Beemer (dr_tectonic) wrote,

My Unexpected Trip to DC

I spent yesterday miserably sick. Deep muscle ache all over, plus finicky tummy. I had planned to work from home, what with the snow, and it turned into a full-on sick day.

Today was much better, mostly because I don't Hurt Everywhere. Stomach's still a bit iffy, but I managed a half-day at work.

Tomorrow I'm going to go in and try to finish a whole pile of Things, because, rather unexpectedly, on Monday I'm off to Washington D.C. for the week!

A couple months ago, I got volunteered to become involved in this funding... thing at work. What it boils down to is that our major funding agency has put out a... well, it's not a simple request for proposals, which is what they usually do. It was an announcement of this joint thing between two divisions where they want to build cyberinfrastructure (aka computer systems) that will better handle this tsunami of data that's starting to flood through the geoscience community. Only, they don't really know what these systems will actually look like. They just know that we need something, and what the general outline of it looks like.

So it's this complicated thing, where first there's a (shudder) webinar (how I loathe that word) to explain it all, and then they want whitepapers and online discussion, and then there's a design charette where the community contributions get distilled into something coherent, and from that they'll solicit grant proposals for prototype projects, and if you do a prototype project, then you can submit a proposal for something big that would require actual real amounts of money. It's all a bit Byzantine, but I can see the motivation behind it.

Anyway, we had a little discussion group at work that listened to the webinar and then was having weekly meetings. After a few of these, the guy running the meetings assigned homework: everybody write up two pages of what you thing this thing might look like. I like stories, so I wrote up a little story (aka, a use case scenario) describing what it might be like to use this imaginary future system. Nothing about the *how* of it, just the *what*.

And it got a lot of traction. I think this is largely because mine was the first writeup that had anything *specific* to suggest, rather that being all abstract and vague. We spent a lot of time discussing the implied requirements, and it was the nucleus of some more general discussions, and so on. Which all just supports this pedagogical point that came out of the educational game I built long ago, which is that making the first concrete proposal is a kind of political power that you can seize just by being bold, because whether it succeeds or fails, it frames the debate, and whatever else happens, it's what everyone is reacting to.from then on.

Once the funding agency got the website for this whole process up and running, I submitted it as a whitepaper (an entire WEEK before the deadline to have it included as fodder for the design charette, thankyouverymuch!) and got a couple positive comments.

Which brings us to Monday. I was at a conference down in Denver (the commute to downtown via bus, BTW, is pretty darn convenient) and I got email from one of our department directors saying "Our organization has two slots at the charette, one for me and one for $other_director. I think you'd be more useful at this thing than I would be. What's your schedule like next week?"

So then it was all a bit frantic trying to find my boss to okay it with her and make travel arrangements and reply to email from our admin people and all this other stuff while at the same time being in a hotel on 16th Street listening to talks and manning a poster and meeting up with colleagues to hand off hard drives (long story), but yeah. I'm going to DC on next week, where apparently I will have opinions and expertise of relevance to people of importance.

Which is pretty satisfying, I must admit.

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