SciBarCamp – Part 3

This is the third post in my series about SciBarCamp on March 14–16, 2008 in Toronto. Note that I’m writing about my experience; there were many concurrent sessions so others had a different experience.

Saturday, March 15, continued

At 4pm or so, David Crow led a discussion about nurturing healthy online communities. He’s the main guy behind the barcamps in the Toronto area, and also does evangelism for Microsoft developers (his job) – so he knows what he’s talking about. The main question was “What measures can you use to determine the health of a community?” Many ideas were suggested, including number of people involved (and how that changes over time), time spent, whether the participants find it useful or helpful, number of messages sent between members, number of real-life hugs, amount of feedback, whether people come back, and the number of new projects that came out of it. There was also some discussion about “managing” communities (not the right word) and tools of the trade.

A conversation

After that discussion ended, I chatted with some folks about the communications tools used by the quantum information theory community. Apparently they mostly use email, arXiv.org (to keep up with all the latest papers), sometimes Skype, and a couple of blogs. They also have several conferences per year. Some people have tried to introduce new tools, but those haven’t caught on.

Melanie Swan (who I know from Second Life, where she is Xantha Oe) and I sloshed our way across Queen’s Park to a nice Ethiopian restaurant and had a great discussion about all things Second Life (where she founded the SL data visualization group). Lots of other SciBarCampers were there too but because of the seating arrangement, we didn’t get to visit with them much.

Ethiopian food

Sunday, March 16

SciBarCamp started officially at 9:00 am but not many people where there yet because:

  1. There was a St. Patrick’s Day parade that had many of the downtown streets closed,
  2. 9am is early for some people,
  3. the subway system didn’t start until 9am (being a Sunday), and
  4. the sidewalks of Toronto were covered in a thin film of smooth ice, making walking dangerous!

In any case, the first speaker was Mark Tovey from WorldChanging Canada. His background is in cognitive science and he’s working on a book on mass collaboration and collective intelligence. He recently organized a 100-person process in Ottawa to discuss challenges and ideas for solutions – and he’d like to organize similar events in the future – maybe even online.

Then Ryan Kelln gave a thought-provoking, if vague, talk about some ideas he’s been working on related to creative work, intellectual property, distribution systems, payment systems. He calls it Qrate, but I’m not sure what it is.

Impressive building

At 9:50, Andrew Hessel explained how the research and development of cancer drugs happens. It can take up to 10 years and $700 million dollars to develop a new drug – and there is no guarante it won’t fail in trials near the end. Most cancer drugs work using the same principle: cancer cells grow faster than normal cells – so if you can selectively kill faster-growing cells, you can get rid of cancer (plus any other cells that happen to grow fast, like those in hair follicles). That’s not the only way though. There’s a new class of drug that can tell the difference between normal cells and cancerous cells (of a specific kind) based on their surface proteins. The sad part is that because it only targets specific kinds of cancer cells, it has lower demand. For the drug company to make a profit, they have to charge way more money—even if the drug itself is cheap to manufacture. Andrew has started a company to develop designer cancer drugs, targeted to specific kinds of cancer cells. To do that, he needs to be allowed to change the drug-creation pipeline, which will take a while.

(Continued in Part 4.)

Photo Credits: Conversation by *clairity* on Flickr,  Our Ethiopian Dish by LollyKnit on Flickr, BC Cancer Research Centre #5 by SqueakyMarmot on Flickr, key to anything by Stoker Studios on Flickr. All are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.