My CONvergence schedule – 2014

It’s gotten so’s I gotta put a year in the title to make it unique! How weird is that.

My CONvergence schedule is a bit thicker this year than in years past — I’m invited to participate in six panels. That’s a record for me! One of them is even my own brain-baby — the Superheroes in our Modern Day Pantheons panel.

And as usual, I’ll be hanging out in the FtB / Skepchicks “party” rooms wherein we’ll not actually be partying, but rather fending off constant attacks from the encroaching Royal Manticorian Army and Klingon rooms. Also, there will be science sandboxes, commisserating with like-minded individuals, and modest amounts of alcohol to lubricate the conversation. I might also provide hilariawful Bible games on the big-screen TV, e.g. Super Noah’s Ark 3D, if I can manage a better setup than last year.

The panels are:

Friday, July 4 • 5:00pm – 6:00pm
Alien Conspiracy Theories

The truth is out there, and we’ll help you find it! We’ll cover a wide range of alien-centric conspiracy theories and discuss the implications these have on individuals and society at large.

Panelists: JD Horn, Jason Thibeault, Nicole Gugliucci, PZ Myers, Scott Lynch

Friday, July 4 • 7:00pm – 8:00pm
Superheroes in Our Modern-Day Pantheons

Nobody really worships Hercules or Thor as Greek and Norse gods anymore, but don’t despair, because now they’re both members of The Avengers. This panel will explore the commonalities and differences between our ancient and modern pantheons.

Panelists: David Schwartz, Jason Thibeault, Roy T Cook, Jonathan Palmer, Ryan Consell

Friday, July 4 • 11:30pm – 12:30am
It’s (Not) Written in the Stars
We’ll explore the myths and beliefs of astrology and why some people still find it convincing in the modern age of science.

Panelists: Jason Thibeault, Brianne Bilyeu, Dan Berliner, Matt Lowry, Nicole Gugliucci

Saturday, July 5 • 12:30pm – 1:30pm
Criticism and Empathy Online

When people abuse anonymity to give hurtful, damaging criticism, is this merely a failure of empathy, or is there something more there? How do you criticize people without triggering a flame war? Should you even TRY to avoid flame wars?

Panelists: Miri Mogilevsky, Jason Thibeault, Wesley Chu, Kameron Hurley, Ted Meissner

Saturday, July 5 • 8:30pm – 9:30pm
Organizing Online to Make a Better World: Do We Need to Tear the Old One Down?

Criticism and even rage blazing across social media has proven remarkably effective in getting complaints heard, but what are the downsides? How do we maintain communities when anger and volume get things done?

Panelists: Miri Mogilevsky, Jason Thibeault, Beth Voigt, Stephanie Zvan, Debbie Goddard

Sunday, July 6 • 3:30pm – 4:30pm
Urban Legends: Myths, Facts, and Half-Truths

From alligators in the sewer to clowns in the attic, urban legends walk the line between total absurdity and being just so outrageous that they might be true. Where do these stories come from, and why do they capture our imaginations so effectively?

Panelists: Jason Thibeault, Anne Sauer, Naomi Kritzer, Bug Girl, Shawn van Briesen

The video game that would REALLY keep you up at night

I’m no stranger to losing sleep over video games, though usually in a positive context, e.g. that the game is fun and I don’t notice the time. But what if I was to tell you the story of a video game that was literally designed to steal your ability to sleep… among other things? Sounds far-fetched, right? Read on, gentle reader.

In 1981, Atari had created an extraordinarily innovative video game called Tempest. This game, originally imagined as a 3-D remaking of Space Invaders, had players pilot a spacecraft on the near end of a “tube” that extended into the distance on a display, using now-primitive but then new and innovative colour vector-based graphics (as opposed to raster-based graphics, the more traditional pixellated, hand-drawn art). Vector graphics weren’t new at the time, having been used for other games like Asteroids, but the addition of colour with Atari’s “Color Quadrascan” shadow mask technology, developed to compete with raster games, was a significant step forward. The game also featured differing playing boards at each level, with different geometric shapes making up the “tube”, rather than the usual incremental difficulty increases on an identical board that video games til then had used to ratchet up the pressure on players as games went on. And it even featured the ability to choose your starting level based on performance in a previous game, so veterans wouldn’t necessarily have to play through the initial levels over again while attempting to cause the game to roll the level or points counts over. This marked the first video game continue option — though a later raster game called Fantasy implemented it in its more traditional form.

This post isn’t really about Tempest, though. I’m really just setting the stage for what the state of the art was in 1981. If you’ll believe the urban legends, the US government, at about that time, teamed up with a German developer named Sinneslöschen (loosely translated: “Sense Erase”) in an attempt to turn the nation’s Pac-Man Fever into something a little more useful for the empire: mind control. They created a video game that kids would become addicted to, would play at every opportunity, until the mind control would kick in and they’d lose the ability to sleep or even lose their memories.
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Market report: gold is down, human embryos are up

This is the stuff of urban legends. Clones of babies to harvest stem cells. Lists of body parts harvested from murdered babies, with prices attached. Never mind the huge and glaring difference between an embryo and a baby — the latter being about a few thousand times the size, what with the former being a lump of indistinct cells incapable of viability outside the womb. You have to see this tightly and professionally packed stupidity to believe it.
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