Friday night, 8PM: FoolMoon, a parade of luminary sculptures on Washington Street at Main Street. It's a branch of FestiFools, an event two days later.

Saturday afternoon, noon to 5PM: Work on the TuxTrax site for Penguicon, at All Hands Active hackerspace, 525 E Liberty. Lunch is provided to developers.

Saturday evening, 6PM: Nerdsplosion, a concert of nerd music at Cavern Club on 1st Street at Washington, sponsored by Penguicon.

Sunday evening, 5PM: FestiFools, a glorious parade of giant puppets on Main Street. My past FestiFools reports:

My FestiFools 2011 report. (Schematics) (Video)
My FestiFools 2013 report.

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:

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 prepared for this year's tournament more meticulously than any before, but got a worse outcome than ever before. Contestants: I hear you, I understand exactly what caused this, I have a plan to fix it, and it will never happen again. Previously, I have never had such space constraints that I would have to make it clear to the programming team that my event needed tables empty for an hour beforehand to set up the tournament. That was my downfall.

The sign-up sheet was almost full. The tournament was scheduled to start at 4PM. I was scheduled to be in the Penguicon Board of Directors meeting from 3 to 4 PM, so I got some minions to set up the tournament. I gave them setup instruction sheets and one pre-assembled material packet per table. Unfortunately, there was a presentation going on in the Private Dining during that hour, so all the tables were full of gamers. My minions are kind-hearted and would never kick gamers out of the only places available to play. Due to space constraints, they would effectively close down the entire game room, end all the games in progress, and kick pretty much everybody out. I was the only one assertive enough to do that, and I was in a meeting.

As a result, setup did not take place, and the tournament started almost an hour late in a huge panicky disorganized rush, while the room was crowded with contestants. A lot of our signed-up players walked out during this time, meaning we had to re-organize the seating chart, and it took even longer. There were some setup errors, so some games had cards in them which I did not intend, resulting in extremely slow and/or swingy games.

How to fix it:

1. A sign on each table at the start of the day, saying "Please be done with games on this table by 3PM, to allow for Dominion tournament setup".
2. Do not accept being scheduled to do something else during setup.

Congratulations to the winner, Mike Riverso! He jotted his contact info and shipping address on Evernote on my phone. As soon as he left, it gave me a "" error and lost his information. I put up a sign in the lobby, and he sent me his info through email, so all's well that ends well. He will receive a copy of the new Dominion expansion, "Guilds", in about a month when it is published.

New things that went well:

Penguicon's new Dominion collection. The convention now owns two copies of every Dominion product, so we had enough cards. With thirty-two players and eight simultaneous games, it was the largest Penguicon Dominion tournament ever, so we needed it!

Using a megaphone. No more shouting myself hoarse.

I ordered plenty of "Estate" "Duchy" and "Province" ribbons to hand them out to each contestant. I have next year's supply already.
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.
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."
In an act of amazing and utter coolness, Rio Grande Games has re-iterated their friendly policy toward fan cards. In so doing, they also asked fan creators help them out, by formulating the name "[My Expansion Name], a Fan Expansion for Dominion" and avoid the formulation "Dominion: [My Expansion Name]" which is reserved for official expansions. This is to prevent confusion. My original three disclaimers still apply as well.

This card can make draw piles as open as the recipe for the OpenSoda that Penguicon serves in the ConSuite. Your deck remains face-up, even after you shuffle it. The only way to get it face-down again is to play another OpenSoda. But you can only use each copy of OpenSoda once, and it will throw itself out of the game. There are only ten copies in the supply.

Sometimes you want to know "Should I play this card which will draw the next card in my deck?" Well, with OpenSoda, you can put your draw pile face-up. Now you're drawing from what used to be on the bottom, and you will always see what's next.

At other times, you have a deck-inspection attack like Pirate Ship, Thief, Swindler, or Saboteur, and you're wondering whether it's worthwhile to play it. If you play OpenSoda against everyone else's decks, you can see if they have some delectable goodies on top, just waiting for your destruction. If someone else does that to you, you can play OpenSoda to put your deck back face down.

I wanted to see if I could design a card that would actually motivate players to buy Curses (a negative one victory point card, which doesn't do anything). Normally no one buys Curses. They exist only to inflict on other people. Kimba's "+1 Buy" lets you buy an extra card on the turn you play it. I'll bet you'll use that Buy to get a Curse card, which only costs zero dollars. This card uses Curses as an incredibly powerful fuel. The question is, can you get rid of them by the end of the game?

Say what you want about Kimba, she did some things that we don't have anymore, in ways that sometimes went unnoticed. This card is useful too-- if you bite the bullet, make the hard choices, and accept the damage of Curses to your deck. I dare you!

They say each good Dominion card tells a little story. The story is about what the card does in the start of the game, what it does in the midgame, and what it does in the endgame. Let's just say the Kimba card had too much of a story on it. I just couldn't fit all the effects I wanted to have. At one point I had Kimba trashing everyone else's Potion cards, because she's a teetotaler. And so on. I was doing too much with one card. So I split some of the effects to their own cards. Like this one:

This card will throw itself out of the game at the absolute last minute. (Perhaps even at one AM on the morning of the convention.) Everybody's holding onto their copies of this, holding out hope, because the earlier you play it, the less it's worth. Finally someone will throw one in the trash to get rid of Gold or Platinum from their opponents. (Canceled plane tickets.) Then all of a sudden everybody is trashing Hhhhhhwil Hhhhhhhwheaton. It's like an extravaganza of Hhwheaton-trashing.

Keep in mind that the trashing effect happens when your card gets trashed for any reason, not just when the card trashes itself. If someone hits your Hhwil with Thief or Saboteur, it attacks everyone other than you even though it's not your turn.

I didn't have the heart to put this person on the card. Suffice it to say that when you take on a job and are never heard from again, it is vitally important that we at least get one message from you, acknowledging that you got our email firing you. Otherwise, no one else is able to do your job, because they don't know what arrangements you might be making behind the scenes.
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... )
My memory is weird. It fails me often, and that has been one of my most serious weaknesses as Conchair. But my emotional memory is my strength. When things are at their best, and I'm happy, I vividly remember the bad times as a cautionary tale, and steer clear of disasters. When things are at their worst, and I'm disappointed or ashamed, I vividly remember how things went well, and keep energized. This year's concom, of this particular convention, can say a lot of things, but they cannot say the Conchair ever run and hid.

March is the worst. Every year, my memory of the previous year's triumph fades gradually, like a battery. I feel less and less enthusiastic until I actually arrive at Penguicon on Thursday night or Friday. Three days later, most of the others who sacrificed as much as I did just want to put it behind them, while I am at my most excited peak.

It's my job to visualize the worst that could happen, remember the failure modes of past years, and act to prevent it. It's draining. At the worst times, I remind myself to picture the positive experiences of the weekend in my mind. To actually daydream about Penguicon. Then I get a recharge. Concom meetings and SMOS dinners are essential for this.

From time to time, I add a puzzle to my text adventure in progress, Sim Penguicon, and it helps. I figure out how to get Inform to make someone I know carry a concealed weapon. How to make a luggage cart a rideable vehicle. How to get the voice recorders taped to the tables to record everything that happens in that room. How to give the protagonist a set of scores in caffienation, or blood sugar, or adrenaline. How to hide ninjas.

The best time of the past month was probably when [ profile] jer_ sent an email to the concom list announcing a sponsorship. Not exactly because of the news itself-- although it was tremendous, and with poetic appropriateness, it was an energy drink. Specifically because he painted a picture with words of the experiences the sponsor would provide during the convention. From that seed, an entire environment stepped out from behind the curtains. A movie unfolded in my head. The image that had receded behind all these cautionary images was, for a bright moment, almost tangible. My eyes were once more on the prize.

43 days.
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.
Tomorrow, Saturday March 21, there is a Penguicon Concom meeting at the home of Andy Vinton in Ypsilanti. [profile] treebones will provide fresh-baked bread, spinach quiche, fresh chocolate chip cookies, and some random salty foods available at 2 p.m. There'll be coffee, but not a whole lot of soda unless you want to bring some. The meeting will start at 3 PM. Email my gmail account, matt dot mattarn, for directions. I look forward to seeing you there!
We'll have at least two SMOS Dinners between now and Penguicon. Allison Anderson will host at her home in New Baltimore on Friday, March 14. Limey Zernich will host at his home downriver on Friday, March 28, where we will test out Penguicon's new Chaos Machine. Both will be at 7 PM. Email me at my gmail account, matt dot mattarn, for directions.
Garrett asked me to post this:
Great news for Geeks with Guns! We've filled all of the available slots. Just another advantage of preregistration.

The arrangements with the range have been finalized. We'll be shooting at Firing Line Indoor Gun Range and Gun Shop. This is the same place we have enjoyed great service in years past. Everybody going will need to fill out the following Range Application to shoot at the range itself. You'll be on the range sooner if you fill out a copy at home and bring it with you.

Geeks will be meeting on Friday, April 18th, 2008 at 10:00 am in front of Charlie's Crab. This is a different location than the one we used last year. Also, this year we will have the registration packages for people who are going on Geeks with Guns. This way you will have access to your badges and program book as soon as possible.

- Garrett
I've been a bystander to some interesting conversations between Concom members about Nifty Guests at Penguicon. I've been watching the process of Nifty selection up-close-and-personal under four consecutive Conchairs. It has never been organized and usually nobody has the slightest clue what Nifty even means. Every year we made our share of mistakes in who we gave the status to. But I've listened to a lot of philosophies expressed about it over the years, and condensed what I thought were the most helpful, meaningful set of non-contradictory definitions into an answer on our FAQ page.
"Nifty Guest" is a status we confer on those who are not our Guests of Honor this year, but have been in the past, or they are celebrities in their own right. We only have about twenty or fewer Nifty Guests per year, although that number gets slightly larger each year from the original two. It is not simply to be used an award for people we like who have done things we admire. It is for two kinds of people.
- Celebrities or leaders within their specific subculture or internet community. They have a fanbase within that subculture to whom they announce, "you can meet me at Penguicon," so they are an attendance draw.
- Those who are going to attend Penguicon to provide a specific event which is so glittery and shiny for our attendees that it stands above our other programming. When we feel we can't do without them, but they can't attend without a little modest financial help, sometimes we have Niftified them. This second type of Nifty has been kept deliberately rare, maybe one per year.
"Program Participant" is a general term for anyone who delivers a presentation, is on a discussion panel, runs a scheduled game, or is featured in any other scheduled event at Penguicon. Those who are not designated a Guest of Honor or Nifty Guest receive a discounted admission rate for providing Penguicon content. The reality is, all our Program Participants are truly nifty in the sense of the English adjective. But each year I've seen us turn down several potential program participants because they couldn't show up without a free membership badge. As an all-volunteer not-for-profit convention (and one that is relatively new and still building financial security), we can't do that yet.
So you can see, as Conchair for next year I have some pretty well-defined ideas about it, and I'm going to be able to give some clear guidance to the people involved in Nifty selection. Others will disagree completely or have variations on it, and that's fine.

1. We have to limit it somehow. )

2. We need clearer guidelines. )

4. The real purpose of the guidelines is to get an arbitrary number, but as long as they're there, each guideline may as well help us. )
The code is more like guidelines, really.

So what have we got? Two or more of the following:

1. Strongly bound trait: Fan base who will attend for no other reason than they heard Nifty will be there
2. Strongly bound trait: Good to put on programming
3. Weakly bound trait: If not professional, at least spends an amount of time on their avocation comparable to a part-time job
4. Weakly bound trait: Lives far away and/or would not otherwise attend the convention
5. Weakly bound trait: Invited as a full Guest of Honor at other conventions

Remember, radial category! Most Nifties lack one or more of these, and that's fine. So a prospective Nifty really needs to meet at least one strongly-bound trait, and has to make up for it with weakly-bound traits. If they meet all of them they are the prototype Nifty of which other Nifties are variations.

This system should be tweaked some more. More ideas are welcome, but remember, does your idea solve the problem of limiting the number to 20? And does it do this in a way that squeezes maximum benefit to Penguicon out of the Nifty Guest?

Keep in mind before you comment, the suggested guidelines are about the prototype Nifty, not all Nifties!
If you want to get up in the morning and feel like you get to spend at least part of your time on something that matters, you could do a whole lot worse.

You know, the capstone of Penguicon that tips it over from a great idea to a brilliant motivational structure is that it's centered around fun, so we don't take ourselves too seriously. If it weren't for that element, there would be self-righteous one-upmanship and pious guilt-trips, and that would kill it. If you don't step up to the plate, and the convention were to fade away because somebody dropped the ball, all we've lost is a silly little costume party, right?

It's as if the motivation were "ha ha only serious". And yet I still get the motivation to work harder than I've ever worked on anything in my life. That's a neat little mind hack.

Such intersections seldom come along, and I'm grateful for the unique opportunity.
I've been making a miniature toy Penguicon. You can run around in it and interact with artificially-intelligent miniature versions of people you might recognize. It's a shame Randy Milholland of "Something Positive" isn't returning this year--- had I made one for last year's Penguicon, it would have included something like this:

You hand the crumpled sheaf to Randy Milholland. His eyes, as they traverse the lines, lose their light by progressive stages. Finally he slumps into the sofa. "I've lost my will to live," he says.

Rippy the Razor Blade walks into the Consuite.


It's no longer here, it's lost. Maybe you can find it.
The sort of game you can play using an interpreter program like WinPlotz used to be called a "text adventure". Occasionally the word "storygame" tries to get traction and fails. The term of art has come to be "interactive fiction". The difficulty in naming results from so many simultaneous categories: programmers call it a simulator parser or a conversational interface, authors call it narrative prose, and gamers call it a puzzle game. Just as in the blind descriptions of Rudyard Kipling's elephant, they are all correct.

This project is experiencing feature creep like mad. I'm using it for a learning experience, and the more I discover the InForm system can do, the more I build in. It now simulates the player's mental and physical condition along several dimensions. I'm actually toying with the idea of having the game ask you for your LJ username, and building a programming track from your interests list, so you can plan out how to maximize your "fun" points score as the weekend goes by. I'm also realizing how many games Andy Looney has designed which you could play against him in the game room.

But no, this thing has to get out the door some time. I'm not going to program in every flower planter in the lobby. Building the hotel convention center and its contents is mostly finished, but the markup has run to the thousands of words. This is to say nothing of the pseudocode that scripts the behaviors, events, and puzzle mechanisms.

This is so fun, I think I need to find an organization for Interactive Fiction and see if I can get on the Board of Directors or something. Yeah, I'm that excited about it.

Let me tell you a bit about user interfaces as it relates to Interactive Fiction. An interesting thing happens when people get really good at writing text adventures. They're trying to manage the state of your knowledge: not too much too soon, not too little too late, see? Because it's a puzzle. Also they're trying to motivate you, carefully adjust to your expectations, respond to your constant errors, and put you at precisely the right frustration level, see? Because it's a game. They're also trying to predict and manage how you feel about it, see? Because it's a literary drama with a plot, setting, and characters.

All of those things involve them modeling the human, not modeling the computer system.

And what happens -- aha! -- when such people are also programmers? Not just any programmers, but programmers in the area of natural language interface. What happens when the best of them get together and program a development environment and framework, and then design the user interface for it, and then write debugging error messages and step-by-step documentation for it?

You get software that seems to read your mind, that's what. InForm 7 (available free for Windows, Mac and Linux) has the most kickass debugging error messages and step-by-step documentation I've ever seen.
nemorathwald: (I'm losin' it)
[personal profile] cosette_valjean left this morning on a twelve-hour car trip, for a week-long vacation with her family in Alabama. I begin an experiment in carlessness (also-- since I have delayed getting a bank account-- an experiment in making sure to get by on a set amount of cash.)

My car works fine. I just can't seem to find where I put the title, so I can bring the title to get insurance, so I can bring proof of insurance to get tags. It's been nice to not have to pay those costs for a while, but the time has come to get back behind the wheel.

[profile] overthesun is on his way here to take me grocery shopping, and carpool to the Penguicon Board of Directors meeting (which is open to the public, by the way) from 1 PM to 4 PM at 5675 Big Pine Drive, Ypsilanti, MI  48197. One of the items on their agenda is the election of a 2009 conchair. This year we have a possibly record-setting high number of volunteers for the job who don't have to be tackled and forced to do it. That number is one. I will give you more news on this later.
EPCOT Center had a robot arm that painted portraits, in the late eighties/early nineties. I bought a robot-painted portrait of me, but left it on the double-decker bus in World Showcase.

Now I want to make something like this poster-making robot made out of printer parts and an old Roomba.

What Penguicon needs is an annual Hack Of Honor-- a live-and-in-person D.I.Y. Imagineering exhibit that makes conventions fun. We're not going to get Makers to pack up and bring their stuff without helping them.

P.S. I won "Funniest Costume" at Blasted Bill's annual Halloween Bash last night for "Misinformed Time Traveler".
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 [ 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 [ 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.


Oct. 12th, 2006 02:11 pm
nemorathwald: (sinfest devil clerk)
  • The Secret Masters of SMOS invite you to join us, regardless of whether you are a Secret Master Of Fandom, for abundant spaghetti this Friday, October 13. This time the SMOS dinner is once again at my house in Redford, conveniently central to the Ann Arbor/Detroit suburban metroplex. Here's a link to a Google Map. If you care about Penguicon, you are invited to show up, whether you're working on the convention or not. It's a small social gathering. It's laid back, you can talk about anything, and there's no membership, agenda, formality, or structure. We just SMOF, eat, talk about SF/fantasy/software/games and other things, and get to know each other better.

  • I am removing some restrictions on the Livejournal Art Meme. It is no longer limited to the first five people who ask me. I do not promise to do it, although your chances improve if you make an interesting request. You are not at all obligated to reproduce the meme on your own blog.

  • [ profile] dbvanhorn replied to yesterday's post about my third case in five days of draining my car battery by leaving the headlights on:
    RELAYS ARE WONDERFUL. A bit of hacking should allow you to gate the power to the headlights by the ignition switch.
    If any of you know how to do this, I would be very grateful if you would.

  • Want a free PlayStation Portable game cartridge? Loan me your PSP.

    Capcom sent me a review copy of "Ultimate Ghosts N Goblins". I enjoyed the classic old versions for the NES and the SNES (see the modified web-playable version here), and I hope this new one will follow in those footsteps. When Ghouls 'N Ghosts spun off one of the enemy characters (pictured above) to be the protagonist of "Gargoyle's Quest", that was one of my favorite black-and-white Gameboy titles. "Maximo" for PS2 had a problem with save points, but was worth renting. There's a good track record with this franchise.

    I plan to review it; but I don't own the system that plays the cartridge. The first person to loan me their PSP gets to own the game cartridge when I'm done playing it and writing the review. Given the legendary difficulty of the Ghouls 'N Ghosts series, this could take a couple of weeks. Naturally, I'll take excellent care of the PSP, and will guarantee that I'll pay to replace it if it's damaged during the loan.

    As most of the people know by now who saw me, [ profile] cosette_valjean, [ profile] aaronthul and Matt playing 4-player Mario Kart DS and Tetris DS over a wireless connection at ConClave, Gameboy DS is my handheld platform of choice. But PSP is also excellent, and has games I crave, such as Lumines.

  • Click here for the press release and banner art for Ultimate Ghosts N Goblins. )

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