Monday, September 23, 2013

Archon Schedule

Archon released its schedule today. Unfortunately, they didn't end up taking one of the talks I'd suggested so instead of doing 3 solo talks I'll only be doing 2: Anime Mythbusters and Modern Astronomy - Reading Our Cosmic Library, a new talk that should have a distinct "Cosmos" feel to it.

I've also been placed on two discussion panels. The first is quite exciting to me. "Space Weather: The Latest Forecast". This is a topic I've written about some in this blog but haven't gotten to talk too much about elsewhere. So being asked to talk about it will be fun.

The second is on "Galactic Cannibalism: Who's on the Menu" and will be exploring interacting galaxies, primarily the Milky Way. This isn't a topic I've had a lot of direct exposure to, but two of my advisors at KU did a great deal of research on identifying stellar streams around the Milky Way that were the telltale signs of a satellite galaxy being tidally disrupted.

I also anticipate bringing my telescope and doing some public viewing when I'm not otherwise occupied.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Brother Jed to Get His Own Reality Show

I'm weird. Everyone says that you're supposed to miss school. I don't. At least for the most part. But one of the things I do miss is getting to hear Brother Jed. It's been awhile since I've even given him much thought, but he used to pop up on this blog enough that he has his own post tag.

If you haven't been around long enough to have seen my posts on him, he's a campus preacher that pushes Creationism and has an autobiography that illustrates his lack of higher level thought.

So I suppose that it's indicative of the state of American media that Brother Jed is going to be the focus of a new reality show.

It will depend on how the show is done, but this could be absolutely horrible or absolutely hilarious. Given how painfully Jed shoves his foot down his throat and how exploitative reality shows tend to be, I suspect it's going to be the latter.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Universe Verse Cont...

If you've been following my blog for a few years, you might be familiar with Jamie Dunbar's amazing book series The Universe Verse. It's a rhyming comic that details the development of... well, everything. Book 1 was the universe itself, starting with the Big Bang. Book 2 covered abiogenesis and the evolution of life. Book 3 was higher life to humans.

Now, Jamie is looking to combine all 3 books into a single hardback book. He created a kickstarter to fund the project and has already gotten his full goal, he has some stretch goals that include things like redoing the illustrations for the first book.

If you haven't checked out his work before, he's made a PDF of book 1 available for free until the end of this month. So make sure you check it out. And donate. That's important too. And there's very reasonable prizes for pledging. For example, It's only $30 to get the hardback copy of the book once it's complete. This is barely more than any other hardback book on the market but has the added benefit of containing science!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Can This Die Now?

If you're not familiar with Anita Sarkeesian, she's done a recent series of youtube videos deconstructing tropes in videogames that have sexist components. She first rose to notoriety when a rampantly sexist and not at all small portion gaming community tried to get her kickstarter to create this series, shut down. It ended up backfiring and she grossly exceeded the requested amount.

In response, those against her have continued to vilify her saying that she's defrauded donors for falling behind with her production schedule, sending her death and rape threats, etc....

But the newest tactic I think is the most pathetic yet. It's to declare that Anita isn't a real gamer because during one of her lectures, she said she's not into that games and had to do a lot of research.

Do I really need to explain context to people? That, perhaps when giving a lecture to an academic community, playing up habits that are generally thought to detract from academic focus would be frowned upon? Or that when trying to raise money to perform a through enough analysis or a large genre, she might be inclined to stress the background she does have?

And these aren't mutually exclusive. It can be fair to ask to what degree she may be a gamer, but any degree of gamer is still a gamer. I generally don't consider myself much of a gamer; I do play World of Warcraft casually, and I've played many of the major console titles (albeit usually several years behind the curve). But ask in the right crowd and that absolutely qualifies. The difference is that I'm not being targeted by a smear campaign for daring to point out the sexism in video games (even that benevolent sexism where video game women get treated as objects because guys are so totally in love with them).

It's absolutely the same trope that has been thrown around at conventions with increasingly regularity as "nerd culture" becomes pop-culture; that all these people (usually women) aren't "real geeks" and are just wearing costumes because they want attention. It's incomprehensible that a female would wear a costume because they actually appreciate the character. Yeah right. It's not.

The whole meme of "not a real ______" is a pathetic attempt to change the context of the discussion and isn't even a legitimate objection in and of itself. I seriously doubt that any "hardcore" gamer is going to walk into a job interview and when asked about their hobbies, declare that they spend every waking hour playing first person shooters. Just like Anita, the context determines how vocal they may be. But without a sexist axe to grind no one would bat an eye. Anita is a real gamer and people that think that people that aren't "hardcore" can't do their research, are just jerks.

Dragon*Con Post Con Report

And so ended my first Dragon*Con.

For several years now, everyone has told me what a wonderful and amazing experience D*C is. I've said for several years now that I'd attend and after finally doing so, I can confirm everything everyone has said about it.

I headed down Thursday for the Atlanta Star Party. My intent was to stop by the hotel, drop off the supplies for my friends, get changed into more formal clothes, and head to the star party, but a 2 hour jam on I-75 less than an hour from my destination killed those plans. Instead, I headed straight to the star party, dropped off my scope, had a quick bite, and listened to the talks.

Pamela Gay's was the first talk and very well done, talking about her work with CosmoQuest and the funding crisis she's had.

I forget the name of the second speaker, but recall he was an amateur, from I believe Florida. His talk looked at people that contributed to astronomy but have largely been forgotten. It was a mildly entertaining talk, but not well executed. The style was very much "There was a guy. He did a thing."

The third talk was Nichole Gugliucci. She's big on demos, so she tried doing some little examples of how supernovae work. Unfortunately, they didn't work well. Sadness.

Phil Plait was the last talk and he recapped his Zen Pencils.

There was supposed to be observing on the roof, but with the high temperatures, humidity, and poor seeing, I skipped out since my friends were upset I was holding their alcohol I'd brought (they'd flown) captive. So I met up with them and we ran around to check out the costumes.

Friday my only panel was my Anime Mythbusters. D*C is nice enough to leave 30 minutes between each panel, so I arrived 20 minutes early to get my computer set up. By the time I arrived, the room was already packed and they were turning people away. I was somewhat worried giving the talk this time, because it had been 6 months since I'd really even looked at the material and I'd pulled in a few segments that I hadn't used in a few years. Fortunately, it went exceptionally smoothly.

Saturday I participated in a panel on "Fact, Figures, and Google: Is Teaching Dead?" It was meant to look at teaching in a society drowning in information (much of it very poor). I originally volunteered for this panel early on when no one else had been joining, but by the time of the convention, we had a total of 6 panelists most of them who had been teaching for 30+ years. I think this thinned out discussion too much and things never stayed focused. It was by no means a bad discussion, but not very on topic and without anything ever really coming to a conclusion.

My Sunday had me on two panels. The first was on Creationism/Intelligent Design. It was moderated by the Skeptical Teacher (Matt) and also had Massimo Pigliucci. Matt did a wonderful job moderating and while we didn't disagree on much of anything we had some really great conversation covering a surprisingly large range of topics for such a short time period. They ranged from the factors contributing to the entrenchment of such bad ideas, to current tactics from the ID crowd, to recent skirmishes such as Eric Hedin at Ball State University. The audio of this talk can be found here.

Shortly thereafter, I gave my talk on quantum mechanics which explored what the field is really about to how it's used in Sci-Fi. This was again a room that was packed well prior to starting and I was told that they had to turn away nearly as many people as they let in. This is easily the most challenging talk I've ever created for myself due to how loaded it is with technical information, names, dates, etc... To make it easier, I keep my notes on my kindle, but somehow slides got rearranged and I lost my place several times so I felt it was pretty poorly delivered. I was also worried that I might screw up the science since, besides writing this talk a year ago, I haven't though about QM since I took my course in it... 5 years ago. It didn't help my nerves that prior to starting the track director did a quick survey and there were around a half dozen physics PhD students or higher in the room. Fortunately, at the end, I had a few of them vet the content and say it was one of the better presentations of the material for a lay audience they've seen which makes me feel much better about continuing to perform this talk in the future.

Aside from giving panels, I did attend a few. I first attended Phil Plait's "10 (or so) Amazing Facts about the Solar System". It was a well given talk, certainly, but the material just fell really flat on me. Probably because it was all things that were so self obvious that the wonder has worn off somewhat. I considered that a better format might be to go through the solar system (sun, planets, odd bits), and each give what they thought was the coolest thing about each object. This would allow for some more contrast and I think really highlight just how amazing something is when both people agree on it.

The costumes were really amazing. I'd brought a few of mine with me, but due to the heat, decided not to wear any of them. I've put a few pictures below.

Elsewhere I've seen quite a few people complaining about the length of lines, rude attendees, bad placement of some things, and other things that made this the "worst D*C evar", but my experience was overwhelmingly positive. My biggest frustration was certainly that it took 30 minutes to get across the convention space, but I felt that there were at least things worth getting across it for. Many other conventions I've found lacking things that interest me which is why I've severely cut down on how many conventions I'm attending this year.

Next up for me will be Archon October 4th - 6th in Collinsville, IL where I'm hoping to debut two new talks. There's a lot of polishing left on those, but I'm quite excited to share them.

Mrs. Frizzle from "The Magic School Bus"

The Stepsisters from Disney's "Cinderella"

Marry Poppins and the Chimney Sweep from "Marry Poppins"

Louis Tully from "Ghostbusters"

Chef from Pixar's "Rattitoue"

Garrus from "Mass Effect"