Tuesday, February 5, 2013

My Portal Valentines (Free Printables!)

I'm not very good at coming up with Valentines crafts, to be honest. Since I don't have kids, the only Valentiney stuff I'm interested in is stuff John might like, which generally rules out things like heart doilies or cake pops or adorable paper garlands draped around the mantle. ;)

So that left something simple, like a handmade Valentine. I mulled it over for a couple days, and then came up with a few ideas last weekend that made me giggle. Putting them together was a pain and a half  - not to mention tested the limits of my Photoshop know-how - but I finally have a few options to share with you guys. I hope you like them!

That's my own hen-scratched drawing up there, since I didn't have the time to get a more artistically-inclined friend to do it for me. My ancient tablet refuses to work in Photoshop, but John found me a simple Paint-like program for the Mac called Paintbrush. I gleefully took to it this afternoon like a three-year-old with a new pack of crayons - and that's actually my THIRD attempt up there, so I welcome your derision and/or pity.

Ah, but wait, there's more!

You KNOW I had to make one with a cake pun, right?

This seems a little too clean and bland, though, so I also scribbled one up for you:

Notice the arrow pointing from "lie" to the cake? Hehehhe.

You could also print the first one and then go to town on it with some markers - maybe add a little custom graffiti? Sky's the limit, really.

(The cake outline is the one used in the game that you see all over online [I used the version from this free desktop wallpaper], but the rest of the design is my own. I never plan to sell these or anything, so hopefully Valve is Ok with my using it here.)

So that's one sweet one, one punny one...what's next?

Why, something EVIL, of course!

 I get the feeling this is exactly the kind of Valentine GLaDOS would send.

And finally, I had to do one more sweet one, if only so I could inflict my childish scribbles on you guys again:

I think this is my favorite. Not because of the art - although I think I had some limited success in making the Turrets look cute - but because of the sentiment. It's perfect for me and John, not to mention the geek community as a whole, really. Plus John hasn't seen this one yet, so I think it's going to be his official - albeit early - Valentine. (Hope you like it, Sweetie!)

Feel free to save and print any of these you like, guys. (Click the pics to embiggen.) I tried to make the watermarks as unobtrusive as possible, but you can still always erase them prior to printing. Just keep the watermarks in place if you share or post these online, please - we all know how images have a way of wandering far from home on the 'web.

Oh, and this is the perfect time to announce the winner of my Portal Lemon Grenade! So, the randomly selected winner IS...the Elizabeth with a blog called The Elizabeth Archive! Congrats, Elizabeth, and please e-mail me your mailing address!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Saturday Steam 2/2/13

I've been a fan of Merimask for ages, but last week my friend Jodee R. pointed out her new steampunk designs - and these ones have their own built-in monocles!

I have a cosplay planned for this year that could REALLY use one of these:

 I don't see these particular ones in Merimask's store right now, but here's a similar one: March of Time Hare V9, $200 Check out the rest of her creations over on her DeviantArt account.

- Michelle S. shared an older game (it debuted in 2010) that's new to me this week: The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom. In it you play a top-hatted gentleman in search of pie. Heh. [Insert "the pie is a lie" joke here.]

It looks pretty fun, and I really like the art, but mostly I'm in love with the music. Give a listen to the trailer:

Isn't that the best game music EVER? Anyhoo, you can download the game through Xbox Live, or get the PC version over on Steam for $4.99 if you'd like to give it a try.

- After I featured my skeleton key necklaces, Maggie M. send me a few photos from her skeleton-key-themed wedding. She had them everywhere, hanging from bunting, etched on her wine glasses - even the cake had a heart shaped keyhole as the topper!

That boutonniere is perfection. Love it!

- John and I got hooked on the show American Pickers a while back, but we're several seasons behind. Several of you pointed out that the show recently featured something awesomely steamy, though: Dr. Evermore and his Forevertron. (You can tell just from the name that's its gonna be cool, right?)

So what is it? Well, the Forevertron is a scrap metal sculpture - the world's largest, I believe - and it's the work of artist Tom Every:

Every's story goes that the fictional Dr. Evermore built the Forevertron to "blast him into outer space on a beam of sheer lightning." Every began building it in the 1980s, making the Forevertron almost pre-steampunk, really, but the the Victorian influence and gadgetry are pretty unmistakable to the style.


I couldn't find any footage from American Pickers, but there's a fantastic article with lots more photos here on Kuriositas.

- I will never get enough of steampunked computers and keyboards. NEVER. To that end, Tara G. spotted this sweet setup by HiFidelity featured on Lifehacker:

Niiiice. Although that modern mouse really has to go.

Since I have my own keyboard mod that's been in the works for at least 2 years now, I'm always keen to see how people solve the all-important key hurdle. So I spent a solid 20 minutes going through every photo in Hifidelity's Flickr stream, trying to figure out how he did his keys. He tried what looks like a dozen different methods, but never just came out and explained what he finally ended up doing. GRRR.

As near as I can tell, he used buttons glued to the dremeled-down keyboard keys, then used typewriter key stickers from Micheals on the buttons, which I *think* come with a clear domed plastic cover.

 I did a little searching, and it looks like these are the stickers he used:

And here's a closeup of his keyboard, so you guys can take a look and tell me what you think he did:

Of course, if you've never seen Datamancer's work, then stop everything and go check out his site. I can guarantee his work is the inspiration for just about every steampunk keyboard mod you've ever seen. He's also the only artist I know of who's done a steampunk ergonomic keyboard. (That's what I'm trying to do. And that's also why I've been trying - off and on - for over two years now. Ha!)

And finally, BoingBoing just featured another great video by Mark Day of San Francisco's Edwardian Ball. (The Ball took place two weeks ago, and there's another one in LA at the end of this month.) It's not purely steampunk, of course, but this is a spectacle any steampunk fan can appreciate:

Much like the annual Labyrinth of Jareth, I find this event to be simultaneously mesmerizing and mildly terrifying. Though, to be fair, I think that's what most of the attendees and performers are going for. Oh, and there's a dreamy guy in a top hat in that video. I'm not gonna say where - you can just go find him yourself. :D (Don't worry, John, sweetie: he's not as dreamy as you. Now, let's go buy you a top hat.)

Here's my favorite shot, though:

Like I said: mesmerizing! I can't wait to see Day's recap of the LA event.

Hope you liked this week's roundup! As always, please share your steamy finds in the comments or over on the Epbot Facebook page.

Friday, February 1, 2013

My Trip to Disney's "Be Our Guest" Restaurant

I keep forgetting I promised you guys a review of the new restaurant in New Fantasyland! Of course, calling it just a restaurant is a disservice: this thing is basically a walk-through attraction where they also happen to serve food.

There are plenty of far better photos out there, but mine should at least give you an idea of how cool this place is. Here's the entrance, as we waited in line:

Dinner reservations are booking six months out, but you can show up for lunch any day before 2pm and just wait in line. As long as you're in line by 2 (or sometimes 2:30, according to a local CM), you're guaranteed to be seated and served. We waited about 30 minutes to get in - roughly 15 minutes outside on the bridge, and then another 15 inside.

Immediately inside the doors and to the left you're greeted by this stone alcove. The "stained glass window" is actually mosaic tile, and beautifully done.

Directly in front of you is a large archway leading into the main ballroom, supported by these two unfortunate-looking characters:


The line takes you to the right, though, through this doorway:

(I'm going to say this a lot in this post, but: look at all that detail!)

And into the hall of armor:

Each side of the room is flanked by three magnificent suits of armor, each of their own unique design:

Seriously, look at this level of detail! It's simply breathtaking.

Plus, as an extra Disney touch, there are speakers in or behind each suit that play snippets of muffled dialogue (with French accents, of course), sneezes, and snoring. It definitely makes the wait more entertaining!

Tried taking this shot from a small child's perspective, just for fun.

After the hall you arrive at the ordering room, which is swathed in heavy curtains all 'round and has 6 or 8 touch-screen kiosks, where you place your order. A large fireplace on one side is the only real focal point:

A helpful CM walked John through punching in the orders for all seven of us, and then handed him a round plastic piece shaped like a rose.

(Here's the cool hidden "magic" of the rose: you place it on the table where you want to sit, and that tells the kitchen and servers where to bring your food. Works like a charm!)

From the ordering room you walk through a small archway into this jaw-dropping vista:

It's pretty dim in there, and obviously quite crowded, so my pics don't do the ballroom justice. Next time I'll have to bring a tripod and wide-angle lens to do it right. (That spot of light in the back is the front door where you first enter the castle.)

 Through those giant "windows" there's a perpetual snowfall, which is really beautiful with all the lights twinkling in the glass reflections.

I was especially enamored with the ceiling:

My pics make it seem much darker than it actually is. In reality, the hand-painted ceiling is a sweet mix of blues, pinks, and purples, and every cherub has a unique face - which makes me suspect they're all based on real people. (The Imagineers' children, perhaps?) [Confirmed! A few of you have told me the cherubs are actually based on the Imagineers' own baby pictures. Too cool!]

We barely had time to get our drinks and gawk for a few minutes before our food "magically" appeared on this spiffy serving cart:

I ordered the braised pork (with green beans and mashed potatoes) based on a friend's recommendation, and I was blown away by how amazing it was. I've since had it confirmed by several sources (including Ricky of Inside the Magic) that the pork is the best meal on the menu, so I can't recommend it enough. The cupcake-like desserts all seem to be pretty fantastic, too, so I don't think you can go wrong with any of those. (John & I split the strawberry one.) And, shockingly, the prices aren't bad! Desserts were only $3, and the entrees are around $11 or $12. Considering the quality of the food, that's light years ahead of normal Disney park fare. [You can see the whole menu - complete with pics & prices - on Disney's site here.]

Ok, now back to the restaurant itself.

As big as the main ballroom is, there are still two more large dining halls to choose from. The Rose Gallery features a large rotating "music box" statuette of Beast and Beauty in the center, but is otherwise fairly nondescript:

 Is it wrong that my favorite part of this room is the base of the statue?


The far more interesting of the two side halls is the dark and foreboding West Wing:

Here you'll find the slashed portrait of the prince and the famous rose, both of which have a bit of Disney magic to them:
The portrait changes in a flash with ominous lightning strikes, but sadly I didn't get to see the change during my few minutes exploring the room. 

The rose is a kind of hologram, and slowly rotates in place. I'm told if you wait long enough, you'll even see a petal drop from time to time:

And I think that's a fitting photo to end my review with. I hope you guys enjoyed the virtual visit! You can bet you'll be seeing more photos of Be Our Guest here in the future, just as soon as I can get back with a tripod in tow. (CAN'T WAIT!)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

DIY Portal 2 Lemon Grenade

You know what they say: when life hands you lemons...


...make lemon grenades!!

To those completely lost right now: yes, it's another Portal thing. Click here for the game tirade that (kind of) explains it.

This is one of my longest delayed tutorials, since I actually made my first grenade nearly three months ago, just after Halloween. The hold-up was finding the proper display, which I had to order, and then re-order, and then get a plaque for, and then re-order another plaque, and now FINALLY I get to share it with you guys!

Now, you might be tempted to think I just stuck a plastic grenade top on a fake lemon - and you would be *almost* correct. In fact, my lemon has a fun special feature. Observe:

This mod is actually quite simple, and shouldn't cost you more than $10 in materials. (Not including the display case.) Keep reading to see how!

First, you're going to need a toy grenade. I found mine at the Spirit Halloween store last Halloween for $2.99:

Since Halloween is long over, try looking online or at local costume shops. You want the kind that has a soundboard with the fun "tick-tick-tick-BOOM" feature.

Your other key ingredient is the fake lemon. Wal-Mart has the best fake lemons I've ever seen; they're weighted in the middle and textured so realistically I half expected juice to squirt out when I started cutting.

I believe these cost $1.99 each.

Disassemble the grenade by removing all the tiny screws (but don't lose them!), and slide out the switch mechanism and small speaker:

You're going to be tucking the battery compartment inside your lemon, so you want to get it as small as possible. For mine, that meant snipping off the plastic side pieces, giving me this tiny battery box:

Using a slim utility blade, start cutting a square hole into the top of your lemon, pausing every now and then to check the fit:

The inside of the lemon is made of Styrofoam, so after you slice through the thick skin you might want to switch to needle-nosed pliers to pull the crumbly foam pieces out, as opposed to trying to slice them your blade.

Keep checking the fit for your battery box; you want it to slide in perfectly, like so:

There's a concrete weight in the center of these lemons, so your blade might hit it as you're cutting down. Fortunately I found there was still enough room for the battery box to fit, though.

Ok, now on to the grenade top:

Snip off the top of the grenade with pliers. I did one side at a time, and found the plastic was easily bent and snipped. Try to keep those prong bits all the same length, if you can. Use a metal file to smooth out the sharp corners and any jagged edges.

My grenade was Army Green, so next I taped off the gunmetal sections and spray-painted the rest matte black, including the grenade handle:

After painting:

(This is before I removed the painter's tape; the inside areas on the head are still gunmetal gray.)

Now comes the tricky part: putting it all together.

Insert the battery box inside your lemon, and then use a sliver of tape to secure the excess wires to the underside of the grenade speaker. This speaker is going to sit on top of the lemon, directly over your battery box, and it will be held in place by the grenade topper.

So what holds the plastic grenade topper in place? Pins, like these:

You'll need to drill tiny holes in the "prongs" of your grenade head for the pins to fit through. Enter your trusty Dremel:

Here John's drilling the first hole, but I later took over and can assure you: it's not hard. The plastic is easy to punch through, so the only tricky part is making sure you angle your drill bit so the pins will be guided down into the lemon at a roughly 45 degree angle.

To show you how this is all going to fit together, here I'm holding one half of the grenade topper in place, with the speaker and wires tucked underneath:

Put your grenade topper together before attaching it to your lemon, though; this picture is only to give you an idea of the fit. You'll also need to re-insert the switch back inside the handle - don't forget, or your lemon grenade won't go boom!

I don't have a process pic for this next step, because it took too many hands for me to spare one for a photo, but it's just a matter of holding the grenade topper in place, wires and speaker nicely tucked underneath, and inserting the pins through the topper's prongs into the lemon. (Get a second person to help you.) Because the pins will all be inserted at an angle, there's no way the top can be pulled off without removing them. Trust me, I carry my grenade around by the head all the time; it's very secure.

Oh, and my pins were a little too long -  they kept hitting the concrete center of the lemon - so I had John snip off the ends a bit. You may need to do the same.

Once you've got the grenade top secured to the lemon, it's time to DECORATE. (Woot!)

I printed the Aperture logo on plain paper, and then used a craft knife to cut it out for a stencil.

Using a stencil on a bumpy rounded lemon isn't the easiest thing to do, but it WAS easier than I expected. I used an adhesive putty to stick the paper down on 2 sides, and then held each panel down with my fingers as a pounced acrylic paint on with a stiff brush.

As with all stencils, be sure to only pounce straight up and down, and watch your fingers: they'll get paint on them, so you don't want that getting smeared on the lemon.

Tada! I also found and printed the little yellow Flammable symbol, which I laminated with packing tape and then glued in place on the top.

I wasn't happy with the plastic pin that came with the toy grenade, so I replaced it with a stainless steel cotter pin (find them at the hardware store for cheap) and a keychain ring. That's completely optional, though.

The display is made to hold a softball (I found it on ebay for just under $20 with shipping), and I got the idea from this lemon grenade, which has a soundboard installed in the display base instead of the lemon. That one has the grenade displayed horizontally, though, which I just couldn't get to look right for mine. There's a hole in the base, so to fit the plexiglass top on you have to twist the grenade at a slight angle. After weeks of fooling around with trying to modify the base I had a EUREKA moment and realized I could just display the lemon vertically. Problem solved!

I thought an official sounding plaque would be a fun touch, so we ordered this one from our local trophy shop for about $8. The patent number actually DOES have significance: it's an obscure number found in Portal 2 - and if you already knew that, you get about 267 million geek points. (Can't stand the mystery? Then look for it here in the game's ending credits.)

So that's my lemon grenade!

I hope you guys enjoyed the tutorial, because now here's the best part: I made two lemon grenades, just so I could give one away here on the blog!

The give-away has ended, and the winner is Elizabeth of The Elizabeth Archive! Congrats, Elizabeth, and please e-mail me your mailing address!

Some caveats: you don't get your own display case (those things are expensive!), and the grenade I'm giving away does have an imperfection, which you can see in this photo: see the slight gap between the topper and the lemon? The battery compartment and speaker were either a little higher, or the lemon is a little bumpier on top, but for whatever reason I just couldn't quite get those prongs to sit flush. You can only see the gap from this angle, though; overhead and from the side looks fine.

The only other difference is that the give-away grenade doesn't have the Flammable stickers, since I wasn't sure you guys would want them. Other than that it's identical, and would look suitably impressive on any gamer's bookcase or fruit bowl. :D

As always, I'll ship anywhere, so just leave a comment to enter the give-away. I do ask that you only enter for yourself, though - none of this "I have a friend who would love this!" stuff. I'm not trying to be a Scrooge; I just really want this to go to one of you readers. It feels more like a gift to a friend that way, you know?

Ok, I think that's everything! I'll choose a winner at random sometime next week, so be watching for that announcement here and on the Epbot Facebook page.

Happy commenting, everyone!