Kids with ‘Dr’ in front of their names: Interview with Ryan Somma

Ryan Somma is a software developer from coastal North Carolina who blogs on Ideonexus. It’s all a blur now, but I think the Science Blogging Conference last month was his second.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your scientific background? What is your Real Life job?
Scientific Background? (Looking around nervously.) Why do you wanna know? Ummm… My father was head of the Microbiology Department at ODU, and my mother teaches Nursing there. I rebelled against them by majoring in English and smoking lots of pot… The security guards at my high school nicknamed me “Professor.” Does that count?
I fell in love with science when I experienced an iconoclasm after reading Carl Sagan’s Demon-Haunted World, which I picked up to learn why religious beliefs were silly and unsupportable, instead I learned that my belief in alien abductions was silly and unsupportable. I wanted to learn what else I was wrong about, and Science, while not “truth” with a capital-T, is the closest approximation to it. Really, my science background is immersing myself in online resources, like ScienceBlogs.
During the day I write Aviation Logistics Management Software for the Coast Guard… poorly..
You are a volunteer at The Port Discover Science Center. Can you tell us more about The Port Discover Science Center and what you do there?
Yes! The Port Discover Science Center is one-room in downtown Elizabeth City that brings daily science activities to the children of this small town, where I’ve ended up. They run on a yearly budget of less than $60k, which is amazing considering all the activities they host there.
My role has been largely one of benefactor. I’ve donated and maintained computers for the center, set up a flight simulator, provided DVDs, software, a projector, sound-system, build exhibits, etc, etc. I’ve done what I can to ensure they have a wide variety of daily exhibits. There should be little Science Centers like this all over the place. They should be like churches, building community bonds everywhere.
What do you want to do/be when you grow up?
Vice President of Cool. Duh.
Ryan%20Somma%20interview%20pic.jpgWhat is the role of Azrael in the Tragedy of the Commons?
Hmmmm… sustaining herself off her master’s scraps… subservient to a greedy and decrepit old man… flee-ridden… I think Azrael represents George Bush. He’s pretty-much the Oil Industry’s and Dick Cheney’s pet, and Gargamel does a good job of representing those interests.
Only, a pet nematode would more accurately reflect George Bush’s intelligence and invertebrate nature, don’t you think?
(Sidenote: I recieved a lot of hate mail for that article, which I’m cultivating a thick skin towards. I aspire to one day handling criticism with PZ Meyer’s sharp wit.)
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favorites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while following the Conference?
That’s the best part of the conference! Discovering all these new leads for information. I’ve been very impressed with the intellectual content and classical references in Thomas Levenson’s Inverse Square Blog as well as Eric Roston’s Carbon Nation, and the Bibliophilism of John Dupuis’ Confessions of a Science Librarian. It’s so cool to find so many like-minded intellectuals.
Meeting you kids in person gave me deeper insight and appreciation of blogs I was familiar with, but not always reading intensely. The sessions with Dr Rundkvist’s Aardvarchaeology gave me a new outlook on his blog’s voice, while the session with Dr. Stemwedel of Adventures in Ethics and Science gave me a better appreciation for one of her blog’s main subjects.
I think Science Blogs has been awesome. You guys have made scientists accessible, while maintaining your oftentimes-erudite-incomprehensibility. On my blog I started collecting Science Proponents in my FaceBook friends, like you, Bora, which is like collecting sports cards, only scientists.
Your blog posts are quite provocative, yet in person you seem quite shy. Now that you have met a bunch of bloggers in person, do they behave differently than what you could guess from their online personas? Is this ability for people to experiment and be who they want to be online a positive transformative experience that, for instance, teenagers should experience as a part of growing up?
Figuring out who you are online is a fantastic experience. I was figuring it out in Elementary School on the BBSes (before the Webbernets) using my Commodore 64. Online, you can be whatever you want to be in a world of pure ideas. My only concern for teens is that they should do it anonymously. There’s more freedom that way, and you don’t have to worry about something stupid you posted in the heat of the moment haunting you years later when you’ve grown out of it.
The biggest thing that really got me meeting all these Science Blogging heroes was that so many of them are kids with “Dr” in front of their names. I thought people with doctorates were supposed to be old and feeble and smoke pipes and wear cardigans!!! How dare you all be human?!?! : )
It was so nice to see you and thank you for the interview.
Check out all the interviews in this series.