Monthly Archives: April 2007

Going APE

img_0278.JPGThis last weekend I attended the Alternate Press Expo (APE) in San Francisco. If anyone out there is unfamiliar with my geek credentials, let my report on this event be your first exposure to that side of my personality.

APE is “the largest gathering of alternative and self-published comics in the country”. You won’t find the traditional publishers of comic-book superheroes at this venue. This is a group for which traditional geek culture is too constraining.

I have always been a collector of traditional comics, but last year I discovered the small publisher’s booths at Comic-Con (I’ll be posting about this year’s event in July). I had such a good time that some of my fellow panelologists suggested that I attend APE. Boy, were they right. It was great.

img_0280.JPGI drove up to San Francisco on Friday, and spent a couple of nights with friends Debbie and Tom. Tom was so intrigued by the event that he decided to attended the expo with me on Saturday (and is pictured, above). Debbie could immediately tell that this wasn’t her type of event (she is a wise woman) and decided to enjoy the day on her own.

We drove to the Concourse Exhibition Center where the show ran from 11:00 am until 7:00 pm on Saturday, and from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm on Sunday. The entrance fee is a whopping $7 for one day and $10 for both days. However, since I still had my Comic-Con badge from last year, I got in for free. Yay! More money for comics!

The range of publishers is pretty varied. There are individuals who hand draw their comic ravings, photocopy the pages and staple them into small books (affectionately referred to as mini-comics); small groups of artists who go in on a booth together to show or sell their artworks and sketchbooks; artist collectives who share the cost of publishing or marketing their comics; self-publishers who use vanity presses or print-on-demand publishing houses for their production; micro-publishers (one or two people) who have a couple of comics made by themselves and their friends whichthey produce and market under a single imprint; and small publishers who function as more traditional publishing houses and produce more professional work.

img_0281.JPGI’m not very good at estimating numbers for these events, but I would say there were several thousand people in the Concourse at any given time. And, I wouldn’t be surprised if the number of people attending got up to 10,000 over the course of both days. There was another mezzanine just outside of this picture to the left.

Although we broke off for lunch (at a fabulous Vietnamese restaurant) and then dinner (some great Chinese food at a real dive), when you include our exploration of the after-expo parties, on Saturday we immersed ourselves in that world for a solid 12 hours.

The next day (Sunday) I went back for another 6 hours before getting on the road to Santa Barbara about 5:00 pm. I finished seeing every booth at the show with less than an hour left before they closed the event down.

So, what did I leave with? I only have a rough count, but I’d say about 100 mini-comics, 50 or so comics and graphic novels, and about 10 books (very think graphic novels). I talked with dozens of artist/writer/publishers, saw hundreds of pieces of art, and tried to follow dozens of non-linear trains to thought (very alternative press). I’ve already read some delightful comics, but also some disappointing junk.

And I can definitly say I had a really great time.

SPIE Symposium

spie_symposium.gifLast week I was in Orlando, FL attending a work-related conference. If you typically try to ignore the defense related nature of my work (i.e. Harriet), you might want to skip this posting. I’m going to limit my discussion of this trip to one entry, and keep in mind that I (Alan) am the one writing this “travel” post, not Harriet.

img_0115-1.JPGThis annual trek always takes place the week after Easter (I typically fly on Easter Sunday), and this year Denver had snow. I don’t typically travel in this sort of weather, so I was fascinated (disturbed) by the de-icing equipment. We didn’t have any problems going through Denver on the way to Orlando, so I suppose this is all pretty routine for them.

img_0130-1.JPGThis is the one conference where Santa Barbara Infrared, Inc (SBIR) has a significant presence. We go all out with a large booth, and several of us presenting papers. Here, we are building part of the booth, with Greg W., Steve, and Greg M. assembling our banner.

img_0136-1.JPGThis is another view of the show area as several companies are assembling their booths. We’re looking across our booth to the Indigo booth, and the car on the right is a new BMW. It has an infrared (IR) camera installed as a high end option. The camera was built by Indigo, but we built the equipment used to test and align the camera for production.

I don’t often talk about my work, and I realize that my friends and family have a hard time describing (or understanding) what I do. The company that I work for – SBIR – builds and develops instrumentation for testing infrared cameras. We don’t build the cameras that see in the dark; we build the equipment that’s used to make sure those cameras work properly. We also build equipment for testing multi-sensor platforms, but that just gets us into severely geeky territory. Nowadays, my job is the lead architect and developer of a program that automates the testing process, and it is cleverly named IRWindows (yes, the standard abbreviation is IRWin and I was the instigator for the name). It’s used all over the world, in a variety of production facilities, laboratories, and testing facilities – both military and civilian.

img_0154-1.JPGBack to the symposium, and here is a shot that I took at a presentation before I realized that photography was banned in the conferences. Yes, the presentations are really this exciting. Next year, I’ll probably be chairing on of these sessions. The fun just doesn’t stop.

spie_logo.gifThis symposium is put on by SPIE- The International Society for Optical Engineering. SPIE originally stood for Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers, but was renamed in 1981 and is not really an acronym anymore. The organization is very international, and I attended papers presented by scientists and engineers from England, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Russia, China, Japan, Malaysia, Egypt, India, Israel, and many others. But keep in mind, this just means we’re all world class geeks. We pretty much define the Geek Olympics.

img_0158-1.JPGJust to further illustrate the hedonistic nature of this conference, here’s the no holds barred party atmosphere on the first night. Whooeee!

And yes, there are women at the conference. There’s even a Women in Optics group who had their own luncheon. You can tell from the pictures that they’re a little hard to find.

img_0174-1.JPGSo, here’s the annual IRWindows user’s group. There were 19 of us at a very nice restaurant in Orlando (Jeffery’s). The bill ended up being about $2500, all paid by SBIR. As I said, this is a very high end application program. And, once again, note all the women in that group. If you count the three waitresses from the restaurant, there was a total of three women in the room.

img_0178-1.JPGThis is our booth just before the doors opened on the third day. There’s a variety of equipment on display, and the IRWindows station is in the middle, towards the back. I don’t want to go into why it says IRWindows 2005, but this shot really is from a week ago. On th table at the right is a giant bowl of M&M’s. They’re special ordered to just be black and red. Could you tell that those are our colors? Subtle is not valued in the harsh world of photonics.

img_0192-1.JPGAnd what would a booth be without a special give away. We had a drawing for a couple of iPods. You had to find a special word hidden in our signs to be eligible for entry, but if you look at that bowl you can see that your chances were pretty darn good. I think we all agreed that it’s time for a new game. Pictured here are two of our three Gregs: Greg M. and Greg W.

I flew back on Friday, coming through Denver again. The weather reports made it looked like there would be trouble, so we were all ready to find alternate flights. But, I ended up having pretty smooth flights. Dallas ended up being the travel nightmare for that day.

It was a very good symposium for us, and I’m actually glad that I went. This sort of event serves as a nice alternative to my usual daily grind, so even though the days are very long, it almost feels like a vacation.


Fitness Transform

alan_ball.JPGUntil now, I hadn’t posted anything about the weight loss & fitness changes in my life, but thanks to a posting by my trainer, this is probably a good time to mention a few things.

First, I’m not losing weight due to some illness! Recently, a friend whom I hadn’t seen for some time asked (rather cautiously) if there was some reason I’d lost so much weight. When I realized she was concerned about me, I came to the conclusion that I don’t talk about this enough (although Harriet might argue otherwise).

About 5 years ago, I decided that it was time to start making changes to my lifestyle. I was 45 years old and 266 lbs, and according to health standards, morbidly obese. So, I joined Weight Watchers (which I recommend), and two years ago I started working with a personal trainer.

Working with Mikki has drastically changed my life. Her Fitness Transform website is a great introduction to her background as a personal trainer, but now that I’ve experienced her as my trainer, I have a much greater appreciation of the depth of her knowledge about fitness and the process of getting fit.

I mean, just look at that picture. She’s got me balancing on a friggin’ ball while lifting weights. Yeah, I thought she was nuts when she suggested it, and at that point I was already used to her wacky functional training methods. But, it works. I actually enjoy that damn exercise now, and it’s not the most difficult exercise I can do. I can’t speak highly enough about her abilities and I can’t thank her enough for what she’s done for me.

So here’s my current status (yeah, it’s bragging, but after this I’ll be done): I just weighed in at 179.4 lbs; I’ve eliminated my back pain; I still eat out and enjoy a wide range of foods (although not McDonalds); I have a lot more endurance (some day I’ll talk about running stadiums), strength (dead lifting 235 lbs), and balance (the picture is just an example). There’s more, but you get the idea.

So, that’s the story. The changes are intentional, and a lot of work. But the payoff has been amazing, and I’m still (happily) working on the changes.