Nerd Nite 018

Date: Wednesday Feb 5, 2014
Time: 8pm
Location: High Noon Saloon (map)

Founder of Nerd Nite – talking about anything he damn well pleases – (official title TBA)

Summary: He started Nerd Nite over 10 years ago in Boston, and will be gracing Nerd Nite Madison’s stage.  Christopher Balakrishnan is in town! (Official summary TBA)

Bio: Christopher Balakrishnan! The indigo bird dude! OMG! (Official bio TBA)


Pogonotrophy: Facial Hair through the Ages

Summary: No longer just for Revolutionaries, Bikers, or 70’s pornstars; facial hair is seeing a resurgence of popularity in the U.S. and abroad. Some beards are big and bushy, others not so much. Some beards inspire love and trust, while others distinguish you from your evil twin. Regardless of any single beard, beards as a whole have had an impact throughout the ages.

Let’s take a look at the long and tangled history of facial hair and at its current manifestation in the competitive world of Bearding.

Presenter bio: Nathan S. Wilson is a proud member of the Madison Beard Wearer’s Union. His mustache has won the following awards…

* First at the final Beardcon Competition in Columbus, OH
* Second at the inaugural Chicago Beard and Mustache Competition
* Third (two years running) at the Mid Atlantic Championships
* Third in his category at the 2013 National Beard and Mustache Championships

In addition those awards, his mustache is also a sports icon, having appeared on the pages of ESPN magazine. Nathan’s mustache will be accompanied by the rest of his body for this presentation.


Recovering the Wisdom of a Hobbit’s Heart

Summary: Pity, Mercy, and Forgiveness. Look, I don’t want this to sound like the latest post on or .net or whatever, but these are the three things that The Lord of the Rings is really about. We discover the value of pity, mercy, and forgiveness through interaction with the radical other, Gollum. But, when Peter Jackson made his movies he completely stripped pity, mercy, and forgiveness out of the story, and we just missed it because we were drooling over seeing a Balrog. I’ll show you how he did this, with the assistance of a few friends I’ll bring to the stage: a Polish Samwise Gamgee, a Frodo Baggins who is over 6 feet tall, and a Gollum with a deep abiding love of bees. Come with me on this adventure to recover the radical wisdom of the heart.

Presenter bio: Brendon Panke is currently staying around home to take care of his tiny son. Once a month Brendon still gets out there to tell stories with the Madison Storytellers. Before that he would perform science for his meal tickets and improvise with Atlas Improv Co to keep clothes on his back. He has also spent a lot of time discussing The Lord of the Rings with philosophers and has thrown down in some wicked LOTR street battles. He’ll deliver this talk in a cape.

Nerd Nite 017

Date: Wednesday December 18, 2013
Time: 8pm
Location: High Noon Saloon (map)

Life is risky business

Summary: Fitness, or the ability to survive and reproduce, of every organism on the planet is influenced by risks.  But risks are not equally dangerous and vary over time and space.  Although organisms may perceive direct threats (e.g., muggers) as more of a risk, indirect threats (e.g., embezzlement) are often not sufficiently detected and could cause greater harm because more resources (money) are lost.  Therefore, organisms must be able to perceive where and when risks are likely to occur while acquiring needed resources, such as frozen pizzas or a potential mate with a spectacular physique.  We explore how the Risk Allocation Hypothesis helps us understand how humans and wildlife use similar behaviors to avoid risks and increase their fitness potential.  Whether it is hiding yo kids and yo wife from intruders or not feeding during moonlit nights to avoid being eaten by an owl, perception of risks is essential to life on Planet Earth.

Bio: Jared Duquette is a wildlife ecologist and currently working on a post-doc related to black bear ecology.  He is an avid outdoorsman, harmonica player, hip-hop dancer, and connoisseur of reuben sandwiches.  His afternoons commonly include researching charismatic mega-fauna, drawing crayon portraits of people, and listening to 80’s hair bands.


Entropy, Everyone’s Favorite Thermodynamic Function

Summary: Entropy has been causing serious philosophical angst since it was first formulated 160 years ago. Matter and energy tend to disperse, and since the universe’s energy is finite, in the end maybe it’s useless to even try creating order. Entropy’s tendency to increase limits the efficiency of engines and information transfer, and it might spell our doom by heat death of the universe. But, perhaps surprisingly, entropy is also a driving force in biology for creating organized structures like folded enzymes and a bacterial nucleoid separated from ribosomes. In this talk, I’ll examine what entropy means, how we study and talk about it, and our fight for order in an increasingly random universe.

Presenter bio: Emily Ruff is a UW-Madison graduate student who spends most of her time thinking about molecular biology. She loves thermodynamics, the liberal arts, and strong coffee, among many other things.


Schlongs of the World

Summary: Forget locker room comparisons, how does your penis measure up in the animal kingdom? More than 3 billion years of evolution have pounded the penis into myriad shapes, sizes and functions. You’ll learn which species boasts the longest, the strongest, the downright weirdest willy of all. How do they work? What do the ladies have to say about it? And why in Darwin’s name is it shaped like that?
“Heartwarming entertainment for the whole family.” NY Times Book Review
“Timed for the holiday season, Seiler’s insights are guaranteed to bring any conversation to a screeching halt.”  Neil deGrasse Tyson
“Two dicks up.” Siskel and Ebert

Presenter bio: Deborah Seiler is a science communications specialist for the UW-Extension and Department of Natural Resources. She returns to Madison Nerd Nite from her previous talk, Sex on Six Legs.

Nerd Nite 016

Date: Wednesday October 30, 2013
Time: 8pm
Location: High Noon Saloon (map)

The Economics of Malware: Why EVERY Computer is a Target (Yes, Even Yours)

Summary: Everyone has seen a warning from their antivirus that something has gone wrong, or read a story about a company’s network being compromised. What most people don’t understand is why those events happen. What makes malware (viruses, targeted attacks, trojans, etc) cost effective? Where does the money come from? This talk will explain where the millions of dollars involved come from, and how that money flows.

Bio: Pat O’Connell is a security architect who’s career grew out of time working in electoral politics and systems administration. He began with training clients to understand how they would be vulnerable to social engineering as well as policy to help protect their interests. From there, he branched out into penetration testing and data analytics, including showing clients how attackers would breach their defenses, and how to look for the needles in their haystacks indicating security incidents. He writes a security blog where he gives commentary and tutorials as to how to improve everyday security at


It Really Is a Series of Tubes

Summary: We all laughed when the late Senator Ted Stevens told us that the Internet was a series of tubes. Turns out he was right: he was just off by a century. Under the streets of every major financial city in the world and on every continent but Antarctica, pneumatic tube postal systems delivered telegrams and mail, powered by massive and majestic steam engines. In the early 20th century, pneumatic tube systems came indoors, serving as the messaging and financial mechanisms of just about every major building. In this talk, I’ll look at the glorious history of the pneumatic post, especially in Paris, and we’ll see just how right the late senator was.

Presenter bio: Molly Wright Steenson is an assistant professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at UW-Madison. Pneumatic tubes have made her Internet famous.


The Zombifying Wasp: a Survivors Story

Summary: Every day on planet Earth, a zombie is made. And not in the lab of some deranged scientist, but on the African continent at the hands (or more appropriately, stinger) of an Emerald Cockroach Wasp. In this harrowing talk, we’ll get a first-hand account of nature’s most precise and merciless zombification process.

Presenter bio: Ben Taylor is the Assistant Director of Education for the UW Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, but, even more so than jamming words into his job title, his real passion is for insects. Ben received his bachelor’s degree in entomology from the UW-Madison and considers cockroaches–sentient or otherwise–some of his closest friends.

Nerd Nite 015

Date: Wednesday September 4, 2013
Time: 8pm
Location: High Noon Saloon (map)

The Argument For Tragedy: or, How I stopped worrying and learned to love Star Wars Episodes I-III

Summary: Writers frequently say comedy is harder to do than tragedy. This talk will set out to prove the opposite using the Star Wars films as case studies. We will look at what George Lucas could have done differently to make the prequel films as critically successful as the originals. It will also illuminate some of the basic elements of drama and how to write successful stories.

Bio: Ross Shenker is a writer, actor, and director from Madison, WI. He earned his B.A. from Wesleyan University in Theater and Jewish Studies. While there, he won the Howard Needler Prize for his research on Jewish-American playwrights. He has worked in motion picture and television development for Weed Road Pictures on the Warner Brothers lot and at Sargent Hall Productions. While in Los Angeles, he helped direct “A Bright New Boise” at Rogue Machine Theatre, which was nominated for several LA Weekly awards. He currently teaches acting and voice in Madison and has worked on shows with Four Seasons Theater, Children’s Theater of Madison, and Clear Plastic Theater. He plans to move to New York City very soon to pursue playwriting professionally. He also enjoys starving for his art and writing pretentious bios that make him sound way more important and expert than he actually is.


How NOT to Make Your Indie Game!

Summary: Making an indie game is tough work, and if you want to be successful enough to support yourself it’s important to be realistic about what you can reasonably accomplish in a finite amount of time. In this talk, I’ll go over some of the mistakes I made as a developer, in order to give a better chance to anyone else out there thinking of going indie. I’ll go over topics such as keeping the scope of a project realistic, and starting with a well defined goal. In addition, I will talk about some pitfalls to avoid, when to make decisions about a game’s direction and story, and how best to utilize your team. Join me for an exciting look into the trials and tribulations of an indie developer!

Presenter bio: Brandon Smith is originally from Urbana, Illinois. For 2 years he worked as a game developer making custom 3D indie games, including a free flying space combat game, and metroidvania style action platformer involving a jumping tank. He currently works as a game programmer for Filament Games, making educational flash games.


Groupthink and Brainstorming: Bogus Business Buzzwords

Summary: A lot of jargon gets thrown around haphazardly. Groupthink and brainstorming are two of the most serious offenders. Feel free to blame the 1980’s. This travesty needs to stop. Period. Come learn what’s really going on, why these buzzwords are total bogus, and how to score with the ladies. Disclaimer: the latter may or may not actually happen.

Presenter bio: Miranda Kolb is a second year grad student in the Communication Science program at UW-Madison. She studies group processes, focusing on information sharing, decision making and ostracism. In her spare time she enjoys reading non-fiction books about serial killers, college football, and spending too much time and money on the Internet. Oh, and GO GREEN!!

Nerd Nite 014

Date: Wednesday May 29, 2013
Time: 8pm
Location: High Noon Saloon (map)

The Sociology of Class in Dragonball Z

Summary: Dragonball Z is a popular 90’s anime series. In the show, Saiyans from Planet Vegeta try to save our Earth from evil robots, dragons, and aliens (the other evil-universe-domination-hungry kind). The main protagonists are Goku, and his rival, Vegeta. Goku is from low class Saiyan, while Vegeta is from the planet’s elite class. Through the application of Marxist Class Theory, and Bourdieu’s Social Capital Theory, I will present how both of these characters’ classes are depicted throughout the anime series.

Haiku bio: 
Minh from Milwaukee.
Mega rad Pokemon dreams.
In grad school, bitches.

Longer version: In all seriousness, Minhtuyen (Minh) Mai is from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She did her undergrad at UW-Madison in Sociology, Southeast Asian Studies, Languages and Cultures of Asia and received a certificate in Asian American Studies. She is now back for more school in pursuit of a doctorate in Educational Policy Studies, studying college access, persistance, and success for low income students. She is also President of the Association of Asian American Graduate Students and she can breakdance.


Sexy Local Birdsongs

Summary: What is that bird singing outside your window at 4am? Is it making your morning miserable or magical? Learn the basics of birdsong identification and listen to a few of the sexiest birdsongs you may hear in Madison this Spring.

Presenter bio: John Feith is the author and nature recordist of the Bird Song Ear Training Guide: Who Cooks for Poor Sam Peabody? CD used by thousands of birdwatchers in the Midwest. He has an Electrical Engineering degree from UW-Madison, where he won an award for his Ultrasound Theremin MIDI Controller. Other nerdy accomplishments include developing Noise Reduction and Acoustic Modelling algorithms for Sonic Foundry, building a near-anechoic chamber in his basement and regurlarly performing the guitar riff in Mamma Mia for the disco band VO5.


Micro-Monsters: The Perils of Predatory Protists

Summary: The average barstool conversation about predation tends to dismiss amoebas and their tiny ilk as simpletons whose microscopic size and formless appearance renders them harmless. Investigation shows them to be more complex and a lot scarier than the the blobs they’re mistaken for. See in horrifying closeups how these predators made of a single cell are among the world’s most important and ravenous hunters.

Presenter bio: In school George Rothdrake studied fossils of obscure creatures, and while he’s since worked many ordinary jobs surrounded by remarkable folks, he continues to find fascination in the story of life on our world. All said, though, he’s little more than a colony of trillions of eukaryotic cells.

Nerd Nite 013

Date: Wednesday April 17, 2013
Time: 8pm
Location: High Noon Saloon (map)

Astrophysics on Ice: Shaken, not Stirred

Summary: Physics can take you many places, including the bottom of the world. Two of the largest particle detectors ever built are in the ice at the South Pole with construction managed and conducted by local Madison folks. We’ll look at why these projects are in Antarctica, what’s it’s like to live and work at 90 degrees south, and a little bit about neutrino astrophysics. We’ll also give away some t-shirts!

Presenter bio: Mike DuVernois has bowled on all seven continents. He’s interested in most everything as any visitor to his home could verify. He’s a senior scientist with the Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center and a research professor in the Department of Physics.


Do You Hear What I Hear?: Numbers Stations, Mystery, and Meaning.

Summary: Although the era of ham and shortwave radio operation has waned with the advent of the internet, the ears of men and women through the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s were tuned to the mysterious and eerie transmissions of so-called “numbers stations.” These stations were located all over the world, and communicated through simple signals of beeps, static, or recorded voices that only listed numbers or nonsensical words. Although their popularity has only grown through the internet and popular culture, the true purpose and origin of these stations has remained a mystery for decades. In this presentation, I will discuss a brief history of the various number stations, as well as their worldwide (yet elusive) presence. I will then explore the meaning behind the number stations, including scientific evidence, potential conspiracy theories, and educated guesses from the men and women who have dedicated their lives to uncovering their secrets.

Presenter bio: Nick Knittel was born in Cincinnati, Ohio and completed his undergraduate in Film & Video Production at Ohio University. He came to Wisconsin following the completion of his masters degree in Creative Writing from Fairfield University in 2011. His first book of short stories entitled “Good Things” was published in October 2012. Nick spends the majority of his time telling people to watch The Wire, reading whatever he can get his hands on, and dreaming about nice things during work.


Roller Derby 101: Will you be my lead jammer?

Summary: By now, you may have been exposed to one of the fastest growing sports in the country – Roller Derby. Chances are, you’ve attended a bout, know someone who plays, seen in on TV, or have at least seen posters at the coffee shop! The first time you watch derby, you may be confused by the action and wonder what the heck is going on (other than girls skating around in circles knocking each other out of the way). Understanding the basic derby rules can be as easy as wading through quicksand; we will try to shed at least a little light on the game! Come take a trip with us through the history of derby past and present, get to know what it takes to be a derby girl, and be able to impress your friends at the next bout!

Presenter bios: 

SuggahPony (Nikki McGreevey) came to Madison from Colorado by way of Florida to work at the UW veterinary school as a resident in Large Animal Internal Medicine. She grew up around the Midwest and Western U.S. with a background living on dairy farms and riding horses. This background turned into ump-teen years of schooling, a few diplomas, and a chance to be part of the Wisconsin cheese culture. She began her roller skating career during elementary school at the (now non-existent) rink in Ames, Iowa. On those epic evenings, she participated in fun, gossip, candy eating, and nightly features such as the spin skate, the backwards skate, and, the always classic, limbo. Putting skates on again last fall was not like ‘riding a bike’ as she could barely stand up without falling over. Since then, she is able to stand and roll and is learning to become proficient at hitting bitches (derby rule #1 – bitch is a term of endearment in derby!). The best part about derby, according to SuggahPony, is the great community of amazing women involved in the sport. Outside derby and work, she likes to hang out in the sun with her two dogs and husband, John, who is now enjoying all that alone time he has always wanted due to her newfound hobby!

Aphrosmite: The Goddess of Shove (Liz Barkowski) moved to Madison last summer from Austin, Texas to work at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at UW. Living in Austin, the re-birth place of roller derby, she frequently attended bouts and always had dreams of becoming a derby girl. After years and years…and more years… of higher education, she finally has time play roller derby! According to Aphrosmite, derby is a great way to be active and challenge yourself, make amazing friends, and develop an obsession with tights and booty shorts. Outside of research and roller skating, she loves cooking, taking long walks with her dog Chad, and trying to figure out how the hell to pronounce the names of Wisconsin cities.

Nerd Nite 012

Date: Wednesday March 6, 2013
Time: 8pm
Location: High Noon Saloon (map)

The Game Theory of Life: if the sounds I made could be what you hear

Summary: It’s a common academic conundrum: a scholar comes up with an elegant theory– and then has to figure out why anyone should care. Many scientific (and those aspiring to be scientific) disciplines have given up attempts to answer this question to those outside their field, motivating legions of pop psychologists and nerd nite speakers to spread the good word. Here, Christopher will evangelize on the crucial importance of Game Theory and why you need to know about a pair of illustrative examples if you are interested in communication, along with answering some vital questions about life: Why are people assholes? Why can’t people figure out how to trust in one another? And why is it so difficult to communicate true information when everyone knows we are motivated to do so?

Presenter bio: Christopher is a modern-day-commonplace intellectual dilettante/wanna-be drifter. Three years ago, he left Northwestern’s Economics graduate school ABD, and he still can’t figure out what academic economists are researching these days. By that time, he had already learned all of the information he’s contributing during this talk, but he’s continued to live in bewildered amazement. Since that time, he’s worked on statistical analysis with the New York Yankees, and is currently employed by a healthcare software company you’ve probably never heard of. In his spare time, he does more silly things, such as rank the top 200 songs from the last decade, and is a fierce disciple of John Darnielle, Nate Silver, and David Foster Wallace–learn from them, please.


The scientific creativity behind musical instruments and its effect on musical geniuses

Summary: Soviet abduction, human capacitance, electromagnetic induction, and Jimi Hendrix: technology has influenced music as we know it today, often in unexpected ways. Musical instruments, the enablers of acoustic output from human input, are fundamental to the interplay between musician and scientist (often the same person). Guitars and synthesizers, twists and turns, surprising interactions, telephones, doorbells … all reveal music and technology are deeply intertwined!

Presenter bio: Marco was born in Milan, Italy and was raised in Minnesota and North Carolina, which resulted in an eclectic and juxtaposed background. In elementary school, he was a fiendish rocket fanatic, trying to get the largest rocket engines into the smallest rockets. He’s also confident he was the first to have launched a beanie baby into space (read: 10 feet). In middle school, he blew his life savings ($100) on a guitar, and it’s one of the best things he’s ever done. Since then, in some way or another, science and music have been the two interweaving threads that have guided his path. Presently, he’s en route to a PhD in chemistry studying the bio-nano interface. Wheeeeee!


Sex on Six Legs

Summary: Can you make your lover explode with passion? Follow you for life? Die for love? Insects can. You think your ex screwed you over? Bugs don’t even want to hear about it. And whatever that weird thing is you’re afraid to tell your partner about, don’t worry, it’s natural. When it comes to the evolutionary arms race for love, insects are way ahead of us. 398 million years and 6-10 million species, to be exact, and they didn’t get there by staying home every night.

Presenter bio: Deborah Seiler is a science communications specialist for the UW-Extension and WI Department of Natural Resources. Tonight’s talk is just about her favorite hobbies.

Nerd Nite 011

Date: Wednesday January 23, 2013
Time: 8pm
Location: High Noon Saloon (map)

Mickey, Vader, and Spidey Walk into a Bar: Why Disney’s Acquisitions Matter to Media, Merchandising, and Meaning

Summary: With Disney buying up both Marvel Comics and Lucasfilm in recent years, major media franchises like Star Wars and The Avengers now sit in new relationships to consumers, to media markets, and to one another. Of course, these media products have never been singular, with film and comic products surrounded by armies of other products–toys, television shows, video games, spin-offs, trailers, DVD bonus materials, and more. While we often assume these other products to be peripheral or secondary, they have had major impact on how people engage with the “tentpole” commercial media in which we seem to be more invested, whether shaping how and why viewers make meaning from and grow to love or hate blockbuster fare, or forcing media workers to craft their creative identities from positions perceived as marginal or illegitimate compared to making the “real” product. This talk, therefore, treats the interrelations between media products not as peripheral but as centrally important, asking why they matter to fans, to media workers, and to popular culture more generally. Rather than examine what acquisition of companies like Lucasfilm will mean for Disney’s bottom line, this talk can instead consider how the new, revised relationships that result between merchandised products, consumers, and institutions might further impact the meanings we invest in media culture.

Presenter bios:
Jonathan Gray is Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at University of Wisconsin, Madison. After spending the first ten years of his life with all things Star Wars, the next five with more pirated 5 1/4″ PC games than one could imagine, and the next five with all things Simpsons, he turned to media studies and started analyzing, not just playing. He is now author of Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts; Television Entertainment; and Watching with The Simpsons: Television, Parody, and Intertextuality, as well as co-author of Television Studies. He is also co-editor of Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World; Satire TV: Politics and Comedy in the Post-Network Era; Battleground: The Media; and, soon, A Companion to Media Authorship. He still wishes he had a suit of Mandalorian armor.

Derek Johnson is Assistant Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. When not rearranging the action figures that adorn his office, he works to understand how creativity and creative identities are structured, imagined, and managed in the media industries. He is the author of Media Franchising: Creative License and Collaboration in the Culture Industries (Spring 2013), and the co-editor of the forthcoming Intermediaries: Cultures of Management and Management of Culture as well as A Companion to Media Authorship. In partnership with his 3-year-old daughter, he has also completed numerous Lego projects as well as created characters like “Feminist Batman,” and together they enjoy watching Star Trek and walking to the comic book store.


Hacking, Reality vs. Hollywood

Summary: Find out why most TV shows and movies make technology professionals, especially those that know about network security, twitch. Just why did that nerd start giggling and groaning during James Bond: Skyfall? Not only will this talk cover the ways that Hollywood gets things wrong, but the surprising ways in which they get things right.

Presenter bio: Glen Murie has been working on computers since he was a boy more years ago than he likes to think about. In that time he has done everything from building computers to web programming to network administration, and is currently doing software support and technical writing for a medical transcription software company. He has worked at more places than he can easily remember, from slaughterhouses (where debugging a printer takes on a whole new meaning) to nuclear power plants. So far, the radiation has not given him super powers, but he did have to stop eating fast food


So you want to have a cow?  Artificial insemination in the cattle industry.

Summary: Enjoy cheese? Good chance that the dairy cow providing the raw material was not the product of a good old fashioned romance, but instead a well thought out breeding plan which gave the best chance for a healthy and productive animal. A majority of dairy cattle are artificially inseminated, a technique pioneered in the early half of the 20th century. The process is both simple and challenging while allowing for some surprising opportunities, such as selecting the gender of the offspring.

Presenter bio: Dave is a Wisconsin native who grew up in the country, but not on a farm. He spent a great five year stint at UW Madison getting a degree in Chemical Engineering before heading to the land of the Red Sox and “chowdah” where he collected a PhD in Biological Engineering from MIT. Frankly, even after more than a year working in ag-biotech he has trouble not snickering at some of the common office vocabulary.

Nerd Nite 010

Date: Wednesday December 5, 2012
Time: 8pm
Location: High Noon Saloon (map)

Field Notes from a Catastrophic Outburst Megaflood

Summary: Towards the end of the last glacial period, rapid (natural) climate warming led to increased melting of ice sheets, forming large glacial outwash lakes. Many of these lakes were held back by precarious ice dams that often failed due to various reasons I won’t go into here or why would you bother coming to the talk? Evidence of these large floods are found throughout the world, with most having left large, impressive land surface features. Consequently, this groundbreaking research has since led most civil engineers to agree that ice is an unsuitable building material for dams.

Presenter bio: Laura Hayes is a geomorphology graduate student at the University of Wisconsin. Her research interests include Quaternary dating methods, glacial geology, and late Pleistocene megafloods. To the people of Siberia, she is known as картофель идиот, which, she thinks, means ‘highly esteemed, beautiful lady scientist.’ It actually means ‘potato idiot,’ due to her inability to peel potatoes to the high standard of the 85th Motor Rifle Leningrad-Pavlovskaya Red Banner Division.


“L’art de la bise” or “Why do the French kiss so much?”

Summary: If you have ever been to France, you probably had to go through this awkward moment when French people will try to kiss you to say “Hi!” Audrey, a REAL French person, will share with you why French people kiss and how it is done. Be ready for some potential demos! Super-special guests will also demonstrate some common ways people from other countries greet each other.

Presenter bio: Audrey grew up in Strasbourg, France. Moved to Lyon, France when she was 8 and pursued a degree in Chemistry at CPE Lyon. As she was completing her Master Degree in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, she had the opportunity to start her PhD in Materials Chemistry at the UW – Madison. Grad School in the US is just so bad ass! She enjoys playing with as many instruments as she is allowed to and hopes to graduate by 2015 while spreading her French Touch.


Selected Badasses of French Literature

Summary: The author may be dead, but in this selection of some of French literature’s wildest and weirdest writers, their life stories live on with their work. This talk will discuss anecdotes about writers from the middle ages to the present day. Come for the literary history, stay for the crime sprees, fortune hunting, sex, death, and plentiful chest hair!

Presenter bio: Rachel Tapley is getting her PhD in French literature at UW-Madison. She has never been successfully convicted of murder.

Nerd Nite 009

Date: Wednesday October 24, 2012
Time: 8pm
Location: High Noon Saloon (map)

A Brief History of Fandom

Summary: Hugo Gernsback published the 1st science-fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, in 1926. Moments later, SF fandom was born. Richard S. Russell, who lived thru and participated in much of it, reprises his 2008 fan guest-of-honor speech from Odyssey Con 8, at which he articulated his 3 Principles of Fandom: (1) All fandoms are created equal. (2) Seduce the young. (3) Always bring a book!

Presenter bio: Richard S. Russell is a long-time Madison science fiction fan who has worked on all the WisCons, Odyssey Cons, and Geek.Kons there have ever been. He is proud to have a pseudopod planted in media, literary, gaming, comic, costuming, convention, and fanzine subfandoms. He’s a former WisCon coordinator and Fan guest of honor at both X-Con and OddCon.


Exploration of Lightning Through the Eyes of a Chemist and Astraphobic

Summary: Lightning, a natural phenomenon that has been studied, worshiped, and even feared for thousands of years; however, have you ever wondered how lightning occurs and what effects it has on the Earth’s atmosphere? This presentation will explore the important role that lightning has played throughout history, as well as the science behind the flash of light, the roll of thunder, and the reactions it catalyzes in the Earth’s atmosphere. *Warning* this talk will debunk common myths which may or may not leave you disgruntled at having been duped for so long; however, it will equip you with lots of facts that can prove to be useful if you ever need to impress a potential mate while standing in an open field during a storm, which means you’re not the only idiot to walk around outside during a storm and you’re probably meant to be together.

Presenter bio: Michelle grew up in the small city of Chardon, Ohio, southeast of Cleveland. She went to Ohio University and graduated with a B.S. in chemistry in 2008 then decided she was not ready for the “real world” so decided to move to Madison, WI to attend graduate school for materials chemistry. Michelle is wrapping up her thesis research in metal oxides and their applications in renewable energy. After graduate school, she hopes to make enough money to support her beer-snobbery and expand her collection of stray animals.


Who’s Learning From Whom? How Machine Learning can help us understand human learning.

Summary: If you’ve got a smartphone in your pocket, you’re already carrying around a device that is learning in a way not possible just a decade ago. Who you like to call, what websites you like to visit, what messages you consider spam. But what if, in addition to this stuff, it knew that you wanted to learn something new, and could itself learn how to help you do that? (Some of you just said “Cool!” and some others “Creepy!”. Both reasonable.) Traditionally, Machine Learning (a subset of Artificial Intelligence) has been used as a toolset to do things like extract information from big data or automate decision making. Recently, the ideas and techniques from Machine Learning have been applied to human learning in an effort to better understand, and influence, human learning behavior. I will discuss some of the studies and what the future may hold for human/machine cooperative learning.

Presenter bio: Bryan is a PhD student, research assistant and lecturer in the Dept. of Computer Science, UW-Madison. He likes long walks, short algorithms and the Monty Hall problem keeps him up at night.