2007/08/09

SciFoo Camp 2007 (Day 2)


Waking up at 6am on the west coast is easy when you are on easter time! So it was a breeze to simply hop on the bus to the googleplex. On arrival, it's the usual food bonanza

Google offers free food to its employees and, being all guest on the Google campus, we get the same treatment! Having been a Google a few times (see my Google TechTalk on YouTube or on GoogleVideo), I went immediately for the food and sat down at a random table to learn as much as possible from the other participants. I clearly remember looking at people's names the night before and thinking I was really lucky to be around so many scientist, developers, personalities that are changing or have changed the way we look at science and the world in general.

Upon entering the GooglePlex, we were faced with the scary site of mugshots, and the reminder that no matter how much we drank last night, we did write on the boards a list of topics to be discussed!

On Day 1, as an introduction, a few people gave talks that had been selected by the organizers. Among the ones that stroke home were a talk on Energy Consumption (this is the document it was based on) from the creators of Howtoons , and one from Felice Frankel about the "Envisioning Science Program" that was absolutely stunning! Felice demonstrated how context can give great meaning to scientific images and, most importantly for me, how simple images can really be turned into education tools!

I did come to SciFoo with a strong interest in visualization and so I immediately joined the session on "Graphics Garage" where Felicia and others tried to give tips to others on how to present scientific information on the web. It was a real eye opener.
Carol Christian and myself showed an horrified crowed the state of astronomical data interfaces. I still remember that when we brought up Datascope (from the National Virtual Observatory) on the projector the crowed went: "" then "nah" then "boo". Apparently the view I have of astronomical interfaces is also shared by those who actually do this for a living. The interface did not convey information properly, the return page was confusing...
I loved the discussion and I loved others that were trying to think out of the box on how to help astronomers display their data in a more meaningful way. Part of the problem is indeed due to the complexity of astronomical data, but it's also true that astronomers still believe that they can come up with good interfaces and that they are good programmers: a point I strongly disagree with. I'd much rather leave the GUI development and some code development to those who, unlike me, know what they are really doing and pay attention to industry trends... but I digress.


In the afternoon, I found myself wondering the rooms of SciFoo camp, listening to talks on open source, technology, mathematics, ... and many many other things.
One of the most interesting aspects of SciFoo was the fact that conversations tended to start spontaneously among the campers: at meals, walking to talks, on the stairs, in the rest rooms!!!

And talking about restrooms, I must add that this is where I met Sergey Brin, Google's co-founder. As I was washing my hands, I noticed Sergey was just beside me and I sta
rted a quick conversation by thanking him for inviting me at SciFoo 2007. He was polite, but seemed to ask himself "what do I have to do to simply be left alone?". In any case, I mentioned to him my involvement in GoogleSky but he did not seem too interested and mentioned he had not seen the product. He then left in a hurry.

The second day ended with total exhaustion over dinner where more conversations about science, life, biology, environment, creative commons, software patents, etc... took place.

All of the above was caught on pictures, pictures and more pictures of FooCamp 2007!