Nerd Life: The Many Faces of Geeksploitation

Holy fiery space debris Batman! If, for whatever reason, you had no inclination to partake in the manufactured festivities that tend to characterize Valentine's Day (at least in the States) the past few days held no shortage of headlines of both cinematic and straight-from-the-big screen varieties to hold your focus. The footage of the meteor impact was as incredible as it was terrifying. Something I found particularly surreal was just how accurately this sort of event has been portrayed in a variety of media. Computer models of various impact scenarios probably deserve a lot of the credit for that and, while Armageddon still deserves its role as conveyer of all the errors for those employed in the aerospace industry, it was striking to see that other depictions of this instance of science fiction-cum-fact weren't too far from the truth. Of course, we can banter about such things largely because those individuals harmed by the impact are expected to make a full recovery.

The world of science fiction was not without its own major developments. We got word that maybe, just maybe, Harrison Ford will bring Han Solo to the new Disney-driven Star Wars trilogy. There is a subset of Geekdom that seems to applaud this, another that decries this, and the remaining majority that regards the entirety of the project with a spectrum bookended by heavy skepticism and deep-set cynicism. I'm definitively within that majority. Star Wars has been a subject of personal adulation since second grade and I'd be remiss if I didn't admit that Episodes I-III left a number of scars. Aside from the emotional toll they wrought on most of the fan base, the prequels firmly underscored the principles that Lucas wanted the franchise to operate under. In his mind, the Star Wars Universe was A) meant for a grade school audience and B) designed to generate absurd profits in licensing and merchandising. I say 'was' because I, like many fans of the goings-on in that galaxy far, far away, now hold a modicum of optimism regarding Episodes VII-IX simply due to the fact that Lucas is no longer behind the wheel.

The rumors of Ford taking up the mantle of the Galaxy's Most Lovable Smuggler once again cause shudders throughout the whole of Nerdery largely because this casting is the first of several major indicators that we, as fans, will get regarding the direction of the new trilogy. We hear these things and can't help but ask what's on all our minds: Is he coming back because he actually wants to be Solo again or is this just what the studio thinks we want to see and/or lets Ford cash a paycheck? It's hard not to be cynical here, particularly when Ford's dislike of playing one of his hallmark characters bordered on vehemence for the past few decades. The likelihood of those feelings just evaporating upon the announcement of a new trilogy seems a little less than coincidental.

The confirmed selection of JJ Abrams as director for at least the first installment of the new trilogy has had a similar, if not quite so divisive effect. Ostensibly, a good portion of that stems from the age-old rivalry between those who prefer their Star titles to terminate in 'Trek' versus those who champion the suffix 'Wars', but this reaction is a bit more complicated than that storied bifurcation. Few of those who've seen Abrams' rendition of the Star Trek universe can find serious fault with his reverent treatment of the source material which, in turn, resulted in a final product that was both innovative and satisfying to existing fans. This would normally be promising right? We'd get a director who has a track record of tactful ingenuity when working with properties that have extensive and complicated history. I mean, the man initially declined the directing gig because he was daunted by the sheer cultural enormity that is Star Wars. The source material on its own is so expansive and dense as to have inspired everything from college courses to government-recognized religions. It'd require an enormous effort to accurately capture in its own right but now, post-prequels, the premise of true authenticity will undoubtedly weigh heavily on all those attached to this project. Isn't this a good thing? Of course; it has the potential to be a truly great thing. We can only hope that Abrams and other members of the creative team are allowed the same breadth of interpretation they enjoyed with Star Trek when they finally get their hands on Star Wars.

At this point in the Cycle of Popular Culture, we've seen examples of complex source material receiving appropriate treatment when taking said property from one form of media to another. The Lord of the Rings is probably the best instance of this but, as we saw with the Hobbit, there are limits to just how far that level of scholarly devotion will extend in terms of the finished product. I have no doubts that Episode VII will be the recipient of nearly-innumerable resources. The real question is: will it all matter?

Our epic levels of fanaticism for beloved properties are one of our defining characteristics as a subculture. Regardless of what ends up going down with this movie, fans of Star Wars will, undoubtedly, cause midnight showings at theatre after theatre to sell out on release night. (I know, because I will almost certainly be in that light saber-wielding crowd) Merchandise will be purchased and forums will overflow with every sort of response from geeks around the world.  Episode VII can exploit our immeasurable adoration with gusto if studio execs wished it so. So, if all this is as close to foregone as a conclusion can be, why worry about the quality of the movie itself?

Because, even at this very early stage, those studio administrators masterminding the production of Episode VII appear to be making, or are trying to make, choices and decisions with us in mind. As we've discussed before, for all our raging and reputation for being impossible to please, some industry professionals do recognize that we are a formidable demographic, due in no small part to our considerable capability for information sharing and raw purchasing power. Yes, we're likely to spend our hard-earned cash on this film but, as the leadoff piece of a new trilogy, the guys at Disney seem to realize that pissing us off will ultimately tarnish their product as a whole. Disney has the luxury of having two disparate but firmly established precedents in hand before production of Episode VII even begins in earnest. One the one hand you have the much-maligned prequels and the backlash against them that reverberates throughout Geekdom nearly a decade later. On the other you have last year's release of the Avengers, one of the top-grossing films of all time. One of these treated the source material respectfully and sought to cater to its nerdy core demographic while simultaneously not isolating the general public. The other was essentially a pet/grudge project that brusquely turned away from the adulation of its primary fan base. One of these generated $1.5 billion in one year as a single movie (tack on an additional $1.3 billion from 6 other movies in 7 years if you count the single hero-centered movies that led up to the Avengers), the other generated $1.2 billion with three movies over 6 years. You don't have to be adept at math to see the disparity in those returns.

The message is pretty clear. When we nerds are happy, we're capable of momentous action. At present, amidst the Nerdaissance, our presence in popular culture is such that we see instances of caricature and exploitation fairly frequently. While we often see these in a negative light (yes, I'm looking at you Big Bang Theory and King of the Nerds), we cannot be blinded to the positive potential of having our basic characteristics leveraged for upcoming projects. Our fanaticism is what brings things like the Avengers and Episode VII to cinematic life. While it's tempting to concede to pessimism at times, we cannot ignore the fact that we do, in fact, have a voice as a demographic. As always, it will be our mindful, tactful interaction and participation with the industries that produce the content we crave that will shape both being and business.

Ok Disney/Abrams/Studio Powers-That-Be. The ball is in your court. Don't let us down. (no pressure)
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Geeky Crafting: Paper Flowers

Hi to all those out there in the interwebs! After a nice little hiatus, the Care and Feeding of Nerds is back online! In the last post prior to the break I made vague allusions as to why the blog would be in stasis for a couple weeks. So what happened? Well, during those blackout weeks I travelled almost halfway around the world: partially to temper some work-and-grad-school-hewn stress but primarily to get married.

Why do a semi-circumnavigation of the planet just to get married? Well, we eloped, so a lot of the travel was borne from the need for a certain level of secrecy. The whole notion of a huge party, letter pressed invitations, registries, and a foufy white dress didn't appeal to the boy and I, so we hauled off into the sunset to create something that worked better for us.

Of course, the wedding had nerdy features aplenty and one of these is going to be the first instance of a new series on the blog: geeky crafting. This new series will encapsulate a myriad of all do-it-yourself projects that have a distinctively nerdy bent to them (cosplay is a bit special and will retain its own heading). If any of you happen to be with me in the Northeastern part of the United States, the next couple of days will be providing us with ideal conditions to get crafty as we tuck in to as much as 3 feet (apx. 1 meter) of snow. 

Project #1: Paper Flowers
Cut fresh flowers can do wonders for one's mood, particularly during this otherwise dark and gray time up here in the Northern Hemisphere. Even a small bouquet can add a much-needed pop of color or a pique of vernal scent that provides a much-appreciated reminder that warmer days are ahead. All this is nice, of course, but such blooms too-quickly wilt and often come with both a very high literal and carbon-emissions price tag. This, along with the overall fragility of most cut flowers, originally prompted me to forgo a traditional bridal bouquet. 

The notion of a bouquet probably wouldn't have crossed my mind again until I happened across a stunning photo of a set of roses made from the pages from a well-weathered second-hand book as I sat procrastinating organizing the blog's Pinterest page. It was so perfect: something that could speak to our shared bibliophilia and could probably withstand a 10.5 hour flight. The photo was linked to a series of pictographic "instructions" that provided a good high-level procedure, but left plenty of questions as to the particulars. A trip to the craft store and some trial and error later, I was able to put this guy together:
The text inside are quotes from our favorite books/movies/tv, chinese proverbs, and scientific formulae
It's fairly easy to do and the materials used are probably things you could find in your home or office. The biggest resource this project will consume is time. The whole thing took me about two weeks start-to-finish, but that was divided into brief construction sessions whenever I could fit them in. If you're able to work straight through, it'll probably take you 4-12 hours depending on the desired size of your finished arrangement and on the adhesive you use. Speaking of things you'll use, here's a list of what you'll need for this project.

Craftin' Supplies
5-6 sheets of standard 8'' x 11'' paper (A4 works just as well), or 10-15 paperback-sized pages
6-12 pipe cleaners or medium gauge floral wire
A hot glue gun and glue sticks or other fast-acting adhesive
1-3 cotton swabs
Green duct tape (optional)
Colored ribbon (optional)
Sequins, beads, or other small accoutrements (optional)

Step 1: Cut all of your paper lengthwise into strips. You'll want to vary the intervals of your cuts so you end up with strips of about 5 or 6 different widths. Once this is finished, cut the strips into rectangles and squares of varying sizes. I found it helpful to organize these into little piles of pieces that were approximately the same size.

Step 2: Here's where a lot of your time is going to go. Take each of those little pieces from Step 1 and trim them to sort of resemble a petal. For roses, this typically means laying your rectangle so the long sides are vertical, rounding the "top corners" (those farthest from you), then tapering the "bottom corners" (those closest to you). The tapering should result in a narrower section at the bottom of the petal that still features a squared/straight edge rather than, say, a point. The squared, stem-like bottom part will be the primary surface area for your glue, so you want to create a shape, but not shortchange yourself on space later on. Don't be afraid to experiment to find what techniques work best for you. Also, don't worry about your petals looking perfect, as they're going to undergo more shaping before you assemble the bouquet.
Step 3: This step is also a pretty time consuming, but doesn't require quite so much direct focus as the cutting. Your best bet is to put in an excellent movie or three and settle in. Using the cylindrical center of your cotton swab (it might be helpful to remove the poufy tips), roll the rounded corners (those that were furthest from you during shaping) of each petal back. You can do this by aligning swab along the edge of one corner of the petal so the swab is at a 45ish degree angle relative to the rest of the petal. Once the swab is in place, twist both swab and paper away from you for one or two turns. When you release the swab, the paper will hold a gentle, organic-looking curl. Repeat this on the other corner, then on all of your petals. Seriously, this step is a perfect opportunity to re-watch your favorite TV series or host a personal Lord of the Rings/Star Wars marathon.
Step 4: Once you've shaped your petals it's time to start assembling. Take your adhesive of choice and, after adding a dab to the narrow end of one of your smaller petals, attach the petal to the end of one of your pipe cleaners/floral wire bits. Now adhere another petal so it faces the first (the concave 'hollows' should face one another). Repeat this process, adding layers of petals, until the bloom is your desired size. I recommend starting with small petals, then graduating to larger ones to make the flower resemble its real life counterpart. You'll also want to adhere the petals to the wire (or each other as you progress outward) as tightly as possible to ensure the flower is structurally sound. As for building out the bloom, you'll see that gaps will form naturally as you add to the flower. These gaps provide you with hints as to where to place the next petal.

See how the bloom looks lopsided? Let's add a petal to that far side!
 Step 5: Gather your flowers and gently twist the wire "stems" together until the bouquet is a single unit. From here, you can finish this handhold on the bouquet by wrapping it with ribbon and/or colored tape. After that, feel free to add any embellishments you'd like to either the handhold or the flowers themselves. That's it! You've got yourself one un-wilt-able bouquet/arrangement!

Is there a special type of paper I should use?

Almost all types of paper should work with this project with the exception of very flimsy or tissue-like stock. The blooms should be able to support themselves, so any paper that can hold a shape on its own can be used. Don't feel as though you have to limit yourself to just paper either. You can get creative and add in a smattering of petals made from stiff fabric or layer finer fabrics (like tulle) on top of the paper to add volume and texture.

Really? Any old paper?

So long as its self-supporting it should work. The examples you see above are made from nothing more than your run-of-the-mill office printer paper. You can use acid-free paper, the pages of a vintage book, sheet music, lab reports, cardstock...literally any paper product of decent structural integrity. I used office printer paper because it tends to come in a stark white hue and because I wanted to customize the quotes seen in the flowers (which required the aid of a printer). You could just as easily use handwritten pages if you were so inclined.

Does any particular adhesive work best for this project?

Hot glue is probably your best bet for making these flowers. You want something that can be applied precisely, holds tight, dries quickly, and that doesn't add a great deal of weight to the bouquet. I tried a few different adhesives, including glue dots, glue sticks, standard glue, and rubber cement, and found that hot glue was the winner hands-down.

Pipe cleaners work for this?

Sure thing. I used 6mm pipe cleaners for everything featured here. They're cheap, they can hold a bit of weight, and they provide the kind of flexibility you want for this project. I actually took 18'' (45.72cm) pipe cleaners and finished a bloom on each end, then bent the wire in half. If you do use pipe cleaners in lieu of floral wire, I'd recommend wrapping the cleaners in tape or ribbon to provide a clean contrast between the flowers and the wire.

A little patience, a little experimentation, and some great movies in the background go a long way with this project. It's a great opportunity to meditate, relax, and reflect on your source material while creating something that'll last as long as you'll want it to. For more process pictures, check out our G+ and Facebook pages. Best of luck!
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