Not long after my change in employment earlier this year, I got in touch with GeekDad editor Ken Denmead, who generously ran a couple guest posts I wrote in April and later included me on a very cool invite list, bringing me on board as a full-fledged contributor to the site. I’m incredibly thankful, because a) It’s GeekDad, and How Freaking Awesome; b) I’ve gotten to write pieces I wouldn’t otherwise have had the chance to, which inspired some writing I’m proud of.
It has been tremendously neat playing a small role in the site and watching it grow, and one of my resolutions for 2010 is to write more for GeekDad than I did in 2009.
That said, I had a TON of fun with this year’s entries, and while I truly enjoyed many of my shorter blog entries, there are exactly 10 longer GeekDad pieces about which I was most excited and got the most enjoyment out of writing, so Yay for a Ready-Made End-of-Year List! (Cop out: I’m presenting them in chronological order because it’s easiest.)
1) May 6 – Hands-on and Close-up Fun: Penguicon 7.0 . That weekend in May was absolutely one of the highlights of the year, and even the decade, for me. (I did a longer, more personal and detailed post here.)
2) May 21 – Girls Against Girls – Figuring It Out With Bonnie Burton – It’s incredibly difficult to accurately describe how enjoyable this interview was, and the book’s lessons have come in handy more than once in my daughter’s middle school years.
4) June 18 – Review: Swim Ways’ R/C Cyber Ray – Well, we got to play with a nifty toy that was only fun for a little while, but I like the way the review turned out, and who knows, maybe Swim Ways has ironed out the wrinkles by now.
5) June 27 – Nature at Its Closest – With several inches of snow outside needing shoveled, summer seems a long way off. But remembering the clutches of baby robins we got to watch hatch and grow on our front porch does warm the heart. (awwww!)
6) July 9 – 10 Things Parents Should Know About Warehouse 13 – It was a good excuse to stay in and watch some SyFy channel with Kelsey, but the truth is, though we though the premiere was OK, we never watched another episode.
7) July 26 – Bubbles, Zubbles, Toys and Troubles – Although at its heart this is another toy review, I had a blast talking to inventor Tim Kehoe about his 15-year journey from the idea for colored bubbles to the final production this summer.
8) Aug. 13 – Activision’s Science Papa Will Remind You Of Mama’s Cooking – Reviewing video games means PLAYING video games, so it’s not like I was going out of my way or anything. Plus I got to write this: “To draw a 1980s toy parallel, it’s Mighty Men & Monster Maker vs. Fashion Plates all over again.”
9) Sept. 21 – 10 Things Parents Should Know About Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs – Kelsey and I had gone to see this just for fun, and I was so surprised that I liked it so much that I jumped at the chance to do the GeekDad write-up.
10) October 6 – Princesses and Mermaids: Who Needs Rescuing Again? – We were introduced to Jim C. Hines and his books at Penguicon, marking yet another reason the trip to Romulus was so memorable.
To circle back to the end of the first paragraph: c) It’s GeekDad, and How Freaking Awesome. Gobs and piles of thanks to Ken, Matt Blum and my fellow contributors and the Wired editors and everyone else I don’t know who makes GeekDad work.
I don’t remember it snowing when I went to bed last night, but there’s a thick and heavy layer over everything this morning, and I like the way it clings to the branches. Because I know it means I’m facing a heavy-lifting driveway-shoveling session, I figured I’d better try and capture the beauty before I go out and get all pissed off about it. (Click any of the pictures to see bigger versions on Flickr.)
I like the way this one came out, with the pine tree in the background:
This one was a bit of a surprise: Some of these, I tweaked the light levels slightly so the shadowed areas were less blobby (“blobby” = Clue #1,138 that I’m >shock!< not really a photographer.), but I left this one alone because I really like the “darkening woods” feel.
There are a few other shots in the set: Just put on your mittens and click here to see them.
Scott D.M. Simmons is a talented artist – check out his contributions to the Topps Widevision series of The Clone Wars sketch cards – and a super nice guy who’s clearly having fun with his work.
So when he started taking commissions for holiday gifts, I was struck with a lightning bolt of inspiration and shot him an email asking about commissioning a Star Wars sketch with a personal twist as a present for my friend Jim.
Or perhaps we should now call him Jim Solo:
Not only is that a good likeness of Jim (right downto the ILM baseball cap he often sports), but I love Scott’s idea to have Chewie lugging around the busted-up Boba Fett armor.
Thanks, Scott – and Happy Life Day, Jim!
I love when snow piles up on the Christmas lights.
…and from a slightly different angle:
This recollection – which I’ve had in mind for awhile but was recently jumpstarted by something my friend Adam wrote – is likely to wander and be a bit nebulous (yeah – surprise, right?) because it’s not focused on a single anecdote or event, but more on feelings and associations and tangents.
See, 1989 was the year that I changed my music.
Maybe not changed, really; maybe it’s more like I finally really felt what sort of music I liked.
And though I’m thinking about 1989, I’m going to start further back because a) I feel like it and b) it gives a little background.
I think the first time I was really hit by music that sounded different from “regular” pop music was in spring of 1985 when I was a freshman in high school and “West End Girls” was all over the radio. I associate it very strongly with a weekend class trip to New York City, and the long bus ride and staying up late in a hotel in New Jersey consuming pretty much a whole package of Oreos.
Synthpop was, of course, a real flavor-of-the-moment thing, but this song struck something deep, and I was hooked on the Pet Shop Boys for long after the tune fell off the chart.
That fall, when I was a sophomore, I gave community theatre a shot and auditioned for a North Canton Playhouse production of The Passion of Dracula. (A possible branching moment: There was also a Junior Achievement introductory meeting that night, which I was interested in, and I had to choose between the two.) To my genuine surprise – this was my first theatre experience, outside my freshman year drama class – I landed the role of Dracula. This wound up starting about a year-and-a-half of solid community theatre involvement, including dating a girl I met in Dracula who not only encouraged my Pet Shop Boys listening, but introduced me to Depeche Mode’s Music for the Masses and The Cure’s Standing on a Beach. (Oddly enough, the latter did very little for me, which is funny in a way, considering what’s coming up later.)
Now, not having the Internet and blink-twice-to-hear-similar-artists like these damn kids today, I really didn’t expand my horizons in what we used to call “progressive” or “alternative” music. The next song I really really remember stirring my gut was New Order’s “True Faith,” in 1987 – and it’s still one of my all-time-favorite “windows-down-and-crank-the-stereo” songs when nobody’s around.
So, if you look at my cassette collection in spring 1989, there’s not a lot of “progressive” in there – two Pet Shop Boys tapes, The Art of Noise In Visible Silence (almost solely because of the Peter Gunn theme – or as we called it, The Spy Hunter Music) and the aforementioned Standing on a Beach, which I actually sold to Adam for nine bucks, I think. (Also funny because he had found it in my car when I’d bought it a couple years earlier and totally made fun of me buying it.)
As previously discussed in my 1989 memories, I began dating a girl from Germany early in the year, and as summer kicked off and her inevitable departure neared, I wanted to do something really amazingly cool before she left, so I bought us tickets to the New Order, Public Image, Ltd. and Sugarcubes show at Blossom Music Center. (Because, you know, a rock concert. That’s big when you’re 18.)
Adam, having recently undergone his own change in music tastes, asked if I’d get a ticket for him, too, so the three of us went together.
Mind you, I had no freaking clue who PiL and the Sugarcubes were. And since I had never bought an entire New Order tape, “True Faith” was still the only song I really knew, though if pressed, I might have recognized “Bizarre Love Triangle.”
But “True Faith” still hit hard and deep, and I knew it would be awesome to hear in concert.
It was. And because it was the only song I knew at the time, it’s the only one I can remember, although I do know that I wore an old beat-up fedora that I found in the trunk of someone’s car and that we danced the entire night on the lawn and had a ridiculously good time with all these oddly-dressed and strangely-made-up people the likes of whom I had never seen en masse, but whose company I enjoyed nonetheless.
This was July, 1989: My first – what would you call it? Punk? New Wave? “Progressive?” “Alternative?” – concert. (Yay Internet: Most of the show can be found, badly recorded but totally appropriate for the era, on the series of tubes.)
A little more than a month later, then, Adam and I started our freshman year at Bowling Green State University, which is really where my thing for alternative music exploded. Adam had a kick-ass stereo system (which, back then, kids, meant having monstrous speakers that took up almost as much space as our refrigerator) and a massive CD collection, and he was also good at meeting people and making friends, so basically, simply by having Adam as a roommate, I found myself round-the-clock immersed in the sounds of Xymox and Alphaville and Bauhaus and Erasure and even more of Depeche Mode and The Cure, and when I want to be there in Chapman Hall again, with those friends and all the ridiculous cliched-but-true freshman year drama and heartbreak and anger and love, that music takes me there.
Music has never again played as big a part in my life as it did when I was in college, and it started that fall.
Another aside to The Cure Standing on a Beach cassette that Adam bought from me secondhand: Until recently, it was, I think, the only place to hear a song called “A Few Hours After This.” I couldn’t have told you the name of that song or even described its sound until the past few years, when Adam cued it up to jog my memory and the damn thing put a lump in my throat the size of a tennis ball because it yanked me so hard and fast back to freshman year.
An article in the campus newspaper about a comedy show on the university’s FM radio station (88.1 WBGU – The Shark!) led me to get in touch with its creators, and the rest of that year, I joined its weekly broadcast, which, in turn, hooked me on the idea of spending more time on the radio and started me on the path to discovering even more music over the next few years, when I was a disc jockey at the station.
And now we come to the end of 1989: I am home on Christmas break, and since my Dad is working New Year’s Eve, my Mom stays home and allows my little brothers and me to invite some friends over for the night.
Some of my close friends from high school, along with my new best friends in the whole damn world from Bowling Green, came over, and we had a freaking blast, the details of which are mostly irrelevant here – except this one: Adam has this tape, right? It’s a new tape that some semi-local musician brought into the CD store where Adam had worked, and we all need to listen to it right now.
So we cluster in the living room of the house where I grew up – and I’m not going to lie, there has been some imbibing, though Mom being Mom, there’s plenty of crash room in the house and nobody’s driving home impaired – and it’s me and my best old friends and my best new friends and we’re all a little wound up and goofy and it’s fantastic and awesome and it’s New Year’s Eve and this is what’s going on in my world the first time I hear Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine on my parents’ tape deck.
And it is effing incredible.
I remember smiling and I remember laughing at things like “…did he just say he wanted to fuck the devil?” (Answer: No. He did not.)
Yes, it’s a damn dark raging album, but the thing was, it was so much freaking fun to listen to. I never became a full-on NIN fan, mostly because nothing else has ever hit me the way Pretty Hate Machine did.
It came along at the right moment; the right crossroads; the right ending to a year.
This just has me hyper.
I haven’t talked to Mark Corcoran, illustrator of Star Wars: The Mystery of The Rebellious Robot since I got back in touch with him in September to chat about the 30th anniversary of the book’s release. At the time, the Booth house was caught in a massive wave of Beatlemania from the build-up to The Beatles: Rock Band – and Mark & I talked awhile about the Fab Four’s movies and albums and how cool it was that my 12-year-old daughter can drop quotes from “A Hard Day’s Night” and debate the merits of “Revolver” vs. “Rubber Soul.”
In the mailbox this afternoon, I was surprised to find a small envelope from Mark.
Inside, this hand-drawn Card of Sheer Awesome:
I was just rendered spastic and went into giddy geek convulsions rushing to show it to Jenn & Kelsey. The Beatle ‘do, the scissors clutched in R2’s extender arm, and the quote from “A Hard Day’s Night,” – to say nothing of Mark’s gorgeous attention to detail – it just gave me this rush of delight.
Inside was a note reading “Hey Booths” – with, no less, “Booths” rendered in a perfect echo of the famous Beatles logo! – “Happy Krimble!” – a reference to the band’s 1963 Christmas message to its fan club.
I mean, seriously: I can’t get over just how amazingly neat this is.
I like attaching meaning and importance to objects and dates and places. I like putting these mental thumbtacks on the map to help me remember the lines that led there. I like placing these little tripwires in my memory.
All of which is why just after midnight last night, I put on my running shoes.
Winter solstice arrives today, meaning the days start getting longer again.
And yes, I know that winter-weather-wise, we’re nowhere near the true cold heart of the season here in Ohio, but like I said, this is about calendars and turning points and milestones in my brain.
It hasn’t been an easy year in the Booth house, and while there were many Moments of Indescribable Awesome and Times of Quiet Joy, it’s also been one of the most stressful, unstable and difficult times Jenn & I have had in our nearly 14 years of marriage, and while there are pieces of 2009 I want desperately never to forget, I am also not entirely unhappy to see it coming to an end.
So: Winter Solstice. The thought occurred to me last week that I wanted to go out for a run by myself in the deepest part of the night. Just a symbolic two-mile run, just for me, just to go out there for no reason other than to put a bookmark there where things are supposed to start getting brighter one imperceptible sliver of a second at a time.
According to sunrisesunset.com, sundown here in North Canton, Ohio came at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 20. This morning’s sunrise time was 7:46, making for about 14 hours and 46 minutes of “night.” I figured the midpoint, then, at 7 hours and 23 minutes between the two: 12:23 a.m.
I went outside at about 12:20, and the 30-degree air actually felt warmer than I expected. With no wind, it was a still and quiet world.
It wasn’t as dark as I thought it would be either, thanks to a low, reflecting sky. And more people had left their Christmas lights on than I’d anticipated, too. Even so, most of the run fell well outside the pools of residential illumination and streetlights.
I carried a flashlight to keep myself visible, occasionally sending the beam into the woods and the roadside weeds and over fields, where it was swallowed quickly by distance and shadows.
I glanced over my shoulder more often than usual, hearing phantom cars cresting the hills behind me.
Just past the half-mile mark, the streetlights came to an end, and this was the part of the run I’d had in mind, with the dark fields around me, and enough snow on the ground to keep even the faintest breeze from rustling the bare trees and the expanses of long-since-harvested corn and soybean fields.
Briefly, my flashlight caught on something distant, giving the illusion of an approaching runner, and it unnerved me for a second, which is kind of funny. (Because who wants to run into a person strange enough to be out running at this hour, right?)
At the bottom of the hill that marked the turnaround point, I swung across an intersection and headead home. The big climb seemed smaller in the dark, though there was a creepy moment when I passed a length of slatted fence and thought I heard footsteps on the other side.
A little under 20 minutes after I’d left, I ran back into our driveway and took off my hat, cooling off and breathing deeply.
And if, scientifically, there are longer “nights,” as would seem to be the case – though it doesn’t make sense to me why – I chose this one because it was the last before the solstice. I wanted it to feel like the last stretch of an arc down into the darkness and the first few steps back upward.
Just putting on my tennis shoes and running a couple miles past midnight didn’t really change anything, but the sun’s up now, and I’m glad I did it.
Several years ago, I had this idea that I wanted to shoot cool pictures of vintage Star Wars figures. But while I do okay with snapshots and basic scenery and things, when it comes to setting up detailed photos and working with light and angles and all that, y’know, fo-to-graffy stuff, I kinda suck. I can never quite get what I have in my head to come out that way in photo form.
A couple days ago, I got an email about Collect All 21! from a guy who, it turns out, is succeeding magnificently where I would utterly fail. It’s not that there are loads of detailed backgrounds or anything – in fact, most of the shots are pretty minimalist, with just figures and shadows – but I can’t get over the composition and the contrast in focus and colors.
I like this one a lot, and this one, and this one, too (some, like that last one of R2, have sort of abstract backdrops that really fit well with the figures and remind me of Kenner’s back-of-the-package photos from early in the original line).
My favorite, though, is this one:
It absolutely takes me back to the release of Kenner’s “second wave” of Star Wars figures, when suddenly we had all these weird aliens and robots in bright colors to go along with the original 12.
Go check all of them out, and prepare to wonder where the time went.
Wired‘s GeekDad writer Curtis Silver reviewed “Collect All 21!” this week:
To be drawn into an author’s brain and immediately associate and sympathize with his point of view – in the introduction – has got to be a sign that the rest of the book is going to be like a nostalgic walk through your childhood and growing up geek. Guess what? It was.
So that’s very cool.
Yesterday, I learned that Google-wise, my blog provides one of just three hits (four if you count the original TypePad posting) for the exact phrase “green olive and bacon pizza,” thanks to my friend Keith mentioning it in a comment.
The other two? A women’s professional wrestling manager’s profile page; and (must….contain…utter glee…) a chapter of what appears to be Twilight fanfic.
I love the internet.
As promised, here’s the rest of the some-of-the-books-I-liked-this-year list that I started yesterday:
Looking for Alaska – John Green. A few years ago, my friend Katrina sent me this book out of nowhere, knowing full well it would just absolutely kick me in the guts in the best of all ways. It’s one of many re-reads this year, but it’s the only one I’m putting on this list because even thinking about it makes me want to go read it again right this damn second.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks – E. Lockhart. I read this one at the suggestion of a fellow GeekDad writer with the intention of passing it along to my daughter to get her thoughts for a review. I have kind of mixed feelings about it, honestly, but it gets points because Frankie (a teenage girl at boarding school) is an independent geek at heart. My daughter started to read it, but then the school year began and she got caught up in her assigned stuff and this went back to the library.
The Android’s Dream – John Scalzi. I’d had this one in my hands at the library a few times before bringing it home, only because the opening chapter was so, um … different from the feel of Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series (which I love), and I wasn’t sure what to expect. (Okay, look: The first chapter is one big fart joke – and that’s Scalzi’s own description, which, incidentally, my daughter recalled verbatim when she saw I’d checked the book out.) At any rate, I shouldn’t have worried, because I loved this one, too.
Anathem – Neal Stephenson. The first Stephenson I’ve read since Snow Crash. And WOW. If you’re not a fan of steep learning curves when it comes to rich world building and invented vocabularies, this one will feel like teeth on pavement. Me, I got wholly sucked in pretty quickly, and this book became one of those reads that I carted around everywhere, just in case I had a minute or two to spare.
Scud: The Disposable Assassin – The Whole Shebang – Rob Schrab. So, back in the mid-1990s, I bought an issue of Scud because it was so freaking weird and had this villain that spoke in practically nothing but 1980s pop culture references. And I bought the next issue, too. But then its publication grew erratic, and since I was already ending my brief foray into comic book subscriptions, I lost track of Scud. Last year, I found one of the trade paperback collections on the super cheap and rediscovered everything I loved about Scud in the first place. Thanks to a gift card and a hefty discount coupon, I bought The Whole Shebang this fall. Ultraviolent and flat-out disturbing at times, it’s not for everybody, but I’m a sucker for a Heartbreaker Series 1373 every time.
Punk Rock & Trailer Parks – Derf. Another “You’ve gotta read this” from Adam, another strange, sometimes shocking, sometimes vulgar and yet surprisingly emotional book. This one’s about coming of age around Akron, Ohio during the punk rock scene of the late 1970s. I missed that era by a few years – I mean, I was here, but I was in elementary school at the time – but having grown up here, I recognize the ripples and echoes.
Memories of the Future Vol. 1 – Wil Wheaton. Though I prefer Wheaton’s wider-ranging general 1980s nostalgia pieces, I’m enough of a fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation to enjoy this mix of snark and recollection from his Wesley Crusher days. (And there is some serious snark: Even though it’s coming from a place of love, there’s more than a good dose of smart-ass 14-year-old in these.)
Whiteout – Greg Rucka and Steve Leiber. …aaaand Mr. Besenyodi gets the Recommendation Hat Trick. Very little in this book was what I expected, other than – spoiler – the snow.
Boneshaker – Cherie Priest. A steampunk alternate Civil War history adventure with blimps, mad scientists and mutant zombies. The backstory alone is brilliant. The first Cherie Priest book I’ve read, and probably not the last.
Metatropolis – Jay Lake, Tobias Buckell, Elizabeth Bear, John Scalzi, and Karl Schroeder. I’d been looking forward to this anthology since it was released in its original audiobook form, which wound up being nominated for a Hugo. I never did get to listen to that version, but thanks to the subsequent hardback edition and a birthday gift card from Jenn & Kelsey, I finally got to explore the stories this fall, and they were worth the wait.