Saturday, July 30, 2011

Natsu Con and my New Lecture

Convention season isn't quite over yet. I still have a few more to attend this year. In two weeks is Natsu Con here in St. Louis, or more precisely, Collinsville, IL. I'll be presenting my main talk there as usual, but with the hope that a fire alarm doesn't interrupt this year, as it did last.

In the meantime, I've been working on a new lecture that I will be debuting at this con on Japanese contributions to Astronomy. Researching this has been an immense information overload the past few weeks. As with so much in astronomy, there are rarely "Eureka!" moments based off singular observations. Rather, discoveries come from classifying and categorizing large numbers of objects. Teams from all over the world will contribute. The result is that very little in Astronomy can truly be called strictly a discovery by one nation. Even the major instruments that make the discoveries, satellites and observatories, have contributions of components from numerous nations.

The result has been trying to find what the end result of these small, piecemeal contributions have been, if indeed they were truly worked directly into any major theory today. But with publications lists for a single satellite, such as ASCA's numbering in the thousands of publications, that's leaving me with numerous threads to chase down!

Regardless, there's a few big ones I've discovered so far and with the time it will take to explain the background science well enough to understand them, I think I should have a pretty full talk already. I really enjoy digging through the history of the development of ideas and watching them blossom.

After Natsu Con, I'm done with conventions probably until Archon (a more sci-fi/fantasy based con) at which I don't plan on giving any talks, but may reconsider if anything strikes my fancy.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Pareidolia: n + 22

While at AFW this weekend, one of my friends showed me a great piece of pareidolia captured by her friend:

I think this is among the best examples I've yet posted on this blog. I can quite clearly see a kitten playing with the Sun.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Speaking of Cons: AFW Review

This past weekend was Anime Fest Wichita. I was there helping to promote Naka Kon as well as running my usual panel.

In every respect, this con was dismal.

We'd paid for a booth with electricity to run our projector and other electronics. Which we didn't get. There was little apology from the organizers and we eventually dragged a promise of a refund for that payment out of them, which was not delivered until well after we'd planned to leave.

Our table was placed in the vendors room, which is pretty normal, but gave us a chance to talk to other vendors. Apparently, one had been told that AFW's attendance was an order of magnitude higher than what it was. Another had been packing up merchandise that wasn't selling and had one of the con's chairs flip out on them, telling them they were in violation of their contract which required to have their booth open until the dealers room closed. Which they were.... just removing some merchandise.

The short story was that their vendors were treated pretty poorly and many have decided not to be returning.

But how was the experience as a panelist?

Also disappointing.

I was given a large space, but when I arrived, there was no projector, no screen, and no connections for audio, all of which were checked on the submission form. I'd arrived 30 minutes early because I always expect the worst and had found a projector and (tiny) screen, but it took pathetically long to get audio working. It took nearly 20 minutes for a member of their A/V staff to arrive to attempt to make the sound work. But they weren't equipped with cables sufficiently long to make the connection. For 15 minutes they searched for some that were, but ultimately, didn't have any. The final solution was to move their entire sound box to right next to my laptop, which ultimately worked.

The panel started only 5 minutes late and went exceptionally well. I'd intended to leave 10-15 minutes for questions and discussions and ended with exactly that amount.

Lastly, my experience as a general attendee: Yet again, this con was a failure. For an anime convention, it was unfocused. It was loaded with panels and guests that had absolutely nothing to do with the topic. There wasn't a single panel that ended up being worth attending. The "dance" couldn't make its mind up what it wanted to be either.

The only reason I've ever attended this convention was as part of the Naka Kon staff. But as a guest, I'd not return on my own.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Elevators, Creepers, and Conventions

The Feminism waters is one into which I rarely tread. I think it's partially because, assuming the popular definition of feminism as "he radical notion that women are people", it's too obvious for me to think much about. I take that as a given to think much about slapping a label on myself for the issue.

So I don't spend much time thinking about this topic. But a series of recent events has been sticking in my mind lately. If you've been following the skeptical blogosphere lately, the title should be a dead giveaway.

If you've somehow missed it, here's a recap:

While at the global atheist conference in Dublin, Skepchick Rebecca Watson was propositioned in her hotel elevator at 4am by a guy. She included this experience in part of a youtube video to make the point that some guys just aren't getting that it's really creepy to follow "a single woman, in a foreign country, at 4am in a hotel elevator with you, just you...." because it comes across as sexual objectification.

And of course, the apologists were all over it. Not the religious ones. The misogynist apologists. They claimed it wasn't a big deal, that it's not objectification, that she should be happy to get hit on, and, perhaps worst of all, that she should shut the hell up because there's bigger issues for women than guys being generally creepy.

The real kicker is that the last bit, came from none other than Richard Dawkins.

In some respects, I have to agree. There's creepers out there and on the grand scheme of things, making a quick note of it is all that needs to be said. And that's precisely what Rebecca did. Used it as a quick anecdote to highlight that men often do things that make women very uncomfortable and don't even think it's an issue. As PZ pointed out, "What these situations demand is an appropriate level of response." This should have been a done deal.

Instead, the apologists tried to dismiss it as an irrelevant deal.

This bugs me. The reason goes back to the definition of feminism I mentioned earlier: Women are people. They shouldn't be expected to ignore situations that make them uncomfortable any more than anyone else should. And given that women are sexually assaulted far more than men, situations like this should be viewed as even more spurious.

In my own experience, I go to a lot of conventions. I'm leaving town Thursday and will be away for 11 days two hit two, at both of which, I will be giving talks. At conventions, I've also been a frequent costumer. My best costume is my Sesshomaru a human form of a dog demon, reproduced from the series Inuyasha. The character is very popular and rarely costumed well. This, combined with the popularity of my talk has made me a well known and popular figures at conventions.

Which is awesome. But let's face it: It attracts creepers. And I've had more than my fair share. Perhaps the oddest was when I was wearing the aforementioned costume and a girl asked if she could "have my puppies." In other situations, I've had people do the romantic interest of a character I costume and proceed to follow me around conventions.

A general strategy is to have friends with whom you can hide for a little while to catch a breath, but some of my creepers have even gone so far as to try to make friends with them to take away my hiding places. That's fucking creepy and it's not at all welcome.

What's worse, is that all of my experiences have been in public. I've never even found myself cornered, even as long as it would take to stop an elevator and get off, by one of these creepers. And I sure as hell wouldn't want to be.

So I get how not cool creepers can be. They can completely ruin an otherwise pleasant convention or experience. As a result of my creepers, I am far less likely to wear costumes at conventions unless I have some of my closest friends there to help act as a buffer. I've changed my behavior and shy away from something I love because others can't act responsibly. That's a bummer.

That's why I get where Rebecca's coming from. She had a creeper that's raining on the fun parade. But in her circumstance, it's not just a matter of you don't do something as eccentric as costuming occasionally. What she, and other women face, is a daily ordeal. What do they have to quit doing to get rid of pervasive creepiness? Going out in public? Wearing veils so men can't think them attractive?

I don't really think that's a realistic scenario. Things, at least in the US, generally aren't so bad as all that, but it's the same principle: Why should others have to change their behavior because someone else is a creeper? I'm a person that doesn't appreciate it and women, being people too, shouldn't have to either. And you know what, that's perfectly fine to state.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Pareidolia: n + 21

I think this has to be one of the worst bits of religious pareidolia I've yet seen. A town in North Carolina apparently has residents that think some vines growing on a telephone pole is a manifestation of Jesus.

Here's the picture:

Apparently, it's too hard for these people to understand that when you get something growing on poles with wires at right angles will necessarily look like someone being crucified because that happens at right angles too!

Meanwhile, I notice the figure is lacking legs. To me, it looks more like some sort of swamp ghost.

Friday, July 01, 2011


I signed up for the Beta of Google+ last night hoping that it will eventually take the place of facebook. I have facebook because it's a convenient way to keep track of happenings, but I'm very unimpressed with the constant revisions that make private info public and have been waiting for a replacement.

I can't say what I think of Google+ yet since the most important aspect of a social network is the sociability of it and very few people I know have joined just yet. Meanwhile, I've been looking at some of the reviews and found a few articles I feel like commenting on.

First 8 Facebook Features Google+ Doesn't Have (Yet). What sorts of things am I missing?

1. Games: Oh thank the FSM G+ doesn't have these. I can't even count how many stupid facebook plug-ins and games I've blocked. And yet it seems every day, one of my friends just started playing Zonkborger and wants me to join their brain eating zombie colony. Not going to miss that!

2. Compatibility with Twitter: I can see this being a sticking point for many, but given I rarely update my twitter, I can't really complain.

3. Third-Party Apps: See (1) & (2). Overall, I'm pretty meh about all the crazy things facebook allows.

4. Hiding Some People's Status Updates: This is a pretty big one. I'm sitting pretty at 226 facebook friends which seems to be a low end of moderate. For comparison, my sister have 544 (she's a socialite). Popular public figures tend to have even more. JT Eberhard has 1721 presently. That's a lot of spam about how shitty people's days were. Sometimes, I just need to hide the downers or the people who otherwise post stupid shit. In facebook, I can just remove them from my feed. Apparently that's not possible in G+.

Is this such a bad thing? Not necessarily. It just means you might have to be a bit more picky about who you select as a "friend". G+ has several different groups. Not everyone has to be a friend. You can select them as "acquaintances" (or make user defined groups) and only show one feed at a time thereby cutting out all the people you maintain loose contacts with and hone in on the ones you really want to follow.

5. Birthday Reminders: Oh no! We can't remember birthdays without a computer to tell us!? Again, I don't care. About the only thing facebook birthdays seem to be any good for anyway, is getting your wall spammed with 300+ variations on "Happy Birthday, bro!". I generally remove my birthday from my profile a few days before hand. Just to see how many people really know. It's not many, but if I really cared, there'd be a party, and they'd all be invited.

6. Event Coordination: This one is important to me. I'm leaving in 10 days for a trip to two conventions and not coming back to St. Louis in between. I'm planning to crash on couches and hang with friends in nearby towns I haven't seen in forever. To coordinate this, I created an invent, tagged the people nearby, and put together an itinerary. Not having such tools will be missed.

7. Polls: Another annoying time sink. As usual, I don't care what people think so much as why they think it. I don't need a multiple choice piece of bifurcation. If you're my friend, let's actually have an intelligent discussion.

8. Users: Simply put, no one is on G+ yet. So far, of the people with whom I'm friends on facebook, a grand total of 3 have joined G+. I expect this will change slowly.

Now, what if the shoe is on the other foot? What can G+ do that FB can't?

1. Easy Sub Groups: As noted earlier, you can create sub groups of friends with limited access to your profile. Sadly, this is a painful process due to the labyrinth of facebook's settings. G+ makes it very straightforward. You see a bubble with your friends pictures on it and you can drag & drop them to any one you'd like. Done.

2. Live Video Chat: This is something I don't have much use for currently, but in which I can see a lot of potential for others. The article mentions that this can be integrated well with things like Google's Calendar. Not mentioned is things like Google Docs which could allow for real time, video conferenced collaboration. As part of the Naka-Kon convention committee, I have to do remote conferencing so this may come in handy down the road.

3. Watch YouTube Vids In Real Time w/ Friends: My best friend currently lives in Springfield, MO. One of the things we do frequently is watch episodes of Dr. Who together by queuing it up on Netflix and hitting "go" simultaneously. G+ builds such things straight into the video chat. It's also smart enough to mute your mics when the video starts and there's a push-to-talk feature. I love the idea of this and would greatly like to see it expanded to Netflix, Hulu, or places that host full shows instead of mostly user created content.

4. Interest Based Content: Google is already known for building a profile of you based on your searches and other information you feed it and this is apparently integrated into G+. I'm still torn on whether or not it's creepy that Google has all this information, but I still come down on the side that as long as they're keeping it, not selling it off to shady 3rd parties, and I have the ability to wipe it when I so choose, it's ok with me.

With facebook, you can like things, but it doesn't generally change your experience, except perhaps on what adds you'll see. G+ will recommend content from the entire web. This again, is a double edged sword. It can display cool things, but as I've noted they also come up with crap. Additionally, there's the worry of getting trapped in filter bubbles.

5. Instantly Upload Photos, Decide What to Do Later: With facebook, you put a picture up and it's instantly shared. With G+, you'll be able to delay pictures uploaded from your mobile phone until you get back to your computer and then decide if you really want that picture from that party shown to the world. Apparently, you'll only have 8 hours to do so, but this is an interesting delay.

6. Quitting: One of the biggest criticisms of facebook is that it's near impossible to actually get your info gone. You can deactivate an account, but it's essentially like just not logging in. You can still be tagged, invited, and visible, just without the control. But actually deleting your account, making everything vanish, is damned near impossible to find. If you really want to do it account killer has the info.

But with G+ it's apparently easy to quit. A+ for that.

This article also has some interesting tidbits:

1. Integration with Picassa & Google Chat: I haven't done a lot of using of Picassa. In general, I just don't host a ton of photos on the web mostly because I don't take many. The pictures I hosted for this blog, until last year, were on a private web host which I discontinued (hence the numerous dead image links in old posts). However, since Blogger got bought out by Google, images can now be directly added to posts and are automatically put in a Picassa folder. That's been about the extent of my use. I do like the idea of having an image dump integrated with social networking. Facebook's is pretty good, but embedding them in other sites doesn't work.

I haven't done much with Google Chat. Aside from my previously mentioned friend who is on Yahoo messenger, and the occasional Naka-Kon meetings via Skype, instant messengers have fallen out of use. I didn't much like Google Chat due to, again, the sparsity of users. I used it a few times with people in Gmail, but that was confined to my browser and not worth the extra tabs. The stand alone program wasn't used enough for continued use. Integrating this may be more useful, but I'm doubting it.

2. Picture Tagging: As with facebook, users will be able to tag you in photos. This has caused a lot of heartache for people, especially teachers, who have lost jobs due to being publicly tagged in pictures revealing that they *gasp* have a life. Fortunately, it looks like G+ requires you go approve the tag before it goes live.

3. "Sparks": As noted before, G+ integrates your interests into a web feed. This is called Sparks. Apparently, it isn't (yet?) integrated with things like RSS feeds which is a bummer. So this may be more or less useful depending on how useful or junky it gets.