Best Robot Overlord 

If you want to escape an evil robot trying to kill you, head for uneven ground and always run toward the sun. The lowered contrast from the glare might just glitch out the algorithm that lets the robot detect shifts in the ground, and cause it to fall down or something.

I know this, because I have talked to author and Carnegie Mellon-trained roboticist Daniel Wilson. Wilson does not fear the robot apocalypse. Not only did he write the book on how to survive it (How to Survive a Robot Uprising), he wrote the book on how to win it (How to Build a Robot Army). This is not to mention Robopocalypse, Wilson's tightly plotted, thrillingly intelligent blockbuster novel that was optioned by DreamWorks and Steven Spielberg before the book was even finished.

"During the writing of that book," Wilson says, "I was able to see all of the equipment I was describing while I was writing it. There was literally a room full of guys with beards making art. It was really rad. At Amblin [Entertainment], they really just have a building that's all guys, and they would do whatever interested them in the pages I sent: 'This spider thing is really interesting, so let's do a lot of different versions.'"

Seemingly everything that Wilson writes, somebody wants to film. He's got five active film and TV options, including sci-fi survival story Alpha, which Brad Pitt signed on to produce as a film last November. Meanwhile, Wilson is busy creating an alternate DC Comics universe, Earth 2, in which Superman is black and the Green Lantern is gay.

But he feels a little guilty about picking on the robots. "I feel bad, because I'm selling out all the roboticists," he says, who have to deal with "60 years of bad PR" from science-fiction writers like him. Wilson, 37, doesn't actually think evil robots are going to happen. "Honestly?" he says. "There's just no money in it." Robots might be dangerous, of course—"It's difficult to control for every type of idiot," Wilson says—but he looks forward to his robot future, and talks daily to his voice-controlled Amazon Echo.

"My relationship with robots is I love them," he says. "I can't wait to have an autonomous vehicle. My kids are 5 and 3, I don't expect them to get driver's licenses. I don't think that's going to be a thing in 10 years." MATTHEW KORFHAGE.


Best DIY PDX Chic

The defining emblem of this decade’s Portland renaissance—or sellout, if you didn’t reap any bennies—is the light-bulb lettering sign. Twinkling red metal alphabets advertise Olympia Provisions, Ace Hotel, Sizzle Pie and Spirit of 77. Each got its Jazz Age midway glow by hiring local branding firm Official Manufacturing Co., which has made the signs a calling card. Lardo (“Pig Out”), There Be Monsters (a lit-up mustache), and countless other spots have followed suit. 

Last year, Alex Pavich, owner of pioneering medical marijuana dispensary Collective Awakenings (2823 NE Sandy Blvd., 206-7090, collectiveawakenings.com), decided he wanted a sign of his own. “I see beer signs,” he declared. “I want a weed sign.” But Pavich did not turn to a branding agency. He hired Ashland metal-and-glass sculptor David Gelfand, who produced a 4-foot-tall, green-powder-coated vertical marquee: “WEED.” Gelfand locally sourced the materials: bulbs from Sunlan Lighting, sockets from Hippo Hardware, metal from Eastside Steel. “That’s my one-and-only lettered sign that I’ve made,” Gelfand says. “I’d never done it, but I just volunteered myself. I like to say yes to lighting projects.” 

The declaration hangs above Collective Awakenings' sales counter and bud jars—a room that can be accessed only by patients with a medical marijuana card. Gelfand's WEED sign is the most sincere kind of advertising: Only those who are already sold can see it. AARON MESH. 


Best Constitutional Scholars

Each year, teams from hundreds of high schools from all over the country compete for a chance to go to Washington, D.C., for the national finals of the We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution program. A year of studying, practicing and competing brings them face-to-face with such questions as: “In what ways, if any, can the Magna Carta be associated with concepts of rule of law and constitutionalism?”  

This year's first-place winner was Portland's own Grant High School. Not only did its 34-member team take home the top prize April 27, it was the second time it had won in the past three years. Since the team's founding in 2000, Grant has also placed second once and third three times. 

In fact, for four years in a row, the winners of the competition have come from Oregon, a distinction held by no other state: In 2012 and 2014, the national winner was Grant's crosstown rival Lincoln

At Grant, participation comes after a rigorous admissions process, including essays and a review of students' grade-point averages. Hundreds of sessions follow in which students answer questions before one or more of a dozen volunteer coaches. (Over the years, help has come from such local luminaries as appellate lawyer Jim Westwood, who was on Portland State's famous 1965 College Bowl team; tax court judge Henry Breithaupt; and state Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland.)

Says lawyer Tim Volpert, who initiated the team in tandem with then-teacher Diane Thielen and still serves as a coach: "When the students get through a year of this, it's the equivalent of a graduate-school seminar. They find the AP Government test laughable." Perhaps most significant: "Many become activists at a young age." That's what a careful understanding of the Constitution will do for you. RICHARD H. MEEKER.

Best Versification

There's nothing quite like the charge of electricity the air gains from smart, self-aware, energized, totally honest high-school students slamming lines on the big stage before an even bigger crowd. Racism. Sexual abuse. The meanings of love. Broken homes. It was all there—raw and clearly articulated—at the 2015 edition of Literary Arts' Verselandia, an annual poetry slam competition featuring Portland high-school students that was held April 30 this year at the Newmark Theatre. 

Think of Verselandia as Portland's most exciting poetry reading. While the 20 participants just killed it, orthometry sure didn't apply. Rather, the heads, hearts and souls of these young poets jazzed forth for nearly two mostly thrilling hours. 

Try this on for size, from the second and final slam of Verselandia's winner, Gwen Frost, of Cleveland High School: "He is a burning house I want to live in, because maybe if you doused the flames with your blood, your flesh, your self, maybe you could put the fire out. Maybe you'll be enough. Maybe you could save him…." And then it gets even more real and smart. You can watch all of this year's Verselandia—and catch winners from previous years—on YouTube. RICHARD H. MEEKER.


Best Experiment in Literary Socialism

Any writer can attest that writing is a tortuous process full of doubt and self-loathing. But more than that, it's solitary, which means it's hard to know whether what you've written is any good, and not everyone has the connections (or the money) to find a good editor. The people at The People's Ink (peoples-ink.com) offer a solution. 

"I had just gotten out of graduate school, so I thought I'd join a writers group. But it was a closed group, which is how most writers groups are, so it filled up quickly," explains Rich Pope, one of the original founders of the People's Ink. "But I enjoyed everyone so much, I thought there must just be an infinite number of people out there who might be interested in this sort of thing. Wouldn't it be great if there were a larger format to accommodate that?"

In February 2012, Pope and a handful of others began meeting as the People's Ink, a perpetually open and completely free writers group. They advertised for members on Craigslist—and they still do. But what began with eight people soon expanded to a second table, and then a bigger bar, and then an entire venue. Any given Tuesday evening now finds every table at the Analog Cafe occupied by the people of the People's Ink—with a current average of about 90 active members—thoughtfully organized into smaller groups, such as general fiction, poetry, science fiction and a craft-of-writing discussion group.

"I tried a couple of other groups, and a lot of them get controlled by personality. But here we have such diversity," says newcomer Pam Cross.

Though the group remains free and open, members must come prepared to contribute, reading the selected writing from their group in advance and ready to offer constructive feedback.

"It will always be free," says Pope. "I think that's very important for a lot of reasons. Everyone is broke, education is very expensive, and writers don't typically make a lot of money. There are plenty of opportunities for writers to spend thousands or tens of thousands of dollars furthering their education, and I don't think that's always necessary—or there should at least be alternatives to it."

Because sometimes all that's needed is a little helpful advice. As someone from the poetry table exclaimed, "Slap that on a bumper sticker and sell that shit!" PENELOPE BASS.