Let me begin with a semi-apology to my Twitter followers (@HorsfallMagic) for the sudden flurry of Tweets which I’m sure flooded your streams at points this weekend. I will not apologize for the content of the Tweets, merely the abruptness of activity which may have brought forth the question “What on earth is going on?”
Well, to answer that question: Amazing was going on!
That is, The Amazing Meeting. This was my first attendance of the annual meet-up of scientists, critical thinkers, magicians, atheists, and skeptics which was envisioned and organized by master debunker of “Flim Flam,” James “The Amazing” Randi. The skeptical community and blogosphere is a pool I’ve closely skirted and loitered around for years without diving in, and The Amazing Meeting 9 (TAM9) seemed a good a place as any to finally take the plunge. I must say that I left the four day conference refreshed and deeply inspired. What follows are some highlights.
I’m a avid believer of the skeptical point of view (I enjoy the juxtaposition of that phrase), but first and for most my heart lies with my craft: magic. Therefore I puttered around the conference floor surrounded and a little star struck of big magic names such as Max Maven, Jamy Ian Swiss, Banachek, Penn Jillette, and of course: James Randi! You can imagine my excitement when I spied the legendary Johnny Thompson after Max Maven’s incredibly performance of “Thinking in Person.”
In addition to seeing Max Maven for the first time live, I snuck away from TAM9 to finally see Mac King’s show (which many say is the best show on the Strip)! I had tried to see Mac King last time I was in Vegas, but unfortunately he was out of town so I caught his fill in, Derek Hughes, instead. The Mac King Comedy Magic Hour lived up to, and in many ways exceeded, the hype surrounding it. I will write an in-depth review of my thoughts on it within the next few days. If you are in Vegas though, please please please do yourself a favor and drop the $35.00 to see Mac King. The worst time of the day in Vegas is when the sun is up, except for the afternoon when Mac performs his two shows.
I also got to see Penn and Teller again and they were even BETTER the second time through. I was very pleased to see the live performance of their beautiful effect “Silver Fish” which they omitted from my first viewing for some reason. They also managed to fool my father multiple times, an extremely difficult feat.
Neil deGrasse Tyson Vs. Lawrence Krauss
The hour between 3:45 and 4:45 PM on Friday, July 15, 2011 was arguably the greatest panel of the conference. The panel- moderated by Phil Plait (of BadAstronomy.com) -and consisting of: astronomer Pamela Gay, renowned cosmologist Lawrence Krauss, NOVA’s Neil deGrasse Tyson, and (sing along time) Bill Nye the Science Guy, quickly transformed into a heated debate between Tyson and Krauss. The two, fueled by shared passion for science, volleyed their different opinions over the importance of manned spaceflight, NASA budgeting, and the political motivations for putting a man on the moon. As my Father writes in his blog (theskepticintheroom.blogspot.com) “I wanted to hit reset and run the whole thing over and over again.” The audience loved it and the panel was, unless I’m mistaken, the only panel to receive a standing ovation.
During Richard Dawkins’ keynote Saturday night, the Twitter-verse exploded with the news that Chuck Norris was just across the hall for some event in his honor. The slew of amateur “Chuck Norris Jokes” which TAM9er’s began tweeting suddenly took on a rather surreal significance when we found ourselves unable to leave the grand ballroom due to the non-TAM9 fans who had flooded the hallway for a chance to meet their idol! Chuck Norris, by his mere presence, was literally keeping 16,000+ skeptics from leaving! That’s all fine though, we got to enjoy an extra 30 minutes of science from Richard Dawkins, who eventually admitted that he “had never heard of Chuck Norris.” You can’t write material like this!
I have two major complaints for TAM9: the lack of milk to go with Sunday afternoon’s giant cookies, and the overabundance of technical and sound glitches. Most evident of these glitches were for the emcee of TAM9, creator and star of The Geologic Podcast, George Hrab.
Hrab began the convention with an original and hilarious musical number, put to video. However, at first the video didn’t play. Hrab, professionally carried on through the first verse without it, expecting the technical staff to correct the issue and project the video. Yet, when it was clear the video wasn’t going to be fixed soon, Hrab was forced to stop the song and wait for the staff to figure out the problem (BTW the issue was the Quicktime window hadn’t be pulled into view…)
I say this not to humiliate Hrab. The the contrary, I sat in admiration of his professionalism and ability to deal with a situation which, had it happened to me, would have left me deeply frustrated and thrown off. It really was an education in being prepared to roll with it.
The story ends happily with Hrab restarting the number, complete with video. Everyone ate it up, and Hrab’s final bow at the end of the conference earned him a standing ovation.
Penn Jillette’s Private Rock and Roll Doughnut and Bacon Party
I think the only thing I can add to this which the title doesn’t already explain fully is that seeing Penn Jillette play and sing YMCA should be witnessed by everyone during their lifetime.
For more highlights of TAM9 for those who missed it, or for those who want to relive the experience, I would direct you to my father’s blog here!
And stay tuned for the highlights of TAM10! It’s only a year away :-)