Friday, January 29, 2010

The world of LEGO muscle cars

When trying to relate building with LEGO bricks as a hobby or obsession to people, I'll often draw the comparison to somebody who spends most weekend afternoons or weekday nights in their garage working on a classic car. But there's no reason that the two have to be mutually exclusive.

If you're a car nut and a LEGO nut -- you might as well design some sweet rides, even if you can't get behind the wheel. Jalopnik has a quick profile and lots of photos from Finnish builder Johannes Rojola, who has managed to build a Vanagon, station wagon, and nearly every meaningful American muscle car from the past half-century.

When you're ready to fully dive in to the world of LEGO cars, visit LUGNuts -- an online collection of car builders that regularly feature drool-worthy hot rods. If you prefer your models moving, here's a 2006 video of a robotic LEGO car that can self-park.

Image via psiaki.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

BrickArms and the world of LEGO customization

Man has never really been content to just leave things alone. We can't help modifying or tweaking or painting the cave walls. So it was never a surprise that a world of LEGO customizers exists among adult fans, but what was surprising was just how advanced the techniques have become and how viable the market is for customized minifigures and LEGO accessories.

Right there at the forefront is Will Chapman -- BrickArms (makers of weapons, accessories, and minifigures) owner and fabricator. Chapman is profiled in the cover story of February's Wired magazine (via The Brothers Brick). He has used molds and a cutter to make everything from bazookas to paintball markers to a gun in a spy briefcase -- all of which are meant to wielded by minifigures.

We are tinkerers and it's fun to see what a bit of ingenuity can bring to new LEGO creations.

Image via floodllama.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

There's no escaping adult fandom

The reality of being an adult fan of LEGO is not something that is going to disappear any time soon -- a point that keeps being hammered home to me on a daily basis.

"Are you going to get rid of all of these LEGO bricks when the book comes out?" a friend recently asked when viewing the tubs and storage cases that dominate the white shelves of my office.

"No, I'll still build, it's too much fun not to," was my measured response. What I first thought was: I can't give this up, it's a part of who I am now.

The second reminder was slightly more light-hearted. For a working journalist, who owns easily 100 pens -- I somehow never have more than two pens near me at any given time. And when one inevitably won't write, I'm often down to the spare before the interview has even started. As it turns out, the spare in my laptop bag was my LEGO Yoda pen -- which I've used on several occasions and remarkably tends to put interview subjects of any age at ease.

Image via Joe Shlabotnik.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It all starts with a single brick

It's Christmas morning. You tear open the wrapping. Turn over the box. Rip open the box. Shake out the parts. Tear open the bags. And then forget about every other gift in an effort to build what you have coveted as fast as is child-ly possible.

Your first LEGO set -- if you're lucky enough to remember it -- is one of those anchors of childhood. Web guru Chris Pirillo recently posted an old home movie of his first LEGO set that includes the joy of feetie pajamas and the magic of finding what you want in your stocking.

As for me, it was set 1082 -- a collection of red and blue slopes and roofing tiles -- a box I got to revisit in the set vault at LEGO headquarters in Billund, Denmark. It was like seeing an old friend with all of the same butterflies and feelings of nostalgia shinkwrapped together.

Image via L. Marie.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The tale of the AFOL: An interview with writer John Baichtal

The story of adult fans of LEGO is one that has remained largely untold to date. But John Baichtal -- a contributing writer at Makezine and Wired -- is working to change that in a new book that profiles adult fans and their building styles. I caught up with him via e-mail to ask about the progress of his project and what's it like to be playing with LEGO bricks with his own kids.

Could you describe the book you're currently working on and where it stands right now?

The book, co-written with BrickJournal's Joe Meno, describes the culture of adult fans of Lego -- not only the died-in-the-wool AFOLs who go to Brickworld and post to Brickshelf, but also non-fandom grownups who inexplicably reach for that old box of bricks to help them solve a problem, create a work of art or prototype a new invention. I'd say the book is about 85% done, and is currently going through rewrites.

When you started writing, did you think of yourself as an adult fan of LEGO? Do you today?

I love Lego -- one of the things I learned in writing this book is that the AFOL culture is a very tightly-knit and influential group but its values don't necessarily represent those of adult Lego fans who may not want to go to LUG meetings, post MOCs or attend conventions. I think I'd put myself in the second group, whereas Joe is immersed in the AFOL scene as much as anyone in the world. That different viewpoint is what makes us a great team!

Has anybody's story or creation stuck with you, either because of creativity or uniqueness?

I don't want to single out any builders as being more awesome than others. We tried to get a good mix of famous names as well as noobs. Some of the best works we included, in my opinion, were by newcomers to the AFOL scene or not part of it at all. That said, my favorite overarching themes have been surrealism (e.g. Zhang), and apocalego (e.g. Fedde).

As a Geekdad, what's it like to play with LEGO bricks with the next generation?

It was something of a reality check. I was expecting instant love, but there were stumbling blocks. First, the more complicated elements are hard for little kids to figure out. My youngest two are 4 and 5 1/2, and they love the IDEA of building a model (my son got the Krusty Krab set for Christmas) but actually sitting down and doing it is too much for them right now. Second, kids have so many toys and activities these days -- interactive games like Wii or the Internet grab kids so much more readily than a bunch of bricks. Nevertheless, my son's bedroom floor is covered in Lego bricks as I write this.

Are there any of the LEGO sets that you have would have flipped for as a kid?

I think I would have liked Mars Mission, Agents and Pirates of all the recent lines. In particular, the Pirates galleons are amazing and I would have flipped over them.

Have you discovered what it is in LEGO bricks that brings out our inner geek?

I just love the quality of the bricks' design & manufacture, the creativity that Lego puts into its sets, and how the company continually challenges itself to innovate and diversify. It's not hard to appreciate something so well done.

Image via Kennymatic.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Hold on to your citrus, LEGOLAND Florida is coming

East Coasters and Floridians rejoice -- you will apparently no longer need to travel across the country to experience the wonder of LEGOLAND.

Merlin Entertainments announced Thursday that it will be opening LEGOLAND Florida at the site of the former Cypress Gardens theme park in Winter Haven, Florida. The announcement came with a coup de grace -- 100,000 LEGO bricks were dumped next to the podium from a bulldozer.

The new park will have between 40 and 50 attractions with some elements of Cypress Gardens remaining (such as the historic gardens which includes a massive Banyan tree planted in 1939) at the park in Central Florida. The idea of integrating LEGO sculptures with a traditional garden could make for some very interesting Miniland features or park surprises.

No word yet on the fate of the Southern Belles -- the greeters to the garden that were a nod to the antebellum South -- or the attached water park. LEGOLAND Florida is expected to open in 2011.

Image via the Orlando Sentinel.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Come a little closer my pretties

Today, I'm writing the back cover and flap (inside of the cover) copy for the book. It is the kind of thing you never think about until the task is before you.

Imagine yourself in a bookstore. When you're browsing, you probably look at the title and cover art first. After that, you'll the book over, read the author blurb or see what people have written about the story. Then, it's up to the paragraph-long description on the back to entice you to crack the book open.

Then you'll read a few pages or scan the chapter titles. And then, maybe, just maybe, you'll buy the book or ask for it for Christmas. So that's my goal for today, to figure out how to suck you into the incredible world of adult fans of LEGO -- to tantalize you with stories of awe-inspiring buildings, fantastical collections, and an eye-opening trip into the secret vault at LEGO headquarters. Interested yet? A little, right?

What if I interviewed master model builders, got to see the model graveyard and where models are repaired at LEGOLAND, and walked through the factory while Star Wars storm troopers minifigures were being produced by the thousands.

This is why I watched Reading Rainbow -- I think I'm ready to present my book to the other kids.

Image via Milan Madge.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

We grow up so fast

For the first time I gave away a set that I was intending to build. I'm not sure if this is progress -- in that I'm sharing something I love -- as it was harder to do than I expected. And I suspect that I will be buying the Space Skulls set again to make it like the gifting never happened.

It's a funny thing to be conflicted about giving a gift, wherein I recognize that someone else can I experience the joy as an adult that I've felt over the past several years, while still wishing that that joy didn't have to happen with bricks I owned. The nice thing is that the former well outweighs the latter, the weird thing is that the latter exists at all.

I guess this means I'm just growing up a bit when it comes to my LEGO habit. And it seemed like just yesterday I was getting my first set and playing with a loose box of DUPLO bricks on a wooden table. Kiss your adult fans ladies (and gentlemen) -- they won't stay this mental age forever.

Image via Teskov.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

All your ideas will now come with LEGO lightbulbs

I am slightly late to the party on this one, but LEGO Click deserves a mention in this space. The social networking/idea generation/children of all ages interactive Website is part marketing effort/brand extension/Kool-Aid to be drunk.

The Click site is responsible for the iPhone application that allows you to turn a picture on your phone into a LEGO mosaic. The general idea appears to be to encourage inventors and creatives to get together at LEGO Click and uncover interesting new ideas for the plastic brick.

In order to announce the site, there is a short video that uncovers the secret to generating great ideas via stop-motion animation. The tale of the struggling inventor is a testament to imagination in its design and quirkly plot -- take 3 minutes and 19 seconds off from work, you'll enjoy it.

Image via LEGO.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The coolest drinking glass I own

A family friend recently gave me a LEGO-inspired gift. He is a glassblower and created a tumbler from two colors of glass -- one of which is the doppelganger for the translucent green windshields found in the classic Space sets.

It was a nice reminder of how LEGO bricks can inspire your imagination in any number of ways. It is also fun -- if a bit embarrassing -- to make rocket ship noises while drinking iced tea. Everything is more fun with rocket ship noises, if you need corroboration of that fact, I shall refer you to my infant daughter.

I believe this is a color that Pantone should consider adding to their color spectrum -- space windshield green. Perhaps we should start a Twitter or Facebook petition to request this...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Now in book-form

I spent the last hour before midnight curled up on my couch with a book and it may have been my favorite of all time. Although "Under the Dome," by Stephen King is waiting on a file cabinet in my office and "Ad Hoc At Home," by Thomas Keller is on the dining room table -- both took a distant backseat to the collection of copied pages bound together by rubber band. For you see, this was my book.

When I came home last night, the typeset pages for the book were waiting between my screen door and front door. This is why man invented anticipation because the arrival of what you're waiting for could not be sweeter.

And so, I began reading through the pages. In the coming days, that will be the time to find grammar mistakes or sentences that fail the comprehension test. But for right now, there is only the joy of seeing one's thoughts on paper.

Monday, January 11, 2010

L is for...

Almost half-way through the brick encyclopedia, today brings us to "L" -- the very beginning of LEGO. As such, here are the important "L" words for you to know in relation to the plastic brick.

L is for Lamborghini. This is a tiny feat of engineering -- a 1 to 17 scale model of the Lamborghini Gallardo. It will look perfect in the MOC of Rodeo Drive that you're working on.

L is for Landspeeder. The hovering ship piloted by Luke Skywalker in the beginning of Star Wars -- the LEGO version has a hidden lightsaber compartment and undeniable fanboy charm.

L is for Lando Calrissian. The minifigure alter ego of Billy Dee Williams -- it sports one of the finest mustaches in all the LEGO Universe.

L is for LEGOLAND. Close in spelling, but very different than LEGO Lando -- there are currently four LEGO-inspired theme parks in Denmark, England, Germany, and the United States. If you have kids, head here on vacation. Even if you don't, head here on vacation.

L is for Lava Monster. The villains in the new Power Miners sets. The Lava Monsters hate rain and are the same devious creatures that caused you to have to jump from couch to couch in an effort to avoid the "lava" in your living room.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The burgeoning world of custom LEGO elements

It's one thing to make your LEGO minifig accessories or weapons -- it's a whole 'nother ballgame to replicate bricks and elements yourself. Make brings to the light the story of how Andrew Plumb is using a laser cutter to create plates that could hold LEGO elements.

Could we be moving towards a customizable market where adult fans can either invent new pieces or solve some of the scarcity issues for rare or expensive parts? And if a part were to then become popular independently, perhaps LEGO might be encouraged to manufacture it.

Regardless, this gives a whole new meaning to LEGO Factory.

Image via Make Magazine

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Here comes LEGO Universe

LEGO Universe continues to move closer to seeing the light of day -- a demo version and extended trailer from game developer NetDevil debuts today at the Consumer Electronics Show -- and it's exciting to think that something I've been curious about since 2008 will be up and running by the end of the year.

The Massively Multiplayer Online title is an entire world built out of LEGO bricks and elements, where your avatar (in-game persona) is a LEGO minifigure. This week, the cover story of the Denver Westword News is about the game's development.

It covers the tricky issues of product testing, copyrighted or inappropriate characters generated in LEGO bricks, and how adult fans of LEGO are helping to shape the game.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

LEGO Bowtie one on

I've seen minifig earrings and cufflinks in person, but I've yet to meet someone who is rocking a LEGO belt buckle or bowtie -- but if the latest fashion trends are any indication, it's just a matter of time.

The New York Daily News profiled Dee and Ricky (click through just for the joy that is the oversized Russian winter hat that Ricky is wearing indoors) Jackson -- fashion designers whose stock and trade is creating accessories out of LEGO bricks.

Their story is what makes LEGO products so endearing -- that the brothers from Staten Island were able to change their lives through their own imaginations. The article ends on one of the finest quotes I've read in a while:

"It's easier than dealing drugs. We are flipping bricks -- Lego bricks."

Image via Brooklynyall.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The robot that was meant for game shows

The long-awaited marriage of a 1970's game show and robotics has finally arrived -- thanks to a team of Spanish inventors.

A research group at the University of Malaga in Spain has apparently developed a LEGO Mindstorms NXT robot that can name a tune and in the same fashion as Pandora, then recommend similar titles you may like.

The robot can identify a song if you hum it, whistle it, play it on piano or guitar. After determing the song, the robot will then recommend a playlist that accounts for the gender of the singer. This is the kind of robot everybody should own. There is no danger of societal takeover and it manages to solve one of the life's most irritating issues by suggesting an alternative for when a song is stuck on repeat in your head.

Image via EFE/Jorge Zapata

Monday, January 4, 2010

Here for your amusement

I've never really liked amusement parks. When I was young I was too small to ride most of the roller coasters, so by the time I got bigger and older, I never had any desire to take on the biggest, baddest rides in the park.

As a result, I'm usually drawn to spin-y, Teacup-style rides and anything that simulates a log rolling down a water slide in the manner of a flume. However, these are not the kind of rides that can sustain an afternoon -- in addition, the flume ride in Ohio tends to pretty similar to the one in Ontario. And that's because the folks who get on flume rides have exactly that expectation -- that this flume ride shall be uneventful, if a bit soggy.

However, visiting LEGOLAND Billund and California as an adult has dramatically changed my worldview on amusement parks -- I have since tripled the number of roller coasters I've been on in my life (rocketing from one to three) and discovered that amusement

If you doubt that you can enjoy LEGOLAND as an adult, read through this comprehensive post from The Brothers Brick on visiting the park when you're old enough to drive there yourself. To those of you who were like me, leading a life sans amusement -- it may change your neat and risk-free mind.

Image via eyeliam.