The Neil deGrasse Tyson Event, Part 3: Deuteronomy (or Dude-eronomy)

The a capella group wraps up, and someone stands up to introduce the man: blah, blah, blah, Hayden Planetarium, blah, blah, blah, Pluto, blah, blah, blah, new book. For his part, Dr. Tyson basically does the high-five line down to the stage and gets right into it:

Neil deGrasse Tyson speaking at UW-Madison

Watch/listen to the whole thing. It’s worth your time. Here are a few highlights:

Neil deGrasse Tyson tells us about butt cheeks

Neil deGrasse Tyson hears from a member of Congress

Neil deGrasse Tyson talks about money

Neil deGrasse Tyson gets a little distracted

Neil deGrasse Tyson knows you better than you know yourself… and stops to tweet about it

Neil deGrasse Tyson wraps up the talk

Neil deGrasse Tyson chills for a bit

Neil deGrasse Tyson slaps an idiot; I love this part

Neil deGrasse Tyson rolls with it

Neil deGrasse Tyson slaps another guy

Neil deGrasse Tyson tries for one last question

Neil deGrasse Tyson tries again, and again, and again, and finally gets a good one from a brilliant 10-year old in the back:

Why didn’t you go to work with Dr. (Carl) Sagan?

That’s right, Dillon got to ask the last question of the day, and he was ready for it! I could not have been more proud of him. He stood up, swallowed his considerable anxiety, and braved it! So. Very. Proud.

With the talk finished, we hustle off toward the Union to get in line for the book signing. Initially, we thought we were very clever in taking a shortcut to the second floor, but our hopes were dashed when we realized that the second floor doors were locked.

Back down to the first floor, and the end of a 90-minute line with only 30 minutes of book signing time remaining…

The Neil deGrasse Tyson Event, Part 2: Exodus

Finally, and after an interminable wait of several days, Thursday arrives. Everything was set. My morning meeting was cancelled, and Dillon had come to the office with me, so we were ready to go any time. I’d had a brilliant stroke of inspiration when considering what I might want to get signed… Cosmos, by Carl Sagan. With Dr. Tyson resurrecting Dr. Sagan’s old show, and having been referred to as “the new Carl Sagan,” I thought it would be awesome to get this book signed by Dr. Tyson, and so that was packed in my bag.

As we were waiting for the rest of our group to arrive, Molly suggested that I have Dillon come up with some questions to ask Dr. Tyson, just in case he got a chance to talk to the man in the course of getting his book signed. First question: WTF is up w/ pluto, man? I redirected him to some less obvious/more interesting information online. Dillon came up with 3 solid questions, and the pluto question. Not bad.

Jared and Ben (also taking some time away from the traditional educational environment… where is TABS when you need it?!) arrived around 12:30, with Mike making it in just as we were finishing up a quick lunch of Qdoba on the patio. Bellies full, and coffee in the cup holders, and we were off toward Madison! In Jared’s lame-assed minivan.

To cut the tense silence of five nerds driving for 90 minutes, Jared suggested I play some music, claiming that he has some good stuff on his phone. I pulled out my iPod, suggesting that Jared’s taste in music may come close to the near-complete vacuum of space itself (read: sucks). This charitable offer to provide delight to the occupants of the vehicle in the form of They Might Be Giants (specifically, the Here Comes Science album) was met with somewhat less enthusiasm than expected. To be specific, it was Jared’s opinion that TMBG has one good song, are generally lame, and what the hell do I have an iPod for when my phone can play music?! As you might expect, this lead to a heated debate about the generally awesomeness of TMBG, followed by a similarly heated debate over the merits of a separate music device over using ones phone. Two things to note here:

  1. “Heated debate” here refers to increasingly inappropriate insults with next to no relevance to the specific contentious idea, and often relating on ones parentage
  2. Mike did not weigh in on the TMBG issue, but was with me on the separate music device… Advantage Collins!
With those points resolved (as well as having identified my annoying habit of skipping the last part of songs in my impatience to get to the next track… because we all know how the song ends!) we settled in for a good long listen to some classic Dr. Demento. All was well, after that. At some point we remembered that we had the boys in the car, and should probably consider our language… ahh, f##k it!
We rolled into Madison with plenty of time to spare, parked, and wandered over to the Union, where both of the boys decided that they needed a refreshing beverage. This was when I realized that I’d forgotten my wallet and had a grand total of about $20 for Dillon and I… and that I’d somehow forgotten my copy of Cosmos (This is actually still missing). D’oh! No big deal, we roll with it.
It is about the same time that I had to laugh out loud at the spectacle we must be; We must look like the most non-traditional family evar: Three dads and two sons. We take our little family onto the Memorial Union Terrace, and settle in to wait for the show to start. At some point, Jemiah called, and we able to bring him in by phone. While we’re waiting, an a capella group performs, and Dillon gets out his book. At one point I try getting Dillon interested in the music:
Me: Dill, check out these guys, there singing with no instruments
Dillon: cool…
Me: Hey, I want you to pay attention this afternoon… this is a really cool thing that not all kids get to do. There are no other kids here other than you and Ben. Pay attention!
Dillon: I will dad… I’m just not really into Rock ‘n Roll shows
The beauty in that? First, yes he is… he just wanted to read his book. Second, a capella group.

The Neil deGrasse Tyson Event, Part 1: Genesis

Early last week Mike IMd me to let me know that the mighty Neil deGrasse Tyson would be speaking at an event on UW-Madison’s campus… Who knew what adventure would follow?

[Please forgive the grammar, punctuation, and capitalization in the following… These are chat logs, and we were very excited]


Wanna go?

me: I definitely do
hang on [checked my calendar]
ok… I have a meeting that goes until 1, but I should be able to go after that
hope it doesn’t rain

Mike: sweet – I have a meeting that shouldn’t go past noon, and I’m taking off the afternoon

me: checking w/ my boss now

Mike: no rain forecast for Thursday in Madison


I hit Molly up on the IMs and get the okay with absolutely no hesitation, of course… Molly’s awesome. At this point I check my list of contacts to see if Jemiah is logged into Google Talk. He is…



Jemiah: DUDE.

me: yup

Jemiah: I’m seriously considering driving to Madsion.

me: trying to get off of work
Mike’s already got a 1/2 day

Jemiah: Really? If you’re going I’m going. 🙂

me: waiting to hear back from the boss

Jemiah: What are the chances Molly will let you go?

me: excellent

Jemiah: I’m checking if Anne needs the car. If I leave by 10 I’ll make it in time. It’s about 4 hrs.


Switching back to Mike’s tab…


me: Jemiah’s trying to hook it up, too

Mike: nice. Think J-love would be interested?

me: could be!


Here I get something like 5 minutes of work done before…


Mike: Jared’s checking

me: cool

Mike: He thinks he can make it and is suggesting we carpool
and is wondering if he should drag Ben along

me: i’m thinking I’ll bring Dillon
he can drive the minivan

Mike: definitely bring D along – even if he doesn’t appreciate it now, he’ll be able to say years later that he was there

me: yup


Again, about 5 minutes of actual work before I get the ok from my boss…


me: I’m in!

Mike: sweet!

me: very
we’ll have to sort out the specifics, but this is going to be awesome!

Mike: indeed

me: well spotted, man!

Mike: only way it could be more better is if he was signing books, but with the number of people that will probably be showing up, I’m guessing that ain’t gonna happen

me: we should find out where he’s staying

Mike: astrophysics groupies

dude, that’s what you should get signed

Mike: no kidding
holy crap, he is doing a book signing after!

me: Sweet!!!

Mike: Imagine the line for that

me: huge

Mike: should we?

me: I think we should try

Mike: agreed
opportunities like that come around rarely

me: yup

Mike: J-love says his accountant has not authorized book purchases
I said we’d chip in for one that he can get signed

me: hell yes
pretty sure we failed on his birthday, anyway

Mike: yeah


Switching back to Jemiah…


me: ok… everyone is in… me, jared, mike, ben, dillon
and he’s doing a book signing after

Jemiah: MAN. We need to find our thug hats!

me: ha! rolling DEEP!

Jemiah: What!? I know you not lookn at us. We got more nerds in this posse than you can handle. Back up.

me: Man! I’l slap an integral out yo’ ass!

Jemiah: Extrapolate dat ass!
Straight from Mortal Kombat!


And Back to mike again…


Mike: Heard back from the event director – she recommends bringing a book with instead of buying one there:

The UW Bookstore will be selling books at the reception, but we cannot guarantee that everyone will have time to make it through both the store line and the signing line. You may want to have your book with you already.

me: good plan

Mike: I’ve got Amazon Prime, so I can get copies on Wed. for only $17.79 ea – you want me to snag you one?
or two?
one for D?

me: one is good… It’ll be something special for D.

Mike: cool, I’ll order a total of 3 then to cover J-Love.

me: sweet… I’ll pay you back thursday

Mike: cool, they’re on the way.


So, that all took place over the course on an hour, and really with a combined total of about 30 minutes of discussion, at most. The whole thing reminded me of another trip that started with a short conversation (“Hey, you going to around later?” “Yeah.” “Cool, I’ll be there in a few hours…” followed by a 6-hour drive from Milwaukee to Minneapolis).

A quick email, 11:30 that night…


 So Anne needs the car on Thursday so I’m riding my bike down to Madison. I leave Tue after work. I should make it by Noon on Thurs.

Srsly, I’m just renting a car. What time are you all planning on getting there? How long are you all staying? I’m flippn’ pumped. I haven’t been back to MadTown in like 8 years.


And Mike’s response 30 minutes later…


I’m ditching work at noon, figured I’d drop by Versant, as Charles has
a meeting until 1.  Jared is leaving work early as well.

We’re staying until we get our books signed (have 3 copies of ‘Space
‘ on the way from Amazon for me, Charles and Jared).  The
event coordinator says books will be available at the bookstore, but
she recommends being prepared and bringing your own book to be sure
that you get in the book signing line right away (“Mr. Tyson is
expecting a galactic shit-ton of you science loving motherf—ers”,
she said.  Well, perhaps not in those exact words, but that was the


And that was that. We had a plan and had only to wait, as you will for the next part of this story.

The saga of the wigly fish

A guest post from Uncle Jared:

Just remember, if you take the time to read this, you will never, ever get these three minutes of your life back.

We do Meatless Monday for dinner at our house.  Since we’re Catholic, meatless can include Fish.

Most of my family (everyone except for me) hates fish, unless it has been boxed up and frozen by Van de Kamps.  I have heard that eating very fresh fish can be the difference between liking it and hating it.  I decided to try feeding my family very fresh fish, and seeing how it went.

Near our house is an urban farm that uses Aquaponics to grow organic vegetables and fish.  I called them just before I left work, and asked them to have 6 freshly caught perch waiting for me as I picked up my kids from daycare and went home.  I asked them if they would fillet the fish for me, but they told me that they would not.  They offered to sell me frozen fillets, but I felt that this would defeat the purpose of the exercise.

We stopped in, and paid for the fish.  They handed me a bag filled with ice and perch.  I asked the clerk for tips on filleting them, and she directed me to the following YouTube video:

A fun fact: the girl in the video is the one who sold us the fish.  I’ll never forgive her.

Also: She’s right about wanting a fillet knife.  In fact, if you’re going to ever try this yourself, make sure that you have a knife that Quentin Tarantino would describe as “sharp as the devil himself“.

We got home, I watched the video, and then I mixed together my breading for the fish.  I opened up the bag, dumped out the ice, took out a very, very slippery fish, and put it on the cutting board.  I got my fillet knife, and started sawing at the fishie’s side, just beneath the pectoral fin, and the thing started flopping around.

I said a naughty word, and took two steps back.  This was not going according to plan.  I had really hoped that these fish would have been humanely killed to death before I got anywhere near them.

I decided that the kind thing to do would be to put an end to their fishy suffering as quickly and painlessly as I could manage.  I went to our knife drawer, and got my wife’s beautiful, and wickedly sharp Wüsthof paring knife.  I put its point to the fishie’s little fishy skull, said a short prayer, and lobotomized the shit out of him.

A job well done.  Now, on to dinner.

I took the knife out, and he started flopping around like an angry beaver’s tail.

I said another naughty word.  It turns out that perch are tough bastards.

At this point, the other five fish have begun to understand what’s going on, and have begun flopping around inside the bag.  I had to act quick before they formed a plan and made good their escape.

I had no interest in cutting all of the muscle off of a live animal.  I needed to find a way to very quickly and painlessly, and very permanently put an end to these slimy and hyperactive food items before they went all Stalag Luft 3 on me.

Those of you who have known me for a long time, know that in my youth I had a borderline unhealthy interest in knives and swords, and other sharp blades.  A few of these relics have followed me through the years, stowed at the bottom of my closet.  I ran to my room, and came back with this:


Even with this knife, chopping with all of the strength that my queasy stomach could muster, it took quite a bit of work to cut through the scales, the fins, the bones and gills.  There was fish blood, and other less easily identifiable substances all over the counter.  It quickly turned into a fishy blood-bath.

At this point, it was 30 minutes past our usual dinner time, and I decided to fillet these stupid, twitching headless fish corpses later.  I bagged them up again, hoping that they would be less active in an hour or two.   I used the breading that I had made on some chicken breasts that were in the refrigerator.

I wasn’t very hungry for dinner tonight.

No fish is safe from these guys, though.  They’re way more manly than me:

Important lessons, there. Thanks, J-Love.