Thursday, July 16, 2009

Super Secret Science Club

I was invited by a new friend to keep the nerd lecture ball rolling by attending the Super Secret Science Club, a scientific lecture series that meets on the second Tuesday of every month at the Bellhouse. Last Tuesday's speaker was paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson, discoverer of the Lucy skeleton, a 3.2-million-year-old early hominid, in Ethiopia.

It was AWESOME. Johanson made the material accessible without seeming watered down. He was funny, charming, flirty and appropriately bitter against religion and ignorance. He was lightly political as it pertained to the current state of science in our culture, and helped put the hard facts of his and others' discoveries into the context of the greater world at large.

He had discovered the bones in 1974, so as we watched pictures of he and his team working some 35 years ago, it was a fascinating juxtaposition of images of the younger, ambitious man and the seasoned, wiser, yet no less exuberant older man before us.

His lecture seldom dragged, and he handled the questions afterward with great aplomb, including one from a self-agrandizing moron who had clearly Wikipedia'd a catch word to use for that very night: "Could you speak regarding the TOPHOLOGY involved...," punching the word tophology (sp?) like an eager school boy auditioning for the role of teacher's pet.

The good Professor took this opportunity to PWN the punk, responding, "Actually, I was just hiking in the Rocky Mountains two days ago with a colleague when we came across a perfectly lovely deer pelvis and I pointed to it and said, 'That will never become a fossil,' and when she asked why, I said, 'Well, it's all a question of tophology, my dear.'

That's right punk, he knew the word AND had used it in context.

And then... he ended playing us a SONG about Australopithecus that someone had written for him. And said they were making a YouTube video of it. I was like, "Wha wha WHAAT?!? Ending paleontology lectures with a summary song?! That's MY bit!!!"

So in the end, I'd have to conclude that SSSC is a bit more nerdcore than Nerd Nite in the scientific branch of the Nerd world, but NN extends across the whole of Nerdery so still maintains it's street cred.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Godzilla Lecture Recap

As you may know, this past Friday I presented a short lecture at Nerd Nite entitled "Godzilla: History, Biology and Behavior of Hyper-evolved Theropod Kaiju." The event took place at Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn, a beautiful new performance lounge in the heart of DUMBO.

I had begun my work on the presentation nearly a month beforehand (more even), but was quickly delayed by a crashed logic board on my computer, which took the Apple store 12 days to replace. So I ended up having two weeks to put together my lecture, which might seem like a lot, but I also had to reconstruct both the backing beats and video from my "Up From the Depths" Godzilla video, as all my original work had been stolen with my old Macbook Pro. So I was a bit crunched for time.

Fortunately for me, many wonderful bloggers, scientists and fans, have posted a lot of material regarding the speculative zoology of Godzilla. Using all of that available material, with a few ideas of my own, I slowly began figuring out a structure for my lecture. Headed into my final week, I had, more or less, a rough draft of about 80% of the presentation text, and started to build the Powerpoint slideshow from that. Ah Powerpoint, I've never found you useful before. Ever.

I find deadlines both overwhelming and empowering, so as Friday approached, I grew simultaneously anxious and excited. By Thursday, I could see the end in sight, which is a good sign, but I could also see how much work I had over the remaining 24-hours. Still, with a few hours to spare, everything came together and I was even able to rehearse my presentation in front of my TV as it ran my slides and felt semi-confident as I headed out to Brooklyn.

8pm, and all is fine. Gay Nerd Speed Dating is in full, if perhaps sparsely attended, swing, and the Nerd Nite host is on stage presiding over the festivities. That wraps up and shortly thereafter I find myself on stage doing tech and sound check for my impending talk/rap. There was a little scare for about 15 minutes when the video projector simply stopped working, but other than that the only hiccup was that in the end, due to various compatibility issues and missing cables, the other two lecturers ended up having to use my computer for their presentations. Macbook: 3, Thinkpad: 0.

The first two presentations go well - we learned a nice bit about both the evolution of Korean Pop Music and the Harp. Then, after a brief break and setup, it was my turn.

What followed was the most satisfying live performance of my entire career.

And what followed that was the realization that I had failed to hit record on my camera.

So I'm only left with my memories. Our host Matt provided me with an easy opening joke when he accidentally referred to the Japanese as "Japan people," and it from there I immediately relaxed. The audience was fantastic, responding to both my lecture and the accompanying slides incredibly well. The lecture may have run nearly twice as long as intended due to laugh breaks. I haven't performed live in quite some time, so the connection with the audience was intoxicating, and a hundred times so as it was my own material AND they were responding to it all.

Then I performed "Up From the Depths" live and it went pretty perfectly. End. Applause. Yay.

Following that, I had a great time during the Question and Answer section, fielding questions about Zombies vs Godzilla (Godzilla, of course), the origins of the Godzilla movie franchise and Global Warming vs Godzilla. I told the long-haired hippy who asked the climate change question that we should be more concerned about Godzilla, who is a real and present danger, than some imaginery threat of the ice caps melting in the future. I'd forgotten how much I love improvising on the spot, and this particular format was ideal for tickling this bit of my fancy.

Anyway, I'm sort of cringing sitting here tooting my own horn, even in the relatively anonymous world of internet blogging. So suffice it to say I had a great time and I think the audience did as well. A few positive blog posts about the evening:

(Yes, that's right. I Googled myself. Shut up.)

People were incredibly nice afterwards, coming up to me and giving very positive feedback. One kind fellow handed me the card to his online store and told me to pick out anything I liked and he'd send it to me. Another fellow had come down all the way from Vermont expressly for the Godzilla lecture and, I was glad to hear, wasn't disappointed.

One of the nicest compliments of the night was when a writer from The Colbert Report told me that the lecture was on the same level as that show (at which I tittered like a little school girl on the inside).

When I asked him if they were hiring, he responded, "We're never hiring."

C'est la vie =)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Public Enemies or "Dillinger: A Man and his Hair"

A lot of filmmaking talent and money went into this rather boring movie that missed it's mark completely.

The movie seemed entirely too focused on how good Johnny Depp looks in deep close-up, and failed to focus on the far more interesting character of Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) and the investigation and pursuit of Dillinger. Mann makes a weak attempt to emulate (steal from) The Wire by showing us quick glimpses of the FBI's investigative process (even going so far as to cast two actors from that vastly superior show), but never fully explores this aspect of the story, choosing to pay far too brief lip-service to the detective work and the building of Purvis' task force.

Yes, the action scenes are good; Mann has always been skilled at crafting such sequences. But they are few and far between, and the between consists of watching Depp swipe away stray locks of hair from his forehead, albeit quite charismatically, and gazing meaningfully at his fellow actors. I kept waiting for "In the Air Tonight" to start playing in the background.

The movie tries to paint a detailed portrait of Dillinger in this manner, but ultimately his motivations boil down to "live life to the fullest," which is very nice for a fortune cookie, but pretty much a death sentence for a 2 1/3 hour movie. Carpe diem, we get it.

The cinematography, while very picturesque, is on the whole overly conventional, which is very disappointing considering Mann's past visual work. I suppose the argument could be made that it was purposefully understated, but there's nothing to counterpoint it through most of the movie, so it becomes ultimately ineffective. And by ineffective I mean DULL.

Basically, Brian DePalma showed us how it's done over 20 years ago, and filmmakers just keep failing to look at the damn template.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Godzilla Lecture at Nerd Nite (and the 789 YouTube Gathering)

Godzilla: History, Biology and Behavior of Hyper-Evolved Theropod Kaiju

I will be presenting a 10-minute lecture on Godzilla, The King of Monsters, at Nerd Nite on Friday July 10th at Galapagos Art Space in DUMBO, Brooklyn. The other two presentations for the evening will be lectures on "Korean Pop Music" and "The Harp."

The price is $7. Tickets available in advance or at the door.

Nerd Nite is an informal gathering at which nerds get together for nerdery of all sorts (well, mostly presentations and drinking). Nerds and non-nerds alike gather to meet, drink and learn something new.

The July 10th lectures will also be preceded by Gay Speed Dating - tickets for that are limited, but include price of admission for the lectures!

PLEASE NOTE: This is an art space and BAR. You most probably have to be over 21 to attend; please call to confirm.

For more information and advanced tickets, go to