A convention report by Evelyn C. Leeper
Copyright 1995 Evelyn C. Leeper
Shorecon '95 (a convention report by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Shorecon '95 was held September 22-24, 1995, in Asbury Park, New Jersey.
Shorecon is not a science fiction convention, but is rather primarily a gaming convention with comics and media programming as well. So why was I attending it? Well, Shorecon was looking to extend its scope into science-fiction writing as well, and one of the members of the Science Fiction Club at AT&T who was connected with the convention suggested that I was a possible program addition. As a result, I ended up on a panel about "Surfing the Internet." I was also going to be in a "Meet the Writers" session with Len Kaminski and F. Paul Wilson, but I suppose wiser heads prevailed and decided that I was not a writer in the sense people expected--and of course they're right. Kaminski is a writer for Marvel Comics, known for GHOST RIDER: 2099 and IRON MAN. F. Paul Wilson is a science fiction and horror writer whose best known work is probably his horror novel THE KEEP, but who has also won the Prometheus Award for his science fiction novel WHEELS WITHIN WHEELS. (He is also a practicing physician in the area.)
So my report is not being written from the point of view of the target audience for most of Shorecon. And a lot of what I write will be comparisons of Shorecon with the more "literary" science fiction conventions I have attended up to now. Undoubtedly gamers and comics fans will find much that I have misinterpreted, misunderstood, and mis-described. Corrections are welcome.
Shorecon has the same basic structure as a science fiction convention: presentations, panels, art show, dealers room, masquerade, anime, and so on. But these are somewhat overshadowed by the gaming sessions, whose descriptions fill three-quarters of the progress report, or as it's called here, the pre-registration book. As Rob Mitchell described it, "It's like a science fiction convention, except you see a lot more people hunched over board games." The art show, for example, was about a hundred pieces-- much smaller than art shows at the conventions I go to. I was thinking that it was probably about average for a convention this size, because I thought the attendance was a few hundred. Actually there were well over a thousand people registered (and apparently present, to judge by the parking lot). But even the organizers couldn't figure out where they were: panels were held for audiences of four or five, games with 65 people pre-registered ran with 15, and so on.
One friend said of the gaming aspect: "I was disappointed. Some of the tournaments were not well run. There wasn't enough light to see what we were doing in the card room. Some of the dealers had exclusivity arrangements that restrained my ability to comparison shop." He also noted, "There was no decent food you could walk to (in fact, there was *nothing* you could walk to)."
The Dealers Room had a lot of the same dealers one would find at a science fiction convention--the sword makers, the button people, etc. The difference was the lack of books. Well, there was one table that had a couple of boxes of books, but the concentration was on games and gaming. There wasn't even much media stuff available.
One difference between this and the sort of science fiction convention that I'm used to is that here, they paid many of the speakers, while at science fiction conventions the program participants are all volunteers. (Well, they do pay the expenses of the Guests of Honor.) And another difference is that the attendees have to buy additional tickets to see some of the guests- --they are not included in the registratioon fee. This fact is *not* mentioned in the pre-registration book. In this case, the guest for which that was the case was Aron Eisenberg (who plays "Nog" on STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE 9), but since he had to cancel due to filming conflicts the point was somewhat moot. Still, I would think that if there will be additional charges for things listed in the advertising, they should be mentioned there.
There were other oddities: signs saying "Do not use tape for hanging signs; use fun-tac" were hung using tape, the parking lot had no lines painted (resulting in people parking so as to block off completely the back half), etc.
Given the different focus, I went to only four programming items, and only three of those actually occurred. The talk by Steve Hicks of Intermix on "Publishing on the Internet" ended up with Hicks, Bob Pinkus, Mark, and I sitting around talking; no one else showed up.
The first item was:
Surfing the Internet
Steve Hicks, Evelyn C. Leeper
[Thanks to Mark for taking notes for this.]
There were two panelists and six people in the audience. (Of the six, four were from AT&T.) According to Frank Hernandez, this was one of the better-attended items.
Hicks started by saying the first thing you needed to access the Internet was a modem; I suggested a computer was even more basic.
Hicks then gave a ten-minute history of the Internet. What is the Internet? "No more than a collection of computers networked together," according to Andrew Cantor. In 1960 packet-switching was invented and soon the Advanced Research Projects Agency started ARPAnet. The Internet is, according to Hicks, is just a giant packet switch. In 1976 Bell Labs created UUCP (Unix-to-Unix copy). In 1982 TCP/IP was invented, superseding UUCP. In 1986, the National Science Foundation created NSFnet, and soon thereafter General Electric launched GEnie. In 1990 ARPAnet ceased to exist. At the same time, the Electronic Frontier Foundation was founded. According to Hicks, its purpose was to serve as "sheriffs of this Wild West virtual reality," though I would describe it more as a group to keep the existing sheriffs from getting carried away.
In 1991, gopher and WAIS were created. These are two software programs to search the "staggering number of sources" that were sprouting up. In 1992 the "World Wide Web" was created at CERN, followed by Mosaic in 1993. Almost immediately, the White House went on-line, and in 1994 media attention on the Net "exploded," The NSF turned the whole thing over to the private sector, and abolished the ban on commercial use.
Now in 1995, there are 30,000,000 users with email access, and 3,000,000 with WWW access. The claim is that the Net will revolutionize the world are probably extreme, but they will have some effect. Hicks compared this to the late 1800s Western Union memo that said that the telephone would have no value, though I'm not sure what he was saying, since the telephone did revolutionize society in some sense.
Hicks also said that Smith Corona had just filed Chapter 11, and finished his history by saying that today's experts do not know where we are going. (So what else is new?)
A few years ago the Internet was known only to a few people, but now the advent of the powerful personal computer has made it famous. The Web is not the Internet, though it uses the Internet. Rather, the Web unlocks the Internet's multimedia capabilities, and is a potent tool for learning (and entertainment).
I noted that I thought the projected numbers for users were low. After all, people thought that far more primitive tools like gopher were great, but now that they can use a browser like Netscape, they will use the Internet even more.
Someone in the audience said that the basic operating systems must come into focus. This led me to talk about the whole problem of obsolescence. Just as when people started buying VCRs, whatever they bought was out-of-date in a few months, now computers seem to be going through that cycle. So many people are holding off until it all settles down. Hicks agreed, but said that there is a real push for multi-media that will drive people to buy, and that you don't need state of the art equipment.
Of course, people ow are saying that if your equipment won't support audio and video access to the Web, it's antiquated. Hicks speculated that in a few years they will be saying the same thing about machines that don't have full virtual reality" But even if one discounts the people who will always say you should have state-of-the-art equipment, there is such a thing as too small.
We talked a bit about the "Bob" operating system, which Hicks described as just another step between the command-line interface and virtual reality, taking icons to another level.
I observed that whenever people try to predict or direct computer growth, they are wrong" When PCs came out, people kept saying, "Oh, you can put your recipes on it and have it automatically calculate the quantity of ingredients if you're making a different amount than normal." But nobody puts a PC in the kitchen" The "promoters" either don't know people or don't do reality testing. Similarly, some Web pages indicate no knowledge of human factors. I once got a hypertext story from a company, and not only was there no indication on the screen of what was clickable, but the instructions that came with it were wrong also.
Hicks said that the Web is barely three years old, and there are "some gawd-awful things there." I agreed, and said that I found WIRED magazine (popular though it is) to exemplify just what is wrong with the Web: garish color combinations and odd fonts which make reading it impossible" Hicks said that is usually the signature of a newcomer, just as when people first get their Mac, they use every font available" (I had an otherwise foresighted friend who provided printed directions to her beach house, intended to be read while driving, in a Gothic font!) Hicks said that the trick is to convince people to decide what is best to use, not what will jump out" "I work with people in love with the tech," he complained.
As far as on-line services, I recommended that people not necessarily go with the cheapest, but to look for service if you will need it" Hicks suggested it was worth doing the homework to find a local provider rather than a commercial provider, because it is cheaper.
Hicks suggested finding a provider who would also give you (or perhaps "allow you" is a better description) a one-page homepage. I said that you should look for a provider who is substantial, not a garage operation" Especially if you are using this for business, you don't want to bet the farm on a hobby provider.
Even with the major providers, there are differences" Some have some areas that are included in your monthly fee, but others may cost you $5 an hour (or more), and warnings are not always obvious. Some hate using Prodigy because of advertising that fills the screen" Compuserve is popular" America On-Line has a bad reputation because of the higher proportion of "clueless newbies" who show up on it with chain letters or "dying boy wants business cards," and for better or worse, people will form opinions based on if you are AOL.
There was some talk about how the Web infrastructure will come into place--where will the bandwidth come from? Someone suggested that much better compression is possible, but there are still limits. Even so, I will predict two things: someone will find a solution, and it won't be what anyone predicted.
This filled about an hour and a half; the "Publishing on the Internet" talk by Hicks scheduled for 3 PM never really happened for lack of audience.
Hubble Space Telescope
Dr. Christian Ready
Dr. Christian Ready works at the Space Telescope Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University" This indicated a high skill level, but no one is skilled enough to do a good slide show in a room which has an entire long wall of French doors letting in the light. Ready did the best he could, though.
He began with some views of Mars and Venus, noting that they represent two possible ends of Earth' cycle: pollution of the atmosphere gets us Venus, depletion gets us Mars" He then proceeded with pictures of Jupiter's "surface," pointing out this just appears to be the surface--Jupiter has no surface" He pointed out in particular that there are three white spots near Red Spot that have come much closer over the last year, and scientists wonder if they will eventually merge, and if so, what will be the result? Ready also had pictures of the impact of Shoemaker-Levy 9 on July 22, 1994.
From further out, Ready said pictures had come back of twenty moons of Saturn (two of which were just found in July)" (I think when I was learning about the solar system there were eight.) The largest, Titan, has an Australian-sized "something" or other--a warmer region than the surrounding area, anyway.
They have confirmed seven moons for Uranus: Puck, Belinda, Miranda, Ariel, Cressida, Portia, Juliet" (Again, I learned about only Ariel and Miranda.) And there were even pictures of Pluto (which had been discovered in 1930) and its moon Charon (which hadn't been discovered until 1978).
If all this sounds a bit basic, it's because Ready's talk seemed to be aimed at a less astronomically sophisticated audience than what I'm used to (at science fiction conventions)" Whether it was appropriate here is hard to say, since there wasn't much of any audience.
Ready also talked a bit about astronomical theory" For example, calculations say that we should be seeing a supernova every hundred years, but according to historical records, we're not. Also, the Hubble Telescope has provided further proof of relativity by showing that the light from distant galaxies is bent by gravitational fields in its path.
All in all, Ready did a good job given the somewhat problematic circumstances.
Klingon Language Institute
Dr. Lawrence Schoen
And one of the problematic circumstances was Dr. Lawrence Schoen, a psychologist and head of the Klingon Language Institute (KLI). While it is understandable that he might be a bit put out by having Ready's talk run over into his time, he knew that Ready started late through no fault of his own, and should not have started heckling Ready to wrap up--it's unprofessional.
Anyway, Schoen talked about how his audience (all five of us) was not his usual audience and his usual talk, with a lot of Klingon quotes, was not going to work" Instead he talked about the background of the KLI and its current projects.
Schoen said it all started when he was down-sized out of his previous teaching job" Looking for something to occupy his mind while waiting for responses on resumes, he decided to learn Klingon, based on the dictionary developed by Marc Okrand" Schoen said he had been in the Mythopoeic Society and first thought, "Is Klingon like Elvish? Can we study it as we study a dead language?" At some point he found others on the Net who were interested and so founded the KLI" When "jobs failed to appear," he stayed with it. (He eventually did get a job teaching at a Catholic women's college.)
The first major project undertaken by the KLI was the translation of the Bible in Klingonese because, according to Schoen, there is a linguistic tradition to translate the Bible into all new languages that are disovered" (I noted this was a *Western8 linguistic tradition.)
The translation project began with Kevin Wilson, a divinity student, walking into the Pater Noster Church in Jerusalem" This church is known for having translations of the Lord's Prayer in every known language on its walls" But there was no Klingon translation" (Quelle surprise!) So he wrote down a Klingon translation on a slip of paper, rolled it up, and slipped it between two stones in the wall" Now he's working from Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew originals to do the translation, rather than from English translations" The KLI is taking a traditional view of translation (an Orthodox Jew is responsible for overseeing much of the Old Testament)" This means, in part, not making up new words. (Schoen compares the position of the KLI in this regard to that of the French Academy.) For example, Schoen said that when translating the Book of Jonah they ran into a problem because Klingon has no word for "whale," but then many languages don't have a word for "whale." (I would note that these include Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek--there were not a whole lot of whales in the Mediterranean Sea, and Jonah talks about a big fish, not a whale.) So they translated it as "great water animal." In this regard, Schoen mentioned the "schism" as reported in the WALL STREET JOURNAL" It's not as big a thing as the media make it out, but Schoen obviously feels the KLI effort is the more serious.
By the way, the KLI is registered as a non-profit organization but *not*, Schoen noted, as a church!
The KLI itself has grown enormously" A letter in TV GUIDE mentioning it brought 500 inquiries" There was an article in the CHICAGO TRIBUNE that was sold to a wire service, where it was picked up by 200 papers, which generated another 2000 letters" It has been mentioned in TIME magazine, and now is the "Klingon Movement." The membership doubles each quarter from its beginnings in January 1992 it has grown to 350 members covering all the continents (yes, even Antarctica)" There have been over a thousand people who have been members at some point.
There is also the "Klingon Shakespeare Restoration Project, inspired by a line in the sixth film (regarding how HAMLET must be read in the original Klingon to be appreciated)" As Schoen said, HAMLER is about honor and revenge and everyone is dead in the last scene--that's a Klingon play." The KLI translation of Shakespeare is a bit less traditional and conversative with Shakespeare, but they still are aiming for a quality work: hardbound, case-bound, and on acid-free paper" They are currently in the fourth revision of the translation of HAMLET, and the Klingon is in iambic pentameter where the English is and in rhyme where the English rhymes" They will be printing 1000 numbered copies, priced at $20 each (and undoubtedly scarfed up by dealers who will inflate the price), and twenty-six copies lettered (in the Klingon alphabet) bound in lexohyde reserved for major contributors" Schoen says the goal is to take HAMLET onto the Letterman Show.
After this comes out they hope to publish a play a year" MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is already done" They will publish the major plays individually, but the minor ones will be bundled in pairs.
There is also a Klingon postal course modeled after the Esperanto postal course: You sent a self-addressed, stamped envelope and they send you Lesson 1" When you complete that, you send back your answers to the exercises and another self-addressed, stamped envelope" They grade the exercises and send you the results, along with Lesson 2" And so on" There is no charge except for postage- paid return envelopes" As Schoen notes, "You can't learn the language without the dictionary, but you can't learn the language with just the dictionary" either" He would like to use the Internet, but he feels it's important to stretch the course out rather than let the student run through all the exercises at one time and then forget it all in a week" They do have a Web page, though: http://www.kli.org.
Schoen describes Klingon as "an artificial language maintained by popular culture." He has taught Klingon on CruiseTrek, and there have been two "qep'a"s ("great meetings"), Klingon language gatherings" The first one had twelve people with two fluent speakers, two middling, and the rest timid" The second one had twenty people, with ten fluent and the other ten really working at becoming fluent" Schoen noted that it has never happened before that someone created an artificial language community" I would think that there is in some sense an Esperanto community, and the revival of Hebrew as an everyday language after centuries of being just an ecclesiastical one counts somewhat" (Between when I attended this talk and when I'm writing this, someone at work told me of his experience of meeting a German in Europe and ending up conversing with him in Latin, the only language they had in common. Apparently if you get five years of Latin in a Catholic school, you *never* forget it.
Schoen also mentioned the Sapir-Worf Hypothesis which in spite of the convenient pun is a real hypothesis in linguistics (that language shapes culture)" But I will observe that it's still true that there is no native Klingon culture and there are no native Klingon speakers" One can only hope that no one decides their children should be raised with Klingon as their first language.
The address for the Klingon Language Institute, by the way, is P. O. Box 634, Flourtown PA 19031" The postal course is available from Klingon Postal Course, P. O. Box 37, Eagle ID 83616" The self-addressed stamped envelope should have sufficient postage for two ounces.
Well, that's about it" I suspect I will not be attending future Shorecons, since my guess is that they will decide the response to their expansion into areas other than gaming and comics did not get enough of a response to repeat the experiment" One can hope that they will address some of the concerns of the gamers--assuming they can figure out where to find them, of course" :-)