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

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"

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

TAM 2012 Review - Wednesday

WednesdayThursdayFridayPenn's PartySaturday, Sunday


The plane arriving at my departure gate was being showered with water not because it wasn't on fire or anything. It was because all of the passengers were WWII vets. They were here as part of some event. Since most of them needed assistance debording, there was a big of a delay boarding the plane. I was worried that I wouln't make the connecting flight, but we did. Whatever time the vets needed, they deserved. 

 This is the view from the hotel room. I never made it to the pool. Not only did I not have time, it was TOO HOT even to go out to the pool.

Shortly after registering, James Randi, the name sake of the organization, came up to me and ask if this was my first TAM. I said yes. As soon as I said yes, he went around saying "We have a virgin over here! A TAM virgin."  Later, I ran into him again and someone asked if I could take a picture with him and Randi and that he would do the same. I agreed. When it was my turn to get a picture,I asked him if he would say "Wish you were here Celestia" Rather then saying that, he did a whole bit where he looked around for her and stuff. He really is a swell guy.

In the evening a bunch of TAMers hung out at the DelMar bar... A wonderful woman named Barbra brought some DELICIOUS red velvet sugar cookies. GENIUS!