Nerd Nite 13: Brains and Bytes

(no, this is not zombie related)

Wed. Jan. 16, Alton Ballroom at Pachamama’s (8th and NH)

Doors at 7:30, Presentations at 8:00.

RSVP on Facebook

we’ll dive into the relationship between brains, tech and the world around us – how big data is being used to create new art, how driving is adapting to modern technology, and how being smart is way different than it used to be.


Meta Nerdery: Being Smart about Being Smart by Erin Bennett and Chris Niileksela

Intelligence is commonly discussed in everyday life, but rarely well-defined. People have pondered differences in intellectual abilities and searched for ways to measure and explain these differences for centuries. The study of intelligence has become an enormous and multi-layered topic. In this presentation, we want to talk about what intelligence is and isn’t, discuss the historical underpinnings of intelligence theory, and provide information on theoretical advances and current research. With this information, you too can be a meta-nerd.

Erin Bennett is currently on her third tour in Lawrence after stints in Madison, Los Angeles, and most recently, Seattle. Erin completed both her undergraduate and graduate degrees at KU, fostering a fervent love of KU basketball.  She currently works as a school psychologist and special education facilitator in the Auburn-Washburn school district. In her non-psychologist life, she enjoys travel, eating and drinking, generally having fun, and hanging out with her husband, Brad, and her very intelligent cat, Otis.

Chris Niileksela left his former life as a semi-professional trombone player to join the real world in 2006, and after the colossal project commonly referred to as a dissertation, he graduated with a PhD in School Psychology from the University of Kansas in May of 2012. He currently works for the University of Kansas and Topeka Public Schools, trying his best to make a small impact on the education of young people in Kansas.

Google you can drive my car: The Future of the Automobile by Amy Mihalevich

Remember when a reliable car used to be one that started every morning? Well it still is…but what we expect from our vehicles is rapidly changing. Today, cars include sensors and cameras, our cars sync with our phones and on-board computers ask us “Where would you like to go?” We are moving toward the culture of the iPad and not the T-Bird. Amy will explore how technology is changing the face of the automobile from what we drive today to what someday might drive us.

Amy Mihalevich got her degree in Industrial Design from the University of Kansas. That is where she learned to apply a human-centered approach to solving design problems. Today she works with automotive industry partners as a User Experience Designer at Garmin International. It still blows her mind that she works works with cars because she doesn’t know the first thing about them…or even like them that much. But what she does like is making them safer and making other people enjoy them more. When not thinking about cars she is probably decorating, destroying, or repairing something with her boyfriend in their fixer-upper house or taking a nap with her Great Dane.

Framing Information: The Fine Art of Big Data by Becky Harpstrite

Like so many others, Becky first discovered her love for art while watching Bob Ross on PBS channel 8 in the country outside of Andover, Kansas.  After many attempts to paint like Bob, she decided to become a graphic designer.  She has a bona fide degree from the Art Institute of Colorado, and also studied Art History at The University of Kansas.  When she’s not designing, Becky enjoys cultivating an appreciation for the finer things in life, and documenting the daily habits of squirrels with her BDF (best dog friend), Jack.


Nerd Nite 12: AlumNite

On December 12, 2012, the 12th Nerd Nite-Lawrence will occur. (not at 12:00).

Doors at 7:30, Presentations at 8:00.

Facebook e-vitation here.

The evening will feature three of our past speakers as selected by YOU (well, maybe not all of you internet, but lots of you Nerd Nite-Lawrence fans).


The Sound of Thunder Over Headphones: Ray Bradbury and the Radio by Justin Runge
With Ray Bradbury’s passing earlier this year, the United States lost one of its populist sages and daydreamers, an author able to find nightmares inside our nostalgia and terrific wonder inside the future. His work lent itself perfectly to the radio drama of the mid-century — a massive, electric entertainment that could cause entire communities of listeners to hallucinate the same new, vivid images in the dark. Though Bradbury’s stories and novels live on, his contributions to radio lie barely touched in the quiet archives of the Internet. We’ll dust off these transmissions, and learn more about the medium of radio, the magic it could create in the right hands, and a man of outsized imagination whose fantasies travelled our airwaves like the malevolent winds, mechanical music, and misguided rocketmen of his tales.

Justin Runge is a writer and editor living in Lawrence, Kansas. He first encountered Ray Bradbury as a ten-year old, listening to an audio adaptation of “The Sound of Thunder” on a portable cassette player in the secluded stacks of a public library in Kearney, Nebraska. His favorite Bradbury short story is “There Will Come Soft Rains,” he has fond memories of the Hanna-Barbera version of “The Halloween Tree,” and he doesn’t think Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 is half-bad. Justin presented A Century of Film or: We’ve Spent One Hundred Years Collectively Sitting in Front of Screens Getting Stupider (And Smarter, and Stranger, and Inspired) at Nerd Nite 3.

Spit-Shining the Rust Belt: Transforming a Region from Smokestacks to Tech Startups by Steph Kozak

The Rust Belt is a term used to describe a region of the United States that was hit hard by deindustrialization.  Cities became riddled with depressed downtowns and high unemployment rates.  As manufacturing plants and steel mills began closing in the latter half of the 20th Century, cities in this region scrambled to try and reinvent themselves.  Today, these cities are finding new ways to attract businesses by playing off their hard-knock image and taking advantage of low property rates and an abundant labor force.  This presentation will explore the creative ways in which the Rust Belt is making an economic comeback.

Stephanie is originally from Youngstown, Ohio, an area that fits the mold of a typical Rust Belt city.  Her time there greatly influenced her love for pierogi, trashy neighborhood bars, and the grit and grime of the inner city.  She is currently a PhD student in the Geography Department at KU where she studies urban geography. Stephanie presented Caffeine, Public Showers, and Howling Wolf T-Shirts: Exploring America’s Truck Stops at Nerd Nite 2.

The origins of life: A quick biochemical history by Bryan Smith

My grandfather used to take me to the zoo to see my cousins…in the ape house.  Little did I know at the time how closely we were related, and how we can even claim the strangest insects, fungi, bacteria, and Jersey Shore cast members as our long lost relatives – though we might shy away from them at the family reunion.  All life is interconnected through a few relatively simple molecules.  Indeed, before life started, the chemical building blocks of life were naturally formed on Earth (and elsewhere in the universe).  How might we have arisen from the primordial soup?  It’s either an incredibly bleak view of life, or a grand one.

Bryan grew up in Nebraska near a small town of 100 people.  He attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as an undergraduate, then earned a PhD in biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He now works on writing in the third person and on developing new cancer drugs at a pharmaceutical company in Kansas. He loves the Midwest and is thankful to be here.  He enjoys spending time with his wife and three children, driving a man van, and living in Lawrence even though the traffic is still terrible. Bryan presented The chemistry and biology of meth at Nerd Nite 9.



A Message from Pachamama’s

We’re passing along the message below from our friends, and hosts, at Pachamama’s.


Dear Nerd Nite Friends,

    We at Pachamama’s would like to extend a hearty Thank You to everyone that has attended, presented, or in any way contributed to making Nerd Nite Lawrence such a wonderful success!  We have absolutely loved playing host to this event every month and look forward to continuing the conversation into the Alton Ballroom.  A bigger space means that more people can join in, and make this night an even bigger success.

    After October’s inaugural Nerd Nite in the Alton Ballroom, Pachamama’s management, and Nerd Nite organizers met with one another to address our collective concerns (and your feedback) about making the night more enjoyable, and offering a smoother overall execution of food and beverage service.

    It must first be made clear that the Alton Ballroom is not set-up to mirror the restaurant’s food and beverage menus, but rather is used strictly as a catering facility.     We understand that these limitations may seem to be an inconvenience, but we have come up with solutions to these challenges.

     We are excited to offer an extended food “happy hour” to attendees that would like to eat before nerding out.  From 5p-7:30p in the Star Bar you can order from our Happy Hour menu and enjoy a 25% discount off selected items.  We understand that you cannot possibly eat and hold your spot in line, so we are doing away with our set-capacity in the Ballroom.  All are welcome, and all can get in (so long as we do not break any fire codes).

    With the lifting of our limited capacity, the bar inside the Ballroom is going to get very busy.  So, in order for the bar to operate as quickly and efficiently as possible, we are setting a new rule of CASH ONLY for all transactions.  This is nothing new to you, denizens of Lawrence, KS, and will allow us to crank out an assortment of beer, wine, and killer punches.

    We love you all, and want this night to continue to be enjoyable and informative, so please understand that all of these changes are for the better.


Pachamama’s Restaurant

Nerd Nite 11: Soviet Bloc Party

Nerd Nite 11 is on November 14 in the Alton Ballroom at Pachamama’s (8th and New Hampshire)

RSVP on Facebook

three speakers all focusing on a topic related the Soviet Union or an Eastern European country and music


You Sunk My Citizenship? – The Estonian Singing Revolution & Citizenship Dilemma by Dave Trimbach

Dave addresses the Estonian singing revolution and independence movement in relation to the current Estonian citizenship dilemma. The singing revolution freed the once independent Republic of Estonia from illegal Soviet occupation, yet spurred the revocation of citizenship from over one third of the country’s population. The revocation of citizenship entrenched deep political and social divisions within Estonian society that continue to hinder minority integration.

Dave Trimbach is a currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Human Geography at the University of Kansas. He is a proud Ohioan and husband. He is fascinated by political inclusivity, equitable political representation, and citizenship. When not studying . . . well he is usually studying.

Notes from the Underground: Dissident Music in the Soviet Union by Austin Charron

Despite strict ideological guidelines and censorship of the arts in the Soviet Union, there existed a vibrant underground and “unofficial” music scene made up of creative musicians who sought to disassociate themselves and their work from the banality of Soviet life. With the reforms of glasnost’ in the late 1980s, rock and other forms of dissident music finally burst into the Soviet mainstream, contributing to an exhilarating new cultural atmosphere which helped bring down the Soviet regime in 1991. The story of Soviet dissident music reminds us that, even under the most seemingly oppressive conditions, artistic expression and the spirit of non-conformity can still prevail.

Austin Charron (Shuh-RON) is a Lawrence transplant from Oregon working on his PhD in Geography at KU. He began studying Russian over nine years ago and has since developed a serious case of Soviet- and post-Sovietophilia, which only gets worse with every trip he makes to the region. In fact, Austin has rambled his way through all 15 former Soviet republics and a good chunk of Eastern Europe, where he’s been robbed, extorted, and detained by local authorities on multiple occasions, been accused of espionage by suspicious drunkards, narrowly escaped a brawl with an angry horde of Kyrgyz taxi drivers, and gotten himself into more sketchy situations than he could ever hope to remember. And he’s loved every minute of it! He’s also pretty into music, and has been collecting old Soviet and Eastern European records since his first trip to Russia in 2006. Austin is also kind of nerdy about palindromes and anagrams, and as such you may also refer to him by his anagrammed pseudonym: Curtis Norahan.

Bar Talk: Bela Bartok, Polymodal Chromaticism & Modern Classical Composition by Steve Dahlberg

In the early 1900’s in the Carpathian Basin on the boundary of Eastern Europe, Bela Bartok, later to become one of that centuries most renowned classical composers, became obsessed with the “unexplored” folk music of the various peoples in that region and began rummaging around the area listening to and documenting what he discovered from a composer’s viewpoint. He made many strange discoveries that heavily impacted his own classical composition and I was particularly intrigued with one such discovery and allowed my fascination with the idea of so-called polymodal chromaticism kick some major structural ass in one of my own classical compositions. We will take contextual, historical and functional (sonic!) glimpses of this small idea with large possibilities and contrast with other more dominant trends in modern composition at the time.


Vote for Nerd Nite 12, Alumni Edition

1o/21/12 Update:

Voting is now closed. Hope to see you in November for NN11!


Since we kicked off in Nov. 2011, we have had a ton of incredible and nerdy presentations. For Nerd Nite 12 in December, we are taking your votes to see who YOU would like to see speak again.

Some voted in person at NN 10 in October. But there’s still time to participate!

Click here to complete the web form and vote for 3 that you would like to see speak again. 

To jog your memory, scroll back through the Updates page. 

We’ll invite the top 3 to present at Nerd Nite 12 in December 2012.

It might be a follow up on their first presentation or a new, nerdy topic.

Nerd Nite 10 feedback.

Did you make it to NN 10 last night? Are you super-interested in taxidermy-based art now? Were you unable to get it in? What did you think of the new space? the menu?

We want your feedback! and we’ll share it with Pachamama’s too!

Click here to access the web form.

We’ll take this down after a few days.

NN-Lawrence Co-Bosses.

Nerd Nite 10: Lawrence Oddities

10/9/12 update:

just a quick update about tomorrow, Nerd Nite 10.

since we’re going to be in the ballroom, there will be a few changes from our usual set up.

first, doors at 7:30. seriously.

second, Pach will be serving a limited menu that will be smaller than the usual menu, but equally delicious.

see you there!


October 10!

We stretch our legs and move into our new home in the Alton Ballroom at Pachamama’s (8th and New Hampshire). Capacity is 90 people, enter off of New Hampshire Street.

Facebook Event, if you’re so inclined.

Doors at 7:30. Presentations at 8:00.


Co-sponsored by the KU Natural History Museum, the Watkins Community  Museum of History and the Spencer Museum of Art.


Outlaws and Outsiders: Joe Coleman’s “Ballad of Quantrill’s Raiders” by Kate Meyer

Kate Meyer will discuss a contemporary painting by outsider artist Joe Coleman featuring William Clarke Quantrill and his 1863 Massacre of Lawrence. Kate and her fellow curators at the Spencer Museum of Art have been lusting after this painting for several years and are delighted that is has recently been acquired for the museum’s collection. Kate will discuss the men and the mayhem depicted in the painting, their connections to Bleeding Kansas and Lawrence’s history, and will share tantalizing details about the painter himself, an artist who also collects infamous, sacrilegious, and dangerous artifacts and showcases them in his “Odditorium.”

Kate Meyer has a phd in art history from KU. Her primary research focus is the intersection of regional art and agricultural themes, but she is pretty excited to take a break from plows to be able to revel in tales of revenge, plunder, and gore. Kate will also be happy to tell you why you are wrong if you think Batman is better superhero than Superman. Hint: Kansas will be mentioned in her response.

Still Life: Stuffed, Pickled and Presented by Bruce Scherting

Bruce Scherting earned a MFA by producing large and lively colorful paintings and prints but now sees dead things everywhere. Upon graduation he moved to Chicago and took a life-changing position in the exhibits department at the Field Museum, affectionately known as “the dead animal zoo,” and home to beautiful dioramas by a  talented taxidermist Carl Akeley who labored mightily to instill a sense of wonder and liveliness into everything he touched, after he “collected” it. Next a brief term with live things in large fluid containers at the Shedd Aquarium, then back to a natural history museum at the University of Iowa and now director of exhibits at the Biodiversity Institute Natural History Museum where, you guessed it, he is surrounded by millions of dead things. Life is good. I wonder what he will talk about?

East Lawrence: Pluck and Perseverance in Lawrence’s Original Neighborhood by Abby Pierron

Its history is rich, its residents are fascinating, so why isn’t East Lawrence one of the first stops on the city’s well-beaten historical tourism path? The neighborhood’s origins go back to the days when squatters and abolitionists from Massachusetts squabbled over where precisely the new town of Lawrence would be located. From its first days, the area later known as East Lawrence was considered to be inferior to the neighborhood west of downtown. It was home to Lawrence’s working class, but also some of its most prominent business owners. Industrial buildings and warehouses popped up along the railroad and river. In the 150+ years since the first home was built, East Lawrence has experienced many changes in its social makeup, but a strong, vibrant and vocal community still lives and guides the neighborhood today.

Abby Pierron thought long and hard about being a history teacher, but the unending nights of grading term papers were too much of a deterrent. Instead she turned to museums, and now lives in a world of guided tours, frenzied kids on field trips, hands-on reproduction artifacts and stacks of first-person reminiscences from old-time Lawrencians in her role as the education and programs coordinator at the Watkins Community Museum. To reach these professional heights she got a liberal arts degree from a tiny Iowa college, followed by a MA in Museum Studies at KU. She’s lived in Lawrence for eight years, the last three as a resident of the Barker neighborhood


Nerd Nite 9: Down Home

Nerd Nite 9: Down Home will happen on Wed. Sept. 12 at Pachamama’s in the Blue Room. This event, co-sponsored by Lawrence Public Library and KU Libraries, is part of Read Across Lawrence, so it is focused on Daniel Woodrell’s novel Winter’s Bone.

Capacity is 60ish. Presentations at 8PM with doors opening sometime between 7 and 7:30 after the presenters have a chance to practice.

Facebook event is here, if you are so inclined.

We’ll also review the results of last month’s nerd survey and some exciting announcements about the future of Nerd Nite-Lawrence.


Behaving Bad: The Dirty South (mostly) in Literature, or Grit Lit by Susan Brown and Sean Barker

Susan Brown (Lawrence Public Library) and Sean Barker (KU Libraries) will share their evangelical fervor for “grit lit”—a variant of (typically) Southern literature that focuses on the lives of often marginalized figures in rural areas. These works are usually exceedingly raw depictions of life that can also be deliberately humorous. Authors discussed will include Daniel Woodrell (author of Read Across Lawrence 2012 selection Winter’s Bone), Tom Franklin, Larry Brown, Ron Rash, Harry Crews, Charles Portis, Donald Ray Pollock, Dorothy Allison, and genre progenitors like William Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy, and Flannery O’Connor. Tangential topics may include, but are not limited to, bourbon drinking, squirrel hunting, snake handling, and deep-seated family feuds.

Susan Brown took her first library job for beer money.  As Marketing Director at Lawrence Public Library, a decent portion of her paycheck still goes that way.  Living in Lawrence as a graduate of Virginia Tech and UNC, she understands the proper order of things – you’ll find a large Hokie Bird decal on her minivan, a smaller Jayhawk, and not a Tarheel in sight.  As a librarian, she has been shushed more than she has ever shushed and if you see her around LPL, she’ll always stop and chat – her favorite topics include southern writers, crime fiction, venison recipes, and the proper way to prepare a mint julep.

Sean Barker is a serious man who earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in Art History at the University of Kansas. He learned to read for pleasure after leaving a doctoral program, though he still feels compelled to read the classics. Independent music and film are other obsessions. He works at KU Libraries as the dean’s assistant.

The chemistry and biology of meth by Bryan Smith

An overview of methamphetamine from the perspective of someone who works on making new legal drugs for a living.  We’ll discuss how meth is made, why meth labs are so dangerous, how meth works in the brain, why it’s so addictive and how it causes short term and long term side effects.

Bryan’s first foray into science involved a chemistry set he received at age seven. He has lived to 34, despite the temptation to consume whatever potions he concocted. Bryan earned a PhD in biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and now works on discovering new cancer drugs at a local pharmaceutical company. He enjoys Breaking Bad marathons, spending time with his wife and three children, and living in Lawrence even though the traffic is terrible.

Picking and Plucking: A short history (and demonstration) of the fiddle and the banjo by James Brown

James Brown will provide a suitably twangy and squeaky musical backdrop on his banjo and fiddle.  He will talk a bit about the history of both instruments, and then demonstrate some of the various possibilities of playing mountain melodies in standard and non-standard tunings.  He’ll provide the pickin’, the grinnin’ is up to you.

James Brown holds dual-nerd status in both medieval German literature and mountain music.  His German nerdiness resulted in his current position in KU’s German Department. His passion for mountain music started at summer camp in the Appalachian mountains, where he fell in love with the banjo. James comes from a long line of country people who engaged in farming, cabinet making, and other mountain enterprises.  He himself apprenticed for five years after college as a violin maker and restorer.  If you insist on making a hilarious joke about his name, be prepared to buy him a beer afterwards.

Nerd Nite – Lawrence: how are we doing?

survey is now closed. we’ll have the results at the next Nerd Nite-Lawrence on Sept. 12!


Nerd Nite 8: Smarts and Crafts

. . . and we’re back!

After taking a little break for July, Nerd Nite – Lawrence is back and ready to get all artsy on Aug 8.

We’re at Pachamama’s and, as always, capacity is 60ish until the chairs run out.

We start at 8:00. We’ll open the doors between 7 and 7:30 after all the presenters have a chance to practice. Then you get to eatin’ and boozin’.


We are All Makers by Derick Schweppe

The success of humans can be directly correlated with our unique ability to make things. What we sometimes forget is that everyone has the ability to be creators through making: inventing tools, building structures, and creating works of art. However, since the industrial revolution people have slowly lost connection with the art of making things and the knowledge of how things are made. Now a new crop of affordable and relatively easy to use tools and services are allowing people to get back in touch with their inner makers, and create objects to rival what’s churning out of the industrial machine.

Since Derick was young he has always been a tinkerer and dreamer. He used to fill sketchbooks with designs for flying cars and submarines. Although he may have disassembled more than he created he turned his love of tinkering into a degree in Industrial Design from KU. From there he learned how things were made in the real world both in small and mass quantities locally and overseas. He is using this knowledge to make old things new again, teach Design students at KU, and discover exactly what a person working in their garage with a limited budget can make.

A Great Unveiling: Quantum Mechanics, Society, and Art by Emily Pabst

The development of quantum mechanics was hugely transformative.  It sank the unsinkable classical mechanics, rewrote scientific cosmology, birthed the atom bomb, and altered how all manner of people understand and experience foundational concepts such as time, space, energy, existence, and reality.  Art, alongside quantum mechanics, has become a powerful vehicle for exploring this new world and its baffling dimensions.

Emily enjoys caves, limericks, water slides, art that upsets your brain, buying used cars, and being angered by sea creatures.  She is good at offering to retrieve items from the top shelf; she is not so good at actually retrieving them.  Emily is very appreciative of her loving family and friends.  Without them, life would be way less fun.

Success is a mind game: finding creative flow by Karen Matheis

Based on a need to settle into her work when painting, Karen has developed a series of steps and strategies for finding the creative mode using data found in scientific studies.  Examples include performance time frames and the role of choice in the creative process.

Painter Karen Matheis is the writer of Larryville Artists, a blog about the art and literature scene in Lawrence, Her art can be found at