Posts Tagged ‘CONvergence’

CONvergence 2010: Day 3

July 6, 2010

CONvergence Day 3 – Saturday

First, the outfits!  I pulled out a bunch of things that I don’t get to wear very often – my snazzy cocktail dress, glass bead necklaces, and a black/blue bob wig that I bought for a Halloween costume years ago.  The hubby had a much more deliberate dieselpunk costume – barnstormer cap, goggles, and beige military-style dress including fancy brown army boots.


Saturday was chock-full of panels!

11:00 am – Losing My Religion
This was a huge panel, and had about 25 attendees.  Panelists included Jen M, Ted Meissner, David Walbridge, Maria Walters, PZ Myers, Carrie Iwan, Debbie Goddard, Jennifer Ouellete, Lyra Lynx and Bug Girl.  Panelists shared where they were coming from (where they were raised along the range of a heavily religious upbringing to not exposed to religion in their youth or life), and how they dealt with “outing” themselves as atheists or agnostics to family, friends and coworkers, if they chose to do so. 

It was interesting to hear the different perspectives of how “safe” people felt about identifying as atheistic at work.   On the one hand you have someone like PZ Myers – a tenured professor with the ability to be as vocal as he wants to be about his atheism.  Then you have someone like Jen M.  who has a very real fear that she might lose her job if her boss were to find out that she’s an atheist.  Some of the panelists were in the middle – it wouldn’t be the end of the world if their coworkers found out, but they treat their atheism as personal and don’t share their beliefs casually.  One audience member commented that while he didn’t personally care if he was outed, he did worry about the financial ramifications being an out atheist might have on his small-town business. 

Best lines from this session:  
From Debbie Goddard, about not being true to yourself – “It eats at your soul that doesn’t exist.”

From PZ Myers: “We have to stop sacrificing our integrity on the altar of ‘let’s get along’.”

12:30 pm – Profanity as a Fraking Function of Language
Panelists included Kelly Murphy, M.K.Melin, Hilary Moon Murphy, Rebecca Marjesdatter.  This was a somewhat academic discussion about the types, definitions, where, when and whys of profanity.  The moderator could easily have split the slides into a full semester class!  The “Whys”  of using profanity included catharsis, abuse, social bonding and intensification.  She presented a section called “English Profanity Classification”, which was split into religion-related, scatalogical, sexual referents, animal names, euphemisms, foreign language words as swears, and starting a swear but finishing with a non-swear (shhhhhh….ugar!).

The tie-in to the SciFi group came in during the second half of the talk.  We came up with a few books, shows and movies that used cursing or swearing:

Firefly – Gorram and chinese language cursing.  Gorram being a “replacement” for “Goddamn”?
Harry Potter – the kids swear in a very kid-like manner – “Damn” sounds just shocking coming from Harry Potter!  At least the first time…
Battlestar Galactica – “Frak, frakin” – Classic replacement word.
Star Trek –  Data saying “shit”
Pirates of Darkwater – “Noishatot!” – Made-up curse words.
Warner Brothers – Yosemite Sam “rashafrashin…”, Donald Duck “Sufferin’ succotash!”
DC Comics – “Bastich” – combination of “bastard” and “bitch”
Red Dwarf – “Smeg”
Frostflower and Thorn – “You don’t have the tits for that” and “Fathermilker” (A very matriarchal, female-dominated society) By the way, “fathermilker” was the one that caught the greatest number of people in the audience unaware during the entire panel. It was unexpected and could be a universal insult, a corollary to motherf****r. Before you read too much into the astrick-ing – I’m just trying to keep this entry out of the NSFW category.

The moderator said that one of her main disappointments with swearing/cursing in scifi fantasy is when authors don’t use imagination, logic or art when employing profanity.  She asked the writers in the audience to consider these factors when writing profanity into a story:

Offensiveness vs. Offendedness – who’s sending the message and who’s receiving it?  For whom is the profferred profanity intended? And how do these factors affect offensiveness and offendedness: Setting, Gender, Age, Race, Culture, Personality, Power, Class, Occupation, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Relationship.

2 pm – Women as Skeptical Activists
Panelists: Rebecca Watson, Maria Walters, Jennifer Newport, Debbie Goddard, Carrie Iwan, Pamela Gay

The main theme that came out of this panel was Role Models, Role Models, Role Models!  One of the speakers offered up the idea that while being a woman in the fields of science and skepticism may not necessarily put one at a disadvantage for hiring or promotion (although there is still a wage gap in many parts of the US), women are still in the minority. 

The panel discussed studies which have shown that when women are seen as role models in positions of power and respect, more girls and women do better on tests, decide to go into male-dominated professions and excel in those professions.  Also presented was the importance of introducing a woman’s perspective to help minimize “male priviledge”.  Gender bias still exists – just because we got the “big” wins – namely, the right to vote and the perception that women can do as well in business, academics and politics as men, doesn’t mean that all gender bias issues have been solved (brought up were breast-feeding in public, maternity leave, wage, employment in the “upper echeleons”).

Advice for women in the audience trying to distinguish themselves in the skeptical movement and blogging community: Find your niche!  Avoid being a generalist, be the go-to person for a certain topic. 

Pseudoscience targeted at women (pregnany, childrearing, weight loss, fertility) was briefly discussed.

3:30 pm – Evolution Mythbusters
Panelists: Ted Meissner (mod), PZ Myers, Bug Girl, Gred Laden

Favorite misconceptions:

Bug Girl – The false idea that bumblebees shouldn’t be able to fly.

Greg Laden – Greg was rather winding in his answer, but I believe this was the crux of his statements:  The false idea that animal behaviors are genetic and thus subject to evolutionary forces and anything outside of this is a violation of evolutionary theory, and thus evolution is false. 

PZ Myers – The idea that all features of humaness are a product of selection, when in fact, very few are.  Again, I hope I summarized this correctly.  This led into a discussion of the human immune system, the “broken” Vitamin C gene and lactose-intolerance.

Most fascinating part of evolution:

Bug Girl – Sex!  Separation of species.

Greg Laden – The emergence of complicated systems from simple beginnings.

PZ Myers – Development, how evolution affects form by affecting development.

My favorite statements from the panel:

  • “Nothing makes sense except in the light of evolution”.  An oldie, but goodie.
  • Science is more than just memorizing facts; it’s a way of thinking.
  • Regarding willful ignorance: When a creationist studen tries to disrupt the teaching of evolution, that’s not honest inquiry.
  • The “theory” of evolution is to intelligent design as the “theory” of gravity is to intelligent pushing.  This one came from an audience member sitting near me. 
  • Biggest challenges to the teaching of evolution?  Media, culture, religion.
  • ~~~~~

    Phew!  So I was pretty much done with panels after these four machine-gun style sessions.  I stopped briefly by the Seamstress Guild cabana, checked my email, facebook and blog at the hotel computers, and then went to the Dealer’s Room where I bought my first Surly-Ramics jewelry!  I found a “Science” necklace and a “Geek” hairclip for myself, and a yellow hairclip for my sister that has Darwin’s first “tree of life” diagram on the button. 


    The hubby and I went to the Masquerade at 7pm and saw all sorts of fantastic and horrific (i.e., fantasy and horror, not well-done and poorly-made!) costumes.  I like the way CONvergence does Masquerade – it’s a runway-style show and a costume competition, but there are three levels or categories: Novice, Journeyman and Master.  This way, the professional costumers can compete among themselves but present alongside the noob who gets up in a cloak and wig.  My favorite costume set was a Master-level group who presented as the entire cast of The Guild.

    Afterwards the Hubby and I had dinner at TGIFridays across the parking lot and then bummed around some of the party rooms, cabanas and CONsuite until 12pm when we went to see The Dregs – fun!  They played the classic Zombies in the Shire AND the Zombie Chicken song!  The performance was very casual and silly.  There may or may not have been a bottle containing some brown liquid that passed back and forth between band members and the audience, one of the lead singers was taking pics and posting to facebook between songs, and there was a lot of verbal bashing back and forth between the performers.  So a fantastic time was had by all. 

    Afterwards – exhaustion and home.  This ended up being our last day of CONvergence.  There was only one panel that I wanted to see on Sunday, and we decided that we didn’t care too much about closing ceremonies, so we decided to get a head start on con drop before going back to work.  It was a beautiful day, so we ended up renting a “deuce coup” at Minnehaha Falls, going to the Mall of America for some people watching and lunch, and a spending a quiet night at home with a movie (Paul Giamatti’s Cold Souls). 

    Thus endeth CONvergence 2010.

    CONvergence 2010: Day 2

    July 5, 2010

    Friday – CONvergence Day 2

    Friday was probably the most laid-back day of CON.  There weren’t any morning panels that I wanted to attend, so I spent most of the morning blogging, hanging out in the CONsuite and wandering around the hotel.  The hubby attended a panel called “Classic Sci-Fi Today” about must-read classic science fiction books.  At 1pm we went to the Steam Century Fashion Show, a runway show of steampunk fashion hosted by the Steam Century group out of Madison, WI.  I have some video of the event that I hope to edit and get up on the blog in the next couple of days, but I invite you to enjoy these lovely, blurry* photos in the meantime:




    After the fashion show the Hubby went to a panel on the new Sherlock Holmes movie.  I didn’t have anything pressing to do so I decided to volunteer for an hour.  CONvergence is run almost entirely by volunteers, and they have a permanent table where any attendee can stop by and say “put me to work!”.  So I did, and they did.  I was sent down to the registration desk and for an hour I helped get newly arrived guests all signed in.  Easy peasy.

    At 3:30pm, I went to a panel called “Bulls**t Detection Kit: Why Pseudo-Science Doesn’t Deliver”.  3:30 was one of those time slots where I wanted to go to almost every other panel – I missed Jim Kakalios’s panel on “The Amazing World of Quantum Mechanics”, a panel called “Is Roller Derby the Ultimate Geek Sport?”, another entitled “Supernatural Chick Lit”, and “the Dharma Initiative: Lost Wrap Up”.  Darn!

    Anyway, I chose the Bulls**t panel, and that was Ted Meissner, David Walbridge, Greg Laden, Steve Thoms, Bug Girl, Stephanie Zvan and Lois Schadewald.  It was cool to see that this panel was packed – there were people in every seat and standing against the walls.  The session started with every panelist telling us their “favorite” pseudoscience, and in no particular order they listed Deepok Chopra, Pseudopsychology, Flat Earth belief, Psychics, Creationism, Pseudoscience related to entymology, and alternative medicine.  If you’re familiar with the skeptic movement, you may be able to match up the presenters with the pseudosciences!

    The following topics were considered to be those pseudosciences which have the potential to cause the most harm: the antivax movement, the global warming/climate change debate, creationism, and the lack of critical thinking and prevelence of erroneous claims about the recent BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. 

    This panel was on the heavier side, but even scientists and critical thinkers have a sense of humor.  The funniest exchange of the session was from Ted Meissner in response to an audience commenter asking how we should address a lack of credible, interesting, scientists for the public to look up to.  Ted’s response: “We need to get taller scientists.”  hehehe.  Okay, maybe this is why I have trouble at parties.


    Random Exchange observed in the hotel:   A large group of people standing in a group and one woman whips out a high-pitched “Heeeeheeeeheee!”, followed by about five seconds of silence.   She looks around at the group (and some of us random bystanders) and says, “Sorry about that…nervous laughter always makes everything better.”


    After the panel I ran to Target to get some more Coke Zero for the Terry Pratchett Discworld Seamstress Guild cabana.  BIG mistake.  I violated one of the most important suggestions at CON – never give up a parking space during CON!  I drove up and down the aisles for 15 minutes before nabbing a spot.   Ugh…  I spent most of Friday night hanging out with the Seamstress Guild, which was sponsored by a couple of my friends.  I sat on the cabana wall and hawked the party for a couple of hours, convincing random people to come inside and enjoy the sweet tea and orange-infused vodka drinks and tea cookies that we were serving.  I was really impressed by the level of responsibility by both the parties and the CON attendees; I saw very few obnoxiously drunk people and EVERY cabana and party room that I visited was carding for drinks.

    At 8:30pm I went to Thee Bluebeard Show.  It was just okay.  The presenter spent the first 10 minutes rearranging the stage and making snide jokes about how great it was that everything was in place for his session.  After that the show consisted of him selecting random people from the audience and interviewing them in a sort of radio talk-show style.  I left after the first three interviews, but what I did see was alright – in my experience when you take non-actors and try to make them do improv, the result is usually always just alright.  He interviewed Dr. Doom, a girl from the audience with the BEST gaffaw-laugh EVER (he spent the entire interview trying to make her laugh), and a evil wraith character from…I believe…Babylon 5.

    After that more parties, more Seamstress Guild, more CONsuite for late-night snacks, and we finally headed home around 3:30am.

    More CONvergence tomorrow!


    *I’ve been noticing that my camera phone is not so hot at the point-and-click photos in less than sunny weather.  In low-light situations when there is any action/movement the photos more often than not come out blurry.  It looks like I’m going to either learn more about my phone camera or start carrying my old point-and-click.

    CONvergence 2010: Day 1

    July 2, 2010

    Blog note – I’m typing from a strange computer and I’m under a hotel-dictated time crunch, so please excuse the raw photos and hasty descriptions!


    CONvergence is off to a great start!

    There will be an estimated 4,000 people at this science, science-fiction, fantasy and general nerd/geek/dork convention this weekend.  This is my first time at CONvergence is probably five years, and I don’t remember it being this huge.

    My head is spinning – there is so much to see and do!  No matter what I decide to do during any hour, it is guaranteed that I’m missing eight other cool activites.

    So far I’ve seen people of all stripes – the victorian/steampunk syle is very popular this weekend, and since this years theme is “Bring in the Bad Guys”, villian costumes are very popular.  But there’s also the “usual” comic, manga, anime, sci-fi/fantasy character costumes.


    Dr. Horribles


    The Head of the Seamstresses Guild (and her lead Muscle to her left) and Iron Man

    These are some of the different areas that we’ve visited so far:

    COF2E2 – Mmmm…free cofee.  The sign is a reference to Kevin Smith’s Clerks.

    The Pool and Garden Court – this is where all of the party rooms, cabanas and various other types of hanging out goes down.


    The Atrium Level – most of the panels take place here, but one can also find the Dealer’s Room (art for sale), Cinema Rex (movies all day and night), Theater Nippon (anime) and Connie’s Quantum Sandbox (various activities of the science-minded sort – a good place for the kids).  The upper levels contain guest rooms.

    This is the entrance to the Main Stage.

    So far I’ve attended several panels and events.  The first event was “CONvergence 101”.  Speaking as a newbie, this was a really good panel for newbies.  They went over all of the expected common-sense rules and suggestions and at the end they gave all of us the grand tour.

    These were some of the memorable phrases, rules and advice from this panel:

    “CONvergence – It’s like Vegas for nerds”

    The 5-2 Rule: “This is one of the best rules for how to survive any con: Five hours of sleep and two real meals per day – minimum!”

    “No sleeping in the hallways, planters, under tables, in shared public areas or anywhere but in a room.”

    “Shower.  Seriously.  ‘Cuz Dah-y-mn.”  As an aside, this rule was mentioned not only at CON 101, but at Opening Ceremonies and in another panel.  That’s a little scary.

    “Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer.”

    “Sit down and talk to strangers.”

    On photo policy: “Show respect and ask people if it’s okay before you put them on the interwebs.”

    The next panel that I went to was all about and by Skepchicks.  They talked about how came about, and they discussed some of their current and upcoming projects.  They spoke  the Women Thinking Free Foundation and their “Hug Me, I’m Vaccinated” campain.  Maria discussed the Atlanta Skeptics and Skepticamp.  Rebecca spoke about the Curiousity Aroused” podcast. There was also an excellent conversation about pubic lice led by Bug Girl.  Two of the fun things I learned from this panel were the National Science Teacher’s Association, the “Draw a Scientist test”.  And my favorite thinking point came from an audience commenter who said “The scientific method doesn’t just apply to science.”

    Skepchicks Maria, Rebecca Watson, Amy, Bug Girl, Carrie, Lyra Lynx (left to right).

    After the Skepchicks was the Mark Time Radio Show’s production of Villains on Parade at the Main Stage.  I’m not a follower of the Theater of the Mind, but it was neat to attend this live radio show.  (Go CONvergence, introducing me to new things!)

    Then on to Opening Ceremonies.  The whole idea behind this year’s theme is that CONvergence’s mascot – a robot named Connie – has been kidnapped by her evil sister, Connie Mark 2, and that CONvergence is now under Connie Mark 2’s evil rule.  All of the presenters were there by Her Benevolent Overlord’s will and together they crafted an atmosphere of paranoid worship of Her Evilness.  They went over rules (again with the Shower.  Seriously, ‘Cuz Dah-y-mn!), and gave updates about the CONvergence group.  There was a moment when one of the presenters quickly whispered to the audience about the resistance movement and it’s efforts to free Connie and overthrow Connie Mark 2 (a set up for a fun game to find the resistence members and join the revolution throughout the weekend).  Opening Ceremonies ended with an awesome swing dance routine to a mix of Star Wars songs.

    After that Aaron went to a panel on Professor Moriarity and I went to a panel on Skepticism 101 with Steve Thoms, Pamela Gay, Lois Schadewald and Greg Laden.  Some of my favorite lines and ideas from this panel:

    “Look at the data where data exists.”

    At some point you have to trust an Authority – you can’t know everything.  But if you are going to trust what an Authority says, make sure you know your Authority.

    Don’t take anything on faith, even those topics that you think of as safe.  Do you really know why you support vaccination, why you’re against homeopathy, and how do you know that ghosts don’t exist?

    Use google scholar!

    It’s easier for humans to accept a false positive than a false negative.  Pattern recognition – it’s safer to run from a shadow that isn’t anything, but it’s really bad to walk into the mouth of a tiger that you didn’t notice was there.

    After our panels we walked around to some of the party rooms and cabanas – we had drinks at the Skepchick party, the Seamstresses Guild and the United Federation of Planets – fun!  At 10pm we saw three stand-up comics at the Tongue in Geek Comedy show and then back to the cabanas!  We finally left the hotel and headed home at about 1:30am. 


    We arrived back at con at ~10:15am this morning (after taking our showers!).  We missed a talk that I would have loved to attend called “Science and the Internet” with PZ Myers, Greg Laden and others, but that’s because the Hubby and I were busy pulling together our costumes for the day!


    And now we have a full day of CONvergence ahead of us!  The computer is about to kick me off, so I’ll see you tomorrow!



    Snippets and Sunday Pride

    July 1, 2010

    Snippet #1: I took this picture of some awesome mailbox “street art” in Uptown at Girard and 31st:

    Snippet #2: I needed a bigger flower pot to contain my monster cherry tomato tree.  My friend, Courtney, thought that she had one that would work, so she came over with a replacement.  When she got to my apartment complex, she got out of the car, pulled out her cell phone and announced to me, my caretaker and a couple of neighbors, “Hey, I’m outside and I have your pot.”  Greeeeat.  Thanks, Court.  I made a big show of displaying the brown flower pot – “Wow, this is a great pot!  Thanks!” – to the neighborhood as we got it out of her trunk.

    Snippet #3: WordPress lets me know what phrases people are using when they stumble across my blog via google.  Yesterday I had an above-average weird Google Search Term hit: “genital anatomy dog”  WTF,

    Snippet #4: Today is the start of CONvergence!!!  I’m using the CONvergence Scheduler, which is pretty sweet – especially for an event of this size, with 10+ panels, activities, events and parties happening every hour.  There was a write-up about CONvergence in 365 Things to Do – Twin Cities, and an even better photo of some con attendees in the article!

    Sunday Minneapolis Pride Report

    Sunday was very, very different from Saturday.  For one thing, I went to the Pride festivities with the Hubby instead of a 13 year-old and a six year-old.  Sooooo different.  I don’t think I really experienced the Pride events on Saturday because of my preoccupation with keeping everybody smiley and safe.  On Sunday I was with the man I love and I was relatively carefree.  The parade was awesome, as always!  I didn’t manage to get any photos of the parade, but I did manage to scrounge up some decent video of this year’s parade.

    The first one is interesting because he’s sped up the film.  This first video is different from the second (below) because he has a lot of zoomed-in images, so you don’t get a feel for how large and crowded the parade is:

    I like this second one BUT I would recommend skipping the beginning and watching only between 0:54-5:51.  Outside of this window is just film of the videographer and her friend chatting and being silly.  But the meat of the video (again – 0:54-5:51!) is fun because she mixes still shots and video, and she’s filming from the street without zoom so you feel more like a spectator watching this video than you do with the first video.

    And more of my own pictures in the park, this time on Sunday with me and the Hubby: