Aussiecon 4, incoming

And so it came to pass that I find myself on the other side of the planet for several wonderful reasons, one of which is to attend The 68th World Science Fiction Convention, being held this coming weekend in Melbourne, Australia. This is a no-work jaunt, so my official con schedule is as follows:

  • nothing
  • I have never been to Oz before, but I am put in mind of Lovecraft’s The Shadow Out Of Time, and so I am constantly on guard against flying polyp attacks and body jacking attempts by Yithians. Fortunately, thanks to the tireless efforts of Propnomicon, I am well-equipped for the Miskatonic University 2010 Australian Expedition.

    To that end, I have been well-prepared with expedition materi... on Twitpic

    Aussiecon 4 is running from September 2-6, 2010, in the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre and associated hotels in Melbourne, Australia. As always, I will be tweeting the goings-on (and flying polyp attacks), and please stop and say hello if you happen to be in the hemisphere!

    making the rounds

    tales of healthcare pre-reform

    the emergency room series, cc by-nc-nd image from Jillian Corinne on Flickr
    the emergency room series, cc by-nc-nd image from Jillian Corinne on Flickr

    What follows is a deidentified and slightly dramatized (but only slightly) version of a recent encounter I was privy to:

    Setting – The emergency room of a large hospital somewhere on the east coast of the United States, 4:30am.

    An employee of said hospital has just brought his wife in from home after she developed excruciating abdominal pain that medications didn’t help. In an examination room, she lies on a gurney, writhing in pain and unable to get comfortable. He looks on, tense with worry; he knows enough to be concerned about several possible things that might be wrong, but is unable to do more than wait for test results to return and pain medication to arrive. He’s also exhausted, both from the stress of the moment and the suddenly truncated sleep.

    A slim man, bearing a clipboard, enters the room. He is pleasant, but slightly awkward.

    Warren: “Hello, my name is Warren. Are you Anne Turner?”

    The woman nods assent before twisting to a new position.

    Warren: “And so that makes you Jack Turner?”

    The man blinks bleary eyes, and straightens up in his seat.

    Jack: “Yeah, that’s me.”

    Warren: “Alright, I just need to deal with one small thing about your insurance.”

    Jack: “Okay… I work here, and you already know that I have my insurance through this hospital.”

    Warren: “Yes! We just need to resolve the matter of the $25 copay. Would you like a payroll deduction, to pay it out of pocket, or be sent a bill?”

    The man and the woman exchange a beleaguered look.

    Jack: “So, I work at this hospital, I have my medical insurance through this hospital… and I have to pay a copay for this ER visit?”

    Warren: “Yes, sir.”

    Jack: “And I can do this through a PAYROLL DEDUCTION?! Is that supposed to be a perk?”

    Warren: “Um… yes, sir.”

    The man and the woman gaze at each other with incredulity.

    Jack: “Fine, I’ll just pay it now, then.”

    He pulls two $20 bills from his wallet and hands them to the slim man, who quickly exits. The slim man returns about ten minutes later, money still in hand.

    Warren: “I’m sorry, Mr. Turner, but do you have change?”

    Jack: “Change? Change? The hospital… doesn’t have change?”

    Warren: “No, sir.”

    The man and the woman share yet another bemused glace. He checks his wallet again.

    Jack: “Since I work for this hospital, neither do I, it seems.”

    Warren: “Well, would you like me to do a payroll deduction?”

    Jack: “You know what? Just send me the bill.”

    ReConStruction post-mortem

    • ReConStruction was damn fun. Moreso than other cons in recent memory, there was a refreshing balance of work (being on panels) and actually being able to spend time doing fun con-things that were not work. There was, of course, plenty of partying and socialization – and the usual awesome rule that old friends were spent time with, and new friends were made, applies.
    • Things were rather… desolate in terms of attendance. Usually, most Worldcons run in the neighborhood of 2,000-6,000+ people, and while NASFiCs tend to be smaller, attendance is somewhere in the 1,000-3,000+ range. I was told unofficially that there were less than 800 registered people, which seems about right, based on my observations. In the huge convention center space, this number of people made it feel like a ghost town. There were likely many factors at play, not the least of which were location and challenging economic times. That noted, it also forces me to wonder about the often-discussed idea that the traditional “pure” literary SF&F convention model is less appealing to younger generations of fans, and may die off (quite literally, as the older generation of fans who started said cons and who still make up the bulk of the attendees march onward through time) over next couple of decades unless their content is adjusted for broader appeal. One data point does not itself make a trend, but this was quite the interesting data point.
    you can almost see the tumbleweeds, cc by-nc-sa image from John Cmar on Flickr
    you can almost see the tumbleweeds, cc by-nc-sa image from John Cmar on Flickr
    • Science Which We All Know Is Wrong ended up being enjoyable, although in a trend that would persist for many panels at the con, suffered for not having a focused topic and for being given too much time (90 minutes). I shared the panel with two people with space science/physics backgrounds and one with a chemistry background. This led to a far-ranging discussion that included practical science and physics myths (ala Mythbusters territory), various space and physics theoretical topics, medical woo such as homeopathy and the marketing of “natural/organic” products, and critical thinking v. belief. The whole thing ended with an extended thought experiment in relativistic physics that involved a jet-assisted titanium phone pole traveling at near light speeds along teflon-coated pavement towards a small hole in the street. Which seems somehow appropriate.
    • As evidenced by the image above, the dealer’s room was rather small, and made to look even tinier by it’s placement in an otherwise barren convention hall. The best thing in the room, bar none, was the Bull Spec table, enthusiastically showcasing Durham’s excellent Bull Spec magazine as well as books by regional authors. They were busy throughout the whole con, and that pleases me greatly. While wandering through the dealer’s room on the first day, I stumbled across the freshly released Voltron: Defenders of the Universe miniatures battle game, which uses the Monsterpocalypse rules. I have never played Monsterpocalypse, but for the love of Azathoth’s 42nd ethereal nipple, IT’S A VOLTRON GAME… and it is now MINE.
    Voltron: Defender of the Universe, cc by-nc-sa image from john Cmar on Flickr
    Voltron: Defender of the Universe, cc by-nc-sa image from john Cmar on Flickr
    • What Podcasting Can Do For You was an interesting experience, to say the least. We ended up covering the usual ground in terms of what podcasting is, what motivates people to do it, it’s role in people’s lives and careers, etc… All was well and good until one of the audience members (who, it is important to note, was quit pleasant), instigated a back and forth discussion for the last 20 minutes of the panel that was both antagonistic and confusing. The upshot seemed to be that she was offended that in us talking about the effort and work that goes into making a good audio podcast, we were somehow insulting the old-school fannish tradition of printed fanzines. While we, kind of obviously, were not, she persisted with gently offensive comments that quickly seemed to be less about the subject at hand and more about her “brand” of fan community dying out. There’s a rant in here, but I’ll save it for after Aussiecon, for better perspective.
    • Doctor Osborn’s Balloons of Doom was in full force all weekend, which kept many kids (and some adults) highly entertained. Princess Scientist collected quite a menagerie from him, and sucked me into an intermittent balloon creature LARP. Good times. For whatever it’s worth, Doctor Osborn is even better than Vlad:

    • Health and Today’s Fandom was about what you might expect – how to lose weight, tips on globally increase our health, etc… I attempted to inject something different at the end in discussing a paper (relevantly enough to Worldcon this year, about a survey study done at Aussiecon 3) looking at the mental health benefits of science fiction fandom, but I got the feeling that flew like a concrete donkey. Still, it was a pleasant discussion.
    • I partied with Skeeve. Hard. Twice. There was much fist-pumping, off-key crooning, and libations flowed liberally. That dude’s crazy… and I don’t need to remind you, skeevy too. Also, Mary Robinette Kowal‘s launch party for Shades of Milk and Honey was a great time: Mur was introduced by Someone of Note to Someone of Note in a way I cannot repeat but was glorious, Davey (I did a dramatic reading of his Wikipedia page to him, in which we discovered that it is mostly wrong in a hilarious kind of way) considered and passed on his “Hitler moment,” and seeing Mary’s father Ken Harrison do a handsaw concert at the end was strange and wonderful.
    Ken Harrison amazes with the handsaw, cc by-nc-sa image from John Cmar on Flickr
    Ken Harrison amazes with the handsaw, cc by-nc-sa image from John Cmar on Flickr
    Devo Spice rocks ReConStruction, cc by-nc-sa image from John Cmar on Flickr
    Devo Spice rocks ReConStruction, cc by-nc-sa image from John Cmar on Flickr
    • Where Are The Next Mad Scientists went to where I expected it would, namely lamenting the current deficiencies in encouraging general science eduction and critical thinking skills. The discussion was pleasant, but everyone breathed a sigh of relief when we cut the panel off at 60 minutes, instead of it’s scheduled 90.
    • Having never been to the Raleigh Convention Center, I was pleased to discover great food nearby. After an epic sushi quest that proved Google Maps on both the iPhone and the Andriod to be full of LIES when it comes to accurate restaurant searches, we were rewarded with excellent sushi at Sushi Sono. The Oxford Gastro Pub has some odd and amazing food, as well as some good beer. Shish Kabob contained a magical man with a fez, who summoned forth delicious kabobs for our gustatory delight.
    the be-fezzed master of kabobs, cc by-nc-sa image from John Cmar on Flickr
    the be-fezzed master of kabobs, cc by-nc-sa image from John Cmar on Flickr

    So ends this post-mortem evaluation – end of dictation.

    if this business proposition offends your moral ethics, do accept my sincere apology

    Barrister or Judge, cc by-nc image by ricklibrarian on Twitter
    Barrister or Judge, cc by-nc image by ricklibrarian on Twitter

    Anyone who has been exposed to email knows of the Nigerian/419 scam that still not only manages to pad our spam folders, but people still seem to fall for on occasion… which says reams about human psychology. It was mildly surprised when the following version actually made it through my Gmail spam filter for the first time ever, and landed in my inbox. Since I won’t be sending any money, I figure posting it here in honor of my deceased relative is the least I can do. 🙂

    (I also just realized that the pic above was taken in Melbourne. I think I need to track down the good Barrister while I’m there.)

    Dear John Cmar ,

    With due maximum respect,I crave your indulgence knowing that this my proposal will be a surprise to you.My name is Barr.Ahmad Azeem a legal practitioner with A.Azeem & Associates in Kuala Lumpur,Malaysia.

    I found your contact/profile some where over the Internet and it gave me the greatest joy,that you are the one I have been looking for.Whom I strongly believe could execute this transaction with me.And being more positive that with your capability,that this transaction of transferring the sum of 17,530,000.00 will be successfully accomplished. My purpose of contacting you is for you to help secure the funds left behind by my late client,to avoid it being confiscated or declared unserviceable by the Finance House.Where this fund valued (17,530,000.00) Seventeen Million, Five hundred and Thirty thousand United State Dollars deposited by my client before his death in Dec 2004.

    You might be wondering why am I communicating with you,believe it or not it is simply because you and my late client have the same surname.Though this is coincidental,I strongly believe,you could help me in the task which is the distribution of my late clients funds.And the said funds in the Finance House is considered “UNSERVICEABLE”after my client passed away as there were no indication of next of kin whatsoever that the Institution could consider as a beneficiary for the said funds.

    Being my late clients legal adviser,the Institution notified my office,that I need to produce and to contact the next of kin of my deceased client,to either “REACTIVATE” the account or to “MAKE CLAIMS” of the said funds which is carrying a monthly surcharge.

    Now,my intention is purely to seek your consent to kindly present you as the legal next of kin/beneficiary to my late client’s funds.This would mean that the proceeds of the said funds would be released to you.After the release of the funds to you,we shall then share it mutual,which will be 70% to me and 30% to you.

    My office would provide documents to back up your claim.The most important thing I need is your honest/sincere cooperation in this task.And I assure you that this transaction will be legally executed according to the dictates of the law,which will protect you from any infraction of the law.

    However,if this business proposition offends your moral ethics,do accept my sincere apology.If on the contrary you wish to achieve this goal with me,kindly get back to me with your interest immediately for further details.

    Best regards,
    Barr.Ahmad Azeem (Esq)

    sign the commitment papers to Arkham Sanitarum… here

    Propnomicon, dread master of non-Euclidian knowledge, is known far and wide as a crafter of wondrous Lovecraftiana. I have previously given him obeisance here, and the previous fruits of his labor can be seen displayed by Laura here:

    Christmas in the Miskatonic Labs, image by Laura Burns on Flickr
    Christmas in the Miskatonic Labs, image by Laura Burns on Flickr

    and by Jared here:

    "At The Mountains of Madness Explorer", image by Jared Axelrod on Flickr
    "At The Mountains of Madness Explorer", image by Jared Axelrod on Flickr

    His latest project is an Arkham Sanitarium Prop Package, which will contain “a collection of documents and items that place Lovecraft’s fictional creation in the real world, building on the foundation of his writing and historical references.” While I’m already sold on the idea from the quality of his previous work alone, the fact that these pieces venture into the medical side of Lovecraft’s world make this a Cmar-requirement.

    The Prop Packages are for sale, but this is the first time he is using the Kickstarter service to fund a project. Kickstarter allows people to pledge any amount of money they want to the project, and Propnomicon’s plan is that the more you pledge, the more you’ll get in terms of items. While he already met his minimum pledge goal to bring the project to completion, there are still 5 days left to buy in to this awesome prop set. So go here, and sign your commitment papers to Arkham Sanitarium:

    Arkham_Sanitarium_Prop_Project.full

    …wait for it…

    …wait for it…

    You’d be crazy not to.

    pandemic over, man

    cough medicine... I think I love you!, cc by-nc-nd image from Happy Squid on Flickr
    cough medicine... I think I love you!, cc by-nc-nd image from Happy Squid on Flickr

    The world is no longer in phase 6 of influenza pandemic alert. We are now moving into the post-pandemic period. The new H1N1 virus has largely run its course.

    With those words, the Director-General of the World Health Organization finally deescalated the 2009 H1N1 influenza situation out of pandemic mode last week. If it feels like this is a bit late – after all, there has been little reported influenza activity by the CDC for many months now – then it’s good to recall that the world does, in fact, extend beyond the borders of the good old United States. By any assessment, the WHO’s retaining the pandemic designation for this long has been conservative, but not unjustified.

    Globally, the levels and patterns of H1N1 transmission now being seen differ significantly from what was observed during the pandemic. Out-of-season outbreaks are no longer being reported in either the northern or southern hemisphere. Influenza outbreaks, including those primarily caused by the H1N1 virus, show an intensity similar to that seen during seasonal epidemics.

    During the pandemic, the H1N1 virus crowded out other influenza viruses to become the dominant virus. This is no longer the case. Many countries are reporting a mix of influenza viruses, again as is typically seen during seasonal epidemics.

    The 2009 H1N1 influenza virus has had the potential (and still does) to mutate into something far more lethal than it has to date. While the overall mortality rates have been low, especially considering that 20-40% of the population was infected over the last year, this is a virus that has a taste for preferentially killing the young and the healthy. As this virus “fades” more deeply into the typical seasonal influenza ecology over the coming year, continued vaccination, prevention and monitoring are of critical importance.

    Based on available evidence and experience from past pandemics, it is likely that the virus will continue to cause serious disease in younger age groups, at least in the immediate post-pandemic period. Groups identified during the pandemic as at higher risk of severe or fatal illness will probably remain at heightened risk, though hopefully the number of such cases will diminish.

    Unsurprisingly, the influenza vaccine for the coming season is going to include the 2009 H1N1 as one of it’s components. In a couple of months, you’ll be inundated with the following basic advice, but I’ll take the liberty of getting a head start: Wash your damn hands frequently. If you’re coming down with a respiratory infection, limit your contact with others, and don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor to help with a work note, if need be. And, for fuck’s sake, get your influenza vaccine once they become available in a few weeks – there’s no rational, real reason not to.

    All that said, soon influenza won’t be our biggest infectious worry – dengue hemorrhagic fever is making it’s way north from Florida and Mexico. For those who felt that this just-ended pandemic wasn’t painful enough, well… you’ll be getting yours soon.

    lately in the Lair

    The Secret Lair Comic #0023: Squirrels
    The Secret Lair Comic #0023: Squirrels

    There have been many goings-on in the Secret Lair of late, including the most recent comic by Natalie, the Secretary of Artistic Propaganda. It is, perhaps, the greatest piece of illustrated work ever summoned into existence, not the least of which because it includes me and MEGA-syringes. In fact, I would argue that it is Art.

    Also, recent audio emanations from the Lair’s pan-global transmitters have included episode 36, an examination of Robert Downey, Jr. and cinema, as well as episode 37, a celebration of Monster Week 2010 and affectionate companion/rebuttal to Mr. Newquist‘s own Monster Week 2010 gala. I am particularly chagrined at having missed out on contributing to that discussion, since one of my duties as the Bad Doctor is to oversee the Lair’s monster husbandry. That said, the latter show does establish the inherent coolness of the MEGA- prefix, and that the Overlords harbor a hushed fear of Dr. MEGA-John Cmar and his prehensile ponytail. As well they should.

    Escape Pod #252: Billion-Dollar View

    A story I read for Escape Pod, Billion-Dollar View by Ray Tabler, is now up for your auditory delight. It’s a classic story of hot love and cold space.

    Perhaps I shall not only be known as SNACKY CAKE.

    “But my name is Simon.”

    Molly shook her head and chuckled. “With a head of hair like that? Nope, from now on your name is Red.”

    Simon felt his young face flushing with embarrassment, which would further cement his new nickname. “What if I don’t want to be called Red?”

    “Too late, should have shaved your head before I bought your contract.” Molly winked at him, executed a back flip in mid-air and launched herself out of the Labor Mart. “Come on, Red. We ain’t got all day.”

    making the rounds

    • ReConStruction was a damn fun time, but notable for having rather desolate overall attendance and some interesting fan dynamics. Autopsy notes will be forthcoming.
    • I did not attend Otakon, having little direct investment in things otaku at the present time, but passively got a taste of event while out with friends in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor two weekends past. Costume watching proved to be rather brilliant, and I had not been aware that the con is nearly as big as Dragon*Con in terms of overall attendance. Given that the masquerade is likely to be insanely over the top, and is held in the First Mariner Arena, that may be worth checking out next year for the spectacle alone.