Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Salz nach

I left Bremen right after my last blog entry, ostensibly to work in Tuebingen, but the underlying reason was to get me out of Bremen during the BRAIN kickoff meeting. Tuebingen was quite busy with some kind of jogging event, but I got to meet with Jacqueline and Ranga and some others during my brief visit.

The train ride from Tuebingen to Graz went through Salzburg, so I planned to maximize my time in Salzburg with a 4 hour layover. Salzburg was again invigorating and inspiring and I missed leaving it. I felt a bit more accomplished because I had an inside tip from Patricia Linortner to go to the Fürst chocolate shop for the best chocolate balls. (South Park fans: they are not salty, and no comparisons to Chef nor Isaac Hayes will be tolerated.) Previously, I got the golden wrapped chocolate balls, but now I learned that those are for the tourists, and the natives first go to Fürst. After stocking up on these tasty and colorful baubles, which I am sure will be appreciated in Colorado, I left for Graz.

The conference was the usual whirlwind of talks, posters, handshakes, introductions, deferential ambition, strategerie. A lot of the masters are pretty good at providing the exact same facial expression while talking to someone who they consider hopeless or brilliant. About half the faces there were new, which reflects the progress of BCI research, and I got to spend a lot of time with them. The organizers did quite a good job, with the clever innovation of posting pictures of the lead poster authors over their posters, making them easier to identify. Good idea. In fact, in the future, people could put pictures of each author in the proceedings to make them even easier to find. You otherwise have to meet people by staring at the badges on their chests. I wrote half of such a story for my blog last year during the neuroscience conference, but never posted it because I didn't think I could beat the Let Freedom Ring post from last September.

I was on the review committee and the judging committee, putting me in the interesting position of basically repeating my judgment. There were quite a lot of politics in selecting the best talk. It was unexpected and educational. The conference concluded with dinner in the Landhauskeller in Graz. We were treated to a classy feast, and were told the mayor of Graz would speak to us. In the middle of dinner, a member of the Graz city council read a brief statement about the importance of "computer to brain interfaces," which amused our table. We were, however, grateful that the city of Graz would make an effort to show appreciation, and without a long speech while our food got cold.

The next day was a wine tour and lunch, which was also well planned. It started at 10 AM, and we took a dark bus to a pleasant but not too bright hill, had a moderate but not strenuous walk with some great views, then ate inside with lots of food, wine, and water. Almost as if the organizers expected lots of hung over people the last day of the conference. Most of the conferencegoers left after that. I am in Graz the rest of this week, and so I got to get dinner and play tourist with some conference stragglers as well as get some work done here.

I must again praise the city of Graz, which is both naturally pretty and well designed and maintained. I also did not previously appreciate the artificial island in the middle of the river. I saw this before, but I just thought it was a little open air concert venue. But I now see that it is actually a very clever piratecatcher. If you are only a few hours downriver from the vicious pirates that terrorize the river Salzach, you need to have some protection against the bastards or you will never get the salt that you paid 5000 guilders for just two weeks ago. Now I also see why they put seats there. This is so the good citizens can watch the pirates and mock them as they come around the river bend and realize they're busted. Ha ha!! Har Har!! Hey, where'd you get that salt? Huh? That looks a lot like the salt you stole from my brother last week! You're coming with me, asshole. And your little parrot, too.

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