Saturday, February 11, 2017

Memories of Richard Hatch.

Richard Hatch - May 21, 1945 – February 7, 2017

It was Tuesday afternoon on Feb 7 that I got the news. A friend instant messaged me on Facebook to share a link, an online article announcing that Richard had passed on. I think I skipped all the traditional phases of mourning and went straight to sadness. With a few days having gone by, and the news being confirmed that Richard succumbed to a battle with pancreatic cancer, I thought I would join in the legion of fans and friends that have put pen to paper to record their remembrances of him.

Richard as Captain Gaz on "Loadout: Going In Hot

What's most interesting to note about all of the comments, posts and write-ups I have read is that they all echo the same sentiments, and the same things that I have to say. That Richard was the NICEST man. That he was always generous with his time and attention. That he was a great friend. That he was a good guy. That he was one of the gems of the convention scene, and sci-fi fandom. ConDad. So Say We All. Lifetime Fan.

Nobody has posted any half hidden, back handed compliments that you often see when someone has a dark side that nobody really wants to address after their passing. Everything everyone has to say is nothing but positive. And that's how I remember him to. He was one of the nicest, most sincere, friendliest people I have ever had the good fortune to call a friend. I will miss him dearly, and my greatest lament is that of the missed opportunities to spend time with him over the past year or so as his health must have been deteriorating. I hope that when/if I grow up, I can have the same type of temperament and personality that Richard had.

A group of friends from Wondercon, 2015

My head is swimming with memories and fun times that he and I shared over the past couple of years, and I'm writing them down here not only to share them with others, but really just to document them for my own purposes. I'm sure one day my memory of the past few years will grow dim, and I'd prefer to not lose hold of the good memories I have of Mr. Hatch.

Dat hat, tho. Wondercon, 2015

When I and my family first moved to America, I was of course wrapped up in the whole Star Wars craze that was sweeping the globe. And like most kids of that age, I was hungry for more, and pretty much anything would do. Which is where Battlestar Galactica really hit the mark. It was a big budget-looking tv show that filled that gap between the next Star Wars movie and the low end of the spectrum that was sci-fi tv of the time. I cannot say with certainty if I saw BSG on tv during its initial run, or if it was in re-runs. I enjoyed the show, but at the time it didn't hold sway over me like Star Wars did. I had a couple Colonial Viper ships, and a Cylon Raider, and they received equal play time among my Star Wars toys. Even at that age, my little brain felt a certain "wrongness" of blending one sci-fi universe with another, and was even more distraught by the different scales of the action figures. I was also too young to really understand many of the bits of political and social commentary that the show was trying to espouse. I was all about the space battles and killing cylons. Which is what made Richard Hatch and his portrayal of Apollo so fun. He was one of the iconic heroes of the show. Everything a leading man should be, and very inspirational to viewers of the show.

Vintage BSG Toys.

Flash forward a few decades. The BSG reboot is on the air, and despite an internet full of initial skepticism and fear, the show turns out to be rock solid. Many would argue better than the original, though in different ways. What the original had in charm and camaraderie between fighter pilots, the new one triumphed in character development, political intrigue, and the overwhelming sense of terror this last band of humans suffered from on a moment-to-moment basis. As with the original, I watched when I could, but I wouldn't describe myself as a die-hard fan. I didn't collect the props or make any of the costumes, I just enjoyed it and watched. It was big news when Richard Hatch joined the cast and took on the role of Tom Zarek. I remember at the time thinking how awesome it was that that actor had found new work on a reboot of his original show. I thought that was extremely graceful of the new shows producers, and showed great respect to the show of the past. I would say my closest involvement with nuBSG came at this time, when I served as a model for a line of costume replicas being put out by Anovos. This just serves as a weird example of the intersect of me and BSG, I suppose.

So Say Matt Munson!

At the time, I was living in Ohio on a work gig, and some local friends invited me to join them at a small, local con called "Ohayocon." A fellow Ohioan named Geoffrey Gay and an LA friend Thom Parham were part of a nuBSG costuming group who had set up a table there to help promote their club and get new members. The offer was I could get a free pass to the con if I worked the table for a while during the event. Of course, I was on aboard. As luck would have it, Geoff had an entire library of BSG costumes of his own, and offered to lend me one to wear during the event. It was a flight deck hand, or something. One of the orange jump suits. The con was a good time, and a nice little affair, and best of all allowed me to spend some time hanging out with Geoff and Thom and catching up with fellow attendees. Our table was set up right outside one of the panel rooms, and in the middle of the first day, we figured out that Richard Hatch was going to be hosting a panel in that very room. Something about Tom Zarek's view on government or something like that. As the hour approached, Richard was walking into the hall and stopped by the booth to check out the table and said "Great Costumes!" before heading in to give his panel. I thought that was pretty cool. I am not AT ALL one to get star struck, and nor was I at that moment. I just thought it was cool that the guy who was running a few minutes late for his panel took a minute out of his day to acknowledge some folks who were clearly dedicated fans of a property he was deeply involved with. I'm sure that my friends were too.

Richard at Comikaze in Los Angeles, doing a panel on writing with the Winner Twins

Flash forward to Dragon Con a year or so later, and Hatch is everywhere. It was then I started to realize that Richard was a fixture in the con circuit, and was deeply loved. He was the guy that would put on your replica Viper Pilot jacket that you brought to him to sign, and then he would ask if he could wear it for the rest of the day. He would get into heated debates with fans about choices his character had made. He would accept ANY and all thumb war challenges. The best way I can describe it is this: if you're a fan, and you've built up in your mind what it would be like to meet the actor who played Apollo in real life... you will not be disappointed. He's a fans dream. Courteous, polite, friendly... awesome.

I have a vague memory of him sitting a few stools down from me at a bar in the Marriott one night, and I thought it was pretty wild that he was one of the con guests who was out mingling with the muggles, without fear of being mobbed. Maybe it was because he was so approachable and friendly that nobody felt the need to scramble after him for an autograph... because they knew he would be there tomorrow to sign their photos and take a selfie with them.

A couple of years later, I had written a sci-fi short film that I was Executive Producer on. We were making a live action video game adaptation of the game "Loadout" for Machinima. By this time, Richard was heavily involved in the "Fan Film" scene which had really exploded, and small film makers like myself came to realize that recognizable talent could be roped into your film without too much trouble. It's like the whole industry system was collapsing, and all kinds of great collaborative opportunities were becoming available. I thought Richard would be great for the part I had written, as he possessed not only the age and physicalities of the character I had in mind, but based on the body of his work I had witnessed, I felt he was more than capable of pulling it off.

Filming Loadout at Laurel Canyon Stages

A friend put together a meeting for me and the director of this short film, and we all met up at the Aroma Coffee & Tea in Studio City. I don't know what to say other than I was immediately struck by just how nice he was. Here I was, an absolute nobody in the film industry, whose primary accomplishment are a bunch of dopey youtube videos and a few shorts for Machinima, and I was having a conversation with a veteran actor whose work I respect ... and he was really excited! Very mind blowing. I pitched him on the story, described the character, and we were pretty much right away at work on it. For every assertion I made about the character I wanted him to play, named "Gaz" after a friend of mine from my University days, he had a follow up question for me. As he dug deeper into the motivations and ethos of the character, it was as if the character was coming to life right in front of me. It was a surreal experience. Richard said he wanted to see a copy of the script, and we exchanged email addresses.

Loadout Table Read Chez Moi

The next few months were great. We had costume fittings, a table read at my apartment with the entire cast, and just loads of fun and creative awesomeness that culminated in a hectic 2 day shoot. We spent one day at the famous Laurel Canyon Stages, using their frequently filmed sets, and another up north at a sand and gravel depot. Richard was the consummate professional. He had his dialog down, and killed it EVERY take. I think he is a writer and directors dream. He gives you a take or two that are on script, then starts peppering in his own dialog. Or sometimes he'll deliver the dialog as written, then end on a line or two of improv. He was focused. He wasted nobody's time. He was already ready when he was needed on set, and was always available when he was not.

On set with Richard, some cast and crew

For me, the experience was beyond surreal. Months later, I described to Richard what it was like seeing Gaz come to life on set. I told him it was is if he had reached into my brain, and plucked out the vision I had in my head of who Gaz was. His intonations, his facial expressions, the way he carried himself and interacted with his ship and crew, Richard absolutely nailed it. He shared with me some of his process as an actor, and how he goes about finding the character. I don't know how he did it but it was pure magic to me.

Hatch makin' da magic.

And everyone loved him. I invited a few friends along to help out with the shoot, as you do. One was a big time BSG fan who I knew would be thrilled to spend a day on set with one of his heroes, and another was a friend from high school with whom I used to hope to one day make films with. One piece of feedback I kept getting time and time again from both cast and crew is that Loadout was the most fun they had ever had on a shoot. Richard really helped set that environment, not only by being such a great guy, but also being so supportive of the other craftspeople on the show.

The cast of Loadout, and yours truly.

Richard held acting classes at a workshop up in the valley, and had literally been doing it for decades. He was always quick to offer insight and guidance to actors wishing to learn from him, and this was evident on set. I feel like everyone learned something from Richard during the shoot. Whether it was how to be a better actor, or just how to be a spectacular person.

Hatch holding court on set.

On the second day of shooting, I asked Richard if he would mind if I took a selfie to put up on the facebook page (the result of which is the first picture in this blog post), and he corrected me, saying it would be an "us-ie" as it includes more than just me in the photo. And thus a new term was born! My girlfriend Kristin joined us on set, and of course was also captured by Richards charm and friendliness. Richard had that very rare quality of having the perfect balance of charm without seeming sleezy. You KNEW he was being charming, but it never felt like he was being gross or even trying to pursue some agenda. He was just a damn charming dude, and he infected all of those around him with it.

Not just a pilot, this time he's the captain!

Filming came and went far more quickly than I had hoped, but Richard and I stayed in touch. We would have goofy interactions on facebook that always made me laugh, and thought provoking txt message threads that always made me contemplate. One of my favorite facebook exchanges came shortly after filming, when I posted a picture of Richard and I to my feed. A couple of in-laws commented on the picture saying things like "oh man I had such a crush on him when I was younger" and another one suggested that the crush continued to this day. My response to both of them was something like "You do realize he is probably reading this right now, right?" and almost on cue, the next response was from Richard, with his signature battle cry of "Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!" and assuring the ladies "I'll take whatever love I can get!!!!!".

The second day of filming on Loadout

That's the guy I knew him as. He was the friend who didn't treat fans like fans, but like friends. Even if you were one of those fall-on-your-face, lose-your-shit in his presence fans, he treated you like a friend. One that wanted to know what's been going on in your life, how you've been, and what you've been up to. And he treated friends like a valued treasure.

At the Geekie awards in 2016

We had a couple more encounters after principle photography was complete, including a trip up to the valley to record a podcast to help promote the release of the film. We sat in about 90 minutes of traffic together to get there, and we talked about all kinds of stuff. Richard told me about how amazing it was to be on Classic BGS when it was on the air. About all the horrifically long hours he would work each week, and then having it all be justified when his paycheck showed up. I may be misquoting him, but I think at the time he was one of the highest paid actors on television, if only because of the sheer number of golden hours he would rack up each week. The wrap party for Loadout was great, and it was a thrill again to see Richard interacting with so many of my friends.

Part of the Loadout "publicity tour"

We also had a party at Machinima and did a live stream play of the game that served as inspiration for the short. At the party, someone challenged Richard to a game of ping-pong, as there happened to be a table in the middle of the office. I thought to myself, "Oh man, I gotta get in on this action!" and then I saw Richard play and backed right the hell down. Turns out Richard is like some kind of grand master at both ping-pong AND thumb wars, though doubtfully at the same time.

At the Machinima party

I attended a screening of another project he worked on, "Cowboys & Engines" which also starred Walter Koenig. During the Q&A, it was great to see yet another set of filmmakers taking pride in having Richard be a part of their project, and I could tell that they enjoyed working with him as much as I did.

With each convention Kristin and I attended, Richard was always there as a guest, and always seemed as happy to see us as we were to see him. We would religiously pose for an "us-ie" and post it to our social media accounts immediately. It was always great to hear what Richard had been up to, the new projects he was working on, or things he had in the works. He would often pull us close, and conspiratorially whisper to us some lurid tale from the past about his days as a youngster in hollywood, and assure us that that story wouldn't make it into his biography. Sometimes we would go out to dinner afterwards, sometimes we would get a drink, but it was always magical. Richard also introduced us to some amazing and talented people, many of whom I now consider friends.

Wondercon 2015 dinner with Kathrin and Richard

A funny chapter came later, perhaps one of the last times we saw him. Richard was telling us all about this movie he was working on at the moment. He said "oh yeah it's going to be great. The female lead is John Dykstra's daughter" to which Kristin and I both replied "you mean Chloe??" and his eyes lit up! He was suddenly fascinated once again with what a small world it is, and how we are all connected through common friends. Kristin explained to a slack-jawed Hatch that she and Chloe were part of a costuming group a few years ago, which he found both fascinating and shocking.

our last Us-ie with Richard

One of the things that saddens me is the missed opportunities. I was looking back on my txt messages with Richard, and saw a couple times where he had asked if I wanted to join him for some bowling, or get together for a drink. And for one reason or another, I was busy, or unable to make it. I guess I always figured there would be another chance. I mean, come on... it's Richard Hatch! He's a scene-central guy! I was just like the people at Dragon Con who didn't swamp him at the bar, because I figured I could just see him the next time. There will always be another opportunity, right? Maybe next weekend. Maybe next con.

And then, just like that, with zero warning, there are no more opportunities.


In his last text to me, he asked me to congratulate Kristin on passing one of her exams, and told me how cool he thought my Batmobile project was. He told me to give Kristin his best. I replied telling him I would give her MY best. My next text was me wishing him a happy new year, and I never heard back.

Wondercon, 2015

Richard Hatch is the first friend I have lost in my life. I have known people who have died, and some of them at one time played a bigger role in my life than Richard did. But Richard's passing really hit me hard. Though not literally, I assumed he was invincible. He lived an amazing, full life. He must have spent most weekends at some convention, in some corner of the world, hanging out with fans and being the friendly ConDad that we all came to know and love, making them feel special, and being the childhood hero come to life that fans wish EVERY actor could be when you finally have the chance to meet them. From all of the friends I have whose lives were touched by Richard, be they friends, fans or co-workers, their thoughts, words and memories all align, leaving the world a much better place for them than before he came along.

The Geekie Awards, immediately after dance floor shenanigans

And while I am sad that the world has lost this bright light, I'm beyond thrilled that I got to enjoy his company before the opportunity passed altogether. And even for those chances that were missed, I'm thrilled for the ones that were not.

You will be missed, good sir.

the Loadout "Theatrical Release" one sheet poster.

Friday, August 19, 2016

How To Human, Episode One: Contacting A Vendor & Doing It Right

OR - A Brief Guide to Not Being A Total Jerk In An Online Conversation With A Commission Based Artisan / How To Get What You Want From Someone You Don't Know.

Team Rocket Don't Like Jerks.

Executive Summary:
If you want to buy something from someone online, be polite when you communicate with them. Say hello. Say something nice. Ask them your question. Be brief. Say thank you. If you can't afford it, say thank you again and move on.

To summarize, I'm an executive

Introduction & Reasons to Follow These Guidelines:
You may be thinking to yourself "Why would I want to go to all the effort of reading this blog post and following its advice, when I already know how to communicate with people and really don't need any help... ya jerk!" and you may be right. Here is a brief list of tangible reasons to follow the guidelines of communication outlined in this post:

  1. You are more likely to get what you want.

Yup, that's about the long and the short of it. I will even expand upon this to say you are WAY more likely to get what you want. Like, 50 times more likely. Being polite not only serves your needs, but it also brings a little happiness into the life of the seller.

I REALLY want a better musket!

Getting what you want can take many forms. It might mean, at a high level, that the seller provides you with the service you are interested in. It could also mean they get it to you faster than anticipated, because they enjoy working with you. It could mean they give it to you cheaper. It could mean they give you discounts on future purchases. It could mean they pay extra attention to ensuring quality in the piece they are making for you. It could mean they provide you with more frequent updates. Now I am not accusing a seller of avoiding these activities when encountering a rude customer, only that your chances of receiving them increase drastically when you take the time to not be a jerk.


Who Benefits Most From These Guidelines?
The target audience of this post are people who communicate via vendors with emails that fall into one of the following categories:

Rude - There's a huge chasm between being what you might consider "to the point" and coming across as a total rude jerk. Remember, email doesn't have any context to it, or history. You may be totally fine speaking to your friends of 20 years in a certain way, but that won't fly when approaching a vendor. If your email simply says "How much for foam armor" you will probably not get a favorable result. Remember, you're setting the stage for your relationship with a vendor in your first email. If you come across as rude, that's a harbinger of bad tidings.

How much for foam armor???

Disrespectful - Remember, a vendor doesn't owe you anything. Even when you give them money, this does not mean they are your servant. It only means that you have entered into a transaction where you have agreed to pay an amount of money for an item or service. It does not grant you the freedom to be disrespectful, demanding, or unruly in your dealings with them.

Bad Grammar - You may think commerce transcends grammar, or that it should, but at the end of the day it doesn't. Remember that the person on the other end is a real person, trying to run a business, and would probably much rather be in the workshop building stuff rather than slogging through unanswered emails. One way to make that experience infinitely more pleasurable is to use proper grammar. Don't email using the same shorthand you might use in a text. Avoid emojis. Write in full sentences. Use spell check.

It will be with elated glee that I dispense funds upon you Tuesday,
for the opportunity to acquire a succulent feast of grilled ground
beef twixt a sesame seed bun on this very day.

Not Getting Desired Results - Tired of emailing vendors and never hearing back? Tired of hitting your head against a brick wall and getting the same results?? Maybe the problem, dear reader, is you. Switching things up and following a format that typically gets good results might be just what you need. I can say from personal experience that in general, when I get an email that is rude, I simply ignore it. Even if they are asking for an item that I know has a good profit margin, it's worth it to me to not have to deal with someone who doesn't have the common courtesy to deal with me in a respectful manner on our initial communication. I mean, come on. Come. On.

How To Initiate Contact With An Artisan, Craftsman, Vendor, or Seller. With Examples.
Based on my decades of experience as both a vendor and a buyer, I recommend the following guidelines for your initial communication with a vendor:

  • Be polite
  • Be brief
  • Use proper grammar
  • Say nice things
  • Introduce yourself
  • Try to form some kind of connection with the seller
  • Ask your questions clearly
  • Be polite
  • Above all else, be polite
To make things simple, as people tend to have different perspectives on what it means to be polite, I will provide you with a formal structure to use on your introductory inquiry to any vendor. I feel very confident that following this simple structure will position you to have the most success possible with the vendor. And remember, the benefit to following this formula is that you get what you want. Here's the format:

[Salutation] [Name of vendor],
[introduce yourself]
[Brief detail of how you found vendor]
[Praise of vendors work]
[Description of item you are interested in]
[Specifics of inquiry, as needed]
[Thank vendor for their time and attention]
Sincerely,[your name]

That's it!! It really doesn't take too much effort to put an email like this together, and I PROMISE you it will maximize your results. Let me give you a few practical examples:

Greetings Punished Props,
My name is Matt and I am a rabid Overwatch enthusiast. I was scanning through my facebook feed the other day and a picture of you came up holding what looked like a battle axe from Skyrim. Truly impressive work! It looked like it came straight out of the game! I am interested in seeing if you make the pistols that Tracer uses in Overwatch? If not is it something you might consider taking on as a commission? If so, please let me know what the price would be and when you might be able to fit it into your schedule.

Thank you so much for your time and attention. I look forward to hearing back from you.

Sincerely, Matt

Does this pose objectify me?

Here's another one, with a request for alternate vendors:

Hello Volpin Props!

It's a pleasure to be writing to you, as I must confess I am a huge fan of your work. I have followed your blog and facebook page for ages now, and have learned so much. Thank you so much for sharing all of your prop build walkthroughs. I even saw you speak at PAX one year, which was really great and informative. I am writing today to inquire about a helmet from my favorite anime, "Appleseed." I'm interested in commissioning you to build a Briarios helmet as seen in the first feature film. I am working on a limited budget, so any flexibility you might have in time frame or materials would be greatly appreciated. If you don't have the time or interest in this project, might you be able to point me in the direction of someone you know who can help?

Thank you in advance for taking the time to reply to my email.


And here's one where I'm just looking to buy a catalog item that they sell, though it's needed by a certain date:

Dear Miss Sarley,
As a fellow PokemonGo enthusiast I was absolutely thrilled to stumble across your website where you are offering team themed clothing. Your designs are absolutely amazing, and I can't believe stuff like yours isn't already in stores! So great!! I would love to get my hands on one of your Team Mystic hoodies. If you can please let me know what the total plus shipping to area code 92625 will be, and how I can best arrange for payment, I will get it sent to you immediately. I am hosting a PG party at the end of the month, and am hoping that leaves enough time for us to complete this transaction.
Thanks so much for making these available. You rock!

Team Mystic? Really??

Please feel free to cut and paste this text and customize it to fit your particular needs. And if you have success with them, please drop me a line or write a comment below telling me how it worked out for you. If you have your own suggestions, or ways this format can be improved, please do the same. It's really not that hard, requires only a few minutes of effort, and will yield incredible results.

What To Do If They Don't Respond?
Sometimes vendors get busy. In fact, that's typically an ideal case for an artisan who earns a living based on commission work. They might have a giant queue of emails in their in box, or perhaps they have a certain block of time set aside during the week that they take away from the work of actually producing items for answering emails. Don't let your enthusiasm (or lack of patience) dictate how long a vendor has to respond to your email. I think one week is a very reasonable time frame for a vendor to reply to your inquiry. If a week goes by, I believe you have two possible courses of action.

  1. Email them a second time, but do it in a polite, tactful way. For example: "Greetings Vendor Joe, I wrote to you last week to inquire about your but did not hear back from you. Knowing how busy you must be, and how spam filters have a knack for sometimes routing important emails to a spam folder, I thought I would take a moment to write again to confirm that you received my original email. I am very eager to do business with you, and look forward to your reply. Thank you again for your time."
  2. Take your business elsewhere. Perhaps this seller just isn't good at communicating, and I can promise you from experience that is never a good trait upon which to build a commerce based relationship. If they don't have the business sense to answer your inquiry within a week, or the business model/availability that supports it, do the smart thing and don't do business with them.

What To Do If You Cannot Afford The Price They Are Asking?
Sometimes, the item you are interested in is simply not within your price range. Don't take this as a personal insult, and more importantly don't take this as an opportunity to inform the seller that their price is too high... for you. (I've written a separate blog post about this very topic. Check it out here) As a rule of thumb, artisans work long and hard on the items they are offering for sale, and to be frank it's deeply insulting when someone tells them that they feel their price is too high. If it is indeed too high for the market to bear, the market will tell them that pretty quickly. They don't need you and your limited understanding of their financial goals or value of their skills to inform them of it. Just let it go. (elsa) If the price of the item you want is too high, I believe you have two options to chose from. In sticking with the guideline of "be polite" in this article, you should execute one of the following:

  • Tell the seller thank you for responding to you, but you are unable to afford the item at this time.
  • Ask the seller (Politely) if they are firm on their price. Sometimes sellers add in a little "wiggle room" to their pricing so that they can offer discounts to a customer who perhaps is ordering more than one item. Or maybe they have an inventory they are interested in liquidating, and would consider knocking a few bucks off to make it more attractive. Wording here is important. If you are polite, a vendor just might be willing to work with you on price. Then there's a whole list of things NOT to do when you don't like the price. Though this list is not by any means exhaustive, here are some things that you should NOT do under any circumstances.
  • Tell the seller that he is price gouging
  • Tell the seller that they are an idiot for expecting that much money for something as simple as the thing you are trying to buy.
  • Tell the seller that for that price, you could just make your own.
  • Tell the seller that you are poor and deserve a lower price than what they are asking.
  • Tell the seller that they would make a lot more money and have a much better business if they would just sell the item to you at a price that works for you.
  • Tell the seller pretty much anything other than one of the two options I listed above.
  • Promise the seller further purchases in the future if they can just cut you a good deal on this item today. (please see "I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today" for further insight)
  • Tell the seller that they would make a fortune if they would cut their price in half, as they would sell twice as many.
  • Tell the seller that you know how much materials for the build would cost, and it's WAY less than what they're charging!
  • Tell the seller that it's for charity
And worst of all , for the love of god, no matter what you do, under no circumstances should you ever say the following thing to a vendor, in any form:
  • It will be great exposure for you, so giving it to me for free or at a deep discount is the smart thing to do.

There is a whole movement on the internet discussing the fallacy of "exposure bucks" and I highly encourage any person interested in offering exposure as a form of compensation to research it. Perhaps you will learn a thing or two about commerce and the artisan. Wil Wheaton has done some excellent thought leadership on the topic and I highly recommend his blog.

Future Dialogs With The Vendor
Let's say your initial email gets a fairly quick response from the vendor, with pricing information that works with your budget, and everything seems to be doing smoothly. My advice for future communications with the vendor is this: maintain your politeness, and let the vendor dictate communication styles. If the vendor starts using emoji and txt-like abbreviations, take that as a cue to change your communication style. If the vendor skips a formal greeting like or sign off, that means you can do the same. Adapt to THEIR style of communication, but always be polite.

What About When The Deal Is Done?

Was I supposed to fold? Or was it hold?

As with things in real life, maintaining a relationship with a vendor can be a wonderful thing. They might have stuff in the future that you want to buy! Maybe they are a really cool person and you want to be friends! Who knows! When you finally receive the item you paid for, you should put a bow in the entire affair by sending them a thank you email. It doesn't have to be long, or even full of praise. Just write them a quick note that says "I received the battle axe today and it's great. Thanks so much for all of the hard work you put into it." or something like that. It can even be shorter if you want, but it REALLY SHOULD BE something. Leaving the vendor hanging after they send off something that they probably put their heart and soul into is dismissive and insulting. If you're happy with your purchase, take five seconds out of your day to let them know. A tiny bit of effort from you could very well be the difference between them having a great day, or having a crappy one. After all, sifting through all of the emails from people who HAVEN'T read this article has got to be heartbreaking.

Thank you for reading this! If you have had an experience that supports (or doesn't!!) what's written in this article please post in the comments below. If there's anything you think should be added, that would help too!

Thank you Bill Doran for your feedback on this article.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Multipass Video Tutorial Is Coming

Just a quick pic of a build up I am in the middle of. It's going together really quickly, so I decided it was finally time to do a video tutorial. As soon as I'm done with this build I will start. Stay tuned for more!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Investing - A Simple Strategy That Just Might Work.

From time to time, I get asked for insight on investing in the stock market. I always have the same, fairly short answers, so I thought it would be smart to simply write my whole investing philosophy down and commit it to my blog.

I'll provide the executive summary here, rather than at the end. Be sure to read the entire post to make sense of each of these points.

  • Assume that America will survive, will grow, and will prosper.
  • Plan to build wealth over time, not get rich quick.
  • Start today.
  • Manage your own money.
  • Open an account at a brokerage house.
  • Your goal is to follow the market, not beat it.
  • Follow a Buy and Hold strategy.
  • Buy an S&P 500 index fund.
  • Invest a fixed amount every month, more if you are able
  • Roll your dividends and profits back into your investment account.

Now let's dig into each of those points a little deeper, and give a better explanation of the reasoning behind them.

My entire strategy hinges on one key assumption: that America will continue. That the USA will continue to grow, to exist, and to prosper. If you do not share this assumption, then my investment strategy is not for you. If you DO believe this, then I have some very simple advice to offer you. The strategy I believe in will not get you rich quick. It will make you money over time, assuming our key assumption plays out. It will net you a lot more money than just putting it into a savings account, and in my opinion is one of the best investment strategies around. It's simple, it's safe, it's affordable, and best of all as America grows, so does your net worth.

If you haven't seen the movie "Wolf of Wall Street" yet, I highly recommend it. There's a great little scene in there were Matthew McCaunahey's character is explaining the fundamentals of the investment business to newcomer what's his name.

Your first assignment is to watch this entire video.

The crux of it is this: the people trying to "help" you invest your money and increase your net worth are actually just trying to make money for themselves. SURPRISE! Go figure, right? Turns out, this is entirely true.

Almost universally, financial advice, management or leadership comes with a stiff price tag, be it implied or actual. Every time your investment manager convinces you to do a trade to better position yourself to outpace the market, he gets a commission. Every time you buy a product from them, they get a commission. There's an old joke about money managers: they will continue to manage your money until they've managed it all into their pockets. The other oddity about money managers is that almost universally, they don't know more than you do. They don't have access to any more information than you do, or that which is publically available. What they have is an infrastructure, one which is created to craft the illusion that they can help you beat the stock market, and turn your dollars into millions. The truth is far less appealing. Where do you think they get the money to pay for the big offices, the commercials that run during prime time tv, the bonuses that they pay for their best sellers? They get it from you, the investor. So this begs the question, why give your money to them when it can be put to work for you?

The highest earning sales guys (and that's exactly what they are, sales guys) will tell you that on your own, you don't stand a chance of outpacing the market, and that with them, they can leverage their giant network and access to help make that happen. This is nothing but a sales ploy, in order to get their hands on your money so they can fee you into oblivion.

I say all of this to set up the first pillar of my investing strategy: Manage your own money. Open an account with a brokerage house like Fidelity, and make your own decisions. Don't give your money to some money manager who is free to move it around as he sees fit, and charge you fees with every change. Shop around for a place that you like. There are plenty of them out there. Find a place where you can put your money, manage your trades yourself. Typically there's a transaction fee for each trade, and they will vary. There are lots of great discount brokerages that offer very low transaction fees, and great service. Find the place that works best for you. There are loads of online resources for finding a good place to keep your money. I use Fidelity.

Let's go back to that primary assumption I spoke about earlier. The belief that America will continue to survive and prosper. A brief look at the stock market will show that in general, over time, it has shown improvements and has continued to grow. Just like America. I remember in the late 90's when the Dow Jones Industrial Average broke 10,000 and we were all stunned. Since then it has almost doubled. So since the DJIA began being calculated in 1896, up until the late 90's we go to 10,000, and then less than 20 years later we've almost doubled. THAT is incredible growth. For some reason investors are obsessed with beating the market, when simply FOLLOWING the market will show significant returns over time. FAR superior returns to many other investing vehicles that are available.

This leads to my second pillar: The plan is to follow the market, not beat it. By simply following the market, working under the assumption that America will survive, you stand to make a lot of money over time. Pull up a chart that shows the growth of the S&P 500 over the past 20 years. If those seem like acceptable gains to you, then we are on the same track here. The problem with trying to beat the market is that you need one of two things: critical information on which companies are going to grow unexpectedly over time, or a bunch of money, time AND BLIND LUCK to constantly shift your money into higher earning stocks. Remember, nobody knows which stocks are about to explode. Anyone who tells you that they know is trying to sell you something. And by that, I mean "part you from your money". Remember that moving money around in the stock market costs money. The fees are what will whittle down your nest egg, and rob you of any gains that you make over time. Nobody can predict the stock market. If they could, they would literally own all the money in the world. Even just a slight advantage over time would lead to someone with extra-market knowledge to a position where they would literally own everything. So put aside the fantasy that you can outthink the market, or that you know someone who can do it for you. That's a fantasy. Which leads us conveniently to the next point:

Follow a buy and hold strategy. Shifting money costs money. For every story you hear about a savvy investor who moves his money around frequently and has gotten rich, there are thousands of stories of people who lost tons of money following the same strategy. For many investors, investing in stocks is akin to gambling. They get a good feeling about a company, or a friend gives them a tip about a company THEY have a good feeling about, so they throw a bunch of money at it and cross their fingers. And they lose. Just like gambling at a casino. And honestly, gambling at a casino is more fun because you get free drinks and just might get a free room. Recall that the strategy you are following here is to build wealth over decades, so that when you are ready to retire, you are sitting on a giant pile of cash. If your goal is to get rich quick by identifying companies that are about to blow up, I can assure you that your time, money, and efforts are better spent at the race track or casino, where at least you will have fun losing your money. Once you buy a stock, don't sell it. Don't let the ups and downs of the market force you into thinking that you need to sell. That is the path to the poor house. The sad thing is, this is what many investors do. When they see a drop in the stock price, they sell out of fear that the stock is about to crash. What happens is they lose a chunk of their original investment, and then move onto another stock... where the cycle repeats. Folks, here's how the market works: it goes up and down. it fluctuates. There will be days when you see the value of your investment go down. There will be days when the value of your investment goes up. But over the course of decades, if you believe that America will survive and it continues to do so, you will see your investment grow into something huge. Buy a stock, and hold onto it. Don't sell until you are in your retirement.

And now we really hit the biggest question of all. Which stocks do I buy? The answer is really simple. I recommend you buy an index fund, one that tracks the S&P 500. The S&P 500 is a broad index that covers a large part of the market, and in my opinion, is a good metric of how America is doing. While the Dow Jones is a more well known index, it follows large companies that are more industry leaders than representative of how America is doing. That's just my opinion. Research this if you are curious. There are all kinds of indices as out there, and all kinds of funds that follow them. I like the S&P 500 because it's broad, it's general... it's America. Once you sign up with a brokerage, find which funds or spiders they have that track the S&P 500, and start buying. Look for a no-load fund. That means there are no extra fees on the front when you are buying, and none on the back when you are selling.

How much should you buy? As much as you can afford, and as often as you can. Do not let market fluctuations thwart you. If the market is up one week and the spider you want to buy is more expensive than it was last week, DO NOT try to wait it out and see if the price drops. It might be MORE expensive next week. Trying to outthink the market is NOT the game you want to be in. You want to be the slow and steady investor who is completely unemotional. I recommend you set aside a part of each paycheck that you dedicate to investing. If you can afford 100 dollars, do that. If you can afford more, do that. If you can afford less, do that. There are a number of investment strategies out there that dictate how much to buy each period. For example, if the stock happens to be low when your paycheck arrives, you buy a little more. If it happens to have gone up, you buy the fixed amount you typically buy. This helps reduce the peril of emotional purchases, but also helps you hit it a little harder on the downside. Personally, I think a simple strategy is the best one, where you just buy what you can each month. Set a minimum that you are comfortable with, and stick with that NO MATTER WHAT. If you can afford to buy more on a particular month, do that. The key here is that you are consistent. Don't sit out the month of December because you need that extra money to buy gifts. Budget your money so that you have money available, but are still able to buy your monthly stock.

When should you start investing? Right away. Today. Yesterday would have been better, but today is just as good. Remember, trying to outthink the market is a fool's errand, and anyone who tells you they can is trying to sell you something, or to steal your money. Don't sit on your money hoping that the market will be softer next week. It might not. And whatever you heard on CNBC to suggest that it will could be utter nonsense.

One of my favorite parables about investing is this one: Even the blind squirrel finds the occasional acorn. I bring this up because the investing industry is full of these blind squirrels. People are screaming at the top of their lungs that they saw the housing crash coming, that they knew the fed was going to lower rates, that they saw such and such coming from a mile away, etc. It's all ex post facto posturing. And while the squirrel may have indeed correctly predicted a certain event coming or transpiring, that in no way means they are aware of the next one. I have been reading financial news, articles and blogs on and off for 25 years now, and honestly they have all been saying the same thing over and over and over. And remember, they're ALL trying to sell you something. Whether it's tuning into their show so you are forced to watch the commercials, paying for the latest issue of their online paper, or flat out buying their investing product, the whole money making industry is geared around taking your money from you, not making money for you. My point here is that you shouldn't listen to any "expert" whose ultimate goal is to sell you something.

My last piece of strategic advice is to roll your dividends and profits straight back into your account. If any of the companies in your index pay out dividends, don't take that out as cash, but instead be sure to invest that money straight back into your nest egg. Many places offer to do this automatically, which is an option you should definitely take. It's basically compound interest, which is where great gains can be made over time.

I think the only rebuttal to my strategy is really this question: But what about Birkshire Hathaway? Warren Buffet is probably the single most successful and popular investor on the planet. He makes piles of money investing, and typically outpaces the market. He is really the golden egg laying goose. The man and his company really know what they are doing, and I respect them tremendously. I personally would recommend them as an alternative investing strategy, because they have consistently shown themselves to be profitable. I think the only caveat is that their run could just as easily end tomorrow. Buffet could die, and the new guy that takes over could be a total schmuck. Remember that the first question I asked you was about America surviving. If you believe that and it turns out to be true, then the strategy I have outlined will be successful. You do not have the same level of certainty with BH. I actually really like Birkshire Hathaway, but I prefer to be in control of my own money, so I follow my own strategy.

And that's it! That's all you need to know. Remember, the real key to my strategy is that money managers are really just self serving, and don't have any true insight into the market or mastery of money making. If they did, they sure as heck wouldn't share it with us! By managing your own money, you save a fortune on fees, and will ride along with the market as American continues to grow. Good luck!

Monday, August 24, 2015

MattMobile Steering Wheel and Vac Form Table

Another great few days of productivity and much as been accomplished! Let us start off with a little show and tell.

Here is my recently acquired steering wheel for the MattMobile:

To my eye, it is perfect! I can't wait to get it installed.

While kicking around ideas for the Wonder Woman Dawn of Justice shield, which I am also blogging about, I decided it would be in my best interest to build my own vac forming table. It's something I've wanted for a long time, but never really had a great reason to build. But with this project upon me, the timing was right. I watched a few youtube videos on how they are made, and to get a good machine up and running seems surprisingly simple. I already have a shop vac, so most of the expense is already done.

I started with a piece of plywood that I had lying around the shop. I believe this is left over wood from the Tardis build. I cut a couple 26" x 26" squares. I then measured off a grid of 1"x1" squares.

The fun really began when I had to drill out all of those holes. Tedious, but really no way around it.

I then cut out the walls and glued them into place on the top piece.

A few wood screws later and it was time to attach the base.

And no, I didn't drop it.

I then used a hole boring drill bit and a set of metal files to carve out the hole for the hose. Fits like a glove!

And after a couple short hours of work, the table was complete. The next thing I need to do is build a frame for holding the plastic, and a chimney to channel the heat from the heating source. Honestly I think the hardest part of this project will be finding a good heat source. I already have a few things in mind, but the bummer is heaters are out of season right now.

Anyhow, that's it for now! I'll post again once I have some more progress.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Superman Returns Cape Progress and Breakthrough

Much is afoot with the Superman Returns cape recently. The other day I reviewed a bunch of my old blog posts on the topic, and was reminded of a lot of things I had forgotten.

I am once again revisiting the fabric. I'm sad to say that if you snooze, you lose. This proved to be true recently in my case. A year or so ago, I found some great fabric in the fashion district which was 65" wide. I purchased enough for a couple of capes. I went back the other day to buy more, and they are all sold out. Should have gotten the whole bolt.

I still have other options. One is a VERY nicely colored heavy weight jersey knit. I currently have enough for two capes. In my older blog posts, I was lamenting the fact that I couldn't seem to get the center crease out of it. I even took it to the dry cleaner to have them press it out. I don't know why I didn't think of it then, but all it needed was a good wash in the washing machine. I did this just today with this length, and voila, the crease is gone. In this pic, the fabric is draped across my dinner table drying.

But I digress. Let's get back to the workshop and talk about the cape mold. As you will recall, I am using a latex from the Motion Picture FX company to do my cape layups.

The other night, after reading some stuff online, I decided to experiment with my spray gun, to see if the latex I am using can be sprayed, and better yet if it will stick to the mold properly. I figured this would save me a ton of time and hassle if it works.

Sure enough, my spray gun is indeed able to spray the stuff. It's not perfect, and I will probably purchase a cup gun shortly, but the idea is sound. Next step was to see how it would work on a silicone mold.

As you can see below, it worked AMAZINGLY!

The latex went on nice and thin, extremely smooth, evenly, AND it didn't pull up from the silicone at all. I was thrilled!

I put the fan on it and let it dry for a few minutes. I peeled up the corner to see how it looked. Absolutely perfect.

Here's a close up. The punchline is that it captured every tiny detail. No bubbles. Zero bubbles. It feels like it's christmas time!

Also, for reference, please note the color difference between the wet latex and how it looks after it's dry. When it's wet, it looks bright pink. When dry, it's dark red. And that is MADDENING! It's essentially impossible to mix the color of latex on sight, as it changes so drastically once it dries. This has proven to be a pain in my rear for many years now. But read on, dear reader, for there is good news ahead.

And now I had a new purpose in life. I was also out of latex, so it was time to get more. I made my way to the Motion Picture FX Company up in the valley. They have a really great store! If you're ever in the area, be sure to check them out.

While I was there, I picked up some more urethane pigments that I'm going to experiment. I'm certain you'll be able to find the results on this blog eventually.

Meanwhile, back at the shop, I started to do some experimentation with attaching fabric to the cape. Sadly, it didn't go too well, but it gave me an excuse and an opportunity to experiment with different techniques and materials.

Here you can see the two different fabrics that DIDN'T go down too well, along with a few scraps that I was using to test different spray adhesives.

After this round of tests, I have completely abandoned the spray adhesive approach. Though it could be made to work, it is highly error prone. Long story short, if you get a little drop of spray onto the cape, it ruins the latex. And it's impossible to not get drops. So that's out.

I also did another pour up of the chest emblem. I was once again experimenting with pigments, and also with a different shore hardness. This time I used PMC-770, which ultimately proved to be to soft. I definitely think PMC-780 is the right material to use on the chest emblem and the belt.

The last topic for this post is regarding pigment for the latex. You may recall from my last blog post that I was revisiting some paint I acquired while in Ohio a few years ago. Montpelier Velvet Red. I walked to Home Depot only to learn that they cannot match the paint, which meant it was off to Lowes. A super friendly dude in the paint department was able to grant my wishes, which was for not only a pint of the red, but also a pint of JUST the pigments that they use to turn the white Valspar primer into the Velvet Red. Thank you, anonymous stranger at Lowes. You are the man.

I took the paints back to the workshop and mixed up a little batch, just taking a guess at the percentages of paint to pigment to latex. I did a tiny layup in a mold and OH MY GOD the color is beautiful!!!!!! I do believe I have solved the problem of getting the color I want for the cape's outer shell, and I am extremely happy. I have to give a quick shout out to David at UD Replicas, who originally provided me with the idea of mixing latex paints directly into the latex rubber. It took a while to get it right, and a bit of ingenuity of my own, but I really think I've finally got that part locked down.

So yes, it's bean a very productive week, with a lot of great breakthroughs. The main problem I have right now is that I don't have a fool proof method for attaching a giant sheet of fabric to the back of the outer shell of the cape. I'm trying to come up with some kind of rig that will help me do it, and I have a few ideas. I think one of the next things on my plate is dying the cape fabric with the correct ombre that I'm looking for. More on that soon.

As always, thanks so much for reading! I hope you enjoy witnessing my progress as much as I do making it.