BlockParty 2008 Party Report

Polaris / Northern Dragons

4-08-2008 4:39 AM EST

I am in the airport, far too early preparing to come home. I like to be early all things considered - but I am roughly an extra hour early because I read the time of the flight wrong. It's a 6:55 am flight - not a 5:55 am flight. Ooops.

So, anyway here I am. I begin to start writing what will eventually be another party report. I like writing like this, looking back on the experience but not quite back into regular life again. It's the in between moments that allow the most reflection. In this light, my story begins...

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

It always amazes me how long it takes to get ready for a demo party. It's not that I'm a pack rat - it's actually quite the opposite. I try to pack only with carry on - but with a laptop in tow and the temptation to bring all kinds of electronic items; it's aways a challenge to cut things down to the essentials.

There is also the "virtual" preparation as well. Sorting out backups of all the Northern Dragons server files and our tooling so we have copies of everything we might need. Some day, I hope to keep all of this on a USB drive and just use a ACER EEE Mini PC to share it - but until then there is a fair bit of time taken pulling files from our server over to local copies. Just in case the system goes down.

I ended up leaving late by Taxi cab. At least, later than I would have liked. Lines weren't as bad as I might have thought, because I was flying domestic. In Toronto I will have to clear customs.

I had no problems clearing security in Winnipeg. I chatted with some elderly folks while waiting in line at the gate. They had just buried a loved one after a long battle with Cancer. It didn't sound like fun. Having a new family of my own (twin boys), I was the stereotypical "proud pappa" and showed off photos of my boys. I think they appreciated having an excuse to talk about something different.

The flight between Winnipeg and Toronto was good. While I should have been working on my presentation, I ended up speaking at some length with Wayne Dunford. At sixty years young, he is amazingly spry. Conversation ebbed and flowed easily, including discussions about his time in management and the mining industry. The flight went by very quickly with our conversation to pass the time.

When I arrived in Toronto, I waited for Blacklight just past the security checkpoint. That was in fact, a bit of a pain. One problem was knowing when exactly he would arrive - because of variability of the airlines. Secondly, there was no natural place to wait for him. So in the end, I ended up sitting on a bench for hours near a shoe shine place, balancing the laptop, and trying to get my presentation for the demo camps completed.

After taking a snack of pizza and having a "I think that's Blacklight (near sighting)" - I decided to rendezvous ato the gate where we were departing from. That's where I found him. We enjoyed some coffee and croissant. I was famished so the food went down easily. We then moved to the departure gate to find an electrical socket and found both power and BarZoule there.

BarZoule has a beautiful old suitcase that captures the spirit of an artist and a lot of attention. It's an old wooden one that you can easily imagine should have stickers attached on it from steam ship voyages. Amazingly, it's just the right size for carry on. He'll be leaving for Egypt shortly after the Block Party event, and I imagine that he'll be hitting the streets of Cairo and Alexandria with it as well.

At that time, he showed off our Demo production "TMDC Lives". BarZoule has done nearly all the work on the production, so this is the first time we've seen it. It's a proud moment, if only to know that the Dragons has brought people's interest into the scene - and we are creating new things. In November and December of 2008 the Northern Dragons will host TMDC for the first time, instead of the event closing.

Of course, the flight leaving for Cleveland was delayed. I'm not surprised. Mechanical problems were announced, then a new plane, then no - "it's OK! problems fixed", then a new plane. In any case - we eventually got on the flight perhaps an hour and a half late. I didn't really care - I was with friends and we were enjoying ourselves.

We all had separate seats near the front of the plane. Once everyone boarded, they allowed everyone to switch up seats. The guy next to me moved right behind BarZoule and Blacklight. Since the plane was pretty cramped, I decided it would be best to sleep a bit.

We arrived in good time and Blacklight's luggage didn't take that long to arrive. We then took a Cab to the airport, and experienced the now familiar sites and sounds. Cleveland is your "typical American Midwest industrial town". A lot of concrete takes over the landscape. There are also signs of economic troubles. The landscape is peppered with boarded up and vacant buildings. None the less, it's a clean city and the people are very friendly. It's enjoyable to be back here.

We checked into the usual hotel, the same as last year. Blacklight had asked to be near my room but the "closest" they could find had him on the 7th floor with the rest of us on the 10th floor. I had forgotten how worn the hotel is looking. The carpet has a multitude of stains on it from years of use. I think the hotel knows this as well - as they are busy renovating. This made elevators a real pain, and we took the stairs to the 10th floor from main more often than not. Things also smelled strongly of paint when moving up and down between certain floors.

Guybrush wasn't set to arrive until quite a bit later, so we took in some food from the hotel bar. On the way, we bumped into Jason Scott and the Fat Man - a musician of quite some fame. We talked for a bit. Jason was raving on about "NVscene", and how much was being spent on the event. He also asked if we yet had a demo machine. (NVScene is set to hand out several nearly complete computers to demoscene groups to encourage productions). It's the standard Euro vs American weenie war conversation; just with new twists. NVScene will get some street credit if North American groups receive their demo machines. We'll have to see. Jason Scott was quite complementary to us however, crediting the Northern Dragons as being the one North American demoscene group that "has been around forever!".

The pub food was fine, but the restaurant bar was struggling to handle the number of visitors. I ate the first Cheeseburger of the trip, which I would repeat a few times during my stay. After the food, we retired to my room waiting for GuyBrush to arrive. His wife had sent a huge basket of food, flowers and gifts for him. I worked with her to make sure everything had arrived. It's sweet to see couples that support one another.

While BarZoule and Blacklight hung out - I continued working on the democamp presentation. It was a bit hard to focus, because I wasn't entirely motivated, but I did buckle down and get some more stuff done. BarZoule offered to help, but I didn't even know where to start to ask him.

Guybrush arrived and called us from the front desk. He entered the room with his hair cut into a basic fractal pattern. He's a coder and artist with the best of them. He literally is like a whirling dervish. Within minutes, his stuff spread out all over the room within a central radius. His hair which was enhanced by BarZoule, and then Guybrush went to BarZoule and Blacklight's room, leaving me to finish up a bit and go to bed. I think the largest bit of progress was had at that time.

Friday, April 4th, 2008

We started today taking breakfast around 10:00 AM at the hotel. Everything feels familiar; with the "Notacon" table being setup again, registration packages, T-Shirts and bumper stickers for sale. It's a good thing. The breakfast buffet was about 10$ and gave us enough food that we could usually skip lunch. There aren't many restauraunts near the hotel anyway. We registered and attended the kick off. This year's kickoff was familiar, but didn't have the same tune as last year. Last year Jason Scott was trying to draw a lot on Notacon's guests. Lines like "you are probably a demoscener but didn't know it yet" - were notably absent from the "feel" of the event this year. Of course, everything feels familiar and that probably touches on the introductory speech as well.

During the kick off speech, it was mentioned that they were missing a presenter. BarZoule decided to do the 4KB audio speech that he was hoping to give last year but was unable to. His window to get it together was extraordinarily small; as the missing presenter was scheduled to present at 3:00 pm. I decided to lend him my laptop for the presentation. This put the work on the Demo Camp on hold, so I worked to help BarZoule and attend the speech given by the Fat Man.

Fat Man's Speech was irreverent, good humored, provided a sense of what his world was like on the inside, and at times - "Funny enough, that your morning coffee would come out through your nose". I enjoyed it immensely. Be sure to watch "Art Behind Enemy Lines" from the Notacon Media Archives. It is worth mentioning that all the speeches were recorded and can be viewed from these Archives.

Immediately afterwards, we went to BarZoule's speech on 4kb audio. Overall it went really well given that it was completely last minute. Buz was able to use my slide template and the files from our local Northern Dragons repository were handy. He did a great job and we saw the Fat Man in the audience enjoying it which was pleasing. Overall throughout the weekend the Fat Man was very complementary about the demoscene, saying "we get it".

After BarZoule's success, we took a break and settled into the Block Party Lounge. This is now a key element of Block Party's history - and always involves decorations from Inspired Chaos of Blerx. He makes the lounge what it is - with music, and lights. Some attendants dubbed it "The Bat Cave".... Guybrush was tuning his presentation on visualizations, and with my laptop back in hand I was madly finishing content for the demo camp. With our "TMDC Lives!" production in the bag, it was just like we were rushing for a compo deadline, but instead - were rushing to finish presentations.

None of us however, were willing to miss Jeri Ellsworth's talk on FPGA's. It was deliciously technical and it's been a long time that I had thought of digital logic. It was a wild ride and from just listening to her it becomes tempting to buy and hack with a FPGA personally. There is an immense passion that is infectious about her discussions of electronics.

The rest of the evening became a session in the Block Party lounge. Mostly the same sceners are here as last year; with The Finn and Blackpawn notably missing. Tfinn had sent regrets, and we aren't sure what happened with Blackpawn.

I had finally completed the source code for the democamp, but had to personally admit that I didn't have enough runway to fully finish the slides. That evening, for better or worse and with my Northern Dragon peers in the audience for support - we set off to do the "demo making camp".

The seminar was completely different than I had planned. For one thing, eighty percent of the crowd had no laptop. Out of those, only a few had Windows on their laptop. With so many people being laptop less; I had to turn what was planned as an interactive demo camp - into a question and answer period. This was actually helpful that I had my Dragons peers - as I was able to draw on their input as well. I hope our answers were useful to our audience.

The demo camp reminded me of a few things, and I took lessons from it. For one thing, it became obvious how people were struggling to make productions. They seemed less than satisfied that source code doesn't tend to be released, even when there are a plethora of effect samples out there on the Internet. The glue - how to put it into a comprehensive production - was something a lot of people are struggling with. I tried to pull an analogy, to say that reading source code is like eating. It doesn't take real skill to read source code, but what everyone trying to make productions should target is learning how to combine ingredients to become a chef. I spoke about this for some length with Nunzio after the demo camp about this.

After the demo camp was completed, we went back to the Block Party lounge. The wireless Internet at block party is un-encrypted. This always reminds me how we used to take for granted - the security of a "lan line". I tried turning our "icemonster system" into a vpn server; but the IPIG software caused icemosnter to blow up as well. So, remote access was lost to our server. Next year will be different!

In the end, we retired to bed late. Really late. I'm not even sure how late it was... but I think it was around 4 or 5 am. Some sleep was had. Really. Honest...

Saturday, April 5th, 2008

Today, we took breakfast again in the hotel. Following that we went to Virt's talk on FM synthesis. Virt had done a great deal of work to make his presentation smooth, which included timings around video clips. The end result was that it appeared that his video clips were actually interactive with his speech... but it was all rehearsed, scripted and well executed. I complemented him on it afterwards and he was delighted to know, as it involved a lot of practice on his part to get it right.

I was overtired from the night before and I took advantage of the time before Trixter's speech to sleep a little and reset myself. Guybrush was madly working to finish his presentation and Blacklight was helping him resolve some source code issues.

The speech given by Trixter on "Lessons Learned from Archiving the DemoScene" was a great technical foray into the difficulties in getting a DOS production archived for future generations. I learned two surprising things from him. One was - just how bad emulation can be - missing copper bars etc!

Secondly, the cost of "errors". Apparently, there was a production where there was a bug in the mod player. The authors corrected it by altering the inbound mod data. So even ripping great video combined with the mod file would not be faithful to the intended result. The error had to be accounted for and reproduced as well.

The lock picking pagoda this year was on my list to visit. I decided to visit them after the speech, but they were involved in some intense timed drills. If I am lucky enough to make it to Notacon for 2009, I will make it a point to get involved in the Pagoda before they really start rolling.

Guybrush's speech on "Automated Psychedelia - Translating Motion into Color and Sound" was very well done with some excellent content and slides. He also found two people in the audience that have Synthasia. He drew on them describing their experience which was very interesting. He's objective is to reproduce their experience into visualizations, to match their synthasia. Guybrush even tied it back to several historical elements of the science of Synthasia.

The only complaint I have during his evening speech, was in regards to the room next door. There was a very loud telephone switch of some kind, which made sounds during his speech that were excessive. I imagine this problem will go away next year when the event is held at a different hotel. Guybrush quickly filled the two hours with a fantastic selection of background music which helped set the right mood for the evening.

With our speeches and demo camps under our belts, all we had to really worry about was submitting our productions. Again the infamous "Party Meister" proved to be a configuration nightmare. The deadline was extended until 8:00 PM, on account of technical difficulties with the voting system. None the less; this is not severe - and it beats manual counting.

This final evening is one without sleep. With a little break, we all converge on the main screens to watch Meme Dump. Meme dump is a crowd-pleasing collage of video clips compiled by Jason Scott. It's hard to describe beyond that and I'm not going to try. It's a nice break, but all the anxious parties are looking for the competition to start.

Hopefully, in the future; Block Party will take place earlier in the agenda of Notacon. Starting a demo viewing of any kind at midnight is pretty tough. Especially one with a fair number of musical entries. Everything was aired together, and didn't finish until 3:00 or 4:00 am. The demosceners were dedicated to this, but many Notacon guests missed out when sleep overtook their enthusiasm.

There were two viewings of things that were not for voting. Fat Man released a musical rock opera (episode #2) - which was wonderful. There was also the release of a obviously joke prod from a Russian group. I think it had the capacity to really offend, but people were warned properly, and everyone understood that it was a joke. Even one of the file names had an extension of .LOL which I caught a glimpse of from the big screen before the production started.

The quality of the entires and their diversity was good. I was again surprised by how wild the wild production was. I think that it will keep getting better. Hopefully next year I may have a hand in pushing that envelope. European demoparties - take note. Your wild compo's have become "film" compos. Look to Block Party on how it should be done.

The Northern Dragons demogroup received a "shot" across the bow.... with a production from Mad Brain that include the line "Northern Idiots". If he had meant to offend us - he missed the mark... it just tells us that we are big and well known enough now to have a target on our backs. Hurrah!

Afterwards the competition entries were aired, none of us went to sleep. I hung out with people in the radio lounge, speaking with Dawn and Kevin (Nightshade). I chatted a bit with Jeri, and we talked about challenges with globalization and communication to "Get the job done" in remote situations. I'm not easily impressed, but I have to admit she's a remarkable woman. I can only imagine what she's personally experienced from our genuinely rare conversation about our life experiences.

Eventually, after watching many demos, dancing and drinking far too many energy drinks.. we crashed. People were going to the work out center for their morning workout and the sun was rising.

Sunday, April 6th, 2008

We got up again around 11:00 or so, grabbing a quick breakfast.

The award ceremony was good, however not quite as "dressed up" as before. Jason still wore a top hat.

Future Block Party events will have to diversify their sponsors or change their products. Several winners are adding to their library additional copies of the same software and DVD's as last year. Fat Man added his own spin on the prizes, - including 360kb versions of Norton Commander, and a lunch bag filled with Nerds Candy. It was fun spirited. The most notable new sponsor was "Cocaine energy drink", not to be confused with other items bearing the same name.

There is always an odd sense at the end of Notacon. Things are torn down so quickly; that once felt permanent before. In the matter of a few short hours - everything is dismantled and out of the hotel. The "you don't have to go home but you can't stay here" applies. It became apparent, that most of us weren't leaving right away. Jeri, s_tec, Phoenix, Coda and some others were spending the night. We decided to sleep for a while and get together in the evening.

I still went out that evening, looking half asleep from the whole experience. We were never able to get a hold of Jason or Radman, but eventually we just walked to the Winking Lizard. They were open until 10:00 pm - so we were able to enjoy about 90 minutes of food and conversation. The conversation started starkly, and Jeri did a great job of summing it up best when she said "It's like the end of summer camp, where you don't want to say goodbye to the new friends you've made."

I broke the ice of the evening with the psycho test. It basically goes like this:

"A woman attending her mother's funeral meets a wonderful man that blows her off her feet. He's 'the one', handsome, accomplished. Everything she's ever wanted. However, he leaves before the two of them can exchange enough information in order to contact each other again. Three weeks later - her sister is found murdered. What happened?"

Well - the answer is that the woman killed her sister in the hopes that the same guy might go to the funeral. Apparently, this is the answer that psychopaths use. So, not getting it isn't a sign that you are dumb, but instead if you get it - you may be psycho. I'm pleased to report for the security of the demoscene - that no one present was determined to be a psycho. I can't vouch for Phoenix however, as he already heard of it before and counted himself out of the game.

That evening ended our demoscene activities - as everyone was leaving the next day. I was the only exception as I had planned to stay one more day - to see Cleveland as a tourist.

Monday, April 7th, 2008

I have decided to include this in my party report, on the chance that others might be interested. As usual, I took breakfast at the hotel buffet. Our usual waitress wondering "where everyone else" had gone. She missed us.

I took the hotel shuttle and was joined by a woman going to the "clinic". Her husband was undergoing some extensive surgery and was in a fight for his life. I showed her photos of my twin boys and she was delighted.

After she was dropped off, the shuttle took me to the natural history museum. The driver turned off and nearly hit another vehicle in the opposite lane. Eventually I arrived OK and noted a bunch of school buses outside the museum. The museum was flooded with young students - but I refused to let it keep me away. I instead wondered what these experiences will be like for me with my children, as a new father. I no longer have to ask whom I'll be taking in the future with me. The enormity of the task of fatherhood ahead still gets to me. I'm sure this is something common with new fathers and those that have children may be nodding to these words.

The museum is fun place and I can tell I would have loved it when I was a child. The exhibits have typewritten tags and it feels very 1970's in some parts. It even included a wilderness / zoo like attraction outdoors - which was a neat twist on things. I decided to skip taking lunch there and go directly over to the Botanical Gardens. Now that was well worth seeing. One area has so many butterflies that I was going nuts trying to take photos on burst mode. It's a good thing that I moved photos off my camera to my laptop the night before.

The art museum will have to wait for another trip as it's undergoing renovations and I decided to see it "next time".

Afterwards, I took an expensive lunch at the gardens and took a cab back to the hotel. I took a break, bathed and recovered. Following that I strolled over to several museums that were close by but closed. It turns out that the Submarine and the Steam Ship are not open in may. So I was able to take some photos of the outside, and then that was it.

I ended my day of tourism at the science museum. It was fun, but you will feel weird if you are on your own. They had hundreds of scientific exhibits that showed all kinds of principles. I enjoyed it anyway, even if being perhaps a bit reserved. Being the creepy old guy with no kids with him.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Today is my trip back home. I eat Starbucks for breakfast, a coffee and airport sandwich.

Again as always - horrendously priced.

I checked in at the United desk as they share with Air Canada, passed security and chatted with a couple going on a cruise. We eventually went to board the plane and were on the tar mac waiting to get on it. Then we all got told to go back because of a mechanical problem.

So, that flight wasn't for me. The best they've got at that time is a 11:39 AM departure, with no ticket booked from Toronto to get me home. So, I arrive in Toronto without any connecting flights.

I end up on the last seat on the last flight of the day, to return home to Winnipeg. It was so close that spending a night in Toronto was a real possiblity. I'm just happy to be home.

Conclusion / After Thoughts

Another Block Party has been completed with the intent of having three more to go. Again, I have to commend Jason Scott and Radman for putting together another top notch experience. In a few months, the intensely sponsored NVscene will take place in the fall. How this will change the North American demoscene landscape is anyone's guess.

What is perhaps most notable about Block Party is community. There are no strangers here. It's an event among friends that are happy to find a willing host. I hope that Block Party will continue, even in the seemingly unlikely city of Cleveland, Ohio. Knowing the determination of Block Party's founders and hosts, I have little doubt that we can look forward to three more Block Parties in the future, whenever and where ever they may be held.

Links related to this article

Block Party website

Polaris / Northern Dragons

[BlockParty 2008 Results]