Teesside Snog Monster (jiggery_pokery) wrote,
Teesside Snog Monster

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LIve from easyInternetCafe, it's Nimbus - 2003!

Nimbus - 2003 was superb; I'm really glad I went. I loved it. However, I didn't realise how much I loved it until it was over.

Here's the relatively short version - you're in distinct danger of getting a chronological account at some later date.

The wibbling.

[Location: easyInternetCafe, 234 W 42nd, New York, NY; time: noon Eastern, Tuesday 22nd]

Nimbus - 2003 was pretty stressful for me, though it was probably as close as it could have been to what I ought to have expected in advance. The main problem I had was that I knew I had prepared for the events for which I was responsible but not nearly as thoroughly as I could or should have done. (In a previous friends-only post I had written "Simultaneously I am as well prepared for it as I ever could be and horribly, impossibly under-prepared...") Accordingly, I spent most of my time at the event working on finishing off the Quest and Fandom Sqaures rather than being able to enjoy the programming and other activities. This put me in a strange mood which took an unusually weird and unhelpful turn; I ended up feeling guilty when I wasn't working, when there were other folks busy and I wasn't helping them out. Accordingly, I ended up spending very little time with my suitemates, about which I feel rather sad, and even ended up having a couple of lonely meals forced by temporal considerations. If I had been posting this on (say) Friday night then this would have been really rather a negative post; there were times when everything was getting on top of me and I wanted to cry myself to sleep.

Please don't take this the wrong way, especially the staff and my suitemates. My lifestyle, thought patterns and experience over the con were about 90% by choice. I do know that I could've told people how difficult I was finding things and asked people to help me out. I definitely did do this to some extent (I certainly didn't completely avoid doing so) and certainly thought about doing this to a greater extent, but decided against it purely because it wouldn't've been efficient; it would have been a poor way to waste their time and not particularly more effective than me working on my own. Also, I recognise that the underpreparation was purely my own fault and so it would seem very selfish to force other people to change their behaviour on my behalf to a greater extent than I already did. I already felt very guilty about how much of (effectively chair and deputy chair) Gwen and Amy's time I took up over the duration off the symposium, for instance. They had so much to do that it felt awful to drag their attention onto things which I know I really ought to have done myself before I got here.

I don't say this as a brag or a boast at all; I am ashamed about this and do feel bad. I am not proud of this. I recognise that I let the team down to an extent. It's horrible.

On the other hand, I do recognise that Nimbus was identifiably a little better as a result of the activities I organised. Furthermore, I acknowledge that it's being realistic rather than immodest to suggest that, for some of the things I worked on, there are very few other attendees who might have been able to do a better job than the one I actually did; more to the point, those who might've done these things better didn't actually volunteer to do so. Accordingly, I don't think that on balance I did harm to the event, which is a tremendous relief. However, I know that the things I did were consciously half-assed, anyone could see that they were in defecit to the tune of one buttock, and that I could've done a lot more good than I actually did. This makes me feel bad and makes me feel that I deserve to do so. This is just another of the things that I've gone into in my life with a demi-derrièred attitude and I really need to sort out the process of "how to sort things out". It's a major concern.

On top of this, I was slowly kicking off the tail end of my summer cold, which principally manifested itself by me needing to breathe through my mouth rather than through my nose while I was asleep. Conclusion: SSSSSNORE, SSSSSNORE. Couldn't be helped, but still not a desirable thing for one of your suitemates to do. (I do hope that I didn't pass on my crazy British germs to anyone else to create a wave of post-Nimbus colds like the wave of post-punt!t00bage ones.)

There's also the fact that I just, well, often don't know how to relax, don't feel confident about naturally being able to behave sociably and well and sometimes don't know how to feel comfortable even in the company of people I like, particularly when this only child is sharing a bedroom with other folks. (Again, I had previously written "On top of that, I know that people's lack of confidence and discomfort tends to be infectious to some extent; I hate to think that my discomfort and lack of confidence might spread to other folk and make their Nimbus less fun.") These are the stupidest things not to be comfortable doing, but that's just the way I am. By curious contrast, I found it much easier to get on with the people who I was working alongside than the people who I was relaxing alongside. I can make all the excuses and point to all the extenuating factors I like, but the end result is that I'm really not such an ideal suitemate.

While I believe that I didn't make any major behavioural cock-ups over the week (though I know there were a few smugnesses, unconstructive comments and snide remarks that I really ought to have avoided) I never escaped the feeling that I might have been offending or annoying either co-workers or co-resters in about fifty thousand ways and never knowing quite how I was doing so. People will tend not to tell you this to your face, though we all know, human nature being what it is, that people will tend to say what they really think behind people's backs - and people's real opinions are what matters at the end of the day. I appreciate it when people have the strength to tell me the things which are hard to hear; though it will make me feel bad for a time, in the long term, it's the only way that I'll ever learn the lessons that I know I need to learn.

None of this is anyone's fault but my own; please do not take this as a slight on any of you. It's just my general dissatisfaction with my own state of mind, my own lack of dedication (I never felt that I was on top of things over the year we spent preparing for the event) and my own abilities. I remind you that I really am glad I did go to Nimbus - 2003, despite everything. I hope that you feel that I am being honest in my overall assessment there rather than diplomatic and polite.

Thus concludes the own-personality-dissatisfaction wibbling. All wibbled out now.

The dissing.

I organised and co-organised the Game Room and three specific events. I'm going to try to grade how I felt about them on a A+-to-D-(-or-F) scale.

The Game Room itself featured one PC playing the Sorceror's (sic) Stone and Chamber of Secrets games; we eventually also had a TV delivered to the room, but unfortunately nobody brought a console and a console game to hook up to it. :-( We didn't feature all the licensed board and card games, but we did have a reasonably good selection. The Sorceror's Stone trivia game proved particularly popular. We also had zorac's Fandomopoly down there which attracted attention. (Supposedly someone else brought their own, different, set to the symposium, but I never found out about it.) Still in two minds about whether it should've been down there or not, but we haven't got into trouble about it so far and if we don't get into trouble in the future then I guess we've just about got away with it.

The Game Room was very variable in popularity; for long stretches almost empty, at some points (particularly after Gwen had just plugged it!) extremely busy. Huge credit must go to Sara and Mike who staffed the Game Room for a lot of time, which must've been a very boring job for long stretches. There was a sign-up sheet, but I suspect we ended up landing the two of them with far more hours in there than they had been planning, about which I feel somewhat sad. (Particularly because I ended up spending a lot less time there than I had originally planned to do, due to zipping off and doing Quest things and Fandom Squares things - which, again, I should've got done in advance.) The look of the room wasn't the most attractive; we did feature Mike's amazing Quidditch hoops and Sara's gorgeous Quidditch scoreboard, but it still looked somewhat bland. Perhaps shifting the Quidditch team pennants in there as well might've cheered things up. All told, the Game Room clearly could've been better, the Game Room clearly could've been more welcoming, but what we had was just about satisfactory. Without wanting to dismiss Mike and Sara's excellent efforts, I think perhaps a C would be a reasonable grade to award.

A much more important question is how the Game Room might be better next time. A major flaw was not getting the room opened early enough in the mornings, which was tied up with not organising sufficient manpower well in advance and not taking our "getting things out of the office in the morning" issues sorted out as well as they should've been done. Resolving that issue and getting a wider selection of games would take the grade up to a B. Any further than that would involve a better program of outreach, being more welcoming, offering properly scheduled introductions and so forth.

Fandom Squares... well. Setting this up took rather longer than planned, largely because we had difficulties in getting homestar's excellent software onto the PC we had planned to use for the job. It took about 25 minutes (and $3) to get such a thing as a simple single floppy disk, and even then that was only due to bumping into a business centre employee when the hotel next door's business centre was closed. Accordingly, I didn't have the time I wanted to brief the Squares in the way I'd like and we ended up missing a few important briefing points that would've speeded things up.

homestar's software worked perfectly and the mechanics of the gameplay were fine. In the end, we played four games over an hour, which is fine, but the first three of those games were X-correct/O-wrong/X-correct-for-the-win three-question sprints, so not illustrating the subtleties of which Fandom Squares was capable. By contrast, game four was a ten-or-eleven-question marathon; one person had two parallel threats at one point, but the opponent eventually blocked one and the threatener squandered the other so nothing came of it. Game four had a comical conclusion; the laptop on which we were running the game software popped up a "Warning: Low Battery!" notice over the top of the gameboard, which caused me to take another look at the clock and declare this to be an appropriate point to crown the game a 4-4 time-limit draw.

There was one comical incident in which one contestant (who, shall we say, made a name for herself over the weekend) crowned a pattern of being somewhat less than co-operative towards the progress of the game by refusing to accept one of our answers for which we had named our source. I could get the precise wording wrong here, and this may be a situation where the precise wording is important, but I recall the dialogue going something like
X: I think you should check your source right now!
Me: (imitating her slightly hysterical tone) I think you should kiss my ass!
To be fair, she did then proceed to do just that - or, at least, through my jeans - and then we got on with the rest of the game. I'm a bit ashamed because it was rude, crude and possibly crossing the boundaries of good taste to the point of being a poor reflection on the con and the board, but... hey, it seemed to be the right thing to do at the time and people seemed to get a laugh out of it.

The most important thing about Fandom Squares is that it must be funny - if it's not funny, it's a waste of time. Our Fandom Squares was occasionally funny, but the good laughs were few and far between. Largely, the unscripted, ad-libbed stuff went over pretty well; the scripted material tended to go down like a lead balloon. The biggest flaws were that I wrote wayyyyyyyy too much preamble and chat for each question, so that the jokes were very few and far between. Another big problem - and one that I should've known to do something about - was that we gave off the impression that people were reading their gags off paper instead of appearing to ad-lib them all by having more discreet palm-cards and the like. It all-too-frequently came across as being ponderously slow, unconfident and that we were (sings:) go-ing through the mo-tions. It was particularly annoying that we had some really good gags for some of the Squares which we didn't get round to using, largely because they depended on certain jokes having been told beforehand.

Let's be honest, there was a general consensus opinion of "I'm glad that's over" at the end; we died on our arses, folks, though we did at least keep going throughout. I don't blame the nine Fandom Squares themselves in any way for this. After all, you can only work with the material you're given - and the material I gave you was clearly not up to scratch. If history chooses to recall that the only thing that happened in Fandom Squares was that I told someone to kiss my ass and they actually did so then I think we'll have got away with it, but I have a nasty feeling that people will remember that there were lots of people there who were trying to be funny and failing - and it seldom gets more painful than that. Let's call it a C-. (Fandom Squares, I'm not giving you a C-; I'm giving the overall session a C- and taking the blame for it myself.)

[Location: easyInternetCafe, London Victoria; time: 3:30pm British, Wednesday 23rd]

Now that's a harsh grade, but let's be brutally honest here - some things at Nimbus were better than others, and Fandom Squares was one of those others. It's lousy when someone does something badly and claims they were doing it well after all; let's be completely honest and upfront here and say what people really will be saying to each other about it.

On the other hand, I feel confident that next time I could produce something worth at least a B with a few simple changes. 1) Write much less scripted material. 2) Use palm cards with hint words instead of reading fully pre-prepared answers from sheets. 3) Prepare the Squares much better than they were this time. 4) Keep things going much more quickly. 5) Get each of the Squares a cocktail before the show starts. (Yes, I'm serious here.) To get above a B, it's got to be really funny... and that'll take a little bit of comedy-writing magic. Much more thought required here.

The Quest. Yuck. We had effectively nine parts to the puzzle which went on over the weekend. Two of them were very cool and went as planned. Seven of them were cool in principle but their execution was significantly flawed. The major problem was that we were just behind the pace - we didn't have things prepared properly in time. Having cool stunts and puzzles (and we certainly did!) is all very well but you've got to execute them properly so that people can enjoy them to their full potential. We didn't.

We also had problems in terms of numbers of participants; many teams started, but the numbers dwindled over the weekend and only four teams completed the course. Starting with what was in practice one of the harder puzzles was a flaw which really should've been avoided. We can't really take much credit for some of the cool later puzzles and stunts when most people didn't get to see what they were.

Overall, the Quest gets a D+, largely because the playtesting was evidently vastly insufficient. If I had been a participant then I know I would've been far more frustrated by the timing glitches and screw-ups than I would've enjoyed the cool parts. Clearly the weakest Quest or Hunt of the three that I have run to date, so I feel competent to judge when things work well or badly and knowing just how badly this went.

Along the same lines, I have (co-)run what could reasonably be described as a B+ hunt in the past. If we had got everything in this Quest together and available in time as originally planned, this would definitely have been at least a B or a B+ hunt; as it stood, it was no better than "nice try but...". Again, I take the blame for not getting my act together in time and getting far more material in the right place at the right time in advance. It was my fault. This was particularly frustrating because it could so easily have been so much better if I had been doing my job properly.

Quidditch was incredibly cool. We had some remarkably nifty Quidditch hoops. We had a hugely smart Quidditch scoreboard. We had people commentating on the games like Lee Jordan. We had the most amazing-looking team banners, plus people shouting on their favourite team with hand-held pennants. People got really into it. This was a good thing.

[Location: notquiteaneasyInternetCafe, Chris' bedroom in Middlesbrough; time: 1am British, Thursday 24th]

However, it had lots of problems: it was very slow to begin with at the start, people had difficulty following the action (for instance, small details like "which teams the players were on"), there were long gaps between the games, the discovered-fake-Snitches aspect added a vast amount of interruptions and downtime... heck, I'm not sure that the Snitch aspect of things worked at all well. The Bludger aspect of the game definitely didn't work particularly well. At the risk of blasphemy, Quidditch is frankly not that good a game in the first place as games go (yes, we did have someone complain about the overvalued 150-point Snitch, and rightfully so) and difficult to bring to Muggle life. However, we can go through the parts of our adaptation of the game one by one and tweak them by way of improvement for future use.

Quidditch attracted far more compliments than any of the other things that I was involved with, but frankly it was so visual and so outlandish a concept that it would still have been popular if we had only had two balls and five players per side. If you add together points for the immense, ridiculous cool and deduct points for the problems, I think a grade of B is not unreasonable. There were possibly 150-300 from a symposium of 600 in attendance for the first game (aside: does this count towards my "Watch 50 sports at the top level" ambition?) but this number dropped over time; after all, you'd have to be a real fan to watch four games of it in a row.

The really exciting thing about Quidditch is that the ways to improve it are pretty obvious. I think next time a genuinely A-grade Quidditch session is well within our reach.

First of all, if at all possible, we try to split the Quidditch session in two; it would be far better to have the qualifying matches before an extended break and the big Grand Final after the break, thus making sure that the players are all fresh for the Grand Final and that we can have lots of instruction and gubbins when there are only a few people watching the qualifying matches rather than lots of people watching the Grand Final. Then when it comes to the final we can bring the fans in and get right down to the action without the extended preliminaries - show people one really good game of Quidditch and then get them out.

Second, I've got a convincing-looking theory about the Snitches. We still have Snitch-movers about the field carrying many (I now think a value for "many" of 12-16 looks right) Snitches, all but one of which are decoy. However, we don't stop the game for the grabbing of a decoy Snitch - we simply remove the decoy Snitch from the field of play and continue play. Once you know there are, say, 8 or 10 decoy Snitches off the pitch already, you know that the end of the game is pretty imminent, which ramps up the tension - yet there's always the possibility that the real Snitch could be the next one caught, right from the very start.

Third, Quidditch is always going to be so popular that we can afford to put a fairly serious barrier to entry in the way of potential players and we still won't have difficulty in filling the line-up. If we were to get every potential tournament team to pre-register and plunk down, say, $140 in advance in return for seven co-ordinated Quidditch jerseys (emblazoned with team logos, player names and so on) then following the game would be considerably easier and it would look incredibly spiffy. Admittedly there's always the possibility that your team will lose in 3'02" (as happened in the grand final) but at least you will have some very nifty shirts as a souvenir. I definitely want to keep the possibility of open-access pick-up Quidditch if at all possible, but taking the tournament to another level of dedication seems to be the logical progression.

Inevitably the Quidditch got a lot of the media attention. I, as token male Brit who has travelled 4,500 miles to get there (footprint distance - about 3,500 miles as the crow flies), got rather more mentions than I deserved; some of the press picked out my details from the programme so that the world can go "Here, what's this Oxford maths grad doing going on holiday to run Quidditch?". There were frequently enough of my personal details quoted to make me very recognisable, more so than I'd have liked. Meh; it's a risk of the profession.

The comical thing is that one Roger Highfield, who is Science Editor of the Daily Telegraph and so should know better even more than I should was present to give a talk and to plug his latest book, yet ended up playing on one of the teams. His turned out to be the winning team, thus giving him something to write about in his article that he really hadn't expected. He slightly muffed the punchline of the story, though; he didn't point out that his team's seeker in the Grand Final caught the Golden Snitch even faster than Harry Potter ever did, which is why his story had such a fairytale ending.

I really enjoyed being the Quidditch MC, doing the introductions and so on, though my attempt to commentate on the Grand Final proved abortive; live sports commentary is hard. There was one instance when I was momentarily (but possibly visibly) ticked off, when one of the commentators said "Let's get ready to rumble!" for four reasons: (a) I wanted to be the one to say it, (b) you save the Buffer for the main event, not the opening match, (c) there are probably legal implications involved with stealing the Buffer catchphrase so I had planned to change the final two words to "for Quidditch" and (d) by far the most irritating crime was that he didn't get nearly enough hang time on the "lllllllet's" or the "rrrrrrrrready". Le sulk.

So, all told, we have a B, a C, a C- and a D+; I think that that works out as an average of a C. Not bad as such, but definitely a lot of room for improvement and things which should have been done rather better with proper preparation. By comparison, I don't think many people would argue that the convention wasn't deserving of an A or at least an A-; by no means perfect (that's what the theoretical A+ is for) but it did so many things right that it's worthy of the highest accolades. gwendolyngrace should henceforth be referred to as Hobby Ghoddess gwendolyngrace, treated as Guest of Honour at the next Nimbus and so on and so forth. Fangirl this woman forthwith for she deserves it.

Hmm. Should we have been grading all these sessions on the OWL letter scale? I suppose I could say that my efforts were worthy of an A in that case - just that it's an A for Acceptable rather than a superior E for Exceeds Expectations or an ideal O for Oustanding...

The good stuff: the people!

The people at Nimbus - 2003 were incredibly lovely. I won't name LJ usernames because I'll be bound to forget someone really nice and cause offence, but I have very happy memories of:
  • two ladies who I have met before and whose company I always enjoy extremely much,
  • a number of ladies who I hadn't met before but who turned out to be extremely sweet, patient, supportive and very, very funny,
  • a number of ladies who I was really looking forward to meeting and who lived up to my highest hopes just through the strength of their delightful personalities which were everything I was looking forward to, even though they were rather distracted at times for the most understandable of reasons,
  • a number of people - not all at Nimbus! - who I was really looking forward to meeting for the first time and who turned out to be charming and tremendous company,
  • a suiteful of folk with whom it was really fun to share a room and share resting time,
  • a staffful and a boardful of officials who did a phenomenal job (many of whom are incredibly sweet) and with whom it is an honour to have been associated,
  • a New Yorkful of extremely fun folk, all far more hip than I could ever be, with whom it was a pleasure to spend an afternoon bathing in reflected coolness and general niftitude...
  • scads of people who I had very little or no concept of in advance but whom it was a tremendous pleasure to meet.
I think that covers everyone, some people more than once. Hopefully you all recognise yourselves. I'm very sorry that I didn't get to spend nearly as much time with you as I'd like to have done. (There were at least a couple of prominent fan writers who I'd dearly liked to have got to meet, but, alas, they didn't make it themselves.) Next time we'll have to make Nimbus much longer just for increased hanging out opportunities - or maybe that's what t00bage-style events are for?

All of a sudden, the end of the event came on Saturday lunchtime, the days having merged into one another and having rolled through far too quickly. The end of the auction was a tremendous climax, Hobby Ghoddess gwendolyngrace was crying tears of happiness and I was involuntarily driven to the same tears-of-happiness motions during the highly deserved standing o without liquid actually coming out. One trip up to Sanford to return art gallery stands later, only then did the magnitude of the convention's accomplishments fully dawn on me. The best bit was definitely the reflection once it was all over and the senses of longing and nostalgia that were built up so quickly.

This was compounded by a trip to the pool alongside tall_man and queerasjohn. The Swan has the most wonderful pools; one or two laned lap pools, a children's pool and a long, twisting grotto pool, accompanied by about three hot tubs. The grotto itself had a water slide (short, but in posession of a very good fun/distance ratio) and a waterfall. Water flowed over the fall at quite some rate and then fell some way into the pool below. There was some argument over how far the fall was, but I estimate it at about five metres or so. Certainly this was enough that when you lean forward underneath the point of contact, it gives you an extremely effective massage at the intensity level of your choice, falling with a remarkably high force if you know where to stand. As tall_man appropriately put it, it gave you "a real pounding". The pattern was obvious: take a gorgeous beating from the water, go and relax in the hot tub, slide down the slide a couple of times for fun. Repeat ad lib or until you run out of time. With the context of our past achievements, discovering just how much fun the pool could be was the single highlight of the trip.

So, yes, lots of reasons to be wibbly, disconcerted and dissatisfied with my own considerable shortcomings. However, none of them really matter very much in comparison to the extent to which the whole symposium was a tremendously positive experience, enjoyed in ideal company. Fine, fine memories indeed.

[Location: stillnotreallyaneasyInternetCafe, Chris' bedroom in Middlesbrough; time: 1pm British, Thursday 24th. Final edits.]

I've just added pots and pots of Nimbological folk to my Friends list, particularly those who I met for the first time and liked very much indeed. Hello and I hope you don't mind! The usual disclaimer applies that I don't read all the journals on my Friends list all the time (filters, filters, filters!) but I certainly met a lot of people who I would like to get to know rather better. :-)

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  • John Evan Dickson, 6th October 1937 - 28th April 2021

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