By Northern Lights

Johan’s post on Tystnad (Män, kvinnor och science fiction kongresser) speculates how Paul Cornell’s gender balance initiative might factor into his planning for this year’s Swedish natcon program:

As you who read Silence [Tystnad] either know or will become painfully aware of the next six months is Maria, Daniel, and I [are] is arranging this year’s major Swedish science fiction and fantasykongress, Contrast (swecon 2012). Since I am auditor in charge of the programme, as well as a part of the Committee for Åcon, a lot of my time is devoted to reflect[ing] on suitable [topics] to talk about – and who would be able to talk about them.

Reading the post with the help of, I learned he holds some views in common with the conrunners quoted here the other day. Johan acknowledges that it’s not easy to gender balance a convention’s slate of participants, much less individual panels. However, he is also concerned with avoiding the bias reflected in society at large:

There are several studies which have once again and again have landed in the same results. In a situation in which as many skilled men as competent women are available we are more inclined to choose more men than women in order to keep the public discussions. It is bad.

He also points out the challenge of balancing panels at local cons in Sweden where they may have no more than 20 program participants altogether.

[Again, don’t blame Johan for any infelicities in phrasing, since this has all been translated from the original language by a computer.]

Pass-Along Funds

Two Worldcons distributed pass-along funds last year but the good deed seems to have gone unpublicized. The pass-along policy is a commitment to distribute at least one-half of a Worldcon’s surplus to the next three Worldcons that make the same promise.

Renovation, the 2011 Worldcon, gave $20,000 each to LoneStarCon 3 and Chicon 7. John Lorentz says they have another $20,000 in hand to give the 2014 site selection winner. And, adds John, “We expect that there will be a few thousand more for each of them once our final numbers are a little firmer later this spring.”

AussieCon 4 also sent pass-along funds to LoneStarCon 3, another $5,000 check on top of the amount already paid, making a total of $8,400 given to LSC3 from the 2010 Worldcon surplus.

Then, Renovation chair Patty Wells revealed the 2011 Worldcon made its first donation of surplus funds besides the pass-along. They gave $20,000 to the Susan C. Petrey Foundation to fund scholarships and fellowships to Clarion and Clarion West. The Petrey Foundation is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

Other donations will follow. For example, Wells said she is working with the Illustration Master Class as a possible recipient of funds for use in encouraging artist talent.

Spokane’s Date

The Spokane in 2015 Worldcon bid, says Marah Searle-Kovacevic, would hold its proposed Worldcon from August 19-23.

The bid started off with facilities commitments for Labor Day weekend, then negotiated a change in response to fans’ comments at Renovation.

Presumably this happened some time ago but – echo echo echo – it was news to me, and the information hasn’t been added to the bid’s webpage.

My Burning Ears

Mark Plummer’s new Paraphernalia column for Strange Horizons, Disclosing the Ancient Mysteries, arbitrates the controversy between rulesmakers and bloggers who want to be eligible for the Best Fanzine Hugo.

He uses my post Bleep My Dad Says About the Fan Hugos to lead into the topic, which I might take as a compliment but for the hints that I indulged in a wee bit of exaggeration about the number of bloggers who are upset by the situation:

I’m always slightly troubled by vague statements like this which lack any real citation or attribution. Just how widely held is this paraphrased opinion? Sufficiently that it could in any way be interpreted as a movement? Or is it just a couple of people? Or one? I don’t think I’d seen anything matching Mike’s characterisation myself…

Mark, permit me to be your Google research monkey.

Undoubtedly reaching the widest audience was George R.R. Martin’s Hugo Awards – Closing Comments on Not A Blog:

The Best Fanzine category is one of the oldest Hugo Awards, but it is currently embroiled in controversy. Traditional print fanzines are still around, though both their numbers and their readership are dwindling, and in recent years the fans have been nominating things like e-zines, blogs, and podcasts in this category. Last year at Reno, a rules change was enacted to exclude all those new forms of fanac from this category. If that change is ratified in Chicago, Best Fanzine will once again become the exclusive property of traditional fanzines. If you don’t own a mimeograph machine, you need not apply. However (1) the change needs to be ratified, if it is defeated at this year’s business meeting, it will not take effect, (2) it is NOT in effect this year, so this may be the last year when e-zines, blogs, and podcasts can be nominated. As I think you can tell by my sarcastic tone, I am opposed to the change. I think there are some great fannish blogs and e-zines and podcasts out there, I think they are the future, and I’m going to nominate a bunch of them.

George proceeded to list his nominees. When the final Hugo ballot comes out we will discover just how influential he is.

Aidan Moher amplified George’s case in Hey, GRRM agrees with me! (with links to Moher’s own posts on the same topic and his own set of recommendations).

Stefan Raets’ arguments for the eligibility of blogs in Love a Blog, Nominate It posted at Far Beyond Reality also proved quite popular, given a signal boost by Only the Best Sci-Fi (Bloggers and the Hugo Awards), Fantasy Café (Hugo Awards 2012: The Year of the Book Blogger?) and Moher again (An Aside | On Bloggers and the Hugo Awards).

I’ve helped engineer hoaxes now and then (remember the fake Cleveland apa, Elst?). Not this time. I did not make up the bloggers’ outrage about the Best Fanzine category..

I should also say that Mark’s transition from my post to his comments on Ian Mond’s Let’s Replace the Best Fanzine Category with Best Blog, which uses humor with mortal effectiveness to reinforce all the clichés about superannuated fanzine fans, may have left readers with the impression my views are opposite what they are – it’s not part of my mission to keep blogs out of the Best Fanzine category.

Rather, what I said irks me is the annual effort to generate a dogpile that produces a block vote for a representative Hugo nominee. It’s that need to artificially create a groundswell that turns me off. The annual blogger’s Occupy movement. I don’t object to blogs. I object to Hugo nomination campaigns.

I also question the beneficiaries of this energy. Have they been the kinds of blogs fans complain are being unjustly excluded? Of course not. Not in the Best Fanzine category. Steamrolling over the field in 2009 was a fiction zine, Electric Velocipede, and in 2010 a podcast, Starship Sofa.

No blogs.

The campaigns of 2009 and 2010 helped mobilize effective opposition and led to the rules change George R.R. Martin and others dislike. What if the fans supporting this trend had used their political capital to nominate the quality blogs they protest are being unjustly overlooked? Often it is wisest to start as you mean to go on. Had supporters of blog eligibility chosen to do so it would have been harder to characterize the results as a hack of the Hugo Awards that demanded a rules fix.

More Feedback on Cornell

Steven H Silver organized the 2000 Worldcon as well as other convention programs. Here is his commentary on Paul Cornell’s initiative.

Steven H Silver: I’m aware of Paul’s idea and certainly have some opinions about it.  Not sure I can crunch complete numbers to give you anything specific, although I quickly ran the first few hours of Chicon 2000 Programming (because I have them on-line and the Windycon programs I’ve done aren’t as accessible) and came up with the following:

Of the first 35 Panels…

Men outnumbered women on panels by more than 2 on 8 panels
Women outnumbered men on panels by more than 2 on 6 panels
Perfect parity on 3 panels
Men outnumbered women by 1 on 6 panels
Women outnumbered men by 1 on 5 panels
The remaining items only had one person on them

My approach is to look at the people I have available as panelists, understand their strengths and weaknesses and assign them to panels where I think they have something to add to the topic and will be interesting.  I try to avoid using people to simply fill quotas since people’s skills and knowledge sets are not interchangeable.

I have real issues with people tampering with my programs because they (probably) don’t understand the personalities involved, the concepts behind the panels, and the reasoning given for including the people who are included.

Some panels, by their nature, are going to be heavily slanted towards male or female panelists. Others will be slanted because the panelist pool for the convention is limiting.  I’d love, for instance, to have a panel on women writers in the comic industry, but first I need a convention which provides me with enough women who write comics who will be in attendance.

Paul’s approach would certainly make me less likely to use someone who feels that they have the right to create a scene and mess with programming.  The proper approach would be to contact programming with concerns when the program is set up and open up a dialogue to, perhaps, understand why certain decisions were made, rather than issuing ultimatums.

I spend a lot of hours each time I create a programming schedule to try to get a good balance of people, by gender or interest or experience, depending on what any given panel topic is.  For a panelist to unilaterally change a panel indicates that the panelist doesn’t understand what goes on behind the scenes and seems to think that all panelists are created equally, which, if it were the case, would mean that we could simply toss names into a hat and pull them out at random to determine who should be on a panel.

If Paul were to attend a convention where I was running programming, I would most likely treat his request the same way I would treat a panelist’s request not be be put on a panel with Person A or schedule them for a panel before Noon.  It would be something to strive for, but I wouldn’t do it to the detriment of a panel.  If I had a great panel idea and Paul was a potential panelist and the other four panelists who fit the theme were also men, my choice would be to put together a panel of four without Paul or of all five and worry about Paul becoming a panelist vigilante.  In that case, I’d choose the four-person panel.  Paul wouldn’t have achieved parity for that particular panel and the attendees may find themselves with a slightly weaker panel in the process.

Conrunners React to Cornell Initiative

Paul Cornell and Si Spurrier have called for a 50/50 male/female balance on all convention programs.

I am terribly prone to complacency, therefore, regardless of my initial skeptical reaction to the implied criticism, I think anybody who puts himself out there trying to raise the bar for con runners is doing me a service just by making me think about why I do things the way I do.

Although I don’t believe in being ruled by a canned number, I do believe in getting more women on programming. I was willing to ask — how well am I really doing? (See “Program Participation as Civil Disobedience”.)

Next, I wanted to know how other convention program organizers feel about Cornell’s initiative. Will it make any difference? Should it? How practical is it? I reached out to a dozen experienced conrunners (plus fandom’s best-known program reporter) with these questions:

  • What is your approach is to gender parity on panel programs?
  • Do you think Cornell’s initiative will change or has already changed your approach?
  • Do you have any comments on Paul Cornell’s and Si Spurrier’s actions?

Responses came back from Emily Coombs, Janice Gelb, Evelyn Leeper, Jim Mann, Craig Miller, Priscilla Olson, Arlene Satin and two fans preferring to remain unnamed. Most of their comments were so deeply thoughtful I decided to run them in full. That makes for a long post, of course, so I have placed their views after the jump.

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Jacq Starts TAFF Trip

Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund delegate Jacq Monahan arrived in England today.

Commemorating the start of her trip, a new issue of All Jacq’d Up #4 [PDF file] has been posted at eFanzines.

The issue lists Jacq’s TAFF trip schedule on the last page, which Nic Farey suggested I post so everyone can follow her adventures:

Date Location / Host(s) / (Activities)

Mar 21 (Weds) Croydon / Fishlifters
Mar 22 (Thurs) London / Dave Hodson
Mar 23 (Fri) London / Dave Hodson
Mar 24 (Sat) London / Dave Hodson
Mar 25 (Sun) Croydon / Fishlifters (Sunday lunch; Sunday night pub meet)
Mar 26 (Mon) Ramsbury / Uncle Johnny (Neilsen Hall)
Mar 27 (Tues) Ramsbury / Uncle Johnny (Stonehenge)
Mar 28 (Weds) Cambridge / Jim & Carrie Mowatt
Mar 29 (Thurs) Cambridge / Jim & Carrie Mowatt
Mar 30 (Fri) Solihull / Steve Green (Dinner with Brum Group)
Mar 31 (Sat) Solihull / Steve Green (Grey Lodge)
Apr 1 (Sun) Solihull / Steve Green (Stratford-upon-Avon)
Apr 2 (Mon) Sheffield / Doug Spencer/Julia Daly
Apr 3 (Tues) Sheffield / Doug Spencer/Julia Daly
Apr 4 (Weds) Sheffield / Doug Spencer/Julia Daly
Apr 5 (Thurs) London / Convention hotel (First Thursday)
Apr 6 (Fri) EASTERCON / Convention hotel
Apr 7 (Sat) EASTERCON / Convention hotel
Apr 8 (Sun) EASTERCON / Convention hotel
Apr 9 (Mon) EASTERCON / Convention hotel
Apr 10 (Tues) Return flight

Mars Exploration Not for Profit?

The U.S. Tax Court has ruled that Donald Carl Barker, a former NASA systems manager, isn’t allowed to deduct expenses for his space exploration activity because he didn’t engage in it for profit.

The Tax Court thought the activity was commendable (“We do not fault petitioner’s strong passion for Mars exploration and its related technology. We believe he pursues a noble cause that one day could provide benefits to all humanity.”) The problem, in the Court’s view, was that Barker didn’t show he was still regularly and actively involved in his business activity in the year of the deductions, 2006. So they ruled against him.

Barker was developing a “Mars audio system” for use with the Martian surface suit. Derived from the Mars Polar Lander flight hardware, his audio system incorporated low power, low cost, off-the-shelf components including an intelligent sound processing chip, hearing-aid style electric microphones, and miniaturized speakers.

His system was field tested in 2002 at the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, a reference that caught my eye because File 770 covered David Levine’s stint at the MDRS in 2009. (See ”Meanwhile, Back on Mars…”)

The full opinion was posted March 20 at the Tax Court website — Donald Carl Barker v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2012-77 [PDF file]