FrankenDesk lives again!

A couple of weeks ago, CJ tripped over a power cord. This immediately led to a series of interconnected accidents that would make Rube Goldberg jealous, and ended with him sitting on the floor under my desk, holding it up as the side fell over.

Fortunately, CJ was not seriously hurt. Nor was there anything expensive-and-fragile on my desk, and the universe kindly decided to let the inexpensive-but-fragile items survive to shatter another day. The only casualty was the desk itself, and John swiftly came up with a way to MacGuyver it back together so that I could get my Internet fix while I decided what I wanted to do about the desk. In the spirit of all proper DIY furniture repair, the solution involved propping it up with a stack of books.

I spent more time than is prudent just staring at the desk and the area it lives in, and I started thinking about all the things I don't like about the desk. I've never done well with L-shaped desks to begin with, and the location of power outlets and windows and the TV in the room has meant that my work space is on my left, while my dominant hand is on my right.

And so, I started to scheme and plot. I had A Plan. It required cleaning the desk off, a task slightly more strenuous than "Clean the Aegean stables." After weeks of cleaning things up and finding new homes for it all, I finally executed the final stages of The Plan. Again, in the spirit of all proper DIY furniture repair, I changed the plan three times in the middle of executing it.


It's not quiiiite stable enough for me to want to put anything expensive on it, but that's easily fixed by a $5 trip to Home Depot for some 90-degree brackets and 10 minutes with a drill. In the meantime, I'm pretty pleased with it-- because it's a straight desk, I feel like I have more room (though that might just be the current lack of clutter) and there's definitely more room to walk around it (er, except for the clutter behind it, as things that used to be on the desk and will someday be on the desk again got moved to the floor and chair behind the desk). Plus, I managed to take apart the old desk without dropping any of it on myself, which I'm very pleased about.

Ingress: Surprisingly useful

A million years ago, or perhaps more like 8 or 9 months (really, in app timeframes, is there a difference?), M and C talked me into installing Ingress.

If you're not familiar with it, Ingress is a location-aware game that centers around the idea of "portals" that aliens are using to infiltrate our world. Or something like that. Honestly, I haven't opened any of the backstory media files since I finished the tutorial. There are two teams, and you try to take portals from each other. Except when you're low level, you mostly just hack portals and hope you someday level. (It's a team-driven game, and I'm not a team-driven player. I understand that some folks actually get together with higher-level teammates and therefore progress a lot faster.)

Anyway, M and C (and later a different C) all swore by Ingress and how much more they walked and therefore felt better and lost weight and yadda yadda yadda. I was somewhat dubious, given that my back pain prevented me from walking a great deal, but I gave it a try.

I played it for a little bit, but early on there weren't a lot of portals nearby, and the ones that were nearby were all in the mall, where my old phone refused to acknowledge that GPS signals could possibly exist. Ingress became "that game that I drive places and sit in my car to play." Which is okay, I suppose, except that I didn't want to drive places and sit in my car. I tried submitting portals, with about a 1-in-3 success rate. None of the successful ones were particularly near me, and I didn't really understand why the rejected ones were getting rejected. So I let it fall by the wayside.

But about six weeks ago, M and C and I got to talking about Ingress again, and I had replaced my old phone with a newer model. On a lark I pulled up the intel map to see if it had gotten any better.

There have been a LOT of new portals added. Most notably, there was a cluster of portals a few miles away, near a medical complex. Which made no sense to me whatsoever, because Ingress is all about permanent art installations and historic places and government buildings and churches and bars (technically I think it's supposed to be "gathering places" rather than "bars" but ... that pretty much works out to bars.) It turns out that the medical complex has a "Garden of Healing and Renewal" which has a path with a bunch of fountains and art and stuff. And since it's intended for people convalescing, there are benches approximately every five feet. (I use a lot of hyperbole, so I'd like to clarify: that's not exaggerated. Until you get to the back wooded areas, it is not possible to walk more than five feet without encountering a place to sit. In the back areas, it's more like twenty feet.)

It's a gorgeous garden, and I probably never would have realized it was there if it hadn't had about a dozen Ingress portals in it. I've gone there and walked several times, now that I know about it. I've also explored nearby parks and downtown areas. I'm trying to make it a point to go out and walk every day, though because I am a get-the-achievements!-type gamer and there's an achievement for hacking a large number of different portals, I tend to try to go to new places as well as old ones.

I am not fast, and I am not miraculously healed. There's still a lot of sitting involved in my walking. But six weeks ago, I could walk (or even just stand up) for about 5 minutes before my back would hurt and I'd have to sit down. And today, I walked for 8 minutes before I needed to find a bench. It doesn't seem like a a huge improvement, but it's 30%... and more importantly, it's an improvement. [Edited: Oops, 5 minutes to 8 minutes would be a 60% increase, not a 30%. ("Math is haaaard.")]

The downside? I'm finding myself checking out the intel map for areas I plan to visit, and trying to figure out how early I'd have to leave to be able to hit portals near my destination. Or on the way. Or both. We'll know that I've gone completely off the deep end when I set an alarm to get up even earlier to hack more portals.

In the meantime, if you've got an Android phone and you're interested, I have 8 invites for recruiting. (An iPhone version is expected "soon" but I don't think it's out yet. Sorry, Apple users.)

Book: Nobody's Princess

Note to self: do not choose a book by your favorite author for "I'm tired, I'll read for a little bit and then I'll go to sleep around 10:30 or 11" because it turns into "I'll just read one more chapter" until you finish the book at 1:30am.

I have a definite soft spot for retellings of familiar stories from alternate points of view or timelines. Nobody's Princess is the story of a young Helen of Troy, before the stories in mythology. It's also a fine story in its own right. The characters are compelling and complex. Despite following a story path already defined by existing mythology, none of the plot feels overly contrived or forced. I enjoyed it very much, and plan to read the sequel in the near future.

A funny thing happened on the way to the convention

So, for several years now, I've helped with registration for Penguicon, and for the last two conventions I've been the Head of Registration. And yet, Penguicon is "that thing I go to because I'm working on it" rather than "that thing I'm working on because I go to it." I've never truly felt like I "belonged" at Penguicon.

Until now.

I don't know exactly what changed. I'm sure that some of it is this year's ConCom, which really gelled as a team. Last year, there were a lot of communication issues that led to me feeling left out of the loop and like we were each in charge of our own little fiefdom. This year, there was a lot more focus on working together and helping each other. They're also just fabulous people that I like hanging out with.

Some of it is that I put my foot down (or "threw a hissy fit" if we want to use the technical term) about where Registration would be located, and we were right in the thick of things instead of being banished off to the far-off depths of the lobby. (Though this year the lobby was a lot more heavily populated than last year, too.)

Some of it is that I've got competent staff and volunteers and I'm using the same basic system that I used last year. Knowing that the system worked well last year, I don't feel like I have to babysit it as much this year.

But whatever the cause, the result is the same: suddenly, I was completely at home. I can't wait for next year.

Yeah, I got this

After much swearing and gnashing of teeth, I have:

* 1860 badges, of which 870 are in envelopes, which are sorted by name

* 22,900 ribbons in plastic bags, also sorted by name

* A binder full of documentation, including full pre-reg badge listings (by last name, and also by badge number)

* 500 instruction/play sheets for picture bingo

* Two boxes with supplies for picture bingo, one for Registration and one for Ops

* Clean laundry, ready for packing

Still to go:

* Clean-up shopping. Not strenuous, and mostly for jokes so if it doesn't happen.. eh, whatever

* One more report to print (which I am waiting for any last-minute additions to)

* A few bits of code editing so that we can open next year's registration

Argle bargle

More backward than forward today. I was stuck at home until UPS showed up to drop off the ribbons, because UPS is full of fuckers and every single time I've assumed that they can handle leaving a package, they've screwed me. I can't afford the time delay if they left me a little "We tried!" note.

So, I sat at the computer and printed out badges. 90 minutes and a little more than halfway through the files (with a bug-fix in the code generation), and I thought to do a test print on my black and white printer. Sure enough, the two pages of badges that I can get to print at a time... they don't line up exactly. Which means I can't have them cut in the big machine. I'm certainly not going to cut them by hand-- it would take forever. So, now I get to scrap everything already printed and do it over again one page at a time instead. [insert swearing here]

The ribbons DID show up (at 4:45pm, just in case I wanted to get anything done outside of the house), whereupon I discovered that the second vendor doesn't package the ribbons by type-- they were packaged up 1000 ribbons to a bag. So John and I sat at the kitchen table and sorted all the ribbons out into individual sandwich bags. Whiiiich meant I didn't get back upstairs to work on printing badges. So for a day that had a primary goal of "Prepare all the badges for printing" I managed to prepare exactly none of the badges for printing. Go me!

Two ribbon orders are borked-- one my fault, one the vendor's fault. I've emailed the vendor about the one that's their fault, and hopefully there will be some sort of solution that isn't "suck it up, buttercup." I emailed the person who ordered the one that's my fault, and I don't have any solution there at all. (A third order is technically wrong, but not in an obvious way, and that one's my fault as well.)

However, I DID manage to get all the packages of ribbons labeled with who they belong to, so that they can be sorted for easier retrieval. So.. yay, I guess. I had hoped for more.

Penguicon Prep

This is as much a checklist for me as it is a post for anyone else.

Ribbons are due to be delivered tomorrow (er, later today, since it's after midnight). The labels for the ribbons are printed already, waiting for the ribbons to arrive.

Specialty badges are designed, tweaked, and saved as a PDF ready to be taken to a printer.

Reminder emails have been sent to those who wanted one.

The code to generate badges has been written and tested. For reasons I cannot fathom, the first forced page break works and the rest don't. After fucking around with it for an hour, I've opted to just print badges two pages at a time. It sucks, but at this point it would take less time than finding what's causing the page-break bug.

Envelopes for badges are already labeled (thanks, AJ and Alex!). There's about 15 more labels for last-minute changes and additions, which are printed but not yet stuck on an envelope.

The scavenger hunt bingo card has been tweaked, and is ready to be taken to the printer.

Prizes for the scavenger hunt have been set with the badge holders and lanyards in an effort to collect all the bits that need to go with me next week.

Still to go:
* Find last year's "how to sell badges" documents, or re-write them. (Probably re-write, since I can't find last year's)

* Actually generate the badges (two f'ing pages at a time)

* Take the entire stack of "things that need to be printed" to the printer

* Put badges in envelopes

* Put labels on ribbon packages

* Generate a list of badges with non-zero balances (partially done; there's a report but it has issues with manually-entered badges, meaning it thinks I owe about $3000 because I put the staff-badge orders in under my own name)

* Put "needs payment" labels on envelopes containing badges with non-zero balances

* Print a full list of all badges, for cross-referencing if it all goes to shit

* Print a full list of all ribbons, for cross-referencing if it all goes to shit

* Print a full list of refunds already given, to stave off people who think we still owe them something.

* In my dreams: Get OpenId logins working on version 2 of the registration site. More likely: make the email field mandatory and put a note that OpenId logins are an intended upgrade.

* Nag Nuri to approve the pricing for 2015 so that I can update the config file so that I can open 2015 registration next week.

* Actually update the config file.

"I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it." -- Lewis Carroll

So, I run registration for a local convention. Several of them actually, but if I'm complaining about one, it's pretty much always the same one. We don't need to name names here.

I had actually quit this particular con, and then rescinded it when I found out who the new ConChair would be. I like him. More importantly, I like his vision. He wants to do silly things like "document how processes are currently done." (This con has a "We don't make rules!" culture to it that tends to end up leaving things in limbo quite often-- because while they don't make rules, they most certainly form traditions. It's very hard to maintain a tradition without a framework.)

So, I sat down and thought about my little registration corner of the con, and what I would really like to see happen. I had some pretty awesome ideas, and I even wrote some of them down. And then I completely and utterly ignored them for ... oh, let's call it 9 or 10 months.

Hey, did you know that awesome ideas do not magically spring forth from the earth, and require actual work to implement? I DO know that, in fact. Yet somehow, every time I thought "I should really work on that registration stuff I want to get done" I ended up doing something else instead. (In fairness, this happens a lot with all sorts of different Stuff I Want To Get Done, not just registration stuff. I really ought to refer to it as Stuff I Want To Have Already Done But Don't Want To Actually Do.)

Now, of course, I'm just a little more than a month away, and I'm staring at a mountain of Stuff That Needs To Be Done Already But Isn't. I've spent the last three days clawing my way through a bunch of it, so a lot of the pile has been moved over to Stuff That Is Finally F*ing Done Thank Goodness. And a decent portion of that has been "making a better, more stable, more stupid-proof system" that will make the next iteration of this quite a lot easier. (The same ConChair is running next year as well, and I've already told him I'll take registration again.) Moreover, I'm making a conscious effort to design it in a flexible-yet-understandable way, so that I can hand the whole thing over to the NEXT person down the line and let them decide whether to use it or start over from scratch. So it is getting better, and it will continue to get better, and I am actually making forward progress on implementing at least a little of what I wanted to implement.

But I can't help thinking that this whole thing would have been so very much easier if I had started working on it last summer when I first said to myself "I should really work on the registration stuff I want to get done."

Movie: The Lego Movie

Short review: Go see it.

Longer review: Let's face it, any time a movie is titled based on what the art medium is rather than what the story is, you're looking at a potential bomb. But I love Legos, and sometimes those potential bombs turn out to be excellent-- I absolutely love a movie named after the board game that inspired the setting. So off I went, with high hopes and low expectations.

I'm pleased to say that the movie budget included a line item for "quality storyline" and "writers". The story shown on the screen is sweet and funny. If you happen to be old enough to remember when Legos came in large amorphous boxes instead of specific (and frequently licensed) kits, then there's a meta-story layered above the story on screen, about how the toy that used to be all about building and creativity is now about instructions and kits, and that story is enjoyable as well. And then in the third act, the movie takes a sharp right turn, adds a third layer that re-frames the entire movie while punching you squarely in the emotions, and continues on towards a perfect yet suddenly poignant resolution.

While I highly recommend this movie for adults, I feel I have to include a dire warning: the theme song is repetitive and highly catchy. It took me two days to stop hearing it go through my head on an endless loop. And that's okay, because it's catchy and I liked it, and the only person affected was myself because I have a filter in between my brain and my mouth (most of the time). If your child's brain-to-mouth filter is not yet developed, taking him or her to see this movie will almost certainly result in several days of non-stop "Everything is awesome! Everything is cool when you're part of a team!" that will drive you crazy. You have been warned.

When you go, stay for the credits. There was no easter-egg scene when we went, but you do get to hear all of Batman's song, which is totally worth it.
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Meaningless milestone

I'm not a big fan of "I've been to X different states" checklists. Manhattan is very different from Niagara Falls, and the idea that visiting either one of them is representative of New York as a whole is laughable. Ditto on Flagstaff and Tucson. Even in my relatively homogeneous home state, Detroit and Traverse City have a very different feel to them, and neither one of them feels like Escanaba.

But I confess that I am excited, because in less than two weeks I will get to set foot on another continent for the first time in my life. Just five more to go...