Alberta and the Mythbusters. Eh?

By Phil Plait | October 22, 2007 9:55 pm

I got back from the Alberta Science Festival in Fort McMurray, Alberta (Canada) last night pretty late. I was exhausted, but it was so worth it. I had a blast.

Stick with this blog post; there are good pictures below!

Fort McMurray is a smallish town basically in the middle of nowhere, central Alberta. The area is entirely beautiful boreal forest. Oil was found a few hundred kilometers northeast of Edmonton, so the companies swooped in, and a town blossomed. This year, those companies sponsored the Alberta Science Foundation’s Science Festival, where they get lots of folks to come in and talk science. I was invited, and didn’t even hesitate. First, they sounded like a good group trying to do good things. Second, they accepted my fee without even hesitating. :-)

When I got there, it didn’t take me long to realize I was a lot farther north than I’m used to. This sight greeted me:

The Moon was just past its high point in the sky; but look how low that "high" was! Fort McMurray is at 56.5 degrees north, a full 16 degrees north of my house in Boulder. Later that evening I could see Polaris was higher in the sky, too. Even if the temperature hadn’t been cold, and all the signs been in metric, and the folks didn’t all say "Eh?" after their questions, I would have known I was in a foreign land.

I gave my Moon Hoax and general BA talks, which went pretty well. I had lots of questions from kids afterwards, which I love. They were so enthusiastic! It makes me hope for the future.

A month or so before the festival, when I was asked to come up and talk, they also asked me if I’d be interested in MCing the Mythbusters Build Team (Grant Imahara, Tory Belleci, and Kari Byron) in a discussion and audience Q&A. "No way!" I said.

Or I might have said "YES!" I think maybe that’s more accurate. I may have said "W00t!" too.

I met up with the group on Saturday afternoon. I had met all three before, though briefly (all of them at Dragon*Con last year for a few minutes, but also Kari and Tory at previous TAMs). We went over what we’d talk about and then just chatted for a while. Then it was time to go on!

A friend grabbed my camera and said "Let me take a picture!" I said sure, not really thinking about it. I felt a hand on my shoulder, and this is what turned out:

Cooooool. Click it (and the one below) to embiggen.

Of course, that’s not really proof I was anything more than a hanger-on. So I provide this:

We did two panels, and it was really fun. The three of them obviously get along really well, and were happy to hang out with each other and with a bunch of us science edumacation types, even though they had a grueling schedule (and a difficult flight into Canada I hear). Tory and Grant are almost exactly like they are on TV, much like Adam and Jamy are WYSIWYG, too.

Kari, however, is, um, a wee bit different. Don’t believe the sweetness and light routine you see on the show. It’s not like she shot a man in Reno just to watch him die or anything (or at least she didn’t mention that specifically), but she told a couple of jokes that, well… they’ll never get on TV, I’ll say that much. But that’s all I’m gonna say about that. Like Grant and Tory she was personable and cool, even though she made fun of me a few times at the bar. However, I’m used to that from women. I always chalk it up to deep-seated feelings of repressed desire. That’s as good a reason as any.

But all good things, as they say. Eventually it was time to go home. My flight was delayed due to a strong upper level wind blowing south which held up the plane from Denver, but kicked our tail heading home. As we went up to our cruising altitude we went through some thin clouds, and I was greeted by a beautiful halo outside my window:

I was trying to think of some way to get the words "Halo 3" gracefully into this post to get better ranking in Google, but grace is not my forte. So: Halo 3 Halo Three Halo III. There.

I had a fantastic time in Canada. I met a lot of great folks (Hi Julie and Tamara and Kaya and Heather and Ashley and Emilie — hmmmm, now that I think about it, all the organizing-type folks from the Science Foundation were women. That’s interesting… seriously, I wonder why that is? But also hi to BABLogee Sean — I was hoping to see you at the hotel bar after the talk!), I had a lot of fun, and I certainly would love to go back up. Next year, maybe, I’ll be able to see the northern lights…


Comments (33)

  1. I was trying to think of some way to get the words “Halo 3” gracefully into this post to get better ranking in Google…

    Don’t worry, I’ve got it covered.

  2. Glad you had a great time.

    Hopefully next time you’re in Alberta, you can stop in at Drumheller’s Royal Tyrrell Museum! 😉

  3. Andy

    Awesome!!! I’m so jealous! You got to meet Tory, Kari and Grant!
    I love Mythbusters!
    I’m going to go away and cry now….

  4. [quote]I’m going to go away and cry now….[/quote]

    I’ll join you.

  5. So did Grant and Kari give any reason for not being at TAM5? Don’t give me any bull about them being busy with something else. What could POSSIBLY take president or be more important than TAM?

  6. Mek

    Glad you had fun. :) Sounds like a great place for observing, how was the sky there? Did you get the chance to do any stargazing?

  7. Hey. Impressed. I want to meet the mythbusters as well…

    I live in Norway (63 degrees ++ north) and I am always impressed that the moon is so high when I travel further south. And the northern star is pretty much straight up (well not fully but almost)

    It’s not so usual to see the northern lights so far south as 56 degrees is it? Even where I am living we usually only see the green hues of colour. (You usually have to cross the polar circle to se multicolored displays in the sky, as far as I know anyway)

    Keep up the good work!


  8. Grand Lunar

    Pretty cool, Phil!

    Interesting relevation about Kari, too.
    I figured she was not your average woman, but not in the manner you describe!

    I don’t suppose some videos of your talk and trip will be appearing anytime soon, huh? I love to see you spread REAL science to others.

  9. Phil

    Booo Halo 3 😛

    You want the Orange Box my friend. Why play as a gun wielding marine when you can play as a gun wielding SCIENTIST?

  10. Ken B

    Are you sure that the real reason the Moon and Polaris were in the “wrong” places isn’t because the Earth’s axis has shifted?


  11. Jamie

    I’m so sad I wasn’t able to go, I wish I knew sooner that it was going on. Oh well I will look forward to next year.

  12. Sergeant Zim

    As far as why so many of the organizing forces in science fairs etc. are women, I have a theory:

    Many women started to get into Science because there are/were a lot of guys going into Science, and they figured it might be a good opportunity to catch a potentially rich one. Now that the balance may be shifting, we may see a preponderance of women in the Sciences for a while, until the lads figure out that that’s where all the smart, beautiful women are. (I know, saying smart and beautiful to describe a female Scientist is a redundancy…)

    And please ladies, don’t accuse me of sexism, any more than normal, anyway. As the famous line uttered by virtually all baseball umpires goes: “I calls ’em like I sees ’em”.

  13. Cello Man

    Not enough pictures of Kari. But it’s a fun article so I’ll let that slide.

  14. The Dread Polack

    Haha! That doesn’t surprise me about Kari at all. She’s just the kind of girl I hung out with in High School. Grant is actually the kind of guy I hung out with in HS. We’d probably be on the match team together or something. I bet Kari and Grant wouldn’t have hung out in HS though. Hm…

    Anyway, I’m jealous. Sounds like you had a lot of fun with those crazy kids.

    Dread Polack

  15. Grizzly


    And how do you like living in Denver, Colorado (United States of America).

    Pet peeve of a few Canajuns that anytime a place in Canajia is mentioned we have to append the country.

    Glad you liked Fort Mac, but it’s too bad you didn’t have time to view the Bitumen mining (that oil that was discovered…) and also see more of the province.

  16. Moose

    : You want the Orange Box my friend. Why play as a gun wielding marine
    : when you can play as a gun wielding SCIENTIST?

    Two words: Scorpion. and Tank.
    One more word: Warthog.

    Gordon Freeman can’t pick up chicks with the gravity gun. (Well, actually, he can, but…)

  17. jest

    I think it’s in Fort Mac, where a Subway restaurant is paying their employees $20/hour after three months of being there. Just to keep ’em there.

    I’m surprised the BA didn’t get up-ended by a stack of money while looking up (across? hehe) at the moon.

  18. aiabx

    I wonder if Kari gets fed up with being a top 5 nerd obsession and that makes her a bit more willing to get a few shots in at her fanboy base. Or maybe she’s just a bit too quick and sharp for the good of people around her. We’ll never know unless you pass on the jokes.
    You can attribute them to random strangers if you’re trying to avoid a lwsuit/asskicking.

  19. Quiet_Desperation

    I recall when they first added the second team to Mythbusters I was, naturally, skeptical, but they turned out to be a really good team. I actually recognized Grant initially from Battlebots, and Tory’s sense of humor jives with mine. I’ll avoid a Kari comment because it’s getting old. Yes, she’s cute. We get it.

    And, sorry, but Half Life pwns Halo.

    Hey, I love both, but Half Life is a thinking man’s shooter.

    My only message to Valve is “MORE PORTAL LEVELS!”

  20. What???

    Details details, but if Fort Mac is Central Alberta, I guess that puts Edmonton in Southern Alberta (as it’s a 5 hour drive South of Fort Mac)… what’s Lethbridge then (5 hour drive south of Edmonton)?

    (Some would argue that Lethbridge is Hell.) 😉

  21. zeb

    IMO moon halos are better. I always love people wondering what I am looking at until I point up. Of course, sun halos do have their charm.

  22. Yeah, Fort Mac is more Nort-East than Central… 😉

    I managed to get to one of the Mythbusters pannels at Dragon Con last year. The funniest bit: There were 2 Q&A mics in a hall that seated thousands. Each mic had a line-up at least 20 people deep the entire time.

    Until one poor guy gets to the mic and asks “Kari, will you marry me?”

    And immeidately, ALL of the guys in both lineups went back to their seats!

    Even grant had to comment on that one with a “Hey, all the guys had the same question!”

    Did she get any proposals in FM?

  23. Andrew

    Jeez, it’s not like we Canadians say ‘eh!?’ all the time, eh? Just a lot of it.

    So anyway, glad you had a good time in the place the rest of us affectionately refer to “Fort McMoney.” Eh.

  24. uknesvuinng

    Re: Orange Box

    Not only can you be a gun-wielding scientist, but if you want, you can play TF2 and be a gun-wielding soldier (or medic, scout, demoman, etc). And for sheer gimmicky, physics-defying fun, you can play Portal. All Halo 3 has is fellow players to shoot and a nice control scheme. Halo is way overrated. There’s not really much of anything Halo does that isn’t done elsewhere and often better.

    Also, as someone who’d followed Team Fortress since the original (Quake 1), I’m still mildly in shock that TF2 has actually come out. Granted, it isn’t the epic, strategic military shooter we were initially promised, but it’s something. I could almost expect Duke Nukem Forever to actually come out now, but then I remember that “Forever” refers to how long they intend to keep it “in development.”

  25. Max Fagin

    What does WYSIWYG stand for?

  26. theRick

    WYSIWYG = What You See Is What You Get

  27. Pete Dunkelberg

    OT Phil, please check your email for a note on a physics blog carnival.


  28. Jim Baerg

    Hi Jon L

    The aurora is usually visible farther south in Canada than in Europe because the N magnetic pole is near the Canadian Arctic Islands so the ring of aurora around it dips farther south in Canada.

    Jim Baerg 51°N 114°W

  29. Kullat Nunu

    …63 degrees ++ north…

    Ditto, give or take half a degree.

    And the northern star is pretty much straight up (well not fully but almost)

    From these latitudes the primary stars of Ursa Major and Cassiopeia are located south from the zenith.

    It’s not so usual to see the northern lights so far south as 56 degrees is it?

    It is not usual to see aurorae that south in Europe.

    The aurora is usually visible farther south in Canada than in Europe because the N magnetic pole is near the Canadian Arctic Islands so the ring of aurora around it dips farther south in Canada.

    You’re right, I forgot that. That is changing, however, because the magnetic pole is racing northwards rapidly.

    The northernmost Europe (Lapland) is located directly under the aurora oval. The relatively mild climate (come on, the record low temperatures are only around -50°C!), long dark winter nights and good accessibility means that it is the best place in the world for aurora watching.

  30. Seymour Skinner

    Anywho, I see you understood that ’embiggen’ is a perfectly cromulent word!


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