Pittstarter: Play Games with LFG

Last week, I took a trip out to Brookline to sit down and get defeated at a variety of games at Looking for Group (LFG). The name and its abbreviation is a well known phrase in gaming communities- the online call of “does anyone want to play with me?”

Looking For Group's storefront

Looking For Group’s storefront on Brookline Boulevard


LFG hopes that you want to do more than just play. LFG is positioning itself as an unusual hybrid: it’s a co-working space combined with a pay-to-play gaming space. John Lange, one of the founders, doesn’t think that combination is odd at all. It grows out of his own interests: he’s an IT professional and a passionate gamer. John talks about that passion and how it develops his friendships in a talk he gave earlier this year.

“I think a lot of people don’t have the same community that I’ve built with my friends and family and I want to share that with everyone,” John says. That community focus shows even now, as the space is still finishing construction. They’ve already hosted a game jam, and while they’re doing work, they’ve invited the neighborhood to pop in and play some games and chat. While I was there for a few hours on a Tuesday afternoon, several neighborhood kids popped in for a few rounds of games. By combining work and play in the same space, LFG hopes that a playful, open and inviting community forms.

John explains:

I think gaming startups and even established gaming companies would be interested in our coworking space because it feels really awesome, when you’re getting burnt out on working, to come see everyone in the gaming side smiling and laughing together and have that instant reminder of why you’re working and sweating and bleeding to build a game.

The storefront portion of the space is the gaming floor. The first thing you’ll notice is the large television facing the street as a lure for the passerby. PCs line the walls, with ergonomic chairs that steal their design cues from race cars. Console “pods” take up the center of the floor- dedicated televisions and gaming machines for each player. The storefront is open to the public in the late afternoons and evenings.

John and Edd take a break from installing floors to school me at several games

John and Edd take a break from installing floors to school me at several games

Behind the gaming space, separated by thick doors and sound-insulating walls, is the co-working office. John guarantees that between keeping gaming to the later portions of the day, plus the insulation, it’s a perfect space for heads-down concentration. There’s a small kitchenette and a modern conference room, which covers all of the vital amenities- with one more.

While the gaming storefront isn’t open to the public during core business hours, the members of the co-working space have unrestricted access to the building- including the games- 24 hours a day. I can’t imagine a better way of resolving conflicts in your team than settling your differences over a competitive round of a game like Speedrunners or Gang Beasts (two of the games John and his fellow founders were happy to beat me at while showing me the space).

But you don’t have to be a member of the co-working team to start making games. Their gaming PCs provide all of the software that you’d need to make your own games, and they’re planning a series of technical events to teach the public how to do everything from write code to a “Build Your Own Console” event, where participants take a Raspberry Pi computer and turn it into a gaming console.

I asked John what his vision of success was for Looking For Group, and he explained:

I think a lot of people who are my age miss playing games together and a lot of the younger kids out never had the chance to really play games with their friends next to them. It’s too hard to bring your computer over to play Minecraft next to your best friend. It really doesn’t matter how good or bad the game is when your friends are next to you, playing with you.

LFG has already secured their core equipment, and has enough funding to guarantee their operations for the near future. They’ve launched a Kickstarter, not to launch the space, but to secure even more equipment and make the space better. They’ve already cleared their modest goal of $2,000, and are shooting for stretch goals. You can check the space out yourself by visiting them at 924 Brookline Blvd, 15226. They’ve been doing a soft launch through September, and the gaming space goes officially live this Saturday, the 25th.

Stand with Ahmed: A Pittsburgh-made shirt benefiting Ahmed and kids interested in STEM

Earlier this week, the country was simultaneously outraged and captivated by the story of Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old Muslim student who was arrested for bringing a clock, which educators and police thought was a bomb, to his high school in Texas.

Support for Ahmed flooded in from around the country. His 3-day suspension and arrest was not only grounded in Islamophobia, but actively discouraged the curiosity of a bright, young mind. Tech juggernauts like Facebook and Twitter invited him to tour their companies, and educational institutions like MIT, NASA, and TAMS opened their doors, with the latter offering him a one-year scholarship. Even President Obama said he should come to the White House.

One of the things that made Ahmed’s ordeal particularly heartbreaking is this memorable image of him in handcuffs, sporting a NASA T-shirt. It not only broke our collective hearts to see such a young kid visibly scared and confused, but reinforced how genuine his curious nature and interest in science is. 

In solidarity, #IStandwithAhmed took over the Internet and this response by Pittsburgh-based artist Matthew Buchholz of Alternate Histories is simply amazing.

I stand with Ahmed shirt

If you buy a shirt, you’ll directly benefit Ahmed and kids like him– all proceeds go towards a scholarship for Ahmed, plus memberships at makerspaces for other young innovators. You can also directly contribute to the I Stand with Ahmed LaunchGood campaign.

Act now though as they are only available until Thursday!

Support These Two Pet Loving Pittsburghers’ Crowdfunding Campaigns

The title of this post is a tong-twister for sure. If you love pets or if you want to support two great Pittsburghers please take a moment to check out these two important crowdfunding campaigns.

Andre Gray Memorial in the Bernard Run Dog Park

AndreBoss-55a3ff18331c0Andre Gray & his dog, boss, were killed by gun violence last year, his family is raising $3500 to install a memorial bench at the Bernard Run dog park in Lawrenceville.  Andre would be turning 35 on Saturday, August 8. Several IheartPGH readers have reached out to me and asked me to share this story, they are eager to help the Gray family reach the fundraising goal before Andre’s birthday.

Sue Kerr wrote a lovely post about Andre for her blog Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents – Andre Gray Would Be 35 This Saturday #StoryOfHisLife.

Donate Here: http://bit.ly/1IwvcKR As of Friday afternoon they are just short of $1000 of reaching their goal.

Smiley’s Pet Pad – Support a Pittsburgh Small Business

Smileys Pet Pad Pic 324This is one of those campaigns that I feel compelled to support because I want Pittsburgh to be filled with small businesses like Smiley’s. Smiley’s Pet Pad used to be on Walnut Street in Shadyside, they are now located on Highland in the shopping plaza across from MadMex. Ginny Smiley started working at the Pet Pad in 1972 and eventually bought the business from the originally owner. Smiley’s Pet Pad could use some community support – construction on the Highland Avenue Bridge and competition from a national chain which moved into the space where Border Books used to be has been tough on this little shop.  Please take a moment to watch the video, make a contribution or stop by and shop at Smiley’s Pet Pad.

Amy Enrico who owns the Highland Park Coffee Shop Tazza D’Oro wrote a blog post about Smiley’s here.  If you support Smiley’s GoFundMe campaign, Amy will buy you a cappuccino.

Take a moment to like Smiley’s Pet Pad on Facebook here.

Donate here: http://bit.ly/1W6uOw0

Have You Seen Me? A Memorial to Slavery. Artist Talk & Kickstarter Party

have-you-seen-mePittsburgh artist Alexi Morrisey is in the final 2 weeks of funding for his Kickstarter project for “Have You Seen Me? A Memorial to Slavery.” One of the reasons I think this project is worth a look is that it brings together several different types of story telling medias – milk bottles, advertising, oral history – to tell a story.

One of the many interesting things about this project is that it uses the 1980’s “kid on the milk carton” to create a memorial to slavery:

By putting the faces of real slaves on hand-crafted, archival, milk bottles, we are seeking to both repurpose the European obsession with pure white porcelain, as well as pay homage to the slave’s life – by attaching these precious images to a precious material we give the slave a dignified voice in a context historically unavailable to them.


You have not one, but two chances to meet the artist, and learn more about the project in person this week.  I am including the Kickstarter video below, but if you have some time on Tuesday or Friday, come meet Alexi and see his work in person.

Artist Talk: Alexi Morrissey will give an overview of his art practice and discuss in detail his most recent project “Have You Seen Me?”
Tuesday, July 7, 7pm @ Pittsburgh Filmmakers on Melwood
Free, please RSVP on Facebook

“Have You Seen Me?” Fundraiser Party
Friday, July 10, 7-10pm @ Union Pig & Chicken
Free, please RSVP on Facebook

Morrisey is originally from Boston but has been living and working in Pittsburgh for the past 2 decades.  His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally.  You can read more about his 2010 Artist Residency at the New Hazlett Theater in this Q & A from Pop City Media.

As of today, “Have You Seen Me?” is only 38% funded, with 11 days to go.  Each bottle is a limited edition and the milk bottles will sell for $400 and up after the Kickstarter campaign.  There are a handful of bottles left at the $300 level.  If $300 is bit much for your art budget this year, Morrisey has some prints of the bottle logo designs starting at $25.

Follow the project on Facebook & Twitter @MilkBottleProj.

Kickstarter Page: http://kck.st/1Usk8Hk

Project Website: milkbottleproject.com

Pitt-Starter: Robot Repair Shop at the Pittsburgh International Airport

This summer, you might spot a white cargo van with NASA markings unloading some mysterious-looking technology at the Pittsburgh Airport. No, it isn’t partnership between CMU and NASA to explore the final frontier from Pittsburgh. It’s artist Tobey Fraley bringing back “Fraley’s Robot Repair Shop”.

The Robot Repair shop in Downtown

From 2011–2012, for 17 months, Pittsburghers and visitors were tickled by “Fraley’s Robot Repair Shop” downtown. The Lonely Robot waited for his human return, and Pittsburghers did their best to keep the robot company.

Mr. Fraley wants to bring the storefront back, and he’s turned to Kickstarter to make it happen.

Mr. Fraley’s NASA themed van grows out of a life-long fascination with flight and space-travel. That fascination is why he contacted the Pittsburgh Airport and offered to build a new Robot Repair Shop as a gift. The airport was more than happy to give him a spare storefront near gate A15.

Fraley’s retro-futuristic robot shop is a natural fit with the “Airport of Tomorrow” themed exhibits. Fraley draws inspiration from old Popular Mechanics magazines, and mid–20th century design. “It was more permanent, less disposable.”

The logo for the Airport Robot Repair Shop

That taste for futuristic design shows in Mr. Fraley’s favorite classic robot: HAL–9000, from 2001, A Space Odyssey. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched that movie. Technically speaking, he was probably more of an operating system unless you think of the entire Discovery spacecraft… as the robot’s form. A robot doesn’t always need to take on a humanoid form.” Perhaps an ironic contrast, considering Mr. Fraley is so well known for his whimsical humanoid robots.

The exhibit was popular when it was installed in downtown- so much so that the Kickstarter raised its funding in only five days. Mr. Fraley credits the fans for the Kickstarter’s success:

There was a couple that had their photo taken out front to use as their Christmas card, there was a guy who rode into town on the bus every two weeks with his son to see what Lonely Robot was up to (while also getting to spending quality time with his child), people would shove notes under the door for me to find, it had a hard core group of followers

What drives that sort of fandom? Mr. Fraley suspects it’s how the display rewards you for paying attention.

The shop is unassuming. Tucked between actual operating stores it could even be missed if you’re not paying attention. I think discovering it for the first time really impacts people and leaves an impression. It’s an entertainingly random installation on a grand scale. That in turn draws people in, taking them out of their daily grind, if only for a moment. It’s not a traditional piece of artwork either, you really need to take a few moments and absorb what you looking at. The books on the shelf, the scraps of paper pinned to the bulletin board, the graphics on the paint cans, the shipping labels on the cardboard boxes, they’re all customized and all telling a story. It’s a bit ‘Where’s Waldo’ in that way. It’s a treasure hunt that you can really get sucked into.

Beyond that, Mr. Fraley credits the Kickstarter’s success to Pittsburgh itself. “Pittsburghers are… really proud of our city… having as the welcome mat a totally unique art installation at the airport is… yet another quirky, memorable thing that makes Pittsburgh stand out as a different city.”

It’s not just his fans that are part of that, either.

We have great arts entities in Pittsburgh such as The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council and The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. Those two in particular have really helped me with my career. In fact going back maybe 6 years I took a workshop with GPAC called Public Art 101. It was the catalyst for me to take my work in the direction of public art projects such as this one.

Speaking of Pittsburgh pride, Lonely Robot is going to be sharing the airport with two icons of Pittsburgh statuary: Franco Harris and George Washington. Fraley thinks it’s a great match. “I’d love to get a photo of the robot between Franco and George. What a disjointed, nonsensical grouping that would be. It’s totally humbling though thinking that the first thing someone sees as they step off their plane is going to be this art installation. It’s really an honor many artists would be thrilled to have.”

The Kickstarter has raised over $10,000 and is reaching for a $15,000 stretch goal. What is Mr. Fraley’s dream for the shop?

The dream version of Robot Repair will look like your flight to Pittsburgh has somehow transported you to an alternate reality. Robots are suddenly common-place and people actually pay to get them fixed instead of sending them to landfills. It will have the same retro-futuristic feel of the prior shop with a slight aviation and travel slant. A globe marked with pins showing how they “Care for the World’s Robots” will be proudly on display, rotating in the front window. A slightly tattered sign on the wall will advertise that the shop “Now Services Autopilot Robots”. The first dollar taken in by the shop will be thumbtacked on the bulletin board. The little odd details are what made the first installation work so well and I have a bunch planned out for this new installation.

For those wondering if the “Lonely Robot” has a “real” name: no. In true robot fashion, each robot is given only a number. Mr. Fraley admits, however, that the Lonely Robot has exceeded his programming, and has joined the rest of us in using that name for it.

Mr. Fraley’s Kickstarter ends on June 17th. He’s already reached his funding, but is offering a variety of rewards and stretch goals until the project closes.