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San Diego Day 3 – Friday, February 19th, 2010

This morning, I woke up at the unholy hour of 7am (this is why I’m going into freelance), got fancied up, and went to a symposium called “Watching the Watchmen and Cheering the Heroes: The Science of Superheroes,” where the lineup of speakers was as follows:

  • Jennifer Ouellette, National Academy of Sciences – The X-Change Files
  • Jim Kakalios, University of Minnesota – The Physics of “Watchmen,” or Why So Blue, Dr. Manhattan?
  • Sidney Perkowitz, Emory University – Hollywood Science
  • Tim Kring, Independent Writer and Producer – Science: The Real Hero of “Heroes”
  • Nicole King, University of California  – The Evolution of “Heroes”

Unfortunately, I also had a press conference on the effects of chemicals on breast cancer from 10 to 11, so I had to miss some of the talk. And I’ll get to the press conference in a minute.

First, though, I’d like to say that if all the presentations at the AAAS are this good, this is going to be one hell of a week. This talk was interesting, relevant, and entertaining, especially Jim Kakalios’s speach on his job as a science consultant for superhero movies (in particular, Zack Snyder’s Watchmen), incorporating an earlier, popular talk called “Everything I Know About Physics I Learned from Reading Comic Books,” and parts of his books (The Physics of Superheroes, and the newly published The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics: A Math-Free Exploration of the Science that Made Our World) and youtube videos.

In the gigantic book of conference proceedings we picked up yesterday at registration, the summary for this presentation advertised Milo Ventimiglia, and Masi Oka as discussants on the panel, but they stood us up. Instead, Watchmen’s production designer Alex McDowell stepped in. He wasn’t bad, and he certainly new his limitations as an artist surrounded by scientists, but I did find his constant swearing incongruent, seeing as everyone else was speaking very scientifically about the whole thing, and as I’m sure anyone who’s ever taken a high school science class will doubtless know, the word “fuck” appears precisely zero times throughout the course, except in textbook graffiti, or if you have a particularly colourful teacher. My point is, although I have absolutely no problem with swearing (as anyone who’s spent 5 minutes with me can attest), it was REALLY jarring.

And now back to breast cancer.

I have to say, my first press conference was not the exhilerating, life-altering journalistic experience I was expecting it to be. Most of the information presented was later represented at the lecture (which has value if you need to get a story up the minute the lecture ends, I get it, but I didn’t need to, and this is my blog), and at 45 minutes, each press conference left 15 minutes for questions, which here became 10 after the requisite longer-than-expected presentation, and was entirely used up by one snotty British reporter who didn’t let anyone else, including the presenters, get a word in edgewise. So frankly, it felt like a bit of a waste of time. Even the information, about chemicals causing breast cancer (I know, the title of the conference was pretty misleading), was fairly boring to me – chemicals can cause cancer? I’ll alert the media. Oh, wait…

When all that was over, I still wanted to get to Sea World, which closes at 5pm, so I went to one of the shorter topical lectures, this one called “Infectious Diseases Have No Passport: Battling HIV, TB, and STDs on the Mexico-U.S. Border,” given by Steffanie Strathdee.

I’ll admit that my main attraction to this topic is my PERFECTLY REASONABLE fear of Ebola (seriously, if you’re a germaphobe, or a hypochondriac, or a person who lives in Africa, or a normal, sensible human being with a susceptability to deadly viruses, NEVER read The Hot Zone by Richard Preston. Just don’t) – but to be honest, the talk didn’t really touch on that subject.

It was an interesting, if slightly dry talk, and the focus was more on HIV than the other things mentioned in the title. I am only slightly ashamed to note that I may have fallen a bit asleep.

And then I ran to Sea World, which, I’m proud to say, I managed to complete in 3 hours (including 2 shows – Shamu’s “Believe,” and a Sea Lion and Otter show), making an appearence at every. single. exhibit. My dad calls it “Sea World on steroids,” and it is only possible if you go by yourself (no one to hold you back), plan your route (which is an adorable thing to do if you have no sense of direction, but whatever, it passed the time while waiting for Believe to start), and RUN.

When SW closed, I took a bus back to the Old Town, thinking I’d go straight to the hostel, and noticed that even though it was 6, things were still open, and there seemed to be a concert going on. I thought Old Town would be closed at night, but apparently, today was their first day of a spring nighttime celebration, and they’d be open until “8 or 9.”

I walked around Old Town as the sun set, and I have to say, as touristy as it was, it was just a nice place to be. The buildings were the good kind of old fashioned, the shops were fantastic and original local places. I especially liked a certain soap and candle store, and a little square surrounded by restaurants and other smaller shops, including places for wine tasting, olive oil tasting, and hot sauce tasting, but everyone there was fairly old and I couldn’t figure out how to take part, or, more importantly, if it was free, so I just wandered around Old Town, listening to the musicians performing in the centre square – well, this is America, so ‘center’ – and enjoying the night.

The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics: A Math-Free Exploration of the Science that Made Our World