Monday, August 8, 2016

STAR WARS Day with the Portland Sea Dogs!

August 6th was the annual STAR WARS Day event with the Portland Sea Dogs!  The Sea Dogs are a minor league baseball time that play out of Hadlock Field in Portland (Maine).  This was our third time being a part of this event!


R2 hasn't done any events since our work with the Portland Symphony Orchestra a few months ago.  I have been meaning to spend some time on the little guy, fixing all sorts of little things.  But with summer being here, working two jobs and 3D printing a lot of pieces for the BB-8 build, R2 sort of got left behind.

One thing I did need to resolve was one of the doors needed repair.  Kids keep trying to force open R2's panels and hatches and this door had the outside trim torn apart.  It's a pretty quick repair to make, albeit a bit frustrating.  A few well placed drops of gel-superglue, clamped into place for a few minutes and the door is ready to be sealed shut again!

We're having a very warm summer and we have not seen much rain.  The forecast was warning about severe thunderstorms rolling into the area around game time.  As I packed up R2 into the Honda Odyssey, I kept an eye on the sky, hoping for best!

About an hour from out from Portland, we drove through some very intense downpours that lasted less than 15 minutes.  I was curious if those showers were heading towards Hadlock Field!  

The staff reserved a parking spot right by the side entrance, making getting in and out easy.  All I had to do was worry about a foul ball crashing into my vehicle!  

With some help from a couple Mercs, we had R2-D2 unloaded and into the dressing room to get setup.  We had quite a group of people this time!  In addition to R2-D2 and I, we had a lot of Mandolorian Mercs, a few Stormtroopers, a Darth Vader, a Rey, a Ben Kenobi and more.  A really nice turn out!

The Event

R2 did not participate in the parade around the field as we got stuck in the soft clay where the service trucks drive on and off the field two years ago.  This year we stayed on the infield for photos with the players, staff and guests.  R2's foot motors did a great job on the clay and grass, showing that the JAG foot drive continues with perform very nicely all of these years!  I'd like to increase the ground clearance of the center foot sometime so we can avoid getting stuck in ruts and uneven surfaces better.

The Sea Dogs staff had their own Chewbacca who must have sweat his brains out inside that suit!  

With the heat in the low 90s, R2 was definitely getting quite warm.  After the pre-game activities, we headed to the dressing room.  The dressing room was very well air conditioned and I opened R2's dome panels to let the heat escape.  That dressing room was a very popular spot for the costumed people go in, cool off sip some cold water, then head back out.  After our short break, R2 and I tried to head into the lobby area.  However, we were so mobbed for photos, we could barely travel a foot or two before being stopped for a photo.  So, I gave up on that idea and just parked where we were!  We stayed put for about two hours, meeting so many kids and adults.  

Around the 7th inning, many of the costumed characters were changing clothes and gearing up to head for home.  The heat was really tough on those guys.  I was wearing a t-shirt and shorts, so I was quite comfortable!  Still, I had a two hour ride home ahead of me, so I decided it was time to pack up and head for home too.

I grabbed some late supper with some friends and then we were north-bound, back up towards Bangor.  

The Honda Odyssey's air conditioner worked great.  I was quickly reminded of what little offerings the radio stations had on that long drive.  Christian or Country.  Not much for good ole Rock n Roll!  I got home around 1 AM and decided R2 could sleep in the van.  I unloaded R2 and all my support equipment first thing in the morning.

Techie Comments

The good news is everything worked well on R2.  

And there's not really any bad news.  But R2 does need to have some minor repairs made.  The back panel is made of two layers of aluminum, held together with epoxy.  Over the years, those layers have begun to separate a bit, so the panel doesn't quiet sit flush like it used to.  I am having to use white electrical tape to seal up the rear panel and that tape has pulled some paint off.  I'm debating weather to take the back panel apart, epoxy it back together and paint....or make a new panel that would be one solid piece.  

And the center foot is about a quarter inch too low.  That's because the shims inside the center wheel structure are a bit too small.  I could use larger shims or maybe even find slightly larger wheels.   It's a very fine balance.  If the center wheels are too tall, then the outer foot drive wheels are tipped back, making R2's front-wheel drive not able to get good traction.

Isn't droid tweaking fun?!

And finally, I would love to get an onboard computer to replace the netbook.  With 3 hours of usage, it does alright.  However the netbook is 7 years old, ancient in computer circles!  I'm concerned about the condition of the built in battery after all these years.  Not to mention the hassle of taking it inside and out of the droid.  I have a Intel NUC I would like to use but then we need to review the power demands and possibly replacing heavy SLA batteries with more powerful, lighter and more expensive LifePO or Li-Ion/Polymer ones.

Anyways....that was our grand adventure last weekend and my thoughts on tweaking R2-D2 for our next events.

Here's some pictures from our day!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Portland Symphony Orchestra POPS! Music of John Williams

Last weekend, R2-D2 and I participated in the Music of John Williams concert with the Portland Symphony Orchestra!


I have been a guest of the Portland Symphony Orchestra twice before.  In 2013 R2-D2 and I were part of the Star Wars Symphonic.  In 2014 I participated in their "Heroes, from Frozen to Firemen" show wearing my Dark Knight (Batman) costume.  I have nothing but sincere praise for this organization and was thrilled to be invited again!

Since the van hasn't traveled far in a year, it was time to do an oil change and make sure everything was safe for the 2 hour trip down to Portland.  After the servicing was completed, I had the wheels aligned since the Honda Odyssey had a significant pull to the right.  

Like any vehicle that's 14 years old, it certainly has some quirks.  Some humorous, some downright annoying.  CDs placed in the CD player quickly get scratched up.  The cruise control likes to just stop working after an hour.  If you unlock the vehicle from the passenger side, the alarm goes off.  And the only way to fix that is to unlock the driver side door.  Replacing the long broken remote is very expensive.  While I am grateful to have a vehicle to haul R2-D2 around it, sometimes I wonder "What next?".

I also had to get my Stormtrooper armor ready so that Joe Boucher, the concert manger, would be able to wear it during the show.  I had to repair some velcro on the calf pieces that didn't take long to fix.

Rehearsal was Saturday at 1 p.m. and the first show started at 7:30 p.m..  I left plenty early and arrived at 11:00 a.m., parked right by the side entrance staff use and had help getting everything unloaded.  I even had a dressing room!

The Event

The selection of John Williams music was pretty varied and the Star Wars music would occur in the second half of the program, after the intermission.  Here's the full list of what was played...

The Music of John Williams Program:   Overture from The Cowboys, Theme from Lost In Space Midway March, 1984 Olympic Fanfare and Theme, “Flight to Neverland” from Hook, Theme from Sabrina, Suite from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, “Exsultate Justi” from Empire of the Sun, “Dry Your Tears, Afrika!” from Amistad, Theme from Jaws   
From Star Wars: Duel of the Fates from Phantom Menace, Across the Stars from Attack of the Clones, Battle of the Heroes from Revenge of the Sith, Princess Leia’s Theme from A New Hope, Imperial March from Empire Strikes Back, Parade of the Ewoks from Return of the Jedi, Rey’s Theme from The Force Awakens, Throne Room and End Title from A New Hope

The Merrill Auditorium seats 1,908 and I was told both shows were close to sold out.  The two Monday shows would also be full but those were for kids in grades 3 to 5 from the local area.

With R2-D2 and I were joined by two Stormtroopers from the 501st.  Joe Boucher would join them in my armor during the concert.  They asked for us to greet patrons in the lobby as they entered the building.  It didn't take long for the room to get very busy as patrons posed for pictures with R2-D2 and the Stormtroopers.  It wasn't long before I was struggling to spot my droid in the crowd!

The stage hands did a great job, telling us how much time we could spend in the lobby before it was time to get us backstage.  Due to the location of the instruments on stage, we would have to enter from stage left.  Since the first portion of the concert didn't have Star Wars music, I was able to plug R2's computer into a power jack, maximizing the battery charge.  (The Asus netbook will last about 3 hours with the battery it has.  I keep the netbook power adapter attached and accessible via one of R2's rear doors.  If we are parked for any length of time, I just open the door and plug into AC power.)

The Star Wars music played in the order of the movies, so starting with The Phantom Menace, they worked their way through the musical selection in each movie.  

Once the orchestra reached "Princess Leia's theme" from A New Hope is when the fun began!  Part way through that song, R2-D2 was to come on stage and park next to one of the violinists.  A few moments later, Princess Leia, with Death Star Plans in hand, would sneak onto stage, with R2-D2 coming out to meet her.  Leia would insert the Death Star Plans inside R2-D2, then she would sneak off stage.  R2-D2, doing some beeps and chirps, would turn around and return to the starting point (next to the violinist).  All of this would occur with me on the side of the stage, behind a stack of speakers, making sure R2 travels safely.

Now, that sounds easy, right?  Drive R2-D2 to one spot, then to mid stage, then back.  Then stay put for the rest of the Star Wars music, beeping and moving the head around, plus some back and forth movement as needed.  And it went great, despite my worries and anxiety about something going wrong with the radio, receiver or R2 falling off the stage!  

The "Imperial March" played for The Empire Strikes Back and that's when the Stormtroopers, joined by an iParty-clad Darth Vader, walked around the audience before coming on stage.  R2 beeped out some sad and scared sounding beeps as the Stormtroopers and Darth Vader came on stage.  They then exited the stage as the song completed.  For Return of the Jedi the orchestra played "Parade of the Ewoks" with an Chewbecca character walking across the stage, celebrating with a Stormtrooper helmet in hand.  R2 beeped happily as Chewbecca came by, pet R2 on the head.  

There weren't any characters for "Rey's Theme" but when the "Throne Room/End Credits" song was played, all of the characters came back on stage as the song wrapped up.  The encore was the "Flying Theme" from E.T.

After the show, the Stormtroopers and R2-D2 quickly made their way to the lobby for pictures.  We made sure everyone was able to get their pictures taken then headed backstage.  I got R2-D2 parked, plugged his battery into the trickle charger and powered off the netbook.  Joe Boucher was enjoying every minute of his time in the Stormtrooper suit but it was try to help him out of it.  Once everything was packed up, it was off to the hotel to rest up for the Sunday afternoon show.

Sunday & Monday Shows

For the Sunday show, the conductor, as well as other staff, suggested I have R2-D2 doing more beeping on stage.  More head moving/motions and body movement.

I felt really awkward with that request, I guess my worry was R2-D2 being too distracting from the music.  I was assured that was not the case at all.  (I also didn't want a conductor's baton being thrown at me!)  

I practiced having R2-D2 wiggle side to side on stage.  I didn't have a lot of room to maneuver in but I finally nailed down how to puppeteer R2 into some movements we are used to seeing in the films.

Like the Saturday show, R2-D2 would be in the lobby to greet patrons.  We only had one Stormtrooper for Sunday, that being Joe in my armor.  Since he was busy with stage work, it was just R2 in the lobby.  The crew let me know when it was time to go backstage, so we left the lobby and headed back.  When it was R2's time to go on stage, as requested, R2 was much more chatty and animated.  Based on the smiles from the performers, conductor and audience, R2's own performance was very well received.

After the show, R2 again hit the lobby for pictures.  Once that was done, it was time to button up R2 for the night.  My brother and cousin, Chelsie,  live in Portland, so I was able to catch up with them in the Old Port for some fish & chips.

Monday's performances were at 9:20 and 11:20 a.m..  The program was reduced in length with many of the non-Star Wars songs removed.  R2-D2 wasn't in the lobby to greet the kids, nor would R2 be there after.  The kids were very quiet while listening to the music but once R2-D2 made an appearance, well, it was definitely a big hit with them!  R2 caused quite a commotion and for the last show, we waited a bit longer to bring R2 on stage so as not to drown out part of the music in the Princess Leia theme.

With the last show over, it was time to pack things up.  When I opened R2-D2 up to remove the netbook, I forgot there were Death Star Plans sitting inside...

One last time, I helped pry Joe out of the Stormtrooper armor and got the van packed up for the ride home.  Three days in Portland was great but it was time to head home!

After Event

Having never done a multi-day event away from home before, this was a first for me.  R2-D2 worked very well and I had packed all my support equipment just in case anything went wrong.

The rear panel has been slowly coming apart and I need to either replace it or repair it.  I have been using white electrical tape to keep it attached to the body securely.  Six years of travels have made the two-layers of aluminum skin come apart and bent in some spots.  Adding some magnets to the top of the skin and frame could help but the biggest problem is that it doesn't sit flush anymore.  I've also had to re-glue some of the detail pieces as the JB Weld has failed.

Despite that, overall R2 is in great shape.  I need to do a bit of an overhaul on R2 so I can check on some of the internal structure.  The wiring has become a bit of a mess and a handful of other tweaks I want to make.  Most importantly, I want to check on the frame's machine screws and make sure everything has stayed good and snug.  

Another wonderful adventure completed....until the next one!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Bangor Comic & Toy Con 2016

The second Bangor Comic & Toy Con was held April 8th, 9th and 10th in Bangor (Maine).  Media guests included Colin Baker (Dr Who #6), Tim Rose (Admiral Ackbar from Star Wars Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens), Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar from Star Trek The Next Generation and The Walking Dead), Nichelle Nichols (Uhura from Star Trek) and Verne Troyer (Mini Me, Austin Powers movies).  There were also numerous comic artists, vendors and gamers galore!


One concern with an event in spring is the weather.  Not only how the road conditions will be, but the state of my front lawn.  You see, in order to get R2-D2 out of the house, I can only fit R2 through the front door.  This requires me to drive the van onto the lawn and get R2 loaded up.  When your front lawn is extremely soft from melting snow and warm weather, you have to plan accordingly!  Otherwise, you'll wind up stuck in a swamp.  Much like a certain X-Wing fighter did on Dagobah in Empire Strikes Back.  (Except we don't have a "Yoda" to call on to lift us out if we get stuck!).

As luck would have it, we had a week of warm weather and heavy rains, which meant hoping for a below freezing night to safely drive onto the lawn!  The forecast showed late Friday/early Saturday morning for below freezing weather.  (So at 6 a.m. Saturday morning, with the temps being 29F, I gently drove the van on the lawn and loaded R2 up. And didn't get sunk in the mud!)

While I didn't have R2 at the event for the VIP night on Friday, I did go over to get an idea of where I would be setup.  Last year I had my own booth and shared space with the 501st, which worked out great.

This year there was a lot of confusion as to where I would be.  Apparently there were last minute changes and cancellations going on.  I'm not really sure what happened.  After having been told I'd have a spot and not having one at that moment, I left there a little bewildered and frustrated.  But, I figured things would sort themselves out come Saturday.

While I had R2-D2 all ready to go Friday evening, I decided to also bring my second R2-D2, which has been 75% complete for a few years.  The last few events I have done, people are genuinely curious to see the guts of R2-D2.  With the skins off the second R2, this would allow people to see what's going on behind the skin.  Granted the second R2 is my prototype for a center leg lift and retractable rocket boosters, the rest is identical to my first.  Same frame, legs, feet and ankle system.  The van would be pretty full come morning!

Saturday - Event Day One!

Early Saturday morning I got everything loaded up and headed to the Cross Center.  When I checked in to find out where to setup, there was still some confusion going on.  (I'm not privy to any of the behind the scenes stuff that was going on, but I imagine there was a lot of last minute changes.  A Monster Truck show had re-scheduled their show to coincide with the Comic Con, so I image there were some space changes.)  It took a little while to get someone on the walkie talkies and the event organizer, Chris ran over, found an unclaimed spot/booth and had me setup there.  Home sweet home for 48 hours!  

With some help from others at the Con, both R2's were quickly inside and on display.  And Saturday was VERY busy, I lost track of how many people asked to take photos (no charge, have at!) and all the amazing costumes I saw.

Here's some photos from the event!

A funny little story from Saturday....

After we wrapped up on Saturday, I decided to travel a mile down the road to pick up some groceries at Shaw's Supermarket.  The temperature had dropped and it was very windy and cold.  I drove into the parking lot and saw that the store was packed.  I decided to loop through the parking lot and visit the one closer to my home.  As I was driving around the parking lot, I noticed Denise Crosby, wearing a very thin spring jacket and two bags of groceries.  She wasn't dressed for the weather at all.  Part of me said "Just leave her along and drive home".  The good, catholic school boy in me said, "Well, at least be courteous and offer her a ride.".  And that's the voice I listened too.  I pulled up next to Denise, whom I had met earlier with R2, and asked if she would like a ride to her hotel.  She recognized me from earlier and said "Yes, please!".  Now, my van has all the back seats removed for hauling the droids.  When she got into the van and saw an empty back section, she must have thought she was getting into a bad situation!  But she laughed and said this will make a great story!  She explained the airline flight didn't feed them and she'd only snacked all day, thus the grocery store run!  I brought her to her hotel and asked if we could do a selfie...because no one would believe I picked up Tasha Yar on the side of the road in Bangor, Maine.  She laughed and we snapped a photo...

Denise Crosby ('Tasha Yar' from Star Trek TNG and I)

Sunday - Event Day Two!

Like Saturday,  a very busy morning!  By mid-afternoon things were dying down and as I did yesterday, I would take R2-D2 out of the booth and go drive around  We would get flagged down by the media guests as we went by.   I had a wonderful chat with Nichelle Nichols, whose just the most lovely lady I've ever spoken to.  She asks for your name, which just surprised me.  She's very engaging and uses a wheelchair to get around.  I just can't say enough nice things about her.  I've never seen the Original TV series, just the movies and really enjoyed her character.  Tim Rose shared lot's of stories from The Force Awakens about the set R2's and BB-8.  (He said my R2-D2 is one of the best looking and most functional ones he's seen.  While I would love to hang that on my wall and boast...I'm sure he says that to all the R2 Builders!)  I asked when he reports to the studio for the next film, but he grinned and said he couldn't talk about that.  Colin Baker was hilarious to talk to, since he coudn't make eye contact with me...he kept talking to R2-D2!  (Sadly I have never watched an episode of Dr Who).  Verne Troyer of Mini Me fame asked to do a video with R2-D2 and in exchange, I got to have my photo with him.  He zoomed around on his power cart and I was really impressed to learn about the many roles he has had, especially portraying animals.  The media guests were get $40-$50 for an autograph and a photo, so to have them stop me and engage me in a conversation was great fun.  (Didn't spend a cent!)

For the Walking Dead fans...I couldn't get any info out of Denise Crosby!  We will have to wait til the season resumes to see who got whacked in the cliff hanger.

I had a lot of visitors comment that had been following our adventures on the blog and through the news stories.  Several people mentioned they traveled a couple hours just to meet R2-D2.  How flattering!  It was really fun to meet people and answer their questions about R2, how it is built and what's next.  

And of course, everyone wants to know when I will have a BB-8 on display.  Short is underway but I am letting others trail blaze that path!  I want to see how their builds turn out and find out what they would do differently in their builds after the fact.

After the show was over, it was time to pack up and head home!  I left the droids in the van for a few hours, waiting for the temperature to drop below freezing.  About 7 p.m. it was safe to drive on the lawn and bring the droids in the house.

I felt the Con was much bigger this year, especially on Saturday.  The level of celebs they were able to bring in was really impressive.  I think they have really outgrown the space they were confined too.  Hopefully next year they can have more room!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Recognized for our good deeds by the Bangor City Council

On December 28th, 2015, R2-D2 and I were invited to the Bangor City Council meeting at City Hall.  At the meeting, R2-D2 and I were called to the floor and Mayor Sean Faircloth presented us with an official Recognition, which was read out loud by Council Gibran Graham.

Here's what the Recognition says...

Local CBS affiliate WABI-TV was on hand to report on the event (Link to video report)

It was a really nice honor to receive this.  My Mom came along and she got to see her Grand-Droid be recognized!

Some pictures from the event...

Bangor Daily News reporter Nicholas McCrea and WABI-TV reporter Caitlin Burchill

Mayor Sean Faircloth, R2-D2 and Paul J. Bussiere

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Premiere

On Thursday, December 17th, R2-D2 and I participated in a 4-Day event called the "Galactic Gathering" at the Bangor Mall Cinemas 10.

R2-D2 and I got to see the movie at a private, 10:45 p.m. showing!

The lobby of the cinema was set up for a handful of vendors while R2-D2 and I were paired up with photographer, Jeff Kirlin, of A Thing Of The Moment photography.  We had a donation jar out for pictures with R2-D2, the proceeds being split evenly between two charities;  The Children's Miracle Network and Spruce Run.  

Paul J. Bussiere R2-D2 and photographer Jeff Kirlin (the king of selfies!)

R2-D2 stands ready in our make-shift photo booth

Opening Night

Everyone got set-up good and early as we knew what to expect:  Big crowds!

And we had a LOT of people in the lobby, standing in line to pick up pre-purchased tickets.  So many it wrapped around outside the building.

Adding to the chaos was the three news stations doing live broadcasts from the theater.  All three asked if R2 would be available for an interview.  They sorted out the time frame that worked best for each of them.  R2-D2 and I would chat with the local NBC affiliate for a few minutes, then we would participate in the live shot for CBS.  Once that was completed, we headed over to the ABC/FOX affiliate for their live shot.  We then headed back to our photography spot.  

Television live shots galore!
Some people were hesitant to take pictures, afraid they would lose their spot in line.  But people were really great about stepping in and out of line to participate.  

As the first showings opened, we had a brief pause in the action, then we were right back at it.  Thursday and Friday we were there from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m..  Saturday we were there from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. then Sunday was 2 p.m. to 5 p.m..

After the last of the evening shows had been admitted, those of us part of the event were able to see a private showing at 10:45 p.m..  I got permission for R2-D2 to join me in the theater, just as they had for the 3D remake of The Phantom Menace.  

Friday, Saturday and Sunday Shows

Just as we had on opening night, R2-D2 worked flawlessly during our entire time there.  The real fun was the amount of people coming over to get a picture with R2-D2.  Over 700 pictures were taken, here's the Facebook gallery!

Here's a few favorites...

On Sunday, I put on my Stormtrooper armor and had a few fun photos wearing it...

Over the four days, R2-D2 got to spend the night recharging in the Cinema office.  The staff grew really fond of having R2-D2 greet them each morning!

The event was a lot of fun but it was time to get R2-D2 loaded up and heading for home.  We would have a one day break, then off to a school visit Tuesday!

AND.....we raised over $500!  That will be shared between the two referenced charities.