Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Looking Back on 14 Years of Running a Sci-Fi Convention

As many of you may know, I just helped shut down ConGlomeration Science Fiction Convention.

Our 20th year of operation and our final convention was set to go off Easter Weekend (April 10-12) 2020, but COVID-19 got in the way. We never got to have the final sendoff convention we wanted, and, due in part to that lack of closure, I'm going to process my thoughts on ConGlomeration and convention-running here.

I have a lot to say that will span multiple posts, so just click on #concomlife to see them all in one place.

First, lets establish my bona fides.

I got involved with ConGlomeration because I used to live next door to Mark Kantlehner, who at the time was on the convention organizing committee (ConCom) for ConGlomeration. After a couple of years of pestering me to attend, I finally showed up in 2006, the con's fifth year. I was immediately -- literally as soon as I walked in the door -- drafted into helping at the registration desk handing out badges, and I never left the staff ranks again.

I was formally invited to the ConCom in 2008, briefly as co-head of programming with Marsha White, but had to beg off when I was thrust into a job change. I returned later that year as webmaster and head of technology.

More accurately, I was emergency drafted.

When ConGlomeration's co-founder Chris Howard left town and broke off contact with the ConCom, he took ownership of the domain name and hosting contract with him. When those lapsed, the con lost its website with no means to get it back; the URL was scooped up by cyber-squatters immediately and we couldn't afford to repurchase it. Marsha snagged and I spun up a placeholder Blogger website in a couple of days.

For the next 12 years, I was the de facto CIO of ConGlomeration.

I installed a G Suite domain (then called a Google Apps domain, and in those days it was free) to handle convention email addresses, and ran the site on Blogger (which is still up) because it was free, too. All we had to do was pay $10 a year for the domain name, which I did out of my own pocket for about five years. That's how broke the convention was.

Because the webmaster had no real duties during the actual convention, I continued to help staff the reg desk at the con. In 2008, we had our most famous guest ever -- Walter Koenig -- and I was tabbed to be his guest liaison and run his autograph table.

Counting out the cash raised at Walter's table was my first real interaction with Sean Reck, ConGlomeration's founding chairman, in a business capacity. My first year at the con, Mark had all but forcibly drug Sean out to dinner Saturday night to enjoy some Mongolian barbecue because Sean was often so overworked at the convention he forgot to eat. I was part of that meal, and joined every "chairman's dinner" from that point forward (except in 2008, when Walter bought me dinner) so Sean and I were friends. But when Sean and I started working the books in 2008, I got drawn more into the back-office operations of the convention.

In 2009, we had no convention because our host hotel went bankrupt and took our deposit with them. When we came back in 2010, I was a regular member of the ConCom meetings and was among the most outspoken contributors. In 2011, I recruited Peter David as our Author Guest of Honor.

In 2014, when Sean asked me to build a "real" website for ConGlomeration, I completely recreated the site in Wordpress by myself. When we began an email newsletter that same year, I configured, deployed, and managed our Mailchimp operation. Our first e-newsletter announced a new emphasis on hands-on fandom; a change I helped argue for as part of the ConCom.

I also pushed to start online registration at the same time, and when we adopted Eventbrite for our 2015 convention, I did all that configuration and deployment, too. I also pushed for us to start online advertising, a practice we adopted in 2016 when I started managing all our paid Facebook advertisements.

When Sean had health problems in 2017, and wanted to establish a "line of succession" for the convention so we wouldn't get a repeat of the Chris Howard problem, Keith Bratcher resumed his past position as co-chair, and I joined in, creating a three-headed Cerberus-chairman. This led to me developing the privately infamous Star Trek Org Chart for ConGlomeration.

When Sean had to take a sabbatical from ConGlomeration in 2019, I stepped in as acting chairman, running the ConCom meetings and keeping the committee on task. (Keith was busy running Programming, our most demanding department. Jess Bratcher, our Treasurer and Hospitality Director, helped fill in the gaps in a big way.)

Suffice it to say, I've seen how a lot of the sausage is made.

And it was me who, in effect, ended ConGlomeration.

As far back as 2018, I was starting to burn out. I had proven terrible at delegating (despite Shannon Cancello's futile attempts to help me run some of the tech side of the con), and any time a new initiative or new technology was necessary, I took it upon myself to run it. When other ConCom members flaked on their tasks, it was me who tried to get them back on schedule, or who tried to compensate by doing death-march sessions on the website, newsletter, or Facebook page to advertise around their tardiness or disorganization.

Late-recruited guests, late-finalized schedules, and never-printed flyers or game-shop campaigns became my job to compensate for, mostly by posting and publishing online content at a furious rate.

Even my kids started to notice, and worry, that I was doing so much convention work.

(When people ask why ConGlomeration stopped doing a Program Book, you can tell them that was my initiative, too. "The Book" was a constant last-minute stress-bomb we continued to do a half-ass job of, and I finally got the ConCom to admit we'd be better off without it, because we were never going to do it well. Sean prided himself on being the public asshole of the convention, but behind closed doors, I was the merciless change agent asshole.)

When, despite the promises and best intentions of other committee members, I saw these patterns repeating with ConGlomeration 2020, I told the rest of the "command staff" -- Treasurer Jess, Programming Head Keith, and Chairman Sean -- that I was resigning after 2020. Sean understood, and immediately said it was time to hang it up and make 2020 our final convention. I had taken on so many duties, and so painfully failed to delegate or cultivate assistance, that the con wasn't viable without me.

I have never felt so flattered and so guilty at the same time. I'm still a little ashamed, honestly.

There were other mitigating factors, all of which I'll address in future posts, but my resignation also gave Jess and Sean permission to pull back, too. Sean had been at this for over 20 years, serving on the ConCom for RiverCon, our predecessor convention and serving as chairman of ConGlomeration for all 20 years of our event. He took a sabbatical for a reason. Jess was getting overwhelmed with the back-office functions of ConGlomeration. A lot of our other committee members were worn down, too.

I "broke the seal" on resignations and, after a command staff meeting over soup and sandwiches, we all agreed 2020 would be our last year.

While planning 2020 and dealing with all the COVID-19 uncertainty, I was also the first one to broach cancellation, rather than rescheduling, if our dates proved untenable. This suggestion was also agreed to, not least because we all knew we didn't have it in us to plan a 2021 event, especially after doing 75% of the work to create a 2020 event that wouldn't happen.

Thus, I have more than my share of blame for there being no "sendoff" convention. I said I wouldn't work on a "replacement" final convention, so that's a big reason why there will never be one. I know it was the right decision for me, but that doesn't mean I don't regret it a little.

My buddy (and ConGlomeration logistics lead) John Hickman shared a meme that helped me muster up to these choices.

There was a time running ConGlomeration made me happy, before I burned out. There was a time it made me better, back when it was an excuse to learn new technologies and new skills, rather than just maintain processes I already built.

ConGlomeration never made anybody any money.

My wife, a therapist, shared another sentiment that sealed the deal.

I had gotten to a place where I was running ConGlomeration because other people needed it, not because I did. And the cost was growing too great for me and my family to bear. So I stopped and, to my enduring regret, the convention was forced to stop with me.

So, that's who I am, in a ConGlomeration context, and that's the reason I'll be writing these blog posts. They'll be from my perspective (which I'm sure others on the ConCom won't fully share), and detail my opinions and analysis (which you can take with a dump truck of salt). I hope it's helpful to other people, but I'm writing it to be helpful for me.

Thanks for reading. See you in the #concomlife.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Twisdom from samstein, April 23, 2020 at 09:18AM

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April 23, 2020 at 09:18AM

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Twisdom from leninology, April 18, 2020 at 04:34PM

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April 18, 2020 at 04:34PM

Friday, April 17, 2020

Twisdom from Clnwlsh, April 15, 2020 at 03:03AM

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April 15, 2020 at 03:03AM

Twisdom from newmo99, April 16, 2020 at 10:20PM

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April 16, 2020 at 10:20PM

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April 16, 2020 at 11:53AM

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Whom (and How) Joe Biden Should Choose for Vice President

Who should Joe Biden choose his running mate, and how should he go about making and announcing that choice?

Let's answer the second part first. Joe should steal a little reality show pageantry from his opponent in the upcoming election and announce more than just a VP pick; Biden should announce presumptive nominees for several major cabinet positions, and he should tease out those announcements one at a time, leading up to the final announcement of a VP choice.

This slow burn would dominate headlines, keep attention on Biden, and offer the public a chance to imagine what a Biden administration would look like, prioritize, and even accomplish. It would also offer consolation spots to former Democratic contenders and current party heavyweights who were not selected for VP -- including all the men removed from consideration when Biden committed to choosing a woman as a running mate.

Let's start our cabinet announcements with the folks who want to be President and who have shown some viability on the national stage. Here's everyone who ran but didn't win the Democratic nominating process this year, in reverse order of dropping out.
  1. Bernie Sanders
  2. Tulsi Gabbard
  3. Elizabeth Warren
  4. Michael Bloomberg
  5. Amy Klobuchar
  6. Pete Buttigieg
  7. Tom Steyer
  8. Deval Patrick
  9. Andrew Yang
  10. Michael Bennet
  11. John Delaney
  12. Cory Booker
  13. Marianne Williamson
  14. Julian Castro
  15. Kamala Harris
  16. Steve Bullock
  17. Joe Sestak
  18. Wayne Messam
  19. Beto O'Rourke
  20. Tim Ryan
  21. Bill de Blasio
  22. Kirsten Gillebrand
  23. Seth Moulton
  24. Jay Inslee
  25. John Hickenlooper
  26. Eric Swalwell
  27. Richard Ojeda
Yes, 27 people not named Joe Biden ran for the Democratic nomination this election cycle. It was fairly insane. There are only 15 cabinet positions available after naming a Vice President, and many of those lack the import or impact to be worth announcing early. Time to trim the field.

Some candidates are in vulnerable or swing districts where the Democrats can't risk them not defending their seats or challenging for other offices at home. They can't be tabbed for cabinet positions.
  1. Steve Bullock
    A rare Democratic governor from super-red Montana, he's challenging for a Senate seat in his home state -- and the Dems need him to win it so they can grab full control of Congress
  2. John Hickenlooper
    Dems need him to flip the Republican-held Senate seat in Colorado up in 2020; at age 68 this may have been his last shot at the national stage, anyway
  3. Tim Ryan
    Dems need him to defend his House seat in the swing state of Ohio; at age 46, he can afford to wait out this Presidential cycle
A lot of folks ran just to raise a quaint little campaign war chest, get some free publicity, and improve their standing on the lecture (and future lobbying) circuit. That doesn't make them viable candidates or real factors in the future of the national party. Others were legitimate contenders who simply can't run again, so there's no need to boost their profile with a cabinet spot.
  1. Bernie Sanders
    Older than Biden and a love-him-or-hate-him figure at the national level, he's campaign kryptonite to moderate and swing voters; better he shape policy as an outside agitator (which he prefers, anyway)
  2. Tulsi Gabbard
    Reviled in the party and has the polling to prove it; she's not even running for Congress again
  3. Michael Bloomberg
    He's older than Biden and, despite spending half a billion dollars buying publicity, couldn't survive Super Tuesday; he's done
  4. Tom Steyer
    A low-budget but more progressive version of Michael Bloomberg, his $100+ million dollars of self-funding couldn't get him past South Carolina
  5. John Delaney
    Started running way back in 2017 and, despite a two-year head start, couldn't even survive until the Iowa caucuses; not a player at this level
  6. Marianne Williamson
    A comical distraction at the best of times, no way the Democrats legitimize the political presence of a woo-woo self-help guru
  7. Joe Sestak
    Has a nice story as the highest ranking military officer elected to Congress (he's a Navy Vice Admiral), but he couldn't even win a Pennsylvania Senate seat (or anything) since 2010 and never qualified for a debate; at age 69, he's done
  8. Wayne Messam
    A small-town Florida mayor who never qualified for a single debate, even when 19 other candidates did; at age 45, he should try running for state-wide office first
  9. Beto O'Rourke
    Got a lot of press (and money) for being a Democrat who might actually unseat Ted Cruz, but he's never recaptured that energy, especially nationally; he needs to stay in Texas and actually win something
  10. Bill de Blasio
    No one in the party understood why he was running in the first place; his fellow New Yorkers actually asked him not to
  11. Eric Swalwell
    So unremarkable, his way-back-in-July drop-out announcement was overrun by news that Tom Steyer was entering the race the same day; only 39 and already running for his fifth term in Congress, so he can wait out this cycle
  12. Richard Ojeda
    Merely a state senator from West Virginia; he was so small-time he didn't even merit news coverage when he quit the race
Here are the ex-Presidential candidates I'd announce for cabinet posts, in this order.

A bang right out of the gate. Harris has been widely touted as a potential VP, and not just because she's a woman of color. She has a fierce if controversial record as Attorney General of California, but her widely lauded confrontations of Biden on racial justice issues during the debates makes her an ideal choice to lead a Justice Department in need of reorientation, especially around racial issues. Biden makes his African American support ironclad with his first announcement and sets the expectations of an All-Star cabinet reveal to come.

Castro was Secretary of Housing & Urban Development under Obama, so he'll need a fairly prominent position to make a second cabinet post worth his while. Nominating both an avowed progressive (he endorsed Elizabeth Warren immediately after dropping out) and a Latino to take charge of immigration and border security sends a powerful message and raises Castro's profile. At age 45, he wants to stay on the national stage for future contests -- and Biden needs all the help with Latinos he can get.

In no way a name recognition pick, because Moulton never amounted to much on the Presidential trail. But he's a four-tour decorated Marine combat veteran with a rep for sparring with Nancy Pelosi as a Representative from Massachusetts, and that's a biography the party wants to groom for national play. He's also from a super-safe Dem House seat representing the Boston suburbs (where he risked getting primaried from the left), so plucking him from the minors doesn't have a lot of down-ballot impact, especially if Biden announces this pick early enough for the party to choose a solid replacement candidate. His openness about his post-traumatic stress disorder could bring some necessary perspective to the VA, which desperately needs a dose of competent compassion.

While an unremarkable Presidential candidate, Bennet brings something to this post that is painfully lacking after the tenure of Betsy DeVos -- actual education experience. The superintendent of Denver public schools before he became a Senator from Colorado, Bennet was on Obama's shortlist for Education Secretary in 2008. At age 55, he's not too old to groom for national candidacy, and he gives Biden another moderate voice to balance his cabinet of rivals.

SECRETARY OF LABOR: Kirsten Gillebrand
The first time Gillebrand's political star stopped rising is when she ran for President. At age 53, with well established credentials fighting for women's equality, Gillebrand can build her brand managing workplace safety and policy, and continue to agitate for and implement the family leave, maternity benefits, and equal access policies that have been a major plank in her platform. And Andrew Cuomo gets to name the replacement for her prominent (formerly held by Hillary Clinton) New York Senate seat.

Patrick has one of the best political origin stories in the Democratic party, but at age 63 and having already served as the first African American Governor of Massachusetts, his remaining career options are either Senator or President, and he isn't well positioned for either. However, Patrick led Massachusetts through the roll out of Romney-care, so whatever version of healthcare reform Biden strives for -- revamped Obamacare, Medicare for All, or something in between -- Patrick has legitimate experience that can help guide HHS through the makeover. Another prominent African American in the cabinet never hurts, either.

The post-partisan technocrat looking to remake the entire American economy can take over the department largely responsible for getting the economy back on its feet. Commerce also owns the Census Bureau, the Weather Service and the Patent Office -- all areas in dire need of 21st century technical makeovers, which Yang would be uniquely suited to spearhead.

At age 69, he doesn't have a future at the national level, but he's been a leading voice on climate change and giving him Interior (which has never really helped anyone's career) is a nice signal to the environmental wing of the party. Inslee was a lock to win his third term as governor of super-blue Washington state, and the Dems could probably benefit from letting someone younger, with a longer career in front of them, occupy that office.

A lot of folks are agitating for Buttigieg as Defense Secretary, but his brief military career and young age (38) would be unlikely to command respect at the Pentagon and, because he's less than seven years removed from active duty, he's ineligible to serve there by law. Buttigieg needs a cabinet gig more than any other major Presidential contender because a gay Democrat isn't going to win statewide office in "Mayor Pete's" home state of Indiana anytime soon, so he needs a landing spot that boosts his profile. The McKinsey wunderkind and donor-class darling who helped revive a middle-American town can take an active role in reviving the battered post-COVID American economy. Also, Treasury oversees the IRS, so whatever grand reform of the tax code Biden has planned, Buttigieg can be charged with implementing it.

She legitimately hung in longer than any woman not named Warren and, as a fellow centrist moderate, is probably the rival Biden most wanted as a VP before COVID-19 changed all political calculations. At age 59, giving Klobuchar the most prestigious cabinet position available anoints her as the presumptive front-runner for the moderate wing of the party in all future contests, offers her ample opportunity to earn the foreign policy chops her Senate term couldn't provide, and gives her the post that her rumored "intense" management style may best be suited for -- staring down foreign dictators and wrangling friendly heads of state. She's Hillary Clinton 2.0, but with none of the baggage.

VICE PRESIDENT: Elizabeth Warren
Biden needs to mend fences with the progressive wing of the Democratic party, and short of (not a woman and not always a Democrat) Bernie Sanders, Warren is as progressive as it comes. She's also a known planner and technocrat and, given all the deft technical administration that's going to be required to recover from COVID-19, she's an ideal pick to be the President's top adviser, top surrogate, and the tie-breaking vote in the Senate. Above all, should Biden not survive his first term in office, Warren is clearly capable of stepping in and taking the reins at any time.

Warren, however, would not be the presumptive nominee to succeed Biden, should he serve out both his terms. Warren would be 71 on Inauguration Day 2021 and would be 79 in 2028, quite possibly seen as too old to run in her own stead. She could easily run in 2024 if -- a la LBJ succeeding JFK in 1964 -- Biden does not survive his first Presidential term.

Warren likely wouldn't be a viable candidate in eight years. That puts the onus on both Biden and the Democratic party to develop a deep bench of 2028 candidates now, as well as set up obvious options should Warren need to make her own VP selection after Biden leaves office, however and whenever that happens. (Klobuchar, Harris and Buttigieg taking three of the Big Four cabinet positions sets this up nicely.)

Which brings us back to announcing an "All-Star Executive Cabinet" now. By making Warren his VP, Biden isn't putting his thumb on the scale for selecting Democratic presidential successors because Warren isn't a likely successor (unless Biden leaves office early). Instead, everyone Biden adds to his cabinet gets a bump in name-recognition and added viability in any 2024 or 2028 contests. He can shape the future of the party and improve his own current election prospects, all in one swing.

Even with all these postings, Biden still needs to name Secretaries of Agriculture, Energy, Transportation and (most importantly) Defense, as well as a chief of staff, National Security Advisor, director of every major independent agency like the FTC, SEC, CIA, NASA and even the Smithsonian -- so he has plenty of spots on a "dream team" that can entertain the press and the political junkies well up to and past the Democratic Convention.

Provided he wants to try to beat Trump at his own ratings game, that is. He won't, but a guy can dream, right?

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Twisdom from ryanstruyk, April 14, 2020 at 10:44PM

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April 14, 2020 at 10:44PM

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Twisdom from semil, April 10, 2020 at 11:53AM

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April 10, 2020 at 11:53AM

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Twisdom from markos, April 08, 2020 at 12:32PM

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April 08, 2020 at 12:32PM

Twisdom from Gwenda, April 08, 2020 at 11:04AM

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April 08, 2020 at 11:04AM

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Twisdom from DMOberhaus, April 07, 2020 at 03:30PM

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April 07, 2020 at 03:30PM

Friday, April 03, 2020

Twisdom from emmabo, April 03, 2020 at 10:10AM

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April 03, 2020 at 10:10AM

Twisdom from peter_ravn, April 03, 2020 at 08:26AM

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April 03, 2020 at 08:26AM

Twisdom from jonrog1, April 02, 2020 at 10:23PM

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April 02, 2020 at 10:23PM

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Twisdom from katiecandraw, April 01, 2020 at 09:59AM

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April 01, 2020 at 09:59AM