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August 2010 Archives

Damage to corridor 6, evac immediately

This weekend we went to the first-ever SpaceUp DC, an unconference for space nerds, by space nerds, held at GWU in Washington, DC. We're curious about the universe around us, and Timmy's still on a mission to get into space, so we thought it best to attend.

Some freebies--including 147 blood-thirsty tribbles--tagged along.

O hai that's us

Because it was an unconference, attendees were charged with determining the schedule, and it was cool to see "Games! Prizes! ThinkGeek!!" scrawled on the big white board for 1pm, but we weren't sure exactly sure what to expect.

Good thing they were such a nice bunch of people. It always amazes us how friendly and helpful and genuine geeks are, and SpaceUp DC was no exception. We watched a few Ignite sessions on what's coming up at NASA and then prepared for an innocently-conceived tribble toss.

We herded our 147 shrieking, vibrating tribbles into two piles, one at each end of a hallway, and put a line down between them. Then we split the attendees into two groups and explained that we'd give them 2 minutes to gently toss their tribbles onto the other's team side. The team with the least amount of tribbles at the end of two minutes would win.

As you might suspect, this quickly led to aerosolized tribble fur, bruises, and our apologies. At least now we know what a tribble fight looks like: ANARCHY.

At the end, the team on the right side of the hallway won the chance to choose tribbles, which were--surprise!!--filled with Geek A Week cards or a little voucher for another prize.

Luckily we had time to catch @NASA_SDO's discussion on the public perception of science. They threw together a quick experiment on where they asked passersby on the national mall what they thought about a handful of photos, including a space view of Earth, two scientists, the Solar Dynamics Observatory, and other images having to do with space, science, and nerdery. Then they presented the same images to the SpaceUp DC attendees.

Here are a few of the word clouds their survey generated, with the public response on white and the SpaceUp DC folks on black.

SpaceUp DC

The results were interesting: the space insiders tended to use jargon on images of space and equipment, which wasn't surprising, but also seemed to have less of an emotional reaction overall (except for with the scientists themselves). The conclusion from the discussion was that the public seems to have an interest in space and science--judging from "cool" and "fun" for the "Science is..." image--but doesn't seem able to identify with actually participating in science. Food for thought for those education-minded geeks out there.

We'll likely not do a tribble fight again, but it was a fun experiment and we'd like offer our thanks (and condolences) to those that participated, especially the space tweeps (like @cariann @spacesherpa @flyingjenny @spaceupdc @tim846 @VAXHeadroom @phalanx @astrogerly) we finally got to meet IRL. We hope to see you at the next SpaceUp DC, and we'll try to think of something less tribbling for 2011.

We love hearing our customers' stories--especially when it's a triumphant (and usually evil) tale involving an Annoy-a-tron. Schadenfreude never gets old.

But the email below from Christina in Atlanta is a little different, and perhaps calls for a warning label on something we wouldn't expect to be a problem.

Christina and her dangerous boyfriend with his Samurai Sword Handle Umbrella.

Dear ThinkGeek,

Three months ago, I bought a product from the ThinkGeek website as a present to my boyfriend--the Samurai Sword Handle Umbrella.

Fast forward to a week ago. Last Friday, my boyfriend wore the umbrella on his back when he came to my dorm room. As we were cleaning my room, we noticed some cop cars outside of the building, but since it was Atlanta, I didn't think too much of it.

About an hour later, my boyfriend received a call from one of his friends and he left my dorm without the umbrella. Five minutes later, he called and said the police told him that they were evacuating the building. He suggested to me that it might be advisable to leave, too, so I left my room and I saw at least three police officers as I passed through the lobby.

Outside of the building I saw about two dozen people near the entrance, and I was about to ask about the situation when I was waved inside by one of the police officers.

The police officer asked, "Did you escort anyone into the building?" As some of these officers had military issued riffles, I was pretty nervous. I replied, "Yes, one person. My boyfriend." The officer asked me if he left the building, to which I replied he did. The officers didn't believe me, and the one officer that I was talking to stated, "We have officers covering all of the entrances, exits, and staircases, and no one has left the building." Nevertheless, having seen him go down a staircase, I maintained my position that he did leave the building.

The officer then asked me to describe him, so I proceeded to describe his hair color, height, eye color, and build. The officer interrupted, "Did this person have a weapon?" Through my nervousness I perceived what the situation was about.

I replied, "He had an umbrella that looked like a weapon. It looks like a samurai sword."

The officers looked at each other. One of them said, "An umbrella?" to which I replied affirmatively. I then helpfully volunteered, "I can call him to come right back over."

The conversation went like this:

Boyfriend: "Hello, what's up?"
Me: "Please come over right away. The police need you here."
Boyfriend: "They do? Okay, I'll come over. What's going on?"
Me: "Please bring your umbrella with you."
Boyfriend: "My umbrella? This is about my umbrella?!"
Me: "Your umbrella. Yes, your umbrella."
Boyfriend: "Okay, I'll come over in a minute. But the umbrella isn't with me. It's in your room."
Me: "Just come over as soon as possible."

After I hung up, the officer told me to sit down, and I was even more nervous when the officer with the big gun was told to watch me.

When my boyfriend arrived, the officer questioned him about the umbrella. He was then told to sit in the chair across from me, and another officer with a big gun was told to stand over my boyfriend.

Two police officers escorted my hall director up the stairs to retrieve the "artifact in question."

After a couple more minutes they came back down. The officer was carrying the umbrella. He then unsheathed the "artifact in question" and popped it open. Another officer said, "We're done here." All of the officers then streamed out of the building. In all, there were about a dozen officers, and four with rifles.

Though we are now prohibited from carrying it on our campus, I would like ThinkGeek to know that we enjoy the umbrella. However, a SWAT team summoning wasn't on the product information page.

Thanks for the email, Christina, and we hope you guys don't get soaked the next time it rains cats and ninjas on campus!

UPDATE 8/18 4:00pm:

After posting Christina's email on August 17, we heard that there was an actual samurai sword attack at Georgia Tech in February 2010 some 7 or 8 months before Christina had a SWAT team descend upon her dorm.

And now, a day after this blog post, a few comment threads on our blog and around the internet have taken the story in several directions. Some find it just funny, or deplore the Atlanta police's reaction. Others say no one has any business carrying around an item that looks like a weapon, novelty umbrella or not.

While we recognize that Christina's incident was probably colored by the earlier February attack--explaining the presence of the SWAT team--we understand the spirit in which she (and we) wield the Samurai Sword Umbrella: it's something like covert, socially-appropriate LARPing, and with a clever nod to the pop culture notion of samurai. (We also carry a Broadsword Umbrella should you prefer a knightly, D&D look.)

It goes without saying that we don't condone samurai sword attacks, or unnecessarily causing a ruckus on your college campus, but we do hope that the Samurai Sword Umbrella Incident doesn't mean you can't have a little fun with an umbrella.

And we'd like to warn all the replicants out there to be ready for a Voight-Kampff test should you be caught with our Blade Runner Umbrella.

Photo of Paul and Storm by Adam Savage for w00tstockCentral

If you live in the Virginia/DC/Maryland area, you may be interested in our whereabouts in the next few weeks--not necessarily because we'll be there (with freebies!), but because August is looking pretty awesome in our neighborhood.

And if you're not in our area, that doesn't mean you can't win some free RiffTrax LIVE tickets for the 8/19 showing of Reefer Madness. (Details below.) It just means you'll miss that magic awkward moment at Fairfax Towne Center theater when we all briefly overcome our geekiness to interact in meatspace. Weird.

So here's what we'll be up to this month:

Paul & Storm at Jammin' Java

8/14 @ 7pm ($15)
We'll be there with some freebies, but you may have to hunt us (follow us on Twitter) 'cause we'll mostly be there to enjoy their potty-mouth musical stylings.

Star Trek (2009 reboot, with lens flares!) at Crystal City

8/16 @ sunset (FREE)
We're bringing 300 of our closest tribble friends to fling into the crowd (in order to detect Klingons, of course), plus Geek A Week cards, RPSLS totes, and Mr. Storm. Just look for the red "Expendable"-shirted people with a bunch of cardboard boxes.

RiffTrax LIVE: Reefer Madness + 3 new shorts

8/19 @ 8pm ($12.50)
RiffTrax is doing another live satellite broadcast of their wonderfulness across the country, and we'll be at the Fairfax Towne Center showing. If you come hang out with us, that's awesome. But if you're not in our neighborhood, no matter, for we have 5 pairs of free tickets to give away!

Here's how to win: Find your local theater by entering your zip code at the bottom of this page, then fill out your information in the Official Form of Winning below by Thursday, August 12th at midnight Eastern. We'll choose 5 random winners who will each receive 2 tickets to be picked up at their theater of choice on the day of the show. We'll notify those lucky ducks sometime on Friday, August 13th.

UPDATE 8/16: The winners have been contacted! Of course, even if you didn't get free tickets, you should still go.

Rifftrax uberfans for which randomly winning is not cool enough: You can win a swag bag and your name on screen during the broadcast by entering a joke in RiffTrax's official contest. If you're not funny but will have tickets before 8/18, you can enter to win an iPad engraved with a drawing of RiffTrax by Ethan Nicolle, co-creator of Axe Cop. Pretty sweet.

So if you'd like to see us in person, now's your chance. We'll crawl back into the server closet in September and there's no telling when Timmy will let us back out.

Ever wondered what it takes to win the $100 gift certificate for Customer Action Shot of the Month? It takes a ThinkGeek product, a camera, an internet connection, and an overflowing bucket of creative juices.

Our benevolent Monkey Overlord uses his righteous criteria-of-the-moment to pick only the best of the best for the grand prize. We'd tell you how to meet those righteous criteria, except that they change by the moment. Instead, here's a list of things that have been done to death (aka What Won't Win $100).


1. BuckyBalls Jewelry

When you first crack open a package of Buckyballs, it's exciting. They're so shiny, so attractive, so very fun to manipulate. It's no wonder they are one of our best-selling products. With some time and practice, you can make some amazing creations. Rings, necklaces, and bracelets are not amazing creations. Then there was that guy who sent us pictures of his girlfriend's... huge tracts of land adorned with Buckyballs. Certainly unique! Sadly, not appropriate for the site.

Pew pew pew pew!

2. Cats In/On Stuff

We all love our pets. And like parents of human spawn, we tend to think that our babies are the CUTEST ONES EVAR!!ONE!1! As pet people, we totally grok your desire to make your kitty internet famous. We're just saying, take a little time to catch them doing something really crazy. (It shouldn't take long--it's a cat after all.)

How convenient

3. Headless T-Shirt Wearers

This is one we're not sure we understand. From what we can gather, the point of Customer Action Shots is to be able to point at ThinkGeek.com and say to your friends, "Check it out! There I am on a famous website! Oh frabjous day!" There's something a little lacking in saying, "Check it out! There's my chest on a famous website!" Unless, of course, you have a particularly frabjous chest. Like this guy.

Lovey dovey timey wimey

4. Pointing Sonic Screwdriver at Camera

Yes, it's a cool shot. Unfortunately, we get at least two of these a day, so they're not unique anymore. Remember, the sonic screwdriver is the ultimate intergalactic multi-tool. Stop pointing your tool at us and start using it for other things, like eliminating that pesky BSOD, cutting wedding cake, or programming your DVR.

Roll for damage

5. Inaction Shots

We're glad that we have super creative customers that send us pictures of our products in all sorts of hilarious or clever situations. These are the kind of shots that win money! The cleverer, the better. If you make us LOL and forward your photo to the whole office, you're a shoo-in. If you stick your ThinkGeek product in front of a blank backdrop or on the floor and shoot a photo... well, not so much with the winningness.

Final Thoughts on Winning $$$ for Your Customer Action Shot

1. Resize your photo, please! We don't need it bigger than 500 pixels wide and 72 ppi. We'll let you know if we need the full-size, high-res version for the catalog centerfold.

2. Be sure it's CLEAR. We reject a lot of otherwise cool photos because they're too blurry.

3. Don't put your URL on the bottom. We can't give you free advertising (or free stalkers, for the ladies).

Remember, every time you send in a Customer Action Shot of yourself, you're giving us a bit of your soul. The souls of ThinkGeek customers are what keep Timmy warm at night, so keep mailing them in!