Friday, June 08, 2007

Balticon Diary: Day Two

I spent Memorial Day weekend at Balticon, a major science fiction convention. I talked my family into staying onsite so that we could experience the con 24/7. Some of us more than others it seems as I tell in the summary of our second day:


8:00 I wake up and head down to the hotel gym. I do 20 minutes on the stairmaster and a couple of circuits of the weight machine.

9:00 I return to the room to shower and then go down to the hotel snack bar and eat breakfast. They have the TV tuned to the SciFi Channel.

10:00 I go to the lecture on building self-replicating machines. The few pictures of real examples look like a garage workshop gone fractal. We’re still a few years from needing the Three Laws.

11:00 The artist guest of honor Joe Bergeron is giving a slideshow of his artwork. Larry Niven slips in to watch.

Balticon 3811:45 I sneak out to go stand in line for autographs. The line is already down the hall and around the corner, but nowhere near as chaotic as for Neil Gaiman last year. I chat with the guy behind me in line. We decide a comedian could do well re-telling Jeff Foxworthy jokes as science fiction fan jokes. The audience never thinks the put-downs are aimed at them.

12:30 My wife wanders down from the room and buys an iPod case from the dealers’ room.

12:40 My turn to get stuff signed. My wife gets my picture.

12:45 I get in line to sign up for the Kaffeeklatsches with the guests on Monday.

1:00 I walk in on the comedy singers Funny Music Project in progress. The FuMP is groups of song parodists trying to become the next Weird Al. A song about Quark’s Bar cracks me up so much that I buy a CD from The Great Luke Ski, on of the better members of the ensemble.

2:00 I catch up with my wife and we decide to eat lunch. The main restaurant tells us they are closed but I can see Niven, Pournelle, and other VIPs still in there finishing up. We go to the lounge to order bar grub instead. The whole hotel is now smoke-free, so the atmosphere is breathable. Last year, just walking through the bar made us nearly pass out from the fumes. The Eastern European waitress doesn’t know what a Smirnoff Ice is, so I just order Coke.

Balticon 124:00 Larry Niven gives his talk to a mostly full ballroom. One of the other fans in the audience is wearing a great Battlestar Galactica costume. There were relatively few media themed costumes. I saw one Jedi knight, but it was mostly pirates and generic elves and fairies.

5:30 We drag our kid out of the game room and head out to Silver Spring Mining Company for dinner. Good food in a fake western motif. My son says he wants a samurai sword for his birthday. He pouts the rest of the meal when we tell him absolutely not.

7:30 I head down to the con to kill some time. There is a roast for some podcasters that seem to be popular. A storyteller retells an old joke very well. One of the music parodyists from earlier in the day does a solo show. He does a take-off on a song by internet sensation Jonathon Coulton. The crowd is into it.

9:30 I make my son take a break to come listen to a scientist from Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab give a talk about his doodling on the physics of the Ringworld and how seasons could be simulated by oscillating the ring along the axis of rotation but the inertia from the dirt and water would eventually dampen it down. I tell my son to go apologize to his mom for being a jerk at dinner or he is going to have a short evening.

10:30 I scarf some munchies as Niven and Pournelle do their half-hearted talk about the science of Heinlein.

11:30 Larry Niven is in a nearby room listening to the open mic filking. The Bohnhoffs are among the players. They do their Eagles tuned tribute to vintage Cadillacs called “El Dorado”.

12:00 My son is back in the game room. I tell him not to stay out too late. He warns me that his cell phone battery is nearly dead and that he might go over to a different game soon.

12:15 I take the long way back to my room to check out some hall parties being thrown by future conventions. The look lame so I head back. In the far stairwell I have to step over a couple making out on the steps.

2:00 I read about half of my new Niven book and fall asleep.

4:15 My wife is trying to reach my son on his cell phone. I tell her that it’s probably dead, so I go out looking for him. The air conditioning in the game room has failed, which is usually the most fragrant room at a con anyways, so they have spread out into the hallway, but he’s not there. I wander way down towards the 24-hour con suite and find him at a table at the bottom of the escalator playing a complicated looking game. One of the players is a girl he knows from school and they claim the game would be ruined if he had to leave.

4:30 I reassure my wife that he is fine and I go back to sleep.

6:00 My son makes it back to the room. Dawn is cracking through the window.

If my kid is going to stay out all night, it's better in the relatively safe environs of a science fiction convention. As for the sword, his eighteenth birthday falls just short of next year's Balticon. If he wants a bladed weapon, he is on his own once he is an adult. I take a lot of heat for being the "fun" parent, but even I was a little concerned about him just wandering around all night. I think if he wasn't with someone we knew, I might have been more reluctant to let his stay out.

Be sure to read my previous posts about Larry Niven and Day One.

Tomorrow: Balticon winds down.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Your opinion on the late hours or the sword lust?


Anonymous said...

Late hours: He's 17, seemingly a pretty good kid, and it's a CON. When you're young enough to do it and enjoy it, the whole point of a con is to sleep as little as possible. OK, he should have checked in, but other than that I see no problem. If nothing else, it's practice for college.

The sword is a different matter. Keep your foot down on this one. I bought a sword in Toledo, Spain just before my 18th birthday and regrettede it as a waste of money after a year or so. Utterly pointless. You can tell him so from me. If you want a better argument, point out to him that, in all likelihood, he won't be able to take the thing to college with him. It will have to stay with you and he can visit it on holidays. Maybe you can point him toward fencing as an alternative. Or a Ren faire/SCA group that will teach him how to wave a sword around.

Malnurtured Snay said...

You could always buy him a (cheap) replica sword to hang on the wall. Warn him not to role-play as Duncan MacLeod, though, my ceiling has numerous chips in it!

Impetua said...

I had a friend in high school who spent a lot of hard earned money on a sword and regretted it before too long; unless you are really going to learn how to use one, it just becomes an expensive piece of junk laying around. Does your son do martial arts? Maybe he could take courses in it and get one when he really knows what he's doing and needs one for practice or competitions, if that's the case.

I have a friend who worked at a hotel and he told me that after a gaming convention largely populated by teen boys, they had to steam clean the entire room, drapes and carpet and all. He said the smell after three days was unbelievable, like a stockyard in Calcutta on a hot day.

As for the late hours: it would have been better had he ensured his cellphone worked, but I think at a con that he's attending with his parents, staying out late (within boundaries) is fine. It's not like you handed him a six-pack of beer and the keys to your car. You knew where he was and what he'd be doing. But maybe 6am is kind of too late?

Anonymous said...

Hold on there, yellojkt - I had a cheaply made, non wall-hanger sword when I was 12, for Pete's sake. My family wasn't into guns, or hunting or violence in general, but I was rapidly turning into a Rennaisance freak, and my parents correctly assumed that my interest in Mediaeval and Renaissance weaponry would at least keep me off the streets and away from guns. I never hurt anyone with it (myself included), and now I own 3 more - several of which I trot out at ren faires, geek that I am. If your son is reasonably mature, why not trust him? Common sense should inform him not to swing it out in the front yard or take it to school. A responsibly owned sword is a hell of a lot safer to have around than a gun, and those damned things are everywhere.
BTW - still posting at Josh's?

Elizabeth said...

The late night thing sounds OK. You knew where he was and what he was doing, and he sounds like he's a pretty smart kid with a good head on his shoulders. As far as the sword, well,does he just want it for decoration or to use it in some kind of martial arts way? Didn't we all blow money on stupid stuff that we just HAD TO HAVE at that age?? How much do they cost?

yellojkt said...

Those were the same arguments we made. He has teachers and friends in SCA, but doesn't show enough interest to go to meetings.

If he were in SCA and knew how to handle a sword it would have been different.

I deliberately didn't price the swords because I didn't want to know. I suspect well over a hundred dollars.

Anonymous said...

Things may have changed in the 20-some years since I stopped attending events, but owning a sword has nothing to do with being in the SCA
Mark Owings (with the dubious record of having attended ALL the Balticons.)