Comic Con Complete

Well, we’re back from the 2010 Comic-Con. It didn’t take long, since the convention was, quite literally, right around the corner.

And it was great! We had an impressive turnout for the Saturday panel; “The Science of Science Fiction,” which easily had significantly higher attendance than any of the other panels Saturday or Sunday. We only regret that there wasn’t more time!

We got off to a worrisome start – next year we’ll remember extension cords and get the projector and computer squared away long before the last minute.

But begin we did. Local writer and editor Tom Head started off after a mad-science introductory by Yours Truly. Tom drove home the point that any extraterrestrial life out there would be highly unlikely to look anything like us, and the only reason that such things haunted the Sci-Fi circuit was because, well – you need a guy in a suit, and you need that rubber-suited actor to have something that audiences can relate to. The character of a hive-minded insect might be fascinating, but it’s quite difficult to relate to.

Tom also presented me with a copy of this issue of Skeptic Magazine, as his collection of Carl Sagan interviews was the one featured on the cover. If we’d had more time, Tom could have gotten into the joys of working with so much Sagan material, but, alas, we had only a single hour – much to the dismay of the audience.

Even with the small amount of time, Tom got to expose those in attendance to the heady speculative work of real exobiology, and how it could sync up with the demands of fiction without losing an edge.

Since a full 3/5 of the panel seemed to be avid Star Trek fans, I felt a bit out of place with my own bit; a few minutes on The Ewok Apocalypse. While this was the first time in my life to ever have to A: Do a powerpoint presentation and B: talk about physics in front of a crowd, and C: Talk about the death of millions of Ewoks, reports from the crowd were favorable.

(I got to work this picture into my first powerpoint presentation. Thank you very much, internet.)

Then Millsaps College own Dr. Patrick Hopkins gave us a little information on teleportation. Even with his limited timeframe, he was able to quickly run down the ideas and misconceptions behind Star Trek style teleportation – even including the infamous “Heisenberg Compensator.” Though, of course, he was not able to really explain the device; even the series’ “inventor” of the device, Michael Okuda once said, when asked how the HC worked “very well, thank you.”

So I guess we couldn’t expect much more – but Hopkins did fill in the assembly on how the infamous “quantum teleportation” could have been more accurately called “replication,” but for the vagaries of science reporting and funding cycles.

This happens more than you'd think.

He then explained the problems and psychological unease most people would have with replication-teleportation – and right before the entire science enchillada wrapped itself around a sticky core of Star Trek, MSU physics instructor Josh Winter came in with a nice presentation on the malapropriation of science by 2012 Apocalypse Promotion.

(Also, SMBC has been known to explain the quantum replication-teleportation conundrum this way.)

Josh had an excellent presentation prepared – plenty of references to some silly science movies like 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, and The Core (the mere mention of which can still cause a room to chuckle and groan, apparently).

Josh reassured us that there was no reason for the Earth to explode on 2012, he laid out the mechanics behind the Equinox and Solstice, pointed out the ridiculous nature of “galactic alignments” by showing us that the sun is aligned between us and the galactic center every solstice, and should we be so unfortunate to have some shooting cosmic death-rays coming from the galactic center then, how lucky we’d be! The sun would be in the way! He also informed the unwary that we’re going to be safely within the galactic plane in 2012, so not to worry. The man was the exact opposite of reading Death From the Skies, is what I’m saying.

Josh gave us a brief rundown on the magnetic poles – how we know they migrate, and more – but before we could really settle into his entertaining lecture, the panel-mistress was giving us sterner and sterner looks.

We’ll have to get more time next year – or maybe host an event that’s not tied to the smooth operation of dozens of comic book shops.

Unfortunately, Scott Crawford didn’t get a chance to break out the really speculative science with the ideas behind a workable warp drive (available in the year 4000), but we can always hope for next year. The JSS members and the Comic-Con Crowd are a great match.

I’d like to thank the speakers in public (once again) and thank the JSS member who paid for their tickets.

The Sunday meeting wasn’t quite as exciting; nor well-attended, but we managed to amuse some people with our Science Quiz (10 questions, 11 points available) – perfect score could have gotten you the aforementioned issue of Skeptic Magazine, but one knowledgeable man by the name of Mark from Flowood won himself a one year subscription by getting 8 out of 11.

Just so you all know, the gram measures mass, not weight. More people got that one wrong than any other.

And we’re going to do a meeting this month – maybe not even one in a bar. We’ll see, soon enough.

Well that takes care of that!

I know I said I’d post about the inanity of Prince Charles.

But I’m a bit busy putting together the JSS panels for the 2010 Jackson Comic-Con, the Southern Fried Comic-Con.

And there is quite a lot to talk about there.

So let’s pull out something a bit easier, courtesy of Mississippi Atheists (and plenty of other members and friends!) – Louisiana has finally figured out a way to stop the gulf oil spill. With… prayer.

No, not oil-eating bacteria, not bio-engineered fungal threads, not booms and boats and an army of cleanup workers.

Prayer.

First off: Do they think that no one in Louisiana is praying about it?

Do they think that it will help? How about thanking the people actually out there cleaning things up and trying to save the Gulf?

I suppose if the oil well seals itself in the next few days, I will eat my words.

Content Check

Sylvia Browne, on the Montel Williams Show, (truly a great source of blogging material) has claimed a track record – in criminal cases – of nearly 90%. Ninety percent.

Not that anyone should take Sylvia Browne on her word. Just ask the good folks over at The CSI (no, not the TV show), who use the chucklingly low-tech method of checking up on Sylvia via Lexis-Nexis to discover that, in the 115 available readings, she was right exactly zero times.

Zero. Now, sure, some of the cases remained unsolved – but if Browne had given the police correct, indisputable, good evidence (as she is often paid for with Police Department budgets, or from the pocketbooks of distraught families), then – surely – someone would have been able to catch the perpetrators?

In every single case where the crime WAS solved, Browne was wrong.

I’d imagine that Browne’s success rate is pretty typical of the Psychics/Intuitives/Mediums who try and “help” beleaugered police departments. If you happen to be in law enforcement, and your department has taken help from the supernatural, please us here at the Jackson Skeptical Society know. We’d love to hear how it all happened.

Have you ever wondered why people stick to superstitions? In the case of positive superstitions (i.e; what you need to succeed at a task, rather than what you need to avoid bad luck – that would be a negative superstition) – it seems to make people more confident, driven, and effective if they think they’ve got luck on their side. I’m always a bit wary of using psychological test results in the uncontrolled and chaotic domain that is real life, but Ben Goldacre points out the mechanism and results of the study here, and it’s quite interesting to watch this self-fulfilling prophecy in action.

What I’d like to see, however, is if negative superstitions can cripple otherwise competent performances, if those people who believe themselves to be down on their luck and in bad cosmic karma are underperforming.

Ah well. Until next time, when I’ll discuss the rather silly beliefs of Prince Charles. Until then, you’ll have to be content with Christopher Hitchens and a rather amusing rundown of the man who will be king, and his recent comments on Galileo and Gaia.

Jackson Comic-Con 2010

Hello, long-ignored readers. I’m sorry for ignoring you all for so long. Really, I am.

Anyway, on to business!

The Jackson Mississippi Southern Fried Comic Con of 2010 is right around the corner. This years’ event is oh-so-worthy of attention from all you locals for a few reasons:

1: It’s geek city. I know we’re not all into that sort of thing, but judging from some of the Skeptics in the Pub conversations, we’ll fit right in. Or maybe you just like gawking at people in Stormtrooper outfits. I fit into both categories.
2: last year was a lot of fun. This year seems like it’s going to follow in that trajectory.
3: The Jackson Skeptical Society has a panel discussion! Yes, we do!

One whole hour (and maybe more!) – the overarcing topic: The Science of Science Fiction. Presenting Yours Truly, discussing the inevitable Ewok Apocalypse from the end of Return of the Jedi.

If this happens in the sky above you, it is a bad thing.

Dr. Patrick Hopkins of Millsaps College discussing Star Trek style teleportation.

This is how we are arriving for that part of the talk.

Physics Instructor Josh Winter from Mississippi State University will discuss 2012 and the Hijacking of Science by Psuedoscience.

Not pictured: Reality.

Local author/blogger and editor Tom Head will be presenting the realities and unrealities of extraterrestrial life.

Hint: They won't look like this.

And Scott Crawford, Science Officer of the local Star Trek group, the USS Haise, will regale us with findings about the potential for the future of warp speed, and what it would require.

HINT

HINT

The individual talks won’t take toooo long, I know mine will only be a few minutes (in which you’ll hopefully get to see a picture of an Ewok on fire, but – no promises) and I’m expecting us to be done with our talking in about an hour.

Then, the fun part begins! You’ll get to ask questions, point out what you think we got wrong, and belittle us for not understanding the difference between hypermatter and duracrete in the Death Star.

The Comic Con has a Facebook Page, and a small website.

The brief on when and where:

Cabot Lodge Millsaps.

When: Ten AM to six PM. June 26th and 27th

Our panel will be in the afternoon, I’ll know exactly what time soon enough!

Preach to the Choir?

“You’re only preaching to the converted.”

That’s a “meh” argument I hear all the time – and I’m sure you do too. I never thought it was particularly valid – for reasons that were, at best, nebulous. Here, however, I find them given beautiful form:

Rainbows. That’s Why.

I was wondering why magazines full of superstition sell better than, say, the Skeptical Inquirer. It’s got to be the rainbows.

Woo-masters get the ability to shoot deep brain rainbow lasers

Oil on the Water

The Incoming Gusher

The Incoming Gusher

I’m sure you’ve all heard about this by now, but if you’re interested in volunteering to go clean things up or help in some manner; here’s a few places you can get some information:

Oil Spill Volunteers shows you how to sign up for volunteer clean-up training, as well.
Cleaning off oily birds is a bit cliched, but necessary.
The City of Biloxi is trying to organize a response.
And they need volunteers.

Thanks to Mississippi Atheists for the heads up on volunteering processes.

More to come, of course.