Saturday, November 14, 2009

PZ Myers Speaks at Purdue: "A Few Things I've Learned from Creationists"

Yesterday night PZ Myers, who I'm sure you all know blogs over at Pharyngula, was nice enough to give a lecture at Purdue University. I found out through an ecology listserv that he would be speaking at an evo-devo meeting at Indiana University in Bloomington this weekend, and he was willing to fly in a day early to stop by West Lafayette first. We were all incredibly excited, and the atheists at IU were incredibly jealous.

Part of my duty at the President of the Society of Non-Theists was to safely retrieve PZ from the Indianapolis airport. Usually this would be a simple task - I've driven there a couple of times before and it's about an hour and twenty away. The caveat was that PZ's flight was supposed to arrive at 4pm, his talk started at 6pm, and flights are pretty much always late.

It seems the Flying Spaghetti Monster was not watching over us, because I soon got a phone call from PZ saying his flight was running a half hour late. No problem, plenty of time, I thought. I got to the airport and read American Gods in the parking lot for a while to waste time. But pretty soon it was getting later and later, and we both started to freak out on twitter. I unfortunately didn't have internet access, so I had no clue what was going on (though it was apparently fairly amusing to our mutual followers).

I finally got a call at 4:50 that he had arrived, and we zoomed off toward West Lafayette, me trying to drive as quickly as possible without killing two atheist bloggers in one blow. I called my officers because I knew we'd be late, and that they should entertain the audience to prevent a riot - PZ suggested balloon animals, I suggested interpretive dance. We ended up being about 15 minutes late, but my awesome officers held down the fort by playing Mr. Diety videos (PZ: I have to follow Mr. Diety?! Oh no!). PZ then gave a great talk, "A Few Things I've Learned from Creationists" - which can pretty much be summed up by this photo:Thankfully PZ gave us permission to videotape it, so you can watch it yourself! (EDIT: So...apparently people think the sound quality sucks, but I think it sounds fine. Either my computer is awesome, or I'm just not that picky. Regardless, if you think it's crappy, feel free to donate a high quality video camera to the Society of Non-Theists. EDIT 2: Thanks for all of the audio recording tips. If you hadn't figured it out yet, we didn't exactly know what we're doing, and I feel really bad that it came out so badly, so I apologize. I'm still completely baffled by the people who say they can't understand a thing, though. I can tell what he's saying the entire talk...either listening through headphones is the trick, or I have super human hearing.)

I thought his talk was great, and so did everyone else (though I think some of the biology-heavy bits went over most people's heads). He drew a big crowd - I wasn't able to get an exact head count because there were so many people, but I'd estimate a little over 150 individuals were there. Just to give you an idea, here are a couple shots of the majority of the crowd (still leaving out about 30 or 40 people):Surprisingly, there weren't many creationists there, or they were just keeping quiet. Only one question seemed to have a creationist bent, and no one looked especially furious.
We then relocated to Boiler Market, a local restaurant with great food and cheap pitchers of beer, a winning combination. About 35-40 people showed up, and we had a great time talking with our fellow non-theists. This event definitely brought some new faces out of the woodwork - hopefully they'll stay, and we'll see them at future meetings!The best part for me was definitely driving PZ from and to the airport. I was lucky to have him to myself for nearly three hours, and it was great fun talking to him. We talked about biology, grad school, blogging, silly religious topics, the book he's writing, and all sorts of random things. I had a blast, and I hope he did too!

37 comments:

  1. Gonna watch the vid tomorrow after work. Way to go, Jen. Looks like another success for the SNT.

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  2. Blast! There’s so much background noise and PZ’s voice was so low in the vid, I can barely understand a dang thing he says. Sadness. People should start hiring professional services for videotaping such events. With actual high-end film cameras and so forth. =/

    The little I did bear to see seemed quite interesting, though. Happy for you and all those other lucky bastards who were there. You do know how to cook us, Jen. ;-)

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  3. The Katie's Kickin' Sandwich at the Boiler Market is really good.

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  4. Is the sound that bad? It sounds fine on my computer...

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  5. Well, it’s not horrible (for me), but it does make much of it hard to understand. Though, it’s not like I have the best hearing, either.

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  6. That was realy cool. Thanks so much for recording it Jen! I'm not up to shakes on my biology knowledge, but I found it to be a very clear presentation, and it must have been a real treat for anyone who could have been there.

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  7. The video quaility is wonderful, you don't need a better camera. What you need is to take the audio from the speakers mic and to ask the camera person to please not beat on the side of the camera.

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  8. I'm Jealous now...

    Wonder if PZ is coming to the UK any time soon, will watch the vid once I've finished my work.

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  9. Muffled sound, lots of background noise, constant jiggling of camera - but some people think it's OK?!

    Unwatchable.

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  10. Unless you can tape in widescreen HD and 7.1 Dolby surround, don't bother. :)

    A lot of time, reading Jen's blog makes me glad I'm left undergrad school far behind me. But other times, like this, I wish I were! Sounds like a great day.

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  11. Thanks for making this video, lots of juicy ideas :-)

    Did you consider uploading the video to (e.g.) dotsub.com and asking for help with subtitling?
    I haven't tried this, but subtitles would fix most of the audio issues, I believe...

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  12. Great story and it's always a treat to see PZ in the wild.

    Well done.

    Bill
    MS Chemistry, Purdue, '76

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  13. ITAP has the infrastructure in place to record (audio) from most if not all classrooms. It may be worthwhile to inquire about this next time.

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  14. His microphone wasn't turned up very loud due to the fact that it was a lecture hall, so he was fairly easy to hear, although I was toward the back. People were quiet for the most part but I did have to focus my hearing on PZ to hear him clearly. Since most digital cameras tend to compress the dynamics (what probably happened in this case) it makes the background noise a little louder. Still the talk was very interesting and entertaining, and having a video with mediocre sound is better than none at all!

    Thanks for organizing this event and posting this video archive Jen!

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  15. 'The Great Rift'(tm) in the atheist ranks is obviously apparent when 2/3 of the audience are so repulsed by one of the leaders of the 'New' faction that they won't even drink cheap beer with him. Soon our schism will result in an interncine conflict that will make the 30 years war look like a school yard squabble. Yeah, right.

    Wish I could have been there.

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  16. Does this Mr Diety give advice about sensible nutrition? Just wondering...

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  17. Looks like it went well and was a success all around - kudos!

    However the audio was subpar, and I could only watch a few minutes of it. I feel bad sounding critical when someone went to the effort of recording it but I want to give some helpful feedback. The video of PZ's talk at AAI is I think a good example of how to record a lecture.

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  18. Did PZ make you pinky-swear to not talk about his book to anyone else? I'm dying to know what it's about.

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  19. I wish I could have watched it. The sound was so bad that I had to abandon the idea after about 3 minutes.
    I don't understand how you thought "it was just fine".

    Anyway, thanks for trying.

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  20. Getting audio that people won't complain about has little if anything to do with the camera.

    The trick, it turns out, is to use a remote microphone on the podium (or the speaker) or to jack in to a direct monitor out from the PA system.

    Even most low-end cameras have an audio input so it is just a matter of getting an accessory for it. Even a cheap directional wireless mic will sound better than recording from the camera's mic.

    A lot of people have difficulties with noise discrimination. It's a very subjective and varies widely from person to person.

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  21. Hey, I'm in a picture with PZ. Pretty sure that'll never happen again.

    He wasn't kidding about his demeanor: he's a pretty chill, gentle kind-o-dude.

    Although I'm glad that PZ didn't hold back the scientific terminology during that talk, I was having trouble in certain places understanding what he was saying, and I've taken some biology classes (including genetics)...and I have a degree in chemistry. Creationists have no fucking clue what kind of in-depth knowledge intellectually honest people have to keep up with just to stay afloat the ever-expanding sea of data.

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  22. I do not believe in any God...but, but...

    Doesn't basing most of your extra curricular interests around the fact that your an atheist and are interested in atheist activities...

    Get a little tiresome?

    ( This goes for PZ as well, but I'm beginning to suspect he's an egomaniac.)

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  23. Well, if I were a dreary troll like you, I wouldn't enjoy hanging around with others of my kind either. But intelligent atheists, on the other hand, kind of like meeting and talking and having a good time together.

    I'm so sorry that you don't understand that.

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  24. the sound is bad. I'm giving up on it. Between PZ sounding like Charlie Brown's teacher, and the sound of someone fumbling with the camera, it is just unwatchable. Thanks for trying, though. Better luck next time.

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  25. I tried to watch the video and the sound was REALLY bad, like someone was thumping the microphone or something, so I gave up to read through the comments and the video reloaded. Because I really wanted to hear it I tried a second time, and this time there was no thumping. The sound wasn't fantastic, but I could understand it fine. Maybe if you're having the same problem, try again?

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  26. Jen, do not take too hard comments regarding sound quality and vid. Actually I find quality of the camera sufficient, but maybe just few tips will be helpful:
    - use 2 cameras - 1 stable on tripod registering what is displayed on big screen, the other focused on speaker. First can be fixed on tripod, the other on good quality tripod operated by a person.
    - use wireless noise-cancelling mics attached directly to speaker. By doing this mic will be collecting voice without bakground noise and echoes.
    - avoid moving the camera too frequently. better is edit the material later from second camera. Quality of the cameras do not count much. The second camera for slides might be borrowed from someone (I believe lots of folks have cameras these days). You can get then professional quality recordings.

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  27. The sound quality was decent on my headphones. Recording the audio from the close-up microphone and using two cameras (or editing in the slide pictures directly) are good ideas for future events.

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  28. I'm only five minutes in, but I have no problem at all understanding anything he's saying. The background noise is kind of loud at times, but it's not too bad. I wonder what's causing some people to say it's unwatchable.

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  29. Contrary to Jason's comment, above, most low-end cameras do NOT have an audio input. The cheapest I've found are Canon's series of flash-memory camcorders, and their cheapest HDs are around $600. They make a series in standard-def for about $200-300 these days.

    Expansion of audio capabilities beyond an onboard mic appears to be one of the delineating characteristics of the "prosumer" level of cameras. Because gods forbid a casual enthusiast desire to produce output of quality.

    There's plenty of cheap or free video software that would allow you to sync your video with separately-recorded audio. My preferred option, however, is to record directly into my computer using an HD webcam for video and a mic on a long extension cord -- less than a hundred bucks at Radio Shack, and you're golden.

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  30. Ooh, hey.. Sorry. TheOutsider appears to be correct. I made an very bad assumption based on my own experience with cameras at my workplace and those owned by my friends which range from little things that fit in your palm all the way up to the professional movie system Red One but I have yet to see one in person without an audio input. I realize now that in all of these cases, the cameras very well may have been selected specifically because of that feature. Again, sorry for the unintentional misinformation.

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  31. Thanks for the effort.
    Enjoy.

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  32. The sound is definitely a lot worse than it could be. It's a simple matter of the camera being far from the speaker and its relying on the PA audio. You don't need a new camera, just invest $99 in a SONY WCS-999 Wireless Microphone System. It would allow you to put a lapel mic on PZ and that signal would beam over to the receiver which plus into the mic jack on the camera. Soooo much better audio.

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  33. I don't remember seeing this in the local paper (J&C). I definitely would have gone or at least come for the beer tipping. I know 'students are our future' but come on, this needed to be advertised all over Lafayette. There is a lot of life outside of campus. Luckily I've talked to P.Z. before, so I'm not REAL pissed about this - only mildly so.

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  34. Sorry Greg, we did our best - flyered around campus and West Lafayette, had PZ make a post about it, made a facebook event, emailed other Indiana freethinking groups, emailed all the local papers about it (but none of them were interested...). I'm not sure what more we could do =\

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  35. I'm quite surprised you remembered to be worried about PZ's arrival while reading Gaiman. His books always effectively transport me to a world where no tweets are able to get to me

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