Feb 17 2009

A Visit with James Randi

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I am on vacation with the family this week. This has a couple of implications for this blog. First, I will not be posting as many entries. Tomorrow I have a post at Science Based Medicine, and then my next post here will be Friday. Next week I will be back to my usual schedule. I also will not be able to moderate comments as often – so be patient.

But the good news is that I am vacationing in Florida and took the opportunity to visit James Randi at the JREF headquarters.

This was my first visit to the JREF. The physical space is humble but comfortable and functional in a scholarly sort-of way – pretty much what you would expect from such an organization. The most impressive aspect was the skeptical library, which holds over 3000 books – impeccably indexed. Randi has been the recipient of many old tomes over the years, some of which were evident on the shelves.

But of course the reason our reason for visiting the JREF (I was there with my brothers and fellow podcasters, Jay and Bob) was to visit with the man himself. Randi was kind to sit with us for a couple of hours and chew the skeptical fat.

Randi is a hugely impressive man in a small frame. At 80 he is still energetic and engaging. His mind is filled with seemingly endless anecdotes about his adventures and investigations, as well as all the friends he made over the years. I felt like we could have sat and chatted for hours.

All the while he was still busy at his craft – working on his latest book (on fairies), preparing for yet another trip, and dealing with other projects.

But what most impresses me about Randi is his never-ending love for science and knowledge.  His eyes still managed to twinkle as he told us about a new bit of fascinating knowledge he came by, or demonstrated a mentalist trick, or about a recent historical puzzle that was solved. He manages an infectious enthusiasm when he talks about science, and cannot help but assume the role of instructor when he has knowledge to impart.

At one point he became almost giddy and said, “Oh, wait. I have got to show you this.” Then he ran into his office to show us the new 32 gigabyte USB flash drive he recently acquired, so we could marvel at its tiny size and huge capacity. (Ironically, that very morning I had done the same thing with my brothers – I have a new 32 GB USB drive I brought with me to have all my files handy.) He also showed off his digital camera and his new sub-notebook computer. That is pretty impressive for someone of his generation. I can barely get my parents to use a computer (although my mother did learn more quickly when she found out she could shop online).

The JREF also has a new small studio in which Randi is making YouTube videos. Richard Montalvo, who produces the videos for the JREF, sat me down with Randi and we did an impromptu video together, talking about neurology and magic. Without any prep, of course, Randi did not miss a beat.

If Randi has found the fountain of youth I think it is in keeping a tireless enthusiasm for new knowledge and technology.

Thanks for a wonderful day, Randi.

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