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.”

Norwescan’t Wrap-Up

Under normal circumstances, I would have spent this past weekend at Norwescon, running around a hotel and getting up to all sorts of geeky shenanigans with ~2,000 of my closest friends. Of course, these are not normal circumstances, so that didn’t happen.

Instead, the party moved online, taking place mostly in the Norwescon Facebook Group, with lots of people posting past costumes, planned costumes, memories of cons past, or silly updates on what they were doing at the con that wasn’t happening. And all in all, it ended up being a pretty good weekend, with lots of community silliness keeping all of our respective spirits up.

I made a point of posting at least once a day on both my personal pages and in the group, starting things off in group each the morning with a photo post asking people what their convention outfits were that day. Here’s my “Norwescan’t” experience this year…

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Well, it’s official: Norwescon 43 is canceled.

This is really disappointing. But we’ll regroup, get re-energized, and be back in 2021.

But man. Spending the morning updating the website and sending out all the official notifications was really difficult to do.

Spaceballs-Inspired Robot Mask

Since we’re going to have a Longest Night masked ball at Norwescon this year, I picked up a basic mask this past Halloween season. However, it was all black plastic, so I knew I’d want to decorate it somehow so it didn’t look like wearing blackface. I just wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.

This Saturday, the Mercury is doing a masked ball, so this gave me the impetus I needed to find an idea. What eventually came to mind as inspiration was Vinnie, Pizza the Hut’s henchman in Spaceballs. He’s a robot, but it was all done with makeup, no prosthetics.

My painting skills aren’t great—I have no idea how to do actual shading, it’s all solid colors and lines—so I doubt people would really connect the final result with the inspiration. Even so, I’m pretty happy with the end result.

Day zero: The base mask.

The base mask.

Day one: Sketching the design in pencil, and the first coat of white.

Sketching the design in pencilFirst coat of white

Day two: Second coat of white, and adding the metallic silver.

Second coat of white, and adding the metallic silver

Day three: Detailing in black, and the finished product. Likely won’t be easily identified as the inspiration, but I think it still comes across as decently robotic. I’m happy with it, at least.

Detailing in blackThe finished mask

A Brief History of Convention Ribbons: “If you’ve gone to conventions like CONvergence, you may have seen the ribbons imprinted with catchphrases and clip art people stick to the bottom of the their badges—in some cases, collecting large trails of them. CONvergence does a great job of explaining how you can get your own ribbons on its site, including a variety of different vendors that print them. But what is the real purpose of badge ribbons, and how did the tradition get started?” (There’s a fair amount of ribbon collection/trading at Norwescon as well.)

Norwescon 43 is Coming Up

Since we’re now in 2020, I figured it might be worth noting that Norwescon 43 is just about three and a half months away!

Norwescon is a non-profit, all-volunteer, fan-run, literary/generalist SF/F convention held at the DoubleTree Seattle Airport hotel in SeaTac every Easter weekend; this year’s dates are April 9–12, 2020 (yes, the same weekend as SakuraCon, but while the two target groups absolutely have overlap, there are definite differences as well). Rooms at the hotel are still available, and attendance for the full weekend (Thurs-Sun) is just $75 until Jan. 15, when it goes up a little bit (single-day passes are only sold at the convention).

As a literary/generalist con, Norwescon has a focus on SF/F books (reading, writing, and publishing), but also has lots of panels and events around all aspects of SF/F fandom, including film, television, fanfic, geek music, costuming, games (computer, card, tabletop, rpg, etc.), and more.

The Guests of Honor this year are:

The panel/event schedule for this year is still being assembled (it usually gets published within the month prior to the con), but you can count on four days of panels on all of the above topics, hands-on workshops, interviews with the Guests of Honor, autograph sessions (with no autograph fees), gaming sessions, special events in the evenings, and a hotel full of people getting their geek on.

Evening events include a costume Masquerade, dances, and concerts, with more being planned. There is a full dealers’ room with vendors selling all sorts of geeky merchandise, and a large art show with lots of SF/F artwork to admire and purchase.

Norwescon is also the host of the annual Philip K. Dick Awards, recognizing the best SF/F paperback-first publications of the past year, and there are usually a few of the nominated authors attending to read from their nominated works.

For those who might be interested in getting more directly involved, Norwescon is always looking for more volunteers to help with the convention, too! Volunteers are always accepted for everything from a few hours helping out at the convention itself to joining the planning committee beforehand and being a part of the group that makes things go.

More information is available on the convention’s website; I’ve been volunteering with Norwescon for around a decade now, and am happy to answer questions however I can, if there are any.