Tim Farley’s #DragonCon 2014 Schedule

DragonCon logoThe US Labor Day holiday is next weekend, which means it is time for DragonCon!

Once again I will be attending and speaking on several panels on both the Skeptrack and the Electronic Frontiers tracks – all in the Hilton hotel. Prior to the main festivities, a satellite event (pun intended) that I’m also involved with is the Atlanta Star Party.

And of course I will be out and about with the other skeptics who are attending. Please be sure to come up and say hello! I promise I don’t bite.

DragonCon itself is gigantic and you’ll want to check the entire schedule for other cool things to see. Fortunately there’s an app for that. I highly recommend you log in there and start marking things you want to see. In addition to the mobile-ready web version at that link, there are apps for the major smartphones that you can download via a button on that page. In addition, the Skeptrack has its own page on Lanyrd here (with its own smartphone app and other features).

Coming up next week I’ll post my annual WiFi and Internet guide for the event. But for now, below is my schedule for DragonCon weekend.

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The value of answering your own questions at Stack Exchange

Stack Skeptic logoThere’s much to learn when you are interested in skepticism. There’s the human psychology, the history of various scams and hoaxes, the science (and pseudoscience) of alternative medicine, and much more. As a result there’s plenty of material to read – books, magazines, newsletters, blogs and so on.

In my reading, I inevitably come across lots of interesting little tidbits here and there. Finding stuff like this was the basis in part for both What’s the Harm and my Skeptic History daily fact.

But sometimes you find a neat fact that you’d love to call to everyone’s attention, but you don’t have the appropriate place to put it. Social media is often too ephemeral, and blogging is not everyone’s cup of tea.

Let’s assume you don’t have a popular website of your own (most people don’t) and don’t want to start one. Some topics just aren’t appropriate for their own Wikipedia (or even RationalWiki) article. Either there just isn’t enough meat there, or other editors might question the “notability”.

Wouldn’t be nice if there was another place to publicly bookmark little items like this, set up so the general public could easily find them? There is such a place and let me explain why it’s ideal for this.

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“Right to be Forgotten” may affect skeptic outreach

"Forget-me-not and Blue sky" by Heike Löchel licensed under Creative Commons

“Forget-me-not and Blue sky” by Heike Löchel licensed under Creative Commons

Because skeptics constantly criticize the claims of others, we often provoke angry reactions. Ideally this provokes some educational debate, but sometimes it goes sour. That can take the form of trolling, harassment or even escalate to legal action. In the United States the legal option tends not to be too successful, thanks to our First Amendment rights. But that doesn’t apply outside the US.

Some opponents of skeptics seek out more creative ways to shut down our commentary. A few years ago a German named Claus Fritsche was paid by homeopathy manufacturers to create spam websites that would poison the search engine results for Edzard Ernst’s name, in an effort to discredit his critiques of alternative medicine. Numerous skeptics have been targets of spurious DMCA claims on YouTube over the years.

Recently the European courts have created a brand new way for the people we criticize to tamper with (at least in Europe) our ability to reach an audience. It is called the “right to be forgotten” and skeptic webmasters need to stay on top of their tools in order not to get blindsided by this.

Read on and I’ll explain.

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Simple WHOIS check unravels Mike Adams’ latest threats

Partial screen shot from the ill-fated Monsanto Collaborators website

Partial screen shot from the ill-fated Monsanto Collaborators website touted by Mike Adams

I know I haven’t been keeping up with the blog here. As you can tell from the top menu bar and my social media feeds, I have a number of different projects and sometimes it’s hard to balance them all. Plus I have some cool new super-secret projects in the works that are taking up my time. And I do have a day job too!  But fear not, I have several posts that I’m working on for this blog and activity will pick up soon, especially as we ramp up into DragonCon at the end of this month.

But for today I just wanted to offer some kudos to another blog where an investigation appeared last week that would not have been out of place right here on Skeptools. Nick Price, posting at the newly-launched blog This Week in Pseudoscience looked into a controversial post by Mike Adams (the so-called “Health Ranger” who many skeptics call the “Health Danger”).

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Online resources for The Amazing Meeting #TAM2014

JREF14_tam_logoFour weeks from right now, the annual Amazing Meeting will be in full swing. This year is the 16th such event put on by the James Randi Educational Foundation, and it is being held in Las Vegas from July 10th to 13th.

Long time readers of this blog are probably expecting one or more posts from me about now with various tips and advice about attending the show, using the wireless at the hotel and so on.

However this year is a bit different. My position as a JREF Fellow ended this past February. I’ve decided (for various reasons) not to attend TAM this year – the first time since I first attended in 2007.  As a result, I don’t have a ton of new information to share with you about attending, as I haven’t been preparing a trip myself.

That’s the bad news. The good news is TAM is being held in the same hotel and in virtually identical format that it has has for several years. This means that almost all of the great tips from past years from myself and others still apply.

With that in mind, here’s a set of links that will get you to the posts that will help you out the most.

  • Last year I collected TAM Tips from Twitter on Storify – they include travel and entertainment advice about the show itself, Vegas in general and more. Most contain links to other useful content, and come from several long-time attendees including myself.
  • A critical tip from that list is to visit the Amazing Meeting section of the JREF Forum, where you can meet other attendees, arrange room sharing or ride sharing, side trips and so on.
  • If you plan to post on the Internet while at the show be sure to read my post from last year about my conference gadget kit and familiarize yourself with the wireless situation at TAM via my 2012 post.  One update since then – WiFi in your room at SouthPoint Hotel, Casino & Spa is now bundled into the room fees, there’s no longer an optional daily charge.
  • Smartphone users should install the Lanyrd app then find the TAM2014 page and mark yourself as attending. Once the schedule is up, you should be able to track events, find your favorite speakers in the schedule and so on.
  • The late Eric Broze (who lived in Las Vegas) wrote this great guide to TAM last year containing lots of great local information.
  • I also recommend you visit the TAM category of Kitty Mervine’s blog Yankee Skeptic, where you will find many interesting posts.

That’s all I have for you. I hope everyone has fun at this year’s TAM, and maybe I’ll see some of you at Dragon*Con Skeptrack later this summer!

Two cases of “truther” nonsense undone by photo/video tech expertise

Photographer by Nicolás García, licensed CC-BY-SA-2.5

Photographer by Nicolás García, licensed CC-BY-SA-2.5

I noticed an interesting parallel between two cases involving different flavors of “truthers” in the last two weeks. Both involved observers applying some knowledge of digital photography technology to undo the nonsense being perpetrated by conspiracy theorists.  One involved a classic debunk of a claim involving video footage, the other involved some good old fashioned detective work set in motion by a clue in a digital photo file.

Both cases remind us that skeptics need to be aware of the ins and outs of technologies used (and misused) by those who would feed the misinformation to the general public. Awareness of these technologies can quickly lead to skeptical wins.

Read on for more…

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Mixing curation and crowdsourcing in skeptic event planning

Neil Degrasse Tyson at TAM9

Neil deGrasse Tyson at TAM9 by Jamie Bernstein, licensed CC BY-SA 3.0

As the annual schedule of skeptic and freethought events continues to expand, there’s more variation and experimentation going on. Specifically, some skeptic conferences are mixing old and new techniques in creating their schedule of events. They’re combining old-school curation with newer crowdsourcing techniques.

Traditional skeptic conferences – those run by CFI, JREF and so on – have been heavily curated affairs. The sponsoring organization and planning committee have complete control over all content presented, which is sometimes planned up to a year in advance. One slight exception are the Sunday Papers at The Amazing Meeting, which has an open submission process with an approval committee.

In 2007 my friend Reed Esau broke the mold by bringing the “unconference” model (from the world of high-tech) to skeptic events, and Skepticamp was born. These events solicit all their presentations from attendees, and only lightly curate the content (if at all). This idea was borrowed from the high tech world where the constant need for new knowledge and skills transfer did not fit well with the curated model. (The high-tech prototype for Skepticamp was called Barcamp). Reed’s idea has been very successful – there have been 84 events held since the first one in 2007, and they’ve been held all over the world.

Now in 2014, several skeptic/secular events are starting to experiment in other ways. Find how after the jump.

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