Pocket program

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Written by Rachel, while it's on my mind, about a week before Minicon 50.

The Pocket Program is a brief, usually one-sheet, document used at Minicon (and perhaps other Mnstf cons). It is ideally intended to fit easily in people's pockets, and provide ready reference for lots of useful information.

Recent pocket programs

A fair number of Minicon pocket programs are on the web:

If you would like in-progress versions of any of those documents, please let me (Rachel) know -- I have most of them. I've created the pocket program primarily in Libre Office, with the maps done in Inkscape and occasional tweaking in GIMP.

What to include?

Examples of things we've recently included:

  • The full programming grid, including titles, locations and times of all programming items (and participants and even descriptions, if space allows).
  • A full listing of other programming items that don't fit into the grid, such as movies, readings, etc. etc.
  • Maps of the hotel, updated to include where movies will be shown, where late-night concert jams are happening, where dealers are, etc. etc etc.
  • Hours for various con functions, including registration, art show, dealers room, science, volunteers, info desk, hospitality (consuite/bar), movies and whatever else needs to have hours posted.
  • Contact information for the Code of Conduct Committee.
  • A reminder to call 911 in the event of true emergencies.
  • A reminder to check the Bozo Bus Tribune (our at-con newsletter) for the latest information.
  • A reminder that Minicon is a function of Mnstf, and that Mnstf does fun stuff year-round.
  • Credits for the pocket program itself, including copyright information (especially important if including art).
  • Other ready-reference information as needed. Possibilities: Late hotel checkout information; recycling information; post-Minicon parties; reminders to participate in the Mega Moneyduck game; ways to volunteer; etc.
  • Occasional art -- publications may have access to art that is appropriate, as may the con chair or other folks on the concomm
  • Silliness, to taste.
  • Possible clues related to the Medallion Hunt, if requested by the Cluemaster.

=Laying out the Pocket Program

The past few years, I've mostly been doing the pocket program as a tabloid (11x17") document. This has allowed the type to be barely readable: generally 8pt URW Palladio in the main programming grid. Smaller paper requires smaller type. People complain about the tabloid size paper -- "this isn't pocket sized" -- but, hey, they can fold it. If the paper was much smaller, I bet the complaints about readability would be much louder.

Mostly, I've tried to stick to "programming grid on the front, maps and miscellaneous information on the back".

The Grid

Arguably the most important function of the pocket program, especially because it can end up being a better version of the overall schedule than the program book can. (See "The printing process", below, for more on this.) Laying the grid out can be a pain in the butt. Here is a copy of the M49 grid, for reference:

When Minicon is three or four days, I've recently set the grid page in landscape orientation, with the various rooms as columns and the timeline as rows. (For M50, it looks like I'm going to have to put it in portrait orientation.)

Note that the programming head has very helpfully made most of the time blocks consistent. This makes the pocket programmers' life a lot easier, and makes it much easier for con members to actually read the schedule. (I've seen other cons where the pocket program was such a mess of different times and locations that it was almost easier to just read the full descriptions in their equivalent of the program book.) Recently, we've settled on hour-long blocks, with half-hour breaks in between: 10:00am–11:00, 11:30–12:30pm, 1:00–2:00, 2:30–3:30, 4:00–5:00, 5:30–6:30, 7:00–8:00, 8:30–9:30, 10:00–11:00. Most other nearby cons do it this way, too.

The trick, of course, is that some items can't fit precisely into the overall time blocks. Movies, for example, will often be two hours long, and therefore not fit easily into the main blocks. Some concerts will be three hours long. Many readings are only a half-hour. What to do?

There isn't a totally satisfactory solution to this. What I've recently been doing is to have one column in the main grid for "events going on in other places and time", often labeled "Elseplace" or something equally silly, and another whole mini-grid with the non-block items in their own schedules. This means that, for example, the movie room (often called Cinema Obscura as of late) and the official gaming schedule have had their own sections. See the above illustration for an example of this.

I like to give times in both the utmost left and the utmost right columns, with a color scheme that highly contrasts with the rest of the schedule. This makes the schedule easier to read, I find.

When there are items that don't start at the standard times, if I'm going to put them in the grid, I always try to place them in an earlier slot rather than a later one. For example, if Ms. Smith is doing a reading from 6:30 to 7:00, I'll place it in the 5:30–6:30 block rather than the 7:00–8:00 block. My reasoning is that this way, if someone accidentally follows the main schedule, they'll end up early rather than missing the programming item entirely.

The printing process

Because the pocket program is only a single sheet, printing it has a very short lead time (at least compared to the program book). This means that the pocket program can reflect changes made to the schedules, often a lot later than the program book can.

Hopefully, you're working closely with programming and other departments to get as many of the last-minute updates as possible reflected in the pocket program. It's a good idea to send a draft or two to the concomm list and ask for feedback. "With many eyes, all bugs are shallow" and all that.

How long does it take to print? That depends on where you print it, and how much the con is willing to spend. Recently, we've printed the pocket program at Kinko's (AKA FedEx Office). They're supposed to be able to complete any print job in four hours, and can often print the entire run while you wait. If there is a work party, find out when it is. If you're printing through Kinko's, you can probably take the final document to them for printing the day before the pocket program.

That means that -- assuming you're printing through Kinko's and trying to have the finished products ready for the work party -- you should finalize the pocket program a day before the work party. Your personal schedule may change this one way or the other, of course.

Print approximately one copy per con attendee. We can assume that a fair number of people will lose their pocket programs and use more than one, but also some folks will never take one to begin with, so it basically balances out. Check with the con chair to find out what your exact budget is.

We've recently not had Kinko's fold the pocket programs, because a) it saves some money, b) it saves time, c) that gives folks at the Work Party something to do and d) some folks prefer to receive their pocket programs unfolded anyway.

Kinko's is not especially cheap. It is entirely possible to find printers who will do the run for considerably less. However, the con chairs have recently agreed that it's good to have last-minute changes reflected in the pocket program, rather than trying to save money.