The opinions expressed here are well-reasoned and insightful -- needless to say they are not the opinions of my employers

14 December 2009

AGU, monday morning

I arrived in San Francisco last night at around 5. First let me praise technology -- there was a time when any long drive between population centers meant fumbling with CDs/cassettes/8-tracks (yes, I remember those: I also remember a two-week period when 4-track tapes were going to replace albums altogether, like the big album-sized laser disks, BetaMax, DAT, etc...), or listening to Rush or Dr. Laura for 3-4 hours. Turns out now that, sucky as AT&Ts 3G service is supposed to be, I can pick up internet radio on my iPhone anywhere along I-5, so I just tuned in KCRW and it was like any rainy Sunday afternoon except with people on cell phones driving 80 mph (130 kph) trying to kill me (oh, and the coffee's better at home)...

Stopped in at Moscone to pick up my badge because I knew that this morning would be a complete zoo and as it turns out, I arrive
d just as the ice breaker was starting:

photo of the lines at pre-registration...

photo of the line for beer...

...I remember a time when December meant badgering my parents about all of the stuff I wanted (I'd rant about our consumer culture but I started out the post praising my iPhone), the anticipation of getting up on Christmas morning, the crash in the evening (sugar? tryptophan?).

In my 20s I worked at the Post Office, and Decembers were filled with existential dread: 80+ hour work weeks, made even worse when I went back to school and the Christmas rush coincided with the end of the term.

But for the past 20 years December is the Fall meeting in San Francisco. It's the big one for lots of geoscientists (prediction is up to 16,000 this year), but for students in northern California it is usually where you spent most of finals week, giving your first poster and/or talk, showing up to support your peers even when you only marginally understood their presentation (generally it was either over my head, or they gave a 15-minute talk in 6.5 minutes, or some combination of the two).

My friends from grad school are literally spread around the globe now so part of the meeting is about reconnecting (Santa Cruz reunion at the Thirsty Bear tomorrow night) -- and seeing their students' first posters and talks.

I know that I will hear people complain that the meeting is too big, that it's exhausting to spend the week listening to talk after talk, visiting poster after poster (especially towards the end of the week), but I also know that some people don't get enough and append additional days to the festivities with courses or field trips, or with additional talks (as an undergrad I spent some time as a gopher for the Gilbert Club).

My experience for the past 13-14 years has been teaching mostly intro material, and these meetings give me the chance to reconnect with what attracted me to the geosciences in the first place: being surrounded by people, like me (but way smarter), curious about how the universe works.

Instead of just going to talks related directly to some specific field I'm working in, I plan my week around topics that interest me, whether it's the tectonics of the Himalayas, climate feedbacks, or geologic research in the rest of the solar system. Many of the invited lectures are now webcasts, and most are also recorded and archived on the AGU website. Examples over the first two days are the Whipple lecture this afternoon at 4:00 on Mars exploration, tomorrow's Bjerknes lecture at 1:40 on the history of CO2 and climate and Wednesday's Sagan lecture on the melding of biogeochemical and astrobiological research with environmental science (I would link to the abstracts but I can't quite get it to work). I always go back home energized and ready to teach

More later...

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