Godspeed, Gary Stephen Thompson (1945-2012)

Scanning from left to right in the adjacent picture from Christmastime 2008, you will see Bob Rainey, Mark Warbington, Paul Talamas, Gary Thompson, and me. This was the last time that I saw my friend Gary jovial and excited with life.

On my way home to visit my family that year, I stopped through Atlanta to see the good friends that I made during my Mindspring and Georgia Tech undergraduate days. The five of us in the picture often met up at Mark’s house to tinker with computers (and technology in general), watch Red Green episodes (among many other things), and play Battlefield 1942 (with the Desert Combat patch).

Since I had left Atlanta for graduate school at the University of Liverpool and Kent State University, I had not stayed in touch as much as I would have liked to. However, news has a strange way of finding its way to you through unexpected paths or random encounters. In Gary’s case, I knew that he continued with his annual participation in the Stone Mountain Highland Games, worked with another group of friends building an experimental kit airplane, and recently retired from General Electric where he was an highly experienced machinist.

When I received a postdoc offer from Georgia Tech, I was excited about the prospect of catching up with my friends and hanging out again like we used to do at Mark’s. I realized that time and life had continued during the six years I was absent from Atlanta, but I did not expect the terrible event that coincided with my moving back to the area.

Continue reading Godspeed, Gary Stephen Thompson (1945-2012)

Bert S. Cash’s Captures Music Concerts and Nature With Photography

Bert Cash and I first met at Risley Middle School in Brunswick, Georgia. I was a straight-laced nerd, and he was a hyper-intelligent troublemaker. How we became fast friends, I’m not exactly sure. It could have been our mutual respect for science fiction films, affinity for video games, or acumen at baseball and skateboarding. In many of those things–especially video games and skateboarding, he was far better than me.

Now, he’s developing a new photography business (pun intended). The above photo of Willie Nelson performing at a recent concert is an example of Bert’s work. I have seen Bert’s equipment and the way that he uses it for various scenes and situations. Bert’s intense interest in the science of photography as much as the art of it is infectious.

You can find more samples on his online portfolio here.

The Black Earth Short Film by James Warbington Now in Editing

My buddy James Warbington has completed shooting and moved on to editing his latest short film, The Black Earth. James and I go way back to my days in the big ATL. Besides trying to stay out of trouble, we collaborated on two 48-Hour Film Projects–once with James serving as Director/Producer and once with me serving as Director/Producer.

From what I understand about the film, The Black Earth packs a real punch! It has rednecks (the Ellis cousins–see a family resemblance to me?), beer, zombies, and music. What more could you want?

Here’s the official site’s blurb about the film and its soundtrack:

The Black Earth -Short Film (2011)


The Short Film will Feature “Ft. Wayne Zoo” by Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band from their latest studio release “The Wages” from sideonedummy records.  Also “Don’t Need This: from Atlanta Old School Punk Rockers The Tone Deaf Pig-Dogs.  Also the official beer of the Ellis Cousin’s will be Wisconsin’s Own “Mountain Creek” from Minhas Craft Brewery.

We would like to thank Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, Sideonedummy Records, The Tone Deaf Pig-Dogs, Black Earth, Wisconsin & Minhas Craft Brewery for Supporting independent cinema!

I will report back when I know when and where the film will get its debut. Find out more about the film and James’ other projects on the official website here.

Mack and Sue Hassler’s Excellent BBQ


Mack and Sue Hassler invited me, Y, and my folks over for a cookout this past Friday. Besides the amazing blue cheese infused hamburgers and tasty brats, we all had a great time talking about families, university life, house repairs, and Samuel R. Delany.


Click through the photos above to see others from the cookout.

Back from the Airport

Y stayed up last night to make her delicious green onion pancakes with eggs. The occasion? Masaya’s flight back to Japan was scheduled for this morning.

We picked Masaya up from Allerton Apartments at KSU and dropped him off at the Cleveland Airport for his return trip to Japan. We enjoyed Y’s pancakes and coffee despite a rough drive on the winter-ravaged road between Kent and Cleveland.

Besides already missing our friend, we hope for the very best for him and his family who live in the Tokyo suburbs.

Notes from Taiwan, Dinner with Junior High School Friends

Last night, Y’s junior high school classmate Nathan picked Y and I up from Y’s parents’ house to go to dinner at an Italian restaurant called Cafe Grazie. It is one of the many restaurants in the enormous shopping complex in Jhongli called Metrowalk.

Before talking about the dinner, I should mention something about public school friendships in Taiwan and how they differ from my experience in the States. Students here in Taiwan maintain the same classmates through their courses in each level of education. This means that Y had the same classmates in junior high, and when she graduated to an upper level high school, she had new classmates who she shared the same classes with throughout those years. This system facilitates close friendships to form that you carry thoughout life. Y stays in touch with all of those friends even though she lives in a different country and has progressed to graduate school. I have maintained only one friendship (outside family) since junior high: Bert. Even though I hear from classmates or hear about them from time to time, I do not do things such as go out for dinners or plan special trips with my former classmates as Y does with hers. Besides having different classmates for different subjects throughout school, I never formed close friendships with most of the students I shared classes with in school. I know that cliques form and some friends do stay in touch over the years from K-12 education, but I believe this is not the norm. In the States it seems that you make more friends through the workplace or networking beyond school rather than in it. The exception could be graduate school, because you are finally sharing an intense educational experience with a select group of people who you share a common field of study with (this is a shoutout to Seth, Dave, Masaya, Kolter, Swaralipi, Sohom, Geoff, Robin, Tim, etc.).

Cafe Grazie is so popular right now that you have to make a reservation in advance. I’m glad that Y’s friends picked this place, because it was delicious. Y and I picked the “Venice Set,” which includes a drink, antipasta or appetizer, soup, main pasta dish, and dolce or dessert. Y went for a shrimp/seafood au gratin dish while I opted for a vegetarian red sauce spaghetti.

We had a good time chatting with her friends from junior high including: KT, Nathan, Jean, Yifang, Yi-win, and Kiwi. I was particularly happy to talk in English with KT about project management and lighting technology. He works for a company now doing project management for new and innovative forms of illumination. He used to work in LCD technology, but he switched companies when he saw more exciting engineering opportunities in lighting than in LCD.

I realized the most striking thing about the meal on the way home: It was the first time during our trip to Taiwan that I had used a fork rather than chopsticks.

Notes from Taiwan, High School Friends

Before losing our Internet connection, Y and I spent two days hanging out with her high school friends.

On Sunday, January 2, we went out to a vegetarian place with Y’s friends Amy, Hwang, Kevin, Anita, Ethan, Russell, Samuel, and Melissa. The restaurant was once a building in China that its owner had disassembled and reassembled in Taiwan. I wrote about this previously here.

On Monday, Y and I went to Taipei for shopping and then dinner with her friends at a posh hot pot restaurant. I snagged a memory card reader and flash drive for unbelievably low prices. I wanted to buy an Intel SSD drive for my MacBook, but the shop owner very honestly warned me that they do have a small percentage dead-on-arrival rate. I had thought about that before, but when I was holding the cash to pay for it, I had second thoughts and decided to not buy it. Instead, Y and I put that money to good use buying her Simplified Chinese history text books that were imported from mainland China. She will use these in her dissertation.

At dinner, we met up with Amy, her boyfriend Cesar, Ethan, Song, Jim, Anita, Samuel, and Kevin for dinner. This was the first time that I had tried hot pot. Each table in the restaurant has one or two electric burners built into the table. The staff bring out large bowls of soup and place them on the burners. These heat up and then you put in the meats and vegetables that you want to eat from separate dishes. We had duck blood, tofu, pork, mushrooms, fried things (its just fried breading), and beef. The largest pot had a spicy soup, and the second pot had a metal yin-and-yang divider running down the middle separating the medium spicy and least spicy soups. Kevin and I shared two bottles of Taiwan beer, which we had promised to do from the previous day. After a delicious dinner, Jim nearly forgot to give everyone a cream puff pastry that he had bought from one of the best bakeries in Taipei. These were even better than the puffs that I had enjoyed in Y’s grandmother’s town.

After dinner, Ethan was kind enough to give us and Anita a ride home. This saved us a lot of time, because we would have needed to take a cab back to the subway, the subway to the train station, a train back to Jhongli, and finally, the walk from the train station back to Y’s parents’ house.

Notes from Taiwan, More on Food

Y, her family, and her friends have all been introducing me to many wonderful foods during my visit in Taiwan.

Yesterday, Y and I joined her high school friends at a popular vegetarian restaurant between Taoyaun and Jhongli. This was a very peaceful setting for our lunch, because it was a traditional style house imported from China. The owner loved the house so much that he bought it, had it disassembled, and then reassembled in Taiwan complete with Buddhist statues. There is no menu at the restaurant. Instead, they prepare a number of different courses each day. Much of the food was spicy including a tiny salad with wasabi and spicy cabbage that we ate with purple rice. I particularly enjoyed the sweet and raw tofu.

After a visit to a local temple where I took many photographs, we all visited Anita’s flat in Taoyaun. After snacking on peacock cookies and shrimp flavored crisps, Anita brought us snacks from a local restaurant. This was my first time eating pork intestines with noodles, stinky tofu, chicken ass, chicken heart, and other fried chicken parts. Besides the smell of the stinky tofu, I loved it all. I am amazed at how we don’t enjoy these kinds of food in the States. There is much that we waste that we should eat. The Taiwanese do not waste their food–not because they are necessarily trying to be efficient, but because these American neglected food parts are so damn good.

Masaya Japan Bound, and Reflecting on Long-Distance Friendships

My buddy Masaya, who started the PhD program at KSU at the same time that I did, just left Kent for a new job in Japan. He’s planning on finishing his dissertation from home. It is uncertain if Yufang and I will see Masaya again in Kent, but we are planning on visiting him in Japan when we go to Taiwan in the near future to visit her parents (and I get to meet the parents for the first time!).

It seems that we’ve reached that point in the PhD program that those friends we began with will be leaving soon. It probably won’t be long before more of our friends here will be moving away for jobs, too.

The same is true for professors we have grown to count as friends: Masood and Jenny Raja will be leaving for Texas in July.

I guess this is my experience of academia (others’ mileage may vary)–always moving on and always building new friendships. This has happened for me at Georgia Tech, the University of Liverpool, and now at Kent State University. In each case, I’ve kept in touch with friends by email and Facebook, but it feels nearly impossible to stay in touch as well as I would like due to the work that I need to do now (and it is always now that work needs to be done). Will there be a point where I will feel caught up enough to maintain those friendships that are important to me? It’s hard to imagine a radical reconfiguration of my work and personal schedules to really make it possible. Perhaps now, I am better at in-person relationships–that is, good at maintaining friendships when there is a geographical proximity to friends and as distance grows and other means of communicating such as email or the phone are required. The fact is that I have trouble engaging technology to support long-distance friendships even though I am heavily engaged with technology on a daily basis. I realize that some folks are really great at keeping in touch online, and I am very thankful for their efforts. I will have to give it a lot of thought about how to be one of those folks who are experts at maintaining friendships regardless of distance.

To Masaya: Borrowing in part from Garisson Keillor, “Be well, do good work, and keep in touch [even if I forget to sometimes].”

Last night at Applebee’s: Dave, Seth, Masaya, me, and Yufang.

ICFA 2009, And a Friend Walks By

Do you know how in a novel a friend of the protagonist may walk back into his or her life after an extended absence–a chance encounter that is happily unexpected.  That phenomenon is also a really fun aspect of conferences.  While I was sitting in the lobby of the hotel, leeching off Marriott’s free Internet access and writing updates for DynamicSubspace.net, Melissa Stevenson appeared from behind the glossy tile covered column to my right.  

I pulled up a chair for her, and we talked a bit about my earlier presentation and other things that we’ve been up to (e.g., she needs to be more careful at Walt Disney World).  While I was telling her about my essay, Melissa briefed me on a very interesting article from the early 90s that might be apropos to my discussion of online identity and Internet communities by Julian Dibbell titled, “A Rape in Cyberspace:  How an Evil Clown, a Haitian Trickster Spirit, Two Wizards, and a Cast of Dozens Turned a Database Into a Society.”  You can read it online here.  Dibbell’s work will undoubtedly come into my conversation in the longer version of my essay.  Thank you, Melissa!