TITLE: A Day with Camouflage Scholars AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: April 22, 2006 7:07 PM DESC: ----- BODY: Camouflage Conference poster I am spending this day uncharacteristically, at the international conference Camouflage: art, science & popular culture. As I've written before, UNI is home to an internationally renown scholar of camouflage, Roy Behrens, who has organized this surprising event: a one-day conference that has attracted presenters and attendees from Europe, Australia, and all over the US, from art, architecture, photography, literature, theater, dance, music, and graphic arts, as well as a local mathematician and a local computer scientist, all to discuss "the art of hiding in plain sight". I am an outlier in every session, but I'm having fun. Marvin Bell, the Flannery O'Connor Professor of Letters at the University of Iowa and the state's first Poet Laureate, opened the day with some remarks and a first reading of a new poem in his Dead Man Walking series. First, he chuckled over his favorite titles from the conference program: "The Case of the Disappearing Student" and "Photographic Prevarications" among them. My talk's title, "NUMB3RS Meets The Da Vinci Code: Information Masquerading as Art", wasn't on his list, but that may be because my talk was opposite his favorite title. It is worthy of enshrinement with the all-time great MLA titles: "Art and the Blind: An Unorthodox Phallic Cultural Find". His remarks considered the ways in which poetry is like camouflage, how it uses a common vocabulary but requires a second look in order to see what is there. Thankfully, my talk came almost first thing in the day, as one of three talks kicking of the day's three parallel sessions. As you might guess, this was an unusual audience for me to speak to, a melange of artistic folks, with not a techie among them. What interests them about steganography in digital images? The talk went well. I had prepared much more than I could use in thirty minutes, but that gave me a freedom to let the talk grow naturally from plentiful raw material. I may write more about the content of my presentation later, but what is most on my mind right now are the reactions of the audience, especially in response to this comment I made near the end: "But of what interest can this be to an artist?" As I was packing up, a Los Angeles architect and artist asked about 3D steganography -- how one might hide one building inside another, either digitally or in real space. A writer asked me about hypertext and the ability to reveal different message to different readers depending on their context. Later, another artist/architect told me that what excited her most about my talk was simply knowing that something like this exists -- the idea had sparked her thoughts on military camouflage. Finally, on the way to lunch, two artists stopped me to say "Great talk! We could have listened to you for another 30 minutes, or even an hour." What a stroke to my ego. For me, perhaps the best part of this is to know that I am not such an oddball, that the arts are populated by kindred spirits who see inspiration in computer science much as I see it in the arts. This has been my first "public outreach" sort of talk in a long time, but the experience encourages me that we can share the thrill with everyone -- and then watch for the sparks of inspiration to create the fires of new ideas in other disciplines. I've done my best today to attend presentations from as many different media as possible: so far, poetry, architecture, literary translition (yes, that's an 'i'), photography, dance, painting, and neurobiology; coming up, language, music, and math. The talks have been of mixed interest and value to me, but I suppose that's not much different from most computer science conferences. Some thoughts that stood out or occurred to me: This is an indulgent day for me, frankly. I have a list of 500 hundred things to do for my job -- literally -- plus a hefty list for home. My daughters had soccer games, piano lessons, and babysitting today, so my wife spent a bunch of time running shuttle service solo. It's a privilege to spend an entire day, 8:00 AM-8:30 PM, on an interdisciplinary topic with little or no direct relationship to computer science. It's a good thing I don't have to worry about getting tenure. -----