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Programming, speculative fiction, science, technology
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Brian Greene in Austin, March 2005

P640 Brian Greene in Austin in March of 2005, promoting his book "The Fabric of The Cosmos".

On March 7, 2005 Brian Greene, a string theorist and author of "The Elegant Universe" and "The Fabric of The Cosmos", gave an interview at a Barnes & Noble in Austin. He was interviewed by Jeff Salomon from Austin-American Statesman and took questions from the audience.

The topics involved: What kind of experiments can possibly verify string theory? How and why would you look for astronomical evidence of strings? Would it make sense to look for confirmation of string theory in the possible violations of the Second Law of Thermodynamics? What is Brian Greene's own interpretation of quantum entanglement? What does it mean that space and time are not fundamental? In what sense is space-time analogous to temperature? What's next for physics after TOE? Will there be anything left to do, or will science come to an end? And, umm... does Brian Greene feel a need to reconcile psychic phenomena with the unified physical theory?

The talk also revealed some things you would not immediately think of Brian Greene. By his own admission, he finds physics hard and visualisation helps him enormously to understand physics concepts. That's one reason why he never condescends to his audience. (Another may be that he is simply a nice person.) Also, did you know that Brian Greene's books can cause people to quit drinking and start reading?

Note: I could not hear everything that was said or write it down verbatim, so I paraphrased some places the best I could. Most of them are in angle brackets.

Ted Chiang on lifelogging: a speech and a discussion with the audience at ArmadilloCon 2014

IMG_1482 Ted Chiang speaks about lifelogging at the ArmadilloCon 2014.

Lifelogging is an emerging trend of recording every, or nearly every moment of your life. A simple example of lifelogging would be wearing a video recorder that would record continuous video and audio of everything you see and do. Ted Chiang used this example to speculate about how lifelogging would change our society. At the end he answered the audience's questions and engaged in a discussion regarding some points, such as: would lifelogging encourage us to craft our lives as stories, and thus become better people? Doesn't forgetting play a big role in getting over a trauma? Doesn't forgetting go a long way towards forgiving? What if your memories are hacked? Who has control over shared memories?

The God or the Machine: A World Fantasy Convention 2006 panel

Panelists: Ted Chiang, Louise Marley, Michael A. Stackpole, W. J. Williams, Janine Ellen Young (moderator)

What it was supposed to be about (synopsis from the program book): When do "scientific" worldview elements move a concept out of fantasy? Systematic magic, planetary bodies, rudimentary experimentation, the cusp of alchemy into chemistry...

What it was really about

First, the panelists admitted they didn't really understand the topic of the panel as stated in the program book. They didn't get much mileage out of "scientific worldview elements moving a concept out of fantasy". After addressing the distinction between technology and magic, and Ted Chiang stating why he believes Clarke's famous adage is incorrect, the panelists quickly became mired in the age-old debate of what is science fiction, and what is fantasy. Oh no, not again, you say! Well, this discussion wasn't quite like beating a dead horse. I heard some interesting insights.

A lot of western fantasy writers prefer magic to be systematic, i.e. to have laws, rules, constraints. An arbitrary magic, where everything is possible or impossible, depending on whether it is convenient for the author, they don't find very interesting. But does systematizing magic move it closer to science? Not necessarily.

Traditionally it's thought that it's the presence or absence of scientific / technological elements -- the so-called furniture -- that causes most people to view a certain story as science fiction or fantasy. But actually, the worldview expressed in a story may be more relevant. (Though apparently there are no universal criteria how to determine the genre a particular story belongs to, because some people in the audience disagreed over which genre certain books belonged to.)

Guest of Honor Kage Baker Interview: ArmadilloCon 2003

Participants: Kage Baker, David Hartwell (Interviewer)

Topic: One of her editors gets our Guest of Honor to talk.

Kage Baker was the oldest girl of seven kids; she started writing at age 9. Some of her earliest memories was changing diapers for smaller kids; when her biological clock started ticking, she decided "been there, done that" and never looked back, never felt like she missed out on anything by not having children.

Salman Rushdie at the Texas Book Festival in 2005

CIMG0970 Evan Smith (left) interviewing Salman Rushdie at the Texas Book Festival 2005

Texas Book Festival took place October 29 - 30, 2005 in Austin, TX, and featured some well known authors like Lemony Snicket and Salman Rushdie. I went to see Salman Rushdie being interviewed by Evan Smith.

Among the topics touched upon at the interview there was the inevitable topic of what Rushdie euphemistically referred to as the publicity agency from Tehran", writerly quirks (where do characters' names come from?), which parts of his books are autobiographical; in the Q&A session he gave an advice to an ex-Muslim woman who said her life would be in danger if she publishes a book on Al Qaeda she has written; what could be done to help Americans understand Muslim world, and vice versa; literary criticism summed up in a word "jump", and other things.

Beyond Slipstream: ArmadilloCon 2004 panel

Slipstream is literature that has fantastic elements that nevertheless can't be characterized as science fiction, fantasy or horror. It is the literature of the fantastic that's left after you remove the defining characteristics of those three genres. The negative space.

Synopsis from ArmadilloCon program book. A plethora of new markets for what we used to call slipstream has blossomed over the past two years, with all sorts of new monikers like "The New Fabulists," "Interstitial Arts," and "Ambient Fiction" -- Conjunctions 39, Sweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales (with a new volume appearing in the fall), Polyphony, Album Zutique, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, and so on. What distinguishes the work appearing in these journals from more conventional SF, fantasy, and mainstream fiction? Has slipstream finally arrived as a genre in its own right?

Panelists: Chris Nakashima-Brown (moderator), Lawrence Person, Mikal Trimm, Rick Klaw

Fan Eye for a Mundane Guy, or Armadillocon 2004 opening ceremony

Following the ArmadilloCon tradition, toastmaster K. D. Wentworth gave a humorous speech. She addressed the audience as a fourth grade schoolteacher, which she actually was for the most of her working life. She chastised SF fandom for forgetting their geeky, eccentric roots and becoming too mainstream. Then she and several other guests performed "The Fan Eye for a Mundane Guy" makeover (modeled after a then-popular television show "Queer Eye for a Straight Guy" on a guy they picked from the audience.

Note: My transcription of this speech is not completely accurate since I had to work off of a poor quality tape recording.

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

IMG_5925 Women In Science panel

Mel White (who has a Ph.D. in information sciences), Rachael Acks (a geologist), Paige Roberts (data scientist), and Sigrid Close (a professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University and ArmadilloCon 2014 science Guest of Honor) at the Women In Science panel

Mel White (who has a Ph.D. in information sciences), Rachael Acks (a geologist), Paige Roberts (data scientist), and Sigrid Close (a professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University and ArmadilloCon 2014 science Guest of Honor) at the Women In Science panel.

IMG_5925 Women In Science panel