Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Gerwin Squawk

The Society for Neuroscience conference began with a bang and ended with a whimper, like every year. What changes is not content but the human nervous system. SfN assaults its members with a multimodal cacophony best described by James' characterization of the newborn's experience: a buzzing, booming confusion. Babies are allowed to cry, but somehow this is frowned on in equally overwhelmed adults. After five days of days of having your brain bombarded by brain posters, talks, exhibits, socials, and people, you can't handle anything beyond soft warm mush. Your brain is like a sponge on day one and an anchor on day five. This phenomenon should be studied, and would make a fine SfN poster.

The conferences get better every year, because every year, you have more friends to see, and your existing friends become old friends. This adds to the chaos - on top of juggling all the ostensible work, you have to have some plan for lunch, coffee, dinner, and drinks each day, often with different people, each of whom are making their own semiconflicting plans. I used to be contemptuous of this sort of work socializing, as it seemed like faux work, a distraction and excuse from real work. This was just confusion between work and fun. The SfN socializing is essential politicking and strategerie. Gotta have a combination of good work and good self promotion. The former is better, and serves as an essential check on those who try to bluster through with only the latter. But you need both.

An emerging catalyst is the BCI party that was thrown each of the last 3 years by Cyberkinetics and Guger Tech. They choose a location, send an Evite, and pay for the first hour of drinks. Each year, they come up with different drink names based on (almost exclusively) BCI researchers. This year included such atrocious flops as the MoLeighto and Gerwin Goose.

The best event of SfN was Gerwin Schalk's talk. He opened by announcing that, while he usually required no mike thanks to his Schwarzennegerian vocal chords, he would use one this time. He did not announce any ear plugs. I grabbed the sides of my chair and looked for a seat belt. We were saved by a bird that somehow got loose within the room. It flew all about, without even waiting for Gerv to pause, and caused a really funny effect as people covered their heads as the bird flew over. A little like the wave. Gerv, unlike the bird, was unflappable. I was waiting for him to make a little joke, or get mad and splatter the bird with the darts we all know Germanspeakers carry, but his talk ended without further incident.

The whole thing cost me fifty bucks but it was worth it. Except the fucking pigeon just used the fifty to line his nest. I should have just given him a one dollar bill, or even a duck bill. He was a pretty stupid pigeon. Didn't even try to haggle.

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