Worldcon 2003

I went to visit Toronto for Torcon 3, the Worldcon of 2003. (If this makes no sense to you, don't worry about it.)

It was fun!

This is not a con report.

There is netting strung between skyscrapers in downtown Tokyo. Why? Because overpaid executives go up on the roofs of their skyscrapers, during their lunch hour, and practice their golf swings. The nets prevent golf balls from breaking windows (or CEOs) of adjacent skyscrapers.

Really high-class skyscrapers have netting that funnels down to a little golf-ball elevator which brings you your golf ball back.

(via Dr. F. Salustri -- no first name? -- at a lecture on design.)

Decadent Dave Clement and Tom Jeffers, bent over guitars.

Filk is the only living music left in Western civilization.

(That wasn't anybody lecturing, that was me. And I'm exaggerating. Yes. I know.)

(But -- the layering has gotten scary. Someone sang a filk on the tune of "The Boxer". It was about filk. The chorus went: "La la la; la la la-la la la la..." You recall that Simon and Garfunkel's original had a chorus that went "Li li li..." What scares me is that someone can stand up and sing a song that goes "La la la" and it's a pun.)

Other notable filks -- notable to me, I mean: one on the Wicked Witch's mirror by Randy Hoffman; "Let the Elder God Cthulhu Rise Again" (Jordin Kare -- yes, to "Mary Ellen Carter"); "Innsmouth Lullaby" (to "Turn Around"). Don't know the attribution on that last one.

Mars was close during Worldcon weekend. Strangely, it turns out that Neptune was even closer. In the Seattle bid party room, at least.


"The British expect their heroes to come home in a box."

And the fact when the Russians live in a space station, their suits are full of elastic, so they have to exercise, just to move. American astronauts wear shorts and t-shirt, because it's comfortable. Does this make a difference? The Russians get out of the Soyuz after a Mir stint and walk away... Americans are carried on stretchers.

(But it was also suggested that Russians walk away out of sheer bloody-mindedness, and the Americans are obeying doctors' orders. Researchers' orders as well -- if you want to measure a person's reaction to long-term free-fall, you have to do it before they start running around in Earth gee.)

(via "Hazards of Space" panel: Hugh Gregory, Geoff Landis, Henry Spencer, David Stephenson, John Strickland.)

The Toronto Metropolitan Police building, as rendered by M. C. Escher.

Spider Robinson read from his new book, Callahan's Con. And the thing is this: it was a great reading. I laughed and laughed. And it's a bad book. I could tell it would be a bad book as he read it. I went to the dealer's room afterward, and sure enough, it was bad. The parts he had read, which were terrific, were bad.

What is it that Spider has figured out how to do, which works wonderfully as spoken-word art, and falls apart on the page?

How can we get at it without killing it? Should he swear off publishing books, and start selling CDs of his stories, read by himself? I'd buy them.

"If you want to understand Lovecraft, you must read the letters."

(Referring to correspondence, that is. Apparently he wrote a lot. Also, apparently, I need the Children of Cthulhu anthology.)

(via the Lovecraft panel: Alan Beatts, Marvin Kaye, Darrell Schweitzer, Andrew Wheeler.)

(Other comment from that panel: "People want Lovecraft to be true." Immediate riposte: "They haven't thought it through.")

A seagull in that park in the middle of the city. The park with the flying saucer building, not the park by the museum.

Albania runs on bribes. Students bribing professors, for example, is so common that there is a whole market of bribe go-betweens. You give money to some guy, he takes a cut and passes the rest on to your teacher.

(via a panel on the future of money. Or maybe some other panel. Afraid I don't remember who was talking about Albania.)

I skipped most of the "upcoming books" presentations, but I stopped in at the Tor one long enough to get a date on John M. Ford's upcoming poetry collection: February 2004. Also, A Scholar of Magics is scheduled, but I didn't catch when. April, I think.

The Periodic Table of the Pancake Atoms -- electron structures of artificial atoms constrained to a two-dimensional surface.

(via Wil McCarthy's presentation on programmable matter.)

Toronto displays its love of palindromes.

Hugh S. Gregory went to China to tour their space-launch facility. He talked to the people. His reaction is, the Chinese are going to the moon. Yes, manned landings. No, not a mistranslation. Maybe in ten years, maybe longer, but they're going.

He also said they were making some of the same mistakes as NASA. But also learning fast. My reaction is, even if they learn fast, will their space program wind up in the quagmire NASA is in now? Big, political, dominated by a desire to justify expenses and an imperative to avoid mistakes?

Fast interstellar probe proposal: you launch starwisp bullets (1 kg each, diamond dielectric lightsail) driven by a laser with a 500-meter aperture. Each bullet accelerates a 30 gigagees for over 10000 km -- which gets them to 10% lightspeed in a second or less. (They have to be tough, yes.) Then you use these bullets to drive your starship. Blow them to plasma (the laser has plenty of energy) and catch the plasma with a magsail on your starship. You can spend a year accelerating to 0.1 c, in comfort.

You can also use the mag-sail to brake vs interstellar hydrogen, and eventually vs the destination's solar wind.

(Why not use the laser to drive your ship directly? Because that's a problem of focussing a laser beam over light-years, not mere tens of thousands of kilometers. You need optics bigger than planets for that, and power sources that can suck planets dry. Starwisps and starwisp-launchers are close to present-day technology.)

"If you import antimatter into the US [from CERN], does Customs pay you?"

Also the Bussard Buzzbomb, which is too silly to describe. Not that it won't work; it's just too silly to describe.

(via "Interstellar Propulsion": Hal Clement, Jordin Kare, Geoff Landis, G. David Nordley, and -- Kim Stanley Robinson? I remember Henry Spencer in that seat.)

Myself in the transwarp generator conduit. Note the off-vertical local gravity, and the greenshift in the far depths of the warp field.

Notable purchases:

-- September 3, 2003.

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