#332: If the Cosmologist Ain’t Drinking, It’s No Party

June 11th, 2014

As some of you might recall, I’ve been out of town for the last few weeks. I loaded up the site with as many new stories as I had ready, but to fill some gaps I’ve been tossing in occasional “favorites” from Getting Strange, a blog I ran from 2008-10 on the late, lamented WindyCitizen.com.

The blog was a search for Chicago subculture and acted as sort of a protozoic 1,001 Chicago Afternoons. I’ve already rerun stories of nude bicycling and Boystown during my trip, so for this the last of the Getting Strange flashbacks, we go back to June 25, 2008, for a tale of dark matter and darker porter.

This week’s topic is astrophysics and cosmology.

For all my readers who made it past those last three words, I spent June 14 riding my bike naked through Chicago, and I spent June 16 at a drunken lecture about dark matter and dark energy. This is my life now.

The event was the most recent installment of Café Scientifique at the Map Room in Bucktown.

Café Scientifique is a global thing started by those crazy Brits, with their “enquiries” and expansive use of the letter “u” (colour, flavour, ouranges). All it is is a push to get people to bring science out of the classroom and into coffee shops, restaurants or, in this case, a Bucktown bar.

If you’ve never been to the Map Room, go. It’s one of those every-beer-on-the-planet bars but with old folks, young folks and everything in between. Good mix.

Actually, don’t go. Leave more room for me.

But back to the café. I pretty much invited everyone I know. I even did the Facebook thing, which proves that Facebook is the best way to get rejected by even your tangential acquaintances en masse. I invited 47 or so people. One came. We had a blast, though.

So what’s more alternative than physics? Punk? “Oh, I’m angry.” Hip-hop? “Oh, I’m angry but have rhythm.” Nerd-core? “Oh, I’m angry but scared of everyone and love Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim.”

You want people who don’t give a Plank’s constant about social mores, gather your geeks, my friend.

A bit of percussion to this tone: I arrived early and, as I was one of the first 50, got a table. Many arrived late. Two young, punkish women – one a southeast Asian with blue hair and tattoos and the other a completely shaved-head Caucasian with a bindi – politely asked if they could join my table. I told them to wait to see if my friends showed but, if not, they were welcome to join.

Later, an older woman with the reek of high school English teacher about her just sat down at my table uninvited and wouldn’t leave even after I told her and her guy I was saving the seats. Score one for the punks.

The speaker was Professor Michael S. Turner of the University of Chicago. I’ll just give a primer of what I remember between fine Belgian beers: Dark energy is causing the expansion of the universe, dark matter is a term for the percentage of the universe that we can’t see but can detect through its effects on visible matter and then some wacky joke to complete the comedic rule of three. I think my writing’s getting a bit formulaic.

The lecture itself was too short and really hard to hear. The question-and-answer session, however, rocked. The image of a cosmologist standing on a pool table with a beer in one hand and a microphone in the other is one that I hope never leaves me.

Turner fielded question after question from increasingly drunk smart people on the nature of the universe, cuts to science funding, the planned Large Hadron Collider on the Franco-Swiss border and any number of other topics. It was amazing and amazing fun.

Granted, I’m a nerd, but I had fun.

Also, this whole topic was sort of an excuse to tell one of my favorite jokes. I figure that anyone who made it this far might find this funny too.

Here it goes:

Heisenberg is in a car. Cop pulls him over. Cop says, “Do you have any idea how fast you were going?”

Heisenberg said, “No, but I know where I am.”

Click here to get it explained, you wussies.

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