Week in Geek 2.20.15, part 3

Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news with commentary each Friday

wizard world cleveland

Day 2 with Uber

For getting to and from Wizard World Cleveland on day 2 of the show, Feb. 21, i again used the Uber service through the app. Snow was swirling in the air and accumulating on the street in the morning, although it wasn’t as cold as Friday. It was nice to get another ride to the Cleveland Convention Center’s front entrance, but the ride in was a bit awkward because the driver must have mentioned tipping about a dozen times. How people don’t think you have to tip, and that sort of thing.

Well – you don’t, do you? If you read the FAQ on Uber’s website, it explains that a 20% gratuity is added automatically. And on top of that, my driver later that night who took me home explained that they get 80% of their fare. So…yeah i think they’re doing okay without adding a tip on top of it.

The driver who brought me in the morning i rated two stars only, because as it was explained to me the previous day, any rating under three stars – from the driver or the rider – and the service will avoid pairing the two in the future. Rating him one star wasn’t necessary, it’s not like he was awful or anything, i just didn’t want to ride with him again. Plus his car was kinda messy, too. And the fare for that particular ride was significantly more than any of the others i took. Overall, the least positive Uber experience.

On the flip side, the ride home was great. The driver was really close by when i requested a ride, and got there in about five minutes. We chatted the whole way back, and he said one of his favorite parts about being an Uber driver was meeting new people to talk with during the ride.

At the end of the trip, he gave me a promo code to share with first time riders that’s worth a $20 discount on your first Uber ride. Note that you have to enter the promo code before you request the ride in order to apply the discount. You ready? Here’s the code:


Panels discussions

My day Saturday revolved very much around panel discussions, which i’d listed in my write-up of Day One.

Starting off the day was NASA and the Science of Superman, a panel of researchers from the NASA Glenn Research Center right here in Cleveland. While waiting for the talk to start, i got a text from my friend and Cleveland filmmaker Anthony Snitzer, who came to the convention for the day and met up with me in the room where this discussion was being held.

At the podium was David DeFelice, a community relations team lead. The panel consisted of Joan Emmett, documentation specialist; Geoffrey Landis, planetary exploration researcher; Lee Kohlman, research aerospace engineer; Jerry Myers, biomedical engineer; and Dennis Stocker, microgravity researcher.

Some of the topics covered by the NASA panel
Some of the topics covered by the NASA panel

What the panel discussed was basically various aspects of the Superman mythos, from their standpoint as space researchers. For example, how Superman’s Kryptonian father Jor-El would have had to scan the universe to find a suitable planet to send his infant son to, using methods similar to how NASA searches for planets using Doppler shift, gravitational microlensing and so forth. These methods are also employed by NASA’s Kepler telescope. If you recall a couple of weeks ago, that last one was cited as the cause of the galactic smiley face caught by the Hubble telescope.

If you’d like to check out NASA’s ongoing search for another Earth-like planet out there, they have a website for the PlanetQuest program and you can check out some of the 1,800 planets they’ve already discovered. There are images, educational opportunities and loads of info about the science and technology behind the research.

Other topics covered by this panel were the equipment that researchers use to simulate the conditions of other planets, moons and so forth, what kind of spacecraft would be necessary to travel to another hospitable planet, and a look at some possible reasons behind how Superman’s powers work on Earth.

One of the biggest hurdles to space exploration is engine speed, which at this time is just not feasible for travel even to other solar systems in our own galaxy. As one of the panelists put it, if Neanderthals had launched a ship at the end of the Ice Age, it would now be only half way to the next star. In order to reasonably travel throughout space would require warp drives of some sort, and the panel suggested the audience do an Internet search for “warp drive when,” which i’ve done for you and leads to NASA’s information resources on the status of interstellar travel.

In the meantime, we’ve got programs like the Messenger probe currently orbiting Mercury and the New Horizons probe currently near Pluto and its moon Charon. Likewise, the Voyager probe launched in 1977 is only recently reaching the boundary of interstellar space. And the Dawn mission is on its way to Ceres, the largest of the asteroid belt. So, we’ve got a long way to go to catch up to Jor-El in terms of space exploration.

“We build spacecraft,” aerospace engineer Kohlman said. “We fly spacecraft to other planets. The scientists of Krypton are a little ahead of us, but we’re working on it.”

The panelists noted that it would be likely Jor-El would have utilized theoretical travel like worm holes, and certainly would require faster-than-light speeds to traverse the galaxies.

A discussion of Superman’s powers started with his being “faster than a speeding bullet,” which according to the panel is anywhere from 400-3000 mph. This is within the realm of testing at the NASA Ballistic Impact Lab, where they use a gas gun to test material durability and can fire objects at a top speed of Mach 2.5.

Superman’s speed, evidenced by his ability to reach orbit, would have to be at least Mach 25, or ten times what the gas gun can achieve. However, our fastest spacecraft that have left the Earth can reach about Mach 50, and for comparison the New Horizon probe travels at Mach 47.

Again, it was shown that in order to effectively travel to other planets and solar systems we’ll need engines that can go much, much faster than currently possible. It is worth noting that several of the panelists were well-versed in Superman lore, making the point that his powers have fluctuated over the decades from his days of juggling planets to a bit more reasonable levels. They also pointed out the impossibility of some of his feats, like picking up skyscrapers – they would break apart due to the lack of surface area support, for example.

To segue into a look at Superman’s strength, the panel noted that, like Superman is a hero to so many people, at NASA their heroes are the astronauts. And like Superman, they are able to lift greater weight on planets other than their home world…but not quite what you’d expect. For example, on Mars, where gravity is 1/6 that of Earth, you might think an astronaut who could lift 100 pounds on Earth could heft an impressive 600 pounds on the red planet. This is not quite true, due to the forces of inertia. The different gravities and effects on object weight is a real concern for researchers, who must take into account that these heavy objects, if put into motion, must still be controlled and stopped to avoid collision damage with equipment and people, for instance.

Likewise, it is a gravity-related matter that allows Superman to “leap tall buildings in a single bound,” and later, outright fly without any means of propulsion. Using math, microgravity researcher Dennis Stocker determined that the gravity on Krypton would be about 37 times that of Earth to account for Superman’s leaping ability and strength. I was curious if they’d taken this model further and tried to mathematically figure out the size, density and so forth of Krypton – basically create a model of the fictional planet – but they hadn’t.

The most reasonable explanation that the researchers could offer to explain many of Superman’s powers were that he created and controlled a very localized gravity field around himself. This would account for his ability to utilize super strength while in flight (since typically he would only push himself away from the object), to fly without propulsion or friction on his body, and to completely disperse kinetic energy from bullets and other projectiles without them pushing him back or causing any kind of effect on his skin, and surviving in space.

Unfortunately, they didn’t have a chance to talk about his heat vision, but they did touch on his super cold breath, which is actually completely scientific. When air is compressed and expelled rapidly like that, its temperature would drop dramatically.

A question in the audience asked why Superman’s rescue of Lois Lane when falling from a building doesn’t result in a snapped neck (much like Gwen Stacy’s when Spider-Man attempts to save her from falling from a bridge), and the panelists referred the question to Larry Niven’s essay “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex” which, if you can find a copy, retails some real world problems Superman’s super powers would present.

After the panel wrapped up, i ran into researcher Geoffrey Landis while waiting in like for the next event on my list, and we chatted for a few minutes about Superman science. He was really very engaging, and most interesting to me was a brief discussion on technology. While many of the probes and craft we’ve launched years and even decades ago has been surpassed by present day advances, the simple durability of those older technologies is what makes it possible for them to still function in space. Because of cosmic ray exposure causing soft errors and resets on computer technology, a modern-day computer would not function over time in space. So, while the hardware behind some of the craft we have out there may be inferior in terms of raw computing power, the fact that it is able to continue functioning at all is the key to continuing our receipt of the information they send back – which has a huge impact on how our technology develops and evolves on Earth.

Speaking of the next event…

William Shatner who, among many things, brought to life Captain Kirk on what i maintain is the best iteration of Star Trek, was set to give a talk in the junior ballroom.

Now, since he first played that character nearly 50 years ago, and has gone on to other notable projects in film, television and music, as well as appeared at countless conventions over the decades, i didn’t expect a whole lot of Star Trek talk or otherwise.

In the program, the event “Boldly Going with William Shatner” was described as him dishing on the roles that he’s played over the years. But i think, perhaps because of all the speaking engagements he’s done in his career, that talking about those topics is probably pretty boring for the guy.

Instead, Shatner used an analogy with a car trip he recently took with his wife, riding in a fast sports car through severe winter conditions, as a backdrop for several things like his career, the world of science fiction and man’s place in the universe.

If i’m honest, it was a little rambling and at times i think the audience wondered where he was going with his talk (i know i did at least). But at the end of the day, it’s William Shatner up there talking and no one could complain about that.

“Science fiction seeks to answer ‘what’s in the future,’ ” Shatner explained at one point. “But we just don’t know what’s out there in terms of other life. Now, I’m going to tell you something so magical, you’re going to plotz – which is a Vulcan word.”

After talking about psychiatrist John E. Mack’s work with people who claim alien abduction, leading to a claim that UFOs really exist because of the similarity of accounts, i did not in fact plotz. But i think the point he was trying to make is that we can’t really say for certain if there is or is not other life in the universe, or discount anyone’s beliefs, because we just don’t know.

“There’s so much that’s mysterious out there,” Shatner ruminated. “We don’t know what we don’t know because we just don’t know what we don’t know.”


Before opening the talk to a Q&A with select audience members, he talked about a possibly upcoming show or documentary he’s working on with the working title Young Guns of NASA. The project has allowed him access to several NASA sites around the country, and he spoke about Col. Scott Kelly, an astronaut devoting his life to science by spending a full year on the International Space Station.

Such a feat is expected to cause significant biological changes, including the possibility that his eyes will change shape due to the different conditions there and the effect on the human body.

Later, when asked if he would like to travel to the ISS, our moon or even Mars, he described the real-life adventures he’s had, like professional horseracing and the aforementioned car ride, and said his life has been exciting enough.

“I do exciting things!” he shouted to the crowd. “I don’t need to ride every rollercoaster.”

Hello Mr. Fancypants

Taking the ballroom stage in the afternoon was another fan-favorite actor, Bruce Campbell. My first introduction to him was in the early ’90’s, when my D&D buddies’ cool older sister showed us Evil Dead II, and i’ve been hooked ever since. Not every project the guy does is must-see for me, but i definitely appreciate his work, which has entertained me many times over the years.

For his appearance in Cleveland, Campbell donned a snazzy, shiny purple sport coat which he said was inspired by flying over the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame and thinking about “the spirit of Elvis, Wayne Newton and the other interred there.”

Instead of talking the whole time about himself or his career, he wanted to play a game and in fact the program listed the event as “Bruce Campbell Versus the Audience.”

Much like popular talent shows such as America’s Got Talent, Bruce surveyed the crowd to select six people with any kind of talent to “prove Cleveland has talent.”

The irreverent game show-like event played out over the next 45 minutes, with Bruce letting the contestants do their thing while he played the role of an obnoxious host, tossing insults their way.

The contestants, who were all from Ohio, included a CSU student dressed as Beetlejuice who could do voices; Christiana, a singer from Brunswick; Michelle, a poet from Brunswick; Ryan, a heavy metal singer and filmmaker; Zack, a dancer in a Two-Face costume; and Schlock Meister, a horror host from Cleveland.

A series of talent displays and eliminations proceeded in which Schlock Meister did an impression of deceased comedian Chris Farley, Ryan sung a Korn song and Michelle recited an excerpt from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Zack performed the dance routine from Michael Jackson’s Thriller (that Schlock Meister sang), while Christiana sung Uptown Funk and Beetlejuice gave the audience his take on Heath Ledger’s Joker character.

Schlock Meister, Zack and Michelle were eliminated in the first round, and for their efforts they were each given a prize by Bruce Campbell of $1 as they left the stage.

Schlock Meister also got a selfie with Bruce Campbell as he exited the stage.
Schlock Meister also got a selfie with Bruce Campbell as he exited the stage.

For the final round, Christiana did a wonderful job singing a haunting song from one of the Resident Evil films, while Ryan sang another Korn song (i didn’t even know people still liked Korn) and Beetlejuice improvised a conversation between Bane from The Dark Knight Rises and his signature voice, Beetlejuice.

Based on crowd response, Christiana was the overall winner, and received a crisp $20 bill from Bruce while the runners-up each got $2 for their participation.

Overall, it was kind of a weird event were the special guest didn’t really do anything personable. It would have been nice if he’d injected a bit of himself into the show. On the other hand, his crass, obnoxious host routine was pretty entertaining.

A panel discussion of substance

One of the panels i’d most been looking forward to was Gender Equality in Geek Culture. This was a tricky part of the afternoon, because there were a couple of things i wanted to attend with overlapping times. However, the host for this particular panel was a no-show, so it was cancelled unfortunately.

On the bright side, i headed next door to where another panel was that i would have missed, and since there was time to kill before it started, Valentino Zullo who was sitting in front of me introduced himself and i learned about some great stuff he does at the Cleveland Public Library.

With a master’s degree in English and women’s studies from Bowling Green and currently studying social science at CWRU, he created the Get Graphic discussion group to talk about literature, social justice and the superhero way.

The discussion groups, which he organizes and hosts twice monthly, focus on different topics and use comic books for the platform to discuss them.

For example, right now the group’s topic is “Women Warriors” and the group will talk about different types of feminism, the epidemic of sex trafficking and other women/gender-related topics.

The group meets on the first and third Thursdays of every month at 4 p.m., in the literature department on the 2nd floor of the Cleveland Public Library, 325 Superior Avenue, downtown Cleveland. More information is available by calling 216.623.2881.

i spoke with Valentino a bit after the panel and we connected through our enjoyment of offbeat comic books, particularly Superior Foes of Spider-Man, which he said had inspired some of the summer’s group discussions on the nature of evil.

We also both love female heroes, and Marvel comics in particular, and it was cool to meet someone with such similar particular tastes in comic books.

i will definitely be visiting his discussion group and sharing the experience in a future Week in Geek. The next one according to the flyer he gave me is on March 5, where the focus in on Ms. Marvel.

Prior to that discussion group meeting, on Saturday, Feb. 28 at 4 p.m. is a meeting for the speaker series Valentino helps organize. The speaker for the special black history month lecture is Tony Isabella, creator of Black Lightning who spoke at the panel i wrote about on Friday. His lecture is titled “Fighting for Diversity: Comic Books and Race” and will look at the history of racial diversity in comic books.

If you live in the Cleveland area, love your comics and want to meet up with others who share your interest, and talk about important social issues in the context of superheroes, then definitely check out some of these events Valentino organizes!

Cleveland – the REAL birthplace of Superman

Forget Krypton, Smallville and Metropolis – Cleveland, Ohio is the real place where Superman was born!

The Siegel and Shuster Society held a panel discussion to talk about just that, and how two local kids laid the foundation for comics as we known them way back in 1938.

Led my Plain Dealer reporter Michael Sangiacomo, the panel included former Marvel Comics editor and comics historian Danny Fingeroth; Michael Olzewski, president of the Siegel and Shuster Society; Brad Ricca, author of Super Boys, the literary biography of Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel; Siegel’s cousin Irving Fine, his sister Norma, and Leigh Goldie, cousin of Joe Shuster.

The panel discussed how “the city (Cleveland) never fully embraced Superman,” which is a shame because…it’s SUPERMAN! Seriously, i share their sentiments that it is frankly bizarre that Cleveland doesn’t proclaim its Superman roots loud and proud.

Unfortunately, a big part of that comes from Warner Bros. who owns DC Comics, who put a lot of restrictions on how and where their intellectual properties are used. For example, Ohio is the only state to have Superman license plates available – thanks to the efforts of the Siegel and Shuster Society by the way – but they were unable to include the phrase “Birthplace of Superman” because Warner Bros. doesn’t want anyone to be confused with the fictional character’s birthplace on Krypton.

The bulk of the panel talked about the news surrounding the real possibility of a Superman statue and display to be built on the lakefront, near the Great Lakes Science Center.

This is a truly terrific idea, especially that location due to Superman’s science-fiction origins. As for the proposed design that the Society has been promoting and seen in the news, personally, i think they need to reimagine it.

Approved model for the Superman statue display planned in Cleveland
Approved model for the Superman statue display planned in Cleveland

This thing just does not look good to me. The proportions of his body look way off and it just doesn’t look exciting, not at all like co-creator Joe Shuster’s artwork. Why not base it on his work?

Like this for example, or any number of others that Shuster created would look better than the proposed sculpt
Like this for example, or any number of others that Shuster created would look better than the proposed sculpt

The best thing about the proposed statue display, though, is the additional figures at the base – Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster and Joanne Siegel, who was early inspiration for Lois Lane. This is a terrific idea, to honor the people who created this character. If you know anything about Superman history, they did not enjoy the kind of success or financial security you might expect when, you know, they revolutionized and basically ushered in the comic book superhero genre as we know it.

The proposed base of the Superman statue will feature depictions of his creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, as well as Joanne Siegel, Jerry's wife and the inspiration for Lois Lane.
The proposed base of the Superman statue will feature depictions of his creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, as well as Joanne Siegel, Jerry’s wife and the inspiration for Lois Lane.

The panel was also happy to see how well Wizard World Cleveland had turned out, again something that may not have ever happened had it not been for those two Cleveland teens creating Superman.

“He’d be smiling down at this Comic Con, I assure you,” said Siegel’s cousin Irv, who is a big part of the Society and the various projects they work on. Irv went on to tell the audience about how Siegel and Shuster got together in the first place. Jerry was a big science fiction buff, who’d created this superbeing character and asked Irv’s brother if he could draw it for him. Instead, Jerry was introduced to Joe who had recently moved to their Kinsman neighborhood.

“When he and Joe got together, they just produced magic,” Irv said.

One interesting fact about the Society itself is that, since Warner Bros. would not allow them to use the Superman name and call themselves the Superman Society, they considered this a blessing because instead they used the creators’ names and were able to give the publicity to them, not the character they’re created.

Sangiacomo, he everyone assembled agreed was vital to raising awareness about Superman’s Cleveland roots, spoke after the panel and said he’d been surprised after speaking with every Cleveland mayor for the past few decades, none of whom had even been aware that Superman was created in their city.

As regards the statue, he said it’s still a couple of years off, but he’s confident a fundraiser would enable them to gain financing for the project. He said a great pledge reward would be a brick with the donors name to use as part of the statue display area. The statue project is definitely going forward, but a lot of county, city, and corporate red tape has to be dealt with. Sangiacomo will stay at the forefront of this project though, and provide news as it breaks.

Musical extravaganza

The unofficial end to the convention is the massive costume contest held in the ballroom, but before that got underway, the audience was treated to a sonic treat when World of Warcraft composer Jason Hayes, along with his video game music tribute band Critical Hit performed.

Consisting of a cello, violin, drums and synthesizer, the four-piece band played songs like Zelda’s Lullaby, Dr. Wily’s Stage from Mega Man, the theme from Metal Gear Solid: Sons of Liberty, To Zanarkand from Final Fantasy X, a hard rock version of Bowser’s Castle from Super Mario Brothers and more.

What blew me away most of all was the cello work by Tina Guo, who was front center stage just rocking the hell out of her instrument. To be honest, i’d never seen a cello like that, all streamlined and made of what looked like some sort of polycarbon material. Is that wood? What are those made of?

Whatever material it is, she played it like a champ and the crowd loved it. A lot of older games featured MIDI music or simple beeps and boops strung together, but with Critical Hit playing these melodies they were transformed into robust, beautiful, haunting, electrifying, exciting and rockin’ tunes that filled the ballroom with energy.

Costume Contest

The final event of the day was the Wizard World Costume Contest, and it did not disappoint!

Contestants entered the stage from the left, passed by judges seated on stage and exited to the right. These aren’t professional models or anything, so quite a few people nervously walked onto and off of the stage so fast that it was hard to get a good look at their costumes. But everyone who participated received applause from the audience.

Minecraft's Steve was a huge hit with the audience
Minecraft’s Steve was a huge hit with the audience

Quite a few great costumes that i saw over the weekend were not part of the competition, and a few of them who i ran into afterwards told me they either were late arriving, or weren’t included because there was no category for the character they portrayed. For example, one woman had a great Badadook costume, but since there is no “Horror” category, she couldn’t enter.

The handmade Belle costume ultimately gave her a win for Best in Show
The handmade Belle costume ultimately gave her a win for Best in Show

After everyone had crossed the stage, the judges took a few minutes to decide who their honorable mentions were, as well as the winners in six different categories.

Honorable mentions were given to one of the many Jokers, a Knight Who Says Ni, and Team Rapture from the video game Bioshock.

The judges on stage with their honorable mention costume contest participants
The judges on stage with their honorable mention costume contest participants

The winners of the contest were:

  • Best Male Hero: Groot
  • Best Female Hero: Hawkgirl
  • Best Male Villain: Venom
  • Best Female Villain: Knightingale from Skyrim
  • Best Group: Avatar: The Last Airbender team
  • Best in Show: Belle, from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
Hawkgirl, Venom, Groot, Belle, Avatar: The Last Airbender and lurking somewhere in the background Skyrim's Knightingale
Hawkgirl, Venom, Groot, Belle, Avatar: The Last Airbender and lurking somewhere in the background Skyrim’s Knightingale

Congrats to all the contestants in the costume contest though – a big part of these geeky conventions are the costumes, and everyone who shows up in one gets a round of applause from me. When i first went to Gen Con, i remember thinking “i’ve got to get a costume if i’m going to go to these conventions.” Unfortunately, i never did but i did find a place that will make custom bodysuits for a reasonable price. So i’m thinking i’ll go that route and dress up like one of my absolute favorite characters with the best superhero costume ever.

Mister Miracle - my winner for best costume and best comics character ever. And who knows, maybe i'll run into a Big Barda!
Mister Miracle – my winner for best costume and best comics character ever. And who knows, maybe i’ll run into a Big Barda!

*     *     *     *     *

Thanks for reading this special Wizard World Cleveland edition of  Week in Geek in addition to visiting The Long Shot. Of course, there were many more exciting things that happened in the world of science, technology and pop culture this week…but this is the ones that most caught my attention and kept me busy all week! If you have any news you’d like to share, drop me a line and let me know – i try to keep up with stuff but i can’t read everything!

If you attended Wizard World Cleveland and you’d like to share your experience in writing, or any photos, please let me know and i’d be happy to share them here at The Long Shot.

Also, check out my media gallery through The News-Herald, which is another great place you can share your photos from the weekend.

Please stop by again later in the week for a few last things to share that i discovered at Wizard World

Follow @longshotist on Twitter for frequent shares of related articles and (hopefully) humorous nonsequiters.

Week in Geek will be back next Friday, Feb. 27 and i’d love to see you here!

Remember – if you would like to contribute to The Long Shot, i’d be happy to make that happen!

Week in Geek also appears alongside other great blogs at The News-Herald Blogs (click the logo at the top right of the page for the main site).

Check out the articles i’ve written for The News-Herald.

Thanks for reading!

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