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.


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:

User Group Snip.PNG

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!


  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.


Oh, and Keith provided a big batch of custom engraved bricks that ONLY club members could have… EVER!  That was like… GOLD to these kids.  A custom engraved Brick Schoolhouse brick? Aces! Keith was angry that I would not agree to let him put “KeithLUG” on the back, but I couldn’t stomach the use of my amazing visionary LUG, just to feed Keith’s unquenchable burning need for fame and affirmation!   So I told him: “You’re a damn good cop Goldman, but you don’t know everything in the world yet!” Later he said: “Mike you were right all along… and I’m sorry for the way I acted.”  Then we nodded knowingly to one another, cocked our machine pistols, kicked open the door to the rest of our lives, and went in guns blazing!   Anyway… it was something like that…


After the name, and the mission parameters, comes the easy part: MISSION STATEMENT.  No!  Don’t skip ahead!  Damnit to hell… it’s only five Ws… Who, What, When, Where, Why.  Five Ws… five fingers (I only need one finger for you Goldman).  If I can do this… I’m pretty sure most of you can too!  Remember, if you can’t hammer out the 5 Ws in clear simple language… then the odds are, you still don’t know what you’re trying to do!  Our MISSION STATEMENT looked like this:

Who: You, The members of the Brick Schoolhouse.

What: Build assigned projects with Lego.

When: From 3:00PM to 6:00PM every Friday

Where: At this school.

Why: To learn about how you are going to run the world when you are in charge! (Code for that “Enrichment” crap).

That’s a lot of thought just for the mission.  But the mission is where the whole thing starts.  It dictates what is and is not relevant.  Every other decision and action in the LUG can be evaluated in terms of how it supports or detracts from the mission.  The mission is like magnetic north.  Struggle with it.  Fight about it.  Re-invent it.  Take as much time as you need, but in the end…get the MISSION statement right!  Later, as your LUG changes, and the LUG members priorities change, you can CHANGE your MISSION STATEMENT… but you should always know (and YOU should always ensure that your fellow LUG members know) what MISSION STATEMENT is guiding your clubs actions at any given moment.


The second challenge my wife and I had to solve: Legos!  (don’t tell me it’s “Lego”… I know, and I just don’t care).  We had no Legos for the club.  First, analysis.  I built a tiny one room house on a tiny green base plate, and a tiny car and we added a single “cheap” minifig.  We priced the parts on Bricklink and multiplied it by about 20 (an arbitrary guess about the size of the club). Then we added 25% more to pay for “uncharted building”.  That brought us to a nice round 400 bucks.  Yeah… 400 is a lot in my eyes,  but this was the leap of faith moment.  The wife and I discussed it, and she authorized a 400 dollar investment, contingent on club members paying a 20 dollar enrollment fee.  We thought we would probably lose half of this front money, but the school had no brick and no bucks… so… what else could we do?  We also assumed that all Lego purchased for the LUG would become property of the school itself as soon as we brought it to the club.  I wasn’t going to get into any “My Lego, and Your Lego” discussions.  We discussed it with my favorite teacher, who told us she “wasn’t comfortable asking parents for an enrollment fee” so I said “get bent” and then she said “OK, we’ll go with the enrolment fee”.  My wife (a German finance controller for crying out loud) got on Bricklink, and ordered 400 dollars’ worth of brick.  Lots of basic color brick, doors, windows, TV antennas, fence pieces, a few trees and bushes… not sexy stuff, basic stuff.


We had a “Parent Night” where the situation was explained to parents.  20 bucks, per kid, in advance, no refunds, and you don’t get any Lego to take home at the end of the semester.  At first, many parents balked at the fee, both in concept and in specific amount.  None of the other clubs charged anything, so why should we?  And 20 bones?  For nothing?  Except that when we reviewed the numbers: 12 meetings, each for three hours, provides you with 36 hours of educational engagement for your 20 dollars… uh… 55 cents per hour?  Boom.  We made almost half of our seed money back in the first night.  Later we made the rest back, with extra, which we used for subsequent Lego purchases for the school.


So, while we did have to “front” the seed money, we got it back and were spending all overages on more brick for the school within three meetings.  It went off almost without a hitch, except… for my favorite teacher.  I was late to the first actual meeting of the club, and she told some parents that donating a ziplock baggy of Megabloks and Lincoln Logs would be an acceptable substitute for the 20 bucks… And she cost the club 60 dollars… and she created a double standard… and bread a small group of disgruntled parents who wanted to change out their cash for a bag of crap… and almost crashed the whole funding architecture!  But other than that one hiccup, it was literally that easy.


Third, Age Gap of LUG members.  Kindergarteners through 6th graders.  I was stumped for a long time.  This was just going to suck.  Kindergarten?  Tiny kids?  What do they have in common with older kids?  What older kid wants to have anything to do with them?  Remember, I wasn’t operating in the realm of “stuff that sounds nice”… I had to stay in the realm of “stuff that works well”.


Initially, I thought I would have a “Kiddy Table”.  A leper colony.  A quarantine zone.  All the littlest kids in one, loud, wild table… segregated from the older kids.  Not allowed to disrupt the LUGs real focus.  But that made me feel evil… evil and weak… and I trust my feelings.  No, the path of least resistance was not the path to victory in this case.  The school wanted the club to be “integrated.”  Besides, relegated to a quarantine table, the little kids would still distract me, and they would always feel bad because little kids ALWAYS want to hang with bigger kids (it’s a rule… they talk about it on Animal Planet).  This notion of “integration” is what eventually drove the structure for the entire LUG.  Since I had to integrate the club members, I would also integrate the building… in the form of a Lego town.  It all grew very clear very suddenly by coming to grips with this particular challenge.

I had access to a classroom with 12 tables.  More than enough.  Every table would be a team.  The name of the team was the name of the street in the Lego town they would build.  Every team would have a few of the youngest, a few of the middle, and a few of the oldest kids.  Older kids would be “responsible” for protecting, helping, and teaching the little kids, their “neighbors” on the street.  No isolated kids.  No quarantine zone! And all that stuff about responsibilities and roles grew into a very clear image.  Additionally, it was beginning to look like it might be a cool exercise.

City OPS center.jpg

Fourth issue?  Rules.  We had none.  So I wrote some up.  Very easy stuff.  But all numbered, all published.  All parents provided with copies before paying enrollment fees.  Some highlights included: No pay = No enrollment.  No teacher to assist = No club.  Parents don’t sign a copy of the rules = No enrollment.  All cash (enrollment fees / future Bricklink purchases) will be tracked, and witnessed in writing by TWO parents from the club and the teacher… or I walk.  All pretty basic stuff designed to pre-empt conflict.  There was some posturing and nay saying, but it was a no-brainer.  And that bit about transparency in the money handling, and having a teacher in the room at all times?  ZERO NEGOTIATION on those points.  Thing is, nobody else wanted to run the club… so in the end, I controlled the action.

Rules for the kids were more fun.  On day one, I told a room full of snot nosed squirmy kids who smelled like a bag of Halloween candy: “Congratulations… you are all survivors.  Last night a massive storm smashed into your island community, and all traces of civilization were destroyed.  The coast guard dropped off these supplies early this morning, (each kid was handed a zip lock baggy of parts)…but they had to leave to help other people on other islands in the area.  You are the only people left on the island.  We need to rebuild our town, but we only have three hours today.  What is the most important thing to build first?  And bang… it was off to the races.  The conversation was one of the best I have ever had!

Billy shouts out: A prison!

Me: A prison?  Really?   How’s that man?

Billy: The prisoners probably escaped from the prison last night!  So there running all over the place!

Sally: He said we are the only survivors stupid!  We’re not prisoners!

Billy: (suddenly serious and glancing left and right): Some of us might be though…

Sally: I don’t want to be a prisoner, and we need to build houses so we can cook dinner!  Hungry!  Hello!

Mark (this tiny tiny blond kid… one of the youngest): We should look at our Lego people, and see who is dressed like a prison people.

Mathew: If we build a restaurant, we could feed everybody there, plus if it was Golden Corral then yum!

Marry: Oh!  Bourbon chicken!  My mom says it’s bad for you, but oh my god!  It’s soooo good!

Mark (holding up his minifig): I am not a prison guy.

Billy: What about a police station with a helicopter to help with sick people?

Marry: A hospital would be better for that, plus we need a hospital anyway.

Dennis: Mark, none of us are prisoners OK?  Do we all get the same parts?  It’s not enough for a Golden Corral… what if we…

Billy (Pointing excitedly across the table): He’s a prisoner!  He escaped!

John (and I quote here) Oh shit!  I am a prisoner!  I didn’t do anything!  This sucks!

Billy: We have to grab…

Me: Billy, slow down Sheriff Lobo!  John, it’s cool.  You just found that shirt on the beach… you’re not really a prisoner…here man.  Let’s swap out your Lego guy…


I almost pissed myself.  It was better than ANY show I have EVER seen on TV.  Screw “Lost”.  Screw “The Walking Dead.  Screw “Game of Thrones”.    These kids were moving at a mile a minute, and coming up with wicked arguments and excellent proposals by the bucket!  By the end of the first meeting, they had all built tiny houses, except for three girls who combined their bricks to build a “shelter” for the homeless… even though… everybody had enough bricks to build tiny homes for themselves.  I couldn’t fault the thinking though.  And shit, it was a smarter move than building a prison!  Each kids tiny house fit into a gallon sized Zip Lock freezer bag, and went into the broom closet until the next meeting.

Next week, we chose street names, and had “elections” where each street chose a representative for the town council.  Later, after the kids had received “Lego Dollars” for attending club meetings, we established rules for buying bricks from “the brick store” which was staffed by my wife.  And they made rules for trading bricks with your fellow citizens (to protect the little kids from getting ripped off by the older kids).  We elected a dog catcher, a sheriff (thank god it was John and not Billy!) and “A Fire Guy” and a “Trash Guy”.  We also agreed to pay extra Lego money to these people because they needed to build “Garbage trucks and stuff” for their jobs.  The town “Fire Guy” and the sheriff were emphatic about the need for buildings and equipment, but the “Trash Guy” announced his plan to build a truck that he could back up to the beach and dump everything into the water.  That provided material for yet another truly excellent discussion!

trash dump.jpg

They built A hospital, a police station, a fire station, a recycling center, a greenhouse (specifically so they could grow plants for turtles to eat?) and restaurant which would serve Pizza for a week, and then be a Golden Corral the next week.  Also, it was made absolutely clear, that it couldn’t STAY a Golden Corral just because Golden Corral serves pizza.  They built two signs for the restaurant, and that sign WOULD be changed weekly… and the Sheriff was in charge of storing the sign that was not being used… so… Alright then!

They also made up some laws, and if you broke the laws, you had to take your sig fig apart and put “the prison guy” torso on!  There was a closet in the police station where your normal torso was stored while you were incarcerated.   Instead of asking for a larger prison when we had more than one offender, the Sheriff unilaterally decided that if somebody else broke a law while you were in prison?  You got out early to make room for “the new prisoner!”

The kids violated several of my expectations very early on.

First, the girls built consistently better, and faster than the boys.  The girls helped one another and established what I can only describe as a “brick black market” trading parts under the table, and hatching byzantine building schemes.  The boys were often more interested in seeing who could fit more Lego into their own nostrils or ears, and on occasion, into the nostrils and ears of their buddies.

The youngest kids were NOT disruptive.  They were just glad to be at the table.  There houses looked like bloody hell… and when “fixed” by older kids, there houses soon looked like bloody hell again… but they were happy and quiet for three hours a week!

When a disruptive or unpopular kid was given the opportunity to take on a specific task to complete within the town, they usually balked.  Not wanting to do anything to help the community.  But if you assigned that task, leaving no room for discussion, they would pursue that task with grim determination.  When a popular kid was given the same option, they would leap at a job title, but then ignore the task completely.

After about six months, I had to start preparing to move again.  We had 34 kids in the club.  A sprawling town, lots of friends and a robust culture of shared beliefs and practices.  The school was happy, many of the Lego Club members had gone on to join other activities.  The school was now crowded on Friday evenings.   I had gained a lot of practical experience in designing and running a LUG.  I had learned about funding, recruiting, Intra-LUG conflict resolution… all kinds of stuff.  And we had built up a considerable Lego inventory for next year’s Lego Club.   Only failure?  Nobody would volunteer to run it after my departure.  Once again, organizational continuity proved to be the Achilles heel!  The club closed never to re-open shortly after I left.


So what?  You should all run out and start Lego Clubs for kids?  No, not at all.  The point of the Brick Schoolhouse was not that it is a great universal template.  The point is that the LUG concept can be tailored to almost ANY set of requirements… no matter how obtuse they may seem at first.  Also, I can see how the LUG might have grown and improved over time.  Many LUGs benefit from having a web page or a blog.  The notion of running such a page could easily fall into the educational agenda of the Brick Schoolhouse, even though the kid running the web page might not be good with Legos at all!  Consider the potential for public display?  Children competing to build MOCs, and then self-identifying the best their LUG has to offer, and putting those MOCs on display in support of some theme relevant to OTHER classes in school.  Recycling, or robotic technology for example.   Think about the possible development of the “election process” in our town, as it relates to civics classes… almost endless potential given more time.

I was grappling with the design of a LUG that was “educational” in nature.  But that’s by no means a limit or even trend amongst LUGs.  What about LUGs that are designed to promote a real city.  Or a LUG that seeks to increase the on-line visibility of it’s members?  Or a LUG that… heavy sigh… exists primarily to maintain a roster and fulfill the eligibility requirements for Lego’s LUGBULK program?  A LUG that exists to organize and produce massive annual projects at a local annual event?

All legitimate reasons to form a LUG.  All radically different in structure.  All examples of real life LUGs many of us have encountered.    And this short list is not remotely close to comprehensive!  There are lots of different LUGs out there… and most of them are run by marginally competent folks.  Most of the people who run LUGs are not the BEST people to do so.  Rather, (as in my case certainly) they are simply the people who are WILLING to run LUGs.

So, again, I say: Most of us should start a LUG at least once in our AFOL life.  It’s a low risk, high pay off gamble.  You don’t need a degree in LUG-ology.  It doesn’t HAVE to cost any cash.  And even if your endeavor is short-lived, I can almost guarantee you will come out of the effort with an enhanced understanding of the Lego hobby, your fellow builders, and indeed… a better understanding of people in general.

That’s this installments pitch.  So, how am I wrong?  What are the down sides?  Why NOT try to start a LUG?   You’ve received my volley.  If your FDC is up, give me your counter fire.

Counter fire.jpg





39 thoughts on “Fire for Effect: The Brick Schoolhouse, a Proof of Concept.

  1. Note: In typical Army fashion, the sample mission statement provided contains an error. The Where and When Ws are reversed. Phase Line Anaconda is obviously the WHERE , and 040600Zulu is the WHEN. Errors like this, in a field manual just illustrate why it is often unimportant if the enemy knows our plan. They probably intercepted an incorrect version!


  2. The biggest issue with founding a Lug is getting Lego’s support. I’ve no idea what you need specifically, but as far as I’m aware it’s a number of members, organizing exhibits, contest, blah blah. Without that, there’s not a lot of advantages in starting one.


    1. The requirements are fucking stupid to be an RLUG. TLG has taken to weeding out the chaff of the LUG world in order to accommodate only the biggest and most productive of the lot. Actual LUGs are not the way to go but rather a user group of Lego, they are almost chasing us back to Flickr/Mocpages groups. LUGbulk is becoming a damn near impossible carrot to get, I’m actually surprised that it still exists and wouldn’t be remotely shocked by its deletion in the next few years. TLG wants free advertising for free and we hop right on board.


      1. Without the free/cheap stuff from them, there’s not much of a reason to start one, as far as I can see. On a larger scale, it serves only to fragment the community unlike mocpages/flickr does. The only appeal I see is small local groups of friends/like minded people.

        What I think the community really needs right now is an updated/active place like mocpages; flickr is great, but lacking in many areas, especially in the dialogue area and the lack of posting various pictures of one build without flooding the stream with them (Keithstyle). But there’s the issue of someone hosting such a place. In a way, it’s something Lego themselves should do and promote; on the other hand they’d probably also be the worst to lead such a place, since it’d surely be filled with idiotic rules and limitations.


      2. Agreed. I recently had contact with a large LUG that is aimed (as far as I could tell) primarily at maintaining eligibility for that program. It’s a perfect example of “form follows function”. They mostly dig it. OK. And… and and and… they are GOOD at it! Tight membership roster. Excellent records of which members support which public display. Excellent on-line coverage of each and every event they do. All leading up to their annual LUGbulk purchase. Well organized… good records… lo and behold… it works! They do the LUGbulk… thing.

        But I found the culture to be very opaque in terms of communication between LUG leadership and LUG membership. I also found the culture to be one of expedience. Many public displays… and that’s cool. But most of the content at any given display is recycled. Lots of relics and placeholders. Very organized, very efficient… and very stagnant.

        In there defense, I observed that they do make room for other foci that DO NOT DETRACT from the LUGbulk shuffle… so social stuff. Some ancillary stuff, like classes about techniques and products… some other stuff. But on the whole… it was a sort of creatively inert group. No, that’s to harsh. They were creative. But they did show the same stuff over and over just to punch the ticket for the LUGbulk machine.

        LUGbulk is a pretty slim carrot when you look at the cost benefit analysis. Free advertising is really the goal of the program. It’s impossibly slow, taking literally more than 6 months from order to bricks in hands. And the ordering process is arcane in the extreme! A real pain.

        But hey, form follows function… for ever and ever amen!
        Just wasn’t my bag baby!


      3. As soon as AFoLs talk about LUGs the topic switches quit fast to LUGBULK. The only thing those two have in common is the first three letters. A LUG as I envision it has nothing to do with LUGBULK.
        A LUG for me is a group of likeminded meeting regularly (in person) to have fun together and exchange ideas and help. So in my opinion the L in LUG stands for both LEGO and local.

        The LUG Sandro and I belong to (Bricking Bavaria) is located nearly two hours from were we live. So we don’t attend the monthly meetings regularly. Still we share a lot of activity with the others. When ever we meet on conventions or in private we are with friends.

        That group started in 2004 as one stepped up and organized a first meeting. Two years later we joined the group. When in autumn 2010 the official founding was done we were founding members. Since then there has been a steady growth. Today I don’t know all of the more than hundred members personally. From time to time I meet someone unknown wearing one of our polo shirts and introduce myself.

        Our LUG has LUGBULK but it’s never been the reason for having the LUG. I’m sure it’s the reason for some of the members. For us it’s like candy. It’s nice to have but we can do as good without. If TLG canceled LUGBULK I’m sure that would not affect the inner core of our LUG.

        Although I never met most of you in person we share the hobby and in many points the way we want do deal with it. As we are exchanging our ideas on LEGO related themes here at KEITHS – is this place a LUG?


      4. LUGBulk and other support from Lego doesn’t even seem worth the effort to me. Aside from their storefront being archaic, TLG is also completely tone-deaf regarding the artistic/creative side of the hobby. They assume we’re all a bunch of Lego Movie fanboys with Benny T-shirts and UCS Falcons mounted above our fireplaces, and that we display to show our “fandom” (eugh…) rather than to create some sense of community or inspire new builders. Though maybe they’re correct and that actually is the majority of FOLs.


    2. Oh man, where to begin?

      “Without the free/cheap stuff from them, there’s not much of a reason to start one, as far as I can see.”

      This says a lot about the “function” of a LUG as you envision it. In your mind, a LUGs primary reason to exist is to provide free/cheap stuff… kind of limiting… but OK. So, what LUGs share that focus? I can think of several… but beyond that… if we look at the form follows function paradigm, then how should such a LUG be designed? How would you do it? I know, you have a million reasons not to… everybody does. But how would you? How would you make the structure of your LUG fit the mission of ” providing free/cheap stuff for members?”

      “On a larger scale, it serves only to fragment the community unlike mocpages/flickr does.”

      Huh? How does it fragment the community? I think it makes the concept of “Local” community more real. Real people who you know because you have met them… without buying a plane ticket… without paying a 40 dollar registration fee… people you will meet again in just 4 weeks… Smaller, but more relevant.

      Every borrow bricks from a guy over the internet? Nope. You talked about it maybe… but the borrowing happened in the real world (postal delivery happens in the real world).

      The appeal of the internet is that it is GAIGANTIC. Global in fact! It’s big, fast, crowded. Those are “properties” of the internet. But there is only limited contact. No food. No sorting parties. No trading of parts in real time. Internet LUGs are not “better” or “worse” than face to face LUGs.

      Again, form must follow function. What is the function of the LUG you are envisioning?

      “The only appeal I see is small local groups of friends/like minded people.”

      You say that like it’s an afterthought. For many (many many) AFOLs, that social bit is HUGE. AFOLs are in love with saying how we all have “Asperger’s Syndrome.” We throw that word around like mothers talking about who has been in labor the longest! We’re all so “Aspy”… (stick a screw driver in my eye already!). But maybe it’s true. Maybe lots of us feel socially… challenged. Did I say maybe? That monthly LUG meeting? It might be some of the only non-work related contact some of those cats have with people all month (until the holidays roll around). Maybe not for you… but think about all the FOLs you know man… come on… you gonna tell me you don’t think the SOCIAL aspect of a LUG matters to a lot of them. Ok, now consider… how much have you learned about Lego from OTHER PEOPLE? I have learned from people who I think live like trolls under a bridge! Learned techniques from people who I swear are on a recon mission from another planet. Point being: Make room for the “others”… because they will teach you even if you don’t expect it, and you will be… enriched?

      “What I think the community really needs right now is an updated/active place like mocpages”

      Yeah… I agree. Absolutely. But the way you say it, you make it sound like it’s a “this or that” kind of thing. Like, the community does not need LUGs… but we do need a new on-line location. Man, that’s like saying: we don’t need a balanced diet… we need exercise. You don’t want a nice car… you want good shoes! We need (want) many things at the same time. We don’t have to choose do we? Is there really ONE thing we need? (I mean aside from free/cheap stuff)

      “they’d (Lego) probably also be the worst to lead such a place, since it’d surely be filled with idiotic rules and limitations.”

      And that is for sure! That’s why Legos support is what I would call “A seductive distractor.” Free/cheap stuff… yeah but… at what price? Lego is a very conservative company. I mean socially. We (AFOLs) build stuff that is way WAY outside TLGs comfort zone. We build MOCs that depict brutal murders and other violent crimes. War. Drug use. Domestic violence. We build MOCs that send politically volatile messages… just to piss one another off! We build great big life size GUNS for gods sake! We build so much stuff that Lego would not touch with a 10 foot pole… No way they could handle the action. Anything those dorks ran would be as lame as… oh, as

      Your input is MONEY man. Don’t take any crap from me!


      1. Oh, no, in no way do I mean to imply it’s either this or that. I just wanted to point out something I find to be “more urgent” so to speak; I don’t feel that lugs are truly neglected, be it local or online. Whatever you’re looking for in the hobby in that respect, I’m sure you can find the place. Sure, some may be inactive/neglected, but they’re there, and there’s always a way to breathe some life into it. But I guess this is also where experience comes into play; I learned a lot more from the online community than from the lugs I’ve interacted with, hence my focus on the community as a whole. But I realize things must be completely different for you and others, since based on my location, our lugs are country-spread, and only have a tiny number of involved members.

        “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” > This is specifically what I meant by fragmentation. Let’s take one of the countless castle rpg’s as an example. I’m going to make these sound like a bad thing, but that is not my intention; it’s just that I’m going to focus on the negative aspects. There are a lot of positive things there and the success they have is a statement in this respect. But they come with limitations both in terms of participation and development as a builder:

        – first, you don’t build in this theme, you have no room there
        – each game has it’s own rules and design style, promoting repetition in building, limiting even more the development of the builders
        – constant inclusion of the sigfig and recycling of characters, small, sure, but another limitation
        – their popularity draws in a lot of young builders, that tend to focus on that and that alone; leading to a flood of builders that only do one thing
        – several groups focusing on the same thing, that turns the whole thing into a competition for members

        I’m sure you can take that example and apply it to numerous groups. Again, I don’t meant to say they’re a bad thing and they shouldn’t be, quite the opposite. Just pointing out the bad for the sake of pointing out the bad. Hell, I don’t even know why am I doing this exactly, maybe your article gave me the impression that you’re putting lugs way too highly than I see them. Or maybe your article is too positive so I just feel the need to do the complaining instead. :))

        As for the free/cheap stuff, I don’t see it as the final goal, but rather as the oil that keeps the wheels turning. There’s 2 main ingredients in making a lug successful:

        – keeping current members active
        – attracting new members

        Social stuff aside, you want those members building. It’s actually the main reason we’re all here afterall. And the best way to keep those members building (especially building stuff they don’t normally build) is to give them the said free/cheap stuff. Feel like things are getting stale? You can always throw in a contest and animate everyone. But for that you need the free stuff again. Both of these lead to attracting new members, either with contests or exhibits. It’s the ugly behind the scenes truth.

        I don’t really need that to keep me building. I’m sure many others don’t. But from my experience, there’s plenty who do, for whatever the reason. Even the main one, time, can be bent with a little incentive.

        And let’s face it, we all love that free stuff. :))

        As for how would I do it? I wouldn’t. And I don’t need a million reasons, just one: I don’t want to.


    1. That does suck balls, and I’m not sure why that happened to you. I have the settings arranged so that only the very first comment by a new commentator gets held up for moderation. My apologies, it has nothing to do with you personally. I will examine the settings again and see if I can make changes. Sometimes a post will get held up if it has links or images in it, but that is obviously not the case for you.


  3. I think you nailed the reason NOT to start a LUG in the first volley: Time. And it may be an actual concern or a perceived one, but given all the beer I’m required to drink after a long day at work even devoting another minute to a screen or community for added life drama sounds arduous and unappealing at best.

    Another reason NOT to start one is past experience. Anyone who has been in a LUG knows that it is like herding cats. Not to say that they are doomed to implode at some point or that particular challenge doesn’t have some sort of appeal, there are many LUGs out there that work like a well oiled Lego train. However, there are those LUGs that lose sight of their mission statement and fly off the rails with tunnel-visioned hubris. The egotism of competition is alienating to many an introverted AFOL, and any false prophet can swing a dick with tidings of “Our glory will make the Lego community a better place (translation: They don’t know what’s best for them and our big dicks will slap them right.)” It may even be coupled with the obligatory “Go big or go home” mentality of the biggest of dick swingers. Easy to spot, best to avoid.

    We’re all artist and have egos, some more than others. In the Schoolhouse Brick, your captive audience had a beneficial supreme ruler; this is a dynamic that is willfully avoided in the democracy of a LUG. Some systems work and grow, some fail and wither. And it is all hinged on sticking to the mission statement, making it perfectly clear to ALL members, and not excluding a single voice. I think there have been more failed LUGs than successful. And in some cases, failed without realizing it yet or refusing to accept it.

    But in spite of any bad experiences with a LUG, there are many great things born in and from them. Certainly friendship, absolutely expansion, and without question fun. And in that respect, seeing that these are really the fundamental reasons as to why we venture forth with this particular medium, there can be nothing to outweigh any negatives of a LUG. Time should be MADE for any art; that itch cannot ever be remedied, nor should it.


  4. Good stuff, and a fun read. You hit on a lot of solid points in all the “starting a LUG” stuff. I won’t replicate my AFOL 16+ rant here, but you hit on two points as to why I won’t lead the effort here; 1) no clear mission; not going to start a LUG for the sake of a LUG. 2) no clear owner to take the baton when I move on (which is likely). It’s one thing to want to start a LUG, and another to expect someone else to do it for you. It’s admirable that you did just that with the Brick Schoolhouse, but I think the mission was semi-clear to start… I want the local tribe to stand on their own two feet. They are the ones that want it, so they’ve got to take the lead (not pass it off to me because I was one of the very few local guys displaying at BrickUniverse L-ville). That said, I done quite a bit to support already… But when they tried to name me the defacto president, dropped that like a hot iron.

    I also joined/left a “LUGBulk LUG” last year, and you so nailed that in the comments too. Soooo stagnant it’s depressing. My heart sank when I heard they stored their displays in some parking lot trailer (as I was an engineer that specialized in plastics, doubly so; “creep” and “stress relaxation” aren’t some peeping Tom at a spa, they’ll make good parts go bad, especially under heat… ). From that I learned I want any local “LUG” I am in to be “loose and social” (the DDog agrees). I don’t give a rats ass about the bulk, or the parliamentary procedure that goes along with maintaining it… The remaining reasons are best told over a beer or two (BW17 anyone?).

    One other thing is that I am a man with many interests, not just Lego. I flex what I am into based on the circumstances. My Lego time is usually in the evenings at night, and not prime-time on weekends when meetings have to be. Sorry, but if the weather is nice, then the wife and I will be out somewhere enjoying the day.

    But I do like that you demystified the “LUG”, and that it’s not just “BulkLUG or Bust”. The term really should be “social club” for most people starting out. Has to build from that organically I think. Swinging for the fences in your first at bat is not a recipe for success.


    1. Ted,

      I feel bad for bashing on a LUGbulk focused LUG… because if it fits with the members focus, then it’s totally legitimate. I sort of feel bad, or mean for bagging on it… Those guys are focused, and there focus is different from my focus. But…

      God I just want to complain! The LUGbulk focus does not hurt me. Does not interfere with my own agendas. Is not immoral, or unethical in any way. But again… GOD! It’s so stale! The culture, the dynamic… like hot dry air in an attic, in Arizona, in August! And the public displays? Again, dry! Old models, with dust on them. Being reassembled over and over. Changes creeping into them slowly. Maybe a little different every few times they are built. There is an indescribable “personal energy” that accompanies the public display of a new MOC. The artist is there, and he or she wants to know what the public thinks. The public has never seen the MOC before, and they tend to be excited… it’s just… better. But going to a public library, deploying an old collection of MOCs. Watching droves of morbidly obese children plod past on their stumpy little feet… dragging disengaged soccer moms who are on their phones… chatting about dentist appointments and chatting about what “Barb told Marry this morning at the coffee…”

      Zero engagement. Zero contact. Track the numbers of participants. Track the numbers of attendees, and prepare the data for consumption by some TLG staffer… Get your paper work stamped and in a year or so… you get to buy the parts that are made available at the dictated prices… and then wait for… quite a while to get your brick. The whole exercise made me die inside a little.

      All that said though… I have to say again, that this is just ME talking about what I don’t like. For many folks, THIS is a GOOD program. For real! They dig it. And in so far as that goes… what can one say but: “Right on!” Just not for me.


      1. I think the other part about the bulk brick is how it has to be used. Unless you a building terrain in a single color, or building a huge bar made out of green Duplo, I don’t see the appeal from the individual builder perspective (all brick is supposed to be controlled by the LUG). How is it a selling point for individuals joining a LUG, unless they have no bricks themselves? The LUG acted like they were doing me a favor, but I’ve been getting by just fine without it. Usage varies LUG to LUG, and some do it MUCH better than others. You know who you are, and I salute you… But if it goes into yet another dusty display, it begs the question of true motivation.

        Your public interaction comment is spot on too. Could see it all under one roof at last year’s BW. The smaller collabs with the public excitement and interaction, vs. the dusty layouts visibly sapping all the energy from the room as people trudged by…

        I guess I’m into the “flash mob LUG” approach; find out who’s going to the con you’re traveling to, and do some improvisational building jazz with some cool cats. Rinse and repeat.


    2. Necro-posting on this one. So I just got back from meeting with those local guys that want to start a LUG here… problem is that they see no issue with simply making a BU-Lou layout of LEGO sets (city modular, carnival rides, etc.) with a train circuit running around it. Since one guy at BU-Lou did that last year, they use that validation (as opposed to every other builder that only brought original MOC’s, like Rocco, Lopes, Chan, me, etc). What a disappointing day. Told them I’d bring the butcher paper…. I wonder if there are any “paint-by-numbers” museums nearby where I can bask in more non-creative splendor.


      1. Nah – not when I just got some validation of my own. Being an unaffiliated, independent “high plains drifter” is the building lifestyle for me. Sure, I’ll lend a LUG a hand every now and then, but just don’t complain when I paint their Lago town read and rename it “Hell” before I ride away…


      2. Redemption rides into town waving butcher paper! RIP Marshal Jim Duncan. XD Read the tombstones at the end of the flick, one is Sergio Leone. Damn, I haven’t watched that in about thirty years. I’m old.

        Lego mercenary? Hmm. Have brick, will travel. Could be profitable. Not likely.


      3. What did you really tell them? I hope you’ll at least give these no-taste having rubes the benefit of your wisdom, maybe you can lead them slowly to the light? As Egg Shen reminds us everything begins from nothing, Ted, and you could be an important part of a winning team? Any chance we can get the full story on this interaction because I, for one, am very interested.


      4. You can take a horse to water, Keith, but a pencil must be lead…

        Here is what I said in the local discussion group : “Just an FYI for those that haven’t displayed before. BU are going to prefer that you bring MOC’s (“my own creations”) over existing Lego sets. In a pinch you can do some sets as filler, but it’s best to go 100% MOC… especially if representing a LUG. Assume that is your intent, but just wanted to reiterate for others.”…

        And here are some excerpts of the responses “I distinctly remember seeing both 🙂 “… and “BTW Hoosier bricks had a great display with all the above.”…

        I have been trying to steer them both subtlety and forcefully over the last 9 months or so, and by example, but to no avail. The fact of the matter is that there WILL be a lot of the public that comes to the show on Sat-Sun that think seeing all those sets the coolest thing ever, the same way they thought what “Hoosier Bricks” did was the coolest thing ever, giving them validation… and then on the flip side, they will likely think that the “National Displayers” like Rocco, Lopes, Hetherington, etc. are aloof because they don’t come over to talk with them much… about those sets they built… but they will still have “Hoosier Bricks” to commiserate with as a comrade in arms… They put the ‘F’ in AFOL – (I’m going to have to jump on Jake’s “ABOL bandwagon”…)

        You feel bad with building a dio for Bricks LA in only 6-weeks? You should have seen the calamity yesterday of figuring out how they were going to fill a 3 table by 4 table section they reserved… you heard that right; 12ft x 24ft… in less than a week. Not enough butcher paper in the world. There will be A LOT of building going on during public hours… Not that it’s actually a bad thing in their case. It could be a good opportunity for them to interact with folks, etc. Otherwise, it can be like a stuffy museum of “look-don’t-touch” displays…

        It’s a lost cause really, but it is a learning opportunity for them. We’ll see how it shakes out. I’ll try to give what MOC’s they bring an honest appraisal, but not too convinced they will bring any. I’ll I’m sure a final debrief will be much more interesting than any interview I have lined up to do at the show…


      5. I really did want to cry when me mentioned how many times he watched that video to figure out HB’s layout, and he was quoting exactly where each city modular was placed… BU-Lou better be ready for an epic throwdown…


  5. Absurde,

    This is an excellent sentence: “I’m going to make these sound like a bad thing, but that is not my intention; it’s just that I’m going to focus on the negative aspects. ”

    It highlights one of the crucial aspects of effective discussion. The ability to pick up and idea and intentionally focus on a particular aspect. Without the willingness to do this (in all things really) then effective inspection of an idea becomes very difficult. I’m down.

    I think most of your individual observations about the exclusionary or limiting approaches of the castle RPGs are valid (and synchronize well with my assertion regarding reasons to LUG or not to LUG). But I disagree with the assertion that these factors lead to a fractionizing of the AFOL population in general.

    Most of the Castle RPGs are exclusive and rule heavy. And that DOES exclude individuals and limit builders options. And yeah, they have lots and lots of young builders who run in fast tiny circles, cranking out repetitive work (and mind numbing back stories) over and over (just kill me already!)

    But I think in the LONG game… the hobby wins.

    If only 1 kid out of every 10 goes on to become an AFOL (or even begins to contribute hard core MOCs as a kid!) then my argument turns into a simple math. More Castle RPGs = more total kids playing with Lego = more AFOLs/TFOLs/WhateverFOLs in the years ahead.

    If it’s castle, or space, or town… don’t matter. If it’s just a kid posting individual MOCs, that’s good… but if it’s a group of kids engaged in some kind of collective or collaborative action (game, contest, club) then it’s mo-bettah… because it can create its own motivation. It’s own encouragement. (yeah great… and it can also result in mobbing, bullying, and kids getting angry and never touching their bricks again. The other side of the same coin!).

    Now here is the counter intuitive part: Take out the word “Kid” from what I have written and just put in “person” because lots of older builders act exactly the same way. It’s not an idea that we like… but as we age, we tend to fixate on our new strengths and abilities, on how grown up we are… and we ignore all the emotional stuff that stays the same.

    Free stuff. Yes. I like it. I love it. I want more of it!

    You don’t need a million reasons not to start a LUG… because you don’t need any reasons. The question is purely academic. I’m not pointing a finger at you and saying: Why aint you doing it suckah! It’s like asking somebody: What kind of car would you design? Well… most of us aren’t car designers, so our cars would totally suck… but we all know what features we want in our ideal cars… (I want a car that comes with metal plates I can use to replace the windows when it’s “crazy end of the world time! But nobody produces that option… but I would!).

    Much of the answer to my question (How would you do it) is implicit in you’ve already told us:

    Because of your geographic situation, LETRANLUG would be an on-line LUG. Your LUGs reason to exist would be ENJOYMENT. You believe that ENJOYMENT is best achieved by the introduction of new talent, and activity. LETRANLUGs main focus would be competition. Competition directly supports both recruiting and activity. This is also why LETRANLUG would be a Registered Lego User Group. Because without the endorsement of The Lego Group, it would be difficult for you to pursue LETRANLUGs growth and activity goals (LUGbulk and other free/cheap stuff makes competitions more effective). LETRANLUG would not be theme focused, but rather, it would be build focused. Creative freedom is a crucial LETRANLUG value. LETRANLUGs most prevalent activity would be competitions, and therefore, you would attract and accumulate all manner of people who are drawn to competition. Competitors who seek improvement. Competitors who seek affirmation. And competitors who seek free stuff (hence the need for TLG endorsement). In addition, member of LETRANLUG would be able to participate in an annual LUGbulk purchasing event.

    In my favorite format, I think LETRANLUGs mission statement might look like this:

    The members of LETRANLUG…

    Host and participate in various Lego building competitions…

    Here at LETRANLUG.COM…

    Every other month…

    In order to improve our skills, recognize excellence, and get free/cheap stuff…

    Other stuff would happen in your LUG… conversation… maybe on line trading… stuff… but I think that mission statement sums up your basic view… IF you were going to run a LUG… theoretically…

    How far off the mark am I?


  6. Mike,

    this was a pleasure to read. I learned some new English expressions, that might be better not to use during a workday meeting. Still they will be helpful.

    On topic: It sounds like you did a good job on “Enrichment” of those lucky children. When I read that the Club never opened after you had to leave I felt deeply sad. I’ve thought about providing something similar around were I live, but never gave it a real chance. Your article made me think again. Maybe it could be successful. I’ll have to think about some of the Ws again…

    Thanks for all the insight you gave


    1. Hey thanks Marco.

      You might play around a bit with the 5Ws? Yes! The sound of victory to my ears!

      Two hours of driving to get to Bricking Bavaria? . Ouch.

      You and Sandro stay strong brother!


  7. Ah, I’m glad you recognized my key contribution of the printed bricks, but you failed to mention that there were two versions, the red ones for the children and then gray ones for staff. I know you appreciate indicators of authority and medals and whatnot. Much like Wu-Tang Clan, I’m all about the children, so I’m only too happy to help.

    I think it’s interesting that most of the response you’ve generated speaks to specific instances rather than the larger generalities of one person starting a LUG. That said, I’ll join in the trend and talk about my very brief dealings with LUGVegas.

    As you know, I was delighted to find a LUG in Vegas a few years ago, but that delight pretty quickly turned to disinterest when I discovered the president of the LUG was completely focused if not obsessed with LUGBulk. He found my models and interests completely uninteresting and the entire LUG seemed to consist of his family, a couple of buddies and some hangers-on that didn’t seem to be into LEGO at all. Aside from LUGBulk, the LUG was created by one guy to feed his ambition, and financial needs. Every public event is designed to promote his personal Lego building classes, and community outreach stuff. None of that is evil, I have nothing against the merging of Lego and mercantile action and the community outreach stuff is laudable, but it was deflating to see that his interests were so narrowly defined. I don’t think that’s what a LUG is supposed to be and I would submit that his lack of active builders as participants is evidence that most people share that view. In a town this size he should have a much larger roster after so many years of operation. I’m starting to ramble, but the LUGVegas guy is a good example of one guy with a vision and effort who started a LUG without any experience.

    I don’t start a LUG because I’d have to shitcan building and blogging to get it running and the population here is so transient I think it would be a huge uphill battle. If I had another Like-minded AFOL in town I might consider it, but like other people in the thread here I don’t have the time or desire to make that jump. I agree with your thesis that it ain’t exactly rocket science though, I think anyone with the motivation and endurance can get one going, even people with horrible social skills and limited vision seem to accomplish it just fine.


    1. Keith you dolt! Do you actually READ anything I write here?

      LUGs are ultimately flexible in format. I think you already run a LUG. KeithLUG is a thing (a LUG in this case) even while you go to great lengths to ensure that it is NOT really a thing.

      KeithLUG is not completely a joke. It’s only half a joke. The other half of KeithLUG is a message. A message in the form of observable and joinable action. You have never kept an actual membership roster for KeithLUG for several reasons. Yes of course, this is partially because you have an acute allergy to formality. Keeping a roster is to you, simply an annoying administrative task which you deliberately ignore. Child of chaos! And also, KeithLUG really is only a lose and ever shifting collection of addle minded AFOLS. It’s maddening! We are confederates in a scheme with no clear aim!

      But even more so than any of that other stuff… your refusal to keep a membership roster of any kind is about your belief that rosters, like so many other formal LUG conventions are the chosen tools of the oppressor. Tools that disguise repression and exclusion under a patina of “civilized behavior.”

      The iron clad policy of informality in KeithLUG is an unambiguous statement of your deep distain for the formal cultures of exclusion that you encountered again and again early on in your AFOL life. How many LUGs, clubs, or other groups did you leave because of the “Stay out of our awesome tree house” mentality that permeated there culture at that time? I’m not going to name the groups… but there were MANY!

      On the flip side, you have KeithLUG. How many people kept nagging you about getting onto the roster back in Seattle that first year? Does having this shirt mean I’m a member? Every time somebody asked you this question, your answer would change: Yes. Absolutely… not! Sure. Do you want it to mean that? No. Always. Why not? Maybe. Aloha means hello and goodbye! Whatever you said, you steadfastly refused to answer consistantly. This was because you hold the notion of “Official Membership” in quiet contempt. You run your “un-LUG” literally like a band of wanderers. It’s so bohemian and free that it makes me clench my teeth! But make no mistake… It’s a LUG. Your LUG fool!

      If you read the comments that have been left here and there on this ghetto blog of yours, you will see that several people (mostly the smart ones!) regard reading this tripe basically as membership in KeithLUG. It’s an odd LUG, dedicated not to a theme, or LUGbulk, or personal power, or even fame. It’s actually a real, living, philosophically focused LUG. Dedicated equally to the principals of inclusion, improving the state of the art, and to enjoying the process. It’s the LUG that Mr.Spock would run… if he smoked the Halfling leaf!

      “The reason I don’t start a lug…”

      Claude! Pay the bill!


      1. I read your stuff in excruciating detail Michael, repairing your constant stream of choppy little 3 word sentences all decked out in bold CAPS! I just choose to reject your byzantine nonsense, you OF ALL people should know there is no KeithLUG.

        KeithLUG is not real, it’s an ongoing joke that dates back to the heyday of LUGnet when I tried unsuccessfully to get a fake LUG (KeithLUG) recognized with a spot on the official LUG list and a dot on the official LUG Map. It’s a hollow T-Shirt, it’s a way to mock people who put logo trademarks on their MOC photos and take things too seriously. It was never what anyone would call a traditional LUG. I also tried to found an official KeithLTC with recognition by ILTCO, but that didn’t happen either. It’s not a LUG, because as you point out, it doesn’t actually meet or do anything. Nobody would claim serious membership.

        This blog is not a LUG, it’s a blog, sometimes Michael, a cigar is just a cigar.

        I chastise you sir!


  8. I don’t have a lot of experience with LUGs – in fact none before meeting the awesome folks at ToroLUG. They are a really excellent group of people. Because of distance, lack of time and the fact I generally suck, I don’t make it out to much that they do…and they do a lot. However over the years in the hobby I’ve read and heard about all the positives and negatives you mention in the article. I’ve also had friends that have either started, or been the main motivators of LUGs and pretty much without fail, it’s burnt them out to greater or lesser degrees. They are great things, but it seems that they can’t be driven by just one person. Even if they do a fantastic job, when combined with the ballast of every day life and demands, eventually it becomes too much. It seems the successful ones have disseminated the running of it over a group of people – administrate by council. And these people seem to have an uncommon dedication towards not only the hobby, but to quell the vespers of human weakness that any social endeavour stokes.

    However, your school group sounds simply amazing. Huge HUGE kudos to you and the missus for taking the time, effort and risk to make it happen. I can guarantee you that for at least some of those kids, years from now they will look back and see it as one of beneficially formative events of their childhood.


    1. Gil,
      So true! The demands of leadership are taxing, and deliberate transitions in leadership are rare indeed. A few of our readers have alluded to Euro-bricks as an example of an organization that is especially GOOD at getting this task right. Leaders in that org are usually only in charge of specific areas, and only for specific periods of time. That basic rotation policy is a good way to avoid the burn-out you describe. A controlled and deliberate transition between leaders is a MUST for any org that wants to last more than a season.

      As for the Brick Schoolhouse, yeah… it was pretty cool. Those kids are now coming up to there mid teens. I keep a hopeful eye on the sea, but I’ve yet to encounter their pennants flying over the rough seas of the on-line hobby yet. I hope they remember the club well though. Influence is often a very slow thing. We seldom get to see it in action.

      Sometimes, planning a short life span for a group is the right answer. It’s counter intuitive. Who starts a group by deciding when you will quit? But it’s an approach that has worked for me. I mentioned running groups over on MOCpages… I never started one without publishing the end date right up front. Putting an end date on an effort is sometimes a good way to protect the intensity and the quality of the work. If you know your goals have to be met in a year… you will work harder to meet them within that short year.

      Form follows function.
      Thanks for your thoughts.


  9. I started a Lego club in my final semester of university—it was supposed to be the whole year, but the student council dragged their asses approving everything. Anyway, there wasn’t really a mission statement. It was only meant to be a way to unwind from classes and hang out. But now that I’ve said that, I guess that sort of counts as a mission statement.

    Unfortunately the target audience for that sort of thing tends not to show up half the time and university students in general are too busy to bother. The people who get involved in extracurricular activities tend to be overachievers and my Lego club was decidedly not for those kinds of people. Membership was also down because I purposely booked the club at the same time as other “nerdy” clubs that were primarily made up of neckbeards who have clearly never heard of deodorant. So many a night were spent with a room to myself and a pile of Lego with passersby wondering what the fuck I was doing.

    But I did slowly build a casual membership who would show up once in a while, which could’ve been sustainable had the club kept growing. Unfortunately it didn’t make it very far because there was only one other dude supplying Lego and we both graduated. Would have been cool to get display space or something at the school to bring more people in or funding for the club’s own Lego, but we could barely get rolling before the semester ended and all eligible candidates for succession had other shit going on.

    Like Mike, I was working with non-AFOLs, but I was surprised the kind of rules I had to put in place for what were legally adults, such as DON’T USE YOUR TEETH ON MY LEGO OR I WILL USE MY TEETH ON SOMETHING OF YOURS. Also had to make a “no singing” rule. Good times.

    Anyway, I’m in a LUG here in Japan now and the main problem seems to be communication between members, namely with the Japanese ones. Most of them are too indirect and non-confrontational. They don’t offer any suggestions or feedback about the way things are run out in the open and prefer discussing things in their own little cliques, which there’s no room for in a club. If you don’t make yourself heard, then you have no right to complain when things don’t go the way you want them to. From what I’ve gathered the attitudes between Japanese LUGs are similarly discrete and often passive-aggressive. I love Japan, but the fucking group politics here can be overwhelmingly petty and dumb.


    1. You just hit on a very important aspect to the success of any group: Communication. Not only are the barriers of language and culture imposing obstacles, but also the recognition of other voices and the validity they possess. There is also a higher level to our specific language that is brought to the table. That is the NON communication we all assume and elicit through Lego. A shared love of chocolate needs no explanation. In Mike’s Schoolhouse, in Keithlug, and in several examples here like Torolug, there is a level of commonality that isn’t anything like a lowest common denominator quality. We all bring an elevated understanding, appreciation, and awe to the conversation, even the unspoken conversation. Maybe even more so to the latter. And when that communication is willfully ignored to focus on the inconsequential icing, that the cake is forgotten. This failing exists not only in the LUG but also in the individual. LUGbulk and any other dangling carrots tend to kill the conversation. They make all of us focus with opiated glee on the next show rather than what’s next.


      1. Careful “Art Commissar” rowntRee… your beginning to sound dogmatic. Remember, for some cats, LUGbulk, and or “the next show” are the BEST REASONS for having a LUG. Many forms, many functions. Embrace the diversity of foci… know that LUGs exist for many reasons. What I want people to realize is that their LUGs (any LUGs) will be BETTER LUGs… if the members know what the reason (the mission) of the LUG is. I wouldn’t tell them what missions are best… just that they need to know what their own mission is!


  10. Came out of the dark ages three years ago myself, were my dark ages the 10 years i was in the Army? possibly. I like building for me, and then the response the public gives when they see what I create. So I was invited to a meeting by a long time beer pong friend to check out the local KCMO R-Lug. KCBRICKLAB, after 1.5 yrs I was asked to join their government the Brick Table. And now I am the acting president. Its been a lot of fun since joining and it is a R-Lug group. Mike mentioned a lot of organisation to keep things fair. Our Lug has grown significantly over the last year with over 400 members and about 35 Active participating members.

    I welcome any of you who will be at BrickWorld 2017 to come check out our display we will be right next to Brickmania games and LEGO® discovery center area.


    1. Shawn,
      Excellent! As the leader of a large LUG, you certainly speak from an informed perspective. Your comments about how a LUG does work, does thrive, and does produce, all while conforming to the R-Lug rules are a welcome counter thesis to our chorus of “Give me free bricks but keep your rules!”

      Your in the fight, right up to your chin, and I find that extremely laudable. It’s not an easy gig, and those cats are lucky to have you and the council there to carry the admin burden. The fact is that everybody poo poos the admin stuff… but it’s the back bone of most effective participatory systems.

      Yeah, I have a “fairness” fetish. Often overlooked, often to the demise of the entire effort. It can be a LUG, a contest, a blog… anything. Fairness is usually a make or break element of the culture.

      I hope we can get you to develop these ideas in more detail in a few weeks. Sounds like you are decisively engaged for the immediate future.

      I wish your LUG good fortune in the battles ahead.



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