Best Portland Bytes

Best Cyber Squatters

About 20,000 people a day come to They are greeted by CJ Phillips and Charlie Rainwater, a couple with matching beards and a penchant for Harry Potter shirts and rescue dogs, who live deep in the woods outside Banks. CJ and Charlie are not big fans of Jeb Bush.

In 2008, after Texas passed an anti-gay bill, the pair wanted to find a positive way to fight what they saw as dehumanizing laws while showing their straight friends—who told them not to worry because the law wouldn't affect them personally—that this was a big deal. "We wanted to talk to people and let them know this is the reality of what we face every day," CJ says.

Charlie chimes in with his disarming Tennessee accent: "And I'm sorry. But these laws are hate laws, because all they do is try to discriminate against gay people."

So they bought

The site struck a chord. They've appeared in a video for Kenneth Cole and recently were approached about doing a reality show with them as stars. They insist, however, they're too boring for TV. "I think they thought we were much more of activists than we are," Charlie says.

CJ and Charlie met almost 20 years ago at fondly remembered gay bar the Dirty Duck, onetime Chinatown home base for the bushy-faced bears of Portland (who've since moved on to Lumbertwink and the Eagle). Neither were really looking for a relationship. CJ was still smarting from being kicked out of the Air Force, where he'd been teaching missile ballistic warning systems with top-secret security clearance, after being outed during "Don't ask, don't tell." Charlie had recently realized he was gay, after the death of his first wife and a divorce from his second. Twenty years later, they are still together, working at Intel, hanging out with their five dogs (four of which are rescues) and tending to their garden and chickens.

Things have changed for CJ and Charlie. When the Supreme Court handed down the ruling in June that gay marriage was legal in every state, they were surprised by how liberated they felt. "Before, even though we were very out and proud, we've always been in a sense conservative when we're in the public," Charlie says. "We don't necessarily hold hands. We don't show affection because a lot of people get upset about it. We were with some friends after the ruling had come down, and it was liberating that sitting in a restaurant I didn't have a problem putting my arm around him."

"Yeah, it was hilarious," CJ says. "I was like, 'Who are you, and what have you done with Charlie?'" LIZZY ACKER.

Best Funny Faces

The first creature you'll probably encounter at Hive FX studio in Southeast Portland is a friendly, spunky pug named Olive. But this little shop is also home to horrors: men who look like goats, blowfish heads with spines on every surface and poison beneath, and women with faces that rot in full view into that of a corpse.

Tucked away between a bar, an auto body shop and a dispensary, the Hive FX office is a visual effects company behind much the grim bestiary of Portland-based fantasy crime drama Grimm—beating out design teams from across the nation for the job. (Refuge—another Portland visual effects company—is also a main visual effects maker for Grimm, responsible for characters like Bud the Beaver.)

Out of the maybe 50 unique creatures the Hive FX team has animated, executive producer Gretchen Miller says the rotten-faced witch known as the Hexenbiest is her favorite. "The witches have really become our specialty," she says. The fun, Miller says, is receiving images of beautiful actors and morphing them into ultra-creepy monsters.

Hive FX's work on Grimm has led to nationwide and even international recognition. In addition to work for Nike locally, the studio recently finished animation for a Russian film. The new Grimm season has just debuted, but the Hive FX team is currently working on an under-wraps project for National Geographic Channel, as well as an in-house project called Chihuanhas—think Jaws meets Beverly Hills Chihuahua. "We had this quirky idea," Miller says. "What if a really cute chihuahua somehow merged with a piranha, and you had a chihuanha? Because sometimes our dog could be so evil." CLAIRE HOLLEY.

Best Thing-Hacker


How can a deaf person know if somebody is knocking on their door? It's a simple problem, but as with a lot of simple problems, the solution is far from simple.

At the Internet of Things Conference in San Francisco in May, Diana Laboy-Rush—a Portland-based technology evangelist for Aruba Networks—had stumbled across a team of programmers that was trying to solve this very problem for a 30-hour marathon hacking contest. She'd noticed two men sitting together and typing silently. On closer look, she realized they were struggling to communicate. One man was deaf and couldn't read lips. The other couldn't read sign language. "'Gosh, I want to help you,'" she remembers thinking. She took a seat.

The solution to the deaf person's door-knocking problem was elegant: Put a sensor on the door that could detect the sound of knocking, or detect when the door was ajar, and then have that sensor communicate with a light that could change colors—blue for knocking, green for an open door.

But to actually build it, the team needed a software coder and an electrical engineer. In a room full of men, Laboy-Rush was about the only person who could do both. Within 30 hours, she had helped the team members make a working prototype of their product, which they called Silent Safety. Laboy-Rush made a presentation to a panel of judges, and the team won first prize.

It wasn't the only time she had faced a room full of men and prevailed.

The daughter of a NASA scientist, Laboy-Rush grew up around astronauts. Raised in Cupertino, Calif., she learned to code on one of the first Apple computers, in sixth grade. By high school, she was a math wiz. Yet guidance counselors discouraged her from pursuing her dream of engineering.

"I think a lot of girls get that," she says. But unlike a lot of girls, she pressed forward. "I still remember the first [engineering] class where I was the only woman," she says. "I remember asking, 'Why is it this way?'"

Laboy-Rush's integration into the tech world hasn't always been easy, but she says she's outcompeted many of her male peers because she's motivated to help people, and she has the people skills to figure out what products customers need. "That's a skill not a lot of engineers have," she says.

Laboy-Rush has since founded a Portland chapter of Girl Develop It, a nonprofit that teaches women to develop websites and software. She sees a need among women for instruction, and a need in the tech industry for more women.

Her proudest accomplishment, she says, will be sending her 18-year-old son to engineering school this fall. But she also has a younger daughter. "She doesn't know it yet," Laboy-Rush says, "but she will be an engineer." HART HORNER.

Best Virtual Therapy

Kent Bye is no stranger to grief. After the loss of his father-in-law to suicide, the loss of a child during pregnancy and the loss of his wife, Jen, also to suicide, Bye needed a way to cope. "All relationships end," he says. "We all die. And things are left unsaid. I wanted to be able to have conversations with them that I wasn't able to have. And to honor the beautiful relationships I had with them."

Bye, 38, chose virtual reality, a viewer experience that makes you feel like you have an IMAX screen on your face. As a mobile and virtual reality director, Bye realized he could create a powerful emotional immersion project aimed at helping people with grief.

"Virtual reality tricks your mind into believing that you're in another world," he says. "It's like The Matrix, but with cellphone technology."

Over 10 days, Bye and four other developers created this virtual reality as a tool for healing. The finished product, an app called Crossover, is a theatrical experience that takes place in a pixilated house with three rooms and an open ceiling, exposing a slightly cloudy starry-night sky. While you maneuver through the house, you listen in on conversations between five characters, four of whom are ghosts representing the loss of lovers, parents and children. If you leave one room, you miss out on the conversation there.

The virtual reality experience ends with a grief ritual, where all five characters come together around a table with a candle so realistic you feel like you could reach out and grab it. The four ghosts let go of their emotional attachments before they cross over to the other side, and the remaining character invites the viewer to speak freely about their grief.

The first time he experienced Crossover, Bye says it was surreal. "I had written pet names into the script that I have only been called by my wife," he says, "When I heard them, it made me feel like it was actually happening at a subconscious level."

"It served as transformative healing for me," Bye adds. "They say a photo is worth a thousand words, but virtual reality is worth a thousand pictures."

Bye, who lives in Northeast Portland, says he had to put his heart on hold before sharing his work with the public, but eventually he submitted it to a 2015 competition by virtual reality goggle maker Oculus. It reached the finals—praised for its multi-threaded narrative, smooth transitions between rooms, and ability to communicate expressions that are hard to relate through technology. But Crossover means more to Bye than an award nomination.

"Jen once said that she wished that when she died she could have two things," he says. "She wanted to know that she loved people well and to know that she had an impact on society. I can feel her smiling, knowing that she's a part of this." EMILY VOLPERT.

Best Tourist


Most tourists to Portland don't leave behind anything more interesting than Yelp reviews describing all the lines they stood in. But when Philadelphian Matt Satell visited Portland early this year, he arrived with uncommon equipment: a DJI Phantom 3 drone with a digital camera. He spent an entire weekend documenting our city from a vantage point most Portlanders never get to see—the business end of a low-flying aircraft.

Satell started a website called Philly by Air in 2014, dedicated to showcasing aerial photography of his own city. But after his visit here, he added Portland by Air (, which he wants to make a warehouse for local drone photography, in addition to his own dramatic images of our city.

Many of Satell's photos concentrate on the river—like the national news copters before a Blazer game that hover over the MAX train like it's a Mayan temple—but the most interesting picture is taken from above a residential neighborhood at Northeast 15th Avenue and Fremont Street. Far from the SimCity satellite mug shot offered by Google Earth, the drone shot shows Portland as a startlingly beautiful, surprisingly alien landscape of bulbous greenery and A-frame roofs, below clouds that remain threatening in their vastness.

"From ground level you have a different perspective," says Satell, "From above, it just opens a thing up and puts it in better context." Starting with Alexis de Tocqueville, American history is full of foreigners offering fresh perspectives. But few do what Matt Satell did with Portland by Air: He lets the fresh perspective on Portland be your own. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Best Video Vault

From the busy confluence of Southeast Foster Road and Powell Boulevard, Variety Shop (4932 SE Foster Road, 775-2210) looks like any other rundown-looking resale shop shilling yesterday's media. But buried in the store—behind the solid vinyl collection and random DVDs—is basically a museum for movie fans of a certain vintage. In the backroom, thousands upon thousands of old VHS tapes are piled high, not only lining the walls but stacked to the ceiling in the middle of the floor, prompting treasure hunts that represent the only time you're likely to find Jean-Claude Van Damme, Patrick Swayze and Harold Ramis on top of one another, waiting to be loved. It's as if somebody robbed every Blockbuster they could in 1997, then held the stash in a backroom and waited for the prices to depreciate. But you can't really put a price on nostalgia. And, fact is, the Lethal Weapon series just looks better on VHS. Here, you can get all four films for $2. AP KRYZA.

Best HAL 9000

If there's anything techies fear, it's a "Skynet scenario" where our computers become self-aware and plunge us all into nuclear holocaust. Corey Pressman, an anthropologist and computer scientist at Portland's Neologic Labs, has a plan.

"In every dystopian scenario, the robots don't know poetry," he says. "Maybe if Skynet spent its time writing poetry, they wouldn't get so cranky."

Pressman's plan: Teach our tech poetry.

On his website, visitors are met with a series of photographs, and clicking reveals a text box and instructions: "Use this image as a prompt to provide a few lines of poetry."

If you write a poem, the site will read it to inform its interactions with "metadata," the stuff you put into a search bar to tell a computer to find something. The idea is that, in any language, we consistently return to the same metaphors. If the computer can recognize these patterns, it will become more human.

"You could be searching an image database thinking, 'I want a picture that means sad but hopeful,'" Pressman says. "But now, you've also got to think, what the fuck does the robot know about sad but hopeful? Tears, sunshine—you'll come up with terrible pictures. You're never going to find what you're looking for. But if the robot already knows sad but hopeful from all the poems people have written for it, then it'll show you the most amazing collection of images."

Pressman, a writer and reader of poetry (his early theories behind his website are scrawled in the margins of Mary Ruefle poetry), loves metaphor. He uses it to speak about the state of human interaction with computers. "We've been using boxing gloves to do our searching when we have these fingers inside," he says. "I want databases and algorithms to be more human."

Pressman thinks it's ridiculous that we communicate with computers only with disconnected key words. "Rather than typing, 'Portland, restaurants, northeast,' we should be able to search: 'I'm on a hot date, and it's a second date, and I think I'm in love. Where should we eat?'"

Pressman exhibits a sincerity almost as vast as his vision. "I want humanities and the arts to inform what computer science is doing," he says wistfully. But on a smaller scale, he just wants more poetry. "If I can just trick people into writing more poems—that's a real win!," he says. "We've got almost one thousand poems that didn't exist before this, and people wrote them just for robots. Not even for anyone else to read. I'm gonna cry." He wipes away a tear. TED JAMISON.

Best People and Other Animals | Best Bytes | Best Bites | Best Sips and Puffs

Best Sounds | Best Sights | Best Words

Best Fun and Games | Bests of the Year | Readers' Poll