Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Giant Robots on Sale!

Well, sort of. On the way to catch the bus to Sherm's house, I passed the window of Pegasus Books and saw they had this book for only 15 bucks (cover price is 40, and I've been thinking about getting it). About 90 seconds later I was walking past the same spot with one in my hands. It's a little overproduced, but the art inside is fantastic. Just look at that ridiculous thing on the cover. It's got gothic windows! Ah, I love this stuff

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Octopunk gets his Mug on TV

Early this morning I went to KRON in San Francisco for an exhibition build-off. I sat with the other two SF finalists and we spent an hour building a model, just like the audition but without the pirate theme. When I had been looking for those yellow pieces for back of the parrot's head, I had been hoodwinked by a number of the inverse version of the same piece. Knowing there would be a lot of them, I planned the rocket you see here, starting with the fins.

The two anchors had a newsdesk and an informal talk show setup with couches. We were off to the side at a long table, with a boom cam pointing down at us. As we built, they delivered the news, and showed footage of us as they went to commerical. I wrapped it up with some time to spare, and we went over to the couches and talked for a few minutes. Then the two hosts picked the frog head as their favorite (I don't have a picture, but it was made by the guy who made the octopus in his audition).

I admit I wanted the little Lego award statuette, but I feel I did really well where it counted. I finished the model I set out to do and it's got some complicated building going on. As for my performance, I don't really want to go all Gary about how I came off, but my friends say I did well. Even though I wanted to lean forward with my elbows on my knees like the other two guys, I sat up straight -- straighter than I ever do in real life. I made a couple of funnies.

Okay, this one I'll mention because it wasn't my original joke. I said that I had a Lego Room in my house, and the two hosts (who talked over each other a lot) made tandem comments asking if I was married. I said "well, there was a special lady, but she was into Lincoln Logs, so it didn't work out." Broke up the whooooole TV studio (not so much; that sentence is an inside joke).

I have one tape of this already and I plan to order another one from the studio, so those of you not in CA can judge for yourself how clever I am when I next see you.

In order to get to the studio on time, I'd had to crash at A&J's and borrow their car. As I was pulling away from the studio, my phone bleeped that I had a message. It was Adam, saying he'd caught my act on TV. I wasn't sure they'd make it up that early since they'd gone to the Cars wrap party at Pixar, which is a big shindig. We headed over to Meg's where the kids had crashed last night; they'd seen me on TV and Edie had a drawing of my rocket waiting for me. Shortly after that I had two more messages: Sherm demanded a recount; Charlie my next door neighbor said "frogs suck" and that he was gonna toss the frog-depicting "welcome to our pad" doormats from the deck outside, except that it was raining.

They let us keep the models. Mine is on the North Wall right now, my first trophy from this experience. I want to tweak it, make a band of yellow above the little brown window. But I'm going to leave it the way it is until the search is over.

I realize I'd have had a better chance with the morning hosts if I'd remembered to include a hook -- some little point of quirky cleverness to make them go "oh, cute!" Like the eye patch on my parrot head. Good lesson for the day: don't forget the hook.

Several hours later, I looked back on the day and said "I had a good television appearance today." That's a fairly unique morsel.

Thursday, March 09, 2006


I made finalist! In two months, I hit San Diego Legoland and compete with 27 other people for the model building job. Yes, yes, yes. Yes.

You can see me and my entry here. (Not the best ever picture of me, but meh.)

My friend Andy (see his cool website) had alerted me to the add on Craigslist: an open spot for a Legoland Carlsbad model builder. It's a national search: seven cities, of which SF was the third. I took a look at the finalists before me in San Diego and LA, and figured out without too much head scratching that the theme was Pirates. Arrrrhhh.

I called in sick this morning, setting my alarm wicked early so I knew I'd get my boss's voicemail. The event ran from 3pm to 7, but I didn't want a day's work stress crowding my focus. I had an idea of what I was going to do -- a big parrot head, and at about 11:30 I sat down to do a practice run. Less than five minutes in, I realized there was nothing I could do to prepare myself further. I caught a whiff of that familiar zing I get when, in the small sphere of influence between my hands, I have to make something beautiful, and fast. But I could also feel that it would kick in when the time came.

The day itself wasn't very fun. Stage fright. You can't do anything about it but get through. I emerged from the train with 20 minutes to spare, determined to get myself a Mounds bar before I went in. I had a message. Was it Legoland, telling me I was late? Nope. "Kick ass, kick ass, kick ass" said JPX in my ear, telling me I could do this. A welcome boost. I settled for a pack of Rollos.

This happened at the Art Institute, an SF art school. The lobby had some beautiful, big models in it, and some tables with legos piled on them. This wasn't the competition room, these people are just entouraged by piles of loose legos. They gave me forms to fill out. I was still pretty nervous and wasn't feeling very chatty, but I overheard the pirate theme being discussed. Arrrrhhh.

I was paired with another guy who finished his forms about the same time, and up we went. They had prepared for more people than they'd got, at least at that point in the day. Thinking back, I'm pretty sure there was only one other pair of guys at work. The reason I'm a little fuzzy on the subject is that there were at least three people in there with big TV cameras on their shoulders. We got a brief rundown from Pat, introduced as the head of the model shop. Much younger guy than you'd think (if I'm remembering his title correctly).

There were seven big bins full of legos on tables at the edge of the room. Everybody got a bucket and a baseplate. You could go get legos from the bins at any time, as many times as you wanted. "I'm looking for a finished model, guys." We got one hour.

I went over and started grabbing red bricks, then thought I'd be better off using the giant metal scoop and dumping it back at my table. The camera guys were in real close as we scooped and dug, and as we built they got lots of close-ups of our busy hands and furrowed brows. I held up my model to get a good side-view look at it, figuring how many more layers before I worked on the upper beak. The camera guy, two feet away, said "wow, are you doing this all in your head?" I stammered out a yes of some sort. Ten minutes later all the cameras had left, and it was just me muttering to myself, hunting for pieces, hearing them bounce on the floor when I dropped them.

I'll save the technical talk for my fellow freaks, but suffice to say the zing did me right. The parrot head came out great, and I'd given him an eye patch. I'd finished the basic elements in just 45 minutes. I had time at the end to add a bunch of extra yellow "feathers" to the back, and I had time to find that one white piece I had subbed in as part of the beak and switch it to yellow. When the hour stuck, I was just taking out the camera for some pictures.

Right after they took my picture, they asked me if I'd talk with their documentary crew for a bit. Since the head was fragile in ways only I knew best, I carried it downstairs myself. With my other hand, I spent a second or two showing off pictures of my other lego creations on my iPod. I felt great, completely relieved. My reticence had reversed itself, and what better time to talk to a documentary crew than when you're feeling all Chatty Kathy. They shot this in a tiny room with a gorgeous rack of organized legos on a table behind me. I answered questions and rattled on about model building, toys, three-dimensional sketch pads and whatever. The room was so tiny the camera man was out in the hall, and sometimes I'd say things over again because a toilet had flushed nearby.

Then I was done. I shot some pictures in the lobby and left. The windy day had turned nasty rainy. I called Adam and he was just getting home, so I invited myself over. I told them about the day and we checked the website every few minutes (which now, hours later, is still not yet featuring my mug). At about 9:30 they called me. I was fairly composed on the phone but shrieked like a harpy the second I hung up. Julie, the PR person who called me, said I'd made a very good model. And get this...on Sunday, I'm in a spot they're doing on TV. Hee hee.

I hung with A&J for a while, drinking vodka and talking strategy (I've got some practicing to do). I made some phone calls, and my roommate Julian told me that the usual crew would be at Beckett's in Berkeley. I stopped there on the way home, got some more vodka and hugs. The support and good wishes I've gotten from everyone has been wonderful.

Now I'm home staying up late, hoping that looking tired tomorrow will seem like looking sick, and really hoping nobody saw me on TV today. Although that's probably the coolest way to get caught.

What a great day.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Fear the Yeti Crab!

Well, really it's up to you if you want to fear it or not. If you click the picture, you'll see it roughly life-sized. A shrimp would fear it (by which I don't mean a small, sissified person; I mean an actual shrimp). From the redcoats over at the BBC:

Marine biologists have discovered a crustacean in the South Pacific that resembles a lobster or crab covered in what looks like silky fur. Kiwa hirsuta is so distinct from other species that scientists have created a new taxonomic family for it.

A US-led team found the animal last year in waters 2,300m (7,540ft) deep at a site 1,500km (900 miles) south of Easter Island, an expert has claimed.

The "Yeti Crab", as it has been dubbed, is white and 15cm (5.9in) long, according to Michel Segonzac of the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea (Ifremer).

In what he has described as a "surprising characteristic", the animal's pincers are covered with sinuous, hair-like strands. It seems to reside around some Pacific deep sea hydrothermal vents, which spew out fluids that are toxic to many animals.

New species! I love when that happens. Read the rest here.