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 😉 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…