A virtual conference

One weekend in August, I was bobbing up and down in the English Channel looking at the Isle of Wight and asking: “How far away is it?” As is the way when observing things at sea, it looked deceptively close. I then started thinking about how the distance could be estimated. I remembered at school obtaining the height of buildings and towers by measuring my distance from the object, and from that position measuring the angle between the horizontal and the line of sight to the top. Simple trigonometry was then used to derive the answer. If I knew how big the lighthouse was, then all I needed was a protractor and a plumb line and I could work out the distance. My reverie was broken and I was dragged back into the 21st century by the retort: “I’ll Google it when we get out!”

The subject of how much we rely on technology and how helpless we are if it is denied to us, for whatever reason, is highlighted on a regular basis. The learning of skills such as map reading are ignored because GPS in a phone or sat nav lulls us into thinking they are outdated and superfluous. The race to embrace the technology itself has detracted from providing the best solution to the problem. Could it be that we are missing a trick?

Unfortunately, I will not be attending the 57th Annual BINDT Conference, which will take place soon after this is published. So, through the use of both the new (BINDT website) and the old (printed paper), I thought I would still provide input, which you may or may not care to consider if you are attending.

The conference is a vehicle for the communication of NDT knowledge. That communication is redundant if it is forgotten as soon as the conference finishes. This year’s papers will add to a very large amount of existing knowledge, all of which could be beneficially used. I remember listening to the presentation of a paper at the world conference, which ignored a large canon of previous work, because it pre-dated the internet and could not be found by Google. It is still important to carry out old fashioned literature searches. Now, you may expect me to say that just because something is old it does not mean that it no longer has value. Also, as expected, there are many papers to be presented at the forthcoming conference on new advanced technology. But maybe old techniques and approaches, when combined with new technology, can deliver benefits in time, cost and simplicity for applications where the full state-of-the-art technology may be seen as overkill.

It is probably too late for this year’s conference, but another area where existing knowledge could be applied to good benefit is in the actual delivery of the presentations. As I wrote in April 2018, the format of presentations has changed little over the years. We seem to be stuck in a PowerPoint rut. 
Yet there is a lot of information, readily available, on how to deliver a good visual presentation, which, like human factors in NDT, is just ignored. A key resource in how to deliver presentations are the TED talks. Maybe in a future conference we should have a session of TED-like talks.

Not so long ago I watched an engaging documentary about cheetahs. The common wisdom has always been that the cheetah, as the fastest land animal in the world, catches its prey because of its sprinting ability. This documentary illustrated how, while speed is important, it is its manoeuvrability, aided by a long tail for balance and non-retractable claws for grip, which make it an efficient hunter. The lesson here is not to fall for the obvious: instead, look for a full 

Finally, do not just be a passive attendee. Provide constructive criticism where appropriate and engage with people to test out ideas. In January and February I mentioned the 30 years needed for NDT products to go from idea to final item. Maybe it is time to look at how we can shorten this timescale. 
Open collaboration is just one idea that could be investigated. I recently saw a reference to open-source biological image analysis software. If the medical industry can do it, the NDT profession could have a go.

I wish all the presenters well and hope the conference is a success for all attendees. I am looking forward to hearing feedback after the event.

Please note that the views expressed in this column are the author’s own personal ramblings for the purpose of encouraging discussion within NDT News. They do not represent the views of Wood or BINDT.

Letters can be mailed to The Editor, NDT News, Midsummer House, Riverside Way, Bedford Road, Northampton NN1 5NX. Fax: +44 (0)1604 438300; Email: ndtnews@bindt.org or email Bernard McGrath direct at bernard.mcgrath@woodplc.com

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