Fire for Effect: The Brick Schoolhouse, a Proof of Concept.

This is the sixth salvo in Michael Rutherford’s regular column, Fire for Effect. Take it away Mike…

I thought I would try something slightly different with this installment of FFE, it’s a radical new approach I have decided to call: “Not complaining.”  It’s a highly experimental technique for me, and frankly… I’m feeling a little uncertain about the whole approach.  Basically, instead of railing on about some great evil, I am going to try to frame my thoughts in the form of a specific and entirely positive recommendation.  I know, I know… it sounds pretty bohemian to me as well, but we will see how it works.  Failure is often the wage of experimentation… so let’s take a deep breath.  Positive.  Thinking positive… things.  Focusing my chakra.  Radiant… stuff… flowing like… glowing and growing radiant… stuff… our minds are merging… now together, even as we are also apart…

Nope, I can’t do it.  I can’t be all positive and growthy.  Just focus, read, and send counter fire.

Thesis:

Many of us should start a Lego User Group (LUG).

Thesis clarification:

A LUG?  Is that like a Lego Club?  Why would you call it a LUG?  What the hell kind of name is that?  Well, the bottom line up front is that: Yep, a LUG is the same as a Lego Club.  But there is a reason we call our clubs “user groups” and not simply “Clubs”.  Remember in the last FFE I mentioned the long and storied history of the tribes of the AFOL and the TECHY?  The term “User Group” is a linguistic artifact of our shared proto-cultures.  Check out this definition of “User Group” from PC Magazine:

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The language of our brother tribe is with us even today…

LUGs enhance the Lego hobby in a number of ways.  LUGs are multifaceted social constructs that can be tailored to enhance Lego as it is used and experienced by any specific demographic, or even multiple demographics.  LUGs can be “on-line” or real world, or both.  LUGs can be based on a theme, or many themes.  LUGs can be socially focused, build focused, display focused… or as is usually the case, LUGs can be based on a blend of several foci.  Further, these foci can change with the will of its members!  Age, gender, income bracket, geography, culture and language… any variable imaginable that can be a reason NOT TO INCLUDE somebody in a LUG… can just as easily become a reason TO INCLUDE somebody in a LUG.  A LUGs function and purpose is totally arbitrary.  We control all of that action… and that makes the LUG an excellent “Swiss Army Knife” within the hobby.  It’s an infinitely adaptable tool for getting people to experience Lego in myriad mo-bettah ways.

But, many of us don’t take the idea of starting a LUG seriously.  We believe it requires vast resources, or great expertise.  We believe it’s an unsupportable burden in terms of time.  We believe that by starting a LUG, we are exposing ourselves to mockery, scorn, and rejection.  We are more likely to wish there was a good LUG in our area than we are likely to start a good LUG in our area.   These beliefs are mostly incorrect, and we should discard them (hope you don’t feel judged!).

Further, being in a LUG already is not in and of itself, a reason NOT to start a LUG.  Yeah, sure… it might be easer (or even smarter) to combine your LUG agenda with that of a pre-existing LUG… but sometimes, agendas are simply incompatible.  I checked The U.N. Charter… and there is NO prohibition against being in more than one LUG at a time!

Finally, remember this: If you start a LUG, and it doesn’t work out well… then you can end it!  It’s experimentation man!  Just go for it!  It’s a good thing to try, and it’s not a difficult thing to shut down.  It’s just a LUG, not a nuclear weapons program!

Assumptions:

  1. More people using Lego is better for the hobby.
  2. Many people will not use or enjoy Lego as much in isolation as they will in groups.
  3. People who DO excel in solitary Lego operations, will often benefit from LUG membership in ancillary realms (social contact, networking, developing communication skills, service to others).
  4. LUG membership benefits not only the individual… but also benefits other LUG members (synergy).
  5. There is no OPTIMAL LUG formula.
  6. You control the action!

Wandering dissertation:

About 6 years ago, I arrived at a juncture in my career where I knew I would be engaged in low intensity work for a whole year.  This means I knew that I could realistically expect to work from 08:00AM until about 4:00PM daily, and that I would have most weekends free and clear. In my job, that’s a rare thing.  I had most of a basement at my disposal, and 12 months of geographic stability.  I decided to do two things.  The first was to build a big diorama and take it to the convention in Chicago.  The second thing was to start a LUG.

The decision to build a big dio was easy.  That’s what I want to be doing all the time!  So when there is time… it’s what I start to do.  Like a plant bending towards sunlight.  But that second thing… the LUG?  That idea crept up on me like a cautious predator.  Slowly picking its way around obstacles, moving farther and faster with each step, gaining strength and momentum before lunging, and driving me to act.  Start a LUG?  Are you nuts?  I can’t.  No experience!  No knowledge!   A LUG?  That’s just crazy talk!

Shortly after our family moved into our new home, a teacher from the local school district approached me and asked if I would be interested in running a “Lego Club” as an afterschool activity each Friday afternoon.  I thought it might be cool.  I thought she was asking me to assist in a school activity.  Like a volunteer assistant.  I pictured a room full of boisterous 3rd through 6th grade boys, building airplanes and space ships… talking about violence in its many delightful and entertaining forms.  Yeah. Maybe I could do that for a year.  Why not?

Then the teacher said there was no Lego Club in place, and no bylaws or regulations about school clubs.

Then she said it had to include boys and girls.  (Yeah… that’s only fair.  Besides how many girls want to play with Lego after school?)

Then she said it had to include ages K through 6. (What?  In ONE club?  A kindergartener girl sitting next to a 6th grade boy… and two of them sharing some kind of structured agenda?  Happily?  Unlikely.)

Then she said the school had no Lego.  (Uhhhh… well… we kind of need those for the… Lego Club… don’t we?)

Then she said no teachers would be available to assist. (This just keeps getting better and better)

But… I could have 3 hours every Friday afternoon in the school.

And… a broom closet to store the Lego in… and the door had a working lock!

And…  I could structure the activity any way I wanted (Ah… well at least I could control the action!)

And… That was pretty much the deal.  Nothing more to add.

I asked her if I was going to be allowed to hang out in the teachers’ lounge, because those forbidden rooms had always fascinated me as a child.  She just blinked at me, her immobile half-smile failing to mask her sudden apprehension.   Pinhead.

So… being the master of my world… being a highly trained and professional leader… being a world traveler and a paragon of modern masculine authority…  I did what any man would do in that situation.  I asked my wife for permission.  Did I say any man? I meant any HONEST man. (Just stop.  If you don’t ask your spouse for permission to do stuff, it’s because you aint married…or you’re simply lying!) And she said OK… and then I asked if she would also help me… and she said OK again!  But then I really needed to earn some cool points, so I went and cut the grass or something.

At any rate…we listed the problems we had to solve.

  1. Lego! The club didn’t have any, and I was damned if I was giving away my own!  You know the deal… Lego = Money.
  2. Age gap. Kindergarteners and 6th graders don’t generally play and learn together.  In life they do.  On holidays they do.  At family events they do… but not in a school Lego Club they don’t!  Except of course… now they will… right?
  3. How many laws can you break on accident in three hours? The School had NOTHING in writing for me.  NOTHING.  My employer would call this “Un-plan” approach a “non-starter”.
  4. What the hell were we ever trying to do with this club?  I wasn’t interested in providing 3 hours of free babysitting every Friday afternoon!  I have naps to take!  Chores to ignore!  TV shows to binge watch with my kids! Beers to drink!  A dio to build for the Chicago convention!  Come on folks!  Sometimes I’m doing two or three of these things at once!

After listing the challenges, we began to knock them over, one at a time.

First, MISSION.  In typical government style thinking… I started with the last item first.  MISSION.  Mission statements get a bad rap.  I get it… we have all learned to HATE mission statements because most of them suck!  My employer uses a simple format.  It’s tested, proven, and it has only five parts… which is especially good for me because it corresponds with the number of fingers on my left hand!  So I can count them off as I go.  It’s so convenient!  We will look at the MISSION STATEMENT in a second.  Suffice it to say, you shouldn’t just make it up.  You gotta work up to it.

Get over the years of shitty mission statements we have heard… Get past the STUPID crap about Burger Kings “Mission” to provide you with the best dining experience possible at a price you can afford.  Instead, ponder this: If you are not CLEAR on WHAT you’re doing… you will probably fail to DO it.

Form follows function.  Remember from the assumptions I listed above, I don’t think there is an optimal LUG formula.  You make the LUG fit your needs. What was this clubs function?  Kids were supposed to meet for various after school activities for enrichment.  Enrichment.  Huh.  Beyond that… my new favorite school teacher couldn’t tell me anything.  For my part, I just wanted to learn about LUGs.  For me, the best way to learn is by doing.  But again, what is the LUGs function, and… again, form follows function!

So, with ZERO input from the school, I decided any LUG involving kids had to:

  1. Be safe.
  2. Be fair.
  3. Be fun.
  4. Be consistent.
  5. Introduce new topics to kids, and then to explore those topics (this is enrichment I guess):
    1. Civil behavior. Respect and disrespect. Rules of engagement.
    2. Social organization. Collective and individual systems.
    3. Decision making and leadership. Participatory and autocratic options.
    4. Markets/jobs. Income. Trading. Sharing.   Saving.  Poverty.  Wealth.
    5. Roles.  Club offices.  Expectations.
  6. Be transferable to (to the next sucker who said: Yeah… I guess I could do that).
  7. Be enduring. A good enough idea that it would be continued after my departure.

Not the LUG you are looking for?  Well duh!  Form follows function right?  Unless you were a K through 6th grade kid attending this exact school, it wasn’t crafted for you.  It was crafted for little kids!  Custom built to fit the needs I was facing.  Lots of kids, lots of ages and lots of interests.  I needed a format that would keep a room full of sugar fueled high-efficiency CPUs humming for three hours straight!  Want to keep kids focused?  Challenge them.  To me, that meant direct engagement and structure.  A bunch of K through 6 kids, fighting over a bucket of bricks while a worn out copy of Dora the Explorer plays on a loop for three hours… aint it.

I wanted the LUG to be educational in focus.  In the best of all worlds, it would merely amplify stuff kids are already exposed to in class… but of course in my world (here in the U.S. of A) none of that stuff is taught at K through 6, so I was going to be introducing the concepts.  Either way, my LUG was just a vehicle, a means to an end.  Increasing the kids building skills and enjoyment of Lego was just an inevitable and excellent side effect of “enrichment.”  I went with this format because I figured parents and the school would respond better to that notion: A LUG as a classroom.  (Foot note: As it turned out, most parents didn’t give a damn!  They just wanted the three hours of babysitting!  And the school?  They were beyond disinterested… they were oblivious!).

Oh, and I thought I better think of a clever name.  Maybe something with the word brick… or school.    So I called it: The Brick Schoolhouse.  Very abstract, I know.

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Continue reading “Fire for Effect: The Brick Schoolhouse, a Proof of Concept.”

Two for Tuesday: Adrian Egli

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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 an O.G. savant that you may not be familiar with, in part because he’s never been one to seek the spotlight and in part because he hasn’t posted much in the last few years (with the exception of convention photos).  As a connoisseur of fine models you should get to know him though, because he’s responsible for some of the greatest large-scale bridges online and helped push the envelope in the formative days of LUGNET and Brickshelf.  Above all that, Adrian Egli is just a good dude who deserves some props in a hobby that tends to forget the soft-spoken, urbane gentlemen that walk among us unnoticed in the herd of sweaty, often churlish mankinder.

I had the good fortune of meeting Adrian Egli on two seperate occasions: BricksWest 2003 and BrickFest PDX 2007.  Both encounters were unfortunately unremarkable, like driving a Hyundai or drinking a Rolling Rock and fall into the “drive by” variety of conversation that characterize all too much of the convention scene.  After nearly every one of the dozen cons I’ve attended, I’ve left feeling like I’d missed an opportunity to really connect with some of the people I wanted to.  Also, I think it’s fair to say that Adrian was a somewhat awkward guy back then or at the very least shy in public situations with idiots like me.  During both meetings Mr. Egli made solid eye-contact, politely listened to me ramble my praise about his bridges and thanked me for the complements.  But so say that there was a connection, or that we became fast-friends like other people in the TfT column would be a lie.  Adrian also didn’t seem that interested in my space ships (can’t say that I blame him) and the conversation just kind of died on the vine.  I think it might be different if I met him today, because back then I was a wide-eyed greenhorn and he’d already accomplished a great deal in terms his involvement in LUGs, LTCs, conventions and all that larger community stuff.  My convention-based interests were limited to enjoying intoxicants with like-minded sci-fi nerds and people-watching all the magnificent weirdos our hobby has to offer.  But drive-by conversation aside, the builder and his builds made a lasting impression on me.

For tonight’s first shot, we’ll be examining the bridge that first captivated me over a decade ago when I first became aware of Adrian’s work on LUGNET, where I would often read his posts about building curves, LTCs and trying to get a LUG off the ground in our mutual home town, San Diego.  I’m going to date this bridge in the very early 2000’s, I wish I could offer a more precise date, but his Brickshelf account is gone and the dates on Flickr refer to when he uploaded the shots, not when they were originally posted online.  You’ll find very little commentary or statistical information in Adrian’s Flickrstream, which is a shame, but very much in line with his humility about what he builds and his quiet demeanor.  I would also like to mention that San Diego is an underrated city for bridges, it has a little bit of everything and you can certainly see echoes of them in Adrian’s work.

For my money, this lovely curved suspension bridge encapsulates everything that makes Egli’s work so memorable and important to the history of the hobby.  Of course you’ve got the curved road, which might not seem that difficult today, but back then this was like alien technology to many of us, or purely theoretical in nature.  Then you’ve got those striking V-shaped support stands, which are impressive creations in their own right.  Lastly you’ve got the suspension factor, something I still don’t see done very often.  And yes…yes…we all know the boilerplate axiom that bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better, that size alone should not be a determining factor for brilliance.  But look at the size of this thing in comparison to the furniture and the fireplace in the background…if that doesn’t impress you more than a spaceship you can fit into the palm of your hand, you’re either lying, possess questionable faculties or you’re a god-damn communist.  This model also doubles as a legitimate piece of home furnishing!  Talk about a conversation starter, I don’t know if I’d have the heart to tear this thing down if it were mine, this thing should be preserved for permanent display by a convention or that oddball Lego museum I hear strange whisperings about.  For my money, this is a wonder of the ancient AFOL world and an important slice of action that showed me what was possible and stoked the fire of my imagination at a crucial moment.

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For our second shot, I selected this little number, again from the mid 2000’s.  It doesn’t have a name, none of them do, they are named after the seasons Winter StudySpring Study …etc, there is no tedious backstory to distract from the build.  I like his naming conventions, and the implicit notion that a particular model took an entire season to build, it kind of drives home the committment involved to see such a project through.  What’s also lost in the ‘bigger isn’t better’ argument is that many people who like to play that particular trumpet don’t have the attention span or endurance to build something on this scale and complexity.  Yes, some can’t afford to build something this big but it’s not the limiting factor.

I cannot overstate the personal importance of this bridge and the inspiration it provided to my own build, Zero Hour on Highway 44.  I didn’t quite have enough space or gray brick to pull off a bridge at this scale so I opted for a double-decker highway, but without Adrian’s work I don’t know if I would have dreamed big enough to build something this ambitious on my own.  I’d previously built a slightly larger project, but that was with major contribututions from two other builders and it didn’t have nearly the same height.  At the time, I thought seriously about reaching out to Adrian to see if he wanted to collaborate, but as I mentioned in the beginning of this article, I didn’t feel like I knew him well enough and that it wouldn’t be his bag.  If I had it all to do over again I would change that, and I don’t rule out working with him somewhere down the line.  San Diego is only a short drive from Vegas…

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Another reason I wanted to talk about Adrian this week is because in addition to being a great builder, he also suffers from epilepsy and uses the brick for a way to cope with it.  I stumbled on this article  in the San Diego Union-Tribune a couple of years after meeting him and I appreciate his bravery for putting it all out there in the hope that it might help somebody suffering in silence.  Normally I would never reference a person’s medical condition in a blog post, I’ve only done it once before when Chris Giddens had his public bout with cancer so I don’t write this lightly.  Much like Chris with his condition, Adrian is comfortable talking about epilepsy and advocating for his peers in a public forum, so I figured he wouldn’t mind me mentioning it as a part of this story.  Although I can only think of one other builder who suffers from epilepsy, I don’t think this kind of relationship between the brick and health is all that unique.  Whether it’s cancer, epilepsy, autism or clinical depression, I know from my travels both online and in person that a number of us suffer from serious ailments and use building as a form of therapy.  If you don’t want to click on the article, here is the relevant quotation:

Adrian Egli of San Diego also has continuing difficulty with convulsive seizures. Not yet 40, Egli has been unable to work full-time and is soon to go on Social Security disability. His hobby, which he credits with helping him overcome depression, is building structures with Legos.

Egli said he got epilepsy after being struck by a car when he was 5. He went years without a seizure, and was even considered cured. Then he had a convulsive seizure in a ninth-grade class.

Suddenly, students didn’t want to be near him. “I felt like a freak,” Egli said.

Egli spoke at a meeting-related press conference sponsored by UCB Pharma, a maker of epilepsy drugs. The company is trying to address the stigma of epilepsy by sponsoring a program to place service dogs with those with epilepsy.

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Photo credit: Joe Meno

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.

Even though it’s nowhere nearly as bad as Dan Rubin’s now infamous pink version from a previous installment of Two for Tuesdays, Adrian is sporting the uniform of the damned…a polo shirt.  The color and lack of corporate logo certainly help his case and it is accessorized with a perfectly serviceable belt…but I simply cannot go on the record endorsing this most hated style of shirt.  Adrian, you’re better than this, leave the polo shirt for golfers, prep-school attendees and low-level corporate yes-men.  At your age you still manage to have it all: good teeth, a full head of hair and a distinct lack of a spare tire that plagues so many of the early generation of builders.   Please don’t let that go to waste my friend, there are other more humane options out there.  I hate to pick on a guy with epilepsy but master bridge-builder or not, old school AFOL or not, I’m afraid it’s time to…

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Friday Night Fights [Round 14]

Welcome back fight fans, to Sin City Nevada for another meat-grinding edition of Friday Night Fights!  This week’s bout features one of our hobby’s most popular yet…somehow…unappreciated sub-genres, with the international heavyweight clone-on-a-plate championship belt on the line.  Without further preamble, let’s go to the tale of the tape.

Fighting out of the red corner, from somewhere in the garden, it’s Longer “The Lion”  Ludovic and his “détente“.

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And fighting out of the blue corner, from a place where hope still floats, it’s “Killer” Ki Young Lee and his “For your wish“.

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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 before announcing the next bout.

Last week, on Friday Night Fights….

It was the 200 Years War, as near future starfighters dueled for the all important control of the Earth-Mars corridor.    In the end, Nick “Nasty” and his “SAB S-44 Kestrel“ scored a walloping 10-5 victory over  “The Human X-acto Knife” xiei22 and his “BLUE Phobos“.  Nick records his first win and improves his record to (1-0) while xiei22 falls to (0-1).

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“Ego is to the true self what a flashlight is to a spotlight”

During the hiatus I gave some serious thought to the topic of how to improve the blog in order to both maximize the satisfaction I get out of writing about Lego and maximize the entertainment value for you, the constant reader.  From the beginning I’ve been writing for an audience of builders, I don’t really care about the sort of boilerplate reader who indiscriminately devours nerd culture and loves the Big Bang Theory.  The Manifesto is for the hardcore, the people who do more than just idly consume the product of our benevolent Danish overlords.  With that in mind, lets talk about one topic that came up time and again when I thought about the blog, the proverbial meat and potatoes of Lego bloggery, the model spotlight.  Since the dawn of the hobby as we enjoy it today, blogs have traditionally focused on two things: new product information and giving a digital high-five to the builders who make compelling models.  The Manifesto doesn’t have the access or interest to comment on new product, that kind of news is better delivered and discussed elsewhere.  I cut my teeth doing nothing but model spotlights on TBB and I continued the tradition here during the first run, but I’ve begun to question its value.

Before we go any further I’d like to give credit to up and coming builder Tammo S. who recently posted this striking pair of spotlights that I can imagine several delightful uses for.  Each one could easily be the starting point or even centerpiece for a diorama, and I like how they are highly detailed without being busy.  You can’t go wrong with a little functionality either, although I find the gold one to be the more appealing of the two.  So check out Tammo’s work if you get the chance, I think he’s on his way to bigger and better things so you might as well find your seat on the bandwagon early.

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I’m not sure how much value the concept of the ‘MOC Spotlight‘ has for this blog in particular, at least in the traditional sense of harvesting the best recent Lego models and giving them adulation.  Let’s take Tyler Clites for example.  I’ve met the guy in person, I’ve collaborated with him and I’d put him up there with the best our hobby has to offer regardless of genre both as a builder and a decent human being.  All that said, I’m not sure how much value there is in posting Tyler’s latest model.  By the time you read my glowing opinion of his nearly immaculate creation you’ve already seen it in your Flickrstream, Facebook feed, Instagram and two or three of the big blogs.   I’ll do it here, since I’m talking about him, and it really is a kick-ass ship with an amazing interior but does it benefit anyone if I echo what you already know and has already been said five times over?  Does a guy like Tyler really need an ego bump, when everyone acknowledges his greatness already?  He’s already got a billion followers, favorites and comments.  I know he deserves them all but is it actually pushing the hobby forward or encouraging new or young builders?  I’m not so sure.

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So if I’m not that excited about posting the Top 40 hottest models, should I drop the concept entirely from the blog and stick to the other features you see in the sidebar?  Or should I focus on blogging lesser known builders who are not “ready for prime time” and give them the spotlight and in a best case scenario…meaningful critique from the commentariat here on the Manifesto?  With the diminished pace and output of the blog it seems difficult to do both.  Maybe you favor some other approach entirely, as always, I’m ready to hear you in the comment section.

Because I love to use this particular WordPress feature and the vast majority of readers won’t leave a written opinion but they might click on a poll, please consider participating in the following survey:

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Night Fights [Round 13]

Welcome back fight fans, to Sin City Nevada for another flying-guillotine edition of Friday Night Fights!  This week’s bout will be fought in the cold reaches of space using advanced technology that might be within reach in say…the next 200 years.  Without further preamble, let’s go to the tale of the tape.

Fighting out of the red corner, from the well-appointed boardroom of the Sentec Aerospace Bureau, it’s Nick “Nasty” and his “SAB S-44 Kestrel“.

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And fighting out of the blue corner, from the red sands of Mars Colony, it’s “The Human X-acto Knife” xiei22 and his “BLUE Phobos“.

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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 MOC that best suits your individual taste. I will tally up the votes next Friday and declare a winner before announcing the next bout.

On the last Friday Night Fights….

It was the skirmish of the sky-boats, in all their foppish glory with international fishing rights on the line.    In the end, Felipe “O Touro” Avelar and his “Mestiço“ scored a harrowing 6-5 victory over “Jackhammer” JPascal and his “Ramona“.  Felipe records his first win and improves his record to (1-0) while JPascal falls to (0-1).

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Color Commentary:

For those of you not in the know, this week’s combatants are also competitors in the popular Real World +200 building contest which just concluded on Flickr.  The event brought out some truly impressive starfighters, and what it may have lacked in sheer numbers (33 entries), rarely have I seen a contest with a higher overall level of quality.  There are only a couple of sloppy models, the vast majority are good and several are great.  These happen to be my two favorites, but the match-making was easy this week because I could have selected half a dozen models from the contest.

A few weeks ago when the contest turnout wasn’t looking so good, one of the hosts (and frequent contributor to the Manifesto comments section) went on the Flickr group AFOL 16+ and wondered aloud why that might be.  Of course I had to chime in with my two cents and I came of more harshly than I intended.  The three guys and one gal who ran the contest did a fine job, and I think I let my dislike of the main design inspiration from  TV’s “The Expanse”, and my general attitude towards the 16+ group to cloud my appreciation of the topic. Since the TV show was the primary point of reference mentioned in a pretty vague contest description, the whole thing turned me off and I assumed the same must be true of other builders.  Although I enjoy The Expanse as a show, I think the ship designs are horribly uninspired. However, I also stand by the criticism I mentioned on 16+, concerning one of the first entrants who was allowed to break the rules. As I wrote before, I know the point of the endeavor is inclusion but that kind of shit bothers me. For so many contests, rules are rules…but only until somebody complains.  It should not come as a shock to any constant reader that I’m a grumpy old dick sometimes.

I’ve known the hosts from years of interactions online and in person, and they are all good people who put up some great prizes and clearly inspired some fantastic work.  If you have a chance, check out the other entries, it’s definitely worth your time if you’re at all into sci-fi.  Kudos to Simon, Carter, Kate and Christopher for running a good show.

Fire for Effect: Alas Alas That Great City LUGNET

This is the fifth salvo in Michael Rutherford’s regular column, Fire for Effect. Take it away Mike…

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The planet LUGNET… The Lego User Group Network… The Home World.  Once the undisputed hub of the entire AFOL sector, it was a powerful marketplace of ideas.  Almost 20 years later,  LUGNET hangs invisible from the ceiling of cyberspace… like a gigantic, arthritic bat… hidden from view in the darkness, but still clinging defiantly to life.  A desolate place… its once thronging multitudes are long gone, fled to the promise of a better life in the off-world colonies. Those few who remain on the Home World are merely stewards who live in the ruins, creatures of habit who hold out hope for better times and new track geometries.  The mighty stream of message traffic that once flowed in from every corner of the AFOL sector has now slowed to a trickle of Ones and Zeros… Occasionally, the dusty silence of litter strewn streets is broken by a distant sonic boom, a recon drone swooping down from orbit on a preprogrammed census sweep.

LUGNET was a good thing and nothing like it exists currently.  In its heyday, the site was a communications nexus, a cognitive disco and an atomic snow globe of creativity. Announcements of MOCs were the mainstay, but not the only commodity to be had. Ideas, conversations, debates, arguments, product news and other deliberations were all available in seemingly inexhaustible supply.  And links?  Links a go-go!  Links to LUGs. Links to images.  Links to other more specific groups.  Links to other blogs.  Links to contests.  Links to Keith’s mom…  It was the allure of this perpetual tumult that lured me into my first public utterance as an AFOL.  It was Sunday, the 24th of October, 2004… at exactly 04:14:42 GMT.  The transcript of this first transmission remain in the abandon archives even today!  Prepare yourself, it was both insightful and inspiring.

Rosco,
Nicely put.  Apparently I couldn't handle the dictionary after all.
Mike

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Yet for all this activity, LUGNET was swept from majestic cultural centrality into the margins of the AFOL world in the blink of an eye.  The thronging population crashed… seemingly overnight.  Historians would argue about the cause of LUGNETs collapse… if they cared.  But of course, historians, like most other people, could care less!  But trust me… if they did care… they would argue!

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What happened to LUGNET?

I think the AFOL race should ask itself, and perhaps ask beings from other races, this question.  The answer to the question may be an unpleasant but valuable cautionary tale.

Why is our home world all but dead?

Well for starters… I sure as hell don’t know!  I have deepened and broadened my ignorance by steadfastly refusing to do any serious historical research.  Further, I have carefully cultivated a massive cataract shaped exactly like modern consumer communications systems.  I don’t know an iPhone from a xylophone (Wait wait!  I know… the iPhone is the one you play with little mallets!) On the upside, failing to back your opinion with research means you don’t have to worry about the age-old question: APA or Turabian? So, in the unlikely event that you are STILL reading… know ye this: Every word of this article is based on the subjective opinion of an aging white man!  I’m also pretty sure my world view is mired in the Western tradition… and further tainted by years of work in the service of the state!  Also, my daughter says I’m a misogynist, but she is incorrect… silly girl!  So read on, only at the peril of your plaid wearing, Panini eating, Seattle’s Best drinking, hipster soul!  And get your rebuttal in gear… because I think I’m setting myself up for some rotten tomatoes here… Oh, Shush… here comes my thesis!

My best guess regarding the cause of the great population collapse on LUGNET is three-fold.  First, the rise of the specialized sites.  Second, the triumph of the visual over the verbal. And third, some technical stuff that I can neither comprehend nor articulate… but I’m pretty sure it’s in there some place.

The first horseman arrives.  Behold, the rise of the specialized sites!  And like so many catastrophes, it sounded like a good idea at the time… As I recall, it was the castle community that inadvertently broke the first seal in 2003.  The castle heads were the first sub-community to strike out from the home world, they were the first brave souls to seek a better life on a distant planet, which their wizards had named Classic Castle.

In the interest of clarity, I don’t mean to point an accusing finger here.  I think the castle heads, as a culture, have always been one of the more refined and dignified AFOL sub-cultures.  They embody a sort of renaissance ideal.  They strike a balance between the icy, unblinking technical competence of the Train Heads and the aggressive emotionalism of the Spacers.  The castle heads are a calm, restrained and tolerant people.  They are by and large a friendly lot and enjoy a culture of gentile artisans and hearty drinkers.  Always willing to make room at their table, always ready to laugh (Come to think of it… Castle Heads might actually be Halflings…).  No, my intent here is not to admonish.

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Photo Credit: “Very old Friends” by the always entertaining Pate-keetongu.

Continue reading “Fire for Effect: Alas Alas That Great City LUGNET”