Friday, July 18, 2014

Reflections on The Amazing Meeting: Volume One

Intro: TAM and Peace

I rambled so much while composing this piece that I decided to split it into two parts.  I apologize for the wordiness of this eventually two part post, but given the whirlwind that is TAM a single post just won't do.  I hope to post the Part II in the next day or so.  

Part I: The Coming of The Amazing Meeting

I have finally attended The Amazing Meeting.  The first TAM I was aware of occurring was the one held in January, 2006.  It did not even cross my mind at the time to attend, but as the years progressed, it became something I knew I ought to attend.  Finally, this year the stars aligned and the Editor and I were off to Las Vegas for a weekend of immersed skepticism, nerdiness, and hopefully fun.  I tried to keep my expectation in check before attending.  While many have raved about TAM, it did not necessarily hold that I was going to enjoy it.  

Instead of writing a blow by blow account, I am just going to bullet point various thoughts regarding the event.  Many of my thoughts are not going to be unique, but shared by others who have blogged about TAM. I know over the years I gobbled up everything I could learn about what it was like to attend, and I hope a few of my notions are unique or at least are helpful to a prospective attendee. I see this post as adding to that body of work.

A tale of two TAMS: I have read about this in other sources, and I tend to agree: there are, broadly speaking, two TAMs occurring.  There is the lecture TAM and there is the schmooze TAM.  They are not wholly separate by any means, but it appeared to me there was about 80% or so of the attendees who spent most of their time mainly enjoying the lectures and panels.  There was another TAM which appeared to be a sizable minority of folks out in the main hallway kibitzing. Not exclusively talking, but I saw a lot of the same folks outside of the main ballroom while I darted out for refreshment. I think both are equally valid uses of precious TAM time, but I can't help but think if I was any good at kibitzing and chose to hobnob for a large chunk of my time it would have altered the overall takeaway from the experience.

Emcee: George Hrab was the emcee and he was a fantastic one.  I have always considered Hrab a gifted musician (whose music never managed to grab my personal fancy), great podcast guest, and good emcee as viewed on videos.  His emceeing skills in person are dynamite.  He is witty, engaging, fast on his feet with vamping between events. This last one was all too necessary with the multitude of AV glitches that plagued the con.  He is a huge asset to the JREF.  He exceeds the hype.

Skeptics' mess hall
Chow: The food provided with the 'regular' ticket which included breakfasts and lunches was actually quite palatable.  The service for both meals was buffet style, and while the selection was limited, the items were decently prepared.  The scrambled eggs were exactly how I enjoy them.  The coffee breaks (one in the morning session and one in the afternoon session) were good.  The muffins or whatnot for the morning session were pleasant and the oversized cookies in the afternoon were kind of fun to see folks scramble to nab and then gnaw upon.  I have no idea if the service was vegetarian friendly or if such dietary need could be met off menu.  At least for me, it was all good.

The Del Mar:  If one has read anything about TAM’s social scene, then the Del Mar must have arisen.  It’s a lounge in the middle of the casino floor.  The best thing about the Del Mar is its location, and without going into detail, while it is on the casino floor it is also set apart from the floor hubbub by its design.  The service, however, left a bit to be desired.  It just is not staffed to handle proper crowds.    

crowded pool area
The Location: The South Point Hotel Casino and Spa is a pretty nice place.  It’s not up to the standards of any of the remaining big resorts on the Las Vegas Strip, but other than that comparison, it holds its own.  Our room was large and clean.  The staff was generally quite helpful, and the amenities were more than satisfactory.  It is far from everywhere or anything else in Las Vegas. This probably benefits the conference and helps to keep everyone wandering off to the wonders of old Vegas and the Strip. There is no walking to any other location other than the Del Taco across the street.   (Ed. note: The pool was nice, but felt small with all the families with young kids running around. Some BMX event was also taking place at South Point with lots of kids participating.)

The Benjamins: The cost of attending TAM.  TAM is not cheap.  I do not think it is overpriced, but with a regular admission priced at over $400 and if you split the cost of a hotel room with another then lodging comes in around $150.00 for four nights. It adds up.  This is not including the cost of travel which can vary widely depending on one’s travel arrangements.  On the one hand spending approximately $1,000 to attend a con is not something to sneeze at, but on the other hand, I do think one gets a good value for the money for the most part.  These are three to four days packed with lectures and events, and just being in the same location with so many fellow skeptics has a value all to itself.  I was listening to Strange Frequencies Radio, and they both indicated that since TAM costs around $1,000 to travel, stay, and attend they will probably never go.  This is distressing, and I would submit it is probably worth it to save for a couple years to go at least once.  (Easy for me to say, I know.)  I held my breath a bit as I bought my attendance ticket, and then booked the room at the hotel, and then spent a couple weeks with the Editor trying to find the best match between airline prices and arrival/departure times.  Yet, I do think in the end the money was worth it.  For some, the cost is no problem.  Others I am sure budget TAM into their yearly expenses just like budgeting for the car insurance.  I get it. I get why a lot of people might be out there who would love to attend but the cost is enough to dissuade them. 

The Extras: Also, I did not add in any of the extras for the workshops or evening entertainment in part due to travel timing issues and in part because it would severely escalate the price of admission.  Did I miss some interesting content, especially in the workshops, probably yes.  Was it a fair tradeoff? I think so.  Given the time constraints, I really do not regret passing on most of the evening entertainment.  If I did not have a few online friends I wanted to catch up with in person, I might have thought differently.  My time spent socializing with friends I thought was well worth it. I did briefly attend the free--ABSOLUTELY NOT related to JREF--world famous to Skeptics Penn Jillette's Bacon and Donut party.  Not a TAM event even though it is listed in the programs and it occurs right next to the TAM lecture hall.  It was neat, but I am old.  I could not stay.  I needed rest.  At least this year the event also seemed all about Penn's latest movie project.  It is a nice place for everyone to let their hair down and party, but at least on this night this year I was not feeling it.

The Skinny: Overall, I found attending TAM very satisfying.  I do plan on attending another TAM.  I am not counting down the days to TAM 2015, but I hesitate to say I will absolutely not go next year.  The theme or one of speakers might be so compelling that it will inspire me to attend two years in row.  However, attending TAM for me sacrifices precious vacation time and money, which I do not think I am willing to part with on an annual basis.  On the other hand, by this time in 2017 I would be surprised if I have not attended another one. It was an enlightening and engaging well run event, and I would hate for this to be my only TAM. It was a good use of my time and money.  It is not a vacation.  It was fun.  It was educational.  TAM was overall enlightening, but I do like my kickback and mindless breaks and TAM is not that at all. (At least if you are doing it right.) 

*edited for misspelling*


  1. Would you do the food ticket again, or not?

  2. Probably. If out of convenience more than anything else. Also, I'd probably just go to the Steak and Shake in the alternative, so its not as if I'd be going gourmet.


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