Tag Archives: cory doctorow

Embracing my inner geek and fandom: Nine Worlds

In February, I backed a Kickstarter campaign for a new conference event called Nine Worlds Geekfest – an event which promised to be a first-of-its-kind mixed genre gathering of geeks, sci-fi fans, gamers, cosplayers and (as you can read below) lots of other fun topics.

Whether you’re into board gaming, film and film-making, Doctor Who / Torchwood, science, feminism, Tolkien, SF&F academia, video games, partying like a dancefloor demon, role play gaming, Discworld, My Little Pony, social gaming, SF&F literature, knitting, Harry Potter, creative writing, Star Wars, queer fandom, buying cool stuff, steampunk, open culture, Star Trek, skepticism, costuming, comics, or fanfic, chances are you’ll find something that rocks your world. [from Lanyrd]

#nineworlds #geekery The event took place at two hotels near Heathrow this past weekend, and I took a rare Friday off work to be there from the start, staying until late on the Sunday in the end, for reasons which I will mention in a moment. If you follow me on Twitter, no doubt you’re already aware of my weekend activities 🙂

Aside: perhaps it isn’t much of a surprise to those who know me, but yes, I am a geek. I like science fiction and comic books. I’ve enjoyed the Whedonverse (Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse etc), Star Trek, Babylon 5, superhero movies based on cartoons and comics I grew up with, Star Wars, The Matrix, Doctor Who, etc etc. In fact, one thing I have really started to get back into this past year has been the latter, Doctor Who… I grew up reading the Target novelisations (Peter Davison was my Doctor but I’m a fan of the whole series), avidly listen to Big Finish audio plays, and listen to several of the great podcasts about the show from fellow fans. It is also the 50th anniversary year of the show, and I’ve also been lucky enough to attend BFI screenings of showings from the Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy eras, with Eccleston and McGann screenings to come.

What kind of a fan or geek does that make me? Doesn’t matter. Go listen to this great (short) podcast from Shannon, or read her great blog post of the same. No really, follow that link and go read it, I’ll wait. She makes a beautiful statement on how we should accept one other.

… and that brings me back to where I started, Nine Worlds. The team that put the event together set out to create an interesting, fun, volunteer-run, inclusive and diverse event – and that is the standout memory of my 3 days at the con. The range of tracks, fandoms and cultures on offer and on display was outstanding and I enjoyed the opportunity to mix with all kinds of folks and make new friends from across all of them. I had a lot of fun, and met a lot of fantastic new people I’m looking forward to seeing again either next year, or at events in between. I went to a couple of Red Dwarf talks – Robert Llewelyn and Chris Barrie were both great, funny and engaging speakers in the main theatre. I was late to arrive at the Film Fest Quiz and as a result ended up spectating, but it was great fun to see cheesy clips from 1980s horror and teen crush movies! The evening comedy session on the Friday with Helen Keen was hilarious. It was also good to see her moderate the Saturday morning “Future” panel with Charlie Stross, Cory Doctorow, and Lilian Edwards, even if I did leave that one feeling despondent about society’s ability to be optimistic about the potential benefits of technology and its ability to decide to use it for good!

To satisfy my Dr Who obsession I spent a large part of Saturday on the dedicated track. I wandered past Andrew Cartmell in the trade room and stopped for a chat and an autograph (great to talk to him about the Big Finish “Season 27” Lost Stories, and happy to discover that he’s also a fan of the line “unlimited rice pudding!!” from Remembrance of the Daleks). Simon Fisher-Becker’s session competed with a bunch of others and saw very low attendance, but Simon gamely just said “why don’t I just come down off the stage and sit in a circle with you”, so 5 or 6 of us got to quiz him in a very casual setting about his life and career, which was lovely. Later in the afternoon I found myself on the wrong side of the RTD vs Moffatt debate, which got pretty passionate… The evening session was a hilarious and great Big Finish panel with Gary Russell, Joe Lidster, Una McCormack, Matthew Waterhouse, James Swallow and Robert Dick – it just reinforced my love for the company and the amazing quality output they produce, as well as prompting me to want to go off and buy more of their stories!

Big Finish Panel

Sunday saw additional Dr Who panels, including Chicks Unravel Time (I’ve now bought that book of essays); the Ones You Love to Hate, about villains in the series; and one on companions. I was disappointed that none of the panelists really mentioned Turlough, but someone else in the audience did say that he was her favourite, and I’d have to agree that he was one of the more interesting additions to the TARDIS crew in the past 50 years.

On the technology side, I got to play with an Oculus Rift developer headset. Very impressive stuff, and it left me wishing I had jumped on board at Kickstarter time.

Another aside: I’ve posted photos on both Flickr and Facebook, depending on your preference. I need to replace the Flickr set with better resolution copies.

Last evening fun - geek singalong

The most fun I had all weekend, though, were the singalongs. I arrived early for the Once More with Feeling session and got talking to the pianist, David Merriman, about how he was going to run it… and ended up being the man nearest to the microphone when we needed to get things started and people gathered around the piano! My intervention(s) led to me being identified as “the music guy” (sorry, David!) around the con halls the next day, and several people insisted that I had to stay late for the Sunday evening sci-fi singalong as well… which ended up incorporating a spontaneous recreation of the end scenes of Dr Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog, when I jokingly shouted “solo number!” to a cosplayer dressed as Captain Hammer. You had to be there, but it was so, so much fun. Evidently I’ve impressed the Whedon track team enough that they want me involved next year…

Oops #schwag #books #autographs #lego #geekout I left with a stash of goodies (including a number of signed books)  which will only reinforce my fan tendencies… I’ve marked up with picture with notes on Flickr if you are curious enough to look at what I picked out.

Criticisms? none really, just learning points I hope. Firstly it was unforgivable for the venue to a) charge for wifi at all, let alone b) not flag up their discounted rate to con guests as they checked in (should have been £5/day not £15/day if you were attending); and then they locked access to a single device, which was rubbish – especially given that many sessions were in the basement where there was no mobile reception. The bar was also expensive, and I was amused to discover that the cash only con-bar was actually more expensive than the main hotel (£4.90 a bottle at the con-bar; £4.50 a pint at the hotel bar; I took my choice). I’d hope both things can be negotiated in future years. I haven’t booked my return ticket for next year yet… but it is looking pretty likely.

Thank you to everyone who made Nine Worlds happen – organisers, volunteers, track leads, and speakers. And thank you to everyone who attended… you were all Brilliant!

There’s so much more I could say about the weekend, but then lots of people had different experiences, from different tracks – check out the various write-ups on Lanyrd.

I’m hoping to record a short segment for The Doctor Who Podcast covering the Dr Who track soon, so if you are a fellow subscriber, listen out for that.

Whuffie and the importance of loyalty

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been dipping into Tara Hunt’s book The Whuffie Factor. I’d intended to write a post discussing the book in more detail, but a case study has just presented itself which brought my plans forward!

Disclaimer: it’s worth restating that all content on this blog represents my personal opinion and my own experiences.

whuffie factor

Image courtesy of missrogue

The Whuffie Factor talks about the importance of establishing, growing and maintaining social capital in your market and with your community. The concept of “whuffie” is drawn from Cory Doctorow’s novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (which I just started to read), which presents a world in which an individual’s social capital, or reputation for good deeds, is visible to others in an augmented reality, built-in heads-up display which everyone has. People can earn whuffie through good deeds and behaviour, spend whuffie in asking for favours, and lose whuffie in acting in some negative manner. Tara suggests that organisations and individuals that participate in online communities have exactly the same experiences, although whuffie itself may be less immediately tangible than in Doctorow’s imaginary world where everyone is wearing a whuffie badge.

So, on to the case study.

I’ve been an O2 customer for a long time. Before I got the iPhone 3G on UK launch day last year, I’d been an O2 customer on previous handsets and price plans. Actually, I had a relationship with the company stretching back to when they were BT Cellnet – a looong time.

My experience with the iPhone has been wonderful. Ignoring the device itself (this post is not about that) – the tariff was reasonable, I had unlimited data at varied speeds anywhere in the UK, and access to two wireless hotspot networks, the Cloud and BT Openzone. Life was great. I believe it was the best deal in the world on the iPhone.

Last month I decided to switch broadband suppliers, after Tiscali/Pipex were acquired by the Carphone Warehouse. Listening to the advice of many of my friends in the Twitterverse (Whuffie lesson – socially-connected individuals value personal recommendations above any others), it didn’t take long for me to select O2 as my new supplier. I felt comfortable with that, having had an excellent experience with their mobile service. I have to say the switch was painless and the service and performance of my new connection has been excellent.

Whuffie++!

Just after the switch, I thought about getting a broadband dongle for my Mac. Naturally, as an O2 customer with two of their products, I thought I’d ask in an O2 store what kind of deal was on offer to loyal subscribers. “No special deal, sir” – I’d have to go with their regular package, which is far less competitive than T-Mobile, 3 or Vodafone (I only really wanted to use the 3G modem occasionally, so I didn’t want to sign up to a contract on that).

Whuffie fell off.

Yesterday, Apple announced the iPhone 3GS. It’s an exciting device with some mouth-watering new capabilities – a better camera at last, a speed bump, voice recognition, a compass, and greater memory capacity. Oh, and it has the capability of being used as a 3G modem, which would mean I wouldn’t need a separate dongle for the Mac. Seems ideal. In short, I’d take one in an instant. I also discovered yesterday that O2 has a Twitter account, which I started to follow when I realised that it seemed to be a real person engaging in conversations, and not just a stream of PR pronouncements.

There’s a wrinkle here, though. In order to take an iPhone 3GS on launch day, I’d need to buy myself out of the final 6 months of my existing 18 months contract (in my case I’m guessing that will be a straight 6 x £35, not cheap), and then buy the phone on a new contract. So the reward for loyalty and being prepared to sign up for a long contract is having to pay more for an upgrade to the new technology. People are also concerned about the cost of O2’s tethering plans, which don’t entirely surprise me given my 3G modem experience.

Whuffie? Plummeting.

A couple of people have noted on Twitter that those complaining about the situation are either whinging in general, or that they don’t understand the concept of a contract. In my case, I fully understood that I was signing on for 18 months – it just seems bizarre that it is non-transferrable and that I’m actually penalised for staying with O2. It’s not like I’m heading off to another network.

Shane Richmond over at the Telegraph has an excellent summary of the issues, so I’m not going to pick through the situation point-by-point. Some of the commenters are right on the nail, too.

The Twitterverse is fairly upset about all of this, with one person going so far as to set up a petition (I’ve not signed it, as twitition doesn’t use Twitter’s OAuth option for login).

I phoned O2, at the suggestion of the O2 Twitter person, since “upgrade costs will vary”. The lady I spoke to claimed that no pricing information was yet available (odd, since there’s a page on the O2 website with that information), and then said that for upgrades, they were offering existing customers the option of downloading the new software onto their current phones, or buying themselves out of the existing contract.

I’m disappointed. Right now, I’m actually thinking that the Palm Pre looks interesting. It’s a shame, as I’m an Apple user and I think the iPhone is an amazing platform – but O2 just jettisoned the good reputation that it had built up, and made themselves far less likely to be recommended by me in the future.

End of case study. The conclusion here is that Tara Hunt has it completely right. In today’s social web-connected world, whuffie is important – potentially vital – for companies, as well as for individuals.

How did I hear about Tara’s book? I’d been following her (@missrogue) on Twitter for a long time, recognised her as someone I respect and like through her great blog, HorsePigCow, and I was excited to hear about her book directly from the source. Here’s my personal recommendation: get hold of a copy of The Whuffie Factor, read, and inwardly digest. It’s a great, enjoyable book. I think you’ll like it, too.

Update: levelling off…

OK. Having followed some of the discussion on the @O2 Twitter channel today, my attention was drawn to the notion of the Priority List, which is an account feature I’d previously been unaware of, as I’d opted out of marketing material from O2. The only thing is, there’s no easy way to find out which “level” of priority my account was set at. I logged in to my account through the website, and found a contact number which got me through to a really helpful lady (evidently not the same number I’d called this morning, not sure what happened there). I explained that I potentially wanted to upgrade, and that I’m a customer of both a pay monthly tariff and the home broadband service. The customer service rep very helpfully and patiently went through all of the upgrade options with me… and it looks like it’s not quite as dire as I’d thought – my potential upgrade date is earlier than I’d feared, but I’m still unlikely to be getting an iPhone 3GS on launch day.

So kudos to the helpful customer service staff, and I’m also impressed with the resilience and patience of the @O2 person. That has gone some way to restoring my opinion, even though I’m still disappointed with some aspects of the upgrade process. The Priority List is actually a way of rewarding customer loyalty, but it just hadn’t been on my radar.

The final word on this, from my perspective, is that it’s still somewhat confusing, and I’d particularly advise O2 to make their Priority List stuff more visible and simpler to understand. I’d also suggest that people give them a call and check individual circumstances!