Category: conventions

Launchpad Day 3: At the Top of the World

The first two days of Launchpad have been long days and nights. I’ve been doing my best to take advantage of the time, so despite the fact that I was pretty tired, I was still up at about 5:20 am. I spend the first hour of the day writing up my Launchpad Day 2 blog post. Then I showered, and started in on the fiction writing. At 7 am, I once again headed over to the student commons with Chaz Brenchley and Doug Farren, and spent the next hour or so writing. I managed about 600 words of fiction, making it my 140th consecutive day of writing. Here are two-thirds of the writers at work (the other third is busy taking pictures):

Writers at work

I headed back to the dorm at 8:15 to meet the gang for breakfast. We once again walked over to the Turtle Rock cafe. The weather was just about perfect and we once again sat outside, eating our breakfasts and talking. It was wonderful. And not just the weather. There is a camaraderie that is growing within the group. Writing is a lonely business and is a wonderful just to be able to talk to other writers about writing, because you are talking to people who know. They’ve been through the same things you have and have complete empathy. And you can learn a lot from them, too.

Lectures started at 10 today, and as it turned out, today was a kind of brass tacks day for science fiction writers. We began the day learning about exoplanets, which meant starting the day with binary stars. Binary stars rotate around a common center of gravity and can occlude one another when seen from earth. This occlusion is one way in which exoplanets are discovered (it’s called the “transit method”). Getting exoplanets right is a very practical matter for science fiction writers because we often write stories set on worlds that are not within the solar system. There was a time when we had no idea if such planets even existed. We now know different (there are over 3,000!) and it’s useful to have real information about them.

After a short break, we went downstairs for a lab on planet hunting. We learned to read the data from the light output of stars and so we went to this lab room which had computers for all of us, and set about using a website called, a citizen science project, to attempt to classify stars and identify possible occlusions. This was a lot of fun, to say nothing of practical. And, as it so happened, one of our group, Doug Dechow, discovered a star that had a very regular occlusion–and it further turned out that he was the first to identify them. So who knows, maybe Launchpad 2013 will have discovered another exoplanet.

When that lab was over–no one really wanted for it to be over because it was too much fun–it was lunchtime and we headed to the cafeteria.

LP Lunch

After the lecture we had a break and then headed over to another building for a demonstration of astonomical image processing by astronomer Chip Kobulnicky. The room we were in had computers for each of us to use. The computers had software for image processing, as well as some images from both Hubble and the University of Wyoming. The photos were taken in several different filters and the software is used to combine and manipulate the results.

Chip is an animated guy and you can tell from his enthusiasm just how much he loves astronomy. Chip explained how the CCD cameras that take pictures of stars work. The cameras in our phones are the same type of camera and work in the same way. The way the camera functions affect the quality of the images, and Chip explained the “noise” that can creep into the photos. We looked at raw images from the Hubble Space Telescope, as well as images taken here at the university. Chip then showed us how to use the software to combine images taken in different filters, and how to adjust them in different ways to get the maximum amount of information out of them. After playing around with the images, here is the results I got:

Image processing

The image processing class gave us a real sense of how astronomy is done. We also got to see raw images, with all of their flaws included. It is amazing how much cleanup work takes place on some of these images to produce the posters of amazing Hubble views of the universe.

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Launchpad Day 2: Sex In Space and Other Interesting Scientific Tidbits

Even though we seem to start late each morning (on Day 2, we did not get started until 10 am!) we pack in full days at Launchpad. Yesterday was a prime example. We got started with lectures at 10 am and we didn’t really finish until after 10 pm. And although lectures started late, my day still began early…

I was up at 5 am and after a shower1 I wrote up the Day 1 blog post, posted this week’s Going Paperless post, and did some fiction writing. All told, I wrote something like 3,700 words in the morning. As we did on Monday, Chez Brenchley, Doug Farren and I hiked over to the student union at 7 am to write. We sat at the same table and all three of us typed away. I stayed until 8:15, when I headed back to the dorm to meet up with a group that was going to breakfast at the Turtle Rock cafe.

The cafe was on the other side of campus and took a leisurely morning walk in that direction. Once there, we found seats out on the patio. The weather was gorgeous and we all sat around eating our breakfasts and posting recursive pictures of ourselves posting pictures to Instagram:

Turtle Rock

Memories of Pacific Rim still lingered fresh on our minds so there was more discussion of the awfulness of that movie2, but mostly we sat, and ate, and chatted, and soaked up the sun. We weren’t too concerned about being late to our first lecture at 10 am because our instructor, Christian Ready, was right there at breakfast with us.

Eventually, we did meander back toward our lecture hall for our first lecture of the day, this one on the electomagnetic spectrum, presented by Andria Schwortz. The lecture covered different types of radiation (light, nuclear radiation, etc.) and involved a handful of Greek letters that seemed unusually difficult to make on my Chromebook. We discussed wave-particle duality, frequency, wavelength, energy, visible light and color, atmospheric windows, false color images (which aren’t really false). It was a crash-course, but it was very interesting and we’d have some practical applications later in the day that would make it easier to understand.

We ate lunch in the cafeteria, all of us sitting at a long table together and chatting about various experiences at conventions and people we’d met. It was a good lunch, and afterwards, we headed to the physical sciences building for our first activity. Here, we learned how to identify a gas from its spectrum. We did it with a continuous spectrum and emission spectra (it was a little more complicated to do absorption spectra). This was a lot of fun and we all really got into it. For those wondering what these spectra look like, here is a continuous spectrum for incandescent light (you can see the spectrum to either side of the light):


I had a blast doing this activity and I think everyone else did as well.

I should mention at this point one usual thing that took place during the day. It seems that at some point, Andy Romine acquired a towel. For a period of several hours, wherever we went on campus, this towel went with him. I know this sounds odd, and very, well, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy-esque. And perhaps you don’t believe me. So here is the proof, Andy with his towel:

Andy Romine

After the lab activity we had a short break where several of us went to the Classroom Building to look for something with caffeine to drink, but the cafe there was closed. Eventually, I found a soda machine.

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  1. Dorm showers, man. It’s a small step up from showering at the gym.
  2. Relative awfulness, I suppose.

Launchpad Day 1: Space is Big… And So Are Robots

The first official day of Launchpad was a lot of fun. Several early-birds, including myself, Chaz Brenchley and Doug Farren headed over to the university commons, where the wireless connectivity was better, and where, rumor had it, the food and coffee places opened at 7am. The rumor was not quite true. The commons were, indeed, open, but they didn’t start serving until 7:30. We spent most of our time there writing. It is amazing how quiet three professional writers can be when sitting together at the same table, concentrating on their writing.

Our first instruction began at 9:30 am, which happens to be the earliest we’ll be starting all week. This seemed late to me, but astronomers are night owls and early morning is a foreign concept to them, I suppose. Mike Brotherton started with introductions. He talked about how and why Launchpad was conceived, and what goals he had for the program. He introduced our other instructors, including Christian Ready and Andria Schwortz. We learned that Christian worried long years over his career choice: either astronomer or UFOlogist. Ultimately he chose the former. He explained this was because, well, he was worried that he and the aliens might not get along as well as he’d like. Astronomy was therefore safer for the aliens.

Andria introduced herself. She is getting a Ph.D. in astronomer and education and had interesting and amusing things to say about Clan of the Cave Bear and The Dragonriders of Pern.

When Andria was done, the attendees all gave brief introductions. We learned, for instance that Liz Argall is originally from Austrilia, which gave her an unfair advantage when talking about seasons later in the day.

Finally, we took a pre-test, which consisted of 24 questions. Here is one sample:

17. When the sun reaches the end of its life, what will happen to it?

a. It will turn into a black hole
b. It will explode destroying Earth
c. It will lose its outer layers, leaving its core behind
d. It will not die due to its mass
e. It will retire to Florida and consume blue-planet specials each night for dinner1.

The idea here is to provide some analysis to see how well Launchpad improves attendees knowledge of astronomy. We will take this same test again when we finish up Launchpad. I’m a little nervous about this. I don’t want to be the first Launchpad attendee ever to score better on the pre-test than the post-test.

Mike Brotherton gave our first proper lecture which was on the scale of the cosmos. The lecture can be summed up as follows (Mike had this on an introductory slide):

Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it s. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemsist, but that’s just peanuts to space.” — Douglas Adams, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, 1979

The theme for the day became space is big. This later morphed into robots are big, but we haven’t quite gotten there yet.

Actually, this was a good lecture to set the framework for everything else to come. It gave us a good notion of just how big space is (it’s really big). Mike demonstrated this by going through 12 steps, starting with a 16 x 16m square, and jumped out by a factor of 100 every step. By the time we got to step 3, for instance, we could see the whole damn planet. By step 6 we at about 100 AUs, or the entire solar system. At step 9 we were at 1,700 light years, or the extended solar neighborhood. Finally, at step 12, we were at the entire universe. Christian emphaiszed the point in a lecture later in the day, when he demonstrated that if the sun was a yellow ball on the roof of the Classroom Building (remember the Classroom Building?) the Oort cloud at the edge of the solar system would be as far away as the border of Mexico. And the nearest star would be in Hawaii.

At this point we took a break for lunch, because, as you might imagine, the scale of the universe makes one ravenous. We didn’t just eat lunch, we ate big lunches. Here are some of the Launchpad classmate during a break:


After lunch we continued with a lecture by Andria on the seasons and phases of the moon. This was interesting because it led to the first discussions of how what we were learning might be applied to science fiction. Discussion of the seasons on Earth (caused by the axial tilt and the angle at which light from the sun hits the Earth) led to discussions of astronomical scenarios that might account for the weather conditions in Westeros. This led into further discussions of things like circumbinary star system and all kinds of fascinating configurations.

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  1. Okay, this wasn’t really on the quiz

Launchpad Day 0: Welcome to Wyoming

I arrived in Laramie, Wyoming yesterday, along with all of my other fellow Launchpad attendees, in preparation for the Launchpad Astronomy Workshop, which actually starts today. Yesterday was more of a travel and getting acquainted day. And it was a lot of fun.

My flight was not too early, so my Sunday morning started out pretty much as usual. Kelly and the kids took me to the airport, and the Little Man in particular had a bit of a tough time saying goodbye. He knew I was going on a trip, but I don’t think it sunk in until I got out of the car at the airport. Actually, this is the longest time I’ve been away from both kids since they were born, and it was a little heart-wrenching, although I tried not to show it. I didn’t want to upset the Little Man any more than he was already upset.

My flight took me to Denver. It was an uneventful flight, and blessedly short, as I’ve grown tired of those long flights across the country that seem to drag on endlessly. I upgraded my flight, so I at least had leg room and a decent meal on the plane:

Airplane breakfast

I arrived at Denver International a little early. Attendees were being driven up to Laramie from the airport and so we were all meeting in front of the Burger King on the food court. It was here that I first met several of my fellow attendees, including Chaz Brenchley, Jenn Brissett, Claudine Griggs, Andrew Romine, Jeri Smith-Ready, Christian Ready (not an attendee but an instructor), and Jennifer Campbell-Hicks.

I ended up riding up to Laramie with Christian and Jeri Smith-Ready, Chaz Brenchley, and Andy Romine. The drive took about two hours and we talked shop, talked movies, talked Evernote, and even managed to catch some scenery as we drove1.


When we arrived at the University of Wyoming, Laramie campus, we met the rest of the attendees. These included Brenda Clough, Jay O’Connell, Liz Argall, Caren Gussoff, Doug Farren, Douglas Dechow, and Anna Leahy. Mike Brotherton, the Man Behind Launchpad was also there to greet us. Last, but not least, we also met Andria Schwortz, who will be one of our instructors, and who graciously served as our tour guide around the campus.

All of the writers attending Launchpad are being housed in the dorms, so we checked into the dorm and were assigned our rooms, and we were given our meal cards, for we are eating our lunches and dinners in the dorm cafeteria. It has been more than 21 years since I last slept in a dorm. Here is what my room looked like when I first found it:

My dorm room

We ate dinner together in the dorm cafeteria and that was an exercise in nostalgia. I worked in the dorm cafeteria at my school all four years I was there. The food was good but the company and conversation was even better. There was a lot of shop talk, and I think we scared Andria with our inside baseball of the science fiction world.

As if to repay us, Andria took us on a tour of the campus after dinner. We saw where we’d be having our lectures, and where we’d be doing some our activities. And we got to see lots of the campus, which is really quite beautiful.

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  1. We also got to meet an incredibly friendly Wyoming State Trooper, but that is a story for another time.

Worldcon 2013 in San Antonio

Since I mentioned vacations in the previous post, I should also mention that I will be at Worldcon in San Antonio this year. I’m looking forward to it for 3 reasons:

  1. I’ll get to see friends, hang out, try to avoid talking shop, but get sucked into it anyway.
  2. San Antonio is a great city and the convention is in a great location, right on the Riverwalk.
  3. I am not participating in any programming!

This will be the first convention I’ve been to in a couple of years in which I am not a participant in the programming. It is a relief. I want to go and have a good time. I like being on panels, particularly ones for beginning writers, but I’m really looking forward to attending a Worldcon without the pressure of panels or readings.

I already have my membership, my plane tickets and my hotel room. All I need to do is get there. It should be a blast!

Capclave 2012: Sunday (Or A Quiet Morning In the Lobby)

I went to bed sometime after 1:30am Sunday morning but as usual, I was still up around 6:30. I tried to stay in bed, catching up on my RSS feed and other news. But I wanted some breakfast so I showered, dressed and headed to the hotel restaurant. The hotel lobby is relatively quiet on Sunday mornings of conventions. For some reason, when people are out partying late at night, or spending their entire days on panels, they are not prone to waking up with the sun.

I tried to use this time to my advantage. I update this blog. I caught up on Twitter and Facebook. And I even managed to write some fiction. I had quite a bit of time to kill. I wandered through the dealer’s room and had some lunch and finally, at 1pm, I attended my last panel.

The panel was called “How Many Years In the Business Before They Stop Calling Me a New Writer” and it was a good panel. It was moderated by Diana Peterfreund (who did a great job moderating, by the way) and the other panelists included Jennifer Pelland and Alan Smale. This was a fun, lively panel with a good audience and good audience participation. Hopefully we said things that they found useful.

When the panel was over it was my plan to head right home, but there was a crowd around the lobby television watching Felix Baumgartner’s space jump. I had to stop and watch that too. The jump was a success, and an apropos way of ending a science fiction convention.

I had a blast at Capclave. I love having a local convention of such high quality, with such good guests, panelist and attendees. And big props and thanks yous should go out to the folks who gave up a lot of time to plan it all and put it all together. And how about next year, with Capclave’s guests of honor include George R. R. Martin, Sharyn November, and Steve Stiles.

Capclave 2012: Saturday (Or, I Am A Work-Horse)

Capclave is my local science fiction convention. It takes place in Gaithersberg, Maryland, not too far from my house, and it is the convention that I have attended most frequently. This year marks the fifth year that I've come up for the fun. Each year I've become a little more involved in the convention. Last year was my first year sitting on panels at Capclave. Yesterday, I set a personal record for the number of panels I sat on in a single day.

I left the house just before 7am and arrived at the convention hotel at about 7:45 yesterday morning. My first panel of the day was scheduled for 9am and I was moderating the panel so I wanted to make sure I was here with time to spare, especially since the participants on this panel included the convention guests of honor, John Scalzi and Nick Mamatas. Also on the panel was Morgan Keyes. The subject: “Online Presence.”

There was a pretty decent crowd when the panel got started and the room continued to fill in as the panel progressed. I'd moderated two or three panels prior to this one and so I'm still learning. I did my best to prepare questions that would make for an interesting and lively discussion and I think for the most part that is what we got. A number of folks told me afterward that they really enjoyed the panel and I was glad to hear that because I was probably more nervous than I showed moderating this one.

When that panel was over I had a gap in my schedule and filled the time wandering around the convention area. I stopped at the dealer's room and browsed but didn't buy anything. I used to love the dealer's rooms when I first started coming to conventions. Over time, I've found that while I enjoy browsing, I generally don't buy anything. Most dealers rooms no longer carry the kind of thing I'm most interested in, old copies of Astounding. Sure, they will occassionally have issues from the mid-1950s or early 1960s, but I'm looking for issues from the mid-1930s to mid-1940s and these just don't seem to make appearances in the dealer room.

I also spent time finding friends that I was looking forward to seeing here. I saw Bill Lawhorn, convention programmer extraordinairre shortly after I arrived. Almost immediately, I ran into Brian Shaw and Ej Lawrence. Later I ran into Meagen Voss, Bud Sparhawk and David Bartell. And at some point, I also ran into Kat Otis.

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I’m at Capclave!

Just a reminder to everyone that I am at Capclave this weekend, a regional science fiction convention in Gaithersberg, Maryland that is made of awesome. This convention focuses on written science fiction and in particular, short fiction, which is my thing. John Scalzi and Nick Mamatas are guests of honor this year.

I finished my first panel of the day. It was on “Online Presence” and I moderated Morgan Keyes, John Scalzi and Nick Mamatas. It was a lively panel and all three panelists were great. As a moderator, I'm still learning, but I think I did okay.

Next up is my reading–the first public reading I've ever done. It's schedule for 12:30pm so if you are attending Capclave, stop by Room 254 so that I have an audience to read to. I've picked out three possible stories and probably have time to read two of them.

I'm on 5 panels today, plus a reading and so my appearance on the blog may be sporadic, although I will try and get up a post about my first day here late tonight or early tomorrow.

The SF Signal Podcast, My Daily Science Fiction Story and My Capclave Reading

Just a couple of items for bleary-eyed folks on Monday morning (a holiday in this part of town, although not for me).

  • I am on the current episode (#156) of the SF Signal Podcast. Along with Derek Johnson, Stina Leicht, Jaym Gates, Justin Landon and Patrick Hester, we discuss whether or not optimistic science fiction stories are gone forever. It was a fun discussion, and you are interested in what we had to say, you should go listen in.
  • My story, “Lost and Found” will be emailed to subscribers of Daily Science Fiction on Wednesday, October 10. If you want to get to read this story a week before it is available on the website, head over to Daily Science Fiction and subscribe to the email. You get one story every weekday of the year, and it’s free!
  • For folks attending Capclave this coming weekend, I will be doing my first-ever reading. I’m trying to decide what to read, but it would be nice to, you know, have an audience to read to. My reading is scheduled for 12:30pm on Saturday, October 13. Once I know where it will be I’ll let you know. Stop by if you can make it.

That’s all, folks.

My tentative schedule for Capclave

It is hard to believe that on the heels of Worldcon, Capclave is now less than a month away.

This time around, the good folks who run Capclave have given me a pretty heavy schedule of programming. And while, tentative, it all look very, very good. Here is what is on my plate for the weekend:


  • 9am: Online Presence with Morgan Keyes, Nick Mamatas, and John Scalzi.
  • 12:30pm: Reading. Note: this is my first-ever reading!
  • 5pm: Golden Age SF with Roger MacBride Allen and Tom Doyle.
  • 6pm: Unwritten Secrets of Writers Groups with Meriah Lysistrata Crawford, Aly Parsons,and Jim Stratton
  • 10pm: Who Are the Early Master of Modern Science Fiction with Michael Dirda, Tom Doyle, Doug Fratz, and Darrell Schweitzer
  • 11pm: Shortest Fiction with Larry Hodges, Dina Leacock, Craig Allen Loewen, and Jennifer Pelland.


  • 1pm: How Many Years in the Business Before They Stop Calling Me a New Writer? with Diana Peterfreund, Jamie Todd Rubin, Alan Smale

And now a few comments:

  • OMG! I am on a panel with John Scalzi, Nick Mamatas, and Morgan Keyes on Online Presence. Dude! That is so awesome.
  • OMG! I am on a panel with Michael Dirda. That, too, is pretty darn cool!
  • OMG! I am on a panel with Jennifer Pelland, whose stories–particularly ones like “Organ Nell”–I’ve always admired.
  • OMG! I am going to do a reading–my very first. Now I have to think about what to read…?
  • OMG! I am on panels until midnight on Saturday. That is going to make for one long day!

Again, this is just a tentative schedule. I imagine a more finalized version will be forthcoming in the next couple of weeks. But it looks like a pretty amazing schedule.

Chicon 7: The 70th World Science Fiction Convention Recap Post

I’ve now written fairly detailed posts covering four days of the World Science Fiction Convention. This post serves as a kind of index for all four days for anyone who want to be able to access them all from one place:

It was a spectacular convention for me! If you attended, I hope it was the same for you!

Chicon 7: Sunday (Or, The Hugo Awards)

I‘m writing this 2 days after the fact so the winners of the 2012 Hugo Awards are known around the world, but I wanted to start with a big shout out to John DeNardo and everyone over at the Hugo Award-Winning SF Signal. Seeing John win the Hugo may have been the most exciting moment of the award ceremony for me.

Sunday morning started off calmly. I sat down in the hotel lobby, waiting to meet up with other SF Signal folks in order to go to breakfast. John DeNardo and his wife, Connie, soon showed up, and Patrick Hester showed up a little while later. I noted Bob Silverberg wandering around the lobby and I wanted to talk to him one more time, since I wasn’t sure I’d get another chance. We chatted for ten minutes or so, and John came over and joined us. All the while, Patrick was sending John amusing texts.

After a bit of a search, we ended up at Houllihan’s for breakfast. They had a buffet and they were pretty crowded and the line around the buffet was a long one. The food wasn’t great, but I wasn’t there for the food. It was wonderful getting to hang out with John and Patrick and I am still so thrilled that SF Signal won the Hugo.

At some point in the morning I ran into Allen Steele and thanked him for what he’d done for me the night before.

Patrick Hester was moderating a panel on podcasting and so I went to sit in on that. Among the panelists were James Patrick Kelly, Mur Lafferty, Patrick, Kate Baker, and someone I am forgetting. They were all cheerful, as you can see:


It was actually a fascinating panel and they had a crowded, standing-room only audience. I was never a regular listener to podcasts before this panel, but I may have become one afterward.

Later, while waiting in the hotel lobby, I saw this coming down the escalator:


Kind of blurry, I know. Sorry about that. I have no idea what they were doing or where they were going. Perhaps they were late for the masquerade?

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