August 7, 2007

Scifoo: Geek Out! Le Geek, C’est Chic…

Deepak Singh and Euan Adie

As well as big famous superstars at Science Foo Camp (scifoo), there is a chance to meet and “geek out” with younger engineers and scientists like Vince Smith, Aaron Schwartz and Vaughan Bell.

Aaron Schwartz and the open library project

On Sunday at scifoo, Aaron (of archive.org) gave a quick demo of the Open Library. Currently this project is taking books that are out of print and not in other book catalogues like Amazon, and making them available online. They are intending to move into archiving scientific journals, so watch that space. I’ve always wondered how the internet archive survived financially, and managed all its interesting projects (like the open library). It’s all funded by some bloke called Brewster Kahle. They provide some great services, like hosting digital artifacts for free, see http://www.archive.org/create/.

Vince Smith, Museums and Drupal

Vince Smith is a “cyber-taxonomist” at the Natural History Museum in London. He’s a world expert on parasitic lice, and uses a multi-site installation of Drupal, see vsmith.info (Hmmm, that drupal skin looks familiar…). Vince uses a drupal module for bibliographic citations, called biblio, looks handy. It’d be nice to have it on nodalpoint? Anyway, anytime spent looking around Vince’s site is time well spent.

Vaughan Bell, Mind Hacker

Vaughan Bell is a clinical psychologist. We chatted about wikipedia and science, as demonstrated by Schizophrenia. He’s also a contributor to a book on MindHacks and blogs at mindhacks.com. My suitcase is full of free O’Reilly book-schwag I filled my boots with on Friday, one of which is Vaughan’s book. Looks like it will be a good read on the plane home, because my brain is in need of some serious “optimisation”.

(Two more geeks, pictured right, but regular nodalpoint readers will know all about them already, Deepak Singh and Euan Adie.)

Theres plenty more I could blog about scifoo, but I’m all foo-ked up, geeked out and mashed-up. It’s time to go home. For more scifoo blogging see www.technorati.com/tags/scifoo, www.nature.com/scifoo and network.nature.com/blogs/tag/scifoo.


  1. Aaaaah: Freak Out! Le Freak, C’est Chic…

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August 6, 2007

Scifoo day three: Genome Voyeurism with Lincoln Stein

On day three of Science Foo Camp (scifoo) biologist Lincoln Stein (picture right) gave a presenation on what he calls “genome voyeurism”, using Jim Watsons genome as an example. This session demonsrated the current and future possibilities of individuals having their own DNA sequenced, what has been called “personal genomics“.

Unlike the session on genomics yesterday on day two, where George Church, Eric Lander, 23andme, Sergey and Larry (and even Sergey’s pet dog) are all present, today they are conspicuously absent.

Lincolns presentation starts with a video (see youtube video below) of Jim Watson receiving his genome on a disk from Baylor College of Medicine, Houston. Lincoln tells how Jim puts his genome (stored on a hard drive) next to his Nobel prize medallion in his office. After all the press publicity, Jim deposits the data in GenBank, and it becomes available worldwide. (more…)

Scifoo day two: Good Morning Mashup

Vince Smith, Brian Berman, Paul Ginsparg, Linda Miller, John SantiniSome of the most interesting conversations you have at Science Foo Camp (scifoo) are in the corridors, foo bars and even the bus that shuttles between the Googleplex and the hotel…On Saturday, for example, I ride the bus with David Hawkins who is a laywer working in the area of climate change. He tells me all about the legal issues, how climate modelling works and little on Bjørn Lomborg, who is also here. I tell him about workflows on the web and bioinformatics. We work in completely different areas, and we’d never normally meet. But in a short conversation, we manage to learn a little from each other and find connections. The problems that climateprediction.net face, turn out to be quite similar to the problems that genomics faces in integrating data on the web. When we arrive at the Googleplex, it’s time for Open Science… (more…)

August 4, 2007

Scifoo day 1: Turn up, tune in, drop out

Filed under: google — Duncan Hull @ 9:38 pm
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Scifoo campersMy boss, Douglas Kell, who has kindly allowed and paid for me to attend Science Foo Camp (scifoo), says to me “tell me what you get up to”. So here goes. Scifoo day 1, A chance to meet and around 250 engineers, scientists, philosophers and other odd people from all over the world.

Shortly after arriving at the Googleplex, California and being fed by gourmet chefs, it all starts . There is a quick round of introductions from everyone in the room, the conference schedule gets put up on a big board, and interactively edited like a wiki. Sounds chaotic, but it actually works.

The introductions are followed by some lightning talks by selected people, chaired by Tim O’Reilly and Timo Hannay.

  1. Drew Endy from OpenWetWare talked about biotechnology. He drew analogies between civil engineering and bio-engineering. Today we can build wonderful bridges like Viaduc Millau in France. But it hasn’t always been that way. In the stone age, we used rocks as they were to build the likes of Stone Henge. Then we moved to to quarrying rock more systematically, so we can build simple bridges. For biotechnology to succeed in the same way as civil engineering, we need to synthesize DNA in the same way as we synthesis concrete to make bridges. But currently, biotechnology is still in its stone age.
  2. Charles Simonyi gave a talk about his recent trip as a Space tourist. I’ve never met an astronaut before, and never wondered what it smells like or what the quality of your sleep is like in space. You can find out more about Charles in Space</.
  3. Felice Frankel: Visualisation, visualisation, visualisation! (although she doesn’t like that word)

After all this, theres some time for “corridor conversations” with other delegates, which is where most of the interesting stuff goes on. Its difficult to pull out a narrative, because theres all kinds of people here: some people I managed to speak to (note form, sorry!):

In his introduction, Tim O’Reilly described scifoo as “making new synapses in the global brain”. You take a load of people from different disciplines, stick them together, and they find all sorts of interesting connections that they might not otherwise have found. It might sound pretentious, but I think its true. Unlike larger conferences, scifoo is small and intimate enough to be able to talk to lots of different people which is one thing that makes it special. This year, they’ve lifted the blogging ban, so everything is public unless stated otherwise. Which means you’ll be hearing lots more about it from bloggers like me at the conference.

Day two will be fun, theres lots of demos, and more people to meet: Martin Rees, how do we survive the twenty first century given that we’re all going to die?…Must try and pluck up the courage to talk to Sergey but I’m completely starstruck. Brian Cox, Hello, I’ve seen you on the telly…Esther “always make new mistakes” Dyson, Anne Wojcicki, George Church, Eric Lander, Paul Z. Myers Theres a tonne of bio-people here….So many people, so little time!

[this post originally published on nodalpoint]

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