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Birth of the Centennial 
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Heinlein Biographer

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Post Re: Birth of the Centennial
Unless someone has a particular observation to make or question, I think Jim's summary of That Weekend in May 2005 covers the ground adequately. I don't find myself with anything in particular to add -- except perhaps that my personal difficulty with David had been going on for quite awhile by that time.

Subsequent to the announcement, David kept trying to bully me off the Board of the Society, but you can't bully someone with empty threats, and I know enough about corporate law to laugh at his bluster. The upshot was that David and the Board graciously "allowed" me to finish out my three-term on the Board until the general election to be held at CascadiaCon that September. (Notice that was four years ago; David had then been Chair of the Society for two years, I think; he's still Chair). Between the biography, which had entered Revision Hell and the Centennial, I was going to have to triage the Society in any event. I didn't even attend the general meeting, but instead spent that time manning the lobby table that was jointly held by KCSFS and the Centennial, and the Society table they simply abandoned. To make a point.

That event was, incidentally, my first meeting with Tina Black.


Sun Jun 07, 2009 7:52 am
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Post Re: Birth of the Centennial
Before we get too far from it, I wanted to get in a few comments about the conversations at the very start, in January and very early February 2005, that led to the project being reactivated. It's a pity Alan Koslow isn't in on this conversation, because he was a prime mover in this part of the action.

My memory of this specific point is a little hazy, but I think Alan Koslow contacted me out of the blue when I was getting re-established in San Francisco in December 2004. Might have been very early January. We covered a lot of the ground Peter has already laid out.

Now, January 2005 is 30 months from the time of the event, and it would be a very short schedule to pull things together -- not impossible; it was, in fact, the very last minute at which it would even be possible to consider doing -- and would only be possible to consider if we didn't have a long ramping-up to do on hotel contracts. There would be a certain amount of catch-up to do, but the typical con-planning schedule for a two-year lead-time gives a six month period or so when things can be built up slowly; we would simply have to use our various skillsets to collapse that first six-months of work into a shorter time-frame. Hard work but not impossible. And there is some flexibility in the process. The WorldCon in 1978 didn't actually get a set contract with its hotels until something like six months before the event, for example -- but we risked having the hotel sell itself out from under us. Long story. Another time.

My urgent question for Alan, thus, was, how "ready-to-go" were the hotels? The Society had treated the Sales representatives very discourteously at Torcon. If we had to rebuilt bridges burnt, it might not be possible at all. Alan's reply was that he had been continuously, though on a slow scale, been bridge-building all through the intervening period, because he commuted from his practice in Iowa to Kansas City frequently enough to maintain contact easily. He also assured me that the Kansas City fandom was reasonably well-disposed to the idea, even though the Centennial might interfere with their bid for a worldcon. (we had another scheduling conflict -- Westercon, which serves the entire western half of the U.S., had scheduled for the Centennial weekend. A preliminary contact with the administration of the 2007 Westercon showed they were willing to move off that weekend to avoid conflict.)

Now local, on-site support is utterly essential for a distributed event management, but I was less concerned with on-site support and local contact at that moment than with the hotels.

Alan's assurance was that none of the five or six hotels in the KC area were booked for that weekend and the sales and catering staffs (the people that take point on such events) were very open to it and eager to discuss having it. More than that, Alan had sketched out enough of the preliminary information that must be given to hotel sales and catering departments that essentially no background fill was necessary. Hotels could be very close to a turnkey operation -- would not need any long-range ramping up.

That decided me that it was possible, but we would have to move very smartly to stay within our window of opportunity. Alan had been in touch with Peter Scott; I suggested he bring Peter on board and I then contacted Jim Gifford. I had been keeping him apprised on a low level that something was afoot -- generalities. Peter knew the people in the Society, including me, but he did not know Jim, so our first meeting -- was it a conference call? I think so; Alan much preferred conference calls, even though others had other preferences -- introduced them, with what results you know.

We found ourselves in substantial agreement and worked out the next steps to accomplish -- which would involve incorporation of a 501(c)(3) corporation to sponsor the event, timing of hotel negotiations, and so forth. I asked everybody to hold off setting things in motion until I could be certain we would not be stepping on something in process by the Society, by putting a direct question at the February Board meeting -- which typically took place on the second or third Monday of the month. ISTR it was on something like the 21st that month, since Valentine's Day interfered with the usual timing. Now, understand, as a founding member of the Board of Directors I should have been aware of any plans that existed, and I wasn't aware of anything, but by that time David Silver was talking with Alan Milner and would spring things on the board, so I had to ascertain if even Milner's black tie event was planned to go forward at that time. So I put a very general question at the Board meeting -- was the Society planning any even or kind of event for the Centennial weekend? After some back and forth, David gave a simple and unequivocal response: there were no plans currently to do anything on that weekend. I went back to the furtive four and said, it's a "go": set things in motion. And ISTR Jim fiiled the basic paperwork for incorporation within a matter of days. We also decided that we would not make any kind of announcement at all until we had basic ducks in a row: the incorporation paperwork had to come back, and we had to have at least a letter of intent from a hotel. Any kind of interference with those two factors could potentially spoil the whole project, and it's very easy to throw off a hotel negotiation by having a third-party [who shall remain nameless, but not for long] raising insinuations that might have no basis in fact but make them jittery. Same for incorporation; if someone were to drop even a phone call or an anonymous letter to the California Secretary of State saying that the corporation was being formed for shady purposes, it might not be approved (always assuming one part of the Secretary of State's office talks to another). So it was simple discretion that dictated no announcement be made until the basic factors were in place.

Hotels naturally occupied first priority. I vaguely recall I may have been the one to start the ball rolling in the Society two years before. My original concept, two years earlier than this point, was to have the event at the Muehlbach Hotel, which has a lot of biographical resonances for Heinlein, to say nothing of having been the site of his third Guest of Honor appearance in 1976. David Silver had essentially put all actual planning on hold, even after agreeing that the event concept might be viable, by saying there were other places that had equal or equivalent appropriateness -- and Los Angeles, of course, was one of them. I would have lived with another choice, but the practical consequence was that no choice was ever made, and I suppose that was David's intention.

Coming into the new project, I was still favoring Kansas City and the Muehlbach Hotel. I had to be talked out of it, and that is one of the things that happened in the months between the go-ahead and the announcement. There's little point in trying to reconstruct the discussions on a point-by-point basis, but essentially the Muehlbach was booked going into that weekend and couldn't give us the latitude we needed for build-in, and that was that. I believe there was a certain over-expensiveness and inflexibility in other factors, too, but memory is vague on the details. But the upshot was that we began looking at the cluster of hotels where it was eventually held. Alan took point but eventually, when a decision on the Crowne Pointe and Westin was reached, turned the finalization of contract over to Jim Gifford. I listened to discussions thereafter but was not much involved.


Sun Jun 07, 2009 8:34 am
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Post Re: Birth of the Centennial
[...Continued...]

The joint discussion is jogging my memory; keep it up, gents. Yes, I do recall now that Bill was the first to suggest Kansas City, almost immediately, in 2002. He was particularly fond of the Muehlbach for historical reasons. Alan Koslow came up with the idea again independently later, and did much more with it. I was not central to the hotel choice, but I do recall that the contract with the Westin and Hyatt looked very good and reserved an inordinate number of conference rooms.

Here's an interesting tidbit for those of you who haven't done this before: when booking a convention, hotels basically give away the meeting space. In return, you must guarantee a certain number of people booking guest rooms, and catering receipts. Our meeting space included at least one giant exhibition hall that we ended up relinquishing; any event taking place in there would have seemed like an anthill in a cathedral.

The penalties for not meeting the quotas are quite severe.

As Bill said, Tina Black came in and represented KACSFFS by herself for quite a while. Our meetings were irregularly held via AIM chat sessions with the logs published as minutes. It wasn't until about six months to H-day that I realized that these weren't getting the job done fast enough, and pushed for voice chats (which we were able to hold via Skype). There was some resistance to this: text chats were seen as desirable because people could do other stuff at the same time. To me, that was their main deficiency. True, they allowed people to consider their responses before posting, but they were also limited by people's typing speeds, and the lack of nuance available in such a restrictive communication channel. We never would have made it without moving to voice chats, in my opinion; they were at least four times more efficient.

Up until that six months before the event was the wandering through the desert period: trying to get people interested in an event beyond the reach of their calendars, trying to establish critical mass, trying to find honored guests and volunteers. Somehow we decided to keep going past the next penalty escalation point; someone else will have to fill in how we arrived at that decision. I do know that Jim underwrote the event to a degree he is too modest to enumerate, but I know it has four digits in it. As it was, our attendance just about reached the renegotiated break-even point and he had the opportunity to recoup a small amount of his losses but instead donated the slight surplus (which did not reach four digits) to a worthy Heinlein cause.

We all met in Anaheim in August 2006 for LACon IV, the worldcon, to promote our event and make contacts. For a number of us, these were our first face-to-face meetings: the first time I had met Jim Gifford (but I nevertheless announced myself on the house phone with "FBI, Mr. Gifford; take your hands off the girl and open the door"), and the first time Tina Black had met me (she described me as "younger and perkier" than she had imagined).

Jim got a suite and hung out a shingle; he showed Heinlein-relevant DVDs into the night. Any apparent impact we had, however, was virtually invisible in terms of signups; not enough even to bankroll the trip. However, we did some grand strategizing, and approached a few potential honored guests in person. The weight of the Society's fatwah on us leaned heavily, however; we could not persuade Messrs. Niven and Pournelle that we were a going concern; and then the battle for Spider Robinson began. Jim and I repeatedly made impassioned arguments about how much Heinlein's memory meant to us, and eventually he came around. And as anyone who attended knows, he was the life and soul of the party. We totally vindicated ourselves in his eyes, and he told us so several times when it was done.

[...To be continued...]


Sun Jun 07, 2009 10:24 am
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Post Re: Birth of the Centennial
Let's see: before skipping over the remainder of 2005 I wanted to get in a personal view of an important event -- to me. In late March 2005 I had gone off to the American Culture Association/Popular Culture Association annual meeting in San Diego this year to present as usual. While there I developed a high fever and infection in my foot. I am diabetic, and prone to infections in my feet. I didn't want to goto hospital 600 miles from my home base so decided to tough it out and go immediately when I got back home, a couple of days later.

Bad mistake. By the time I got home and checked into hospital that evening, the foot was swollen and gangrenous; they removed my right little toe, the entire process, the next morning, while getting the infection under control and pincushioning me with insulin. They had me on a vacuum drain system for two months, so I missed spring entirely, but was able to sit up and work after three or four days. Unpleasant, but confined to bed, I was able to get a fair amount of work done.

The reason this relates to the centennial, however, is that it adds to the amount of cash Jim Gifford had invested in it, something no one has ever talked about. Some time earlier, the Giffords realized that my consultancy with the University in Santa Cruz did not carry health insurance, so they put me on payroll for Audrey's Bridges Behavioral System as a consultant. (And I actually did consulting, too, but that's not particularly relevant except to indicate this act of kindness was not a scam or way around the employment laws or anything of that nature).

There was cash out of pocket for them to do this, and on the numbers it was a life-saver, because by the time they got through with all the hospital billing, it was a quarter of a million dollars in fees. If I had not had insurance, I would have been liable for 100% of that. But becase the insurance companies and the medical establishment are in a vicious conspiracy, the insurance company accepted payments about a tenth of that cost and called it quit (except for my deductible -- I paid about $2000 out of pocket).

The insurance arrangement came to an end in 2006, but it had done what it was supposed to do, and I shall not cease to be grateful for them making it possible to get over that particular rocky place.


Sun Jun 07, 2009 11:28 am
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Post Re: Birth of the Centennial
Bill Patterson wrote:
Unless someone has a particular observation to make or question, I think Jim's summary of That Weekend in May 2005 covers the ground adequately.


I don't want to interrupt this fascinating narrative, and I thank you three for doing this - it is important I think that these events are documented. I just want to relate three emails I received from Jim in early to mid May 2005 that alluded to the Centennial. The public announcement had not yet been made but it was about the time that the hotels were booked and David Silver was notified. There was no indication on the last of the emails, on May 13, that anything was amiss. I thought the exchange was amusing. Jim was very careful not to say too much.

From May 3, 2005:

"*Huge* announcement coming in a week or so, by the way. :)"

Well, of course I couldn't wait to hear what the announcement was, so I asked, "How huge?" and Jim gave me a further clue:

"More than you know. Go reread the passage in Hitchhiker's about space being
really big and I'll get back to you."


So, I found the passage, and asked for further information:

"Can't for a few more days, yet. Just wanted to give you an idea of what
"big" means in this context. "


Then, on May 13 I asked where was this huge announcement:

"We were hoping for an announcement this week, but it looks like a critical
step won't happen until Monday. Arrgh....You're gonna *like* this. A hint: Don't make your summer '07 plans yet."


So, I replied, "Ahh...related to the 100th birthday, is it?"

"I didn't say that. Did I say that? Did I say anything that might make you
think I said that? Shh. Much amusement coming."

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Sun Jun 07, 2009 6:03 pm
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Post Re: Birth of the Centennial
[...Continued...]

I started keeping logs of our AIM chat sessions in October 2005. The meetings were roughly weekly and an hour each time. Barbara Trumpinski-Roberts had joined us on a regular basis, and Teresa Robinson soon came to most meetings. Lisa Edmonds D'Amico showed up from time to time to discuss the Academic track, which we referred to as the Summit.

(Before anyone asks, no, the chat logs will not be made public, will never be made public, and neither will the wiki where we organized the event. Too many personal and candid discussions. And bad puns.)

Many discussions surrounding honored guests took place: who should we invite, who should invite them, and which tier did they belong in (determined compensation offered). I pushed for big names to be committed as soon as possible so that we could publish advertisements (most advertising appeared quite late and at least one prozine failed to include us at all in their supposedly inclusive con calendar).

I assumed the position of meeting chair out of an overweening desire to keep things moving and a fetish for Robert's Rules of Order, so I was the bad guy harassing everyone to stay on topic and getting Bill to discuss things other than cooking. Brad Linaweaver dropped by and did a lot of string pulling behind the scenes. Tina Black started organizing local key positions like recruiting Joyce Downing for registration.

Jim bought and populated http://www.heinleincentennial.com and created several logos for us to vote on... I believe the winner was the one that someone *cough* earlier described as a "Klingon tactical display". Jim's professional graphics expertise really made the event - just look at the souvenir book, which was 100% his project from beginning to end. Whether it was that book, the badges, or the vinyl banners, he knew just what to do.

[...To be Continued...]


Sun Jun 07, 2009 6:23 pm
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Post Re: Birth of the Centennial
Peter Scott wrote:
...created several logos for us to vote on... I believe the winner was the one that someone *cough* earlier described as a "Klingon tactical display".

You *cough* know perfectly well it was "Klingon Wanted Poster," later KWP:


Image

We did better in time for all the printed stuff.

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Sun Jun 07, 2009 7:55 pm
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Post Re: Birth of the Centennial
[... Continued...]

One thing that marked the period leading up to six months prior to H-Day was the disheartening series of let-downs in volunteer commitments. A number of people assumed various positions and then went AWOL. It got to the point where I started to think that taking on any responsibility for the Centennial meant that someone would shortly be swallowed by the Bermuda Triangle.

I won't name names, because they may have had perfectly good reasons for dropping off the face of the earth. Our fundraiser, high-profile guest liaison, and program chair vanished into the ether like so many short-lived atomic particles. After the last one I reluctantly took on the position of program chair myself and came to be profoundly glad that I did so, because I was able to realize my vision for programming much more effectively than if it had to be relayed through another person.

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.) Geekly, it is a simple problem in relational database design: One table each for guests, rooms, schedule slots, and talks. Then the program is just the appropriate set of relationships between rows in those tables. Add some user interface logic to populate pick lists, and reporting and export formats, and voila. I had wasted considerable time contemplating a web interface for achieving this so that anyone on the committee could manipulate the program, but that was a black hole of effort for negligible, arguably negative, advantage - a single gatekeeper of the program can wield much more business logic than any computer program ever can.

This electronic approach - rather than the white-board-and-many-index-cards suggested by some - meant that the program could be modified until the last possible minute and the export still sent to Jim for printing in time. I am inordinately proud of how programming turned out due to this: one of the reports listed all scheduling conflicts for speakers and it was relatively easy to tweak until it was empty. Thus I was able to ensure that Robert James and Bill were kept maximally busy, for instance. The program content was a combination of suggestions from the executive and submissions from invited parties or those who just got wind of what we were doing; although when I look at the program (http://www.heinleincentennial.com/pdf/r ... _final.pdf) about half of the sessions have titles and descriptions I came up with in a couple of creative binges.

Programming was laid out along these rough lines: The space track would be chronological: present on Friday, immediate future on Saturday, speculative future on Sunday. The only possible organization of the "literary" track was to try and put certain things earlier such as "Heinlein 101" that logically belonged early. When there was a keynote event nothing would be scheduled opposite it; we owed that to our keynoters.

The amount of available programming soon made protracted discussions about providing lunch and dinner slots moot; it was necessary to keep going through those and push the boundaries of the available time on Friday morning and Sunday afternoon; heck, we even had programming on Thursday night. If we had had the number of rooms we had originally contracted for and the size of attendance we had originally anticipated... I'm not sure what would have happened. Probably we would have kept the same number of simultaneous sessions and talks and consolidated the rooms into larger spaces. I had a notion of repeating talks so that people who missed any due to schedule conflicts could pick them up later but there just wasn't room to do that. (I think we managed to repeat one session; anyone remember what it was?)

Recognizing that people might come up with session ideas at the last minute, and also that there might be "unsavory" proposals that we didn't want to put on the program but neither wanted to refuse outright (although I don't think any of these actually materialized), we designated one room for DIY programming (what technical conference attendees will recognize as BOF space). I don't know if it was ever used for its intended purpose.

[...To be Continued...]


Tue Jun 09, 2009 9:05 pm
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Post Re: Birth of the Centennial
Peter begins to describe programming, my favorite aspect of convention planning.
Peter Scott wrote:
The amount of available programming soon made protracted discussions about providing lunch and dinner slots moot; it was necessary to keep going through those and push the boundaries of the available time on Friday morning and Sunday afternoon; heck, we even had programming on Thursday night. If we had had the number of rooms we had originally contracted for and the size of attendance we had originally anticipated... I'm not sure what would have happened. Probably we would have kept the same number of simultaneous sessions and talks and consolidated the rooms into larger spaces.

Were there head counts for any of these items? (Or would that have been a waste of effort for a one-shot convention?)

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Wed Jun 10, 2009 4:32 am
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Post Re: Birth of the Centennial
beamjockey wrote:
Were there head counts for any of these items? (Or would that have been a waste of effort for a one-shot convention?)


You mean, did we record the attendance at each session? No. Pointless for a one-off, as you say. ("Note to staff in 2107: David Gerrold likes his tea with cream, no sugar.") We had a casual interest in it, though, and several sources reported that they saw no session poorly attended.


Last edited by PeterScott on Wed Jun 10, 2009 9:01 am, edited 1 time in total.



Wed Jun 10, 2009 5:39 am
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