TAM7 – Part 6

Quick updates…

Adam Savage spent a little time telling us some rather compelling stories about his early personal failures. We watched a great panel, hosted by DJ Grothe, featuring Penn, Teller, Ray Hyman and Jamy Ian Swiss. They discussed some ethical issues involved in the conjuring arts and the impact of psychic entertainers.

After lunch, there was a talk about the late Jerry Andrus, along with a few segments from a documentary about his life, followed by a panel on skepticism and broadcasting, featuring Penn & Teller, Adam Savage, Jennifer Oullete and Bill Prady.

Phil Plait spoke about the 2012 doomsday predictions.

They discussed the more than $8000 raised to provide vaccinations to children in southern Nevada.

And now…they’re doing the live auction.

I’m still feeling a little under the weather so I’m going to grab a nap after the auction, so I can party tonight.

TAM7 – Part 5

It’s Saturday morning in Las Vegas…do you know where your host is?

I’m sitting in the ballroom, listening to Michael Shermer make a case for Libertarianism. He’s not done and I’m certainly not going to get into it now, but it’ll likely be part of the on-air review.

I developed a bit of a sore throat last night, so I took some meds and went back to the hotel room. We had an early morning and I didn’t want to be sick. As it turns out, I’m definitely a little bit sick but I’m not going to let it stop me from any of my planned fun.

This morning, during the live ‘Skeptics Guide to the Universe’ – Rebecca Watson married Sid Rodrigues in a planned, spontaneous wedding that was a secret to all but a handful of people. During the SGU Q&A session, Sid got the microphone and offered a quick proposal, Rebecca said she’d need a wedding party (and a group of appropriately dressed people walked up on stage), her family (who also came up on stage), music (George Hrab came out and sang for the cake cutting and first dance), etc. Adam Savage presented the rings and much fun was had by all.

I have a nice “Wedding Invitation” which reads; “The honor of your presence has been forced against your will at the marriage of Rebecca Watson to Sid Rodrigues… Saturday, the eleventh of July, two thousand and nine at half past eightish in the morning.”

More later, but we’re trying to plan a group picture of AE/NPR fans Sunday afternoon at 3:30 (after the Million Dollar Challenge).

TAM7 – Part 4

I’m going to continue blogging about the events, but I’m afraid you won’t be getting more detailed discussions about each event at this blog. I’m listening to the talks, taking some notes, meeting lots of people and, in order to enjoy myself, I’ll be giving a somewhat detailed account of the events at TAM on the next Atheist Experience show and the next Non-Prophets, instead of here.

That said, here’s a quick recap of the day…so far:

When I last signed off, Hal Bidlack was giving the opening address. I’ve got a great deal of respect for Hal, but what I’d really like to do is have a lengthy discussion with him about skepticism and religion. Hal took a moment to strongly make a point (which he evidently made at the last TAM, as well) that every skeptic is welcome here and that while Randi is an atheist, Hal isn’t and that we need to be respectful when dealing with the issue of religion.

He didn’t go into great detail, which is why I’d like to have a long — on air — discussion about this subject because, I am sincerely interested in how someone manages to advocate reason, critical thinking and skepticism, yet maintain religious beliefs. Please note: I am completely serious. This is not an attempt to promote an argument or beat up on someone…Hal is a genuinely good guy and he holds a position that, to me, clearly amounts to cognitive dissonance — and I’d love to talk about why. I’d love for it to be thoughtful, respectful and informative. I’ll see if this can be arranged.

Phil Plait spoke for a bit about the state of the JREF, the wonderful work done by the JREF crew in organizing the event (and they most definitely deserve gratitude and recognition, because things are running smoothly and the event has been wonderful, so far).

James Randi spoke about his recent illness and how he’s doing better, very humbled and honored to see that we have more than 1000 people at the event and are expecting more as the meeting continues.

Without addressing every speaker we’ve seen today, in detail, I’ll just say that I’ve had a great time. Bill Prady gave the keynote address (which gave me ideas to pitch to him for additions to his TV show, “The Big Bang Theory”). Fintan Steele, a former monk, gave a very interesting talk about “Personalized Medicine” or “Personalized Mysticism”.

After lunch, Jamy Ian Swiss and James Randi took the stage for a great session of nostalgia from Randi’s life. We saw footage from an early appearance on The Tonight Show, footage from a BBC program, the milk can escape and a couple of straight jacket escapes…along with some rare footage of Randi’s work with Alice Cooper.

Jennifer Oullete talked about a new initiative to provide Hollywood with easy access to real scientists with the goal of improving the way science is presented to the public – a very important endeavor that I’m optimistic about as so many people get their information from popular programs.

As I write this, we’re listening to the anti-anti-vax panel. I’ll prompt microbiologychick to write a blog post on this talk, later.

Still to come, today: The Live Auction…Joe Nickell…and the wrap-up by Jeff Wagg.

For those people at the event, some of us are getting together for drinks at the lounge near the Silverado at around 8pm. I’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response from fans of the show and I’ll be trying to spend as much free time as possible with anyone who wants to sit down, have a drink and chat.

If I didn’t already absolutely love doing the show, you guys would have made it worth doing simply by saying “Hi, I like the show” and not just because most of you seem to want to fill me with free liquor.

I’ve been made a card-carrying, T-shirt wearing member of the Society of Edmonton Atheists (though this won’t get me free health care)…another fan of the show brought me a book edited by Michael Martin (more on that later, I’d like to read it before I comment) and everyone has been great; posing for pictures, drinking, chatting…if Las Vegas wasn’t already my second-favorite city, it would be now.

More details to follow…and I’ve been informed that we’ll be going to the Skepchick party on Saturday night, so there may be a bit of blurry-blogging on Sunday.

TAM7 – Part 3

We had a great time at the reception last night. I did get to meet James Randi and this long-awaited thrill was more than I’d anticipated as he recognized my name — something I wasn’t expecting. A few years ago, I wrote an essay for a website and not only did Randi read it, he thought enough of it to quote it in one of the Swift reports. I was dumbfounded, as I’d really just been paraphrasing many of the things I’d learned from him over the years. That paled in comparison to being recognized for the work we’ve done on The Atheist Experience/Non-Prophets shows.

Whoever suggested that one avoid meeting their heroes in order to avoid disappointment never had heroes like mine. I’ve met several of my heroes and I haven’t been disappointed in the least.

One of the bigger surprises of the reception was that I was approached by a surprising number of people who were fans of the work we’ve done. I expected to run into a few people who might recognize me from a YouTube clip, or some who might spot the name and ask “Don’t I know you from somewhere?”, or “Hey, I really like the shows”…but what happened was substantially more than that. I spent the better part of the evening talking to people who were big fans of one or both shows.

It’s very nice to hear that people appreciate and have benefited from the work we’ve done and I can’t wait to meet more people over the next few days. If you’re at TAM and haven’t stopped by to say hello – do.

After the reception, we went to the ‘Magic, Mentalism and Mayhem’ show…hosted by Jamy Ian Swiss and featuring Kevin Burke, Banachek and Mac King. A brief summary: Jamy was the perfect host and entertainer (as expected), Kevin Burke was laugh-out-loud funny, Banachek was baffling and Mac King was at his best – and was the perfect highlight and closer.

As I’ve mentioned, I don’t ever leave Vegas without seeing Mac’s show. I’ve seen his act several times and we’ll be going to his show on Monday…even after seeing last night’s show (perhaps I should say ‘especially after’).

After the show, we sat around and drank with some of the attendees and then turned in…because the events started at 8:00 this morning.

We just finished listening to the Skeptics Guide to the Universe Live, and Hal Bidlack is finishing up his opening remarks. My laptop battery is dying, so I’ll have comments about his opening remarks a little later.

Time to enjoy my day!

TAM7 – Part 2

About 10 minutes into Joe Nickell’s workshop, we began to hear a disembodied voice. It was, though, immediately obvious to everyone that a technical malfunction had occurred and we were simply hearing the audio from the workshop in the next room (it helped that what we first heard was the voice of DJ Grothe thanking Jamy Ian Swiss for his introduction). This didn’t stop Joe, or anyone else, from having fun with the malfunction. Comments about poltergeists brought laughter and Joe glibly noted that ‘you can’t fake evidence like that – if you could, why would you?’

Nickell’s workshop focused on investigative strategies with examples from some of his investigations over his 40-year career as an investigator (not debunker) of the paranormal. The general theme was that skeptics need to be respectful, thorough investigators who resist the temptation to quickly reach conclusions. Addressing the burden of proof and the all-too-common argument from ignorance, he urged skeptics to avoid the trap of shifting the burden of proof.

Nickell is a well-respected investigator, an engaging speaker and someone I have a great deal of respect for. I’m not sure that we see eye-to-eye on a few things, but that’s probably because we’re different people working on different things. If I were busy investigating paranormal claims, I can think of no one better to emulate.

There’s a reception tonight at 5 and then we’ll be going to the Jamy Ian Swiss/Mac King/Banachek show at 8pm…and, I’m sure there will be plenty of partying later this evening.

TAM7 – Part 1

I arrived around 7pm on Wednesday night but Beth was forced, by weather, to take a later flight, so I headed over to the South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa and got us registered. I had a couple of hours to kill and I found myself at the Del Mar lounge in the hotel with a few dozen of TAM’s early arrivers. A few fans of the show pulled me aside and we had a great time talking about TAM, The Atheist Experience, magic and a few other subjects. Daniel (Gizmo in the Non-Prophets chat) was there and graciously offered to drive me to the airport to pick up Beth (saving me a few dollars and making me a very happy man), and that was the end of the (public) Night One festivities.

We registered this morning (Thursday), a quick and painless process thanks to some hard work on the part of the organizers. We got our information packets, badges, tickets to events, a T-shirt and a JREF Sharpie. Some people might not be very excited about a Sharpie, but I was.

As I write this, Beth and I are sitting outside the Sonoma conference room, waiting for the doors to open so we can attend our first workshop: DJ Grothe and Jamy Ian Swiss discussing skepticism and magic. This was one of two workshops that I was really looking forward to…unfortunately, the other workshop that I was most looking forward to (Joe Nickell) was scheduled for the same timeslot.

I went back and forth on which event I was going to attend and finally decided that, despite the fact that I’d be seeing Jamy several times over the week, I’d go to that workshop. As it turns out, I waited too long, forgot to register us for the workshop ahead of time, the workshop with DJ and Jamy was sold out and so we’re just starting the workshop with Joe Nickell.

I’m not disappointed, as I wanted to go to this workshop as well…but there’s a lesson to be learned about planning, though I doubt I’ve actually learned it. :)

And now, I turn my attention to Joe…more later.

TAM7 on the horizon

The Amaz!ng Meeting 7 starts in one week and I will, finally, be in attendance!

My flight is scheduled to arrive in Las Vegas next Wednesday evening and while I haven’t tried to get myself invited to all the best parties, I’ve managed to book the key events and make preparations to try to make a few blog posts while I’m there.

Some of my more grandiose plans have been shelved as my Real Job (TM) has managed to suck up all of the time I would have used to arrange them; but I’m thrilled that my first week-long vacation in many years (maybe 15?) will be spent at my first TAM. As if that wasn’t already sweet enough, it’s also the first ‘proper’ vacation with my girlfriend.

I found out that the Thursday night event has been changed. Originally, the event was a double-billing of magic and mentalism with Jamy Ian Swiss and The Great Tomsoni & Co. The magic geeks out there already know how good this show would have been. John Thomson is a legend (and not just for his hair) and Jamy Ian Swiss is a true master of his craft.

I was really looking forward to watching two of magic’s elite performing together. Unfortunately, Johnny Thomson had to cancel. I would have been perfectly happy to watch Jamy perform alone but, to my great surprise, they’ve managed to fill the vacancy with not one, but two of my favorites: Mac King and Banachek (of Project Alpha fame…for you non-magic-geek skeptics out there).

I was already planning on taking Beth to see Mac King (and we’ll still go…I never miss his show when I’m in Las Vegas) but this triple-threat show is one I’m really looking forward to.

And while we’ll also be going to Penn & Teller’s show on Sunday night, the entire week won’t be spent hopping from one magic show to another – we’re going to be at the premiere skeptic’s convention. There will be plenty of educational and entertaining talks and workshops, a talent show, a live testing of an applicant for the million dollar challenge, plenty of partying and socializing (check out the event schedule)…and Beth and I have a full day on either side of the conference to relax, explore and enjoy.

Yes, I’m boasting…and I don’t feel the slightest bit bad about it. You should come!

If you’re at TAM and happen to spot me, don’t be shy! Come on over and say hello – even if you hate the work I’ve done on our shows. :)

Obviously I can’t promise to give regular updates (I might be having too much fun encounter problems with internet access), but I’m going to try.

TAM7: Matt yes, Martin no

This year, it will be Matt Dillahunty representing Austin at the Amaz!ng Meeting 7 in Las Vegas in July.

As someone who’s been doing the belt-tightening thing during the economic slump, I’m sad to be missing it this year. Unless AXP fans rally and throw cash at me to get there. (Though that’s not a hint at all! he insisted, inserting a big smiley emoticon.) So if you’re lucky to go, do pull Matt aside and say hi, and he may condescend to grunt desultorily in your general direction. He may discuss the trip on the show when he returns, but I asked him if he planned to liveblog the conference the other day, and he gave me this look like, “What, are you fucking stupid?” So I guess that’d be a no. Anyway, better luck for me next year, I guess.

In related news, the JREF have announced the very first UK TAM, in October, and it’s already sold out. Damn!