Some Tips for Webmasters

July 28th, 2009

I’ve been sick for the past week, which means that in between naps (and other, less savory aspects of the flu) I’ve been able to dedicate some time to catching up on my data entry. (An important tip: make sure your freezer is full before you get sick. Preferably with a variety – I am so tired of chicken.)

As always, I was quite impressed by the number and variety of events out there. A con chair who’s been running the same con with the same programming year after year could do many worse things than to dig around on some other con’s sites looking for ideas. (Along with the voice actors, did you know anime cons will frequently book a show’s director? Would that appeal to your attendees? I saw Harve Bennett at Farpoint [SF/Media] a few years ago and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house after his story about Ingrid Bergman.)

What also surprised me though was the number of events where the web site is either missing basic information, or else makes it hard to find. Consider these bloopers:

  • One convention prominently announces their 2009 dates on the home page. Updates dated 2009 list new guests. And as of July of 2009, the artwork in all the page banners still refers to the 2008 event. So is the con defunct? Or is the web site just out of date?
  • This one happens way too often: The home page announces the upcoming event’s guests, location, and everything you could possibly want to know except the dates. Sometimes they’re buried five clicks deep on the site, but if you want potential attendees to work that hard to find your dates, you’d better have something they really desperately want to see.
  • A similar problem: “Well, we know where we’re located.” A convention will list their venue as something such as “The Airport Marriott” and neglect to mention what particular town that would be in. (Lots of airports have a Marriott.) Sometimes you can get this information by visiting the hotel page and clicking the link to the hotel’s web site, but often that link is missing too.
  • One big blooper: throwing away your Google hits. Just this morning, I found a con where they had done something very right. They had tons of big name guests, all in their core genre; they were listed prominently in a very selective, well-respected convention list (Mine is no where near as high-profile); and the web site is simply exquisite. Unfortunately, all of the site content lives in image files. Google can’t read image files and since they didn’t include any alternate text, Google won’t return any search results for their guests. An opportunity squandered. (As a side note, for US-based conventions, this also opens you up to possible litigation since people with visual disabilities won’t be able to read your site, even with the appropriate assistive technologies.)

Zombie Alerts?

June 24th, 2009

I’m personally not really into the Horror genre, but somehow I keep posting about zombies. This evening I stumbled across a fun/interesting question: Will Your Local Police Warn You When Zombies Attack?

The answer seems to depend on where you live.

And once the attack is over, be sure to properly dispose of the zombies.

When Zombies are Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Eat Brains.

June 2nd, 2009

The Metro Clothing Company store in Seattle hosted a “Zombie Crawl” on Friday with folks show up at the store dressed as Zombies. There was a contest involved with the three best costumes winning passes to this weekend’s Crypticon.

Evidently the guy who won first place was a little too authentic. Someone who didn’t know what was going on called 911 and the police arrested the zombie. (They released him once the misunderstanding became clear.)

(A tip of the hat to Jim Romensko for noticing this story.)

Rebooting Star Trek

May 9th, 2009

Recently, a reporter for the Baltimore Sun asked me what do fans of TOS think of the plans to “reboot” Star Trek?

I’ll admit to some misgivings. Rebooting worked well for Battlestar Galactica, but the original version of that show only went one season. Trek on the other hand has nearly 43 years worth of stories spanning 5 TV series and (as of Thursday) 11 movies. Within the genre, I believe only Doctor Who has been around longer.

One thing a great many fans seem to enjoy is the way the writers have tried to maintain the series’ continuity. There have been a few slip-ups, but over the years, the various series have built up a fairly intricate web of future history. One of my fears was that the new movie would throw all of that “out the window” without telling a compelling story to keep me interested.

There’s been a half-joke floating around for years that “Trekkies will buy anything if you put the words ‘Star Trek’ on it.” And it’s true that there will always be people willing to give the franchise “one more chance.” But eventually you get to the point where there’ve been too many disappointments, not enough people will give that “one more chance” and the show will die.

After seeing an advance screening of the movie, I’m cautiously optimistic about the future of the Star Trek franchise. I know a few die-hard fans of the The Original Series who were disappointed. But I’ve also talked to several people who enjoyed the movie and have found themselves with a renewed interest in the entire series.

So what do you think?

Star Trek

April 27th, 2009

I had an opportunity to see the new Star Trek movie on Thursday evening.

Going in, I had some misgivings about the movie. I knew it was going to be the original Enterprise crew, I’d heard it would be the story of the TOS crew first coming together, and I’d heard Leonard Nimoy would be reprising the role of Spock. The concern with this is that over the past 43 years, Star Trek has a lot of established continuity. Throwing that to the wind would upset a lot of fans. (Putting new actors in familiar roles was a concern as well, though I think Star Trek: Phase II – formerly New Voyages – has demonstrated that this can work.)

J.J. Abrams managed to have his cake and eat it too. Hardcore TOS fans may very well be disappointed by the way the plot is resolved; but by doing the unthinkable this movie does open the door for new adventures in the TOS timeframe without breaking continuity. What’s more, new and casual fans may become interested in both new stories and the existing ones.

Among the things that struck me about the movie:

  • This is a much grittier universe than we’ve ever see. The newly launched Enterprise is all shiny, but what we see of other ships and Federation facilities look a lot more lived in.
  • In the past, all we ever saw of any starship was a room with four walls, a floor and a ceiling. The ships in this movie have actual superstructure.
  • This was a much different style of film making with tight close-ups of faces and shaking cameras. Even the shots of the Enterprise were all close-ups.

Bad Horse Rides Again

April 25th, 2009

Something to look forward to… Sci Fi Wire is reporting that Joss Whedon is considering a sequel to Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.

Many thanks to Katie for the heads up!

Hello Sarah Jane

April 11th, 2009

Probably one of my favorite scenes from the new Doctor Who came in the second series when Sarah Jane Smith was investigating some unusual aspects of a school.

Looking for anything out of the ordinary, Sarah Jane walked into a storage closet where she discovered a large blue Police Box. Looking very much like someone who’s just seen a ghost, she flees the room and immediately encounters The Doctor who greets her, “Hello Sarah Jane.”

Elisabeth Sladen’s performance in that scene was nothing less than brilliant. Completely believable.

I’m taking some time to savor the fourth series instead of just rushing straight through to the conclusion. Since Sarah Jane appears in the final episodes, I’ve decided that in addition to Torchwood, I also want to watch the first series of The Sarah Jane Adventures. This way I’ll hopefully understand what it is that each character brings to the table.

I’ve known all along that I’m not the target audience (wrong age, wrong gender). But I’m quite impressed by the richness of the Doctor Who universe.

What Happened to Starbuck?

April 11th, 2009

Last night I finally got a chance to watch the final episode of Battlestar Galactica. I’d been wondering how they were going to wrap up all the loose ends (such as “How did Starbuck get to Earth and back?” “Is Baltar a cylon?”), and wanted to watch it when I wouldn’t be distracted by the 70 million other thing going on in my life.

I was pleasantly surprised by it. They wrapped up the storyline in such a way that it was OK to have loose ends. It’s rare to see Science Fiction explaining miracles as miracles and just letting it go at that. Trying to wrap up all the loose ends and explain everything in a two-hour episode would have seem forced. I liked this.

And if you haven’t seen it yet, be sure to watch the credits for the final cartoon. Ronald Moore and David Eick finally end up on even terms.

Amusing Irony

April 6th, 2009

I’m somewhat amused by this: One area con has an ad on their home page, advertising one of my competitors. The ad isn’t served up dynamically, and I have no reason to believe it’s a paid ad. (To be fair, the competitor’s site is a darn site prettier than mine and has content beyond the list of events.)

Not knowing the thought process involved, I won’t debate the wisdom of using your home page to serve up an ad that’s going to take people to another site.

But I can’t help thinking, if Convention X is going to put a link to a convention list on their home page (potentially sending people to other conventions), wouldn’t it make sense to link to a convention list that actually includes Convention X?

So what can you do if your favorite convention doesn’t appear on my list? Tell me the event details and there’s a good chance I’ll add it. (I’m rather pleased by my site’s reputation for listing smaller, local events in addition to the bigger name cons that everyone already knows about it. I’ll probably draw the line at My Little Pony events, though to be fair, I do list G.I. Joe cons, so you never know…)

And what if your event is already listed but some of the details have changed or incorrect? (The latter of course, that never happens. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) Drop me a line with the details of what’s changed and I’ll update it.

That way, maybe some of the traffic your site sends away will come back. 🙂

Come With Me If You Want to Live

April 1st, 2009

Over the past few weeks, people have been growing increasingly nervous about the Conficker worm. All anyone’s knew about it until now is that it was going to start looking for a message on April 1.

It appears that Conficker has received its message, and it doesn’t look good for us.

Google has announced their new Artificial Intelligence, CADIE (Cognitive Autoheuristic Distributed-Intelligence Entity).

I’ve already taken a look at CADIE’s homepage and YouTube channel and as far as I can tell, it’s indistinguishable from what most humans put on line. And if you can’t reliably tell an A.I. apart from a human, then the A.I. has passed the Turing Test.

Now we know what the Conficker worm is: It’s Google’s A.I. Or rather, it’s Skynet.

If you need me for anything, I’ll be hanging out with Sarah Conner.