2007/08/09

SciFoo Camp 2007 (Day 1)



After a long-long silence, I am back writing about something really amazing that happened last week-end. I was among the chosen few (~300) who were asked to participate to Science Foo Camp 2007: the informal annual conference pioneered by O'Reilly and Nature (strictly invitation only.)

No predefined agenda, an hectic environment conducive to knowledge sharing, brilliant people (presents excluded; yes this means you too dear reader) and the Googleplex, have made this event among the most intense experiences I have had.

Having been at the Googleplex for 2 times before SciFoo Camp (more on this in later posts), I have to admit that my visit lacked the "wow factor" many others experienced. However, after looking around I realized I was among the best and most active minds in science! Astronomers, physicists, neuro-scientists, physicians, biologist, lawyers, computer scientists, space tourists, homemakers... It was quite a diverse crowed that gave FooCamp its unforgettable style.

So why was I, Alberto Conti, invited? Not sure I can answer... but I have some ideas which will become clearer in the near future.

I arrived at Google the night before FooCamp. All the attendees, and I mean all, even the most "famous" among us, stayed at the hotel Google reserved for the event. The hotel was located about 20 minutes from the Googleplex and we were told that buses would pick participants up starting at 5:30am for the official reception and start of FooCamp 2007.

I arrived early but, being on east coast time, I was tired and decided to take a nap before the evening festivities started. I was unable to sleep first because the hotel tried to reach me by phone to ask about my stay right before I started dreaming and second, because people decided that vacuuming near my door was a good idea. In any case when I finally thought that I could relax a little a nice bottle of wine showed up at my door... Needless to say I did not sleep and I would end up staying awake for most of the evening!

The buses were on time and I hopped on the first one. In 20 minutes we arrived at the Googleplex. Many people that had never seen the Google building were rather interested in the social aspect of the googleplex. I went straight for drinks!

Each one of us was given a welcoming package which contained a t-shirt, an mp3 player with Chris DiBona's walking tour of the Google campus, a puzzle and a glass cube with (in my case) a 3D version of the DNA molecule. Mugshots where next, together with a quick description of who we are (in 5 words) and a list of 5 people that we'd like to consider for as next year's attendees.

My suggested attendees (see rightmost person on the this link were: Chris Hanley (an incredible young scientific and python programmer at the Space Telescope Science Institute), Josh Perlow (an energetic summer student who worked with me this summer), Matt Kaiser (a teen with a passion for graphics and art), Marc Postman (the head of the Community Missions Office at the Space Telescope Science Institute) and Gianluigi Tanda (a toxicologist famous for his work on neuropsychopharmacology).


After dinner, drinks and a good 1.5 hours of chatting with attendees, Tim O'Reilly and Timo Hannay of Nature gather all of us in a large room and explain the "rules" of FooCamp:

  • Attendees will "generate" a schedule that same evening for the next 2 days
  • Anyway is encouraged to speak about technology, socio-economical problem, personal problems, trends, horror stories, anything!
  • Google is giving us a venue and a wonderful environment we are all expected to use.
Needless to say the most likely topic for my talk could not be discussed in detail... (more on this later).

We all go home tired but happy, ready to start the next day at 7:45am with another bus ride to the Googleplex.