Monday, February 7, 2011

My Capricon 2010 Schedule

As those of you who follow my free newsletter know, I'm appearing at Capricon 2010, in suburban Chicagoland this weekend.  (February 11-13, 2010)

Here's a rundown of the events/panels I'm appearing at.  Hope to see you there!

D & D - The Beginning - Friday, 02-11-2011 - 11:30 am to 1:00 pm - Lake Michigan B
C'mon, we've all played a little D & D at some point, right? Stephen Sullivan joined TSR as part of the development team for Dungeons & Dragons. Come get the inside scoop on how the world's most famous role playing game came to be.
Stephen D. Sullivan

Breaking Into the Gaming Industry - Friday, 02-11-2011 - 2:30 pm to 4:00 pm - Ravinia B (Teen Lounge)
Got an idea for the next D & D or WoW? Learn from the pros how to get into the gaming industry and succeed.
David Abzug
Brian Babendererde
Stephen D. Sullivan (M)

A Celebration of Bad Films, Part Deux - Friday, 02-11-2011 - 8:30 pm to 10:00 pm - Willow
We couldn't cover them all last year, so welcome back for Part Deux! They are the films you claim never to have seen, but when they come on cable, you can't turn away. You might even have a copy on DVD hidden behind the more sociably acceptable porn. What movies make Plan 9 From Outer Space look like a masterpiece of plotting, character, and special effects? 
Br. Guy Consolmagno
Lee Darrow
Dave McCarty
Paul McComas (M)
Stephen D. Sullivan

Reading: Stephen Sullivan - Saturday, 02-12-2011 - 10:00 am to 10:30 am - River AB (Cafe)

Autographing: Paul McComas & Stephen D. Sullivan - Saturday, 02-12-2011 - 2:30 pm to 4:00 pm - Autograph Table

Escapist Gaming - Saturday, 02-12-2011 - 8:30 pm to 10:00 pm - Birch B
For most people, a primary childhood escape was "make believe". As "adults", we still escape through games - role playing, board games, online, and others. What are your favorite escapist games?
Donald J. Bingle
Matthew Duhan
Melissa Fichter
Eileen Maksym
Stephen D. Sullivan (M)

Tentacle Love - Sunday, 02-13-2011 - 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm - Birch B
The influence of Lovecraft and Cthulhu on today's SF and horror.
Brian Babendererde
Valli Hoski
Stephen D. Sullivan (M)
Gene Wolfe

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Bigfoot: The Definitive Guide

History Channel - Original Air Date: 2/2/11 (?)

This show claims that its team of "top scientists" will search the globe for bigfoot, doubt its existence, discover shocking new evidence, and wonder if we've been searching for the wrong creature all along.  In 2009, North Americans reported 250 bigfoot sightings.  The show plots 10,000 sightings on a world map to determine patterns.  More than 95% of all reported sightings are in Asia or North America; nearly 70% of these are at high altitude with dense tree cover.  Hotspots include the Himalayas (Yeti), Indonesia (Orang Pendek), Central Asia (neanderthals), and North America (Sasquatch).  The wilds of British Columbia have one of the highest concentrations of sightings in the world.  The show then does numerous recreations of sightings (with quite good special effects).  Team members include Jeff Meldrum (from the stone-throwing MonsterQuest incident), Ian Redmond (bigfoot hunter), Anna Nekaris, Bill Sellers, and Jack Rink.

They look at video footage, trying to sort out the hoaxes -- like the one from Bamf (sp?) Canada (a local promotion) -- and images too blurry to be any good.  Once they've eliminated these, there's not much left.  The team isn't surprised, as animals can be hard to photograph -- and cite the recent discovery of the bili ape.  (I however, would point out the pictures of this ape are much, much better than any bigfoot evidence, despite all the bigfoot searching.)  They look at a "tree structure" in the woods (which looks like a tree fall to me) and speculate it may be territory marking by bigfoot.  They do some moonlight hunting and engage in tree knocking and "call blasting" and even use tracking dogs.  Of course, they find nothing.

Then they look at the Patterson film.  Redmond and Nikaris point out the "natural gait" of the creature (they clearly haven't seen the clips of Bob Heoronimous walking with his natural gait); Sellers and Rink are skeptical, pointing out that Patterson was a scoundrel.  Journalist Mike McCleod relays that Patterson never held a steady job, claimed to be an "inventor," and published a book on Bigfoot (Do Abominable Snowmen of America Really Exist?) a year before featuring a sketch similar to what he later claimed to photograph.  Patterson also borrowed money to direct a film about bigfoot and was down on his luck.  The whole thing seems to good to be true.  The team remains split on the authenticity, and I'm still disappointed these "experts" apparently haven't seen the National Geographic Is It Real special I referenced above, which convinced me the Patterson film is a fake.  The team does dismiss the "skunk ape" Florida sightings as most likely "pet" chimps (or other apes) released by their owners.

Then Meldrum looks at the famous Shipton Yeti prints, which he's convinced are real -- if perhaps pathological because of the twin big toes on one foot.  (He ignores the idea that the print is something else distorted by snow melt.  None of the rest of the photos look like the "footprint" cast to me.)  The show points out that only one species of primate is known to live in cold weather, and speculates that Yeti might have adapted, too.  Redmond, at least believes that Yeti don't live in the snow, but merely pass through.  He also believes in a lowland yeti called "mandi baru" (sp).  They mention the yarin as well, and quickly turn to gigantopithecus as a possible explanation.  Could Bigfoot be this human offshoot/ancestor?  There are sightings of such creatures worldwide, especially in Russia, where they are called almas.  They recount a Red Army encounter with such a creature and then talk about the "hobbit" found in SE Asia and orang pendek.  Then they turn to homo heidelbergensis, a large-framed human offshot, as a likely suspect.  We then get stories or bigfoots/wildmen chasing and kidnapping women.

Jack Rink then suggests that bigfoot isn't a throwback, but rather modern humans who have deliberately adapted to the wild -- possibly as part of a shamanistic ritual.  In British Columbia, one First Nations archeologist believes that Squamish nation initiates spent years training in the woods, covering themselves in moss to keep warm.  When these "wild people" were seen by members of other societies, they led to the legends.  The show then suggests that these shamanic traditions may continue even today, all over the world.  But is this enough to explain all the sightings worldwide?  The team weighs all the evidence and -- not surprisingly -- the skeptics remain skeptical and the believers remain believers.  What seems clear is that the Patterson film escalated sightings, but not all sightings are hoaxes or easily explained.  Bill Sellers points out that if these creatures were real, there should be more solid physical evidence.

With a title like Bigfoot: The Definitive Guide, one would hope for a show full of sightings and good science.  While we do get plenty of stories and sightings, a pretty good overview of the phenomenon, and a veritable catalog of bigfoots, bigfoot-like creatures, and suspects for what bigfoot could really be, the science beyond that cataloging is very much of the "I want to believe" variety rather than actual "how can we form a hypothesis and test it" science.  What we mostly get, rather than "good" science is speculation, lots and lots of speculation.