Tuesday, February 15, 2011

5. Visit to CERN


Last but not least in this Geneva series of five, I had the chance to visit CERN on a side trip with a handful of the conference delegates (the ones who would meet at 8am on a Saturday morning for a 9am crash course in particle physics, that is.) CERN is often described as the Valhalla for physicists. Just to give you an idea of the place CERN occupies in the public imagination, here's a picture of scientist Tara Shears (one of the Lift speakers) with the key players of the Angels and Demons movie (including Tom Hanks and Ron Howard).

Most prominently:

"The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a gigantic scientific instrument near Geneva, where it spans the border between Switzerland and France about 100 m underground. It is a particle accelerator used by physicists to study the smallest known particles – the fundamental building blocks of all things. It will revolutionise our understanding, from the minuscule world deep within atoms to the vastness of the Universe."

Really, all I could do was let the information wash over me. Our instructor/guide for most of the tour was seriously the most enthusiastic scientist I have ever met. And he had more energy than all of us combined. I began wondering where he was harvesting it from, and that perhaps he himself was an experiment at CERN!


Here are some pictures from what we saw. We weren't able to access the most interesting parts and had a video tour donning 3D glasses (eyeballs only).



After the tour, the remainder of us went for lunch on the Lake and it was a stunning day. Afterwards, I spent my remaining Swiss Francs on some lovely chocolate and took the EuroNight train back from Zürich to Graz and had absolutely no trouble sleeping in the couchette all the way. Definitely the way to go.



Jam-packed with experience, and so many interesting people who do cool things. And yet, still relatively intimate as far as these types of conferences go. I went there to learn, be inspired, and meet some people behind some pretty glorious projects. Mission accomplished.


Nanu nanu.

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

4. Hitting the Open Stage

I spoke after a wacky (Games:) session where Steffen Walz came on stage singing a song and spoke about gamification. The games people were naturally a less subdued bunch, as we had the affable Etienne Mineur speak about books as a computer platform, along with David Calvo's truly poetic talk on going beyond transmedia.


My Open Stage talk was pretty surreal. We were requested to send the powerpoint slides 4 days ahead of time for loading into the master system. So, I regretfully did not have the chance to subtly tweak the slides as sometimes I like to in order to complement the meta discussion of a conference. During the lunch break before the session, the stage manager gave me a run-through of the physical layout, noting what each screen meant, the chronology of events, and most importantly, where not to step/look, lest one's foot fall through into the dark abyss below!

Continuing with the theme of this blog series: FIVE minutes. It was an interesting experience giving a Pecha-Kucha/Ignite style talk about an ethnographic project. As Steve Portigal tweeted during the presentation:

steveportigal: #lift11 @cheeflo giving 5 min talk on 6 country 7 week ethno study of the cultural context of online gaming #execSummaryParExcellence

and indeed, there was something playful about attempting to do that, but as good a time as any! As I viewed it, I was giving a sample. The 20 minute talks give more freedom to elaborate on points to make a more self-contained presentation, but I would touch upon various things and if people wanted to find out more substantive material, they would know where to find me!

If you're curious, see the videos for yourself. The Klewel version of the talks in addition to mine are here. This version has dual coverage of both speaker/slide, which in a short presentation viewed online is important for not missing slides in a fade slide in, fade speaker out, type of production.

**UPDATE: Here is the new "Lift-ified" video website with all the videos that have been previewed and tagged, like in "Games." My video is here>>

This was the livestream version that was available on the Website during the conference:
Watch live streaming video from liftconference at livestream.com

And a visualization (mind map) that was done realtime.
Tips for speakers in this kind of venue:

Question: Was it nerve wracking addressing such a large crowd in person and joining by live streaming? Not for me. I actually like playing big crowds and little groups--it's the in-between stuff that drives me batty. In a big crowd, you can't even see anyone because the light is shining in your eyes and it all looks dark beyond the stage. Nonetheless, it is important to attempt "eye contact" with your imaginary audience. Incidentally, I was fighting the vestiges of a chest cold, and so was attempting to make it through the entire time without a coughing fit. Success though. No coughy on stage. That would have been very embarrassing (and cut into the already limited time!)

Due to the impromptu nature of the talk, there was no stage rehearsal as there was for the 20-minute talks. So these are tips on working with the stage hardware that I picked up in observations during the first/second days. Useful for keeping in mind during big TED style talks, as one may note in the videos.

The microphone: Men, it probably doesn't even occur to you but here goes: On the first day, I was a wee bit mortified when I saw one of the females speaking on stage with the top portion of her jumper dress down. I realized that it was due to the technicality of the mic receiver--that it needed to hang from a belt and despite the fact that there was a female assistant off stage who could secure it to one's under-things, this was ultimately what resulted. So, plan on a 2-piece outfit, or they will find something else to hang it from! Like for ladies who wear dresses, their bra. Seeing this, I was glad to have brought my suit (because I forgot and was planning on a 1-piece, actually!). Even so, when it came time to hook me up to the system 10 mins before my 5 minute talk, a nice female was put in charge of connecting the wire through my shirt and securing it to my waistband in the back.

The stage and monitors:
On a raised stage, I was mindful of not talking to my slide screen and countdown clock down below, but with such a quick presentation it is all too tempting. My favourite design of a speaking venue is still the (relatively intimate) Wosk Centre in Vancouver, that is designed for high-level talks but the slide screen is visible to both speakers and audience. In this way, one also typically defaults to craning one's head up instead of down (making for at least better photo ops fyi). Because, really, you will get really unpleasant photos of everyone when capturing them from below, with the added factor of their heads being craned down (those pics say hello, I'm your tired speaker, and check out the suitcases under my eyes! Not ideal for promo.) Cosmetic, but not inconsequential and a little less inspirational, non?:)

Breathing: As noted, I was trying to keep from having a coughing fit, but in normal circumstances, remember to take metered breaths with the diaphragm so that one inhale/exhale is not noticeably larger than the other. When the mic catches everything, it catches EVERYTHING, even exasperated sighs, slight mutterances that might be humourously received in more intimate venues just don't work as well when addressing a large crowd. Speaking in slower sound-bitey sentences is definitely called for here, especially with the live translation and video capture afterwards (that I am glad to have for this artifact self-critique).

Stay on stage: Lastly, I wanted to take a note from acting training: stay in the scene until the director says cut. Same thing here. I see so many speakers finish, and just rush off stage, all to be ushered back on for question period, or have question period occur with the chair of the session slightly off to the side. Finish, acknowledge the audience, and wait.

The Lift crowd was an interesting combination of all types of interests, and I'm glad to have had the chance to be involved as a speaker in this way. As I mentioned to Laurent Haug afterwards, doing this in the finishing stage of my PhD feels similar to the talk I gave at MIT at the end of my Masters. It helps get me in the mindset of talking about my work in terms that would interest a mixed audience, make louder "finishing noises" with regards to my thesis, owning the hot seat at my defence, and most importantly: thinking about what's next.

Up next: The visit to CERN

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Friday, February 11, 2011

3. Media presence

As if being located in Geneva was not enough of a centralizing force for media coverage, Lift was able to leverage the presence of prominent speakers and media due to the World Economic Forum that had just taken place in Davos-Klosters, known in most cases as simply, "Davos."

Opening of the Annual Meeting - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2011

This resulted in a number of the same people who had just attended or spoken at Davos to be in the audience or on stage, such as Robert Scoble or Matthias Lüfkens.

Here's a link to the aggregation of Lift press coverage.

Le Temps

On the train into Geneva from Zürich, I realized I was in the land of the Le Temps newspaper, and enjoyed browsing through the day's copy on the table in front of me. Little did I know that the following day at the conference, I would be ambushed by a reporter from said newspaper, while catching up with Gilles Florey and having just opened my computer. The reporter was curious and asked me questions about my desktop wallpaper, and then asked if I had time to be photographed in various positions with and without my laptop before the opening sessions occurred. The French photographer insisted, "no smile, no smile." And despite all of us not smiling, it resulted in a relatively lighthearted weekend piece in Le Temps.


The media would be omnipresent throughout the conference. One might say swarming.


After my openstage talk on games, I quickly retired to the conference's Zen Lounge and ironically partook in one of the numerous Red Bull drinks... pretty much to get myself to some semblance of "normal."

I was shortly approached by someone who I would later get to know as Roland Legrand, from Mediafin. We had a pleasant discussion, which resulted in this blog about Digital Natives and a resolution to keep in touch.

Then I downed the rest of my RB like a good Austrian resident.

Next up: My Open Stage talk.

**UPDATE: Le Monde

The talk was also discussed, along with two of the other Lift11 speakers (Steffen Walz and Etienne Mineur) in French newspaper Le Monde. I was wondering how there was a sudden spike in blog traffic from France! Bienvenue! :)

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

2. Lift Conference

The blog headline: "Conférence LIFT : un grand moment de poésie geek" just about says it all.


In general, Lift11 was my primary reason for heading to Geneva. A) I'm a Lift fan, and having been to the Lift Asia 08 in Korea, was keen to attend the Lift 11 in Geneva while living close (enough) by in Austria! B) Even more reason came about when my proposal was chosen to be a speaker on the open stage. Crikey.

I really enjoyed meeting awesome people in meatspace with whom I had only sometimes an online acquaintance. Sometimes the thing about these connections is that they can go on for years without ever being in the same physical room. My first night during the informal mixer at La Scandale in downtown Geneva, I mentioned online that it was nice to finally put some profile pics to bodies. :) Reminiscent of the good ol' modem meet days. But in Switzerland.

The next day we were down to the official conference, where we had luminaries such as Don Tapscott (author of Wikinomics) speaking on Macrowikinomics, Steve Portigal on how people innovate, Steffen Walz starting off the Games session with a song, Brian Solis' thought-provoking talk on social currencies, Hasan Elahi's compelling story of giving his privacy away, Kevin Slavin's insights on how algorithms govern our lives, Tara Shears on particle physics... and those are just the highlights. The jam-packed speaker list is here>>

In between these sessions, which were captured by video livestreaming (so if you didn't go, you can still access them here) there were also some workshops that took place for more specialized discussions. During one on serious games, I learned "how to kill a game."
Additionally, there are "visual notes" (mind maps) of talks that were drawn real-time during each presentation. Now on flickr. Super cool.

There were lots of startup/entrepreneurs present, people who believe in what they do, and those grappling with the challenges of monetizing what they're passionate about! To this end, a key presence was Robert Scoble, who gave an overview of the moment's best ideas and startups from the Silicon Valley during the Alp ICT Venture Night.

A special shoutout goes to the Mobino crew, who I got to know especially tearing around Geneva during some of the down time. FIVE's company.

Get well soon, Elton (he was supposed to play Geneva one of the nights but he has rescheduled to *5*.26th. :)

Sir Elton John

Next up: Media

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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

1. Geneva

For the journey from Graz, I decided to take the train during the day (which would serve as a comparison later for the journey by night train). Didn't end up sleeping very much at all and I wasn't feeling my best due to battling this crazy chest cold, before my 5:45am departure on a train bound for Frankfurt. The train wound its way through some beautiful snowy Austrian countryside before arriving at Salzburg. I enjoyed this in my dazed state.


Transferred there for the longest leg to Zürich, where I got chatted up by some really outgoing retirees from the US and Austria. They were totally cool ladies. The Zürich to Geneva leg was comparatively short and I arrived with enough time to check into my hotel, get myself together, and head to the informal mixer of Lift conference attendees.


Geneva. I have concluded that cities like this are the reason I went to school. Finally, all those years slaving away at textbook French in high school seemed to come to fruition, because I certainly did not practice French living in Vancouver, nor had I spent enough time in Central Canada to pick up the type of French spoken there. Maybe I was just thrilled I even understood anything and was able to communicate at some intuitive level deep, deeep down. Familiarity with German was just a cool addition to the whole Swiss Geneva United Nations atmosphere. French is definitely the default language in the majority of everyday transactions there though, so kiddies, stay in school! It's worth it.


The hotels in Geneva generally give guests a complimentary public transit pass for the duration of their stay, which is super nice. I was able to take the tram directly from the central station Cornavin to the United Nations area, where the conference took place (CICG) each day, including the trip to CERN on my last day, which is quite far from the city centre.


My stay in Geneva was all too brief with regretfully minimal sightseeing (usual for conferences), but I think it's safe to assume I'll be back. It's central, there are a wide range of interesting things going on at either end of the spectrum (not the least of which are politics), and I can say that I love the Swiss train system. Took the train back from Geneva to Zürich, where the transition from French to German occurred when I was poked awake by the conductor asking for my passes. Then, a direct Zürich to Graz night train, where I slept more in my cabin than I had the previous 2 weeks. I ate my breakfast, chatting in the dark with my cabin-mate, and watched the sun rise as the train pulled into Graz at 7am.


Next up: the Lift 11 conference.

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Tuesday, February 08, 2011


Last week in Geneva was mind-blowing and inspirational in many ways. Spending time with such a high concentration of bright, energetic, and passionate people was very stimulating, if exhausting! Well worth it.

While things get processed, pondered, and professed, I shall include a telling picture: fondue for FIVE hundred people :)


There are five things about last week that I'm going to discuss in the next five entries, and I'll spread that over the course of this week.

1) Geneva 2) Lift 11 3) Media 4) My talk 5) CERN

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