Science Foo Camp 2008: Chapter 2 – The Hotel

The Sci­Foo expe­ri­ence begins before the first ses­sion – even before we get to the Google­plex (Get thee to the Google­plex!).

There was the Wiki, as pre­vi­ously dis­cussed, for first vir­tual encoun­ters.  Then Sci­Foo week­end arrived.

On Fri­day after­noon, my taller half and I checked into the Wild Palms Hotel in Sun­ny­vale.  Sadly, jeal­ously, Tara would not be join­ing me at the uncon­fer­ence.  As I frol­icked at the vast Google empire, she’d be get­ting to know every square inch of our lit­tle hotel room.  Whereas I’d be inter­act­ing with 200 sci­en­tists and sci­ence and sci­ence fic­tion writ­ers, she’d be inter­fac­ing with a stack of sci­ence and sci­ence fic­tion books.  I’d have Neal Stephen­son; she’d have The Dia­mond Age.  I’d have Ann Druyan; she’d have Shad­ows of For­got­ten Ances­tors.

Shut­tles would begin fer­ry­ing campers to the Google­plex around 5:15pm.  Tara and I went down to the hotel lobby a lit­tle early to join the gath­er­ing crowd.  We rounded a cor­ner and bumped right into Esther and George Dyson, sit­ting exactly as cap­tured here in their nat­u­ral habi­tat by Betsy Devine.  They were very sweet and wished us first-timers a great expe­ri­ence.

Min­utes later, Prab­hat Agar­wal intro­duced him­self.  Prab­hat is a for­mer condensed-matter physi­cist who now works for the Future and Emerg­ing Tech­nolo­gies Unit at the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion.  His job is to iden­tify and sup­port new areas of information-related sci­ence, and he told us about his per­sonal inter­est in how we rec­og­nize some­thing as new.  I’m still con­vinced that we rely mostly on the new-concept smell.

Jim Hardy has a pic from a few min­utes later of Tara and me talk­ing to Brian Cox and his wife Gia Mili­novich.  Tara and Gia are in oppo­si­tion, and I’m nearly totally eclipsed by Brian.  John Gilbey’s left eye makes a spe­cial uncred­ited appear­ance.  [Jim sends along this link to a big­ger ver­sion]

This was the first of sev­eral con­ver­sa­tions I’d have with Brian and Gia.  Brian is a par­ti­cle physi­cist who works on the ATLAS exper­i­ment at the Large Hadron Col­lider at CERN in Geneva.  Gia calls her­self a sci­ence groupie and broad­caster.  She’s worked on some pretty cool stuff like the CERN pod­cast and Walk­ing with Robots and the new X-Files movie.

They are not only a cou­ple but also a cou­ple of the peo­ple I’d see the most through­out the week­end.  We ended up in a lot of the same ses­sions, although I was sorry to miss Brian’s LHC ses­sion.

We talked a bit about the LHC and laughed about the well-publicized fear that it would cre­ate micro-black holes that would destroy the Earth.  Although there is a chance that MBH’s will be cre­ated, it would require that the uni­verse con­tain a few extra unseen dimen­sions, an aspect that is wished for by string the­o­rists and oth­ers but still unproven (at least by us ter­rans in our local 4-dimensional space­time realm).  Also, if cre­ated, the black holes would be so small and likely dis­ap­pear so quickly (due to Hawk­ing Radi­a­tion) that they may be unde­tectable by the LHC’s sen­sors.  A far cry from devour­ing the planet.

For an excel­lent fic­tional treat­ment of a sim­i­lar cat­a­stro­phe on Mars, check out Larry Niven’s Hugo Award-winning short story, The Hole Man.  Much fun!

A few min­utes before we started board­ing the shut­tles, Steve Goldfin­ger intro­duced him­self to me and Tara.  He lives up in the Marin area, as I recall, and we live in SF.  Steve is co-founder of Global Foot­print Net­work.  We sat together on the ride to the Google­plex, dis­cussing sus­tain­abil­ity (his field) and sci­ence com­edy (mine).

Steve also men­tioned hav­ing been impressed with some sci­ence fic­tion by Kim Stan­ley Robin­son – although we laughed when he acci­den­tally called him “Kim Stan­ley Ander­sen,” which I sug­gested was a mash-up with Hans Chris­tian Ander­sen.

I don’t know which Robin­son work he was talk­ing about but sus­tain­abil­ity was a major theme (which it often is for Robin­son) and it was not the Mars Tril­ogy (per­haps the Three Cal­i­for­nias Tril­ogy or his most recent nov­els Forty Signs of Rain and Fifty Degrees Below).

As we arrived at Google, Steve and I exchanged busi­ness cards.  I had a great time chat­ting with him, but after we left the shut­tle, I only ever saw him in pass­ing per­haps once more.

Tara reads Niven & Pournelle's The Mote in God's Eye. On the night­stand: Asimov's The God's Them­selves, Sagan & Druyan's Shad­ows of For­got­ten Ances­tors, Farmer's To Your Scat­tered Bod­ies Go, Jill Bolte Taylor's My Stroke of Insight. Tara is a vora­cious reader.

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  • Jim H

    5:41 am


    I was won­der­ing why you “dis­ap­peared” as soon as we got back form Google each night. I didn’t even know Tara was there at the hotel, but I fig­ured it out look­ing at the pic­ture. Thanks for the intro­duc­tion…..

    By the way, the big­ger pic­ture is here:

    I had a link to the slide show in my post, but I haven’t seen too many click outs to the link I stuck in there.

    Didn’t you also get a copy of Mycel­lium Run­ning by Paul Stamets? I am read­ing it now, it’s a really good read. My Stroke of Insight next. I just can’t believe I didn’t think of get­ting them all signed by the authors!

  • Brian Malow

    10:42 am

    Guilty as charged. Any­way, when I got back from Google, I never saw any­one hang­ing around the hotel lobby… but, of course, by then you were already at a bar some­where, no doubt.

    I fool­ishly did NOT pick up Paul Stamets’ book – and I also missed his ses­sion, which I under­stand was not to be missed.

    Well, you know: too many choices!

  • Bobby

    5:40 pm

    Thanks 4 shar­ing

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