WorldCon Panel Picker: Advantages and Nuances

I detailed my thoughts on a Panel Picker ala SXSW yesterday. Today I want to talk about some of the advantages.

The Suggestion Process

While writing this I went from calling the person who suggested the panel the “suggester” to the “nominator”.

I suggest there be two phases to the picker. A nomination round and the voting round.

During the nomination round people fill out a form with the details of the panel and it is available online for others to see. During the phase other people can “second” the nomination, essentially voting for it to be voted on later.

Once nominations close, the programming committee goes over the nominations and selects a list of panels. These panels are them put up for con goers to vote on.

Anyone can second a nominated panel, but only people actually signed up for the con can vote in the selection round. I mean really what’s the point of letting people vote who aren’t even going to be there. That’s just noise in the machine.


There are a number of advantages to letting the fans create the panels, and they make the program director’s job a little easier.

Panels are Prepackaged

It isn’t up to the program director to come up with every idea, pick a moderator, pick panelists, make sure they communicate pre-con, make sure they are prepared, etc. All that comes from the nominator.

I would expect the nominator to be the person who plans to moderate the panel. She is the panel’s leader even if not the moderator, and she will do all the stuff required to make the panel a success. Since she will also promote the panel during the voting stage, she’s taking responsibility ahead of time. If the panel sucks or screws up, she is the one everyone will associate with the panel.

There are some nuances to the nomination process I’ll talk about below.

Popular knowledge

Because people voted for a panel, you have an idea how popular it is going to be. This helps with scheduling rooms because you know which panels need big rooms and which ones don’t. You can also prepare for the crowds and distribute really popular panels over the days of the con.

Drives Traffic to Con Site

The nominator becomes invested in her panel. Not only is she responsible for its success during the con, she has to get it in the con in the first place. To do this she has to encourage all their followers to support the nomination. This sends people the con website (traffic yeah!), where they will learn more about the con and other nominated panels.

Once the nominations are in, our nominator must get people not only to vote for her panel, but to sign up for the con in advance. (Yeah, pre sales! Yeah, more traffic!)


No system or idea is perfect and a panel picker won’t fix all problems. Here are a few things I’ve thought of.

No Dream Panels

You can’t let people just nominate random panels that they can’t make happen, so here are few rules.

1. The nominator must already be registered for the con. Before she can nominate, she has to commit to being there.

2. If a panel gets nominated, all of the panelist must be registered for the con. I’m sure some people, particularly authors, would receive complimentary registrations. Everyone who going to be on the panel must commit to coming. This also ensures the nominator isn’t just hoping there dream panelists will be there.

Just because a lot of people vote for it doesn’t make it good.

People are going to try and game the system. They might want an obnoxious panel to be nominated just to yank other fan’s chains. Someone might have a strong following, but not be a good moderator.

The program director and committee will still have a chance to influence which panels get picked. This would happen mainly between the nomination and voting rounds, but could happen after as well.

Small can be good.

Just because a panel doesn’t get very many seconds to its nomination, doesn’t mean it isn’t something people might be interested in. The Program Director can move any nomination to the voting round they want.

Also not every room at a con is big. You may want smaller panels to fill the smaller rooms. This might mean when it comes to put panels in rooms, you don’t have enough rooms for very popular panels, and decide to add ones with less votes.

Just Cuz They Said They Would Do it…

Even with all of this process, some people will no show. Or their panel will be dumb and not live up to the copy. But the truth is that happens with the top down approach too. We’re not really any worse off.

I’d love to hear other people’s suggestion for problems that should be addressed. Leave a comment below.

Panel Picker For Conventions

LonestarConLogoThis August I went to my first WorldCon in San Antonio. It was a lot of fun and made me want to go to more cons. Already signed up for London in 2014.

There were a lot of great things about the convention and a lot of really good panels. But there were a number of times I heard people on a panel say, “I don’t know why I’m here.” Or they wondered why they were on a particular panel. Other times the panel was completely off topic when compared to the program.
London WorldCon
When I asked about this during the feedback sessions, it became clear that most con programming is created from the top down. The program director decides what panels would be interesting, then looks at the list of people available for panels and does a mash up. I know this is oversimplification, they do take suggestions for ideas, and may create panels based on who’s there.

This struck me as strange. Especially considering science fiction conventions like WorldCon are run by fans for fans. There are cons, particularly comic book and media cons, run by companies for profit and their motivations may be different from a fan convention.

So if a con is created for fans, why have a top down approach to panel creation?

Why not have a bottom up method?

SXSW Panel Picker

I was immediately reminded of how the South by Southwest (SXSW) creates its panels. SXSW started out as a music festival in Austin, expanded to include film and interactive festivals. According to their website, around 34,000 attendees come every year.
To create their panel programming, they use an online application call the Panel Picker. It is a bottom up approach to panel creation. People suggest panels they’d like to see and then potential attendees vote on the panels.

The Application Process for SXSW panels
The Application Process
for SXSW panels

When suggesting/creating a panel, you submit a description, including what would be used in the program, and who would be on the panel. The whole panel comes as a package to the programming people and the suggester is responsible for making sure everyone on the panel knows what they are doing ahead of time.

I wasn’t able to see exactly how panel picker works because suggestions are currently closed from 2013 and not up for 2014. But there is information in their FAQ.

One thing to note. The votes aren’t the deciding factor in what gets in the convention. There is an advisory board, and the program directors who make decisions.

WorldCon Panel Picker

This approach would work great for a big con like WorldCon. But there is one really big piece of the pie that is currently missing to make this happen – the software.

I looked to see if the SXSW panel picker was open source, but it doesn’t seem to be. There are a couple of open source con related projects going on right now, this could be a third.

I’m going to start thinking more about this concept and blogging about it. Tomorrow, a post about the advantages of doing it this way and some nuances that need to be thought about.

Then I’ll start a design plan for this piece of software. List out what it must do, how it would work/flow and what would be needed to make it happen.

Part 2: Advantages And Nuances

PHPStorm Debugging Won’t Start

Problem: PHPStorm will let you debug something running on a server running XDebug. But it never connects

Context: Server is a Bitnami Magento stack running on VMWare. Configured XDebug by commenting out the lines at end of php.ini

Solution: The problem is the line:


This is the default line added by Bitnami to php.ini. But if you are connecting remotely, even from the same machine outside the VM, you have to put the address of the machine you are debugging from there.

Find your IP address. The easiest way is to go to the command line and type:


Then look for IP addresses in there. It is probably the one on en0.

You can also look at the php variable:


Which you can get from a phpInfo() call.

Turning On Magento Logging

Problem: Magento does not output log files

Context: New Magento Install

Solution: Turn them on in Admin

In Magento admin go to System->Advanced:Developer->Log Setting.

Set Enabled to YES.

Still nothing will happen if there are no log messages. The log directory won’t exist, nor the log files until the first time something is output to the log. Magento doesn’t really log much, so you should log something.

To make sure it works add this line to the end of index.php

Mage::log(‘Does this work’);

Connecting to a Local VM With a Domain

Problem: When running a VMWare virtual machine, the machine has an IP you can connect to, but that is hard to remember and subject to change.

Context: VMWare running the Bitnami Magento image.


Configure the local machine’s host file to know the VMs ip. Now you can create SFTP bookmarks with the domain name instead of the ip.


1. Get the VMs IP address

On the VM machine type:


The IP address with be in the first section, and probably start with 10.0.x.x

2. On OSX change the host file.

The file is at:


Open it for editing. This needs to be done as root. BBEdit will ask you to authenticate.

Add a new line at the bottom bitnami-vm.local

Remember whatever domain you choose will over ride the rest of the internet, so I picked a .local, which might cause problems with bonjure.

3. Flush your local DNS cache

In terminal type:

dscacheutil -flushcache

Making Products Show Up on the Home Page of a New Magento Install

Problem: In a new install of magento you can create products but they don’t show on the home page.

Context: New magento install


To make things show up on your home page, you have to go to CMS->Pages and find,  “Home Page” and click to edit. Then add

{{block type=”catalog/product_list” category_id=”XX” template=”catalog/product/list.phtml”}}

where XX is the category ID you want shown on the front page. You can get the category ID in Catalog->Manage Category then click the category you want on the left. The ID will be shown next to the name.

Also go to Catalog->Manage Products->YourProduct->Inventory and make sure you set your product to be in stock. Also that the quantity is not 0.

If you can’t set that. Go to System->Configuration->Catalog:Inventory->Product Stock Options and set “Manage Stock” to No.

Mounting A Shared Folder in VMWare Under Linux

Problem: VMWare Fusion allows you to set up shared folders for a VM in its preferences. Once you have it enabled, where is the mount?

Context: VMWare Fusion 5, Bitnamit Magento Image, Ubunto


Mounting Shared Folders in a Linux Guest

After you have enabled a shared folder, you can mount one or more directories or subdirectories in the shared folder to any location in the file system in addition to the default location of /mnt/hgfs.

Use the mount command to mount all shares, one share, or a subdirectory within a share to any location in the file system.

Mount Command Syntax

Command Description
mount -t vmhgfs .host:/ /home/user1/shares Mounts all shares to
mount -t vmhgfs .host:/foo /tmp/foo Mounts the share named 
foo to /tmp/foo
mount -t vmhgfs .host:/foo/bar /var/lib/bar Mounts the subdirectory bar 
within the share foo to /var/lib/bar


You can use VMware-specific options in addition to the standard mount syntax. For usage information for the host-guest file system options, type the command /sbin/mount.vmhgfs -h.

When you install VMware Tools, an entry is made to etc/fstab to specify the location of shared folders. You can edit this file to change or add entries. For example, to auto-mount at startup, edit /etc/fstab and add the line .host :/ /mnt/hgfs vmhgfs defaults 0 0.

The VMware Tools services script loads a driver that performs the mount. If the mount fails, a message appears regarding mounting HGFS shares.


The mount can fail if shared folders are disabled or if the share does not exist. You are not prompted to run the VMware Tools configuration program again.

Development Problems and Solutions

I’ve taken a new approach to documentation during a development process. There have been a number of times – especially when dealing with Magento – that I’ve had a problem doing something, figured it out and then a few weeks later I have the same problem again and can’t remember how to solve it. Often these are those problems that take hours to trial and error and google searching to figure out.

So I’ve come up with a solution. Now when I have one of these problems and solve it, I create a new Evernote note with a specific format and tag detailing how I solved it.

Every one of these notes starts with three headings, Problem:, Context:, Solution:. Then I fill in the information for each. The whole note gets a tag “problem/solution”. Now when I run into that problem again, I can easily find the note on how to fix it.

I’ve decided that since I often have to search and search online for the solutions to these problems, that I’d start making them blog posts here on Reactuate as well. So you can look forward a lot of development related posts in the very near future.