zondag 19 augustus 2012

Dealing with hot weather

Been out for a while organizing a part of a convention myself, haven't had time to update recently. Sorry for that! Anyway, seeing how the weather has turned out for the coming week this items seemed appropriate.

A convention is mostly a closed building with a LOT of people in it. Heat accumulates easily in these cases. With dehydration lurking at every corner en a heat stroke ready to  jump you, you need to arm yourself with knowledge and items that aid you in your time of need. Because knowing IS half the battle!

Now, some of you who have read one of my earlier post may remember I mentioned a towel. This is a perfect item with hot weather. Wear it over your shoulders. It works like a heat sink, drawing out the heat. You may look like an idiot, but at least you're not that hot anymore. A washcloth can be a great item for cooling down. Make it wet, wring it out and put in on your head when taking a rest. It will draw out the heat from your head an body.

Here are the main things you should keep in mind:

  • The worst time of the day is between 12 and 15 hours. The sun is hottest then. Only go outside if you have to and stay inn the shade where possible.
  • Keep hydrated! Have a plastic bottle on you and refill it as soon as it's empty. Soft drinks can provide you with needed sugar, mineral water with minerals, a little sodium and other good stuff.
  • Try to avoid using energy drinks and coffee during the day caffeine can dehydrate you if you consume too much.
  • Ewing something salty can be be good for you. Sodium helps you fluid balance. Too much can put quite a strain on your body however, so be careful. No more than 6 mg a day in many cases. You lose it via sweat, and it's a very important mineral for you body to function. Sodium is found in small quantities in every food product.
You may also want to check out my post on nutrition on this one: Getting your noms: nutrition and hydration. Eating right and three times a day keeps your body running at optimal performance!

Until next time!

dinsdag 10 juli 2012

Cosplay and the problems it brings

I had put the Convention Survival Guide on hiatus because of... Stuff in my life. But now I'm back up and running and I'll try too update at least once a week.

I have cosplayed myself a few times and found there are some... specific problems. Cosplaying is fun, but requires a ton of planning. Which sometimes needs to be chucked out the door because you where a bit too eager to do a certain cosplay. Trust me, been there, done that, got the T-shirt. Several, to be honest. But that is a different story.

But how do  you prepare best for a convention when it involves cosplay? Are there certain things you need to do or take care of? Yes, plenty to be honest. First off, conventions are crowded, so floppy wings, long swords and staffs or bulky props are photoshoot only. Keep it in your room or at a wardrobe so the nice steward doesn't have to give you an earful about how your prop is a dangerous thing. Second, make your cosplay sturdy. A lot of people means it may break when faced with a crowd.I know there will be some groans with the first advice, but trust me, you'll keep yourself out of a whole lot of trouble but NOT taking such things. As an addition to the second advice; take a sewing kit with you. Breakdowns do happen, be prepared to fix it fast.

On to competitions. Fashion shows are all about you costume, so you wanna go mad on it. Plan a year ahead, from purchase of materials to completion of the costume. Pick your battles: do you want to wow the judges with a big project with lots of bells and whistles or just cram lots of detail in a simple suit. Take logistics in consideration as well! What good is a fantastic cosplay if you can't take it with you.

Act competitions are a whole other animal. A strong script, good overall concept, performance and sound/visual design are important here. Nobody wants to see an act of Sasuke en Naruto kissing any more. It's boring and uninteresting. Drama scores low too. Keep it light upbeat and at a good pace. Fast enough to keep everyone's attention but slow enough to understand what's going on. Place characters in situations that takes them way out of their comfort zone or have a character say or do something out of left field. It may shock fans before they laugh.

For both competitions the same thing applies: read the rules, thoroughly. Find out what deadlines you have. Write several drafts of your script and have others judge or scrutinize it. Criticize your own work and push your boundaries. Only then you can truly know the art... of cos-play.

Until next time!

dinsdag 10 april 2012

Err, how do I get there?

Today we'll be talking about transportation! Planes, trains and automobiles are there to get us where we want to go, but it takes a bit of planning to use them right. I know I already used this one, but it quite appropriate:

In this post we will be talking about travel and the preparations you need to make. We'll be doing a abridged version (sorry, no funny voices) as the hardcover will treat this subject more extensively.

Now, let's start with our favorite four-wheeled friend the automobile (or car, if you prefer). This mode of transport gives you a great amount of flexibility, more control over your route and (hopefully) less stops. However, this may be the second most expensive method of travel if using it alone: fuel cost and parking fees. 

At some conventions the parking is free (for example, at Abunaicon). Other conventions offer the service of a parking garage. Here you need to pay attention to the fee for a day ard. Pay on the third day and refrain from getting the car out of the parking garage as much as possible in that case. Fuel costs you can reduce by carpooling. If everyone chips in the cost per person soon drops. Parking fees work the same way.

A car will also offer more flexibility with luggage. No lugging it around on platforms and bus stops. Station cars will change your life in that retrospect, but a big sedan will do too. Packing can be a challenge, but with some smart puzzling you can get it done. If you look for flexibility, the car is your Swiss army knife.

I think planes aren't used that much in the European convention scene, but it is in the American. When flying, try to book your flight with an airline that has good cost-to-service ratio. Cheap flights don't immediately bad service, but you pay for what you get and the other way around (which is by no means the same thing). Also, choose your method of transport to the airport wisely. If a Taxi can get you there, use one. Otherwise trains can be a better way to go. Most airports have a train station. Make it a point to be there at least two hours before your plain leaves. Tax free shopping is time consuming work ;). Check to see what gate you're leaving at and write it down in your agenda or phone. Also, have your I.D. at the ready for custom and border control checks. If you done all these thing, you'll be peachy.

With the first two out of the way we've come to our final (two) mode(s) of transport: coaches and trains. They are a cost effective way to travel long hauls. However, choosing the first one may result in a long uncomfortable ride. Coaches can be cramped but are also dirt cheap. My experiences are with European ones, I don't know about greyhound and there competitors. Trains are much more comfortable on really long hauls and get you pretty close where you want to go. Most of the time you can grab a bus or even walk to the convention. Prepare for a long day (or even a set of days) of travelling, use a portable gaming device or a good book to pass the time on your trip. Also take an extra battery (if possible, otherwise a battery-pack) for your (smart)phone with you and have all documentation handy for checks. Doing that, you'll be just fine.

Chapter one of the hardcover (in progress) will treat this subject more in depth. Keep an eye on the facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/ConventionSurvivalGuide) for progress and updates.

donderdag 8 maart 2012

Gophers? Aren't those rodents?

All conventions have staff and crew. The staff are the people who worked all year round to make this event happen. The crew are volunteers, people that are hired to do catering, security or technical staff. Volunteers can be divided between two groups: Gophers and Stewards.

Gophers are volunteers that help out setting everything up. They lug around equipment, set up tables and chairs and help out with cleaning up messes. That you guys made... They do it because they enjoy doing it. But sometimes people are giving them a hard time. Clogging up corridors, getting in their way or keeping them from going about their business. In these situations, be considerate and let them do what they need to be doing. You wouldn't like it if someone kept you from doing the things you need to do, right?

Stewards help out with security. They keep people out of rooms they're not supposed to be, wrangle the queues and provide general support for gophers and staff. If they ask you not to do something, just don't. They are here for your safety and protection, not just for keeping you out of the staff's and gopher's hair. Listen to them if they ask you something, they have your well being in mind.

Why am I bringing that up? Simple. Each and everyone in these groups are human beings. They can get stressed, tired or cranky. This is, however, no excuse to vent this towards visitors. You now know what they are allowed to do, but you now also know what they aren't. If you see a steward or a staff-member power-tripping, walk up to another steward and report this. A staff-member will be alerted and will put this person in his or her place. In my entire career I only pulled rank twice, but in most cases I treat others as equals. You're here to have fun and it's the staff and crew's job to make sure you have.

In short: if you see anything that does not comply with the rules, or if you see anyone of the staff or the crew treat others the way they shouldn't, report this. It can then be dealt with. Reporting it well after the event is a bit useless, so do it right away!

Rules? There where rules!?

Every convention you got to has rules. Some are similar, some differ quite a but. It's YOUR job to know these rules in and out. It's embarrassing when you get into an argument with a steward when you're holding the rules in your hand. 

It's always a good idea to read the rules fully. They're posted on the website of the convention most of the time, otherwise request the organisation to mail you a copy of them. This will keep you out of trouble and allow you to plan your day a lot better. You now know what you can and can't do after all!

Please be aware that these rules exist for your safety in the first place. Also, the convention itself may be held liable for the things their visitors do. You wouldn't want to be responsible for a convention not held anymore, would you? It may sound a bit severe, but a lot off stuff happens at a convention that shouldn't. There are people harassing others or trying to deal drugs. It's not only against the rules, but also against the law. Also, a lot of cosplayers want to bring weapons for their cosplay. The convention staff often has a hard time trying to explain they can't. The reason for this is quite simple: conventions are crowded places, you could hurt others without knowing it. Next to that, some items are not allowed because of dutch law. Stuff like metal daggers and guns. Some events do allow it, but check the rules before you bring them.

Dealing with problems and people
Sometimes things go wrong. You as a visitor shouldn't have to deal with it, but when you do, be sure to tell someone representing the organisation. If you catch someone dealing drugs or stealing, harassment, stalking or other mayhem, walk up to a steward and report this person. The staff will handle it from there discretely. You can help them make the convention a safer place. Same thing goes for bootlegs in a Dealer Room. Walk up to a steward, gopher or staff member and report it. They'll handle it from there on.

Use your head and common sense, read the rules and you'll be allright!

maandag 5 maart 2012

The Dealer Room: Running the gauntlet.

The Dealer Room can be a fun place to be. It can show you a good spread of goodies. It can be a treasure trove to some, where lost treasures are to be found. That one item you have been looking for all this time. But also a trilling bargain hunt can give you a lot of pleasure. However, this post's PSA addresses a serious problem I've often encountered:

That´s what this post is all about: how to get through the dealer room and get your goodies out safely.

Preparation is also half the battle
The dealer room is a crowded place. A lot of folks will be visiting the same stands as you. However, don't rush to the nearest stand because the have some cool stuff. Plan your stay carefully, maybe visit again later. Here's a good way to get through a dealer room relatively unscathed:

  • Survey the room, find the exit, check the aisle between dealers.
  • Do a "dry run" first. Find out what all dealers are selling.
  • Plan your route.
  • Balance your budget. Remember; you'll need to eat and get home!
  • Make your purchases.
  • Use your route for a safe exit.
  • Drop your goodies at the wardrobe or in your room.

When you're planning your route, be sure to check for shortcuts through other aisles, check for big crowds and avoid those. Stick to these tips and you'll be safe ;).

Getting your goodies
Something that is fairly unique in a Dealer Room is a possibility to haggle. Ask what an item costs and offer a lower price. This only works at the end of the day or on a Sunday. Most of the time you can really bring the price down if you know how to haggle properly. Don't offer peanuts when they want walnuts. This can save you a small bundle if you do it right.

This only works on less popular items. For popular ones, find the cheapest dealer buy it right away. Because those will be sold out by Sunday. If the convention is only a single day apply this rule as a default.

Also prioritize your purchases. If you can get something you want nice and cheap somewhere else, try to haggle, if unsuccessful you will be left with two choices: a) walk away and buy it at a cheaper store/ebay or b)buy it at that price and support the dealer. Sometimes it's better to pay a little more to give back to our community. The dealers pay good money to be in the dealer room. You can make it worth their wile. They may bring even nicer goodies next year if they have a good run.

In closing I'd like to add to remember that the dealer room is not a hangout. To quote Walter:

"Welcome to the Dealer Room. Get yer shit and get out!"

Otaku Funk: it's real.

We all have experienced it. That disturbing smell in the smaller places of a convention or in lines. A pungent sensation ramming itself up your nose relentlessly. It's B.O. in it's purest form. The silent menace... Otaku Funk...

I couldn't find an appropriate one, so this is the next best thing...

Back in the day when I started nearly six years ago I actually requested if I could turn the hose on visitors. Just to make sure they took care of personal hygiene, I also tried to get a deodorant manufacturer to sponsor us for free deodorant samples. Why? Because people on convention generally have poor personal hygiene.

In the "Urban Dictionary" we find the following definition:

1.Otaku Funk19 up8 down
The pungent smell when multiple hardcore anime fans or "otaku/weaboo" have gathered. This is mostly due to lack of proper hygiene.
I stopped going to anime conventions because of the Otaku Funk.

The Otaku Funk at his place is over 9x10^3

The funk is strong with this one
Washing yourself in the morning and taking a shower in the evening are by no means a luxury. It's even considerate to your fellow visitors. Oddly, it's mostly men that have this, erm, "problem". But as I always say, there is no problem as long as there is a solution. So, onto solving this little inconvenience. 

 extra bottle of deodorant should be on your person at all times. Use it when you get sweaty. Also, pack some extra t-shirt for the convention, don't wear the same on for more than a day at a time. If you plan to volunteer, take a clothing rack with you and hang you shirt out to air out a bit. Febreze is your friend here. Use it to treat stinky clothing.
Regular showering and washing yourself properly in the morning helps you getting rid of unwanted odors.

Using an anti-transpiration deodorant is also a good idea. I prefer Rexona or Gillette. Works like a charm. Body sprays can complement these perfectly. Plus you smell nice all around. So when you stand in a line and you smell something odd, check yourself first...

zondag 4 maart 2012

Sleep: you will need it!

Most people are utterly empty after a convention. The reason for this happening is pretty simple: sleep deprivation. There are people that decide the don't want to miss a single second of the convention and go on for 48 to 72 hours. I don't need to tell you (and if I have to, you REALLY need to start paying attention now) that that is a BAD idea.

Getting sleep: you're doing it wrong!
I'd like to tell you a story about a guy, let's call him Steve, who wanted to see everything of the convention. He decided he also wanted to see everything from the video program. So he needed a way to stay up 48 hours. At the time, Steve thought it was a good idea to drink two whole trays of red bull (50 cans) at once. Well, long story short, Steve was brought to a hospital on Sunday because of a burnout... And this isn't a story, this actually happened. It's become an urban legend in the convention scene here, but I was there when it happened. Depriving your body of sleep and using large amounts of stimulating substances is bad for your body on the long term. Your body, but also your mind, NEEDS sleep.  So make sure you get some.

Getting sleep: you're doing it right!
Before you buy your ticket, check out the places where you can stay the night. Some people have an extensive network of friends to fall back on. Couch surfing is always a viable option (http://www.couchsurfing.org/). Check the forums. Sometimes there are threads about hotels, bed and breakfast or youth centers where you can spend a night or two. With these options you can get yourselves a cheap, sometimes free, place to sleep.

Your second option is the hotel where the convention is held or a hotel in the vicinity. Check some booking sites for the best price. Make sure it has breakfast included (free meals are good) otherwise add it. As I said in the previous article, a good breakfast is important. Single rooms are most of the the time just as expensive as a double, but the added privacy can be worth the money in terms of a good night sleep. Plus it can act as a place to store your stuff or cosplays when you're not using them.

hotel room don'ts
First off, I'd like to make something very clear. Bunking with more people in a room than the room allows is not cool, nor is it wise. The safety precautions are for only two people, the escape plan is only meant for the number of people in the hall that the rooms should hold. I do not consider that an option nor do I condone it. It can also cost you the room if the hotel finds out. And NO refunds for this either. You're also jeopardizing the convention itself. If it happens to often the convention may gave to move because the location doesn't want them back.

Also, make sure you leave the room tidy. Clean up your own messes and collect your towels properly. Stuff like vomiting or taking a dump in the trash can (yes, those things have happened on several conventions in several countries) is not only disgusting, it may be that the convention  gets the cleaning bill and may have to do a price hike the next year. So if you wouldn't do it at home, don't do it there.

Other options
If you really wanna go on the cheap you could consider sleeping in your car. Power naps are also a good idea if you get tired and don't wanna go to bed yet. BUT DON'T DO IT IN THE VIDEOROOMS! Or the nice steward may drag you out. Use common sense, build your budget right and you'll be fine.

Getting your noms: Nutrition and Hydration

As a convention staff member, I know how important it is to eat properly and stay hydrated. It has happened more that once that a person fainted because of dehydration or malnutrition. There are a few things you can do to prevent this from happening.

First of all, most conventions are hosted at hotels. They have their own catering, which serves drinks. If you make use of this service make sure you DON'T buy softdrinks like orange soda, cola or anything else sweet. Ask for drinks that contain lemon or other fruits (real juice!) or bottled water. They contain more nutritional elements then soda's. Energy drinks may seem like a good idea, but only drinks like Aquarious and Gatorade  make sense here, since they rehydrate your body effectively.

Bringing stuff will not make the catering staff happy, but have in 0,5 liter (about 0.3 OZ) bottle of water with you at all time is a good idea. Tap water will be readily available but don't overuse it. In some countries drinking this is a BAD idea, thus stick to the aforementioned bottled water, Gatorade and Aquarious.

Now, onto the food. You need three meals a day, no exceptions. Why? To avoid con flu. What now, con flu? Yes, you're in a crowded place, the ac is cranked to max, not everyone is taking care of themselves right and sickness is abundant. You need to arm your body with proper nutrients! To get those, you must eat. But you also have to eat right!

First off, junk food is a firm no-go for weekend conventions. For single day events they can be okay. Get a proper meal at dinner and lunch, try to get a LARGE breakfast. A large breakfast will provide you with a solid basis. In most hotels it's included in the room and an English Breakfast (which I personally prefer). It gets you heaps of protein, iron, vitamins, nitrate and other nutrients. Skip yogurt, cereal and stick to bread, bacon, scrambled eggs, coffee and milk. For lunch, try something with fruit or a nice sandwich to top off your breakfast. For dinner, have yourself a good meal, stay away from foods with too much fat in them. Pasta and (fresh) noodles are good to go. Salads are even better and try to get fruit for desert.

Lastly, snacks! Chocolate snack are great for an energy boost, fruit gums with vitamin c are good supplemental and cookies can't be beat because the hive fiber and sugar. Try chocolate chip cookies! Snack can be a good ice breaker as well, but we'll talk about that in a later entry.