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September 14th, 2011:

Talking About Con Crud

I’ve been quiet here in part because Carol and I bought new smartphones on Saturday afternoon: a pair of Droid X2 units with which we are (so far) completely delighted. That said, I’ve discovered that research into the Dalvik VM and bytecode set does not help you learn how to move icons onto your Android desktop. Smartphones don’t come with manuals in the box anymore. Preston Gralla will sell me one on October 5. Until then, my learning process will consist of mildly Web-guided poking around.

More on this later. In the meantime, Michael Covington recently reminded me of a phenomenon I had not thought about in some years: con crud. Basically, people who go to SFF or media/gamer cons often come home with a nasty cold that sometimes borders on flu. Con celebrities have taken to refusing handshakes and hugs for fear of catching it (PvP guru Scott Kurtz is one) but nobody seems to agree on what-all causes it nor how to avoid it.

I’ve gotten con crud more than once. Interestingly, it wasn’t always at SFF cons. I came down with a nasty case after the 1983 (I think) Trenton Computer Festival. And the mother of all con crud episodes for me was a computer trade show in 1992, at which I came down with a bad case of bacterial pneumonia after three days in the PC Techniques show booth. It took some heavy-duty antibiotics and a week flat on my ass in bed to become functional again.

While there’s little agreement online as to causes, there are statistical bumps in the discussion on the following points:

  • Not enough sleep. Staying up all night is a form of recreation in itself.
  • Physical contact with other people. Hugs, not drugs!
  • Bad food. People eat sugar and fat at cons. (Never at home, right?)
  • Poor personal hygiene. We’re having too much fun to shower!

Sleep is certainly an issue. When I don’t sleep enough, I get sick. I have noticed that (within my own circles) morning people are generally healthier than night people, and among those I know well enough to ask, night people get way less sleep than morning people. There are of course causality questions here, but I think I can say confidently that the con crowd is dominated by night people.

The notion that fat and sugar suppress your immune system, and the flipside that fruits and veggies and whole grains strengthen it, is unproven and probably nonsense. (If it were true I’m sure I’d be long dead.) Skipping meals entirely may be more of an issue here. Hugs and handshakes may put some loose viruses on your skin, but breathing other people’s air is probably a more potent vector, and anybody who works in a big company cube farm is breathing other people’s viruses at con-scale all day, every day. Poor personal hygiene is an issue, though it may be as simple as not washing your hands as much as you do in mundane life.

I do have a suggested cause that I have not yet seen online: talking too much. Some people talk for a living. Most people work and study largely in silence. Then they go to a con and spend three days and three nights talking almost continuously. By the end of Day 2 of booth duty at early Coriolis show booths I generally felt scratchy in the throat, and when the whole thing was done and over I could barely talk at all. Basically, when you shred your vocal cords all weekend, you provide a stressed environment in your throat that’s easy prey for microorganisms. Not sleeping may then be enough to push you over the edge into serious infection.

If this is true, there’s no easy way around it. Cons are social gatherings, after all, and the real draw are not the exhibits or conference sessions but all the interesting people. My prescription will get some people angry but I think it will work: Talk all you want, but be in bed by midnight and sleep until 9:30. Try it. Let me know if it works.