Arisia 2018: part 2

  Thrashing on Thursday

  Our load-and-go at home was a bit more leisurely, since Mark was picking up the Penske that morning instead, and I arrived at the hotel a little before noon.  In distinct contrast to last year when we could start unloading a little earlier than our official pickup time, this year was a mess.  The ballrooms were still in use, and the ongoing renovation activity upstairs had everything jammed up on the high-side docks ... part of which apparently included a whole lot of new beds.
Mattress trailer in hotel dock Mattress load coming out
I wormed in past not only this full-size semi, which was indeed full of mattresses getting delivered upstairs, but there was *another* one just as big waiting out on the street.  On the dock, guys were busily rolling them out two and three at a time, but it was still sort of slow going to deliver them and they estimated that each trailer was a two or three hour unload.  So basically one bay out of two would stay jammed solid all afternoon.

Y'know, I *had* requested the Ops department to ask about this a while back -- potential interference from the renovation, stray dumpsters, whatever.  Just to set some of our expectations.

  Somewhere post-noon I peeked into the back of the ballroom and saw a bunch of suits sitting quietly around tables and a setup of A/V gear still running.  Evidently it was some kind of conference for bankers from Santander, and they weren't even close to done yet.  The kicker was that they *knew* they were running overtime and simply forked up the necessary penalty/bribe to the hotel to stay longer instead of doing better planning in the first place.  The new kid on the financial block around these parts, but backed by plenty of that historical one-percenter arrogance that tells them that the little people who load trucks and reset function rooms don't matter.  Have I ranted about corporate gigs and the flagrant *waste* that goes on around them?  Another fine example of that here, and impeding *our* progress. And we had scheduled deliveries coming, too.  It would be totally unfair to make our vendors wait for the same surprise reason, but I suppose rental houses like ALPS are used to that sort of thing.

Truck butt-sniff Artshow and the low-side had already unloaded, and our trucks were parked in tandem out of the way.  [Nice "butt sniff" backing job, somebody!]  Fortunately the bankers wrapped it up fairly shortly, and then their outside A/V contractor had to strike and load out -- thus taking the one remaining high-side bay [and in the meantime, the second mattress semi had swapped in].  After that our truck could get in but still had to dance around the vendors when they showed up and vacate long enough for them to drop off.
I saw very little of this process, actually.  I couldn't unload yet either, and it was time to go fetch the third "thermally sensitive" load from Storage.  Mark hopped in the Enterprise and I grabbed crew to ride shotgun in my car, the only extra seat since it was still fully loaded, and we went over to wrangle the rest.  It was a fairly short load, and the high-side bay was finally clear when we got back so the last gear got zipped into the ballroom pretty quickly.

Then I headed to the Aloft to check in and figure out where to put the car -- turned out there was plenty of room in the lot a block away, for not a huge financial burden, so I went for it and they conveniently added that right onto the room bill.  Some people apparently didn't like the relatively compact "euro" style of the Aloft rooms, but I found ours perfectly functional even if appointed in a somewhat millennial-trendoid feel.  And because I opted out of daily bed changes, they kept throwing $5 food coupons under the door.

  Tilting back to tech

All this kept me off-site for more of the afternoon than in previous years, which was actually convenient relative to the build timeline.  When I finally wandered in, tech things were well under way and the truss rig was close to finished, which I mostly stayed clear of unless someone had a specific question or a piece of gear I needed.

I opted out of the truss-build for the same stupid ongoing pseudo-reason leveled against me and others, which I simply no longer bend to.  It is not in my best interest, and I've parlayed this into a broader personal affirmation that covers why.  Any convention function or area which demands some mode of attire over and above our "street legal" code of conduct and established decency laws, I will simply not work for because I see such mandates at odds with Arisia's principles of diversity and inclusion.  I've never believed in one's garb as representing any measure of their competency or professionalism.  An exception could perhaps be made for particular uniform components for a specific purpose or identification, such as the Watch vests, but that's about as far as it would go.  We all authorize ourselves to the event via our badges, that's the extent of it, and I know how I work best in self-managed comfort and safety to further our common goals.  Anyone still believing that there's something special about the PSAV rigger calls should examine this excerpt from our work order, the final pages of which constitute our contract.  Not only is there nothing about client footwear or other attire in it, clauses 12 and 13 basically say that they could drop that entire truss rig on our heads and nobody could sue anybody.  Maybe that's not how such a calamity would resolve in real life, but supposedly threatening a *client* with diminished service or unacceptable changes to terms over such petty nonsense is nothing more than flat-out blackmail.

Kinda too bad, really, because Daniel had done up some really beautiful drawings to work from along with matching pipe tape to make it a smooth process.  [Having a link to the final versions thereof would be nice, ahem]

Brand-new scaffold workplanks There were plenty of other things to be worked on, though, and as I looked around the room I saw that the scaffolding order had arrived and nobody had touched it yet.  So I grabbed another person or two and started assembling our towers.  The first thing I noticed was that Marr had given us some really nice deck planks, brand new with a nice grip-coating instead of the usual splintery plywood, along with what seemed to be very new end-frames.  We even had to push membranes of dried paint out of some of the pin holes, hinting that they'd never been used.
Contrary to what some of our helpers seem to believe, knocking together a two-course scaffold tower with wheels is very quick and takes no more than two people, maybe three near the end when you're passing the top rail parts up.  First thing is to upright an end frame and attach one of the "X" braces to it, after which it can lean onto the "X" by itself and freestand.  Then bring over another end frame and attach the rest of the "X" to it, and all of that can stand alone while the second "X" is added.  Maybe add the big diagonal "gooser" at this point to help square things up and be more rigid.  *Then* lift the end frames one at a time, to tilt the assembly up while a second person puts the wheels into the bottom pipe ends and locks them in with drop pins.  Throw a plank or two on the top and start the second level, which is when the folks more confident with heights and balance should go topside.  Scaffolding is quite light for its assembled outer volume and is relatively easy to lift, even when built up two-high with planks on it.  And it's always nicer when it's not raining concrete dust on your head.  Oh, and don't lock the wheels until the tower is in its FINAL position -- it's okay if it wiggles around a little while people are still building it, they expect it to and manage their own balance accordingly.

And that grip-paint felt really great when I was standing on it.

Intercom diagram I then quietly busied myself with the intercom system, starting with the usual three long shots over the door woodwork [and got the pin directions right this time].  I changed the layout a bit this year, moving the headend and wireless base to under the stage on the "bullshit power" circuit instead of back by video, and this actually simplified everything a little.  The system power supplies tend to have multiple outputs and effectively constitute a three-way splitter, so with that and a handful of other splitters and Ys it went together in a fairly nice star topology with minimal pack daisy-chaining.

[Full resolution: il02.png]

An important improvement was indicating *how* to label the various cable ends, especially when final hookups would be done on a nosedive crawl under the stage.  I spent some bit of time under there, getting this together and also constructing the general "rehearsal bus" to include power, intercom, Daniel's lighting control network, a video monitor feed, and a voice-of-god mic [which never happened, they used a wireless].  Heck, might as well add chilled water, compressed air, and propane lines while we're at it.  The complexity over by video turned out to be simpler than shown -- with the consolidated switch gear, there was no longer the second table behind the director/switcher station.

The comm system was once again generally quiet, except for a bit of a mysterious hum at the end of that video chain -- which I didn't hear anywhere else in the system, it seemed to be localized somehow but not getting back onto the rest of the audio bus.  It also wasn't particularly loud so we decided to just live with it, and I never solved what that problem was.

One minor problem came up, with an easy fix: at one point I found that the "signal" functionality of the B channel wasn't working -- not that we actually use it in practice, but observing its action is a good quick test for proper DC presence and line termination when hooking things up.  By knowing the system layout, diagnosis didn't take long -- turned out someone had plugged the green intercom lead into the XLR "Mic" input on the back of the crawl camera, and that loaded the line in some way that didn't make it go totally dead [or worse, short its audio or power].  Moral of the story: don't plug intercom into anything other than *our* known intercom gear, even if some other random thing says "intercom" on it which some of our cameras very well might.  It's almost guaranteed to be incompatible.

Focusing from scaffold Lighting focus was happening meanwhile, and I don't think I touched any of it that night.  I drove the lift next door briefly to put the camera/lighting/intercom shot over the woodwork in C, and generally went around attending to other minor deployment tasks.  We didn't work too late on Thursday evening; crew call was at 9 the next morning and we weren't in bad shape considering.
What I never got a picture of and apparently nobody else did either, was the absolute *rats nest* of a power distro that PSAV gave us to split out 18 or so single circuits.  The nice PDU rack that hotel engineering used to give us had apparently gone off-property after PSAV took over, and what they had now was a smallish box with cams in and three-gang breakers and a bunch of "TL5" twistlock outputs to present three circuits each -- then feeding a clutch of their three-phase distro boxes through a tangled pile of the flat cable that they like for running under airwalls and across doorways.  This then had to get broken *in* to the Socapex feeding up to the truss, leading to a whole 'nother layer of high-power spaghetti on top.  It was something of a horror show, and made for a lot more stray noise once various sound and other signal cables got run past it.  The flat cable isn't internally twisted, and probably radiates AC fields very differently than typical round 12/3.
Wrestling more power under the airwall
  [Pic: SJS]
We already sort of knew power was going to be a cluster from all the confusion about it and PSAV's inventory on the conference calls, and rented another couple of LEX "pagoda" boxes [aka "mushrooms"] from ALPS to add on.  One of these wound up running from a completely different main breaker behind E, and we then had to daisy-chain more circuits under the airwall into B to get enough to run the conventional cyc units [new this year].  Hopefully having those instead of the traditional Colorblaze LEDs was worth the upstage truss work for the sake of more spectrum-balanced video.  Fortunately, the different feeders didn't bring any notable ground faults [we metered it] so we can perhaps surmise that the company-switch panels along the back of Grand all come from the same local bus.  Next year, we really should limit PSAV's scope of power work to bringing camlok feeders to where we need them and we rent in the right equipment to build from there.
There were some other *really special* gear-related surprises around the ballroom over those two days, but I'll let others with more information relate all that. 

Tech meeting Build continued the next day, and as the actual start of the con neared we had the second tech meeting.  Roles for that evening's events were assigned, and remaining tasks reviewed.  It's good that we hold these, if for no other reason than to help lock people into specific roles in advance, because otherwise it would either be a scramble to find someone who could deal with them or wind up having a small number of people trapped in function rooms for hours on end.  We always have a large set of runtime positions to fill, and expect people to trade off to the extent they're comfortable with.  Even with the meetings it's sometimes hard to get people to take jobs -- they're either unsure of their own abilities, have other things to go see, or are just plain tired of doing particular functions over and over.  I didn't volunteer for anything in that night's block myself, because this year I had a slightly different agenda to attend to.
      Lose the shoes!

Footwear and lack thereof has been a contentious topic over the years, which is especially ludicrous considering the environment of Arisia and its core values.  I and several colleagues, who enjoy a lifestyle of freeing our feet and letting them work their best for us in the same way as our hands, have run into sporadic discrimination about this now and again.  After hearing about harassment going on around some areas of the hotel last year and of people bickering over what to "do about it", I vowed that I would work to fix this problem forever -- not one of bare feet, but the fact that anyone around Arisia would ever get hassled over it.

It is important to understand the background of this and why I've dedicated a long section to it here.  There are some long-standing myths to debunk, and comprehending this can benefit anyone's life and relationship with others, independent of their own personal choices.  Those who really can't be bothered to read and inform themselves can skip to the end of this inset, against my strong recommendation to just keep reading.

Barefooter ribbon order Many Arisians want the barefoot preference to cease being some kind of "issue", because frankly it's simply *not* an issue.  It's a healthy and harmless part of who some of us are, both within and outside of the convention.  To that end, over the summer I pursued some ideas for bringing better education and visibility to anyone interested.  This included creating a batch of badge ribbons as a grassroots token of support, using the same awards company that all of our other ribbons come from.  I also reached out to some known stronger sympathizers to try and bring them on board with the effort, at the possible risk of boring them silly with my long-winded verbiage [callously denigrated as a "manifesto" by some, apparently].  It was a pleasant surprise when a side discussion came up at the first concomm meeting, *not* started by me, to the effect that we all desperately wanted this to be a non-problem on all fronts. 
We've had a very positive working relationship with the Westin and its staff, for eight years now -- they seem to really like us and the con.  We tip handsomely, we don't destroy their building but rather try to leave it better than we found it, and we bring them a full weekend-plus load of business in one of their darkest times of year.  Part of how they welcome us has included immediate acceptance of our working preferences even while in the infrastructure bowels of the hotel, where so much of what we accomplish gets done -- back hallways, service elevators, and cold loading docks.  For the most part our *feet* have never been any point of contention -- on the contrary, sometimes the subject of admiration from hotel staff we encounter as we stride across a Fargo Street that can be as cold as Fargo, ND.  On rather rare occasions some lower-echelon hotel staffer has accosted an attendee around the lobby area or the like to insist on some "requirement" for shoes, but to my understanding these encounters have been quickly defused.  There's no point to them, as barefooters are inherently doing no wrong.  Ironically, some of the worst situations over time have been instigated by *Arisia members*, which is absolutely inexcusable. 

Last year's rumors were one of several personal triggers to become more activist about it, along with doing a lot more shoeless hiking over the summer, corporate outreach, and joining up with various enthusiast groups including the venerable Society for Barefoot Living.  With my own perspective of almost 40 years barefoot whenever possible, I could see how pervasive the unfounded prejudice is still in so many people and decided to add some more energy to helping turn those lies around -- even in settings where no specific "turning" should have ever been necessary.  Interest and support for living unshod is unquestionably growing, however slowly it may be, fueled in part by the real facts about it being findable all over the internet.

Barefoot advocacy kit contents So instead of working tech roles that Friday evening, it was time for me to break out the "publicity kits" and launch the campaign!  We had been able to receive our badges early on [yay Reg!] and mine was one of the first that a ribbon went on to, but as I talked to some other folks, even ones that didn't know this was coming, several more of them fell in line and said it all seemed like an excellent idea.  Some also took a couple of extra ribbons for friends, knowing that they'd enjoy them and the concept, which helped start the "fannish fanout" propagation I was hoping for.

Each kit for an "advocacy station" included a simple sign and a way to hold it up, a quickie description page for what this was about, and half-page info sheets debunking the most common myths and prejudicial falsehoods.  Basically, if people seemed interested and sympathetic they could certainly have a ribbon whether they had their footwear on or not, and if they weren't familiar with the lifestyle they could learn more.  Simple enough, and as it turned out rather effective, surmising from people's reactions to discovering that there was engineered support for this.

I set up camp briefly near the growing registration line, also bringing the box of wireless intercom packs and batteries and DeOxit so I could clean them and load them and get other useful stuff done while talking to people.  I could chat about barefooting or intercom geekery or anything else of interest, and in fact felt far more publicly "social" here than I usually ever get at cons.  Hanging by the registration line, a chokepoint that everyone has to pass through, is also a great way to see and greet people you already know.

I handed a kit to Cosplay Repair, a group containing some strong sympathizers with their table also right by the Reg line, and went to put the 'comm away.  I came back later to find the signs and material all nicely set up on a corner of the table, and they were already out of ribbon supplies.  I brought out more stock and stood there "working the line" myself for a couple of hours, to great effect, and as a side benefit saw some people I possibly never would have if I'd stayed hidden in some ballroom all night.

Manning the cosplay promotional station The co-head of Staff Services stopped by during all this, saying "hey, this is great!" and wanting pictures.  I handed her my camera and she shot this one for me.  I pointed out that displays and kits like this should only ever be needed once, *if* the desired education actually takes hold and enlightens the people.  One nice conversational snippet I had rather frequently was with registrants who came up, looked at the sign and the teaser page, and said "oh, we can really go barefoot at the con?"  To which I replied, "you always could, and here's why" while handing them one of the "myths" sheets, likely along with a ribbon.
Note that at no point did any of us make any pretense that this was an official convention statement or function.  I was clear with everyone that it was a completely person-to-person, grassroots effort which would undoubtedly be viewed as subversive by some haters.  But again, nothing wrong was happening here -- people go to cons and distribute information and fun freebies all the time, that's part of the perceived value.  If having a ribbon could help boost one's individual confidence, great, but they'd still be expected to stick up for themselves if needed.  And after all, society doesn't change until its people shake it up a little.

Being the Change That, in fact, was a great theme for the Photo Booth which was right next to us.  I didn't pay much attention to it as it seemed to mostly be about costumes, but then some of their people offered "want a picture?" and I happened to spot the completely appropriate sign among their selection so I went for it.  Doing the one-foot thing again, as I've taken to doing frequently when I'm just standing around, just for the balance practice.  It took a while post-con to eventually find the shots, somewhere on Page 18 of the set, which seems to be a bit chaotic and span multiple years.  That's probably Flickr's fault.  The best of the lot seemed to be this one, but needed a bit of fix-up in post so my rework is the thumbnail and larger image shown here.

  Other supporters

Mieke in scary pink Mieke, the main mover behind Cosplay Repair, has been one of the strongest proponents of fundamental human rights.  I owe her a lot for sticking up for me, especially when various inner-circle snarking and dissing was going on about me when I wasn't present.  She totally understands how it's almost like some kind of bad anti-barefoot religion among some of the objectors, and agrees that their hate speech and secrecy about it is completely at odds with what Arisia stands for.

And speaking of modes of dress, she also has this awesome outfit...

Div-head barefooter Another unidentified [but possibily identifiable] div-head swung by later, and already had one of my ribbons attached to the official credential.  The juxtaposition of these two was simply awesome.  I was also pleased by how my chosen ribbon color coordinated so well with this year's badge art -- total coincidence, I had no idea.
The Staff Den heads for this year were on board with the effort too, a nice turnaround from the dysfunctional nonsense that went down in 2014, so a static spread of the various sheets got taped prominently to a wall in the room where people could read it when they were up getting food.  I figured that the folks passing through there could easily figure out where to come get ribbons if they wanted them.

We didn't manage to stick a ribbon onto the convention chair, but we got close.  Another advocate wrote in:

We even were able to distribute a ribbon to the highest echelon!  Laura, the mother of this year's con-chair, in fact.  [I] was talking with her at the Tech party, and happened to have a BF ribbon in my hand.  At one point, I offered it to her, and she immediately put it on her badge.
It was just plain cool that the conchair had his family in for the con, so they could get to watch their offspring taking pivotal and challenging leadership roles among his peers.

BF ribbons next to pronoun ribbons The folks up at Info Desk were also supportive and into the idea, and another station appeared there.  And here's what really closed the circle for me -- it turned out that the Pronoun ribbons had also moved up there from near Registration, and here they were right next to my stuff!  The pronoun ribbons, in fact, are what gave me my ribbon idea in the first place.  That simple request to respect one's personal choices, nothing more.
I saw quite a few pronoun ribbons on people, but it felt like they'd had their heyday for a couple of years and weren't such a big deal now.  While it couldn't hurt to bring my stuff back for 2019, if for no other reason than to have a little continuity, this year's message was clear and powerful.  The presence and propagation of barefooters and advocates was far more visible than I had even hoped for, with ribbons on many badges, people asking for more, and lots of happy unshod feet freely and confidently wandering all over the building and *not* getting dinged for it.  Exactly as it should be, always.

To put that in perspective, about 200 ribbons went out of my stock, or to about 5% of the convention.  That includes supporters who may have chosen to continue wearing shoes themselves.  Still, that pie-wedge of combined shoeless and supportive is orders of magnitude larger than the proportion thereof we presently find in the real world, so for that small fraction of folks within the microcosm of Arisia, I had helped create and endorse a safe space for them and got us all some beneficial visibility.

Overall, it seemed to be a howling success.

To answer one question this picture may bring to mind, the barefooter ribbons were not simply left out for the taking.  They can't be.  Because it's been such a contentious thing, it seemed very likely that if large stocks were just set out someplace, some contrarian individual would just come along and sweep them all up and throw them away somewhere.  Some people really are like that, so I knew going into this that distribution had to be tightly controlled and go through trusted channels -- similar to other ribbon types for div/area heads, per-department staff, etc.


Representation of attractor page Here are some supplemental materials used in construction of the kits.  The picture here expands to a graphic representation of the "attractor" page, designed to sit under the larger signs and briefly explain the purpose of the whole setup.  On the printed copies, a real ribbon was taped onto the bottom instead, to a> show what they look like, and b> prevent the sample from walking away.  The brown (footprints) OK signs come from source graphics I host on Out Barefoot, which Staples was happy to print onto some nice 100-weight card stock for me.
The half-sheet "myths" document began as a simple HTML page, a shortened version of a similar document at Outbarefoot, with a reduced-size copy of the Massachusetts health-department affirmation letter from on the flip side in case anyone ran into issues with food purveyors.  [High kudos to SJS for the radical slashing of my voluminous babble to get it to fit reasonably onto a convenient half-page size!]

A few of the "myths" handouts had some relevant excerpts from Marriott's diversity statement on the back side, which seems refreshingly broad and would definitely be useful in any discussions with hotel associates.  Since the Westin is now pretty much a Marriott property, it clearly applies.

* Creating an Inclusive Environment
We believe our strength lies in our ability to embrace differences and create opportunities for all employees, guests, owners and franchisees, and suppliers. Marriott's core value of putting people first includes our commitment to diversity and inclusion, a company-wide priority supported by our board-level Committee of Excellence.
* Guests
Our commitment to welcoming all customers includes engaging with diverse groups, creating inclusive guest experiences, and supporting key diversity initiatives. Recent efforts include:
  (... long list ...)
We believe embracing differences makes Marriott a great place to work, conduct business and stay.
And heck, let's remember that we hold this convention on Martin Luther King weekend.  'Nuff said.

Hallway acro Registration finally ramped down for the night and things settled into the late-evening events, with relatively few tech demands.  It was time to go wandering for a bit, to pop into the Art Show reception and go spin some LED staff at the drum circle.  Others decided it was a convenient time to practice some contact acro. All good fun, but that was enough playing around for one evening....  It was late, time for bed, and then back to real work the next day.

  A sketchy view of Saturday

Studying the task lists More tech meetings were had, and more roles assigned.  I did another brief "advocacy" stint by Saturday's short registration line, but by now things there and up at Infodesk were actually going pretty well without my help.  My pre-assigned tech event slots were coming up, and I needed to do a little prep work in advance of the first one -- lighting the Bellydance that evening.

  Ironically, that was another total failure to take pictures.  I was so busy trying to get things together and then work the show that I didn't even think of it -- I think the camera was stashed in the Depot someplace anyway.  Bottom line was, what I wanted for Bellydance had not really been set up in the Ion light board yet, and even though I'd tried to study up a little before the con I wasn't sure how to get that together.  The thing that saved me was getting out the RokBoxes and setting them up as side footlighting on the stage wings.  I put that together quietly while Masq rehearsals were going on, tucked it all under the stage during the intervening Hawking run, and then popped them into place during the next changeover.  I got David to fix the patch and bang in a few basics to make them work the way I wanted, and even though I was missing control over some parts of the rig I was pretty much ready to go and had Samara's cue-sheet in hand.

I was actually rather pleased with how Bellydance turned out; if anything the Rokboxes were throwing more light on the dancers than the main rig, and looked a whole lot better than boring old tungsten warm/cool.  The low "shinkicker" angle was also entirely appropriate, for a dance style traditionally illuminated from fires on the ground, and the dancers were sort of framed by their own imposingly tall shadows out at the edges of the cyc.  I could also get plenty of punchy color on them, because that's what multi-emitter LEDs are great for.  By dumb luck, perhaps, a reasonable stage picture, and since nobody else seems to have captured any of it either, the only record I would likely ever have would be the video once it got processed and released.

I still wanted to get a better handle, so to speak, on setting up the board.  I had another event coming up where I'd need to do more things on the fly, and wanted more of the rig immediately functional to do that.  An in-depth chat with Daniel later that evening gave me some good ideas.

    Continue to Part 3 (last)