Category Archives: Geeking out

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DetCon1 is in full swing

So far I’ve scored some free books (thank you freebie table and Baen), chatted with the usual mix of highly interesting people, drove down Michigan Avenue with a local pointing out the highlights, and sat on a “Teens talk to scientists” panel where the audience was extremely small but very precocious.  Without a designated moderator (oops) or list of questions, we wandered across topics ranging from how to become a zoologist to whether or not time travel is possible.

The hotel layout is great for getting around once you get the hang of it, and so far there has been no massive elevator congestion – that may change on Saturday and Sunday, but fingers crossed the sailing stays smooth.  The dealer’s room is better than most, and I’m tempted by at least six of the t-shirts in there, but will probably limit myself to two.  Probably.

The view from the con suite (69th floor) is amazing, so even if you don’t want to partake of the company and free food, you can see all of Detroit from there.  I also recommend the view from the fitness center, which is on the 40th floor and looks out over the water.  The tail end of the sunrise this morning was absolutely gorgeous from up there, albeit a little blinding.

Overall it feels like a really well-run con and is off to a good start.  Now I’m heading down to my “Designing Fictional Spacecraft” panel.



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Geekness Day with #SingleHopGeeks

Apparently I’m kind of a failure as a geek because I didn’t even know there was such thing as Embrace Your Geekness Day, which is July 13th (not to be confused with Geek Pride day on May 25th, by the way).  But since a very nice lady from SingleHop was cool enough to ask me to do some interview questions to celebrate Geekness Day, well, now I know.  And the more you know

I do think we’re probably starting to take this new multitude of made-up holidays a little far.  Like is there a “Cats on the Internet” day yet?  There seems to be one for just about everything now.  But in the spirit of fun, here we go with the questions.

1.    What makes you a geek?

I’ve been in love with space and SF&F (books, TV, and movies) since I was a kid.  My dad pretty much raised us on SF&F – to the level of bringing us along to Star Trek conventions from the tender age of seven or so.   We were always encouraged to help ourselves to anything on the many bookshelves around the house, and my mom took us to the library at least once a week to restock.  Let’s just say my love of books is very well rooted.

I’ve always been huge space enthusiast, other than a brief stint around age five when I, for some strange reason I can no longer remember, wanted to be a dentist.  Now I have masters in both Aerospace Engineering and Space Studies.  I may never get to be an astronaut, but maybe if I’m a successful enough engineer I can afford that ticket on Virgin Galactic someday!

I’ve also been incredibly fortunate to marry a fellow geek, and now we are those people who decorated our daughter’s nursery with a space theme. I will probably embarrass her horribly when she’s a teenager by wearing a Kaylee costume in public or showing people the pictures of her dressed as GIR for Halloween (her request!).

2.    What is your proudest geek moment?

Every time I am able to participate in STEM outreach events of any kind.  Whether it’s being part of a SeaPerch competition or sitting on a “Women in STEM” panel at a con, I love getting to be an advocate for STEM education and let kids – girls especially – know that STEM fields are not only really cool, but well within their reach if they work hard and ignore the haters.

Also, memorizing the Litany Against Fear from Frank Herbert’s Dune.

3.    What is your geek motto/favorite geek quote?

Laugh it up, fuzzball.

4.    Who is your geek role model?

Anyone who likes what they geek out about enough to be vocal/visual about it in public.  It takes a special, brave kind of person to dress up in costume or tell the whole world that they love something geeky and why.

5.    Which SingleHopper geek do you most relate to? Why?

Is it bad if I admit I had never heard of SingleHop before?  I am apparently failing at all kinds of geek stuff today!

6.    How familiar are you with SingleHop’s product offerings (dedicated servers, private cloud hosting, managed hosting, etc.)?

See above.

7.    Anything else you think we should know?

These questions made me think of the days of those email surveys we young people all sent around to each other in the heydey of AOL.  Oops, did I just date myself?

Share your answers to these questions in the comments if you like!

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My Little Aspiring Astronaut

Tonight my daughter asked me one of the inevitable questions of childhood: how do you go to the bathroom in space?  To answer, I naturally turned to… ok, this is embarrassing for someone with three space-related  technical degrees to admit – I turned to YouTube.  I thought about getting out some books, making explanations, drawing pictures.  But I figured the internet would not fail to provide a video, which would do a much better job of explaining than I possibly could.

The internet did not fail me.  The first thing to come up in the search was a marvelous video of astronaut Sunita Williams giving a tour of the International Space Station.  The video had not only a tour of the bathroom facilities, but also all the rest of the living facilities.

This was a double win, as my daughter and I got to see the kitchen, bathroom, and sleeping areas on the ISS and we also reinforced the whole “if she can see it, she can be it” concept by watching an excellent female STEM role model in action.

Here’s where the story gets really great.  After watching the whole video with wide-eyed enthrallment, she looked at me and said, “Mommy, will you buckle me in and take me to the space station now?”  Oh, kiddo.  Would I ever love to do just that.

So it turns out explaining how astronauts go to the bathroom in space is pretty easy.  Explaining to a four-year-old that we can’t just head off to visit space right now is hard.  I think I lost her somewhere in between “do well in school” and “work hard” but the spark is there, at least.  I have definitely passed the ‘space fever’ on to my kid!

Oh, and here’s the video:

Tomorrow I think we’ll look for some good Chris Hadfield videos as well.

Guess it’s time to start saving up for that first trip to Space Camp?

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Satellites That are Old Enough to Drink = Engineering Win

A couple years ago in grad school I did a small project involving a still-working satellite that was about 25 years old. The tech told me that a few years before he had been able to joke that the satellite was old enough to drink, but now he was even starting to see grad students who were younger than the satellite.

The satellite was still usable and perfectly functional – if one was able to use the punch-cards and their old corresponding IBM machine to communicate. At the time, it completely amazed me that engineers in the late 1970s had designed something so robust that it had made it so very far past its 10-year design life. Pardon me for the cheesy phrase, but we just don’t make ’em like we used to.

Today, though, something happened that blows that story out of the water. If you hadn’t heard, there’s an old NASA spacecraft called the International Sun-Earth Explorer 3 (ISEE-3) that’s been reactivated. It’s a 36-year-old probe that was retired back in 1997. It’s so old that NASA no longer has the infrastructure (the right deep space antenna network transmitters) to communicate with it.

Photo (artist’s rendering) from NASA science website:

A private group called the ISEE-3 Reboot Project recently crowdfunded about $150,000 and got NASA’s permission to reactivate it. They came up with an inexpensive way to resume communications. Today they successfully commanded it to maneuver, and it fired engines for the first time since 1987.

One of the team members that reactivated this spacecraft wasn’t even born yet last time the satellite maneuvered, let alone when it was designed and launched.  And at least one of the instruments onboard is still working.  That’s some seriously good engineering and craftsmanship, people.

You can read more about today’s success in the Scientific American article here, or you can follow the ISEE-3 Project Reboot team at their website, on Twitter, or on Facebook.

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Resources for Road Trippin’

Soon we will be embarking on a summer road trip, complete with our first completely kid-free con (kiddo will be camping with the grandparents while we go to NASFiC). So lots of new experiences coming up for all of us.

Since we have approximately 80 hours of driving spread out over a couple weeks, I am doing a lot of prep work for entertaining a small child in the car. I don’t consider these efforts ‘spoiling,’ but rather ‘preservation of the sanity of the drivers.’

First step was to raid the dollar rack at Target and hit up the local Dollar Tree store. This, combined with one of those $5 cleaning gear totes, combined to make a well-stocked kit for ‘analog’ entertainment. Coloring books, stickers, small toys, and crayons joined some educational items and thinner books to make a nice tub of things to do that can sit next to her on the seat.

I also broke down and will buy her Frozen, which she will watch only with headphones on.  So I don’t go berserk by day two of the trip.

Today we finally spent all our stacked-up Audible credits on six new audiobooks to entertain the grownups. Our favorites to listen to in the car are usually Malcolm Gladwell’s books and Maisie Dobbs mysteries from author Jacqueline Winspear – these are narrated by the most pleasant-voiced British woman imaginable.  We also like to throw in some good, solid sci-fi.

This trip we will be listening to the two newest from Gladwell (What the Dog Saw and David & Goliath), the newest from Winspear (Leaving Everything Most Loved), and Redshirts by John Scalzi.

If we run out after listening to all of that, we also have some promising non-fiction downloaded: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon.

If you like audiobooks, the Audible monthly membership is a great deal. For $15 a month you get a credit a month for a single audiobook. If you’ve seen what audiobooks usually cost, this is a very good deal. And you can get some good discounts/special offers on the memberships if you sign up through an existing Amazon account.

You can also often add on the Kindle print version of the book (or if you have the Kindle version already, add on the audiobook), for just a few dollars more.  Audible has other special promotions and discounts pretty frequently as well.

Next, I need to shop for some new kid apps for the iPad, preferably of the educational and free variety. Anyone have recommendations?  I’ll share what we come up with for that in another post, so appreciate your inputs.

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DetCon1 Here We Come!

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I now have my finalized – and therefore completely subject to change at some future date – itinerary for this year’s North American Science Fiction Convention NASFiC) – DetCon1 in Detroit, MI.  If you are going to be there, I hope to see you at one of these panels!

It’s going to be a very busy and very fun weekend.  I will also definitely be at the 80s dance, as I would not miss for all the world seeing John Scalzi as the DJ for that, and the masquerade (just as an audience member, as I have not remotely had time for cosplay this year).

What panel topics have caught your eye?  Do you have any suggestions for really badly done science/tech in movies or books that I can use in the Balonium! panel?

Teens Talk to… Scientists Duluth A Teen Fri 12:00 PM
Description Our panel of folks who work in the science fields (both hard and soft) talks about their work and answers questions about what they do and how they got there.
Designing Fictional Spacecraft Ambassador Salon 2 Literature Fri 4:00 PM
Description Our panel discusses aspects of designing non-existent spacecraft, such as applying current and historic shipbuilding and spacecraft-building practices to future designs, and keeping designs realistic. How do you make the ship suit its mission, and what considerations are there beyond engines and weapons?
Women in Science and STEM Mackinac West Science Sat 2:00 PM
Description Men still outnumber women in most STEM fields. What are the unique challenges for women in STEM fields, and how can they be addressed? What can be done to encourage more women to consider these fields and prepare for them?
Military SF Mackinac East Literature Sat 7:00 PM
Description Our panelists offer their opinions on the broad field of military SF. What themes and stories does military SF explore? Why do readers and creators like this subgenre? Who does it well, in terms of realism and good research?
Balonium!! Ambassador Salon 1 Media Sun 10:00 AM
Description Our panelist indulge their penchant for “oh, come ON!” in discussing the science, pseudo-science, and outright balonium in recent SF, whether in print, media, comics, or wherever!
Ask a Scientist Ambassador Salon 1 Science Sun 1:00 PM
Description Audience members ask questions they’d like scientists to answer. Carl Sagan once said: “There are naive questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question”.


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Would you live underground if the place was awesome enough?

I would absolutely love to live in an old missile silo or communications bunker.  There’s so much history there, and they are such very cool and unique old places.  Not to mention that they tend to sell for a fraction of what they took to build back in the Cold War heyday.  And you can do some very cool stuff with them.  Here’s a video of one that has been fixed up really nicely.

We have seriously been considering buying one and fixing it up one of these days – probably wouldn’t happen until we retire, but in the meantime it’s fun to look at them.  I just wish they weren’t mostly in places we don’t particularly want to live.  My two favorite websites to stalk future sites are:

20th Century Castles


Hardened Structures

Sometimes they have other fascinating properties that are also pretty mind-blowing, like this video of an old Army storage facility that was in a limestone mine.  It’s seriously huge.  Like multiple city blocks huge – it has streets with speed limits.  It’s over 125 acres.  Underground.   Totally reminds me of the rebel camp in Heinlein’s Revolt in 2100 (actually, I wonder if this facility may be what inspired it).

Here’s a history of the facility, if you’d like to know more.

Would you live in an old missile silo?


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My Favorite Webcomics

Playing off of yesterday’s post, there are a lot of very popular – and extremely geeky – webcomics out there.  Here are my favorites.  Please note for those with kids/youth that comics marked with an asterisk (*) sometimes have adult themes/content or profanity.

The Oatmeal*

Cyanide and Happiness*


Questionable Content*

Girls With Slingshots*

Surviving the World


No longer coming out with new comics but worth reading from the beginning anyway:

Absurd Notions 

User Friendly (arguably the geekiest webcomic of all time)


What are your favorite webcomics?  Can you recommend any that are better geared towards kids?

Also, if you have never read the complete Calvin & Hobbes, do it.  Do it now.  With your kids, if applicable.

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Gateway drugs – er, I mean books and movies – to sci-fi, fantasy, and speculative fiction of all kinds

One of the panel topics I’ve addressed at cons is how to get kids interested in sci-fi, fantasy, and all related things that make us geek out and that we find squee-worthy.  Well, other than the fact that all of us at those kinds of panels already think all those things are super cool, and that tech folks and engineers tend to make more money than the average bear, I usually try to point out the mainstream things that kids love that are already in their lives and actually fall into the broad ‘geek stuff’ categories of sci-fi, fantasy, alternate history, speculative fiction, etc.  These ‘gateway drugs’ are often the best way to bring kids into the fold.

What do I mean?  Well, some of the biggest blockbusters in kids, YA and adult fiction and movies are actually pretty darned geeky.  Check out this list, for example:

  • Harry Potter (fantasy/paranormal – full of magic and mythical creatures)
  • Golden Compass (more fantasy and a little steampunk/sci-fi)
  • Divergent (post-apocalyptic/dystopian fiction)
  • Narnia books and movies (fantasy)
  • Hunger Games (decidedly post-apocalyptic/dystopian fiction)
  • Twilight (fantasy/paranormal)
  • Ender’s Game (solidly sci-fi – and it’s the number one book I’ve ever recommended to get kids into sci-fi)
  • A Wrinkle in Time (definitely sci-fi with a little paranormal thrown in)
  • The Giver (post-apocalyptic/dystopian)
  • Percy Jackson series (fantasy)
  • Wild Wild West (steampunk – and I’m probably dating myself by putting it on here)
  • Heroes (fantasy/paranormal)
  • X-Men (paranormal/sci-fi)
  • All the superhero movies such as Spiderman, Avengers, etc. (comics, sci-fi, fantasy/paranormal)
  • Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (fantasy)
  • TMNT and pretty much any cartoon involving space, aliens, mutants, evil scientists, etc.
  • Star Wars (duh)
  • Despicable Me (sci-fi – no, really!)
  • Mary Poppins (paranormal)
  • How to Train Your Dragon (fantasy)
  • Godzilla (sci-fi/fantasy)
  • Transformers (sci-fi/alternate history)
  • Avatar (sci-fi)
  • I, Robot (sci-fi)
  • Aliens (sci-fi/horror)
  • Men in Black (sci-fi/comedy)
  • The Matrix (sci-fi/dystopian/post-apocalyptic)
  • World War Z (and pretty much all zombie moves – sci-fi/paranormal/dystopian)

This list is by no means exclusive – it’s just a quick list off the top of my head of the things that have been wildly successful in the mainstream that people don’t even realize fall solidly into the genres traditionally considered ‘geeky.’  And that’s without even looking at the world of gaming.  If you want to get a kid interested in geekdom, find out what he or she likes – and then gradually introduce similar things to expand his or her horizons.

For example, my daughter currently loves Invader Zim and Wall-E, which is branching out to a general love of robots thanks to GIR and Wall-E.  And she adores Our Neighbor Totoro, so I’m hoping she will also take a liking to Kiki’s Delivery Service and Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle in the future.

Also, as a side note I just realized that Will Smith actually does an awful lot of sci-fi.

What’s missing from my list?  How do you get kids interested in geek stuff without driving them away with un-cool-ness?




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Happy Summer Solstice

Tomorrow, June 21st, is the summer solstice.  For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, it means it’s the longest day of the year.  Yep, dark days are ahead, folks – the days will only get shorter from here until the winter solstice in December.

For thousands of years, people who live in parts of the world where it is noticeable (i.e. somewhere away from the equator) have celebrated the solstice and come up with innovative ways to measure and predict the exact day and time it will occur.  Many cultures still hold celebrations, both religious and secular, on this amazingly long day of sunlight.

If you are having some kind of summer solstice celebration, enjoy!  And if not, here are some videos to enjoy instead:



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