Tags: worldcon

Silly - Dirty Face

Labor Day and Going Home and Letting the Words Pour Out

I doubt I'd ever heard of Labor Day until I decided to come to the USA. Right away it drew my attention because I arrived here on Labor Day in 1995 and people had the day off so my boss could meet me at the airport. It has made it really easy for me to remember the anniversary of my arrival in the US. Every year when Labor Day comes around I'm reminded that I've been here another year, even though it usually does not fall on the 4th of September.

Later on, a company tricked me into going to Mississippi (no really) and my ex decided that she wanted to stay put and I ended up stuck there. I found a few friends, but mostly I felt alone. My progressive views and endless questions were met mainly with blank looks or suspicion. People had incomprehensible views and could never explain them to me. I yearned for more intelligent conversation and opinions that were built on the backs of questions that had been beaten to death, rather than platitudes, prejudices and ancient doctrine.

Then in 1998 a woman got pregnant and changed my life... but not in the way you'd expect. She was in South Africa and was planning a trip to Baltimore, USA with some people I know, and when she asked her doctor if she was okay to fly the answer was no. So I received an email asking me if I wanted to buy her membership for something called a Worldcon, where I'd be part of a group of South Africans, some who were like a kind of extended family for me. It had been a few years since I'd seen any of them, and this Worldcon thing, this World Science Fiction Convention, sounded like it was a pretty astonishing event, with hundreds of guests that included a few of my favorite authors. So I went, and it was incredible and I found new friends and intelligent conversation and fun and tolerance and acceptance and more.

I started to go to Worldcons most years, but also to smaller conventions around the country, using them as an excuse to travel. On these trips I called myself a refugee from the bible belt, and later I made buttons with this slogan and gave them away to others who felt the same. Conventions became an escape and a balm for those frustrated parts of me that were boiling over under my tired eyes. And every year this amazing Worldcon thing happened... and most of them happened on Labor Day weekend. In my head I started to combine my US-arrival anniversary with Worldcon.

And I met Theresa in an airport while on my way to a Worldcon. These two good things became entwined in my head. But my arrival in the US is not as easy to classify. I miss South Africa. I only came here for one...maybe two...possibly three years. It was all part of my dream to travel. I always intended to go back, possibly after living in another country or two. But my ex didn't want to move and shackled me to Mississippi. I've been in the US 13 years, 4 months and 28 days (4,898 days) now, but who's counting. I've had plenty of fun, travel and adventure, but I've only been back to South Africa once and that was 8 years, 6 months and 10 days (3,115 days) ago in July of 2000. Before that time I had not gone back because, after all, I'd be going back permanently any day now. Since that trip it was a reluctance to travel while embroiled in the green card process (post 9-11 there were issues) followed by a divorce and a move to Portland.

For years now, when asked, I'd say I was thinking of going home to SA again next year. Next year, like tomorrow, never comes. There is always another next year, and another, and another. Usually I took a trip to Worldcon instead. And I loved them and I made more friends than I ever imagined. But that homesickness within me has burned so bright at times that I can scarcely see the world around me. It's all life in the shadows and the dancing from shade to shade to avoid the heat of the African sun from my dislodged life.

And Portland complicates things too, because I love it here. It would have been easy to go home after the divorce, but now I found a home. Probably The Home. I found a city filled with my people. My people, as I have come to remember, are not those who share my origins, or my passport, or my skin. Not even my blood. My people are those souls like mine, burning with questions, yearning to do what's right, fighting for it sometimes, loving, accepting, sharing, educated on reality. And there are artists and writers and crazed philosophers, and hippies and hipsters and strange blends of the two. There's great food and theatre and arts of all kinds. And the givers outnumber the takers... or so it seems through my Rose-City colored glasses. This is home, more than where I was born in giant Johannesburg.

Johannesburg, the city of many names, Jozi, Joeys, Joburg... Egoli, the place of gold. Smog and filth, crime and xenophobia, poverty and more illegal immigrants than an American could imagine. But magic too. It's fucking Africa. It's like a red dye that colors your soul and stains you for life. You never get over Africa, not if you opened your heart to her for even a moment. I love Jozi, flaws and all. There is much there that is cool too, much that makes more sense than here. I miss it so much... but my people were thin on the ground there, and there are challenges and woe amidst her skyscrapers and 5-lane highways. Sickening wealth bobbing on a sewer-tide of poverty and sorrow.

The last few years have been hard. Sweet too, but hard. Amidst it all I found a little quiet at last. There is still much noise and shouting and a pack of life's dogs nip at my heels anew. But also the space to again think of going home for a time, going from one home to another. And last night we made it official. In 7 months and 1 day (215 days) I go home for a month. Theresa is going with me to see those colors and edges that built my ramshackle persona. I'm so looking forward to sharing it with her and seeing it anew through her eyes, both the good and the bad. It will be her grandest adventure yet and how could I not love being a part of that?

Planning had depended on job stability, work projects and other commitments that forced it to be later in the year. Once August through October had been decided on as our range the first thing I knew was that there would be no Worldcon trip for me this year. One of my tribes is gathering, but I have another to visit. Theresa and I sat for over two hours last night trying to make a schedule work with flights booked using sky-miles. Getting a reasonable deal was difficult and options were awkward. We finally settled on the lesser of many evils, booked our seats and went to bed drained. It was only as we lay there talking about the trip that I realized that we were departing on September 4th... the 14th anniversary of my arrival in the US. How strange, how apt, how confusing a coincidence. What to make of it?

It's not quite Labor Day this year but it all still comes together, Worldcon, Theresa, my tribes and homes in two countries. When I arrive it will have been 9 years, 1 month and 15 days since my last time in South Africa. 3,333 days. An interesting number and many interesting alignments of the stars. I'm excited and jumbled...and emotional, but I can finally answer the big question in a way that makes me smile.

"So are you planning a visit back to South Africa?"
"Why yes, yes I am. I'm going back later THIS YEAR."
Silly - Dirty Face

Worldcon - Day One

A pretty low-key day really. Registration was the slowest I've ever seen at a Worldcon. Worldcons generally are exceptionally well run, so I was dismayed to see hundreds of people in lines for 45+ minutes. We gave it up and came back later, getting to the front in 20 minutes or so. I guess we're spoiled and have become used to Worldcon registration being efficient, as in lines hardly exist most years.

It's also somewhat hot in the convention centre, so I'm hot much of the time. I have not done any panels today and I'm writing this while waiting for the opening ceremonies to start. There was a panel agrathea and I were interested in, but it was full when we got there.

We've done plenty of socializing (as always, the company is stellar!) and we wandered through the dealers' room, where I bought 2 new t-shirts and agrathea bought... nothing. That's never happened before. Oh wait, she bought a bead for a friend. So that streak is still going ;).

Okay, getting back to this on Thursday. The opening ceremonies were pretty dull, dullest I can recall. Or maybe the UK guys got us to expect more. There was some acting by folks reading from scripts who had not rehearsed... and it showed. It was a pity because the MC was a natural and quite funny while he spoke. To me, things like this should be done with 100% effort, or not at all.

After that I got to my first panel in the evening, in a nearby hotel. agrathea joined me there , maybe 40 minutes late. She was delayed by a tornado warning no less, but still arrived just a few minutes late for the part that affects us, namely that I was put in charge of a committee who will be responsible for redoing worldcon.org, wsfs.org and nasfic.org. w00t! I'm now also on a committee responsible for, essentially creating branding the Hugo award. So I'm volunteering again, but this is stuff that means a lot to me... well, except for the NASFiC part. This is work that's well overdue, means a helluva lot to us... and we'll rock it. Watch this space. Very exciting stuff.

We then headed over to the ConSuite and the parties. It was a quiet night, maybe just 9 or 10 parties, but it will only ramp up from here on out. The ConSuite is a large hall filled with couches and tables, with snacks and sodas, and they've done a great job creating a welcoming social space that will encourage conversations and new friendships. Best ConSuite since Boston, I think. Good food too. Job well done.

There were also some great parties, including a hoax bid for 2010 for the planet Xerps (climate adjustment symbiotic included) and a hoax bid for Chernobyl in 2011, filled with black humor. We had a great time, saw many friends and made a few more. In fact I'd go as far as to say the evening turned the whole day around for us and we ended up having a fantastic time. I think the altitude and heat have taken a bit out of me, so it'll get better by the day.

But yes, having some fun. More soon! I'll edit to add pictures a little later.
Silly - Dirty Face

Fancy hotels

You have to love... and hate... fancy hotels. You have to love comfy beds, pretty décor, nice showers, nice views etc. They create a space that is comfortable, quiet and enjoyable. But then there are all the little scams, like $9.95 a day for internet connection, and $1.50 to dial a phone call that usually is free, like a local call or a 1-800 number. And breakfasts that charge more for a single egg that it costs to buy a dozen eggs. Yet, just down the road I'll be able to find a decent hotel, at less than half the price that also has free wifi and local calls, and maybe a free breakfast. On the food, well this place will likely be much nicer, but for the rest, well, they can't really justify it, just as the convention center can't justify $14.95 a day for wifi, but they have their captive audiences, heavy in business travelers with expense accounts, so they get away with it. But you have to hate them for it.

They are usually also horribly overpriced, but Worldcon's negotiate great rates and we usually save $70-$120 per night to offset that. agrathea and I are in the hotel right on the convention center too, so from a convenience standpoint you just can't beat it.... but they still piss me off with their little scams.
Silly - Dirty Face

Worldcon T Minus One

Smooth sailing getting in from Portland. The flight was on time and comfortable enough. Amazingly, we sat next to a woman who was also on her way to Worldcon. That does not happen often. agrathea and her spent much of the flight talking about the various process of giving birth. I read a book instead.

Caught a cab to the hotel with a cab driver from Ethiopia who had lived in South Africa for five years. We talked a bit about some of the recent cases of xenophobia. During my flight I'd received a call from the Chicago in 2012 bid team inviting us to join them for dinner. As I was calling them back a voice from my past called me. Franz and I were at the same school at the same time, though he was two years older and in my brother's class. In fact he and my brother were friends. I think we've known each other for about 28 years... holy f*ck. Back the, once a month we usually met up at SFSA (Science Fiction South Africa) meetings. While my brother faded from the picture, Franz and I are still involved with SFSA.

Franz still lives in Jozi (Johannesburg) and goes to Worldcon about once every five years. It's a massively expensive proposition for someone living in South Africa, and it gives you an idea just how incredible a Worldcon is, that about a bunch of South Africans go to Worldcons about once every 3 to 10 years, despite that expense. Franz is an avid reader, a high-up muckity-muck in the financial end of the South African government and an all-round fascinating character.

So we had two engagements, and we were still in the cab on the way to the hotel. We ended up joining a large group of Chicago fans for dinner, and dragging Franz with us. agrathea is well loved by many fans who know her, as she is such a sweetheart, and yet this is only her second Worldcon.

The restaurant was on one of those streets where no traffic is allowed, except for a free bus service. It's bordered by a fun mix of restaurants, touristy holes and fine shopping, and the street is covered by free city wifi, which evidently works if you are seeing this post, as I am typing all this offline. The food was good, and so was the company. Afterwards Franz and I had coffee and dessert and did a lot of catching up and talking about the future of South Africa. He'd also brought me chocolate from South Africa, which I'll likely polish off before I leave Denver.

I've been really hot all day long, just feeling overheated, and I guess some of it is just the hustle and bustle, because Denver is 70s and 80s for the next while, and Portland was 90s when we left. The hotel room is quite pleasant and very nice, though not super-duper, and I'm enjoying the excellent air conditioning. I've also been drinking far more water than usual.

All in all a wonderful evening and a lovely start to my Worldcon adventure, even though Worldcon only really starts tomorrow. Truth is you can hook up with friends for days before and days after any Worldcon, so this five day event is really much longer. Off to bed shortly and will look to slip over to 16th Street tomorrow to use the free wifi to post this. I just despise paying hotels $10/day for wifi, or convention centers $15-$20 /day. It's a kind of theft and I say f*ck em!
Silly - Dirty Face

Changing pace

Life has been coming from many angles. Two major projects colliding at work and several volunteer projects filling my spare time, and another on the horizon that I'm quite excited about. The latter is a project with other Drupalers to provide a web page to a different nonprofit every month. But part of me is going, "Like dude, quit volunteering." It's kept me away from LJ, and writing. Work has been intense, but manageable intense, nothing like the prior job. Just the kind of thing I've handled standing on my head all career long. I like the team and the place and that makes all the difference.

Last week was OSCon here in Portland, a major tech conference. They call it an open source conference, but any con run for profit is by it's very nature completely opposite to the open source community. Open source is driven by a disproportionate number of freelancers, contractors and small firms, i.e. expensive conferences lock them out. The odd thing is that fan-run conventions like OryCon and Worldcon are also gift-economies run entirely by volunteers who make no profit at all and are completely compatible with open source. I wonder if I can convince some regional fans to run a decent tech conference. I think it's high time giving communities had more overlap. I did a tonne to run a DrupaCamp and a huge part of the success came from things I'd learned from fan-run conventions, and of course because things like this are always easier in a giving group.

Anyway, I avoided OSCon, though my company would have paid, and I just went to evening parties loosely associated with it, and visited a free section to hook up with my peeps at a couple of booths, for all of 2.5 hours. Over those few hours and two evenings I met most of my former coworkers and had some lovely conversations. It was... cathartic. Odd thing that. I'm also getting to know more folks, and becoming better known, within the local open source community, plus I do my best to meet new people, so I had loads of wonderful conversations, including the best part of an hour spent chatting to the inventor of PHP at a really wonderful Drupal party. I got pulled into an impromptu appearance at a Drupal panel and went to the Sourceforge awards and Beerforge, the huge party that followed. Plenty of free quality booze at both events... and me hating booze and drinking water. But the social side was sweet and a reminder of Worldcon.

Ah yes, Worldcon. I'll be in Denver next week for Denvention and I'm looking forward to it. Friendships renewed, conversations galore, hugs, parties, programme... ah, more than I can mention. See this PDF if you don't believe me.


Many of you will be there and I look forward to seeing all of you. And my 41st US State! I did not volunteer this year, which was smart, and I only volunteered for program late on, so I've just the one panel, which is also nice really. So I'm going to have a nice Worldcon, a fan's Worldcon. Easygoing, fun, flexible schedule, etc. Going to try and avoid all the fan politics, which has been thick on the ground of late, and makes me sad. Feels wrong too. Still, there's nothing like a Worldcon, generally the highlight of my year, and it's going to be lovely. We fly out next Tuesday and come back a week later.

That's about it. Basic ramblings. I have been managing to microblog with Twitter for those of you interested in a small glimpse of my days. I'd post them here, but that would annoy some of you. Any of you on Twitter? Let's exchange follows!
Silly - Dirty Face

Worldcons, fandom and the "evil" smofs

I returned to participating in the SMOFS list this week (an email discussion list for volunteers who run SF&F conventions around the world) after almost a year away, and a difficult year it was. It's too soon to tell, but going by some of the discussions I've been reading, it feels a grumpier place than I left. Like any list, or forum, or bulletin board... or LJ, there are the usual trolls, grumps, positive folks, etc. Being all volunteers it is a better group than most, but still also a place of more opinionated know-it-alls than most others. A couple of formerly strident voices have faded, though most of the familiar ones remain, and new strident voices have replaced the ones that faded.

Some of the topics are the same topics I remember, as if they never stopped. We fans do like to beat a dead horse until it is no longer even dust. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Still, they are a good bunch, even though it has definitely been a shock to the system to have the old deluge of smof emails return to my in-box. And I have to remember to turn my, "Despite the harsh way their email seems to be worded, you know so-and-so is a nice person in person" filter back on.

In the mix of emails came a link to Worldcon history from 1953, including scanned pages and wonderful tidbits of history (Worldcon is The World Science Fiction Convention). The 53 Worldcon gave us the renowned Hugo awards and it appears to have played an important role in shaping all the Worldcons to come, and probably the World Science Fiction Society as well. Triggered by these discussions, and based on the following quote, I had a few thoughts of my own, and posted a variation of the comments below to the list. The quote was:
"After the convention, the chairman sent thanks and a financial report to members. Total convention membership was 1,150, of whom 633 actually registered. The chairman estimated that at least 650 were in attendance. (The traditional "warm body count", appearing in later Worldcon program books, is 750.)"
Worldcon membership rates at the time were a mere $1 a head. A great many paid membership, bet never attended.

To me the document seems pretty damned detailed and complete, and shows plenty of smart forward-thinking. Therein lay many of the seeds of the Worldcon many of us/you love, and the kind of fannish positivity not always in abundance.

Back to the matter of the difference between the number of memberships bought and the number of people who actually attended. I don't think the concept of supporting members (those who want to aid a convention financially even though they can't attend, or later in the history of all this, who want to be WSFS members and vote on the Hugos) existed then, because if it did they would have said so. Based on the number of official attendees listed by them, we are looking at 400-517 non-attending members, or about 35% to 45% of their members who did not attend. That's pretty damned high, particularly for the time (not the ease of travel we have today). I don't think that WSFS existed yet, and since it was the first year of Hugos it is hard to gauge if they had any impact at all yet (likely very little).

Yes, I know that every convention has its no shows, but this number seems exceptionally high. It seems to me that those 400-517 fans were buying into more than a convention, or an award, that they were buying into a community. This is intriguing, particularly since the relationship between Worldcons and WSFS is a great gray area (some feel WSFS does not really exist and others want it to be a central controlling body, and everyone else is in between. It is also, maybe sadly so, quite irrelevant, because Worldcon is what it is now, a vastly different creature to the Worldcon of 1953, and many things have changed and that is just the way it is (and Worldcons total are totally f*cking awesome). Still I find all this quite charming.

There are many other gems in that document that I can't help but enjoy.
"Our expense account should open the eyes of those people who think that putting on a convention is a simple affair, and should be educational to those idiots who spread the rumor that the convention committee was lining its pockets with the proceeds."
Hahahaha! The more things change the more they stay the same. Despite Worldcons believing in full disclosure (some more than others ;) ) and making documentation on their finances freely available, there remain many idiots to this day who are convinced that volunteer con-runners are making a fortune (the reverse is true most of the time - ask kevin_standlee about the gigantic personal debt he incurred while helping to make ConJosé happen in 2004).

There was plenty more in that little historical treasure that I enjoyed. They spent $60 on an optimistic 1500 badges, lost $250 on the overpriced hotel banquet (another fannish tradition) and their miscellaneous expenses included telegrams (how they would envy us our web pages and emails). They ended up with a deficit of $56.18, but with $373 still owed to them for exhibit tables, sale of stamps (eh?) and program ads -- things we generally require payment for up-front these days (maybe lessons learned?). So they had a "possible profit" of $316.82, and I can't help but wonder how that one turned out.

That was a hell of a Worldcon, a massive milestone in Worldcon history. My thanks to them. They rocked!
Silly - Dirty Face

(no subject)

The other day a huge discussion exploded on my LJ when I said that the WSFS, Worldcon and Hugo Award pages were in desperate need of a makeover, and of unifying logos. It was a fascinating and diverse discussion with clear broad stokes of some of the challenges. I also pointed out that agrathea had volunteered to do web design for these. Many were skeptical because they don't really understand what a modern web design professional does. Well, today she talked a little bit about web design in her LJ. I think this should calm some of the doubters. (Some, but not all. This is fandom we are talking about *wink*.)
Silly - Dirty Face

(no subject)

A post by one of fandom's great organizers, kevin_standlee, reminded me of one of my pet peeves. Fandom is filled with great artists and technical professionals, and yet we have what I feel are some of the least appealing and most unfriendly web pages out there. Yes, I know it makes is a bit of a sod to say it, and I apologize up front to those of you who put in long hours working on web pages that I'm about to criticize. But here's the thing, I think this is an important enough issue to speak up about.

There are many standout web pages of course, but for many others the design, usability, appearance, professionalism, etc, of fannish pages generally is inadequate or even completely lacking, by current standards and often even by any standard. In particular I find that the web presence associated with our most treasured institutions (Worldcon, The Hugo Award and WSFS) is amongst the weakest of all.

kevin_standlee was annoyed by people not simply reading the information on the WSFS page. He is of course right, but on the other hand, I would argue that they should not have to. We should make things easier to browsers, just as any well designed web page out there does. It's not just about the information anymore, it's about finding it. And this is a simple example and yes Google finds everything and it is right there on most every page, but even I missed it on my first skim through.

Years ago I created a web page with a ton of useful information on it. My design sucked, and in point of fact it was the same kind of design as the primary pages I refer to. As a result many people struggled to navigate my page, despite its simple layout. I therefore received a greater number of emails with questions. As I later learned, I could have spared myself much of that by simply improving my web design (you will never eradicate stupid emails because the world is full of the dilly and the lazy).

Beyond fixing the poor layout of these pages, I believe that anyone visiting these pages should find themselves looking at something professional. Why should anyone browsing to find out more about Worldcons, the Hugos or WSFS take them seriously if we appear to be treating it like someone's pet project? I say this because they look like simple web pages done by hand, not even ones using tools like Dreamweaver or FrontPage (edit: in the sense that an amateur with no HTML knowledge can use tools like these to create more professional web pages, not in the sense that I recommend any cookie-cutter solutions, which I don't). I don't see anything elegant or prestigious about them. All three of these institutions have great value and prestige and I think their web pages should reflect that.

Finally, there is no recognizable symbol or logo for any of these three. We have never branded ourselves (I'm going to use words derived from "brand" in the design sense, not the corporate sense, so no, this is not an attempt to create something like Worldcon Inc). One can't stick a Worldcon logo in a newspaper/magazine article, unless one picks a specific year's own logo. Not even in a fannish publication. Publishers can't put a Hugo logo on reprints books (or anything) that have won the Hugo. Winners can't add a Hugo banner to their web pages. People who want to link to any of these pages can't do so with a striking banner. There is no unifying symbol for Worldcons, which are held in different cities every year. None of these web pages or institutions has anything distinctive about them. I believe we need them to have this distinction, primarily for the Hugo, secondarily for Worldcons and also for the WSFS.

In short I believe we should tap into the resources at our disposal and fix these pages. For example, many people in fandom now know that agrathea is a professional web designer and yet nobody has tapped into her skills. More to the point I believe it will add to what we hold most dear, in prestige, interest, visibility, marketability, etc, and it would be a visible representation of our own reverence for those aspects of fandom most precious to us. And it would bring us up to date... the future we can tackle next.

And not to merely be a complainer without a solution, I can offer this: agrathea is a professional designer who specializes in web design and branding. She volunteers (in the fannish sense of volunteering) to brand all three of these institutions and to do a formal web design for them (including possibly having a non-tech content management). This is no small thing I assure you and it represents an enormous amount of work. The logos could be designed as part of contests, but the judges should include people familiar with design work, as great artwork does not necessarily equate to a great logo that can be used in both the print world and the web world. Regardless of how it is handled I believe it should be done, by someone.

Yes, I'm not so naïve as to believe any of this will be easy and I know that many fans would be concerned with several aspects of this. And there are many questions: Who would approve the design and branding? The MPC? The smofs list? One of the twenty-seven thousand mythical secret cabals? Would this make us an Inc by osmosis? (I believe NOT because it is simply souping up our image and need not go any further, semantics about the word "branding" aside.) Who would maintain the pages? I could go on, but enough for now.

I feel we can and should do far better. I Also think it is in our best interests to do so. Am I full of it?
Silly - Dirty Face

Fan stuff

  • Just say "No!!!" (or "Hell no!!!") I posted a article to the smofs list: How to Know when Not to Volunteer. debgeisler posted an interesting analysis of their points. It is an interesting topic, and a tough one for major conrunners to deal with.

  • Fan Wide Web. lyzard13 set up a page for dealers who sell at fannish (science fiction/fantasy) conventions. If you are a dealer then consider getting on board, but what most excites me is the quality of the page. Most fan pages really suck terribly – especially the ones that should be the best. It's nice to see a good-looking one.

  • Democrats a threat to Worldcon peace? Over in denvention3 we see a topic has already popped up to discuss the news that the Democratic National Convention will be held in Denver from August 25th thru the 28th, soon after the 2008 Denver Worldcon (World Science Fiction Convention), being held from August 6th thru the 10th. The fear is that their set-up teams and others coming to the area early may impact our convention, as might other displaced conventions rescheduling a little earlier. This could affect hotel availability and rates. There will likely be some impact and the conversation might be a good one to watch.