01 December 2010

TAM Sydney Diary

Warning : link and photo heavy post! Ready to come on a trip with me?

The Amazing Meeting certainly lived up to its monicker! It really was amazing, and a fitting first TAM for Australia. (What is TAM? This explains it all.)

I travelled up by the 6:45 am train on Thursday ... what a great way to get places. I love the train.
A cryptic crossword, sock on the needles and a Peter Robinson audio book Dry Bones that Dream on my iPod (thanks to LittleNeedles!). Perfect.

On Thursday I wandered about the Powerhouse Museum for several hours til my feet complained, and then checked in to my hotel (Ibis Hotel, World Square) ... nice room ...

.. crap view!
In the afternoon I visited Kinokuniya, the wonderful Japanese bookshop in The Galeries Victoria. While I was there I noticed that they had a single copy of Word Searches for Dummies ... well, why not, I thought? They might like it signed? So I took it to the Information Desk - where I espied Anh Do doing exactly the same thing, signing a pile of his new book! So we had a great little chat, and a few fist bumps. So that was all pretty exciting. I was relatively restrained with my purchases, mainly bought gifts for the family, and the Sock Yarn One-Skein Wonders book for myself.

I had dinner sitting at a 'shared table' (ie without knowing the others on the table) at the dumpling restaurant Din Tai Fung. The food was good, basically yum cha. A bit weird ordering without having prices listed against the menu, but it worked out. The lychee and green tea slushy ice drink was a highlight. Noisy, very busy, popular venue.

On Friday I had the morning free, so walked up to Morris & Sons, my first 'in person' shopping experience there! What a great shop! I looked for angora without success, but did stock up on some KnitPro accessories, extra tips (trying the acrylic ones) and cables.

And at lunchtime it was time to register for TAM, and get started!

We all got Placebo Bands in our conference bags! Richard Saunders showed us the tricks that are used to make the Power Balance bracelets appear to work ... honestly, don't waste your money. You can get your own Placebo Bands here, they are only $2, and any profits go to non-religious charities.

The conference was held at the Sydney Masonic Centre, around the corner from my hotel (yeah, that was on purpose). The building was impressive, and very comfortable. Most sessions were held in the Grand Lodge, which held just over 600 people ...

... including pirates ...

Over the 3 days we heard many and varied speakers, all of them interesting. This is Brian Dunning of the Skeptoid podcast holding forth ...

Friday night was a "TAM Fringe" event - my good mate Sally came along to this, was great to see her, and excellent that she could get along to this, despite missing out on a ticket to TAM. This was at Maloney's Hotel, thankfully just across the road from my hotel. The food was fine, but the surroundings were terribly loud, sigh. I really don't cope well with noisy surroundings any more. A weird "Canberra moment" - the young American woman sitting next to me turned out to live less than 1km from me, in the same suburb! We'll be catching up some time soon.

I think that one of the best parts of TAM was being able to meet my heroes, and make new friends ... this is me with talented musician and podcaster George Hrab of the Geologic Podcast (amongst many other things), who is just the nicest and coolest guy ever. He'll be in Canberra at Skeptics in the Pub (Sun 5 Dec 1-4 pm King O'Malley's Pub in Civic) next weekend if you're around and interested in meeting him! (Still hating what mega-doses of prednisolone are doing to my body and face. Sigh.)

Other authors / skeptics I met included Brian Dunning, Rebecca Watson, Evan Bernstein, the Novella gang (ie the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe team), Dr Rob Morrison (yes, that Rob Morrison, from The Curiosity Show), Kylie Sturgess, Richard Saunders, my favourite science writer and general hero, Simon Singh, and The Amazing James Randi himself ... I collected autographs in the back pages of Carl Sagan's classic book, The Demon-Haunted World (Admission : using the book for autographs was Andrew's idea, not mine, I just knew a good bandwagon when I saw one!).

Simon asked me to take photos when he met James Randi, and email them to him :)

Rebecca Watson was all exited to meet a puzzle writer, and asked if I'd like to write a regular puzzle for the Skepchick site - shit yeah! And Kylie Sturgess was interested in the Mahikari literature and stories I had to lend her, so maybe this will lead to a bit more heat on that particular deceptive group ... So stay tuned - exciting things are happening :D

Dr Paul Willis from ABC's science show Catalyst was our excellent and hilarious MC for the whole event. The lectures and workshops ranged over a wide range of topics, from science-based medicine and education to science journalism, elbology, skeptical activism, astronomy, live podcast recordings, and so much more. The effervescent Dr Karl spoke (actually, I think "enthused" is more appropriate for Dr Karl), as did Dick Smith - I hadn't realised that he was one of the founders of the Australian Skeptics 30 years ago. Julian Morrow from The Chaser was there too, on several panels.

Saturday night was the conference dinner, held on board a massive catamaran. The food was OK - just a buffet - and it was a bit too crowded and noisy for my taste, but still fun to have attended.
The crowd attending TAM was a good one - roughly 1/3 were women, and there were a lot of young people, some kids, and plenty of uni students. A change from the early TAMs, which Randi said were completely older white guys, The students from the Freethought University Alliance were there in force, and I was interviewed for the Young Australian Skeptics podcast ("vox pop" section). There were also many retirees, and a wide range of nationalities. The mood was overwhelmingly positive, and there was plenty of laughter, silliness, and good humour in all the talks and in general.

The best - and quietest - meal of the weekend was at the Korean restaurant Dae Jang Kum, on Sunday night with Chrys from the Gold Coast and Steve from Melbourne ... OMG, go there if you get the chance. The Spicy Squid and Pork Belly was perfect - just the right amount of chilli and extremely nommable. You know it's good when most of the other patrons are Korean ...

On Monday, despite being utterly exhausted (there's only so much one can handle with chronic illness after all) I bussed over to the NSW Art Gallery - something I've wanted to do for decades, and have never managed yet. So that was enjoyable, I'm glad I made the effort.
I then had several hours to kill in central Sydney, and really didn't want to spend more money or hurt my feet any more than necessary. In the end I plopped down in a café with my knitting (a sock for hubby) for a couple of hours ...

Then it was just a matter of collecting my luggage from the hotel and walking to the train station ... there's my train! Another enjoyable, quiet, and uneventful trip home, getting in around 10.30 pm.

This book says it all for me - being involved in a faith healing cult for 14 years was what eventually led me to this skeptical path in 2000 ...


  1. Hey, you should have said sooner,
    my daughter was a volunteer for several of the optional dinners, and attended all three days for other sessions, she even got a hug from Randi.
    glad you had fun.
    best wishes,

  2. Oh goodness! Pity I didn't know! I had mentioned it a fair bit on Facebook ...

    Randi is pretty amazing, isn't he, 82 and still going strong.

  3. They are just talking to Simon Singh on the ABC radio as I am typing this!! Sounds like a pretty fabulous time was had!!!

  4. Which show was he on, 2paw? Is it available online to listen again?

  5. We like Simon Singh :)

    Faith healing cult!!! OMG!!!! YOU????

  6. Yup, I was in a Japanese cult, for far far too long ... the Mahikari group mentioned earlier in the post. Took a nervous breakdown to get out ... it's immunised me against religion and 'woo' for life!

  7. I've never heard of TAM but now am off to follow those links and learn some more. It looks like it was a thought provoking and fun weekend.

  8. Sometime it's worth running down the body to charge up the mind! Sounds like a - well - an Amazing Meeting! And now you can recuperate while you process.

  9. That's pretty awesome. I've been away from blogging for a bit so this was sure interesting to see on your blog my first time back. Way different! It's good to have those kind of experiences ... glad to see and hear you did it. I don't know anyone else who has!

  10. Thank you for an entertaining commentary on your weekend, and for the nifty appropriate photos. Good on you for pushing yourself physically to get to the Gallery - I know how hard that can be when you're tired and your feet hurt. (I'm wondering if I'll cope as well if we go to Europe next year!)
    Talk to you soon.

  11. Brilliant pictures! :) I didn't take enough this year. And yes, very interested in your case and please get in touch with Warren of Embiggen Books. :)

  12. Wow! This sounds so cool - your photos are great! I got so inspired I ordered 3 Placebo Bands! You have the funnest adventures! Wish I could be there to share them with you.


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