Thoughts on Balticon 44

Despite a deep set fatigue on waking this morning, I feel mostly recovered from Balticon 44 which I attended this past weekend. I failed to get to sleep before 2AM any night I was there. The only morning I slept in, and then only for a bit, was Sunday. My room mate and traveling companion, John Taylor Williams, and I were responsible for a staggering amount of potable consumption. Most of that was in the form of beer to which we are well accustomed. I mention these particular facts only as an explanation for why I utterly failed to blog while at the convention.

We had more volunteers this year for recording author readings than any year since I’ve been helping on that front. I don’t know how the other volunteers made out but for once I did not feel overloaded between recordings, being on panels, and trying to see some of the other panels I merely wanted to attend. Overall, I felt I managed my schedule the best out of any Balticon yet, so much so that the late nights and early mornings took a much more limited toll on my enjoyment.

I am finally resigned fully to the impossibility of seeing everything and everyone I want to at a convention. Even if I did not volunteer or participate as a panelist, programming and schedules are simply too chaotic to do much more than be open to the opportunities when they arise, otherwise just relaxing and enjoying full immersion into the gnarl that is the con experience.

I enjoyed all of the programming I saw or in which I participated. Despite the constant conflicts, I don’t feel short changed and I hope those whose panels and events I missed understand my regrets and my reasons. I did get out to quite a few live shows and book launches. The buzz amongst the writers who podcast (or are they podcasters who write?) was that all of the book launches went well. I heard many reports of brisk sales and excellent turn outs.

My ad hoc FLOSS/techie BoF Friday night was lightly attended though I was tickled that Mur Lafferty sat with us a spell. As I explained to her our gathering was not exclusive, Nathan Lowell and his friend joined us last year and we were happy to have them. Rather attendance by non-tech geeks is really limited by their tolerance of us hackers, sysadmins and others talking shop without restraint. I am not deterred by the low attendance and will try again next year. The other unofficial event I helped pull together, the BYOBS went better though I or JTW will write about that more at Living Proof.

The new media party, put on once more by my dear friends Chooch and Viv, was amazing. A mob of folks showed to help them set up, myself included. I only hope I wasn’t in the way too much during the preparations. Despite the couple of small things with which I pitched in, I honestly thought I might have better helped by getting out of the way. I am comforted by my contribution during clean up, however, as predictably a slightly reduced mob remained to help with that. During the party my claustrophobia got the better of me and I spent most of the time out in the hallway like last year. There was pretty good traffic, though, so I got to see and chat up a lot of the folks in attendance.

On a deeper level, I came away from Balticon with a lot of food for thought. I think for the first time ever, a friend offered me some constructive criticism of my participation on panels. Dave Slusher is a man with a talent for expressing the heart of a matter in clear, honest and in this case welcome words. I have been bumbling my way through speaking at conventions through trial and error and trying to observe and reverse engineer others. I am trying to take Dave’s criticism to heart, in the spirit of friendship and support it was offered. I think that is the best way I can repay his honesty and earnestness in offering it. It isn’t anything huge, merely a weakness he admitted to having in common, that I’ll have to work through at future gigs.

There are other lessons I took away but none I am ready to share. They are equally challenging, on a personal level, but I welcome the opportunity to improve myself and my experience at conventions and other gatherings with a deep networking dimension. There is a strong element of serendipity to my most recent personal realizations so the ultimate outcome should be all to the good.

Overall this past Balticon was a renewing and sustaining experience. Any frustrations or challenges I encountered there or took away with me just add a richer texture to the whole which was entirely a positive experience. I owe a good debt of gratitude for being able to see it that way from a friend, Chris Miller, who wasn’t able to join us despite early plans to do so this year. Chris gave me a head check before Balticon 43 that is still echoing around, in a good way, inside my skull. I have faith that we’ll find ourselves in the same location at some point or another amongst of nexus of friends and family. In the meantime, I know I can give him a call any time I need a refresher on the head check, just want to shoot the breeze, or chew over some story idea or other for the podcast.

Finally, I did manage to come away with recordings of the two panels I felt would be most appropriate to share on my podcast. I haven’t listened to the audio yet so cannot make any predictions on what I’ll be able to get into shape worth sharing. I am optimistic as the recorder I brought with me is a huge improvement over the piece of gear it replaced. I am nervous because I was too lazy to more aggressively mic myself and my co-panelists. I do have a new reserve in what I have been able to process out of the vast knowledge my friend, JTW, has imparted to me in our short friendship so far. These lessons and nuggets of knowledge are informed by his years and years of audio engineering, composition and musical performance.

Which reminds me that I am very proud of successfully introducing him to the podcasting contingent at Balticon. By all accounts he had as fantastic a time as I did and made many new friends and acquaintances. He is on a mission to share his knowledge and experience specifically with poor self taught audio geeks like myself. That goal seemed well received by those he met and I anticipate that more casts than my own will benefit from his influence in the coming year.

One More Word about Balticon

For those that read the blog more than listen to the podcast, a heads up that blogging will be minimal tomorrow and on Monday. I doubt I will have time to read through my usual slog of feed items let alone write up even summary notes for those days. I usually don’t post over the weekend, so there should be little change there. I may be able to manage some notes from the con, I like being able to capture impressions and daily goings on when they are still fresh. No promises there but I’ll do my best.

If you will be at Balticon tomorrow night, you could of course swing by the FLOSS and Tech Geek BoF and chat with me about the news of the day anyway. I’ll be in the bar with my bean bag Tux and a table sign from 9PM until 11PM. I’ll try to snag a larger table. I usually get pretty good wireless reception with my iPod so you can try to @ message me on Twitter or Identi.ca if you have trouble finding the BoF.

Balticon 44 Schedule

I am once again an invited participant at the annual convention put on by the Baltimore Science Fiction Convention, Balticon. This will be my fourth year as a panelist and a volunteer. I will be on several panels for the new media track and helping to get recordings of author readings for release on the Balticon Podcast. The convention starts a week from today, May 28th, and runs through Memorial Day, May 31st. It will be held at the Hunt Valley Marriott (affectionately known as the Mandelbroit Marriott for its wonderfully gnarly floor plan.)

I’ve posted my panels on my Google Calendar but I’ll reproduce them here for those not using that particular service.

  • Into The Blender: Live!
    Friday, 11PM to 12AM in Chesapeake
    Dealing with blended families

    Chooch, Viv, and possibly a special guest discuss parenting; blended families (children from previous marriages); dealing with school, work, long distance family relationships; pop culture; gaming, and gadgetry geekiness.

  • Art, Music, and Literature in an Age of Technological Reproducibility
    Saturday, 5PM to 6PM in Derby
    A discussion of the benefits and dangers surrounding cultural production on a globalized, digital platform. Technology has a long history of shaping our cultural arts. Around 1900, technological reproduction had reached a standard that permitted it to tangibly reproduce all known works of art, profoundly modifying their role and effect in the artistic process. Laws were made to strike a balance between an individual artist’s incentive to create, and the virtues of a public domain, where others can experiment and improve upon previous ideas. In today’s “Digital Age”– an era defined by the ability to make copies and share information at the speed of light– art, music and literature that participate in the online ecosystem are being perceived differently, taking on a new aura. Ironically, the artistic material that is produced and shared online; that which forsakes the Barnes and Nobles and Virgin records shelves to exist only in non-tangible form, is now deemed “Content,” rather than art. But “content” implies that it is a thing– that it can be contained, bought and sold. What consequences might this re-branding of art and creative work hold for future generations? What is the fate of our cultural creative commons?
  • Lovecraft Mythos Cagefight
    Sunday, 12PM to 1PM in Derby
    Who Would Win in a Fight?

    Cthulhu vs. Dagon? Yog-Sothoth vs. Shub-Niggurath? Would the match be a TKO or won on points?

  • Free Yourself: Open Source Software for Use
    Sunday, 3PM to 4PM in Derby
    Chances are you probably use some OSS, and you don’t even know it. Our panel of open source developers and evangelists discuss the facts and help you find the OSS packages that can free you from outrageously high costs, bizarre licensing practices, and poor interface design. Come and learn ways to save yourself money, improve your productivity, and secure your computer. You don’t have time or money to ignore OSS anymore. Set yourself free.
  • The Zombie Apocalypse Preparation Kit
    Monday, 10AM to 11AM in Derby
    What’s in your wallet?

    Experts discuss the impending Zombie Apocalypse and how they plan to survive it. What’s in your Zombie emergency kit? Will you be prepared? What’s the best choice of weapon? What tactics work best for hiding? These questions and more will be answered.

In addition to my official commitments, I will also be at a couple of unofficial gatherings. I already posted about the FLOSS and Tech Geek BoF and my co-homebrewer and future co-host on the Living Proof Brewcast, John Taylor Williams, has written about our BYOBS gathering for our fellow homebrewers and beer enthusiasts.

FLOSS and Tech Geek BoF at Balticon 44


FLOSS’ing.

Originally uploaded by Vivid Muse

Last year I organized an ad hoc birds-of-a-feather gathering of techie geeks and free software and open source enthusiasts at Balticon. It was part of my plan to increase my enjoyment of the convention by indulging my enlightened self interest. As you might imagine, the overlap between fandom and tech geekery is pretty large. We had a decent turn out for an unofficial event I promoted mostly through Twitter and Identi.ca.

I had such a good time, I am planning on reprising this BoF. If you are coming to Balticon and are a technology enthusiast or interested in FLOSS, come and find me in the bar Friday night. I’ll be there from 9PM to 11PM and will once again have my Tux table sign and my bean bag Tux out to help folks find me.

TCLP 2010-05-09 News

This is news cast 213, an episode of The Command Line Podcast.

In the intro, thanks to new monthly donor, Jamie. Also, I was interviewed for Uber Leet Hacker Force Radio, part of Hacker Public Radio. My part starts around minute twenty-three. Lastly, I will be interviewing Cory Doctorow about his latest YA novel, “For the Win“. I’m scheduled to do so on Thursday, the 13th, so if you have any questions for him, get them to me before then.

This week’s security alerts are a new attack technique that bypasses most common antivirus programs demonstrated by matousec.com and study that shows programming language choice doesn’t affect security.

In this week’s news Hugo Gernsback as futurist (I’ve read more about him as a publisher) including some criticism of his views of the place of science in science fiction, why computers crash but biology does not, a rallying cry for parallelism even though the trend is well established and the challenges hard then first supposed, and Google releases a code lab and sources to teach and learn security through reading code and hands on exercises.

Following up this week the FCC’s third way to pursue network neutrality and the FCC allows selectable output control with some qualifications.

[display_podcast]

Grab the detailed show notes with time offsets and additional links either as PDF or OPML. You can also grab the flac encoded audio from the Internet Archive.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Interview on Hacker Public Radio

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by sigflup, one of the regular correspondents for Hacker Public Radio. She produces and intermittently releases Uber Leet Hacker Force Radio which highlights software releases to which she contributed and features interviews with some fascinating fellow hackers. HPR is a fun and deeply hackish collaboration that includes amongst its cadre of contributors many regular presenters at various hacker conventions. The shows cover a wide range in content and audio quality but all share a singularly hacker bent.

sigflup and I had nice chat about all aspects of parallel computing. There is another interview, with cobra2 of unixporn.com, and some code releases in the first part of the episode. My interview starts at about the twenty-three minute mark. The audio quality is a bit rough but I find it to be listenable.

I want to thank sigflup for having me on her show. The conversation was wonderfully technical and fun to stretch into a direction I don’t normally discuss this deeply. HPR puts out podcasts by hackers for hackers so is a great opportunity to really cut loose.

TCLP 2010-02-17 Copyright, Copywrong

This is a feature cast, an episode of The Command Line Podcast.

There is no listener feedback this week.

There is no hacker word of the week this week, due to the length of the feature.

The feature this week is audio I recorded from a panel I moderated this past weekend at Farpoint. Farpoint was the first convention where I was invited as a participant, four years ago. The panel audio is from the Copyright, Copywrong discussion panel I moderated.

[display_podcast]

You can also grab the flac encoded audio from the Internet Archive.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Farpoint 2010

The first convention at which I spoke about copyright was Farpoint, four years ago. That particular experience is cherished both for that unique opportunity and for the time I got to spend with my new friends, Tee Morris and Jack Mangan. The con was (and still is) on the small side but it actually makes it more intimate and friendly. Over these past four years, only my local and regional friends regularly make it out leaving much more time to spend with each compared to Balticon or Dragon*Con where far more are in attendance, from all over the world.

Farpoint 2010 marks the start of my fourth con season as a participant or volunteer. The qualities I have so enjoyed from years past were evident in abundance. While some dear friends were not able to make it, plenty were still there. Those absent were missed, those present got to socialize plenty in between panels, autograph sessions and events.

Friday was understandably scantly attended by familiar faces. Most folks were still struggling with the aftermath of all the snow. Undeterred, I had a nice meal at the bar, enjoying the volatiles on offer and people watching. Helen Madden was the first and only friend to arrive. I enjoyed attending her two evening panels both for moral support and because she is engaging and thoughtful in her writing and speaking. She writes erotica and in the first panel gave her own definition of the genre that demonstrates what I mean. She writes about the interface between sex and everything else–both the big ideas of science fiction and the fantastical elements of fantasy and the lenses they present on psychology, biology and sociology.

There was supposed to be a social for the DIY program participants. A couple of the folks from Interrobang Studios showed but Helen learned later the party was actually in the con suite and included some of the celebrity guests too. I had occasion to meet more of the Interrobang crew and I am impressed. I caught the tale end of a panel Saturday on being a pro where they offered thoughtful advice along with their co-panelist on the professional aspects of being an independent creator. I caught their thoughts on designing and running a booth at a convention and the importance of an effective and clear elevator pitch for your works. I also got to see their booth, first hand evidence of their hard won experience. Viv and I chatted with the gang and she bought several fun, short collections by Kevin Bolk, including his autobiographical “I’m My Own Mascot” which she gave to me as a belated birthday gift. I love the title and the blurb on the back caught my attention as it was charming, surreal and silly.

More friends arrived Saturday, including my roomies Chooch and Viv. We gathered and parted throughout the day as each enjoyed the programming that interested them then re-grouped in the main atrium to catch up, recharge, and head back out. I caught the robotics demo presented by a fellow from the Navel Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit. Robots are always a treat, especially since he had three with him, two of them powered up and used for practical demonstrations. I also attended the podcasters as press panel. As with the podcasting 101 panel I was on earlier in the day, the panelists and people acquainted with them outnumbered the actual audience. It was an excellent discussion, regardless, and I was impressed by the Sci Fi Diner guys, especially Scott Hertzog who also does the recently revived Haiti in Focus podcast.

I had a chance to check out the art show. I was more impressed with the one at Philcon, to be honest, though there were some very well done pieces. I just felt like at Philcon there were a few artists a bit more bold in their experimentation, not the least of which being Frank Wu. All the same, I was happy to have the time to stroll through because you never know what surprises you might find.

I will admit I am not terribly familiar with the work of the con’s biggest guest this year, Felicia Day. I went to her talk in the main ball room mainly to spend time with my friends. Dan, who write for Geekadelphia and helped me with my interview of Cory at Philcon, saved me a seat down front. Dan is a shutter bug, like me, and we often like to shoot side-by-side to see what we get the same and what surprising differences emerge out of what and how we shoot. Felicia was no different and between the two of us, I’ll risk immodesty and see what got some amazing pictures.

More than the photos, I was thoroughly engaged by Felicia’s answers to the audience questions. She is a personality, like so many of my personal heros and role models, who does what she does out of passion and interest. She is also incredibly charming and witty, qualities that nicely offset her pixie-like appearance and demeanor. I hope that my photos adequately convey these aspects of her personality.

A subset of us–Chooch, Viv, Dan, M.A. and later Paul–had a nice dinner, motivated by the need to feed those with crashing blood sugar levels. The friends we missed at dinner (Cmar, Laura, Helen, Marc, Heather and Grail Pup), we caught up with later on in the hotel restaurant. I missed most of the masquerade, to which Chooch and Viv made a bee-line to take photos for some other friends who entered the costume contest. I made it there in time to witness some of the celebrity auction, most notably the bidding that led to the lunch with Felicia Day going for five thousand dollars. We picked our jaws up off the floor and formulated a plan to spend the rest of the evening in the bar. Chooch, Viv and I ended up in the hotel restaurant instead, the bar being full. The rest of our friends were just finishing their dinner and we enjoyed several rounds of libations while we wound down from the day. It was only spoiled slightly by an inebriated fellow in a too tight, too sheer, chroma-key green full body stocking who was clearly not wearing enough underneath it. We were more amused than upset, though, happy to laugh about the guy after he wandered off without any real incident.

Sunday I had a nice breakfast with another large group of friends, including a new acquaintance, Kelly from alltern8.com. After, I made a final tour of the dealer area. That is when Viv and I chatted with the Interrobang folks and she bought me the signed, Kevin Bolk book. The dealer selection was small, as you’d expect, and pretty typical fare. I didn’t find anything I really felt I had to have or would make a nice small gift for the family. I did collect a few cards for dealers I might like to look up online or find again at another con.

My copyright panel was well attended and like every other time I have moderated this panel, the discussion was great. I have some excellent audio I recorded with my new field recorder and look forward to sharing it later this week. Afterwards, I shared a final meal with friends and then was called home a bit sooner than expected to deal with a family situation that was not exactly an emergency but still stressful.

Last year Farpoint moved to a new hotel and suffered a bit for it. I think this year it has found its stride in the new space. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the programming I attended or in which I participated. The con had more to offer than I expected, though I’ll admit to making a better effort over the last couple of cons to get out and see more than just the podcasters. I am always happy to renew acquaintances and hang out with my friends. Despite the slow start Friday and a couple of missing faces, I was not disappointed on that front either.

Farpoint remains a continuous touchstone of my personal con experience. It has primed me for the rest of my admittedly sparse con season. My volunteer and speaker commitments may be greater for the rest of the season. The programming on offer may be more copious and varied. The social possibilities tend to be more meager though so I am glad I had more than my fill this past weekend as a tonic for the bigger cons ahead.

Farpoint Schedule

Farpoint is this weekend and I am a bit delinquent in talking it up. I suppose I have reason, coping with the ridiculously bad local weather recently. Thankfully, it is looking like I’ll be getting on the road as scheduled, later today, so will be at the convention this evening through Sunday afternoon.

Farpoint is much smaller than Balticon but just as accessible to those of us either in the greater DC metro area or in and around Baltimore. It has a wonderfully intimate feel compared to the bigger conventions yet manages to draw some amazing celebrities. Balticon is primarily a literary convention so Farpoint is our local media oriented con. Even if the two were equal in size, the programming would be pleasantly distinct.

I have already updated my public Google calendar with my commitments but thought I’d mention them here for the benefit of those who don’t use Google Calendar.

  • Podcasting 101 at 2PM Saturday in Ridgely 1 – The de rigueur panel for any self respecting programming including podcasts. I am only too happy to share my experiences over the past four plus years along-side many of my friends and fellow veteran podcasters.
  • Copyright/Copywrong at 1PM Sunday in Ridgely 1 – Farpoint is the first convention where I spoke publicly about copyright. This will be my fourth straight year doing so and this year I’ll have the pleasure of joining Marc Okrand and Steve Wilson to continue the discussion of where copyright and fandom intersect.

There also looks to be a lively social scene this year at Farpoint so look for me at any open events centered around the DIY track. DIY is the umbrella under which the programming folks are organizing podcasting, web comics and other indie creators. Otherwise, I should not be hard to find–look for the bald geek with the goatee and either the red, Shmoocon shoulder bag full of audio gear or the big Nikon DSLR in my face. Since my commitments this year are light, I plan on checking out more of the wider con.

If you are coming (it isn’t too late to register at the door), I hope to see you there. If you can’t make it, consider it for next year. This is one of my favorite, never to be missed conventions.

Interview with Me on Life After Law School

Day one of my hiatus and here’s more content featuring me!

It’s part two of an interview my friend, Kevin, conducted for his great podcast, Life After Law School. You can listen to part one here in case you missed it the first time around. I really enjoyed this conversation, Kevin is a thoughtful host and interviewer. He also did a fantastic job on the show notes for both parts. I had no idea I made reference to so many great projects and interesting people.

If anyone else wants an interview, I am always happy to oblige, both during my hiatus (family commitments allowing) and after. Just shoot me a note at feedback@thecommandline.net.