Saturday night was the fabled Skepchick party. I either wasn't invited or didn't know to buy tickets in advance. Hence, I got a pretty good night's sleep Saturday night. Hence, Sunday breakfast was pretty sparsely attended. I did catch Monster Talk's own Blake Smith (who was on the Skepchick's A-list) on the elevator on the way down to breakfast. He seemed to be doing quite well in the standing and talking department despite having attended the fabled Skepchick party. He confirmed my worst fears: no one wondered about my non-attendance. I know. No one. Well, I'd rather hear it from Blake, I guess.
Typical free TAM breakfast:
I haven't talked much about Blake but if you know Blake from the voice inside your head while listening to Monster Talk or him unleashed in the unbounded universe of Amateur Scientist industries, he's actually more interesting and funnier in real life. I'm going to save shout outs to the great peeps I met in a round-up posting about TAM but I really wanted to highlight the great BS.
Sunday is mostly a chill out day at TAM. Various attendees get to present short (15 minute) talks/papers. Again, these tend to be very good. First up was a paper by Brian Hart of the Independent Investigations Group in California. He gave a hilarious review of their fight against woo continuing education courses that have pervaded the nursing profession in California. You might have heard the story before where they basically offered nurses a course in human sacrifice and it was approved due to a total lack of oversight by the nursing society in CA.
I popped out for an extra long coffee break and then returned at 9 for Massimo Pigliucci moderating a panel discussion on climate change. Massimo amusingly noted this panel discussion would end on time because the world cup finale was starting at 10 am. Sitting on the panel were Michael Shermer, Donald Prothero, James McGaha, and Daniel Loxton. Massimo noted none were climatologists but they weren't there to discuss the science. They were there to discuss what role skeptics had in communicating global warming. Alas it did break down into a bit of a discussion of whether global warming is real or manufactured. McGaha seemed to be the "climate skeptic". Although a great UFO skeptic, he seemed to trot out a lot of the typical canards. Science has been wrong before, no one takes the sun's effect into account, dissenting scientists are threatened, follow the money, etc. Massimo managed to get the conversation back on track and I felt bad for McGaha who seems a nice fellow but can't see his politics are getting in the way of the science.
Brian Dunning was up next with a whirlwind tour of material from a podcast he did about the Virgin of Guadalupe. I hoped beyond hope he'd do it in a fake German accent but I was crushed. I'm guessing his fake German accent is becoming like John Cleese's Ministry of Silly Walks bit. A crowd favorite but Cleese has come to LOATHE having to do it in public. Fake accents aside, Dunning was enjoyable as always.
I really wanted to stay around for the talk about advertising and skepticism but check-out time at the South Point is noon so I went back to my room after Dunning's bit and started the arduous task of packing up all the crap I bought. Actually I didn't buy too much for myself. I bought a towel at the Bellagio hotel (with the hotel name on it) for my sister. I bought a half priced Versace tie at the Bellagio's Versace store for myself. The tall, beautiful Eastern European sales woman who helped me might have helped my purchase decision. The hotel I stayed at earlier in the week, Hotel32, provided free Voss water during my stay and I stole about half a dozen or so bottles from the club room to take home. It strikes me as mildly ironic I was importing water from Vegas, a desert, to Toronto, where it seems it hasn't stop raining this summer and the last two summers.
After packing up, checking out, and leaving my luggage at the bell desk (my flight was actually at 11:30 pm), I found a nice fellow Canadian guy named Daniel. He's from Alberta and one of the first to intone my Conspiracy Skeptic listener greeting of "I thought you'd be taller". He also bought me a beer. He was going to cab it to a nearby outdoor mall to try a restaurant called The Yard House. He had heard good things about it. I agreed to join him because it was right next to a Fry's. We don't have any Fry's electronic stores in Canada but if you read Microserfs this place seems legendary. It was about a $15 cab ride there. The Yard House was quite okay. There seemed to be about 50+ beers on tap. In honor of the TAM8 I had some stout beer called Lost Coast 8 Ball.
We went to Borders books. I had it in my mind to pick up a Nook ebook reader. But I realized when I got there I had Borders confused with Barnes and Noble. Doh. We then went to Fry's. I was prepared to be blown away. But I was quite disappointed. Selection was terrible. Prices weren't really any better than you could get in Canada. It's testament, maybe, to the increase in the Canadian dollar and lowered taxes that electronics are nearly as cheap in Canada as the USA. Never used to be that way.
I did pick up a cool Atari joystick with 10 classic Atari games built in. Just plug it into your TV. My sister quipped "wow, minutes of excitement". Likely. But for $20 and I can show my niece and nephews the games Crazy Uncle Karl used to play when he was their age ("See that yellow square, that's your stout Viking warrior. The red square is the fearsome dragon of Isengeld. Hold onto your boots because when you reach level three, the ice realm of Miserfeln, the background turns blue. Actual blue!")
Daniel and I got back around 2 pm. All the paper presentations were done and there were a couple option workshops (i.e., you pay to attend them) we weren't booked in for. We were both STUFFED, tired, hot, and feeling monster fat. We lounged in the hotel bar and chatted until the Live Challenge Event. The Massimo pictures I posted yesterday (oh, the lovely woman in the photos is a real dynamo in the skeptical community named Ashley Paramore, what a kick ass name!) were from Sunday's sit down with Daniel.
South Point's bar:
You'll recall last year the Live Challenge event was full of drama. They tested Connie Sonne who claimed she could dowse for cards. She failed. She later claimed she was cheated by Bannacheck. The protocol made it impossible for Bannacheck to cheat, of course. Her claim rested on Bannacheck had opened all the cards but one. Process of elimination allowed him to know the contents of the last card and he named the card before opening the envelope. Sonne probably should have stayed with her original claim for failure, that the spirits sometimes abandon her.
This year's challenge was renamed a "demonstration". It was not an official preliminary challenge for the prize. It was a bit confusing as to what they were doing. Were they testing a real psychic claimant? Or was this just going to be a demonstration of how they might set up protocols. Something smacked of a last minute change and much might have been lost on the little people at TAM. Banacheck and Randi (eventually) took the stage and talked about the Million Dollar Prize. Randi let slip, without any fanfare, the name of the person who actually donated the money. This has been a tightly guarded secret in the skeptical community and open to much speculation. Many thought it was Johnny Carson but Randi would talk about the donor as if he were still alive. Many thought it was Penn Jillette but then Randi spoke about a man who lived in the North East. At TAM8 Randi, almost casually, mentioned a fellow named Rick Adams handing Randi a check for $1 million for the challenge prize. Some who were on the internet back in the mid-1990s will remember Rick Adams as the founder of UUNET.
As it turns out, the challenge was basically repeating an IIG test of a woman who claims she's something of a human MRI. Anita Ikonen thinks she can tell, among other things, if a person is missing a kidney. IIG tested her under a much more strict protocol and she failed. For TAM8's "demonstration", they got several TAMers on stage (including Derek from Skepticality and Hal Bidlack). One was certified by a doctor to be missing a kidney. Anita spent about half an hour silently observing their backs and taking copious notes. She eventually selected Derek, claiming his left kidney was missing. An odd choice. Derek is known for his problems with a brain aneurism. Is it reasonable to assume he's had other health problems? The choice of left kidney is also an interesting choice. As it turns out when you donate a kidney they always take the left. The right kidney is harder to "dig out".
Derek was the wrong choice. The true target was Hal. And it was his right kidney that was missing. Hal is a rare mutant born without a right kidney at all.
Anita was quite gracious in this second failure of her "powers". I didn't know who the challenge subject would be and was surprised when Anita got up on stage. Not only is she a really beautiful, stylish woman, but she was a fixture at TAM all 4 days. I just thought she was a regular skeptic. She wasn't at all like that young dork with the video camera who thought he had a bunch of "gotcha" questions for Phil and Adam. She seemed honestly interested in the skeptical movement. Based on the way she described her "power", many in the audience guessed she had a brain wired up to experience synesthesia (where you experience one sense via another sense). She agreed she thought she had the condition. As well, she seemed genuinely curious whether or not what she thought she was seeing was real and was anxious to test it.
A reading of her web site seems to indicate she enjoyed her TAM visit and found it inspiring. I don't know if two failures in a row will have her reconsidering her imagined ability. But her web page makes her sound like she's not unfriendly to abandoning her belief in the face of evidence. It might take a lot of evidence, however. I used to have this belief I had this uncanny power to make women swoon. It took a lot of contrary evidence (slaps, icy stares, the statistically unlikely claim from nearly every woman I put the moves on that she had a boyfriend who is a marine) to disabuse me of my tightly held belief I, like Kramer, possessed "the kavorka".
We all have our conceits, I guess.
I grabbed Jacob Jax again and we had a goodbye dinner at the South Point's main sit down restaurant. We both had the prime rib. A big hunk of meat but not a lot of edible meat. Oh well. We rode the South Point shuttle bus to the airport. The bus was driven by this man urging us to take it easy on him as he was 70 years old. I'm not sure the wisdom of hiring a 70 year old man to load 50 lbs bags into the back of a shuttle van in 110 degree Vegas heat. Let this be a lesson to you: save for your retirement. The bus smelt like urine, air conditioned urine but urine all the same. It was actually a pleasure to step off the air conditioned bus into the 110 degree Vegas heat because Vegas doesn't smell like urine. It smells like hot.
Prime Rib with Jacob:
I boarded the plane, no problem. I managed to sleep most of the flight. I arrived in Toronto about 7 AM local time. Cleared customs. Grabbed a cab. And went straight to work.
The magic of Jacob Jax:
The Reality Check podcast boys:
Me and Randi:
Schmoozing with Skepticality's Swoopy: