May 15 2014

CONvergence Programming Is Announced!

I’m very excited for CONvergence this year. Not only is it my first year as an Invited Participant, but I made it onto FIVE panels, including an author reading which I’m organizing (more on that below). Our fearless SkepchickCon organizer and CONvergence volunteer, Melanie Mallon, has been busting her butt for the past several months to help ensure that we are going to have awesome programming, including some killer science, skepticism and social media panels.

Here are mine:

Food Allergies At Con: How to Cope - You have a food allergy, yet are trying to survive from the limited opportunities at CONvergence: how do you cope? What can you safely bring, keep, and prepare in a hotel room? Panelists: Brianne Bilyeu, Richard Wielgosz, Karl Tingelstad, Marie Porter, Renee Petersen

Real Monsters - Reality is stranger than fiction. The deep seas and uncharted lands hold unimaginably bizarre creatures. This panel explores some of the strangest, ugliest, and most unlikely creatures known to live. Panelists: Brianne Bilyeu, Ryan Consell, Matt Kuchta, Siouxsie Wiles, PZ Myers

It’s (Not) Written In The Stars - We’ll explore the myths and beliefs of astrology and why some people still find it convincing in the modern age of science. Panelists: Jason Thibeault, Brianne Bilyeu, Dan Berliner, Matt Lowry, Nicole Gugliucci

Kids Ask a Scientist - Our panel of scientists will answer questions, with the answers geared for the 12-and-under set. Panelists: Brianne Bilyeu, Camille McAloney, Nicole Gugliucci, Siouxsie Wiles, Lori Fischer

Skepchick and Freethought Bloggers Author Reading – Join the bloggers of Skepchick and Freethought Blogs as they share their favorite original writings. Topics may include science, social justice, atheism, skepticism, art, online community, blogging and random geekery. Panelists: Brianne Bilyeu (mod)

I’m geeking out over Real Monsters because Holy Shit Weird Awesome Nature!!! I’m already getting annoyed (in the good way) about the anti-astrology panel, and Food Allergies will be interesting (plus I’m excited about getting to share a panel with the Evil Cake Overlord). I’m probably most intimidated by Kids Ask A Scientist because kids ask weird shit and you can’t just throw out “Rayleigh Scattering” and leave it at that when they want to know why the damn sky is blue. The author reading is my baby.I’m emceeing 10-15 bloggers (including me) who will each read one of their favorite original writings, and they only get 3-5 minutes each. It’s going to be a fast-paced bonanza of Skepchick and FtB readings.

At the time of this writing there are FORTY-SIX panels tagged as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). 46, y’all. That gives me such a happy…I can’t even describe it.

You can see the full schedule here. It’s on Sched, which means you can create a profile, create a customized schedule of the panels you want to see, and take a peek at what your friends are signing up for.

Click here to register for CONvergence. Or click on the giant banner below. Either way, really.


May 12 2014

Apologizing For Others

Not so long ago I was in the awkward position of having someone try to explain to me why their partner said some horrible, shitty things about something that definitely did not need horrible shitty things said about it. They quietly and quickly tried to explain why the horrible shitty things had been said after the partner had left the room.


Look, I get it. It can be tempting to apologize for friends and loved ones – we want everyone to see the good things about them that we see. But apologizing for someone else isn’t being diplomatic or defusing a situation, it’s excusing and supporting shitty behavior, maybe because you don’t want to choose a side or rock the boat.

If we feel that someone who we love or respect needs to apologize for something, we should be in line to demand that apology. It’s not our place, obligation or right to apologize for someone else. It shouldn’t matter if:

  • They’ve had a hard day
  • They get like this when they’re tired
  • They’re just crabby
  • They didn’t mean…
  • They’re just lashing out because…
  • They’re just really passionate/sensitive about xyz.
  • It’s the way they were raised. (<– let’s just strike this phrase from our lexicon, plz?)

By apologizing for someone, you are announcing that you think that they are doing it wrong – that the way they acted or the thing they said was done poorly, and that you know how to deliver their message better than they do. You might be assuming that they don’t know how they’re coming across, or that their audience isn’t understanding what your loved one intended to say. When you do that – when you try to explain – you are treating your friend/loved one AND your audience poorly; you are assuming an incompetence on one side or the other that likely doesn’t exist.

Unless someone is reaching out for help about how to better express themselves, it’s probably best to assume that what they’re saying is what they mean. There’s nothing wrong with asking for clarification (which may lead to some enlightening conversation!) but there is something very wrong with assuming that you can clarify for them.

Might be a time when you actually have some insight to why someone is behaving the way they are, and you might feel that their craptastic behavior is understandable. But if that’s the case, it’s probably their story to tell, not yours.

I should note that I have seen some good defenses of poorly-worded messages online, usually prefaced with something along the lines of, “What I think Cybil might be attempting to get across is…” or “If I understand correctly, Cybil is saying.” It can be done, but it’s important to note that you are projecting your understanding of the message, and in a way that includes Cybil in the discussion so she has a chance to respond if you get it wrong. But the more interesting conversations that I’ve taken part in usually ask for clarification, rather than attempt to offer it up. E.g., “Cybil, are you saying that…?” And defending someone is radically different than apologizing for someone. When you defend them, you are taking a solid position and agreeing with at least some aspect of their argument. An apology is an admittance of wrong-doing.

One last note: If you don’t know why someone is upset, or bent out of shape, or speaking harshly, it is likely you who don’t have all the facts. Or you might have some privilege that is keeping you from understanding. Or you might be trying to change someone into something that they’re not, something that you wish they would or could be.

When you apologize for someone else, it’s probably more about you than them.

May 12 2014

Cross-Country Connections: Scientific

Cross-Country Connections is a Biodork weekly blog entry dedicated to telling stories in pictures of three family members – me, my sister and Mom – living in different locations across the country. Every week we choose a different theme and then take or contribute a personal photo that fits the theme. This week’s theme is Scientific.

From Erin in Takoma Park, Maryland:

A long, horizontally-displayed shell. It fades from dark brown to white from one of the shell to the other. It has a long spear-like projection, then a frilled opening, and a long spiral body.

Another shell shot from the Dept of Invertebrate Zoology. Continuing to show the science of biodiversity, this time with a Tibia fuscus.

From Mom in Hagerstown, Maryland:

Five seagulls in flight above water. In the background, a city skyline can be seen.

The Science of Flight

From me in Minneapolis, Minnesota:

A t-shirt lays on a flat surface, a blue outline of a pipet is in the background. A banner with the words "GAME OF CLONES" is written in a font that is similar to the font used in Game of Thrones.While not really “scientific”, at least scientificish. Science t-shirt nerdery! 

May 05 2014

Cross-Country Connections: Border

Cross-Country Connections is a Biodork weekly blog entry dedicated to telling stories in pictures of three family members – me, my sister and Mom – living in different locations across the country. Every week we choose a different theme and then take or contribute a personal photo that fits the theme. This week’s theme is Border.

From me in Minneapolis, Minnesota: 

Tucked away in a mound of dirt and day lily sprouts is a straight, black-colored, plastic gardening border.A hidden garden border unearthed! This weekend I helped friends dig up their front garden which happens to sit alongside a fairly busy street. Aside from this old plastic gardening border we found concrete, stone, bottle caps, an opened and empty condom wrapper, a red dry erase marker (thick point), random unidentifiable garbage and one sleigh bell. 

From Erin in Takoma Park, Maryland: 

Bare trees, a winding creek and marshlandThe wetlands boundary between the forest and the Chesapeake Bay at Calvert Cliffs in Southern Maryland.

From Mom in Hagerstown, Maryland:

Two photos, side by side: Mom standing in front of a large border stone that says England, and the other of her standing on the opposite side of the stone where it says "Scotland". A blue tour bus is visible in the background of the Scotland photo.The border between England and Scotland. -From 2007

Apr 28 2014

Cross-Country Connections: Yellow

Cross-Country Connections is a Biodork weekly blog entry dedicated to telling stories in pictures of three family members – me, my sister and Mom – living in different locations across the country. Every week we choose a different theme and then take or contribute a personal photo that fits the theme. This week’s theme is Yellow.

From Mom in Hagerstown, Maryland:

Photo was taken through a car window (reflections from the car are visible on the glass) - buildings and streets lamps are visible. Rain misted on the glass gives the city lights a diffuse, speckled look.From a trip to Minneapolis – the lights just blend into yellow.  

From me in Minneapolis, Minnesota:

Baby zucchinis and small green and yellow squashes in a red bowlDinner last week: yellow squashes in a mix of baby zucchinis and green squashes.

From Erin in Takoma Park, Maryland:

Two glossy and speckled shells on a white backgroundCyprea gutatta, one of the many beautiful cowrie shells I have been working on.

Apr 26 2014

OmegaCon Spring 2014

I’m sitting in a large hotel room in Siren, Wisconsin eating a luxoriously hoity-toighty picnic of rice-stuffed grape leaves, Molinari Finocchiona salame, and a variety of fancy cheeses – Gorgonzola, Huntsman, St. Angel and Brugge Rodenbach. This is all courtesy of the local wine and cheese shop that we stopped at on the way out of Minneapolis on Friday evening. The Hubby and I are sharing the hotel room with two friends – another couple who has made the two hour journey northeast to this teensy little town in the middle of not-much-of-anywhere. It’s the site of the biannual relax-a-con, OmegaCon.

A relax-a-con is a convention that doesn’t have much going on in the way of programming. It’s a gathering of friends who have come together to enjoy each other’s company, play board games, eat food and drink, sit around a bonfire, share a game at the minigolf course next door or do some arts and crafts.

So relaxing we are. Well – now that the packing is done:

Eight bags of luggage are stacked high in a hallway.

Bags for two people for a “relax”-a-con – food, boardgames, robe, slippers, swimsuits, spare clothes, laptops, books and magazines. I think we’re gonna need a bigger boat.

Last night we arrived, registered and started right in. At OmegaCon you color your own con badge. There’s a huge table covered in all the marker colors.

A hand-colored badge. Text says "OmegaCon Spring 2014 #220 Brianne" A stylized Grumpy Cat outline has been colored in to have green eyes, gray-tipped tail and ears, and bloody claws.

We said some hellos and made our way to the ConSuite, where I availed myself of a unnecessarily strong glass of whiskey and coke. To conclude the drinking portion of the evening I was a guest on the podcast Xtreme Tasting League: ScotchI had won the guest spot at a silent auction, and even though I have not one scotch-knowledge credential, I decided to give it a go. Because scotch is yummy. Ever the considerate guest, I brought a bottle of scotch along as a gift to my hosts. They decided to use it as one of the tastings on the podcast, and to my chagrin it sucked beyond any other bottle of single malt scotch that I’ve ever had. Ever the considerate guest, I reminded my hosts that I had brought the bottle to them as a gift, and so I couldn’t possible dream of taking the rest of it home with me.

After that I was pretty much done with alcohol, and I headed downstairs to play a few board games: A round of 7 Wonders, and a hour-long card game called Zar that had me and four others shouting, laughing and eventually shutting down the game room. We all stumbled off to bed at about 4am.

This morning started with a reluctant, slightly hungover jog around the local neighborhoods. It was too beautiful and sunny to pass up the run. And I found out why the hotel is called the Lodge at Crooked Lake:

2014-04-26 10.27.121

I wasn’t the only one running this morning; three other badasses went out and ran 10 miles. They’re all prepping for a half-marathon. Geeky athletes FTW!

After that some breakfast, a little time in the hot tub and pool, and then back into the game room. Today I’ve played a party game called Anomia, Legendary – a deck builder set in the Marvel universe, a bidding game called For Sale, and King of Tokyo. My giant robot cyber bunny totally rocked it and beat out the other three monsters.

Game pieces for Kind of Tokyo are laid out - decks of cards, stand-up cardboard monsters, dice and small green cubes.

After gaming there was lunching, then napping, then more gaming. I’m set to do another round of Xtreme Tasting League: Scotch this evening around 10pm, and this time I’m planning on being 100% *glances at the glass of gin and tonic on the bedstand* 90% sober for the recording. I think I’ll actually try to taste the scotches that we’re tasting this time.

And then, if past OmegaCon experiences repeat, we’ll be up until the sun comes up playing more board games. Oh…and they keep the hot tub open 24 hours for us. So that’s going to happen.

It’s a good weekend.

Apr 24 2014

From the Draft Bin: Moving Mom

It’s amazing to me how much writing I do that gets thrown out, abandoned, forgotten or taken out back with a shovel and buried. I have written volumes will never, ever see the light of day or be stored anywhere on a computer. These are the cathartic writings, the nonsensical, the mopey drunk poetry, the overly passionate or sappy, the erotic, the angry screaming devoid of logic, the hurt, pathetic whining. The ugliness, the ecstasy, the doubts, the fragile dreams, the hate – these that are or have been part of my human experience have lived here. These are mine – creations that are rarely revisited, if they are saved at all.

I have a relationship with writing – it is there with me through the good times, the horrible times, and the bored, listless times. When I don’t know where to turn, I have writing. When I am in agony I can write, and almost blindly the pain flows from my fingers onto the page. Afterwards I still hurt, but the pain is now a thing that can be examined from an outside perspective. I have wielded my writing skillfully and clumsily; it has been my salvation, and once my damnation. I love writing – and just now I refuse to not be romantic about it!

But there are also the more generic false starts – or the true starts left incomplete. There are articles started with the best of intentions that grow obsolete in the fast-paced environment of instant communication. There are events that I have attempted to describe, but upon editing I felt that I failed to capture them adequately, truly or objectively. There are writings that I have doubted would be well-received in a public venue. There are articles that I wanted to write, started to write, but in the end was unsure of how to bring everything together.

What I’m saying is…I have a lot of shit in my draft folder.

And while I was digging around in there, I found this one about the first leg of last year’s adventure in moving mom out to Maryland. I like the photos of the planes. I think it stayed in draft because I had lofty dreams about capturing the entire move. But that’s okay.


Last Wednesday began the great cross-country adventure of moving Mom to Hagerstown, Maryland. My contribution to the entire process was pretty minimal. Mom had nearly everything packed by the time I arrived on Wednesday, and she had hired movers to pack everything in a truck, get it to Maryland, and bring everything into the new house. I showed up on Wednesday, did some light cleaning at the old house, helped wrangle animals and drive the 13 hours east, ran some errands in Hagerstown, hung out with Mom and my sister, gave my brother-in-law a hug and then flew back home on Sunday.

That’s the TL;DR version. On a more leisurely note:

I flew down to southern Illinois on Wednesday morning. The waking up at 4:30am for the 7:05am flight kinda sucked, but I enjoy plane travel and being in airports so the suckiness was offset by travel excitement. There are no direct flights to Carbondale, IL. When I have flown down in the past, I have landed in St. Louis, Missouri and then either driven a rental car from the airport or been picked up by Mom. However, the drive from St. Louis to Carbondale is about two hours, and because time and resources were precious this time I did something different.

Cape Air runs a short distance plane service between St. Louis and smaller airports in Illinois. For $50 I was able to book a flight on a “puddle jumper” from St. Louis to Marion, Illinois, which is only a 20-minute drive from Carbondale.  It was a neat process. When I exited my plane from Minneapolis, I had to find a courtesy phone and let an agent know that I had a Cape Air connection. A driver was sent over to where I had made the call, and then I and one other person were escorted down to a shuttle on the tarmac and driven over to the Cape Air gate. We had a chance to see parts of the airport that I usually don’t see.

Cape Air Cesna planesThe planes parked outside of the Cape Air gate.

The plane that I would board, headed for Marion, IllinoisLook at this little Cessna! It’s cute ‘cuz it’s tiny!

Flying in the Cessna was a blast. Only I and one other passenger were on my flight. When it came time to board we were led across the tarmac and climbed on board the small plane. The captain said to sit wherever we wanted in the eight- (or was it ten?) seat cabin, so I sat in the row directly behind the copilot’s chair and was able to see the entire instrument panel. This was the first time I have seen someone actually fly a plane. It was awesome to watch the pilot steer with the yoke and rudder pedals, move the throttle levers during takeoff, and to see the controls and indicators adjust with the movements of the plane when we were in the sky.

When we landed in Marion I was met by my Aunt and Uncle, of whom I see far too little. They drove me directly to Carbondale and delivered me to the chaos that was churning at Mom’s soon-to-be-sold house. They left almost immediately, and I promised that we would stop by their house to say goodbye before we left town. The atmosphere at the house was explosive. Four moving people were hauling the last of boxes and heavy furniture to the moving truck. Mom was rushing to pack the last of the recently-used necessities, and all of the rooms contained bits and pieces that needed to be collected – the detritus that is unearthed when one moves furniture that hasn’t been moved in years: paper clips, lost storage bin lids, an old photo, loose change, dust bunny-covered pens, and so on.

I began collecting and sweeping and mopping. The owners did their final walk-through, but last minute packing and cleaning kept us much later than intended. We had to leave from the house and drive directly to the next town over for the closing, which meant we ran out of time for goodbyes to my aunt and uncle. *sniff* We left from the title company and immediately began the road trip east.

Apr 21 2014

Cross-Country Connections: Technology

Cross-Country Connections is a Biodork weekly blog entry dedicated to telling stories in pictures of three family members – me, my sister and Mom – living in different locations across the country. Every week we choose a different theme and then take or contribute a personal photo that fits the theme. This week’s theme is Technology.

From Erin in Takoma Park, Maryland:

A hank of yarn has been arranged on a swift and has begun to be collected on a ball winder.Winding yarn the high tech way! Using a swift and ball winder.

From Mom in Hagerstown, Maryland:

iPad with game displayed arranged in front of computer monitor showing grumpy cat on the screen.Of course this photo was taken with my iPhone.

From me in Minneapolis, Minnesota:

Various models of space-faring vessels, including Challenger, the solar panel station and some fictional vessels in the background.The Minnesota Space Frontier Society – Minnesota Museum of Space Science and Science Fiction had a large display at MiniCon 49 this weekend. They have models of all sorts of space vessels, real and imagined.

Apr 20 2014

Planned Parenthood Solidarity Event

It’s that time of the year again! Good Friday marks the annual organized anti-Planned Parenthood vigil here in the Twin Cities and it’s celebrated with much somber walking, very pray, so clutching of rosaries and wow crosses outside of the St. Paul Planned Parenthood:

Anti-choice crowd hangs out by the fence and stares at the prochoice celebration with sadness, contempt, anger and pleading.

Anti-choice crowds line the fence and stare over at the pro-Planned Parenthood celebration with a mixture of anger, contempt, pleading, sorrow, curiosity and indifference.

And on the other side – a celebration of accessible and legal abortion, comprehensive reproductive options, sex education and outreach:

A line of Planned Parenthood supporters walking with signs of support.

This year a bunch of jerks – not satisfied with marching with their anti-choice brethren – decided to make a nuisance of themselves on “our” side of the rally. As always with these harassers, they’re not satisfied unless they’re edged right up to the public property line, which was particularly annoying because they were standing between us and our food trucks. Buttheads. These special friends had a penchant for screaming about hellfire and damnation. For the most part we all minded our manners, but me, Niki and our friend Chris couldn’t resist stopping for a quick photo op:


 Happy atheist trio mocks your angry sky fairy – Mwuahahaha!

We had happy music, warm drinks and supportive signs. We took pictures and laughed and raised money and cheered and ran to give hugs when we saw friends and supporters arrive to join in the march. It was a great time.

Me and fellow clinic escort Niki M. in our clinic escort vests.

Me and fellow clinic escort Niki take a photo at the march in our vests – shiny!

Happy Lich Jesus Day, everyone!

Apr 16 2014

And Only 12 Remained

I loved this story over at Salon. It’s by a faculty member named Kate Geiselman about Peter LaBarbera’s recent visit to her campus, Sinclair Community College in Dayton Ohio. When LaBarbera arrived there were about 100 people waiting to hear him speak. Not long after he started, many of the students walked out, leaving 12 students in the audience. And what happened before LaBarbera arrived is even better than the walk-out.

From Kate Geiselman:

It has been a source of both professional and personal pain to see the institution I am proud of and students I care about hijacked by this tiny minority. There is widespread concern about this club at all levels of the college. Over the years, many groups and individuals have tried to engage the TVC and LaBarbera’s ilk in the “dialogue” they profess to seek, but there are big organizations behind these speakers. They have deep pockets and lots of lawyers, and they are looking for a fight. As an institution, we have a duty to protect free speech, hateful or not.

But we don’t have to listen to it.

Yes, yes, yes! Bigots and jerks and misogynists and the KKK and flat earthers and anti-vaxxers and anti-choicers are free to speak their piece, but they are not entitled to an audience (or major media news coverage). We owe them nothing. We can choose where to focus our attention. At Sinclair Community College they chose to focus on love, equality and cookies, rather than on LaBarbera’s ranting.


You can read the entire article here at Salon.com

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