For the few THX-1138 fans who also read this website...

This joke sprang from my own idea of doing a LEGO version of THX-1138. Whether this is the first in a continuing series or a one-off, I'm not entirely sure. Let me know what you think via the Contacts form or on Twitter.

LEG0-1138 Day One Problem


Worth Your Time & Money #4: iPad Accessories

1. Coburns wooden stand ($20)

When the first iPad came out, I bought the Apple cover that doubled as a stand. However I found it uncomfortable to hold and with subsequent iPads I abandoned the skintight cover/stand concept and instead went with slipcases and sleeves to protect my naked iPad. One might think that this flies in the face of my previous review's comment that iPhones need protective cases, but I believe the use cases for the two devices are different enough; people don't use their iPads like they use their iPhones. You don't typically emerge out of your car with your hands full and accidentally drop your iPad on the concrete (which has happened to me with my iPhone). iPads are normally used in the home or at the office where concrete and asphalt typically don't exist so the need for a protective case isn't the same. And both at home and at work, a stand that is sturdy, convenient for both portrait and landscape use, and doesn't obstruct the screen or controls is very handy to have around.

My original stand was an $8 wooden picture frame stand from Bed Bath & Beyond. It worked pretty well, was collapsible, and would work for both portrait and landscape. But it wasn't sturdy and could fall over with a strong tap. Then I read about a Kickstarter campaign for the Coburns. From the instant I laid eyes on them, I was in love. I pledge my money, waited, and when they arrived I was not disappointed.

Made of nicely finished wood fashioned with small magnets and cutouts depending on the size of your iPad, the Coburns are a very versatile system for standing your naked iPad at various angles while also being very compact and thus convenient to travel with. The product obviously is well thought out and well designed; I would guess that the worst thing that could happen is you would lose one of the pieces, but that's the genius of putting the tiny, strong magnets into the wood to keep them together when they're not being used. There are two types of wood and three stains available from the Fine Grain website for both iPad Minis and iPad Airs. I recommend that you check them out if this fits with how you use your iPad. They are made in America if that's your thing too.

2. Dodocase Durable Sleeve for iPad Mini ($60)

There are many slipcases and sleeves for the iPad. Some are heavily padded and some are lightly padded. There are ones made of leather, plastic, and nylon and all are in various colors and styles. Previously, I used a Timbuk2 slipcase with the Velcro enclosure that was very padded and terrifically secure, but for my iPad Mini I wanted something new that was as durable as the Timbuk2, but a little more stylish and didn't have the patented loud Velcro sound when opened. That's how I came to find the Dodocase Durable Sleeve.

When I first ordered the sleeve, the original design pictured on the website did not have the leather strap that spans the opening to keep the iPad within the sleeve. The sleeve is not meant to hug the iPad that firmly, so it could slip out accidentally if not for this strap. I think it is a great addition to an already nice design.

The waxed canvas is a really nice exterior that has a good amount of grip to it when you're handling it. With use, it will show marks of wear, but unlike plastic or nylon cases, the wear adds character to the sleeve instead of making it look rundown and used. The inside is nicely padded with what's probably a medium level of padding for a sleeve. It will protect your iPad from a short drop to the carpet and will definitely save it from the common bumps and scrapes of day to day use. Like the Coburns, Dodocase products are made in the USA and there are multiple color options on Dodocase's website for both iPad Minis and iPad Airs.


Worth Your Time And Money #3: iPhone 5(S) Accessories

1. The Tavik Bumper Case

In season one of his Web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Jerry Seinfeld interviewed MST3K's Joel Hodgson. At one point in the discussion, Joel pulls out his iPhone which is in a protective case. Jerry makes a snide comment about how the case ruins the look and feel of using the device. My response has always been, well that's great for Jerry Seinfeld. He can afford a new iPhone if he drops his on the sidewalk and shatters the glass. The rest of us are not so lucky. So that's why I use a Tavik bumper for my iPhone 5. I loved the original Apple bumpers for the iPhone 4 and 4s, but I guess Apple didn't want to keep making plastic frames for their phones when the iPhone 5 came out. Thankfully Tavik saw an opportunity and took it.

As it is simply a band of rubber and plastic that goes around the perimeter of the phone, it's basically exactly like the old Apple bumper but built for the 5 and 5s. Yes, it doesn't protect the back of the phone, but the back is one of the strongest parts of the phone anyway. I'd say the only drawback is that the plastic/rubber covers for the volume and power buttons take some time to wear-in unlike the Apple bumpers that were easy to press right out of the box. But that's a minor gripe.

They come in several different colors and the design provides cutouts for the Lightning connector, the headphone jack, the mute switch, and the phone's speakers.

So if you like the bumper concept, don't mind an initial wear-in period for the three buttons, and have $30 to spend, I recommend the Tavik bumper case.

2. The Kenu Airframe Car Vent Mount


No one should text and drive but sometimes you need your phone handy, especially now that Google Maps and Apple Maps can provide directions as good as the GPS devices from 10 years ago. Also, if you are using Bluetooth to listen to music, you need the phone handy to switch songs if you're as impatient with music as I am.

My two previous options were sticking the phone under my left thigh or in the empty cup holder. The thigh option always made me nervous that the phone would fall between the door and the seat, and the cup holder (if I wasn't using it for a cup) always worried me that it might have some dried or sticky goo from a previous drink that would get on the phone. So dashboard mounts were always on my mind, but I didn't want to screw in anything to mar the dashboard or stick anything semi permanent to either the dash or the windshield.

Enter the Kenu mount. A spring-loaded rubberized grip arm holds an iPhone (or other mobile) firmly in its grasp either naked or encased in most form-fitting phone cases (like the Tavik bumper from above). This open-ended aspect is one of the nice things about it.

Plus, the makers did something really cool with the design of the, for lack of a better term, "pincher" element that grips the blade of your car's vent on the back of the mount. First, it rotates sturdily 360 degrees for either horizontal or vertical blades or if you want your phone at a particular angle. But then, the pincher accommodates two widths of blade because not all cars are made the same. Put together, its a surprisingly versatile yet simply designed product.

One caveat: so you're basically putting an expensive electronic device in front of an air vent connected to a portable HVAC unit. In the summer, you don't really need to worry about cold air blowing on the back of your phone, but if you want, you can close the vent or direct the air away from the phone depending on how you position the mount and what type of vents are in your car. However, in the winter you have to be very mindful of the hot air blowing on the back of your phone. Internal sensors may shut your phone off if it gets too hot. This did actually happen to me once but when the phone cools down it resumes normal operation. That is just something that you will have to consider when installing and using the mount.

It comes in two color options; the grey rubber gripper arms remain the same between the two models, but the plastic back now comes in white along with the original black.

So for $25, the Kenu Airframe Mount is worth your time and money.


Worth Your Time & Money #2: Harry's Shaving Products


I have to believe that reviewing shaving materials has to be up there as one of the toughest to even make relevant for any other person. The number of variables are staggering between two different people let alone the entire male population of the world (or anyone else who needs to shave their face).

Off the top of my head you've got the following parameters:

  1. Physiology: Includes beard thickness, individual hair thickness, sensory quality (being able to see/feel where to shave (I'm thinking primarily of old men), skin thickness, skin elasticity, pore size (?), coagulation speed of your blood, pain tolerance (that might be more mental), and how long it has been since you last shaved (i.e., length of beard hair);

  2. Shaving technique: Includes the angle at which the razor is held, how hard it is pressed into the skin, if you only go with the grain or also against it, speed of shaving, how many times do you go over the same area, etc.;

  3. Other products used that don't include the razor or shaving cream: Do you use shaving oil before applying cream? Do you use a styptic pen afterwards to stop bleeding? Aftershave cream?; and

  4. Environmental factors: Hardness of the water used, humidity of the air at place of shaving, proper lighting, etc.

I have to believe that the shaving companies spend a lot of time and money on large trials to determine what works best for the majority of face shavers through careful analysis and observation. It can't be simple and I'm sure there's some piece of either long-form journalism out there or a documentary detailing their processes.

So with that disclaimery stuff out of the way, let's get into my own very specific findings.


First of all, I don't shave every day. I shave probably every 3-4 days unless there's some big meeting at work and I want a clean shave 1 day after already shaving. So typically my beard is more than your usual 24 hour shadow.

Previously, I had been using the Gillette Fusion Power (GFP) razor without the battery-operated vibration. I probably got 3-4 shaves out of each razor, but that was before I started using a RazorPit blade "sharpener" ($20) that I found on Amazon which did prolong the use of the blades to maybe twice as long. HOWEVER, I have to wonder about the quality of the shave from those blades as I frequently cut myself shaving with them... especially when compared to the new Harry's blades (more on that in a second).

My shaving ritual is to shave after showering, splash on some warm water, splash on some shaving oil (for a long time I used commercial shaving oils, but recently switched to the much cheaper and just as good extra virgin olive oil from the kitchen which I recommend you at least try if you don't already use an oil), and then put some Kiehl's shaving cream on top of that. With the GFPs, I'd commonly cut myself on my throat (usually near my Adam's apple) and require the use of a styptic pen afterwards before applying some aftershave cream.


So I think that Harry's system is a balance between cost and a good shave. The first blade lasted 4 shaves for me (compared to those on Razorpedia that reported 7-8), but I felt the last one wasn't as good as the first three, so let's say it lasted 3 shaves. That was over two weeks time. As I said, my beard is probably of average thickness and hardness, and I don't shave every day, so maybe I put more wear and tear on the blades than if I shaved every day.

I will say that I hardly cut myself at all during those 4 shaves and no where nearly as bad as when I had used GFP blades. I attribute that to two things:

  1. I really think Harry's shaving cream is terrific. Much better even than the more expensive Kiehl's I've been using for years.

  2. So the GFP blades have an actual hinge-like mechanism built into them that is supposed to let the razor's head bend backwards with the curve of your face as you move it along. It is supposed to give you a closer shave that way. Harry's razor heads do bend, but rather than a mechanical element, it stems from a more elastic bit of plastic instead. I imagine this cut down a lot on manufacturing costs. So while it isn't as malleable a shave head as the GFP, the firmer head of the Harry's actually results in a different experience. I actually prefer the firmness more than the GFP. With subsequent shavings, that firmness dissipates as the plastic's elasticity is worn down, and you can actually see the widening gap in the plastic on the razor head where it bends backward. It's not alarming at all, but more interesting to see how they worked that ability into the razor head using an alternate method than the spring-loaded (?) GFP approach.


According to Razorpedia, the GFP cost $3.45 per razor. The Harry's are $1.56. That means they're half the price just out of the box. That's great all by itself. That same website goes into a breakdown cost analysis per shave, but as I made clear at the start, everyone has such a varied shaving ritual and beard that I can't really trust that deep-dive kind of analysis. Basically, your own mileage may vary.
I would wager they provide a better shave than the GFPs due to fewer cuts that I've had since switching to them. The firmness of the razor head certainly changes your own movements to compensate, but maybe that's a good thing. The GFP might just have been too loose for me.

 And finally, they are delivered right to your door per the shaving schedule you choose when you sign up. They come in the regular U.S. Mail, so there's no concern about being home to receive the package. 


The one thing I do miss about the GFPs is the trimmer blade on the back of their razor head. It does such a good job of getting right under your nose and ensuring that your sideburns are straight that it is hard to beat, and unfortunately Harry's heads don't have anything like it. So I do keep an old GFP with my shaving stuff for that small bit of work, but I wouldn't discount the cost benefit and shaving quality of Harry's for it.


So in the end, I recommend giving Harry's a try. They sell a starter set with the Truman handle for only $15 (all their blades are the same; they sell two types of handle which both work with all of their blades: the Truman and Winston. The only difference between them is that the Winston is all aluminum and the Truman is basically plastic).

Harry's Truman handle in orange (one of four available colors)




Worth Your Time & Money #1: Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye (MTMTE)


@WOTFANAR: “seriously, it’s a bit like if douglas addams wrote a muppets version of a book written by jk rowling about robots on star trek.” - re: Writer James Roberts’ run on Transformers: MTMTE

As a child of the 80s, I owned several classic Transformer toys, watched the series regularly, and bought the first two years of the original comic book series. I watched Optimus Prime die on a movie theater screen as a 10 year old. But as I aged, I left the Transformers behind and focused more on Star Wars.

When the iPad appeared in April 2010, I immediately began using the Comixology app to rediscover comics. The “Transformers: All Hail Megatron” series brought me back into the Transformers fold. Initially, it all seemed the same... which was a good thing. Comforting. More of the heroic Autobots fighting the dastardly Decepticons. Just like what I remembered.

But like what happened with the Star Wars novels, it got old quick. No new ground was explored. The same old platitudes and threats from the same old characters. Something had happened to me in the interim where I wanted more than the Michael Bay “rock’em sock’em” approach. The comics hadn’t changed, but I had.

Luckily, I kept reading, because something happened with issue #22 in July 2011 of the main Transformers series.

I had never really followed comic writers up to this point. I knew names based on comics I liked. Moore. Morrison. Ellis. Ennis. Etc. But reading Transmetropolitan or Planetary was different than reading a series based upon a franchise you already knew and felt a certain affinity towards.

And seeing something you knew well and liked suddenly turn into something more is just plain magical. And that’s what James Roberts does with The Transformers: MTMTE series.

Back in TF #22, which is the start of the “Chaos Theory” storyline, the central scene has Optimus Prime and Megatron just sitting and talking about their 4 million year conflict like old comrades (these days Megatron is more than just the robot equivalent of a mustache-twirling villain tying the human race to the metaphorical train tracks) with differing ideologies.

On the first page of MTMTE #1, Roberts introduces the term “rigor morphis” when a Cybertronian dies and converts to their preferred form (robot or alternate in the common vernacular). Now, Roberts may not be the sole reason of these and other examples of clever writing and change occurring in the series, but it seems to me that in the time that he has been working on the Transformers comics, the issues of religion, philosophy, medicine, PTSD, and humor all from the viewpoint of a distinctly alien world filled with sentient robots have evolved the franchise beyond the simplistic Michael Bay cinematic vision of humanity caught in the midst of a struggle between good and bad.

Without humans around, it’s like the Transformers have become more human. And that is a very good thing. The Tweet at the start of this review uses a series of other well-loved franchises to describe the level of depth that has been added to what could simply be issue after issue of robots fighting. Instead, there is warmth, heartbreak, and humor… though there are still some great battles as well.

I recommended the first trade of MTMTE to a friend. After he read it, he said that he liked it, but felt like he was missing some backstory. I agree that when I first read it, I was a little lost due to not remembering some elements from earlier comics, but the other thing is, in those early issues, Roberts is also setting up some mysteries that unfold several issues later. He is a talented storyteller weaving science fiction mysteries on par with top Doctor Who episodes.

So here is my short list of pre-MTMTE reading recommendations:

1. Last Stand of the Wreckers

2. Transformers #22 & 23: Chaos Theory: You can continue reading after these two issues if you like as the series itself stops at #31 and is followed by MTMTE and its sister series, Robots In Disguise.

If you want to read even more, this cross-title issue by issue list in chronological order should help (I wish I had known about it when I started reading).

For those using Comixology, here is the direct link to the MTMTE collection.

Finally, Mr. Roberts publishes (or published) unofficial theme songs for the series as well as individual issues of the comic which I have found as a wonderful way to discovering new music.

SO, if you're like me and enjoy seeing beloved franchises from your childhood taken and lovingly worked on by fellow fans into something even better than they were, then MTMTE is for you.

Optimus Prime & Megatron sharing a moment (Art by Alex Milne).


Nonfiction Writing Sample #2: Laughing All The Way To The Bank

(SAMPLE NOTE: This magazine article was written for a graduate course in the spring of 2009 and never submitted for publication.)

How one company’s focus on pleasing the customer has labeled them “The K-Mart of Comics” by their competition.

Historically, some businesses are not devastated by a nationwide economic recession: health care, cosmetics, ice cream. Add comic books to that list, believes Steve Lubold, fifty, the manager of the Laughing Ogre comic book store in Fairfax, Virginia. He should know; he’s worked at the Ogre and its previous manifestations for the last twenty years. “Comics are pretty recession-proof due to their low cost.”

The Laughing Ogre of Fairfax has existed in its current form since 2003 in the University Mall on Braddock Road. Owned by Gary Dills and Jeff Moen, it is one of three stores in North America to carry the name; the others are located in Lansdowne, Virginia and Columbus, Ohio.

The Ogre vs. The Rest

However, finding the store is not easy. If you’re using Google Maps, the software tells you that it shares the same address with two other businesses; “Phoenix Comics and Toys, Inc.” (its most recent former name) and “BC Comics” (an even older name). Once at the mall, the signage (including the one right above the store’s main entrance) still displays the Phoenix name, even though the name change occurred a few months ago. Such is the importance of signage to a business with long-time return customers who routinely bring new customers with them. Or perhaps the only important word in the title of any comic book store is simply the term “comics.”

Whatever the name, the store itself cannot be seen from either Braddock Road or Ox Road, the intersection on which University Mall sits. The Laughing Ogre and its neighbor, a karate dojo, are nestled within a small, open-air courtyard accessible only from a few entry ways. Walking into this courtyard, the mall roof of old wooden shingles turned grey by time and nature coupled with the dull concrete under foot drains the visitor of energy and enthusiasm. Even in the noon sunshine, it all says, “Go away.”

But even with all of these confusing elements, the Laughing Ogre is in one of the sweetest spots for a comic book store; directly across the street is the main campus of George Mason University, and a few blocks away is the Robinson Secondary School, a combined middle and high school. There is no lack for young people and their disposable income here.

Stepping inside the Ogre, bright fluorescent lighting and aisles of well-organized comic books welcome customers. Action figures, toys, and figurines line the walls above the comics or stand guard in clean glass cases. Light wood paneling covers the walls behind the comics and figures, but it carries only a warm, welcoming memory of childhood sleepovers in finished basements. The aisles are wide and accommodating, with some shelves labeled with the names of prominent writers to help guide patrons to finding just what they were looking for. The faded and bagged used comics occupy only a small section in the rear of the store, tucked away in cardboard long boxes with the few dozen high-value issues hanging on the walls above.

The sales counter, strategically centered in the store, provides the staff with good sight lines to both guard against shoplifters and allow staff to spot a customer in need of a little help in finding the right book. At the counter, Lubold regularly sits in a low chair and cheerily greets customers as they enter. His voice lacks any local accent, but it has a touch of a nasal twang to it. Lubold’s reddish-blonde hair and full beard may conjure comparisons to the “Comic Book Guy” character on The Simpsons, but he lacks the arrogance made infamous by the character (and other comic store proprietors); he is friendly and helpful, never talks down to his customers, and is in better shape. With his twenty years behind the counter, he also has more experience than Comic Book Guy, a character introduced only eighteen years ago.

When she’s in the Fairfax store, Norah Curry, thirty, sits on a stool behind the counter and helps Lubold run the shop. Curry, who looks nothing like the Comic Book Guy, works as the Promotions Director for the three Laughing Ogre stores, and keeps her weathered MacBook Pro open and nearby, in constant contact with the two other stores and the owners, Dills and Moen. Curry is very thin with short, straight black hair and thick, rectangular glasses. She has a very dry delivery, but when she discusses a topic she’s passionate about, her tough-skinned defenses as a woman in a male-dominated environment fall, her eyes brighten, and her tone softens. Both she and Lubold wear black t-shirts emblazoned with the Laughing Ogre crest on the front and the word ‘STAFF’ across the shoulder blades.

While Lubold remarks that the store is successful because of their long history in the area and large customer base, Curry (like a true PR professional) rattles off a list of reasons without hesitation: “We run it like a business. We work really hard at customer service. We keep it clean. We keep it nice. We are involved in the community. We are responsible, small business owners.”

A common misconception is that selling comics is easy. “Many comic fans say to themselves, ‘Hey, I like reading comics. I’ll open a store, put out some issues, sit back, and read them all day long,’” says Lubold. “But it’s a business, and if you’re going to succeed, you need to treat it that way.” All three Laughing Ogre locations embrace the same business philosophy of offering customers a wide variety of material (Curry: “We have more SKUs than Target.”) in a pleasant environment with helpful sales staff.

The company’s community outreach programs also set them apart from their counterparts. Throughout the year, Curry meets with local public library staff to discuss and speak to the public about the comics’ age rating system and to change people’s perceptions of comics; while some aren’t age-appropriate for children, others can be great educational tools. Curry also spends time with local public school teachers and staff to discuss ways to encourage children to read through introducing comic books into the curriculum.

While Laughing Ogre works hard to put a positive spin on comic books in the community no matter what store someone visits, there are certain competitors who resent their success. “Some store owners in the Metro D.C. area think we’re like K-Mart, with our large inventory, bright lights, wide aisles, and attention to cleanliness,” says Curry. “But to us, that’s just good business sense.” Unfortunately, poorly run comic shops dot the American landscape.

You’ve probably seen one, or even been in one. In any reasonably-sized town, there is at least one comic store, usually in a strip mall like the Ogre. But unlike the Ogre, the air inside this shop is stale and musty with the smell of perspiration and mold. It is dimly lit, the brightest light coming through the windows, if there are any. The store is maybe twenty-feet wide and twice as long because rent is expensive, so it’s a tight squeeze between the wall-mounted racks of new comics and the multiple long boxes stuffed with used comics lined up on folding tables. At the cash register, the owner sits hunched over on a stool with a comic in his hands. He is a middle-aged man in jeans and a black t-shirt or a bulky sweater, and may have stubble and greasy hair. It only takes a moment before you wish that you were somewhere else—anywhere else—and, if you weren’t desperate for a comic, you soon leave, frustrated and empty-handed. “These shop owners sit there all day, reading comics, talking to the occasional customer who only affirms whatever comes out of the owners’ mouth because this is all they know,” Curry laments. “It only reaffirms the misconceptions people have about comics, comic book stores, their staff, and the fans.”

The Business

Comics are drawn and written by artists and writers hired by a comic publisher (e.g., Marvel Comics (The Amazing Spider-Man, Iron Man) and DC Comics (Superman, Batman)) that owns the rights to the comic book characters. The publisher prints the comics and deals with a distributor to store and deliver the comics. The distributor takes orders from retail stores who sell the comics. New retailers must pay for their orders upon receipt, but those who are good customers may be allowed a grace period of seven days. Diamond Distributors is the largest distributor serving North America and has exclusive agreements with the four largest publishers: Marvel, DC, Dark Horse Comics, and Image Comics. Everyone in the line must make a profit. For example (these amounts are representative only), Marvel prints a comic for fifty cents. They sell it to Diamond for one dollar. Diamond turns around and charges a retailer two dollars for storage and shipping. The retailer then sells it for the three dollars cover price to the customer.

Recently, Marvel raised the price on some of their big titles by one dollar, which sounds like a small amount, but in comics, that’s an increase of thirty-three percent on a three dollar price. DC has also raised some of their prices. While Lubold believes the increase is “ridiculous” and that the publishers could cut corners elsewhere to counter operating costs, Curry believes the specific increases on certain titles fits a business model similar to one commonly used in the film industry called “tent-pole programming;” studios put out blockbuster films to make lots of money so that they may take risks on smaller, art-house fare that may not do well financially, but provides them a chance to make films that are attractive to film artists and may garner awards that the studio can consider as their own achievements. “Some of these higher priced comics also have extra content included, so while you are paying thirty percent more than other comics, you may get more for your money,” reasoned Curry. However, Lubold says the increase had the opposite effect on one regular subscriber: “He went through his list of comics and removed the increased ones. While he loved those stories and characters, he couldn’t justify the extra expense.”

Yet in the face of such changes, Lubold and Curry should remain successful. With their professional approach to sales, strong understanding of what makes for a positive shopping experience, and desire to promote comics and reading in general, the Laughing Ogre will continue to draw customers until the publishers stop printing.

Of course, they have no control over what happens outside the store walls. Sometimes, circumstances force customers to stop shopping. “Usually we lose customers when someone gets married or has children,” Curry says, “but if they can continue to buy comics through those two major life events, we’ve probably got a customer for life.”



Nonfiction Writing Sample #1: The Man On The Overpass

(SAMPLE NOTE: This magazine article was written for a graduate course in the spring of 2009 and never submitted for publication. The subject’s name has been changed, and his employer has been withheld for privacy reasons.)

On a sunny morning in April 2008, a man in black stood on an overpass of I-270 near Washington, D.C.. He had a video camera pointed at the northbound lanes and at times would look intently through its viewfinder. A few miles back, a highway sign told drivers to report suspicious activity. Was this the kind of activity they meant? Was he dangerous?

No. In fact, John Smith was there for the complete opposite reason: driver safety. In his early thirties, Smith is a researcher at [redacted], a contracting firm that provides the U.S. Government with custom research and evaluation studies on multiple topics. Smith works in the Transportation area and specializes in Human Factors, i.e., how humans relate to the world. In his two years at [redacted], Smith has worked on a variety of studies—how to best remind teenagers to wear their seat belts, the best method to monitor the quality of new drivers, the conspicuity of motorcycles, and better methods to improve safety at railroad crossings. While most of Smith’s research can be done in the office, sometimes it takes a few hours on an overpass to capture what is needed. And sometimes people can be a little testy about it.

Five minutes after he began recording, a police cruiser rolled up. The officer ordered Smith to cease taping. “I tried to explain why I was there and even gave him the phone number of our division vice-president, but he was insistent,” Smith explained in his slightly nasal voice. While Smith doesn’t cut the most menacing figure with his youthful face, short blonde hair and beard, perhaps it was his favorite black leather coat, grey jeans, and the camera that brought undue attention his way. He can be charming and self-deprecating too (his t-shirt collection includes one with a circle labeled “the loop” and a dot outside of it labeled “me”), but perhaps it was Smith’s penchant for detailed and long-winded explanations that further annoyed the cop who continued to insist that he leave. Whatever the reason, Smith returned to his office and explained the situation to his boss. Calls were made, and the next day, Smith was positioned on an unfinished pedestrian walkway over I-270, not far from the prior overpass. This time however, he wore more official-looking gear: a hardhat and an orange reflector vest.

Aside from unscheduled run-ins with local law enforcement, Smith enjoys working at [redacted] as a “Macgyver” type individual, coming up with new ways to get reliable data without a lot of expense to [redacted], and by extension, the taxpayer. He likes the job’s technical subject matter that requires an understanding of electrical engineering, physics, and chemistry that employs the critical-thinking skills that he’s had since he was a kid.

Growing up, he liked taking things apart to see how they worked. Smith’s father also likes to tinker, and when Smith was a boy, his father used to build the kids small electrical devices as toys. “One was basically a nine-volt battery hooked up to blinking LEDs, but it was cool because it was something he built himself for us.” Grown up, Smith’s interest in how things work now includes reading books on quantum mechanics in his off hours. And while he can’t recombine items at the molecular level, Smith has a knack for putting things back together.

When he was nine years old, he offered to clean his father’s chainsaw and took it into the basement. Hours later, with no sign of his son, Smith’s father descended into the basement. To his regret, he found his son. He also found the chainsaw completely dismantled with its parts laid out across several tables. “As I was cleaning it, I had to take off parts, which uncovered other parts that needed cleaning. Then my curiosity got the best of me and I just kept going,” Smith says now of the situation.

Resigned to the idea that he would soon be the owner of a brand new chainsaw, Smith’s father walked back upstairs. To his surprise, a few hours later, his son returned with the chainsaw completely rebuilt and working perfectly. “My brother still uses that chainsaw,” Smith says proudly.

Smith says his father, a human factors professional himself, has a very scientific and autodidactic approach to life and that it rubbed off on him. “While I didn’t really mean to follow in his footsteps, he is proud of me,” Smith says. “When I have questions about things at work, it’s nice being able to talk with him about real things instead of just ‘Oh, how was your day?’”

So what was he looking for on that overpass with his video camera in April? Collecting video for training purposes. “We’re doing a massive seat belt usage study, and one of the side studies deals with commercial trucks. For normal passengers cars, being on the side of the road is enough, but for trucks, being above them is the best vantage point.”



"This will be a day long remembered..."

This website, separate from social media, provides Jason Govern a means to deliver his hand-picked news and commentary on the world. All thoughts, ideas, and opinions are Mr. Govern's alone and not those of any employer.