I reached there a bit late (around 8:45 pm) and one person was already getting ready to leave as I approached the group. I didn't get a chance to say hello to her or find out who she was. The group at the table when I introduced myself to them were: Bora, Mrs.Coturnix, Jake Young, Arikia Millikan, Caryn Shechtman, Caryn's boyfriend Nikola Trbovic , Jacqueline Floyd, and Barry Hudson
Bora was exactly the way I imagined him to be from his photographs. Extremely energetic and as prolifically loquacious as he is prolific on blogs, facebook and twitter. He introduced me around as his twitter friend (I'm going to take that as a cue that I need to start blogging more). The surprise, though, was his accent. I didn't expect him to have such a "convent school English" accent. I associate that accent strongly with the way English is spoken by Indians I know who were educated in schools established by the British. If you've ever heard the Indian neuroscientist V.S.Ramachandran speak, you will know what accent I am talking about. I was under the impression Bora would have a strong European accent like a mad scientist from movies like Young Frankenstein or something.
I spoke very briefly with Mrs.Coturnix. She was at the other end of the table, and I didn't get much of a chance to socialize with her. In the brief time that I did speak with her, she struck me as a very smart and funny person. Her first question to me was "Do you blog?" I said "Not much." She went "Do you know the f-word?" In my head I was like wait, what? The others started cracking up. I said "Um...yes, I know the word." She goes "That's all you need to know to have your own blog." I think she likes to give someone new a little bit of a hard time and then get them to feel right at home. I don't know if she talks much normally or not, but whenever I happened to look in her direction, I saw her listening intently to the others talk with her chin on her palm .
Jake struck me as a very supportive kind of guy. Right off the bat, he asked me a couple of questions about what I do and when I said I was not in science his first response was "Hey, don't let that stop you from blogging about science. some of the best support we get is from laypeople with interest in science writing about science for laypeople." He had that mentor-ish vibe where he'd find something positive to say. And also be sincere about it, not just say something positive for the sake of it. I hadn't checked out his blog - pure pedantry - before. I had been a regular reader at scienceblogs from the start (having moved there following PZ from the old pharyngula site). But I had always read only the first crop of them and had not kept up with the additions as scienceblogs
Arikia looked like she was just out of college. Young and energetic. I learnt she was not an intern anymore and is a full-fledged employee of scienceblogs. And that she also ran her own web design company. Pretty impressive. When Bora introduced me as his twitter friend, I told her that I had found her just that morning on twitter (referring to this tweet). She asked me "So are you following me yet?" I replied "Not yet, but I will as soon as I get back home." Which would not have sounded half as awful or stalker-ish if those bastards at twitter had used a better word than "follow". I had to fight the urge to reassure her that it won't be as bad as it sounded. The one thing I forgot to do was to ask her if I could take a photograph of the shoes she was wearing so that I could post a pic for that shoe nut Dr.Isis, who I'm sure would've enjoyed it.
I didn't speak that much with Caryn except towards the end. She said she had stared blogging at the nature blog network necently and is still getting used to the whole blogging thing. We talked about how we are our own worst critics, and how it is such a surprise when someone else praises what we write because we would have already critiqued it so much in our heads. She had a striking resemblance to an undergraduate student I knew in passing when I was a Teaching Assistant for a course several years ago. I kept getting a feeling of Deja Vu while she was talking.
Nikola was the person I chatted with the most. He was sitting right next to me at the table, and we got a chance to talk at length. He asked me a lot of questions about what I do in the software industry. In turn, I asked him about his area of research. I hadn't heard much about biophysics at all, and it was very fascinating. We also talked a bit about the funding situation, the state of the economy, sports, and a bunch of topics under the sun. He was quite a patient person who would listen at length to what I had to say and would also talk at length when he would elaborate on something. So it ended up being very easy to have a long conversation with him.
I spoke with Jacqueline a bit towards the end of the evening. She had a sharp look that reminded me a little bit of some of the programmers I worked with over the years. The impression I got was that she was the kind of person to whom you wouldn't need to elaborate too much. As soon as I would start talking, I would get the sense that she already got what I'm trying to say. I like interacting with such people because it saves me the effort of elaboration. I've found that such people always have a lot of knowledge on the same topic, and I end up learning quite a bit if I don't keep on talking. We started talking about web technologies and startups. I talked for a little bit about Paul Graham and Y Combinator. She talked about the differences between New York and the Silicon Valley when it comes to new technologies and social media, the relative strengths and weaknesses of the cities, and the startup scene in New York. Bora also changed places to come sit with us as she talked about newer sites like Tumblr (a start-up out of New York City). Bora got excited and started talking about friendfeed, and I kept listening as the two of them discussed pros and cons of different aggregation tools.
Barry and I talked briefly at the very beginning after I had just arrived there. After that, we didn't get too much of a chance to talk again. From his accent, I thought he was from Scotland. I knew a couple of folks from there over the years, and they had this habit of using the word "yeah?" at the end of a sentence instead of "no?" or "isn't it?" Barry also does that. Turns out he is from England, but from up north near the Scotland border. We ended up talking for a little bit about his area of research, about what he thinks of American culture, and somehow the two things got interconnected into a discussion on how science tells us harsh facts about our insignificance in the cosmic scheme of things and the lack of belief in evolution in a large percentage of Americans. The conversation went from there to the Dover trial and Evolution versus Intelligent Design. So although I didn't talk too long with him, the little that I did was pretty interesting.
Overall, I was really happy with the way the meetup turned out. I went there expecting a much larger crowd considering how popular Bora is. And yet, Bora was so gracious that he actually apologized for not being able to spend as much time because it was not a smaller crowd. I didn't know what he was apologizing for since I didn't feel at all like it was such a large crowd. I was also very happy with the quality of the interactions. Instead of just saying a few hellos and pleasantries, the people were actually talking in animated detail amidst drinks and laughter. A great time was had by all.