Pulse

Prachi Shah is not your typical bag lady, local music gets wired, plus robots, balloons, Bill Engvall, and more.

Bag Lady
Prachi Shah
doesn’t exactly fit the Bedford stereotype. At 17, she left her hometown and moved to New York to study fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. From there, she worked in design and color development for the well-known designer Bill Blass, picking up enough confidence and experience to move back to Dallas and create her own label, Prashe (www.prashe.com). Shah’s big break came in 2002 when a high-end New York retailer, Henri Bendel, picked up her line of cosmetics bags. She now sells handbags, skirts, tanks, and knickknacks to big-name stores like Nordstrom, as well as to local hot spots such as Jean Connection, Charmed by Melissa, and Movida. Shah travels the world for inspiration but still calls Dallas home. “There is so much opportunity here, and it’s a growing city,” she says. Thanks to her, it’s a stylish one, too. —Stephanie Quadri

Photo: Elizabeth Lavin

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Entertainment News
SHOW STOPPERS: Angie Harmon, who knows how to make babies, has returned to television as “a maverick fertility doctor with a checkered past” on NBC’s Inconceivable. Get it?

Because TV execs seem to be suckers for any show concept about a profession whose title is pun-riffic, we offer these sure-fire winners:

Well Heeled. A rich twentysomething, due to inherit millions, wants to leave his wealthy surroundings to become a cobbler, like his Uncle Giuseppe in Italy. Stereotypes galore. What’s not to like?

When It Drains, It Pours. A blue-collar plumber struggles to pay the bills, raise his kids, and satisfy the neighbors who constantly call him to “snake their drains.” Where innuendo leads, syndication deals follow.

Terminal Illness. A sitcom about gate agents at DFW whose jobs make them go cah-razy. Just think of all of the physical comedy those luggage conveyor belts can provide. Flight Emmy is cleared for take-off. â€”A.M.

WALKER WALKS AGAIN: The sun shone a little less brightly that dismal day in 2001 when the last episode of Walker, Texas Ranger aired. But there’s light on the horizon. Walker’s back in butt-kicking action, if only for one glorious night. After shooting on location in Dallas for several weeks, the two-hour made-for-TV movie Walker, Texas Ranger: Trial by Fire airs October 16 at 8 p.m. on CBS. Series regulars, including Chuck Norris, Sheree J. Wilson, Judson Mills, and Clarence Gilyard, return for the feature in which Walker must track down a teen who’s on the run from a dangerous crime syndicate, as well as clear an innocent colleague who’s been framed for murder. If anyone can do it, our man Walker can. —Katie Buxton

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{SCIENCE}
Really Real-like Robots

Advanced carbon-based life form David Hanson has plans for the future.
by Jessica Jones

MR. ROBOTO: David Hanson is never lonely among his synthetic friends.

Current technology has caught up with yesterday’s best science-fiction writers. Don’t think so? Just ask Philip K. Dick. Not the “real” Dick, author of Blade Runner, Total Recall, and more, but David Hanson’s version. The real Dick died more than 20 years ago. The simulated Dick is just getting started.

Hanson, CEO of Dallas-based Hanson Robotics, leads a team of scientists and software designers intent on raising the sophistication of robots to the next level, inspired by the work of Dick. Not coincidentally, Hanson designed his latest prototype in the image of the science-fiction author.

“His work brought up questions of what was human,” Hanson says. “I’m looking at taking what’s best about humanity and figuring out how to emulate that in our technology.”

With 11,000 pages of Dick’s writing stored in its memory bank, the robot can carry on a conversation. With 60 sensors in its face alone, Hanson’s robot can smile, frown, smirk, and more. Cameras behind its eyes can recognize passersby. And with Hanson’s patent-pending Frubber—a polymer material that looks and moves like human skin but is lightweight enough to be used on a mobile machine—robot Dick not only acts life-like, but it looks real, too.

Hanson started making robots while still in college and landed a job sculpting for Walt Disney’s Imagineering. He eventually left the Magic Kingdom for the University of Texas at Dallas, where an interactive arts and engineering program encouraged the exploration of human-like robots. Hanson took to it like an android takes to a plasma bath.

Hanson sees the practical uses of these robots as limitless. Robots could be tutoring kids, providing medical care for elders, or acting as virtual friends for socially impaired individuals in the not-so-distant future. Educational prototypes are already in testing, and Hanson expects medical models to be completed in three to five years.

Man’s creation could even take over for man’s best friend. He says, “It would be almost like a member of the family, like a pet.” Only with batteries.

Photo: Lisa Means

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{A RANDOM STATISTIC IN WANT OF CONTEXT}
$106,788.49
The Dallas Museum of Art’s electric bill for the month of July.
(Its provider at press time was Reliant, but a switch to Sempra was in the works.)

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{MUSIC}
Download This!
Podcast dconstruction.org gives local music some street cred.
by Adam McGill

CASTAWAYS: Jenkins (left) and Graham feed your hungry iPod.

In November 2003, shortly after Sarah Hepola was named music editor at the Dallas Observer, Robert Jenkins cornered her during a Sorta and Sparrows concert at Deep Ellum’s Sons of Hermann Hall.

“You’re not going to change anything in this town,” Jenkins said.

His wisdom and warning came from years of going to local shows and watching good bands struggle to find an audience. Hepola took it as a challenge, as did Lindsay Graham, her boyfriend at the time, who was within earshot. Her relative success before recently moving to New York can be argued another time. Jenkins and Graham, meanwhile, have stopped complaining about the lack of recognition for local musicians and decided to do something about it.

Enter dconstruction.org, a podcast devoted to Dallas’ vibrant yet neglected music scene. Podcasts are audio files on the Internet that can be downloaded then played  on your iPod or similar device. They can vary from professional BBC-quality productions to outputs from someone’s basement.

Or, in dconstruction.org’s case, a garage apartment being converted into a recording studio. About twice a month, Graham, a musician-slash-photographer who graduates from SMU’s MBA program this month, and Jenkins, an attorney who also owns and operates Summer Break Records music label, invite a guest to the studio to play some tunes and gab about the local scene.  Guests have included Hepola, musician Salim Nourallah, engineer and producer Paul Williams, and another former Observer music editor, Zac Crain.

In addition to the podcasts, Graham and Jenkins recommend upcoming concerts on the web site and provide links to every local band mentioned on the show. In short, they’re trying to change the Dallas music scene, an ambitious goal, albeit one measured in tiny increments.

“If I get five more people to a show, that’s huge,” Graham says.

Photo: James Bland

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Entrepreneurial Babes
Meet three stay-at-home moms who had an idea they took to market.

MOM: Susan Moore, Rowlett
COMPANY:
Sue Bee Baby, www.suebeebaby.com
SLOGAN: Just Bee
PRODUCT: Moore quit her teaching job to stay home with her first son. She made him t-shirts with iron-on transfers. Other moms clamored for them. She branched out to baby body suits, t-shirts for moms, and chenille blankets.
SNAP JUDGMENT: Mmm, chenille. And the trim is made of washable suede. Delightful!

 
MOM: Christie Rein, Flower Mound
COMPANY: diapees and wipees, www.diapeesandwipees.com
SLOGAN: Diaper Duty in Style
PRODUCT: After the birth of her third child, the former owner of four Subway franchises lamented the size of the average diaper bag, which made moms look like paratroopers getting ready to jump. She tried carrying a few diapers in a plastic bag, but that was so not fashionable. Her line of small, stylish bags—with designs ranging from gingham to funky monkey—soon followed.
SNAP JUDGMENT: Convenient size, lightweight, easy to open with one hand—Dallas moms will snap these up faster than lipstick at Neiman Marcus.

MOM: Alison Lumbatis, the Colony
COMPANY: Ava Claire Designs, www.avaclairedesigns.com
SLOGAN: Distinctive Personalized Gifts for Baby and Beyond
PRODUCT: When Lumbatis started maternity leave for her third child last October, she began making gifts for friends, and “it just snowballed from there.” Her web site hasn’t slowed down since it went live January, with her personalized onesies and customized tote bags being big sellers.
SNAP JUDGMENT: $17.95 for a burp cloth? For that money, it should clean itself. Still, the items are adorable. Maybe it’s time we had more kids.

Photos: Abel Sanchez

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Q&A with Bill Engvall
Blue Collar comedian Bill Engvall (’75) is sorry he’ll miss Richardson High School’s 30th reunion this month. His new book, Bill Engvall’s Here’s Your Sign, hits stores October 4. We caught up with him by phone from his LA home.

D: What do you remember about RHS?
Engvall: It was a lot of fun. I was in the band. I played the trombone. It wasn’t the coolest instrument you could have picked. When you’re riding your ten-speed to school with a trombone case strapped to your back, the girls just don’t go, “Oooh. There’s a looker.”

D: Were you a good student?
Engvall: I’d say I was A/B. Some of my fondest memories are of teachers. I had a crush on this one lady. She was just so hot. Years later, when I was working the clubs, I ran into her and I told her that.

D: Is there more to that story?
Engvall:
No. You know what? I wish there was.

Photo: Courtesy of Bill Engvall

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{ODD JOBS}
Balloon Animal
John “The Balloon Man” Holmes blows (and twists) for Jesus.
by Paige Phelps

Back in 1993, John Holmes loaded trucks for a living. But he and his wife Gina couldn’t make ends meet. “We were close to being street people,” Holmes says.

So he took matters into his own hands. “I knew a guy who did balloon animals for tips at restaurants, and that was keeping his family fed, so I took what was left of my paycheck and went to the balloon store and bought supplies. When I came home, my wife was waiting for me. And I just pulled out the balloons and said, ‘This is it.’”

All he knew how to make was what a fellow student at Christ of the Nations Institute had taught him: “pretty swans and wiener dogs.” He went looking for his first gig at the Spaghetti Warehouse, where another balloon man already held court—but not for long. The manager said that his customers loved hats, so Holmes went to work, creating the fanciest balloon hats the West End had ever seen. The competition’s hats paled in comparison. “I haven’t looked back since,” Holmes says.

Now the Balloon Man, as he’s known, considers balloon hats child’s play. His repertoire includes the Little Mermaid, an ornate basket of flowers, a 14-foot replica of the Wright brothers’ plane, deer rifles “with the scope,” and more than 10,000 other quirky items. “It’s a savant thing, I guess,” he says.

But what really sets Holmes apart from the average ballooner, or “twister” in the biz, is that he “balloons for God.” In fact, he’s considered the “father of gospel ballooning.” He uses his ballooning abilities to evangelize and share stories from the Bible, like creating a 6-foot-wide whale that he climbs inside of to act as Jonah. His signature creation is an intricate crucifix that, he says, came to him in a vision from God. “I saw the whole thing. Every twist, every turn, every bubble,” he says.

Now he spreads the word through colored latex at Christian clown conventions, churches, birthday parties, and through his 24 training videos. “This is my gift,” he says. “This is my life. This is what I was meant to do.”

Photo: Joshua Martin

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Africa-shaped sand dune in Namibia

Shutter Bug
A herd of zebras in Botswana. Outriggers off the coast of Kenya. Salt plains in Ethiopia. Bobby Haas’ aerial photography of Africa is beautiful, majestic, and sometimes surreal. Haas, 58, bought his first professional-grade camera in 1994, wanting something tangible to bring home from his increasingly frequent trips to Africa. “It coincided with a point in my life where I thought there ought to be something more to my life than the business world,” Haas says. “It was a passion that morphed into a profession.” The one-time business partner of Tom Hicks’ has kept his day job as an investment executive, but he now spends equal time as a photographer. An excellent one, as it turns out. Through the Eyes of the Gods is Haas’ fifth book but his first for National Geographic. It’s the culmination of a four-year project, consisting of more than a dozen trips to Africa. Haas, who is “not particularly fond of heights,” has rigged a double harness that enables him to lean entirely outside of the craft, parallel to the ground below.“To be hovering at 1,500 feet in a helicopter with the door off and being able to maneuver and shoot straight down, it’s very exhilarating,” he says. The finished product is, too. The exhibit runs through November 18 at the African American Museum.

Photo: Courtesy of National Geographic

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Pulse Points Talking points to get people talking.
Addison is underrated. Lakewood is overrated. Downtown is the new Uptown. People who wear Halloween costumes to work should not be respected. Ever.

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