20 July 2005

Tunicate 3

It's been a week since I left Santa Barbara from the Third International Tunicate conference. Long past time for a report.

I left in plenty of time on Saturday. Went up to Houston, as usual, then had over an hour layover at Los Angeles in LAX, wherein I had plenty of time to contemplate the outrageous prices for things in the store. (Tip: If you want some chocolate bars or snacks when you're traveling, get them before your plane stops at LAX!) And I missed my plane to Santa Barbara.

This is one of those awkward points where one is torn between being honest and knowing someone is going to read it and think, "This guy is too stupid to live."

The deal is this. I get into the airport. Check the gate. The gate says 62A. I'm at gate 62A. There's a sign up saying this is a shuttle to other gates. "Ah," I think, "we wait here until an agent comes to gather all of us going to that flight in one go." I sit there and miss I don't know how many opportunities to got the right gate I don't really realize how the shuttle works until it's too late. There's no sign saying how often the shuttle is supposed to run. I later realized the driver had been in a few times, but didn't say anything! So unless you were looking up at the right moment, you wouldn't realize anyone was there to take you over to another gate.

Luckily, the fine folks get me on another plane and I'm only a little late to Santa Barbara. Missed registration by a few minutes, but not the opening night reception. There are all of three people I know at this meeting. When I get back from the reception, I look into my suitcase (actually a fine backpack designed for air travel by Mountain Equipment Co-op, which I love), and realize I forgot my bag with toothpaste, shampoo, shaver, and so on. (Wondering "How does this guy manage to live?" yet?)

The next morning (Sunday), I wake up well before breakfast is served. Fortunately, Santa Barbara is the only university in North America built on a beach, so I go walk around the beach. I've been to the campus before, almost exactly 10 years ago, and am reminded how nice it is. I'm also reminded throughout my visit about how environmentally conscious California is compared to Texas, where I think "environment" is considered to be a dirty word. Electric cars, notices up encouraging water conservation, signs noting that recycled water is used in the toilet, recycle bins, and much more -- none of which I ever see a hint of in Texas.

So I spend the day sitting in talks. For the night, they've put us in student housing, with various games (ping pong, pool, foosball, air hockey, those sorts of things.) I stay up quite late goofing around and talking to people.

The next morning, I wake up very early again, and go to talks with only a few hours of sleep. The big thing is that posters are Monday night, which I have. I get my poster up. I'm up late again talking about my poster and socializing. The response to the poster is good, although I wish there were more data on it. Basically, the sort of questions I get convince me that I'm on the right track with the project.

Tuesday morning, I can't sleep in again. The talks that are further afield from my work -- well, I zone out a bit during some of those, I'm afraid. But the nice thing is, they've only scheduled a half day's worth of talks. During the afternoon, they give us an excursion to the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum, which is really excellent. It's got some great research programs and excellent exhibits. Some of the highlights include a real blue whale skeleton, the only woolly mammoth hair on display in North America, and a butterfly house. Much more besides! I wish I'd had another hour or so there. That night, I think this was the night they had a roundtable discussion. I got up and talked a bit about what we're trying to do with the Coastal Studies Lab. I kind of feel it's important for me to promote the lab, because the two other people associated with it who were supposed to come, couldn't. My colleague Virginia was recovering from minor surgery, while the lab's director had his reservations fouled up.

After the roundtable, yes, I'm up late again. Not quite as late as the previous nights, but I still don't think I'm in my room before midnight. I learn that the European's love for soccer seems to carry over to foosball. An Italian woman named Lucia positively slays at foosball, much to the surprise of many. I lose at pretty much every game I play at; I think I win one game of ping pong. Another Italian researcher, Paolo, tickles the ivories and plays a few things like "O Solo Mio" on the upright piano in the room. Down the hall, I hear some spirited alcohol-enhanced discussion about ascidians and Hox genes from the conference organizers and a couple of of bigshots in the field.

The last morning of the conference, we take a picture of attendees during the coffee break. I think there's about 100 people total, which is a good size for a conference. I don't go to the last couple of talks so I can get ready to catch my plane back.

All in all, a very good conference. The major complaint I had (which I posted to the Tunicata email discussion list later) was how few people kept their talks to the scheduled 20 minutes. If people had kept on time, I could have done a few other things (like write blog entries, deal with email from the office, etc.), but I was kept running pretty much nonstop during the day.

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