Giving Balticon a Miss

I remember vividly when I got started in podcasting. I managed to finagle the admission cost and travel expenses out of my then employer to attend Apple’s big developer conference, WWDC, the very year they announced podcast support in iTunes. On the first day, I visited the local Apple store to pick up an audio interface for my laptop, hoping to record my very first audio at that conference. Sadly, thanks to the ignorance of an Apple “genius,” my first recording happened a week or so after I got back.

Live events have been a large part of my experience of podcasting. That has tapered off in recent years but early on I was invited to a lot of interesting conferences, conventions and events due to being a podcaster. One of the earliest was Balticon. I had befriended a few local area podcasters through a now long defunct meetup. One of them got me invited as a participant some eight or so years ago during that early, heady rush. Even as I started scaling back my speaking engagements a while back, I kept going to Balticon. It is local and so was easier on the pocketbook, not to mention including so many of my friends.

The problem is there was a valid reason I scaled back in general. Oddly, the events I got asked to were rarely tech focused. Like Balticon, many of them were science fiction conventions. I happen to like science fiction. I have fond memories of the earliest cons I attended back in college. When trying to find my voice, though, as someone talking about technology, public policy, and society, an SF/F convention is an odd place to find myself. That tension has only grown over the years.

Each of the last three or four years, around this time, I have debated with myself if it made sense to go back to Balticon. Up until this year, I ultimately decided I had the patience, energy and enthusiasm to make the best of it. This year, I don’t think I do any more. Professionally and personally, the past twelve months or so have been trying, to say the least. Many of the reasons I looked forward to Balticon on a personal level have evaporated, or even worse, become reasons not to go.

I honestly don’t know if I’ll go again in the future. It will depend on a lot of things, things I couldn’t even predict right now. If you are going and would like to get together, up to a point, I could probably manage that, since the convention is still local for me. Just message me privately.

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.