Sunday, September 2, 2012

TAM 2012 - Sunday

WednesdayThursdayFridayPenn's PartySaturday, Sunday

Last day of TAM started off with a series of short talks. These were talks that anyone could apply to give. These folks still had to pay their way, there was no financial gain for these talks. I was expecting these to be pretenses to sell books. Much like many other things about this convention. I was wrong. I don't think any of them plugged any books.

The first talk was "Quackery no longer just refers to ducks: The growing prevalence of CAM in veterinary medicine" given by Martha Keller. Wow, I didn't know there was soo much alternative medicine in the veterinary world. It is really wacky, the acupuncture meridian points for a horse were arbitrarily copied over from a human. There is even one for the gallbladder which horses don't have. I can certainly understand why people would use CAM, I recently spent hundres of dollars to find out what was up with my cat. 

The next talk was "Scientific Deception: The Billy Meier Metal Samples" by Ivan Alvarado. His talk centered on a specific mysterious found metal sample. He really showed how easily  electrospectrography can be misinterpreted or blatantly falsified.  

Dr. Ray Hall, the curator of the sunday papers explains whats is going on. 
David Gamble and Eran Segev talked about their experiences with lawsuits. 

Jeffrey Rosky gave a somewhat creepy talk about how post-conviction polygraph isn't useful for testing, supervision, or otherwise learning about the offender.

End of the sunday papers.

 Christine Shellska talked about the way the Discovery Institue's uses language to make themselves out to be the skeptics that are advancing science while simultaneously trying to remove critical thinking and science. 

Dr Rachael Dunlop, David Gorski, Harriet Hall and Steven Novella had a panel on alternative medicine.  

Here is a video of the panel.

Carrie Poppy of Ross and Carrie spoke about using in-group language to reach people.
Here is a video of her talk. 

Brian Dunning did a bunch of different demonstrations to show how much the brain sucks. One of the demonstrations showed the power of in-group thinking. An audience member found himself providing the same answers to a question even though he otherwise knew it was wrong. 
Lyz Liddell talked about the Student Secular Alliance and how successful it has become and encouraged everyone to support it.

Christopher DiCarlo suggests that the following questions will tell you a lot about yourself, asking this of others will tell you a lot about them. 
What can I know?
What am I?
Why am I here?
How should I behave?
What is to come of me?

Tim Farley gave that led PZ Myers to call Tim dumb.  PZ never heard the speech, he just came to that conclusion based on what someone tweeted about it the speech. His speech covered a lot of the same ground as his workshop, but covered things at a higher level. While I may disagree with some of the things he said, I can assure you, having seen two of his presentations, Tim is not a dumb guy. 

Here is the video of his talk. Judge for yourself.
Karen Stollznow, James Randi, Carrie Poppy, Banachek and Benjamin Radford had a panel on doing paranormal investigations. 

Sean Faircloth did his usual ranting about the 
Religio-Industrial Complex. He spent some time encouraging people to help him track down 
financial abuses of Religio-Industrial Complex.
Next up Ray Hyman put together what was my favorite workshop. Ray Hyman used to be a professional palm reader. He used to believe that what he was doing was real. It wasn't until one day he discovered that readings he was giving was the complete opposite of what they should have been.  The people who he gave the readings to all felt that he was completely right. That is when he realized something else was going on. His story was a reminder that some people selling woowoo actually believe it, and that until you have evidence that someone is scamming you should respect the fact that the seller of woowoo may not know better. The workshop was really cool, we got to cold readings on each other.

This lead us to the final event of the night. The million dollar challenge. The original candidate backed out at the last minute. The backup candidate was the creator of a Dynactiv SR, a power band like device. I didn't realize how tedious these tests are. Here is someone else's writeup for more details.  
To get the million dollars he only need to be able to tell which box had his power band 17 out of 20 times. It was clear by the 10th iteration that he was hitting at a level identical to chance.  
Throughout the convention Randi and many of the speakers went out of their way to make themselves accessible. Even after things were all over, Randi hung out in the exit area to chat with people who wanted to talk, get pictures, signatures, or what have you.  Note: I'll be going back and filling in these post with more information over time. I just wanted to get something out there for now. :)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

TAM 2012 - Saturday

Sorry for the delay getting this post out. I was on vacation quite busy. Now the most recent blog entry won't feature a half naked woman and a half naked man as it's first two pictures. ANYWAYS, On with the TAM 2012 review!

EVERYONE was dead tired Saturday morning. I managed to foget to take a picutre of the first speaker, Benjamin Radford, give a talk on Doomsday and the 2012 Mayan Prophecy. He covered some of the other ends of the world predictions and explained where the Mayan calendar scare came from.

Sara E. Mayhew, a manga illustrator, gave a cute presentation using some of her art she taught us how to draw famous skeptics and how her skepticism connects with her art.

Next was a  panel on Skepticism and the Humanities staring artists Amy Davis Roth, and Hai-Ting Chinn, along with academics  Miranda Celeste Hale, Eve Siebert, and Robert Blaskiewicz. There were some rather humorous exchanges between the two groups.
I hope Miranda isn't too upset that I posted this picture, but it's the best picture I have to show just how tired everyone was Saturday morning.

The "I didn't expect that" award goes to Jamy Ian Smith's "Overlapping Magisteria".  I thought this talk was going to somehow tie into Stephen Jay Gould's "Non-Overlapping Magisteria", NOMA, viewpoint. For those of you who don't know NOMA basically says that religion and science are completely separate domains and that one does not instruct the other. 

I was wrong. 

His talk was about skepticism and atheism. It was an extremely well done and passionate talk. I was sucked into his talked. I think he and Carol Tavris were the two most charismatic speakers at this TAM. I'll probably write more on this talk later. For now, here is his talk with the tweets that were happening as he spoke.

Steve Novella spoke about perception.  He said that what we know and remember are often wrong. Our memories and our observation are, by their very nature, false in some way. Our brainconstantly fills in gaps.  

Next up Pamela Gay gave a powerful and moving talk about making the world a better place - change the world. You can find the transcript of her talk here:  I encourage each of you to watch the video below. It's a Google+ hangout ad, but it's really good.

Sean Caroll talked about morality as it relates to life the universe and everything. Not sure how he avoid to providing the answer: 42.

Elisabeth Cornwell talked about social networks and a bit about cyber bullying.

Lawrence Krauss talked a bit about nothing, literally. Nothing is unstable, stuff pops in an out of existence in nothing. He also explained the Higgs Boson, the significance of it, and why some physics  including himself, are not happy with what the Higgs Boson says about the universe.
The last "talk" was an interview with Penn and Teller. Interesting interview. I hope they put it online.

Teller answered some questions.
Penn laughed, a lot.
During Q&A Lawrence Krauss shows up again.

Also, poker happened, didn't do well.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Penn's Private Bacon and Doughnut Rock and Roll Dance Party

I really didn't know what to expect from the party. Shortly after I got to the waiting area, I saw a half naked women talking to a security guy. If nothing else, this was going to be an interesting show.

 One of the themes of the show seemed to be Penn taking his shirt off and throwing it to the audience. He started this even before the show started. The guy in front of me caught his first shirt.

His videographer was dedicated to getting good shots. 

I'm not going to comment more in this post other then to say, stay tuned to the end of the pictures to watch Randi take a moment to talk about Penn and Teller. 


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

TAM 2012 Friday - First day of talks.

WednesdayThursdayFridayPenn's PartySaturday, Sunday

Friday: First day of talks/panels, Friggatriskaidekaphobia Treatment Center, Vaccines, and Skeptic's Guide to Poker.

Morning Talks

The day started off with a humorous opening video that covered everything from why it wasn't called #tamX, to the fact that the MC George Hrab looks like Professor X and Michael Stipe. The Michael Stipe leads to George walking out on stage singing a TAM parody of REM's "End of the World".  I managed to record him singing the song, but I'm unhappy with the audio.

After the opening bit DJ Grothe and James Randi provided the opening remarks. By the way, the HAL like logo on the podium watched all of us all throughout the convention.

  I should mention that because I have bad hearing, the TAM folks let me sit in the reserved section. For that, I'm VERY VERY thankful.
James Randi took a bit of his talk to talk about Red Lights, which is a movie that recently came out staring  Robert De Niro and Sigourney Weaver which apparently was lifted off of Randi's books and JREF writings, but offered no mention or credit to either. They are apparently going after them. I'm not sure what the status is now. I can't find any local theaters showing it, and it's not on the itunes store. Maybe I'll watch the movie via other means.

Then it was time for the real talks to begin. Before each speaker or panel came out to speak, George Hrab came out and played an intro song of his own creation. I managed to record most of them, but the only one with close to reasonable audio was the one for Michel Shermer. 

Michael Shermer talk, "The Moral Arc of Science and the Social Singularity" went over the fact that most metrics show that the world appears to be a much more moral place then it use to be and that our lives are better then they ever have been. 

I thought it was pretty awseome that Randi sat so close to me for Shermer's talk. Though I'm not sure he was happy with the picture.

Next up was Eugenie Scott who's talk "The Future of the Creationism and Evolution Controversy" discussed the on going battle to keep science in the science classes.

Link video of her talk.

I skipped the "Skepticism about the Future: Techno-optimism vs. Reality?" panel, the "Future of Skepticism: New Adventures in Critical Thinking" talk, and "Talking to Tomorrow – Prediction and Language" talk. Instead I went to Friggatriskaidekaphobia clinic, got vaccinated, and ate lunch since Skeptics Guide to Poker was held during lunch. 


The sign letting us know where we can get vaccinated didn't look sketchy at all, so I also got vaccinated. With news of a possible pertussis outbreak, I'm glad I got it done.

Friggatriskaidekaphobia Treatment Center

Friggatriskaidekaphobia is the fear of Friday the Thirteenth. I believe this was put together by the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia. I made sure to set aside time to go to this event since one of my favorite caricaturist, Celestia of 2 heads studios fame had created a poster and a Myan calendar piñata for the event.

There was one side of the Myan piñata.

Here is the other side. Notice the small plastic bat. You were able to put your name in for a drawing to hit the piñata with that little bat. If you keep reading you'll see video of the piñata vs bat incident. 

Here is a timelapse video of the Celestia making the piñata.

The Friggatriskaidekaphobia Treatment Center was very educational. There were exhibits that detailed where many of the things people are scared of came to be. And, just how silly they are. 

Besides the drawing for being able to break the piñata, there was a drawing for breaking a mirror. You'll need to read to the end to see that video as well.  Also, I was lucky enough to be there when they had a (un)fortune teller. My fortune in this case was "Everyone will know it was you who farted". Another fortune read "You will die". or something like that. 

Skeptic's Guide to Poker

I don't have any pictures of the Skeptic's Guide to Poker, because it's my understanding that you can't take pictures on the casino floor. Later I saw others doing it, so maybe my impression was wrong. Either way, the poker classes were educational, but poorly handled. The instructor didn't show up very late. Some of us, myself included skipped out on other talks so they wouldn't miss the class and still able to get something to eat. Because the instructor was late, he offered to come again at night, which he never showed up for. He skipped on his offered evening sessions TWICE. He was also late to the scheduled class the following afternoon. I wouln't have been so irked if I had some notice of these delays and cancelations so that I would not have skipped so many things.

Afternoon Talks

The aforementioned Skeptic's Guide to Poker also ran late. This ment that I missed the first part of "James Randi in conversation with Jamy Ian Swiss". I also didn't get to watch it from my usual seat. It was very entertaining as Randi always is. :)
This was followed by an panel on the future of skepticism. Featuring Tim Farley, DJGrothe, Jamy Ian Swiss, Barbara Drescher and Reed Esau
I manage to completely miss taking a picture of Stuart Firestein when he gave his "The Values of Science: Ignorance, Uncertainty, Doubt" talk. The cornerstone of his talk was about how science and scientific discovery rewards us with more ignorance. It seems counter intuitive, but as science progresses we are able to ask more and better questions based on the things we learned. 

Next, Bruce Hood gave his talk "The Self Illusion – How Your Brain Creates You".  He used some visual illusions to show you that what you perceive is not controlled by you. You can look at an illusion, know what it is and how it works, but you will still perceive it the same way.  
Up to this point, I had felt like I had heard what most of the speakers had to say in some way shape or form before. Sure, I learned some. I got to hear some interesting ideas, but nothing really gripped me. Until Carol Tavris have her Keynote.

Carol's Keynote was "A Skeptical Look at Pseudoneuroscience" 

I didn't know how much quack science was happening in the neurosciences. There is a lot of questionable science around fMRIs.

Towards the end of her talk she reviewed an fMRI study on salmon, where the salmon were dead. Here is a wired article on the study.

She was also the first talk to get heavily quoted on twitter with: "If we can't recognize human suffering without an fMRI we are technomyopic indeed""

Here is a video of her talk.
After the talks the brought out a mirror and the piñata to be broken. You can tell they were extremely concerned about safety. They advised the person breaking the mirror to gently tap the mirror with the hammer at first. As for the piñata, the used that tiny plastic bat that you see in the picture I posted earlier.


Next TAM posting:
Penn's Private Bacon and Doughnut Rock and Roll Dance Party