Four Letter Nerd

Category - Lifestyle

Little Green Army Men: Origins

We interrupt our regularly scheduled Game of Thrones coverage for something completely different.

There I was, eyes closed and on the verge of sleep, when my mind began running on empty (running blind). “Did I lock the doors?” “Am I a good father?” “Remember that time in third grade when you got hit in the face with a soccer ball on your birthday and had to go to the women’s restroom with the teacher so she could get your nose to stop bleeding?” “Hey, those little plastic Army Men seem to have been around forever, what’s their story?”

I already knew the answers to those first few questions – yes, probably, and how can I forget that traumatizing experience? What I didn’t know was the answer to the fourth question. Everybody has had or at least played with those green and tan army men. They are like those little strawberry flavored candies that were everywhere when we were kids. They are a fundamental building block of the universe. I mean, they were voiced by R. Lee Ermie (the epitome of drill sergeant) in Toy Story, and spawned a video game franchise that I remember being surprisingly violent. Anyways, I was not able to go to sleep until I researched it, and what I found was moderately interesting. Because I care for you and really want you to have a deep well of useless knowledge to draw from the next time you are making small talk with family you only see on holidays, I am sharing the findings with you. You can thank me later. I also accept donations via PayPal.

The plastic, monochromatic, military men are the successor of the Bergen Toy and Novelty Co. (Beton) line of plastic army men painted up the same as the die-cast offerings that were popular before we found out that lead is, like, hella toxic. This was in 1938, so it would still be a few years before the United States would enter WWII, so these were modeled after the United States Army’s WWI “doughboy” uniforms.

Side note: die cast figures show up in The Patriot before being smelted and shaped into musket balls #themoreyouknow.

The 1940’s were a trend setting decade for one of the greatest toys of all time. Not only were their uniforms updated from WWI to WWII era uniforms, but they also made the jump from painted (with lead paint) to the monochromatic look we are all familiar with.

The aforementioned lead scare and a boom in the up-and-coming plastics industry lead to several companies, like Louis Marx and Company, and Multiple Plastics Corporation, springing up and offering more figures, accessories, and playsets going back to the American Revolution and Cowboys vs. Indians, to the modern space age.

Unfortunately for everyone, the 1970’s kind of sucked. Sure we got some great music out of it, but we also got an oil crisis and country demoralized by the Vietnam War, which inevitably this lead to a decline in sales. For one thing, plastics are made using oil, and when the country is embroiled in an unpopular war, people don’t want to play with toy soldiers that remind them of said war apparently. The declining popularity of the little green army man would force many of the major plastic soldier manufacturers to close their doors. Nowadays most of these figures are imitations manufactured in China, so the days of American plastic toy soldier manufactures were numbered anyway.

So they next time you are walking through Dollar General and see a bag full of little, plastic army men, remember that these things were made the same year ballpoint pens made their debut and the year Seabiscuit defeated War Admiral on the racetrack.

 

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The True Story of Why Cracker Barrel Looks Like The Inside of Your Grandma’s Attic

Bookshop Tour – Nashville

Used bookshops are some of my favorite places to be.  There is just something revitalizing about browsing the bookshelves, searching for the next book to add to your stack of unread-but-maybe-soon-to-be-read books.  In fact, I have to travel to Baltimore for work in a few weeks, and the first thing I did was look up used bookstores in the area.  This got me thinking about the bookstores that I often frequent in and around my own stomping grounds of Nashville, TN.  There are a handful of fantastic shops around town that I think all Nashvillian bibliophiles and out-of-towners alike should visit when they can.

Without further adieu, here, in no particular order, is a brief look at my favorite bookstores around Nashville:

Books at Cummins Station

Books at Cummins Station might just be the prototypical form when it comes to used bookstores as seen in the mind’s eye.  It’s eclectic style, collection, and decor make it a fun place just to browse around.  One of the best things about the store is the sheer enormity of the stacks.  The ceilings are very high, and there are bookcases stacked on bookcases with more books on top.  It’s actually a little overwhelming until you get used to it.  And the walkways are so narrow that it’s hard to get a picture that does it justice.

Ms. B’s Used Books & CD’s

Technically Ms. B’s Used Books and CD’s is in the suburbs of Nashville, not Nashville proper, but it has been my home shop for almost 15 years.  It’s not as big as the others on this list, but the owner is a great human being, and if you want a book that’s not on the shelves, she will order it for you at a discount.  In fact, I recently stopped ordering new books online and just have Ms. B order them for me.  If you are ever around Hendersonville, you should definitely drop by.  One thing I really like is how much my four year old loves going to the shop.  If I ever take him to a bookstore that’s not this one, he gets frustrated and metaphorically twists my arm until I stop in here too.  Oh, and she also buys and sells records, so vinyl-heads have something to browse as well.

Rhino Booksellers Charlotte

I’ve only been in this shop once or twice, but I will definitely be coming back.  Like Books at Cummins Station, Rhino Booksellers has a great vintage atmosphere that makes you take your time and enjoy it.  This shop has a great selection of nice editions.  I’ve found some really nice Tolkien and C.S. Lewis titles here including a really nice edition of Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas.  Come for the atmosphere, stay to get the shop cat to like you.

McKay Used Books

Credit: mckaybooks.com

If you can’t tell from the photo above, McKay’s is definitely the largest store on the list.  It is basically a warehouse of used books, movies, videogames, and music.  It can be difficult to find some specific titles here because of the vast quantity and the high volume of customers, but I always enjoy making the drive out to Bellevue to slowly wander the fiction section for an hour or two.  If you can’t find something to read  here you aren’t trying hard enough.

Parnassus Books

Credit: parnassusbooks.net

Unlike the previous entries, Parnassus Books is an independent bookstore instead of a used bookstore.  The shop is beautiful, there is a good selection of literary fiction, a really neat section of local selections, and it sponsors some fantastic events.  Earlier this year, I attended an event where John Scalzi spoke for a while, then held a meet and greet where I had my copies of The Collapsing Empire and the hilarious Redshirts signed.  Another fun fact is that it is co-owned by author Ann Patchett.

Atomic Nashville

Atomic Books is a small independent bookstore in east Nashville.  While it may be small in stature, it’s big in heart and uniqueness.  I found they had a lot of titles I’ve been wanting to read, or that have been recommended to me over the last few months, and their sci-fi selection is hella strong.  They also sell art, music, and local selections.  Oh, and they have a surprisingly stout selection of Little Golden Books.

Like I said earlier, used bookstores might be one of my favorite places on Earth.  If you find yourself in the Nashville area and are of the book persuasion, you should definitely block out some time to visit and explore some of Nashville’s best literature peddlers.  And if you happen to visit Ms. B’s tell them I sent you… none of the other shops will know who the hell I am.

The True Story of Why Cracker Barrel Looks Like The Inside of Your Grandma’s Attic

Growing up in the South, Cracker Barrel has always been a part of the breakfast landscape.  Now that I have kids, my visits have become less frequent because my two-year-old is a hurricane and oh-my-god-there-are-so-many-breakable-objects-between-the-door-and-the-hostess-stand.

As most of you know, each Cracker Barrel has a uniquely antique sense of style. Recently, while sipping my coffee and waiting for my Momma’s Pancake Breakfast (eggs: scrambled, extra bacon: crispy), I started to wonder how Cracker Barrel manages to collect the number of vintage items required to cover almost every square inch of wall and ceiling.

It turns out, the answer is a lot more interesting than you thought.

First of all, all of those old tools, toys, signs, and memorabilia on display are 100% original.  They aren’t buying mass reproductions of old items, they are actively seeking antiquities that have that Cracker Barrel aesthetic.  In fact, the “look” is so recognizable that a lot of antique dealers will reach out to them when they come across an item that matches their style.  You see, at the Cracker Barrel home office, they have what they call a Decór Warehouse where they house a collection of over 90,000 artifacts obtained by their antique expert Larry Singleton.

Add to that the 700,000 relics already in stores, and you have one of the largest collections of Americana in the world.  When the first restaurant opened back in 1969, the founder, Dan Evins, enlisted the help of antique shop owners Don and Kathleen Singleton to nail down the “Country Store” feel.  The couple liked the job they stuck around and bequeathed the position to their son Larry – mentioned above – who maintains and expands the collection today.

Just picture the Indiana Jones warehouse, but with better lighting

The back of the warehouse holds a restoration area, where they clean and restore every piece before it finds its way to a store.  Once the items make it through the restorative process, they are cataloged and shelved in the vast caverns of homespun hospitality that is the front of the warehouse, where they await their chance to become the inhabitant of a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store.

Each store starts with upwards of 1,000 original antiques that give the store its classic look.  Once a new store is under development, Larry and his team do research on the area’s history and culture so they can choose artifacts complimentary to the locale.  While a majority of the items are unique, there are a few things that every Cracker Barrel has in common.

For instance, every store has an ox yolk and a horseshoe over the front door, the restrooms are demarcated by a stoplight, an old rifle above the fireplace, and a checkerboard that rests on a cracker barrel (get it?) in front of the fireplace.  Once the items are curated from the Decór Warehouse, they make a full-scale mock-up of the restaurant and begin figuring out the placement of each piece.  Once they are satisfied with the arrangement, they take pictures of the finished product and ship the pieces to their new home.

Mockup created at Cracker Barrel’s Decor Warehouse is checked against finished product.

What I find amazing is the time and resources spent finding original items and restoring them.  A lot of these pieces of Americana would be lost to time if Cracker Barrel didn’t dedicate itself to the preservation of these antiques.  So next time you and your friends are gathered around the table at the Old Country Store, take a second to appreciate the time and effort that went into all of the memorabilia around you, amaze your peers with your new found knowledge, then get called an Ignoramus by the peg game found on every table.

For more information on Cracker Barrel’s Decór Warehouse, check out their website.

An Introduction to Comic Book Binding

It’s been a long while since we’ve provided you, our fellow nerds, with a primer.  The purpose of this series is to take an in-depth look at specific sub-genres of nerd culture, and today’s article does not stray from that premise.  Without further adieu, let’s take a look at art of comic book binding.

History

I’m going to ask you to bear with me over this next paragraph, because we are going to have a tiny history lesson.  Unlike some of our previous primers, bookbinding goes back a long way.  Remember hearing about Johann Gutenberg in history class?  Well, he is responsible for creating the movable type printing press, which allowed for faster printing.  Faster printing meant more books, and more books meant more focus on the art of bookbinding, which really took off in the late 15th century.  Also happening in the 15th century: the Aztec and Inca empires were at the height of their power. Fun fact: initially, books were shelved with the spines facing inwards, and the title inked onto the edge of the pages.  It wasn’t until Jean Grolier commissioned beautiful bindings with with lettering on the spine that they began to shelve them spines out, as is the custom now (stay tuned for my next primer on watching paint dry!).

Look, I know this might be boring for some of you, and possibly jarring since you are here to figure out if you want to get your DOOP collection professionally bound, but we really take book-bindings as they are now for granted. You’re right, though… it’s time to move onto the next portion of this primer.

Choosing a Bindery

Deciding whether to get your comic books professionally bound is a big decision.  I imagine a good sized portion of the comic community cringes at the thought of someone cutting the spine off a book and stitching it to a bunch of its comic book brethren.  Having said that, comic book binding is great for collectors like me that don’t intend to sell their books, want to keep them easily accessible, and don’t consider short boxes home decor.

I decided to give binding a shot because I have four short boxes filled with modern era Valiant Comics sitting in the back of my closet next to an expired fire extinguisher, assorted batteries, and our winter coats. A one-of-a-kind hardback book (that I helped design, no less) filled with some of my favorite comics was just too good to pass up.  After doing some research on the Google, I decided to go with Herring and Robinson Book Binders. Herring and Robinson is a family owned library bindery that began business in 1920. Before I decided to pull the trigger, I gave them a call to learn about the binding process.  They graciously answered all my questions during my initial phone call, and stayed in touch via email throughout.  Ultimately, it was their customer service that won me over.

Prepping Your Books for Binding

First and foremost, it’s important to decide which series or event you are binding.  For my first foray into binding, I chose my X-O Manowar collection, which included issues #1-50, two #0 issues, and two annuals.  Once you choose your books, it’s time to get them into the order you want.  While each volume could be up to 2 1/2″ thick, I decided to break my collection into two volumes so the gutter loss would not be as bad.  The first volume would include issues #1-25, and the second volume would include #26-50, with the #0’s and annuals put in according to when they were released.

Now comes the hard part… if you want to take away some of the thickness, or you find it more aesthetically pleasing, you can remove the ads throughout the comic as long as it doesn’t include any of the actual panels. While yes, you are technically cutting into a comic book which could be considered blasphemous, it’s for the greater good.  I decided to remove the last few pages of each book, because these usually contained previews for upcoming Valiant titles, which I didn’t need.  To do this, I simply grabbed my trusty Wrath of the Eternal Warrior box-cutter, and cut just to the right of the center line to avoid the staples.  Some binderies also prefer the buyer to remove the staples prior to sending, but Herring and Robinson don’t require this.  Once the pages are removed put the issues back in the correct order, place some comic boards on the top and bottom to protect the pages, and wrap them with a few rubber-bands.

I have included some photos of how I prepped my books below.  They are not for the faint of heart…

The Eternal Warrior always wins

 

Placing Your Order

Herring and Robinson provides a myriad of options for customizing your book.  You can have double lines, single lines, die-stamps, lettering, and choose the placement of everything. Then you have to choose the type and color of the binding, and the color of the lines and lettering, add a ribbon or headband, it’s… let’s just say you have a lot to think about .  I spent a lot of time figuring out exactly how I wanted the spine to look.  I eventually settled on double lines at the top and bottom, sans-serif lettering, the buckram material in royal blue with silver lettering.  Herring and Robinson provides the following order form, that has a diagram of the spine and front cover, so you can show them exactly how you want it to look by sketching it out.

New_Order_Slip

Now, pack the order form in with your books, make sure it’s well protected, and ship it off to Herring and Robinson.  The wait begins.

The Final Product

Their website says it will take 6-8 weeks for the order to be completed, but after only 4 weeks I received my invoice and tracking number.  I’m not going to lie, when I saw that my package was out for delivery and my mailman was running later than usual I stared out my window like Michael Scott stares at Toby.  The wait paid off when I pulled these beautiful books out of their package:

For a price tag of around $30 a book, I ended up with two beautiful, one-of-a-kind books that will look great on my nerd shelf.  The quality of these books is mind-boggling.  They are solidly constructed, and feel great to the touch.  But, is comic book binding for everyone? Probably not.  There are those that cringe at the thought of ravaging their comics with a razor blade.  Those of you, like me, who don’t plan on selling your collection, want to be able to display them proudly, and can make it through the prep, comic book binding is definitely worth it.  I am beyond happy with how my first foray into bound comics turned out, and I will definitely be sending more over the next few months.

Jules Verne: 19th Century Nostradamus

Even if you have never read anything by Jules Verne, you have almost certainly heard of his literary contributions.  Mr. Verne is the author behind such classics as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Around the World in Eighty Days. There have been multiple adaptations of his works across a multitude of mediums over the last century and a half. There is, however, one book you probably haven’t heard of because his publisher thought it too absurd to publish in the 1860’s, so it wasn’t published until 1994. The book is called Paris in the Twentieth Century, and it’s special because it predicted the future.

Vxxx_PV_cover

Jules Verne is a prolific 19th-century French writer with more than 60 novels to his name, and is widely considered the “Father of Science-Fiction.” His most famous work is his Voyages Extroaordinaires, which collects 54 of his novels including the big three listed above. His works are also a huge influence on the world of Steampunk, as his novels are filled with fantastical elements grounded in Victorian era science.

Paris in the Twentieth Century was one of his earliest works, which he turned into his publisher in 1863 after his  successful first novel Five Weeks in a Balloon.  The publisher refused to publish the book because believed it to be too pessimistic, and too unbelievable.  It wasn’t until 1989 that the manuscript was discovered by Verne’s great-grandson, and then it was another 5 years until it was published.  What’s ironic about the publisher turning Paris in the Twentieth Century down for it being unbelievable is that it accurately predicted several facets of the modern world 100 years after it was written.

So, what did Mr. Verne predict?  First of all, in his version of the 1960’s, the cities would be illuminated by electric lights, which is fitting since Paris is called the City of Lights.  He predicted skyscrapers, the expansion of the suburbs, subways, high-speed railway systems, telegraphs that would transmit pictures i.e. fax machines (which are already horribly outdated), electric machines that are a part of an extensive network and communicate with each other (the internet).  Additionally, Verne spoke about the rise of electronic music (Skrillex), synthesizers (the 80’s), and a recorded music industry. He also predicted that cars, which he referred to as gas-cabs, would be a primary means of transportation, and even predicted the infrastructure required to sustain automobile’s, like gas stations and paved asphalt roads.  In this novel, the weapons of war have become so powerful that most countries won’t even fight anymore lest everybody gets destroyed, which sounds an awful lot like the Cold War and the arms race between the United States and the U.S.S.R. Oh, and he sort of predicted porn? In his book, he predicted that the entertainment industry would be dominated by stage plays featuring nudity and sexual acts, so there’s that.

That is a staggering amount of accuracy for a book written a decade before Dr. Arliss Loveless attacked President Grant with his giant mechanical spider.  While it is true that Verne didn’t see himself as a scientific prophet – or even a science-fiction author for that matter – it is fascinating how many of his visions for a dystopian, 1960’s Paris actually became a reality.

arliss

Perhaps the most depressing part Verne’s future is that society has become obsessed with technology and business to the point where things like art, literature or human creativity, in general, are thrown by the wayside.  While our society is indeed engrossed with technology (see: pphubbing), human creativity still has its place, and with the advent of the internet, immediately available for consumption.

Ultimately, Verne’s version of the future is a bit bleaker than reality, but many of his predictions hit the metaphorical nail on the head.  Cars were hitting their stride in the 1960’s, and let’s be honest, if you combine the emergence of interconnected machines and lewd stage-plays, you have 85% percent of the world’s internet content.  What this all amounts to is that Jules Verne not only kick-started the science-fiction genre, he is also a a master of speculative fiction.

If you are interested in checking out Paris in the Twentieth Century for yourself, head on over to Amazon, or better yet, ask your local bookstore to order you a copy.  Fair warning – the story isn’t exactly uplifting.

For more information about Steampunk, check out our Primer!

 

4LN Unboxes the April 1 Up “Action” Box!

Hey! What’s up nerd friends! We’re back with another unboxing! This time we’re cracking open the newest 1Up box and checking out awesome stuff from Guardians of the Galaxy, Pirates of the Caribbean, Avengers, and Avatar the Last Airbender!

As usual, our kids join us and it gets chaotic. But that’s what we do best!

Make sure to head over to our YouTube Channel and watch some other videos too!

Star Wars and Mindfulness Meditation

Anxiety seems to be an ever-growing issue that particularly looms large for people of my generation – the Millennials. The American Psychological Association estimates that 12% of millennials are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, while around 30% of working Millennials struggle with general anxiety. Now, I’m not good at math, but that seems like an awful lot of people. There are 75.4 million(ish) millennials wandering this planet, so upwards of 25 million of us have some form of general anxiety? Unfortunately, there isn’t any one magic cure – at least that I’ve found – but that’s not to say there aren’t ways to ease the burden a bit. One such way is called “mindfulness meditation.”

Before we get started, I think it’s important to note that I am a big believer that pop culture not only stems from our belief structures and societal myths but can also help us better understand them. Myths allow us to see things from a different vantage point, and, in some cases, it can become culturally-generative (in that it can help shape the idea that it stems from).  For example: when I was in an upper-level philosophy class during my college years, I was having a difficult time understanding a particular concept (Heidegger or Hegel if I remember correctly).  It wasn’t until I read an essay on the subject in the fantastic book Star Wars and Philosophy that I grasped it.

While meditation has been around for a long, long time, it’s seen a bit of a resurgence over the last several years (perhaps due to the statistics laid out above). That’s not to say that it disappeared for any length of time — I mean, it’s been around for thousands of years — but it’s become somewhat of a buzzword among industry professionals, celebrities, news anchors, and bloggers of all types. When I first stumbled upon mindfulness meditation, I didn’t understand it. The cynical part of me felt like Han when Obi-Wan Kenobi was explaining the Force to Luke – “So I am just supposed to sit here and focus on breathing? Listen, hokey religions…” Instead of writing it off, I decided to read several books on the subject, as well as any legitimate article I could find. It got easier over time, but it wasn’t until I saw snippets of what meditation, specifically “mindful meditation,” looks like through the lens of Star Wars that I began to realize it’s life-altering potential.

While reading about mindfulness meditation, I watched The Phantom Menace.  In it, Qui-Gon lays out the most basic premise of this form of meditation, which is being present.  At the beginning of the film, Qui-Gon and his padawan Obi-Wan are waiting for what I am sure would have been an exhilarating discussion with the Viceroy of the Trade Federation to resolve their blockade over Naboo. During this time, Obi-Wan is bothered about something in the future. When he mentions this to Qui-Gon, the Jedi Master responds saying, “Don’t center on your anxieties, Obi-Wan. Keep your concentration here and now, where it belongs.” When young Kenobi tells Qui-Gon that Yoda said “to be mindful of the future,” Qui-Gon responds saying, “But not at the expense of the moment. Be mindful of the living Force, young Padawan.” The majority of us spend our focus worrying about the future, thinking about the past, or just focusing on whatever device we are currently using. And if you are anything like me, your inner-voice never stops talking and can be a bit of an asshole. This form of meditation combats that by settling one into the present.  By focusing on your in-breath and out-breath, you are attempting to silence the constant inner-monologue which is taking you away from wherever you are, and doing whatever you are doing.

star-wars-episode-i-phantom-menace-jedi-mindfulness-meditation

The most poignant example of Qui-Gon’s commitment to peace through meditation is during his lightsaber battle with Darth Maul.  During the fight, Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Maul are all separated from one another by ray shields.  Darth Maul paces back and forth, snarling and angry, while Obi-Wan bounces on the balls of his feet, anxiously waiting for the next round of combat.  In stark contrast, Qui-Gon just switches off his lightsaber and settles into a brief moment of peaceful meditation, simply being.

When we first meet Luke Skywalker, he is standing on a mound of sand, staring at the horizon, and just because he finds adventure doesn’t mean he ever stopped looking toward the horizon. In Empire Strikes Back,  Luke was nearly refused training because he was so focused on the future.  Yoda believed this attitude was a possible path to the Dark Side.  When he starts to show his frustration, Yoda chastises him saying, “All his life has he looked away, to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was, hmm? What he was doing.” It is Luke’s lack of presence that gives Yoda pause, and I think it’s a common cause for anxiety in modern culture as well. Our constant yearning for the “next big thing” and our inability to unplug because of our fear of missing out on something is a constant source of stress in our life.

Yoda-Meditating

As we see in Return of the Jedi, Luke is at least partially responsible for the downfall of the Galactic Empire, but the Luke we see at the end of the film is a far cry from the brash, bush-pilot-turned-Rebel who showed up at Yoda’s doorstep looking for training. Despite Luke going through a pretty horrible ordeal at the end of Empire, in Return of the Jedi, Luke is more thoughtful, less prone to violence, and the brashness we saw in his youth is no more.  Apparently this lesson stuck with him too, because the new trailer for The Last Jedi begins with him teaching Rey to use her breath as an anchor for meditation.

One of the most important aspects of mindfulness is not focusing on whatever worries you may have in the future, but existing in the present moment. No judgment, no focusing on the past or future, just being with what is there. While it might sound odd, the majority of us spend our focus worrying about the future or ruminating over the past. If you are anything like me, your inner-voice never stops talking, and is a judgmental asshole, especially when it comes to yourself. By constantly drawing yourself back into the present moment — commonly by focusing on your breathing as an anchor — you can interrupt that constant stream of noise, call it on its bullshit, and find some peace

If you’d like to know more about mindfulness meditation, there are a lot of resources available online. I learned a lot from Dan Harris’ book 10% Happier, especially the last few chapters.  Mindful.org has all sorts of articles, including this video for beginners.  Finally, I found Insight Timer helpful, and I’ve heard great things about Headspace.

If you like this article, check out:

A Defense of Lando Calrissian

The Philosophy of Civil War: Tony Stark and Utilitarianism

The Philosophy of Civil War: Captain America and Deontology

 

 

 

 

Another New Year, Another New 4LN! Kind of…

Happy New Year! Yes, I know it’s February already, but honestly, I’ve been drinking since November so I’m lucky to even be wearing pants right now sitting up straight right now. Even though it’s closer to Valentine’s Day than New Years Day, I still wanted to take some time out and share with all you wonderful nerds what’s up with us here at 4LN. I did this little “State of 4LN Address” last year (“New Year, New 4LN“) and it’s just a way that I can keep those of you who might be interested up-to-date on where we are right now and what our foreseeable plans are.

Writing something about 4LN is complicated because we have two core readerships: People who know us in our personal lives and support us even if they aren’t invested in our content, and people who really don’t give a s–t who we are and only check out the site BECAUSE of the content. And we’re OK with that. We appreciate all of you equally and we’re grateful when even only a few of you read something we publish. Honestly, if you fall into the latter category, you could probably just stop reading here, or skip to the bottom. I 100% can’t blame you for not giving a s–t about who we are individually, and the rest of this could come across as self-indulgent to you. I only say that to try and give you a fair heads up on what you’re about to get into. The rest of you, the ones who do know us personally, you have to keep reading. It’s mandatory.

Our appreciation and gratitude in spite of only getting a handful of views on something is afforded to us because we make absolutely no money, no monetary gain whatsoever, off of this website. Since we really have nothing to lose, it’s a pleasure for us when any of you take the time to read a comic review or TV episode recap, or check out one of our unboxing videos. However… the fact that we do no profit from our posts means that 4LN cannot always be the top priority for us. It’s unfortunate, but hey, that’s life. We have jobs and families, and responsibilities that will always require more attention than this website, and as (mostly) responsible adults, we know that our everyday life commitments are more important than this. It’s the reason a review may go out a couple days later than planned, or a YouTube video might get published a week past the date we would’ve liked. Preserving our way of life, and taking care of our families comes first. Every time. We’ve never had any misconceptions that 4LN would be our ticket to “the Big Time,” whatever that means. Sure, we’ve had high hopes and dreams, but not once did we ever assume that this website would become the sole means of income for any of us, let alone ALL of us. We’re not THAT delusional. We’ve cultivated it as much as we can, when we can, and abandoned things that didn’t work or weren’t viable for us. We consider anything we at least tried a success because it means we weren’t cowards.

Another reason things can be “feast or famine” around here is because it’s very easy for us to get overwhelmed and burned out, which can lead to weeks where there’s only one or two articles posted, and then others where we have something every single day. Admittedly, lately, it’s been more famine than feast. It’s not something we lament though. It’s a side effect that comes from only having a few regular writers, and occasional guest contributors. Like with literally anything that you do, if you do it a lot, it can begin to feel unfulfilling and you need to step back, breathe, reevaluate, and then proceed accordingly. For all of us, at one time or another, focusing less on 4LN was the way to “proceed accordingly.” At first, when one of us would express these feelings, I think the rest of us saw it as mutiny, but once our time in the chair came, we better understood those feelings. It’s completely natural and we’re all accepting of that now. I say all this to provide an explanation, not an excuse. We’re not looking for pity. Honestly, we’re not even sorry. We’ve chosen to make 4LN fit into our lives, rather than forcing our lives to revolve around it and these are simply side effects.

So, what does all this mean for 4LN? Well, it means… it means that we’re done. We’re ending. The time has come for us to put this venture to rest. It’s definitely tough. I mean, how do I say goodbye to what we had? The good times that made us laugh outweigh the bad. I thought we’d get to see forever, but forever’s gone away. It’s so hard to say goodbye to yesterday…

Ha! JK! LOLZ! We’re not f–king going anywhere, BITCHES!

I’ve had people ask me about what happened to 4LN and why we aren’t doing as much. The honest answer is… we don’t take it as seriously now. Sure, we may never have expected that we’d ride this ship to “internet success and fortune” but we certainly attempted the “dress for the job you want” philosophy. We forced out content just because it was there to take up space and make us look busier. We’ve taken hard stances on things that, in hindsight, were trivial, and we’ve fought to the point of almost destroying friendships over things like… Batman (who isn’t a superhero, by the way). We just realized that none of this, no comic or movie or superhero, is worth being that rigid.

Last year we decided that we were going to be more open with our content and post about things that fell outside of the “nerd” label. That will continue. I anticipate there may be more music articles, as well as more lifestyle themed pieces. We’re also hoping to continue developing our video projects. We had a blast filming at Warped Tour last year, and we always enjoy shooting unboxing videos, so make sure to follow our Youtube page for whatever may pop up there.

We will also keep our “Positivity clause” in effect indefinitely. That’s the one thing that makes all of this worth it. Our only goal at this point, is to write about what we love, what we care about, what we want YOU to love and care about. It’s why we started, and it’s the sentiment we’re back to now. We have no desire to waste your time with negative and disparaging clickbait. 4LN exists, inherently, not because we’re all narcissistic pieces of garbage who craved 15 minutes of mediocre, ill-begotten fame (not *all* of us), but because we genuinely want to talk about what we love. It used to be just comics, games, and other typical “nerd” stuff. But we’ve evolved (or maybe devolved, depending on who you ask) and we can either quit or adapt. We’ve chosen to adapt. So yes, there will still be weeks we don’t post much, and then there will be weeks that we post an article every day. 2 years ago when we’d post an article a day, most weeks 3 out of those 5 articles were, frankly, bulls–t (maybe “superfluous” is a more sophisticated word?), and we were all probably just as indifferent to them as you were. That won’t happen anymore.

To summarize: 4LN is exactly what we want it to be right now. Casual. We’ve always identified as casual nerds, we enjoy nerd culture but we aren’t defined by it. 4LN will go forward reflecting that ideology. We’ll write, and shoot videos, when it’s convenient, and when it’s something we’re passionate about. To that affect, 4LN articles will, admittedly, not always be classified as “nerd”, but we guarantee they’ll always be written by nerds.

With Gratitude,
Stephen Andrew

Cubicle Survival Guide: Work-at-Home Edition

With the rise of the interwebs, working from home – aka teleworking, aka pantsless-computing – is becoming an increasingly popular option for employers and employees alike.  Not only are employees generally happier because they don’t have to sit next to the microwave where Gary burns the popcorn EVERY DAMN TIME, but employees get to save on things like space and motivational posters:

I’ve been teleworking for about a year, and it’s fantastic. But, like most things in life, it has its ups and downs.  Productivity is important, and employment is even more important, so here are some tips and tricks to make your telework transition as smooth as possible.

First of all, you will need a work-space separate from the general living area.  Unless, of course, you live alone.  For me, I initially had to set up away from the everyday hubbub that comes with a two year old and a four year old waging war on one another and their toys.  Since I haven’t figured out how to make money off mediocrity yet, I had to set mine up in our bedroom where I could bar the door against the mini-horde of children plotting my doom.

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A reenactment of my kids outside my door.

Now that your desk is set up in a low traffic area, it’s time to get down to business.  The first few days at home might take a little getting used to, but eventually the lack of annoying chatter from your coworkers coupled with the morale boost that comes with not sitting in traffic for hours will coalesce into a beautiful tapestry of productivity.

Unless, of course, you decide to just watch Netflix the whole time (and by “watch” I mean “endlessly browse the queue of Netflix”).  One of the biggest downfalls of working from home is easy access to all of your in-home entertainment options. If you want to have the TV on in the background, that’s fine.  Just don’t make it a show that your are intensely interested in, because then you will spend a majority of your time staring at the wrong screen, which can also lead to a stiff neck if your TV is not directly beside your computer screen.  Now, if I have something on TV, it’s usually something that I don’t hate, but I’m also not particularly invested in like ESPN, or whatever the History Channel is peddling as educational nowadays.  Mainly though, I just jam Spotify most of the time.

This next one might sound like antithesis to my first point, but I just consider it farther up the skill tree so it requires a higher level to unlock.  More recently I have discovered how great it is to be mobile around the house.  We are issued a laptop, dock, and two monitors, but lately I’ve been unplugging from the dock and working on the kitchen table, standing at the kitchen counter, sitting on a rocking chair on the porch, and propping my feet up on the couch while getting the job done.  This is kind of a gray area when talking about productivity.  I had to see if I could still maintain my normal production levels, while exploring new places to work around the house.  After a week or two it’s become my new normal, and I love it.

#squadgoals

Now that we’ve looked at setup, sidebar entertainment, and level 2 skills, let’s finish by looking at some do’s and do nots for teleworking

• Do create a peaceful work environment. You’ll be spending a lot of time in this spot, so make sure you enjoy being there.

• Don’t make it so peaceful that you fall asleep.

• Do get up and move around from time to time. You’ll be walking even less now that you aren’t in the office. To avoid becoming one of the humans from WALL-E, try to get a moderate amount of movement in your day to day life.

My last point is probably the most important – don’t screw it up. Most telework contracts are conditional on you not being a terrible employee, so make sure your goals are met. If you manage that you can continue working in the nude like God intended.

 

4LN Comic Review – MARCH: Book One

There aren’t a lot of comics that you *need* to read. There are a lot of comics that you *want* to read, and love to read, but most of those comics ultimately have no genuine impact on your life other than giving you something to talk about with your comic reading friends who (surprise, surprise) also already loved them. Most of the time you’ll forget those comics within days of having read them. Rarely does a comic, or graphic novel, come along that you *need*, I mean really, for the sake of your own social and cultural betterment, NEED to read. The ones you need to read are the ones that have a lasting impact beyond briefly being mentioned in those comic Facebook groups you’re in. MARCH is one of those “need” books. In fact, and this is quite a big claim, it might be the most “need” comic/graphic novel of all-time.

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The first entry in a trilogy of graphic novels, MARCH: Book One tells the life-story of Congressman John Lewis, with a focus on his childhood and his journey to becoming a leading fighter on the front lines of the civil rights movement. The story unfolds as Rep. Lewis is telling two kids from his district about how he got to where he is, and the setting is Jan. 20th, 2009, the day President Obama was inaugurated.

The opening of the book is a depiction of the Selma-to-Montgomery march, where Lewis walked side-by-side with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as about 600 other marchers, in a peaceful protest, but they were blocked by state troopers and consequently attacked and beaten. It’s important that the narrative begin here because this was an pinnacle moment in Rep. Lewis’ life, and in the civil rights movement overall. The incident in Selma was broadcast all over television and shed a national light on the type of inhumane cruelty the black community had been suffering.

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Rep. Lewis lead a fascinating life. MARCH shows us what he was like as a young man, in his own words, and how even as a young boy he had a deep, intuitive understanding of the how precious life is, and how mistreating it can’t be justified.

Also, as someone who resides in a suburb of Nashville, it was bittersweet for me to see how our city is so closely tied to the fight for civil rights. Much of this volume of the story focuses on the peaceful sit-ins that Lewis helped organize at diners right here in the Tennessee capitol. I honestly had no idea that ever happened just outside my own backyard, and I, admittedly, felt a little shame that it wasn’t taught to me when I was in school, and that I hadn’t taken the time on my own to learn about it.

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Luckily for us, we have movies like Selma and The Butler to help us understand what life was like for the people paving the way for civil rights, and what life was like during that era, but there’s only so much a 2 hour movie can show you, and then on top of that they’re being told by artists. MARCH is an opportunity for you to see and hear what was going on through the eyes and words of a man who was actually there, fighting at the forefront of the movement. Sometimes it’s hard to witness, to see what they were enduring, but it is a historical part of this great country of ours, and one we need to be reminded of.

Recently, the trilogy set of MARCH has begun to sell out, so tracking down a physical copy of that might be tough, but it looks you can get a copy of Book One, as well as Book Two & Book Three (the first comic to win a National Book Award), through Amazon, and I’m sure places like Barnes & Noble or Books-a-Million might have them as well. You can also check with your local comic shop to see if they have any in stock. If you can’t get a physical copy, all three are available in Amazon’s Kindle format, and through Comixology.

I want to strongly recommend that you get this and read it, and I even urge you to consider getting it for any kid in your life (son, daughter, niece, nephew, cousin, etc.) from middle-school-age on. I believe it could teach them a lot about a time period in the U.S. that they may struggle to comprehend otherwise.

In addition to the crucial historical information, Rep. Lewis’ life is immensely inspiring, from his wise maturity at a young age through his firm resolve to fight for desegregation. At 76 years old he continues to be a man of strong determination and action. His story will open your eyes and give you hope. Get a hold of MARCH, by any means necessary, and let it move you, but more than that… let it motivate you.