Events outside of the Internet world have kept me from posting for a few weeks. No apologies, it was important.
But now things are cleared up and I’m off to one of my favorite annual events: Philcon.
Of all the science fiction conventions I’ve attended, Philcon is the one I most eagerly look forward to, and the one that I still attend every year, barring some personal crisis. It’s got a lot of competition in the area. Lunacon is closer to where I live. Boskone and Arisia were often larger, and given the migrations of ex-RPI people, are more likely to be attended by people I know. Readercon has more serious literary discussions. Disclave had a better party scene (at least until some fools took things too far and killed the con). I-Con is, umm… on Long Island. (At one point in my life that was enough of a positive quality.)
But don’t be fooled by any of that. Despite all I’ve said, Philcon still stands out, in my opinion, as the best con on the east coast. Okay, so the next logical question is “why?” That’s not so easy to answer, because it depends on a lot of subjective and intangible factors. But I’ll give it a shot.
For starters, it was my first major science fiction convention. In 1987, at the urging of Scanner, I made the trip down to Philly in a convoy of cars with about a dozen other members of the Rensselaer Science Fiction Association. It was an all-senses plunge into the con experience: crashing on floors, elevator stuffing, room parties, filking all night, dinner runs with some of the most interesting people I’ve ever known.
And the program, of course. Philcon has some very serious and experienced con-runners on its staff, and they do an excellent job of putting together a consistently fascinating slate of programming. One of the most memorable panels at my first Philcon was a discussion of the engineering challenges of building a space elevator, led by Charles Sheffield and Yoji Kondo. It was blue-sky thinking in 1987, but less than twenty years later, it looks like there are people who have the know-how and will to make it happen. I’ve also attended discussions on science fiction poetry, the influences of Edgar Allan Poe and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the fascination of “bad” SF writing, and how science fiction seems to be shying away from actually depictiong the advance of technology.
Philcon also has a lot for fans of other media. I was a lot more into anime ten or fifteen years ago, and Philcon was the first place that I saw features like Dirty Pair: Project Eden or Wings of Honneamise on a big screen. And back in those days we didn’t have dubs or subtitles. We watched it in the original Japanese, with someone reading a translation of the script if we were lucky. And Scanner had to swim to Japan to bring back the laser discs. Uphill, both ways.
Then there’s the masquerade, which is really the main event for Saturday at Philcon. Some of the best costumers on the East Coast attend Philcon, and many of them use it as a warmup for the Worldcon masquerade. To keep the audience entertained while waiting for the judging results, there are often halftime shows such as a performance by the Philadelphia Mummers, or a musical act like Clam Chowder. And back in the 80’s, when personal video cameras were still something of a rarity, I’d tag along with Scanner as part of his “camera crew” and get one of the best viewing spots in the room.
And of course there are the purely personal reminiscences. I made a lot of friends at Philcon, and there are still some people who I consider friends that I only see at Philcons. I brought several of my significant others to the con, and at one point my convention friends would joke about “who is Jim’s fiancee this year?” Not that it was all good times — one of my SO’s broke up with me while I was at Philcon. And for that matter, there were a few Philcons from hell, such as the time that I decided to save on hotel costs and crash with a friend in West Philly. We discovered that Philadelphia’s public transit is pretty awful, especially on weekends, and I think we wound up spending as much on cab fare as we would have saved on lodging. And the time that Dominus and I went to the Denny’s next to the convention hotel, and sat at a table for forty-five minutes while all the staff ignored us.
But it’s all part of the memories, and after a few years it all blends into a rich experience that forms a very significant part of my life, and which I wouldn’t give up for anything.
I’m going to try to post some notes from this year’s Philcon on the blog. Not sure yet whether I’ll be able to blog from the con or if I’ll have to take notes and wait until I get back. But it should be an adventure this year — for starters, I’ve got to navigate through the first big snowstorm of the year just to get out my door. Stay tuned, friends.
Though I’m an avid Heinlein fan, I don’t plan to seek this out — these are stories he disavowed from fairly early on as being too bad to reprint. Given how bad the worst of the rest of his stories are, that’s repudiation enough for me.
You know, I didn’t used to think that evil consisted of particular people rolling out of bed every morning, looking at themselves in the mirror, crying out Yar har har, what eeeeeeeevile thing shall I do today, and then setting forth with a spring in their step. I’d like to thank Tom DeLay’s Republican Party for convincing me otherwise.
The Fantastic Four got their powers back in ‘61. Reed Richards had built an experimental rocket. His former college roommate, Ben Grimm, was slated to pilot it. Over Ben’s objections that there hadn’t been adequate research into the effects of cosmic rays, they made an unauthorized launch to be sure to beat the Russkies to the moon. For no adequately explained reason, Reed’s fiancee, Sue Storm, and her little brother Johnny tagged along.
The cosmic rays wreaked havoc with the flight, and they crashed back to the Earth. In short order, they found that Reed had stretching powers; Johnny could burst into flames; Sue could turn invisible; Ben became a super-strong monster with orange rocky skin. (“What super-power did you get, Charlie Brown?” “I got a rock.”) Inevitably, they fight crime.
Now, despite the whole cosmic rays blunder, Reed is basically the smartest person and greatest scientist in the world.
J. Michael Straczynski, of Babylon 5 fame, has been writing the FF lately. In JMS’ first storyline, Reed was challenged with this question: Why did the cosmic rays affect them all differently?
Well, for starters, they were all physically different — different ages, masses, genetics. Each was in a different position in the ship. Cosmic rays is a catch-all term for a large number of different kinds of energetic particles. To at least a minuscule degree, they were probably exposed to different levels of different kinds of cosmic rays.
But did Reed even consider any of these?
No. He immediately decided that the only logical conclusion was that someone had been trying to send them a message.
That’s right, the greatest scientist in the world went in for Intelligent Design.
My bones proclaim a story of incompetent design.
My back still hurts, my sinus clogs, my teeth just won’t align.
If I had drawn the blueprint, I would cer-tain-ly resign.
Evo-Evo-Evo-lution! Design is but a mere illusion.
Darwin sparked our revolution. Science SHALL prevail!
Clive Staples Lewis has been perhaps the single most useful tool of Satan since his appearance in the Christian community sometime around World War II. With his strong belief in non-denominational Christianity, which he termed “mere Christianity”, and his apparent orthodoxy in doctrine, the influence of his pen has reached across many years. When the light of God’s Holy Bible is focused upon his writings, however, his heresy and outright love of Satan comes into bold focus.
Bill Gates is in India to hype the release of something or other. As part of the festivities, Microsoft commissioned an amazing song, Superhero, “celebrating the Indian developer.”
Springs up from the bed with a crossword in his head,
A shiver shakes his spine thinking what the boss said,
Feeling like a mouse in the tiger’s den (ah right)
I’m thinking inevitable Captain America comparisons.
Missed the bus again, runs all the way to work,
Prays to all his Gods, even Captain Kirk,
Hoping he can make it in time for the bumpy ride.
OK, so maybe “bumpy ride” is a reference to his anticipated work day. But it sounds like he caught another bus, the lyricist having forgotten that just two lines ago he ran all the way to work.
Opens all the windows, as he shuts the door,
As the magic begins to flow, out to the fore
He’s no less than a super hero
can’t make him fall
Ones and zeroes, threes and fours
In India, Microsoft developers use base 4, but they skip 2.
But not that bad a guy after all
A ringing endorsement.
Afternoon comes when everyone eats,
Staring down at lines on his L.C.D screen,
Cracking up the code, faster than the speed of light.
Evening bells ringing, had to meet his date,
Digits on his hand will have to make her wait,
Smiles at his phone, then tosses it aside.
Remember, kids, heroes blow off their personal commitments to work unpaid overtime.
Opens all the windows, as he shuts the door,
Oh, windows. I get it.
I know nothing would improve my morale like my employer spending money that could have gone to raises on a song making me out to be an oversleeping Captain-Kirk-worshipping milksop who wakes up trembling from something the boss said, and would rather work late than have a social life.
(Especially if I weren’t a guy at all. Or does Microsoft not hire women in India?)
Two former Cornell University entomologists who recently had the job of naming 65 new species of slime-mold beetles named three species that are new to science in the genus Agathidium for members of the U.S. administration. They are A. bushi Miller and Wheeler, A. cheneyi Miller and Wheeler and A. rumsfeldi Miller and Wheeler.
Science fiction is the bratty kid resulting from the marriage between Metaphysics and Romance. The child was born out of wedlock, however, and was put up for adoption–to be raised by a radio tinker and amateur rocketry enthusiast who happened to live in an abandoned nuclear powerplant.
Good news for hackers! All that lost sleep is good for you!
A six-year study of more than one million adults ages 30 to 102 has shown that people who get only 6 to 7 hours a night have a lower death rate. Individuals who sleep 8 hours or more, or less than 4 hours a night, were shown to have a significantly increased death rate compared to those who averaged 6 to 7 hours.
I loved Richard Scarry as a lad. Here’s a Flickr photoset of some of the ways the edition of Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book differed from what kids these days are seeing.
British “Reality” TV:
Channel 4 is blasting a group of adventurers, ordinary members of the public, off into space to spend five days orbiting the earth. It’s thrilling, it’s exciting, and it’s totally bogus.
In fact, the cadets will be on a disused military base in Suffolk.
Our group of thrill seekers will experience two weeks of intensive astronaut training believing they are in Star City, near Moscow, and labouring under the illusion that they are part of a real space mission.
And to forestall the first question. They aren’t experiencing weightlessness due to a combination of being in a low orbit (rather than outer space where the weightlessness is) and a few under-floor gravity generators.
Dammit, if I wanted to watch idiots being fooled by a large corporation, couldn’t I just go to the mall?
So, there’s this new keyboard layout, Colemak, whose creator says it’s better than Dvorak.
What’s wrong with the Dvorak layout?
- It’s very difficult and frustrating to learn for existing QWERTY typists.
Any new layout is going to be difficult and frustrating to learn. I’d be surprised if the 11 letter locations Colemak has in common with QWERTY make it noticeably easier to learn than Dvorak with its two. I wouldn’t be surprised if it made it even more difficult to switch back and forth from QWERTY to Colemak. In the absence of persuasive evidence that there’s a dramatic improvement in learning, I’d call it a mistake in designing a new keyboard layout to prioritize keeping letters in common with QWERTY. (Maybe the creator has this evidence, but the site doesn’t mention it.)
- Placing ‘L’ on the QWERTY ‘P’ position causes excessive strain on the right pinky.
- ‘I’ is very frequent but isn’t on the home position.
I’d agree that these are Dvorak’s biggest flaws.
- It is significantly lopsided so that the right hand does too much work.
Maybe. I haven’t noticed this.
- Even though the design principles are sound, the implementation isn’t great because it was designed without the aid of computers.
I don’t take “designed with the aid of a computer” as a conclusive sign of an advantage in the general case. But, for this case, computer analysis would so handy that it’s easy to believe that, with it, Dvorak could be bettered.
- All keyboard shortcuts are changed.
Not quite all — I can name several programs that use ^A as a shortcut. And Colemak leaves only up to nine more unchanged. But my reaction is the same as to the first point. You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. Changing a keyboard layout is going to change shortcuts.
But it’s got to be better than QWERTY. I’ve been very happy to have gone to the bother of learning Dvorak, and recommend learning a better layout to anyone who does a lot of typing on QWERTY. I wish Colemak’s creator the best of luck in advancing this layout (certainly, Dvorak found it a thankless job.)
For myself, I figure learning to touch-type twice is enough for one lifetime. (But remapping Caps Lock to Backspace is a great idea — I’ll probably do that one.)
So Zed was on the East Coast this week, and he dropped by my place for a visit. A few issues relating to communications came up.
First, I hadn’t told Zed that Sheri and I are back together (she moved back in with me this summer after a separation of about a year and a half). But I mentioned it to him when he called me, and his reaction was basically, “Oh, that’s good to hear.”
Zed’s wife, on the other hand, reportedly had a much stronger reaction. According to Zed, “she was incensed at me for belonging to a sex that is so uncommunicative.” To add another data point, I hadn’t told Sheri that Zed was married before yesterday, when I mentioned that Zed and his wife might be visiting. Sheri’s reaction was just to ask, “Oh, when did Zed get married?” So the moral there is, don’t blame the male species as a whole, it’s just me who’s the non-communicator.
Now, when Zed got to my place, he and Sheri and I went out to lunch (his wife wasn’t with him after all; she had another social engagement). Afterwards, we went back home and I showed Zed the basics of Civilization IV, and we chatted about the usual topics: computer games and other software, books and comics, old friends and their doings, etc.
So just after Zed left, Sheri asked me, “Did you have fun in your boys’ club?”
My reaction was “huh?” She said “It was cute, you were just like a couple of little boys, you talked about your games, and your comic books…” Now, mind you, the things we talked about at home were pretty much the same as those we’d talked about at lunch, and Sheri has no trouble holding her own in a good geek conversation. And while we were geeking out, Sheri was upstairs watching “Sex and the City” DVD’s and making phone calls and e-mails to her friends, planning a “girls’ night in” with wine and chick flicks.
So yeah, I can still be a Guy™ from time to time. But people who live in glass houses and all…