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.

FtBCon4: call for proposals

We’re going to have another FtBCon on 22-24 January 2016, and we’re beginning to assemble a program. Your friendly bloggers here have some plans and ideas, but one of the virtues of having a conference entirely online, besides the fact that you all get to watch, no matter where you are, is that we can open it up to suggestions for talks and panels from you, the readership. If you are interested in putting your face and voice online, talking about freethought, science, social justice, video games, whatever, we have an online form for you to fill out. It’s easy!

A few important points: only fill out the form if you want to host a session. Don’t nominate others: you might want to hear Neil deGrasse Tyson (so would I), but we don’t need you telling us that you want us to draft him to speak. If Neil deGrasse Tyson wants to address our little con, on the other hand, he should fill out the form. We’ll probably accept his proposal.

You can propose talks, where you all by your lonesome talk at your computer’s camera, or panels, where you get together a small group (keep it to 4 or fewer, please: big groups don’t work well) and have a round table discussion. It’s all good. Again, don’t tell us you want to host a panel and ask us to fill up all the seats: you find your co-panelists first.

This form is for proposals. They won’t automatically be accepted. Make it enticing so we want to accept it.

Do tell us when you’d be available that weekend, and when you’d prefer to have the panel. We also love to have people outside US time zones participate, so it’s great when we’ve got panels/talks at times convenient for Europe or Australia.

Trolls: don’t bother. Submissions from this form will not be displayed publicly — we’ll just screen them first, and we’re quick on the delete key. If you think you can lie your way into getting on the schedule and then switch topics on us at the last minute…won’t work. All talks and panels will be sponsored by an FtB member, who will be able to pull the plug on you. So don’t waste your time or ours.

I’m back!

I spent the weekend at Gateway to Reason in St Louis, and I’m sorry, Iowans, but the worst part of the event was Iowa. I had to drive through it.

It was like Minnesota, only worse. Long drives from nowhere to nowhere through endless tunnels of corn, decorated with anti-choice signs, anti-government signs (Iowa farmers really, really hate the government — they must not get any subsidies at all), pro-Jesus signs, and nothing but Christian/far right talk radio being broadcast. It’s bizarre that this place is the first stop on the presidential campaign trail, and it’s no wonder we’re screwed up if this is the atmosphere of our politics.

It’s a bad sign when you feel relief the instant you cross the border into Missouri.

The conference was excellent. It was very well attended — they filled a large auditorium on the Washington University campus. The talks were diverse, and everything moved smoothly.

The press coverage was surprisingly good, too. That’s a substantial article in the Post Dispatch, and I read the comments: of course there’s the usual small group of know-nothings babbling about atheism being a religion, and of course a few of my chronic harassers show up, but for the most part there are a fair number of commenters being open-minded and expressing an interest in finding out what these atheists are all about.

That’s a good result.