The Amazing Meeting/TAM 7 ~ Penn & Teller ~ Tattoo Of Blood

The Amazing Meeting (TAM) is a weekend conference of science and skepticism put on by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) every in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. TAM 7 was my 2nd conference.


Tattoo Of Blood & TAM7 & Penn & Teller

Like sands through an hour glass so run the days of our TAMs.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

My friend Heather drove me to the Manchester, NH airport.  We arrived early so we stopped at McDonald’s before hand. 

As it turned out, we could’ve left later as my plane was delayed about forty minutes due to bad weather in Florida.                               

Oh well, I was able to get a window seat. 

I sat next to a young dancer on her way to a week long class in Vegas.  Her brother and friends sat behind us.  Next to her was a drinking mother (guess she wanted to fly the liquid sky).  Her family sat in front of us. 

Flying above the clouds makes me think of being on the underside of an oxygen ocean during rough waves.  Then the clouds break and the earth appears again.  A whale cloud swims between us.  The Grand Canyon.  The desert looks like arteries with iron ore blood drifting through. 

Due to the late start from Manchester I missed the hotel shuttle.  Luckily Paul, whom I had met at a JREF function over a year ago, was on my flight (deja vu, as he was on my flight last year too) and we shared a cab and a nice chat to South Point hotel.

Checking in took some time.  Not nearly enough clerks.  Registered for TAM and bumped into the honeymooning Mr, & Mrs. Green, Jonas and Mary. 

Off to my room to settle in.  The room and bath was large.  Met up with my bestest JREF buddy and TAM roommate Chip. 
A college friend, April, lives about five hours from Vegas so she came down to visit some friends in the area and the four of us went out for the evening.  Hit a large, three story mall on the strip, The Forum I believe.  My grandmother would’ve loved it.  Had a great meal at a pasta bar. 

We went to the Bellagio after that.  Their water garden is very cool. 

The bathroom at the Bellagio had chandeliers.  That really didn’t seem necessary.  I don’t know if it was the luxury of the bathroom or just the fact that we were in a bathroom that made me think of suggesting doing something a bit low brow.  I stood on a toilet so my head showed over the door, one of April’s friends stood just inside the door and dropped her pants so only her shoes and pants showed from the bottom and April got a picture from outside.  Then her friend and I switched places.  Can’t wait to see those pics!

Read a bit more of “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand before bed.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The breakfast this year was much better than last year.  No sugary pastry but fruit, mini bagels, cereal, juice, coffee, tea. 

I treated myself to two books, “Secrets Of The Sideshows” and “Adventures In Paranormal Investigation” both by Joe Nickell.  I enjoyed watching him on P&T BS, reading his many articles and listening to his interviews on podcasts.  He’s always made me think of a cross between John Wayne and Captain Kangaroo.  Luckily I was able to get him to sign them and thank him for his work.                                    

Hal Bidlack, the Prince of Puns, the Bard of Bad Jokes, was once again the perfect MC.

Randi thanked everyone for being there and thanked everyone for wishing him a speedy recovery (I was not aware he was sick).  He said he had an unwelcome visitor of sorts removed and that he would be continuing with treatment.  He apologized for the fact that he would not be able to shake hands with anyone due to not being able to risk catching a cold.  He appeared full of energy during his opening remarks but was wheeled out of the conference room at the end of the day. 

The keynote speaker was Bill Prady, the executive producer of the tv show “The Big Bang Theory.”  He was laid back, down to earth, and of course, funny.  The clips he showed from his series made me wish I had my cable hooked up.

Found Bunny, looking like she just left a Ball, during the first short break.  She hadn’t even checked in yet, saying, “I know my priorities, TAM first!”  Chip and I had saved her a seat.

Fintan Steele (a name one questioner said was the perfect gay porn star name) was off color funny and a fountain of information with his lecture “Personalized Medicine, Personalized Mysticism”.

Phil Plait then introduced a special speaker, Robert Lancaster, from  Robert was still in a wheelchair and speaking slowly but much better than I thought he’d be after such a devastating stroke. 

Bunny and I sat together for the TAM lunch.  There certainly was not a lack of food in the buffet.

Jamy Ian Swiss and Randi were next, discussing Randi’s career and showing clips from Johnny Carson, Alice Cooper, and several straight jacket escapes.  I missed so much because I did not discover Randi earlier.

The Director of Science And Entertainment Exchange (SEE), Jennifer Ouellette, gave a lot of info on how Hollywood deals with Science and their story lines in her lecture.
The Anti Anti Vax panel, containing Joe Albietz, David Gorski, Michael Goudeau, Harriet Hall, and Steve Novella covered not just why and how anti vax and anti science is damaging but why pro vax is good and how it has helped humanity.

I sat outside for the Live Auction as it was just too loud.

Joe Nickell talked about the beginnings of modern myths such as crop circles, Bigfoot, and UFO sightings.  I love listening to him because he is just a walking library of experiences.

Bunny declared that the day’s lectures were very good with the exception of moments that made it feel like a “Power Point Death March.”

Finally got to meet Sherry!  She, Bunny, Jonas, Mary and I went to dinner at the Coronado CafĂ© in South Point.  We then took some very interesting pictures with the South Point horse and rider statue.

I hung out with Bunny and Sherry before the evening’s show (an extra event I didn’t pay to attend).  Randi was there and I asked if we could take a picture with him, apologizing that we were not dressed as “naughty nurses.”  He said he’d take a rich, old widow.  I replied that my grandmother was single, owned property and was an older woman - they know things.  He laughed and said make sure to give him her number. 

Teller also came by.  I was a bit uneasy about talking to him here as it wasn’t after he talked on a panel or after his show at the Rio; he was here as an audience member for a show.  Sherry said I should go for it.  So I did.  I thanked him for his work and said I had something to share, or perhaps show him would be the better way to say it.  I couldn’t really see his reaction but I heard him exclaim “A tattoo of blood!” 

Penn came by a few moments later and I did the same thing.  He tried to call Teller over. 

As I was leaving Teller came over with his phone camera and asked to get a picture.  Cool.

It was very crowded and I didn’t get a chance to really speak to either one of them but they seemed to really like it.

Back in my room I had a nice conversation with Chip, watched the end of the movie “The Rock” and read a bit more of “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand.   

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Jay Novella premiered his short film, “Ghost Hunters” (must be a link on the SGU homepage).  It was a brilliant piece of comedy.

Sid, Rebecca’s boyfriend, asked her to marry him.  Set up like a surprise, her family and friends were in attendance, George Hrab provided music, A Kovacs officiated, Adam Savage served as ring bearer.  Wow.
Michael Shermer spoke on Tribes and Politics with his usual smooth and witty thoughtfulness (and worked in the best descriptive used at TAM, “Dumbfuckistan” for part of the US).  .

Adam Savage, from “Mythbusters”, gave a very straightforward, down to earth, personal speech, filled with anecdotes from his life, on “Failing Upwards.”

The panel “Skepticism and Magic”, moderated bu DJ Grothe, consisted of Jamy Ian Swiss, Ray Hyman, Penn & Teller, Randi, and was ethically driven and thought provoking.

The 1stAnnual Citizen Skeptic Award was presented to Robert Lancaster for his websites www.stopkaz.comand

Shared a nice lunch with Bunny and Sherry.

Steve Bauer gave a great lecture on Jerry Andrus, including a short film of Jerry giving a mini tour of his home, the Castle of Chaos, which left no inch without inventions. 

The panel “Skepticism in Broadcasting” with Bill Prady, Penn & Teller, Adam Savage and Jennifer Ouellette was insightful and contained what was probably the funniest line of TAM, Prady’s “the ‘Father Bruce’s Gay Fly Fishing Fashions’ channel.’

Phil Plait spoke on Doomsday scenarios with his sharp wit. 

I skipped the Live Auction but heard that bullets from Penn & Teller’s catch went for $1100.

Sherry, Bunny and I had dinner at the Rio, took goofy pictures with a plastic frog necklace in a gift shop, and Sherry found a hawt dress for herself in a boutique.

Bunny & I went to the P&T theatre, signed the envelope and checked out the box on stage (needless to say, I didn’t really try to check out the box for trying to figure out the box, or anything Teller does magically, would be like trying to chase Teller down the hallways of his own mind and thinking you have a chance of catching him).  Discussed a bit of “Atlas Shrugged” when she noticed my “Rearden Metal” like bracelet.  Then we took our seats to listen to some jazz.
The back of the stage was light with an ampersand that changed color (as well as the background it was against).  On either side of the stage were projected red ampersands.  Mike Jones, with Penn on bass, played incredibly.  That man’s fingers can fly.

My seat was front row, slightly to stage left.

The show began with Penn walking out and Teller coming out of the box.  The bits were as follows (I don’t know the actual names for some of the bits so I’ll use the best descriptive I can):

Polyester Prophet (with a young audience member)
Cups And Balls
TSA (with an audience member and Georgie)
Red Ball
Psychic Comedian
Romantic Fire Eating (with Georgie)
Newspaper Tear (still included my favorite line, “Folgers and Smuckers are merging; they’re going to call themselves either Smolgers or....well, they’re going to call themselves Smolgers”)
Woman in Halves (with Georgie)
Coins And Fish
The bit based on Richard Wiseman’s work (with an audience member)
Nail Gun
Hanky (my seat was perfect for this as when Teller made the confetti fly I was, for a brief moment, in the eye of a tornado of sparkling color, beautiful, and afterwards realized I had ‘confetti cleavage’)
Bullet Catch (with two audience members)               

Bought a pack of P&T cards for my Sis.  Penn seemed to be in a bit of a hurry and I missed getting him to sign the pack as well as the copy of his book “Sock” and the sock monkey I brought (will bring the items next year).  I caught Teller for a quick picture but he seemed busy with visitors so I didn’t try to keep him for sigs. 

Bunny went backstage and Sherry and I went for soda and ice cream back at South Point.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Yummy breakfast.

Sunday Papers

Teaching Critical Thinking in a Therapeutic Setting by Don Riefler; subtle wit and endeared audience with Jolly Ranchers.

Patently Ridiculous, The Perfect Sommelier by David Green; discussed patents along the lines of magnets that age wine quickly.

Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt, The Pillars of Justification for Cyber Security by Adam Slagell; covered the idea of Security Theatre, the illusion of safety and cost effectiveness, mostly computer but some airport (stated he was glad it was the “shoe bomber” and not the “underwear bomber”).

The Constructive Skeptic, Rebranding Skepticism at the Grassroots Level by Steve Cuno; image control for skeptics, skepticism as a Service Industry, “I believe in what the evidence supports” as opposed to “I don’t believe in....”

Brian Dunnings’ short film “Truth Hurts” (link must be on and then his lecture, So What Were The ‘Lost Cosmonaut’ Radio Transmissions?”                     

How Are We Doing? Evaluating the Skeptical Web Presence by Tim Farley and Christian Walters.
Phil announced that next year’s TAM will be the weekend after the July 4th holiday again and also again be held at South Point. 

I found this to be disappointing.  I enjoy being able to walk outside and be on the Strip instead of having to take a $14 to $18 (one way) cab ride or negotiate the time for buses.  I guess people who have gone to multiple TAMs are bored with the Strip and don’t care.  

Unfortunately, I did not know about the Million Dollar Challenge when I bought my plane tickets so was unable to stay for it.  Had a quick lunch with Bunny.  It seems we always get into the best conversations about an hour before someone’s leaves for the airport. 

Again, plane delayed almost an hour. 

Great view of the Strip when taking off and turning. Saw the Rio distinctly (Bye for another year, Take Care Boys!). 

Dotted clouds between the plane and the earth look like sleeping chasing us.

Being inside the clouds is like being in a sleeping, non dreaming brain in between synapsis firing.

Flying into the sunset.  Pink line along the horizon.  Orange, red, blue on the tip of the plane wing appears to almost be glowing in the dying light. 

The city lights make me think of neural pathways, all knowledge going to and fro. 

TAM, once again, was a wonderful fun and a learning experience for me, both on a general knowledge level and a personal level.  Inspiring. 

I’m going to grab that inspiration and run. 

Tattoo Of Blood: Who Is Responsible For Your Life?

Recently, I got a Tattoo of Blood (a tattoo with no ink, disappears as you heal).  I’ve been thinking about this for a few months.  I wasn’t sure why I wanted to do this.  I am a huge wussy when it comes to pain.  Getting my hair permed is medieval torture (and much like a TOB, is costly and not permanent). 

Seventeen years ago I got an ink tattoo.  I remember being shocked at how much it hurt.  The first ten minutes were terrible.  Yes, I shed a few tears.  Then I got used to being in pain and was ok for the rest of the hour it took.  I’ve never regretted it. 

Part of the reason I wanted to do this was to see if I could sit through it again and maybe get through it with no tears.  If I could deliberately put myself in pain to get something that was just for “fun” & not permanent.  Perhaps I could use it as a symbol, a remembrance, to help me get through things that I don’t have control over.  Perhaps I could also use the memory to help me get through other things I hesitate to do because I know they will cause me some kind of pain (physical, mental, emotional, financial, of whatever form) yet will help me to a better life or be a better person. 

Surprisingly, the TOB hurt much less then I remember my IT hurting.  I was rather shocked at how much less.  There were a few spots that were a bit more tender then others and the fact that it’s not a quick pain (like a piercing, unless one is into “machine gun ear piercing”) adds on, but over all it was tolerable.  I did the usual things one does to refocus; listened to the music being played (had to watch that because I didn’t want to start tapping my foot), thought about the book I was reading (Atlas Shrugged), played with my bracelet.  Occasionally the tattooist would make conversation (it was his first TOB). 

Recently, I asked someone who is responsible for their life.  Not who is responsible for giving them life but who is responsible for their life, as in the decision making process and dealing with the outcomes of those decisions on all levels (emotional, mental, physical, financial, etc). 

The question “who is responsible for your life?” is a very easily answered question, or so I thought.  It can usually be answered in a one word, two word or, three word sentence.  It also shouldn’t matter who’s asking.  Whether it be a wino bumping into you on the street or your lover, the answer should be the same.  The questioner is irrelevant, it doesn’t matter if they “deserve” an answer or not, the answerer deserves an answer. 

As the conversation went on I was of course thinking about their responses.  I use “responses” because the question was never directly and simply answered. 

Their responses inspired a realization for me: I don’t think I have ever been asked or have asked myself that question. 

Of course, then I thought about what I would’ve answered if I had been asked at various times of my life.  I don’t think I would’ve been able to answer, or should I say, answer properly, or to put it bluntly, I don’t think I would’ve answered simply and directly. 

Oh, I probably would’ve made a joke at one time. 

Another time, I would’ve gone into some long story involving my childhood, which, granted, is probably the root of some personal issues but at this point in my life would be the equivalent of my saying I’m over weight because of baby fat.  Whatever else childhood is or was, it’s over.  Vent, take the lessons to be learned and move on (yes, I know, easier said then done, but what isn’t, and just because it isn’t easy to do doesn’t mean that it’s what shouldn’t be done).

I may have even remarked that my chemical make up or heredity may play a part in my life (I wouldn’t be the first in the family).  Now that is true for some people and of course that’s something that a person can’t help, like having diabetes.  However, just because it’s not one’s “fault” doesn’t mean that it’s not one’s responsibility.  Just as it’s a diabetic’s responsibility to deal with their disease, it is a person’s responsibility to make and deal with decisions and their outcomes. 

I probably would’ve played the martyr card as well.  ‘Why is it no matter what I do I just can’t win.  I try and try and it doesn’t get any easier.’  Like all my ventures should automatically sparkle just because I put my gold into them.  One can do everything right and for all the right reasons and still fail/loose.  Vent, take the lessons, move on.

Reasons and excuses, excuses and reasons.  There’s always something that could stop me from getting what I want because I don’t like what I’d have to do to get it.  Sometimes one has to do what one doesn’t like to get what one wants.  Sometimes there are valid reasons to not do something, like not having enough money.  That can just plan old suck.  Other times it’s simply dislike: ‘I don’t enjoy/feel comfortable doing that.’  Once a decision is made and acted upon, whether it’s in my control, partially in my control, or out of my control, it is done and I have to live with it.  I can vent to my friends for a bit but then it’s up to me to deal with it.  No, this isn’t me putting on a facade in front of my friends.  It’s me dealing and living with a decision, as well as its outcome, and not having my friends deal and live with it as well.  That’s not depending on my friends, that’s taking advantage of them. 

Venting.  Natural, necessary, healthy, normal.  If a friend should say to me something to the effect of, “Yes, that’s what I’ve been telling you over and over….”, I am no longer venting, taking the lessons, moving on, I am stuck in venting which quickly becomes whining like a twelve year old spoiled brat.  More so if I am taking no actions whatsoever to change my situation (reasons, excuses, excuses, reasons) and simply continuing to bemoan the outcomes of my choices or lack thereof.  Friends listening to friends vent is a part of friendship.  Expecting friends to listen while I whine on is not depending on my friends for support, it is taking advantage of my friends. 

I have been horrifically guilty of everything I’ve just mentioned, more than once and over a span of about two decades.  I have been the whiny, martyr, excuse making, jokester queen.  I shouldn’t be crowned, I should be kicked in the head. 

Which brings me back to my TOB.  Strangely enough, it was after the fact that I found why I wanted to get one.  Or more precisely, I could express my desire more coherently and what I wanted the TOB to represent for me. 

No matter what is going on my life or who is asking, I want to be able to answer the question “Who is responsible for your life?” simply, directly, taking all the action the answer implies, and most of all, I want to mean it. 

“Who is responsible for your life?”

I am.

July 1, 2009

(The tattoo of blood says “Penn & Teller Rule! N.P.D.” (No Permanent Damage).  The “Rule!” is centered under the “Penn & Teller”.  There is blood dripping from the words.  The “N.P.D.” is centered under all that and has blood drops splattered on it.  It’s on my right shoulder blade.  I felt that since P&T were the initial catalyst on a whole new way of life for me - skepticism, atheism, etc - they should be my TOB.  Besides, I’m responsible for my fun, right?)

Brain Droppings

Brain Droppings  

I’ve eaten the brains of the monster that was me
swallowed me down thought and soul
devoured and destroyed the good of me
all that would be created in darkness

Still that smell wafts up
the musty deep aroma of the core of me
not the same
not a strong appetite as before
but desire none the less

I must relearn hungers
gnaw away at the junk food I’ve become
regrow the passion that I was

July 1, 2009
Tressa Lee Breen