BlogOfTheMoon

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Eastercon Report

I spent the long Easter weekend at Concussion, the 2006 Eastercon, which was back in Glasgow for the first time in six years. It's only the second con that I've been to (after Interaction) and it was great fun. Before I forget, here's what I got up to over the weekend.

Friday

Due to trains playing silly buggers, we ended up having to go to Charing Cross station and walking to the Crowne Plaza (where the con was being held) from there and as a result, rather than being in good time, we only just got in and got registered before the opening ceremony. There was a bit of a mistake with my registration, in that they hadn't got the credit card details processed correctly and rather than contacting me in advance they took an imprint of my card there and then. Other than that slight glitch, it all went well and we made it to the opening ceremony with no problems. After that, there were panels.

Panels and events on Friday

The Opening Ceremony
Does exactly what it says on the tin. Everybody was welcomed to the con; the committee and guests of honour were introduced; and everyone was told to go and have a good time.
There ain't no such thing as Free Speech
This was my first panel of the con, immediately after the opening ceremony. The description in the programme was to do with where SF writers avoid going and why. I don't remember an awful lot about this item other than it started and ended with the declaration that speech isn't free at all, but really quite expensive to publish.
Desert Island Geeks
What single gadget could the panel not live without on a desert island? This was great entertainment, with a good panel. The rules stated that no mains power was allowed, although an infinite supply of AA batteries was available. The best suggestion was a strange plan to trap rats with the help of a co-operative cat and a laser pointer. I think that it was this panel where they did a straw poll and amongst the five panellists, they had about eighteen devices that had microprocessors. I asked the panel that if they took the title the other way (ie they could take a geek to the desert island), who would they take. The two women on the panel took MacGuyver, one person took Willow Rosenberg and I can't remember who the others took.
GamerZ
Another chance to see this excellent little Scottish comedy about a group of role players. I missed the start since it overlapped with the Desert Island Geeks panel, but I had seen it before. It's possible that "would anyone like a cheese toastie" may become an Io catchphrase in future.
Captain Tartan: The director's cut
This wasn't, as I was expecting, a film, but a video showing of a play from a previous Eastercon with a little bit of editing done, and the cast and crew present giving a live commentary. It wasn't great, to be honest.

Saturday

Saturday was a good day. I decided to offer my services as a volunteer for the first time in the afternoon. I was a gopher guarding one of the doors to the dealers room, ensuring that people only went in if they had badges and that no food or drink got in. Since I wanted to go to a lecture that started half an hour before I was due to finish, Keef was kind enough to take my place, since he was on after me anyway. Thanks, Keef! I also finally got a chance to actually go into the dealers room later that afternoon and came out with a huge stack of books for really not very much money. That's the danger of the dealers' room. Over the course of the con, I bought twenty-nine books. Of these, I paid full price for only two (Iron Sunrise by Charlie Stross and Black Orchid by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean), with the rest being between £2 and 50p.

Panels and events on Saturday

Growing up in the Virtual Village
This panel was about the growing use of online communities no longer limited by geography. I went to this mainly because it had Sparks on the panel, and he and fellow panellist Renee Sieber provided a very interesting discussion from the point of view of a psychologist and a "virtual geographer"
True names and other fannish obsessions
Another panel I went to purely because it had Sparks on the panel. This one was very interesting, covering the separation of identity in different areas of life, using LiveJournal identities, badge names etc to separate out different parts of our lives. I found it interesting that it was mentioned that some people (particularly academics) do this to keep their fannish life separate from their professional life. The implied lack of tolerance in what should be a tolerant community is somewhat disturbing.
Singularity and the Greens
In this context the Singularity represents an 'event horizon' in the predictability of human technological development past which present models of the future cease to give reliable or accurate answers. It was a reasonably interesting panel but it didn't really cover its remit and got side-tracked into currently environmental issues and what we can do to help the environment.
Hay Lecture
This year's George Hay Memorial Lecture was given by Alice Jenkins from Glasgow University (I thought I recognised the name, and upon asking her afterwards, it turns out that she's dealt with my department recently to train her postgrads in Powerpoint). It was on science and literature in the Victorian Era and was very interesting. She focussed a movement of the time called the March of Mind and on a couple of individuals who were very important in changing the way the science was perceived.
Doctor Who
Not a great episode per se, but a fantastic experience, watching it with several hundred fans in the same room.
The Io 25th Anniversary Reunion Party
This was, for me, the highlight of the whole con. We didn't have our own room, but we took over a corner of the bar for ourselves. It was a great evening. I was very impressed with the range of memorabilia that people brought along (old t-shirts, ancient TBDs, original artwork for t-shirts etc) and the range of people that turned up. Two of founders were there (Henry Balen and Alison McInnes, to whom we made a presentation of the current Io t-shirt), as were people from the early, mid and late nineties, right down to the current generation of Io members. This was also a chance to fill in some of the blanks in committee information for the wiki. It was great to feel like a youngster again, amongst all these people who were at Io when I was in primary school, or just starting secondary school :).

Sunday

I felt a little off-colour all day on Sunday. It may have been the high on Saturday causing a come-down the next day, but I was grumpy for most of the day. And I was aware that I was grumpy and tried not to be grumpy, which may have caused a feedback loop. There were some good panels that day, but we all decided to try and have a bit of an early night that night.

Panels and events on Sunday

Philosophy and SF
I was worried at the start of this panel when the moderator started spouting philosophical terms that I didn't understand, but he settled down soon enough. This was also the first panel where I saw Justina Robson and was impressed enough to decide to go to her GoH interview later that afternoon. The panel discussed how rigorous that philosophy in SF actually is, and was really enlivened by the active discussion with the audience which really helped bring the subject alive.
Shuttle at 25
This panel discussed the 25th anniversary of the Space Shuttle and what impact that it has had on space exploration since then. The politics of the space shuttle was interesting, but it didn't entirely descend into shuttle-bashing. Stephen Baxter, who was on the panel, also got to tell the story of how (astronaut) Michael Foale chatted up his wife.
Guest of Honour: Justina Robson
Justina Robson is a writer that I've never read yet, but she impressed me enough on the Philosophy panel that I went along to the interview with her. She came across as a very intelligent and articulate woman with a lot to say. I decided to get some of her books from the Dealers' Room based just on that. However, by the time I got around to it, they were all gone. Still, that's what Amazon's for :).
Digging up the past in the future
This panel was concerned with how future archaeologists (human or alien) might dig up our civilisation. It was fairly interesting, and the point was made how impermanent our civilisation really is, and how as data densities have gone up, they become more easily destroyed.
Mad bio-medical tales
This was the continuation of a series that I missed at Interaction where the panel and audience share tales of scientific urban myth and explosions. This time it went all soft and squishy, and there were less explosions and more really bad smells. This panel was made by the audience participation, sharing stories of horrible things that happened to them or people they knew, with a biological connection. Quite often this resulted in dead things being left somewhere hot and sticky. Sacha's tale of helping childbirth with nitro-glycerine was particularly amusing.

Monday

Monday was another good day with several good panels and a nice wind-down via the dead dog party.

Panels and events on Monday

Special Guest: Mat Irvine
Mat Irvine is a special effects person who did work on Blake's Seven and Doctor Who, but also has a keen interest in space exploration. This talk was on "Space, as it Should Have Been" and was really rather interesting. The vision of scientists and engineers in the 40s, 50s and 60s was amazing and we haven't got anywhere near where they had imagined that we could have done.
Does anyone watch broadcast TV any more?
This panel was somewhat overshadowed by an over-aggressive chairman, particularly near the start of the panel. It did, however, have interesting things to say about the shared experience of watching a TV show and the different social interactions.
Does your towel know where you are?
This was an excellent panel that covered identity (and identity cards in the UK), communication and ubiquitous surveillance. This panel was in one of the longer slots, but it could have happily gone on for at least another half hour.
The Closing Ceremony
Where everybody was thanked and much clapping was done.
The Dead Dog Party
This is the traditional post-con party where we try to finish off the bar and generally unwind after a fairly hectic four days. After dinner, Dave and I went and sat in the conservatory around the side of the hotel and stayed there for the rest of the evening. We were joined at various times by others and it was a really good way to wind down, making a damn fine end to a damn fine con.

It was a really good con, and I've already signed up for the next Glagow con (Confounding Tales, 25th-27th May 2007), being run by Dr Munchkin, Dr Squiggle and other old Io types).

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