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Thursday 15-Nov
  • Salman Rushdie at the Texas Book Festival in 2005 (0)

  • Saturday 01-Sep
  • Authors and the fans who love them: maybe a little too much: an ArmadilloCon 2007 panel (0)
  • Create a World: an ArmadilloCon 2007 panel (0)
  • Con disaster stories: an ArmadilloCon 2007 panel (0)

  • Sunday 22-Jul
  • Armadillocon 2004: Opening ceremony (0)

  • Monday 25-Jun
  • How Friendly Were Frodo and Sam? An ApolloCon 2007 panel (0)

  • Tuesday 27-Feb
  • "Accelerando" by Charles Stross: FACT reading group discussion (0)

  • Wednesday 17-Jan
  • The God or the Machine: A World Fantasy Convention 2006 panel (0)
  • It's Not A Cliché... Yet: a World Fantasy Convention 2006 panel (0)

  • Tuesday 17-Oct
  • "A Scanner Darkly" by Philip K. Dick: FACT group discussion and my own opinion (0)


  •  Wil McCarthy on his programmable matter career -- an ApolloCon 2009 Guest of Honor speech  View Printable Version 
     Author:  elze
     Dated:  Tuesday, July 14 2009 @ 11:03 AM PDT
     Viewed:  544 times  
    ApolloCon 2009

    This article is now on my new website.

    Wil McCarthy, a scientist and science fiction author, was the Guest of Honor at ApolloCon 2009. He gave a talk on the work he's been doing in programmable matter. He started off by showing the audience a piece of clear glass. Then he heated the glass with a hair dryer. An irregularly shaped reflective blob grew on the glass -- the heat turned the glass reflective. This was McCarthy's demonstration of materials he's working on in his startup.

    Definitions and discussion of programmable matter can be found elsewhere on the web, and McCarthy did not dwell on the theory, but talked about his work in this area. His practical work in programmable matter developed from his nonfiction book "Hacking Matter", which it turn was born from his fiction. He talked about the events that lead to writing of "Hacking Matter", and how it attracted investors' interest, leading to creation of programmable matter startup. McCarthy talked about his company's journey to discovery of viable commercial applications for these materials, and why he avoids the word "nanotechnology" for marketing this technology to investors. He briefly discussed weapon potential and security issues of programmable matter with the audience. Finally, he talked about balancing his science and writing careers, or rather, impossibility thereof.

    Pictures from ApolloCon 2009 are available in my photo gallery.

    Read more about ApolloCon 2009 in my blog

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     Social Media Camp: the Half-Baked game  View Printable Version 
     Author:  elze
     Dated:  Friday, January 02 2009 @ 05:54 PM PST
     Viewed:  892 times  
    General NewsThis article has been moved to my new website. Read it here.

    The most entertaining event in the Social Media Camp (July 30, 2008) was the Half-Baked game. In this game, people are randomly assigned into 6 teams. The goal of each team is to come up with a startup idea and present its business plan to the judges. This being a Social Media Camp, one of the requirements is that the social media aspect should be built into the business plan.

    It was fascinating to see how aspiring internet entrepreneurs think. It left me shaking my head: so this is how internet bubbles form! These are the kind of minds that gave us stuff like Pets.com in 2000. :-) But no, it would be unfair to reach sweeping conclusions based on what I saw. 20 minutes is hardly enough time to come up with a business plan that's both original and viable. It was only a game after all.

    First, the audience comes up with 50 random words, and those words are written on the whiteboard. Each team needs to pick any two words that will make up their company's name. Then they have 20 minutes to come up with a tag line and a business plan. (Preferably also a logo -- the room was full of people with computers, and I bet a lot of them, like me, had Photoshop).

    Here are the words suggested by the audience. These were the judges' criteria for evaluating each business plan. Here are the startup concepts the teams came up with: Buzz Squad -- like GPS for drinking; Porn Sucks -- promoting positive porn to save sex workers; Beer Buzz -- good beer, good times; Time Pirates -- find a hidden treasure in your calendar; Green Ninjas -- it's easy buying green; Love Cookies -- customizable cookies.

    Here is my blog post on other events that took place at the Social Media Camp.


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     Gregory Benford at Fencon 2008  View Printable Version 
     Author:  elze
     Dated:  Friday, November 28 2008 @ 04:15 PM PST
     Viewed:  527 times  
    Conventions

    This article is now on my new website.

    Science fiction writer and physics professor Gregory Benford was the Guest of Honor at Fencon 2008. On several occasions during convention he shared his thoughts on topics such as American dominance in the world and its role to play in the technological future. Having been in science fiction fandom for four decades, Benford is proud of American science fiction and fandom influence on the world, which he puts in such blunt terms as "We own the future". At the same time he acknowledges that the future is not all rosy, and that science fiction may be the proverbial canary in the coal mine, signaling of darker times to come. Benford's keynote speech on Saturday was the problems facing the world and what can be done about them. Of those, global climate change was the most significant issue. He assured us that whatever is being done to counter it isn't working, because global warming is typically viewed as a moral problem (excessive consumption), when it needs to be seen as an engineering problem. To that end he proposed an unconventional -- or perhaps little known -- approach. At the end of his speech he spent some time on space travel and overpopulation.

    Gregory Benford also appeared in the "Science -- fact or crap?" game at Fencon, where two teams of players competed regarding their knowledge of science facts. Read more about it in my blog.

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     Neal Stephenson in Austin, September 25, 2008  View Printable Version 
     Author:  elze
     Dated:  Saturday, October 04 2008 @ 09:31 AM PDT
     Viewed:  746 times  
    Interesting People

    On September 25 Neal Stephenson gave a reading from his latest novel Anathem, signed books and answered audience's questions. This is Stephenson's third reading and Q/A at Book People over the last 4 years. Some of the questions haven't changed much from year to year. Are his projects getting bigger and bigger? Is he ever going to write something short? Which is the favorite of the novels he has written? Why does he prefer to do his research in books, as opposed to search engines? Hint: serendipity. Are there new technologies he is excited about? Other questions are new. Does he have any ideas on posthumanism? Has he been making something cool in the workshop lately? Why is Anathem set on an imaginary world, not Earth?


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     ArmadilloCon 2008: Stump the Panel  View Printable Version 
     Author:  elze
     Dated:  Friday, September 19 2008 @ 08:14 PM PDT
     Viewed:  824 times  
    ArmadilloCon 2008This article is now on my new website.

    On "Stump the Panel" the panelists are supposed to come up with mundane and science-fictional uses for objects supplied by the audience. Indeed, in Rhonda Eudaly's, S. Andrew Swann's, and Lou Antonelli's imagination things like a pen, a nail file, and a box of Tictacs become something completely different. Especially the nail file. Rhonda had to restrain her imagination regarding this object, because there were children in the audience. :-)

    Here is an article about an older "Stump the Panel" at the ArmadilloCon 2006. That one was longer, funnier and more imaginative, mostly thanks to James P. Hogan. Ah well, maybe we'll have one of those again some day.

    Pictures from ArmadilloCon 2008 are available in my photo gallery.


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     ArmadilloCon 2008: John Scalzi's Guest of Honor interview  View Printable Version 
     Author:  elze
     Dated:  Sunday, August 24 2008 @ 11:17 AM PDT
     Viewed:  713 times  
    ArmadilloCon 2008

    This article is now on my new website.

    John Scalzi's interview took a different format than the usual Guest of Honor interview. There was no interviewer; Scalzi paced back and forth, shooting the breeze with the audience. He probably didn't say anything one wouldn't find on his blog. It's how he said those things that made him so entertaining. He acted out various stories from his life as little skits, from a Hugo winner's attitude to getting to know 16-year-old girls. He also commented on Neal Stephenson, openly admitted to stealing from other authors, and talked about why he could not afford to be as polemical in "Old Man's War" as Heinlein was in "Starship Troopers". Finally, he revealed an unexpected fact about himself.

    The pictures from ArmadilloCon 2008 can be found in my photo gallery.


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     ArmadilloCon 2008 writers' workshop: pros' advice and a story construction game  View Printable Version 
     Author:  elze
     Dated:  Saturday, August 16 2008 @ 04:30 PM PDT
     Viewed:  987 times  
    ArmadilloCon 2008

    This article is now on my new website.

    The writers' workshop started with advice panels on writing. Some of the advice the pros gave was debunking common writing myths, so in a way it was metaadvice. Sheila Williams, the editor guest of honor, shared some good, compelling pieces of wisdom. It's all the more valuable coming from the mouth of the Asimov's editor.

    Then Don Webb conducts an audience participation game. He and the audience collaboratively construct outlines for two genre stories: an immuno-defficient woman in a bubble encounters a giant germ (horror) and a little slave boy in the 19th century American south meets aliens (science fiction). For this, the audience needs to decide: the story's genre (SF, F or H), who is the protagonist, where or when the story is taking place, and, most importantly, what is the driving force for the story. If it's horror, what is the protagonist afraid of? If they are aliens, what do they want?

    After the critique sessions, ArmadilloCon guest of honor John Scalzi gave a closing speech for the workshop students on the power of suck.

    The pictures from the writing workshop and the rest of ArmadilloCon 2008 can be found on my web site.


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     William Gibson in Austin, June 11, 2008  View Printable Version 
     Author:  elze
     Dated:  Monday, August 04 2008 @ 05:54 PM PDT
     Viewed:  847 times  
    Interesting People

    This article is now on my new website.

    William Gibson gave a reading, answered audience's questions and signed books in Barnes & Noble on June 11, 2008. He started by saying he was glad to be back in Austin, a city that 14 years ago was ground zero for the "so-called" cyberpunk movement. Then the microphone failed. The irony of this happening right before the speech of a writer who pioneered a new attitude towards technology in science fiction did not escape the audience. After a few attempts by B&N staff to fix the microphone, Gibson gave up and said he'll do a reading a capella. "I don't let technology get in my way," he said. "People have been reading books aloud for centuries. I'm gonna do it the way Byron did it, the way Dylan Thomas did it, except sober." And he read part of the first chapter of his latest novel, "Spook Country".

    Then Gibson answered audience's questions. A few of those questions were specifically about "Spook Country", and they didn't make much sense without having read the novel. Others were about writing and Gibson's view of the world in general. Here are a few questions and Gibson's answers. Does he consider his works to be dystopian? Does he create his characters deliberately, or do they spontaneously generate themselves? The latter is definitely the case, as in an example of a character that grew out of a white room. Is there really such a cultural phenomenon as cyberpunk? Last, not knowing much about technology can enable a SF writer to see the forest for the trees.

    Pictures available in my photo gallery.


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     Nebula Awards 2008  View Printable Version 
     Author:  elze
     Dated:  Wednesday, April 30 2008 @ 05:34 PM PDT
     Viewed:  837 times  
    ConventionsThis article is now on my new website.

    This year the Nebula Awards took place in Austin, TX on April 24-27. Being in Texas, the award ceremony had to have some Texas flavor, and that was amply supplied by the MC John Moore and the toastmaster Joe Lansdale. Moore started by explaining Texas dialect to the out-of-state folks. He said, "in Texas you don't say 'I'm going to have a glass of wine', you say 'I'm fixing to mosey down to Hospitality Suite and rustle up a Shiner Bock'. And right now I'm fixing to introduce our toastmaster. He's a kick-ass Texas writer, and I mean it literally: he founded a school of martial arts."

    Joe Lansdale's speech was the highly anticipated highlight of the award ceremony. Everyone in the Texas fandom knows Lansdale is pretty damn funny. And his speech was funny indeed, although a bit rambling. I managed to remember a couple of anecdotes Joe told; for the sake of brevity, I'll compress the details which, in my opinion, didn't add much to the story. (Though what do I know? Perhaps readers adore Joe Lansdale precisely because of those details I consider rambly.)

    His point was that Texas is such a weird place it can't help but inspire science fiction. Here is an incident that happened to him and an even stranger one, to another Texas writer. Lansdale also listed his rules for the attendees of science fiction conventions.

    (Later at the ArmadilloCon 2008 Joe Lansdale told more stories from his life on the Campfire Stories panel. They can be found in my blog post.

    Michael Moorcock, who was bestowed a title of SFWA grandmaster, had his own funny stories to tell about life in Texas -- and why he likes it here.

    Pictures from the Nebula awards can be found in my photo gallery.


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     Richard Dawkins at UT Austin, March 19, 2008  View Printable Version 
     Author:  elze
     Dated:  Thursday, March 27 2008 @ 04:36 PM PDT
     Viewed:  1523 times  
    Interesting People

    This article is now on my new website.

    On March 19, 2008 Richard Dawkins, the famous evolutionary biologist and popularizer of science, gave a public lecture at the University of Texas in Austin; it was preceded by a reception hosted by the Center of Inquiry Austin. Though I didn't have a chance to exchange more than a few sentences with Dawkins at the reception, I formed some kind of impression of him as a person. For example, he speaks in perfect phrases and is hip on technology. (Though I bet he would never use the word "hip". :-)) His lecture topics I found familiar, even though I haven't read his books where he expounds on them. I guess I've absorbed his ideas by osmosis. The questions the audience asked revolved around whether atheists should adopt an in-your-face or a conciliatory tone with general public; some of the questions were more unusual. (Would you ask a well-known skeptic to support his reasoning with astrology? :-)) Then someone asked what Dawkins thinks of transhumanist visions. Finally, a concept he wanted us to take away from this lecture, if it was the only thing we would take away: why evolution is NOT equal to random chance.

    Pictures from the reception and the lecture can be found in my photo gallery.

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