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Hijinks Ensue

DWCon 2008 report

I've just got back from DWCon 2008. It was fun overall, with a few definite high-points such as the Maskerade, the Dragon Racing, and the Dead Monkey Party. I thought it felt roughly similar to Redemption, albeit with a different focus, a much lighter programme, and very little membership overlap. In fact I was a bit surprised by how few people I knew from other cons. The hotel was OK, the staff were friendly, and not much went wrong.

I drove down on Friday afternoon without incident and found a free space in the vast and confusingly-arranged hotel car park, then checked in and met entorien, my room-sharer. The rooms were pretty typical for a big convention hotel, with the unusual addition of a tiny balcony (shame there wasn't anything nice to look at from it).

The first challenge was to find Registration, which was hidden away at the back of the hotel with no signs to guide you to it (or even tell you when you had found it). After chatting to lucas_t_bear and friends in the bar for a while, we went off to join our guilds and ran into the_magician and hermi_nomi along the way. I went to the opening ceremony and a guild meeting (I had been placed in Conjurors), then went off to bed feeling a bit dazed and disconnected, like I did at the early cons where I only knew a handful of people.

On Friday I popped into the dealers' room to sign up to do some time on the convention desk (Redemption, Aetherica, LX 2009, Odyssey 2010, etc. were all sharing one space) before meeting up with sharikkamur and going to the first session of The Great Hedgehog Race (basically a DiscWorld themed version of The Great Egg Race), which was being organised by bonsaient. The task we were given was to build a device from junk (some was provided but we were also allowed to scavenge more from elsewhere) that was able to time a period between two and three minutes (the exact time required would not be given to us until the final event). The main rule was that it must not incorporate anything like an hourglass (due to the risk of inadvertently summoning Death). We spent the whole first session discussing different ideas and scrounging for additional materials.

The next thing I went to was Walk the Walk; a fun game loosely based on the postmen's initiation ritual from Going Postal. I volunteered to do the walk, which involved being blindfolded while a lovely Irish woman (Gheera??) guided me with her voice. At one point I went the wrong way and she was laughing so much she forgot to tell me to stop before I walked into the wall! Afterwards I had some lunch and spent some time on the con desk, then went to the second session of the Great Hedgehog Race, where we built and began to test the device. Later on was the Maskerade, which was pretty good - it seemed a bit bigger than we tend to get at Eastercon. The MC, Pat, had obviously been to the_magician's school of Bad MC Jokes and Puns. When he ran out of funny things to say about the red/green "keep waffling/introduce the next act" signal, people in the audience started shouting for Cat Stories, in the frostfox style (earlier in the con I met her in the lift and blanked on her real name, and found myself calling her "the mad cat woman who does MCing"). I particularly enjoyed the dark Morris dancing entry, featuring watervole on the accordion concertina.

Sunday morning started off with another session of the Great Hedgehog Race, where we rebuilt part of the device that hadn't been running consistently and added a clock face to it as a bit of a decorative touch. I went to a talk by a chap from the Folklore Society, then another by a woman from the Orangutan Foundation, then had lunch before going to the final session of the Great Hedgehog Race, where we calibrated the device, got it running well and accurately, then left half an hour early. I spent some more time on the con desks, then in the evening I went to the Dragon Racing (I skipped the Gala Dinner as it was expensive and not really my scene). watervole had been roped in to run the racing and she recruited myself and a woman whose name I appear to have forgotten to be "dragon wranglers" which basically involved spending all evening running around setting up the dragons and repairing them when they broke. It was actually a lot of fun. I was introduced to the other dragon-wrangler as, "this is Alex, quiet but competent" - I like that! The inter-race entertainment was good too, especially the incredible high-energy string quartet who had us dancing and stamping our feet to classical music.

Monday morning I spent a couple of hours in my room working on my Around Ireland Rally route plan until the dealers' room opened, sat on the con desk for a while, then went to the gripe session where there were remarkably few actual gripes. Afterwards was the Great Hedgehog Race final, where I discovered that our device had magically stopped working overnight. About 45 minutes of tinkering later, I had it working again but the calibration had changed slightly so I had to apply a small correction factor to our previous calibration markings. I needn't have worried too much as we were only one of two teams whose timer worked correctly without human intervention to keep it running, and we were the only one who had got it working soon enough to calibrate it. There were three runs where we all had to set our clocks to a specified time, and the closest to the requested time won the round. In the first round our device was ten seconds fast. In the second it was six seconds slow. In the third round I now had enough data to calculate an accurate correction factor for the calibration scale. I set it to what I had calculated it should be, then after dithering over the decision for a couple of minutes I added another second on a hunch that it might run slightly faster than calculated. It actually ran bang on and activated a second late!

After the closing ceremony, once the dead dog monkey party got going it was the best one I have been to at any con. We were given the props from the Walk the Walk game, and a group of us proceeded to develop an "extreme" version of the game with increasingly devious and complicated sets of obstacles to guide the Postmen through. This culminated with us setting up a seemingly-impossible course, blindfolding a Postman, moving all the obstacles out of the way, and then guiding them through a bafflingly complicated yet completely imaginary course. I was almost in tears of laughter when he was instructed to side-step over the two planks and then bend down and shuffle under the low ceiling!

Tuesday morning after checking out, I got the_magician to drive a few times around the car park in Lintilla to get a bit of a feel for what he's let himself in for on the rally (*CRUNCH* "Oops, sorry, you did say to stop before changing into first gear.")

The drive home unfortunately was rather less smooth than the drive to the con. Firstly, when I joined the (very busy) M6 motorway, Lintilla decided she liked the look of the hard shoulder and conked out. The fuel pump points were sticking despite having rebuilt it relatively recently. In hindsight I probably should have tried simply cleaning them with emery but I had a spare (untested) pump in the spares box so I swapped them over. Luckily the spare worked OK first time and I got the rest of the way back without breaking down again.

The second problem was my worst yet encounter with Lorry Rage. The HGV involved was carrying beer, and I suspect the driver had been helping himself to the payload. He overtook me and cut in right in front of me, his bumper a couple of feet from mine, at 60MPH, only indicating after he had already started to pull across. I slammed my brakes on hard and sounded my air-horn, assuming at this point that he was simply your average incompetent driver who hadn't seen how close he was to me. A few minutes later he overtook a slower vehicle and so did I, but because I didn't want to be following a moron I pulled in in front of him instead of behind (indicating in plenty of time and leaving him a safe gap behind me). This really ticked him off (being overtaken by a Morris Minor tends to bring down the red mist in some drivers), so he drove up really close to my rear bumper, gave me a long flash on his headlights, and started to overtake me. I began slowing down at this point because this has happened to me several times before and I had a very bad feeling about what he was about to do. When his rear bumper was alongside my door he swerved left, almost clipping me, then when he was just clear of my front bumper he cut in front again. I again braked hard and sounded my horn for a couple of seconds. He reacted by slamming his brakes on so hard that his wheels locked and as I braked I passed through a cloud of his burning tyre rubber. I wasn't about to stick around any longer so I decided to speed up and get well ahead of him. I indicated and pulled out into the second lane. As I was about to start passing him, he pulled out right in front of me without indicating and I was forced to swerve into the third lane (luckily it was clear). I accelerated past, giving him various hand gestures as I went, and sped up to 70MPH to make sure I left him well behind. I kept up this higher-than-usual speed for quite a long time because I was nervous about what might happen if he managed to catch up.


Lorry Rage

I understand that in these circumstances, you are aiming for self-preservation and not on reading lorries but if ver you can, it's worth taking a note of hte company at the very least.

Something less evil but as dangerous happened to a friend some years ago with an Asda lorry. He escaped what could have been a really nasty incident caused entirely by the lorry and decided to phone a general Asda number when he got back - from local phone directory or internet I think.
They took the complaint very seriously and were able to trace down the actual lorry/driver because he could give details of when and where. Worth remembering.

Sounds like overall you had a good time :)
I was extremely impressed by the accuracy of your clock.

BTW, concertina, not accordion. concertinas are smaller and octagonal - what else would you play at a Discworld to summon dark magic...

Thanks again for helping with the dragons. I knew I could focus totally on other aspects of the races once I had a reliable team getting them ready for each race.
What happened to it to stop it working?

Did we win anything in particular or is it just bragging rights? :) It was great fun working with you on the GHR - fancy teaming up again next time?

Edited at 2008-08-26 05:46 pm (UTC)
There seemed to be several factors causing it to stall at a couple of places in the cycle. I cleaned and re-greased the axles, rebalanced the bottle with a large piece of blu-tak, removed the bobbin the clock face was attached to and taped the clock face out of the way of the front axle, and bent both axles slightly so they were properly aligned with the central axis. I also discovered that the string was rather elastic which meant how tightly you wound it onto the spool was critical to the calibration.

I would be happy to work with you again. I've heard a rumour that there might be something similar at LX...

Have sent you an email explaining the other issue.

Dead Monkeys

Ah, the Extreme Walking. Yes, that was great fun. I'm not sure exactly whose idea the blank course was; Cat and I seemed to hit on it at pretty much the same moment.

Either way, I'm working on getting the video onto Youtube at the moment, so remind me and I'll send you the link once it's done. :-)

Re: Dead Monkeys

Erk. Sounds like you had a fairly close brush with a horrendous driver.

There's two things I've done in the past with that kind of driver - his driving there was horrendous and would easily have got him booked for dangerous driving. In such cases, if it's safe to do so, a quick phone call to the police will often see a traffic car pulling him over to offer "suitable words of advice" if not a ticket. I've done this twice, once with a drunk driver and once with an idiot who was tailgating people on the motorway to the point of forcing them off the road; undertaking at speed, etc.

The second thing to do is then report him to his company who will take a very dim view of this kind of thing, especially since if he caused an accident (somethign it sounds like he could have easily done) pictures of his company's name on the side of the lorry will be plastered all over the news.

Nicely done on dealing with him calmly though.
I don't like discworld or Pratchett, but what you've described sounds quite fun! (except the lorry)