Tag Archives: scifoo

Holy s$&# – I am going back to #SciFoo

Well, I cannot wait until Friday.  I am going back to SciFoo.  Best.  Meeting.  Ever.  Went in 2006 & 2007.  Changed my life.  Here are some posts – back when I was a very newbie blogger:



Kids Science Book Recommendation #1: Pat Schrödinger’s Kitty

OMG. I just got my copy of “Pat Schrödinger’s Kitty” by Tiffany Ard. I only found out about this kid’s science book because the author (at least, I think it was the author) linked to a posting of mine from her “electric boogaloo” blog (in a post about April Fools). And from there I read about how she was invited to Scifoo this year (Damn her — why can’t I get invited again) and how it was a really good day because someone wrote a post about her kids science book. So, since I am a total geek and love reading sciency things to my kids I took a look. And it looked pretty good so I ordered one for me and one to give to my geeky brother.

And I just got it today. And I must say, it is f*$# brilliant. It is a spoof on Pat The Bunny (which I had to read over and over to kid #1 and #2) wherein the same general things that happen in Pat the Bunny are replaced by Schrödinger kind of things (e.g., “Paul can interact with billions of neutrinos”). This means a lot to me since as a small child my grandfather, a physicist, used to tell me about relativity and Einstein thought experiments. So I encourage all to get this book, even if you do not have little kids. It is worth a serious giggle for anyone. Still haven’t read it to the kids – had to post about it 20 minutes after opening the mail.

SciFoo Camp – The End and New Beginnings

Well, I am finally getting around to writing about the last day of SciFoo camp (see here for my other blogs on the topic).

For Day 3, I got up early, packed up my bag, and then polished up my presentation for a session on “The Human Microbiome.” This was particularly difficult for me since I do not really at this time work on the human microbiome much (although I want to). But I figured, of all the things microbial I know about, this would be the one that would be most fun to talk about to scifooers and would catalyze the most interest. So I searched around for slides and figures and ideas on the web for a while and then said “WTF – I can do a chalk talk if I need to” and I headed downstairs to the lobby in the hopes of getting over to Googleplex and enjoying the last bits of scifoo.

There was quite a crowd in the lobby and I ended up talking to a few other evolutionary biologists which was good and then finally got a bus ride over to camp. At Google, I had a bit of breakfast and then went inside to sit at a table to do the last bits of preparation for my talk. If I had been at a normal conference I would have simply skipped the first two sessions to prepare for my talk at 11:30 (the last session of the meeting). But I said this would be silly and decided to go to a session at 9:30. My choices were:

Golem: Data Mining for Materials (and Non-Programmers): sketching information systems (Andrew Walkingshaw) –AND– Searching the Edges of the Web Novel Biofuels, smart materials in energy production, the energy mix in the short term. Genome Voyeurism — Let’s poke through Jim Watson’s genome International polar year, an opportunity to… (Dave Carlson)
Simplifying citation linking (Dan Chudnov) Would You Upload? (Melanie Swan)
Future health care delivery and transport models: When “science” is not enough, benefit of new research vehicles (Berman and Neelagaru) Reforming Patent Systems, patent informatics and innovation 5 mins on your favorite science website / tell us your dream science web tool (Richard Akerman) How to Celebrate Darwin in 2009 (Phil Campeck) Innovation is Not Pointless…But It’s So 20th Century (Bingham)

And again, the choosing was brutal. Though I really wanted to go to Lincoln Steins Genome Voyeurism session, I followed my rule of going to things I did not know a lot about and went to the session on the International Polar Year. This was one of those sessions in a giant room and I expected a huge crowd. Instead, there were about seven people. But boy did the others miss something brilliant. Dave Carlson not only told us about the whole IPY project but proceeded to tell us about how their project was completely Open Science. That is, everyone involved was required to post their data on the web for anyone to use. OK – well apparently they are allowed to publish in non Open Access journals, which seems counter to their whole philosophy, but their openness about data is brilliant (Note – I just found out from a Google search that a childhood friend of mine, Thomas Nylen, is participating in the IPY project — see this blog here for some of what Tom has been up to).

Unfortunately, I missed the next session due to my computer having issues and me freaking out about whether it would work for my presentation at 11:30. The choices for the session I skipped were:

Incorporating science into social networks (Josh Koarer and Jon Durant)
Assessing the risks of tech innovation, ethics of synthetic bio. Do we have any choice? (Caruso) Tree of Life: Fractal Data Problem (Sereno)
Provenance analytics: illuminating science trails. Future of scientific publications, dynamic and evolving papers. (Juliana Freire) Planetary Defense Against Asteroids (Pete Worden)

Science Blogging
Towards an open source science learning collaboratory (Ted Kahn Design Worlds) Opening the scientific literature: OpenLibrary, Google Scholar (Aaron Swartz) 21st century medicine: electronic medical records, privacy, and data mining (Erez L. and Kevin F.)

Then it was time for the final session. And I was up — the Human Microbiome. Here is what I was up against

Social limits of scientific knowledge – can too much information impede science? (Dalton Convoy) Culture of Fear: Scientific Communication and Young Scientists

(Alex Palazzo, Andrew Walkingshaw)

Towards DataWiki (Hugh Rienhoff, Alan Littleford) Do systems organize themselves to produce entropy at the maximum rate? (Ralph Lorenz)

Science on the Stage, “science-in-theatre” (Djerassi) Human Microbiome, microbes in and on us (Jonathan Eisen) Science fiction: what is it for? (Henry Gee)

It would have been funny if I had gone to someone elses session and skipped mine, but I am glad I did not as actually quite a few people showed up to mine. I started by saying I had a presentation but would prefer if people just asked questions along the way. And the great part was – did they ever. This included some by Freeman Dyson – kind of cool to have the guru asking me questions about microbial colonization of babies. Finally, after I had spent too much time on background – Drew Endy said something to the effect of “Lets get to the technically hard stuff” and I briefly discussed using genome sequencing to study microbes that live in and on humans. And then – we just had to stop.

I decided to linger for the wrap up session after lunch so I had lunch, made some phone calls, and then we had a wrap up which was mostly an open mike for comments and this ended up being a bit too much of “It was great” and not enough of “How could we make it better.” But hey – it was great so I guess I understand. I went around saying thanks to the Google team and the Nature and O’Reilly folks and then moseyed on to the train back to Davis.

Some brief notes about the end and the new beginnings:

  • I got lots of ideas for new projects and new things to do from this meeting as with the last one.
  • Over the next few weeks I will be posting about some of the other things I saw there and discussing why/how they are interesting.
  • I think this “un-conference” style would be really good to emulate for other gatherings. Not sure how to pull it off though.
  • I know I will get in trouble from some of my Open Access colleagues, but I definitely came away from the meeting being really impressed with some of the things Nature Publishing group is doing. They really seem to be trying to move into the Web 2.0 area for science communication with Nature Preceedings, and the Nature Network and Scintilla and Connotea and Podcasts and of course Scifoo. Sure there were probably too many people from Nature at Scifoo, but hey, they were sponsoring it so why shouldn’t they send them? Here’s hoping that they continue to experiment with Open forums and Open material and that they change to OA for all their publications as a way to bring in more people to their Web services. And lets hope other publishers, especially truly open ones build similar resources for the community.
  • Thanks to Timo Hannay, Tim O’Reilly, and all the folks at Google, Nature, and O’Reilly for organizing this and inviting me.

Some interesting scifoo collections and follow up discussions:

SciFoo Camp Day 2 – Afternoon

OK – More on Scifoo Camp – Day 2.

Session 4: Here were the choices:

  • Collecting More Data Faster Can Make an Organization Dumber (Jeff Jonas) 
  • Skepticism and Critical Thinking in an Age of Marvels (Guido Nurez) 
  • Computable Data/Mathematics (Theodore Gray) –AND– $100 laptop demo (Ted Kaehler) 
  • Evolutionary robotics (Lipson Olliver) 
  • Ocean Exploration
  • why a mouse? Multi-touch, physical and social interfaces for manipulating data (Philip Tiongson)
  • Scientific Communication in 2030 (Kurte-Bilder) –AND– The selfish scientist (Carole Goble)
  • Universe or Multiverse? (Martin Rees, Frank Wiligat, Lee Smolin) 
  • Reuse of Sewage to Grow Food and Provide Sanitation (Frank Rijsbertian) 
  • Is Collaborative Policy Making Possible? (think wikipedia, economic/government simulation games) (TimHubbard, Beth Noveck) 
  • Viral Chatter (Nathan Wolfe)

And here was definitely my first big mistake of the meeting. I went to the one on Ocean Exploration — even though I had sworn to not go to things I knew a lot about unless I felt like I had to go. Here I did not have to go. But I went and though I am sure others in there found it very interesting, it was mostly stuff I knew a lot about (I have on and off done studies of microbial diversity in the oceans and deep sea). I guess the one highlight for me was discovery of Earthbrowser.

    Session 5: Here were the choices (which I pulled from the Scifoo web site – but one was left off – we had planned a session for the second half on Terraforming).

    • Sessions
      • Freebase Demo 
      • Biodiversity on the Web: Science Publishing 
      • Prioritizing the World’s Problems 
      • Display of Greater than 2D Data or Lots of 2D Data All at Once Tamara Munzner. 
      • E-Science Beyond Infrastructure /RichardAkerman/ 
      • Implantable Devices and Microchips for Healthcare –AND– Diver Assistance Devices 
      • Using Evolution for Design and Discovery 
      • Stem Cells (a.k.a. How to Get Scientists to Care about Web 2.0 
      • Machine Reading & Understanding Science 
      • Science & Fundamentalism (Durant) 
      • Biological Data & Research –AND– Open Source Biomedical Research for Neglected Diseases 
      • My Daughter’s DNA: Hacking Your Genome / Towards a Data Wiki 
      • Network-Centric Biomedicine (Ken Buxton) 
      • Squishy Magnets, Talking Paper and Disapearing Ink: How can inventables.com open its doors to kids for free?
    • Since I was planning to go to a session half way through I was not sure which to do for the beginning and so I went to “Prioritizing the Worlds Problems” – a discussion led by Bjorn Lomborg about a new book he is working on. Basically the deal is – he and a bunch of economists thought a bunch and picked 10 world problems that might be solvable: climate change, communicable diseases, conflicts, education, financial stability, corruption in government (or something like that), malnutrition and hunger, sanitation and water access, and subsidies and trade barriers. And then they did an exercise basically asking – if you could spend some money in the next five years, could you solve any of these problems.
    • He had some skeptics in the audience (which is not surprising given the semi-controversy over his book the Skeptical Environmentalist). For example Richard Jefferson of CAMBIA said that these were symptoms not problems and someone else said that it was bad to encourage governments to think on short time scales like a few years.
    • I had to leave early for my Terraforming session and wished I had stayed. Not sure what I thought about the exact details of what he was presenting, but he was certainly not the demon some people implied he would be.
    • A bunch of us met up outside the room where we were to have our Terraforming session only to find out that the occupants of the room were apparently circling the wagons and would not let us in. So we did the scifoo thing and took over the lobby area – doing an excellent job of sofaforming and chairforming.
    • Then we had a discussion of Terraforming with SciFi writers and scientists and technology folks and reps from NASA. It was a pretty good discussion.
    • In the end we concluded that if there is to be a Terraforming effort it should be on a near Earth asteroid encosed in some type of shell to retain gases. Sort of Biosphere 4 or something like that. Now we just need an asteroid.

    Session 6: Here the choices were:

    • Give us your Data! Google’s effort to archive and distribute the world’s scientifcic datasets. (Noel Gorelick) 
    • Personal Impact Factor: Measuring Scientific Contributions Outside the Literature –AND– Sensible organizations of sociometric badges 
    • Kids, Science, Math & Rational Thought 
    • Where are the aliens? (David Grinspoon, Steve Benner) 
    • Visual communications, graphics gesture (Barbara Teresky) 
    • Godel and the draft board (George Dyson) 
    • Micro-UAVs 
    • Dinosaurs, ancient humans, expedition science (Paul Sereno, Gabrielle Lyon) 
    • Machine Learning in the Natural Sciences 
    • why does science suck on TV, and what can we do about it? (Adam Rutherford) 
    • Hunch Engines /Eric Bonabeau/
    • For this one I was completely torn. I really wanted to go to Noel Gorelicks discussion of Google’s efforts to collate scientific data. But then I remembered my vow to stay away from things I might know something about.
    • So I went to a session on MicroUAV. That is, small unmanned aerial vehicles. Holy *$%$. This was the best session I went to. Simply put – it was incredible. The leader (who I found out later was Chris Anderson the editor in chief of Wired) showed the evolution of his attempts to make cheap small UAVs.
    • Here is the deal. He started off with trying to figure out all the things he would need to make robust small UAVs – and originally pieced together multiple various gizmos to control the planes and do things like communicate with ground and get GPS signals and take pictures. And then he realized he could use a GPS enabled cell phone with a CAMERA for all the functions and this helped reduce the costs of the planes such that one can now make one for < $700. Really. See DIYDrones.com.
    • And then he showed us pics he had taken that AM of a fly over of Google HQ. Friggin’ incredible. It was amazing from the fun point of view but also – I hope to use such UAVs to do sampling of microbes in air …
    • And one of the last things I heard in the session “And the sky will darken with Robots”

    Session 7. Here the choices were:

    • Data Mining the Sky, knoledge extraction and real-time discovery (Tony Tyson) 
    • All-Fluidic Computing, large-scale biological
    • Science vs. Capitalism: Utopian Effots in the Overshoot Century. (KIm Stanley Robinson)
    • Buildings engergy use and behavior change – can the built environment be an interface?
    • The Paperless Home (Martha Stewart)
    • Provenance Analytics: Illuminating Science Trails and the Future of Scientific Publications
    • And here I chose to see what Martha Stewart had to say about the Paperless Home.
    • Just before the session, Bora asked her about whether that meant no toilet paper and she responded by saying everyone should use bidets (really).
    • She started off really well I thought – saying that homemakers are underserved by technology.
    • She also complained about organizers made by other companies including Microsoft and said her plan was to make a better organizer for the homemaker.
    • She also said that people need this because they need time for their families and she mentioned that many men spend less than 15 minutes a day with their kids. She also said she wanted this to help support the family unit, whatever that family was (referring back to her introduction when she said that the family has changed a lot but not saying that she thought new family structures were bad).
    • She made a bunch of digressions that were basically the equivalent of “My magazine is brilliant and perfect” but I guess this did not surprise me since I think it is good that she is a perfectionist
    • She did say she considers herself a typical customer for such an organizer – which made many people literally groan. Yes, Martha, with her 100s of millions of dollars, her boyfriend who pays 30 million to go into space and her many homes and giant houses and teams of assistants, she is the perfect customer.
    • She did make some insightful comments about home technology like “I don’t mind my talking to my computer but I do not want my refrigerator talking to me” when she was complaining about all the noise some gadgets make.
    • Then she said nobody wants a drier that buzzes when it is done (I agree with her that this is annoying). She then asked the crowd if anyone wanted the buzzer and Paul Ginsparg said yes. So she skeptically dissed him and asked him why when he could just wait a little bit and put in the load a bit later. So he said “He wants to get another load in as fast as possible so he can spend more time with his kids”, referring back to her comment about fathers not spending time with their kids. She knew she had lost this argument and she moved on to another topic.
    • She made a funny reference to “Nature” magazine as though it was about you know, plants and bugs and well, “nature.”
    • She also said she wants scents out of the houses, which I agree with too. And she told a bizarre story about some worker who came over to her house with smelly pants because he had used a smelly dewrinkler. And she made him go and change into a new set of clothes because he smelled so bad.
    • In the end, I guess I agree with Anna Kushnir in her brilliant “Letter to Martha” that she missed a chance to get technogeeks interested in helping the homemaker. I felt this was happening and asked her a leading question trying to get her to say something about what technogeeks could do to help but she misunderstood and answered some other question.
    • In the end, I am glad I went to her talk — it was off the beaten path and memorable even if it was not technogeeky enough for me.

    Then we had another googlelicious dinner. I cannot for the life of me remember what I did but I guess that is OK.

    And finally we had the last session. The choices here were:

    • Reinventing scientific publication (Web 2.0, 3.0, and their impact on science) 
    • Piracy, Murder and a Media Revolution 
    • Engineering Living Instruments, android sensors 
    • Nanohype: The volumnious vacuous vapid world where only size matters. 
    • Biohacking science security society (Greg bear) 
    • The user-generated content I like (anyone can show the content they like on the internet) 
    • Science communication with comics… come turn your science into comic books 
      And here I went to Greg Baer’s session on Biohacking. It was quite interesting with a wi

    • de ranging discussion of biohacking, biodefense, biosafety, etc.
    • I am not sure everyone came out with the same conclusion though. I came out thinking — we should not worry about biohecking compared to normal pathogens. But many other people said later they came out of it scared about hackers making nasty viruses and killing us all. I mean – I think the community should worry a bit about genetic engineering and put into place safeguards against terrorists and accidental released. But I still worry more about MRSA and XTR TB and so on.

    And thus ended the sessions. We had a reception and then at around midnight people went back to the hotel and some continued to linger for many hours … I only lasted til ~ 1 am.

    SciFoo Day 2 – Morning

    Here is the continuing Saga of SciFoo Camp. It is here that the author describes a portion of Day 2 – specifically the morning through lunch.

    I got up pretty early and headed down to the lobby in the hopes of getting a bus over to Google and getting the good Google food and coffee. But alas the bus was a little behind schedule and so I was forced to hang out with other campers in the lobby area. Eventually a bus came and we went back to Googleplex. We had a lazy breakfast and I got to talk to many interesting folks.

    Session 1.

    • For the first session, the choices were:
    • The Next Big Programming Language /Josh Block & Bob Lee/ Open Science 2.0 /BoraZivkovic/ Digital Data Libraries /Mike Halle/ Citizen Science – Where Next? /John Durant/

    • Future of Healthcare /Richard Satava/

      Visual Garage – We’ll Fix Your Graphs and Visuals /Felice Frankel/ Quantum Computing – What, Why, How /Frank Wilczek/ Synthesizing Life /Steve Benner/
    • Well, actually, I could not chose as I told Bora I would help with his session on Open Science. This one turned into a passionate conversation about many topics relating to Open Science. There was also quite a collection of people there including young and old. Much of the initial discussion was around the problems and difficulties in doing Open Science (see here and here and here for more detail on this and the session overall – in particular the young scientists, who I felt did not get enough time to talk in this session, had many concerns). I felt Pam Silver expressed the most important and interesting concern which was that she said that students in the Systems Biology program at Harvard seemed most dismayed by the slow pace of publishing). Some other comments by the village elders that were present (e.g., Eric Lander and Carl Djerassi) were not overly encouraging in terms of how people get jobs in the field (I am not sure Eric understood what the young scientist’s concerns were completely and I think he may have made them feel worse about things when he was trying to make them feel better).
    • I think I sent the session down the wrong path at the way beginning by talking about the need to identify roadblocks to Open Science and to figure out ways to circumvent them. This is a true need but it made the beginning of the session seem more about problems than visions for the ideal future, which is what most people seemed to have expected.
    • But then Paul Ginsparg and Dave Carlson got us back to talking about the good, positive things about Open Science. Most importantly for me, we got a brief look at Jean Claude Bradley’s Open Notebook system which I would like to use in my lab.

    Session 2

    • Here the choices were:
    • Efficient Inverse Control: Through the Users Not the Resources /Wefi Vardi aka Neuman/ Clinical Problems in Neuroscience / Towards Practical Cognitive Augmentation /Vaughn Bell/ / Towards Practical Cognitive Augmentataion /Ed Boyden/ How to Build Intelligent Machines /Jeff Hawkins/ Why aren’t there more Scientists on the Covers of Magazines /Jackie Floyd/ Future of Human Space Flight and Ocean Exploration /D Mindell/ Science and Art /Brian Derbey/
    • 3D Video Applications: How to Publish Science in Video /Steve Silverman/ The Nature of Time and Mathematics /Jaren Lanier & Neal Stephenson & Lee Smolin/ Alternate terms of Science Education Future History of Biology /Rob Carlson/ Human Cell and Regeneration Map or is it worth building a cellular resolution database for the whole human body? / Ahila Attila Csordas /
    • I was completely torn here and even ended up being late because I was staring at the bulletin board trying to decide. Finally I went to “the future of human space and ocean exploration” since I thought this was going to be split into space for the first half hour and ocean for the second. Instead they talked about space the whole time I was there and the ocean exploration representative did not get too many words in. But the space discussion was actually really interesting with Pete Worden, the head of the NASA Ames Research Center there discussing future space flights and many other space afficionados present. I thought the most insightful and interesting comments in the session came when everyone was talking about how to better publicize space travel such that it got better attention. And then Larry Page from Google said, basically, that this was simply “marketing” and that the key was to do really cool things in space and not worry about the marketing. This also relates to the safety culture of NASA and other space travel agencies – many of us pointed out that 1000s of people die every day from various causes and that if space travel cannot take risks and accept that some people will die, we have no hope of doing anything interesting in space (e.g., Page pointed out that more people probably dies in the making and moving of the space shuttle than have died in the accidents).

    Session 3. Here the choices were:

    • 3D Printing / Robot Printing / Food Printing / Printer Printing /Lipson, Olliver, Bonabeau/ Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Teach Evolution /Eugeinee Scott/ Sequencing the Genome: Implications, Ethics, Goals /Linda Avery, Steve Benner/ Are Patents Preventing Innovation? /S Patton/ Tricoder is Finally Here Ethical Implications of the Information Society /Luciano Floridi/
    • Reversible Computation and Its Connections to Quantum Interpretations /Gary Flake/ Mapping Science and Other Big Networks /Carl Bergstrom/ A Magician Looks at the Irrational and Pseudo-Science /James Randi/ Listening to the World: Voices from the Blue Deep /Chris Clark/ dISSEMINATION AND aCCESS TO dISCOVERY – cOMMUNICATION OF sCIENCE /gABE lYON/
    • And though I promised myself I would go to things I knew nothing about, I simply had to go to this one by Eugenia Scott on evolution education.
    • Here I found the discussion quite varied and interesting. Some people suggested that evolutionary biologists should be careful about what they say because intelligent design supporters might use it for their own good. Henry Gee and I were adamant that one should not temper ones science for such fears.
    • Other interesting things in the session: Dwayne Spradlin did a good job of making everybody justify assumptions that they made about people and Sarah Keller pointed out that it would be useful to have evolution education in chemistry classes
    • Then it was time for a Googlicious lunch (OK – it was not as good as I had expected but it was better than any other conference food I have had). Paul Ginsparg and I went through the line together and decided to sit outside the tent. Good choice as inside the tent was absurdly loud. Really good talking to Ginsparg for a while about PLoS and Open Access. He is one of those people who, when you find out he won a Macarthur “genious” award you are like “well, duh – how could he not win one?”
    • After we sat down Larry Page and Lucy Southworth sat down as did some others who I have already spaced out on. The best part of the conversation at lunch was Larry Page giving Ginsparg grief about some technical annoyances Google found in their early days with the Arxiv preprint archive. Apparently, Google had to shut down some connections/services to Arxiv for a while and this was the first conversation about it.
    • Also interesting was briefly hearing about Lucy’s work at Stanford on mouse aging and changes in gene expression. This was particularly interesting to me since I hope to study how microbial populations inside animals change with aging. I unfortunately did not get enough time to interrogate her about her project – the perils of having too many interesting things going on.

    Well, I will have to post more later on the rest of Day 2.

    SciFoo Camp Day 1 – More notes

    Well, I am finally getting around to writing up the rest of my impressions of Day 1 at SciFoo camp. For detail on the camp and the outline of Day 1 go here. For those too busy or lazy to go there, SciFoo camp was a 2.5 day un-conference at Google HQ organized by Nature and O’Reilly publishers.

    Some more comments on Day 1.

    • Paul Serano and colleagues had a display of dinosaur fossils in the main reception area. They announced that they did not want anyone publishing pictures of the fossils since they were unpublished, following the big trend among paleontologists to not be too open about anything. Funny since Serano also gave some lip service to the idea of openness and sharing — clearly what he meant was different from what many others meant.
    • I talked to Eugenia Scott for a bit before the sign ups and gave her the lowdown on SciFoo, and encouraged her to have a session on Evolution education, which thankfully she did.
    • The three words I chose for my introduction were “Microbes Rule Planet, ” which of course is true.
    • Tim O’Reilly was the grandmaster of introductions. He was running around introducing as many people as he could to others he thought they would find interesting. He introduced me to Jim McBride (who is currently I think working with Howtoons). We had a good conversation about how the best way to attract good mathematicians to something in biology is to make sure the math is really hard (and why in general it is fun to work on something hard).
    • Martha Stewart gave a brief summary of how she made food for Charles Simonyi’s space flight and trip to the International Space Station.
    • The food, as always at Google, was quite good.
    • I hope Felice Frankel would be happy that my notes for her talk on “Envisioning Science” are all drawings and no words. Her key point was “Representation clarifies scientific thinking.” I could not agree more.

    SciFoo Camp Day 1

    Well, I have just returned from SciFoo camp. For those not in the loop, SciFoo is a “un”conference organized by O’Reilly Media and Nature Publishing Group and it took place at Google Headquarters over the last few days. It is an unconference because there is little schedule made in advance – instead the attendees make the schedule once the meeting starts.

    Over the next few posts I am going to be writing about some of the things I saw there. But here is an overview of Day 1

    • People arrived at the hotel during the course of the day on Friday. It was here that I met up with a variety of science bloggers, many of whom I had never met before but had heard of because I read their blogs.
    • At 5 PM buses started taking people from the hotel to Google HQ. I sat in a seat on the bus that was part of a four set set up (two seats facing two seats with a table). Also at the table were someone from the NRDC and Bjorn Lomborg, also known as “The skeptical environmentalist” after a book he wrote.
    • At Google people picked up some schwag, got their pictures taken for a faceboard, and then had dinner.
    • At 8 PM we went inside and went through the scifoo introductions, run by Tim O’Reilly and Timo Hannay from Nature. The first thing they said was “This year, unlike last yer, the discussions will be considered open and can be written about in blogs, etc.” Last year, they adopted a silly policy that did not allow people to attach names to ideas.
    • Then we did the introductions. In this, each person in the room (there were > 200 I think) was supposed who they were and then three words or phrases to describe their interests.
      • I was amazed this year as I was last year about how some people are simply unable to follow instructions. Some would go on and on and on about their interests. It got so bad that Tim O’Reilly got out a gong and was literally gonging some people and threatening to gong others. I thought the best part of this rapid three word introduction was that one got an overview of the areas of interest of everyone there.
      • I did notice a surprising number of people who said “evolution” in their treethree plus words.
      • Most heartening for the evolutionary biologist in me, when most people said their three words there was laughing or polite tittering – but when Eugenia Scott said who she was (defender of teaching evolution at the National Center for Science Education), she got a round of applause. Go evolution.
      • (Note – picture is from Ester Dyson’s flick page) —- The first big surprise of the meeting to me and many others happened at this. I was in the back of the room sitting on some couches (along with all the other wise people who knew this evening would go on for a while – also on the couches were Ester Dyson, Roger Brent, Oliver Morton, George Church, and a few others). On about the 10th or so person, a woman stood up and said “I am Martha Stewart …” Yes, Martha Stewart was at the meeting. It created a bit of a buzz, maybe out of celebrity shock. Although given the number of geeks at the meeting, the fact that Freeman Dyson was there as were a variety of other geek heroes, the celebrity alone of Martha Stewart being there was probably not the main reason people kept saying “Is that for real.” Maybe it was also because she was not someone one would have expected. I for one was a bit intrigued because I have been going through two of her cookbooks like I once read Science Fiction novels – I love her recipes.
      • Another good introduction was when Freeman Dyson said he was not as smart as his kids. Then later George Dyson, his son, said his three words “Not that smart” which got a good laugh too.
      • A final good introduction was by someone I could not see who said “DNA Hacking and Carpentry” which led someone to say “Jesus is here?”
    • After this was all over – we got presented with 4 pre-selected talks – the only explicit scheduling of talks for the meeting. These talks were by:
      • Drew Endy from MIT talking about Biohacking,
      • Felice Frankel talking about “Envisioning Science” – a critical aspect of all of science which gets neglected much of the time.
      • Saul Griifth, talking about global energy budgets for the planet,
      • and Charles Simonyi talking about his recent space tourism flight. It was in his talk that everyone found out one of the reasons Martha Stewart was there – she was somehow with him as during his talk he turned to Martha to discuss menus for part of the 11 day trip. The other presentations were certainly interesting but Simonyi’s was the feature of the night without a doubt. He had recently gone to the International Space Station with a Russian Crew, which only cost him 20-30 million dollars.
    • Then came the signing up for talks thing — people went up to the front and filled in discussion slots on the big bullet board. And thus the “un” meeting finally got a potential schedule. More on this later. After this was filled in, there was a little reception downstairs and eventually people went back on buses to the hotel to go to sleep. Which I must do now.

    Train to Scifoo

    Here are some pictures from my train ride to Scifoo. I took the train from Davis to Santa Clara … and am awaiting the bus from our hotel to Googleplex. Will post more later when I have the chance. I know this is a little off base for my normal blog, but I thought it might be a bit fun to show the journey from the farmland to the big city.

    New Album 8/3/07 2:22 PM

    SciFoo, SciFoolery, Nature, O’Reilly, Google, and More

    Well, I am off tomorrow to SciFoo camp. I went last year and wrote a bit about it in what was then my first attempts at blogging. Quick summary – SciFoo is a gathering of people with various connections to science, engineering and technology development. It is organized by the O’Reilly publishers and the Nature Publishing Group and it is, as last year, at Googleplex, the headquarters of a company some people may have heard of.

    I confess, normally I pretty much hate going to meetings. I miss my kids. I hate hotels. And many meetings pretty much suck. But last years Scifoo — it was hands down the most intriguing, interesting, and worthwhile meeting I have ever been to. Needless to say I was pretty happy to get invited back — and have been eagerly awaiting this for months. Scifoo was great for two main reasons: (1) the people who were there (ranging from relatively unknown but absurdly brilliant graduate students to miscellaneous Nobel laureates and Macarthur winners) and (2) the fact that it is an un-meeting (there are no sessions planned and no real schedule — just open slots in different sized rooms anyone can sign up for).

    I will be blogging from Googleplex as much as I can and will try to let people know about the exciting things I find out there. And unlike last year, when I drove from Davis and picked up someone one the way, I have decided to try and make my trip more carbon neutral by taking the train to Santa Clara which turns out to be only a few miles from the hotel where most people are staying. Plus the train ride will give me time to maybe prepare a presentation which would be better than last year when I made one in about 15 minutes for a session on microbial diversity.

    Here are some other bloggy things on scifoo: