This weekend, April 10-13, 2014, will be Notacon 11. The last Notacon, apparently.
The first Notacon I attended was Notacon 2. I was less than impressed, as it seemed like the most poorly organized event that I had ever gone to. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was because the event was not put together by professional event planners, but by a bunch of geeks who were no older than me, who didn’t see any reason why they couldn’t do something they thought would be cool. But in those first years, the execution wasn’t quite at the level of the vision yet.
There were printed schedules for when talks and presentations were to be given, but due to last minute changes no one was where they were supposed to be, when they were supposed to be. I missed talks that I had wanted to see, and saw things that I had no interest in. Speakers’ presentation slides were projected onto bed sheets that were strung up in an improvised manner. If they had a microphone, maybe it worked but as likely as not it was low on batteries or cut in and out throughout the talk. I didn’t know anyone there, and no one seemed to be friendly or inviting. I tried to chat with geeks playing with legos and soldering irons, but no one seemed very interested in getting to know me, or talking about what they were working on.
So that was my first and last Notacon, until Notacon 6. A friend I knew from the interent, named aestetix, who I’d never met IRL declared in a blog post that he needed a ride from the airport so he could deliver his talk, and he offered to get whoever helped him in for free. I’d long admired his thinking and writing, and took him up on the offer. By then, Notacon had matured into a well run conference, with interesting talk topics and personalities. Drew Curtis from Fark.com presented that year, as did Jason Scott of Textfiles.com and the BBS Documentary, Archive Team, and the Internet Archive. And Mitch Altman, of Cornfield Electronics and TV-B-Gone, and a young comic book artist named Ed Piskor, who was working on a 4-part graphic novel on hackers called Wizzywig, and would later go on to create a definitive history of hip hop and rap music, Hip Hop Family Tree. Among the attendees was Emmanuel Goldstein, whom I had read about years ago in connection with the legendary 2600. I was afraid to walk up to him and say hello, but I was impressed that he was there, and amazed that I knew people who knew him.
I went every year after that, and made friends with a lot of people there. Aestetix introduced me to Paul and Jodie Schneider, Notacon’s primary organizers, and I met many others there for the first time who would become friends, acquaintances, and professional contacts. Most significantly, for me, I met a neurohacker I met at Notacon 6 named ne0nra1n, who was very friendly and made me feel welcome as a newcomer to this space, and corresponded with me after that weekend, giving me encouragement to present a talk myself. At the time I didn’t think I had anything that I was good enough at or knowledgeable enough about to make an interesting talk, and the amount of work that I felt I’d need to prepare something even barely adequate frightened me. My first presentation proposal, a talk on intellectual property and copyright reform, wasn’t accepted for Notacon 7. I felt secretly relieved.
But ne0nra1n’s encouragement changed my life. As a result of Notacon, I started this web site, not yet knowing what it would be. I participated in the founding of the Makers’ Alliance hackerspace in Cleveland, and through my involvement there, first encountered the Cleveland Game Devs, and became heavily involved with them in 2010. This helped me to rediscover my enthusiasm for programming and game development, which I’d put aside for many years.
I delivered my first presentation at Notacon 8, “How I (FINALLY) Made My First Videogame”. I put a lot of work into it, which was only possible because I’d just lost my job two weeks before, and that allowed me to pour 14-18 hours/day into working on finishing that first game, and to preparations more directly related to the talk itself.
I worked on the game and the talk I would give about how I had made it, right up until the last minute, and while I knew my topic and what I wanted to say, I hadn’t had time to rehearse, and no real idea if I’d fill the hour slot I had, or go over. But my prepared material fit the hour almost perfectly, and I received many compliments from attendees — this completely exceeded my expectations.
Presenting was a great experience. I was transformed that day. When I went to bed that night, it all hit me at once: I had done it. I had grown up to be the person who I had dreamed of being since I was little: a videogame designer. It was something I’d given up on when I became an adult, and I had tried to forget about for years, but I never had found anything to replace the passion I’d had for that dream, and life felt unfulfilling as a result. But, because of that chance interaction with ne0nra1n at Notacon 6, in two years I had become the person who I had always wanted to be.
Talking about that journey in front of a room full of people, had made it real in a way that it hadn’t been before. I felt, at last, like I had arrived, and I had a place where I belonged.