January 22, 2009

ScienceOnline'09--The Pre-Show

It was about fifteen below (Fahrenheit) when we got on the plane. They warned us that we'd want our coats on the jetway. They were right. We giggled a little bit at the "cold weather" warnings that everyone in NC was posting.

This was Thursday, as we traveled to ScienceOnline'09, and we meant me, my husband and Greg. I was half expecting PZ to be on the same flight, as there's only one direct afternoon flight between Minneapolis and Raleigh. We didn't find out until Friday that he wasn't coming.

Greg and Ben had geeked out about open source software over lunch, as fully expected, but we weren't seated together on the plane, so I got about half of a beta draft of a novel read for a friend. It would have been more, but the toddler on the lap next to mine protested being told to take a nap by banging his head into my arm. C'est la vie.

We could tell we were at a blogging conference as soon as we unpacked and headed down to the hotel bar. GrrlScientist was sitting at a table across from Bob O'Hara and Blake Stacey. The number of laptops out varied but was never less than one. Once we got drinks started and dinner ordered, everybody introduced themselves (except Blake, who had wandered away) and chatted for a bit.

The contingent who'd shown up early enough to attend the early bird dinner got back about the time we finished our food. Bora acted as the official greeter by telling us about his multi-stage Facebook research project. Even if you haven't met him yet, I'm sure you'll be unsurprised to know that he isn't quite so much human as a force of nature. (A very charming force of nature.)

We also met Danica Radovanovic about then, as well as the cutest overlords ever. We pulled another table up to the sprawl that was now half the bar and chatted with Grrl, Bob, Henry Gee and Alex Ley until it was time for bed.

I finally met Blake the next morning at the breakfast buffet and can attest, after having seen him eat, that he is indeed a grad student. Most of the people there on Friday headed out to the coffee cupping, but Ben and I had a project of indeterminate length to complete that day, so we hadn't signed up for anything.

While waiting for Lou, who was a necessary part of the project, Greg, Blake and I competed for title of former geekiest high school student. I'm not sure who won, but I know I lost. gg wandered by during the competition and introduced himself.

The project deserves its own post when it comes to fruition, so I'll only say that Lou was held up by traffic, that there are stories that will never be blogged by me (having next to nothing to do with us, just with the people we were working next to), and that we accomplished it in record time. Oh, and that I was reminded how simultaneously cool and strange it is to meet someone in person who you know pretty well, but only electronically. Particularly so under the circumstances.

Unsurprisingly (we were at a conference), getting back to the hotel meant heading back to the bar. Lou couldn't stay for the evening, but he wanted to say hi to a few people. We walked into the tail end of the Sblings pizza party.

The guard was changing as people prepared to go to the wine tasting, so we got waved over and sat down across from Zuska. I introduced myself to Dave Munger, trying to keep the fangirl suppressed. He asked, "Are you the same Stephanie who comments a lot on Greg's blog?"

"I...uh....yeah." I may have blushed. Zuska can probably tell you.

James Hrynyshyn held out his hand next. As I said my name again, someone on my left shouted an echo, which is how I met Scicurious. She...I'm not sure how to describe her, except to say that trying to keep up with her would probably tire Bora out and she's positively fabulous.

Somewhere in the middle of passing pizza around and getting drinks, ScienceWoman joined the party. When the subject of where we were from came up, she said, "You look like you're from Minnesota." I had no real good idea what that meant until she said, "I'm from [town in the region big enough for me to have heard of it]," and I thought, Yeah, okay. She looks like she's from the upper Midwest too.

More shuffling of seats ensued as more people headed toward the wine tasting and others got back from other errands. PalMD came in after a failed nap attempt and admitted that no, he doesn't sleep. Life is just too interesting. We talked for a little bit about high-maintenance people managing to attract each other and quitting the internet as a form of blood pressure medication.

Zuska and I chatted for a little bit after the wine tasters all left. We compared notes on getting used to the idea that other people were interested in the things we wanted to blog about and on finding readers in completely unexpected places. Talking about lurkers brought us to the concept of the paralysis of good intentions (although I didn't use the term until talking to Greg about a tangentially related topic later that night). I suspect some of it was a bit of dry run for her thoughts on the subject of allies.

Then we lost more people to the WISE event, and I got to listen in on a cool conversation between Greg and Greta Munger on the evolution of cognition. I can't do it justice, so I won't try to reproduce any of it here.

We did attend one organized event on Friday, since Dave recruited us to fill out their reservation for dinner at Serena. The place came highly recommended and didn't disappoint, although they were out of a few items. The conversation was even better. I kept bouncing back and forth between a conversation with Josh Rosenau and Salman Hameed and talking to Tom Levenson. The part I remember most clearly was discussing Bora's shock value post with Tom. We both felt it was two posts in one and each agreed with him fairly strongly on one point and disagreed with him slightly on the other--Tom and I each championing a different point--but I think we agreed with each other almost entirely. I haven't figured out the math on that one.

I had just ordered a second tall beer at the hotel when Dave insisted we come along. I'd finished it quickly and found a microbrew on the menu at Serena that I'd never seen at home, so I was not entirely sober by the end of dinner. I was back at the hotel at the bar, winding down and sobering up while talking to Greg when the squid and the lobster entered. Shortly thereafter, the sea shanties started.

That seemed a little weird, which told me I was tired. I've seen much, much stranger things. So I said good night and headed to bed. I had a nine a.m. session to run, so it seemed like the wise thing to do.

After all, the conference hadn't even started yet.


Anonymous said...

It was great to meet you, Stephanie!! I'm always amazed that people seem to think I'm so high energy. You are even more awesome than I thought you would be! We shall be in touch.

Bora Zivkovic said...

It was great to finally meet you in person. It's kinda hard to get to talk to many people at length when there are 200 in the room, but I tried.... ;-)

And Scicurious could never tire ME! But if she did, I'd be the happiest person on the planet ;-)

And I think I know which half of the Shock Value post you liked and which one Tom did. Of course, the timing and the content of that post was all on purpose - to get people talking about it at the conference and to color some of the discussions ;-)

Stephanie Zvan said...

I'm counting on that, Sci. I really want to hear more about your project. (You know, the one you want to take on on top of grad school. Having more ambition than hours in the day is not the same as not having energy. :p) Seriously, you know that everyone who was there is now at least a little bit in love with Sci, right? More than a little if they already were before they got there.

[sigh] Bora, I worked so carefully on that wording too. :) For the record, the way to Sci's heart is apparently through a kilt.

Happily, I get to talk to you some more in just over a week. I'll send you something on that this weekend.

Well, you certainly fostered one discussion. I think where Tom and I really disagreed was over which of the two problems you identified as critical was the most important. Of course, we each went with the one that is closest to our own interests. No real surprise.

Bora Zivkovic said...

Through the kilt to the heart sounds pretty much like a bottom-up approach to solving the problem ;-)

I think I agree with you - the big picture is the power of the in-group. The journalistic side-show is just an example of the rhetoric used to retain that power.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Also, there are channels in place to go around the MSM to communicate to the broader public. The route to academic success is much more narrow and heavily guarded. One of the things that struck me in the sessions, and I'll write about it more when I talk about them, is how many of the problems that were identified can really only be fixed from above. It was sobering.

Lou FCD said...

Y'know as wrong as so much went, it's pretty amazing that we managed to accomplish anything at all.

I'm glad y'all came, and that I got to meet you in person, even if things didn't go quite as planned.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Not only did we accomplish something, we accomplished just enough to get the rest done separately. Then we can talk about it somewhat less cryptically. :)

It was good to finally get to meet you. I'm so glad I said, "All right. That does it. If Lou's going, I'm going (as long as Ben doesn't mind traveling on his birthday)."

ScienceWoman said...

It was great to meet you last weekend Steph. Sorry we didn't get a chance to talk more.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Me too. I was, shall we say, a bit scattered at the conference. So much to do! So many people to meet!

I'm glad we did at least get to meet. We'll have to talk more next year.