Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Geek of the Week: Chunyang Ding

Chunyang Ding (second from right) seems like the typical high-achieving, intelligent, and successful Asian kid. The gifted Interlake High School junior maintains a 4.0 in the IB program while actively participating in school and extracurricular activities (he blogs here - check it out!). He isn't all about the books, though - he's one of the nicest people those who are able to meet him ever get to meet.

"Chunny", as his (many) friends call him, really, really likes science. When he's not heading the Chemistry Department at the Washington Student Science Association, there's a good chance he's preparing for science trivia bowls. Earlier this month, Ding competed in the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) Regional Science Bowl. A fancy-sounding competition with "science" in the name...more stereotypical Asian nerd stuff.

Ding's team lost in the final round of the competition to a team from Oregon's Westview High School.

Wait - what? So this guy (who had eight 5s from eight AP exams by sophomore year and has a social life) isn't 100% perfect?! 

Didn't I write earlier that he's a really nice guy? The super-approachable Chunyang Ding let me take him off his pedestal for this interview about achievement/failure, science, and what it's like to come in second.

Ok, what the heck is the BPA Regional Science Bowl? 

It's part of a national science trivia competition where teens from high schools compete in regional tournaments for "an all-en all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., in April to compete in the Department of Energy National Science Bowl, as well as $85,000 in scholarships to colleges and universities throughout the Northwest", according to BPA's website. Ding describes it as "really and above."

"Everyone trains," he said. "I've been in science bowl [a school club] since freshman year. We just really worked." 

What was the training like? "We know the categories," said Ding. There's released problems to go off of, but "there's only so much information you can manage. We specialize. Each member of our team picks a subject." Ding had astronomy and energy. 

"I didn't focus as much as I thought I should have," he admitted.

"We [Interlake high school teams] haven't traditionally done very well at this specific one [the BPA Regional Science Bowl] because this is one of the most prestigious [ones in the area]." It was a surprise, then, when "We went undefeated throughout the entire day. In the last three rounds...we were doing really well...until it all crashed down on us. I felt anger and frustration because we put in so much effort."

"When we went into the tournament, I don't think we were expecting to go to nationals...but as the day progressed, we saw that we were one of the stronger teams at the competition." 

Third place went to another team also composed of Interlake High School students. Both teams ended up facing each other near the end of the competition - it was a "crazy intense round" said Ding on his Facebook page.

Ding's disappointed but not crushed.

"We're already planning on how to study for next year," he said. "One of our parents was like 'It doesn't matter if you won or lost as long as you learned.' It's kinda cliched. Personally, I don't buy into that that much because it really does matter what happens...but every other team that was there tried. It was a really challenging thing for everyone." 

"When I lose, I have the question of why did I lose, and usually feel angry," but "when I win, I should ask: why did I win? Was I that much better?

"It's always about using your emotions and your knowledge to make for a better tomorrow. In my perspective, failure isn't the end-all of everything. There should be a little bit of failure in other peoples' lives. Other people worked just as hard and other people are going to do just as well."

"Taking the failures and making ourselves better," is how Ding deals with failure.

"I really dislike how people stigmatize failure a lot 'cause it's not true. It's not that you're not good. It's that someone else was better."

"Internalizing the knowledge, making it so that you really care about it...learning is about making it yours. Come excited about what you're doing. Even if it isn't directly related to the book you're reading right now, find a way to make it interesting to you," said Ding when asked for study tips. 

"I'll be doing lots of sciency things. I will be sciencing all the things. Science is sciency for science. Science." (Anyone else getting the impression someone really wants to science?)

"Science is like the coolest thing in the world, because science helps us explore who and what we are. We're learning how people work biologically, molecularly. Why does water do all these cool things...what causes the differing brightness of stars? There are so many mysteries...weird things that Mother Nature can throw at us. When you do find something, test it out on something new...finding out that it still works: boom. Mind blown."

"The complaint I have against the current sciency stuff is it's a little too can tell who's really trying to learn from science and who's trying to memorize facts," Ding said about the current state of interest in science in schools. "[To me] all of it is exciting. The science I am most directly connected to is [through] my dad, because he does nuclear engineering. I think that's really cool because there are so many practical applications."

"There's just so much going on. When Galileo was making his telescope, suddenly he had this huge range of vision. So that no matter where he pointed his telescope in the sky, he could see things," said Ding. As for right now? "Huge areas of science are just opening up."

"Today there are so many advancements in science that any curious individual can look at any field and find connections and patterns emerging anywhere."

That's a pretty good reason to learn.

Friday, January 24, 2014

So you want to be a voice actor? Interview with Monica Rial

In 2013, we were able to interview Monica Rial at Aki Con. Monica Rial is a voice actress, voice director, and script writer. Her many voice acting roles include Miria from Claymore, an anime she was also the voice director for, Stocking from Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, Mirajane Strauss from Fairy Tail, and Pen Pen from Evangelion. Other well-known anime she has worked on include One Piece, Fullmetal Alchemist, Dragon Ball, and Soul Eater. Rial's proactive and positive attitude is something everyone can learn from and her willingness to interact with fandom was really refreshing - she seemed to know exactly how to talk to people who are interested in her work.

Society isn't exactly welcoming towards geeks a lot of the time. What would you say to geeks?
I would say that right now is the time to capitalize because this kind of geek-chic thing is going on, where like geekdom and fandom are cool. This is the time to come out of your shell, when people are a little more open and welcoming. As long as you believe in yourself and go out there and do the things you want to do and always give everything and honest shot, then you're good to go. Don't let your shyness get the best of you. Go out there, meet people, and do whatever you can.

What's some acting advice you can give people?
Well, specifically for voice actors, I know that a lot of fans want to be voice actors, but a lot of them don't want to do the "acting" part of it. They'll say "I just wanna be on my favorite anime" and I'm like "Well, but you have to get some acting experience" 'cause that's the "noun"; voice is the adjective. Go out there, do theatre, do local theatres, if you're in school audition for your school play, take classes...even I've been doing this for 20 years or so - acting, not voice acting - and I'm still taking acting classes and whatnot because it's always good to learn as much as you can. And also study. Just read books about acting and get out there and experience life because the more experiences you have, the more you can pull from when you need to when you're acting.

Then there are people who act and act and act but never get legitimate, paying jobs. How do you get discovered in the industry?
That's a little more's all luck, really, unfortunately...for me, with my voice acting stuff, I was doing Shakespeare in the Park and just happened to find out about an audition. I went in and they were like "Yes! You!" So you never know. But that's why a lot of people will tell you, if you're an actor, every audition you go to, be on your top game, because you never know what's going to hit. Also, whenever you go to a job, you need to act like that job is an audition. I can't tell you how many jobs I've gotten just from going to do one job [where] I'll get another job. They liked working with me and I was professional and nice. So then they'll hire me again for something else. So it's always about putting yourself out there, being the best that you can be, and being polite, and professional, and all of those things. The rest of it is kind of just luck. I hate to say that, but there are a lot of actors out there in movies and television that really aren't that talented but they were just in the right place at the right time. There are many many talented people, that like you said, can't seem to get that one break that they need. So it's all about putting yourself out there as much as possible. The only way they're going to find you is if you're out there, trying, and auditioning.

Do you still follow anime and manga, even after ending your work on those shows?
I do as much as what's inside my little universe. Because I do adaptations of scripts, and I also voice act, I know the sbows I'm working on, and I know what's in the realm; I know what's popular. Like I know that Attack on Titan is popular. Have I seen it? No. Because I don't want to get attached to it, because I don't know who's going to be cast, and I don't want to go "I want that character!" if I don't get it. And I am aware of the situation. The problem is that I have this long list of anime that I want to watch, and I just don't have the time to do it, and it's getting longer by the minute! So I try whenever I know, if you worked in a pizza parlor all day long, the last thing you'd want to eat for dinner is pizza. So whenever I'm not working in anime, I usually just want to grab my cat and a book and sit in a beanbag and read.

Sometimes anime series end or get canceled while the manga is still running. Do you still follow the storylines of these series?
It depends on the show. There's some shows that you absolutely fall in love with, and there are other shows where you're like "Okay. That was awesome for what it was!" I used to follow the Tsubasa manga really quickly, and all of a sudden it was gone, and I got distracted by a million other things. And then with Fairy Tail, I'm actually reading the manga as I adapt [the manga into a script] so that I have another thing to look at. "Is it translated right? Is this thing right?" It's nice to have that extra information.

Any recommendations?
I wish that younger folks would go back and watch some older shows. They may not be as pretty, animation-style, but the stories are still fantastic.

If you couldn't act, what would you do?
I'm a licensed hairstylist. I'd probably be a hairstylist or I'll be acting on stage. I really love the stage - I miss it. I'm so busy voice acting that I don't have time to do the stage.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Interview with Denise Crosby

Denise Crosby is an actress best known for her work on Star Trek, namely as Security Chief Tasha Yar in Star Trek: The Next Generation. We were able to talk to Crosby at GeekGirlCon in October 2013 about geeky girls and sci-fi.

Why did you come to GeekGirlCon out of all the cons out there?
Well, I am a geek girl, and I think that empowering women and reflecting women in sci-fi and talking about where it's going, how far it's come, and what do we need to do to establish ourselves is important stuff and it really interested me.

How do you see the geek community specifically empowering women?
I think that they've always been able to move agenda of equality and compassion, and acceptance, and so they've always had that initiative in the sci-fi genre. I think that they'll continue to reflect that, and that'll move things forward.

I just started watching Star Trek this year. For people who haven't seen it at all, why should they watch it?
Star Trek has always been about little morality plays. Things about humanity and stories about covering a lot of ground. It provokes you to think. It inspires. It's about something.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Aki Con 2013 - full of surprises

Aki Con...Aki Con. Aki Con is a small convention in Washington State that's relatively new on the con scene, and this newness really shows. Last year, Aki Con received enormous amounts of criticism over its Artists Alley and vending area, which was located in a cold, moldy, dank, and generally unpleasant parking garage which resulted in misery for many. The way Aki Con interacted with people who complained about this situation didn't help at all, which resulted in a significant boycott by the local con community of future Aki Cons.

 At the same time, Aki Con is to be commended for its efforts. Although it's small and lacks major sponsorships and attendance numbers, its staff seems to be dedicated to what they are doing. Washington is no California, so more cons are more fun and enhance the offerings of our area. From my communications with Aki Con staff, they have been very polite and pleasant to to interact with.

This room was filled with sets for cosplay photoshoots! A great touch
At the same time, these staff lacked the professionalism I have experienced with other conventions' staffers. The first email I sent to Aki Con about press registration came back a full three months later, but everything overall went well. There was nothing sent out about interview opportunities/press conferences; I requested one with Johnny Yong Bosch (great job Aki Con on getting a guest of this level!). I was never contacted back if this interview could happen, and was never given the contact info of the guest liaison. I ended up having to ask a registration staffer (again, a very nice person) who called the guest liaison who came to me. He was also very nice. Unfortunately, the message he delivered to me wasn't as nice: Johnny Yong Bosch had left early that morning.

With a guest like Johnny Yong Bosch (the English voice of Ichigo from Bleach, Vash from Trigun, Lelouch from Code Geass...omg), it looks really bad when the headlining guest leaves! An explanation wasn't provided, and events involving Bosch, like a panel and a performance by his band, were canceled. Bosch was a huge attractor to Aki Con for many, so his departure was very unfortunate.

The guest liaison was very helpful in setting up another interview with Monica Rial.

After the interviewing, I walked around the convention, which impressed me very favorably. Everyone I saw looked like they were having a great time. The vendor's hall was great, with a lot of interesting merch available. As for the infamous Artists Alley? This year, it was greatly improved, with good lighting and heating. The only complaint I had with this Artists Alley was that it was split up into three relatively small rooms. The first room had the most artists and was super crowded with artists and attendees, while the third room was mostly empty of both (from what I saw). What impact happened on the sales of some artists just because of room assignments?

The previous two pictures and this picture are all of the Artists Alley. Big difference.

The most popular anime on Tumblr of 2013!
The second most popular anime on Tumblr of 2013!

Programming was well done for a con of this size; there were the requisite Ask Hetalia Characters-esque panels, as well as more unique, informational ones, such as one about steampunk in ancient China. Monical Rial (below, right) rescued the voice acting panel that was formerly Bosch's wonderfully.

Overall, Aki Con had a generally good atmosphere. The attendees really contributed to the atmosphere which make small cons so enjoyable. The SeaTac Doubletree hotel was a great location and the installations Aki Con set up were a great touch. I had a lot of fun, which made me want to go again. That only makes it worse that, soon after the convention, it was discovered that a DJ Aki Con had invited was a sex offender who sexually assaulted an attendee at the con. I'm not posting links to any of the Artists Alley or DJ controversies; there's so much of that online and it's easy to find. I want to let Aki Con know that it is doing a great job making most of the people there happy but it also has a lot of things to improvement, mainly in being professional. Aki Con's Better Business Bureau rating has gone from a D to a C, which is good, but still not good enough. The staff are friendly but could definitely work on their communication. And, most importantly, Aki Con needs to do all that it can to make sure people don't get raped at their cons, which there probably will be in the future. I haven't even gone into Aki Con branding themselves as a "Arts Knowledge Imagination" nonprofit foundation. Aki Con is not registered with the IRS as such.

Yay for community! Aki Con also had a hospitality suite, usually not feasible for large cons.

This passed for a sign.
The gaming room? Where are the games?

Oh, here they are! :)
This guy won the ramen eating contest. Awesome trophy.
Cool installations are cool

Please, Aki Con, stop with the avoidable mess-ups.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Where no con has gone before: GeekGirlCon 2013

I loved seeing impromptu gatherings like this
The third annual GeekGirlCon is over, and we had a great time! GeekGirlCon is a convention in Seattle, Washington that celebrates and empowers the female geek. This is especially important - women "hold up half the sky", yet they are still treated as less much of the time, often unconsciously (!). Being a geek is something forever entwined with entertainment. Everybody likes entertainment, but people need to remember that women and girls are not just here for your entertainment. GeekGirlCon stands out from other conventions because of its specific focus on the achievements and potential of women, instead of going down the generic entertainment route.

GeekGirlCon is definitely not just for girls, though - as GeekGirlCon PR Manager Susie Rantz told me, "When we say anyone is welcome, we truly mean it." Rantz "was a little nervous about applying to join GeekGirlCon at first, as I was concerned I didn't have enough "geek cred." Sure, I love Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who...but there are so many things I don't know when it comes to geek culture. Would I feel like an outsider?"

"All uneasiness was quickly brushed aside when I joined the staff and started attending events. I found that people welcomed me without questioning my passions and were happy to talk about shows, video games, or comics I hadn't heard of - without judgment. It was incredible!"

This supportive and open environment was exactly what I experienced at GeekGirlCon. Of course, having fun with others actually involves interacting with others. For people who might not feel like doing that, GeekGirlCon had a great dealer's hall and a schedule packed with programming. Panels are the standout of GeekGirlCon that I've heard about in the past, and the offerings this year didn't disappoint. One woman I heard coming out of a panel said something along the lines of "everything she said about how to be successful - we are already doing those things."

Besides the panels, GeekGirlCon also had a cool DIY science zone and GeekGirlConnections, which offered opportunities for career advancement and professional networking. I liked Introvert Alley, too; it's nice to have a separate space for people to just chill out, especially considering the space GeekGirlCon was held in. The Conference Center at the Washington State Convention Center (WSCC) is much smaller that the WSCC. GeekGirlCon is a smaller convention and used the space (which I somehow liked more than the WSCC) well, but there were markedly fewer places small groups or individuals could split off and take a break from the energy of the con.
Artists' Alley contained quality artists but wasn't in a very good location. Not only was it on a completely different floor from the vendors' hall, it was crammed into a non-special panel room. This is understandable because of the space limitations of the Conference Center, but a good sign pointing out the Artists' Alley would not hurt.

GeekGirlCon is a young con but as a whole was very well-executed and professional. Even with a sold-out con, everything ran smoothly.

Honestly, I don't think everybody will be happy at GeekGirlCon for both days without a friend. GeekGirlCon's mission is great, but this also takes away from the entertainment-first attitude at other cons that ensure general funtimes. If you're planning on going to GeekGirlCon alone, I do not recommend buying a pass for the full convention if you do not plan to attend lots of panels. GeekGirlCon is an opportunity to learn something. If you aren't motivated to learn and discover, you can walk around the vendors hall...but you can't do it all day because it's smaller. You can people-watch...but you can't do it all day because there are less people and fewer stunning cosplayers. You can check out the guest line-up, but this is a small one too, and won't keep you occupied all day. The point is, GeekGirlCon is technically an alternative con that doesn't have enough mass appeal for attendees to passively be at a con and have still fun.

It could get empty at times
This isn't a real problem for GeekGirlCon, though, as it successfully delivered on what it set out to accomplish. Passes sold out, which indicates enough people willing to go to a convention for more than cheap thrills. If only there had been free internet. Maybe next year.

"As for our future, we are still trying to figure that out. Each year, our programming evolves based on the feedback we receive from our community. We expect to keep offering a convention each year, and hope that, someday, we might be able to respond to people who want GeekGirlCon to expand into their cities and communities," said Rantz.

Interviews with Denise Crosby (Star Trek), Kelly Sue DeConnick (Captain Marvel), Jane Espenson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and Karen Prell (Fraggle Rock) will be posted sometime this month.

Really awesome guides
A good gaming area that took up almost all of the lower level

One of the my favorite crossplays ever. Pepper Potts also had a female companion cosplaying Iron Man.
Made from a booklight!
The science area
Karen Prell!