September 4, 2012

Dragon*Con 2012 Wrap-Up

I love Dragon*Con.  I have more reasons to get excited about it every year.  I officially go for the science and skeptic tracks, but this year I was interested to also check out a science fiction & fantasy podcast I'm into and LAVAR BURTON was there!  He crossed two of my geeky paths: Star Trek and Reading Rainbow!

The first thing, though, was the parade.  If you've never seen a Dragon*Con parade than there's nothing I can say to describe it.  It's amazing.  Superheroes, video games, book and movies characters all come to life and every variation therein.  Steampunk superheroes, video game character Ghostbusters, pirates, zombies, everything.  Even James Randi, a group of scientists dressed as the entire periodic table of elements, and The Flying Spaghetti Monster (may he grace us all with His Noodly Appendage).
Stan Lee and friends.

That's me in the brown shirt taking pictures.  Click the image for more.
My friend sent this to me and found me in a few of the photos at this website.
I was already pooped after that!  My knees were buckling from leaning against a big planter to take pictures and videos.  So I kind of shuffled through the massive crowd to the Sheraton to sign in, then to the Hilton for the first item on my agenda: Space Science For Kids.  But I wasn't in there ten minutes before I realized the next thing was Grant Imahara of Mythbusters fame and I just knew that would be a big line, so I forsook the lovely Hilton air conditioning to book it back to the Sheraton.  I got a good place in line and enjoyed some snacks and water and pored over my schedule.  The Gragon*Con app on my smart phone was the best addition to the whole con for me this year.

Grant was great.  He actually didn't talk about Mythbusters that much.  Just a few tidbits with more stuff about his years working special effects in movies including Star Wars sequels, Galaxy Quest, his time in the C3P0 suit, and his work on the Energizer Bunny and other various robots. Great stuff.

Next up was back to the Hilton for the live Sword & Laser podcast in the Crystal Ballroom.  Tom was Tom but Veronica was dressed as a video game warrior.  Whatever works for you, you crazy kids.  They were anxiously awaiting the arrival of speculative author (I like the term "speculative fiction" rather than science fiction and/or fantasy, especially when he writes both) R. A. Salvatore ("Just call me Bob").  He must have got hung up getting there since he was one of the featured guests in the parade waving from the back of a convertible.  So Tom and Veronica stalled as long as they could, but they finally just had to go ahead and do the show without their star guest, admitting they had no plan B and they might just have to get us to ask a whole lot of good questions.  And then Bob walked in and saved them.  I haven't read him but he was a great guest with plenty to say and some interesting insights.
Veronica and Tom
Then holy crap, it was late afternoon already and I hadn't eaten much.  Went off to scrounge con food and hit the shopping.  Always nice stuff.  A particularly good crop of light sabers this season.

At 7pm I went back to the Crystal Ballroom for the skeptic's version of "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me!" re-labeled "Wait, Wait, Don't Fool Me!"  Brian Brushwood, George Hrab, Rebecca Watson, Parsec-Award-winning (and Parsec Award breaking) Blake Smith and friends did a completely hilarious (and I'm sure totally legal) version of the NPR show with a skeptical twist. The crowd was great for this one.
I met James Randi! How awesome is this guy?
At 9pm the Crystal Ballroom again, this time hosting the live podcast of The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe.  It was great fun being there live but I can't image it'll be a satisfactory podcast listening experience since they kept talking about slides they were showing us.  I guess they think it's great being in front of a crowd (and it is) but somehow I don' think that'll translate well to an audio podcast.
The SGU.

And then I was tired and had to walk way too far for my cheap parking spot through some sketchy areas of town.  But I got home safely and went ahead and paid four times as much for much closer parking on Sunday.

Sunday started in my old friend the Hilton Crystal Ballroom with a panel called "2012 - Don't Panic!" with Drs. Pamela Gay, Ali Khan, and Phil Plait along with author Scott Sigler and podcaster Widgett Walls.  It was pretty lighthearted for telling us all the ways we could really die horribly versus all the 2012 end of the world crap that is obviously nonsense.  And I got to sit next to Derek Colanduno of the Skepticality podcast and Fraser Cain of the Astronomy Cast podcast!

I'd heard from a friend that Mark Edward was doing some cool presentations and had a great new book out, so I headed over to the Hyatt for his 11:30am reading.  I was the only member of the audience.  It was still pretty early and I think most people had seen him the day before and I know his later afternoon sessions were well-attended so it was just bad timing or something but yeah.  He did a great reading just for me.  And we chatted about Ray Bradbury, who he apparently lived near at some point.

Time for a break!  Con food, shopping, wandering and picture taking.  Man I love the costumes.  It's like you're at a serious science and skepticism conference while you're in a panel, then you walk out into geek Mardi Gras.  It's delightful.

I headed to the Sheraton to get an early spot in line for LaVar Burton discussing Reading Rainbow.  I knew I should get there early because it'd probably be filled with many Star Trek fans.  I din't think he'd fill the big room they'd set aside for him because this talk was on Reading Rainbow and it's been off the air for a few years.  But I'm a librarian for crying out loud and just had to go.

Boy was I wrong.  It was a huge line and everyone I talked to was fondly reminiscing about Reading Rainbow.  They all loved it.  When they finally let us in we completely filled the room and they had to shut the door on some people.  He was great, of course.  There was such energy in the room and the people asking questions were so happy to talk to him and he was so happy to be there and finally one guy was going off about how he would run to the TV as a kid when he heard those opening theme song notes.  Then LaVar asked him to repeat that.  The guy did the little doot de do doo bit again.  Then  LaVar asked if he'd sing it with him.  Well of course the whole crowd burst our with "Butterfly in the sky..." and it was wonderful.  "You just made my con!" shouted LaVar.

So the next panel I went to see needs some explaining.  See, it was for this reading group.  Not my cup of tea, but I'm a big Geek & Sundry fan and wanted to ask Veronica and Felicia a question.  So I got in line and asked.  They had both mentioned the week before in separate videos that they were coming to Dragon*Con and that it was their favorite con.  They both said that, and I know they both are practically professional con-goers. I've never done anything but Dragon*Con so wanted to know why this was their favorite.  From their answers and from other multiple-con goers I gather that this is more of a fan-run convention and is more fan respectful whereas bigger cons like ComiCon are more stressful for the people putting things on and more corporate-driven with little regard to fan comfort.  Not that I don't hear the occasional gripe about Dragon*Con but in my limited experience (maybe four cons so far) everyone I've met goes out of their way, is really nice and it seems to be about as well-organized as you could hope for with such a massive undertaking.

I had another question for Veronica, but she was already getting swamped by fans.  Then I noticed her podcasting partner Tom Merritt standing nearby and asked him if I could pepper him with a few questions.  He said sure, but that it'd have to be on the hoof because he had to be on a panel two hotels away in less than twenty minutes.  Man that guy walks fast.  He was great but clearly I still needed to ask Veronica.

So I sat in on Tom's next panel: Irrational & Mistaken in which he and some fellow podcasters discussed strategies for dealing with left field craziness.  The example they gave was Tom doing a show in which people were coming on to speculate about the future with regards to anything from technology to society to whatever.  So it's the opposite of scripted and since the guest can speculate on anything it can go anywhere.  He had on a guy he'd worked with before who he knew was an intelligent, well-spoken and interesting guy. The guy happens to be a Libertarian and I don't know if that has anything to do with it, but during the interview he said something to the effect of: "You know the AIDS epidemic was a big lie.  It was really climate and diet issues."

Well, Tom was flummoxed on what to do next.  So before he told us how he handled it, he and the panel and the audience all discussed how we deal with that kind of wacky claim in a respectful way.  He also had the doubly interesting problem of not wanting the interview to get derailed into an argument of this one issue. It was a lively and fascinating discussion! How would you have handled it?  And how do you handle that kind of thing when it comes up with your family or friends?

So then I looked up Veronica's schedule and ran into her before she want in to her next panel.  She's mentioned a few times on the Sword & Laser show that it'd be cool to have a Sword & Laser kids show. Dude, I'm a school librarian, My Lovely Bride is a teacher and our daughter loves those kinds of books!  I noticed that sometimes they have listeners/viewers send in little clips and I wanted to ask if I might send in little Reading Rainbow type clips suggesting some science fiction and fantasy books for kids.  She said that sounded great so we'll see where that goes.  I think she'd really like to have an actual whole other show just for the kids books but until that happens maybe I can share some fun stuff.  Let me know if you have any good ideas as well!

Then I was again pooped out.  At least I had a short walk to the car this time. Next year I'll probably spring for a hotel room for a couple of nights!