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Archive for November, 2014

Windycon Science Fiction Convention 2014

Friday, November 14th, 2014

First Human Mission to Titan Digital Painting
First Human Mission to Titan Digital Painting

Today I’m off to the Windycon Science Fiction Convention. Fortunately for me I have an active interest in a fairly broad range of subject areas: art (space art, astronomical art, SF art, and digital/new media art), computer science, astronomy, planetary science, space exploration and space development, social media, software engineering, and economics. This variety of subjects has made it possible for me to both deliver a broad array of presentations and to participate in a wide variety of panels at past science fiction conventions.

Strangely I’ve been attending science fiction conventions for 20 years but have never participated in a panel about science fiction literature. The closest I’ve come has been to be on panels that dealt with issues of economics (like interstellar trade), political organization (think space colonies and intra-galactic empires), and the impacts of technology on societies (nanotechnology and genetic engineering being examples). As to science fiction literature, my interests have always been in the hard SF genre.

Unfortunately this year’s Windycon has flushed science-related programming from the schedule. Out of approximately 120 programming items there are no programs dealing with either astronomy or space exploration or space development, or science in general. In terms of science, there is The Science of Beer and a panel on Women in Science but that is really a sociological panel wondering why there aren’t more women in the sciences and what the science fiction community should do about it. (I have a great suggestion – provide science-related programming to heighten interest in science!) There is another program with ‘science’ in the title: The Science Behind the Legends but that’s a panel about werewolves, vampires, and witches.

With respect to technology, there is the Critter Crunch and panels on Geek Culture and Magic Mirrors: Surveillance in Modern Society but that’s it. Based on a categorization of the programming, it appears that Windycon has largely turned into a costuming convention this year. And that may be what the majority of con-goers want. For me, the most interesting programming has always been that which dealt with science and technology, especially space development. Perhaps I’m that odd-ball character who actually likes a little bit of science with their SF con. In fact this is why I don’t go to Star Trek conventions. It seems that the entire focus of those conventions is the acquisition of autographs and a quest for movie/TV trivia.

Other than my own presentation and the two panels I’m on, the only programs I plan to attend are:

  • The Future of Art and Artists in Modern Times
  • Dystopias
  • Self-Publishing and You

Oops. As always seems to happen to me, even with three full days of programming, two of the panels I want to see are both at the same time: Dystopias and The Future of Art. Fortunately there are no scheduling conflicts with the Art Show Wine and cheese Reception Saturday night.

As to my own participation, following is my schedule for the con.

Gender-balanced Panels, or How I Really Tried to Get It All to Work Out

Description: Diversity on panels is a hot topic right now and some have suggested that if the Programming staff can’t get it right, the panelists should. Okay, how does that actually work? Is this anarchy? Does it successfully “right a wrong”?
Participants: R. Jackson, H. Montgomery, J. Plaxco, P. Sayre McCoy (Moderator)
Saturday 10:00, Lilac D

Computer Art Tools

Description: So many platforms, software, and peripherals to choose from. What do you use to make art on your computer?
Participants: P. Charlifu, M. Frank, J. Plaxco (Moderator), U. Vernon
Sunday 10:00, Grand Ballroom GH

Instagram and Pinterest for Artists and Photographers

Description: A tutorial presentation for artists and photographers on how to use Instagram and Pinterest to promote their work.
Presented by J. Plaxco
Sunday 1:00, Grand Ballroom GH

This Post’s Illustration: The First Human Mission to Titan

To illustrate this post I’ve used a cropped version of a digital painting I created last week. Titled The First Human Mission to Titan, it features a rocket entering Titan’s atmosphere. The rocket trail is barely perceptible in this down-sized version of the painting. I did use artistic license in the creation of this painting. Of the three offenses, I may correct one of them before actually printing the final version. As to just what those offenses are, I leave it to you to identify them.

Closing Thought For Windycon Attendees

If you are unhappy with the programming that the convention is offering this year (namely a lack of science-related programs), please let the programming staff know. Perhaps the lack of science programming is due to a lack of feedback from the attendees who like science programming.

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St. Louis and the Gateway to Space Conference

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

St Louis Gatway Arch day view from Old Courthouse
St. Louis Gatway Arch day view from Old Courthouse

I returned Monday night from my first trip to St. Louis. I was there to attend the Gateway to Space Conference. My participation in the conference consisted of:

  • giving a presentation on newSpace,
  • participating in a group presentation on the Enterprise in Space project,
  • serving as a panelist on the two-hour Rocky Road to Space Settlement Panel,
  • participating in the National Space Society’s website committee meeting,
  • exhibiting some of my space art as a part of the Saturday evening Cosmic Celebration.

In addition to the aforementioned items, I also created the cover art for the conference’s program book and had arranged for the Chicago Society for Space Studies to be an official sponsor of the conference.

My Friday at the conference began with a tour of the Washington University Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences Moon and Mars laboratories. The three science presentations that went with the tour – two about Mars and one about the Moon – were very interesting and dealt with some of the research being done there.

For me, the highlight of the conference was the next event. The program Space Retrospective featured a group of McDonnell Douglas engineers who had worked on the NASA Mercury and Gemini programs. Also special was that this event was held in Boeing’s Prologue Room, a "museum" of aviation, space, and missile history that is not generally open to the public.

Boeing Prologue Room Museum
Inside the Boeing Prologue Room

Hearing these engineers, along with Lowell Grissom (Mercury Astronaut Virgil ‘Gus’ Grissom’s brother) recount tales of the dawn of the space age and the many challenges they faced was really something. The Mercury and Gemini members of MAC’s Old Team present were Norm Beckel, Dean Purdy, Earl Robb, Jerry Roberts, Bob Schepp, Ray Tucker, and Nelson Weber.

McDonnell Douglas engineers from NASA Mercury and Gemini programs
MAC’s Old Team
McDonnell Douglas engineers from NASA Mercury and Gemini programs
(The man front and center in the tan pants is Lowell Grissom, Gus Grissom’s brother. At the far right is panel moderator Earl Mullins of The Space Museum. Second from the left is Paul Baldwin, President of the NSS St. Louis Space Frontier.)

Serving as panel moderator was Earl Mullins. In addition, The Space Museum, Greater St. Louis Air and Space Museum, and St. Louis Rocketry Association all had artifacts and memorabilia from the Mercury and Gemini era on display.

Saturday was a full day of programming at the hotel starting at 9:00am and running until 9:00pm with the Cosmic Celebration and NSS internal committee meetings keeping me until the very end. This was followed by sitting in the hotel bar until about 2:00am speaking with several friends.

My only programming committment on Sunday was the two-hour Rocky Road to Space Settlement Panel. I was then able to sit back and relax as all my formal duties were done. I took the opportunity to go on the conference’s tour of the Greater St. Louis Air and Space Museum in Cahokia, IL (Thanks Gloria for generously offering to drive there and back). We spent almost two hours exploring the museum and attached hangers.

In the Cockpit - McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II
In the cockpit of a McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II at the Greater St. Louis Air and Space Museum

Sunday night Gloria (a local reporter), Libby (Challenger Center), Ronnie (Boeing), Dale (XCOR Aerospace), and myself walked a few blocks to have dinner at the Old Spagetti Factory. I was quite impressed both by the food and the restaurant’s beauty. From there it was back to the hotel bar and an evening of conversation.

Monday morning Ronnie and I hiked over to the Gateway Arch and took the tram to the top (we had bought tickets the night before). The two pictures that follow were taken from the inside viewing area at the top of the arch.

Downtown St. Louis from the Gateway Arch
Fisheye lens photograph of downtown St. Louis

Saint Louis Cardinals Busch Stadium  from the Gateway Arch
Telephoto lens view of Busch Stadium, home of the Saint Louis Cardinals.

Arriving home Monday night, I now have a few days to prepare before heading off to the Windycon Science Fiction Convention – which will be the subject of my next post.

St Louis night view of Gateway Arch
St. Louis night view of Gateway Arch from my hotel window

In closing I want to commend Christine, Paul, and all the other members of the NSS St. Louis Space Frontier for putting on an absolutely wonderful space conference.

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