We did a little bit of catching up. My chat with Greg Pak last week led to a conversation about Kickstarter. And since Dan and I haven’t talked in a while, we naturally started getting into recent comics and why I even like the comics I don’t like.
I also have almost two hours of monologue about Google I/O on my hard drive. I’m hoping to edit it down to something manageable but even more than that, I want to actually release an episode containing this content. So I might just have to hold my nose, commend my soul to God, and post it as-is.
The latest episode of The Ihnatko Almanac is now up! This time, I’m talking with my pal Greg Pak about his latest Kickstarter project. “Kickstarter Secrets” is a practical, protein-packed PDF that’ll guide you through running a successful Kickstarter campaign, from concept to fulfillment.
I backed it (at my usual “skinflint” level) as soon as he announced it. It appears to be exactly what I’ve been hoping for. This isn’t a TED talk on creativity and the new crowdsourcing economy (with all due respect to TED). This is going to be a book full of specific warnings, answers, and encouragement, with the full authority of someone who’s successfully funded (and shipped!) several books. The “shipped” part is fairly important, you know. A creator should have several sensible fears before pushing the Big Green Button, and one of the largest should be “will fulfilling the rewards I’ve promised be an albatross around my neck for anywhere from a whole year to the rest of my life?”
As Greg and I discussed on the show, I’ve been tempted by Kickstarter for a few years now. His book will be delivered in October and I reckon that’s enough time for me to finish writing something that I can Kickstart.
(I am, alas, a creature of deadlines. I kind of need to see that brick wall off in the distance before I can plant my goalposts on a project.)
And back “Kickstarter Secrets”! Even if you aren’t thinking about using Kickstarter for anything, I’m sure it’s going to be a great “behind the scenes” look at the mechanism that enables so many ideas to become reality. Also, at the $22 level you’ll also receive a damn fine library of PDFs containing Greg’s comics work with Jonathan Coulton and his terrific kids’ books. The campaign ends on Wednesday morning.
Incidentally, the weekly Almanac has been…something Less Than Weekly recently, and I apologize for that. I like doing the show with Dan, and prefer it immensely to doing a solo show like this one (even when I’m talking to someone fab, like Greg). Dan and I had a regular weekly appointment to record the show and it worked great for a year or two. Now, alas, the sands of time have shifted and Thursday mornings have found one or both of us with another commitment.
We’re working to set up a new schedule (along the lines of “put our heads together once a month and hash out that month’s recording calendar”). I love recording with Dan and I hope to keep doing shows with him more or less forever.
(With bathroom breaks. I like recording with Dan, but catheterization seems like sort of an extreme expression of commitment.)
(No, that wasn’t it. But why not just click the link and pledge anyway? Then, you can just relax and read the rest of this knowing that there’s nothing else expected of you.)
The success of this project is very much in alignment with my personal interests, fellow sensation-seekers. I’ve been a fan of Mystery Science Theater since the day in 1992 or thereabouts something when I opened a padded envelope that came in the mail from an unfamiliar address, and excised a VHS cassette containing three episodes from season three and four.
My cable system didn’t offer Comedy Central. Not many did. Thus, a huge online community on Usenet and Compuserve and every other improbable lashup of twigs and dried animal skins that passed for the Internet during the Clinton administration organized itself to “keep circulating the tapes.” Total strangers would copy episodes and mail them off to other strangers who were eager to actually see the show that our online brothers and sisters couldn’t stop talking about.
I won’t explain what Mystery Science Theater 3000 is. You either know and love it already, or you will, once you watch pretty much any good example from the show. Like this one:
I want you to reflect on a simple, impressive fact. Even though the final episode aired sixteen years ago, the fans’ love for MST3K was indelible. Joel Hodgson, the show’s creator, was able to raise a couple of million dollars almost immediately after he launched the campaign and announced his plan to revive the show. Everyone involved in MST3K should be immensely proud: it’s quite special to create something that finds a place in someone’s heart forever.
“Revive the show” isn’t the right phrase, though. I admire the fact that Joel isn’t trying to reunite the original cast and writers and pick up where Episode 1013 (“Diabolik”) left off.
This isn’t a mere nostalgia riff for the selfish, short-term amusement of the show’s original fanbase. It’s much bigger: it’s an attempt to continue the work of the show, just as the recent revival of “Doctor Who” renewed it for a whole new era. I’m backing this Kickstarter partly out of a selfish desire to see new episodes, of course! But I’m really hoping that it’ll bring in a brand-new generation of MSTies. People who weren’t even born yet when I was in the throes of my first, full, gran-mal MST3K fandom.
They’re very close to raising enough dosh to produce a full dozen episodes. I’ve already increased my pledge to the level where I’ll get digital copies of however many they make. So if I can browbeat more of you people to either join the campaign, or increase your pledges…yesss! I get three more digital episodes!!!
No, no…I swear this is for the kids. Those innocent little kids, who never had an MST3K to call their own. Gosh! Why don’t you want to help these kids, people?
Yes, yes: I know that they have the annoying habit of annihilating you during any sort of game enabled for online play. Their trousers are often alarming. Their YouTube channels get way more views than yours. They often neglect their studies by playing those damn bebop records all through the night.
But is this any reason to deny them a shot at a future?
No, not you, God. On second thought…why not? If the Book of Job is any indication, you’re as big fan of comedy as anybody else. Yes, you too, o Lord: click this link to pledge! The Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit…all three of you ought to get in on this.
I’ve decided that I want to put some skin in the game. I don’t know how big an effect my little stunt will have, but hey: if it gets them fourteen bucks closer, that’s another two burritos for the writers’ room.
Let me set this up by telling you all about
THE GREAT BOSTON BOT BASH OF 1994
The primary method of grassroots MSTie evangelism was copying episodes and mailing out tapes to people who posted requests on fan message boards. But the even cooler vectors were Bot Bashes.
They were like Tupperware parties. Except with more robots and fewer yellow plastic melon ballers. I can’t speak for the other Bot Bashes that MSTies organized all over the world. I and some friends put together a Bot Bash in Boston. We didn’t have melon ballers. Maybe we should have.
(Damn. Did we screw people out of yellow plastic melon ballers?)
Well. If we failed on that score, it was probably the only detail we didn’t attend to. We rented a VFW hall, arranged a video projector, put the word out, turned the hall into a theater with seats and a stage…we had about sixty or seventy people.
It took weeks of planning and it was a lot of work, but I think we’re all super-proud of putting on a great time for everyone. We had some MST3K episodes and a whole pile of videos that nobody would be likely to have seen before (local commercials featuring the Mads, Joel Hodgson’s standup bits, outtakes). We had live riffing. A “guess the punchline” contest using clips from the show, with a Tom Servo head as one of the prizes. A bunch of people presented their own Invention Exchanges.
(Mine was a takeoff on SIMM memory: “The Nasal Inline Memory Module.” I think I gave half of my presentation with a card from my old Mac Plus up my nose.)
I myself had never seen one of the episodes we showed: “The Slime People,” from the legendary first season of MST3Ks that were never aired outside of the show’s local UHF station’s broadcast area.
It was all pretty great and I have terrific memories of that night, and that community. Our nucleus was formed on the Compuserve Showbiz Forum, but I made lots of realspace friends from that interaction.
It took us a while to take down all of the movie posters and fold all the chairs and get the VFW hall back in shape for its next child beauty pageant or doggie wedding reception. But when we piled into our cars long after midnight, we were all tremendously proud of having put together a terrific evening for the broader MSTie community.
(Assuredly not evil. I’m trying to zazz up this pitch.)
Another thing I did for the Bot Bash: I designed and prepared party favors. Everybody was handed one of these at the entrance:
I bought tons of things from the Archie McPhee catalogue, and American Science & Surplus, and Building #19, and I think I even filled some of them with odds and ends I’d picked up at the MIT Flea Market.
American Science & Surplus sold me a pack of a hundred or so airline dessert trays. I lined all of them up on the floor, and tried to divide the good stuff evenly among them. The idea being that the party guest could use this stuff as special effects and props if they ever had four days and a budget of $700 to make a big sci-fi/fantasy slab of cheesy drive-in malificence. I wrapped each one in aluminum foil and put on a sticker.
I made more than enough to make sure nobody would get left out. We had a few left over. For some reason, this one here just went into a drawer or on a shelf and I forgot about it for a good while. I rediscovered it when I was cleaning up the office (which I did religiously, once a year, whether I was in danger of being pinned to the floor by a collapsing pile of BYTE magazines (again) or not).
When I came across this, I had…some…recollection of the stuff I’d put in there. But it was vague. My first impulse was to rip it open and take a look.
I realized that at some point, this would be like a surprise gift, from 1994 Andy to some form of Far-Flung Future Andy. I liked the idea of preserving this package and then opening it up in the yes-very-much-distant-future. Here was a wrapped gift containing items that I, myself, had hand-selected and personally placed in that little tub…and yet, every item would be a total surprise to me.
Who knows what’s in there? The actual stone tablets that Moses received from God on Mount Sinai? The raw ingredients of a SAMPO? A note from some long-forgotten friend from the 90s, reading “I couldn’t stand not knowing what was in here, so I opened it up, dumped everything into my bag, and then sealed it all up again”?
Your guess is as good as mine, fellow sensation-seekers!
I like this idea because I originally put this party favor together as a little gift for true fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Back in 1994, we also didn’t know that in 2015, (a) we wouldn’t necessarily be free from the iron or furry or furry iron boot of robotic/simian/robotic simian fascism, and (b) we’d have a chance to make another 12 episodes of our favorite show happen…this time, in movie-quality high-definition.
This is a chance for us MSTies to give a surprise gift to ourselves.
MST3K creator Joel Hodgson is crowdfunding a reboot of the show:
Those who he hopes to get involved include past cast members and writers, as well as a brand new cast that includes a fresh host as well as a new mad scientist and new voices for famous wise-cracking robots Tom Servo and Crow. ‘Basically, I’m trying to blend the old with the new,’ says Hodgson. ‘Mystery Science Theater has already refreshed itself once with a completely new cast, so I think it deserves to do that again. The original cast is going to be invited back to write, produce, and do cameos as their mad science characters, and then there’s a new cast with new talent.’
I love this idea because I love MST3K. I wonder how they’re going to translate it for a modern audience. Most of us first-generation MSTies discovered it the way I suppose Muscovites discovered the Beatles during the days of the Soviet Union: a network of freedom fighters sharing dubbed and re-dubbed cassettes. The show was on Comedy Central but in the 90s it wasn’t on every cable system…nor could everybody in their Twenties afford cable, necessarily. Friends of mine and I used to even rent a VFW hall and throw “‘Bot Bashes,” where dozens of fans could gather and see early episodes for the first time.
Most of the classic eps are on YouTube. Some legally (subscribe to the Official MST3K Channel). Some…well, the phrase “Keep Circulating The Tapes” appears prominently at the end of every episode, so I suppose that’s a license to distribute?
Joel seems to be on the right track. Us old folk would be happy just to get a Season 11 (same show, same sets, same cast) but hey, we already got a version of MST3K that’s “ours.” I hope the brains behind MST3K succeed in making one for folks who are as young now as I was when a friend first tried, and failed, to explain what this movie show with puppets was all about.
That said? I can’t wait to see Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff performing together again in character. “Doctor Clayton Forrester” and “TV’s Frank” are, objectively, one of TV’s funniest comedy character duos ever. Right up there with Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton, Oscar Madison and Felix Unger, and Mr. Bean and the predictable and simple rules of human society.
I’m going to support the Kickstarter because this is totally the sort of project I like to support. Here is a creative work that I want to help get made…not a preorder of a gadget that’s already definitely going to happen.
(I also really want the tee shirt.)
Here, check out one of my favorite MST3K shorts: a little driving safety film called “Last Clear Chance.” There’s a joke from this one that I will spontaneously think of at least once a month until the day I die.
I’m making a documentary about women and online harassment.
Specifically, I’m making an episodic documentary (that means you don’t have to wait for the whole thing to be finished, since it will be released in episodes) about harassment and civility in the online world, how it relates to women and how some women are fighting back. I’m also creating multimedia pieces around the project as I go.
While focusing on women’s stories in the modern, digital world and online spaces, I’m also including glimpses into historic examples of backlash against women’s voices (Think anti-Suffragist pamphlets and tactics, trolling letters to female literary greats and scientists, even corporate propaganda to get women out of post-war factories and back into the home). How did these previous attempts at silencing affect the way women conveyed information and organized for social change? By connecting past and present, I aim to find out how the conflict around who gets to have a public voice has (or, perhaps has not) changed over time, regardless of medium.
This sounds like a terrrific documentary. It’s about $8000 short of being funded with just 4 days to go.
Now then. If you back Kickstarter stuff partly for the entertainment value of the process, this is a great time to jump in. Imagine that you weren’t particularly planning on voting in a big election, but there were realtime counts that told you that your favored candidate was close to winning. Wouldn’t it be satisfying to know that your vote really, really mattered?
Unfortunately, I’ve been denied this joy, as I backed it a few weeks ago. But now I’ve gone and upped my pledge (from “not quite cheapskate” to “enthusiastic supporter” level) because I really want to see this one happen.
As your attorney, I strongly advise you to participate.
I’m sure that everyone who ever launched a creative project in earnest and barely scratched 5% of their Kickstarter goal is looking at the Potato Salad project with a certain amount of nun-tripping frustration. The project is to make a bowl of potato salad. The founder was looking for $10. As of this writing, he’s raised $38,804, with 25 days left in the campaign.
I’m not going to make fun of Zack Danger Brown. No no no. I have nothing but bemused admiration for his achievement. He’s like Lindberg, only without the ties to Hitler. He’s accomplished something amazing and downright inspirational: he’s accumulated enough money for a down payment on a house, off the back of a silly idea that doesn’t have any ulterior motive other than whimsy. It’d be lovely if he swung this project over to “donating money to community food banks,” but he’s under no moral obligation to do so. And he isn’t defrauding a single person.
But let’s see him follow through on the rewards he’s promised to his backers. “A bite of the potato salad”? My first thought was to buy thousands of little packets of mayo, salt, and pepper, hire someone to make little packets of dried potato flakes, then hire someone else to throw ’em into envelopes and mail them out. Or can he get away with claiming that “a bite of the potato salad” does not include travel and accommodations to the place where the potato salad will be made?)
My second thought was that if Mel Brooks had a grandson who wanted to get into the movie business and was eager to trade off of the family name, he’d do a rebooted version of “The Producers” and call it “The Kickstarters.”
Aside: it’s definitely time for the world to treat the phrase “Springtime For Hitler” as a catchphrase. It means “Any project that can only fail if it succeeds beyond even the most optimistic projections of its creators.” Such as a connected app that serves a valuable function that people are willing to pay for, BUT can’t possibly scale up. It can sustain itself with 5000 users, it can make a decent living for its creators at 50,000 users, but with 500,000 users, the company goes out of business.
(Usage: “MarinarApp had the ‘should I add more basil to this red sauce?’ solutionspace all to itself. But they failed to attract angel funding. Without the ability to buy more server capacity to handle all of the incoming photos, or hire more chefs to screen those photos and punch in a BasilMeter™ score, the service inevitably Springtime For Hitlered.”)
So let’s all sit back and see how all of this plays out.
My third thought?
Thank God this didn’t happen ten or fifteen years ago. Those were dark days, when early-middle-aged movie executives were desperate to prove to middle-middle-aged senior executives that they were spunky fresh-thinkers with their thumbs on the zeitgeist and please please please there’s no need to fire them and replace them with younger people. Creators of silly blogs were getting movie offers left and right.
If that kind of thinking were still in place, Twerking Cinnamon Challenge Potato Salad Party would be a “go” picture.
The first-run, Kickstarter edition of the Pebble smartwatch. I’ve obscured the serial number because it’s a pal’s watch.
I finally got a chance to see the Pebble watch, thanks to a friend who had already received his and who wore it to dinner the other night.
Some quick impressions:
It’s smaller than I thought it’d be. It’s well within the size spectrum you’d find at the watch counter at Target and it’ll hide under your shirt sleeve quite nicely, unlike other smart watches I’ve worn.
It’s much lighter than I thought, too. Like, “$10 plastic sports watch you get at the drugstore” light.
Overall, it seems very well made. The buttons are thick and offer positive feedback, and there aren’t any gaps or seams. If I’d spent $99 (the Kickstarter price) I’d feel like I’d received a quality item.
Even the simplest technology needs to be done well. The buckle on the strap was kind of annoying and kept trying to re-engage itself as I tried to take the watch off.
Well, how good is the screen, Andy? What’s the interface like? I’ve nothing to say on either topic. In truth, I only had it in my hands for about fifteen minutes, and that’s nowhere near enough experience to offer a comment of any kind of value.
Also: because the battery had already gone flat. The Pebble could only stay awake long enough to say “shaddupMomwannagobacktosleep!” and shut back down again. Yeah, that’s the key thing I’ll be looking at when I get one of my own to review. I liked wearing my iPod Nano as a watch but after the novelty wore off, keeping it charged was a pain.
I’ll have a “real” review of the Pebble sometime. Soon. Maybe. Those bastards at Pebble are being completely mean and stupid and irrational. They’re sending me one for review, but the whole first run is committed to fulfilling their obligations to their Kickstarter backers.
I hate dealing with unprofessional people.
Yes, of course I’m joking. I’m pleased that the company is showing such respect for the folks who supported Pebble and allowed the product to come into existence.
I myself didn’t back the project. I mostly back comics and books and movies, in dollar amounts where I don’t really care if I get something good or not. I’m using my money to say “you’ve got a great idea and I hope you move forward with it.” When I see a $99 gadget on Kickstarter, I think about how bummed I’d be if it didn’t work well. Even if an album isn’t very good, I’ll still get the pleasure of listening to it and experiencing something new. An expensive iPhone case that kills the antenna or a Bluetooth speaker with terrible sound would just make me feel stupid. “Why didn’t I treat myself to a burrito every week for three months instead of buying this?”
If you enjoy burritos, and are often reminding yourself that a home-cooked meal is healthier and much less expensive, these are words that sting.