Picocon

This was my first Picocon, I figured a one day convention might suit going virtual pretty well plus several folks I know were excited for it.

They kicked things off by opening up the Discord channels, and encouraging people to have fun. The fun in question taking the form of several activities; a Turing test game channel, which I mostly ignored, fish slapping, on which more later, and a scavenger hunt!

There were three teams; Marvin, R2D2, and HAL9000. I joined that last one, as it only had three people at the time and it seemed best to balance things out, by the end of the game there were about ten people per team so that was fine. The items to collect were eclectic, with several relating to the convention or to its theme (Automata), preferably things you owned or created yourself, so an old cosplay was fine but a link to music video not so much. Each team had its own Discord channel to chat, submit out entries, and check the score table, but none of us could see what the other teams were doing.

After a slow start, we caught up to the other teams by late afternoon, then passed R2D2 by early evening, and for a few glorious minutes we had the lead! Sadly we dropped back dropped back behind Marvin, finishing the entire list just a couple of minutes behind them and taking second place. I was very proud of our performance, though – several of us to tried out new things to get those points; for instance, I had to learn to use iMovie to get a short video submission in. Once it was all over, all three channels were thrown open so we could see how the other teams had solved the answers – there was a lot of creativity on display, so that was extra fun to see.

We had ordered pizza as the hunt wrapped up, so we had a break and watched a very good episode of Would I Lie to You? with Alex Horne as one of the guests. That left us with half an hour to just relax before the Pub Quiz.

As all quizzes must, virtual or otherwise, this one started with some small technical issues, but we eventually ironed those out and got going. It wasn’t my best showing; I missed some really obvious questions that I should have known, like the name of Ripley’s cat (Jonesy… my brain supplied only “Spike” … which I can see where you were coming from brain, but not helpful) , but on the other hand I did get a couple of obscure ones instead. John picked up a lot of the slack in the Star Wars and HHGttG categories, and the rest of the team did respectably. We came in second, again. It felt sufficiently like a pub quiz, and it was nice to voice chat with people for a bit.

Then it was the end of the con! The quizmasters were also the committee, so they gave a brief wrap up and totalled the donations for the day £970! As amazing as this was it was unsatisfying so another £30 was scraped together to round that up, all in aid of the Neurosmething or other.

Then it was time to slap each other with fish until we ran out of time! Oh right, the fish slapping…. so I’m told this is a Picocon tradition transferred to the virtual realm, and quite ingeniously;

The convention had a currency called Picocoins, which you could purchase by donating to the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability. These could then be spent in the Fish Market channel, options ranging from reliable Bass (Attack 2, Defense 1, cost just .25 picocoins) up to the unlikely, mostly jokey Whale (Attack 100, Defense 100, Price 100 picocoins, caption “Not a fish. Hilariously overpowered. Please don’t bring a whale to a fish fight.). Well, I don’t have to tell you that fandom loves a challenge, so three Whales were sold and entered into combat.

Fish in hand, you then went to the Fish Slapping channel and typed !slap @yourtarget and were rewarded with a stats table showing the cumulative strength of all your fish and how much damage (if any) you had done to your opponent. Naturally, this had an effect on your arsenal, and they deteriorated as you used them.

As the convention entered its final minutes, everyone seemed to realise simultaneously that they still had fish going unused, so a massive slap fight ensued, even the Whale-owners getting slapped into negative points, until our poor fish were worn down to little nubs.

Boskone/Gally/Valentine’s

I ended up only using the social space at Boskone. They had a Zoom Consuite going most of the day, which I applaud. Initially I had trouble finding it, although it looks like they added a more obvious link later (or perhaps it was always there and I missed it). The link was in the programming schedule but for whatever reason it didn’t occur to check there for persistent programming. In any case, I eventually found the link by through the Facebook comments.

Friday evening I had personal Zoom scheduled, so my first actual event was the Glasgow party at 11pm GMT. I managed to confuse myself again, I knew it would be a Zoom but like a dummy didn’t realize that social Zooms would be hosted from the Consuite. Obvious in retrospect, but not explicitly stated, so I sort of did a circuit of the website to find it. I will say that for virtual conventions generally; just add links wherever you mention any event/page/item, it doesn’t hurt and saves everyone time and confusion.

In any case, the Zoom was set up with many breakout rooms, but there were only two occupied when I arrived. The Glasgow party was quite full with twenty or so people, plus I ascertained that the topic of conversation was Covid so I retreated to the only other occupied room. This one had just three people but was thankfully a friendly open party. I got to enjoy the experience of meeting random strangers at a convention party, and had a lovely time for a forty minutes or so before heading to bed.

Saturday sort of got busy, and I found it had gotten late without me hitting the convention at all. Unrelated to Boskone, some folks from Gallifrey One organised a Zoom reunion photo at midnight, so I did that and got to chat with some folks I haven’t seen in ages, which was really very nice indeed. If at all possible next year I am determined to return.

Sunday was Valentines, of course. But also chores day, and once again I just sort of didn’t get around to conventioning. I found I really missed being able to peek at the Discord during the convention, to see the night owls, announcements, or conversations for panels I missed. Being in a different timezone, the persistent white noise of the chat helps me maintain that “at-con” atmosphere. The abrupt shut off of leaving the all-in-one walled-off website/Zoom social space feels different. It brings to mind the difference between staying at the con hotel – where you are always spotting other fans in the halls, restaurant, or lobby, seeing random posters of fliers laying around, and so on, versus staying off-site and having to leave con space entirely each night into the “real world”. Out of sight, out of mind! Of course, for those attending in their own timezones I suspect this was much less of an issue, since you’d block out time at your device for the event.

On Valentines we had heart-shaped donuts, I made pork chops, and we watched The Color Out of Space, which is quite scary, a little bit gross, and not especially romantic. I only realized looking it up afterwards that the director is Richard Stanley of Hardware cult fame.

Capricorn

Capricorn was this past weekend, obviously CST isn’t the ideal timezone for me, but paying just $10 for a convention allows a certain casual approach to it, so I figured why not.

It started Thursday, but as this was also First Thursday, I decided to Tun instead, which was a good time.

On Friday, I popped back to the Discord for intermittent chatting. Staff was clearly keeping an eye on channels, being social as well as helpful. The first panel item I decided to go to was a reading, but unfortunately the reader in question could not be found, whoops. I did make a couple of other panels and readings over the weekend, they were done on Zoom with integrated Discord chat, which worked nicely imo. There were two channels for each panel, the current Live room discussion and then the after-panel Hallway where people could spill out to continue the discussion, I thought the naming convention was a nice touch.

The art show looked good, although I didn’t get my act together in time to submit. There was also a charity auction, handled by having a channel for each item to be bid on. There were some of the other standard channels; fan tables, bar and consult, pet photos, cosplay, crafting, a section for the Cafe track (kaffeeklatsches and the like), and even a film watching channel. There were even several voice channels which seemed busier than I’ve seen at previous online conventions.

Something they clearly put effort into was the parties, with Friday and Saturday Zooms with breakout rooms for various bids and groups, plus a Scalzi DJ dance on Saturday. Of course this was at 3am my time, so although I did set an alarm just in case I couldn’t quite face dragging myself out of bed for it – partly because I would have had to set myself up in the living room in order not to wake John. Still, from peeking at the Discord it does look like they were well received.

I definitely didn’t get the most out of what the convention was offering, but that’s entirely on me. Capricorn is for sure on my radar now for conventions I would someday like to attend.

Next up, Boskone.

February

It’s been very cold, a few days of frost and even a brief bit of snow – though nothing like elsewhere in the country. It’s a bit harder to stay productive in the January doldrums, but I’ve been doing okay at exercising relatively consistently, which is probably good now that even the cats aren’t excited about going into the garden.

Two virtual conventions are fast coming up, Capricorn and Boskone, so that’s been good motivation to get some fans done. On the digital side of things, I’ve been learning Procreate, mostly with YouTube tutorials for the moment, although I suspect I’ll need to find a decent Patreon or the like soon as those run out.

I’ve also been meeting my reading goal so far, focusing on Best Novel Hugo potentials. So far The Vanished Birds is the real standout, possibly Doors of Eden, we’ll see how Ministry of the Future shakes out. Likewise I’ve made myself a list of movies on streaming the would qualify for Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form. Not much effort so far in the other categories, whoops.

The Outside, still there apparently.

I had to go into town yesterday! It wasn’t as exciting as all that, I had to go submit my biometrics for my indefinite leave to remain. Luckily there is an office in town to do that, so I was able to walk down get everything done without much fuss.

It gave me a chance to have a quick look at the pedestrianization of Bedford Place as I walked back home. It looks great, I hope they keep at least some of it once things are back open.

JFC

Look, I’m among those counting Jan 1st-20th as part of 2020 but even by those standards all I can say is Jesus fucking christ what a clusterfuck.

Seems frivolous to post about anything else, especially with so many revelations and developments. What an ugly end to an ugly chapter.

2021

So far so good.

Yesterday Alison Scott held an Around the World in 24 Hours Zoom party to celebrate in all the timezones!

We popped in on the early shift to say hi to the antipodeans and watch the Sydney fireworks (very impressive). It was my turn to make lunch, so I logged off and made cabbage and ramen noodle soup from the last of the Xmas duck stock. It was very tasty, if I do say so myself. I took it easy for the next few hours and had my own little Twilight Zone mini-marathon, while I think John popped back into the Zoom for a while. Once evening rolled around we ordered far too much food for Unikebab, on the assumption that our future drunk/hungover selves would appreciate the leftovers (speaking as a now hungover future España, we were entirely correct on that count).

We settled back into the party just before the Dubai’s new year’s show, which involved an amazing LED lightshow on the Burj Khalifa with accompanying fireworks. Our delivery arrived right around then though, so we excused ourselves to have a our dinner before rejoining the party.

I was delighted at the strong Bay Area presence over the course of the night, I got to see a lot of familiar faces including Bryan and Mette, Kevin and Andy, Tom and Spike, Karisu and Richard, and I’m many others my January 1st brain won’t remember until I hit “post” on this entry. There was good chat with only the occasional detour into politics or similarly depressing topics. Luckily there were plenty of break rooms and usually at least three of them were busy, plus a scattering of smaller conversations, and if needs be the lobby.

Alison used one of the breakout rooms to screen Dinner for One, which Mette had shown me way back when, and which was even funnier than I remembered. The Patio room was set up for fireworks displays, with a volunteer searching out live-streams for the appropriate locations. Then there was a craft room, plus other rooms you would expect like the kitchen. For some reason the Electrical Supply Closet was the happening place for much of the night.

The next display up was Athens, which was a pleasant display live-streamed by some random person in Athens. I honestly found it sort of adorably low key after the extravagance of Dubai. Only one timezone left before London, but there was some difficulty finding a feed for a bit so while that discussion happened I decided to find if the usual Puerta del Sol festivities were on, eventually finding that there was a livestream of the NYE show. I watched the ball drop and still got back to the Zoom in time for some Paris fireworks, which later googling suggests were actually from Bastille Day, but they were still pretty.

And then it was our time! No London fireworks could be found so we ended up watching a neat but decided lower key drone show from Edinbrugh. There was cheering and toast and kisses, though, and then Alison accidentally(?) closed all the breakout rooms at once! We all tumbled into the lobby in a chaotic pile, but then we were treated to a Glasgow in 2024 end of year video which cased more than one teary eye.

Back to the party, it became apparent that the festivities in the next couple of timezones had been entirely shut down, with no livestreams to be had. I decided to take this as a sign to get some sleep in before the West Coast celebrations, so off to bed I went. Alice came to bed immediately, clearly relieved I had come to my senses and John joined not too long after. When I woke up at my 7am alarm I figured I could probably sleep a lil’ bit longer, so of course I woke up again at my 8am alarm, having just missed the fireworks. Still, I got myself composed and joined in time to see a whole bunch of friendly faces from that neck of the woods. So now I’m afraid that UK fandom now knows just how loud I am when I am conversing with a bunch of loud American friends. Kevin and Andy had set up their black light party, Bryan and Mette waved their cats at us, and Spike had only just opened the parcel with the fan she bought off me at CoNZealand. It was a very good time.

Hawaii was the last timezone, and we got to see some pretty solid backyard fireworks via a laptop held up to a window. The Zoom automatically closed down around ten past ten in the morning, giving Alison a solid twenty minutes break before Cafe Moose.

Xmas everywhere

Aside from a trip to get my passport replaced, which was mildly stressful but also sort of a nice change of pace, its holidays at home for us of course. So I am compensating by watching as many holiday movies as I can this year. Sticking to stuff available on streaming services we already have, but that still offers a whole lot. And lots of it is pretty bad, frankly.

On the nice list; Let It Snow, Noelle, A Bad Mom’s Christmas, Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square, Jingle Bell Rocks, The Holiday. I wouldn’t necessarily say any of them are a keepers, two and a half to three and a half star fare, but I’d happily watch them if they came on the tv while I was visiting family for Christmas.

On the naughty list; Love the Coopers, Pottersville, Four Christmases, Christmas with the Kranks. These are ones I would take a cold walk in the snow with awkward chitchat in order to avoid.

Honourable mention to Dash & Lilly, which is a miniseries rather than a movie, and which I found charming.

Burritos and pizza

With Lockdown 2 in place for November it seemed a bit silly to do a big turkey and trimmings just for us. So I made pumpkin pie, we ordered burritos with the reasoning that they are the American food most likely to give us that replete Thanksgiving feeling and we watched Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Then on the Saturday John hosted a Zoom party for his birthday, which started at 4pm for him to play boardgames for a few hours and then proceeded to regular drinking and chatting into the night, it was good fun and there were some faces I hadn’t seen in a while, which was lovely.

His actual birthday wasn’t until Thursday, we had originally planned on going up to Botley, but that seemed unwise even before the weather turned a bit. Instead we went to Paddle and Peel for pizza and beer in their outdoor area. It was very cold, so we were hilariously bundled up, but still nice. Time to invest in some thermals I think.