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Nerd Nite October: 3 Years, 3 Talks!

catspace2October 10th, 7:00pm
World War II Club (The Deuce)
50 Conz Street, Northampton
We can’t believe it’s been three years already! To commemorate this event, we will be having three presenters at 15 minutes each (instead of 20). Also as a throwback to the very first Nerd Nite in history, we have someone speaking about birds.

Free snacks and giveaways will be provided as well. We hope you will come celebrate with us!

$5 Entry. Guests under 21 years are welcome in the banquet room area, but are restricted from the front bar, so please have your ID on you if you’d like to order alcoholic beverages.

A Game of Cat & Mouse: How One Parasite Hijacks Brains and Manipulates Behavior
by Dan Vahaba

Does free will exist? While we like to think we’re in charge of our own actions, the notion of free will is greatly challenged by parasitic organisms that hijack the brains of other animals. Brain parasites come in many flavors and exert major influence on the behavior of their hosts in order to reproduce, but one particularly fascinating species is the protozoan Toxoplasma gondii (“toxo” for short). Toxo is a unicellular organism that can only reproduce in the gut of cats, but when it ends up in rodents, it manipulates their brain and behavior in a big way. My talk will focus on the life cycle of toxo, how it ends up in and impacts rodents, and what it does to find its way back into cats. At the end of the talk, I’ll discuss the possibility of toxo’s influence on humans.

Dan Vahaba is an owner of two hopefully toxo-free felines (Peanut and Leon), as well a PhD candidate in the Neuroscience & Behavior program at UMass Amherst. His dissertation research has nothing to do with brain parasites, but instead explores how brain estrogens facilitate communication learning and auditory processing in songbirds.

How Diversity Improves Systems
by Presley Pizzo

Diversity is a hot topic in the tech industry, but we often assert that it’s important without explaining why. I’ll argue that gender and racial diversity, biodiversity, and even diversity of inanimate resources all benefit us in the same fundamental way.

Presley Pizzo is a software engineer at Originate. She has a PhD in linguistics from UMass Amherst and a penchant for metalworking. She works with leadership and the grassroots diversity initiative at Originate to improve diversity and inclusivity in the company.

Neotropical Migrant Birds: Why Conservation in Panama Matters in Massachusetts
by Ezekiel Jakub & Melva Olmos

Migratory birds such as the warblers, flycatchers, and raptors are some of the most enjoyable and anticipated birds to watch during our spring and summer. These migrants spend, in fact, most of their lives not with us in Massachusetts but in the new world tropics (“Neo-tropics”) including Mexico, Central and South America.

In a rapidly developing and globalized economy of the Republic of Panama, conservation has not been a priority. Loosing land to forest fragmentation, loosing forests due to illegal logging, poor funding for the environmental ministry, and only “paper parks” have made conservation of wildlife difficult! Lacking public funds and commitment conservation is largely a “privatized” movement by non-profit organizations, land owners, and community groups.

Come enjoy an evening with Ezekiel Jakub (Executive Director and Ornithologist) and Melva Olmos (President and Jaguar Biologist) of Conservación Panamá and a kaleidoscope of photographs, sounds, and video of a tropical paradise in danger! Learn about our work towards neo-tropical migrant conservation and what you can do!

Nerd Nite September: Words and Weather

The World War 2 Club (aka The Deuce)
50 Conz Street, Northampton
September 12, 2016 – 7:00-9:00pm

I Know You Didn’t Mean That: How Your Beliefs Guide Language Comprehension

UMass Linguist Brian Dillon will talk about how we as listeners understand sentences in the course of normal conversations, and the various ways in which we sometimes ignore what is actually said, and instead, seem to hear what we want to hear.

Brian Dillon is an assistant professor in Linguistics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst where he runs the Cognitive Science of Language lab. The lab focuses on psycholingusitics, the study of how children and adults acquire and understand natural language.

More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About the Weather in Amherst

Jasper Lapienski is a culturally controversial community organizer who lives in Northampton. Jasper grew up in Amherst and has made a hobby of studying the local weather history since the moment of conception (give or take a few years). What was the weather like around here on the day women got the right to vote? Look up the date ahead of time and be prepared to find out!


The World War II Club is recovering from some burst sprinkler system pipes, which has left the kitchen temporarily out of commission. What does this mean? Unfortunately, we can’t offer food. You are welcome to bring something to eat or order takeout while at the deuce. Bring some pizzas and have a pizza party!

July 11th Nerd Nite: Zombies on the Oregon Trail!

Apologies to our guests for the most recent hiatus! You’ll be happy to hear we are back in full force on July 11th at the Deuce. Here are the details:

Where: The WWII Club aka “The Deuce / 50 Conz / Northampton, MA

When: July 11th at 7:00 PM

Who: Julie Rose on “Attack of the Zombies!: A Brief Introduction to the Problem of Consciousness” and John Vilk on “Digital Preservation: Bringing Oregon Trail to your Web Browser”

There is a $5 admission fee (cash, please), which goes towards our speakers, our audio equipment rental and sound tech, the person helping out at the door, and general overhead expenses. It’s greatly appreciated!

RSVP not required, but getting a headcount is super helpful for us. You can RSVP on Facebook or Meetup.

NOTE: The World War II Club is still recovering from some burst sprinkler system pipes, which has left the kitchen temporarily out of commission. What does this mean? Unfortunately, we can’t offer food. You are welcome to bring something to eat or order takeout while at the deuce. Bring some pizzas and have a pizza party!


“Attack of the Zombies!: A Brief Introduction to the Problem of Consciousness”

Why are we conscious, and where does it come from? In this talk, we’ll explore the Zombie Argument, a compelling contemporary philosophical argument for the claim that consciousness is not a physical phenomenon.

Julie Rose has a master’s in philosophy from UMass Amherst, where her research focused on the problem of consciousness. She has also farmed lettuce in Hawaii, made wine in France, and worked at a plastic bag factory.


“Digital Preservation: Bringing Oregon Trail to your Web Browser”

Thanks to rogue archivists who chose to “Copy That Floppy”, the Internet contains large collections of old software and video games that are of historical interest. Unfortunately, experiencing these digital artifacts firsthand requires complicated setup procedures and antiquated technical expertise. In this talk, I will describe how I collaborated with a loose collective of amateur archivists to bring these items to life in a single click on the Internet Archive, along with the importance of digital preservation.

John Vilk is a PhD student and a Facebook Fellow at the University of Massachusetts Amherst whose research focuses on improving the web browser for developers. His nerd credentials include owning every issue of Nintendo Power, having a fairly decent collection of video game systems, working with the Internet Archive and other volunteers to bring old computer software and video games to millions of people, writing a complete Java Virtual Machine in JavaScript called Doppio, and working with Microsoft to bring time-travel and privacy-preserving augmented reality to Internet Explorer.

April 11: Inside the Guantánamo Bay Library + The Politics of Pork

The April Nerd Nite is right around the corner! We have some fascinating speakers, who coincidentally both have a connection with Turkey. Max Price, who will be presenting ‘Pigs and the Political History of the Near East’ will focus his presentation on what is now modern day Turkey. And Muira McCammon, a former Turkey Fulbrighter, will be presenting ‘Stories, Scandals, and Surgical Masks: The Ridiculously Complex World of the Guantánamo Bay Detainee Library’.

Nerd Nite will again take place at the World War II Club in Northampton. The kitchen is still under reconstruction, so ordering food on-site is unfortunately impossible. But the good news is you can bring food in from any other place you desire!

RSVP on Facebook, pretty please.

The Deets

Nerd Nite 27: Inside the Guantánamo Bay Library + The Politics of Pork
Monday, April 11, 7:00PM
World War II Club (The Deuce) Banquet Room
50 Conz Street, Northampton
$5 Entry – Guests under 21 years are welcome in the banquet room area, but are restricted from the front bar, so please have your ID on you if you’d like to order alcoholic beverages.

Pigs and the Political History of the Near East
Max Price will discuss the domestication of pigs around 8000 BC in what is now modern Turkey, discuss the importance of pork to the lower classes during the emergence of cities and state, and conclude with why he thinks pork is now taboo.

Max Price is a recent PhD from the Harvard Anthropology program, who has dedicated the better part of the past decade to unearthing the ancientsecrets of livestock maintenance. He is a real-life Indiana Jones in every sense except that he is not at all charming, good in a fight, or cool in any manner.

Stories, Scandals, and Surgical Masks: The Ridiculously Complex World of the Guantánamo Bay Detainee Library
This talk will shine a light on the people, policies, and practices that have shaped the Guantánamo Bay Detainee Library. We will delve into declassified Department of Defense documents and try to make sense of this labyrinth, this library that is 1548 miles away from Northampton. We’ll touch on questions big and small, like what books are on the shelves and how Fifty Shades of Grey ended up in one detainee’s cell. And perhaps most importantly, Muira will explain what aspects of the Guantánamo Bay Detainee Library keep her up at night (hint: surgical masks are involved).

Muira McCammon, a former Turkey Fulbrighter, is writing her M.A. thesis at UMass-Amherst on the Guantánamo Bay Detainee Library. She has written about information access at Guantánamo forSlate’s Future Tense and the Kenyon Review Online. Muira also moonlights as a research assistant at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

January 11 Nerd Nite: Future Civilizations & Ancient Cuisine

Happy New Year, all! We hope you can join us for the next Nerd Nite, titled “Future Civilizations and Ancient Cuisine”. Also, we’ll be returning to the original Nerd Nite location – the World War two Club! Since we’ve grown so much since those first few weeks, the talks will take place in the banquet hall, and there will be drinks and food for purchase.

Details and RSVP
World War II Club (The Deuce) Banquet Room
50 Conz Street, Northampton
$5 Entry

What’s for Dinner in Medieval London?

When most people think of medieval food, they think of bland brown mush, huge hunks of meat, and spices covering up the taste of spoilage. In
reality, the residents of medieval England had incredibly diverse food options, including fresh vegetables, urban takeout joints, and flavor combinations that might have tasted more like today’s Thai cuisine than anything else. Come find out what you might really have eaten in the Middle Ages!

Rebecca Slitt has a PhD from Fordham University and was a professor of medieval history for eight years. Her research focused on aristocratic culture, chivalry, and historical writing in twelfth-century England. Now she’s a writer and editor for Choice of Games, applying her knowledge of medieval combat to help figure out how the presence of dragons would affect a castle siege.

Type 1 or Bust! The Kardashev Scale and Civilizations of the Future

The Kardashev scale is a method of measuring a civilization’s level of technological advancement. This talk will explore what the different types are, going from 0 to 3, and use real life and sci fi references to illustrate these types (e.g., the Borg are a Type 3 civilization). Then we’ll explore our past with a simple 5,000 year timeline of history and ideas based on current technology that could give us a clue to what a Type 1 civilization on Earth would look like.

Aaron Jensen is an artist and middle-school teacher who is developing the Looping Spectrum Theory, combining philosophy, art, and science.

December 14th: Virtual Reality and RPGs – Not Just for Nerds!

Bill Nye with virtual reality gogglesWe’ve reached the last month of the year! Which is also arguably the most stressful month, between holidays, exams, shopping, and the reality of winter sinking in.

Now that I’ve thoroughly bummed you out, I’ll remind y’all that Nerd Nite is back on December 14th! Like last month, we’ll be at Union station.

Monday, December 14th, 7:00PM

Union Station Banquets, 125 PLeasant Street, Northampton (on the bike path)
$5, 21+

Bringing Virtual Reality Music to Virtually Everyone by Pat King

In August of 2015, Pat King of the Northampton game studio Woodpenny partnered with singer / songwriter Ben Sollee to create a Virtual Reality animated music video app called The Vanishing Point. Pat will talk us through his serendipitous introduction to Ben Sollee and how his studio’s wooden board game led the studio to a 3-month project and crowdfunding campaign to introduce an entirely new way for people to experience music.

Pat King is the Owner & CEO of Woodpenny, a creative design studio based in Northampton. The studio formed in January 2014 as a collective of artists, programmers and designers.


Roleplaying and Human Nature by Hannah Shaffer

Have you ever seen a roleplaying game in a bookstore or game store and wondered, “What the heck is this?” “Who does this?” “Is this for me?” Game designer Hannah Shaffer joins us to talk about roleplaying games as an extension of the human need to share stories, and the importance of inhabiting imaginary worlds as adults.

Hannah Shaffer is a web and game designer based in western Massachusetts. Credits include Questlandia, 14 Days, and a silly little game about birds. Find Hannah at and on twitter @hanbandit.

November 16th Nerd Nite: Bitcoins and Bird Bits

Happy unseasonably warm November, everyone! Our next Nerd Nite will indeed

be in NoHo at Union Station Banquets. We had a bit of a psychology trend
the past two months, but we’re shaking things up this month with a talk on
Bitcoin accompanied by a talk on bizarre animal genitalia. Both are sure to
make for some fun Thanksgiving conversation starters!

Please let us know if you’re coming by RSVP’ing on facebook.

Event Details

Monday, November 16th, 7:00PM
Union Station Banquets
125A Pleasant Street, Northampton (On the bike path)
$5, 21+

*From Stone Money to Cypherpunks: What does the Island of Yap have to do
with Bitcoin?*

Rai stones on the Island of Yap and crypto-currencies like Bitcoin
are two very different implementations of the shared illusion we call
“money.” Gavin will talk about where value comes from, and why sailing
canoes across the ocean worked as the basis for a monetary system.

Gavin Andresen was the lead maintainer of the Bitcoin open source software
project after it’s creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, disappeared. He is currently
a software developer at the MIT Digital Currency Initiative, and still
serves as the Chief Scientist of the Bitcoin Foundation. He began his
career working on 3D graphics software at Silicon Graphics Computer
Systems, and has founded or worked at several startups. Gavin lives and
works in Amherst.


*Why are there so many freaky genitalia, and why do we care?*

Patricia Brennan will discuss the incredibly diversity and complexity of
genitalia, using some examples from her own research to try to answer the
question of why there are so many strange genital morphologies. She will
also talk about why anyone would be crazy enough to study such a weird
thing, and why such studies matter to scientific progress.

Dr. Patricia Brennan is a visiting lecturer at Mount Holyoke in the
Department of Biological Sciences. She is an expert on genital evolution
and topics related to sex and sexual selection. She obtained her PhD from
Cornell University in Neurobiology and Behavior, and did post-doctoral work
at Yale University and University of Sheffield in the UK. Her work has been
featured in multiple documentaries and textbooks, and has received lots of
press coverage.

October 12th @ Eastworks: Babies, Bigots, and Birds

Happy fall, everyone! 

We hope you can join us for our first event of the season that we’re dubbing ‘Babies, Bigots, and Birds’. We’ll be exploring how understanding human can teach us about animal neurobiology based on UMass neuroscientist Luke Remage-Healey’s work. Then, we’re bringing back an audience favorite, Erik Cheries, who will talk present on his research on the origins of human prejudice. 

RSVP on Facebook

Monday, October 12th, 7:00PM
116 Pleasant Street, Suite 160
Easthampton, MA
$5, 21+

*Just Like Us: Can understanding humans teach us anything about the neurobiology and physiology of other animals?*

To understand and treat human diseases biomedicine relies on animal research. What about the other way around? Can we start with our human experience and learn anything about how animals work? Why would anyone consider doing this?

Luke Remage-Healey is a neuroscientist at UMass Amherst and is an expert on the esoterica of animal neurobiology.

Luke’s Website

*From Babies to Bigots: What are the developmental origins of human prejudice?*

Hear about some of the discoveries scientists have made about the origins of intergroup prejudice. Do we begin life immune to the stereotypes and biases that we observe in adults, or is there a ‘dark side’ to child development? The results may surprise you.

Erik Cheries is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences at UMass Amherst. He is a Cognitive Scientist who studies infants to help reveal how our minds work.

Erik’s Website


Nerd Nite is at Union Station in NoHo on September 14th!

As we mentioned in our last post, we’ve been spreading the love between NoHo and EHo (sorry). On September 14th we’ll be back in the Union Station Banquet Hall for two great talks. Coincidentally, both are by psychologists, but both aren’t about psychology. This will definitely be an interesting one (as usual, of course). Remember to RSVP on Facebook!

Nerd Nite 21
Monday,September 14th, 7PM
Union Station
125A Pleasant Street, Northampton (On the bike path)
$5, 21+

Living in a Post-Racial Society… Or Not.

Although we might like to think of racial bias as a thing of the past, there are many subtle ways in which it can still influence our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Is there anything we can do about it?

Linda Tropp is a Professor of Social Psychology at UMass Amherst and an expert in prejudice reduction strategies and social relations between groups.

Scrap and Splendor: Backyard Visionaries and Hand-Made Worlds

Fueled by spectacular visions and extraordinary persistence, backyard visionaries work mostly alone, sometimes for decades, using materials considered trash by others, to create monumental outdoor environments. Their creations are enigmatic, whimsical and sublime. Visit ten of these sites and meet their astonishing, inspiring creators.

Mark Karpel is a psychologist who likes to write about people who think big and get carried away, including visionary builders, cluster balloonists, and aerospace visionaries.

Nerd Nite back @ Eastworks on August 10th

We’re trying to spread the love around between Northampton and Easthampton and we’ll be back at Eastworks for our 20th (!) Nerd Nite. This is going to be a really interesting one if I do say so myself (OK, fine, I’m giving one of the talks). I hope you can make it and please spread the word! FB event:

Nerd Nite 20
Monday, August 10th, 7PM
Eastworks, 116 Pleasant St., Easthampton
$5, 21+

Locked Up, but Not Locked Out: Juvenile Offenders Building Better Lives
Kids who go to jail are more likely to go to jail as adults. Massachusetts is using education to change that.

Gwynne Morrissey has a Ph.D. in Education Policy, is a program evaluator at the Collaborative for Educational Services, and is an advocate for educational equity for special-needs youth.


The Real Killer App: How Today’s Tech Diminishes Our Lives
Our gadgets and big data algorithms have been sold to us with the promise of deepening our relationships and improving our lives. What if they’re actually doing the opposite?

Mo Lotman is a freelance writer and publisher of The Technoskeptic, an online magazine examining issues of technology in society.

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