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Monday, April 16 12:00 AM ET

My Vist to the Penguicon

By Brian Briggs

I thought I would share my experience at Penguicon 5.0. If you're not familiar with it, Penguicon is a combination Linux/Open Source/Sci-Fi/Fantasy Convention, with notable guests from each area. Penguicon does a good job of given you many great choices each block of time. One of these days, I'm going to book a hotel room and stay for the whole thing. This year, because of prior commitments I was only available for about half the convention. Still, I was able to see and learn many interesting things.

I have to say I'm more in tune with the Open-source crowd than the Sci-Fi crowd, but not so out of touch that it doesn't interest me. Being a writer the Sci-Fi side of things interest me, being a computer geek the Open Source side interests me. One thing that I do know is that I'm not a Con expert, or an expert on either topic. One author that "needed no introduction," I had never heard of.

Penguicon Day 1 -Thanks to rush hour traffic, I missed the first panel I wanted to see with Bruce Schneier on "Security and Psychology." I arrived at 6:30 pm and took some time to get oriented. The crowd is exactly what you'd expect from this kind of convention. Ninety-percent male, ninety-percent black T-shirts with clever sayings, and the Tron guy.

The first panel I attended was "H. P. Lovecraft's Legacy Today." I'm woefully ignorant on Lovecraft, so this was a great panel for me to learn. This con always impresses me with the knowledgeable panels and audience questions. I now know much more about Cthulu that I did going in, and got a few good suggestions for reading material.

Anyway, after the Lovecraft panel I went to a screening of "Starship Troopers" being heckled by Sci-Fi authors John Scalzi and Nick Sagan (yeah, the son of Carl Sagan). It wasn't MST3k, but it was entertaining. Entertaining enough that I missed the liquid nitrogen ice cream and the chocolate ceremony.

At 10 pm, I headed over a panel of writers about "Life-hacks for the Writing Process." I got a few good tips, but I realized that I'm a different kind of writer than the people on the panel. They seemed to fit into the stereotypical "starving artist" category of writer, that doesn't appeal to me. I left about halfway through the panel, because I was tired and still had an hour-long drive home.

On my drive back, I had some time for reflection on the day's events. By any definition I am a geek. However, after the first day of the show I began to question that statement. I think there are just different kinds of geeks, so I should be confident of my geekiness. I also thought about my conceptions of myself as a writer. I'm not sure what sort of mind-hack I need to do to convince myself that that I am a writer. With the stories, BBlog posting, and link commentary, I'm pushing out a lot of pages each week. Add into that, that a publisher is willing to pay me to write a book, and I'm not sure how else I could classify myself at this point.

It could be that I've taken an atypical path to being a writer. I self-publish on the web. I don't write novels, screenplays, or freelance articles for magazines. My degree is in electrical engineering not English. I'm not a starving artist. I just write stuff and put it on the web. By the time I got home, I wasn't sure if I was a geek or a writer, but by morning I was back to normal.

The next day I avoided rush hour, which made the drive much more pleasing. I caught the tail end of a talk by security expert Bruce Schneier. This guy knows what he's talking about. He mentioned an interesting article on the generation gap in online personal information. The article covers the younger generation and how they are more uninhibited with posting personal information on their MySpace page, LiveJournal, etcetera that astonish the older generation.

I should mention that I'm a terrible reporter for this event. I rarely took out my camera, and I didn't take notes or interview any of the panelists afterward. I do know the event would be more fun with a group of people. So next year, some of you BBspotters are going to have to pony up and come with me.

The next panel was "What's New at SJ Games" which was all new to me. I don't follow RPG board games at all, so I thought this would be an interesting place to learn. I've heard of Steve Jackson before. Although, I learned that the Steve Jackson I had heard of was a different one. As a kid I spent many hours, playing a "choose your own adventure" type gaming book by Steve Jackson. When I asked for an autograph this Steve Jackson told me that he would, but only if I understood that he had nothing at all to do with this book. He said he had signed several of those books, so I'm not the only moron in the world.

I did learn that Munchkin is the hot game for the company. It looks fun, so maybe I'll pick up a copy.

The next panel I hit was "Open Source-style Security for the Whole Physical World" with Bruce Schneier and Christine Peterson. The panel was about applying some open source principles, to real world security to come up with a more liberty and more security. It was a very interesting panel that explored the topics of privacy and security and how they are related. We know that current security measures are easily bypassed and seem to be more for show than for actual security. It's comforting to know that people are working on real security solutions, that will protect our liberty instead of what is going on today.

The last panel I hit on Saturday was "Brain-as-Computer Metaphor." The panel had a couple of sci-fi authors and a brain researcher. It seems like there were some PhDs in the audience as well, because they seemed to know a lot about brain models and philosophies of consciousness. One of the panelist posited that consciousness is a lot lower-bandwidth operation than we think it is. There are plenty of interesting thought experiments when it comes to the brain.

One of the interesting things I learned was about blindsight. It's condition where people get a lesion on the brain and it makes them blind in one eye. Researchers ask them to cover up the eye they can still see with then hold an object in front of them and ask them what they see. The subjects say they can't see anything and the researchers prod them to guess. Many times the people can guess what the object is without consciously seeing it. It brings up some very interesting questions about consciousness.

I've scattered some pictures of the Lego table throughout the post. I should've also gotten a picture of the "Chaos Machine," which was cool. So I take from this show that I'm not as deep of geek as many people (which I already knew) and I'm a different kind of writer than the stereotypical kind. I also reaffirmed that I love learning cool new things. I can't wait for Penguicon 6.0.

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