Blog Archives

100 things to do in 1000 days IN PROGRESS; #23: Go to a San Diego ComicCon.

The day of reckoning is nearly upon us; Comic Con tickets go on sale tomorrow at noon. Tickets sold out within half an hour last year, so wish me luck! Failing that, I shall replace number 23 with “Go to a Toronto ComicCon.” This costume is too awesome to go to waste.

San Diego Day 4 – Saturday, February 20th, 2010 unfinished

Well, first I got up and had a piece of toast…

Music-Language Interactions in the Brain: From the Brainstem to Broca’s Area from 3:30 until 5:00

  • Nina Kraus, Northwestern University – Cognitive-Sensory Interaction in the Neural Encoding of Music and Speech
  • Gottfried Schlaug, Harvard Medical School – Singing to Speaking: Observations in Healthy Singers and Patients with Broca’s Aphasia
  • Aniruddh D. Patel, Neurosciences Institute – Music, Language, and Grammatical Processing


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

San Diego Day 2 – Thursday, February 18th, 2010 unfinished

Today was not a very big day.

As 4th year journalism students in JOUR 4201D (science reporting), we are required to do a presentation in JOUR 4000A on our specialized reporting topic. Four of us from 4201 were able to make it to San Diego for the AAAS conference (American Association for the Advancement of Science, or, as it says on the bags they handed out, _____________, which, as I’m sure you have noticed, actually stands for ASSS, but I can see why they wouldn’t want to go with that). The theme this year is bridging science and society, an important and worthwhile goal that somehow seems to get harder and harder to achieve even as communication is refined and avenues for information sharing are built. As everything becomes more specialised, it’s hard enough to bridge the gap between different types science within the scientific community itself, to say nothing of between them and society, which can be uneducated, uninterested, or simply and understandably, distracted.

The conference involves symposia, plenary and topical lectures, specialized seminars, poster presentations, and an Exhibit Hall, and, to lucky students like us who had scored press credentials, access to the press room, and all the press briefings and free coffee that comes with.

Press Passes!

The conference begins tomorrow, and ends on Monday (the 22nd), the day we’re supposed to present. So while we were in Ottawa, prepping for the trip, the 4201 class planned how we would approach the presentation with four group members missing, and it was decided that those going to San Diego would film a short video. That video was to involve the conference and the world famous San Diego Zoo, and would be edited by Sunday in order for those back home to incorporate it into their presentation.

We meant to go to the zoo today, before the conference started, and get most of the filming done. I got all dressed up in my sunny San Diego shorts and tank top, my zoo-themed parrot earings, and a lab coat, and was ready to go (I promise there will be no more talk about my clothes after today, except for when I tell you about my sweater. This is not a fashion blog).

San Diego Convention Center

But instead, it turned out that we still had to register for the conference, so Serena and I met up with the boys and our professor, Kathryn O’Hara, at the enormous and impressive San Diego Conference Center, signed in, and collected our assorted swag. However, we waffled so long on the outside patio (and it was a gorgeous day outside, so no hard feelings there), that it was decided there was no point going to the zoo, it was too late, and we’d have to film something else.

Now, I’m sure everyone has their reasons for the way this turned out, and everything ended up fine, but boy was I bitter at the time. After all, this was my last day to do anything big before the conference started, and I had already missed a day due to what I can only assume were some long-expired pot pies, and I’d done nothing but register for a conference I thought I’d already registered for, and sit around and talk. Plus, the other 4201ers were counting on the zoo. I didn’t wear this ridiculous getup for nothing!

What do you want me to think about Canada?

But whatever, the time for the zoo came and went, and then, at 5pm, it was time for the Canada Reception, where I caused a revolution by inciting everyone in the vicinity to eat on the floor, as the reception hall had about 4 chairs total, the view was beautiful, and the carpet was clean. Very professional we looked, but at least we were comfortable.

At 6:30, we watched the opening ceremonies, and the AAAS president’s address. Chemistry Nobel Laureate Peter C. Agre spoke at the ceremony, and then it was AAAS President.

And that was day one of the conference. I went home, frustrated with the lack of sightseeing, but excited about the next few days (and I planned the events I would attend during those days, and how to fit some sightseeing around it before everything was closed), and in complete disbelief that as the AAAS begins, reading week is pretty much ending, and in less than a week I’ll be back at school, trying to keep my head above water until exams.

San Diego Day 1.5 – Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

I made it in this time! No massively embarrassing moments, except for that time when I measured my bag in one of those metal size racks, and while pulling it out, managed to tip the giant “Does your bag fit in here?” board into my face. Also, I made a kid yawn. Otherwise, the entirety of the airport experience was incident free.

After I got in, I took a bus to USAHostels near 5th and Broadway. It’s an awesome hostel; great staff, great location, great rooms, great people, and cheap. Also, there is an ironing board. Chris.

I walked around the Gaslamp Quarter neighbourhood in the afternoon, got lost in Horton outdoor mall, settled into my room, and had dinner.

Wednesday night, the hostel organized a pub crawl, and I had a great new Le Chateau dress to wear, so me and Serena got way overdressed and went to 3 different pubs: a small one where we watched the Olympics, a larger one with bull riding (not in this dress!), and, best of all, a dueling pianos pub with two very talented pianists/singers who took my request for Somebody to Love and Played the hell out of it.

All of this did somewhat mitigate my disappointment that I totally missed Mardi Gras yesterday (due to the vomiting), and Sea World today, where David and Serena went without me while I was flying in.

Only 5 days left to squeeze it all in, and the conference starts tomorrow!

San Diego Day 1 – Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

Personal stuff first. Skip to the next header if you want anything interesting. And by interesting, I mean gross.

This semester has probably been one of the most stressful at Carleton so far. Which makes sense – last year of journalism, but still two more years to go (i.e. no end in sight), my parents aren’t doing well (long story, not for internet consumption), my schedule sucks, my scholarship runs out this year so I’m working more than usual, and it just goes on and on and on. So I was really looking forward to this reading week – Tuesday to Tuesday, no touring or history lessons or museum visits, just beaches and writing conferences, sun and science, bikes, friends, fun, and pretty sun dresses, ample time for list-making, and finally, a bit of a break. Suffice it to say, I was really looking forward to this week.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

Part 2: When the going gets tough, the tough get nauseous.

My plane to San Diego was scheduled to leave at 8:40am, and would arrive, after a transfer in Denver, at about 1 SD time. I’m a bit of a nervous flier, so I snacked until the wee hours, watched TV, and intended to be fully exhausted by the time the plane took off so I wouldn’t have to be conscious for the flight.

At about 3, I developed a strange lump in my throat. Like a pill hadn’t gone down properly, or a burp got stuck. Must be nerves, I thought. By the time I arrived at the airport, I was feeling a bit queasy. The roundabout in the parking lot probably made me a bit car sick. It’ll be fine.

In line for check in, I got the hiccups, but felt fine otherwise. Just annoyed.

And 5 minutes later, I felt so hot that I was thisclose to stripping right there in the airport. Instead I just took off my sweater and sat down.

And then I thew up.

I front of the entire freaking airport.

Goodbye Blue Sky

After recovering enough that I felt like I actually could worry about how mortifying this was, my mom and brother, who had gone for drinks (to quell the hiccups – which were now gone, by the way) returned. Mortifying, also disgusting, and very, very ill timed.

So at this point I figured it was nerves and car sickness, whatever, but a couple minutes later, the room was boiling again, and up came more of breakfast. It was at this point that the airport people (I don’t know who they were, the people who help you in line, not security or anything) decided that there was no way I was flying today. There was also no way I was getting back in that car, back up that car park from hell, so I made m and b wait for 2 hours while I hovered over the bathroom and decided I couldn’t stomach toast.

Anyway, so us armchair physicians have decided that it’s probably food poisoning, and regardless, I am never eating Schneider’s Chicken Pot Pie again EVER. Went home, slept for about 8 hours, moped, had an uneventful dinner (no regurgitating!), and didn’t unpack a thing.

No San Diego for me. At least not today.

I’ll try again tomorrow; same time, same place. Otherwise I’m giving up and spending my break in Ottawa, continuing my transformation from human to mole person who has never seen the sun.