I have had to cut short this series of posts because it was taking up too much of my time to write them, and seriously, you all know that I have more important things to be working on…. So here is the conclusion of our USA trip, as quickly and efficiently as I can present it! (Part 1 and Part 2)
The Amazing Meeting 2013
We arrived at South Point Hotel and Casino on the Wednesday afternoon (10th of July). I had my workshop first thing in the morning, so didn’t have a late night.
The workshop went well enough – I’m still not as confident and outgoing as I would like to be. I want to be much smoother, and much funnier. I’ll have to work on both. Tim Farley and Susan Gerbic took sections of the workshop too. Tim was clearly the expert presenter – making everything look like it was just another day in the office for him. While Susan brought the enthusiasm and confidence that I wish I more naturally had. They both did fantastic jobs, and then it was all over. Now I had no commitments until Sunday morning.
The rest of the conference went as you would mostly expect. My highlights were hanging out with Susan Blackmore several times over the weekend after finding out that she saw my workshop; including my several references to memetics. Talking to Michael Mann over dinner was also great.
My Sunday morning papers talk went really well. I had 15 minutes, and I had the whole thing much more tightly organised than the workshop, as should be the case.
That evening I had a meeting with the RDFRS team, and we organised how we were going to proceed with developing software to integrate rbutr in to their website. We are making it so anyone will be able to use it, however, we need someone to work with to get things going, and they volunteered to do it on their site. This was very exciting and positive news.
The final night also saw the Million Dollar Challenge attempt, which was a remote viewing claim. The person trying for the million dollars failed the first test completely, unable to identify any of the 3 items in the room. One of those items was a stuffed elephant. That elephant ended up in my possession at the end of the night, and thus the ideas for S’nuffin the Skeptical Elephant tumblr blog were born…
Las Vegas to Berkeley
After TAM finished, we drove from the conference hall to the Hoover Dam, then back towards California. We visited Kings Canyon, slept under the stars in the desert, stopped at a natural hot spring, visited Sequoia National Park, and finally spent two nights in Yosemite National park. We saw crazy large Sequoia trees, the magestic beauty of Half Dome, and the tiny specks through the telescope pointed at the cliff face of El Capitan which were meant to be rock climbers. It was going to take them four days to climb it.
We arrived in Oakland and checked in to a cheap motel on Friday the 19th of July, ready for the 33rd International Conference on Critical Thinking to begin the next day.
San Francisco et al
Before the conference though, I was able to meet with Dan Whaley for an afternoon drink. Dan is the founder of Hypothes.is, the number one app which people have directed me to as something similar to what we are trying to do. It is however, amazingly different. It was great to finally meet face to face after several Skype conversations, and good to get to know Hypothes.is a bit better.
Saturday morning has me registering at the Conference for Critical Thinking. It was mostly for teachers and head teachers to learn how to teach critical thinking better – so I found myself mostly uninterested in the talks, other than from a general curiosity point of view. I did however have lunch with one of the organisers of the event, and we talked about how rbutr could be useful in the education of critical thinking. One relationship at a time we will get rbutr in to the educational realm….
Sunday we had a road trip up to Muir Woods, where all of the giant Redwood trees are. They were tall. I guess. But after Sequoias, redwoods just aren’t as impressive. Even if they are technically taller.
Monday had me back at the conference where a special reception dinner took place for selected participants. I had a short conversation with Elizabeth Loftus before talking with a number of teachers about rbutr – all of whom loved the idea and were immediately taken by how useful rbutr could be to them for helping them to teach critical thinking to their students. The night was incredibly positive all round.
We left from the conference and headed straight down to Palo Alto to Jay Diamond’s house, who had very kindly offered to put us all up for a few nights. ‘Us all’ at this point was actually 4 people for the first night – my friend who was driving us, and another friend who had joined up with us in SF, who we had just met at TAM the previous week. And of course my girlfriend. So Jay was amazing putting us up in his house. And then proceeded to exceed that generosity by playing tour guide and providing entertainment and food for us all.
I can’t emphasise it strongly enough just how amazingly well we were taken care of on this trip. I hope I can return the favours several fold to these people and others one day myself.
We visited Stanford University, Tesla Motors, Facebook, Google, and of course down town Palo Alto. I also prepared a new talk which I presented at Jay’s meetup Reason4Reason to a very receptive audience who asked some great questions afterwards. Vanessa and I also spent a day visiting San Francisco itself, where we met up with a friend from Startup Chile who now lives in the city. He is building his startup Padlet, which looks awesome. You should check it out and just play with it for 30 seconds to see how it works (it is really intuitive as soon as you have a go).
New York and The Daily Show
And finally, to finish off the trip, we caught a plane from San Francisco over to JFK New York, and stayed in a motel in down town New York City, just around the corner from where they film The Daily Show. We had tickets to get in line to get tickets on Wednesday the 31st of July. Yep, that is how it works. You go online months in advance to get tickets to let you get in line to try your luck at getting tickets, which then, as the show is about to start filming, allows you to get in line and hopefully get in before the seats all fill up.
I was shocked at how much more ‘work’ being in the studio audience was. It was clear that your job there was to laugh. Of course I find the show funny, so it isn’t like I was being told to laugh at something I didn’t want to, but clearly the studio audience is there to provide the laugh track for the TV program – so we had to laugh out laugh. No inner dialogue “That was funny…”s. So not only did I find myself focusing on trying to be a good audience member and laughing at the right times, but I also noticed that I missed many of the jokes because I couldn’t hear them as well as you can at home – there are all these people around me laughing really loud!
So in short, if you want to enjoy a show like The Daily Show or Colbert report, don’t go to the studio audience – watch it at home. That said though – yeah of course I would go back and do it again. You don’t go there to be entertained! You go there to be there!
Aside from the Daily Show, we took a hop on hop of bus tour around the city. We caught the Ferry across to Statton Island and got photos of the Statue of Liberty. And on our final day we tried to go in to the Hayden Planetarium in the Natural History Museum, but due to it being a rainy day, so did every one else in the city. The line was an hour long at least, and by the time we got to the front, the next available time slot was after we had to leave to catch our flight out. So we had to miss that all together.
There will have to be a next time…