Sadomasochism isn’t a dirty word.

Today Planned Parenthood supporters and opponents spoke out on Twitter with the hashtag #SexEd. The tweetfest was organized by the anti-abortion organization, Live Action, to denounce the Lurid! Disgusting! Immoral! Dangerous! advice given by Planned Parenthood counselers to a young woman who pretended to have honest questions for them about BDSM. She filmed the clinic workers – without their knowledge – answering the questions openly and honestly. Live Action calls this “undercover investigation.” I call bullshit. The film that Live Action is so very proud of can be seen on YouTube.

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Freeze-Dried Plasma

My nerdy interest du jour is battlefield medicine, tactical combat casualty care and field medicine (the non-military side of emergency medicine, used in disaster relief). The concept of triage and how to tackle logistical hurdles such as how to carry or transport sensitive equipment and items that need special storage (like refrigeration or freezing) in sparse or hostile environments is fascinating! I just ordered Battlefield Angels: Saving Lives Under Enemy Fire From Valley Forge to Afghanistan on my Kindle and can’t wait to dive into it (just have to finish A Feast for Crows first…)

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Cross-Country Connections: Adventure

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 Adventure.

From me in Minneapolis, Minnesota:

A line of about ten bikes parked on asphalt, riders in various states of milling about.Sunday was a group ride with the Twin City Riders. We rode northeast out of the city, along the Mississippi River and through some really beautiful rural areas in Western Wisconsin. My friend and rider took this photo – that’s me in the foreground.

From Erin in Takoma Park, Maryland:

A lake, grassy hill take up the majority of the photo. In the background, larger hills rise to meet the blue sky and white clouds.From our Memorial Day adventure to Lost River in West Virginia. It was a shocking beautiful trip. This view is of Kimsey Run Lake.

From Mom in Hagerstown, Maryland:

A large commercial jet gets refueled and restocked at the gate.This is usually the start of my adventures.

Cross-Country Connections: Owl

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 Owl.

From Mom in Hagerstown, Maryland:

CCC Owl MomMy birthday cake from last year.

From me in Minneapolis, Minnesota:

A white stuffed owl rests against a giant "Metropolis" poster from the original movie.Disheartened owl wants nothing to do with your dystopian future.

From Erin in Takoma Park, Maryland:

CCC Owl ErinAnother specimen from work at the National Museum of Natural History.

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.


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.

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! 

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

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.

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.