Convergence Day 2 #cvg2013

This was my second day at Convergence.

Our first event of the day was led by Mary, at the Sandbox. The sandbox is a room set aside for hands-on activities — a lot of it is for kids, but some of the events are for adults, too, and some (like this one) are for both. She explained a little bit about owl behavior: they swallow their prey whole, mostly, and digest the tasty bits, and then regurgitate the undigestible stuff (fur and bones) into a pellet they puke out onto the ground. And then people collect these things and study them. So we had about 40 people of various ages in the room, each given a disgusting owl pellet, sharp sticks and forceps, a hand lens, and a guide to identifying the remains of the victims, and they went at it. Everyone was engrossed in it — we had to actually kick people out at the end of our hour so the next event could get started.

I later sat on a panel with Brianne Bilyeu, Laura Okagaki, me, Melissa Kaercher, and Greg Laden to talk about “Grosser than fiction”. Packing the panel with people who all had a biology background was a good idea — my discipline really has the most disgusting stories to tell. We first talked about exactly what this “disgust” thing is; it’s a feeling that clearly has a biological foundation, but what we find disgusting is culturally shaped. So Greg could talk about African pygmies who’d eat a dead monkey crawling with maggots, because they live in a culture with a lot of food anxiety, in which wasting meat is considered deplorable. Each of us biologists could talk about things we do routinely that others might find revolting, while at the same time there are quite common things we find icky. And then we told stories. I’m sorry, I’m not going to repeat them here. You should have registered for Convergence.

My last panel was “Penises of the Animal Kingdom”. This is becoming a bit of a tradition: Skepchickcon always has a session on the biology of sex offered late at night which is always packed and always hilarious. This year we went with penises. Last year it was the female orgasm. Next year, I don’t know, give us some ideas. This one was moderated by Desiree Schell, with Bug Girl (You always want Bug on these panels), Sharon Stiteler, Emily Finke, and me. Note that I was the sole penis-haver; last year it was guys with only one female orgasm-haver, so I guess this is another tradition. We showed pictures. We talked about outre penises. I talked about how penises are not as necessary as you think, and many animals don’t bother with them.

These sessions are always about good teaching, too, which is what I enjoy most about them. There is a tremendous amount of audience participation — we got nonstop questions and suggestions, which is how I wish all my classes worked. An enthusiastic audience asking excited questions about biology? Professorial nirvana. I have heard some complaints from people that they go to panels to hear the experts up front, but I think the best learning experience in the world is to get a lot of intense back-and-forth between students and teachers.

OK, and then back to our party room. This partnership with the Skepchicks is working out well: they had Amanda Marcotte DJing again, their room was full of loud music and people dancing, and the FtB room was a few decibels quieter and at least 10° cooler. Get it all, right there in two rooms!

It goes on today. I only have two events this time, but often Saturday night is the wildest evening for the parties. It’s not too late, come on out!


  1. echoegami oh says

    Ah man, now I’m really bummed I missed the activities yesterday (was too busy recovering from the activities from the night before) it would have been great to attend those panels… So glad to see FtB and SkepChicks at Con again, you guys fit right in!

  2. says

    Due to my mother’s inability to be anywhere on time, we missed the owl lesson. Pity, the kids were looking forward to it immensely.

    We decided not to go back today. No offense to any of the FTBers there, but frankly, that was one of the most disappointing cons I’ve ever been to. The dealer room was so cramped and crowded that actually looking at anything was next to impossible, the art sale room really had nothing worth the money, there were hardly any artists in the comic row, there didn’t seem to be any vendors there (such as game vendors, authors, etc…) except for a single really cramped over-priced booth in the dealer alley, and apparently the entire ‘British Invasion’ consisted of a model of the TARDIS.

    We did have fun though. The kids were way too in awe of all the folks walking around in costume and it was their first con, so they didn’t have any expectations to dash. And my husband looked damn good in the garb I made him.

    I may go back next year, but I won’t bring the kids. The panels I wanted to attend that could have improved the con immensely for me (like the one you cited in your post), were not appropriate for this particular group of kids. Mostly because they are still at the stage in which they have no volume control and feel the need to input on everything.

  3. says

    A lot has been made, politically, of the “fact” that there is only male and female in the species DESPITE the completely obvious falsity of that “fact”. I think a discussion on the various ways in which male and female intermingle genetically and physiologically in the human species could be interesting. Just some facts about the nature of male and female that don’t come from the Bible, and in fact, offer direct proof of the falsity of a Biblical claim. Just a thought for next year.

  4. Louis says

    Did anybody walk out on your penis, PZ?

    I think I missed a word out there.


  5. says

    You should have registered for Convergence.

    I’m on another continent, damn yer tentacles! (Well, offshore to another continent, truth be told.)

  6. ChasCPeterson says

    they had Amanda Marcotte DJing again

    ah. Not a draw, imo. I used to read Pandagon, and her Insufferable Music Snob posts (her words, not mine) used to make steam come out of my ears. (Because I am an insufferable music snob too but with very different tastes.)

  7. Louis says


    You mean the MRA douche canoes claiming mass walkouts are LYING? And when you are talking about penises too, which must make you a hypocritical sexual harasser and everything? Why, it’s as if they have no interest in the facts!

    Gosh darnit, there goes another set of idols for my moral compass.


  8. Ogvorbis says

    You mean the MRA douche canoes claiming mass walkouts are LYING? And when you are talking about penises too, which must make you a hypocritical sexual harasser and everything? Why, it’s as if they have no interest in the facts!

    Is someone actually making this claim? If so, I am shocked, shocked I tell you.

  9. DLC says

    been feeling a bit misanthropic these days, so it’s probably just as well I stayed home. Well that and the fact that at present my finances would make the average family of church mice feel like freewheeling libertines.
    Perhaps next year.

  10. says

    The sandbox is a room set aside for hands-on activities — a lot of it is for kids, but some of the events are for adults, too, and some (like this one) are for both.

    I’m a passionate crafter. As such I used to run crafts workshop at a fantasy con, which also had other crafts and arts workshops.
    And I always had about two different types of participants:
    Group one were other crafters who enjoyed the projects with a certain routine.
    The other one was people who had probably not done any crafting since primary school. Crafting was firmely placed into the “children” category and adults only dare to do it if the result is near-perfect. This is most noticable with painting and drawing. unless you’re at least a hobby-artist, you’re not allowed to pick up crayons and paper and just to have fun.
    Whenever they have an “excuse” for doing so, adults happily do so.
    The workshops provided an “excuse” to do something hands-on and lots of people enjoy it.

  11. mareap says

    Don’t forget that you were a reference point during “PowerPoint Karaoke”!