Birth of the Centennial
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Author:  JackKelly [ Wed Jun 10, 2009 7:40 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Birth of the Centennial

Peter Scott wrote:
The first thing I did was set up a Microsoft Access application for tracking everything in programming. I was surprised to find that no such application was already available. (I am working on making mine available for other groups.)

I had a similar problem in 1999, when I needed to interview and hire 350 engineers within two weeks for a NASA program in Cleveland. The initial solution was an Access routine somewhat similar to what you describe. However, in the end I had our IT guys write a SQL program and put in online so that interviewees could self-schedule. I still have no idea if there are COTS programs available to do this, but there should be.

Author:  PeterScott [ Wed Jun 10, 2009 5:29 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Birth of the Centennial

[... Continued...]

In March 2006 the executive cell recognized that it didn't have enough resources to manage everything and there was considerable friction brought about by just the general frustration at trying to get stuff done. Bill or Jim brought in Tim Kyger, a fan in the Pentagon (!) as a nominal ringleader; Tim ended up basically pulling off the entire space track. I think every space guest aside from Binnie was there at his invitation; he knows all of these folks. He knows bigwigs at NASA - rounded up the administrator, for heaven's sake. That deserves some kind of medal. He was the one who got Diamandis - look where that went. Tim plugged away at these people until we had a stellar line-up - I mean, I've never seen a group of people like that together. Maybe at the ISDC. But at an s-f con? No way.

My original vision for the space track was a Woodstock of commercial space, held at the cusp of the breakout of the field (okay, so we've got a little more cusping to go; hang in there). Leaders in the field hanging out together bouncing ideas off each other, doing deals and exchanging ideas. And thanks to Tim, we got that. What a privilege for a bunch of space fans to be able to take part in that. Even more, many of the speakers themselves remarked to us how much fun they had hanging out together.

2006 saw Keith Kato come on board - what a pleasure it was to work with Keith. The man just gets the job done without a word of protest and is always fun to be around.

There were many discussions about security - the Dorsai were repeatedly suggested - and how to partition and police the area. Ultimately we opted for extremely simple entry points and a lot of trust. *Lots* of discussion about static displays of various kinds - how could we get "realia" of Heinlein from the Santa Cruz archives? I and most of the committee had been there and sat at Heinlein's chair and fingered Heinlein's keyboard, and these things should have been displayed behind a velvet rope at the Centennial; alas, this was not to be, and Bill can relate the gory details.

[... To be continued...]

Author:  JusTin [ Wed Jun 10, 2009 6:00 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Birth of the Centennial

Peter Scott wrote:
and several sources reported that they saw no session poorly attended.

Well, from experience "Heinlein Fandom on the Internet" had only three people in attendance, but since Deb, Geo, and Ed Johnson are all friends I am forever grateful to them. We talked for a couple of minutes about my slight research into how far back organized groups of RAH fans go, and then went to go see Spider talk. ;)

Author:  BillPatterson [ Wed Jun 10, 2009 8:29 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Birth of the Centennial

I cannot tell a lie: It was I who browbeat/begged Tim Kyger into coming on board as chairman, just as happened in 1978 with Iguanacon. Him personally dragging in the aerospace crowd was a side benefit.

The short and wearying version of the Heinlein realia is that by the spring of 2007 I had been trying for more than a year to organize a traveling Heinlein exhibit, but the various institutions involved flaked out repeatedly. It was supposed to start with the SF museum in Seattle, and move on to the Butler Public Library, with possibly a stop at Kansas State University where James Gunn is an influential academic. But even after we whittled the exhibit down to a 6x9 footprint (essentially just the desk recreation), the SFM finally turned it down. All they were interested in was manuscripts, and though the Santa Cruz archive might have made some copies available, they're not going to let the original mss out of their hands except, a remote possibility, to another Special Collections and Archive.

In the spring of 2007, the Bates County Museum e-mailed me saying they were interested in having a Heinlein exhibit, and it became possible to put something together between the Archive and the BCM. So I made an introduction between the two archivists, Christine Bunting and I forget the other's never-to-be-sufficiently-damned name. The proposal I sent them was that the BCM people take possession of the shipment of realia -- a stripped down recreation of Heinlein's working desk plus this and that -- at Kansas City; they would supervise setting it up for the weekend at the Centennial, then the Centennial would help them move it for its long installation at the BCM. I would put together a written docent tour identifying all the this-and-that, that would be the explanatory self-tour for the Centennial, which would then be moved to BCM with the realia, so it would be nearly a turnkey operation for them.

Instead the two archivists arranged between themselves for the realia to be shipped directly to BCM, cutting me and the Centennial out altogether -- and foregoing all the identifying material. Both of them knew the circumstances; both knew what they did was extremely unprofessional. So Christine Bunting had her ongoing revenge on me personally (and thereby proved I was talking sense when I pointed out the opportunities in professional plumbing if she wasn't going to do the job of a Special Collections Archivist).

Author:  JamesGifford [ Wed Jun 10, 2009 10:07 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Birth of the Centennial

To follow on Bill's tale, I was tangentially involved right at the end, when we found we were not going to get the material for display at the Centennial and that it was under strict orders from Christine to go directly to the BCPM (Bates County Pioneer Museum), do not pass Go, do not truck with those shady characters in KC. Bill understates the sheer nastiness here: BCPM would have never been considered a final destination for these priceless items had it not been for Bill begging it on behalf of the Centennial, benefiting BCPM as an almost wholly unearned prize.

That the BCPM director and CB would conspire to cut us out of the loop says so many things; that CB was willing to dispose of this material to a tenth-rate county museum is one part of it; that this tenth-rate institution would stoop to carnie-level machinations to get it is another.

What few people know is that the director of the BCPM had the gall to contact me and want us to send people over to Butler and Bates County and BCPM to see their shiny new treasures. I managed to forget about the request completely; I recall a plaintive comment later that she was surprised we hadn't directed anyone her way.

I do know that when I visited Butler that Monday, I didn't even bother to find out where the museum was located. The Butler Library, already gifted by the Heinleins, received the large stage banner and some other mementoes from the Centennial.

Author:  PeterScott [ Fri Jun 12, 2009 8:49 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Birth of the Centennial

[... Continued...]

Something that needs to be mentioned at this point but will require the input of others to properly document is the story of the "conferences within the conference" - the Science Fiction Research Association and the Campbell Conference. I had very little to do with these long-running events beyond scheduling their rooms; however, I do know that they made the commitment to share our venue early on to our mutual advantage, and we were grateful for their support.

Another matter I also have little information on is the story contest, run by Susan Satterfield but likewise deserving of mention.

Jim got Arthur C. Clarke completely on his own. He should tell that story.

We decided that we would not have a "con suite" - a staple of s-f cons, to be sure, but whose main purpose appears to be to provide free junk food around the clock. After all, it's not like we had any shortage of places for people to congregate and chat. And we were distinctly short on volunteers to staff such a room, and needed people to look after Green Room supplies. Finally, we were really close to a food court with lots of choices of much better food. Likewise, we provided no support for private room parties - there wasn't much time for them anyway, and the hotels had rather draconian forkage and corkage rules. We weren't going to stop them, just not encourage them. Again, no one minded.

[... To be continued...]

Author:  PeterScott [ Wed Jun 17, 2009 7:46 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Birth of the Centennial


And then there is the list of guests who almost made it. Dana Rohrabacher. Apollo astronaut David Scott. Not to mention another Apollo astronaut, Buzz Aldrin. (Yes, we were actually in contact with him, and he said we could say that he was coming. He didn't actually say that he wasn't coming until the event happened.) Robert Silverberg. We expected columns in Analog from Jeffrey Kooistra and in Asimov's from James Patrick Kelly. (I'm 99% certain neither of those happened but if I goofed there, someone let me know ASAP please.) We tracked down Richard Branson, who sent his regrets at not coming. The distinguished list of not-quite-guests goes on and on. Tom Hanks. Nichelle Nichols...

I mention these so that people get an inkling of the fact that the amount of work that was done was in fact many times the amount of work that was required. If all we had done was all that was necessary to produce the result you saw, we would have been able to take vacations. In fact, we were vastly less efficient than that. Much more work was done on various wild goose chases than was ever visible. But in our defense, only part of this can be ascribed to wanton immaturity and inefficiency. Most of it was simply due to the need to sling a lot of mud at the wall and see what stuck.

And then, there was the Gala preparation. I think the genesis of this event originated with Jim; certainly Jim ended up doing most of the planning and execution. We decided not to do a masquerade, as I said earlier (making it Heinlein-relevant would have been a picayune exercise in bureaucracy and if there had been only a few entries it would have been memorable only for the hole it left in people's schedules). Given the earlier comments about the Heinlein Society's original plans for a black tie event, having a catered dinner seems slightly ironic, but remember, we weren't imposing a dress code, and we weren't asking for money. We envisaged an evening of varied entertainment and it would take all evening, so people had to eat... what other choice was there?

[ be continued...]

Author:  PeterScott [ Thu Jun 18, 2009 7:36 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Birth of the Centennial


I have only one more pre-event story to relate... and I can only relate part of it unassisted. Recall that our cancellation penalties with the hotel followed a staircase function. We were several months out - I don't remember exactly when - and we hit Crisis. We had nothing like the number of hotel rooms booked that we needed to make our contract and we were facing a massive penalty that would have fallen almost entirely on Jim's shoulders because it would have bankrupted anyone else, if not him also.

And if we didn't cancel right then, it would get even worse.

The hotels were demanding large deposits on a schedule according to their interpretation of the contract. Money we didn't have. Money which would have crippled our financing at that vulnerable point. And we had about three times as much function space booked as we could possibly use.

Jim had a come-to-Jesus conversation with the hotel, the outcome of which was, we got our terms changed. Thank God he knew how to negotiate such things, because I would have folded like a frightened kitten. He convinced them that coming after us for a penalty they wouldn't get was not as profitable as reducing our contracted quotas so that they ended up with something.

They were Not Happy.

The real story of that time, though, is how close we came to canceling the event entirely. I told Jim that it was up to him as the one on the hook, and I would support whichever decision he made. But our attendance at that point was pathetic. Somehow we managed to get enough signups later on to raise us to the level of respectability and avoid being crushed by the hotels. We got there only on a leap of faith, folks. I had at least one keynote speaker asking in curt tones where the two thousand attendees he was led to believe would be there were. But that got patched up eventually too.

We were head down and fully committed to making this happen as the calendar bore down on 7/7/7...

[...To be continued...]

Author:  JackKelly [ Thu Jun 18, 2009 8:01 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Birth of the Centennial

Speaking as one who fully intended to attend the Centennial since before it was officially announced, I find this horrifying. Hell, I woulda booked two or three rooms six months in advance if I had known how close to the edge you guys were. I'll bet a lot of other folks would have, too. I am a habitual procrastinator and, as usual, waited until about 7/1/07 to finally book my and my son's flights and hotel rooms. I was worried that the rooms would all be booked when I finally got around to it, but was pleasantly surprised that the Hyatt still had plenty of availability.

Edit: Just checked - I booked on June 25th.

Author:  JamesGifford [ Thu Jun 18, 2009 10:50 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Birth of the Centennial

Just a placeholder entry here - I really do intend to chime in here with some big parts of the story. I need to open up a little block of time.

I wanted to say, though, Jack, it wasn't down to a few people booking rooms - it was a shortfall of hundreds of room nights from the targets we needed to hit. Parts of my knuckles are still white from that week.

More soon.

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