Sunday, 4 October 2009

The Amaz!ing Meeting

You may know (if only because I've mentioned it before) that my other main interest, besides gaming, is skepticism. If you don't give a monkey's about this, you probably want to ignore the rest of this post, and most likely, the ones that will follow it. You should find it safe to come back once Kingdom of Heroes is released, and I've had time to read and review it.

Still here? If so, you may well have wondered to yourself, what is the big gathering of the skeptical tribe? What, in short, is to skepticism what Continuum or Tentacles are to Glorantha?

Well, OK, you probably haven't actually wondered that. Especially if you're reading this blog for some reason other than being a Glorantha fan. (Hi, Mum). But let's imagine that you did: the answer is The Amaz!ing Meeting, held for the last several years in Las Vegas. Where, let's face it, I'm not very likely to go. But - and this is the important bit - this year, for the first time, there was an additional meeting held outside the USofA. That was TAM London, and I was lucky enough to attend.

I should probably explain why I say I was lucky, and why I haven't mentioned this at all before. That's because the convention was massively over-subscribed. Based on the figures in the US, the organisers figured the tickets would sell out in a few months; they actually sold it out in less than an hour. By the time I logged on to make my purchase - as soon as I got home from work - they were already long gone. So, I figured, I ain't going - and things suck, but there you go sometimes. They made some efforts to get further tickets out, but no luck there, either. Then, last week, they put out a few tickets that had been returned for refunds, and I just happened to be online when they announced it, being able to snag one on the spot!

And now I've just returned. A very, very good weekend, and hats off to the organisers. I most certainly hope there's one again next year, or, heck, even biennial like Continuum (the organisers have promised a bigger venue if it happens again in the UK, which would hopefully help with the ticket problem). The massive interest that this must have had to sell out so quickly is, I think, something of a testament to the growing popularity of skepticism in recent years, and by gosh, it feels good to be part of a tribe that's expanding for once.

Frankly, there was just so much good stuff that I can't really describe it all in detail. I know that Jack of Kent is covering it in his blog (which is probably a thousand times more popular than mine), so maybe there'll be more there, if you're interested. However, there are four presenters at the con who I'd particularly like to talk about, for very different reasons. But that's absolutely not to diminish in any way the contributions of the other six - as I say, the entire weekend was fantastic, and I was really impressed by the quality of the lineup.

Less so by the food on the Saturday night incidentally - memo to organisers: there's nothing wrong with serving sausages, but it's a bugger to eat them without a knife or a table. Just sayin'. (The food for the rest of the weekend was fine, incidentally, as was the quality of the cooking).

Anyway, I do think it behoves me to give at least a run down of the six presentations that I won't be discussing in much detail:

Brian Cox, presenter of various documentaries for the BBC's Horizon strand, started us off with a talk about the importance of the Large Hadron Collider, and of curiosity-driven science in general. This was a lot more fun than it might sound, and I have to say it takes real talent to talk about particle physics for an hour, and make it sound not just exciting, but easily understandable, without really dumbing it down. And the message was clear: curiosity-driven science is, in and of itself, important, and a fitting use of (at least some) public funds.

Jon Ronson followed up with an entertaining talk about his book about CIA psychics, The Men Who Stare At Goats, including clips of the upcoming film based on the book.

James Randi, who surely needs no introduction, and is the figurehead of the JREF - the organisation that runs TAM - gave a video call from America, answering questions, and seeming remarkably chipper, given his recent health problems.

Phil Plait, who actually runs the JREF, gave an fascinating talk about how asteroids could wipe out human civilisation, and other such hilarities, managing to balance the seriousness with a lot of fun. He's a good speaker, if apparently a little puzzled by the British at times (ha! as if we're the strange ones...)

Glen Hill, who I'd not heard of before, gave a talk on the Cottingley Fairies, photographed by his mother. He drew some rather strained parallels with recent conflict in the Middle East, making him perhaps the most clearly anti-religious speaker. Not that that would worry me in the slightest, of course...

George Hrab provided musical entertainment, and came across as a really cool bloke. I'll have to get an album of his music!

Adam Savage is, of course, one of the presenters of Mythbusters, and discussed some of the making of the show, primarily based around trying to see how well someone can swim in a pool full of syrup. Serious science, as I'm sure you'll agree!

So much for the summary... on to more serious discussion. And less serious, too...

1 comment:

rochestergamer said...

Thanks for the update on the 'con'.

Todays Scarborough fact is that Frances Griffiths lived in the town in the 1920's.