Saturday, February 16th, 2008
9:40 pm - Boskone 45 - Part 1  
Saturday:
Journeyed into Boston for the first time in a long while for Boskone. I passed on taking the commuter train from Attleboro, because it doesn't run often enough on weekends to be convenient, and took the Red Line in from Quincy instead. The site of the con has changed since the last time I went. Now it's down by the waterfront, so I got to take my first trip on the Silver Line. The Silver Line is sort of like the Green Line, but without the tracks. I was a bit worried about it going in, because the MBTA site shows a gap in the line between South Station and the rest of the line that I thought might be some sort of transfer situation. In the event, though, the route went directly from South Station to the World Trade Center without any fuss or bother.

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10:00 a.m. - "Drug Discovery: Where Will the Medicines of the Twenty-Teens Come From?"

I originally intended to attend "Tunguska at 100," but I arrived a few minutes late, and the room was standing room only. Hating crowds as I do, I bolted to this far less well attended session next door, which impinges somewhat on my old grad school research interests. This was a talk by Matthew Jarpe, not a panel, and he was hampered by not having the correct adapter to connect his MacBook to the projector. Occasionally he'd pick up the laptop and show us the screen, but it was sort of futile. The talk itself was interesting enough, and was mostly about the steps in the drug development process, with examples of where most of the effort is going. Turns out the biggest single category is rare diseases, which is the equivalent of miscellaneous. For example, one of the drugs currently in trials is for something called "syndrome x." Okay then. There were some interesting trivia mentioned. I didn't know that stomach cancer, which rarely occurs in the US anymore, is still a leading cause of death overseas.

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11:00 a.m. - "The Space Race at 50"

I'd missed the Tunguska anniversary at 100, so I made sure I made it to this one. It was another single speaker talk, this time by Jordin Kare, who is an actual rocket scientist. It was a nice overview of the subject. I learned several things I didn't know. The Russians are still using the same booster designs for their current launches that they used in the sixties. To a certain extent, so are we. I had no idea the US still uses variants of the Atlas missile, the same missile that sent John Glenn into orbit the first time. OTOH, the Russians did try to send satellites into space atop surplus submarine ballistic missiles, a lot of which blew up during launch. Huh.

The future doesn't look all that good for the US. NASA is finally going to retire the shuttles, but rather than develop something better and more useful, they are going to go with something similar to Apollo. Meanwhile, the Chinese are gearing up to go to the moon.

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Nothing jumped out at me at 12, so I had lunch, then took a stroll through the hucksters room. Bought a collection of Van Vogt short stories from NEFSA, and had a weird experience while doing it. The fellow who was ringing up my purchase was trying to figure out was he needed from me for ID for my credit card, and the other guy in the booth said my Boskone badge was fine, since he remembered me from previous Boskones. Huh. I've only been to two before this, and I don't remember ever talking to this guy. Maybe he was just pulling our legs.

David Weber was signing autographs in the lobby, and the line wasn't terribly long, so I got my copy of Shadows of Saganami signed.

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1:00 p.m. - "Military SF: More Than Just War Porn?"

There was some interesting stuff here. The panel had two military SF authors, Weber and Walter Hunt, a self-described military SF consumer, Christopher Weuve, and a moderator, Thomas Easton, who isn't much of a fan at all. It made for a good discussion. All seemed to agree that war porn is the glorification of war, but Weber also made the distinction between stories that are primarily splatter porn, and those that glorify the idea of war itself. Apparently the late Victorian era saw a lot of this latter type of novel written in Europe, but then WWI came along and Europe found out what total war was really like. OTOH, the US had already been through a total war fifty years earlier, so the war stories written over here in that era were of a different tone than those written in Europe. There was also some discussion of how different generations deal with war stories, especially those generations that didn't live through it.

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2:00 p.m. - "Who'd' a Thunk It? Unexpected Uses of Technology"

This was a lot of fun, despite the fact that the room was packed to the gills. The panelists were asked for examples of unexpected uses. Chad Orzel mentioned that current work in physics on laser cooling is the result of the availability of really cheap lasers designed for CD players, and physicists seeing what they could do with them. Charlie Stross mentioned how the ubiquity of cell phone video has led to the phenomena in England called "happy slapping," where a couple of punks beat up a passerby while one of their mates records it for Youtube.

It's the kind of topic that encourages tangents, and there were a lot, and lots of audience participation. Larry Niven came up a lot as an author who written a lot of stories on how tech can be used in unexpected ways. All seemed to agree that one piece of tech that is bound to have unexpected uses is the 3D ink jet printer. As a simple example, Stross mentioned how plastic model airplane kits could become things of the past once someone had one of these. (Afterwards, I mentioned to him that I've already seen articles in hobby magazines about that very subject.) And if you can make model airplanes with them, imagine the kinds of contraband one can make once the technology matures. Who needs a gunrunner when you can fabricate your own.

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There were no panels that interested me at 3, so I stopped in at a reading Walter Hunt was giving. Hunt has written several space navy type books that sounded like something I might like, so I dropped in to have a listen. I discovered two things. First, his latest work has something to do with the cathedrals of Paris, and second, that I don't have the patience to listen to someone read for long periods. It didn't help that I was late and missed the introduction tof the piece. I left after only a few minutes. Then I just hung around for awhile. I toured the art exhibit, but wasn't much impressed with anything. I'd brought my palm, so I sat down in a comfy chair and finished Chandler's The High Window. At 4 I tried a panel on "Making Language Fit the Culture" about made up languages, but I got bored in a couple of minutes. Didn't see anything of interest at 5 either, so I headed home.

It's the same problem I've had other at other Boskones. I'm there mostly for the panels, yet I have a hard time finding panels that interest me. I'm not social. If I don't have a panel to go to I've got nothing else to do except sit around and read, which I can do at home. You can only walk through the hucksters room or gaze at paintings of dragons so many times. I scoped out the schedule for tomorrow, and it should be a little better.
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