Dragon*Con: Day 2

The PodSci panel just finished, and now Phil Plait is giving a talk based on his new book “Death from the Skies” (coming in October – it rocks, I read an pre-print). The room is utterly packed – people are lining the rows and James Randi is sitting in the front row taking it all in. If humans could be described using thermodynamics, I’d say this is a degenerate gas of people. This talk is being given in the Skeptics track (because Phil is a Skeptic) but it is really astronomy, and I love the fact that there are enough people here interested in learning science that two talks can be given at one time, both on Astronomy. There is a small child with her dad behind me, and she is now utterly terrified of comets and her dad is trying to calm her down. Poor dear. I’ll have to warn Phil to put a “Not suitable for young audiance” warning on his show. The content is clean. It is true. It is not for cute little blond little girls who don’t understand a comet hitting the Earth is a very unlikely event.

Prior to starting my day of talking and listening (and blogging) I got to do some people watching. One of the cool things about this conference is watching the mixing of cultures. One of the more fascinating things to watch is the mixing of hotel staff, people attending the hotel for other reasons, and the con people. Since today is my Astronomy Cast presentation day, I dressed in my Con attending best and confused a security guard. Standing in line for coffee, I was wearing my cutest high heels, a short black and white dress with black tights, and I was holding my suit jacket. He looked be up and down and asked me who I was dressed up to be. I smiled, and said “A scientist. I’m an astrophysicist.” He blinked a few times. I said, “No really, I’m an astronomer, I’m here to give talks.” He blinked some more, informed me he didn’t know scientists came in my shape, and complimented my legs. I’ll take it πŸ˜‰ One of the things I love doing is dispelling the myth that female scientists look like male scientists and none of them are ever well dressed people. Dispelling myths is fun. While I prefer to debunk misconceptions of science, I also enjoy debunking the occational “Scientists are…” misconception too.

And you know, if a pair of high heels can help me do both while getting people talking about astronomy and think about astronomers in a new way, well, I’m okay with sore feet.

Phil has now moved from discussing death from comets and asteroids to death from Black Holes. I’ve heard him give talks on Black Holes several times before, and he has perfected his patter. Black Holes are one of the misunderstood objects in the universe and he has done a lot to help people understand how these dense dead stars are actually built and how they can kill you (quick quote: “I have a talk on 7 ways a Black Hole can kill you. It used to be 10 ways a Black Hole can kill, but then there were budget cuts.”)

I’m purposely not going into details on his talk. GO BUY HIS BOOK. It’s fun to read.

One of the neat things about these cons is the way people play with language. There are a lot of people who feel comfortable with themselves in this venue, are smart, are funny, and are looking to amuse. Last night someone stood up to ask me a question about my talk on the evidence of the Big Bang and said, “Long to Big Bang believer, first time questioner.”

One of my concerns about all the different sessions going on is that it gives us the opportunity to preach to the choir. Skeptics attend talks on critial thinking. People attending talks astronomy, are interested in astronomy. This is where I think the Astronomy Booth in the fan area is important. Tucked into a well trafficed corner by the stairs and the Dragon*Con schwag store, thousands of people are walking past every day, and these people may or may not be part of the choir, and here we can inflict astronomy on the not necassarily interested.

(Phil has moved onto death by gamma ray bursts, and the little girl just asked “Daddy, are we safe?”)

Next year I will be at Dragon*Con, and I’ve gotten lots of ideas of things I want to do. I want to find astronomers to talk about designing alien planets in the writer’s tracks. I want to do a talk on the educational impact of podcasting in he podcasting track. I want to embed the International Year of Astronomy everywhere (Galileo costumes in the costume track??) There are lots of great ideas in my head. I need more people astronomers here with me. Are you an astronomer can you help?

Phil’s talk is finishing, and I need food. I’ll see if someone can get us a picture.

Life is good. More later…

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8 Comments

  1. Freiddie August 30, 2008 at 2:14 pm #

    Aw, so exciting. I wish I was there!

  2. Syed Moin Doja August 30, 2008 at 6:00 pm #

    talking about pictures….i think we will all agree a pic in that great dress of yours will be …ahem ..very highly appreciated by us all…(not that you need to debunk any misconception about “Scientists areΓ’β‚¬Ε‘Γƒβ€žΓ‚ΒΆ” with us).hehe.

    yeah thats just me being obnoxiuos, ignore me please.

    ps – thanks for your great blogs, noticed that the frequency of postings has increased lately. thanks.

  3. Jay August 30, 2008 at 7:54 pm #

    I was the guy sitting next to you in Phil’s lecture and I have to agree that it was extremely entertaining. I will definitely be picking up his book on day one.

  4. Jeff August 30, 2008 at 8:17 pm #

    >I had two glasses of wine both last night and the night before
    >while dehydrated and without enough dinner, and while I know
    >better, I preceeded to try and blog. Thank you for your
    >patiance on my bad blogging. I will endeavor to be a better
    >roll model for the rest of the con.

    Why cause you mentioned high heels or something that showed a different side of you than Astronomer/Teachers/IYA Promoter. I enjoyed it… more please. πŸ™‚

  5. Mark August 30, 2008 at 10:22 pm #

    Enjoyed the Astronomy Cast live panel today. I actually have never even listened to Astronomy Cast before. Glad my friend recommended it.
    ~Mark

  6. Rob Knop August 31, 2008 at 11:08 am #

    I hope to go to Dragon Con one of these years. I even have a bunch of local Geek friends who go, and whom I could carpool with. This year, I’m not there because I’m playing my viola at a friend’s wedding today (Sunday). Maybe next year… and I’d certainly be interested in getting involved as an astronomer from a presentation point of view. I’ve given a lot of public talks in the past, and have received a lot of good feedback on it. (Indeed, this coming Friday I’ll be giving a public talk in Second Life, which I’ll be doing from the hotel where I’m staying for SLCC.)

  7. Nicole September 1, 2008 at 12:17 am #

    That all sounds so fabulous!

    “One of the things I love doing is dispelling the myth that female scientists look like male scientists and none of them are ever well dressed people.”

    I don’t know. Have you ever looked around at a AAS conference? Lots and LOTS of poorly dressed men.

    Here’s to changing the average dress of astronomy, one pair of high heels at a time! πŸ™‚

  8. Richard Drumm The Astronomy Bum September 1, 2008 at 9:01 pm #

    Pamela:
    I think George Hrab had a song ’bout all that: “Brains, Body, Both!”
    Looks like he had you in mind! πŸ˜€
    OK, I shaddup now…

    Nicole:
    I’m looking forward to your talk at CAS Wednesday night! “Search for the Epoch of Reionization: The Return to Low Frequency Radio Astronomy”!!! This is gonna be so great! LOFAR is a fascinating piece of low-tech genius. I’m really looking forward to hearing about it all! Radio telescope arrays are teh hawt!
    Rich

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