I know what I’m doing today

Busy, busy, busy. The hatching yesterday means that I’m going to spend the morning sorting spiders, on top of the regularly scheduled feeding day. I’ve got a bunch of adults who need crickets, a lot of baby Parasteatoda who need fruit flies, a few score Latrodectus I set aside in new vials yesterday who are going to get their first meal, and another score or two to be extracted this morning, and it’s time to start a new batch of Drosophila. I’m sort of dreading the possibility that another egg sac could start oozing spiderlings any day now.

There’s a limit to how many of these spiders I can maintain. I hate to say it, but I may end up throwing a lot of cute, adorable, lively little baby spiders into fixative for later microscopic examination. Unless you want some? I’m heading off to St Louis this weekend for Skepticon, and I could bring along some Latrodectus mactans spiderlings if anyone wants to give them a good home.

Speaking of Skepticon, I’m kind of on the schedule. I’m doing a workshop on Friday — but it’s not about spiders or evolution, directly. I’m going to present some exercises I’m using in a writing course I’ll be teaching this fall. If you want to learn about writing creative non-fiction (and maybe, if you really want getting your own baby black widow), that’s the place to be.

Looking forward to the big meeting

Skepticon is coming on 26 July, and they’ve announced the first few speakers. One is Kavin Senapathy


Kavin Senapathy is a writer, journalist, and author covering a slew of life science-related stories for outlets like SciShow, Scientific American, Slate, Forbes, Undark, The Daily Beast, and SELF. They are the author of the forthcoming book The Progressive Parent: Harnessing the Power of Science and Social Justice to Raise Awesome Kids (August 2024, Hanover Square/HarperCollins).

Another is Greg Gbur.

Greg Gbur is a Professor of Physics and Optical Science, the author of two popular science books on invisibility and falling cats, and the author of a long-running blog, Skulls in the Stars, about physics, science history, horror fiction and whatever else catches his fancy.

They are both excellent human beings and interesting people. This is going to be a great meeting!

Skepticon NOW!

I’m missing my first Skepticon, which is going on this weekend. Unfortunately, I can’t travel at all. My son has tickets and invited me to the Grand Funk Railroad & Jefferson Starship concert tomorrow, and I had to turn that down, too. This old age thing is really crimping my style.

Skepticon stuff is happening online, at least.

I guess I’m reduced to doing everything virtually for now. See you there!

Skepticon is trying to teach me how to be a better person; will it ever sink in?

Yesterday was a good day Skepticon. I got my talk out of the way early — I talked about how gross oversimplifications of Mendel were used as justifications for racism and all kinds of discrimination.

Later, Jey McCreight talked about how sexual development was far more complex than most people assumed, and could use his own life as a trans man as an example. He’s an excellent speaker and has changed so much since the time I met him when he was an undergraduate.

Greta Christina spoke about the pros and cons of following your dreams in a capitalist society, and her own struggles as a writer who is currently not writing. Greta is always good.

The most affecting speaker of the day was Eli Heina Dadabhoy, who told a story of his deceased grandmother, a deeply religious person, who was still able to love him as a trans apostate. It was hard to hear over the sniffles of the audience, but was still a good lesson in tolerance.

One of those things is not like the others. Some people are able to express themselves and their feelings while talking about relevant issues, and some of us are privileged straight white guys who can afford to repress their emotions because their identity is never questioned. That same person couldn’t bring themselves to attend Skeptiprom because expressing themselves creatively while having a good time is not possible.

It’s good to be here to see how it’s done.

Not to worry, I’m also an expert in suppressing the symptoms.

Part way there

Hey! I’ve been driving all day long! We made it all the way to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and are recovering in a hotel room. We’ll be finishing the journey to St Louis tomorrow morning.

We made a few stops along the way, looking for spiders. Didn’t find many other than a few jumpers. We did find a strange painted rock at a rest stop near Owatonna.

All I could find about it was a closed facebook group for a rock club in Oklahoma, and I don’t do facebook. Apparently they paint these things and leave them hidden in various places, and it turns out that spider hunting is a good way to induce one to look in odd little crevices.

Skepticon tomorrow!

Talk is done, more or less!

I spent the morning adding the last bits to my Skepticon talk — it’s ready 3 days ahead of time! It’s been so long since I’ve given a conference talk that I might have over-prepared. Anyway, I could give it right now if I had to, but of course I’ll think of other things to add. Just on my walk home from the coffeeshop I have a few cunning ideas to throw in.

I can’t get carried away, though. It’s a 50 minute talk and no more — Lauren will be waiting in the wings, looking for any excuse to leap out and shiv me on stage. They run a tight ship there.

So tomorrow we start driving, with frequent stops for spiders. We’re spending the night in lovely Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and finishing the trip to St Louis on Friday. All you cool people — we’ll see you there.

Skepticon…next week!

At this time next week, we’ll be piling into the car to begin the long drive to St Louis. We’re going to take our time and stop frequently to take walks and seek out spiders of Iowa and Missouri, and we’re also planning to stretch the trip over two days — our first goal is to stop for the night somewhere around Cedar Rapids. Then we arrive at Skepticon on Friday.

It’ll be fun, but it’s also a test — this is my first public meeting of any kind in a couple of years. I am reassured by the fact that this meeting has sound pandemic policies in place. You have to have a vaccination card if you want to attend (don’t forget yours at home), and you’ll have to wear a mask inside the facilities, even at the traditional Saturday night dance, Skeptiprom. It’s all free, but you do have to register.

You might also want to order a t-shirt online before it’s too late. It’s got dinosaurs on it. You can’t go wrong with dinosaurs.

It looks like my speaking slot is at 10:00 on Saturday. I’ll be talking about how racism has tainted genetics for over a century (a cheery way to start the day!) and how we ought to remediate that with better concepts about how inheritance works.

Meet me in St Louis — in 3 weeks!

FORTY SEVEN days until classes resume. These aren’t tears, these are drops of pure plasma oozing from my eyeballs.

Happier countdown: TWENTY TWO days until Skepticon. That’s better. I’ll try not to think about how I’ll only have 25 days to get my teaching act together when the meeting starts.

I hope you’ll all be joining me there. The con has put out a call for workshops, so you can participate too! Go ahead, apply, it’s not like I’m looking forward to my talk, I want to hear what everyone else has to say.

Also, you can still (until 15 July) get a discounted room rate at St Louis’ Union Station Hotel using the code SKP22. Do it soon! Like right now!

If you can’t go, but do want to support a progressive conference, especially at this time of regressive politics, you can just DONATE to keep it going.

Speaking of which, I have received email from a couple of people who say they want to go and would be willing to go, except they’re not going to spend money in a horrible Republican state like Missouri. I sympathize, and respect that decision. All I can say is that Skepticon is a beacon of light in a very dark part of the country that needs all the illumination they can get. Unfortunately, the organizers are local to St Louis, so I can understand why they would build the event there, in their home. Maybe we can persuade them to relocate to a more liberal midwestern state (like, say, Minnesota, hint hint) in the future.

One last important and virtuous note: the con requires attendees to have proof of vaccination and to wear masks. Yay! It makes no sense that so many events other than this one are for plague rats.