Cometary Tales Blog,On Books Review: Black Nerd, Blue Box by T. Aaron Cisco

Review: Black Nerd, Blue Box by T. Aaron Cisco

Give yourself time to read when you pick up this book, because once you start, you won’t be able to stop reading T. Aaron Cisco‘s memoir, Black Nerd Blue Box: The Wibbly Wobbly Memoirs of a Lonely Whovian.

You don’t need to be a Doctor Who fan, or Black, or even a Nerd. If you love words, and the idea of extended bursts of witty, angry, insightful “one-sided dialogues” makes you just the slightest bit curious, you need to pick this up. If you happen to have all three characteristics, then you’ve finally got the chance to hang out with someone who … wait … is not exactly like you, because … what the heck were you thinking? Because you have three things in common, you’ll be the same? I bet you think you’re from Chicago, too. (Teaser: inside joke for readers of this book.)

I should also state clearly that, though it’s a memoir, and we all “know” it’s grown-ups who read memoir, this book could be an inspiring discovery for any young reader at YA-level or above who identifies with any of the above characteristics. Or for one who likes music their friends think is stupid. Or for one who self-identifies as anything out of the so-called mainstream.

Black Nerd Blue Box transports you into the mind of a fellow traveler in this universe and reveals just enough of that person’s experiences and inner life to allow you to connect with what resonates with your own. With that connection established, Cisco takes you on a journey, skipping through moments like the Doctor skipping across times and worlds. It’s not always a jolly adventure. There’s heartache as well as humor. Doctor Who asides will be enjoyed by fellow Whovians, but non-fans can catch up with the series later and not miss a beat in this life story.

Unless you happen to be an alternate-universe version of the author with only one or two minor differences from this time-line’s one, you will undoubtedly stumble across moments that teach you something about yourself, maybe a hard lesson, maybe one you need to go back and reread a couple of times, run a highlighter across until you really get it.

The chapter where he writes about his mother’s battle with cancer is wrenching in ways you won’t expect. Cisco was only a child at the time–but he has a stunning ability to convey the way that experience impacted his younger self. If you only have time to read ONE chapter, read this one, because it will change the way you think about talking to children about illness, about living with the prospect of dying, and about the nature of optimism.

I’m not saying Black Nerd Blue Box is a tear-blaster. It’s a humanity-sharing-lesson-learning experiment in self-revelation. About a third of the content is a hilarious inside-his-head discussion/ argument/ philosophy discourse. I laughed out loud twice while reading this on my phone–because I did not want to take the time to go back and boot up my computer after I’d read the first two pages on my phone–and I do NOT laugh out loud while looking at my phone. It’s embarrassing when people look around to see who’s the nerd laughing at their phone.

If you’re still hesitating, you know, you could do a trial of Amazon kindle unlimited and collect a copy-to-keep later. Make a note to remind your future self. Timey-wimey stuff isn’t just for nerds and aliens.

Cisco has fiction for you to read, too. Look for Teleportality, Dragon Variation, and The Preternaturalist. Amazon has all three, Barnes and Noble (my preferred shop) has only the first two at present. I can’t claim to have read them, but I skimmed the online sample of The Preternaturalist (love that title!), and the voice of the first-person narrator is lively and entertaining…much like Cisco’s own voice in this memoir.

You can find out more on his website, Black Intellectual. Lest you doubt his nerd credentials, you can find him writing for TwinCities Geek, such as his breakdown of Star Trek: Short Treks. Or if you’re in the Minneapolis area, you might meet him at the local Trek/Who trivia night.

You might also like to read:

Day Zero: Get Thee To FlagstaffDay Zero: Get Thee To Flagstaff

There is no simple way to orchestrate the travel here.  Yes, planes fly to Flagstaff, not the same airlines as fly to the big airports but their small-scale partners.  There’s a shuttle bus from Phoenix, and if you were facing a long layover the van could even be faster.

A view of the Grand Canyon we did not see on our flights (courtesy of Google Earth)

But we arrive in Phoenix with plane tickets in hand and actually welcome a half-hour flight delay, because it allows us a chance to buy lunch.  I even have time for a stroll through the overpriced-souvenir shop, where I hand over $2 for a pair of elastic bands someone in the shop has put out to support a fundraiser for improving water supplies in Haiti.  Seems appropriate. And the chance to put up our feet for a half-hour is welcome, as we’re already tired.  We actually began yesterday, on Day “-1”, with a five-hour drive to rendezvous with Clark’s friend, who lives near Reno, so we could all travel together the whole way.  Our Day Zero expedition consisted of a drive from the pine forests of Plumas County to the desert flats of Reno’s outskirts, a freeway jaunt to the airport (chauffered by another friend), a big plane to Phoenix, a little plane to Flagstaff, then a search for the airport shuttle.  We will have a powerful case of deja vu on Day Fourteen.   You’ll see.

Flagstaff’s airport is a fabulous, small airport.  My favorite kind.  One baggage claim zone.  No trouble meeting a shuttle bus right outside.  As it happens, the other folks sharing the van are another couple going on our trip.  And they have obtained an intelligence report from the rafting company, OARS, that we five will be the only “guests” staying on the raft trip for the full fourteen days.   The rest of the group will leave halfway (and hike out), to be replaced by a new batch of folks for the second week.  So we will actually get to spend a full fifteen days with Todd and Eliza.  Oh, yeah, and until such time as the members of our trip group authorize me to use their names, I will be using fake names, just in case I goof up and say something upsetting or someone turns out to be in Witness Protection.  I won’t do the same for the crew, since I want to actually give them the props they deserve.  In fact, I’d hope this whole piece could be considered a humungous letter of reference for each and every person on the crew.  I’d initially given myself permission to use my own and my husband’s names, but he protested, so here goes.  He is herewith dubbed “Clark”.  And what to call Childhood Friend?  How about Lana?  And surely that makes me “Lois”.  The only funny thing about this, is that I actually have a friend called Lois–so, hey, Lois, you can tell people this is you.  (Fair warning, though, I’m not the heroine of this story!)

The key element of Day Zero is the evening briefing from the Trip Leader.  We gather in one of the Radisson Hotel’s conference rooms.   (The Midway guests also will have a briefing, but not by the Trip Leader , as she will be a mile downhill at the time.)  So we meet our first authentic River Guide.  This is Billie Prosser, who’s been whitewater rafting since she was a teenager, over fifteen years now, much of that time in the Grand Canyon.  These days, she chooses to do only a few of these Grand Canyon trips a year, giving herself the chance to work on other rivers and also to have time for a private trip, as time permits, to enjoy the Canyon without having to take care of people like us.

At the meeting, we also get our first glimpse of our fellow travelers all together.  We are heavily loaded with Californians and Canadians.   There are three women from Canada—their menfolk didn’t want to come.  There’s two father-son duos: one a dad and his athletic teenager, the other a Bechtel project technician taking a voluntary layoff to make the trip with his dad, a (putatively) retired actor and writer.  The Fab Five (Todd & Eliza and the three of us–Lois, Clark, and Lana) are all from California.   The actor, who takes care during the meeting to firmly establish that he’s the most-senior member of the troupe, has also brought along a childhood friend—a woman he hadn’t seen since high school.  While he keeps us entertained, I get the vague feeling he sort of expects someone to recognize him.  Then there’s another triad…a husband and wife and one of their friends.  Is that sixteen?

We get a quick summary of what to expect in the morning.  The crucial item is to have our gear packed and in the lobby by quarter to seven and be ready to leave by seven.  There’s a little last-minute advice on what to be sure to bring.  In case something’s been forgotten, there’s a WalMart in walking distance.  We’re advised to bring lots and lots of moisturizer.  I ask for a definition of “lots”, which it seems is a 16 oz bottle per person per week.  Oh, my goodness, I didn’t bring that much, so we have a trip to WalMart in the plans already.  We’re issued our “drybags”, each labeled with our own personal real names.  (Amazingly, they don’t know to use the fake names I will make up in the future for this blog.)  And Billie gives us a five-minute seminar on how to seal the drybags.  This is important, as all of our clothing and personal items go in this bag, which will then be tied onto a raft and frequently doused with water.  We’re each also issued a small drybag.  The big bag is inaccessible except in camp.  The day bag serves to keep dry what we need to keep dry but have access to during the day.  And we’re allowed to bring whatever we like in our daypacks as well, provided we understand that these will get drenched in larger rapids or if it rains.  The drybags don’t have our personal names on them.  Instead, they each have an identifying name written in Sharpie,  to individualize them.  We just each have to remember our bag’s name.  Mine is “Turpentine Broom”.  Lana’s is “Grease Bush”.  And Clark selects the distinctly memorable “#73”.  Mine is the best.  Here is all about Turpentine Broom  and Grease Bush.  I expect we’ll encounter these plants on our journey.  In the meantime, the names help, as the bags come in only a few colors.

I’m relieved to hear there will be a bag for boots, as this will make room in my kit for all that moisturizer.  Others are relieved to hear that their beer and wine orders have been filled.  Some are anxious to double-check on that after the meeting.  Billie has the checklist.  Evidently, this is a common anxiety.

Then we are off to WalMart.  Yes, our first act upon crossing the moment into our trip environment is to walk down a suburban city street, past a dark and quiet Home Depot, an active supermarket, and a Bank of America with lights glowing invitingly above its ATM, to shop in the megabehemoth of a store that was launched just a few miles from Clark and Lana’s home town.   But oh, they do indeed have It All.  More sunblock.  I must have more sunblock.  Moisturizer, per Billie’s recommendations.  Handy dry facewash cloths to get all that sunblock off.  And a tripod.  What was I thinking, leaving home without a tripod?  And a little mini flex-tripod for Clark.  Sweet.  Now all we have to do is haul this all back to the hotel and get everything crammed into our bags.

And, well, the bag-cramming takes a little while.  Maybe more than a little while.   Part of it is deciding which things are OK in the backpack (maybe in a Ziploc bag, maybe not), which need to go in the daybag, and which can be done without and stuffed in the main drybag.  I have the extra variant that I really have 2 daypacks. One is a one-shoulder sling pack that keeps my cameras and other hiking essentials from bearing down on my healing shoulder and when not in use tucks into the main pocket of my large daypack.  The main daypack takes my raingear, a dry set of fleece sealed in ziplocs, my tripod, and other handy items.  It’s big, it’s bulky, I will make Clark carry it as much as possible.  But it all fits.  And while I fancy myself adept at this sort of thing, it is Clark who is already proving to be better at sealing the big drybag.  He says it is just that he can squish it down better, being a bit heavier, but I think there is more to it than that.  I will keep insisting on doing my bag myself for about four more days.  Then I will give up and let him do it for me.

One last shower and a thorough hair washing.  It will be 2 weeks without a shampooing, at least for me.  I do not want to look at the setting on the alarm clock.  It is just too awful to contemplate.

 

Chasing Comets

Chasing Comets: Supplies & ResourcesChasing Comets: Supplies & Resources

Supplies and Materials

Below, you’ll find a handy supply document you can download, with shopping lists for small and large groups and a range of cost estimates, depending on how much of the supplies you can acquire from available supplies or donations by participants.   With a minimal outlay, you and your group can experience being comet chasers–observers of comets.

Basically, you need a bunch of badminton birdies for your comet heads—keep in mind you don’t need performance-grade shuttlecocks or even new ones. If your high school has a badminton team, they will have worn-out birdies you can take off their hands.   A grungy, beat-up birdie makes a more realistic comet head.

Chasing Comets

Birdies for Comets

And you need a bunch of ribbon—curling ribbon for the comet tails. The supply sheet estimates ribbon packages at around $8, but if you look at this photo, you’ll see the last time I bought supplies, it was out of the clearance bin at $2. And if you can get one in five of your participants to bring in a roll to share, it won’t cost you a dime.

Chasing Comets

Zoom Out–Yes! Here’s All You Need To Make Comets

The one oddball item is that tulle fabric ribbon for the big comet. This you might have a hard time finding in your junk drawer unless you’ve been helping a bride make wedding tchochkes. But for $10 you can buy enough to make three huge comets. Cut five-yard lengths and tie one end of each to a vane of a single birdie, allowing a few inches of extra length to fan out as the comet’s “coma”. Tulle scrunches up easily, so even a six-inch-wide ribbon will feed through the holes between the birdie’s vanes.

Chasing Comets

Detail–How To Tie Fabric Tails

You should be able to borrow a portable fan and a playground or soccer ball. If you can’t, it will take a roughly $25 expenditure to get those items in stock—a cost you can recoup in part by either donating it to the group you’re working with or simply deducting the expense as part of your cost of volunteering.

And it is presumed you can find a pencil, which makes holding the small model a little easier when you’re doing the demo with the fan;  here’s the trick for hooking the pencil to the comet head:

Chasing Comets

Holder For Fan Experiment

Depending on how good you are at scrounging supplies and locating soccer balls, your costs will range from $10 to $85 for typical group sizes.   The spreadsheet I use has a calculation column to adjust the requirements list for other class sizes  So, if you want a copy of this  fully-functional workbook, “like” the Facebook page & I’ll send you one via a Facebook “message”. (You can also try emailing me through the “contacts” page here, but you’ll get a faster response on FB.)  Your FB contact will be used for nothing other than sending you a file and boosting the “likes”-count on my page.  [Insert maniacal laughter, if desired.]

Meanwhile, you can get the static workbook as a pdf right away:

Just Supplies Chasing Comets

 

Resources and References

Now that you are all excited about comets, here are some fun places to go where you can find more cometary material:

A lovely one-page summary from the Spaceguard Program (sponsored by the European Space Agency) gives a clear description of comet tail structure and dynamics, including a neat animation of what both tails look like as the comet proceeds around the sun. The ion tail streams straight back, while the dust tail is curved a bit as the particles within the dust tail blend movement due to their individual orbits about the sun and the forces of the radiation pressure. Net, both tails roughly point away from the sun, as in our demonstration.

Sweet page from NASA with helpful animations and clear descriptions.

Follow the European Space Agency’s comet-chasing spacecraft, Rosetta, as it aims for the first robotic landing on a cometary nucleus.

Read this:  a “real” science article with a good set of detailed discussions of the types of comet tails and how they work.

Or, try this excellent piece by freelance science writer Craig Freidenrich on the inner workings of comets.

The Swinburne Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing’s educational site helps with details on the structure of comets.

Explore a public-domain catalog of Solar System images, from Hubble and other spacefarers.

Discover how Oort clouds may be one way star systems interact directly with one another, because the Oort clouds project so far out.

See the invisible part of a comet.

Find out all about radiation pressure.

Plan to catch sight of the meteor shower sponsored by Comet Halley.

Explore the origins of comets at this UC Berkeley site.

Check out NASA’s solar system photo gallery, with images from NASA and European Space Agency exploration missions and telescopes.

Visit the Lunar and Planetary Institute’s educational site, with even more hands-on activities for young astrophysicists. Roam their site for educator workshops and more.

OK, seriously, I’m not the only science blogger keen on comets.

A new comet is incoming this month (May 2014).

Our guy Euler was the first one to suggest that light exerts pressure, but we had to wait over 100 years to get to Maxwell, who proved it, and then another quarter-century went by before some Russians managed to measure radiation pressure. (Also, gotta love Google Books.)

Oh, and by 1915 the proof of radiation pressure made it into Scientific American.

 

 

 

Lessons of a BayCon Gofer: You Do What You ConLessons of a BayCon Gofer: You Do What You Con

A Sign From NASA

It’s a Sign From NASA

As of BayCon 2014, Saturday’s big event is the Variety Show (the event formerly known as Masquerade), so the halls of the Hyatt are full of costumed characters. My husband’s coming tonight, just for the Show. In the meantime, I need to cram in some of my own Con activities, beginning with a kaffeeklatsch (small-group discussion) with the artist guest of honor, Ursula Vernon. Then there’s that one panel discussion (I’m not generally keen on panels, but Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff  is on this one). And I have my eye on a session about cool Arduino projects, not to mention showing up for a presentation by some friends and acquaintances from the Bay Area Lego User Group.

Does this mean I’m not Gofering at all? Nope. Gofering is a flexible commitment. I can sign in just for the time block I expect to be free. And the Art Show happens to need an extra hand just then.

The Art Show is one of my favorite venues, always with something new to see. Plus this particular day began with that awesome-artist kaffeeklatsch. The only downside? No photography, for obvious reasons. It’s light work, helping things get organized. Sorting collections of paper, helping the Art Show leaders check that all the forms are there and all the pieces have their bid sheets and all the pieces on display are included in their records.   There’s an old computer that needs someone to keep trying to get it to boot up. And finally, I’m entrusted with the queue of members needing to be assigned their bidder numbers and to be reminded of how the bid process works. My qualifications? Being an experienced art-show bidder, and relatively fussy with paperwork.

By the time the queue was down to the occasional new arrival and my services weren’t needed, it was time for the afternoon programs I wanted to attend.

More Fun With Arduino

More Fun With Arduino

And then I had the whole evening free to spend with my husband, who used his one-day pass for the variety show,

Vader & Son with Garcia

Vader & Son with Garcia

a tour, some pictures of paparazzi,

Dot Matrix & Her Fans

Dot Matrix & Her Fans

 

 

 

 

 

 

and an introduction to boffers, where a pair of energetic youngsters thoroughly trounced us both. He drew the line at staying for the midnight reading of Eye of Argon. Being a simply horrid spouse, I sent him home alone and dropped in on a few parties after that quiet, sedate, restful hour of reading, to whit:

En Garde!

The Eye of Argon appears at midnight

 

Gofer Lesson of the Day:  Let yourself enjoy the convention, too.

 

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