Another panel I made it to was John Scalzi's "A Trip to the Creation Museum." I'd previously read Scalzi's blog post about the visit and had a great time reading it. I knew it'd be even more fun in a room full of like-minded folk, so I made sure to get there to hear it live -- I even managed to get a seat. :)
Scalzi explained in the panel how this came about. The Creation Museum (which is exactly what you think it is) was built within a reasonable distance of Scalzi's home, and someone asked if he was going to go. He explained exactly how unlikely it would ever be that he'd visit such a place, even under considerable duress. A bunch of people thought it'd be hilarious for him to go, though, so he finally made a deal -- he'd go if the people who thought it'd be hilarious raised $250, which he would donate to Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. He says on his blog:
As of 11:59 and 59 seconds (Pacific Time) last night, the "Drag Scalzi's Ass to the Creation Museum" donation drive raised $5,118.36. That's 256 times the admission price to Creation Museum, a multiple I find both amusing (from a dork point of view) and gratifying, since it means what tiny bit of income the creationists running the museum gain by having me pass through the door will be utterly swamped by the amount I'm going to send to Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Would that it worked that way for every admission to that place.
For those of you who were wondering, some statistics: The first milestone for this fundraiser, the $250 to get me to go at all, got passed within the first hour of posting the challenge. The $1000 mark got passed about 12 hours later. The $5,000 marker got passed last night sometime between 6 and 11pm, while I was out on a date with my wife, celebrating our anniversary. I'm particularly pleased about hitting the $5k mark. The least amount donated was $1; the most was $300. More than one person donated more than $250, usually with the notation "Ha! Now you HAVE to go!" Multiples and variations of $6.66 were amusingly common, although the $5 suggested amount was the amount most received.
The people at Americans United were reportedly delighted by the donation, if a bit bemused by the curiously specific amount. :)
The panel was indeed humorously awesome and I'm very glad I went. The visit report is funny too, scaled down a bit to take the solo experience into consideration. Highly recommended.
I went to another panel that I'm not going to name specifically, since I want to do a bit of constructive analysis, although I suppose anyone who gets ahold of the program book could figure out which one it was, since I have to give some detail to get my point across. :/
All right, fine, it was on world creation for writers, how to create a realistic world for your science fiction story. I've been to such panels before, and they've all gone pretty much the same way, which isn't a compliment. What tends to happen is that there are several scientist types on the panel, one or two who are into the astronomy and planet creation end of things, and one or two who are into the smaller scale geology and biology end. The logical thing to do is to start out with the creation of the star system and the planets, talking about dust clouds and star spectra and magnetic fields and galactic arms and gravity and such. You have to have all that before you can have any small scale geology, much less anything biological, so starting with the bigger picture makes sense.
The problem is that the panelists get used to the idea that the stars-and-planets people are doing all the talking at the beginning, and... they usually just keep on doing all the talking. One person in particular has been on every similar panel I've ever attended; this individual really likes to talk, to jump in, and even to interrupt. To give the person credit, they're a good speaker and know a lot about the subject and are very eager to share that knowledge, which is cool. But, as has often happened before, this person plus the other stars-and-planets person ended up doing about 85% of the talking. The biologist did about another 10-12%, and the geologist squeezed in whatever shards of speakage were left.
This isn't an ideal way to run a panel, and the moderator did nothing to get things under control.
Again, there was a lot of great info presented here, but it was frustrating to watch all the same. And judging by the look on the geologist's face through the last third or so of the panel, that person might well be thinking twice next time an invitation shows up to be on panels. Or maybe their lunch didn't agree with them. At any rate, they didn't seem to be having a great time.
I think (if anyone cares what I think) that in future it'd be better to split this panel into two. Let the stars-and-planets people have a panel all to themselves. They'll do a great job with it, and it'll end up being essentially the same panel they've given for however many years, without the bother of having to talk over and interrupt those other folks. Give the smaller-scale geologists and the biologists -- maybe add a botanist and an oceanographer to round things out -- their own panel, talking about smaller scale landforms, climates, biomes, and what sorts of life might develop under different conditions. That'd be at least as useful to SF writers as the stars-and-planets panel, and separating them out seems to be the only way to give the smaller scale planetbuilding speakers a chance to get more than five sentences in edgeways. Everyone wins.