Skepticon Needs HALP!

I went to Skepticon 3 back in 2010 and had a blast. It was one of the first large skepticism conferences that I had attended, and the speaker lineup was intense! BTW, that link will send you to the SK3 media page, where you can watch videos of any or all of the talks from that year.

Here’s a bit from the Skepticon website that I like:

It’s a little difficult to explain to someone who’s never attended that Skepticon is not just about the talks and panels; it’s also about the immersion, the total envelopment into a genuinely accepting (and interesting!) community. We don’t do all this just because we love to hear PZ Myers talk (though we do). We do it because events like Skepticon are front and center at the beginning of the story of how you and I — and him, and her, and them, and we — find each other.

I missed Skepticon 4 last year and started regretting it the moment my twitter stream began to fill up with tweets from the event.

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As FSM is my witness, I will NEVER miss Skepticon AGAIN!

As their tagline boasts, Skepticon is the largest FREE conference on skepticism. The organizers of Skepticon feel very strongly about keeping the conference free to attend, and thus within the reach of more people. But as we all know, it’s never free to put on a conference. Skepticon accepts donations and does other fundraising to help rent the venue and cover incidental costs, but because of the growing popularity of the event, this year’s fundraising fell short. Here’s the letter from organizer and MC Lauren Lane that was just published TODAY – one week from the start of Skepticon 5.

Dear Internet,

Let me start by first saying that I love ALL of your faces. I do.

So, as you may have heard, Skepticon is happening soon and I am so excited! WOOO!

But, here’s the thing. There’s a catch. I know, I know–there is always a catch, but this one is pretty important. Skepticon is in a bit of a tough spot. This year, we had to secure a bigger venue, and that means that it’s more expensive to put on.

If I had all the money in the world, I would put on Skepticon for free every year, but sadly (both for me and the world) that is not the case. We need donations to keep Skepticon running, especially now as we are faced with a larger obstacle than we had originally thought.

Every time I express my worry about Skepticon’s financial situation, I am faced with comments about we ‘should just start charging.’ I won’t lie to you all, doing that would make things much easier financially. If everyone who came to Skepticon gave us $5, we would easily be able to fund ourselves.

But we won’t start doing that. Ever. As far as I am concerned, as long as all of you continue to believe in and support us, then we are willing to put in the work to make this event free to attend. We want any and everyone who can make it out to Springfield freaking’ Missouri to be able to be here with us.

We want you here. We want this event to happen. We need your help.

Hearts and kisses,

Lauren

If you are able – if you treasure the spread of ideas and information and critical thought and skepticism and rationality – if you love that the organizers are doing everything in their power to keep this event free and open to the public – please join me in donating to Skepticon this year.

Click here to Donate Now

This link will take you to the “Contribute” page of Skepticon. From there click on the maroon square in the upper right corner that says “make a donation”.

UPDATE (11/7/12): Skepticon is ON! From the Skepticon website:

WE DID IT!

Skepticon is fully funded for this year!

Thanks to this amazing community (who raised roundabout 7,000 in three days for this event-holy crapsticks), our speakers, bloggers, and supporters for spreading the word, and the hard work of the Skeptiteam negotiating like badasses with the venue/hotel people, we have done it.

This year is going to be totally LEGENDARY.

New Faces

Three things this today:

Minnesota State Primaries

If you live in Minnesota you have an opportunity to participate in the State Primary. The biggies on the ballot are US Representative and US Senator. There were also school board and judicial nominations on my particular ballot.

Another Thank You

Thank you to a new Kiva lending buddy. Since I posted my initial challenge there have been three people who have been willing, able and wanting to participate. And in even more exciting Kiva-related news, I’m going to start lending money as part of the Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious lending team. As part of a lending team I lend money as an individual, but I can count each loan towards the impact of one team. So, this is an atheism visibility project. Right now the atheist team is ranked 2nd of all teams on Kiva. Guess who just slightly ahead of us? Yup – Kiva Christians.

Anyway, our latest loan was made to Rose from Murang’a, Kenya. Rose is a mom, with one of her three children still in school. She is a tailor and farmer, growing produce and raising dairy animals. She wants use this loan to buy a chuff cutter, which is used to cut feed into smaller pieces for the animals she raises, and I guess makes life way easier. You can read her full story here.

A New Face At Biodork

I am very excited to announce that a new regular column will be appearing on Biodork twice a week. Meet Ellen Bulger!

Ellen is a life-long atheist – well, since the age of 11 – and a regular Freethought Blogs reader and commenter. She describes herself as a naturalist and appreciator of entomology and mollusks. She is a freelance writer and prolific photographer; you can browser her collection of over 22,000 photos over at Flickr. Ellen wants to show the world that we can find joy and beauty in this world without believing in superstition or gods.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, Ellen will be guest blogging her photographs and writings. Her first piece will go up later this afternoon. – Welcome, Ellen!

Thank You

Earlier this week I invited you to join me on the microlending website, Kiva. I asked that if you were willing, able and wanted to join after learning more about the institution, to join through my personal invitation link so that I could receive $25 Kiva bonuses. Two of you took me up on my invitation, resulting in $50 worth of loan money that I was able to turn around tonight. Here’s who we’re funding:

 This is Ruth Del Carmen from Guasmo, Ecuador. She owns her own house, and since separating from her husband she is raising two children on her own. She runs a restaurant and sells cosmetics to supplement her income. She is planning on using this loan to buy chairs, table and a display case for her businesses. You can read her full story here.

Meet the Nuestro Sueño Group from Temuco, Chile. Group loans can be a good investment because members of a community come together to borrow, and have group support and peer pressure to make timely repayments. Members of Nuestro Sueño are planning on using their loans to purchase products for their individual businesses, which include food, clothing, crafts, and firewood sales.

Thanks for making these two loans possible, my Kiva loan buddies.

If you have an interest in joining Kiva, I invite you to join through my link here - Kiva is still giving $25 bonuses out!

6 O’Clock BS: Kiva Bonuses!

You may know that the Hubby and I support the microlending program, Kiva.

Here’s a cartoon from the Kiva website. It draws (literally) a very high-level picture  of how Kiva works:

So yeah. Pretty cool stuff. The Hubby and I have been re-investing two $25 loans for a couple of years now, but we’d like to get to a place where we can do more. We’ve been part of loans to three people. Their stories are linked below if you’re interested.

  • Nidal – A shoe salesman from Gaza, Palestine
  • Ansu – A shoe salesman from Bo, Sierra Leone
  • Gina – A hog farmer from Linglingay, Angadanan, Philippines

If this is a program that want to get involved with – maybe you’ve been thinking about getting involved for a while – how about now? Because if you do it now AND if you do it through me, I get a $25 bonus from Kiva that I can invest in a new Kiva loan. Let me be clear: I get a $25 bonus for every person who joins up through me – no limits until the bonus money runs out site-wide. That’s potentially a lot of money that one could put to good use!

This is an offer that all existing Kiva members can take advantage of, so if you know a friend who does Kiva and you’d rather they get an extra Kiva bonus – do it. No hard feelings. Honest. Girl Scouts honor. I believe in Kiva, and I think you should get involved if you can and if you think it’s a good program.

But just in case you do want to join Kiva through me and wouldn’t mind helping me and the Hubby earn some bonus loan money, click below to be redirected to Kiva’s website and my personal sign-up page:

Join Kiva and Biodork to Help Change Lives

6 O’Clock BS – I Am Your Dancing Monkey

Okay!  I’m starting to get a little nervous and super excited about tomorrow’s Blogathon to benefit the Secular Student Alliance’s SSA Week.

My first post will be up at 6am CST, and I’ll be posting every 30 minutes after that for a full 24 HOURS!

I have a list of topics that I could write about (but nothing pre-written or pre-scheduled!), and a few gimmicks that I’m looking forward to rolling out. I’m not going to give away (hint: GIVE AWAY <—subtlety!) all of them here, but I wanted to introduce a couple of ideas tonight.

The first person to comment on my 6am post tomorrow morning gets awarded the Golden Coffee Bean. There’s no physical prize, just bragging rights. Also you have to make me coffee. Well, you have to at least pretend like you’re making it for me (shhh…I’ll never know the difference!). This doesn’t financially support the SSA; I just want to see a friendly face at tomorrow’s kick off. But speaking of…

ZOMG DONATE TO SSA!

Donate early. Donate often. I want your money! $5, $10, $25, $50, $50,000 (thanks, Todd Stiefel!) – whatever you can give in support of the SSA and its mission of supporting secular students, secular student groups and scientific and critical thought in our schools. That’s why we’re all doing this, right?

And this is where the “I am Your Dancing Monkey” part comes in.

When you donate, there is a place at the bottom of the form that allows you to leave a “topic suggestion” for a given blogger. It looks like this:

Donors choice. I will write about – or do (where’s that video camera?) – a good many things to earn your monies during my 24-hour blogathon. Write your suggestion in the box and I’ll try to make it happen.

Myself, I have two other ideas (other than blogging topics) of how you can use that space if you’re contributing to the Biodork blogathon:

1) Tell me WHERE to blog! I like this one and hope someone makes use of it. My blog tagline is “Thoughts from the big cherry”, which is a reference to the Spoonbridge and Cherry at the Walker Art Center. I love my adopted city and I love exploring it. You pick the place and I will scramble to get there in between blog posts. Don’t know the area? Jump on Google Maps or search for “Minneapolis landmarks” or similar. Pick a place and I’ll get there.

So here’s how it works. Donate a minimum of $10 to SSA and in the “Topic Suggestion” box write “Visit” and a place that is a) in Minneapolis, b) can be found if I google it, and c) is easily accessible to the public. No residential or private addresses please. Businesses, landmarks, etc. are cool. I will blog from that spot and put up a photo of me on location. I can’t promise that I’ll make it everywhere during the blogathon, but if you submit a location suggestion, I will try. I’m going to cap “travel blogs” at six locations so I can do some actual writing instead of spending all of my time driving around. If I don’t make it to your spot during the blogathon, I will do a wrap up post of those locations that were missed and have it up within one week.

2) Tell me to write about YOU! Do you want me to write a story about you and how badass, sweet and mild-mannered, supervillany or just plain AWESOME you are? I’m fairly decent at writing fictional, off-the-cuff stories, and it would be my honor to make up a fictional story about you! If you donate a minimum of $10 to the SSA I will write and post your story (approx. 250-500 words) during the blogathon. In the Topic Suggestion box write “Story About Me” and (this is important) include five words that you want me to include in your story (psst – they don’t have to be words that describe you – they can be any random words you want!)

Housekeeping note: If you donate and have made a request of me, and want to really, really make sure I see it, the best thing to do is to forward me your SSA donation email receipt (or send me a copy-paste of the relevant information). An administrator is going to be forwarding me requests as they come in, but the admin may not be on the clock for the full 24 hours. You can reach me at [email protected]

You can start sending in requests any time. Aaaaaany time between now and 6am this Sunday morning. Well, it’s over at six, so let’s cap requests at 5am Sunday morning.

That’s a lot, I know. And I’m planning on doing some serious writing in between all of the silliness! I am very much looking forward to this wild ride, and hope you choose to spend some of it with me.

Okay. It’s time to go buy energy drinks!

SSA Week Twitter Challenge Results

I know that y’all were up at midnight central time, waiting with bated breath to see the results of my SSA Week Twitter Challenge, and as such you’ve already seen these tweets, but I thought I’d put ‘em up here again. You know, for posterity. Or something.

Last night (this morning) I immediately went to the SSA Week contribution form and sent in our donation. We did it! Thanks everyone for making my Twitter Challenge a success!

Later today I’ll be posting about my impending upcoming blogathon. T-20.5 hours until BLOGATHON!!!

Delta Airs Anti-Vax Advertisement

I haz a sad.

I like flying Delta. There’s a huge hub here in Minneapolis. I have the Delta SkyMiles card so I can rack up points and fly places for free (well, freeish, but that’s another post), and I’ve generally had very good experiences on Delta flights.

So, I was sad when I saw this in my Twitter stream yesterday:

It turns out that Delta and In-Flight Media are presenting a nearly three-minute ad that trivializes the flu and tells the audience that:

  1. You don’t have to worry about preventing the flu – FALSE.
  2. Most illnesses that present with flu-like symptoms are not the flu – TRUE.
  3. Washing your hands is a good way to help you stay healthy. – TRUE.
  4. Covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze is a good way to minimize spreading germs – TRUE.
  5. Drink water to keep your body hydrated – TRUE.
  6. Get the right amount of sleep and reduce stress levels to decrease your chances of getting sick – PROBABLY TRUE.
  7. Vitamin C and D – found in nutritious food  – are effective, natural preventatives – FALSE.
  8. Regular exercise helps keep your immune system strong. – TRUE.
  9. The flu shot is an option. Research the different types of flu vaccines your doctor may recommend. SURE, WHY NOT?

Who would advocate against being an informed consumer? I applaud people who are willing to research their health care options. But, when considering the source (psst – it’s one of the country’s biggest anti-vaccine organizations), and considering the place that they direct you to research flu vaccines (psst – It’s their hugely anti-vaccine propogranda-laden website filled with misinformation about all sorts of vaccines), the little alarm bells in your head should start to ring, buzz, sing, or talk – whichever you’ve got your alarm set to.

Elyse Anders – the president of the  Women Thinking Free Foundation and driver behind the Hug Me I’m Vaccinated Campaign brought this story to my attention via her article on Skepchick.org. Elyse has a list of things that you can do to help protest to Delta and the associated organizations that are allowing this ad to run.

  1. Sign the CHANGE.ORG petition. Add your name to those of us who would like Delta to remove the advertisement. Change.org works, and it’s an easy way to make your voice heard.
  2. Tweet: “#fludelta @DeltaAssist @Delta If you’re so concerned about safety, stop running potentially deadly anti-vaccine ads http://wp.me/pbblq-6qu
  3. Facebook/YouTube: Add your comments about the video here. The content has been removed from Facebook, but you can still see it on YouTube. The owner, In-Flight Media, has disabled commenting, but you can still downrate it.
  4. Share Elyse’s post on Facebook and Twitter.
  5. Tell your friends and family about the campaign and get them involved!

The last time Elyse was involved in a campaign against vaccine misinformation advertisements by this group placed in Times Square, the ads were pulled. With all of our help, hopefully we can make it happen again!

Academic Animal Dissection, FY!

This morning I saw one of my Facebook Friends showing off a t-shirt that really annoyed me:

Image shows a cartoon frog with the words “cut class, not frogs!” and “Don’t dissect.” “peta2″

Of course it’s a PETA shirt, which is one mark against it, but it’s the joyous anti-intellectualism of the message that first slapped me in the face. The cutesy message about cutting class makes me want to take a shower. Remember this summer’s marketing disaster for  JCPenny –  the “I’m too pretty to do my homework so my brother has to do it for me” t-shirt? Same sort of thing, but more gender-inclusive; Everyone can be anti-learning with this shirt! 

I’m making a lot of assumptions in these next couple of sentences, but they’ve held true in my experience. Don’t skip class – you miss out on interesting, important information. I’ve found that when I skipped classes, it was harder to grasp the big picture, and so the subject seemed more out of my grasp. Once this downward spiral starts, it’s easy to just pretend that the material is boring or irrelevant because you’re missing an entire hour’s worth (at least) of facts or information! Also, whatever you’ve missed is probably going to be on the test, and you’ll feel a lot less stressed and like more of a superstar if you do well on the test…you know, rather than failing it.

Second – do dissections! It’s not gross, it’s not weird, it’s cool as hell! You are looking at the internal workings of the machinery that drives a living being! The National Science Teacher’s Association supports animal dissection and believes that it can help students develop skills of observation and comparison, discover the shared and unique structures and processes of specific organisms, and develop a greater appreciation for the complexity of life.

The wet lab portions of my high-school and college A&P classes were amazing! Seeing how fine the nerves were, how intricate the cardiovascular system, with all of the tubes going into and out of the heart and through the lungs, and understanding how long the small and large intestines really were as they moved through my gloved hands for a length of time that seemed to go on forever – these experiences fueled my interest in anatomy and inspired me to ask questions in ways that I doubt a computer program would have. So much of what we do these days is digital, and I suspect performing a necropsy on a computer screen would be just another game for me.

So, I was feeling a little grumpy about the “cut class, not frogs” shirt. But this morning on Twitter I found a perfect way to raise my spirits. A teacher at Gaffney High School in Gaffney, South Carolina is requesting donations to help fund dissections in her classroom:

My Anatomy and Physiology students attend a high poverty school that has limited resources and monies available. They are juniors or seniors who have identified their career path to be in the health science field. Some have set goals to be lab technicians while others strive for their doctorates. All of them want to learn and are interested in the structure and function of the human body. We have an enormous amount of fun learning and utilizing the limited resources we have.

My Project: Future nurses, health care professionals, and doctors will be inspired to pursue their dreams by having hands on experience with preserved specimen dissections. Dissection tool kits, virtual dissection tutorials, and basic specimens of sheep eyes, hearts, and brains will create a curiosity of the structure and function of the human body that will last a lifetime.

Science is a difficult and intimidating subject to many teenagers. My goal is to remove these obstacles by providing lessons that motivate my students to learn and strive for a college degree. Hands on activities and labs are the pathway to see my students excel not only in science, but also in their life.

If you can spare $5 (or a few $5!) and you’re feeling sentimental about your old frog dissection days, why not stop by her website and help out? At the time of this posting, Mrs. Greene is only $109 away from meeting her goal.

foursquaring for Vaccines

I use foursquare, which is part online game, part social media, part easy advertising for businesses. When I visit a place and “check in” I tell the world or just my circle of foursquare friends that I’m there, or that I’ve been there. foursquare seems to be great for local businesses – they can offer specials for checking in once (“show a cashier that you checked in and get $5 off your total at check out”), or offer loyalty programs (“check in here three times and receive a free Margarita”). foursquare is free for users, it’s a way for local businesses to advertise to their target market, and there’s a silly point program so you can compete with friends. From what I understand it’s similar to Facebook’s Places, but I don’t use Places, so I’m not sure how accurate the comparison is.

I’ve used foursquare to tell my friends when I’m visiting somewhere extremely cool or out of the ordinary (It was fun to tweet via foursquare that I was “checking in” to the sky deck of the Seattle Space Needle last month), and to get good deals ($5 mojitos at Stella’s Fish Cafe!). But yesterday I used it to SAVE LIVES!

I stopped at a Walgreens in South Minneapolis last night, and when I opened up Foursquare I was interested to see that Walgreens was offering a special. I stop at that particular store pretty often, but had never before seen them offer a special. I opened the tab and saw this:

I went online to learn more about the offer, and it turns out that through October 8th, Walgreens will donate one flu shot voucher for every valid foursquare or Facebook Places check-in. And you can go onto their Facebook page to vote for one of five groups that will receive a percentage of the flu shot vouchers (the organizations are Feeding America, the National Urban League, AmeriCares, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the American Diabetes Association).

How cool is that!? I love technology. And corporate giving. And vaccines. Win!

Dining Out for Life

Dining Out for Life Minnesota is tomorrow – Thursday, April 28th.

Go out to any one of a gazillion and ten participating restaurants, and the restaurant donates a portion of your food bill to The Aliveness Project, a local nonprofit agency which each year serves one out of four people living with HIV/AIDS in Minnesota. The Aliveness Project offers an on-site hot meals program, food shelf, integrative therapies, case management, holiday baskets, HIV educational services.

I’m getting up early to have breakfast at Anodyne Coffeehouse in South Minneapolis before going in to work.


And for dinner I’m going to Joe’s Garage in Loring Park with a bunch of friends.

There’s an entire list of restaurants throughout Minnesota that are participating in Dining Out for Life.

Where are you eating?