Tag Archives: science

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.


#SignalBoost #ForScience Awesome new Lego set announced!

From the Mashable Twitter account.

From the Mashable Twitter account.

That scream you just heard? That scream of every nerdy, sci-fi loving lady on your Friends list? You can thank Lego for that.

Because they’re introducing a line of sets made up entirely of female scientists, and WE ARE EXCITED. (Though, it’s worth noting that the set was the winner of their winter 2014 design context, and were proposed by a women.)

When I first saw the Mashable Article that announced Lego: Research Institute, I got excited. When I realized they meant generic staff at a Lego Research Institute, I flipped my freaking lid and started sharing the news.

…an astronomer with a telescope, a chemist with a lab and a paleontologist with a dinosaur skeleton.

An entire toy set full of women, and it isn’t called “Lego: Women In Science,” or “Lego: Grrls Can Do Teh Sciences, Too”. It’s called Lego: Research Institute. And you open the doors of that institute and you’ve got an astronomer, a chemist and a paleontologist. (Obviously, this is the research institute responsible for something to do with space dinosaurs…who are really good at chemistry*.) Oh — and they all just happen to be women.

Seeing women in STEM roles make their way into kids’ toys is rare. Doing it this way – constructing a setting for the use of imagination, choosing a setting where one gender is not always welcome, and then populating it exclusively with representatives of that gender? I definitely can’t think of another company that’s produced this kind of line, even if it came from a crowd-sourced ideas process and wasn’t generated internally. I would, however, absolutely welcome corrections to this in the comments.

From the moment a child picks up one of the employees at Lego: Research Institute, they’ll be using their imagination to create lives and goals for women in STEM roles. They will, by default, see women in STEM roles. How can that help but create space in their minds for seeing this as normal, and not the exception?

Women are still woefully underrepresented in STEM careers, and correcting that underrepresentation is going to take effort. Giving all children the tools to start imagining women as common members of STEM professions will, I’m willing to guess, eventually help start to change the cultures of those fields, making historically exclusive spaces more friendly to the women working in them both today and in the future.

I leave you with three questions:

  1. Parents: think maybe you’ll snag a couple of these sets for your kids?
  2. Who wants to create the computer programming and comic book equivalents of this set?
  3. Okay, this one isn’t a question, but there is a donate button on the righthand side of my blog and Lego sets do not come cheap.


*I was not really good at chemistry, which probably explains why I can’t think of a good way to blend it with astronomy or paleontology.


Would You Like a Robot on Your Board of Directors?

Groundbreaking (for its time) computer ENIAC being operated by two women

Back in its day, ENIAC was pretty darn advanced, too. [Photo credit: PD image of ENIAC. Two women operating the ENIAC’s main control panel while the machine was still located at the Moore School. “U.S. Army Photo” from the archives of the ARL Technical Library. Left: Betty Jennings (Mrs. Bartik) Right: Frances Bilas (Mrs. Spence)]

I’m geeking out over this article.

While the title of that piece is a little misleading (the artificial intelligence tool in question, called VITAL (from Aging Analytics Agency), will be used to create comprehensive reports but humans will still be making the decisions), this is the kind of piece a sci-fi junkie salivates over. One more step on the way to the singularity, Skynet is just around the corner, etc., etc. A venture capitalist firm called Deep Knowledge Ventures, where board members wait for reports from a robot before making decisions? I can already see the film rights getting optioned.

As the above article points out, of course, this isn’t the first time machines have been entrusted with making decisions that affect the course of human business. Remember the Flash Crash of 2010? The Dow Jones lost around 1000 points within a matter of minutes, all because a computer algorithm misfired. (As far as I’m aware, the issue quickly self-corrected when the programs in play recognized the sharp drop and shut down trading.)

While one likes to think that VITAL won’t have that kind of access to major markets, it isn’t hard to see where it might have deeper repercussions for both venture capital firms and the field of life sciences research. It will be interesting to see how other venture capital firms react. If the machine works as advertised, the firm will be able to make safer investment bets on new companies, operating less on human emotion than on raw data. If one VC firm is able to make decisions that pay off with more regularity, it’s almost guaranteed that others will want to use this technology as well, just to remain competitive.

Think about it as a data arms race between private companies. Where could it wind up? And what does it mean to the life sciences companies? (And what consequences could it have for disease and other biological research?)

I’d like to know more about how VITAL will calculate an investment with the potential for success – in knowledge gained? In jobs created? Or (as I suspect) in terms of the most profitable bottom line?

It’s definitely a story I’ll be trying to stay informed on.

Additional Reading:

SciFi Flash Fiction: A Step Ahead

“It’s okay,” they kept saying when oil stores got low. “Science stays a step ahead.” They said it when the gush slowed to a slow-bleeding trickle, out of the scars of the ground.

They said it again in the wake of the twenty-teens extinctions. “Biological diversity? Eh, it’s fine. We’ve got DNA samples in the lab. We’re all good.” Even the species that hadn’t been sampled. “We can extrapolate. Science stays a step ahead.”

When the water dried up and there was nothing to drink, there were tiny nuclear-powered pumps sucking liquid from the air Science stayed a step ahead.

When the environment was pushed to its limits and the human die-offs occurred, late  in the mid-2020s, a void was presented. Plagues had decimated populations before; as before, food supplies and resources were at a premium. Automated service units were built for those who remained.

Finally, even those humans who remained could not extract enough from around them to continue, and they imprinted themselves into the  those automated units, and the planet whirred and clicked along like a gear through the heavens.

Science stayed a step ahead.


Years ago, my dad and I talked about how the human population planet was using up fossil fuels.  I was worried about a school lecture or something I’d seen on the news, and in addition to a joke about how an uncle of his used to say “if the combustion engine hadn’t been invented, we’d all be knee-deep in horse shit!”, he told me about a new technology that was being explored, which allowed gas companies to take advantage of new processes and extract new reserves of fossil fuels through the use of pressure and chemicals. Over the years, it’s become clear that he was talking about hydraulic fracturing – fracking.

That conversation is what I think about when I think about using advancing sciences as an excuse not to worry about how we use the resources we have today. 

It’s not that I don’t believe in science – I do. Very strongly. But I sometimes don’t think much of where we’re taking ourselves when we  put it to use.

Anyway, taking a cue from the quote, “All a first draft must do to be successful is exist,” I’m posting this as is. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.


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Cool Tweets About Robots, Writing & More

As you may know by now, my next collection is made up of short stories about artificial intelligence and robots. So here are some tweets I’ve seen about cool robot stuff over the last few weeks:



Many years ago, I saw the Tiger Lilies perform in London – so here’s another tweet that caught my eye:


Some links on Self-Publishing:


How to Make Money Self-Publishing Fiction.ow.ly/kghjm #writing #indie

— James Scott Bell (@jamesscottbell) April 21, 2013


And a friend talked about starting a forum about women who write science fiction…


I’ll leave you with some wise words:

Creepy Creepers and the Creeps Who Excuse Them

Pic gakked from paulocoelhoblog.com.             Creepy, huh.

Today, my friends, we are going to talk about some particularly heinous sexism, of the “It’s okay for men to be creeps because genetics make it so they can’t help being creeps” variety. What sparked this? A blog entry I read earlier today. Here’s a delightful little nugget:

“So ladies, next time some lecher is staring at your breasts instead of making eye contact, don’t get indignant; he can’t help himself. It’s in his genes, and he just wants to share them with you. It’s evolution.” – Evolution, the Visual Ape

Read the post if you want. You’ll be treated to x-rays, photos of oranges, mushrooms shaped like mammary glands, and particularly offensively, the idea that men just can’t help it when it comes to reining in their baser instincts.

Well, I call bullshit. You know who thinks it’s okay to stare at a woman’s breasts because he’s aroused in the midst of a conversation?

A creeper.

You know who thinks it’s okay to tell women that wanting to spread his progeny (i.e. make you have his babies) is justification for treating her with a lack of human respect?

A creeper. (Or maybe Todd Akin.)

You know who thinks it’s okay to belittle other men by saying, “Today, his [aggressive rapey creeper] progeny vastly outnumber those males who are aroused via the other senses, a group collectively referred to as “sensitive men.”?

A creeper.

A child in a man’s body.

Someone who thinks his desires – particularly his desires for sexual gratification – should be the top priority in every situation.

Now, let’s look at the other side of the coin. Here are the behaviors women endure because of Creepers who think the above are all just “part of evolution.”

“Because if I had to list every time a guy…

grabbed me, groped me, cornered me, pinched me, rubbed up against me, called me a “bitch,” a “whore,” a “cunt” (and I love it when they append “stuck-up” before the noun; as if that’s the insult), called me “opinionated” (’cause… women shouldn’t have one?), “confrontational,” “unladylike,” told me to shut the fuck up, told me I could never be good enough, that I was stupid, fat, ugly, that I “ought to make more effort in the looks department,” that I should wear clothes that “emphasize (my) assets,” that I “should have kids by now,” deferred to my male companion, spoke mostly to my male colleague, ignored me entirely or deigned to talk down to me, assumed I was incapable, assumed I couldn’t learn, treated me like I was deaf, or mute, or an idiot, or an object, catcalled or whistled at me, acted as if I were nothing but a disembodied pussy and tits, talked over me, shouted me down, looked past me, looked through me, tossed off a sneery “whatever,” took credit for my ideas, thought “no” meant “oh jeepers, shucks, I meant ‘go ahead’,” tried to infantilize me, tried to shame me

…seriously, y’all.  We would be here FOREVER.”

— Mere Smith on Everyday Sexism. (highly recommended post)

Now, maybe the author of Evolution: the Visual Ape thinks he’s being funny with his post about why he just can’t help being a Creeper. Some of his commenters seem to think that was his intention. I didn’t laugh. You know why?  Because everything he says in his post is justification for why some men think it’s okay to subject women to the behaviors Mere listed in hers.

And this guy isn’t just belittling women with his post. How about lines like: “Most women tolerate this reaction from their men, not because they believe the common refrain that it’s okay to look but not to touch, but because they have come to realize that there is no hope of altering this behavior. ”

Fuck that shit. Women tolerate this reaction from men (“theirs” or otherwise) because if we tried to fend it off 24/7 we’d have no time left to deal with the rest of our lives. Because we can either get into physical altercations and verbal arguments multiple times in a day, or we can shrug and say, “Fuck that, I have better shit to do.”

What’s more, I know plenty of men who don’t gawp at my cleavage every time I speak to them: smart, articulate, interesting, “sensitive,” manly, virile guys who know that the way to prove you’re a man doesn’t come down to sticking your dick in any hole within reaching distance, but by treating other people like human beings.

But no, this blogger says, men just can’t do that. He justifies visual lechery, normalizes it, saying it makes more sense than olfactory or aural stimulation because:

A female walking around in the hot African sun, covered with hair, unable to bathe properly because soap is still several millennia away, is not likely to smell like Channel (sic) No. 5. Have you ever seen chimpanzees in the zoo? They play with their feces? She probably smelled like L’ Air du Shit.”

“Unable to bathe properly.”
“Covered with hair.”
“Smelled like L’Air du Shit.”

Now women are chimpanzees?

Well, the writer of this blog is a creep. A creep trying to justify creepiness under the guise of bullshit pseudo-science that blends just enough jargon with just enough “layman’s anthropology” to put together a blog that excuses being a lechey creep.

If, that is, you’re a creeper.

Homework Takeaway #4: Uncertainties in Time, Space and Relationships

I’m still chipping away at Elegant Universe, and have just finished watching Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen – the version starring Daniel Craig as Werner Heisenberg and Stephen Rea as Neils Bohr. So now there are a few threads going though my mind. Copenhagen is an illustration of how the uncertainty principle and physics can map themselves onto individual relationships; this is illustrated well in the moment where Frayn writes Bohr and Heisenberg and Bohr’s wife Margrethe, as they race around a room demonstrating the difficulties of observing an racing beam of light.

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