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Live Active Cultures 

Please pardon this pastoral interruption, but it's tough to focus with a cartoon-cute red squirrel snacking on birdseed 4 feet in front of you. This week's edition of Live Active Cultures comes to you from the top of a French Canadian mountain. I'm on brief break with the family in the Great North, and in many ways it's just as wonderful as the Quebec tourism bureau would have you believe: abundant nature, astounding views, affordable health care.

Many commercial comforts from home have Canadian counterparts here. We've got Dunkin' Donuts, they've got Tim Hortons (they win). They've got Poulet Frit Kentucky, we've got KFC (we win, sorta). We've got McDonald's, they've got … McDonald's (nobody wins). Heck, they've even got theme parks. But unlike Orlando's mega-attractions, these modest Canuck amusements (with names like "Au Pays des Merveilles") are populated by hideously off-model Disney character doppelgängers, scary slides and splintery seesaws that were lawyered out of American playgrounds, and surreally polite employees who converse fluently in both French and English — that's two more languages than your average Orlando "cast member."

If there's a downside to this bucolic bliss, it's the barren technological landscape. I'm spending a week without my electronic lifelines. No 3G, Wi-Fi, DSL or even dial-up — this is the longest I've been offline since CompuServe kicked the bucket. No cable, satellite or even rabbit ears; video entertainment options consist of a circa 2002 DVD player and my well-worn copy of Idiocracy. And don't get me started on the absence of air conditioning, despite the 40-plus degrees Celcius temps, which added up to crazy chaud (in Fahrenheit measure: 104-plus degrees).

So while I'm loving this land of poutine and low pollen counts, my inner dork is dying to get home, if only in anticipation of the fanboy frenzy set to swarm our city this weekend. Time to pull out your geek-freak flag and let it fly, friends. An epic double-header eons in the making is nigh: Nerdapalooza and Infinitus have arrived.

Nerdapalooza ( invades the Orlando Airport Marriott with a two-day fandom convention/concert festival, July 17-18, for fans of "nerdcore hip hop, chiptunes, comedy rock, video game music, VG remixes, and more." The subgenre's origins are ambiguous; some say Rush originated it with their objectivist prog rock, while local singer-songwriter Marc With a C (one of Nerdapalooza's returning veterans) persuasively points to Pete Townshend's "Pinball Wizard" as the first ode to an arcade game.

This is the fourth outing for the annual event organized by Nina Talley and a trio of friends. All ticket and merchandise sales benefit Child's Play, a nonprofit that provides video games to hospitalized kids in need of an entertaining distraction, so no need to feel guilty if you spring for the $350 Final Boss Club VIP tickets.

There are a handful of nonmusical components to Nerdapalooza, including a video game competition sponsored by Play N Trade, and the Epic Win Burlesque show presented by Schäffer the Darklord ("Scantily clad gals dressing up in nerdy costumes!"). In deference to the deluge of post-'palooza videos uploaded to the Internet each year, they're holding the first Nerdapalooza YouTube Challenge. But the 40 performing bands from around the U.S. are the main draw, with headliners MC Frontalot, the Protomen and Yip-Yip. Other notable acts include Zombies! Organize!! and MagiTek, who will play Friday's pre-party at A Comic Shop. And you can't forget "wizard rockers" Ministry of Magic, the House of Black and Fred Lives.

If those last names set your wand twitching, then you probably already have your tickets to Infinitus (, the first Harry Potter fan convention to be held July 15-18 at Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando. (If you bet that I'd get through a week without mentioning that park, pay up.) The centerpiece of the seventh such event promoted by HP Education Fanon Inc. is the Night of a Thousand Wizards, a private party inside the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction. Outside the theme park, the emphasis is on scholarly lectures and academic panels "covering topics from Alchemy to Zoology."

Outside the conference halls, you'll find a choreographed game of life-size Wizard Chess, memorabilia museums and auctions, and more Potter-inspired wizard-rock performances; Friday's world premiere of Lena Gabrielle's The Final Battle, a musical adaptation of the saga's climax "directed and rehearsed entirely on the Internet," should place her in the spotlight.

Finally, I'm looking forward to seeing my first real-life game of Quidditch, the sport that has leapt from the page to pitch with actual rules and liability waivers sans flying brooms. Up to 12 teams of 11 players will do battle Thursday and Saturday on the Royal Pacific's lawn for the 141st Merlin's Cup tournament. Just remember: Bewitching the Bludgers to break your opponents' bones is out of bounds, even if you spike their Gatorade with Skele-Gro.

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