Two for Tuesday: Jon Palmer

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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. Tonight’s V.I.P. in the Manifesto lounge is my personal Lego spirit-animal, and O.G. Spacer, Jon Palmer.  Like too many of the builders featured in this column, Jon has drifted out of the scene, but you won’t find a person who had a bigger impact on the hobby in it’s formative years.  Jon had a hand in all of the sci-fi boilerplate we take for granted now From Moonbase to geodesic domes to the SHIPyard (an early pre-Flickr archive of SHIPS).  In the age of LUGNET, when things could be a little stuffy and insular, Jon was always super friendly and above all, funny.  Sometimes we tend to take the hobby way too seriously, myself included, but never Jon, he could find humor in almost any situation.  It’s a cliché, but he really did have a talent for bringing people together in a positive and creative way.  I had the great pleasure of hanging out with Jon on a half-dozen occasions,  even at my homestead here in Vegas, and that’s really the acid test for my fellow nerds, would I want them in my home?  Jon is one of the few people I’ve met who could move in, if he needed to.  Hands down my best convention experiences were the BrickCons in Seattle where Jon and I had a chance to hang out, it was the first time I appreciated offsite activities more than those of the convention hall. As a builder, very few people were as personally inspiring to me, his 2002 spaceship Bison, for instance, was just as important and influential to me as the Dragonstar. It may look dated by today’s standards but it was a breath of fresh air ten+ years ago in an unusual color scheme.  Outside of Rutherford and Rubino, my two cronies since high-school, nobody had a bigger impact on me in the hobby than Jon.

For tonight’s first shot, we’ll be examining Jon’s often duplicated geodesic dome from 2006.  I can’t stress enough how popular this model once when he first posted it online, people were blown away.  As a fan of 70’s Sci-Fi, it certainly made a lasting impression on me.  My build table is not ideal to make one, but I have one of those ‘some day’ projects in mind that involves about 5 domes of varying sizes.  Because he was a community minded kind of dude, Jon thoughtfully shared the building process in a series of photos.  Check out the link and maybe you’ll be inspired to make your own.  The cost may be a little steep but the result is magnificent and sturdy.  I still see this design pop up every now and then at a convention and it always looks fresh, but I don’t think anyone (including Jon) has really done much with the interior space.  I have a small section of the structure built to keep me inspired and I’ve been slowly accumulating the parts over the years.  I’d like to see how much of the dome can be closed off without annoying gaps or sag.  The dome is one of those rare models that captures your attention, even from across a crowded convention hall, surrounded by other amazing things.

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For our second shot, we will take a brief look at one of the biggest building fads the hobby has ever seen, rather than a single model.  Most of Jon’s stuff has been lost to the digital ether, the photos available on Flickr only represent a fraction of his output.  In 2002 Jon was in important part of a small group of Spacers who created and developed the Moonbase concept, the very popular first attempt at a modular, collaborative, convention-based standard.  The ghost of Moonbase can still be spotted now and then, but it’s a shadow of it’s former glory.  At it’s height, every major convention had a sprawling layout with monorails, giant towers, moon-track and smoking volcanoes.  Like every fad, Moonbase eventually jumped the shark and became a kind of parody of itself, but it’s importance in the history of the hobby and conventions cannot be understated.  As with the geodesic dome, Jon thoughtfully compiled the instructions and examples first on his personal site Zemi.net (now defunct) and later on Flickr, so that anyone can easily get in on the action.  Whether it was minifig scale or microscale, Moonbase united builders from across the planet and that’s pretty cool.  The possibilities were endless and the standard was scaled to be very attainable, even for new builders with relatively small connections.  You could make just a corridor or an end-cap, and still feel like you were a part of the display.  When I think of Palmer, I think of inclusion and innovation.

Probably the biggest build-related regret I have in the hobby was the failure of the Lord Mandrake Memorial Sea Tower, a collaborative project involving myself, Palmer and Ryan Rubino back in 2008.  Ryan and I were fresh off the Omicron Weekend and we were fired up to work with Jon, who we both considered to be a mad genius.  Ryan’s famous Leviathans model was originally intended for the this ambitious undersea diorama, with Jon building the tower itself and yours truly providing the canyon and seafloor terrain.  We were a couple of months into building and things were really shaping up, when Jon abruptly moved from Seattle to Tulsa and subsequently lost all interest in building.  There is no dramatic story or unsolved mystery, like many builders space to build was an issue and other real life considerations got in the way.  I blame it on the geography, I have a deep and abiding hatred of Tulsa and all things Tulsa related to this day.  It’s the city that ate Jon Palmer and it should be razed to the ground and salted to make sure nothing grows there again.  If I could wave a magic wand and bring one single builder back to the hobby it would be Jon, for me the hobby is a worse place without him and I’ll certainly never enjoy BrickCon in the same way again.  Well, truth be told I guess I’d bring nnenn back because he’s dead and I’m sure his family would be thrilled to have him back, but second would be Jon.

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For this particular feature on the Manifesto I like to conclude the proceedings with a photo of the builder in question. I do this to help you put a face to the name and sometimes with the express intent to take the piss out of the builder. This is one of those times. Please recall that a precedent has been set in this ongoing series that we will be reviewing the fashion choices of each builder.

Jon is actually a pretty stylish dude, often without really trying, so I had to go the extra mile to find just the right photo.  Anyone who knows me is aware of my extreme aversion to ‘cosplay’ and more specifically ‘cosplayers’.  Most people like attention in some way or another but cosplayers take it to a whole new attention-whoring level.  The entire core of the hobby is based on the premise “look at me!   No, really, look at me!“, and it may be the one group of nerds who has a higher concentration of special snowflakes than Lego people.  The most insufferable in-law I have is a cos-player, so I’ve seen them up close and personal and it’s nothing but narcissism all day long.  I love Halloween as much as the next person, and costume parties are great, but I’m sick of cosplayers invading other hobbies and I really hate when they try to insert themselves into ours.  The only time I’ve been tempted to violence at a convention was with a dickhead cosplayer who looked like a kabuki-jedi who would run his mouth about the models without having brought anything of his own.  I think it was less about the quality of the models and more about his need to feel superior.  Just go away…I don’t care how cleverly made your gender-swapped Ant-Man X-wing pilot costume is, you’re annoying and you should leave. The same with steam punk people, save it for your own convention, nobody cares how many brass buttons you can fit on your codpiece.  Go push your tchotchkes somplace else.

Getting back to Jon though, this is the rare kind of cosplay I can appreciate.  Jon was the Space Coordinator for the BrickCon the year this photo was snapped and it was his job to handle the Moonbase layout.  This vibrant one-piece certainly looks like a suitable Moonbase uniform, without being derivative of a specific franchise and it’s orange!  Having your rank spelled out on your sleeve may not be as cool as a mission-patch but it rocks in a very 1970’s kind of way.  As you can imagine Jon was easy to find on setup day, which made it easier for newcomers to figure out who was in charge and join in the Moonbase fun…a frequent problem at conventions…most coordinators suck at their jobs.  This one is an easy decision.

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20 thoughts on “Two for Tuesday: Jon Palmer

  1. Been awaiting a write-up about this guy. I think he was leaving the hobby just as I was entering it, so his legacy was still fresh and I heard great things about him despite never encountering him or his work anywhere online.

    Also, fuck steampunk. I see maybe one MOC a year out of hundreds in that genre that’s not a cluttered, regurgitated fuckpile of pipes and gears in various shades of MUD that serve absolutely no purpose, mechanically or aesthetically.

    I do know a guy who’s into cosplay, but he wouldn’t dare wear any of it in public. He just likes wearing ridiculous anime/JRPG outfits (usually women’s) to see what it’s like. I dunno if that’s the norm in that hobby.

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    1. It took me a while to write Jon’s ‘Tuesday’ post because it was difficult to write without coming off as too sentimental or nostalgic. I’m better at being sarcastic than earnest so it took some time to get the tone right, if I did. It’s too bad you missed out on communicating with Jon, he always had insightful things to say about both building and the community and his creativity was contagious.

      Finally, somebody will stand with me against Steampunkery, a blight on the hobby and culture at large. I’m really worried about that new official Steampunk theme coming down the pipeline, of how many insufferable builds it will inspire. None of it makes any god damn sense, there is nothing remotely Victorian about it besides some annoying affectations and the steam is apparently magical because there never seem to be boilers…just boilerplate. Brushed gold = steampunk! I think part of my prejudice come from the frequent combination of steampunk and cosplay. You don’t have to dress up to play with your Lego and this hobby is white enough as it is. Is there anything whiter than Steampunk?

      I admit that it takes skill to make a kick-ass costume and it’s no better or worse than Lego, I just don’t like the crossover, or most of the people who indulge in it. I feel the same way about hardcore football fans…take your jerseys (costumes) and go away.

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  2. Is there no greater hell on earth other than Tulsa? I mean, I would go visit my great-grandmother in Compton all the time and it sucked there, but if you knew the people and they knew you it was actually great. But Tulsa. I say nuke the site from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure. Maybe strafe the entirety of Oklahoma while you’re at it. And sweep through North Texas too; they can’t fool me there, it’s Baja Oklahoma.

    It’s great to see a geodesic done right. I’ve seen several at conventions and on closer inspection, they falter with the shape at key points. They should be elegant, and Jon’s clearly is.

    I have a happy/sad feeling for these posts; on one hand it’s spectacular seeing and reviewing the make up of our community, on the other hand seeing these greats leave it makes me feel like I have clearly missed out. It looks like Jon was much greater than the sum of his parts and I can’t help but think that a definitive archive of all these talented builders is an absolute necessity. Maybe store it in an underground vault in the frozen north of Norway.

    And I feel that the jumpsuit could have used a gold cravat.

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    1. Tulsa is like Bakersfield CA, Albuquerque or my hometown of Vegas. There has to be a better use for the land than to turn it into a vortex of human despair. I just realized the bar in the Two For Tuesday’s graphic is in Tulsa…how perfect.

      I agree, I’ve seen some crappy geodesic domes of other designs and they end up all dented in or twisted or just plain not quite working. The cheap and easy path isn’t necessarily the best one, and not all domes are created equal.

      I feel the same way about this column, it’s a mixed bag for me to write them, especially when the subject matter his quit the hobby or drifted off. I don’t want to get maudlin or needlessly sentimental, but neither do I want these people to be forgotten in the context of the hobby. We do need a big public archive. I know people have tried WIKIpedia and such but I don’t think it works very well. At least it’s not full of enthusiastic writers. It would take a group of people who were willing to sacrifice the time and effort to make such an archive work. Compiling is not a fun task so it wouldn’t be as easy as it sounds, and it’s certainly not something that I would be interested in spearheading, I’ve got too much on my plate as it is. Norway is good, but Nevada’s got cheap land next to the Yucca Mountain nuclear dump that is pretty secret/safe.

      The jumpsuit should have a gold cravat! And he should probably have some aviator sunglasses too.

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  3. Developing the moonbase standard with Jon 14 years ago was a blast, especially seeing the immediate success. The idea came out of a brainstorming session with a dozen or so spacers up at Brickfest in DC in summer 2002. After the con, Jon and I fleshed out the standard connection online, and Jon built the first example model, put together the explanation on classic-space.com, and announced the project on Lugnet at the end of July. Two months later, at the first Seattle BrickCon ever, there was a huge Moonbase, with people waiting in long lines to get a chance to enter the room and see it.

    Later, Jon introduced me to a bunch of great old movies, and a ton of mediocre Indie rock, with some good stuff mixed in.

    I took over http://moonbase.se when Jon let it lapse of anyone is interested in doing something with it.

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    1. I spoke too soon. The classic-space forum archive is here:
      http://archive.classic-space.com/

      Now if only Brickshelf weren’t down, we could find some pictures of the first Moonbase. Incidentally, that’s what sucked Gary McIntire into the hobby. He came to the con as a public visitor, found a kindred spirit in Jon, and went on to be another great friendly influence in our world.

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      1. I didn’t know that about Gary, I knew he worked with Jon for a while but I didn’t know Moonbase was his gateway drug into the hobby. I got lost down a rabbit hole with that link, looking back at my old You Control the Action contests…that seems like a really long time ago.

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    2. Thanks for the correction and insight Bram, I’m a little fuzzy on the history of that time period, I was just hitting the scene and I wasn’t knee deep in the lore. I looked around a bit, but like I was discussing with Matt, there just isn’t a good central repository for all this stuff, there are bits and pieces here and there, but none of it is that satisfying. I should probably do more research for these articles by writing emails to the people involved, but I like to move fast on these posts and I’m incredibly lazy.

      Jon hooked me up with some movies and tunes as well, he has a good eye (and ear) for offbeat stuff.

      Looking back, what do you think about the Classic-Space.com era? It was sort of in between Lugnet and Flickr, but it didn’t stay popular for long. I never really dug it that much and I remember advocating we stay on LUGNET, but I’d be interested to hear your take.

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      1. I think phpBB is pretty weak. It’s hard to follow a conversation with no threading. Todd’s home-built forum software (that predates phpBB by a fair amount) was better in almost every way except ease of registering and staying logged in. I recall the discussion on Classic-Space being very active which was great…and having subforums made some sense, but I too would have preferred to stay on Lugnet. It still exists…I guess we could go back instead of shooting the shit in wordpress comments.

        Here’s the link that was supposed to go in one of my other comments.
        http://www.lugnet.com/space/timeline
        Looks like Jon started the SHIPyard on GeoCities of all places. If I recall correctly, when the SHIPyard and Moonbase moved to Zemi, I wrote the code to automate the database. I probably have a backup of it, but most of the links are probably dead, and the build quality has increased so much since then that I’m not sure if it’s worth resurrecting.

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      2. This place was never intended to be a community hub, just a place for me to rant, so I’m not seeing the connection there. Nor would I want to go back to LUGNET, while it was an important beginning step for the hobby it wasn’t exactly perfect either. I don’t ever want to deal with that cumbersome moderation again nor do I want to be scolded by overzealous mods who seemed to derive some kind of pleasure out of yelling at people for incorrectly cross-posting. The place was abandoned for a reason. I think CSF was an interesting experiment but ultimately too much of a clubhouse, to isolated from the rest of the world and too dependent on four or five dudes.

        That timeline is interesting, but man there was some odd minutia on that list. It immediately reminded me what a clubhouse that place could be. That’s the danger of Two for Tuesday, the nostalgia gets too think and there is a tendency to only remember the good things. I think this series may need a rest.

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  4. You know Keith, while I’m sure many cosplayers share the same personality traits you associate with that family member of yours, I know for a fact that the wife of an AFOL you highly respect – someone you count among those privileged enough to have gained entry to your Vegas sanctuary – is a pretty awesome cosplayer and nothing like you describe. Dare I suggest you might not be so quick to judge an entire hobby just from interactions with a small sampling of bad actors? 😉

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    1. What is it with guys like you, Mauro, trying to buzzkill my ranting with examples to the contrary and appeals to rationality? Of course there are exceptions but on the whole…as a species, cosplayers should be driven from the land with extreme prejudice. Of course the easiest way to drive off a cosplayer is to look away and deprive them of the attention they so richly crave. #Not all cosplayers.

      Now you’ve got me wondering who it is….

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  5. Oh Jon… you furtive minx, you. Palmer is the like Bill Brasky of SNL fame – everyone has a story of how Jon blew into their Lego experience like a munificent cyborg unicorn, ignited their passion for the hobby, then galloped into the sylvan woods. I recall my first post on lugnet.space, he commented with his usual enthusiasm and generosity along with Giddens and Sandlin. It really set the tone for my time in the hobby and resonates forward to this day well over a decade later. Jon’s builds are a reflection of him in a lot of ways – creative, deliberate and stem from an ability to divine something new that seemed to be right in front of you before, although you never saw it.

    As you mentioned, he was always a lightning rod at the conventions, especially when paired up with Gary. They were like the Bearded Wonder Twins – however if they had to touch beards to active their powers, I don’t want to know about it. Ick. Back in those days, the lugnet then CS fora were hopping and fun places to be and only grew in enjoyment when IRC #lego came in to complement it. Jon was a daily part of that room along with most of the other old time space guys and a constant flow of newer guys rotating in.

    I recall that Jon got out of the hobby after a couple years working on very large commission projects… like room-sized layouts with tens or hundreds of thousands of bricks. Day after day of that really sapped a lot of the enjoyment out of it, which I can completely understand. Combined with the move and real life things going on…well just one of those things.

    I have this idea that one day in the far future when I’m in the common room of the Thundercats Memorial Home for Aged Mankinders, I’ll be assembling some futuristic Lego/Weyland Yutani set made of 30% liquefied people, look up and see Jon and my old lugnet.space droogs shuffling over to join me.

    Then we’ll throw shit at the train guys.

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    1. Eloquently said, as usual, Gil. Jon is indeed the Bill Brasky of Lego nerds, larger than life: ““He taught me how to love a woman — and how to scold a child.”

      I think Jon’s burnout was caused in equal parts by his Legoland gig and his work with Dan Parker…and the scorn of a wicked Seattle-style Jezebel. I still text with Jon from time to time and he always reminds me that his collection is locked up safely in a barn waiting for the day he has digs large enough for a Legoratory. If I had to put money on it, I’d say that building is in his blood and he’ll be back like a relapsed junkie.

      The picture you paint of the the Thundercats facility is simultaneously appealing and hellish, I’ll be the one drooling in the corner staring at the TV…mumbling about how you guys are doing it wrong and where is my damn taco?

      There is never a wrong time to throw shit at train guys.

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    2. Almost forgot…if Gary and Jon touch beards they become a creature like the Roman god Janus, they will deflower everything in sight, regardless of gender or perhaps even species. They will drink all your wine, impregnate your female family members and lead others to decadent destruction. If you’re at a con and you hear the phrase…”follow the Gary” do so only if you’re fully committed and you’ve got a box of condoms and no drug test at work coming up.

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  6. thanks for that write up, I always wondered what happened to Jon.
    Jon was a huge influence on me when I discovered FBTB in the early 2000’s and found that i was not the only adult that liked to build space ships out of Lego.

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