Looking back: 2015 and our First Year of Blogging

Greetings! We’ve had a little break for the festive season, but now we’re back and in reflective mode. The end of the year is customarily a time to sum up and reconsider the events and happenings if the past 12 months and that’s doubly the case here on Addaltmode, since not only is it almost 2016, it’s also our one year blog anniversary. We set up the site just before Christmas last year and made our first proper post on New Year’s Day 2015, so we’ve just turned one!

Spot the Transformer!

In this post we’ll be reflecting on some on the highs and lows of the year gone by, both in on this blog, and in pop-culture more generally. We’d love to hear your highlights too, so do let us know in the comments or on our Twitter and Facebook pages.

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‘Tis the season….

Deck the halls, etc.

Megatron: “Get those glittering spheres onto the tree!”
Vehicons: Finally! A mission that we Vehicons will probably all manage to survive.

We’re likely to be offline for a few days over the festive period, so we wish you all a very Merry Christmas. Thanks for all your support for Addaltmode in the past year, our blog has just reached its first birthday and it’s been a blast! Here’s to the next 12 months…

Toy Review: Combiner Wars Blackjack

Blackjack!

Blackjack!

Tiny figure, but not a tiny review: The newest addition to our collection of toy robots is Combiner Wars Blackjack. Not a recent figure, but it appears that the UK has missed out on this little chap, and only had his retool as Rodimus. Thanks to internet shopping, I was able to pick him up despite never having seen him at retail.

Now, I love the name Blackjack for a Decepticon thug: I suspect he’s not named after the card-game: the Oxford English Dictionary defines a blackjack as a flexible lead-filled truncheon, and gives the following delightful example sentences:

Firehoses were turned on and soon three thousand picketers, thugs, and police rumbled in the streets with clubs, blackjacks, wrenches, chains, and tear gas.
Bats, clubs, sticks, blackjacks, Brazilian fighting rods, rocks, and Japanese club sticks are just a few of the more favored tools used in beating people to a pulp.

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Geeky Christmas Decorations 2: Goblin Dreams Haul

In my last post about Geeky Christmas decorations I explained that I try to pick up one or two new unusual new tree ornaments each year. Well, December 2015 might be somewhat lacking in overall festive anticipation, but in this respect at least I haven’t broken tradition. This year’s acquisition for the Addaltmode tree, has now arrived and gone straight to the top of my list of favourite decorations. He’s flying the geek flag pretty high too….

Meet Potatox*:

Dragon Christmas bauble by Goblin Dreams

Dragon Christmas bauble by Goblin Dreams

Isn’t he lovely? This little guy is handmade by the talented Nici and Marc a local duo who run an ”Emporium of Shiny Curiosities” called Goblin Dreams. I’d bought jewellery and craft supplies from them before when I’ve seen their stall at local comic conventions. And I’d always admired their handmade dragons, who appear in all sorts of adorable and geeky guises, from fairly classic mythical reptilian poses right through to Doctor Who and Ghostbuster dragons, even an Aliens-inspired chest-burster dragon (who has no right to be that cute!) Goblin Dreams recently hosted an online market via their Facebook page and when I saw some festive dragons were available it seemed the perfect opportunity to treat myself.

But wait, there’s more… I think Goblin Dreams might just have helped me answer the conundrum I posed last time: what’s the least appropriate but most geekily awesome festive decoration?

Drum roll please…

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Reminder: It’s Lawnmower Deth Day!

Today, December the 19th, is the day to buy Kids in America to put it into the Christmas charts. Qualcast Mutilator and his merry chums have decided to donate all the proceeds to the Sophie Lancaster Foundation — a charitable cause that we at AddAltMode can whole-heartedly support.

Ooooooooooh Crikey!

AddAltmode support the campaign to get Lawnmower Deth to #1 in the UK single charts this Christmas.

Geeky Christmas Decorations

Once more the tinsel-clad juggernaut has rolled into town and Christmas time is almost upon us. I’m not religious but I am always grateful for the twinkling lights and good cheer of the festive season as a way to break up the darkest winter days because few things are more depressing than having to walk to work and walk home again both times in darkness.  This year, however, I’m rather less excited about the holiday than I have been on many other years because unfortunately AddaltmodeB has to work until late on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We’ll be doing our proper family Christmas on Boxing Day and I’m looking forward to that. It won’t be quite the same but B works for the NHS and I appreciate that nobody chooses to be ill and hospitals can’t just magically close for public holidays.  So here on Addaltmode we may have a few seasonal inspired posts for you over the coming week or so – and this is one such post. But I hope you’ll appreciate that we’re not going to go overboard on the Christmas stuff because it’s hard to feel truly festive with so much work on the agenda.

Optimus has got his hat on

Optimus is more ready for season than we are.

My absolute favourite Christmas tradition is decorating the tree. We have a lot of individual baubles and trinkets on our tree, some tasteful, some tacky, and it’s always a delight to open the boxes, unroll the bubblewrap and reconnect with these festive knick-knacks after they’ve been in storage for eleven months. I tend to buy a couple of new decorations each year and these little bits and pieces are surprisingly powerful receptacles of memories. Hanging them up once again is a nice way to remember when and where I got them: the shopping trip with my parents, the stall at a convention, the gift from a rarely seen relative. The older decorations also remind me how far we’ve come, recalling mine and B’s first Christmases together many years ago now when we could only fit a few trinkets on the spindly branches of our miniature tree in the damp and weirdly-shaped flat that was our first home together.

Recently Diana from the Part-Time Monster blog did a wonderful post about Christmas decorations and the memories attached to them. I very much echo her sentiment that “the ornaments are like old friends, little tangible reminders of our interests and our life.”   B and I can’t quite match the level of Diana’s very cool Star Trek and Star Wars tree ornaments we do have some fairly geeky stuff amongst our festive branches. Here are a couple of my favourites…

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The Steampunk Yule Ball 2015

If real life had achievements the same way many video games do then last weekend I would definitely have unlocked some good ones! Participate in a massive Steampunk conga line? Check: achievement unlocked! Get up onstage and dance alongside the legendary Professor Elemental? Check: very fun and happy achievement unlocked!

These antics are all courtesy of local alt-rock / steampunk band, The Mysterious Freakshow, who for the past three years have organised annual Yuletide Steampunk extravaganza at Exeter Phoenix. This year’s event took place last Saturday and it was bigger and more enjoyable than ever, lining up an eclectic array of performers (and proving that Steampunk is one of the most enjoyably eclectic of genres), spreading some seasonal cheer (including plenty of yuletide spirit of the alcoholic variety) and of course, offering a wonderful excuse to get really dressed up. There were some wonderful costumes and everyone was welcome from the very finest bustled Victorian ladies, via crazy mad scientist looking-types, to military gentlemen and even a steampunk Mandalorian (none other than our pal Exeter Cosplay).

The evening's programme of entertainment

The evening’s programme of entertainment

Two of my favourite social activities are going to geek conventions (especially when in cosplay) and going to gigs and music festivals. The Steampunk Ball is one of my favourite nights of the year because it feels like the place where these two wonderful things collide. It’s a music event with some really interesting and talented bands performing, but it also has a bit of a nerdy convention feel to it too…

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Book Review: Speak by Louisa Hall

Robo Reads

Title: Speak
Author: Louisa Hall
Published: 2015

Quotation: “With or without my intervention we were headed towards robots. You blame me for the fact your daughters found their mechanical dolls more human than you, but is that my fault for making a too human doll? Or your fault for being too mechanical?”

This book popped up in my Amazon recommendations a while back and immediately piqued my curiosity. When I saw that it was about robots (one of my favourite subjects) and that critics were describing it as reading “like a hybrid of David Mitchell and Margaret Atwood” (two of my favourite authors) I had to get it!

Cover art for Speak

Cover art for Speak

It easy to see the roots of both comparisons. Speak is a work of literary science fiction. Like several of Atwood’s best novels, its setting is near future and rather dystopian and the narrative has a powerful interest in marginalised voices. Turning to the voices themselves: the novel is arranged, Mitchell-like, as a series of distinct narratives, told by an extremely diverse group of characters. Mary Bradford is a young 17th-century puritan woman unwillingly married and voyaging to the New World, she pours her hopes and fears into her secret diary. Alan Turing is, well, I’m sure you know who Turing is, the AI theoretician and codebreaker is the novel’s only historical inclusion, and he expresses himself here through a series of (imagined) letters to the mother of a deceased childhood friend. Karl and Ruth Dettman are an increasingly estranged married couple, Jewish refugees and academics (respectively a computer scientist and a historian) who prepare monologues to each other as more direct forms of communication break down.  Gaby White is a teenage girl who has been left isolated and paralysed by a strange and debilitating illness, trapped within her room and within herself she converses with an online chatbot called Mary3. Finally, Stephen R. Chinn is a silicon valley whizkid composing his memoirs from prison where he has been sent for creating, “babybots” robot dolls that have been deemed illegally lifelike.

Intrigued? I certainly was. Speak‘s ventriloquism is never quite was polished as that of David Mitchell and its dystopian world building isn’t as considered or expansive as you find in works like Atwood’s Madd Addam trilogy but for a sophomore novel, it’s an impressive read. Poignant and often heart-breaking this is a gripping exploration of communication, loneliness and what it means to be human… Continue reading

Transformers Universe Modular Melee Weapons Project: Part 1

Not the most concise name I’ve ever given a project, I’ll admit… Anyway, regular readers might be aware that I, AddAltModeB, have a fondness for the defunct MMO Transformers Universe, which has manifested itself in the occasional bit of model-making: such as my custom Mismatch, and the Pandemic I’ve got on the way. Maybe I’ll call the project TUMMWP for short… but Tumm-wup sounds like something that might be forcibly taken to Isengard by the Uruk-hai.

They’re taking the tumm-wups to Isengard! Gard-ga-ga-ga-gard!

The axe in 3 Parts: 1: Head 2: Handle 3: Hilt

The axe in 3 Parts:
1: Head
2: Handle
3: Hilt

Anyway, whilst working on my previous axe-modelling project inspired by the weapons in the game,  I’d adopted a modular design to save on 3d-printing costs. Basically, the Head, Handle, Hilt could be printed separately. Separating the Head and Hilt makes the model take up much less “tray space”, making it cheaper to have it made (though it adds to costs in the polishing stage if you want to use polished materials). Separating the Base of the handle makes it easier to attach the axe to toy robots whose hands might be 5mm-diameter tubes — I learned this trick from models made by the esteemed fakebusker83, in particular the Galactic Dichotomizer, an axe that was my first Shapeways purchase.

I realized that this system lent itself to building a modular system of parts. Almost all the heavy, 2-handed melee weapons in the game follow this simple pattern. I could build each handle, head and hilt with relative ease, and so long as I used the same system of pegs to put all the pieces together, I’d have a huge number of options to use creating the finished items. Of course, the limits to minimum sizes in finished materials might create a few problems with some of the hilts, but I could adjust the geometry as necessary within these parameters…

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Chiptune Tuesday: Zan-zan-zawa-veia

It’s been a while since the last Chiptune Tuesday, so let’s bring it back in style: with some downright eclectic music from Zan-zan-zawa-veia (Susan Sawyer-Bayer), a legendary/obscure (depends on where you stand within the chiptune scene) artist who has been releasing wilfully bizarre music since at least 2008.

Now, ZZZV’s music is a unique blend of jazz, funk and prog, viewed through the prism of old computer game music. This weird spectrum of influences produces some pretty interesting results. These results are released under a bizarre array of pseudonyms, personas and fursonas including Anna Y. Nyanya, Gnassurus, Krystal Fox, Nu-hu-meila and Liminique. Or maybe these are equally-pseudonymous collaborators? ZZZV is also a member of at least three other bands: Agamemnon, Didactic Sudanese Transplant Waiters and Vargid Police (There might not be any other members of Vargid Police — if there are, discogs.com doesn’t know about them.)

ZZZV plays her cards close to her chest, and by hiding her(?) identity under layers of masks forces the listener to focus on the music, and the psuedonyms themselves, rather than the artist. Of course, I approve entirely of this sort of gesamtkunstwerk. Continue reading