Friday, September 6, 2013

Dragon*Con Monday

We were able to sleep in a bit today, since we weren't expecting our 10am event to be crowded. Unfortunately it was raining pretty heavily so we had to huddle under our small umbrella for the walk to the convention area but we managed to stay pretty dry. As expected, the corridors and event rooms were pretty empty at 10am, partially because some attendees skip the Monday sessions to get home, and partially because 10am is pretty early for those who were up all night at the parties.

Our first panel was "Drones: Privacy and Local Enforcement", part of the Electronic Frontier Forum track, and was in a small room in the Hilton.  The panel explained what modern law enforcement drones and personal hobbyist drones are capable of, and then delved into the laws (or lack thereof) that may come into play.

At 11am we wandered to the Marriott and did some people watching, although there were decidely fewer costumes out and about. We actually had nothing planned until the "Battlestar Galactica: What Do You Hear?" panel at 1pm in the giant Marriott Atrium Ballroom. When we scoped out the room, we saw that the 11:30 panel for that room, "Smallville: Metropolis and Beyond", was about to start and the room was still mostly empty. The volunteer at the door said they would NOT be clearing the room before events (since Monday is pretty lightly attended) so we could find seats now and then stay for the BSG panel.

James Marsters looking particularly menacing
The Smallville panel included James Marsters, John Glover, Allison Mack, and Laura Vandervoort. Although Smallville wasn't something we cared much about, some of the stories were entertaining, and James Marsters spoke a bit about his voice acting for the Dresden audio books. When the Smallville panel ended, some attendees left so we upgraded to slightly better seats for BSG.

We both really enjoyed the BSG panel

The BSG panel included Edward James Olmos, Richard Hatch, Tahmoh Penikett, and Kandyse McClure. It was a great panel, and many of the audience questions led the actors back to talking about how amazing it was to work on BSG and how it was a once-in-a-lifetime event. It was clear they were passionate about the show, and Olmos ended the panel with a short speech followed by a packed room of over a thousand attendees shouting "So say we all!".

Although DragonCon had a few hours to go, it was over for us. We make it quickly back to our hotel, swapped out some supplies, and got in the car to meet our old friends Eric and Sundee for an early dinner.

Tomorrow we hit the road early!

Dragon*Con Sunday

Woke up a bit later today, definitely feeling more sluggish. We grabbed breakfast at the hotel, packed up our backpacks full of goodies and electronics and headed out. We decided that we weren't crazy about the idea of sitting in line for 2 hours to see Shatner, so we decided to skip it and check out the art, comics, and pop culture gallery instead. Lots off great artwork, prints, sculpture, etc for sale and silent auction. Fun to look at, bit too pricey to buy (for us).

After the gallery, we milled around waiting to line up for George Takei. The official rule at DC states lines for an upcoming panel doesn't start for 1 hr before the panel but we've found that is not the case for large panels. Due to so many people milling around waiting for the big panel, to keep some semblance of control, as soon as the previous panel line is seated and empty, the next panel is lined up (usually 1.5 hrs before the start). We knew Takei was popular so we started milling 2 hrs before the start, then got up and moved to the line area so we could be part of the initial bum-rush to the front of the line. We were within the first top 20 of the line, which got us pretty good seats. Takei is a very passionate speaker and talked very quickly about Star Trek but his speaking focused on Japanese internment during WW2 and LGBT rights. Very charismatic, it is worth listening to him speak. It started pouring rain after the panel. We were prepared with umbrella so we got to walk outside to avoid all the people traffic through the habitrails connecting the hotels.

After Takei, we wanted to see "Creationism and Intelligent Design" another skeptics panel about who keeps pushing these ideas and how to debunk them. We discovered an old friend was also at DC and she was leaving that evening so we met up with her instead and chatted for a while. The panel was so popular that there wasn't even standing room available so we strolled down to the Walk of Fame where stars give out autographs and photos. It was very novel to see actors in real life. We didn't get autographs or pictures but we did a fair bit of gawking.

After saying bye to Kelly, we headed to the Weston for the Jim Butcher panel. We didn't care if we got to the front, so we got there only about 45 minutes in advance and the line was already pretty long. We waited in line and ate our apples and cheese (Tip: DC doesn't always give you a chance to eat full meals, bring water, and portable snacks). As I was coming back from the restroom, I ran into another person I knew from the AOL NOC. We chatted for a while and caught up. This is Donnie's sixth DC and she does cosplay. It was nice see another familiar face and catch up. We got into the panel and ended up near the back but that was ok. Jim Butcher seems like the typical geek, not like someone famous. He likes to game, larp, and doesn't seem to take his writing too seriously. He just really seems to enjoy it, and appears to be very down to earth.
Stopped at the food court after Butcher. Of course it was crowded, so decided on mediterranean food (change from grease and it has its own sitting area). We sat next to a group who were having a great time people watching. As cosplayers would pass by, the group would catch their attention and wave scores at them. The scores were always the same, they were doing this for everyone's entertainment, not to hurt anyone's feelings. The cosplayers loved it and seemed to be flattered (including poses, faces, and cheers), which then entertained the group (and us). That group really made our dinner super-enjoyable.

Gives an idea of how crowded it can get during DC.

After dinner, we wanted to see Star Trek costume world record but we weren't sure if non-costumes were allowed in so we people watched at the Marriott for a few hours instead which ended up highly entertaining. There are some great costumes, but there are also some really weird things out there. Lots of steampunk, lots of Lady Capt Americas, but also a lot of My Little Pony! And we learned a new term this weekend, Brony, where a male enjoys My Little Pony.  Did lots of watching, tried to guess costumes, and just enjoyed ourselves.

One big difference  we've noticed at DC are the attitudes of people vs normal crowded functions. People here are nice, considerate, and helpful. It's easy to strike up a conversation with anyone near you but there's no pressure if you just want to be isolated. Mike and I both felt more comfortable in this crowd of 50k plus than we expected. Usually in crowded situations one (or both) of us feels the urgent need to find a quiet spot after a short time. Here, we really didn't feel the need to escape even with the huge crowds around us.

Our last panel of the day was 10 Rules Dealing with Police Encounters, part of the electronic frontier forum track. Really good information, and a small panel. While it was packed, the q&a felt more informal and comfortable.

We decided that we would really enjoy DC next year and probably concentrate on more smaller panels. Audiences are smaller, and the material is really good. We've done the big stars this year so we're ready for the meaty material next year (with maybe a couple big stars thrown in there).

Dragon*Con Saturday

Everyone dresses up as an element.

The big event for Saturday is the Dragon*Con Parade at 10am. We decided to leave our hotel early to find a good spot to watch the parade. Good thing we did! At 8:30 we got one of the last curbside spots along the entire route (as far as we could tell). Unfortunately, by the time the parade started, many thousands more people had arrived and many were not considerate and stood in front of those who had arrived early. The police had their hands full trying to keep the crowds out of the parade path and weren't interested in helping with these disputes. We managed to enjoy the parade anyway, and saw some amazing costumes and vehicles. The parade was segmented into groups, with all the Star Wars costumes together, all the Ghostbusters together etc. There were even a few special guests in the parade, including Ernie Hudson (Winston) from Ghostbusters, Billy Dee Williams (Lando) from Star Wars, and the author Larry Niven.

Steampunk Tetris, way cool!

LOVED this minion costume!
The parade lasted almost an hour and a half, so there was no way we'd make it to our 11:30 William Shatner panel. Mike says we can just watch some Priceline commercials instead. Instead, we visited the Dealer Tables and Exhibitor Booths to check out all the cool stuff for sale. From wigs to light sabers to tee shirts, there was a LOT to see. We picked up a couple tee shirts for tomorrow's con. The area was still PACKED with people dispersing from the parade, and we had a gap in our schedule, so we walked the two blocks back to our hotel, picked up some Quiznos, and ate in our room. This also gave us a chance to get off our feet for a bit and lighten up our backpacks (we tend to take way more than we need to almost anything we do).

There were a lot of mashup costumes at DC this year

After lunch we made our way to our first panel of the day, "Guests of the Whedonverse", starting at 2:30. We got there an hour early, since that's when the lines are officially allowed to start forming, and we wanted to get great seats. It turns out that the line officially started quite a while earlier and we were pretty far back (or so it seemed). Lesson learned! We actually got decent seats and it was entertaining listening to several of the stars from Joss Whedon's TV shows: Nicholas Brendon (Xander), Eliza Dushku (Faith), Kristine Sutherland (Joyce), Jane Espenson (writer for Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Battlestar, Game of Thrones, and Once Upon a Time), and Miracle Laurie (three characters from Dollhouse).

Our jam-packed Saturday schedule called for us to exit the Westin Peachtree Ballroom and immediately get back in line for the next panel in the same room: "Spellbound: The Use of Magic in Urban Fantasy", with Jim Butcher and five other writers, at 4:00. However, the line for "Spellbound" had started forming as soon as we'd been let into the room for "Whedonverse", so it was now enormous (line snaked the entire floor and two more floors above). Since we also planned to do the next panel in the same room, it didn't seem logistically possible to do all three without either getting terrible seats or risking not getting in at all. We decided to skip "Spellbound" since we'd be seeing Jim Butcher on Sunday. We stuck around until they cleared the room from Whedonverse, filled it for Spellbound, and then started the line for "SG-1 Reunion".

After a 90 minute wait for Spellbound to start, finish, and the room to get emptied, we entered and got seated for the 5:30 panel. The guests for this one were Richard Dean Anderson (Jack), Christopher Judge (Teal'c), Teryl Rothery (Dr. Fraiser), Dan Payne (played many aliens and creatures), and Alex Zahara (also played many aliens and creatures). Christopher and Teryl were great (and the audience got an "Indeed" out of Christopher), but we have to say Richard Dean Anderson seemed a bit weird. We're not sure if he was tired, distracted, or this is how he usually acts during panels.

Christopher Judge smiles and laughs a lot. It's great to watch him, he really seemed to enjoy the panel

When the panel ended at 7:00, we snacked on some apples and cheese we'd packed for dinner, waited quite a while for the room to empty so we could make our escape, then headed briskly from the Westin to the Hilton a few blocks away for our 7:30 event. We got there just after it started, but were able to get in and stand in the back of the room. This one was part of the Skeptics track, and was called "Science, Pseudoscience, and All That Jazz". Massimo Piglucci, professor of philosophy at the City University of New York spoke about how science and pseudoscience are defined and differentiated, and why it's important to keep pseudoscience out of science. Although he spoke about all the expected topics like evolution vs. creationism, global climate change, and homeopathy, his explanation of how science came to be science and how its rules have changed over time was particularly interesting.

I have no idea how he can actually walk through the crowds!
We had planned to attend "Brian Brushwood's Bizarre Magic", also in the Skeptics track, at 8:30 but by the time we found the room, the line was huge and had been capped. We'd toyed with the idea of staying out later (there are plenty events that go to the wee hours of the morning) but we were pretty exhausted so we headed back to the hotel to save our energy for Sunday.

Dragon*Con Friday

Today was the first official day of DC. Good thing we got our badges yesterday, this morning, line was wrapped around the block twice.

Didn't cosplay but we had on our geek shirts
We noticed that everything starts a little later on the first day. There were a couple of panels that started at 9am but vendors, exhibitors, and art gallery didn't open until 1pm.

Since we're early risers, we were already in the hotel before 9am so we wandered around a bit getting our bearings and people watching. Not many costumes (or people) out this early.

This guy quietly walked right towards me till I looked up and nearly screamed
We checked out the DC TV Late show panel at 9am which goes through some of the schedule of the day, cancellations, and advice/tidbits. We listened for a little while and decided to wander the halls a little more.

Our first panel started at 11:30, " The Asgard, what a bunch of &#*!" Hosted by SGMT (Stargate Multiverse Track) volunteer, he led a discussion on whether Asgard really were good or if they were deviously trying to keep our potential stifled. The purpose of the panel is to start a dialog and see where it goes. This was very much a fan-based/audience panel with a lot of back and forth as people defended their positions. We found it meh, but was interesting to hear all the fans in the audience politely arguing with each other about the finer points of specific episodes. 

Flying spaghetti monster!
With hundreds of panels, it's hard to choose the ones to attend and there is the temptation to stuff as many into one day as possible. There's usually 30 minutes between each panel but with so many people, it's hard to maneuver through the crowds, the lines are often huge for each panel, and you miss out on people watching if you get so busy rushing from panel to panel.
Guy on the left had me doing a double-take
We took the advice and scheduled our next panel for 2:30pm. We grabbed lunch at food court...when everyone else decided to. Found a sheltered corner by the escalators and ate on the ground, people watching. By this time, there were a lot more cosplayers. (Tip: definitely good to find a high traffic spot, make yourself inconspicuous and just watch people-watch, it's truly entertaining)

We headed back to the host hotels, which by now were a lot more crowded. Gawked, took pictures, then lined up an hour in advance for "I Play One on TV" with Adam Savage, Phil Plait, and Veronica Belmont.  They talked about sharing science to mass audiences, scientific method, how to make science fun for tv. Fun panel, very relaxed, speakers were comfortable and very very funny.  Adam Savage really seems to enjoy himself up there. Getting in line an hour early paid off, we got seats only a few rows from the front. HUGE room, seats lots of people (1500+) but after a certain distance, you can really only see the panel on the big screens in the room.
4pm was "It's not news, it's fark". Owner of spoke about crap that media passes off for truth. This was part of the Skeptics track. The panel had a lot of good material but he seemed to want to cover so much that he spoke quickly and never really finished each thought completely.

We left a little early so we could catch ST:TNG Q&A panel at 5:30. LOOOONG line. We got there about 40 min before the start and ended up pretty far back in the room. John de Lancie (Q), Michael Dorn (Worf), Marina Sirtis (Troi), with Garret Wong (Harry Kim) moderating. It was a straight q&a session so they answered questions from audiences and would sometimes expand or add anecdotes. Marina Sirtis is cuttingly funny and very snarky. Apparently this is how she always is. She mentioned that when acting as  Troi, she has to remember to leave Martina completely out of the character. Fantastic and lots of fun, very glad to have experienced this.

 After TNG we stopped back at our hotel and dropped off some stuff. We walked to Fox Theater to see Behind Mythbusters tour. Jamie and Adam had timed their tour to hit Atlanta during the same time as DC, so we had bought tickets in advance. Two hrs of MythBusters sharing experiences, some neat science (phone book friction, energy conversion, paintball, high speed camera) and answering questions from the audience. Again, Adam makes a great speaker. Very enjoyable, funny, and the time flew by.
Alton Brown was in the audience, he came up during audience participation (on the right)
Walked home. Ready for the parade tomorrow morning.


Mike and I enjoy sci-fi and fantasy in books and shows. In the past, I've made noises about visiting a scifi/trek convention but we've never gotten around to it. Mike has been to a couple when he was much younger but I've never experienced one before.

Looking up at the Marriott
In the summer, there were a lot of news articles about ComicCon in San Diego which fascinated me, and I found that a friend of mine was attending ComicCon. I decided then that Mike and I would attend either ComicCon or some other big convention next year. I started doing some research and found Dragon*Con in Atlanta, GA. It's one of the largest conventions not only for scifi/fantasy but also for skeptics, space nuts, gamers, writers, etc. Basically it has something for everyone. It happens during Labor Day weekend every year (Friday to Monday) with over 50,000+ attendees in 5 host hotels located in downtown Atlanta.

Not so crowded yet
Dragon*Con sounded awesome! We immediately got tickets and looked for a hotel. Since we were so late signing up for DC, all the downtown hotels were booked; however we got crazy-lucky and must have snagged a cancellation. We were able to get a hotel at the Residence Inn only a few blocks from the host hotels for a pretty good rate.

We started our drive on thursday at 4am and made it to Atlanta by 4pm with a couple of rest breaks. We checked into our hotel and made it to the Hyatt for a newbie tour given by regular DC attendees who wanted to help out all the first-timers attending this year. The newbie tour was definitely helpful since we walked through the habitrails  connecting the Hyatt, Marriott, and Hilton. We also did some quick walkthroughs of each convention floor to be more familiar with the layouts.

After the walkthrough, we walked to the Sheraton to get our badges for the weekend. The line snaked around half a block but moved quickly (tip: bring your own lanyard, they only provide a clip for your badge. If you lose your badge, you are SOL).

Triumphant and with our badges in our sweaty little palms, we headed back to our hotel to unpack and get ready for the next morning.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

DIY Dog gate

We're a dog-centric family (yeah, most of you know that already). In the past, the dogs have always slept with us in the bed. As we've moved from 1 dog to 2 dogs to 3 dogs, it's become a little more crowded on our bed over the years. At this point we've had 3 dogs for a few years now and I'm pretty sure we've haven't slept well in those years.

About a year ago we decided enough was enough and kicked them out of our room so we could sleep with more space. Unfortunately Opie (our youngest and still puppy-brain) decided that was unacceptable. So at night he would roam around the house, look out the windows and start barking maniacally whenever he saw something. So we'd wake up multiple times at night from the barking. After a few days we decided that was not the solution so the dogs made it back into our room and into our bed.

Finished gate
After several more months, Mike and I noticed that while I started on our bed at night, I would often end up on the futon in the sitting room by morning because the dogs would take up so much space on the bed. We decided to restart the battle to gain bed independence again.

View of our side of the bedroom
We knew we couldn't banish the dogs from the room since Opie would just bark at everything at night (which would set off Harley barking like mad). Our bedroom has an attached sitting room with a convenient futon for the dogs to sleep on, but to separate the bedroom and sitting room, we have to find an 8-ft gate. The available dog/baby gates that were that long were extremely expensive and very flimsy.  Tried a 10-ft piece of lattice held to the bookshelves with clamps to separate the bedroom and sitting room as an option. That didn't work since the dogs learned to scramble through the non-clamped areas and still get into the bedroom.

View of the dog's side of the room
We finally ran into a solution that worked. We took two large dog crates and used them to block the entrance to the bedroom. We'd shift one of the crates to make enough room to get through (about 6-8 inches of space). This worked great....until about 2 weeks ago when I bruised my little toe pretty badly going between the two crates.

I decided this was not going to be our permanent solution. Did a little googling, little pinterest, and found this. PVC pipe was the perfect solution!

Two side sections completed

I made some modifications because I didn't want to screw the gate into the ground and I wanted it to come apart easily when/if we no longer needed it.

Bottom bar added for stability but not glued to make for easy removal in the future
For my gate, I used 1" PVC for the frames, and 3/8" wooden dowels for the spokes. I used elbows and T to attach the pipes to each other. The bottom bar is not glued to the rest of the gate so if we ever need to remove the gate, it'll be easy to take apart. I attached the sides to the bookshelves using corner braces.

Corner braces holding sides to bookshelves
Since the pvc pipe is curved and doesn't have a lot of surface area, finding a decent lock for the gate became a problem. The best solution was to use velcro wrap. I wrapped the velcro around the pvc side gate, then when we want to lock the gate door, we wrap the velcro around the door to hold it shut.

Velcro wrap as our door lock
Gate works great! Keeps the dogs out, and the door opens wide enough that I can easily carry our laundry basket without all sorts of contortions. Cost me about $50 to build the gate, very happy with how it turned out.