What’s Up with The Help Machine? April 2016 in Retrospect

What’s Up with The Help Machine?

TL;DR – April was about getting organized, and focusing on what’s important

It’s important to let people know what you’re doing, what you can do, and what you plan to do. One of the great things about self-publishing is that the only thing stopping you from publishing is yourself. I want people to know what’s going on, what we’re doing, and if they think there’s something we can help with, to ask!

The only way to make that happen is to make it happen, and you do that by letting people know what you’re doing. Hence, this new feature!

This month the focus was on getting new designs for the puppets put together. And they’re finished! The reason this is important is because it’s the blocker to shooting the video for ‘Save it for Later’ and getting the Indiegogo rewards finished! And also for getting videos on YouTube!

  • What’s gotten done?
    • The Rings of Mikado Conceptualization
    • New Thigment Designs and Prototype Process
    • Consulting Work
  • What’s in progress?
    • Thigment Building
    • Indiegogo Rewards
    • The Rings of Mikado
    • Writing Writing Writing!
  • Anything Notable or Special Happen?

What’s gotten done?

The Rings of Mikado Conceptualization

Finalized conceptualization on a non-racist version of The Mikado, which I vowed to create in September 2015. It’s taken a few interesting turns! There’s essentially two versions of the Libretto in progress right now; the Libretto is the text of an opera or longer musical work. There’s one version that’s a full run through of the show, which should run a few hours.

But there’s another version, that changes it into a ~10 episode web-series!

Either way, our version is called, “The Rings of Mikado.” It’s set on a planet, in the Alpha Centuari system, called “Mikado.” And it’s about a Princess, named Nan Kipu (daughter of The Emperor of the Certified Universe, Tipitu Kipu), and the trouble she encounters when she runs away from home. In the original, the Emperor of Japan is referred to as The Mikado; but it sounds more like a place to me. The name of the town in the original is Titipu, but that sounded more like a person (based on the weird faux-Oriental names in there). Titipu Kipu just didn’t sound as nice as Tipitu Kipu, so, the Emperor is Tipitu!

I’m not certain if music will get finished this year. There are some drafts of new lyrics for the songs, but am trying to keep those as notes (with the primary focus on the script right now).

New Thigment Designs and Prototype Process


One of the things I didn’t think about with The Thigments is a simple thing. Namely, what to do if they started to fall apart? The originals were made in late 2014, and weren’t built to last. Really, no puppet is built to last; they all fall apart. When we recorded “Save it For Later” at Michael’s studio, Bobidoo fell apart during the recording session. I just wanted to do a couple of jokes with the guys, and snap some pictures. But Bobidoo’s arms fell off, and then the back seam split, and then the mouth broke. I put Bobidoo back together, but, all of those repairs fall apart pretty quickly when in use. Kwiddle was built around the same time, but has held up better. However, the back on Kwiddle is also splitting, now. Marmalade has held up well, but the eyes keep splitting.

Another thing I didn’t think about when I made them was, while I sketched designs (and made the original Thigments to those designs), I didn’t keep great track of how I put them together. I had patterns, but basic things, like, eye placement, noses, and other features? Or even the size of some of the parts I used? Nope. Bobidoo, Kwiddle, and Marmalade all look as designed. Uncle Prunce was made in the first puppet class I took. I have pretty good notes for him, but not for my 3 little stars! So, have been working on new versions in spare time, that have to meet this criteria …

  • Double-stiched, durable, comfortable
  • More flexible mouths, with grips
  • Better attachment process for arms
  • Notes for duplication
  • Notes on construction times

In December, I made a new pattern, with different mouth mechanics; this prototype evolved into a character named, “F.A. Flannagan.” The purpose was to nail down a new pattern, one that I could replicate (and reuse if needed), and modify easily. Multiple versions of puppets are important if you want to have them in videos. And learning to replicate puppets, to get them to look the same (or close enough) is a skill. It takes patience, or at least, I need patience as I learn this. It’s frustrating, to make something, realize it doesn’t look the same, and then try to move on and do it again until it’s right.

There were also little things I needed to work out. Like, when you see a puppet, most people focus on the outisde. But inside is almost more important. How are the arms attached? What is the mouthplate made out of? Does it have a have a grip, and if so, what kind? In addition, I needed to make sure I could replicate the puppets, and had good notes for doing so. At the moment, if one of The Thigments falls apart while shooting a video, that’s it. Things stop until repairs are done, hopefully the repairs work, and hopefully they hold. If, however, you have duplicates ready, if one falls apart, you just swap in one of the duplicates.

The other thing about this is that it changes what you can do. Like, if you only have one, precious version of a character, what do you do if the character gets muddy? Gets rained on? It limits what you do; you don’t dare ‘wreck’ the only version of the character you have. But, if you can swap in a new version of the character? There’s no issue. All of the professionals know this; and now, I know it too!

This thinking evolved into coming up with a process for making prototypes quickly. I had good notes from my original puppet crafting classes, and remembered an off-hand comment that Sensei Roberto said, “Just mock it up out of fleece.” Which is what I did, along with making cardboard parts at the approximate thickness of mouth plate materials, and other bits and pieces.

F.A. Flannagan is purposely simple. But I needed a slightly more complicated pattern, to practice some other basic elements (like, fur trimming, feature placement, etc..). I sketched out a new character, named “Woojin” to help me with that.

I spent freetime in January, February and March just trying to duplicate Bobidoo and Kwiddle, and getting really upset at the results. After the month of April (and part of March) I finally figured out what to do. F.A. Flannagan is about basic replication, and a new mouth, flexible mouthgrip and mouthplate for the primary Thigments. Woojin is about that, plus facial element placement.

Consulting Work!

In addition, I did a fair amount of consulting work, to help bring money in! Unfortunately, a lot of it was fairly haphazard, and most of it I can’t talk about. May is looking a little dry on that front; the upside is that I can have time to focus on the Thigments. The downside is, well, I need to raise money in order to get some other work done. Most of the Consulting work has been focused on JIRA and DevOps consulting.

What’s in progress?

Thigment Building

As noted, I need to get new Thigments put together, and have enough duplicates so that they can stand up to anything that comes their way! I thought I’d be finished with this in January, but only in hindsight realized that it was going to take more effort than I thought. The upside is, I think I’m better at making puppets than I was before I started. The downside is, holy cow, It’s May!

I need to get the new versions of The Thigments done as quickly as possible, but with high quality. Without them, there’s no videos. In addition, that blocks fulfilling the Indiegogo Rewards!

Indiegogo Rewards for Save it For Later!

Fulfilling the Indiegogo Rewards is way behind. I’ve always hated it when something is crowdfunded, and then the rewards take a long time to complete.

Aquino and Ernio did their end, and they did amazing! The song itself is recorded, mixed, and we really like it. But, we need The Thigments to shoot a music video, and to fulfill the other rewards. Ernio suggested, months ago, sending out the song itself to our Indiegogo backers; he was right! So, I have to get this moving this month, and improve the communication with our backers (and just get out the rewards we can).

The Rings of Mikado

One thing I can do during breaks, or on the subway, or in the morning, is write. I made a vow last year to finish this. I’m limiting my time to work on The Mikado to 4hrs per week. I’m not always great about that, so I have to remind myself that The Thigments need work, and that there’s promises we need to keep. This month, the goal is to finish the treatment, and the first draft of the pilot for the web-series version. This also ends up being the opening for the full script as well, so it’s two birds with one stone.

Writing Writing Writing!

The primary writing time I spend is for Thigment scripts. I need a good supply of ideas for new Shortles! That part seems to be coming along okay, along with some new formats. The first batch was just to get used to making videos, see what kind of production velocity was realistic, and see what The Thigments wanted to talk about. The next batch is about building on the first batch, and trying to do simple things like having them talk to each other, and go outside.

What’s coming up?

Return to YouTube!

This is the big one; all of the energy and work is about helping The Thigments make their YouTube videos, and getting them back on YouTube. And then making sure that we can keep going, and going.

Website Updates!

There’s some tweaks that need to get made to TheHelpMachine.com! Like, most of the consulting that got paid for in Q1? None of it is listed on the site in capabilities. Our YouTube videos? You can’t find them on the site. The primary program, Shortles, is only mentioned in the blog posts. Same goes for ‘The Rings of Mikado.’

If people don’t know what you can do, or what you’re doing, they can’t ask you for help. If you don’t know that someone can build a website for you, design characters, do voices, make commercials, make chocolate chip cookies. shine shoes, fold paper cranes, would you ask them to help with any of that? It’s business and human nature 101. So, those updates need to get done!

Anything Notable or Special Happen?

The best thing that happened in April was getting to volunteer at a Black Girls Code event! You should help them if you can, because they’re doing amazing work with amazing people.

Important Stuff About Me That Is Important!


Fred Chong Rutherford, that’s me, has been working on the internet since the late 20th century in a variety of digital product and project management roles. I’ve been very lucky, and gotten to work with a lot of smart, incredibly talented people over the years to make cool digital stuff. I spend my time thinking about technology, people, and the how to look sideways at problems to find the best solution. I’ve been lucky enough to work with clients like Amazon.com, Nintendo of America, EA, Tetris Online, NBC Universal and Xbox over the years. I’ve worked in product and project roles for a few companies, including IDT, The Topps Company, Viacom, Time, Inc and some start-ups. I’m currently at American Express.

Short films I’ve written, produced and or directed have appeared at film festivals around the world, including The Kino Short Film Festival, San Diego Comic Con, Seattle Asian American Film Festival, Seattle International Film Festival, Satellites Independent Film Festival, StockStock and more. I also love puppets, and do my best to help the Thigments make the videos they like to post on YouTube. I live in Brooklyn, NY, because it’s awesome. Twitter | Facebook | G+ | Instagram | IMDB |