The time I gave Michio Kaku’s public presentation (and had him draw a giraffe)

Giraffes Drawn By People Who Should Not Be Drawing Giraffes

For those who do not know, Michio Kaku (website; twitter) is a theoretical physicist at City University of New York and co-founder of string field theory. Just as importantly – and this is the context in which I first discovered him – he is a popularizer of science in the stead of the late Carl Sagan. Essentially he is one of only a handful of scientists taking the initiative to condense great scientific ideas into an easily digestible form. In a world that unfortunately casts a paranoid eye to the sciences, this is a virtue; through his books Physics of the Impossible (2008) and Physics of the Future (2011) Kaku reminds us all that science is, frankly, cool.[1]

So it was under this pretense that I made my way to the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus to attend a lecture and book signing by…

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Blogs I’m paying attention to in 2015

This year was the most prolific I’ve ever been, and has only solidified my desire to be a writer. I’m not trying to be cute or cliche when I say that I can’t wait to see what 2015 holds. If the last few years have shown me anything, it is that we dictate our lives, it is not dictated to us. I’ll report back to you in 365 days and let you know whether this still holds true.

No writer can work in total isolation, which is why I’m including here a list of blogs I’ll be religiously following in 2015. Whether you’re interested in politics, history, or literature, there’s a little bit of everything here. In no particular order:

  • Adam Olson’s blog. Adam is a PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota who studies congress. He’s also a fan of folk music and polar bears. I’m blessed he tolerates me more than he should.
  • Mandy Momentarily. Mandy is a hedgehog mother working on an MBA at St. Kate’s. She is a recipient of the J.P. Preston Award for Writerly Excellence. We’ve lost many literary contests together.
  • Holly In Spec. Holly works for the Library of Congress and writes David Sedaris-esque essays about her adventures as a Minnesotan in the nation’s capitol. I frequently fall in love with her writer’s voice.
  • Elliot Malcolm’s Flickr. Elliot is a documentarian and photographer deeply embedded in the Minneapolis art scene. He’s also a prose-writer whose work is reminiscent of Bukowski with an endearing softness that is all his own. We were once at a party where I almost broke my arm and he got a huge scar over his eye.
  • Jenny in Asheville. Jenny and I were once woken up by a policewoman who said we were loitering in an upper-class neighborhood in Duluth. She now lives in Asheville, NC, and writes about her adventures there.
  • Kestrels and Cerevisiae. Kele is a PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota who studies the history of science. He writes a lot about genetics and ornithology. He has an incomprehensible fondness for Christmas music.
  • Luci∆. Luci is an art student at the University of Minnesota Morris who does screenprints, installations, and paintings. One of her favorite artists is Lichtenstein, which one can occasionally see in her work.
  • Lake Region Writers Network. Based in western Minnesota, the LRWN publishes the Lake Region Review, which is edited by Athena Kildegaard. Most of its articles are about the art of writing and personal anecdotes on process.

The Butterfly Patrol: “Don’t Touch the Butterflies!”

Since mid-August I’ve been working at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in their Visitor Services Department. It’s a pretty straightforward job: I’m the guy who tears your ticket, tells you where the nearest rest room is and Please Don’t Touch The Butterflies, Thank You. Because, you see, sometimes my job is to patrol the museum’s Butterfly Center.

Bringing together species of butterfly from all across Central/South America and Asia, the “Rain Forest” is – truthfully – my favorite place to be stationed. Humid, you’ll find among the flora coffee and cocoa and many other exotic plants that I’ve yet to learn to identify. Because different species of butterfly spend their time at different heights, the Rain Forest is three stories tall and includes a 50 foot waterfall. It’s beautiful and I’ve seen visitors stay the whole day, enjoying the majesty of it all.

But, as with all things, there are a few rules:

“All right, now – Remember: When you go in be sure to stay on the path and please don’t climb the rocks. Also, because you’re wearing NICE BRIGHT COLORS the butterflies may think you’re a FLOWER and try to LAND on you. It’s all right if they do, BUT DON’T. TOUCH. THE. BUTTERFLIES.”

So, naturally, I spend my time walking the rain forest telling people to stay on the path and get off the rocks while chanting “DON’T. TOUCH. THE. BUTTERFLIES.” Sometimes I’m even asked questions, none of which I’m usually able to answer. Otherwise I just play the role of Protector of The Butterflies (or The Jerk Who Is Pretty Sure Keeping Them In Your Pocket Will Kill Them depending on where you’re coming from).

Yesterday, a large butterfly about the size of my hand was crawling on the ground. Normally I’ll just give these butterwalks a stern look and the smart ones will fly away. If they’re injured, though, as this one was, I’ll let it crawl onto my hand and then place it near the fruit trays. Unfortunately, though, because the scales of butterflies are so delicate the moment their wings are harmed (by touching), that’s it – they’re on their way to the Big Flower In the Sky (or the Freezer In The Back — again, depending on where you’re coming from).

Letting it crawl onto my hand and up my arm, I watched it and admired its size. Its body was as thick as a Sharpie and as long as my pinkie. The black scales of its wings glistened and the two patches of yellow near the tips were as vibrant as any canary’s feathers. As it flittered to maintain its balance, crawling further and further up my arm, I almost felt an emotion —

What kind of butterfly is that?

Distracted, I hadn’t noticed the throng of people forming around me. Seeing my museum uniform and the butterfly in my hand, they presumed I knew what I was doing. But the joke was on them: I never know what I’m doing.

Where is it from?

May I hold it?!

At least three sets of children’s hands shot from the crowd, scratching at my shirt.

Somewhere: “Put it on my face!

Trying to maintain my dignity, I politely explained – while struggling to keep the butterfly from zooming up my arm and onto my back – that I did not know the species or where it was from, “and, I’m sorry, but you can’t touch the butterflies.

With the children pouting and the parents unsatisfied, I tried to tell them the truth: “This is what happens when you touch the butterflies: they become butterdrags and starve to death.” At least, that’s what I planned to say. Instead, I choked out: “This poor guy is injured and, uh, uhm, well … I have to … take him … to The Butterfly Hospital.”

It was the best I could do and the dozen pairs of unblinking, dissatisfied eyes told me it wasn’t good enough. Staring, nobody moved.

“It’s an emergency!”

Urgently, the crowd parted like the Red Sea.

Scurrying away, I hid and dumped the butterfly on a leaf (it had no health insurance). I returned fumbling with my radio, holding it up, as if there was something to say …

Ah! I said Don’t Touch The Butterflies!

On and Off to Houston

Preston Buick in Kansas

My lovely travel companion.

Leaving Minneapolis on the morning of July 9, I arrived in Houston, TX, shortly around 4:00am on Thursday, July 11. Spending the night parked, sleeping in the grass, the sounds of the Texas night yielded to the sunrise. I was too groggy, my eyes drooping, to fully appreciate it, but even then I knew that this was it.

While I was sentimental enough to sketch out some poems on the road, pick flowers from each of the states I passed through (MN, IA, NE, KS, OK, TX), having been here for less than a week it still has not hit me that I’m actually here. I’ve actually graduated and now I’m actually starting the rest of my life. And here I am in Texas.

The next day, July 12, I made my first trip to the lab. To my surprise, having spent the fall wandering this district of the city, I still knew the routes. Parking my car, passing through security, and making my way down the hall, it was suddenly as if there was no time between December and June. It was as if I had never left. Stepping in, seeing familiar faces, everything was relaxed. We cracked jokes, discussed ideas, divided out assignments, and two hours later I was back out the door.

Maneuvering through traffic, it was great to see the city again – the parks K. and I walked through, the museums I loitered around, the roads on which I was wide-eyed lost. Although Texas has a particular reputation – its cities really are beautiful. Even its skylines are a lesson in history: with a limited knowledge of architecture one can see the Houston oil boom and bust, the buildings that went up in the late-’70s and then served as reminders of the good times during the ’80s depression. There are few skyscrapers from the recent past, and it’s obvious that they’re from the road to recovery. This will change, I think, as the city continues to grow (and apparently it has never stopped growing), spurred on by frac mining (The Woodlands, TX, is seeing a huge housing boom because of this).

Unfortunately, it won’t last forever and the skyline will once again be a map of market history.

Now, it’s only Monday, but I’m still unemployed. Even though I will be getting a part-time job to help me get on my feet, I refuse to let my writing settle on to the back-burner. Truthfully, without pen, paper, and time, I start to suffer a spiritual death and begin to lash out at all of the well-intentioned souls worried about my affinity for pacing and heavy breathing. So, for the last three days, after having a cup of coffee, I’ve sat outside writing short stories. When I’m bored of the story, I put it away and write a poem. When I’m bored of the poem, I journal or write letters. When the sun goes down, I move inside and push on until I forget the English language.

There is no way that I’ll make money from my writing, I understand, but there’s nothing else to do in life but write.

It’s really not that expensive to eat healthy

A friend of mine posted the following on Facebook, and even though it shouldn’t be too shocking it does serve as a reminder of the choices we have when it comes to planning our diet.

Now, the McDonald’s option factors in neither the health care costs for the individual nor for society as a whole, but that’s splitting hairs.

After reading this infographic I thought I would go ahead and try it myself, so I went out and bought the basics for stir fry (broccoli, red peppers, carrots, yellow onions, mushrooms, and a couple pounds of chicken). While I’m ashamed to admit that I purchased all of these things at the Little Falls Wal-Mart, which may throw off the calculations a bit, it came to ~$16.60.

Given the leftovers I now have, I’d say it wasn’t a bad deal. Sure, in terms of opportunity cost I’ve given up ~3 4-piece chicken strip baskets with a side of flamethrower sauce from Dairy Queen … but …

What was my point again?

“I love it so much I read the book every year” – Yeah? Well, I read stuff on the internet a lot.

I’ve always been impressed with those individuals who, when talking of their favorite novels, say something to the effect of, “I love it so much I read it every year.” While there are certainly some books that I look forward to reading again (if only because it has been so long that some of the details escape me), I just don’t have the time. I have trouble enough reading new material that were I to sit down, balance academia, politics and my copies of Brave New World, Fight Club, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas I’d find myself in a perpetual loop of literary finitude. So, those few things that I do re-read frequently often are not that long (short stories, articles, novellas, etc.), are not always of the highest quality, etc. etc.

Regardless, I love them and always enjoy sharing them with everyone who doesn’t ask.

One such article is from 27b/6 titled “Missing Missy” (you may already be familiar with it since it’s fairly popular). The reason why it has come to mind is because the author, David Thorne, has recently published another book “I’ll Go Home Then, It’s Warm and Has Chairs: The Unpublished Emails” (Before looking it up, read this article about an argument Thorne had with Penguin Publishing regarding his copyright infringement of their logo for the cover of his book).

Honestly, no matter how many times I read “Missing Missy” I can’t control my giggling.

Genius.

Help! What anime is this?

While looking for photographs of cats in suits (as I am wont to do) and I came across this.

Now, I haven’t watched anime since I was in high school (and even then I stuck to mainstream things like Fullmetal AlchemistInuyasha, and briefly Excel Saga), but after seeing this, I might have to change that. The only problem is that I don’t know what this show or movie is.

Can someone please enlighten me in the comments? Also, are there any other feline-based shows or films you’d recommend?