Thursday, August 21, 2008

Old books and seminars

I attended a seminar by Edward Tufte on Presenting Data and Information yesterday. It was held in the ballroom of the Marriott hotel in Universal City, next to Universal Studios. I attended with my friend and fellow statistics geek, Richard. Besides picking up four outstanding books by Tufte, I picked up a story that I will retell for a long time to come.


I was impressed by the size of the audience. I estimate 400 people were seated for the opening remarks. What few seats remained were filled within 20 minutes. The audience was at least 70 percent male. At our first break the rush on the restroom was enough to convince me to wait for a better opportunity.

Midway through the next segment I left the conference for a brief break. I was gone for only a few minutes, no more than five in fact. Upon my return, I opened the door quietly. I did not want to  disturb the intensely focused audience. My seat was on the isle six rows from the door on the left side of the room. Tufte's assistant was standing in front of my seat holding a book. It looked old. It was an first edition of Euclid's Elements, published in 1570.

I floated to my seat. The book moved away down the isle. I felt a moment of deep regret. Why had I left my seat? How had I missed this geek's dream of an opportunity? Did I really miss seeing one of the most important geometry texts ever published because I had to pee? I smiled at Richard. He replied "You missed it". I thought, "D'oh".

I few moments later Elements moved back in my direction. Tufte's assistant paused in front of me. For a few brief moments I was in book geek heaven.

Later in the day an original copy of Galileo’s Galleleo's Istoria e dimonstrazioni intorno alle macchie solari, was shown by Tufte himself. It was turned to the page where Galileo proclaims the annual movement of the earth.  Wow.