(This is just about the convention, not the trip.)
It's hard to separate a convention from its location, its venue, and the people who attend it, because all those factors contribute. Especially since this was the first FOGcon, it's even harder to tease out which parts of my experience were the essentials of the convention. But I'll give it a try.
I liked the "Cities" theme a lot. I even attended a couple panels (one on cities, one on writing) which is more than my usual tally of no panels at all. I might even had hit three if I hadn't been out Sunday enjoying a visit with purdypiedad. Both the panels I saw were great, Pat Murphy's special presentation "write a story in an hour" especially so. Other people seemed positive about the panels they were on or attended, so I think the convention clearly was a win in the panel department. I also took part in the Hamlet-themed LARP that was offered, and that was great fun. :)
The "Honored Guests" (I never learned why they're not called "Guests of Honor") were a mix, for me. Pat Murphy is very friendly and completely awesome. The Vandermeers seemed standoffish, as I couldn't get either of them to even make eye contact so I could say hi, and they didn't seem to mingle outside of con staff and maybe a group of prior friends. (But that was only my very limited experience, and I've been wrong before!)
The convention was well run, well organized. Everything happened on time, clearly marked, and in the location specified. (You'd be surprised how often that's not the case…) The consuite was great. The dealers room looked like a normal, well-filled dealers room like you'd find at any convention that's been running for decades.
I thought the hotel was fine, but I was a guest there, and outside the convention itself, probably the guest who gave them the most money with a 7-night stay in an upgraded room, so they treated me well. Also, I don't care much about hotel wifi, as I'm used to having to bring my conectivity with me, and I use a vacation as an excuse to ignore it. :p The panel spaces and other convention rooms seemed perfect. The fact that the bar was hardly ever open was INSANE… and will lead to one of my bigger complaints, but I'm not sure where the fault is, there.
In the end, I had a good time but had one minor gripe and two moderate ones, all of which revolve around what Chris and I personally look for in conventions, and may not apply at all to anyone else.
The minor gripe dealt with the size of the convention and the number of attendees. There were a total of about 250 people registered, if I heard correctly, which is GREAT, considering. But there was a lot of concurrent programming, and a lot of the attendees were locals on day passes, so some events got a bit thin. It is hard to wander into a room with six people who all seem to already know each other and get involved in whatever they're doing. Much easier if it's a room of 50 people who aren't previously acquainted.
Bigger gripe (1) was the lack of parties, or any equivalent space to just hang out and socialize. Usually the bar or lobby suffices if parties aren't available, but the lobby wasn't laid out for that, and the bar was rarely open. There was one party, held two nights, but the one time I peeked in everyone looked at me like "who are you and what are you doing in our room?" so I left. The consuite was open nice and late, but just like all consuites seems always to be occupied with eight or so people taking all the seats and deep in a conversation. Possible to jump in to, but not easy. We wound up just sitting in our room during the evenings, Chris chatting on the phone with people back home to get his social fix. Not what I expect at a convention!
Bigger gripe (2) was the photography policy, which was:
Don’t take pictures of anyone unless you have permission from them. This includes panelists, honored guests, and regular congoers. It includes parties, hallways, and the lobby.(If you're wondering, this policy absolutely was enforced.) I complained once, and was told it was taken from Wiscon, which I wasn't so sure of, since I take pictures at Wiscon and have no problems. For comparison, here's Wiscon's policy:
Video and audio recording and photography for personal archival use only is generally okay, unless individuals make it clear that they do not wish to be photographed or filmed, in which case any photography or recording of them is expressly forbidden.That policy is part of a larger policy about politeness and not harassing people, which seems reasonable to me.
Unfortunately, the kinds of shots I like to take at a convention are big crowd shots, showing rooms and events -- the lobby, the consuite, the dealers room, and there's no practical way to get permission of everyone in the room. So I have no photos of FOGcon (San Francisco and the hotel, yes, but the convention itself, no.) Since I live small and don't buy much stuff, photos (digital, of course) are my main form of souvenir. Turns out that I'm a mite peeved to have spent thousands of dollars on a trip and not have any pictures of the reason I went. Ah well.
Specific good things:
Con suite with good food and drink, including the one thing I can live on indefinitely: Clif Bars. Also home made convention-themed beer, lots of both diet soda and fizzy water. Also a magical Rice Krispie bar fairy, who always kept the snack table stocked with exactly three bars. (I want that fairy.) And a big patio!
The location. I thought the location was perfect, both being in San Francisco, and being in that neighborhood of San Francisco. Great restaurants, great transit options, not too touristy. Whole Foods half a block away.
And, a notable feature of the location: the people! I loved talking with a whole bunch of people who are locals, including various of Shannon's co-workers and the charming nihilistic_kid. Also, the ordinary hotel guests seemed to think that the convention was really cool, not the usual reaction of strange-bordering-on-scary.
Overall, I think it was a good convention. I assume the best parts will continue, and the less than optimal aspects will improve.