The Alder Grove

"In my sleep thought that I was standing in an alder grove of the straightest and fairest trees which the heart of man could think of or imagine."

A long overdue blog....

Granted that I have a really short attention span and I get sidetracked easily...but I am WAY overdue to post about my trip to NYC and Washington DC. So here goes...

Got to NYC around 7am, having left Orillia at 3:30 in the afternoon the day before. Dropped stuff off at the hostel, went to my favourite breakfast spot - Community Food and Juice. Then I decided to figure out where to go and get my credentials for The World Science Festival. Can I just say here that the Christopher Street subway stop could very well be the most confusing thing I've ever seen while still being an amazing subway stop? (There's a Starbucks and a Big Gay Ice Cream like, right there.) But there are also like 6 streets meeting up in the one spot...and the street that looks like it's signed to be 4th is TOTALLY NOT. For the record, it takes you way the hell out of the way. However, being that it's New York all you have to do is flag down a taxi. Finally found the building and figured out where I went wrong getting there, got my credentials for the next day and headed back uptown. Needless to say, there was a lot of coffee involved at this point whilst I headed for the one place that I hadn't made it to last trip (otherwise known as The Year of The Great Halloween Blizard)...The American Museum of Natural History. But most importantly - The Hayden Planetarium. To see Dark Universe.

Can I just LIVE in that place...with that space show above me and surrounded by The Voice of the Universe that is Neil deGrasse Tyson?!? If I lived in New York, I'd want to be there every week. Or NDT could just call me every so often and speak to me in his "director" voice. That would work for me too. At any rate, I was at the museum until I could check into the hostel. Explored several of the rooms with the animal dioramas, the Hall of the Universe (so cool), and while I was there I got the messages that Dave at work and his wife had their baby so I *had* to buy him a NASA shirt. After having dinner near the hostel, I decided I was too tired to do anything else so I headed back to the hostel with munchies, got organized for the next day and settled in to watch the Oliver Sacks event via the livestream.

Thursday morning I decided to just walk around, hit up some favourite places and take photos...areas in the northern part of Central Park, went to Union Square and after lunch I went down to check out Washington Square Park before my first volunteer shift. This could easily now be the best place in the world to people watch. What did I see there over the course of the weekend? A couple that looked like they were getting engagement photos done, a guy in a wizard hat doing tarot card readings, lots of puppies in the dog parks (including some interesting sexual displays...just sayin'), a bluegrass duo playing on some of the most unusual instruments I've seen (and considering my 10 years with the folk festival, that is really something), the greatest chalk drawing I could have imagined and a guy dressed like a 13th century monk with a lawn umbrella that had JESUS among other things written on it and a knapsack with a giant vinyl of a cross dripping blood. I may attach photos of things at the end of the post. I could just hang out in this place all the time.

My first volunteer shift was doing Front of House for Brian Greene's panel "To Unweave a Rainbow: Science and the Essence of Being Human". It was at the Skirball Center which is a gorgeous performing arts place right across from Washington Square Park. Suchan who was our coordinator was was Julianne who manages the Skirball Center. We got the programs stuffed and organized, and then went in to the auditorium to get a little tour and assignments.'s really distracting to listen to someone while Brian Greene is behind you onstage. But I did my door assignment, handed out programs and surveys, then we got to sit in the VIP section during the panel so that afterwards we restrict stage access and clear the auditorium when it was done. Anything that provides me the opportunity to sit in the VIP section while someone like Brian Greene is talking...yeah, sign me up! The whole thing was a lot of fun and we had a great group of people that love or study science, including Holly who was a teacher from Australia! Geez, and I thought I'd come a long way!

Then it was straight back to the hostel for me because I had another volunteer shift first thing in the morning. I'd been excited about this one too as I had little idea what I would be doing as it was labelled "production" in my itinerary. Turns out I got to be a production assistant for World Science U For a Day. I was the only volunteer that actually got to be in the room during the lectures! I ran the timer for the scientists and the microphone for the Q&A as well as some little tasks that needed doing. Sarah was awesome amid some shall we say - challenges? Justin Khoury's talk went off pretty smoothly. Barry Barish has a massive attachment to his laser pointer and pretty much had his back to the audience and the cameras the entire time, much to Sarah and the cameraman's consternation. "I talked to him about it..." *shrug*. The drawback to that is when you want the director to let you know when there is 10 minutes left and you have your back to her the entire time, it becomes a tiny bit difficult. And then there was Ray Weiss. Who I now kind of adore. I do rather enjoy people who have a straight-forward and slightly crotchety nature, what can I say?

Sarah to cameraman: So, he's already advised me that he's going to have his back to the camera most of the time. I told him this is going up online and we need him to turn around. Cameraman: And? Sarah: He said that it's a complicated presentation and we're just going to have to deal with it....

Not only did he have his back to the camera for most of it, he borrowed Barry Barish's laser pointer. And he *somehow* managed to kill the batteries 3 times during his presentation forcing the director to have to sneak in the camera frame repeatedly to change batteries. Twice, fairly successfully. Third time a little less so, lol. He also had my favourite moment during the morning while talking about a slide of people who were involved in LIGO. "All these people are all dead. Well, that guy there is still alive but the rest of them are dead." At which point the director put her head in her hands while I tried not to fall out of my seat from laughing. I was actually really disappointed when the morning came to an end. I was actually really having a great time but I gave instructions to the afternoon PA, went to grab lunch and headed back to the hostel to change, get organized for the really early bus the next day and then go down for the event I had been anticipating since the moment I knew it was happening -- seeing Brian Greene reprise Light Falls.Light Falls has Professor Greene narrating actors in a storyline about Einstein developing the General Theory of Relativity. It has this really cool 3D type light display where the actors are between sheets of light, reading words from letters and journals to tell the story that Brian weaves together into a narrative with his usual humour and charm. "Yes, Einstein was one of those kids that if he was alive today...would be nicknamed Einstein." It was even better and more engrossing than I had anticipated. And when Suchan saw me before the show he came right over and gave me a big hug. Such a wonderful experience all the way around, I didn't want to leave after the show was over. And I really didn't want to leave New York. But the next morning I'd be on Amtrak to Washington DC for the next big adventure which I will put in the next blog post.

New York Inspiration

So... this year for vacation (as anyone who remotely knows me has heard about for a while) I decided to spend my vacation time attending and volunteering at The World Science Festival in NYC.

The WSF is run by Brian Greene and his wife Tracy Day...and it's pretty amazing. All over the city with both ticketed and free events bringing all different branches of science to the public.  I couldn't wait to be a part of it.

I came to Brian's work a little late - not when he published The Elegant Universe - but after I had seen him as part of one of Lawrence Krauss' Origins panels, The Storytelling of Science. Prof. Krauss introduced him with "I feel like he's a long-lost son" and Brian came out and proclaimed, "Papa!!" and hugged him until he was told to knock it off.

I liked him immediately.  :)

Since then I have watched everything of his on YouTube, read his books and articles, and even taken classes from him via World Science U online.  He's a wonderful teacher...he gets you so involved in the classes that it's hard to believe that you aren't in the room with him.  And when he puts on that boyish smile...he can even make me do *math*.

I've seen so many panels and productions from the past WSF years and it looked amazing with such a wide range of programming. I got to work the two events that I most wanted to, as well but more on that later.

I just have to say that the festival is run so wonderfully. In the volunteer handbook, they talk about the volunteers all being a family with Brian and Tracy as the "proud parents" (which always makes be think of the moment that I discovered him). It's really true too. Everyone is so professional and so welcoming.</p>

Now...I want to do this every year!!  Maybe next time I will even have a chance to thank Brian for everything that he has taught me, in  person.