Skeptical Rock Stars in SoCal

Posted in skepticism on November 15, 2010 by gdjsky01

I learned a few weeks ago, DJ Grothe is living in the vicinity. I hope I can get to meet him and the rest of the LA skeptical scene now that I am moving to LA County. Wonder if there will be skeptics in the pub events?

I always enjoyed DJ’s Point of Inquiry podcasts, even if I did not always agree (so much for Preaching to the Choir). And “For Good Reason” was off to a grand start when it abruptly ended. But now it looks like it is on the return path (probably due to a move).

I never got to meet up with Brian Dunning even thought he lives (like I) in Orange Country California. Just never made it to Newport Beach. I regret that as I’d have loved to have met¬†Richard Saunders of the SkepticZone when he was visiting Brian and the OC. Hope I can do better moving in to the the new digs in LA County.

Then there is Michael Shermer whom I’ve never met, even though I have worked for the past 6 years at eHarmony in Pasadena and therefore close to Cal Tech and his lecture series. He’s about as close to a skeptical hero as they come for me, ok, Steven Novella and Michael are a tie. Just never quite made it there… I even get Skeptic Magazine (though it took SIX months to straighten out the subscription. ūüôā )

One excuse I have is I never drove during the week. I took public transit from Orange Country to Pasadena every work day. So I was bound by the train schedules. But now those days are ending ūüė¶ ¬†So the good news is I can drive to skeptical venues and perhaps participate. I get invites from the Center for Inquiry all the time. Now maybe I’ll take them up on it.

Now I am probably a run-of-the-mill skeptic. ūüėČ Though I’d like to think I can be motivated to action. So it would be nice to get together with others and tip a few and maybe see where I could fit in. Maybe someplace on the westside?

Cheers.

Why Worry About Preaching to the Choir?

Posted in skepticism with tags on November 7, 2010 by gdjsky01

I just came in from listening to a Skeptic Zone podcast where by there was aCan't believe it... discussion if The Amazing Meeting (TAM) and the conferences like TAM are nothing more than Preaching to the Choir. Well duh! It was only a matter of time until I expected this kind of talk. As a group becomes more socially accepted, a larger community forms, and as that community gains more¬†notoriety, it will continue to question itself more and more.¬†Questioning¬†is always good for any¬†community¬†and is¬†essential¬†for skeptics. But the questions need to address productive issues. Not “make me feel good” issues.

It’s not “Preaching to the Choir” that prompted this entry. No. This post is in response to some in the blogosphere that are now wringing their hands worrying skeptics are being exclusionary and elitist holding such conferences at hotels and resorts… So now we can to the heart of the matter. Preaching to the Choir is just a ruse.

When this “are we being elitist?” tripe comes along it appears to driven by some misplaced social liberalism notion. This notion goes something like this:

“If we as skeptics (or any group) are having ‘fun’ getting together at some swanky hotel, then it follows we are denying some wholly made up¬†disenfranchised¬†group its right to take part.”

It is just the old 1000’s of year old¬†haves and have nots refrain heard inside of any sufficiently large community. And torn to its¬†roots it is nothing more than¬†phony (or genuine) sympathy for a group that does not exist except in the minds of those that create the false dichotomy in the first place.

So some believe it must hold true that if one group is learning,¬†celebrating, and networking in a 200 dollar per night hotel, that group is excluding those who can’t. In my opinion is something akin to a¬†false dichotomy.

Could it also be that if it were held at a free venue, everyone who wanted to come would? Really? To London? And Sydney? How would they get there? If there were 10,000 people how would any meaningful bi-directional exchange get done in venue large enough to hold them? What would the logistics look like for bathrooms and showers? Would we simply have a skeptical Woodstock complete with mud?

Muddy Woodstock

I for one don’t want to attend a¬†skeptical Woodstock. Your goals for¬†attending a conference may be more down to earth than mine. So be it. I believe a gathering of 1000s of people would have a value of almost nothing other than back slapping the few 100 people gravitationally bound to you in your local mud pool group.¬†It would be one big massive party, and that might be fun. It would no doubt bring fond memories for you to dredge up years from now. However as a learning experience or bi-directional information exchange in my mind it would be¬†worthless.

Let say you have a large gathering in a stadium (pay no attention to the fact you’ll have to pay to get in). And in a stadium you could have speakers (wayyyyyy off in the distance). You would almost certainly never get to personally talk with¬†Micheal Marshall or¬†Steven Novella. You never get to have a drink with Dr Rachie or Richard Saunders. Most likely you never see them except through binoculars on the shoulders of your companion. Thats why I italicized exchange in the last paragraph. In such a large venue information is uni-directional.

expensive cocktail

Let’s not worry about who can and can not afford to go to conferences. People who attend find themselves doing more than sitting around luxuriating on $20 cocktails and free cheese and wine. (Though if they did, it’s no one¬†else’s¬†business.)¬†Attendees bring back energy and valuable information to grassroots local skeptical organizations. They bring back¬†enthusiasm¬†and action plans others have tried. They learn what works, what did not, and what is new in¬†skepticism. The¬†grassroots¬†skeptic¬†gains a lot from these ‘exclusive‘ (sic) conferences. They just don’t get to pay $20 for a cocktail. So sorry.

ūüė¶

And you know what? In in the grand scheme of things I don’t care who can and can not make a conference. Tough. Life is like that. I wanted to get to TAM¬†Australia but I can’t afford it. OMG! Its those exclusionary¬†elitists!

I suspect most who could not attend conferences don’t even know they are victims until some guilt riddled skeptic who worries that they are having too much fun at conferences and have too much money allowing them to go to these conferences, tells the grassroots they are being excluded. And of course convinces them it is unfair. I hope the grassroots skeptics will be more skeptical of those motivations. Don’t be a victim.

Let us be happy we have a choir to preach to and it seems to be growing.

PS: The Official Drink of the SkepticZone should be the Aviation Cocktail

Aviation Cocktail

Nice Day to Observe The Sun

Posted in astronomy, Sun on January 10, 2010 by gdjsky01

Just came in from drawing the Sun as seen through a Solar Hydrogen Alpha filter. If that sounds like gibberish, allow me to digress… Probably 10 years ago, a friend of mine struck up an interest in Solar Astronomy. His interest eventually led to him actually working for a manufacturer of very specialize solar telescopes. The telescopes were sold both to research institutions and the general public. These were not your ordinary run-of-mill telescopes. They were called solar Hydrogen Alpha telescopes. Wikipedia can define that term as well as I. Or simply do a search on the web for Hydrogen Alpha and you’ll get enough links to keep you busy for a while.

Solar filters

Safe front end filters

I suppose at this point I should put in the obligatory warning: Never ever look at our star, the Sun, directly or with any optical instrument including binoculars, cameras, or telescopes unless you are using a safe and proper solar filter. If you are not sure what a “safe and proper ” solar filter is then assume, no matter what filter you might have, you do not have one. Especially if you have a filter that screws into an eyepiece!! Those are dangerous! Most proper solar filters will fit in the FRONT of the instrument, not the rear! You have one pair of eyes. Do not take chances with them. ¬†Seek real advice from you local astronomy club or from the Solar Forum on CloudyNights.com. You can also find information on Sky & Telescope Magazine‘s site.

With that out of the way… During the time my friend worked at this company he bring out his solar telescopes to many of the star parties I’d attend.¬†Often he would bring, and I would gawk through his largest most advanced solar telescope and be impressed with the ever changing face of our star.¬†I remember every time I’d look through my friend’s setup he’d goad me telling me why I should buy one of these telescopes, but to be honest I was not hooked the moment I looked through his. His arguments were fair. The Sun is visible during the day not in the middle of the night! The Sun is dynamic. It is one of the few objects in the sky that changes on human time scales (minutes in fact!)… blah blah blah… however all I could see was the cost. The specialized telescope(s) I am talking about allowed you to see deep into the solar atmosphere as well as those gorgeous flame and loop shaped edge structures call prominences. Being able to see those features requires a specialized precision filter beyond just the filters that make the Sun safe to view. And as one might surmise, specialized can be¬†synonymous¬†and is ¬†in this case, with expensive.

IMG_1823

Observing the Sun in Ha

About three years ago my friend made me a solar drug addict by lending me his smallest solar Hydrogen Alpha (Ha) telescope. Withno excuse not to look now that I had at telescope,¬†¬†look I did. That little telescope was setup every weekend. I’d grab it and set it up after work if I got home in time. Bottom line, with no cost to me, I became very addicted to observing our star in this very specialized type of telescope.

Seller of fine astro goodies

Turns out this was not lost on my wife. When a manufacturer had a sale, she told me, “Look, you are using your friends telescope every weekend, all weekend. Every chance you get you are out there observing the Sun. Just go for it.” ¬†It was not that simple. It’s expensive and can only be used to observe the Sun. It’s no good for nighttime viewing (don’t worry, I have telescopes for that as well!) To make a long story short, I did buy one. I bought my own from OPT (my favorite “drug” dealer). And of course that was just the hook. Then I need a tracking mount for it, and some eyepieces, and “Oh, wouldn’t it be fine to have a binocular viewer so I could use two eyes when looking through the telescope instead of one?” Of course it would.

Over time I have of course come to agree with my friend that he was right. The Sun does change minute by minute. I have watched as magnetic storm areas (called Active Regions) flares up and goes from dull orange to a searing orange in minutes as magnetic field lines snap like rubber bands releasing huge amounts of stored energy. I have seen huge numbers of prominences. Most would dwarf the Earth. While the Sun has been in the doldrums the past few years (just my luck), it seems that the new Solar cycle is starting to finally pick up. Which brings me to Active Region (AR) 1040 which has come around the Eastern limb of the Sun. From some posts I have seen this the return of an AR that disappeared around the western limb a few weeks ago, and has come back around for a return engagement. However it gets a new number. So it is AR1040 instead of its previous AR1035. I am terrible at sketching but for some reason feel compelled to try. So for about 10 months I have been attempted to sketch what I see. Here’s another attempt. It does not convey the amount of real detail one can view. I am just not that good an artist.

Sun Ha 2010-01-10 01

A drawing of Solar Active Region 1040

Skeptic Does Not Equal Atheist

Posted in Religion, skepticism with tags , on January 4, 2010 by gdjsky01

I am perfectly willing to believe in whatever god or gods are proven to exist. Not belief, not faith, not¬†ancient¬†fairy tales, not prophets, rabbis, priests, imam, or any other ‘holy’ person. Not one who as a human being has no more knowledge of the true physical existence of a god than a petrified turd from 10 million years ago. Show me scientific, testable, repeatable, proof and I will bow down in humble awe of such a truth.

Faith in that which has no proof means I night as well believe in a rock as a god. Why not believe in the flying spaghetti monster or the tooth fairy instead? They are as valid and real (sic) as any gods today and all the other gods of human history.

I am not blind to our nature. As social animals it is easy to see the role religion plays in so many people’s lives. However I contend that role could just as easily be played by social gatherings based on any number of interests including just plain old simple ‘community’. My interest in my community and the lives of the people living there. Imagine that??! Imagine we simply get together once a week to talk supporting each other, helping each other, improving our lives, sharing our triumphs and lending a shoulder to cry one for our losses. Imagine we never ever mentioned gods or religion. Imagine we don’t judge beyond that which is known good for all… Imagine that… morality without religion. It is real.

I am not an atheist as I am not saying there is no god. I am saying as a skeptic, as one who requires evidence, there is no evidence that meets any reasonable criteria that one exists. I am stating that until there is proof  for a gods existence, it is completely and totally irrelevant to me, to you, and the world at large. We can all do good in this world until that proof emerges. Religion is an anachronism. A social weight placed around our necks at birth whose origins goes back to a time when we knew nothing at all about the universe.

Finally I am not calling you the believer wrong. Misguided. Perhaps – I simply can’t now say that. Duped by human evolution? Most probably. We seem evolved to believe this woo. I do wish any and all effort and money spent on¬†religion¬†and worship were spent on helping our communities without all the strings and excess baggage. And I am simply baffled you would so easily allow yourself to be led astray when in almost every aspect of¬†your¬†normal life, you’d demand evidence. Yet you’d follow some fairytale, and worse in many cases try and make me follow that¬†fairytale, with no evidence whatsoever. You demand more evidence from a car dealer than a god.

Worrisome.

Hello world!

Posted in skepticism with tags , on January 17, 2009 by gdjsky01

Yeah well everyone has to have a blog. So here is mine. I think the name sorta says it all. Skeptical BTW is not what you think. It does not mean I doubt everything or believe the ‘glass is always half empty’. It is not cynicism. It means I look at the world with a healthy does of critical thinking. I don’t take claims at face value. I don’t believe in my or your abilities to recall events as the happened. I believe in the scientific method. Not woo woo. Not wishful nor magical thinking. There is no need for that. Science is magical enough. No Oprah needed. No New Age Phoney Feelgoodism.