Escaping From The Alien Con 2016

The Alien Con 2016 is the newest science fiction convention to come to Silicon Valley at the Santa Clare Convention Center on October 28-30, 2016. My goals for this particular con was to talk to Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica/Longmire), get the autographs of Katee Sackhoff, Jewel Staite (Firefly), and Marta Kristin (Lost In Space), and attend the Godzilla panels with the suit actors from 1954, 1985 and 2000 movies. Things didn’t quite work out that way because Alien Con wasn’t a regular science fiction convention. I was lucky to escape when I did.

Although I had a three-day pass for the weekend, I attended only Saturday. The programming for Friday wasn’t enough to overcome the fatigue of attending after work from my technical job (I did swing by to pick up the badges for my friend and I) and Sundry wasn’t enough to overcome the fatigue of being on my feet for seven hours on Saturday. Except for the Star Trek Las Vegas Con, most cons don’t have enough content to keep me preoccupied for the entire event.

Autograph Tickets

The first order of business was to pick up the autograph tickets that I’ve ordered through GrowTix (they also handled the ticketing for Silicon Valley Comic Con earlier this year). I originally had Angela Cartwright (Lost In Space) on my autograph list, but I got an email and a partial refund from GrowTix on Friday night that she cancelled her appearance. Except that she didn’t. She was at the autograph tables when I arrived.

A volunteer at the autograph ticket booth informed me that her autograph was available for cash only. Since she was charging a higher price than the autograph ticket I previously bought, I scratched her name off the autograph list.

The automatic partial refund also invalidated the QR code for my autograph tickets that I loaded into my iPhone Wallet. A volunteer called over a GrowTix representative, who, after I provided my email address, generated a new QR code for scanning and I got my autograph tickets.

Panels (Or Lack Thereof)

My friend and I went over to where the Battlestar Galactica and Godzilla panels were being held inside the Hyatt Regency hotel next door to the convention center. None of the volunteers knew exactly where the Magnolia and Napa rooms were and kept telling us to go up the escalator to where panels were being held but not the ones that we wanted. After we circled back and forth between the hotel (up escalator) and convention center (down escalator), we figured out that we needed to go underneath the escalator to find the Magnolia room.

We waited in a line for a half-hour until a volunteer announced that the Battlestar Galactica panel room would accept no more people. Since we found the Magnolia room, we went looking for the Napa room to get in line for the first of three Godzilla panels. With the narrow hallway crowded with people waiting in lines for different panels, we couldn’t find the Napa room. We did found ourselves at the side door to the Magnolia room, where volunteers ushered us and others into the two back rows of empty seats.

Since Edward James Olmos (Commander Adama) cancelled his appearance (“abducted” according to the Alien Con website), Katee Sackoff had the stage to herself. She told stories about her time on Battlestar Galactica and her guest appearances on The Big Bang Theory. When someone asked a question about the current season of Longmire, she left everyone in suspense by telling them to wait until next Tuesday for the new episode.

After that panel was over, we found the Napa room with the doors closed and a volunteer announcing that the Godzilla panels were cancelled as a translator wasn’t available. A different translator was available for the “Grilling with The Godzillas” dinner at a Korean BBQ restaurant that night and a Godzilla panel for Sunday morning.

My friend paid $199 to go to the Godzilla dinner, which became a gathering of hardcore fans. One person flew in from New York City, others drove up from Los Angeles and down from Seattle. Those Japanese suit actors really know how to party, as the scheduled two-hour dinner lasted four hours.

The Exhibit Hall

Alien Con had an exhibit hall at the far end of the convention center — and that’s where things got very strange indeed.

While walking all the way over to the exhibit hall, I’ve noticed several smaller technology conventions taking place that each occupied a large room. Like several of exhibitors at Alien Con, the focus was on Virtual Reality (VR) technology. With an abundance of Chinese attendees and Chinese characters on the display signs, it was impossible to tell what aspect of VR technology was the focus. When I inquired at each one, I was respectfully but firmly turned away from company events being held for the employees.

The first thing you see when walking into the exhibit hall is a massive foam replica of the Psychlo alien ship from “Battlefield: Earth” by L. Ron Hubbard dominating the floor, someone playing a Psychlo alien that looked like a short ape in a space suit on elevator boots (the Psychlos are 12-feet tall and weigh 1,000 pounds), and two tables with L. Ron Hubbard books for sale. Considering that L. Ron Hubbard has been dead for 30 years, I found it surprising to find a booth dedicated to his work.

Coincidentally, I started reading “Battlefield: Earth” before the convention since Amazon had the ebook on sale for $1.99 USD. The book itself was surprisingly good. This got me interested in reading the “Mission Earth” ten-volume series. I’ve read the first three books when first published as hardbacks in the 1980’s but lost interest in collecting the rest of the series. With Amazon offering each ebook for $5.39 USD, I’m reading the entire series from beginning to end.

A quick stroll around the exhibit hall didn’t reveal much of interest. Among the usual vendors that sold the same comics, posters and Funko POP dolls at every con in Silicon Valley, I came across a book booth that proved beyond a reasonable doubt that alien abductions were absolutely true. That should have tipped me off that I was entering the Twilight Zone.

The Alien Conspiracy Panel

Before entering the exhibit hall, I noticed a long line next to the doorway that wasn’t moving. As I got finished looking around, I’ve noticed that a portable stage went up and someone setting up table, chairs and microphones. I went over to stand with about 30 people. A moment later, a thousand people from outside filled the space between the stage and the L. Ron Hubbard spaceship. This was an angry crowd that was verbally demanding their money back, screaming “Bullshit!” at the top of their lungs, and threatening to murder the guy setting up the stage. This felt like a Trump rally that was ready to explode in violence.

For a very intense 30 minutes, I listened to crowd around me.

Most have stood in line for four hours to attend an alien conspiracy panel originally scheduled in a small room inside the hotel. Unlike the line for the Battlestar Galactica panel, these people weren’t willing to find something else to attend. Hence, the angry line and panel got relocated to the exhibit hall.

One women described in great detail about how aliens abducted her from a family farm in Ohio and aborted her unborn baby when she was a teenager. Someone else mentioned that the “believers” attending the panel were angry old white people, possibly dying from various radiation-induced cancers, and that the next generation won’t continue on with the “work” that they spent decades pursuing. The guy making Trump jokes soon found himself surrounded by several men telling him to shut up or else.

A woman and a man stepped up on the stage. The audience started clapping and cheering, surging forward and pushing me closer to the stage. The women breathlessly announced her credentials as a university professor in the paranormal and extraterrestrial phenomena since the 1970’s, that she interviewed thousands of people who got abducted by UFOs, and how Wikileaks will finally reveal the government’s program to cover up the existence of UFO’s.

At that moment, I felt an urgent need to leave. When I saw a man walking past me and forcing his way back through the angry crowd behind me, I stepped into his wake to follow him. Soon several others were following us. We went our separate ways behind the L. Ron Hubbard spaceship. I circled back through the vendor booths to exit a side door and escape to freedom.

The Autographs

After that bit of excitement at the exhibit hall, I’ve decided to get my autographs done and get out before the police in riot gear breaks up the weird and pissed off alien conspiracy crowd.

While I was waiting for Katee Sackhoff to autograph a Longmire picture, I asked a her question that’s been bothering me as a fiction writer: “What’s the fundamental character differences between Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace (Battlestar Galactica) and Vic Moretti (Longmire)?”

These two characters are both strong women who wear uniforms, carry guns and kick ass. In my mind, they were the same character. As a writer who occasionally write short stories with female protagonists, I couldn’t accept that and felt like I was missing something obvious.

Katee told me that she played the characters quite differently from each other: “Starbuck takes everything seriously. Vic is more sarcastic about life and doesn’t take things as seriously.”

That’s something to think about.

Attending The Heroes & Villains Fan Fest 2016

Last Saturday I had an opportunity to attend the Heroes & Villains Fan Fest 2016 at the San Jose Convention Center after a friend got two Saturday passes for the price of one. A fan fest wasn’t something I would normally attend, as it doesn’t appeal to me as a writer and I’m unfamiliar with most of the stars who attended. Since I’m a big fan of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, I made the panel with Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson) and Chloe Bennet (Daisy), and a signed autographed from Chloe, the focus of my day.

The show fitted inside the main hall with space to spare, making it smaller than the Big Wow Comic Con before it hulked out into the Silicon Valley Comic Con earlier this year. The autograph booths lined the back wall. A small number of dealer booths occupied the middle of the floor, mostly merchandise and artists. The kid zones had a zip line and bungee jumping. The panel stage off to the far side had a wide open space around it for fans who didn’t want to line up to sit down for the panel.

As I surveyed the autograph booths during my initial walk through, it was obvious who was popular and who wasn’t. The stars who won the popularity contest was “Guardians of The Galaxy” (Michael Rooker) and “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (Clark Gregg/Chloe Bennet). Everyone else, meh. Then again, I might be biased here in my opinion.

The “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” panel started with a recap video of Season Three that led up to cliffhanger scene of Daisy being emotionally devastated by the loss of her boyfriend who sacrificed himself to save everyone else, and, six months later, she’s on the run from Coulson and his team for using her superpowers to demolish buildings. Clark and Chloe came on stage to answer questions from the moderator and the audience. Although Season Four is several weeks away from premiering on TV, they couldn’t say too much about what was forthcoming.

Chloe was a lot of fun while standing in line to get her autograph. When mom called she turned her phone around for everyone to say hi. When a couple presented their baby in a one-piece Jedi robe, she picked up the baby and posed for a picture with the mother. She also flashed her well-toned arm on request. When my friend asked how dark Daisy would go in Season Four, she found a still photo on her phone that showed Daisy as a bad ass emo chick with too much eye shadow (something that she mentioned several times during the panel that she would like to have less of for her character).

As for the autographed picture that I got, I picked the one showing Daisy leaning back against an S.H.I.E.L.D. vehicle on an airport tarmac. Out of the five pictures available at the autograph table, this was the only one that had a “light” background. All the others had “dark” backgrounds. I’m not entirely pleased that Daisy had gone off to the dark side at the end of Season Three. Of course, this could be a bit of misdirection going into the new season. It’s always possible that Hydra will sprout another head and produce a new villain for everyone to chase after.

After the panels were over for the day, The Rayford Bros took over the stage as Batman (guitar), Robin (bass) and Riddler (drums), singing old rock and roll songs from the 1950’s and 1960’s. I recorded a video of their “Back to The Future” tribute of playing “Johnny Be Goode” by Chuck Berry, and posted it on my YouTube channel. My first fan fest ended on a satisfying high note.

This Blog Post Is A Dumpster Fire

The newest catch phrase on the Internet is “dumpster fire,” which I’ve been hearing in reference to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign (or lack thereof). If you paid attention to the election so far (most voters won’t tune in until after Labor Day in September), the short-fingered vulgarian turned political pretender had a horrible week: attacking a Muslim family whose Army son died in Iraq, proclaiming that his sacrifices in business was equivalent to a family losing their son in war, attacking the Republican leadership for not supporting him, complaining about a crying baby at a rally, and the list goes on and on and on.

A real dumpster fire is no fun.

My roommates and I had rented a three-bedroom triplex in Cupertino for six years when we decided to move out in 2001. The Hong Kong owner was happy to see us go, as we were only paying $1,600 per month in rent. With the Silicon Valley real estate market going insane in the run up to the Dot Com Bust, the owner doubled the rent to $3,200 per month and found tenants shortly after we moved out.  If he still owns the triplex today, which is down the street from the new Apple campus under construction, it wouldn’t surprise me if the apartments went for $5,000 per month.

Since we were parting ways and moving into smaller apartments, we decided to throwaway a lot of stuff. I got tasked with acquiring a 10-yard dumpster that got delivered to the parking alley behind the triplex. Sofa, love seat, kitchen table, books, old electronics and the accumulated crap from inside the attached garage went straight into the dumpster. We had so much stuff that it towered over the four-foot walls of the dumpster, presenting a problem on how compact everything below the wall height before I could call the company to remove the dumpster.

On the Sunday morning of our last week at the apartment, we learned that the dumpster caught on fire. The bonfire got so hot that it melted the glass pane in the laundry room window ten feet away. The firefighters quickly put the fire out. Since they initially believed it was spontaneous combustion that caused the fire, they took a fire ax to the garage door lock and found an empty garage. The arson investigator concluded from eyewitness reports that a passing homeless person tossed a burning match into the dumpster after lighting up a cigarette.

The dumpster fire reduced our towering possessions to two feet of soggy ashes. While that created room to throw out more stuff, it created more headaches for me. Even though my name wasn’t on the lease, the property manager held me responsible since I ordered the dumpster that got delivered too close to the building and I was the only one among my roommates who had rental insurance. The roommate whose name was on the lease decided to disappear for a while, leaving me stuck with winding down the apartment.

After several weeks of phone calls with the insurance investigator and the property manager, the insurance company declined coverage as the fire took place outside of the apartment. The owner’s insurance policy covered the damages. The property manager wanted to pursue legal action against me, but the owner declined to do so since his rental income doubled. I’m damned lucky to get out of that dumpster fire.

Or so I thought.

A year later I moved in with a different set of roommates who found a nice apartment in a San Jose triplex. The property manager for that triplex also managed the Cupertino triplex. We had to meet in her office to sign the rental agreement. She spent an hour roasting me for what happened at the old apartment in front of my new roommates, whom I’ve already told about and they enjoyed me being on the hot seat. She then surprised them by announcing that they were getting the apartment because she trusted me as being the only responsible adult among them. They didn’t like being burned that way.

Deleting Drive-By Hate Comments

One of the most popular pins I have on Pinterest is an editorial cartoon from three years ago, where an official complains about a breastfeeding mother in public while standing in front of a Victoria’s Secret store with a model displaying boobs for commerce. My comment to this obvious irony was an ironic snark: “Nursing a child in front of a Victoria’s Secret store is criminal. Guys don’t need any more help in visualizing boobs.” This week I got a drive-by hate comment regarding this pin, which I promptly deleted as inappropriate.

Here’s the unedited comment from Dee Gee:

Your disgusting. The only one sexualizing a completely innocent act of feeding a baby is YOU! You’re the problem. Not that mother who’s natural instinct to her child crying is feeding her. “Why don’t you pump and bring a bottle? It would make everyone comfortable.” BECAUSE IM NOT GOING TO PUMP FOR 2 DAYS TO MAKE YOU COMFORTABLE FOR 10 FREAKING MINUTES!!!!!!! Ugh! Put a blanket over your own head you sexist.

For the record, I have no problem with breastfeeding in public. I’ve seen mothers use a blanket to cover up while breastfeeding on park benches to mothers who take off their shirts to let it all hang out while breastfeeding on buses. Of course, I live in Silicon Valley. I’m used to dealing with people from different cultures from around the world, speaking languages other than English and behaving in ways that I wouldn’t behave as a white metrosexual.

But I do have a problem with this comment.

The woman who wrote this projected her hatred on to me, calling me disgusting and sexist, and that I was sexualizing a situation I’ve never actually experienced. Why? Because I pointed out the irony of the double standard that exists in the United States regarding public nudity as expressed in the editorial cartoon, where breastfeeding is scandalous behavior but advertising boobs for commerce is not.

Sometimes the irony gets lost on some people who are too literal-minded. It then becomes their God-given right to leave a drive-by hate comment; as if their insights will change anything in America (the rest of the world doesn’t have this puritanical hang-up). The only thing this comment show is how ignorant the person is.

What makes this more interesting is that Dee Gee repinned my pin to one of her boards. She’s probably unaware that I’ve deleted her comment 15 minutes after I received the email notification and 45 minutes after she posted it. Her one and only follower—probably mom—won’t ever see her comment. By repinning my pin without her comment, she is effectively endorsing my ironic snark regarding the underlying situation.

Her “thank you” board is a blend of news items from the right-wing echo chamber that my lily-white, tea-party loving relatives in Idaho send to me all the time. This kind of nonsense since the beginning of the Obama Administration in 2009 is what turned the 2016 presidential election into a reality TV show, dooming the Republican Party to the same fate as the Whig Party in 1848.

As a content creator, I have the God-given power to delete comments willy-nilly. I don’t delete comments unless they are inanely stupid—and this one qualifies. A drive-by hate comment isn’t something I want to promote on Pinterest or anywhere else.

Update 07 August 2016: Not surprisingly, Dee Gee’s Pinterest page went away. I guess mom didn’t like the drive-by hate comments.