Nerd Nite 038

Date: Wednesday February 24, 2016
Time: 8pm
Location: High Noon Saloon (map)

If Emily Dickinson had Facebook…

Summary: Though widely considered a recluse (for good reason, she hardly ever left the house), poetess Emily Dickinson maintained a fascinating social network of friends, relatives, writers, and lovers. Join us as we take a tour of her most fascinating connections. Torrid love affairs! Bizarre family feuds! Publication power plays! And possibly the worst secret a pair of parents ever kept from their child. You’ve read the poems, now get the dirt.

Presenter bio: While maintaining an ostensibly respectable life as an academic coordinator, Julie cultivates her inner crazy cat lady every chance she gets. These efforts have been so successful that she now reliably receives every new internet cat video in triplicate from her well-trained group of friends. (Good work, team!) In truth, her life is merely one long preamble to The Age of Purple Hats. Until then, she bides her time letting her cat Meta in and out (and in and out) of her room, watching really bad shows on Netflix, doodling hedgehogs, and recovering from grad school one whiskey-ginger at a time.


The Good The Bad and the Rule 30 Depositions by Oral Examination.

Summary: What happens when you sue somebody? As it turns out, a lot of things. Come to uncover some of the more noteworthy quirks of the legal process.

Bio: Scott Thompson is a Madison attorney with the law firm, Gingras Cates & Luebke. His favorite song with a legal-ish title is Wolf Parade’s “Grounds for Divorce.”


Science and Beer: a 6000-year love story

Summary: Beer has been incredibly important to the progress of science. While of course beer has been useful to scientists wanting to take the edge off, for as long as there have been scientists anyway, the thirst for beer has been important driver for a variety of innovations including epidemiology, statistics, thermodynamics, refrigeration, and even choosing agriculture over the traditional hunting & gathering. Beer has been a incredible shaping influence of humans for the last 6000 years; science just got invented along the way.

Presenter bio: Robert Coolman is a Freelance Science Writer finishing up his PhD at UW Madison in Chemical Engineering. He’s written for The Daily Beast, Nautilus, Discover, and LiveScience. He finds it hard not to talk about the history of math.

Nerd Nite 037

Date: Wednesday January 20, 2016
Time: 8pm
Location: High Noon Saloon (map)

Look at this f*cking hipster

Summary: Hipster: the much-loathed social label that just won’t go away. What is a hipster? How did it come to be? What will it become next? We’ll discuss these questions, plus how to spot one in the wild, and hear personal testimonials on the journey through hipsterdom.

Presenter bio: At one point in his life Jamie owned and wore (on multiple occasions) corduroy short shorts. This is his third time presenting at Nerd Nite, and when he’s not curating his record collection or sipping hand-roasted coffee he works at the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association.


Antibiotic Resistance: Life finds a way

Summary: Your cousin doesn’t need that Z-pack, but try telling him that. The inconvenient truth is that antibiotic resistance is a real and dangerous trend. We’ll talk about how we can disrupt the curve.

Bio: Laurel Legenza is a pharmacist completing the Comparative Health Systems Global Pharmacy Fellowship at UW-Madison. Her research focuses on strengthening health systems, including antibiotic stewardship culture and improving the use of regional antibiotic resistance data. She lives by the motto laughter is the best medicine…when taken with Vancomycin.


Alcohol: The Facts About The Myths

Summary: Vikings and monks may not have gotten along very well in the Middle Ages, but their basic ideas about how to deal with alcohol are pretty similar. If you look at the Bible or the Poetic Edda, you’ll find moderation and good behavior are ideal. However, we all know how people like breaking rules.

Presenter bio: Christopher Bishop is a “Cradle to PhD” academic nerd. He graduated from the UW-Madison in 2013 with a degree in Scandinavian Studies and Folklore. He likes all things Viking-related, having written a master’s thesis about runic magic, and he also loves Swedish nerds, having written a dissertation about student culture in Uppsala. Both of his projects involved alcohol to an extent.

Nerd Nite 036

Date: Wednesday December 16, 2015
Time: 8pm
Location: High Noon Saloon (map)

Soils: The Rodney Dangerfield of Natural Resources

Summary: Soils sustain life, yet most people know more about the stars (and thanks to The Martian, Mars) than they do the earth beneath their feet. Learn more about what soil does for humans, and what you can do to preserve it.

Presenter bio: Susan Fisk is a life-long nerd (who may really be a geek, what’s the diff?) After leaving the organic chemistry graduate program at Duke, she studied marketing and communications. She now works with scientists to help them tell the public about their research.


That’s What BEE Said: A Talk about Talking Animals

Summary: uhhhh A look at how animals communicate with each other and with us

Bio: Sasha Rosser is a genetic identity QA specialist at Promega.
She’s done research in neuroscience, genetics, and evolution.
She collects mustards and R2-D2s.


NOW USUALLY I DON’T DO THIS, BUT… [trigger warning]

Summary: This talk will take a deeper dive into the controversial history of R. Kelly, comparing and contrasting him to other arguably “genius” artists with despicable skeletons in their closets, as well as take some guesses as to why he seems to still manage to skate by while other celebs **cough** BILL COSBY **cough** have been professionally destroyed by the horrendous accusations leveled against them. With this presentation I’m not looking to bring the proceedings to a screeching halt, and in no way plan on trivializing the terrible things R. Kelly allegedly perpetrated, but be forewarned that there will be some potentially uncomfortable things referenced and discussed.

Presenter bio: A Madison transplant from North Carolina where he wrote his undergrad thesis on “Hip Hop’s Interdisciplinary Cultural Roots”, Chris sometimes writes things for The Isthmus and Tone Madison, occasionally performs standup comedy, often times sells people records at MadCity Music Exchange, and will always have a last name that’s a sex-verb.

Nerd Nite 035

Date: Wednesday November 11, 2015
Time: 8pm
Location: High Noon Saloon (map)

How Cats are Plotting to Take Over the World… and Succeeding

Summary: Long ago, cats made a decision to leave the natural world and join up with humans to ride the easy food train. OR SO WE THOUGHT! Secretly, cats have been using a well-developed, long-term scheme to not only become the dominant species of the planet but to both subjugate humans and destroy their mortal enemies of birds and mice. Through biological, psychological, and guerilla warfare they are already well on their way to succeeding. The only way we can stop them is by informing the masses of their plot and FIGHTING BACK!

Presenter bio: Lauren Brooks recently graduated with her Master’s in Zoology at UW, in which she investigated the factors influencing mice body size change across islands. From her work in restoration ecology as an undergraduate also at UW, she has a strong passion for debating if any species is truly native to anywhere and promoting a love of prairies. Shes also loves comics, coffee, fantasy football and wrestling with her dog.


The Social Life of the Human Voice

Summary: Human beings have an incredible amount of control over how we use our voice, from producing subtle shifts in loudness or pitch to letting loose with a death metal scream. In this talk we’ll learn more about the little bundle of cartilage and muscle that makes these things possible: the larynx. From there, we’ll look at how different uses of the human voice take on social meanings that vary across languages and communities, exploring gendered understandings of vocal pitch, the culturally-sensitive meanings of a whisper or breathy voice, recent panics over young women’s use of “vocal fry,” and more.

Bio: Joshua Raclaw is a postdoc and resident sociolinguist at the Center for Women’s Health Research at UW-Madison, where he studies language and communication processes in scientific grant review panels. He’s also interested in how language works to construct our relationships and identities and the ways that new technology changes how we communicate with one another, and one time he wrote over two-hundred pages on the word ‘no’. In his spare time he enjoys baking, spoiling his cats, and kindling a newfound love of sour beers.


Declare Your Allegiance! Differences in Early East Coast and West Coast Hip Hop

Summary: Whether you’re an OG or a just a lower case g, you’re probably at least peripherally aware of an East-West rivalry in the early days of hip hop. How did this rivalry start? And more importantly, what are the differences between the two subgenres that dominated the sound of early hip hop? We’ll explore the history, sounds, and samplings to try and find the answers to these questions and more. And maybe, just maybe, you can drop this knowledge to bump your street cred, or just impress while you’re chillin’ with your boo.

Presenter bio: Greg Flygt is an attorney specializing in business law, contracts, and intellectual property. A lifelong Madisonian, he learned everything he knows about hip hop from the mean streets of the West Side (and The Internet). Besides listening to hip hop, he dabbles in rapping at karaoke, wasting time on Reddit, and always using the Oxford Comma.

Nerd Nite 034: At the Wisconsin Science Festival!

Date: Saturday October 24, 2015
Time: 8pm
Location: Wisconsin Institute for Discovery (map)

Books on the Move: #Bibliomigrancy

Summary: How did the Epic of Gilgamesh—which the Sumerians read on stone tablets 2000 years ago—end up on your electronic tablet? How do books travel? How do they become vessels of stories and migrate from one part of the world another? How do they find shelf space in libraries of new readers? How are our perceptions of books and libraries “coded” and “recoded” through history? Care about these questions? Come listen to one of your Area Book Nerds. Don’t care? You are still welcome.

Presenter bio: B. Venkat Mani is Professor of German at UW-Madison. He co-directs UW-Madison’s Mellon Sawyer Seminar, “Bibliomigrancy: World Literature in the Public Sphere.” He spent a year recently at the German National Library as an Alexander von Humboldt Senior Research Fellow. His first book, Cosmpolitical Claims (University of Iowa Press, 2007) was on migration of human beings and literature. His forthcoming book, Recoding World Literature (Fordham University Press, 2016) is about migration of books. His bucket list consists of pilgrimages to libraries around the world. He judges books by their covers and cities by their public libraries.


The Physics of Color

Summary: Unless we are colorblind, as soon as we look at something, we know what color it is. Simple, isn’t it? No, not really. The color we see is rarely just determined by the physical color, that is, the wavelength of visible light associated with that color. Other factors, such as the brightness surrounding a certain color, or the illuminating light affect our perception of that color. Most striking, and useful, is understanding how the retina and the brain work together to interpret the color we see, and how they can be fooled by additive color mixing, which makes it possible to have color screens and displays. Pupa will show the physical origin of all these phenomena and give live demos as she will tell us how they work. Bring your own eyes!

Presenter bio: Pupa Gilbert is a professor of physics at UW-Madison, who studies biominerals, including seashells, sea urchin spines and teeth, corals, and eggshells. She likes to figure out how they are formed by living organisms who master physics and chemistry. She lives in Madison and Berkeley, teaches “physics in the arts”, likes to travel and collect biominerals, to do experiments at the synchrotron, and to make wine.


From Filter Bubbles to NBIC Technologies: Why it’s easier and easier to be wrong about science, and what we can do about it

Summary: We live in a world in which it is possible for citizens to access more (scientific) information with less effort than ever before. At the same time, politically divided news environments have created a world of filter bubbles and echo chambers that allow us to only hear what we already believe in. What are the effects of these new news environments on our democracy? And why are we as a country less equipped than ever before to debate controversial issues with each other in a civil fashion? This talk will explore some of these questions and what the latest research tells us about causes and possible solutions.

Presenter bio: Dietram A. Scheufele is the John E. Ross Professor in Science Communication and Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Honorary Professor of Communication at the Dresden University of Technology (Germany). He currently also co-chairs the National Academies’ Roundtable on Public Interfaces of the Life Sciences. Scheufele’s deals with the interface of media, policy and public opinion. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters, and a member of the German National Academy of Science and Engineering. His consulting experience includes work for PBS, the World Health Organization, and the World Bank.

Nerd Nite 033

Date: Wednesday September 30, 2015
Time: 8pm
Location: High Noon Saloon (map)

Doin’ It Like They Do On the Discovery Channel: A Guide to Zoo Animals Gettin’ It On

Summary: Unlike their counterparts in the wild, most species living in zoos need a little assistance to reproduce. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) works to ensure that animals in zoos are able to procreate to keep the circle of life going now and for the next 500 years. Surprisingly, most of this work takes place real close to Madison is more complicated than just letting two animals going at it. With a lot of data, science, and research behind it all, the AZA keeps zoos full of baby animals for people like us to coo over.

Presenter bio: Although she worked for a zoo, Tomissa Porath never worked directly with the animals or their reproductive behaviors. Tomissa currently works for the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association as a Prospect Research Analyst. In her spare time, she enjoys craft beer, travels the country in search of the best fast food burger, and drinks a whole lotta coffee.


Lovecraft and the Superfan: A Not-Quite Inspirational Tale of the Evolution of Modern Horror

Summary: Ever play the Dark Descent or Batman: Arkham Asylum? Watch the Evil Dead? Get disappointed by the second season of True Detective because it was nowhere near as good as the first? Modern horror and suspense would be completely unrecognizable without the influence of H.P. Lovecraft, but his influence would have been gone unnoticed if not for the tireless work of one man. This is an improbable story of friendship, horror, and tireless devotion that would forever change what we think is scary.

Bio: By day, Laura Felley is an MD/PhD student who spends her days drawing blood, begging cells to grow, and telling people to get HIV tests and flu shots. But by night, she is The Cultist: An unrepentant horror nerd and blogger ( from whom no weird fiction or Lovecraft-inspired story is safe.


Booze Hacking

Summary: Making booze is easy. Long before hoppy craft beers, Stone Age humans made primitive cocktails from grains and raisins. Animals regularly get wasted off rotten fruit. Huge clouds of alcohol even occur naturally in space! This presentation covers the history and science behind booze production, then shows how a trip to Woodman’s and some simple tricks are all you need need to start making your own DIY hooch.

Presenter bio: Mark Coatsworth is a graduate student at UW Computer Science. He moved to Madison from Toronto in 2014 and indulges his spare time in hockey, old time banjo, fast bicycles and whitewater canoeing. He is an alumnus of Nerd Nite Toronto, and is super excited to bring his science experiments to an international audience.

Nerd Nite 032

Date: Wednesday August 26, 2015
Time: 8pm
Location: High Noon Saloon (map)

Of Ants and ALF: Aliens, Inquilines, and Social Parasites of All Species

Summary: Ants are one of the most successful groups of organisms on Earth. They are fully social, incredibly adaptive, and form colonies of superorganisms capable of thriving on nearly every landmass on the planet. The Tanners are a suburban middle-class family in the San Fernando Valley. Both the Ants and the Tanners experience certain levels of social success, and with that social success comes freeloaders looking to cash in on the cushy, catered lifestyle of nesting with their successful associates. For Ants, these freeloaders take many forms: beetles, butterflies, even other ants. For the Tanners, it’s ALF, an Alien Life Form crash-landed from planet Melmac. In this talk, we’ll break down the beauty of social parasitism, and show how freeloading in the natural world can be so much more than just eating cats.

Presenter bio: Ben Taylor has been the Boss of Nerd Nite Madison since 2013. He’s big time psyched about that.


Killer Plants

Summary: If you’re feeling a little vengeful, look no further than the garden for an all-natural way to do a little damage to your fellow man. While you and I are no Walter White, a little know-how around castor beans and nightshades may give you an upper hand … or at least minimize your chances of harm when lost in the garden and hungry.

Bio: Christy Marsden is a Horticulture Educator for UW-Extension, a job that surprisingly makes use of both her BS in Human Development and MS in Environmental Horticulture from the University of California, Davis. This is her second time on the stage for Nerd Nite.


How to Invent an Alien Language

Summary: In 2013 I was hired to create a language for a race of aliens in a video game. Without actual aliens to go do fieldwork on, how do you go about creating an alien language? In this talk I’ll show how I used what we know — and don’t know — about natural human languages to help me create, if not a truly alien language, at least something better than processed gibberish or a simple code for English.

Presenter bio: By day, William Annis is a Unix systems administrator. Working all day with computers makes him about as mild-mannered as you might expect. By night, he practices the art of language creation, as he’s done for about thirty years now, mixed with occasional bouts of gardening, and playing the banjo to depress local property values.

Nerd Nite 031: “A Salute to Stereotypes”

Date: Wednesday May 27, 2015
Time: 8pm
Location: High Noon Saloon (map)

Sneaker Males OR “Sneaky Fucker Strategy”

Summary: Thanks to John Maynard Smith we have a title for this reproduction strategy in the vernacular. Guys dressing up as girls is an old trope that has been used to great comic effect throughout the ages. Turns out that is just another idea we stole from the animals. Whenever alpha males get too big and bad “life, uh… finds a way” as Dr. Ian Malcolm says and in that case The Way is for a non-alpha dude to look like a lady. We’ll drink champagne and dance all night under electric candlelight and by the end of the night we’ll all have a little more respect for those males sneaky enough to hide their secondary sex characteristics. 

Presenter bio: Brendon Panke is the organizer for Madison Storytellers. He spends almost all of the rest of his time taking care of a small human being. But before all of that he got a couple of degrees in ecology.


Holy Censorship Batman!

Summary: When everyone was focusing on the Rosenbergs and the Red Scare, something even more sinister was afoot. A plot of to tear apart the very fabric of the collective American imagination! Will Science Fiction and Fantasy ever be the same again? Will Dr. Wertham have his way? Find out tonight, when the biggest censorship in US history is revealed: The Comics Code Authority!  

Bio: Ken Goldstein is not a historian, but he does love his comic books. He has a BFA in Painting, Drawing, and Printmaking from the University of North Florida and a collection of over 5000 comics. You might call him a nerd’s nerd. This is his first time presenting at Nerd’s Nite.


Up-Up-Down-Down-Left-Right-Left-Right-A-B-Select-Start: A Brief History of Console Gaming

Summary: I’ll tell you about systems more primitive than Pong, the designer of River Raid who was ahead of her time, the reason blowing on cartridges actually makes things worse, how Nintendo and SEGA got supplanted by an electronics company and a software publisher, and why virtual reality is finally here to stay. Enjoy the nostalgia—they ain’t makin’ any more of it!

Presenter bio:  Mike Hendrickson is a staff member in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Science at UW-Madison. He is also co-founder of NeuroSolis, Inc., a drug development start-up working on treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. If you have a spare million dollars to invest, see him after the presentation—he’ll buy you a beer and TWO slices of pizza. His all-time favorite console is the Atari 5200.

Nerd Nite 030

Date: Wednesday April 29, 2015
Time: 8pm
Location: High Noon Saloon (map)

The Swayze Theory: An explanation for everything

Summary: Some scientists believe in a hypothetical theory that would be a coherent framework to explain all physical aspects of the universe. The recently-developed Swayze Theory posits that crux of this “theory of everything” has been in our minds and hearts for years: Patrick Swayze. This talk will delve into some of the history and present day discussion about the elusive ultimate theory, and explain why this tough guy and romantic heart throb holds the key to it all. Nerd Nite is the first time the Swayze Theory will be presented to the world. 

Presenter bio: Jamie is not what most would refer to as an “expert” in advanced theoretical physics or Patrick Swayze, but he does think Road House is just as interesting as the Higgs boson. This is his second time presenting at Nerd Nite, the first time he talked about Wikipedia (which assisted in some of the research for this talk).


Golden Orb-Weavers!

Summary: When asked, most people can name a few benefits that spiders have bestowed upon man-kind: maybe some people recognize that most of our food supply would be gone if spider-soldiers weren’t marching around eating up pest species, or some people appreciate the decrease in man-eating insect populations. However, did you know that one special group of spiders -the Golden Orb-Weavers- have contributed to the development of transgenic spider silk producing goats? Or that they were the first spiders to visit the international space station? The Golden Orb-Weavers do all of the above and more! Learn a little about what it takes to become a spider-naut, why on Earth anyone would want goatsilk, plus other amazing spiderfacts that will morph you into a superspidernerd.  

Bio: Meghan Fitzgerald is a graduate student in her last year of a Zoology PhD at UW Madison. She studies (non-) social interactions of Nephila spiders in Costa Rica and spends most of her time wishing it was acceptable to hire a dissertation ghost-writer. In her non-nerd time (ha!) she plays the ukulele, listens to storytelling podcasts and dreams of tiny-house building.


Monday Night Wars: When Professional Wrestling Ruled Cable TV

Summary: In the 90s, Ted Turner started World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and went head to head against Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Foundation (WWF). For six glorious years, these two shows battled over TV ratings. I’ll talk (and show video clips) about some of the major events in this era and how reality influenced the scripted world of professional wrestling. Prepare to learn about Hulk Hogan, the nWo, Bret “The Hitman” Heart, “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.

Presenter bio:  Rob Lumley is a Digital Solutions Manager at the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association. He has zero experience as a professional wrestler, but he was able to get through his adolescence by watching wrestling every Monday night. Shockingly, he is now married with a kid.

Nerd Nite 029

Date: Wednesday March 25, 2015
Time: 8pm
Location: High Noon Saloon (map)

Why 60 Minutes? 5000 years of tradition and science

Summary: The minute and second were first measured by astronomers of 16th-century Europe, but both measures existed in writing as far back as the 11th century. Why did medieval astronomers choose to cut the hour into 60 pieces, and why did this choice persist for so long? These questions are just the tip of the iceberg, because this story actually traces back many thousands of years! The 60 we use today is the same the Sumerians used before the oldest known writing. This tradition has been handed from civilization to civilization in one long, unbroken line. We’ll follow 60 from its origins, to how it became tied to astronomy, trigonometry, and navigation, and how it came to be the system we still use today. 

Presenter bio: Robert Coolman is a graduate researcher in the department of Chemical Engineering at UW-Madison. Robert explores interactions between science and history in his writing at When he’s not getting anything done you can find him in the kitchen with his wife or in the living room playing tabletop games.


Alcibiades: Classical Greece’s most legendary badass and possibly, its biggest douchebag

Summary: If you were to get wasted, walk up to Morgan Freeman, and clock him in the face you would probably end up one of the most hated people on the planet. If Alcibiades were do the same thing, Mr. Freeman would ask him to marry his daughter. Alcibiades was one of the Athenian Athenians to ever roam this planet. He was a tactical genius, a great orator, obscenely wealthy, and absurdly beautiful. When he wasn’t banging Socrates and leading Athenian armies he was leading Spartan armies against Athens (while banging the King’s wife). Join the talk and learn more about one of history’s most ridiculous characters. 

Bio: Teddy de Groot is a graduate student in the biomedical engineering department at the UW. Though a biomedical engineer all his life, he has taken an inexplicable interest in classical studies and how history was written before it was ruined by Germans in the 19th century with their socioeconomic-driven explanations for everything.


Linguistic attitudes: Why we think the things we do about language

Summary: We all place different values on the ways that we, and others, use language. Southern accents might make us tingle (in a good way) while hearing the word ‘literally’ just one more time might drive us up the wall (like, figuratively speaking). But why? In this talk we’ll look at the science behind language attitudes, the term that linguists use to describe our common understanding of different varieties of language. Come prepared to look at the language of wartime cartoons, overanalyze why we love and hate different slang terms, and raise a glass to the diversity of English dialects.

Presenter bio: Joshua Raclaw is a postdoc and resident sociolinguist at the UW’s Center for Women’s Health Research, where he studies how biomedical researchers use language in their evaluation of grant applications. He’s also interested in how language helps construct our relationships and identities and how new technology changes how we communicate with one another, and one time he wrote over two-hundred pages on the word ‘no’. In his spare time he enjoys huddling for warmth in his apartment with his wife, cats, and beloved Netflix account.