Saturday, July 11, 2009

ApolloCon 2009: literary rap, materials science and space panels

I stopped by at a filk session on Friday or Saturday night, since the parties weren't exactly hopping. One quiet guy who sat in the corner until then surprised us (well, at least me) with a Game of Thrones rap. "Rap" is not quite accurate. The song had a simple melody with Celtic motives, but the melody was peripheral to the lyrics, which he delivered rapid-fire, never stopping to catch his breath. As a recap of a series of 700-page books, the song lasted a solid 10 minutes (not that I was looking at the clock). It was impressive, to say the least. If I understood correctly, the guy said he wrote it himself.

Then a woman said this reminded her of "Hamlet in 5 minutes" song, and she sang -- or rapped it, as that song is more or less pure rap -- right there and then. That's the kind of talented people we have lurking at the fringes of filk circles.

Beg, Steal or Borrow: Precious Commodities in the Space Colony

Maybe it's just me, but I noticed a hint of a theme in this year's ApolloCon 2009 -- many panels were related to material sciences (no wonder, because Wil McCarthy was the Guest of Honor), or space (also not surprising, because, well, this is Houston, home of NASA). When you combine the two, you'll get panels like "Beg, Steal or Borrow: Precious Commodities in the Space Colony". I regret I missed most of it. I wanted to check out a tea tasting, conducted by Ziactrice first, and then I was too lazy to leave the tea tasting midway and head to the panel. (It was worth it, as I got to taste some awesome, smoky lapsang souchong.) When I finally got to "Beg, Steal or Borrow", the panelists must have decided that none of those methods will get them far, because they were talking of manufacturing precious commodities.

You can ship oxygen you make on the Moon to a space colony in a lower orbit, cheaper than you would ship it from Earth. If you are just shipping freight, you could have a robot shipping system. Most of it could be automated. You could use solar sails as far as the asteroid belt. You could mine materials in asteroids, process them, and move them wherever they are needed. In many cases, what you need is just a fraction of the mass of the asteroid, not the whole thing. On the other hand, you should be careful with the economics of asteroid mining. If you mine a 700-meter diameter cast iron lump, you may dump too much of a good thing into economy, creating inflation.

Material sciences, or habitat design was also the theme of another panel, "Architecture of the Future Living in a Materials World", but the panelists did hardly more than complain how hard it is to build, or maintain, houses in Houston, because Houston climate is so tough on buildings. Well, that wasn't all they said, but the discussion was mostly about the present, not the future.

Pictures from ApolloCon 2009 can be found in my photo gallery.

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