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August 2, 2010
I'm back from the Sci Foo meeting out at Google's HQ, having taking the jolly red-eye flight from San Jose. And since I'll doubtless be increasingly incoherent as the day goes on, I thought I'd better go ahead and post now.
There was a wide (and strange) variety of people at this meeting - tilted towards comp sci and theoretical physics, I'd say, with a fair number of biologists. Chemists were thin on the ground in comparison. But this wasn't a chemistry meeting by any means. It was more of a chance to meet a lot of people who are each doing very interesting work in their fields, including some who are probably doing the absolute most interesting work in their fields.
And there's something that I noticed about these folks. People working at that level, almost all of them, have something in common: they're extremely happy to be doing what they do. Listening to Giovanni Amelino-Camelia and Lee Smolin talk about quantum gravity theories (and the data that are now coming in from gamma-ray bursters which could start sorting these things out), you could see that they both feel as if they're doing what they're here on Earth to do. "It's like Christmas", Amelino-Camelia told me, grinning, when I asked him about the GRB data. Pete Worden sounds the same way when he talks about wanting to explore caves on Mars, Yves Rossy when he talks about strapping on a jet-powered wing to his back, and so on. There's nothing they'd rather be doing.
I have some days like that, but I should try to have more. The conference was a good reminder to try to work at the limits of your capabilities, to take on the hardest problems that you can stand to face. It's worth it. You can see it in the faces of people who live that way. Melville was right - "Genius, round the world, stands hand in hand, and one shock of recognition runs the whole circle round."
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