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Education, Liberty, Skepticism: For our minds, for our freedom, and for the future

The Amaz!ng Meeting 2 (TAM2) was held January 15-18, 2004, and it more than lived up to its name. There were just so many incredible things to see and do, most of which require video and can’t be told in photos. But here are some of the incredible people and things I got to see and do…trust me, this isn’t even scratching the surface.

First of all, the man himself, James Randi:

The man to the left of Randi in this picture is Master of Ceremonies Lt. Col. Hal Bidlack, a very funny man except when he’s trying to be (just kidding). Of Hal, I can only quote the words of the great Gaelic poet Anonymous: “Knock it off with the puns already!!!!”

This man is Jerry Andrus, a magician and visionary illusionist who brought many remarkable and head-turning things to the conference:

Unfortunately, most of his illusions require video to work. But my favorite can be easily shown with pictures. Here’s a picture of me standing next to two gigantic nuts (so some would say it’s a picture of three gigantic nuts). Do you notice anything unusual about them?

How about now?

Another great Andrus illusion is the Tri-Zonal Space Warper. He sets the spiral thing to spinning (which I've done here with an animated GIF— you might have to wait a bit for it to fully load and get spinning good), you stare at it for about 20-30 seconds, and then look at a painting, your best friend, or the nice benign face I have placed next to the Warper...

Here’s proof that Johnny Carson, although he wasn’t at the conference, is still a world-class great man:

I’ve been a fan of Phil Plait (aka The Bad Astronomer), author of Bad Astronomy, for years, and spoken to him on the Internet, the Randi Forum, and in the Friends of James Randi room in PalTalk, and I finally got to meet him in person. He’s just an all-around really cool guy.

Unfortunately, none of my pictures of Penn & Teller came out, but they were both fabulous guests. They did a few of their tricks at the conference, and then did a small question and answer session (yes, Teller actually spoke!), and then a bunch of us went to see their show at the Rio. If you get a chance, go! It’s more than worth the money. Penn himself ended up contributing at least $50,000 to the JREF. What a guy!

Here’s the lovely, talented, and funny Julia Sweeney. She surprised everyone with how delightful, warm, and down-to-earth she is, and her talk had us going from laughter to tears as she took us on her life’s journey. To talk to her for five seconds is to fall in love with her. According to Hal Bidlack, she got the highest ratings by far of any of the guest speakers. I don’t have to ask why.

I really felt bad at first for Dean (“Hey, you’re that guy”) Cameron, pictured here on the right, because he was scheduled right after Julia and we were all so delighted with her she was a tough one to follow. But when he and Victor Isaac (left) started reading Deano and Victor’s “The Great Nigerian Spam Scam Scam,” a true account of Dean’s emails stringing along a Nigerian spammer, that feeling I had quickly faded as they drew the biggest amount of laughter from the audience compared to any other guest. I haven’t laughed that hard in years! You can read the email exchange on his web site, but it’s nothing compared to seeing it read out live.

Lance Burton was also a pleasant surprise for me. I’ve seen him on television, of course, but the more intimate setting of this conference let me see how funny and down-to-earth he is. He entertained us with ways to confuse gamblers in casinos, and then wowed us all with his Houdini-inspired escape from a straightjacket:

There was just so much to see and do just walking around on the floor. Amateur magicians were everywhere, wowing people with card tricks. Others had some small demonstrations, many of which didn’t lend themselves to photographing. But this one did. This is simply two metal bearings welded together and then set to spinning at thousands of rpm. As you can see, the angular momentum actually causes one of the balls to rise up off of the mirror on which it is spinning, and the other ball provides the basis for the spin:

In this picture, you can see the small circles that surround the balls. This is the reflection of the room lights off of the balls, as they spin around and around while the camera shutter was open (which was about 1/800th of a second), whereas the flash caught them at just a single moment. This should give you an idea how fast these puppies were spinning:

There were so many other things to see and learn. Jamy Ian Swiss was constantly doing card tricks and discussing skeptical issues with whomever was around. There were science papers presented on subjects including the Second Law of Thermodynamics and How Science Works. Michael Shermer was there presenting his new book, The Science of Good and Evil, and autographing copies. Ian Rowland gave a talk on Cold Reading, Dr. Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education and Dr. Hervey Peoples both gave talks on science and the evolution/creation controversy, Peter Bowditch presented a debunking of James Van Praagh’s talking-to-the-dead schtick, Banachek wowed us with his amazing mental ability to guess which card a person had freely and mentally chosen (without any psychic ability at all), Dr. Ray Beiersdorfer presented a talk on crystals that was both funny and educational, there were panel discussions with many of the guests coming together and discussing issues, just so much to see. There’s no way one web page can tell you how amaz!ng the Amaz!ng Meeting truly was. I can’t wait ’til the next one!

Unless otherwise noted, all content 1996-2005 by Shane D. Killian - all rights reserved.