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Name: Simon Quellen Field
Location: Los Gatos, California, United States

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Monday, July 13, 2009

The Amazing People I Met at SciFoo09

SciFoo is an un-conference, where fascinating people gather to talk about hundreds of different topics across a wide range of fields. The talks are always interesting and educational, but the people themselves are the draw for me as much as the topics under discussion. I end up talking to very bright and usually witty conversationalists about things that none of us are expert in, and we try to solve problems from global warming to whether nitrogen gas dissolves in liquid oxygen.

So here is a long list of only some of the people I got to meet and talk to at the meeting that is always the highlight of my whole year.

I talked to Tiffany Ard about homeschooling, making toys for young kids, how to get wood products manufactured.

I also talked to Shelley Batts about birds, listened to her describe her work with regenerating cochlear hair cells, discussed brain / computer interfacing.

Had long talks with Christian Bok about how to monetize poetry on the web and in print.

Introduced Sergey Brin to Andrew Hicks and demonstrated the non-reversing mirror.

Waved hello to Jorge Cham but didn't get to talk with him privately, only in discussions on-topic.

I listened to Jenova Chen talk about video game directing.

I demonstrated science toys to George Church.

I talked to Jens Clausen about brain/machine interfacing and my latest science fiction novel.

Played with liquid nitrogen with Pablo Cohn.

Had long discussions with Rob Cook about the physics of nitrogen dissolving in liquid oxygen, and he introduced me to Andrew Hicks and the amazing non-reversing mirror.

Waved hello to Bill Coughran.

Had long discussions with Mackenzie Cowell about putting together Do-It_Yourself biology kits and selling them on the web.

Caught up with Suhky Dhaliwal, Chris DiBona, Cat Allman, Timo Hannay, Leslie Hawthorn, and Grant Grundler, who is apparently related to bugs.

Had several talks with Mariette DiChristina, but somehow we never discussed science writing. Have to fix that via email.

Promised Dale Dougherty I would demonstrate science toys while he took videos, but then never actually found a time we were both free. I'll have to invite him up to the Birdfarm to video science toys in the treehouse.

Swapped jokes with Esther Dyson at breakfast, and found out I don't live in a totalitarian state because I didn't get the one that's only funny if you did.

Had several talks with John Gage, while demonstrating science toys and watching Theo Gray build instant sand castles with supersaturated sodium acetate.

Theo Gray also poured liquid nitrogen into the ice cream as I stirred with my electric drill and paint mixer attachment. It took longer to serve the ice cream than to make it.

Hung out a lot with John Gilbey, who taught me the British term 'bespoke' to refer to the custom or made-to-order omelettes we ate at breakfast. He shot a photo of me with Bill Nye that will surely impress my daughter, who has been a fan since early childhood.

Rob Cook introduced me to R. Andrew Hicks, who brought some amazing optics to share. A non-distorting wide angle rear-view-mirror for cars that eliminates blind spots, the non-reversing mirror, and a mirror that gives you an instant panoramic view of the world without turning your head.

More long talks with Mackenzie Cowell about Do-It-Yourself Biology, and how to package and sell it as kits. I'm looking forward to linking to his online store once he gets it up and running. I'll talk some more with him today (Monday) since he's coming up to the farm to play in the treehouse.

Got to talk with Sherry Hsi of the Exploratorium at a talk about doing science in non-science spaces like living rooms (and treehouses).

Attended (and participated in) a talk with Janna Levin, Lee Smolin, George Smoot and others on gravity waves, what they would sound like, and ways to use high energy cosmic rays to examine the structure of space at the Planck limit and test string theory.

Finally met Steven Levy, and talked about other Steven Levys we knew.

Had many talks with Mike Loukides about science toys, liquefied gases, and other subjects, but only just now found out we share an interest in amateur radio. Next time.

Talked with Ed Lu many times, about space, commercializing spaceflight, global warming and remediation, and electrostatic levitation.

Demonstrated electrostatic levitation and magnetic propulsion to Ben Lorica.

Met Marvin Minsky and his daughter Juliana, and had several conversations, but never once mentioned artificial intelligence.

Talked with Peter Murray-Rust and Antony Williams about adding a chemical data plugin to Google Wave.

Had dinner with Joy Reidenberg and talked about blowing up rotten whales on the beach, and we marveled that none of the others at the table were in the least unappetized. Must have been the delicious Google food.

Talked with Maximilian Schich about dozens of things, including cockatiels with rhythm.

Had fascinating long discussion with Karl Schroeder about publishing science fiction and the future of the publishing business. Will have to follow up in email, since there's still a whole lot I want to ask him.

Talked with Russell Seitz at dozens of times throughout the conference on such things as heat conduction in exotic materials and the use of microbubbles in water to increase the earth's albedo and prevent evaporation of fresh water supplies.

Had lunch with Maria Spiropulu, Julie Steele, Victoria Stodden and George Dyson, and made ice cream using liquid nitrogen for Charlotte Stoddart's video camera.

Caught up with Nat Torkington and discussed California politics among dozens of other (occasionally off-color or punny) topics.

Talked with Brandyn Webb several times, and I still don't know what a feral cybernetic epistemologist is. But he's coming up to the farm today too, so maybe I'll ask.

Had several fascinating discussions with Larry Weiss about building a biotech company during an economic downturn.

Had a lot of fun with Michael Weiss-Malik playing with my huge tank of liquid nitrogen.

Discussed the solubility of nitrogen in liquid oxygen with Tony Tyson. He said he'd have to calculate it from the Hamiltonian. None of us at the table offered to help him with the math.

Talked for some time with Gregory Benford in several venues, about things like his Methusela fruit flies that are selected for longevity, and the genes they share with humans.


Blogger John said...

You only think you don't live in a totalitarian state.

Can you actually prove it, or is it just the PR is better.

And, more importantly, if the PR is that good, does it matter?

July 15, 2009 7:26 PM  
Blogger Simon Quellen Field said...

The joke was the test.
We didn't get the joke, so we passed the test.
The joke is thus obviously the definition of totalitarian.

July 15, 2009 8:13 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

Hi Simon,

It was great meeting you, and I'm glad you liked my mirrors. Could you send me an email? I don't have your address.

Andy Hicks

July 22, 2009 2:32 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

Hi Simon,

It was great meeting you. Glad you enjoyed my mirrors. Could you send me an email? I don't have yours.

Andy Hicks

July 22, 2009 2:35 PM  

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