Road Tripping through New England

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This weekend and into next week, I am taking a road trip through New England to see a lot of states that I’ve never been to.  I’m very excited because this trip is going to bring me into the 40s on my list of states that I’ve been to.  And also because I am going to see a lot of cool things.

The following is my hitlist, but if anyone has any cool things that they think I should see while I’m tooling around New England with my mum, especially if they look like on our way, shout it out in the comments.  If you’re all like “New Hampshire” something on the way to Kennebunkport, that’d be awesome.  Otherwise it’s going to be and the Wikipedia on Google Maps situation.

Boston:

  • Aquarium
  • Duck Tour
  • Whale Watching

Plymouth:

  • Plymouth Rock

Hyannis Port:

  • Kennedy Compound

Nantucket:

  • A tour?

Providence:

  • ?

Hartford:

  • Mark Twain House
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe House

Northampton:

  • Smith College

Montpelier:

  • ?

Waterbury:

  • BEN AND JERRY’S WOOOO

New Hampshire:

  • Mt. Washington

Kennebunkport:

  • Maine stuff?

This map is going to be even more amazing after SkepChickCON — I need to figure out a way to go to Wisconsin from the conference so I can mark that off too…

VisitedStatesMap

Moderating Comments, Normalization & Anonymity

I was on this panel at SkepTech! You can read my prepared thoughts here.

Notes:

-I improperly conflated psuedonymity with anonymity in the last third of the talk. Those are different things. I think pseudonymity (like Gravatar, Disqus, etc. offer) is one of the nice middle ground ways we can keep an eye on commenters across mediums.

-I stick with my remarks about wanting assorted -ist comments to be off my posts in the first place. Normalizing bad behavior perpetuates the problem. Removing awful comments in my little corner of the internet is one way I try to prevent normalization.

-I was a bit more wordy than I wanted–I’m lucky to have avoided the nerf gun.

What do you think? What did we leave out? 

Kate’s Travels and Other People’s Writing

I’m traveling a great deal in the coming months. With respect to conferences, this is where I’ll be. Please comment if we’ll overlap!

Skepticamp Chicago - Website

Where: Fifth Province Pub at the Irish American Heritage Center
Address: 4626 North Knox Avenue, Chicago, IL

When: March 2nd, 11am-6pm

I’ll be talking about Myths & Misinformation in Mental Illness at 4pm. I’ve got my talk outlined, but if you have any myths you want to make sure I haven’t forgotten, comment below!

SkepTech - Website

Where: University of Minnesota

When: April 5-7

I’m really excited for this one. It’s organized by many of my friends, and the lineup is wonderful. Especially exciting to me? Stephanie Zvan is talking about psychometrics–the ways we use statistics and measures in psychology. Going to be there? Comment! And come say hi :)

Women in SecularismWebsite

Along with Miri at Brute Reason and several other FtB frequenters, I’m the recipient of a grant from Marcus Ranum to go to Women in Secularism this May. I’m over the moon. I really don’t have words to explain how amazing this is. So, if you’re going…I can’t wait to see you there.

Now, links!

Digital Cuttlefish hates the brain (but not really, go read it):

The brain does not see patterns. The brain is a major part of how we see patterns. The brain does not do so without the eyes, and it does not do so without two very important sets of environmental histories–the individual’s interaction with the environment (literally beginning with the environment in the womb, in development), and the interaction with the environment over millennia that is reflected in the genes. The brain is not magic (which Descartes’s concept of “mind” was, technically); it is part of how we gather information from the environment and act upon that environment. Other parts include our eyes & ears, our bones and muscles, our teachers and histories, our communities and our cultures.

Stunning sun photography.

I got to see Cliff Pervocracy at UChicago’s Sex Week! This is the talk she gave.  It’s knee-slappingly funny. Like, really. Knees were slapped.

I really, really recommend every couple or group figure out a working definition of “cheating.” For my partner and me, that’s having sex without telling each other. He lets me know what he’s planning, he can have sex with the starting lineup of the Green Bay Packers, and I might have opinions about that (those opinions might be “fistbump,”) but that fundamental feeling of broken trust that comes with cheating won’t be there. Then again, for you, that might be a hard limit. You might be a Bears fan. Or you might feel like your partner kissing another person is too much and gives you that sad feeling in your stomach. Either way, if you both know where the line is—and you have enough fundamental trust that nobody’s going to rules-lawyer it with “we said hugging was okay, so I hugged his penis!” – it’s a lot easier to avoid accidentally hurting each other and a lot more clear what happened if someone does break that trust.

Alain de Botton is getting things dangerously wrong.

What could have decreased the pertussis epidemic.

As per usual, do add your own links and conferences you’re attending below!

Plan 9 from Seattle

As some of you know, and many undoubtedly do not, I was in my first play ever last March, a stage version of the Ed Wood epic Plan 9 from Outer Space.  Well, I went to the museum in Seattle and discovered an actual UFO from the actual movie.

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And I saw lots of musical instruments, and a few ukuleles amongst them even.

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And a vagina I mean facehugger

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And Mr. Stabby from Buffy!

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My Life is Exploding & Boba Fett Ukulele

June14-June24

First and foremost, go give the SSA money.  They are the best, they deserve at least five of your earth dollars.

The timing of my getting a blog here is not totally ideal — I’ve had to abandon my house and move in with my mother because I’m allergic to it, I have to be out entirely and into a new house by the end of the month, I’m coming up against the final deadline for a class, I’m leaving Thursday for 10 days of traveling, and I’m about to start another class.  I don’t know if you’ve ever been massively sick with allergies, but I can tell you that it’s not good for productivity or creating a will to live.

How I've felt for 3 weeks

So, this spot may just end up hosting various and sundry not terribly deep things for the next two weeks, including pretty travel pictures, links to interesting things, and perhaps a few things I dig up from the vault.  I scheduled this post ahead of time to prevent myself from blogging at all today so that I will get some work done.  We’ll see how that goes.

Going Back to School & Dragon*Con: I’m Speaking Monday at 1PM

And you can watch!  Here.

I’ve had a craaaaazy couple of weeks here.

The bizarre tale.

I’ve been thinking about going back to school for a while – I browsed through different PhDs online for film or creative writing and I looked at law school, but the first two seemed impractical and as I didn’t think I could get a full ride to Stanford, the last one didn’t seem to have a lot of appeal. A month ago I saw a program at USC (South Carolina) in Mass Communications, which is right in line with my interests and previous degrees, so I applied for the spring semester of 2012, being the next semester available.

I got a phone call on the Tuesday before the Thursday that class started, asking me why I applied for the Spring Semester (because it was the next one to apply to!) and, if they could get me funding, would I be at all interested in coming this fall. I said, “Sure, if you get me funding,” as I am not made of money.  So then I talked to him on Thursday, which was the first day of classes for the semester, and he asked me to come down and talk to everyone. So I spent 2 hours interviewing, meeting, being grilled on stats — all at the end of the first day of classes.

I got offered a graduate research assistantship and had about 6 hours to decide if I could do it or not.  And so I am a future doctor and my life exploded into massive amounts of chaos that are slowly pulling themselves back into vague order.

I had about 247 administrative type things to do for the University, had to figure out how to do two weeks notice at my job and go to school at the same time, and prepare for speaking at Dragon*Con, and catch up on all the school stuff I had missed.

TAM Sunday: I give a presentation to a zillion people

I got up early to get ready to see the papers, and to make sure I was there to watch everyone else’s papers because they usually aren’t crowded.  TAMmers leave in droves on Sunday before the event is over and the papers were really poorly advertised this year.  There was no program, there was no schedule that anyone had access to, our names weren’t printed anywhere, certainly our subjects weren’t printed anywhere.  It was poorly done, I have to say — we’re not headliners, but we are people who still had to pay despite the fact that we’re talking.  The least they could have done is put our names somewhere so people would know what they were listening to.

Anyway, I went to the papers.  I was fairly nervous, but it was OK, I was the last to go, so I had to sit through 6 other papers before it was my turn and, unfortunately, the paper before me ate into my time a little, so I had to shorten mine up on the fly.  Which was also fine, because I could see anything thanks to the lights reflecting off of my glasses, so I couldn’t really read my notes anyway.

It went over very well.  The presentation was about the importance of using emotion and recognizing emotion in discussions, using the failure of the LGBT side in the Prop 8 campaign as an example of how emotional messanging works.  There’s a huge tone debate in the movement at the moment, for those of you who don’t remember DBAD, because some people think that other people are too mean or confrontational.  The point of my speech was to say that emotional content is one of our most useful tools, and being a dick creates an emotional response.  It’s a useful tool in the tool box.  But most importantly, just because the movement is about logic and rationality that doesn’t mean that ignoring emotion is the right way to go about convincing others — ignoring human emotion is irrational.  Including within the movement — skeptics are not immune from being human, we should start taking that into account better when we argue.

I got a large applause when I was done, and after I left the stage a little crowd of people came over to thank me or talk with me about the issues.  It was very cool.  I was expecting some backlash — perhaps from being on the internet for too long — I thought some people would tell me that emotions have no place in rational debates or that they didn’t appreciate my assumption that everyone in the room was pro-gay rights, but the responses were great.

I was too keyed up to sit through the next presentation, especially as the World Cup Final was about to take place, so I just went into the hallway and talked to people who came up to me to say thanks about my presentation.  To pat myself on the back a little, I’m going to write some of the Twitter responses:

kefox: Great talk this morning on communicating w/emotion. Our side is smarter & really ought to be the Jedi masters of this.

Tasutari: Ashley could easily have given a full talk – good slides, good content, well presented.  Plus, there was a Joss Whedon quote.

charlesj: Ashley tells us what we need to hear, continuing from Tavris’ talk yesterday

jennifurret: Ashley nailed it on using emotions when arguing skepticism.  Sometimes you need to be a dick!

TCTheater: Ashley is kicking ass and taking names.  Excellent capstone to papers segment.

SkeptiCareBear: Propaganda bad, but lack of all emotion worse.  Good talk by Ashley.

StevenTheWonky: Ashley is kicking ass.

ArcheoWebby: A presenter that knows how to use a computer.  Nice.  Good Job Ashley.

So that was awesome.  Then I went to watch the soccer game and it was so depressing, partially because there was no food at the bar and I was starving to death while also watching the US kill themselves — I’m happy for Japan, but we lost that game because we made a lot of stupid, careless mistakes and couldn’t get shots on Target.  My heart goes out to Abby Wambach.

Then I heard the end of the diversity in skepticism panel, which I sort of lost interest in thanks to DJ seeming to think that getting conservatives and religious people in the movement should be some sort of a priority.  I’m with Jamila on the whole getting active about causes that skeptic people should be able to see are ridiculous — the war on drugs, the prison policy.

Sean Faircloth gave essentially the same speech he’d given at the SCA Summit and it went over very well.  He’s a very good cheerleader.

Then there was the closing remarks from Randi and we were done.  I ran into Randi in the hallway and thanked him for letting me speak and he said he’d heard I’d done very well.  I’m sure he was just saying that, but it was still awesome.  I went down to the Del Mar and hung out with a lot of people who were still there and then went to Penn and Teller over at the Rio.  Boy are Las Vegas cabs expensive, by the way.  We were in the first seat in the Mezzanine, which was actually excellent because it was easier to see how they were doing the tricks.  A lot of their tricks have been on their show or on other shows, but it was still a lot of fun.  And then someone in the line for cabs recognized me and thanked me for my talk, so people at the Rio cab line probably thought I was some important person.  Buahaha.

Then I packed and went to bed.

Monday, I got on the airplane and swallowed my crown.  And I’m freaking out about it.  Yep.

TAM Saturday

I got up early on Saturday and headed to the Del Mar bar to meet Ginger Campbell, super awesome brain and ER doctor, to watch the 3rd place World Cup match between Sweden and France.  I didn’t stay for the whole thing, but Sweden ended up winning.  I missed a panel about paranormal investigation and a talk by Sadie Crabtree.  I fully intended to watch Sadie Crabtree, but got caught up in a conversation with Heidi Anderson in the Presenters room.

ASIDE: I am on the airplane and having a slow freak out because a crown on one of my teeth isn’t there and I have apparently swallowed it.  It doesn’t hurt, I didn’t notice when it happened, but now my throat hurts.  I assume I’m not going to die from swallowing a crown, right?  I wish this airplane had internet so I could send out a distress signal.

Anyway, I then got a tdap vaccine because I don’t want to get whooping cough.  My arm still hurts.

I got caught up in a discussion with PZ Myers and a group of guys about Elevatorgate and women in the movement.  It’s always weird to be the only woman in discussion about women because you’re treated as like a representative of the whole gender.  It was a good discussion though.  When they realized I was giving a talk the following day, they asked if it was going to be about women in the movement and seemed disappointed when I said it wasn’t going to be.  I told them that women join the movement because they care about skepticism and issues other than being a woman, I don’t want to be put in some ghetto where it’s my job to talk only about women.

Then, there was a panel about placebos and how and why they worked, and if it was possible to use the placebo effect intentionally and honestly.  It was an interesting discussion, though I wonder if it would have been better as a presentation rather than a panel discussion.

Elizabeth Loftus then spoke about manufacturing memories and how unreliable human memories are.  I found this very interesting because I’d just finished reading The Invisible Gorilla, which is about much the same thing.  Or at least I think it was, but I could be manufacturing that memory too…

Richard Wiseman was up next, but I don’t remember his talk at all.  Then it was lunch, where we talked about Mansplaining, Poe’s Law, and Godwin’s Law.

After lunch the magnificantly awesome Carol Tavris spoke about cognitive dissonance.  Her main point was that when you’re arguing with someone you have to be careful because if you say that their beliefs or opinions are stupid they won’t be able to agree because it won’t jive with their image of themselves as smart people.

Then!  Oh Then!  Then it was Bill Nye the Science Guy!  His talk was interesting, he was interesting, and we’re all pretty sure he is the Doctor.  It’s the bow tie.  After Bill, it was Richard Dawkins, who I didn’t actually think was that interesting.  He talked about his new children’s book, and then about aliens.  After PZ had been so entertaining on the subject Friday, Dawkins was a bit dry.  But, he started taking questions and that was fairly interesting.  We were all trapped in the room because there was a Chuck Norris convention at the hotel as well, and they were taking up the hallway.  Dawkins, adorably, didn’t know who Chuck Norris was.

That evening I went to a presenter’s reception, and got to spend some time hanging out with a lot of awesome people who were going to be speaking, including Debbie Goddard who I had not previously spent much time with.  But there was a drunk british guy from Shrewsbury who would not leave me alone.  I hate wine breath.  And I was not nice to him, but he kept following me.  He was so annoying that every time I tried to escape and enter a new conversation, everyone who was in that conversation would leave and leave me stranded.

He also kept touching me, which I found very disconcerting.  Fortunately, I was eventually rescued, and he was asked to leave, but it was pretty gross.

I was hungry, went to Steak and Shake, one of the two take out restaurants at the hotel — it took 45 minutes to get food.  It was horrible.  And the food was only OK as well.  Then I went to bed early, so I could get up for the papers on Sunday.

TAM Friday

First up this morning was a marginal breakfast.  I don’t understand this — why do people put cooked fruit into things that don’t need cooked fruit.  Cooked fruit is not chocolate.  It does not make things better.  It makes them measurably much worse.  Croissants don’t need jelly on the inside.  It’s gross.

George Hrab opened the conference with a brilliant song, the best part of which was the direction to make sure that any questions you direct at a speaker are actually questions, not opinions, speeches, or comments on the speaker.  It was pretty funny.

Michael Shermer was first up and I literally don’t remember what he talked about.  I was not awake and not that interested, so I guess it just didn’t stick.

Then there was a panel, Skepticism and TV.  I got over the fact that *I* wasn’t on the panel, but I have to say it is really hard to look at these panels of old white guys and think that they’ve made the effort to get more than one point of view.  When they found out Adam Savage wasn’t coming, they had the opportunity to try to get a minority or a woman on the panel, and they didn’t.  Which was a shame because everyone on the panel agreed with one another and didn’t have a lot of useful advice on how to get more skepticism on TV.

Here’s the thing, when you don’t have young people talking about what’s going on, you miss stuff.  If you don’t have women, or mothers, or people of color, or people from different socio-economic levels, you don’t hear about whether people are actually being exposed to skepticism on TV.

Did the old white men mention any of the children’s programming out there?  No, not at all.  And that’s probably the place where you see the most skepticism incorporated into fiction storylines.  Look at Dora the Explorer, or any of the other investigative type shows that are aimed at kids.  Those teach critical thinking and why don’t they think that that qualifies as skepticism on TV.  Yes, you watch Bones or whatever and it’s absurd and not related to real critical thinking, but prime time adult television is not the only thing on TV.  There’s more than the Discovery Channel.

They also talked a lot about editing and how to get around being edited in ways they don’t want to be.  I’ll just say that it’s almost impossible to get by a determined editor.  They’re tricksy people.

*deep breath*

Yes, so I took some issues with that panel.

Next up was Lawrence Krauss.  A few months ago, Krauss made some statements in support of his friend who was an admitted rapist of underage girls.  There was a fair amount of backlash, and threats to walk out on him at TAM.  If that happened, I couldn’t tell.  There’s so many people in and out of the room anyway, it wouldn’t have been noticed, but also I think that elevatorgate has so overshadowed this that no one quite cared as much.

He gave a history lesson on Richard Feynman, which was OK, but I wasn’t that interested in a biography.

Then Jamy Ian Swiss led James Randi and two others in a recap of Project Alpha, which was when two magicians pretend to have Uri Gelleresque powers for several years and the lab believed them despite the fact that it was very obvious what they were doing.  Embarrassing for science, but kind of hilarious for magicians.  It shows how lame psychics are.

Eugenie Scott was up next, but I didn’t listen to that talk, I looked at books and walked around.  I wasn’t very interested in Climate Change Denial and I was tired and wanted to move around.  I’m trying to get over feeling guilty for not going to every talk, but it’s uncomfortable to sit all day.

And then it was lunch — I sat with the amazing Greta Christina and several other really cool people.  Elevatorgate was the primary topic, but what I liked that we talked about was how the movement needs to be getting people in disadvantaged circumstances involved.  So many people who are in the movement are there because they are the ones who can afford it.  If you look at where the large populations of black people are, they are also poor places with strong religious communities.  South Carolina and Mississippi have huge percentage of black people in their population, and those are places where being an atheist is not necessarily safe but more importantly, these are places where there are problems facing the community that are so much more pressing than religion.  Teen Pregnancy, education, jail time.  These are problems that the skeptic community should be working on, because we can’t get people to participate if they’re struggling to live.  Let’s get people in better life circumstances so that they can spend time on education and learning to be scientifically literate.  And it’s not just the South, of course, it’s inner city, it’s Detroit, it’s Compton.

Ok, sorry, off the soapbox.

After lunch, it was just pure uninterrupted awesomeness.

Jennifer Michael Hecht spoke first, and she decided she was going to try to talk about everything that ever happened ever and that she would accomplish this by talking super fast.  She talked a lot about the history of skepticism, which is the focus of her very excellent book Doubt, A History.  She was fantastic.  She talked about the movie The Road to Wellville, and said that a lot of people who go to quacks do it because, essentially, they want the attention.  Though she also implied that women could get a happy ending from a chiropractor.

They had to cut her off before she was finished, and then it was time for PZ, who was hilarious.  Every slide had a picture of either squid or octopi, which I feel is necessary.  He was talking about the biology of aliens.  I think his most interesting point was that there are several highly intelligent animals on earth that are self-aware that we still don’t know how to communicate with, yet we’re seeking out aliens.

He was awesome, and was followed by Pamela Gay, who I didn’t particularly like.  Not that she wasn’t good, she was calling for more funding and emphasis on science.  What I didn’t like was her criticism of the skeptic movement as scattered, as though the emphasis of everyone on the movement should be on science.  The fact of the matter is that not everyone can care a lot about every cause — outrage fatigue.  Science education is important, and I’m for it and happy to support it, but it’s not what I’m particularly interested in.  It’s not the cause that I’m going to spend time on.  That’s not because I’m scattered, it’s because my time is spent elsewhere.  I appreciate her enthusiasm for the cause, but it’s not a very useful criticism.

And then it was time for the best thing I’ve ever seen ever.  I can’t wait for it to be on YouTube, because I want to watch it again.  It was a panel on the future of humans in space.  It was moderated by Phil Plait, and had Bill Nye the Science Guy, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Pamela Gay, and Lawrence Krauss.  NdGT started off real quiet and then he jumped in like a ninja and started kicking ass.  He thinks that we don’t spend enough money on science and we should double NASA’s budget and do everything.  The bank bailout was more money than everything we spent on NASA in its fifty year existence.  Lawrence Krauss sort of poo-pooed the idea of humans in space, and Neil deGrasse Tyson bitch slapped him, with major assistance from Bill Nye.

NdGT totally dominated, and I didn’t want it to ever end.  I would say it was impossible to follow, except it was Tyson himself who was following it up, so he was fine.  He is a great speaker — he’s funny, he’s passionate, and he knows what he’s talking about.  Once again, it was simply so amazing that it’s difficult to sum up.  His focus was on stupid things that people believe that aren’t true.  I told Jarrett that Bill Nye and NdGT should be in a buddy cop movie together, he tweeted it, and the Jen McCreight saw that NdGT in his talk was going to go on his Twitter feed and she quickly posted it AND he read it outloud.  Hysterically funny.  I want it to happen.

And when NdGT was finished, that was it for the day.  I went back to my room for a while, came back up while Jennifer Michael Hecht was doing autographs.  I sat in a throne-like chair beside her while she fielded people who wanted her signature on her books.  It was entertaining sitting on that side of the table.  After that, I went down to eat.  Saw Heidi Anderson briefly and then got ready for Penn’s Party.  I hung out with Jen McCreight and some people before the party and then it was time for Donuts and Bacon.

Penn has a band called the No God Band — they’re decent, and the party was essentially a concert for them.  They did a lot of covers and some original songs as well.  I ended up hanging with Jen some more, as well as Hemant and a few others.  I saw Christina Rad briefly, and that was fun.  It was really loud and I was really tired, so I ended up bailing after about an hour and a half.  Then I collapsed in exhaustion because my legs could no longer hold me up.

AND THAT WAS FRIDAY!