James Randi, observing your correspondent with a skeptical eye.


Nearly every year, I check out the list of fellow speakers at the upcoming Conference On World Affairs and circle one or two names with an orange highlighter. The color has a simple but important meaning:


"Try very, very hard not to get so excited or intimidated about meeting this person that you wind up acting like a total jackass."


Now, then. I am indeed a geek, but through lots of observation, experimentation, and plain old hard work on my part, I've managed to get a rudimentary but functional suite of social skills up and running. So the "don't act like a total jackass" software is normally a background process that never needs to become the frontmost app, so to speak.


But I've enjoyed Randi's work since I was a mere slip of a lad. I saw him on TV, and I really liked him. Then, I used my birthday money to special-order a copy of "Flim-Flam!" at the mall bookstore. And I freaking loved him. His whole approach of thinking carefully and questioning what you're observing hit a profound chord with me that continues to resonate.


So I knew that if I didn't keep a careful eye on my Geekout gauge during the Conference, there was a very real chance that I would do or say something which in future would only be referred to a "...the Incident."


(...and even then, with an involuntary shudder.)


But Randi is a v.friendly dude who quickly puts you at ease, and I greatly enjoyed hanging out with him from time to time during the week.


Actually, on Tuesday the hanging out bordered on stalking...though most of it wasn't of my doing. We spoke on the same panel in the morning, then we had lunch together in the speakers' lunchroom, and then Phil Plait (aka the Bad Astronomer, a recent Boulder immigrant) had both of us over for dinner. It was a fab night full of great food and conversation. And a mentalist trick that still has me pacing and muttering, trying to figure out how (the bloody hell) Randi worked it.


Well, anyway. This was taken at Phil's house.


[In response to regular requests by fellow Randi fans: this photo is Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike. By all means, go ahead and use this elsewhere. No need to ask permission...all I ask is that you credit me.]

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Taken on April 8, 2008