Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Another nerdy adventure

It was that time again; two months had passed since the last Nerd Nite and we were all keen to convene together for some learning and excitement. Two and I had even planned well enough where we bought the early bird tickets, a frugal £5 per ticket instead of £6. I urged Two to buy our tickets then because we would be saving a pound. Yes, I was that cheap nerd who wanted a discounted ticket since we were looking ahead. And so it was.

Our night started off with dinner first, as it has started to become custom. Two suggested we eat at the Queen of Hoxton, which was off of Liverpool Street station and on our walk to the Nerd Nite venue (Paperdress Vintage, the same used clothing store where it always meets).

I successfully mapped myself there with ease. It was wonderful, finally not being lost.

I should know by now though that Two and Olive never make it to anything on time, so I should always expect that arriving a solid 10-20 minutes late will still be before them. I have still not taken this into practice though, which is somewhat irritating to me. Next time for sure.

The Queen of Hoxton was not what I expected. I had thought we were going to a pub of some kind with traditional pub eats. No no no. The place I stepped into was a disco-ball lit bar, with seemingly no food menu. Seeing as how Two had suggested this place immediately and said we would have dinner there, I couldn't see where the edible part of this establishment began.

Then we went all the way to the roof and there it was: a teepee with the largest grill I've seen yet.

The floor was covered in wood chips (even though underneath you could tell it was wood laminate, at the very least). The entire place was gloriously cozy and small (as teepees are). Hole in the ceiling for the smoke from the massive grill to go. Wooden tables with little button-mushroom stools for people to sit on. Little stand where you could order food and hot drinks. Very dimly lit. Amazing, in other words.

The pictures don't accurately portray how dark it was in there. I thought it was cozy but Two thought it was too dark. Well, depends what you're looking for, I guess.

The massive grill provided all items on the menu that were available for that day. There were a few daily-available items as well as a special dish just for that day. It being Wednesday our special was venison burgers with red currant sauce. The other items to order were a Norwegian lamb stew and a salmon with dill burger. Not catering too hard to the vegetarians, it seems.

Olive ordered us some hot drinks while I stood in line for food - I was so hungry. Knowing that we'd likely be going out to dinner before hitting Nerd Nite, I purposefully only ate fresh fruit and cold cereal while at work. I was starving, in other words. Needed real sustenance.

So I ordered the venison burger and dressed my buns as I waited for the patty to finish cooking. I smeared on tons of mayo and a hearty blop of red currant sauce. The burgers smelled fantastic. I also noticed sausages grilling that I hadn't noticed on the menu. Not that it would have really stopped me from getting the burger anyhow.

Olive ordered different drinks for each of us, as per request. Two got a hot buttered rum (which I've realized actually does in fact have butter in it...and tastes like fantastic cookies). Olive got an ice cold Heinekein, which I've realized comes in aluminum bottles here instead of glass bottles. I wanted to get a hot pumpkin drink but they were out of it. So I got the gin mulled wine. It was fabulous and warm and tartly sweet. Like it had tons of citrus juice in it. Even when it became not as warm and merely room temperature, it still felt warm going down because of the gin. I like this.

The burger was worth its few minutes of waiting; it was absolutely fabulous. I have no pictures of it, because it's a manual job that requires hands and I was already afraid of sauce falling onto my clothes, but this was definitely the juiciest burger I've had in recent memory. Tender, juicy, soft, extremely flavorful. My mouth is watering just remembering it. The mayo and red current sauce were a perfect complement as well; the fruity tartness and the smooth creaminess. Even without any other embellishments, this was a fantastic burger.

Our next stop was a bar around the corner from Paperdress Vintage called Callooh Callay. Olive and Two had been there before and were happy to introduce me to it. It was awesome.

You walk in and see the sitting areas first, with a mirrored wardrobe in the back. Turns out that mirrored wardrobe door opens and there is seating in the back, which you don't know about unless you've been here before (or you notice that the waitresses disappear behind there every few minutes). We instead sat in the front room, in a bath tub that had been cut in half and fitted with cushions. Interesting place.

I can't find a picture of the bathtub, so that must have been a recent addition. But we were sitting right next to the wardrobe.

The drinks menu was also an impressive thing by itself. I think you can see why:

It was made to look like an oyster card holder with a card inside that folded out into their very extensive boutique cocktail menu. Fabulous. So fabulous in fact, that I took it with me when I left (I think this is normal, considering the menus we got were completely spic and span new).

They had great names also - like Rye Me to the Moon and Glen Will I be Famous? and Quinston Churchill. All to do with their theme and flavors. Wonderful creativity. I ordered the Fernet Me Not. It was gin mixed with prosecco and cucumber.

Saying it was strong is an understatement. Whoooo, that is one hell of a cocktail.

I tried the others' at the table: Glen Will I be Famous and Salt and Vinegar Martini. They were all equally strong. I could feel the alcohol vapors pouring off of me after a few sips. And we only stopped to have the one drink there. Incredible.

I will come back to this place sometime and try more of their delicious menu. Too fabulous to not do so. And so close to our Nerd Nite venue!

We then headed to Nerd Nite, warmed by our drinks. We got there early enough to snag front row seats, which is a difficult thing to do.

We had heard before arriving that two of three speakers had to drop out suddenly due to unforeseen family emergencies. Instead the Nerd Nite crew was going to have the last remaining speaker go, make up one of the presentations with a presentation of their own, and then do a nerdy pub quiz.

Fantastic. I don't know why anyone would give this a miss simply because the other speakers had to back out. But they did the polite thing of saying you could transfer your already-bought ticket to the next Nerd Nite or get a refund. We did neither.

Here were the talks:

Tattoos in the 19th century

This was a fascinating talk given by a recently-doctored woman who studied one of the largest collections of kept tattoos. Apparently there is an archive in one of London's museums that has over 300 preserved human skin tattoos from the 19th century.

It all sounded very dubious - a man named Lavalette sold the collection to a rich man who enjoyed collecting things related to "medicine and human health." Apparently this man was very broad in his definition of what constituted studies towards human health and medicine and this included keeping collections of tattoos from people.

History has shown absolutely no record of anyone named Lavalette, and so the mystery begins. The presenter said this was likely a pseudonym as there are no records, but even so apparently the man sold the collection and was never recorded of again. And due to the fact that the skins had a range of preservation techniques and did not seem to focus on any one set of iconography or theme, the collection was sold and that was that. It seems unlikely that he was a serial killer interested in obtaining people's tattoos - as many people start believing once they hear the beginning of that story.

The speaker described a whole set of tattoos around different subjects - mainly what types of people and occupations these people had sort of determined what kinds of tattoos they would have. For example, sailors typically had nautical themed tattoos - the fouled anchor, nautical creatures, their own name if their bodies were lost at sea and needed to be identified, etc. Here is what that would look like, back in the 1800s:

Likewise there were many studies on tattoos and their relation to criminality. Surprisingly the only other class of people that got tattoos back in the day - other than lower class laborers and criminals, were royalty. Another typical type of tattoo were pilgrimists who went to the holy land and got tattoos saying that they had officially been there. Sort of a souvenir proving how devout you were.

There were a lot of interesting aspects to this talk and it was clear the speaker had tons of knowledge on the subject (which I suppose would make sense, considering she just got her PhD). Fascinating stuff, and unfortunately too much for me to record here. So I'll point you to her blog instead. It is fantastically called Life and 6 Months. You should check it out; it's some pretty cool stuff.

Alan Turing's Childhood

The second, or rather first speaker, was our own MC for Nerd Nite, hastily putting together a subject for a talk. Since she was caught unawares about the cancellation of the two speakers, it was sort of an incomplete presentation, but still interesting nonetheless.

The reason she focused on Turing's childhood instead of what he is more famous for, is actually because she hadn't finished reading the book yet. Hah!

Some interesting things about his childhood - he was actually a terrible student. He'd often drift into thinking about conceptual maths instead of focusing on assignments at hand. This happened so often and he was so into this subject that he was known for being a smelly and unkempt child - and this spread to his work, many of his teachers calling his work "dirty" because he couldn't fully master cleanly using a pen and inkwell.

All of this changed when he started having a crush on a childhood classmate. They became friends and exchanged letters for three years, even after the classmate was accepted to Trinity. Unfortunately disaster struck and the friend was taken down by illness shortly after starting there. To prove to his friend he could do everything his friend always wanted him to achieve, he picked up his game and started putting effort into his school work, receiving high enough marks to go to Trinity College himself and become the man we all know him for today.

Two's comment about this was, "it's so strange how something as specific as this is what brought this genius person to the work we know him for today." The death of a childhood friend.

Nerd Nite's Pub Quiz

We were all pretty amped for the pub quiz by this time. The prize was a round of drinks and tickets to the next Nerd Nite in March.

The quiz itself was split into five sections - comic books, TV shows, internet memes, science, and wildcard. It had questions like these from each:

Comic books - what were the real occupations of these superheroes (Superman, Spiderman, Batman, and Catwoman), in 2011 someone did an estimate for how much it would actually cost to be Batman - how much was the estimate (multiple choice), what element has the same name as an iconic rock in comics and how is it different in real life?
Btw the answers are: Superman (journalist/reporter), Spiderman (photographer), Batman (president/CEO of a company), Catwoman (prostitute...apparently). $3.5 million to be Batman in real life. And finally, kryptonite which apparently is not green in real life.

TV shows - these were all audio files of things like people breathing or saying hilarious quotes. Some of the shows I hadn't ever heard of. I'm guessing there was a British bias.

Internet memes - there was a set of pictures shown and you had to correctly state the animal's real name (not the meme name). Pictures of Boo, Maru, and Grumpy Cat were all shown. There were harder ones as well such as "from this popular YouTube video of a dog chasing deer in a park, what is the dog's name?" (the answer is Fenton).

Science - these started out easy enough with "what does EMP mean?" (electro magnetic pulse...I got that one straight away). But then they started getting harder, like what is the element Hg? What is ascorbic acid in common terms (Vitamin C). Name the largest gaseous bodies in our solar system (Jupiter, Neptune, Uranus, and Mercury). What member of the crow family has the latin name pica pica (the magpie).

Wildcard - this was a mixed bag that my team did terribly in. When was the term "nerd" first used and where (Dr. Seuss' book, 1950). In 1956 what two comic book superheroes were determined to be the most influential (Spiderman and the Hulk). What type of music is played by the band in Star Wars when Han Solo may or may not have shot first (jizz apparently...played on a jizz box).

All in all my team did horribly - so horribly in fact that we got last place and won ourselves free tickets to the next Nerd Nite! So there is some sweetness in losing. :)

And that was the end of another successful Nerd Nite. It's really nice that we'd made this a custom now. We'll see where this all takes us. I feel more knowledgeable already (although clearly this is a falsehood, if our pub quiz results are any indication).

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