I'll run Alien Frontiers and Flash Duel (Co-op mode) at U-Con this year, November 20-22 in Ypsilanti; plus Terracosm and Mirage, two unpublished prototypes of my own game designs.

Alien Frontiers. Friday 7p-9p.
Roll and place your dice to gain advantages over your opponent and block them out of useful areas of the board. Use Alien Tech cards to manipulate your dice rolls and territory bonuses to break the rules. Steal resources, overtake territories, and do whatever it takes to get your colonies on the map first!

Flash Duel - Co-op Mode. Friday 10p-11p.
Up to five fighters spar against one player who is the Deathstrike Dragon. Play a number card to end your move on an opponent's space by exact count to land a hit. When attacked, reveal the same number from your own hand to block the hit. But choose wisely when to show your cards to your allies-- one of them is secretly on the Dragon's side!

Unpublished Prototype: Mirage. Saturday 12p-1p. Sunday 11a-12p.
Players are leaders from an isolated coastal community which has just opened up to the outside world, rich in opportunity and hazard. They quickly agree to split up, and explore the surrounding desert and ocean, competing to establish the most far-flung network of trading encampments. By laying tiles, you will seek to claim regions of sand or dirt with your camels, and regions of shallow water or deep water with your ships. When someone encounters an oasis in the desert or an island in the sea, the player with the most camels or ships in the regions attached to it will set it up as their own trading encampment (a tent). Can your foresee uncertain spots in the geography, indeterminate in the distance? Will they resolve in your vision, to reveal your verdant destinations? Or evaporate into salt and sand?

Unpublished Prototype: Terracosm. Sunday 9a-11a, and 2p-4p.
Control the weather cycle. Dominate the food chain! Change the position of discs on the track so your own actions arrive earlier. Place your carnivores, herbivores, and plants where they will not starve or be eaten. This is an unpublished but highly-playtested prototype.
I wish I were exaggerating when I say the objective of the Neoreactionary movement is the reversal of democracy and human rights, and an intention to install a monarch CEO over America. Alas, that is how they describe their stance in their own words.

Recently, the most famous Neoreactionary thought-leader (one of the founders of the movement) was scheduled to speak about technology at a major software conference. When his detractors pointed out the content of his online writings to the conference organizers, the conference decided to un-invite him.

A flood of complaints emerged about persecution of the right wing by the left. Can Neoreactionaries really be called "right wing"? And if you're right wing, do you really want that connection? This is one of a series of distinctions which the complaints repeatedly conflate (including "They are no longer inviting him to speak" conflated with "They banned him").

Do you see the gulf between "right of center" and "James Bond villain"? At least "right" and "left" are dimensions on a political continuum-- the same perhaps cannot be said of overt advocacy for world domination. So if you ask "Is it wrong to un-invite a speaker from a convention for political views", that is the wrong question for this situation. Is establishing a dictator really politics? Extolling the Middle Ages is so far outside the Overton Window that it is not politics.

Scott Alexander wrote "The Anti-NeoReactionary FAQ". While describing this scenario on his blog, even he expressed concerns over removing speakers who are "insufficiently leftist".

The uninvited Neoreactionary speaker once blogged as follows:
As the King begins the transition from democracy, however, he sees at once that many Californians – certainly millions – are financial liabilities. These are unproductive citizens. Their place on the balance sheet is on the right. To put it crudely, a ten-cent bullet in the nape of each neck would send California’s market capitalization soaring – often by a cool million per neck.
That's only "insufficiently leftist" if the Pope is "insufficiently Satanist". No, scratch that. It's not even the opposite of leftist.

Consider another case; this case is of another software developer who invented an innovative new file system. He would be giving talks on it right now, were he not in prison for the murder of his wife. Would you look forward to sitting in an audience, listening to him on a stage with a microphone? If you weigh his dead wife and her family on one hand, and your enjoyment of file systems on the other, and if you have a sense of proportion, your answer is "no".

Your lack of desire to hear him talk will not bring his wife back, so what's really behind it? To give a stage and a microphone to a person is to communicate that you honor a person. That person must, at the very least, be bare-minimum honorable in public life. Are you "politicizing" the conference in this case? No.

If that's not politics, why is the original case of the Neoreactionary one of politicization of the software conference? When a Neoreactionary says he wants feudalism, this is not like when some leftists call America "feudal" and its citizens "serfs". In light of conditions in North Korea, we recognize that is hyperbolic rhetoric. Well, the Neoreactionary openly wants a return to non-rhetorical feudalism, in which you would be a non-rhetorical serf. When publicly pondering whether millions of Californians should be shot in the back of the head, he finds this concept troubling, but does not reject it out of hand. I am not blowing his views out of proportion for hyperbolic effect. You have a first-amendment right of freedom of association, which includes not associating with this person. His freedom of speech doesn't include the right to a megaphone.

Only with a complete lack of perspective is it possible to characterize the conference's decision as having anything to do with politics. If you would like to wring your hands over your uncertainty over where the line is drawn, this incident is not your test case. This software conference is so far from the slippery slope, they can't see it with a telescope.

I'm presenting or leading the following events at Penguicon this year:

Friday 6PM: Developing Software For Penguicon

Penguicon has begun to host hackathons year-round to develop software to help organize this convention. Please join us at the whiteboard! Developers and interested stake holders will meet to discuss the project’s purpose, stack, and next steps. Look at the user stories in the readme and the flowchart image in the wiki: https://github.com/MattArnold/penguicontrax

Saturday 2PM: Penguicon Board Meeting

You’ve done the convention, you’ve met the staff, and you’ve even socialized with the ConCom. But what about those *other* Penguicon people? Those shadowy figures that create the multi-year rules, have their fingers on the money, and cause a ConChair to mysteriously appear every year in a puff of penguin-scented smoke? Ever wonder what the Penguicon Board of Directors does in their secret sanctum, and where they are taking Penguicon? Come to the Board of Directors meeting and see!

Saturday 6PM: Annual Dominion Tournament

In this million-selling “non-collectible card game,” players start with the same simple deck, and use their hand to buy cards into their collection from the middle of the table. Whoever buys the most expensive victory cards first, wins. Winners take home plastic trays for displaying cards during play. Plan to play through two games with pre-designed sets. Please sign up at Ops, but walk ins are still welcome!

Sunday 10AM: Board Game Design

What does it take to design and produce a new game? We will discuss all aspects, from initial concept and mechanics to playtesting and even funding through Kickstarter. This is a Q&A panel so bring your questions!

Sunday 11AM: Creating Machine Tool Paths In Adobe Illustrator

If you use a laser cutter, vinyl plotter, or other CNC tools at i3Detroit or another hacker space, you need 2D paths that the tool will follow. This path, or “vector”, is described with various formats such as SVG (scalable vector graphics), AI (Adobe Illustrator), or DXF (digital exchange format). This class will teach you the basics the premiere vector illustration tool, Adobe Illustrator, with an emphasis on how to prepare your file to be used as a tool path. Computers and software are not provided, we can help if you bring a prepared file or Illustrator.

I am presenting in the following events at Penguicon:

Friday, 8 PM: Sci Fi on the Radio
Come attend a live dramatic reading of several early century radio scripts! Close your eyes and use your imagination, and allow our talented voice actors and foley artists to create terrors and intrigue!

Friday, 9 PM: Vinyl Cutting Demo
Your own custom design would be way better for your car window than stick figures of your family, or Calvin peeing on things you hate. This class will explain and demo how to: make vector art; use a plotter to cut it out of vinyl; weed the excess off; transfer it to a masking tape backing; and apply it. Bring an SVG or AI file on a thumb drive to go away with your own decal.

Saturday, 1 PM: Laser Cutters
The i3Detroit hacker space in Ferndale raised $6,800 in donations to buy a 150-watt laser cutter and engraver with a 3'x4' bed, capable of cutting through up to half an inch (depending on the material). This will be a presentation of photos of the machine, samples, a description of the process and capabilities, and a demonstration of the laser cutter software. This class can be your first step in certification to use it.

Saturday, 3PM: Penguicon Board Meeting
No, it's not spelled B-O-R-E-D! The important, long-term decision making squad assemble for a quarterly meeting. Open to the public.

Saturday, 4PM: Annual Dominion Tournament
Plan to play through 2 games with pre-designed sets. You can sign up at Ops to make it easier on me, but if not, please just walk in! Winner will be shipped a copy of the "Guilds" expansion when it becomes available. In this million-selling “non-collectable card game”, players start with the same simple deck, and use their cards to buy cards into their collection from the middle of the table. They go through their deck repeatedly to use their new cards to buy even more lucrative cards. Whoever buys the expensive victory cards first, wins.

Saturday, 11PM: Divination With Dominion Cards
Just for fun, we will pretend to perform cartomancy with Dominion cards. I have devised an intricate system for interpreting 20 randomly-selected cards, to tell you the winning strategy for the next few days of your life.


Oct. 25th, 2011 06:25 pm
My car is fixed! And affordably, too. It was just a leak.

I plan to be at U-Con gaming convention November 11 through 13. It has a new home, at the Metropolitan Hotel in Romulus near Detroit Metro Airport. I think this is a great move! Check out what they now can offer.
Moving out of the confines of the Union allows us to offer some things we've never had before:
FREE PARKING. Let's say that again: parking for U-Con won't cost anything, and you don't have to worry about tickets! This has been the most common complaint we hear about the Union, and believe us, the staff have shared your pain.
All events on one floor, with convenient access to exits for wheeling in carts of minis or dealer merchandise.
We're in a hotel, so we'll be able to offer rooms on site at a discounted rate of $65 $60/night (a limited number of larger suites are also available; email us for info).
24-hour gaming space.
Free WiFi access in all function space.
Free continental breakfast for hotel guests.
Free shuttle to and from airport
I almost certainly have a job, as an office clerk and phone liaison. I'll know by the end of the week. I'll have money for fuel, so you'll see more of me. After I've worked there a few months, my hours will go up from 40 to 54 hours a week. Then you'll see somewhat less of me.

(It's in Warren, so I'll have to move. Again. For the time being, I'm living out of a suitcase in Warren and only going home to Whitmore Lake on weekends. Whitmore Lake is an hour away, so that doesn't work. I have been browsing Ferndale/Royal Oak room-for-rent listings on Craigslist. I feel encouraged by the price ranges.)

This job is managing a huge number of outside contractors; i.e., people who have a tenuous relationship to us and do not necessarily have to do what we tell them to do. All we can do is replace them. Sound familiar? So, during the job interview, I described my experience with Penguicon. Keeping in touch with remote strangers who are never seen. Tracking when work is due, what is late, and when to replace someone. Motivating rather than nagging. Documenting processes. They were impressed, and said this is similar work.

You might be wondering now, "why did you spend a few years and a few thousand dollars to get a web development certificate with a 4.0 GPA?" That is only the first step of a journey. It was a good start, but job interviewers have made it clear to me that I'm still not qualified. I need to do a lot more personal learning, including:

1) Server administration from my laptop, so that I can install whichever additional technologies I want to learn.
2) Javascript libraries such as JQuery and YUI.
3) Python frameworks such as Django, and Ruby frameworks such as Ruby On Rails.
4) More about databases.
5) SASS. I would love to learn SASS.
6) How to inflict bloated, swiss-army-knife Content Management Systems. Hissssss. Actually, never mind this one.

A qualified portfolio should include a large number of web applications with polished interfaces and finished-looking designs. I would like at least one to have rich, responsive interaction, such as a game. I would like at least one to be a multi-user database-driven site. The thing is, each such project would take months of spare time. Frankly, I'm not the type who can become a hermit and emerge from my cave with a finished project in a short timespan. I like other humans too much. Other humans are the whole point of a project. Will I some day get a job as a creative or technical professional? In this economy, who knows. Perhaps in a few years. Or perhaps not-- perhaps it's only for hermits. Either way, I'm determined to learn. While I learn, I have to pay the bills, and it looks like my current job prospect is a perfectly pleasant and agreeable way to do that. I'm satisfied.
I am finding the British idiom "couldn't be arsed" very useful in the context of the annual Penguicon programming fail parade.

"...couldn't be arsed to tell the presenters before the con when their talks are scheduled."
"...couldn't be arsed to write one sentence for the program book describing a Nifty Guest."
"...couldn't be arsed to respond to the simplest email."
"...couldn't be arsed to read their own itinerary."
"...couldn't be arsed to attend even one concom meeting."
ConFusion was a successful con for me. It spent all of the time in the game room, except for the room parties Saturday night, and giving a presentation Sunday.

The printer double-folded the pocket program brochure, instead of quad-folding it as I specified. They must have been looking at my instructions for the program book. A lot of people said they liked the book this year.

A publisher asked me to bring some of my game prototypes to look at during the con. It went well. I'll blog about that next.

I playtested most of my Penguicon expansion for Dominion. (Man of a Thousand Names, Chuck, Jer; ConSuite, Joe, Sal; Tracy; Aegis, Steve; Matt. Then I ran out of printer ink.) It was popular. I need to make some changes, but I'm very pleased.

The game room closed at 10PM Friday night, because they lacked someone willing to guard the game library past that time. That meant the entire spacious Mediterranean room stood empty and locked, while gamers played in the lobby and Consuite. The next day I went to the nearby coat closet and noticed that it was lockable. At the feedback session I suggested that next year they may wish to protect the game library in there after hours, and let us use the dozens of tables unsupervised. The hotel person confirmed that coat closet is indeed lockable, and they seemed amenable to probably let it be used for that purpose.

Fortunately on Saturday night, Alex Yeager of Mayfair volunteered to guard the game library so we could game until 4 in the morning, after I was all "room-partied out".

If I would characterize my con weekend with one adjective, it would be "lucky":
  1. There were a surprising number of games which I won through more luck than skill.
  2. I was quite relieved to find crash space on Saturday night so I wouldn't have to drive home. I had no such luck finding crash space Friday night.
  3. The AASFA Board held a session to award grant money to anyone who made a proposal for something that would make the con fun. I didn't present a grant proposal this time. Randy Bradakis proposed to buy things from the dealer room and go around the con playing a dice game with attendees to see who would win the items as prizes. I rolled three of a kind in his game and won a copy of "The Windup Girl", by author guest of honor Paolo Bacigalupi.
  4. As usual, I lost things, but this time they were all found and returned to me.
  5. An incident involving whipped cream was the highlight of my weekend.
Perhaps the most important thing for the comfort and social cohesiveness of a con is the quality of its Consuite. This one was kept well-stocked with quality offerings, including fruit, sandwich fixings, tomato soup, breakfast cereal, and an abundance of snacks and drinks.

My presentation on Motion Capture Animation was fun and very well-received. I enjoyed expounding on it, until the audience asked about employment prospects, which is a discouraging topic. Earning my mocap technician certificate was one of the most enjoyable things I've ever done, but I will be surprised if I ever recoup the investment. For others, getting employed involves promoting themselves in ways that impress HR departments, which I do poorly. For me, getting employed always involves either a temp agency, or someone who knows me personally and already thinks I'm fantastic. Mocap work is in cities where no one knows me, so I'm not holding my breath.
I just got home from a long day of sitting in the Operations/Registration room at U-Con, not playing games. It has certainly not been a fun con for me, (except when I ignored my responsibilities and went to my game-designing happy place).

So I got home past midnight, needing to go to sleep in order to get up early enough to go back in the morning. In my living room was a group of my friends, playing a roleplaying game. The room was more full than some of the rooms at U-Con.

One of them complained about me not participating in the regular game night in my own home. Apparently she did not know that she could have played the game at the local game con, put on with great blood, sweat, and tears, which I told them about over and over, repeatedly, for months, particularly while they watched me put together the program book. The game master replied to this by asking if I was referring to a game con in Ohio.


This is not one of those "stay the course" moments. My apartment is a vital hub of local gaming, to whom U-Con is utterly irrelevant. It is not a good sign for a game convention to be the thing that keeps me away from games. This realization strengthens my resolve not to do any work for U-Con during the con weekend in the future.

I would much rather contribute to U-Con's online scheduling software, a task which engages my mind. In return for my contributions, it will be made open-source.
A poster in Ops at U-Con advertised seeking geeks to be interviewed, for an honors thesis about geek culture. So I emailed Rachel Yung at and signed up. If you self-identify as a geek, Rachel wishes you to do likewise. Here is a transcript of the interview.
Read more... )
I served as the head of Ops (Operations) for U-Con gaming convention this past weekend. I also made the program book, which was a hit. I made it so that you could cut and glue the front cover into a 20-sided die with the Earth on it instead of numbers. Laura assembled one:

Here is my Ops report.Read more... )
U-Con starts tomorrow, setup is tonight! I am in Ann Arbor for the duration.

In addition to serving as Ops and Reg, I made the program book this year. Here it is as a web-ready PDF (1.22MB), and a re-paginated PDF (1.19MB) that you can print, fold, and staple into your own booklet.
It's 6AM. The failure of the first attempt at SMOFcamp has occupied my mind of late. It could be said to have competed for attention with the larger event in which it was embedded. However, there was at least one discussion that did take place at SMOFcamp. It was a wide-ranging series of petty grievances, criticisms, and plans to avenge grudges. I tried to turn it toward constructive suggestions, to no avail. That conversation has caused me to question one of the premises of SMOFcamp: that fandom hurts from lack of grassroots participation in its own direction, and would benefit from more.

Fandom might be better off with the current cold war of passive-aggressive sniping on the internet between cliques who don't talk to each other, than it would be with fandom's own equivalent of a town-hall meeting shouting match. Accomodations for allergies. For children. For handicaps. For reparations of each other's long-dead ancestors. For keeping an art show that nobody wants to staff or attend any more. Grudges over geek social fallacies. The impotent mewling of social-anxiety-sufferers, that the strong personalities get their way on concoms, by increasing the stress level until the shrinking violets resign. Threats over sound systems that are too loud for fifteen minutes playing music you don't like in a room that you could have just left. Whining over not getting free food when you want it.

The ones who I see getting things done, are willing to form coalitions of convenience with fans who they can barely tolerate sometimes. It requires that you humble yourself before someone else and let them have their way in exchange for their blood, sweat and tears. Effectiveness requires you to shut your feelings-hole for a year at a time and suck it up. That is the level of cool-headed, pragmatic leadership we need, not these useless emotional whiners. I am no longer sure whether cool new projects and innovative solutions would be born in a welcoming, populist environment like Open Spaces. It does for other communities, and I have enjoyed Open Spaces tremendously, but there are no guarantees of success with it.

I wonder, if a hundred of the most outspoken fans all gathered at SMOFcamp and discussed the topic "the future of fandom", would we all leave with such a bad taste in our mouths that there are no more cons? For the first time, I wonder if stonewalling the community is all that's keeping the community together.

I still want to try it and see.
Michigan's new summer relaxicon had 52 attendees, although that's only who I saw. There were 38 others either within the core of fandom, known to consistently attend relaxicons, or close to the Castle Bradaki social circle, who I was surprised weren't there. In most cases that I've heard of, they had a schedule conflict. Next year I may need to say "Hey, are you coming to ConStruct?" to more of them.

The food was great. They fed hot breakfast and dinner! The right snacks and drinks were in abundance. I played an astonishing number of board and card games. The pool and hot tub were constantly full of fun activities. But what makes ConStruct so clever is that the programming is all user-generated content, signed up on the day.

My marionette-making workshop was a success. We made puppets from a scarf, clothespins, paint stirrers, blank cardboard Christmas ornaments, tape, and string. The kids were between seven five and eleven, with a variety of attention spans and skill levels. The workshop requires the ability to tie string. It was a dry run for KidFusion during ConFusion, but I'm sure I can't do it on that large a scale without recruiting helpers. (Any takers?)

I presented a puppet to the AASFA board at the meeting they held at ConStruct, and they awarded me reimbursement for my expenses. They said they had very low expectations due to the crude materials, but the minute it started moving it won them over. They wouldn't talk to me, only the puppet. The most rewarding things about the project were teaching how to get particular maneuvers from the puppets, and when Man of a Thousand Names told me he really liked the expressiveness. He is with an actual puppet troupe.

SMOFcamp was scheduled for several hours on Saturday. The good part about holding it as part of ConStruct was that SMOFcamp didn't have to pay for function space. The bad part is that it is an automatic schedule conflict between SMOFcamp and ConStruct, which has a clear-cut winner and loser. During that time I did have one conversation about running conventions, but that was the extent of it. I seeded the SMOFcamp schedule with several topics, but no one else did. Many people who told me they were going to show up to ConStruct in order to attend SMOFcamp never did. Others who had expressed interest looked at the schedule board, and kept walking to all the other things happening at ConStruct. SMOFcamp needs to be at Midwest Construction, the conference about running conventions.

I put a Tetris Tournament on the schedule, but there was no interest.

I put "Get Your Portrait Drawn" on the schedule and drew one portrait, that of Man of a Thousand Names:

His random concert was a hit, as was his game of randomness. Think of a dice-rolling quest of missions that lasted all weekend all over the hotel, but with no time commitment. That definitely has to happen again. There was also a workshop on how to do impromptu comedy, a beading session, a class on how to make armor, a picnic, a movie room, Rock Band, and things that I don't even know about.

For a relaxicon, this was tremendously active! Fifty-two is the right number for an active ConSuite, and people hanging out on the fringes of it, and so several of us moved our events to the open Atrium outside the Consuite. It's all about how to attract and direct attention. I think next year there should be no function space, just the Atrium set up with tables and chairs set up like booths so they can be walked through like a fair. When preparing events, it's crucial to pick ones that can be participated in for a minute or two at a time.


Aug. 21st, 2009 09:29 am
nemorathwald: (sinfest devil clerk)
Most of you are already here and so this post is not for you, since I can talk to you in person. But for those who aren't at ConStruct, I hope you can make it out this weekend! It's at the Best Western in Ann Arbor.


Jul. 24th, 2009 12:30 pm
Today on my way to PyOhio, the regional Saturday/Sunday Python miniconference in Columbus. Here's a page where you can view or download the program book I made for it as a PDF.
Friday, 7 PM, I'm on the panel discussion "Is this your first convention?" in Dennison III.

Saturday, 7 PM, I will serve as the barista for "Cappuccinos with Cory Doctorow".

My burr coffee grinder is adequate, but no longer grinds as fine as it used to. Does anyone have a burr grinder I can use? (Nothing using blades.)

To head off the questions in advance, there will be no Cafe Penguicon at 'Fusion, just as there was not at 'Clave. They don't make enough registrations to pay for themselves, and the people who put them on are consistently stressed out about it. We'll have a fan table. I think our marketing dollars are better spent at events where we aren't known yet.

That having been said, with the tight budget we have, it has been tough to figure out how to do a Cafe Penguicon out of state. Unlike some previous chairs, I don't have the income with which to pay for such a trip, let alone pay for the hotel room out of my pocket. I hope to work out a solution in time for Capricon, but we'll see.
"You should wear a badge ribbon reading 'DRIVEN TO AN UNHOLY DEGREE', because you are" - Jeremy from Grand Rapids

"I was in a conversation yesterday in which we were mentioning how you look like Daniel Jackson"
"SWEET I'm being compared to a xenolinguist. Movie Stargate or TV Stargate?"
"The TV one, Michael Shanks"
"I can talk as fast as him if I get enough caffeine"

"I'd like to give you this as our thanks for making a great program book under adverse conditions"
-- [livejournal.com profile] brendand at the Feedback Session, giving me a gift certificate which is actually as good of a wage as I usually charge personal friends for freelance work! WOW

Before ConFusion I had started to take on so much volunteer work that I began to lose sight of what was so great about conventions. This weekend re-energized my view of it.
I'm bringing this up on my personal blog rather than my blog about Lojban because its lessons are broadly applicable to things that a lot of you are interested in, so I'd like to get your feedback.

Do you like my new icon? I made it after [livejournal.com profile] camgusmis talked me into being the cat-herder for Lojban's language debugging committee. (Yeah, a speakable human language has a debugging committee, is that not neat?) I don't possess expertise in linguistics or logic. I do not intend to arbitrate disputes over language, discuss linguistic issues, or even possess voting rights in the debugging committee-- just keep it moving. The Lojban word for "captain" is "jatna", pronounced "zhat-nah", but "Shatner" is my mnemonic device. Scotty, Spock and McCoy are the ones who know how to do things; I just keep them from sitting on their butts.

The job of herding cats is what I do with the vast majority of my free time, so I feel uniquely qualified. I define "herding cats" as "coordinating any project whose workers are true volunteers, are not obligated by compensation". (I feel the phrase is inappropriate to refer to paid employees, no matter how catlike you think software engineers are. You are not a cat herder if you have the power to fire or penalize someone. But that's another matter.) Cats show up only when they want to and are motivated by friendship and/or personal fascination.

What I am not qualified to do is design a constructed language. Just as in running a science fiction convention, my role is limited as follows:

1. Understand what tasks await doing, not necessarily knowing how to do them.
2. Assign tasks and track who is assigned to what.
3. Set deadlines and warn of their approach and arrival.
4. Keep current with everyone's contact info and preferred means of communication.
5. Talk to the volunteers a lot, asking for reports to check if they're active.
6. Seek replacements for the ones who went inactive or lost motivation.
7. Motivate active volunteers with vision, encouragement, small gifts, public thanks, or incentives tailored to their unique motivational drives.

And that, my friends, is herding cats. However, in the current traditional structure of a science fiction convention, there is a lot more that goes into being conchair, which is why I am not a conchair. It really is two totally unrelated jobs, which could be split. The second set of conchair responsibilities is:

8. Set the budget. ($$$)
9. Negotiate the hotel contract. ($$$)
10. Make long-term strategic decisions. What constituency to extract money from. What message to use to extract it from them. Where to best invest money to attract them. How to reduce the expenditure of money. ($$$)

"Oh, Matt, you can easily be conchair!" quoth he and she who have smoked crack and uttered a counterfactual statement.

The reverse side of that coin, to speak candidly, is that deeply savvy and wise decision-makers (tasks 8 through 10) do not always have sufficient personal availability to create and nurture a concom (tasks 1 through 7). Vital concom slots go empty, and we sort of coast along because we can't afford to have a leader who can create an active concom only to lead it right off a cliff. I am not speaking of any convention or any year in particular: it's fairly common.

In spite of being a cat herder, the reason I am not, have not been, and do not want to be conchair, is that I do not have opinions on 8 through 10 and money bores me. Paying attention to such matters would drain all interest out of me and make me want to GAFIAte. I would stab randomly in the dark at budgets, contracts and strategic decisions. I would be held responsible for the resulting failure, and I would be rightly blamed for having asked people to fail along with me. I will not, and constitutionally can not, evangelize anything that I don't believe in. When I mentioned this to Sal and Heather of Aegis Consulting, Sal remarked, "You don't like guessing, do you?" If I were to find out that those I trusted had staked my time and energy on a guess, I would be livid. So no, I can't evangelize guessing.

You may have noticed by now that my trust is of vital importance to me, and its dissappointment (to put it gently, I will not say "betrayal") is a recurring theme of this blog. I hear horror stories from [livejournal.com profile] avt_tor about conrunning politics in other regions, in which people actually compete to be in charge, and yet what an embarrassment of riches that must be. By contrast, in Michigan nobody wants to do anything. This is our harmonious blessing and lethargic curse. One issue with conventions in Michigan is that the number of people I trust enough to recruit as concom workers dwindles every year. You can't successfully build a concom if you say to people "Where have you been?" and "Have you gotten anything done?" as if to say "I don't have confidence in you." But it's true, I don't. As Head of Programming, there are two individuals to whom I say almost nothing but those things, every time I see them, because the success of my responsibility depends on it! I even tried adding someone to the "team" to shore up the task, and this third individual is doing nothing that I can see. (Don't worry, the vast majority of the programming team is completely present and it's going great overall.) Meanwhile I'm fielding inquiries about these tracks of the schedule and am helpless to do it myself since I know nothing about the topics. I feel I'm doing all I can as a cat herder, but at the end of the day, the cats are really in control.

I just keep reminding myself that the dysfunctionality is a necessary tradeoff for what I like so much about cat-herded groups.

November 2016

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