I was fortunate to visit Tanzania last November. The primary reason was to collect my Ebbe Nielsen prize which was awarded to me by GBIF after their 15th Governing Board meeting (GB15). However, the Natural History Museum (NHM) usually sends a representative as part of the UK delegation on the governing board, and since I was already going, I was the obvious (or at least the cheapest) candidate. This was my first opportunity to gain an understanding of GBIF's inner workings. As someone that typically eschews bureaucracy, formality and politics, I was not sure whether I'd be much use in UK delegation or indeed whether I would get much from the meeting. I'm pleased to say that I was very wrong on the latter, and hopefully made sufficient contribution to justify my presence as part of the former. Indeed, judging by the draft minutes of the meeting, the UK certainly made its presence felt!
I had the opportunity to visit New York twice in 2008. Firstly to the New York Botanic Gardens (NYBG) in September and then to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in November. On both occasions I was giving a talk about the Scratchpad project (two of twelve talks I gave in 2008, I'll try to rest my voice a little in 2009!), but at the botanic gardens we were also installing an experimental Scratchpad server. Both institutions are in some respects very different to the Natural History Museum (NHM), London.
Amongst the many conferences I went to in 2008, Science Foo Camp 08 (SciFoo) has to be the highlight. This extraordinary gathering of scientists, engineers, geeks and technologists is put together by Nature, O'Reilly and Google, and is hosted in building 40 at Googleplex (Mountain View, CA). The meeting is in its third year and I was lucky enough to be there for 2008. Thanks to a Mac Book Air that I borrowed for the trip, I made notes on the sessions I attended. However, true to form I never got around to summerizing these notes such that they could be blogged. Here (in a slightly edited form) are some comments on the sessions I attended. I've also listed a few of the sessions I couldn't make, because of clashes in the schedule. For some pics, check out the SciFoo tag on my Flickr account:
EDIT (the European Distributed Institute of Taxonomy) kicked off 2008 with weeklong meeting in Carvoeiro, Portugal (21 – 25 January 2008) that included a Symposium on Future Trends of Taxonomy, and an EDIT General Meeting to discuss the work and future direction of the EDIT programme of work. The future trends symposium produced a really useful report into Taxonomy in Europe in the 21st century, which is well worth reading. It also paints a dramatically different picture of taxonomy, compared with that espoused by Wheeler and some of his colleagues in his 2008 book on "The New Taxonomy" (see my recent review of this in Systematic Biology).
2008 was a pretty extraordinary year for me and some of the projects I have been working on. However, I have been very bad at documenting these events. Most of the time I can't even manage 140 characters in a Twitter post, let alone a proper blog post, despite the fact that I can now blog and Twitter away from my iPhone. In recompense I am going to make a few retrospective blog posts looking back at some of the major events that affected my work and me in 2008. This is partly to tell others about them, but is more for the self indulgent reason that I should keep a better record of what I have done, less I forget! Hopefully, this will help me keep one of my New Years resolutions - to become a better blogger.
To much outcry, the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) have announced a one-year consultation period on an amendment of the Zoological Code that would permit the electronic publication of new taxon names (i.e. species descriptions) and nomenclatural acts. Unfortunately few people appear to have read the details before commenting. As it stands, electronic publication is only allowed if physical copies are also deposited in 5 named libraries. The new proposal would remove this library requirement, subject to finding a mechanism that assures enduring access to the information contained within the original article. It is this proviso that most people seem not to have noticed.
Several people have asked me to say a few words about the code sprint that took place at Chicago Field Museum (8-11 Sept. 08). This event was to address some of the underlying barriers in the Drupal Content Management System (CMS), that would hinder our use of Drupal for the Encyclopedia of Life's "Life Desk" project, and that we have been trying to grapple with at the NHM in the Scratchpad project. The goal was to engage the Drupal developers community with a few tech savvy biologists, and come up with solutions that would benefit both Drupal and the biological community. The meeting was supported by BioSynC, the Biodiversity Synthesis Center, part of the EoL group based at The Chicago Field Museum. BioSynC provided the logistical support, and were spectacular hosts looking after our every whim. The meeting was run by David Shorthouse, who also did the initial planning. In total there were about 15 participants, mainly independent developers, several EOL informaticians, and a few biologists (myself included).
Last night (Wednesday Sept 25, 08) I attended a Talk Science event at the British Library and took part in a discussion on social networking and Web 2.0 tools in science. Timo Hannay (Web Publishing manager at Nature) gave a great keynote talk ("Scientific Researchers and Web 2.0: Social 'NotWorking'?), which was following by a discussion amongst the 100+ participants, both physical and virtual thanks to Second Life.