Friday, September 1, 2000 - Chicago, Illinois The 58th World Science Fiction Convention - Chicon 2000

Another short night but longer than it might have been since I gave up on trying to get to the 8:30 am session and slept on in…I am getting too old for this (GRIN). I managed to drag myself out of bed for the 10:00 session though…it was a few blocks away (outside - VERY humid - today was 95 with a high humidity).

Session: Fact Catching up with Fiction

This was a relatively informal discussion but was quite interesting as the two panellists talked about how many of the things discussed in Science Fiction literature are now reality. One example they had was the pocket computer, for example, the Palm Pilot computer (which looks like a small pad of paper that you can write on). Interesting also was the discussion about various drugs (there are NO side-effects for drugs, just effects, both desirable and not-so desirable). The social effects of technology were also discussed (the impact of cheap cellular phones in Japan).

Session: Designing Computer Games

This discussion was held back at the Hyatt so I hiked back and dodged the traffic. It was an interesting discussion with about half the panellists not showing up so a few, appropriate, people from the audience took their place. It was interesting to hear how they organize the development of computer games and the life cycle which is very much different than what I am used to the corporate computer field, a lot more “ad hoc”. Interesting as well was the information about what types of tools they use and the various bits of technology they use to put these complicated pieces of software together (there is a trade off between using more advanced, easier to use programming tools since they mean that the program gets bigger, though easier to maintain, but if you use a much more basic language it becomes much more compact, therefore quicker in some cases, but less maintainable).

After this session I headed off to the main notice board area to see “what was up” and I found that the US Post Office has a small table setup where you can get some “space stamps” (hologram ones, in this case, of various events such as the moon landing). After spending a bit of cash I headed back to the front door to wait for the buses to arrive…

Field Trip: Fermilab at Batavia, Illinois

One of the events that had been discussed via electronic mail and on the web site was a tour of the Fermilab site which is where there is a particle accelerator and collider. This was organized by a single member of the convention committee and we paid absolutely nothing for both the tour and the bus transportation to and from the lab which is about 45 miles west of Chicago.

I met someone who I had seen last night at the Consuite so I met up with him on the bus and we chatted on the way to the lab which was an hour and a half drive (with the traffic for the Labour day weekend). A “ConSuite” is a suite sponsored by the group running the convention which is open most of the time the convention is on (closed, in this case, only for about 6 hours a day) offering free drink and food (pizza and snack food, typically). It is a great place where you can meet and talk to people without having any sort of obligation at a party suite.

Exterior of Wilson Hall - Fermilab

The Fermilab campus is quite large and I found it surprising to learn that there are many nature trails through large areas of natural landscape (they even have fishing derbys in the many ponds throughout the site and a herd of bison!). We were guided into the main (public) building (Wilson Hall) which is evidently designed based upon the layout of a cathedral in France. It is a 16-story high rectangular building with the two longer edges angled at the ground but meet somewhere around the fifth floor and then go straight to the top. It makes for an impressive middle atrium (though it was partly under renovation when we visited). We were guided from the buses into the building and up to a classroom where a scientist who works there answered questions for about an hour. It was a very interesting (and very technical) discussion, one of the people on the tour from the convention had actually worked there a number of years ago so to hear what had happened to his experiments and how things have changed was interesting.

After the talk, we were split into two groups and taken out to see a bit of the area, stopping first at the Ramsey Auditorium which is used to host both academic discussions as well as theatre. This auditorium and many other aspects of the aesthetics of the buildings was designed by the original director of the site.

We were led to the LINAC (Linear Accelerator) where we were shown the place that the protons are striped from the hydrogen used for use in the collisions that occur in the collider. They collide protons and ANTI-protons (which travel in the opposite directions) in the experiments that occur here OR in the alternate set-up they collide the protons with a stationary target. It was fascinating to see the place that the hydrogen is actually connected to the first stage of the process (literally a hose leading from a standard tank of hydrogen - “costing a few dollars a year” to purchase). We were led down the LINAC and shown the area that they treat cancer by proton bombardment (literally by having the patient sit in the beam's path). Next we moved onto the control room which was covered in computer screens with immediate access to the actual collider itself (down a set of stairs) – It must have been a slow day because the operators were helping themselves to cake (someone's birthday?) and they were taking polaroid pictures of us behind the glass…(and passing them to us). We were shown the magnets that are used to control the beam of plasma as it is accelerated around the collider ring (with cooling holes and various numbers of magnets in each segment, to control the beam direction in multiple dimensions).

Leading back to the building, we were shown the view from the 15th floor (which is also where the self-guided tour that is offered to the public when they visit the site) – truly incredible to see the scope of the accelerator in two massive circles (with park all around) – encircled by a ring of tubing carrying liquid hydrogen for cooling.

View from the 15th Floor - Booster in Foreground, Main Injector in Background and Tevatron (BIG) to the Left

Returning to Chicago was quite a concern by the organizer since it was the Friday before the Labour day weekend but this turned out to be largely unfounded since we returned in about an hour and a half (though I was busy talking to my new friend most of the time).

Session: Martian Chronicles by Mobieus Theatre

Because of my early arrival at the hotel I was able to attend a final session for the day so I decided to see the dramatic presentation by a group called “Mobieus Theatre” which puts on various Science Fiction and Fantasy works. I was previously unaware of a dramatic version of the classic Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (evidently he wrote it).

The production was quite good (though I was busy trying to remember the book which I read quite some time ago) with a few actors better than the others. The sets were very simple but very effective. The show was a bit long at about 2 1/2 hours plus a 15 minute break in the middle.


After the long day I stopped by the ConSuite, helping myself to pizza (talking to my friend from the Fermilab trip) for dinner as well as a lot of soda pop and cheese puffs (can't bother with REAL food, can we?).

I made my way up to the 29th floor (surprisingly, without a line up at the elevators) in the East tower of the hotel (I am staying in the West tower). I wandered around between various parties including one that surprised me being a bid for a convention in Japan in 2007 (I offered my financial support and was given a Japanese head band to boot!). I think it would be really interesting to go to Japan for a convention (though how big it would be is in question since only about 2,000 show up in Japan every year for their Science Fiction convention and how many would come from elsewhere for the World Convention is a bit unknown because of the cost). I walked down, stopping at a number of places before wandering over to the various film rooms to see what was happening there (stopping only briefly) then finally heading back to the room at around about 1 am. I have not had more than six hours of sleep a night since the convention started.

⇒ Continue to Saturday, September 2, 2000 - Chicago, Illinois The 58th World Science Fiction Convention - Chicon 2000