Tag Archives: brains

My Grandfather’s Brain Museum featured on The Huffington Post!

Screenshot 2014-07-14 at 16For those who don’t know, my grandfather was a neuroanatomist. (I would say a famous one, but he was very humble and I don’t think he’d approve. Even if it’s true.)

Today, a good friend of the family passed this article on to my parents; it’s a list of affordable family vacations and summer trips across America. If you go to their interactive map, pick the “Atlantic region,” then “New York,” then “The Sophisticates,” guess what – the one thing they pick, out of every cool free museum and interesting thing to do in the state, is MY GRANDFATHER’S BRAIN MUSEUM* in Buffalo, NY.

Which I think is pretty freaking cool. Especially since, as the article states, “Brody built this exhibit to be used by everyone, from kindergartners to neurosurgery students.”

You all should go.

*I should say that the museum’s formal name is “The Museum of Neuroanatomy,” because if you google “my grandfather’s brain museum” you’re not going to find much. Unless your grandfather also has a brain museum. In which case, let me know.

 

The Neverending Writing List

As we creep ever-closer towards the end of the year, it’s natural to look back and take stock of the plans I made, and which ones came to fruition – hopefully with just enough time left in the final quarter of 2012 to kick my butt into gear on a few of these projects.

The year started with a rush and a bang. My short story, The Tell Tale Tech was selected to launch a week of tributes to Poe, over on The Veillee Blog. Next, Sare Liz Gordy decided to put together “Sassy Singularity” – an anthology of short stories about strong single women, and my short story Sweetheart, kicked off that collection.

The next month, Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate change came out. Millennial Ex, a ten-minute play about marriage equality, was given Honorable Mention at a festival in the US before later being picked up as the centerpiece for ANY OBJECTIONS? the upcoming Glasgay Festival in Glasgow, Scotland. (I also have another dozen or so plays from other entrants to read through before the selection committee makes its final decisions.)

I put both Restaurants are Rated Out of Four Stars (a foodie romance, which appeared in RJ Astruc’s collection, The Fat Man At The End Of The World, several years ago) and my first Edinburgh Fringe play, Playing It Cool up. Ran a promotion for that on Kindle Select last week, and the play was both downloaded and reviewed favorably by many. Miranda Doerfler and I oversaw the publication of Haiku of the Living Dead, Zombie haikus collected from contributors around the internet.

I started a Pinterest and a Tumblr and a Goodreads account. I learned how to use InDesign well enough that I could make book covers that weren’t completely embarassing (you can see an example on the Playing it Cool cover on Amazon). I edited Eric Sipple’s first novel, Broken Magic. Got a couple interviews about my work published on a few different websites. Helped organize a massive political protest along with Eve Ensler and grassroots activists from around the country.

You’d need chocolate, too.

But it’s not enough.

There are projects I want to do that still aren’t done. And I wanted them to be done before the end of the year. There’s my AI collection, which will take both The Tell Tale Tech and Sweetheart and pair them with a number of original short pieces pondering alternative and artificial intelligences. I have partial drafts and sketches for a number of these shorts, including some pretty extensive drafts. But there’s more work to be done there.

Next, there’s Electalytics, the 30K novella I said I’d write in thirty days back in July. Currently hovering at about 27.5K, I’m tightening up the rest of the draft before going on to write the final parts of the story. I had wanted this piece to be up in time for the 2012 elections, but at this point I think it’s safe to say that would require rushing it out. So I’ll pick my way through it carefully and I’ll keep making slow progress.

There are two more projects I would very much have liked to complete this year, including the play that kicked me off down the AI collection road, a full-length three-hander called Process0r, about collaboration and language and technology.

So what gives? What’s holding me back? Why aren’t all these pieces done so I can scramble ahead to the next thing?  Aside from the blog updates, the social network building, being interviewed, contributing to charity fundraisers and more?

Life. That’s what. That messy, wonderful, horrible, ever-drumming thing we call life. The saying talks about the best-laid plans of mice and men, but writer’s best-laid plans often go astray as well. Coping with this fact? Not something I do especially well. When I have a plan, I want that plan done. And when it doesn’t get done, I start getting agitated.

So that’s what the next three months are for. It might seem as though the things I’ve already done this year would more than make up for the pieces I still want to finish – but they don’t. When I distill the list down and hold it up against the “life” things happening between now and December 31st, it looks a little like this:

1. Finish the first draft of Electalytics.

2. Create covers for Stuck Up A Tree and Mousewings (video), so I can put them both up on Amazon alongside their fellow Edinburgh Fringe play, Playing It Cool.

I want to add, “Finish AI Anthology” and “Finish Processor” to the list, but given the two solid goals mentioned above and a third, more ephemerous goal I haven’t been specific about, I feel like sticking those two on the list would be a great way to get overwhelmed. So for now I’ll save those two projects for 2013, which – as far as I can tell – still offers twelve months of unspoken-for time.

This is a totally realistic plan.

Right?

“Getting” the Internet: The CDC and the Zombie Apocalypse

When people think of social media jobs, they might consider pop-culture commentary and corporate representation – but what about social media in public service? Last week, the Center of Disease Control’s (CDC) Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response used a darkly fictional twist – and a keen understanding of social media’s strengths – to tap into the hive mind’s love of all things undead, sparking a global viral sensation of Zombie Apocalypse humor (and educating the public) in the process.

Many companies use social media without really “getting it,” so seeing a government agency set such an excellent example, particularly in a way that acknowledges the foibles of internet culture, is really exciting. Curious to know more, I reached out to the CDC, and the lead for the Emergency Web and Social Media Team, Catherine Jamal was generous enough to answer some questions regarding the process of seeing Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse go viral.

So sit back, and prepare to be infected…with knowledge.

Generating Zombies: Social Media at the CDC

Using collaboration between teams, the CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness & Response created the Zombie campaign to revolve around emergency preparedness and the agency’s response to emergencies.

Members of the team had used social media for emergency preparedness in multiple situations, and unsurprisingly – given how this project came together – Jamal says there is “a lot” of social media experience at the CDC. When it comes to their online activities, the organization – like many businesses – uses a strategy that links information via website, social media, and more. In terms of their specific use of Twitter, the H1N1 outbreak was the catalyst behind the CDC’s emergency twitter feed and a Facebook Page.

“This idea [for the Zombie meme] came up during a brain-storming session between CDC communication experts in the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response,” said Jamal. “We were exploring how we might reach more people with our preparedness messages since personal preparedness is such a critical component of developing resilient communities.”

What companies can take note of from the CDC’s approach here is that they observed how a real world disaster – the Japan Earthquake – unfolded in the popular consciousness via a discussion their representatives took part in via the twitter account,@CDCemergency. The team noticed that “several people tweeted about zombie preparedness,” perhaps planting a seed for the later idea.

When that later idea was used – when the campaign was launched on 5/16/11 – Zombies were used as a metaphor for serious disasters: hurricanes, disease outbreaks, earthquakes and floods, to name just a few examples. This allowed @CDCemergency to introduce a topic that “people don’t typically talk about until it’s too late.” (Put another way, don’t wait to try and buy 10 gallons of water till the day after the apocalypse.)

But it’s not just peoples’ immediate safety that the CDC is interested in protecting. In a larger sense, “The campaign was also to have a broader conversation about the role of public health in keeping people safe from health threats every day.”

 Going Viral: Spreading the Zombie Apocalypse Infection

If you’ve ever posted a photo of your cat on Twitter, you know the path to viral isn’t always an easy – or obvious one. For every Rebecca Black, there are millions of…well, the rest of us. I was interested in knowing what the CDC had used to launch interest in their campaign, since my awareness of it came well after Zombie Apocalypse began to trend on Twitter. This thing spread like the Rage virus; how did it get out there so fast? Jamal outlined its evolution:

Beginning with a post on Dr. Ali S. Khan’s public health matters blog, the campaign initially “utilized several additional existing social media channels including Twitter, Facebook, widgets, and badges. The blog post had an accompanying web page discussing the related social media.”

As noted above, I learned of the meme via twitter – but shortly after, mainstream news outlets picked up the story, and it went global IRL as well as online. So not only does the CDC Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response and now have a successful viral campaign on their hands, but the team’s public health message is being spread effectively at breakneck speed around a globe fraught with earthquakes, monsoons, floods, disease outbreaks and more.

The team “hoped that by using zombies as our focus and marketing the message via social media, we could gain the attention of a younger audience that is difficult to reach with traditional preparedness messages.” At a glance, it would appear they were successful – they were as surprised as anyone else to see CDC hit Twitter as a Trending Topic the day of the release.

To give an idea of how significant the jump in the CDC website’s hit was, Jamal provided the following context: while a typical blog post on the CDC site receives between 900-3000 total page views, the reach of Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse came out to over 2 million views – in less than a week. This makes it the #1 page on the CDC’s website.

That’s at least over a six hundred percent increase, based on the higher end of the figure. The average might reveal a far higher leap. Clearly, and whatever fears one might have about the public’s need to be entertained in order to be educated, this is an effective way to transmit information. “All zombie movies have a hero of some sort,” goes the CDC’s message, “and we encourage people to be ready to be that hero!”

The Serious Side of Social Media Outreach

Given the success of the Zombie Apocalypse meme, it’s not surprising that  the CDC is interested in continuing to use social media for their outreach, offering the following advice: “A good way to get ready for the next apocalypse – no matter what it is – is for people to take some personal responsibility for themselves and their community.”

So what say you, dear readers? Has Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse got you stockpiling twinkies for the End Times?

Visit the CDC Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse Guide for information that can help you and your family prepare for a variety of disasters. Check out some of my Zombie-Related reviews for more braaaains…

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THEATER REVIEW: The Man Who Ate Michael Rockefeller at the ArcLight Theater

"The Man Who Ate Michael Rockefeller"

Daniel Morgan Shelley as Designing Man, as the audience enters.

First, a brief, contextualizing history lesson. Feel free to skip ahead, but I highly recommend you take a moment to read the Wikipedia entry on Michael Rockefeller, the son of the American billionaire. Even without knowing the history you’ll enjoy this production, but an appreciation of Rockefeller’s story will increase your appreciation of the show.

Cool, creepy, and kind of like one of those stories of Roanoake, or Amelia Earheart, right?

At the opening of THE MAN WHO ATE MICHAEL ROCKEFELLER (written by Jeff Cohen and based on the short story by Christopher Stokes), the audience has been entering as a lone man appears to sleep – though it’s hard to see the motion of his chest that would imply he was breathing. In an opening scene that plays with language and quickly sets up a device by which the audience understands when the characters on stage are speaking the Asmat language and when they speak English, Designing Man and his friend (with whom he shares an oath of brotherhood), Half Moon Terror (David King), greet Michael Rockefeller (Aaron Strand), who has come from the kingdom of New York to meet the man who carved the beautiful pieces that have captured his imagination.

One of the themes that spoke to me in Cohen’s play was the way that even though Rockefeller expressed negative feelings in regards to globalization (“Much more ominous is the economic and spiritual future of the Asmat. The Asmat like every other corner of the world is being sucked into a world economy and a world culture which insists on economic plenty in the western sense as a primary ideal.”), his desire to bring Designing Man’s work to a wider audience was the thing that brought enough wealth to the village to make a commodity of Designing Man’s talent. There are some gaps in the tale, but in my mind it was Half Moon who was responsible for the events that damn Rockefeller (that’s not a spoiler, the title gives it away), and as for Designing Man’s child…

The way Cohen juxtaposes and contrasts the vocabularies of his characters (actually, potentially Stokes – I’d need to read the short story to be sure) shows a deft understanding of the limitations of speaking in ones own native language. It reminds me of a novel I read as part of an English (as in, in England) class on Postmodern Literature which has designated itself as “THE CAY but from Timothy’s POV” in my mind. Actually, not positive the guy’s name was Timothy. The reason the book was part of the syllabus was because it introduced the idea of speaking in the language of one’s oppressors. There was something in the novel about one or the other of the two of them not having a tongue – physically being unable to make the sounds that would allow them to communicate, I think – or maybe that was just a topic of discussion one day? At any rate, the idea of speaking in the language of one’s oppressors is what stuck with me, and I think Cohen has artfully illustrated an attention to and respect for language in this play – one that the talented cast and director carry into the production.

(Incidentally, linguistics is a passing side interest – the kind of thing I’d like to read more about, or gain a better appreciation for it, because it seems like the structures and etymologies of words, and the connotations that attach themselves to words because of those structures/etymologies), often wind up playing a role in the narrative connections contained in my own writing…)

Definitely recommended; there are plenty of other things I could say about this show but hey, that’s what discussions in the comments are for.