I have always had a strange sensory experience whenever I am learning something that I really like: my brain tingles. The sensation blurs the boundary between a mental experience and a physical one. I can actually feel something in my head, like being tickled by the electrical activity amidst my neurons.
I like admitting this. Only a really smart person would tingle when they learn things, right? It’s a geek credential. Or maybe I just have a rare and kind of goofy neurological disorder.
Either way, I’m expecting my brain to tingle a lot over the next few days. I’m going to TAM7, The (7th) Amazing Meeting, a “critical thinking conference” for debunkers and critics of all kinds of nitwittery. I kick it off on Thursday with an emergency back-up conference about Science-Based Medicine. I’m particularly looking forward to meeting Dr. Steven Novella and the rest of the gang from the smash hit podcast Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe — these are my kind of celebrities.Only a really smart person would tingle when they learn things, right? It’s a geek credential.
So, why read this? Because you’re going to laugh so hard you blow milk out of your nose — it’s going to be that good, or your money back.
This hilarious diary of my adventure is mostly for an audience of handful of dedicated fans (hi, Mom). I’m not going to promote this page on the front page of SaveYourself.ca. This is a ginormous bummer. (See how hard you’re laughing already?) I’m increasingly convinced that being openly skeptical is terrible for my tutorial-selling business. For a shopkeeper, being openly skeptical is dangerously close to insulting customers when they walk in the door:
“Hey, you … yeah, you, the one with the placebo you stupidly mistook for therapy last week? Total crap! Want to buy something? No refunds for morons.”
I have a lot of potential customers who are just not down with the skeptical thing. To them, a skeptic is a killjoy who doesn’t believe [insert cherished brain baggage]: and not believing in stuff is a kind of social disease, perhaps literally. It’s an idea in evolutionary psychology that “believing” is an adaptive trait: that it’s part of social bonding, and not believing as the group believes is taboo-ish. Example: I’ve never believed in hockey, and that was definitely a social disease in a small northern Canadian town.For a shopkeeper, being openly skeptical is dangerously close to insulting customers when they walk in the door.
At YVR. Flight delayed. Should be in air now. Morale low, food supplies low, sled dog looking tastier every minute. WestJet has mysteriously failed to park a plane at the gate. We have nothing to board. Conspiracy? Who wants to shut me from going TAM7? Think, man, think! Follow the money … Area 51 is near Vegas! Coincidence?
Yeah, probably a coincidence. Brain tingling delayed. Sigh.
To bad about that sled dog. At least I won’t need an in-flight snack.
I’m a massage therapist going to a skepticism conference. Massage therapists — as a profession with educational standards ranging from “none” to “meh,” depending on the jurisdiction — are not exactly known for our critical thinkery. In fact, we’re somewhat known for believing in practically anything … and we charge extra if it involves chakras.
But I’m one of the unbelievers. An inifidel. I make no extravagant claims for the healing power of massage therapy. I think massage is mostly just relaxing and pleasant, can temporarily relieve some forms of muscle pain, and gives patients an opportunity to bitch about the medical system. All good therapy, but no panacea, zero woo.
But will TAMers believe that I don’t believe? Will they accept me as one of their own? A serious rationalist?
Or will I be like a hyena at the lions’ buffet? The only one at a Trek convention that can’t make the long-live-and-prosper hand thingy? A guy in a cow suit at the cow revolutionary meeting? Gulp.
The Koyaanisqatsi reference might be a little too obscure, so: koyaanisqatsi = “life out of balance.” And boy is it ever out of balance here! I knew it would be, but I underestimated it.
The South Point Hotel & Casino may be the most appalling place I have ever paid to be. It is an unbelievably large complex plonked down in the desert. It contains a horse race track, a movie theatre, a conference centre, a bowling alley, and so on. It is (much) larger than my neighbourhood. Everything is on a vast scale. Huge rooms, huge restaurants, huge hallways.
The hallway to my room looks like some kind of mirror trick. I think it goes all the way back to the airport. I’m not sure. I’m certainly not going to try to walk to the end of it!
Despite all the space, there is nowhere quiet and pleasant, hardly anywhere to sit down that isn’t in front of a slot machine. Nothing seems welcoming, well-designed or appealing, unless — of course — you want to gamble. It’s all glaring and blaring and trashy. Snapshots:
And I’ve been here an hour. Vegas, baby! Now, off to the strip with me.
Who would have thought I would return, so soon, to the theme of food shortage? So whimsical in the airport, it is now almost a real problem. The airport had significantly better food options. There is nothing to eat here, not that I’m willing to pay for, and I’m really not kidding. It all started with trying to get to the Las Vegas strip … [swirly time travel effects] …
There is no shuttle to the strip. I’d been told there was a free one, but in fact there is not any such thing. If there were, it would be egregiously over-priced, not free. But there is none to be had at any price, no matter how unreasonable. Taxi? $45 fare. One way. City bus, perhaps? Picks up every thirty minutes. Takes an hour. With a transfer. Stop is over there, you know, about a quarter mile away, on the other side of the parking lot, beside the highway — that’s a bus stop you can barely see there, through the shimmering heat. Ready … set … go!
Er, no thanks.
Tried to eat. Six generally over-priced restaurants, a Seattle’s Best Coffee shop, and a deli. The deli seemed plausible. Bowl of soup? $11. What it’s got in it, diamonds? Cup of soup? $7! Spoonful of soup spat in your face? Just $4!
Hmm, as long as I’m dieting, perhaps a trip to the gym? $15 for a day pass. Or $40 for three days! Suddenly I think I’ll get in shape next weekend.Cup of soup? $7! Spoonful of soup spat in your face? Just $4!
The pool. There’s no charge for the pool is there? No, there is no charge for the pool. But it is also baking, nearly shadeless, and there’s bad radio blaring from speakers built into everything, because you never want to be too far from your Howard Jones hits, no, not even when you’re swimming. There is someone to blame, frankly. [laugh, applause]
I’m surprised there’s no swim-up slots.
Okay, back to the food. I needed to eat, so I went “out” — out of the hotel. But the hotel is like a penitentiary where there’s nowhere to escape to. Or nowhere worth escaping to.
The hotel complex is easily many acres, and that doesn’t include the parking lot. In the distance, I could see a small shopping centre. The mostly deserted parking lot took minutes to walk across. I navigated through several RVs and semi trucks parked in the corner, idling, probably to keep the AC going. The mercury is officially at 42˚C, but I’ll bet it was 50 in that parking lot. Then a huge intersection to cross — the kind of intersection that, you can tell, is not really used to pedestrians. Six lanes begrudgingly come to a halt for l’il old me, and I feel all fleshy and crushable as every driver is looking at the back of my neck, thinking, “Poor bastard, car breaking down in this heat.” It’s obvious no one walks here.There’s bad radio blaring from speakers built into everything, because you never want to be too far from your Howard Jones hits, no, not even when you’re swimming.
And — hooray — there is indeed a “grocery” kitty corner to the casino. The sign says “grocery,” but I think it’s ironic. It’s not a grocery. It has Slurpies, Cheezies and — naturally — slot machines! The rest of the shopping centre is a deeply depressing, eclectic mix: a Taco del Mar, a dilapidated drive-through bank (since when are banks dilapidated?), an insurance office, a martial arts place, a nail spa, a huge liquor store — by far the largest tenant — and a pizza joint, “Pepe’s Pizza.”
Pepe takes my order. He’s about as French as an enchilada.
“You from the casino?” he says. “We get a lot of people from over there. You order from your room, by the time you get here, is ready.”
That’s right, just one call and a sweaty walk, and you too can have a only-slightly-less-over-priced small, greasy pizza with distinctly rancid sauce. I am currently waiting to find out if I’ve been poisoned before I dare to eat a second piece.
The shopping center is flanked by garbagey empty lots, a townhouse development (“Move in for $300!”), and not much else. I ask Pepe’s wife (she has to be his wife) on the way out, “Any grocery store around here?” She slowly shakes her head, sympathetic and puzzled, like she not only does not know of any grocery store around here, but is not, in fact, quite sure what I mean by “groceries.”
“Sorry, hon,” she says. Still shaking her head and looking at me, she reaches out to something out of my sight, and yells at Pepe, “Did you know this fucking thing is still broken?” Then at me again: “Yeah, sorry, hon. I don’t think so.”She slowly shakes her head, sympathetic and puzzled, like she not only does not know of any grocery store around here, but is not, in fact, quite sure what I mean by “groceries.”
Back to the hotel. There is nowhere else to be. Sigh.
So, okay, I didn’t want to do this — I’ve only been here four hours — but this place totally blows. Who picked this hotel for the conference? Call me a guy who really hates lame service, acres of asphalt, airline-hanger-sized rooms full of slot machines, and over-priced and crappy everything, but I’m sticking to my guns here: this place totally blows.
And, just to put the finishing touch on the deepening gloom: another public weeper, albeit slightly less sensational than the barely-costumed dancer under the stairs. But still: a full-power, chest-heaving, tear-squirting crying jag into an iPhone (everyone has an iPhone here — they’re required, I think). “I’ve been trying to call her for three days,” she wailed into the phone. “Why won’t she call? Why? Why?”
Perhaps, I thought, because you’ve wandered into Hell, and your signal isn’t getting out.
Okay, crying is definitely a thing around here: I walked past a man in the casino who was gesticulating at a slot machine and crying. He said nothing out loud, but he was communicating clearly. He was saying, “This thing is killing me. Again. It’s not fair. Why is it doing this to me? Why? Why?”
There were some more shenanigans before finally getting down to good business this morning: first, I realized late last night that I really was quite clueless about the details of the Science-based Medicine conference (hereafter SBMC). I simply never received any information about it: no ticket, itinerary, start-time, location within the hotel … nothing. And I couldn’t find diddly-squat online either.
So I got up at 7am and just poked around. I found a hotel marquee with a start time of 8:30am (wrong) and the room for the event, The Brunswick Room (also wrong). What is with this place? At 8:15 or so I went to find The Brunswick Room, only to discover (after the usual surprisingly long hike through the complex) that not only was it the wrong room, but it was on the wrong side of this extraordinarily large place.I found a hotel marquee with a start time of 8:30am (wrong) and the room for the event, The Brunswick Room (also wrong). What is with this place?
Several minutes later, I found the real location, and discovered that registration had been underway for some time, and the conference was already starting. Sort of. It was supposed to have started. In fact, it has not actually yet started, which is why I’m typing this.
So I made it. Phew! And also sheesh!
And now … Dr. Novella is just a few feet away. As I mentioned earlier, this is the guy I am most impressed to have an opportunity to see and perhaps meet. I am more or less in awe of his accomplishments and intelligence. He looks like a normal human being.
However, I am not fooled. Clearly only a supernatural being could be so productive.
Fantastic first talk: informative, funny, engaging.
There is a great danger with this event of the speakers preaching to the choir. Indeed, I did more or less already know everything Dr. Novella said. The benefit of listening to him, I think, is that I could not begun to have said it myself. He delivered it all like it was second nature, deftly, quickly. Despite all my study, I’m still a bit plodding and halting when speaking of the nitty and the gritty of how science works. So what I’m doing here is not learning about how science works, really, so much as getting better at it.
And there were some new ideas. My most substantive insight from his talk:
We speak of “the placebo effect,” but it is not one thing. Placebo consists of many different phenomena, and is the sum total of everything that is not a physiological response to an intervention. Which is quite a bit. For instance, there is the psychological process of rationalizing and justifying an expensive treatment: patients may talk themselves into feeling better because “they’d better feel better,” after paying that fee. This is clearly not the same psychological phenomenon as a faith-powered modulation of a pain experience!
According to Dr. Novella, another component of placebo is confirmation bias: only accepting and embracing information and experience that is consistent with what you want confirmed. Patients might very well be experiencing the same symptoms as before, but due to confirmation bias will report and “believe” only the parts of their complex experience that confirm that the treatment worked. This could easily results in an impression of recovery when in fact there is none. And, again, this is quite different from the usual oversimplified view of placebo.
Now, did Dr. Novella actually rock the house, or is that just my confirmation bias at work?
This is the most important thing I learned at the SBMC: how to explain the difference between evidence-based medicine and science-based medicine. These ideas are all available on Science-Based Medicine. However, I think they need to be repeated as often as possible and in as many ways as possible. So I’m going to take a crack at it, hopefully with some flair that will make it palatable to non-doctors. Thanks to all the SBMC panelists for this, but particularly to Steven Novella and Kimball Atwood. Some of Dr. Atwood’s examples were particularly instructive!
Evidence-based medicine (EBM) considers only the evidence, while science-based medicine (SBM) goes a crucial step further and also considers the plausibility of a medicine or therapy. Ignoring plausibility defies the principle that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and causes Carl Sagan to turn in his grave. SBM places a much greater emphasis on the value of our pretty huge and skookum body of scientific knowledge about how humans work.
Sadly and strangely, the EBM movement has levelled the playing field for outrageous ideas, judging them only on the basis of misinterpreted and misrepresented evidence. Is the idea any good? Does it make any sense? To an EBM purist, it doesn’t matter! Arguments about efficacy can drag on for years, basically immune to the charge that the idea was never any good to begin with and that “further study” is a waste of time. Thus, quacks can easily hijack EBM to serve their interests.Ignoring plausibility defies the principle that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and causes Carl Sagan to turn in his grave.
The classic absurd unintended consequence of EBM is that a really bad idea can easily be made to seem as though it is on the verge of legitimacy. An EBMer would say, “There is insufficient evidence to support the use of sharp sticks in the eye to treat blindndess,” while we would say, “That’s insane! Stop spending taxpayer dollars on studying the therapeutic efficacy of sharp sticks in the eye.” Prominent EBM publications like The Cochrane Collaboration and The Natural Standard have routinely published remarkably uncritical statements about therapies that have never had any supportive evidence and never will: homeopathy, therapeutic touch, craniosacral therapy, and so on. This gives them the appearance of far more legitimacy than they deserve.
|Strict Evidence-Based Medicine||Science-Based Medicine|
|There is insufficient evidence to support the use of sharp sticks in the eye to treat blindndess.||That’s insane! Stop spending taxpayer dollars on studying the therapeutic efficacy of sharp sticks in the eye.|
Strictly adhered to, EBM will not generally lead to a false conclusion: even the The Natural Standard doesn’t say that the evidence supports the use of homeopathy, for instance. But the pointless “debate” is legitimized and perpetuated by the failure to condemn an idea as fundamentally bad to begin with.
The difference beween SBM and EBM might seem like hair-splitting to many people. However, our civilization and tax dollars have better things to do than carry on studying and being distracted by such low quality ideas in health care. Ironically, EBM allows extraordinary claims to cling to life without any evidence at all, not even ordinary evidence. Only an SBM perspective can put a stop to this.
Last night I had not much to write about, and plenty of time to write. Twenty-four hours later that has flipped upside down. So, what did I cram in today? And how can I cram it into a few words before I lose consciousness? Can I? If this entry ends in the middle of a sentence, you’ll know I didn’t make it.
At the very end of the SBMC I stood up and asked a question and got some good laughs from all assembled — a great treat — simply by admitting that I was a massage therapist. Drs. Novella and Atwood answered my question nicely, and my brain tingled on cue. Several people since have approached me to say how much they appreciated me speaking up as the sole representative of alternative medicine at the conference. So, to answer the neurotic question asked yesterday: they do like me. Phew.
Then Kennedy arrived and we discovered that the room we’re sharing has only one bed, which brings new meaning to sharing the room. It’s going to be a long weekend. I don’t sleep well at the best of times.
Free food at the reception was certainly a highlight!
The Canadian Contingent Dinner was a great success, and once again I was delighted to delight a crowd: another laugh and strong round of applause when I introduced myself and my reasons for being here. Which I will not repeat here, because a fellow has to have some secrets. Or at least things he doesn’t blog about.
Finally, a refreshing swim and new friends met poolside: Courtney flagged me down in a generously friendly way, and I ended up having the best sort of chat with her, Kristen, Jack and Ed. Turns out they’re good friends of the SGU crew, which made it a blogworthy meeting, but they certainly would have earned a mention here regardless: I’ve met dozens of people today, but meeting them was … just right. Relaxed, friendly, meaningful — meaningful to me, anyway.
Celebrity skeptics spotted in the few minutes spent writing this: Penn Jillette strolled by, James Randi rolled by (in a wheelchar), and Phil Plait.
Kicking off the first day of TAM7 was a recording of the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe during breakfast. One of the topics they addressed was science in traditional journalism versus the blogosphere. Obviously, science writing on the interwebs — especially health science — is problematic, routinely low quality, and I have complained about this in the past (though I’ve really let that go, because it’s like standing in a downpour and crankily critiquing individual raindrops).
Of course, the debate exists because traditional science journalism hasn’t exactly been a bastion of integrity and competence either. In general, traditional science journalism has been breathtakingly craptastic — and this is partly why science bloggers have been able to make such headway. There’s a void to fill. It’s easy for a good science writer to do look good, in any media.Traditional science journalism hasn’t exactly been a bastion of integrity and competence.
Steve made a comment that science bloggers need to become more professional, making a living from studying and writing about science, and … holy crap, that’s me! I’m doing that!
My business model is entirely based on writing such good, useful health science content — without making empty promises — that people are happy to pay for it. That’s it. When I sit down to work, that’s my goal: make this worth buying. And people do. Sometimes I forget how unusual it is. Blessing: counted. Thank you, customers!
Now my ego is tingling, instead of my brain.
Don’t get me wrong: this a big roomful of a thousand of my kind of people, and I love that, we all love that. Community is good.
But I’m a bit bored.
Call me crazy, but I’m not really a huge fan of being glued to a chair in an excessively air-conditioned room for four hours — and that’s just the first morning — listening to one speaker after another indulge in an extraordinarily large number of maudlin thanks and acknowledgements. The volunteers are awesome, thanks — got it the first couple times. Took it for granted, actually.
I’m not extremely bored, just a bit bored. I came for substance, and I just haven’t heard a great deal of it yet.Call me crazy, but I’m not really a huge fan of being glued to a chair in an excessively air-conditioned room for four hours.
Fintan “Not Actually A Porn Star” Steele gave a pretty meaty presentation on the over-hyping of genomic-based medicine — turns out your genetic profile is about as meaningful as your horoscope. But that didn’t really surprise me, and (no offense to Mr. Steele, who was a fine speaker) I could have pretty much gotten the same information in ten minutes of reading. Actually, I could have guessed it, if I’d aimed my brain at it. If someone had asked me yesterday: “Are expensive genetic profiles predicting your risks for a variety of diseases medically useful, or a great way of sucking bucks out of the pockets of the worried well and well-off?”
I would have replied:
“Probably the latter.” And that’s really all the time I need to spend on that.
So, yeah, a touch bored.
The “a bit bored” theme continued yesterday until dinner. It’s confirmed: the TAM7 format loses me, alas. I really enjoyed some of the content — in-with-1000-people-joke: “I’m willing to show my tits!” — but no matter how much I enjoy the content I’m going to run up against the fact that nothing is interesting enough to keep me in a chair (and happy) for that long.
I perked up a lot for the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe (SGU) “fund-raising” dinner. Price tag: $50. Cost to the SGU for each guest: $51. As Rebecca Watson quipped: “fund-raising fail!”
But what a hoot anyway, as she also said.
The purpose of the dinner is basically to give fans a chance to meet the SGU gang, and meet them we did. Steve Novella was sitting at my table when I returned with my food.
I introduced myself and “my little issue,” and was rewarded with a hearty and thorough conversation, the brainy equivalent of back slapping, clanking massive beer steins, and singing folks songs together. As with all the prominent anti-quackery activists I’ve had the pleasure to meet now, Steve was extremely interested in my story, and keen to offer support. I have little doubt that I got a little more quality time with Steve than most folks did because of it.
Kennedy comments, “I’m jealous! You can’t start a conversation with anyone here so easily. I just have a movie to promote.”
Most notable about our conversation was that Steve offered to “unleash the internet” on my critics, if necessary. He was happy to offer what basically amounted to a large chunk of the resources of the skeptical movement. And he can do this. He has that power. Imagine clanking beer steins with Thor and he pats Mjölnir1 and says, “Who would you like me to tap with this puppy? Just say the word.”
What he actually said was, “If you need us to, we can re-publish your content. We’ll put you on every major blog, SBM, Pharyngula, et cetera … all the big ones. If you’re censored, we’ll defend you, republish your stuff, give it a readership a thousand times larger than whatever you’ve got now.”
“Let me know if you need it,” he said, “and we’ll unleash the internet on them.”“If you’re censored, we’ll defend you, republish your stuff, give it a readership a thousand times larger than whatever you’ve got now.” — Steve Novella
Thanks, Steve. It’s hard to express just how much that means: the security and of knowing that, if necessary, a large community of extremely bright, credible medical experts and other skeptical luminaries will happily and very publicly come to my defense.
The last word to Kennedy: “Well, I think you just got your money’s worth out of dinner.”
I have this friend who, for years, has been making fun of ear candling by doing a comedy bit about “ass candling.” It was always funny because it was so over-the-top, so implausible.
Butt (yuk yuk) … it’s real.
For your incredulous amusement, please see this earnest website: ButtCandle.com. This was just pointed out to me by my seat neighbours this morning. You don’t want to know how it came up.
Time for a little catch up (which is doomed to be interrupted). I’ve only reported on maybe 10% of the substance of my experience here so far, and yet people are reading this. Liking? Not sure! But reading it they are — I have the logs to prove it. Thus, I feel have a social responsibility to point out that Penn Jillette can really be full of it.
In the panel discussion on skepticism in media, in response to a request for comments on “harshness,” Penn made a valiant but bizarre and ultimately doomed and ridiculous attempt to argue that, deep in his freaky heart, he really sympathizes with the objects of his vicious ridicule on his TV show, Bullshit!
Sure, Penn. Whatever you say. But Bullshit! calls bullshit so harshly and crassly that many skeptics don’t care for it. It’s like horror fans finding a slasher flick that’s “a bit too bloody.”
It is the consensus of a small table full of drunk Canadians that the presentations yesterday and today were generally mediocre. Another case in point: when the keynote speaker makes a funny self-deprecatory remark about not being prepared, it had better not be the funniest and best-prepared thing in the keynote. But it was. So I am no longer alone in my curmudgeonly feeling that the conference has been a bit underwhelming. Rob, Jessica, and John agreed with me.When the keynote speaker nails a funny self-deprecatory remark about not being prepared, it had better not be the funniest and best-prepared thing in the keynote.
I came here because I’ve been hearing, for years, that TAM is an absolute riot, the most fun you can have at a conference (with your pants on). And yet I seem have a classic case of the over-hyped experienced. A disaster? Not by a long shot: I’ve had many good moments, and will have more (starting in about five minutes, I reckon, when I go down to the pool bar to meet some friends who just buzzed me). See? Interrupted …
Once again, I am at the pool bar at 7:30am. That sounds bad. But I’m here because it’s the only place in this place where you can get a bit of peace and quiet (in the morning anyway) and fresh air (if you can call 35˚C air “fresh”) and a place to sit down that isn’t in front of a slot machine, so naturally I found it almost immediately. I have sensitive radar for quiet little spots. Put me in any situation, and I will immediately start sniffing out the oases, looking for the spot where I can think and write.
Only this morning the infernal radio is on out here.
The entire pool area — which Jesse described last night as “just another huge room in this place, but without a roof” — is wired for sound. Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings it was quiet out here. This morning? Loud, bad radio. Everywhere. More Howard Jones. And some shit pop song sampling from my favourite aria, the much-abused duet from Lakme. Are you a crappy musician? Can’t write your own melody to save your life? Just sample from Delibes, you musical fuckwit.
And my head hurts. Because of the Secret Vegas Prayer Meeting. But it’s a good hurt.Are you a crappy musician? Can’t write your own melody to save your life? Just sample from Delibes, you musical fuckwit.
Last night at 9:20pm Kennedy and I wandered down to the Silverado entrance to catch a shuttle to the Secret Vegas Prayer Meeting, an not-so-über-secret and special partay for practically everyone here, thrown by Rebecca Watson of I-got-married-on-stage-yesterday fame. There were far too many people to fit in the “shuttle” (a minivan), so we grabbed a cab with Jesse and David from Edmonton … and went nowhere fast. When the driver saw a residential address, he went tharn.2 He was clearly completely unaccustomed to getting requests to go anywhere except between airports and casinos. Seriously, no joke, we sat there for ten minutes while he puzzled it out, looking up the address in a big directory of directions for cabbies. Interesting.
In the end, it turned out we followed two other cabs straight to the spot, which was all of a five minute drive away: a biggish house with a beautiful little pool in the back yard, the largest home theatre system I have ever seen, and seemingly about half of TAM7 already in attendance. You couldn’t move without (pretty much literally) getting smushed up against one of our community’s celebrities. Jay Novella, if you’re wondering who grabbed your butt at about 10:30pm, it was me, it was an accident, and I’m very sorry it had to last for so long — I was stuck.Jay Novella, if you’re wondering who grabbed your butt at about 10:30pm, it was me, it was an accident, and I’m very sorry it had to last for so long — I was stuck.
Seriously, this was a serious party, by far the most insane party I’ve ever been to. This is the kind of party I hear about, not the kind of party I attend. There were genuinely famous people, both in the community and in the world at large. There was a more or less unbelievable amount of alcohol. There was nudity — just some, for the pool, but still, I’ve never really been to a party where women were taking their shirts off before. I’m a writerly nerd. This is alien territory for me.
So all that was good, but there was one special things about this party, from my perspective as a writerly nerd who has, historically, been generally quite disinterested in parties:
This party was the reason to be at TAM7. Not the presentations of variable quality, but the nifty people.I’ve never really been to a party where women were taking their shirts off before. I’m a writerly nerd. This is alien territory for me.
We’re used to going through life finding like-minded people scattered thinly throughout the population. In most situations, SETI-like, we look for signs of intelligent life without a lot of optimism. We (curmudgeons) are used to assuming that 99 out of 100 people are not really going to be of much interest, if not somewhat irritating. At this party, 99 out of 100 people were fascinating, friendly, fun. I could (and did) strike up conversations with basically anyone there and safely expect it to be completely worthwhile. I was also amazed at how many people started conversations with me. You really couldn’t go anywhere in that packed house without someone introducing themselves and striking up an interesting conversation immediately.
I’ve never experienced anything like it. Seriously. Never. Anything. Like it. Let me be absolutely clear about this for anyone who might have been a little discouraged about the idea of TAM7 from my previous posts: the community is the reason to do this.
I spent a good twenty minutes talking thoroughly, amiably with Steve Novella about all kinds of things. For me, I could hardly have done much better than chatting up Carl Sagan at a party. There is no one at this convention I respect more, no one with expertise more relevant to me, than Steve. He is the guy I wanted to meet, and I meet him I did. And we chatted at length.
Amazing. Thanks, Steve. Thanks, TAM7. What an experience.I could hardly have done much better than chatting up Carl Sagan at a party.
I finish as I began: with a delayed flight. United 435 out of Las Vegas is an hour behind schedule, giving Kennedy and me a harrowingly brief 32-minute connection gap in San Francisco. Assuming that 435 actually leaves at the predicted late time. Which is dubious.
We may be spending the night in San Francisco.
Once again: why?! Who wants me keep me away from Vancouver tonight? Why? Think, man, think! Nah, I’m too tired …
Follow-up: it was tight, but we made it.
On the flight home, Kennedy and I scribbled down as many of the big laughs at TAM7 as we could remember. Here they are so far, in no particular order, and with only minimal context, if any — it’s tempting to try to explain them all, but who am I kidding? Let me know if you remember some others.