Thursday, December 31, 2009

Retro 70's Christmas Toy Spectacular - Danger Edition

About a year ago, I blogged about some of my favorite toys from the 70's. There are a lot of toy geeks (like me) out there who read that post, so I've decided to do it annually. This year I'm going to focus on toys that would never be sold in our "It could kill you!" safety-obsessed society. Ah, the good old days when kids could ride bikes and skateboards without a styrofoam orb on their heads and without parent supervision and arranged "play dates". Sure, I'm almost blind in one eye from a skateboard accident in 7th grade, but I'm still alive... right!?!

Clackers - Excuse the obvious reference to the male anatomy... These menacing heavy plastic balls on strings were made to hit each other above and below your hand in a circular motion. They were hard to get going, and usually hit your arm or your face with deadly ninja-like blows. Clackers were also a medieval weapon perfectly suited for close combat with your brother or sister. These were pulled from stores for obvious reasons!

Thingmaker - What do you get when you mix liquid plastic, aluminum toy molds, and a blazing hot mini oven!?! Thingmaker! I really enjoyed this toy. You could pour plastic goop into the forms and make a variety of toys. The little cooker got incredibly hot and I remember getting burns from both the metal forms and the lava hot plastic. People who fear current PVC toys should not investigate the Thingmaker! There was also an edible version of this toy that made plastic gummy treats.

The Power Shop - I've been a compulsive woodworker since my Dad let me drive nails into a playhouse we built in our backyard. The fine folk at Mattel knew that all kids craved a tiny lathe, drill press, and table saw to create fine woodworking masterpieces. Sure, it would be hard to do serious damage to yourself with these - but they did cut real wood!

Ice Bird - Delicious treats were always a priority for children of the 70's. Ice Bird promised a shave ice like experience in your own household. The only problem is that your hands would slip on the ice block and Ice Bird would become Slice Bird! Seriously though, one of the most catchy toy jingles every created - I dare you not to sing this all day.

Electro-Shot Shooting Gallery (by Marx!) - Although this toy was not dangerous it featured a machine gun that fired ball bearings at various targets. The electro-shot captured the blood lust of pre-adolescent youth. Plus it was much safer than our bb gun and dirt clod fights outside. This game definitely damaged the ears, though. It made a huge whirring sound and the machine gun of bearings created cacophonous glory! Click on the picture to unlock the original violent commercial via YouTube...

Lawn Darts (a.k.a. Death from the Sky) - This post would not be complete without a reference to one of the most dangerous toys of all time, Lawn Darts! These little missiles were mighty fun unless you threw them straight up in the air. Your chances of a skull piercing brain injury became very real. Interesting enough, these babies were not banned in the U.S. until 1988. They were very popular at bbq's and campsites up until that time. I must say that the replacements are so boring compared to the satisfying flight path of these danger missiles.

Have a safe and happy holiday!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ghosts of Shopping Past

It's that time of year when we spend inordinate amounts of time and money consuming products at retail stores. I have a love/hate relationship with shopping - I love products, I hate the feeling of buying something that I don't really need. I'm all about the chase, but I will admit to some post-purchase emptiness.

I was really floored recently by the work of Brian Ulrich - a Chicago-based photographer who holds a mirror up to our society's consumerism. Here's a sample of his excellent series on abandoned shopping facilities titled, "Dark Stores".


This image is like something straight out of Logan's Run! His pictures of abandoned malls are probably the most devastating. When the apes take over, these will make for a fine set of headquarters.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Shiny Design - Enough Already!

Have you noticed the trend of making products and media shiny? Over the last 3 years designers have applied a mirror-like finish on everything from electronics to website buttons. Take a look at the latest phones on the market. iPhone? Shiny! Palm Pre? Shiny! Almost all of the new netbooks on the market are so glossy that they can be hung on the wall above your bathroom sink. My new Dell Studio 14z looks like someone dipped it in lip gloss.

Shiny is all over the internet, as well. Web 2.0 logos and site designs are also part of this reflective conspiracy. I blame Apple for this current trend. Although I lurve the iPhone, every aspect of Apple's design scheme is dripping with shiny. When you're the coolest thing on the market for the last 3 years, like-minded designers will follow. Here are some examples of Apple's style and the lemmings who followed:


Notice any similarities? I for one am done with shiny! Have you noticed how many fingerprints show up on a newly cleaned iPhone? It takes one phone call to make your phone look like a it's been man-handled by buttery fingers. Oh, and if you've ever handed your phone to a child in the backseat of your car then you know precisely what I mean... disastrous.

Where are you my sweet matte finish!?! It's time (cue Kurt Cobain) for a return to grunge.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Avatar - Anticipation and Fear

I'm up in arms about James Cameron's new film, Avatar. I just read a glowing review from the London premiere but I am skeptical. Part of me sees this as new era in imaginative cinema, and the other half thinks it's going to be a cheesy action-romance flick which features tall blue cat people. I'm hoping this movie finally pulls audiences beyond noticing monstrously complicated special effects into a experience where the story is the main focus and the effects are just a vehicle. I know. Dream on...

The Star Wars prequels were really bad examples of effect over story. There was so much superfluous crazy detail in those films that you couldn't really appreciate the work. The number of special effects per second blinded the viewer - not to mention that some poor schlep had to spend years making sure that tiny droids in the background of a battle scene exploded properly.

Avatar has a chance to pull action/fantasy/sci-fi into a more serious realm. I'm interested to see if Cameron's grand vision will pay off. Here's the trailer. Roll the blue battle cats!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Camera Toss Photos

I read an interesting article recently on Lifehacker titled, "Create Abstract Light Art by Snapping a Camera-Toss Photo." You put your camera on a long exposure, point it at some pretty lights, press the shutter and toss your camera in the air. If you crop these creatively in Photoshop you can make some cool wallpaper images. The photos below are of our Christmas tree. Oh, and don't tell my wife that I was tossing her Nikon D100 in the air... appreciate it....

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Stop Motion Madness!

One of the drawbacks about being a Dad who teaches digital media is that I have to practice what I preach with my own kids! Kidding... I love doing stop motion movies on the weekend (wink). For reals (as the kiddies say), Christy is away working on book two this weekend so the kids and I are experimenting with some movies. I built a little backdrop with some leftover black foamcore and a glue gun (one of my favorite tools). A few well placed lights, and a camera on a tripod and we're good to go!

As you can see from these test movies, we've got our work cut out to make a full film. These samples have over 100 stills in each film. This drudgery makes me appreciate the skill behind Wallace & Gromit. We're planning to film a simple story tomorrow. Although I like the idea of using Legos and minifigs, I think the larger action figures are a better fit for what we want to do. The Digger character is from Hank's Planet Heroes collection. The other thing that is annoying me is the pixelation that is occuring, I think Adobe Premier Elements is doing something funky when I import the stills. No promises about posting the final results tomorrow! I may be on medication after the 400th shot.