2006 Browncoat Ball – Postmortem

I originally posted this on the browncoatball.com site. That domain is being passed on to the folks who run each year's ball, so I've backed it up here for posterity.

When the Chicagoland Browncoats accepted our pitch to host the 2006 Browncoat Ball in San Francisco, we knew we had our work cut out for us if we wanted to put on an event that would live up the 2004 Browncoat Ball in Chicago. This postmortem is meant to be a pragmatic analysis of the choices we faced, the decisions we made, what worked and what didn't, so the cities that are submitting pitches for hosting the 2007 and 2008 balls can maximize the effectiveness of their own planning processes.


GUIDING   PHILOSOPHIES

In planning the second Browncoat Ball, the first question we had to face was "what is the essence of the Browncoat Ball?" What aspects of the 2004 event did we definitely need to echo in our event, which could evolve into something better, and which might be better replaced with something completely different. Below is a general outline of the philosophical decisions we made that guided our planning process.

  • The Browncoat Ball is Primarily a Fan Mixer
    There are many types of conventions and get-togethers. Some revolve primarily around meeting celebrities, attending themed panels, getting early glimpses at industry projects, or browsing a dealer floor full geek-related products. At many of these conventions, meeting and getting to know your fellow fans is a side note that occurs in small doses between events or while waiting in long lines. However, it is these interactions with our fellow fans that truly make these conventions memorable. The Browncoat Ball is the opposite of these conventions. Getting to know your fellow fans is the primary objective of the Browncoat Ball, and all other aspects of the ball should be arranged to further that goal.

  • Keep it Inexpensive
    The Firefly/Serenity fandom is incredibly diverse. Browncoats come in all shapes, sizes and tax brackets. This makes it possible for high-priced, exclusive conventions to be successful by targeting a small number of well-off fans. But as a fan mixer, the Browncoat Ball should be accessible to as many fans as possible. Ticket prices should be kept low, and the expected additional budget for each attendee (for food, shopping, etc) should be kept as reasonable as possible.

  • Everyone is a Fan
    Conventions that center around celebrity panels and signings create a separation between the fans and the celebrities, in addition to turning the event into a work day for the celebrities. This violates the fans-meeting-fans nature of the Browncoat Ball. Therefore, if any of the cast/crew wish to attend the ball, they should do so as fellow guests and not as hired celebrities. There should be no signings, no audience panels and as little pre-ball publicity regarding their presence as possible. If someone is coming to the Browncoat Ball specifically to meet a celebrity, their expectations will not match the theme of the event, so we'd rather they attend a celeb-centric event instead to achieve their goals. Any celebrity who attends the Browncoat Ball should be able to look back at it as a great party, not a day at work.

  • No Dealers Floor
    We all love shopping on the dealer's floor of mainstream conventions. But running a dealer's booth requires a great deal of time for the vendors, which means they will have less of an opportunity to participate in the social aspects of the event. Thus, having a dealer's floor would violate the spirit of the first two rules. We also want to make the event as financially accessible as possible to a large number of fans, and knowing that there will not be a dealers floor allows people with a lower budget to attend without feeling like they're missing out on something.

  • No Charity Drives
    Browncoats have a wonderful habit of turning just about every event into an opportunity to raise funds for worthy charities. As one of the first groups to organize one of these mind-boggling fundraisers, we get that. And we're incredibly proud of all of our fellow browncoats and their inherent drive to make the world a better place. But fundraisers take a lot of time and resources to run, which would again detract from people's ability to enjoy the social aspects of the event. And again, we want to keep the expected cost for the average attendee as low as possible, so it's best if we save our fundraising energies for events with a larger audience of potential donors. This is our weekend off. We can save the world next week.

  • There Will Be Dancing!
    The Browncoat Ball is a ball - the social event of the season. There has to be dancing, and it should be as elegant and fancy as possible, while still being accessible to the majority of fans. Those who want to dress up, show off their frippery and immerse themselves in an environment similar to that to the Firefly episode Shindig should be able to do just that. But those who don't feel comfortable dressing up or dancing should still feel comfortable attending and socializing.

  • History doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes
    As the second in a series of annual events, the Browncoat Ball needs to retain the essence of the previous event(s), while still adding its own flair. It doesn't have to (and, really, shouldn't) be identical to the previous event, but people who attend both events should have their expectations met and be able to recognize it as an extension of the previous events, rather than a deviation from them.


WEEKEND   OUTLINE

Keeping these guiding philosophies in mind, we then tackled the event planning for the weekend, based on the outline of the 2004 ball.

Friday Night - Shuttle Service

In 2004, the Chicagoland Browncoats organized a shuttle service, where attendees could send in their arrival times and there would be a friendly Browncoat volunteer waiting for them at the airport to greet them and whisk them off to the hotel. We loved the idea of the shuttle service, but several factors conspired against us on that front.

Most of our local volunteers live in San Francisco proper, and therefore don't have cars. And the shuttle service was one of the things that we forgot to delegate ownership of until the last minute, so there just wasn't time to get all our ducks in a row. I would highly suggest adding this to future events, if possible, since it really makes out of town guests feel welcome and breaks down the shyness barrier (you at least know one person, once you get there). But you definitely need to have someone who is responsible for organizing this as their primary task, and not make it one of the minor tasks of a main organizer.


Friday Night - Meet And Greet Dinner

In 2004, the Friday night dinner was a Tea Party themed affair, help in an open-air patio at the top of the hotel. This was an opportunity for everyone to meet one another in an informal setting, so they could mingle and get to know everyone. We had intended for our Friday night dinner to be similarly informal, and chose the "dinner at Fanty & Mingo's" theme for the occasion. However, when the Empress of China showed us their amazing ballroom (which came free as long as we had something like a 50 person minimum), we couldn't resist.

This ended up adding a lot to the event (TWO full dinner/dance balls in one weekend? Sweet!!), but was also a bit of a drawback in some respects. While most people seem to have had a great time Friday night, some of the more shy people felt a little uncomfortable being in such a fancy environment with so many people they didn't know. Given this, I would suggest that if the Friday night dinner is as fancy as ours was this year, there should be some sort of get-to-know-you mechanism built in. Maybe it's as simple as having locals assigned as greeters, to seek out the shy folks and introduce them to a few people, or low-key meet-and-greet introductions at each table.


Saturday Afternoon - Boat Tour

In 2004, the Chicagoland Browncoats rented out an L train for a "train job." They had local guides lead a long line of people a few blocks away to the L station, loaded everyone onto the pre-decorated train for a rail tour of Chicago. Initially, we considered having the 2006 ball in Sacramento, so we could keep with the train job theme at the uber-cool Railroad Museum they have there. But it really isn't as enticing a city as San Francisco, and was too much of a commute for most of our locals.

In the end, we decided that what made the train job great was giving everyone a chance to see the city in which the event was being hosted, so we replaced the train with a boat tour of the San Francisco Bay. This gave us an even more extravagant way to see the city, and solved one of the main complaints we had heard about the 2004 train job. The sightseeing aspect of the train job was great, but the physical layout of a train car makes it very difficult to get to know more than just the few people sitting around you. The ship gave everyone a much more social atmosphere, where they could move around and meet a variety of people. Plus - bonus - cash bar!


Saturday Afternoon - Scavenger Hunt

We also chose to continue the tradition the Chicagoland folks started by having a photo scavenger hunt, as well as a physical scavenger hunt, to give people incentive to keep a lookout for local landmarks. We didn't have very many submissions for the contest portion of the scavenger hunts, however, so I'm not sure whether or not they are worth implementing again at future events. They're fun for those who participate, but they add to the logistical complexity to collect/collate everyone's submissions, and if you do a good enough job getting people to socialize with one another during the day, that's ultimately going to take precedence for most people.


Saturday Afternoon - Dance Lessons

One new addition we made to the Saturday afternoon schedule was dance lessons. At the 2004 ball, most of the scheduled dancing was of the modern variety, since not many of the Chicagoland browncoats were ballroom dancers. But the attendees from San Francisco (two of whom later became the organizers for the 2006 ball) spent an hour or so giving everyone some impromptu lessons on how to waltz and do a very simple group bonfire dance, and everyone loved it. And since we knew that there were a lot of closet browncoats among the San Francisco ballroom dance community, we knew we had to turn it up a notch and make ballroom dancing a central aspect of this year's ball.

With our Browncoat Ball organizers having decades-long roots in the local ballroom dance community, we were uniquely positioned to be able to add a ballroom flair to our ball. But we were lucky enough to have one of the most popular ballroom instructors in the area among our fanbase, so we were thrilled when Joan offered to give dance lessons and create her own Shindig-inspired Sir Warrick Harold dance for us. And we had far more men-who-can-dance than your average sci-fi gathering would have had. This was a smashing success, and I would highly suggest that future host cities get at least a few of their volunteers up to teaching speed in at least waltz and one "if you can walk you can do this dance" dance, since that really does separate the Browncoat Ball from every other club and high school gym dance that people are used to attending.

You can also take advantage of the precedent set by the 2006 ball in inspiring your attendees to learn to dance before they even arrive. We had planned to have a video podcast of in-character Companion Waltz Lessons, but we couldn't find volunteers to take ownership of that project. And our attempts to get global browncoat groups to take local ballroom lessons before the ball didn't meet with much success. But now that there are so many photos (and videos, once our 2006 Browncoat Ball Souvenir DVD is finished) available of people dancing and enjoying themselves at the previous balls, it should be much easier to capture the imagination of prospective attendees and inspire them to embrace the dancing aspect of the ball. Particularly the men. Just explain to them that learning to waltz is easier than it sounds, and show them the photos of all those gorgeous browncoat ladies who were wishing they had someone to dance with, and presto!  :-)


Saturday Night - Browncoat Ball

Saturday night is the main event. The Browncoat Ball itself. In 2004, the ball was held in a traditional hotel conference room, with maybe a 12' ceiling and a small dance floor. They had a few musical acts (like The Great LukeSki) to entertain us while we ate, and then a CD mix of mostly modern music to dance to. As previously mentioned, the organizers of the 2006 ball are regular participants of the San Francisco ballroom dance community, and have been so terribly spoiled by the semi-monthly Gaskells balls, monthly PEERS balls and bi-monthly Friday Night Waltz events that we simply couldn't settle for anything less. We fell in love with the dance floor at Empress of China, and seriously considered having the Saturday night ball there, but ultimately decided that it was important to have the main event within the same building as the hotel, since no one wanted to walk several blocks in their frippery, or worry about sending the kids back to the hotel without them if they got tired.

We looked at several hotel options before finding the Marines Memorial and their gorgeous Commandant's Ballroom. Most of them had adequate facilities, but were either way out of our price range or had already been booked in advance. This is one of the main reasons that we will be accepting pitched for both 2007 and 2008 this year, since the more advanced planning a ball committee has, the more hotel options will be available to them.

Ultimately, our Hotel choice had its plusses and minuses. The hotel itself was perfectly situated right next to Chinatown, had a gorgeous ballroom, beautiful rooms, a great hospitality suite, and was very reasonably priced. However, we did run into a lot of last-minute problems that we probably could have foreseen if we had asked them for more details before signing our contract. For any future ball committee, I would strongly suggest that you follow these guidelines before choosing your hotel.

  • Make sure you thoroughly understand the contract. Even before signing, ask them for a sample bill, assuming that you have the minimum attendance you would expect in a worst-case scenario. The biggest problem we faced with the 2006 ball was a vaguely worded clause in the hotel's contract that meant we had to pay about $2500 more for the hotel than we had expected. (The $9000 minimum only included the food, while we thought it included the food, bar, tax and gratuity - woops!).

  • Make sure they give you a sample floor plan of the ball space, as it will be arranged the night of the ball. The Marines Memorial told us that we could have as big a dance floor as we wanted when we toured the facilities. So when we gave them our final numbers, we asked for as large a dance floor as possible while still searing all of our guests. When we arrived that afternoon to set up for dance lessons, they had a postage stamp sized dance floor set up, and tried to charge us an additional fee to even expand it to the still-tiny dance floor that we ended up with. Ultimately, we did convince them that they could not charge us extra as they were actually giving us less than what they had promised, and most of the non-dancer attendees didn't seem to notice the difference all that much. But if you look at the difference in dance floor between the Friday (semi-formal) and Saturday (fancy-main-event) venues, you can understand how disappointed we were with what we got versus what the hotel promised verbally.

  • Make sure you get to visit the hospitality suite ahead of time. We discovered many things about the hospitality suite at the very last minute, and had to work around them. For instance, we did not know ahead of time that you needed a hotel card key to get to the floor the hospitality suite was on, which was quite inconvenient for local guests and guests who were staying in other hotels. It wasn't until we put on our first DVD that we discovered that the hotel TVs were rigged to only go up to 20 on volume, so the room full of people who were expecting to watch Firefly could see - but only just barely hear - what was going on. And I think the fact that there was no door between the bedroom and living room areas explains why our professional onsite masseuse got so few clients - that was a bit of a shocker.

We also learned a very important lesson about how hotels and restaurant differ. Our general requirements for the Friday and Saturday night events were basically the same (dinner and dancing for 150 people), but the expectations and behavior of the venues were very different. The restaurant's motivation was to sell 150 dinners, and everything else was just to add to the ambiance. Their prices were very reasonable, their staff was amazing, and they were eager to help in every respect. The hotel, on the other hand, was very much used to handling weddings, and didn't seem to know what to do with us. That said, we still think it is very important for the Saturday night event to be in the same building, or within a very short walk (maybe 1 block) of the hotel, for the aforementioned reasons.


Saturday Night - After Party

Invariably, the ball itself will end far too early in the evening. People will still want to party. Having a hospitality suite where people can retire to for a casual continuation of the festivities is essential. Having a variety of room parties for them to choose from is even better (the Fillionaires' Bordello room party in 2004 was legendary). And an organized outing can be great too, if it's close enough and has enough room for everyone.

Sadly, most of the Fillionaires were missing from this years ball, and none of the groups held their own room parties. But the mellow hanging out and pseudo-TV watching (again with the volume problems) was a lovely way to wind down after the ball. I heard great reviews from those who attended the after hours soirée at Swig, but it sounds like the room we had reserved there was too small to hold everyone who showed up, so it got hot/crowded/loud, and a lot of people ended up filing back to the hospitality suite, bit by bit.

Arguments could be made one way or the other on what types of events should be available after the ball (rowdy vs mellow, full-group vs smaller split-off groups, etc). The important thing is that there be somewhere for people to retire after the ball, so they can spend more time getting to know all the new friends they made at the ball. And the more accessible the alcohol, the better.


Sunday

In 2004, Sunday was reserved for a general Chicago sight seeing day, and most people ended up using it as a travel day instead. This year we knew that most of our attendees were either locals or within a short plane ride, and we really wanted to extend the opportunity for everyone to spend more time to further build the friendships they had started at the Saturday ball, so we intentionally planned something that was enticing enough that it would get most people to attend, but still casual enough that the long-distance travelers wouldn't feel gypped for having to miss it as they flew home.

The Chinatown tour was the perfect compromise. We were a little surprised to learn that our little tour was the same weekend as the Moon Festival and the Folsom Street Faire (both of our main organizers live in San Jose, 45 minutes south of San Francisco, and were not aware of the dates for these hugely popular annual events), and given the opportunity to do it over, we might have scheduled the start time for the Sunday event a little bit later in the morning to give people time to recover from the previous nights festivities (noon is still a reasonable hour to start one's day, right?), but the reports we heard from most folks for Sunday's casual romp about town were positive.


FINANCIAL   REPORT

The lack of a dealers floor and celebrity photo ops is part of what makes the Browncoat Ball unique, since it is purely a by-the-fans-for-the-fans event. However, that also makes it a little trickier to fund the event, since you can't rely on revenue from those sources. This section will concentrate specifically on the financials for the 2006 ball, to give future host cities an idea of how we funded our ball, and what might be considered to make next year's ball run more smoothly.

For the 2006 Browncoat Ball, we relied on ticket price as our sole revenue stream, and cut the budget as thin as possible to keep the ticket prices as low as we could. This would have worked fairly well if we hadn't misinterpreted that hotel contract. Below if a full breakdown of the income and expenses that went into funding the 2006 ball.

INCOME:
Ticket Sales $19441.38
Merchandise Profits $348.00
Cash Donations $80.00
Souvenir DVD Profits pending
TOTAL $19869.38
 
CURRENT BALANCE - $867.52
     
EXPENSES:
Saturday Night Hotel Event $11719.12
Friday Night Dinner $3550.00
Boat Rental $2962.75
Saturday Night Band $850.00
Blue Sun Room Rental $681.72
Bus to Boat $520.38
Promo Postcards $242.93
Gft Bags $210.00
TOTAL $20736.90

Accounts

Once we had our event planned out and it was time to book our resources, we started by setting up a separate bank account and PayPal account specifically for the event. This is the same method we used for the Equality Now charity fundraiser we had run at ComicCon 2005 and it seemed to work fairly well there, so we went the same route for the 2006 Browncoat Ball. This worked well for us since we had a small organizational committee, but it also left our treasurer personally responsible for any deficit that might result.

Future committees might consider setting up a non-profit entity under which to manage the funds. However, you must make sure that you can pay for the venue fees using a credit card, as debit cards have a daily limit that will likely be too low to pay for your venue fees.


Security Deposits

Our first financial hurdle was to pay the $1000 deposits that were required by the hotel, restaurant and boat in order to reserve them for our chosen date ($3000 total). We did not have any seed money when we began our planning, so we solved this problem by putting the deposits on our treasurer's personal credit card and then reimbursing that amount from of the first of the ticket sales. At $150 per ticket, we only had to sell 20 tickets to cover this amount. This was accomplished within the first three hours of tickets going on sale (57 tickets were sold within the first 24 hours), so this was an acceptable way for us to fund the deposits.


Ticket Sales

For ticket sales, we created an online form which would collect the registration information for those who wished to purchase a ticket, save that information to a database, and then send the ticket holder a confirmation email with instructions on how to submit their payment. This worked very well for us, and could easily be repurposed to serve future balls (with a few small PHP/MySQL tweaks).

Since some people are not comfortable with online payments, we allowed payment by PayPal or by Check. For PayPal transactions, we asked that people pitch in a few extra dollars to cover the PayPal fees if they could afford to, since we were cutting our budget so thin, and nearly everyone did so. For check payments, the only problem we encountered were a few people who made their checks out to Browncoat Ball instead of to our treasurer, but ticket sales were far enough in advance that there was plenty of time to send these back and have them resend corrected checks.

While we were still in the planning stages, we set up a pre-registration form to see how many people would be interested in attending a San Francisco Browncoat Ball at a $150 ticket price. We didn't put very much effort into publicizing it, but we received 287 positive responses, so we figured hitting our 150 person break-even target would be easy. But as the event grew nearer, ticket sales hovered right around 100 without signs of an increase. Since the fixed price of the boat and hotel relied on a 150 person attendance to break even, that discrepancy would have left us several thousand dollars in the red, so we added single-day tickets to the mix to encourage more local attendance and offered a number of discount tickets on eBay to bring in more national attendees.

By scrambling at the last minute like this, we were able to drive the attendance up to 151 people, but due to the discount tickets and disproportionately low profit from the single-day tickets, that still left us a close to a thousand dollars in the red. This crisis could have been easily avoided by making ticket sales available earlier (tickets were not available until 6 June - only three months before the event), by increasing advertising on the web, through podcasts and at additional conventions, by developing additional revenue streams, and by allowing for a more conservative estimate when calculating the break-even attendance level.


Expenses Outline

The Friday night dinner was a per-person charged based on menu choices, with a very low minimum (50 people, I think) in order to get use of the ballroom for free. We had initially planned to go with the Flaming Baby Quail entrée, but were forced to downgrade to the still-delicious, but less flaming secondary option when the fiasco with the hotel contract put our budget in the red. Had we not had that problem, the Empress of China would have been a steal even at the slightly higher price point. You'll find that restaurants are much more willing to work with you than hotels, as they expect to get most of their money from the food they normally serve, whereas hotels are used to conventions and weddings, where catering and additional services are much more pricey. Ultimately, we had about 120 people in attendance Friday night, and paid $3500 total ($1000 deposit up front when we made the reservation, the rest paid via credit card at the end of the evening).

Chartering a private boat tour was a flat fee, with a maximum occupancy of 250 people. We paid a couple hundred dollars extra in order to have a cash bar on board (which was definitely worth it, considering how friendly browncoats are when they drink), which brought the total to $2962.75 ($1000 deposit up front when we made the reservation, the rest paid via credit card two weeks prior to the event).

We also decided that it would simply be far too chaotic to have everyone find their own way to the pier, 20 blocks from the hotel, so we chartered a bus to make two trips from the hotel to the pier in the morning, and one trip back to the hotel after the boat tour. This cost an additional $520.38. If attendance had been higher, adding a second bus for additional trips would have brought that amount up by an additional $300 or so.

The Saturday night ball was where we ran into budget issues. The way we read the contract, we got use of the ballroom for free as long as our total bill was at least $9000. However, what the fine print boiled down to was that we had to spend at least $9000 just on food, and the price for the cash bar, tax and mandatory 18% gratuity was taked on in addition to that $9K minimum. This meant that we would be paying for at least 151 people, even if attendance was only 100, which prompted us to add a lot of last-minute ticket options, offer far too many tickets at below cost, just to get something for those unused seats, and slim down our budget everywhere we could find room, to avoid getting stuck with a huge amount of unused-but-paid-for food. Ultimately, we ended up getting exactly 151 people in attendance (including 10 comped guests and about 30 at discount prices), for a total bill of about $11719.12. ($1000 deposit up front when we made the reservation, the rest paid via credit card at the end of the evening. We made the grim discovery that a debit card has a $3K/day limit, which lead to a fair bit of stress the night of the ball, and a few more overdraft fees than I'd like to admit to.) Renting the hospitality quite as a registration location and focal point for social activities was essential. We paid $681.72 for two nights, which brought our total amount due to the hotel to $12400.84.

Additional costs included $850 for Bangers & Mash (the band that played Saturday night), $242.93 for 2000 VistaPrint advertising postcards (distributed at ComicCon, DragonCon, and locally), and another $210 for gift bags, prizes, decorations, and the like.

The total cost of the Browncoat Ball was $20736.90 and the total income from ticket sales, merchandise profits and cash donations came to $19869.38, which left us with a deficit of $867.52. This deficit was due partially to our misinterpretation of the hotel's contract (which was roughly a $3000 difference, which would have left us with a healthy surplus) and lower than expected registration. By following the suggestions below, this should be a very simple thing for future host cities to avoid repeating.


Post-Ball Fundraising and the Carry-Forward Fund

The 2004 Browncoat Ball's budget resulted in a surplus of $948.72, which can be applied as a carry-forward to cover the deficit of the 2006 Browncoat, if necessary. However, we would very much like to make the 2006 ball self-funding, so that the carry-forward fund can be applied to future events. So we are planning one last potential revenue source to eliminate the deficit before we make the final decision on whether or not to rely on the carry-forward fund.

There are two aspects to the post-ball fundraising plan. The first is the ability for people to donate money directly through PayPal, which is something that several attendees requested. The other is to sell Souvenir DVDs, which will include everyone's video footage and high-resolution photos from the ball. We are still working on acquiring everyone's photos and videos for the DVD and working out the budget for how much they will cost to create. But our hope is that we will be able to create the DVDs for no more than $5 each and sell them for $15 each, for a $10 profit per DVD. If we are able to achieve this target, we would need to sell DVDs to 2/3 of the attendees to break even, but even if only 1/3 of the attendees purchased a DVD we will have cut our deficit in half.

If we still have a deficit after the DVD sales and PayPal donations are complete, we will use the carry-forward fund to make up the difference and the remaining amount will remain in the carry-forward fund for future events. If DVD sales and donations are positive enough to turn our deficit into a surplus, any amount that is raised above the deficit amount will be added to the carry-forward fund.


KEY   LEARNINGS

While the majority of the 2006 Browncoat Ball went of with amazing success, there were several things that we learned about how a future ball might be able to avoid some of the turbulence that we experienced. The following is an outline of the most important of these lessons.

  • Delegation of Responsibility
    The biggest mistake we made in planning the 2006 Browncoat Ball was relying too heavily on two main organizers, and not sufficiently delegating responsibilities for individual tasks to a wider group of volunteers. When we submitted our pitch to host the ball, we assumed we would have more than enough volunteers to act as lieutenants for various tasks, considering the past experience our group had in running fan tables and other events. What we failed to consider was that the group would still be active in planning other events during the same time that the Browncoat Ball was being planned, so our group's resources were spread too thin. The earlier you can get a large group of local volunteers organized, and the more you can run your committee like a small business, with responsibilities and ownership of various aspects clearly defined, the better your chances of success (not to mention avoiding burnout).

  • Additional Revenue Streams
    While we don't want the Browncoat Ball to lose what makes it special by adding a dealers floor and celebrity photo ops, there are still a few additional sources of revenue that can be pursued to help balance the budget and take some of the risk out of relying purely on ticket sales. Merchandising is one avenue that should be explored. The tshirts and posters that Adam created for us contributed $348 to our bottom line, and that was with them not becoming available for sale until shortly before the event (with barely enough time for some items to be shipped in time for the ball) and not having any on-site stock. Sponsorships are another avenue that we considered but did not have the resources to explore since the idea occurred to us so late in the process. Getting a small chunk of change from each of several geek-friendly sponsors (like QMX, Dark Horse, Margaret Weis Productions, Jason Palmer, or other Firefly/Serenity licensees) in exchange for promoting them on your website and/or printed material might be a nice way to supplement the budget without detracting from the quality of the event.

  • Advertising
    We had a lot of good ideas on how to advertise the event this year, but most of them either came too late to implement, or got lost in the shuffle when the main organizers became backlogged and were never executed. Postcards are a great way to advertise an event, but you have to be careful about deciding where/how you distribute them. At venues where there a lot of geeks who might not yet know about the ball (such as comic book stores and conventions) you can get a lot of publicity this way, but if the event occurs too close to the ball for people to make travel arrangements, if most of the people at the event will already know about the ball, or if the postcards are displayed on a table with millions of other fliers where they won't get noticed, this money could be wasted. Downloadable marketing assets (like fliers, web banners or LiveJournal icons) can also be useful, since they allow your potential attendees to spread the word for you among their own online communities and at their local comic book shops. Creative audio spots that can be played on geek-centric podcasts are another great way to get new attendees attention. The 2004 crew had several video "waves" on their website that they used communicate the flavor of the event, which were very enticing. You could even create your own podcast to keep prospective attendees in the loop on recent developments and get them excited about the event. We had considered producing a weekly video podcast of Companion Waltz Lessons to make it easier for attendees to learn some basic dance steps prior to the ball and add to the buzz around the event, but this too ended up falling through the cracks.

  • Be Financially Conservative
    Avoid being too optimistic about your attendance level. If you hold pre-registration to gauge interest before an event, you should consider requiring at least a nominal deposit to eliminate wishful thinkers from skewing your numbers. When planning various aspects of the event, identify items that can be cut or reduced should your budget be tighter than you expected (for example, having the option to downgrade for a premium menu to a mid-range menu). Hope for the best, but plan for the worst. And triple check your math.

  • Negotiating With Venues
    Be very specific when negotiating with vendors and service providers. Ask them for sample bills based on your agreed assumptions before giving a deposit, to make sure there are no unexpected gotchas in the contract. Ask them for a floor plan of the space you're reserving, including dance floor size and what costs extra (they tried to charge us $10/table at the last minute for centerpieces), to make sure that your expectations and theirs are in sync. Make sure you tour the facilities in person and pay attention to as many details as you can so there are no surprises. The same goes for any other relationships you may set up with third parties, be they sponsors, service providers or partners.

  • Ticket Sale Strategy
    Make tickets available for sale as early as possible - at least six months prior to the event date. This will allow people to better fit the ball into their vacation schedule and budget and give you more flexibility should you run into problems along the way. Single-day tickets are also very important if you anticipate there being a lot of locals who won't be able to make it to the entire weekend but would still like to take part int he event. Price them high enough that people have incentive to buy the weekend pass, but try to make them available as an option.

  • Well-Defined Schedule
    Several aspects of the weekend suffered a bit because we did not have a clear schedule printed up in advance. There should have been a welcome package that every attendee got when they signed in which contained times, locations and maps for all of the weekend's events. Instead, people had to rely too much on word-of-mouth and some last minute planning, and the Sunday Chinatown tour particularly suffered as a result.

  • Social Mixer Dances
    We can't recommend enough having a few social mixer dances that people can learn on-site before dancing. Saturday on the boat, lots of people asked if we were going to do the Haymaker's Jig again that night, since they loved it so much the first time. And Joan's Sir Warrick Harrow dance got an even better response. Ammy has volunteered to teach and call the dances at the next ball, if you would like.

  • Happy Hour
    Happy Hour at the hotel bar was a huge hit. Games of chinese checkers came out, and it was a nice social hour on the first night. Even if it isn't free in the future, we would recommend holding something similar again.

  • Love
    You can do all the math in the 'verse, but you take a boat in the air you don't love, she'll shake you off sure as the turnin' of worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she oughta fall down. Tells you she's hurtin' 'fore she keens. Makes her a home.

    In other words, if you're not having fun, you're not doing it right!

 

Today, I’m wear black

Three years ago today, we lost a Great Man. We miss you, Johnny.

Man in Black - Johnny Cash

Well, you wonder why I always dress in black,
Why you never see bright colors on my back,
And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone.
Well, there's a reason for the things that I have on.

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
But is there because he's a victim of the times.

more...

Apple improves Boot Camp

When I got rid of my 13" MacBook last month, I described the MacBook/Boot Camp shortcomings that lead to this decision, explaining that they would probably get fixed in the Leopard release early next year, but I wasn't willing to wait that long. Well, it looks like a lot of the complaints I had have been fixed wit the release of Boot Camp 1.1.

Things that are reported to have been fixed in Boot Camp 1.1

  • The keyboard drivers have been updated to fix most of the problems I reported before. It is now possible to use a key combo to right-click without a mouse, page up and down, and have access to a true delete button.

  • The device drivers have been improved so that you can now use the built-in webcam, microphone and (presumably) CD/DVD burners.

  • No word on whether or not additional screen resolutions have been added. But since my Dell has the same problem, I doubt it. I think I may just need to swallow my pride, admit that the laser eye surgery did more harm than good, and get myself a new pair of glasses.

Remaining MacBook shortcomings that prevent me from regretting my switch back to a Dell - at least for now.

  • The hardware problems with the heat and the sharp front edge are still an issue. If they fix these in the next iteration of the MacBook next year (and hopefully add a real right-click button!), that would go a long way toward convincing me to switch back.

  • I still haven't found a way to export email from Mac Mail into PST files. There are utilities to go from PST to Mail, but not the reverse. Which means that any email I send from Mail is locked in to Mac, and can never be retrieved if I decide to switch back, or even backed up on my PC desktop. If anyone hears of a utility that can get around this problem, I would love to hear about it. This is the one deal breaker that prevents me from considering OS X as a primary OS.

  • I'm actually rather fond of the built-in SD card slot on the Dell. If the MacBook had an expansion card that could replicate this, that would be cool. But it really is convenient to be able to back up your digital camera photos to the laptop without having to have a cumbersome cable with you. After all, if the MacBook had a SD card slot, I wouldn't have lost all those photos from ComicCon when my bloody camera disappeared. That alone is worth a lot to me.

So I still don't regret switching back to Dell for now. But my hopes have improved that they might have a MacBook that meets my needs by the time I need to get a new laptop again. And if nothing else, I am still very anxious to see when they'll come out with the Mac media center box (ie, a DVD player sized Mac with all the Front Row goodness of the Mini, a giant hard drive, TV connectivity, DVR capability, and possibly HD DVD player), especially now that I'm going to have a decent TV to plug the puppy in to.

Red-Headed Grandchildren

I sent my mom a copy of Done The Impossible, so she could hear all about the charity fundraiser I worked my ass off on last year, and see some of the friends I made in the process. She loved it! And her first comment (after asking why I didn't get interviewed) was that I should marry Christina Hendricks. You know, my mom's taste in people for me to marry has really improved since college! :-)

She must really like her, too. The last time I told my mom about someone I had a crush on, she said I could only marry her if she'd send my mom flowers like Sarah did. (I still can't believe that was the first time anyone ever sent my mom flowers! She'll never stop loving Sarah for that.) But she says Christina wouldn't even have to do that. Just so long as she provided beautiful red-headed grandchildren. My mother cracks me up!

Then it occurred to me that I got a photo taken with Christina back at Flanvention. So now I'm emailing my mom the below photo so she can dream of beautiful red-headed grandchildren (and leave my brother alone about it for a while - he owes me!).

We Didn’t Start the Wiki

While listening to 95.7 Max FM a while back, I was pleasantly surprised to hear We Didn't Start the Fire being played. I hadn't heard the song in ages, but was amused to realize I could still sing along with all the lyrics. My first thought was that kids who heard this song for the first time now would have no idea what half the lyrics refer to. Then I got to thinking... I didn't even understand half the references when I first heard it. At least kids today (did I just use that term?) have the internet to look things up (without having to deal with the Dewey decimal system).

Thus I decided I must give myself a silly geek project: write a blog with the lyrics of the song, and link each phrase to its accompanying Wikipedia listing. Well, I finally sat down to give this a shot today, and was amused to see that there is already an incredibly detailed Wikipedia entry for We Didn't Start the Fire. Not only does it provide links for each of the phrases, it also points out that the phrases are in chronological order, which I think is pretty cool.

And it saves me from doing a hell of a lot of searching and copy/pasting URLs. Which is good and bad, considering that now I have no choice but to do all those household chores that have been piling up all week while I've been sick. Damn you, Wikipedia!!

Abandoning my Little Black Book

I was really hoping that installing Windows on my sexy black MacBook would be the key to turning me into a Mac user. But as much as I do love it in a lot of ways, I'm afraid it's just not the bridge I was hoping for. Most of the issues I have with it are software related, and will probably be fixed in Leopard. But some are hardware problems, and at least one of them is a deal-breaker.

So, sadly, it looks like I'm going to be selling my Little Black Book (as lovely and wonderful as it is) and replacing it with a Dell M1210. It's definitely not as sexy as the MacBook, but it solves all of the complaints I have with the MacBook and even throws in a few extras, for roughly the same price. Function wins over form. For those of you who are curious about the details behind the decision, read on...

Return of Pink Five

If you haven't experienced Pink Five before, now is your chance. Imagine a valley girl X-Wing pilot on the death star run, on Dagobah, and infiltrating Jabba's palace. It's brilliant! And if you're already a fan, a new episode has just come out. Well worth the wait, and I love that it's just volume 1.

Melissa, if you're still looking for cosplay ideas for ComicCon, look no further. From the pink lightsaber to the X-Wing up on blocks, you were born to play Stacey. Particularly in the third film. :)

Joss Whedon’s Equality Now speech

Yes, Joss Whedon has created some great shows, like Firefly, Serenity and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. For that, we thank him. But it's the inspiration behind why he does what he does that makes us love him - and his creations. If you have any doubt of this, take a listen to his acceptance speech for his award from Equality Now.

Joss Whedon's Equality Now speech

"When you're asked something 500 times, you really start to think about the answer."

Ask a Ninja

Every single one of you should go watch Ask a Ninja. Those of you with iTunes should subscribe to the video podcast (no, you don't need a video iPod for that - just search for "ask a ninja" in the iTunes Music Store). It's particularly funny for me because the dude keeps reminding me of Joe (Shawna's husband).

"You don't hire a ninja for everyone you need to kill. I mean, if it's a regular Joe Schmoe, that's what Italians are for."

eBay Express and Half.com

Last night a friend emailed me to ask if the launch of eBay Express meant that Half.com would be going away soon, or somehow taking a back seat. Today another friend sent me a link to a LifeHacker post in which one of the comments posed a similar question.

Now, let me be clear in pointing out that I am in no way an official spokes-model for eBay. But, in the words of William Shatner*, "here I am to speak what I do know."

  1. eBay Express is geared towards convenience-oriented shoppers who are looking to buy new, fixed-price goods within a more conventional e-commerce experience. If you just want to snag a copy of the Firefly DVD and get back to your regularly scheduled day, eBay Express is right up your alley.

  2. Half.com is geared more towards bargain shoppers, who are primarily looking for the best price on an item, and are usually perfectly happy to buy used. If you're staring down the syllabus for your spring semester of law school or nursing, you will come to truly understand the wonder and beauty that is Half.com.

  3. In the brick and mortar world, retail record/book stores and used record/book stores coexist quite nicely. The same buyer may go to one store for one type of shopping, and to the other for a different type of shopping. So I don't see how these two venues could be seen as anything but complimentary.

  4. If they actually were planning on shutting down Half.com, you would all have heard a piercing, gut-wrenching shriek, which a Spaniard would correctly identify as the sound of ultimate suffering (with me at its epicenter). Instead, you see me smiling to myself and humming softly. All is right with the world.

* With apologies to William Shakespeare. Although Shakespeare probably would have loved Shatner's rap rendition of "No Tears for Caesar."

A calm between storms

I am at my best when I am in motion.

When I have a deadline looming over my head, I am at my most productive. When I am in a fast paced social arena, I am at my most confident. When I am faced with adversity and the odds are against me, I am at my most motivated. I love who I am when I'm in full motion.

Then there are the quiet times. With too much time on my hands, I get nothing done. When I am in an unfamiliar social situation, I am shy and incapable of starting a conversation. When I am not challenged, I lose my fire and become lethargic. I hate who I am when I am coasting.

Right now I think I'm kind of in a transitional phase. I have almost completely lost my passion for that which has most defined me for the past few years. I have already found a new passion, but I have not yet gotten a chance to sink my teeth into it and really embrace it. I find myself simultaneously aching for a new side project to keep me busy and feeling completely overwhelmed by the side projects I am already juggling (and making so little progress on). It's a sense of restless anticipation, trying to keep myself from sliding too far into inaction while I wait for Timing to catch up with me.

Transitions are nothing new. What is odd about this one is that it is so mellow. Typically, I would cling to the old, dying phase, stubbornly fighting to keep it in the air, until I finally crack. Then I would descend into a passionate, feverish sort of vision quest. When the fever broke, and all of my demons had finished throwing their worst at me, only I would remain. I would have found the thing I was missing, and have a fresh new perspective and a passion to go out and make things happen once again.

But I think I'm starting to apply a bit more prescience to my life these days. I'm able to see the dying phase for what it is, and distance myself from it enough that it doesn't drag me down with it. I'll keep it around just long enough to get me by until the right opportunity presents itself for my next big passion. There's no great drama, no moment of brilliant revelation. Just a little bit of fidgety impatience and a lot of frustration over not being as in-motion as I would like to be.

So where does that leave me? Working for my favorite company ever, in a position that I have lost my love for, attempting to switch to a new position that everyone seems to think I would rock at - but which is taking forever to give me a handhold. Having, for the first time in a very long time, more than enough self confidence to be able to get out there and start dating again, but not being willing to settle for anything less than the amazing degree of chemistry I was recently spoiled with - still lonely, but a more contented form of loneliness than before. Having nothing in my life that I can justifiably complain about, and yet nothing that I feel like raving about either. Just a sort of calm between storms.

I hope the next storm hits soon. All this coasting is driving me batty.

Reconnecting and letting go

I went up to San Francisco last night to party with Corinne C and her gang. It has been far, far too long since I spent time with them. And, as usual, I ended up meeting quite a few amazing people. It really put into perspective how withdrawn my life has been lately, spending so much time at work and at home. I can't live like that. I crave social interaction. I need it. Without it, my mind grows stale and I lose some of my lust for life. I think it explains why I've been so stressed out for no apparent reason lately. This must not be allowed to continue.

It became clear to me that there are several areas of my Self that I have allowed to atrophy over the past year or so. I used to dance all the time. I used to look forward to that sense of euphoria that comes with well-earned physical exhaustion. This has not been the case as of late, and I am paying the price, physically. I need to start riding my bike more. I need to get back to yoga. I need to go dancing at least once a week. I need to get in touch with Monique and see if they're doing open cancan rehearsals again this year. It's too late for this year, but I really would love to be starting aerial classes by my birthday next year. One step at a time. (pun regretfully intended)

All in all, it was an excellent weekend. I met several people who I'm looking forward to seeing more of in the coming years. I got back in touch with a few people I don't see nearly enough of. I saw some positively beautiful scenery. And I had some very enlightening conversations with people I had never met before, and will likely never see again.

So of course the Fates had to even it out by inflicting the evils of San Francisco on me. When I got back to my car, the passenger side window was smashed in, and the contents of my glovebox were emptied on my seat. Minus my new iPod and my grizwald. So now I'm out $250 for a new window, $400 for the iPod, and $100 for the grizwald. At first, I was tempted to get seriously pissed off, and launch into a rant about how much I hate the city. Instead, I'm trying to shrug it off as a lesson about getting too attached to physical possessions. So instead of spending all that money replacing my geek toys, I've decided to spend a few hundred dollars on a Target gift card for the Katrina girl. What she lost is much more important than what I lost.

Of course, we'll see if I still feel that way in a few weeks, when the podcast withdrawal sets in...

This I Believe: There Is No God

NPR has a series titled This I Believe, in which people from all walks of life share their essays on what beliefs they hold dear. I just ran across this one from November, in which Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller fame) shares belief that there is no god. Regardless of your own view on the topic, this is an excellent read. My favorite bit, which I think sums up the whole essay is:

"Believing there's no God means I can't really be forgiven except by kindness and faulty memories. That's good; it makes me want to be more thoughtful. I have to try to treat people right the first time around."

The 10 Million Dollar Question

What would you do if you won $10 million, after taxes. I've seen this on a few people's journals, and feel compelled to answer.

First off, I would not make it public knowledge. I would wait as long as possible before telling even my closest friends or family. Partially to give myself time to adjust to the change before dealing with other people's reactions, and partly to make sure it had as little impact on how people treat me as possible. Once I did start spending the money, however, it would probably go something like this:

  • $2 million to buy a house for my mom to live in. This would include about $1 million to buy a nice estate in Shingle Spring (like this one, this one, this one, or this one) and another $1 million in a joint savings account, the interest on which she could use to pay for housekeeping, gardening, maintenance, and such. After the life she's lived, she deserves to spend her last few decades in style.

  • $1 million to buy a home in the bay area for myself to live in. Although I would have to hunt for quite some time to find one that I really, really liked, since I still think that's a disgusting amount of money to spend on a home, and I wouldn't want to live anywhere *too* ritzy-looking. And my options might be a little limited, since I would still want to live within bike riding distance of work.

  • $500,000 would be dedicated for stuff that would make me happy. This includes paying off my debt, upgrading the hell out of my electronics, visiting Italy, Australia, and a few other places, and paying off the credit card debt of several people I know whose lives would be imminently more satisfying if they didn't have that weight around their neck (this includes my family and several friends).

  • $500,000 would go into a savings account to be used for paying off my nieces/nephews (and kids, should that ever happen) college fees. Although they and their parents would not be informed of this until they were already in college, and they would not have access to the money until after they had completed their degree. The last thing I want is for the next generation of my family to grow up spoiled and never work an honest job because they didn't have to. If they want to go to college, they'll still have to bust their ass to do it, so they're not just pissing away the money and not really paying attention, like several rich kids I know. But at the same time, they wouldn't have to abandon their college plans for fear of lifetime debt, like I did.

  • $1 million would go into a savings account, so that I could live off of the interest. This would be supplemental income, since I would not want to quit my job. I might eventually decide to use this fund as a nest egg for starting my own company, but for at least the next several years I'd want to keep working at eBay, since I get a lot of personal satisfaction from helping small business succeed, and working at eBay is a great way to contribute to that goal.

  • The remaining $5 million would go into a separate savings account, with the interest from that account being donated to whatever charity or worthy cause I decide to support each year. And, of course, the amount in that account would probably go down steadily year to year, as I am unable to resist donating more than just the interest amount to particular causes I hear about on NPR or through friends (I have a hunch both of the Alison's would inspire me quite a bit in this area).

What have we learned from this experience? Housing and credit card debt are the two biggest money sinks in most people's lives. Remove those, and most people can support themselves without a lot of stress. But beyond that, $10 million is a disgustingly huge amount of money, that no real person could ever really spend on anything worthwhile, beyond charity. Which just makes me sick to think that there are so many people out there for whom $10 million is a small amount. Just think of the good that could be done if people like Bill Gates or George Lucas were to keep $10 million to support their lifestyle and dedicate the remainder of their wealth to solving some of the more fundamental problems in our world.

The more I think about this, the more sick I feel.

Flanvention Tidbits

It looks like my intention of writing an in depth review of Flanvention is going to end up in the same "good ideas gone wrong" bin that as my non-existent review of ComicCon. However, since I already dropped a teaser for Scott, and he could probably use a pick-me-up about now, I'll throw in something quick. I won't go into the panels too much, since they've already been thoroughly covered on the boards. But I did want to highlight a few things that were of particular interest to me, 'cause I was involved.

First, I have to say that the best part of the weekend for me wasn't seeing the cast or taking part in any of the official events. It was the browncoats. A while back, I wasn't even planning on attending the Flanvention, due to some drama I had been inflicted with (a long story that's really not worth telling). But after talking to Renee on the phone one night, I remembered why I had gotten so involved in this fandom in the first place: the people. Sure, I wanted to see the cast. But I needed to see my fellow browncoats again. Especially since this was the last event at which I knew for sure that some of my favorite folks would be in attendance. So I had to go. And I was not disappointed. I had a great time seeing everyone again, got to know a few people I had met at ComicCon a bit better, and even proposed marriage at one point (though, admittedly, only so I would have the ability to threaten Jen with divorce and deportation when she acts up). Good times. But on to the more report-worth bits of the weekend...


Surprise Guest Panelist: Shawna Trpcic

On Saturday, during the girls' panel, someone asked them if they had swiped anything from the set when Firefly was canceled, and Morena wistfully replied that she wished she had been able to steal some of Inara's costumes. So, of course, someone piped up and mentioned that Shawna was currently auctioning off four of Inara's dressed on eBay. Morena's eyes went wide, saying "really??" and then did a very cute "well, why didn't she tell me?" pout.

I couldn't resist a setup like this. I went to the back of the room where it was quite, called Shawna, explained what happened, and asked her if she'd like to talk to Morena. With Shawna on the line, I went back to my seat, waited for them to finish whatever question they were in the middle of, then shot up my hand to be next. Jewel called on me, so I stood up, held out the phone and said "Morena, I happen to have Shawna on the phone right now, if you'd like to talk to her." Again, she did that "What? No, really?" bit, so I ran up to the front and handed her the phone, with Shawna on speaker phone. The two of them chatted for a few minutes about the costumes, and Morena asked her how her babies were doing and such. Then Summer took the phone to ask her about one of a maroon dress of River's (which, sadly, is locked away somewhere in Fox's archives).

The off-shoot of this is that there are now several pictures on the web of both Morena and Summer holding my cell phone. Which cracks me up, since I had already been complaining that my iPod got to take a more vacations than me (when it was mailed to Jewel and back), and now it appears my cell phone is more famous than I am, or am likely to ever be. hehehe On the other hand, it didn't hit me until a few hours later, but when Jewel called on me she had called me by name. Which was a surprise to me, since I didn't think she recognized me in person. Huh. Who knew? :)


Thank You to Christina Hendricks

One of the last minute additions to Flanvention's roster was Christina Hendricks, who played Saffron on the Firefly TV series. I had met her very briefly at the premiere, but it wasn't until I talked to her Saturday that I realized just what a sweetheart she really is. I asked her to sign a caricature of Saffron one of the SF Browncoats made as one of the prizes for the WonderCon 2006 charity fundraiser, and she was just nice as could be.

Everyone who met her agreed that she's just great. But the problem was she was locked away in the tiny, hard-to-find signing room for most of the weekend, so not very many people did get to meet her. She wasn't included in the girls' panel for some reason (wouldn't that have been a hoot?), and they even had an Angel panel at one point, even though she and the twins were sitting in the signing room. Remember, this was supposed to be a Firefly/Serenity-specific con. What were the organizers smoking?

Anyway, I really wanted Christina to know that the fans appreciated her being there, and would love to see her at future cons (not to mention in the Serenity sequel), even if the Flanvention organizers didn't seem to share my opinion. So Saturday morning I snagged a framed Jason Palmer print out of my car, signed a nice little note on it, and brought it around to see if anyone else would like to sign it for her as a thank you gift.

I spent most of the day going around getting it signed by over a hundred browncoats, and had just finally sat down for the first time all day, when we heard people saying "goodbye Christina, thanks" from the other side of the lobby. Startled by the possibility of missing my chance to deliver my little creation, I instantly sprang off the couch (somehow simultaneously grabbing the painting from beneath my legs), and bolted to intercept her on the other side of the lobby.

I told her she couldn't leave yet, because we had a thank you gift for her, and gave her the painting. She looked genuinely shocked (probably because I had practically appeared out of nowhere), gave me a kiss on the cheek and said thank you while a bunch of other people in the lobby clapped for her. Then she walked back over to her boyfriend and said "wow, that was weird!" We were maybe ten feet away, so I said "you know, we can hear you" and she laughed. :)

So what does any of this have to do with Scott? I mean, really, that's the only reason any of you read this far, right? To find out what I did for Scott, and why he owes me? Well, of the 100+ signatures, all but one of them are authentic. I knew Scott would have loved to have been there for this, so I forged his signature down at the bottom, so he could put in his well-wishes by proxy. And really, this was safer than having Scott there in person, considering his habit of yelling my name at the top of his lungs whenever a cute redhead walks by (for the uninitiated: long story). That would have been just a little too unsettling for Christina, I think.

Anyway, here's a photo of the poster in its finished form. You can click on it to see the high-res version, and read all the signatures close up.


Apple has my number

My credit card number, that is. I finally signed up for an iTunes Music Store account and made my first purchase.

While I was in a meeting this morning, I got a voicemail from my Mac Pimp (you know who you are, you lovely, lovely person!) saying that the new iPods were back in stock. So I rushed over there as fast as I could and snagged one of the 60GB white ones and all the necessary accessories. It took about five minutes to plug in, and synced itself with my library while I was off at dinner. The hardest part was coming up with an appropriate name for it (Plavalaguna). Happy day!

Sure, the idea of it playing video is kinda cool. But I'm more excited about that being included in iTunes and playable through a TV than having it on the iPod itself. What I love about this thing is the screen. It stretches right out to the edges of the iPod and has *much* better resolution than the old black and white one, making it infinitely easier to read - not only in clarity, but in the amount of info that can appear on the screen without that odd scrolling text thing kicking in. And every time you turn the wheel or click a button, the backlight comes on automatically. So it's *always* clear and crisp. Brilliant! [Really, whomever came up with that idea deserves a big pat on the back. Nicely done!]

So what was included in my first purchase from the iTunes Music Store, that I'll be using to show off the new toy at work tomorrow? No, I mean besides what Doug already suggested?

  1. The first episode of Lost: Season 2 (now I just need to get the first season DVD for xmas so I can actually watch it).

  2. The Pixar short "Baby Luxo" (seemed appropriate).

  3. The music video of Michael Jackson's Thriller. I had forgotten how much campy fun that dumb thing was.

  4. The theme song to Wonderfalls, which I've actually been meaning to buy for ages but didn't have time to bother with setting up an account.

Now I just need to sell my old 40GB iPod. Which I can't do until Jewel uses it to do those voice recordings for the charity prizes. And she hasn't been able to do that yet because Canadian customs tried to tag an extra $70 to the package (which she rightfully refused, so it came back to me). All the more reason I need to go to Flanvention in December, I guess. Woe is me.

Serenity Countdown Message from Joss

Joss posted this to the SoCal board. Thought I'd repost it here, for those of you who aren't on that board.

We few, we happy few...
27 Sep 2005 2:22 pm

Well boys and girls and boys dressed as girls and girls dressed as Kaylee, the time is almost upon us. This Friday we take that old rust-bucket out of the shipyard and see if she can breach atmo. It's been a long (to paraphrase a band I like) strange trip, and it'll be nice finally to show everybody what it is we've been tinkering with all this time.

You already know you have my thanks, from the hardcore fans to the softcore... fans.... let me try that again. From the people manning the booths, buying DVD sets for their friends, getting banners seen everywhere on Australian TV, raffling artwork for ticketholders (Adam Hughes, take a bow), to the most casual fan who just wants to see the flick and won't ever even read this. You guys are the fuel in the engine, the Fire in the Fly, the weird green stuff coming out of Serenity's butt. (Hmmm. Forget that last one. I'm a little bit out of control here.)

Everyone needs something to keep them going. Mal has his ship. Zoe has her integrity. Jayne has Vera. And I've got you guys.

So what now? There have been so many posts about seeing it, seeing it again, the first weekend, the second weekend, being enthusiastic without being obnoxious (and yes, it IS hard to see over the pom-pom of a Jayne hat), buying tickets in advance, making a noise...

I honestly wouldn't know what to add. I can tell you this: the movie will play in about 2200 hundred theaters, which is a good number. Too many, and you get empty theaters with no energy -- not enough, and you get, well, not enough. It may be hard to find in some areas but it'll be out there. Leave no multiplex unturned! This is going to be a ground war, peeps -- we have to hold the valley for a long while. However it opens, it needs to HOLD. Instead of the Alliance we'll be fighting viewer apathy, fear of something new, the urge to wait for DVD, and Jessica Alba in a bikini. (Although I have it on good authority that she spends 90% of the film in a huge wooly parka. Make sure that gets out.)

The day this puppy opens, I'll be seeing it with my family (don't worry, there's a lot of them, and they're all paying) and then I'm off to Europe to learn the word 'Browncoats' in nine different languages -- 'cause like I said, it's all about holding. I'll never be far from a computer, though, so I can check in with y'all. Thanks for every damn thing.

And remember, amidst all the urgency to make this an event, all the work and the worry, to take two hours and just enjoy yourself. That is, after all, what all this fighting's about.

-joss.

True Appreciation

As most of you know, I've spent the lion's share of my free time for the past few months organizing the charity fundraiser for the Serenity fan table at ComicCon, to benefit Equality Now. My journal-silence since the event is definitely not due to a lack of things to say. No, I'm still hard at work, tracking down all the prize winners, mailing out tons of packages, updating the website, and trying to make my living room look less like a shipping/receiving dock before Sarah gets here this weekend.

I can honestly say that I have not worked this hard on any personal project, ever before. It has been a hell of a ride, getting to know so many generous browncoats and fans, as well as a few of the Big Damn Heroes, and working my ass off to make sure we could raise as much as possible for Equality Now. It was a uniquely exhausting experience, but also one that was more personally fulfilling than anything I've done in the past ten years (except maybe Noelle & Lewis' wedding). Every day I go to work and slave away at the code mines, working on projects that I have varying degrees of faith in. But it really felt good to go back to my roots and get my hands dirty with some grass roots charity work, like my mother used to do. It was truly a labor of love.

I had a real sense of accomplishment on the drive back from ComicCon. And when I called Mandy at Equality Now to tell her that we had raised over $12,000 for them, the stunned silence was heart-warming. It wasn't just a drop in the bucket like the $2000 we raised for Red Cross at WonderCon - these folks were blown away by what we accomplished on their behalf, and were grateful beyond words. So regardless of any bits of drama that might have taken place at the con, or the bags under my eyes from so much hard work, I'm really glad that I volunteered to run this fundraiser!

But wait, it gets better! Now that I have the website (mostly) updated, including the amount we raised, someone posted a link to it on Whedonesque (a community blog for all-things-Joss). And who should respond but the Big Damn Hero himself!

Joss Whedon's comment on our Equality Now fundraiser!

There's no way I'm not weighing in on this one.

I am SO proud and grateful that this is where the energy of the Browncoats is going. Buffy and Angel fans have always distinguished themselves through their altruism, but this hits close to home in a way probably none of you know.

My mother started what I believe was the first high school chapter of Amnesty International. She was a history teacher, and started a feminism course as well (she also directed plays -- not so much the slacker). Probably her favorite student (and she had many that she loved) was Jessica Neuwirth. Jessica went on to work as a lawyer for Amnesty International and then started Equality Now, which used the Amnesty model to combat gender-based offenses. Jessica is as kind, intelligent and dedicated as anyone I've ever known (and would probably cringe to read any of this.) The idea that my work is on a wavelength with Equality Now's agenda is as gratifying as anything I could wish for. But for the fans to take an active role in helping out this under-recognized cause, and on such a grand scale... it means more than I can say. I have said, in point of fact, much more than I usually would in this forum, but I can't contain my appreciation. My mother would have been so pleased.

There are two ways to fight a battle like ours. One is to whisper in the ear of the masses, try subtly and gradually to change the gender expectations and mythic structures of our culture. That's me. The other is to step up and confront the thousands of atrocities that are taking place around the world on an immediate, one-by-one basis. That's a great deal harder, and that's Equality Now. It's not about politics; it's about basic human decency. And it's more important than... well, than that movie I keep telling everyone to see.

Thank you to the tireless Browncoats and everyone who donated, bid or lifted a finger to raise this money, for making my work mean more than it ever did, even to me.

-joss.

As you can imagine, reading this totally made my day! (And got me a little misty-eyed, I must admit.) But like Joss, I have to give credit where credit is due. Without one very important person, volunteering to run a charity fundraiser never would have occurred to me, and I wouldn't have had any idea how to do it in the first place. That person is my mother: Shirl Markus.

When I was in Junior High, I told my mom that my friend Katy Surritt (my first crush, actually) was no longer at school, because she had been diagnosed with Leukemia. Several years before, my older brother's best friend had died of Leukemia, so this really caught my mom's attention. Immediately, she got in touch with Katy's mom Patty and began organizing a surprise party for Katy. A few weeks later, Katy was picked up in a limo and brought to a Lion's Hall packed with all her school friends that she hadn't seen in months.

But that was just the beginning. My mom has always been big on organizing charity drives. When my brother was in the military during the first Gulf War, she organized a mass-baking circle, and had at least one dozen cookies sent to every single sailor on my brother's ship. So she switched into high gear and started hitting up all sorts of local merchants and businesses for prize donations, and then blanketed the town with fliers and went door-to-door to every business in town, getting people to buy raffle tickets. Not long after, she had a nice fat check (in the neighborhood of $4,000, I think) for Katy and her family, to help defray the medical expenses, as well as a second, smaller-but-still-sizable check that was strictly to be used for going out and doing something fun.

I've learned a lot from my mom over the years. Chief among them is that when you see someone in need, you need to step up and do your part to help. She taught me everything I know about evangelizing Good Works, convincing people to part with their money for a worthy cause, and how the small sacrifices of many can add up to an amazingly beneficial outcome in the end. One of my favorite things about this whole experience is that it has reminded me just how proud I am (and have always been) of my mother, and how grateful I am to have her as a role model.

I love you, mom.


[By the way, Katy has been in 100% remission for close to two decades now, and is the proud mother of a beautiful, healthy baby girl. I'm convinced that she was just too damned stubborn to die. But I think it's safe to say that the love and support she got from my mom and the rest of the community as a result probably didn't hurt, either.]