The Amazing Meeting 5.5, Plantation, FL

I wrote this last night in Florida, but the hotel wifi was on the blink, so I couldn’t get it on-line. I am now at Newark airport in New Jersey, having just eaten my first bowl of matzoh soup. Oy vey, good stuff!

Audience frowning in concentration

I’ve been to gaming conventions and academic conferences and recently my first blogging convention, and now I’ve experienced my first skeptics’ convention: The Amazing Meeting 5.5, a 1.5-day mini-con hosted by the Amazing Randi himself.

James Randi demonstrating Geller-like powers

Friday offered a solid four-hour round-robin lecture on podcasting and blogging by Bart Farkas, Rebecca Watson and Brian Dunning of the Skeptoid podcast. I’ve listened to podcasts regularly since 2005, and now I learned a lot about how they are made. For instance, The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe is made as a Skype teleconference, with everyone recording themselves locally and then sending their sound files to Stephen Novella for editing after the session’s end. Rebecca Watson recorded about 20 episodes sitting in her closet because of acoustics!

I don’t plan on going into podcasting myself: in order to reach any respectable number of listeners who share my interests I’d have to do it in English, and Stockholm, Sweden isn’t the best place to find reliably Anglophone people to come on a show. I’m a happy blogger, and what I do here is far more visible to the search engines than what it would be if I read it out loud and put it on-line as a sound file with brief show notes.

Podcasting panel: Dunning, Stackpole, Watson, Farkas

The main part of the conference was today, with talks by Kelly Jolkowski of Project Jason, Brian Dunning, Mark Roberts on 9/11 conspiracy theories, Rebecca Watson, Michael Stackpole, Bart Farkas, Alison Smith of SAPS, Robert Lancaster of Stop Kaz and Stop Sylvia Browne, Jeff Wagg and James Randi. Our MC was the Bad Astronomer himself, Phil Plait (who told me he just submitted the manuscript for his new book a few days ago!). Finally, there was a Q&A panel onto which I had managed to insinuate myself, so I got my moment in the spotlight too and bragged about the Swedish Skeptics’ accomplishments. After I’d mentioned Zenon Panoussis’s brave work against Scientology, the audience gave him spontaneous applause. The quality of the day’s talks was very high indeed. My favourites were Mark Roberts and Robert Lancaster who had interesting things to say and did so with great rhetorical skill.


Q&A panel: Jolkowski (obscured), Watson, Roberts, Rundkvist, Stackpole, Lancaster. Pic by Scott Hurst.

Many thanks to all the good people at the JREF who got the whole thing together for us! TAM is characterised by the invisible network of on-line friendships that many participants already have in place at arrival thanks to the JREF’s on-line forum. With all these smart and friendly people apparently on the forum, I’m definitely going to check that out. And who knows, maybe I’ll attend some skeptical con in 2009 too?

Phil Plait: good man, Bad Astronomer

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14 thoughts on “The Amazing Meeting 5.5, Plantation, FL

  1. Hi Martin,

    It was nice to meet you at TAM 5.5. You seem like a cool dude. I haven’t checked out your blog yet, but I will after I say hello to you.

    One particularly nice thing about aardvarchaeology is that there aren’t too many competing websites in Google to sift through before finding your site 😉

    By the way, if you liked TAM 5.5, you’ll probably like 6 and others even more. There is nothing like seeing the likes of a Daniel Dennett or Christopher Hitchens or Penn & Teller live.

    And the audience is full of interesting people too. There are a lot of scientists from many fields that bring interesting perspectives. The first TAM was going on the morning that the Space Shuttle Columbia broke up upon reentry. The MC Hal Bidlack made the announcement to the audience at a break and it was just moments later that audience members working for NASA were able to add some welcome perspective (you have captured one of those NASA guys in your audience picture, by the way).

    Also, when the Huygens probe landed on the surface of Titan, that happened during another TAM. Someone in attendance at the meeting was able to obtain the very first images from the probe and display them to the audience and comment on them. “Amazing” is quite the apt word for these meetings. I love them. I’m sure I’ll see you at anther one some time.

    -Dave, the psychologist sitting in front of you at TAM


  2. “Amazing propaganda”, might have been a better name for the conference. No one is more slavish devoted to regurgitating government propaganda regarding the 9/11 attacks than so called, “skeptics.” Why are “skeptics” so devoted to government propaganda? Why aren’t you skeptical of the claims made by the government regarding 9/11?


  3. Martin: very cool to have met you and to hear of your digs.

    Tanabear: your premise is faulty. Claims stand or fall based on the quality of evidence backing them up, not upon who is making them. Even a stopped-clock is right twice a day.


  4. Reed writes, “Tanabear: your premise is faulty. Claims stand or fall based on the quality of evidence.”

    Okay. So NIST(National Institute of Standards and Technology) does not model the collapse of WTC1,2. Their report is merely a pre-collapse analysis. They have yet to issue their report on WTC7. What evidence to you have that fires on a couple of floors could cause an entire building to explode?


  5. Reed, “there are plenty of examples where fire led to structural collapse.”

    There are no examples of a total progressive, complete, top down collapse of a steel-frame highrise, as was the case in WTC1,2. How do you account for the pulverization of all the concrete, the lateral ejection of building material, the cutting of all the steel. The concrete was pulverized before it even hit the ground. This is the reason why NIST does not model the collapse. They state that they do no analyze the structural behavior of the towers after the conditions for collapse initiation were reached. They have yet to issue their report on WTC7. All the evidence points to an engineered destruction. In the case of WTC7, if fire can destroy a building in such a manner, then why don’t demolition companies use fire instead of explosives?


  6. Mark writes, “tanabear, what you just posted is utter nonsense.”

    I was quoting NIST when they wrote, “although it does not actually include the structural behavior of the tower after the conditions for collapse initiation were reached and collapse became inevitable.”

    So you are saying that the people at JREF can explain the collapse of the towers, but NIST cannot? Has anyone there actually modeled the collapse? Does the collapse model mirror the observable reality of the actualy collapse?


  7. 2009? Absolutely! And don’t forget the European congresses. If only for the fact that it would be easier for me to attend, too. Beers on me, then.



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