Spider fans gather at #Arachnids20 today!

Hey! Tonight! It’s the start of the 2020 American Arachnology Society Virtual Summer Symposium, and it’s going to be great.

We’re very excited to launch the AAS 2020 Virtual Summer Symposium TODAY, June 25, 7-9 PM ET with a brief welcome and overview of the symposium, and the keynote address by Martin Ramirez, Senior Researcher at Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales, Buenos Aires, Argentina. This talk is honoring the contributions of Norman Platnick to arachnology: “From roots to myriad leaves: the legacy of Norman Platnick on spider systematics”.

So it’s going to start with a discussion of this Platnick.

I anticipate some spicy conversations about cladistics.

Also note, tomorrow is all about social justice.

We also want to share updates and encourage you to join the Forum tomorrow, Friday June 26, 3-5 pm ET where we will host a community discussion of impacts of racism on arachnology and potential actions the AAS can take.

At a science conference?!?? Of course. Smart people care about correcting racial inequalities.

Yes, I’m home from #Skepticon

My sense of time is also totally scrambled. I didn’t get home until 2am, and then slept the sleep of the undead, striving to ignore the existence of sunrise. I woke up late and had to scramble to meet my students for our Monday feeding.

It was the best Skepticon ever, though. I caught a half dozen Missouri p tep, and best of all, a half dozen large egg sacs that I smuggled through the airport and brought to the lab. One of the reasons I had to get into the lab this morning was to get these spiders sorted and labeled, so that I could set up a distinct line of Missouri-born spiders separate from our Minnesota natives. We are going to have a lot of spiders to track for the school year. So yes, best conference ever.

Oh, yeah, and the conference itself…that was pretty good, too. I very much liked the organization, with multiple tracks of ‘workshops’ during the day, with a couple of featured talks in the evening. You could just explore and sample various events, and then later get blown away by the excellent speakers before retiring to the bar. They really were most fabulous speakers, too. Ashton Woods was fierce, Rose Eveleth made me think even at 8pm, Juhem Navarro-Rivera gave a surprising statistical analysis of nones (Guess what? Separation of church & state isn’t the most important issue on their minds, it’s social justice), Indre Viskontas talked about music and minds (good timing, since my granddaughter is coming to visit this week), and Cora Harrington was a total surprise. She’s a lingerie blogger, which I didn’t even know was a thing, but she took a skeptical look at myths about women’s underwear. On Sunday, Miri Mogilevsky talked about ritual as a way of coping with grief, something on my mind this year as several of my colleagues here struggled with cancer. Also unexpectedly, the most ferociously anti-clerical, pro-atheism rage-talk of the weekend came from Marissa McCool. Who says social justice activists are too soft to do a barn-burner?

But most of you missed it. It’ll be back August 14-16 2020, in the same place, so mark your calendars now so you don’t forget. There will be a completely different slate of speakers, but the spiders will also still be there.

At Skepticon!

I’m in St Louis for Skepticon, and I am disappointed. The rooms at this hotel are huge and clean — too clean — the shower is like a pressure washer, and the location is amazing, right off the Metrolink line*, so I got here from the airport for just a few bucks, walked up to the street level, and there was the hotel, right there, and it was probably the easiest access to a conference venue ever. However…

There are no spiders anywhere in this gigantic suite. I went around with a magnifying glass to verify. It’s sterile. So I’ve donned my spider hunting gear, and am about to embark on an exploration trip to a) find some breakfast, and b) survey the environs for spiders. I have collecting vials and am not afraid to use them.

Hey, if you’re in the neighborhood, come on down! The conference is free, it’s held in the Red Lion Inn right next to the Civic Center rail stop, and it’s up on the 13th floor.

*Oh, incidentally, about the Metrolink — it’s a nice rail line direct between city center and the airport, and when I got on, I was the only white guy on the train, which is not an issue, except that at one of the stops another white guy got on, looked over the occupants, and charged over to sit next to me, like the train wasn’t half empty anyway. Not a problem, of course, except that he was staggeringly drunk, and he wanted to talk about religion with me.

Why me? Do I look like a Lutheran pastor or something?

Anyway, the conversation didn’t go far. He was so drunk he could barely talk, and he chose to lecture me on the Trinity. You know, the Father, his Son, and…Jesus’s sister? I had to just ignore him, although the bait was awfully tempting.

Leaving my Minnesota spiders behind?

It’s a travel day. I’m getting ready to go to St Louis for Skepticon, which means the usual process — packing, making sure I’ve got the materials for my workshop, feeding the spiders. You’ve all been through it.

I thought this would be a weekend without spiders, but then I realized…they’re everywhere. I’m bringing my camera, some collecting vials, and a headlamp in my gear, and am thinking I might go looking for some Missouri Parasteatoda to bring back to the lab. Any other Skepticon attendees interested in a Spider Safari sometime?

I did have to get in a last minute spider fix, though. I think this uncooperative little lady (she’s young and a bit shy) is Neoscona, but I’ll be returning her back to the garden before I leave.

This handsome gentleman is Steatoda borealis. I’ve been seeing a lot of these lately — they seem to be thriving in slightly harsher environments than Parasteatoda. I like them a lot, and am going to try raising them in the lab, even though Parasteatoda is a more popular model organism.

He’s not being set free. I’m taking him to the lab this morning, where his fate is to provide stud service.

How to avoid the SFCon From Hell

Mark Oshiro had an extremely unpleasant experience at a Kansas City science fiction convention last year: shabby treatment, sexism, racism, the whole works. It’s a sordid read.

But something useful emerges: Rachel Caine has posted some guidelines to individual responsibility for panelists. This is the time of year many of us are planning our summer con schedule — I’m going to Convergence, as always — but I’ll take these suggestions to heart. Except the ones about YA panels. I’m no authority on YA fiction. On the other hand, if I’m asked again to sit on a panel with someone proposing evolutionary absurdities, I’ll be quick to snarl.

Oh, wait. I’m always quick about that.