Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Finding a Place

In the past, I have attempted to define some of the essential characteristics of what it is to be an evangelical. In his blog, Scot McKnight has recently been asking the question of whether the name "evangelical" is worth saving, given its current identification among the masses with right-wing politics. To look at most of the comments, it seems clear that many people think that it's not.

While I do find that to be a pity, I can certainly understand. While going through my archives recently to label as many of my old posts as I could find a coherent category for, I noticed that the majority of my own posts on "Evangelicalism" tended to be negative comments on the church, rather than positive ones. Perhaps those who think that it isn't worth the effort required to rehabilitate the label "evangelical" are right....

There was another aspect of the comments that caught my eye. There is a general trend away from particular denominational identity these days, in favor of multi-denominational labels such as "emerging" (of course, "evangelical" itself is a multi-denominational label). While I am sympathetic to that trend, and have been for many years, I wonder how this might be workable for the leadership of the church. Most pastors or priests must be ordained according to the rules and regulations of a particular denomination.

This isn't just idle speculation for me, but is very personal. I'm a member of the PC(USA), and started seminary a decade ago with the intention of studying for ordination within that denomination. The PC(USA) has a lengthy process of discernment and a considerable number of examinations that must be completed in order to be ordained. I have passed all of my examinations except for one: "Theological Competence." I have taken this examination five times, the last time being an oral examination conducted by one of the theology professors at the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. For the four written examinations, I consistently scored exactly as high as it is possible to score without passing, with the consistent response that I understood the broad strokes of reformed theology very well, but that they wanted more specifics (i.e., which theologian articulated a particular doctrine). My oral examiner gave a similar response. He could tell that I was "thinking theologically," but he wanted me to give more specific detail. I was encouraged to retake a course in reformed theology, and take the test again at a later time.

That was nearly six years ago. I actually do still hope to retake such a course someday, but at about the same time as my last examination, I started working full-time, and the only time such a course is offered here at Fuller is during the summer as a two-week intensive. Besides being unwilling to take such a large block of time off all at once (thereby forfeiting vacation income that I'll be paid when I leave if I don't take it as vacation), I do not believe that an intensive course is the best solution for me pedagogically. The information certainly didn't "stick" with me after I took the intensive the first time.

But there is another reason I've been hesitant to re-enter the ordination process with the PC(USA). The fact is, I don't have that strong a need to be Presbyterian. It's the tradition I'm most familiar with, and I'll always have an affinity for it. But I'm simply not convinced of the superiority of certain Presbyterian doctrines, over and above other Christian interpretations. I'm an Evangelical (hopefully in the "good sense" that McKnight talks about). I do care more about the "broad strokes" of Christian theology (with perhaps a reformed slant, which my past theological examinations said that I was good at) than I do about the particulars (especially in regard to the particular people that articulated such particular doctrines), and I'm concerned that such particulars do more to divide Christians than they help us to live as God would have us live.

I wouldn't be at all averse to being ordained in a non-denominational church. Unfortunately, my limited experience so far with non-denominational churches is that they tend to be "evangelical" in the wrong sense of the word, and I don't know if I would be a good "fit" for such a congregation as a pastor.

There's also the possibility of joining another denomination, but most of those have their own lengthy discernment processes and educational requirements (beyond simply having an MDiv, which I do possess), and I'd have to start at ground zero. I'm not getting any younger, and I don't really have the luxury of going back to school full-time, as I need to continue to earn an living while going through such a process. That's a bit daunting.

I'm a bit concerned that I'm "spinning my wheels," and that I need to make a decision sooner rather than later. But I haven't been totally idle. While working here at Fuller, I continue to learn (if not in classes anymore) from many fine evangelical (good sense) scholars, and I'm making a lot of connections that will no doubt help me wherever I go. But as valuable as this experience is, I don't intend to work in academic administration forever. I have long felt the call to do ministry in a local congregation. I'm still not sure where I'll end up, or where I'll even "fit" given my peculiar position somewhere between "mainstream liberal" and "right-wing conservative." For those of you who believe in such things, I'd appreciate your prayers.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Paper Prime

I found this at Boing Boing, and was surprised not to see more of the Transformers community talking about it. A downloadable pattern that allows you to create a transformable paper Optimus Prime. Boing Boing also links to a Flickr gallery of the finished product.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Where Do We Draw the Line?

When reflecting on issues related to the sin of racism the other day, it got me thinking about the various attitudes toward sin in many Christian churches. Broadly speaking (and well aware of the dangers in using a broad brush to describe such a diverse phenomenon as Christianity), churches may often be divided into two groups: "liberal" and "conservative."

"Conservative" churches, generally speaking, are considered to be very tough on certain kinds of sins (often sexual ones, but also personal vices such as smoking, drinking and gambling) while having a less consistent record when it comes to less personal (or more culturally endemic) sins, such as racism. I'm not here accusing "conservatives" of not considering racism to be a sin. Rather, that they don't seem to do as much to actively fight against it as they seem to do against the more personal sins.

"Liberal" churches tend to be seen as permissive on the personal sins, while more stringent on the larger cultural sins. It's not that (as some people think) "liberal" churches say "anything goes." Just look at how many of them argue against economic injustice, or the war in Iraq, or (to bring this back to where we started) racism. "Liberal" churches believe very strongly in arguing against these kinds of sins.

Although I myself probably lean a bit on the "liberal" side, I actually tend to agree with the "conservatives" on the "sinfulness" of the personal sins I listed earlier. If/when I disagree with "conservatives," it's often on how much they harp on those particular sins to the exclusion of other important matters. Also, to use a stereotype, they seem to be more concerned with the "thou shalt nots" than they are about telling people positive things they should do to make the world a better place. But as I reflect on these matters, it occurs to me that "liberals" are often guilty of the same thing: picking a few sins to spend all their time on, while neglecting to give importance to others.

Is the Christian who argues against abortion--but unwittingly allows domestic violence to continue--any better or worse than the Christian who fights against domestic violence but is more permissive on abortion?

Of course, I would argue that both positions are wrong, but the point is that Christians of devout intent often find themselves on one side or the other. But I'm not looking for a "middle ground" here. Being human, we're bound to focus on some things to the exclusion of others. Moreover, when a lot of people talk about "middle ground," they seem to talk about laying aside differences to the point where no one's standing up for their beliefs. That's not what I'm looking for here. I want Christians to be able to affirm that certain acts are wrong, and I think that both "liberals" and "conservatives" get certain things right.

But I do find it more than a little frustrating that "liberals" and "conservatives" fail to learn from each other. How can we affirm the things that the other side gets right? How do we acknowledge the things that the other side can teach us? Christians should continue to fight for the things we think are right, and on occasion be willing to call sin what it is. But where do we draw the line in standing up to say that certain things are sinful? And where must we be willing to allow other people to be more lenient (if only for a time) on some sins, so that we may grant them space to speak on issues where we ourselves could stand to improve?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Breakaway Mold Choice Revealed!

It's not often that I go ahead and post twice on the same day. Usually when news breaks, I just post it on the next scheduled blogging day. And, in fact, I knew before posting this morning that today would likely bring Transformers news. But since I'd had not only this morning's post ready since Monday, but I'm already set to go with another post for Friday which itself may get pushed back by upcoming developments, it seemed best to go ahead and post this now while the news is still fresh.

At 10:03 am (PST) today, Pete Sinclair, one of the main people at FP to connect with fans, posted some exciting news. The next club exclusive, which I speculated about the other day, and which will be given away free to people who are members of the club as of March 15th, 2007, will be a recolor of the Windrazor mold. Pictures will be available on the club site soon (although, if you can get to the club forum, Pete's new avatar seems to be a stylized form of Windrazor's head, revealing another red-and-blue color scheme).

I'm not sure how I feel about this. Windrazor is definitely one of the two molds I want, but I want the helicopter mold more, and this means that, next year, I only have a one-in-three chance of them choosing the mold I like! I guess I'll just have to wait until then to find out....

In other news, the BotCon set for this year will be Classics-based (as was widely assumed) and will feature 5 toys. More information to come later....

Malicious Intentions

Perhaps you've seen some of the recent DVD releases of classic cartoons. Most of the major studios are doing them (for example, Warner and Disney), not to mention a lot of really old stuff that you can find in the bargain bins because they're now in the public domain.

In the more recent Warner and Disney collections, they've started including disclaimers, both on the packages and on the videos themselves, that some of the material included on these older cartoons is now understood to be racist, even if the material might not have been understood as such at the time. The actors speaking on the videos have tried to smooth over this harsh reality somewhat by telling viewers that the racist material was not intended to be hurtful or malicious, even if it was indeed racist, and was wrong both then and today. Such material is generally included in these collections with the understanding that it is wrong to deny the fact of racism within our past, but we need to acknowledge its presence within our culture's history. By acknowledging the reality of this evil, it is hoped that we might begin to overcome some of the still-present racism within our own time.

I tend to follow a philosophy that says "Never attribute to malice what can be explained by ignorance." The idea isn't original to me, but has taken a few forms over the years. For example, I myself often replace "ignorance" with "incompetence," while retaining the same basic concept that it is possible to say that something is wrong without attributing malice to the perpetrator. I have no resistance whatsoever to identifying racism in the cultural artifacts in question. That said, I tend to believe that the people who were responsible for these racist depictions tended not to create them out of malicious intentions (in agreement with the disclaimers on the cartoon DVDs).

A person with whom I was talking about this matter did not agree. She suggested that such an attitude too quickly gave people an "out" when performing racist acts. They could (and often do) simply say "I didn't mean anything by it," as if such "innocence" absolved them of all responsibility. Moreover, she suggested that the people creating such depictions more often than not knew exactly what they were doing. Perhaps she would agree with this variation of the philosophy I described earlier: "Any sufficiently advanced ignorance is indistinguishable from malice."

Both of us certainly agreed that a protestation of innocence (even an honest one) does not absolve racists (whether or not they acknowledge being a racist. In fact, few do) of responsibility. Racism is racism, and it is wrong regardless of whether there was malicious intent or not. And we both agree that fighting such injustice requires conscious and deliberate effort to overcome latent tendencies that are in all of us.

And, in fact, does it really even matter if cartoons depicting racist stereotypes were created in this way with malicious intent? The damage that it causes remains the same whether the racism was intended or not. What matters more is that we become conscious now that these racist stereotypes exist, both historically and in our present culture. It is only as we become aware of these problems that we can begin to apologize for them, and to work to remove them from our society.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Breakaway Speculation

Last week, we learned that the 2007 club exclusive to be given free with paid membership will be named "Breakaway." It'll probably be some time before the figure is properly revealed, so it's time for some speculation.

We know for a fact that the toy will be a recolor of one of the "Energon Combiner" limbs (the torso will come out in a couple of years, completing a club combiner figure over the first five years of the club's existence). There were three combiner teams that came out during Energon: Superion Maximus, Constructicon Maximus, and Bruticus Maximus. All the limbs from these three giant robots were designed to be interchangable with each other. Any limb robot can be an arm or a leg for any of the combiners. Because of a cost-saving measure on the part of Hasbro, each team consists of only two (rather than four) distinct limb molds (each mold being recolored once on the same combiner). This means that only six distinct limb molds exist over the whole of the "Energon Combiner" line.

We have already seen two of these: Skyfall, a repaint of the Sky Shadow/Terradive mold (a jet); and Landquake, a repaint of the Blight/Kickback mold (an anti-aircraft vehicle). That leaves four possibilities:

  1. Treadshot/Windrazor: The remaining Superion Maximus mold, another jet.
  2. Blackout/Stormcloud: The remaining Bruticus Maximus mold, a helicopter.
  3. Bonecrusher/Sledge: One of the Constructicon Maximus molds. This is a front end loader, although you'll hear a lot of people mistakenly refer to it as a bulldozer.
  4. Duststorm/Wideload: The other Constructicon Maximus mold, a crane.
If I had my personal preference, we could eliminate 3 and 4 right now. I really don't care for any of the Constructicon Maximus molds at all. This opinion is by no means universal, however, and several people feel that Breakaway needs to be one of these molds to ensure some measure of representation across the whole spectrum of available Energon combiner limbs. I tend to be more of the opinion that, especially given that you can't have "equal" representation of three teams over four limbs, FP shouldn't bother trying. The only thing that should matter is the quality of the mold itself. Although my opinion is just that, mine (and not necessarily shared by other fans), let me explain my problems with the molds.
  • The crane mold: Just look at that left arm! Although Shockwave is legendary for his gun arm, I really do think that most Transformers should have two hands. And if one arm has something other than a hand on it, the arm should still be in general proportion to the other arm (as is the case with Shockwave). The left arm on this mold is simply way too long, and this kills any potential desire I might have had that FP would use it.
  • The front end loader mold: The robot mode on this one is passable, as is the vehicle, and the accessory for the combined form looks enough like a fist or a foot to be viable (My desire for such appendages is the same for the combined form as it is for the individual robots). Basically, I just don't like construction vehicles that much, nor do I think that a construction vehicle makes much sense in the context of the other vehicles we've already seen (this obviously also applies to the crane mold, but that mold's inherent problems override this admittedly less important concern). However, of the two Constructicon Maximus molds, this is the one I'd be more willing to live with, if they had to use one.
There are only two more molds to choose from, and with two more limbs to ultimately be revealed (including Breakaway), I'll either get both of them or be disappointed by having at least one of the construction molds I don't like. The odds aren't in my favor! But here are the other two possibilities, and their comparative benefits.
  • The helicopter mold: This one is my favorite mold of all the Energon combiner limbs. Excellent robot mold, decent vehicle mold, and a combiner accessory that even makes a okay hand, complete with a thumb! I'd be even happier if we get totally new combiner accessories in Year 5 that really look like hands and feet, but I consider this unlikely. This would be the next best thing.
  • The remaining jet mold: The one also has decent robot and vehicle molds, but requires an additional part that has no apparent place in either of these modes to transform into an only passable limb (it's a much better foot than a hand, also). This "extra" part is a liability, and if I only get one of these two molds, this is the one I'd rather give up. It really only ranks above the front end loader because I like jets more than I like construction vehicles.
There's one more factor that we have to account for. What kind of vehicle does the name "Breakaway" work for? I suppose that an argument could be made for any of the vehicles on some level, but it seems to me that the name works best with the front end loader. The unused jet mold seems next most likely, with the helicopter and the crane coming in respectively in terms of probability.

Of course, just because I think that something works better than something else doesn't mean that anyone else does. And I haven't even begun to speculate on what colors of undoubtedly-transparent plastic Breakaway will feature. I'm sure that the answers will be revealed within the next month or so (Landquake, last year's exclusive, was revealed toward the end of February).

In unrelated news, there are reports coming in of the BotCon hotel rate for the Westin. You can find this information in the updated unofficial BotCon FAQ.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Remember When We Said...?

While going through my blog to make sure that all my older posts (that needed them) were properly labeled, I stumbled on this old post detailing some of Hasbro's Transformer-related promises from San Diego Comic-Con 2005. Here's a quick recap of the promises listed in that post:
  • 4 Alternator redecos scheduled, 5 new molds scheduled/planned
  • No World's Smallest Transformers Coming
  • No plans for a G.I. Joe/Transformers toyline crossover
  • No plans for War Within figures
  • Hasbro is looking at the possibility of putting older, harder to find Alternators (Tracks, Meister, Shockblast) online at the Hasbro Toy Shop
  • Hasbro is planning an Alternators Mirage
  • Soundwave is going to be a helicopter in the movie
  • Universe is finished, save for store exclusive releases
  • Seacons, "Green" Landfill, Jetfire Decepticon repaints may become Hasbro Toy Shop exclusives
  • Mini-Con Battle Packs will be repaints for the first wave, and all new molds from that point on
  • Hasbro will begin introducing larger Alternators at a higher price point
So, how many of these items have actually come to pass, a year and a half later? Apparently most of them. I haven't counted the number of new Alternator molds to come out since that statement, but five sounds about right. The "older, harder to find" Alternators were actually sold in wider release than just at HTS, but were generally not so hard to find for a while (although they may be hard to find again by now). And Universe has indeed largely run its course, with the "Green" Landfill ultimately showing up as a Target exclusive, and the "Jetfire Decepticon" eventually becoming the club exclusive Astrotrain.

But a few things didn't happen:
  • Soundwave is not the name of the helicopter in the upcoming movie. To be fair, this was not Hasbro's decision, but that of the movie producers. It's also a change that most fans are probably happy about.
  • The Seacons have still never been made available. This is arguably the single greatest unfulfilled demand currently made by fans.
  • The "Mini-Con Battle Packs" never got out of the repaint phase. Apparently, the new mold Mini-Cons were held back, to finally be released as part of the current "Classics" line. These toys are now in three-packs, rather than the two-figure "Battle Packs" that were being discussed at the time. Still, the toys are coming out, so this is just a technicality.
  • There have never been any larger price-point Alternators.
And, depending on how you look at it, one thing they said that they had no plans for did happen: several War Within figures have come out in the Titaniums line.

Plans change, and I don't consider any of these changes to be out of the ordinary or uncommon. But it amazes me how fans often forget what was said in the fairly recent past, and I thought it might prove useful to point out how time has treated some of Hasbro's intentions of a couple of years ago. Who knows what might happen in the year to come?

In unrelated news, the name of the next Transformers club "freebie" has been announced: Breakaway. No word yet on which Energon combiner limb it will be a recolor of.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A Bigger Piece of the Pie

Last weekend, when I was perusing the Allspark forums, I came upon this thread, that brought an article to my attention. It explores the question of "Why Income Inequality Matters."

Now, I've written about issues of economic justice before, especially in regard to the minimum wage (but also touching on issues such as affordable housing), so naturally an article like this catches my interest. It is a fairly complex piece, and worth reading in its entirety, but there were a couple of elements that were especially interesting.
  1. The article suggests that the wider the gap between rich and poor, the more likely violent crime is to result. Unless people in lower-income levels can see a meaningful path towards higher-income levels, they are likely to decide that "playing by the rules" doesn't help them.
  2. Discontent among the lower-income levels seems to be more closely related to the size of the gap between themselves and the higher-income levels than it is to the actual size of income.
In the discussion that followed on the Allspark, one person suggested that point 2 was a bit odd. If he had an income of $100,000 (he says), it wouldn't matter to him if his neighbors made twice as much. I think that this is a valid point, especially since $100,000 is several times my current annual income. However, if $100,000 was the "lower-income" level, and most people made twice as much, it seems likely to me that the costs of goods and services would rise to the point where $100,000 paid for very little. In fact, this is one reason why many people advocate against raising the minimum wage, and there is a legitimacy to that argument (although I do not believe that raising the minimum wage would create problems to the extent that its opponents claim).

The problem isn't so much with the minimum wage, per se, but with the fact that those in the upper-income brackets retain so much of the nation's accumulated wealth for themselves. I'm perfectly fine with suggesting that people need meaningful rewards to encourage productive work (a point also made in the article). But there is something wrong with the fact that the average CEO makes 430 times as much as the average worker (as of the time this web site was posted, which I earlier cited in this post)! There is plenty of money out there in our society that more people could get the things they need to get by. The problem is distribution. Having a bigger pie isn't really as helpful as making sure that those who are getting just a sliver of pie can get a bigger piece.

For pointing this out, I have been accused of socialism (where the government exercises control over the production and distribution of resources) and I do not entirely refute the accusation, although I don't believe I'm advocating quite as radical a form of socialism as my opponents claim (I'm not suggesting that the government control production, for starters). I'm certainly not advocating communism (where all workers share economic resources equally. The distinction between communism and socialism is often misunderstood.). There must always be something "higher" to ascribe to, in order that workers be motivated. This is just human nature.

Indeed, one could argue that this is part of the reason why Microsoft's products are often inferior to its competition. Once you've hit the top, there isn't as much reason to keep trying so hard. They seem to have accumulated far more from their legal battles in recent years than they have out of their own ingenuity. They still remain powerful, of course. Money is a form of power, and if you have enough of it, you have power to ensure that you can keep it as you work toward getting more. But if you don't have any money, you don't have very much power to get yourself out of that situation. When the gap between rich and poor is so wide that it seems impossible to achieve any of the higher aspirations human nature motivates us toward, despair sets in. And that is positively tragic. Something must be done to narrow the gap.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Sign of the Times

You know what era of episode of The Price is Right you're watching (aren't days off from work great?) when contestants wear T-shirts like this:

"Bob! Retire in Augusta, GA!"

Friday, January 12, 2007

Disillusioned

There's been a lot of talk going on in the blogosphere these days about Richard Dawkins, and his recent book, The God Delusion. In it, Dawkins uses his scientifically-directed mind to attack not only the notion that God exists, but to rail against believers (of any stripe) as being not only foolish and stupid, but actively contributing to much of the evil in the world. Make no mistake: Dawkins is not just talking about the admittedly evil acts of some believers in religious faith. Dawkins believes that religious faith is, itself, an evil force.

I've been reading the blog posts of Scot McKnight and Ben Witherington on this subject with great interest. They do more to support the notion that Christians aren't necessarily as misguided as Dawkins wants to think, and that Dawkins' own assertions are founded on assumptions that are not conclusively proven (i.e., acts of faith), than I could ever hope to achieve on my own. But that's not what all this discussion has got me thinking about right at the moment.

I recently found out that Dawkins' wife is one-time Dr. Who actress Lalla Ward, who was the second actress to play Romana during the Tom Baker era (and who was actually married to Baker for a short time after her tenure on the show). For some reason, I found this news very disappointing.

I have no good reason why such a revelation should bother me. It's not like I expect actors or actresses generally to be friendly to people of faith (much less people of faith themselves). And it's not like Doctor Who as a genre is faith-friendly (more often than not, people of devout faith are either actively in opposition to the heroic Doctor, or are the first to be destroyed when they fail to flee from whatever monster threatens them, believing that their faith will protect them). Yet, still, this news saddened me.

Is it perhaps because Ms. Ward's husband is so hostile to the possibility that people can hold religious faith and not be terrible people? Is it because, on some level, I believe that the wife must agree with the opinion of the husband in some measure? Even assuming the answers to both of these questions is "yes," why should it matter? I've long since accepted, for example, that many of the forms of entertainment I enjoy (such as Doctor Who and Transformers) are as likely to be faith-hostile as faith-neutral, and that they attract many fans who are hostile to people of faith (just check out any number of posts in the Allspark's "Politics and Religion" forum to see what I mean).

Perhaps it's because I'd like to believe that, on some level, were I ever in a position to get to know Ms. Ward, that she and I could be friends. I'm certainly able to engage in discussions (even heated disagreements) with many people of differing backgrounds and remain friendly with them afterwards. Yet assuming that Ms. Ward feels at all like her husband about people of faith, this pipe-dream suddenly seems further removed from reality than it used to.

And that makes me sad.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Unofficial BotCon 2007 FAQ

Over at the official Transformers club members-only forum, a member recently asked if there could be a club forum FAQ put up to help newcomers to avoid asking and re-asking questions that have already been answered elsewhere. This thread has generated a fair bit of discussion, suggesting that such an FAQ would be rather helpful, especially in regard to BotCon 2007.

Although I expect that such an endeavour could be best accomplished by one of the club forum moderators, or even better yet, by Rik Alvarez or Pete Sinclair, I’m not sure if they’ll have the time to pull such together, so I figured I could at least get the ball rolling by putting up this list, which can be edited and updated more readily than the forum can be. If you have suggestions for improvements, it might be best to make them by sending me an e-mail (the link is on the right) rather than by clicking "comments." However, either way will work.

This list is not intended to replace official information, which will no doubt be up at the same time as pre-registation forms are put up at www.botcon.com. But hopefully it will be helpful in the meantime.

  • General Information:

    1. When will BotCon 2007 be held?
    2. A: The convention will be held from June 28-July 1st.

    3. Where will BotCon 2007 be held? UPDATE: 1/31/07, 10:08 am
    4. A: The convention will be at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence, Rhode Island.

    5. Where is the nearest airport to Providence? UPDATE: 1/24/07, 2:51 pm
    6. A: TF Green Airport (PVD) is the closest airport, near Providence, but although the Google search I used clearly calls TF Green "International," so far as I can tell, the only country it serves besides the U.S. is Canada. For international travelers, Boston's Logan International Airport seems to be the closest. Newark Liberty International Airport is probably the next closest. Forum member “Krypto” mentioned in a post dated 1/2/07 in the topic “Travelling to Botcon 2007” that the MBTA provides trains to Providence from Boston for about $9.75. It should cost about $1.25 to get a bus or a train from the airport to Boston station.

    7. How much will it cost to preregister? UPDATE: 4/1/07, 2:42 pm
    8. A: It will cost $329 to get a Primus package (see below) without a club membership, and $279 with a club membership. Since club memberships are $40 for US members, you might want to consider joining the club if you live in the US and wish to go to BotCon. You'll save $10 (after accounting for the membership), and get the club stuff besides!

    9. How do I volunteer to help out at BotCon? ADDED: 2/7/07, 1:51 pm
    10. A: There will be an e-mail sent out to all club members in the run up to BotCon asking for volunteers. Those interested can reply and will be sent a list of schedules that they can choose from. Those who reply should list a few in order of preference as they are then allocated on a "first come, first serve" basis.

    11. $329 (or even $279) is an awful lot of money. Are there any cheaper options? UPDATED: 4/1/07, 2:43 pm
    12. A: Of course. Here's a quick run-down of what kinds of packages are offered at BotCon, including what you get for the money.

      • The Primus Package is the most expensive ($329 for non-members), but includes pretty much all the bells and whistles: The five-figure Boxed Set (with convention pin), a program/comic, a name badge, admission to the Awards Dinner, admission to all panels (often with priority seating ahead of Walk-ins), admission to dealer room (including the Friday preview and early bird privileges on Saturday, which non-package holders can purchase separately if they desire), and (for the first time this year) a special Target gift card (amount not disclosed).
      • The Minicon Package is available as an add-on to allow one guest (generally a family member) of a Primus Package holder for the reduced price of $75. Minicons get the same benefits of Primus Package holders, except they do not get the five-figure boxed set, convention pin, or the program/comic.
      • The Protoform Package is similar to the Mini-Con Package, but available to those who aren't connected to a Primus Package holder, and costs about $105 for members and $155 for non-members. This package includes the convention pin, name badge, convention program with comic, admittance to the sales room including the private preview of the sales room on Friday and early bird privileges on Saturday, and admittance to all panels.
      • The Iacon Package is the non-attendee package. It costs the same as the Primus Package, but includes only the five-figure boxed set, the program/comic, and a name badge. These will be shipped after the convention.
      • Walk-in admission will be available for $10. These attendees do not get the five-figure boxed set, although they can purchase other exclusives available only at the convention, should these not be sold out to Primus Package holders, who are given priority. Last year, there were no exclusives available to non-Primus Package holders, so don't count on this! Walk-ins may also have to wait for seating at panels if space is tight.

  • Hotel:

    1. Will there be a special convention rate for staying at the hotel? UPDATED: 4/27/07, 1:34 pm
    2. A: Yes, although if you're only reading this now as of the latest update, this information won't help you much. The convention rate at the Westin (the "official" hotel, adjacent to the convention center) is $129 per night. This represents a dramatic reduction from the regular rate at the Westin, which is roughly $250 a night. The phone number for the Westin is (401) 598-8000, and there should be a link at www.botcon.com. However, as of 2/1/07, it is understood that all the BotCon rooms at the Westin have been taken.

      FP also reserved space at the nearby Biltmore hotel, about a block away from the convention center. Rooms with a King bed are $124 per night for up to two people, and suites (with two "California Kings" and a sitting area) are available for $139 per night. You'll need to call the Biltmore at 800-294-7709 or 401-421-0700 and ask for the BotCon Westin Overflow Block to receive these rates, as there is there is not a web link available. Also, be aware that the Biltmore charges $20 per person per night for the third and fourth person in a room. Not that this matters, since as of 2/16/07, the BotCon.com website has announced that Biltmore is also full.

      Ever ready to serve the needs of convention-goers, FP announced a third hotel: the Marriott Courtyard, which Brian told us is across the street from the Convention Center. The rate for the Marriott is $139 a night "and they have doubles and kings with a queen pullout available." But, as of a letter Brian sent on 4/13/07, the BotCon spaces at this hotel are also filled.

      On 4/27/07, Brian announced an increasingly unprecedented fourth hotel: The Hilton Providence can be reached by calling 800-221-3109 or 401-831-3900. Brian also promises that a web link will be available in the next few days. Although prices for this hotel were not in the e-mail, don't expect this hotel to last long, either!

    3. Can I room with another fan to save on hotel room costs? UPDATED: 1/31/07, 10:14 am
    4. A: Almost certainly. However, forum member “swinetrekkie” noted in a message board post dated 1/2/07 in the topic entitled “Re: Botcon 2007 update?” that the Westin charges an additional $30 per person per night for more than 2 guests per room. On 1/23/07, it was established that 1) No rooms are available with 2 double beds, and 2) No rooms are available for the convention rate with 4 guests in one room. How this second item is related to the "$30 per person per night for more than 2 guests per room" is uncertain. Some fans are suggesting lying to the Westin about how many people will be staying in the room. Although I expect that there's little that anyone can/should do to stop that, I have to go on record against such dishonesty. The Biltmore has a similar surcharge for more than two people in a room, although it's a bit cheaper at $20 per person per night (see above).


  • Convention activities:

    1. What special events will be held at BotCon? UPDATE: 5/15/07, 1:15 pm
    2. A: A trip to the Hasbro offices will be given to 500 Primus Package holders. The first 400 to register will be guaranteed a space, while the remaining 100 spaces will be drawn at random among all the other Primus Package holders who register before June 1st May 31st (The brochure says June 1st, and says that the results will be posted on the 8th, but the FAQ says that the deadline is May 31st, with the results being posted on June 1st. I assume that the latter reflects the current plan of FP.). FP has announced two other tours, one to Cape Cod, MA, and another to Newport, RI. These two tours will be at extra expense beyond the convention fee. Full details on the tours may be found here.

      There is also an art contest, seminars featuring special guests, a game night, and the "Faction Feud" game show (get your teams together if you're connected to a TF-related web page!), among other events.

    3. Will there be a “pre-screening” of the new Transformers movie. UPDATE: 4/1/07, 2:54 pm
    4. A: It was always assumed that because BotCon 2007 is being specifically timed to coincide with the July 4, 2007 release of the new Transformers movie, a “pre-screening” would be available to convention attendees. Tickets may be purchased for an extra $25 (limit 1 per Primus, Mini-Con, or Protoform) when you send in your registration form. The proceeds from these tickets will be donated to local Rhode Island charities.

    5. Will there be another customizing class? UPDATED: 3/9/07, 1:54 pm
    6. A: It has been confirmed as of 3/9/07 that there will be two such classes, each featuring different kinds of customs. More information can be found here.

    7. Who will be the special guests? UPDATE: 5/1/07, 11:16 am
    8. A: So far, only David Kaye (voice of multiple versions of Megatron, dating back to Beast Wars) has been confirmed as an actual guest. Because the convention is timed to coincide with the new Transformers movie to be released on July 4, 2007, it seems likely that people connected to the movie will be included, but so far only screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have indicated their presence, and it is unclear whether these two will be "guests" at BotCon, or if they are simply coming on their own (as Scott McNeil, of Beast Wars and other cartoons, has often done).


  • Exclusives:

    1. What are the BotCon 2007 toy exclusives? UPDATED: 5/3/07, 10:44 am
    2. A: The box set will consist of 5 "Classics"-themed figures. These will be Bugbite, Dreadwind, Thrust, Dirge, and Thundercracker. Pictures of these may be found at www.botcon.com (you may have to click a link within the page). Thrust, Dirge, and Thundercracker are all repaints of the Starscream/Ramjet mold (Thrust has remolded wings), and Bugbite is a Bumblebee repaint. Dreadwind is a repaint of the Classics Jetfire mold, with a new remolded head (although they kept the Jetfire "old toy head" helmet).

      In addition, there will also likely be about four figures that must be purchased at the convention itself (probably in two sets of two figures each), and a "free" exclusive that you get for attending. Typically, only the box set is officially announced before the convention. However, an image released on 4/25/07 at http://www.transformersclub.com revealed several previously unknown characters to be featured in the BotCon comic, which were confirmed by Pete Sinclair to be new versions of Springer, Huffer, and Elita-1. Also, a series of eBay auctions on 5/2/07 revealed what appears to be Alpha Trion, a repaint of Vector Prime with a remolded head. It is not yet known how many of these will be convention exclusives, or even if toys will be made for them at all (a recent statement on one of the message boards throws Elita-1 into doubt), although it seems likely that most (if not all) of the these that are not made for the convention will be made into club exclusives.

    3. Can I pre-order all of the exclusives to be available at BotCon, and not just the box set?
    4. A: This has been a popular suggestion, but at this time, only the box set can be pre-ordered. Maybe next year....

    5. There's a non-attendee package? You mean I don't have to go to the convention, but can still get the convention stuff? Doesn't that go against the very meaning of the word "exclusive"? UPDATE: 5/15/07, 1:11 pm
    6. A: Well, yes and no. There is a non-attendee package, but it only includes the (5, in this case) figures from the box set, usually with a few extras, such as the convention program/comic. And, in any event, all the box sets are sold out as of 5/3/07, and all the loose sets were gone as of 5/15/07, so if you haven't purchased your set already, you'll have to go through the secondary market. Any other figures available for purchase, as well as the "attendee-only bonus" (which is actually given at no extra charge to attendees) are only available to those who attend the convention.

      The whole nature of what constitutes an "exclusive" has been the subject of considerable debate among fans for many years now. Some are against the very concept of "exclusive" toys that not all fans can get, while others appreciate that those who take the extra time and spend the considerable cost of attending a convention will get something special for their efforts. This formula for a "non-attendee" package seems to be FP's attempt to meet both concerns.

Monday, January 08, 2007

eBay Annoyance

Like many Transformers fans, I occasionally use eBay to buy or sell some of my Transformers. I've been a member for nearly 10 full years now, so it's probably safe to say that I know the ins and outs of the culture by now. For example, although I continue to be frustrated with the practice of "sniping," it's enough of a "fact of life" that one must simply accept it if one wants to do business there.

This past week, I was reminded of another growing practice that I find annoying. I had won an auction for a Transformer on the day after Christmas, and immediately paid with my PayPal account, as is my consistent practice. On New Year's, I got the following message:
Thank you for purchasing (item removed). Please leave feedback for me on eBay and I'll do the same for you. Take this opportunity now and help build a better eBay community.
Now, this wouldn't actually be a concern, except for a couple of things: 1) I had not yet gotten the item yet. This was not a huge concern at the time I'd gotten the note, since I was fully aware that the week after Christmas is a fairly busy time, and that there were a few postal holidays in that span during which I couldn't have received my toy, anyway. 2) The seller was indicating his intentionality in not having left positive feedback for me yet, and I'd already kept up my end of the deal by sending payment promptly.

This, in my opinion, should the be only thing that matters in leaving feedback for a buyer: "Did the buyer pay in full and in a reasonable amount of time?" If the answer is "yes," you (the seller) should go ahead and leave feedback immediately. There's no fair reason to wait until the buyer has left feedback for you.

Of course, I didn't want to anger the seller, but I did want to communicate this somehow, so I sent this reply:
I will happily leave feedback for you once the item has arrived. No doubt the holiday season has slowed things down a bit (especially given the extra holiday tomorrow to commemorate President Ford). I expect the toy will probably arrive on Wednesday.

However, I should note that your leaving feedback for me should in no way be predicated on my leaving feedback for you. All feedback for me should reflect is whether or not I sent my payment in a timely fashion, which your previous communcations seem to indicate was indeed done properly.
The seller responded by sending me the USPS tracking number, which indicated that the postal carrier had attempted to leave the package on the 30th, but that since I wasn't home, left a notice instead that I should pick the package up at the post office. Although I had not, in fact, gotten such a notice, this was plausible enough. The matter remained that I would be unable to do anything to check up on the delivery until after the post office opened again on January 3rd. Using the tracking information the seller provided, I was able to successfully retrieve the package this past weekend. (I do work, after all. Of course I'm not home when the carrier drops by! Usually they leave the package at the doorstep.)

But the seller never did leave feedback for me, until after I left positive feedback for him upon delivery of my item (although it was actually very complimentary when it was finally accomplished). He never even mentioned the aspect of my note to him suggesting that there was no reason to wait.

Besides the "principle of the thing" I alluded to earlier, this bothers me for one very important (at least, I think so!) reason: a seller who holds back feedback is, in essence, blackmailing the buyer into leaving positive feedback, lest the buyer be hit with "retribution feedback" if the buyer is unhappy with the item and says so by leaving negative feedback for the seller. Now, to be fair, most sellers who engage in this practice probably don't realize that this is what they're doing. I also grant that seller feedback may be more important to sellers than buyer feedback is to buyers. But the point remains. Buyers who must leave feedback for the seller before they can get the feedback they've already earned are under pressure to leave feedback that is more positive than the seller may, in fact, deserve. If the buyer paid in full, and on time, and is simply unhappy with the item, it should be the buyer's right to leave negative feedback without fear of retribution. But sadly, it seems that the holding of buyer feedback hostage happens all the time. I can't honestly recall the last time a seller left feedback for me before I left feedback for him/her.

It seems to me that there's a simple solution to this problem: eBay could prohibit buyers from leaving feedback until after the seller has left feedback first. There's really no reason that a buyer should leave feedback first, and this will encourage sellers to leave feedback that is based solely on the buyer's good behavior in paying promptly and in full. As it is, eBay enables buyers to leave feedback immediately upon the closing of an auction, before it's even possible for the buyer to have received the item! This could be fixed via a simple programming change on eBay's site, and I think it would help to ensure that the feedback process is more fair.

I've already sent this suggestion to eBay via a suggestions link, but I'm not hopeful. We'll just have to wait and see, I guess.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Now Daleks Everywhere Shall Fear Me!

Finally got myself a Sonic Screwdriver from a toy company in the UK. I couldn't resist striking a pose. Now I'm ready to save the universe!

If you're not familiar with Doctor Who, then this post will mean nothing to you. Perhaps I'll have something more edifying on Monday. Or perhaps not. :)

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Gag Answers from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire

Well, my first day back from vacation, and it seems that Pat Robertson is shooting off his mouth again.

But I really don't care to give him any more attention than I have to, so instead I'm going to write about something a lot more fun. One of my favorite parts of watching Who Wants to Be a Millionaire is hearing the often-hilarious "D" answers to early-level questions in the game. Here is a list of ten such questions with their humorous wrong answers. (Real answers, just in case you need them, are provided in parentheses afterward.)
  1. An egg hunt is an activity that usually takes place on what holiday?
  2. D. Salmonella Awareness Day (Real Answer: Easter)

  3. A student who is described as a "Clock Watcher" is usually eagerly waiting for what?

    D. An all-new "60 Minutes" (Real Answer: The end of class)

  4. A common piece of advice warns you to "be careful what you wish for because" what?

    D. Dude, she's your cousin (Real Answer: You might get it)

  5. A school district is typically run by an administrator with what title?

    D. Joe Mama (Real Answer: Principal)

  6. According to a popular religious saying, "The Lord giveth, and the Lord" what?

    D. Maketh up verbs (Real Answer: Taketh away)

  7. On a traditional clock face, when both the hour and minute hands both point straight up, what time is it?

    D. Hammer time (Real Answer: 12 o'clock)

  8. According to traditional etiquette, a woman should respond to a man's bow with what polite gesture?

    D. Fist pump (Real Answer: Curtsy)

  9. By definition, which of these terms refers to a person with whom someone once had a passionate relationship?

    D. Old Navy stockboy (Real Answer: Old Flame)

  10. Which of these organizations is considered one of our country's "armed forces"?

    D. U.S. Kmart shoppers (Real Answer: U.S. Marines)

  11. According to Emily Post, children should not leave the dinner table until asking "May I please be" what?

    D. Legally emancipated (Real Answer: Excused)

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