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Skepticon 11 – Save the Date!

Hello St. Louis! What Are You Doing on August 9-11, 2019?

Skepticon is pleased to announce that we have found our new home!

Yes, after many months of searching and negotiating, we found this place:

Isn’t it gorgeous?

This is the Red Lion St. Louis City Center Hotel. A few facts to whet your appetite:

  • Originally constructed in 1929 as the Edison Brothers warehouse.
  • Converted to a hotel with 288 rooms in 2001.
  • Conference center is the 13th floor, and we’re taking over the whole thing!
  • Across the street (literally) is the transportation hub for St. Louis, with the MetroRail ($4 from airport), MetroBus, Amtrak, Greyhound, and Downtown Trolley ($2 all day).
  • Oh, and the view’s nice, too.

We have a place, now we just have to fill it with the very best in Skeptical / Sciencey / Humanisty / Social Justicey / Nerdy / Dino education and fun. And we need one more thing:

YOU!

(and maybe some donations would be nice)

So, mark down August 9-11, 2019 on your calendar apps, paper calendars, or clay tablets, and get ready to party with us in St. Louis! Click this link here to reserve your swanky hotel room today!

Stay tuned for more announcements….

Featured

Help Our Legal Defense Fund, Get Dino Swag

Well, Skepticon fanaroos, here we are, two years into our legal fight with Richard Carrier, and we’re still standing strong for what we believe. But it’s costing us dearly to keep going. Even though we are pooling our resources with the other defendants, our corporate credit card overfloweth, and we will need thousands more $$$ to keep going. (We’d much rather be raising funds for our next conference, so we can see you all, but count on that for next year. We miss all of you amazing people so much!)

So, we’re throwing a fundraiser! (Yay!) And you can choose an amazing and dino-filled, hand-made thank-you gift for your donation. That’s right, each of the fabulous creations on this page were made one at a time by a human Skepticon organizer (okay, except the postcards). The dinos wanted to help, but things came up, and life happened. The usual.

Our penny-pinching ways mean that we were able to keep the material costs for all items to less than 10% of the donation amount on the buttons. So be assured that nearly all of your money will be put directly to work in defending Skepticon and Lauren. We also renew our commitment to use no funds collected for the conference to pay the legal bills. Any leftovers in the legal fund will go to the conference fund, though. Shipping costs to the US are included. If you need international shipping, send us an email and we’ll work it out.

Finally, don’t forget that as a 501(c)(3) organization, funds collected by Skepticon can’t be used for the legal fees for the other defendants. Please also consider donating to the main defense fund.

Select From These Fabulous Thank-You Gifts!

No Thank You, Swag

If you’d just like to send us money and not get anything in return, other than the warm feelings of doing something good in the world, and our heartfelt gratitude, this is the option for you. Picture us doing a happy dance in your honor.

Thank You Postcard

A postcard from our team to you, thanking you for your very welcome donation.

Ask a Dino

A paragraph of no less than 100 words on any topic, from the Skepticon Dino of your choice, posted publicly to our Facebook page. They’ll do their best, but remember that they’re just dinos trying to make a living in this uncertain world of the far future. Some of their knowledge is 65 million years out of date.

Framed Quotes

Quotes on paper, with decorated letters, in 5×7″ wooden frames.

Framed Quote: “You should never let your fears prevent you from doing what you know is right.”

Framed Quote: “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe it.”

Framed Quote: “Words actually matter. They’re significant, they can transform and open up our imagination.”

Framed Quote: “Above all don’t fear difficult moments. The best comes from them.”

Framed Quote: “Always be yourself. Unless you can be a dinosaur. Then always be a dinosaur.”

“”

Custom Framed Quote – Got a favorite quote of a reasonable length? For some extra moolah we’ll make one just for you. (We do reserve the right to reject a quote because of what it says, but never because of who you are.)

Pillows

Approximately 16″ x 16″, with polyester fill.

Rockets and planets design.

Dinosaur silhouette design.

Cartoon dinosaur design.

Dinoramas

Tabletop scenes featuring miniature dinosaurs.

Disco dinorama, featuring colorful disco lighting! Boogie on down to Skeptiprom town. Dinorama is approximately 12″ wide 8″ tall, and 7″ deep. Lighting is powered by 3 AA batteries.

Volcano dinorama, featuring glowing lava! (Note: glowing lava is simulated and will not actually melt your face.) Dinorama is approximately 12″ wide 12″ tall, and 12″ deep. Lava is powered by button batteries.

Space dinorama, featuring helmeted dinos in microgravity! Dinorama is approximately 14″ wide 9″ tall, and 8″ deep. Stars are powered by button batteries.

Protest dinorama, featuring resistant dinos taking to the streets! Dinorama is approximately 12″ wide 6″ tall, and 12″ deep.

Robots

All robots are one-of-a-kind sculptures featuring miniature dinos at the controls. They do not move by themselves, but most of them are lighted. If we sell out of robots, we’ll make more and add them here.

We’ll take down the image as soon as we can when a robot is purchased, but it is possible that someone will buy your robot just before you. If that happens, we’ll give you the choice of a refund, another bot, or having us make one as similar to the bot you chose as we can.

Light of Reason Bot

This solid bot is here to help with your toughest reasoning chores. It is lit inside to show you the dinos hard at work.

Doot-Dooer Bot

Inspired by the muppets singing backup to Mahna Mahna (youtube).

Skeptiprom Bot

This graceful dancer is here to help you get your groove on. Bot’s lower half is lit to show the fancy footwork.

Not Tom Servo Bot

They may be related, but this is for sure not the star of MST3K. Tom can talk, but can he light up his globe?

Bottommost Turtle Bot

As we all know, the world is held on the back of a turtle, and from there it’s turtles all the way down. Here is the one at the very bottom, and it’s controlled by dinos, in a well-lit workplace.

Observatory Bot

What, doesn’t everyone have a hovercraft observatory run by dinosaurs? Well, now you don’t have to be the only one missing out. This bot features red light illumination to protect your delicate night vision.

Wise Old Owl Bot

Hard working dinos are here to provide the wisdom of the ages to you from the mouth of this bot. Or such wisdom as was available 65 million years ago. Maybe just “Look out for asteroids!” (This bot is not lighted.)

Safety Dance Bot

Dinos are dancing fools, sure, but with this beauty they’re sure to impress on the dance floor.

Featured

Inside Skepticon – Hand Over Your Money and the Dinosaurs Won’t Get Hurt

You can’t spell fundraising without the fun! And we can’t put on an amazebananas free-to-attend Skepticon without the fundraising. Almost all of the money needed for Skepticon comes from donations by wonderful people like you. We also pledge that every penny donated to the conference goes to putting on Skepticon. Raising that money is the responsibility of … The Fundraising Director!

Yeah, I know, not such a creative title, is it? Maybe we should change it to Dinosaur Feeding Director, or Dollar Floodgate Opener Director, or Money Coming At Us … Person. … Maybe we’ll just stick with Fundraising Director.

Anyway, at the beginning of the year we look at how much we’ll need to make Skepticon a reality (mostly based on what it cost the year before), and set a goal to raise that total. This year, we’re looking to raise $30,000. That’s a scary number for us. And it almost always comes down to the wire, or even a bit past the wire. We are usually still trying to meet that goal during the conference. The fingernails, they get bitten around Skepticon town.

About two thirds of that comes from attendee donations. These are usually made during registration, but for an extra special group of humans, donations are made every month. These are the the Dino Club members, they are the awesomest of the awesomest, and you can join them!

The rest of our funding comes from donations made by national sponsors (maybe 10%), fees paid for vendor tables (maybe another 10%), and the rest from merch sales at the conference.

And for our tenth Skepticon, (slogan: The Most Tenth Skepticon Evar!), we have an extra challenge. Yes, it just wasn’t enough that we need to raise funds for the conference this year. We’re also being sued by someone not worth mentioning here, and have to raise money for that, too! Whee. So, we would appreciate any donations you can make to our legal fund.

Here’s the deal with that – we refuse to use any of the conference funds on fighting this alleged individual’s worthless suit. Anything you donate to the conference goes to the conference. Anything donated to our legal fund goes to the legal fund. If there’s any leftover from the legal fund once we’ve won, it will roll into the conference fund.

Have I mentioned that our totally free conference needs your donations? I have? Oh good.

P.S. I know it’s really redundant on this post, but it’s super extra true. Your donations are what make Skepticon 10 possible! And if you really want to lighten our stress levels, please donate to our legal defense fund!

 

Featured

Inside Skepticon – I Like Big Bots!

In this modern age, everything depends on the interwebs, and Skepticon is no exception. We have a resident Tech wizard on the board, and his name is Bart! And do you know how we got Bart? He told Lauren that our website was a giant pile of [censored]. Yes, gentle people of all genders, this is how volunteer organizations work. Tell us that we have failed at something, and you too can be in charge of fixing it!

Bart was definitely up to the task, and now we have this awesome website you see all around you! (Note to readers on the Facebox® and Twittars®: we do not own these websites. There are some limits to the powers of Bart. Go to skepticon.org, that’s where the real magic happens.)

Most of the year the Tech role is pretty laid back. But during the conference, it is a very busy time. Bart is in charge of making all of the live video and audio work, including livestreaming and closed captioning. We also need to give a big shout out to Rob for literally putting his butt on the line every year doing the camera work. We salute your aching glutes, Rob!

In addition to the website and work at the conference, the Tech role is responsible for the safe and secure storage of our documents and passwords, and the configuration of team communications apps. We use Google Apps for our shared documents. Google gives us free access to the apps (nice) since we are a non-profit. Our passwords are stored and updated via an online password management system and/or a shoebox under Bart’s bed.

For talking at each other and sharing more gifs than you could ever imagine, we use Slack. And this is where the bots come in. The Skepticon slack channels are filled with all the great behind-the-scenes info we need to put on the show. To liven things up, Bart has added several chat bots. One, named Doug, is primarily there to post memes at anyone who says “don’t know” or “no idea”:

Troweling doggo has no idea what they're doing.

This doogo has no idea. Thanks, Doug.

Another bot is not interactive. It just posts “Cat Facts”, like:

Cat Fact 16: Similarly, the frequency of a domestic cat’s purr is the same at which muscles and bones repair themselves.

I don’t know what this even means. Muscles and bones repair themselves at a frequency? What sort of woo is this?

Cat Fact 34: In the 15th century, Pope Innocent VIII began ordering the killing of cats, pronouncing them demonic.

Lauren may agree with Pope Innie, but I had to respond to this outrage.

Human Fact 34: Despite numerous attempts to clean it dating back to the early 16th century, Pope Innocent VIII’s grave smells strongly of cat pee.

Take that, Cat Facts!

P.S. Your donations are what make Skepticon 10 and giant robots possible! And if you really want to lighten our stress levels, please donate to our legal defense fund!

Featured

Inside Skepticon – So, The Thing About Corporations

The thing about corporations is that they have certain rules, and even little non-profits based in Missouri and secretly run by dinosaurs need to follow them. The rules aren’t terribly burdensome. They’re there to protect shareholders, and consumers, and to ensure that someone can be found who is responsible for doing the adult things like responding to legal paperwork. Ahem.

Anyhoo, one of the things to do is have an Annual Meeting. At that meeting we have to do one very important thing. We have to elect our corporate officers. In order to keep operating, we need to have a President, Secretary, and Treasurer. Other offices are optional. Another rule is that the President cannot also be the Treasurer. This is to prevent certain types of funny business with the books.

The problems are that we have to do this by the end of June, we need people willing to take on the rather unglamorous work for free, and we have to have a quorum (at least half) of the board members present. You think that’s easy, right? That’s adorable! You’ve never worked for a tiny all-volunteer non-profit before, have you? What actually happens is that people have lives, and their lives are filled with jobs that actually pay them, medical issues, family members, and certain TV shows that have long-awaited premiers. So, we do eventually get the job done, but it usually takes a few postponements. You learn to roll with it.

But I know that what you’re really here for is the spine-tingling election results, so here you go:

  • President: Lauren Lane
  • Treasurer: Rebecca Hammond
  • Secretary: Rebecca Hammond
  • Vice President in Charge of Sno-Cones™: John Notadinosaur
  • Secretary without Portfolio: Tetra Pawed
  • Wizard in Chief: Tim
  • Conference Chair Alignment Engineer: “Nudge” Elderberry

P.S. Your donations are what make Skepticon 10 possible, so help us make our bank account quorum! And if you really want to lighten our stress levels, please donate to our legal defense fund!

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Inside Skepticon – Meetings and Policies and 990s, Oh My!

… and that is how a new bylaw is made!

Oh, hello, I didn’t hear you come in. I was just teaching my kid all about the fascinating world of non-profit corporate governance. They’re asleep with joy!

Hey, this stuff is actually very important! If we don’t do the things that the state and federal government expect of a small non-profit secretly run by dinosaurs, they could take away our 501(c)(3) status, or suspend our corporation, or even make us extinct!

At Skepticon, this is the job of the Corporate role. They make sure that all the bureaucratic ‘i’s are dotted, the ‘t’s are crossed, and the spongiform zorblats have winky emoji in their upper left quadrants. The actual work will mostly be done by the corporate officers (President, Treasurer, and Vice President in Charge of Making Sno-Cones™), but the director in the Corporate role is the one responsible for checking that it gets done right, and on time.

The expectation is that the President of Skepticon will be the one to take on this role. So in other words, we make Lauren do the boring bits. What else is new?

Besides government paperwork, what needs to be done to have a functioning corporation? We’re not completely sure, ourselves, but this is what we do:

  • Hold regular and annual board meetings where a quorum must be sober at all times
  • Write down all the things that the board votes on doing
  • Make sure that someone actually does the things that the board votes to do
  • Check that we still have money. Do we still have money? Oh good.
  • Keep track of which sofa cushions all that money is hiding under
  • Post all the info on where the money came from and went to on the website
  • Make our vendors do right by us, and check that we do right by them
  • Buy event liability insurance, because stuff happens around dinosaurs
  • Produce the aforementioned Sno-Cones™

And that’s really about it. See, not so bad after all. And your reward for reading all the way to the bottom of this post? We’re giving you all free tickets to Skepticon 10! Just use code ZORBLATEMOJI17 when registering. See you all there!

P.S. Your donations are what make Skepticon 10, and all those glorious Sno-Cones™ possible! And if you really want to lighten our stress levels, please donate to our legal defense fund!

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Inside Skepticon – This One’s All About You!

At Skepticon we have a dedicated ally, a person whose job is specifically to advocate for the needs of the lovely humans who visit us. That’s you! You are coming to Skepticon this year, aren’t you? Of course you are, and we can’t wait to see you.

You’re quite a diverse bunch, and it’s the sworn duty of the person in the Attendees role to see to it that you have the bestest Skepticon ever. From the job description:

They will work to ensure that attendees are safe, and will feel that way. They will advocate for speaker and workshop choices of interest to, and representative of all communities Skepticon wants to attract. They will advocate for accommodations needed to allow all attendees to be comfortable and able to participate at Skepticon. To do all this, they will seek the advice of expert members of these communities, and produce and analyze surveys of attendees and potential attendees. Major projects for the Attendee role include maintaining the conduct policies and conducting surveys both before and after the event.

One question you might have here is just what “communities” of people do we want to encourage to come to Skepticon? To begin with, there’s Skeptics (undoubtedly), and Secularists (naturally), and Humanists (whole heartedly), and Freethinkers (dogmatically), and Atheists (faithfully), and Agnostics (indubitably). But this is just par for the course with skeptic events, and only covers the philosophical ground.

Skepticon realizes that people of many marginalized groups don’t attend skeptospheric cons for a variety of reasons. Maybe no one on stage looks like them, or speaks to their interests. Maybe they’re skeptical that the con will have their backs if they have a problem with a speaker or organizer or another attendee. Maybe a disability prevents them from attending, participating, or enjoying. Maybe they simply can’t afford the outrageous prices that cons charge just to get in the door.

Skepticon is committed to battling these obstacles and more in any way that we can. We look to represent the widest range of views and interests, and have people of all backgrounds on our stage. We also work to have:

  • Red lanyards for those who do not want their images shared publicly
  • Closed captioning or sign language interpreters for deaf and hearing-impaired Skepticoneers
  • Child care, either cooperatively among parents, or from an organization like Camp Quest
  • Fidgits available at the registration tables
  • Communication preference stickers
  • A food pantry so that no one has to go hungry to attend Skepticon
  • Ear plugs to help those sensitive to noise to come to Skeptiprom
  • Quiet rooms, for when it’s all just too much

And the best part is that Skepticon is FREE to attend! That’s a big relief to any budget.

P.S. Your donations are what make Skepticon 10 possible, so it really is all about you! And if you really want to lighten our stress levels, please donate to our legal defense fund!

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Inside Skepticon – How Do We Look? Like a Million Bucks!

Last time we checked in at the Skepticon ranch (our brand is the Lazy X!), we were fighting over speaker choices. The next order of business is to pick a theme, and brainstorm ideas for fundraising.

Skepticon’s themes aren’t really about the talks. We don’t try to get speakers whose topics fit the theme, though if we do find someone who can talk about a related subject, it gives them a boost in priority. The Skepticon theme is all about  … the artwork! (Insert glitter flourish here.) Skepticon 7 had an outer space theme. SK8 had an 8-bit skater theme. S-K9 had a dogs and cats (9 lives!) theme.

So where does that leave us for SK10? You’ll have to wait for the answer when we unveil our new website look. But I can say that we’re not going with Skepticon Perfect 10, InTENse, ConTENder, Enligh10, TENtacle, Pre10tious, or TEN-Forward. Nor will we be X-ray, X-ylophone, or X-rated. But we think you’ll love the new look!

Once we had settled on a theme, we moved on to fundraising plans. These start early, but don’t tend to get much attention from our donors until June or July (or August…) Last year we pranked PZ Myers in April, and he was a good sport, of course. It was fun, but we didn’t raise much money from it. Then again, Skepticon has always chosen to have fun even if it doesn’t lead to tons of money, so expect to see more themed fundraisers this year! (And donate if you can!)

The two things that do encourage donations are the matching challenges and desperation. Skepticon is fortunate to have multiple generous donors who together put up several thousand dollars per year to use as matching funds. And every year (so far), our awesome attendees have come through for us. Not that we aren’t a big bundle of nerves waiting to see if we’re going to have a conference or anything.

If we’re still short of funds after exhausting our matching challenges, we unleash our secret weapon. That’s right, begging is not just for getting speakers. Early Skepticons featured a good amount of begging, and again our attendees stepped up their game to awesome. But things have actually gone pretty well for us in the past few years.

This brings us to the last piece of our fundraising plan, the Dino Club! Do you want to be amazebanannas just like the other Dino Clubbers? (Wait, that sounds bad. Make that “Dino Club-ateers”.) Sign up to send us your $ every month, and you can! You really have no idea how much help the Dino Club is for Skepticon. We could not do this without their support, and we are very grateful!

P.S. Your donations are what make Skepticon 10 possible, so you are the ones who look like a million bucks to us (or at least about 30 grand!) And if you really want to lighten our stress levels, please donate to our legal defense fund!

Featured

Inside Skepticon – What is Art? Here’s The Only Right Answer

Many have tried to define “art”…

“Art has to move you and design does not, unless it’s a good design for a bus.” – David Hockney

“We have our Arts so we won’t die of Truth.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

“Painting is just another way of keeping a diary.” – Pablo Picasso

“Art for the SK10 program better be ready by October 10th!” – Lauren Lane

As usual, Lauren is closest to the mark. Skepticon has had an abundance of artists involved since its beginning, and artwork has played an important role in each Skepticon. So naturally Art is one of the twelve major divisions of Skepticon, Inc. From the job description:

The Art role is responsible for the production and maintenance of all assets of Skepticon that are primarily art-related, and for arranging the licensing of, or otherwise ensure the copyright clearance for all art used by Skepticon. … Each year will have its own theme, and the Art role will be responsible for ensuring a consistent look of all art produced. … They will also arrange for safe storage of physical and digital art assets.

You’ll note the copyright clearance part of the job. Yeah, we got bit by that one a couple years ago. The copyright for one of the headshots we used for a speaker turned out not to be held by that speaker. We were contacted by a company claiming to hold the copyright, and demanding over $700. We replaced the picture with one owned by the speaker, told them that we were an impoverished nonprofit, and asked for proof of copyright ownership. (Skeptics!) They countered with $100, but never produced any evidence of ownership, and we have not heard from them since.

The Art role has one of the most complex and demanding set of deadlines, and needs to work closely with all other Skepticon divisions to ensure that all projects are completed on time, and at the best rates.

The art assets of Skepticon include the themed graphics for the website and event signage, permanent signs meant to be used every year at the conference, the program, and the badges handed out to every attendee. Art needs to find the vendors with the best terms, and ensure that everything goes smoothly with production of printed materials.

Last year and this, we have been fortunate to have the help of the awesome team at Bear and Otter for most of our graphic design work.

So, what is Art? Art is a whole lot of work.

P.S. Your donations are what make Skepticon 10 possible, so you are the the truth we seek in beauty! And if you really want to lighten our stress levels, please donate to our legal defense fund!

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Inside Skepticon – Speaker Fight!

Second meeting of the year, and it’s time for the speaker fight! If you’re imagining PZ Myers punching out Matt Dillahunty, you’re seriously on the wrong track. (Plus you’ve clearly never met either of them. They’re super awesome, and would never hurt a fly. Okay, PZ might, but only in a professional capacity.)

Anyway, what I’m really saying is that we get together and argue over which speakers to invite this year. Everyone brings their list, and polishes their elevator pitches. (Or … just kinda wings it.) Typically, upwards of 100 names are thrown out, making this one of the longest meetings of the year.

Each organizer or volunteer starts with their top pick, and then we go around again and again until we run out of names, or until we get dizzy and fall off. Several of us may have independently come up with the same person, which boosts that speaker’s status. Many other picks get shot down quickly, and that can be rough on the one making the suggestion.

We include the nominations from attendees and past speakers, which we collect during the conference. (Drop some names in the suggestion box, please. We really do read them!)

All during the year we also get speaker recommendations in our emails, twitters, and faceboxes. Some are good, some are less helpful, and some are decidedly … odd. We just got another in that last category a few days ago. Claiming to have a speaker on a topic that skeptics have overlooked, the email contained a barrage of links to what appears to be another Sovereign Citizen variant.

So, yeah, we try to check out our speaker candidates before inviting them. We look for talks they have given in the past, to see if they know their stuff and can speak to a crowd. We look to see if their topics are things that we’re excited to hear about, that they contribute to a good variety of viewpoints, that their values don’t clash with ours, and that they like dinosaurs.

That last one is really the only deal breaker for us.

Back at the meeting, we decide which candidates to put ahead of others in the order that we extend invitations. This isn’t necessarily according to who we most want to appear. Some speakers book up far in advance, and we try to put them closer to the front so we have a better shot at them being available for Skepticon.

When it’s all over, Lauren takes it from there. She reaches out to the speakers in the order we decided, and gains their trust. Slowly, over the course of days or weeks, she lures them into our trap. Her patience is legendary, as is her tracking skill. If you receive an email from Lauren saying “Hey, wanna come speak at Skepticon? <3” your only hope is to say yes.

P.S. Your donations are what make Skepticon 10 possible, so you are the the ones we fight for! And if you really want to lighten our stress levels, please donate to our legal defense fund!