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    Adam's Tour Diaries #15: Cleveland Rocks!

    Dec. 5, 2014: Hello, Cleveland! My day here started early. The awesome Len Peralta showed up at 8:30 and took me out to breakfast! [Norm's note: Len's also the co-host of the Creature Geek podcast!]

    We talked a lot about kids, which is good because Len has about 37 of them.

    I’m amazed Len doesn’t walk with a cane.

    Oh, a word about that skillet we're eating off of. I was gobsmacked to find that it’s not real. I mean, it’s real, but it’s not iron -- it’s plastic. Weighs nothing. I find that sort of dissonance hilarious and tried to buy one from the waitress. She went to ask the chef who GAVE ME TWO of them. Now I have two very convincing looking plastic skillets. I must find a proper prank to perform with one … (A nice prank.)

    As Len gave me a ride back from breakfast he pointed out that Captain America: Winter Soldier was filmed in and around Cleveland. Like here for instance.

    Dammit, Bucky! It’s me! STEVE!

    Then Len told me to go to a place called Big Fun. So I did. Wow! How rewarding that trip was!

    A word about stores like Big Fun: I’ve been going to them for DECADES. I used to shop at Little Rickie in NYC. In fact I rented a storefront from owner Phillip Retzky in the late ‘80s (the original 1st and 1st location of Little Rickie, before they moved to 1st and 3rd).

    Some friends and I ran a cooperative gallery out of that space for a year called Points of Departure. The East Village was only JUST becoming hip around that time. I mean, it was deep hip (Ann Magnuson hip) long before that, but it was getting popular hip (like Williamsburg in the early aughts) around that time.

    I even visited the American Science and Surplus MOTHERSHIP in Chicago in the early ‘90s! And their second Chicago store. I didn’t know about their other store in Milwaukee until I was there on tour but I’ve been there too! I’ve also shopped at Archie MacPhee’s in Seattle. Made a special pilgrimage there with Mrs. Donttrythis on our honeymoon in the early aughts.

    Anyway, so, kitsch toy stores and I go WAAAY back. And Big Fun is one I didn’t know about. What a great place. I got to talking to the owner and we didn’t stop for about an hour. I took some pix in his photo booth, bought a bunch of Xmas presents for everyone, and gave comps to his staff for the show that night.

    LEGO Invisible Lift Contraption is Hypnotizing

    My only real encounter with LEGO technics pieces are the ones included in standard LEGO sets, but this amazing ball elevator contraption makes me want to start building those mechanized kits. Designed and built by hobbyist Akiyuki (check out his other YouTube videos too), this "Great Ball Contraption" elegantly elevates LEGO soccer and basketballs through a Rube Goldberg-like sequence. The build took 70 hours. It's the kind of thing I would expect to see on display at a science museum. (h/t Adam)

    Adam Interviews John Cleese

    I had the incredible opportunity to interview one of my heroes a few weeks past. John Cleese and his five cohorts of Monty Python gave me the first laugh I shared with my parents. Cleese himself is not only in good shape for his 75 years, he’s surpassingly present, curious, generous and yes, funny. We even got to read one of his sketches together! I left for the tour the very next morning and I have to admit I’m still glowing. He brings the number of Pythons I’ve met to three (Gilliam and Jones being the others). I have rarely had such FUN doing an interview. I think I looked at the questions I wrote maybe three or four times total. That’s how far we ranged.

    Adam's Tour Diaries #14: Indiana Intrigue

    Dec. 4, 2014: There’s an Indiana in Pennsylvania, you say? Wait, what? They even have an Indiana University of Pennsylvania just to confuse us all. Lest we get uppity, though, remember that Pennsylvania became a state on Dec. 12, 1787. Indiana didn’t become a state until Dec. 11, 1816. So … yeah. Looks like Indiana the state (Jamie’s home state, by the by) is the pretender to the throne here. The town in Pennsylvania predates the state.

    Wait a minute. I’m getting some news here (that means I’m checking Wikipedia), and it looks like the town was incorporated the SAME YEAR AS THE STATE OF INDIANA. Ohhhh. Intrigue.

    We’re going to have to settle this with some good old-fashioned arm-wrestling.

    Anyway. Where was I? Right, Indiana the town. Christmas tree capital of the world. Birthplace of Jimmy Stewart at the location of the Jimmy Stewart museum. Our show was in a stadium, and again, it was sorta hard to hear the audience, but they made up for it by being SUPER LOUD. And awesome.

    It looks like a microphone, right?

    But before I get to the show, I did get out and do another round of thrift shopping: I headed over to Denise’s Antique Mall to do a little shopping. Wouldn’t you know it I forgot to take a pic of the place? It was quiet but packed with stuff, and I picked up this cool burner that looks like a microphone.

    3D Printer Programed to Play Imperial March

    Anyone who's worked around 3D printers should know that they have a certain "tune" when they run. There's the chime that starts on MakerBots when a print starts up and finishes, but even the movements of the three printer axes make a sort of machine music as the printer operates. YouTube user Zero Innovations is working on a way to convert MIDI music files to G-code that printers can read to replicate any song. This demo shows his Printrbot Simple Metal playing John Williams' Imperial March with just its stepper motors!

    In Brief: National Geographic's Roboticist and Photography Engineers

    National Geographic may be known for its photographs, but you don't see much about the people behind the cameras. And I don't mean just the photographers. The organization has a small team of engineers who invent and build camera and robotics equipment for photographers to use in the wild, either to document wildlife up close or to reach parts of the world that humans and cameras just can't normally operate. Last year, National Geographic's Proof blog profiled one of its roboticists, Walter Boggs (video below), and more recently, produced another video documentary showing the work of another one of its engineers, Kenji Yamaguchi. As National Geographic describes them, they're the Q to the James Bonds of nature photography.

    My 12 Favorite Coffee Table Books of 2014

    One of my very favorite things to buy, read, and collect are coffee table books. I'm just a sucker for them. These large format tomes--some surpass 500 pages--are like gorgeous picture books for adults. Their size and scale make them ideal to showcase illustration, photography, and layouts. And as someone with a print magazine background and a strong affinity print design, a well laid out spread in a large coffee table book is deeply satisfying.

    I also have a few rules for coffee table books. First, I'm not a big fan of the behind-the-scenes art books that coincide with new film releases. They may indeed have hundreds of production photos and storyboards I'd love to see, but the text accompanying those images is lacking in depth. Those kinds of art books are too often cash grabs timed to capitalize on public mindshare, and put together hastily without enough insight or distance from the production. It's a fine line between the celebration of a subject and promoting it as marketing. Instead of grabbing The Art of Captain America: The Winter Soldier this year, I'll wait for the collected retrospective of Marvel Phase II films that's bound to be written a decade from now.

    My second rule with coffee table books is that I have to actually read them. They live on my coffee table until I've gone through them before being shelved. The bookcase is a hibernation chamber for books, and I like keeping an active roster of books to shuffle through on any given evening.

    So without further ado, here are a dozen of my favorite coffee table books I bought this year. Not all of them were released in 2014, but these are the ones I stumbled on in bookstores, reviews, museum exhibits, and from recommendations. They're a reflection of my journeys and wandering interests, which may intersect with your own. I'd also love to hear what coffee table books you love and have discovered.

    Adam's Tour Diaries #13: Hereeeee’s Hartford!

    Dec. 3, 2014: Hartford is a great town. I did a bunch of research and writing on this day (Read: I didn’t get off the bus much), and only got out for a little bit. The catering did provide a terrific soup for lunch, though.

    My dressing room at the Bushnell was one of the best so far on the tour! So homey.

    This is so exactly what young me expected dressing rooms to be like.

    I pulled this adorable little urchin up onstage. This was her reaction when I asked her to lift a very large man up in the air:

    She was wearing a sparkly skirt and cowboy boots.
    In Brief: Dolby's Answer to IMAX

    The Hollywood Reporter has details about Dolby's vision for a large format theater system to rival IMAX and other premium theater experiences. Simply called Dolby Cinema, it's a combination of Dolby's Atmos Sound system and its in-development Dolby Vision image standard. The latter is a post-production process that hopes to retain the color and contrast of a filmed scene (some people are calling it HDR for film) by widening the color gamut pipeline. Dolby Vision produced films would be projected on dual 4K laser projectors, and Dolby is investing in the format by paying for the projectors and hoping that theater chains will get on board with screen renovations. To pay for all of this, ticket prices for Dolby Cinema showings are expected to start at $18.

    Norman 1
    12 Days of Tested Christmas: Favorite Coffee Table Books

    Welcome to the first of our annual showcase of our favorite things from the past year. These are gadgets, gifts, and gear that we have either tested ourselves or have bought as gifts for friends. On this first day of Tested Christmas, Norm shares a few of his favorite coffee table books he read this year. Read the full list here!

    Adam's Tour Diaries #12: Where Art and Science Meet

    Dec. 2, 2014: The next day my wife headed back to the homestead to see the dogs (DOGS! I MISS YOU!) and I did a little shopping before heading out to Worcester.

    Look at this lovely line of shops! I found two pairs of my favorite Levis!

    Also, in front of the world-famous Boston Library I found such a cool thing!

    Two statues I didn’t know about on either side of the main door.

    The one on the left devoted to SCIENCE.

    The one on the right devoted to ART

    That’s right, Art and Science flanking the door to the building full of knowledge. It’s enough to warm this old Mythbuster’s heart.

    Then it was off to Worcester, where I was able to visit a thrift shop and obtain a few little knick-knacks. (It was a busy couple of days!)

    Adam's Tour Diaries #11: Beantown With Mrs. Donttrythis

    Dec. 1, 2014: It was a busy couple of days. I’ll say that. After leaving London, Ontario, we headed back into the United States across the border to do a show in Worcester, Mass., which is outside of Boston. But, first!

    A day off.

    Mrs. Dontrythis had procured a nice hotel room for us with a river view.

    Fabulous. Also had a bathtub, so I partook of it.


    Then we heard about this place called Alden & Harlow with a “Secret Burger.” It wasn’t so secret. It was right on the menu. But it was good. Brilliant, even. We shared the hell out of that burger. MAN, it was good.

    There was a problem with the meal, though. The people sitting next to us were...

    Well, I don’t normally like to complain about this sort of thing in public, but I feel the need.

    Colin Cantwell's Pre-Production Work on Star Wars

    Most Star War fans know the name Ralph McQuarrie, the concept artist who laid the foundation for the look of the original trilogy. And some people even know the names of the more celebrated ILM modelmakers, like Lorne Peterson and Don Bies, whose teams at the ILM miniatures shop fabricated the actual shooting models for the films. But not many people know the name Colin Cantwell, even though they might be familiar with his work. Cantwell was a modelmaker at ILM, who was actually the first to prototype Star Wars' iconic vehicles from McQuarries' paintings. His prop model prototypes of the Death Star, TIE Fighter, X-Wing, and numerous other ships are like the missing links between McQuarrie and what we saw on screen.

    Image credit: Colin Cantwell

    Jason DeBord, who runs the Original Prop Blog, had the privileged of sitting down with Mr. Cantwell for an extended interview about his work in special effects, which ranges from design on 2001: A Space Odyssey to conceptualizing the look of the NORAD command room set for WarGames. The eight-part interview is on YouTube (and embedded below), and DeBord's post about his visit features some fantastic artifacts from the production of Star Wars. Not only do we get to see some of Cantwell's original sketches and art for Star Wars for the first time, but also production illustrations for Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Close Encounter of the Third Kind, and WarGames. Cantwell has also put up his collection for sale, with an auction just started this morning. You can read more about his collection on the auction site, as well as see what pieces are available.

    In Brief: An Introduction to Hand Saws

    Make magazine contributor Steve Hoefer has been writing a series of wonderful introductory guides to basic hand tools for BoingBoing. He's covered wire strippers as well as drill bits, and his latest guide is an overview of different types of hand saws. Steve's guides are great because he doesn't just list the differences between tools in a category, he explains the features that make each tool unique for a specific job--as well as tips for how to use them. Adam has talked about different hand saws on Tested before, favoring Japanese hand saws for some of his One Day Builds and geeking out over titanium coping saws.

    Adam's Tour Diaries #10: London Calling

    Nov. 30, 2014: After the awesome of Toronto, we headed to London, Ontario. And guess what? I not only didn’t leave the bus, I didn’t take a single damn picture. I forgot even to take a picture with the London AUDIENCE.

    That’s right, I went into hibernation mode. I spent the entire day just writing and researching a new Kubrick prop I’m going to replicate. Nope, it’s not that one. It’s not that one either; it’s one I haven’t spoken a whit about yet.

    In the early ‘90s I worked as a shop assistant for the machine artist Chico MacMurtrie. Chico makes robots, but that doesn’t even remotely tell the story of how human, frail, robust, sexy and far-out Chico’s robots are. I pulled a lot of all-nighters in his shop in Hunter’s Point sewing, welding, plumbing pneumatics--it was great training. Chico can’t not build robots. He can’t NOT be designing new robots. I recognize that you, dear reader, might consider me driven, but I’m a lazy man compared with Chico.

    Some of Chico's creations in his "Robotic Church"

    Working for Chico, for the small cadre of us that were doing it back then, was often a nightmare because he’d be designing new ‘bots while planning for a show that also used old bots. Problem? The problem was ALWAYS that the old ‘bots weren’t working. So we’d be building new stuff and trying to fix old stuff on the side. Somewhere in there, one of us, I’m pretty sure it was Geo, came up with the prime-directive: Chico can’t build any new bots until all the old ones work.

    Of course the corollary to the prime-directive is that Chico subverted it at every turn. That’s his pathology; I can’t blame him.

    Anyway, this is a long way of saying that I realize that I’m similar. I never finish things and them move on to the next thing. I have 20 things going, and today I’ll attack THIS one. I mean right now I definitely have a couple other things that should take precedence over homing in on yet ANOTHER prop from the Kubrick universe and replicating it. But I truthfully can’t stop myself.

    I think I’ll make my research public though. That would be cool.

    The Make-Up and Production Design of Planet of the Apes

    It’s not easy to make a world full of apes. In recent years, it hasn’t been cheap either. The Rise of the Planet of the Apes series reboot cost close to a hundred million, and this year's Dawn of the Planet of the Apes cost a reported $170 million. So it’s remarkable to realize that the original Planet of the Apes, released in 1968, cost only $5.8 million, which even in those days wasn’t that expensive. With the franchise successfully reinventing itself in modern day, the original still holds up well after all this time, a genre classic that meant so much to fans growing up, and a film that helped create a generation of make-up talent. “Planet of the Apes is one of the most important make-up movies ever,” says Rick Baker, the make-up FX master of An American Werewolf in London and Men in Black fame. “It inspired a whole generation of kids to become make-up artists.”

    A great movie has to have a great team behind it, especially if you want audiences to take a film with talking monkeys seriously. Richard Zanuck, who was then the head of 20th Century Fox, was captivated with the screenplay for Apes, but he knew it was crucial that audiences found it believable, or the movie would be a laughing stock, so he brought in director Franklin J. Schaffner (Patton, Papillon), and cinematographer Leon Shamroy (The King and I).

    Charlton Heston had a good working relationship with Schaffner, and was eager to come aboard the Ape train, but before the project landed at Fox, it was turned down everywhere. Linda Harrison, who played Nova in the film, recalled, “Nobody wanted it, but Dick Zanuck really believed in it.” In the AMC documentary on the Apes series, Heston recalled the reaction was, “Spaceships? Talking monkeys? You’re out of your mind, that’s Saturday morning serials, get out of here.”

    Enter make-up artist John Chambers, who was recently celebrated in Argo. As recalled in the book Planet of the Apes Revisited, Chambers built his make-up talent during his time in the Army, creating prosthetics for wounded soldiers that replaced noses, arms, legs, chins and more. He went into television in the early fifties, then branched into movies in the sixties. Whether Fox would give the green light to Apes depended on a screen test with Heston, Edward G. Robinson, Linda Harrison, and James Brolin. The make-ups Chambers created for the test were still crude, but it gave the studio a fair idea of how the movie, and the make-up, would turn out, and they finally gave it the go ahead.

    Until the unprecedented success of Star Wars, the major studios didn’t take science fiction seriously, but that wasn’t the main reason the budget for Planet of the Apes was low. As Harrison recalls, “They had to go under the radar. The board of directors at Fox wouldn’t greenlight the movie if it was over six million, so they had to come in under six million so they wouldn’t have to deal with the board.” Production designer William Creber was up for the challenge. “I had done a lot of Irwin Allen’s TV shows,” he says. “It was fun, it was challenging, and we had to do it for a price.”

    Taking Jamie Hyneman's Tintype Portrait!

    You may have seen those striking black and white photos of Adam, Will, and Norm in our studio set--those were taken by photographer Michael Shindler with a process called tintype. Michael is one of the few practicing tintype artists, and we visit his studio to finally have Jamie's tintype photo taken as well!

    Making the Airplane From "Airplane!" and Other RC Airliners

    Most of us can look skyward at any given time and spot at least one airliner streaking overhead. In fact, there are around 7000 passenger-hauling aircraft registered in the US…a large percentage of which are airborne at this very moment. If we assume that the average airliner logs about 10 hours of flight a day, 300 days a year, it’s no wonder we see them so frequently.

    I find it a little odd that these aircraft which are so prevalent in our daily lives are very infrequent RC modeling subjects. Perhaps it’s a case of familiarity breeding contempt. Or maybe it’s that most modelers find more excitement in emulating gun-slinging warbirds or wing-bending acrobats. For those modelers who do find passenger planes alluring, there are a few options to help you scratch that itch.

    Plus, I wanted to take on the challenge of building a flying model of this iconic movie plane:


    The Kit Approach

    Doug Wilson of Seattle has built several very convincing airliner models. All of his projects are based on kits of the Boeing 737 from Windrider. These molded foam models have an extremely accurate scale outline. Spanning nearly 75”, they are rather large as well (about 1:19 scale).

    Whereas the full-scale 737 is powered by turbofan engines, Doug’s models are each propelled by a pair of Electric Ducted Fans (EDF). An EDF is basically an impeller (driven by an electric motor) within a shroud. It’s something like a turbofan minus the combustion. Although EDFs are typically less efficient than an equivalent propeller-equipped setup, they are capable of impressive thrust and speed when properly configured. The jet-like footprint of EDFs makes them a popular choice for scale models of jet aircraft, as well as sleek, go-fast, sport models.


    The EDFs in Doug’s models are 70mm diameter units with HET 2W-20 brushless motors. Each motor is controlled by a 75-amp Electronic Speed Control (ESC). A single 4S-5000mAh lipo battery powers the pair of EDFs in each model.

    While the stock Windrider models are impressive enough, Doug took his models to a whole new level with extra scale details. Each model has a full set of operating external lights that match those on the full-scale 737. If you’ve ever been seated above the wing of an airliner, you may have noticed how the flaps on the back of the wing slide both backwards and downward before landing. Those are called Fowler Flaps. Doug’s 737s have those too.