Interview with actress Amber Benson at Dragon Con 2015

Every year, Dragon Con calls upon many big name guests, from a multitude of creative outlets. Included are many actors appearing in SciFi related series and movies, among all mediums imaginable. This year was no exception. In fact, the talent list, in my humble opinion, seemed a bit off center, with many more interesting characters than previous years.

I am not known to be a star struck kind of person, which made a stroll through the Dragon Con Walk of Fame somewhat enticing. I am much more fascinated by the reactions others have to their favorite celebrities, and the measures people take to get that special selfie with the character of their admiration. Through my traipsing of the Marriott Ballroom, I saw a lot of what I expected; famous folks with long lines of people waiting to get a photo signed, enjoying the scenes where people were truly engaged with their admirers, and feeling sad for the few (who will remain nameless) who were simply going through the motions to get through the lines.

After a few minutes, I was happily the recipient of a little bit of serendipity.  Rose Siggin, ‘Legless Suzi’ on the past season of American Horror Story (AHS), had just set up shop to meet her fans, and nobody else had noticed, yet. I was free and clear to walk up and say hello. Anybody who knows of Siggin, knows she is an extraordinary actor, who has overcome incredible physical challenges. Despite her hard persona on AHS, she is quite down to earth and humble. I found myself asking about her personal experience working on the set of AHS. Right from the first response, it was evident how much her family is the priority of her life. With her husband and daughter at her side, behind the table, she spoke of times when Kathy Bates endearingly chased her daughter on the set, the support of her family during filming, and the comradely among the cast (Bates, Bassett, Roberts). She has a true appreciation for her work and her life.

Adding to the fortune of my day, upon leaving the Marriot, I was informed I was selected to partake in a Q&A session with Amber Benson on the following day. Benson, who is well known for her portrayal of Tara on the cult classic, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is a returning guest to Dragon Con. She started her professional career as a child actor at age 13. Twenty-five years later, she has migrated to the world of writing and directing. Among the many commitments she had throughout the weekend, she started Thursday by leading a two day acting workshop. This is where the discussion began.

A very relaxed Benson walked into the room of reporters, nonchalantly mingling among the crowd while migrating to the front of the room. She sat on the stool in a crossed legged, yoga style position and connected immediately with all in the room. I describe the Q&A session as a discussion, because Benson we talked about the topics as a group. It was relaxed, and open, and informative. Her career as an actress, her love of the scary, her advice for actors breaking into the business – all of it. For more details to the life of the former Buffy star, take a look at the video:

Dragon Con 2015: Photo Gallery #1

TAM_DC_2015Sep04_1839 copyKeeping true to the Labor Day weekend tradition, a walk through downtown Atlanta produced visions of aliens, monsters, crime fighters and pretty much anything else the imagination can stir up. That’s right kids, Dragon Con 2015 came to town!

The 4-day event catered to 65,000+ participants, with 45 topical tracks of panels and discussions, varied musical entertainment, multiple dance parties to meet your fancy and all things sci-fi. There was a D&D room available all hours of the day and night for those gamers in need of a quick fix before heading to the next event.

This gallery is a glimpse of what could be seen with a stroll down Peachtree Street.

DRAGON CON PHOTO GALLERY BY GLENN ROBELEN

Finding the SCI in Dragon Con 2014

by Glenn Robelen

Ariel WaldmanIt’s Thursday, and Labor Day Weekend 2014 is less than 24 hours away. I am in the Atlanta Westin Hotel, riding down on a full elevator, heading to the lobby. Joining me are a few Star Trek characters, a couple of Science Fiction personas I didn’t know how to describe and a zombie. In the back of the elevator car, a family visiting for the weekend, who are entertainingly perplexed by the transformed folks traversing along side them. A guy in his late teens, a member of the family, blurts out, “What’s going on this weekend?” After a couple of moments of silence, I answer, “It’s DragonCon.” I further explain, “It’s a Sci-Fi convention, similar to ComicCon, with a significant influence of Dungeons and Dragons.” Upon reaching the lobby of the hotel, one of the Star Trek characters worked his way through the crowd, approached me, and said “The Dragon in Dragon Con represents much more than the game. It is a full Sci-Fi fantasy experience.” I have always known DragonCon as an extreme multi-sensory experience, but as I stood corrected, it hit me right then that I needed to reevaluate new meanings for the “Con”. I was brought to the fundamental question – what is the science that makes the science fiction fantasy worlds possible?

Over the years, DragonCon has always been defined as a fantasy getaway, to experience panel discussions with actors, writers, special effects directors, costumers and any other groups that supports the production of Sci-Fi based stories and games. Let’s not forget the dynamic costumes and cosplay, but that is a topic covered in a write-up by itself. In evaluating all of this, I realized I needed to find the Science and theories of Quantum Physics and Multiverses that set the premises of Science Fiction.

Stephanie OsbornAnybody who has been to DragonCon will tell you, with the hundreds of panels and discussions it’s a bit of a daunting task to identify the sessions to participate. Although sessions are all categorized by track, each session may only be linked to a single track; attempting to create a schedule across multiple tracks is enough to make anybody lose their patience, if not their mind. That said, it is possible to create your own theme to follow with significant tenacity, mine being Quantum Physics and Time Travel. The actuality of the situation was I had to jump from the Science Track to the  Space Track, to the Alternate History Track, and back to the Science Track to find the sessions to get my answers. As I began attending these sessions, I soon became aware that when talking about Time Travel and Quantum Physics, EVERYTHING is theoretical. Nothing is ever stated as fact, as research inference can change day to day, as new research results are uncovered. Even the simple concepts taken for granted, such as gravity, the speed of light, etc., will be phrased in terms of theories.

My first stop, the panel discussion Practical Time Travel. It was a perfect introduction to the topics of Time Travel and Multiverses, Wormholes and Blackholes. The conversation of the session was based on not only parallel universes, but also universes that have up to 12 dimensions. A three dimensional model is represented by the variables X, Y, Z and T (time.) In a nutshell, we as humans, don’t have the overt senses to innately relate to more than the three dimensions. With the limitations of the human body, we must go beyond base comprehension and imagination of what the human body can sense and interpret. Additional panels and discussions focused on this point providing richer insight to theorems and philosophies.

McKinnonStephanie Osborn, a former NASA Scientist and a current Novelist, brought to the discussion a series of slides outlining many scientific explanations of popular theories. She touched upon the Higgs boson (the God Particle) research in modeling our universe, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity in defining changes in time measurement in relation to space, Lorentzian Manifolds (wormholes) and Tipler Cylinders as possible theories of time travel models and multiverse theories of Cosmic String and M-Theory to describe theories of time traversing to specified destinations. Osborne is a renowned writer who applies her advanced training in Physics, Astronomy, Chemistry and Mathematics to create a series of Cosmological Mysteries. Her uncanny ability to explain the models of time travel possibilities, based on actual NASA scientific research and accepted hypotheses, gave a true sense of validation, as she strives to do in all of her writing.

Also in the panel was Nicole Gugliucci, PhD, who enlightened the crowd with theories related to the Universe’s cosmic existence and evolution since its Big Bang origin. Gugliucci focuses her research on low radio frequencies emitted from our galaxy and galaxies beyond. Focused on the hypothesis that low frequency radio telescopes can identify hydrogen from the early universe, the interpretation of this data used to derive further theories for research. She contributed significantly to the conversation, specifically when discussing quasars and black holes.

GugliucciIn her later panel, Chasing the Signal: Secrets of the First Galaxies, Gugliucci explained the utilization of an array of up to 32 low frequency radio telescope strategically plotted in proximity to each other (low farms), allowing her and her research team to gather data and create colorful models of the universe, based on the existence Hydrogen atoms. All of this mind bending data feeds into her understanding of Intense Universe Inflation and the belief that the universe holds many secrets, with many more discoveries to be made.

Tying this multitude of scientific theories together was the woman who claims to have a Masters in Disasters, Mika McKinnon. McKinnon has educational training in Physics and Geological Physics, McKinnon is a renowned Science Consultant to many movies and television series, as well as respected writer for space.i09.com and Physics Today. In addition to participating in the panel of Practical Time Travel,  she was a panelist in Science is Stranger than Fiction (Science Track) and The Best News that Wasn’t (Space Track.)

Matthew P. LowryHer dynamic energy, no pun intended, set a precedent of excitement in explaining the possibilities of Physics, Cosmology, and Time Travel, while presenting hard scientific data in an everyday conversational style. McKinnon has served as a consultant to Stargate and numerous other series, pilots and big screen endeavors, yet still put forth a playful, though cerebral explanation of Time and Physics Theories. Her favorite theory seemed to be about time travel and cloning from one time orientation to another. In another theory she explained time travel as speeding through space — first eluded to in Einstein’s theory of relativity, Time Dilation — in essence, racing through time to get to the future. Like all the panelists, McKinnon expressed uncertainty about traveling to the past, agreeing that while mathematically possible, there are as yet no universally accepted theories of how to do it.

I had the opportunity to sit down with McKinnon and get her thoughts on the definition of Time, Time Travel and Multiverses. Look out for the video interview, where she goes into an everyday description of these theories, coming soon to the Target Audience Magazine site.

Annalee NewitzAs if all this were not mind blowing enough, there was the presentation Staring into the Multiverse, given by Matthew P. Lowry, the Skeptical Physics Professor. An explanation of advanced telescopes and spectra lines (color waves) in support of the Big Bang, Quantum Foam and Intense Universe Inflation began the conversation, with the real fun still to come. It all became much more enriching when Lowry began dabbling in the theories of Multiverses, and specifically Tegmark’s four level theory of Multiverses. The basic premise of the theory — which is mathematically supported– is that multiple universes exist and that new universes are created with every decision and all possible outcomes. The best example of this theory would be paradoxical question of Schrödinger’s cat. A cat is in a closed box. There is an equal chance the cat has been poisoned within the box, based on chance circumstances. To all outside the closed box, the cat is in both a state of living and a state of being dead. Tegmark claimed two independent universes would exist for each state of the cat. Could you imagine if a person had a choice of 17 hair products to use in the morning, and the mathematical possibilities of all 17? I make this statement in jest to exemplify the enormity of the theory, where mathematical reasoning often leads to philosophical reasoning in our struggle to conceptualize the mind blowing rationale of the dimensions we don’t see, the universes that may or may not exist and the application to our own lives.

Todd Roberts (Hampson)With all of this stated, Physics, along with the study of Life, Astronomical, Chemical and Earth Sciences, provides infinite possibilities of existence based on mathematical probabilities and modeling. Quantum Physics takes these disciplines further, creating possible alternate universes and new realities that are the makings of incredible fantasy world for games, movies and many other story telling media. The measurement of time is a constant discussion in the world of Theoretical Physics, and is inseparable from the definition of Spatial Dimension, a term of questionable accuracy given the dimension may be based on plane that is not spatial at all. I would not be surprised if Quantum Physicists derives a dimension that we will never see or feel. (Maybe the concept of dark energy falls into this category?)

With recent advancements of CERN and recent discoveries regarding Particle Acceleration, there are so many more possibilities realized within our universe. Who is to say that all of these fantasy worlds are actually fantasy? Will we someday be able to clone ourselves to different points of time, or maybe traverse through a wormhole to get to another century? Not only do these questions fuel the creativity of the Science Fiction supporting DragonCon, they open the doors of understanding the universe potential while giving insight to the Human Race.

 

The following are DragonCon Panel Discussions, with participating panelists, referenced in this article:

 

Practical Time Travel – Alternate History

Dr. Nicole Gugliucci

Mika McKinnon

Stephanie Osborn

Harry Turtledove

Dr. Scott Vigué

 

The Myth and Realities of Steam Power – Alternate History

Jonathan Strickland

Dr. Scott Vigué

 

Chasing the Signal: Secrets of the First Galaxies – Science

Dr. Nicole Gugliucci

 

Science is Stranger than Fiction – Science

Mika McKinnon

Annalee Newitz

Tedd Roberts

David Shiffman

Ariel Waldman

 

Staring into the Multiverse – Science

Matthew P Lowry – Physics Instructor

 

The Best News that Wasn’t – Space

Mika McKinnon

Roy Kilgard

 

Creating Great Science Non-Fiction – Science

Fraser Cain

Liz Heinecke

Lee Johnson

Annalee Newitz

 

The 37th Atlanta Jazz Festival – Fun, Friends, Music

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Memorial Day Weekend in Atlanta comes with the seductive, resonating music in midtown, alongside the colorful blossomed flowers and the sweet smell of honeysuckle. The Atlanta Jazz Festival kicked off its 37th year with an explosion on Friday night, May 23 and the multi-sensory vibrancy continued through Sunday, May 25.

This year’s festival included the introduction of a third stage, the Locals Stage – highlighting local performers, known among the Jazz enthusiasts within the Atlanta Jazz Circuit. This, in combination with the International Stage and the Main Stage, there was always a place to be.

99hAs I drove through the Piedmont Park neighborhood, looking for the one parking spot that all of the others have missed, I watch the parade of families migrating through the streets towards the park, all with expressions of calm excitement and happiness. It created a sense of excitement for me, not only will I be experiencing some incredible jazz music, I am about to interact with the loyal jazz crowds, whom all have the sole purpose of enjoying time with loved ones, enjoying the musical interludes among the park. No hidden agendas, just relaxation in the park on a holiday weekend. 99f

Upon entry to Piedmont Park from the Tenth Street entrance, local jazz radio stations are the first encountered, having claimed the primo real estate with tents in order to greet the visitors. To the right is the Meadow, and is the home for the Main Stage on the giant lawn. Straight ahead is Vendor’s Alley, with an incredible assortment of food, arts, crafts along side a few big product promotions. Hey, what’s a festival without a few freebies from the large sponsors promoting autos, coffee and wine?

96bAs has been true for the previous decades, friends and families planted themselves on the lawns, under trees and anywhere that provided a comfortable location for the day. Picnic baskets could be seen from all vantage points, as group meals were being enjoyed throughout the day and night. Over the three days of the festival, not a single disgruntled visitor could be found.

96fWalking further, and over the Clara Meer Bridge, one was given the option of going to right to the Local Stage, or to the left to the International Stage. Both, of which, provided a much more intimate musical experiences compared to the Main Stage, with smaller crowds and a higher level of musician to audience interaction. At these stages, you could find the loyalists, who danced and relaxed at their stage of choice, inspired by the quality of the intimate settings and organic music. 96e

A simple walk through the festival provided a variety of musical talent, beyond the performances on any of the stages. On the Clara Meer Bridge was a bluegrass band, equipped with a musical hand saw and banjo. Amongst the food vendor trucks was a trio of two trumpets and a trombone, which would not be complete without an entourage of dancing spectators.97a

A further walk introduced one to the various guitar players and vocalists. It was the little things among the crowds that truly gave the festival its charm and personality. 13d

But keeping true to the Festival’s main goal of providing organized musical talent, the Main Stage was the central point for the weekend. On the Main Stage, you could find performances by mainstream artists, such as the sultry vocals of the Roberta Gambrini  and Quartet succeeded by the melodic trumpet Roy Hargrove Quintet on Friday. 09dSaturday included the powerful vocals of Ester Rada, a contemporary R&B merging with a traditional orchestral jazz band by Russell Gunn’s Krunk Jazz Orkestra and a finale to the evening from Trumpeter, Christian Scott. 03c

The energy on the Main Stage continued on Sunday with the same velocity, and included world renowned Freddy Cole Quartet (Nat King Cole’s brother) on piano, the Space Age sound of Bill Frisell, Greg Leisz, Tony Scherr and Rudy Royston, and the artist to bring the weekend to a roaring finish, piano master and composer, Ahmad Jamal. 02a

01fIt was the Main Stage that fulfilled the true conventional expectations of a Jazz Festival. The powerfully soothing vocals of Roberta Gambarini truly set the weekend off with an engulfing grip that stayed strong, right through the pure genius of Ahmed Jamal, where a complex melodic piano composition that seemed so effortless and intuitive, yet playful. And in the middle of it all was the elaborate contemporary music from Russell Gunn’s Krunk Jazz Orkestra, that included a rap style composition, as well as a vocal performance from Dionne Farris.07a

06cThe Local Stage name was certainly misleading as there was no shortcoming in talent that appeared there. As a spectator, listening to the specialized musical performances just made you feel excited knowing you were a part of these artists sprouting lives’ work. 11aAt the local stage, performances by Willie Ziavino and the C.O.T Band, followed by the Brian Hogans Quartet could be seen on Saturday, while on Sunday, Darren English Quintet was followed by the Kemba Cofield Quartet.

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Of all of the stages, for no other reason than my own personal preference for the unconventional, I found myself spending a lot of my time at the International Stage. The intimate environment, and willingness of the artists to interact with the audience made one feel a part of the music that was being created on stage.

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Saturday was an eclectic day at the International Stage, including performances by the Edmar Castañeda Trio, the addictive vocals of Somi, followed by the Piano mastery of the Eldar among the Trio. Sunday opened uniquely with the Moroccan born Qanunist, Ali Amr. The gracious talents of Brazilian Guitarist, Diego Figueiredo and French and Dominican Vocalist, Cyrille Aimée then followed, and were then dominant forces for the remainder of the day, each making an unannounced appearance in the other’s production.

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04fOver the weekend, the biggest highlights at the International Stage began with Somi’s incredible embracement and engagement of her audience with her ability to sing from her soul. She concluded her set with the tune “Gingerly,” and it gave the crowd a boost of spontaneous fuel, with singing and dancing fans. Figueiredo amazed his fans with his incredible guitar dexterity and constant smile. The audience roared with his exquisite acustic performance of “The Girl From Ipanema.” And far from least, was the passionate and silky vocal performance of Aimée, that included a captivating Spanish rendition of The Doors,’  “People Are Strange.” It doesn’t get any better than this. 04d 98b

This year’s Festival also introduced a series of Educational Workshops, led by the stage talent. On Saturday, Roberta Gambrini instructed the Vocal Workshop while Roy Hargrove  gave the Trumpet Workshop. Airmen of Note lead a discussion on Effective Rehearsal Stratgies. Sunday began with Somi directed a talk on Inspiration and the Creative Process, and Danny Harper conversed on Negotiating the Changes. UGA Jazz Director David D’Angelo discussed Practice Techniques & Listening Sills. 05f

The 37th Annual Atlanta Jazz Festival has once again proven itself as a fore-front leader among US Cities Jazz Festivals, and has undoubtedly earned its ranking in global jazz events. I envision the 38th Annual Atlanta Jazz Festival will be even more outstanding.12e