Web developer & user interface engineer
Tinkering with the web since 1996

email: joe@artlung.com · twitter: @artlung
San Diego, California, USA

Choose a Gift for Phyllis

This time of year is hard.


Clicking through gets me to a grid of easily purchased items under the headline: “Choose a Gift for Phyllis.”

Social media, Facebook, knows who my mother is. It’s smart enough to know that. And in spite of the fact that she died in October, 2010, I can’t bear, yet, to initiate the process of disabling her Facebook account. I know a few other dead people with Facebook accounts, and people occasionally “visit” and leave messages. These messages inspire me. They give me pause. I find them ridiculous. I find them moving. They’re what the word “bittersweet” was made for.

My Mom would have been 67 yesterday. And Sunday will be another Mother’s Day on which I think about her and am not able to give her a corporeal gift. No Starbucks card. No flowers. No mug with a funny message.

Instead what I have to offer is intangible. I choose “whimsy.”

For the last few months I’ve been trying to live my life differently. I am trying to embrace whimsy as a life philosophy. In any particular instance, what is the whimsical thing? What’s more fun? What’s more surprising? What’s going to delight someone?

At work many months back — maybe a year ago now — I started “thought-leadering” the word “delight” as something we should be trying to inspire in our customers. It’s a value that seems silly. “Delight” is a silly word. I read about delight as a value in writings on UX. But I think it’s my Mom, and her silly and fun nature, that set me up to think of delight and whimsy as things worth moving toward–in work and in day-to-day life.

two comments so far...

When I started this post, back in January, the intent was for it to be a comprehensive discourse on toy robots. I was starting to collect them and thought I could sum it up succinctly. So much for brevity, it’s meandering. Bear with me.
Here’s the collection from then.

My fascination with robots probably began with R2-D2 and C3PO in Star Wars in 1977. Lovable robots commenting on and also fully participating in the action. I thought they were great and many of Artoo’s markings I could draw from memory.

Sam The Robot from Sesame Street probably played a role. But he’s so goofy that I probably did not respect him as a robot. He was not all that different from the Muppet characters on that show. Sam was on the show between about 1972 and 1976, prime time for me to have been watching. I was 4 years old in 1974 and probably caught him on our tiny black and white TV.
I also remember the scene in Close Encounters when the electrical things in Barry’s house come to life, including the toys. Blocky and bulky. I think my friend Celsito had one like that. But even then, a robot like that seemed old-fashioned.
It was living in the Philippines that changed everything for me. It changed entirely my outlook on the world. I was a minority. I was living under a dictator. I rode in cabs. The very poor would beg from me. It was a startling state of affairs for a child. I was exposed to all manner of Asian culture. TV, magazines, toys, pencil cases, characters, food. Particularly Japanese culture. And robots. And especially Voltes V.
Brave young people! Taking on evil! Flying supersonic aircraft! Forming giant robots! It was incredible.
And now I have a t-shirt:

Voltes V is kind of amazing because of it getting banned by President Marcos. Wikipedia says:

In 1979, shortly before the series was going to end in the Philippines, then president Ferdinand Marcos issued a directive banning of Voltes V “because of excessive violence” and it included the encouragement of people to rebel due to its subversive message. The president also stated that cartoons such as this may affect children’s education.

Two years ago I wrote that I have been subconsciously drawing variations on Getter Poseidon since that time. The programming is deep and includes unconscious components, clearly.
There are so many robots out there to enjoy. There are so many I can’t keep track. For example, I keow little of Gigantor or Astro Boy. I’ve read some of Osamu Tezuka’s comics of Astro Boy now though. I intend to read more.
But Voltes V was always the be-all-end all. Voltes V was composed of 5 supersonic aircraft that joined to form the super robot Voltes V. I can still rattle off the top of my head the names of the 5 ships: Volt Cruiser, Volt Bomber, Volt Panzer, Volt Frigate, Volt Lander. Voltes V had a laser sword, and ultra magnetic whips which could send a kind of giant top with huge blades on it toward an enemy. “He” (and it’s really interesting that most of these robots are “he” and not “it.”
When I was 9 years old I could draw many robots passably off the top of my head. In the P.I., for the first time I met kids in school who could draw. 8-10 year old kids who could draw robots with realism were amazing. In the US I was a kid who could draw well and kids liked that, but these kids were miles ahead of me.
And now, they sit at my desk at work, a distraction. A happy place. A bit of whimsy in this world that’s often difficult. And I can take their photo, and enjoy them, and pose them, and play.
And here’s how the bot collection looks today.

Soon enough, it’ll look different again.

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