Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I think I'd keep this wallet in my front pocket

I have money that needs to be stored. And I usually wish I had a baseplate and some bricks, so I could do the LEGO brick equivalent of doodling while waiting somewhere.
The lady's wallet (above) could be my answer. I think it would look lovely in my man purse.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

LEGO bricks are made for sharing

The joy of LEGO bricks is in sharing. It's fun to share the bricks you have, the passion you feel and the creations you've made.

And so I was overjoyed when a good friend sent me a picture of his first MOC (my own creation). Above is his alligator made entirely from bricks in the Creator Mini Dumper impulse set. Instantly recognizable with a bit of humor in the face -- it's a fantastic first effort from somebody getting back into the hobby. It's also a great lesson that you're never too old to discover the joy of building.

Overall, it's a great MOC because it is his idea from start to finish. I'm just happy he chose to share it with me and I hope he doesn't mind me sharing it with you.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Is there a Geek Life?

On the road back into your childhood, it's hard not to wonder just how much of your life's path was determined by the map you drew as a seven-year-old. Young me didn't know I'd get to write a book about LEGO building. Young me just thought I'd be playing with LEGO bricks at age eight.

Over on Wired.com's Geekdad, Curtis Silver asks a new question, but one that feels eternal. "Is Being a Geek a Personality Trait or a Way of Life?" In an exhaustive post, Silver lays out the arguments for both sides from a personal and parental perspective. He ultimately comes to realize that geekery is a way of life as we choose to descend into dorkdom.

I think it's true. One of the most intriguing side (benefits?) effect of writing LEGO: A Love Story was that I embraced all of my inner geek-o-sity over the course of a year. I wasn't just holding back a LEGO love, I also found some genuine Star Wars jones and a suprisingly strong science fiction bent.

And one of the ideas I've maintained since writing the book is that there is a geek key out there for each and every person. I know that not everybody cares about LEGO bricks; however, I can see that there is a trigger for people's inner geek. It's in the form of horror movies or Matchbox cars. Your voice raises slightly. You start talking faster. And you have a depth of knowledge that is stunning in its ability to entertain than bore than entertain again. This is simply a question of when, rather than if, the latent geek comes out in us all.

Image via RooReynolds.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tattooed minifigs make an ink splash

While this space is no stranger to LEGO tattoos*; these ads for the Pilot Extrafine take the concept of tats to a new level.

The viral campaign (h/t to Flavorwire) features a series of minifigures with intricate ink drawings that suggest a level of toughness heretofore unacheived by the tiny plastic men and women.

While I'm not sure about the back tattoo on a female minifig, it's hard not to appreciate the dragon tattoo the spans the arm of a smiling prisoner minifig. It makes me want to go out and etch a single teardrop on every minifig I own.

*Sadly, Nathan Sawaya's thumb tattoo has faded to the point where it is quite faint. I saw it firsthand at Comic Con and the dastardly quick regrowing thumb skin has made it into an impression, rather than a bold statement. Nathan promises to get it touched up shortly and return it to its former brilliance.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Just me and Tuan Sau-Wern down by the schoolyard

We exist in a world where it is becoming easier and easier to have a lifestyle based on niches. Is it the human experience if we are all having very different experiences as humans? I like the idea that humankind can share things if only because I believe experience is one of the best ways to bring people together.

It worked at summer camp and it still works with me as an adult. That's why I enjoy reading slice-of-life articles about people's lifelong love for LEGO. It lets me connect with Tuan Sau-Wern, despite the fact that I might not have much else in common with the 31-year-old software engineer from Malaysia.

So if Tuan is ever in Kansas City or I find myself in Malaysia, I'll be glad to dump out a big tub of bricks on the ottoman and get building.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Brick it like Beckham

Look I don't know if my book had anything to do with it, but I find it hard not to see it as more than a coincidence that playing with LEGO bricks as an adult is suddenly cool. First it was Brad Pitt. And now David Beckham has told Yahoo, that's he has been working on the LEGO Taj Mahal.

I like building Lego. This is going to make me sound really weird but when I was in Milan with a lot of time on my hands I found online that there's Taj Mahal Lego set you can buy. So I bought it. I didn't get to finish it though. I know it's not a career but I love it.

So get out there and start building. It's your ticket into the coolest clubs and cliques in the world.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A sneak peek at the LEGOLAND project in Florida

Those on the East Coast got a sneak peek yesterday at the newest LEGOLAND -- scheduled to open in the fall of 2011 in Winter Haven, Florida.

The City part of the park will apparently mirror the LEGOLAND in Billund, Denmark, with a driving academy and Fun Town Fire Academy, where you pump an oversized LEGO fire truck down a lane to put out a "fire."

It's good to know the Dragon rollercoaster will also be at the park in the Castle area. It's one of the only rollercoasters in the world that I know I am brave enough to ride.

So with a park in Florida and California, I'm thinking I've got a backyard available smack dab in the middle of the country if Merlin Entertainments wants to keep expanding...

Image courtesy of Orlando Attractions Magazine.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A permanent love of LEGO bricks

It's no accident that the book I wrote is titled LEGO: A Love Story. There's a lot of love that went into the book and a lot of different loves throughout the book. [Just a note: In this post I will apparently write love as often as Lebron James used the word "process" last night during his ESPN special].

But LEGO love comes in all different forms and at all different levels. There's new love, the kind you awkwardly discover by throwing a DUPLO brick at a girl you like. There's old love, the kind shared by vampires who enjoy building modular LEGO constructions together. Then there is permanent love.

And here I have to tip my cap to brick artist -- Nathan Sawaya. In addition to designing an amazing cover for the book, Nathan has unveiled his latest design, which happens to be on his thumb. It's a tattoo that looks like an ink-pressed version of eight studs -- the classic configuration of a 2x4 rectangular LEGO brick.

So, instead of a finger print, Nathan now has a LEGO print.

Image via BrickArtist.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Let's all go to the lobby...

Lights...Camera...LEGO? Word of a live-action LEGO movie has been making the rounds the past week or so. It appears as though it will be stop-motion and starring minifigures moving around a LEGO world.

Collider scored an interview with Phil Lord -- the director of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs that has been attached to a potential LEGO project. Here's what Lord had to say:

"Our goal was to make it look like a super charged stop-motion. Something like if Michael Bay kidnapped Henry Selick to make a movie for him.”

If Hollywood is stuck for ideas, I'd have to suggest a look at this stop action recreation of the trailer for the fictional Machete starring minifigs wielding shotguns and a bad attitude.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Brad Pitt and LEGO bricks

I've done a fair share of interviews the past several weeks and one of the common questions is whether adult fans of LEGO are nerds or geeks or nerd-geeks or geeky nerds. There still appears to be a bit of a perception that spending a few hours with a tub of bricks is a geeky hobby. Well let that end today, friends...

Courtesy of the pillar of journalism that is Showbiz Spy comes the following:

BRAD Pitt has a new hobby — playing with his kids’ Lego. The Hollywood heartthrob — who raises six children with partner Angelina Jolie — loves messing around with the plastic building blocks.

“Brad loves playing with the kids — especially if it’s Lego bricks,” says a source close to the actor. “He makes no secret of the fact he’s fascinated by Lego and loves to design his own buildings with the kids. In fact he’s often still building long after they’ve got bored and gone to bed. Angelina thinks it’s cute.”

If it's good enough for Fight Club, then it better be good enough for the rest of us. Unless you want to call Brad Pitt a nerd. I didn't think so.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The changing face of adult fan conventions

Are LEGO conventions moving from a gathering of like-minded adults into a place for families and children to connect over a shared love of plastic bricks? That was the big (unanswered question) of BrickWorld this past weekend in Wheeling, IL.

What seemed like an adult convention with a few precocious teenagers in 2008 has morphed into a family friendly universe that is pulling in fans of all ages. The youngest of BrickWorld's 800+ attendees was five years old -- the oldest was 74 years old.

While I'm used to talking with adults at conventions about their creations and assuming that they're attending because they're a passionate LEGO fan, I found myself repeatingly talking to parents who were only attending because of their child's passion. Some built alongside their kids, others appreciated what aduilt builders could do and saw it as inspiration for their children, and many were fans themselves. However, attendance was not a direct indicator of interest.

That last point is the most salient. Fans come in all ages and BrickWorld is starting to be a reflection of that idea. It's an interesting question going forward for the adult fan community, who may need to learn to play nice with children faster than they expected.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The plane I wish I took to BrickWorld

Adults don't get many opportunities to summer camp. I just back from three days of summer camp in Wheeling, IL.

Officially known as BrickWorld, I played with LEGO bricks, purchased LEGO bricks and got to see some of the coolest creations put together by builders that flew into Chicago from around the world.

I had the benefit of signing books across from the table that held a LEGO-ized Quantus Airbus A380. Ryan McNaught brought his seven-foot by six-foot plane that's made of 35,000 bricks all the way from Melbourne, Australia. Despite the plane being destroyed in transit -- he spent a full week rebuilding his creation -- McNaught was in excellent spirits at the convention.

My personal highlight of the convention was watching kids see the airbus for the first time. They'd let go of their parent's hand and run to the yellow chain a foot away from McNaught's plane. Just as the parent got ready to chide them for running away, they would see the airplane. Then both parent and child would stand there...mouth open, in awe.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Have Minifig, Will Travel


I feel like the opposite of George Clooney's character in "Up In The Air," (or at least what I understand from the trailers) as I sit waiting in the Kansas City International Airport (we have the All-Star game in 2012 and flights to Mexico now, watch out!). He seemed to find traveling exhausting and soul-numbing. Me? The only time I fly these days is to go somewhere to get to talk about and play with LEGO bricks. This is not such a bad job, folks.

And so I sit in a Starbucks with the crumbs and coffee cups of a day's worth of passengers around me. But I have company -- my mini-fig doppelganger who I just discovered hiding inside my computer bag. Even creepier. We've both got on gray shirts and blue pants/jeans.

I'm on my way to Chicago and then through to Wheeling, Illinois, for BrickWorld. Come see me at the convention or the Borders in Schaumburg (1540 Gulf Road) at 2 p.m. on Saturday.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Are adult fans of LEGO mainstream?

Is there a tipping point for a subculture where it no longer ceases to be underground and instead is just an accepted part of the mainstream? If so, how do you identify that exact moment?

For poker, was it when James McManus published Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker? Or when ESPN started getting boffo ratings for the World Series of Poker? If not then, how about when Matt Damon showed us what it means to be a card shark in Rounders?

All of this stems from the increasing awareness of the Adult Fan of LEGO community. There's an article out in the Associated Press today devoted entirely to the world of AFOLs. Also, there might be a book you should consider getting for a dad or father in your life for Father's Day. LEGO: A Love Story is the best book written by me this year, in fact.

But I know that I'm too far involved in the world to have a good gauge on the cultural zeitgeist. I also know that in the three years that I've started this project, the idea of an adult playing with LEGO bricks has become a lot more accepted...and not just by me.

Image via Rob Young.

Monday, June 14, 2010

U.S. vs. England World Cup match recreated in LEGO bricks

To some this will be a great triumph. To others, an unmitigated disaster. The recent football match (which ended in a 1-1 tie) between England and the United State has been recreated in stop motion LEGO animation.

With the actual announcers' commentary over the dramatic goals for both squads, it's a simple but compelling 90 seconds. The ball trickling past the English keeper -- with the replay -- is no easier to watch than the live shot. So to English readers, my apologies for propagating the video. To the rest of the world, this is the best way to watch World Cup highlights.

Image via the Off Side.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Talking to LEGO; book signing in St. Louis tomorrow

Apologies for the radio silence. I was traveling to and from the hinterlands of Vermont for the annual LEGO sales and marketing conference on Wednesday and Thursday. On the final day of meetings, I had the opportunity to address employees of LEGO on the impact their product has had on adult fans.

It was a wonderful chance to explain how LEGO has evolved into an art form, a matchmaker and a philosophy on life. I was excited to be able to tell the stories of adult fans to the very people that work daily to bring them the products they love. And, even better, the crowd was excited to hear the stories of adult fans and how their lives have been changed by a (not so) simple plastic brick.

On Saturday, I'm off to Pudd'nhead Books in Webster Groves, Missouri. If you're in the St. Louis area between 2 and 4 p.m., pay me a visit. If you're not, book a plane ticket and the first frozen custard is on me.

Image via Pasakaru76.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The robot invasion begins in Lawrence, Kansas

I was in Lawrence, Kansas, last night to talk about the history of LEGO bricks and the world of adult fans. Local kids -- of all ages -- had been invited to bring their creations to be entered into a contest to win a $100 gift certificate to LEGO.com. Sadly, the miniland version of Kate and I didn't secure me an entry.

I had a brief slideshow and question and answer session -- note, if you ever need to impress a group of children, show them this Iron Man minifig. At the end of my talk, I called up the kids (age four to fifty-two) who wanted to talk about their creations. I got the chance to do mini-interviews finding out just what they had built and discovering that although everybody knows their name, one's age can be difficult to summon in front of an audience.

I was continually struck by how the stories of what kids built were as interesting (if not more so) than the structures they held in their hands. And I was surprised by the ingenuity of some really young kids -- like the boxy tank that was pulled apart to reveal an Imperial speeder bike inside.

My favorite might just have been a 11-year-old that held up a robot made primarily from 1x2 tan plates and grille pieces.

"What did you build?" I asked.

"A robot," said Bryant.

"And what does he do?" I asked.

"He's a robot," he reiterated.

"I see...well, be careful, robots are always taking over the world."

"I know," he replied.

"Well, you were smart to build him so small, that way you can prevent him from taking over the world."

"Nope, he can just build a bigger robot, who would then build an even bigger robot."

"Well, you better take him apart to keep that from happening, right?"

At which point, Bryant snapped off one of the robot's antennas to show it who was boss.

Image via Wallpedia.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Happy 42nd Birthday, LEGOLAND

So you come to the factory where you work. You sit down at your station, the beginning of an eight-hour shift. And that's when the family of four walks by, pointing and talking about your workstation. They have tons of questions. They're touching everything. And suddenly you're behind and your friend further down the line is now waiting on you impatiently. He can't work because you can't work.

Welcome to the LEGO factory in 1967. The toy company in Billund, Denmark, found that production was being slowed by people wanting to (understandably) visit the factory. And so the LEGO Group opened the first LEGOLAND theme park, not a 10-minute walk from the factory, the following year in an attempt to give tourists something to do other than disrupt the line at the factory. Today (with a hat tip to Dave Banks at Wired's Geekdad) is the 42nd anniversary of that park's opening.

There are now theme parks in Germany, England, and the United States (Carlsbad, California) with parks slated to open in Dubai and Winter Haven, Florida, over the next two years. LEGOLAND helped me to triple the number of roller coasters I've ever ridden in my life (to a whopping three) -- although, I'll admit it didn't hurt that the roller coasters are designed for the scare quotient of a 10-year-old.

Image via FanPop.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Why you should build your resume out of LEGO bricks

When I was little I thought my dream job would be as a master model builder working for LEGO. I certainly had no idea we'd enter an age where LEGO building could be the difference between getting a job and remaining unemployed as an adult. We live in weird times.

The Scottish Sun has the story of Lindsay Burns, who apparently didn't get a job in a call center because her plastic brick building skills weren't up to snuff. To use the Sun's lede -- I was gobsmacked by this story.

There is something positive to come out of all of this. The next time somebody catches you playing with LEGO bricks, you can explain that you're conducting a mock job interview. In addition, all your LEGO purchases might just be considered "work expenses" at this point.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Yup, that's a LEGO ship in a bottle

The question that I get asked most often is why LEGO still matters today. What has allowed this toy and this company to continue to be relevant to kids (and adults) in a world that is increasingly digital?

Depending on how much time I have (and the interest level of my conversation partner/interviewer), I tend to give an answer that centers around one idea -- creativity. The short answer is just that word, followed by a long blank stare until it gets uncomfortable. The longer answer gets at the heart of the hobby/obsession/passion/calling...

For me, I'm continually blown away by what people build. And in a world of spoilers and constant information -- where it is difficult to keep a secret -- I'm excited that I get to be surprised by what I find in the adult fan of LEGO community. Yesterday was a perfect example. I've seen blind builds and builds in a bag, but I've never seen a build in a bottle until Brothers-Brick linked to Jeremy Mood's LEGO ship in a bottle.

So why are LEGO brick still relevant? Because every day somebody shows me something I've never seen before.

Image via Jeremy Moody.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Carrie, Rod Roddy, and LEGO Ear Buds

I never knew that I would become an amateur LEGO fashionista. In fact, this blog at times feels closer to "Go Fug Yourself," than I'd care to admit. Most days, I just sit here and pray that LEGO accessories will make it into Sex and the City 2: The Return of City.

LEGO Ear Buds are the newest design inspiration to come across my desk (sadly, only in virtual form). Thanks to the keen eye of Swiss Miss, you can find them at Molla Space for $29. While they're ear buds, I'd be dying to build a set of LEGO headphones to connect them.

You know what these ear buds would look great with? How about...(move to a Rod Roddy voice here)...a brand new LEGO MP3 player? Cue the jumping up and down and the Bob Barker hugging.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The first book signing in a bookstore...

The lunch hour stood still for a brief moment last Friday in downtown Boston. That's when I was in town to give a bit of insight into the world of adult fans and sign a few hardcover copies of LEGO: A Love Story. For the several million of you (in and outside Boston), who missed the event, here's a peek into what happened...

Despite having lived in Boston for close to five years, I forgot that parking near Newbury Street can be akin to winning Power Ball. Thankfully, there was a very nice garage attendant willing to take my car and hold it for only $32 for 90 minutes. I outsmarted you Boston.

I arrived a few minutes early to the Borders and asked the man at the information desk where I should head. He spoke into a walkie-talkie and after a brief bit of confusion as to whether I was a "vendor" or a "Bender," I was brought upstairs to where the signing was being held.

A small, but engaged crowd, were seated on the second floor when I got up to the podium. I started just a minute or two after 12 p.m. -- you shouldn't have to give up your sandwich time completely to hear me -- and spent the next 45 minutes talking about collectors, instruction books, and why adult fans come out of the Dark Ages.

To the good folks at Borders (particularly Batman fan-girl Katie) at 511 Boylston, thank you for hosting me... Afterwards, I signed a few dozen copies for the store -- including my own, dog-eared copy, which now includes best wishes from myself. Well, at least, when I inevitably leave that copy on the train, plane, or bus -- the stranger who finds it can enjoy an autographed copy.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Nice try Rubik's Cube, really good effort

Listen up Rubik's Cube -- you're a cute toy. You've got a lot going for you. Bright colors, angular jawline, just the right amount of mystery. And you're even celebrating a birthday this month, 30 years, that's a heck of an achievement.

You should have a really positive self-image. You've helped thousands of geeks impress thousands of girls and brought competition to those who were not that into sports. But sadly, despite a similar color palette and basic geometric design, you are no LEGO brick.

In fact, a LEGO Mindstorms robot was even used to solve you recently, that's probably got to hurt. As far as I know, the Rubik's Cube isn't spontaneously compelling LEGO bricks together a la some sort of dork force field -- although I'll admit that would be pretty sweet if it happened.

So take solace in the fact that you're still relevant. You could have been Crossfire, left behind when I was eight years old, despite the catchiest board game theme song of all time.

It's simple. Rock always beats scissors, and bricks always beat cubes.

Image
via Nick Shell.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I do believe in unicorns

If this doesn't improve your day, I'm not sure what will... (via Geekologie)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Aaron Goodwin's LEGO cruise ship -- a whole new kind of staycation

LEGO builders come from all walks of life and professions -- one who reached out to me was Aaron Goodwin. A cruise ship designer, Aaron, currently has a scale replica of the cruise ship Horizon in his living room. [Note to self: show wife pictures of cruise ship, if she ever complains about tiny LEGO creations on the mantle.]

Remembering that I'm a reporter -- it comes in handy, on occasion outside the world of comic books -- I decided to find out what compels Aaron to build. Our e-mail exchange is below, emoticons and all. If you'd like to see more of his pictures, they're available here.

(1) Can you tell me about your decision to build the ship? And the actual building process (time, design stages, etc...)

I used to Work for Celebrity Cruises back about 1993-1997ish…(Pre- Merger with Royal Caribbean) it was owned by a wonderful Greek Family named the Chandrises. I worked and lived on board, the Fleet then consisted of The Horizon and Zenith (Sister ships, virtually identical) and the older ship the Meridian. Some of the best times I’ve ever had in my life were living onboard the Horizon and Zenith. They were truly “My Home."

I came to Land and parleyed my Design Degree from Durham College (Now Known as The University of Ontario) in Ontario into positions Designing Cruise Ships and Mega Yachts. Designing Cruise Ships is my passion.

Years Later in 2007, I saw a Large LEGO model cruise ship on one of the Carnival ships. It was cool yes, but lacked scale and attention to detail, so I decided to “Put my money where my mouth is” and build my own, but to take it the next step.

So I pulled up the Original GA (Blue Prints) of the Horizon, and scaled them for the Minifigures in AutoCAD, that created a 9 foot footprint in LEGO terms, So I did take a slight liberty in the deck heights to bring her down to 8'2". However she is constructed exactly as her namesake, she has the same amount of Water tight Zones as the Original Horizon and Zenith, even a crash bulkhead in the bow just like the real thing.

I started her in 2007, It took a full year to complete although I took three months off while I got married and bought a new house, So she took about nine months and about 4 hours a day and 8 on the weekends. I tried not to let her take over my life (The Boat not my wife, *laugh*) I guess that equates to about 1,200 hours.

I lost count of bricks, because I was buying and building as I went, she is primarily made from “Re-enjoyed” LEGO bought from Ebay, however I did buy thousands of pieces from the LEGO store. I estimate about 50,000 blocks in total. If and when I ever sell her, I’ll weigh her, and subtract the weight of her mounting board, and divide the LEGO weight, by lets say a standard 2X8 Block and that should give me a fairly accurate count.

She is currently Crewed with a Compliment of 100 Minifigures, Officers, Staff, and Passengers.

(2) Are you the captain? Entertainment director?

Well My Ego says I’m the Captain, however if I were to equate a position to it, It would probably be best describes as the Chief Engineer.

3) You mentioned your wife is patient -- does she understand your passion for building or just tolerate it?

She definitely understands it, she actually helped a lot, sorting and cleaning LEGOS from ebay, and the miles and miles of monotonous snapping along the length of her Hull. She’s been very supportive, and she does love the ship as well, but she’s growing weary of the 8’2” Cruise Ship in the Living room, I mean it looks GREAT! But not quite fitting in with our d├ęcor LOL

Now if I were to tackle my next Dream Project, it will be a three meter (9’-10”) cruise ship that will be glued and sealed so she can actually float, using the same displacement theory that makes actual cruise ships float…But that is very much a dream at this point, and I have the distinct feeling although she would help me, however this one will be built and live in the Garage ;-)

(4) Do you ever use LEGO when considering a design for a cruise ship?

Not as such no, Cruise Ship Design is very much modular, the cabin modules are snapped in very much like LEGO during her construction, however the passenger spaces are very fluid and organic.

(5) Do you remember your first set or your favorite build from when you were a kid?

My Favorite set as a kid… Well I am old *laugh* The LEGO sets were very limited back then, I guess my Favorites were the space sets augmented by thousands of straight standard LEGO blocks I had accumulated over the years. I leaned away from the “actual” set to build, and just kept adding to the sets I already had with my imagination. I can’t really recall actually building the LEGO set from the instructions, I always had a “better way” as a kid, that better way was of course “my way.”

(6) Where do you want to see her living now?

I’ve tried over the last year to sell her to a Museum, Theme Park or Other Private but Public collections. Last year was a bad year for all of us, Museums and Theme Parks included, not to mention, after all the hours of design, and time I spent on her, She is worth much more to me sentimentally, and in “sweat equity” than the sum of all her parts. I would like to see her displayed so all can enjoy her, you never know where she’ll end up.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Why I might be growing up...

Despite attending a LEGO convention, hitting up a LEGO retail store and Toys R' Us in the month of May, I think I am still net negative on LEGO bricks in May.

Thanks to appearances, charity events, and a sneaky campaign to get more friends to build, I've been shedding bricks like a dog's winter coat. And while I feel a small pang to give up some sets, I know that I have to share -- it's a part of life. After all, at some point my daughter will want to play with LEGO bricks and I won't be able to refuse. And my wife already takes sets and assembles them with dogged purposefulness.

While I lament the slight shrinking of my collection, it in no way compares to the joy of starting someone else's collection. Plus, LEGO makes 19 billion elements a year, my gut says that should be enough for all of us.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Could this be the beginning of a LEGO art school?

Brick artist (and LEGO: A Love Story cover designer) Nathan Sawaya was just outside Philadelphia earlier this week to talk to an art class at Palisades High School about the process of building a LEGO sculpture (pictured above).

Sawaya is at the front of a potential new art movement -- wherein LEGO bricks are the medium for creating sculptures. His pieces are meant to inspire questions and an emotional response, whether displayed in a gallery or outside a high school. And if this is how kids become more interested in the arts, perhaps, it's a movement that should be taken more seriously. If kids can learn about Shakespeare through a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen-esque comic book mash-up, then why can't LEGO bricks be their first form of artistic impression?

You had a good run clay, but it's time to step aside for the plastic bricks.

Image via PhillyBurbs.com.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Forget action figures, it's time to start collecting LEGO minifigs

The minifigure (little LEGO guys and girls) debuted in 1978 -- the same year in which I was born. And now, in the same year that I've introduced my first book -- the minifig is now going to be released in a collectible series. Coincidence? Absolutely.

The first set includes a robot, cheerleader and zombie among the 16 individually packaged figures. The yellow packaging means that you won't know which is inside the bags, which is why a lot of adult fans plan to buy an entire case, just to make sure they get a complete set or who they want.

The first series of figures is set to be released in June (although they may already be at Toys R' Us, according to a friend), while the second set (pictured above, courtesy of The Brothers-Brick) doesn't have a release date yet.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What I learned on the radio


With my voice coming to radio dials across the country thanks to a slate of recent radio appearances -- I've learned a few things that I think are worth sharing in this space.

I have been an interviewer for close to a decade and an interviewee for maybe a month. These are very different skills. As an interviewee, I've discovered it's not helpful to take notes and look at someone thoughtfully after they asked you a question. If there were an interviewee-o-meter, like the strongman hammer at a carnival, I believe I have gone from "slack-jawed silence" to "caught by surprise with a mouthful of cake."

People smile when you bring in LEGO creations to the radio studio, in sort of a -- look what that nice young boy made -- kind of way. I don't explain that I'm 32 and not visiting for bring your kid to work day.

Radio mics will test your impulse control -- it's hard to resist grabbing one and giving your best "yeow" a la Mark Wahlberg in Rockstar.

Almost everyone I meet has a bit of the closet LEGO fan in them. And if they don't, a family member or close friend is a LEGO nut.

I have few verbal tics, but one of them is the word "exactly." I don't just affirm what a host is saying, I give them an emphatic response that they are right. If authordom is not in the cards, I could make a brilliant yes-man.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

You should see my wife build

I have a confession to make -- I wish I could build like my wife. She puts together LEGO sets with a ruthless efficiency, snapping on parts confidently and after only a single look at the picture-based instructions.

Me -- I'm all thumbs. I build with the delicacy of a monkey deciding whether to ingest or play with LEGO bricks. I'm also constantly getting distracted by some iteration of Law & Order or the need to try the three flavors of Mountain Dew's Dewmocracy challenge. I never sincerely doubted my powers of focus until I tried to focus solely on building.

But in the time that you have read this blog post, Kate will have snapped together most of the LEGO Guggenheim set and a smart car. I'm thinking about taking her to LEGO fan conventions just to hustle people in speed builds, like the Color of Money.

To start, we'll have an 80's style montage: me mentoring her over a LEGO building... her walking away angrily as a brick falls to the ground in slow motion...me catching it and shaking my head even slower...than her hand appearing over my hand...her putting that building back together...and then us awkwardly high-fiving into a hug. [Or something along those lines, it's a rough movie script, just in the outline stages]

And so yes, this is my long way of saying I hope that I someday build like a girl.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Junior Master Model Builder Panel

Willy Wonka doesn't exist -- a fact I've come to terms with over the year. But if he did, he might look something like Alex Bidolak -- the postman-turned-master model builder at the LEGOLAND Discovery Center in Manchester, England.

And Mr. Bidolak has chosen 16 children to pass on his secret model-building tips -- holy golden ticket, Charlie -- as part of a junior master model builder panel. Could you have any more street cred as a 10-year-old than to be a junior master model builder?

The LEGO equivalent of a police explorer program is likely the closest we come to visiting Wonka's Factory today, but I'll take it. It's a great way to reach out to the kids today that tell me they want to be LEGO set designers. I just wonder what's the age limit on becoming a junior master model builder.

Image via sappymoosetree.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Why one shouldn't always act like a kid

Just because you can act like a kid, you shouldn't always take advantage of that fact. I've been feeling like a kid for the better part of two weeks -- talking about LEGO bricks with reckless abandon and even getting to build again for the first time in far too long.

Fresh off a library talk last night where we had a cake resembling a LEGO Sears Tower, I decided to consume one of the bricks from that cake for breakfast. I can say with honesty that people of any age shouldn't consume an oversized rice krispie square covered in chocolate frosting. And they certainly shouldn't have a second.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Saturday in Raleigh -- the first public day of Brick Magic

Ah, Saturday...the first day the public can come in and check out how the 10,000 square foot ballroom at the Raleigh North Hilton has been dramatically turned into the land of misfit adult toys.

I walk through the hallway past the registration desk, holding up my badge made of LEGO bricks engraved with my name to show I should be allowed into the convention. And at 9 a.m., there are already several hundred walking through the LEGO creations and purchasing customized Star Wars minifigs and battle armor.

This is the group that has been given early access to the show and all of my display is still inside the Tupperware container I'm carrying. But five minutes later, the books are on the table and I've made my first sale.

"I recognize you from the Web site," says the woman.

"Well, I must be famous, if I'm on the Internet," I explain.

My six-foot-table is the only one in the entire convention without LEGO bricks; however, it my defense it does have an entire book devoted to building with them.

The next seven hours are spent talking about LEGO bricks and why I wrote the book. It could not be a better way to spend the first stop on my book tour. My dad flew down from New York City to literally spend those seven hours alongside me in North Carolina, selling the book and soaking in the convention. You should all have such fathers and I couldn't ask for a better example in my own life.

Over time, I learn about sons and daughters and fathers that are crazy about LEGO bricks, houses that are being overrun by collections, and just how many people have stepped on the stud-end of a brick.

I think I know how an ice cream vendor feels on his first day -- mine was a table doling out happiness with books that still had that new book smell.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Friday night at the LEGO store

After a day of setting up LEGO displays, Friday night is the reward. At most conventions -- the LEGO store is open after hours, exclusively for adult fans of LEGO, who get to purchase scratch and dent sets and get a discount based on how much they purchase.

For those who don't have a retail store in their area, the layout is fairly straightforward. Sets and LEGO gear ring the exterior of the store, organized by theme and item. The lights in the store represent the tube-d underside of a standard LEGO brick. It's a toy store designed by Apple enthusiasts.

The back wall of the store is a Pick-A-Brick wall -- where LEGO elements can be bought by the cupful. It's hard not to be drawn to this wall, each plastic, circular opening is filled with a LEGO piece of one color, meaning the entire wall is a rainbow.

Adult fans are allowed in by random drawing, your colored slip of power corresponding to the order in which you can enter the store. I pulled yellow, the final of five colors. However, I was still able to snag a LEGO Guggenheim Set and a LEGO Smart car. Throw in a Rock Monster keychain and I had a bag of pure impulse buys, selected for completely aesthetic reasons.

So faced with a Death Star at half-price, think you'd have the willpower to resist? I did, but only because I've got a backlog of sets and projects at home. That, and I'd need a few weeks to put together the iconic battlestar.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Setting up for a convention

It's Friday morning in Raleigh and the mood is relaxed. Most people have slept in, the result of catching a midnight showing of Iron Man 2. Those who are awake are setting up their group displays -- 20 feet of LEGO buildings, trains, streets, and cars. The displays come together in chunks, with buildings arriving whole or in geometric sections.

Small bits of humor have begun to appear in the displays. Tucked behind an armada of LEGO pirate ships, an oversized monkey figure towers over a lone inhabitant of an island, who holds up bananas in an attempt to appease the massive ape. The Green Goblin, the Spider Man villain, spies on the villagers inside a medieval market season.

The LEGO Group's booth is in the back center of the room and adult fan volunteers are busy piecing together sets. I'm in the middle of building a floor for the Grand Emporium -- a kit from LEGO set designer (and adult fan) Jamie Berard. It's a sprawling tan structure that mimics a classic department store with an escalator you make from LEGO bricks.

The easy hum of conversation intermingles with the click of bricks and the "shuh," sound of a hand swiping through a Tupperware tub searching for a part. A series of lectures will begin shortly -- presentations on getting commissions from corporations to build LEGO sculptures, customizing minifigures, and the latest with Mindstorms (LEGO robotics). I too will be giving a talk on what has suprised me most about the adult fan community and how quickly I discovered that I wasn't going to become a LEGO master model builder inside of a year.

The scene outside the 10,000 square foot ballroom has dramatically changed over the course of the morning as well. Vendors have set up armies of customized minifigures, minifig-scale weapons and armor, as well as rare or old sets. At the end of the hallway, Nathan Sawaya's art sculptures sit ready on white tables. A man in red with a cracked chest and a series of playful primarily colored men -- "hug guys" -- one of which will mysteriously latch on to the convention's sign outside the hotel the next morning.

All of these are left out by trusting fans, open, for anyone to see and enjoy.

We'll pick this one up tomorrow...

Monday, May 10, 2010

Things I never expected to do this weekend

Let the Brick Magic recap commence...This past weekend, I was in Raleigh, North Carolina, for an Adult Fan of LEGO convention. Since, I shall simply relate three things I never expected to happen and then give a full account of events over the course of this week.

1. Drive an R-2 unit around a hotel bar. One of the adult fans of LEGO is also a member of the 501st and he brought his latest project -- a lifesize, remote-controlled R-2 bar. And that's I found myself piloting a droid around the Sky Box as a bartender in a referee's uniform watched in bemusement.

2. Sell out of books. 56 books entered, none left...in my hands. This was the kumite of book-selling. So, folks are either excited to read LEGO: A Love Story or were just drawn in by that new book smell.

3. Receive an early gift of a collectible minifig. They don't come out until June, but LEGO gave each attendee of Brick Magic, a free collectible minifig to take home. This post would have been up sooner, but I've spent the last five hours playing with my minifig zombie.

Image courtesy of Ttjohn12.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

LEGO is the most tech-savvy 78-year-old in the world

The technological envelope isn't supposed to be pushed by 78-year-olds. When I'm 78, I intend to be kicking back in a recliner with the volume up too loud on my television as I watch the Chicago Cubs still searching for that elusive World Series win. My biggest technological achievement will be keeping the remote from falling into the cushions.

But The LEGO Group has more ambition -- the classic toy company is reinventing itself online and through a series of new in-store displays that are designed to blow the collective minds of seven and eight-year-olds -- not an easy task for a generation that is getting harder and harder to impress.

The LEGO Digital Box is the latest example of augmented reality, wherein a digital image is superimposed over a picture captured by a webcam and projected onto a screen. So as a customer holds up a boxed set of LEGO bricks, an animated digital image of that set appears over the box. For instance a LEGO carnival comes to life when held up to the camera -- the carousel spins and the figures included move around the top of the box on the screen.

And this summer, LEGO will introduce LEGO Universe - a massive multiplayer online roleplaying game, where your avatar (digital representative) is a minifigure (LEGO man/woman) that you steer through a world constructed of LEGO elements. In this world, you can build virtually whatever you want. And at some point, I have to believe that LEGO will offer you an in-game option to download the house you designed and purchase it as a set that can be shipped to your home in real life.

It's a lot to ask for a company that started with a product line of handcrafted wooden toys. But perhaps that is why LEGO is currently so flexible -- they're relatively new to the world of electronics. Unlike a technology company that explodes on the scene, experiences massive growth, and then becomes entrenched and unable to adjust to a new VC-funded competitor - LEGO is basically an electronics start-up. Mindstorms, the company's wildly successful robotics line, is only 12 years old and they only started getting serious about licensed video games in the past five years. That means they have a grace period of about two decades before they freak out that someone has left the first animatronics minifig prototype in a mall food court.

In addition to writing a new chapter in their history, LEGO might just be writing the story for the inevitable remake of The Graduate. So in five years, 73-year-old Dustin Hoffman -- could learn a new lesson about what to do after graduation.

There's a great future for the plastics company -- it's just not entirely in plastics.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

R is For...

We are so close to finishing the Brick Encyclopedia -- me and my trusty Swedish research assistant Swen -- that I feel compelled to get up the next entry a bit quicker than usual. In addition, my reader in Greenland -- hey guy, glad you got the Internet -- is getting antsy. And I think this is a great introductory-style post for the folks who are new to the blog. So with those two truths and a lie (or two lies and a truth), R is for...

Racer X -- Who wouldn't want a brother racing anonymously to expose corruption and protect you? Ah, but what if that brother was Matthew Fox -- this is the sword of Damocles.

Ray Allen -- The basketball player was immortalized as a minifigure. He's got literal springs in his legs, although this figure is difficult for him to look at, as he is depicted wearing a Milwaukee Bucks jersey.

Rebel Pilot -- The guys who fly alongside Luke Skywalker and are blown up to advance the plot. Their uniforms are fairly close to Home Depot uniforms.

Robot -- A new line of collectable minifigures will be released by LEGO in June, the Robot is one of the 16 available. He might be my favorite.

Rock Monster -- The foil of the Power Miners -- it's hard not to like a race of rock creatures that are laser-focused on rock crystals. Plus, I just think of the rock giant in Neverending Story.

Image via pasukaru76.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Happy Launch Day, everyone


Today is officially launch day and if this is how NASA feels, I think I now understand why everyone wants to go in space.

All I know is that I've got The Glow -- let's go, World.

Image via firstatlas.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Cake toppers as relationship signifiers

I have a theory -- that extends back at least a half an hour -- that you could probably encapsulate where your relationship stands based on the cake topper you'd select for your wedding.

When my now wife and I were first dating -- I'm fairly confident we wouldn't have even had a cake topper. This is considering the one time a hotel employee delivering room service asked if we were married and both of us couldn't shout "No," fast enough.

A few years later and Kate was likely envisioning a standard cake topper, while I would have been busy constructing an elaborate back story for the figures and marching them across the table.

As for right now, it's a no doubter, I'd have suggested a LEGO cake topper.

Image via Folded Fancy's Etsy page.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

I'll have to revise my recommended age range

The book has started leaking out onto tables at bookstores and folks' front porches. And although I thought my readers might be a bit older, it appears as though this one is a hit with babies. The good news is that children are entering the digital age sooner than ever and so far all of my PayPal transactions with infants have gone smoothly.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Comics, bricks, and Jake Gyllenhaal

With the book slated to come out on May 3, I've begun to make the rounds on the Internets, offering sarcasm or sincerity depending on the virtual stop. In real life, I'm trying to find the balance between LEGO bricks and books for in my suitcase for next weekend's Brick Magic. So while I try to figure out whether I really need socks, here's where my keyboard has taken me recently:

Chris Howard has brought my character/me back in his LEGO comic, The Brick Side. He has captured how I sit beautifully. Chris also interviewed me and cover artist Nathan Sawaya on his LEGO building technique blog -- Bricks A Billion.

Brand Freak asks why are "humans, so immensely, insanely obsessed with Legos [sic]?"

The Brothers Brick has an excerpt and some nice words about the book.

And I challenged Jake Gyllenhaal to a battle for the holy grail in a guest post on the Huffington Post.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The new LEGO economy

If Second Life introduced the concept of a second or virtual economy, perhaps LEGO bricks could offer up a tertiary economy. The Baltimore Sun has a link to Punk Rock Gardens -- a community gardening blog that covers gardening tips and interesting stories in Pennsylvania.

The blog's recent topic of choice? The intersection of landscape design and adult fans of LEGO. Your lawn has never looked as green as when it was rendered in LEGO bricks. The entry looks at how an adult fan has been inspired by a garden designer and vice versa -- it's a cool bit of people benefitting from each other's expertise.

I've been amazed to discover the number of ways in which people are customizing and accessorizing LEGO minifigures, vehicles, and sets. Welcome to the new LEGO economy.

Image via Punk Rock Gardens.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Q is for...

The Brick Encyclopedia is entering the home stretch -- meaning the tiny wordsmiths who run this place have begun to slow down, nobody likes to put themselves out of a job. But with promises of cake in the break room and a good word with HR, they're back to cranking out entries.

And so, Q is for...

Quatro -- a short-lived LEGO theme for children one to three years old that lasted only as long as its recommended age range (from 2004 to 2006). Quatro bricks were four times the size of standard bricks.

Quik -- the Nestle rabbit was immortalized as a LEGO in two promotional sets for the chocolate maker. The Trix bunny still hasn't gotten over the slight.

Qa, Misa -- a Japanese builder, who produces beautiful LEGO animals that evoke the style of origami.

Qui-Gon Jinn -- two versions of this Star Wars Jedi exist -- one in flesh tones, the other in Simpsons' yellow. This is the only way that Liam Neeson could ever be captured.

Image via Brickshelf: Misa Qa.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Marvel and LEGO? Could it have been?

What ifs are like horseshoes, everybody has one. But this "what if," caught my eye, if for no other reason that I'm looking for a new video game.

Game Rant points to a recent Tweet from Jon Burton of TT Games, which suggests that a LEGO Marvel game was a real possibility until MEGA Brands (the makers of MEGA Bloks) deal for the Spider-Man franchise. And once Spider-Man was out of the picture, the game stalled.

At a brick convention several years back, I saw an Iron Man minifig with a glowing LED light in his chest and I have to tell you LEGO Marvel characters are pretty fantastic. Or the makers could go in a completely new direction and employ the use of CubeDudes -- equally excellent superheroes.

So here's hoping the two star-crossed franchises can one day be together.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

As good at it gets

Two copies of the book arrived from the publisher yesterday and sat inside an envelope for an hour and a half as I waited for my wife to come home from work. That was a long wait for someone who habitually struggles with patience.

It's a wonderful feeling to hold a book you've written in your hands. It's official, I'm a published author. I love books and I'm overjoyed that my book could be on someone's bookshelf now.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

LEGO Certified Professional Sean Kenney takes a walk on the wild side -- Part Two

And we now return for the exciting conclusion of our two-part interview with LEGO Certfied Professional Sean Kenney. When we last left our intrepid blog writer, he was in the middle (THE MIDDLE!) of a Q&A with Kenney on his wondrous new exhibit -- Creatures of Habitat: A Gazillion-Piece Animal Adventure -- at the Philadelphia Zoo that is raising awareness of endangered animals through LEGO sculptures.

Was there anything that surprised you, once you began building the models?

I created three rainforest dioramas... They were scale models that showed, first, a healthy rainforest, then the bad guys cutting down the trees, and finally the good guys replanting the rainforest. As with all my models, I had to first plan them out and figure out what kinds of parts I'd need and how much of each. For the healthy rainforest, I figured "Okay, I'm going to need about 25 trees to fill this area. So I made varying-sized and -shaped trees to fill the space. When they were in place I stepped back and said, "I need 50 more!" It really gave me an appreciation for how dense, lush, and populated the rainforests really are. I kept adding more trees, more animals, more underbrush, more rocks, more more more... eventually I had to stop, because even though it was looking more and more true-to-life, it was becoming so dense that you couldn't actually see into the diorama to appreciate the wildlife!

Building the rainforest dioramas also made me realize what's going on in those arts of the world and why, specifically. We've all heard the campaigns, "save the rainforest" all our lives and, we all say "yes, sure, it's terrible" but we shrug it off because it's so removed and distant and abstract. But actually seeing these little scale models specifically shows you what's going on and seeing it with your own eyes makes it clear and obvious. And better yet, the info-graphics at the installations explain to kids what they can do in their day-to-day lives to make a difference... easy things like choosing certain brands of shampoo or pencils over another.

While art is one part of the animal pieces, there's also a focus on raising awareness about endangered animals. Do you think LEGO bricks are a good medium for
achieving that goal?

Actually, I do. At first blush, it might seem unusual to use fake animals to promote the welfare of live ones ("didn't we come to the zoo to see REAL animals?"). But it's eerily poignant, because if people don't commit to helping save these creatures' habitats, there may not be any left to ever see in person. And soon. One bird we created, for example, doesn't even exist in the wild anymore; it only exists in zoos.

Plus, kids have fun at zoos .. animals are cool, but learning about them is usually a drag. These exhibits are like playtime! Kids will come up thinking, "wow, what's this all about?" and before long they're learning the stories about conservation.

I think that LEGO bricks are a particularly green toy. Have you ever known anyone to throw one out? How many toys will stay relevant to a child from the age of 5 to the age of 12? Most kids are sick of a toy after 6 months and it ends up in a landfill, but you'll be giving your childhood LEGO collection to your grandkids.

Got a favorite animal among what you built?
I really like the installation we did of the Golden Lion Tamarins. They are very tiny monkeys that are only about a foot long. We set them up in a real animal habitat, so as you're walking along looking at reptiles and Macaws, you stumble onto this habitat with 12 bright orange monkeys built with LEGO bricks. They seem almost frozen in time... climbing on branches, grooming each other, perched atop rock faces, and trolling through tall grass. It's a lot of fun because of all that, but monkeys in particular are so expressive, and so looking at their facial expressions is great too... one monkey is holding a stick up in front of his face, examining it curiously with one eyebrow raised.