Archive for the ‘SitP’ Category

QEDCon Weekend

Friday was difficult. The train journey and subsequent flight were an exercise in controlling my breathing so I didn’t lose my shit in public. But it was successful, and I arrived in Manchester without puffy eyes or a snotty nose, so that’s a bonus. I went straight to the hostel to drop my bag off and when I entered the dorm a drinking game was already well under way amongst the Belgian teenagers who were there. Apparently three other people had laid claim to my bed, but as it was the one I had been assigned I decided to be obstinate.

I headed out to the hotel where the conference was being held; luckily the train station, hostel and conference were all within a couple of minutes’ walk of each other. Upon entering the bar it was apparent that the party was in full swing; I spied a few familiar faces and mooched over for a chat. The atmosphere was excellent, everyone was very welcoming and friendly, and I was even recognised by a few folk I hadn’t seen in at least two years. I stayed for a couple of hours, but really wasn’t feeling in the most celebratory of moods so decided to retire at about 10.30.

I got to the empty hostel room and went to bed, only to be woken up an hour later by the drunk Belgians who opened the door, turned the light on and exclaimed loudly “she’s asleep! Be quiet” before bashing around for 10 minutes looking for their booze stash. I went back to sleep eventually, but was awoken again at about 2am to find one of the aforementioned Belgians crouched next to my bed, watching me. Unsettling to say the least. I told him to fuck off as pleasantly as I could, and to his credit he did.

The next morning I got up earlyish and went over for the start of the conference. It was great seeing so many people I recognised, and even more that I didn’t. The first speaker, after the welcome speech, was Deborah Hyde, who gave a fantastic talk about cryptozoology at Portsmouth SITP last month, but this time she was talking specifically about werewolves. It was, quite frankly, excellent. She has such an engaging manner, and the same enthusiasm for her subject whether she’s addressing a conference hall of 400 people, or a pub side room with just 15.

Picking the talks to attend was quite tough, I didn’t really fancy the “god” talks generally; it’s a bit over done in my opinion, and I never feel like I’ve actually learned anything, other than how high my blood pressure is capable of reaching. So instead I picked topics that I felt would actually be educational as well as entertaining. The Pod Delusion Live was excellent, and made (retrospectively) more excellent by the fact that they won an award later on in the evening!

The evening’s entertainment was just great. There was a gala dinner in the main hall, but I couldn’t afford it, so a bunch of us went to an Italian restaurant instead. This pretty much summed up the entire event for me; sure I wasn’t rubbing shoulders with the celebrity elite, but that wasn’t why I was there. I wanted to meet the people I follow on Twitter, and the people who I should be following, famous or not. And I did, to an extent. I’m very aware that I really wasn’t myself and I apologise if anyone felt I was being “weird” but my head was not in the right place this weekend; hopefully my friends can vouch for that. But anyway, we had dinner, and then went back to the conference for the evening, where we were treated with comedy and music, and it was excellent. Paul Zenon had me in agony from laughing, I will definitely be watching out for his next gig.

And then we danced the night away. After chilling in the bar for a bit, I wandered over to the main hall to discover Clio and Malcom leaving, because there had been no nerd dancing! So we fixed that, fairly successfully, even though the music was dire. At one point I figured that a tribute to Bob Holness would be appropriate, so the dance moves were studied (thanks Tom), and I even provided the sound desk with the Blockbusters theme tune, but alas, they couldn’t get it to play. Sorry Bob. We do love you really.

I got back to the hostel room at about 2am to discover everyone asleep, so I decided to be petty and get my revenge. Doors were slammed, lights turned on, and heavy things dropped. Yes I am 12.

Sunday morning I was utterly thrilled to meet Edzard Ernst after his talk about his exploits in CAM. He signed my copy of Trick or Treatment and turned me into a grinning buffoon. His talk was easily the highlight of the whole event for me, he has done so much research into CAM, and suffered for it too. When the Queen’s son is out to get you, and you still continue to fight, I will worship you as a hero.

Another session I really enjoyed was the SITP forum; it was basically a how-to session for SITP organisers, we shared tips, asked questions, and generally got some really good ideas about how to make our groups thrive. Even though Cork’s answer to everything seemed to be “find a castle”. Good for them though, I’m not jealous. Grrrr.

I’ve not gone into great detail on the individual talks, purely because someone with better literary and memory skills will, and also the talks were actually not the main reason for going. It was a wonderful social event, and a fantastic opportunity to spend the weekend with a bunch of awesome folk.

The closing night was great, if a bit odd. A few of us remained, chatting in the bar, and I got talking to a couple who had only been at QEDCon that day. We were having a nice conversation, when it suddenly became hijacked by someone else (I’m not going to say who, as I don’t actually know who they were) and the topic went onto something that I found completely abhorrent, so I decided to make a break for it, leaving the couple stranded with the hijacker. Sorry. Pirate rules. Anyway, we went out for Skeptics in the Curry House afterwards, which was great, and then back to the bar for yet more chatting and socialising. I should probably mention at this point that I had started to lose my voice (due to crying / toothache / etc) on Thursday night, so by this time I was positively baritone, and getting hoarser by the hour. To anyone I met for the first time: I’m normally a few octaves higher. Honestly.

And eventually I had to call it a night. From what I hear the party continued for a long while after I left, and well done to those who survived. I was elated to return to the hostel to discover an empty room- I actually got a decent amount of uninterrupted, unwatched sleep! The journey home was interesting though, but I’ll save that for another blog post.

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Middle of the night, joyful rantings!

… Which I shall probably delete when I wake up and re-read this.

EDIT: Nah, it’ll serve as a good reminder of why proof-reading is important, and why blogging at 2am is not the best idea.

So, I’ve just got home from yet another awesome Portsmouth Skeptics in the Pub. And when I say awesome… well. Bloody hell.

So I get to The Globe Inn (or the Fat Fox, I don’t think I noticed its name when I arrived) and start setting up the equipment with loads of time to spare. Loads. By pure luck I found a VGA cable long enough to reach the ceiling mounted projector, literally minutes before leaving my flat (I am totes organised, promise) so when I unpacked everything I asked the barman for the projector remote. He couldn’t find it. He also informed me that the projector hadn’t been working for months.

Bollocks.

It was around about this moment when I noticed Mark Stevenson, tonight’s speaker, sat at the bar. “Oh hai, I run this shit, we have no projector and I think I’m going to cry” I thought. Then the barman casually mentioned that he had his own projector. With him. In the building. Mark offered him a blowjob, I offered him drinks. He accepted one and refused the other, you get to decide which was which.

So lovely barman brought out his BEAST of a projector. What a beauty! Huge bugger, HD ready with more inputs than a [insert filthy joke here] and the awesomest position and keystone adjuster I’ve ever seen. Yes? What of it?

Anyway, we hooked it up, I faffed with the PA and off we went!

Mark’s talk was excellent, but I already knew that, having seen him back in May at Winchester SitP. If you haven’t seen the talk then buy the book. Srsly. Buy the damn thing, it’s cheap and awesome, like all the best things and people are.

So the talk was excellent, I think I have adequately established that. The Q&A was very good, the usual calibre that I’ve come to expect from our wonderful crowd, plus some interesting unexpected ones too.

Anyway, the whole talk and the Q&A will no doubt be available at Skepticule for your listening pleasure. Prepare to be enlightened.

But the thing which you will never experience from the recording is the sheer awesomeness of the whole event. A bunch of people with similar interests yet interesting differences meet up in a pub and are entertained by someone with something intelligent, insightful and always interesting to say.

Yes I’ve said “interesting” about a million times but it’s the middle of the night and I’m still euphoric so bugger off.

So we meet in the pub, talk about awesome stuff, lovely people choose to come along and record the whole event, others take photographs, most just enjoy (and contribute to) the atmosphere, and it means that at least once a month I go home grinning like an idiot. Usually after being pretty much forcibly removed from the pub at closing time, as we’re still nattering about something terribly important like what comedians are like in their downtime or how fast you’d need to run in a circle in order to time travel.

Seriously, I’m actually euphoric right now. I apologise to the people I’m currently having Twitter “conversations” with as I doubt I’m being terribly articulate.

Anyway, I think I’ll leave it there. But seriously, if you’re in the Portsmouth area and want a fantastic way to spend a Thursday night, then come along. You’ll have to wait til January though.

Sorry!

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Portsmouth SitP #3

Last night was the third meeting of Portsmouth Skeptics in the Pub, featuring a talk by Dr Tom Williamson on The Scientific Method.

Firstly, I would like to thank everyone who attended, there were approx 35 people, meaning that the venue was at pretty much maximum capacity, so apologies to those at the back who didn’t get a good view of Tom’s slideshow, or my GoldKeith monster- here it is again, for those who missed out on its grotesque countenance:

im in ur branes, trollin ur nightmares

So, to the good stuff:

Tom’s talk began with an overview of the basic scientific principles such as theories, laws, predictions and experiments. He described how the research cycle works, and how questions become refined using scientific processes, into hypotheses and then into data. The creationist argument that “Evolution is only a theory” was thoroughly debunked- as he explained that scientific theories have a solid basis in empirical data and observable facts. He emphasised the cyclic aspect of research, in that failure at any point does not mean that the idea is worthless, just that it needs further revision and research in order to continue- which is basically science!

This is why I, personally, love science. It’s ever-changing and dynamic, yet not fickle or ungrounded. Scientific theories are altered as new evidence emerges, rather than being set in stone, such as religion, for example. The Bible was written during a time when the writers had no idea of concepts such as DNA or chemical reactions; they documented what they saw, and came up with reasons for it, which were fine at the time, but it is absurd that millions of people regard such an ignorant piece of literature as their guidebook for life in a century where, due to healthcare improvements, you can expect to live beyond 80, instead of barely scraping to 40 and dying a long and agonising death.

A key point of the talk was about how individuals or organisations engage in scientific misconduct, such as research fraud. Some major cases which Tom outlined were those of: Hwang Woo-suk, who co-oerced his assistant into donating her eggs for research; Dr Steinschneider, whose fraudulent research methods nearly led to a Juanita Hoyt getting away with multiple infanticide; and the infamous case of Andrew Wakefield (no longer a doctor), and if you don’t know about his wrongdoings, there are many books and papers on the subject.

There was a brief break, whilst I visually assaulted those present with my terrible photoshopping as part of the (now traditional) PSitP quiz, during which, Dr Tom Williamson PhD demonstrated his top secret new product to four volunteers, gathering vital marketing data in the process. I won’t go into any more detail about this part of the evening, as I honestly believe you should see this demonstration for yourself if and when The Skeptic Canary comes to your local SitP, and if he’s not speaking at your local SitP, then book him ASAP!

The next Portsmouth SitP will be on the 12th of May, more details here, although the venue is likely to change, so please check the website nearer to the date!

Edit: Audio of the talk is available here, in case you’re unable to attend a talk by Dr Williamson in the near future. Thanks so much to Paul Jenkins for recording this, hopefully we’ll have a better recording setup for the next time- without football commentary in the background!

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