Friday, June 27, 2008

TAM6 - Day 1

Since registration for the event did not open until around noon, I decided to wander over to Caesar's Palace. Mistake! It was then that I found out that my miles(?) of walking the day before had wreaked some havoc on a variety of motion-related body parts (damage which is just now starting to abate, 8 days later). Caesar's got a lot bigger since the last time I was there (17 years ago) - apparently they added a whole new tower and a new "wing" to the shopping hallways. I remember thinking how cool it was the first time I saw it. Now it was just "oh, that's nice." I guess tastes change.

Around 11:30 I headed towards registration to find that it was already up and running full steam. I checked in and got a surprise - I remember thinking that the Banachek and Mathemagic workshops might be interesting when I registered, but I did not sign up for them because there was additional costs involved. However, I had tickets for each show in my registration packet. Bonus! (Or my subconscious checked off the items during registration - some day I'll check the bill.)

So at 2:30, I sat down to Banachek's 2-hour workshop with a couple hundred other folks. This was a very interesting workshop on how to aid your memory using a variety of techniques. During it, we memorized the a "grocery" list of items (by memory: chicken, melon, scrubbing pads, shredded wheat, milk, baked beans, shampoo, tangerine, hamburger meat, car polish, evening newspaper, bread, Earl Gray tea bags, soap, eggs) through word linking. He also talked about a variety of other memorization methods such as acronyms, peg system, and the phonetic alphabet. All in all, very enlightening and worth every dollar (if I actually spent any).

After Banachek, I headed to my room to get ready for the reception, which lasted from 6pm until... I dunno when (I left for another show). At the very nice reception, I finally met up with a facebook friend (who lives about 20 miles from me - had to travel 2000 miles to meet him!) and we wandered around together for a bit. I got to meet up with Phil Plait, PZ Meyers, George Hrab and some of the SGU folks. A women picked a fine time to pass out and immediately had 9 MDs (including a neurologist), 2 nurses and a few EMTs at her side - probably better service than she would have received at a hospital!

Next, at 9pm I headed off to Art Benjamin's Mathemagic workshop. This was an intriguing show where Dr. Benjamin stunned us all by calculating squares of 2-digit, 3-digit, 4-digit and even (43779^2=1,916,600,841) attendees with calculators (geeks!) could perform. The 4- and 5-digit responses were somewhat slowed, but still dead-on accurate. He explained the trick to doing those as well as creating magic boxes (4x4 grids where the numbers add up the same horizontally, vertically, diagonally and a variety of other ways). I was impressed enough to pick up a copy of his book the next day.

After Mathemagic, I spent an hour or so finally eating dinner and doing some brief socializing in the main bar of the Flamingo before collapsing in bed.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

In which I go to Las Vegas

Some time over the past year, I was made aware of the existence of The Amaz!ng Meeting. This is an annual* meeting, called TAM for short, of skeptics and freethinkers which takes place in Las Vegas. This year's meeting, TAM6, was held at the Flamingo Hotel & Casino on the main strip (right across from Caesar's Palace) from June 19th-June 22nd. With gracious spousal approval, I joined the fun this year.

Since I am still playing with my new camara and Lightroom, I will not bore anyone with a vast panorama of amateur, unprocessed photos. I'll just pop up a couple here and there for the highlights.

TAM6 started on Thursday, but I showed up a day early so I could get in some touristy stuff. I checked into the Flamingo and discovered an ugly little advertising gimmick of theirs. They state that their "Flamingo GO" rooms have a wireless internet connection (something not mentioned in other room descriptions), so I went with that slightly more expensive room option. Well, it is true that wireless (and wired) internet is available. However, it is not FREE internet (and the wireless is available throughout the building, so unclear why some rooms do not have that description). Alas, I am too cheap to pay $13/day for internet access so these are back-dated posts.

I found something very ironic about a conference on skepticism and, to a minor extent, atheism being held in a hotel which has no 13th floor (out of 27 floors) and a bible in every room.

After settling in to my room (and whining unsuccessfully at the management about the not-so-free Internet), I took a very, very long walking tour of "nearby" casinos (nothing is truly nearby in Las Vegas). Over the next 4 hours, I stopped by the Mirage, Caesar's Palace, Paris, Planet Hollywood, MGM Grand and New York New York casinos, as well as a couple less-famous names.

All the casinos are pretty much huge beasts of floor space. The MGM is massive, though. Over the next 4 days, I had the experience of becoming disorientated and needing a few minutes to figure out which way I was going (lack of windows and generally bad signage contributes). In the MGM Grand, however, I actually got lost. The size of that space is just amazing (and, generally, boring). It probably took me 25 minutes or more to find my way back out to the street. My general goal was to ride the roller coaster at NYNY, but by the time I got there, I was way too tired to enjoy it, especially knowing what a long walk I had to get back to my room. Instead, I ate a very good burger while sitting at the bar in NYNY's America restaurant, snapped some more pictures and hiked back to the Flamingo.

I never did get around to riding any roller coasters.

* It is actually somewhat more than annual - there was a TAM5.5 this past January and there may be a TAM-UK1 sometime in the upcoming year separate from the already-scheduled TAM7 in Vegas.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Video Game Halftime

I am a sucker for marching bands, drum corps, halftime shows and the like. If the D.C. area had a decent drum corps (hell, if it had ANY drum corps) within reasonable driving distance, I would possibly still be in one. My summer with the Reading Buccaneers was awesome, but that is way too far to drive every summer weekend. I am also, as anyone who knows me is well aware, an avid video gamer, much as I would like to stop.

So the below halftime show for Cal vs. Washington State in 2007 was pretty much ideal for me. I only regret that a video has not surfaced taken from center field from the "correct" side of the field. Picture your TV set upside down... and enjoy!

Bonus points if you can identify every video game shown.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Late to the game...

...but I have finally jumped onto the (now parked) bandwagon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans. More accurately, with the fans of the Buffy TV series (1997-2003).

I have always been a fan of the Buffy movie, which apparently puts me outs with most hardcore fans. It was super cheesy, intentionally so, and I loved it. Then along comes the TV series and I avoided it with the honest expectation that it would royally suck, as most conversions from the big screen to the couch potato screen do. Even though Mike & Kat kept telling us we were missing an awesome series, we still did not pick it up.

Finally, a couple months ago, I happened to stumble across a Buffy listing on (after viewing Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy videos). I watched the opening shows for season one and was totally hooked. After devouring the two seasons available on hulu, I not-so-subtlely got M&K to loan me the next five seasons on DVD. I continued my nearly continual viewing of it through season 5, then slowed down because school ended and video gaming began. I finally finished watching the last two seasons yesterday.


I heartily recommend the series to anyone who has not seen it (which may just have included me!). If you have not seen it and may in the future, stop reading now - some spoilers below as I randomly spout off some thoughts.

I didn't like the first or second principals - I'm not sure they were even meant to be liked. The final principal was pretty cool. I disliked that they kept killing off every teacher or other authority figure who was even remotely cool.

The end of Season 2 still stands as my favorite episode. If the whole series had stopped there, I would have been perfectly satisfied. This is not to say that the series went downhill after S02 - but that was a great ending and as good a place as ever to finish things.

"Hush" rocked.

The various incarnations of Willow ("Bored now!") were all cool. Lesbo Willow was a downer to start, but mostly because I thought Oz was awesome and did not want to see him go. Tara turned out a pretty decent character.

"Once More, With Feeling" in S06 was extraordinarily funny. I wish there was more musical talent present (Anthony Stewart Head - great! Tara okay. Everyone else should not sing in public.), but it was still very entertaining.

I hated the robot episodes - the Hellmouth concept permitted magic, demons, vampires, etc. The robots were only technology and undetectably-human-like robots broke the suspension of disbelief.

The sudden end of Anointed Boy Colin (by Spike) was a bit confusing. They worked so hard to build him up, then destroyed him before he actually really did anything. Maybe the writers couldn't figure out where they were going with him.

The "Halloween" episode was cool.

Faith was okay. Riley not bad. The College years should have gone on longer (but I guess maybe they wanted to move her back to the high school?).

Xander was great (better once he stopped being a total goofball). Giles was always entertaining and well-done. Dawn was cute (and less annoying over time). Anya was... Anya.

Buffy/Sarah Michelle Gellar was awesome, of course.

I could go on, but that's probably enough fanboy stuff for one night.