20 April 2016

Find: Star Bird

Looky what I found! It's a Star Bird! "What's a Star Bird?" Sigh. You young whippersnapper. You make me feel old.

What's a Star Bird

The Star Bird was a cool electronic toy from the late 1970s. It was a contemporary of Big Trak and Rom the Space Knight. (Perhaps you've heard of Rom? If not, pick approximately every other entry in this blog since I started it in 2008.) In fact, Bing McCoy – the man that created the Rom concept – was also the mind behind this toy.

Mounted on the front are twin "lasers" that one can fire by pressing a button. The true gimmick, however, is the engine sound. It responds to the angle you hold the ship. Point it down and you're coming in for a landing. Point it up and you're taking off. Hold it straight and, um, you maintain altitude.

The patent for the toy looks amazingly close to the final product, so perhaps McCoy and his partners also came up with the other cool feature. You can take pieces off and reconfigure it! Pop the front off and engine out, reconnect, and you've got a fighter. The two tail fins come off as drone fighters. Slide the outer hull off the front and you've got a sleeker cockpit underneath. Eject the laser turret and its an escape pod. Oh, just go look at the instructions.

The Find

Sadly, one of the local comic book stores – in fact, the newest – was closing. Of course, Hit Comics opening less than half a mile from the biggest comic store in town, The Deep, probably wasn't a great idea to begin with. The owner had actually been doing collectible shows for a while before opening the shop and will continue to do so now that it's closed. He specializes in comic books and Star Wars toys and memorbilia, but has other collectibles, too. So when I saw on Facebook that the store was having a going out of business sale, I went to check it out.

I found a few comics to buy, but nothing I'd really been looking for. I had to talk myself out of buying a complete set of 7 Guys of Justice because I'd have wound up with far more duplicates than I would have filled in missing issues. It wasn't until I was checking out I spotted the Star Bird box behind the counter. GASP!

Two things were at play in my mind. First, it was invented by the same team that invented Rom. Second, my best friend in elementary school had one and I never did. (You'll probably never read this, but hi, Cody!) So I ask if I can see it. I haven't held a Star Bird in decades.

As you can see, the box is not in great shape. It was once sealed in packing tape which has since been removed, leaving those lovely brown marks. And some of the corners have come apart.

Inside I'm surprised to find what looks like a complete Star Bird. It even has the little gun for the turret that everybody – including, if I recall correctly, my best friend – lost. Wow! No instructions, but that's no big deal. Okay, how much? Twenty bucks. Amazingly, I talk myself out of whipping out my debit card and buying it. It's just a hunk of plastic. It'll just sit on a shelf forever. That money is more wisely spent on necessities than this.

That was Wednesday. Thursday I can see in my bank account the bonus from work pending as a deposit for Friday. Holy cow! It's a lot, lot, lot more than I expected. Guess where I'm going back to on Friday?

I do zero research on prices ahead of time. After years of dealing in classic video games of that era, I know a good deal when I see it. What I want to know is whether it's really complete or not, so I check on what pieces it's supposed to come with. When I go back on Friday, it's still there! I determine it is truly complete, so now it's mine!

I considered it, but didn't check the battery compartment before buying. There I failed because it turns out the 9-volt battery connector is torn up. I'm pretty confident I can replace it, though, I just haven't had time yet. I'm hoping that once that's done, I'll have a fully functional toy.

Post-purchase research on ebay confirms I got a great deal. I also discover that all the stickers are present and placed in the right spots, according to the instructions. The "Dock" sticker on the back of the ship's head is mauled and one sticker on the front has shifted at some point, but overall it's good. And my younger kids were impressed just looking at it when I brought it home. Can't wait to fix it and show them the electronics in action. But I want to keep from losing that little gun for the turret, so I'm afraid they're not going to get unrestricted access to it.

29 October 2014

Security and the Dalai Lama

I happened to be in the right place at the right time to learn a few interesting things about security surrounding one stop on the Dalai Lama's recent visit to Birmingham, Alabama. Now that the visit is over, I thought I'd post them as matters of curiosity.

The 14th Dalai Lama visited Birmingham for Human Rights Week in October 2014. On the morning of the final day of his visit, Sunday, October 26, he was the featured guest at a moderated panel discussion entitled "Beyond Belief" at the Alabama Theatre. You might wonder why, when the city owns venues like Boutwell Auditorium, the event was hosted at the Alabama? The reason is exactly because the city owns Boutwell. The Alabama is a private venue, therefore anyone causing problems could be ejected without some of the messy legal issues of ejecting someone from a public venue. They did, in fact, escort one disruptive person out during the event.

Prior to the panel, everyone who would be working backstage at the Alabama Theatre had to pass a somewhat thorough background check. This was only a handful of people and I'm not aware of anyone who failed to pass.

Early on Sunday morning, the Secret Service -- or perhaps it was the Department of State security force, I'm unclear on that -- took control of access to the Alabama Theatre. They were followed a half our later by the FBI. Then, another half hour later, the Birmingham Police Department came in and swept the building using their K-9 units. If anything serious occurred, the route to get the Dalai Lama out using a back door was pre-determined.

Perhaps the most interesting effect, and one you wouldn't have thought of, was that on concessions. Only small drinks could be served, not large ones. This was so that a filled, thrown cup would not incur much damage. Also, bottled water could only be served if the concession stand workers removed and kept the bottle lids as they were served. Once again, this was so that a thrown bottle would lose most of its contents during flight and not be a serious risk.

And there you have it. Things the average person probably wouldn't think about when the Dalai Lama comes to visit. Remember this the next time you take possession of the dangerous weapon known as bottled water.

08 July 2014

Rom: Mighty Mugg

Gods of Galador! Today MTV News, of all places, exclusively announced that Hasbro will be selling a Mighty Muggs version of Rom. Initially available only at Comic Con International in San Diego in two-and-a-half weeks, it should be found at HasbroToyShop.com afterward. This version of Rom, with even less articulation points than the original, will sell for $22.99. Let's hope they don't grossly underestimate demand! (And I hope my wife won't kill me if I order one while I'm unemployed.) Thanks to Rich Raymer of the Rom's Spaceknights to Benefit Bill Mantlo group on Facebook for the tip!


04 February 2014

Rom the Space Knight Transformer

It seems I neglected to post about this when it was news, so here's a quick overview. The photo at right was a prototype for a potential addition to Hasbro's Transformers Bot Shots line as shown at the 2013 Toy Fair. The prototypes were all unlabeled, so its identity was a mystery. Later, a product listing got leaked to Transformers fandom which included an item called "TRA BOT SHOTS ROM THE SPACE KNIGHT A2587." Given the prototype's colors and the fact that it didn't match any known Transformer, said fandom decided that it must have been the prototype for Rom. Now, thanks to Joseph's comment and link provided on my previous post, we now know it appears this particular Bot Shot isn't coming to toy stores after all.

For more information on this, see the Transformers Wiki entry. And thanks to them for the photo.

03 February 2014

An overdue Rom trademark update

An e-mail prompted me to finally see what the latest is on Hasbro's attempts to once again trademark ROM. I won't summarize the history like I did in the last update, but you can go read it for yourself if you need a refresher. Or, if you want to read the whole saga, you can start at the beginning. (Really, I've been following this since November 2008?) Since it's officially (somewhat) new information since the last update, I will confirm that all eight of Hasbro's original trademark filings are dead because they were either denied or Hasbro used up all their extensions.

So, there are currently three trademarks Hasbro has applied for. The first is for comic books and was granted in April 2013. They've already used the first of their five possible extensions to use it in commerce (i.e. publish a ROM comic book). Extensions are required every six months if Hasbro doesn't have proof of use. Five extensions give them three years to do so.

The second trademark is for "toy action figures and toy robots convertible into other visual toy forms," which leads to the already existing rumor that Hasbro is going to make Rom part of the Transformers toy line. It, too, was granted in April 2013 and has had one extension filed against it.

The final trademark is for "entertainment services, namely an on-going animated television series for children." This one was only granted in June 2013 and, because I've gotten lazy, is new to me. It would seem to contradict Hasbro making Rom part of the Transformers, unless such a TV series would be a spin-off of Transformers: Prime or something. The first extension was just granted last month.

And finally, I remind you that although Hasbro owns Rom, his look, and his three accessories, Marvel owns the other Spaceknights, Dire Wraiths, and everything else. So whatever — if anything — Hasbro ends up doing with the character is going to have to be different from what we Rom fans are used to.