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Where is the conference?
We're at a great conference site in northern California near the coast, with either San Jose or Monterey airports being the closest commercial airports. Once your registration for the conference has been accepted, we'll tell you exactly where we'll be this year, but trust us, you'll like it... the rooms are what you'd expect for a business traveller or executive retreat, and the food's great too.
We want a site that has a warm, friendly atmosphere; that allows us to virtually "take over" the site; where we can have sessions 24 hours a day; food that some people describe as a "cruise ship on land"; that is within an hour and a half drive of an airport served by major airlines; and that's at least an hour and no more than a four hour drive from Silicon Valley. Our criteria is very difficult to achieve, and is not like what most other conferences are seeking.
We feel that it is important for all attendees to stay at the conference site as much as possible. When you're there, you'll have more opportunities to schmooze with others -- and they with you. When the conference is too near, people don't have to make a commitment to the conference and can just drop in for a few hours which detracts from the entire conference. When the conference is in the mountains, the drive itself tends to get people to "shift gears" from the hectic work life to a more thoughtful time at the conference. Although many people spend almost all of their time indoors, we believe that being surrounded by trees, crisp clear blue skies, mountains or the ocean, and feeling that we're away from the hustle and bustle of freeways and cities does have a positive affect on the entire conference. There is something quite refreshing and mentally invigorating to walk out of two back-to-back sessions and step outdoors to look at the sun setting into the Pacific ocean . You just can't get that ambience at a downtown or airport hotel.
For quite a few years we met in Tahoe. A few years ago we decided to make a change and picked a nice site about one hour north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Santa Rosa. We stayed there several years, and then three years at a very nice site near the south entrance to Yosemite. After that, we changed venues to a location in norther California near the coast.
We're always actively seeking appropriate sites. A perfect site would be a secluded mountain or beach retreat with very nice hotel rooms (including private rooms), a few dormitory-style rooms, and gourmet food priced very low. Ideally, we'd be the only people at the site the entire time. One of our site-selection challenges is that we need sufficient meeting space and sleeping rooms including the need to have a plenary session for 250 people break and go directly to a meal without any change in room setups.
What about the facilities and food?
One aspect of a great conference is that the attendees shouldn't be disappointed with the food or facilities. Over the years at this conference, and at dozens of other conferences, we've found that the when attendees have no problems with the facility and no problems with the food, they can better spend their energies participating in the conference itself. When people have a problem with food or facilities, it detracts from their energy in participating in sessions and discussions. In addition to all of the meals, we also have continuous "munchies" with a variety of drinks -- that's so that whenever you want to you can grab a handful of cookies or candy, some chips and salsa, or other "junk" food. Of course, there's also a variety of other "munchies" such as fruit, cheese, crackers, etc.as the variety changes throughout the weekend.
Why so many meals?
In addition to breakfast, lunch, and dinner, there's also a midnight buffet each night to help you stay up for a 2 a.m. session. We've found that some people get up early and want a full breakfast; some stay up until 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. and think that the midnight buffet is their dinner meal to keep them going all night. By having all of these meals, you can choose to eat as much or as little as you want when you want it, with your peers... remember, even the discussions at the dining room tables are a part of the conference.
Why so much food?
We try to have a large variety of good food at each buffet so that you can choose to satisfy your diet (or lack thereof). We've found that by having buffets with a large variety of foods we stand an excellent chance at meeting almost everyone's tastes from rich to low fat, to low carb, to vegetarian. Anyone with special dietary needs not met at a meal or people with allergies can just ask one of the serving staff for assistance -- they've been very helpful in finding solutions. We strive for a wide variety so that people can taste many things, but that also means we might run out of some dishes too.
What are the facilities like?
In addition to the dining areas, we have areas for small groups to gather, hopefully with a piano, maybe with couches, but definitely with tables and chairs. These are good places to sit and talk while grabbing a handful of cookies or candy, some chips and salsa, some coffee, or a soda.
We have a variety of meeting rooms: a large room to hold everyone comfortably for plenary sessions, various smaller rooms for the many parallel sessions, and a "demo" room where attendees can set-up and show-off their recent projects.
The sleeping accommodations are typical of an upscale business hotel room (or of an executive retreat). Shared and private rooms are available. The site, and some sleeping rooms are wheelchair accessible.
What about the price?
The conference fee is a complete package price that includes your room, meals (including two dinners, two midnight buffets, lunch Saturday, brunch Sunday, breakfast Saturday, and light breakfast Sunday), munchies, drinks, a shirt, the roster, and all events at the conference. Virtually all of the basics are provided once you arrive. We also offer both full and partial scholarships for those with a financial need. Over the years we worked out a complete package price rather than having each item separately charged. This means that you know exactly what the conference will cost you. But equally, since we're paying the same per person, it will cost you the same whether you arrive on Friday or late Saturday. In part, we do that to encourage everyone to attend for the entire conference.
What are the hours of the conference?
The conference begins at 15:00 or so on a Friday afternoon and runs for 48 continuous hours with the concluding session ending at 15:00 on Sunday. Yes, there are impromptu sessions starting at 1 and 2 a.m. We also have an optional Sunday evening program that includes dinner on Sunday with that program concluding at about 22:00 Sunday evening. The only planned breaks are for meals.