Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A second nerdy night

I'm back from Boston! So the posts begin again. It'll be pretty epic for me to get down everything that transpired this past week but I'll do my best (so much food happened it was incredible).

So stay tuned!


And so after all the conference fun was over, I had a date with some nerds.

It was the second Nerd Nite London.

Originally I wasn't going to go, having been exhausted Monday and Tuesday after returning home from the long days of listening to endless lectures.

But then I got a text from Two saying that she was actually free for it and the lectures did sound really interesting (I'd been much more interested in these than I had been in the previous topics) wasn't that hard to convince me that this is what I needed in my life.

At 7pounds admission too, it's not like I was breaking the bank. I justified that my lunches had been basically comped the entire week, so I could do with a little spoiling myself. Plus the money from my patent will be coming on my next paycheck, so as a new inventor...I could maybe give myself a little something back. Maybe.

Anyway, after the last workshop at EPIC (where we discussed what future ethnographic practitioners should know and do in order to succeed in the world, both in academia and industry...which was fascinating and also frustrating), I met Two and we proceeded to walk from Liverpool Street towards Paper Vintage Dress, where once again Nerd Nite was being held.

As we walked along the street, catching up on what had happened since I last saw her for Donnie Darko in the cemetery, we passed by what looked like a permanent street food festival:

Adorable and drawn in, we stopped for some casual dinner. I just can't resist street food. It's always so inviting and cutely hipster. I know I know. If I had an Instagram account (which I'm slightly proud to say I don't), I would be taking ridiculous shots of this entire thing and posting them to my account. Instead you get the plethora of pictures (which at least I can say is more like photo documentation and for visual demonstration...because clearly there is no artistic touch to these photos at all...nor do I apply any sort of filtering or editing of any kind...I sort of apologize for that).

Anyway, we decided on the Yalla Yalla stall, a food that boasted its Beirut offerings. I was sucked in right away by the promise of hummus. I can make hummus at home at any time (still have tahini and garbanzo beans plus olive oil and even fresh garlic at the moment), but somehow this isn't the same thing as having someone else make it for you. It really isn't.

Two was also drawn in by it so we ordered.

And sat down on the cutest little padded striped bench this world has ever seen. The table was too low to be of any eating use but it looked too fun to pass up. Such are the little inconveniences in life that are somehow worth it.

I ordered the full platter despite not being that hungry. I just can't resist trying new foods. Not that any of these foods was foreign to me, but I just wanted to try their versions of it...and it's not everyday that you pass by a place that says its food is "Beirutian." I guess in real life you would just call this Lebanese food, which I have had before. But this just sounds so much more exotic!

Anyway, this was delicious. The lamb which is tucked under the thin sheet to the right was delightful and fatty, heavily spiced but not at all salty. The little pouch with sesame seeds on it in the middle had some sort of watery curdy cheese in it which I didn't recognize at all, which was surprising and delightful. The hummus was extremely smooth though a bit too sour for my taste, like they'd added too much lemon juice. Well, to each their own. I can never get it this smooth at home because of my food processor, so I still enjoyed it. The tabbouleh was extremely fresh and crispy. Two and I had a great discussion about curly versus flat leaf parsley. We both agreed that curly leaf was superior because of its texture - flat leaf has such tough stems which are hard to chew and have such sharp texture in the mouth.

The dishes also came with delightful creamy chili and garlic sauces, both of which I smeared over everything, as I am wont to do. I love these things. Washed all down with homemade peach lemonade. Fabulous.

We continued on our walk to Paper Dress Vintage after that, feeling content and nice after our small stop in Lebanon.

To Nerd Nite!

It was surprisingly crowded this time, I guess the almost-two-month gap allowing word-of-mouth to spread. Also the topics were more eye-catching and maybe the time was better for everyone, now that summer was over and people were back for school.

In any case, we settled in to hear about:

  • How to become a pope
  • How all the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park were a load of shit
  • How to read a video game
So, without further ado, what I learned:

How to become pope

Apparently in order to become a pope nowadays you don't even need to be a cardinal, though they do still need to vote you in when they go into the conclave. And you do still need to be ordained, so you can give mass at St. Peter's later, but generally this can happen after you've accepted position as pope (which you would of course do if offered the job, I would expect).

The only thing you can't be (still) is a woman. Sigh. Oh Catholic church, how you are still so short-sighted. You can be gay, bisexual, married, not married, have sex in any sort of way, but you still can't be a woman to be the pope. Well, at least I can say they've opened up the other requirements, which I imagine were quite limiting for some time.

The rest of the talk was about particularly bad popes (like ones who were ridiculously bad at being popey), which unfortunately I don't remember very much about, other than the fact that I was laughing so hard, and about what people have done to get rid of popes once they realized that the wrong guy had been voted into office.

After someone has been voted in as pope there are only certain ways to get them back out - they die or they're basically ruled as unfit for the position. To be seen as unfit for the position they need to be found guilty as a heretic in the religious courts. One such trial was mentioned...the accusers unfortunately failed and they were stuck with their bad decision for years before fortunately the guy had the grace to die.

There were also a few failed assassination attempts by various laymen and intellectuals. All of which failed. The intellectuals who failed had the worst of all punishments - instead of death they were sentenced to imprisonment whereby they were given assignments assigned by the pope. The entire reason they tried to kill him in the first place was because they didn't agree with his leanings and where he was leading the church. Knowing this he sentenced them to copy out things like his life story and his favorite teachings. I believe a hearty, "that'll teach them" was harumphed in their general direction.

Then there were the mess-ups. A pope died in the middle of the night, apparently from a heart attack. A nun found him the next morning, likely in a state that was considered inappropriate to be seen by others (e.g. naked and likely sprawled across his bed, perhaps having spoiled himself as dead bodies are wont to do), so before presenting the body to physicians or other experts to examine that the pope was in fact dead, they arranged him in papal clothing and folded his arms to look as though he'd passed in a holy stance. 'Cause you know, all popes go to sleep in their ceremonial garb and sleep like angels. Hilarious.

Oh another thing that was mentioned by the lecturer (who was a hilarious Italian man who is a professor or student at UCL, I couldn't get the full story, but he clearly studies religion and religious history with a passion, despite being not at all religious himself): people who almost made it to the pope position but at the last minute had the title ripped from their hands. Some pretty good stories there as well. Two good examples: a cardinal who was the shoo-in for the next conclave. He was all the right things at the right time and it was his time. Unfortunately he was in an elevator at the same time as a very intelligent journalist, who convinced him to do an interview and claimed that he wouldn't publish it until after he'd won the vote because it would make his journalism career. The cardinal believed him and so laid out his entire plan as to what he would do once he was pope. The article ran before the cardinals went in to vote. Needless to say, he never got voted in.

And the best example: another cardinal who was a fairly good candidate also gives an interview. In it he says that the Vatican Bank, known for laundering dirty money is actually a great bank and everyone should support it. Everyone sort of lets this go because it's just an opinion and maybe that's alright. This guy continues, in another interview, to name off the ten commandments but skips the seventh commandment, which is "thou shall not steal." That's quite a combination with the first interview. And if that isn't enough, for each conclave each cardinal is required to assemble in the Vatican and give mass in their cathedral (apparently all the cardinals are actually vicars for each of the cathedrals in the Vatican City, so when they all assemble at once, they're required to give mass in their appointed cathedrals). While giving mass, which is being broadcast live internationally, he drops the communion wafer. He not only picks it up, brushes it off, and still offers it to the person waiting to receive it for communion, but generally speaking the communion wafer is representative of the body of Jesus. So in effect he dropped Jesus. This is the last straw. The man is voted off the island. Or in this case, never voted in.

All in all a good talk, lots of laughs.

Why Jurassic Park was a load of shit

Or in other words, how the dinosaurs were all inaccurate and ridiculous compared to what scientists actually know. It's a surprising amount...or maybe not surprising, considering it's Jurassic Park the movie (this guy covered the entirety of the Jurassic Park multiple movies).

I can go into specific examples, and I will, but basically: dinosaurs weren't what we all thought they were as kids. Some of them were reptilian, but most of them were more bird-like. There's significant evidence now that points to them having feathers, rather than scales. That things previously believed to be "plates" or hard casings for protection were actually filled with blood vessels and were likely thick skin instead, used for regulating temperature or perhaps for attracting mates by changing color. It's things like these that have changed our perceptions of dinosaurs recently and it's pretty fascinating stuff.

One of the biggest myths that was busted was the tiny forearms that t-rex and other creatures like them are portrayed as having. They weren't silly bunny arms that hung uselessly in front of them. No no. Instead of having the wrists hang down, as they would in humans doing the thriller dance, the wrists were turned in, so they could grip things. The claws were large and the arms were extremely muscular. In t-rex's case, usually the size of a human arm. Unfortunately it's still not known what these arms were really for, since they are proportionally small for the size of the body, but some theories suggest that they were for mating (males grabbing onto the backs of females, though females had them also), getting off the ground if they were laying down, or grabbing onto prey.

In the case of t-rex, especially, this would have been important. They did indeed have really big leg muscles, as they are always shown to have, but instead of being used for long distance fast running, they were used for ambush attacks. That amount of muscle and the length of the leg bones suggests they wouldn't have been able to run neither fast nor far. They lived in swampy areas (similar to Louisiana bayou areas) and would have waited amongst bush and trees in order to ambush their prey, biting into them and ripping off flesh. Their teeth were angled in and like scalpels, causing mass damage. Their heads were large and like battering rams to absorb shock. Literally like muscular rams with backwards-pointed scalpels. Even if the animals they attacked didn't die of blood loss quickly they would have died of infection due to the amount of rotting flesh and other matter that was stuck in the teeth of these animals; extreme gangrene and other diseases would have set in and they would have suffered.

And of course, perhaps the most talked about dinosaur in the Jurassic Park movies that was most inaccurately portrayed: the velociraptor. What was different:

  • Real velociraptors were about the size of a medium dog (like a labrador), so they would not have stood about 6 feet tall in comparison to humans.
  • They were basically like flightless birds rather than reptiles. They had feathers (more like down than quills) instead of scales.
  • Blood vessels and nerves around the teeth and mouth area suggest that they could have had lips instead of beaks or other bird-like structures around the mouth. They had teeth also, as mentioned. Terrifying land-running down-coated birds with teeth and lips about the size of a medium dog. I think you're getting a better picture.
  • They did have tiny arms but they were more like folded in wings than arms. They weren't used to fly but did have sharp hand/claws at the end.
  • They were one of the most intelligent dinosaurs ever. They had almost stereoscopic vision (like humans), which meant that their eyes faced forward, not to the sides. Their brains still were relatively small though, all things considered.
  • One thing Jurassic Park did get right: they did have the scary foot claw that looks like a scythe. It was carried off the ground so as to keep it sharp. Similar to how ostriches sometimes fight, or other flightless birds, it would kick at its prey, slashing and gouging it to death. Terrifying.
So, all in all a fairly large flightless fluffy bird with teeth that can kick and gouge you to death with its massive scythe-like foot claw. Although not as scary as a six foot lizard that can figure out how to open doors, still extremely scary to have around, I have no doubt.

After all the things I've told you, it looks more like this:

Rather than this:

Well, whatever. Can't always get everything right. And I suppose in Jurassic Park's defense, they'd already been releasing movies by the time the more recent scientific discoveries were coming out and thought it would be weird/dumb to change the movies just to match reality. I guess that's fair enough. Can't have a continuous storyline if your main villains keep changing face. Literally.

How to read a video game

This talk was actually more about a study that was done on a video game called LA Noire. The interesting thing about this video game was that it completely bankrupted the company that made it (sad story for them) but was picked up by another, more famous company (Rockstar) later. It has had mild success and most people have relatively forgotten it by now as it's old news (having come out in 2011, which is forever and a day ago in the games industry). The company that picked it up, Rockstar, is also responsible for Red Dead Redemption and the Grand Theft Auto series, which it is infinitely more popular for.

Anyway, the purpose of this study was to see if video games could be used for more than just entertainment. Could they indeed be used for things like education on time periods, gender, racism, etc? And if so, could video games push for those types of uses?

The answer was definitely a resounding yes, as many games have an extreme amount of research poured into them before being released (at least any game with any ounce of storyline and sense), so generally speaking they are excellent studies on culture and other larger societal themes.

This talk for me was the least interesting (surprisingly or unsurprisingly, depending on how you look at it), but it was also the most vague. Generally the game did an excellent job of upholding a very realistic portrayal of LA in the 1950's which naturally held a lot of taboo issues (at least for a British girl, who was both very defensive about being a gamer girl and about being judged for it) - these included things like racism, blatant sexism, antiquated crime investigation techniques (which apparently also grated our speaker, as being an avid watcher of CSI and other crime shows she knew that touching a crime scene without gloves would ruin the evidence and she shrieked many times at both the screen and at her moderators for such things) and apparently very difficult driving controls (which I thought was a hilarious comment as the speaker also admitted that she did not drive in real would she know the driving controls then were very difficult as she did not know how to drive?...especially when she also mentioned that her friend, who did drive in real life, had no issue with the controls...sounds like there is a user issue here, rather than a controls issue ^_^).

Anyway, my judgments aside, it was interesting to hear about this video game, even though I will likely not be playing it (not my style, genre, or platform).

And that ended my second Nerd Nite London. I'll likely go again next time, in November, if I'm around. The topics weren't set, unlike last time, so we'll see what happens. Women were highly encouraged to participate as they tend to get a majority of male speakers and we are supposed to represent equally. We'll see. Two and Olive said they would think about topics they could bring in and I've been told that they would be interested in hearing about my love of scrimshaw.

Maybe. I'll think about it. How many puns can I think up about scrimshaw? Far too many.

But would nerds really be interested in it? I guess we'll have to see...

To be continued...

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