The Amaz!ng Meeting 2003

Electric Monk - The Journey Home

Now it was time to leave the meeting. I walked quickly to the room where the hotel was storing the luggage of attendees that would be leaving that day. To my annoyance, the door was unlocked, and no one was tending the room. With no time to check, I just had to hope that everything was still there.

On the way to the lobby, I passed and waved goodbye to the Bad Astronomer, and headed for the 3pm shuttle to the airport. Joining me at the last minute was another skeptic, Petra Dorris of Oxnard, CA. On the way to the airport, we discussed the meeting and the Columbia disaster. She mentioned that the loss of Columbia still felt unreal to her. I suggested that it might be that we were all a long way from home, isolated during the conference from the familiar things around us and insulated from the rest of the world. It would probably hit us when we returned to our usual surroundings.

After checking my luggage at the curb, I headed for the gate. At the security check, I ran into Tanja Sterrmann, who I remember seeing at the conference, but did not immediately place as the Skeptic Society's office manager traveling with Michael Shermer. She was carrying a backpack with some small stuffed animals peeking out of it, presumably as gifts for family when she returned home. I went straight through the checkpoint with no special difficulty, but Tanja was singled out for wanding.

As I was restoring my metallic items to their usual places, a security guard asked me about my t-shirt. I was wearing the Amaz!ng Meeting shirt, so I explained to him about what went on. He knew of Randi, and was interested that a conference had been occurring. I told him about the JREF website, and then let him get back to work.

I reached the gate with about 20 minutes to go before boarding. While I was standing around, Michael Shermer appeared. I still had not remembered that Tanja was with him, so I was a little surprised. I smiled and told him that he was only confirming my hypothesis that he was everywhere. I didn't want to bother him too much in his down time between talks, since I know he has a busy schedule, but the three of us did chat casually about the meeting. I said that I had really looked forward to and enjoyed his talk on secular morality, and that I was looking forward to his book. We both also enjoyed Phil Plait's presence at the conference.

Michael Shermer
Michael Shermer is Everywhere!

Soon enough it was time to board the flight. A flight attendant asked if the meeting on my shirt was really amazing, and I reassured her that it was. Tanja and Dr. Shermer sat several rows ahead of me, probably fortunate for the sake of their rest, because I would likely not be able to resist talking to him for most of the way back. I did not resist taking one last candid picture of them on the plane. Shermer may be used to ducking paparazzi, though, because he managed to hide his face behind Tanja in the picture.

Anyway, I settled in to the flight at my window seat once again. This time, most of the flight would be at night, and instead of 35,000' geology, I would be reveling in Inverted Astronomy. The city lights look like galaxies in the blackness, each grouping different, and some quite spectacular. Big towns, small towns, industial areas, residential areas forming animal shapes and starbursts. Out over the desert areas of New Mexico and Arizona, there would be occasional solitary lights. Perhaps one was Art Bell's trailer.

When we were somewhere over east Texas, I said goodbye to Columbia, so recently soaring proudly overhead, now scattered and lost forever among the stars below.

In the baggage claim area at LAX, I met up with Dr. Shermer and Tanja again. Shermer showed me a quick magic trick while we waited. My guess as to how it worked was said by him to be too complicated, so I thought about it for a while longer. He mentioned to me that he had received a phone call earlier from someone associated with Dr. Stephen Wolfram, (who had just been touting his 2002 magnum opus A New Kind of Science the day before at Caltech), inviting Shermer to come meet with Dr. Wolfram that evening.

After we parted at the airport, I headed to pick up my car at the parking garage and drive home. Halfway there, once my brain had relaxed about the subject, I figured out Shermer's magic trick. It was a great way to end the conference, (and it would let me sleep that night).

On February 9th, I attended the Skeptic Society lecture in Pasadena and at the traditional dinner at Burger Continental afterward I asked Dr. Shermer how the meeting with Dr. Wolfram went. He told me that Wolfram was interested in knowing, now that he had published his book, how long should he expect to wait before the scientific paradigm would shift! (I picture Wolfram peering at his watch, impatiently hoping that it would be before dessert.) Much to Wolfram's dismay, Shemer anwered that it would probably be 50 to 100 years.

I have not read Dr. Wolfram's book, or heard him speak, but from what I hear, he has put together a facinating way of looking at the universe without a shred of hard evidence, without consulting scientific colleagues in the relevant specialties for their insight, and without acknowledging the work of others who preceded him in many of his observations and speculations.


I had a wonderful time on this trip, and everyone there seemed to be enjoying the conference as well. I think that the side trips really added to the conference, and would encourage anyone who goes to future conferences to take the group outings that surround them. For me, these made the conference more enjoyable, and gave me a chance to meet a lot of the people of the JREF forum.

This conference will be a hard act to follow for next year. It had everything, the comedy of Hal Bidlack and Phil Plait, the tragedy of Columbia, the courage of Dan Garvin, the wonders of the night sky, the insight of Michael Shermer, and the incomparable presence of The Amazing Randi! Everybody involved did an absolutely superb job, and I thank you all.

I do not know where any of you will be next year, but I know that I'll be trying my best to make it to the Amaz!ng Meeting II.

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