I always have intentions of blogging everyday, but every year I forget how unbelievably difficult it is to find internet access or a decent signal on my aircard. The system is so overloaded with the influx of 20,000 cyclists and their electronica – we get text messages from one another the next day.
The drive up was uneventful, considering the bus, the passengers, and the mission. We met 5 team members in 3 places near Davenport. So we were finally assembled as a team of 16 and headed across the state to Glenwood, the starting town.
The first morning is always so exciting — we’re like racehorses waiting for the gates to open. Everyone is in clean, new Team Fly jerseys, our bikes are cleaned and tuned and we get up at sunrise ready to roll.
The weather forecast has been for mid to high 80’s, which sounds lovely until you factor in the heat index (which, by the way friends, Rush Limbaugh says is a left wing conspiracy). We’ve had such high humidity a couple of days have been ridiculously uncomfortable. It has finally (on day 6) leveled off a bit, but it’s still toasty.
I know this blog is heavy on the pics and light on the words, but I’ll go back and fill in. Hopefully the pics tell a lot of the story. I’ll try to have more pictures on my Facebook page and on the Team Fly Facebook page.
For now, I’ll end this blog at about the halfway point of the ride and do a followup post when I can get internet again.
We are having a blast, as we always do on this magnificent bike ride. We are enjoying each other and all of our new friends in spite of the atrocious heat.
Ragbrai is such a part of our family’s vocabulary I can’t remember ever not knowing it. This bike ride across Iowa has been rolling every year since 1973; our family’s first year to do it was 1990.
Ben was 5 and already on his 2 wheeler. Sam was 3 and on training wheels. The girls were 16 months old. We were living in Minnesota at the time, and Iowa was just a hop-skip south. My dad had done Ragbrai and urged us on so off we went.
It was a train wreck to say the least. Jesse was on his bike with Sam and Ben in a little cart behind him, trailering Ben’s baby bike. Every few miles, Jesse would get Ben out of the cart, let him ride a mile or two, put him back in the cart with Sam, and they’d go on again. I had the two girls in the cart behind me, with their toys and sippee cups and pillows.
It was hot and crowded and we couldn’t get enough. The rest, as they say, is history. Our family calls this week the Best Week of the Year. We may not get all the kids together at Christmas, but we can always count on Ragbrai.
This year, as it has been the last few years, Ben and girlfriend Kirsten will drive from Colorado and meet us in the End Town (Davenport this year) on the Eastern edge of the state, where they will get in the bus with us and drive across to the Western edge (Glenwood).
We will pack the bus and leave from Murfreesboro at 6:00 on Wednesday. It’s about 18 hours (by Team Fly bus) to Davenport, then another several hours across. We’ll be in place Saturday evening for our team kickoff meeting and Sunday am start! Tradition has the group of 20,000 riders dipping their wheels in the Missouri River Sunday morning, then after the 500 or so miles across the state, 7 days later dipping them in the Mississippi.
These are all old pictures. I’ll do my best to blog across the state, but internet is just too overwhelmed, even with my aircard.
If ever in your daydreaming you think about doing something crazy and impulsive and out of the ordinary….Ragbrai is your ride. Always the last full week in July, always 7 days, always west to east. You don’t have to ride every mile – that’s what the bus is for.
These have truly been 4 of the most interesting days I have ever experienced.
Amy and I are on a plane headed east, home, away from Sin City and the conference known as TAM. This year’s theme was Tam 9 from Outer Space, and when I get home, I intend to watch the movie Plan 9 from Outer Space, since there were a great many references made to it during the 4 days of the meeting.
TAM stands for The Amazing Meeting, and it is put on annually by the James Randi Educational Foundation. Here’s James Randi:
He is a magician and illusionist who has spend his lifetime exposing scams, hoaxes, and supernatural phenomena. His foundation is a non-profit whose mission is to: “promote critical thinking by reaching out to the public and media with reliable information about paranormal and supernatural ideas so widespread in our society today.” This annual meeting is a gathering of scientists, and experts in their fields, who seek to replace bad science, misinformation, incorrect conventional wisdom, and public misperception. This foundation has had a standing offer for years of $1,000,000 to anyone who can offer any proof of ANY supernatural event or ability, including any religion, magician, mind-reader, or psychic. It hasn’t yet been won.
A discussion of the weekend is not complete without first explaining the word Skepticism. I’m sure we all know what the definition of the word is. We say we are skeptical of something when we mean that we doubt or are uncertain or not convinced. We may say we are skeptical of another’s conclusion. Skepticism on the part of those individuals who refer to themselves as Skeptics, is an attitude, or an approach to life. It is a method used to ascertain the validity of certain arguments. It is a relentless process applied to every aspect of our lives, using the scientific method of hypothesis and disproof to reach conclusions. It involves critical thinking, tools of science, evidence, and an investigative spirit.
There are times when we are presented with information that a certain product or treatment or procedure will work this or that wonder. Skepticism is what keeps our money in our pockets and out of the hands of the folks making these claims. Skepticism is what keeps us healthy. Skepticism allows us to see the world as it really is, not as we wish it was, so that we can more effectively deal with our limits and our abilities.
The conference was a mix, as are most conventions like this, of workshops, socializing, whole group gatherings, and did I mention socializing?
I don’t know the most effective manner of presenting on this blog exactly what TAM was. In my mind it’s all a spastic jumble of wonderful speakers, engaging debate, delightful new friendships, and stimulating challenges. The meeting began on a Thursday morning, and ended on a Sunday night, and Amy and I attempted to attend every single moment of content that we could.
This is a link to a friend’s blog who “live-blogged” the event. He did a fabulous job of trying to catch the highlights of each speaker (with a little help from a couple of fellow bloggers). I won’t begin to try to describe everything, but his site is worth a visit to get a real flavor of the sequence of the meeting.
Instead, I’ll highlight in more random fashion what Amy and I were most affected by, beginning with the opportunity to see and hear 2 of my favorite scientist (3 by Amy’s count): Richard Dawkins, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Bill Nye (yes, the Science Guy). They, of course, were the big dogs at this event. The room of 1600 attendees was riveted each time one of these gentlemen was on the stage.
Richard Dawkins was the keynote speaker on Saturday night, and what a joy to hear him speak. He has been called strident and militant, but I have never heard a more soothing, gentle, patient voice speak with awe about the wonder of science. He previewed for us his upcoming book for children: The Magic of Reality. In it he discusses different kinds of magic – the fairy tale version, intentionally created in stories and legend, the illusionary magic of tricks, and the poetic magic of reality, which is all the more wonderful because it is real and can be understood. The book addressed civilization’s stories of creation, earthquakes, floods, and then gives a scientific explanation of how those things actually happened. The illustrator is Dave McKean and his work is gorgeous.
There were book signings by all the speakers, and of course Amy and I both got our books signed by Dawkins – my picture is a little shabby, but here it is.
I can add that in a workshop on Thursday, Amy and I were contentedly listening to a panel of scientists talk about defending evolution in school when I glanced around and there, behind me, was the man himself. I was so shocked I had a weird emotional moment – I couldn’t catch my breath and even started to cry (all subtle – I am a southern girl) – I couldn’t even tell Amy what was happening for a moment or two. When I recovered, I got out my phone and had Amy take this shot:
In delightful opposition to Dawkins’ sophisticated and eloquent persona, was Dr. Neil Tyson’s warm, humorous, engaging presentation. Dr. Tyson is an astrophysicist with the Hayden Planetarium, and both gave the keynote on Friday, and participated in a panel discussion about space exploration.
Tyson is cooler than cool. He made astronomy sexy and interesting and accessible. There are scads of clips of him on Youtube doing different presentations and lectures – here’s one of my favorite:
Then there was Amy’s favorite: Bill Nye. She grew up watching him do science experiments on public television, and he’s one of her heroes. He wore his recognizable bow tie and looks exactly like he has for all the years we’re seen him on TV. He was captivating, and spoke of “being a speck, on a speck, in a speck, in a universe of specklessness”. Because there was a theme of Outer Space, almost everyone’s lecture referred to the magificence and magnitude of the galaxies in the universe.
There were several other folks I had looked forward to hearing, and they all surpassed my expectations. Carol Tavris, who wrote “Mistakes Were Made, But Not By Me” was the most gracious and articulate speaker I’ve ever heard. Dr Eugenie Scott, an anthropologist, Dr Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist, and Dr. Harriet Hall, a former flight surgeon and pilot in the USAF were among my favorites. I also enjoyed, but had heard before, Dr. PZ Myers, probably the most popular science blogger on the internet.
You know how when you attend a convention sometimes you’ll hit a sinker in the middle of a lecture or workshop? That never happened. Every panel, every speaker, every workshop, every presentation was as interesting as the one before it:
Defending Evolution in the Classroom and beyond
Recurring Themes in Medical Mythology
How to Effectively Create a Campaign of Grassroots Skepticism
Our Future in Space
Ethics of Paranormal Investigations
Now for a little about the socializing…
It IS Vegas.
Penn Jillette’s Rock and Roll Bacon and Donut Party. Yes. A whole multiverse of win. Jillette offered this party to the TAM attendees in honor of James Randi. There really was bacon. 1200 Krispy Kreme Donuts. And Rock and Roll, with Jillette’s No God Band. Amy and I had the best time dancing and drinking and rocking with our new friends at TAM.
(pics are on Amy’s camera – more to come)
Skeptics in the Hot Tub. An informal event that took place every night in the hot tub. Each day’s speakers and topics were discussed further, with sometimes animated dissent, until the casino finally kicked us out at closing time.
The Del Mar Bar. Kind of a philosopher’s hangout. We were told that the casino loses money on skeptics because we don’t gamble (because we understand statistics), so we tried our very best to make up for that here. This was where the party went after the hot tub closed.
This post has gone on far too long….unlike TAM which ended too soon. We had such a great experience, and Amy and I fully expect to attend again next year, and bring more of the fam along when we do! We came away humbled, with new knowledge and information, new friendships, and a drive to see the world, its inhabitants, and all that may be beyond what we already know, in all of its beauty, as it really is.
The fun thing to do is to write about everything that’s happening here!
Amy and I have scooted out of town for a quick few days to Las Vegas to the 9th gathering of the Amazing Meeting. What a perfect adjective!
TAM is an annual celebration of science, skepticism, and critical thinking (right off the website). It is our first time to attend, so I’ll be adding our perceptions and experiences as they happen.
Today is mostly workshops. The run 2-at-a-time all day, so Amy and I are going to split up, then text like maniacs to decide which one go to! Our first two this morning are Defending Evolution in the Classroom (me) and Examining UFO’s and How to Make Your Own Without photoshop (Amy). That’s followed by Investigating Monster Mysteries (Amy) and Recurring Themes in Medical Mythology (me).
It’s my hope to blog tonight about all of today’s events, but we also have tickets to the 12:10 showing of Deathly Hallows, so I don’t even know if I’ll be conscious by then!
The conference is being held at the South Point Casino, and we’re staying on the 22nd floor – we have a view of the pool which we intend to critically investigate later today. On the casino floor is that very Vegas dingdingdingding that you hear for days even after you’ve left. We don’t think we’re going to gamble – maybe penny slots – but we like to watch other people lose money.
So I’ve written before about how all of my heroes are academics: guess whose oxygen I will be breathing at this meeting? If atheism had a deity, it would be Richard Dawkins, and he’s here! I’ve got all of his books but one, but I didn’t see that one in the exhibit hall; Amy and I both brought our copy of God Delusion for autographs. Go ahead, call us fangirls, we know who we are.
But there are two more speakers I’m as excited to hear as Dawkins. One is the founder of TAM and the James Randi Education Foundation: James Randi.
And finally, here, in Vegas for me to meet and see and listen to: Neil DeGrasse Tyson!!!!!!!
He’s an astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planterium, and he’s one of the best speakers I’ve ever heard (youtube him). He’s funny and engaging and so so smart. He’s played himself on Big Bang Theory, and he’s been on Daily Show and Colbert a few times. He’s speaking on the timely topic of Our Future in Space.
Amy’s geeked about seeing Bill Nye, the Science Guy. He’s on a couple of panels and is doing a presentation too.
I’m going to wait to write about the party at Penn Jillette’s house. Just really don’t know what to expect with that, but can’t wait to go!
I know, not much review, but we just got here last night! We hung in the bar a bit with some friends I had met in Des Moines. We called it an early night because of the time change and tonight’s late date with the movie theatre inside this hotel!