Category Archives: conference

What I’m not carrying back – Bottlemania

Heading home tomorrow – there’ll be a train, bus and plane reversing the arrival schedule.  Packing my bag with the simultaneous toothbrushing and imminent sleeping,  I’ve noticed my small collection of bottles that I’m not going to be carrying back.

For most of this trip, I bought bottles of non-alcoholic drinks whenever I got thirsty – during breakfast,  while walking around Cardiff…and since I had a bag, I’d stash the empty bottle in it.  At night, I would also use these bottles to make cold water in the fridge in my room, for when I got thirsty at night.  I’ll probably leave them all behind, but lining them up on the counter,  there’s quite a stash.

I’ve got 1 Sprite, 1 Lucozade energy,  1 Lucozade sport (orange),  a greenleaf fairtrade Apple Raspberry,  a Fanta lemon, a Ribena Cranberry blackcurrant, 4 ribena blackcurrant (I got the 4 Ribena at a 2 for 1 at the Superdrug store), an Oasis Extra Light Berry (blech – artificial sweetener).

And then I wonder why I’m always looking for restrooms…

Round II: CGDN

Not much I can say, as the memory is already well-faded into the mists of the past.  It’s been a while since I’ve travelled as a big group — it’s definitely a lot more fun, I have to say.  Less exploring — the Canadian Genetic Disease Network Annual Scientific Meeting was held in Saint Sauveur,  and I basically spent almost all of it in the hotel,  the Manoir.

I engaged in a spot of illicit “hacking” to get Internet access — actually, I wouldn’t have thought to do it if my applications hadn’t started acting strangely.  Firefox wouldn’t fetch me webpages, but then I got the e-mail count update from my Google Talk client.   So obviously,  something was still working there…and then, on a random whim, I booted Internet Explorer, and lo, behold,  magic of Microsoft opened the doors to websurfing.  Very strange.  In the end, I figured they were doing some weird selective blocking of the http traffic only, so I got more reliable access for Firefox and the rest of it by doibng a VPN to the UBC servers.  Anyways,  need University access to read papers…sigh…

Saw a couple posters,  but it was all one big poster session, so you feel obliged to hang around a lot.  Still,  got a chance to see the ones nearby,  got a reminder of why I should carry the poster tube (one group got theirs “misplaced” by airport baggage handling)…and there was plenty of hanging around chatting with various groups of random people.  I seem to be falling in with all the friendly folk — interesting opinions and fun facts galore.

Actually,  something struck me quite strongly.  One person mentioned that on this side of the ocean (and I guess especially in Canada),  we tend to be overly agreeable.   It seems that it is customary in other countries to play devil’s advocate,  just for sake of discussions, rather than being agreeable.  I can’t deny that I’m easily made agreeable — I tend to try to see the speaker’s side — but I guess I need to grab hold of the thing they always challenged you with in elementary school.  New plan for all talks I go to will be to have a couple questions by the end (two, just in case someone else steals one 😉

And the food was superb.   Last night I wandered off to Les Vielles Portes — got a bit lost,  discovered that it felt a lot like a cross between Whistler, with the fancy house-looking commercial buildings with coordinated  fronts,  with some a bit of the mini-highway-mall effect of Richmond — on a smaller scale though, since you can walk from “mall-island” to mall island.  Actually,  the countryside on the bus rides in and out was pretty much what I’d see on a highway around here,  except the signs were changed.  I’m secretly convinced all the places in the world are really the same,  they just change bits here and there when you’re on the “plane ride” to make it look different.

Wrapping Up ISBI

Time to head home — after zipping through the first floor of the National Air and Space museum,  it was time to make the mad dash to the airport and face the security persons.  I had already planned ahead,  and taken my bags from the hostel and checked my bags at the Marriott in the morning.  The people at the desk even recommended me to take the airport shuttle,  so I didn’t even need to take the Metro to the airport.   Got dropped off right by the United gate,  then did the automatic check-in — I love how fast you can get things done with those little kiosks.  Never seen any lineups to use it,  although they do tend to ask you to peck in all sorts of confirmation info before they really believe you are who you claim to be.

Big Snafu at the security checkpoint this time though – I put my ticket to Chicago in the bag going through the scanner,  and then left behind  the second ticket (from Chicago to Vancouver) on the scanner.   A good half hour of panic before I retraced my steps and found it.  Best to double-check next time that everything is in hand before proceeding,  and to mentally prepare yourself for taking things out of pockets and all that.  Be ready to drop my loose change,  belt, keys, cell phone, shoes, wallet, take out the laptop and the liquids pouch for the contact solution…and then remember to keep the passport and the plane ticket to prove you can really go through.

Rest of the journey was pretty uneventful.   Movie was a cute one involving the writer for Peter Rabbit and related books — her life was actually a bit on the sad side,  but it was entertaining most of the time.  During the transfer at Chicago,  I discovered the computer had drained its battery — d’argh! And there was supposedly free wireless in the terminal.  I guess I’ll try it out next time – gotta remember to check that the computer is suspended when it’s closed.  Maybe I should set the auto-suspend timer to be a bit more aggressive —  then again,  before, it used to go to sleep in the middle of meetings.

It was good to get home…at least for a brief respite,  before beginning the prep for the next round:  the CGDN ASM.  Or I guess it’s really the ASM of the CGDN.  2007.  I’m catching up on this blogging.  Really.

DC Part Deux: Really, there’s some sun. Probably.

Slept late, and barely kicked myself out of bed. Getting dressed revealed that somehow, I had lost my left glove while retaining my right. Interesting how the human mind can be fallible, but only by half.

Breakfast was continental-style – there is bread and toaster, butter, jam and other usual bits in the fridge. I limited myself to snagging some of my juice from the fridge, anticipating conference food. Said hello to the other resident who was awake, then headed out to hunt for the glove, retracing most of the path to Harris Teeter. No dice on the glove, so took the Metro from Pentagon City Station to Crystal City. Had to wander around unnecessarily outside – turns out the Metro is connected to the Crystal Gateway – but after finding a highlighter on the ground, got into the conference. A slight hiccup at the coat check, but was eventually pointed to upstairs. Only took a minute to claim to be me and get my package, and then I was off to the races!

Looking over my note, I’m starting to realise that you feel a lot smarter immediately after going to talk – looking at the notes I made afterward, most don’t exactly make as much sense anymore. Brilliant insights fade once you put them to objective tests – I guess I’m easily swayed by presentations. Gotta practice the old “sweat and think of at least three questions” thing they used to make you do in pre-university – these days I tend to coast along, nod my head and agree.

Still, came out of it with a broadened horizon – having my nose buried in bioinformatics the last year really made me forget all the other cool things you can do with computers – and this conference was only really about manipulating images. Only, of cousre being the delimiter for a huge area – you go from 2d to 3d to 3d + time to 3d + time+flow, from the scale of moving molecules between cellular compartments to single cells, to entire organs. All the fun effects of dealing with real data start coming in – everyone complaining about the noise in their data – to dealing with the ridiculous amounts of data – things start adding up when you have high resolution images (not so bad) multiplied by the depth of a 3D image (lots of slices) multiplied by multiple times per second … now how many seconds of info did you want? Some pretty fancy slice and dice image analysis techniques – I sure hope they’re already being used image analysis of SAGE and ISH data. Do I smell more ideas?

Downside of a conference, I discovered, is the total lack of time to do the usual tourist things — stuck in the hotel, 8am-6pm, and guess what — all those great museums (with free admission!!) tend to close at 6. Well, it wasn’t a complete bust — made a mad dash on the last day to the National Air and Space Museum, and got to wander around and look at the cool giant flying machines. The Slovenian cohort (Peter Rogelj and Andrea Jarc) both gave a thumbs up — actually, I had said goodbye to everyone and planned to go to the airport, but had a sudden change of mind and dashed to the Metro to go see something — anything touristy really. I ran into Peter on the platform, and he was great — found the museum, pointed out the Capitol building in the distance — Capitol is not the White House, but it’ll do — and then got yanked around as I dashed from exhibit to exhibit trying to see the most I could in the 30 minutes left before I absolutely-totally-had-to got catch my flight. Next time, I’ll have to make time to sneak out to the companion site out near Dulles airport, where the really big machines are stored.

Anyways, a good chunk of the conference was directly related to my research, I had lots of time to safely experiment with conference attendance experience optimisation. I quickly realised that the best way to get a feel for someone’s research is in front of a poster — you get one-on-one personal face time, and instant naswers to your questions. People tend to be less defensive and agreeable. And everything happens in about 5 minutes, so you can see tons and tons of posters in the usual hour and a half timeslot. Presentations are a completely different beast. Since things are longer, the results are more variable — when things are good, you’re in for a roller-coaster ride of information.

Anyways, for the first bit, I tried a couple tried and true techniques of choosing talks. There was the selection via title — the results were pretty variable, and I always get the feeling that I’m missing out on the big names. What I think is more reliable is making friends with intelligent people with specific interests, and letting them lead you to the tasty talks (initially successfully implemented via Kim Khalsa,  who turned out to also be related to the organisation bits.  Talk about lucking out and finding someone in the know!). Either way, I got the chance to see tons of great talks, and made sure I got a whole range of topics.

Oof…looks like I also forgot the usual aftermath of these things – namely, the chasing after money from the various people at UBC. Still, the couple seconds of fame and fortune, and the addition of a manuscript to my CV was definitely worth it.   Maybe I can use some of the experience and turn it towards CSCBC 2008…

Fun in the DC Sun

Or …the first solo adventures into the heart of America. Things started really over a year ago, with taking Ghassan Hamarneh’s CMPT 880 Medical Imaging course. Things went well, and the course project was good enough that he encouraged me to write it up as a paper. The usual dance ensued, but third time was the charm – got accepted to ISBI 2007, and got the right to head to Washington D.C.!

I’m the kind of person who forgets things left, right and centre…and in this case, I was carrying not only my poster, but also that of the other person in the lab. So three things – luggage, laptop and the poster tube. That was my mantra for the next couple weeks – gotta have all three items to travel. There was a brief bout of panic as I went about the usual hunt for passport since my last one expired. Here’s an interesting experiment – I’ve marked June 2011 for passport renewal…I wonder if that’ll work. I’ll have to check my blog in four years 🙂

The thing about flying East is not really the travel time — actually, changing flights in the middle gave me the time to duck into the Quizno’s in Chicago for a decent lunch — but rather the rapid manner in which all the hours in the day get chewed up. By the time you arrive, the entire day has come and gone. I also discovered that the last row in the plane is awkward — you don’t get to put your chair back, so resign yourself to sitting up straight. My bit of excitement after the transfer was the passenger compartment no longer having room for luggage, so they checked my hand carry. Luckily, all the customs fun was already taken care of in Canada, so after dropping in, it was just walk down the corridor … wait, hand carry was checked. So down the escalator, looking around … not finding the bag. Check, I still have the laptop and the posters, so it’s not critical. But I like wearing clothes, so I continue to look. It appears I have the wrong carousel, so I walk till I find the right one. Still, I don’t see the bag…and then some guy starts cleaning up the carousel. Not a good sign…but look! My bag is on his cart! My heart starts beating again! And the first bit of excitement in DC is successfully taken care of.

Round 2 is getting to the hostel. I pull out the handy dandy instructions, and take the escalator to the Metro station. It’s built right into the airport – ultra-convenient. And ultra confusing – there’s machines everywhere to take your money, but no explicit instructions. There’s some mention of a Metro Pass thingy, with a $10 deposit, so I feed money into the machine. Let’s start with $5. It spits out a piece a paper, as I read the no refund policy. Hmmm…it would appear that I’ve managed to purchase a $15 piece of paper….kind of like a transfer, but worth a good deal more. However, it does make the turnstile happy, and the attendant standing on the other side reassured me that I could use it without expiry date, until it ran out of money. $15 of riding the Metro did seem like a lot … but I had a cunning plan. Maybe I’d hitch the transit to Dulles airport for swing dancing tomorrow.

Still, that left finding the place to sleep for tonight. So grabbed the bags, and went up the escalator. Five minutes of decoding the walls and it’s down the escalator and up the neighbouring one to the other platform, with trains going in the right direction. Let’s put on some sunglasses to look cool, relaxed and non-touristy. No sirree…these bags and this gimongous tube are what I always take to work. Yup. Airport.

Getting off the Metro, and hauling things up the escalator brings me out into the outside air. I’ve made it to Pentagon City Station, with malls all around me. Feels a bit like Richmond, including the familiar feeling of being lost. And carrying bags that are rapidly increasing in weight. A walk a quarter of a block one way, then turn around and start walking the opposite way. Definitely not lost. Definitely not a tourist. Keep emitting the usual calm… After following the road for a bit, I pass a fire station and then realise that I missed my turnoff. Pulling out the Google Map printout confirms it, so I cut across the block, and start head towards my destination. Looks like I’m still out of shape, because I’m sweating when I make it to the house. But I’ve found it, and I’m in one piece. Success, as I punch in the code and enter the Arlington Hostel!

Celebrated my success with hunting around for the wireless access – WEP key was on the wall (there were little tags everywhere with hints like don’t use the shower when other people might be waiting, don’t hit your head, don’t put dirty plates in the dishwasher…) and I eventually figured out the plate on the door with my name on it was actually the entrance to my room — I ended up with the entire basement! Was pretty good — headroom was a bit tight — I would have been perfect if I were a couple inches shorter — but pluses included a personal washroom, three beds, personal TV with DVD and VCR, and more room than I have at home! I could take a shower, plink away at the laptop, then lie down and be in bed 🙂

Still, I was getting hungry, so time to hunt up some food. Found the local bookstore, and the some local eats — food in DC turns out to be at par with food in Vancouver. So pretty expensive, once the exchange rate kicks in. Feel like the effect I felt in London, where everything would have been reasonable if it were Canadian dollars and not pounds. So didn’t quite head into the big restaurants, but ended up wandering next door to the Pentagon City Mall and found the local food court.

Interesting – the mall is open late, and there’s tons of people inside. The place was bustling with activity, especially lots of teenagers grabbing dinner. I ended up getting the “world-famous” bourbon chicken (ended up being dinner twice during my stay), then wandered around and finally found the local supermarket — Harris Teeter, it’s called, behind the mall. Kind of like Safeway, except I didn’t have a local membership so a lot of the of the deals didn’t work for me. Snagged some Harris Teeter branded cranberry/blueberry combo juice, then made my way back. And during this trip disaster struck.

Well, I actually didn’t notice the lost glove till the next morning. Probably due to me trying to feel safe in the dark by making a fist, then my hand getting warm and removing a glove. And then losing said glove somewhere along the way. Somehow, I now have a right glove, but no left.

Returning to my new home revealed my roomies. Turns out a sister-sister tag team doing the great University tour to check out potential places to apply — older grad school sister leading the younger one on this ultimate keener joyride. I’m just jealous that my “keenness” to enter University was limited to remembering to pay the UBC application fee (I forgot the SFU one), resulting in my successful acceptance there. Wish I had paid more attention back then. Anyways, I caught up on all the TV shows I’d been ignoring — Scrubs, Sex in the City, Grey’s Anatomy … Definitely a learning experience. My recent TV experience is really just the Battlestar Galactica-a-thons (good stuff), and one episode of Heroes (I hear this is awesome).

And strange but true, the younger sister’s name was Teddy. She didn’t like being called kitten, but I didn’t learn that till later. I wonder what Teddy is short for? Or is it a common girl’s name?