Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Amazing Meeting 2012, Day Three (part 1)

This post is so big and packed with photos and videos that I broke the evening chunk, with Penn's Rock 'n Roll Doughnut and Bacon Party, off into another post. Just so you don't think I'm cheating you.

Friday, July 13, 2012:

Being Friday the 13th and all, there was a Friggatriskadekaphobia Treatment Center this morning, but I preferred to sleep in until 7:30, when I got up to go see the first Skeptic's Guide To The Universe live recording. I brought my mango smoothie, beef jerky and royal trail mix as protein to help stave off the hunger without making my intestines miserable.
` I didn't bring my badge, but since everyone knew me by then, even the guards, I managed to look so pitifully enthusiastic/desperate about texting Leo to get my badge from the room (assuming he hadn't left already) that they let me in anyway.

Let's just say, SGU is different when the different co-hosts are all in the same room, and when you have the ability to see what's going on -- this is actually the first of two recordings which were later combined into a single episode!
` Since Rebecca was apparently too freaked out to come to TAM this year, they procured Richard Saunders as guest rogue this time (despite my previous offer to fill in!):

TAM 087 - SGU recording
Jay Novella, Evan Bernstein, Steve Novella, Richard Saunders and Bob Novella.

They're talking about the follies of militaries using dowsing rods as bomb detectors that are programmed by inserting a picture of the object that they're supposed to detect. Yes, really. Apparently, as I found out later, this has resulted in many lethal bombings.
` And now for a dinosaur:
` The megalosaur Sciurumimus albersdoerferi is a more basal feathered dinosaur than any previously discovered. How far back do these protofeathers go? And what is with the french horn fanfare?

TAM 089

LOL, now there's actually a french horn under the table, which Evan claims skill in playing by unconventional means.
` A bunch of other stuff going on, including the Higgs Boson -- will this lead to people figuring out what is up with dark matter?

And now, the Dr. Sexy Time app, featuring Jay's voice! It says that women need to warm up? I suppose that could apply to me, since I always seem to be warmed up. It also says that people think about sex only once a day? My question is, who are these people?
` Richard got Bob some water, he's not actually running off to pee.

Now George Hrab has the horn and is holding it from just offstage -- WTF is going on? (After TAM, I asked Evan why the french horn didn't seem to lead into any particular thing, and he told me that James Randi was going to do a bit, but bailed at the last moment.)

After the recording, I ran up to my hotel room, got my badge, and ran back in, really hoping not to miss a second of Geo in all his scarily-blurred glory for the Opening Remarks at 9:00 (which also involves DJ Grothe and James Randi):

TAM 091

I got there just as the video was starting, with Geo as Dr. Xavier, and Phil wearing a long wig... huh? Song parody: It's not the end of the world as we know it, we'll all be fine! There's someone with a camera looking right behind Geo -- huh? Screw you, Ben Stein!
` And now about our TAM packet, which contains a ticket for piggyback ride on DJ Grothe and real Randi beard hairs. Best of Sylvia Browne, etc. Deepak-to-How Science Actually Works translations. Drinking game -- take a shot every time Bob is asked to speak into the mic. (I'd be too drunk to walk if I was playing that!)
` You can even watch Michael Shermer write a book while talking about his previous book - Ha!!

Geo also cleverly sings about making sure that your questions really are questions. Brilliant! Hence, I didn't bother coming up with any questions, because they would deteriorate into rambling as soon as I came near him.

If you're interested, all of what I just described can be heard in Geo's podcast #273 -- he stops jibber-jabbering at the 9-minute mark, and launches into a studio recreation of what he did at TAM. And yes, we were all laughing and shouting "Screw you, Ben Stein!" and all that, but since this is a recreation, you don't get to hear this.
` (After that, Geo has his mom on to read JayZee lyrics, because WTF, I guess, and then it turns into her and Geo's dad talking about their trip to Poland (once Ukraine) and how they found where they used to live as tiny children.)

Onto Randi, he's talking about a film called Red Lights, which uses a great deal of plagiarized material from the JREF, and Randi isn't the happiest about this. And other news.

TAM 092

Michael Shermer at 9:30, with The Moral Arc of Science, which you can read about here. Although I didn't get any pictures, rest assured, he was actually writing a book as he was speaking. I think...
` Also, Geo is writing songs about the speakers shortly before they come up on stage, and his intro song for Shermer is pretty good!

Shermer says that things really are getting better, despite all appearances. I can believe that, considering that American news media must be pushed to greater and greater lengths just to raise the levels of sensationalism as the rates of violent crimes go down.
` Morality and wealth have improved and population growth, murder and war have decreased. Human beings have two sides, like Good Kirk and Bad Kirk. Zimbardo showed that people can be made to turn against others, although it is now clear that turning against others is found to be a distressing thing to do.
` Democracy, trade, and international government organizations. Evil happens in secrecy, and even etiquette has come a long way in helping to bring people together. Tolerance increases while violence, child abuse, and even hunting decrease. Fewer animals are harmed, and fewer people are eating them. We're better at rotating shapes in our heads, and our own selves into other people's shoes.

I didn't get any pictures of this, nor Eugenie Scott at 10:00 -- The Future of the Creationism and Evolution Controversy, but here's a few of her points:

The existence of such things as punctuated equilibrium and the cell's complexity are all part of evolutionary biology, not creationism. They don't even teach human cloning in school, so why are creationists insistent on it not being taught?
` For these creationists, terms like 'critical thinking' or 'critique' only mean 'criticize'. In Tennessee, teachers can't be prohibited from bringing in creationist materials.
` Showed a quote from the Institution for Creation Research which clearly states that they take any (alleged) evidence against evolution to be evidence for their brand of creationism (but not others!).

(Online, I found a video where she goes into minute detail about the creationism movement and its history, if anyone is interested.)

Geo ends with telling Mark, or someone who wants to be Mark, that he left his ID at the registration desk.

At 10:30 there was a coffee break/in memoriam: Got some tea, finished my seeds and nuts, and observed how many skeptics, woo-oriented folks and victims of woo have died.

It's 10:45, time for the panel, Skepticism About the Future: Techno-optimism vs. Reality? That's the moderator Julia Galef, with behavioral neurobiologist Stephen Macknik, neurologist/SGU host Steven Novella, futurist Michael Vassar and Michael Shermer, and Geo to the right of the stage.

TAM 095

How long can we live? Even if the heart is still beating, the person still is dead when the brain synapses lose connectivity. Kind of a bummer.
` I lost interest in this, as I am hyperactive, but came back at 11:45 for Jennifer Michael Hecht's Future of Skepticism: New Adventures in Critical Thinking.

I really liked Geo's song for her, since Hecht is such a difficult word to find rhymes with!
` Paying people to do labor for you and then taking the escalator to the Stairmaster is fairly nutty when you think about it, and she discusses how this stuff happens.

TAM 096 - Pamela Gay

At one point, she also mentions her book Stay -- it's about surviving despair and not committing suicide. (Not to be confused with euthanasia, which deals with end-of-life illness.) That got me thinking about how I had good reason to be suicidal for most of my life, but that TAM has made surviving worth it!
` Apparently, religion used to mandate punishment for the dead bodies of people who had committed suicide. That does not surprise me.

Up next is Karen Stollznow at 12:15, Talking to Tomorrow -- Prediction and Language. Graphology is funny -- Geo wrote a 'y' and it says he is open to any kind of sexual activity and very inquisitive or some such. Handwriting analysis of Tony Blair, graphologists say he has bad leadership skills and is struggling and all, but the handwriting was actually from Bill Gates.
` From chain letters to chain emails... and bibliomancy in fending off ghosts in a documentary! Lady Wonder, the spelling, psychic horse -- something like Clever Hans. So-called 'talking' animals referenced the presidential election, missing persons, or whatever was in the media at the time.
` JZ Knight's accent when channeling Ramtha is so cheesy (both even mispronounce the same words!), that others, like Van Praagh and Sylvia Browne, have given up using an accent.

[Edit: You can see Karen's talk right here on YouTube, including Geo's musical intro. You'll see a lot more humor and videos (and technical glitches) and Geo than my description might lead you to believe!]

Thinking that I wasn't entitled to stand in line for lunch, I went downstairs and started talking to one of the guys with Gregory in his name, who was smoking near an exit, and this lady with a bag of handmade slippers walked up to me and asked me if I'd gotten a pair. She measured one against my foot, handed it to me, and walked away, just like that!

TAM 097 - Random slippers

Random slippers, WTF?

After TAM, I found her on Facebook -- she's Dorothea Harlowe. So, it wasn't a hallucination! Phew! That explains how a hallucination can give someone a real souvenir!
` After that, I went back up to my room in order to give Brianade and Lucas a rare call from TAM, and took a picture out the window, just to show how one can actually see the mountains from here:

TAM 098

Like a moron, instead of going to lunch, I waited for half an hour for an overpriced sandwich and came back up just in time for the 2:00 James Randi and Jamy Ian Swiss. Mmm, Swiss...
` Here they are, talking about one of Randi's appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson -- probably Uri Geller.

TAM 099

Luckily my camera has a zoom lens:

TAM 100 - Jamy Ian Swiss and Randi

At 2:45 was The Future of Skepticism, with DJ Grothe, Jamy Ian Swiss, Tim Farley, Reed Essau and Barbara Drescher.

TAM 102

This was around when someone near me in the audience told me that lunch today was included, with registration, which had already been paid. That's when I realized what an idiot I am, especially since I missed another possibly addictive session of socializing!
` In my notebook I wrote: "And all I got were these slippers! Having trouble living with myself now."

In order to make up for this, I got up and went to the Skeptic Zone booth, where I sat down next to Richard Saunders, where I drew him. He was the second person (at TAM or anywhere else) who knew that you're supposed to stay still when someone is drawing you! He was pleased with the result:

TAM 103 - Richard Saunders

At one point, we took a walk around the hotel and chatted and OMG it was soooo awesome. At one point, we got into this room, the other second floor, which has nearly 360 degrees of bowling, so I decided that this would be a good subject for video:

I was back at 4:00 for Stuart Firestein's The Values of Science: Ignorance, Uncertainty, Doubt. Geo's song is pretty cool, and then Firestein is off talking about how scientists are in a pitch black room looking for a black cat, and there is no cat, or some such.
` Slides are not working. Now his cell phone is ringing? I feel better, though, since I've found another Swedish person of interest, Gary, whose head you can vaguely see.

TAM 105 - Stuart Firestein

I wound up skipping his talk, which is probably a little like this article, to go out and talk with Bob.

At 4:30 was Bruce Hood's talk on The Self Illusion: How Your Brain Creates You. That's an interesting subject that you can read about here:

TAM 106 - Bruce Hood

Pretend to duplicate a hamster -- children may think that the hamster is physically identical to the first one, but that they have different identities. Even children know that each individual has its own self. Split brain folks are also interesting.
` I like the illusion of the square -- take away the Pac-Man shapes that define the corners, and there is no square. Similarly, take away your experiences from yourself, and the illusion is revealed -- where are you?

` He rushed through that to show us a TV segment about the dowsing rod and him. Now there's an export ban. But then Mexico was buying them, etc. What craziness!

Then, Geo rouses us all for stretch time. I like the way he says, "Now sit down." LOL! Love you, Geo!

At 5:00, it's Carol Tavris: A Skeptical Look at Pseudoscience. Geo sings about how he accidentally called her Carol Tarvis last year...
` She says, "Okay, I'm Carol Tarvis, oh wait..."
` Rebunked, had to de-rebunk it. She's hilarious. Something needs to be done about psychobabble in the mass media. Things seem more scientific-sounding with pictures of brain scans, or the word 'neuro', or the phrase 'the gene for'. We need to tolerate uncertainty, no more oversimplification!

TAM 108 - Carol Tavris

Unpublished FDA studies and going where the money is: All these companies have tried and failed to make a female version of Viagra. Most people have no use for it until another person is involved.
` Why are we so blindly dependent on our devices? A guy drove his car into the river because his GPS said the ferry would be there. Same with MRIs and stuff -- if we could just get the penis to talk, we'll know how it's doing!

In the media, one often sees articles about the brain with an unrelated brain image. Evaluation of human emotions and stuff via MRIs, but how useful is this, and how accurate are those studies?
` An fMRI study on a dead salmon found both signal and noise. Multiple comparisons were needed for the false positive to be detected. Proper statistical controls showed that the salmon was dead.

Female and male brain reductionism -- finding the differences are not an explanation. Mirror neurons are pretty much the same in male and female brains, and are not activated when one is looking at someone from an outgroup.
` Oxytocin isn't so much the "cuddle hormone" as it is the "cuddle your own kind and the hell with the rest of you" hormone.
` She's been studying sex differences in the brain for 40 years. The corpus callosum, and hemispheric differences are not actually very different. The amygdala is also not just the fear center, but a general emotional center.

I wish I could remember more, but if this sort of stuff interests you, I found an edition of eSkeptic where she discusses similar topics.

[Edit: Now it's on YouTube, and since it's so hilarious, it's doubly worth it! It doesn't include Geo, though.]

And now, it's time for smashing! First, the drawing that determines who smashes the mirror! Geo is reaching more deeply from the bowels of the thing -- it's... Brian Gregory!

TAM 109 - Time for smashing

He's needing a bit of coaxing to just really whack the hell out of it, considering that it's made of glass:

TAM 111

Now, it's time to smash the piñata -- who will be the lucky smasher?

TAM 112

It's this boy, whose name I forget -- I was focused on running up to the stage. He also needs to be coaxed in order to really just whack the hell out of it.
` Also, Margaret Downey is up onstage, and she looks fairly young for her age in that crazy cartoon sexy nurse outfit, does she not?

TAM 115

Mission accomplished -- here's a video of Geo flinging the piñata's guts everywhere:

In this video, I discover that the prizes consist of glow stick thingies, plastic lizards, and Chee-tos, and sharing with Gary:

After this, I wound up hyperventilating around Geo a bunch on his way to the elevators, and got to tell him about this crazy dream I had which I thought he might find amusing, when he ran into his good friend Maynard, and awww, aren't they soooo cuuuute? Blaaaargh!!!!!

I still love you forever, Maynard!! After thoroughly freaking out poor Geo, I got my brain back into gear and went off to the Del Mar, where I ran into Leonard and some other folks who were discussing the Sexy Time app, and thus wheelbarrow position races, and then the logistics in putting together a relay race of such things.
` Here's me taking some verbal notes of a few other things while sitting at the Del Mar, such as my relief that I'm not the only moron at TAM:

I still have not tried putting butter in juice [yes, I meant when you're blending it, but no, I didn't realize it wasn't a stick of butter, which makes me an even bigger moron] because that sounds pretty gross -- and I'm assuming we're not talking about any special kind of butter....

Also, Beardless Mark...

TAM 122 beardless.

At some point I went up to the room, and took a picture of some of the stuff here, including some candy that Leonard had brought from Sweden.

TAM 123

In the elevator, I was impressed with the fact that these signs are even necessary:

TAM 124

The elevators also have mirrored ceilings, which evokes in me a sense of creeping paranoia:

TAM 125 - In elevator with Leo

At that moment, Leonard and I were off to get something to eat before Penn's crazy party, and you can read about that in my next post -- part 2 of Day Three!


  1. You're "Not the only moron at TAM", presumably because the other moron was me, for--you claim--suggesting to put "a stick of butter in juice." Is that right?

    Let me set the record straight. I certainly did NOT suggest that anyone "put a stick of butter in juice".

    What I did say, if you had cared to actually listen to the conversation I was having, was that, when you're blending a particular cocktail of blueberries and dark green leafy veggies (kale and collard greens, for example), adding a little butter can, surprisingly, improve the taste and texture.

    That has quite a different sense to it than "add butter to juice", don't you think?

  2. Thank you for setting my brain straight. It makes lots of mistakes, especially when I'm tripping out on the fact that I'm hanging out in a bar with a buncha skeptics.

  3. Also, moron that I am, I ONLY JUST NOW realized that you seem to think that I was calling YOU a moron, when I was actually referring to the fact that I found out I was not the only person who missed lunch. Like a moron. Get it, now?

  4. irealize that i'm reading these backwards -- the same way I read some mysteries

  5. Who's patient enough to wait for the end?


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