Archive for the Trips and Visits Category

What TAM Australia Means to Me

Posted in News, personal views, skepticism, Trips and Visits with tags , , , on June 9, 2010 by cpolsonb

Just a few days ago it was announced that TAM Australia tickets would go on early-bird sale June 20th, with full public sale on July 4th. What is “TAM” and why do I care? First a little background.

TAM stands for ‘The Amazing Meeting’ and is a science and critical thinking conference hosted by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). For the last seven years it’s been held in Las Vega and just last year they branched out across the pond and held a TAM in London. Now it’s our turn, time for a TAM meeting down under! If you’re not aware, the JREF is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to fostering critical thinking in new generations and providing information and resources for the public and media about paranormal or psychic claims (amongst a host of other things). Most famously they are know for the $1,000,000US challenge, the prize pool of which is available to any claimant that can demonstrate the existence of anything paranormal under stringent and mutually agreed upon conditions. The Amazing Randi himself is far more than a name for the JREF, he is still, at the venerable age of 82 a fearless warrior on the front-line of battling harmful pseudoscience and paranormal nonsense.

When I was first introduced to the organized skeptical movement in 2006 through the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast it became immediately obvious just what a figure James Randi has been over the last half a century. The SGU team with their ‘Randi Speaks’ segment gave me a direct channel to hear from Randi and the podcast itself opened my eyes wide to movement as a whole. Now, four years on I am completely enthralled by the entire culture, constantly reading blogs, browsing the SGU forum, writing my own blog, following fellow skeptics on twitter, reading the books and of course, still listening to the podcasts! (with a host of others like Skepticality & Skeptoid added to the pile). Over the last four years the idea of attending a TAM event was like a far off dream, something that I may be able to do in a hefty number of years. I imagined by the time I finally attended a TAM (if they were still running), most of the names I’m familiar with would have passed out of the spotlight in the movement and made way for equally hard-working, yet less personally important folks.

But now the chance has come. Later in the year I will (hopefully) be flying off and coming face to face (or at least room to room) with many of my skeptical heroes, including the group that got me into it (the SGU). TAM offers a chance to connect face to face with international skeptics and reach far beyond the small pocket I’ve seen in Perth. I have no idea what the conference will be like or how comfortable I’ll feel at a conference of mostly older professionals but I have no doubt it will be a remarkable and gratifying experience.

Now I just have to grab an Australian Skeptic subscription so I can get an early bird ticket. Oh, and I need to start thinking about why I deserve a $150 student reimbursement :P


An Exciting Observation

Posted in astronomy, Trips and Visits with tags , , , , on February 26, 2010 by cpolsonb

A few weeks ago on Saturday February 13th my girlfriend and I experienced a “star viewing” night at the Perth Observatory. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect and hadn’t previously been to the observatory since I was around 8 years old! I was extremely excited to go again, just seeing a night sky without the depressing light pollution around the metropolitan area would be exciting enough to satisfy me. But boy was I blown away! It truly was one of the most enjoyable nights I’ve had in a long time. Whilst quite brief (around 90 minutes) the whole thing left me drooling for more. During the viewing night I was madly scribbling notes down in my girlfriend’s diary (in pitch black) for fear of forgetting something. I’ll quickly give a run on the history of Perth Observatory and what is involved in their viewing nights.

A Little History
Perth Observatory is actually Australia’s oldest continually running Observatory. First built near to Kings Park (a large park near to the capital) in 1897 the construction of the observatory heralded a long lasting era of astronomical research and discovery. Aside from the scientific importance the completion of the observatory also meant that Perth at long last could accurately measure the time! The Observatory stayed at that location until it was moved (due to light pollution) in 1966 to its current location in the foothills at Bickley. Unfortunately even this move was not sufficient to properly shield the heavens from light pollution and there is an unfortunate loss of clarity in the Western portion of the sky.

The Viewing Night
Arranging the viewing night was a quick and painless affair. At the cost of a meal ($20) you can easily book yourself in with a single phone call. Once there you are greeted by the warm and experienced staff, all astronomers with at least a decade experience. After a brief history lesson in the observatory’s museum including a look at some real life asteroids and amazing sky photos taken locally, you are quickly whisked off up to the telescopes. It’s a quick walk up a path with strip lights to guide your way (which switch off once you’ve arrived) and very quickly you’re standing amongst the viewing scopes.

A quick introduction to the night sky ensues (with the help of a visible laser pointer) and such objects as Mars, The large and small magellanic clouds, the brightest stars (Sirius taking the cake) and of course the beautiful milky way itself! Seeing the thick arch of stars that is our arm of the milky way stretched out above you like a backbone holding up the sky is an amazing sight which is completely invisible inside the metropolitan area. I envy greatly those of you who live in areas where this is a common sight. I dare say that many Australians aren’t even aware that the milky way even forms this band across the sky.

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Belated Darwin Day Post

Posted in Trips and Visits with tags , , , on February 14, 2010 by cpolsonb

So Friday was Charles Darwin’s 201st birthday. I was hoping to get my blog set up in time to do a happy birthday post but things kept cropping up and distracting me. Nevertheless I thought I’d give my shout out to the father of evolutionary theory today.

For those few of you who may be unaware, British naturalist Charles Darwin was the man who at the right place and time managed to put together the pieces of the puzzle that formed evolution through natural selection. Why did I phrase it like that? It is important for science lovers and rationalists to understand that very rarely (if ever) have great scientific discoveries been whipped up by a single person from a vacuum. It is not widely known that simple and somewhat flawed versions  of common descent and transmutation of species have been around for thousands of years. Philosophers in Greece, Rome, Persia and China all toyed with ideas that to contemporary man sound strikingly similar to evolution.

Even Charles Darwin’s grandfather Erasmus Darwin developed much of the thinking that helped inspire Darwin to formulate his theory, especially with regards to the relatedness of all forms of life. To cut to the meat of my post, Darwin’s publication of ‘On the Origin of Species’ presented evidence to the world that evolution through means of natural selection is the driving force behind the diversity and history of all life on Earth. Darwin’s famous voyage on the HMS Beagle provided a good deal of evidence and inspiration that would help him solidify his ideas years later.

In Sydney Australia in 2009 an exhibition was held at the Maritime Museum focusing on Charles Darwin’s famous voyage with the Beagle, particularly in regard to his visit to Australia. Despite the fact that Darwin described Australia as dull and uninteresting I was able to forgive him long enough to make a trip to the museum while on a work trip in Sydney.

I present for you a small collection of photographs I took of objects at this awesome exhibit “Charles Darwin: Voyages and Ideas that Shook the World”:

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