This is the social heart of this type of convention. There are conventions that have had this feature for eighty years, and then there are some events that call themselves conventions but don't have it. The ConSuite is a hospitality suite in the hotel with comfy sofas to relax and talk, where attendees are served complimentary snacks, and a bathtub full of ice and complimentary canned beverages. Some conventions have complimentary beer on tap all weekend, and PenguiCon is one of those! It's open 24 hours, because ScienceFiction conventions have learned the most interesting part of any convention emerges from spontaneous socializing between 10 PM and 3 AM.
PenguiCon's Head of Non-Smoking ConSuite is SteveDeHart, and the Head of Smoking ConSuite is SharNims. There are two [ConSuite]s so that people can smoke and other people can stay away from smoke, but both of them are equally good.
At PenguiCon 1.0 in TwoThousandThree, some of the attendees from the tech side of things had never gone to a ScienceFiction convention and were not familiar with the ConSuite concept. They did not go in there because they didn't know it was there, or something seemed fishy to them about the idea of free food and drinks. So from then on we have made a big deal of the fact that you already paid for it in your admission fee. Now go eat it!
The ConSuite serves bottles of caffienated water called WaterJoe. In fact, in addition to decaf and regular coffee, it offers High Octane coffee brewed with WaterJoe. (Consume at your own risk.) We also serve WoodChuck Cider and on Saturday night we bring out a couple varieties of DragonMead Ale. In TwoThousandFive we started serving an open-source home-brewed beverage called OpenCola, and it was ten times better in TwoThousandSix. TwoThousandSix also saw the premiere of LiquidNitrogenIceCream in the ConSuite, which has been such a hit at PenguiCon's sister convention, LinuCon in Texas. One of these days we're going to serve pizza in a gutted out case from a Power PC Mac.
It is unknown whether we will be able to serve some homebrewed variation on Google's parody beverage, Google Gulp. Wouldn't that be cool?
If you want to get your membership reimbursed (on condition that the con makes money, which so far it always has done), ConSuite needs [VolunteerPenguin]s. The best positions are in ConSuite because you can have fun at the same time, mostly. The easiest one is a DoorGuard. All you have to do is sit at the door checking that each person entering ConSuite has a membership badge.
A more serious and responsible type of VolunteerPenguin in ConSuite is the BeerTroll. We will not let you do this unless we trust you. This person checks drivers licenses and other government-issued proofs of age, and dispenses beer. At PenguiCon the BeerTroll must check government-issued ID with each and every serving of alcohol. No hand stamps, no age-related badges, those are too easy to falsify. Drinking under age or sharing your drink with someone under age is not tolerated and will get the sharer and the underage drinker kicked off the premises immediately and with no registration refund.
The most helpful type of VolunteerPenguin in the ConSuite is the one who takes a shift refilling all the snack dishes and putting more pop in the bathtub full of ice. Whenever I have helped to staff a ConSuite such as BaltiCon or MarCon (not MarsCon) I have obsessive-compulsively topped off the food and drink, almost to the exclusion of all other awareness. These volunteers are also the ones whose absence would make the whole ConSuite unhappy. And nobody wants that.
ConSuite is where the DeadDog party takes place Sunday evening eating up all the food that's left after the convention ends.
Every ConSuite needs couches. It is vital. Bad [ConSuite]s have nothing but table chairs. Hanging draperies and putting up mood lighting might be cool. Balloons are always a good choice and streamers are good if they're placed right. At 2005 ConFusion at the TroyMarriott, me (MattArnold) and Tomak and the hotel staff and several others carried his Minerva statue up through the freight elevator and propped it up in ConSuite. That rocked. Some conventions have people who are willing to decorate, and others don't. It is not a good idea to have a TV turned on in ConSuite. It kills all conversation. Even having it on in the background uses subconscious brain processing cycles of everyone there. But sometimes a ConSuite at some conventions has a little side room where kids watch Saturday morning TV. Do not have music too loud. ChuckFirment once said: “This is something of an art that not many know about, but that ErikKauppi taught to me in my first ConSuite adventure. The key is multiple speakers that are a good distance away from each other. That way you can have the music playing quietly, but still have all areas of the ConSuite hearing it without it being loud in any spot. Boom-boxes or conventional stereos focus all the volume in one area, making that area too loud to hear.”
Good advice for a ConCom is to have the ConSuite ready by Friday 3pm. Not fully ready of course, but a rudimentary arrangement with one or two snacks and a drink or two and someplace to sit. People who get to the hotel early should have somewhere to go. Unfortunately sometimes at some conventions the hotel does not let you in there far enough in advance for this. If it's possible, it should be in the contract to have access to the ConSuite Thursday night. (Another convention, ConFusion, has an awesome Thursday night gathering for its ConCom and its GoHs in the ConSuite on Thursday night.) You will definitely need the ConSuite until Monday, as you pack up the whole convention and move it out from that room as a sort of clearinghouse.
The beer order should be put in a month and a half or so ahead of time.
The following is a brain dump ChuckFirment did after running the ConSuite for 2003 ConFusion. (Note: ConFusion is not PenguiCon and is not formally associated with PenguiCon. This is how they did it. As of this writing in 2006, PenguiCon has never been in the TroyMarriott. Your mileage may vary.)
Beer: Two kegs of Bells Porter, two kegs of Woodchuck Cider (granny smith and amber). Both kegs of the Woodchuck were consumed in the smoking ConSuite and we ran out Sunday morning. We had about 2/3 of a barrel left of the Bells Porter. In the future, there is no need to UN-tap a keg overnight. Simply don't serve it if you don't want to. (Chuck untapping a keg means that Chuck wears a whole lot of beer when he messes up re-tapping it.)
We duplicated food efforts for each ConSuite. The below menu refers to only one ConSuite, so double it if you are planning on buying for two suites.
Peanut Butter and Jelly (could have kept a better eye on keeping bread out. It went faster than I thought.)<br> Salty/Crunchy/Chocolate/Sugary<br> Coffee - Fresh large pot made every shift. Most shifts poured out 1/2 of the pot. Note: Only make 1/2 pots unless midnight-4 or for mornings.
3 different boxes of cereal, 3 gal milk, 2 gal OJ. Note: Due to Saturday consumption of 2 gals milk we only bought two gals of milk for Sunday and were fine. (Remaining gallon was *slowly* picked at during the day and more of a bother than a plus.)<br> 12 dozen doughnuts, several dozen (5?) bagels, cream cheese. Note: Only get Plain Cream Cheese. Other types simply are not touched.
1.5 lb ham
1.5 lb turkey
1 lb roast beef
3 loaves decent bread
3 different types of sliced cheeses. Weight unremembered.
As always, meat gets eaten just as fast as we put it out. Originally the plan was to have 1 lb of each meat. The initial tray accidentally had 1.5 lbs (except roast beef, which is sold in 2 lb packs at Sam's Club) and it worked well so we stayed with it.
1.5 lb broccoli
1.5 lb baby carrots
1.5 lb celery
Bowl of dill dip in the center of the tray.
Quick, easy, and the broccoli doesn't go fast at all. It's almost always the one that's left at the end. I think carrots go the quickest.
Buy a lot more standard Salty/Crunchy on Friday than you think you're going to use for all of Friday and Saturday. You'll likely start running out of them Saturday early am anyway - they're cheap, buy lots. One big bag/barrel of pretzels has always lasted me the whole Con. Grapes last a surprisingly long time (as in, they stay out and people don't inhale them.) People love pistachios; they're particularly good late in the evening when people are sitting and talking. Buy a huge can of peanuts - you can fill small bowls with your can all con. Ridged Sun Chips are a hit - no name potato chips are not. Don't eat anything off the floor even if you're almost 100% sure it's the same thing you've just dropped. Fruit goes over well - bananas are great and people like them. Apples are more portable than oranges, but oranges seem to go better. Unless you know people specifically want it, don't save pennies buying lower quality foods/brands that you wouldn't want to eat - other people will share your opinion.
Plastic snap-together shelving units (similar to what was used in the Art Show) can be used to organize. This could be put in the closets of the core suite's bathroom. Have shelves labeled, “Friday evening”, “Saturday Morning”, “Saturday Evening”, and “Sunday Morning”. That way no matter who is staffing the suite, they know exactly what to put out, and how much. Do not put these in easy view of ConSuite guests - they will help themselves.
Purchase a hand-held “Dirt Devil” vacuum cleaner to be used in the ConSuite. It would store easily and can be used to clean up quick messes. ALSO, it can be used to clean up tablecloths on your serving table without having to get a new tablecloth entirely.
Not only create a schedule of shifts and email it out to your staff a couple of weeks before the con, make sure you have people that will show up early on Friday (around 12:00) to help set up the suites. Setting up Thursday night as much as you can is good, but you can't get everything, and the food hasn't arrived yet. It will Friday.
POST YOUR STAFF SCHEDULE. Put this somewhere right near the entrance to the ConSuite. Not somewhere 100% obvious where everyone is going to want to look at it, but have it very easily accessible. That way any staff member can see who is coming in next, or when their next timeslot is if they forget. Scheduling four hour shifts works great. Six hour shifts are doable if you have to. Eight hour shifts are grueling and difficult. Any longer than eight and you'll lose friends. They will never ever work in a ConSuite again.
Set up well in advance people responsible for tear-down on Sunday. You cannot do it yourself, and you *will* need more help than you expect. I figured having four people would be enough. I was very wrong. I suggest at *least* six people starting early packing what they can. (Aka, around 9:00 if your pack-out truck leaves at 3:00.) Maybe close one room of the suite for storage.
If we're at the Troy Marriott, we know we will need bathtubs filled with ice on a regular basis. Make arrangements prior to Con to have the hotel fill these bathtubs with ice at pre-set times. Getting ice filled at night was troublesome during this first year. If the hotel knows they have to fill 4 tubs (two smoking, two non) with ice three times day at X, X, and X O'clock it will likely make things a lot easier. MAKE SURE TO TIP THE PEOPLE FILLING UP THE TUBS WITH ICE ON THEIR FIRST RUN. Try to make it a point to tip them each time they fill the tub, as it may be different people each shift.
Sam's Club does not take Visa or MasterCard (and likely no longer American Express). The only card they currently accept (though don't count it unless you have to) is Discover. HOWEVER, they do accept personal checks. They also accept business checks, and you can have the Con Treasurer fill them out to Sam's Club for you.
If you have to borrow a large truck to bring lots of unwieldy supplies (kegs, etc.) to the Convention remember that you will need to refill fuel used. Large trucks have HORRID gas mileage, and this mileage (and only this mileage) is a Con expense. The treasurer will probably be glad to know about this as you give him your budget. It cost $20 this year and approximately $25 last year.
At the Troy Marriott, hook up the Smoke Eater in the middle bathroom. You can have the output venting directly into the bathroom vent. This helps quite a bit. (You only need the large fan-box and the tube of the smoke eater. All other pieces are NOT needed and simply take up space with this hotel configuration.)
There are two air purifiers in the storage cube, they look like speakers. They need the cover on them *pressed in all the way* to run, and they should not be placed in such as way the air intake our output is blocked. Lots of air flow is good. ALSO - they have large metal filters in them that can (and should) be cleaned with water. They look as if they never had been. Take them out and ask the hotel to run them through their industrial dishwasher. We did a very mediocre job in the bathtub and couldn't get everything off due to fingers being too large.
Have a stereo with speakers that are AT LEAST 10 feet away from each other. More is better. If you have a boom box (or close speakers) one portion of the room will be very loud with music, and the other portion of the room won't be able to hear the music over people talking.
Music - Things without vocals make perfect background music, and set an ambiance well. A CD changer with a Shuffle function is great. Stick in 3-5 CD's with the same theme, press Shuffle and walk away. Easy and done for hours, and not repetitive.
Thursday night - Keep the door shut in the ConSuite for the after-dinner party. Have the music at a *very* low volume. We don't have the entire hotel and there are business people on the same floor that don't appreciate the noise.
If you have to share your room to be used as a ConSuite storage suite, bring earplugs. Seriously. I bring earplugs whenever I travel and they are very useful.
There's plenty more in my head, but if I keep writing them this will be a novel and not a printout or email. There is one suggestion that I've saved for last, as it is the most important. Pick a good staff. A good staff will ensure that things will go well and that you won't have to worry (though you will anyway). Who knows, you might even get to some programming because of it.
ChuckFirment Co-ConSuite, ConFusion 2003