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an ongoing journal by Donald Lehman
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May 31, 2004
What I have learned.
By Don Lehman
Ahhhhh..... That is the sound of me relaxing after four years. That's right, I GRADUATED. Dreams do come true.
Looking back on my college experience started reminding me of lists from other designers telling all of the things that they didn’t learn in school. Chris Lenart (from newdealdesign) had a really good one at Thought at Work and Michael Beirut blogged a good one by Michael McDonough at the very cool Design Observer website. I generally agree that I will learn more in a year of work that I did in four years at school. That said, I did learn an awful lot so I decided to make up my own list.
This is probably just a personal preference sort of thing, but also semi based on a self patched together quasi-scientific fact. Any friend I knew from high school that lived at home generally didn’t do too well in college or dropped out. Anyone I know that moved out of home and within a few miles of campus generally did OK to pretty good in college. Obviously there are numerous exceptions to my theory, which makes it pretty bad as far as theories go, but I still firmly believe that if you can swing it, get out of your parents house. (I still love you mom and dad.)
DON’T GO TO SLEEP.
At some point you will have to pull an all-nighter. OK, at several points. Around 3-4am you will look at the clock and think that if you can get in just three hours of sleep then wake up at 6am you will be in good shape to finish strong for your project due at 2pm.
This is wrong. Instead, you will wake up at 6am hating your life, and use the next 45 minutes to wake up to doing steady work again. Then it will be a mad dash to the finish and you will feel like your heart is going to explode. The moral is keep pushing on through. If at 4:30am you start slowing down, your adrenaline will pick back up again in a half an hour and you will finish with time to get some food before your crit.
KEEP A JOURNAL.
I have found it really helpful to sort through all the random thoughts in my brain by writing them down. After a half an hour or so I am usually able to make sense of what I thought were complex problems. When I talk about that topic later on, I sound slightly more intelligent then if I haven’t given it much thought. Also, girls dig guys that write journals. You have to keep quiet about it though. It’s supposed to be a secret that makes you dark, mysterious, and give her a “new perspective into that soft side under that rough exterior” sort of thing. If you tell everyone like I just did, you’re a dork.
SAVE EVERYTHING YOU DO.
This seems somewhat obvious, but save everything you do. I mean everything. The random doodles you do in your liberal arts classes, quick 3D sketches, even stuff you hate at the time. It usually comes back that you will need it for your portfolio or some inspiration down the road.
As soon as you finish with a project, document it so you can show it to someone as a portfolio piece. It’s fresher in your mind, you remember where all the files and photos related to it are, and you won’t have to worry about making a mad dash to throw something together before you meet with someone. That being said, this rarely happens.
BACKUP YOUR WORK.
A few weeks ago, my friends and I were talking about how the past four years of our lives were tied to our computers and what a shame it would be if something were to happen to said computers. Not three days later, my hard drive started freakin’ out on me. Luckily, I was able to back up most of (but not all L) of my data before I reinstalled everything. I am begging all of you to stop what you are doing right now and burn all of your important work to CD.
JUST SHOW UP.
Many of the great opportunities I have had in school came from simply showing up to a meeting or asking someone if I could do something. I have found that most of the time just showing up with a commitment to follow through on whatever it is you want to do is 60% of the battle. Maybe 75%. I don’t know, I’m not good with the “percentage-of-stuff” game. Trust me, it’s a big percentage.
KEEP YOUR EARS TO THE GROUND.
If you are looking for design opportunities outside of class, you usually don’t have to look far. If you go to a school with an engineering program, you are already up to your waist in student engineering projects that could use a designer to help them out. Engineering programs have the funding, the resources, and know how to actually get your designs realized. Another good source for projects is local communities and schools. They usually are dying for some volunteer to come by and design some park benches or signage. Also there are lots of freelance opportunities out there from small companies that can’t afford a design firm to come in.
If you do have problems finding this stuff on your own, ask a professor if they have heard of anyone looking for some help. They get a ton of emails from people soliciting their design help.
PUT A RESUME TOGETHER FRESHMAN YEAR
It seems kinda pointless at the time because no one really hires freshman design students, but at least have one good to go. By the time you get to senior year, it is polished beyond belief, from all the additions and revisions you make.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO SHOW YOUR WORK.
Even if you think it sucks. Even if all you have is sketches in a brown paper bag. Even if it does in fact suck. Don’t be afraid to show it to a potential employer. You could still possibly get hired if you show your work. You will not get hired if you don’t show anything.
BEING A STUDENT RULES.
Believe it or not you have tremendous power being a student. You are young. You make your own schedule. You have a studio full of friends you can rely on. Besides all that, design professionals like talking to students. In fact, they really like talking to students. Imagine you are a professional. You get a call or an email from a design student who really likes your work and they want to ask you a few questions or maybe even see about you coming to their school to talk. That makes your day right there.
When you do manage to sneak some time away from their busy schedules be professional, respectful, and thank them profusely. It really is a big help to you. (Again, many thanks to all the designers who have spent the time just to talk with me over the past four years. To return the favor and keep the cycle going, any student that wants to get in touch with me to ask questions, please feel free to email at: email@example.com. Of course, anyone interested in hiring me may use the same email.)
“King Koopa is Going Down!” Design of the Month: Nintendo Gameboy Advance SP (NES Retro Edition)
My friends and I have had a good discussion over the past couple weeks over retro styling in products. I go back and forth between thinking its cool to thinking it’s really dumb. It depends mostly on the product.
One that is too cool for words is Nintendo’s release of a Gameboy with design cues from the old school Nintendo controllers. It plays all old and new Gameboy games, has a backlit screen, the screen folds down for protection and portability, and a rechargeable battery. Nintendo is also re-releasing the original Mario Brothers and Zelda games that were on the NES.
March 31, 2004
Go to Bed
by Don Lehman
I’ve had some amazing design opportunities come my way in the past couple months.
As I have written before, I have been doing a lot of collaboration with engineering. One project is a floatation device for handicapped kids so they can actually experience freedom of movement with out the constant aid of a caregiver. The group I have been working with has been together on this for almost two years now and we think we have a great design that will actually be put into use by a children’s center in town.
Back in October, I started working with another group of engineers to develop a solar runway light. If you haven’t seen one of these before they are basically a light you stick into the ground that soaks up the solar power during the day and is turned on at night by a low-light sensor built into the solar panel. The idea we came up with moves beyond this basic concept and into a product category we don’t think anyone has hit on yet. The best part is we are actually going into a short run production, with plastic molds and an automated manufacturing process. Ah, the beauty of working with engineers.
In January, I was approached to work on a medication dispenser for patients that have a multitude of prescriptions to manage. For some patients this product would mean freedom from having to organize as many as 20(!) medications. The mechanism the engineers have devised to dispense the pills is so amazing. It literally functions like one of those old Rube Goldberg comic strips where a mouse would set off an insane chain reaction of events. This project is working in collaboration with a local hospital that is actually looking to pitch the idea to pharmaceutical companies.
At the same time I had been doing a number of freelance projects. One of my professors put me in contact with a local laptop bag manufacturer who was looking for a new line of cases to appeal to young professionals. This has been my first foray into the world of industrial design freelancing and has been a great experience. We got the first round of prototypes back in late February and are eagerly awaiting the revisions as I write this. And of course, it’s wicked awesome to get paid for doing design work. (People can make a living doing this?!)
Thank god, most of it is over.
My name is Don Lehman and I’m a recovering designaholic. It started out innocent enough. I couldn’t say no to these projects. Everything looked so good! But then one project becomes two projects becomes five projects. I tell myself I can stop at anytime but then I remember I’m still in school and have to actually do that stuff as well. So then I don’t sleep for about three months and forget a social life. But who needs friends anyway? They don’t understand me like design would. Design never yells at me or calls me fat….
A week or two ago I started hearing birds chirp. It was 5:30 in the morning. I was still up working on a project. It was getting pretty ridiculous. It felt like I was working non-stop since the summer. I honestly got to the point where it just wasn’t fun anymore. Worse of all, I wasn’t completing projects at the level of quality I expect of myself. I didn’t allow myself the time to. I hadn’t hung out with my friends outside of school in awhile. It’s my senior year of college, dammit!
I woke up the next morning and decided to cut back on the amount of outside projects I was working on. Luckily, most of them were at the point in the process where they didn’t need me to provide constant work anymore and unfortunately I did have to tell the medication dispenser group that I couldn’t work for them anymore. But I am so much more relaxed now, and enjoying doing work again. So the last 5 weeks lay ahead of me. Hanging out with friends, finishing up some cool work, and, in theory, getting a job. There is also good road trips coming up: I’m traveling to the IDSA Mideast conference (this Friday) and the Northeast conference in late April. I hope to see a bunch of you come out in full force and support the team.
“I FEEL GREAT!” Design of the Month: Nutrigrain Ad.
This is just phenomenal and probably the most brilliant thing I’ve ever seen in my life. The energy and randomness in this ad for Nutrigrain bars from Turnpike films is insane. I’m sorry I can’t provide any better description then that. It’s that good.
January 31, 2004
by Don Lehman
Get this: industrial design is starting to gain a higher profile at my college. Obviously it was always important within the school of the design, but now the engineering school is starting to put an emphasis on “a complete design process”, which thanks to the efforts of my ID professors is including industrial design students in the mix.
I have been a beneficiary of this still forming partnership, working with a few different student engineering groups on projects for their classes. Notice I am saying for their classes. Since both departments are still feeling each other out, there isn’t a dedicated “ID + Engineers = Love” class just yet. For now, a couple of us IDers have resorted to working on these projects on our own time.
Working with engineers can be about 10 times more frustrating. For example: One of the groups I am working in includes around 40 engineers from 4-5 different engineering disciplines. When you have 40 people, its pretty impossible for all of us to meet at the same time. We will regularly have meetings where the smaller lead design group (made up of industrial, mechanical, electrical and software engineers and then of course two industrial designers) will come to a consensus on what direction to move in and then the half of the group that doesn’t attend the meetings comes back asking all the same questions we covered and proposing new features that we crossed off our wish list a long time ago.
Also, believe it or not, engineers have a whole different way of thinking. It’s true. The major thing is they always want to know all of the variables right away, even when no one is really sure what the final design will be yet. You can see the gears turning in their minds, “Ok, so if x = y and y x 10 = z, what the hell does q equal? Crap!” They freak out.
Here is a conversation I had with a group of engineers who will be manufacturing one of the projects:
Me: “So we are looking to mold this in some type of plastic, which we are still deciding on. We’re looking at whatever is cheapest right now.”
Them: “So what kind of plastic are we using?”
Me: “…umm… We’re still exploring our options and talking to suppliers...”
Them: (blank looks of despair)
Me: “Well… didn’t one of you say that you had a co-op at Nalgene? Maybe you could convince them to donate polycarbonate molding for a student project?”
Them: “So we’re using polycarbonate?”
It’s kinda funny and endearing in a way. I was joking about this with the teacher of the manufacturing class:
Me: “It’s kinda funny and endearing in a way, the process you see going through their minds trying to solve for all the variables. We just started work on this project! I want to be like ‘Guys, relax you get all the answers as soon as we get to em,’ you know?”
Him: “Haha. Yeah, and then you guys are all like ‘Dude it’s ok. Everything will happen on no particular timeline.’ It’s not like we have only 20 weeks or anything. Hahahaha. You design guys are funny.”
Me: “Haha………. Wait…What?”
Ouch. Yeah it’s true. Their over anxiety and our under anxiety actually meets in the middle to become…. regular anxiety?… I guess? Anyway, things actually get done and become a fully realized project when you work with engineers.
This couldn’t come at a better time for me, because quite frankly, I’m getting sick of working on the “fake projects” that are a part of an ID curriculum. I’m not saying the teachers suck or classes suck. They have both been great. It’s more of a “I am starting to hate school and if I don’t graduate soon, I am going to go insane.” I am itching to move on.
More importantly, I want to work on actual “real world” projects and the engineering department is all about actual real world projects. At the same time engineering is all like, “Yo, industrial design: make our real world stuff look sexy.”
Of course when we get to working with them they find out we do more than just make stuff look sexy. They started to see the reasons behind the design decisions we were making and a trust built to where we now work on a level playing field within the group. One of the groups I am working with is even looking to me to help troubleshoot ways to realign parts of the internal mechanism so my design decisions can workout.
Which of course I am happy to help with, just as long as they take care of the math part.
December 8, 2003
by Don Lehman
The past couple weeks have been pretty amazing. Thought at Work has finally come and gone, and it went off better than we could have hoped for: over 200 students and professionals attended the conference (some driving more than 14 hours). Our speakers gave insightful speeches to their design processes and inspirations, students from 10 different schools connected, and everyone had a good time getting out of their studios for a couple days.
One of the questions that I kept getting asked was, “How did all of this come together?”
Back in May of this year, Sam Aquillano, Ori Fowler, and I met with RIT’s School of Design Program Chair, Patti Lachance, and proposed putting together a design conference we were calling Thought at Work. We outlined the basic plan of what we wanted to accomplish on one sheet of paper and 20 minutes later she bought into the idea.
We walked back into our studio, victorious, arms raised like we just won the Super Bowl with Jesus as our quarterback proclaiming, “WE’RE HAVING A CONFERENCE!” Everyone looked up from their projects for a moment, blinked once or twice, and then started working again.
The truth was we had no speakers, no attendees, no budget, no sponsors… but the three of us knew that at the end of November we would have everything in place to host a conference.
Over the course of the summer we stayed in touch through a ton of emails and phone calls from various parts of the country: Sam in Boston, Ori on a farm outside of Syracuse, and I in Minneapolis.
Before parting ways, we had scrawled out a wish list of speakers whose work we felt really conveyed what the conference was to be all about. We crossed our fingers and hoped we would get some sort of positive response. Thankfully, everyone we wanted thought it was a great idea and wanted to take part. For awhile our calls got pretty surreal:
“Dude. Guess what? Cameron said, ‘Yes’!”
“Can you hold on a sec? I have Yves on the other line.”
“Oh by the way, John also said ‘Yes’ and Blu Dot is willing to sponsor.”
Inviting speakers was actually the easiest part. The majority of our time was making sure the event would actually happen. For example, no one will come to a conference they have never heard of. A large chunk of the work was just getting our name out with the website, posters, getting student contacts in other design schools, sending out press releases, setting up media sponsorships, etc.
Then of course there was putting together the student competition, reserving rooms, letting the right people back at RIT know what was going on, getting sponsorships… For all intents and purposes we were running a small business.
When school started up again, we had a meeting with the entire ID department to inform them of what we had been up to and try to enlist volunteers to help during the days of the conference. We had been confident all along that Thought at Work was the type of event that students really wanted to see and this was our first test to see how they would respond.
Everyone loved it and a ton of people signed-up to volunteer. At this point, everything was clicking, we were feeling really confident, and just knew that when we opened up registration a week later we would get a flood of students signing up. All we had to do at this point was lean back in our chairs and wait for November to roll around.
But then we opened registration and no one was signing up. I think over the first week we had 10 total registrants. We started freaking out. We couldn’t understand it. All this work put into making this the best event we could, at a reasonable price for students AND NO ONE WAS FREAKIN REGISTERING.
We had a meeting, vented a bit, and finally just realized that if it were us, we wouldn’t have registered yet either. The event was still more than a month and a half away and the basic human reaction is to wait until the last minute to do something. We calmed down, but started working overtime to make sure we would have our butts covered just in case things didn’t pan out the way we hoped. We contacted more sponsors and applied for more funding through various student groups at RIT.
Around the time more sponsors came on board, the registrations started rolling in. It was now the beginning of November and the conference was two weeks away.
During the last minute preparations we also had to deal with finals week, so in the midst of building the conference gallery and other various displays, we were also writing 10 page papers and finishing up our other design projects.
(I do have to mention here that while we were running back and forth between home and school, our shop tech, Rick Auburn, was “The Man” and cut up countless pedestals and pieces of wood for us… it sends chills up my spine to think of how we would have gotten everything done without him.)
The night before Thought at Work, we were in the middle of a volunteer meeting when it started to hit us that it was actually happening. Six months before we wrote an outline and then there we were: wearing Thought at Work t-shirts, moving the final pieces over to the auditorium, and picking up speakers from the airport. The three of us paused for a second and said a hushed, collective “Wow”.
When I look back on Thought at Work, my first thought won’t go to the conference itself but to the time spent working with Ori and Sam. Partnering with two others who shared the same passion, commitment, and willingness to take our idea from start to finish was one of the greatest experiences that I have ever had.
"Pour Some Sugar (And Cinnamon) On Me" Design of the Month: Domino Sugar and Cinnamon Shakers.
Okay so the clown is kinda freaky, but I couldn't find a picture of the ultra cool cowboy one. This product is all about combining ideas together. For example: Sugar and cinnamon or a shaker with a figurine that as domino.com points out "kids can play with long after the sugar is gone."
September 30, 2003
by Donald Lehman
The big thing I am taking away from my summer design experiences is the need to be able to communicate an idea well and know who you’re communicating with. Some of this came from working at Blu Dot on projects such as instructions or a CAD drawing. Most of this I learned from of all places, my dad.
Dad drove with me from Rochester to Minneapolis at the beginning of the summer. On the way, we were talking about how his business is doing and I mentioned to him that I felt his website could use a redesign. He agreed with many of the points I made and suggested that I take a crack at it.
Now, when I am in school working on projects, I am dealing with a short 10-week schedule and other designers. In other words, I don’t have to go too in depth on the precise measurements or I can say advanced terms like “rubber grippy stuff” or “London phone booth red” and everyone will understand what I mean. Even at my internships, I could get away with saying, “What this really needs is a thingy right here,” because everyone involved was a designer.
My dad, however, has an engineering background and his business is a work flow consultancy. When I first showed him concepts of how I thought the website could work, things I felt were fairly obvious went over his head.
For example, I was toying with some “clever” wordplay for links to his case studies, which I thought could be an interesting way to get people curious enough to want to know more. I showed the concepts to some of my friends who are in advertising and design and they understood it right away. I was a genius.
Then I showed it to Dad.
He didn’t get it at all. “What the hell is that supposed to mean? Where is the link?” I tried explaining to him the brilliance behind the tagline the same way I had to my friends.
“I don’t care about all that, I just want to know right away what I am clicking on.”
I was an idiot.
I had an idea on how to get a customer’s attention and so did Dad, but I just wasn’t presenting it to him in a way where he would see what I would see. I regrouped a bit and directed it towards him in a different way and eventually we were able to see eye-to-eye.
Eventually what I learned was to give reasoning for most of the choices I was making: the background is grey for this reason, I used this picture here to accomplish this... you get the idea.
It took a lot longer at first, and at times was mind-numbingly tedious, but my points got across and we were able to communicate and make changes much quicker in the long run.
Shameless Thought at Work Update: Hey! Good news kids: Registration is now open for Thought at Work. The price is $60 (US) from now until October 24th. If you miss the early registration the price goes up to $80 (US) from October 25th – November 15th. After that your out of luck. Also, be sure to tell your professors that they can get in for FREE. Go register now!
“My Backhoe Is Bigger Than Your Backhoe” Design of the Month: Caterpillar 430D Backhoe
Everyday walking to class, I have been walking past a construction site on campus. I don’t know exactly what they are building but they use these giant backhoes to move dirt around and it’s freakin’ awesome. I stopped in my tracks one day and just stared at that shovel rip open the ground and I swear I was close to skipping class for the day just to hang out with the work crew. Don move earth! ROAR!
July 31, 2003
by Donald Lehman
A week or two back I was happily going about my business when it hit me:
“Dude. This is my last summer break. Duuuuuuuuude.”
I have mixed feelings about being an adult. On one hand I’m all for financial independence from my parents and making my way in the world. On the other hand…
I remember when my friend Steve turned 21, I jokingly asked if he felt any different being a year older.
Don: So how does it feel to be a year older?
Steve: Dude, that was so dumb. Although…
Steve: I feel like I should be doing something with my life now.
Don: What do you mean?
Steve: I mean… 21 was that far away age that all grownups were…and now...I need to be doing something, like holding down a job or paying the mortgage or something. I mean think of all the people that are even younger than us who are doing important things…
Don: Yeah…like Lil’ Bow Wow.
Steve: Shut up.
I thought about that conversation when I turned 21, but didn’t feel the same way Steve did until I figured out this is my final summer break.
It’s more of an odd realization than anything. For example, I don’t view myself as someone who is old enough to make a life altering decision such as marriage. Then I start thinking about all the people I know who are my age and getting married. It’s just so weird.
But, for the most part I’m excited. The next 12 months will be pretty crazy. I’m entering my last year of school and looking forward to having some fun with my portfolio and hanging out with my friends. Beyond that? I couldn’t tell you.
For right now anyway, my big decision is whether or not to go to the beach.
Shameless Thought at Work Update: If you have been checking out the conference site you would have already seen the addition of Chris Lenart of newdealdesign and Virginia Postrel to our speaking lineup. Exclusive to Core 77 is the worldwide announcement of 2 more speakers: Alan Mudd from Design Continuum and Claude Zellweger from One and Co.
Also good news is Blu Dot has agreed to sponsor our still to be announced student design competition with products from their collection for the winners.
“This Makes Me Really Happy,” Design of the Month: Aesthetic Apparatus
About a month back I was flipping through ReadyMade Magazine (a must read), when I came across an article on do-it-yourself silk-screen printing by Minneapolis based Aesthetic Apparatus. Intrigued, I looked them up on the web.
These guys rock! Their concert posters have this energy that seems to make them leap off the wall and give you a high five. I’m not talking about one of those lame high fives where you kind of glance off your friend’s hand and then feel stupid so you try it again. This is a perfectly connected, meaty high five.
Head on over to their website and spend 15 minutes browsing and then subsequently purchasing an item or two from their collection.
Side note to this design of the month: Listening to Junior Senior’s new album, D-D-Don't Don't Stop The Beat, goes really well with browsing Aesthetic Apparatus’ site.
June 30, 2003
by Donald Lehman
A 16-hour car ride gets you from Rochester, New York to Minneapolis, Minnesota, which is where I am right now. No, I am not here to check out where all the filming locations for the Mighty Duck movies were.
I am here to work at Blu Dot, the furniture design company, which happens to be based out of Minneapolis. Really, I got very lucky to find a summer internship where my design sensibilities and personality matches up pretty evenly with the companies’. I appreciate the combination of simplicity, affordability, and tongue-in-cheek humor that goes into the work they produce.
Plus, I'm learning a ton. In the first week alone, I had picked up two new software packages (SolidWorks and Rhino. Take THAT Alias! Oh how I loathe Alias…), worked on some concepts, and built prototype tables for Crate & Barrel.
Crate & Barrel you say? A little known fact about Blu Dot is besides producing their own line of furniture, they also do contract work with companies such as Crate & Barrel, Target, and Gap to name a few. I liken it to being an industrial design consultancy that specializes in furniture. My friend Chris, who just moved out to California to make inroads to the furniture industry, tells me he is finding a lot of companies are working in the contract market. It seems to be a secret everyone knew about except for me.
As for Minneapolis… I LOVE this city. Maybe it’s the nice and easy Midwestern attitude of its inhabitants? Maybe it’s the open and clean feel of the city itself? Or maybe it’s the fact that I just turned 21 and I have been viewing everything in a constant drunken haze…
Whatever the reason, I really like this place and believe it or not, it is a huge design town. No, really it is. Just down the street from me is the Frank Gehry designed Weisman Art Gallery on the University of Minnesota campus. The Walker Art Gallery is the major muesum in town and it is just phenomenal. I would put it on par with the MoMA in New York. In terms of industrial design it's not as well known, but it more than holds it’s own in graphic design (Duffy Design, Charles S. Anderson Design, etc.).
But anyway, I see that the bars are open for another couple hours and being that under U.S. law I can now handle my liquor more responsibly than I could a couple weeks ago…
Shameless Thought at Work Update: The conference is moving along great. At our website (www.thoughtatwork.com) you can see we already have Steve Portigal as well as Duane Smith and Stefane Barbeau of Vessel & release1 fame signed on to speak. Two others we can now tell you about are John Christakos (co-founder and president of Blu Dot) and Cameron Sinclair (founder of Architecture for Humanity).
“This Franchise Better Open In Rochester By The Time I Get Back” Design of the Month: Chipotle
Chipotle is the most amazing restaurant experience I have ever come across. They make one item: Burritos. Stay with me on this. They are the size of a Nerf football and they are oh so good, with each one being made to order by a smiling Chipotle employee. Unfortunetly, the restaurant is in limited locations (I had never heard of it until I got to Minneapolis) which is why I try to eat there at least three times a week. You know, so I won’t miss it when I leave for home… or something like that.
Beyond the food, the personality of the place is great. Every location is designed in plywood and corrugated sheet metal and the ad campaign they have going is so good it makes me weep.
back to core!