Sunday, August 31, 2014

2014 World Con Report

This year’s World Science Fiction Convention was held in London, England. We don’t normally go it is overseas, but we decided if we were going to do any traveling, it was time to get started. I won’t go into details about our trip to get there, except that a storm in Atlanta (Georgia) made our trip an endurance battle.
The convention was held in a huge convention center located in the dock area on the Thames River. There were several hotels in the immediate area, but they were expensive, and by the time I had figured out our plan early this spring, I couldn’t find one in the area that had a room available for our entire stay. We wanted to do some site-seeing, too, so I found a cheaper hotel closer to London Central... and only 4 or 5 blocks from a major underground station.
London doesn’t have street signs like America. The names of some streets are on the side of the corner building, if you are lucky. Some streets are no wider than an American alley. It made reading my map difficult, especially after our marathon of non-sleeping to get there. When we finally paused and asked for directions at a cafe, we had turned a block too early.
I had been told that European hotel rooms are smaller than American, but when we finally got to ours, we were stunned. The room was the size of the bed with about a foot of ‘walking space’ on 3 sides and an attached bathroom that’s smaller than ours at home (which is definitely ‘dinky’). There were no chairs, no table, no drawers or shelves to put your clothes. Very claustrophobic! The first thing I did was fall on the bed and sleep for 15 hours.
We figured out the underground system and crammed 4 days of site seeing into 3. We didn’t have time to do the Jack the Ripper Walking Tour, but eventually I realized our hotel was IN his ‘hunting area’. (How exciting!) We weren’t afraid to ask questions, so it wasn’t difficult to add a ‘Docks Light Rail’ route to our pattern to get to and from the convention center, but it did mean we were riding the underground during the morning rush hour. Crammed like sardines.
The convention itself was good. There were a couple of space organizations giving lots of science panels, which always seemed to be over-crowded. Many times, people got turned away because all the chairs were full, and sometimes that wasn’t a science panel, either. There were times when I had to go to my 3rd choice of a panel, because both of the first 2 choices were full.
The convention had registered over 10,000 people, but on any given day, there were about 5 or 6,000 people in attendance.
Food and drink was probably over-priced, since it was all brought in by businesses within the convention center, but we were dealing in Pounds, so it was hard to say. I can’t say any of it was good.
Registration had a looooooong line every morning, but seemed efficient when my turn came. The freebie table, however, was way too small. This one table had fliers, books, business cards, book marks, pens and who knows what else, all jumbled together because there wasn’t room to lay things out nicely. As soon as somebody tried to organize an area so their items could half-way be seen, somebody else came along and slapped down a stack of... something right in the middle of it.
To sum up London: metropolitan, crowded, fast paced, efficient mass transportation, confusing; but if you can get a local to slow down, they will answer questions. As an introvert, I was stressed because it was so cramped, which I couldn’t escape, but I lived through our 10 9 days there.
LonCon3, the 2014 World Science Fiction Convention, was also crowded, but fun. Some things could have been better, like more freebie tables, or more room for photographers of the costumes in the costume contest, or a better method of presenting art workshops. (In the art show area was too noisy, especially without a microphone, and only those in the front of the crowd got to see what the artist was doing.) But they did have tables and chairs in the hallways, as well as water coolers.

Make a note; there are no water fountains in London. You are expected to buy your drinking water.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Giant Extinction

For a long time, some people have blamed man for the extinction of such ice age wonders as the woolly mammoth and the woolly rhinoceros. To them, I guess ‘man’ was ‘the great killer’, killing animals right and left, indiscriminately, and with no thought to the consequences.
That never seemed quite fair to me. Yes, I know that white men came to the Americas and slaughtered whole herds of buffalo just because they could. There are stupid people in the world, after all. But those men had guns. And although large, American buffalo are not giants.
True, the American buffalo is only slightly smaller in size than the woolly rhinoceros, but the rhinoceros weighed quite a bit more - as much as 3.5 tons compared to the 1 ton for the largest and heaviest American buffalo. And a woolly mammoth could easily stand twice as tall as a human and weigh 6 tons.
There were no guns during the last ice age. Man had spears, arrows, knives and possibly a couple other men to help him kill these giants. Would you like to pit your skills with such ancient types of weapons against a modern elephant or rhinoceros?
I doubt if ice age men saw such hunts as sport. Hunting was a necessity to feed the tribe, and if they could find some rabbits, fish, fowl or other animals smaller than a woolly giant, I’m sure they would have been happy to carry those home. Don’t get me wrong; humans probably did kill some of the giants, but I personally think they would have rather avoided such a dangerous practice.
Scientists have been studying the flora that could be found during the last ice age, as well as the stomach and feces contents of frozen woolly animals. It seems the ground where these creatures roamed was covered in wildflowers that were high in protein. But when the weather warmed up, the flowers died off, leaving only grasses that could not satisfy the giants’ nutritional needs.

And so the woolly giants followed the lead of those wildflowers and died off.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hot Tempers

In 2012, researchers concluded that the hot dry weather produced in some countries by El Nino contributed to unrest and conflict.
I can’t say that I actually stopped to think about it before I read about that research, but I can say that I’m not terribly surprised, if that’s the case. It seems to have been known for a long time that Hot Temperatures produce Hot Tempers. People get uncomfortable and they start to look for someone to take it out on.
So, throw some poverty, political instability and inequality into the pot with the Hot Temperatures, and tempers really start to boil. This is not the Way Things Are Supposed To Be! Maybe people figure things couldn’t possibly get worse than they are, so they might as well try to change things. And pretty soon, things have escalated into some kind of war.
If the climate as a whole is warming up, this doesn’t bode well for the human race. The article I read purported that this strife was more likely to occur in the poorest of nations, and the wealthy countries went relatively unscathed. But how long would that stay true?
For instance, there’s been a lot of talk in the US recently about financial inequality and instability; bigotry and intolerance have reared their ugly heads again. In Nebraska, the daytime temperature can easily top out at 100-110 degrees in August, and everybody virtually runs from air-conditioned work place to air-conditioned car to air-conditioned home.
Now, imagine the temperature heading for 120, and air conditioners that can’t keep up with the demand, or power plants that can’t keep up, producing brown outs. I really don’t think it would take very long for grumblings about the 1% to become angry outcries.

And that means Trouble, my friend. Trouble. With a capital T.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Going to Mars

Every once in a while, I happen across a bit of information that indicates The Future Is On Its Way! It doesn’t seem to be arriving in a way that’s logical or methodical (to me), but I’m not in charge of these things.
I would have thought it logical to build the space station into an actual way station, possibly even a place to build things like space ships. They could be ‘launched’ without having to battle their way out of the Earth’s gravity.
They could be built with resources mined from the moon, which has much less gravity, so getting those materials into space would take less fuel. That would mean there would need to be some kind of working colony on the moon, to provide workers for the mine, and possibly for refining the materials, or even making the pieces for the space ship. And, of course, to care for the support systems for the workers; the food (garden), air and water supplies.
Eventually, some of that mining could be moved to the asteroid belt. More stations could be built out there, as way stations/refineries/colonies. From there, it seems it would be relatively easy to move on to Mars.
I know, I’m talking old school science fiction stories. Well, a lot of the science fiction authors I read as a young person were also scientists, so they tended to think these things out logically.
Instead, I find articles about thousands of people being whittled down to a handful of colonists for Mars. (How are they getting there? Where will they live? How many supplies will they need to take with them? I haven’t heard anything about any of that.)The space station humans worked so hard to create is all but forgotten. Same with the moon. A warp-speed ship is being designed, even though no one knows how to create warp speed.
The latest article I saw is about NASA’s plan to create one component of rocket fuel on Mars. No humans required. Although, once those humans did arrive, they could breath the component, since the robots NASA plans to send will be converting carbon dioxide into oxygen. The other component needed for rocket fuel - hydrogen - was mentioned in the article, but as an after-thought. As if all the colonists would need to do is run down to the local grocery store and get some.
I’m excited by the prospect of humans going to Mars and that someone is thinking far enough ahead to spend time designing a warp-speed ship. BUT I really think these things need a support system behind them. Otherwise, we are just asking for failure. One tiny little failure could doom a colony that had to rely on Earth for help. It would still take time for help to arrive from an asteroid colony, but not as much time.

Okay. We’ve taken a couple baby steps into space. Now we’re reaching for the big shiny toy in the next room, completely ignoring all the not-as-shiny toys between us and there.