Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Worldcon73 (Sasquan 2015)

NOTE: There are two Davids in this entry.  I refer to one as "David W." and the other fully as "David Gerrold".

Worldcon - Day 0 (Friday)

On Friday, I left work a couple of hours early to go home, pack up some clothes, and pack Rainier into the van.  Except that there was no van on the street.  It was missing, and the only thing near where it was parked was a wooden sign saying "Tow Away Zone, no parking 50' near this sign".

So I called the number on the sign and tried to see where the van had got towed to.  After being told to call a separate line, I confirmed its location, hired a car service to get there, slammed down $249 to get it out of impoundment, and then spent the better part of an hour getting the van back home.  With now only an hour to spend getting ready and packing Rainier, my clothes, and my dog, I set to work double-time.  David W., one of Rainier's minions, helped me get Rainier inside, and off we went to pick up Rainier's other minion, Cavin, downtown.

Then, by about 6:00pm, we were all three of us (and one dog) finally on the road to Spokane.  Spokane is a 279-mile trip from Seattle, and there's a direct route (I-90) that gets there.  The trip was fairly uneventful, but I learned that the van has some fits and starts climbing extended hills or in-between 60-70 miles-per-hour.  I learned a bit on how to handle it, though, so we were okay.  Because of all the wildfires happening in Washington and other states, any time we took a washroom break, the air smelled of one gigantic campfire.  It was hazy driving for the majority of the trip.

We eventually got into Spokane at about 10:30pm, and GPS directed us to the hotel where we had made reservations.  We parked, examined potential spots for assembling Rainier, and made out way to the concierge desk.  David W. sat in a lounge chair to rest, and Cavin took the dog outside to take care of that end of things.  I got our room keys, and asked to confirm if I needed to put down a pet deposit.

"Oh, we don't allow pets on the property at any time."

Okay, that's not what I was told when I made the room reservation, but then I was told that it was a different hotel in the chain that accepted animals.  I booked at the Davenport Grant, when what I wanted was the Davenport Tower.  So, she kindly made the call over to the other hotel, confirmed that they (miraculously) had a room free during Worldcon, and that they were waiting to serve.  She cancelled my original reservation with no penalty fee, and off we went, about a half-mile away to the other location.

We parked, checked in, and crashed for the night, smelling of campfire smoke.

Worldcon - Day 1 (Saturday)

The following day, we set out to find just where we were supposed to go.  But before I continue the story of this weekend, this is now the part where I get to spill the beans on why I had to finish Rainier by Anglicon at the earliest.

A friend of mine, David Gerrold, is a writer, and we've known each other for over two years now.  If you don't recognize the same, you'll be forgiven, but he's left a few bits of legacy behind in his long writing career.  For example, he invented the Tribbles for the original Star Trek series, and wrote the accompanying episode, "The Trouble with Tribbles".  He'd been following my progress on Rainier a few months after I started him.

Well, he was invited to be a guest-of-honor at this year's Worldcon (the 73rd annual), and to be Master of Ceremonies at the 2015 Hugo Awards presentation.  Accepting the honor, he immediately started to formulate how he wanted the ceremony to go.  He decided he wanted a Dalek.  He decided it should be my Dalek.

He called me up with a rough outline of the show, and what Rainier's part in it would be.  Rainier was to present two awards: Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation - Short Form and Long Form.  I set forth to finish Rainier's construction by Anglicon, and functionality by Worldcon.  You've read about all that in previous entries.

Anyway, back to the weekend.  We arrived at the loading dock of the theater where the Hugos are to be held, and unloaded and assembled Rainier outside.  Then we rolled him up the ramp into the loading room, and then into the backstage area.  While we were there, we bumped into Urban Jungleboy—builder of the TDK Tiki-Style Dalek—busily assembling what would eventually become a very tall grim reaper ... commissioned by our mutual friend, David Gerrold!  He was in a bit of a hurry, but we chatted for a bit, and became chums.

I tested out Rainier's electronic bits.  They are still a bit of a shambles: some cables are too long and need trimmed and re-soldered; some pieces—like the MartMod and the various smaller batteries—need to be mounted somewhere and fastened down; I need a proper chair and not the folding aluminum one I've been using, etc.  But, my minions buttoned me up inside Rainier, and we rehearsed.

When David Gerrold saw Rainier in person, he screamed in delight.  Like a really high-pitched, elated yelp.  He complimented the work, and said that it was honestly some of the best craftsmanship he had ever seen.  And this is a guy that's worked in Hollywood.  I was blown away and humbled by the compliment.  I'm still kinda processing that, to be honest.  Sophie Aldred, Colin Baker, and Jon Davey said similar things, and I don't really let myself believe it.  Rainier's my first ever prop; how can it be that great?

Back to the rehearsal.  There was no script; David Gerrold and I lobbed ideas back and forth and settled on a loose framework for how I was to enter, introduce myself, present the awards, and exit.  (I didn't interact with Tananarive Due—the other Master of Ceremonies, but she had her own stuff to do; she was impersonating Uhura fabulously.)  The theater people hooked a transmitter to the headphone jack of the MartMod (my 4-ohm speaker proved to be too weak), and soon, Rainier's modulated voice filled the whole bloody house.  It was amazing.  They also worked with the grim reaper which was to start the show, and it was amazing.

After that, we checked out the con a bit, wandered the expo floor, swung by the Anglicon 2016 booth, read a lot of stuff about the late Sir Terry Pratchett and his involvement with Worldcon over the years, and had lunch.  We went back to the hotel, took care of the dog, and then napped a bit to build up our energy for that evening's award ceremony.

Getting back into the theater (and into the Dalek), we waited for the show to start.  And waited.  By the time the show started, I was inside Rainier for about 45 minutes.  I didn't know how much more time it would be before my two Hugo categories came up.  After another hour, they did, and I rolled out to center stage, to the absolute shock and wild applause of a full house who hadn't a clue that a Dalek was going to be there.  I, of course, didn't notice—I instead saw that I'd forgotten to turn the transponder on for the sound.  I did so, resumed a menacing stance, and started to yell "EXTERMINATE" at the audience.

David Gerrold (per our agreed-upon banter) rushed over and said "No, no!  These are the Hugo nominees!  We don't want to exterminate them!"


"Well, I guess we can get more nominees next year. No! We don't want to exterminate them, either!"


And so on.  I went off the rails at that point, and kept David Gerrold in stitches.  Hopefully there will be someone who surfaces a video of the thing.  It's all a blur, and it was amazing.

(The Hugo winners for my categories were, by the way, Orphan Black for short form and Guardians of the Galaxy for long form.)

Afterward, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief.  The ceremony was done (which was already built up to be a controversial one: google "sad puppies" and you'll read all about it), the winners deserving, and the tension released.  David Gerrold, Tananarive, and I posed for a bit of backstage photos, and then it was time to take Rainier back to the van.

While rolling him back into the loading dock area, who but George R. R. Martin walked into view!  He waved at Rainier as he walked by, but I just had to beg for him to return and pose with Rainier for just a few moments.  He graciously obliged, said something about how he and the Dalek were alike in that they loved exterminating people, and on he went.

(Little did I know that I was going to hang out at his Hugo Losers afterparty that he's been annually hosting since 1976, but that's another story for another time.)

I got back to the hotel at about 2:00 in the morning, and promptly died in my sleep.

Worldcon - Day 2 (Sunday)

On Sunday, we slept in a little bit, grabbed our belongings, and checked out of the hotel.  I was to volunteer a couple of hours at the Anglicon 2016 booth back at the expo hall.  Cavin and David W. dropped me off, helped me assemble Rainier once more, and then went out to eat lunch and go shopping.  I ran into Kevin (Urban Jungleboy) again, who was trying to figure out a way to get the fully-assembled Grim inside.  I stopped for a picture that's very reminiscent of C-3PO and R2-D2, then wheeled Rainier inside and into an elevator.

Lots of people wanted his picture, and I obliged for awhile, but eventually I said that I needed to get to the Anglicon table and that he'd be there for two hours.  That was a nice lure.  Fresh from his notorious performance at the Hugos, people came up to the Anglicon booth to talk about him and our Seattle convention.  I mentioned to them that he made his official debut at Anglicon, and that they'd get to see him again at the 2016 convention.  I got a few people to sign up on the mailing list, at least.

When the time came to leave the expo hall, Worldcon, and Spokane behind, I wheeled Rainier over to David Gerrold's book booth to wish him farewell and on a job well done.  He was unfortunately presenting at a panel, so I snapped a shot of Rainier there, at least, to give him later.  I also bought two of his books.

I went outside with Rainier to wait for Cavin and David W. to pick us up, and while doing so, a young Japanese girl shyly stepped over and asked if she could get her picture with the Dalek.  It was really very sweet; she seemed to be in heaven.  Her parents explained that Doctor Who is her favorite show.  I'm assuming that they flew all the way from Japan to attend Worldcon.  She was just so delighted I thought she might pop.

Then, Cavin and David W. arrived, we packed up Rainier, and off we went, back to Seattle and home.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Getting Rainier ready for his next convention

It's gotten to the point in my diary where titling the build entries by the number of days worked doesn't make much sense (at least sometimes), so this entry will be about his post-Anglicon/next con update.  I'll mainly cover the stuff I did to get Rainier ready for me to pilot him from the inside, but before any fancy remote-control stuff.

For Anglicon, Rainier's eyestalk light was a small flashlight mirror that was screwed onto the threaded lamp rod exposed inside the back of the eyepiece (as seen in a previous build entry).  My Neo-pixel LED ring was simply taped to it, and that was powered by a tiny 3.7v 150mAh li-poly battery.  For what it was, it worked, but I wanted something a little closer to how I have the end result pictured in my head.

This is still a bit of a messy hack—I'm still using wax paper to cover my lens to diffuse the light, and I'm still taping this inside the eyepiece front to secure it.  Then, sandwiched together, I've got a bigger parabolic flashlight mirror, a second acrylic disk on which the neo-pixel LED ring is taped, and then a spacer (simply a discarded chocolate truffle container lid, trimmed up a bit) to fill up the remaining space inside the eye, leaving little to no wiggle room.  In the future, I want to replace that spacer with a motorized remote-controlled iris, similar to Nzarra's build.

All of that is then connected to the wire leading to my 5-volt smartphone emergency battery (which gives me about eight hours of light), and now has a lovely, noticeably brighter, light.

Switching topics, I went ahead and let my Toyota dealership install the struts and shocks on my van because I really didn't have time to learn how to do all that myself.  Of course, we paid a premium for that, but now we have a much more road-worthy van.  Her name is Miss Cleo Van Gogh (which we pronounce "van go" here in the states—she's a van, and she goes).  To test her out, we packed Rainier's various components inside, seeing if we could get away with just taking the back-most seats out.  It worked great, so now we can pack Rainier, two passengers, and one driver.

I also wanted to get a test trundle in before his next con (to be reported on soon), as I didn't want to undertake my Daleking duties there under-rehearsed.  We drove around to try and find a park with some fairly flat areas.  Rainier's fender is so close to the ground that uneven terrain would likely get him stuck.  We eventually settled on Cal Anderson Park where there's a stretch of wide, level sidewalk.  As we were assembling Rainier, a family gathered close and were asking all sorts of questions, hardly believing their luck at witnessing such a strange sight at the park!  It was quite flattering.  They couldn't believe he was made entirely from scratch.

(Some shots and a quick video of Rainier interacting with the crowd are at the end of the entry.)

The following day (today), I took some of my lessons learned from the trundle and applied them, namely in the speaker department.

Nothing is really secured inside Rainier at the moment.  I basically have a box in my lap where I keep the jumpstarter battery, the MartMod voice modulator, and the piles of untrimmed wire—all of which will need a better, cleaner solution which I haven't got to yet.  When trundling, I have to hold the speaker in place with one hand, and steer the joystick with the other.  Only when I come to a full stop can I move the dome, which has invariably wandered around a bit on the lazy susan.  My arms were getting pretty tired doing this after awhile.  It stayed surprisingly mild inside, temperature-wise, but that was probably because I had fresh air from outside blowing in.

I decided to at least secure the speaker.  I had been trying to think of an elegant way of doing this, which involved taking apart my little 4-ohm speakers I picked up from Re-PC (two of which I got for $4.00 total), but I couldn't figure out how they were put together.  So, I decided to potentially sacrifice one by drilling exploratory mounting holes and attaching them to metal brackets that I had.  Once I put the screws in, I hooked it up to the MartMod for a quick voice test, and it passed; I had damaged nothing.

Now that that's taken care of, I can control the dome with one hand and the joystick with the other, which will make for a much more believable interaction with the crowd.

Next update will very likely be after this coming weekend, so see you soon!