DragonCon 2014 – Day 2

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Saturday is Parade Day.  And once again, we chose not to attend due to the incredible crowds that require sitting around for 2 hours in order to be able to see it unobstructed.  I’ll note that a local Fire Department unit provided their own solution to see over the throng, with invited guests on top of their trucks.  No doubt they were getting paid, and had signed waivers lest the guests fall.

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We arrived before the parade began, and I was able to watch people race to the parade route, many in costume and running late.  Like these two.

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And then a group of well dressed super heroes approached, and by the time I shifted to get a better shooting angle... they were already past me.  Note: This was the first Mysterio outfit I’ve seen – he did a fine job with the helmet/orb.

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I did turn around to catch Catwoman turning around, just in time to catch her catching me.  I think she was ready to be photographed through the day...

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After another trip to the marginally less crowded Vendor’s area (while the hordes watched the parade), we went to Airship Races, described as “R/C airships race in thrilling elimination heats and also compete on aesthetics and design.”  It sounded kind of cool and also offered the opportunity to move on the next panel without being rushed if we so chose.

There were a surprising number of people gathered to watch.  And, there were surprisingly few entrants, three that we saw and one that remained in a state of repair when we left.  The idea was simple... fly the airship around two “pylons” (aka people) in a figure eight; the fastest wins.

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Above is Contestant #1, a helium filled balloon with a rudder control and a fan, controlled by an iPhone.  It didn’t look to be a serious contender when they were preparing it, and... it never managed to complete the course.

This was of obvious humor to Contestant #2:

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He managed his ship through the course in about a minute, seemingly in full control.  Well done, and impressive at the time.

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Contestant #3, Eleanor Page, was introduced as the previous year’s winner with a ship that was “amazingly fast.”  It was amazingly fast.  Game, set, and match.  So, we left, without the “thrilling elimination heats” or any appreciation for “aesthetics and design.”  .

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We then wandered over to the Walk of Fame, where the celebrities assemble for autograph signings and pictures – for a price.  This doesn’t mean you can’t get a much closer look than you would at a panel, or even talk to them if you chose.  And, soon after seeing John Ratzenberger at his table, we realized he had a panel that began in about 20 minutes in the ballroom nearby.  Weighing pros and cons of other panels, we opted in.

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Ratzenberger was, of course, Cliff from the TV show Cheers, and he has voiced characters small and large in every Pixar film.  We learned that he began his performing career in a 2 person imrpov act in Euriope, acted in a large number of films prior to his Cheers fame, created his own role as the bar “know it all” as he exited a failed Cheers audition, has a strong work ethic, decries modern public educational standards, would trim the hedges at Pixar if they asked, and likes to tease unsuspecting children with Pixar character voices when they walk by.  He’s also appreciative that his “work” doesn’t compare with the manual labor required in his carpentry days, and probably scoffs at actors who complain a lot.   It was enjoyable and well worth the time.

After lunch and respite from the crowds, we went to “When Satellites Fail: A Modern Apocalypse.”  These non-celebrity panels are not only frequently very interesting but can also be quite good, as this one was.   Les Johnson, a NASA scientist (disclaimer: not speaking on behalf of his employer), talked about how satellites might be obliterated and our dependence on them.

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His interest began when he went to Dollar General (I’m sure there’s a joke about a NASA scientist going to Dollar General...), and the cashier asked if he had cash as their credit card reader was inoperable.  The type that most stores now use communicate directly with satellites rather than through the internet for data security purposes. A line of curiosity was borne.

How satellites might be destroyed:

1) Coronal Mass Ejection – These are releases of huge quantities of matter and electromagnetic radiation.  When directed towards the Earth, a CME squeezes the planet’s magnetic field, exposing orbiting satellites to greater radiation.  Military grade satellites have been “hardened” (Faraday cage) to withstand massive radiation.  However, commercial satellites have not.  These burps from the sun happen regularly, but the last severe CME was the “Carrington” event in 1859.  If that happened today, it would wipe out all satellites other than the hardened ones, and possibly the power grid on the planet.  Severe CME’s don’t happen often, and they’re not predictable.  The last similarly sized event was in 2012, but it was directed away from the Earth.

2) Space Junk – See Gravity?  The Kessler Effect proposes a cascade of orbital objects that wrecks anything worth keeping that is in orbit.  Imagine even tiny objects traveling 5 miles per second that can obliterate an entire satellite, shredding it into small projectiles which travel just as fast in different directions, striking other satellites.  There are half a million orbiting objects around the planet.  Aside from non-functional satellites are Russian rocket upper stages (large), Russian nuclear material that freezes when hidden from the sun (from old nuclear powered satellites, thanks Ruskies...), frozen urine from astronauts, etc.  He presented NASA slides showing the rough density of space debris through the last 5 decades – pretty amazing.

In 2007, China tested an anti-satellite weapon which alone caused 10,000 additional objects.  Two other satellites collided, and as a consequence of both events, the likelihood of the Hubble Telescope being struck increased by 40%.  Note: There is a treaty on managing space junk; China hasn’t signed on. (This includes making parts that are designed to be burnt/consumed upon re-entry or propelled into deeper space after useful life, for example).

Oh, and there’s one giant satellite still up there that 2 objects pass nearby (within 200 meters) each year which could trigger this event.   The satellite will remain a target for the next 150 years at which time it will descend into the atmosphere.

3) Space War – deliberate attack against satellites.

4) Space nuclear war – widespread satellite attacks.

Consequences:

Average satellite usage per American is 35/day.  Our dependencies, In a list form:

  • GPS – autos, etc.  16,000 cargo ships are directed by GPS.  Trains have GPS built in for positive train control – alerting where they are located at all times (coming to aircraft within 10 years). 
  • RFID – and other inventory systems that communicate between users (such as retailers) and warehouses for just in time deliveries.  New York City has an estimated 3 day food supply.  The disruption to the distribution system could be disastrous – lack of imported goods, temperature controls, etc.
  • Cell phones – even wireless phones send data packets that have to be time stamped for the data to be sorted – a satellite function.  In regions where cell phones don’t work, satellite phones would obviously be similarly affected.
  • Military surveillance – Imagine all the world’s defense departments without surveillance, amid suspicions as to what nations are doing in a time of world disaster. Navigation of military assets would also be at risk (Navy ships, cruise missiles, etc.)  An interesting note is that as of 1998, Annapolis no longer requires that graduates learn celestial navigation.  The Merchant Marine still does.
  • VSAT – very small aperture terminals – the basics of credit card commerce. (Dollar General).  How’s the cash supply?  Large financial institutions are dependent on satellites for e-transfers.
  • Weather forecasting significantly challenged.
  • Remote sensing – used in crop management for moisture and optimal planting times.  Interesting note:  the spread of genetically modified foods can be tracked from space because they have a slightly different detectable (heat?) signature.
  • Other communications – Cable systems use satellite.  Local radio would remain, with local news.

His prediction is that a major event, not even the “big” event, would result in a recession and possibly a depression.  And, the miniaturization of commercial satellites actually makes them more vulnerable.  There are discussions about requiring commercial craft to be hardened from radiation, but no progress is being made.

After that cheery event, we stayed in the same room for “What Do I Eat Now?” – a speculation on what to eat “once the world has ended and the local grocery has gone up in smoke.”

The presenter’s son was cute:

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The rest of it was false advertising.  In short, it was a lesson on how to determine when foods actually expire, followed by a tasting of various survivalist foods intended to last years.  Bag inflated?  That means decomposition gases.  Wrong color?  Don’t eat it.  Different consistency?  Same. 

I guess his answer is that first you need to buy your end of the world supplies, because he didn’t elaborate on other options that might be on hand.  Squirrels, nuts, plants, etc.  It was a food safety class.  Below was a comparison of an edible something compared to an inedible something.

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Right then!  Otherwise, a few pictures for the day:

Olympus, the Robot:

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A gaggle of... Disney characters?

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A guy with the hair and accessories to really pull this look off. 

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Creative (?) recycling:

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Superheroes.  Always good to end with superheroes!

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