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From Hilbert Space to Dilbert Space


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Convergence 2011
Windycon09
gmcdavid


We just got back from Convergence, the biggest of the local SF cons. We have been going there for some years, including 2010, 2009 , 2008, 2007 and 2006

We actually did the full four days of the Con, staying over Thursday night as well as Friday and Saturday. We need to be training for Worldcon in Chicago next year :-)> It was a good time for us. carpe_noctum_93 was able to join us Friday and Saturday in the early evening. Our son J was sick Thursday, but joined us on Friday.

Like last year, we stayed at the Sofitel. Unfortunately, the evil empire convention hotel department had blocked the Sofitel as well as the Con Hotel before I thought to register, so we had to go through them, but we were still able to get a room. Just not with the early certainty that I crave. Our other reasons for favoring the Sofitel still applied. Every time I passed the lines at the Sheraton elevators I grinned.

We had dinner Thursday and Saturday night at Colette. The first time it was just mia_mcdavid and me. The children came with us on Saturday. Very pricey, but very good. It seemed quite appropriate: A trip to the fantasy world of the Food channel.

For lunch on Friday we went out with basil80 and tmancer. We are not seeing them as much this year as previously, and it was good to catch up.

carpe_noctum_93 arrived in the late afternoon, and Mia and I took her to a panel on "Believable Heroines," where haddayr was speaking. This was quite good, and afterwards the three of us went out for a nice dinner with haddayr, naomikritzer, lyda222, and another author.

One of my colleagues from work was there. He is the County's Websphere administrator. Since a lot of its systems have a Websphere front end and SQL Server databases behind we have often worked together. Like me, he goes way back in fandom. After talking for a while on Saturday we discovered we had both been at Torcon II.

Thursday we were curious about the "Mad Scientist Smackdown" in the main ballroom. Unfortunately the noise level was so high that not only did we flee after a few minutes, but avoided events there for the rest of the weekend. Later that evening we went to a nice party in the room of c_nocturnum and vitamin_g_prime, who was sharing from his awesome scotch collection. The Saturday night masquerade was also in the main ballroom, but vitamin_g_prime invited us and some other friends back to his room to watched it in civilized circumstances on the con hotel's television network. We were a little late getting back from dinner and missed the first few minutes: To my utter astonishment the masquerade had actually started on time.


On Friday I went to two panels: "Modern Day Snake Oil" and "To Vaxx or not to Vaxx." As you might expect there was considerable overlap. Why be concerned about this? See What's the Harm? and the Jenny McCarthy body count. One of the panelists notes that "The Internet is a public health nightmare." Apparently in Illinois you can run a day care center without requiring the children there be vaccinated. Some States have a religous exemption from vaccination, but this is not a private matter, since this weaken the "herd immunity" that provides some protection for infants and others who cannot be vaccinated. As a result of about this we are seeing new outbreaks of measles and other diseases that were once thought to be under control.

One of the speakers at the Vaxx panel attended a conference on crackpot "alternative" autism treatments, and wrote about her experiences there. Discovering that your child is autistic is a terrifying thing, and parents desperately look for a silver bullet that will cure it. As Mia and I realized back in 1995, there is no such thing. This junk it not only does not help, but also consumes financial and other resources that are needed to take care of the children later in life. Three of the panelist were from Chicagoland, which reminded me that Mia and I did have such resources and used them to do what needed to be done: Leave Illinois and move to Minnesota.

One thing that bothered me about the panel was that the speakers and the audience were talking about families with autism in the third person ("They ..."). So at the very end I got a chance to stand up and say that Autism One and the like do not speak for all parents of children with autism: There are lots of us who accept the findings of science and avoid all the woo. This was very well received.


I enjoyed Saturday morning's panel on SF and Satire. The examples ranged from Jonathan Swith to Terry Pratchett, with many others, notably Pohl and Kornbluth. Someone noted that a lot of people get started in science fiction in junior high: The golden age of science fiction is 12.


The panel on how Hollywood portrays science was good for a lot of laughs. A few examples:

  • Spaceships do not make a noise in space. Space is a vacuum. 2001 got it right. This is a common mistake, or, as in Star Wars, a conscious decision. Independence Day managed to top that: The passage of the alien space ship stirred the dust on the moon.

  • Firefly got that right, but made an interesting mistake elsewhere. It is perfectly possible to use rifles and other firearms in space. Gunpowder and its modern successor explosives contain their own oxidizers.

  • One piece of Star Wars technology is definitely plausible: Tracer bullets go back to World War I.

  • The problem with King Kong and Godzilla is one of scaling. Their existence would violate the Square-cube law. Giant bugs have the same problem. Exoskeletons do not scale up very far.

  • Lasers do not make a sound when they are fired, nor is there any recoil on a human scale. Their beams are not generally visible from the side. Laser beams not generally visible. Hollywood gets that part right some of the time, when it is convenient for the plot.

  • When Iron Man was hit by a tank shell his armor would not have saved him: The deceleration would have turned his body into jelly. That is why automobiles have crumple zones. They take the deceleration so you don't have to. Your car is designed to die for you.

  • People do not fly backward when hit by bullets. The bullets simply do not have the momentum. Mythbusters demonstated this.

  • You cannot run away, or do anything else about an explosion after you have heard the sound. The shock wave travels at the speed of sound. When you hear it you die.

  • (The panel's favorite) There is no scientific reason to expect aliens to look like us, bipedal hominids, females with large breasts. At least in that case Hollywood's motivation is perfecly clear :-)>


The panel on "Practical Science Fiction Footwear" was largely about impractical footwear (high heels) worn by women in the movies and on television. There were lots of examples. Quite entertaining.


The last panel I went to was on Women in Science and Technology. Apparently the situation is getting better at the undergraduate level, but there are still problems higher up. They very widely between fields

Math is the key. All science depends on math. From an early age girls get the social message that is OK to be bad at math. Years later, many of them are shut out of scientific work because of this. The problem is especially bad in physics, the most math-intensive of the sciences.

Bug Girl: "50% of my incoming freshman cannot calculate a percentage".

Sucessful women in the sciences usually have had one or two adults who took a special interest in them and encouraged and supported them when they were young. Right now this is of more than theoretical interest for me.

There are also the usual conflict between work and raising children. This is an issue for men as well as women. As Bug Girl said: "The academic scientific environment is incredibly hostile to being human." Afterwards I told her that I found this very affirming. I dropped out from academic science in 1976 and went into corporate IT. Despite occasional nostalgic thoughts I never went back. I met mia_mcdavid, we got married and had the two boys. Both turned out to be autistic. Coping with them under our circumstances was hard enough. It would have been much harder if I had been an academic scientist. Bug Girl agreed.


On Sunday we saw Crack in the World, an excellent example of bad Hollywood science. There was a hilarious running and frequently ribald commentary by James Kakalios on just how bad each part of the plot was. There was a similar event last year which I think was a little better. Last year Kakalios was paired with Bridget Landry, who could match him snark for snark. Landry was not at Convergence this year. While Kakalios had a couple sidekicks throwing in occasion comments, they were not quite up to Landry's level. It was still a great time.