Friday, January 30, 2009

Weekly Transformers Feature: Sky Lynx (Reissue)

For some reason that I cannot fully explain, I've always had a soft spot for the character of Sky Lynx. Yeah, he's an egotist, but there's something about that over-the-top braggadocio that I found endearing when I used to watch the Season 3 episodes of the original Transformers cartoon in which he was often a featured character. Even so, Sky Lynx was definitely one of those toys that was too expensive for me to justify getting as a kid. I'm not entirely sure why I decided to spend the money on the reissue last year, but I'm glad to have the toy now.

Sky Lynx as Space ShuttleAlthough the design is definitely decades old now, I'm fond of space shuttles, which I'm sure helps. Although I completely agree with NASA in their decision to retire the space shuttle program in favor of a more cost-effective system (effective next year), this was the space vehicle I grew up on, and I'll miss them when they're gone. In this mode, the blue carrier has an electronic feature that allows the whole thing to roll along on its own. However, I really don't use it much at home, given the carpeting and all....

Sky Lynx's Bird halfOne thing I don't miss from the 1980's is the need to put stickers on all of my Transformers. I really hate having to put on stickers, and getting the Sky Lynx reissue provided me of an acute reminder of why when, in my efforts to get the gold sticker on the opposite site of the shuttle just right, I ended up slicing it right down the middle (those foil stickers are especially fragile!). I did what I could, but I'm sure the egotistical Sky Lynx would appreciate my not taking a picture of what is now his "bad side."

Sky Lynx's lynx halfSky Lynx isn't exactly a "triple-changer" per se, but he does have a couple of different options for how to transform the toy out of his space shuttle mode. The first option is to disconnect the shuttle from the blue carrier, and transform each individually. The shuttle transforms into the bird seen above, while the carrier transforms into a double-tailed "lynx." Why they made this guy with two tails is beyond me. I can only assume that they wanted to emphasize this isn't an earth creature, so much as something that looks a lot like a mechanical version of an earth creature.

Sky Lynx's robot modeThe other transformation option is to pull out the "lynx" legs while transforming the upper part of the bird, but keeping the units attached together. If you flip a switch on the carrier portion, the legs walk in both this and the "lynx" modes, which works a bit better on carpet than the wheels do. Even so, it's a pretty slow walk, and to be honest, I'm not a big fan of electronic gimmicks in my Transformers. I'd just as soon save my batteries for something else.

The fact that this toy was reissued at all is actually kind of amazing. Sky Lynx is one of those Transformers toys released by Hasbro completely independent of their relationship with Takara. Instead, Hasbro worked through a company called "Toy Box," which is no longer in business. In fact, although Sky Lynx was featured in the Transformers cartoon fairly extensively (even in the Japanese dub), the toy was never available in Japan at all in the 1980's. Anyway, since Toy Box went out of business, it was assumed that the molds were lost forever. Then, shortly after Takara merged with Tomy in 2005, someone unexpectedly discovered the molds for Sky Lynx (and fellow Toy Box-molded toy Omega Supreme) in Tomy's storage. Apparently, when Toy Box had originally created the designs, they contracted through Tomy's factories, and thus Tomy had the molds the whole time! Anyway, this led to what was not only Sky Lynx's unforeseen reissue, but actually the first time the toy was ever available in Japan!

Sadly, Hasbro has not seen fit to do a reissue of their own, and it seems rather unlikely that they will change their mind on this, given the less-than-successful history of G1 reissues in the US, whereby most were still sitting on shelves at Toys R Us even after their prices had been dropped by as much as (or more than?) 80% off the admittedly ridiculous prices TRU was originally asking for. Of course, that was partly due to the die-cast metal in most of those reissues, and die-cast metal is expensive. Sky Lynx wouldn't have that problem, at least. Even so, I wouldn't hold my breath hoping for Hasbro to make this one available in the United States.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Janie the Duck

It's been a while since I've shared any of my creative writing, and this seems like a good time. The following short story was written as part of a class assignment. It is probably my only serious attempt at children's fiction to date.

Note: Unlike other features on this blog, which are available for public use under a Creative Commons License that allows anyone to copy, use, or even adapt works free of charge, so long as they give me credit and agree to make the resulting work available under a similar free license, I reserve the rights to this story, and it may not be copied without my explicit written permission.
Janie the Duck
by Mark Baker-Wright

The coastal waters rolled softly over the sandy shores of the beach, tickling Janie's little webbed toes as she played just at the edge of the surf. Janie laughed playfully, stepping in and out of the area where the water had moistened the sand. She liked the feel of the wet sand oozing beneath her webbed feet, a stark contrast to the hot, dry sand only a few inches away. Her parents watched protectively nearby, marveling at the expanse of blue that stretched out in front of them, and making sure that Janie didn't wander too close. After all, the strong currents could easily sweep a young duck away if she wasn't being careful.

As Janie waddled along the beach, she stopped to pick up several colorful shells she found nearby. Rolling the shells over in her hand, she would pick out names for each one: "Sparkly," "Whitey," "Swirly." Soon she saw a red-colored shell, which looked different than the others. It seemed to be embedded within a hole in the sand. Her curiosity aroused, Janie stepped down to pick up the red shell. As she held it in her hand, it suddenly jumped out, causing Janie to give a frightened shriek. The shell then fell to ground, and Janie could now see that it had claws and legs as it scurried away. As the crab ran back into its hole, Janie quickly waddled over to her parents to tell them what had happened.

Janie's older brother Jack swam in from the water, hearing Janie relate the tale to her parents. He teased her mildly, asking why she didn't catch the crab so that they could cook it for dinner. "Eww, Gross!" she exclaimed, while Jack laughed at her. Jack was a few years older than Janie, which for a duck, was pretty much a lifetime. He was allowed to go swimming in the big bodies of water, while Janie was allowed to go swimming only in the shallow puddles near home. Here, she considered herself lucky if she could even get her webbed toes wet. Jack was in the crowd with all the popular ducks, too, and was always the center of attention at the duck gatherings. Janie wished that she was older, so she could be like her big brother.

Janie envied Jack's friends, as well. Every now and again, Jack would come home with some girl duck he was dating. These ducks were very pretty, with all of their feathers lined up perfectly. They could go in the water, and come out looking as though the water had never touched them. Janie always felt like she looked a horrible mess after she would finish swimming in one of her puddles. Jack occasionally tried to assure Janie that this wasn't so, that water just ran off of a duck's back, and that she looked just the same whether she had been in the water or not, but Janie didn't believe him. Janie felt like a wet mess after coming out of her puddles. Since her parents wouldn't let Janie swim where she wanted to, and swimming in the puddles made her feel yucky, she began to avoid swimming altogether.

And so, Janie began to wonder if being a duck was really for her at all. After all, she had always been told, ducks swim. That's what ducks do. If you didn't swim, then you must not be a duck. So she began to talk to some of the other animals that lived near her puddles.

She talked to the owl, who spent his days in the tall trees. "Owl," she said, "I think I might like to be an owl. What does an owl do?"

"Who?" the owl replied, waking from his nap. "Oh, it's you, Janie Duck! An owl sleeps in the trees in the daytime, and flies through the night. I make my living by finding mice that are running around where they shouldn't be, and I eat them!"

Well, this didn't sound right for Janie at all. Janie had tried to stay up late a few times, but always found that she just couldn't keep her eyes open, and she knew that eating mice didn't sound at all appetizing. Besides, Janie thought as she looked up the tree to the owl, she didn't think she could climb up to those high branches to sleep anyway, and if she could, she certainly wouldn't be very comfortable.

So Janie thanked the owl for his time and went to find someone else to talk to. She soon ran into Big Brown Bear. "Big Brown Bear," she asked, "I think I might like to be a bear. What does a bear do?"

Big Brown Bear looked down at the little duck, and said "Well, I make my living by eating all the food and berries I can find. Most of the other animals fear me, because they know that I could easily beat them in a fight. Then, when winter comes, I sleep for three months so that I don't have to worry about getting cold."

This had some possibilities, thought Janie. Janie liked the idea of being able to eat whatever she wanted, and she liked the thought of having the other animals respect. However, she wasn't sure she really wanted them to fear her. Also, sleeping for three months seemed like such a waste of time. She was actually looking forward to the winter vacation in the Caribbean that her parents had promised her.

So Janie thanked Big Brown Bear for his time, and continued on her way. She passed through a creek that cut between two tall mountain cliffs, not far from her home. She walked along the shallow water, swimming occasionally when the water briefly became too deep to wade through. She soon heard a startled "Quack" from high above. She looked up to see her brother Jack on the mountain side. Apparently, he had followed Janie as she talked with the other animals. Unfortunately, he had just been hit by a falling rock, and had been knocked unconscious. He would need to be taken to their parents, so that they could take care of him. But he was still too far away to reach. Janie panicked, unsure of what to do. She reached out her wings for her brother…

And flapped them, and flapped them again, not even fully aware of what she was doing. Before she realized it, she had flown up the mountain to where her brother was. She was then able to give Jack some help, and together, they were able to make it home to their parents.

After that day, Janie realized what a gift it was to be a duck. Her parents began to realize that Janie was getting old enough to take care of herself, and allowed her to swim in deeper waters, which Janie had to admit that she really enjoyed, no matter what she thought she looked like when she got out of the water. Not only that, but she could both swim and fly, a gift she didn't realize she had until she used it to help her brother when he was in trouble. Now, it would be a lie to say that Janie lived happily ever after. Janie still felt a little awkward at times, as all people do, no matter if they're ducks, or owls, or bears, or human beings. Still, Janie was content with who she was, and that is a wonderful thing indeed.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Non-Generation One Transformer Art: Part One

On my Friday Transformer features, I'm going to start including at least one example of official art (usually box art, but in cases where none exists, as with 20th Anniversary Optimus Prime, something else may be used) with the entries. For the Generation One characters, Botch already has a wonderful web archive, and I try to direct people to that whenever possible. However, no one has (to my knowledge) ever stepped up to compile a comprehensive archive of non-Generation One art. I tried once, but it didn't last terribly long, and was never very complete.

Even so, I have made it an effort to scan the art that comes with each new Transformer I purchase with packaging, and so have a growing archive on my own computer. Since I won't be going back and adding box art images to profiles I've already posted in the past year, I figure that I should dedicate a few posts to displaying the art for those toys here. Here are the first six. Keep checking in for more!

Generation Two MegatronGeneration Two Dreadwing

Robots in Disguise Brave MaximusBeast Wars Second Dirge

Armada UnicronRobots in Disguise Scourge

Friday, January 23, 2009

Weekly Transformers Feature: 20th Anniversary Optimus Prime

Optimus Prime line artIn the beginning, there was Optimus Prime. The original leader of the Autobots (at least in real-world terms), Optimus Prime is the standard by which all other leaders are measured. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that more toys have been devoted to this character than any other. As I celebrate the one-year anniversary of weekly Transformer features on this blog, and 2009 is the 25th Anniversary of the Transformers franchise, it only seems appropriate to devote some space to the 20th Anniversary version of Optimus Prime from 2004. Of course, it's fudging things a bit to call this a 20th Anniversary toy. This mold was originally released in Japan as "Masterpiece Convoy" in 2003 (too early for the 20th Anniversary, although admittedly only by a month). But since I have the Hasbro version, we'll go with the "Anniversary" name they gave it.

20th Anniversary Prime vehicle modeAs the name "Masterpiece" might imply, this toy attempts to give fans a version of Optimus Prime that pulls out all the stops. And it truly is an impressive toy. I'll say that right up front, because this needs to be kept in mind whenever I have something less complimentary to say about it. And the first "less than complimentary" thing I have to comment on the truck mode. It's nice and all, but just by looking at it, one still gets the impression that it was done almost as an afterthought. I'm not talking about the short smokestacks, although fans are eternally peeved about that problem. That's just something that Hasbro feels that they have to do for safety reasons, and no amount of fan complaining isn't going to get around that. No, I'm thinking more about the fact that the proportions are just... "off" in regard to what a real truck would look like. The other minor peeve I have with this toy is that Hasbro seemed to feel it necessary to put "battle damage" over certain parts of the toy (like around the Autobot insignia seen here). The Japanese version doesn't have this so-called "feature," and I've never cared for it. Suffice it to say, I wasn't consulted....

20th Anniversary Prime Robot ModeIf the vehicle mode was an afterthought, it's only because the priority for this toy was getting the robot mode just right. And I'd say that they've more or less succeeded. The only real quibble I have is the presence of more of that "battle damage" at Optimus Prime's mid-section, but what's done is done, and it's not too difficult to overlook. This mode has a rather amazing range of stable poses. My brother was able to demonstrate this perhaps better than I can, but he was using items that didn't come with Prime. Here's another shot that I took of Prime on his own.

20th Anniversary Prime holding Megatron rifleThis toy really shines when one accounts for some of the minor extra details they added in. First off, those fists aren't just pieces of plastic with holes in them where you can insert a weapon. Those fists actually open up and grip the weapon. While Prime doesn't have the individually posable fingers that a couple other large toys have, that actually doesn't bother me much at all. For one thing, I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in making my toys do rude hand gestures. For another, I'm actually concerned that so much posability is asking for trouble in the form of loose finger joints in the future. I'm not particularly concerned that Prime will someday be unable to hold his Ion Blaster, or the scale-appropriate Megatron seen here.

20th Anniversary Prime with Energon axeThe designers of this version of Prime seemed to take delight in giving homage to features that showed up rather rarely in the cartoon. That hand-held non-transforming Megatron is one example. This "Energon Axe" is another. The only time this ever showed up in the original Transformers cartoon was in the second part of the original 3-part miniseries, when Prime uses it to battle Megatron atop a dam (this incident was also copied almost exactly as part of a UK comic story, although the retelling is so similar I hesitate to call it another instance of the axe's use). Even so, this axe has somehow become iconic, and so other Optimus Prime toys over the years have included a similar accessory (unfortunately, I don't think most versions including the axe have ever been available to the mainstream American market).

20th Anniversary Prime DatacomTaking advantage of the toy's remarkable articulation, both arms have "Datacom Interfaces" (that's what the instructions call them) that Prime can use to communicate with (or perhaps, in the case of the image of Starscream seen here, spy upon) other Transformers (the image on the other arm's interface is that of Bumblebee). While I'm on the topic of communication, I should also mention that Optimus Prime's head has a button in the back that, when pressed, moves the faceplate just a little bit, as if to emulate Prime "talking" behind it. Again, a rather minor touch, but it does demonstrate the amount of care that went into creating this toy. Unfortunately, I don't know how I'd "show off" a feature so subtle with a static image.

20th Anniversary Prime with matrixIf the designers were willing to give such time and attention to features such as Prime's Energon Axe, you'd better believe that they also included what has perhaps become Prime's most iconic accessory of all, the Autobot Matrix of Leadership, which stores inside Prime's chest. My apologies for the fuzzy picture here, but I wanted to demonstrate how the Matrix lights up when the button on Prime's shoulder is pressed. You can even take the Matrix out, put it in Prime's hands, and have him open it up (to eradicate the "hate plague," perhaps?). Last week, I talked about how gimmicks often get in the way of the figure itself, but for the most part, the gimmicks on 20th Anniversary Prime are rather unobtrusive (indeed, although I did criticize the vehicle mode earlier, that seems to have been caused more by attempting to faithfully replicate Prime's animated character model in robot mode than by any of these gimmicks). That's an amazing achievement in itself. Of course, it should be noted that all this craftsmanship didn't come cheap. This toy easily sold for about $70 when new. In fact, I'm such a cheapskate, I wouldn't have this toy at all if it wasn't for an offer I found online that enabled me to get Prime for free by committing to a DVD club membership (which, having completed the minimum requirements long ago, I have since canceled). Having managed to find a way to get this toy while remaining financially responsible, I'm rather glad to include it as part of my collection.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Weekly Transformers Feature: Sparkstalker

This entry is a bit of a throwback to the first few weeks of this feature, when I was featuring Generation One (and some Generation Two) toys that I've actually had since they were originally released. Although I have had this toy since that time, I didn't include this toy when I was doing those entries because it was still at my parents' home in Kentucky, but since it was returned to me a few months ago, it seems only appropriate that I feature it now, in my last such entry before celebrating a full year of Transformers collection posts (no, I'm not discontinuing the feature. In fact, I've something special planned for next week).

By 1988, the G1 line was clearly not what it once was. As there were no longer any new episodes of the Transformers cartoon to look forward to, the designers had to rely more and more on unique gimmicks that would encourage fans to continue buying toys. One such gimmick was to incorporate a flint mechanism, so that the toy would emit sparks when rolled along a surface. Thus, the Sparkabots and Firecons were born. These toys all shared more or less the exact same gimmick. One group was simply affiliated with the Autobots, and the other was with the Decepticons. This kind of parallel grouping, with identical gimmick, has been seen elsewhere.

Sparkstalker Robot modeOne common criticism of the late-G1 era is that such gimmicks seemed to take priority over the basic gimmick of transformation itself, and resulted in at least one mode (if not both) suffering for it. In the case of Sparkstalker, a Firecon, I feel safe in saying that it's the robot mode that suffered the most. No posability whatsoever, unless you count that he can kick with his legs (kind of). I'm also personally annoyed that I can find no way to make sure that the two halves of the robot stay joined together properly, so as to avoid that visible line running right up and down the center (worse at the top), where the two halves don't quite meet up.

Sparkstalker Creature modeIf you look closely at the leg of Sparkstalker's monster mode (click on the image to get a much larger version), you'll notice that the Decepticon faction sticker is sitting in a square indentation. Clearly, these designs were created right at the end of the time when Transformers still featured rubsigns: square heat-sensitive stickers that revealed the faction symbol when rubbed (or left in a warm environment). For a few years, Hasbro advertised the rubsigns as evidence that your toy was a "true" Transformer. I guess that, by 1988, they didn't care about authenticity so much....

Oddly enough, Sparkstalker was recolored and released in the Generation Two line, but only in Europe, and not as a "Firecon," but as a "Sparkabot," despite still being a Decepticon. Fellow Firecon Flamefeather was re-released in this way, as well. This may be the only example to date of Decepticon characters being given a "-bot" faction designation (there are a few Autobot-affiliated characters that have been called "-cons," though).

Besides being a limitation to figure design (since they had to work around the sparking mechanism), another problem with these sparking toys is that, after a bit of use, they just wear out, and won't shoot sparks any more. On the other hand, I suppose it's just as well. There was apparently a Dave Barry article a number of years ago demonstrating the fire-causing potential of such sparks (featuring not a Transformer but, oddly enough, Rollerblade Barbie), and Hasbro, ever vigilant when it comes to kids' safety, won't ever do sparking toys again (I cannot speak to whether or not the more serious-sounding incident referenced in the article ever actually occurred).

Friday, January 9, 2009

Weekly Transformers Feature: Magmatron

MagmatronI haven't featured a lot of Beast-era characters, mostly because my collection has comparatively few of them, but it's high time I got around to this one. Magmatron was originally a Japanese exclusive, created for the Beast Wars Neo line. Magmatron is the "Emperor of Destruction," a title that the Japanese toymakers seem to like attaching to all sorts of evil Decepticon (or rather, Destron) and Predacon (or rather, again, Destron) leaders.

Magmatron Robot ModeThis version of the toy is the Japanese original, from 1999, but it's worth noting that Magmatron was released in America the following year as a Target exclusive. The especially weird thing about the American version is that it was actually released as a Maximal (i.e., a good guy!). At least, so his bio card indicates. However, that version of the toy still has Predacon spark crystals. Confusion abounds!

Magmatron BeastsMagmatron doesn't transform in quite the same way that most Transformers do. Rather, you take him apart, and the components each form their own beast mode. These beasts are (from left to right) given the oh-so-original names of "Skysaur," "Landsaur," and "Seasaur." These beasts don't form separate additional modes on their own, but are instead simply components of the larger toy. In some ways, this can be considered similar to the old Duocons, except that those guys were robots that split into two vehicles that didn't transform separately, rather than three beasts.

Magmatron ChimeraUnlike the Duocons, however, Magmatron does manage to get one more transformation out of these parts when reassembled as part of a single whole. Several words come to mind to describe this thing: "monstrosity," "creature," "kibble-former," but perhaps the best word is "chimera." In this mode, Magmatron shares a bit in common with the Fuzors (and, indeed, his American bio card calls him one), in that the mode is clearly made up of parts of different animals. This mode's more than a little unwieldy, though, so it's another of those that I've done pretty much just for the purpose of taking this picture, after which I may never use this mode again.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Unofficial BotCon 2009 Pasadena Survival Guide

For most Transformers fans, BotCon is a travel experience. As the convention is in different places every year, fans travel to places they likely have never been before. Although BotCon is the reason for this travel, one cannot live on Transformers alone. Fans need to eat. Some will want to explore the area, taking in the sights. Some may need help in finding cheaper accommodations than what the "official" hotel can provide. Now that BotCon 2009 has been officially announced to be at the Pasadena Convention Center, people are already starting to ask questions about the surrounding area.

I can't predict every need. But insofar as I do know the Pasadena area pretty well now (having lived in and around it for over 11 years), I hope that this list will be helpful. Of course, the greater Los Angeles area has lots of stuff to see. For everything but the hotels, I'll only list here places that I've actually been to and would recommend (I don't spend much time in hotels that are close to where I already live!). You can find other attractions just by using your Google-Fu, of course!

  • The Sheraton and the Hilton are, of course, the official hotels. Indeed, the Sheraton's actually connected to the Convention Center. But there are others nearby, and some folks have actually made sites to make finding one easy. Here you go! Here's another! Naturally, services like Expedia, Orbitz, and Hotwire can also be helpful, and you might even be able to get a deal by booking the room at the same time as your flight and/or rental car.
  • This list is written mostly with the assumption that people will either walk wherever they want to go, or will rent a car. There are buses and trains in the Pasadena/Los Angeles area, though. You can map out trips to and from wherever you'd want to go using this link. If you use this option very much, though, I'd recommend either getting a weekly pass, or reconsider the car rental.
  • If you just need to get to/from an LA-area airport, the folks behind BotCon have provided this link which apparently gets you a discount on a shuttle.
  • Directly across the street from the Convention Center is an open-air mall called the Paseo Colorado. This will be the most obvious place to look for food. Here are a list of restaurants at the Paseo. Most of the restaurants there have their own links, so you can get an idea of costs. Personally, I'd go to Rubio's for some comparatively cheap food. If you don't mind spending a little more, Islands is good for hamburgers, and P.F. Chang's is great for Chinese food.
  • If you're willing to walk a few blocks east (turn right if you're exiting the convention center on Green, facing the Paseo), Lake Avenue is also a major shopping district with lots of restaurants, both upscale and less expensive. Again, if just going inexpensive is your goal, I'd suggest Del Taco, which is a bit cheaper than Rubio's. For the healthier mind-set, Souplantation is quite good.
  • If Italian's your thing, try Buca Di Beppo, which is excellent food, close to the convention, but kind of pricey.
  • McCormick & Schmicks is the only local bar that I (being a teetotaler) have any real familiarity with. I recommend going during Happy Hour (around 5-6 pm), when you can get really cheap food if you buy a beverage (doesn't even have to be alcoholic, or at least didn't when I lived about a block away a few years ago). If you want some excellent seafood, you can go to the main restaurant portion, but be warned that the prices are fairly high.
  • If you've got a friend to dine with, love Mexican food, and don't mind the roughly 1/2-hour drive to go about 8 miles east during rush hour, I also highly recommend Los G├╝eros in Monrovia. If you print out the coupon from the web page, you can bring the cost for two down to roughly $25 (you can make it even less if you don't order the fresh guacamole as an appetizer, but you really need to order the fresh guacamole!).
  • Obviously, if you're willing to drive, much more can be found than I can list conveniently. However, the Pasadena Visitors and Convention Bureau has a very helpful website that can fill in the blanks (this link goes directly to the dining section).
  • Because a few folks have mentioned it, and because it really is pretty good food, I've done a special write-up for In-N-Out Burger in Alhambra (there is one in Pasadena, but you can't sit down there, and so I've never bothered with it myself. It's too far to walk, and if you have to drive, you want to be able to sit down to eat, right?).
  • If you're thinking more on the order of groceries (who cooks for themselves at BotCon?), Gelson's is just across the street from the convention center, but is a bit overpriced. If you don't mind walking a few blocks east, I recommend Ralph's instead.
Mail and Shipping:
  • If you need to send a package, I'm sure that BotCon will provide certain shipping services, but you should be aware that the main Pasadena Post Office is just across the street from the Paseo (which, as I said, is itself just across the street from the Convention Center). You might find this to be a viable option for your shipping needs. There is also a Fed Ex Kinko's on Los Robles a bit to the Northeast at the Westin (which may well become one of the "other" official hotels, for all I know). Finally, there is a UPS Store a short distance to the Southwest, but it's rather far for walking (indeed, this one's an exception to my "don't post if I haven't used it" rule. I've used both of the others.).
Local Attractions:
  • The Pasadena Playhouse is a historic theater that has given more than a few big-name celebrities their start. It's just a few blocks east of the Convention Center. Easy walking distance. It looks like a play called "The Little Foxes" will be playing there during the BotCon season. Tickets can be fairly expensive, but they do have a few options (especially for those who are students) that are less expensive if you're willing to take your chances on a seat.
  • Huntington Library and the Huntington Gardens are at the estate of Henry E. Huntington: railroad magnate (and nephew of "Big Four" member C. P. Huntington), business leader, and all-around-rich-guy. The Library has a wonderful collection of art, including both year-round and rotating displays. It also has a collection including original writings of Abraham Lincoln, a Gutenberg Bible, and other bits of Americana and European fare. If the Library doesn't appeal, just go for the Gardens, which are both expansive and exotic. You can easily spend an afternoon just walking along the beautiful paths alone. There is a nominal fee to enter, but especially if you're bringing kids, I definitely recommend spending some time there.
  • I've never actually been inside the Gamble House, but have driven by it often enough that I need to include it. If you have a car, I recommend doing at least that much, just so you can say you've driven by Doc Brown's place! (Of course, this house has been used in lots of other films, too.)
  • The Pacific Asia Museum is even closer to where I work than the Convention Center is, and is thus an easy walk for those who manage to avoid renting a car. Admission is quite reasonable.
  • And, while you're there, you may as well head next door (Even closer to the seminary! Right across the street!) and visit the Pasadena Museum of California Art. Admission is essentially the same price as the Pacific Asia Museum.
  • There's a movie theater at the Paseo Colorado. If BotCon 2009 features a screening of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, I'd bet they do it here. (Of course, if they're willing to shuttle folks to Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, I'm fine with that....)
Outside of Pasadena Itself:
  • By the way, if you do want to go to Hollywood, do not do so at nighttime unless you've got a fairly large group with you. It's really pretty run-down outside of the immediate attractions.
  • That said, if you want to take a break from BotCon stuff, or otherwise stay an extra day, there are lots of show tapings that you might enjoy. Most of these will take several hours to complete, so plan accordingly. There are tons of sites that offer tickets. Here's just a sample. (Some shows may not be taping in May, of course.)
  • If you're into astronomy, you might want to check out the Griffith Observatory, recently reopened after an extensive renovation. (And, hey, Transformers fans will be interested in the fact that parts of the movie were filmed here.)
  • The Museum of Tolerance is not a place I'd recommend for young children, but is definitely worth going to for those mature enough to handle it. The main topic of the museum is the World War II Holocaust, educating people about those atrocities in hopes that nothing like that ever happens again. There are other historical periods featured, as well.
  • And, of course, there's always Disneyland, but you knew that without my mentioning it! ;)
If there's some other dimension of your BotCon experience you think I should address on this list, but feel that I've missed, just leave a comment. I'll update as necessary. Even so, you should read the comments left by others here, as they offer some ideas that are worth investigating, even if I don't have direct experience with them myself.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

"Who" the Heck is Matt Smith?

Like most Doctor Who fans, I was excited to learn that the powers-that-be would be announcing the identity of the actor to portray the Eleventh Doctor today. Unfortunately, I don't live in the UK, so I had to rely on the web for my information. Still, I was able to learn that Matt Smith was officially named within a few minutes of the information being revealed on Doctor Who Confidential.

Now the question is: Who is Matt Smith? I've never heard of him!

That's not unusual, of course. I've never heard of any of the Doctors before they'd gotten the role (though, to be fair, that can really only apply to 8-11, since I only started watching Doctor Who in the late '80s). I was able to be online for an "official unveiling" when the 8th Doctor was first announced on AOL (Remember when AOL was the place for online stuff?), but I'd never heard of Paul McGann at the time, nor of Christopher Eccleston a few years ago. I should have been more aware of David Tennant via the Big Finish audios and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (the movie version), but hadn't made the connection on my own.

IMDB wasn't any help at all. There are lots of guys named Matt Smith. Through this site, I was able to get a bit more information. But, although I've heard of some of the shows it lists, I've not seen any of them. I have been able to verify that, at 26 years old, Smith will be the youngest actor ever to play the role (Peter Davison previously held that distinction).

I'm sure we'll all have an opportunity to learn more about the actor in the coming months. Current assumptions are that Smith will assume the role on-screen in the last of several "movie" epsiodes being done before the series picks up properly next year, so probably around Easter of 2010. In the meantime, congratulations to Matt Smith in landing this iconic role!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Weekly Transformers Feature: Tap-Out

Tap-OutI don't know that anyone else feels the same, but there's a sense in which I sometimes think of BotCon 2002 as a particularly good one, despite the fact that I didn't even attend. That year saw four different exclusives, all available separately, and used the first Generation One character and Generation One mold exclusives ever specifically made for a BotCon (the exclusive for the first BotCon was G2 Breakdown, which clearly used both a G1 character and mold, but that exclusive wasn't specifically made for the convention. Someone else pointed out that there was an Arcee toy the previous year, but note that there was never an actual transforming G1 Arcee toy produced during the original toy line. Still, she is a Generation One character...).

Tap-Out Robot ModeTap-Out was one of the two exclusives (along with Glyph) for BotCon 2002 that used a Generation One mold (in Tap-Out's case, Cliffjumper's). Technically, these toys didn't use the Generation One mold, but rather the modified versions created by Fun4All to be used as keychains. Indeed, even the BotCon versions had to be created as keychains rather than technically as "toys," for licensing reasons that aren't altogether clear to me. I promptly separated the metal keychain element from the rest of the toy, and discarded it.

Tap-Out Vehicle ModeTap-Out was actually given away for free to BotCon 2002 pre-registrants as an attendee exclusive, marking the first time that such a giveaway was done. This practice has now become commonplace, although the current organizers of BotCon, Fun Publications, are much more serious about making sure that attendee-only exclusives remain available only to attendees. Tap-Out was eventually available online via a web site.

Besides the Generation One references, one of the reasons I like this era of BotCon is admittedly rather self-serving. Because the organizers produced so many of these small keychain exclusives--far more than they actually sold or gave away at the convention--they eventually became fairly inexpensive to get on the secondary market. Over time, I've been able to pick up most of the Fun4All Transformers keychains, both exclusive (also including BotCon Europe MMII exclusive Rook) and non-exclusive (the only exceptions I'm aware of are the black-colored variants available exclusively in Japan). These are cool little toys to have around, and I'm sorry that Fun4All wasn't able to produce more of them before they went bankrupt in 2004. And, of course, the organizers of BotCon themselves followed suit at roughly the same time. So even if BotCon 2002 was good for me, it apparently wasn't so good for the folks who made it special in the first place....

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