Year 50 Day 335

Me at my desk at home, next to two stacks of Star Trek books, including all the James Blish logs, some of the photonovels, and near complete sets of the TNG and DS9 YA series.

Day 335: I always take the Monday after con off so that I can rest and recover. I got a full normal night’s sleep plus an extra couple hours after my wife left for work, unpacked my suitcase and did laundry, made some con website and social media updates, and processed and posted the audio from the Thursday night dance. A nice low-key day to transition from the con world back into my normal routines.

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A Peek at Norwescon Through Apple Watch Data

Just for fun, here’s a little peek at going to (and being rather heavily involved in the production of) Norwescon as recorded by my Apple Watch.

For each graph, I’ve set it to display a month’s worth of data to make the variations nice and visible.

Overall Activity

An actvity graph showing fairly consistent movement, exercise, and standing trends for most of the month, nearly doubling for the past four days.

My standard goal for a day is 400 calories burned through movement. Most days I at least get close, many I go slightly over. I more than doubled that goal for each of the four days of con.

My exercise goal is 30 minutes, which, admittedly, I haven’t been regularly reaching for quite some time (though that’s something I intend to work on now that the weather is improving again). Hit that easily all weekend without even trying, and more than doubled it on one day.

My stand goal of 12 hours is one I usually hit pretty easily, but though not as visible, there is an increase here as well.

Flights Climbed

A graph of flights climbed over the past month, showing regular spikes on Sundays, dwarfed by the jump over the past four days, with the highest day reaching about 37 stories climbed.

I live in a three-story condo, so I do get a few flights of stairs climbed every day, and walking around the college campus where I work, which is on a hill and where I do intentionally take stairs fairly often, helps. But at Norwescon, I get a room on the third floor of the tower, and as the elevators are often quite busy and I’m still fairly able-bodied, it’s usually faster and easier to take the stairs. Looks like I hit about 37 flights climbed on Friday this year!


A graph showing very regular sleep trends until this past weekend, when there is a sudden shift to much later bedtimes and slightly later wake up times.

Most of the time, my wife and I are on a pretty set schedule. Since we both work a pretty regular 8-5 schedule, we get up between 4:30 and 5 a.m., go to bed at 8 p.m., and turn out the lights at 9 p.m. (I joke sometimes at how disappointed 20-something me would be at 50-year-old me…but 20-something me was working swing shifts during the week and DJing dance clubs on the weekend, so it’s not really a fair comparison). At con, though? Somewhere between 2 and 3 a.m. to bed, and though my body tried to keep my 5 a.m. schedule in the mornings, I’d stubbornly doze as long as I could. Most days I hit my goal of a minimum of 5 hours of sleep, supplemented by one or two naps during the day (without which I would not be able to function).


A step graph for the past month, usually around 5,000 steps per day, but hitting between 11,000 and 17,000 steps for each of the past four days.

I’m not particularly sedentary (most days), usually getting around 5,000 steps per day. Could certainly be more, but it’s okay. And then suddenly I’m getting a minimum of more than 10,000 steps, peaking at somewhere above 17,000 steps (and that was on Wednesday, as I was packing, arriving, moving in, and then helping with setup). Norwescon weekend is a pretty constant “go” weekend, and I’m always on the move.

So there’s a bit of a data-driven look at the past four days. I’m definitely ready to rest now, but I’m also looking forward to doing it all over again next year. :)

Year 50 Day 331

Me wearing a t-shirt with a parody of the famous Joy Division image, this one says 'Nimoy Division' and the imge shows a Vulcan salute. I'm standing on a stage in front of a large screen with graphics showing turntables, wave forms, and my DJ Wüdi at Norwescon logo.

Day 331: Norwescon day one is done! (So done, in fact, that I’m actually posting this on Friday morning, though I’ll backdate the post so it shows up on the right day on my blog.) Most of the day was running around, socializing, and helping out where I could, and then the evening was me DJing for the Thursday night dance. The dance went well for a Thursday night (since it’s the first night and still in the work week, it’s always a little more sparsely attended), and as always, I’ve recorded the full thing and in a few days will have it posted for anyone who wants to listen to four hours of music (with only a few fumbles).

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Year 50 Day 165

Me, wearing a Jack Skellington t-shirt and black facemask, standing in a hotel meeting room with a number of other people sitting at tables and chatting with each other behind me.

Day 165: Today was this month’s Norwescon planning meeting. Our theme for the meeting was Halloween, so I wore my Jack Skellington shirt, while other people had pointed witch’s hats, Pikachu onesies, a corn costume, an Alf mask, and probably other things that I missed or aren’t remembering. Lots of good progress being made — but lots to do over the next few months as well!

Year 50 Day 130

Me, wearing a black cap, mask, and t-shirt with the Norwescon logo in green, in a hotel conference room with other people sitting around a number of round tables.

Day 130: Today was the first ConCom (Convention Committee) planning meeting for Norwescon 46. It was good to get back into the planning mode with this group of friends, and I feel like we’re off to a good start. Once again, it looks like my job lineup this year is webmaster, social media manager, Philip K. Dick Award coordinator, and Thursday night DJ. Just six and a half months to get everything planned and ready to go!

Norwescon 45 Wrap-Up

Norwescon 45 is done, I’m back at home, and have had a day to rest and do the usual day-after duties (unpack, laundry, and various post-con website updates and scheduling social media posts). Our second year back was a good one and went smoothly from everything I could see, and was particularly good for me on a personal level.

On Wednesday, during the evening pre-con volunteer party, I was awarded a Lifetime Member award, given to ConCom members in recognition of years of contributions and hard work. It was a really wonderful surprise — this was something I’d thought I might achieve someday, but certainly hadn’t been expecting it. As many of the existing Lifetime members noted, there’s no escape now! :) Long-time photographer Thom Walls also received Lifetime Status.

Me and Thom holding our Lifetime Member award plaques.

Thursday night marked the return of DJ Wüdi, as I let my alter-ego out for the Thursday night dance. The Thursday night dances may be the most sparsely attended, but I still had what I’d consider a good turnout, and those that were there seemed to be having a good time. I’d also had fun adapting the OBS graphics I’d created for my Twitch streams so that I could throw them up on the video wall behind me on stage, so I had a pretty good-looking setup as well. I snapped a quick pre-dance selfie, and hopefully one of the con photographers got some good shots of me and the full setup as things were going on. As usual, I recorded the full set and have it uploaded it to my MixCloud page.

Me in front of the video wall with my graphics on display.

And Friday, of course, was all about the Philip K. Dick Award ceremony. Two of the nominated authors were able to join us this year, and so the first official-ish (-ish because for this, I was just a member of the audience) part of the day was the “All About the Philip K. Dick Award” panel, where the nominees and award administrator Gordon Van Gelder discussed the award and its namesake. Later that evening, after my inaugural Lifetime Dinner (an annual invite-only event for Lifetime members, Guests of Honor, PKD nominees, and Norwescon Exec Team members; until Wednesday evening, I’d thought my invite was only due to my position as PKD ceremony coordinator) was the award ceremony itself.

Happily, the ceremony went just fine, and I didn’t fall on my face, set anything or anyone on fire, or otherwise embarrass myself or the convention. So I’d say that’s a success! Both attendees read from their works, the other readers read from the works of those nominees who couldn’t attend, and then the winner was announced — and it was one of the two attending authors, which is always a lot of fun. The only downside is that a technical glitch dropped the audio from the first six minutes of the video stream of the ceremony, which was the section where I was talking, so there’s no good recording of my first time doing this. But as far as potential issues go, that’s really not that big, if a little personally disappointing. We’re going to work on using subtitles to approximate what I said, and it’ll do well enough.

Award winner Kimberly Unger holding her award certificate.

Saturday and Sunday, then, were fairly unscheduled days for me…though, somehow, I managed to find a surprising number of things that needed doing or that I could assist with. But even with that, I did make sure to get naps, food, and plenty of time hanging out, socializing, and being silly with friends old and new. And eventually, the closing ceremonies rolled around, and mid-afternoon on Sunday saw me packed up and heading home.

Other highlights: Being gifted some adorable wee little 3D-printed gnomes from one friend and a “LOOTR” (Loyal Order of the Ribbon) pin from Dragoncon from another, seeing a number of friends I hadn’t seen in a long time, soaking my feet in the hot tub one evening (must remember my swimsuit next year), dancing a lot at the two dances I wasn’t DJing for, and generally reveling in my annual geek vacation.

Two small gnomes and a dragon hatching from an egg, all 3D printed in grey, but the gnomes have had their hats painted red.A small square purple enamel pin with a stylized black dragon and the letters “LOOTR” in fancy type.

It’s been a good weekend. And now it’s less than a year until Norwescon 46!

Accessing Higher Ground 2022

On this last day of the 2022 Accessing Higher Ground accessibility in higher education conference, I put together a thread about the week. Originally posted on Mastodon, this is a lightly edited version for this blog. Be warned, this isn’t short. :)

Me standing beside an AHG poster in the hotel lobby. I'm wearing a black shirt with green alien heads and a grey KN95 mask.
Me on my way to the first day of panels.

High-level thoughts from a first-time attendee: This is a really good conference. I haven’t seen much in the way of glitches or issues (discounting the occasional technical electronic weirdness that happens anywhere). Panel content has been well selected and planned; I’ve been able to put together a full schedule with few “this or that” conflicts. Some panelists are better than others, as always, but I haven’t seen any trainwrecks or other disasters.

I do wish the conference had more of a social media presence. The @AHGround Twitter account linked from the AHG website hasn’t posted since 2017, and the #ahg22 hashtag I only found on their Facebook page, and it wasn’t mentioned until 10 days before the conference. Unsurprisingly, this means that there was very little hashtag use (at first I seemed to be one of the very few users other than AGH itself using the tag consistently or at all; a few more people started using it as the conference went on).

The hotel is a Hilton. My primary other hotel experience is the DoubleTree by Hilton Seattle Airport (where Norwescon is held), and I was amused that in most respects, I prefer the DoubleTree to the Hilton Denver City Center. The room is a little smaller here, and I was welcomed at check-in with a room temperature bottle of water instead of a fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie. But these are small and kind of picky distinctions; really, it’s exactly what you’d expect from a Hilton.

A standard Hilton hotel room with two queen size beds and a view of downtown Denver office buildings out the window.
Looks about like any other hotel room out there.

That said: This particular hotel has excellent ventilation. I’ve been carrying around an Aranet4 air quality monitor, and it has stayed comfortably in the green nearly the entire time; it has only gone into the low end of the yellow during one standing-room-only session in a smaller room. It did get into the yellow as it sat in my room overnight as I slept, but opening the window would bring it back into the green in just a few minutes (though at 20°-40° F outside, I didn’t do this much).

A graph of the CO2 levels for the past few days as measured by my Aranet 4 monitor. Most measurements are in the green "good" zone, with occasional spikes into the yellow zone. Handwritten notes emphasize that the yellow spikes are mostly when I was sleeping.
Being able to keep an eye on CO2 levels was nice, and helped make me feel comfortable with COVID-era conference travel.

As noted in an earlier Mastodon post, the weirdest thing for me has been part of switching from fan convention to professional conference: the lack of anything after about 5 p.m. I’m used to fan-run SF/F cons like Norwescon, with panels running until 9 p.m. or later, evening concerts or dances, 24-hour game spaces, and a general “we’ll sleep when this is done” schedule. Having nothing left for the day after about 5 p.m. is odd, and it feels weird not to know that I could wander out and find things going on.

For people who come with groups and/or have been doing this for a long time and have a lot of connections, I’m sure it’s easy to find colleagues to have dinner or hang out in bars or restaurants (at or outside the hotel) and chat with. But for a new solo attendee, it meant I spent a lot of evenings watching movies on my iPad in my room. (I did find a small group of other Washington-based attendees to hang with one evening, which was very appreciated.)

Impressions of Denver: Hard to say, really. It’s been pretty cold this week (20s to 30s most days), and since a lot of panels caught my eye, I didn’t take time to go exploring beyond going to the 16th street mall to find food. The little I did see in the immediate area is nice enough; maybe I’ll see more if I get to come back to AHG in the future.

Looking down a section of Denver's 16th street mall, a pedestrian commercial area with shopping, restaurants, and bars.
Though I haven’t taken German or been to Germany in years, my brain kept labeling this a “Fußgängerzone”.

Colorado itself, I have to say, didn’t give me the greatest first impression. The trip from the airport to downtown Denver is a 40-minute light rail ride through flat, brown, high desert with lots of scrub brush, punctuated by aesthetically unpleasing industrial and commercial areas. Maybe it’s nicer in the summer, but in the winter? The SeaTac-to-Seattle light rail ride is much prettier. (My apologies to Coloradans for snarking on their state.)

The Colorado landscape between the airport and Denver. The ground is flat, sparse, and very brown, the sky has lots of high, wispy clouds.
Denver has mountains in the distance, they were just out the other side of the train. All I saw was flat.

My least favorite part has been the humidity, or lack thereof. Coming from the Pacific Northwest’s pretty regular 50%+ humidity, having Colorado’s humidity hovering around the 20% level has been horrible on my skin. Even with lotion, I’m itching like crazy, to the point where it’s been difficult to sleep, and my hands are so dry that the skin of my knuckles is cracking and I look like I’ve been punching walls. Whimper, whine, yes, whatever, it’s unpleasant.

But anyway! And now, brief (500-character or fewer) overviews of the sessions I attended while I’ve been here:

InDesign Accessibility (full-day pre-conference session): For a long time, I’ve had a basic impression that PDFs are crap for accessibility. Turns out that PDFs can be made quite accessible, but it takes a bit of work and the right tools, and InDesign is a powerful tool for this sort of thing. While I don’t use InDesign much, I learned a lot about PDF accessibility and how to effectively prepare documents, and many of the concepts will be translatable to other programs. Very useful.

Addendum: I’d also like to take some time to see how many of these techniques and accessibility features are also available in Affinity Publisher, since I’m a fan of Affinity’s alternatives to Adobe’s big three tools (Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign). I have no idea how much of a priority Affinity puts on accessibility (either within their tools or the final documents), but it could be an interesting thing to poke around with.

Using NVDA to check PDFs for Accessibility (full-day pre-conference session): Another really useful day. While I’ve known about screen readers as a concept for some time, I’ve just started experimenting with NVDA over the past year, and as a sighted user who doesn’t depend on it, it can be an overwhelming experience. This day gave me a ton of info on tips for using NVDA (including the all-important “shut up for a moment” command), and I’m going to be much more comfortable with it now.

Keynote: Oh, also: The keynote speaker, Elsa Sjunneson, was excellent, speaking about her experiences as a Deafblind person, student, parent, and author. Her statement that “disability is a multiverse” resonated with a lot of people. Plus, it was a treat to see her speak here, as I know of her from her paneling at Norwescon and her Hugo nominations and wins.

Elsa Sjunneson on stage at the conference keynote. An ASL interpreter stands beside her. Both are also shown on a large video screen to one side of the stage.
Elsa and her interpreter during her keynote speech.

Publishing and EPUB 101: An introduction to EPUBs and an overview of some of the better creation tools. I’ve experimented a bit with creating EPUBs here and there in the past, and am familiar enough with the basics that this one was slightly below my knowledge level, but it still gave me some good tips on methods and tools for preparing documents to be output as accessible EPUB files for distribution.

Math and STEM: Since I’m going to be training STEAM faculty on what they need to know to make their courses accessible, which can have some extra considerations to be aware of, this seemed like an obvious choice. It ended up being basically a demonstration of TextHelp’s Equatio equation editing product, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as Equatio does do a lot of neat stuff and our campus already has access to it, so I did learn a lot from the session, even with the single-product focus.

Retire the PDF: An intentionally hyperbolic title, this was a call to consider EPUBs as an alternative to PDFs when distributing documents. As long as you’re not absolutely wedded to the visual layout and presentation of a document, EPUBs do have a lot of advantages over PDFs by giving the end user more control over the display (fonts, sizes, reflow to varying screen sizes, etc.) and better screen reader compatibility (especially when compared to poorly constructed PDFs).

Educational Alt Text: A particularly good session on how to think about writing alt text for images, with an emphasis on doing so for an educational context. Thinking about not simply describing the contents of an image, but creating alt text that conveys the meaning and what information the reader needs to get from the image separate from how the image appears, and how to craft effective alt text and (when technologically possible) long descriptions with more information about the image.

Going Further with EPUB: This session got deeper into the innards of EPUBs, looking at how they’re constructed (essentially self-contained XHTML websites), examining a few different tools for creating, editing, checking, and validating EPUBs for full accessibility. Again, much of the basic info I knew, but the collection of tools and verification options will be very handy to have.

Accessible Math Roadmap: Presenting an in-progress reference document on the state of accessible math and the various tools out there for creating and interacting with equations in accessible formats. As noted above, this is an area I’m trying to learn the basics of as quickly as possible, so I’ll be digging into the reference document itself in more detail in the coming days as I continue preparing to help train faculty on how they can do all this for their classes.

Trending Tech Tools: This is apparently the latest in a recurring series of presentations at this conference, going over major developments in accessible technology over the past year, recent updates to a number of widely used tools, and a peek at things coming down the line in the coming months. Particularly for someone new to the field, this was a nice way to get a snapshot of where things stand and what to be aware of.

Advanced VPAT Techniques: Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates (VPATs) are a way for vendors to declare how accessible their products are (or aren’t); this session discussed how best to approach talking with vendors about their VPATs, particular things to look for, and ways to guide discussions with vendors to get more precise information about issues that may be noted when reviewing the VPATs during the pre-selection product investigation and review phase.

Accessible Videos: Covered what needs to be done to make videos accessible, for both the videos themselves (using high-contrast text within the videos, including correct captions, transcripts, and audio description tracks) and the video players themselves, which need to be accessible and allow full access to all features for all users (which most players, including YouTube’s, aren’t very good at doing). Got some good pointers on automated-caption correction workflows and tools as well.

Integrating Tech in Communication: Through no fault of the presenters, this ended up being the least directly useful to me, as while it was about ways to use tech to communicate with students, it was presented by people on a Microsoft-focused campus, and was essentially a rundown of many of the features built into Microsoft’s applications and how they’re using them on their campus. Not bad info at all, just not as useful for me as it obviously was for others in attendance.

So that wraps up my week at Accessing Higher Ground! It was well worth coming, and I’m very glad I was able to come. If I only get to go to one conference next year, it will probably be the big AHEAD conference (along with ATHEN, one of the two parent organizations for AHG), as they’ll be in Portland, but if we have the resources to send me to two conferences, I definitely hope to come back to AHG again. Thanks to the organizers and all the presenters and attendees for such a good conference week!

Implanted Nostalgia

One of the side-projects I work on for Norwescon is the convention’s historical archives, my own little effort to preserve as much as possible of the convention’s history.

The project started a little while after I took over as webmaster, when I was poking around in our website’s directory structure and discovered a whole trove of old documents that someone in the past had scanned and stashed away. It seemed like a waste to have them sitting hidden away where nobody else could see them, so I did a little digging, found a good software package to use to manage the archives (Omeka, designed by and for librarians to manage digital archives), and started building the site.

I’ve long since worked through all the original material I found, so now most of what I do is adding new material as it’s produced for the current convention year by year. But every so often I get sent a scan or even some physical artifacts, and I get them processed and added to the collection.

Part of what I do is extracting the text of any text documents (progress reports, newsletters, flyers, program books, etc.) into HTML so that the text lives on the archive page itself as well as in the linked .pdf (as an example, here’s the Norwescon 11 Progress Report from January 1989). Not only is this better for searching, but it’s also far more accessible for anyone browsing the archives.

Of course, to do this often requires running PDFs through an OCR process to recognize the text, and OCR is often an error-prone process, especially when dealing with multi-decade old items. And, of course, OCR output is just a plain text dump, without any formatting. So, to get a good final output for the HTML version, I skim through the output, correcting typos and adding Markdown formatting before converting to HTML and adding to the database.

Which means I’ve read every single one of these items.

And now I have this weird form of pseudo-nostalgia for years and years worth of conventions that I didn’t actually attend.

I moved down to Seattle in 2001, discovered Norwescon in 2006 with Norwescon 29, and joined the ConCom in 2010 for Norwescon 33 — but I now have all these “memories” of when the con was at a different hotel, or when this or that event was added or removed, and things that this or that person who I know because they are still involved with the con did years ago, long before I was ever involved.

I’ve got to admit, though — it’s kind of hilariously on-brand to be self-implanting false memories of a science-fiction convention.

My Norwescon Exec Story Arc

So, when serving on the Norwescon Executive Team, team members can serve in any one position for a maximum of four years before turning the position over to someone else (Norwescon bylaws, Article 3, § 5).

Update: It’s been pointed out to me that I slightly misread the bylaws, and only elected positions are term limited; invited positions do not have that limitation. Even so, I’ll plan to stick to the four year term for this round, and I can come back later if invited. Now, back to the original post….

I’ve been thinking over the past few days that as weird as all of this has been over the past couple years, I’m glad my term of service as Secretary is covering the four years that it is (and this is making a bit of an assumption that I’ll be asked back as Secretary for NWC44; it’s not a given, but I’m hopeful).

  • Year one: NWC42. A normal year.
  • Year two: NWC43 (2020). We had to deal with canceling the convention due to a global pandemic.
  • Year three: NWC43 (2021). We had to figure out how to run an all virtual convention, with everyone involved, from Execs to guests/pros/exhibitors to members, doing all planning and eventual participating from their homes. And we did one heck of a job of it, if I do say so myself.
  • Year four (presumptive): NWC44. We hope and expect to be back in person at the hotel (🤞), and I’m absolutely fascinated by the possibilities and am looking forward to seeing how we adapt what we’ve learned this year into our plans for an in-person convention.

I’m sure there will lots to figure out. We’ll do our best. We won’t completely satisfy everyone, but we’ll come as close as we can, as we always do. But I’m really looking forward to NWC44, not just because of how much will be “like it used to be/should be”, but how much will have changed based on this year’s experiences, learning, and growth.

And in writing terms, that’s a far more satisfying story arc than if my term had ended at another point (so, please, next Exec Team, bring me back!).

Reading in Pandemicland

A few weeks ago, I spoke to a student reporter from UW about Norwescon, reading habits, and how my own reading habits have changed as I aged and as the pandemic hit. While the conversation was a lot longer than the one quote that made it in, at least I wasn’t cut completely, and got a mention of Norwescon in front of UW students — so mission accomplished, I say!

Escaping through the pages:

Science fiction, dystopia’s similar but more optimistic counterpart, is also seeing an increase in popularity during the pandemic, much to the excitement of seasoned fans everywhere. 

Every year, Seattle hosts the Pacific Northwest’s regional science fiction and fantasy convention Norwescon. Michael Hanscom, longtime convention attendee, volunteer, and secretary of this year’s virtual event, has been turning to the familiar, curiosity-driven world of “Star Trek” since the beginning of quarantine in order to cope with reality.

“This is not always quality sci-fi; this is absolutely escapism,” Hanscom said, gesturing to his bookshelves filled with “Star Trek” paraphernalia during our Zoom interview. “I think 80% of my reading last year was ‘Star Trek’ novels because I couldn’t concentrate on anything more weighty than that. With everything going on and being locked down at home, I needed that escapism. I needed to get away.”