Evil Genius Scrapbook

Note: entry edited 6 September to fill in some things I forgot.

Warning: This entry is probably only of interest to science fiction fans. I won't be offended if you skip it. There's a bit of general interest Yokohama in the middle. Look for the picture of the bay.

Friday was my first full day at the con. I had looked through the Pocket Schedule (in English) and spotted a few events I wanted to catch. Programming ran from 10-5, which is knocking off really early compared to the other cons I’ve been to. At 10 there was a panel on social and ethical issues surrounding bioscience. Panelists included Gregory Benford (who is a physicist and SF writer who happens to own a couple of biotech firms), Robert Silverberg (an SF writer who is not a scientist but has a reputation for thinking through the consequences of advances), Carolina Gomez Lagerlof (a Swedish woman who works in her country’s patent office and has to deal with legal issues surrounding biotechnology), and Elisabeth Malartre (a biologist and writer as well as Mrs. Benford).
Benford (like many SF writers) is essentially libertarian (though without any affiliation to the American political party), and believes that government interference in science tends to just mess things up. He noted that in pre-Kennedy SF, space flight was generally accomplished by entrepreneurs who financed their work privately. But with Kennedy’s push for the Space Race, the government took over, and accomplished an amazing stunt, and then almost completely gave up, leaving a pitiful, ineffective excuse for a space program. He is quite dissatisfied with the regulatory climate in the US and Europe, noting that countries like Singapore are actively recruiting biologists with promises of greater freedom in their research. He points out that countries which choose to restrict research (on whatever grounds) are likely to find themselves looking at the backs of other runners in the new technological race. If these other countries, for example, manage to develop genetically based cures for diseases, or means of guaranteeing healthy children, and the US does not have such techniques, rich Americans will go there to take advantage of them, leaving poor people behind. Somehow this ties in with his extreme distaste for any kind of socialized medical program, but I didn’t quite follow that.

Silverberg talked on a subject he’s covered before, both in person and in print, namely the irrationality of the fear that genetically modified plants will somehow damage our world, or are in fact any way harmful. And Malartre pointed out that though our standard notion is that various species have DNA that is somehow pure within themselves, recent discoveries are proving that false. There actually is already genetic material held in common by tomatoes and squid (or whatever), so that there really is nothing inherently unnatural about some of the seemingly bizarre combinations scientists have attempted. Genetic modifications are exactly the same as traditional selective breeding, but on a more precise and time-effective level. Silverberg compared a wolf and a dachshund, and how the transition from the former to the latter certainly represents the same kind of meddling with nature as what geneticists do in their labs.

The general consensus was that “bioethics” is a profession that exists solely to say no to things that are inevitable. These things will happen. People will do what they can to make their children healthier and better, and if they have to move from one country to another to do it, they will, finances permitting.

When the panel finished, I went up to the table and said hello to Mr. Silverberg. He said it was good to see me, but he had to rush off for the next thing on his schedule.

The next panel I checked on was called “Digital Maoism: Drowning the Individual Voice.” The idea here is that the internet is wonderfully suited to collaborative endeavors (like Wikipedia), and that as such collaborations proliferate, the idiosyncratic voices of individuals will get overwhelmed by homogeneous group compositions. Panelists were Cory Doctorow (writer and digital rights activist), Eileen Gunn (kind of ditto, if you add in editor), and Tore Audun Høie (a Norwegian writer). Much of the discussion ended up centering around the pros and cons of Wikipedia. One of the more interesting aspects of the discussion was the Scandinavian perspective. Høie talked about doing research for a non-fiction book he is writing for the business community (I think the title is Nordic Management), and pointed out that when he went to Wikipedia for definitions of words (even seemingly simple ones like corporation and management), he found entries that were very different from his understanding of the terms. The site’s viewpoint was primarily American, and in his culture, these things are conceptualized differently. Corporations are seen as parts of society and are expected to make positive contributions to that society, not just turn a profit; management is more about consensus than leadership.

There was a gap before the next panel I was interested in, so I went over to the exhibition hall to check out the art show and dealers’ area.
Of course, you’re not allowed to take pictures of anything in the art show. You’ll have to take my word that it was a mixture of the really incredibly good professional works (like Whelan’s stuff) and pretty amateurish works. There was one artist, whose name has unfortunately slipped me, that had a nice series of paintings involving a cat and a cat-sized dragon. There were pictures of the two of them sitting on a window sill staring out at a bird in a tree, with their respective chew toys, and so on. My favorite was called “Tuna Roast” and showed the two of them on either side of a smoking tuna can with a hole burned in its side.
My timing was right to catch a little live demonstration of painting by Whelan (center), Bob Eggleton (left), and someone named Kato whose full name I didn’t get.
Here’s the dealers’ area.
Proposition: Geeks have cooler T-shirts than ordinary people. Exhibit A:
I rest my case. They also had one that depicted what might happen if you tried to use cats instead of dogs to pull a sled in the snow. Hint: It didn’t involve much forward motion.

A small delegation from Seattle was on hand to represent their bid to host the 2011 WorldCon. They are so far unopposed.
In the dealers’ area was a table for sculptor Bill Toma. I particularly liked this one, which was called (if I remember right) “The Best Laid Plans.”
He had other dragons, androids, and so on, all exhibiting amazing craftsmanship.

Some other shots from the exhibition hall:
I’m not sure if these are characters from some movie or what, but lots of people had fun getting their picture taken with them.
Back at the painting demo, Whelan was using what seemed like an unusual technique to me: he had the canvas upside-down.
These people were taking pictures of the four girls in yellow as they made their way over to the main convention center.
This group was the cast of a play called (in English) Solitary Planet. If I got it right, they are an amateur theater group from Tokyo who put on SF-themed plays, this one based on Stanislaw Len’s Solaris (more about that later, as I attended a performance on Sunday). Here they’re handing out flyers and encouraging people to come see them.
One of the interesting things they did at this con was to offer single-day tickets to Yokohama residents as a kind of thank-you for hosting the event. You probably can’t read it, but this woman’s badge says “Yokohama Resident Special Ticket.” She was taking a picture of a guy in a robot suit.

Sometime during the afternoon, I stepped outside and took a few pictures of the surrounding area.
There’s a giant wind turbine across the bay. I guess the mayor really is into alternate energy sources.
There’s an amusement park nearby, with quite a few rides, including a really gigantic ferris wheel.

My afternoon panel was called “The Tech Savvy Criminal” and featured Cory Doctorow (writer and high-tech consultant), Geoffrey Landis (writer and NASA scientist) and Pat MacEwen (writer and actual CSI). They discussed various high and low tech criminal scenarios as well as possible ways to avoid detection. Landis decided that the best way to make loads of money by deceiving people is actually more or less legal: start a cult. He put forth Scientology as a good example. MacEwen told us that her experience on criminal cases had taught us that the essential rules of successful crime, while pretty obvious when you think about them, are pretty low-tech and rarely adhered to by people committing illegal deeds: 1. Don’t tell anyone you’re planning to do it. 2. Do it by yourself. 3. Don’t let anyone see you do it. 4. Don’t tell anyone you did it afterwards. Of course, these rules don’t make for very much fun for aspiring criminal masterminds, who always want to have henchmen, lackeys, lieutenants, and so on.

And I’m sorry to report that when I got back to my room and checked my email, I had work to do. (Insert sad face here.)

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