Thursday, August 28th, 1997 - San Antonio, Texas

55th World Science Fiction Convention : LoneStarCon II - Day 1

It was a particularly social day today, met lots of people and listened to lots of interesting information.

The owner of the motel fulfilled his promise and drove myself and a fellow convention member to the convention center this morning. He is from Ohio and was commenting about the various conventions he has been to.

I began the day orienting myself, we were a bit early just for this reason. It turned out that the guides that were distributed yesterday to people that registered in advance (eg. me) was not correct, so I was waiting in a room that was not actually where the first presentation was to occur. After a trip to registration (at the far end of the convention center, a trip on the outside of the building in the heat; a VERY long trip, there were signs along the way “Registration ->”, “<- Everything Else”) I picked up some information about various events. My first visit (you can probably guess what is coming) I only picked up a t-shirt (I get one and where it at every WorldCon I attend) and some information about other events. Then, after realizing that there were revised schedules (but not before returning to the room where the event was SUPPOSED to be held) I returned to the registration area to pick up a revised schedule. People were not too happy about all of this and just added to the confusion for the day.

Beyond Games: How We'll REALLY Use Virtual Reality

Before the first panel we even waited at the wrong door to the room. The panel was about how Virtual Reality (a simulated computer-generated environment) can be used in real-world applications. There seemed to be a great deal of consensus that there are real-world applications mostly dealing with placing people into environments that make working in the real world easier, for example, in medical applications for surgeons operating either remotely or in areas of the body that are difficult to access. Many examples were drawn from current medical research, it was very interesting.

Materials of Tomorrow: Skyhooks are just the Beginning

The next discussion was regarding future materials that are currently under development. The panellists were all extremely well qualified, about 4 out of the 5 had PhD's for chemical or engineering. A few of the topics went way over the head of many in the audience (including myself). A couple of times discussions between panellists and particular audience members were extremely complicated. I found the talk very informative, especially when discussion focused on semi-conductors, ceramics, “bucky-balls”, etc. These were all just buzz-words to me, but the talk cleared up what they were and how they could be used. It is happy to see that there are many practical applications for the technology.

After this, I visited the Dealer Room to see what books (etc) was for sale. I spent a lot of money, but I knew this would happen and had allocated money for it. So many books that I have not seen were available so I had a good time finding the best price and purchasing. Even better, most of the books I got were hardcover. Many people do not like reading hardcover but I really enjoy it. When I read a soft-cover book I am really concerned about damaging the binding that it gets really awkward to read. Besides, I like getting the high-quality hardcovers signed here at the convention. One of the books I purchased was already autographed (there are many such books for sale here), which makes my life a bit easier – I like the author too (big smile). A book publisher is here again this year (Del Rey Books) who gives away books (with the author there – waiting to sign). They have a few authors I hope to visit over the next few days.

One of the best things about the Dealer Room is having access to information and material from areas that are difficult to access, such as Britain and speciality shops.

Future of Africa

I then attended a talk about the future of Africa. It was not particularly a pleasant discussion. The people on the panel have spent a great deal of time in Africa as well as doing a lot of research on the topic over many years. They basically saw the origins of all of the problems being the splitting up of Africa by the British with no regards to the tribes, their physical borders or lack of physical borders (with the many nomadic tribes). By doing this, the British influenced greatly the behaviour of the tribes, and their goals, in the past they were tough to survive and the borders just served to have the tribes within the new country fight for supremacy (with no mercy – most tribes are bitterly at odds with any other tribe), killing off any other tribes present. In an election, members of a tribe will only vote for a member of the tribe (making it EXTREMELY easy to predict the outcome of any election). In Africa it is essentially survival of the fittest. The future they saw for Africa was bleak – self annihilation of the population for the next 100 years until a new society emerges. The Aids epidemic was discussed but dismissed as “irrelevant” to the future of the society since, even though 25-30% of the society may be decimated with the plague, the rate of growth is just so massive that it will easily overwhelm the casualties. At one point a speaker said (paraphrased) “It may be harsh to say it but if you feed 5 million Africans this year, next year you will have to feed 7 million”. No solutions were offered for this situation. Everything they said made sense but, as I said, it was very depressing. They had numerous anecdotes about the culture clashes and the completely different moral and social structure in Africa (an example, it is not unusual to be driving down a road and have a completely naked lady on one side of the road carrying 85 pounds of lumber on her head and to have another lady, completely dressed and covered, for example, a Muslim woman on the other side of the road also carrying 85 pounds of lumber on her head).


The final panel was on “Cyberculture” which I found to be extremely amusing because it started by all panellists indicating that they did not know why they were there, but when they introduced themselves, they all discussed their lives and it was extremely apparent that they all were VERY much dependant on the Internet to communicate and perform there various jobs (one was even an artist that was making money from the Internet by selling his works). But, I guess that is the bottom line: It is becoming more and more essential in our lives. True, it is not reliable…YET…true, it is very cluttered…SO FAR…but there is a lot of future ahead…

Well, I then returned to the Dealer Room, bought a few more extremely cheap books ($5 and under is cheap to me) before the room closed at 6, after which I headed over to the “ConSuite”. This is a suite at the hotel that is run by the convention people that serves refreshments (as with all suites – completely free) and various discussion groups form. I helped myself to some things and sat down, only to be drawn into discussion with some interesting people (it has to be interesting when one of them introduces herself as “Sunshine” and the other people do not blink an eye). They were very friendly, asking me a few questions. We decided we would go to the opening ceremonies and I sat beside Sunshine who turns out actually organized a convention (Science Fiction, adults only) in the U.S., I was really surprised (though perhaps I should not) to hear that many of the conventions lose money, for example, one convention a few years ago lost $40,000 (some people had to mortgage their houses – no joke). I guess the whole thing should be looked at as a “big party” and you should accept the loses (that, however, is a LOT to swallow). Even after the advertising and membership revenues to suffer such a loss is very difficult to take, I am sure. Anyway, she turned out to be very nice (though VERY bubbly – at the ConSuite she was mentioning to everyone how much she “jiggles” – and demonstrating – EXTREMELY friendly) and we had a good discussion.

Opening Ceremony

The Opening Ceremonies were fun, they put on a bit of a “Western Show”, complete with a Cowboy Singer, a Gun Fighter and a Rope Master. They were all extremely professional (though at one point they mis-pronounced one of the honoured guests for the convention). It really was a very professional show, covered by video with large projection televisions, there must have been about a thousand people in the audience. Those of us in the audience that were not from Texas were sworn in as “Honorary Texans” for the duration.

After the ceremony I returned to the ConSuite to have a nice conversation with a couple there where he was blind and had a guide dog. They were very nice people and I had a long conversation with the wife about what is involved with obtaining and training a guide dog. She explained that the guide dogs are pure bred dogs that undergo a lot of training. The organization that provides the dogs provides nominal fee ($150) for each dog ($50 to replace in the case of death), even though the training itself is extremely expensive. Each dog and potential owner are trained together for 4 weeks (even the owner's trip and accommodations are paid for through donations).

Well, despite the urgings of Sunshine (and others) I called it a night since I had a few books (included in a box under my arm). I caught a cab back and talked to the very friendly driver on the way back to the hotel.

All in all, a very pleasant day, met some nice people.

⇒ Continue to Friday, August 29th, 1997 - San Antonio, Texas