Ted Talks – “Brickworld 2018: A Con Odyssey”

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

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The monolith

Evolution

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

The White Brick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Simon Liu: The “Heart” of Brickworld

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Race at Shadowlands”:

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

Video by Dennis Price

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

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

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

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

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

Meeting New Faces:

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

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

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“Do the funky chicken!”

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

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

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“Ain’t that a punch in the nuts…”

Improvement ideas and closing thoughts:

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

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

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Google Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

“MALÖRT! – Heath made me do it!”

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

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

Ted Talks – “The sun shines bright…”

Friend of the blog Ted Andes returns with his in depth analysis of the recent BrickUniverse-Louisville fan event in Kentucky.  Without further ado, take it away Ted!

Ted Talks – “The suns shines bright…”

“…In the military you could look at someone’s “fruit salad” and judge how “salty” they were. I think me and Nate are the “bootest” of the show batch. Until I can count more shows than fingers, and get more badges, I’ll be bush league.” – Charley

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I am not a military man, so I am always leery about the “cultural appropriation” of any military jargon.  Rutherford has earned the right to use it here on The Manifesto, and honestly I’m not all that savvy with it.  However, that opening quote is the perfect lead-in to this article. Charley (No. Not that Charlie) is the man leading the charge to establish a local LUG here in Louisville, KY.  It comes from the After Action Review (AAR) of his first time displaying at a Lego convention.  It also shines a light onto an interesting paradox – the smallest cons aren’t always the best cons for making a displaying debut (or at least for your psyche).  The underlying format of those small cons can really make a huge difference for both the tenured builder and the newly enlisted AFOL alike.

Re-Con:

To call BrickUniverse-Louisville (BU-Lou) a “Lego convention” is not entirely accurate based on the expectations of most ABOL’s.  BU-Lou is just one stop of a lengthy “Lego Fan Expo” tour that roams around the country.  When wunderkind Greyson Beights came up with the format for his traveling Expo, he mentioned studying the “European-style LEGO conventions” as opposed to the ones in North America. What does that mean?  It means that the “public comes first”.  I had heard that about European cons before, from my European Flickr contacts.  It’s the reason why many European based builders travel to the USA instead to get their “builder-centric” convention fix at BrickCon, Brickworld, BrickFair, etc… 

 The overall mission of BrickUniverse was summarized by Greyson during his interview with brickfanatics.co.uk“… the benefit to the local community is threefold. First, we provide a great experience to AFOLs and TFOL with games and seminars—an experience that is seldom available on such a large scale. Second, we show families (both parents and children) the endless possibilities with LEGO bricks. They see what there can be built, how they can use LEGO bricks to learn engineering or History (Medieval LEGO!), and so much more. Third we help the local community and economy, which at times can be in a drought and could use some rain so to speak. Whenever you plough some 15,000 people in a central location over a span of only two days, you’re bound to see the local economy thrive.”

Now this “great experience” can vary from location to location. It all depends on how many AFOL’s they can expect to display at any given show. BU-Cleveland is actually one of their more builder focused conventions (with awards, seminars, etc.).  For BU-Lou, it’s still the fan-focused experience.  Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing, just different, and it could always grow up to be more than that.  One great thing about the public-Expo format is that it enables LEGO conventions to test the waters in many LEGO-starved markets across the country.  BrickUniverse even holds an event in the much maligned Tulsa! (…are you reading this, John Palmer?). I believe Greyson is working towards scheduling 12 BrickUniverse events across the USA in 2018.

At the smaller BU-Expos, creating a “great experience for AFOLs and TFOLs with games and seminars” translates into building challenges for the public, and giving them multiple play-brick locations.  The “great experience” for the displayers at BU-Lou was limited to an ill-timed emergency evacuation alarm during Friday’s set-up (it was due to a water pipe bursting at the KY Expo center).  So there were no mixers, no opening/closing ceremonies, and no seminars that were so hot that they set wheelchairs on fire.  That said, each local displayer was still given a coveted “Brick Universe Louisville 2018” badge brick for their “fruit salads”, and a LEGO themed book from No Starch Press; a very nice and appreciated gesture (a copy of Mike Doyle’s “Beautiful Lego” is now sitting on my bookshelf).

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The Nerd-tastic Four! – by AdamDodge

Continue reading “Ted Talks – “The sun shines bright…””

After Action Review: Bricks LA 2018

Mike Rutherford  returns to blogging, with his unique observations concerning the recent Bricks LA convention. Without further ado, take it away, Rutherford!

I love After Action Reviews.  They are one of the first things any U.S. soldier experience.  You practice some task over and over.  Then you execute that task under stressful conditions, usually involving a lack of sleep, a lack of information, and a lack of time.  You execute this task while another group of people pretend to be your mortal enemy (an opposing force, or OPFOR), harassing you, disrupting your efforts, and exploiting your laziness or your lack of attention to detail… steeling unguarded equipment… kidnapping hapless team members who wander off to pee behind a tree… engaging in all manner of mischievous behavior (oh, and also “killing you” in accordance with the rules of the training event).  All this goes on while dispassionate “Observer Controllers” (evaluators) watch, check the time, and scribble in their notebooks.  By the end of the event, your entire team is ragged, sleepy, cranky, and often smelly.

With the exception of that dam OPFOR, the whole deal resembles what a Lego Convention staff goes through.   At least at the several conventions I have attended…

Well, in a training event, the end of the event is the precise moment when a well-run After Action Review is crucial.     An AAR is a semiformal discussion here all the participants discuss the event.  The guys who executed the task, the pretend bad guys (OPFOR), and of course the Observer Controllers.  And in a good AAR, it really is EVERYBODY who participates.  From the lowest ranking soldiers to the commanders.   If you were there… and you did a thing, or saw a thing, or are responsible for a thing… you better be ready to discuss the event.   Because the harsh crucible of experience has taught us all that “even the little guy” might be the one to see that one crucial detail that resulted in success of failure.

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It also has to happen quickly.  Right after the training event.  Before you change into dry cloths, or pack up your gear, or get back to the unit headquarters.  Before you get a good night’s sleep.  Before your memory fades, and before your mind replaces uncomfortable knowledge with more pleasing versions of what went down.  With a good AAR, you need to strike while the iron is hot.  While people are still stinging from the errors that were made, or still glowing from the satisfaction of getting it right.  Quick, clear, concise.   Because in a week… most of these lessons will be forgotten.  The important lessons must be captured in writing quickly, and organized for detailed review in the weeks and months before the NEXT training event.  THAT is how improvement occurs.  Shit.  Guess I should have written faster…

Continue reading “After Action Review: Bricks LA 2018”

Bricks LA 2018: The Long Winded Tales of a Jaded Lego Nerd

They say that Lego blog readers don’t care about convention coverage, they say that unless you were present to join in the action personally it is impossible to appreciate the experience fully.  They even claim that people are resentful of parties they are not invited to.  While I don’t necessarily debate this sage and long-standing wisdom, I’m throwing caution to the wind to provide you with the unvarnished truth of my time in the city of angels.  It took me almost a full week to process everything that went down in order to compose my thoughts in a way that didn’t read like an embittered rant and even allowing for the interval I’m not sure I succeeded.  But I am confident you’ll let me know in the comments.  -Spoiler Alert!-  Bricks LA 2018 was in turns awkward, uninspiring and mostly boring, which is the greatest sin any convention can commit.

I journeyed to America’s second largest city in search of big-city adventure and excitement but found only regional boilerplate and the only fun was the fun we brought with us or had nothing to do with the convention itself.  For the T.L.D.R. crowd you can check out now, go back to your video game and jumbo-sized bowl of paste, but the rest of you should gird your loins and prepare for a deep dive into….mediocrity.  We’ll get into it later but this was the convention that made me realize I’ve become terribly jaded, almost incapable of enjoying the conventional traditions of our people. So if you were there and you think I’m being terribly unfair, take solace in the fact that this review may have more to do with my growing disenchantment with the very concept of conventions than the event itself.

This was Bricks LA, 2018.

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Continue reading “Bricks LA 2018: The Long Winded Tales of a Jaded Lego Nerd”