SciFoo Camp, the prequel

Just got back from a mind and life altering experience. I was a participant in the first scifoo camp, a shindig put together by O’Reilly and Nature and held at the mythological Googleplex campus in Mountain View. I was first invited to this scifoo camp in an email in June from Tim O’Reilly himself and Timo Hannay the director of Web publishing for Nature.


We’d like to invite you to join us the weekend of August 11-13 for
Science Foo* Camp, a free, invitation-only gathering produced by
Nature and O’Reilly Media, and hosted by Google at the Googleplex in
Mountain View, CA. (See the end of this message for more about Nature
and O’Reilly). ……

I confess, I thought this was a mistake or some spoof by a friend since they addresed the email “Dear John” I never use John, always Jonathan. The thing was, the letter seemed so realistic, with details on the hotel and other people who were involved, etc. So I did what any respectible other person would have done. I googled the crap out of all of the people’s names and other details in the letter.

For example I had no frigging idea what this “foo camp” concept was. So I found some old stories about a foo camp last year, where the people actually camped at the O’Reilly headquarters in N. California. This sounded cool to me but also a little wacky since it seemed from reading the few blogs and stories about this that the event had no real schedule and that people sort of showed up and just gave presentations without a detailed plan. Of course, most conferences I go to have detailed schedules and I hate them since the best part about conferences is the talking at the coffee breaks or hanging out in pubs or doing something other than going to canned talks. In particular, the quotes they had at the end of the invitation email made me interested in going:

“The controlled chaos and the random encounters with very interesting people is just what I needed. I learned more than I expected, and got infected with new ideas. Who can ask for more?”

“Big kudos for having the courage to try a self-organizing event and for having succeeded WAY beyond belief!…Foo Camp was truly epic.”

Though I was still not sure if this whole foo camp thing was real or not (more elaborate scams have been pulled on me before) the upside was clearly high – a geek gathering at Google headquarters, just a 1.5 hour drive from Davis where I now live. So I wrote back saying I would come and then waited to learn more …

Author: Jonathan Eisen

I am an evolutionary biologist and a Professor at U. C. Davis. (see my lab site here). My research focuses on the origin of novelty (how new processes and functions originate). To study this I focus on sequencing and analyzing genomes of organisms, especially microbes and using phylogenomic analysis

6 thoughts on “SciFoo Camp, the prequel”

  1. I think we pulled it off well. Admit it .. we got you fooled ! I have to say that it was a bit of a trouble to get it right. You know how expensive it is to get someone that looks just like Tim O’Reilly ? It was fun meeting you. Blog away 🙂


  2. Well the lookalike thing could have been done more cheaply from my point of view as I had never seen him before. In fact, you could have had a woman in the role since these days, a name like Tim could easily have been for a woman.Fun meeting you two. Even if this whole thing was a scam, I got a lot out of it.


  3. Regarding the comments of the badger – since I cannot attribute anything he may or may not have said to him without getting his permission I cannot answer that question.However, I can say that many people were more open to the idea of Open Access to scientific publications than at any meeting I have ever been at. Perhpas the most surprising component of that was how many of the people from publishing houses of various kinds, were genuinely supportive of the idea of Open Access.


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