Lightning Octopus: Big Brain 2013 Finalist, Online

You submitted nominations for awards given to the Valley's emerging creatives and the results are in. Introducing our Big Brain 2013 Finalists.

Leading up to the Big Brain Award awards announcement and celebration on April 27, Chow Bella and Jackalope Ranch will introduce the finalists.

Up today: Lightning Octopus

Jonathan Simon has a tendency to geek out. A lot. You can tell when it's happening, as the 32-year-old blogger usually sports a boyish grin when discussing things he's passionate about, such as space ("I'm a big solar system nerd"), Super Nintendo, and sci-fi novels (Nick Harkaway's post-apocalyptic tome The Gone-Away World is a major fave).

See also: - Announcing the 2013 Big Brain Finalists - Meet New Times' 2013 Big Brain Finalists and Celebrate the Winners at Artopia on April 27

He wears an even bigger smile when gushing about a particularly favorite subject: the joys of local geek culture. Over the past three years, he's explored, chronicled, and celebrated homegrown nerdom in the Valley on his renowned blog Lightning Octopus.

Since launching in 2010, Simon's exhaustively championed the imaginative efforts of like-minded local comic book scribes, fantasy authors, indie auteurs, and countless creatives of a geeky via the site, as well as giving the lowdown on nerd-oriented events throughout Arizona. It also helped reinvent his life.

Sitting inside his cozy office, a recent addition to the Mesa home Simon shares with his wife Darby and their three children, this implementation analyst for a local staffing company ("It's as boring as it sounds") describes how Lightning Octopus transformed him from a cubicle drone and reclusive homebody into a nerd about town.

A trip to Phoenix Comicon on a lark opened Simon's eyes to the Valley's vast geek scene and provided the impetus for the blog he'd been itching to create. Nights spent watching TiVo then became unforgettable experiences with hackers, cosplayers, monsterologists, and zombie hunters, often with his family in tow.

Much like his own experience, Simon implores others to pull a Luke Skywalker in Star Wars and ditch the homestead in search of adventure.

"I've become an evangelist of opening your door and seeing what's going on right in your neighborhood," he says. "I was super-blind to it, to all this stuff to explore here, stuff I never would've done before."

Like hanging with R2-D2 at Tempe's Geeks Night Out, riding in a DeLorean during KAET's Nerd Walk, or other activities that would've made his younger self insanely jealous. Star Wars and Back to the Future were beloved to this child of the '80s, who preferred science and spaceships over sports while growing up "on the mean streets of Sandy, Utah."

Simon has reduced his blogging recently due to increased parental responsibilities (including another baby on the way), but makes time for Lightning Octopus' newest feature, the aptly named Electric CephaloPodcast. It debuted in February after web developer/graphic designer Austin Baker and Chris Dodson, a network engineer, approached him about a podcast emphasizing homegrown geekery.

"It was a match made in heaven. Austin had the microphone, Chris is good at editing audio, and I had the blog," Simon says. "Basically, we're all geeks who have fun chit-chatting about nerdy stuff."

Currently one of the only Valley-centric geek podcasts of its kind, each episode is a blast of breezy, brainy fun. Listeners feel apart of some laidback conversation amongst old friends, where the topics are purely geek and meander between the silly (Simon discovering a half-eaten PowerBar of Eureka star Colin Ferguson at Phoenix Comicon) and the cerebral (recapping ASU's mind-bending "Storytelling of Science" panel).

Local guests occasionally "come on and nerd out" about their passions (like Valley improv comedian and soda geek Preston Smith, who shared his favorite Phoenix spots to perform or score gourmet pop) or gush about choice books, movies, or comics.

"We joke that our ultimate goal is getting Stephenie Meyer on the podcast because she's from here," he says. "We'll have truly made it then."

Buy a $10 ticket to enjoy an evening of food, drink and entertainment April 27 at the Monarch Theatre in downtown Phoenix. Meet the finalists and learn who won during our Big Brain celebration, Artopia.

Follow Jackalope Ranch on Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest.

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