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Penguicon: The Highlights - The Watchtower of Destruction: The Ferrett's Journal
April 25th, 2007
07:07 am


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Penguicon: The Highlights

Most Embarrassing Moment
Starting the “Limited Female Roles In Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Comics” panel, which was based on one of my strips, and forgetting my own dialogue.

I'd prepared for this eventuality by bringing five copies of said strip with me to the con, but I lost them before the panel started and thus had to tell the audience what the strip looked like... And failed abysmally, blowing the whole gag from the start as I stammered my way through it. Elizabeth Bear actually knew my own writing better than I did in that moment, and mercifully took over to recite it almost verbatim. Thank God she did, because I bet the people on that panel were wondering, “Who’s the logorrheic idiot who good writers are pointing at?”

Most Gratuitous Apology
Howard Tayler, who is in fact one of the nicest people in all of webcomicdom, laughingly shot me the double-finger when I mock-insulted him on Saturday night.

The next morning, he pulled me aside to make sure that he hadn’t accidentally hurt my feelings.

Now, I’d spent the day before hearing Randy, Eric, and Rob on a panel, talking about angry readers who’d cornered them in parking lots and in their own apartments. I’d listened to their tales of folks who’ve practically posted death threats in public forums. So by then, I was completely inured.

Truth is, Howard probably could have kicked me in the nuts and I would have shrugged. But it was nice of him to make sure, because he’s a sweet guy.

Greatest Distance Between Imagination And Reality
Randy Milholland is large and hulking. He looks like a lumberjack temporarily working as a car mechanic (since he wore a lot of Davan-style workshirts that weekend), and has a voice that booms out like a cannon. It’s difficult to be on a panel with him – not that he tries to overshadow you, but the man always has a better story. You kind of feel like you'd be doing the audience a favor if you slunk off and let him talk.

I anticipated that he’d be a lot funnier than I am, and he was. But Davan (and he, in his own comic) looks so mild when he draws himself that I anticipated I would have to tread softly around him so as to avoid having his bones shatter inside the milky sacs of residual flesh that passed for Randy’s muscles. I thought that at least I’d outweigh the motherfucker. Instead, I stood in fear, for he could have body-slammed me into the carpet if he took a disliking to me.

Good thing he’s almost – almost – as nice as Howard. Unless you piss him off. Then he body-slams you verbally.

Unseen Funniest Moment
It has been established, both in words and in photos, that I gave not one but two bodyshots to girls at the con. But the thing that I heard all night was Rob Balder’s reaction.

You see, I was around a corner by the con suite when I first took my shirt off, and it was loud, so Rob had no idea what was going on. Then he heard some commotion and turned around just to watch me, my sagging fishbelly streaked with faded purple stretch marks, grinding my cavernous manboobs together to present a tangled bouquet of chest hair, sweat, and alcohol.

Apparently, he recoiled with such a revulsed expression that people were laughing about it for hours afterwards. Not that I can blame him - well, actually, I couldn’t even if I wanted to, for I never saw his face. I just heard about it an hour later, and the next morning, and then at brunch….

But man, I hope he doesn’t filk the moment.

(That said, I don’t usually take my shirt off that much. I actually despise my body. But sometimes, you gotta work in the name of science, and I had to verify the existence of the male-only bodyshot.)

Weirdest Moment
This came after the con, when in a blog post someone mentioned how “approachable” I was. This is not my fault.

Honestly? I’d love to have a coterie of sycophants and well-wishers, each shielding me from the harsh reality of the unwashed louts that populate every convention. How I groaned every morning upon arising, only to realize that I would have to descend bodily into your foul and toxic humors!

You accosted me in the hallways, one by one, like an endless horde of karate mooks besetting Bruce Lee… And I had no escape. Penned in by the expectation of common civility (and oh, how sadly I need your help to achieve the fame and fortune that is my birthright), I had no choice but to pretend to be your friend momentarily – to feign an interest in your tiny, mundane lives.

I wished I had the clout to cut you off. “Have you a beautiful orifice I can penetrate?” I’d snap. “Or a media platform to lift me to still higher heights? Oh, or mayhap you think you’ve created some sort of fictional construct that deems you worthy for me to call you ‘peer.’”

“What? You have nothing? You’re just, as they say, a fan? Bristol! Harvey! Faithful bodyguards, escort this feckless Dalit from my presence!”

But no. Sadly, I’m one misstep away from “schlub” like the rest of you. And so I must bide my time, hoping that eventually I will gain enough of an audience that you can blur into the faceless masses that you deserve to be.

Most Recycled Moment
I originally wrote this up for StarCityGames.com, but the article was deemed (rightfully, I may add) to be a little low on Magic content. So I’ll just put the relevant bits here, which was cool… Uh, exciting. Oh, you know how it is. Anyway, have my leavings.

In the end, it was the liquid nitrogen that caused me to miss the prerelease, and I don’t regret that one bit.

See, I was at Penguicon, the science-fiction and open-source software convention, where all sorts of geekish pursuits can be had – from the ever-changing, room-sized tinker toy endless loop ball run of the Chaos Machine to the many Linux installs on laptops everywhere to the print-on-demand T-shirt machine, there’s something for every nerd.

But me? I wanted the ice cream.

Liquid nitrogen, in case you didn’t know, is kept in a coffin-sized metal canister, complete with a frost-furred dispensing hose. You twist the valve and there’s a high-pitched squeal that sounds like something straight out of a Star Wars film as the various gas shunts click into place… And after a few moments of squirting fog, a pure clear fluid shoots out of the nozzle and into the stainless steel dish. Within seconds the bowl is a frosted white.

What lies inside that bowl is over three hundred degrees below zero.

Liquid nitrogen is so far below room temperature that seventy degrees is enough to get it to boil – which it does, bubbling madly inside the smooth walls of the bowl, exploding in smoky jets of pure gossamer fog, so cool the hairs rise up on the back of your hands when you get near it. It billows out and over the sides of the bowl, spilling down in a refreshing mist.

Liquid nitrogen is potentially deadly in large amounts, but paradoxically it’s trivial to handle because it’s so cold. If you were to stick your hand into that clear boil, you would contract a case of instant frostbite, your flesh crystallized into chunks that would fall bloodlessly off the bone.

But the temperature differential? Ah, you feel scientific just doing it. Because when a drop of liquid nitrogen gets near your skin, comparatively you’re so hot that it’s like tossing a cup of water into a blast furnace. It explodes into gas, which forms a protective barrier that shields you from serious injury.

So if you know what you’re doing, you can dribble this stuff down your arm, splash it across your chest, spill it on your pants so your pants burst into a frigid cloud-exuding expanse of fabric. You can hurl it on the floor, upon which point it fills the room with a Starlight Express-like coating of dry ice-styled fog.

Or – as they do at Penguicon – you can mix a quart of half-and-half, some milk, sugar, flavoring, and liquid nitrogen together. Then stir. Rapidly. When the cold boils away, if you’ve stirred properly, what you have left is a slightly chunky ice cream.

It is awesome.

But come the end of Penguicon, no matter how many quarts of ice cream they make, they still have a lot of leftover liquid nitrogen. So they do the only sane thing you could do with a bunch of super-chilled chemicals: they put as much of it in containers as they can, then throw them all into the hotel pool.

They did this last year, and there was a YouTube video that made the rounds. There’s a shot of a man with a bowl, and he flings it in, and the entire pool bursts into tendrils of fog that cover every available space. If you’ll excuse the pun, it is incredibly cool.

I missed it then, so this year there was no way in hell I’d miss the latest pool hurl. Especially given that several girls in bikinis were then going to be jumping into the pool afterwards. Especially given that I had been trained in the handling of liquid nitrogen and was one of the trusted ones who was going to help fling it into the pool.

So I helped direct the flow of LN2 down to the pool, and Molly shouted “Go,” and then there was a swimming pool ablaze with light and smoke and then there were chicks diving in and squealing as they hit the cold shock of the water, and you know I think I saw a porno like this once.

It’s the Internet, kids. It’s somebody’s fetish.

Immediately afterwards, I called up the Michigan prerelease site. “When’s the last flight?” I asked.

“It’s starting in two minutes,” they said. I was half an hour away.

“Never mind, then,” I said, dejected. I’d been hoping to get in a quick round, but I had two panels I was contractually obligated to appear at on early Sunday afternoon, so I couldn’t have gotten out of the hotel before 2:00…. And the nitrogen toss was at 2:30, so how could I miss that?

(23 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

[User Picture]
Date:April 25th, 2007 11:46 am (UTC)
;-) I only remembered it because it was funny, man....
Date:April 25th, 2007 12:01 pm (UTC)
One of the few joys in being a Professional Scientist is getting to work with cool stuff on a semi-regular basis. While I was still in college, I spent one summer working in a research lab at a different university. We had this massive shelf of chemicals that all had to be stored in containers of liquid nitrogen, lest they become unstable and go boom. It was there that I first beheld the glory that is liquid nitrogen. About two weeks into my time there, we had some VIPs coming for a visit, so we were supposed to clean the lab.

I never knew liquid nitrogen was a good tile cleaner.

See, all you have to do is fill a dewar up with liquid nitrogen and throw it across a tile floor. The nitrogen picks up all the dirt and dust and small debris and then pools at the lowest point in the room. Instead of having to sweep an entire 20'x40' lab, you just have to sweep up two or three little piles of dirt.

Now, if we could just get them to bring this technology to the consumer market...
[User Picture]
Date:April 25th, 2007 02:09 pm (UTC)

Liquid N2 as floor cleaner

I learned that same trick years ago at a summer camp hosted by USMA in West Point NY. Both amazingly cool and amazingly simple.

What kinds of chemicals are so unstable they need to be stored cryogenically? I'm aware that picric acid needs to be stored wet and that elemental lithium is usually stored in mineral oil, but I've never heard of cryogenic chemical storage.

BTW cryogenic is a fun word.
[User Picture]
Date:April 25th, 2007 06:46 pm (UTC)

Re: Liquid N2 as floor cleaner

When I first started messing around with liquid nitrogen in 2003, I looked for a "cryohazard" symbol to put on the con suite door. It turns out there isn't one, because it's generally not dangerous enough to warrant a symbol.

I tell people all the time that liquid nitrogen is about as dangerous as boiling water. Which is true. I don't point out how easily you can kill or maim somebody with boiling water, but oh well...
Date:April 26th, 2007 12:12 am (UTC)

Re: Liquid N2 as floor cleaner

You know the funny part about the whole thing? I dutifully filled the many assorted flasks and dewars an styrofoam boxes filled with assorted ampules of chemicals for an entire summer and never asked what the hell they were.

The lab worked with lots of fluorine-containing compounds. It was an organic synthesis lab focusing on next-generation fluropolymers for use in fuel cells and electronics. I was doing a side project using novel fluorinated amino acids to build small peptides in a drug discovery exercise. It was the bastard step child project of the lab (as the professor frequently made us aware).

Also of note from the lab--we had an entire set of lab glassware made of solid quartz. Beakers, vacuum lines, distillation apparati, flasks, all made of quartz. A whole series of reactions in the lab involved introducing HF gas (hydrogen fluoride) into the reaction, and HF will dissolve glass. Quartz, on the other hand, is relatively unharmed. I never got to use any of that. Something about not trusting undergrads with beakers that cost more than we made all summer...
[User Picture]
Date:April 25th, 2007 12:14 pm (UTC)
I would like to respectfully apply for the job of "Harvey", but only if we get tazers.

Or paid...

Paid in tazers!
[User Picture]
Date:April 25th, 2007 02:12 pm (UTC)
So, it was liquid nitrogen that kept me from meeting you in person...damn you, liquid nitrogen, DAMN YOOOOOOOOOOOU!!!

('Course, I coulda come up to see the festivities, but then I wasn't the pilot of the prerelease trip...)
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
Date:April 25th, 2007 05:47 pm (UTC)
What was the comment about Padme?
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
Date:April 27th, 2007 12:20 pm (UTC)
No kidding. One of the better characters in the SW series gets retconned to be an overemotional harpy. She had reasons to stay quiet (remember, Palpatine IS from her home planet, and she was concerned for Anakin), but... she should have put up some sort of fight. A total waste of potential.

My mom and I had the same reaction way back watching 90210 where the intelligent, thoughtful, strong Jewish teen (whose name I forget) got pregnant. She wasn't thrilled about it. This show could have been the first case where a lead character in a prime time show would have decided to get an abortion. Intelligent, Reform, under financial duress? Has all the hallmarks of a young woman who would decide to do the safer, more rational perspective. But no, she decides to take the pregnancy to term. Go figure.

(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
Date:April 27th, 2007 02:34 pm (UTC)
Well, the way that the character had been written she had been working for long hours and toiling away to make it to college where she could pursue her dreams. That's the character's motivation. And she decides to go and take the pregnancy to term and not go to college. Why'd she change her mind so radically?

Judaism interprets life as starting at birth. Before that, it is not a living being. It gets no recognition as an entity of any sort. So why'd she decide to take the baby to term? It breaks the whole point of the established character.

The answer's pretty obvious. Because it would drive away the sponsors to the show. Then again, who am I to expect Aaron Spelling shows to demonstrate integrity?
[User Picture]
Date:April 27th, 2007 02:39 pm (UTC)
And this, my friends, is the subtle difference between feminism and feminazi-ism. Feminism says "Hey, I don't think that portrays women in a particularly good light, for the following cogent, rational reasons. I think I'll take action". Feminazi-ism says "Look at the pretty conspiracy."
[User Picture]
Date:April 29th, 2007 04:27 pm (UTC)
I complained because the character didn't follow the previous established pattern of behavior that would probably come from her character. And it's economically rewarding for shows to have pregnancies go to term. Does that mean I'm a tin foil hat person? I hardly think so.

Besides, what 'action' can I take against fictional characters in a TV show other than stop watching the show?

Feminazism? That's hardly a Godwin-friendly term.
[User Picture]
Date:April 29th, 2007 06:02 pm (UTC)
I complained because the character didn't follow the previous established pattern of behavior that would probably come from her character.
And your complaint ignored the social reality that getting pregnant often changes someone's plans. That a girl that gets pregnant and decides to carry to term isn't acting in a foolish manner, and that the character to which you refer, in particular, wasn't acting particularly out of character.
other than stop watching the show?
No, you pretty much hit the nail on the head. There's other mildly ineffectual stuff, but... no, you about covered it.
Feminazism? That's hardly a Godwin-friendly term
And by citing Godwin's law, you're committing one form of Quirk's exception.
[User Picture]
Date:April 25th, 2007 05:08 pm (UTC)
(Spoiler warning, and so on.)

I have to run to work so I don't have a lot of time for this, but I wanted to thank you for the 'women get raped' comic. I've been watching the DVDs of Battlestar Galactica, and it really irked me, what they did with Starbuck's character. I'm sure they had a reason for it, and if it didn't piss me off so much, I could probably wax philosophical about it, but it's just so. overdone. They could have easily gone ahead and explored the whole 'women must all get pregnant to keep the species going!' deal with the other female characters, as they were doing, and left Starbuck a free agent to balance things out and remind us that gone are the days when women can only be maidens, mothers, crones, and sluts.

(IMO, a lot of it has to do with lazy writing. The maiden, the mother, the crone, and the whore are all very powerful archtypes. Use them, and you don't NEED to exert yourself much more.)
[User Picture]
Date:April 25th, 2007 05:55 pm (UTC)
Heh. I was just about to get all snarky about the "over three hundred degrees below zero" when I realized you were talking about F, not C.

Yeah, yeah, my science elitist has to stretch his legs once in a while.

For four years it was actually my job to keep the damn cell dewar topped off with liquid nitrogen, so we got to talking about the "instantaneously frozen flesh" thing you see in movies and the like. It's not nearly that severe, but it's a delicate trick so I'd never actually suggest someone testing it. A quick dunk wouldn't do any more damage than the stunts with pouring it over your hand (though the potential for screwup is much larger). Since, for all intents and purposes, it's the water in you that's freezing, and liquid N2 is both less dense and has less than a quarter the heat capacity of water, freezing any part of a person solid actually takes several minutes and a LOT of N2. (Especially once the outer layer freezes and the thermal conductivity goes to crap.)

What you'd get in most cases (IIRC) is surface-freezing as the water in your skin cells flash-freezes and bursts all the cell membranes. The skin would turn white, then red, crack and bleed like the world's worst case of "chapping." (Or if you've ever had a wart frozen off.) It'll kill skin, it just won't go very deep. If enough damage was done, you'd get skin sloughing after it warmed up. The "instantaneous freeze" (see "Goldeneye") is pretty much a myth; there's just way too much heat to get out, and it's really hard to get at more than a fraction of it.
[User Picture]
Date:April 25th, 2007 06:58 pm (UTC)
Yup. In addition to the Leidenfrost effect, the specific heat of liquid nitrogen's pretty darn low. Our liquid nitrogen ice cream recipe calls for 4 cups half and half, 2 cups milk, 2 cups sugar, 2 teaspoons of vanilla, the flavoring ingredient, and _3_liters_ of liquid nitrogen. (That's a 3-liter bottle worth of LN2 to solidify a quart and a half of bovine lacteal fluid. Yes we're mixing english and metric here, but it's the units they come in.)

Possibly you could freeze somebody quickly immobile (if not solid) with some other chemical, perhaps butane or an alcohol. I dunno. I've heard Vodka gets dangerous at low temperatures because gets way colder than the freezing point of water while staying liquid, at which point it'll freeze your throat closed when you swallow it and may suffocate you. (This is apparently another hazard of the russian winter.) Part of that's the vodka's enough warmer than ln2 there's no Leidenfrost effect...
[User Picture]
Date:April 25th, 2007 07:45 pm (UTC)
Possibly you could freeze somebody quickly immobile (if not solid) with some other chemical, perhaps butane or an alcohol.

Solid's probably impossible ... while the better specific heat would help in taking heat away from the surface, you've got the simple problem of getting the heat out of the core tissue to the surface. The most you'd be able to freeze quickly would be a layer of skin before the thermal conductivity and shrinking of the driving delta T (between surface and coolant) reduced the heat removal to a trickle.

'bout the only way I think you could quickly freeze someone immobile would be to surround them with some low-specific heat or nearly-frozen liquid and freeze that, encasing them. A misting gun that mixes liquid N2 and water in a continuous jet? That'd be pretty deadly 'cause someone could breath that in. Even if thermal shock didn't get'em, the N2 would drive off all the oxygen in the area and suffocate the target. (And maybe the operator too...)

Still makes damn good icecream.
[User Picture]
Date:April 25th, 2007 06:07 pm (UTC)
I'm glad I'm not the only one who uses "logorrhea" in daily conversation. Such a good word! :-D
[User Picture]
Date:April 25th, 2007 11:10 pm (UTC)
I wish I had access to plane tickets or something similar to get to Cons and the like. Meeting awsomecrazy people (also known as comic-writers and co) sounds like fun.
I don't know if I'd ever want to stop living in Australia for any other reason
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
Date:April 26th, 2007 02:08 am (UTC)
Off-topic, but you might enjoy this since you introduced me to the LJ Dungeon last summer.


[User Picture]
Date:April 26th, 2007 02:38 am (UTC)
...to watch me, my sagging fishbelly streaked with faded purple stretch marks, grinding my cavernous manboobs together to present a tangled bouquet of chest hair, sweat, and alcohol.

Pish-tosh. It really wasn't as bad as all that. ;) Cavernous? Honey, you're barely an A cup...

Date:June 26th, 2007 04:30 pm (UTC)
Randy Milholland is large and hulking. He looks like a lumberjack temporarily working as a car mechanic (since he wore a lot of Davan-style workshirts that weekend), and has a voice that booms out like a cannon.

This part... so not true. I went to the airport to pick him up, and I was looking for the hulking lumberjack, a man who would make me feel truly tiny...and you have the naked pictures that show I am NOT. But he was...human-sized.

Good thing he’s almost – almost – as nice as Howard. Unless you piss him off. Then he body-slams you verbally.

Ok, this part was true, and I was so glad he did not get pissed at me while he was here.
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