The Culling of the Flickrsphere or How SmugMug Changed a MOCer’s Refuge.

It must be a full moon because the Manifesto has new content from an old friend of the blog.  You may remember Werewolff Studios from his frequent offerings in the comment section here, or his memorable Blog or Die! essay from 2017.  Our fanged Australian correspondent has some thoughts on recent developments in our shared hobby, so without further ado, take it away Mr. Wolff!

Greetings all! Resident lycanthrope here, and I hope you’re all doing well. I won’t waste much time here, because I want to get into the meat of this post and I’ve spent too long procrastinating as per usual.

Procrastination-300x232So, for those living under a rather large pile of rocks, you’ve probably all heard of the recent shake-up over on Flickr, namely the culling of the one free terabyte of space originally offered to all free users. Following on from this, they proceeded to limit available photos on free accounts to 1000, which seems an awful lot larger than it actually is.

I’ve been wanting to write something about this for awhile, but held off for a number of reasons. One was too see how the community at large would respond, another was to wait until I could collect my thoughts fully.

Mostly though, I reckon I was waiting for someone much betterer at article writing than me to smash out a response. Ah well. I guess you’re stuck with my crock of half-baked nonsense.

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Now, first things first, I completely get the business side of this move. Storing the countless millions of photos that fill the Flickr-sphere can’t be cheap, and a push for pro accounts seems like a relatively logical step. Plus, it’s not like everyone’s being left out to dry. Pro accounts were 30% off during the month after the announcement and the actual removal of user’s data will only start to take effect on February 5 next year.

Wait…removal?

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Yep, now we come to the main part of this whole mess. Starting in February, free user’s with over a 1000 photos will have all their images deleted, from oldest to newest, until the number reaches 1000. Post any more, and away goes another photo, never to return.

Understandably, this has left quite a few users upset (including several here, I’m sure). I too have been left feeling rather dejected (despite my current photo level sitting at 108), and what’s left me feeling flatter than roadkill is the realisation that the safe haven for the Lego community that Flickr has become has started to crumble.

For me, it started with MOCpages, and through that website I began to find my little place in the online community. I met people, made friends and had discussions with others whose interests aligned with my own. For a pretty introverted kid, it was brilliant.

But over time, I began to notice the ‘Pages decline. Though I’d always said I’d stick with it until the end, I began to realise that more and more people were leaving the site. They were fleeing the sinking ship and hopping on board the HMS Flickrtastic. Eventually I bit the bullet and made a Flickr account, intent to have it as a back-up.

Then came Decisive Action 3, and everything changed.

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All of a sudden, the dying website of MOCpages had it’s life support kicked into gear. The activity bar started to crackle back to life, and every attack window brought a wealth of discussion and conversation that could go on for ages. And then there were the private groups, both on and off of the Pages, racking up the ideas and plans for global domination.

Heck, the private group for the Host of Immeasurable Destruction, Dooming Enemies Nationally (*wink wink*) racked up over 3547 comments, with over 29 conversation threads by the end, and it wasn’t even the main group! And it all happened over four months.

The proof was in the numbers. Builders were coming back, and there was fresh blood at every turn. MOCer’s who’d only heard of MOCpages in passing suddenly had accounts and were posting regularly. The main page actually had rotating posts, to the point where you had to plan exactly when was the optimal time to upload, to ensure that your nation got the most MILPO possible. It was intense and it was brilliant.

Note that word ‘was’.

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Yes, dear readers. I’m sure those that were playing, or even those spectating , remember those days of pure frustration. Despite giving the absolute best possible staging ground, the old site refused to meet the demands it’s occupants put forth. For some unexplained reason, the servers decided to change. Then the classic ‘Bonk Smash Thud’ message became as common as missed attack windows.

Carefully laid tactics and time-based attacks were abruptly ruined by downtimes, builds disappeared off the homepage after being there for mere minutes, trolls dragging them down into the abyss. Were we hacked? I’m pretty sure we were hacked at some point.

And then, near the end, our valiant Overlord Goldman contacted Mr. Sean Kenny directly, using the website that Sean was the most active on; Twitter. After receiving nothing back, our Overlord tried again, a little more forcefully, trying to get something, anything, out of the captain of the leaky site.

Welp, he certainly got something.

He got blocked.

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No response, no acknowledgement, no answers; just blocked. That was it. Keith and the DAS decided to end DA3 shortly after. It just wasn’t sustainable and nobody was enjoying the experience to the level that they should’ve been. Was it disappointing? Of course it was. I personally had a whole plan laid out to backstab my team, than backstab the backstabbers. I had builds in the pipeline, ready to go for the sudden MILPO boost I needed.

However, the real question was this; was it justified? Yes, it was. For me, this was the last straw. The Pages were crumbling too fast. The story-telling group I was a part of had dropped in it’s activity as well, and there just wasn’t any real reason to stay. I had to try going somewhere else, refocus my time on a website that mattered. So, with that I packed my bags and leapt onto the still floating life raft that Flickr had extended.

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Flickr was my refuge. Though I was (and still am) admittedly more involved with the art community there, I had friends to talk with again. I had activity, I had more followers, I had room to grow. That shift in thinking really helped me at the time, despite only being a few months ago.

And then SmugMug came along and decided to switch everything up.

That room to grow was suddenly stifled. I had had plans to migrate my 43 episodes strong Insurgency story over to Flickr, but now I couldn’t. Doing so would bump me up over the 1000 photo limit, and any future episodes would demolish past ones. If I truly wanted to migrate everything over, the Pro account was the only option. It was a strongarm grip to pay up or stay quiet.

True, it wasn’t as bad as the MP crash. I still had people to talk to, and there was, and is, little wrong with Flickr’s software when compared to the Pages. But still, I could feel the first gentle rocks against the ship, not dissimilar to those I’d felt before.

How long will SmugMug be satisfied with this push for Pro Users? Will they decide in a few months to drop the photo limit to 800, or 500, or 50? Will they ban photo-posting from free accounts? Will they stay quiet as the community cries out for changes? I’m not sure, and that’s a scary thing.

I think, in the end, it seems like an uncertain time for those in this Online Lego Community. There doesn’t seem to be an entirely reliable place to turn to, a website that meets the needs of this little internet niche. Instagram is an option, but for a more story-focused builder like myself, it’s not ideal. Our good friend LukeClarenceVan had started building a website that shows an awful lot of promise (seriously, go check out the MOCshare discussion page here), but he’s understandably busy, and it’ll be awhile before it’s fully up and running.

The MP refuge is starting to shift, the Flickrsphere is adapting. The future of this community sits on somewhat loose ground, without a space to set its foundation. Who rightly knows how it’ll all turn out?

Thanks for reading all.

Wolff.

Tales of a BrickLink Vendor: The Starving Artist

Welcome back to the Manifesto’s irregular feature by the highly irregular BrickLink vendor Chris Byrne.  Please recall that Chris didn’t seek me out to pimp his online store, I asked him to write the following article and I hope it won’t be his last. What you’re about to read is as close to advertising as you’ll ever see on this blog of blogs. Chris was kind enough to include a discount for you guys, even though I told him it was a terrible idea and begged him not to.  So if you have any burning questions you’ve always wanted to ask a BrickLink vendor, have at it in the comments.

Use the phrase MANIFESTO at checkout to get 10% off your BrickLink order at www.bricksonthedollar.com

Without any further ado, take it away Chris!

I bet you thought I was dead. Nope, just worked to death. Last we spoke, I had opened my retail store Warminster Brick Shop and was pulling myself out of debt caused by an all-too-comfortable BrickLink path. Opening the store was just what I needed to turn everything around. I now have a steady stream of used parts from the store which are going into my BrickLink store, several ongoing consignors for my Fulfilled By Clutch program selling your parts in my BrickLink store, and I am living debt-free. There is one reckless path that I am still following though, and that is the subject of this post. My LEGO Artwork passion project which has not, and may never pay for itself. The AFOL Poster Subscription Service.

Every month since January of 2017 I have commissioned artists from around the world to produce an original piece of art that I can sell in poster form. The prompt is simple, “pick a LEGO set and re-imagine it in your own style.” I have released 25 posters from 19 different artists and there are many more to come. Unfortunately, my tallest hurdle in this project has been getting these posters in front of the right eyes. There are plenty of AFOLs, but how many of you would really buy a very nice piece of paper instead of just buying more bricks? But perhaps I am being to harsh. Who has wall space for 25 different 11″x17″ posters? I tend to produce goods and services that I myself would enjoy as a customer. While I would buy (almost) all of these posters for myself, I can’t expect every AFOL to love or even like most of them. If I am to settle for AFOLs buying their favorites, then I just need a wider range of buyers being aware of the releases.

Something interesting happened about a week ago. I was feeling proud of my latest poster release and I was feeling the crush of MailChimp’s monthly fees weighing on my lack of motivation to send out emails. I sent out an email to my list with a simple message: here’s my October 2018 poster and here’s a link to buy it. It was either the art itself, the direct, in-your-face way of presenting a call to action, or a combination of both. I sold a bunch. I’ll be doing that more often. I’m also signing that artist on to do a suite of posters in the next year.

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I started this project because I had always been fascinated by the artwork of the Surma Brothers. They were featured on The Brothers Brick & The New Elementary a few years ago and they later had a spread in Bricks Culture Magazine. Marcin and Przemek Surma of Poland have created over 100 pieces of art following the same prompt. In 2015 they went on a hiatus from their LEGO-themed art. I craved more. In starting my poster series, I managed to book Marcin to do my March 2017 poster for Sail N’ Fly Marina, cementing my place in the LEGO art selection…as far as a google search goes.

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To be honest, I really don’t know how to make this project turn a profit. I would definitely have quit by now if bringing new LEGO Art to the world on a monthly basis wasn’t so thrilling to me. What was there before I started having these created? The Surma Brothers, the art of Guido Kuip, and the Ice Planet 2002

artwork that I know you saw at least once by Blizzard artist Luke Mancini. If there are more artists who have been creating artwork like this with a LEGO theme, please let me know, but I found there to be a real lack of choices in late 2016. All of my posters are available individually or through a monthly subscription. I would also like to put out a coffee table book which would feature all of the artwork to date, the rough drafts, info on the artists, and depictions of the original LEGO sets. I have a feeling that the book will sell better than the posters and may quite possible be the thing that pays for the art, making the poster sales the supplemental income for the project.

So now you know why I do it. All there is left to do now is to check out the artwork that has been released so far and provide me feedback. What do you like, what do you hate, who would you like to see create my next poster? As always, all can be seen at bricksonthedollar.com or more specifically for this article, afolposter.com.

When next I write you, it will be about the LEGO T-shirt subscription that Kevin Hinkle and myself have been producing for 5 months now.

Chris Byrne

Shout-out: Return of the Twees

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After dusting off my membership card, it appears that I still have writing privileges here, although I have no article for you constant readers this time. I come instead bearing news of the return of fellow important laygo blag, Twee Affect. While the rest of the laygo community was yabba-dabba-do-ing over the latest Lego Ideas announcement, I was diligently checking their web site’s home page until the action on my F5 key loosened like an AWFOL’s purse strings at the prospect of a new Star Wars miniature figure. Poasts at the Affect over the last couple of years have been few and far between (something it has in common with this blag) but the past week has seen a barrage of new content with the promise of more to come. While short, the Affect’s art-icles often address topical issues in the hobby, interspersed with valuable insights about soap. Just the intellectual medicine that this community desperately needs, but probably doesn’t deserve.

The current resurgence comes courtesy of Kevoh, who writes from the perspective of a man playing catch up with MOCs he’s missed from his past few years of inactivity. I’m sure the ever-discerning readership of the Manifesto will get a kick out of his musings in the absence of Manifesto content (speaking of inactivity, the cobwebs around here are now officially SHIP-sized). One of Kevoh’s latest poasts concerns the supposed lack of interaction in the laygo community, and I hope you prove him wrong by offering some valued opinions.

Ted Talks – LOZ 4 LULZ

Hey Kentucky! Welcome back to the Manifesto and more importantly to our regular feature Ted Talks, where friend of the blog and bon vivant Ted Andes shares his wit and wisdom on a wide variety of topics.  Without further ado, take it away Ted!

“I’m just waiting for my man.”

Many regrettable life decisions have been made after an acquaintance says something like, “Hey. I’ve got something really cool that you might be interested in.”  It is usually something taboo, like in those cautionary tales of an “after-school special”, or shown in a public service ad; “Just Say No.”.  Of course YOU would never consider doing such things, and yet here you are.  It is no longer hypothetical. Someone has “the stuff” conveniently placed in front of you, right here, right now.  What do you do?  There is no harm in having a little taste, right?… But that little taste is all it takes.  You have just become another statistic, jonesing for your next fix.  I’m not talking about the dangers of playing MMORPG-style video games, or putting back a couple shots of Malört.  I’m talking about what lurks in the deepest, darkest, yet most adorable corner of the LEGO clone brick underworld. I’m talking about LOZ.

 “Ahhhh… That’s the stuff.”

For those not familiar with LOZ, here are some links to their websites.  I would guess that the vast majority of you reading this would walk the path of the righteous, and not give these parts a second thought; “Yet another Chinese company blatantly knocking off LEGO sets?  And knocking off the alt-build designs of AFOL’s too? Boooooo!!!” That’s what I had thought too… but there is a catch that you might not have expected from seeing the photos of their pirated sets; all of their parts have been shrunken down to 3/4 the scale of their LEGO sized counterparts.

Customer Site: LOZ Diamond Building Blocks iBlock Fun | Loz-blocks

Corporate Site: http://loz.en.alibaba.com/ (scroll down to watch their corporate video)

Zhenfeng toys – “20years – Plastic toys, Building block & Baby potty / With Rich Professional Experience”

Based on their corporate website, it looks like LOZ is mainly focused on targeting the European markets.  The numbers seem too evenly balanced on their map (almost everything is set at 10%), so who really knows for sure.

Flint Griffin (a.k.a. “Random Vector”) was the acquaintance giving out demos at Brickworld Chicago to anyone who wanted to give them some play; “You want to see the most adorable bricks ever? It will blow your mind!” he said, or something to that effect.  “If you build something cool with them, I’ll even let you keep the MOC.”   The first time he beckoned, I was still busy getting that darned speeder coaster to work.  Once Saturday’s public display hours had ended, however, I needed a little something to take the edge off.  “Give me a hit of that micro play brick, will ya?”

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“Psst. Over here….  Aren’t these the most adorable bricks you’ve ever seen?”

Huddled around a back table at Brickworld, we gathered and played with Flint’s random pile of LOZ.  Once the visceral reactions to these being pirated bricks had subsided, the novelty of these pint-sized parts shined through. For those of us that have the LEGO parts catalog ingrained into our psyche when we build, the transition to using LOZ was relatively seamless.  Whenever I started wondering if LOZ had made such-and-such a part, sure enough I found it on the table; Pneumatic T’s? Technic bricks? Clips with bars? Click-hinges? Dishes? Travis (Jr.) bricks? Printed BrickHeadz eyes?  Yes to all.  LOZ has made a three-quarters-scale copy of most new LEGO parts you might wonder about… and of course in the typical LEGO colors.  It really was just like building with shrunken down LEGO parts.  (I’d be curious to see the reactions of people who thought they were actually buying standard scale LEGO knock-offs, only to find much smaller bricks upon receipt… priceless).  They even have some of the parts you always wished LEGO would make, like double-sided plates with studs on both sides.

This sharing (plagiarizing) of the LEGO parts catalog is both a blessing and a curse.  Many times sitting at the table, I was thinking “I’ll just stop here and finish the rest at home with my own LEGO parts… Oh wait. I can’t. These aren’t LEGO, and mine won’t work with them.”   Putting random pieces together, I noticed that the part quality was really good. The only breakage I had witnessed was on a small chain linkage, which was understandable. The parts can be really difficult to both assemble and separate at that scale, so having their 3/4 scaled brick separator would have definitely helped at the time (they do actually make one!).

Before playing with these LOZ bricks, I would never have given them a second thought.  No way would I ever be interested in messing with them, let alone buy them. Who needs them? Who cares?…  But in the setting of a brick convention, they made for the prefect curiosity; a jigsaw puzzle, drawing like-minded builders around a table together to “MOC and chill”.  Part, part, pass.

“Stop and think about everyone you are hurting.”

LOZ were brought back into my consciousness a couple weeks ago, after I saw a post on flickr about the latest LOZ set; a knock-off of the LEGO VW Beetle and Gerald Cacas’s alternate build.  Here are the links to do the comparison; LOZ  Vs  “My alternate MOC was cloned!!!”

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“SHAME!!!  … SHAME!!!!”

Seeing the blatant plagiarism of Gerald’s design, the reactions from the building community were as expected, including the suggestion that he “sell instructions so they lose sales.”  However that is not exactly a counter move against LOZ, since they are selling a 3/4 scale version, using 3/4 scale bricks. The only way that would impact LOZ is if they in turn have their own knock-off competitor, also making all of the LEGO parts at their 3/4 scale size (is that meta enough for you?).

Gerald mentioned that he tried to reach out to The LEGO Group (TLG) to let them know, but he said that they just shrugged their shoulders. It makes you wonder what TLG ‘s strategy is in defending their intellectual property (IP) when it comes to LOZ:

  • Did TLG balk since their main brick patent had expired, and the 3/4 scale parts are not a direct 1-for-1 knock-off (unlike the worst offender, LEPIN)?
  • When the cloning is being done in China, is the Great Wall of government protectionism and red tape is not worth the effort to surmount?… or is it a situation of “Sigh. We know. Just add it to the pile.”?
  • At this stage, what IP does TLG consider the most vital to protect? The LEGO trademarks? The set designs?  Their other individual part designs? The minifig? … We all know how they feel about anyone calling the building blocks “LEGOS” vs. “LEGO bricks” (to protect the brand), and any photo leaks of to-be-released set designs (to ensure they are first-to-market before any bootlegs can surface).

On top of all of those TLG specific considerations, there are also all of the licensed themes that LOZ have made into “Brickheadz”, Disney’s catalog being a MAJOR one. Does LOZ actually have the licensing to market these sets?  I can’t see how. For TLG to be paying a licensing fee to Disney, one would expect some kind of contracted exclusivity so that TLG is the only company licensed to produce building-block sets of the licensed theme.  So then that means that LOZ are REALLY thumbing their noses at not only TLG, but a bunch of other mighty big companies.  That’s crazy… Crazy like a fox.

LOZ might be taking the approach of “any publicity is good publicity”. Want to get the attention of the largest hive of building bees?  You could plant some nice original designs of flowers or something to attract them… or instead you can kick the hive!  This plagiarism of part designs, set designs, and licensed themes is a sure fire way to drop a cherry-bomb into the hive and get those bees to take notice (and maybe one even writes a blog article, despite knowing full well that he is playing right into their hands…). Sure, the bees all want to sting LOZ now, but it still creates a buzz that will draw at least few new people in.

All of their blatant plagiarism was a hard conflict for me to overcome in buying anything from LOZ.  As with all creative endeavors, I want to ensure my support goes directly to those who developed the IP, as best that I can… however, the small scale of those LOZ parts themselves were still very intriguing.  After much deliberation, I finally decided to purchase a couple of sets as research for this article… and for the lulz.

“Treat every customer with your heart”… as for everyone else, well…

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I ordered 3 LOZ sets; the aforementioned knock-off VW Beetle (with its equally knocked-off alternate AFOL design), Spongebob Blue Hero, and a yellow Transformers Scorpion.  Their sets were priced cheaper if you bought them without their packaging, so that is exactly what I did.  LOZ offers free shipping on orders over $25 US too, which is amazing for international shipments. I placed my order on August 2nd, and the box arrived in my mailbox in Kentucky 11 days later.  That’s pretty fast for a shipment being sent half way around the world.

The shipping box was made from that rice paper cardboard that most recycling centers in the USA refuse to take (the fiber length is too short to be reprocessed back into paper products… now you know). It was also the kind of shipping box that your postal carrier will have no reservations in trying to cram into your much smaller mailbox, because they are too lazy to get out of their vehicle and walk to your door.… Just “crease, crumple, cram”… You ‘ll do fine.

Inside the box were all three sets and their instructions, each placed in their own plastic zip-bag. I wasn’t actually planning to build any of these sets, but for the sake of this article I sucked it up and built the knock-off VW Beetle (to me, the only thing less enjoyable than sorting is being obligated to build the set first… it’s why I have a growing pile of unopened LEGO set boxes collecting dust). Each complete LOZ set comes in unnumbered ploy-bags, so if you plan to build them you WILL have to do some sorting first.

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What’s inside?…

Their instructions are printed on a movie poster sized fold-out, harkening back to those massive fold-out roadmaps that many of us used before car-mounted GPS navigation became all the rage.  The instructions themselves were straight-forward enough, apart from an odd 1×1 round plate that they wanted me to attach onto a hidden underside somewhere.  Each step shows a lot of parts added at once, so you will need to pay close attention.

Part separation is still an issue with these parts, so place them thoughtfully.  This is especially true if you didn’t get a part separator included with the set – the one I found was included in the yellow “Transformer” set. There was a moment or two where I thought I might be missing a part, but everything was accounted for in the end.  After the ‘Blue Beach Car’ was completed, there were tons of parts left over too.  That made it a little deceiving as to how much longer it would take for me to complete the build. I assume most of those extra parts were used for the alternate knock-off build, but I think LOZ also erred on providing extras just in case.  That deserves a “LOZ size” bit of praise.

Messing around with the leftover parts, I discovered that LOZ bricks are actually compatible with LEGO bricks. At the 3/4 scale, the LOZ anti-stud tube is the same diameter as a LEGO stud. This means that a LOZ tube can fit inside of anyplace that a LEGO stud could, and that a LEGO stud can fit into anywhere that a LOZ tube would.  Here is a pic illustrating this fact (along with showing the 3/4 scale difference side-by-side in a 2×4 plate, and the brick separator).

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LOZ vs LEGO bricks

There is no real point in reviewing the ‘Blue Beach Car’ design itself, as it is just a slightly altered version of the original.  Instead, I think a rundown of how LOZ Brickheadz compare to LEGO Brickheadz works just as well…. And plagiarizing the plagiarizer’s mouth-piece blogger while doing it… (with my own added comments in parentheses)

  • LOZ offers characters that LEGO doesn’t – we think that’s awesome! (well of course you would, since you blatantly ignore international copyright and product licensing laws)
  • Both sets had easy-to-follow instructions with colored illustrations (meh. I guess you got me there. LOZ’s instructions were indeed colored)
  • LEGO pieces are chunkier which *may* make handling/building easier for novices (Oooooh. Hear that, novices? LOZ are hard to handle now…)
  • LOZ Brickheadz have more detail and more play-factor (play-factor? You mean that mask that flops up to imply that all Brickhedz are all androids? A classic knock-off toy company move, if there ever was one)
  • LEGO Brickheadz are ideal for model collectors who want to create a display (Um… okay? Care to explain this point?…wouldn’t LOZ be better, since you could fit more of them on a shelf?)
  • LOZ Brickheadz have “daintier” proportions which may make them less suitable for kids (HEY! NO TOUCHING!)
  • We had a ridiculous amount of fun building both models! (I have no counterpoint for that – they ARE copying the original designs from LEGO, so it stands to reason they would be equally fun)

“Be gone, foul demon! The power of Ole Kirk Christiansen compels you!”

For the final chapter in this morality play, I took the ‘Blue Beach Car’ model and the loose LOZ bricks to recent meeting of local builders for some show-and tell. You might remember Charley and Nate from reading my BrickUniverse Louisville 2018 round-up.  Charley is a dyed-in-the-wool LEGO man through and through; he has the original LEGO brick patent number memorized, celebrates Ole Kirk Christiansen Day every year, prefers to set our local meeting times to those printed on the LEGO clock tiles, etc. You get the gist – Everything is Awesome… if it’s LEGO!  Nate is more of a pragmatic man, and falls near the other end of the building-block spectrum.  He’s open to whatever is readily available, and he has been working the Duplo like a boss.

When I originally mentioned LOZ blocks to Charley three weeks ago, his baseline reaction was the equivalent of “wake me up when I care.”  Seeing them in person didn’t change his opinion that much, but he didn’t come down on them as hard as I thought he might either. It turns out that he is a “live and let live” kind of guy.  His feeling is that someone was considering LOZ, it would be when they cared more about building the set-model than about what parts they were actually using to build it.

Nate thought the LOZ were intriguing, but our conversation led to a discovery that was even more intriguing to me.  I learned that Nate is working on a massive Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles MOC exclusively using Mega Bloks.  As a challenge, he is purposefully going to exclude any LEGO from the MOC.  Because of that he thought it wouldn’t be kosher for him to bring it to the next BrickUniverse Louisville (mark it on your calendars everyone – January 19th-20th, 2019!). I told him, “Bring it! You definitely need to bring it!” If someone is purposefully buying Mega Bloks by choice to build an individual MOC layout, then LEGO purism be damned!  That is something I just have to see!

“No matter how hard I scrub, I still feel so dirty.”

My original intent in writing this article was to take a hard look at how LOZ sails the seas of piracy, and I ended up telling someone to bring Mega Bloks MOCs to a brick convention.  What a crazy turn of events (I think I need help).  I have certainly used my fair share of 3rd party LEGO-compatible parts when LEGO didn’t currently have a viable solution; Big Ben Bricks train wheels, the CDX rollercoaster, BRKS baseplates, custom stickers and printed parts, and who can forget butcher paper!  Using a majority of non-LEGO building blocks has never been in consideration for me, but should that mean everyone else has to build that way too?

So what say ye’, constant readers of the Manifesto?  Would the novelty of LOZ’s 3/4 scale bricks mark an exception to your purist ways?  If you planned to build a certain LEGO set model, like the VW Beetle, do you think you would be tempted to buy a 3/4 scale version of it from LOZ (and at only 45% the cost, depending on location)? Ignoring the long list of corporate ethics violations and moral dilemmas for just a brief moment, I can’t find too much to take issue with in the actual part quality, the price, or the service. Their discovery that they are semi-compatible with LEGO parts also made for an intriguing development.

In the end, however, the facts remain.  I simply can’t ignore that LOZ are pirating set designs and disregarding copywrites (no matter how well they “treat every customer with their heart”).  As informed consumers, we should all strive to be patrons to the creative design originators, rather than those who are knocking-off their works. For me, this first LOZ purchase will most likely be my last…. The shame… -=scrub=-… -=scrub=-… the shame just won’t wash off…

PIRATKOPI GODT!!!

Crack is whack! (bonus link to the classic, and highly improbable “Just say no.” ad)

Friday Night Fights [Round 41]

Welcome back fight fans, to Sin City Nevada for another tooth-splintering edition of Friday Night Fights! This week’s bout is the battle of St. Astrid’s Fall, with heavy reinforcements and the blessings of the God Emperor on the line. Without further preamble, let’s go to the tale of the tape.

Fighting out of the red corner, from the Forge World of Magnos Omicron, it’s Faber “The Magistrate of MayhemMandragore and his “Blood Angels Captain In Terminator Armour”.

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And fighting out of the blue corner, from the Tomb World Seidon, it’s Marco “Mad DogMarozzi and his “Crusader“.

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As usual, constant reader, you are tasked with deciding the outcome of this pugilistic endeavor and determine who will receive a week’s worth of bragging rights.  Simply leave a comment below and vote for the model that best suits your individual taste. I will tally up the votes next Friday and declare a winner.

Last time, on Friday Night Fights….

It was a self-selected battle battle of the shipwrights, with at least a month’s worth of bragging rights and a dram of top-shelf whiskey on the line.  In the end, Mark “The Machete” B. and his “JDS Asagiri (DD-151)” absolutely mollywhopped “Lock and Load” Locutus666 and his “JDS Asagiri DD-151“ to the tune of 9-1.  Mark B. scores his first victory (1-0) while Locutus666 runs his record to (0-1).

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Friday Night Fights [Round 40]

Welcome back fight fans, to Sin City Nevada for another shanghai edition of Friday Night Fights! This week’s bout is the battle of the shipwrights, with at least a month’s worth of bragging rights and and a dram of top-shelf whiskey on the line.   Tonight’s bout is a little unusual in that the fighters in question recently challenged each other to see who could come up with the most accurate model of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Asagiri class destroyer from the mid 1980’s.  The rules were simple: the Asagiri would be built in 1:350 scale, using only parts that are available IRL. The match-up has some added importance in my mind, because these guys went out of their way to challenge each other and they are not currently getting any help from the community to resolve the challenge.  The handful of comments is typically weak, never more than a sentence and avoids the topic of comparison entirely.  Let’s do these gents a solid and determine the winner here, on the blood-stained floors of the Manifesto arena.

Without further preamble, let’s go to the tale of the tape.

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Fighting out of the red corner, from a long patrol somewhere in the Sea of Japan,  it’s Mark “The Machete” B. and his “JDS Asagiri (DD-151)”.

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And fighting out of the blue corner, from the top of a swell in the East China Sea, it’s “Lock and Load” Locutus666 and his “JDS Asagiri DD-151“.

JDS Asagiri DD-151

As usual, constant reader, you are tasked with deciding the outcome of this pugilistic endeavor and determine who will receive a week’s worth of bragging rights. Simply leave a comment below and vote for the model that best suits your individual taste. I will tally up the votes next Friday and declare a winner.

Last time, on Friday Night Fights….

It was the battle of the big rock candy mountain, with a bottle of hooch and a bulging bindle of SWAG on the line.  In the end, David “MagnetoZambito and his “Country Side Tunnel took his opponent to the woodshed with a bruising 14-3 victory over Jason “The Axeman” Allemann  and his “Moutain Train“. Zambito scores his first victory (1-0) while Allemann runs his record to (0-1).

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Ted Talks – “Brickworld 2018: A Con Odyssey”

Hey Kentucky! Welcome back to the Manifesto and more importantly to our regular feature Ted Talks, where friend of the blog and bon vivant Ted Andes shares his wit and wisdom on a wide variety of topics.  Without further ado, take it away Ted!

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The monolith

Evolution

In the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey”, a large black slab of extraterrestrial technology is discovered by our presumed hominid ancestors, causing a considerable shift in their evolution and marking the dawn of mankind.  Thousands of years later at Brickworld 2017, another significant discovery was made; a number of “White Brick” monoliths had been placed around the display hall, sometime during the dawn of Sunday morning.  Sure enough, they appeared yet again at Brickworld 2018.  Perhaps they are the harbinger of another shift in our evolution… an evolution in both the LEGO convention experience and in the community of builders at large.

The White Brick

“I think that white brick is really the heart of what we all want the community to be and represent, rather than the manufactured recognition that pretty much all awards have disappointingly come to be.” – Matt rowntRee

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The “White Brick” monoliths are the same size and shape as the red, brick-built trophies given to the winners of each Brickworld awards category.  As with the monoliths in “2001: A Space Odyssey” these “White Bricks” also contain many mysteries.  One of which is that these bricks are actually hollow boxes that contain a surprise MOC inside, many times personalized to the receiver.  So where did they come from? Why did they start showing up?

Since the “White Bricks” closely resemble Brickworld trophies, the easiest explanation for their appearance is to recognize noteworthy displays that had been passed over for a nomination.  If you haven’t attended Brickworld Chicago, the award nominations are doled out in predetermined categories; Best Vehicle, Best Spacecraft, Best Mech, Best Building, etc.  People certainly build MOC’s to purposefully fit them into these categories, while others consider the categories after the fact (and some even make them fit on a lark).

For those people who just want to “build something cool”, many times they don’t know what awards category their builds should go into, if any at all (…and I’m not sure why it is up to the builder to decide that for themselves).  As a result, many epic builds fall through the cracks when it comes to award nominations. They either don’t fit well into any category, get lost in the sheer number of displayers… or perhaps for other reasons?  Like “so-and-so never gets nominated, so let’s throw them a bone this year”, or “so-and-so always gets nominated, so let’s nominate a different builder instead.”  Rather than merit alone determine the nominations, politics and popularity creeps in (there was one such dubious nomination in “Best Spacecraft” this year).  You can play the game, but as you live by the sword, you die by the sword too.

The “White Brick” started appearing last year on such un-nominated builds. In 2017, Andrew Mollmann and Cecilie Fritzvold were two recipients of the “White Bricks”.  Andrew had built a most excellent “Grand Budapest” façade that year.  I’m not sure which of Cecilie’s builds that her white brick was placed in front of (perhaps for her “Goomba”?), but she did have a banner year in 2017.  She had received a Brickworld award nomination for best vignette, and was also part of yet another “Best Group Layout” win for the Eurobricks collective (they won this year too – 3 years in a row!).  She even defeated Chris Maddison in “Iron Builder” earlier that year, which was no small feat.

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Cecilie Fritzvold’s “Goomba” – so what’s in the box?

This year, however, the “White Bricks” weren’t only placed in front of un-nominated builds. Learning who else received them has led to an important discovery regarding their true meaning; The “White Bricks” recognizes those people who make the Brickworld experience special in some way, not only through creating displays but also through meaningful engagement within the community.

One such “White Brick” was given to Victor at Eclipse Graphx.  At first he had thought a customer accidentally left it behind.  When he opened the box, however, he discovered his Eclipse Grafx logo placed inside. Victor has always been a great supporter of the building community.  He definitely stepped up in a major way for us during the speederbike contest, by creating those custom printed tiles that we distributed to worthy participants. Victor receiving a “White Brick” was great recognition and well deserved, and I know receiving it meant a great deal to them.

Our friend Simon Liu received a “White Brick”, although technically it wasn’t actually white.  It had been built using trans-clear and trans-red bricks, and integrated into it was “The Heart of Brickworld”.  There is no doubt that this brick belongs on his shelf.  From my very first Brickworld, and probably from his first, he has set a positive paradigm for others to follow; inclusiveness, generosity, kindness, always build something new and fun, etc..  I was happy that I could extend some of that hospitality back to him prior to Brickworld this year.  Simon was so taken in by the charms of Louisville, KY during his 2017 “Pub Scouting” trip that he made a return trip.  We got the chance to hang out the weekend before Brickworld, along with Alec, Caleb, and Evan who joined him on this year’s “Brickworld or Bust 2018” tour.  I guided them to rockin’ local distilleries, hot-chicken joints, brick stores, escape rooms, and a meet up with John Klapheke too.  Good times.

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Simon Liu: The “Heart” of Brickworld

The rowntRee received one too, with his containing a dick with crabs inside… Wait, what!?! … I haven’t seen any pictures, but maybe I don’t want to. I guess that makes him the “STD of Brickworld”?  On the surface it definitely sounded insulting, but leave it to rowntRee to see the deeper symbolism in all things. He declared it the “Dick of Brickworld” brick and a badge of honor, showing that he doesn’t care about preconceived notions or anyone else’s perceptions. It is recognition that people in the community who “call it like they see it” are a necessity, however bluntly they put it, and he will own it and wear it with pride…  Honestly though, anyone who thinks rowntRee is a dick is way off base (or he’s merely reflecting back what you are projecting). I shared a room with rowntRee this year, upon Keith’s unwavering endorsement, and I concur that the main is worth his weight in gold.

Lords of Acid: Crablouse (lyrics are NSFW, but the beat is a rager… )

Lastly, I myself was honored to receive a “White Brick” placed in front of “The Shadowlands” collaboration.  We didn’t receive a Brickworld award nomination, but I wasn’t really expecting one… although I definitely hoped we would for our contributors’ sakes (I was happy to at least see Barbara Hoel get a nod for Brickworld Master Builder). I simply wanted to put on “one great show” this year, and the “White Brick” was a great recognition for all our efforts, creativity, and innovation…

However, the ever-insightful rowntRee saw that it was actually recognition for much more than that.  Inside the brick-box contained a cool little Portal MOC.  I hadn’t thought that deeply about why that was the MOC inside, but rowntRee saw it as a metaphor to how I opened up the way for so many others to join in on the fun.  It’s true that I could have done a solo layout, but what’s the fun in that?  It’s so much better to “open it up”, to be inclusive, and share in the experience.

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I do strive to recruit at least one new person to Brickworld each year.  In both of my first two Brickworlds I successfully inspired, or convinced, at least one new person to come to their first LEGO con; Christopher Hoffmann and I shared our first in 2016, then it was Jen Spencer last year.  This year I thought I could get Jake RF to cross that threshold, but it was not to be.  But the streak is technically still alive.  Saturday evening an old friend that I used to work with, Jina, happened to be in the area.  Seeing a Facebook I made for the collab, she decided to check it out.  Special thanks to Barbara for providing one of their family’s unused full-registrant badges so that Jina could stick around and walk the floors with me after public hours (and it turns out that she and Barbara are neighbors!).

Those thoughtful touches are what make the “White Bricks” all the more thoughtful and impressive.  You have to look beyond the surface and see the deeper meaning inside of them.  I admit that I was originally a cynic when they first showed up last year, and judged these books by their cover.  I was blind, but now I see … It also makes you wonder how many of them were premeditated (like Victor’s and Simon’s), and how many were created on the spot. For example, was rowntRee always destined to receive the “dick with crabs”, or was it pre-built and looking for a worthy recipient? Looking back at the MOC that Cecilie received in 2017, perhaps that random “ant” wasn’t so random either.  It could be recognizing her quiet unassuming demeanor, yet you can’t help but notice all of the things she ended up dutifully building, carrying a building load 100 times more than expected.  To date, I don’t think the interior MOC’s have ever been repeated… Questions abound…

 So far as I know, the mysterious distributor(s?) has yet to be identified or step forward. Noticing how personalized the “insides” of the bricks were this year to the receiver, is the distributor someone that all of the recipients know?  Is there a “White Brick Illuminati” watching over us?  Being that I’d prefer that the anonymous distributor(s) remain anonymous, these are questions best left unanswered.  The mystery is what makes it even more special (and because if they do get unmasked, the locusts of nomination seekers will certainly descend upon them).

I think non-official trophies like this are the way of the future. We all need to show better appreciation of each other’s creativity and contributions, rather than fall into the self-centered trap of an awards competition. These types of awards also reward creativity and innovation more than those boilerplate, predetermined nomination categories are capable of doing.  To the innovators should go the spoils!

“The Race at Shadowlands”:

 “Damn, this is cool. The concept has come a long way from the butcher paper 2 years ago.” – Christopher Hoffmann

Video by Dennis Price

Indeed the speeder-race concept has come a long way from the butcher paper deserts of the Tech West.  Although my 2016 speederbike rally collaboration was cool, especially having pulled it all together in only single month, I just had to revisit the speeder race concept and set it to motion.

For each of my Brickworld collabs, I try to recruit a new person to join in the fun. It is putting into practice Keith’s boiler plate interview question, “Name 3 builders whom you would like to meet and build with someday”.  It was really awesome to get Barbara Hoel involved this year, with her alien botany, and I am so glad she joined in.  I had learned that she always considered her plant sculptures as “space” creations, so it was serendipity. I also learned some of her techniques in how she lays out her landscaping, which I can now use to hone my aesthetic eye (clusters of odds and creating visual triangles, among other things).

A huge thanks also goes out to all of the other “Orphans & Outliers” who contributed to the project; Dan Church, Gil Glomshire (aka Dennis Deathdog1), and Michael Frost (Kingdomviewbricks) played major roles in bringing this display to life (and Micah Beideman who was on the ready to fill in any last-minute landscaping needs). A huge thanks also goes out to Rowntree, Adam Myers, Noel Peterson, Paul Wolfe, Noah McDonell, Matt De Lanoy, Sean Mayo, and Simon who all helped round out the display with a crowd of fun spectators. Everyone’s efforts and support really turned this display into a crowd favorite.

James Burrows also deserves a huge shout-out. He has a tremendous Jurassic Park themed rollercoaster layout also using the CDX system, and he helped us out EMMENSLY by giving us a ton of pointers in troubleshooting.  It really gave us the confidence that we would get the race track operational.  I learned a TON about getting this system working, and in return I showed how the system could be used in ways that had yet to be explored (or at least publicly).

It was great driving up and back to Brickworld with Dennis too.  Having a great traveling companion always makes the long drive go by so much faster.  Dennis really stepped it up on the Shadowlands collab, and was my right hand man during the entire set up (even during those times when I didn’t know which end of the coaster was up).  Thank you again, sir knight of Glomshire.

Meeting New Faces:

Overall it felt like I really didn’t get to socialize with everyone nearly as much as I had wanted to, due to how much time I spent working on getting the speeder-coaster going (and keeping it running during public hours). It was worth the effort, but I definitely had less time to appreciate everyone else’s creativity than at past Brickworlds.  I didn’t even get to attend any of the sessions.  “Sorry” to all of you that I didn’t get to meet up with or talk with more

That said, I did finally meet quite a few people that I had yet to meet in person.  Notably to readers of the Manifesto I got to meet up  Cameron, our resident “Barnacle” Builder Extraordinaire who delivered quite a few compelling Bionicle articles to us during “Blog or Die!”.  It’s a good thing he was wearing his Manifesto T-shirt during registration so that I could pick him out from the crowd.  His funky chicken even got a nomination for “Best Creature”.  Represent!

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“Do the funky chicken!”

One entirely new face for me was meeting David Slater.  Holy crap, did he build some awesome cars!  His lime green Dodge Charger (or was it a Challenger?) deservedly won for “Best Vehicle”.

I also finally got to meet Shane; I’ve been a big fan of his artwork for some time, and in turn he has been a consistent fan of my builds. He was there for the live demo of “1×5 Games” new strategy game “Clunkers”, and share some of his artwork for a new card game called “Nutpunch!”  If those sound like game names that “rowntRee & Flor” might come up with, you’re absolutely right.

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“Ain’t that a punch in the nuts…”

Improvement ideas and closing thoughts:

In closing, here are just some things that crossed my mind this year…

 “MEDIC!!!” So my lower back was a total disaster after being hunched over the display tables for almost 3 days strait trying to get that coaster working.  I could hardly get any sleep because of it.  I propose that every Con should have an area with those people that give reversed chair back-massages.  I promise that us builders that fall into that over-40 age bracket will pay up, and handsomely.

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Google Images

“MORE (or LESS) BOOZE, STAT!!!” I think a breathalyzer is a necessary addition to any evening of drunken builder activities.  I don’t know the full story, but our good friend Rowntree had to restrain an angry drunk (or at least a badly behaving drunk) that thought “drunk build hopping” was a good idea.  Blood alcohol level thresholds should be set for both “drunk enough” and “too drunk” to participate.  Trust me, passed out and/or puking is no way to spend the aftermath of a drunk build. People pushing themselves towards the thresholds of alcohol poisoning should be discouraged.

“MALÖRT!” … the only needed improvement here is that we need to come up with some Brickworld themed slogans to go along with it:

“MALÖRT! – The rocket fuel that gave birth to Blacktron!”

“MALÖRT! – Tonight is the night you dry hump Captain Marvel!”

“MALÖRT! – Better that chewing on unclean playbrick!”

“MALÖRT! – The real reason why Tyler Halliwell ran away to Scotland!”

“MALÖRT! – Heath made me do it!”

 So that’s a wrap on this Brickworld 2018 wrap-up.  Feel free to chime in with whatever I missed in the comments below, or share your own stories.  Until next time…

“MALÖRT! – It’s like getting a nutpunch to your mouth!!!”