August 1st, 2006

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Conestoga report; part one...

We got back from Conestoga -- this weekend's science fiction convention in Tulsa -- yesterday afternoon, very tired, but thoroughly mellow from having had such a good time and seeing so many friends we rarely have a chance to see. And I was pleased to have had a chance to meet some of you there, so that I now can attach both a flesh-and-blood presence and a voice to your LJ names and to the words you write. To our surprise, we sold a satisfying quantity of books and tapes and CDs and prints -- plus my new collage book [see post at http://ozarque.livejournal.com/175632.html] sold in the art show. Which means that we covered all our expenses, and that was also mellowing. We had been prepared to have that not happen, because everybody right now is so worried by what gas prices and medical costs and [vamp till ready] are doing to everyone's budgets, and we were prepared to be all right with that ... but we didn't have to. Amazing. Shiny.

This was a special Conestoga -- the 10th anniversary of Conestoga itself, the 10th anniversary of Arkansas' own Yard Dog Press [celebrated by a Friday night Bubbas of the Apocalypse Pot Luck Social], and the 10th anniversary of publisher Meisha Merlin [celebrated by a Saturday night 10th Anniversary Bash]. Triple tens! And the Royal Gauntlet Educational Birds of Prey Program was there again this year, and was the convention's charity. Two of the falconers from Royal Gauntlet attended the Opening Ceremonies with hawk on forearm, and it was quite a sight: Hundreds of people clapping and carrying on -- loud, very loud -- and those two hawks absolutely indifferent to all the chaos, as calm and quiet and dignified and well-behaved as if they'd been sitting in a tree in some quiet meadow. It has to be seen to be believed.

My first panel was "SF Robots versus Today's Robots." I had been a bit uneasy about that one, thinking the moderator might head us straight into a discussion of the Singularity in its various hypothetical versions -- and had done some research to prepare for that possibility -- but I had a chance to talk to him for a few minutes ahead of the panel and found that that wasn't what he had in mind. He was interested in talking about (a) whether there is going to be a transition from the U.S. tradition of human-like robots to more sensible and varied shapes, or if our Inner Desire for a slave class we don't have to feel guity about is going to prevent that; and (b) what sorts of things future robots are and aren't going to be doing, compared with what they're doing now; and (c) the ethical implications and possible consequences (intended and unintended) of all that. It was a good panel, with the usual divide. On one side were those who (like me) are particularly interested in having robots that are able to assume a lot of the caretaking burden in the U.S. future -- which means that they have to be able to speak at least English, and perhaps other languages, in a fashion that will inspire trust in the frail, the ill, and the elderly -- and in having robots that will do practical humanitarian tasks like searching collapsed buildings and locating unexploded land mines. [I was also willing to confess to a deep and abiding desire for robots that will do housework.] On the other side were those who are more into military robots, robots that will mow the lawn and do construction work and highway repairs, robots that will drive trucks and pilot spaceships, and robots that will serve as supercomputers in every conceivable object and doodad that humans like to have around. Both sides were deeply interested in the nanorobots .... the ones tiny enough to go running around in the infrastructure of the human body accomplishing medical marvels.

We reached no agreement [not in just 55 minutes] on the question of whether robots are ultimately going to be a blessing to humankind or a threat to humankind -- perhaps the ultimate threat.

Interesting -- not only to the panelists but also, I believe (and hope), to the audience, judging by their comments and questions and body language. That matters to me. I have an abiding dislike for panels that are interesting only to the panelists, and do my best to subvert them when I find myself trapped on one.
ozarque figure

I was wrong. I was wrong. I was wrong....

I did a post here recently about the excellent Cingular commercial that fits nonhostile words to hostile body language (including intonation and tone of voice), and in the subsequent discussion I said that the advertising industry "doesn't seem to realize that commercials that repeat a single irritating sequence three times -- as in, 'Head ON! Apply diRECtly to the FOREhead!' -- are guaranteed to make those who see and hear them solemnly swear to suffer death by headache before they'll buy that product." Well.... I was wrong.

The July 31, 2006 issue of USA Today had a story about that commercial ("Headache commercial hits parody circuit, well, HeadOn," by Theresa Howard). I wasn't surprised to read that the ad had become an "in-joke" on cable television and was being parodied far and wide. I was only slightly surprised to read that Make has provided instructions for turning it into a ring tone; I know a few people who'd think that was funny and would expect everybody within hearing distance of their cell phone to think it was funny.

But I was flabbergasted to read that, according to the company's VP of sales and marketing, the ad has boosted the product's sales by fifty percent.

That is really surprising.
That is really surprising.
That is really surprising.