This week in links #1

In a new style post (for me), some links to things that have caught my eye in the last 2 weeks:

This may become a habit. Though it is likely to be an infrequent one.

IET BioSysBio 2009

Frank and Dan have already blogged about this year’s BioSysBio conference in Cambridge (23rd-25th March). I just thought I’d add my thoughts to theirs.

I don’t get to go to many conferences. The nature of my work doesn’t really demand it, but about once a year it does me good to reconnect with some cutting edge science, and get a good idea of developments in the field as a whole.

Before now, ISMB has been the conference of choice, as the largest gathering of bioinformatics types, it certainly was the obvious one. But in recent years it has become a cumbersome beast. Multi-tracked and vast, hard to pin down stuff you want to hear, often disappointing when you do find something. So this year we cast about for something smaller and fresher. We had heard good things about BioSysBio last year, and it certainly looked promising, so we made our decision.

And boy, was it the right decision. Small enough to be single track, there were very few choices to make in terms of what talks to attend (actually there were none, there was only really one parallel session, workshops on the Tuesday afternoon, and I was obliged to be at the ONDEX one, since I was helping out). This meant that instead of skipping between halls, missing bits and pieces of talks, and sometimes not bothering at all, I sat in one place, pretty much for 3 days straight, and listened to everything.

Highlights were the ethics and biosecurity debate, with a fabulously engaging talk from Drew Endy; showcases of the importance of transcription initiation and elongation from Marko Djordjevic and Andre Riberio; an excellent Synthetic Biology talk from a man apparently inspired by the iGEM competition, Philip LoCascio; and a couple of excellent videos of lab robots hard at work (Adam the Robot Scientist, and another in the final paper talk of the conference by T Ben Yehezkel).

Wordle of #biosysbio tweets

Wordle of #biosysbio tweets

Next year I would happily micro-blog the conference again. This was my first conference since I joined Twitter and FriendFeed, and I was unsure about how I (and my followers) would feel about really going hard at the live updating of the conference experience. I think, though, that those of us who Tweeted provided an idea of the content being presented to those who could not attend, and the feeling I got from the feedback we received, and the fact that not a single person unfollowed me in the three days, is that we were providing a useful service. It has also provided me with a useful resource, a set of notes on the event produced by a crowd, not just me. Search for #biosysbio to see what I mean. Oh, and no review of this conference would be complete without a mention of Ally’s blogging, in which she chronicled pretty much every single talk, except her own (I did that one!)

I do think that for future events I would create threads on FriendFeed for each talk, and group my thoughts about it there, then tweet the URL of the FriendFeed post – this might make things a little less noisy.

Coming back from a conference feeling exactly how you should feel, refreshed, invigorated and excited to get on with your own work, is a great thing. For this feeling alone I will be returning to BioSysBio next year.

Twitter and Me

This is a bit of a follow-up to my post about FriendFeed. I registered for Twitter at the same time as FriendFeed, and while I immediately saw the value of FF for a long time I only saw Twitter as a tool to broadcast work-related ideas and thoughts to FriendFeed. I saw it as having little utility in it’s own right.

My follower/following count slowly increased, driven by FF, I tended to reciprocally follow people, and the few people who were following me found me there. Then, early this year, David Bradley posted his list of 100+ Scientwists, and I thought: ‘hey, I’m a scientist, and on Twitter… maybe I should be on that list”. So I got included, and then got a sudden upsurge in followers.

Twitter Counter

Not all these followers were on FF anymore, so I couldn’t follow my Twitter traffic on FF (without creating a whole bunch of imaginary friends, which I didn’t want to do). So I had to start following Twitter properly.

This has led to a more interesting conversation developing. I post more @replies, and am receiving a few more in return (though often from the desk next to me in the office), and though I don’t have any specific examples like I did for FF, I feel I am gaining more value from Twitter as a tool in its own right.

I have tried a number of apps to monitor Twitter traffic, but none of them quite fit into my workflow properly (though TweetDeck comes closest, and is much better than Twhirl). However, I got a 3G iPhone yesterday, the Twitterific App seems great, and in the future I suspect most of my Tweeting will be done on that platform.

Finally, there has been a lot written about Twitter in the last couple of weeks, and in particular about the number of ‘celebrities’ tweeting, both real and fake. For my part, I do follow a few, and get most value from @stephenfry (bonus linky), who really seems to ‘get it’ (as he does most things, though how he keeps track following over 30k people, I’ll never know), and @dave_gorman (bonus linky), who, like me, is just learning the value of the platform. But the real value of Twitter is again, like FF, in the quality of the science conversation on there, and how it makes me feel connected to a worldwide community of like-minded people.

A blog about the blog

This is, home to this blog, and my research wiki. I have yet to decide what I will blog about, or how often, though my spare online time tends to be spent microblogging these days, so activity may be limited… or I may surprise myself.

You can find more about me hereabouts, you are also welcome to follow me on Twitter or FriendFeed (or both).