Why Pi?

14 03 2014
This is my Mazda π. Wave if you ever see me!

This is my Mazda π. Wave if you ever see me!

Numbers change everyone’s lives. Some people are changed by the number of children they have, others by the number of deities they recognize. Some people are changed by four years in college, others haven’t changed until all 93 years of their lives are spent. Yet when I say my life was changed by π, no one understands. At best I get polite nods, at worst I get mocked for being a math nerd.

There is no better day to explain my passion, or perhaps obsession, with this innocuous transcendental number than “Pi Day.” On March 14th, nerds in America applaud our date convention as it yields the magical combination of 3/14. It’s one of my favorite days of the year (along with May 4th). So here goes.

When I was 11 or 12 years of age, my mom received a package in the mail. It was labeled with strange markings. “Amazon.com… what could that be?” Hidden under this now-familiar packing label were two books. Contact and Cosmos, both by a man named Carl Sagan, which whom I was totally unfamiliar. The books were for me! I’m still not sure why my mother thought I should have them (Mom? any insight?) but with my first exposure to amazon.com came a different life.

This is Jill Tarter, the woman on whom Ellie is based.

This is Jill Tarter, the woman on whom Ellie is based.

I devoured Contact. The movie is remarkable but the book is ingenious. It follows a woman named Ellie, who showed an early aptitude for mathematics, as she grows up and becomes a recognized scholar in astrophysics. She works on a project called SETI, which is now widely known as the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. She pushes past bureaucracy, politics and religious intolerance to keep funding available for those who sought alien life.

Her project succeeds, and she intercepts a radio signal from a star called Vega that she knew couldn’t be natural in origin because it came encoded in prime numbers. She works with a team of experts to decode the message, ultimately revealing architectural plans to send five humans, of which she is one, to Vega.

Anyone who has seen the movie can tell you that much. But it fails in truly showing what a remarkable human Ellie was. I read that book and I thought, “wow! I want to do this. Ellie did it. Why not me?” Growing up in the 90’s, women were becoming more commonplace in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) but there weren’t the programs to entice young women to go into those fields like there are today. When boys had only recently metamorphosed away from being infested with cooties, it was daunting to think of pursuing a field that they “owned.”

Even with role models like Ellie (and Sally Ride and Ada Lovelace and many other amazing women) I might have let it slip away. But something else in Contact stuck with me. π. There are allusions to this amazing number throughout the book. In the pages of Contact I learned that it ties together all circles, all triangles, and all waves, not to mention the implications in highly advanced mathematics that I’d discover later. It was one simple number that tied the entire universe together. One commonality.

I like πnk

I like πnk

The book ends with Ellie still searching for a signal. But this time the signal isn’t from the heavens, it’s right in front of her eyes. She’s looking for a message in π. If you go far enough out in the number and you examine it in enough dimensions, maybe, just maybe, it’ll show uniformity that can be decoded. Sagan really says it best,

“Mathematics isn’t arbitrary. I mean pi has to have the same value everywhere. How can you hide a message inside pi? It’s built into the fabric of the universe.”


This blew me away. Raised atheist, I scorned the thought of a deity. But this just made sense to me. It’s so perfect. It’s all tied together. How could this observation not be the sole topic of conversation everywhere? No one but me cared!! I changed overnight. I knew I had to pursue some magical world where people wanted to talk about this. 10 years later found me graduating college with a degree in Abstract Mathematics; the magical world was real.

Learning to believe in myself as a woman in a world that boasts such magnificently intelligent people was a lesson that π taught me. I like to think I’ve maintained that vision as I’ve continued to grow and understand myself. While I remain a rabid space and physics enthusiast, I now work in my dream job at my dream technology company. Still a male-dominated environment, I continue to push myself and never settle for “good enough.” I am unbelievably happy.

This is my one and only tattoo.

This is my one and only tattoo.

I’ve had amazing things happen to me; after reading Contact I naturally went on to devour all of Carl Sagan’s work and still mourn his loss every day. Cosmos, in both it’s literary form and PBS rendition, became commonplace in my house. Carl Sagan is my hero in the true sense of the word. I’ve been to the Carl Sagan Center and met wonderful scientists who carry out his dream at SETI. The character of Ellie is based on a woman named Jill Tarter; I’ve met her and was able to tell her how much she has meant to me. I’ve seen Space Shuttles launch and watched the Mars Curiosity Rover descent from a space crane.

I know that I’ve had these experiences because of this funny little number, and I don’t ever want to forget that. I have a tattoo of π (with the infinity symbol winding through it) in honor of Carl Sagan and Contact. I wear a π necklace that I never take off. I have a vanity license plate with “Pi” in it. I’ve “enhanced” the logo of my Mazda3 and added the chrome digits “141592653589793” so now I proudly drive a Mazda π . The number of π t-shirts that I have is frankly alarming.

One of my favorite tshirts. And my π necklace.

One of my favorite tshirts. And my π necklace.

Now today I watch as America rallies around this number that has changed my life. I’m so glad that mathematics are becoming exciting to people, but part of me resents the attention it gets. The Exploratorium hosts a “π Procession.” Hot Topic is co-sponsoring a contest with Her Universe to select a lucky entrant, who creates the most creative video about π, to win tickets to ComicCon (for which I’d do just about anything). I just don’t think these people can understand what monumental feelings someone can have for this number.

So that’s the story of how π changed my life. I don’t have 200 digits memorized and I don’t want to fight about “pi vs tau.” That’s not the point. The point is that it’s more than a number, it’s an idea and an ideal, and I thank Carl Sagan for giving it to me.

I’m moving; it’s irresponsible but the right choice.

23 11 2013

Today I made a decision that was both incredibly irresponsible, yet astonishingly grown-up.

I’m moving again. This may seem like small potatoes, and in many ways it is. I’m only 27 and I don’t own a home. Some people my age still live out of backpacks in developing nations, so moving from one over-priced, yuppie paradise to another really isn’t the end of the world. However, I’m in a tough position; the choice I made is a very irresponsible decision, while at the same time being a very mature choice.

About six months ago I moved away from downtown Campbell. I’d lived there for 4 years and I loved it. I felt like the “vibe” of the city was changing, though. Shops were closing, the bars were getting rowdier and full of the type of people who made high school pure misery for me, the prices were going up. I decided it was time to see what else was out there. I found an AMAZING apartment complex. I love living here. The units are high tech and luxurious (albeit very small). There’s an on-site dog park. It’s in a shabby-chic, trendy area not far from downtown San Jose. It’s really wonderful.

Over the past few months, something happened. I don’t know if it’s the economy recovering or if shipping companies are favoring trucks these days, but the traffic has gotten miserable. When I say “miserable”, I mean it. It’s not unusual to spend three hours a day in my car. My commute is 10 miles. I have been actively unhappy as a result. It seems like a silly thing to let bother you to the point of unhappiness, but for whatever reason it’s really getting to me. It’s become apparent that I need to move either to the north bay (to get the reverse commute) or somewhere where I can take surface streets (for various reasons that’s just not an option where I live now).

Segue to more unhappiness…. Since my dog died, I’ve been trying to spend a lot of time with my remaining dog, Wampa. I’m all he has now. I took him to walk around my old stomping grounds of downtown Campbell the other weekend. When I got there, I was so stricken with homesickness I actually cried (oh god, I know… where’s Titanic when I need it?). The little town I loved so much has built itself back up. Sure the horrid frat boys might still have the run of the bars, but now there’s a tea bar! All loose-leaf tea, all the time. There’s a wine bar. There’s a homemade chocolate shop. There’s a restaurant that serves burgers and breakfast… exclusively. There’s a deli where you sit at a bar and eat sandwiches and drink bottled beer. Walking through the area I was actually heartsick that I was no longer a part of it.

Living away from Campbell, I have also realized how important some activities were to me. I thought I’d be able to keep up the same involvement living away from them, but I just don’t and it’s making me more and more unhappy.

My yoga studio, for example. Sure, yoga studios are a dime a dozen, especially out here. But my yoga studio is special. I’m not a particularly social person, and that was a place where I felt loved and (for lack of a better word) socialized. I feel like a lot of the anger and irritation I’ve been feeling recently is because I haven’t been able to practice yoga nearly every day I like I did before.

I miss the endless blocks of the Farmer’s Market. I miss the library book sale. I miss walking around with my dogs and judging the yuppies. I miss taking myself to breakfast with my book at Stacks. I miss going to the Campbell Community Center track. It’s a lot of little things and I didn’t realize how my life was really built up around them.

I love my current apartment complex; I’ve met the most amazing people. I will miss the Friday night wine at the pool very much. But with the hell that is traffic, and the revelation of how achingly-homesick I am for my old little town of Campbell, I have decided to move.

Enter irresponsibility: Moving is expensive. Especially when I moved so recently. Moving is a HUGE pain. Not only that, but I have to break my lease, which A) is expensive and B) makes me feel sort of shitty, especially being how much I do love this place. The new place I found is magical, but it is more expensive. It’s a two-bedroom house with a little yard (perfect for a little dog). Each bedroom has its own bathroom, and there’s another half-bath downstairs. There are skylights and there is a fireplace, and it’s bright and cozy and VERY Betsy-ish. Best of all, it’s about 2 blocks from downtown Campbell.

So I’m conceding defeat; I’m moving back to Campbell. I tried the San Jose thing, but it just wasn’t my scene. I don’t like not being able to have my windows open because the people next to me smoke. I’m not thrilled with the homeless people going through the garbage every morning. And the San Jose State kids are awful and need to go to a real school. I’m going to spend a lot of money during the holidays (just when everyone has money to spare, right?) to move away from a place that is perfectly fine, just to give in to whims of homesickness.

When I moved away from Campbell, I made quite the scene on social media about why I was moving. Since there is a pretty significant story/reason behind why I’m dropping $largeamount just to move back to a place that a lot of people think is frumpy and overpriced, I wanted to explain my reasons, if nothing else, just to get them straight in my head.

I shouldn’t be spending this money just to move to a more expensive place. Totally irresponsible. Yet realizing that it’s the dumb little things that are important to me rather than the high tech apartment with central air and lots of electronics is something that I feel is very responsible.

Bottom line… I will have a guest room and live two blocks from Aqui in Campbell. Who’s coming to visit?

Halloween vs Cosplaying: Why I Don’t Dress Up on October 31st.

31 10 2013
Helpful propaganda posted at my favorite Con.

Helpful propaganda posted at my favorite Con.

Hi, my name is Betsy and I cosplay. (Hi, Betsy). I like to go to Conventions and dress up as my favorite characters from video games, fiction, movies, and TV shows. I’m not ashamed of it; in fact I tend to talk about it for much longer than most people would prefer. That’s probably because I’m socially awkward with a mild case of Aspergers and I’m an all around dork who can’t judge other peoples’ interests, just like every loser who goes to Conventions. Right?

That was me being "Pinup Princess Leia"

That was me being “Pinup Princess Leia”

WRONG! (Well, okay some of that does ring true with me, but those are qualities I’ve come to embrace with pride). But the thing is, society has been telling us that the people who dress up and attend Conventions are pitiful disgraces. They don’t bathe, they can’t talk to people, they make fashion choices that are baffling, and they live in their mothers’ basements. Since those are “shameful” qualities, all people at Conventions are losers.

Bullshit. Conventions present a community for people who don’t have one ready-made by society. A lot of the people who find solace in Cons do exhibit personality traits that I find bothersome, but I assume I am equally disturbing to them. The important thing is that everyone is there for the same reason; we just want to hang out with other nerds who “get” us.
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The Fifth Estate was a great film, screw the critics

29 10 2013
Cumberbatch playing Stephen Hawking.

Cumberbatch playing Stephen Hawking.

I have a lot of boyfriends. The attention I bestow upon them ebbs and flows but my dedication to each of them is absolute. Though I haven’t made any recent dates with Tony Stark doesn’t mean I am disloyal. Han Solo has been conspicuously absent from my life of late, but he and I will always share something special. Sheldon Cooper is one of my best boyfriends because of how little attention he requires.

There is one force that has been largely responsible for my waning attentions to this veritable harem. No, it’s not The Force, but it’s almost as good; it’s Benedict Cumberbatch. Whether he is playing an Aspergers-riddled Sherlock, a dreamy young Stephen Hawking (that flick isn’t available in the USA except through some nefarious means), or the superhuman Khan, his piercing eyes and menacing cheekbones give me the shivers.

Benedict as Julian

So when I heard he would be playing Julian Assange in a movie based on the dramatic unfoldings of the now-infamous Wikileaks, I knew I had to see it. Long blond hair, totally arrogant, and a math genius… it’s like they tapped into my daydreams. Yet it took me several weeks to go see The Fifth Estate. Why?

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Science Hack Day 2013: A Beginner’s Tale

9 10 2013

Tell me if you’ve heard this one… A computer scientist, a mathematician, and an astrobiologist walk into a bar. … Okay that’s not actually a joke, that’s what I did last weekend.  Although in this case “bar” actually means “science museum,” which I consider preferable anyway.

Last weekend I attended the San Francisco Science Hack Day. This isn’t an event wherein consumptives gather to loudly produce phlegm, nor is it a place for the vehement chopping and cutting of fibrous objects. The term “hack” is often used onomatopoeically or to describe old black and white horror films. Quite unlike these definitions, the “hacking” I did this weekend is described best by sf.sciencehackday.com, “A hack is a quick solution to a problem – maybe not the most elegant solution, but often the cleverest.”

My Science Hack Day badge

My Science Hack Day badge

Science Hack Days are events that are held world-wide and generally follow the same format. A number of people from all different backgrounds convene in a location and for 24-48 hours straight they make “something”. This year the San Francisco Science Hack Day was held at the California Academy of Sciences, which is basically a science museum that’s equally fun for adults and children. We got to have a giant slumber party at the academy, camping out in the dusky aquarium among the sea creatures. It was epic; a group of science geeks locked in a science museum.

I went in nervous; I have a degree in abstract mathematics and I do pretty well in my technology-oriented job, but Koko the Gorilla can code better than I can, and while I recently took a soldering class, I’m not particularly well-versed in reading schematics. I soon learned that these fears were well-founded, but that I shouldn’t have been afraid and rather have seen them as strengths rather than weaknesses.

The weekend started with a brief welcome by Ariel Waldman who is an incredible leader in the science community and the instigator of Science Hack Days all around the world. She’s a pretty big deal AND she has purple hair, so naturally I love her (funky hair UNITE!) After some safety info and a few ground rules, we were set loose to go to lightening talks, which were very brief lectures on… SCIENCE! While fascinating, they were also a great time to see who else attended the same sessions you did, and therefore may have aligning interests.

After a brief lunch, the hacking began. It wasn’t like the New York Stock Exchange. No one rang a bell to start 24 hours of PURE HACKING. Rather, some nerd version of Dark Energy started pulling people together into groups of threes and fours where they talked about Cool Things and how to make Cool Things a reality. While some hackers found a group immediately, many others milled around, eavesdropping. During orientation, Aerial said that for most of the group, the first few hours would be about shamelessly snooping on groups of people and interjecting with “what are you working on?”

I was too timid to go up to groups of people and ask to join. Luckily, I had a friend who I met at SETICon a few years back who adopted me into her group so I was spared the humiliation of requesting membership. At least, that’s how I saw it initially. Having found a group almost immediately, I was overjoyed every time someone asked what we were working on and wondered if they could help. It’s the people who go around and ask the questions and spontaneously join teams who make the whole thing work. I’m a little ashamed of myself for not seeing that beforehand.

The teams were fluid. Many people were instrumental in several teams at once. Some people never found a team and preferred to lurk around the outside of several projects, learning and helping where they could. As for me, I was a bit of a technologist, helping out my group with simple wifi hacks, GPS tricks, and data presentation.

I worked with the most amazing group of people. Aside from my friend Lisa (who is a computer scientist at SETI) and me, there was Jethro who is an oceanographer, Rolf who is a professional tinkerer and the most competent electrical engineer I’ve ever met, and Jen who is an astrobiologist working with the Mars Curiosity team. I’m still blown away that these brilliant people were interested in my suggestions.

Jen, me, Lisa. Yay girls in science!

Jen, me, Lisa. Yay girls in science!

Our project was a proof of concept “Roving Biologist”. It was Rolf’s idea. The premise was to take very inexpensive sensors (pennies or dollars each), hook them up to an Electric Imp or Arduino via a breadboard, and take robust measurements based on luminosity, humidity, UV light, temperature compared to time, elevation, and location. These low-cost, extremely portable devices could be deployed in situations innumerable. We were particularly interested in the indoor rainforest featured at the California Academy of Sciences. This is a central location in which visitors climb up a gently sloping spiral incline through a controlled indoor rainforest.

While this sounds nearly trivial, I assure you that it is not. The entire first day was dedicated to getting the sensors to work, and more importantly, understanding their value as well as their limitations. The luminosity sensor, for example, was far too directional. In order to get a true reading of ambient light, we had to find a way to disperse the light as it came into the sensor in a portable, inexpensive manner. We ended up employing the assistance of a 3D printing mogul who crafted a hollow half-sphere to sit over the top of the sensor, scattering light.

The board that made our hack possible

The board that made our hack possible

The next challenge was getting the data to a computer. Since we were using Electric Imps the sensors were wifi-ready. The problem was ensuring they could connect consistently to a strong network so as to transmit the data. In the end we placed the sensors on top of my iPhone while the phone was transmitting a wireless hotspot for the Electric Imp to connect to. The phone also ran a third-party application that tracked our GPS and elevation, which we could then export to Google Earth. Talk about a hack.

The biggest challenge of all was staying put to work on my project when other people around me were doing such COOL THINGS. One group was using the publicly available information on the location of satellites overhead to assign a different piece of music to each orbiting object, allowing the user to “play” the symphony of the satellites. One guy made a 3D printer by printing all the parts from a different 3D printer (it’s like a nerdy Escher print… mind blown). One group, as best as I could tell, were using sophisticated software to visualize and control ants.

Luckily this was the most relaxed of atmospheres. Wandering off was completely accepted and encouraged. As the evening wore on, some hackers left for the night, seeking 8 hours of sleep and their own beds. A far greater number staked out a space for their sleeping bags in the underground aquarium, looking forward to late-night hacking and catching a few hours of shut eye amidst the mysterious sea creatures floating just inches away.

How can I choose the right answer??

How can I choose the right answer??

Around midnight, I found myself with a small group of people playing the inaugural round of Cards Against Science. One science hacker created a crowd-sourced game based on the dark and hilarious Cards Against Humanity. It was a riot. We camped out under the expansive, skeletal tail of the local T-Rex and put together sentences that would make the likes of Carl Sagan, Niels Bohr, and Charles Darwin roll over in their graves.

Morla the Turtle... my roommate.

Morla the Turtle… my roommate.

After thoroughly exhausting myself in my efforts to answer questions such as “I was surprised to find that the wormhole led to ___” and “When Schroedinger opened the box, he found ___” I dragged myself down into the aquarium to SLEEP WITH THE FISHES! (GET IT! HOLY COW I’M FUNNY). This was the thrill of a lifetime. I set up camp next to a tank holding a very friendly, very funny-looking turtle who I immediately christened Morla. A few feet from me was a tank of alien jellyfish, quietly pulsating. I was too thrilled with this situation to sleep. It was the best case of insomnia I’ve ever had.

After snatching an hour or two of subterranean rest (and learning the hard way that my air mattress had a leak), I returned to my group to gather the data that would make our proof of concept into an actual concept. We had a hard deadline of 1:37 pm (1337 for those of you counting) so the last 30 minutes were extremely harried. I ate lunch over my laptop, putting last-minute slides into our presentation.

Science Hack Day ended with presentations from each group, followed by an awards ceremony. I can’t do justice to the three dozen hacks that came out of this 24 hour period; I defer to the website (http://sciencehackday.pbworks.com/w/page/69019453/sfhacks2013) for that. I will say that I have never been so impressed with a group of people, some of whom I came to know very well. Many groups won various awards. My group won the award for best Biology hack. I wore my large “SCIENCE” medal with pride.

SCIENCE medal!

SCIENCE medal!

I’ve missed mentioning so many things. The private planetarium show! The behind-the-scenes tour of the California Academy of Sciences archives and stacks! The early morning screening of Wall-E to ease into consciousness. The random camaraderie that comes from shouting “WE NEED A BIOLOGIST OVER HERE”.

I couldn’t say goodbye to many wonderful people because I had to hurry out the door to pick up my dogs from their boarding facility. But I’ll never forget the most epic weekend of my life. Thanks to Lisa for suggesting I attend. Thanks Ariel for being a badass example to the science community. Thanks everyone for being so frigging smart. YEAH SCIENCE!

The Scariest Villains Are the Ones Who Are Understated

11 09 2013

When we think “bad guy” in the world of entertainment, visions of Sauron, Voldemort, or Darth Vader immediately come swimming to mind. Don’t get me wrong, those are some serious villains (except perhaps Vader, but that’s another story). However, I think that some of the scariest bad guys are the ones that are glossed over. The typical villain is a “main character” in the book, movie, TV show, or video game. It’s the atypical villains that really give me the shivers. Here are my five creepiest bad guys that get the short end of the stick.

  • Weeping Angels – Dr. Who
Don't Blink

Don’t Blink

Quick Story: Every year I got to CONvergence, a science fiction/fantasy convention held in Minnesota. There are always brilliant cosplayers, but this past year I saw the best Weeping Angel costume I’ve ever encountered. I was on a balcony where I should have been drinking, laughing, and generally getting into trouble, but I could see the Weeping Angel below me. My sister has never seen Dr. Who. Tired of my reticence, she finally said, “Jeez Betsy, it’s like you can’t take your eyes off that thing”. MY POINT EXACTLY.

The Weeping Angels are horrifying creatures who only come alive when no one is looking at them. This idea isn’t new: see Boo in the Mario video games. But these “angels” have way more of a creep factor. Not only must their victims never look away, a mere blink of the eye gives the lightening-speed creatures time to attack and kill. Don’t mistake their tears for sorrow; they’re not weeping, they’re hiding their eyes so they don’t accidentally look at each other. Talk about a low-budget, incredibly scary villain, yet one who pales in popularity compared to the (rather dorky) Daleks.

  • Harold Lauder – The Stand

Harold Lauder is a supporting character in the book The Stand. He also appears in the miniseries, but I can’t speak to his representation there as I couldn’t stomach more than a few minutes of the horrendous adaptation. Howard begins as a sulky, overweight teenager with some anger issues. As the book progresses he turns into the town’s favorite dude. He’s always the first to lend a hand and the last to leave the job site. Everyone can count on him to be cheerful and obliging, kissing babies and smacking the other men on the back. Sure his huge smile never quite reaches his eyes but no one really minds because he’s so damn folksy.

Behind that shit-eating grin, Howard Lauder is planning to kill everyone. He practices his smile for hours in front of the mirror until his face cramps. He positions himself as the town’s sweetheart so he can cause as much destruction as possible. Howard’s story arc is relatively unimportant. The “real” bad guy is Randall Flagg, and trust me, that’s one scary sonofabitch. But Howard is the one who always sticks with me. We all know that perfect guy. He’s charming and smiley and nothing gets him down. We know we’re supposed to like that guy, but something about that constant cheerfulness rubs us the wrong way. Because maybe behind the facade is a madman waiting to snap.

  • Tash – the Narnia Series

Tash_and_RishdaTash is the pagan god revered by the inhabitants of the Calormene Empire. The Narnia series is a highly allegorical tale of biblical proportions. Calormen is a representation of the Middle East, and in the eyes of CS Lewis, worshiping Tash is akin to deifying false idols.

Tash first is introduced in The Horse and His Boy. The Tisroc (may he live forever) is said to be directly descended from Tash. Heinous acts are committed in the name of Tash. Throughout the book, the reader grow to fear and hate this god. It’s really quite a feat and it speaks to Lewis’s genius because Tash isn’t a physical character and he really never does anything wrong, so to speak. The audience is left with a vague notion of pure evil.

That is, until The Last Battle when Tash shows up in a physical form. His appearance takes up less than a page in the book, very little happens, and yet it’s one of the scariest moments in literature. The Last Battle depicts the end of the world, wherein Aslan, the metaphorical God, calls his followers to Heaven. I’m about as far from religious as you can get, yet I appreciate any Good vs Evil debate. When Tash shows up he is the antithesis of Aslan. A four-armed creature with the head of a vulture, he appears when called by the Calormenes and is abruptly banished by Aslan. In The Horse and His Boy, readers have a vague impression of pure evil, and albeit briefly, that evil is given a physical form in The Last Battle.

  • The Nothing - The Neverending Story

The Nothing is an unexplainable force portrayed in the book The Neverending Story. The movie of the same name depicts a similar phenomenon. The Nothing is just what it sounds like; it is overtaking the world, leaving behind nothingness. Forests, lakes, people, and animals all disappear into The Nothing, and it’s feared that the entire world of Fantastica (Fantasia in the movie) will disappear. That’s pretty horrifying, but the book takes it a step further.

In the book it’s revealed that Fantastica is the world of all human imagination. The Nothing is appearing as humans stop believing in fantasy. This incredible force isn’t just an empty phenomenon; it’s physically compelling. Creatures in Fantastica are unexplainably drawn to throw themselves into The Nothing. The masochistic and hedonistic creatures of Fantastica ritualize hurling themselves into The Nothing, dancing grotesquely and flogging themselves before leaping in. And what becomes of them?

“They will become delusions in the minds of human beings, fears where there is nothing to fear, desires for vain, hurtful things, despairing thoughts when there is no reason to despair…. That’s why humans hate Fantastica and everything that comes from here. They want to destroy it. And they don’t realize that by trying to destroy it they multiply the lies that keep flooding the human world. For these lies are nothing other than creatures of Fantastica who have ceased to be themselves….”

Every Fantastican creature who succumbs to The Nothing begets a falsehood in the human world. I’m telling you, Young Adult fiction has some of the scariest stories.

  • Chernabog - FantasiaA Night on Bald Mountain

Night on Bald MountainChernabog is the demon starring in the Night on Bald Mountain segment of Fantasia. While this character doesn’t do anything typically villainous, few will argue the premise that he represents pure evil.

As his shadow touches graves and barrows, the undead rise. He summons demons and playfully throws them into molton lava to their death. He commands flames to dance sadistically for his pleasure. Only the break of dawn can defeat him, turning him back into the peak of the mountain.

He’s an animated demon with no dialogue, existing for about 10 minutes before fading back into redundancy. Yet to me he remains one of the scariest disney villains. Peter Jackson must have thought the same thing.

Balrog: Inspired by Fantasia?

Balrog: Inspired by Fantasia?

Here are some runners up:

Centurians from Battlestar Galactica, “IT” from A Wrinkle in Time, The Happy Mask Salesman from Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, and The Magisterium in His Dark Materials. Have I missed any? Do you agree?

Why wanting to be C-3PO isn’t a dumb choice.

7 04 2013


I was recently asked, “If you could be a character from Star Wars for one day, who would it be?”

I am an epic Star Wars fan. I give half-credit to Star Wars for making me the nerd I am today. The other half is The Legend of Zelda. “Which came first? Zelda or Star Wars?” is like my personal version of the chicken/egg saga (yes I know Star Wars technically came first, but don’t be a jerk).

So anyway, I gave this question a lot of thought. And my answer? C-3PO

This was met with disbelief, disapproval, and disgust. After tweeting my answer, I had six separate people tell me that C-3PO was just one step up from Jar Jar Binks. In fact, the only person who didn’t think I was an idiot was my boss, whose answer was “R2D2 because he can stick his head out the window while riding in space.”

I am here to defend the awesomeness of being C-3PO for a day.

C-3PO and Leia

I think when you ask any female what Star Wars character they’d like to embody, their first thought, whether they like it or not, is Princess Leia. And that’s really not a bad choice as heroines go. She doesn’t do a lot of the “if only I had a strong man to rescue me” that is deemed feminine in our culture. In fact, she’s kind of a badass, riding speeders, using blasters, calling wookiees “walking carpets”. But she’s limited. She’s a diplomat, her father was a pussy (at least until he hit middle age), she was raised by Congressman Santos With a Weird Goatee, and her hairstyle would give me a headache. Sure she gets to flirt with Han, but I just don’t think she was his first trip around the Kessel Run if you know what I mean.

The next logical choice is Darth Vader. He’s the ultimate badass. But he started life as whiny douche canoe! Besides, the dude has a lot of pain and stuff. I have enough angst in my life worrying about which math t-shirt to wear everyday, I don’t think I could handle his stress. Though I wouldn’t mind his cape.

LukeLuke? Well, maybe. There’s nothing really antagonistic I can say about him (except maybe to mimic “But I was going into Tosche Station to pick up some power converters”) and that’s the reason I wouldn’t want to be him for a day. It’s true, he’s the crux of the original trilogy, but he’s really only a placeholder. He’s the stage upon which all the rest of Star Wars is built. He is one of the most uninteresting characters in the saga.

Han? No. I’m too in love with him as it is (and he with me! ahem), it would just be weird.

The Emperor? I don’t want a life in politics, thanks. Also, he can shoot electricity out of his fingers. What if he had to pick his nose? It’s danger lurking around every bend, I tell you.

There is some argument to be made for wanting to portray one of the minor characters, or characters who really develop outside of the original trilogy and the *barf* prequels. Wedge is cool. Aayla Secura is hot shit. Jabba has a pretty decent life. But no one compares to C-3PO.

C-3PO has seen it all. He’s been in battles, he worked for masters of the light and dark sides, he’s overheard really cool conversations. He is a wiz at calculating combinatorial odds and speaks thousands of languages. Anyone who knows me knows that there’s very little I love more than being an obnoxious know-it-all, so those are great traits.

Never tell me the odds

There’s a tribe of teddy bears (who look eerily like my dogs) who think he’s a god. He and Han Solo have a very “Sheldon and Penny-esque” relationship, which is endearing. He is a whiz at insults, using his large vocabulary to come up with some unique indignities. He can introduce himself as “C-3PO, human-cyborg relations.” And if it all becomes too much, he can simply turn off.

C3PO No one in the entire Star Wars universe has seen the progression of good vs evil first-hand like C-3PO. Yes, he may be dorky (but who am I to judge) and he may not see the most excitement. But for a true Star Wars fan, his experience, expertise, and trustworthiness nearly guarantees that you’d meet someone interesting or hear deep dark secrets or plans, not unlike Alfred in the Batman saga.

And if all else fails, you can retreat to Endor to be worshiped by oversized-Pekingese. Life could be worse.

No Pithy Phrase

I just like writing about geeky things...

The Bloggess

I just like writing about geeky things...

I just like writing about geeky things...


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