Cometary Tales Blog Lessons of a BayCon Gofer: There Is No Dog

Lessons of a BayCon Gofer: There Is No Dog

The final day of a convention can be a downer: games are ending, there are no parties pending, the con suite is running short on the good stuff, some people you just got to know are leaving early, and—not the least of it—you’re really, really tired.

The Signs Are On the Wall

The Signs Are Coming Off The Walls, Now

I wasn’t due for “work” until afternoon, but I roused myself earlier, for the last DIY project—Make A Parasol (see Firefly).   Alas, I’d missed a program schedule update & the project was over. Long over—it had happened the day before! Won’t happen this year—I’ve finally joined the Smartphone Universe & so have access to the online schedule for BayCon 2015.


There's Planets Around Them Thar Stars

There’s Planets Around Them Thar Stars

I did have a backup plan—a panel discussion on new discoveries about extrasolar planets. But I’m kind of a Kepler fanatic, so the information being shared was, well, old hat. I found myself nodding off while people were talking about one of my favorite subjects.

So off to the Gofer Hole to check in and claim my spot as the Art Show Gofer. The day wasn’t boring any more.

My Final Badge-Ribbon Collection, Nowhere Near Championship Length

My Final Badge-Ribbon Set, Actually a Relatively Small Collection

I had my chance to be part of the Art Auction. That was cool—I’ve never been, because I can’t afford to bid anything near what auction items should go for. Instead, I got to set up bidder numbers for folks who did have the resources and were eager to support these wonderful artists.

Once the Auction wound down, I got to be on the giving end of the Art Show. That is, folks queued up to collect the pieces they’d won in the silent bidding and—later on—the auction. The staff took care of the official tasks of collecting payments and pacifying people who’d not won the pieces they wanted. As a Gofer, I fetched their purchases (from the stacks we’d so carefully arranged the night before) and saw those their faces light up with happiness.

Eventually, all but a few of the neat stacks were gone. A few winning bidders were late to collect their prizes. But we set those safely aside.

In the meantime, all afternoon, artists were coming by and packing up any pieces that hadn’t sold. We helped if needed—fetching supplies, finding paperwork they needed, taking down labels and hooks from the display boards—and it was cool to get to talk directly with the artists. Several artists had entrusted the convention staff to display the work on their behalf, having shipped the art with their registration forms. Most had a piece or two still unsold, and these needed to be repacked for shipping homeward. The original boxes were not necessarily available, so I made the rounds of the vendor room to scrounge empty boxes.

Gradually, one by one, the display boards were emptied, we collected all the hooks, labels, and trash, and the staff tracked down the last of the tardy winning bidders.

It was time to empty the room. Load-out time. Most of the stuff needing shifted was heavy—pegboards, frames, bins full of papers and supplies. So I called dibs on the job of getting all the art-to-be-shipped-home safely out to the Art Show director’s car. It took a few trips through a lobby full of exhausted attendees and staffers. Then I glommed onto an empty luggage cart. Plus, the Gofer King was one of the staffers in the lobby and he dispatched an idle Gofer to help on my last round. Whew.

So, most of these events end with what they call Dead Dog.   That’s one of the things you hear staffers talking about near the end of a convention, but they don’t share with mere members what exactly that is. The deep dark secret is: it’s a party. It’s the staff party that happens when everything’s over, the attendees have gone, and all the clean-up work that can get done is done. Aha, it’s what theater types call a strike party.

Kris & Alison, Art Show Maestrae

Kris & Alison, Art Show Maestrae, at Dead Dog

Generally speaking, it’s a Staff event, but Gofers who stick it out all the way to the end are welcomed into the party. There’s food. All the leftovers from the weekend, that no-one wants to have to haul home. All the ice-cold sodas left in the Magic Charity Soda Machine. Meanwhile, the hard-core staffers take the opportunity to give thank-you speeches to each other and praise the folks who’ve stepped up to chair the event next year.

It felt a little like crashing the party at that point, but the Art Show leaders were saying nice things to me, so I felt better. And Alison asked if maybe I’d help her as staff in 2015.  And finally, finally, I gathered up my own art purchases, and Went Home.


Art Show Victory!

2015 Art Show Staff!

Gofer Lesson of the Day:  If you stick it out to the end of everything, you can get into the fabulous Dead Dog party.  There will probably not be any dogs there, just tired-out volunteers.  Like you.

How to do this:

Method #1:  Walk into the Gofer Hole and sign up.  You do need to be 16, but there’s no upper limit.  Yes, really, you, too, can be a middle-aged Gofer.  For BayCon 2015, the secret lair is in Tasman.  Go up the escalator, turn right and it’ll be on your right before you reach the convention center.

Method #2:  Email the King of the Gofers.  That’s  You get double credit for helping at setup on the day before the convention starts. If you’re super-eager to help & don’t get a reply, email me ( and I’ll help you make contact.

You might also like to read:

Machine DesignMachine Design


I draw for you the art of Leonardo:
A man whose legs are feathered airfoils
of that smooth asymmetric camber
which folds the wind under an eagle’s wings.
A man poised in a cage of struts and sailcloth,
curved like the feathers on the haft of an arrow,
an apparatus geared to spin, to lift him free.
The paintings were for money.
This poem first appeared in Hadrosaur Tales #19, 2004.  You can still find copies of the original Hadrosaur Tales online at clarkesworldbooks.  Meanwhile, Hadrosaur Productions now publishes a new magazine, Tales of the Talisman, as well as novels, short fiction collections, and audio recordings.  Look them up at


Good News, Everyone!Good News, Everyone!

“Good news everyone! I’m sending you on an extremely controversial mission!”
―Professor Hugo Farnsworth, “The Birdbot of Ice-Catraz”, Futurama

It’s graduation season, and I’m in post-production now after playing the role of Audience Member in three recent productions of Commencement 2014. At UC Berkeley’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Professor Tanya Atwater of UC Santa Barbara provided the keynote address. She was excited to report on her experience as part of the team writing the new science standards.  For members of the EPS department, the “good news” is that the new standards specifically include Earth & Space Science as one of four core disciplines.  Advocates of coding-in-every-classroom will also be happy that one of the four is “Engineering, Technology, and Applications”, though they may be disappointed to find that coding is not all there is to technology.

However, as Professor Atwater pointed out, this is a creation devised by a committee, and a large one at that.  These standards are huge, complex, and demanding.  I won’t be surprised if primary teachers throw up their hands and say “Heck, the old Science Framework was complicated enough!  We’re going back to literature, thanks a lot.” I had a peek at a few pages–the new standard can be surveyed in an interactively, online.  For instance, if you select Grade 1 and Physical Sciences, you are taken to a page entitled Waves and Their Applications in Technologies for Information Transfer

If that’s not enough to send your primary-grade teacher screaming to the arts-and-crafts cupboard, he/she is then presented with a grid of expectations about what first-graders should be able to understand and demonstrate about waves, from sound waves to light waves.  I can tell by the “clarifying statements” and all the hyperlinks to definitions for everything from the requirement that students “Make observations to construct an evidence-based account” to explaining that you use “Cause and Effect” to show that when the lights are off you can’t see objects.  Well, says the gamer kid, what if I have my night-vision goggles on? 

Meanwhile, the teacher is supposed to be tracing all the Common-Core standards links and the cross-discipline values obtained.  As an engineer, I find that sort of thing daunting, while I suspect most trained teachers find those elements-links an easy yawn–it’s the demand they convey science skills to kids at what seems to be a very sophisticated level that presents a barrier.   Remember, it’s unusual for an elementary-school teacher to enter the field with more than a bare minimum of science or technology training.

Not good news?  Well, it may be good news for some students currently graduating in the sciences–the new standards create a market for teachers who have science toolkits ready to hand.   And if states are not too heavy-handed in adopting these standards, the NGSS provides tons of leeway in the actual curriculum developed and in both straight-up statements and in the subtext of the descriptive matter the NGSS strongly urges the use of hands-on, experiential learning techniques.  That’s good, especially in elementary school, because hands-on activities are the best, overall, at evoking those Aha! moments that make science exciting.  What the scientists working on that committee were most excited about was the prospect of bringing that thrill to more students, not only to attract some to actually becoming scientists or engineers but also to allow those following other paths to understand what motivates the ones who do follow the siren song of science.

For example, if you jumped to Professor Atwater’s page, you’d have read her non-committee-developed description of her motivations to teach and her love for science, “In lecture, I used to think I wasn’t a good scientist if I admitted my passion. No more. In the last few years I have adopted a style of expressing my delight along with sharing why I’m delighted – the intricate order and sense (and, sometimes, irony) of how things work – wonderful!”

One of my best experiences during Commencement Week was talking about education with a Kindergarten teacher who was struggling with making sure his (yeah, don’t go sexist on me–men can so teach kindergarten) students each got the attention they needed, despite a class size of more than thirty, in a year when he had no parent volunteers to help out.  And though he was looking forward to summer vacation, he was the most interested to hear about some of my “Messy Monday” science experiences.   As a result, I’m determined that the next couple of activities I put up here under the “Messy Monday” label will be ones targeted to the K-2 crowd.

So, well, the new science standards, if you can get past the committee-style presentation, could be turned into good news.   Let’s get kids doing the kind of science that comes naturally to them:  trying things out, making mistakes, watching what happens.  Let’s help them break free of seeing what they expect to see–it’s those wow moments of unexpectedness that give doing science that endorphin rush.  It’s when the comet is chasing its tail on its way out of the inner Solar System or a water jet sprays farther than you guessed or you suddenly realize that a rainbow isn’t part of a prism or a raincloud or even a soap bubble–it’s the light itself that makes the rainbow.


On recent weather in OklahomaOn recent weather in Oklahoma

Though it seems I just got started on the Grand Canyon project, this day is one to set aside for thinking about tornadoes.   This afternoon, I listened on the radio to an interview with a recent immigrant from California to Moore, Oklahoma.  With tears in her voice, she spoke of how “scary, really scary” she found frequent tornadoes in her adopted home state.   When I interned at Argonne National Lab many many many years ago, a local described the tornado that had passed through the fringe of the lab a few years previously.  He said the noise of the approaching tornado made him think of a T. Rex roaring through the forest.  This was before the Jurassic Park movies had transformed T. Rex into a helpful bad-guy removing plot device.   Classic tornado image courtesy of NOAA

On the positive side, just down the road from Moore, college students at the University of Oklahoma are designing ways to use the DOD money invested in drone technology to create drones capable of collecting essential data which will vastly improve the ability to forecast tornadoes and predict their motions more accurately.  Check out their work at the Government Technology e-mag page.   To understand how important it is to gather data to analyze, consider this NOAA consolidation of data over time which suggests when and where tornadoes are most likely…you can check in on these data on NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center site, daily.



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