Friday, February 28, 2014

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson Came To Conway, Arkansas Last Night!!!

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson on the UCA campus. Photo by Razorbackfoto
   I am still high from meeting him. I have seen Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson give a presentation before (about 10 years ago, in Washington D.C.) and I remember being blown away by it. I knew he was brilliant and charismatic. I asked around about him, and I was told "He's the new Carl Sagan."
  I heard a rumor he was coming to Conway this year, and then I was told he "came last year," so I gave up. I am a busy woman, and I have things to do! Then yesterday, about 20 minutes before we needed to leave, a friend called me and asked me if I wanted her ticket. OH YEAH!!! I later found out it took coordinators at the University of Central Arkansas two years to bring Dr. Tyson here, and the tickets all sold out within 45 minutes of being posted. 

My friend's husband had actually set an alarm clock so he would not miss out on buying tickets for his family to see Dr. Tyson live. 
   The UCA professor who introduced Dr. Tyson last night said, "I want you to stand back. You are dealing with a bad-ass." Dr. Tyson was immediately greeted with a standing ovation before his talk! His presentation was impressive, of course. Bits of scientific facts sprinkled with humor and gorgeous space photos. He was engaging and warm, genuinely funny and entertaining. He poked fun at biologists and geologists, and he promoted his new version of "Cosmos," the beloved television show that Carl Sagan made famous in 1980. 
   Tyson said he refers to young people born after 1995 as "Generation Exoplanet" because that's when we first started finding planets outside of our solar system. He said he liked that name better than "Generation X" or "Generation Y" because it sounded "forward-looking and scientific." 
The famous Allan Hills meteorite image. Is that a bacterium fossil?
   He talked about the possibility of life in the universe and he showed a famous image of the proposed microfossil in the Allan Hills 84001 meteorite that was published in Science magazine in 1996.  He shared a great idea on how to demonstrate the concept of panspermia for children. You can take a box of Cheerios and pour them all over a bed, then take your fist and punch the bed really hard. This would simulate the forces generated by a meteor impact, and would send Cheerios flying up into the air just as terrain from the planet would be ejected into the atmosphere. Little microbes hiding in rocks could conceivably break free from the gravitational forces of the planet and travel across space to "seed" another planet. (Don't mind the mess! It's all for the sake of science.)
   At the end of his talk, I asked Dr. Tyson if he had seen the electron microscope images of the Murchison meteorite, which have structures that look much more biological than the structures in the Allan Hills meteorite. He had not seen them! 
Here are living cyanobacteria on the left, and microfossils from the Murchison meteorite on the right. Doesn't this look more biological than the Allan Hills microfossil?
   While we were waiting in the long line to get a book autographed, one of the meeting chaperones told us that Dr. Tyson talked for more than an hour longer than planned. How lucky for us! And it was so wonderful to see how much attention he paid to the young people who had questions.

   The new "Cosmos" will air Sunday, March 9, 2014, on FOX. Here is the official trailer: 


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Curiosity Shops and The Cabin In The Woods (SPOILER ALERT!)

The Cabin In The Woods movie poster
    I have finally entered the world of digital arts. I did my very first homework assignment as an invitation to a make-believe curiosity shop. On my postcard, I used Adobe Illustrator to draw apothecary jars full of strange, happy little creatures swimming in colored fluid. After a few weeks of frustration and several You Tube video tutorials, (I have never used Illustrator before), I presented my work to the class. My favorite comment was, "I love how this looks like a little kid did it." Lol
   My very sweet and tactful art instructor said my postcard reminded her a bit of the movie The Cabin In The Woods. I told her I hadn't seen the movie because I'm a big chicken. She assured me it wasn't that scary. My friend Shawnna and my brother both urged me to watch it since it has my all-time favorite actress in it, so I gathered up my courage and some popcorn and I did it. That was quite an entertaining movie! I first recognized Bradley Whitford, who played a major role on television's The West Wing. His character was always a little annoying to me on TV, so I was okay with him being one of the evil businessmen in this movie. Early in the film, I was totally freaked out by the tobacco-spitting Vietnam Vet with a bloody eye at the run-down gas station, but then I was laughing heartily at the scene where they put him on speaker-phone in the control room. Humor and terror in the same film? Nicely done, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard. 
   I have one technical comment about the foreshadowing scene where an apparent golden eagle screams and then flies into a force field. That scream is from a red tailed hawk, although the movie industry constantly shows images of eagles making that same noise. (I know this is inaccurate because I share a building with a bunch of fish and wildlife professors.) 
    Chris Hemsworth makes a hunky jock (God I love the Hemsworth brothers!) and I love the "virgin" character Dana (played by Kristen Connolly.) Near the end, when The Director of the whole horror scenario reveals herself (Sigourney Weaver!), Dana starts to protest that she, in fact, is not a virgin. "We work with what we have," explains The Director. 
   The scenes of werewolves, ghosts, monsters, zombies, ghouls, gargantuan bats and snakes, etc. all being held in small glass cages to be released at the will of the controllers was pretty original. It seems many of the monsters were from past movies, but I couldn't be sure about all of them. And that was the link between my curiosity shop postcard and this movie - containers full of all sorts of creatures. Thank you, art teacher, for even loosely associating my work with this fun movie. What a compliment!

   And here is a short clip of an actual red tailed hawk screaming:

Friday, February 7, 2014

Mockingjay *SERIOUS SPOILER ALERT!!!!* (Hunger Games Book 3)

"Mockingjay" -  the Hunger Games finale
   I finally read the third book in Suzanne Collins' FANTASTIC Hunger Games book series, and I AM SO FREAKING HAPPY THAT GALE DIDN'T DIE!!!  One of my idiot co-workers told me years ago that Katniss is forced to kill a boy she grew up with, and as I read through books one and two, I dreaded finding out what would happen in book three, the darkest of the series. ("You'll wanna kill yourself after you read that one," a lady at the bookstore told me.) So I waited a long time to read it. After Catching Fire (book two) came out to the theaters, I knew I had to hurry up and read book three before anyone told me anything else. Then, unexpectedly, another co-worker/friend started telling me how Gale "betrays Katniss," and I couldn't make her shut up. Gale? Is it Gale she kills? The whole time I was reading Mockingjay, I had to cover the remainder of the page as well as the next page to avoid looking ahead for clues about who was going to die! Gods, what a page-turner. Who dies? Peeta or Gale? Gale or Peeta?!!! ARGHHHHHH!!!! Thankfully, thankfully, neither of them dies. Whew....

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Soul Of An Independent Woman

My art instructor is younger than me. (I am careful to be respectful of her because I know how uncomfortable it can be to have another instructor in the classroom.) I watch her teach her trade effortlessly. Her long curly hair is always pulled back. She likes to wear stylish boots and zip-up hoodies. She is non-pretentious (which surprised me a bit since she is an art instructor.) When she takes role, she never says my name out loud because she KNOWS if I am there. When I ask her questions, she answers me sincerely and earnestly. I do not think she is married. I do not think she has children. She drives a long way to teach this one class. Is it worth it? Adjunct pay is not impressive. When I look at her, I see a young woman fending for herself. I see a young person finding her way in the world. I see her walking a line that she will someday, over time, fall off of or get pushed from. I do not know much else about her, except when I talk to her I can see right through her. She has the soul of an innocent child. I do not detect damage or abuse. I do not see tattoos or scars on her body. I see youth and hope, and the will to follow her life's passion as long as society will let her. I also see frailty, and how easy it would be to hurt her. She is not perfect. But when she talks to you, she looks directly into your eyes the way a young deer would if you offered it food. There's something a little bit wild there, a little bit untrusting. Is there anything as pure as the soul of an independent woman?