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The Engineer

The Life and Times of Donald F. Simmons

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First, what is it with Vancouver and anime cons? First AKA Kon went down in flames a few years back, and now Anime Evolution has just "postponed" their event of Aug 22-24 (their website claims it's under maintenance, click thru to the forums for the gory details). West Coast fandom.

Anyway Polaris was fun the past weekend. Biggest glitch for me was when I arrived and got my panel schedule to find that two of my panels had moved, one to 10 AM Saturday morning, without me being notified. Apparently there had been a serious amount of re-scheduling in the days before the con, and as far as I know no panelist were notified about it. Janet had five panels distributed throughout the weekend, and when she got there she found she had four back-to-back Friday night, which is just nuts. She certainly wasn't happy about it, but she got thru them.

Aside from that, I had fun at my panels, except for the Sarah Jane Adventures panel which I had to carry all alone, because Graeme Burke got stuck at the Constellation Awards accepting all the Doctor Who awards on behalf of people who didn't send any representatives (i.e. all of them). But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Thanks to the wonders of downloading, I saw the Doctor Who finale right before the con, so I could attend the Doctor Who panels without spoiler fear. Which was good, because they were generally great, and very well attended. There was a interesting crop of SF writers at Polaris this year (it's generally more of a media SF con), and the panels on writing were quite interesting. Tanya Huff in particular was "on" all weekend, and anything she did was fun.

Quote of the con: "I'm not reading anything sad till Dean Winchester gets out of Hell" - Tanya Huff on Supernatural

I gave the media guests pretty much a pass this weekend, no one there I was particularly interested in seeing, but the autograph lines seemed to be doing good business. Art Show had some interesting stuff, and a good amount of it. Dealer's Room seemed to be doing OK, I'm personally not interested in collectibles, trading cards, signed pictures, and you still get a lot of that at Polaris.

The con had some bad luck with the hotel. There had been some flooding of the basement business offices in the downpour the week before, and a bunch of lawyers had taken over one of the small function rooms the con was to use. So on Friday the filkers were out in the hall being inflicted on the rest of us (they managed to put them in a more out-of-the-way spot later). The free wireless internet was also down, at least in the function areas.

And the fire alarm went off at 6 AM Sunday morning, and again at about 9 AM and 9:30 AM, apparently due to some wiring problems. So I'm glad now I didn't stay Saturday night. The button guy in the Dealer's Room made up a "I survived the Polaris Inferno!" button, and when I talked to him at 4 PM he said he'd sold about 200 of them.

Attendance seemed OK, I don't think there were any more people than last year, but Polaris doesn't release membership numbers. Everyone just seemed pretty relieved at the Dead Dog Sunday evening. When you run a con the best part is when it's over.

So congrats to angrykat, aprilsnark, boywhocantsayno, gurudata, indefatigable42, kaijugal, nexstarman, sarcasm_hime, twiddler, and whitesangria, among others.

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I'm glad that overall, you enjoyed the con despite the little things here and there that could have easily derailed things.

I feel really bad about all of the changes to the schedule - the original one wasn't bad, but then we started getting inundated with the usual, "I know I didn't tell you this before, but I'm entering the Masquerade/not arriving until Saturday/want to get a photo with Terry Farrell/insert reason for schedule change here". I really wish people would give us that information when they first sign up. (I realize that that's not always possible - briankit moved to Toronto a few weeks before the con and had to work until 7pm, a situation which didn't exist when he first signed up, and there are always going to be guests added whom people want to see. redeem147 was good enough to let us know as we announced the guests that she was adding a schedule request, but not everyone did.)

Normally we would probably have sent out a second version to everyone individually, but the initial version was delayed by about a week because of a software glitch - we couldn't send any emails at all from our database. (I forget what the reason was - it's written in a language I don't know, so I couldn't even help to debug it.) That pushed everything back to the point where the schedule changes weren't complete until about a week before the con - and then we had to redo the whole thing on Monday night and reprint it on Tuesday because of the situation with the Aurora room and the filkers (and the other panels that had been placed in there when filking wasn't occurring).

It also didn't help that chanilye and I agreed at the beginning of the year that we would handle all panelist communications ourselves. When you're playing schedule Jenga for several hours each evening and answering questions that are coming in, it's easy to run out of time for initiating email. Next year, I hope that we go back to the old way where everyone on the team is responsible for a subset of panels. The department heads can export a master list by panelist and the team can then email everyone with the link. (Like so.) I'd printed that for our own use in the office (in case of computer problems), but didn't realize until just now, while writing this comment, that making that document available might have helped.

Janet had five panels distributed throughout the weekend, and when she got there she found she had four back-to-back Friday night, which is just nuts.

Yeah, we spent so much time concentrating on making sure that our author guests didn't have that situation (though andpuff still did have her signing and three consecutive panels on Sunday), but we just ran out of time. Just so you know, there was a previous version which was perfect until the panelists saw it and asked for changes. ;)

So on Friday the filkers were out in the hall being inflicted on the rest of us (they managed to put them in a more out-of-the-way spot later).

It still wasn't perfect - there was Muzak playing on the speakers down there, and the hotel claimed that they couldn't turn it off, or even down.

I know that a lot of people don't much respect filkers, but we were actually hoping that they would attract people who might not be familiar with filk and be interested. Admittedly, the Friday location may not have been ideal because there may have been some bleed into the panel rooms (I don't believe I was ever in any of the panel rooms in that hallway during that time).

I absolutely understand all the problems in getting the schedule to work, but the fact remains that the people who didn't complain and make trouble for you are the people who got the short end of the stick, which isn't very fair. Next year, why shouldn't I send in a whole list of demands to be followed for scheduling the panels I'm on? That way I know this won't happen to me again.

Just my opinion, but last-minute personal changes to the schedule should only be done in case of family emergency or the like. Deciding a few days before the con that "I want to se the Masquerade!" isn't good enough in my book.

I don't think we actually got any "I want to see the Masquerade!" that late - I was just using that as an example. Most of those kinds of complaints came in within about a week of our sending out the initial schedule - the vast majority of the last minute juggling was actually mostly to do with the Aurora room.

And I know what you're saying about the people who didn't complain. But when it's a manual process, it's really hard to satisfy everyone, especially when they have preferences they haven't mentioned (as opposed to hard-and-fast things like "I'm leaving early Sunday", which people almost always mention up front). After all, when you're moving one panel at the request of a panelist, you have to find something to swap it with. (Maybe we should give some thought to always leaving a Friday evening, Saturday afternoon, Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon timeslot vacant per day in the initial schedule - not that that would be 100%, but that way we can at least try to move a panel into the same time of day, and we can move it without having to do a swap - unless one of the panelists would then be double-booked.)

Also, had our database software sent out the schedules on the first try, we would have had an extra week or so, and could have sent out the second draft for further feedback.

The other option is to come up with all of the panels create the schedule before opening it up for people to sign up; that way people are basically making their own schedules. And at the same time, leave some gaps for additions if we get brilliant suggestions later on or add guests and need to create panels around their characters. (For example, the "Dead Like Me" panel didn't exist in the first list - it was added when we added Ellen to the guest list.) The catch there is it's very difficult to come up with 200 panel topics that early - and then what do you do if nobody signs up for something? You need to have more panel ideas than you have timeslots so that you can drop the ones that don't generate interest (for example, the ReGenesis panel we had on the list, or - unfortunately - the panel about Rachel Luttrell's character).

That last way is doable - I'm told that's how Stephen Christian used to do it when he ran the department, years ago.

Email me if you want about this - and I'll just say the following : Russell Davies is not one of my fave people after what he did with the final episode.

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