NECSS

I started writing about CSIcon but it wasn’t the first skeptic convention I attended. I also went to The Northeast Conference for Science and Skepticism or NECSS. I’m trying to compare the two but it doesn’t really seem fair since I went to NECSS without knowing a single person there in anyway and I went to CSIcon with lots of Facebook friends who I then met IRL.

The speakers were certainly good at NECSS so there was no disappointment with that. Brit Hermes was fascinating with her story of how she ended up in Naturopathy and how she escaped. David Gorski was his usual smart, cynical self. Summer Ash’s talk on what is hidden in photographs of the cosmos in visible light was a highlight. The photos she showed were so gorgeous.

The whole event just wasn’t as social which was one of the things I enjoyed so much about CSIcon. I really didn’t meet anyone until the second evening when I found myself in the bar with the emcee Leighann Lord. She is a delightful person in every way and I am trying to get her a speaking gig at the next Special Library Association annual conference. She really would go over with that group because she tweets about her love for libraries and of course she is hysterically funny! I just never saw any of the speakers in the evening. The only organized evening event was at a bar and I think all of the speakers just went to the VIP party that I did not pay for. I certainly never saw any of them. I did meet some very nice people before the party who refused to let me be introverted and just dragged me around with them! I’m talking about you Michael Sofka. I think I eventually was dragging him around with me but he was very patient about it!

I was especially glad I went because I did get to see the Amazing James Randi. He was as amazing as his name implies. I imagine it would take him a month to expound on even a tenth of the interesting things that have happened to him in his life. I regret forgetting to take my husband’s Dunninger’s Complete Encyclopedia of Magic for him to sign. I hope I still have the chance next year.

I came to skepticism by finding the Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast randomly on iTunes so it was great to see them in person and watch a live show. I had been listening to it for over a year before the conference so their voices were so familiar. It was surreal seeing them in person. I’ve got those voices in my head so much that when I read Steve’s Neurologica Blog, I hear it in his voice! Weird, no? I also got to meet Richard Saunders for the first time at NECSS. He caught me off guard by dropping a microphone on his phone and interviewing me on the spot! I previously did a promo for the Guerilla Skeptics on Wikipedia that plays on the Skeptic Zone podcast occasionally. You can tell I am listening to myself when I suddenly burst out laughing for no apparent reason while I have my headphones on.

I really enjoyed the keynote speaker, astronaut Mike Massimino. He told some hair-raising stories about being in space and was generally charming and funny too. I didn’t get to see most of the rest of Sunday because my flight left too early and getting to the airport in New York is such an ordeal. A great event overall and a good introduction to skeptics in person. Go if you can.

You Gotta Start Somewhere, Right?

CSIcon 2017

I attended CSIcon this year for the first time. I want to capture some of my impressions before they get away. I did not spend any time taking notes so these thoughts are going to be just what I think offhand and perhaps a bit stream of consciousness.

I was pretty excited about this event because unlike at NECSS which I went to in June I will know someone at the event even if it is just through social media. I’m more than just a bit introverted and it took me more than a day to have even a brief conversation with anyone a NECSS. This one was going to be different. At least that was the plan.

I arrived on Wednesday night fairly late so most everyone I knew was at a show. I’m beginning to think that I need to look at my credit card receipt to determine if I had a drink that night or not. Seems likely. Anyway, I met my roommate for the weekend Paula Serrano and settled in. Sharing a space with someone you do not know at all is a daunting experience. Fortunately this ended up  being the best of all possible situations and worked out perfectly. Saving money for those $17 Makers Mark Manhattans I am so fond of. Yep, I’m a bourbon girl at heart. Life’s too short to drink cheap alcohol. More on that later.

Thursday daytime was an off time for me. No workshops scheduled. I got to meet most of the rest of the Guerilla Skeptics on Wikipedia team at breakfast. Meeting in, as Stuart Jones would say, “meat space” is the best thing. It is so delightful to really be sitting across the table from someone. Social media is great but it can’t top real life. We have all been conversing via a group on Facebook Messenger and it is hard to stop checking the group and posting. I want to keep the conversation going. Paula and I soaked up the sun for a few hours which was great considering it was near freezing back home. I’ve never been to Vegas in the summer but October is plenty warm for me. Managed to enjoy the outdoors before disappearing back into the casino. It’s always 1am on Friday night inside of a casino. I’d forgotten what it was like to be around cigarette smoke too. Everyone in a casino apparently feels that they need to smoke.

Thursday night everything started to happen! The kickoff was a bizarre rant about Trump that was surprisingly unfunny give the material and at least 15 minutes too long. Once that let the air out of the room, Lawrence Krauss filled it back up again with a fascinating talk on the cosmos featuring the sun. Fascinating and incongruous given the setting. Who goes to a casino to learn about the cosmos? Apparently me and 499 other nerds! Bonus Thursday night was meeting Kevin Folta. I’ve been a big fan of the Talking Biotech Podcast from the beginning being a bit of a biology nerd from way back and it was a delight having a conversation with someone who is obviously passionate and dedicated to his work. I have what I describe as a geek crush on him. (Trolls beware, I am part of the nerd shield for this guy and anyone else in biotech you are abusing.) It is a thorough delight to have your podcasts come to life as I listen to Kevin’s podcast as well as those by many others who were at this event.

Friday got off to an amazing start with an original song by George Hrab called “Thoughts and Prayers”. I hope he puts this online somewhere or makes it available to purchase because I must own it. It relays exactly what I think when I hear that phrase. “We don’t want to actually do anything useful so we send our thoughts and prayers”.

Friday was really the best day of the event in my opinion because the speakers were uniformly interesting, sometimes funny or snarky and always great communicators. Highlights for me were Richard Wiseman, David Gorski, Steve Novella, Michael Mann and Kevin Folta. I keep adding names to this list, everyone was wonderful so it’s hard to mention just a few. The evening was capped off by two events, a screening of the Food Evolution Movie and a private show with the Skeptics Guide to the Universe. The rogues of the Skeptics Guide had me in stitches the whole time. I could not believe it was midnight when we ended. Not that I went to bed or anything. TheLobby Bar at Excalibur has an evening bartender who seems to pour doubles. (At least he did for me). I didn’t gamble but they got enough of my money without it. I’m amazed that I got up every day for the beginning of the event.

I know I said Friday was the best day but I am reconsidering based on my recollection of Saturday. The Science Moms movie crushed it! Thanks to Natalie Newell for making that happen and I hope it gets wide exposure. It was also a blast seeing Ross Blocker speak from one of my favorite podcasts Oh No Ross and Carrie. I missed a few of the early afternoon sessions because the lack of sleep caught up with me finally. I did get back to see Massimo Polidoro talk about James Randi. He almost makes up for Randi not making the event by telling such charming stories about him. I hope that many of these presentations were taped and get up on the web someday so I can relive the entire experience. Saturday was capped off with an energetic disco-themed Halloween party. I don’t think I have danced as much since disco was around the first time. At least there appear to be dozens of photos of me dancing although I suspect they were really photographing Paula Serrano who was dancing near me most of the time.

Things were winding down on Sunday. There was one panel discussion and the paper sessions. George Hrab quizzed me from the stage about who  I was and what I did for a living as he did each morning with some member of the audience. I was surprised to get a round of applause when I said I was a librarian. It is nice to know people still think that is a useful profession. Of course a room full of academics and science enthusiasts isn’t exactly the general populace which is why I was there in the first place. I spent the afternoon at the pool which was delightful considering the weather back home was miserable and it will be a while before another pool day comes around in Ohio.

I guess this is enough for a first post. I just wanted to convey how much I need this sort of event in my life particularly at this time in history when the voices of reason seem to get drowned out. It’s hard not to have a bit of post conference let down and this is my way of bringing all those good feelings back to the front.