Saturday, 21 July 2012

ScopeX 2012: It also happened

I believe I've been to 3 ScopeX telescope and astronomy expos in my life. The first, probably in 2002, was a family thing and I didn't pay too much attention to the expo itself. The second time, in 2010, I went with my friend Nali, who won first prize in the raffle and got a nice, big telescope. It was also the first time that'd I'd intentionally met my friend Jane in person, who'd only been an online and coincidental background person before that. She didn't win any raffle loot, but did get to meet me in person, which some would argue is better.

I missed ScopeX 2011, which wasn't well advertised, I don't think, but struggled to miss this year's one, as the Consilientists mentioned it and it was also promoted via the Star Trek fan club I vaguely belong to. But I struggled to get myself there, as I caught something at Icon (I can't believe I forgot to mention the traditional annual Icon lurgi epidemic!) and didn't feel much like getting out of bed or out of the house. This meant I missed all the interesting morning lectures. Who the hell schedules things for the morning, anyway? I can understand scheduling things for the whole day, so that you take maximum advantage of all possible space-time. But given a choice of morning and afternoon, why morning? I also got a wee bit lost getting there, because the entrance was concealed and I missed it. But I'm hoping there'll be useful summaries of what I missed in a future episode of Consilience.

As for Interesting Stuff™, there were the usual big, expensive telescopes, the sundials and other equipment that doesn't mean much to me with my current budget. SKA and SANSA had small booths that didn't offer much (I claimed some nice posters for work from SKA), operated by some very bored people. I don't know if I was there at a particularly quiet time, but the whole thing had a very library-like atmosphere, the polar opposite of the noise and confusion of Icon, and the booth people aren't exactly engaging. This makes little sense, as they actually know things of Interest™, while your typical comic sales monkey is just going to fill your ear with crap about their (so not necessarily your) favourite superhero's ongoing saga.

There were some guys demonstrating a Foucault pendulum, which brings me fond memories of Bill Nye. But it's not too suitable for showing to short-term visitors. The action takes hours to unfold.

I got a good look at the demo of a dinky little digital microscope (which I happen to know costs as much as the big, heavy, pretty Rogue Trader book I bought at Icon last week), and it almost seems like cheating compared with the microscope I got as a kid, with its LED lighting instead of a reflectly mirror and a nice, clear monitor showing what it's focused on instead of a single, pokey eye-piece to hunch over.

I also entered the raffle, with a chance to win a camera (meh), a bigger digital microscope (awesome, but I think I'd have to donate that to a school, so that it really gets used) or a star spotter wossname (which would mean I have Nali's next present sorted?). In the end, what I actually won was nothing except a valuable lesson about gambling.

It's worth noting that ScopeX is held at the SA National Museum of Military History, which is not the most education-oriented museum I've seen, being little more than a collection of old military vehicles, though some are pretty neat. The sole surviving Me 262 B-1a/U1 jet night-fighter is especially interesting, as one of the earliest radar-equipped jets, a major technological combo that we take completely for granted today. Fighters built without both of those are now considered slightly odd and archaic; we don't even use the word "night fighter" to describe any modern aircraft anymore. But even if you're not interested in the technical side of it, it's still a lovely thing to look at, as is the old Dak outside.

There's a shop attached to the museum, selling old camo gear (stock checks must be hard) and books about things blowing up and people getting killed and Hitler and stuff. They missed a bit of an opportunity, with the astro crowd in, to put their small collection of astronaut patches on prominent display. It's not a great set, and it includes some junk ones, like the apocryphal Mercury patches, several different Apollo 11 patches (excluding the correct Eagle one) and even a very silly Sputnik 1 patch. I considered getting a reasonably good and correct Apollo 10 patch, but didn't feel retailish enough.

ScopeX is a lovely day out, very relaxed and calming. But I think it's almost certainly better with some combination of friends, proper scheduling and piles of unwanted cash. Assuming the last two are impossible, remind me to invite more people next year.