Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The SVP goes south: Raleigh, 2012

I returned home Monday morning, jet-lagged but happy after attending the SVP's annual meeting which was held in Raleigh, North Carolina this year. We went on a field trip to the Newark Supergroup of North Carolina and Virginia for the three days prior to the meeting start, and that will get a post of its own next time, but despite there being some excellent reviews of the meeting (see Brian Switek's write-up here) I thought I'd blog my own observations.

The venue was the Raleigh Convention Center, a cavernous building in downtown Raleigh, with the poster sessions and trade exhibitors in a room in the lower part of the centre, and the talks in the three ballrooms on the upper level. Apart from the cost of the beer, the fact the wi-fi was nearly $20 a day caused some dissent amongst the ranks, as many of us are tweeters and bloggers and wanted to communicate the science to the world outside. To their credit, the Convention Center dropped the charge after a day or so and those so inclined could tweet without incurring cost and the meeting was all the better for it.

The meeting reception was held in the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and this proved a real treat. So much of a treat, I'm going to blog about the museum separately as a paragraph or two will not do it justice. Watch this space (and twitter).

Of course, the science was the star and we weren't disappointed with a full programme of excellent talks and poster sessions. There were too many highlights to list them all but I really enjoyed Parson's talk on the flexibility of Deinonychus' neck, Brent Breithaupt's discussion on the accuracy of photogrammetry when compared directly with Lidar and Kevin Padian's presentation on pterosaur tracks, or lack thereof. As has been said elsewhere, you can't be in two places at once and so I missed several talks I would have like to have seen, however it's to the credit of the SVP they can put on so many high-quality talks you can't see them all.

The poster session venue and trade stalls.

The poster sessions were also of the usual high quality, with personal highlights being Tony Martin's description of  Alligator mississippiensis dens on St. Catherine's Island, Georgia; Peter Falkingham's deconstruction of one of Hitchcock's dinosaur footprints, Lin's intriguing take on track interpretation using methods used by civil engineers and Gatesy's X-Ray analysis of track formation (no apologies for the ichnological bias).

The trade stalls were good this year too. The Black Hills Institute had a full-sized Gorgosaurus on display (it was fascinating to watch them take it down on Sunday afternoon) and Greg Dykstra of Paleomill were showing their astonishingly good 3D printing technology. David Bergman was there with a full stock of pale-related titles (damn that paltry baggage allowance) and Skulls Unlimited were displaying their usual comprehensive stock of real and replica skulls (my Alligator mississippiensis skull replica is now sitting proudly on the sideboard).

Also present was Viktor Deak of Anatomical Origins, whose work is currently starring on the BBC's superb Prehistoric Autopsy. Viktor is a massively talented artist and sculptor who has been fascinated by human anatomy since being a small boy and the realism achieved in his sculptures is remarkable. On Friday afternoon there was even a Neanderthal woman wandering around the venue, club and all. No-one mentioned admixture.

Stu bangs on about dinosaur tracks to this bloke who kept hanging around Viktor Deak's stall,
and whose name was Neil Der Thall or something. Note Neil's glazed expression.

After last year's meeting in Las Vegas, the Raleigh meeting seemed far less glamorous but also more studious, only punctuated by frantic searches for coffee, food and beer, the essential requirements for palaeontological idea exchange, catching up with colleagues and friends and networking. Plus it had chairs which, er, tooted when you sat down on them (recorded for posterity here). It was fun with fringe meet-ups of tweeters and bloggers (both of which I unfortunately missed), great discussions in the bar of the conference hotel and the banquet and party. The auction was chaotic and lots of laughs were had (as well as bargains) and a goodly amount was raised.

The SVP 2012 banquet and awards ceremony. See those chairs? Parp!

Criticisms? Only that in this day and age videos should always play first time in presentations. Although some people play it safe and leave videos out much modern research benefits from being displayed by moving images and whatever the reason for the problem, it should be addressed pronto. If it plays in the ready room, it should play in the session.

So next year it's Los Angeles, the year after here in Europe at Berlin. I can't wait for either of them and hopefully will be able to get to them both. I love the feeling of getting home and your head still buzzing from the excitement of learning so much which informs your own research, invites questions leading to new research and most of all makes you realise the people that make this event happen, who attend and share their work and become friends and co-workers are really quite special.


  1. Nice review Stu - it was good to meet you. Interesting you mention the wifi issue at the convention centre since I thought it was expensive as well although I did receive the benefit of free internet access at the Clarion. This was a real bonus except for the two days that it didn't work properly!

    You also mention the same minor criticism that I have made in my review of the meeting - namely the accumalation of videos and slides (do we still call them that?) that did not work first time and often interupted the flow of a presentation. You would think that this should be a relatively simple process to standardise these days but I suspect the various different programs and hardware make it problematic.

    But apart from this minor issue I thought the conference was superb!

  2. Great to meet you too Mark, and nice to put a name to the face at last!

    it really was a smashing meeting and my comments are niggles really, however I think it is a shame when carefully prepared talks are interrupted for avoidable reasons such as getting a movie to play. Perhaps time for some sort of standard?