Vakkotaur (vakkotaur) wrote,

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Penguicon: Behind the scenes at ACME

Several months before Penguicon I contacted matt_arnold about possible ACME deliveries. He was kind enough to put me in contact with etain, Penguicon's Talent Coordinator. She suggested or relayed several ideas to me, which was good as I simply didn't know most folks well enough to come up with really good items for them. There were plans or suggestions for a good number of folks, as can be seen by a look at the parcel pile.

Although I had delivered items to the Raymonds last year, there were suggestions for them for this year too, and they seemed like good ideas, so I went for them. With some help from michaelmink I obtained some ACME hot sauce from the ACME Bar and Grill in New York City. I picked up some "Mexican Chocolate" for Cathy on one of my visits to the Twin Cities. I expected that both of these delivery items might wind up at a tasting panel, so wanted to get them delivered right away. The Friday morning gathering in the hotel lobby before going to a local range for Geeks With Guns seemed to be ideal.

As expected, ESR was there and he got the first delivery of the convention, and it did show up at his hot sauce tasting. Cathy wasn't going to the range, but did show up and so got the second delivery as expected or at least hoped.

Next was a "Survival Kit" (analgesics, antacids, and such) for OPS. As this was Penguicon, the kit did not contain any caffeine pills. If you can't find caffeine at Penguicon, you're really not trying. I've been feeling that the OPS Survival Kit gag might be one to retire before it gets overdone, but it turned out to be a good thing, again. It turned out that was the first year for a new OPS crew and they didn't have their own supplies of what was in the kit. Perhaps this is a stock joke worth keeping. Even if it isn't that funny, it seems to be appreciated.

Another panel that was fairly early and that I had potential supplies for was the beer tasting. So as soon as I could manage, some ACME Ale went to one of the folks running that. This apparently didn't work out as I (and Rachel, the party coordinator who suggested this) had planned. I don't think it was included in the tasting, but that understandable as it was about beers that they knew about. The only disappointment was that it seemed to have been canceled. I found out later that it was held, but there was limited capacity and I got there after it was closed off. I wonder if I can reserve a spot for next year... or at least get a list of what was tried. And ideally some of the comments about what was tried.

That was all the Friday deliveries, which happened in two runs. After the second I stayed in suit and went around with the little tub of Cow Tales "Courtesy of ACME" and probably made it really obvious how poorly I see in suit with the combination of limited vision and no corrective lenses. I think I offered to a few folks more than once, which isn't too bad except when it's to someone who doesn't want or can't have any.

As things were starting Saturday morning, or just before they were, there were a bunch of deliveries. This was good as the more I got taken care of, the less I'd have to do later. My ideal is to get everything, or almost everything, done on Saturday so that I'm fairly free on Sunday. The bad was that it meant several trips back to the room to get items. The big yellow sack is actually too big for some things, or maybe I just didn't think of doing so much at once. The main thing was that jmaynard could check the schedule as we went and just noticed, or managed to discover, where some people were.

The first item of the day was for Andy Looney. I was told he occasionally does a "Pop-Tarts Cafe" thing, but it wasn't happening at Penguicon. Well, that changed, sort of. It likely wasn't quite like his usual version, no toaster handy in the gaming room, but there were Pop-Tarts. Andy seemed to be having fun Sunday giving away the remaining Pop-Tarts.

I'm not sure if Jay noticed or was told, but we found that author Catherynne Valente was in the Green Room. There had been some joking, I was told, about her doing a reading and wine tasting. So she got a bottle of red ACME wine for that alleged event.

Remember etain? She was my primary contact for delivery ideas, and I wanted to surprise her with something. Naturally I couldn't ask her as that would spoil the surprise. So I asked a couple of the other Penguicon folks what might work. Someone had also suggested a Pittsburgh item, and I chanced across a Pittsburgh shot glass, but it didn't seem like it was enough, and might not be appropriate. It was also pointed out that she was a big fan of the Girl Genius comics. I still wasn't sure what to do, so I read through the archives of the comic. It took a while, but it resulted in two things. One is that Girl Genius is now on my comics reading list. The other was that when I saw the last panel on this page I knew what to do. I had to make a "steamy" (steampunk-ish) pocket knife and get a coil of wire. But then I saw some chocolate Swiss Army knives at World Market in Sioux Falls and knew those had to be added, and there should be more than just one coil of wire. I wasn't sure how good my attempt at a "steamy" knife was, but etain seemed to be rather pleased to get it. It was very satisfying to hear later that she had shown it off and got what amounted to "I want one!" reactions.

Lucy Snyder wrote a piece a few years back, Installing Linux on a Dead Badger. This became the title of a book that included that piece. Thus it was suggested I find a plush badger and perhaps add tire marks. As the article recommended doing better than roadkill if possible, and the plush badger that kiwihunter8 kindly sent me was in really good condition, adding tire marks didn't seem right. Considering cartoon convention, I figured I'd use a paper punch and some Post-It and that way put an X over each eye. I hadn't taken a really good look at the book's cover picture, so I hadn't noticed the X eyes on the drawing there, or if I had it hadn't consciously registered. The Post-It didn't hold well enough and the paper punch was too small. But I did have a set of leather punches and one was the right size, and hot glue would hold - and still not damage the plush eyes if it was removed. That helped, but it didn't seem like quite enough. Thus I wound up searching for pictures of toe tags, and made up one (well, a foot tag anyway) for the badger. For the date of birth I used the date of the publication of the article on the web. The rest I either picked up from a bit of web research or simple measurement. The time and date of death was when I wrote the tag, and the place was just outside Paw Paw, MI. (Odd note: Jay and I had to detour through or around Paw Paw on our way to Penguicon due to a nasty traffic backup on the Interstate.) The result went over well. Actually, it went over very well. The claim "Best. Guest gift. Evar!" gives me great pleasure. But, could someone explain the significance of Se7en to me? I've not seen the film.

The next day I introduced myself (or was noticed) and I now have a signed copy of the book. Gary (the fellow next to Lucy in the photos) asked where I got the badger and unfortunately I blanked and figured it was a thrift store purchase. Had I remembered, I'd have bought a copy of the book for kiwihunter8 and gotten it signed. I probably ought to keep notes about these things, just for situations like this.

Back to Saturday. Just before his Hot Sauce Tasting, ESR got his second delivery of the convention. He knew what it was about as soon as he opened it. I won't be explaining it here. Considering why it happened, it might be best if stays unexplained, but that is someone else's decision.

A signing was arranged for Randall Munroe, who writes the xkcd comic. Inspired by this comic he got a parcel marked ACME INSTANT OFFICE CHAIR. His was the first parcel marked with the alleged contents. Of course, he knew even before opening the parcel what was in it, but the gag still worked as held the bobcat plush and stated for the crowd to hear, "Would not buy again." The crowd got it, as can be seen here (the paragraph just after the line "FIVE O'CLOCK: RANDALL TIME"). Sometimes even when everyone knows the punch line, the joke can still work. It works, but is probably a bit less potent. I do wonder how many bobcats Randall has.

Someone had suggested a "box of sawdust" for Eliezer Yudkowsky. He had posted about torture and dust specks and there was some rather strident disagreement that lead to some Halloween silliness. A box didn't seem quite right, so he got a jar of sawdust "to start his collection." He seemed puzzled for just a moment as he opened the box, then announced with a grin, "I know what this is!" (or was it, "I know what this is about!"? I'm not sure now.) and asked Orvan if he was aware of that post.

A false beard was suggested for Jono Bacon as he had once had his beard shaved off as charity fundraiser. I had been told this before Christmas and at the time figured I'd not have a hard time getting a Santa beard. Then I completely forgot about it until well after Christmas. Oops. Jono Bacon, besides being an Ubuntu developer, plays in a metal band. So what better than a beard really made of steel wool? I think he was amused, despite the look at the moment this photo was taken. (He mentions it here.) It wasn't just steel wool on a string. There was a felt backing. I recall Jono exclaiming, "Hardcore" as he discovered the contents of the parcel. NOTE: I tried doing a web search, figuring someone had done something like this before, but I gave up as all pages seemed to be guys claiming to grow steel wool beards.

That took care of the morning. In the afternoon Orvan appeared again, wearing a plain t-shirt rather than the delivery uniform shirt. This time he was offering Cow Tales with the message on the tub "EAT CANDY, NOT CATTLE." Many took him up on the candy offer, but naturally he he got laughs rather than getting anyone out of the line for Brazilian Beef. He did get a few comments on how good beef tasted and reacted appropriately. He also encountered one person who claimed to be vegetarian, which made him quite happy.

The last delivery of the day was at night, rather late. Someone had organized a "lingerie party" with limited access and reasonable guidelines (the idea was that it would be safe and pleasant place for folks to be in rather skimpy outfits. Things they might like to wear, but feel they can't without unwarranted attention, even at a con.), and it was suggested that the ACME white wine go there. Neither I nor Orvan expected to actually get in, and so neither of us even tried. The wine was delivered and that was about it. I saw later that it was much appreciated.

Because of the late delivery, and perhaps that I simply didn't think about it, Orvan didn't put in any appearances at any of the room parties. If he did, he should have been in a non-delivery outfit, and just changing Orvan's clothes is a significant thing. Hopefully I can manage to take care of deliveries before late night and Orvan can have a bit more fun, or provide a bit more.

While I did some things Sunday, while I did them I was always aware that an item to had to be delivered to me so that Orvan could deliver them. And all convention long folks had been quietly asking about one particular delivery that they all simply had to be in on. I think by Saturday morning I'd decided that the only way to get anything close to that was to do that particular delivery at Closing Ceremonies. And that it would happen just before or at the very beginning of Closing Ceremonies. Orvan sat through them last year and it was easily one of the hardest things he (and I) have done. Walking, delivering, climbing stairs, it's all generally moving at least a little. The two hardest things Orvan has ever done were sitting through Penguicon Closing Ceremonies last year and posing at MFF this past November.

While a few potential deliveries didn't work out (maybe someday?) a couple were added. matt_arnold got a Tux shirt and jer_ Lance got a "self lube" cap (from Matt Arnold). There was some comment about that and Orvan reacted. I recall someone someone saying something about a "shocked ox" which amused me. And then the big parcel came out of the big yellow ACME sack.

A few weeks before the con, con chair eoghnved e-mailed me suggesting Jer get an F-bomb as the subject of him dropping such had come up at some meeting. I don't know if it was that meeting or another, but there was one where Jer was not present and it was discussed. So a good many folks knew about it, but I didn't know the circumstances until sometime Sunday and was wondering, "If all these people know, word must have gotten to Jer."

I thought about the idea, asked a couple folks a couple questions, and set to work... I did feel a bit funny building a "bomb" in the basement, and am still a bit surprised at either how tolerant or unobservant at least one neighbor is from when I painted the thing and it was unnoticed or nothing of any concern. The thing was mostly hollow, but there were some paper (and a few wooden, and a couple metal) F's from a scrapbook/hobby store and the 'fuse' was the end a dowel going the length of the thing. If dropped the end would pop off and the inside could be inspected. It was not rigged to have anything fly out at all. Had I more time, I had some other ideas for such a device, but there wasn't quite that much time.

And the last item delivered, at the beginning of Closing Ceremonies so everyone could be there, was the F-bomb (F-bomb.) Jer, and everyone else, was quite amused by the gadget. I had included an envelope with a big F on it, much like the Attack Plan R envelope from Dr. Strangelove with a few words suggested by eoghnved. Deeper in the parcel was another paper, listing alleged bomb components, that rdfox had come up with. I don't know if anyone even saw that.

After Orvan left and I returned I sat through what was left of the comment session and went up to Jer and asked if he'd dropped the thing. He hadn't. I told him that it might just come apart if he did. He took that the right way and announced that he'd be dropping the bomb. He did. The end popped off. He poured out the contents, "There's Fs in it." And it should easy enough to glue the endcap back into place.

As I was leaving the room, sheryl67 saw me and confirmed that I was responsible for the ox. She had been doing her Cookie Project that I had noticed but didn't take part in. But for the Closing Ceremonies shenanigans I got a hug, and a cookie - a snickerdoodle. It was then or shortly after that I announced, "I got a cookie for building a bomb!" Maybe "The cake is a lie" but the cookie is true. Not much later, less than a couple minutes, as I was making my way back to the hotel room or to con suite someone asked what was going on and so I told him, "I got a cookie for building a bomb!" He replied that a line like that simply had to go on a ribbon and asked for contact information, so he got one of Orvan's cards. I don't recall who it was, and I wonder about that ribbon: who could truthfully wear it? I'd ask who would want to, but it's Penguicon... ribbons are collected. My only biggest concern, after a bit like the F-bomb, is: How do I follow that?

After last year with Bruce Schneier's keys and this year with Jer's F-bomb, it wouldn't surprise me if people start expecting Orvan to make some particular humorous delivery at Closing Ceremonies. At least I have a year or so to come up with something. I imagine I can get a few suggestions from folks. There were 16 planned deliveries. A few didn't happen and a couple were added, and so 15 deliveries happened. That kept Orvan (and me) plenty busy.

Orvan seemed to be fairly well understood. No one argued with him seriously about the EAT CANDY, NOT CATTLE bit, a couple mothers brought their kids close or asked Orvan get close (which he did, carefully) without incident. Orvan was asked for photos a few times, and if he could be hugged (I doubt he's ever too busy for that) and even got some scritches. I didn't hear anything negative, at all, and heard or overheard or experienced a lot of positive things. Hearing, "We have to follow him" on the way to Closing Ceremonies is still with me, and I really I wish I had equipped Orvan with something for the folks who asked, "Do you have anything for me?" I have an idea or two for that, but I'm not saying going to announce anything.

I was a bit surprised Sunday night, as Jay and I were about to leave the Aegis compound, that Sal thanked me for making the con more memorable (or interesting. It was late and I was tired.) and as I was walking away I think he mentioned to some folks that I was the ox. I thought it was common knowledge by then, but I thought I heard a bit of a reaction from folks that indicated, "That was him?" Jay told me either on the way to or from Sal's that when Orvan had looked in on the class he was teaching, he used that as a bit of a test. Orvan does tend to stand out, so he asked who had noticed the yak. Orvan had been getting mistaken for a yak or a gnu again, but not quite as often as last year, I think.

Things I wound up doing that I hadn't expected to do, at least not pre-ACME Delivery:

1. Make anything "steampunk."
2. "Kill" a badger.
3. Generate sawdust purely for the sake of generating sawdust.
4. Sew steel wool to felt. For anything, really.
5. Build an "F-bomb" (and get a cookie for it!)

But then, it's ACME. You can easily end up collecting odd items and doing some strange things when you become one of ACME's suppliers. More than once I've been able to answer questions like, "What are you doing?" or "What's that for?" with "It's for ACME."and have that be all the explanation needed.

Tags: acme, orvan, penguicon
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