Nerd Nite SF #108: Lyme, Mimes, and Peopling of the New World!

NNSF108-May-2019-w1100An anthropological archaeologist, a disease ecologist, and a mime walk into a bar, and after a few drinks—wait, sorry, we’ve definitely done this joke before, and the mime does NOT like to talk about it. Ba-dum-bump tss! But seriously, folks, you really need to walk into the Rickshaw on the third Wednesday of May for drinks, music, momos, and an incredible line-up of experts on Lyme disease, miming, and the Americas’ first settlers—plus more bad jokes natch. Be there and be square!

Wednesday, 5/15/2019
Doors at 7 pm, show at 8
Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell Street @Van Ness
$10, all ages
Tickets here

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“A Bloody Meal with a Twist of Lyme (Disease, That Is!)” by Andrea Swei

There are many things to be worried about in today’s world: climate change, parking tickets, an ebola outbreak…but a disease that can be transmitted only by a small, non-flying bug shouldn’t be one of them. And yet Lyme disease, caused by a tick-transmitted bacteria, is one of the biggest and most rapidly emerging threats to Americans. How can this be? Dr. Andrea Swei is a vector and disease ecologist at San Francisco State University who has been studying this complex and interesting disease for over two decades. She will share how Lyme has emerged and how studying lizards and bobcats in the wild can help us understand where and when this disease can come out of the woods to bite us.

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“How to Get Stuck in a Box: A Former Mime Speaks” by Mark Schaeffer

How does a silent performer make audiences laugh and cry? Where did mimes come from, why do they wear white makeup, and why does everybody hate them? What are the secrets to making walls, ropes, and mantelpieces invisibly appear? In addition to learning a bit about the history and culture of this oft-maligned art form, you’ll get a demonstration (with audience participation!) of how the classic illusions are done.

Mark founded and directed the Princeton Mime Company as an undergrad in the 1970s. He has worked variously as a writer, editor, producer, animator, designer, web developer, therapeutic bodyworker, and community college professor. Now retired, he volunteers his time supporting the arts and retouching animal photos for the East Bay SPCA.

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“Finding the First Americans” by Todd Braje

Two decades ago, most archaeologists believed they knew when and how the Americas were first settled. But discoveries in Chile and the American West have fundamentally changed everything we thought we understood. Today, there are more questions than answers, which has stimulated new ideas and reinvigorated once-marginal theories. Find out about the researchers at the Cal Academy who are looking under the sea—at kelp forests and marine resources—as part of the largest scientific effort ever undertaken to identify submerged archaeological sites along California’s Pacific coast.

Todd is an archaeologist and Irvine Chair of Anthropology at the California Academy of Sciences. His research includes fieldwork at some of the Pacific coast’s oldest sites, occupied by Pleistocene maritime voyagers, and at some of the youngest, occupied by Chinese immigrants during the California Gold Rush. His most recent book is Shellfish for the Celestial Empire: The Rise and Fall of Commercial Abalone Fishing in California.

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With: Alpha Bravo, who’ll be spinning tunes specially selected to match the presenters’ themes. Follow the set list on Twitter @djalphabravo.

Food: Delicious Himalayan grub from new-to-us Cafe Zambala!

Nerd Nite SF #107: AI Bias, Swarm Robots, and Fungi!

Nerd Nite SF #107: AI Bias, Swarm Robots, and Fungi!This month features AIs learning from people, robots learning from insects, and people learning from fungi! You get to learn all that from a computer scientist, a roboticist, and a mycologist. And you can learn the art of award-winning sammies from GrilledCheezGuy, a new drink from the Rickshaw Stop bartenders, and a new song from DJ Alpha Bravo while you’re at it. Be there and be square!

Wednesday, 4/17/2019
Doors at 7 pm, show at 8
Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell Street @Van Ness
$10, all ages
Tickets here

“Do as I Say, Not as I Do: Can We Avoid Imparting Human Biases to Computers?” by Cynthia Lee

As the AI revolution is poised to impact nearly every facet of life, concerns are mounting about how training computers to think like us can amplify some of the worst parts of ourselves. Is our training data teaching machines to adopt human biases on race, gender, age, and more? We’ll look at concrete examples of these issues, as well as consider how we got here, starting with basic questions of who decides who gets to see themselves as “a computer person,” and how early experiences shape our perceptions of our relationship to technology.

Cynthia is a Lecturer in the Computer Science Department at Stanford. She has a PhD in high-performance computing from UC San Diego and also taught there before moving to Stanford. Her industry work experience includes NASA Ames and startups.

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“Swarm Robotics: How to Build an Ant Farm” by Iain Brookshaw

Robots, those complex autonomous machines, are just not all that exciting. Thousands of them? Better, but still insufficiently terrifying. But what if we make them *swarm* like insects in vast hives of robotic bugs? Now we’re talking!

We’ll learn how to mimic ants, bees and termites in autonomous machines. See why building robotic insects is a good idea, how artificial swarms work, and how a giant, terrifying ball of ants can be used as the basis for solving some of the hard problems in robotics. So let’s build an ant farm (some assembly required)!

Iain earned his PhD in Robotic Engineering at the University of Southern Queensland, Australia in 2016, and is very proud of the swarm of four robot ants he built so long ago. After a stint as a postdoc at UMD and USC, he now builds robots in SF for a living, which is so much more interesting than academic papers.

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“Fungal in the Jungle” by Jessie Uehling

More details on Jessie’s talk is coming, but we can tell you she’s traveled across two continents exploring the diversity and beauty of the fungal denizens of the tropical rainforest. Jessie is a mycologist and evolutionary geneticist captivated by how symbioses – mutually benefical relationships between different organisms – are established, maintained, and evolve over time. By studying fungus and their plant hosts from rainforests in South America and Africa, she looks for patterns to better understand the evolutionary history of the fungus among us.

Jessie is currently a postdoc at UC Berkeley but is off to an Associate Professorship in the Botany and Plant Pathology Dept at Oregon State University soon.

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With: Alpha Bravo, who’ll be spinning tunes specially selected to match the presenters’ themes. Follow the set list on Twitter @djalphabravo.

Food: Glorious grilled cheese from the one and only GrilledCheezGuy.

Nerd Nite SF #106: Daring Debutantes, Giant Insects, & Gaming Mice!

Nerd Nite SF #106: Daring Debutantes, Giant Insects, and Gaming Mice!“Heiress adventurers, battling giant insects, and video games” might sound like the pitch for a new Tomb Raider game, but it’s actually what awaits you beyond the Rickshaw Stop’s doors. A local history sleuth weaves the tale of the Bay Area’s own Lara Croft, an evolutionary ecologist will send us back in time to when giant insects ruled the world, and a neuroscientist shares game design tips–for birds and mice! Plus: drinks galore, delicious arepitas, and DJ’d intermissions. Be there and be square!

Wednesday, 3/20/2019
Doors at 7 pm, show at 8
Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell Street @Van Ness
$10, all ages
Tickets here

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“Champagne and Polar Bears and Spies, Oh My!”  by Reigh Robitaille

How did a debutante from Marin County end up hunting polar bears and gathering military intelligence? When she wasn’t hosting lavish parties at her grand estate in San Rafael, Louise Boyd found a home in the Arctic. She was the first woman to fly over the North Pole, and she even discovered a new part of Greenland–now named Louise Boyd Land. Oh, and there was that time she was a spy for the U.S. government…

Reigh started I Spy Tours to explore the lesser-known tales of the San Francisco’s past. Her “Wonder Women of SF” walking tour series shares the stories of women who have shaped Bay Area history.

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“You’re Going to Need a Bigger Net: The Evolution of Giant Insects” by Christopher Beatty

A mainstay of bad science fiction cinema is the giant bug movie, in which oversized insects and spiders face off with scientists and soldiers in a battle for domination of the planet. Cult classics such as “Earth versus the Spider” and “Them” showed us the terror (or sometimes, hilarity) of interacting with giant, many-legged foes. But in eras past, giant insects did exist, the likes of which rival the creations of Hollywood prop designers. In this talk, we will explore some of those amazing prehistoric insects and consider some of the current theories on how they came to be, how they lived, and why they now inhabit only our dreams.

Chris is an evolutionary ecologist who studies behavior, speciation, and biogeography, mostly with dragonflies. His work has taken him to Spain, Peru, Kenya, and the Fiji Islands. For more info, visit his website, christopherbeattyphd.com.

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“Building Video Games for Mice and Birds” by Justin Kiggins

Humans aren’t the only esports stars out there–neuroscientists and behavioral psychologists have been designing games for mice and birds for years. Using basic principles of animal behavior to design computer interfaces, scientists have opened up our understanding of the origins of speech and language. It’s only a matter of time before you’re slain by a mouse in Fortnite!

Justin Kiggins is a product manager at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, working on open-source software for single-cell biology and microscopy. Before joining CZI, he was a neuroscientist, writing software to perform machine learning on brain activity, create video games for mice, and build web applications for storing scientific data. You can find him on Twitter at @neuromusic

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With: Alpha Bravo, who’ll be spinning tunes specially selected to match the presenters’ themes. Follow the set list on Twitter @djalphabravo.

Food: Those of you who go to Nerd Nite East Bay know the delicious dishes of Miss Arepita, now venturing across the pond to NNSF!

Nerd Nite SF #105: Hidden Programmers, Breaking Materials, and the Science of Sex!

Nerd Nite SF #105: Hidden Programmers, Breaking Materials, and the Science of Sex!This month everything gets turned around as we learn about bringing women programmers to the front, the science of things falling down, and how various organisms get it up! All this thanks to two population geneticists (and several undergrads), a materials scientist, and a biologist, respectively. Plus, we’ll have streetfood inside, glasses lifted, and beats dropped. Be there and be square!

Wednesday, 2/20/2019
Doors at 7 pm, show at 8
Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell Street @Van Ness
$10, all ages
Tickets here

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“Illuminating Women’s Hidden Contributions to Science” by Emilia Huerta-Sánchez and Rori Rohlfs

“Hidden Figures” told the story of three black female mathematicians at NASA in the 1960s. Inspired by the movie, a group of scientists and undergraduates pored through their own field’s journals to see if there were more overlooked female scientists. On paper, the 1970s was a period of dramatic innovation in population genetics driven by independent male scientists with sole authorships. But by going back and looking at paper acknowledgments, a new study uncovered the unsung women programmers whose work should have earned them a co-author credit. We’ll learn about some of those women’s stories, how they were found, and how author credits subtly distort the scientific record.

Emilia and Rori, along with Samantha Kristin Dung, Andrea Lopez, Ezequiel López Barragan, Rochelle-Jan Reyes, Ricky Thu, Edgar Castellanos, and Francisca Catalan (credit is due where credit is due!), just published “Illuminating Women’s Hidden Contribution to Historical Theoretical Population Genetics” in this month’s issue of GENETICS.

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“How Materials Science Finds Answers in Failures” by Mingxi Zheng

Much of modern society is based on the unique properties of complex new materials. But to understand new materials and to ensure their resiliency and safety, scientists must try to break them! In this talk, we’ll learn about breaking things like highways, airplanes, and spacecrafts, and how materials scientists put these things to the test. And we’ll find out about the critical race to discover what went wrong when something does fail, so future disasters can be avoided.

Mingxi is a materials engineer at Carbon specializing in fracture mechanics and new materials development and received her MS degree in materials science and engineering from UC Berkeley. She was recognized with a UCB Grad Slam Award, built rockets at SpaceX and Virgin Orbit as a metallurgist, and spent years convincing people that majoring in breaking things is useful. Now she spends time thinking of new applications for Carbon’s custom polymers and 3D printer.

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“The Lengths We Go to for Sex” by Veronica Johnson

Ever wonder how far a sperm travels before it exits the body? Or the lengths organisms will go to in order to reproduce? Go down the path *well* traveled and take an intimate dive into the anatomy of a familiar member that’s found across the animal kingdom. Not all creatures are made alike, but many share a commonality in just how far they will go to share that Y chromosome. Through different modes and methods, all animals do what they have to do to get the job done, and at the end of the day, sometimes size really DOES matter.

Veronica is a biologist at The Exploratorium whose days are filled with myriad organisms. Her all-encompassing fascination with biology started at a very early age, and is continuously fostered by working with a variety of lab organisms, volunteering at The Marine Mammal Center, and researching strange and fascinating topics for public programs.

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With: Alpha Bravo, who’ll be spinning tunes specially selected to match the presenters’ themes. Follow the set list on Twitter @djalphabravo.

Food: Binge on bao and other Asian fusion streetfood goodness from Cross Hatch Eatery.

NNSF #104: Sunfish, Ants, and SF Transit History!

NNSF #104: Sunfish, Ants, and SF Transit History!Wednesday, 1/16/2019
Doors at 7 pm, show at 8
Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell Street @Van Ness
$10, all ages
Tickets here

Is your brain feeling as slow as molasses in January? Then come to the Rickshaw and get your juices flowing! This month we’ll be following the wake of the tenacious mola mola, the trails of sophisticated ants, and the ghostly tracks of streetcars past with a marine biologist, an entomologist, and a transit-obsessed designer, respectively. Brave the rain, grab a drink or three, be there and be square!

“Holy Mola: Tales of a Divine Giant” by Tierney Thys

Some say our ocean is transforming into a soup of slime, garnished with dead zones and a generous dollop of stingy jellies. Mmmm—want some sake with that? While it seems as if much ocean life is under siege from pollution and overfishing, some unlikely marine creatures may be poised to rise to the challenge. Come meet the giant ocean sunfishes, bizarre behemoths with no tail but a tale to tell and weird talents that may secure their survival.

Dr. Tierney is a research associate at the California Academy of Sciences, a National Geographic Explorer, and a filmmaker. Her inordinate fondness for odd ocean creatures has led her around the globe and deep into the crazy world of conservation where she’s discovering we humans are the oddest creatures of all.

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“The Sinister and Spectacular Societies of Ants” by Neil Tsutsui

Legions of ants dominate nearly all terrestrial habitats, including many kitchen counters. The secret to their success is their sophisticated social structure, which has allowed them to evolve behaviors that include sophisticated agriculture, farming, bizarre rituals, and manipulative parasitism. Dr. Tsutsui will talk about his recent research on Californian kidnapper ants, who steal babies and brainwash them into lives of complete servitude.

Dr. Neil is Professor and Michelbacher Chair of Systematic Entomology in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley. His research focuses on social behavior and evolution, using approaches from genetics, genomics, chemistry, laboratory experimentation, and old-fashioned field-work.

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“How We Got Here: Mapping the History of Public Transit in San Francisco” by Chris Arvin

One hundred and ten years ago, San Francisco became the first city in the US to have a publicly run transit system. Today, our transit network holds artifacts from decades of history: Most of the bus routes we ride were once served by electric streetcars, and rail lines built in the 1910s and 1920s are the foundation for the MUNI Metro system. Through digital maps, historical photos, and old newspaper clippings, we’ll step back in time and discover the stories of the transit system we love—and sometimes love to hate.

Chris is the author of “Where the Streetcars Used to Go,” an interactive website that has been featured in the SF Chronicle and the SF Examiner. A product designer who has worked with companies such as Airbnb and Snapchat, he now works at Remix, designing software that city agencies use to plan public transit.

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With: Alpha Bravo, who’ll be spinning tunes specially selected to match the presenters’ themes. Follow the set list on Twitter @djalphabravo.

Food: Food: Glorious grilled cheese from the master of the sammie, Grilled Cheese Guy.

NNSF #103: Novelty Catalog, Software Disasters, and Animal Astronauts!

Novelty Catalog, Software Disasters, and Animal Astronauts!Wednesday, 12/19/2018
Doors at 7 pm, show at 8
Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell Street @Van Ness
$8, all ages
Tickets here

‘Twas the nite of the nerds, and all through the Rickshaw, many creatures were stirring, ‘specially the bartenders. The slides were projected on screen at fast pace, in hopes that some learning soon would take place. Three Nerd Nite alumni this month take the stage: the first on the best mail-order catalog to grace the page. The second presents software engineering blunders, the third talks ’bout critters as astronaut wonders. And Alpha Bravo at the decks, and Stephanie with the food, will welcome you in and help set the mood. If you find that your brain has some room you can spare, join us! Be there and be square!

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“The Great American Catalog of Vice, Fear, and Hustle” by David Grosof

This holiday season we hearken back to the first decades of catalog sales, a century ago. There were catalogs, like Sears Roebuck’s, that sold to kind people purchasing thoughtful gifts and practical additions to hearth and home. And then there was the Johnson Smith catalog, a veritable Rosetta Stone of the Dark Side that appealed to every human vice and fear. Written and illustrated in a style so potent that it influences such artists as Chris Ware today, the Johnson Smith catalog sold to the hinterlands such tools of everyday humiliation as the whoopee cushion, the joy buzzer, and exploding cigars. Let’s pore over it and make our wish lists in time for Christmas!

David is a NYC-reared champion of Midwestern humorists, a Berkeley-trained neuroscientist, and a SF-based biomedical entrepreneur.

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“Fly by Wire? More like Die by Wire: When Software Kills, Crashes, and Combusts” by Dr. Kinga Laura Dobolyi

Scared that the MRI you’re about to get will fry your brain? You should be: this sort of thing has actually happened–as well as spacecraft smashing to pieces, airplanes flying without air traffic control, and World War III almost wiping out humanity. And these all occurred because of simple software faults and design mistakes. Come hear about ten of the most awful disasters in software engineering–you’ll never want to trust anything connected to a wire again!

Kinga was an associate professor of computer science at George Mason University, and recently transplanted to SF as a data scientist at ThirdLove.

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“A Brief History of Animal Astronauts” by Jonathan Braidman

Ever wonder what animals have been to space and what happened to them? We’ll go species by species and country by country. Find out about the inspiring, grisly, cute, and perhaps entirely unethical stories of the littles who left our planet before we did.

Jonathan is a teacher and curriculum developer who has worked at Chabot Space and Science Center and the Lawrence Hall of Science.

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With: Alpha Bravo, who’ll be spinning tunes specially selected to match the presenters’ themes. Follow the set list on Twitter @djalphabravo.

Food: New! Sister Stephanie is bringing her southern food and barbecue to our hungry bellies!

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