Toronto Nature Network Pub Night – January 26th

We had our third Toronto Nature Network pub night last night, with a good turn out. Twenty-five people showed up, but some of the regulars didn’t (and it was freezing really badly – I had to buy a coffee on my way to the pub just to be able to feel my fingers again). We’ve built a mailing list of people in the Toronto area who are interested in these events, and also have a collection of administrative contacts in several Toronto research departments and institutes, who forwarded our call for the pub night, so a bunch of new people showed up, which is always great!

The theme of the night was *blogging*.

Our guest speaker was Toronto’s own star blogger, Joey DeVilla (aka Accordion Guy). Spend some time online and you’ll stumble across his blogs. I recently did right here on Nature Network, when Heather linked to the Air Force chart Joey posted on tech blog Global Nerdy.

Joey started his talk by saying that this was a good time for scientists to be blogging. Science needs to get rid of the image of scientists always being that guy that gets eaten first in the monster movies, and what better way to do that than to have scientists explain their life and work online.
He continues with a general overview about blogging, and explained how and why blogs are so very highly indexed in Google.

Joey started his own blog in late 2001, when he was bored at work. His company at the time was whittling down staff, and when Joey’s only remaining responsibility was the “about” box of the software, he would be done his actual job at 9:06AM and still have eight hours of the work day left. Blogging was a good way to pass the time, but in the end it was also blogging that got him his current job at Microsoft.

He was laid off from a startup in last year’s credit crunch, and got several leads for new jobs after posting about it on his blog. If you present yourself well online, it is a good way to connect to potential employers. You also have a body of work to point to, and thanks to blogs being at the top of Google hits, you have influence over what people see when they Google your name.

In preparation of his talk at the pub night, Joey did some research into science blogs, and looked at the “why I blog” post on a couple of those blogs. He found a number of reasons: It helps people to process their thoughts, it’s a good tool to engage in and stay on top of current technology, it can be a platform to inform the public about misconceptions in science, and it’s a place where they can talk about things that are smaller than the “least publishable unit”.

Joey had some advice for aspiring bloggers (of which there were a few in the audience). Start out on a hosted site, so you don’t have to worry about layout or upgrading software. Figure out for yourself how often you’ll update. It depends on a number of things: time you have, length of your posts, writing style. Twitter came up as a good microblogging tool.

Finally, Joey had some comments about comments… In this context he mentioned the Air Force comment policy flow chart linked above.

There were lots of questions from the audience, which I will not all list. I do want to mention one comment from Joey that came up in the question round. As one of the perks of being a blogger, he was invited to a beer tasting event called Brew 2.0. All the invitees were tech bloggers, software programmers, and Joey said “It would have been nice if we could have had a microbiologist there to explain how beer is actually made.” So there you go, Molson, invite some bio-bloggers next time!

After Joey’s talk, and his rendition of “She Blinded Me With Science” on accordion (newly added to his repertoire specifically for last night!), I did a short presentation about the Open Laboratory anthology of science blog posts. I had gotten my hands on a preview of the cover of the upcoming issue (thanks, Bora!) so our pub audience were the first to have seen what the new edition will look like! (Apart from the editors and designers, I guess.) I also went through the entire list of winners to select a few diverse ones to print (excerpts of) and bring along to the pub. Of those, I summarized all of these posts and read fragments of five posts.

This is what I brought and read:
Digital Cuttlefish: The Evolutionary Biology Valentine’s Day Poem (read first verse)
Green Gabbro: The Igneous Petrology of Ice Cream
(Excerpt from) Life, Birds, and Everything: Do we see what bees see?
Mind the Gap: In Which Science Becomes a Sport – Hypothetically Speaking (read from “imagine, Dear Reader,” to “Big Experiment”)
(Excerpt from) Pondering Pikaia: Social Clocks – How do Cave bats Know When It’s Dark Outside?
(Excerpt from) Reciprocal Space: I Get My Kicks From Thermodynamicks (Read introductory paragraphs)
The Oyster’s Garter: How a coccolithophore without its plates is like
a grin without a cat (Read letter and first sentence of reply)
Tom Paine’s Ghost: Biochemistry of Halloween (Read introductory paragraph)

All the fragments I read out loud got laughs from the audience (which is why I selected them in the first place – to be pub-night-friendly!)

After this, I drank some water, and then helped John Dupuis with the last part of the evening, which was a summary of the ScienceOnline09 conference. Our favourite things about the conference, as of last night, were:
John – meeting people, the middle/high school session
Eva – meeting people, the WISE lecture about Henrietta Lacks, the Science Fiction session.

When John asked me to talk about the Friday night events (which he missed) I asked the audience: “Have any of you heard of Henrietta Lacks?” Two or three hands went up. Then I asked “Have any of you heard of HeLa cells?” and you could see a wave of recognition and realization going through the audience. That was pretty much the point of Rebecca Skloot’s lecture (and her book). The cell line is much more famous than the woman it originated from!

During the Nature Network pub night, we also had a slideshow playing on the laptop with photos from ScienceOnline09.
All in all, a great evening with a very varied audience of new and old friends, from different backgrounds. Everyone asked when the next pub night would be (or SciBarCamp, for that matter). Don’t know yet, but Jen and I are working on it, and will keep providing ongoing scientific entertainment and networking opportunities for Torontonians.

Eva

Eva Amsen is a writer, science communicator and blogger. She has been writing about science and scientists in art/culture/life since 2005, both on this blog and for other sites and publications. Portfolio | Twitter | Contact

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5 Responses

  1. Bob O'Hara says:

    Sounds like you had fun. I guess that the take-home message of HeLa is that Henrietta lacks recognition.

  2. Eva Amsen says:

    [plink]
    Oh, I finally got that pun, Bob! Duh, and LOL!

  3. Sheri Williamson says:

    Thanks for making Life, Birds, and Everything a part of Pub Night! I only hope they laughed in the right places…

  4. Eva Amsen says:

    Hi Sheri! I didn’t get a chance to read too much of yours out loud and only brought a fragment (I though the whole thing would be too much for people in a pub) but I did summarize it and read this little part: “Disappointingly, when I reported these observations to Perky Pet and suggested that the company consider at least offering red replacement flowers, the representative’s only comment was, “Well, our customers like the yellow flowers.” Not their feathered customers, of course, but the ones with the cash.” and they enjoyed that.

  5. Richard Wintle says:

    P.S. Sorry I didn’t turn up, but I only clued in very late that it was happening… perhaps next time. 🙂