RUSH – Live at Verizon Amphitheater

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Different day, different band, different audience.  Five days after Widespread Panic, enter a cool breeze, rockers who engage the audience, and a disproportionately male crowd (15-1 in my estimate, though my concert buddy insisted it was 20-1).

RUSH is hitting 30 cities in their Time Machine North American Tour.  Having released their first album in 1974 and soon to release their 20th studio album, they have ample time to cover.  As seems fashionable among a number of artists, they also chose to include an album in its entirety, “Moving Pictures,” from 1980.  This happens to the album that was then newly released when I last saw them in concert… all those years ago.

This was not a particularly cheap concert ticket, even before Ticketrobber fees.  Upon getting to our seats, there was immediately evidence that RUSH invested in their production.  If this articulated stage lighting contraption was a spaceship, it would be said to be heavily armed.

Rush's Lighting Rig

The second indication was an introductory movie with the band members in various roles in a comedic presentation of how the band, RASH, found their sound.  This was captivating enough that I completely missed seeing the band enter the stage until the movie segued into a live “Spirit of Radio.”  Good stuff.

I like a lot of RUSH’s music, but I’m not a huge RUSH fan.  I was surrounded by them, though, and they extended to the rear corners of the lawn seating area.  This wasn’t a concert where people came to see old hacks retread music from their glory days.  They came to see their aging rock heroes showcase their mastery of the music from their glory days.

And that they did.

Likely half of crowd sported RUSH T-shirts from various tours, and, not surprisingly, most were able to sing along with the songs – except a couple new ones.  As I didn’t pay much attention to RUSH after 1985, I was at a loss for many of them, but the band sounded absolutely great.  

Neil Peart

Neil Peart remains one of the best drummers in rock, encircled by drums and percussion of all types.  At any point of the concert, it’s enjoyable just to watch a master at his work.  He doesn’t take a beat off.

Alex Lifeson

Guitarist Alex Lifeson plays a surprising number of basic chords, but when he solos, he can let it rip.  And chords, played loud enough, can shake a place.

And bassist/singer Geddy Lee probably remainsGeddy Lee an acquired taste for some due to the high pitch of his voice, but he plays as aggressive a bass as one sees these days.  And how does his voice sound after all these years?  There is one section of “Free Will” where the recording says he has to hit the upper registers… and he somehow nailed it.  His entire body tensed as he reached for those notes.  Just amazing.

On stage, the band continued playing various creative videos in the background, and it’s obvious Real Time, Half Time, Bass Time, and... not sure timethey’ve taken an interest in Steampunk.  For what remains a “cult following” band, this seems a reasonable, modern extension to draw in new fans.  The stage included what looked like odd dishwashers to either side of Neil Peart.  They’re actually Hughes & Kettner amps, dressed up ala Jules Verne.  They units play videos in the windows, and someone fed mock fish into the top of the unit on the left.  I’m not sure what that means, nor was I certain about the person in the ape costume riding a bike across the stage.  But the units also released steam (or a decent facsimile thereof) at times. 

In addition to showing videos, the rear HD screen tapped into single or split screen camera views of band members, and also included steampunk themed designs (think British Victorian era steam powered devices) as frames.

Rush

The intermission wasn’t too long, but long enough for my buddy to report that, for once, the men’s room line was 50 deep while there was no waiting at the women’s restroom.  Similarly, the lines were overflowing for the $35 - $50 tour T-shirts.  Go figure.

The second set began with another video, and I think the one photo that I captured decently pretty well confirms the comedic element.

Funny stuff 

The video included three German waitresses carrying pitchers of beer, which invited the pun on “moving pitchers,” thus leading to the first song from “Moving Pictures,” the radio-friendly “Tom Sawyer.”

The best part of the concert for me was the instrumental, “YYZ,” in which the band was able to cut loose and have fun playing loud.  And that is partly the purpose of a rock concert, is it not?  They did it well.  Other highlights included Lifeson’s extended 12-string intro to “Closer to the Heart” and an extended drum solo by Peart, revolving drum stage and all.

After the encore, yet a third video aired, this time about two guys who buy fake backstage passes and meet the band members.  It’s not quite as funny as it was meant to be, but it says something about the overall production of the show that very few headed to the parking areas while it played. 

Geddy Lee at the show's end

The only disappointment I had was the absence of “The Trees,” one of their mainstays.  Oh, and the soaking cold rain that greeted us as we left.

Oh, and those lights?  The colors kept changing, with great variety and positioning.

Canon Powershot G-11 ftw

And another interesting one, capturing a flame near its end.  Yes, there were pyrotechnics too.

Additional concert photos can be viewed by CLICKING HERE.

 

First Set
The Spirit of Radio
Time Stand Still
Presto
Stick It Out
Workin’ Them Angels
Leave That Thing Alone
Faithless
BU2B
Free Will
Marathon
Subdivisions
 
Second Set
Tom Sawyer
Red Barchetta
YYZ
Limelight
Camera Eye
Witch Hunt
Vital Signs
Caravan
Love 4 Sale
Closer to the Heart
2112 Overture / Temples
Far Cry
 
Encore
La Villa Strangiato
Working Man

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Widespread Panic - Alpharetta, GA

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I've probably heard a Widespread Panic song before, but I'm not a "fan."  They have plenty, who travel around the country with them catching as many shows as they can.  I went last night because... my concert buddy asked, they're a well known band, and I hadn't been to the venue before (at the time of ticket purchase anyway, See Dukes of Sept).  Plus, I had never been to a "jam band" concert.

Panic played mostly blues-based songs, each featuring extended solos by guitarist Jimmy Herring.  Not taking anything away from the other band members, but Herring deserves a double share - he carries the full load for the jam in the "jam band."  A dueling lead guitarist ala the Allmans would have been my expectation, but Herring played wonderfully.



The sound quality was generally poor for the vocals, but the fans sang along on all but the newest songs - what few vocals there were.  The band was solid throughout, but despite, bass, percussion and drum solos, Herring was really the only one asked to display virtuosity.  The band changes their playlist nightly to keep it fresh, but there were only several songs that had a distinguishable groove.  The rest sounded pretty much the same, and/or maybe the second set just wasn't as good.

These moccasins were made for dancing

That said, to review a Widespread Panic concert seems to be more about the crowd than about the music.  This is fair, as the band all but ignores the audience anyway.  For once, my concert buddy and I raised the average age of those attending, as most were in their 20's or early 30's. I missed the announcement, but there appears to be a dress code.  Guys are supposed to wear sunglasses in the dark, and girls are supposed to wear sundresses.  The venue was packed, and though seats are provided, the crowd had no real interest in using them.  Each song seemed familiar to the crowd, but usually in terms of whether each was more or less danceable.

It was a party scene.  Drinking (outrageously priced $8 beers), smoking, dancing, hugging, shouting... Damn, I'm old.

That doesn't do justice in describing the crowd, so let me talk about those around me - most of which were very chatty before the show and during the intermission.  I'll start with three single ladies in front of us.  One was a divorced 20 something living with her parents in Huntsville.  She came to party and be somewhere other than home.  She had a cigarette-thin friend from Oregon who has seen several other shows on the current tour.  She had interestingly tattooed arms with floral prints and would qualify as "skilled in the art of interpretive dance" as she didn't stop moving when the music was playing. After yelling what I thought to be I "pulled her hair," she kindly repeated herself : "it smells like burning air!"  That's much clearer. Their other friend seemed to be suffering from a literal overdose of pre-concert partying, but she danced when she was able, letting her inner freak out.

To our left was a fairly short girl with a microskirt and polka-dotted underwear. I know the latter because of the former.  They were color coordinated, too.  She danced for her own enjoyment, and her boyfriend's as well.  If she hadn't danced with a pole before, I'd be surprised.

To my right was a fairly conservative looking couple from Dalton, GA.  She attended UGA and has seen WP over 30 times.  Compared with the hordes around us, she was rather stoic and absorbed the music and the crowd's antics much like the few "old folks" in the crowd, like me.

Another couple in front were more attuned to the historical legacy of a jam band experience.  In tune with another unpublished guideline, they lit of a joint about 20 seconds into the second set, and they weren't alone.  They remained stoned the remainder of the show, she dancing in slow circles and he staring at the audience to the rear, each obviously experiencing the show in their own way.



Would I go back again?  Probably not - the music was enjoyable, but not as "in the moment" as I had hoped.  I'd definitely check out another jam band, though.

First set:

Pleas - Mr. Soul
Dirty Side Down
Shut Up and Drive
Tie Your Shoes
Airplane - jam
Aunt Avis
Goin' Out West
Junior

Second Set:

Little Kin
Bust It Big
Saint Ex
Party at Your Mama's House
Ribs and Whiskey
Fairies Wear Boots
Impossible - Solos
Surprise Valley
All Time Low
North

Encore:

This Part of Town
Henry Parsons Died

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The Hakawati – by Rabih Alameddine

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"Listen.  Allow me to be your god. Let me take you on a journey beyond imagining. Let me tell you a story." 

Over the past three months, I've been reading a book, just a bit at a time.  It helps that the chapters are not long, but even within each chapter there are brief sections separating story segments.  Characters change, scenes change, timelines change, the types of fiction change.   In most reading, I find this particularly frustrating, particularly if the author overworks the "cliffhanger" style of writing that invites breezing through a book.  I found "The Hakawati" one to be more slowly digested.

I came to this book from a friend who reads about one book a week.  Having read my share of supermarket pulp offerings in the months The Hakawatiprior, I wanted something that spoke to something higher, that taught something about human nature, that entertained in a different way... but without being boring.  He offered up "The Hakawati."  What is a hakawati?  A story-teller.

Tales, fables, stories - of heroes, villains, sultans, jinn and imps, but also of aunts, uncles, sisters, grandparents, beys, the Great Pigeon Wars and the mixed culture of Lebanon.  All of these wind around a non-linear recounting of the narrator's return to Beirut to visit his dying father.  Those stories touch on all sorts of references, including the Bible, the Koran, 1001 Arabian Nights, and other sources that the author lists at the end of the book.  Throughout are outrageously funny tales of old, keen observations on relationships today, and unexpected rewards in details and diversions.

This is a work of fiction, but over time, I would expect it to rise to the dreaded status of “literature,” that causation for students to suffer through comparing and contrasting the characters, or exploring the hero myth, or examining themes of life, death, or familial relationships. (click HERE for a more “literary” review). There is no Stephanie Plum or Kinsey Milhone to be found here, though humor is soaked throughout). The book should not put off an audience with that distinction.  It's much better to just sit back and take it in, as I did.  That said, if found on a table of fiction at Barnes and Noble, it’s likely I’d declare it “intriguing” before setting it down and choosing something that offers easier entertainment… Rollins, Grafton, Patterson.  Some captions that intrigued:


On the afterlife: "Ah human.  Your ideas of hell are nothing more than the lees and dregs of unimaginative minds long since dead.  Listen.  Let me tell you a story."


On reincarnation: "The Druze and the Chinese are related." ... "the Druze believe that when someone dies the soul instantly jumps into the body of a baby being born.  So we're supposed to be able to figure out who was reincarnated into whom.  There aren't that many Druze.  The wise men of the Druze, and you know they're not that wise, realized there was a problem.  A Druze would die, and there'd be no one who was born at the same instant.  They had to be born somewhere, you see.  The dead were sometimes born in China... The Chinese believe in reincarnation, which could mean they're related to the Druze.  And, most important, China is far enough away so that no one can check.  The Chinese get born over here, and we're reborn in China."


On the nature of truth: "Never trust the teller," he said. "Trust the tale."
On the proper cooking of imps: "And you have to blanch them to get rid of their red color, so no one can tell it's imp stew.  You don't want your guests to throw up, now, do you?"
"But the guests would taste them."
"Oh, no, imps taste just like chicken."


On being productive: "Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life." - Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet


On governance: "The story of the king is the story of the people, and unfortunately, to this day, no king has learned that lesson."

Note: Among many other sources, the author incorporates some elements from gay poetry, which may upset some.  This is but one small part, however, of the discoveries of arab culture that await within the book.

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DragonCon – Ask A Wiki Admin

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Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet has free access to the sum of all human knowledge.

These aren’t deleted lyrics by John Lennon, they are the words of Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales, in a 2009 request for donations.  I tend to use Wikipedia quite a bit, as evidenced by topical links in my posts.   Last weekend, at DragonCon, the Electronic Frontiers Forum (one of many topical “tracks” of presentations, Q&A, discussions, etc.) held an “Ask a Wiki Admin” panel, hosted by Elonka Dunin, a 5 year volunteer admin for the site.

Following are some statistics she presented.

  • 5,000 new articles per day are posted on Wiki
  • 2,000 of which are approved and “stick”
  • 1/3 of U.S. internet users have visited Wikipedia
  • 8% of the US population visits the site each day.
  • Wiki is in the top 10 of most visited internet sites.
  • Currently 3.4 million articles in English on Wiki (16M in total).
  • 1,753 Admins exist for the English version.

All well and good.  But, could it eventually contain the sum of all human knowledge?  Well, no.  I mean, really?  Puhleez!  This is quite an overstatement of goals and vision, unless we are to somehow download our lives just prior to expiration.

More realistically, could it then be a world-class encyclopedia of subject matter?  Some probably would suggest that it already is.  Certainly I find it helpful, and it’s literally (or is it figuratively?) at my fingertips.  When I think of Encyclopedias, I remember the hardly used set that my parents stuffed into my room as a kid.  It had the smell of “established and reliable though infrequently read.”

That said, each article was sourced, and, if I were to think upon it at that age, had some sort of infallibility to it.  It’s printed, it lists  its sources, it’s regularly updated… therefore, it must maintain some proximity to truth.

Wikipedia has 35 employees (as of 2009) who alone cannot muster their founder’s vision, not to mention the tasks at hand. Therefore, they have 1755 administrators who serve in a limited editorial capacity.  Their main responsibility, as Ms. Dunin repeatedly coined, was to “whack-a-mole,” hereafter referred to as WAM. 

Articles to Wikipedia can be uploaded by anyone, and anyone can edit existing content.  It’s an efficient means of gaining and improving content.  However, ease of access (internet), free time, and a will to be mischievous together result in moles aplenty who are happy to undermine the content.  Admins see all new articles as they are posted, and if they smack of social networking, advertising, or irrelevancy, they get a WAM.

Edited content?  Unless an edit adds value to the content or if the editing is done to streamline existing content to meet Wiki’s preferred formatting, WAM, with a “reversion” of the content to its prior form.  Someone is minding the store.  Wikipedia, after all, is neither built to advertise car dealerships nor to serve as a digitized religious battleground over the “true” history of Jerusalem – both of which were examples that she shared.

But, truth or accuracy is really the sacred ground upon which any encyclopedia must be tested.  Despite it’s “In the News” section, Wiki does not aspire to be a news outlet – specifically, a source of events as they happen.  Instead, Wikipedia should re-present content that is sourced credibly.  Interestingly, many subjects that pass the initial (and apparently brief) test of being appropriate subject matter are not fully evaluated/verified unless or until someone challenges the content.  At that point, the information has to be referenced to some publication, somewhere, by which the information could reasonably be verified by independent means – a newspaper, a literary journal, a book, a legitimately documented web site, etc. 

That works for accuracy, but not necessarily truth.  Admins handle the credibility of posted topics, not the accuracy of the content.  They’re not subject matter experts or content editors themselves.  Many, in fact, may even be high school kids.  The means of becoming an admin is basically to provide useful formatting updates to topics which are not presented in Wiki’s preferred form.  Do enough, and you get noticed.  That provides administrative help, but it does not speak to the credibility of the person behind the edits – an issue of which they’re aware. 

Admins have the following options for handling problems with users of the site:

  • block/unblock users
  • delete/undelete content pages
  • protect/unprotect pages (in total, or limit editing to certain users)
  • view related histories of content/edits made by users to gauge helpful/harmful intent

In reaching toward the summation of human knowledge, we all should understand that no one is perfect.  Any human endeavor risks fallacy. 

I left with two issues (neither of which would prevent me from using the site):

1) Sourcing of content.  Obviously, this is a good thing.  But, whether a source is credible is iffy.  They’re not staffed adequately to check out the sources, though they do what they can.  My kids are not allowed to reference Wiki as a source for their school papers.  It seems that most kids reference the references at the bottom of the Wiki content.  Does anyone actually read the references?

A future challenge may also be the availability of credible sources.  As newspapers close and news information is nationalized, there may be fewer local means of documenting people/persons/things as time marches forward – i.e., less documented news.  The future risks being documented by conglomerates or the powerful.  Maybe. 

2) Minority viewpoint.  If not a matter of settled fact, majority viewpoints are presented as a consensus viewpoint.  Opposing views, if “sufficiently” sized and documented, are often presented as such.  While Wiki obviously has no obligation to provide all viewpoints, “the sum of human knowledge” would dictate that they should. 

I, for one, wouldn’t want to trudge through all of that, and it’s not practical to do so.  So then we enter the realm of “what is reasonable?”   Perhaps playing to the audience, Ms. Dunin indicated that a topic mentioned on CNN or other news sources would be considered to be credibly sourced.  However, and I paraphrase, “Though, if it’s Fox News, and they’re the only source that reports something, then no.”   Bias is a terrible thing in the chronicling of life.

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Dragon*Con 2010 Parade

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As much as Dragon*Con is about sci-fi, fantasy, etc., the one question I’m asked consistently is: “Did you dress up?” 

Dragon*Con is most observed by the public at large by its costumes.  Just ask the visiting college football fans (this year LSU and UNC) who, though “dressed up” themselves, tended to either point fingers or scurry away.

Each Saturday of Labor Day weekend, the costumed take to the streets of Atlanta and parade in their creations.  Costuming is not limited to the parade, however.  They’re worn in abundance throughout the convention.

This year, the weather was perfect, and the crowd arrived earlier than usual, with curbs already lined with spectators one hour beforehand.   Observing the assembling crowd, a truth emerges.  Dragon*Con is also a photography convention.  If one were to sum the values of all the cameras, lenses, flashes, and tripods and announce it publicly, I have no doubt that Nikon, Canon, Olympus and every other major manufacturer would be negotiating for convention space.

Consider: while it’s a parade, it generally moves fast.  Photographers have to identify their subjects, zoom, frame, snap and repeat hurriedly.  Then photo-editing is needed to crop the hands of the 5 year old that popped into a frame, the heads that are in the way, or other misfires.

Inside the hotel spaces lies the advanced photography class.  Taking pictures of people in the lobbies is a challenge, as ceilings tend to be 30 stories up and managing flash photography takes practice.  In the larger ballrooms, the lights are dimmed and spotlights are placed on the panelists.  Add to the low light challenge the distance from where you are seated, the equipment needed (light gathering ability of a zoom), and camera settings (speed priority, apertures, ISO and white balance), and… well, I get a lot of bad pictures.  But I’m getting better.  I know; woe is me.  And you’re just here for the pictures.

How about an ordinary bicycle?

Who knew these still existed?

I happened to have played Metroid, and I have to admire the baseball helmets used as shoulder pads.

Shamus

Here’s someone who did exactly what mom or dad said to do, but didn’t promise to like it.:

In line for one of the panels, I asked a fellow what drew him to wear a Steampunk costume (generally 19th century British attire, usually with hats and vests, adorned with various mechanical components - watches, optical equipment, or anything with brass - attached.  Oh, and goggles).  His reply, “Look around.  I get to look good.”  Here’s a couple examples from the parade.

Steampunk   Steampunk Plus

I’m not sure what period or place this is from, but it’s clear she likes it:

The next one speaks.  How?  It says, “Honey, if you want to dress up and march in the parade, of course I’ll be there for you.”

Indiana Jones

And then there’s one of those moments of unintended humor.  Who’s Your Daddy???

Who's your Daddy?

Shortly after the parade, we came across this scene, which expressed a common sentiment of many attending.

The FOX exec who cancelled "Firefly"

Many more Dragon*Con parade photos and other pictures at the Con can be viewed by clicking the highlighted links.  There.  Just above.  See them?  Good.

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DragonCon 2010

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DragonCon is an annual 3.5 day convention during Labor Day weekend in Atlanta, with a diverse program for enthusiasts of: 

Alternate History (notably Steampunk) Paranormal activity
American Sci-Fi Classics Skeptics (opposite of above)

Animation, Anime/Manga

Podcasting
Anne McCaffery’s Worlds (fantasy book series) Author Reading sessions
Apocalypse Rising (end of the world speculation) Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time (fantasy book series)
The Armory Robotics (build and fight)
Art Showcase Sci-Fi & Fantasy Lit
British Sci-Fi Media Science
Comics and Pop Art Asian Cinema & Culture
Costuming Space – astronomy
Dark Fantasy (Vampires, Goth) Star Wars, StarGate, Star Trek
Electronic Frontiers Tolkien’s Middle Earth
Filking (like folk singing, but it’s not) Whedon Universe (Buffy, Angel, DollHouse, Firefly)
Gaming (board, console, internet, live action role play) Writer’s Track (how to)
Independent Films X-Track

Following is a recap of my experiences at this year’s Con.

Registration.  3 painful hours.  The blur should not convey any sense of motion. DCon, there’s got to be a better way.

Friday:

I Dream of Jeannie - I’m not sure how this fits into the overall theme of DragonCon, but I suppose there is an element of fantasy to it that warrants inclusion in the “American Sci-Fi Classics” track.  Barbara Eden sounds as effervescent as she did on the TV show, and from a distance, retains her genie looks.  Bill Daily (Roger Healey) used to be funny but, at 83, adult jokes just don’t sell.  And, Larry Hagman…, well, he seemed to enjoy himself and is certainly warm to the memories.  No J.R. Ewing in evidence, here.  Comment of note:  The genie bottles were Jim Bean decanters sold at Christmas, painted for the show.  Eden still has the genie bottle from the final episode, safely stored in her bank.

Barbara Eden, Bill Daily, Larry Hagman

Battlestar Galactica – Edward James Olmos ranked as Admiral onboard the ship, and he his acting peers offer the same deference on guest panels.  Olmos appears deeply affected by the overall arc of the philosophical reaches of the show (racism, religion, etc.).  He commented on the book, The Singularity is Near, which I may try out at some point.  He’s obviously a deep thinker, and I wonder if he will find as rewarding a role.   Richard Hatch can be entertaining, but on this day, he pontificated far too long.  Mark Sheppard, who played attorney Romo Lampkin, managed to insert himself into the conversation long enough for an entertaining perspective on his entry to the series.  Aaron Douglas said as little as possible. Give the man a beer.

BSG Panel

Shops – You can buy anything at DragonCon – that is, anything related to the subject matter.  Games, toys, comic books, posters, T-shirts, dice, autographed photos, jewelry, costume clothing and accessories… 

IMG_3455 IMG_3461

Eureka – Erica Cerra (Jo Lupo on the show) was solo on this panel, as Colin Ferguson (Sheriff Jack Carter) arrived too late.  The crowd was large and disappointed initially, but Cerra quickly took control and answered as many questions as possible.  She was animated, engaging, and likable – no doubt she won some fans for those who weren’t familiar with her or the show.

Erica Cerra

Quantum Leap – This was the best panel of the day, with Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell on hand.  Bakula obviously remains very fond of the show and retains excellent recall of episodes and the overall experience.  The challenge of playing a different character each week was heightened as he did not receive the script until the day before filming was to begin.  Why so late? The producer didn’t want the studio to have time to read and edit the scripts.

Scott Bakula & Dean Stockwell

Simon and Kaylee Reunited – These characters would only be known to fans of Firefly, a very good series with a special cast that lasted only one year.  Actress Jewel Staite seems one of the most genuine and endearing “celebrities” that I’ve seen on these panels. 

Unfortunately, Sean Maher, who played Simon, is one of those actors that presents himself best when he has a script.  Fortunately, Nathan Fillion (currently on Castle and formerly Malcolm Reynolds on Firefly) stole the show by calling their cell phones, adding his “never turned off” humor as a foil to Staite.  “I’m sorry that I can’t be with you all, but I have to say, Sean is a poor substitute!”  Spot on.

That said, Firefly continues to draw very large crowds, ample evidence that Fox made a huge mistake cancelling the show.

Sean Maher & Jewel Staite

Saturday:

DragonCon Parade – see forthcoming post.

Art show – This was not as good as last year, but it included the expected variety of fantasy themed art.  I preferred the comic art section – I don’t read these any longer, but the imagery is great.

Solar Telescope – This was refreshing in that we could view the telescope with no waiting, as celebrity panels involve waiting in line from 30 minutes to an hour or more.  A hydrogen alpha telescope showed the sun as a red surface, and some detail – slow swirling perhaps – could be seen around the edges.  Another telescope was wired to a computer for an easier view.  I didn’t learn much (white on one telescope showed Calcium being burned, of which there is little), but, hey, I can say I looked through a telescope at the sun.

Solar Telescope

The Towers of Midnight – This is a looooooooooong running fantasy series that may or may not be the best ever, but it’s definitely the wordiest.  At 14 books upon its completion, it makes Tolkien’s trilogy seem succinct. Unfortunately, Robert Jordan, the author, passed away due to cancer in 2007.  He selected another author, Brandon Sanderson, to complete it, bequeathing major plot points and partially completed scenes.  The second of Sanderson’s final three books to this series is due out in November, from which he read two selections.  These involved familiar characters and gave absolutely nothing away as to what might happen in the story.

In the Q&A that followed, it was clear that Sanderson was legally doomed should he say too much about the upcoming book.  Sanderson is fairly young, well spoken, and has a very assured sense of himself (in a good way).  As he was reading, he confessed that he did not know how some of the names were supposed to be pronounced – as he did not invent the characters or places.  Jordan’s widow seems to have final say on these.  I’m looking forward to the book.

Stan Lee – Lee is the co-creator of many comic heroes, including Spiderman, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Hulk, and others.  He’s appeared in cameo roles in many of the Marvel movies.  Rather than solely Q&A, a well informed and experienced host directed the conversation interestingly through the span of Lee’s career.  Interesting points made:

  • Lee didn’t plan or think about his characters in advance.  The publisher would say he needed a new character, and Lee would just do it.  There was no indication of writer’s block, just prompt delivery. He did, however, move the characters beyond the cookie cutter hero mold into storylines that delved deeper into their secret identities – very much the reason that made his characters, and those that followed, successful.
  • Someone asked what he thought about the development of his characters after all of these years.  Lee admitted that he lost track of them years ago.  He’s been too busy.
  • Lee harped on the selection of “Marvel Comics” as a formidable marketing brand, and did not spare DC Comics, the competitor of the day, ridicule for a name that was essentially dead weight.

Lee left the stage with a rousing, “Excelsior!" – the phrase that he used in his letters to the fan community included in his comics.

Stan Lee

Questions for Q – this would be a panel with John de Lancie, who played an outrageously funny (and powerful) being in Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Unfortunately, he was booked in an undersized hall, and I was unable to attend.  This would be repeated the following day with Data (Brent Spiner), with the wait line closed a full hour before the start.  This was the first evidence I had seen of poor planning on the convention’s part (other than registration), as larger rooms were available at those times.

Sunday:

Writers Workshop:  There were two writers’ workshops presented over the weekend by different authors.  This session was on plotting and was led by Michael Stackpole, a much published sci-fi author.  He presented concepts that apply to all types of fiction with excellent examples, and… I’m tempted to forego some celebrity panels next year to hear more. 

Light, Sound & Special Effects – This was part of the costuming track, and I only attended in that I thought there might be something bloggable.  Costuming is huge at DragonCon, and effects take a costume to a higher level. The panel amounted to three experienced costumers explaining the secrets to their success:  Google and repetition.  If I were seriously interested in adding pizzazz to a costume, I’d probably have been disappointed here.  General remarks included cannibalizing toys, model train lights, EL (electroluminescent) wire, inverters, “tiny little thingies you see in radios” (resistors) - “you need them - not sure why,” silicone adhesives, preplanning where the battery pack will mount inside the costume, voice projection units, and sewable LED Lights.  Overall, some helpful information was probably offered but not in a fashion that would resemble instructions or confidence.   www.hackaday.com was probably my most interesting note.

Ask a Wikipedia Admin -  To be posted on separately.

DNA in Forensic Crime Investigation – This was led by a subject matter expert and Ohio State professor.  Hey, I’ve seen CSI.  Why not learn a little bit more? The intriguing aspect of this was Wheat Germ Sample, strands within clearer portion of liquida “hands on” approach where we added wheat germ (which has lots of DNA) to a vial of water, added liquid soap to break down the cells, baking soda to increase the pH and release proteins, meat tenderizer to kill enzymes that would kill the cells, and isopropyl alcohol to isolate and suspend a strand of… stuff, said to be DNA.  No centrifuges were available, so the “shake and let gravity do the work” method worked well enough.

What followed was a discussion of the nature of personal rights to DNA and potential ethical issues around the retention of DNA samples by the government – should DNA data be kept and put into a database when a person is cleared of a crime?  Etc.  This was an informative session that was more practical and introductory than exhaustive.

Was it worth it? I’m already pre-paid to stand in the 3 hour line next year!

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Woot Monkeys in Space!

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Actually, I’d like to have a running theme of the amazing things my friends are doing.  Here’s installment 2.0 after my initial segment on a business by one of my school friends, William Blackmore, who owns Cottage Industry Models

Next up we have Barksdale (Bdale these days) Garbee.  During 11th & 12th grades, I basically lived at his house after school, finding my way home as late as possible, provisioned with fresh pasta and good cheer.  Ah, the life of a teenager. 

When we met, Bdale demonstrated a “computer” that he had built – No one would recognize it as such today, but it did actually compute.  Pick an 8 bit number (in hexadecimal), and the computer would try to guess it.  Kids these days wouldn’t understand.  I didn’t understand back then, either, but it was an award winning endeavor at Regional and National Science Fairs.  At 17, Bdale about literally become our town’s local Apple expert, at a time when the Apple II was just making a splash and Steve Jobs was parting his hair.

In addition to Raster Blaster (pinball), Space Invaders, Alien Rain, and Alien Typhoon on said Apple, we had several other areas in common.  1) Sense of humor 2) a disdain for a particularly inept 11th grade Lit teacher plus and for an entrenched American History demagogue and 3) the language of music (Pink Floyd, Stevie Nicks, Billy Squier, and, among others, Bruce Springsteen – overexposure to whom finally persuaded me to recalibrate my hearing and understand that the Boss could actually sing).

Step forward almost 30 years, and music is likely the only common language we have.  His life is surrounded by jargon and acronyms that are, if not over Photo by Marc Nozellmy head, then certainly above my pain tolerance.  These include CELF, FISL, Debconf9, COSROCS, Altus Metrum, Debian, ARRL/TAPR, CeBIT, CONSOL, RUDAK, and others.  Such is a life that revolves around (not to the exclusion of his wife and kids) Linux, amateur satellites, and rocketry. 

It’s that latter part that speaks to the “amazing thing” du jour, but, really, all of his interests are natural progressions for someone who prefers an entree of computer coding with a side helping of soldering iron. 

Bdale has a friend, Dave Rutledge, who is one of the founders of www.woot.com, which offers one item a day for sale until it is sold out.  Woot made, in Bdales’s words, “a pile of silly screaming monkey dolls” and gave them away at a conference that Bdale attended.   Not to miss an opportunity, Bdale gathered more than a few and, noticing this, Dave asked him what he had in mind.  Well, here you are:

But wait!  There’s more!

Woot sponsored his launch by paying for the propellant and developing the video.  Bdale put their logo on the “monkey bay” extension that he built for the airframe, and as a result, I am quite thoroughly amused. 

Bdale’s latest pet project can be seen at http://www.rocketryplanet.com/content/view/3412/30/.  If you wonder who in the world comes up with stuff like this, Bdale is that guy.

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