Skepticon 5 Report

Now that I’m almost kinda semi-recovered from a very long weekend at Skepticon sandwiched between a pair of 13-hour drives, I thought I’d write up a brief report on the whole thing. The tl:dr version: An awesome time was had, by me most of all.

The first thing that made it great was that my best friend Rick came along. We’ve been best friends for nearly 30 years, since we were in high school. Though he’s a non-believer himself, he’s never had any involvement in the movement and I doubt he ever will. It’s just not something he pays much attention to. Hell, he doesn’t even read my blog all that much. But it was a rare opportunity for us to spend a big chunk of time together for the first time in a very long time, and we had a blast. Lots and lots of great conversation on the way there and back.

The second thing that made it great was that JT Eberhard finally had to pay off the bet we made on the outcome of a poker tournament in July, requiring him to wear a t-shirt that said “Ed Brayton is a poker god.” Never one to be accused of being a good sport, I extracted maximum humiliation from it all and poured a little salt in the wound with this nametag:

I’m not going to tell you what he said when he saw it. I actually had one person say, “Oh, you’re JT’s dad?” Only metaphorically. But I was happy that his delightful girlfriend Michaelyn decided to help me out in these efforts by drawing as much attention to the shirt as possible, even while JT sulked:

In reality, though, I don’t think anything was really going to hurt JT’s mood because he may be the luckiest guy I know. On Friday night, he popped the question to Michaelyn on stage in front of the entire conference. There was hardly a dry eye in the place. It’s a good thing she said yes! Here she is going up on stage to kiss him, in utter shock:

The truth is that she may have been the only one in the place who didn’t know he was going to do this, but we all managed to keep quiet about it. And I’m glad we did. Her reaction was priceless, as was having the opportunity to be there for it. JT has become a really good friend and I couldn’t be happier for him. Thanks for being such a good sport, JT, and for letting us all be a part of your joy.

Speaking of joy, the third reason Skepticon was so great was that I finally got to meet an old online friend in person. You know her as the person who comments here as Gretchen (which is convenient, since that is, in fact, her name). Here we are together:

We have known each other for nearly 15 years, through more than a few ups and downs for both of us, but never had the chance to meet in person. And again, we had much fun and great conversation. I met a lot of people this weekend that I had only known online before, but this was different. This isn’t just a fellow activist I’ve read or someone I’ve exchanged an email or two with, this is someone I genuinely care about. I can’t tell you how great it was to finally get the chance to meet.

And we got to share a laugh over this shirt:

It’s a great quote and it’s seen quite often at atheist gatherings. And I’ve asked people many times if they know who Stephen Roberts is and they never do. But Gretchen and I do. Stephen Roberts is the real name of a guy we used to hang out with on IRC in the late 90s. He used the nickname wubwub and he was into two things: legos and boobs. And while no one else knows who he is, he did come up with one of the most commonly quoted lines in all of atheism.

Oh, did I mention the conference itself? Probably not. The truth is I didn’t get to see much of it. I was busy manning the FTB table. But conferences, for me, are really about the people. I got to see and hug and talk to so many great people that I wish I could see more often, including PZ, Debbie Goddard, Jesse Galef, Steven Olsen, Jen McCreight, Rebecca Watson, Amy Roth, Andrew Tripp, James Croft and many others. And I got to meet a lot of people for the first time that I had only admired from afar, like Ashley Paramore, Kate Donovan and Phil Ferguson.

Oh, and JT’s awesome parents. I’d been dying to meet them and I finally did. And yes, one of these days I’m going to go to Arkansas to visit and play some poker with them.

So yeah, I had an amazing, incredible, awesome weekend filled with good friends and much laughter. Wish you could have been there too.

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  • …proving, in the process, that I really should not try to smile for photos. Yikes.

    It was a great time. I’m so glad I went, and so glad we finally got to meet.

  • TCC

    I had a similarly awesome time. (By the way, Rick was awesome to take our picture rather than relying on my crappy camera on my phone and send it to me. Tell him thanks again for me.)

    I would recommend watching some of the talks when they get posted online. Highlights for me were Rebecca Watson, Phil Ferguson (who’s also a great guy who bailed me out when technology failed me), James Croft, Hemant Mehta, and Tony Pinn (who went last and gave his incredibly important talk to a much smaller crowd than he deserved).

    Also, can I just say how awesome JT is? I finally found him on Sunday to say hi, and he hugged me no less than three times and made me feel so incredibly welcome in the movement. And later, when I happened to pass him again, he verified my name and even what my handle is online so he could connect the two. That may seem small, but it really means a lot to me, having been an anonymous face on these blogs for years and now starting to make my way into real-life atheist circles.

    You should all go next year, if you can pull it off. Seriously, such a great experience.

  • I have this version of that quote on a shirt, AND I FORGOT TO BRING IT! RAGE!

  • Sastra

    You met Gretchen!

    And Gretchen met YOU! St. Cynic!

    I’m so jealous. But I’ve been to 3 a/s/h (atheist/skeptic/humanist) conventions this year, and a 4th just wasn’t practical

    I met Stephen/wubwub once in person, in Washington DC many years ago. He had lunch with my mom and me and was awfully nice. Back then I was still heavily involved in the chatrooms of IRC. Good times, good times…

    Someday I will meet you. Yes.

  • Dude, Sastra, we talked about you. And how much we both want to meet you!

  • Yep, we did. That must be arranged someday.

  • lancifer


    Did you meet Gretchen in an elevator?

    Oh, never mind.

  • TCC –

    It was great to meet you as well. As I’ve traveled around over the last few years I’ve had the privilege of meeting many of my blog readers and commenters. I’ve even met Heddle (who is a really nice guy and some of you really should try to have more civil exchanges with him). I have yet to meet Michael Heath, which is kind of odd since we live in the same state. We need to arrange that sometime.

    I definitely will go back and watch the videos of some of the talks, especially the ones you mentioned. I heard Tony Pinn’s talk was awesome and wish we hadn’t had to leave before it happened (I got home at 4 am as it was).

  • Sastra


    I usually go to TAM and the Atheist Alliance (of America) conventions. A possible third always depends on finances, location, finances, and speakers.

  • fwtbc

    Looking forward to seeing some of the videos when they get posted.

    I’m feeling a bit torn about the public marriage proposal, though. Part of me is smiling and happy because JT and Michaelyn seem like an awesome couple who are totally in love, but I still can’t help but find public proposals to be a bit shitty as they put a lot of pressure on the person being proposed to to say yes or else be labelled a heartbreaking [insert gendered slur of choice here].

  • What a delight to meet the guy wearing my name tag. :o) Look forward to having you here for poker and such some time!

  • The pleasure was all mine, sir. If you come play poker with me, do I get a shirt, too? 🙂

  • Et tu, mom and dad? 🙂