In this episode, I share the wonderful news that due to a very generous friend I’ll be returning to Dragon*Con this year. I talk a bit about my history with this convention and how this surprise trip is part of a recent positive trend after a rough year.
I remember my first Dragon*Con. It was 2006 and I hadn’t been to a science fiction convention since college, about a decade prior. I had been podcasting just a little over a year but still felt like more of a listener than a contributor. Many of the people I listened to mentioned Dragon*Con in their shows, especially the just formed podcasting track. I decided to go both to try out science fiction conventions again and learn more about how to podcast. In one of the panels I attended, when one of the panelists asked who was podcasting or wanted to, I remember standing, face flushed. When the mic came to me, I made some self deprecating joke about being a technology podcasting cockroach. You know, being among the first and odds among the last to podcast too.
A lot of the panels were self reflective. More than once speakers and panelists recounted the creation of the new track. The year prior, the EFF program track had a bunch of podcast panels with some of the earliest podcasters. Since then, several authors interested in the new medium, chief among them Tracy Hickman, lobbied hard for a dedicated track. The track continues to this day. Many other conventions have added comparable tracks. As part of a science fiction convention, this area of programming supports independent creators and fans using the medium to foster their passions and connections with their audiences.
The following year, I volunteered to help with the podcasting track. I did so again for three more years, up until the last Dragon*Con I attended. That same span of time saw me become way more involved with podcast programming at cons closer to home. I was invited to speak or participate at RavenCon, Farpoint, and Balticon. I even was invited out to what still stands as one of my favorite conventions, Penguicon. Penguicon is a little more comfortable for me since it is a blend of a science fiction convention and a Linux fest.
This was the heyday of my podcast. I won an award in 2007, also at Dragon*Con. I was nominated and made it to finalist for another award three years later. I did a lot of public speaking, mostly on copyright and the technical side of podcasting. I had the means to travel quite a bit so my con season, which spanned from late Spring to early Fall, usually included about a half dozen conventions or conferences. I felt hugely connected to the larger world of podcasting, hanging out with the same group of podcasting authors for the most part. I was putting out two shows a week and still learning a lot.
My last Dragon*Con was 2010. I really didn’t want to stop going. I had just changed careers, moving to a non-profit to pursue my passion for technology policy full time. The job change involved considerable financial sacrifices. Going to Dragon*Con, even with my membership covered as a veteran staffer, was just more than I could afford. I continued to go to Balticon but attended fewer and fewer conventions overall. My public speaking shifted to align more strongly with my job, speaking both on behalf of my passions and my employer.
I traveled a lot in 2011, as several social media nostalgia services have started to remind me. About this time four years ago, I traveled to Europe for the first time, for a gathering of international makers in Budapest. I returned to Europe once every month to month and a half, for the span of about a year. It was pretty incredible. One of the last trips I took to Europe, I was able to bring Andrea along with me for a few extra days of just vacation. Someday I hope to go back again. Paris, London, Brussels, Budapest–I loved them all.
In 2012 I took a promotion. I wrote last year about how that led me to traveling and speaking far less. By 2014, even though I had the means to go back to Dragon*Con, I was burned out. The advice about not making your passion your job has some merit. Since this time last year, I have struggled to find the motivation to keep podcasting. I had already ramped the show down from twice a week to once a week. Last year I admitted the show would come out when it came out, no longer on a regular schedule.
About a year ago, tragedy struck my family. I only recently wrote about this openly, or as openly as I am comfortable. Until recently, this has pushed thoughts of traveling for fun, let alone attending a convention, far out of mind. I did not attend Balticon for the first time in almost a decade.
Lately, things have felt better. The mental health issues that have touched my family have not gone away. They never will. We have been getting a lot of help. I have changed, I like to think, for the better. I have learned a lot, about myself, my family, and how to do a better job of being there for the people who need me most. I still worry since the mental illness involved is often terminal but I don’t feel crippled by fear and anxiety. The certainty to plan travel months ahead may be long gone but we are learning to just take each day at a time. Letting go of expectations, we are more and more open to opportunity and serendipity. Maybe some plans will get disrupted but that doesn’t make those plans impossible.
A few weeks back, we acted on the steady improvement as a family by booking a rental on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. We found a really great house that fit in our budget, mostly by booking an off weekend. Better yet, the property allows pets. It is on fifteen acres or so and is right on the water. We were fairly certain we’d have a new puppy in our family by the time of the trip. We had no idea the pup would have such a strong affinity for water. He splashes all the water out of his bowl all the time. We have caught him more than once blowing bubbles. He is going to love the shore.
Just a couple of days ago, a friend mentioned they were going solo to Dragon*con this year. That meant having a room with two beds with just the one occupant and, as an invited speaker, an unused “guest of” badge. The offer of the space and the badge was made to a very small set of my close knit friends. I hemmed and hawed. Surely one of my other friends would take up the offer. We had just exhausted our travel funds on our upcoming family vacation. Could I go on my own, in good conscience? Could we afford for Andrea and I both to go, with the house, pet and child care logistics, not to mention the doubling of air fare?
One by one, each of these objections was resolved. None of my other friends could make use of the offer. Andrea gave me the nod to go on my own if I wanted (have I mentioned lately that I have the best life long partner ever?) I found a flight that I could just about cover from money I had been putting aside. My next tattoo can wait. My flight leaves late enough in the day that I can metro down after work. I won’t even have to use any additional time off from work.
Life may still interrupt this bit of good fortune. I am learning that has always been true, even before the events of this past year. That isn’t a reason to dampen my enthusiasm. If I need to take care of my family, I will. If things go to plan, I’ll get to spend time with dear friends, re-connect with old ones, and re-visit a community I have drifted away from in recent years. This time next week, I will be in Atlanta, surrounded by thousands of fans, in a bubble of closer acquaintances geeking out about science, podcasting, cyber-liberties, and hopefully just having an all around fantastic time.
Does this mean I will be returning to travel, cons or a more sustained connection with that community? I don’t know. Just for today, it doesn’t matter. Taking joy in this unlooked for opportunity is enough.
This is a feature cast, an episode of The Command Line Podcast.
In the intro, a quick end of month update on the podcast’s finances and you can find all my posts from Dragon*Con past and present using the dragoncon tag.
There is no new hacker word of the week this week.
The feature this week is the panel audio from the Creative Commons and legal issues panel I moderated at Dragon*Con 2010. I was joined once again by Randy Chertkow of Beatnik Turtle and Courtney Perry, lawyer and now law professor. The new panelist this year was Brian Ibbott of Coverville who was very generous in sharing his experiences as an early and still active music podcaster. In the discussion we mention both “Free Culture“, by Lawrence Lessig, and “The Public Domain“, by James Boyle.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
I missed my daily post for yesterday but did get my weekly links out. I guess that still counts as a daily post. Sunday was the last full day of the con and pretty quiet so I’ll wrap any thoughts on it into my overall thoughts on the convention. For today, we made good time once we got under way. We had a leisurely start, slipping in some last minute shopping for family, friends and ourselves in and amongst our farewells. Neither Andrea or I are big shoppers but we like to bring gifts back for the kids and my mom who takes care of them while we are away.
This year’s Dragon*Con was a productive convention for me. I have two features worth of audio to edit and master for releasing in the coming weeks. I also participated in recordings for Technorama and View from the Quad. I’ll post links when those episodes are released. I had many long and interesting discussions off the mic. I hope to be able to follow up on some of those threads throughout the coming year. Despite the paucity of hands on and how-to programming this year, I was approached several times while volunteering and happy to share my technical experience with some up and coming podcasters.
I think my wife said it best, over lunch this afternoon before we got under way. This year was the quietest, calmest Dragon*Con of all the ones I’ve attended. In some ways, that was a good thing. I didn’t feel over stressed at any point and got plenty of rest. The crowding was a bit tough in spots, so the calm also acted as a good psychic buffer. In other ways, it was a bad thing. The socialization seemed far more sporadic, I think because we were missing the social glue provided by my dear friends Chooch and Viv who couldn’t make it this year. I did get to see all of my friends and acquaintances who I knew to be there but the partying and carousing of last year never quite cohered in the same way.
While the podcast track had a few standing room only panels, something just felt missing there too. Maybe it was the second year of being in the shadow cast by the growing and deservedly awesome skeptic track. I have some seeds of ideas, mostly notions for growing my own involvement in the podcasting track beyond those aspects on which I have focused to date. Logistics, staffing and gear are well in hand, the problems of the past long solved. It should have occurred to me last year to start expanding my attention to other areas where I can now help.
I had been on the fence in the months leading up to Dragon*Con, mostly because of the cost but also because of absent friends. I can say I have no regrets sticking with my plan to attend, far from it. As with each year past, the con has presented me with a new face and associated new experiences. I do feel that I am increasingly better able to keep my expectations at bay, contemplating the con as it unfolds including the lessons it provides. In that regard, the con was once again a rewarding and enjoyable personal growth opportunity. I am strongly leaning towards coming back for a sixth year to explore further facets of this immense and complex con experience.
The feeling of compressed time persisted into the second day of the convention. The way my commitments were stacked throughout the day, it made more sense than yesterday. I did manage to get into the dealer room and see a little bit before I had to move on. I also got away from the con hotels for a nice, lengthy dinner with friends.
Immediately after my volunteer shift this morning, I moderated the Creative Commons and legal issues panel. I was extremely happy to be joined once again by Randy Chertkow of Beatnik Turtle and Courtney Perry. We were joined by Brian Ibbott of Coverville who was more than glad to share his experiences working with collection societies to legally use the cover songs he shares in his show. Once again I was surprised, and delighted, that the conversation with the audience ran right up to the time limit and clearly could have gone on unabated for another half an hour. I want to thank my panelists once again and everyone who came out to learn more about the topic.
The big event for today was the Parsec Awards. I have to give massive credit to the steering committee and the MCs, George Hrab and Christiana Ellis. The show was tightly run, a joy to attend. The category for which I was a finalist was won by Skeptoid which is hosted and produced by Brian Dunning. The category was packed with awesome shows amongst whom I was honored and delighted to be counted–Skepticality, the 365 Days of Astronomy, and the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe as well as Skeptoid.
I did not make it out to the TWiT/Sword and Laser meetup as planned and I apologize to anyone who was there and looking for me. That is often the way cons go in my experience. Even with a simple plan, things change, conversations run long. You often choose to capitalize on time with people you only get to see infrequently.
On the other side of following serendipity, I had not expected to catch George Hrab’s live show. After a full day of volunteering before heading to the Parsecs and dinner, I didn’t think I’d have the energy to make it. I’m glad I did. George is a consummate pro and his show was both rocking and hilarious.
It really doesn’t feel like we just finished the first day of Dragon*Con. It feels much more like we already had a full day. Part of that may be the late night last night. Our shared door neighbors are quite loud and didn’t settle down or leave until after midnight. As I type this, they are once again in full swing, so loud I am unsure my habitual ear plugs will be effective. As the wife reminds me, our hotel used to be the quiet hotel. Maybe it is the recent remodel or the extension of the con last year into another hotel pulling the louder crowd into the formerly calm Hilton.
The podcasting track room feels much more organized this year. I showed up first thing this morning to find things in good order, not needing much attention. The track kick off was standing room only with an all star panel including P.G. Holyfield, Veronica Belmont, Len Peralta, Tom Merritt, Brian Ibbott, and Bobby Blackwolf. I enjoyed the couple of panels for which I worked as staff, a good mix of live shows and how-to content.
After finishing my shift, I re-grouped with the wife and we had a nice sit down dinner again in the hotel restaurant. There were no stars evident but we were there much earlier than last night. Afterwards we waited in one of main programming’s infamously long lines to see the MST3K/Cinematic Titanic crew. We were a little disappointed that after the Q&A they didn’t do a live show but they are on plenty of panels throughout the rest of the weekend. Only for the size of the line I doubt we’ll see them again but they are definitely not skimping on participation.
The last event for me was Chuck and Kreg’s live Technorama. Late on Friday is a tough slot, especially as a lot of folks are drawn into the first wave of parties throughout the con. I think they acquitted themselves well and had some fun and funny material. When everyone in the audience knows each other and the podcasters on the dais, it tends to be a lot more casual and as many jokes crack from the audience as from the stage.
Tomorrow is going to be a long day. With the con fatigue setting in so unusually early, we’re spending a quite night in. Hopefully our noisy neighbors won’t be too much of a problem with my first 10AM volunteer shift tomorrow. I have two one-and-one-half hour shifts followed by my sole panel as participant. I have one free slot between then and the Parsec Awards ceremony scheduled to run two-and-one-half hours. At this point, I may or may not make it over to the Westin to catch the last bit of TWiT/Sword and Laser meetup. As I said, tomorrow is my longest day of the con.
Technically, today was also the day we arrived, after a good five hours on the road from North Carolina. Pre-registration by all accounts was worse than last year, even this early in the con. Actually, it is so early the con hasn’t technically started yet. I picked up my staff packet, unpacked, caught up on my RSS feeds, email and such, and then found the first of my friends who also arrived today while the wife was still waiting in line.
It amazes me how much earlier the con gets going in earnest each year. Last year, I walked the main floor of the Marriott with Chuck and Kreg from Technorama snapping pictures of early cosplayers. We reprised that with the pair of them donning their own costumes, as MiB. It wasn’t just the fans, though. Before we all headed to the Marriot, as Kreg and I waited in the Hilton’s restaurant for our non-staff friends to trickle in from the nigh apocalyptic lines for pre-registration, we were witness to a half-cast reunion of Firefly with a couple of alumni Stargate cast thrown in for good measure. If I don’t make it out of the podcasting track room this year, I won’t feel cheated.
I hope everyone else who is here is already enjoying the head asplosion inducing awesome that is Dragon*Con for themselves. For everyone else, we promise to share lots of pictures and no s%!^ there we were stories.
Just a quick note from on the road as we make our way South from DC to Atlanta for this year’s Dragon*Con. We made excellent progress, stopping just past the halfway point in Greensboro, North Carolina. There was a little bit of traffic between DC and Richmond, Virginia, but once we got into I-85, the highway we’ll take the rest of the way, it was smooth sailing. If we make an early enough start tomorrow, we’ll hit Atlanta early in the afternoon.
I already talked about how this time last year marked the start of my daily blogging habit. It seems like a good time of year for me to start new practices. I’ve undertaken three in the last few weeks that seem to be sticking well. They are small things, not directly related to my hacking or other pursuits but helping to maintain and improve my overall health and mental well being. The coming week may present a bit of challenge as any con, let alone Dragon*Con, is chaotic and can be highly disruptive to daily routines.
Tomorrow, I will get to re-connect with friends I see about once a year and am getting excited about the prospect. In fact, since programming doesn’t start in earnest until Friday, tomorrow will be all about the opportunity to hang out with friends. Since Balticon is my local con, I don’t typically arrive early for it and miss out on this window driven mostly by out of town travelers. It is my turn to be the out of town con-goer and I am looking forward to it.
I am already on a hiatus from the podcast for reasons of preparing for and attending Dragon*Con. I though I would take more time off than in years past as a much needed mental break. So far, it has been relaxing though I will admit to feeling a little at loose ends at various points during this past weekend.
I have been deliberating what to do with the blog during my extended podcast hiatus. The news stories I curate flow out of the editorial process for putting together each week’s news show. It is pretty easy to keep that going even without the dedicated work on the weekends to do the more in depth write ups for the podcast. Blogging at the same volume, though, feels like I am not taking as full advantage of my hiatus as I should.
Despite that I’ve already caught myself glossing over more stories, falling back more on the form of the link dump in the last few days. Once on my way to Dragon*Con, I will be thoroughly unable to keep up with any news curation or comment. There just isn’t enough time left at either end of the day to keep up with my feeds, let alone pull even the barest post together.
Because of a year’s worth of accumulated habit, I am loathe to spin the blog down entirely while I am traveling. I am reminded of last year’s con at which I successfully started blogging daily (on weekdays anyway). I have fond memories of pushing myself to stay up just a bit later each day to blog solely by the glow of my laptop screen before finally crashing. That started as a promise to my wife to share an update every day since she didn’t join me last year. It grew into a very effective, more encompassing habit of which I am rather proud.
I definitely think I will embrace slowing posts down to more like a one a day. Between now and Wednesday, those will more than likely take the form of lists of links. After that and until I return next week, the daily posts will share more of my thoughts and impressions of the convention and the travel on either side. I will try to resist the urge even to keep up with my feeds, devoting my attention to activities at the con and relaxing.
I may, however, spend a bit more time micro-blogging. My iPod Touch usually works pretty well in the convention hotels. I like to share updates to make it easier to find and hang out with folks on site. I rarely use it anywhere enough for my activity to be considered a deluge, but fair warning. Also, if you see a story you don’t want me to miss and would accept 140 characters or less of comment, feel free to @-message it to me. Posting a social message fits into the breaks between panels and events pretty well as it happens.
The day after tomorrow, the wife and I will pack most of a week’s worth of stuff into our wagon and head South on a two day drive to Atlanta. I’ll be attending my fifth Dragon*Con, the east coast’s biggest pop culture gathering featuring a ridiculous amount of programming and attracting attendees in the tens of thousands. For the fourth year in a row, I will be volunteering as a member of the podcasting track’s staff and participating as a panelist on the same.
Not surprisingly, Dragon*Con feels deeply steeped in personal traditions. I’ll be working with the same group of excellent volunteers. I’ll be reprising my discussion of copyright, Creative Commons and legal issues for podcasters with the same core of well informed panelists. Randy Chertkow, of Beatnik Turtle, and I will once more try to find a quiet spot at some point during the weekend to catch up on a year’s worth of music, innovation, and a little bit of tech. I’ll be seeking out the same amazing falafel place in the nearby mall. We’ll be circulating through some of the same room parties and enjoying the live broadcast of the Masquerade Sunday night.
My schedule this year is light, outside of my staff commitment. You can see where I know for sure that I’ll be below or on my Google calendar. Best way to find me during the con is to check in at the podcasting track room, 204 in the Hilton, or via Twitter.
Podcasting Track Kick-off
Friday 1PM, Hilton 204
Friday 2-5PM, Hilton 204
(I’ll be in the audience, supporting my good friends Chuck and Kreg)
Saturday 10AM-1PM, Hilton 204
Creative Commons and Legal Issues
Saturday 1PM, Hilton 204
Saturday 4-7PM, Hyatt Regency V
TWiT/Sword and Laser Meetup
Saturday 6-8PM, Westin Sundial Bar
(I’ll make it out for as much of this one as I can, given the conflict and the distance between the Hyatt and the Westin)
Sunday 10AM-1PM, Hilton 204
Beyond these, my schedule is fluid. I’ll go where I see something interesting or I know my friends are going. The wife and I hope to find some interesting dining options in Atlanta, doing more exploring than in years past. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.
I am trying to keep my expectations light. This year’s WorldCon has drawn away many friends and acquaintances and several others are not making it out to either convention for a variety of reasons. It would be easy to give in to the notion that Dragon*Con will be a ghost town but that is not fair to those people who are still going. It would also discourage remaining open to serendipity, getting to know mere acquaintances better, making new friends, finding the kind of surprises that are much of the joy of any kind of travel, let alone con-going.
If you are going to be at the con, find me and say, “Hi!”