Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Entreaty of Utrecht

I knew for months that there would be a conference in Utrecht with a lot of the biggest names in BCI research. I also knew I would be there, both to see the talks and see old friends. This is the great thing about a career with people you like. Every time I go to a conference, I reunite with old friends. They differ from William Hoopes, my old college buddies, friends from grad school, etc. in that interacting with them is putatively work. I can actually claim to be getting work done if I tell them what I am doing, learn what they are doing, and discuss working together in the future. I still cannot get over this.

The plan to get paid for whitewashing Aunt Polly’s fence failed this time, because my boss did not approve my travel request. OK then, may I go to Utrecht if it is not a work trip? I will take vacation time and pay for the train and hotel. Sure, he said. Then the conference organizer, Erik Aarnoutse, asked me to be an invited speaker, meaning these expenses are paid, plus I can go as an insider instead of a cloying eager tiertwo leech. This invitation was itself made possible by Rebecca Schaefer from his lab, who I met at the conference in San Fran in April and evidently put in a good word for me. Thanks!

We all agreed the conference was masterfully organized. Great speakers, good facilities, no infrastructural hassles, well timed, good dinner. The most striking move was revealed after the Speakers’ Dinner on Thursday night. Conference hosts will sometimes buy gifts for invited speakers. Chocolate, a bottle of wine, textbook, embroidered bag, a shirt. You know conference hosts have spent thousands of years trying to come up with good gifts. Erik Aarnoutse beat them all. Each speaker got a nicely wrapped ancient book relating to his or her expertise. Of course academics will love such a gift. I got an ancient Italian book on phrenology. An authentic, serious book on phrenology, so old the pages crumble. Which is OK. I cannot understand Italian. But I love the silly pictures, and the simple fact that I now own a real book on phrenology. Other speakers were indeed delighted. Being good scientists, we spent much of Thursday night in discussion about where the hell Erik and his colleagues managed to find such fitting books. While the method was unclear, the results weren’t: no further introduction of UMC Utrecht is necessary. They are abstract no longer. That was a pun too far. Sorry. I am tired.

Summary: Thanks to Erik and the organizing committee. The insider buzz was that the conference was spectacular. You rule. I will spend the rest of my life unsuccessfully trying to top that move with the ancient books.

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