Balticon 43

Balticon is one of my favorite conventions, not in the least because it is as near to a hometown convention as it gets.  Despite what some of my further flung acquaintances imagine, Baltimore is not right next to DC.  To be fair to their geography sense the distance or proximity of the two cities isn’t what makes it a local con for me.  The program participants, organizers, volunteers and attendees include all of my near by friends so it feels like “our con”.  The convention is large enough though that it is so much more than that.  It is one of the largest conventions on the east coast and in addition to seeing all of my local friends there I saw many of my distant friends with a few notable and understandable exceptions.

Just over half of the panels on which I participated were on technical topics covering several aspects of podcast production.  Even after four years of hosting and producing my own podcast, I still learned a few things.  I especially respect those of my co-panelists who have only just started speaking on panels, none more so than Paulette Jaxton who, at the risk of embarrassing her immensely, I think was the unsung star of the technical panels.  Beyond her own, now sadly defunct, podcast, I learned she also has been assisting on some high profile, multiple voice talent podcasts, Murder at Avedon Hill and Metamor City.  It sounds like she is doing some serious heavy lifting to help the creators of both of those superb fiction podcasts.

I was on a couple of technical panels that were new topics for this year.  If I am going to volunteer for these panels next year, all I have to say is that I need to study up.  Chooch, of the Into the Blender and City of Heroes podcasts, had me throwing my hands up and exclaiming, “Velociraptor!”[1] more than once.  On the flip side, I now realize I have a local audio expert to pester if I need help.  Dan of Fanboyhell brought just the book I need to be reading between now and Balticon 44, “Modern Recording Techniques“.  I am glad these advanced topics went so well despite being scheduled so late in the con.

I also suggested a couple of new panel topics that made it onto the schedule this year.  They sounded so good when I wrote them up ahead of time but I had a moment of near panic with each when I introduced the topic to the audience and saw a room of blank stares.  Thankfully, my co-panelists swooped in to save the day, offering up some great thoughts and driving what turned out despite awkward starts to be fun and fascinating conversations.  First I have to thank Patrick McLean, Dave Slusher and Earl Newton for their participation in the Peer Media vs. Broadcast Media panel.  I am especially in awe of Patrick who I knew to be a fine story teller with a gifted voice but whose parents were also scholars, economists, whose influence can clearly be heard if you can get him to talk about market economics.  All the better if you are lucky enough to hear him do so while sharing a drink and strumming a guitar.  His thoughts on the power of sharing content freely are clearly deeply considered.  They were punctuated brilliantly when at one point during the discussion he dashed out of the panel room to grab up the wonderfully packaged sampler CDs he made to promote The Seanachai, explained to the audience how he had these made at his own expense, and then urged them to take them, take them all.

The other panel where I was just as grateful for my co-panelists was Technology: Podcasting’s Rocket Fuel.  Steve Eley was on that panel and was able to offer up examples both from his own popular and well made podcasts and from his work in the field of technology.  Ask him about the podcasting platform on which he has already started work.  Really do since the more interest he has the quicker it will no doubt get to a point where he can start beta testing.  Chooch and Jim Van Verth completed the panel adding their own very much welcome insights.  I am still waiting for Chooch to attempt the experiment we conceived during the panel, to submit one of his episodes to Google Voice to see if it can discriminate two different voices and to compare how well it manages against some of the attempted by not very successful audio transcription services we discussed.

My copyright panel was a bit more lightly attended than last year but it also was back to earlier in the morning on Monday.  Despite the smaller audience, Thomas Vincent and I shepherded another excellent discussion.  The fifty minutes flew by and before I knew it I was apologizing for running out of time.  Given the audience interest and response we could have easily kept talking for another half an hour to an hour.  I think I handed out more cards and buttons at that panel than any of the others I was on so would not be surprised to continue some of the conversations through correspondence or at future conventions.

Speaking of cards and buttons, I have finally exhausted the first box of Moo cards I ordered for the podcast and depleted a bag on 1.25″ buttons I thought would last me through Balticon and Dragon*Con both.  If you want to do me a solid, click on that donate button over there and help me order more for Dragon*Con at the end of the Summer.  Just a few people pitching in a few dollars each really helps.

I am also pleased to report the progress we’ve made with the volunteer efforts to record the author readings at Balticon.  This is the third year I’ve helped Martha Holloway get recordings for the Balticon Podcast to help with the ongoing efforts to promote the convention.  Last year, Bruce Lerner stepped up to help us out halfway through the con.  He thankfully returned, with an upgraded recorder, this year at the very start.  Paulette Jaxton further cemented her awesominity by volunteering to help with the recordings as well.  (She also baby sat several times during the convention, I am beginning to suspect she may be a super powered being from beyond the stars.)

I was happy to renew my acquaintance with authors I have met in the past, like Tom Doyle, as well as to meet new ones, like David J. Williams.  Tom gave his usual powerful reading, appropriate as his is retiring the piece he read, “Crossing Borders”, since he has expanded it into a novel for which he is now seeking a publisher.  David floored me by giving me a copy of his newly released book, “Burning Skies” and totally unsolicited signed it to boot.  I had a moment of panic when later that day I misplaced the book, feeling miserable for half an hour at how such an generous act had wound up.  Thankfully I recovered the book, tweeting my exploits as I lost and found it.  David surprised me again with a short email this morning commiserating with my near loss of the book and making sure I had retrieved it successfully after all.

The accessibility and generosity of the authors who do readings at Balticon has proven more than ample reward for volunteering my time to record them and help promote their works through the Balticon Podcast.  So much so that after three years, I consider it an integral part of my experience at the convention and would dearly miss it if I didn’t have the opportunity to help out in this way again.

Last but not least, the social scene was definitely the best yet for me this year.  On a whim, I decided to organize a gathering of FLOSS and tech geeks Friday night after my one panel and opening ceremonies, in case anyone had planned to go to that.  We had a good turn out and would have had more if we didn’t have to move from our advertised location to deeper in the bar.  Catherine Asaro has a lovely singing voice but trying to talk shop doesn’t work very well when competing with a live stage act.  I was able to renew my acquaintance with several folks I’ve met at conventions over the years.  I knew they were techies but we’d never had the opportunity to discuss that topic specifically.  It was nice to indulge in tech geekery without feeling like we were crowding out other topics.

We even managed to rope Nathan Lowell into our discussion who is I think more of a techie than he gives himself credit.  As it turns out, he is involved in some very fascinating technical work in addition to doing all of his writing in OpenOffice on Linux.  If Nathan used Bill Gates’ own computer to write his stories, I’d likely forgive him given the quality of the work and the depth of my enjoyment.  I was thrilled though that he does indeed use FLOSS, it adds a little bit more awesome to an already impressive body of work.

Chooch and his lovely wife, and co-host, Viv outdid themselves with Saturday night’s New Media party.  The theme of the party was to come dressed as your favorite new media creator or character.  When I saw the hosts themselves in perfectly conceived and executed XKCD costumes (please tell me someone got pictures?!?), I realized how badly I had dropped the ball by taking the lazy option in coming as myself.  How hard would it have been to find a red cape, borrow some goggles, and craft a small gondola for a helium balloon?  The party itself was packed, the density of folks for the given room size and the resulting sweltering conditions being the sole complaint.  Even the overflow portion of the party out in the hallway was great.

I didn’t make it all the way through the book launch Sunday night but the part I did catch was great.  Christiana Ellis and J.C. Hutchins put together a great event.  I am not just saying that because I won a copy of J.C.’s new book, “Personal Effects: Dark Art“.  The activities were creative and fun, I just wish I hadn’t hit the wall and could have stuck around longer.

Speaking of amazing events, Earl Newton‘s Singularity was just as well staged this year as, if not even better than, last year’s.  Even though Dave Kanter is abroad for his studies, he sent in a great video message and Matt F’n Wallace is a more than acceptable substitute.  You could almost describe The Singularity as overwhelming: a short film by Jack Daniels Stanley, an interview with J.C. Hutchins, Brand Gamlbin and Rich Sigfrit having way too much fun with Earl’s Parsec, and the latest Stranger Things.  The best news is you didn’t have to be there, Earl has already tweeted that he is going to try to have all the video for the event, including the new episode, up this week.

On a personal level, there was nowhere near enough time to spend with all my friends.  The time I did get to share with them was welcome and re-energizing.  The con felt less frenetic to me this year, despite being just as tightly packed with panels, events, parties and volunteering as the last two years.  I feel more comfortable in this world of fast evolving creators and thinkers.  It certainly seems like many others are really hitting their stride, giving off their own vibe of reassurance and anti-hecticness.  I am completely wiped out at the moment, I even took a sick day from work.  But the exhaustion feels good, I feel like I will have that much more energy and creativity once I recover from having immersed myself in all Balticon has to offer.  I know I don’t have to say it but it bears expressing all the same–I cannot wait for next year.

[1] Viv, Chooch’s wife and co-host, claims to completely lack technical savviness[2].  When trying to talk about the accelerometer in many smart phones, she couldn’t recall the device’s name.  All she could come up with was, “Velociraptor”.  When she related this to me, I pointed out that this coinage was part of a long and respected tradition in our group debatably starting with Jason Adams‘, “I drive a van”.

[2] I don’t believe it, not for a second.  Just listen to the live Into the Blender they recorded at Balticon.  It is clearly a ploy to get Chooch and the rest of us techies in the group to do her bidding.