Friday, May 27, 2011

The J & J Jamboree of Podcasts

I identify myself as an avid podcast listener, and I'd like to share this love with you. I have no cute anecdotes to entice you because I believe the content of each podcast, given the proper attention, will do that involuntarily. During the months of June and July (J & J, get it?) I will highlight one amazingly scientific podcast a week. You may have heard me mention a program in passing but now I will take the time to elaborate on how I fell in love with each podcast, what is so excellent about their content, and why I look forward to listening in every episode.

STAY TUNED, dweebs.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Age of Wonder

When I heard Richard Holmes on WNYC's RadioLab, I knew we'd be good friends. I mean, at least he'd let me sit next to him--on the bus. That is, we'd be good friends before I forced him into small talk and subsequently sprayed him with spit as an effuse of science vomited out of my mouth.

Holmes was featured on an episode of RadioLab talking about his admiration of scientists and an interaction he had with a German mathematician, who successfully explained group theory (created by French mathematician Evariste Galois), despite the obvious language barrier. The mathematician gestured and swung his arms around all the dishware on the table, hugging them to his placemat. "Scientists love to discuss their science. They're very often very good at describing it," Holmes professed. "I love you science people. Nothing will stop you. You're jolly well gonna explain it." Inside my thoracic cavity, myocardial cells burst and contracted with pride. Yeah, I am jolly well gonna explain it! AND, I'm gonna make myself look goofy, trip over things, and completely cover my arms and fingers in chalk as I do it. I might even teach you something.

With an introduction that provoked so much buzz, I knew I had to read Holmes's book, The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science. The book features the lives of three scientists who essentially created modern science. It's intimidating with nearly 500 pages and includes an index, bibliography, references, a cast list, and (thankfully) pictures.

Breezing through the first 90 pages, the writing is divine and the stories compelling. Holmes drew a picture of Joseph Banks in Tahiti and the juxtaposition of beauty and horror involved when two cultures interact. Although a society of open sexuality and beauty, Tahiti would soon be a paradise lost (I learned that at the National Gallery of Art exhibit of the artist Gauguin). On the other side, Banks collected thousands of specimens and paved the way for mutually beneficial contact. I believe my coworkers and fellow train commuters have seen me scoff and smile into the pages of The Age of Wonder. I am thoroughly looking forward to the next 400.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Ok, I'll say it: I'm a knitter.

Day 1: This yarn was love at first sight.

It's true. I am a knitter.

My transition from 20-something to old lady is in the works. I'm skipping all the steps in between. I'm retiring from my job (that I've only been at for 6 weeks) and finding a porch to sit on--WITH A LEMON DRINK. I'm having no marriage, no children, and going straight to grandma. Anyone have kids who would enjoy homemade baked goods? I would even provide them with crayons and Highlights magazines.

Last weekend I discovered Forever Yarn, a knitting shop within walking distance of my house. It was filled with chit-chat and affection. Each woman was surrounded by skeins of yarn (aka a yarn ball) and partly finished projects. I scheduled three lessons, the first of which was last Saturday. Arriving early I admired the yarn and picked out a style suitable for my first lesson. A handful of women showed up to knit with each other, share ideas, and split goods from the farmers' market across the street. By the end of my lesson, I had learned to relax in my seat and had successfully knitted half of the skein.

The driving force behind my grandmafication is the Sant Ocean Hall at the National Museum of Natural History, which recently featured an exhibit of crochet coral reef. Although the exhibit is no longer on display, the organizing group is The Institute for Figuring. This hobby ties together many passions in my life: female companionship, mathematics, environmental activism, and art. The shape of coral reefs is represented in a specific type of geometry (like the curly structure of kale). It is called hyperbolic geometry and although it's been recognized for hundreds of years, it was discovered only in 1997 that it could be modeled through crochet. Co-Founder Margaret Wertheim explains this at a TED Talk.

It is going to take some time for me to be able to create a sea of coral reefs in my living room but I am looking forward to the journey (and getting to eat prunes without judgement).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Einstein's War

Sitting in the lap of a giant. Sorta like standing on their shoulders.
This morning was a bright spring morning. I went down to The National Mall and meandered along Constitution Ave. The birds chirped and sang. Of course, because I'm a scientist, I had parked my car right next to the Einstein Memorial. I'm a scientist, you see, and naturally gravitate towards science. This is commonplace for my ilk, as our gravitation pull is altered due to a change in molecular arrangement in our brains. Thus, giving us the ability to know when and where science is happening.

Einstein sits in what looks like a hot tub from certain angles. The ground is speckled with metal, showing the location of prominent celestial objects on April 22, 1979, the day the exhibit was opened. Crossing the street, I made my way to the war memorials. From where I was standing, Einstein now looked like a large tree stump (if you squint your eyes).

I began walking down the Vietnam War Memorial and I felt overwhelmed by the amount of names. As you walk, the wall starts at your feet and grows until it is over your head. At this point I stopped and gazed at the grass peaking over the top of the wall. Losing someone you love is devastating. I know first hand. I thought about the families who felt that loss and wondered if these soldiers died for a just cause. I am not interested in wars. I was in high school when 9/11 happened and I felt completely confused about why that happened and how we responded. I have very distinct memories driving in the country, after having just obtained my license, and listening to the radio explain blasts in Iraq. I started watching MSNBC but was hopelessly confused. The international section of our county's paper was tiny and didn't offer much insight. In subsequent years have remained perplexed.

Standing in front of this wall, I recognize that this is only a small fraction of people who have died and I have yet to understand why. I had to get out of there. My emotions waned from confusion and sadness to full-blown anger.

I went to the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, which is a National Park and like most, is completely underfunded. I don't know who funds the memorials but I can say that they are pristine. The gardens, on the other hand, are a mess and clean up is dependent upon volunteers. What would Einstein think of this? More funding into parks and science while less into our military? It is torturous that he overlooks the memorials of wars he didn't support. If we're only putting money into our military, then we are only left to defend, well, our military.