Sunday, July 22, 2012

TAM 2012 Review - Thursday Workshop day

WednesdayThursdayFridayPenn's PartySaturday, Sunday

TAM Thursday was workshop day, Welcome reception, and screening of Teller's "Play Dead".

 You could pay a little extra above and beyond the cost of the convention itself to attend workshops. The workshops were smaller meetings that supposedly allowed for more interactivity then the standard presentations. There were two parallel tracks. You could swap between tracks, but there was no real way to see both tracks at once. .  You could pay to see them individually or you could get an access pass. There were four pairs of workshops, the fourth one was held on Sunday. The Sunday workshop was the best. It will be covered in another posting. 

I enjoyed all of the workshops. Please keep that in mind when reading the reviews. Any criticism listed addressed a specific area, not the workshop as a whole.

If you feel I've made any mistakes, please let me know so that I can correct them.

The first workshop I wento was "Skeptic 101".

 I chose this over "Witch-burning to God-men: Supporting Skepticism around the World" because I figured it would be more hands on, and might fill games in my knowledge of skepticism. The workshop was hosted by Kyle Hill. I turns out this was his first TAM presentation. I thought he did pretty good giving a good overview of skepticism and presenting some of the more egregious woo


The first video is from his demonstration of a homemade homeopathic remedy. While the demonstration was somewhat amusing, it was quite serious. Mothers are opting to give children homeopathic remedies rather then taking them to the doctor for serious issues.

The second video is a demonstration of how balance-band,magnetic amulet, and similar demonstrations work. After the demonstration he went into the mathematics of how it works. The trick is simply a subtle shift  in the angle that he pushes down at. 

The workshop aspect of this was everyone got to try the balance tricks on each other. It was interesting to experience just how different that slight shift in angle makes on one's balance.

The next workshop I went to was "Dr Google". 
I chose this over "Promoting Skepticism at the Local Level" because "Dr. Google" had Steven Novella.

(mild tangent) Throughout  the convention there were lots of little technical issues with getting presentations projected. I really think many of these issues can be resolved by putting everyone's presentations on one computer, and everyone agrees to use that computer to present from. (/mild tangent) 

The other presenters were Dr Rachael Dunlop, David Gorski, and Harriet Hall. The setup led me to believe that they were going to do short presentations then take questions. However they ran out of time. Some of the speakers when well over their allotted time. At one point I saw David put up a sign letting a speaker know they were well past their time, but it didn't seem to affect things. The talks were interesting. They covered things like: 

While the talks were decent, I was a bit disappointed in this workshop since there was no interaction. 

The next workshop I went to was: "Future of Sketicism online". 
I chose this over "Astronomy for Skeptics: Investigating “Lights” in the Sky" because I figured it would be more practical for me.

The workshop was a set of back and forth talks given by Tim Farley
and Derek Colanduno. This was followed up by a talk given by guest speaker Shane Greenup

Tim covered many of the social resources that are available online. He talked about the importance of utilizing these tools to help correct the missinformation that is out there. He has put most of the links relating to his talks online here. He presented later as a regular speaker and gave a high level review of his workshop. 

Tim Farley
Two of the things he stressed was the need to update wikipedia and report scam sites to web of trust. Google's new sidebar results for searches gathers a lot of it's data from wikipedia and wikipedia is a top result for many searches of woo. Web of trust offers a plugin that helps users avoid scams and sites that abuse privacy information. 

Derek Colanduno
Derek, on the other hand, focused his talk on location review sites. He talked extensively about foursquare's recently changed their site so that nearby hints show up. So, if you come across a psychic in the area you can put warnings for people to avoid them. He was really keen to use these tips to advertise organizations that offer rewards that can prove psychics to be true. He talked about how some users had their accounts shutdown for doing this. He stated you should simple use separate accounts to do this type of thing. In the back of my head, I was like "uh, you shouldn't be doing it because you are spamming, even if you are advertising a good organization, it is still spam."

After Tim and Derek wen back and forth with some presentations, they brought on Shane as a guest speaker to present RbutR

Shane Greenup
RbutR is a browser plugin that lets you link articles/blogs/and related content to rebuttals. The plugin is currently Chrome only. Shane is looking for fellow skeptics to start finding articles and their rebuttals. Or, if there are no rebuttals, to create them and add them to RbutR.

The last workshop of the day was: "Coalition building".
I went to this one instead of "Investigative Methods for the Skeptic" because it was in the same room as the previous workshop and things were starting up shortly after the previous one ended. Also, once I saw that Dave Silverman of American Atheist was going to be talking I KNEW it was going to be interesting. Though he made it interesting in a way I didn't expect.

The workshop started off with Sharon HillChris Stedman,Kitty MervineDavid Silverman, and David Niose intrudocuing themselves and some of their background in working with divergent groups for a common cause. After a bit of the introduction we group up and discussed what we would do and the groups we would try to engage to fight for a hypothetical situation. Our group came up with a way to involve Tea Partiers and Union members to unite behind our cause. :) 

Oh, about David taking me by surprise. 

 For those of you who don't know, David Silverman, and his organization, American Atheists, are the most angry and in your face Atheist group out there. They fight for many of the nitpick things that most atheists don't even care about. When I see him on TV, I sometimes hear myself say "Jesus, calm the F down". But, when he was talking about  coalition building and what was done to get the Reason Rally to work, he was amazingly warm and heart felt. I hope JREF puts this part of the workshop online. It's a side of David I had not seen before.

After the workshops was the welcome reception. This was the official kickoff of The Amazing Meeting. We sat down for some food and drinks and James Randi gave some opening words.

At night Teller of "Penn and Teller" presented a screening of  "Play Dead" and answered questions afterwards.

BTW, The official review: "It was like Mary Poppins, but less creepy"

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