Freedom of speech is officially dead

In South Carolina last week, a teenager was arrested and suspended from school for writing a story in which a man shoots a dinosaur. And today in Maryland, 23-year-old middle school teacher Patrick McLaw was arrested, put under “emergency medical evaluation” and held at “an undisclosed location” because he wrote a science-fiction novel about a fictional school shooting 900 years in the future. This is the future of America, ladies and gentlemen. Don’t be surprised if they come for you next based on your “24” fanfiction. Now you know why I haven’t been blogging lately.

rivercityransom

YA novel plot that’s been stuck in my head for years

SULLEN TEENAGE REBELS
By Jack Mileur

Based on some cartoons I drew in high school and 20 years of reliving bad high school memories

Coming this fall to FOX!

Fourteen-year-old scrapper Jack Dinero has been waging a one-man war against the inner-city drug dealers who hooked and killed his mother. However, his vigilante actions have made him a target for every criminal lowlife in the city. To save his son, Jack’s father moves him out to Creosote Canyon, a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. But their idyllic dreams of peace and quiet in small-town living would soon be crushed. Creosote Canyon High School is a dilapidated wreck where ruthless teenage bullies terrorize the student body and disrupt the educational process. Jack decides to take them on to protect the innocent, but he’ll not only have to fight the bullies, but a leftist principal with an axe to grind, a sadistic PE coach who has his own twisted agenda, an apathetic faculty who care more about their tenure than their students, and a system designed to keep the good kids down. It’s too much for Jack Dinero to take on alone. Can he make some friends for this fight, or will he be destined to remain a “sullen teenage rebel?”

(Okay, I’m just bored. But I might actually turn this into something someday.)

I am a nerd; nobody can take that from me

Last week’s Comicon in Phoenix thoroughly drained my resolve. It made me question my nerd-identity. I wandered around the mass of well-dressed, attractive 18-25 year-olds, many of whom basing their costumes on animes and shows I had never even heard of before, thinking “Is this what a nerd is these days? Am I still a nerd, or am I too uncool to even hang with nerds anymore?” However, I have now come to my senses. I am still a nerd. I have been and always shall be a nerd. I’m not going to let the narrow definition of nerdness put forth by convention promoters define who I am. A nerd is not what someone appears like on the outside, but who they are inside. And on the inside, I fit all the classic definitions:

When I was eight, I spent my entire summer vacation at my cousins’ house in LA programming adventure games in BASIC into their Tandy 1000. I had to be dragged away from that location so that my cousins could take me to Disneyland and the beach.

When I was nine, I taught myself several words of German by comparing the sections in a multi-lingual instruction manual that came with Defender for the Atari 2600. Not that I could carry on a conversation with anyone with words like “Spiel” (game), “Kriegspiel” (wargame) or “Punkten” (points) but it was enough for me to know that other languages existed and that they could be understood given time and effort.

When I was 15, when asked to do a group project with another classmate in my “television production” class, instead of dealing with the embarrassment of having to ask someone to be my partner, I called upon my computer to be my partner and stayed up late every night for the next two weeks programming an elaborate CGI cartoon to fulfill that assignment (well, as elaborate as one could get on a TI-99/4a Home Computer with 48 KB of RAM). I still only got a C because “it was supposed to be a group project!”

When I was in high school, before I even knew of such a thing as the Internet, I wrote Star Trek and Lord of the Rings fanfiction… that didn’t involve slash pairings of anyone… and oh yeah, it was in French.

When I was in college, I spent more of my time playing Final Fantasy VII and Civilization II than going to classes or doing homework assignments, and I still passed my classes… mostly.

Far be it from me to base my identity on past achievements (not that they got me anywhere anyway). But even today…

I can name pretty much everybody who starred in the five series of Star Trek, but I couldn’t name you ten pro athletes (that haven’t been in the news lately) or the teams they’re on.

I prefer “children’s” television shows and movies to the sex, drugs and violence-filled nonsense they say is mature “adult” entertainment. I’d rather watch Spongebob make a fart joke than see Jaime Lannister fuck his sister any day of the week. To be fair, however, one of my favorite TV miniseries is I, Claudius, which has more than its share of incest and butchery, but they have the good sense and fair taste to leave most of that off-screen. Plus it’s historical, which makes it okay in my book.

Last night, I was in bed with a naked woman (aka my wife), and I was too busy reading a Wikipedia article about Klingons to notice.

I find it frustrating and annoying when I’m talking to people and they say I’m using too much “college talk.” I’m not trying to confuse or patronize anybody, that’s just the way I talk. Sometimes a “big word” just slips out that I don’t realize is not in most people’s vocabularies. Like “vocabulary.”

I go to a comic book convention or a comic book store not to look for X-Men or Superman, but Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck. I also look for Astérix, Tintin, and Lucky Luke, but only if they’re in the original French.

I watch Disney movies… unironically. And I don’t have kids.

My dream is to live in an underground house shaped like a Hobbit hole.

I’ve watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail approximately fifty times, and it still makes me laugh.

I’m learning French right now, but not just to do the tourist thing in Paris. I think it would be pretty neat to read Voltaire, Hugo, and Montaigne in the original language, as well as reading news and literature from the world that Anglo-American corporate interests don’t care to translate.

Once I have reached a certain fluency in French, I want to work my way around the other Romance languages (Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese) and eventually learn Latin. Outside of the Vatican and a few university classics departments, Latin is about as useful in the modern world as speaking Klingon, but it was the language of art, science, politics and culture in the Western world for over 2,000 years, so it’s got to count for something.

And oh yeah, I want to learn Klingon too. So I can finally understand Shakespeare.

And I think I might get back to German, too, if only to be able to read the rest of that Atari manual.

So yeah. I think I am very much a nerd. That, or a very peculiar, uncool hipster. Nerd is something that I will always be. If Star Trek ceased to exist, I would still be a nerd. If Tolkien never wrote the Lord of the Rings, the world would be a much sadder place, but I would still be a nerd. And just because I’m not a tech billionaire or a social networking millionaire or the target audience for Comicons doesn’t mean my nerdness is any less important or valuable than any other’s. At the end of the day, I’ll still be misunderstood, made fun of, and unpopular. And that’s what being a nerd is all about.

Phoenix Comicon Woes

phoenixskyline

(Here’s a picture of the Phoenix skyline. I didn’t actually get any pictures at Comicon. To know why, read below.)

 

Last weekend, my wife and I packed up the Ford Escape and went down to Phoenix for Comicon. We had hoped to get in touch with our fellow nerds, get some awesome nerdy merchandise to decorate our new apartment, and find out neat stuff about the shows and books we liked. I wanted to see Star Trek stuff and meet Uncle Scrooge artist Don Rosa, and L (my wife) wanted to get Dresden Files author Jim Butcher’s autograph and go to Firefly panels.

What we got was not what we expected, but probably, in retrospect, we should have. Phoenix was burning hot—of course it would be, it was June. I did okay. I grew up in the broiling hot deserts of Victorville and Barstow, and my body was able to acclimate to the hundred degree temps, albeit grudgingly. My wife, who is from Michigan originally, was not able to acclimate. She was fine as long as she was in an air-conditioned building—however, Comicon was spread out among the three buildings of the Convention Center as well as four other hotels in the area. To get from a panel in the North Building to one in the Radisson, two blocks away, took about 15 minutes because of all of the crowds and roadblocks we had to go around in order to get there. By Saturday evening, poor L was red as a beet and about to faint. The only shuttles or public transportation they had available were sweaty people on pedicab tricycles and the Phoenix Light Rail, which never seemed to get us close enough to the Convention Center or to our hotel room to be of much use at all. So on Sunday we drove to the convention—but the closest available parking garage was still half a mile away from where we wanted to be and they charged us $12 for the “convenience” of using it.

And the crowds—oh god, the crowds! I probably should have seen that coming too. Every corridor in the Convention Center was wall-to-wall people, including people with angel wings or spiky shoulder pads on their costume that would poke you as they passed, inconsiderate youngsters that would just stop right in front of you to take a picture of somebody in a costume and block the way for everyone else, people with onboard PA systems in their suits that would play awful music, and lots of people in militaristic costumes with full armor and very realistic-looking guns. Not just your standard fantasy knights or Halo Spartans or Stormtroopers, but people dressed like US Special Forces, complete with ghillie suits and sniper rifles, and “zombie hunters” that were better armed and armored than your average SWAT team. Add to the mix about five thousand security personnel and actual policemen barking orders in all directions, and the combined effect was enough to trigger both mine and my wife’s claustrophobia and agoraphobia on several occasions.

I didn’t go to nearly as many panels as I wanted to go because I couldn’t deal with pushing my way through the crowds and feeling trapped in that roiling sea of humanity. Meanwhile, L missed one of her panels because she accidentally wandered into a prohibited area of the Convention Center and a security guard repeatedly called her “Sir” as he shouted at her to leave. My wife is chubby, to be sure, but seriously? Being repeatedly mistaken for a man was enough to make her extremely upset. She was already upset about feeling invisible among the tens of thousands of people who just wouldn’t get out of the way for us.

Not that any of the actual panels we went to were very good, mind you. The con’s major Firefly panels were a Browncoats cosplay forum and one entitled “Why Firefly is Dead and You Should Really Just Move On.” Seriously? That’s like telling a Tolkien fan that they shouldn’t read Lord of the Rings anymore because Tolkien’s been dead for forty years, and all the cool kids are into George R. R. Martin now, and they should just shut up. All the Star Trek panels I went to seemed to be too interested in the JJ Abrams movies, which I guess is what’s popular these days, but I wanted to talk about Picard and Data. I went to an entertainment panel on “Which Captain is the Best,” however, and while pedantic and silly, like all “Kirk vs. Picard vs. Sisko vs. Janeway vs. Archer” battles have been since the 1980s, it was at least fun. And it seemed like every panel was set up to sell you something. Even the “Astronomy of Middle Earth” panel we went to was essentially a commercial for the presenter’s Mobile Inflatable Planetarium business, which she uses to present astronomy lectures to elementary schools, birthday parties, business luncheons, and weddings, apparently.

And there was a comedy panel I went to where the comedian was extremely insulting and unfunny. At one point, she called Star Trek fans “fags” because they “invented slash fiction.” Really? She couldn’t do any better? Star Trek fans present so much humor, you could do an entire hour of comedy on them alone. And they’re so self-deprecating—they even thought it was funny when William Shatner told them to “get a life” on Saturday Night Live. But to call us fags? I just got up and walked out of the room. I wanted intelligent discussion about science fiction and fantasy and sequential art and to meet other pedantic, overly intellectual geeks like myself—instead I got panic attacks, never-ending commercials, and insults about one’s sexuality thrown at both my wife and myself.

I guess I should have expected this, but I at least thought that the convention organizers would at least throw a bone to old nerds like me. But no, this thing was geared completely towards the 12-20 year old crowd who just consume all the new comics and shows and buy what popular culture tells them to buy. It didn’t answer the big gaping hole in my heart, my deep need to connect and share and belong with people like myself, intellectual nerds who I can talk to with my entire vocabulary, not just the limited subset of words I hold myself back to in order to not be made fun of by the illiterate rednecks I live and do business with on a regular basis. I want to discuss things like science without having to rad it up 30% for people who normally don’t give a shit about discovery or space or curing cancer, like at the one panel I went to, “Adventures in Science,” where ASU grad students talked about all the times they “almost died” when they went to Africa to install radio telescopes. I wanted to know more about what they were actually studying with those telescopes, but my question was drowned out in a sea of questions about “Was it scary when you found that scorpion in your boot?” This is Phoenix we’re talking about here, in the heart of the Sonoran Desert. Scorpions in your boots are a regular occurrence around these parts, or at least they were when I grew up.

So I don’t think either my wife or I will go to that one again. We’re still looking for our nerd home.

 

 

Featured Image -- 302

My Last Post: A Final Goodbye to Those I love

thewanderingnerd:

One of my favorite bloggers just posted this suicide note yesterday. And since I didn’t check the blogs yesterday, he’s probably already dead. And of course, there’s nothing on his blog to indicated he did or he didn’t commit suicide. All I can say is… actually, there’s nothing I can say.

Originally posted on Schizo Incognito:

My dear and loving family,

Well, I’ve reached the last rung at the bottom of the ladder, and there is nowhere else to go but down the last step.

I was going to write each of you a letter, but I just don’t have the time left, and I wanted to post this on my last hope for sanity, this blog, SchizoIncognito.com. I hope when the smoke clears, each of you read through my entries for the past couple of months. It will explain a lot about me you may not have known, and why I have done what I have done.

There is no nice way to say this: by the time you read this letter, I will be dead. This may come as a shock to some, but to others who are closest to me, this has been coming for a long time. The reasons for my…

View original 1,697 more words

French lessons

Lately, I have been trying to relearn French so I can help my elderly father fulfill his lifelong wish to travel to France, to meet his relatives and see his father’s grave in Alsace-Lorraine. I’ve been doing so mostly by watching DVDs of Disney movies and other films I know by heart with the French audio track on, and by reading anything I come across that isn’t too complicated, mostly children’s stories so far. I ran into one today on Project Gutenberg that was quite weird. Called Entre Nous: Lectures Françaises à l’Usage des Écoles Primairesit seems to be the French version of “See Spot Run,” a collection of simple stories for teaching young children. It was written in 1904, but I’m having no trouble with the language, as it is indeed very simple.

The stories themselves, however, are quite weird. The first story seems to be about a couple of very young kids, Jean and Marie, who are playing “papa et maman” with their toy dolls standing in for children. One of the dolls, Paul, is very naughty and eats sugar right out of the sugar jar. Jean and Marie catch him at it and get very annoyed. Jean punishes Paul by hitting him, which causes him to fall off the table. In the process, his arm falls off. Jean leaves and comes back as “le docteur,” and tells Marie that he will heal the wayward child. Jean goes into the kitchen and asks “la bonne,” who is apparently his family’s servant (it was 1904, I guess) for a piece of twine. He ties Paul’s arm to the sleeve of his chemise and tells Marie that Paul is cured. Marie sees her mutilated son and says “But how will he be able to work when he is older?” Jean says, with typical Gallic pragmatism, that “he can always be a singer; then he won’t need his arms.”

brokenpaul

In the words of Buzz Lightyear, “I don’t believe that man’s ever been to medical school.”

I wonder what this was supposed to teach young French kids from 110 years ago. That child abuse causing horrible mutilation is okay as long as the victim can still sing for his supper? Apparently, it was a different time and place back then. Oh well, I’m still having fun.

Buyer’s Remorse

One thing I have discovered in this last month, while I was frittering away my time not writing, is how my Facebook friends react to my writing. If I write about the Atari 2600, I’ll maybe get one or two hits on my blog, and maybe a comment on how they remembered that from their childhood. If I write about Mario, Zelda, and other Nintendo games, I might get a high five or two. If I write about Linux, the only feedback I get is chirping crickets.

If I write about cars… suddenly, everybody has something to say.

Maybe I should write more about cars. It would definitely fit the “wandering” part of The Wandering Nerd. And even non-nerds love cars… or love to hate them.

Over the last month, I’ve definitely had a love-hate relationship with George, the 2003 Ford Escape I bought at a fleet auction back in February.

autobot
(Who is definitely an Autobot, not a Decepticon. Decepticons have way more style.)

The first thing that happened to the truck was that the check engine light came on a few days after I started driving it. It turned out to be the EGR valve, or rather, a wire came loose on one of the sensors attached to the EGR valve. It was an easy fix, but still cost me $60 at the local mechanic’s.

The check engine light turned off after that, but soon came on again. I took it to the mechanic again, and he plugged in his little computer, which told him that one of the sensors in the catalytic converter had “reduced efficiency.” He told me that it was probably nothing and that I shouldn’t worry about it. So I didn’t worry about it. And then a few weeks later, while driving my extremely sick wife to the hospital, the truck broke down. Thank goodness I was still in range of the cellphone tower or we might have been stuck there for quite a while. But thanks to friends and to AAA, we got my wife to the hospital and George back to the garage, where it was discovered that the catalytic converter system was completely clogged up with 11 years’ worth of exhaust particles, dust, and other crap.

In retrospect, I should have expected that. The Escape was used as a patrol car by my company’s Fire & Security department, driven anywhere from 50 to 100 miles a day for short trips at low speeds, with long amounts of time spent idling the engine. Under normal circumstances, cats can last the lifetime of your car, but these were hardly normal circumstances. On the other hand, since that little SUV seldom went above 45 mph (the maximum speed limit here in the national park where I work) and had all of its scheduled preventative maintenance, the engine is still in excellent shape. So you win some, you lose some.

But I digress. When I picked George up a few days later, the mechanic told me that he gutted the system, so now the exhaust is flowing freely. The car would destroy the environment approximately five times faster than before, but at least it was drivable. And he said that since the blockage was removed, the engine would be more responsive and I would get better gas mileage. He was right about that though. My in-town MPG was 19 before, now it’s about 22. And on the highways, if I stick to the speed limit, George is good for almost 30 MPG. I’ve confirmed this with an UltraGauge. I will need to get a new catalytic converter if I ever move to a county or state that requires smog inspections… or then again, I could just sell George here in the park and buy a new car when it’s time to move on.

I will admit that during George’s convalescence, I’ve been looking hard into buying a new car… now. I kept thinking “this SUV is going to be more trouble than it’s worth; I’d better just cut my losses and trade it in on something a bit more stylish and reliable.” I kept trolling the local Craigslist listings to see who was selling something I would like to change to. I thought first maybe a small car with good gas mileage, like the Tercels and Civics my ecologically-conscious parents used to own.

tercel
(Pictured: my dad’s dream car, circa 1982.)

The 1982 Toyota Tercel we owned was pretty dang awesome. Just look at that vibrant shade of yellow; 30 years and 300,000 miles did little to dint its sheen. This car got 40 miles per gallon easy, 10 years before the Geo Metro and 20 years before the Prius. And you could put an awful lot of cargo in that hatchback, especially if you put the rear seats down. It had no radio, no AC, no power anything, it had a top speed of 40 mph, and the driver’s door had to be opened from the inside, but this Tercel was awesome and damn near bulletproof… until the transmission went and my dad thought it best to sell it for scrap. Truly, my fantasies of getting an old Tercel for dirt cheap were dashed by the fact that if I had one of these cars, I’d probably have even more problems with it than I currently have with the Ford Escape. Not to mention that it would be a sitting duck on the highway, where 75 mph is considered the “minimum speed limit.”

And the Tercel’s modern-day equivalent, the Toyota Yaris, is nowhere near as solid a car. I rented one once, and it felt extremely plasticky. The seats were cheap and uncomfortable. The cargo area could hold maybe two shopping bags and the spare tire. The passenger area was so small, I almost felt like I was larger than the car. It felt a bit like driving a Power Wheels car, except you would be insane to drive a Power Wheels on the freeway. Which I was doing, much to my chagrin, in Los Angeles, at rush hour, on a holiday weekend. While it was capable of matching the speeds of the cars around it, it was not a very stable car at 80 mph, and a single gust of wind could move it out of a traffic lane. Which it did, right into the wheel well of a huge Dodge pickup, which was trying to change lanes at the same time I was skidding out of mine:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Yeah, that truck’s wheel well came up to the Yaris’ door handle. If I hadn’t regained control of the vehicle in time, I would have died. The Yaris was severely dented, and the truck got barely a scratch, but the truck’s driver had the gall to sue the rental car company’s insurance agent for $1800 because “his baby” got “totaled.” Meanwhile, I had to drive 100 miles back to my parents’ house in a wrecked car, having panic attacks the entire way. And that was in 2009. I severely doubt the Yaris has gotten much better. I also doubt that the other cars in its class (Mazda 2, Ford Fiesta, Chevy Spark, the Smart Car, etc.) are any safer or fun to drive. What good is awesome fuel economy if you’re dead?

So maybe a subcompact econo-box wasn’t in my future, especially in Northern Arizona, where everybody drives a huge truck. But what about something larger than a Yaris, yet smaller than a SUV? Maybe something from a manufacturer with a track record for safety? Maybe… a Volvo?

800px-1st_Volvo_V70

I have always loved station wagons. Comfortable ride like a passenger car, but with lots of cargo space. I remember many an hour spent in the back of my family’s Toyota Corona station wagon as a kid, watching the world recede from me from the back window. And the best maker of station wagons these days? Volvo, a company with a record for safe, reliable, well-engineered vehicles. The fact that they’re one of the only car companies still making station wagons into the 21st century is besides the point. So today, I looked on Craigslist and saw a 2001 Volvo V70 on sale for $4500. I was almost about to call my bank, until I read the description and realized that while it was a good car that still ran, I wouldn’t be getting too much of an upgrade over the Ford Escape. It had a similar amount of miles on it, it had similar gas mileage (22/27 on the Volvo vs. 19/25 on the Escape), and it had much less cargo space. The only things I would be getting that the Escape didn’t have would be leather seats and a rumble seat in the back sized for two children. Big whoop. And since Volvo in those days was owned by Ford, I’d essentially be driving a Ford anyway.

So, I’m sticking with George for now. It might not get the gas mileage of a subcompact but it’s way more versatile. I can transport 5 adults in relative comfort along with all their luggage. Since it has a short wheelbase with the weight of the car well-centered thereon, it handles more like a car than a big, lumbering station wagon. And when you put the rear seats down, you can haul as much cargo as a small pickup truck. Or, you can put a full-sized mattress in the back and enjoy the fun of camping without the pine cones, rocks and critters which inevitably end up invading your tents and sleeping bags. So, it’s not the car I would have chosen for myself… but I am glad I have him. And I’m going to keep driving him until he dies, or until the smog test police come my way.