Waves and Light

This morning I woke up to an alert that there was big science news being announced this morning, and boy they weren’t kidding.  Over 100 years ago, Einstein presented his General Theory of Relativity. One of the predictions that was part of his theory was that two orbiting masses that collide would send a sort of shockwave through spacetime. But Einstein never thought we would ever be able to detect them.

It’s truly amazing what a global effort in the pursuit of science can achieve. In this era of political dumbing down and divisiveness  – the announcement of the greatest detection coming from the LIGO/VIRGO network is incredible. While there have been detections of gravitational waves over the last couple of years, those came from the collision of binary black holes. What was detected today was not *just* gravitational waves but the light as well from binary neutron stars that collided 130 million light years away from Earth.

It has long been theorized that the heavy elements in the universe came from the collision of these stars. We now know that this is indeed the case as it showed creation of elements like silver, platinum, gold and uranium. There are also a few hypothesis about what would be created when neutron stars collide, would it be a heavier neutron star or a very light black hole? That is also now unfolding.  This event crossed from waves to every form of electromagnetic radiation — including X-ray, ultraviolet, optical, infrared, and radio waves were all involved in collecting data.

I am in awe of discoveries such as this. Against all odds, faced with those who said they could never accomplish this…scientists from all over the world collaborated on a project that required insane amounts of precision and verified something that Albert Einstein knew was real but never thought it could be proven out.  Now, LIGO is shutting down for a year to increase its sensitivity. With this discovery at its current level, what will the next few years mean to our understanding of the universe?

Humans evolved from our great ape ancestors only a few hundred thousand years ago and stood to walk upright. It was only a little over 400 hundred years ago since the telescope was first invented and in 1610, Galileo used that creation to view the moons of Jupiter the first time.  And just think of how long light takes to reach us and how far back into time we are now able to peer.  Imagine the possibilities of the future in our journey to understand the past.

Read more about the discovery here –  LIGO and Virgo make first detection of gravitational waves produced by colliding neutron stars

And here – LIGO Detects Fierce Collision of Neutron Stars for the First Time

This one is really good too – Astronomers strike cosmic gold, confirm origin of precious metals in neutron star mergers

And the published scientific paper for the more adventurous is here – Multi-messenger Observations of a Binary Neutron Star Merger

 

 

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The Annual Week o’Science

Vacation time again! And naturally once again this year I volunteered for the World Science Festival in New York City. I wish that I could just be the kind of person that could do nothing for a whole week and just go lay on a beach somewhere but I’d go insane without something to do.

It’s really a wonderful event to be a part of. Let’s face it, Orillia is not exactly a town full of readers and especially not readers of science. There are way too many people who believe the woo that is on Oprah and the like. There are the few that have watched things like Cosmos and who watched Bill Nye in school…that’s really as far as it goes.  So it is really a cool experience to be able to go to an event like this, where you can have an *actual* conversation with people who know the same authors and communicators, all speak the same lingo and to meet all these new people. And to also see all those in charge of not only the festival, but also the venues every year!

That being said….I am not taking Greyhound to NYC anymore. Never have I experienced two more uncomfortable bus rides in my life as the trip down and back this year. Amtrak next year I think. Twelve hours crammed into full capacity buses was not my idea of a good time. And the border going down was awful. I — am not exactly high on what could be considered the “list of suspicious people to profile list”. Hi, over forty Canadian and pretty much as Caucasian as you can get. Here’s how my border experience went down this year:

Border Guard: Why are you traveling to the States?

Me: I’m seeing some sights and volunteering for The World Science Festival

BG: Are you getting any remuneration for that?

Me: No, they throw a volunteer party at the end of the week. I have all my information for my stay and my itinerary right here…

BG: *stares at me* You’re traveling from Canada to do this? What did you say it was called?

Me: Yes…The World Science Festival.

BG: *typing on a computer* And who runs it.

Me: The World Science Festival…..

BG: I don’t know…this sounds a little borderline. I think you need a visa for this.

Me: I haven’t had an issue before with coming down for it.

BG: Before you come down to do this again, you had better look into this more.

It felt really tense, but they let me across the border. I was uncertain for a minute if that was going to be the case.  Can’t be sure if it was the volunteering he took issue with or the science part. lol. And missing the festival would have sucked. Finally made it to the city at around 7:30am on Wednesday morning and I was fairly exhausted. Got checked in at the hostel at 103rd and Amsterdam, a short nap and hot shower later I felt like heading up to Community Food & Juice for a really good breakfast. Afterwards, a bit of wandering about and then the subway down to volunteer headquarters to get my credentials. Then a light supper and early to bed and watching a bit of the WSF live stream before I couldn’t stay awake anymore.

Thursday was museum day for me so I spent the vast majority of the afternoon in the American Museum of Natural History and the Rose Center for Earth and Space (NdT’s hood). Saw Dark Universe again and the short thing in the Hayden Big Bang theatre that Liam Neeson narrated. Spent as much time there as I could before my first volunteer shift which was a conversation between Alan Alda and Tina Fey. Alan runs a centre teaching scientists to be better communicators using things like improv. They brought Brian Greene up on stage for a “spontaneous” to explain scientific concepts to Tina and she’d buzz him when he said something he did not understand.

I have to digress for a moment for those people who might not know who Brian Greene is (and what is wrong with you?). One of my favourite authors and speakers, wonderful communicator of difficult concepts in science, professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University and co-founder of The World Science Festival with his wife, Tracy Day.  He’s brilliant. I took his online class at World Science U and he’s one of those people who even through the screen, you feel like you are having a conversation. I don’t get fannish very often but Professor Greene is one person I’ve wanted to meet for ages. Side story — I made one of my funny little Twitter jokes to him indicating he should really hire me as his PA, random dude thought that I worked for him already. I advised him that while I run the profile for him, I have never met Professor Greene. At that moment, the man in question tweeted me that if I were volunteering this year, he and I would definitely meet. 🙂

We’ll come back to that.

Friday morning was an early day working the Pioneers of Science event with a room full of incredibly smart teenagers. Gives one a great deal of hope about the future. The event featured Jane Lubchenko (head of NOAA during the Deepwater Horizon disaster) and Aprielle Ericsson (the first African-American female to receive a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Howard University and the first African-American female to receive a Ph.D. in Engineering at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center). Both were incredibly inspiring. I had gotten caffeined up and worked some lighting cues for the experiment portions of the event (had one or two totally unexpected ones thrown my way as well so that was bumpy) and wrangled people in the lobby.  Mike, Jack and Kim that worked the NYU Global Center were *amazing*. Hopefully, I get to work with them again next year. And you know that no matter what I say, I’m going to at least *some* of the festival every year that’s possible.

Had the rest of the day free so I thought I’d go back to the museum, was there for a bit and in the Cuba special collection when I got an email that there was availability to see Sylvia Earle’s keynote. Really short notice so I hopped a cab to get there. Made it just in time to get seated. Turns out that Brian Greene was introducing her and then he came and sat in the row behind me. Not distracting at all, lol. And for the 2nd day in a row I did not have the opportunity to introduce myself to Brian.  Since I wasn’t far away, I spent some time at The Strand book store (nerd Disneyland) and went to Joe’s for some NY pizza. Yum!  🙂

Saturday….I came down with a bit of a sinus cold which happens when I get really sleep deprived sometimes. Had some momentary guilt over lazing about in bed until I reminded myself that I am on vacation. I had a ticket to Brian’s event that night “Science in a Polarized World”. Paid a visit to the drug store for tissue and drugs so that I wouldn’t sneeze my way through the night. The panel really made me think and it might result in a new site going up on some of the topics. It gave me a great deal to think about. After the event I stopped near the stage because I had to finish the questionnaire in my program. And…Brian stopped at the stage edge to answer a couple of questions. But right at the exact moment there was a break in the conversation and I was going to say hi, he had to dash off.

Sunday was a BIG day. Got up at around 5:30 am so that I could get checked out, stow my bags in a locker downstairs and head downtown as my shift started at 8am.  Went to volunteer command and got handed a clipboard then went in search of the freight elevator and loading dock to advise vendors what floor to go to for Ultimate Science Sunday. Then floated the floors for an hour making sure everything was ok. At 11am that shift was over but volunteer command needed help with lunches so I put in time there after getting coffee. Scarfed down some lunch with some volunteers from the city and then went to my next scheduled shift back at the Grand Hall with Jack and Kim.  This one was a Salon and I went out to stand on the street, directing people around to the entrance. It was *cold* and rainy so I added a slight cough to my mild cold….yay.

Headed upstairs when the event had started and went in to watch. About 10 minutes after I got there…guess what. Yeah, Brian Greene came in and sat down pretty much in front of where I was standing. Being the last day…I was not going to allow this opportunity to elude me.  I knew he would leave when Q&A started so I left just before he did to have the opportunity to say hello and introduce myself. He thanked me for volunteering and we talked briefly about his profile and a few other things. I have to say this…he is incredibly sweet to take a moment out of what is probably a crazy schedule. And he takes a legitimate interest while  talking. It’s that quality that translates right through the screen when he’s teaching on World Science U. (He’s also very charming and incredibly handsome. And yes…perhaps he is the subject of a little nerdcrush on my part.)

Finished up at the Salon at around 3pm so I had time to walk outside to a coffee shop for a tea and doughnut break before heading to Skirball to work with Julianne and Suchan again as Front of House/Hospitality.  Was ushering this year, watched most of the neuroscience panel but ducked out early to go to help out in the Green Room. We tidied up a bit and waited for the event to end and I escorted some of the speakers to their cars. Once that got taken care of, it was time for the volunteer party!

While I did not win anything in the raffle, got to eat pizza and chat with some of the volunteers I worked with like Cassie and Winnie. And we all got little swag bags.  Brian and Tracy dropped in to thank the volunteers so I could finally go a little fan girl and get my picture taken with Brian. He then asked me jokingly if he’d kept his promise.  🙂

After the party, I went to collect my bags and head to the Port Authority to hang out for a couple of hours, waiting for my 12:30 am bus (someone remind me to NEVER do that again).  The bus was packed the whole way and I have never been so happy to see Toronto in my life. Checked in at the hostel and was able to have a shower and a little nap before heading out to dinner and then to see Lawrence Krauss give a talk and then a conversation with Matt Dillahunty.  Those who know me, know my long standing love for Professor Krauss.  Brilliant, funny, patient and incredibly nice. I don’t think I would have ever developed an interest and passion for science had it not been for him. Waited around and got my copy of my book signed and exchange a few words with him. By then I was completely devoid of energy and could not wait to go to bed. Shame…I keep wanting to take him out and get him drunk.  🙂  Was not to be this time however.

Whew…almost as tiring to blog about than it was to actually do. And yet, I can’t wait to do it again!

 

Closer to Midnight

It is now two and a half minutes to midnight. That’s what was announced today by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Who are they and what does that mean?

The organization was started in 1945 by scientists from the Manhattan Project who “could not remain aloof to the consequences of their work”. Check them out here – Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

As for what it means…the clock is a representation of how close we are to catastrophe. The board takes into account real and existential threats that effect humanity’s future.  This is the first time since 1953 that the clock has moved closer than three minutes to midnight and the first time in 70 years that it has not moved a full minute. Optimistically, they are allowing for the fact that the new American administration was just put in and all have not been confirmed yet.

For the last two years, the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock stayed set at three minutes before the hour, the closest it had been to midnight since the early 1980s.

We’ve been as far away as 17 minutes to midnight back in 1991. And while the Bulletin keeps warning about these threats such as nuclear proliferation, climate change and other emerging technology…politicians seem to be taking them less and less seriously. There is now a man in the highest office in America who carelessly tosses around remarks about nuclear weapons and sets other nuclear powers on edge.

Both his statements and his actions as president-elect have broken with historical precedent in unsettling ways. He has made ill-considered comments about expanding the US nuclear arsenal. He has shown a troubling propensity to discount or outright reject expert advice related to international security, including the conclusions of intelligence experts. And his nominees to head the Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency dispute the basics of climate science.

Every day there are more statements coming out of the White House about the removal of environmental policies and the muzzling of scientists. This was a big enough issue when happening in Canada under the previous Conservative government, it is a massive issue when it begins happening in the U.S. and this cannot be taken lightly. But it is hardly the only threat we fact in the future and I encourage you to read the entire Doomsday Clock statement for this year.

I find the closing of the statement something that should be focused on.

In 2017, we find the danger to be even greater, the need for action more urgent. It is two and a half minutes to midnight, the Clock is ticking, global danger looms. Wise public officials should act immediately, guiding humanity away from the brink. If they do not, wise citizens must step forward and lead the way.

We must not stand idly by and allow facts to be distorted and the scientific method to be ignored. We must all speak out in whatever forum we have at our disposal. We must educate and we must all, every one of us, be involved. The time for silence is at an end.

Read the entire statement here – 2017 Doomsday Clock Statement

F*** Bigotry.

This has been one of those weeks where people in general, really annoy me. Granted in most weeks I rather be around my cats than most humans, but between all the stuff going on in politics and the utter stupidity of online trolls…it’s just been a lot this week.

Now most of the time, online trolls are just ridiculous and amusing. I’ve been collecting some haters for a YouTuber I know for a future “love letters” video ala Richard Dawkins. But in the process I came across a comment from a teen who said she was gay but her mother wanted no part in hearing about it. When she tried she got, “Oh, so you don’t wanna have any kids?”. She feels the need to lie about her sexuality and wants to come out.

THIS shit breaks my heart. No one should have to lie about who they are because they have parents that are completely closed-minded. This is the sort of shit you get from the religious. You’re a parent and you’re making your kid miserable. Does that make you happy in some sort of twisted way? You really think that you can make a child be straight that way? Or do you think if you ignore it, it will just go away? I hear this from kids who are gay, transgender…even atheist. Whatever a parent considers “not normal”.

Granted…I don’t have kids of my own. But my volunteer work over years has brought me into contact with a lot of young people. And you know what your fucking JOB is as a parent? It’s not to force your views on your kids and to try and make them fulfill some failed ambition that you were too inadequate to do yourself. It’s not to make them into some sort of carbon copy of yourself. Your job is to make sure they are happy and healthy. You are supposed to make sure they are educated and independent. Make sure they can think for themselves and contribute to society. You are supposed to do whatever you can to make sure they can succeed in life – in whatever way THEY want to.

Since when did being gay automatically mean you don’t want kids? And it’s 2017…there are lots of ways for gay couples to have kids. And if you live in a country where that’s not a thing…we all need to fix that. It is well past time that we stopped catering to religious bigots that want to keep anyone they see as “the other” from being full members of society. Time to get rid of blasphemy laws, time to make everyone a full 100% part of society — regardless of religion (or lack of), sexuality, gender…whatever it is. It doesn’t matter. We are all humans and equality should not have fine print.

Don’t let anyone keep you in a closet. Do you and be proud of who you are. Be strong and know that you are never alone.

The Price of Ignorance

There was a time in the not too distant past, when one could not be considered civilized if you could not carry on a conversation on topics like literature or scientific topics. When exactly did that stop being the case? When did ignorance become a point of pride? A lot of people like to trace this phenomenon back to the Bush administration. There seemed to arise this attitude that reality was whatever you thought it was and that facts depended on perspective.  We started to see more and more appearances of the thought that *every* fact and scientific opinion had two sides. But as Lawrence Krauss is want to point out, usually one of those sides is just wrong. But when everywhere you turn, there are paid lobbyists and their organizations spending millions of dollars to cast doubt on reality and research – does the average person really have the capacity any more to separate fact from fiction?

An argument could be made for the rise of a video culture over the last few decades that exalts athletics and the superficial over the intellectual.  When you couple that with the increase of highly religious people entering into American politics and helping to shift political discourse further to the right, you could see it as a rising tide that is very difficult to turn back. How do your reverse a culture that puts people like the Kardashians on a pedestal over people like Einstein or Darwin? Science isn’t just the domain of scientists, it should be the domain of everyone. Science affects every single part of our lives, more so now than ever and not only because it has afforded you the ability to read this blog.  🙂

Have you ever gone through your day and actually thought about how everything you touch has been impacted by science? From the engineering of the home that you live in, the science behind your electric lighting, there’s that car that you drive, the chemistry of your morning coffee or the modern medicine that you have access to – there is nothing in your life that modern science has not had a hand in. But if there was a disaster, would you understand any of it enough that you could help to rebuild society? Would you even be able to find food? To build a structure to protect yourself? How would your ignorance of basic science serve you if all of that were taken away? And science does more than that. It helps us to not only understand ourselves better, but to understand the world and universe that we live in.

Religion likes to work from the assumption that all the answers that you need are in whatever holy books is ascribed to that faith. It strives to indoctrinate as many as possible into antiquated belief systems that date back to before we even knew the Earth revolved around the sun.  It takes the end assumption that “God did it” to every question and warps the evidence to fit that conclusion instead of arriving at a conclusion based on the evidence. Despite all advances in our understanding of everything from evolution to astrophysics and cosmology, those who have a faith-based view of the world continue to fight against an evidence-based view of the world. And evangelical politicians continue to help blur the line by weakening education and trying to allow impressionable children to be taught religion as though it was fact. Even allowing things like the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter to function as though they were educational attractions is incredibly detrimental to the intellectual future of upcoming generations.

The price of ignorance is literally, lives. Religious interference in stem cell research costs lives. Such research could extend your own life or the quality of your life as you age. It could cure diseases like Alzheimer’s and alleviate suffering. Those who try to stop it, fail to understand science fully because they operate on a faith-based view of the world. Religious interference in women’s heath choices takes away the rights of women to make educated decisions on their reproductive health. This stance reduces the health and quality of life of both mothers and children under the guise of being ‘pro-life’, but in reality just an excuse to control and subjugate women. The price of ignorance is the cost of lives at the hands of climate change. In addition to the people who will die from rising sea levels, flooding, tsunamis and other extreme weather events, this is also a security issue. You think there’s an immigration issue now? What happens when humans can no longer live in areas like the Middle East?

I recently read an article from President Obama where he talked about the value of books to his terms in office. I will link to the article at the end, but this part struck me as it relates another article I read recently.

“At a time when events move so quickly and so much information is transmitted,” he said, reading gave him the ability to occasionally “slow down and get perspective” and “the ability to get in somebody else’s shoes.”

There was an article that has made the rounds again recently as President-Elect Trump has likely never read a book before. Research shows that those who read literary fiction have greater empathy. Given the disdain that those on the conservative right show for ‘intellectual elites’ and the equal disdain that they have for the poor, the disabled and anyone else that is struggling in today’s society, I don’t find this a stretch. This wave of ignorance that we MUST fight against is causing real harm to real people in the forms of everything from the climate to income inequality. We must ensure that there is an educated electorate that fully understands the consequences of their actions and their votes.

Ignorance is not a virtue, and we must stop treating it like one.

 

Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy

Music is Life, the Rest is Just Details

So, let’s talk about music. I was inspired by a bit of a meme going around my friends on Facebook — “10 Albums That Influenced You In Your Teens”. First off, I can’t believe that I had to stop at only 10. Regardless, here were my choices:

Billy Joel “An Innocent Man”
Rick Springfield “Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet”
Duran Duran “Duran Duran”
Spoons “Arias & Symphonies”
Roxy Music “Flesh and Blood”
Def Leppard “Pyromania”
The Beatles “Rubber Soul”
Culture Club “Colour By Numbers”
Elvis Costello “Punch The Clock”
David Bowie “Let’s Dance”

This was an *incredibly* hard list to make. When I was a kid, I listened to a lot of country music (real country…not the crap that’s out there now). My very first concert was Ronnie Milsap. I remember him coming out in a purple sequined suit, there were fire spurts going off during it and I recall a time when he danced on his piano (Milsap is blind if you aren’t familiar with him). I was impressed as hell but then, I was 7 years old at the time. The next day I wrote him a letter and a few weeks later I got an autographed photo and a very nice letter in the mail, both of which I still have.  Disco was also incredibly popular when I was a kid. I listened to a lot of BeeGees and I had a huge crush on Andy Gibb and also on Shaun Cassidy. When Gibb died in 1988 when he was only 30, it was devastating. But those of us who came of age in the 80s saw a lot of talent die far too young. A topic for another time.

When it came to rock music around that time, The Beatles were a huge part of my pre-teen years as well. I was absolutely mad for their songs and for 60s music in general. And I don’t know anyone my age that wasn’t influence by Bowie for as long as they can remember.

I turned 10 at the beginning of the 80s and my teen years were dominated by the insane and incredibly experimental music of the time. Computers were just coming into music…and to all of our lives.  I got my first Commodore 64 right around then. I remember having Monopoly on a tape drive – it took an hour to load so you’d come home from school and boot it up before dinner. I also remember buying books on coding and spending hours typing in 20+ pages of “go to” codes to make a ball change colour or bounce around the screen. Back then, you had to actually connect a phone to the modem to connect to the internet to used the bulletin boards that we all hung out in.

In 1982 I fell in love with my first rock ‘n’ roll crush. Rick Springfield. He played Noah Drake on General Hospital but when I was 12, he released “Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet”. He was …gorgeous. And hearing his raspy singing voice coupled with his slightly risque lyrics (hey, I was 12) and his guitar-centric music made ‘my heart skip a beat’ (and you’ll know what that’s from if you call yourself a fan). His were the first fan posters to make their ways to my bedroom walls, but they wouldn’t be alone for long. In 1983 a show called “Good Rockin’ Tonight” started and my musical world changed overnight.  Terry David Mulligan introduced us to some of the coolest music that wouldn’t make it’s way onto radio (and some that eventually would). Hearing songs for the first time like “Only You” by The Flying Pickets, “People Are People by Depeche Mode, “Dear God” by XTC or “Congo Toronto” by Robert Priest just grabbed me and never let go.  Toronto Rocks and Muchmusic hit the air in 1984 and we got introduced to a whole range of Canadian and international stars both via music video and interviews.

That’s when bands like Duran Duran, Culture Club, Spoons and others entered the scene.  Bands like Spoons, Martha & the Muffins, Rough Trade and Leonard Cohen were part of the Cancon revolution in the 80s with a vibrant Toronto music scene but I was massively influence by British bands too. No one had seen anything like Duran Duran or Culture Club at the time – the focused on the look in addition to the music. And they took the music video to places it had never gone before. Man, the hours that we listened to HoJo, Wham!, Glass Tiger, A-ha, Tears For Fears, The Go-gos…so much great music that just made you want to dance (or bands like Yes that released incredible songs with videos that emotionally scarred you for life). And the scandals! Duran Duran making “long editions” of their videos cast with naked women that could only be shown after 11pm or Queen doing a video where they cross-dressed were our bit of salacious fun.

The bands that influence them also became the stuff we loved – Roxy Music, The Clash, The Sex Pistols, Frank Black…that list could go on for ages. Our whole lives in the 80s revolved around the music and the crazy fashion that it brought on. I wish I still had my oversized pink neon sweatshirt, dammit. And no, I am NOT kidding.  🙂

If you aren’t familiar with a lot of these artists, you should check them out. It’s good to reflect on those songs that bring you back to moments that defined your life – we all have a soundtrack that runs through it.

 

soundtracklife

Always Look on the Bright Side…

So, a lot of 2016 sucked and I’m sure you have seen it hashed out in numerous places. I’m not going to talk about that because I have focused enough on the negatives already.  Instead I am going to blog about the positives that happened this year.

I’ve gotten to know great people online…working with people like Mario and Shikhar on our giant Wakelet educational project was an unexpected start to the year. That project has snowballed into a number of sites I run for my favourite scientists and science communicators among others. I think I’ve progressively gotten better at setting them up and balancing the “fluffy” stuff with the hard science.

In March, Neil deGrasse Tyson came to Toronto and I sprung for VIP tickets. There is nothing quite like listening to him speak in an auditorium. His voice fills a room and you can feel it right down to your toes. And when he put the photo of Saturn on the screen and read from Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” the entire place was silent. Afterwards I got to briefly meet him and was every bit as intimidated by him as I anticipated.

Shortly after that, I got to go and see Lawrence Krauss speak live for the first time.  Although he had to share the stage with an IDer and a creationist…hearing him talk (especially from front row center) was a great experience. And I made a new friend in Melissa while standing outside in the line! I had intended to go from the event to the bus depot to head home, but there was a meet & greet afterwards that he was going to. Naturally I could not pass it up!  Here was another person that intimidated me and before I could even approach him to say anything he smiled and said, “I saw you in the front row, thanks for coming” which made me incapable of speech.  I put on a great impersonation of a puppy just listening to him talk to people in the back room. I’d be perfectly happy just to tag around and listen to him talk all the time, frankly. But I eventually had to hop a cab at the latest possibly moment to make my bus. I launched his Wakelet page in time for his birthday that same month.

When June came around, I volunteered for the first time at the World Science Festival. Though I did not have the opportunity to meet Brian Greene I did get to sit in the VIP section (a reward for working Front of House) for a fascinating panel and also got to see him bring his Einstein show “Light Falls” to the stage.  But my favourite part by far was working as Production Assistant for World Science U For a Day. Being in the room and listening to both Barry Barish and Rai Weiss talk about gravitational waves and LIGO was amazing. And being the one in the room trusted to run the timer for the lecturers, helping the director and running the mic for the Q&A was incredibly cool.

I also loved hanging out in Washington Square Park – I could people watch there all day. Religious nuts, photo shoots, musicians of all sorts and I saw a guy in a wizard hat reading tarot cards.  🙂  Plus the added bonus of a Big Gay Ice Cream right at the Christopher Street Station. Also on this trip to NYC I was able to get to the Hayden Planetarium for the “Dark Universe” show narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson. I had never been to a planetarium of that size and scale before and the show was incredible.

I left the festival on the Saturday to head to DC for the Reason Rally. An entire day of being confronted by religious fanatics and having the chance to listen to speakers like Bill Nye, Lawrence Krauss, David Silverman and many others. I had the chance to meet David who is the President of American Atheists, get my copy of “Fighting God” signed and let him know that the reason I ‘came out’ as an atheist was because of him. And the reason I now consider myself a firebrand atheist and an activist is also because of him. He makes too much sense to deny…and he’ll be the first one to tell you that, lol. I went to the VIP party, got to break the ice with Professor Krauss while Bree got drunk and followed Cara Santa Maria around for a while. I got ditched after that and ended up at the after party solo for the entire night but I did get to see LK break out his dance moves. Who knew he was such a party animal? (For those not in the know…Richard Feynman taught him to dance!)

Before leaving DC, I wanted to pay a little tribute to Hitch. It seemed appropriate at an event dedicated to reason. I had thought about many things – going by the Wyoming, brunch at his favourite spot, finding one of his drinking holes…but the one thing I needed to do above all others was to visit the Jefferson Memorial. Anyone who is really familiar with Hitch knows the many reasons why this place is so important, both for who it honours and for why it was important to Christopher Hitchens.  The memorial is in a beautiful spot and is inspiring to stand in. It was quite an emotional experience to say the least on many levels. Bree and I took signs that we had a the rally to have some shots taken and we topped it off by being confronted by another religious fanatic from the day before. I was not in the mood for his BS and not only shot him down but called him on his bluffing and sent him away with his tail between his legs.

Over the summer, I made the aquaintance of a young YouTuber in Oxford named Alex O’Connor aka Cosmic Skeptic. Hemant Menta (The Friendly Atheist) pointed him out and I could see how talented he was. Extremely well spoken, intelligent and with a natural charisma in front of the camera…he reminded me a little bit of Hitch. I like to support talent when it appears and Alex definitely has it so I was right there to back his Patreon when he started it and to do what I could to help promote his channel. We have talked a lot since then and I’ve gotten to know his friends Gabriel and Mattie who have a YouTube channel of their own called Swish. I even managed to make my way into one of Alex’s videos on his 2nd channel when he filmed himself and Gabe filling my tea order at the shop they work at. I have autographed bags of tea to prove it.  🙂   I’ve got them safely tucked away for when they all become incredibly famous.

Over the course of the year, I started to become more acquainted with Lawrence Krauss.  It’s so strange that not that long ago he was just this person that I admired and whose books I read … and now we talk upon occasion. So odd, the twists that life takes sometimes. In September I went to see his TIFF movie premier in Werner Herzog’s “Salt & Fire” and he was so good in it! Shortly after that he delivered a TIFF talk to kick off the Star Trek celebrations and we finally got me really meet and say more than a couple of words to each other. I made him a gift of a scrapbook full of my photography and some quotes and poetry finished off with a thank you letter to him. I told him that it was a thank you gift for never telling me to shut up on his Twitter feed. He gave me a hug (!!!) and told me it was nice to know he had someone who would stand up for him.

So, even though there was a lot of loss in 2016, there was also a lot of gain. I feel quite lucky that I have made the acquaintance of so many wonderful people this year. Everyone of them has made an impact on my life this year. Here’s to 2017 and all the possibilities that lie ahead.