Sunday, 28 November 2010

The Amazing Meeting Oz - Final Day

Two and a half days goes fast when you're having fun. This is the final day of the con. Another early start though. The first cab off the rank at 8 effing 45 was a panel on The Media and the Message.

Steve Cannane, Tim Mendham, Paul Willis and Rob Morrison.

Dr Pamela Gay was next with a talk about instilling curiosity and getting involved in citizen science using the example of Galactic Zoo. Motivational and inspirational. Pamela Gay is an extraordinary person. Very popular by the ovation too.

Dr Pamela Gay.

The speaker designated to be next was sick and unable to attend so Rebecca Watson came up with a skeptical quiz to fill in. The SGU and George Hrab were a team and the audience was the other team. Rebecca asked the question and George had to shout out the answer after conferring with the SGU. We, the audience, twittered, yes tweeted, our answers which were displayed on the big screens behind Rebecca. The team with the most number of correct answers won. The audience won. 14 to 8 from memory. Best use of twitter I've seen. I even signed up on the spot. Best answer of the the day - 'boobs'. Can't remember the question.

Rebecca Watson.

Evan Bernstein, Jay Novella, George Hrab, Bob Novella and Steve Novella.

The skeptical quiz.

More from the skeptical quiz.

Richard Saunders and George Hrab took us through a list of what the psychics missed in 2010. That was easy. Everything. Their, the psychics, predictions weren't much better.

Dr Rachael Dunlop, Brian Dunning, James Randi and Steve Novella.

You even get some luminaries up the back of the room notably Eugenie Scott.

Nearly every session was a full house.

Lunch was a quick sandwich before I hit the bookshop for the last time. I bought my first parenting book - Raising Freethinkers. Then it was off for a game of bag a skeptic. In this game I try and get my photograph taken with a notable skeptic or two. It's an easy game because the attendees at this conference are all fantastic people who give up their time selflessly and don't mind posing with a boofhead. As I said to them, if it's not on my blog it didn't happen.

Rebecca Watson and a boofhead.

Same boofhead with Steven Novella.

That boofhead just won't leave the talent alone. Steve Novella, Boofhead, Brian Dunning, Rebecca Watson and Bob Novella.

Boofhead and Dr Pamela Gay.

After lunch Eugenie Scott spoke on the rise of creationism in the the US and globally. Eugenie is the executive director of the National Center For Science Education in the US.

Eugenie Scott.

Who do you have on a panel about skepticism and entertainment? Entertainers. Some good ones here too. Julian Morrow is from The Chaser (magazine and TV show), Simon Taylor (illusionist), George Hrab (podcaster and entertainer) and James Randi (magician).

Julian Morrow, Simon Taylor, George Hrab and James Randi.

George Hrab and James Randi.

I'm Spartacus... Julian Morrow, Simon Taylor, George Hrab and Randi.

John Smyrk spoke on the credulity of business - management psuedoscience. I always knew that Myers Briggs test was a crock of shit. Now I know why.

Richard Saunders demonstrated how the magic power balance bracelet scam works (hint: it doesn't). Click here to see Richard's expose of this device on Today Tonight.

Richard Saunders, Pamela Gay and Paul Willis.

Pamela Gay, Richard Saunders and Paul Willis.

I listen to a number of skeptical podcasts - the SGU, Skeptoid, et al - but the main Aussie podcast I listen to is The Skeptic Zone. I think today's live show was the first time all the cast have been in the same room together for a show.

The Skeptic Zone Live with Eran Segev, Dr Rachie, Stefan Sojka, Richard Saunders, Joanne Benhamu, Krissy Wilson and Kylie Sturgess.

Joanne Benhamu, Krissy Wilson, Kylie Sturgess and Pamela Gay.

Rob Morrison is a Professor at Flinders Uni in South Australia and a noted science communicator. People of my generation may fondly remember him as the host of the long running Curiosity Show on TV. A whole generation of kids was brought up watching this show as it ran from 1972 to 1990. Rob's presentation was on the Illusion of Reality. He showed a bunch of wicked slides and videos of optical illusions and other tricks. Mind bending.

Rob Morrison.

Optical illusions and trickery

The final formal event for The Amazing Meet Australia 2010 was the closing address from the Amazing One himself, James Randi. Randi has been coming to Australia for 30 years and he said he was honoured to come here representing the James Randi Educational Foundation at TAM Oz. Skepticism has taken off over recent years and one of the forces behind the success of the movement is James Randi. I felt honoured to finally meet the man. Earlier this year I thought I never would. James said he expects to come back to Australia at least one more time for the next Amazing Meeting to probably be held in Melbourne next year. Randi it would be our hounour to have you back.

James Randi gives his closing address.

James The Amazing Randi.

That was it for the conference. I was sad it was over. I got to meet a bunch of my heroes and participate in something very cool in a nerdy way. All that was left now was to bag a couple more skeptics on the way out. I didn't know that Lawrence Leung from ABC TV's Lawrence Leung's Choose Your Own Adventure was even attending. Time for me to embarrass myself with a fan boy moment.

Lawrence Leung, Boofhead and Simon Taylor.

Simon Singh and Boofhead. I'd been carrying that bloody book (Trick Or Treatment) for three days. Each time I ran into Simon I'd managed to leave it somewhere temporarily. Then, spookily, on my way out the door there was Simon signing autographs.

The very last people I ran into on my way out the door though were Rob Morrison and Eugenie Scott. Both very awesome people. I think I gushed just a little bit.

Rob Morrison and Eugenie Scott.

That was it. See you at TAM next year. I'd like to get to TAM in Vegas at some point too.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

The Amazing Meeting Oz - Day 2 - Skeptics Afloat

Ahoy there. After the day's formal proceedings it was time for a couple of hundred skeptics to let their hair down, unless you're George Hrab that is, and party on a harbour dinner cruise. With all those Australian (and visiting) Skeptics in one place I'm betting the Australian Vaccination Network wish they had a submarine. The food was good, the booze was cheap and the company was great. The whole evening was tops and was over way too soon. One of the highlights was Randi, again, doing close-up magic for his adoring fans. Thankfully I didn't have enough Crownies to embarrass myself by going up say, George Hrab or Brian Dunning or Steve Novella or Eugenie Scott, and put my arm around them and declare my undying love for them. Michelle was there. She will tell you. I was reasonably well behaved. I might have gushed a little over Randi though.

The Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Habour Bridge.

George Hrab in tourist mode.

Thanks to the Phil who took the picture but he did take a while to push the button and George wondered if he was actually drawing the picture.


The Amazing Randi holding court. Michelle and I were quietly having dinner when Randi wandered over and plonked himself down beside us. He then spent the next half hour or so doing magic tricks (see videos below), talking to the fans and being photographed.

Randi even posed with this boofhead again.

Same boofhead with beautiful pregnant lady.

Randi has some serious skillz. He was everywhere. Every time he sat down he'd get an audience and then he perform magic tricks as can be seen in the following two videos.

The same trick as above but a better view and different victims.

The Amazing Meeting Oz - Day 2

I hate early mornings. One thing going for the Science Fiction community is most of the sessions at Worldcon started at 10am. Here at TAM the first sessions were about 9am. And with Brian Dunning being first up do you think I'd miss it? Rhetorical question by the way but if you do want an answer then, No. No, I wouldn't miss it. However after the previous night's skeptically drinking session I had my doubts.

So, Brian Dunning was first with a session on spooky sounds. When he eventually got started after some amusing technical difficulties (sorted out by Pamela Gay) it was an entertaining session. 30 minutes seemed way too short. But then that is about 3 times longer than his podcast.

Brian Dunning

Loretta Marron talked about Dodgy and Devious Devices and her one person campaign to have these dangerous quack devices banned by the TGA.

Loretta Marron

Dr Krissy Wilson is a psychologist who researches the psychology of belief. Apparently she appeared once on The Bill as a hooker. Today she claimed to be wearing red undies. She wouldn't prove it though. She did prove to be funny.

Dr Krissy Wilson

The G Spot. The convention was held in the Masonic Centre. This is the Grand Hall or Lodge or something. A large letter G hangs from the ceiling by a G string. It was rumoured the G stands for God but Jay Novella said it actually stands for Geometry. Who knows?

Paul Willis interviews James Randi and Dick Smith for the DVD.

After morning tea where you gulp down a couple of cups of coffee and try and pilfer as many Cookie Man cookies as you can take it was time for a conversation with Dick Smith and James Randi or, as MC Paul Willis, put it at chat with Willie, Dick and Randi. Dick was one of the founders of the Australian Skeptics and he and Randi have been friends for 30 years.

Randi, Dick & Willis.

Randi and Dick Smith relate the story of "Carlos".

One of the highlights for me this weekend was always going to be the Skeptics Guide to the Universe Live. It was kind of surreal watching the show live and not as a podcast. Steve started the show with a hilarious slide show of their trip thus far. Alex, or as I call him that damned kid who outbid me*, appeared for the Science or Fiction segment of the show and performed admirably.
* I bid up to $750 and by then there were only me and the Alex's dad bidding. Someone whispered to me that Alex's dad was a dentist. Shit. There was no way I could out bid a dentist. Maybe if I was Dick Smith. Maybe. I threw in one more bid of $850 so they'd have to bid at least $900 and called it quits. It was for charity after all.

The Skeptics Guide to the Universe Down Under. Woohoo.

Jay Novella and Rebecca Watson.

The entire SGU cast - Jay, Steve, Rebecca, Bob and Evan.

One for the conspiracy nuts. The SGU under the logo of the Masons.

Richard Saunders tweeting away while the SGU entertains with Science or Fiction. Guest star 11 year old Alex sitting with Jay and Steve.

Astronomer Dr Fred Watson showed some slides of the secrets of Saturn and her moons.

Dr Fred Watson.

Australian Skeptics Awards.

Dr Rachael Dunlop, Tim Mendham, Eran Segev and Richard Saunders holding up the Oz Skeptics Bent Spoon Award.

An Apple a Day - Science Based Medicine. A panel with Dr Rachie Dunlop, Dr Steven Novella, Prof Ian Harris and Joanne Benhamu. Don't read this next bit mum. Did you know that the risk from dying from knee replacement surgery is not 1 in 100000 or 1 in even 10000? It is something like 1 in 400 and only about 25% or patients are happy they had the surgery a year later. Shit.

Dr Rachie Dunlop, Prof Ian Harris, Joanne Benhamu and Dr Steven Novella.

Dr Paul Willis tore apart a BBQ duck. Birds are dinosaurs and there are thousands of pieces of evidence that point to this fact. Funniest dissection I've ever attended.

Dr Paul Willis and a BBQ duck.

Dr Simon Singh had the last official spot for the day with Alternative Medicine (and me) On Trial. Simon filled us in on the history and successful resolution of the libel action against him by the British Chiropractors Association. Simon is another of these nice guy skeptics. We chatted a bit while we were boarding the boat for the Skeptics Afloat Cruise (see the next post).

Simon Singh.