Archive for the 'Pop culture' category

Sometimes I need a Venn diagram.

Apr 14 2014 Published by under Pop culture

In honor of the last season of Mad Men, whose first episode premieres tonight.

(If you're still catching up an seasons 1 through 6, there are spoilers embedded within.)


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Who hasn't lost something important?

Nov 01 2013 Published by under Academia, Passing thoughts, Pop culture

Seen on a bulletin board on my fair campus:

Picture of C3P0 and R2D2 with the caption "Have you seen these droids?"

The part that makes it art is the tear-off contact information at the bottom:


I don't know if that tells me more about Darth Vader or about AOL.

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Passing thoughts about the younger offspring's interaction with popular music, in two scenes.

Scene 1, in the Free-Ride hoopty en route to a music lesson a few weeks ago:

[On the mix-CD in the CD player, a Todd Rundgren song begins to play.]

Younger offspring: Le Roy!

Dr. Free-Ride: Yup!

Younger offspring: The melody of this song is really catchy.

Dr. Free-Ride: I agree.

Younger offspring: But ... what is he actually saying about women? I'm not sure the guy singing the song gets that women are people the same way he and his friend Le Roy are.

Dr. Free-Ride: No, I'm not sure he does either. It was the 1970s, but still.

Younger offspring: Some really catchy songs are problematic.

Dr. Free-Ride: You were bound to notice that sooner or later.

* * * * *

Scene 2, in the Free-Ride kitchen this morning:

Dr. Free-Ride: Hey, want to watch a video for a rap song about evolution?

Younger offspring: Is it about going to a club, drinking a lot, and hitting on people?

Dr. Free-Ride: Um, it's about sexual selection.

Younger offspring: Are there bad words in it?

Dr. Free-Ride: No, I don't think so.

Younger offspring: Musical genres have rules. Maybe it was different when you were young, but nowadays rap songs have to be about going to a club, drinking a lot, and hitting on people, or at least they have to have bad words.

Dr. Free-Ride: Hmmm.

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In which too much grading plus Mel Brooks leads me to ponder the nature of crowd reactions at scientific presentations.

Fair warning: I have been grading for the last several days, and grading makes me silly. This post may give you a sense of just how silly.

Last night, during a brief break in grading, I caught the last half of Young Frankenstein on TV.

Dr. Frankenstein's presentation of the Creature to the public, under the auspices of the Transylvania Neurological Society, is one of my favorite parts of the movie, not least because Dr. Frankenstein is so very quotable. "Please! Remain in your seats, I beg you! We are not children here, we are scientists!" and "For safety's sake, don't humiliate him!" are just two exhortations that I can imagine getting some good use in scientific presentations.

Also, when Dr. Frankenstein's presentation of the Creature goes off the rails, members of the audience start pelting both scientist and monster with what look to be cabbages.

Which led me to notice that there are not too many scientific presentations nowadays at which audience members throw fruit or vegetables at the presenters.

Possibly this is a reflection of the current direction of scientific work -- focused on findings so unsurprising (at least in a global sense) as to be unlikely to elicit strong reactions from those hearing them. Or, maybe scientists are channeling their disbelief and outrage to private channels, say, by fuming about presentations in lab meetings when they've returned from the conferences at which they're presented, or saving the worst of their aggressive outburst for when they are the third reviewer.

On the other hand, maybe it reflects the limited supply of fruits and vegetables available at most venues for scientific presentations.

Your better complementary continental breakfast spreads can be counted on for apples, bananas, and oranges, but not so much for cabbages or overripe tomatoes. And, some conference venues (like the San Diego Convention Center) don't really have free food so much as places to buy snacks -- snacks which tend to be pretzels or muffins or cookies, items not traditionally hurled to register one's disagreement with a research presentation.

Are warm pretzels too delicious an item to hurl at one's fellow scientist to register one's disbelief? Do muffins not fly well enough, nor generate sufficient force at impact? Or is it primarily a matter of the cost of these items that makes them unappealing as instruments of peer review?

Maybe this calls out for an economic analysis?

In the event that you had a cabbage handy, given the relative scarcity of cabbages at scientific meetings, would you tend to keep it rather than throwing it just in case the next presentation turned out to be even worse? And wouldn't there be something like an opportunity cost associated with holding onto the cabbage, given how much room it would take up in the conference tote bag?

Really, someone should investigate this. But not me, because I still have grading to do.

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A brief rhyming interlude concerning responsible conduct of research.

I recently became aware, by way of the Tweet-o-sphere, that I am regarded by some as "the Dr. Seuss of science policy."

I mentioned this compliment (I think) to the reliably hilarious SciCurious (who also blogs here), and she promptly produced this educational tale, which I post with her kind permission:
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Unprovoked YouTubery.

Jul 16 2010 Published by under Passing thoughts, Pop culture

It's Friday, I'm still working on stuff that I was supposed to be done with by now, and the temperatures in the vicinity of Casa Free-Ride have climbed into the uncomfortable range that is more compatible with having a cold beer (or lying motionless) than with slogging through the stuff I'm working on.
This calls for some videotainment!

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#scio10 aftermath: some thoughts on "Science and Entertainment: Beyond Blogging".

Here are some of the thoughts and questions that stayed with me from this session. (Here are my tweets from the session and the session's wiki page.)
This was sort of an odd session for me -- not so much because of the topics taken up by session leaders Tamara Krinsky and Jennifer Ouellette, but because of my own sense of ambivalence about a lot of "entertainment" these days.
The session itself had lots of interesting glimpses of the work scientists are doing to help support filmmakers (and television producers, and game designers, and producers of other kinds of entertainment) who want to get the science right in the stories they're trying to tell. We heard about the efforts of the Science & Entertainment Exchange to connect makers of entertainment with scientists and engineers "to help bring the reality of cutting-edge science to creative and engaging storylines". We saw the Routes website, produced in association with the Wellcome Trust, which included "a set of minigames, a documentary and a murder mystery which explore the fascinating world of genetics." (In one of those minigames, you get to be the virus and move to the next level by infecting the target proportion of potential carriers -- but you get just one sneeze per level to make that happen!) We learned that the drive to add "extras" when movies are released on DVD is creating something like a demand for real science content to complement science fiction.
In other words, it sounded like producers of entertainment were aware that a science-y angle can hold appeal for the audiences they are trying to reach, and were generally enthusiastic about (or at least open to) the idea of drawing on the expertise of actual scientists.
Of course, there were caveats.

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#scio10 aftermath: my tweets from "Writing for more than glory: Proposals and Pitches that Pay".

Session description: What is a sellable idea? How do you develop one? Is your idea enough for a book, is there more you can do to develop it, or should it just be a magazine article or series of blog posts? This will be a hands-on nuts and bolts workshop: Come with ideas to pitch. Better yet, bring a short (1 page or less) written proposal to read and workshop. This workshop will provide handouts on proposal writing as well as sample proposals you can use to help develop your own in the future. Useful for anyone hoping to someday write for print or online publications.
The session was led by Rebecca Skloot (@RebeccaSkloot), who enlisted the assistance of David Dobbs (@David_Dobbs), Ivan Oransky (@ivanoransky), and Cliff Wiens (@CliftonWiens).
Here's the session wiki page.

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#scio10 aftermath: my tweets from "Science and Entertainment: Beyond Blogging".

Session description: Over the past several years, the Internet has tangibly changed the way that movies and TV shows are produced and marketed. Blogs will call out ridiculous scientific errors found in stories and the critique can go viral very quickly; therefore, science advising is on the rise in an attempt to add some semblance of plausibility to your favorite flicks. As tools on the web continue to evolve, filmmakers and television creators are finding new ways to connect with and market to their viewers. For some shows, this has meant tapping into the science featured in their content, ranging from an exploration of the roots of the science that has been fictionalized to the expansion of a scientific topic explored in a documentary. In this session, we'll look at how online video and social networking tools are playing a part in connecting science, Hollywood and its fans.
The session was led by Tamara Krinsky (@tamarakrinsky) and Jennifer Ouellette.
Here's the session wiki page.

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Movie review: Avatar.

Dec 28 2009 Published by under Movie review, Personal, Pop culture

While the sprogs were hanging out at the aquarium with the Grandparents Who Lurk But Seldom Comment, my better half and I went to see a 3-D IMAX screening of Avatar. My big concerns going in were that all the 3-D IMAX goodness would make me motion-sick, and that if that didn't get me, then the story by James Cameron might make me lose my lunch.

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