The Amazing Meeting/TAM 8 ~ Penn & Teller ~ Vacation

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 8 was my 3rd conference.


TAM8, Penn & Teller, Vacation

The short version: Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden & Dolphin Habitat, The Mirage, Penn & Teller, Valley Of Fire, Liberace Museum, Madame Tussauds, The Venetian, Penn & Teller, Red Rock Canyon, Paris Hotel, Atomic Testing Museum, Hoover Dam & Power Plant, 1stHelicopter Ride, The Luxor, The Amazing Meeting 8.

The long version:                               

MONDAY, JULY 5, 2010

Here I am at the airport at 6 am enjoying a banana nut muffin and an iced tea breakfast. It seems that my flight is not full so I may end up with a row to myself. That’s a plus for getting an early flight!

Taking off makes me think of the term “flying fuck”. The build up of power on the run way, the acceleration, then lift off has an orgasmic quality to it.

Well, no one wanted to sit next to me so it appears I will have three seats for this flight.

(The song “god Is Not Great” by George Hrab is stuck in my head.)

All the patches, squares, circles, rectangles, earth shades of a funky 60s rug occasionally cut through by mountain ranges that look like scars. How interesting that it’s actually the human made patches that are closer to what scars are.

Some ranges look like meat, a good cut of steak with the small veins of fat running through it. Or large arteries. One looked very much like a spine (the fossil of a sleeping giant peeking through the planet).

Got a little choppy so we moved above the clouds. A huge blanket. Two small clouds above casting shadows on wool, like manta rays of the sky swimming over cauliflower and coral clouds.

When I see the circles of green and brown all I can think of is a question I read a “UFOs created Crop Circles” proponent asked: “Well, if humans made them how did they get the circles so perfect?” Mr. Joe Nickell, paging Mr. Joe Nickell....

The patches are gone and it’s mountains with some clouds that appear so close anyone on the top could reach up and grab a handful of sky.

Smoothest landing ever! Got deserved applause.

Picked up my rental car, forgot to get insurance, went back, duh.

Checked in at South Point hotel and had a great burger at the Coronado Café. Checked near the convention rooms for JREFers but didn’t see any.

(“It’s My Life (Don’t You Forget)” - can’t remember the artist - playing in the casino.)

Went to Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden & Dolphin Habitat at The Mirage. Stunning. I didn’t know they had white lions! Dolphins about ten feet away. There is a special behind the scenes/trainer for day package that I might try to do next year. The Atrium of The Mirage is jungle lovely.

(“We Are Family” by Sister Sledge playing in the casino as I left.)

Back to my hotel room at South Point to drink a lot of liquids, have a meal bar and rest. Not feeling so great (jet lag, heat). Ironed evening clothes.

(“Just Another Day (w/o You)” by Jon Secada playing on a tv music station. This song always makes me want to dance.)

8 pm and at the Penn & Teller Theatre (front row, center, aisle seat, stage right) at the Rio listening and watching the incredible Mike Jones play (also, first time I’ve seen him with hair). As always, fantastic. That big shaggy guy with the hat playing bass isn’t too shabby either.

The show:
Cell Phone (w/ audience member, first time I’ve seen this, seems like a revamped version of the watch/fish bit they did on Letterman years ago, very cute but smelly)
TSA (w/ the ever hot Georgie)
7 (almost caught the lemon, it was, no joke, about four inches from my outstretched hands when the man next to me reached across me and snagged it, guess I’ll just have to live with the moral high ground he put me on while his lemon rots)
Red Ball (I swear I saw Teller’s lower pant leg get pulled flat for a moment when he was crouching down and moving the ball around him)
Psychic Comedian
Cuffed To A Creep (Penn sang Katy Perry’s “Waking Up In Vegas” as it began, first time I’ve seen live, not sure which one of them is supposed to be the creep but I think that might be part of it, this one makes me tear up)
Magic Only Happens In The Mind/Linking Rings (w/ audience member)
Woman Into Halves (w/ Georgie)
Fish & Coins/Silverfish
Close Up/Video (based on Richard Wiseman’s work)
Nail Gun
Hanky To Glitter
Flag Burning
Magic Bullet

Hung around for signatures. I don’t know what it is about them but they always make me feel like a sixteen year old with a school girl crush her teachers (appropriate in Teller’s case). I was fine until the crowd got really thinned out, then my heart and breathing started running.

Large group of Objectivists that had a group shot with P&T. Instead of “smile” they shouted out “Ayn Rand!”, “Big Money!”, “Capitalism!”  I wanted to say, “Everyone say ‘Mulligan’s Valley!’ Yes, even you Teller!’” but didn’t.

Got a picture with Teller (thanks to one of the ushers) but missed Penn. Will catch him tomorrow night or at the TAM8 reception Thursday evening.


Woke up at 4:30 am. Water, ibuprofen, I am not feeling my best. Got up at 5:30 am, cancelled 6 am wake up call.

In this heat I’ll be showering twice a day.

Hotel coupon book had 10% off Seattle Coffee order. Single shot espresso (hoping it helps my headache), blackberry juice, water, bagel & cream cheese breakfast.

On the way to Valley Of Fire (about an hour and a half from Las Vegas) I’m admiring the lines in the mountains and wishing they could be as easily read as lines in a book.

Near VOF, off highway: it looks like the Hindenburg Dumpster exploded and littered down ... well, litter all over the desert.

It is God’s country out here: barren, desolate, looks unable to sustain life especially human, yeah, it’s Yahweh’s Trailer Park alright.

There is a beauty to it. It’s the first time I didn’t think of gods/goddesses/paganism when faced with the wonder of earth. I thought of the majesty of the world and then the awe of eternity.

Passed a formation that looked like a “croco-rock” surfacing.

Everything is such stunning shades of red! Bee Hives were silky stone.

Driving Mouse Tank hiking trial is like moving through hard fire (if Hell burns like this show me the road there).

The trail’s dirt is diaphanous. I just want to touch and hug everything!

Made a Sand Angel by the side of the trail. For a moment I am become Forever.

Saw some Bighorn Sheep make an incredible ascent.

Do scorpions shed their skin? I saw what I thought was the sheddings of a small snake but upon closer examination it appeared to be the tail of a scorpion.

There are White Tailed Ground Squirrels everywhere. They must be the Cockroaches of the desert.

Saw a small (baby?) Great Basin Whiptail lizard hiding out in a rock wall crevice.

I can barely hear a slight rustling and my breathing.  Without those I think the only thing I hear is eternity.

Slipped and fell on the way out of the Mouse Tank trail. Thought I broke my watch. Did scrape the back of my left hand on the flat rock I landed on. Nice to know I left a bit of DNA at VOF.

Couldn’t do the White Domes trail. Already 10 am and the trail is 1.25 miles (Mouse Tank trail is .25 miles and I started that at 8:30 am). It’s getting too hot for me.

7 Sisters formations, stunning ladies. Walked around one, touching as high as I could all the way. Noticed small rocks sitting in weather blow holes. Climbed a bit up one Sister and left a small rock in a shadowed crevice.

Some a-hole threw a napkin into a crevice on the Elephant Rock. I retrieved it and put it near the garbage cans (Oscar The Grouch type cans with rocks on covers to hold them, I couldn’t get either open).

(“Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by The Rolling Stones stuck in my head as I drove away from VOF.)

I have the “Penn Says: Religion” DVD and in an episode Penn mentions In-N-Out Burger. I saw a sign for one as I was leaving Las Vegas this morning so I stopped in the West Sahara Ave one for lunch. Very simple fare: three types of burgers, fries, shakes, soda and that’s it. Burger with mustard, fries, x-lg soda, $5.24. Yummy.

While driving back to South Point I came up the backside of the Rio and there are no Penn & Teller asses on the flipside; cheap Rio bastards!

Liberace Museum - that man was “bling” personified. Over the top, over the world and made it work.

Madame Tussauds - stunning work. Interactive “Scream” exhibit was fun. Couldn’t go through that part alone and somehow I ended up at the front with two women behind me holding my shoulders (how did I end up in front for this?!) and there were a few times I almost got pulled back over!

The Venetian - wow! I understand now why a few coworkers said that was one to see. 

Back to South Point for a few hours. Rest and ironing evening clothes. Had my usual drinks; iced tea, blackberry juice, root beer soda, water and a meal bar. Still feeling a bit sick.

8 pm and sitting in the P&T theatre (same seat as yesterday) listening to Jonesy & Penn play. I enjoy watching Jonesy work his art.

Someone didn’t clean the floor very well - there is still confetti from last night.

My stomach, unfortunately, wants to add some more color to the floor. I feel headachey and sick. Just leaning back and listening to the music.

(Randi and Emily Jillette were in the audience this evening.)

After the show the audience was invited to stay for a taping of Shaq O’Neil (one of the rare few that can make Penn Jillette look of an average height) challenging P&T to Magic Duel. If P&T win, they can use Shaq’s jet for a week. Shaq took Teller as a partner.

While their trick was being set up Michael Goudeau entertained the audience. This is the first time I have really seen him perform and he was hysterical! Even though I felt like I was going to puke in my purse I was enthralled and laughing.

Shaq & Teller did Lift Off To Love (one I had never seen live before)...well, they attempted to do it, twice. Didn’t quite work out. Shaq ended up carrying Teller off stage (Teller looked about the size of Harry Earles).

Penn juggled a bit with Goudeau and then did his trick; card find (yes, the 3 of Clubs) using a basketball and dancing girl assistants.

I think they’ll get to use the jet.

Burt, stage manager, came out a few times during set up and she is quite lovely.

It was about 11:30 pm when they were done and P&T didn’t come out front afterwards.


Woke up about 5:30 am but stayed in bed until my wake up call at 6:30 am. Bagel with cream cheese, sparkling blackberry juice, and water at Seattle Café for breakfast.

Met my college friend April (now from Phoenix, AZ) at Red Rock Canyon. The area is beautiful but Valley Of Fire wins as far as rock formations and color, although Red Rock Canyon takes the lead in vegetation. Beautiful and eye stunning shapes in almost every possible shade of green. Nice breeze and more cool shade so it was a bit easier to handle than Valley Of Fire though we did no trails.

After, dropped April’s car of at her friend’s house then went to the Paris Hotel & Casino and the top of their Eiffel Tower. Fascinating to see the Belagio fountain works from that height as well as Vegas in every direction. Had a nice lunch at Le Café, nice until the waitperson gave us the wrong check - “$67.00?! What was in your sandwich April?”
Atomic Testing Museum. I think my brain blew up from information overload. My favorite parts were watching test buildings being destroyed and blind shaft drilling with a camera on the drill, which looked like the earth was getting her yearly internal exam filmed.

Brought April back to her friend’s and went back to South Point. Bumped into Mary and Jonas about to head out with a group of JREFers for dinner.

This is the first day I’ve felt good - no headache, dizziness or nausea and, except for the Hoover Dam, I’ve seen everything on my “To See” list. I’m taking an evening off.

Went to Seattle Coffee and got my usual evening drinks. On the way to the elevator I passed Randi. Shouted out a quick “Hi Randi!”, he replied “Hello there!” in his seemingly perpetual cheerful way.

Bumped into Chip in the room. He’ll be going sky diving tomorrow morning so won’t be going to Hoover. Thought about saving Hoover for next year but I’ve spent two days on my own seeing the sights and I want to complete my “To See” list.


Chip and I got to TAM8 registration at 8:15 and there was already a line. Hal Bidlack kept the crowd informed and entertained. The conference rooms weren’t open so we couldn’t leave our books to hold seats as we did the last two years.

Saw Randi and was able to get a picture with him thanks to his “jack of all trades” Jose. Randi was looking great in a beautiful blue shirt. I asked him if he was doing ok health wise and he said, yes, medical science came through for him, no magic, no prayers.

Saw Joe Nickell and went to over to thank him for his work and mentioned that my grandmother was reading on of his books (Adventures In Paranormal Investigations). He said that he should mention that he’s not Randi, he’s taller than that. I said that I knew, “you’re Joe Nickell” and I pointed to his TAM name badge. He grabbed his badge and said oh yes that’s right I am and then asked if I had one of his wooden nickells. I said that I didn’t and he produced one and  did some slight of hand with it. A gentleman nearby took a picture of us and then made a joke about how small we looked on the screen of the (disposable) camera and some other Hal Bidlack type remarks. Joe Nickell said that he (the guy) had wanted to be a stand up comedian but every one kept telling him to sit down.

I had always wanted one of his wooden nickells but couldn’t think of a reason to ask for one as they are his business cards and can’t be as inexpensive to make as ordinary business cards. This was fantastic. I’m putting the nickell with the first dollar I made acting in my purse.

I had heard of the restaurant the Cracked Egg from information on the Penn & Teller team for the annual AFAN walk held every April so I thought I’d give the place a try (went to the one on Rainbow Street). Two eggs, steak, hash browns, wheat toast, hot tea, $18.32. Good portions, well done.
The Hoover Dam was incredible. Some parts reminded me of bits from the movie “The Fugitive”. The tunnel leading to the vent we could look out of half way up the Dam made me think of the barrel ride in the fun house at Whalom Park except, thankfully, it did not spin as one walked through it. It’s amazing what some people can make. I can barely make dinner.

On the road near the Dam was Dam Helicopter Rides. Two minute ride over Lake Mead, $29.00, five minute ride over Lake Mead and the Dam, $59.00. I have never bene in a helicopter (when I was a single digit age my grandfather took me on a small plane ride). Decided to take the five minute ride. Some of the turns were a little rough, closed my eyes twice, kept a grip on the seat belt when I wasn’t taking pictures.

Had dinner at the Coronado Café at South Point then got ready for the TAM8 reception and Q&A with Randi and Dawkins.

Chip and I met two nice young men from Mexico City, Jorge and Adan, at the Reception.

I didn’t know that Penn & Teller weren’t going to be at the Reception (although I knew they wouldn’t be at TAM8) so I missed getting a picture with Penn.

Gary Stockdale and the Peep Show Trio played (they were very good but too loud for the small room we were in). Randi and Dawkins did a half hour Q&A. The crowd was a bit rowdy during the Q&A and had to be asked to be quiet. Finally those who didn’t want to listen to the Q&A went out in the hall and came back in afterwards. It was only a half an hour, there was still an hour and a half of reception to go and was listed as Reception and Q&A on the schedule.

Treated myself to a movie in my room to end the day (remake of “Clash Of The Titans”).

FRIDAY, JULY 9, 2010

7:30 am, mad rush to get into the conference room (one person referred to it as the “dark side of skepticism”). Got an 8throw center aisle seat without having to sweep anyone’s leg. I did however get scalded when I tried to get a hot tea.

Songs from George Hrab’s newest CD “Trebuchet” being played.

8 am: live recording of the “Skeptic’s Guide To The Universe” podcast.

9 am: Opening remarks from Phil Plait, DJ Grothe & Hal Bidlack (who mentioned that this will be his last time hosting TAM).

9:30 am: Michael Shermer - The Believing Brain. Patternicity (wind or predator in the bushes), Agenticity (gov’t, gods, groups, etc), Dualism (belief that we are more than our brains), Theory Of Mind (project self into someone else’s mind), Confirmation Bias (making everything fit preconceived beliefs). (He played “Stairway To Heaven” backward a la Richard Wiseman at TAM4.)

10:15 am: Sean Faircloth - Secular Coalition For America. Special Rights for religious groups, difference between religious/secular daycare, parents denying minor children healthcare due to religious beliefs.

10:50 am: Women In Skepticism Panel (Rebecca Watson, Carol Tavris, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Pamela Gay, Ginger Campbell, Harriet Hall).

11:40 am: Jamy Ian Swiss interviews Randi about his relationship with Johnny Carson and a few of his appearances on The Tonight Show (Popoff, psychic surgery).

12:15 pm: lunch.

Roy Zimmerman (who has an optional concert tonight) played a bit while people came back from lunch. “Creation Science 101", “Abstinence” (“Abstinence Only training is a lot like saying Just Hold It potty training”).

1:30 pm: Tracy King - announcement for TAM2 London in November.

1:40 pm: Simon Singh - Alternative Medicine, Chiropractic, Libel & The Battle For Free Speech (mentioned the Katy Mulau song she rewrote to be statistically correct as Richard Wiseman did at TAM4).

2:15 pm: Joe Nickell - Undercover! Clandestine Paranormal Investigations (mentioned the Popoff outing on Carson).

2:45 pm: Adam Savage - Good without god. No purpose but one can give oneself a mission. Auctioned off a piece of the duct tape bridge from The Mythbusters.

3:30 pm: Pamela Gay - Living Astronomy Out Loud.

4:00 pm: Phil Plait - The Art of Skepticism and the way it’s communicated (“teach a man to think and he’ll reason for a lifetime”). Making sacrifices in one’s argument to win the day. “Don’t be a dick!”

4:35 pm: Carol Tavris - Science, Skepticism and Self Deception, or My Semmelweiss Problem and Ours. Auction at her condo: woman “Any man who can tell me what I’m holding in the palm of my hand wins a night of love with me,” man in back “An elephant,” woman “Close enough”. We will never eradicate the plagues of humanity but we can get close enough.

Genie Scott stopped in for a moment to say hi after eight days in the Grand Canyon.

5:10 pm: The Origins Of The Modern Skeptic Movement panel (DJ Grothe, Randi, Ken Frazier, Ray Hyman, Paul Kurtz). Special Thank You award given to Paul Kurtz.

Had dinner with Chip, Mary and Jonas at the Coronado Café.

Passed out early.


7:30 am: Another mad dash to seats (not allowed to leave folders to hold place. Like the Run of the Bulls in Spain.

More of George Hrab’s “Trebuchet” playing.

8 am: live recording of the “Skeptic’s Guide To The Universe” podcast.

9:05 am: Massimo Pigliucci - So, You Think You’re A Skeptic, Don’t You? “A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence,” - David Hume.

9:35 am: Grassroots panel (Michael Feldman, Chip Denman, Richard Saunders, Sid Rodrigues, Jamy Ian Swiss, Jennifer Newport).

10:30 am: Break.

10:45 am: Bruce Hood - Why People Believe The Weirdest Shit/ The Origins Of Secular Supernatural Beliefs. Me or Memes? Wear Jeffery Dahmer’s clothes? Stab photo of a loved on? Heart transplant from a murderer?

11:25 am: Homeopathy, Acupuncture, Chiropractic And Other Dubious Heath Care Systems panel (Steve Novella, Ginger Campbell, Rachael Dunlop, David Gorski, Harriet Hall, Simon Singh).

12:15 pm: Lunch.

Bought a copy of Flim Flam and caught Randi for a signature.

1:35 pm: David Javerbaum - ex-writer for The Daily Show.

2:10 pm: James McGaha - Aliens Among Us: Are They Already Here?

2:55 pm: Paranormal Investigations panel (Julia Galef, Randi, Karen Stoltznow, Joe Nickell, Ben Radford). During the Q&A a gentleman said that he had given Alison Smith an application for the Million Dollar Challenge earlier that day. He claims he can cure numbness caused by breast cancer treatments and c-sections. He claimed no psychic powers or anything of that nature. Says he can do this over the phone (you could hear the audience contain a laugh here) and that he had built machines to do the same. Randi said his claim was testable and that the JREF would look over his app and be in touch soon. Both Hal Bidlack and Joe Nickell thanked him for coming.

3:50 pm: Break.

3:55 pm: Jennifer Michael Hecht - History Of Doubt. Non-religious art.
4:35 pm: Paul Provenza - Satirista. Comedy, politics, religious beliefs.

Paul should speak at every TAM. He was great at TAM4 and here.

5:20 pm: Key Note: DJ Grothe interviews Richard Dawkins. Except for the last few minutes when RD talked about the new book he was working on (children’s book), the interview didn’t cover anything that I hadn’t heard over and over in other interviews/podcasts/articles. RD had to correct DJG twice when he synopsised what RD had just said. Over all, very disappointing.

Had signed up for the Skepchick Party. When I went to get my button and the party address I was told that I would have to take a cab or a free shuttle as personal/rental cars “weren’t allowed”. I didn’t pay for a rental car to take a cab or be at the whim of a shuttle schedule. I returned the button and address. This is something that should have been noted up front when the Skepchick Party was announced not sprung after payment is received. I checked the original ad for the party on and it says “free shuttle”, nothing about cars, cabs, or any other form of transportation.

Had dinner with Mary and Jonas at the Del Mar Deli.

SUNDAY, JULY 11, 2010

Not a lot of people waiting to get into TAM8 this morning. About ten of us were there at 7 am. We were let in early and I walked casually to a third row center aisle seat and then got breakfast.

8:05 am: Brian Hart - The Independent Investigation Group Vs The CA Board of Registered Nurses. Good talk, concise.

8:25 am: William M London - Fallacies & Falsehoods at the 2009 Cancer Control Society Convention.

8:55 am: Jennifer McCreight - Skepticism, Humor and Going Viral - What We Can Learn From Boobquake.

9:20 am: Global Climate Change And The Responsibility Of The Skeptic Movement panel (Massimo Pigliucci, Michael Shermer, Donald Prothero, James McGaha, Daniel Loxton).

10:10 am: Special Award to Hal Bidlack for his work in getting the dowsing bomb detectors out of military use.

10:20 am: Break. Bought Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How To Solve Unexplained Mysteries by Benjamin Radford but didn’t see him to get it signed.

10:30 am: Barbara Drescher - Skepticism As A Gateway To Scientific Literacy.

(Paul Kurtz sat next to Chip and I for this talk.)

11:10 am: Brian Dunning - The Virgin Of Guadalupe - A Positive Take.
11:25 am: Steve Cuno - Confessions Of A Skeptical Advertising Man: How To “Sell” Critical Thinking To Friends And Associates. Www.responseagency.comGreat talk.

11:40 am: Kevin M Folta: Frankenfoods - Cornerstones Of The Next Green Revolution.

12 pm: Ryan Shaffer - A Case Study of Researching A Psychic: Examining Sylvia Browne’s History.

Closing: Phil Plait, DJ Grothe, Randi. Award given to Hal Bidlack for his years of service to TAM.

Wanted to go to the Luxor for lunch and Titanic Exhibit but had to bring Chip back before we even found a place to part as he wouldn’t make the afternoon workshop. Went back to the Luxor. The exhibit was $30 and I had seen a Titanic Exhibit before so I skipped it. Thought about going to the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay but realized I wouldn’t have enough time to see it and eat before the MDC Demonstration at 5 pm. Went back to South Point and old stand by, Coronado Café.

5 pm: MDC Demonstration. Banachek hosted. Spoke with Randi about the history of the Challenge. Spoke with DJ Grothe and Chip Denman about changes in the Challenge specifically that he would now be in charge of administering the MDC. Spoke with Alison Smith about her involvement with the MDC.

The MDC demonstration consisted of a young woman, Anita Ikonen (Visions Through Feelings on the JREF forum, looks like a young Patricia Arquette), who claimed to be able to “experience” whether or not a person was missing a kidney or uterus. She said she felt it could not be called an ability yet as it has not yet been proven to work.

Five people went on stage and sat on numbered chairs with their backs to Anita. Banacheck put a letter of verification from the person missing on stage that was missing a kidney in a clear plastic cup and set it downstage. Anita had six minutes per person to “feel” them. In between each person Banachek had her turn her chair so her back was to the five and then he would ask her a few questions about how she “experiences” her information gathering.

When Anita was done Banachek had her write the number of the person she thought was missing a kidney (she didn’t have to note which one) on a piece of paper, fold it, and put it in a clear cup on top of the lectern.

Audience Q&A.

Banachek then revealed that it was #2 (Hal Bidlack) who was missing a kidney (birth defect and only recently discovered). Banachek then opened Anita’s folded paper and revealed she had chosen #3.

Banachek did a great job explaining why what was being done the way it was being done, why this was a demonstration and not a test, the different protocols that would be in place if it were a test, etc. He was also very polite to Anita at all times.

Went to the Silverado with Chip. Due to my messed up afternoon I didn’t eat (still full from lunch). Saw Joe Nickell and Paul Kurtz having dinner with Anita Ikonen.

Watched a bit of “Forrest Gump” on tv back in the room.

MONDAY, JULY 12, 2010

Up at 6 am. Checked out, returned car, met Scott at airport, had breakfast at Starbucks, flight delayed an hour, called Heather (who’s picking me up at the Manchester, NH airport) on Scott’s cell to let her know, flight home fine, took Heather to dinner, went home, did three loads of laundry, went to bed (back to work in the morning).

Approximately 51 weeks to TAM9...not that I’m counting. 

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