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Programming, speculative fiction, science, technology
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science fiction

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IMG_1472 K. G. (Kevin) Jewell shows math tricks

at the "Mathematics, magic, and mystery panel". The panel started out with a discussion of a book by the same name that explored mathematical "paradoxes". Many of them were pretty simple and not paradoxical at all -- for example, the trick where you divide a right triangle into squares, and reshuffle them to make an empty square, thus making a part of the triangle's area to "disappear".

IMG_1472 K. G. (Kevin) Jewell shows math tricks

IMG_1465 Remembering The Future panel

Sigrid Close (a professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University and ArmadilloCon 2014 science Guest of Honor), Patrice Sarath (SF/F author), Ada Palmer (historian and SF/F author), and Ted Chiang (SF/F author) at the Remembering The Future panel panel. The panel explored the question, is time real or an illusion?

IMG_1465 Remembering The Future panel

IMG_1444 Mars team panel

Mars 1 Dream Team panel. Left to right: writers Bob Mahoney, William Ledbetter, Patrice Sarath, Alexis Glynn Latner, and aeronautics/astronautics professor Sigrid Close.

IMG_1444 Mars team panel

Ted Chiang interview at ArmadilloCon 2014

At ArmadilloCon 2014, Jayme Lynn Blaschke interviewed Ted Chiang, one of the two writer Guests of Honor. Here are some topics they talked about: linguistics, Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and "The Story of Your Life", the possibility of it being turned into the movie -- this was 2 years before the story got turned into the movie "Arrival"; is Ted Chiang's fiction influenced by the environment; writing the ending first, his story length, and whether he is going to expand "Liking What You See" into a longer story; does he ever plan to write a novel; the first stories he wrote as a teen; who were his influences; and what appeal does he find in discredited scientific theories, such as preformation (on which his story "72 Letters" is based).

Center For Inquiry Austin discussion on technological Singularity, 11/09/2011

P1110959 Mike Ignatowski (right) was the moderator of the discussion on technological Singularity at the CFI Austin monthly disc

10 people were at the discussion. Some have heard more about the concept of the Singularity, others less. Moderator Mike Ignatowski described two common Singularity scenarios. They are:

-- "hard takeoff": a computer develops human-level AI, and then within a few hours doubles, quadruples it, etc., and very soon becomes intelligent beyond our comprehension and takes over the world;

-- "soft takeoff" -- technological advance is gradual enough so any given human does not lose comprehension of what's happening; however, in a few hundreds of years the society and technology nonetheless changes so much that it's incomprehensible to a modern-day human.

We examined some of those scenarios and objections to them.

Nebula Awards 2008

CIMG9357 Linda and Michael Moorcock, John Picacio

Nebula Awards 2008 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.

How Friendly Were Frodo and Sam? An ApolloCon 2007 panel

CIMG6461Selina Rosen and Jess Nevins

Description in the program book: Was there a homoerotic subtext to Lord of the Rings? Is subtext in the eye of the beholder, or is Spec Fic friendlier to GLBT characters and readings than the mainstream? Panelists discuss the perception of alternative sexualities in SF/F.

Panelists: Alexis Glynn Latner (moderator), Lee Martindale, Jess Nevins, Selina Rosen, Mel. White

What was it really about:

The discussion didn't focus so much about a relationship between Frodo and Sam (though there was some speculation), or even whether SF is friendlier to gay / lesbian / bi /transsexual (GLBT) characters than mainstream literature. Mostly it revolved around fan fiction, especially slash fiction.

Pictures from ApolloCon 2007 are in my photo gallery.

Costuming 101: a panel at Linucon 2004

EX000045 The Tron Guy up close

Synopsis from Linucon program book: Wanting to build a costume? Grab a seat for some tips and tricks from those who know.

Panelists: Kim Kofmel, Jay Maynard, Cathy Raymond

My impression. There are several ways you can win a costume award at a masquerade. By making audience laugh, for example. By being original. There is also a fairly self-explanatory "workmanship" category. This panel devoted quite a bit of space to the tips and tricks of how to make a costume, and they managed to be quite entertaining while doing that. Far from being tedious, their discussion was enlivened with all kinds of titillating details from the costume history. The panelists also spoke about the psychology of wearing a costume, and the motivation for making one in the first place. All in all, an interesting panel even for those who, like myself, have only a marginal interest in costuming.

Pictures from Linucon 2004 can be found in my photo gallery.

Read more about The Tron Guy in my blog.

Wil McCarthy on his programmable matter career -- an ApolloCon 2009 Guest of Honor speech

P1050961 Wil McCarthy at ApolloCon 2009 demonstrates a programmable glass that grows reflective under heat

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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Gregory Benford at Fencon 2008

P1020518 Gregory Benford Keynote at Fencon 2008

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.