Fire for Effect: Unique is not Special

The Manifesto is proud to present the first installment of a regular column by Michael Rutherford entitled Fire for Effect.  “Fire for Effect” is a military term used by spotters for indirect fire weapons. Examples of indirect fire weapons include cannons and mortars which are usually fired from a position from which the gunners cannot see the target because of terrain. To determine the proper aiming of the weapon, a spotter who can see the target relays basic coordinates to the gunners who then fire a few ranging rounds, allowing the spotter to see how far off target the guns are aimed. This process is sometimes referred to a “zeroing in.” When, by this trial and error procedure, a shot lands on the target, the instruction will be “fire for effect” telling the gun crew that they are on the target, and to fire one or more salvos of several rounds rapidly to blanket the target with the explosive projectiles…or in Rutherford’s case, explosive rhetoric.

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Without further preamble, please enjoy Fire for Effect: Unique is not Special.

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True or False: Every snowflake is special.

Answer: False.

Every snowflake is not SPECIAL… but rather UNIQUE… and unique is no big deal.

Now get up off your ass and start cataloguing snowflakes.  You will have UNIQUE coming out of your ears in no time.    After you have catalogued say… 15K individual snowflakes… photographed them, weighed them, inventoried their chemical components… you will see that while no two are exactly the same, they do start to fall into large categories pretty quickly.  Eventually, it will occur to you that most snowflakes are in fact… very similar… to many other snowflakes.   And what’s more… only a very small number of snowflakes will really stand out.  Keith… You jacked up your sample.  Go back outside and catalogue 15K more.

SPECIAL… (I looked it up just to be sure) means “BETTER, GREATER, or OTHERWISE DIFFERENT from what is normal.   Yep, DIFERENT is a part of the meaning… but don’t fixate on that small overlap.  BETTER and GREATER are right there up front, and the clause “from what is normal” nails down the ass end of this definition pretty tight.   SPECIAL = BETTER THAN NORMAL.  Embrace this truth now, or leave this essay at once!

Can every snowflake be BETTER and GREATER than the normal snowflake?  No it cannot.  Not mathematically, not empirically, and not operationally.  The assertion that every snowflake is SPECIAL is flat-out WRONG in every way, except from the cultural perspective (AKA the pretend perspective).

“Every snowflake is special” is a very powerful cultural metaphor.  It has its place, and does some good.  At its core, it contains some notions we would all do well to remember.

When applied correctly, the metaphor can re-enforce the notion that every person has some intrinsic worth.  It celebrates the inherent value of being unique.  The unspoken assertion is that this uniqueness is in and of itself a good thing, and that every variation is a potential benefit.   The metaphor is a tool.  But as with so many other valuable tools, like alcohol, duct tape, or spear guns… we seldom apply the metaphor correctly… and it is often used to suggest that every person’s contribution to every endeavor is superior and merits praise.  Perhaps MOST IMPORTANTLY, the myth contributes to a culture where CRITICAL FEEDBACK IS DISCOURAGED.  It is a tragic and dangerous self-delusion which often results in such dubious claims such as: Wearing pajamas at Wal-Mart is OK, or “If she is too dumb to see what a catch you are, then it’s her loss” or “Destroying the enemy force before it reaches the capital isn’t the most important thing… it only matters that you tried” This is destructive thinking.  Anybody who wants to do better… Athletic trainers, military commanders, lawyers, sales people and yes … wait for it… artists… They all understand that not every snowflake is special, and that honest critical feedback is essential for enhancing performance.

History, science, mythology, and often our own painful personal experience should tell us all… many snowflakes are not special… in fact, many snowflakes are trampled, defeated, destroyed, outclassed and/or never ever ever have dates on Saturday night.

So whats my point?  Why does this matter?  Am I ever going to connect this crap to our hobby, and will this essay EVER BECOME INTERESTING?  Well I’m glad you asked!  Spoiler: If you’re not interested yet, STOP READING… this essay doesn’t get any better!

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Now, if you would, I need you to re-read the paragraphs above, and every time you see the word snowflake, replace it with the acronym AFOL.  So for example, the first line of text becomes: “True or False: Every AFOL is special.”   I will now subtly introduce my thesis…

THESIS: AFOLs should abandon the SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE metaphor because it retards our individual improvement, and the improvement of Lego as an art form.

Continue reading “Fire for Effect: Unique is not Special”

Two for Tuesday: Jordan Schwartz

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Good evening constant reader, its happy hour and our bartender Lloyd is setting them up neat, just the way you like it.  Since it’s jacket and tie only tonight, I’ve invited a sophisticated cat and swingin’ builder to class up the joint, one Mr. Jordan Jordan Schwartz.  The models are not exactly new, but they are new to the blog and to me.  I pretty much took last year off from building and even looking at models, so both of these builds slipped past my radar.  I was lucky enough to meet Jordan at BrickWorld 2010 in the outskirts of Chicago.  At the time he was 16, already a valedictorian and mature beyond his years.  Possessing a keen wit and the outlook of an artist, he made quite an impression on me in a short period of time.  As a teenager I saw Jordan put up with a lot of shit online from some high-vis “adult” builders and he handled it with complete class.  He also outlasted his detractors which is some sweet chicken indeed.  I only regret we didn’t get a chance to hang out more at the convention, but those overwhelming environments can be the enemy of meaningful dialogue.  Jordan has been a little on the reclusive side lately but at least he’s still gifting us with his genius from time to time.  Our first offering tonight is smooth operator Nick Wilde from Zootopia.  My daughter was looking over my shoulder while I was scrolling through Jordan’s photos and she insisted I include the wily fox in the post.  I couldn’t really argue against it, the build is pretty amazing and the pose captures the essence of the character perfectly.  The shirt is a nice study by itself.

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I didn’t have to look much further for the second build, I’m such a huge fan of 1979’s Alien  that I used to pause the VHS tape every time the The Narcissus lifeboat made an appearance.  It was so unlike the lumbering Nostromo that it was a striking contrast and a really neat model.  I think the nose on Jordan’s version could be refined a little but I give him extra points for subject matter and it’s instantly recognizable.

I mentioned earlier that  Jordan is a sophisticated cat, right?  We’ll he’s got no time for your scuffed sneakers, skinny jeans and stained Marvel T-Shirt so why don’t you just show yourself out before you embarrass yourself any further.  Also, he might have a derringer in that jacket pocket and I know he’s shot people for dress code violations before.  ISeriously, you should just leave now…

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The Life Modular, with Paul Hartzog

The Manifesto has featured quite a few O.G. “Spacers” in its brief history and the next builder in the spotlight is no exception.  Unlike many of that first generation of sci-fi builders who ruled the ivy covered halls of LUGNET, Paul Hartzog is still producing thought-provoking work today.  In the past few years Paul has been focusing on modular dioramas that incorporate a flexible design system that can be customized to reflect your favorite Sci-Fi franchises. Paul was one of the unsung developers of the first great community experiment in modularity, Moonbase.  More than just a building standard, Moonbase was a full-blown mania that helped Spacers from around the world connect and collaborate as never before and it became a convention staple. Paul applied some of the same concepts to the interior design of Sci-Fi settings and while not yet as popular, they are no less striking.  Whether you prefer Star Trek or Star Wars, Paul’s system is perfect.27903663283_3891f6d5c8_o

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The builder also has variations based on the video game Star Citizen and his own home-brew designs, but the concept remains the same.  The walls and floors are detachable panels that can be easily swapped out to suit your individual taste.  It allows you to play with combinations to get just the right look and makes it very easy for other builders to replicate the designs to allow for more ambitious layouts.  The design also makes it easy to modify as new parts or techniques become available.

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I’d love to see a big collaborative effort using the standard Paul has developed, an expansive Moonbase-style layout but with a focus on interior spaces.  As you can see in the mosaic of photos below, Paul took a sample diorama to North Carolina’s BrickMagic convention where it hopefully gained a few advocates.  The small accessories that go with these scenes are delightful and worthy of their own post.  Fortunately you can find isolated shots of the furniture and equipment in the builder’s photostream.  Paul is a fascinating guy who I hope to meet in person one of these years and I can’t encourage you enough to check out his website if you’d like to learn more about the multi-talented builder.  One of those talents is music, I’m lucky enough to have one of his CD’s but you can check out his music through the site.  If you’d like more information on Paul’s modular building standard, head over to the Flickr Group dedicated to the topic and talk to the man himself.  That’s one of the great things about this hobby, you can reach out and connect with just about everyone.  More often than not, LEGO nerds are very helpful if you approach them in the right way.

Tyler Clites, one of the most accomplished builders our hobby has to offer, put a very similar idea into play for the interiors of his Magellan Modular Starship from 2014.  The frame dimensions are slightly different but the concept is the same and it opens up a wide variety of possibilities.  Tyler went the extra step of making the entire ship modular and the results were spectacular to say the least.  All of the variations look great.

Modularity is not the sole purview of the Spacer crowd, there is also a castle building standard, a micro-scale city standard, LEGO’s official modular building standard, a landscaping standard and a host of others standards too long to catalogue at this time.  I hope you’ve enjoyed our examination of the life modular with Paul Hartzog, goodnight constant reader.

Of Kayaks and Pultrusion

My next guest in the velvet-lined smoking lounge at Manifesto headquarters is Bruce Quillis: builder, connoisseur of fine cannabis and kayaking enthusiast!  This colorful micro-scale vignette caught my eye as I scanned the matrix this evening on my never-ending quest to bring you quality distractions.  The earth-tone strata look great and even though it’s not my favorite technique the 1×1 trans-rounds for water looks pretty good here.  The kayak design is simple but effective (like most quality micro-scale builds) and I really dig the decorative oar Bruce incorporated into the black frame, it really classes up the joint.  Kayak oars typically have two paddle-blades so it might have been better to put two oars back to back with a connecting element like a Technic pin.  Since I’m complaining anyway, I kind of wish there were some rocks mixed into the water but then the scene would have to be a little bigger to give the rocks scale and that way lies madness;  sometimes less is more.  What can I say, it’s roasting here in the wasteland and I’d rather be kayaking down some nameless river far from here.

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I was not previously familiar with the work of one Mr. Quillis so I took a leisurely stroll through his brief but entertaining catalogue that stretches back about 2 years.   One model stood out from all the rest and immediately captured my imagination immediately.  Predictably it’s a diorama…a very clever and no doubt accurate diorama that depicts Mr. Quillis’ place of employment.  I can’t possibly explain it any better than the builder himself, directly from his Flickr Page:

“Fiberglass Pultrusion Line.  I know that probably no one will understand this, but this is my stupid job.  Making fiberglass products by pulling fiberglass rovings and mats through resin and then a die that heats and shapes it. Makes me wanna blow my brains”

…out?  I think most of us can empathize, I know working retail on Christmas eve made me fantasize about all manner of unspeakable acts. The main reason I’m such a big fan of this diorama is because it demonstrates a process and it does so quite effectively.  It’s like a workplace motivational poster: “Safety is no accident!”  Bruce, if you’re reading this you might as well try to inject some levity into this bleak situation.  It wouldn’t be too hard to turn this image into a workplace safety poster and hang it up in the shop one day without explanation. Think about it, your co-workers would probably dig it.

There is nothing like art born from painful personal experience, but I hope your job pays well, brother.  I especially enjoyed the saw and the dripping red dye, where is the first aid kit?  Seriously, that might have been a nice detail, but maybe not accurate?

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I also found a couple of funny images in my wanderings through the house of Quillis and they seem like a perfect way to conclude our daily conversation.  What can I say?   I enjoy the comedic stylings of both Cheech & Chong and Harold & Kumar.  Until next time, constant reader, remember to stay hydrated (it’s a wasteland out there), stay cool and always pass the dutchie on the left hand side.

Constructive Criticism: Why not?

What do you call a person who refuses to title their models or offer a description of any kind?  A true artiste?  A lazy minimalist?  A pretentious contrarian?  Or is it evidence of pseudonym standing in for a more famous builder who doesn’t want to be recognized?  Today on the Manifesto we will be discussing the collected works of Why not?, the mysterious MOCpages builder who steadfastly refuses to engage with his or her fellow hobbyists and is content to let the building do all the talking.

Let’s begin with Why not’s most recent build, a suitably creepy monster with a large wingspan.  I was drawn in by the tilted head and skeletal wings and I lingered to examine the beautifully constructed rib cage and three-toed feet.  Although I enjoyed perusing the image it left me wanting more.  Mostly I wanted a better photo to examine, but MOCpages is notorious for butchering images and I could not find a Flickr account under the same name.  The proportions of the demon seem just a little bit off, especially the legs which  have stunted, insubstantial thighs.  I know the subject is not human and I should probably be careful applying human anatomy to a demon but it just doesn’t look right.  I also wish the wings were a little more developed, a little more bony structure would really provide additional visual impact to the model.  Likewise I think if the arms had been posed more effectively it might benefit the work as a whole and make it look a little less static.

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Why not’s back catalogue of models is strewn with very intriguing near-misses.  Take for example this  untitled cemetery scene from 2015, it’s a great concept with a unique perspective but too much of the image is dominated by the sloppy looking, studs-out walls of the grave.  My objections isn’t based on an anti-studs rant, I think studs have their place as a good contrast to the smoothness of man-made constructs like the stone cross, but I think all the studs detract from the power of the image.  Graves are not typically emblazoned with the LEGO logo everywhere and I think maybe some wedge-plates would have looked better or at least some smooth sections.  The all-black minifigs are a trademark of Why not, and they work great here to add mystery of the model, but the white sky behind them doesn’t do any favors for the presentation. I can’t help but wonder how the image would look with a gray or blue sky, either photographed outdoors or Photoshopped for that matter.

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Some of Why not’s work recall the early “artistic” offerings from Chairman Zhang, with careful and deliberate use of color (or lack thereof) to make a statement.  Take for example this vignette featuring a naked minifig on a colorful island, surrounded by a monochromatic city-scape and colorless watchers.  I’m not sure what the builder is trying to say here and that’s either the artistic strength of the model or a frustrating weakness where the viewer has to supply all the meaning without enough visual clues.  If I had to guess I’d say the vignette depicts the isolated existence of the creative individual amidst the cold gray society that watches but doesn’t understand the artistic life….but your mileage may vary.  For me, the nano-skyscrapers are not interesting enough in design and the borders where the water meets the city are clumsy.  Even if the purpose of a model is to make a larger statement, it still needs visual interest beyond iconic symbols.

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We conclude our examination of Why not, with a collection of his or her best pieces.  The more I delve into the unfortunately limited body of work by this mystery-builder, the more I appreciate it.  The subject matter is diverse and generally speaking I appreciate the minimalist presentation.  I’d rather have no written explanation than a tedious backstory any day.  Each one of these models has little details that bother me, like the low-res spider on the girl’s face and the thickness of the electric chair’s arms, but there is no denying the power of the images.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the persistent conspiracy theory on MOCpages that accuses the talented and somewhat infamous builder Deus Otiosus of being Why not. The evidence is scant and seems to rest mostly on the notion that Deus frequently comments on Why not’s models, offering an explanation for the action.  I do see some similarities in style between the two, mostly in the clever technique displayed like using wheels for restraints on the electric chair pictured above, but it’s just not enough to pin the pseudonym on Deus.  I reached out to “Big D” for a comment via Flickr and he unequivocally denied the charges.

Ultimately I don’t really care too much about the identity of “Why not?” Every builder is entitled to a pseudonym from time to time.  As long as he or she continues to build thought-provoking (if flawed) models for my consumption, I’m all in.

 

LEGO Eleganza Realness

And now for something completely different, a couture dress made primarily from LEGO bricks.  Ashley Eckstein is the model and the voice of Ahsoka Tano in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, whose face adorns the striking garment.  I can’t help but wonder what kind of noise the dress makes as she struts the runway.  Ashley participated in the Her Universe fashion show at the famous San Diego Comic Con this weekend, which is apparently now the second largest convention of any kind in the world.   The one of a kind design was created by LEGO Certified Professional Nathan Sawaya, whose work should be familiar to many of you constant readers and it features over ten thousand bricks.  The likeness of Ashoka is impeccable, the dress is form-fitting (especially for LEGO) and the colors really pop under the lights.  Damn, I’ve been watching way too much Project Runway and Drag Race.

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The construction technique is difficult to guess at with just a handful of images currently available online.  In the absence of info, I guess the LEGO elements are glued to the fabric or maybe the builder modified the bricks to allow for them to be woven together.  Even though the dress is lined with some kind of fabric, I can’t imagine it’s very fun to wear for prolonged periods of time or sit down in.  Sometimes great fashion hurts, but any discomfort is a small price to pay for the sheer amount of attention this garment draws, even in an over-saturated environment like Comic Con.  When everyone is an attention whore, how do you get noticed?  A LEGO dress is just the ticket.  Kudos to Mr. Sawaya, I think he’s found his true calling here and I hope he takes another crack at LEGO fashion in the future.  That’s difficult praise for me to dole out because I think he’s a bit of a hack, but damn…this is a cool dress and all of our fellow nerds at SDCC seem to agree.

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“Invincible Guardians of World Freedom!”

I’ve mentioned a couple of times on the Manifesto that I don’t share the same childhood nostalgia for LEGO that many of you do.  While I certainly owned a shoe box full of LEGO like every other kid on the planet, it wasn’t my go-to brand for burning away a summertime afternoon.  When I think back to the carefree days of my youth I fondly remember toys like Star BirdMicronauts and the mighty two foot tall Shogun Warriors.  Not only did they look cool, they had crazy features like weapons that really fired, detachable space ship brains and wheeled feet.  So when I stumbled upon the work of Marco De Bon it took me right back to 4th grade (yeah I’m old).  Submitted for your approval is Marco’s latest build, “Icarus“.

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LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01
LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

I know some of you may be saying to yourselves “Uh…Goldman, this mecha is rad but it doesn’t really look like any of the Shogun Warriors.” and you’re right, strictly speaking it doesn’t look like any of the giant robots in the photo above.  Nor does it look like the Manga source material that inspired Mattel’s line of toys, Mazinger Z.  However, my brain instantly made the connection to the old toys and that interests me a great deal.  Some of it has to do with the primary color scheme and the proportions but the more I compare the two photos I think the attitude of the pose is a big part of the link between the two.  Shogun warriors always looked like they were ready to kick your ass, and so does “Icarus”.  Just like a great 80’s toy it can also be reconfigured into fighter jets and stuff.

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My only complaint about “Icarus” can be found on the head, specifically the white square behind Sauron’s ring.  Black might have been a better choice for that area or some color other than white.  You can see the corners of the white squares sticking outside the ring and it’s distracting in a way that makes my brain itch.

Obviously the toy and the mech differ greatly and the LEGO model is far more detailed.  The only logical comparison exists solely inside the confines of my skull-case. Memory and nostalgia are perhaps too specific to reference in a blog article for a broader audience but hopefully you’ve come to expect a little free-association on the Manifesto.  If you’re so inclined, I’d like to hear about your experience with these kinds of connections in the comments

Pictured below is “Orion” from May of this year, anther build by Marco De Bon that shares the same vibe and I like to think of him as the Raydeen of the Shogun crew. The Iron Man chest-plate has rarely looked so good and it recalls the toys, as does the forearm shield and the yellow wings.  Again, it’s the pose that sells the model here, the attitude. I’m not well versed enough in mecha design to comment much about the techniques used in Orion.  Whether the methods of construction are mundane or advanced, Marco gets a nice variety of dynamic poses out of the design.

 

I can’t finish a post that references Shogun Warriors without recognizing Mark “The Grand Admiral” Sandlin’s take on Mazinga from 2008, built with the help of Brian Cooper’s Teknomeka Instructions.  It’s huge, just like the toy.  You don’t get more old-school in the hobby than Sandlin and Cooper, they were already titans when I found LUGNET and started posting my own models.  Sandlin is one of the few guys who was able to live the dream of designing a really cool set produced by LEGO in 2008. Cooper is a straight up genius whose builds are truly epic in both scale and functionality.  Brian is responsible for one of my favorite photos of all time, taken at Seattle’s BrickCon in 2007.  Watching Cooper’s famous MechaGodzilla rampage on KeithLUG’s Omicron Weekend is one of my favorite convention memories.

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I’ve got a weird story about eating meatballs with Cooper, but I’ll save it for another day.  This post has already wandered far enough afield, constant reader.