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Birth of the Centennial 
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Centennial Organizer
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Post Re: Birth of the Centennial
Bill Patterson wrote:

I think Jim Gunn may also have been part of the SFRA meeting as well.

I actually tried to join SFRA by walking up to their registration table and pulling out cash, but was tut-tutted and told to go online and register that way. Yeah, like I had time to go online then. Still haven't joined.


Yes, SFRA and the Campbell conference have met together before, and the two groups literally join together for programming topics and awards ceremonies. The SFRA joined with the Campbell conference again last summer since they had so much fun with the Centennial. I think Jim has always been a member of SFRA -- there was a joint conference in 1982 where I ran the bookselling and autographing event. And the head of SFRA once more complimented the Centennial when I ran into him last summer in Lawrence.

Loony academics -- ya gotta love 'em. Join online. That makes me chuckle. The first time I ran into SFRA they had no online presence at all -- the world was still paper.


Sat Jun 20, 2009 7:21 pm
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Post Re: Birth of the Centennial
I'm not entirely sure where to pick up the thread here, so I will enter a few short topics.

ARTHUR C. CLARKE was someone we dearly wanted to have at the event, but he had stopped traveling more than a decade earlier and had just given up live video links - his health would simply no longer permit it. When contacted, however (I had a tenuous correspondence with him regarding Heinlein, so I had the smallest hook on which to hang a request) he was instantly agreeable. It came down to him finding time in his schedule, almost a year later in March 2007, to record a brief address. There were various stumbling blocks such as his request for us to pay shipping and other minor costs, which in the end were brushed aside. He and his staff did not have time to edit a final version, and so entrusted me with creating a final cut. This turned out to be no small obligation, as Clarke's health was poorer than most suspected - the late stages of Post-Polio Syndrome left him able to speak and function only in very short bursts. I received about 20 minutes of raw footage which included several retakes of each part of his speech. He frequently ran out of energy in the middle of sentences and had to pause and restart. I can say that his professionalism paid off - he knew his limitations and when he hit a wall, he simply stopped, composed himself, and make a clean restart of whatever sentence he was struggling with. Although the editing job was extensive, it was also easy to seam together his short efforts into a coherent flow. I put in many extra hours on fine details of lapping one cut into another, and the final result shows only one or two noticeable edits in its three minute length. I felt I had the obligation to fulfill his trust to the very limit and not let his disabilities obscure his message.

I was shocked at his concluding statement, and having heard it many times, was carefully watching the audience when it was projected on the big Gala screen. He did not say so long, or good evening, or any of the other placeholders for "see you sometime again"... he very firmly said, "Goodbye," with the demeanor of someone who knows the end of the road is very close. It was tremendously moving and there was the expected ripple of slight shock through the audience. ACC lived only nine months more, and the Centennial address was one of his very last through any medium.

When it came time to introduce the Clarke address, I took my only turn on the Gala stage to do so... and had the misfortune to follow one of the most vibrant and dynamic speakers of the entire event. I had my prepared statement, but standing there before the lingering crowd-buzz, I noted, "I had never met Peter Diamandis before this weekend, and while I hope to maintain a connection to him and work with him on future projects, I never... ever... want to follow him on stage again." (I've gotten few bigger laughs on a stage and treasure that one.)

THE GALA PLANNING is something Peter has either mercifully forgotten or is deliberately underplaying. We had the stage, we had the audience, we had the "acts"... all that remained was to organize them into a smooth 3-hour program that didn't stack the wrong things together and moved from small things up to the bigger ones and to a proper finish. We took this very seriously. We thought about it a lot. We... somehow didn't get around to it until most of the dinner guests were seated. We wrote the evening's program on an old envelope, or something very much like it, in about ten minutes of frantic collaboration, less than half an hour before the metaphorical curtain went up. Chuck Coffin's excellent toasts were thought up and added at that time; Chuck was as surprised as we are but rose to the occasion, even getting into a delightfully snarky exchange of political wit with MC Robin Wayne Bailey.

I sincerely believe in "all right on the night" - 'cuz folks, I've been there.

CON SUITE... The exchange above between Peter and Tina about the con suite, and lack thereof, provide a viewport into the internal organizing wrangles. From the beginning, the majority of the Cabal wanted to dispense with traditional con trappings - con suites, masquerades, several other things - in an attempt to keep the event inviting to non-Fans. Let's face it, people outside of sf con-goers find the organized fandom and con world pretty bizarre. We wanted to leave off the stuff that "couldn't possibly be omitted from a con!!!" but had no real function at this mixed-audience event. The sf crowd, represented by Tina, who was speaking for the critical assets and participation of the KaCSFFS members, fought bitterly for these "must haves," and the rest of the council fought just as bitterly to shed them. In the end, a few fan faves were included, but the masquerade was dropped and the con suite was as much a victim of finances as anything else. The notion of a con suite has a place in an sf convention; as Peter noted, it would have served mostly to drain our precious war chest, divide the focus of our event, and appeal only to, well, erm, the freeloader crowd. Casting as few aspersions as I can here, the sf con crowd tends to run on... well, mutual freeloading and support, or (kindly) sharing to a common benefit... but we had to run on a more businesslike structure that would actually pay for the event's costs. So Tina is right, we'll disagree until the last day about it, but in the end the event was very close to exactly what it needed to be for all participants.

In my next installment, the ugly details of the terms renegotiation with the hotels.


Sat Jun 20, 2009 7:30 pm
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Post Re: Birth of the Centennial
James Gifford wrote:
CON SUITE... The exchange above between Peter and Tina about the con suite, and lack thereof, provide a viewport into the internal organizing wrangles. From the beginning, the majority of the Cabal wanted to dispense with traditional con trappings - con suites, masquerades, several other things - in an attempt to keep the event inviting to non-Fans. Let's face it, people outside of sf con-goers find the organized fandom and con world pretty bizarre. We wanted to leave off the stuff that "couldn't possibly be omitted from a con!!!" but had no real function at this mixed-audience event. The sf crowd, represented by Tina, who was speaking for the critical assets and participation of the KaCSFFS members, fought bitterly for these "must haves," and the rest of the council fought just as bitterly to shed them. In the end, a few fan faves were included, but the masquerade was dropped and the con suite was as much a victim of finances as anything else. The notion of a con suite has a place in an sf convention; as Peter noted, it would have served mostly to drain our precious war chest, divide the focus of our event, and appeal only to, well, erm, the freeloader crowd. Casting as few aspersions as I can here, the sf con crowd tends to run on... well, mutual freeloading and support, or (kindly) sharing to a common benefit... but we had to run on a more businesslike structure that would actually pay for the event's costs. So Tina is right, we'll disagree until the last day about it, but in the end the event was very close to exactly what it needed to be for all participants.


The end result was, indeed, enjoyed by all. I don't think I ever suggested or supported a masquerade -- not my thing. Tell me, aside from Cory's beanie did you see any fans in funny clothes? Yeah, a woman as Joan Eunice in jet and scarlet -- and the hotel told her to get dressed or get lost. That was pretty much all the clothing that was fannish. Everyone pretty much wore normal clothes all weekend. And I doubt that the ones who could afford to pay for memberships needed to freeload. Sort of a thing I never did get across in a way that actually communicated. Nor, I have no doubt, will I have made it clearer even now.


Sat Jun 20, 2009 7:51 pm
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Post Re: Birth of the Centennial
The very bottom line is that we didn't have the budget to keep a foodie-and-drinkie room stocked for three days, especially not at hotel rates - and one of the things that went right out the window in the renegotiation were any of the waivers of corkage and forkage. It was only possible of discussion when we had the right to bring in a few $k of our own food, and that was so firmly tossed by the hotels in rewriting the agreement that it bounced twice. The hotels wanted something absolutely insane like $25/gallon for coffee service alone, which is why we had the water service in all the meeting rooms they graciously provided as part of the package. We did not have something in the neighborhood of $20k to provide the function, and I would bet a bill with multiple digits on it that no sf con in the last ten years has provided a con suite with food and drink at hotel rates. Bringing in a few $k of munchies is one thing. Providing a commercial-rate catered buffet is quite another. We couldn't do it. Couldn't. It would have been a $20-30k venture, used only by a subset of the attendance.

There was also no convincing argument to maintain such a room. Exclude every reason they are a sine-qua-non at cons, and you're left with... bupkis. No professional, trade or other gathering I've ever attended had such a room, excepting special ones such as for press covering a trade show or rooms hosted by one show sponsor or another to puff themselves and their wares. It's just not done outside the fandom world. Whether we were right or successful in positioning ourselves outside fandom, or at least straddling multiple worlds, we had no basis for feeding and watering the masses who were all ostensibly adults and capable of feeding and watering themselves.

Which is a philosophical aside; we could not possibly have afforded to do it. We provided a central social room; it had to, and did, serve.


Sat Jun 20, 2009 8:32 pm
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Post Re: Birth of the Centennial
James Gifford wrote:
The hotels wanted something absolutely insane like $25/gallon for coffee service alone, which is why we had the water service in all the meeting rooms they graciously provided as part of the package.


It was $40 a gallon for boiling water for tea. Indeed, they were insane.

I just hated giving the lazy-butt saboteur a niche to occupy, is all.


Sun Jun 21, 2009 11:16 am
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Post Re: Birth of the Centennial
TinaBlack wrote:
Tell me, aside from Cory's beanie did you see any fans in funny clothes?


Just this guy. ;) He's a poster on this board. I kinda like the look.

Image

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Sun Jun 21, 2009 3:47 pm
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Post Re: Birth of the Centennial
Well I thought it was dashing, myself....


Sun Jun 21, 2009 4:55 pm
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Post HC Temp
Having watched the very painful gestation and birth of the Centennial from a very close perspective, I think it needs to be said that the Kansan City Crowd Tina headed, (as well as the founding fathers - Peter Bill, Jim and a very few others but they were the three I heard form the most) and not very many other people pulled together an absolutely impossible miracle out of a hat full of well, hubris and audacity, really.

And it actually worked. Even when I had the gravest doubts (as in Oh my God there was not enough money to even cut the losses to a point where ANYONE could pay them if we backed out) they pulled it together and made it work. Even when they had temporary fits of sanity and quit trying they almost all came back and saw it through. They did this despite the incredible strain on their families, their finances, and their careers. I doubt there is any way to tell just how much went into that effort and the guiding principal that it had to be a tribute worthy of RAH never wavered.

The people here telling the story are being FAR too modest. They in fact DID pull off the Little Guy who saved the world in spite of the hordes of Orcs (and there was even a Sauron, if you think about it) and a huge deficit in time and money.

So here is the real question - what impact did that have? Will there be a life changed (or many) because of that event? Will one more person go out and do something "Heinlienian" because they took part in something where for once they were not the only hopeless geek there who actually thought maybe the application of brains to a problem could make the world a better place - and then do it?

Because isn't that the legacy we would like to give to RAH?

(There - the secret's out)

Audrey


Sun Jun 21, 2009 5:24 pm
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Post Re: Birth of the Centennial
I was not underplaying the gala planning; I am taking things more or less in order and haven't gotten to the actual event yet.

I must reveal that in the 6-9 months before the event, everyone in the executive quit at least once. (I'm not sure if I actually quit out loud, but I know there was one weekend I spent planning on turning in my notice on the Monday.) I played go-between talking people down off the ledge and smoothing over differences. (Face it, I didn't have the graphic arts talent or deep pockets of Jim, the space industry contacts of Tim, the Heinlein knowledge of Bill, or the KC organization of Tina; I had to find something to do.)

The darker side of the dynamics of that group are best consigned to the vault of history with a timelock marked "To be opened after our deaths." From my point of view the disagreements were tempests in teacups because everyone wanted the same thing - the greater glorification of Heinlein - we were only at odds on how to achieve it, and only in minor ways there - so I maintained the belief that accord was always achievable, but boy did we sometimes go through fire and brimstone to get there. And it shows now, in the easy nature of the friendships we have forged. We have faced our demons and conquered them together; we earned our stripes the hard way and paid for them with sweat and tears.

Anyone who thinks that is overblown rhetoric was not there and is missing the point. Trust me, it is not exaggerated.

If you saw my last address to the ballroom you know that I believed - and still do - that one day posterity will recognize our event in a way that has not yet been realized. It was little short of miraculous.


Sun Jun 21, 2009 8:33 pm
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Post Re: Birth of the Centennial
Peter Scott wrote:
[(]I had to find something to do.)

And now you'll know why, should the private records of our planning wrangles ever come to light (ga'ferbid!), why I made so many cracks about reserved Brits and understated Canadians.

Peter is here greatly understating the nature of his contributions from the very inception - which, if you've paid attention, you'll remember was his. It's true that his task list was less fixed than those of the rest of us, at least until the final year, but that was because he and all of us desperately hoped for more hands to come on board and take over the tasks. As volunteers crumbled one by one and the tasks started flashing red on the list, each of us took on more and more because somebody had to. After holding the door open as long as possible for THS to get over their snit and take charge of the programming, and after a couple of high-profile volunteers just sort of stopped answering calls and email, Peter took over that massive task and beat it into submission. (The resulting organizing tool, as you've read, may help beat such tasks into manageable form for all time... oftentimes, spending part of a task's hours on making a tool to make the rest of the job go more smoothly pays unexpected dividends.)

But what Peter's really underplaying here is his role in the group dynamics. Without trying to describe the natures of the other four or five, suffice it to say that someone had to be the continuing, calm, stable voice of reason... and that anchor was Peter. I don't know how many times the situation was completely lost, with one or more of us formally quitting the effort and refusing to answer someone else's communications, and in stepped Peter to put it all back together again. While he may have thought about quitting, he is the one member of the overworked crew who never did, not in public. That he was able to keep his head level and keep us on track while doing as big a job of shoveling as the rest of us is a tribute.

Of course, I have no idea how many times he kicked his cat, smacked his wife or had to be talked down out of a tree, but the facet we all saw remained calm and committed.


Mon Jun 22, 2009 11:09 am
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