February’s Nerd Nite featured three totally rad local guys who delighted and maybe horrified you with their talks on LEGO, robots, and ultracycling!
Thinking Outside The Brick – LEGO, Art, and Creativity
Many an adult and parent bemoan how LEGO has changed since they were kids — that LEGO products aren’t just a big bucket of rectangular bricks and wheels anymore. With so many LEGO pieces heavily molded and specialized, is LEGO limiting creativity and dumbing down their products? Or is it just our imaginations that are limited? Andy took you on a tour of LEGO nerd-dom and showed you amazing creations that have been made by fans and artists thinking ‘outside of the brick’, proving that the only limit to what we can make (in LEGO or otherwise) is our own imagination.
Andy Grubb has been a professional LEGO artist, Master Model Builder, and attraction designer for LEGOLAND Developments (which builds new LEGOLAND parks around the world), since 2007. His work is featured in LEGOLAND parks and attractions around the globe. He’s played with LEGO products his entire life.
Why (Not) to Fear the Impending Robot Revolution
Robots are poised to impact many aspects of our lives, taking over dirty, dull, or dangerous jobs. Advances in technology (decreased cost of computation and data storage, wireless communication, rapid prototyping, etc.) are allowing robots to evolve beyond toys and vacuum cleaners – leaving the manufacturing line and coming into our homes and commercial spaces. What will we all do with our newfound free time? Wait for Skynet to take over and end humanity as we know it? Or curse at our laundry robots that are too slow and keep mismatching socks? What career path should I take to avoid being replaced by a robot? (hint: artisanal cheesemaker) Nick presented a brief history of robots, surveyed the state of the art, and made some predictions for the future.
Nick Morozovsky has a PhD in robotics from UC San Diego and a BS in mechanical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University. He has worked for Fortune 50 companies, toy companies, and startups. Nick’s first robot was made of LEGO, string, and Capsela and was designed to catch Santa. It did not work.
Ultra-cycling: A Lesson in Damage Control
Ultra-cycling is the sport of riding a bicycle non-stop in races that range from 200 miles – 3000 miles. The Race Across America is one of the biggest annual ultra-cycling events, and attracts athletes from around the world, the best of which complete the cross-country journey in less than 8 days. What kind of preparation do racers and their support crew undergo before these races? What kinds of things happen to the body of a racer during these long, physical efforts? What kinds of challenges are encountered during the race? David explored these questions and shared his experiences as a crew-member/photographer/filmmaker of various ultra-cycling teams.
David Su has been documenting the sport of ultra-cycling with his cameras for the last several years. He has vomited only twice while on the job. When he’s not hanging out of a moving car with his cameras trying to get a shot, he spends his time working as an engineer in the field of magnetic fusion energy. Holy shit that’s cool.
California condors are fucked! Dr. Carolyn Kurle
What’s grosser then eating rotting meat? Eating dead animals contaminated with persistent pollutants! California condors returned from the brink of extinction via strong conservation action after their population dropped to 22 animals in the 1980’s. Now, their recovery is threatened by poisoning from lead and persistent organic pollutants (DDT, PCBs, flame retardants, mercury) present in the carcasses they eat. Our research demonstrates that condors eating dead marine mammals on the coast in Big Sur, California contain high levels of these pollutants which puts them at risk for many things, including reduced fertility due to egg shell thinning.
tl;dr: see above talk title
Dr. Kurle is a professor of conservation ecology at UC San Diego with projects examining Antarctic and northern fur seals, California sea lions, sea turtles, Bahamian iguanas, bears in Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks, and zooplankton in the Pacific Ocean. One of the stranger things she studied was the effects of invasive rats on islands which required her to camp on rat infested Aleutian Islands in the Bering Sea. She came away from that experience loving rats. Except the ones that have occasionally appeared in her house in the middle of the night.
Countable Sets – or, Infinity is Very Big Dr. Randy Zack
Integers, rational numbers, polynomials, algebraic numbers, transcendental numbers, and an introduction to the concept of infinity itself! Need I say more? I could go on for-ev-er….
Dr. Zack earned a doctorate in mathematics from UCSD in 1988, but decided to pursue a career in software development. You probably know him from such Nerd Nites as San Diego, where you can hear him laughing from the front row and heckling the speakers. Your turn, Randy.
Finally, our third speaker is back … that’s right, back! It’s everyone’s favorite entomologist, Dr. Michael Wall! He’s returning to give part 2 of his 3 part series on insect sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.
Breaking Bug: Insects as Drug Lords, Pharmacists, and Addicts Dr. Michael Wall
It is not happenstance that a 70s blaxploitation drama about the drug underworld was titled “Super Fly.” Insects have been in the drug game for over 400 million years. They have been doing drugs, being drugs, or pushing plants to make drugs. In the seedy underworld of the underworld the original Pusherman had six legs and compound eyes, while other insects went legit. In other words, we’re going to have fun talking about the medicinal use of insects and their role in the evolution in recreational and medicinal drugs.
Dr. Wall is Curator of Entomology at the San Diego Natural History Museum and lover of all things buggy.
Nerd Nite San Diego #4 was a fun intro to three super interesting subjects!
Ryon Graf is a medical scientist working in the field of liquid biopsy cancer diagnostics. He did his PhD in Biomedical Sciences between Sanford Burnham Prebys and the UCSD Moores Cancer Center, focusing on how cancer spreads inside cancer patients. Ryon enjoys biostatistics, craft beer, and is really good at banging his head against a wall (essential for scientific progress).
The Future of Cancer Diagnostics: Liquid Biopsy
Cancer is a disease that can develop and evolve over a long time in a patient. Many cancers are difficult to detect at a stage that is easily treatable. For patients living with cancer, current standard of care is not very amendable to monitoring a patient’s cancer. Ryon’s talk discusses the ways that emerging technology is being developed to detect, track, and recommend the most effective treatments for cancer, using a routine blood draw: the “liquid biopsy.”
The next speaker is president and co-founder of Legacy 106, an investigative archaeology firm in southern California, so of course it follows that he will be introducing a wild topic about creating the future from the past … steampunk! It’s a combination of Victorian aesthetics and science fiction technology. Presenter Ron May shares steampunk’s history, its empowerment of women, and his own experiences exploring this strange and beautiful world. Tea battles, anyone? Consider this steampunk 101.
Speaker number three is biologist and physics teacher Tom Hamilton! Tom will be discussing the nature of matter, from atoms to quarks! He’s kind of like a local Carl Sagan. Need we say more?
Nerd Nite San Diego #3 was full of bio-badassery!
Our first speaker is microbiology postdoctoral fellow Marcy Erb. Marcy studies how phage interact with antibiotic producing bacteria! As a PhD student at UCSD she accidentally became a phage biologist, and as they say … once you go phage, you never go back.
We are facing a worldwide antibiotic resistance crisis: bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics faster than we are developing new ones. Bacteriophages – the viruses of bacteria – may be able to help us. They are the perfect bacterial assassins, having been in the bacteria killing business for the last 3 billion years. Not only can they teach us how to more creatively kill bacteria, but they may be hiding their own antibiotic secrets, too. Come hear about all the ways these viruses are bacterias’ worst nightmare – and humanity’s new best friend.
Our second speaker is Erik Peterson, a postdoctoral fellow in computational neuroscience at UCSD. He makes models of where biology and cognition meet.
Did you know that your brain makes waves? Electrical waves! We’ve known this since Hans Berger in 1929 put electrodes on people’s heads, and started recording. We also know these waves change as you remember, and ponder, and learn. But why there are waves at all, and what they do, isn’t fully clear. Come hear Erik talk about our best, most serious, theories for what brain waves do … by talking about things that happen at an EDM show! The music. The dancing. The sex. The drugs.
Our third speaker is coming all the way from San Francisco to talk about the greatest mass murderers of all time – cyanobacteria! Rick Zuzow is an entrepreneur working at the interface of science and social good. While doing a PhD at Stanford in biochemistry, he was seduced by their design school, and left academia to use science to design for the base of the economic pyramid. Rick is now the CTO of EarthEnable, a non-profit that uses the chemistry of plant oils to make ultra low-cost polymer floors in Rwanda.
During his PhD, Rick researched why cyanobacteria seem to naturally puke out compounds we think of as “jet fuel.” This is, surprisingly, one of the least insane things cyanobacteria have done. Chief amongst their accomplishments is poisoning the entire planet with their gaseous metabolic waste, or as you might know it, Oxygen. Rick’s talk will be a crash course in why multicellular life as we know it first required pond scum to poison the earth with photosynthetic farts.
Storytelling in Meatspace: How I design Escape Rooms and Other Real-World Games
Games can be about a lot of things. They can be about measuring ourselves against one another, about exploring distant worlds, about coming to terms with what we must face daily, about struggle, about success. But at their heart, games are about two things: choices and stories. Truly excellent games force us to make choices, and from those choices arise compelling stories. So what happens when the choices you make in a game viscerally affect your real life? Find out as escape room designer and creator of The Puzzalarium Stevenson Streeper shares his experience in game theory … and straight up getting in people’s heads.
Inmates with Paints
When creative arts overlap the prison system: Tara Centybear, art teacher and curator at the San Diego History Center, shares her experience in the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility. No, not as a tenant (as far as I know), but with Project PAINT, a local nonprofit art program in this San Diego prison. Learn the backstory of the arts in corrections landscape in California: a once thriving establishment of programs that inspired other states around the country.
Hunters of the Savage Garden
The San Diego Carnivorous Plant Society presents … exactly what you’re hoping for. Meat-eating plants of all shapes and sizes. Feed me, Seymour! Also, live plants!
The Future is Now … What’s Next?
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law captures the world in which we live, often without our awareness of how advanced we are. Or, as Louis CK puts it, “everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy.” Yesterday’s super powers are today’s gizmos: The 1960s Enterprise worked off levers and knobs, with a computer that seemed less powerful than an iPad. Now it’s a fully-automated, semi-sentient AI. Iron Man was literally just a guy in a suit of armor – now his “suit” is a series of nanoparticles embedded within his body that he commands with his mind to form armor around him. Could this mean that tomorrow’s gadgets will be AI supercomputers and nanoparticle toys?
In this talk, neuroscientist Dr. Brad Voytek (of zombie brain fame) explores our technological future as predicted by comic books and science fiction. He’ll cover some history of science in science fiction and comics, how those themes reflect, and are reflected by, our current scientific achievements, and how the ideas behind today’s sci-fi and comic book magic may soon be tomorrow’s everyday technology.
InSex in the Undergrowth: Stories of Entomological Kink and Fetish!
The bizarreness of insect sex calls into question the universality of Rule 34. Sure, there are insects that engage in erotic practices with human equivalents: you’ve got your insect sadists and cross-dressers. But some insect kink seems to defy human imagination. Join entomologist Dr. Michael Wall as he explores the deviance and debauchery of six-legged sex.
Dr. Wall has been looking at insect tallywackers and naughty bits for over two decades. All in the name of science, he swears.
Heterodyne with Scott Paulson!
The purported love child of Vincent Price and Garrison Keillor, Scott is well known for his spooky sound effects, whether for old-school radio drama, experimental theatrical sound design, or live and lively silent film accompaniment. The Theremin is an audience favorite in Scott’s underscoring activities. Scott uses the Theremin in many settings, from modern chamber music to STEM instructional activities. Many of Scott’s Theremin activities take place in Geisel Library at UC San Diego (the very space-age “Mother Ship” building in the middle of that La Jolla Campus – Halloween silent horror films coming up in the Seuss Room there next month!).
Nerd Nite #1 has Scott Paulson demonstrating the Theremin and celebrating the magic of the “space age” instruments’ swirling radio waves in the ether around us. We’ll here famous examples of Theremin music and explore the kitschy yet classy Theremin in popular culture and beyond – with joys and regrets of the inventor Lev Theremin and his muse Clara Rockmore.
We’ll learn how it works and see a premiere of a short new work for Theremin and other gestural instruments … featuring volunteers from the audience!
Here is an appropriate onomatopoetic representation: OOOOooooEEEEEeeeeeOOOOooooo!!!!