Floyd Loves Janice: True Love Forever

John, Jenn, Fifi and Bob Cat, off on another adventure!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

TAM 6: Jenn's Journal Part 2

Wednesday June 18th 2008.
One of the greatest days of my life (maybe, in the grand scheme of La Vie En Jenn, this would be #5. My wedding day, number 1 obviously. And the day I got Fee is tied with the day we got Bob for #2. #3 would be the day I got word I'd passed my nursing boards. #4 would be the day I graduated with my BSN. This, this is number 5. And what a number 5 it is).
This morning John and I were scheduled to help assemble information packets for the Amazing Meeting from 8:30AM to 12:30PM, and then we would be treated to lunch by the JREFers. Our first step was to meet in one of the conference rooms in the Executive Center of the Flamingo. Once we got there, we met up with Scott, the unflappable yet rather stressed JREF volunteer coordinator. There were a few folks sitting at one of the tables. Somehow, I got separated from John, who, due to his stature and overall exhuberance of Solomon-like strength and studliness, got tapped to the committee of "dudes who were gonna help Jeff [Wagg, JREF General Manager and Grand Poobah of the JREF forums] haul stuff from the van to the workroom." I sat down at the table with a few of the folks, who all in all were good natured but not overly intrusive. Many of them were JREF forum members.Most of the questions centered around small talk- was this my first TAM, what did I do for a living, etc. I met Jacob, a social worker with child protective services in New York, and Kitty, an artist and mother of a former JREF intern. Dorothea was a graphic designer from Chicago. Carl was from England. Ed was a retired New York City policeman. It was Ed who uttered the best description of Las Vegas I've ever heard:
"Las Vegas is what happened when Disney World and Manhattan had a drunken one night stand and procreated." It was the first time in a while I was thoroughly enjoying the company of complete strangers. We traded sci-fi references as we folded and stuffed papers.
All of the sudden, group of people wandered by the doorway- an older gentleman with a younger guy who appeared college age and a few ladies. The older gentleman had a medium length white beard and glasses. He seemed familiar. It took a few seconds before I realized it was James Randi. I was so caught off guard that I gasped and I remember putting my hand over my mouth, then taking it away, waving slighly and saying, "Hi Mr. Randi!" I was sort of taken aback by how, well, tiny he seemed. (In the pictures we've taken with him, he appears to be a bit shorter than I am.) Many references to Yoda came to mind. He strode on in, and I remember shaking his hand and introducing myself. The rest of the old timers seemed really familiar with him, and he with them, especially Kitty. The younger guy who was with him was his current JREF intern, and his name was Shawn. At that time, the Stud Committee Who Helped Jeff Wagg Carry Heavy Shite From The Van had returned, my husband among them. A few people had formed an intently listening circle around Mr. Randi, which, as I observed numerous times this conference, can obscure him from people outside the huddle. I attempted to scramble over excitedly to John and to point out discreetly that James Randi was in the room. Mr Randi came over to John and I and shook John's hand. He chatted with people for a bit and, once all the heavy shite was brought from the van to the workroom, he scurried off and attended to what appeared to be the other fourteen thousand things that had to be done.
The rest of the afternoon we continued to socialize with a lot of nice people and through all the paperwork suffered at least ten papercuts between the two of us. Jay and Steve Novella from The Skeptics Guide To The Universe Podcast as well as Hal Bidlack, the master of ceremonies, wandered in and talked with everyone. The JREF treated us to lunch at the Flamingo's buffet. We nicknamed it Food Town, as it had every imaginable edible treat known to man. The dessert tables were at least fifty feet long. No matter who you sat with, the conversation was great. After lunch the second shift of volunteers was scheduled to relieve the morning shift. There appeared to still be a ton of work left to do, but no one was pressured into staying over. In fact, John and I offered, and Scott reported that there was plenty of help and that we could go.
We had about 8 hours or so to kill before we had to be at The Rio for our 9PM show of Penn and Teller. We went for a short swim in the Flamingo's massive pool then decided to get ready and get over to the Rio a bit early so we could get in line, and perhaps catch a glimpse of Penn and Teller before the show.
The only way to get to the Rio was to catch a shuttle bus from our neighboring casino- Bally's Paris. This Paris has absolutely gorgeous women in really really cute uniforms serving me free wine as I play at their slots under the shadow of the faux Tour Eiffel. The buses come every 15 to 30 minutes and will take you directly to the Rio. We got to the Rio with about an hour and a half to spare. We dined at the American BBQ cafe and had a coffee at the Starbucks right near the Penn and Teller theatre. The girl working behind the counter told us we had just missed seeing Penn. He stops there often with his kids. Pretty soon the gates opened and we could go into the show. While waiting we met some TAMmers in line.
Penn and Teller put on an awesome show. They did the cups and balls trick, they sliced a woman in half, Penn did some psychic trcks involving a joke book, and Teller showcased his slight of hand mastery. After each show they do a meet and greet in the lobby. We had a lot of stuff for them to sign, like 3 or 4 books and the scrapbook I made. They signed all of our books and posed for pictures with each of us. The picture of Penn and I together makes me smile each time I look at it. It's one of my favorites from the trip. John and I couldn't believe how cool they were. John wore his TAM volunteer T-shirt and Penn asked us questions about TAM and Mr. Randi, if he was there or not. We skipped back to our hotel and I felt so happy.

Thursday June 19th 2008.
Today most of the famous TAMmers have arrived. This morning I wore my pink t-shirt with a flying pig on the front and a quote from Dr. Harriet Hall on the back. I had written to her a few months prior asking permission to use the quote, and she responded back almost immediately and gave me the green light. It was so fun to see her this morning and show it off. Dr. Hall has written a book on her experiences called Women Aren't Supposed to Fly. She signed both my scrapbook and autographed my copy of her book, in which she thanked me for putting her on my T-shirt. She showed me off to a couple of people, including Jeff Wagg and Hal Bidlack, who also liked my T. Jeff also told me to try to scan my scrapbook once it's done and put it up online because TAMmers would get a kick out of it. We happened to also run into PZ Myers who had just arrived and checked in. We told him how much we liked his blog Pharyngula. He was really nice too. To receive such validation from the people I really respect left me beaming the rest of the day.
Sometime around 2:30PM Vegas time
Workshop with Banachek- Mastering Mnemonic Memory.
Banachek is a mentalist and magician who helped James Randi with the Project Alpha experiments. Project Alpha was looking at remote viewing, aka ESP, back in the 70's and 80's. Mr. Randi asked the scientists if he could be of any service, as at that time he was actively debunking pseudoscience and could help eliminate any fraud that could skew the results of the experiment. The experimenters blew him off. Mr. Randi then arranged to have two young teens "audition" to be test subjects in the experiment, and would basically cheat. One of those kids was a guy by the name of Steve Shaw. Steve Shaw later changed his name to Banachek after a character on TV "Banacek" because it was a unique sounding name that folks would remember. Banachek got to be involved in the Project Alpha experiments and with help from Mr. Randi, would use magic tricks to "beat" the experiments. Although it sounds sorta sleazy, everyone involved, including Banachek, reports that at no time were the two kids pressured into staying on and broke the news to the experimenters before any results could be published. The only thing harmed were a few egos and a arseload of taxpayer money spent, but it's still a sensitive subject for all involved, as the boys became friends with the experimenters and were torn between science and deception. Banachek has since made a career of skeptically exposing mentalism through workshops and videos. He is also an expert spoonbender. He consulted with Criss Angel on the Uri Geller stinkfest Phenomenon and on Angel's own show Mindfreak. This workshop basically was Banachek explaining how one can use mnemonic devices in such a way as to improve memory.
Memory as a whole is a weak human trait. In my opinion, mine sucks arse. If I don't write it down, it won't get done. The good thing is that my documentation skills are pretty solid, but Banachek had some really great techniques. He basically explained that memory works best via associating words or unique situations to the thing you are trying to remember. There are a number of ways to do this:
The Loci System is the technique of associating words with a place that is meaningful in order to successfully remember a list of items.
Acronyms like ROY G.BIV to remember the colors of the spectrum.
The linking system links one item to another in a chain. We split up into small groups and were given a list of items to remember. We made up a story with the items listed. Most of us can remember now what we learned on June 19th. (QUICK TAMmers- what came after the soap? Inside joke. :D)
Peg systems use visual and rhyming images
Some other good advice Banachek gave us:
1) We forget things for a number of reasons. Our mind wanders, we think about what we are going to say or do next. Or perhaps we are disinterested in what the person in front of us has to say. Banachek explained that this is human nature. He gave us a couple of good advice on how to start remembering names- first, simply just LISTEN, PAY ATTENTION, REPEAT and USE the person's name when you converse with them. It may seem a bit weird at first (at least with me) but I agree with Banachek- it's not a bad thing to go out of your way to learn a person's name. Also he said to create an association with that person- big blonde John for example. Pick some characteristic about that person that most likely will not change.
2) Absentmindedness occurs when your mind zones out when you are focused on performing a certain task. Some ways to relieve forgetfulness involve stress relief, thinking and focusing on the task at hand while you are doing it, live in the moment and don't panic if you can't find something- it most likely will make your memory worse, stress you out more and decrease the chances you'll find what you are looking for.
Although it seems like simple good advice, I realize how refreshing it was to hear it, and of course, meeting Banachek was cool. He willingly signed my scrapbook. He is a really nice person and very engaging. After the workshop we shopped at the merch tables- JREF, Skeptics Society and SGU were all out representing. I noticed the guy in front of us in line was Art Benjamin (thankfully everyone had nametags) Dr. Benjamin is a "mathmagician." He can do insanely difficult math problems in his head. He was really really nice and did a math problem for me in line while we were waiting to check out (took him about 5 minutes what would take me an hour).
Tonight is the big cocktail party.

Next post- The cocktail par-tay!


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