Hacker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Dave Cox, Lean Mean Fighting Machine: 

What should you go and see at SXSW? Its easy to think you should scan the schedules for the talks that seem closest to what you do and what you know. More obviously vocational, more applicable to your job, as if it justifies your ticket, but what’s the point of that? You already know your own stuff. Go for what you know nothing about, get what you couldn’t get anywhere else, go to exactly the wrong talks.

So with that in mind I started the day by missing a talk on Social Branding or something to see a talk called Hackers Guide to the Galaxy by NASA engineer Ariel Waldman. She told us how NASA now encourages hack days where people are allowed to experiment with science, with no aim, because they know they will get original clashes of ideas. 

What happens when you give a NASA computer scientist a webcam and no brief? He invents a beard growth meter. Seemingly pointless, at first, but it’s now used to detect cosmic rays.

They made a thing that turned particle collisions into audio just to see what it would sound like. Then found that they could notice unusual collisions from the way they sounded that they had never noticed on screen.

And what if a particle physicist does some typography? He invents a font where all letters have equal aerodynamic drag. Actually I’ve got no idea what that will be useful for.

Anyway it’s a good thing I went to that talk because I’ve now got inspiration for this post, which is part of my job. So there’s probably a lesson here about  following your nose, getting out of your comfort zone and thinking about things you know nothing about without knowing why, endorsed by NASA.
Dave Cox is a founding member of Lean Mean Fighting Machine. Head of Tech, innovation etc.