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 www.stopsylvia.com. 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 Café 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 www.stopsylvia.com.
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)
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)
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
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 skeptoid.com) 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.