Daily Archives: July 5, 2012

SkepchickCON @ CONvergence

Today is the first day of SkepchickCON at CONvergence. CONvergence is the largest fan run fantasy and science fiction convention in the US and or World and possibly Universe, depending. It is held in a suburb of Minneapolis. One gazillion people are in attendance. There are many activities and events, and a double-decker parallelogram of “party rooms” operated by various organizations including but not limited to the Skepchicks, whom you know from the web site Skepchick.

Among the activities are panels where interesting people sit in front of a room of interested people and conversations and stuff happen. The Skepchicks have for four or five years now run a series of back to back panels that is informally named “SkepchickCON” and I’ve been a panelist for this event for the past couple of years.

The first panel, today, was run by a core group of Skepchicks including my dear friend and esteemed colleague Rebecca Watson. But the fun actually started before the panel at lunch when several Skepchicks, my BFF Desree Schell and some guests met up. The first thing we needed to so was to rendezvous. Desiree and I arrived at TGI Fridays thinking that Rebecca and her people were already there. A quick glance did not produce results. La Matron came over to help. “We’re looking for a party,” Desree said. “Blue hair.”

La Matron, “Oh, blue hair. Because of CONvergence?” (referring to the Science Fiction and Fantasy convention next door which has a lot of blue hair and stuff).

“Well, that too,” responded Desiree.

Anyway, eventually every one arrived and we had an excellent lunch although the thing I remember most clearly about the food was Desiree’s plate full of meat. Many topics were covered during the ensuing conversation. I don’t know why I kept track, but I noticed that on six separate occasions said something like “Man I want to kick his/her ass” or “… made me want to kill him..” and that sort of thing. All metaphorically speaking, of course. No one at the table needed instructions on basic rhetoric. Adults all.

The panel was called “Skepchicks save the day and your money.” This is a regular panel, IIRC, in which each of several Skepchicks covers a particular current instance or example of woo, or category of woo. Chocolate that makes you live longer, power bracelets, and numerous “health and beauty” scams were covered, and covered brilliantly. Oh, and vagaina coloring substance.

Tomorrow we will do the first of two panels on climate change, a panel on internet trolls (I’ll be the troll) and at 10:00 PM PZ Myers and I will go head to head on the topic of female orgasms. He’s against, I’m for. Figures.

There will be much more on the following day. If you are at Convergence and you see the schedule, don’t assume I’ll be at all the panels I’m listed for … I think there was supposed to be some culling after the mass sign ups during early planning and I probably shouldn’t be on all the ones I’m on. But, since I’m on the program, if I’m listed I’ll at least be in the room in case there was a particular question you had in mind that only I could address to your satisfaction.

The event goes through Sunday.

UPDATE: They are not letting me out of doing any of the panels. Oh well. See you there!

Higgs Boson Makes Me Laugh

The whole Higgs Boson thing is really interesting. Not only was is not discovered over the last several months, but in a way that makes it certain that it exists, but for other reasons as well. Higgs himself predicted its existence a very long time ago and was told by the greats that it really can’t exist, so he should be a model for all those people with Theories … like “they didn’t believe Higgs either, so I must be right!” … but instead the usual suspects have lined up (at least in the spam section of my blogs) to tell us how the Higgs Particle itself is a conspiracy.

Another thing is this whole wave-particle duality shtick. The Higgs is a wobbly gobbly everywherish gooblygop, for sure, but even though it is everywhere and affects everything, a tiny bit of it has to be ripped from the space-time continuum and turned into a piece of cosmic lint before we can “see” it, and even then we can’t really “see” it very well.

Also, I’m trying to remember what the social and cultural reaction were to the earlier discoveries of various particles. The term “smashing the atom” seems to have come from some of this early work. Most of what I remember of the earliest particles being discovered was conveyed to me after the fact reading Azimov’s Intelligent Mans Guide To the Physical Science, which I believe is no longer in print.

Were earlier discovered similar in their social and cultural effects or different? Anybody remember?

By the time that book was written in 1964, about twenty “particles” or wavy goobldy gobbly things (like “heat rays”) had been discovered. Since then, about a dozen. Here I note that the Higgs Boson is undiscoverable by Wikipedia. The “Timeline of Particle Discoveries” entry does not list the Higgs…doesn’t use the word Higgs on the list (though it is in the intro and elsewhere). Apparently, what happened yesterday was an unverified report of an excited neutral X-b baryon[citation needed]

Which leads us to the question of whether or not it was actually discovered. The New York Times says it was found: “Physicists Find Elusive Particle Seen as Key to Universe” … but was it really? What really happened, according to that report, was a bit more dramatic while at the same time being very subtle indeed:

Like Omar Sharif materializing out of the shimmering desert as a man on a camel in “Lawrence of Arabia,” the elusive boson has been coming slowly into view since last winter, as the first signals of its existence grew until they practically jumped off the chart.

And the top quark himself clarifies in case you were wondering if they really found it or not:

“I think we have it,” said Rolf-Dieter Heuer, the director general of CERN .. He and others said that it was too soon to know for sure…For now, some physicists are simply calling it a “Higgslike” particle

OK, whatever. What if its not “Higgs” but rather “Higgslike” in every possible respect? What do we do then?