I heart Canada

I spent this weekend exploring Victoria, BC thanks to being invited to speak for the Victoria Secular Humanist Association. It was my first time in Victoria, and my first time driving a car onto a boat. Which I got to do four times! I know, how crazy is that?!?!

…I am from Indiana. Ferries are novel, shush.

The drive to Victoria was fairly uneventful, other than the torrential downpour I drove through. Apparently I was in a part of the Pacific Northwest that’s a temperate rain forest. Not only is that neat, but it washed off the thick layer of pollen that had coated my car, alleviating my worries that I would be stopped at the border for smuggling plant biomaterial or yellowcake uranium or something.

We spent Friday night pub hopping (Canoe, Swan, Bard and Banker). Saturday was for the indoor tourist-y stuff, since it was pouring rain. After stuffing ourselves with delicious breakfast at the Blue Fox Cafe, we checked out the Royal BC Museum. We’re two dorky biology grad students, so needless to say we had a good time. I think I was most amused by the fact that the Museum’s IMAX theater had multiple daily showings for a documentary about beavers.

1. Really, beavers? That’s so… Canadian.

2. Heh heh heh, beavers. I have the sense of humor of a five-year old.

I did learn things, though. For example, the main way Canadians used to finance their Navy was through beer, beer, and more beer:

I also found a new potential wedding location:

And this needs no explanation:

After that we hopped over to the Victoria Bug Zoo, which was freaking amazing. The place was packed with different types of stick insects, leaf insects, praying mantises, Hercules beetles, diving beetles, and more. My favorite was the huge leafcutter ant colony they had living in clear plastic pipes on the walls. You could see the ants hauling chunks of leaves through their tunnels to farm the fungus they eat.

My least favorite section was the corner devoted to spiders. You should have seen my facial expression as I was taking this photo of Sean holding a Mexican redknee tarantula.

On Sunday I gave my talk about the Creation Museum, which went great. It was awesome meeting some of my blog readers. Hello, guys! I want to give a particular shout out to Sarah, who not only hooked me up with free tickets to Butchart Gardens, but bribed me with stereotypically Canadian chocolate:

Om nom nom. I am such a chocolate fiend. Can we start a trend where people start bringing me local chocolates, like people bring PZ squid things? I would totally be down with that.

Speaking of chocolates, I’m always surprised how many types of candy bars Canada has that the US doesn’t. I’m seriously jealous. My new tradition is hitting up a convenience store and loading up on all the weird chocolate bars I’ve never seen before:

Why can’t I find Caramilk bars in the US? What the hell is Wunderbar and Aero? Your Kit Kat come in dark chocolate? Your Reese’s lack apostrophes and come in bar form?! You get fancy 3 Musketeers?!? WHAT IS THIS MADNESS?

The strange candy bar differences are just one of the many things that makes Canada feel like Bizarro America to me. We’re so similar, so the slight differences are jarring. Canadians pronounce “sorry” really funny, which becomes apparent quickly because you also say “sorry” so much more frequently than Americans. Things are spelled funny like “centre” and “theatre.” “Bathrooms” are universally called “washrooms,” which Sean found hysterical for some reason that I do not quite understand. Your walk signs on street signals are also particularly jaunty and brisk looking, which Sean and I both found hysterical for some reason no other person on the planet will ever understand. And then there are all the hints of Britain, like random pictures of the Queen, or English Candy Shops, or this that I stumbled upon:

…Yeah, we were pretty much giggly obnoxious American tourists the whole time. It’s because we love you. Please accept me if Bachmann or Perry become president.

The way back was fairly uneventful. I nearly had a stroke when we drove past a store devoted to Twilight, since we were getting close to Forks, WA. And creepily, on every of the four ferries we took throughout the trip, we were behind a mini van from Texas with one of those “Jesus is _____” license plates. Obviously a sign from God, not patterns in peoples vacation behaviors and traffic bottlenecks.

Kitten assimilation has begun

We’ve named her Pixel. It seems appropriate – she’s already thinking with Portals:

And helping me blog:

And appreciating my nerdy coffee table books:

And helping out my roommate as he plays video games:

She even managed to mark all of my Google Reader items as read as she pawed at my laptop. I think that’s her way of saying “Stop reading blogs and pet me!”

GeekGirlCon is being invaded with SKEPTICISM!

Okay, I guess it’s not really an invasion. Skepticism goes hand and hand with GeekGirlCon‘s mission – “promoting awareness of and celebrating the contribution and involvement of women in all aspects of the sciences, science fiction, comics, gaming and related Geek culture.” Due to a last minute opening in their schedule, the skeptics get a panel of their own! …Which I frantically organized so hopefully it will still be awesome!

Skepticism 101
Sunday, October 9th
11 am – Noon
Fidalgo, Seattle Center Northwest Rooms

What can people do to keep their bullshit detector well calibrated, and why is this especially important for women? This panel will provide people with the toolkit to be a good skeptic when it comes to extraordinary claims, using geek girl-relevant issues like:

– Pseudoscience that’s popular with the ladies (astrology, crystal healing, etc)
– Women’s intuition, why it’s a myth, and how the anti-vaccination movement has exploited this idea at the expense of science
– Scams that target women (stay away from that homeopathic yeast infection treatment!)
– More severe manifestations of irrational misogyny, like witch burnings in Africa

Learn why the scientific method is a powerful gadget to have in your utility belt!

The panel will be moderated by our Friend of Girl Geeks, Paul Case, who is the head of the Seattle Skeptics. And the panel is packed with awesome skeptical ladies, including:

Dana Hunter
You want to know about Dana Hunter, then, do you? I’m a science blogger, SF writer, compleat geology addict, Gnu Atheist, and owner of a – excuse me, owned by a homicidal felid. I loves me some Doctor Who, Buffy, Angel, Firefly and Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers. Sums me up. Find me at my blog En Tequila es Verdad (freethoughtblogs.com/entequilaesverdad).

Jen McCreight
I do stuff.

Amy Davis Roth
Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a 4th generation visual artist from Hollywood, California. She runs a handmade art business called Surly-Ramics where she creates ceramic jewelry inspired by science and skepticism. Amy is a longtime contributor to the widely popular blog Skepchick.org where she writes, among other things, a skeptical advice column called “Ask Surly Amy.” She is managing editor for MadArtLab.com, which deals with the intersection between art, science and skepticism called.  She loves to add her creative skills to the fight against pseudoscience.

Valerie Tarico
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington who explores the intersection between belief and psychology with candor and compassion.  She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light, the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org, and a contributor to the Huffington Post Religion Page.  Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.

Meg Winston
I was raised on faith healing, pyramid schemes, supernatural beings, and conspiracy theories. After figuring out that this was not serving me well as an adult, I am now dedicated to promoting a culture of science literacy. I am a theater major returning to school for physics! Hmm… a former professional actor who is currently a youth worker in social services pursuing a career in popular science writing and curriculum development? You got it. Other than being a co-organizer with Seattle Skeptics and involved in local Humanist/Free-thought organizations, I also enjoy gaming as much as possible.

If you were already going to GeekGirlCon, make sure to stop by! And tickets are still on sale in case this is the extra motivation you needed.

On the sexist failures of geek culture

Read this piece. It’s long, but worth it. Seriously, go, shoo.

I know far too many male (and female) geeks who slip into the type of hypocritical, misogynistic vitriol this article describes. But before you think I’m out to slander all geeks guys, I also know plenty that are kind, thoughtful, and – dare I say it? – feminists.

Oddly enough, those are the geek guys I date. What an peculiar coincidence!

Skepticism in supernatural universes

Spoiler Alert: This post talks about last night’s episode of True Blood. Read at your own risk if you haven’t watched it yet.
For those of you who don’t know, I’m a bit of a True Blood fanatic. It’s a guilty pleasure. I love the campiness, the puns, the one liners, the cliff hangers, and all of gratuitous sex and beautiful people (Mmmm Eric, Alcide, and Jessica). All of this entertainment is enough to outweigh the sometimes frustratingly bad plot, Sookie’s dues ex machina lightning fingers, and, well, Sookie herself.

But sometimes I overanalyze things, because that’s what I do. Like when, in the last season, the hospital claimed Sookie didn’t have a blood type. …You can’t not have a blood type! Blood type is determined by antigens on the surface of red blood cells. If you lacked all antigens, you’d just be type O and negative for every other type, like Rh factor. Extremely rare, but not “no blood type.” Hell, even if Sookie didn’t have any red blood cells, she’d still come up negative on all of the tests.

The thing that stuck out for me during last night’s episode was something that I think of more and more when I watch the show. Andy Bellefleur, the town’s sheriff, was walking through the woods alone at night. He had been dumped there by his cousin and told to walk home alone because he was sobering up from V – vampire blood – which is a powerful drug in the series. In a poof of light, a beautiful fairy pops in front of him and seduces him in return for him pledging to protect her. And they do it right there in the woods. …Which thankfully we don’t see, because it’s Andy.

Me: Come on, would you have sex with some random hot person who just popped up in front of you in the woods?!
Male Friend #1:
Male Friend #2: …Probably
Me: This is so goddamn stereotypical.

That wasn’t really my issue, though. When Andy finally gets home, his cousin’s wife Arlene asks what took him so long. He recounts the story of how a beautiful woman appeared out of a ball of light and they had sex. Arlene thinks he must be hallucinating because he’s coming down from V.

This is the same Arlene who just saw a spirit exorcised from her possessed friend who stole her baby. The same Arlene who was possessed by a maenad into having crazy orgies. The same Arlene who went to a witch to abort her potentially evil baby. The same Arlene who knowingly serves vampires synthetic blood in the bar she works at. The same Arlene who knows her coworker Sookie can read minds.

How can you live in a universe where it’s common knowledge that vampires, werewolves, werepanthers, shape shifters, ghosts, telepaths, and witches exist, but a beautiful woman appearing out of a ball of light is obviously a hallucination? If someone recounted that story to me in that universe, my reaction would be “Holy shit! You obviously just banged some new supernatural being we personally don’t have any knowledge about, since we keep discovering new supernatural beings all the time! Let’s do some investigation on what it could possibly be!”

Because really, skepticism is based on the scientific method, rationality, and logic. If we lived in a universe where we know magic is real and that numerous types of supernatural beings roam the world…well, it wouldn’t be “super”natural anymore. It would be natural, and we’d need to figure out where we went wrong with the laws of physics. I’d love to research the biology behind vampires never dying by feeding on other’s blood!

But if we lived in such a universe, where would we draw the line? Was Arlene right to still be skeptical about the fairy, even though we, the viewers, know what it is? If we lived in a universe where physics and biology didn’t work as we expected, how would we establish between “real” supernatural things and “fake” ones? For example, many characters on the show are very skeptical about religion or God – but what makes angels and deities unbelievable when you have vampires and shifters running around?

…I guess you have physical evidence of the vampires and shifters.

Anyway, what do you think? Is Arlene being a good skeptic, or is she being a little dimwitted? If you lived in a supernatural universe, how would you react to a situation that described a new supernatural creature or event that you personally aren’t familiar with?

Geeky filler

Sorry for the dearth of posts lately. Between PAX and moving, I pretty much haven’t been on the internet at all. I went four days without checking emails, which I think in a new record for me. Anyway, I’m still unpacking and doing other apartment related stuff (woooo, Ikea run!), but I wanted at least some kind of filler. So, uh, here’s me cosplaying at PAX as the main character from Pokemon Black & White:
…Not quite a 12 year old Japanese girl, but close enough.

Probably the best compliment I got was that two random people asked me where I bought my hat…but I painted it! Without tape or drawing circles! Freehand! I’m just that awesome.

I am a geek

Proof:

1. I just bought this:I love Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, dinosaurs, and surrealism. How could I not resist?

2. Next weekend I’m going to PAX Prime, the ginormous gamer festival that’s the brain child of the guys who make the webcomic Penny Arcade. When I say ginormous, I mean ginormous – over 60,000 people have attended in the past. I’m a huge video game geek and haven’t been to any sort of geeky convention since ACen in high school, so I’m looking forward to it. The tournaments haven’t been announced yet, but I’m hoping at least something I’m good at will pop up. Mario Kart plz? Or if we’re going esoteric, Pokemon Puzzle League?

And unlike the poor shmucks who are flying in and have to deal with hotel, transportation, and food confusion, I can just hop on my same ol’ bus to downtown! Huzzah!


Upon further reflection, I just realized I’ve been reading Penny Arcade for over 10 years now. I feel old.

3. I became overly excited when I found out that there’s an unofficial Pokemon League taking place during PAX. Yeeessssss! Time to tweak my party in Pokemon White, charge my DS, and prepare to get my ass kicked. Seriously, I’m great at in-game battles, but I’ve never played competitively. People get pretty hard core about Pokemon. IV breeding and EV training lolwut?

If you’re going and can hunt me down in the crowd of 60,000, feel free to challenge me to a battle (or say hello, if you’re not a Pokemon geek like I am). I’m sure I’ll be tweeting the whole time, making con-stalking even easier.

4. Speaking of Pokemon… I’m currently constructing my cosplay as Hilda from Pokemon White:Don’t judge.

I have to give a shout out to my mom, who’s dealing with my geekery. I made her hunt through my old bedroom for my Burger King Pokeballs (which apparently suffocated small children) and mail them to me to complete the costume. Now I’m just trying to hunt down some cheap boots and a hat that I can alter with pink paint. May have to give up on a pink purse. EDIT: Boots and purse acquired at thrift store! Now just for the hat, shoelaces, and wrist band thingies. I AM GOING TO BE SO COOL.

5. And if that’s not enough, I just bought my ticket to Geek Girl Con in October.

I am in geek heaven.

It’s not just atheists with a diversity problem…

Geeks have their fail moments too (emphasis mine):

I went to Comic-Con this year; on Thursday, I attended a panel titled “Oh, You Sexy Geek!” a discussion of the implications of “sexy women” in geek/nerd culture, and how that may or may not be used to pander to men. The panel consisted of moderator Katrina Hill and panelists Clare Kramer, Adrianne Curry, Bonnie Burton, Jennifer Stuller, Chris Gore (who almost no-showed), Clare Grant, Kiala Kazabee, and Jill Pantozzi.

I was excited for the panel, considering I am frequently frustrated by the media’s exploitative use of women (whether it be the host of a show, such as Olivia Munn, or booth babes at E3) to appeal to a market that they treat as exclusively male. However, my expectations were quickly dashed when discussion of media literacy was tossed aside in favor of accusations of jealousy. Bonnie Burton and Adrianne Curry mused that women who were critical of sexy geek culture in any way were just jealous, had no confidence, and were projecting their issues with self-esteem onto the women who felt empowered by walking the Comic-Con floor in a Slave Leia costume.

When Jennifer Stuller (one of the creators of the upcoming Geek Girl Con) suggested that women who criticized “sexiness” were more than likely deconstructing the media, and by extension a society that tells women their worth lies in their ability to appeal aesthetically to men, she was rebuffed by the other members of the panel. Later, Stuller attempted to turn the discussion towards media literacy, to which Clare Grant responded that she doesn’t read magazines, therefore the media has no influence on her whatsoever. Adrianne Curry added that women criticize one another “because we’re all a bunch of bitches.”

[…]There were many disappointing moments that had me almost leaving the panel entirely, but nothing was quite so horrifying as the one contribution Chris Gore made when he finally showed up five minutes before the panel ended. He took the stage, apologized for being late, and said “Hey, I’m here to represent all the guys in this room who want to stick their penis in every woman up here on this panel.” There was nervous laughter and a bit of applause. I don’t even need to explain how disgusting and problematic that is.

Of course, the two groups probably overlap quite a lot, so it’s not particularly shocking.

Harry Potter and the end of my childhood

I haven’t squeed about the final Harry Potter movie yet, so…why not.

(Obviously, spoilers below)
Typing “final” is odd for me. The end of Harry Potter oddly marks the end of my childhood. Well, maybe not so oddly. I read my first Harry Potter book when I was in 6th grade. I was Harry’s age – 11. After that, every time I read a new book, I was the age of Harry. It slipped a bit at the end when Rowling took more time to write the later books (I was 19 when Harry was 17), but it oddly marked my own childhood.

So seeing the last movie was bittersweet. I grew up having escapist fantasies about Hogwarts, like many kids in my generation. And the books do end on a more adult note, what with everyone dying and Harry finally stopping to be a whiny emo kid.

But the “sweet” part of bittersweet was so worth it. I saw the final movie at midnight in Vegas sitting next to Greta Christina – how does it get any better than that? And we saw it in 3D, complete with my Ravenclaw shirt and Harry Potter shaped 3D glasses:As for the movie itself, I have one thing to say:

Omfg Snape.

Snape has always been one of my favorite characters. I was defending him from the beginning – I knew he wasn’t simply evil, it was too simple. And Alan Rickman was one of my favorite actors long before he became Snape. So to finally let Rickman show his full acting potential – holy crap. Seeing Snape do the tiny smile as he’s dying? Who was cutting onion in the movie theater?!

Seriously, I cried like a baby every time Snape was on the screen. The flashback?! Waterfalls. Do you know how hard it is to surreptitiously wipe your eyes while wearing 3D glasses? I don’t even know why I was trying to be surreptitious, people were obviously crying in the theater.

…Of course, there could be a movie of Alan Rickman reading the phone book and it would still be awesome, so…

The other highlight of the movie had to be Neville being a fucking badass. I have to give kudos to the movie for making you think he might not get his moment – they made you think someone else was going to kill Nagini a bunch of times. I would have raged if the most badass part of the 7th book didn’t make it to the screen, but thankfully it did. Props to Matthew Lewis for the superb acting.

Speaking of Neville…forgive me, but when did Matthew Lewis suddenly get super, super hot?…yet another sign we’re all growing up.

Though it was oddly appropriate ending my childhood in Vegas. After the credits I turned to Greta and said, “Alright, time for the hookers and blow.”

Goodbye, Harry Potter!

This is post 23 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.