Balticon – T Minus 24 Hours

Very close to exactly 24 hours from now, I’ll be getting in my car and pointing it north up I-95 for my trip to Balticon. I’m excited about this trip. I have wanted to attend this convention for many years and am delighted to be able to do it. My talk “Amateur Means You Do It For Love” is pretty much prepared as my talks ever are. A page of loose notes is right on par for me talking an hour. The way I do these talks is to prepare a basic framework and then riff inside of it. I have no idea how most people do this, but this is what works for me.

I’m looking forward to this con, mainly because I like being able to attend a new media conference and also a science fiction convention simultaneously. Part of my talk has always included the fact that the history of SF culture is full of the same impulse that we in new media think we created. SF fans have been publishing their own fanzines for 75 years now.

If you are coming to the con, come see my talk Friday night at 10 PM in the Chesapeake Suite. There is some talk about this being live streamed, and I’ll post the information on that as soon as I get it. I assume it is being recorded and I’m going to try to videotape it myself. It should be a good time so come enjoy it with me!

Balticon Is Nearly Here

Next weekend, I’ll be a guest at Balticon in Hunt Valley, Maryland. I’ve never actually been to Maryland so this will be a big adventure to me. If you are wondering what to expect from the con, this promo should give you some idea.

I’ve got my first science fiction interview for Reality Break lined up and I hope to get a few more. I’m gearing up for my Friday night talk “Amateur Means You Do It For Love” (10 PM Friday night in the Chesapeake Suite). It’s kind of a reworking of the talk I gave at the Podcast Expo/New Media Expo in 2006. Back then, we were in the thick of the new media gold rush. I was trying to play Cassandra to warn that hitching your financial wagons to the podcast horse was not only a bad idea financially, it was a bad idea artistically. I tried to provide a framework for people to do their work without the “get rich quick” mentality that so pervaded the medium at that time.

Nowadays, the persuasive part of that talk is no longer necessary. History has born out what I was saying, so now the talk shifts to the idea of how we can do our work and find it valuable even if we know for certain we will never ever make a nickel off of it. This is why I like to focus inside out in this talks. The whole idea is to find a way that you are have succeeded in what you want to do by sitting at the microphone, and you’ve succeeded even better when you publish. Listeners and feedback and enthusiasm after the fact is great, but it is possible to consider yourself the victor before you get there. Take out the “have one million listeners and make a plush living at this” from the equation because if that’s what it takes to make you happy, you are pretty much doomed to sadness. There is no reason we can’t do what we do in podcasting, in videoblogging entirely for the fun of it and my talk is a celebration of that. Come celebrate with me!


Over Memorial day I will be a guest at this year’s Balticon. Paul Fischer has been inviting me for years and for once I was able to accept. I’ve never been to Baltimore in my life, so that should be interesting. From here forward, I’m probably not traveling that far to any solely new media conventions. I much prefer models like Balticon and Dragon*Con where they are science fiction conventions with a new media/podcasting track. The SF people are my tribe anyway, I get to record Reality Break interviews, and I have a better time.

I will be reprising my talk from the last Podcast Expo I went to, “Amateur Means You Do It For Love” which will be Friday at 10 PM in the Chesapeake Suite. I’m planning on this one being a barn burner. I first gave the talk in Ontario CA in 2006 and with three more years of the podcast world under our belts I’ve got a lot more to say on the topic. Here’s the super-short abstract of the talk: “Control your own definition of success and don’t ever let anyone else try to alter that for you. Make yourself happy and let everything else bubble out from there.”

I’ll have swag and am on several panels throughout the weekend. I’ll be doing some interviewing, some being a fan and just hanging out. I’m looking forward to it. If you’re coming, look me up and we’ll pass a good time.

“Dave Slusher, Local Comic Book Fan”

I can live with the label in the title. I was interviewed by Roger Yale for this weeks cover article in the Weekly Surge (the Surge is weird about permalinks, follow that link quick if you want to see the actual article) about the XCon in Myrtle Beach. I was highly worried when I talked to Roger that I wasn’t giving him anything useful. It turned out alright, which is more a testament to Roger than me.

I won’t get to attend the second day of the convention but the first was surprisingly good, especially being a kind of odd 3 PM to 6 PM deal. My main hope was that the thing made enough money (or lost little enough) that they’d do another one and make this an annual event. That appears to be a realistic outcome based on what I saw yesterday and what I read in the article. It certainly wasn’t huge but I was there for a few hours and had a great time. It’s going on today until 7 PM. If you can get yourself there, I’d urge you to do it.

My only problem was that as I get older, digging through long boxes of comics located underneath folding tables for 15 minutes at a time while kneeling on cement floors has become an arduous physical task. There has got to be a better way.

This Weekend is the Myrtle Beach Comic Convention

This weekend is when the comic book convention in Myrtle Beach happens. It will be held at the Springmaid Resort which is at the very south tip of Ocean Boulevard. My original plan was to spend all day Saturday over there, but it turns out I have to travel on Saturday. However they are operating from 3 to 6 PM on Friday, and I’ll go over and check it out during that time. I’ll take my list with me and see what gaps I can fill in in my comic collection. I’ve been getting back into comics after being mostly dormant for a decade and it hasn’t been easy to get contiguous runs going. Maybe tomorrow can help. I’ll see you Grand Strand nerds over there!

ConvergeSouth Gives Way to Independent Blogging Conference – Greensboro

I’m here in the ad hoc conference in Greensboro. I think the name by acclamation is “Independent Blogging Conference”, although I was having fun with the fact that we didn’t really have a name for it. I’m in the first session of the morning, and sweating the details of what we are going to do at lunchtime. I’d rather not have the group all split up so far that they don’t make it back in time for Mur’s session at 1 PM. This is where being on the hook for these things begins to wear at you. The big decisions are not really that big of a deal, it’s the flood of small details that exhaust you. All Hail Sue Polinsky for fielding all those details for us for the last 4 years at Converge South. Thank you Sue!

Myrtle Beach Comic Convention

On Halloween weekend, there will be a comic book convention in Myrtle Beach. It will be held at the Springmaid Resort which is at the very south tip of Ocean Boulevard. This location is convenient to Market Commons, Myrtle Beach State Park and all of the Ocean Boulevard attractions. If you have friends, family or loved ones that might not be into the comics, have them come down and go to the beach while you geek out.

This is the inaugural year for this convention. I might buy a VIP pass, not necessarily because I need the extra stuff but because I want to do my part to make sure there is a second and subsequent year of this convention. If you are in driving distance, please come down and tell your friends. This town has many benefits but easy availability of geeky things like comics, comic conventions and the ilk is not generally on the list. I’d love to see that change a little. I’m not sure what promotion they are doing, because if I hadn’t already known about this I’d have had no idea it was happening. Spread the word!

I’m looking forward to meeting Jonathan Hickman and buying some of his books straight from him. I like to do that to provide maximum support to the struggling artists. He lives in the area, so it is great to have a venue for him to be able to meet some local fans.

Dragon*Con Wrapup Part 1

Here’s my wrapup of this year’s trip to Dragon*Con. This is probably about the latest I can do it and have my friend brain cells intact enough to remember things. It might should go without saying that there is a looooong post warning, but I’ll try to spice it up with enough pictures to keep some visual interest. [On second thought, it’s out of control and I’m still on Friday so let’s break this down into parts.]

I left work shortly after lunchtime on Thursday. I needed to get going before 4 PM if I wanted to make it to the registration that night and avoid it on Friday. Although I had mostly packed the night before, there were just enough little details to handle that I kept failing to finish packing. It got to be around 3:45 PM and I was still fiddling around gathering minor things. I finally hit the point that I was willing to leave whether or not I had everything, just as long as the car was moving towards Atlanta.

Registration Line Around the Hyatt

I drove pretty solidly through from Myrtle Beach to Atlanta, other than a gas stop in Florence that inexplicably took freaking forever. I got to Atlanta around 9:30 PM, checked in to the Days Inn so that I could park there, and trotted directly over to the Hyatt for registration. Because there was a mixup with my guest status, I ended up buying a registration. That was less painful than you might expect, as the pre-registration was really the zoo.

After getting my badge, I went over the Hilton to see Derek and Swoopy setting up the podcasting and skeptic tracks room. I was willing to help but there really wasn’t much for me to do. Anything beyond one person trying to cable mixers is a complete mess. I did help Derek sound check a little and fix some feedback by walking around the skeptic room on the handheld mike while reprising the Casey Kasem routine.

I needed to find a Kinko’s to run off and cut some flyers, and both the Hilton and Marriott are supposed to have ones that are open until 11 PM. At 10 PM both were closed. Thanks FedEx, for buying Kinkos and screwing it all up. I went back to the hotel room, unloaded the car and found that there was a Kinkos at 100 Peachtree so I drove over there. Now, I used to drive an ice truck in Atlanta and I thought I knew the Five Points area acceptably. I had the hardest time getting to this damn joint because of all the one way streets. I ended up on Peachtree going south past it at one point, which ain’t the best part of ATL to be driving your Honda Civic around at midnight. At least I knew I was doing it wrong, and eventually got back to the Kinkos. Everyone was grumpy and it was much slower than I thought it should be, but thank you Kinkos lady for fixing the cuts of my flyers. I thought they were perfectly lined up so that a single cut down the center would be perfect, but they were a full 1/4″ off. WTF, Dave? She made extra cuts to make them perfect and didn’t even charge me, so that was very kind.

I walked across the street to the Landmark Diner and got a burger after that, mainly because it was right there and open. I had thought about heading to other better late night restaurants but the proximity and ease sold me. It was OK. The dude sitting across from my table appeared to be a big time rapper or music mogul. He was highly blinged up with rings and medallions, and at least a dozen dudes came by to give him their obeisance. I didn’t recognize him but then I wouldn’t. In retrospect I should have snapped a phone cam picture of him just to identify who he was. He must have been somebody. After this, bed.

Friday morning, I got up and read some books for a while. Sad to admit, although I had two book interviews to conduct I didn’t have either of them significantly read. It was a lot like cramming for finals. I read a big chunk of Playing For Keeps, got ready and headed over to the convention. I made the executive call to leave the “Do Not Disturb” sign all weekend because I didn’t want maids farting with my equipment. That turns out to have been the right call, although by Monday morning it was a disaster area.

I’ve spent 14 years of my life in Georgia, the bulk of that in Atlanta and that whole time I’ve been active in science fiction and comic book fandom. Despite that, the very first person I ran into was Ryan Karetas – my coworker and the guy who sat the next desk over from me at the office in Myrtle Beach for a long time. For all of the weekend, I spent a fair bit of time fiddling around with leaving flyers on tables, putting out stickers and such. Anytime you have an agenda of doing this, there is a lot of jockeying at the table. I try to be ethical about it, but when some guy has 17 stacks of the same flyer at 8 inch intervals, I tend to combine them and using the extra space for myself. By the last day, it’s a free for all of Lord of the Flies proportions.

I attended the first two sessions of the podcasting track and shot a little video of each with my very first camcorder. The second one was on shooting video, which I was obviously newly interested in. I asked a question about using some of this info towards indie documentaries. After the panel, Rhett Aultman caught up to me and was interested in talking to me more about what I want to do. He was meeting friends at the Marriott anyway, so I and his wife (parter?) Amy and him all went an hung out for a long time talking about the ins and outs of making documentaries. It was highly useful and I was very glad of it. The con was off to a great and roaring start.

I forget what I did for the rest of the afternoon. Surely it involved fliers of some sort, and back to the hotel room for reading and probably some basic scoping out of dealers rooms and such. At 10 PM I had a session on the podcasting track at the Hilton where I’d do a live interview of Mur Lafferty. However, Evo Terra was throwing a podcaster party in their suite in the Hyatt at the same time. Mur and I decided to go over to the party before, hang out for a while and then come back. There were several potentials for mishaps here, involving pre-interview cocktails and elevator rides. We actually got to the party relatively easily, partly through the efforts of one of Mur’s hometown friends who completely big balled his way onto a service elevator with us trailing behind. We hung out for a while and I left to go back to the Hilton around 9:20 PM since I had a camcorder to set up, equipment to check out and such. I walked into the elevator area as the bell rung. I hopped on a half-empty car with zero wait, and there were no stops between us and the ground floor lobby. In 20+ years of Atlanta SF conventions, I’ve never had a ride like that at 9 PM during a con night.

Me and Mur Share A Laugh

I went over to the Hilton, set up and got everything ready. It got to be close to time, and maybe 5 minutes until 10 PM I got a text message from Mur that said only “Elevator hell”. Uh oh. I had everything ready to go and we had a small audience – about as small as you can get and still have an audience – but I told a few stories and basically vamped for a few minutes until Mur got there. We took a minute for composure as we had a whole hour to get a 30-45 minute interview done. Then we turned on the machines and the magic happened. The interview was great and I have it on both audio and video. It will be posted to the Reality Break Podcast feed this weekend.

After the interview, I schlepped all of my stuff back to the Days Inn and unloaded it all, called home and then went back to the podcaster party. Because I had no function booked on Saturday but an interview at 10:30 AM on Sunday, I had already prepared for Friday as a party night and Saturday as a relatively well behaved quiet evening. With that in mind, I settled in for an evening of revelry. I ended up running into Jason and Randy from Beatnik Turtle on the balcony of the party. They are also the authors of the The Indie Band Survival Guide: The Complete Manual for the Do-It-Yourself Musician, a book about which I had been getting emails from their publicist anyway. I had been planning on replying after the convention when I was less busy, and now here were the dudes right in front of me! We set up an interview for Sunday at noon right after the other one I had scheduled in the same spot, so I was able to knock out two without moving my equipment. Sweet luck!

As we hung out and had a few drinks, a hilarious incident occurred. I’m not going to talk about it here in specifics, because it led to me writing a song that Beatnik Turtle will record and that Ewan Spence kindly sanity checked for Scotsman correctness. Keep watching the skies, maybe we’ll have a podosphere premiere of the song on an upcoming episode of the podcast. The evening was fun and I talked to a number of people that I already knew and people that were new to me. I kept drinking and hanging out and chatting with people so long that I literally closed down the party. I helped Evo and Sheila clean up a little and then it was off to my little room for sleep.

Part 2 coming soon …

Dragon*Con Wrapup Coming

I really need to do a big wrapup of my Dragon*Con experience really soon, or else I’ll start forgetting details. I had much fun this year, my first since 2002, and would like to capture some of that in a permanent form on here. I plan on making a big linky, photo-riddled post but that takes time. I also have a backlog of new media to create and for a variety of reasons, mostly related to exhaustion and my inability to keep my eyes open, I FAILED to do this weekend.

I have interviews galore, for both the EGC podcast and for Reality Break. I’m also way overdue for making a blogger roundup post at Grand Strand Bloggers and I need to start working on next spring’s CREATE South. I’m not sure how it is that my hobbies can lead to being so incredibly busy but they do. I just had a vacation and I need another! Keep watching this space, netizens, and I’ll try to get all of that out very soon.

Dragon*Con, Day 0

It is 2 hours before Dragon*Con officially begins and I’m back in my hotel resting. This will be a fun but a long and tiring weekend. I hope that swimming laps will have created in me the endurance I need.

I’ve already ran into a number of friends and will do what I can to run in to some more. If you run across me come talk to me. I should be easy to find, I’m the stocky guy with long brown hair wearing black. [For those who have never been to this event, that’s a joke, you see.]

Off To Dragon*Con

This afternoon I’ll be making the drive from Myrtle Beach to Atlanta for Dragon*Con. My deep hope is to get registered tonight so that I do not have to mess with that at all on Friday. I have a live taping of Reality Break with Mur Lafferty at 10 PM Friday night and my talk on “Why Podcasting Matters” at 8:30 PM on Sunday night. Right now it looks like Saturday will be my “me” day, the day where I take my want lists and dig through long boxes looking for elusive back issues. I have learned that even when I have a professional agenda, it is nice to carve out a little chunk of time to be a fanboy. It’s why I got involved in all this in the first place.

I have a few Reality Break interviews scheduled through the con. I might also be doing some pickup interviews, either for Reality Break or EGC podcast. I’ll have my trusty Marantz with me most of the time. It’s possible I’ll be doing some stuff for the offical Dragon*Con podcast but I’m not sure on that. I’m up for anything.

One of the things that just happened yesterday is that I volunteered to be Darusha Wehm’s proxy at the Parsec awards. If her podcast of Beautiful Red wins, I’ll accept her award and either read her statement or put her on speakerphone at the mic. The latter is of course preferred.

All in all it should be a fun time. If you are at the con, come to one of my program events or catch me in the hall or pick up some of my swag from the groaning giveaway table. It’ll be a fun time and I hope to see you there, all of you.

Mur Lafferty Live Interview at Dragon*Con

I have an hour slot to record at Dragon*Con, which will be Friday at 10 PM. I just posted over on the Reality Break site that I’ve booked Mur Lafferty to be the guest for the live Reality Break episode. The plan is to do both a Reality Break and an EGC clambake episode in the allotted time. First priority is to get the Mur interview conducted and in the can. With whatever time remains, I plan to record EGC. If you’ll be at Dragon*Con, come and hang out with us. I’ll be taking a few questions from the floor so you too can participate. It will be a party, kids. I’ll be giving away a couple of EGC stuff packages, stickers and what have you. I’m not sure if Mur will be bringing swag, but it will be a fun geeky time at this fun geeky convention.

Dragon*Con Schedule

I’ll be at Dragon*Con next weekend. I’m doing a live taping of this podcast and/or an epsiode of Reality Break on Friday from 10-11 PM. On Sunday at 8:30 PM I’ll be giving a talk on the podcasting track entitled “Why Podcasting Matters.” Earlier today I described it as “a mashup of both my NME talks, Geoghegan’s “Death of Podcasting” and a little bit of Subgenius tent devival.” If you’ll be at Dragon*Con, come to one or both of my presentations, please! There will be giveaways at the live taping, so I’m willing to bribe you.

Convention Season

I’m thinking a lot about conventions lately. This is the first year where not only am I not going to Podcast Expo but I never for a second even considered going. I was scheduled to speak last year but when it came down not only was my day job so crushing at the time but it had been for months and I just couldn’t do it. I had to cancel a few weeks before the show, which was a crappy way to go about it and made me feel bad. However when it came to the actual missing of the show other than not being able to hang out with my friends, I was OK with not going. The extended to this year when I just never considered going at all. Nothing against the event but a combination of losing the scruffy charm of the Ontario CA conference center and just not having much interest in the “podcast industry” as a goal left me uninterested this year.

In contrast, since I have a reborn Reality Break on my hands, I’m trying to increase my attendance at science fiction and comic book conventions. That’s where I choose to put my energy and travel budget now rather than Podcast Expo. I’d rather go where my potential listeners and fans are. People generally have this idea of promoting their show at Podcast Expo but really that’s not a great place for promotion unless your goal is to get the attention primarily of other podcasters.

However because I’m ever less enthralled with getting on airplanes the cons I attend will skew heavily towards the southeast where I can drive to them. I missed Heroes Con but I will be attending Dragon*Con where I will be participating in the podcasting track and also doing interviews. I hope to make it to Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland this fall and do some interviews there too. I have an invitation to OryCon in Portland OR that I’m thinking hard about but is low probability. I’d love to do it as I have lots of friends out there but it’s just such a shlep to get there and back. When I went in 2006 I ended up losing most of one of my days with friends and sleeping in Ohare airport.

There is a new comic convention called XCon that will be starting up in Myrtle Beach this Halloween season. I’ll obviously go to that one. If people have suggestions of good cons for both promoting my work and getting new interview material recorded, let me know. The probability that I can go decreases with the square of the distance from the South Carolina coast but I’d love to know about them.

Recordings and SF Conventions

Tom Spurgeon points out that the panels he moderated at Heroes Con were recorded for posterity by the Dollar Bin guys. I’ve been listening to these and really appreciate them since I wanted to go to the convention this year and couldn’t. This brings up a point I’ve been meaning to blog about for years and keep forgetting to.

When I was a guest at Orycon 2006, on top of interviewing Cory Doctorow I was on a lot of panels. I recorded 5 of the 6 panels I was on. At this point, the only thing I’ve ever done with those recordings was to excerpt a snippet of my closing remarks on one panel in an episode of EGC. However, I do have them and could always do something with them later.

The act of recording them was a pain in the ass – not technically which was very easy – but permission-wise. Every single time, I’d put my Marantz in the center of the table and tell the panelists I was recording. Every single panelist was cool with it every single time. After all, we are there to speak publicly and on the record so why wouldn’t we be? Every single time, though, some bristling occurred from the audience. They always wanted to know what I was doing with the recordings and why I was taping the session. It might have to do with the Oregonian contrarian nature because on the Heroes Con sessions they announce they are taping and no one says a word against it. I hope I don’t seem elitist and like I’m pulling rank but it always bugged me to get push back from the people whose contributions were limited and who might not even be able to be picked up on mic when the panelists were all cool with it.

This did lead me to a way to get around all the painful negotiations and explanations. I think SF and comic conventions should explicitly declare themselves, their grounds and the events that occur during their time period as Creative Commons licensed NonCommercial/ShareAlike/Attribution. Anyone can record via audio or video or photograph anything in public convention space and publish under those terms. 90% of this happens anyway. Flickr is full of photos of any such event you can think of. It just makes it easier and standard how to deal with the issue of recordings. It’s in the best interest of the conventions to spread their mindshare about what makes their shindig unique and this reduces the friction of that. If the convention declares this licensing regime upfront then everyone understand the terms going in.The convention as a whole is on the record and no one should have any issues. It just makes it simpler, and it frees the pros and fans up to do creative work without lots of overhead, which creative work is what they do.

I love the idea of video fanzines published via podcasting mechanisms. It’s the same urge that led to the mimeographs of last century, just realized via a different technology. Let’s make this happen. If you work with a convention, talk about this at the organizational meetings. I’d love to see this adopted around the place.

Panel Rundown: The Myth of the Intelligent Machine

Place: Orycon 2006
Saturday, 6 PM
Panelists: Rick Lindsley, Michael A. Martin, Me
Moderator: David W. Goldman

This was one of those panels that has a stacked premise in the title, “The Myth of the Intelligent Machine.” That panel more or less as one rejected that stackedness. David G, with whom I had shared the panel on computers in SF literature, ran a very tight ship and moderated this one quite well. He had us as part of our introductory remarks state whether or not we felt a machine intelligence could be create that had parity with a human intelligence. My answer was resoundingly yes. I don’t remember what the overall definition of parity would be, but mine was that of an intelligence that given the same inputs would achieve the same range of outputs. Thus, a machine intelligence of me getting the feed of the panel through optical and auditory emulation should cover responses that I could plausibly make. The non-determinism of the human animal, and the possibility of these being different on different days was covered, but I pointed out that we take a narrow view when we look at the current sensory information being the inputs. I suggested that all the previous days are the input, and that if the machine intelligence was given the same information as I to make it have a bad day, it is only reasonable that it have responses from the grumpier end of the spectrum.

We talked about neural networks, the limits on learning and that sort of thing. I brought up the work by the guys (couldn’t remember which school they were from) who did backprop neural networks that had delays in them that were closer to those like human neurons, where the firing time was more like 0.1 s per neuron than the nearly instantaneousness of most AI systems. I saw some of the work that did picking speech out of audio with noise introduced, and the AI could pick things I found were inaudible. Someone in the audience corroborated this so I was glad I wasn’t misremembering it (or dreaming it altogether.)

Somewhere late in the panel, I decided that machine representation of human level intelligence by any definition you want was provably possible. If you accept the premise that with sufficient computing power an atom can be modeled exactly, and accept that interactions between atoms and molecules and the quantum level can be modeled eventually then as an outside boundary, the me sitting in that room could be modeled brute force by modeling that volume of space that I occupied. It would require more computing power than exists on earth presently to model any single atom I’m sure, but if you accept those premises then you have to accept the possibility of human intelligence being emulated somewhere well past the singularity.

I remember Rick and Michael both having plenty of (humanly) intelligent things to say and being quite interesting, but sadly I can’t remember specifics anymore. David as I said did a fine job, and overall this was quite a good panel. Lots of audience interaction and lots of smart things said in the crowd.

Orycon Panel Writeups

I have thus far gotten zero feedback on any of my Orycon stuff – not the podcast interviews nor the panel writeups. Nonetheless, I’m going to push through and try to finish up the remaining three panel recaps today. I should have closed those out weeks ago before the fine details faded from my memory but that’s the way these things always go. I have tapes I could go back and refer to, but I believe that’s more work than I’m willing to put into it.

Panel Rundown: Computing Science Fiction

Place: Orycon 2006
Friday, 3 PM
Panelists: L. Pierce Ludke, Frank Hayes, David W. Goldman (Michael Ehart scheduled, couldn’t make it)
Moderator: Me

[Enough time has elapsed that my memory is starting to get shaky. Correct me if you catch a technical inaccuracy. I might correct some if this from listening to the recording of it later. ]

This was my first panel of the convention, and this one caused a slight panic attack. When I checked in and got my guest packet a little after noon, I found out to my surprise that I was moderating this particular panel in 3 hours. I had received an email with all my programming and the moderators were supposed to be in bold but that formatting was lost in the copy I got. As I got acclimated to the con, I was thinking on this topic and about an hour before the panel I made some serious notes about issues, topics and writers we could bring up. I approach these very similar to the way I approach my interviews, which in both cases are being steward of a conversation. In the interview its me and another person or two, in the panel it is me, all the other panelists and all the people in the room.

We had opening statements and then discussed the history of computer in science fiction, from the days before its invention through the era up to the mini-computer. I asked at one point how intimately intertwined the visions of the malevolent computer taking control of us all (“Etaoin Shrdlu”, “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream”) were with the anxieties of the cold war and the fear that we were losing control of our specifically human aspects. Frank brought up “A Logic Named Joe” which coincidentally is a piece I’ve been wanting to talk about in my podcast since I heard it on Spaceship Radio a few months back. Pierce brought up “Nine Billion Names of God”, David brought up Asimovian AI, and as we also got a mix of communications mixed in, I brought up my favorite story on the topic, Damon Knight’s “I See You.”

As the panel went on, we brought things forward in the literature up to the cyberpunks and talked about their particular relationship to technology. Neal Stephenson and William Gibson and Bruce Sterling were of course mentioned. I asked about who in the room used Second Life and floated the idea (that I don’t necessarily agree with) that it is a proto-manifestation of Stephenson’s Metaverse. I mentioned my relationship with cheap technology (Uplifting although I never used that term) and how I find the most important idea in the whole cyberpunk canon Gibson’s “The street finds its own uses for things.” As an example, I shot the panel and audience with my CVS camcorder.

As we closed out, I posited Charles Stross as the natural heir to this kind of situation, and floated some of his ideas from Accellerando as evidence.

Bottom Line: Fun panel, fun topic. I worried that Pierce didn’t speak enough and tried to explicitly bring her in a little more often. It was stressful because I wasn’t prepared to moderate until 5 minutes before, but it all went well. I liked this mix of people. Frank’s heavily sardonic and sarcastic manner provided the bass notes in this band. Turned out way better than I was expecting.

Panel Rundown: Computer Viruses Then and Now

Place: Orycon 2006
Saturday, 5 PM
Panelists: Ben Yalow, Frank Hayes, Michael Ehart, Me
Moderator: Michael Pearce

So I’ll be honest about this panel. There was nothing wrong with it, it was a fine panel but it was a subject that I just ain’t that worked up about. I ended up hanging out with Michael the moderator at other points in the con, and I really like him. He’s a crazy cat, but that’s a selling point. We exchanged lists of our favorite webcomics over a table in the hospitality suite later in the con.

There was a guy in the audience who worked for Microsoft that was de facto sixth panelist. I’m pretty sure he talked a lot more than I did, but then he had more to say than I did. My contributions boiled down to a couple of overall points. Don’t plug your computer straight into a broadband device, pay the $20 for a SoHo router and then disable Universal Plug and Play. I don’t think that the proliferation of viruses on Windows vs other platforms is solely the result of installed base percentages but mainly to do with the separation of privilege. Any OS that you must run as Administrator to make it work is guaranteed to have more problems.

We discussed some problems of all major desktop OS types, and as I was the youngest participant you can imagine we went back into the history of some older viruses and worms. It was touched upon that there is no OS without problems, so the thing to do is mitigate damage and reduce risk. Backup, backup, backup! Organize your disk partitions so that all the data that matters to you (photos, documents, quicken files, etc) are in a common root folder and can be easily scooped up. Ben rightly pointed out that some app vendors (Quicken in particular) defy this by putting their data files all the hell over the place. Override defaults and put them to your own data directory if possible.

In retrospect, the thing that happened about 40 minutes in where we discussed practical advice, that should have happened much earlier. Even though I have worked quite hard to de-Microsoft my life, there was a little much anti-Microsoft stuff in here for my taste. It seemed like the needs of the audience were getting met, and there was much room for their input so in the end everyone got what they needed. I was sitting next to Ben Yalow and his fabulous sweater. I don’t know if he remembers me from time to time, but Ben is one of those guys I meet somewhere about every five years. I remember him, but then he’s more memorable than I.

Bottom Line: I think the panel was OK and did what it was supposed to, I tried to participate and help but I didn’t have that much input to put in. Would love to hear from people in the seats what they got out of it.