Saturday, March 15, 2008


This weekend, I am at the SciBarCamp in Toronto, the first science Bar Camp! Having been told the name 'Bar Camp' is a pun on 'Foo Camp' (also known as "unconference"), I queried Wikipedia on the origin of this word. As the entry on foobar explains "Neither foo() nor bar() accomplish anything useful." The first association I had to SciBar was Psi-bar (a notation commonly used for anti-particles), and the first thought that crossed my mind when hearing 'Foo Camp' where the Foo Fighters (actually, these FooFighters) but it seems the camping sort of foos are Friends Of O'Reilly who like to hang around at the bar, though this is apparaently a backronym. The emergence of the name in itself would probably make a good topic for a PhD thesis in linguistic.

Either way, according to the website, the camp is on various edges, so for example the edge of science, the edge of technology - and, on my German-gauged organization scale, certainly on the edge of chaos. As I recently read, allegedly the edge of chaos is where complex systems solve problems most efficiently. However, if I am faced with a schedule on a flip chart that has been crossed out, rewritten, and rearranged so many times it is just unreadable, I have my doubts about the efficiency of spontaneously arising self-organization. Especially if one has a 100km commute to the conference site to have a look at said flip chart.

Okay, leaving aside my disliking of words that start with the syllable 'un', the workshop is packed with interesting people, definitely fun, and so far an extremely inspiring and thoughtprovoking event. Since it seems that my de facto negligible complaint has more words than my expression of enthusiasm, and I am currently in lack of adjectives that would appropriately describe my impression, I will just click on some of these buttons in the wysiwyg editor... and voila, there we have boldfaced enthusiasm ;-)

More about the SciBarCamp later, need to un-wind now. (Is the traffic on Gardiner ever not 'moving slowly'?). A nice weekend to all of you.



  1. Try the Google entry for "fubar", the original spelling. It actually mirrors your description of the chaos quite well.

  2. Hi Bee,

    “This weekend, I am at the SciBarCamp in Toronto,”

    Well welcome to the big smoke or what would currently be described as the big snow drift. I hope you have a good time in our town and I have to say that once again you describe something that I am a tad envious of. So it seems you, Smolin and others will be pondering the big questions while in a relaxed and less formal atmosphere. I would then expect all to be resolved before the weekend is over :-)



  3. Hi Bee (again),

    I couldn’t help but look at what I was missing. I found that the most relevant topic and perhaps one that I might have a chance in following has already been held and that is:

    Daniel Gottesman: Quantum Mechanics for 10 years olds

    Tomorrow doesn’t look like there is much I could follow. One thing that caught my attention is the one entitled:

    Smolin: What is mathematics?

    I’m thus brought to wonder if he is seeking an explanation or attempting to offer one? I am curious to know :-)

    There is one that if my years were not so advanced I’d be keen to try. It is to be held at the end of the non-conference and entitled:

    Arm Wrestling

    You just have to let us know how this one turns out and who in the end prevails:-)



  4. I'll add a bunch of comments about "foo" (and "fubar" and "foo fighters"), from the perspective of a physicist who entered the chip/software/programming world.

    My etymologies may or may not match what someone put in the Wikipedia. The "Hacker's Dictionary" has a bunch on this.

    "Foo" and "Bar" are often used in place of X and Y. In a lot of protocols, crypto, quantum computation, etc., "Alice" and "Bob" play similar roles.

    "Foo" is commonly used as a kind of nonsense word in programming. As in "Suppose this object emits something called foo."

    Foo may have come from two possibly entangled sources, both connected heavily with that font of all modern technology, World War II.

    Most obviously, FUBAR, standing for "Fcked Up Beyond All Recognition." Closely related to SNAFU, standing for "Situation Normal, All Fcked Up." Alternate spellings or forms incude fubar, Fubar, snafu, etc. (I think the form snafu has entered the English language, much as some of Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" words entered the language, notably, chortled..

    The Fubar/foobar variants arise for probably pronunciation reasons. ("Fu" by itself is not recognizably English.)

    During and shortly after WW II there were claimed sightings by pilots of unindentified flying objects, soon called U.F.O.s, with "foo fighters" used as well. But much less common. I'm 56, but had never heard the term "foo fighter" until the minstrel group started using it in the 80s. When I checked the etymology, there it was, a term used in the 1940s.

    So, the Foo Camp that Google put on a couple of summers ago was almost certainly using the "Foo as in programming jargon" meaning, much as "X-Ray" stood for the unknown or unnamed ray.

    And so Bar Camp is obvious.

    --Tim May

  5. So what's next? Baz camp?

  6. Entry in the
    "Pocket Dictionary of American Slang"
    Foo-foo. n.
    1. A fool; a worthless person
    Dial. From "fofarraw."
    2. Perfume. From "fofarraw."
    fofarraw. n.
    1. A loud disturbance or interruption;
    a commotion.Dial.
    2. Gaudy wearing apparel, particularly
    accessories such as bracelets, belts, etc.
    3. Ostentation; show-off; bluster.
    Prob. from the Sp. "fanfaron" and
    Fr. "frou frou."

  7. Hi Phil,

    Well, in case that schedule remains as it currently is I can either hear what maths is or go armwrestling, but unless I manage to branch into two parallel worlds until then, not both. Looks like the 'why so few women in physics/maths' thing is more or less mandatory for me. will make sure to wear a pink sweater ;-)

    Hi Thomas,

    Next thing is the completely virtual conference. Instead of meeting in actual rooms you meet in 'chat rooms', with video support if your band is broad enough. Advantage of this doing is one can exchange PM w/o anybody overhearing it (the BB is quite useful for this purpose to, but it looks crudely impolite).



  8. Bee,

    Pink would just show a happy person doing mathematics?:)

    4:00 o'clock today-Smolin on what is Mathematics..did you make it?

    I would have loved to hear what he had to say.

  9. Oh and I think Fubar "is" the elephant.

    A classical version of "six blind men and the elephant?" The question would be more like, quantum gravity is like......Fubar then just becomes a symbol of the elephant and all it's implications?

    The Blind Men and the Elephant
    John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)

    It was six men of Indostan
    To learning much inclined,
    Who went to see the Elephant
    (Though all of them were blind),
    That each by observation
    Might satisfy his mind.

    The First approached the Elephant,
    And happening to fall
    Against his broad and sturdy side,
    At once began to bawl:
    "God bless me! but the Elephant
    Is very like a WALL!"

    The Second, feeling of the tusk,
    Cried, "Ho, what have we here,
    So very round and smooth and sharp?
    To me 'tis mighty clear
    This wonder of an Elephant
    Is very like a SPEAR!"

    The Third approached the animal,
    And happening to take
    The squirming trunk within his hands,
    Thus boldly up and spake:
    "I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
    Is very like a SNAKE!"

    The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
    And felt about the knee
    "What most this wondrous beast is like
    Is mighty plain," quoth he:
    "'Tis clear enough the Elephant
    Is very like a TREE!"

    The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
    Said: "E'en the blindest man
    Can tell what this resembles most;
    Deny the fact who can,
    This marvel of an Elephant
    Is very like a FAN!"

    The Sixth no sooner had begun
    About the beast to grope,
    Than seizing on the swinging tail
    That fell within his scope,
    "I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
    Is very like a ROPE!"

    And so these men of Indostan
    Disputed loud and long,
    Each in his own opinion
    Exceeding stiff and strong,
    Though each was partly in the right,
    And all were in the wrong!

    The gathering in this light is an attempt at trying piece together the whole system. While having a few beers?:)

  10. Well, I suppose you could be thankful you weren't sent to the h-bar camp. A constant headache that would be.

  11. Hi Sabine, thanks for coming to SciBarCamp! I responded to your (and others') scheduling concerns in this blog post:

    Figuring out the pros and cons of parallel sessions and an "unconference" style negotiable schedule was one of the most difficult things in organizing this event, and I don't think there is a clear-cut solution that would make everyone entirely happy.


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