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Skeptics at Dragon*Con

Well, the biggest Skeptical party to ever hit my town (as far as I know) is over. I’m a little sad but also very, very excited. I’ll get to that in a minute. First, a brief overview of what happened.

For those of you who don’t know, Dragon*Con is a huge fantasy/science-fiction convention. It’s probably only second to Comicon in San Diego in size and it grows every year. This year, it took control of four full hotels and all of downtown Atlanta. For three days, the city is full of stormtroopers, Klingons and superheroes. It’s geek Mardi Gras and it’s fantastic. A few years back, D*C started a Science track and that, through various convolutions, led to Skeptrack. Read the rest of the recap after the fold. All my photos are here and I’ve put a few inline as well.

Skepchick Powers Activate!
Skepchick Powers Activate!

Run by Derek Colanduno from Skepticality, Skeptrack was 3 days of panels and talks by a host of skeptical luminaries including James Randi, Phil Plait, Michael Shermer, DJ Grothe, Michael Stackpole, Lori Lipman Brown and many others.

Dragon*Con Skeptrackwas like TAM in the midst of Ewoks. It simply isn’t enough to say it was fantastic. As A.Real.Girl would say, it was made of awesome. Supersaturated in awesome until awesome was crystallizing on it.

It’s something of a blur, to be honest. Even the sober parts. I intended to blog day-by-day at the Skeptrack site but I simply couldn’t do it. Tracks went from 10 a.m to 11 p.m. and then there was serious skeptical partying to be done. So I can’t give you a blow-by-blow account but I will tell you some of my personal highlights.

Before the Con

The weekend before D*C, a group of us (including fabulous fellow Skepchick Carr2d2) went down to Destin, Florida and had a fantastic time in spite of the tropical storm.  All those photos are here but here’s my favorite:

Serious crushes

Every time I attend a skeptical convention, I end up falling in love with the brains and brawn of someone new. This time, my two crushes were:

  1. Dr. Stephen Novella. I had heard him talk at TAM and, of course, on the Skeptics Guide podcast before so I knew he was great. But at D*C, he did a talk on science-based medicine which just blew me away. Then he participated in the Skeptics vs. Believers debate. He has so much passion and love for skepticism and it shows clearly but at the same time, he always comes from a place of reason and logic and never seemed to get overly emotional or personal in anything he was saying, even when he was debating a guy who (from what I could tell) was explaining that he had done successful experiments on zombie mice. Novella managed to keep his cool and still be passionate and powerful in his arguments. If it had been me, I’d have reached over and throttled the guy. I heart Dr. Novella. Seriously.
  2. Dr. Pamela Gay. I had never heard her speak or, to be honest, even heard of her before this weekend. She’s an astronomer, professor, and co-host of the Astronomy Cast podcast. She was there to talk about the International Year of Astronomy, which is next year but she also gave a talk about consumer skepticism that was both hilarious and informative. Again, her passion and intellect caused me to develop a major girl-crush. And I was not alone.

Introductions to Skepticism

Because of the format of Dragon*Con, there were quite a few people who were not self-identifying skeptics who were there to see other aspects of the con but who got an intro to Skepticism. I got to witness a few moments:

  1. Alex. Alex is the 5-year-old son of a good friend of mine. He went to Phil Plait’s talk about some of the ways the universe is trying to kill us (based on his new book, Death from the Skies!). The next day, he explained spaghettification to me in perfect detail. I almost wept.
  2. Jason. Jason is another young friend of mine. He’s in his early 20s and an aspiring actor. He had never heard of skepticism or any of the people or ideas we were discussing. On Saturday night, he joined us for drinks and ended up sitting with a bunch of skeptics, including Lori Lipman Brown as we discussed skeptical and secular issues in government. He didn’t say much and he seemed a little overwhelmed by the whole thing but at the end of the evening, he turned to me and said “What book can I read to learn more about this stuff?”

I think just having someone like Jason realize that skepticism and skeptical issues really do have impact in his own life was a huge win and it’s one of the many reasons that we should all talk about skepticism and skeptic issues in our every day lives. Most people don’t even realize how real these issues are and how applicable they are to real life. I’m going to get him a copy of Shermer’s “Why People Believe Wierd Things.” Anyone have other good skeptical primer books to recommend? I like Wiseman’s “Quirkology” too.

The Fan Girl moments

I didn’t spend a lot of time at non-skeptic events but there were a few fangirl moments:

  1. Phlebas and I got to see Paul and Storm perform. They were utterly hilarious. If you haven’t heard of them, go check them out.  
  2. I was wandering the Walk of Fame and got to see Nathan Fillion, Alan Tudyk and Michael Dorn chatting and laughing together. I just wanted to leap right into that group. But I didn’t. Unlike when we saw most of the Battlestar Galactica cast and…
  3. Carr2d2 and I accosted much of the cast of Battlestar Galactica, were offered beer by Tahmoh Penikett (Helo) and told Edward James Olmos (Capt. Adama) that he was more awesome than Michael Hogan (Col. Ty) who was right behind him.
  4. One anti-fangirl moment, for me at least, was when I was told that Gareth David-Lloyd was right behind me. Having never watched even one second of Torchwood, I had no idea who he was. But I did get a great picture with him and Carr2d2, who did know and love him.

The fantastic costumes

Dragon*Con is all about costumes and there are always the usual round of transformers, wizards and stormtroopers. I love the particularly unusual ones:

  1. I saw TWO Jareths (the Goblin King from Labyrinth) and got photos with both. Shut up. I love that movie.
  2. Rincewind, Twoflower and The Luggage! The Luggage was a remote control robot and wandered around. Fantastic.
  3. These Ghostbusters were fantastic because the costumes were perfection and they also had Lewis with them, colander and all.
  4. On Sunday, I saw this huge version of the Yip yip alien from Sesame Street. I wish I’d had video.
  5.  

  6. On Friday, I managed to get this picture which included Batman and Wolverine to send to the folks who are going nuts on my Afternoon Inquisition from last week.
  7. Batman vs Wolverine

    It’s the wrong Batman, I know. But I have no doubt this will trigger another round of comments on that thread.

  8. Also, the Flying Spaghetti Monster itself visited the Skeptics Table. Win win win! It made up for the fact that we were right next to Fans for Christ (no kidding).

The in-between times

Skeptic panels went from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. so we were pretty booked the whole weekend. But before, in between and after, we did of course, gather to drink and talk and catch up with our old friends and make new friends.

  1. On Thursday, we started with a pre-Dragon*Con skeptics in the pub where our local skeptics could meet up with visiting skeptics and a few of the track guests who showed up. As usual, our ATL skeptics represented and it was a lot of fun to see my local friends interact with my long-distance skeptic friends.
  2. Michael Stackpole convinced me to buy purple and silver stiletto heels. Don’t even get A.Real.Girl started on what he convinced her to buy.
  3. On Sunday night, some of the party discovered that the chairs they were on were not entirely attached to the wall. This video ensued, followed by my favorite: Overly Dramatic Skeptic. Yes, that’s the infamous Tim Farley, showing us What’s the Harm in unattached sofas and being very dramatic about it too.
  4. Monday afternoon, when we were all completely sleep deprived and overly giggly (no, it wasn’t just me!), we hung out after lunch and just babbled and did silly things. Someone still has the video of A.Real.Girl surfing on the dolly and singing Rock Lobster and I hope they send it to me soon!  Here’s video of A.Real.Girl surfing a dolly and singing Rock Lobster, thanks to Tim Farley!

Regrets

I do have a few regrets and they are all about not having enough time:

  1. I hardly got any time to hang out with several extremely cool people who were there: Brian from Amateur Scientist, the SGU guys, Alyson Smith, Jeff Wagg and many many others.
  2. I didn’t have any time at the science track, which was featuring some really neat panels.
  3. I’d have liked to do more fangirl stuff, particularly with the MST3K guys around.

But overall, regrets are minimal. I’m sure I’m forgetting something but I’ve been rambling enough. D*C is over now and we are all trying to adjust to getting back to the real world (everyone seems dressed wrong). I’m sad that the partying is over but I think the best realization that I had this weekend was that there are more skeptics out there than I realized. Almost every session at Skeptrack was completely full or overflowing. We will definitely need a bigger room next year. Skepticism is alive and well and getting really rave reviews. Our speakers were treated like rock stars, as they should be and we’re so lucky to have these amazing role models. In two weeks, we have Skeptics in the Pub in Atlanta and we’re discussing putting together a Skepticamp. We have the numbers to make it happen and although I’m sad that Dragon*Con is over, the next big thing in skeptical events is just around the corner. Go check the events calendar, find a meetup, get online. Make it happen. It’s easier than you think.

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Masala Skeptic

Maria Walters (a.k.a. Masala Skeptic) has spent a lot of time in ‘furrin parts,’ including Hong Kong, Trinidad, and Pittsburgh. Although her passport is from India, she’s spent most of her adult life in the United States. She currently lives in Atlanta and has an unhealthy affection for science fiction, Neil Gaiman and all things Muppet.

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43 Comments

  1. omg! Seriously. Totally onboard with the Steven Novella crush! (and Pamela Gay for that matter… and about 2 or 3 others, really)
    Yesterday I saw that he used one of the pictures I took on the Neurologica blog in a post about Dragon*Con. I giddily showed/emailed that fact to a bunch of people and the typical response was something along the lines of “wtf, you’re a dork.”

    Dr. Steven Novella looked at my facebook pictures!!! :D :D :D

    Sorry. I’m calm now.

    Business of more importance:

    Already been at work on some Skepticamp business! (I TOLD you all I needed was a full night’s sleep). I’ll get my info and thoughts organized and take a few minutes to bring it up and get some feedback at Skeptics in the Pub next Saturday.

    …Is it sad that I’m already excited even though it’s still 10 days away?

  2. Ooh, I had so much fun.

    Best talk: Hard to limit it to one, really. I’d say it’s a toss-up between El Presidente’s “Death from the Skies” talk and Stackpole’s discussion about how to talk/debate with believers.

    Best costume: Of course, I feel obligated to say the FSM, but Xenu has him beat.

    Best boots: A.Real.Girl’s.

    Best story: Being in line for the snack bar and listening to a security try to hit on Dr. Pamela Gay – extremely, extremely poorly. It was absolutely hilarious, especially when he got to asking “are you a liberal educator, or a left-wing educator? ’cause y’know there’s a difference now.”

    New crushes: Karen Stollznow (though I kinda already had one), Pamela Gay.

    Overall best presenter: Ben Radford. The guy talked about lake monsters, ghosts, and even winged it once when Alison couldn’t present due to her luggage being lost. Oh, and he had the best line, hands-down, at the skeptics vs. believers panel:

    Priest – “Our textbooks cost less.”
    Ben – “Ours are updated.”

    Can’t wait for next year. Whoo!

  3. My favorite moment was when I was in the Marriott and I overheard a man talking to his approximately 10 year old son, saying (I swear this is an exact quote): “And the more parsimonious explanation would be….?”

    This was nowhere near the skeptic track, just random DragonCon attendees. Occam FTW.

  4. New crushes: Karen Stollznow (though I kinda already had one), Pamela Gay.

    ————-

    I already had a crush on Pamela Gay. Now I have a huge crush on Pamela Gay. And FTR, I was not the security guy hitting on Dr. Gay. At least, not at that place and time.

  5. I wish I’d had more time to hang out with you and Christian as well. I was too busy stalking Tahmoh Penikett for an autograph so my girlfriend could have something to masturbate with. And by “my girlfriend”, I don’t mean “me”. I don’t care what you say.

  6. I was too busy stalking Tahmoh Penikett for an autograph so my girlfriend could have something to masturbate with. And by “my girlfriend”, I don’t mean “me”. I don’t care what you say.

    And comments like this would be why I regretted not having more time to talk to you. Don’t tell your “girlfriend” that Carr2d2 kissed Tahmoh and he offered us beer…

  7. great wrap-up, maria…much more thorough than my sleep deprived gushing…

    so…did i mention…i kissed helo? on the cheek.
    he probably thought i was a drunken idiot (which would be accurate) but that’s ok…i’ll probably never see him again. fun times ;)

  8. Masalaskeptic, you are my new hero. Because of you mentioning to a “certain someone” my comments about this “certain someone”, you turned what was a made of awesome weekend into whatever word is more is more awesomely awesome. And yes, if I wasn’t awestruck of being next to Ianto I would’ve realized you had never seen TW before pushing you up next to him for a photo or two. Cheers ~

  9. So, Michael Stackpole convinced me to buy a kitty bell on a collar, for my own neck. Yikes. This brings the total for wearable items purchased and worn by A at D*C to 3: corset, kitty bell & hooker boots.

    Not sure if that’s very good, or very bad.

  10. corset, kitty bell & hooker boots?
    I think I just wet myself…
    you guys have to stop doing this to me, I’m old senile and barely in control of my fudge. I get easily excited and then bad things happen :)

  11. So… THAT is what was going on in that room during the clean up! I saw A on the dolly… but was too busy to figure it out in the midst of all my figuring out if we had all of our stuff in the correct bins for load-out! :)

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