Tuesday, November 16, 2010

November and December

So much happened! In the interest of getting it blogged I will keep things short and sweet (and possibly cryptic) .

1) Housewarming Party - got to show our apartment off and fill it with food and laughter. Yay! We forgot to take pictures so use your imagination.

2) Our trip to NYC in November - We took some pictures, here they are without order or context

(Not Pictured: our tiny tiny room, Bert getting sick, Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, La Cage Aux Folles, Phantom of the Opera, Brooklyn Flea Market, Lila Pearl, Theo Burtis, David Pagano and many fabulous meals)

3) Thanksgiving - food, family and Pumpkin Chunkin

4) Chicago Gay Mens' Chorus: Christmas Follies - the best songs were "I Don't Want a Lot for Christmas" "Latkes" "Santa Lost a Ho"

5)I finished another animation!

Here's a behind the scenes explanation of it.

6) Chris's birthday party and Holiday party - good times and got to bond with my new friend Colleen.

7) Bert and I got a big flatscreen TV as our Christmas gift to ourselves.

8) Tiffany's birthday - got to meet her mom and youngest sister, delightful brunch at Julius Meinl and then an amazing trip to the MSI

9) Christmas - quality time with Isaiah and the rest of the family, desserts galore, seeing Talya and Adam and Jeremy, great gifts, the blizzard happening not on a day I was traveling.

10) Quick reviews of things I watched recently
Farscape (what I've seen of season 1) - B
I Love you Phillip Morris- B+
Idiots and Angels- C-
The King's Speech- A-
MegaMind- A-

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Everything else from the last two months

Okay so we all know I've been way behind on this blog, and now that I got those vacation posts out of the way I'm going to catch up to the present with one post that breezes through everything else. Think of it as the lightning round.

We got robbed :( They got in through an unlocked window (downside of being on the first floor) and took 1 hooded sweatshirt, 2 laptops, 3 cameras, my bookbag, all our change, a 2-liter of Sprite and a half-eaten cake. Luckily we both have renter's insurance, and it could have been worse. We got fingerprinted by the police to prove that the prints they got from the windows weren't ours.

Animating like a n00b
My animating camera was stolen so I had to get a new one. After a couple weeks of researching DSLR cameras that range from $1000-$1500, I got a relatively cheap webcam, which has surprisingly good picture quality. I am also working on an article about how to make your first LEGO animation for an upcoming issue of Brickjournal, so I used it as an excuse to make test animations with a few different cameras. I used an app on my iPhone, Bert's point and shoot camera and the new webcam to make these three animations:


Veronica stayed with us for a week while she was in town stage managing a show. She stayed on an air mattress in the LEGO studio. Because Bert and I work 9-5 and she worked 5-10 (or later) we barely saw each other during the week. But we spent some quality time together on the weekend and showed her downtown Chicago. She also recorded a robot song for the next episode of NNN :)

I got paid to be there instead of the reverse
I was able to animate during the show

Lots of new people got exposed to NNN

LEGO had some very cool life-size models

Chicago skyline mosaic

Check out all the pictures I took here.

One old man thought part of the NNN video was inappropriate and threaten to get me banned from exhibiting at any future LEGO event. Nothing really came of it, but I did have to edit out a few seconds of the video for the rest of the show.
Someone stole Harry and Voldemort off my display

The event was very long, basically I worked three 12-hours days.
The pros definitely outweigh the cons though :)

This Monday was Bert and my one year anniversary. Hard to believe that only one year ago we were as good as strangers when we've come to be such integral parts of each other's lives. I'm very happy that we found each other. This past year has just been overflowing with wonderfulness.
My gift to him was ticket to the Lion King musical on Friday night. It was incredible. The puppets and costumes were amazing and the story (which was almost word for word from the movie aside from a few extra songs to pad it out) is as strong as ever. Rafiki stole the show, hse has an incredible voice.
On Monday night we got Ethiopian food in honor of our first date. It was delicious. Then we had a relaxing evening at home.

Entertaining Guests
We've been so busy traveling and getting robbed that we haven't had a lot of time to have people over, but we've managed to fit a couple gatherings in. Most recently Paul and Stephanie and Dana (who moves back to Chicago in a couple months!!) came over for Potato Flag and we somehow ended up playing Truth or Dare (which is why Paul put an ice cube down his pants). And a couple weeks ago we had Dan, Mauricio, Mitch and Elizabeth over. We played a little LEGO Creationary and then switched to Cranium which Mitch and I won handily. Booyah.

New CMIG Website
My office finally has a new website. I spent a chunk of the summer making this happen. A few days after it went up our bossboss told us we need to make it even better, so that's in the works now, but this is still a hundred times better than the previous site.

New Tumi Bag
My work bag had seen better days. However Bert got me a nice new Tumi bag (not pictured) which has lots of pockets and comes with a lifetime guarantee. It was a very nice housewarming present. It's much better than the old bag with the broken zippers and worn material.
Here's a quick animation I made with the bag to test out the iPhone stopmotion app.

Robot Chicken - We have cable and a DVR, so I've been watching through every Robot Chicken ever (not hard since the episode are only 11 minutes long). I love the stop-animation and clever twists on pop-culture, but sometimes the senseless violence just gets to be too much for me.
Community - The funniest thing on television right now. If you aren't watching you're missing out.
Veronica Mars - I am now finished with the whole series (including this trailer for a potential follow-up series). It's sad that there's no more new Veronica Mars to watch. There are not enough high-school noirs featuring sassy female detectives.
Dexter - I'm a few episodes into season 3. I've been cringing at some the writing, especially in the side plots, but Michael C. Hall remains fantastic and Dexter's journey is always interesting, I just wish the other parts of the show were always as gripping.

Lego: A Love Story - I am obviously pre-disposed to like this book, but it's actually a really well-written account of one man's entry into LEGO fandom. It starts as an outsider's perspective on the adult hobby and slowly transforms as he stops being a journalist and starts being just another AFOL. I learned several new things despite the fact that I also have met more than half the people in the book. Let me know if you want to borrow it and learn more about the hobby.
Maurice - The language was olde timey, but it was very surprising to discover a victorian gay romance with a happy ending. Yay!

Howl - This could be 4 different movies. They do not do a good job of integrating the 4. I love the poem and James Franco, and there are some perfect moments, but this movie could be so much better. B-
The Way we Were - Robert Redford and Barbabra Streisand have no chemistry. Kind of important in a romance. The opening credits are the best part. C
Tron - Great campy fun. looking forward to the sequel. B+
The String (Le Fil) - It's still surprising to see a gay story with a happy ending. This one has a lot of interesting characters and ideas, but doesn't really give any of them the time they deserve. The final 10 minutes of this bumped its score way up. B
Rocky Horror Picture Show - Midnight Show at the Music Box Theater - This was quite the experience. The movie is still non-nonsensical, but everybody loves to do the Time Warp and Tim Curry is always fun. A-

Video Games
Metroid: Other M - There has been a lot written about this game, it's a game that takes a lot of chances and a lot of times it fails, but I guess it's good that it tried new things? I see what they were trying to do by making the story a more integral part of the game and such, but the execution is just terrible. There's a reason video games aren't known for their voice acting.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 - As a stark contrast, this is a game that doesn't take any risks and still fails. Mediocre and uninspired
LEGO Harry Potter, on the other hand, is perfect in every way.

And lastly I leave you with a picture of this house in our neighborhood that really gets into the Halloween spirit.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

September trips: Portland/Seattle

Because I had committed myself to finishing The PinchBot invasion at or before BrickCon and there were certain scenes that required things that wouldn't fit in my suitcase I ended up staying up practically all night animating the night before we left. The shot were the giant pinchbot lands may be very short, but it took forever to do because I had to photograph every frame twice. For more behind the scenes about the episode check out my MOCpages entry.

I got some ridiculously small amount of sleep (2 or 3 hours) before getting up again to finish packing. I used to be vehemently opposed to coffee in any form, but Bert recently introduced me to the Mocha, which is delicious and highly caffeinated. It enabled me to get to the airport and on the plane without falling asleep. On the plane we sat next to a talkative Portland native named Janet who gave us a few suggestions on what to do in our short time there. Then we landed and I fell absolutely in love with Portland. Let me tell you why.

Portland is so green, there are trees everywhere. Not only are there more trees on the streets than in Chicago, but because there are forested hills in every direction so you can barely turn your head without seeing green. I love it. The downtown area where we were staying was nice and clean, with bins for trash, recycling and compost and electri-powered public transportation that's free in the downtown area. After we got checked in at our hotel (found through Priceline) we took a nap (very important) and got up with about two hours to kill before our dinner reservation. We walked to the restaurant taking a slow meandering route. We stopped at VooDoo donuts which Bert had had recommended to him. It had a cool funky vibe and a wide selection of elaborate donuts. Bert got the eponymous donut and I got an Old Dirty Bastard, which had oreos and peanut butter on top. They were enormous and delicious.

We walked through a park and saw a good chunk of the Pearl District (which is where Bert wants us to live if we ever move there) and then had an amazing dinner at Andina. There was cerviche and lomo saltado and grilled asparagus and it was all heavenly (there were also some potatoes that were purgatorial). I want to eat that meal again right now. NOM NOM NOM.

The next morning, we walked west through the town in search of a breakfast place and just when we were getting frustrated we found a cute little coffeehouse and got some "exquisite" hot chocolate. Then we went for a short hike in Washington Park which puts the city parks in Chicago to shame. Washington Park is in walking distance from the main downtown area, but it offers a immersive natural experience that you'd have to drive for an hour to get in Chicagoland. We stepped into the park and were immediately hiking up a lush path beneath towering Redwoods. Simply gorgeous. Further inside the park we walked through the rose garden (which was lackluster, but it might have been off season) and the Japenese garden, which was amazing both for it's landscaping and design and for amazing views of the city.

We took public transportation back to our hotel. It was clean and simple and scenic. There may have been a nap at this point. Then we picked up lunch from one of the best rated food trucks: Built to Grill, which makes amazing Italian food (more on that in a bit) and headed over to the Zipcar I had reserved for the afternoon. Then we took a drive along a historic scenic highway along the Columbia River gorge filled with scenic overlooks and waterfalls. The starting point was maybe 20 minutes from our hotel. We stopped at the first overlook and ate our lunch. I had an amazing chicken pesto tomato mozzarella sandwich and bert had a penne pasta and sausage concoction I believe. There was cannoli for dessert. It was really tasting and the view wasn't bad either.

See that little gray stone building in the distance? That's vista house, it was our second stop and had wonderful panoramic views. (Click the photos for larger versions)

There were a lot of waterfalls along the highway. Some we admired from the car and others we parked and walked to get a closer view. The waterfalls are much more impressive when viewed close up as evidenced by these two pictures of the same waterfall:

There were nice little hiking trails around the falls, full of lush vegetation and spectacular views:

Then we got to Multnomah Falls, the tallest one in Oregon and the "third tallest year-round waterfall in the United States".

There is a path that leads all the way to the top of the waterfall and I thought it would be cool to look over from the top and I convinced Bert that we should do it. He agree to do it, but wasn't happy about it, as evidenced by this blurry photo:

11 switchbacks and an hour and a half later we were at the top, sweating and disappointed that the view wasn't more spectacular.

Note the tiny cars on the right side of the picture. That's where we parked.

That evening (after a nap, of course) we had dinner at Beaker and Flask which was again excellent. The next morning we had a nice breakfast and then took the Cascade train to Seattle. I alternated between sleeping, reading and looking out the window.

Then we were in Seattle! Seattle is a much more urban city than Portland, though they do share similar vibes. It is very hilly (though not like San Fransisco) and while the downtown is filled with skyscrapers and highrises, the residential neighborhoods we visited felt more like small towns than part of a big city.
We checked in at the Hyatt (Bert's last free stay left over from his job with Hyatt) and then went down to Pike Place Market to get a late lunch/early dinner. I was a little overwhelmed by all the people and sights and sounds, but once we sat down to eat I was fine. After eating we headed over to the Seattle Center Exhibition hall to get checked in at BrickCon and start setting up. This is what the NNN booth looked like on Saturday. In addition to the usual (computer playing videos, DVDs on sales, flyers and business cards for the taking, and Phil and Sherry's desk) I set up a scene from The Pinchbot Invasion with lights where I had actually animated it the day before and we sold extra minifigs from my collection. We made a killing on the minifigs.

We walked around the Seattle Center a little bit that night. It's a big green campus filled with big cultural buildings (museums, performance spaces, art buildings etc.) and the Space Needle. It was very pretty at night with a lit up fountain going and we had a nice little romantic walk.

Then we took the monorail back downtown to our hotel. Yes, Seattle has a monorail. It only has two stops (which happened to be exactly where we needed to go between) and it looks like it's straight out of DisneyWorld, but it's a real form of transportation.

Friday, Bert spent his morning at a spa so I could spend the day at BrickCon animating the last scenes. That evening we got dinner in the Capitol Hill neighborhood at Spinasse (amazing Italian food) and got a drink at a gay bar down the street. Saturday morning was the first set of public hours and it was swamped, people were buying the minifigures so fast, we could barely take the money and give them their fig before the next person was asking for one. Bert was a huge help, as he more or less took over those sales so I could focus on selling the DVD and handing out fliers. That evening we had dinner at a great Thai Place in the Queen Anne neighborhood and then went up the Space Needle. Here's what the view was like:

Sunday started off with another public day and I had a little time to actually walk around and see other people's creations. Here's my write up of BrickCon on the NNN site and here's my gallery of pictures, my absolute faves are here, here, and here. That night we switched to a new hotel downtown (thanks again to priceline) and spent the night in the room. Bert helped me count the money:

The next morning we went to the Public library to see the cool architecture:

And then we walked around a bit and went back to Pike Place market where there was a photobooth:

Then it was back home and back to normal life.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

September Trips: Philly/Doylestown

So despite having just moved into our new wonderful apartment, we spent a good deal of Septmeber in other cities. Both trips were served many purposes at once. We went to Doylestown for Jessie Nixon Tracy's wedding reception, but it was also Bert's first time seeing my hometown and since he hadn't spent much time in Philly we took a couple extra days to see it. Similarly, the driving force behind our trip to the Northwest was attending a LEGO fan convention in Seattle, but we also spent a couple days in Portland since I'd never seen the city but always wanted to. To avoid a gigantic post that forever to write I am splitting these up.

The night before we left for Philly, Erin Carter was just getting to Chicago for the weekend. Ironically Erin lives in Philly, so it was very nearly a comedy of errors where the one weekend we visit each other's cities we can't see each other, but her flight got in the night before we left so we were able to have dinner in Chicago. We went to the Publican and the food was incredible and we all had a good time. Here's a funny photo of them to prove it.

We spent much of the next day traveling, but I was able to introduce Bert to a couple Philly specific things like Philly Pretzels. That evening we took Erin's recommendation and had dinner at Parc, a french restaurant on Rittenhouse Square. Afterward we got ice cream at Scoop Deville which has an overwhelming menu of delicious options. Both were excellent. (Since this was so long ago I can't regale you with detailed descriptions of our food -- weep or rejoice as you see fit.)

The next day we had a full day to see the city. We started with the Mütter Museum, where we saw shrunken heads, books bound in human skin, a lady who was mummified by turning into soap, a cabinet full of drawers filled with objects people had swallowed and a bunch of other medical oddities. It was also very interesting, but also nauseating, after about 45 minutes we both decided we had taken in about all we could stomach. We walked through an outdoor art show Rittenhouse Square, down Locust Street looking for the "gayborhood" (we apparently walked through it with out realizing it, it doesn't have convenient giant rainbow pylons like Boystown), down to the Italian Market for lunch (cheesesteak for Bert and italian hoagie for me), along South Street to Penn's landing and then we caught a cab back to the hotel and took a nice nap. That evening we met JP and my parents at Dmitri's (my family's favorite Philly restaurant) for dinner. My parents were caught in traffic, so we got drinks and appetizers at the bar and JP and Bert got to know each other. They bonded over their shared loved of playing jokes on gullible people (like me) after mom called to say they were going to be another 30 minutes and my brother deadpanned "That's okay. We're just finishing dinner now." When they showed up we had a great meal and it was a wonderful end to a a wonderful day.

The next morning we had a nice brunch at The Continental, and then took R5 to Doylestown. Dad picked us up from the train station and we spent the afternoon at the house. We went for a walk in the forest, looked at old family photos, took a nap and then got dressed for the reception. It was at the Michner Museum. It started with drinks and hors d'oeurves (French is ridiculous) in the sculpture courtyard. We had a nice time doing a little mingling/catching-up and then sat down with my parents at one of the tables and let the food come to us. Then we had dinner inside. Bert and I were at a table with several girls from my elementary/middle school days and their boyfriends/fiancees/husbands. We spent most of our time talking with Kira Minaroff - I had forgotten how awesome she is - we laughed a lot. The risotto was amazing. We danced a little and then took our cupcakes to go.

The next day we had a full day to show Bert where I grew up. We went to Kid's Castle and took the mandatory trip down the big twirly slide and then took a little hike around the woods. We drove into town with my parents and walked around a little before getting lunch outside at Pennsylvania Tap and Grill. It was a nice meal and the memory of the four of us sitting around laughing on the patio is a great one. That afternoon Bert and I went to New Hope.
(How to describe New Hope to those of you who don't know it? When I was growing up, kids made jokes about New Hope the same way they made jokes about Pee Wee Herman or Michael Jackson, jokes that hinted at deviant sexual practices without comprehending them. At the same time, my crazy reading teacher would talk about her artist friends and how New Hope was an artist's community. My actual memories of New Hope involve bikers, occult book shops, and the Bucks County Playhouse. New Hope is a borderland, it sits just across the river from New Jersey, and like all borderlands it attracts minorities, the marginalized, and social outcasts. What a powerful name, New Hope. However, rather than being a refuge, New Hope feels more like a carnival side show [or the Renaissance Faire], it is a popular shopping destination and consequently mobbed with tourists. It's impossible to find parking, and once you do, you can't stay long because the machine only accept quarters and none of the stores will make change for you. This parenthetical tangent brought to you by Dave's subconscious.)
Once we found parking, we walked along the main stretch of stores, doing a wine tasting and picking up a couple bottles at the New Hope Winery, and getting some gelatis at Rita’s water ice (not gelato, check the 3rd definiton here for the uninitiated). Then we had to move the car since we had no quarters and so we went up the street to The Raven for a drink. Bert was amazed to find a gay bar and resort only about 20 minutes away from my hometown. He asked "Did you know this was here? I would have been here all the time if this was 20 minutes away from where I grew up!" Did I know it was there? Subconsciously, yes (see above parenthetical paragraph), but it was nice to see the reality of it. We went back to the house, took a nice nap and then went to Pocos for dinner. (How to describe Pocos to those of you who don't know it? Actually, their website does a pretty good job, it even has a photo with the cheap, neon, star-shaped sunglasses that were so integral to my childhood costume box.) That evening we played Rock Band, feasted on Ice Cream pie and pumpkin bread, and I spent some time sorting through stuff in my old room.
The next day was our last, Bert and I went to THE Starbucks in downtown Doylestown, where all the teenagers hang out (but not in groups of more than 5 least, they be broken up by the police [ right across the street is where someone was arrested for picking his nose]). Then I helped mom figure out some computer stuff. Before we left for the airport I decided to go back to my high school to pay a visit to some of my old teachers. The only one I ended up seeing was my AP English teacher, Mrs. Semisch, but that was wonderful. Her class was so important to me for many reasons. It was for her class that I made the LEGO animation that started my current journey (I had made some videos years before that, but had basically stopped playing with LEGO for a few years and it was Hamlet that brought me back). That class is also why I have the Pandavid panda hood. So it's not surprising that I took all the literature we read in that class, put it in a (metaphorical) blender and made a ridiculous LEGO movie about it that has a cameo from Mrs. Semsich and all my classmates. So it was great to see her and give her a copy of the NNN Chapter 1 DVD and tell her about my life and how everything is wonderful. She was pleased to hear a success story and said "That's wonderful, you're absolutely beaming." And I'm just gonna end this post there, because the rest of the day we just spent getting home, and that's not very exciting.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Time it keeps a rolling

The weekend before the move (which I realize is 2 months ago) Tiffany, Seth, Bert and I went to the Bristol Renaissance Faire on the border of IL and WI. We had a great day filled with food, games, shows, and sights.
When we first got there we were overwhelmed by how much there was to see and do. We walked around trying to get a feel for the size of the grounds and kept turning corners to discover new alleys of shops and stages and such. After about an hour of that, we got a drink and sat down to do some people watching and plan out what we wanted to see. There were some crazy costumes, my favorite was this kid dressed up as Link sitting by a tree playing an ocarina.
We spent a good amount of time playing games. Tiffany, Seth, and I went through a maze designed for children, but thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and the big slide at the end. We all played a wooden crossbow game with moving targets (I had a lot of trouble with my crossbow). Seth tried his hand at throwing knives (one of which actually stuck in the wall). And we all did a little archery, where my training from Boy Scouts and Camp Curiosity came in handy and I showed the others how to shoot properly.
We saw several shows throughout the day, some intentionally and others by chance. We attended the joust, and were seated in the section of the evil knight. He also happened to be one of the better jousters, so we got to cheer a lot. The joust ended with a cliffhanger and we didn't come back to see what happened, but somehow I doubt our knight won.
We also saw an acrobatic show by the acrobatic/comedy troupe Barely Balanced which was really incredible. Not only did they pull off crazy stunts, but they were also very humorous throughout. Bert got picked as an audience participant.
The other two shows we stumbled upon. The first was the Queen and her court doing some dances (while kindly announcing to the audience what the dances were called and when they were commonly performed). One of the ladies from the court sat down next to Bert and gossiped about the Queen paying more attention to her favorite Duke than her visiting French suitor. Scandal! The other "show" happened as we were walking down the street. We saw a man loudly dragging a woman away. Then there was a swordfight in the middle of the street, where Robin Hood fought some of the Sheriff's men and announced their intention to settle the matter an hour later at one of the stages. It was probably the coolest thing that happened all day.
We also saw a zebra, an elephant and some monkeys. All in all, we had a great time (and giant turkey legs).

I'm just going to post this since it's finished. More updates to come!