Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Ask a Scientist

A year after my 1st failed attempt, I resolved to make it to Ask a Scientist this Tuesday evening. I got to the Axis Cafe at around 5:50pm, 70 minutes before the start time. Even so, most of the table seating was already occupied. But at least I was able to order a sandwich & get an actual chair to sit in. By 6:15 pretty much all the seating was spoken for. There were probably 80 of us inside. The rest ended up in an overflow area outside. Who knew there was such a demand for science talk?

The event started with an 11 minute video produced for KQED about discovery of rocky outcroppings in Sonoma County that were possibly polished smooth by mammoths of the Pleistocene Era. The video includes an interview with Douglas Long, the evening's speaker. The substance of the evening was Mr. Long's PowerPoint slide lecture on the Pleistocene megafauna, the possible man-made cause of their extinction, & a wacky plan to re-populate North America with Pleistocene megafauna near-relatives.

Until 10,000 years ago, North American was home to giant versions of beavers, rodents, bears, tigers & more marvelous mammals now extinct. The horse evolved in North America, spread to Asia & Europe, then went extinct here, only to be re-introduced by the Spaniards. The cause of the extinction of these animals is a controversy, but Mr. Long feels the evidence is good that over-kill by humans was a major factor.

Mr. Long is an outgoing speaker & gave comprehensive answers to the audience questions, despite starting to lose his voice from a cold. He's a man in control of his subject matter. He also brought a cast of a saber tooth tiger skull, an actual mammoth tooth fossil, & some fine Clovis points, which he described as "professionally carved". I handled all the items, &, like everyone else, was especially impressed by the size & the heaviness of the mammoth tooth. Even though it's just a tooth, it instantly makes one feel puny.

The crowd had its expected science geeks, but there was also a fair share of hipsters & couples. One woman passed the time by working on a needle-point frame. Is this a cheap night out? If I decide to attend again, I'll show up even earlier. It's a long time to sit there, but the Axis Cafe is quite pleasant, my turkey sandwich was great & the staff is friendly & service-oriented.

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