Pocket program

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Written by Rachel, while it's on my mind, in the run-up to 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.

Pocket program? Program book?

There are two similarly-named but very different documents: the Program Book and the Pocket Program. They have different forms and functions.

  • Program book: Several dozen pages, usually, with full-page art, the really full descriptions of all programming items, write-ups of the Guests of Honor, ads, the list of who's on the concomm, etc. etc. The final version of this usually comes out a week or two before the con.
  • Pocket program: One sheet, usually (in recent years) a tabloid (11x17") piece of paper, printed on both sides. Contains the programming grid (but usually not descriptions for the programming items), contact numbers, hours for various con functions, etc.

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). (Please note that both the blimp and the sword are pieces of art I created. I licensed them Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike; that means that you can use them, but you must credit me when you do so. If you'd like the high-res images, let me know and I'll send them to you.)
  • Other ready-reference information as needed. Possibilities: Late hotel checkout information; recycling information; post-Minicon parties (the Dead Dog at-con post-con party; the Dessicated Dodo, the party that usually happens about a week after the con; etc.); 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. Sometimes the artist GoH has even allowed us to publish some of their line art in the pocket program. (The examples on this page originally included pieces by artist GoH Don Maitz, but I've greyed them out due to copyright.)
  • 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

This is 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:

Please note that full-resolution PDFs of this are available at the URLs in the list above, and the original LibreOffice and Inkscape files are available from me (Rachel Kronick).

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.)

Time blocks: standard and non-standard

Note that the programming head has very helpfully made most of the time blocks consistent. That is, most programming items start and end at the same times. This makes the pocket programmer's 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 the 'grid' was more of a maze, and 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. Notice in the example above that movies are sometimes two hours long, and therefore don't fit easily into the main blocks. Most of the gaming schedule doesn't easily fit, and the Rumpus Room (programming for kids and families) doesn't always fit the grid easily. 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 (that is, repeated left and right), 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 Maps

These could, to be honest, be printed smaller. But in recent years, there hasn't been enough information that needed to fit on this side, and the grid has needed to be full-on tabloid size. So I've ended up making the maps larger than they needed to be to fill space.

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) it 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, and I haven't had time to do proofing with other printers.