Saturday, June 22, 2013

Face to Face with Destiny

Some say the journey is a particular percentage of the reward. To get to the SSA conference yesterday, I took a bus from downtown LA to the Strip in Vegas for $25 bucks. A great money saver to be sure, but since I had no travelling companion the seating arrangement became a game of roulette.

So, what are the odds that when travelling to a skepticism or atheism related event that the person in the seat next to you holds some really reeaaally wacky beliefs? If I were going by empirical measurements, so far the odds are near 100%.

This trip was no exception, as a pretty 18 year old girl with a skateboard sat next to me on the very last pick-up point.  The first few minutes were uneventful as we awkwardly avoided eye contact, both internally deliberating whether or not we should make first contact. When I finally broached the silence to introduce myself, I had just unwittingly opened a Pandora's Box. I should have had my first clue that this girl was worthy of a Tim Minchin 9 minute beat poem when she said that her name was Destiny.

For a short time the conversation was lighthearted and innocent as we discussed our respective origins and destinations, families and friends, and other such introductory small talk. Then, just as I was starting to think I had lucked out with my seating companion, without warning a wild Zubatshit appears.
"So what do you think about the 'theory' that we landed on the moon?"-Destiny
Through some incredible act of willpower, I manged to keep my hand from impacting my face at high speed. Still, my heart sank as I considered that we still had 4 hours of bus ride ahead of us and no seat belts existed capable of keeping me secure in my seat during this wild ride.

After taking a few minutes to regain inner composure, I realized I was wearing my SpaceX swag so the question may not have been as random as I thought. So I delicately replied that I believed we did land on the moon. Scratch that, I'm nearly certain that we landed on the moon. I then went on to explain the retro-reflective mirrors left there by Apollo astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, and how you can demonstrate that the mirrors are there by shooting a laser at the moon. Science rocks!

She seemed to think this was an interesting piece of trivia but promptly hypothesized that maybe they just sent the mirror there with robots or something.

But the fun was just getting started, as over the course of the next three hours I learned interesting things about our world that I never realized were facts, including but not limited to:

  • Adam and Eve lived to by 930 years old. (Her Grandpa didn't believe this and tried to talk her out of it but she showed him where it was in the Bible and that obviously proved she was right).
  • Evolution didn't happen because I don't believe we evolved from monkeys. God made each of us individually with great care. Even AIG takes issue with this argument. (It also took her a while to search for the word EVOLVE when she was trying to explain what "those scientists" believe).
  • Red tides and the Yangtze river turning blood red are signs of the end times (seas and rivers turn to blood and all that right?).
  • Obama's new healthcare law will require implanting RFID tags for insurance reasons in the hand, which was possibly the Mark of the Beast. Either that or the chips they're putting in our head is the mark..
  • The rapture is going to happen and I feel sorry for anyone who will be alive for Satan's 1000 year reign. Sucks to be them!
  • America is number MACHISMO! Ya we're badasses!! (China's number 2 BTW)
  • We have a right to bear arms, and Obama is taking our guns because someone had an accident and shot up a bunch of people somewhere.
  • Dragons are real! They found one frozen in ice that had some charred knights next to it. I saw it on Animal Planet. The government is also trying to cover it up because they want to feel superior to those pesky dragons.
  • Animal Planet also explained how they found a Mermaid, cause they're real too. 

Aside to Animal Planet: I know your documentaries are really cool fictional "what-if" CGI fantasies and I sincerely hope you know that, but clearly that fact isn't as obvious to your audience as you might think. When people see a "documentary" on Animal Planet or History Channel or Discovery, they seem to be under the (mis)apprehension that they will contain actual facts.

We covered a lot more ground than this in our 4 hours together, but I don't want to strain my brain any more than I already have recalling the experience. For the first couple stories I attempted to put forth counter evidence if I was aware of any, but we so quickly descended into depths of conspiracy madness that I had never even heard of some of the details that she knew with such confidence to be true. 

At that point, I reverted to an "I've never heard of this, please point me to the evidence so I can investigate further" type responses. I simply stated my skepticism, a few reasons why I had doubts, and left it at that. 

Rule number one when strating an argument with a believer is have an exit strategy. If you know you will be unable to extradite yourself from the conversation (say by being stuck on a bus or plane for 4 hours), diplomacy must be your number one priority. I do regret not having the opportunity to mention that I'm an Atheist and on my way to a conference of like minded students, but to paraphrase Tim Minchin: may as well be 4 hours back in time for all the chance you'll change your mind.

Friday, June 21, 2013


This morning I'm heading out to the Secular Student Alliance's Annual Conference in Las Vegas. It'll be a nice change from the 60 hour weeks I've been putting in at work, and I am looking forward to meeting new people and touching base with people I've met before.

While there's a great lineup of speakers planned, the talk I'm most excited for is David Fitzgerald's new talk entitled "Sexy Violence! Violent Sex! The Weird-ass Morality of the Bible." David has a way of making even the most dry historical topic entertaining and have high expectations.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Quadrotors are Awesome

In case I never mentioned it enough before, quadrotors are awesome.

I've seen most of these tricks before and know how they're done, but maintaining control with 2 failed rotors blew my mind.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Why Star Trek was Almost Awesome

[Obligatory Spoiler Warning, expires 7/1/2013]
So I finally got around to watching the new Star Trek film. I know I know, I'm losing nerd cred by not being at the midnight showing or even seeing it in the first month.

Before I launch into a nit picky rant, let me say I was entertained by the dialogue, enjoyed the action sequences, awed by the graphics, and moved by the score. In short, everything about this movie was well made.

So why didn't I leave feeling satisfied?

I thought for quite a while about what was missing. Good Acting? No, Benedict Cumberbatch was incredible. Poor villain or plot? Close but not quite. Finally I put my finger on the one word that tarnished the film for me: Khan.
The Star Trek reboot offered the franchise a fresh start, a fresh cast, and a fresh timeline to boot. They capitalized on it by introducing a brand new villian Nero. Abrams drew from the rich lore that is the Star Trek universe and gave us a look at a side of Romulus we had never explored. He even went so far as to implode Vulcan!

And what does he do for an encore? Bring back the exact same villain from the original series and timeline. By making Khan the villian, Abrams took the easy way out. To quote Douglas Adams, space is big-really big. With all the races and motivations in this mindbogglingly vast universe they chose the exact same one that has already been defeated by Kirk twice in the original series.

Don't get me wrong, Khan is a great villain, but bringing him back gave the movie a distinct been there done that feel. Scenes that could have been great homages and references to the original series suddenly became a carbon copy that fell flat despite all the 3D technology. Cumberbatch's performance created a chilling villain, but it shouldn't have been Khan.

The most frustrating thing about the whole film though is it would be such an easy thing to fix. If executive producer Harve Bennett had decided to just change the name of the antagonist all would be mended. A new genetically modified superhuman soldier from Earth's past that we hadn't encountered before that could potentially be even more ruthless or cunning than the great Khan himself would make just as compelling an enemy and require no plot changes. Well, you would have to change the whole gratuitous Nimoy cameo, but even then he just has to relate his story about Khan as a point of comparison to demonstrate how much more badass Cumberbatch is by comparison.

Maybe I'm stuck in the past, but that's just it: I don't want to be. Star Trek is about the future, about potential, exploring strange new worlds and civilizations, not taking us back to what we have already explored.