Day 1: Friday
The whole SciFoo adventure begins, in earnest, in the Lobby of the Wild Palms Hotel at about 5 PM Friday, as all of the campers gather from their respective corners of the universe and mingle in the atrium awaiting the first bus to Google.
In the forefront is Jim Olds, Director of GMU Krasnow Institute. With his back to the camera is
Brian Cox, who is working with the Large Hadron Super Collider at CERN, a fascinating guy to talk to, a “Rock Star Physicist”, so to speak. He’s talking to Brian Malow, Science Comic. I’ll talk more about Brian later, but here’s Brian’s TED talk in Feb ’08, very similar to what he presented at SciFoo:
You can see my whole Day 1 Picasa slideshow HERE, or take a look at Crazybobs flickr show. He must be a profession photographer, because there are some really classy shots in his show.
This was Day 1, in summary (borrowed from Sabine’s blog, whom sadly I didn’t meet at SciFoo but obviously a much more witty and clever writer than me):
Shuttle buses bring us to the “Googleplex” and I feel like visiting Disneyland, just that the people welcoming us wear Google-shirts instead of Mickey-Mouse ears. Welcome to Google! We all get name tags, are photographed, are handed a SciFoo T-shirt and a SciFoo bag, and some other nice things. Everywhere there’s security personnel. I look at the schedule, which says 5:30 pm: Socializing. Gee, what am I supposed to do? I hold on to a glass of red wine (a good one) and talk to somebody about climate change models who to my irritation constantly looks past me, then suddenly he goes “Hey! Did you see that guy? That’s Neal Stephenson.” I’m not blind and I can read, so I nod, “He’s REALLY famous!” the guy goes. I nod.
Luckily, some familiar faces appear: there’s Garrett Lisi, Stephon Alexander, Paul Davies, Martin Rees, Frank Wilczek, Michael Nielsen, Lee Smolin, Fotini Markupoulou, Max Tegmark and Olaf Dreyer, and some other people I’ve met online, Robin Hanson from Overcoming Bias and Neylon Cameron. Some people say hey, they read my blog and nice to meet you. I have a brief chat with a women named Jill Something whose face looks strangely familiar but I can’t place her anywhere. With some hours delay it occurs to me I’ve seen her on that TED video (thanks Phil for sending the link!), I feel strangely misplaced among all the VIPs.
After some dinner, we all gather in a room for the introduction. I didn’t really expect there to be so many people, I would estimate maybe 250 or so. I haven’t been at a conference that size for a long time. Tim O’Reilly and Timo Hannay make a brief introduction about the spirit of the meeting: Mingle and interact. Talk about what’s on your mind, even if it’s not a finished work or not your area of work altogether. We’re supposed to make at least a dozen new friends, he says. I don’t think I have acquired a dozen friends within my whole life.
Then we all have to introduce ourselves, name, institution and three words that describe our interests. It feels to me like one of these memory games, 250 faces and names, how many can you recall? What I recall one hour later is that almost everybody is a native English speaker, evidently the majority of participants is from North America or Great Britain, and even those who are not live there. I recognize two French accents, and there’s another German, living in London, who I meet later at the buffet fishing a Warsteiner out of the ice-water.
For those of you who don’t know how to unconference, here is what happens then: Boards with empty schedules are put up, people run to grab pens and occupy a slot, that’s supposedly fun. There are various rooms in different sizes and you have to guess are there 5 or maybe 120 people interested in the topic? Add what you’re planning on, a discussion, a presentation, a demonstration, a group therapy? I take a pen out of somebody’s hand and write “The Marketplace of Ideas” on a yellow post-it, then jump to the board and stick it onto a random slot. Turns out however, nobody knows what that’s supposed to be about. Heck, don’t these people read my blog? So I add a subtitle “Why the academic system sucks”.
Here is a picture of me and a Googler (I don’t recall his name) at the very end of Day 1 from Bob’s excellent Flickr show:
So after all the networking (and me having dinner with Larry Page) introductions, everyone clambers to the boards to sign up for a time, place and Topic for Sessions on Day 2 (this picture from another excellent blog in Nature)
I caught the last bus back to the hotel Friday and was exhausted. Unfortunately, I couldn’t sleep a wink. My mind was just racing with all the stuff I experienced and did on Day 1. I laid in bed and watched Lethal Weapon II and then most of The Patriot in HBO before finally nodding off somewhere around 3:30 AM PST.