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The next step

Superheroes have always presented a very interesting dilemma to me; in that they are often impossible flights of fancy yet simultaneously a form of wish fulfillment. Who hasn’t, at some point or other, wished that they could fly, teleport, read people’s minds or heal from any injury? I am not embarrassed to say that I have often found myself wishing I could fly to work, be super-strong so I could protect those I love or just be a badass like Wolverine or Batman.

I’m also not ashamed to say that I love superheroes and comics, and I have since I was a kid. I adored the thrill of opening up a comic for the first time and getting lost in the conflicts that filled their days – some relatable to my everyday experience, others not. But it never mattered, because I would always take something away from those books I would read as a child. Even though they were stories about individuals with extraordinary powers, they had personality traits that I admired and wanted to emulate, but most importantly, they had flaws.

Back then, I read as much as I could by the big companies, as well as some smaller ones. But my favourites were always Marvel heroes (and Batman), and they still are to this day.

The characters that probably had the largest impact on me as a child were the X-Men. Sure I loved Spider-Man, Daredevil, Captain America and the rest, but the X-Men were my go-to series. They dealt with ostracization, racism, bullying, being true to yourself, etc. And all of those themes spoke to me, as I encountered that during my young life. But comics, and reading in general, were an escape from the trials of being a kid, like bullies and feeling like an outcast sometimes.

I loved going to the comic book store and seeing what issues were new, talking to the owner about my favourite characters, and being so excited to read an issue that I couldn’t wait until I got home to crack it open. In fact, I still have a few comics from those days that are hidden away somewhere that I could not bear to part with. Some of them are collectibles and first issues, while others have great memories, like the great DC vs. Marvel comics crossover event from the mid-1990s.

But why am I talking about comic books and superheroes in what has (mostly) been a blog about science, animals and journalism?

I have decided to expand my blog to talk more about video games, movies, comics, etc., while still striving to maintain the science-bent, tone and style that was here previously. I am a big fan of pop culture and an avid consumer of it, so I will be putting that absurd amount of knowledge to good use here, and I hope you enjoy it. I will be writing more along the lines of previous posts, such as “The Science of Smaug the Terrible,” where I discussed the feasibility (using biomechanics) about if dragons could exist, and “Man of Steel shows its rust” highlighting issues I had with the changes made to the Superman mythology in the latest reboot.

Stay tuned true believers!

To be continued …

Science Online 2012: A Post-Mortem

For those of you unaware, last Wednesday I travelled to the mystical land of Raleigh, North Carolina and attended a really unique conference entitled Science Online 2012. It is what is known as an “unconference,” where there are no lectures or presentations, but sessions that encourage and are built on discussion.
I could talk about all the fun that was had over there, the people I met for the first time in person (but have been talking to for years online) or the exciting times that were had. But, people have already written marvelous posts on that already (such as Ed Yong, Sarah Chow and more). Therefore, I will focus on a few things at the conference that really surprised me.
On the first day of the conference, after meeting countless people I’ve been talking to on Twitter for years, I decided to attend a variety of sessions. Most surprisingly, practically right out of the gate, one immediately blew me away.
The session, entitled “Sex, gender and controversy: writing to educate, writing to titillate” was moderated by the amazing @KateClancy and the incredible @scicurious about a blogger’s identity, comment moderation and the difficulty of being outspoken and passionate about science.
Prior to the conference, both Kate and Sci had posted blogs that received a lot of flack. And not constructive criticism, mind you, but a variety of hateful and mean-spirited comments that insulted their intelligence, status and even gender.
Now, I’ve been lucky, the readers of my blog have been quite kind. And some have criticized me about mistakes or called me out on a few things, but it was always done with tact. But never like those two ladies described, and while others recounted their experiences with similar situations, I was struck by the courage writers have.
Yes, we get criticized a lot, that is just a fact of nature.
It is one thing to get in a discussion about a fact or opinion, but another to discredit a the thoroughly researched and hard-worked piece simply because of gender. That is not right, that is not appropriate and that is not the age I thought we lived in.
But then Kate said something.
“You just need to keep going. Wipe yourself off, make your next one better and show them you are better than they are.”
Now that takes balls for anyone for anyone to do.
Even after attending numerous different sessions throughout the conference that one sticks in my mind as a clear standout.
Another surprising element from the conference was that notable bloggers/writers were happy to talk to everyone. While some people knew who I was (and that was fantastic), I was really surprised just how nice everyone was, whether they were “famous” or not.
But the greatest thing about the conference was how easily the friendships cultivated online, through Twitter, Facebook or whatever other social media platforms, seamlessly moved into meeting in person.
There are a few shout outs I must make, to those who made my time at the conference just that much more memorable. I have already thanked some of them via Twitter, but it is still an incomplete list. However, I am pasting those I have done here for all to see.
Favourite #scio12 moments:
My session with @DrRubidium, where we made people laugh (and think) using Mel Brooks movie clips
Talking at great length with @sciencecomedian and actually making him laugh more than once!
Holding court with the almost too amazing for words @jeannegarb in the #DSN suite (and later during the endnote)
Helping out @DrBondar and @sciencegoddess with the film festival (technical glitches and all)
Spending time with the fascinating @astvintagespace and bonding over space, university and telling stories
Getting my armpits swabbed for microbes by @DrHolly … FOR SCIENCE
Meeting @experrinment and watching her draw & sketch fabulous works of art
@arikia and @hannahjwaters using very different “methods” to open my locked from the inside hotel room door
There are more wonderful people who I met that I’ve forgotten and others who aren’t on the list but deserve to be.
See you all next year!

Separating work from play and Open Lab 2011

It’s amazing.

Last month, when I blogged about all the things in my life that have been keeping me away from blogging consistently, I was determined for that to end. I was steadfast in my attempts to continue to blog, even in the presence of other distractions such as work and friends.

However, that did not work out as well as I had hoped, and for that I deeply apologize.

I found it surprisingly difficult to work up the type of mental stamina and drive needed to blog after a whole day of writing and editing. By working in the editorial field all day, it becomes difficult to disassociate the writing process from feeling like “work.”

So, instead I’d cook, go shopping, go for walks, catch up on television, come home for the weekend to see friends and family and even clean my new apartment.

Therefore, I have decided to make writing for this blog one of two New Year’s resolutions that I plan to maintain.
Most people, myself included, do not have a good track record committing to resolutions. But, I managed to stick with all of the ones I made last year, and I plan to do so again.

If I do not continue to update this blog, and I have some great ideas that I’m working on for you, you all have permission to POLITELY remind me via whatever means you deem necessary (within reason).

Lastly, while most people who know me well have been told in person, those who I do not speak to regularly may not be aware of one particularly delightful piece of news.

A guest blog that I wrote for scientific American earlier in 2011 has been awarded a place in a collection of the best scientific writing published online of the year, entitled “Open Lab 2011,” to be published in fall 2012 by Scientific American. The post, entitled Mirror images: Twins and identity focuses on what it is like to grow up as an identical twin and how important it is to carve out your own individual identity. Practically every single person I meet for the first time, when they learn I am a twin, will ask one of two questions: “Who’s older?” or “What’s it like having a twin?”

Writing that piece was one of the most enjoyable writing experiences of my career thus far, as not only was it an exploration of something that people find immensely fascinating, but it was also a highly personal experience to try to get people to understand what it is like having someone who is closer than a sibling or a significant other around all the time.

I am honoured, privileged and beyond thankful for the editors and judges who selected my piece of writing to be included in this collection. Thank you very, very much.

If you’d like to see the selection of the other articles/posts being included in the collection Open Lab 2011, please see the post here. They are all amazing writers and I feel extremely fortunate to be included among them.