To David Tweed:
You make a good point about obtaining sponsorship for a conference.
I think the physical and the virtual conferences each have a role to play, and neither can replace the other. I do have the physical conference in mind. It could be a great way to engaged the public, especially in a populous area.
For now, I can only take it on at the brainstorming level.
Anyone have some thoughts about what could be a cool and productive format for such a conference?
Papers, presentations and tutorials -- absolutely. But I sense that there is more that can be done, something involving more active participation from the attendees. I'm associating to the "coding sprints" that Google organized for their "Summer of Code." There are useful things to be achieved, and people generally do want to help, if they can find a way that doesn't require large sacrifice. We could have different booths, set up with computers for people to work on projects right then and there. We could have coding sprints to work on some piece of a climate model. This would be after the tutorials that bring people up to speed on at least some aspects of the model. I could run a "sprint" where people add some items to the catalog of math problems that I just started on the Wiki. If people get satisfaction out of doing such things, then they would naturally be inclined to continue as members, after the conference is over.
Perhaps it could be informatically organized so that it _can_ run as a virtual conference. Then for those who _can_ show up in person, it will be the most advantageous and fun. And those who are too far away to show up, can still participate from the bleachers of the virtual world.