Randi and I at the conference.
Like Rebecca, I recently returned from Las Vegas and The Amaz!ng Meeting 5. I arrived by taxi back at my apartment in Somerville around 2 in the morning. I slept in late this morning and wandered into my office around noon. I know, I know… I’m a lazy graduate student. I went directly to the petrology lab, however, and spent a steady eight hours, with small breaks, crushing ocean drilling project cores into small crystals and powdery residue.
I like crushing rocks, monotonous as it can be. First, it’s great fun to crush rocks. Whenever I’m a little stressed or just need to relieve some tension, I find it helps to saw, crush, grind, shatter, and generally torture my geological samples. Second, crushing rocks requires little thought. I went through the motions, my ipod turned up to tune out the whine of the shatterbox. As I worked, my mind wandered. I thought all day about TAM, about the things I learned there and the people I met.
I thought about the books I read on the plane flights. There were three of them, all Vegas themed: “Bringing Down the House” by Ben Mezrich, “How to Cheat Your Friends at Poker” by Penn Jillette, and “When I’m Dead All This Will Be Yours,” by Teller. I thought about the various speakers: Phil Plait, Neil Gershenfeld (who sat in the same train on the T with me this morning– err– afternoon when I came to the office), John Rennie, Christopher Hitchens, and many others.
For an hour or so, I thought about the giant Jurassic sand dunes of Red Rock Canyon, located just outside the strip. Slick, my geologist friend, and I led a tour to the canyon on Sunday afternoon. When we were planning the trip, we debated the details of the iron chemistry that turns the rocks red. I really need to write out some equations, but this afternoon I just thought about the problem, drawing on the blackboard in my head.
I thought about the forum party and how great it was that everyone was kicked out by security at 3 in the morning. Also, how great it was to sleep, an hour or so later, in a giant, king-sized bed (thanks, Rebecca!) instead of on the floor, where my parents and sister exiled me to after I came down with a headcold.
Even thinking to myself all day, I find that I still have so much to digest! I met so many wonderful people and had a truly great time. I can’t possibly write about everything at the conference, but I’ll do my best to at least relate a few highlights.
With that prelude, below are the first of my own TAM 5 adventures. I will take a few days to write up these adventures as I’m also juggling the busyness of returning to my studies and research.
Wednesday, January 17th: Dentists, Labwork, and Flight
Wednesday morning I woke up early, took a shower, and threw on clothes that were slightly more glamorous than usual. I wore my black boots instead of my usual sneakers. I wore a brown fitted jacket over a floral top and put on my nice silver hoop earrings. Then, I headed off to the dentist. Or, more accurately, to the Harvard Dental School. Dental school visits are cheap, but the disadvantage is that the students are slow. They may be Harvard students, but they take forever to clean teeth. Partly, the three-hour long visit was my fault. I asked to speak with an orthodontist, who arrived with his troop of students. I had four impacted wisdom teeth which messed up my previously-perfect (okay, near perfect) smile. The troublesome teeth were removed, but I’m vain and want my teeth moved back into place. Fortunately, the dental students were well reasonably attractive young men, so I didn’t mind the visit taking so long. Rebecca warns me, however, that I don’t want to date a dentist. I agree with her. Dentistry is sort of boring. I can still look at the cute dentists, though, right?
Anyway, after my dental appointment I headed to the lab for five hours or so. I did my best not to rush through cleaning laser pans with hydrofluoric acid. I was so excited about TAM that I kept nearly splashing myself!
Finally, I headed to the airport and by 8pm I was on my way. The plane was nearly empty, so I had a seat row to myself. I read a book about six MIT students who became good at card counting for Blackjack. I briefly contemplated a career in card counting before falling asleep for the remainder of the flight.
When I woke up, I was in Vegas! Dad picked me up at the airport. I thought about seeking out some friends, but I was tired and decided to get a good night’s rest in anticipation of a general lack of sleep during the rest of my trip. I figured I’d either be out partying with skeptics or trying to win money at Blackjack. I couldn’t wait to see
Randi and all of my friends from previous Amaz!ng Meetings.
Thursday, January 18th: Rollercoasters, 99 Cent Hotdogs, and a Pub Crawl
Okay, so dentists, a plane flight, and sleep don’t sound all that exciting, I realize. The real adventure began the next day…
I started out the day by riding a rollercoaster before breakfast. I’m glad I didn’t eat beforehand as I don’t think my breakfast would have lasted long in my stomach after the ride. My mother, sister, father (yes, my entire, skeptical family was at TAM), and a few other friends walked up the strip to The Sahara to ride the really big rollercoaster they have there. Along the way, my sister and I met a very nice Arab man and his two camels. I tried speaking to him in Arabic, but he didn’t reply. He didn’t even respond to our attempts at body language. Oh, well…
After the morning rollercoaster ride, my family and I ate lunch at this great place in the Riviera that has Elvis impersonators and 99 cent, foot long hotdogs. You can’t go with Elvis and cheap hotdogs. What could be more all-American? There were two Elvis impersonators, actually. There’s a young Elvis and an old Elvis. While young Elvis was up on stage, we saw old Elvis taking out the trash. Poor old Elvis. I wonder if they still let him perform or if they just make him clean up now.
After lunch, I headed over to the registration table in the conference center to pick up my folder as well as to see Linda, her husband Karl, Jeff, and others who work for the JREF. As an undergraduate, I worked as a JREF intern for two semesters and helped organize both TAM 3 and TAM 4. I was a little sad not to be intimately involved in the preparations for TAM 5, but I was glad to have more free time at the conference this year. For awhile, I met up with Randi and Jonathan, another former JREF intern.
Randi, Jonathan, and myself at the magic shop in the Riviera.
After chatting with various skeptics for a couple of hours, I took my sister to the Fashion Show Mall where she acquired a new skirt and some gifts for friends. I purchased a new sweater and some fancy face cream with Dead Sea salts in it. I probably paid too much for the cream, but I still remember when I used to live in Jordan and how much I enjoyed going down to the resorts and spas along the Dead Sea. Dead Sea salts and mud really do make my skin feel better, even if they make my wallet thinner.
Anyway, after shopping, I headed off to the reception, which was held in the penthouse at the top of one of the towers in the Riviera Hotel. With a wonderful, panoramic view of The Strip, I chatted with old friends and met new people. I couldn’t believe how many people were at the reception. There were more people than ever registered for the conference this year! What a wonderful sight, all those skeptics hamming it up at the top of a Vegas casino, munching on cheese cubes and drinking beer.
After the reception, I went to see Banachek’s mentalism show, which impressed me greatly. I realize that he is just a very skilled magician and actor, but I felt at times as if he were really reading people’s minds, as if he were reading my own mind. I felt very strange during the act. I realize what Banachek does is not paranormal, but I haven’t the slightest idea how he does much of his work. He’s one of the best mentalists in the world.
Once my mind had been twisted by Banachek’s performance, I joined up with a group of enthusiastic skeptics from the JREF forum and headed out on the pub crawl organized by my friend Dave. The crawl was great fun. We started out at “Le Bistro,” a pathetic little bar by the slot machines in the Riviera and worked our way up to some fun place in Treasure Island, some posh club in another casino I don’t recall the name of (help here?), and finally a 2am stop at Denny’s for a gigantic breakfast of eggs, hashbrowns, and bacon. Fully stuffed with beer and food, I fell asleep as soon as my head touched the pillow.