The Weekend of Unbelievable Fun: The Second Coming

Hey…guess what’s coming up fast? It’s The Weekend of Unbelievable Fun: The Second Coming!


Image is an advertisement showing the Mr. Paul Aints logo with information about the baseball game and conference (detailed in text below), and a photo of the Minneapolis Skyline.

This will be the second year that I attend. Last year’s baseball game was a blast, and the conference had inspiring speakers presenting novel and timely information about atheism and the secular movement.

This year the Mr. Paul Aints will take the field again on Friday August 9th to play the Sioux City Explorers at Midway Stadium in Saint Paul. The party starts at 5pm with tailgating in the parking lot and the game begins at 7pm. The meetup description for the event promises between-inning atheist-themed antics (hmmm…devil worshiping in the infield and baby tastings, perhaps?), and there will be an auction of Mr. Paul Aints jerseys with proceeds to go to a local charity.

The next day – Saturday – Minnesota Atheists and American Atheists will hold their second consecutive Twin Cities-based regional conference. The conference takes place at the Ramada Plaza in NE Minneapolis, and the lineup is exciting (I’ve taken out the breaks in the list below – for the full schedule, visit

9:15-10:15 Hector Avalos: “How Archaeology Killed Biblical History”
10:30-12:00pm Breakout Sessions & Workshops
1:45-2:45 Greta Christina: “Coming Out: How To Do It, How to Help Each Other Do It, And Why?”
2:45-3:45 Amanda Knief: “Ten Legal Issues Atheists Need to Know”
4:00-5:30 Annie Laurie Gaylor: “The Religious War on Women”
7:30-9:00 All-Star Panel Discussion: Atheism and Religion: Confrontation or Accommodation – Annie Laurie Gaylor, Hector Avalos, Greta Christina, Amanda Knief, PZ Myers, and Kelli Clement. Moderated by Stephanie Zvan (Author of Almost Diamonds blog on Freethought Blogs).

The conference organizers did a good job of packing in a wide variety of topics in a few short hours – one day conferences are hard! I’m especially excited by the 10:30-noon workshops, which are being led by local atheists. Topics include science, family and raising kids in atheist households, treatment of (nonhuman) animals, mental health, addiction, and shame. For descriptions of the panels press the big red button on the frontpage of the Minnesota Atheists website.

If you’re interested in joining us, the information for signing up for the baseball game and/or the conference can be found at the MN Atheists website. The cost for the game starts at $10 and the conference starts at $30 (if you’re 25 years old or younger AND a student, you can buy a discounted conference ticket for $10). These are early bird prices, and early bird sign up ends on July 31st – in just three days! After that prices for the conference goes up to $40 (student admission stays $10).

And if there is any doubt that you’re going to have a good – and occasionally goofy – time, check out these lyrics that Paul Heffron and Jerry Rauser wrote for the Mr. Paul Aints game:

To the tune of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game

(Verse 1)
Let’s all go to the Aints game.
Let’s all show who we are.
The big red A says a lot about us.
We’re here for fun, so please don’t make a fuss.
So we’ll root for the Mister Paul Aints team.
For they accept us by name.
So it’s hip, hip, hip, hip hooray
At the Aints ball game.

(Verse 2)
Let’s have fun at the Aints game,
Tail-gate party supreme.
Hamburgers, hot dogs, and drinks for all.
Under our banner we’ll all have a ball.
We will root, root, root for the pigs’ race.
In Pig’s Eye town there’s no shame.
For it’s one, two, pick up the pace
At the Aints Ball Game!

The Weekend of Unbelievable Fun: The Second Coming

Skepticon 5 T-Shirts are (almost) here!

You know you want one.

Just click on the image below. And if you enter FtBFtW in the Special Code section you get a free gift. No, I don’t know what it is. But I’m going to find out!

T-shirts will go into production by July or whenever they reach 75 shirts ordered. So the sooner everyone orders, the sooner we all get our shirts. And FYI – last year they sold out of almost every size long before the event.

Continue reading “Skepticon 5 T-Shirts are (almost) here!”

Skepticon 5 T-Shirts are (almost) here!

MarsCon 2011: Costumes and Creatures

This is part two of my MarsCon 2011 post. I wrote about the talks I attended at this science, scifi and fantasy convention in an earlier post.

One of my favorite reasons to attend scifi/fantasy conventions is the costumes. People are so creative and go to a lot of effort and expense to dress up and show off! Some of the best costumes will usually find their way to the costume competition, which at MarsCon is called “Masquerade”. These are some of the magnificent clothes, costumes and creatures that appeared at MarsCon this year:

Room Parties

Room parties are a very unique con experience. Usually one floor or area will be designated the room party area, and fan groups or individuals will rent a party room, decorate it in some theme and devote it to serving food and drinks and providing socializing areas. Party rooms usually cost the same as regular sleeping rooms (or more if they are larger suites) and you’ve got the added cost of providing food, drinks and entertainment to everyone and anyone who stops by. Room owners are responsible for checking IDs to serve alcohol, and there is never a cost for drinks, although cash may be accepted for snacks, tips or entertainment like taking a photo with one of the rooms costumed volunteers.  It sounds like a pain in the butt to run to me, but there is a fair amount of acclaim to be had for having a rocking party room. Some of the memorable MarsCon party rooms (for me) were the Seamstresses’ Guild, the Conan the Barbarian room, Geek Partnership Society, the karaoke room, the anime party room, the superheros room, and the Klingon room.

This is one of my favorite photos from MarsCon. Pictured are two of the ladies of the Seamstresses’ Guild, a guild of “ladies of negotiable affection” from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.  The Seamstresses’ Guild under these ladies’ (as well as two gentleman of the Guild, not pictured here) ministrations have thrown some of the most well-decorated, well-stocked (read: boozed) room parties at conventions across the state. The front area of their party room consisted of a drinking, sitting and socializing area, and the back half of the room was dominated by screenings of the Discworld movies.

The Seamstresses are gearing up for a HUGE event in July – the 2nd annual North American Discworld Con. This is a fan-run four-day convention devoted solely to the celebration of Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels.

MarsCon 2011: Costumes and Creatures

MarsCon 2011: The Talks

At the beginning of March I went to MarsCon 2011, a convention for people who like science, science-fiction, fantasy, anime and other nerdy hobbies.  This year’s theme was Days of Magic.

This was my first MarsCon, but I’ve been to CONvergence and other nerdy weekend events. MarsCon was significantly smaller than CONvergence; the main stage was about the same size as some of the speaker rooms at CONvergence.  But the schedule was chock full of programming (i.e., talks, games, presentations, roundtables…i.e., stuff to do), there was plenty of costuming to enjoy, and lots of music and fun party rooms.

As with any con there was always something going on, so there was always something that we were missing. We didn’t hit much of the Dementia Track (odd, silly, nerdy, comic music acts), and I skipped some of the hard science presentations in favor of sleeping, eating, hot tub-ing, hanging out in room parties and generally having a fantastic time.  But I did manage to hit three panels on Saturday.

Dude, Where’s My Flying Car

The thing that I remember most about this panel is that it was full of neat ideas and yet amazing on-topic. The three presenters were Brett Glass (science and tech non-fiction writer), a gentleman named Dave (Shockwave Radio Theater) and Tom Gardner (chemist and scientist at large).

Brett Glass

Tom Gardner and Dave

The panel members discussed the technology that we have now and compared it to the tech that people in the 1960s-90s thought we would have (digital future vs. a cyber future). Everyone agreed that our biggest technological achievements to date are the amount of memory capacity we have and our ability to search our stored data. There was a lively discussion about the challenges that have yet to be conquered before we can make flying cars part of our daily lives (energy requirements, noise pollution, traffic infrastructure and laws, safety. We crash the hell out of our regular terrain cars; can you imagine the damage we could cause with airborne vehicles?!). The panel also discussed privacy – what it is and isn’t and what we can expect and should demand in today’s digital (google) age. We discussed technologies that didn’t quite make it, tech that are on their way out, and the effect that social media is having on how we define “self” and “community”.

Best Quote: “The best thing about the future is that you can emulate the past.” (Dave)

Vampires: Why They Die in the Sunlight and Don’t Sparkle

Kiki Canon (Bad Philosophy podcast), Jamie Turnball (, DJ Vlad (World of Darkness LARPer)

This one I didn’t like. I mainly went so that I could report back to my blog buddy, Alannah, that I went to an anti-Twilight Vampires talk. It was billed as a discussion panel on Vampires as a genre, so I thought they’d do their “Boy, doesn’t Twilight suck” thing and then move on to discussing…you know…Vampires as a genre.

But the group never left the “Boy, doesn’t Twilight suck” theme. Early on they posed the question of whether letting kids read Twilight is at least a way to get them reading, but it quickly devolved into NO AND LET ME TELL YOU WHY TWILIGHT SUCKS SO MUCH. They painted such a morbid picture of Twilight as a creepy, stalkerish, trashy romance, borderline pedophilic, misogynistic piece of intentional Mormon propaganda that I started wondering if I had read the same books as they had.  Incidentally, at the end of the talk two out of three of them casually mentioned that they had never actually read ANY of the Twilight books because they were sooooo awful that they just couldn’t, so they got all of their information from second-hand critiques.  Rly?

Yes, the writing in Twilight is not masterful (see how kind I am?). Yes, Bella is pathetic in a lot of ways and Hermione would totally kick her ass (whoops! entirely different story there). But (confession time!) I enjoyed reading them…I wanted to see what would happen next. They flowed (if you ignored the poor grammer) and had a tension that kept me engaged. I wanted to see which twists and turns we were going to make.

There are some really icky ideas in the Twilight novels: Why should sex hurt, lust be dangerous, or women stay with men who hurt them? No, it’s not okay to go into a months-long coma because a boyfriend leaves you. Yes, the idea of a teenage boy “imprinting” on a newborn baby (i.e., flesh eating, blood-sucking monster) is creepy and weird. But you know what? Stephenie Meyers on her best day could never hope to approach the grotesque psychological darkness that I enjoy from some of my favorite horror authors, and they are celebrated for their effed-up imaginations. I just wanted to yell at the panel “It’s FICTION, PEOPLE”. Not great fiction, but neither does it seem to be some master plan for brainwashing the next generation.

Kids are getting exposed to all sorts of screwed up ideas through television and books. Hell, my 13 year old little sister (from BBBS) saw Precious. I don’t want to see Precious. My point is that there are worse things out there for teenagers to be reading. As with anything – if you have concerns over what your kid is reading (and you should), have a chat with them before and after they read it.

Oh…wait…I was talking about the panel. Dammit! Moving on.

ZARGS and You

Erik D. Pakieser

ZARGS is an acronym created by the presenter, Erik D. Pakieser. It describes five invader/disaster scenarios which one might someday encounter, as foretold by apocalyptic/societal collapse movies and books.

The neat thing is that ZARGS doesn’t just adress five specific examples of Earth’s potential future doom, but rather the five major invasion strategies which may be  used against us AND possible defenses that we have against them.

The underlying assumption is that these are all bad guys. They aren’t just new visitors who we start taking out because they look diffrunt from us ‘muricans. We’re starting with the premise that the invaders have made clear their intention of enslaving us or wiping us out. Just roll with it, y’all. 

Zombies – Any swarm of independent operators. These are creatures that hunt for their own advantage. They’re not controlled by any outside forces and don’t have a group plan. You can either stay and defend your fortress or bug out – try to outrun them and hide in an area that isn’t infested. Erik challenged us to consider whether we’d be prepared for either – how defensible is your home and do you have supplies to last? If you leave, do you have the wilderness survival skills to not die of exposure or thirst in the first few hours or days?

Aliens – This is a catch all group that describes any malevolent otherworldly threat that we can’t predict or don’t understand. We may not be able to identify our alien invaders, we may have to discover how to defend ourselves, they may or may not be operating independently or have an invasion plan.

Raptors – Raptors are intelligent man-eating monsters that hunt in groups. You need major firepower to take down raptors, but you also need speed and evasion skills because raptors may be fast. The thing with raptors is never shoot for the head – always take out the legs or pelvis and then finish ’em up with a fatal shot. The pelvis is easier to hit and even if you don’t kill them, they’re down. Also – always watch for the other hunters of the raptor party! If you only see one, look for the others!

Graboids – Raw, brute force, may not be too intelligent. You need HEAVY artillery to take care of these guys. Think Tremors. Graboids may be avian, subterranean, or ocean monsters. Their huge size may limit their speed and manuverability. They may work alone or in small groups. To some extent, environment defines whether a hunter is a graboid or a raptor: If you’re in the water with a ocean monster, you’re dealing with a raptor – it has the home court advantage and can move much better in the water than you can. If you’re shooting at flying graboids (or raptors), don’t try to lead the creature (run and shoot over your shoulder) – turn around to face the theat, plant yourself and take aim.

SkyNet aka our new Robot Overlords – The most distinct feature of the robot invasion is that individuals are controlled or directed by a central system. Killing individuals has no long-term advantage because the central hub can always make or send more; you must remove the central hub. You might employ a computer virus, try to reprogram the central station or physically disable or destroy the hub.

We also discussed supernatural threats (we decided to lump these into “aliens” because you can’t predict or understand the treat a supernatural invasion might take) and attack by microbes. We decided that with microbial attack the only real way to be safe is isolation or discovering what kills the bugs; they’d probably fit best into the “zombies” category.

I enjoyed this panel because we always related the five invasion types back to the movies or books from which the ideas came. It was good, gorey imaginative fun with some emergency preparedness truth nestled into the fantasy. If you ever get a chance to see Erik speak – do it!

After the morning talks, the Hubby and I rode the lightrail over to the Mall of America for lunch and then headed up to the room to catch some ZZZZ’s before the Saturday night party rooms.

Next MarsCon Post: Costumes and Creatures!

MarsCon 2011: The Talks

MarsCon 2011 Teaser Photo

I’ve been crazy busy. Last weekend I  was at MarsCon, a fantasy/scifi convention in Bloomington, MN and this week I’m preparing for a trip to Cozumel. Rough life, I know.  Plus I have two standing engagements this week; Monday I was gaming and Thursday I’m going to monthly meeting of the Minneapolis Skeptics. That leaves Tuesday and Wednesday evenings to blog and do all those things that one does before going on vacation.

I have some fun stories and pictures from MarsCon, but I haven’t had time to write them up or to go through the photos in any detail yet. For now I’ll leave you with this photo from the very beginning of the convention. People are taking seats for opening ceremonies. My good friend Mark is in the foreground modeling his new, super-sexy Clark Kent glasses.

More to come!


Oh heck, the seating photo was pretty bland. Have a photo of drunk, middle-aged He-Man from the opening ceremonies production:

Hehehe. Gotta love the fearless nerds and geeks.

MarsCon 2011 Teaser Photo

Michael Shermer at U of MN

Last Thursday (10/14/2010) I went to see Michael Shermer speak at the University of Minnesota’s Willey Hall (timely write-up fail!).  Dr. Shermer was presenting “Why People Believe Weird Things”.  His visit was sponsored/organized by the Campus Atheists, Skeptics and Humanists (CASH) group at the U of M. 

Michael Shermer

I liked the lecture hall set-up – the back wall is rounded and the room focuses the audience’s attention down to the center of the room where the speaker is presenting.  But instead of having one screen and the people on the sides getting cruddy views, the room has two gigantic screens angled so that no matter where you sit you’ll have a decent view of the material.

Map of Willey Hall

Before the talk Dr. Shermer checked his set up, then hung around up front chatting with people.  The presentation started about 15 minutes late, but that was okay because people kept streaming in.  Dr. Shermer was introduced by the CASH activities director, and then we were off.  

He started by telling us about Skeptic Magazine and the Skeptic’s Society and he did a quick review of the topics covered on the screens up front. 

The pre-talk display was these six covers of Skeptic Magazine, of which Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher

One of the comments that Dr. Shermer made early on really stuck with me.  He presented the idea that smart people are very good at rationalizing their non-intelligent choices and beliefs.  I think that, like anyone, skeptics can make poor choices when we weigh evidence against our personal beliefs, and we choose gut over facts (I’m still struggling with Penn and Teller’s BS episode on recycling).   In the Q&A at the end of the talk, someone asked him to give some examples of the weird things skeptics believe.  He chose politics – ask a liberal why they believe what they believe, and they’ll tell you it’s because they’re right about x topic, and that yes, they believe that 50% of Americans who vote for Republicans/conservativism are wrong.  Confirmation bias, anyone? 

Dr. Shermer showed this slide during his talk.

Dr. Shermer was all about using the humor to get ideas across.  He was discussing the need for science education in America, and used this video got a LOT of laughs:

After that Dr. Shermer dug into some basic cognitive science topics like association learning and patternicity.  He gave a broad-level overview of some neuroscience studies that have attempted to explain where and what in the brain may be responsible for patternicity.  He showed some great illusions that illuminate how our brain handles facial recognition, and he presented his idea for how this might be related to the phenomenon of déjà vu.  He demonstrated how granularity, shading and camera position in photos can be used to trick our brain into making assumptions about what we’re looking at, and even into seeing things that aren’t there.

Crazy crate
Crazy crate

Jerry Andrus’s 3D impossible crate


Nice doggy

Our Lady of the Chicago Underpass

Next he discussed agenticity: the tendency to believe that the world is controlled by invisible intentional agents.  This moved us further into the realms of conspiracy, skepticism and pseudoscience.   Dr. Shermer believes that human agenticity is behind animism, aliens, the 9/11 Conspiracy, JFK’s assassination, etc.  He discussed mind versus brain (“Mind is just the thing that the brain does”) and the brain’s role in creating near-death experiences and out-of-body experiences, as well as the phenomenon of sensed presence, or the feeling that someone is in the room with you. 

He also demonstrated how the priming effect works with a fun example.  Do you remember the hysteria in the 1980s when some people thought that if you played rock and roll records backwards you could hear satanic lyrics or chanting?  Dr. Shermer played Stairway to Heaven forward and backward for us.  When he played it forward he put the lyrics on the screen.  Then he played the song backward – without lyrics.  It sounded like a bunch of gobbledy-gook.  Then he played the song backwards for us again, but this time with these devised lyrics on the screen:

So here’s to my Sweet Satan.
The other’s little path
Would make me sad,
Whose power is faith.
He’ll give those with him 666.
And all the evil fools,
they know he made
us suffer sadly.

And it sure sounded like they were singing those words when we listened to it again.  Fun with tricking the brain!

Dr. Shermer managed to fit in a few more topics like why cold reading works (when someone goes to a psychic they’ll remember the hits (5-10 hits), but forget the misses (200-300), synchronicity, confirmation bias and expectation violation.

At the end of the talk we had about 30 minutes for Q&A.  There was a good mix of Q&A topics – cognitive neuroscience, pseudoscience, belief, atheism.  Nobody was too bumbling, although there were a few cringe-worthy seconds here and there while people rambled or struggled to get their question out.  There were no confrontational questions.

A few of my favorite moments from the Q&A

  • Dr. Shermer using Good Kirk vs. Bad Kirk to explain why emotions are necessary to decision-making.  Good Kirk is pretty accurate portrayal of what would happen without emotions.
  • “Don’t teach people what to think, but how to think.”
  • Someone asked if we could we erase memories like in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  The answer started out pretty party line (“We don’t yet know how we store memories, so we don’t yet know how to erase them), but somewhere along the line he managed to get to “Aliens are going to be so incredibly different from us.”  I don’t remember how we got there, but in reading my notes it seems like a fabulous non sequitur.

I enjoyed the talk, both the material and the way Dr. Shermer presented.  I’m really happy that the Campus Atheists, Skeptics and Humanists (CASH) were able to organize the talk and the $4 entry fee was very kind.  Next year CASH is bringing Jen McCreight from BlagHag to the U of M – yay!

Michael Shermer at U of MN