Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

Insert a Star Wars / Droid joke here if you must – but even the “Bocce” ones have been done.

Partly in preparation for an upcoming extended trip, and partly because I’ve wanted one for awhile, I finally picked up a smartphone in the form of a Motorola Droid.

Starting points: I will admit that iPhones are incredibly nifty and I have been impressed every chance I’ve had to work with one. However, my daughter’s iPod Touch, while a super-fun device to have around, has only reinforced my preference for physical keyboards. And the iPhone pricing & AT&T service pretty much kept it from being a serious contender, though I’ll admit that it certainly shaped what I was looking for in a phone.

Our first choice – because we try to avoid hassle like switching cell providers, although anymore, since you keep your number and all, that’s much less of a pain than it used to be – was to see what I could get from T-Mobile, since we’ve used them for awhile and were largely happy with them, even with the lack of coverage when visiting my mom’s house down near Atwood Lake. Probably the biggest thing the company had going for it in my book was customer service – which goes a long way with me – at the local store. Wonderfully courteous and helpful people there – yes, seriously.

But for our household, T-Mobile had two things weighing heavily against them in the end: First, I have been eyeing the Motorola Droid since its launch because of my anti-Windows bias and the Droid’s non-Windows OS as well as its big screen and its full slide-out keyboard. Thing is, Droid’s a Verizon-only phone, and while this initially kept me from considering it at all, it turns out that my wife gets a significant employee discount on Verizon service through her workplace. That was the second factor in my opting for the Droid – and pretty much the knockout punch in our case. (Which made me wonder, not for the first time, and not without some frustration, why this whole “locking certain devices to certain networks” is supposed to make for a good consumer-friendly marketplace.)

A third factor was the firsthand recommendation of a friend whose opinions on technology and gadgetry I value, and who’s also a former journalist with a good grasp of the sort of things I’m likely to be using my phone for. In fact, I had all but settled on a T-Mobile phone which happened to be on back order when this guy offered a ton of advice and reference in support of the Droid and prevented me from making a purchase I probably would have regretted.

Because it turns out this really is the phone I wanted.

Having had the phone a few days, I’m enjoying the interface and the keyboard and the camera and the connectivity and speed and yes, even celebrating that I now have service in the backcountry of Carroll County. Battery use is holding up nicely. Yes, I’m still learning and have sent one accidental gibberish Tweet; and yes, I have experienced the strange WTF of the Droid’s “One day later: What happened to my home screen rotation?” but since I’m not a virtual keyboard user, I really don’t care.

I’m looking forward to seeing how it keeps me company on this trip I’ve got planned and how nicely it plays with the computers in the house, and a bunch of other stuff I’m sure I haven’t thought of yet.

And yes, every time I turn it on, I do think it really should say this:


June 1, 2010 Posted by | geek, Ohio, Web/Tech, writing | , | 3 Comments

Golden Age of a Saga

Last week, I got a nice note from Henry Hanks over at CNN’s Geek Out! blog – he’d found my site and thought I might be interested in contributing to the CNN iReport project on the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back‘s original release.

Click to view the video on CNN iReport

Seeing as how I’m in full-on Empire Recollection Mode this week anyway, I figured it would be fun – and it gave me a chance to work with a new video editor and sound setup installed post-Karmic upgrade.

Nothing fancy, but I like the way it came out. I can’t seem to embed CNN video, but it’s viewable with a simple click here.

And if it whets your appetite for some Empire nostalgia, come see me Saturday at the Fairlawn-Bath branch of the Akron-Summit Public Library!

May 13, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, Film, geek, Ohio, science fiction, Web/Tech, writing | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“100 Stories for Haiti” – just a reminder

It’s been awhile since I’ve mentioned 100 Stories for Haiti, but just because I’ve been a slacker about that doesn’t mean the need for Red Cross aid – even three months after the earthquake – has let up, so here’s some news and a few reminders about the book:

BBC Audiobooks America has produced an abridged version – the list of the 20 stories included is here, although the release date has been pushed back to May 1.

The no-seriously-really-name-your-own-price electronic edition at Smashwords still comes in the .lrf, .mobi and .epub formats which mean you can load it in an eyeblink onto your Kindle or your Sony Reader or the portable Apple device of your choosing, and >poof!< you’ve got a hundred short reads all queued up for whenever you have a spare minute or three.

April 15, 2010 Posted by | Books, Current Affairs, Fiction, Web/Tech, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

PAX East lookback, part 1.

PAX East relics

“Well,” as a certain hobbit once said, “I’m back.”

Total trip time, from leaving the bank on Thursday morning to pulling into our driveway last night: 84.5 hours, with more than a quarter of that time – 22 hours between Canton, Ohio and Pawtucket, R.I., and another 4.5 spent going to and from Boston on Friday and Saturday – spent sitting behind the steering wheel. Total mileage: 1,490.

And completely worth every highway minute and every white-lined mile.

After a late Thursday night hanging out with my friends and gracious hosts Aaron and Jessica, I headed into Boston late Friday morning and – after a maybe 45-minute extended detour due to my missing a massive sign reading, in effect, “BOSTON – THIS WAY” – I got to the Hynes Convention Center just after 1 p.m. and found a hugehugeHUGE entrance queue. (You will undoubtedly read elsewhere about the crowds and lines at the center – honestly, I come to expect them at things like this, so I adjust my expectations accordingly. Also, I know that a lot of people work extremely hard to organize these conventions, and they’re supposed to be fun after all.) Doors were set to open at 2 p.m.

I honestly didn’t expect that by the time I made my way up to the doors of the Main Hall that Wil Wheaton’s keynote speech venue would already be at capacity.  I mean, I knew that people would go straight there even though it wasn’t scheduled to start until 3 p.m., but I also figured maybe at some point, since they had divided the queue into “Expo Hall” and “Main Hall” lines, that someone would have established a cut-off point.

So, yeah, I was pretty disappointed, but I didn’t want to let it ruin my weekend, and besides, that’s when I ran into fellow GeekDad writer and panelist Dave Banks. While we were chatting and working our way over to the main expo hall, we caught up with two other contributors, Matt Blum and Doug Cornelius, who had also missed the keynote cut. Just after three o’clock, though, doing a little more wandering, we were passing the Main Hall doors and saw they were letting people in again, so we hopped in line. (Sadly, only Dave and I made it in,  since they cut things off again right behind us.)

See that blurry Wil Wheaton? That's the BIG screen. Actual Size Wil is the fuzzy dot BELOW that. Even from the wayback, though, he still kicked ass.

Wil was only about five minutes into his speech, so we got to take in most of it from our spots standing against the back wall, and while parts of it drew from stories he has told elsewhere, the keynote was by turns hilarious and nostalgic and heartfelt and inspiring.

A note on the convention offerings: Not being there for the video game industry displays and pre-release teasing and craziness, I was much more interested in the panels and kind off lower-key attractions like the old-school console gaming room – a working, playable Vectrex? are you KIDDING ME?!? and I wonder if anyone who sat down at the Atari 2600 actually put that E.T. cartridge in – and the American Classic Arcade Museum‘s free-play collection of games.

After the keynote, I met with my Ohio friends Paul and Wendy, and then it was time to go to dinner and establish what we believe to be the largest real-world gathering of GeekDad writers to date: With Michael Harrison and Natania Barron joining Matt and Dave and Doug and me, the bar is now set at a nice even half-dozen. I mentioned in an email to everyone this morning that it felt very much like we all had met before, even though most of us have only interacted through emails and podcasts.

We talked about a general framework for our 7 p.m. panel and wondered if anyone would show up other than to simply get off their feet for an hour. (A couple of us had peeked into the panel room earlier, and honestly, it looked awful big and seemed to have a great potential to be scarily empty.)

The six of us arrived back at that room at about 6:40 p.m., and figured the crowd in the hallway outside was lined up for something else. Ten minutes later, that line was gone, and we were looking at a fully-packed room of around 250-plus . Truthfully, this was nothing short of stunning, and I’m sure that words will utterly fail in describing how encouraging and wonderful it was, and though I know the odds are against it, if anyone who was in that audience stumbles across this blog: THANK YOU SO FREAKING MUCH!!!! Seriously – we each did a little introduction and talked about our kids and our geeklikes, and then as we started just generally talking about parenting and video games and movies and books and everything, people started raising their hands and asking questions and contributing their own experiences, and it was just a ton of fun. (Matt did a write-up at GeekDad, and Doug wrote a post for his blog, too, and both of them took photos so we know it was real.

Even with 70 minutes to fill – we had started early, since everyone was in the room anyway – the time just flew by, and there were still several hands up when we had to call it quits. Outside the room, a couple people came up to me to talk some more, and I saw other GeekDad writers having similar conversations. It’s almost three full days later and remembering it still makes me a little giddy.

Paul & Wendy had managed to get in, and they joined all of us for a post-panel trek for drinks, as did Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks author Ethan Gilsdorf, who, if I recall correctly, is a friend of Michael & Natania. His book has been on my to-read list for awhile, and even though it’s coming out in paperback this fall, after talking to him for awhile about writing, I couldn’t wait that long, so I ordered a copy this morning. He also bought a copy of Collect All 21!, which was an awfully nice thing to do.

We all went our separate ways once back at the convention center, since it was getting late, and while I was on my way out, I ran into Penny Arcade co-creator and PAX co-founder Mike Krahulik, capping a pretty damn fine day.

March 29, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, Books, Current Affairs, eighties, Games, geek, science fiction, Travel, Web/Tech, Weblogs, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Five Things that Rocked at PAX East Day One

Meeting five of my fellow GeekDad writers, thus setting a new record for largest real-world gathering to date.

Wil Wheaton’s keynote.

Standing room only in the GeekDad “Bringing Up the Next Generation of Geeks” panel. (More on this when the weekend is over, but heartfelt thanks to everybody who came, because YOU MADE IT AWESOME.)

Running into Penny Arcade co-creator Mike Krahulik and getting a “special” snapshot for a friend back home.

Meeting and talking writing with  Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks author Ethan Gilsdorf.

March 27, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, Books, eighties, Games, geek, Travel, video games, Web/Tech, writing | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Seven online press material no-nos

I was a full-time news reporter for about 10 years before becoming a full-time freelance writer last spring, and for four of those years, my beat covered retail, marketing, advertising, public relations and entertainment. This means I’ve read a lot of press releases and media kits, and even written a few myself as a consultant. And I’m a huge fan of the online press room and the electronic media kit for convenience and round-the-clock access.

Still, it can be done wrong, hence my Seven Online Press Material No-Nos listed below, compiled over the last year and directed at no agency or corporation in particular.  They’re not the Deadly Sins, but I think they can make things go a little more smoothly.

(Please let me sincerely reassure my many talented friends in the media relations business that I do, in fact, know you’re dealing with endlessly-demanding clients and deadlines and gruff journalists and that many things are beyond your control. Most of you are fantastic and patient people, so, where appropriate, consider these complaints  aimed at the clients who insist on making your life more difficult.)

Hard-to-find or nonexistent contact information: If you’re big enough to have a PR agency or even someone in your company who takes media calls, you’re big enough to put your press contact button right there on the front page of your site, with at least a name and an email address. No one should have to wade through your Babel Fish Puzzle to follow up about the press release that you sent out. Automatic contact forms that provide no helpful information to the seeker are inadequate and frustrating.

Flash-driven or other “super nifty” interactive web pages. Look, I get it if the landing page is all Sparkles and Wow, and if I absolutely have to go there first and then click on a “press information” or “media” link, that’s fine. But you can lose all that whizbang once I’m on the media page: If I’m there, I’m working. And if I’m working, I’m likely on a deadline, and if I’m on a deadline, then all that carefully-crafted eye-popping stuff is just getting in my way.

That also goes for putting press photos into embedded photo slideshows or otherwise disabling the handy right-click “save as” ability that makes for the quickest and easiest way to download those pictures that you want everybody to see and share. (Because that’s why they’re there, right?)

And don’t go forgetting the photo captions, because even though you think it’s perfectly obvious who’s in that picture and where it was taken and what model that machine is, you’ll save yourself an exasperated follow-up call seeking the details. Captions for a whole set of photos gathered in a separately downloadable file is a pain. My personal preference: Thumbnail previews and downloadable ZIP files that include captions with each picture.

Requiring registration: I know that in most cases, you’re email farming so you can tell who’s accessing your press material, and I’ll even grant you that that’s not entirely unreasonable. What bugs me are the “fill this out and we’ll email you back when it’s approved” forms. Really? It’s not like I’m asking to for free admission to a conference you’re sponsoring or a ticketed event here: Who’s trying to “sneak” into your virtual press room? And while we’re on it,

password logins for media/press pages are ridiculous, especially when they lead to URLs which can later be directly accessed. There’s no better way to tell someone, “See, we just wasted your time.”

Last gripe: No archived press releases. Maybe I don’t cover your company all the time, or maybe it’s been awhile since we’ve touched base. I’ll be able to do my job better and you’ll find my requests less frustrating if I can do as much homework as possible ahead of time and read all about that preceding product release/line cancellation/relocation/new vice-president that you announced last month. If you’ve put the news out there, keep it around for reference and you’ll save yourself some headaches.

March 22, 2010 Posted by | Web/Tech, Weblogs, writing | , , , | Leave a comment

One less Window

Another year, another happily recycled computer in the Booth house – thanks again to Keith! – and my daughter is thrilled to finally have her own Ubuntu machine, just in time for an early birthday present.

Funny thing about the whole ease-of-use thing: Part of what had rendered her Windows box mostly useless was its repeated wireless connection failures: It’d work for awhile, then fail to recognize the USB adapter, then find it but swear something was wrong with it. Even complete driver reinstalls didn’t fix it. So today, I plug the adapter into the Ubuntu machine. Nothing happens. I wonder if the adapter’s broken.

A single Google search later, and I have the answer. It takes about 10 minutes to get her computer hooked directly into the router, download the appropriate package which will make this driver work  and get the machine cruising wirelessly, and I haven’t even furrowed my brow. Yes, this is an awfully low-level tech problem, but I’m an awfully low-level Linux user.

We’ve been really happy with the Linux switch since we made the jump as total n00bs early last year, and really haven’t missed much of Windows world at all. My only quibbles were not having the patience and expertise to get my old flatbed parallel-port scanner to play nice and not being able to watch Netflix on demand. I tried to give’s audiobooks a shot, but they didn’t like Linuxland either, but since that was driven by the release of one audiobook in particular, it’s not like I was suddenly missing out on what had been a big part of my entertainment.

Kelsey had the old Win95 machine, so she and Jenn had access to their iTunes and Rhapsody libraries, and Jenn has since gotten an entry-level netbook with Windows 7, which not only makes their music access smoother, but gets regular Netflix use, too.

Now that Kelsey’s running Ubuntu – which officially gives Linux a majority in our house now! -her old machine will stripped down to the Win95 bare-bones just so I can reattach it to my flatbed. Yes, it will effectively make it a single-purpose machine, but it’s the easier road, frankly, until I can just get a newer scanner that’s Linux-ready.

March 21, 2010 Posted by | geek, linux, Web/Tech | , , , | 1 Comment

Me and My RT

Jenn’s work-related magazine shows up in the mail:

Me and My RT

My gut reaction:

“Retweet magazine?”

(Clearly, too much time online.)

When I tell Jenn, her response is: “That’s funny, because whenever I see Twitter ‘RTs,’ I think, ‘Respiratory Therapist? Huh?”

March 16, 2010 Posted by | geek, Web/Tech | , , | Leave a comment

Ten, nine, eight …

The 10 day countdown to PAX East is ON!

I’m super-psyched about this. It’s my first convention road trip since last year’s Penguicon, and I’m feeling a few similarities anticipation-wise, inasmuch as while I’ve never considered myself a hardcore gamer, there’s just a ridiculous amount of stuff on the schedule I’m excited to check out. (Of course, I’ve also prepared myself for the likelihood that at some point, I will be having so much fun generally geeking out that I will miss one or five of these things.)

I’ve already given the the two-color highlight marker treatment to my printout grid of the schedule, and in the interest of showing some restraint, I managed to keep my “MUST SEE” highlights to three. My “MAYBE” list, though? Yeah, that’s up to 20 events and panels, and there’s clearly no way I’m making it to all those, especially since there’s a fair bit of overlap.

The ultimate “must attend,” for me, of course, is the GeekDad panel, which, really, I still can’t believe I’m a part of because it’s just too unbelievably cool, and seeing us there on the program listing page still seems surreal:

Bringing up the Next Generation of Geeks
Wyvern Theatre
Friday, 7:00pm

How young is too young for The Hobbit? What should my kids’ first LEGO set be? How can I control my disgust if my child tells me he likes Jar Jar and the Ewoks? When should I buy my kids their first non-six-sided dice? These questions and many more will be discussed by writers for’s GeekDad blog and other geek parents. Come share your stories and advice for how to make sure our kids grow up to be geeks like us! Don’t have kids? Show up and find out what may be in store for you if you ever do!

In fact, I’d bet that panel alone and the chance to sit down with fellow GeekDad writers Dave Banks, Natania Barron, Matt Blum, Doug Cornelius, Michael Harrison and Corrina Lawson will make this whole road trip worthwhile by itself.

And yet there is more, from what I figure will be the high-profile draws like Wil Wheaton’s keynote, concerts by MC Frontalot, Paul & Storm and Jonathan Coulton and the Penny Arcade creator panels to the more narrowly-focused offerings like this movie GET LAMP (I was a huge Infocom text adventure fan back in the Commodore 64 days) and a look back at other arcade and computer games of my youth.

As if all that wasn’t enough, this is my first visit to see my old friend Aaron on his turf since he moved to Rhode Island, and he’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.

Can’t wait.

March 16, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, Current Affairs, eighties, Film, geek, science fiction, Travel, video games, Web/Tech | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A hundred awesome things arrived in the mail today.

100 Stories for Haiti

290 pages from around the world.

Yes, I’ve written about 100 Stories for Haiti a lot over the last month-and-a-half, from hearing about the project in late January to teasers from the first 34 stories last week.  (I was going to link to all the entries individually, but you know what? Here – I’ve made it easy to catch up by doing the blog search for you.) But I’m humbled and amazed and proud to be a part of it, and if Ive babbled and badgered even one person in to buying a copy – electronic or paperback – choose your own! – then the Red Cross relief effort wins.

So even though I’ve been reading my e-version, I was thrilled to find the actual paperback in my mailbox this afternoon.

And it turns out there are way more than a hundred awesome things in here.

You figure the stories for starters, even though I’m not counting my own  – not because I’m not proud of it but because I don’t want to go around saying it’s “awesome,” especially in light of the stunning work I’ve encountered so far, and I’m only on page 135. Then there’s the introduction, which is easily worth a point on its own, and the dedication, and the special thanks page, which again reminds me that I’m in the company of many incredibly talented and generous people. And again, there’s the reminder of why all this was done in the first place, right there on the cover: “All proceeds go to helping the victims of the Haiti earthquake.”

That is a lot of good stuff packed into a little package from Liverpool.

March 15, 2010 Posted by | Books, Current Affairs, Fiction, Web/Tech, writing | , , , , , | 1 Comment

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