Conference Buzz and Smashing Time

Transportation Camp 33, originally uploaded by M.V. Jantzen.

The first day back at work after a conference can be a brutal re-entry. This morning I came in and realized I hadn’t actually sat at a desk in over a week. Not touched a real keyboard. Or really looked at my calendar. I was on conference time – thinking in small time increments, mostly focused on the meeting ahead of me and the reception I need to hustle to in order to prod somebody about something. (I guess you can call that networking.)

There was also a slight shock to my system from attending Transportation Camp the day before the TRB Annual Meeting. This was my third Transportation Camp, and was the largest. Lots of interesting conversations and ideas floating around, but the most striking thing to me was how it basically split into two tracks organically – public involvement/social media and data/technology stuff. The two sessions I was most excited about were about Open 511 and open hardware applications for transportation.

Then the next morning I went to a TRB workshop about Big Data and it was a shock to my system. The presenters were all doing interesting stuff, but the format just didn’t got in the way for me. Panel discussions, especially for areas of innovation, such as Big Data and visualizations, work better (for me) when it’s more casual and open. A dialog. This is not the world of TRB, and I totally understand that. The TRB Annual Meeting is huge and a very formal venue for transportation research and the state of the practice. I do like that there seems to be more panels and discussions, though I think we all need to work on having better discussions. The one panel I went to (of course I barely had time for anything outside of meetings…) was a mess because the moderator didn’t really frame it and spent most of the time on a soapbox. I left dissatisfied, thinking that if this is what people think discussion in a conference setting is like no wonder people freak out about “camps”. Not only do we have to overcome misconceptions about camps and unconferences (no, there are no drum circles or “Kumbaya”… unless you want it), but we have to also have to put the work in setting up constructive discussions that are a good model. Maybe next year I’ll moderate my own panel and really try to show how it can be done? I’m willing to work.

So I’m back at work feeling energized and ready to take on the world. All those dream projects? They’re going to happen or at least get closer to happening than nothing. I have a better sense of how I, a humble transportation librarian, can better help the field and my researchers. First up? Set up a lunch series on data visualization because lots of people here are dipping their toes in it. Actually, the first thing to do is reply to and send out a bunch of emails to stay connected and follow up on all my schemes from last week. It might have been the lack of sleep, lack of food, and excess of coffee last week, but right now it’s smashing time.






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