Tim’s HERO, Maai HERO


Spent the day running diagnostics on a 34-year-old Heathkit HERO 1 robot with my friend Tim Schutz. (It’s his robot.) At first this activity felt strangely like Raiders of the Lost Ark (“Behold! This primitive robot was built by the ancient Egyptians!”) but, partly because HERO looks a little like R2-D2 (small coincidence), everything morphed into that scene from Star Wars where Luke takes the droids out to his garage for repairs. We were actually punching in machine language routines on a hexadecimal keypad on the little guy’s head. I was expecting HERO to twitch at any minute and start projecting a hologram of Princess Leia. (Tim observed that if it did, Leia would be about 60.) Another difference from the cinematic original was that we were accompanied by two curious, fierce, and slightly alarmed Ewoks, my Pomeranians Humphrey and Bridget.

We determined the robot was in pretty good shape for being so old. The sensor board must be repaired, but the robot came laden with schematics, and in true Heathkit style, everything was labeled clearly. There was even a flowchart in the manual for the necessary fix. The wheel motors work, so the robot can move around, and the arm basically works, but the claw needs a bit of mechanical repair.

I said the robot was primitive, but really it reminded me of a larger version of a 21st-century LEGO Mindstorms robot, and I am filled with admiration for the Heathkit engineers, who made an interface breadboard available even after the head carapace goes back on. Very makery!

Tim named his robot Maai, a Japanese word he knew from Aikido that means “distance”, so its full name would be Maai HERO. Ironically, the distance sonar is the only sensor working right now.

Photo credit: Heathkit catalog circa 1979, via http://www.hero-1.com/

Somebody hand me a water bottle

I just crossed the 25,000-word line in the marathon to complete my little book about the highly ludic planet Loka and the games they play there. Note to the cheering multitudes of onlookers: 25,000 words is half a short novel. Although my book is not a novel, 50,000 words is what I’ve been aiming for — but I won’t beat myself up if I overshoot that milestone by a few thousands or tens of thousands of words.

Yeah, so my text editor tells me I’m at 25,195 words. Today I wrote a couple of new games called X-Ray Replay and Double or Fuck Me (not nearly as dirty as they sound), both of which are connected with the much more dry-sounding (but actually quite interesting) real-life philosophical school of Object-Oriented Ontology, which asks, “What does your TV really think of you?” (And remember, you can’t have dirty without dry.)

I also added material to a couple of other fictional games, Mars Shot and High Bluff. I’ll be reading some “game reviews” aloud tomorrow and requesting feedback from EGGS, Experimental Game Genesis of Seattle, a local game design group I helped found (if I can squeeze into the schedule). Who better to give feedback on fictional games than real game designers and playtesters?

Finally, I’m writing partially for charity. I’d be writing anyway, but people who’d like to encourage me — and it really does encourage me — can sponsor me in the Write-a-thon for Clarion West, a venerable science fiction writing workshop here in Seattle that has given many successful SF writers a solid start. Note that I’m not attending Clarion West; I’m writing like mad and gesturing at those cheering multitudes to throw money at Clarion as I pass.

You don’t have to wait until the six weeks of the Write-a-thon are over. You can pay right now. So please do.