Otakon 2008 impressions

Sunday, August 10th, 2008

So after spending most of today decompressing from Otakon by mindlessly watching the Olympics, I’m ready to relate my impressions about the event, which I promised on Thursday.

Despite never having been to an anime convention, Otakon didn’t overwhelm me at all. It was pretty much exactly like what I expected. Going to Wizard World East (a comic convention in Philadelphia) a few years back definitely gave me a feel for what it’d be like. Plus, I know many people who’ve been to these things before, and I’ve heard all sorts of stories. The experience wasn’t as transporting as when I went to a local renaissance festival, mainly because while everyone was also in costume there, they also kept in character the whole time. The cosplayers at anime conventions pretty much only stay in character for photo shoots and the masquerade.

Overall, the people at the convention were very friendly. Although I didn’t meet up with my friend from work until later in the day, I wasn’t alone while waiting in the entrance line on Saturday, as the girls behind me in line were very chatty and approachable. They were also from Canada, which kind of made my complaint about having to drive a whole forty miles from DC fall on deaf ears.

Later on during the convention, I struck up many conversations with random attendees, some of whom I was photographing, others of whom were just hanging around, and I never so much as had a rude interaction. No one ever turned down a request for a photograph, which I guess makes sense because anyone willing to go through the effort to make an elaborate costume certainly wants to be seen in it. It was really easy to strike up conversations and find things to talk about, because everyone there shared a rich appreciation of anime and knew a lot about it. I was surprised to find that I was pretty much the least knowledgeable anime fan I ran into.

I was also quite surprised at the sheer abundance of videogame cosplay, which came in a close second behind anime cosplay, with general Japanese fashions (such as gothic lolita) and non-anime TV shows and movies bringing up the rear. I wouldn’t even bill Otakon as an anime convention — I would bill it as an anime and videogame convention. There was a huge videogaming hall that was packed the entire convention. Amongst the videogame cosplayers, the Final Fantasy series was the most popular (with cosplay from the Final Fantasy Tactics subseries surprisingly common). I also saw a lot of Kingdom Hearts and Team Fortress 2 (red team only though). On the anime front, it was the usual suspects (basically, whatever anime is obscenely popular either at the moment or in the near past, such as Gurren Lagann and Naruto), but there was also a surprising number of Trigun cosplayers considering the age of that series. Not that I’m complaining, given how awesome Trigun is.

The only sour moment of the whole convention was when we attempted to attend a panel called “Welcome to Touhou”, which was supposed to be an introduction to a very specific Japanese subgenre of shmup (rail shooter), but were instead greeted with a panel-troller who spouted off bullshit on the “Psychology of Cosplayers” for a good half-hour before Otakon staff shut him down. Our best guess is that the original people leading the panel never arrived, and this asshole seized the moment. He kept babbling on and on, stopping occasionally to curse out the audience members that were leaving or calling him out, and took “questions” only to ignore them and continue spouting bullshit. The volunteer that he had found to walk around the microphone for him quickly grew exasperated and walked off, so it was a solo show. I don’t know why in the hell this guy did this or what he found fun about it, but it was incredibly lame.

On the first day of the convention neither I nor my friend cosplayed. It actually left me feeling a bit out of place (just like being one of the few “normals” at the renaissance festival), so I decided to wear my cloak to accompany my friend who was going as the Tenth Doctor from Doctor Who. Yes, I have a cloak, which I made for renaissance festivals but haven’t yet had a chance to attend one with. My basic plan was to go along with whatever the first person “recognized” me as being, and since one of the first events of the day was a Doctor Who cosplay shoot, I was quickly pegged as one of the older iterations of “The Master”, the Doctor’s Time Lord nemesis.

All right, and now for those promised pictures! And if these leave you feeling disappointed, just know that these pictures don’t really represent the complete lengths that some of the females at the con went to to show off some skin. In particular, there were a few ladies there flashing a lot of ass, but I don’t know of any polite way to ask someone to turn around and present their backside for the purposes of taking a photograph, and I’m not about to be that creepy dude sneakily taking pictures of girls. All of the photographs were taken with consent.

View the Photographs (Woohoo, I installed gallery2 just for this.)

Sin city (College Park, to be exact)

Saturday, April 19th, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for the three semesters prior to my graduation. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is my 19th and final opinion column, Sin city, originally published May 4, 2007.

My bad luck with letting the editor choose the column title struck once again.


This is my last column for The Diamondback. I am graduating this semester, and I hope at least some of you out there enjoyed reading my columns these past three semesters. One thing that has stuck with me during my entire stint as a columnist is the utterly dysfunctional love/hate relationship between the city of College Park and the university. The city owes so much to the university yet seems to think it can get away with making no compromises.

I went to Maryland Day last weekend and saw the booth set up by the city of College Park. It had two bullet points on a large poster bragging about the city’s selling points: “Home of the University of Maryland” and “Cradle of Aviation.” As for the second bullet point, this may be news to some of you, but College Park does have a civilian airport that is pretty ancient. Without the university, this would be the city’s only bragging point: “We have an old airport.”

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Lessons from Blacksburg (the one year anniversary)

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is my 18th and penultimate published opinion column, Lessons from Blacksburg, originally published April 19, 2007.


On Monday morning, the Virginia Tech community witnessed the worst civilian shooting spree in United States history. One of Tech’s students, South Korean national Cho Seung-Hui, killed 32 others before turning the gun on himself. As we at this university continue to witness the horrors unfolding on television, we feel a special bond with the students of Virginia Tech. Even if we don’t know any of them personally, they too are college students, and they’ve faced an unexpected, extreme tragedy that could just as easily have happened in College Park.

There are some lessons to be taken away from the events of Monday morning, and I hope the administrations of both Virginia Tech and this university are learning them. For one, if there is a deadly homicide on the campus and the perpetrator isn’t caught, it may make sense to take drastic actions such as bringing in dozens of police officers for a manhunt or locking down the campus. One who has killed already and is still on the run is a uniquely dangerous individual, as Monday unfortunately taught us.

We also now know there was significant evidence that something just wasn’t right with Cho. His writings consistently showed signs of psychopathy; in one particular play a teenager is killed by the stepfather he falsely accuses of molesting him. He also wrote poetry so disturbing that it creeped out the majority of his poetry class, causing him eventually to be removed from it. His classmates openly questioned whether he could become a school shooter. The police were even contacted multiple times regarding his disturbing writings and the multiple times he stalked women on the campus. Clearly, all the warning signs were there; now many will live in perpetual regret that more was not done.

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Attending my first hamfest

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

Earlier today I attended my first hamfest (amateur radio convention), the Greater Baltimore Hamboree and Computerfest in Timonium, Maryland. Having just started with ham radio less than a month ago, I’m definitely getting into it pretty quickly. The rate at which I’m blowing through money will attest to that.

Overall, I give the hamfest mixed reviews. I’ll start with the negatives first so we can end on a positive note. Most of the negatives stem from my misconceptions of what this hamfest was. I was expecting a convention where the main activity is chatting up fellow hams and checking out cool rigs, but this hamfest turned out to be basically a large flea market, with a good mix of professional and not-so-professional vendors. It had a $10 per head admission charge.

The computer part of the show was just outright crap. Most of the computers on sale looked like they were acquired by the pallet-load from public auction, and simply weren’t worth buying even at the low asking price of $100-$200. I swear, some of those computers were pushing ten years old. If you wanted cheap and/or used peripherals though, this was your place (yay for $5 three generation old non-scroll-wheel optical mice). And if you want to risk all of the rest of your expensive computer components on shady unmarked power supplies, this was your opportunity! In the end, I just couldn’t justify spending any money on the computer stuff, so I didn’t. I’ll take NewEgg any day of the year. The tailgating part was especially depressing; a bunch of people (some of them hucksters) were selling miscellaneous computer and electronics junk set up on cheap tables out in the parking lot. I saw electronics equipment that was decades old. Who wants this stuff?!

There were lots of vendors selling vacuum tubes of all shapes and sizes, tens of thousands of them. The average price was about $1.00 per tube, which my dad says is less than they used to cost decades ago when they were still widely used (and that’s not taking inflation into account). None of the tubes were manufactured in the past few decades either. It’s like the transistor exploded onto the electronics scene so quickly and so completely that the inventory of tubes the manufacturers happened to have on-hand at the time was more than enough to satisfy the entire lingering tube market in perpetuity.

A lot of the vendors were, and there’s no other way to put it, shady. I wouldn’t go so far as to accuse them of having outright stolen what they were selling, but a lot of it wasn’t on the level, starting with the fact that most people weren’t charging sales tax and probably weren’t even reporting their sales to the IRS. There was no way to verify if a lot of things that were on sale were actually working, and presumably no way to return them if they weren’t. I’m also not intimately familiar with most of the kinds of things that were on sale, and I would have no idea if I was getting a good deal or a bad deal.

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Curse the whole damn flawed system (housing at University of Maryland)

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is my 17th published opinion column, Curse the whole system, originally published April 6, 2007.


On Tuesday, 556 rising seniors and 86 current seniors were told that they could not continue living on the campus in any of the dorms next year (only South Campus Commons and The Courtyards are immune). Next year will mark the first in Maryland’s history that no seniors, except resident assistants, will be living on the campus. To what or whom do we owe this massive failure of planning?

The university actually has, in recent years, tried to secure funding to build a new high-rise dorm on North Campus. But the funding request was quickly shot down by the Board of Regents, citing a priority toward academic buildings. But one wonders why the priority is focused so exclusively on academic buildings; surely if the housing crunch had been this bad during all of the university’s previous growth, its academics wouldn’t be near where they are today either. Sorry Board of Regents, but you definitely deserve some of the blame for this, as does the Maryland State Assembly, who has seen fit to not give us the necessary funding.

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Less money, more problems at University of Maryland

Sunday, March 2nd, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is my sixteenth published opinion column, Less money, more problems, originally published March 16, 2007.


As each week goes by, we hear even more negative financial news regarding this university’s public funding. This year, the University System of Maryland is being underfunded to the tune of many millions of dollars by the General Assembly. Gov. Martin O’Malley has not yet reneged on his promise of a tuition freeze, but the promise is looking impossible to keep. In the wake of budget cuts, how else will the university be able to raise the necessary funding if not by extracting it from the pockets of its students?

We’re already facing the effects of this budget crunch. The construction of the new journalism building is being delayed by two months, a delay which could extend to much longer as the full extent of the budget deficit becomes clear. Construction of a new, desperately needed highrise dorm on North Campus has been delayed indefinitely, a travesty I wrote about in one of my previous columns. The Physics Building is old, decrepit and proving to be a huge liability to the department’s attempts to attract top-notch professors to the university. University libraries do not have enough funding to keep up subscriptions to many journals, a problem that is harshly affecting undergraduate students, graduate students and professors alike.

Unfortunately, there is precious little that can be done in the face of looming funding cuts by the General Assembly. The university has a lot of private sector deals in the works and is currently in the midst of a record fundraising campaign, but neither of these will provide the necessary immediate monetary relief. If the cost of tuition does not go up, the university will have to start cutting all sorts of programs and services. It is hard to say which is worse.

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Learn by doing (on the importance of undergraduate research)

Thursday, February 28th, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is my fifteenth published opinion column, Learn by doing, originally published March 2, 2007.


Many students seem to think of the university as a solely educational institution. It’s not. In fact, the majority of the work that goes on here is research-oriented. So it is a shame so few undergraduate students get involved in the university’s largest focus area. They’re missing a huge opportunity they may never get again if they aren’t going on to graduate school.

Undergraduate research is an excellent opportunity for students. Almost every department at the university offers undergraduate research programs, and most of them offer the guided or independent study variety through which you can earn class credits. You have to take 120 credits to graduate – why not get a measly three or six of them from doing something unique?

I’m working on a guided research project run by a professor in the astronomy department. It’s a three-credit class with a workload comparable to normal three-credit classes. But it’s so much more fun and exciting. I’m using satellite imagery taken by Mars Global Surveyor to determine Martian surface ages using isochrons calibrated against surface ages of the Earth’s moon. Basically, the more craters on a surface, the older it is. Of course, the details are a bit more complicated than that.

Conducting and working on research is a great opportunity, and it’s sad that relatively few undergraduates are availing themselves of it. How many people in this world get to perform primary analysis on data taken by a $100 million spacecraft millions of miles away? It has a certain “wow” factor that impresses graduate schools and prospective employers alike. You should get involved in research if only for selfish reasons: Real-world research experience looks very good on resum├ęs and gives your education more depth than just classroom learning. Research also advances the body of knowledge in the field, so even selfish motives yield altruistic results.

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Stamping out chaos

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is my fourteenth published opinion column, Stamping out chaos, originally published February 16, 2007.


Last Friday, the Black Student Union and Phi Beta Sigma tried to host an abomination of a party at Stamp Student Union. One person was arrested, another injured, a police officer was assaulted, fights broke out as admission was closed, the fire alarm was pulled and the whole travesty was finally canceled. The whole event just wasn’t planned or organized well at all, yielding an all-too-predictable result.

This was the sixth time so far this year that an event at the Student Union has fallen into disarray. This is far too common an occurrence. The rules need to be changed to foster a safer atmosphere. If a student group doesn’t have its act together, it should not be allowed to try and bungle its way through hosting an event. Its application for use of the Student Union should be swiftly denied.

The staff members in charge of the Student Union must be stricter in their application requirements. Student groups should be required to submit a detailed event plan showing that they have thought everything through and that they are thoroughly prepared. The No. 1 thing that could have prevented this embarrassment Friday night would have been preparation.

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Gimme shelter (the student housing crisis at University of Maryland)

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is the thirteenth of my opinion columns, Gimme shelter, originally published February 2, 2007.


During the past few decades, Maryland has become a significantly better university. Average GPAs and test scores of admitted students have shot way up. Maryland is no longer considered a safety school by so many of its applicants but is now a first choice. Its ability to attract top researchers and professors has increased significantly, and a look at Maryland’s rankings among other universities shows a sharp upward trend.

Yet Maryland also faces some disadvantages in comparison to its peer universities. It has a relatively small endowment, a consequence of its very recent ascension to greatness. It faces a perpetually high level of crime as a result of its geographical location, something that many other universities do not have to deal with. And it faces the looming threat of a lack of on-campus housing that too few have yet realized is a significant problem.

The size of the waiting list for on-campus housing continues to grow year after year, even as the annual admissions numbers have stayed more or less level during the past five years. A larger percentage of students than ever before now want to live on the campus and enjoy all aspects of the college experience Maryland has to offer. In a few short decades, this university has transformed itself from a predominantly commuter school to a genuine live-in college community. However, we are not entirely there yet, as many students, particularly transfer students from other colleges, are denied the opportunity to live on the campus.

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Professor Rockstar

Friday, February 15th, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is the twelfth of my opinion columns, Professor Rockstar, originally published December 1, 2006.


A bit of a kerfuffle recently spilled across The Diamondback’s pages regarding athletics funding – in particular, coaches’ compensations. A lot of people are questioning Ralph Friedgen’s high salary, especially when compared with the median salary of academic professors. But that comparison is a bit misleading.

The fact is, our football team brings in a lot of publicity and money by attracting tens of thousands of paying fans to each home game and earning the ad revenue and national profile that come from our games being nationally broadcast on ABC and ESPN. You cannot get these things without a strong football program, and to get a strong program, you need to spend the market price on a good coach. So the amount we are spending on Friedgen is at least somewhat justified.

I think our problem lies not in the fact that we have a superstar coach, but that we lack superstar professors. This isn’t just a Maryland problem, of course. It affects the entire collegiate system. Why can’t there be more people like Richard Feynman, Carl Sagan or Isaac Asimov? Where are the engaging, brilliant professors with the ability to draw huge crowds and inspire interest among the general public? In a nutshell, where are the highly profitable professors?

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