Monday, 11 June 2018

A free lunch

There IS such thing as a free lunch! there is also all this boodle:
I went up to Dublin last week to hang out with my academic pals at the 8th Annual NGS Meeting in TBSI TCD . . . I was misinformed because I only knew 6/280ths of the people there and the rest were unborn when I started in the field in 1990. But it passed the threshold for CPD (continued personal development) and so I submitted a Green Form for expenses. If I'm away from my desk at "HQ" for more than 5 but less than 10 hours, I can claim €14.01 for subsistence. It is part of the disconnected disparate world we live in that one man's lunch at  €14 is what sustains some Irish families [after mortgage, car, debt payments] for a week!

But I didn't need to dig into the €14 because since the 1st Annual NGS meeting, when about 30 people turned up, the event has gone all exponential not only in attendees (N=30 to N=280) but also in sponsors. Sponsors is what paid for lunch when I hosted the VIBE conference in 2014 at The Institute. And last Thursday there were enough exotic sangers, avocado wraps and micro-canap├ęs to satisfy the most starving graduate student. The organisers urged us delegates to talk to the reps from the sponsoring companies, so the latter could at least imagine that they might sell some kit on commission. Being institutionalised, I did what I was told and talked to several of the young people behind tables groaning with pens and post-its A and other give-away nonsense. It would be silly for me to let anyone imagine that this old silverback was going to drop an order for a €1,200,000 Illumina HiSeqXten. Accordingly I asked directly about the freebies, some of which were opaque to my understanding, and took some of them home for further investigation: [see photo of loot on kitchen table above]. I don't need pens, I'm good with pens, I've a life time supply of pens from previous conferences. But I was taken with the black New England BioLabs pencil, so I took one. There were loads of lanyards E including a plain white one round my neck, but I took a black-with-blobs BioSciences one for the spare keys at home. The A6 card marked C above was my name-badge - although what use is a huge name-badge with small print which is dangling in front of your gonads? Excuse me while I stare at your flies trying to read if you're from DCU or UCD.  Organisers in general are useless with name-badges so I invariably bring my own home-made model with print big enough to read at 2m and installed on my capacious left bosom.

The A6 card marked B is just a vehicle for the little black web-cam occluder. You stick the gizmo on your lap-top and can make the slide-thing cover or reveal the eye-of-webcam. Every time you use it you remember the supplier - Twist BioSciences - so it's in your mind or in your face the next time you need some genes sequenced. The thing marked D is a combined phone stand/holder mit business-card holder. I can drop my new retro button phone from a great height without adverse effect but your smart phone can get brushed out of your hand to crack its screen from side to side. Not if you install the ring-pull shaped stand-holder on the back! If someone tries to steal your phone after that, you keep the phone but get your finger broken.

I learned a lot at the NGS conference and I may write a bit more if I can distill a couple of take-homes. But two of the speakers alluded to the $100 genome which will be available for you, and me, soon. The first human genome, an amalgam of five people from five different continents, cost $100,000,000 and took 10+ years to deliver into the public domain by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. In less than two decades it's become a million-fold cheaper to sequence DNA. I've given another more personal example of the exponential in DNA sequence analysis before.

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