Monday, September 10, 2012

Dragon*Con 2012 Report And Roundup

It’s been almost a week, so there's been a bit of time to decompress and relax from Dragoncon. It was a hell of an event, and one that’s taken me some time to recover from, as I picked up a nasty case of ConCrud (which is still with me). I’ve also been hard at work, processing the audio from the EFF track, and doing all the other post-con stuff.

Since the liveblogs (Fri, Sat, Sun, Mon) were a bit of a flop (because of a lack of net access, and even SMS bandwidth problems) I‘m going to write up a bit of a brief overview, and later post more in-depth pieces about the panels I was involved with, along with audio (where available)


Thursday was kind of a nightmare. Not only did I still have to pack, I had to make two trips to Marietta to take stuff, because 5 people don’t fit in a 3-seat truck that well. There was also the problem of No Safe Harbor 2’s deadline being during the con, so I had to work on stuff for it. So I was ‘mildly frazzled’ to put it mildly.

Unloading into the Marriott was fairly easy at around 4pm, but a room problem was brewing, as we were set for the 24th floor Thursday night, but then had to move down to the 9th floor the next day! Nightmare!
From the 24th floor Atlanta looks lovely

While the rest of my party (5 adults, 3 children) went to get their badges, I stayed with the two children too young to need them. As a volunteer, I had no concerns about getting my badge, and being done quickly. Indeed, not only was it the case, but I arrived to find my director and another of our track’s staff (Mike, our last minute replacement) right in front of me in line. Result! Super easy badge pickup, and we get to talk about stuff while we do it.

Swinging by the Hilton, we check on the room – locked – then head to get the security keys. Mild panic as someone we don’t know has checked out our room (and science and space)’s key. Head back to Hilton and find the room open, and the mysterious key-checker; tis Tec hops getting ready to wire our room. Slight problem though, in that there are two less risers than last time, and they hadn’t followed the layout guide we submitted weeks ago. So, it was on to re-arrange the room, set up mics, and everything else. Finally, when it was all set up, time to head back to my room, for a bit of food, some sleep and prep for the morning.


Friday meant being up bright and early. My wife had a signage meeting at 8am. Breakfast, shower, go down and see what’s around. A quick stop at signage for me, ended up with me helping mount signs, as they were behind (one of the large printers was broken). I was giving an 11:30 panel at the Sheraton, so I offered to take the name cards, and get them out of the way, so that they could focus on catching up. I also break my badge at this point (seriously, before the con even officially begins) and head over to the Sheraton. Some layout confusion later, all delivered, and I’m warming up for my panel.

The Anglotopia panel was actually REALLY good. Had a good energy and vibe going, and a lot of great questions. The host, Jonathan Thomas, steered things wonderfully, although I think the topic of food might have been a good idea to cover in more detail. A quick break, a wander around the corner to see some people at the Robotics track, and it was back for the Pratchett panel. If I thought the Anglotopia one had gone well, the Pratchett panel was a blast! So many Discworld cosplayers, it was amazing.
DSCF1014_s DSCF1012_s DSCF1015_s

It was then back to the EFF track, to get some work done. Oracle V Google was ok, but went more into generalities as our Patent Law specialist had cancelled. Wiretapping was good, with Geoff doing a great job of covering stuff. Discordianism was a real strange panel in many ways. It’s one of the odd topics you never think about, and it was pretty popular. One odd moment came part-way through when someone stood up, shouted sometime, and stormed out. I’m not sure if the audio picks it up, but it certainly woke me up.

Then we got to the first really packed out panel; Cryptographic Engineering with Randal, Bruce and Geoff. It was a great time, I just wished people would tell me where to run the mic, because I CAN’T SEE that well. They’re sitting, facing everyone, I’m running around, keeping an eye on everything, and don’t see who does what. It’s a pet peeve.
Composite panorama view showing how full the panel was

Finally, with alcohol flowing, it was the first of a number of Sascha Illyvich’s panels. After a great (alcohol fuelled) look at things, it was over to the Fetlife panel, where after helping set up the audio, and doing a room count, I was done for the night. 
…Or at least that was the plan. Rather idiotically, I’d left my cameras in the (now locked) track room, and so had to wait until the end of the fetlife panel to grab it. Otherwise the batteries wouldn’t be charged for the parade!


DSCF1001_sSaturday is Parade day. The question I had this year was ‘where can I go where my kids can watch it, without the danger of being run over, being separated or crushed. In the end we went to the multi-story car park next to the Westin. The 5th floor offers a view of the parade area that’s clear, if a little far, and with no traffic, I didn’t have to worry about Max and Anne being run over. It was a bit different, compared to previous years, and the kids got bored. Next year I’ll go by myself.

Did a little wandering, took the kids back to whoever was in charge of them, and then went to the Baen panel. This is one I try and get to every year, it’s the ONE panel I have marked down in my schedule as a ‘must go’. This year was extra special as it was one of the few linked panels with WorldCon. I always try and support Baen books as best I can, because not only do they publish great stuff, but they’ve been at the forefront of the eBook and DRM-free publishing revolution.

After that, it was back to the EFF track, and prep work for Hacking 101, our first time in the Marriott (at least in recent times). Naturally, the Medical Marijuana was a big success (obviously, ‘duh’. People get to talk about pot legally).

Of course, if we’d thought things were busy before, the CISPA/SOPA/PIPA etc. panel took things to a whole new level of crazy. It was packed beyond belief, if only we’d made the large room deadline! 

From there it was a run over to the Marriott, for Hacking 101. A scare over mixing boards having blown meant we had a slight delay starting, but it was our most successful panel ever, with only a few empty seats at the back. It also degenerated somewhat when jonny X got a group up to help answer questions. This was also our featured panel in the daily dragon, although they did get a fair bit of facts wrong, the enthusiasm was good.

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Then back for 10 rules for dealing with the police; a film followed by a Q+A session. Alas both our scheduled speakers had cancelled, but we had an audience member who had offered to share their experience with the police. Later on, two former police officers also shared their experiences. It’s really important listening, especially towards the end.

Kirk’s communicator, a submission guide for authors was next and it’s one that to be honest, didn’t stick in the mind. Even more unfortunately, a system crash meant we lost the recording for this panel.
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Finally, BDSM101. As with the previous night’s panel, I was there for setup and room-count only. We were also bringing over the wireless mic. I seem to have also started a new tradition, as for the second time in as many panels in there; I send a nice big feedback squeal through the speaker system. Lovely! Also, if Hacking 101 had given us a new attendance record, it was one that didn’t stand for long. There were well over 400 people in that Crystal Ballroom. It turned out to be our most successful panel ever. Who knows… maybe the EFF track will turn into the kink track….


Sunday was a bit of a lie in, but it started with a look around, a stop by the dealer’s room, followed by a trip to the art show. Then a wander about brought me to the armory, a place I’d not been to before. Spending some time admiring the weapons, and getting a few ideas for stories didn’t seem like a bad idea, before heading up from the bowels of the Hyatt. Passing the Regency ballroom, I noticed that the TOR panel was about to start. Another informative session on upcoming books, as well as their experiences with going DRM free, with a little time spent at the end talking about next year’s EFF track.

Then nipping over to the EFF track for ‘Defending P2P litigation’ at 2:30, a panel I was running with Blair. Of course, at 2:22 I get a call from Blair saying he’d be a little late, so I had to wing-it a little. Not a big deal really, he comes in maybe 8-9 minutes after the start, while I’m finishing some background. It was also my first panel in 3 years on a ‘prime’ day (Sat/Sun) and there was a decent turnout. I hope I helped some people.

More work afterwards, with author marketing, another Sascha panel. These are generally pretty easy to do, as he handles moderation himself, you just have to keep the audio levels good, and sometimes feed him some lines or questions to keep it going. They’re a lot of fun, and he’s a really nice guy (even if his panels are NOT the most ‘family-friendly'), and has a real passion for his work.

Encryption 101 next, and instead of Elonka, as we’d all expect, it was a guy named Jim Watts. Now I’ll give him credit, he tried, but his style was not best suited to Dragoncon, as it required us to do maths. Those of us not drunk, with either on high doses of caffeine by that point, or severely sleep deprived. It was also slide-heavy, so it may not work well with the audio, until I get the slide files, and make a video.

0902121919a_sBack again to the Crystal ballroom, for the 3rd of 4 panels overall there, and the first one we’d record. Keeping the theme going, I did send a nice blast of feedback through the room again, but we also found out that DISASTER! There was nowhere to plug the laptop into the mixing board. Instead the laptop sat on a chair next to one of the speakers, using the inbuilt microphone. So, if it sounds a little off, that’s why. 

0902022300_sThen it was time for a break for me, as hacking 201 can go late, so run get food and then run get back. The other reason is that there were ‘changes’ to the format of 201; clarifications of what we can and cannot do. As a result it was a bit rowdier, and there were issues that came up that frazzled some nerves. Suffice it to say, we’ll be doing some things beforehand to ensure we don’t have the same problems again next year. On the up-side though, we didn’t have to kick anyone out at 3:30, people left of their own accord, and many helped tidy up. I was actually in bed by 3am! Shock horror!


Monday’s always a bit depressing, as it’s ‘pack up and check out’ day. We were all packed up and checked out by 9:30 and had the gear loaded into our equipment car nice and early. Then it was on to the track room for as long as possible, catching Hacking 301 mid-way through.

0903121132a_sAfter that it was “Tactical SOPA Strike: How the Web Defended Itself Against Congress”. Yeah… I was supposed to be doing this with Holmes Wilson of the Internet Defense League. We were going to show up Techops by not only doing a two-site video link, but having two cameras here (one on me as a co-panellist, and one showing the audience) one on him, and maybe some slides as well. However, we’d not heard ANYTHING from him for the week before the con. So, I had to wing-it. It turned into less about the blackout itself, but more (directed by the audience – those who weren’t fighting for bellhops to checkout) towards how the internet has changed politics. It turned into a REALLY good talk, and I think we might try and revisit the topic next year.
Sascha again, on the future of publishing, again with his bevvy of beauties helping him. Then it was Elonka with a bit about Wikipedia. Funnily enough, a former ArbCom member was in the audience, and he helped out with some points. Worked out nicely.

Then the wrap-up comments. Generally good, a lot of positive feedback, and the need for more rooms, and more air conditioning. It was a fun weekend, and I can’t wait to do it again next year!

Finally a half-asleep drive home (no dead-dog party for me this year again!) and there was another Dragon*Con
Tired, going to bed!

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