Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Beer + science + your mom = awesome

Okay, not your mom. My mom. But the formula stands, and that means that local geeks and nerds should get their butts to Bar Pilar on October 2nd for Café Scientifique. (I know, it's Yom Kippur. I have to skip yoga, too, so we all make sacrifices.) Come for the science, stay for the themed cocktails -- unless you're Nick, in which case science will have to suffice.

This is organized by Matt, the publicity director at my press, and my mom is one of the speakers, so take note stalkers: I will be there. Even if you're not a stalker, though, there is plenty of fun and edification to be had. From Matt's description:
Science used to be exciting. Or at least some of its characters were. People used to crowd smoky taverns and coffee houses passionately squabbling over the science and politics of the day. Discourse was a main course, while ideas and opinions were the ingredients in these exchanges. In this grand tradition, we cordially invite you to the first program in a semi-monthly series of the Café Scientifique, Washington DC. This inaugural program will feature four science authors in what we're calling "speed reading." The audience will be divided into four smaller groups, and spend ten minutes with each author and rotate, in a round robin fashion, for a two hour period. The object is to promote spirited scientific discourse in a non-scientific environment, and, of course, to have some fun.
I think it's going to be a blast. We'll have string theory critic Peter Woit, whose Not Even Wrong got written up in the New Yorker this week; Mike Stebbins of Sex Drugs & DNA; our own author John Whitfield, who plays Indonesian gamelan and whose In the Beat of a Heart explains why it's so easy for an elephant to overdose on LSD; and of course my mom, with her book on the history of in vitro fertilization and how it relates to current public opinion about cloning.

Click here to see the invite, get more information including time and address, and RSVP.


Blogger Lynne said...

Dude, what kind of gamelan? I totally miss it and am in gamelan withdrawal.

9/27/2006 10:14 PM  
Blogger jess said...

There are different kinds?

I just sent him some Q&A for a press release, and I threw in a question about gamelan because I know he likes to talk about it. (Some authors don't like to talk about personal stuff but I think Whitfield takes a nerdy pride in his gamelan-ing -- he puts it in all his author bios.) Here's what he said:
A gamelan is an Indonesian percussion orchestra -- I play in the South Bank Gamelan Players, one, although I say so myself, of the best groups outside

What a gamelan group has in common with the living world is that both are quite structured and orderly, but no one is in charge. Unlike a western orchestra, we don't have a conductor telling us what to do. Instead, how and what we play emerges from the dynamic between the groups members -- we're all doing different stuff, but we're all following the same set of simple rules and listening and reacting to each other.

I think this is a good metaphor for how the living world works. The patterns -- and the diversity -- that we see are the result of lots of players following the same set of rules that, although flexible, are universal.

Physicists have described gamelan as the most complex music on earth. But in both the living world and a gamelan, complexity is built up from lots of simple units, and a set of simple instructions.

Don't ya love him?

9/28/2006 8:15 AM  
Blogger PD Smith said...

Sounds great fun - I wish I lived nearer! As well as the discussion, I'm intrigued by the "themed cocktails"...

9/29/2006 4:40 AM  
Blogger jess said...

Yeah, supposedly the bartender at Bar Pilar gets really excited about the opportunity to make cocktails related to the books under discussion. I gather they're something like the science cocktails at Cocktail Party Physics (which I need to start reading more regularly).

There are already a couple of cocktails called the Test Tube Baby, so Mom's drink is pretty much established.

9/29/2006 8:17 AM  
Blogger PD Smith said...

hey, cheers for that - literally! A new blog to me...

9/30/2006 12:30 PM  
Blogger Lynne said...

Ah, okay, that's a Central Javanese group. Yes, there are many different kinds; most parts of Indonesia have local types of gamelan, and in some areas (especially Bali) there are several different kinds. The word basically refers to a percussive orchestra, so it's more general than most people realize.

The group I played in at Smith is Javanese, but the one I was in at MIT is Balinese (gong kebyar style) (I enjoyed that more than the Javanese because it's far more technically challenging, though classical Javanese music tends to have more instruments that improvise).

10/01/2006 2:40 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

I wish I'd seen this earlier, bet it was a lot of fun!

(Also, I feel a little embarassed that I initially interpreted gamelan as LAN gaming such as with Quake or Doom).

10/03/2006 1:29 AM  
Blogger jess said...

The perils of not reading my blog often enough!

10/03/2006 8:01 AM  
Blogger John Whitfield said...

Nerdy? Takes one to know one. ;-)

Yes indeed, the South Bank Gamelan Players are central Javanese all the way, with occasional excursions into new music (we've played with Bjork, don't you know).

Gamelan fans and the curious should keep an eye on thesmallworld podcast over the next few weeks for an SBGP interview and tunes to download. And everyone should download a podcast on my book, while they're about it.

11/15/2006 12:51 PM  

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