Sunday, August 10, 2008

SciFoo Camp - 2nd day

I seriously hate conferences. Surprisingly, I find myself enjoying SciFoo. The atmosphere is very relaxed, people are indeed interested in being here and talking to each other. At conferences I usually go, people deliver their talk, chat with the same group of friends, and leave as soon as possible. After some years then, you know all the talks, you know all the jokes, you know who is going to ask which question or make which comment. Inevitably, you end up drinking too much coffee, eating to many cookies, and I have to remind myself constantly to socialize more while wondering why I'm even spending money on that nonsense.

In contrast to that, most of the talks here at SciFoo are semi-prepared. It's thus somewhat different to the SciBar Camp I attended in March in Toronto, where at least all sessions I went were completely unprepared up to the point that the person proposing it said I don't know what to do, lets just talk about something. The result were sort of group-therapy session that though nice were almost content free. The SciBar camp thus struck me as an intermingling event meant to make connections. Which isn't bad if you're looking for that kind of thing.

Here, the sessions are all one hour, and there's either one or a few people who give a brief talk (with or without slides) followed by an extended discussion. It works very well - I haven't witnesses a single instant of somebody trying to show off with some unrelated explanation nobody was interested in. A lot of people add experiences from other fields. There is a substantial amount of science meta-talk here, i.e. questions of how science works, or how its relation is to the public. Some people have brought demos like science toys and there's some interesting looking sports cars in the yard, plus a car with wings, no seriously (see terrafugia.com). Being here is as exciting as inspiring.

We're surrounded by a group of very efficient Google-employees who take care of anything. Their average age seems to be in the twenties, probably people working here just don't grow up. Another thing that is remarkable is that though here is a free wireless throughout the whole building, indeed very few people use their laptops during the sessions, and those who do are taking notes as far as I can see. Here is a photo of the camp:




For some more photos, see Mario's blog.

More about yesterday's sessions later.


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5 comments:

John Baez said...

Bee wrote:


At conferences I usually go, people deliver their talk, chat with the same group of friends, and leave as soon as possible. After some years then, you know all the talks, you know all the jokes, you know who is going to ask which question or make which comment.


I know the feeling.

I like conferences best when I'm just starting to work on a new subject. I go to a couple of conferences on that new subject and meet new people and learn new ideas. It's a bit awkward at first (since I'm a bit shy). But then it gets quite nice...

... and then it gets boring, for the reasons you mention. The conferences become just an inefficient way to talk to old friends.

So, if you've reached that point, maybe you should move on and try conferences on a new subject.

stefan said...

Dear Bee,

thanks for the update!
All that sounds really exciting!

Cheers,

Stefan

Bee said...

Hi John,

Agreed - that's what I'm doing. But there's a certain pressure to see and be seen that catalyzes the process of conference boredom. Best,

B.

Kea said...

You don't like conferences? I love conferences! I really don't care if nobody talks to me, although it's nicer when people do, and I'm always going to different conferences. Eg, the last few were Neutrinos, GR, category theory and quantum computation. Nobody is forcing anyone to go to the same talks all the time.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

It sounds and looks great and yet you didn’t speak of your own nontalk. I also suspect your report is more general since there is a lot of one on one discussion and as such not really what one could report on all that openly. It will be interesting what for instance your overall impressions of your host Google will be after all this is done. I wonder if you have run into Jill again once you recalled what she does and interested in. I would also be curious as what Martin Reese has to say since I know he has very strong views on the future (warnings) and the role science has played and should play as we go forward. Oh yes, if you run into Max Tegmark could you ask for me if he can tell you what the parallel SciFoo conferences are like:-)

Best,

Phil