Tuesday, June 30, 2009

In Denali

In Denali, have one minute of internet left on my timer! At the conference a friend and I dubbed this skinky latino guy with long hair as the official hottest guy at the conference. Ended up running into him and having dinner with him. Ultimate win. He's from Costa Rica, and turns out one of my close friends was his TA for a class. Small world.

14 hour adventure tomorrow!Woo!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Alaska photos!!!

Yay, I finally found a way to transfer photos! I'll just share some of my favorites here with you:

Eating at Pike's Place on the Chena River. Good food, but even better view.

This was so hilarious that I almost bought it. It was in the gift shop for the Alaskan Salmon Bake, which is basically this hokey gold mine theme park we went to that had all you can eat salmon, halibut, cod, prime rib, and all the fixings.

This was the best part of the theme park. Weeeeee!

I also learned that polar bears tend to spontaneously combust in Alaska.

Creepy human-turtle zombie sculptures on campus. Thankfully it's daylight 24/7, so no real worries of zombie attacks.

Downy woodpeckers! I took about a billion photos of these two, it was impossible to just choose one.

Doing the touristy thing with the Alaskan pipeline. Kind of anticlimactic, actually.

Caribou at the Large Animal Research Station!

D'awwww baby caribou.

Muskox! And my new arch nemesis, the seventy bajillion zillion mosquitoes of Alaska.

Muskoxen sparring! I am SO lucky to have gotten this photo.

In the Army Permafrost tunnel!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Too soon?

Time to play Kill, Sleep With, or Marry:

(If you're not familiar with this game, you were obviously never a teenage girl. Select one person for each action)

Farrah Fawcett
Michael Jackson
Billy Mays

As awful as it would have to be to tolerate a lifetime of Billy Mays's yelling, I still think having sex with him would be more horrible. So I'm going to say kill Michael, do Farrah, and marry Billy. Unless we're talking Thriller-era Michael, in which case do Michael, marry Farrah, and kill Billy Mays.

Thoughts?

Am I a horrible person?

EDIT:

Me: Having sex with Billy Mays would be fucking horrible
Friend: "HI, I'M BILLY MAYS AND I'M EJACULATING IN YOUR VAGINA!"
Me: LOL
Me: omg I hate you. I'm in a computer lab and trying not to tear up and die laughing
Friend:
"AFTERWARD, WE CAN CLEAN IT UP WITH KABOOM!"
Friend:
"BEHOLD, THE POWER OF OXYCLEAN!"
Me: STOP IT
Me: omg a professor is laughing at me

At least he's more horrible than I am.

Never mind

Yeah, so that previous email was just spam. Got a couple other really similar emails later that were equally confusing. Man, I was hoping this would be some cryptic religious puzzle that would send me on a Da Vinci Code-like journey. Sadness.

In other news, I found a charger for my camera, woo! ...But the camera shop was out of SD card readers, so still no photos for you. I may stop by a Radioshack on my way to the bird sanctuary tomorrow and try to grab one. I know it can theoretically wait, but 1) I'm going to need to get it eventually and 2) Some of the photos are too hilarious to wait a week to show. Wish me luck!

I get weird emails

Usually I would ignore these weird emails as nonsensical spam jibberish, but this one caught my eye for some reason:

from: Alana Madrid
to: jmccreig@purdue.edu
cc: [Other Purdue Emails]
date: Sun, Jun 28, 2009 at 7:55 AM
subject: or art not thou the hum of multitudes was there but multitudes of lambs

the sun descending in the west, earth rais'd up her head,the hum of multitudes was there but multitudes of lambs his arm is withered to its root;

...

So after some googling, these random poetic sounding phrases are from William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience, which are essentially religious poems. And payvand.com is an Iran news site.

Can anyone make sense out of this, or should I just ignore it as some crazy email?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Conference update, photo woes

Another Alaska update before I head out for our banquet! Yesterday I went to lunch with my academic grandfather (my advisor's PhD advisor), who I'll call AG. I had never met him before, but he was really nice, funny, and intelligent.

AG: So you're my academic granddaughter? I lose track, I've trained over 40 PhD students.
Me: Wow, that's impressive.
AG: I like to consider it a failure to practice academic birth control.

He's also one of the most famous and accomplished scientists here, and he gave me a lot of great grad school advice. Though my favorite was probably when he told me if I was certain I wanted to go into academia, to marry a sugar-daddy doctor or something so I actually have some money.

Him: Hey, that's what I did. My wife is a physician. I don't mind it!

My talk today went really well. I was getting more and more nervous about it as the conference went on. Yesterday at the member's meeting for the society they actually announced the time and location of my talk to a room full of ~150 people because I was the undergrad award winner. My immediate thought was "oh fuck." Though the room didn't end up being packed, mainly because my talk was the first of the day at 8:30 am. And on the third day of a conference, people start waking up later and later. I still had about 40 people come though.

We were initially having some technical difficulties. The session chair couldn't get the computer to work, so I was afraid I'd have to give my talk sans-Power Point (nooo!). That's what I get for joking about doing an interpretive dance of my talk all week. But eventually someone in the audience donated their laptop, and we were able to hook that up to the projection system. Once I started talking I wasn't nervous because I was focused on...well, talking. I was actually able to answer questions without sounding like an idiot, hooray! And many people told me it was great (including AG, woo!), and that they heard other people saying it was great, so I'll call it a success.

And as for my photo woes? I have a ton of funny/beautiful photos so far, but unfortunately you don't get to see any of them. My little camera that I was using before, the base I need to transfer photos and charge it broke during the plane ride. Blargh. Will try to go to Walmart tomorrow and see what I can do. And the big fancy photo - which I have a bunch of neat bird photos on - can't upload without installing software, and the lab computers here won't allow me to do that. So I guess you all just get the boring text versions of my adventures for now.

Banquet time!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Where are our future atheist politicians?

It's pretty well known (at least among heathen circles) that atheist are fairly underrepresented minority in the US Congress. Pete Stark is the only out non-theist, and there are five people who chose not to answer the religious affiliation question - which of course doesn't mean they're necessarily unbelievers. There certainly may be closeted atheists in Congress, but one reason we want out atheists is so we know there will be at least some people in our government promoting a secular viewpoint.

A lot of atheists tell us not to despair; that as atheism spreads and becomes more and more accepted, we'll start seeing more and more atheist politicians. But as of right now, coming out as an atheist is a gamble that you'd be committing political suicide.

So what's the problem? you ask. Yeah, right now it's bad, but in the future it'll be better. Well, the problem is our future politicians are growing up in the present, where they see being religious as a requirement for getting into public office. I was talking to my friend who's one of those wishy-washy deists (mentioned in my post "Wanting to Believe") who is starting law school with the hopes of becoming involved in politics. He was raised Christian, lost his faith, but then desperately tried to regain it (settling at deism, I suppose) because you "Have to believe in something to be a politician." So not only is he lying about his faith with the hopes of being elected 15 or 20 years from now (he still tells people he's the Christian his parents raised him as), but he basically convinced himself to actually have more religious beliefs. He jokes that if in the future it comes out that he had something going on (said the relationship was complicated) with an atheist activist chick, there would be a scandal. The sad thing is, I can't tell if he's really joking or if there's a hint of worry there.

Now, this is just my own experience with one person out of the many current and future law school students in the United States. But it does make me worry a bit. Is it going to take longer than we thought to see out atheists elected? Should I not care if they're closeted or not? Maybe it would be best that they sneak in this way - even though young people are becoming less religious and more accepting as atheists, we'll still have to deal with the old peoples' vote. I guess my personal code of conduct wouldn't allow me to lie about such a big part of my life, and we know politicians never lie or manipulate...

So what do you guys think? When are we going to see out atheists elected? Does it even matter if we do?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Alaska!

I still can't believe that I'm actually in Fairbanks right now. I guess I've been really busy all day with the meeting that it hasn't quite sunk in yet - I'm sure once I see a moose wandering around it'll hit me. It's absolutely gorgeous here though. I'm used to pancake-flat Indiana, with Purdue being void of nature and full of brick monstrosities...but here it's just hills and green everywhere. Seeing the mountains in the sort of pastel dusk colors from the plane was so awesome. I just wish I could have gotten a photo, but alas, I didn't have a window seat.

Speaking of plane rides, mine were a bit interesting. My flight to Seattle I was sitting next to two frat guys, wearing their letters and talking about a frat conference they were just at. They were nice, but I found it mildly hilarious that they were both watching the in flight movie of Confessions of a Shopaholic and seemingly enjoying it. This also made my day:

Guy1: *headbanging as if to a hard rock song*
Guy 2: Dude, what are you listening to? *touches iPod so it lights up*
Me: *looks and sees "Clocks - Coldplay"*
Guy 2: Bro, awesome.
Me: ...

When we were landing in Seattle there was a rainbow! That was neat.

My flight to Fairbanks was also interesting. I was wearing my non-theist shirt again (I just can't get enough drama, I guess) and the middle aged guy next to me started talking to me. First he tells me he's from Utah. Hmmm. Then he says he has 8 siblings. Alarm bells start going off in my head. Then he says he spent a 2 year mission trip in Boston for the LDS church. Yep. Thankfully he either didn't read my shirt, didn't understand it, or didn't care because he never mentioned anything. It was still a little awkward. Mainly I just didn't want to get into any sort of religious discussion, especially since it was about 3 am my time and I just wanted to go to bed.

Alright, off to the social at the campus pub. Seriously, why don't we have an official campus pub? Lucky!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Leavin :D

Woo! Leaving for the airport in about 45 minutes! You know, I'm really not sure how big name bloggers post so often. Do they just never go on vacation? I've been trying to make some posts for while I'm gone, but I still feel like I'm going to be neglecting you guys. Well, it doesn't help that I don't have a laptop (waiting until grad school to get one). I can theoretically post from my phone, but it has a character limit so I get about 3 sentences in. I will make some posts about my adventures while I'm up there, but if not, I'll at least write some stuff down so I don't forget it when I get back. Just think of it this way: you'll have a bit of a dry spell for a while, but then lots of crazy Alaska stories and photos afterwards!

Oh, and I think about everyone I know has told me to say hi to Sarah Palin. Ha. Ha. Yes, she's the one person you know from Alaska and she's an idiot. Hilarious. Though this wins for most original:

"Say hello to Palin for me. Knock up Bristol on my behalf."
"That may be difficult for me to do, but I'll try my best."

See you guys later :D

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Alaska Itinerary!

I leave for Alaska tomorrow, woo! I'm so excited that I feel like I'm going to explode, so I'm going to let out a bit of that energy by bragging about all the neat things I'm going to see. That way, if I'm not posting on a certain day you can at least imagine me hiking in the accurate beautiful location, right? Like always, suggestions are welcome for things I definitely should see in the towns I mention below.

Wed, June 24th: Leave for Indianapolis airport around 1 pm, get to Fairbanks 11:30 pm.
Thurs, June 25th: Conference starts at 8 am (this is going to be a rough day). Lunch with the ASM officers, various technical sessions, symposiums, etc.
Fri, June 26th: More technical sessions, picnic with delicious Alaskan Salmon/Halibut/Cod in an old gold mining town.
Sat, June 27th: My presentation at 8:30 am (ahhh!), more sessions, dinner banquet
Sun, June 28th: Last day of conference, sessions all day, mooch food off of the break sessions because I didn't buy a meal plan
Mon, June 29th: Field trip to the Large Animal Research Station, the US Army Permafrost Tunnel, and the Alaskan Pipeline. Also visiting Creamer's Field, a giant bird sanctuary, and whatever other random cool thing I find in Fairbanks. It's only dark from 1 am to 3 am, so I theoretically have a lot of daylight to explore in! LARS has muskoxen and caribou, and I hope they still have babies this time of year because omg they're adorable:
Think I can successfully smuggle this back on the plane?
Tues, June 30: Leave for Denali in the morning, get there around noon, store my bags and go hiking all the close trails until the bus for my hostel comes at 9 pm. Hope there are no creepers in the coed bunks.
Wed, July 1: Huge Denali trip! Get on one of the early buses that takes you deep out into the park, try to get as many awesome photographs as possible (If I get something 1/10th as awesome as what's on Flickr, I'll be happy).
Thurs, July 2: Leave Denali, arrive in Anchorage around 6, meet friend who lives there and drive to hostel in Seward.
Fri, July 3: Visit Exit Glacier and the rest of Kenai Fjords, hope it isn't overrun by tourists, see fireworks at Seward at midnight.
Sat, July 4: 4th of July celebration at Seward! Not really sure what the hell's going on, but should be fun. Drive back to Anchorage.
Sun, July 5: Explore Anchorage. Still not sure what the heck I'm doing, but I'm sure Friend from Anchorage and other random people will have suggestions.
Mon, July 6: Flight leaves Anchorage around 3 pm.
Tues, July 7: Flight finally arrives in Indianapolis at 10 am. Sleep schedule promptly messed up. Furiously check 500 missed blog posts, upload photos, and then be reminded that I actually have to get back to work at some point. Damn.

And today? Do laundry, go to the bank, get last minute camera stuff, go play with camera so I know how to use it, get Tru Blood episodes from my friend for the plane ride (omg sex + vampires = ADDICTED), finish some last minute blog posts, pack furiously, and don't sleep because I'm too excited! Wooo!

Alaaasskkaaa :D

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sorry for being absent!

Hey guys, I just want to apologize for not posting much the last couple of days. I've been recovering from my Idaho trip, but also preparing for my Alaska trip. I'll be gone from Wednesday June 24th at noon to Tuesday July 7 at noon. I won an Undergraduate Student Research Award for the ASM conference, which means I'll actually be giving a 15 minute talk there. For those of you not familiar with biology conferences, it's kind of crazy for an undergrad to be doing anything more than presenting a poster, and even that's unusual. So yeah, I've been working my butt off the last couple of days making sure my Powerpoint presentation is perfect and that I'm really comfortable with the material. I think it's going to go well!

I've also been working to make a lot of posts that will go up once I'm gone. I will probably have internet the first week while I'm still at the University of Fairbanks, but after that I'll be hiking. There's a possibility I'll have internet through my phone, but I doubt it since I'll be in the middle of nowhere. Even if I do, the most I'll be able to do is twitter, so if you really can't make it two weeks without me (hopefully not...), follow me there.

Don't forget to also send me random questions! Either comment here or email me at jmccreig(at)purdue.edu, and I'll try to answer your questions in posts.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Atheist Shirt & Airports

I mentioned before I left that I may wear my atheistic club t-shirt for my return trip home as a sort of social experiment. I'm not sure what I really expected - maybe some funny looks or the occasional glare. The front of the shirt isn't too in-your-face just because the font is sort of small, but the back is kind of provocative: it has Robert Ingersoll's quote "The history of intellectual progress is written in the lives of infidels."
Well, I wore it. Caught the bus to the Pullman, Washington airport (tiny place, only conference people leaving) then left for Seattle. Then Seattle to Chicago, then desperately running to my plane to go to Indianapolis (made it!). I hadn't noticed any reactions, really. This could be for a couple reasons. One, I was working on four hours of sleep, so maybe I wasn't as perceptive as usual. Two, the back of the shirt is the more controversial side and I don't have eyes in the back of my head, so maybe I missed all of the glares. Or three, people in airports are too busy worrying about their own flights to care about some chick's atheist shirt.

As I was getting off of my plane in Indianapolis, a guy probably in his late 30s or early 40s moved in front of me, turned to me looking at my shirt, and mumbled something. All I heard was "*mumble* shirt." For all I knew, it could have been "nice shirt" or "fucking shirt" or who knows what. I just sort of smiled awkwardly, but then he kept talking.

"Non-theist, eh? So is that not quite an atheist?" he asked. When I'm talking to people where I don't know their views on issues, I tend to give very dictionary-like answers. "Well, non-theist is an umbrella term for atheists, agnostic, or other nonreligious people. It includes all of them." "Hmm, what's that other one?" he asked. "Secular...secular something." "Secular humanist?" "Yeah, that's it! Well, cool shirt, I like it." I felt really relieved at that point. "You don't know how good it is to hear someone say they like it. I get the opposite response more often." He laughed and we walked to the baggage claim together. It only took about a minute for me to be sure that he was some sort of non-theist. We ended up discussing Dawkins, Dennett, various atheist philosophy, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and my work with the club. Apparently his dad was a philosophy of religion professor, so he actually knew more than your average non-activist atheist might. We ended up talking for nearly 20 minutes (baggage took forever) and it was pretty awesome.

I'll probably never see this guy ever again, but it was really fulfilling to randomly meet another nonreligious person who you could have a civil conversation with. I guess that's why I like wearing the shirt to begin with. I don't want to get the glares and dirty looks, which I have certainly gotten. I still remember the mother with three small children who was staring at me like I had horns growing out of my head. No, I put up with the dirty looks for the rare friendly one. Those make it totally worth it.

Social experiment a success =)

(Also, related post by Hemant on reactions to atheist shirts)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Grrr American Health Care

My dad just got the bill for my exciting trip to the doctor for my bronchitis last month. It was nearly $1,000! Holy hell. $400 was just for going to the emergency room, since I don't have a family physician down at campus and I had a 103 degree fever, so I needed to go somewhere quick. Our lovely insurance is only paying $350 (to quote my dad, "Those crooks. I hope Obama puts them all out of business). Thankfully my family isn't poor, but we're not rich either, and having to pay $650 so someone can tell my I have bronchitis (which I could have guessed, since I was around my friend who had it) and prescribe me meds is pretty crappy.

I don't claim to understand all of the inner workings of insurance, but this seems a bit ridiculous to me. I hardly ever get sick enough to go to the doctor. Other than regular physicals required for school and sports and my bronchitis last month, I think the last time I had to go was when I broke my foot when I was 5. So tell me again why we've put all this money into an insurance company for me, and then when I actually get sick, they only pay a tiny fraction of a cost? They won't even pay for my birth control or my Gardasil vaccines because they consider it "optional" instead of "preventative." Instead I shell out $600 bucks a year to make sure I don't spit out a baby or having crippling periods. They should be paying me to make sure I don't clog up the welfare system with another kid and that I finish earning my degree so I can some day have a wonderful job that stimulates the economy and cures cancer (or something like that).

Sorry to rant, but it's pretty annoying. I know insurance companies love people like me who never get sick but keep putting money into the system. I just wish that when I do get sick, they would actually do their freaking job.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Home! And Q&A

Hey everyone! I'm finally back in good ol' West Lafayette. Flights went well and I have a couple stories to tell, but right now I'm just going to enter a vegetative state and skim through my 250+ blog posts I've accumulated. Oi. Look for real posts later tonight or tomorrow.

Though on a semi-real note, I need something from you guys. I'll be in Alaska from June 24th to July 5th to attend the American Society of Mammalogists meetings and to go hiking. I have no idea how much internet access I'll have - it'll probably be somewhere between limited or absolutely none. I want to prepare some posts before I leave so you don't have a big drought, and I don't want to just post silly videos.

This is where I need you. Let's have a little Q&A session. Either comment here with a question you'd like me to answer, or email me at jmccreig(at)purdue.edu with "Blag Hag" in the title somewhere. You can ask whatever you want no matter if it's atheism/biology/blog related or something absolutely random. I figure you guys haven't known me for very long, so there's a lot you can ask. I'll pick my favorites to answer. Don't be afraid to be silly or philosophical, but also don't expect me to dole out my credit card number or something.

Or if this is totally lame, I guess you can just ignore my blog from June 24th to July 5th. But I hope you won't do that!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Almost done

I should probably have a lot more to post about now that the conference in almost over, but I'm so brain dead that I can't come up with much. Hearing technical biology talks (80% of which are over my head) from 8 to 5 is just mentally exhausting after a while. That being said, I really enjoyed the conference. There's so much cool science going on out there, and now I have all these neat ideas floating around in my head. And while the whole grad school application process still freaks me out, I feel like I have a lot better idea of what I need to do since we had some talks about that.

Though honestly, the best part was just being around so many nerdy biologists. It was amazing sitting in a bar, and instead of hearing people talk about sports, hearing people talking about transcriptome characterization or population genetics or who knows what. Everyone just went into absurdly geeky mode. Take this dinner conversation, just one example out of many:

My Prof: Those are all the Oregon State people over there, and those are all the Michigan people sitting there.
Me: And all of us Purdue people clumped together here.
My Prof: Yeah.
Me: So overall we have a diverse population, but when you look at subpopulations there's very low variation.
My Prof: Yep!

One more, just if you don't believe me:

Me: Excuse me! *trying to scoot past someone to get in a seat* Sorry!
Guy: Oh, don't worry, it's an open niche that needs to be filled!

My flight leaves 6:45 am tomorrow and I'll be back in my apartment around 7 pm (hopefully). I plan on wearing my atheist club shirt for that trip, so we'll see if I get any fun stories out of that. You know you're officially a blogger when you start doing random crap just for the potential blog posts.

Video # 6

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Heathen Mecca

Conference is going well so far. Saw talks by Eugenie Scott, David Sloan Wilson, and some professors I'm interested in for grad school who were really nice. Also saw an awesome professor from Canada who gave his whole talk (titled Origins & maintenance of sex: The evolutionary joy of self sex) not wearing shoes (yay hippie evolutionists). Though the best thing by far is how often people giggle about creationism and Intelligent Design, how people joke about us all being heathens and atheists, how when people refer to religion or religious people they're doing so as outsiders like religion is this weird cultural phenomena (instead of actually believing it)... For the first time, I am somewhere where I am an atheist and I am a part of the majority. I can't explain how awesome that feels. Thank you, Evolution 2009.

Maybe one day I'll feel this way all the time. Maybe I just need to move to England.

Video # 3

Friday, June 12, 2009

Seattle/Idaho Update!

Hey everyone! I managed to find a computer lab at the University of Idaho, so I'm slowly recovering from my internet withdrawal. And luckily for you, this computer lets me upload photos from my camera, so you get to see fun stuff! Woo!

My flights from Indianapolis to Chicago and Chicago to Seattle were kind of uneventful, which is a good thing. Once I got to Seattle I met up with this Guy from the Diversity program (who I had never met) to go exploring a bit. And yes, yes I did visit the Discovery Institute:Man, was that place small. The only reason I found it was because I had the exact address. It was just this locked door with a crummy looking buzzer next to it, and a flight of stairs that led up to what looked to be just a couple of offices. Unfortunately, I didn't go inside. Sorry guys. I was thinking about at least buzzing them, but Guy had never heard of the DI, so I didn't want to drag him into it. Once I explained it to him he laughed, though. That's the one plus of hanging out with evolutionary biologists: I can giggle about Intelligent Design and they don't think I have horns sprouting out of my head.

Speaking of crazy people in Seattle, I love some of the wacky stuff you see in big cities. The very first thing we saw getting off the bus downtown was a homeless screaming nonsensically at everyone. The only part I could make out was her repeated use of "Motherfuckers!!" I swear she looked just like the scary religious lady from Wife Swap. I also saw a 9/11 conspiracy theorist, and this lovely sign of Obama with a Hitler mustache:
Still not quite sure what their point was. They were two young people, and they didn't seem to enjoy me giggling and taking a picture. "You're a sports fan aren't you?" the guy asked me. "What?" "You just think this is entertaining." "Yes, yes I do." And then I walked away.

Visited Pike Place Fish Market and the Original Starbucks:
Space Needle, etc:
Up in the Space Needle (freaking expensive to go up, but the view was awesome):
After that we were pretty much pooped, so we headed back to the Aiport. Our final flight to Pullman still didn't leave for about three hours, so we wandered around a bit. We found a Croc Shop with nothing but those awful croc shoes. The rainbow wall of crocs amused me to no end, so I had to take a picture. We didn't hang around long because it smelled like plastic and stinky feet.
We were also sitting right by a little bar/restaurant. Apparently the NBA final game was going on or something (hey, we're a bunch of biology nerds, it took us a while to figure out) and there was this giant crowd of people watching the game. I love people watching, so it amused me to see thirty people staring unmovingly at a screen and then all cheering and groaning at the same time. One of the gate checkers literally came and screamed at a pilot for being ten minutes late for boarding because he was watching the stupid game, hahaha.
Our final flight was only about 40 minutes long, though oddly enough, it had the best complimentary refreshments. Not only did we actually get a snack and free pop, but they were offering free beer and wine. Like, decent beer and wine. It was 11:30 pm (felt like 2:30 am to me because of the time change), but being good college students, we all had some. Bad idea. I was already exhausted, but after that I was so tired that I was wavering between passing out and becoming completely delusional. We finally checked into our dorms around 1:30 am, which means I had been up for 22 hours straight... wooo. I'm also very reminded why I like living in an apartment:
I think most dorm rooms resemble prison cells, but this one is particularly bad. Maybe it would be nicer if it was full of my personal belongings. I'm mainly curious what the hell the little half window with a slidey door by my head is. It reminds me of some sort of trap door prisoners would use to smuggle in cigarettes and spoons or whatever.

Scary dorm room aside, the rest of campus is beautiful. The town is tiny - I think I saw the whole thing in about a ten minute walk - but it's still really pretty. Definitely very green compared to the brick covered Purdue.
I'll try to keep you updated if anything else interesting comes up. I'll be much more busy once the conference starts, but I'm sure crazy things will happen.

Video # 2

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Pirate Jen!

Ok, those photos of me modeling our club shirt I posted yesterday were absolutely horrible. So horrible I feel like I need to redeem myself. Here, have some photos of me from our Pastafarian preaching from Talk Like a Pirate Day 2008. Like always, click for larger images.

Drawing the posters was fun <3Notice my developing sunburn. Wasn't fun.I love my club members so much.

Yay Indiana

I'm not even to the airport yet and I have to make a phone post. I just saw a car with a State Representative license plate with a plastic border that said 'In Christ.' Couldn't get a good photo though.

Video # 1

The Nano Song from nanomonster on Vimeo.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Leavin on a jet plane, etc etc

Well tomorrow I'll leave my apartment at 7:30 am and won't be back until 7 pm on Wednesday the 17th for Evolution 2009, wooo! Because I care about you guys so much, I've set up autoposts for every day I'm gone to show you some random fun videos I like. Don't want to leave you without updates for a week! I'll have limited internet access through my phone and some public computers at the conference, but don't expect too much. Even though my phone has a keyboard, I don't think I could tolerate typing more than a paragraph, haha. I'll make sure to tweet a sadface when I'm standing outside the Discovery Institute. Don't worry, the lack of updates will be made up with the billion stories and photos I'll probably have when I get back.

Somewhat related, should I wear my club t-shirt on my various plane rides home? Photos of the atheistic beauty here... I mean the shirt, not the model. I look like I'm on uppers in the first photo and downers in the second one, wtf. Anyway, might make a neat social experiment. Where do I get the most dirty/confused looks: Pullman, Seattle, Chicago, or Indianapolis? ...I think I know the answer to that one already.

Edit: Here, have a photo of where I'm going. Pretty, isn't it?

Yet another reason why Pepsi is superior

Looks like Coke is an official corporate sponsor of the Creation Museum. Man, first Pepsi gets boycotted by the American Family Association for promoting the evil homosexual agenda, now this. My preference for Pepsi is supported yet again. Too bad Purdue/West Lafayette is a Coke dominated area. I get a little surge of joy whenever I find a restaurant that has Pepsi.

(Via Bing McGhandi via Pharyngula)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Professor stalking

So in preparation for Evolution 2009, I've been highlighting all the different professors I'm potentially interested in for grad school. There are actually a handful from my list (yes, I have an excel file going for the grad school search, shush) who will be attending, so I'm pretty excited. At the very least I'm going to go to their talks and try to introduce myself afterwards. Some of my current top picks will be there, so I'm hoping I like them personality-wise. That is, their research seems awesome, but I hope they're friendly/nice/interesting/etc.

Any advice on how to approach random professors at conferences and show your interest about grad school? My current prof told me to be a "persistent stalker" since popular professors are usually swamped with people trying to talk to them. Does this require a net? Tranquilizers? Bribery with coffee? I'm just afraid I'm going to go into Utter Social Awkwardness Mode, which happens every once in a while. I don't want to come off as too interested, since I'm not dead set on any of them, but I don't want to seem too casual either. *fret fret fret*

Wanting to believe

People have a lot of different reasons for being religious or believing in God. Since I was raised in a secular household, I have to admit I don't really understand most of them - I've never had the experience of being religious. But there's one argument that I always have conflicting thoughts about: "Wanting to believe."

I was hanging out/on a pseudo-date with a friend/guy/whatever you want to call him (it's complicated, take that however you wish). He was raised religious, but now is one of those wishy washy deist/Buddhist/spiritual types. He's totally cool with my atheism, but he was telling me a story about a priest he saw give a talk. The priest said he witnessed an exorcism where the girl was floating a foot above the ground. I gave him one of my Uh Huh, Sure looks.

Guy: But the way he told the story with such conviction...it made me want to believe, you know?
Me: Wanting to believe in something and that something being true are two entirely different things.
Guy: Does it matter if it's true if it gives you something good to believe in?
Me: *gives him the I Don't Want to Debate Religion While Snuggling look*
Guy: *shuts up*

That's the argument that always gets me. Does it matter? My mom is the same way. I'd call her an agnostic theist/deist - she doesn't believe in the more supernatural stuff like virgin birth and walking on water and all that, but she wants to believe in something. "What does it hurt?" she'll say, and I know it's true that it comforts her. When her friend passed away unexpectedly a couple years ago, she took comfort in the idea that she was in "a better place."

She's also pretty superstitious, which she gets from my Greek grandparents. She told me how a couple months after said friend's passing, she was watching the news and the pick three lotto numbers were her friend's birthday. "It's a sign!" she said. I paused, wondering if I should say anything and risk upsetting her. "It's not that unlikely that those three numbers would come up together. This looks special, but you don't remember the hundreds of other lottos where the numbers meant nothing to you." She rolled her eyes. "Whatever, let me believe what I want to believe. I think it's a sign!" I left it at that.

Don't get me wrong, I think we'd have a lot less worries if the religious population was dominated by deists and agnostic theists. Most of them seem benign enough that I'm not inclined to debate them - I mean, they're not the ones flying planes into buildings and trying to pass religious laws, right? But at the same time, the idea of believing in something just to comfort yourself, even if you have no reason to believe it's true, bothers me. I like being a scientific thinker. I need evidence for what I believe to be true, and when better evidence comes along, I'm willing to admit that I was wrong and adjust my views. So do you let people go on believing in something you see as a delusion, just so they can be happier? If your friend was convinced their beat up clunker was actually a red hot Porsche and that made them the happiest guy alive, would you point out that he's wrong? Or do you just bite your tongue? Is it okay if he keeps it to himself, but once he starts bragging you should tell him what you think?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Three more days until Seattle!

Thursday I'll be traveling to Evolution 2009 in Idaho, but I'll be stranded in Seattle for about 9 hours waiting for my flight. These seem like the things I definitely must do while there:

- See the Space Needle, go up for look
- Pike Place Fish Market (weee flying fish!)
- Pacific Science Center
- Original Starbucks
- Freemont Troll
- Go frown by the Discovery Institute's door

I know you guys probably all think I should try to get in the Discovery Institute...but I know I'd fail. Apparently two other female atheist bloggers got a tour through lies and subterfuge and were shown around by Casey Luskin (posts here, here, and here). Other than white lies with friends, I'm uncontrollably honest...so I don't think I could go in acting like a big supporter of intelligent design. Even if I tried I probably wouldn't be able to keep a straight face. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure the second I tell them I'm on my way to an Evolution conference they'd slam the door in my face (er, well, keep it locked).

Oh well. Maybe if I'm feeling especially brave that day I'll at least try - just need to remember not to wear one of my atheist/sciencey shirts. I drew this to sum up how I'm feeling (click for larger):
Of course the little devil has to be a blogger.

One more Sims update

Thanks to everyone who thought my atheist Sims were more hilarious than they were creepy. Someone requested that I upload them, so I did. If you have Sims 3, you can now download Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, and Hemant Mehta for your own use.

There have been requests to make other famous atheists (Phil Plait, Dennett, Hitchens, etc), which I may do if I have enough time or get bored enough. I still like PZ's idea of having Ken Ham and Kent Hovind being a cranky gay couple next door. Incredibly tempting... Though I would just let them run wild through the town instead of controlling them. Three sims were hard enough for me to control, now I have four (Hemant's wife) and a kid* and my micromanaging skills are starting to fall apart.

*As a side note, I got geekily excited when I saw the Sims boasting its "Genetic Algorithm" or whatever for deciding how babies would look. I thought maybe it would just blend the traits of the parents or something. Nope. The baby gets mom's mouth, skin color and hair color, and dad's nose, eye color, and hair type. I chose a pale blonde surgeon for Hemant's wife...so his kid is this pasty white kid with bright blond hair that's short and curly (I know he doesn't have curly hair, but it was the short haircut that looked the best). So yeah, the kid looks absolutely nothing like him. Sorry SimHemant. I promise I didn't see her sleeping around with other Sims.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Sim Atheists

So as I mentioned before, I bought Sims 3 this week. Usually I make myself and then a bunch of my friends, and then scatter celebrities (fictional and non) around the neighborhood. There's just something oddly amusing about playing chess with Johnny Depp and marrying Harry Potter (or whatever).

Well, Sims 3's editing options are so detailed that you can really make Sims look like the original person. So my odd mind obviously thought, "Why don't I make a house full of famous atheist Sims?" Enjoy:
Sim Richard Dawkins
Attributes: Genius, Bookworm, Good sense of humor, Charismatic, Ambitious
Life wish: Become leader of the free world (Dawkins being in charge? Yes please.)

Sim Hemant Mehta
Attributes: Friendly (duh), Good, Charismatic, Vegetarian, Family Oriented (Was going to pick Hopeless Romantic or Flirt, but cheated a bit to make his life wish easier...)
Life wish: Have five children and raise them to teens (With all of Hemant's baby posts, I found this oddly appropriate. Not quite his goal of octuplets, but close! Let's see if he can restrain from eating them before they reach adulthood.)Sim PZ Myers
Attributes: Genius, Bookworm, Good sense of humor, Charismatic, Computer Whiz
Life wish: Become a creature-robot crossbreeder (Dear lord I nearly peed my pants when this choice came up. How could I NOT choose that for PZ?)

I can't explain how much entertainment this has provided me over the last couple of days. It's fun enough with all three of them sharing a house, but there are just so many little things. All of PZ's outfits (formal wear, pajamas, etc) use the squid themed print I found, which was what initially spawned this terrifying idea of atheist sims. I'm still trying to find Hemant a baby mama, since that's kind of necessary for his life goal (I promise to find someone cute!). The only real disturbing thing is whenever the Sims need to shower or use the bathroom. I mean, they blur it out so you can't see any naughtiness going on, but I feel like a creepy voyeur. Of course, I don't know if it can get much creepier than making Sims of random people you don't really know and then controlling their lives like some sort of sick puppet master.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go hide in shame from being such a weirdo. Aka, go play more Sims. *runs off*

PS: You can click the images for larger versions, if you wish.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

I swear to _____?

I had the following conversation about atheists swearing oaths to assert veracity of statements with a friend of mine (also an atheist). I figured I could type it up coherently for a neatly organized blog post, but 1) I'm lazy 2) This sounds more natural and 3) I now have more time to play the Sims. It's slightly edited to remove typos and make it more coherent, but no real rewording.

Me:
Is [Other Friend] still up? Tell him I wasn't playing the Sims when he IMed me, the IM just never popped up.
Friend: Mmmm hmmmm.
Me: I swear to god. XP
Friend: You're an atheist. That holds no sway.
Me: I swear on the Sims. XP
Friend: Oh, okay then. ...You ever stop to think how prevalent that type of language is in our society? What alternative is there to that phrase? The concept of swearing an oath to a higher being to affirm veracity.
Me: There's all sorts of stuff... "bless you," "oh my god," "thank god"...I say it just because it's a phrase. It could be "oh my smorgltoff" for all I care.
Friend: Or even just "Oh my!" "Deary me!" "Well I'll be a son of a gun!". But "I swear to god" is a unique one... The concept of affirming an oath to a higher power to achieve veracity. I mean, I guess there's "No, really, I mean it." But that doesn't have the same oomph to it, y'know?
Me: Well, I think most people (aka religious people) wouldn't swear to god unless they really meant it, because that's kind of a bad thing to do.
Friend: But us?
Me: We've just stolen it and you hope we mean it, haha.
Friend: But that's the thing. What could we possibly use as ethos collateral?
Me: I don't think anything compares to an eternity of hellfire and doom, by definition. I think we're stuck to using it in the metaphorical sense.
Friend: Eh.
Me: I mean, you could theoretically pick something like "I swear on my child's life," but that still implies you think some hocus pocus will cause your child to be unhealthy if you're actually lying.
Friend: Right.
Me: Swearing on something automatically involves the supernatural. I mean, what sort of rational things do you want? "I will take a lie detector test." "Bring on the DNA testing."
Friend: I mean, we don't necessarily have to go to that extreme. Perhaps we could build up a system of ethos points. Like, "I'll wager 30 ethos points that I didn't play the Sims." The higher the number of points, the more vehement you are about it.
Me: Well that just seems arbitrary... And you know people would abuse it... "I'll wager SEVENTY BILLION TIMES INFINITY ETHOS POINTS that I didn't eat that last brownie!"
Friend: Point. Hmm... Well, religious people do that too... What if every person gets an ethos chip. Metaphorically, of course. "I'd wager my ethos chip." That way it can almost be tangible.
Me: Haha, I think now you're just being silly.
Friend: I disagree. I like the idea. =D
Me: Well, how is that different than betting? Like, "I bet you 20 bucks I'm right," and just holding the person to it in the end. "I bet you a billion dollars I'm telling the truth!" wouldn't come up that often.
Friend: This has a more family friendly feel to it. None of this gamesmanship stuff. =P
Me: Well, what if you lose all your ethos chips on a big lie, then can you never back up anything again until you catch someone else in a lie? A limited amount of ethos chips doesn't make sense.
Friend: Again, this is a metaphorical thing. It's not like people actually go to hell for swearing to god and getting caught in a lie. I figured referring it to an ethos chip would give it a higher level of perceived tangibility and, thereby, be more likely to be accepted.
Me: But to religious people it's not metaphorical, it's a very real consequence. If you want something on par with that, you should start chopping off fingers for big lies. That's a tangible deterrent. =P

Then I had to go to bed, and we never really came to a conclusion. So what do you think? Is there some sort of assertion of veracity an atheist can make that is equivalent to swearing to god? Does it even matter since religious people abuse the phrase "I swear to god" anyway?

Same-sex couples and immigration

While we're celebrating the victories for gay marriage in Maine and New Hampshire, I wanted to point out another big gay rights issue that you may not know as much: same-sex couples and immigration rights. An American straight woman can marry a foreign straight man and sponsor him for a green card, but gay couples cannot. If you happen to fall in love with a foreigner, they'll struggle to stay in the US, frequently be sent back to their own country, and possibly lose the ability to reenter if they go home for a dying relative or some other sort of emergency. CNN has a great article describing the problem here that includes some really touching stories from gay couples.

After 9 years of being ignored, the Uniting American Families Act, which hopes to solve this problem, is finally getting some time in the Senate:
"The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the bill for the first time Wednesday, after 10 previous attempts to have hearings on the Uniting American Families Act. The bill has 102 co-sponsors in the House and 17 co-sponsors in the Senate, including Judiciary Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council which opposes same sex marriage, has condemned the bill as "yet another attack on marriage at the expense of U.S. taxpayers." "
Oh, you would say that, President of the Family Research Council, wouldn't you? Because the number one goal of any organization with "Family" in the name is to ruin gay families. Blah. Anyway.

While I've always been a strong supporter of gay rights, this issue is especially important to me. My close British friend/coworker is stuck in this exact situation with his long term American partner. He's been here a year and a half on a research visa, and after another year he's going to be shipped back to England. He can't go visit his family because he won't be allowed back in the country, even if one of his parents became deathly ill. It's horrible that this sort of inequality exists that would tear apart relationships (not to mention how idiotic it is to shoo away intelligent people with PhDs who want to be here...but that's another issue).

You can help out by sending a letter to your representative urging them to support this bill - and if you want, there's a nifty little form letter here. It only takes a second, and every little bit helps.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Wooo Scientific Adventures!

I'm starting to get pretty excited for Evolution 2009, which I'll leave for in a week (June 11th, to be exact). It's a pretty ginormous conference - apparently it attracts 1,000+ biologists. The program itself is a massive tome (can you find me in there? I'm in it, promise!). I'm going with three labmates and my professor, and there are a bunch of professors speaking there that I'm interested in for grad school, so it should be fun.

I'm lucky enough to go because I was accepted as part of their Undergraduate Diversity Program. They take 15-18 undergrads who somehow are "diverse" and pay everything so we can go to the conference. Plane ticket, hotel room, registration cost, food, everything. We even get Professor/Grad student mentors to help show us around the first day, and a special little social thing. Pretty freaking amazing. I'm not sure exactly what criteria made me diverse...if it was just being female, or if it was my work with the atheist club (though that's probably a majority for an evolution conference, heh). Either way, I'm super grateful that they have this program and I get to be a part of it. Otherwise I wouldn't have been able to afford to go.

One gripe though (I know, I know...beggars can't be choosers, don't look a gift horse in the mouth, yadda yadda). Man are the flights they booked for me awful. I asked to fly with my lab group, but they said they already booked flights for the program. I go 10 am Indianapolis > Chicago > Seattle > Pullman > Shuttle to Moscow, Idaho > Arrive at midnight. One, I'm always annoyed with flights from Indy to Chicago, since I could just freaking drive to Chicago in less time than all the hassle of flying from Indy. Two, I have a 9 hour layover in Seattle. I could theoretically drive to Moscow in less than 6 hours. Three, my return flight from Pullman leaves at 6:45 am, blargh.

The layover annoys me mainly because it's just inefficient - however, since it's so huge, I'm going to be able to spend the day exploring Seattle. I've never been there before, so now I'm kind of excited. I'm going to store my luggage at the airport and rely on buses/taxis/walking for some adventure. Anyone have any suggestions on must see places or even just awesome local places to eat dinner? So far I've been recommended the Space Needle, the Pacific Science Center, Pike Place Fish Market, and the Freemont Troll. I'm not sure what else there is to do, other than stalking Dan Savage and scowling at Starbucks world headquarters while hypocritically buying a cafe mocha.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Curse you addictive video games!

Oh good lord, what have I done? Why? Why?!?!

...I bought Sims 3 today.

I played the original Sims back when I was 14 or so, and never got Sims 2 because my computer was too crappy. But now I have a snazzy computer and disposable income, so I thought why not? Now I'm forgetting to eat and sleep because I'm too busy telling a virtual version of myself to eat and sleep. I spent an hour and a half trying to make Sim Jen look as much like me as possible. Hell, there are probably 30 different facial traits and bone structures and crap that you can tweak. Gahhhh.

The ironic part? My current job is "Professional Blogger" and I still can't get any guys to like me. Damnit, Sims 3. You're supposed to be an escape from real life, not a brutally honest reflection of it. Oh well, at least I haven't set fire to my real stove (yet).

I think it's time to start making Sim versions of celebrities for me to hit on. Suggestions? I kind of want to make a mad scientist PZ as my neighbor. They even have squid themed pajamas!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Atheism & the USSR

One of my commenters, gfish, has an interesting piece up at his blog about atheism and growing up in the USSR. Go check it out. While I've lived in the US all my life, I'm also a lifelong atheist - I don't have some fancy deconversion story about leaving the faith - so I can relate to his post. It's also interesting seeing the "other side" of the story, since over in the US we get a pretty biased view of what was going on in the USSR religion-wise.

One foot in the closet

People are always talking about atheists being in the closet, a term we stole from the gays for not being publicly honest about how you really are. I feel bad for the people who have to keep their atheism a secret. There are plenty of good reasons to do it - religious friends and family members you don't want to lose, possible drama at work, living in a small conservative neighborhood, etc. But even if staying closeted is the safer alternative, it still sucks knowing you're "living a lie."

I've found myself in an odd predicament. I'm basically completely out of the closet except for two people - my grandparents. They go to church every weekend, they take religious holidays seriously, they cross themselves before eating, etc. But my grandparents are by no means bible thumpers or overly zealous; they're fairly liberal and honestly never really talk about religion. They even know that my parents and I never go to church and that I wasn't baptized, and that has never really come up in conversation as a problem (at least not in front of me).

However, them knowing I am an atheist is not an option. My mom asserts that it would break their poor 88 year old hearts knowing I didn't believe in God, and to never ever mention anything about it to them. I have to catch myself to not mention club related stuff, especially since that takes up so much of my time at school. Usually I can get away with being in local newspapers because it won't get back to them. And the internet isn't too big of an issue because they have no idea how to use a computer.

Honestly my main fear is that someone who DOES know how to use a computer is going to Google my name one day and tell them about it. I mean, I don't hide my atheism. I don't want to hide it. I have an atheist heavy blog, my name is plastered on the Society of Non-Theists website, if you know my email you can probably find a half dozen websites and blogs I comment at. I used to think I was safe since my uncle, the only person who would probably squeal on me if he found out, had no idea how to use a computer. But apparently he's at Googling level now, so I'm getting a bit worried.

I guess I should be happy it's just two people I'm hiding from, but it still makes me feel bad that I have this "deep dark secret." I'd love to be even more active in the atheist community - writing books, doing events that get national news coverage - but I'm too afraid it would trickle back to my grandparents. And the last thing I'd want to do is upset them; they're honestly the most kind, wonderful people and I love them very much. People have told me that they're old and to just wait until they pass away, but I think that's awful. I'd love for them to live to be 120 if they could. I hope beyond hope that they make it to my wedding (whenever that will be, sort of have to find a guy first), but at the same time I know there's no way I'll get married in a church or have any mention of God at the ceremony. And that makes me nervous.

Is there anyone else teetering between out and closeted? Desperately trying to hide your atheism from a select few while being out and active everywhere else? Or am I just destined for failure?