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.

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

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 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 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.