Nerd Nite XIII – Scurvy on Antarctic Voyages, Japanese Astrodendrochronolgy, and NerdFest

Monday, January 28

Cole’s Bar

I fucking LOVE nerd nite!

Dear, Dear, Very Dear Nerds,

Two Thousand Thirteen is about to get a lot smarter, more entertaining, and drunker!

Join us this Monday night for drinks at Cole’s. We want to hear how you’ve been, what you did for New Year’s, and whether you have any ideas about an obscure integral we’re try to evaluate, encoded in these Hittite manuscripts which were stuffed in the bottom drawer of a Dutch hutch, filled with the bodies of bees. And then:

Laura Lanford,

veteran nn presenter and experimental sparger, will regale us with the surprisingly variable history of scurvy (with a close look at specific Antarctic voyages).

Scourge of the Seas!

Scurvy is the answer to the riddle: “What do pirates, Antarctic
adventurers, and guinea pigs have in common?”

Invariably fatal if untreated (yet trivially simple to cure), scurvy
has plagued mankind since long before it was first described by
Hippocrates. It’s the reason the British Navy took over Europe and
the subject of the first known scientific clinical trial.

The actual cure was found – and lost – multiple times over the last
500 years while the disease continued to ravage sailors on the seven
seas as well as adventurers to both poles. The theories of its cause and
the recommendations for cures ranged from laughable to downright

Scurvy: so much more interesting* than you’d think! For those joining
us at Cole’s on Monday night, Laura recommends ordering a Sidecar, a
Tom Collins or (her personal favourite) an Aviation.

Alex Radovic,

who is so apologetically English it’s almost in-your-face English, brings the true story of ancient Japanese tree rings, and the amazingly rare astronomical cataclysms they evidentiate.

Few scientists publish a paper in Nature. Fewer still publish one which jointly touches on the fields of astronomy, earth sciences, physics, and archeology.

This is the inspiring cross-discipline story of a group of scientists in Japan who used local fauna to peer into the history of our corner of the cosmos. Using a combination of dendrochronology, C14 dating, detailed models of the Earth’s atmosphere, and a comprehensive understanding of astronomy, they turned a pair of trees in the Japanese Isles into a living telescope. And damn me if that isn’t awesome!

Alex recommends cane and ebel for beer, or a gin and tonic for something light, to accompany his talk.


there’s so very much to tell you about the future. Yes, yes, the spandex wardrobes, but even more thrilling will be this: The Global Nerd Nite Fest 2013, one August weekend in the Brooklyn Lyceum! More details here


Be there AND be square,

*For those familiar with Laura’s NN talks, “interesting” often
translates into “disturbing”, but in this case interesting is actually
interesting. Except maybe the bit about raw polar bear meat.

Nerd Nite XII: Beehives, Ryan “Hey Girl” Gosling, and some Little-Known History of the White City Event

Monday, September 17th

Cole’s Bar

Once again we are descending on Cole’s Bar to hear funny things and fascinating things from smart people while drinking together.

Speaking of be’s… here’s the nerdastic lecture lineup:

So A Queen Bee Walks Into a Sports Bar: Honeybee Colony Reproduction

Jana Kinsman

The honeybee is a tiny creature with an endless amount fascinating facts surrounding its colonial structure, products, and communication. Jana will be talking about how honeybee colonies reproduce, along with some basic bee knowledge. If there’s time, she’ll also answer any bee questions anyone has!

Jana’s a beekeeper who tends 10 honeybee hives throughout Chicago on her bicycle. Insects are a lifelong interest of hers, but honeybees especially have captured her as an adult.

Ryan Gosling is a Real Boy. Or, Why Ryan Gosling: Hey girl, a cultural analysis.

Kat Zwick

A subject-contextualized and group-analytic theory of the phenomenon surrounding Ryan Gosling, most notably the Hey Girl memes that have positioned Gosling as every woman’s (and man’s) most desirable boyfriend. Zwick will look at everything from Richard Dawkins to Melanie Klein to Charlya Hayden to Sigmund Freud to Huffington Post to Perez Hilton to New York City easter egg hunts to real-life heroics to feminists to Seinfeld – and she will reveal the secret behind the boy-man we all love to not know.

K. M. Zwick, MA is a psychotherapist, a gender theorist, and a lover of popular culture. In her spare time, she knits scarves, reads weighty clinical texts, and was recently published in Gaga Stigmata, a peer-reviewed web publication devoted to academic inquiry into the phenomenon that is Lady Gaga. She also has cats.

The Book of the Fair & ULC’s connection to the White City

Anita Mechler

Take a trip back to the gay 1890s with Union League Club librarian and archivist Anita Mechler as she unearths rarely seen archives on the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and the “Book of the Fair,” a 20-volume set of books from their rare book collection. Learn about the mysterious and slightly scandalous donor of these volumes as well as the Club’s connection to some of the biggest names on the Chicago scene (at that time). Additional research made possible through collaborations with the Newberry Library, the Chicago Public Library’s Special Collections and Preservation Division, and the Ryerson & Burnham Library at the Art Institute.

San Antonio native and UIC Masters Graduate Anita Mechler is best known for her roles as “Glasses Wearing Librarian”, “Cyclist in a Skirt” and “Knee Sock Aficionado.” She loves romantic bike rides through the city and sushi dinner dates, but hates anyone who can’t execute the proper use of a semicolon.

Exploding Eremetic Bananas! – Nerd Nite Chicago XI – The Resurgence

Monday, July 30th

Cole’s Bar

We’re stepping out of the heat, our of your fond memories related to friends at dinner parties, and into Cole’s bar!

Talks on the heat death of the universe (no, that isn’t the best explanation for the weather this summer), the commercial and natural history of the banana, and the ornamental hermits of Europe.

Details of the evening:

A Natural & Commercial History of the Banana

Jason St. John

“The banana is worthy of high rank among those plant products which have had a powerful influence in shaping the destiny of mankind,” as Philip Keep Reynolds tells us in his 1927 classic _The Banana: Its History, Cultivation, and Place Among Staple Foods_. Banana biology (Musoidology?) embraces parthenocarpy (seedless fruit production), a tree which is not a tree, and an ancient journey across the world. Whether you like them greenish, brown-spotted, fried or not at all, bananas have appeal which is not to be stepped on.

Jason St. John the Musiodologist has no relationship to the boss of Nerd Nite Chicago, although they share the same name and address. The two also happen to consume the same number of bananas each day.

The Life and Times of Ornamental Hermits”

Amy Cavanaugh

You decorate your lawn with plastic flamingos and garden gnomes, but 18th century Britain favored ornamental hermits. Legend had it that you would throw successful parties and be considered a great host if you had a silent, unkempt person living on your property. Learn about the people hired to portray hermits, discover why the practice was so appealing, and find out how hermits coped with the strange life they signed up for.

Amy Cavanaugh, a food and travel writer, only knew about hermit cookies until a trip to Ireland found her inside a hermit’s grotto. She still likes the chewy cookies, but now prefers to talk about the hired variety.

“The end of the Universe, as we know it

Bo Jayatilaka

Starting from the destruction of the Earth (yes, this one is pretty much guaranteed), find out just what science tells us will happen to the Universe (this one that we’re in). Is it complete heat death? Nothing but clumps of iron floating around in space? Or a place you can round off a day with breakfast after doing six impossible things in the morning?

Bo Jayatilaka is not the kind of doctor who can fix broken bones, he’s the other kind. The science kind.

Talks will start pretty close to 8:30. Unless of course, that doesn’t happen.

Hope to see you there!

-jmsj (the other one)

Weather Wonkiness, Nature’s Nuclear Option & Relativity Pants!

(Gravity puts its pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else.)

Storm gathering above a frame-dragging diagram with nuclear symbol substituted for Earth


Thursday, October 20th, 201
Villains Bar and Grill
8pm get yer beer & food & another beer
9pm the talks start

We have missed you! Your obsessive interests, your geeky charm, your problem drinking. Come back to us. Come to Mama Nerd Nite, she’ll treat you right.

Here’s how she’ll treat you:

The Ghost of Ted Fujita!

Mike Renkosiak

When Skilling gets giddy predicting nasty weather, do you feel his excitement? Does distant thunder draw your eyes skyward? Do you set your DVR for the Discovery Channel on Sunday nights at 9? If any of these things describe you or if you wonder why there are now so many weather weenies out there, come check out the world of storm chasing.

Mike Renkosiak is a member of Chicago’s Community Emergency Response Team and a meteorological hobbyist. His interest in weather goes back almost 40 years when a funnel cloud chased his family from a picnic. Then there was the science fair project on devising homemade weather instruments using simple things like empty white gas cans, conduit, and hair (which he wishes he had back) When it was a first place winner he knew he was on to something. Now a professional and a seasoned storm chaser, you can follow him @WindyCityWxMan.

Hot Rocks: Naturally Occurring Nuclear Piles

Bo Jayatilaka

The first artificial nuclear reactor, Chicago Pile-1, was constructed at the University of Chicago, by a team led by Enrico Fermi, in late 1942. The first sustained nuclear fission chain reaction on Earth was about 1.7 billion years ago, in what is now the nation of Gabon. Neutron-multiplying critical masses of Uranium-235 catalyzing their own nuclear fission? Yep, nature had already thought of that one. (Suck it, Leó Szilárd.)

Bo Jayatilaka is not the kind of doctor who can fix broken bones, he’s the other kind. The science kind.

Warped Space-Time and Pants

Jim Pivarski

Years before I studied it in college and grad school, General Relativity was high on the list of things that I had to know about before I die. Somehow, space and time are curved, which just sounds trippy and seems to open the door to wormholes and warp drive. I got a working understanding of it from three semesters of classwork, but I didn’t really have the “Aha!” moment until I learned to sew. Sewing (as well as knitting/crocheting) demands an intuitive understanding of intrinsic curvature; it should be a prerequisite for Riemannian Geometry 101.

This talk addresses the question, “What does it mean to say that space-time is curved?” I’ll present the picture that I wish I had in mind before learning the subject formally. We’ll use hand-sewn cloth models of space-time manifolds to help us visualize how curvature and gravitation are related, as well as some morphologically correct pictures of the time-evolution of the universe.

Jim Pivarski is sometimes a particle physicist at Fermilab, sometimes a statistical programmer, and sometimes a science writer for Fermilab Today and his own website, Coffeeshop Physics.

Be there AND be square!

Odd-Bad Disasters, Bad-Ass Roseanne, and Real-Ass Cloud Computing

(Nerd Nite Chicago, número siete)

Thursday, July 21st
Villains Bar and Grill
8pm get yer beer & food & another beer
9pm the talks start

We have missed you! Your obsessive interests, your geeky charm, your problem drinking. Come back to us. Come to Mama Nerd Nite, she’ll treat you right.

Here’s how she’ll treat you:

Unusual Disasters

Laura Lanford

We’re all aware of the destruction that tornadoes, tsunamis and earthquakes can wreak, but next Thursday you’ll learn about deadly natural disasters nobody saw coming. Your preparedness plan might cover Aliens to Zombies, but I’m willing to bet “Silent Gas Cloud of Death” isn’t in there. Share in my collection of the most interesting, odd disasters I’ve run across while researching emergency crises. You’ll never think of the phrase “slow as molasses” quite the same way again.

Laura Lanford is an instructor for the Chicago Community Emergency Response Team and a preparedness hobbyist. Ask her about the PAW (Post Apocalyptic World) after her second beer.

The Roseanneator

Jill Wolf

Do you ever find yourself looking for that ONE television show that will discuss it all? That ONE television show that doesn’t hide behind the difficult (and often funny) issues that our society just doesn’t want to talk about? You know what I am referring to: death, masturbation, feminism, sex, politics, domestic violence and even drugs (OMG!). Well look no further (or look back ‘cause the show is only on re-runs now)…ROSEANNE! Come laugh at things that you shouldn’t (but are funny) and learn why Roseanne is/was the BEST show on television!

Jill Wolf is a social worker, loves to play the drums, listen to music, cuddle with her cats, play sports, read, spend time with her family and watch, you guessed it, Roseanne over and over and over and over. Laugh with her, or at her!

The Cloud of Unknowing

Christian Vozar

Having nothing to do at all with weather, Clouds have been around for years as a technology implementation pattern for scalable resources. Recently, they have become more than something IT professionals use as mainstream culture is being introduced to the concept. As we hear about them more than ever confusion surrounds just what exactly is “the cloud.” Join us in a presentation about cloud technology and find out if you really can go “to the cloud!”

Christian Vozar is Director of Managed Services at CITYTECH, Inc. (​/) and adjunct faculty at DePaul University teaching cloud computing infrastructure and operations. He is also a lover of opera and aged cocktails.

Be there AND be square!

nnChicago VI

No, that’s not the pre-emacs throwback of a text editor, that’s the “6” of classical antiquity!

Thursday, June 30th
Villains Bar and Grill
8pm get yer beer & food & another beer
9pm the talks start

We’re setting out for the vast seas of nerdery this Thursday, and we have not one (1) but three (III) first mates!

Former Attorney Converts to the Science Side

Monica Metzler

Why would a perfectly respectable attorney and policy wonk give up her evenings, weekends and vacation (not to mention money) for the cause of science?

For most Chicagoans, their most memorable exposure to science was the baby chicks exhibit at a school field trip to the Museum of Science & Industry. That was the case for Monica Metzler, whose science training finished in a “B” in high school chemistry. But then in 2006 she founded the Illinois Science Council, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting science and technology to adults in Chicago. The result, so far, has allowed her to drink beer, play with chocolate and shoot a Taser gun.

Chemistry and Cons in Your Cosmetics

Perry Romanowski

People use cosmetic and personal care products every day but have little idea about the chemicals they are putting on their bodies. In this talk, we’ll cover the basic chemistry that makes cosmetics work. We’ll also cover some of the common beliefs about personal care products and separate the beauty science from the BS. Should you be afraid that cosmetics are killing you? Will a skin cream really make your wrinkles disappear? Do more expensive products really work better? After hearing this talk, you’ll know.

Perry has spent the last 18 years researching and developing products to solve consumer problems in the personal care and cosmetic industry. His primary focus has been on hair & hair related products. He is currently Vice President of Brains Publishing which specializes in science education. He had the most shampooed head of 2007.

Simulation for Stimulation: The Science of Sex on Screen

Rebecca Fons

Don’t get too excited, this isn’t an tutorial on porn. Rebecca Fons discusses the science behind the sex/sexual scene in mainstream film: from the actual filming (there are usually socks involved), to the MPAA rating system to audience reactions and responses (protests, bans and boycotts included). You’ll never look at famous people faking it the same way again.

Rebecca Fons is the Education Program Manager at the Chicago International Film Festival (, as well as a producer of numerous short films and the popular web series Quilty ( She’s a Senior Referee for Chicago’s nationally ranked roller derby team the Windy City Rollers (, an avid potter and loves a hard R rating.

Be there AND be square!

This of That – NerdNite May, 2011

The History of the Guitar

Joe Gioia

In a talk drawn from his upcoming book, The Guitar and the New World (SUNY Press, 2012), Joe reviews the stages of the evolution of the American acoustic guitar, from its origins in the mythological past to the great folk music scare of the 60s. Highlights include the major developments of intermediate instruments, a look at string theory (ha-ha) with Daniel Bernoulli, and what, if anything, Galileo had to do with it.

Do Toasters Have Human Rights?

Barbra Barnett

How do we define and ground human rights? Can our existing categories serve as a basis for universal moral norms as humanity moves into an unchartered future? The science fiction cable television series Battlestar Galactica calls into question our basic ethical precepts and is a valuable tool for teaching ethics. By challenging the prevailing assumption that membership in the human species carries moral significance, the show provides a framework for examining basic paradigms for understanding ethics as it has developed in the West. It also offers several avenues for engaging contemporary issues in practical ethics, including whether there are any ethical limitations on the use of political and military power, and arguments for extending rights protection to animals, nature, and other non-human entities.

Barbra Barnett has taught courses on human rights, ethics, philosophy, and religion at The University of Chicago and Elmhurst College. She has a J.D. from The George Washington University Law School and a Ph.D. in Ethics from The University of Chicago. When not watching reruns of Battlestar Galactica, she can be found watching the TLC reality t.v. show “Sister Wives.”

The World of Ketchup

Jason St. John

Ketchup, as a topic of study, is just shockingly multidisciplinary. In a talk ranging from international studies through linguistics, culinary studies, non-Newtonion fluid dynamics, and pop culture, Jason reveals all that he learned from Wikipedia one slow day at the lab, instead of doing science. He is a local student finishing his dissertation work at one of the nearby National Accelerator Labs (there are two), on something entirely unrelated to condiments. He also sometimes organizes a local event called nerd nite.

April’s Nerds in New Location! This Thursday!

We’re back on track, last Thursdays of the month. Get you down to Villains from 9 – midnight on April 28th for drink specials and, naturalmente, nerds. Don’t miss the spring re-birth of Nerd Nite Chicago. And come with your presentation ideas in hand, you clever so-n-so.

“Does Size Matter?”

— Jim O’Reilly poses the eternal question. And answers it:

Oh, Hell yes! At least if you are a vertebrate physiologist, like me, or an architect, or the guys with fancy sports cars parked outside the bar. Differences in the dimensions (length, area, mass) of vertebrates are strongly correlated with variation in pretty much every physiological variable we have cared to measure. Tonight, I will try to convince you that whether it is how fast we move, how much we need to eat, or how long we live – differences in body dimensions alone accounts for the vast majority of variation we see in how animals are designed and function. That whole “It’s how you use it” thing is just crap.

Jim O’Reilly is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Chicago where he teaches Anatomy and Physiology to first-year medical students. In a past life, he was a comparative physiologist who studied the evolution of movement – and would now be called a “neuromechanist” if he still went to the lab for things other than coffee and harassing the graduate students.

“A post-Easter recipe for building a church from scratch”

by Trey Hall

And/or how a church, a community of scandalous intellectual and social liaisons, will naturally offend people like Rick Santorum as easily as it does people like Christopher Hitchens. And/or how belief may be overrated. And/or, speaking of nature, why Aristotle would have been a better church planter than Plato.

A nerd by only very specific definitions [editorial comment], Trey Hall is co-pastor at Urban Village Church in Chicago, a southerner who thinks Chicago is one of the best cities in the world, a reader, runner, coffee drinker, public transit junkie, and very novice guitar student.

“How Do We Know What Dead Languages Sounded Like Anyway?”

by David Mihalyfy

How do we know that Napolean existed? How do we know that man landed on the moon? How do we even know that Obama was inaugurated two years ago? We base our knowledge of the past on probability; all we have are some pretty good reasons for believing a lot of things. Historical linguistics, too, assembles and weighs sources of evidence that allow us to figure out what dead languages sounded like. I’ll walk us quickly through the reconstruction of Coptic, the last stage of Egyptian and the language of the Gnostic Gospels. Could knowing what a language sounded like affect interpretation of these controversial texts…?

David Mihalyfy is a PhD candidate at at the University of Chicago Divinity School. When not reading ancient texts in their original languages, he enjoys trashy cult memoirs and small art house films. His last name, in case you’re wondering, is Hungarian.

With warm, nerdy regard,
Rebecca Anderson

Nerd Nite of the Nerding Nerds!

Take a break from putting the finishing touches on your latest Halloween get-up, the very best you’ve ever done (and that’s saying something — yeah, we’ve been watching you all these Halloweens…)

We’re all going to be at the California Clipper on Thursday, October 21st, from 8:30. By ‘we’ I hope I mean ‘you, too, buster’ because the talks we have lined up are ridicu-good. And it would be a damned shame if you missed them.

“An incomplete talk on Gödel’s Incompletedness Theorem”
by L. Lanford
All Russell and Whitehead wanted was an arithmetical system that was both complete and consistent. But dear dorky 25-year-old Kurt Gödel explained to the math world why you can’t always have what you want, and I’m here to explain why to you. [“I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member”. ~Groucho Marx]

“The Neurological Basis of Personality in Your Gut, Brain, and Heart; OR
One More Way You Are What You Eat; OR
The Polyvagal system, Your Gut, and the Hungry Heart; OR
How Humans Interact Peacefully While in Aroused States (“and I use the term aroused broadly” ), AND
How That Is Linked to Heart Rate and the Craniofacial Nerves”
by D. C. Tessman.
Some people pass out from the vagal stimulation of eating soft, bulky things, like a slice of bread. Clare not only knows why, she also finds it fascinating. You will, too.

“The More You Know”
by B. Jayatilaka
A talk on pivotal moments in humanity’s grasp of the nature of the universe which went totally right for all the wrong reasons. Dr. Jayatilaka is not the kind of doctor who can fix broken bones, he’s the other kind. The science kind.

Be there and Be Square.

Nerd Nite Chicago – Now with a Regular Schedule!

It’s official, Nerds of Chicago: We have a home at the Chicago Clipper (“Home of the Purple Martin”) every 3rd Thursday of the month. That makes our next Nerd Nite August 19th (so soon!).

Here’s the lineup (possibly one more talk in the offing):
“Battle of the Millennia : Renaissance Faire vs. Renaissance” by Katie Chenoweth

From Katie: “Whenever I tell people I’m attending a conference for Renaissance scholars, I know without asking what image is forming in their head: puffy shirts, pointy hats, massive cleavage—maybe even a Hobbit or two. They think I’m going to a Renaissance Faire. The Ren Faire is the bête noire of academics who study the Renaissance, threatening to undermine our seriousness at every turn. That’s probably why I resisted going until this July, when I headed toward the Wisconsin border, determined to find out once and for all what draws non-academics by the thousands to play Renaissance for a day.

“So, what does the Renaissance Faire—with its fairies, wenches, and WWF-style jousting matches—actually have in common with the Renaissance? Are playtrons this century’s neo-Latinists? You’ll have to wait for Nerd Nite to find out what that last question even means.”

Katie Chenoweth is a very serious Renaissance scholar, and currently a faculty member at the University of Chicago. She will not be wearing a puffy shirt (but that doesn’t mean you can’t).

“US High Speed Rail: The New Interstate Expressway?” by Maurice Ball

From Maurice: “Since the 1950’s, passenger railroad in the US has been a joke, taking a back seat to the airplane and America’s #1 love, the automobile. Now with the cost of fossil fuels threatening, on a daily basis, to hold the average American citizen hostage for future years to come, the modern concept of passenger railroad is being given second look…………in the form of High Speed Rail. What does this mean to the average American citizen? And do they even care? Giving up their cars is not an overnight relinquishment. But with the help of the federal government, high speed rail could become the next great ‘Interstate Expressway’.”

Maurice Ball, a transplant from Houston, Texas, is a Mechanical Engineer, having obtained his Bachelor’s Degree from Prairie View A&M University in Texas, and Master’s Degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Maurice currently works at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, IL and is a member of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, based in Chicago, IL.

And our concluding talk of the evening:
“Joggling: The Future of Running” by Perry Romanowski

From Perry: “Running is an excellent way to maintain health and weight.
Unfortunately, it can be incredibly dull. Joggling, or juggling while
running, represents the future of running. No longer do your hands
need to idly pump away while your legs do all the work. Joggling
engages your brain and make running an exercise for thinkers. This
talk will introduce you to the world of joggling, it’s history and a
demonstration on how to do it.”

Perry Romanowski is a world-class joggler who has been running while
juggling since 1996. His now very tired, as you might imagine. Along the
way, he has completed numerous joggling races including 30 marathons,
and currently holds the world record for the fastest 50 miles run while
juggling. Additionally, he has joggled over 630 consecutive days and is a
member of the United States Running Streak Association. Ever since the
accident, however, he does it without the flaming chainsaws.

Can’t wait to see you at the Clipper! We just found out they have grape soda on the gun. This is stoke-worthy.

Nerdily yours,
-Jason St. John