Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Airport Writer-in-Residence

Alain de Botton stole a dream job of mine; he got a gig at Heathrow Airport as a Writer-in-Residence. Even better (or worse) he transformed a week of omnitopian adventure into a book called, reasonably enough, A Week at the Airport. Here's a description (gleaned from a CNN story on his project):
"I had a big desk in the middle of departures, with a screen showing what I was typing and most people didn't bat an eyelid as they walked past. Others quickly assumed that it was very normal that there should be a guy writing a book by the check-in desks and came to tell me how I could improve my book and what anecdotes I would be a complete fool for not including. Then there was also a minority of people who just saw me as a useful conduit to information about the location of the restrooms."
Here's another pithy reply to a questioner's implication that airport research must be boring:
"I was delighted not to be going anywhere and therefore, to be free to actually observe where I was. Part of the problem of airports is that we only go to them when we are off somewhere else, and therefore don't see them as a legitimate destination."
Yep, I've added A Week at the Airport to my wish list.

Read the CNN interview: Memoirs of an airport 'writer in residence'

Monday, November 29, 2010

Draft Policy on Mobile Devices

Lately I've been thinking about how and why students use electronic gadgets in class. A fair amount of research and anecdotal evidence shows that students are using mobile phones (and other devices) far more than most faculty recognize. Quoting Wilkes University research:
"95 percent of students bring their phones to class every day and 91 percent have used their phones to text message during class time. Almost half of all respondents indicated that it is easy to text in class without their instructor being aware. In fact, students frequently commented on the survey that their professors would be 'shocked' if they knew how much texting went on in class."
I certainly remember taking a community college refresher course last year and observing that roughly one third of my fellow students seemed more interested in updating their Facebook pages than in focusing on the topic at hand.

My initial response to the notion of students fiddling with their machines in my classroom is to propose a draconian rule: no mobile devices, ever. I didn't use them in my college classes, I figure; students don't need them today. Upon reflection, though, that approach strikes me as being shortsighted.

So now I've developed a more nuanced response, one that affirms my basic respect for the autonomy of adults while trying to maintain a minimal standard of decorum and practicality.

My plan is to share a revised version of this note with my students this spring [here's the current draft]. It's over-written, I admit it, and it's crafted in a more legalistic tone than I'd prefer. But my written policy is merely a supporting document for a conversation I intend to conduct with my students.

Few students (if any) will actually read these words. I just want to have something written down. At a minimum, a message like this signals that I've considered the issue carefully. Better yet, this note might help us avoid frustration later on.

Here's a draft.

Any thoughts? Concerns? Recommendations? Please post a comment.

Also, fellow faculty members, do you have a mobile device policy that you'd like to share? I'd love to see it.

Mobile Devices in Class

You may use mobile devices (phones, laptops, etc.) in my class so long as you follow basic social and ethical guidelines.

To explain those guidelines, let me first explain why I created a mobile device policy at all. Like it or not, virtually all students bring electronic gadgets to class. And why not? You want to stay connected to friends and family, and sometimes important news just can't wait until the end of class. Moreover, these devices aren't toys; they're tools.

Today's mobile devices enable you to check notes, update your calendar, or perhaps get a second opinion on assertions I may offer. Additionally, mobile devices play an essential role in our university's emergency notification network. It therefore seems silly to mandate that you cannot access your phones, laptops, and other electronic tools in class.

That being said, there are three obvious exceptions to this policy, related to testing, privacy, and distraction. In these cases I must adopt a hard line.

1. You may not use any mobile device while any student is taking a quiz or test in the classroom. Restricting the use of mobile devices in a testing environment is a matter of integrity, both practical and perceptual. And I would be well within my rights to interpret any such usage (without my express permission) as a sign of cheating.

2. You may not use any mobile device to record sound or images in class without my consent. Why? Well, for starters, even though you are attending a public university, my classroom is not located in the "public domain." No one in this class has authorized you to record their images or voices. Doing so without gaining permission thus constitutes an invasion of privacy - and potentially a form of theft.

Let me explain: My lectures and other classroom activities are my intellectual property. And while I recognize that student fees help pay for the costs of this room (and for my services) I do not wave my right to create and distribute classroom content as I see fit. That's why you must ask my permission (ideally in written form) to photograph a slide, record a lecture, or distribute my likeness in any way.

3. You may not use any mobile device in a manner that distracts other people. If your use of a mobile device disturbs other folks (especially with ringtones or loud buzzing) - or if attention paid to your device means that you cannot participate meaningfully in our conversations - you may be required to leave the class.

That regrettable action may seem harsh. But ultimately it's a matter of respect. You deserve my full attention in the classroom; I ask for a reasonable portion of the same. If you want to send a quick text or perform a brief web search, feel free. Just be discrete. If you need a gentle reminder about this policy, I'll provide one. Thereafter my approach must become much more strict.

After all, our classroom is a community. What we do and say here matters. There's an anxious, busy world beyond our walls, I know. But that world can wait, at least for the brief time we share together. And when it can't, you can always quietly step outside. I merely ask you to remember that this class - indeed, your choice to seek a degree - is ultimately your choice. And with that choice comes certain responsibilities. One of them: contributing to a respectful learning environment.

Otherwise, there's really no point in coming to college at all.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Off for Thanksgiving

I'm taking a few days off to enjoy Thanksgiving at home. I'll be back in the blogger's seat on Monday. Until then, I hope you and yours have a lovely holiday.

Monday, November 22, 2010

2010 Travels

Reviewing the past year Jenny and I found ourselves struggling to remember all the trips we took in 2010. I figured it might be good idea to collect 'em all onto one page.

• Joshua Tree (Dec '09): "Despite the seemingly vertiginous height, we worked together to identify safe footholds and climbing routes before reaching our own humble summit."

• Carl B. Mattson funeral (March): "Over the weekend, we traveled to Florida to commemorate the passing of Jenny's uncle."

• Weekend in Tucson (March): "We'd flown and driven a long way to see them up close. And then there they were. Gnarled, weird, awesome."

• Denver and northern Colorado (April): "With all the hassles and stresses of the past few months, it was a real treat to find some big sky and open highway far from everyday life."

• CA-395 (May): "My recent drive down the eastern spine of California's Sierra Mountains was easily the best solo roadtrip I've ever taken, the culmination of a long-held desire to experience that strange transformation from the state's northern frozen plains to its southern depths that burn under the sun."

• Florida (May): "Our trip served no real purpose; it was just about time that we return to our favorite Sunshine State haunts."

• San Francisco Bay Area (June): "With still a bit of wanderlust between us, we crossed the Golden Gate in search of a nice spot to take a picture."

• Carmel and Point Lobos (June) "There's just so much to see in this part of California, with each turn yielding another path through a breezy meadow and down a stone trail to the end of the world."

• Munich, Salzburg, and Vienna (July): "I traveled to Europe this summer to attend the Salzburg Global Seminar's International Study Program, and I met some amazing people and had some great times."

• Shanghai, Hangzhou, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket (August): "We drew smiles and some awed looks, along with a few nods of encouragement, especially when we opened our folding chairs and joined the congregation."

• Florida (September): "My first trip to South Beach, back in '91, hooked me, and every time we return I have to see the gorgeous marquees of those hotels by the sea."

• Texas (September): "Pounding heat and imminent rain quickened our pace, but I had to stop when I saw the Oil City Brass Works."

• Skydiving over Hollister (October): "The air pounded against my chest and I yelled for the thrill of it all. I knew we were falling at a rate of about 120 miles per hour, but I felt no fear. Nothing but exhilaration. My mouth grew stale with the storm rattling my tongue; I didn't care. We plunged and I shouted 'Hell yeah!'"

• NCA in San Francisco (November): "The San Francisco Zoo is nearby, and romantically inclined writers say you can hear the lions from the motel. I never heard any animals, but I'm sure I caught the throaty call of a Golden Gate foghorn."

2011 looks even better. I'm planning to return to China in May/June and fly back to Europe in July. Best of all, Jenny and I are planning our European Grand Tour for August. Oh yes, there will be pictures.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Outer Sunset Deco (San Francisco)

I thought I'd share some swell deco and streamline inspired houses seen during my recent trip to San Francisco. These are from the southwestern portion of the city - the Outer Sunset neighborhood - which rose in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake.

1735 47th Avenue
A district overview provided by the San Francisco Chronicle describes how a post-quake real estate boom, helped along by the extended reach of street cars, inspired developers to pave over sand dunes and build a middle class suburb.

1723 46th Avenue
The Chronicle adds that the neighborhood is especially known for its diversity: "From block to block, it's difficult to predict whether you'll come upon a hofbrau, a Thai noodle house, an Irish bar, a Vietnamese restaurant or a Chinese dry cleaner, adding to these neighborhoods' attraction for visitors."

2263 47th Avenue
As I have time, I hope to learn more about San Francisco's Outer Sunset neighborhood. My first step includes plans to investigate the Western Neighborhoods Project, an amazing resource filled with images, stories, and artifacts.

2131 46th Avenue
(Photographs by Andrew Wood)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ocean Park Motel

I'm resurfacing from the 2010 meeting of the National Communication Association where I stayed at a perfect motor lodge. Normally for these conferences I stick with the convention hotel, which is typically an expensive and crowded tower of pricy restaurants, crystal chandeliers, miserable air, and noisy elevators (while being, at least, convenient). This time I opted for a distant lodging option. I was in San Francisco and had always wanted to visit the Ocean Park Motel. This time I did, and I'm glad.

The Ocean Park is San Francisco's oldest motel, yet is impeccably maintained. A marvel of Nautical Moderne style, built between 1936 and '37, this place is an ocean liner of steel balustrades, 90 degree curves and, of course, portholes. The owners are proud of the Ocean Park and appreciate visitors who dig the property. In fact, I got an upgrade after I whistled at the beauty of the place (but I think my fortune was due to the low season and subsequent surfeit of available rooms).

The Ocean park is located in San Francisco's Outer Sunset district, which presents an aging collection of row homes that march up and down the avenues near the ocean. [I spent a couple hours photographing some of my favorite streamlined-style examples). The San Francisco Zoo is nearby, and romantically inclined writers say you can hear the lions from the motel. I never heard any animals, but I'm sure I caught the throaty call of a Golden Gate foghorn. Best of all, the Muni's L-Taraval line extends from just across the street to the heart of the city.

NCA was a crush of furtive name badge-glances, obligatory meetings, loud parties, impromptu chats, and quiet conversations. I always return from these conferences with enthusiasm for my writing and hopes to collaborate with like-minded scholars. Yet the experience is always a drain on my finances and energy. That's why I'm so glad I stayed at the Ocean Park. It was a little more than a 45 minute trip away (by train and then by foot from station to hotel). A hassle of distance, I suppose. But that afternoon when I had some time to practice remarks I would later give, alone in my sunny room and far from the crowd, I enjoyed more peace than I've felt in months.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

NCA Adventures Commencing

I'm headed offline for a few days in preparation for the National Communication Association's annual conference in San Francisco (yeah, "up the road"). I'll miss Jenny while I'm away, but I'll also enjoy the chance to catch up with pals from my grad and undergraduate years. I should resurface next week by Wednesday or Thursday.

Disney Fail

So... Much... Fail.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

30 Airports in 30 Days

Detroit Metro Airport (2006)
David Terry, an SJSU colleague, shared this link with me a couple days ago about a fellow named Chadwick Matlin, a guy who responded to the trauma of getting fired and dumped in an particularly odd way. In the tradition of Henry David Thoreau and William Least Heat-Moon, Chadwick (really, sometimes life kicks you in the ass just when you're getting started) began a solitary journey of self-discovery. Only, this guy didn't hike into the woods or search for blue highways. No, he decided to visit 30 airports in 30 days. Since I've slept in a few airports myself, this topic got my attention.

Mercifully, Chadwick doesn't seek much in the way of transcendant wisdom from the experience [not at first]. But he does offer some pithy observations about airport life, initially about a group of nomads who have turned this sort of craziness - using JetBlue's "All You Can Jet" promotional opportunity - into a lifestyle. For a while the piece glosses along the well worn grooves inhabited by airportologists (apparently that's a word): The food is bad. Airports are disorienting. That sort of thing. But Chadwick offers especially thoughtful commentary when we departs the U.S. terminal bubble with a quick stop at the Dominican Republic.

I'm not sure, but I think this may be an ongoing series. You might want to check back sometime…

Here's the link (with thanks to David): A Masochist With Too Much Time on His Hands

Monday, November 8, 2010


Lately I've been doing some preliminary research on gamification - the convergence of video game and social networking experiences that's entering domains not traditionally associated with gameplay. In her MSNBC piece, FarmVille invades the real world, Helen A.S. Popkin writes that Tim Chang coined the term, which has largely supplanted Gabe Zichermann's notion of "funware."

One of the most prevalent examples of gamification is Foursquare, a social-networking application that allows users to "check in" to physical places and earn badges [Learn more]. People who check in to places most frequently can become "mayors" of those environments. The twist is that companies like Starbucks are using Foursquare to make their businesses more "sticky" (by offering discounts to mayors, for example). They know that more frequent visits can yield increased revenue.

Another example of gamification is LinkedIn's use of a progress bar. Once more, we see a non-traditional use of the principle: getting users of a business-networking site to stay longer and do more, transforming the drowsy act of inputing information or writing a recommendation into a sort of game. The trick is the use of (frequently) graphical feedback to produce a positive stimulus upon the brain in a manner similar to that found in video games.

Gamification represents an expanding domain of opportunity, appearing in health, educational, and personal finance fields - even in applications designed to inspire people to reduce their energy consumption [Learn More]. Chris O'Brien's writes in the San Jose Mercury News that "gamification has become one of the hottest buzz words in Silicon Valley" [Learn more].

The historically short shelf-life of buzzwords aside, I'm especially intrigued by potential uses for Gamification in pedagogy. This is not to say that game theory hasn't long been integrated into teaching - rather that emerging applications have more potential for success. Students raised on video games are likely to respond to experiences whose pleasures are similar to those with which they are familiar. Going on "quests," gathering tokens, and showing off their prowess with badges may seem silly to veteran educators, but it's serious business to Millennials.

Many faculty complain that today's students are unwilling or unable to work for their learning. At the same time we kvetch about students' willingness to devote hours upon hours to games. What if there's a way to harness that enthusiasm? In the perfectly titled article, Video games keep tricking us into doing things we loathe, Leigh Alexander writes, "we gamers demonstrate a fascinating willingness to apply ourselves tirelessly to any number of tedious tasks." In an article called Gamifying homework, Jason B. Jones adds, "people will do anything for a virtual badge."

I'm not sure if I like the direction this conversation is going. But I certainly want to know more. And I'm not alone. In fact a number of folks are embarking on ambitious research projects to make sense of this phenomenon. Jones describes Old Dominion University's Richard Landers's plan to seek National Science Foundation funding for a multi-campus interdisciplinary open-source gamification platform. I visited Professor Landers's call for participants and was impressed with his preliminary results. Here's a quote:
"We took advantage of many principles of casual gaming (sometimes called the [gamification] movement) to create a reward system for completing these quizzes. Several levels of “mastery” were created, with increasingly difficult bars to reach in order to achieve them. But when a student achieved a new rank (which they could never lose), a badge would appear next to their name in class discussion areas to provide a social reward for doing well. For example, if the aforementioned student completed the social psychology quiz enough times to reach Mastery Level 3, a little blue ribbon would appear next to their name when they chatted in that classroom. This system was ridiculously well-received. Across those 400 students, 113 (28%!) willingly chose to take optional multiple choice quizzes that would never have an effect on their grades." (emphasis in original)
Gotta follow up on this stuff...

Friday, November 5, 2010

Halloween 2004

While searching through our growing collection of digital memories I came across a few pix from that first year when we transformed the porch into a creepy Halloween experience for the kids. In 2004 Jenny and Vienna took the lead on a project that would become a family tradition. They found a plastic skeleton, planted some gothic looking candle holders (with lit candles, of course) and hung chains and a dreary looking wall made from painted construction paper. After dressing up the skeleton with a bandana and sticking a fake cutlass through its guts they labeled their creation Pirate Dungeon.

I was happy for them to run the show, leaving me to help hand out candy to the kids. It was a simple but memorable night. Oh, I sometimes moan, if only we'd stuck to that model: dig through the garage, round up whatever's lying around, and spend a couple hours throwing it together. Halloween since 2004 has become a much more complex event in the Wood family household, with video, music, costuming, and design that takes weeks to develop. Just breaking down the set of this weekend's Alien Autopsy took an hour - and we've still got to pack up all the gear (a full-sized skeleton, a gory alien corpse, a stainless steel UFO, and a hundred other tiny details) and somehow stuff it all back in the garage. Just think: all that work was inspired by Jenny and Vienna's lark of a Halloween six years ago.

One last memory: Vienna's 2004 costume. For some reason our daughter was obsessed with Al Pacino back then - especially with his Tony Montana Scarface character. I mean, literally, this kid had a foot-tall Scarface action figure! Maybe we should have counseled against her fascination with such a blood-soaked antihero, but we knew that these things generally pass. Anyway, we could hardly be surprised when Vienna announced that she was dressing up as "Mrs. Tony Montana" for Halloween, complete with a version of her hero dressed up on skates as a prop. She looks back on that choice with horror now, but what can I say? Halloween brings out the best in our family!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

What Happened to Downtime?

Pithy, useful, and direct, Scott Balsky's "What Happened to Downtime?" is recommended reading. Here's a quote:
"Why do we give up our sacred space so easily? Because space is scary. During these temporary voids of distraction, our minds return to the uncertainty and fears that plague all of us. To escape this chasm of self-doubt and unanswered questions, you tune into all of the activity and data for reassurance... Knowing that we cannot rely on spaces that force us to unplug to survive much longer, we must be proactive in creating these spaces for ourselves. "
Read the whole piece: What Happened to Downtime? The Extinction of Deep Thinking & Sacred Space

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Goodbye to Shanghai

Waiting to enter Expo 2010
China pulled off the biggest world's expo in history, and now - after a six-month run - it's over. An estimated 73 million people attended the fair, beating the record set by Osaka back in 1970. How'd the PRC get those numbers in an age when international expositions have been supplanted (to some folks, at least) by the World Wide Web? One way was to get 192 nations and 50 international organizations [wiki] to produce a global confluence of architecture, commerce, and entertainment that couldn't be reproduced online. The other way, just as importantly, was to force Chinese people to attend.

Writing for the New York Times, David Barboza describes how Tao Renran, an employee of a state-run garment factory, was invited to visit the expo - and given a little extra incentive to show up: "[O]therwise... they would cut our wages" [Something tells me that Ms. Tao can expect a visit from her company's Chief Ideology Officer any day now]. Barboza adds that many Chinese visitors were similarly encouraged to fulfill their patriotic duty and ensure that Expo 2010 would be a world-beater. Only 5.8 percent of attendees were foreigners, but this Fair can certainly be called a success - if only through raw numbers of folks passing through turnstiles.

One sign of the expo's popularity: those lengthy queues to enter national and corporate pavilions. Eight hours was the commonly cited wait for especially popular pavilions like China and Saudi Arabia. Barboza reports, "Some desperate visitors tried to con their way into the special access line of pavilions by pretending to be confined to a wheelchair. And there were reports that elderly women were standing near the entrance gates offering to rent themselves out as Expo escorts for $25 a day — a sure way to pass through the special access line." Now those pavilions are being dismantled as China enters the world's fair pantheon.

Expo 2010's ubiquitous mascot, Haibao
Only five years until the next expo. Location? Milan.

Read David Barboza's article: Shanghai Expo Sets Record With 73 Million Visitors

Another view: James T. Areddy's Wall Street Journal article: What Makes a Crowd? In Shanghai, 73 Million

See more: Check out my Expo 2010 video and read my Trip Summary!

(Photographs by Andrew Wood)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Halloween 2010 - Video!

Following up on yesterday's review of our 2010 Halloween Alien Autopsy, here's a video of the show!

Difficulty seeing the video? Point your browser here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kkt9nPsDk88

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween 2010

This year's Halloween show marked a return to a classic: Alien Autopsy, which we first mounted in 2006. That show, an extraterrestrial-themed haunted porch, was our first effort to create a real multimedia experience for the kids, using video, music, set-design, and props to evoke that well-known trope of a Roswell-style dissection of a crash-landed alien. Sure, we'd experimented with music and characterization before, but that show represented our first big attempt at theater. And while we've tried to increase the complexity of our themes since then, there's never been a show like our first Alien Autopsy. In 2010 I asked my family to join me in producing an ambitious remake.

Who said Andy doesn't have a heart?
For this new version, we'd start by creating a semi-lifesized UFO - something we didn't attempt back then. The idea was that a flying saucer had crashed landed into our Area 51 lab (what a coincidence!) depositing three alien specimens. To erect the spacecraft we bought four sheets of stainless steel, along with thin wood beams and two metal vents to serve as engines. After cutting the steel into trapezoidal shapes, I nailed each piece onto a wooden frame (with Jenny's patient help, of course). Since we were both regularly exhausted from our daily duties, we could muster the energy to build only one frame per night. Once we finished I connected the frames with loops of metal wire and topped the saucer with a round metal gadget I found at a local hardware store. I finished the saucer with eerie green rope lights.

Our "saucer": just after being first built in the living room
We only constructed half a saucer, actually, which allowed access to the craft's innards (that's where I bound the wooden frames and wired the lights to the edges). We'd need something to hide that other side. My family solved that dilemma by collecting and cutting cardboard boxes into a large facsimile of a wall. That's where our UFO would appear to have crashed into the lab. Jenny and Vienna fashioned a tall rectangular facade (bracing it with poles and brooms) applied gray spray-paint, and affixed pieces of tape to create a brick-effect. Afterward they cut away a section of the wall and painted jagged pieces of styrofoam to produce rubble. Mounting the thing around the UFO was a bit scary; I could hardly believe that it'd stand. But Jenny made smart use of our porch-swing chains to keep everything upright.

We couldn't find a thin black tie for our "Man in Black," so we improvised.
The rest of the show was pretty much a matter of rebuilding old props. We used a store-bought costume for the alien - though I spent hours making a gory chest cavity - watching Dawn of the Dead for inspiration. For intestines I stuffed pieces of green Play-Doh into fingers I cut from latex gloves, twisting them into gut-like shapes. Jenny made up some jello and green goo to augment the chest with organic-looking viscous material. And like we did back in '06, Jenny and I bought a plate of baby back ribs at Bruno's BBQ, boiled the bones at home, and attached the bones to the alien's chest cavity for a bit of extra-gross realism.

This survivor didn't last long after the crash.
To contribute some narrative material to our show, we dressed a life-sized skeleton I'd used in previous years in a Men in Black suit I cobbled together at the local Salvation Army store. After dressing our agent, we ripping a hole in the shirt and singed the edges to reveal the guy's ribs. Later we'd think of a gross story to explain the effect. To liven the walls, we tacked up posters and diagrams that seemed suitable for an Area 51 Laboratory ("Restricted Area," "Use of Deadly Force is Authorized," that sort of thing). Naturally I added an "I want to believe" poster. [Incidentally, I've recently created an "I wanted to believe" poster - just in case we do this show again one day.]

Behind the Scenes: The LCD needed to be
covered so that our strobe lights would work.
To make it appear that our "lab" window faced outside and not into our house, I downloaded a clip from Earth Versus the Flying Saucers and isolated a four-second snippet of a UFO. After editing the piece into a looping video, I used my LCD Projector to cast the scene onto a white sheet we'd nailed over the window. The resulting image - a flying saucer hovering back and forth - was surprisingly realistic at night (though only then would I notice that our window showed a daytime scene).

Area 51 signs
For background music we looped four selections: "Prelude and Outer Space" from Bernard Herrmann's The Day the Earth Stood Still score, "Alien Spaceship" from Mannheim Steamroller, "Amityville Horror" from Robert Walsh, and a version of The X-Files theme produced by The Stradibrothers Orchestra. Affixing green-colored gels over the lights, illuminating alien figures in the upper windows with strobe lights, and costuming ourselves with lab coats and medical instruments, Jenny and I built an Alien Autopsy porch to inspire a thousand nightmares (and yes, we posted signs warning parents that this presentation was rated PG: "Pretty Gory"). Finally it was 6 p.m., time to start the show.

Andy points at the flying saucers hovering outside our window
The night turned out wonderfully. Hundreds of kids climbed the steps to see our presentation, many transfixed at our weird alien. In my sort-of-X-Files persona, "Fox Moldy," I'd attach jumper cables to the alien's heart, and get a volunteer to flip the charger switch. As the heart would start beating I'd remove the organ to "oohs" and "aahs." Then I'd notice something else in the chest cavity. Drawing the kids nearer, I'd slowly, slowly pull a "symbiotic creature" (actually, a plastic beetle) from underneath the alien's intestines. Sometimes I'd pretend to get bitten by the creature and sometimes I'd toss the creature toward the kids. One older fellow - about 17 - lept back so far that he knocked a sign off the wall.

Jenny takes a break with our baby alien
Jenny (Agent "Dana Scary") bolstered our presentation by describing how the flying saucer crashed through our lab. A "Man in Black" had been assigned to protect us, she explained, but the agent got his skin burned off by another alien's ray gun. Sometimes she'd invite the kids to look out our window, revealing the saucer had been hovering outside all day. She'd also point out a nearby drum covered with biohazard symbols. Inside: alien ooze ("See the hand coming out of the top? That's the alien mutating into form!"). Best of all, "Agent Scary" carried a furry alien baby, which we are trying to raise as a human. Sometimes she'd invite the children to pet him. The kids loved it.

The crashed saucer made quite a mess!
The crowds were huge, mostly kids but also plenty of camera-snapping parents. We had a blast, running through seven bags of candy. A little after nine we turned off the lights and wrapped up another happy Halloween. Just in the past couple days Jenny and I had spent dozens of hours on this show; we were exhausted. But we didn't mind spending one last hour to strike the set and clean the ooze off our props. We had a wonderful evening - and I'm already wondering: what kind of show might we try next time?

Update: Check out the video!

Previous Years

• 2009: Zombie Apocalypse [Pix and Story] [Video]

• 2008: Dr. Freightmarestein's Haunted Laboratory of Horrors [Pix] [Video]

• 2007: Psycho Circus [Pix] [Video]

• 2006: Alien Autopsy I [Pix]

• 2005: Just Buried [Pix]

• 2004: Pirate Dungeon [Pix]