Dragon*Con: There and back again

Dragon*Con: There and back again

I’m home from Dragon*Con and I feel like I’ve popped out of the Rabbit Hole. The past 4 days were an amazing adventure. On one hand, I was in Atlanta in much the same way that I attend many conferences – I was a scientist with presentations to give and a booth to man. On the other hand, I was a podcaster with fans who wanted to meet me, which was really cool (and evidence is shown in the picture at left). And on yet another hand (clearly borrowed from someone else), I was a fanchick meeting cool people I never imagined I’d get to transform from professional acquaintences to new friends.

One of the surreal things about the field I’m in is it is occupied with folks that do really cool stuff that puts them in a special, “Wow, you inspire” category. In our modern society, this category is often reserved for actors and politicians (not that they always inspire), but sometimes others get to sneak in, like Steven Hawking. I think it is safe to say, for the science knowing among us, he is as well known (and far more well respected) than Tom Cruise.

I did not get to meet Tom Cruise or Steven Hawking this weekend.

I’m okay with that.

Left to Right: Pamela, Steve Novella, James RandiI did get to meet a series of celebraties who have earned their place in their fans hearts (mine included) through intellect and achievement. To me, these are the people to fan chick all over, and these are the people that make Dragon*Con so uber cool to me. Last year I had the oppurtunity through my work for IYA to meet a bunch of celebes. I was calm, cool, and IYA dedicated until I met the MythBusters and regressed into a 12-yearold girl as I thanked them for their work. This year I was frankly too busy to get to play at all in the room they store famous people in during business hours. That’s okay, the cool kids were all giving talks in the Science, Space, Podcasting, and Skeptics tracks (and the Mythbusters weren’t here anyway). These cool kids, are the folks who through their brains and creativity have made a name for themselves by trying to educate those around them in a variety of ways. The biggest name among these people is the Amazing James Randi (pictured at right with myself in the background and neuroscientist Steve Novella in the middle). Randi and I were both asked to be on the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, and I had the pleasure of sharing lunch with him on Monday (where is did some magic!!). While it is really cool that Randi can do things with playing cards that defy all my ability to explain, the reason I respect him is he has dedicated the past several years to fighting fake psychics (not that I believe there is another kind), debunking the paranormal, and challenging those who claim supernatural powers to prove it in a testable way. Through his Educational Foundation (which Phil is now president of), Randi has worked to effect positive change using a name he earned through his excellence with magic.

Randi was just one of many people there I had the pleasure to meet who are  intellectuals, critical thinkers, and effectors of change. Also on my list of people whom I can’t believe I got to know whom I already respected were: DJ Grothe of Point of Inquiry, George Hrab of Geologic Podcast (audio NOT not not safe for work), writer Michael Stackpole, the afore mentioned Skeptics Guide to the Universe crew who I’d only known as voices on skype, podiobooks Evo Terra, writer Scott Sigler, several SkepChicks (particularly ARealGirl was amazing to hang with), and finally a crew from the Skeptics Tank down under. I spent a lot of time trying to get explainations of slight of hand magic tricks out of DJ and Richard Saunders (of Skeptics Tank), talking about how to inspire critical thinking with all of the above, and just being human. That was perhaps the coolest part of all: As we relaxed into the night, I got to see people be real, laugh, and just demonstrate their personal sillinesses. George kicked into random fragments of song, and Richard folded the most amazing things our of any and all scraps of paper. In the background, Phil talked Death from the Skies and JREF, while Evo and his fantastic wife (whose name I’ll protect since I’m not sure she’s a public person) kept us laughing.

In our society, it is rare to think of the smart heros – the scientists, writers, neuroscientists, and other intellectuals – as silly fun people. I wonder how many people leave science and engineering because they lack role models who have public images that are fully human – both smart and fun and feeling. Through our blogs, podcasts, and public talks, perhaps each of us can work to give a more “every (wo)man” humanity to our the personality behind the information we struggle to teach.

As I played after hours, perhaps the two things that amazed me the most were the bits of magic and orgami I saw performed. Richard Saunders made the most amazing things. Attached is a picture of elephant ears he somehow made without using tweezers! (If you see him, see if he is selling them – he was at Dragon*Con)

This weekend wouldn’t have been possible without two really important people: Derek and Swoopy of Skepticality. These two people really don’t seem to have a selfish bone in either of their bodies. They have both worked tirerlessly to birth the podcasting movement, and their show is one of the longest running in science and medicine. While I’ve been podcasting as long as they have (literally – we launched Slacker within weeks of them launching Skepticality), they have been working their butts off to help podcasting of all genres in ways I respect deeply. All this work has gone on in the face of all sorts of chaos (read their about page). Derek and Swoopy have helped me many times over the years, and my hat is off to them and the exhausting amount of work they have done.

Swoopy has magical camera avoidance abilities, but I present in parting for the night a group picture with Derek in the lower left, with James Randi, myself, and Evan Bernstein. Thank you Derek. You made this happen for me, and help me find a new group of smart, diverse, creative people I hope to learn to call friends.

I am home. I teach tomorrow. The mundane world presses in as I look to my grants, my research, and my classes. The rabbit hole has been re-hidden by the weeds of life for another year.

13 Comments

  1. Jerry
    Sep 3, 2008

    Sounds like a great time. I wonder if you can get a grant for writing about vacations/adventures with cool smart people?

    jerry

  2. Robin Smith
    Sep 3, 2008

    I had the great fortune to sit in on three of your talks this year at Dragon*Con. I especially liked your Big Bang presentation. Totally cool.

  3. Lynn Gardner
    Sep 3, 2008

    We love you, Pamela! It was a thrill to meet you.

  4. Freiddie
    Sep 3, 2008

    *”acquaintences”
    *”where is did some magic!!”

    Ah, this sounds so exciting. When is the NEXT Dragon*Con!?

  5. Syed Moin Doja
    Sep 3, 2008

    thanks for the great article, boy i so wish i was there.
    regarding – ” I wonder how many people leave science and engineering because they lack role models who have public images that are fully human….” – me thinks you have really nailed a point there. science does seem to lack readily recognisible present day role models for the lay people(i am not talking about fanatics like us here, hehe). ask any kid to name 5 present day famous scientists and watch his eyes glaze over, ask him to name 5 actors and boy watch him go , ask him about 5 actresses …..lets just say we wouldnt make that mistake.

    5.35 a.m.
    Calcutta, India

  6. Buzz Ryan
    Sep 3, 2008

    One of the great things about Dragon Con is the Real world and the world of the fantastic collide.

    I can’t tell you how incredibly WONDERFUL it was to sit in your recording of the live podcast dressed as Han Solo and hear that there was another Space:1999 fan in the room!

    I heeded your call to let loose with the button commemorating the IYA 2009 and thrust them into the hands of my youngest upon my return home to distrubte among her schoolmates!

    It was also a great honor to talk to you at the table and get all fanboy. I love your work and I love the way you share it with an infectous passion.

    Thank you for everything you do to bring the skies above closer to our grasp in the same moment we are trying to step closer to them. I look forward to the following year!

    Oh… I happen to be the guy in that picture on the left.

  7. Jay
    Sep 8, 2008

    Hi Pamela,

    Thanks for the great panel at DC 2K8 :). Learned alot about astronomy that I had no clue about. The hypernova you spoke of really blew my mind. Really inspired me to try and get more involved in astronomy. Hunting for a good telescope and good sky now. Wished we had more people in our schools that shared your passion for astronomy.

    Thanks again, and happy hunting.

    Jay

  8. Beth
    Sep 8, 2008

    I loved listening to you during Dragon*Con. I finally found my pin with this site on it. (lots of junk to unpack)

    The panel with the four women was amazing! And the one (I can’t remeber the name of the panel, but you represented the Now Generation and the 2 older guys were on the other side. I learned so much during that panel and loved the top 10!

    Thanks you for coming to Dragon*Con and I hope to see you there next year!

    It was hilarious when you just finally told the guy “I HAVE A PHD! and that kind of shut him up for a while! Heehee

  9. miistry
    Sep 8, 2008

    Hello from the “insecure middle aged woman getting an engineering degree” in your Women in Space panel. I just wanted to share with you that because I followed your direction and took home lots of IYA 2009 materials I was appointed president of my school’s astronomy club! Just wanted to say thanks for the encouragement and the inspiration you and your fellow panelists shared with us.

  10. Skeptic Zone
    Sep 17, 2008

    Hello!

    Just reminding that it was in fact The TANK vodcast and now the Skeptic Zone vod/podcast that Richard Saunders, Dr Karen Stollznow and Kylie Sturgess are involved with – there never has been a ‘skeptics tank’ for quite some time? But certainly enjoyed being a part of Dragon*Con with such illustrious company!

    If people are interested, there’s a summary of our group on the Australian Skeptics site – and soon to be a page on the Skeptic Zone site:
    http://www.skepticzone.tv
    Looking forward to feedback – great to have met you Pamela!
    Kylie S.

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  13. Limerence
    Sep 20, 2017

    I followed your direction and took home lots of IYA 2009 materials I was appointed president of my school’s astronomy club! Just wanted to say thanks for the encouragement and the inspiration you and your fellow panelists shared with us.

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