Geeking out: Penguicon 2015 takes over Westin Hotel

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published April 30, 2015

 Toby Richards, of Ferndale, sports his Toby the Unicorn costume during the costume contest April 25 at Penguicon at the Westin Hotel. Penguicon is a community-run convention celebrating open-source software, science fiction, music, gaming, DIY and more.

Toby Richards, of Ferndale, sports his Toby the Unicorn costume during the costume contest April 25 at Penguicon at the Westin Hotel. Penguicon is a community-run convention celebrating open-source software, science fiction, music, gaming, DIY and more.

Photos Donna Agusti

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SOUTHFIELD — Whether you’re a geek, a nerd or something in between, chances are you’ve heard of Penguicon, the yearly community-run convention celebrating computer programming, science fiction, DIY and beyond.

From April 24-26, attendees eager to let their freak flag fly hunkered down at the Westin Southfield Detroit Hotel to attend panels, informational sessions, demonstrations, concerts and parties.

“It’s all about the community coming together to teach each other what they know of their geeky interests,” said Penguicon Assistant Chair Scott Kennedy.

According to Kennedy, the event featured 500-plus hours of paneling, ranging from computer programming techniques to networking to scriptwriting, from Irish stick fighting and parkour to comics and gaming.

In addition to the panels, a Makers Market was set up at the convention featuring artisan crafts for attendees to peruse.

Feral Works owner Melissa Ebbe, of Milwaukee, said she has been working at the event for three years selling art, masks, makeup and jewelry to convention participants.

“The Makers Market is artisans and artists making products to suit the nerd convention population,” Ebbe said. “(The convention) is very laid-back, but it’s also very DIY.”

Gordon Kay, of Taylor, said he attended the convention to network. During this process, he met a few new friends: BluRaven Houvener and Megan Brandal, both of Macomb.

“We just met and we’re all here for the same reason — to get to know each other a bit,” Kay said.

Houvener said he started attending the convention last year as a volunteer, and this year he is head of Web comics programming.

“It’s an amazing convention that looks out for the people who come to it,” Houvener said.

According to Kristy Currer, of Farmington Hills, the convention is completely volunteer-run. This year, Currer was posted up at the greeter’s booth with her friend Miranda Webster, also of Farmington Hills. The two met at a previous convention and this year were helping guide people in the right direction, answering questions and handing out maps and informational booklets.

Currer and Webster said they were both drawn to the convention because of the idea of community that it creates.

For those who are nervous about meeting new people, Currer said convention organizers make sure attendees feel welcome at the event. During a panel called “How to Improve Your Con Experience as an Introvert,” attendees learned how to curb any possible social anxiety to get the full experience out of Penguicon.

“The goal is to keep people from feeling like they don’t know anyone,” Currer said.

James Stolpin, of Holly, said that out of all the events at the convention, he enjoyed the people watching the best, as many convention-goers dress in costume.

“I’m having fun, enjoying myself, people watching. It’s just fun to sit back and watch people walk by; it’s an interesting cross section of the population here,” Stolpin said.

The allure of costumes also drew Jan and David Henry, of Farmington, to the convention. During the day, Jan was sporting animatronic wings that David hand-made for her and which moved in response to her movements. Later, they changed into Anna and Kristoff costumes, a la Disney’s “Frozen.”

“For me, it’s everything to see other people in costume,” Jan said. “In normal, everyday life it’s just a costume to people, but here I know it’s more.”

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