Tag Archives: Star Wars

Embracing my inner geek and fandom: Nine Worlds

In February, I backed a Kickstarter campaign for a new conference event called Nine Worlds Geekfest – an event which promised to be a first-of-its-kind mixed genre gathering of geeks, sci-fi fans, gamers, cosplayers and (as you can read below) lots of other fun topics.

Whether you’re into board gaming, film and film-making, Doctor Who / Torchwood, science, feminism, Tolkien, SF&F academia, video games, partying like a dancefloor demon, role play gaming, Discworld, My Little Pony, social gaming, SF&F literature, knitting, Harry Potter, creative writing, Star Wars, queer fandom, buying cool stuff, steampunk, open culture, Star Trek, skepticism, costuming, comics, or fanfic, chances are you’ll find something that rocks your world. [from Lanyrd]

#nineworlds #geekery The event took place at two hotels near Heathrow this past weekend, and I took a rare Friday off work to be there from the start, staying until late on the Sunday in the end, for reasons which I will mention in a moment. If you follow me on Twitter, no doubt you’re already aware of my weekend activities 🙂

Aside: perhaps it isn’t much of a surprise to those who know me, but yes, I am a geek. I like science fiction and comic books. I’ve enjoyed the Whedonverse (Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse etc), Star Trek, Babylon 5, superhero movies based on cartoons and comics I grew up with, Star Wars, The Matrix, Doctor Who, etc etc. In fact, one thing I have really started to get back into this past year has been the latter, Doctor Who… I grew up reading the Target novelisations (Peter Davison was my Doctor but I’m a fan of the whole series), avidly listen to Big Finish audio plays, and listen to several of the great podcasts about the show from fellow fans. It is also the 50th anniversary year of the show, and I’ve also been lucky enough to attend BFI screenings of showings from the Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy eras, with Eccleston and McGann screenings to come.

What kind of a fan or geek does that make me? Doesn’t matter. Go listen to this great (short) podcast from Shannon, or read her great blog post of the same. No really, follow that link and go read it, I’ll wait. She makes a beautiful statement on how we should accept one other.

… and that brings me back to where I started, Nine Worlds. The team that put the event together set out to create an interesting, fun, volunteer-run, inclusive and diverse event – and that is the standout memory of my 3 days at the con. The range of tracks, fandoms and cultures on offer and on display was outstanding and I enjoyed the opportunity to mix with all kinds of folks and make new friends from across all of them. I had a lot of fun, and met a lot of fantastic new people I’m looking forward to seeing again either next year, or at events in between. I went to a couple of Red Dwarf talks – Robert Llewelyn and Chris Barrie were both great, funny and engaging speakers in the main theatre. I was late to arrive at the Film Fest Quiz and as a result ended up spectating, but it was great fun to see cheesy clips from 1980s horror and teen crush movies! The evening comedy session on the Friday with Helen Keen was hilarious. It was also good to see her moderate the Saturday morning “Future” panel with Charlie Stross, Cory Doctorow, and Lilian Edwards, even if I did leave that one feeling despondent about society’s ability to be optimistic about the potential benefits of technology and its ability to decide to use it for good!

To satisfy my Dr Who obsession I spent a large part of Saturday on the dedicated track. I wandered past Andrew Cartmell in the trade room and stopped for a chat and an autograph (great to talk to him about the Big Finish “Season 27” Lost Stories, and happy to discover that he’s also a fan of the line “unlimited rice pudding!!” from Remembrance of the Daleks). Simon Fisher-Becker’s session competed with a bunch of others and saw very low attendance, but Simon gamely just said “why don’t I just come down off the stage and sit in a circle with you”, so 5 or 6 of us got to quiz him in a very casual setting about his life and career, which was lovely. Later in the afternoon I found myself on the wrong side of the RTD vs Moffatt debate, which got pretty passionate… The evening session was a hilarious and great Big Finish panel with Gary Russell, Joe Lidster, Una McCormack, Matthew Waterhouse, James Swallow and Robert Dick – it just reinforced my love for the company and the amazing quality output they produce, as well as prompting me to want to go off and buy more of their stories!

Big Finish Panel

Sunday saw additional Dr Who panels, including Chicks Unravel Time (I’ve now bought that book of essays); the Ones You Love to Hate, about villains in the series; and one on companions. I was disappointed that none of the panelists really mentioned Turlough, but someone else in the audience did say that he was her favourite, and I’d have to agree that he was one of the more interesting additions to the TARDIS crew in the past 50 years.

On the technology side, I got to play with an Oculus Rift developer headset. Very impressive stuff, and it left me wishing I had jumped on board at Kickstarter time.

Another aside: I’ve posted photos on both Flickr and Facebook, depending on your preference. I need to replace the Flickr set with better resolution copies.

Last evening fun - geek singalong

The most fun I had all weekend, though, were the singalongs. I arrived early for the Once More with Feeling session and got talking to the pianist, David Merriman, about how he was going to run it… and ended up being the man nearest to the microphone when we needed to get things started and people gathered around the piano! My intervention(s) led to me being identified as “the music guy” (sorry, David!) around the con halls the next day, and several people insisted that I had to stay late for the Sunday evening sci-fi singalong as well… which ended up incorporating a spontaneous recreation of the end scenes of Dr Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog, when I jokingly shouted “solo number!” to a cosplayer dressed as Captain Hammer. You had to be there, but it was so, so much fun. Evidently I’ve impressed the Whedon track team enough that they want me involved next year…

Oops #schwag #books #autographs #lego #geekout I left with a stash of goodies (including a number of signed books)  which will only reinforce my fan tendencies… I’ve marked up with picture with notes on Flickr if you are curious enough to look at what I picked out.

Criticisms? none really, just learning points I hope. Firstly it was unforgivable for the venue to a) charge for wifi at all, let alone b) not flag up their discounted rate to con guests as they checked in (should have been £5/day not £15/day if you were attending); and then they locked access to a single device, which was rubbish – especially given that many sessions were in the basement where there was no mobile reception. The bar was also expensive, and I was amused to discover that the cash only con-bar was actually more expensive than the main hotel (£4.90 a bottle at the con-bar; £4.50 a pint at the hotel bar; I took my choice). I’d hope both things can be negotiated in future years. I haven’t booked my return ticket for next year yet… but it is looking pretty likely.

Thank you to everyone who made Nine Worlds happen – organisers, volunteers, track leads, and speakers. And thank you to everyone who attended… you were all Brilliant!

There’s so much more I could say about the weekend, but then lots of people had different experiences, from different tracks – check out the various write-ups on Lanyrd.

I’m hoping to record a short segment for The Doctor Who Podcast covering the Dr Who track soon, so if you are a fellow subscriber, listen out for that.

Makers. Creativity. Learning. LEGO FTW.

It began, as these things sometimes do, with a childhood passion.

One of my earliest memories is of kneeling on the floor at the back of my bedroom making LEGO cars – it was in version 1.0 of my bedroom as I grew up, before new furniture and decoration. I must have been about 4, or 5. I had a castle, knights, some space stuff including base boards with little moulded “craters”… lots of fun as a child.

When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.

I’d long known that many of my friends and colleagues have remained huge LEGO fans (Cerys has just blogged about her interest; Ben made some fun timelapse videos of building his Christmas present). For me, a key moment was Roo‘s 3 minute masterpiece of a paean to the medium at Interesting in 2008, embedded here for your enjoyment. Listen to the audio slidecast – closest you can get to having been there, and Roo did a wonderful (and amusing!) job.

Also, a memorable talk at the CRIM Crystal Ball Conference in Montreal in April 2010 (at which I also spoke) came from then Professor of Innovation at LEGO Group, David Robertson – a tale of Rebuilding LEGO, and how the company had saved itself from bankruptcy by refocusing on its core values and customer needs. It was a fantastic story and I was rapt.

More recently, I went along to the Internet of Things meetup in London last month, and was delighted to see Ken “monsonite” Boak – creator of the Nanode, a fantastic UK-grown prototyping platform akin to Arduino – use LEGO as his metaphor for a talk exploring Open Source electronics. Ken was kind enough to pop his slides up on Slideshare today, so you can take a look. He’d just been out to get some LEGO the previous weekend…

That talk was more-or-less the moment when I realised – I needed some LEGO. I wanted some. Both as a way of seeing where things had gone to, and to help me to prototype things, and just… well… just because! I’d already started to use dioramas featuring minifigs in a couple of presentations recently and had good feedback, so I figured that was another excuse 🙂

So, on Saturday I decided to dip back into my passion for LEGO. It started with a bucket of bricks from the nearest toy shop… but then I noticed the LEGO Star Wars sets with slight discounts[1]… and I figured well, obviously I’d need some wheels of some kind so picked up some City sets… and some of the foil-bag Minifigures…

The splurge quickly developed into a binge via a @darachennis-inspired trip to the LEGO store in Westfield White City on Sunday… picking-and-mixing bricks from the back wall, and signing up for the VIP program. There may be no hope left for me…

Celt Bucket o' bricks LEGO splurge

So what have I learned?

  • Minifigs are brilliant. The aforementioned David Robertson gave me his business card, his details printed on a minifig resembling him, in Montreal in 2010 and that reawakened my interest. When I was a kid they all had the same pair of staring eyes and identical pleasant non-threatening smile, but the range of looks and expressions now available make them as much fun to customise as the full sets.
  • People talk about the beauty of Apple’s designs – both inside and outside of the product (not that I’ve ever cracked open an iPhone to look inside). LEGO is blocky and “harsh”… but the designs and assembly process is beautiful. Assembling little cars and other sets on Saturday evening, following simple pictorial instructions, I realised that every piece had a place and it all fitted together wonderfully, perfectly. That (re)discovery had me as delighted as an adult, with a more architectural and design-oriented brain, as I was as a kid with the sheer enjoyment of being able to build and modify things.
  • In my opinion, all kids should be given some LEGO, and allowed to build the models from the boxes themselves (much though I’m sure as an involved adult I’d be itching to take over!). I’ve blogged recently about my excitement for the maker culture, and this is really where it can all begin.
  • I need to keep an eye on my bank balance, and a check on my excitement. I love it, but I bought it for “professional” reasons… 🙂

Last week, the UK Government announced that ICT courses would be replaced with Computer Science, including a programming element (one of the campaigns I’ve been passionate about). At an event from The Education Foundation in London the next day – The Future of Technology Education – I was privileged to hear one of my personal heroes Ian Livingstone (of Fighting Fantasy books, Games Workshop and Eidos fame) speak and refer to “digital Meccano” – and I owned Meccano as a child too.  He also highlighted the need to combine science and art to push the digital boundaries.

Here’s what I think: we should be giving children a choice of physical LEGO, Meccano, and other toys; encouraging their creativity and building skills; and helping them to bridge between both the digital and physical worlds. No child should be excluded, and none should be pushed down a particular path. We should be supporting and helping every child to discover their passions and explore them; recognising that not every individual will want to program, or draw, paint, build, or write – but never belitting anyone for their talents or interests.

I’ve rarely been as excited about the future than I have been right now!

[1] as a child in in the 1980s I owned significant numbers of the Palitoy Star Wars figures and vehicles[2]. Whoever thought of combining LEGO and Star Wars is a genius – so much MORE FUN than the original, inflexible, non-customisable toys. So much more interactive, and through the video games, adding a humorous new twist on the Star Wars saga. LOVE.

[2] … I never had the Millennium Falcon or the Death Star, though… always wanted those…