Live blogging from #scio12

So, I will attempt to live blog from Science Online 2012. This means this post will get updated instead of writing many posts.

Wednesday evening

Getting to RDU was easy, direct flight, all good. Once there I hooked up with Sam Kome, a librarian, who was kind enough to both share a room without ever meeting me — and had even organized a ride into town.

Since we had an hour or so while waiting for more car sharers to fly in, I got my first impression of what I’ve only read about: everybody you’ll meet at Scio12 will be simply awesome to talk to! And then you only meet more of them…

The rest of the evening was more quiet than for others (just search twitter for #drunksci), since Sam and I both needed to grab a bite to eat which didn’t stop us from continuing our discussion of pretty much everything.

Thurdsay morning

With not too much sleep, I jumped on the shuttle bus and was immediately welcomed into a conversation about liquor making (you know, your regular scientist conversation at 8:30am) — way to start the day.

The conference center is really nice, great swag stuff — very different from the usual, will write more at a later point. But, of utmost importance, there was good coffee! And good food.

And then meeting people just continues — and of course, you run into these Germans, they are simply everywhere. Now I’m sitting in Mireya Mayor’s keynote after very good (because short) opening remarks by the organizers and the NCchancellor. So that’s it for now, hoping to write more on how I handle the complicated, far too interesting schedule later.

Thursday the actual morning sessions

The morning sessions were simply amazing. First, there was the Defence against the Dark Arts session on cybersecurity which took a number of frequent turns, using the unconference style effectively thanks to fantastic hosts, Liz Neeley and Khadijah M. Britton. Lunch was a continuation of the session with great conversations with Brian Glanz from OpenScience and someone from PLoS Biology whose name I can’t remember right now.

After lunch there was the only true to the heart mathematics section hosted by Maria Droujkova from the Math Future network (which is more about educators than researchers). I think I was at least somewhat helpful in this unfortunately very small session and I got to hear about lots of great projects that Maria knows and that have passed me by so far (links and other stuff will have to wait until after Scio12 ends).

And then the little pleasures happen such as walking out into the sun and walking right into the wonderful Tim Skellett (oh that was actually just before the math session, but nevertheless a short but great pleasure).

After some more coffee intake, off I went to the Risky Topics session hosted by the ever absolutely fantastic Scicurious and Kate Clancy. At this point it’s worth mentioning that the conference has 60% women and 40% men (roughly); I can’t help think that this is one reason why it has such a great atmosphere. The session itself was difficult for me. Mathematical blogs, which are somewhat of my specialty simply do not run into the problem of Risky Topics as scientists do. We don’t run into evolution denial, climate change denial or the worrying case where members of the state legislature complain about sexual health studies of the transgender communities simply for fear of all things different.

So I listened and learned and grew in my admiration for these science bloggers, the degree of earnest hard work, the painful honesty and openness to criticism combined with relentless risk taking on behalf of the common good; it is, quite simply, astounding. And all too short.

The final session I attended was about data visualization, a topic I frequently followed, in particular the frequent banter between statistician bloggers and dataviz bloggers. This session was a workshop and I learned a little bit even if there were some technical problems that prevented the second half of it.

Thursday evening

Quick quick off to the shuttle bus, to the hotel, freshen up, hop on the bus and off to the reception at the North Carolina Museum of Natural History. There was not enough food, but good beer and a really fascinating museum to wander about. Special thanks to the High Schoolers that presented live reptilia and could even deal (conversationally speaking) with a triple weird person like me — mathematician, German and from Michigan ;)
Luckily, Cynthia Graber knew someone local who took us to a delicious Pizza place to feed both stomach and soul — with lots more of good conversation. Which takes us back to the Hotel and the Hotel Bar for a final drink and more conversations with more fantastic people and now it’s half past 1 and I really don’t know what I’m writing about anymore other than tomorrow I’ll be presenting Booles’ Rings and in two of the Tech Demo sessions. Good night from Raleigh.

Where was I?

As you can see, I totally failed on the “live” part of this post. The reasons include sleep-deprivation, information overload and general scio12-awesomeness that was far beyond my n00bish live-blogging skillz. So I will try to quickly summarize what I actually did Friday-Sunday so that I have a base for a more reflecting blogpost later on.


Needless to say that the good coffee and bagel and fruit situation was critical after a reduced sleep cycle. Friday was terrible in the sense that there were too many great sessions in parallel, for example:

  • Blogging Science While Female
  • Making Book on E-books: How to write a science or medical e-book and publish and sell it online
  • Scientists and Wikipedia
  • Teaching Core Competencies in Science: Solving Algebraic and Word Problems
  • The Next Generation of Bloggers
  • The Semantic Web Understanding audiences and how to know when you are really reaching out

That’s one session! Even with 75 minutes, you couldn’t switch to all of them. That is the horror of scio12-awesomeness.

Alright, anyway, for the first session it was easier, I went to Martin Fenner’s and Euan Adies’s session on alternative metrics of scholarly activity. It was probably the most fantastic one for me. Not just because I’m a silly little fanboy when it comes to Martin’s work, but also because the session presented so many tools, and, above all, the people behind them. And yet, the depressing fact of the conference for me: most of these tools are right now useless for mathematics since we mathematicians are so bad at talking about our own and each others work.

For the second session I chose the Wikipedia session with Greta Munger and Dario Taraborelli. That was really insightful since I’ve been thinking a lot about writing on wikipedia (and how all researchers should and how we need to find ways to evaluate such activity as research). Again, the session was fantastic, lots of interesting stories, a lot of insights into the internal workings of the wikipedia community and both positive and negative experiences of other researchers. And above all, many great conversations with Dario before and afterwards (even though I’d been blathering about wikipedia and scholars before realizing that he’s actually working for the Wikimedia Foundation…).

I’m already regretting not finding the time to liveblog. I can use the schedul to remember what the sessions were like, but the in-between, the people you suddenly find yourself in conversation with (did I mention that I told the extroverted-mathematicians-your-shoes joke and it was tweeted by somebody and re-tweeted?), the people that just find you and talk to you. All of that was fantastic and the overload is so great that I fear I’ll forget almost all of them.

For the final session of the morning, I went to Danielle Lee’s session on broadening the representation of underrepresented populations in online science. This session was full of strong stories and practical advice on how to be an ally. Having just recorded this year’s Marjorie Lee Browne Colloquium and having wondered about a new initiative in Canada to increase mathematical skills of first nation Canadians through story telling, I really valued this session.

For lunch, I had planned to get together with Maria Droujkova but the tour started sooner than expected, so instead I had plenty of time to chat with Roland Krause, one of the few Germans at Scio12. Repeating myself, yet another great conversation.

The Tech Blitzes

After lunch, it was time for my own contributions. First, I gave a presentation of Booles’ Rings. Unfortunately, there hadn’t been room for me to present in the demo session “Credit, Identity & Making Science Available”, but the crowd in the “Doing Science!” session was quite kind. I think I totally sucked, to be honest. I mean, I had 15 minutes and I wanted to have space for actual questions, asking people what they think of the ideas behind Booles’ Rings, what their best practices are etc. So I think I rushed (nervousness didn’t help) and after talking about the state of academic homepages in mathematics, I checked the time — and had run through a ton of stuff in under 5 minutes… Oh well… In any case, there was only a little bit of tech to be demoed, mostly I showed off Joel’s site as an example on how to present your papers the right way as well as Sam’s test installation with the ostatus plugin which will soon offer real time interaction with microblogging services. As much as I sucked, the crowd was very kind; I got a few questions and a few words of appreciation and encouragement for our work here.

I spend some time in the Credit&Identity session which was nothing short of amazing. VIVO looks great, ALM too, papercritic realizes Tim Gowers’ ideas for arxiv+MO and Annotum is (as you all can see) a powerful tool that we need to use more.

Finally, I went to the “Blogs&Science Communication” session to give my demo of That was a little odd… When I came in, the demos were already behind schedule. The schedule already seemed strange — a 15min break before the last 15min session of the entire day (which was mine)? The reason was obviously to control spill-over of the session before — Huffington Post demoing their new science section. However, the moderation was unfortunately unable to handle the situation. I was ok with it going overtime since there was a lot of discussions (that’s what an unconference should do).

But the HuffPo editor used the entire 15min break as part of her presentation and then continued to have private chats for another 5 minutes before I kindly asked her (and others) to take it elsewhere. I really would have liked some support from the moderator… Maybe they could’ve given HuffPo the last 15minutes + 90minutes to the banquet? I must admit I was mostly sore because it was the HuffPo. If it had been some cool independent project, I’d probably have been super supportive…

In any case, my presentation went much better, I demoed the site, talked a little about the difficulties of supporting a community that doesn’t quite exist yet and I also showed off a mock-up of the re-design we’ve been working on. Again, the feedback was very positive in the session but in particular outside of the session. For example, I later had a short chat with someone from the Library of Congress who was working on digital preservation of blogs and other sources; very interesting discussions (I do keep repeating myself, don’t I).

Coming up next: the banquet and evening.

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