DragonCon 2013 – Day 1

1 comment

Well, sure it was frustrating to enter a registration line that circled the building, especially as having registered at about the same time of day in 10 minutes the year before.  Everything seemed to be working... but it begs the question as to whether the organizers should put a cap on attendees.  I have the answer for that, of course.  If 52,000 were present last year, it’s got to be over 60,000 this year.untitled-1-6

That said, only a few years ago, it took 3-4 hours to register.  And, if you’re actually sociable, it’s kind of fun to chat with people in line with you.  “First year at DragonCon?”  That kind of thing.  These two were from Birmingham, AL and ready for the experience.


After we circled the building, I spied these two.  It’s 9:37 a.m., and I can’t come to any other conclusion that this lady’s aluminum bottle is anything other than a Michelob Ultra.  Maybe.  Dunno.


Also emerging successfully from the registration line were these two.  Don’t know who they’re supposed to be, but I had itchy trigger finger on the camera.


Fearing that the unexpected length of the registration line made us unlikely to get into the George Takei panel, we tried anyway, since it was in the same building.  The Sheraton houses most of the Star Trek related panels, and we’ve been shut out before due to either the large number of people attending or smaller rooms.  Happily, we found the line to be very reasonable, at least the portion that we could see of it.

So, you sit, you ask people around you if this is their first Con, where they’re from... and you people watch.  The girl in the middle is actually much cuter than than this snapshot suggests.  That’s her very geeky boyfriend, on the phone, which was his focus for at least 20 minutes.  Did I mention she was pretty cute?

Well, at D*Con, anyone can talk to anyone, so she did, to a guy in a kilt with a bald head and a longish beard tied under his chin.  From the front, he looked a bit of a Hell’s Angel and... well, D*Con is where worlds collide, and get along pretty dang well.  I’d give her boyfriend a couple days after the Con before she dumps him.  Dweeb.


Which brings us to the George Takei panel, otherwise known as Mr. Sulu.  Or, as his discussion would unfold, the man who would likely prefer to be known as Captain Sulu, the very same that rescued Captain Kirk in the improperly titled, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.  His preferred title was Capt. Sulu to the Rescue! – or something close to that.


Note:  That’s Garrett Wang to the right who is moderating the panel.  He played Ensign Harry Kim on “Star Trek: Voyager.”

There remains a simmering feud, perhaps friendly, between Takei and William Shatner.  They both take aim at each other frequently, and they both obviously believe that everyone in their audience must be on their side.  It gets tiring.  Takei rambled on about getting close to “Star Trek’s” 50th year and aging in general. 

After some fairly generic questions about being an Asian in Hollywood and the difficulty finding roles other than a household assistant or an evil villain, Takei had two entertaining stories.

One was a joke played on him by Walter Koenig (Chekov), Nichelle Nichols (Uhuru) and James Doohan (Scotty), who toured as a group to conventions for equal pay.  Koenig mentions in a cab on the way to a hotel that it was great to get an extra $1,000 for the last show, and Doohan and Nichols play along with it as if they each got the same.  On it goes until they check in, and Takei demands that their promoter meet him in the lobby, where he is very aggressive physically and verbally about not getting his fair share.  He quickly realizes he’s been had.

The second story involved him as a young actor faced with the need to get to the other side of New York’s Central Park, at night, and in the late 50’s when it was ill advised to do so.  He can’t afford a cab, and the subways ran a very circumspect route.  So, he loudly recited prose from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” as if he was out of his mind.  People stayed clear of him as he crossed safely.

Afterwards, we grabbed gyros and began walking to the next panel.  Along the  way, two guys passed us, one carrying a 70’s era record player.  Heard from someone in front of us, “That’s the most hipster thing I’ve ever seen, a guy carrying a record player with Led Zeppelin vinyl on it.”

As we stood in line for the next panel, I spied a caped crusader checking out her cell phone.  That’s one thing about DragonCon.  You name the fictional character, wait long enough, and you too can take pictures of them checking their cell phones.  Maybe I’ll make it a hobby.


Which brings us to the next panel:  Lindsay Wagner, best known to me as The Bionic Woman.  My wife can recall episodes.  All I remember is that I had a vague recollection of her being in “The Rockford Files,” liked the series, thought she was cute, and got really, really tired of her body fighting the bionics.  Heal up and go bust things, sheesh!


Wagner is introspective and is very much a philosophical person.  She vaguely referred to self-help, mind over matter methods of better health, and being a Vegetarian.  Whatever the details, it was obvious that she felt a purpose relatively early in life (service to others), and she had a surprising amount of input to the storyline and individual moral messages of her show – especially surprising at a relatively young age (25 when it began) and, as she recounts, the first female lead character in an action/adventure show on TV. 

As the audience asked questions, it verified her own observations that she didn’t really know at the time what influence her show might have on society.  That said, she had a clear desire to show a female character who didn’t apologize for being a woman or have to self-deprecatingly conduct herself in a world of men.  Um, okay.  Clearly, she was in fact a heroine to many young girls who, as they grew older, gave her exactly that feedback as a role model. 

Overall, while some actors are glib and funny, Wagner is a very serious and thoughtful person.  I really didn’t know what to expect, but it makes sense with her role choices over the years.

Peccadilloes from this panel included her eye glasses, which reflected the ample chandeliers (she uses her eyes to express herself, and the glasses just get in the way) and the regular intrusion of noise as doors opened from the lobby area interfering with her relatively soft-spoken delivery.

And, off we go to find out what we might learn from the Science track of programming, specifically a panel entitled “You Won’t Go Crazy – The Radiation Will Kill You First.”

Well, first a couple of observations.  This one was snoring in the hallway amidst people hanging outside of the rooms used for Science track programs.


And, this one was across the hall from the door where I was seating, where I happened to catch...


Yes, that book is literally falling from his hands as he nods off.  Bazinga!  It’s Day 1 of a massive convention, folks.  Get with it.

The guy behind the desk is Richard “Hawk” Alstatt, who has a MS in Nuclear Engineering, specializing in Plasma Physics and is, in general, an expert on “burning stuff.”  Often, he models space environments and assesses radiation effects for planetary bodies for NASA.


The room, by the way, was full.  The title of the narrative teases with a reality show that is taking applicants for a one way voyage to establish a human colony on Mars.  The discussion was far from that. 

He began with Rems and Millirems, explaining dosage, it’s effect on humans, and the various sources of radiation.  The most interesting comments were his description of radiation from the sun, both “normal” and during flares.  This led into a discussion of the Van Allen belt, which is a wonderful protective device for life on Earth and also a measurable breadth of strata that humans should avoid.  He also related this neutron dense region with the dangers of flying 5,000 feet above earth – neutrons find their rest in bodies of water, which would be us in that context.

He had laughable stories about Russian engineering inadequacies related to protecting their Cosmonauts, a clear distaste for anti-nuclear agendas in editorials following nuclear accidents (detecting radiation a continent away is not the same thing as being harmfully exposed, and similar), and good advice if you’re on a space walk or on the surface of the moon during a solar storm.  Hide behind a 1/4” plate of aluminum.  I’ll keep that handy.

Similarly, he observed the careful design of our own space program in shielding our astronauts with suitable vehicle thickness, then cutting a hole for windows where, of course, they would often look out.  It turns out that astronauts have often gotten cataracts due to the radiation that comes through the glass.

He gave a very clear understanding that we are very well situated where we are, but the space around us and most other planets present significant problems with survivability from radiation.

He was very intelligent and, while I tried to follow along, I’m happy that we have people like him who understand the science and apply it for our benefit.

Afterwards, we toured the Artists Gallery and the Walk of Fame, where celebrities sign autographs (for fees) but are otherwise approachable for short conversations.

Then, it was time to eat!


1 comment :

Post a Comment

Phil Keaggy/Randy Stonehill in Concert

No comments

Maybe 15 years ago, a friend from High School mentioned that I should check out Phil Keaggy.  His interests in music were far from mine, but he knew I liked guitar and The Beatles.

Fast forward a bit and a friend invites me to a Phil Keaggy concert.  I’d lost track of Keaggy due to my general discontent with popular Christian music.  That’s no fault of Keaggy’s, then or now, but despite having a few of his CDs, I hadn’t listened to the best of them, Way Back Home, in many years.  So, I went without expectations, but hopeful for an enjoyable evening. 

The concert was held at Macedonia Baptist Church, in Newnan, GA.  It says something about the place that Google Maps more prominently displays Macedonia Cemetery.  Why?  It’s been there a long, long time.  Per the pastor, the church was founded in 1827 and was the first church in the area.  The church volunteers did a great job of welcoming and directing people, some of whom came from as far away as New York.  The Fellowship Hall seated an audience of 450, and the show was very close to a sell-out.

The show was actually a co-bill, featuring Keaggy and Randy Stonehill, who have shared many stages over the years.   I wasn’t familiar with him or his music, but as he played, I found him to be as much a humorist as a musician... and he’s very fine at both. 


One might expect that at a concert at a church by Christian artists that the music would equate to Psalter readings with musical accompaniment.  Not so!  For example, here’s a bit of “Ramada Inn”:

north of the border
where the cacti is scarce and thin
there's a place without much taste
they call Ramada Inn
now Ramada, it is a Spanish name
they brought it with them when they came
and though the Spanish have gone away
Ramada Inn is here to stay

they're like a rash upon the nation
where the weary traveler gets trapped on vacation
no matter where you are going or where you have been
you won't escape Ramada Inn

it's in there somewhere between good and bad
and once you leave
you won't quite believe
what an average time you've had

Of course, most of the songs were uplifting in the expected variety, most particularly Stonehill’s intro and lyrics to “Billy Frank,” about Billy Graham.

After about an hour of Stonehill, there was a 30 minute intermission.  First, being primarily Methodist these days, I found it refreshing that a collection plate was not passed around at a church gathering, despite the receipts being given strictly to the artists.  There was a bake sale to benefit the church instead.  And secondly, just before winners were being drawn for a raffle of Chik-Fil-A swag, there sat Keaggy at the front of the stage, chatting with people and signing autographs. 

Both artists played solo acoustic guitar.   Keaggy can play solo guitar, but he doesn’t have to due to the use of loop electronics.  Essentially, he plays a line which is recorded which then “loops,” and he builds on top of that with additional looped lines or solos over the top.  It’s a lot of sound from a one-man show, similar, actually, to Nils Lofgren’s solo shows.


It should be said that Keaggy has more than a passing likeness to Paul McCartney, and whether bred by watching The Beatles as a youth or developed naturally, it’s kind of eerie.  More importantly, when Keaggy writes songs with a pop flavor, he’s a better student of what made McCartney’s more memorable Beatles tunes successful than McCartney is himself.   It makes for good listening.


This particular evening, as with his album releases, much of the music was instrumental.  The highlights for me were “Salvation Army Band” and “Let Everything Else Go.”


And, as good as he was, the finale included 6 songs played with Stonehill, very much unplanned as to which songs to play.  Their chemistry was great, and I think the two solo spots followed by their joint songs made for a perfect presentation.  “Sunday’s Child,” which they co-wrote, brought the pop flair, “Mystery Highway” brought a blues edge, and the McCartney-esque “What a Day” were each exceptional.


There was much audience encouragement to play various favorites, to which Keaggy had the perfect reply: “This is better than playing at the fair!”


The following video shows the skill, the looped sound method, and sufficient evidence that it doesn’t take 10 fingers to play the guitar extremely well.

No comments :

Post a Comment

Dabo Swinney is Clemson

No comments

...and not just because Clemson’s football fortunes have improved.  If there’s someone who represents what I consider the best values of Clemson better, I’m not certain who it is.  Certainly, one might hope for a captain of industry or an acclaimed force of social change, but I’m not pointing this to a benchmark of success, but rather personal characteristics.  For those who watch him on the sidelines, they can see this.

Students have been camped out for a while, in over 60 tents as of yesterday, to claim Clemson vs. Georgia tickets for next week’s season opener.  In some regard, this is a rite of passage for Freshmen.  And there he is:

Though dated, this interview regarding his history speaks volumes.

One week to football.  Finally.

No comments :

Post a Comment

Autonomy – A Law Unto Oneself

No comments

“We were bored and didn’t have anything to do, so we decided to kill somebody.”

I’m not going to search out other examples of violence.  I think the recent murder of a passing jogger referenced above is a sufficient example of the lack of valuing the sanctity of human life.  It might be said that the killers lack a moral compass, but that wouldn’t be true.   They lack a moral compass that many possess, but act true to their own.  

Judges 17:6: “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” (NASB). 

In short, they were autonomous, which, from the root, means self-law, or a law unto oneself.   Events such as these remind me of a poem by Steve Turner, primarily a music journalist and author who has written about The Beatles, U2 and others.  This was published in his book of poems, Up to Date, in 1983.



We believe in Marxfreudanddarwin.
We believe everything is OK
as long as you don't hurt anyone,
to the best of your definition of hurt,
and to the best of your knowledge.

We believe in sex before during
and after marriage.
We believe in the therapy of sin.
We believe that adultery is fun.
We believe that sodomy's OK
We believe that taboos are taboo.

We believe that everything's getting better
despite evidence to the contrary.
The evidence must be investigated.
You can prove anything with evidence.

We believe there's something in horoscopes,
UFO's and bent spoons;
Jesus was a good man just like Buddha
Mohammed and ourselves.
He was a good moral teacher although we think
his good morals were bad.

We believe that all religions are basically the same,
at least the one that we read was.
They all believe in love and goodness.
They only differ on matters of
creation sin heaven hell God and salvation.

We believe that after death comes The Nothing
because when you ask the dead what happens
they say Nothing.
If death is not the end, if the dead have lied,
then it's compulsory heaven for all
excepting perhaps Hitler, Stalin and Genghis Khan.

We believe in Masters and Johnson.
What's selected is average.
What's average is normal.
What's normal is good.

We believe in total disarmament.
We believe there are direct links between
warfare and bloodshed.
Americans should beat their guns into tractors
and the Russians would be sure to follow.

We believe that man is essentially good.
It's only his behaviour that lets him down.
This is the fault of society.
Society is the fault of conditions.
Conditions are the fault of society.

We believe that each man must find the truth
that is right for him.
Reality will adapt accordingly.
The universe will readjust. History will alter.
We believe that there is no absolute truth
excepting the truth that there is no absolute truth.

We believe in the rejection of creeds.


Thoughtful, and I enjoy it every time I read it.  Driving the point home, though, is his postscript, entitled “Chance”:

If chance be the Father of all flesh,
disaster is his rainbow in the sky
and when you hear:

“State of Emergency!”

“Sniper Kills Ten!”

“Troops on the Rampage!”

“Bomb Blasts School!”

It is but the sound of man
worshipping his maker.


In keeping with the musings of journalists, Malcolm Muggeridge was another, also from Britain, who wrote for much of the 20th century.

“If God is dead, somebody is going to have to take his place.  It will be megalomania or erotomania, the drive for power or the drive for pleasure, the clenched fist or the phallus, Hitler or Hugh Hefner.”

One journalist focused largely on world powers, the other on entertainment, both, in their ways, speaking to the perils of self-law.

Now, let’s see what other amusements I can blog about...

No comments :

Post a Comment

Zenith Watches – A Factory Tour


This is my first post by a guest blogger.  Dan Ravenna went to Germany recently to visit his son, and a kind offer from Zenith, a Swiss watch maker, to tour their Swiss factory made for a more than agreeable detour.  Dan is a watch enthusiast and forum co-moderator at watchuseek.com.

My history with Zenith reaches back over a decade. It started shortly after I had acquired my "grail" watch of that era, a Speedmaster Professional with the see-through back. Then, I heard of the Zenith El Primero Flyback. A little research brought up several cool factors about the brand and the El Primero movement itself. It was not much later before I had mine. The fact that the brand was not that appreciated worked to my advantage as I bought the watch for less than the Speedy Pro!

As the years rolled by, I spent more time with WatchUSeek and eventually became the moderator for the Zenith forum. It's been my pleasure to see it grow to the thriving community that it is today.

I had always wondered what a watch factory looked like, but as some of the watch brands I enjoyed started to fade or be bought out (Minerva, Revue Thommen, etc.), I gave up the notion of seeing one. So it was to my surprise when Ernie Romers, owner of WatchUSeek, mentioned that a trip to the Zenith factory may be in the works and that he, Hartmut, and I could tour the factory together. I took it as a double blessing that I would see my co-moderator Hartmut again! So with fingers crossed, I let the magic work itself.

After emailing back and forth with Maud, Zenith International PR Manager, and Nastassia, Zenith Communications Department, the plans were set. Early on a Friday morning, my wife, Cindy, and I boarded a Lufthansa flight from Munich to Geneva. After arriving, we were greeted by a chauffeur who took us to Le Locle in a nice Mercedes. As picturesque as the countryside was, we were wondering if we would make once it started to snow! We had never seen it snow in late May.

We did make it. Due to life’s complications, we never did get to meet up with Ernie and Hartmut. Once inside, we met with Nastassia and then Maud. Nastassia first took us through a presentation of the brand. Zenith has come a long way since I bought my El Primero and the presentation showed us with pride where they were and where they wanted to be. One thing both Cindy and I noted throughout our entire stay was how passionate they all were about their brand. There was no mistaking that!

As well, they are very proud of how they just recently moved all of the manufacturing areas to under one roof as they had been spread about in the large Zenith complex. The synergy they derive from this is very positive.

After the presentation, Maud reappeared and the two of them showed us the complete line of watches, including some of those destined to be sold in the new boutiques. While both Cindy and I found this display to be really nice, we were both happy to hand back the Christophe Colomb as it cost more than our house did when we bought it!

To make sure we had the energy for our tour, we joined Romain, Zenith Product Development, for lunch. We started with shrimp and asparagus, followed by cordon bleu, and finished with apple crepes. We talked about what we did and I was most interested to see how they got to their present position in Zenith.

Now it was time for the tour. Our tour guide was the very capable Nastassia. We first started with their R&D department, the only place we were asked not to take photos. Here is where the watches went from design to mock up to trial units. They have some fantastic software that allowed them to show the movement working, and by fading out certain parts such as a bridge, you could see how the parts underneath work even if you could not see them in a finished watch. Very important if one has to trouble shoot!

Then it was off to the manufacturing area. The first area is where brass square blanks are placed in CNC machines. Each machine has a variety of tool heads (all made in house) and they are all used to drill and cut the blank. As you can see in the photos, many steps are involved before one ends up with the base plate or bridges. They also showed off some of their new equipment that allowed for the same process, but used far less cutting oil and is therefore environmentally friendly.


Plate and Bridge Cutting Area


First Cut


Plate Before and After



After Several Operations



Newer and Environmentally Friendly Equipment


The next room houses a most fabulous machine, a five-axis CNC machine. Once programmed, this beast could make the complex geometry cuts required to make the movement cage of the Christophe Columb. The pictures show some fine examples of the components that are fabricated here.


Five-Axis CNC Unit


Pieces Made on the Five-Axis CNC Unit

After this room, we saw the actual area where brass flats are received, cut to size, and then indexed. The final part of this process is to insure each blank is the same thickness. This is very critical given the way they are machined!


Brass Stock



Brass Stock Quality Assurance/Quality Control


Afterwards, we saw other equipment used to fabricate gears and other components through a variety of processes including stamping. Zenith makes over 80% of its own gears. The escapement is one set of parts that are not made in house.


Other Gears Made In-House


To this point, I've talked mostly about equipment, but make no mistake, there is plenty of human involvement. There are numerous QA/QC stations throughout the process. We also found it interesting that deburring is all done by hand. Even a five-axis CNC machine cannot do everything!


One of Many QA/QC Areas


At this point, the human element becomes far more important. The next step we saw was one of the finishing stations. Here, the plate and bridges are polished, the cotes de Genève are added, as is perlage. In this picture, one can see one of Zenith’s talents hard at work.


Hard at Work Adding the Good Looks


Now we are getting to the actual assembly. In this picture, a press is used to set a part. In this next picture, parts are arranged on a plate for further work. These next two pictures show how jewels are set into the plate. They are first sorted as to size, and then the head picks them and places them in the proper hole. They are then pressed into place. While one normally conjures up images of an old watchmaker using an anvil and press to put jewels into place, I for one appreciate the preciseness of this device to insure a well running watch!


Setting Part to be Pressed



Setting Parts on Tray



Setting Jewels on Tray



Setting Jewels on Plate


As you can see by the pictures, we are now getting to movements that are finished. Note the paperwork that is in place to track their progress and quality control. In this area, the movements are tested. The equipment monitors how well they beat under different positions. They have some fabulous equipment that allows them to visually monitor the engagement of the pallet fork in the escapement. Whether you have an Elite that beats at a leisurely 28,800 or an El Primero humming at 36,000 variations per hour, you want that engagement to be perfect!


Busy at Work


Looking Good!



Equipment for Testing Engagement


In this next series, you can see the finishing of the movements. Dials are secured to the movements and then the hands. While wandering amongst the work benches, I showed off my Flyback of ages past. It impressed one the staff so much that when she was done, she showed off the new generation she was working on. Isn't it wonderful?


Further Finishing



Waiting for Further Work



Almost Done



The New El Primero Stratos Flyback Boutique Edition


Speaking of the staff, you won't find too many old watchmakers there. They are mostly young and mostly female. And all very happy with their company and their work.

Lastly, we have the room were all the grand complications are made. The watchmakers here are the crème de la crème. Here you can see and hear the minute repeater. Then there is a tourbillon. And here is a finished Pilot Montre D’Aeronef Type 20 Tourbillon.


Where the High-End Work is Done



Pilot Montre d”Aeronef Type 20 Tourbillon



Tourbillon Out of the Case


We then finished with a wrap-up with Maud and Romain.  Due to the weather, we did not go outside, but here are some pictures from the building.


Some of the New Façade



Windows from the Past Now Inside the Building



The View from a Window


Now to get back to the beginning of our visit. Remember the watches we said we saw? Well, here pictures of some of them. I just wanted to get the tour taken care of first.


El Primero 36’000 VpH with Diamonds



Same Watch, Side View



El Primero Chronomaster 1969 Boutique Edition



My Favorite of the Bunch – El Primero Espada Graduation


Espada Journeyman Back

El Primero Espada Graduation Coin



El Primero Stratos Flyback Striking 10th (Felix Baumgartner)



The Back Showing Felix Baumgartner



The New El Primero Stratos Flyback Rainbow and an Original (Mine)



Academy Christophe Colomb Hurricane on my Wrist (I paid less for my house!)



Back of the Academy Christophe Colomb Hurricane



Captain Winsor Annual Calendar Boutique Edition



Pilot Montre D’Aeronef Type 20 GMT Red Baron



Fokker Dr. 1 on the Back – I am sure Hartmut would have liked to see it!


Cindy and I were very impressed with our tour of the facilities. The investment in equipment, labor, and buildings shows us Zenith is here to stay. We are also very impressed with the passion that the employees displayed for their product and their company. It makes me want to work there! It certainly left us with a desire to supplement our collection with additional Zenith watches!

Thank You Zenith!

Dan Ravenna
WatchUSeek Zenith Forum


Post a Comment