Tuesday, 3:30 p.m., PST
N: Keith and I are at our hotel in Irvine, the Marriott-something-or-other-resort-and-spa. It’s next door to Bloomingdale’s.
We’re chilling here for a few days while we attend the Keck Futures conference on Imaging Science. The heart of the conference is something called ‘Interdisciplinary Research Teams’ — groups of scientists of all stripes — who come together to develop solutions to challenges. We’re going to be the participatory flies on the wall in these group sessions, and write about what our assigned group comes up with. My group is tasked with developing methods to use imaging in disease treatment.
It’s kind of like the hive mind on MENSA.
K: The view from my 7th floor window is of some of the Santa Monica bay — and a large and unimpressive expanse of tar roof.
We have two hours to work, and I feel like I need a soak in the tub with past NAKFI summaries. Quite a variety of summaries have been written. Many choices to make.
First: What tone to strike? Very informal, conversational, and accessible or cop-talk chronology comfortable with transmitting great blocks of jargon with little processing.
Second: Whether to identify and quote specific speakers or document the hive mind-level of consensus building or themes of discussion.
Third: Do I keep working on NAKFI or attend to the numerous raging wildfires from my class assignments?
I got about an hour in communicating with sources and doing some background reading for upcoming stories and interviews, party time!
N: Reception in the ‘Rose Garden’ really is in a rose garden.
K: Cocktail party awkwardness. I meet one guy from my team accompanied by a one-man Greek chorus singing his praise at every opportunity.
Either my teammate is on the Nobel shortlist for physics or medicine, or there is a bit of excessive flattery going on. I end up suspecting a bit of that and a bit of a cross-cultural phenomenon.
N: Good times.
K: Speaking of cross-cultural phenoms, our UC Santa Cruz affiliation seems to have given us some sort of pheromone or something that attracts surfers like catnip or other such herbal essence. Good stories.
N: Hotel room service mashed potatoes are, like, mashed from the entire state of Idaho’s potatoes. (I got my money’s worth)
K: Poor sleep, although the bed seems to be made entirely out of pillow. I suspect some free-floating anxiety, schedule disruption, and over-caffeination.
Wednesday, 8:30 a.m.
N: We are at the keynote address. Just heard a nice welcome address from Harvey Fineberg, president of the Institute of Medicine, who welcomed everyone to the conference. Here’s my favorite quote:
“Science informs, but human creativity shapes.”
The same could be said of science journalism!
K: Live blogging my past 18 hours during a nice but high-level discussion of statistics and quality testing of imaging technology.
One pretty amazing approach, implant a fake tumor that mimics real tissue within ballistics gel.
This allows for testing images and diagnostic decisions for error and bias by comparing it to the known “phantom.”
N: Our keynote speaker, Kyle Myers, just said, “We have a common language we can rely on for talking about imaging.”
Crap. I need to learn that language fast.
N: Farouk El-Baz, while describing the interdisciplinary research team challenges: “For every person here, there were fifteen applicants. We expect you to come up with something super-fantastic.”
Let’s go, team 7C!
Oh, and we were just banned from messaging, tweeting or facebooking results. Everything presented at the conference is embargoed.
N&K: Just met with Barbara Culliton — our mentor at the Conference — and the other 12 science journalist students. Barbara says she’s not clever, but she is.
She put us on the spot right away — we had to explain our 500-word statements about our IDR team’s challenge… in two sentences. YESSS.
K: Nice lunch conversation with a statistician from Emory and several others. The president of the National Institute of Medicine sits down next to Nadia and me and asks us what is the most surprising thing we’ve learned at the conference. I said something about Brainbow mice that may or may not have made sense.
K: Nadia explains Brainbow techniques to me (images from http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v450/n7166/full/nature06293.html) [N: and almost wrecked a white board by using the wrong marker!]
1:30 to 5 pm — in IDR groups.
K: “No, my role is not to be the group scribe. I’ve been asked to do a different task that requires me not to be the group scribe.”
Halfway through the introductions, Mr. Devil’s Advocate provocatively states: “I’m a neuroimaging skeptic. We’ve invested billions of dollars and dozens of years in neuroimaging, and what has it done to help humanity?”
Three-and-a-half hours later, a committee member drops in on the group and observes, there’s more tension in this group than in any of the others. It’s a productive tension.
Mr. X had a grin on his face every time people referred back to his skepticism or tried to convince him to think differently. Well played, IDR team 1b member X!
N: My group is awesome.
N: Just back to hotel. Prepping for dinner meeting. First IDR team meeting was AWESOME. My brain feels like it’s under siege by brilliance. Please, neurons — keep up!
K: Can I lose consciousness before dinner at 6? Disco nap.
K: Dinner for 15.
N: Day 1.5 ended in a blaze of glory. The end.
Thursday, 5:30 a.m.
N: Thank you, alarm, for not ringing an hour ago.
K: Wolf down breakfast in order to contact a scientist who finally got back to me around 7 am for an interview in two hours.
N: Back in IDR team session. My group is still awesome. I’m awe-struck.
K: Group continues to function well, less tension than yesterday. They’re actually proposing solutions.
In the midst of that, we discuss “blue sky” type solutions. Somehow, the conversations turn to stunning new animal studies: Mice in VR (link), and Zebrafish plugged into the Matrix (link). Why didn’t I know this already!
N: Show-time, part 1!! Each challenge group has 2-3 minutes and one powerpoint slide to illustrate progress so far. If that isn’t forced brevity, I don’t know what is — take six hours of discussion and concentrate it to a fraction of that.
K: Interview for a class assignment. Fascinating pharmacologist who uses new drugs of his own creation to unpack complicated neural signalling at serotonin receptor sites. Yawn, right? They’re all new psychedelic or hallucinogenic drugs. He’s zeroing in on the source of consciousness in the brain using LSD, psilocybin and newly designed analogues.
K: Oh, no poster session. Missed my own group’s summary, d’oh! I hope nobody in my team noticed.
Hilarious discussion of detecting meaningful trends/changes between images taken over time. With perfect comic timing linked to a time lapse image sequence, the speaker would drop gems like: “in this picture lots of things are changing and moving…and the house in the video pops up and moves onto the street.” Somehow he makes another perfectly timed comment a minute or two later when the house moves down the street and out of the scene.
Another crowd pleasing speaker observed: “some of these conversations feel like they should happen in the bar after 11.”
N: My team’s presentation was so fabulous we gained a group member!!
N: Just settling in to work on a first draft. We have to summarize our team’s experiences over the two days allotted for problem-solving. I promise my draft will involve Star Trek.
In the meantime, here are some photos!
Group 7C’s name tags.
(one of these things is not like the others…)
Great minds might not always think alike, and it makes discussion points that much more interesting.
Tia Ghose!! Slug, ’10. Tia was a total life-saver today.
Monster mashed potatoes. I had to. Again. I will miss these.
N: Time to work. I’m almost too inspired to write, though. I need to calm down a bit first.
N: WTF, wordpress?!
Friday, 6:15 a.m.
N: Again with the alarm clock. Oof.
N: Team’s summary kicked ass. How can we use imaging to improve disease treatment? Think big. Think intergalactic-big. And outside the box.
K: Writing, organizing, all during the presentations. Ouch, that’s why they call them notebooks now, not laptops. Probably got some sort of burn through these damn thin slacks they made me wear when I heard “business casual.”
N: Conference is summarized as blurring many boundaries. Agree. But as I was astutely asked, “it is good to be blurring things at an imaging conference?”
K: And we are 8 for 8 meals with fruit salad. Why oh why does anyone still put honeydew melons in fruit salad? Luckily, I manage to eat around the green tastelessness as I wolf down lunch in a conference room of slient, stressed science writers.
N: I actually kinda like honeydew…it’s the canteloupe…
N: Procrastinate writewritewrite procrastinate. write. walk around. Coffee? write. Update blog. Our first draft is due in T-2:40h.
K: Scribble, scribble, scribble. Lot’s of classic period a capella gospel keeps me going. Somewhere in here, my business card holder vanishes, with my driver’s license.
N: POS draft turned in. I haven’t seen Keith in hours. I think he’s hiding in a closet upstairs at the conference center.
N: Keith was not swallowed by the Beckman center. He resurfaced after one frantic phone call: “Keith! Barbara says press ‘send’ and get on the bus! Don’t miss it!” (Barbara: “where is he?”) “Where are you?!”
K: Emergency intervention by Nads, press send now! Barbara gets a hot mess which I failed to even spell check, ugh. The last half is merely outlined. Way to make a good impression. Later she gives me a free neck pillow, and I request the benefit of the doubt.
N: Good times.
K: Spend about an hour and retracing my steps, to no avail, on a quest for my card holder. The guard couldn’t be more helpful and kind not to kid me.
N: I’m having a drink with Barbara.
K: Head off to ski country, continuing to fill in the outline of my summary. Heavy, deep fog: a metaphor for my summary?
N: Back home…after a looooong walk from the plane to my car. In case you don’t know, at the San Jose airport the walk from gates 19 and 21 (the Southwest Airlines terminal) to the terminal’s baggage claim/exit is, like, at least a quarter-mile.
I had to park a half-mile from the terminal.
It was raining.
But it’s ok. The fresh air was nice, a little rain never hurt anyone, and I was coming back from a fantastic few days.
I have a photo or two to add, and K-dids may or may not have additional posts (it’s been an *incredibly* busy few days). So a few more updates and then we’ll put the Irvine post to bed!
K (Sat): Eventually spend several hours at various coffee shops and bars, working super inefficiently. Send an apologetic note with the now 3000 word “summary” off into the ether. Try to relax cooking din din, experiencing the freezing rain turn to silent snow fall. We get about 10 inches of accumulation. Operation Winter Wonderland: mission accomplished.
K (Sun): Spend several hours again at mainly bars this time, researching on the TSA web page and trying to draft a class assignment based on my interview from Thursday (I think it was then). I haven’t thought about neuroimaging for several hours.
K: Manage to talk my way onto a flight home from John Wayne airport, using my student ID, a photocopy of my passport and a credit card, plus a lot of friendly cooperation. “Don’t taze my junk, bro.“