Posted // 2013-12-10 -
As the local geek culture grows, so does the coverage and talk, breeding a new line of people to discuss all things nerdy and pop-culture related for your knowledgeable pleasure. One of the local websites to gain ground in recent years is Stolendroids, offering an array of news and interview stories, as well as an expanding library of podcasts for people to check out.
Today, I chat with several members of the Stolendroids team about their fandom, getting together to form the website, their expansion to where it is today and a few extra topics. (All pictures courtesy of Amber Dahl.)
Zuke, Bryan, Amber, Zohner and Derek
Gavin: Hey, everyone. First thing, tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Zuke: My name is Kazuki Arakaki, or as I’m more often known, Zuke. I come from an IT background but love sci-fi. I’m from the east bench area of Salt Lake City, but live in Spanish Fork now with my wife and kids. I’m probably best described as someone who hasn’t let himself fully grow up; I still enjoy cartoons, video games, and comics.
Jeremiah: I like to think that I’m a fairly well-rounded geek. I have a background in IT and spent my youth playing with action figures, watching cartoons and sci-fi, and reading comic books. Given my love for all things geek, being able to talk to anyone who will listen just comes naturally. Despite the fact that I enjoy doing the podcast, it doesn’t pay the bills, so I spend my days managing beta tests. I’m married to an amazing woman who tolerates my geeky tendencies and shakes her head at the fact that we have four geek children. Also, I feel that raisins were put on Earth to trick those of us who love oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies.
Bryan: I am Schmidty. I am the Code Monkey of the group. I work as a PHP developer and I have been coding all of my life. I am interested in everything tech-related, and I like to keep up with new and emerging technologies, new software and games. I also love books, mostly in the e-book format, and mostly of the sci-fi genre.
Amber: I am Amber Dahl, or also known as “Dahlface.” My partner in crime who will be doing the podcast with me is Derek. Both of us are obsessed with Batman, gaming, collecting action figures, Marvel, and Star Wars.
Gavin: How did each of you get into geek culture early on, and what were your favorite things growing up?
Zuke: I think you’re kind of born with it already in you. There are people who would have been a “geek” but maybe their family was more into sports than anything. Those would be the sports fans who can quote every stat for their favorite team going back since the team’s founding. That’s pretty geeky right there. As for me, I always leaned toward science and science fiction and, thankfully, my parents encouraged that. I was raised on Brandbury and Asimov before I ever learned about Lucas and Roddenberry.
Jeremiah: In 1980, The Empire Strikes Back was released. My dad took me to see it and I discovered that Star Wars was my first love. I still remember my first action figure: an ESB Han Solo, Hoth Outfit. My brother broke the head off, but I never forgot the impact that simple toy had on me; I eventually replaced it with another one. Add my love of Star Wars to my love of cartoons, comic books and video games, and there was little doubt that I would grow up to be a geek. Thankfully, it’s more socially acceptable now than it was 20 or 30 years ago.
Bryan: I was kind of born into the geek culture. My dad was an engineer and into computers and was always getting the latest computers and devices. So, at a young age, I started learning how to program on the Apple IIe, and that led into learning how to code games. Early on, games weren’t built with the best encryption or security, so it was easy for me to get into the code of games that other people had made and see how they made it. That was my primary method of learning how to program, and it eventually led to where I am now.
Amber: I grew up with four brothers. I didn’t have much of a chance, which was OK because I was a tomboy anyway. I grew up watching Star Wars movies, Star Trek, Batman, and just became obsessed with the culture. It was more interesting to me than what little girls were normally into. I would play with my brothers’ toys more than my own.
Gavin: What was it like for each of you growing up and learning more about the culture and finding your particular niche that you loved?
Zuke: I grew up with a funny Japanese name, I was 6’1” by fourth grade, I didn’t understand sports and I wasn’t a member of the predominant religion. So, when I was teased and excluded from groups, I honestly didn’t think it had anything to do with liking science fiction. I really believed it was because of all those other things! It wasn’t until I graduated high school and realized that all the things I loved were considered “geeky” and uncool. Of course, here we are with all those things becoming popular. I’d like to think that the rest of the world has finally caught up to me!
Jeremiah: As a kid, I was somewhat of a loner. I had friends, but not a lot of really close friends. I would much rather have played with my action figures while watching cartoons or read a comic book than go outside with the other kids in the neighborhood. As I got older, this changed a bit, but mostly because it wasn’t socially acceptable for me to spend my free time reading about the latest adventures of Superman or Batman. As a result, I never felt like I fit in. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s that I came to the realization that I really didn’t care what most people thought about me and I started to embrace the things that I truly enjoyed: comic books, action figures, and computers. Once that happened, I was much happier with myself as a person and my life has been full of awesome ever since.
Bryan: I was an outgoing guy, but also very socially awkward toward people I didn’t know, so it was hard to get to know people. It was hard growing up since my interest in computers made me a bit of an outsider. I eventually did find people who did share my same interests, so I didn’t go through school completely without friends. Being interested in computers, I was always the friend and family member who was tasked with fixing computers and setting up security when the Internet became more popular. That helped me feel a bit more useful and that I could take this knowledge further and actually make a living out of it. On top of that, I started getting requests to make websites for people. People naturally think, “Well, you’re good with computers; that means you can make a website, right?” So, being the type of person who has a hard time saying no, I would take these challenges, and quickly found that it wasn’t much different than what I had learned about programming. And that is how I got into web development.
Amber: Growing up was hard in ways because not a lot of my friends were into the same stuff as I was. I was a closet geek because I didn’t feel that I could open that side of myself to many people. Even in my 20s, when I was married to my first husband, I didn’t feel like I could really open that side of me so I pretty much kept a lot of it to myself. I started to really branch out when I met my current husband. It was nice to finally meet someone who loved all of the same things that I do and it pretty much unleashed the geek monster. I also used to pretend that I was a reporter when I was younger and loved the thought of interviewing others. It’s pretty awesome that it’s becoming a reality.
Gavin: How did each of you start breaking into covering pop-culture and geek-related news?
Zuke: For me, it was entirely unintentional. Not that I live on the Internet -- I have a full time job and four kids, after all -- but I always seemed to have my finger right on the pulse of what was going on. I was always informed about issues in my areas of interest. I would want to talk with people to get their opinion and see what they were thinking, only to find out that they hadn’t heard of it in the first place. In my effort to have “water-cooler talk” with people, I was inadvertently breaking news to them instead. It sort of transitioned from there.
Jeremiah: I have a much-neglected family blog, where I would occasionally post bits of geek news that I found interesting. I soon came to the realization, though, that nobody in my family really cared to read what I thought. I really didn’t start “covering” this stuff until we started Stolendroids.
Bryan: For me, it was kind of a natural transition since I was always keeping updated with tech news. I would try to share it with family and friends and they would feign interest, but there was never really anyone who was truly interested. So, when we started recording the podcast, it was great to be able to share what I was interested in with a large audience who shared the same interest.
Amber: I first started by posting things to either Facebook or Twitter with all of my favorite updates. I would follow my favorite cosplayers and others and find out any update that I possibly could. I just loved posting anything that I could find out, just because it was fun for me. Now, it’s definitely branched out into something bigger.
Gavin: Prior to the website, did any of you know each other or run into each other at conventions and meetings?
Jeremiah: Zuke, Schmidty, Stark, and I all worked together. I “discovered” Amber via Twitter. Somehow, I found her profile and saw that she was a geek so I started following her. We soon developed somewhat of a friendship that eventually led to her helping us out at Salt Lake Comic Con last year. She did such an amazing job for us that there was no way that we couldn’t have her as part of our team.
Amber: I won a shirt from them and was planning to visit their booth anyway. Well, some of my favorite cosplayers happened to be down the row from them -- LeeAnna Vamp and Nicole Marie Jean -- and they asked me if I wanted to interview them. I jumped at the chance even though I was a nervous wreck. Luckily, Derek was there to cheer me and knew that was an opportunity I shouldn’t miss. It was amazing, and apparently I did a good enough job that they asked us to be a part of the podcast.
Gavin: How did the idea for Stolendroids come about, and where does the name come from?
Zuke: Long ago, Bryan and I had a site called BusyNoodle.com, where we started putting as much information as we could on it. The idea was we’d be able to put encyclopedia entries, how-to articles and math calculators to make it a real place for reference on the web. Well, Wikipedia, Lifehacker and Wolfram-Alpha all launched and did a much better job at it than we ever could. Then, we launched a site called InfiniteGeek, which was to be a sort of online magazine of things that were happening in the geek world. About the same time, Gizmodo launched and the same story happened all over again. For our third site, we partnered back up with Jeremiah and decided to just create a place where we could dump our thoughts, free from our family blogs where no one actually cared. We picked the name Stolendroids, based upon the scene from Star Wars: A New Hope. Actually, the phrase “stolen droids” is never said in the movie itself; it’s lifted from a parody called Troops based upon the concept of COPS happening in Star Wars. We figured it was close enough that anyone with any sort of geek cred would catch the reference. Unfortunately, a few years later, Motorola launched a phone named the Droid, and many people now assume we’re a site where you can find your stolen phone.
Gavin: What was it like putting the team together and coming up with a plan to cover news and events?
Zuke: The team was really born out of people we knew who we liked listening to ourselves. We wanted people who felt comfortable in front of a mic and could convey themselves as some sort of authority.
Bryan: In coming up with a plan on what to cover, we were trying to come up with a way to share articles and decide what to talk about, so we decided to open a Google Doc and we would throw articles in throughout the week that interested us. We were pretty confident that things that interested us would also interest those who we were targeting as our audience.
Gavin: How was it for each of you joining at the start and helping raise the website?
Jeremiah: Exciting. I finally had an outlet where I could express my pent-up nerd rage and people would respond. It was very gratifying.
Bryan: When we started the podcast, none of us were really sure how long we would last, so it was a bit of a confidence boost for me when we started receiving feedback from people. Then, it was even more awesome when someone I didn’t even know, on my first week of work at my new job, recognized my name and voice from the podcast and said, “Hey! You’re Schmidty from The Stolendroids! I listen to your podcast!” So, that was an affirmation to me that we have a larger listener base than I thought possible.
Zuke: We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention our partner in crime, Carl Stark, who helped launch the show and was with us for those first two years. He helped us considerably, and he really helped round the show out. He’s still an important member of Stolendroids Media; even though he’s no longer on our show; he now hosts Starfleet Academy podcast.
Gavin: What was it like during the first two years, staying active and informative for readers during what was a major boom in comics, film and entertainment in general?
Zuke: It actually caused some issues, at first. Our first few episodes were terrible. We’re talking “stinks on ice” bad. There was so much happening in the news we just didn’t know how to prioritize what we were presenting! There was one episode where we just rambled for almost two hours, just because so much was going on. My own mother e-mailed me and said, “I think it’s great you’re doing something like this, but I’m not listening anymore if all your shows go that long!”
Jeremiah: The first few years of the website were difficult. We had such grand designs that never quite materialized. On the flip side, though, once we started the podcast, we always had something to discuss so staying active wasn’t difficult. It only got easier, too, once we started getting feedback from our listeners.
Zuke: Yeah. Once we started getting feedback, we were able to tweak our format and start to introduce some things and get rid of others. We got a lot better at planning which topics we would cover in an episode, and in what order, so that it would flow better for the listener. We tried different segments every so often, and we’ll probably keep changing so long as people tell us what they like and don’t like.
Amber: I wasn’t around the first two years, but I did follow the boys then. They were really entertaining for me to read and listen to.
Zuke, Bryan, Jeremiah: Awwwww.
Gavin: When did the idea come about to start up a podcast, and how was it getting the show together?
Zuke: That was actually Bryan’s idea. He had been listening to other podcasts and pitched the idea to me; I didn’t even know what a podcast was! I listened to a few that he suggested and liked the idea, but was worried about not knowing what to do. It took a bit of convincing, but once I was on board, we were didn’t waste any time.
Jeremiah: Yeah, I remember it going something like, “We were wondering if you’d like to be on a podcast with us. Great, we’re recording on Thursday. THIS Thursday.”
Gavin: Having so many geek-related shows in the state, what did you do with your show to separate it from the others and make the content unique?
Zuke: I have a slight confession there; I didn’t know there were a lot of geek shows in Utah. The inherent problem with podcasts is that they aren’t really that easy to discover. Even people who listen to a lot of them mostly find new ones through word of mouth. There isn’t a real easy way to say “give me podcasts from a certain area” or “give me podcasts about THIS ONE SUBJECT."
Jeremiah: I think that we try to have fun. We have never taken ourselves too seriously, but we are serious about what we do. We really strive to do a good show, and I think that the fact that we do it every week has really helped us.
Gavin: You've since launched a second show, and a third one will be on the way. What inspired you to branch out in podcasting, and are you looking to create a network of shows?
Jeremiah: Earlier this year at the Podcast Awards, we had the opportunity to meet with a gentleman who ran a podcast network. Zuke and I talked about it and realized that we could do something similar. We decided that Stark would be our first spin-off show since he has a skillset that is unique to him and could help expand our listener base. It took us nearly a year, but we now have three shows, with one more coming early next year.
Gavin: This year the website expanded to become Stolendroids Media. What prompted the change and what have you been doing aside from podcasting to expand the site?
Zuke: When we started out, it was just The Stolendroids podcast. Even that was just because we named the show after the site. We started getting celebrity interviews, so we spun them off into Stolendroids Present. Then, one of our contributors, Steven Hawley, started his show under our name, called Squishy’s Comics and Movies. By the time our Starfleet Academy podcast launched, we realized that you can’t really say, “Yeah, I have a podcast” when you actually have four shows on your site already. We reorganized and renamed it Stolendroids Media. Just in time, too, with Amber and Derek’s show on the way!
Gavin: What are your goals for Stolendroids over the next few years, and what do you hope to achieve with the site, both as a media spot and news source?
Jeremiah: I would like nothing more than fame and fortune; a solid-gold swimming pool would be nice. Actually, I really just want to make good shows. Getting paid would be nice, but I didn’t get into podcasting to get rich. It’s pretty cool when people tell me that they listen to the show, or that they recognize my voice from the show, but it’s much more satisfying knowing that somebody enjoys what we do. I would also love to get a partnership with a local comic or game shop that would allow us to record our show in front of people who cared to stop and listen, sort of a live-studio-audience thing. That would be a lot of fun.
Bryan: I would like to see us expand to even more podcasts, video and audio, and be able to cover a variety of content so that we can ensure that our listeners can get the type of content that they want. I would also like to be able to cover more live events and reach out to more geek icons for interviews.
Amber: I think it would be awesome for the podcast to grow more internationally. These guys are great to work with and I would LOVE to be able to keep up doing interviews at Comic Con or other events. I think this is a great culture and I would want to share our love with others. I hope we can grow into something bigger. And if not, I’m still enjoying this anyway.
Zuke: We’ve been nominated every year since we started for the Best Tech Podcast down at the New Media Expo, and listed in Stitcher’s Top 100 Tech Podcasts. I’d like to win one of those!
Gavin: What can we expect from all of you and the website going into the next year?
Amber: We currently have a store open, but are planning to branch out with other products. I have a lot of ideas and I can’t wait for them to be put in action.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Zuke: We've got some things up on our store at www.stolendroids.com, like our popular poster, which is perfect for the season.
Schmidty: Be sure to also check out the SCaM Show at scamshow.stolendroids.com, and the Starfleet Academy at academy.stolendroids.com.
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