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September 06, 2004

The Gripe Session

I'm a bit of a gripe-session junkie. I like to attend Worldcon gripe sessions because it helps me understand what things are important to the attendees, pick up good ideas for future use, and learn what perennial irritants to try to avoid. So I've taken fairly detailed notes on the N4 gripe session.

Chairman Deb Geisler began by noting that Noreascon 4 is a one-time event; when the convention is over we will disperse as a committee. But we will pass your comments on to our successor Worldcons. "On a personal note, it's been an interesting and rewarding experience, one I'll never be able to have again."

Then she invited comments from the audience.

Congratulate the Hynes for keeping water urns filled.

Problems with matching the size of the audience to the size of the room. For example, presentations by the publishers need to be in a bigger room. Every one was full to overflowing.

First Night was really good. (Applause)

Staggered by incompetence of service in the hotel bar. Took an hour to get cold sandwiches to the table. Deb: We will be having an extensive debriefing with the Sheraton tomorrow at 10:00. We particularly want to apologize for the check-in delays. We did our best to do what we could to improve this. Television check-out is broken today.

Area for autographing was not labelled on the map. No one knew where it was, including people in the office. Deb: We got some of the signage a bit late. Info was in Information, rather than Office, probably should have been there also.

Maps should have marked where the bathrooms where. All the locations in the schedule should have been on the maps. Deb: Let me tell you about the maps. We had technical problems in composing the Convention Guide. Restrooms were labelled on a different layer, which blew up Pagemaker every time we tried to include them. Apparently Pagemaker doesn't have any bodily functions of its own.

Why was there no pocket program or daily program grid sheets? Deb: There was supposed to be daily program grid sheets, but we dropped the ball. We couldn't fit those things on grids - there was too much program.

After last year, which only had a grid, the convention guide was nice. Deb: Put together as nice as we possibly could so it could be as accurate as possible. But the problem then became that technical glitches were hard to solve due to little time.

Problem with finding film rooms (not on map). No information about what films would be in Republic A and B. Deb: We had insufficient communication internally once we got on site. I would encourage our successors to have a central location for stuff that has to happen at con. When you're spread out you don't have everbody checking in one place. Some of the 70mm films came in very late; trying to do deals to get films cheaper.

Please put names of people who would be autographing on the web as soon as you know. Deb: We tried to do that as far in advance as we could.

This was my first Worldcon. Sessions on enjoying the Worldcon were all Thursday and Friday - please have one on Saturday. I went on a private village tour with Tom Veal. Trouble finding Art Show once we got up to third floor. Deb: We had all the signs made, but didn't have enough people to run around and put the signs up. We had a sign printer that was working nonstop during the convention. Also not clear where the docent tours would meet or where the filk office was.

Maps weren't all oriented the same way. Deb: We believe in different orientations.:-) It would have been great to have the Sheraton in a different color from the Hynes.

Another first Worldcon (Deb's student). This was extremely organized. I was amazed at the Convention Guide. At 5:30 tomorrow, Deb teaches her first graduate class in Convention Management.

This is my 30th Worldcon and in my opinion one of the best. Minor problems were events didn't start on time. Deb: Opening Ceremonies was late because some equipment was still (literally) in the air. We tried to open the doors earlier for the other events. Last night with the Masquerade, there were several last-minute entrants and they needed time to get their material ready.

SFWA, TAFF/DUFF auctions are a perennial issue. Too small a room and need more time. Should get more priority. Deb: Pete Weston brought an incomplete Hugo which auctioned for $250.

Sound systems. Masquerade: sound for MC was okay, but pre-recorded stuff for entrants was terribly muddy. Film room in Sheraton. Sound almost completely unintelligible (eg, Surge of Power). Deb: They tried to tweak the sound all weekend, there was something strange about the 70mm prints that put a buzz in the sound system. Brought in Boston Light and Sound to try to fix it. Known problem; trying to solve it. Muddy sound in Masquerade due to the quality of the recordings that we get from the entrants.

Loved the wireless access. Deb: I know it went down one day, but otherwise it was cool.

Really like extended Art Show hours. Deb: Was open 36 hours total - longest since LACon II. Opened early to show Retrospective exhibit, and tried to keep it open late at night. Opened AS reception to general public. Some concern about closing at 2 on Sunday, but all previous Art Shows did that, and we turned it around in 2 hours rather than 3.

Hugo Nominees reception is closed because it's designed to get them all to show up.

Thanks for the Mended Drum (applause). Deb: We wanted to do the Mended Drum since the beginning. Kept trying to develop the concept. Up until it all went together, we had no clue what it would look like. We had creative people who painted stuff, found flats, did a great job.

Piped events into there and 210. Couldn't pipe into hotels. Ran in Marriott via tape delay. (Literally ran the tapes over to the Marriott.) We had no way to do it in the Sheraton without spending tons of money.

Thank N4 to arrange for parties to happen in function space, with couches, and free soda. (Applause) Deb: Sleeping rooms have very narrow corridors. We knew that big parties would have serious problems with hall congestion, especially with mobility aids. Thank the bids and other large parties for running them in function space. The soda thing was a great deal. Note that Con Suite staff got Pepsi as well as Coke. Ben Yalow negotiated the contract to get us unlimited soft drinks. (Applause)

At elevators, have signs pointing to stairs. Deb: We put them up, but the hotel moved them.

Had a great time, want to thank everybody. Only gripes: Many panels were standing room only. Some were 1/2 hour, which was too short. No printed film schedule.

I like to go to gaming in between panels. Gaming in two different rooms meant it was hard to get a pickup game. Deb: We originally had everything in the Sheraton and gaming requested additional space, which only fit in the Hynes.

The chairs provided in the Dealers Room are atrocious. Deb: The chairs in the Dealers Room cost us $12 each. In exhibit halls everything must be purchased from a decorating company. When we rent from the Hynes we get a bare box. For better chairs it would cost $19/chair, which would have been considerable. Elaine Brennan: A lot of people don't understand how Worldcon budgeting works. We have to contract with the decorator long before we know how many people are going to show up. So we have to be frugle.

Office and Communications doesn't function well with a noisy photocopier right next to the phones.

Suggestion for future conventions. Have a place on the web site for attendees to indicate what they're interested in, to try to help figure required size of rooms. Deb: It's complicated, because it's not just what the panel is about, but who is on it.

Thanks for the scooter rentals. Hynes did not set up chairs in the program rooms to allow for scooters. Deb: Even when we moved them, the Hynes would put them back. Our community helps support people with limited mobility.

I had anticipated that there would be more computers available to check email. I was surprised there were so few, and there were always long lines. Deb: This is a nice to have if you have the money. We had purchased a number of computers for general convention use. We got donations of 6 Macintoshes for the Internet Lounge at the last minute. We tried to let people know we had wireless access. We had drops for people to plug in laptops, even if not wireless. (People complained that they didn't know they were there.) Deb: We bought 450 pieces of foamcore and still didn't manage to have enough signs out there.

I thought they were a major inconvenience that you had to stand to use the computers. I have arthritis and standing for a long period of time is an inconvenience. Deb: That was on purpose because we only had 6 and we were trying to keep people from using them for a long time. We had one for people with mobility problems.

What is the attendance? Around 5600. We're still working on the numbers.

Lost and found was big box, but needed a place to put delicate stuff into (envelopes, etc.) Sheila Perry: We're also keeping a list in the logbook, so if we find things when we move out, we'll return it.

Commend Con Suite very good variety of food. (Applause for Con Suite.) Also to con publicity for being listed in various places around Boston. Deb: We'll have a dead dog party tonight in the Con Suite.

Your guests of honor have been incredibly available. Deb: We have been so blessed with 4 of the coolest, easy to get along with guys in the history of the world.

Why didn't we use the Marriott? Deb: We had the function space there, but we didn't need to use them, and to do so would have split the convention. We were very lucky to have a site that was this compact. Even though we have lots of space, it's still contiguous and compact. We used it for a Suffolk University class, and some weddings, and the Masquerade rehearsal.

Photo galleries on the 3rd floor. Nice if a gold star marked people actually here. Deb: B&W photos originally shot for N3 in 1989, at Torcon 3 we began shooting pros for additional photos in the gallery. Color are more recent photos.

Fan Gallery, black frames indicate deceased fans. Deb: You can't get more gafiated than that.

Deb: Signage would have cost $30,000 if bought from decorator. Instead we bought a large-format sign printer and shackled one of our people to it.

Deb: Did you like the rugs? Were they neat? They cost $300 each. Where did you get them made? Freeman, our decorator. One is going to the artist, Bill Neville.

What is the total budget? Deb: Still in flux. The average Worldcon costs roughly $850-$900,000. We are slightly over that, around $960,000 expenses; just under $1M income. The surplus will go to the pass-on funds program. We may pass on more than half; the rest will be spent on useful things for fandom (like the exhibit packing crates donated by SFSFC). Budget does not include pass through like Art Show, mobie rentals, etc. That includes budgeting for membership reimbursements. These reimbursements are made only if the Worldcon is financially stable.

Deb: Thank you all very much. It's been an amazing experience.

Posted by Leslie Turek at 04:33 PM in 7-Monday | Permalink


Humongous thanks for posting this gripe session report. While I haven't been on an s.f. concomm in a very long time, and my work in mystery is mostly advisory now (hey I'm a program wonk now!) it's fascinating to read and helpful. Seeing some of the, sigh, same ol same ol, of course reminds me that some problems never go away (figuring out what room to put what program in - as pointed out, it's not just topic, it's participant) and being rather stunned to read ( the Sheraton? They should be SO nice to N4, SO very nice) and the Hynes doing dumb things about signage...well, it confirms for me the problems of running conventions. I've written a 35 page "how to run a mystery convention" guide because there's a shorter history of conventions in that genre, and many of these issues come up. As a N3 concomm member, it was fascinating for me to see what's changed in 15 years - oh, like this blog, and computer access, adn what hasn't - like stupid decisions on the part of conv. center staff to change our room setups when we know how things work (says the scooter user!)

Posted by: Andi Shechter | September 6, 2004 09:00 PM

A very nice convention.. wanted to particularly commend the staff lounge people and green room folks on their service. The real food in the staff lounge was especially welcome- good, varied and delivered on a useful schedule. Fantastic job, much appreciated.

Some issues with the Sheraton (who tried to clean and lock the filk rooms *twice* on Monday evening despite us having them until Tue.), but it was promptly, efficiently and politely dealt with by a concomm member (Facilities staff) whose name I have unfortunately not remembered.

I understand the problems with pocket program grids- still, it is so darned useful to be able to see what comes before or after any given panel in one location. I'd encourage future cons to revisit the problem and see if there's a solution.

Posted by: Robin Holly | September 7, 2004 04:55 PM

I think about the only way to do program grids for a convention this size would be to use a digest-sized TV Guide format. It would still be multiple pages per day. If the program items could be categorized (only roughly as regular, children's, acedemic, special, media, etc.) it would help keep things that are similar near each other. In any case it would be a huge amount of work.

Posted by: Alexis Layton | September 8, 2004 10:17 AM

As the dealer who had two chairs die under him (ok, I'm *heavy*, but I don't think I'm *that* heavy :) ), they could have been a lot better. (A third chair *started* with a bent support and we exchanged it before it could join the choir invisible.)

I don't recall exactly what chairs Freeman gave us in Chicago, but I recall that dealers were allowed to carry things into the Dealers' Room and -- when confronted with a price for their chairs which was higher than the price I could buy a better chair for at Sam's Club -- I told our negotiator to let Freeman know that I would buy and *give* two chairs to each dealer as Chicon's personal gift to them before I would pay that price to rent those chairs.

The price of rental chairs dropped considerably. :)

Posted by: Bill Roper | September 8, 2004 06:03 PM

We're sorry about that. None of us realized how doggone nasty those chairs would be...until they were all delivered and we sat on them.


But the chair upgrade would have cost us ~$7 a chair, or $3,500...*sigh*...for the dealers' room alone!

Note to future Worldcons: butt-test all decorator chairs.

Posted by: Deb Geisler | September 9, 2004 03:02 PM

This is my fifth Worldcon (and perhaps 50th con overall) and I was really really impressed by how smoothly things went. I esp. liked the fact that I was greeted by a listing of programming changes right off when I arrived. (The worst con in respect of finding programming where it was listed was I-CON 2003.)

With something as complicated and huge as a Worldcon, with so many attendees, I was pleasantly surprised over and over by how smoothly things went. I expect to be occasionally inconvenienced at a con, but not angered. I never got mad once at the con-runners or any aspect of the con itself - unlike, say, Chicon.

Problems with other worldcons - like the disaster that was the art show (for artists, not for buyers or viewers) at Chicon, the low attendance and general sense of chaos and pandemonium at Torcon - didn't happen here. I thought this was an incredibly well run show. ConJose was a beautifully run con (despite the lateness of the program books), but considering everything, I think Noreascon was the best run worldcon I've ever attended (sorry Kevin).

Frank Wu

Posted by: FrankWu | September 9, 2004 08:57 PM

Frank: No offense taken. Besides, I agree with you.

Kevin Standlee
Co-Chairman, ConJose, 2002 Worldcon

Posted by: Kevin Standlee | September 10, 2004 01:19 AM


Posted by: JIM YOUNG | September 10, 2004 12:55 PM

Trust me, Deb, you have my full sympathy about working with decorators. :)

Posted by: Bill Roper | September 10, 2004 02:17 PM

I had a wonderful time at the convention; I think it may have been one of the best conventions I've ever attended. (I've lost count of how many cons I've been to; I started with the first Trek con in '72 (at age 11!) and moved over to SF cons in '76, so it's a fair number.)

My wife does have a serious complaint, however... Usually at a con she holes up in the Anime room and watches anime all weekend long. At Noreascon 4, however, you had so many GREAT panels that she felt that she had to attend them! Whoever set all those panels put a SERIOUS crimp in her Anime time!! :-)

Seriously, the panels were GREAT; my only wish is that I had about 2 or 3 clones, because there were times when I wanted to attend up to 4 different panels at once! One panel stands out in my mind, though... the "I Can Explain That" panel was truly hysterical. Kudos to it's members!

Posted by: Ross Schacher | September 26, 2004 11:55 AM

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