Fermi National Laboratory

Volume 22  |  Friday, July 23, 1999  |  Number 14
In This Issue  |  FermiNews Main Page

Hacksaw Award for Bureaucratic Zeal

It was a week for awards at Fermilab. There was the Best Thesis Award, the Best Posters Awardsůand the Hacksaw Award.

Last spring, when Fermilab grad student Maria Spiropulu conceived the new grad student Web `zine, "Acqua alle Funi," she turned for its inaugural essay to one of Fermilab's best-known prose stylists, theorist Chris Quigg. Quigg obliged with an online piece quoting another master of the snappy comeback, Fermilab's first director, Robert Wilson. Quigg's essay told the story of an eminent university professor who publicly attempted to excuse his experiment's slow construction progress with the explanation that the Fermilab stockroom was padlocked on weekends. Wilson was unimpressed.

"Carry a hacksaw," Wilson advised, or so the story goes.

Quigg's "Acqua" intro counseled Fermilab grad students to follow Wilson's advice and carry a hacksaw to cut through obstacles in the path to getting things done at the Laboratory. It made a graceful and spirited introduction to a lively new Web site.

Enter the heavy hand of bureaucracy.

As prescribed by lab Web policy, Spiropulu submitted "Acqua" to the Fermilab webmaster for review before linking it to the Fermilab main page. The webmaster liked what she saw--until she saw the saw. That bothered her. What if Fermilab's grad students took Quigg's injunction literally? What if they really did hacksaw their way into a locked storeroom or--God forbid--took the hacksaw advice as license to override a safety interlock? What if--the thought caused her bureaucratic knees to quake--the Department of Energy construed the hacksaw to mean that Fermilab officially sanctioned such sawing, on an approved Web page? How would it look in the post-Tiger Team environment of Integrated Safety Management? Her bureaucratic soul recoiled.

"Love the site, hate the hacksaw," she told Spiropulu and Quigg, who added a disclaimer ("We don't mean REALLY use a hacksaw.") to the page.

Bureaucracy was satisfied. And on July 9, it was rewarded. During his opening remarks at the New Perspectives '99 grad student conference last week, Quigg presented a real hacksaw to the Fermilab webmaster, who accepted it as the First Annual Hacksaw Award for Outstanding Zeal in the Application of Bureaucratic Principles to Laboratory Management. The recipient, who is also the author of this column, suspects that she may have witnessed the birth of a Fermilab tradition, but warns others who may aspire to the Hacksaw Award in future years that competition is likely to be stiff.

by Judy Jackson

Have a nice day!

New Lab Director Mike Witherall and his wife Beth Witherall As the month of June wound down and the month of July approached, people at Fermilab began to ask themselves what they should do to welcome their new director, Mike Witherell, on July 1, his first official day of work.

Recent back-to-back labwide celebrations to dedicate the Main Injector and honor retiring director John Peoples had temporarily sated the Fermilab appetite for big parties in the Wilson Hall atrium. Should the Laboratory organize a colloquium? Hold a special coffee hour? What if ÷.we all showed up at the front door on the morning of July 1 to welcome Witherell and wish him well on his first day of work at his new job? Let's do it.

The word went out to the Fermilab community: July 1, 8:30 sharp, Wilson Hall front door--be there!

The word also went out to Witherell's wife, Beth: on Thursday morning, make sure he comes in the front door at 8:30. Don't let him show up at 8:00, and don't let him go in the back door.

By 8:25, the Wilson Hall atrium was filled with people. And at 8:30, Beth Witherell delivered her husband right on time. Everyone cheered as they came through the door. Everyone shook the director's hand and wished him the best. Then everyone went to work: Mike Witherell to his new office on the second floor, Beth Witherell to her new job at Northern Illinois University, and everyone else back to the job of operating a high-energy physics lab at the energy frontier.

It felt like a good way to start the day.

by Judy Jackson

New Entry in Fermilab Lexicon: "Plan A"

At the Annual Fermilab Physics Advisory Committee meeting last month, the committee devoted much time and thought to the long-term future of the Laboratory and, by extension, to the future of the field of high-energy physics. It's a subject much on the minds of many at Fermilab--indeed of the entire high-energy physics community--, and it raises questions whose answers are, as yet, far from clear.

"We should at least consider the idea÷," one PAC member began, "we should at least think about the possibility that Run II at the Tevatron might discover a light Higgs Boson, or supersymmetry, or some other new fundamental physics that will revolutionize our field and make the case for exploiting the Tevatron for many years to come."

"I have already considered that possibility," interjected then-soon-to-be-director Mike Witherell, "and we now refer to it as Plan A."

The PAC burst out laughing, and "Plan A" was born. Two weeks later, by the time of the Fermilab Users' Annual Meeting, "Plan A" had firmly entered the Fermilab vocabulary. Everyone knew not only what the term meant, but what it might mean for Fermilab if Plan A actually happened.

An only partly tongue-in-cheek transparency at the Users' Meeting summed it up: "We refer to this scenario as Plan A. We are still working on Plan B."

by Judy Jackson

last modified 7/23/1999   email Fermilab