Convergence Day 4 #cvg2013

Whew — the con is over. After a long weekend of late nights, it all ended with a few last panels, lots of packing up, and the long dreary drive home…and then passing out, sleeping in, and struggling to get back into my routine.

This was my fourth day at Convergence.

The first event of the day was “Science and Religion: Friends or Foes?” with Heina Dadabhoy, Bridget Landry, Daniel Fincke, me, and Debbie Goddard moderating. You can guess which side I took. Landry was the sole theist, and even at that, she’s one of those very liberal Catholics. It was therefore a bit one-sided. I did get one woman who came up afterwards and smugly told me that we scientists are so arrogant and think we know everything and lectured me about how evolution and the Big Bang were “just a theory” and they could be proven wrong at any moment. I sort of blasted her and she went away, yelling about how rude I was.

My last panel was “Ask a Scientist”, with Laura Okagaki, Lori Fischer, Matt Lowry, Tom Mahle, Siouxsie Wiles, Indre Viskontas, Nicole Gugliucci, Bridget Landry, Bug Girl, and me — a mix of physicists, chemists, and biologists. This is an event they run every year in which a large and diverse group of scientists who are attending are put up on the stage and then the audience gets to ask questions, any questions they want, and we try to answer them. Matt Lowry moderated and made the useful suggest that every question be phrased as a tweet to keep them short and to the point…not many people were able to do that, but it helped. There was a good mix of questions, too — all the expertise on the stage got a workout.

And then we went home. It would have been good to stay for the dead dog parties, but hey, Mary and I have work to do.

Next year, CONvergence will be held on the 4th of July weekend again, 3-6 July. The theme is “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”, and it’s to be a celebration of the urban fantasy genre. Skepchick and FtB will be there again! Plan ahead, mark it on your calendar, and come on out!

Hanging out with desert kit foxes

What, what time is it? July? Hell.

I have some catching up to do around here.

While I get less threadrupt, if any of you are available for and interested in a G+ hangout with the Desert Kit Fox project I wrote about this morning earlier this week, back in May, we’ll be doing one at 8:15 PM California time today. Dipika Kadaba and her team will be out at a field study area in the gathering dark, demonstrating how they’re using their drone at night to detect kit fox dens using IR videography. We did a dry run last night and it was impressive.

To join, you can check out my profile here.

I’ll post the youtube version after the show. Here it is:

By the way, if you were meaning to contribute to the Desert Kit Fox Project’s Indiegogo fund, you’ve still got four days to do it. And they’re slightly less than halfway to their goal.

Convergence Day 3 #cvg2013

This was my third day at Convergence.

It’s a bit of a blur — I attended lots of panels, including Gods of Geekdom (how do the Avengers reconcile having both atheists and gods on the team?), a podcasting how-to, and various other skeptical sessions.

I recorded a live audio session with the Geeks Without God team. That will be available online in a couple of weeks; next one to be released will be the interview they recorded with Melissa Kaercher at this same event (and if you don’t know Melissa, she’s kind of the omnipresent ubergeek of Minneapolis).

I also joined the FtB and Skepchick teams on “The Real World vs. The Internet”, about this fading distinction about what part of our lives is “real”. Conclusion: the internet is just as real as the stuff we do with meat. The cleverest line is that now instead of saying “IRL” when meat-spacing, we should call it “AFK”.

Then, the party. Oy, the party. Saturday is always the most intense night of the weekend, and it also coincides with the masquerade…so everyone is showing up in their most elaborate costumes. And partying hard. I sort of passed out sometime around 1:30am-2am, and we staggered back to our hotel rooms at almost 3, all to the tune of the loudest sing-along I’ve ever heard. There were thousands of people singing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” as I was going up in the elevator, and the whole hotel kind of trembled and moaned at the song.

A fragment of that colossal noise was recorded!

Today is cleanup and two more panels, then sushi for dinner, then home.

Sleazy Ray does it again

He’s still promoting his cheesy little home video, this time with a video featuring me. He has me briefly stating that “Evolution is an amoral process, a cruel and harsh process…” and then — well, watch it for yourself. You’ll be stunned at the crude response he makes, but you probably won’t be surprised.

I had to laugh. The man really is a simpleton with no moral compass, or as he would think, a typical product of evolution.

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!

Convergence Day 1 #cvg2013

This was my first day at Convergence 2013.

We started with travel and manual labor: we drove from Morris to Bloomington in two cars loaded to the gills with people and material, and then parked way way out in the crowded lot and hauled stuff armload by armload to our party room. We also got registered, an arduous task that was taking some people 3-5 hours (hey, Convergence admins: make fixing that your top priority for next year. I met people in the parking lot who were discouraged by the lines and left.)

First panel: Evolutionary Psychology, with Stephanie Zvan moderating, and Greg Laden (a biological anthropologist), me (neuroscience by training, evo devo by occupation), and Indre Viskontas (neuroscience) (and who I met for the first time, and who was on a panel at an SF con for the first time…she’s good). My main point: Developmental plasticity is all. The fundamental premises of evo psych are false.

Second panel: Worldbusters, in which we confronted bad science in SF stories. It was moderated by Jason Thibeault, and in attendance were me, Laura Okagaki, and Siouxsie Wiles…all biologists! My take home here was that everything biological is going to obey the laws of thermodynamics, and bioenergetics is important: most SF aliens do things that require absurd energy consumption. Don’t do that.

I attended the War on Science panel. They didn’t know anything about the ongoing conflict with creationism, were largely accommodationist, and the end devolved into a defense of…religion. Bleh.

Third panel, Prometheus Debunked. Rebecca Watson compiled clips of the very worst moments in that awful movie, while Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett provided the running gags, while I played the curmudgeonly scientist who grumbled bitterly in the corner. And spilled Kevin Murphy’s beer. It was hilarious. Rebecca and I agreed on the best scene in the movie, because it was pro-abortion and had an alien squid baby.

The Party Room! I missed most of it, because all my panels were scheduled for the evening. We had a good crowd, though, a lovely room and lots of fresh fruit, healthy snack chips, and water…and, oh yeah, a bar serving a concoction we called an Amygdala Reanimator. Murphy and Corbett joined us late in the evening, and Amanda Marcotte was the DJ. Unfortunately, Dan Fincke had to hector me about my ill-mannered nature. I just have to say that I think passion is a god-damned superpower, and sometimes rage is the message. I don’t think he gets it.

Today: the party continues, room 228, 7 or 8 pm on, stop by! I’ve got three evening panels again. I’ll probably get harangued at again, since that is my fate. One of the loons on Twitter who is not here is calling for a walkout of all of my panels; he’s calling it #TheRising. No one walked out yesterday, and I had mostly full rooms every time (Worldbusters was a bit underattended because it was scheduled in parallel with a lot of other very popular panels, including Watson’s Skepticism 101, right next door.) I expect they’ll all be a testimony to his irrelevance and failure, again.

Also, my wife and I are being sensible and making a light schedule of it all. It’s only the beginning of day 2, we’ve got days 3 and 4 to go. We’re pacing ourselves.

We can get those, too?

Speaking as a man, I think I should have all the things and be the final authority on everything. Perhaps some of my resentment of women is because they are biologically permitted some experiences that I can’t share, which is NO FAIR. I must be the boss of everything!

So I am deeply impressed with this Brave Hero, who has apparently discovered a way to do something that I once would have thought was unique to reproductive females.


Well, he certainly has all the authority on that issue now, doesn’t he?

Here’s a useful word for you: confabulation

Eben Alexander, the doctor who claimed to have visited heaven, is slowly getting exposed as a guy who makes stuff up (sadly, most of the story is behind a paywall…you’ll have to get the details second-hand). I could have told you that. Wait, I did tell you that.

What’s really unfortunate is that even discovering that the entire story was a hallucination by a diseased mind is probably not going to matter a bit to producers of the planned Hollywood movie.

Hey, my colon was talking to me all day yesterday — it was a miracle. Can I get a movie deal?

Imagine if an atheist jumped onto a Christian monument as it was being dedicated…

Remember this. When American Atheists set up a monument at a Florida courthouse (it was part of an agreement that the court would permit many different flavors of ideas), Eric Hovind leapt on it to “proclaim the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord”.

What an ass.

And we atheists are supposed to be the intolerant ones? Right. Anyone want to take any bets on whether some of the local Christians aren’t planning to vandalize the monument at the first opportunity?