Deus Recedo Machina

by Edward Armstrong : Widespread Panic : 03.02.10 8:36pm EST
On February 26th, 2010, Erik Ando-Yeap, principle designer, contributor and creator of this site, passed away. The following was read at his funeral to make his friends and family aware of the legacy that he has bequeathed to us all.

If the following is somewhat hyperbolic, it is not because we wish to make ZP appear larger or more import than it is today. Rather, it is intended to let those that he leaves behind know that his time here mattered, touched many, and will not be soon lost nor forgotten.

A lot will be said about Erik, the person. I could have much to say myself, but that is probably best left to others as I only ever got know the side of him that filtered through the internet and scattered phone calls. I want to take a moment to share with his friends and family the tremendous monument that he leaves behind.

As some of you may know, Erik had a passion both for web design and for Japanese robots. He was dissatisfied with the resources and information that were available, particularly as they related to this oddball industry finding its place within the world of industrial design. Erik’s pre-wikipedia vision was a vast, interconnected site that, for the first time, traced the paths between conception and creation, finally providing proper attribution and genealogies.

I had the privilege of working with Erik to realize this project. Beginning in 2002, he would send me daily design documents, feature requests, bug fixes, etc. I was the coder that made the thing work, but in reality I was just the implementer; every single pixel, feature and design element was his and his alone. Moreover, Erik single-handedly catalogued over 13,000 characters, designers, creators and artists, and made contributions to a further 5,000 subsequent entries provided by collaborators. The site holds 700 photos of pictures from his personal collection.

The site was launched in 2004. By the time 2005 rolled around, Zinc Panic as it became known (“zinc” due to the material used to make the robot toys, and “panic” from the panic button on the Weight Watchers site that he had toiled over for many years) was the most popular, authoritative site for anything do with Japanese robot culture on the web. In fact, due to the care which he had taken to include the proper Japanese names and characters, the Japanese themselves began to use it as a reference, finding it better than any resource available to them in their own country.

As I write this, over 26 million people have used the site in one form or another in the last five years. It has been featured in USA Today and popular sites like Engadget, sometimes for its content alone, and often simply for Erik’s clean and inspired design. Today, the site holds over 22,000 entries and continues to grow through the efforts of the friends and new contributors who were inspired by his, love, obsession and deep respect for the material. Only Erik could have pulled this off.

Erik always maintained a steadfastly cool ironic detachment about most things, but with Zinc Panic, his talent, work ethic and enthusiasm betrayed him. You cannot visit the place without seeing the sheer joy that the hobby brought him shine through.

As we toiled away on the project, I was often reminded of Samuel Johnson’s preface to the world’s first English dictionary:

When first I engaged in this work, I resolved to leave neither words nor things unexamined, and pleased myself with a prospect of the hours which I should revel away in feasts of literature, with the obscure recesses of northern learning, which I should enter and ransack; the treasures with which I expected every search into those neglected mines to reward my labour, and the triumph with which I should display my acquisitions to mankind. When I had thus enquired into the original of words, I resolved to show likewise my attention to things; to pierce deep into every science, to enquire the nature of every substance of which I inserted the name, to limit every idea by a definition strictly logical, and exhibit every production of art or nature in an accurate description, that my book might be in place of all other dictionaries whether appellative or technical.

But these were the dreams of a poet doomed at last to wake a lexicographer. I soon found that it is too late to look for instruments, when the work calls for execution, and that whatever abilities I had brought to my task, with those I must finally perform it. To deliberate whenever I doubted, to enquire whenever I was ignorant, would have protracted the undertaking without end, and, perhaps, without much improvement; for I did not find by my first experiments, that that I had not of my own was easily to be obtained: I saw that one enquiry only gave occasion to another, that book referred to book, that to search was not always to find, and to find was not always to be informed; and that thus to persue perfection, was, like the first inhabitants of Arcadia, to chace the sun, which, when they had reached the hill where he seemed to rest, was still beheld at the same distance from them.

I then contracted my design, determining to confide in myself, and no longer to solicit auxiliaries, which produced more incumbrance than assistance: by this I obtained at least one advantage, that I set limits to my work, which would in time be ended, though not completed.

That last sentence reminds me of our time together the most and, I think, captures the spirit of his work. His passion will be with us for as long as there is an internet and nuts like myself with a weakness for metal robots and spring-loaded fists.