Jun 24 2009

Conference Reports

by at 10:34 pm

I’m writing this on board the TGV train from Paris back to Lausanne after six days in Germany and two and a half days in Paris. I’m listening to Klezmer Attitude, a klezmer podcast in French, in preparation for my return to Paris in a few weeks for a klezmer workshop. Jackie blogged below about sight-seeing in Germany, so here’s a post on both conferences and my time in Paris.

In the spirit of the dozens of “slideware” (i.e. PowerPoint and its less evil cousins) presentations I’ve sat through, I’ll start by presenting an outline of my blog post.

[view the larger version]

The first conference, IEEE’s International Conference on Communications was huge. I’d guess more than 1,000 people, participating in more than a dozen different simultaneous sessions on a variety of apparently non-overlapping topics. The conference started with workshops on the Sunday that we arrived in Dresden, and the first talks I went to were on Monday. I was very lost, to say the least. Here are some of the words and phrases for which I needed to check Wikipedia:

  • Network Survivability
  • QoS in emerging wireless networks
  • Cognitive Networks
  • LTE (the Wikipedia entry for that one is pretty terrible)

Of course, one would expect jargon, but there’s specialized language and then there’s jargon. An example from the paper I presented, which was titled “Approximation Algorithms for Traffic Grooming in WDM Rings.” When explaining my work in casual conversations during the course of the conference, the question I heard most often was “grooming?” To make matters worse, it’s not a very familiar word for non-native English speakers (my attempted explanation about dogs and cats didn’t help). Turns out the term is sort of an arcane version of the term “packing,” as in the bin packing problem. Doesn’t help? Never mind.

Lost at the talks, I decided to join Jackie sight-seeing and eating delicious vegetarian food instead. Pictures are now on Flickr (which you can always find linked on the left).

Green Coffee Man

On the last day of talks at the conference, in the last session slot of the day, I gave my talk. I had its share of bullet points, but no slides anywhere near as bad as the joke one at the top of this post. The talk lasted the right amount of time, I felt prepared, and at the end of the talk there were five (!) questions all of which were interesting and showed the audience understood the point of the talk. Of course since I haven’t worked on this area since 2006 my answers were mostly, “that’s a very interesting question, I don’t have an answer, it would definitely be something to address in the future.”

And then I ran to catch my plane—Dresden to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Paris. There was nothing for me to eat in Dresden and I had a very short layover in Frankfurt, but I did have a decent bagel which I bought earlier that day in Dresden. (Good bagels in Germany? A topic for another post.)

The second conference, DD4D: Data Designed for Decisions took place at the OECD headquarters in Paris, organized by the International Institute for Information Design (IIID). It was a really neat conference, drawing people from a variety of different disciplines (follow that link to see line drawings of all the speakers), allĀ  interested in the use and presentation of data and statistics. Billed as “A conference for intermediaries between data, knowledge and empowerment,” the first day of the conference featured really smart, pioneering people I had heard of, like Hans Rosling (watch his TED talk video if that doesn’t ring a bell):

…and really smart, pioneering people I hadn’t heard of, like Patricia Wright.

There were also shorter presentations grouped as panels. Really interesting stuff, most of it new to me. And then in the afternoon, I had a 20 minute slot to speak about CityRank.ch. How exactly they decided to allot me this slot I’m not sure, but I had prepared a lot and hoped not to disappoint. There were no bullet points in this talk whatsoever, just pretty images and some text to illustrate what I was saying. Plus I created a city ranking on the fly with audience input, which actually worked (although someone kept yelling out indicators that we can’t include because they don’t, which was fine—I agree with the point I assume he was trying to make and that was part of the point of my talk!)

Here’s a sketch by Alexandre Simon from Lausanne of me speaking:

I wasn’t exactly sure how long I’d been speaking so near the end I panicked and shortened my explanation of the actual algorithm underlying the website. Too bad.

Just like in Dresden, at the end of my talk, multiple people asked interesting questions. Hooray! Here’s a map of my talk, produced in real time by the very talented Regina Rowland:

Many talks had as a theme giving users a more active role in the creation of and understanding of data relevant to them. It’s something that the OECD is very interested in pursuing, too. CityRank is very much in this mold, so the conference turned out to be a great venue to talk about it and meet others working on it as well.

In addition to Alexandre, I met some other some cool people from Switzerland who are responsible for DataVisualization.ch (funny that I talked to them much more than other Americans).

After conference hours, I had good vegetarian food, checked out the apartment we’ll be subletting in July, and generally didn’t get too lost navigating Paris on my own and speaking French. I also caught up with David, one of my roommate’s from freshman year, which was fun.

On Flickr:

Germany June 09

Germany June 09

One response so far

One Response to “Conference Reports”

  1. Avi Kaplanon 25 Jun 2009 at 8:48 pm

    Glad your talks went well! Fun pictures too. Is there a dataset or city scoring for Jewish Communal engagement (or for other relgious communities for that matter) that you can plug into CityRank? That would be cool.

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