I was at TAM London 2010 last weekend.
Then I visited family for a bit, then I came home and continued being lazy. And now I’m finally getting back to writing things again.
So. How was it?
Brief summary: pretty fucking great.
More detail? Well, Martin Robbins’s live blogging is still up on the Guardian site, which describes many more wonderful moments than I’ll be able to cover in my own highlights, which read as follows:
- The Amateur Transplants were brilliant, doing the occasional ten- or fifteen-minute set mostly while other people were warming up. If you’re unfamiliar with their work, they do stuff like this.
- Richard Wiseman did another excellent job as compère, keeping things flowing in between the speakers and sporadic technical mis-haps, and providing a series of magic tricks and odd illusions that tend to be just slightly more clever than you think they’re going to be.
- I’d not seen Sue Blackmore in person before, or read much of her work, but I might have to now. She talked about her experience of taking drugs as a hippy student and spending much of the next decade looking for evidence of the paranormal phenomena she was convinced that she’d witnessed. She did experiment after experiment for years, trying to find proof of psychics, or life after death, or something. And even when being rigorously honest with herself, it took a long time before she could accept it as mere empty wishful thinking, and the frustration still stings today.
- To be honest, I didn’t think Dawkins was quite at his most lively. I don’t think I disagreed with a thing he said – the theme of his speech being that the study of evolution has all the horizon-broadening educational benefits often attributed to a study of the classics – and perhaps it would be asking a bit much that someone a few months shy of turning 70 should be anything like as energetic as, say, Cory Doctorow (who spoke immediately after Dawkins and was exactly as engaging and persuasive as he always has been in his online columns).
- James Randi was there in person this time, having been held up by his ongoing chemotherapy last year. I actually shook his hand, too. With this very hand here, that I’m using to type this sentence. Can you feel the awesome vibrational energy transferring across to you as you read it? No, of course you can’t, because that’s all bollocks. Randi could’ve told you that.
- I described Tim Minchin as my personal highlight of last year’s event, and I wasn’t alone in that at the time. His evening show was pretty spectacular this time around, too. He performed several new songs, though nothing quite as heartbreaking as his last set, but the star of the show was the Storm movie, the animated video to accompany his nine-minute beat poem and skeptical anthem. It still needs some final tweaks, apparently, but it’ll be up on YouTube sometime in the new year. My only teaser: Epic.
- That said, the video interview with Stephen Fry was one of a very short list of things which would actually have benefited from a little less Tim Minchin. I know you want to have a chat with the guy, but when it comes to Stephen Fry, any action you take that isn’t “let him talk for as long he wants to talk, about whatever he wants to talk about” is probably a bad move.
- I set off from home a little late on Sunday morning, and so wasn’t there right from the start. In fact, at the exact moment I entered the lecture hall, Marcus Chown was just saying “…so, you see, it’s really easy to build a time machine”. So now I’m the one skeptic who’s falling behind the rest of the class on time travel. Dammit.
- PZ Myers was great value, and mercilessly ripped into his nemesis, Phil Plait, by… generally agreeing with him and expressing respect and admiration for the guy while differing in opinion on certain points. It was brutal. I didn’t know quite how seriously to take his claim that he’d heard Tim Minchin perform the Pope Song the night before, realised that this was basically a more succinct and catchy version of the speech he was planning to give, and had to put together a whole new presentation overnight – but, if true, I’m willing to forgive him the Powerpoint walls of text.
- I’m slowly becoming more competent at the whole social aspect of meetings like this, which for many people is a crucial part of the whole thing. My “hands shaken with people I recognised off of the internet” count for the weekend stands at 3: the aforementioned Randi; Carmen, who I recognised when she was sorting out my pass; and Hywel, who has the dubious honour of being the first person ever to approach me and ask if I was “the Cubik’s Rube guy”. (I was!)
- Having said that, the tally of “people I realised I’d just walked past but didn’t quite had the nerve to interrupt whatever they were doing just to say hello” grew even more this year. They included Rebecca Watson, Simon Singh, Jane Goldman, Mil Millington and Margret, and Rhys Morgan, who’d just been given the Grassroots Skepticism award for his work fighting the spread of dangerous fake medicine in the bleachgate kerfuffle.
- Alan Moore. Yeah. Alan Moore. If you’ve seen him, you’ll know what I mean.
Not everyone was thrilled with how it went down, though. But now that I think of it, I’ll save that for another post, as this one’s getting pretty lengthy.
In short: I enjoyed myself at TAM London 2010 last weekend, I think the skeptical movement is going places, and I’m excited to be a part of it.