09 May 2005

SF and Smart Shoppers

I went to the Oregon Mensa Regional Gathering held this weekend in Vancouver, WA. There were approximately 120 paid attendees, some from as far away as southern California, and another contingent down from "the other Vancouver", Vancouver, BC. It was an excellent turnout, and the raffle and auctions raised over $2000 for the Mensa scholarship fund.

Although the theme was history, the presentations ranged over a wide variety of topics. One local luthier discussed the broad concepts of "resonance" in instruments and art, including the relationship of sandpaper grits and types of wood as they affect the ultimate matching or mis-matching of the various parts of an instrument, which in turn controls the transmission and transmutation of mechanical energy to sound. As a classically-trained violinist myself, I could resonate with some of what he was saying, but I had to leave partway thru his talk.

The after-dinner keynote speaker was Donna Shirley, who is currently the Director of the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle. Founded by Paul G. Allen and Jody Patton,
The Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame (SFM) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization created to inspire new generations to reach beyond the present, imagine the future and explore the infinite possibilities of the universe.
My interest in science fiction reaches back long before "Star Trek", and I was introduced to SF fandom in the late '70s. I have long believed that SF is a genre that excels in stretching one's mind in new directions, with the ability to stimulate interest not only in the hard sciences, but also in sociology, history, economics, politics, art and religion, for starters. This view appears to be shared by the founders and staff of the SFM.

In my opinion, good science fiction explores what could be as well as what might have been. It can draw parallels to current cultures and conflicts, and by placing them in unfamiliar context, allow readers (and viewers) to examine them more dispassionately and perhaps with greater insight. It can kindle dreams of where mankind might want to go, or paint burning images of nightmare scenarios we must strive to avoid. It can explore issues of hatred and tolerance, control and independence, similarity and diversity. It can entertain us, stimulate us, provoke us, and teach us about ourselves and the universe.

Needless to say, I very much enjoyed Donna's presentation, and I've put SFM on my list of places to visit Real Soon Now. By the way, if Donna Shirley's name sounds familiar, she was for many years the manager of the Mars Exploration Program at JPL, and the original leader of the team that built the Sojourner Rover and sent it to Mars in 1997. She has written about this part of her life in the book "Managing Martians". (By the way, she suggested buying the paperback version because the hardbound version contains some errors.)

Overall, the RG was great fun, made even better when I sold two of my pieces to fellow Mensans. One piece was a clapperless bell made of Gombeira (Swartzia laxiflora) from Brazil, and the other was the Egg of a Different Color. Definitely a good weekend!



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