but it does not compare to the struggles facing those who have been impacted by these massive weather events. I’d like to take this moment to encourage you to keep all those affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in your thoughts and prayers.
1 Image courtesy of Keep Calm and Posters
2 Data room photo courtesy of Texas A&M (marked up for purposes of this blog)