Women in Technology

Yesterday’s Women in Technology conference, led by Shannon Fehr, featured an amazing lineup of speakers. I’m proud to have been a small part of it.

Some of my favorite people organized and spoke, like Grace Simrall, Sharon Kerrick, Haleh KarimiDesiree Thayer, and Anna Kepshire. I highly recommend getting in the loop for this one, and attending next year. Maybe even as a sponsor, speaker, or volunteer.

The C2 Event venue was wonderful, and it was a nice treat to see so many vegetarian options for lunch.

 

 

 

Stan Lee (Sermon)

I’m a Christian, and sometimes a teacher/preacher.

I prepared a sermon for Louisville Supercon, December 2018, that would also serve as a tribute to the recently departed Stan Lee.

The Idea

I wasn’t sure exactly where I wanted to go, or what I wanted to cover at first. I didn’t want to focus so much on Stan that he’d overshadow the Lord, but I didn’t want to treat him as an afterthought. At first, I thought about turning Stan’s name into an acronym of character he co-created, and what made them important to me. S (Spider-Man), T (Thor), A (Avengers), N (Nick Fury) nicely covered the superhuman, the supernatural, the super-group, and the super-agent. Each character brings different lessons, power sets, foibles, and emotional aspects.

In the end, I realized that the acronym of Stan Lee’s name could map to what the Bible calls the “fruit of the spirit.”

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, tolerance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

It was tricky to use just quotes from the movies (without delving into the comics, that not everyone would be as familiar with), to use only characters that Stan had a hand in, and to tie each into a fruit.

 

FRUIT SCRIPTURE PRINCIPLE WHO MOVIE QUOTE
Gentleness, Humility In humility consider others more important than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3) Sacrifice Groot Guardians of the Galaxy “We are groot.”
Patience, Tolerance A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12) Teamwork Nick Fury The Avengers “Bring together a group of remarkable people, to fight the battles that we never could.”
Self-Control Take off your old self with its practices and put on the new self. (Colossians 3:9) Authenticity Bruce Banner The Incredible Hulk “I don’t want to control it; I want to get rid of it.”
Goodness Pure religion in the sight of God means caring for orphans and widows. (James 1:27) Nobility Black Panther Infinity War “We don’t fight for just one life; We fight for all of them.”
Love Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous, boastful, proud, rude, selfish, irritable, or begrudging. It rejoices in truth, not injustice. It never gives up or loses faith; it always hopes and always endures. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7) Love Clint Barton, Pietro Maximoff, Wanda Maximoff Age of Ultron “Doesn’t matter what you did, or what you were.”
…and…
“I didn’t see that coming.”
Kindness Encourage one another and build each other up. (1 Thessalonians 5:11) Encouragement Peggy Carter, Sharon Carter Civil War “Plant yourself like a tree; look them in the eye, and say No, you move.”
Joy I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10) Enjoyment Thor Odison Age of Ultron “Victory should be honored with revels.”

 

Gentleness

In the Biblical sense, gentleness is not weakness, but is strength under control. Some editions translate this fruit as meekness or humility. It is the opposite of self-interest and assertiveness. Gentleness is the attitude of putting the interests of others ahead of our own — that is, sacrifice (the “S” in Stan Lee).

There have been many sacrifices throughout the Marvel comics and movies, but there are some that still get to me no matter how many times I see them. For me, one of those is Groot in the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, when he utters what is only his second line: “We are groot.” We’d already seen that Groot is incredibly powerful several times, in the end he chooses to use that strength to save his friends instead of himself. Through this act, Groot is even reborn.

Patience

Also translated as long-suffering, forbearance, perseverance, and tolerance, patience allows us to put up with situations or people that frustrate us. Being able to work with others is a key element in Teamwork (the “T“).

Nick Fury explains the Avengers Initiative as the idea to “bring together a group of remarkable people… to fight the battles that we never could.” None of us is as strong as all of us. The Apostle Paul compares the church as a body, with each of us playing a specific part. Looking back at the Avengers movie, you could even call Tony the brain, Cap the heart, Hulk the muscle, and Clint the eyes. Maybe Natasha would be the ears (or the tiptoes, for her stealth), and Thor the bones (for his indestructibility)?

Self-Control

When we give our lives to Christ, we become a new creation. In the MCU, no one exemplifies that more than Bruce Banner/The Hulk. Paul saw in himself two natures (“I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh; for I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do. Instead, I keep on doing the evil I do not want to do.” — Romans 7:18-19). Being honest with our own flaws exhibits authenticity (the “A” in Stan).

The paradox of self-control is that self cannot control self because it is self. Only by surrendering (or dying to) self to the Lord can we get any control. We can only have what we’ve given away.

Goodness

While Gentleness connotes a loving disposition for others, Goodness puts it into action. As (possibly) Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Doing what is right will put us into conflict with those who want to do wrong. Acting on behalf of others, Noblesse Oblige (or Nobility), is the “N” in Stan.

Religion based on rules does little good, and can do much harm. Pure religion that pleases God is caring for orphans and widows. As T’Challa says in Infinity War, we fight for all lives.

Love

Has anything in human history been written, sung, or sought more than love? The love that society wants to push on us is often focused on ourselves. Love makes people happy. Love what gives you pleasure. But scripture tells us that love is much more than that, as well as being the “L” in Lee. “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous, boastful, proud, rude, selfish, irritable, or begrudging. It rejoices in truth, not injustice. It never gives up or loses faith; it always hopes and always endures.” Much like the humility of Gentleness urges us to sacrifice, biblical love urges us to put others before ourselves.

In Age of Ultron, Wanda had mesmerized all of Hawkeye’s teammates, to disastrous effect. But when she’s panicking, he forgives her and offers her a place on the team. “It doesn’t matter what you did, or what you were… if you step out that door, you are an Avenger.” Later, when a child is about to be murdered by Ultron, Hawkeye interposes his own body to save the child. But Pietro surprises him by taking the bullets first.

Kindness

Gentleness sacrifices, patience forgives, goodness defends, love surrenders, and Kindness assists. It stresses keeping our fellow believer on track, through sharing, teaching, and encouraging (the first “E” in Lee).

We all face struggles. They might be illness, poverty, loneliness, or worse. By encouraging our friends (literally “to put courage inside”), we allow them go farther and reach higher than before. If they can’t make it on their own, we can all help. Sharon Carter’s eulogy of Peggy (originally spoken by Captain America to Spider-Man in the comics) reminded Steve that the right thing is the right thing, despite what others may think.

Joy

Happiness comes from the same root word as happen or hapless. It is the result of outside influence; a temporary circumstance. True Joy lives on the inside. The apostle Paul learned to be content in all circumstances (Philippians 4). For myself, I know who I am, who I belong to, and where I’m going. Life has its ups and downs, but we can all choose whether or not to find enjoyment (the final “E” in Lee).

I’ve met people in the Christian community who look like they were weaned on a pickle (to borrow a friend’s phrase). Christ came to grant us abundant and everlasting life. Even Steve Rogers agreed with Thor that revels can show honor.

Summary

Stan Lee taught us Sacrifice, Teamwork, Authenticity, Nobility, Love, Encouragement, and Enjoyment.

Excelsior! Amen.

Download

You can get a copy of the bulletin PDF here.

DerbyCon 2018

DerbyCon

DerbyCon organizers are da bomb!

This past weekend was DerbyCon, Louisville’s infosec (information security) conference — “by hackers, for hackers.” The organizing team is all-volunteer, just bringing the community together for connections, education, and fun. Every year is more amazing than the year before.

Villages

This year, there was a brand new Mental Wellness Village, run by Amanda Berlin (@InfoSystir). Part of the time, it was a chill/relax/quiet room, with coloring books, crafts, yoga mats, and massages. And there was also several amazing talks and events there, like dealing with depression or impostor syndrome, and managing time and life. Everything I attended there was amazing. I hope to spend more time there next year.

I also spent about half my time in the Social Engineering Village, which is always a blast. Chris Hadnagy (@HumanHacker) of Social-Engineer.org (who has a brand new book!) hosts challenges and events like a capture the flag, trying to beat an FBI polygraph examiner, escaping handcuffs and crawling past a laser grid, and a panel discussion on ethics.

SE Mission Impossible

Patrick is about to escape handcuffs, pick a lock, and crawl through frickin’ lasers

Events

Apart from my two main hangouts (the mental and social villages), I did indeed go to a few presentations, and visited almost all the special events and villages, and competed again in Hack Your Derby.

The Hack Your Derby (@HackYourDerby) contest is an annual competition for creating something really cool and unusual with a hat. Last year, my entry was a derby that was covered in crime scene tape (yes, I keep crime scene tape in my truck; why don’t you?). This year, instead of an expensive professional derby, I used several of the cheap plastic derbies that the judges hand out to those who want them. My idea was to combine twelve hats into a giant die. It took me a few hours to use masking tape to put die-rolling numbers on the inside of the hats, staple them together in an inverted spherical shape, and rig up a chin-strap. But the idea actually worked! I wasn’t convinced it would all come together until I had the whole thing done.

The musical acts this year were Vanilla Ice and Offspring. Holy cow! At my age, though, staying up until 11:30 for an act to even start is beyond me.

Hack Your Derby

My derby was a functioning d12 (12, 4, and 6 are visible)

I also loved attending CrossCon, the Sunday morning Bible study for Christian hackers at DerbyCon (and other cons).

Venue

This was our first year in the downtown Marriott instead of the Hyatt Regency. The new space did have more room, and we weren’t all squished together in the halls as we moved from session to session. On the downside, there wasn’t a single central gathering place like there was in the Hyatt. I heard a lot of complaints about rooms being cold, but I’m cold-natured anyway, so I always felt great.

Videos

You can see every video of DerbyCon on Iron Geek’s site.

 

 

 

 

Dave Kennedy

I, for one, welcome our bobblehead overlords

Ben Hibben

The Hardware Village teaches soldering and other skills

F Society

Vanilla Ice and Offspring brought hackers onto the dance floor

I also loved attending CrossCon, the Sunday morning Bible study for Christian hackers at DerbyCon (and other cons).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gen Con 2018

Gen Con is America’s largest tabletop game convention, and draws over 60,000 visitors. It began 50 years ago in Lake Geneva (hence the “Gen”) by Gary Gygax (one of the creators of Dungeons & Dragons), and has grown and moved over the years.

Gen Con Crowd

Waiting for the exhibit hall to open
(photo by R. Talsorian Games)

Hundreds of companies sell their board games, card games, roleplaying games, dice, costumes, movies, books, and anything else that the crowd is interested in. I used to own a game publishing company and ran multiple booths there for several years.

Christian Gamers Guild

I’m probably best known by many Gen Con attendees as the guy that leads the Sunday morning Christian worship service, and the Friday panel discussion about Christianity and Gaming, under the auspices of the Christian Gamers Guild.

The first time I held the panel, it even included Gary Gygax (a few months before he passed), talking about the origins of D&D. (Thanks to Geek Preacher for the video.)

Our church service for the past few years gets about as many as we can fit in the room, so the organizers schedule us in one hotel ballroom to another, as the logistics allow. This year, we had around 200. Tom Vasel, of The Dice Tower, preached for us again.

Gen Con Church Service 2018

The Christian Gamers Guild‘s church service
(click for video clip)

Games

I ran three roleplaying game sessions, and played in one.

Champions: Bring Your Own Brick is the trickiest game for me to run. Players bring superhero characters, and my job is to give them a plot, some opposition, and some resolution. It’s tricky because I never know what the characters will be like. As superheroes, they could be magic, technological, aliens, mutants, animals, or anything else. This time, I went with a scavenger hunt / race structure, like a cross between It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World and Avengers: Infinity War.

Meep on the Borderland is the funniest game for me to run. Muppets take on the role of fantasy characters. Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie, and a dozen others rescue kidnapped colleagues from all manner of evil creature (also played by muppets). We open up the game by singing the theme song, because of course we do. Everyone laughs and laughs throughout the game. (Read more, see the art, and download the character sheets here.)

Cereal Killers: Night of the Living Crunch is the strangest game for me to run (which is saying a lot). Breakfast cereal mascots like Cap’n Crunch and Tony the Tiger claw their way through grim and gritty adventures. What makes it strange is that despite the inherent silliness of the concept, it’s all played with a straight face. My friend Joe Linehan came up with the idea, and put the crew through adventures like Watchmen. I liked the idea so much, I’ve run a few of my own, and this year faced them off against the living dead. (Download the character sheets that fold into or around fun-size cereal boxes here.)

Can of Whupass Victory

Can of Whupass Victory
(click for video clip)

Can of Whupass is the game I look forward to playing every year. It’s an annual last-man-standing event of pop culture comedy mashups. Characters like Christopher Walken: Texas Ranger, Stephen J. Hawkman, Farley Quinn, General Grievous and Butthead, Bizarrobama, Dr. Zeuss, Hellboy Wonder, Popeye the Sailor Moon, and Elon Musketeer. I won this year! As a reward/punishment for winning, all the other players and organizers “crown” me (and my teammate Mike) with Silly String.

Costumes

I saw hundreds of costumes. Some were funny, some were incredible, some were cute, and several that surprised me. My favorite one was a blind woman who dressed as Poison Ivy (or a plant spirit, dryad, or similar leafy being). She wore green clothing with leaves, branches, and such, and her white cane was also covered in leaves! I’ve seen some great costumes for people in wheelchairs, but I think this is the first time I’d ever seen a blind cosplayer.

 

 

Movies

I’m a Christian, and sometimes a teacher/preacher.

I taught a lesson at church about why movies can be an effective tool to share the gospel.

My Favorites

There are dozens of movies that I’ve watched over and over. I have several friends that could have a long coversation with, using noting but movie quotes.

Here is a sampling of some of my favorite films, in no particular order…

Sci-Fi & Action

The Matrix (reality is not actually real), The Fifth Element (an action movie that becomes a comedy), Serenity (a misfit space crew saves the galaxy from itself), Buckaroo Banzai (genius rock-star/surgeon/adventures fight interdimensional aliens), 12 Monkeys (the past isn’t what it used to be), Hackers (cheesy, but many of the personalities are relatable), The Hunt for Red October (an invisible submarine is defeated through song), The Lord of the Rings (friendship is stronger than evil), Army of Darkness (a smartass with a chainsaw hand kills zombies), The Princess Bride (death cannot defeat love), V for Vendetta (the only real prison is the one we believe), Fight Club (we can be our own worst enemy), A Knight’s Tale (a man can change his stars), Big Trouble in Little China (the hero doesn’t realize he’s actually just the sidekick)

Comedy & Inspiration

The Court Jester (we can be who we want to be), Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (look at life with a sense of wonder), The Gods Must be Crazy (we must walk a mile in our neighbor’s shoes, or bare feet as appropriate), UHF (sometimes you have to grab life by the lips and yank as hard as you can), Monty Python and the Holy Grail (shh! it’s only a model), Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (the best place is here and the best time is now), Clue (), The Frisco Kid (I am God’s child even in the mud or on my butt), The Wizard of Speed and Time (nothing can stop the creative spirit), The Truman Show (every life is amazing if we’d only look), Apollo 13 (failure is not an option), Raising Arizona (we all can have a second chance), The Hudsucker Proxy (career matters, but love matters more), O Brother Where Art Thou (family is worth sacrificing for)

…and many more.

Movie Popularity

According to the latest statistics, people go out to the movies a lot. Here’s a breakdown of how many movies people see in theaters each year, by age group.

2-11: 3.4, 12-17: 6.5, 18-24: 6.7, 25-39: 4.4, 40-49: 3.6, 50-59: 3.0, 60+: 2.4 (Source: MPAA)

So the average 50-year old has seen around 225 movies over those years.

Netflix streaming service has grown incredible since it started in 2012, reaching just over 250 million households worldwide, as of early 2018 (which is also roughly the number of households in America). (Source: Bloomberg)

We, as a people, see so many movies. This gives us a lot of common reference points.

Movie Sermons

So far, I have preached full sermons about three specific movies.

They Live (1988, directed by John Carpenter, Starring Roddy Piper, Keith David, and Meg Foster)

A wanderer finds sunglasses that reveal the world the way it truly is. Subliminal messages keep the population subdued. Our leaders are secretly aliens bent on world domination.

They Live was the first movie sermon I preached. I was at a horror movie convention, and John Carpenter was one of the guests. Since They Live is my favorite of his films (not necessarily the best, I’ll be the first to admit, but still my favorite), I chose that as my sermon topic. A man learns of the beings that are secretly controlling us through subliminal messages, thanks to some lenses that he found at a church. He uses this knowledge to recruit others, and to directly confront evil. This is not a family film, by any stretch, but it has a solid message.

Ghostbusters (1984, directed by Ivan Reitman, starring Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, and Sigourney Weaver)

A team of scientists lose their cushy jobs at a university in New York City, and become “ghostbusters” to wage a high-tech battle with the supernatural for fun and profit.

I preached about Ghostbusters at Wizard World Comic Con, not because it’s my favorite movie, but because of a friend. Ryan E Kemp founded the Western Kentucky Ghostbusters. He loved the optimism and enterprise that the movie’s heroes showed, and wanted to bring that excitement and positivity to those around him. He died three years ago, when he was driving to a children’s hospital to dress as a Ghostbuster and cheer up the sick kids. At first, I was stunned, and wondered what are the odds of dying while doing something like that. But then I realized that the odds weer actually pretty high, in his case. He did that a lot. It got me wondering about how often I spend time doing something that I’d like to be remembered for, if I were to die that instant. Frankly, they weren’t as high as I’d have liked. Kemp’s wonderful example helped me (and just about everyone he ever met) to be a better person.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, starring Robert Downey Jr, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Chris Pratt)

The Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and other Marvel superheroes unite to battle their most powerful enemy yet. Thanos plans to collect six Infinity Stones, so he can kill half the entire universe with a snap of his fingers.

When I preached about Infinity War at the Lexington Comic Con, the movie hadn’t come to theaters yet, but was just a month away. Congoers eagerly anticipated the movie, so the timing was opportune. The local FOX News station even filmed my sermon for the Spirit of the Bluegrass segment.

 

Touchstones

Besides movies, there are may other common experiences that we can use to reach our neighbor.

Games

I’ve preached about Settlers of Catan (at a board game convention), Pokemon Go (at a game convention), Football (on Superbowl Sunday), and Dungeons & Dragons (at a science fiction/gaming convention).

Sci-Fi & Action

I’ve preached about pirates (at an author convention), monsters and aliens (at a science fiction convention), zombies (at a horror convention), blood and gore (at a horror convention), and superheroes (at a comic convention).

Comedy & Inspiration

I’ve preached about costumes (at a costume convention), outer space (at a science convention), tattoos (at a tattoo convention), and creativity (at a creative writing convention), humor (okay, that was at a science fiction convention, but it was April Fools Day), and music (okay, that wasn’t at a music event, but it was still cool).

Common Ground

I like to focus on the things that I have in common with my audience. To that end, I often pick a sermon topic that’s directly related to the interest at hand. Instead of trying to get people to disengage from what interests them so they can engage with the Word, my usual approach is to find the ways that what they’re currently engaged is already part of God’s story and purpose for our lives.

My Story

Apart from movies, games, and other potentially common points of interest, there’s another story that I always have up my sleeve. That’s my story. People can argue with me about religion, history, philosophy, politics, science, and just about anything else, but the one thing that no one can refute is my story. I know my life, because I was there.

I’ve done a lot of things and been a part of a lot of things in my life.

Arts

I sported an orange mohawk when I was a part of the punk and new wave scene. I hosted a weekly radio show for years about punk rock and comedy. (What, do punk and comedy seem like different things to you?) I founded the Men Without Hats fan club, over 30 years ago. I help organize a music industry event each year. I’ve been on TV and film. I’ve designed for a living. I write for Nerd Louisville. I make my own costumes. I’ve written for newspapers and magazines. I’ve created crosswords professionally. I ran a publishing company which published hundreds of books for dozens of authors. And much more.

Science

I wrote space shuttle software for NASA when I was just a teenager. I worked in bioterrorism for Homeland Security. (I can neither confirm nor deny that I’ve worked for other intelligence agencies that I can’t tell you about, or I’d have to kill you.) I’ve programmed video games. I’ve spoken at dozens of database conferences. I volunteer at global hackathons, and even host some. I’ve founded a technology conference. I ply cybersecurity, and speak at those events. I’m the calendar coordinator at my city’s largest online technology collective. I’ve taught Alexa new skills. And much more.

Education/Community

I’ve taught at college. I’ve founded startups and mentor in the local entrepreneurial ecosystem. I’ve won two DTMs (Distinguished Toastmaster, the highest award from Toastmasters International). I dabble in improv comedy, and frequently bring those principles to other areas of my life. And much more.

Ministry

I bring God with me wherever I go. This includes my favorite oddball ministries, which reach out to the freaks, geeks, and weirdos. My people. I co-teach a class at the largest church in Kentucky. I preach on behalf of the Christian Gamers Guild, and have served as its VP for many years. I served a Sector Commander at Fans For Christ until the organization disbanded. I game with Jesus at Game Church. I punk out with the goths at the Grave Robbers ministry. And much more.

My story

I… I… I… I.

That’s a lot of I stuff. And that’s only a selection of some of the larger areas of my life. If I have nothing else in my metaphorical toolbox to help me build a bridge to someone, I’ve always got my story with me. The Bible tells us to always be  ready to give a reason for the hope that we have.

Reaching Others

Jesus GauntletChrist’s last words before he ascended to heaven, often called the Great Commission, were:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. (Matt 28:19)

Those words were not just meant for the people standing around him at the time; they also apply to us. We are told to bring the good news of Christ’s sacrifice to everyone. But it’s not only a matter of telling — it’s also teaching.

Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah. “Do you understand what you are reading?” he asked. “How can I,” he asked, “unless someone explains it to me?”
So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. (Acts 8:30)

Those who encounter the gospel won’t make heads nor tails of it without a guide. We are also told to help the people to obey.

How can they call on the One if they do not believe? How can they believe if they have not heard? How can they hear without someone to preach? How can they preach unless they are sent? (Rom 10:14)

The first step is always to take a step. Any step. We won’t accomplish much in life just sitting on the couch. By spending time with people, and building the relationships which are begin based in common cultural reference points like movies and games, we can teach them the Truth.

I have become all things to all men so that by any means some may be saved. (1 Cor 9:22)

The Apostle Paul traveled to many cities to start churches. The first people he’d talk to are those who were already churchgoers, but then he’d go to the cultural centers. He talked to the Greek philosophers in the manner they were most accustomed to, standing in the public forum to explain his ideas. He talked with workers while he himself plied his own trade as a tent-maker (a tentist? did he go to tental school?). He even preached to prison guards while he was shackled to them. To paraphrase the Watchmen movie/comic out of context, “I’m not chained here to you. You’re chained here to me!” Way to make lemonade, Paul.

Stories

Our God is a God that tells stories. Around one third of Jesus’ recorded words are parables (he told 46 of them). A list of facts and figures can easily be forgotten. A list of do’s and don’t’s can easily be disregarded. But a story can last for centuries. We share a culture of movies, television, songs, artwork, and games. We can use those stories as the foundation for sharing the true story of God’s love and our redemption through His Son’s sacrifice.

Download

You can download the PowerPoint slides here.

 

SkillsUSA

SkillsUSA 1BOn June 28, I was a judge at the SkillsUSA national computer programming championship.

SkillsUSA

The SkillsUSA has been around since 1965, and the national championships have been held in Louisville since 2015. The event spans three days at the 1.3 million square foot (roughly 20 football fields) Kentucky Fair and Expo Center (“the Fairgrounds”).

In 2017, there were 6,200 students competing in over 100 different competitions. Everything from public speaking to diesel engine repair to cooking to first aid to t-shirt design to game programming. It’s a lot of fun (and a lot of walking) to go check out a wide variety of contests.

Computer Programming Contest

SkillsUSA

Several dozen programming students from around the country qualified as their state champions, and came to face off against each other in a times competition.

As judges we based our decisions on several factors:

Programming: As the contest began, everyone got a printout of two assignments. I can’t give specifics, but they were relatively straightforward tasks.

Requirements: Not everything was explicitly spelled out, but could be assumed, or the contestants could (and should) ask us for clarifications.

Functionality: When time was up, we judges ran the programs to make sure the programs did all the things that they were supposed to do. We also made sure that they didn’t do the things that they weren’t supposed to do.

Readability: We also browsed through the software that they wrote, to see how readable it was (for whoever it is that eventually would take over your software, if this was for a job).

Interview: Each contestant was also “interviewed.” We asked the kind of questions that job applicants might get asked during an interview.

Getting Involved

In 2017, I judged the public speaking competition, which was also a lot of fun to do. There were many incredible speakers.

With so many events going on, the event always needs volunteers to judge, check in, chaperone, and otherwise take care of the contests, students, equipment, and other aspects.

If you’d like to help out as well, reach out to the SkillsUSA team.

 

Gen Con Mission Fundraiser

If you’d like to support my mission to Gen Con, you can donate here.

Gaming Mission Fund

My annual mission trip to the Gen Con game convention brings the gospel to hundreds of gamers.

Your donation helps me with travel expenses and supplies.

Together, we can expand the kingdom for the Lord of Hosts.

Learn More…

Here’s a FOX network news featurette on the kind of ministry that I do.

And a look at other odd ministries that I work with.

 

 

RIP Steve Ditko

On 6/29/18, Steve Ditko passed away at age 90.

Steve Ditko

Spidey 38-39

Peter Parker from Ditko (left) and after Ditko (right)

Ditko was a legendary comic book artist, helped define the genre. Along with Stan Lee, he created Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, the Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, J. Jonah Jameson, MJ Watson, and many other early Marvel characters. He drew his characters… oddly. Spider-Man and Strange were awkward and gangling, not buff and heroic like most other superhero artists were drawing their characters at the time.

Ditko created other memorable characters, including some of these favorites of mine:

The Creeper

What if a superhero was crazy? Or at least acted crazy? And maybe also really was?

Creeper OriginThe Creeper’s complicated history began when he was introduced in April 1968, but here’s my quick take. Controversial reporter Jack Ryder dressed up in a costume from scraps to infiltrate a mob masquerade party. He was killed there, then “healed” by Dr. Yatz. The process made him strong and fast, and gave him the first regenerative healing factor in comics. But it also bonded the costume to his skin when he was in Creeper mode, making him actually yellow-skinned green-haired weirdo with a red boa/fur/cape and green speedos. He’s kind of the Joker as a bouncy superhero.

He’s been a superhero (even a Justice League member), a supervillain, and everywhere in between. He super-healed before Wolverine; he sassed and annoyed crime before Deadpool; he bounced around before the Beast; he wore a fur boa before Hulk Hogan.

Of course, being weird is his true superpower, according to most who know him.

He’s been rebooted as a woman, a demon, a cyborg, a robot, and amalgamated into Nightcreeper.

There was a wonderful episode of The New Batman Adventures dedicated to the Creeper.

Creeper Cartoon

My Creeper Gallery

I like the Creeper so much that I play him in a Champions RPG campaign set in Gotham.

Each time we play, I’ve been putting the Creeper into famous works of art. It’s fun!

       

Other Characters

 

The Question

Squirrel Girl

Speedball

Speedball: Nerdy teenager Robbie Baldwin (and his cat) is bombarded with strange science rays and turns into Speedball: the Masked Marvel. He bounces, and has a field of colorful kinetic dots and a hairdo that defies gravity and taste.

I knew of Speedball, and glanced through an issue or two of his solo material, but it was in the New Warriors series that he really came to life for me, acting as comedy sidekick and nigh-indestructible distraction. Over the intervening years, he unwittingly helps launch Marvel’s first Civil War, and embeds himself in an iron maiden as punishment.

Squirrel Girl: I didn’t get that much into Squirrel Girl until the recent Unbeatable Squirrel Girl comic runs. Ditko gave her the powers of a squirrel, but the newer runs have amped up her compassion, empathy, and creativity. Building relationships becomes her real superpower.

The Question: My favorite rendition of the Question is the way Jeffrey Combs portrayed him on the Justice League Unlimited cartoon. He’s a conspiracy theorist with a mask that makes his face disappear. Famously, he was the basis for the Watchmen’s Rorschach.

More: Ditko also created Hawk & Dove, Mr. A, Odd Man, the Mocker, and dozens of others, enumerated on this wiki page.

 

So Long, and Thanks for Alley Fish

My favorite local theater is closing down after 25 years of entertainment.

The Alley Theater

The Alley Theater has performed some amazingly fun shows over the years.

Evil Dead: The MusicalEvil Dead: The MusicalEvil Dead The Musical

Any play about singing and dancing zombies is bound to be a blast. “Evil Dead: The Musical” (at one time, the production had the website LouEvilDead.com, which was amazing) was no exception. The Alley performed this one three times. The first run was in October 2009, with the final night on Halloween (which was a Saturday that year). Most of the audience wore costumes, as you’d expect. I went more casual, wearing my “I spent Halloween 2001 with Bruce Campbell” shirt from his “If Chins Could Kill” book tour.

The play blends the three movies “Evil Dead,” “Evil Dead 2,” and (my favorite) the campy “Army of Darkness.” The violence is comically over the top — in fact, the first few rows of seats are the “splatter zone.” The theater provides ponchos for the brave souls who sit so close, since the fake blood sprays into the crowd during the play.

Here’s a scene from the Alley’s second production, from the theater’s official YouTube channel (which also includes this threat).

And here’s my favorite song from the play, although this link is not from the Alley. The choreography that this scene uses is similar to the way the Alley would normally do it, with Ash and Jake singing and dancing backup.

In August 2017, Bruce Campbell came to Louisville on another book tour. This was also the day of the total solar eclipse. (Coincidence? I think not!) Instead of going into the path of the totality like a lot of my space friends, I stayed in town to see Bruce. I got his autograph on a chainsaw blade (signed both as Bruce and as Ash), which I donated to the Alley.

The TickThe Tick

The Alley brought the big blue goofy comic-book/cartoon/live-action character “The Tick” to life on the stage. First in 2015, and again in 2018.

Both runs were very funny, and included references from every incarnation of the bug of justice. Sterling Pratt wrote the play(s) specifically for The Alley to perform. Scott Davis, creator of The Alley himself, played the Tick in the first run, and Connor Blankenship played him in the second run. Andrew Mertz perfectly played his sidekick/partner Arthur both times. As Keith Waits wrote, “The Tick” is really Arthur’s story.

Fan favorite characters like the Caped Chameleon, the Evil Midnight Bomber What Bombs at Midnight, and Barry the Tick joined the fun alongside the blue and white heroes, and their friends Batmanuel and American Maid.

Other Great Shows

Shakespeare's Star Wars Inspector Hound The Bible Abridged The Trail to Oregon Hughes-ical Bat Hamlet Hitchhikers Guide Top Secret Point Break Princess Bride Matrix

“William Shakespeare’s Star Wars” was a hoot. “What light through yonder sensor breaks?” “Once more into the trench, dear friends.”

“The Real Inspector Hound” combined an interactive murder mystery (we hung out with some of the cast, in character, before the play started) with a play-within-a-play for surreal fun. During the first act, two theater critics sitting just to the side of the main stage discussed the play and their own lives as the actors performed. During the second act, one critic was killed and the other got swept into the play, with characters repeating much of the same dialogue from act one, but with very different meanings. It was amazing. Shavon McGill might still not be back from oiling his gun.

“The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged)” was a three-man performance that encompassed the greatest story ever told, and then some. The theater even invited me to lead off the opening performance with a prayer, but the schedules didn’t work out so I had to miss that. Instead, they had me preach a whole sermon before the final night. I was honored, and remain humble and grateful for the opportunity.

“The Trail to Orgeon” was an improv musical based on a computer game where almost everyone dies of dysentery. We, the audience, got to name the characters, and decide who died and how. I was there for opening night, and since half the audience was improv comedians (and friends of all the performers), we gave them challenging names that were incredibly long or barely pronounceable. Because that’s the kind of friends that we are.

“Hughes-ical: The Musical” took the various John Hughes movies (Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, Ferris Beuller) and gave it a boombox soundtrack.

“Bat-Hamlet” was part of the SuperHuman:A Festival of Plays (a parody of the well-known and local Humana Festival of Plays). It tells the tale of a boy avenging his murdered father. You probably know the rest.

“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (from which I adapted this post’s title) was a staged reading of the original radio scripts. (It was a radio play before it was a book/tv-series/movie/computer-game/etc.) The adaptation was well received.

“Top Secret” and “Point Break” brought beloved(?) 80’s movies (here and here) to the stage.

“The Princess Bride Experience” was inconceivable.

No one can be told what “The Matrix” is. You had to experience it for yourself.

The Arts Caravan

Putting on great stage shows wasn’t enough for the Alley, so they turned a bus into a mobile stage so they could take it out to schools and festivals.

Improv JamImprov Alley

 

Despite all that great stuff, the Alley production that I’ll miss the most is the weekly Improv Jam. On Saturday afternoons, we’d gather at the Alley for hours of improv workshopping. It was a wonderful way to get a foot in the improv comedy door.

I’ve made some great friends over the years of jamming with people who knew what they were doing, and with others who, like me, wanted a chance to learn and practice improv skills. Ironically, even though improv is made up on the spot, it does take time and effort to get comfortable with it and competent at it.

I’m grateful to wonderful improv teachers like Shauvon McGill, Ryan Kemp, Scott Davis, Spencer Korcz, and others for all the great jam lessons.

Alley Oop

The Alley is dead! Long live The Alley.

(If you’re reading this before July 28 2018, there’s still a chance to catch a show at the Alley before the doors close for good.)

The Alley

 

 

 

 

Bible Humor

I’m a Christian, and sometimes a teacher/preacher.

I preached the Easter Sunday sermon at ConGlomeration science fiction convention. Since Easter this year also fell on April Fools Day, I preached about humor in the Bible.

Purpose

Like all things, humor has a purpose.

God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. (1 Cor 1:27)
Joyful heart is good medicine, crushed spirit dries the bones. (Prov 17:22)
For the happy heart, life is a continual feast. (Prov 15:15)

Humor is often a natural expression of joy. We laugh when we’re happy, even without an obvious humorous stimulus.

The role of the court jester or “fool” was not only to entertain with dance, music, and comedy but also to give bad news to the ruler. In Shakespearean plays, the jester is often the voice of common sense and honesty, pointing out the follies of those in higher stations.

There’s a meme series about God brainstorming various creatures…

Spiders: give it 8 eyes and 8 legs, with a butt-rope

Panda: take that cow and make it a bear

Alligator: see that log? fill it with teeth

Walrus: a dog bear fish with sabretooth tiger teeth

Snakes: just a really throat, and an angry face

Octopus: 8 super-strong floppy arms with suction cups

Hippo: a sneaky fat water horse

Parrot: a tie-dye chicken that scream real words

Bats: a hairy flying potato, make it blind and screeching

Kittens: fluffy adorable like furry hugs, with razor feet

Jellyfish: how about an evil floating bag

Bees: flying furball with a butt-needle, and yummy puke

Timing

“Ask me the secret to telling a good joke.”
“What’s the secr–”
“TIMING!”

[There is] a time to weep, and a time to laugh. (Ecc 3:4)
Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. (Lk 6:21)
Our mouths are filled with laughter, and our tongues filled with joy, for the Lord has done great things for us. (Ps 126:2)
The godly wife is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. (Prov 31:25)
Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice! (Ps 32:11)
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. (Phil 4:4)

For a long time, Philippians 4:4 was my favorite verse (and at times it still is), since I would occasionally suffer from depression. Paul wanted us to carry God’s joy so much that he said it twice in the same verse!

Source

All things come from somewhere. Humor comes from our minds and our hearts.

Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. (Lk 6:45)
A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit. (Prov 15:13)
He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy. (Job 8:21)

If the joy of the Lord is in us, joy should be coming out of us.

You’re Doing It Wrong

In my teenage years, I used to swear a lot. Then I got a job on the radio. That’ll clear up your language in a hurry! Since then, I’ve never had a real cause to go back to vulgarity. There’s rarely a real reason. If I hit my thumb with a hammer, I say “Ow!” If I feel the need to add “colorful metaphors” (as Spock would say), I often tilt it toward comedy, and use Yosemite Sam’s “rassin’ frassin’.”

Let there be no filthiness, foolish talk, nor crude joking, which are out of place; but rather thanksgiving. (Eph 5:4)
Let your speech always be full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Col 4:6)
Even in laughter the heart may ache, and rejoicing may end in grief. (Prov 14:13)
Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I am only joking!” (Prov 26:18)

There’s an old saying that there’s a little truth in every joke. I know a lot of people who tell jokes that belittle a group of people. It could be based on race, gender, nationality, or any other group. I don’t generally go for the “us versus them” kind of humor, where the same bad joke could be told about anyone just by swapping out who the target group is. We can’t tell a racist, sexist, or (fill-in-the-blank)-ist joke unless those feelings are somewhere inside us.

Biblical Examples

There are example of humor throughout the Bible.

Example: Sarcasm

Elijah challenged the priests of Baal to a divine showdown. His God (Yahweh) and their god (Baal) would try to set fire to a pile of wood. Baal’s people spent hours loudly praying, dancing, cutting themselves, and otherwise trying to call on their god to burn the wood. Elijah trash talked them.

Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” (1 Kings 18:27)

Maybe your god is taking a dump. Potty humor, right there.

Example: Absurdism

Look Stupid

Balaam was a pagan priest who was hired to curse God’s people. An angel (that he couldn’t see) stood in his donkey’s path. Balaam whipped his animal, trying to get it to move, then God gave the donkey the ability to speak.

The Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, to say, “What have I done to you, to make you have strike me three times?”
Balaam shouted, “You made me look like a fool!” (Num 22:28-29)

Balaam’s response wasn’t “Holy cow, a talking donkey!” or anything of that sort. He immediately fell into arguing with this talking beast, and accusing it of making him look like a fool.

Example: Slapstick

This unlikely situation could fit perfectly into a sitcom or Charlie Chaplin movie.

Peter was in prison, so the church was praying for him. An angel of the Lord appeared, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists. He went to the house and Peter knocked, and Rhoda came to the door. She was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it. (Acts 12:5,7,12-14)

“Hey, open the door! Let me in!” *knock*knock*

Jokes from Jesus

Humor in the Jewish culture at the time was largely based on exaggeration.

Here are some bits that Jesus threw into his speeches:

  • a camel in the eye of a needle (Mk 10:25)
  • a plank in a person’s eye (Mt 7:3)
  • the blind leading the blind into a hole (Mt 15:14)
  • giving a son a snake instead of a fish (Lk 11:11)
  • putting pearls on pigs (Mt 7:6)
  • being born a second time (Jn 3:3)
  • forgiving seventy times seven (Mt 18:22)
  • nicknaming flaky Simon a rock (Mt 16:18)

The Last Laugh

The wicked may seem to benefit for a while, here on Earth, but their time is limited.

But the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming. (Ps 37:13)
He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. (Ps 2:4)

God himself laughs at the wicked, for He knows that they will pay for their sins.

Fools

Henny Youngman used to say, “I used to be an atheist, but I gave it up since they have no holidays.” As a former atheist myself, I can relate.

A friend of mine pointed out that atheists technically do have a holiday:

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Ps 14:1)
He who trusts his own mind is foolish, but he who walks in wisdom is safe. (Prov 28:26)

Atheists are fools, so April 1 is a day that we can reserve for them.

This gives Jesus’ words in Matthew on a more serious meaning:

Anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Mt 5:22)

Calling someone a fool in this context is the equivalent of telling them to go to hell.

Condemning people is not our job. That position has already been filled. There is no vacancy there.

Download

You can download the PowerPoint slides here.