10 August 2008

Decompression and DAEMON

Back in New England!

I was surprised to hear from so many of you about "SciFoo 2008" [some Flickr photos] this weekend @ the Googleplex. It was a lot of fun to attend, and really very open and friendly - for three days, folks were quite receptive to your plopping down your lunch tray and saying, "Hi! What brings you here?" Their answer could range from "fungi will save the planet" to "I make quantum computers" to something so modest that you knew it was a cover-up for not one but five things they do better than anyone else in the world.

Really, a bunch of folks have blogged about the experience - so if you're curious about the feeling of the event, I recommend checking out the BackReaction blog, starting at August 11, 2008.

The kickoff? An assembly of the 200 of us in a bright-yellow Google conference room so that Tim O'Reilly could encourage us to introduce ourselves - in 3 words or less. For the first time in my life, hearing group introductions gave me goosebumps.

Several whiteboards were arranged up front so that we could claim one-hour sessions to organize discussions about whatever we'd like (e.g., "Towards holographic video"). This was quite a stampede!

My Yalie friends might know what I mean when I say that waiting on line for movies @ LC put me in the right frame of mind for this - my orange sticky is up there somewhere.

It really was like meeting not just your favorite music star, but, well, many "nerd idols" from one's childhood and career. Will spare you the name-dropping.

What's hot? The "tag cloud" would look like: connectome, mitochondrial DNA, space, rain forest, artificial intelligence, history of science, education, influencing your politician, elliptical curve cryptography, and, uh, did I mention mitochondrial DNA?

One significant group of announcements regarded Google's interest to host as much "open" scientific data as possible. That is, if you've sequenced some DNA or scouted the galaxy, they could give you a briefcase with a disk drive for you to load your stuff on to, which they then index. (Let that idea sink in for a moment...) I think Googler Chris DiBona is helping run the effort - GIVE US YOUR DATA!

Somehow I ended up playing percussion twice on Saturday evening, once in a folk-guitar circle (J-Fav laughs and cries at this thought) and also fooling with an actual TENORI-ON handheld sequencer that Chris generously passed around. VIDEO:

Like I said, the event is beginning to be covered by others, so I'll stop there.

Curious anonymous quotations from the quantum computation chat:

  • Regarding the morass around ascribing some underlying sense to the equations modeling quantum mechanics: "It's not my place to saddle these poor equations of motion with interpretation." (someone quoting Murray Gell-Mann)

  • "We're trying to attach words to things that don't begin as words. You're welcome to do so but it won't change your day job."

  • "The first use of the transistor wasn't a supercomputer - it was a hearing aid. What's the quantum hearing aid?"
Oh, I just wanted to second the motion that everything you heard about the quality and quantity of food at Google is true.

In addition, the coffee urns yielded some of the best coffee I've ever had. What was it? "Barefoot Roasters"? I can't recall.


ps Sci-fi book recommendation: Daemon by "Leinad Zeraus". I'm tearing through this fast-paced thriller that traipses through IT systems, video games, international business, and one scary background process. The only minor (very minor) ding is the author's misuse of apostrophes throughout the book, but heck, it's a really fun read. Sample chapters - the first quarter of the book - available here in PDF.

pps More of the Tenori-On (about $1,200):

1 comment:

Matthias said...

Hey, I want the name-dropping! Seriously. I mean, maybe I wouldn't have heard of anybody, but can't you at least mention a couple of people you were excited to see in person? A lot of us are depending on you for our vicarious nerd thrills, you know.

I'm not done with the annoying questions, either. What was your 3-word introduction?

Two other items. One, I'm cracking up at the idea of you in a folk music circle. We'll get you to Falcon Ridge yet. (Unless... Kris Delmhorst wasn't there, was she?) And two, I believe in the postscript about Daemon you meant to say "the authors misuse of apostrophe's." Your welcome.