Fire for Effect: What’s love got to do with it?

This is the improbable eighth salvo in Michael Rutherford’s regular column, Fire for Effect. Without any further ado, take it away Mike…

As most of my readers (all eight of you) already know, “Fire for effect” is the specific command one utters in order to summon a large (or at least decisive) amount of artillery fire against an enemy who’s exact location and disposition are known.  In this respect, I am wandering slightly afield with today’s fire mission.  Today’s installment would really be more accurately characterized as “counter battery fire”.  When enemy artillery fire comes in on your position, you try to identify the source of the hostile fire, and then to direct your own artillery fire against it (by use of task built radar systems).  I’m calling today’s fire mission “Counter Battery” because, I am inspired specifically by the work of another author.  I dedicate this fire mission entirely to him with all due respect.  His work was topical, relevant, and touched a nerve in me.  Even as I call for fire, I want him to know that it is only with the utmost respect that I offer this counter volley.

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Back in July, I read an article written by one very pissed off Australian AFOL called Jay.  Jay (who runs a very nice blog by the way) was angry because every year, TLG distributes “Exclusive Minifigs” via some kind of random draw system at the San Diego Comic Convention (SDCC).  Specifically, he said he was angry because he really, really wanted some of these figures, but he could not secure them at the price he wanted.  The title of the article was basically his thesis: “San Diego Comic Con exclusives are terrible and LEGO needs to stop them.”  Here is a link to the article itself:

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I liked the article.  It lacked structure, but the author took refreshingly unambiguous position.  Sure, in the comments, I fault him for not providing supporting arguments, to reinforce some of his underlying assumptions… but overall, I liked it.  More importantly though, I was taken with the other readers responses.  The empirical evidence suggests pretty clearly, that his thesis resonates with many AFOLs.   Out of 73 comments, 25 were statements of absolute agreement with the author’s thesis.  That’s a lot.  Only 6 were clearly statements of disagreement.  The remaining 42 comments were either unclear, impertinent, or they were the author responding the comments of others (also a pretty cool practice in my opinion).  25 to 6.  Most commenters were basically saying: “damn right TLG needs to stop!

The readers gave a lot of minutely different reasons for disapproving of this practice.  But when you boil it down to gravy, the majority of people were complaining that they couldn’t get the figures and this  makes them angry.  Here is a quote from the author that sums up many people’s feelings on the issue:

“I am continuously disappointed that LEGO are still engaging in this awful practice. Please stop screwing over your most passionate fans while you enrich resellers and scalpers. It’s anti-fun and anti-fan behavior.

I read this and thought: So what?  This question leapt to the forefront of my mind in an instant.  So what?  I repeated the question allowed this time, speaking to nobody in particular.  Flinging the question directly out into the dimly lit smoke-filled lounge where I was sitting… and then, the incredibly talented Mrs. Tina Turner put a reassuring hand on my shoulder and with one of her trade mark fleshy smiles, she and asked the musical question: What’s love got to do with it?  Then she sang and danced a bit.  When she was done, we sat in silence, sipping our drinks… and again, I asked myself: What’s love, but a second-hand emotion?

The author suggests in this quote that he (and AFOLs in general) somehow matter “more” because we  are passionate (or dedicated, or committed, or whatever) to the product.  He (and many others) suggest that their opinions should matter BECAUSE they are big time AFOLs.

And THAT notion is the fulcrum on which his thesis and my counter thesis pivot.  The notion that AFOLs matter to TLG was the spark for this FFEs thesis… right here… ready? It’s really short, so don’t blink…

AFOLs don’t matter to TLG.

We don’t matter one at a time, and we don’t matter when we gang up and get ready to rumble (cue the Warriors trailer, but instead of the Warriors, picture several morbidly obese bearded AFOLs running from the baseball bat wielding gang!) I’m not buying it.  If you try to collectivize it, and say that AFOLS as a population… passionately… consume a whole lot of Lego… and TLG knows it… and that make our opinions more relevant… you’re still deluding yourself.  Our eclectic and factious little tribe does not constitute a large enough share of Legos annual sales to actually influence TLGs marketing decisions.  Many AFOLs, like Buzz Lightyear, have an exaggerated sense of self-importance.  I’m with Woody on this one:

Just to be clear, I’m not saying I’m glad TLG does exclusives.  And I’m not saying it isn’t annoying that they do exclusives.  In fact, I’m not really talking about the “SDCC Exclusives” question at all here.  Jay’s article is an illustration of a larger, and more important assumption that many AFOLs share, and THAT assumption is what talking about here.  I’m talking about a prevailing belief amongst AFOLs that TLG acts (or should act) on the opinions of AFOLs.  I think this assumption is silly.

My argument today is what most scholastic debaters would describe as analytical in nature, as it does not rely on specific published information.  There are no detailed statistics or pie charts and there are no quotes by published experts.  It is not evidentiary.  This is because (honesty in lending here…) I rarely do any actual research in these diatribes.  This will be at best, a description of a research project that might be interesting if anybody actually did the research.  This argument, like almost everything else I have written here will be a prima facie deal.  I will offer a series of basically mundane assertions, each of which should appeal to you, constant reader, because they correspond with your own observations and experiences.   I am going to try to jockey these limited assertions into something vaguely resembling a syllogism because… it creates clarity and forces me to be logical even if my initial thought process is not logical.  Or phrased differently, if I cant make the syllogism work… it might be the universes way of telling me that “my dog just don’t hunt”

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So… here is a list of my assumptions.  These are all the basic assertions that I believe, and that when linked, will support my thesis:

  1. TLG is an ethical organization, but, the single strongest influence on their decisions is profit.
  2. TLG profit is massive. So massive in fact, that TLG is forced to consider not simply specific numbers, but larger concepts like “market share” and “strategic trends
  3. TLG knows that adults purchase, and have always purchased, more Lego than children do.
  4. The term AFOL is separate from the notion that adults purchase most Lego.
  5. TLG can only identify a small number of AFOLs as being separate from other adult Lego buyers.
  6. There is no accurate data source for AFOL numbers or activities.
  7. Because the AFOL market share is not KNOWABLE… it is foolish to assume that TLG acts upon it.

I will develop each of these points in a second, but just so I don’t lose you, here is a quick list of negative assumptions (NAs) that I DO NOT DISPUTE.  I won’t develop these assumptions, but I don’t deny them.  They are part of the landscape, but they are not germane to my assertions.

NA1.      AFOLs do buy more Lego than most adults… but only on a per capita level.

NA2.      TLG does know AFOLs exist… they just don’t care, or regard us as uncontrollable distractors.

NA3.      TLG does pay the AFOL community some small attention, because that is an inexpensive way to create the image of a socially engaged company (an artificial image is pleasing to the larger non-AFOL but still adult Lego purchasing population).

NA4.      Most of us… people… humans… everyday… have an exaggerated sense of self-importance (but this is extra, extra true when discussing Goldman!).

Still reading.  Really?  Well I can’t throw stones… I mean hell, I’m still writing so really, what am I going to say about you still reading?  I’ve wasted even more time than you so far!  Let me develop my assumptions while you jab holes in them… I can hear the hiss of escaping air even now!

Assumption 1. For as long as I have been paying attention, Lego has always come across to me, as a highly ethical company.  They held out against the sirens call of “war toy profit” for ages!  Lots of other lousy brands went to the low hanging fruit of military themed building toys… but Lego?  They made limited concessions, but they held tough to “no modern war themes” even in the face of almost certain loss of market share.  That’s commitment to an ideal dammit!  I just don’t see much of that.  Hell yes I would buy Chick-fil-A on a Sunday if they were open!  They are losing profit… in the name of a moral value?  Astounding by today’s standards.  So ETHICS?  Yep, TLG has, in living memory demonstrated a strong ethical element in their decision-making.  But ultimately, that lesser god, ethics, is subordinated to the oldest and strongest of the gods of the market place pantheon: PROFIT!

I give TLG props for holding out as long as they did… and I call them out… for selling out… with the introduction of the Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Arc franchise action.  The Star Wars guns… Oh thank you TLG for those!  Modern, vicious and menacing in appearance.  But at the same time, it was kind of the end of innocence.  Gone were the days of “romantic violence”… you know, medieval weapons that are only used of impaling, cleaving, and hacking.  Gone were the happy days of black powder weapons and the marginal cruelty of low velocity irregular iron projectiles.  The era of fully automatic directed energy weapons had arrived… along with the affiliated profit margins!  Those kits all sold like gang busters, and still do (even as TLG attempts to back away from the cruel guns and replace them with those tragic spot light looking devices).  The point being that it is PROFIT and NOT ETHICS that ultimately directs TLG’s decision-making.  So for example, hurt feelings don’t matter to them…

TLG is going to engage in marketing behaviors based on impact of profit in terms of market share, and not on the notion that some ill-defined subset of the adult purchasing population disapproves of their actions.

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Assumption 2. Again, I own it… some really soft math coming up.  Hell, I better just get away from the word “math” all together here.  I got NO numbers for you.  NONE… so let’s go with relative amounts instead.  If you read Jays assertions regarding amounts of money he considers relevant to this discussion, he applies some decidedly dicey math (hey… it’s more mathy than my own thinking!) and derives an amount of 60K in on-line sales (its down in the comments below his article).  He hangs his assertion of relevance on this amount.  I counter with the entirely subjective assertion that this amount is paltry (no Keith, not like chicken.  That’s poultry).  Double this amount.  Multiply it by 10… it’s still chicken feed (or poultry feed).  I offer that these numbers… when compared to the galactic numbers TLG deals with (and which I haven’t even tried to locate) are infinitesimal.  The decision to offer or not to offer “exclusives” is not about immediate profit.  They are “promotional” items.  They are meant to get people’s attention.  Introduce the product to people who might not otherwise think about Lego.  Maybe to increase brand exposure or some other “non-immediate” agenda.  Like advertisements, these exclusive offers COST TLG some cash… and they MIGHT generate profit… but only indirectly.

So what?  How does this assertion relate to my thesis?  It’s about scale.  I’m saying that the tiny derivative numbers generated by counting the sales of exclusive figures on-line after the moment of initial distribution, falls short of the significance of profit residing in “market share” level numbers by orders of magnitude.  Why is TLG giving stuff away at SDCC?  It’s not because it’s an efficient method of distribution!  SDCC is TINY!  The largest fan driven comic event in the world… is TINY!  I don’t know WHY TLG does it… but I think its more likely to be about marketing than direct sales.  Maybe they are giving away Lego at the COMIC event in order to make MORE comic book consumers recognize and consume MORE LEGO.  Maybe it is an attempt to make comic industry players recognize and like Lego as a product.  Maybe they are trying to cook up a buzz at a gigantic week-long commercial marketing event.  All of these possible agenda are only relevant in terms of “market share” or “market demographics”.  Big strategic numbers… where tiny glacial movements can still result in massive amounts of revenue.   Of course, in fact… I certainly don’t know why TLG does it (again… no reliable data) but I’m saying that it’s NOT to make an immediate profit.  In fact… don’t they literally GIVE the stuff away?  Or at least sell it for even tinier prices?

The endorsement (or even the opinion) of the AFOL community does NOT enter into TLGs decisions regarding these low density high effort marketing maneuvers.  Further, those opinions SHOULD NOT MATTER… because we don’t buy enough Lego to matter… the profit AFOLs contribute is not MASSIVE, and TLG looks at MASSIVE numbers.

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Continue reading “Fire for Effect: What’s love got to do with it?”

Fire for Effect: Consensus! The Truth Killer!

This is the improbable seventh salvo in Michael Rutherford’s regular column, Fire for Effect. Without any further ado, take it away Mike…

I keep trying to write this installment of FFE, and you guys on the blog keep changing reality… so then I try to re-write this installment… and you change reality again.  I’m behind, and I know it… so piss off.  Originally, this was intended to be an appeal for readers to submit new material for the Manifesto.  Then Andes, and Prasad started cranking out articles and I had to adjust.  And that article from Infinity was an excellent bolt out of the blue.  Bang!  Boom!  Doors flapping in the wind… Fresh air, and discourse.  Also, I’m going to throw out a preemptive acknowledgement to Vitreolum, because he also seems to “get” what I’m trying to say in this article.   What am I trying to say in this article?  Well, that’s in the article isn’t it!  What do you think this paragraph is called: The preview paragraph?  The introduction?  WRONG.  This is the namby pamby excuses paragraph.  You will find no real substance here fools!  So enough with all my disclaimers, qualifiers, and excuses.  Steel on target!  Fire for effect!

Keith and I agree on a lot of stuff, that’s why he lets me run my mouth so much here. But we disagree on some stylistic issues (like when Keith is WRONG for example).  For the most part though, we strike a harmonic cord.  And, many of you constant readers, seem to agree with us.  You are here because our tone, or our focus, or our slant appeals to your sensibilities.  So… we all agree on a lot of points and tend to downplay differences.  We agree with one another… a lot.

This climate of agreement or consensus is fine, wouldn’t you agree?

You are now entering the thesis paragraph.  Please pay attention.  While consensus is fine and good… it’s not the best, or most important, super ultimate goal in life.  In fact, consensus can be quite dangerous.  The desire for consensus can hurt dialogue, obscure important truths and in the Lego Hobby, it can curtail growth and inclusion.  We should guard against its seductive nature, and in fact, our hobby is best served by a culture that embraces not consensus, but rather which embraces the chaos of discourse and discord.  It’s true in much of life… but today I urge you to examine the hazard of placing consensus before discourse, as it applies to our Hobby, and specifically, right here, how it applies to our conduct on this blog.

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Now I don’t mean to dump on consensus here.  It’s not a vile or weak thing.  It’s not a “false virtue”. In fact, it’s a crucial and often lacking ingredient in any endeavor involving more than one person.  Consensus allows for participatory decision making, progress, unity, focus, team, commitment, sacrifice and lots of other cool stuff.  Consensus gets us past awkward issues like conflict, loss of face, embarrassment, and isolation.  Consensus gets “us” all into the same club house, and keeps the “them” outside, in the rain, with the zombies.  It puts the right sign on the door.  Consensus is inclusive and cozy. In the context of our hobby, consensus is essential for activities like conventions, LUGs, and even on line forums (what?  It’s both good and bad?  Is that possible?).  Consensus feels good, and so… we tend to seek it.  It’s not a crime.  It’s perfectly natural.  But “natural” is not a synonym for “best”.  Picking at your own scabs is natural, and what did our mamas tell us all about that?  Keith, sorry… your mama probably didn’t tell you… but don’t pick at your own scabs, it causes scarring

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Consensus is important, and the desire for it is very human.  It can be constructive.  But is can also be a seductive poison.  Consensus Poisoning (CP) happens when we value consensus to much.  When the need to be in agreement moves us to compromise our values or moves us to squelch the messages of others.  (no, I don’t think we do that on The Manifesto… but we easily could).   CP is an easy condition to deny, easy to ignore, and absolutely deadly to any forum concerned with the pursuit of truth.  We agree with everything we say, and we are doing all the talking… the perfect incubator for a raging case of CP.  El Manifesto may be a comfortable room full of comfortable people who are slowly and comfortably succumbing to CP.   Some of you may be thinking:  Consensus Poisoning?  Don’t you mean Groupthink?

Well, no… but almost!  Groupthink doesn’t quite fit here because The Manifesto is not really an organization that makes decisions.  Sure, every member of the reading audience is a decision maker, and sure… we would like to affect your decisions (editorial slant and what not).  But the decision making WITHIN El Manifesto is fairly autocratic.  Keith is the owner, chief editor, and El Alcalde.  Anybody else pretty much just offers opinions or recommendations.   Decisions about the blog might be made collectively from time to time, but only at the Alcalde’s sufferance.  So, no… I’m not really talking about Groupthink in the purest sense.  Although, it is a deadly and pervasive condition that affects many organizations and you should read all about it right here in this short concise article!

No, for our purpose today, let’s stick with our invented malady: Consensus Poisoning.  But let’s do take a look at two of symptoms of Groupthink I just stole from the above link:

  1. Direct pressure on dissenters – Members are under pressure not to express arguments against any of the group’s views.
  2. Self-censorship – Doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed.

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As I said, Groupthink is more about “decision making”, as opposed to my focus today, which is “dialogue and Discourse”.  I highlight these two Groupthink symptoms, Pressure on dissenters and Self –censorship… because they overlap with CP and are the most relevant to what DOES happen on The Manifesto: Discussion.

Discussion is a mainstay of this blog.  Discussion, entertainment, and maybe a small slice of actual information or news… brought to us by our readers, mostly in support of goal #1, Discussion.  Most of us would agree (Yet again!  Cursed agreement!) that we do discuss LOTS of stuff here.  Brother, we got nothing if we aint got discussion!  So maybe… CP is not a threat here huh?  I mean, maybe we have a healthy climate of aggressive debate.  Open exchange of conflicting ideas… maybe CP isn’t really a thing here… Look at Prasad on the pen, and guys like Vitreolum keeping us honest.  Look at Infinity jumping in with both feet… Looks like we got CP beat… Wrong answer!

Because discussion itself is the beating heart of this otherwise ghetto little blog… we the citizen readers must be even more vigilant against CP than we would be other sites.  Other blogs show pics of new product.  They may have a fairly conformist culture, or a culture that dampens conversation… but so what?  You go to those sites to see pics of new product.  Once that’s done, that site has accomplished its mission.  But here?  If we lose the fragile guttering flame of discourse?  Then we have to join primitive man on a Quest For Fire!

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Remember, CP is like ground water around a dry basement.  Not a problem today, but always trying to seep in through tiny cracks… an ever present tendency.  I don’t complain about CP on El Manifesto right now, so much as I urge vigilance against complacency and the CP that follows right behind.  It’s a comforting belief that CP is not a threat on The Manifesto, but in reality, it’s always a threat.  And dismissing the threat, only increases the hazards likelihood exponentially.

I suppose the good news is that when CP is recognized (when, not if) it is easily treated.  TRUTH cures CP in a heartbeat.  Right now, I think The Manifesto is pretty good at truth.  I would give us a strong B, maybe an A minus in “Truth”.   We say lots of stuff, and then we talk about what we say.  Everybody has their say, and with a very few exceptions, people are not censured.  (but yeah… even we have to maintain a small, one cell “thought prison” for people who want to use El Manifesto as a platform for crazy talk.  Such is modern life).

So truth is an easy cure.  Truth is not found through the rapid establishment of a consensus. In our shared tendency to seek consensus, we often trample the truth!  Truth is not comfortable.  Truth is not the product of back slapping and “atta boy” rhetoric.  Truth is not always elegant or funny (but humor is one of truths favorite tools!).  Truth is not the BIG part.  Not the husk or the shell.  It’s the TINY part in the middle, the hard core.  A large group usually finds the truth through discourse (and discord!).  Argument, debate, even a little eye gouging at times… often reveals truths not initially known to either party when they started talking.

As I mentioned, Discourse (and Discord) is one of the corner stones of The Manifesto!

Discourse is something we seem to have lots of here on The Manifesto, but CP is an insipid toxin!  You don’t taste it, or smell it.  You don’t’ even feel it!  But you can PREVENT it.  In fact, ONLY YOU can prevent it!

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I wish many more readers would write stuff for this blog.  All credit to Simon, Ted, Achintya, and Infinity, your stuff is great!  Your insights, humor, candor… it’s the basic food stuff sold in the market place of ideas!  But I would like it if you guys were reduced from the excellent post of “Major Contributors” and relegated to the also cool but lesser post of “Trend Setters”.  I urge more readers to write stuff that you believe!  F popularity!  F common practice!  F the police!  Sting was better on his own!  Then spell check your stuff just like I never do… and send a draft to Keith.

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REALITY CHECK… BRACE FOR IMPACT… REALITY CHECK… BRACE FOR IMPACT…

Keith has to edit stuff.  He edits every word on this blog.  He has to!  He is responsible for every syllable that gets posted here, and he TAKES RESPONSIBILITY for the same.  Keith will edit, and that is good.  You think my spelling and punctuation are bad?  Foolish Samurai!  You have no idea how many juvenile errors Keith scrubs out of my shite before he puts it up!  So yes, Keith WILL edit your submissions… and yes, you WANT him to!

Second point: Don’t be an over sensitive Nancy about it!  He almost never hits the content.  Unless you’re going to try and post some crazy social, religious, political, gender, giant insect, or Mega Block extremist tripe… you’re inspired insights will survive the editing process!

So shut up and speak already!

Tortured artist… you people kill me… “Oh the Gods!  That blood stained editor has crushed the fragile flame of my thoughts under his jack booted right foot.  The horror!  The horror!… Think, re-think, write, and re-write already you filthy rabble!  Your thoughts contain truths… so share these truths already!  In fact, don’t just share them.  Impose them upon us!  Force your beliefs into our resisting minds with well-crafted arguments and persuasive examples!  Stick your truths into our brains as you would a bayonet into the chest of a remorseless invader!  If it’s the truth, it’s not an attack.  It’s badly needed aid!

You might ask about some administrative details at this point…

“What about the administrative details?”

Ah yes!  So glad you asked!

Write your article/essay/rant using your preferred program and send it to Keith through the contact form on this site, Flickr or Legomankeith@aol.com.  Include any pictures, videos or links you want embedded in the article.  No pics?  No problem!    Keith will pick some pictures for you!  (No!  How dumb are you?  You’re comfortable with Keith picking your pictures for you? It doesn’t end well!  What if he asks ME to pic the pics?  How do you think THAT will work out for you?)

So let’s summarize and ensure shared understanding by using a… using a… using a MISSION STATEMENT!   YES!

MISSION FOLLOWS:

WHO: Anyone except Matt rowntRee

WHAT: Writes an article for publication

WHEN: As soon as possible

WHERE: on El Manifesto

WHY: In order to fight Consensus Poisoning and support an ongoing search for TRUTH with discourse and discord!

Ah!  I thank that phantom Prometheus, who did steal the science of MISSION STATEMENTS from the blood-stained gods and who did then delivered it unto our unworthy and mortal hands.

I know that CP seems like a distant threat from where we stand right now.  We already have discourse, and discord.  We already have a pretty low threat environment.  We we we… lots of good stuff.  This place doesn’t suck ass.  I know that what I’m saying is counter intuitive.  Especially with the excellent new articles we just ran, and the excellent reader author point/counter point tradition we have established.  I got all that.  And I agree (yet again!  Ah the gods do mock me!).  But have a little respect!

Wait.  Respect?  I think we have that already… No, I don’t mean respect for one another.  I don’t mean respect for the people who are here, now, on this blog with you today.  I mean look back across the bow.  Look at the fleet of derelict vessels rotting at anchor behind us.  Blogs and LUGs and Web sites that were once busy, and are now empty and lifeless.  Why?  Why were they once mostly at mostly decent, and now totally dead?  Were they peopled by idiots?  Staffed entirely by morally weak or corrupt dullards who lacked vision and all succumbed to their own evil ways?  NO!  That is a stupid and simplistic assumption.  We should respect the people who built many of these groups.  We should respect what they built, and we should therefor “respect” the seriousness of whatever destroyed so many of them.  Respect for those who have gone before us is not just a romantic thing we say… there is a reason for it.  They built cool sites, and now many of their efforts have ground to a halt.  Respect the notion that these groups, or LUGs, or blogs succumbed to difficult challenges.  Many now dead sites were once banging joints!  Now silent.  Why?  What will stop us from the meeting the same insipid fate?  Not but our culture.  That’s what I mean when I say “have some respect”.  Respect the architects of now dead sites, and respect the serious nature of the threats that took them down and that stalk us even now.

Another angle.  El Manifesto seems to have a pretty good bead on discourse and discussion.  We do it, value it, and enjoy it.  OK.  True enough… as far as it goes.  But how many people in the hobby still don’t speak here?  Why not?  How many train heads?  Why not?  Castle heads?  Why not.  Bionicle folks?  How many people out there read this blog and still feel they can’t really “Open up and give those bellicose wind bags what for?”  I think we have established a tone (a pretty good tone actually) but… the stronger the tone gets, the more “Not any other tone” it becomes.  I like flavor and character.  I don’t want to write for a blog that is the Coors Beer of Lego Blogs (lacking in flavor, but generally inoffensive).  Character matters.  But while we enjoy it, let’s not forget the passive way it can “block” or “stymie” input from new comers.  Look at the number of first time comments we had in the wake of Infinities article.  Great!  But why only now?  Why are we not attracting more new commenters?  There is no ONE reason.  And I don’t say it IS BECAUSE OF this one thing… I only want us to remember the importance of celebrating new and contrarian perspectives, and the importance of trying to live up to an ideal of an open forum.  It’s hard to do, and easy to screw up.

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I think this is the vaguest FFE I have written yet.  It’s certainly proven to be the slipperiest topic to grab a hold of.  We are not yet suffering from CP.  In fact, right now, I think we have it on the run.  But I also don’t think we are so unique in this.  Things like tradition, convention, and “the way we do it here” are all notions that grow stronger over time.  They also contribute to CP.  I just wanted to try to get out ahead of it.  If you’re still reading at this point, then I have exceeded my expectations.  This entire article is more about a cautionary message than about identifying a current problem.  As I mentioned, the truth kept evolving as I tried to write this piece.  If I’m off the mark, I know I can count on some of you to sock it to me.  Poke my eye out with a stick, but I had to take a stab at this topic.  Orthodoxy, complacency, casual exclusion… the notions haunt me, maybe not because they are so vile and distant, but because they come so easily and so quickly.  If you think they’re not in your kit bag… I council another inventory.

I just want us all to think about where truth is found, and to celebrate the clash of ideas in the arena and the spectacle of influence achieved … over the soothing din of a harmonious banquet and the torpid stupor that follows… leading eventually to silence and the death of though.    Wow bummer!  I think I need to watch some more Monty Python or something… Geez.

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Think.

Re-think.

Write.

Re-write.

Submit.

Attack!

 

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

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

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

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

Thesis:

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

Thesis clarification:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assumptions:

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

Wandering dissertation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fire for Effect: Alas Alas That Great City LUGNET

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

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

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

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

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

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What happened to LUGNET?

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

Why is our home world all but dead?

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

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

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

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

HALFLINGS.jpg

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

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

Fire for Effect:”Give me the prize!”

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

I’m trying to narrow my focus today.  I offer a very narrow thesis and I will endeavor to get straight to it.  But still… go get a beer… or two.  Oh, and before we start, I am curious: How many of you read this blog in the can?  A co-worker (and AFOL) told me that he habitually waits until he is in the can before he reads this blog.  Like he might have time when he isn’t in the can… but he waits until he is (is in the can)… and then he reads it.  I was sort of taken aback… but then I thought about it (yeah… I know.  Of all the things to think about, right?).  Is it a strange thing that only he does?  Or is it actually a new norm that I’m just not clutched into?  So, ummm… are “WE” in the can right now?  You, constant reader… and I?  Together, in the can?  For the record, I don’t read, or write for that matter… in the can.  Ever.  Just so you we’re clear.

Well, I guess that pretty much shot the notion of getting right to the point.  How about catching up by jumping straight to my point!

Thesis: Awards at Lego fests are good for the state of the hobby.

Supporting points:

Competition.  It is a culturally universal concept which, when controlled, can motivate innovation, improvement and excellence.

Limited competition focuses this potential but requires rules.  Rules equate to cooperation.  Obscure rules undermine cooperation.

Transparency prevents obscurity.

Transparency is lacking in Lego conventions.

Let’s get all Aristotelian!

  1. Competition fosters improvement.
  2. Awards are competitive.

ERGO

  1. Awards foster improvement.

Thesis clarification:

Competition.  An environment and an event wherein participants try to get or win something that someone else is also trying to win: to try to be better or more successful than someone or something else (Merriam Webster).   Competition is broader.  It exists in a natural state.  Trash the normal rhetoric about gazelles competing with cheetahs on the savanna.  They don’t compete… they mutually support one another by perusing separate but interrelated agendas.  Remember that it is not the cheetah with whom the gazelle competes, but rather the other gazelles.  The cheetah is relevant to the gazelle… but the cheetah wants neither the limited supply of grass, nor to mate with the limited supply of hot gazelles.  Yes, cheetahs and gazelles run together, at the same place and at the same time…but they are running for DIFFERENT REASONS… running DIFFERENT RACES… often right after dinner for the gazelle, and right before dinner for the cheetah.  But the gazelles all know their race is not against the cheetah.  It is against the next slowest gazelle (the one who the cheetah is going to actually catch).  For the gazelle, it’s all about the grass and the mating (So what you’re saying is… Keith is a Gazelle?).  Getting what the other gazelles want.  That is the competition.  Be a better gazelle, get more grass and more ass.  Competition incentivizes gazelle to be BETTER gazelles.  This is what I mean when I say: Competition fosters improvement.  Take a look at gazelles.  Most of them are pretty good at gazelling.  The not so good gazelles?  They are harder to spot…  Usually busy feeding the cheetahs.

So its clear then.  AFOLs should run across the savanna until we catch one another, and then kill and eat one another (frequently wedging our dead AFOL victim up in a tree to protect the body from other conniving AFOL rivals).  NO!  Don’t be silly!  Most of us would stroke out from the shock to our cardiovascular systems!   Duh!

Here I say only that competition is part of natural life (and yes, I have a bias towards artificial systems that “borrow” from natural systems because nature pretty consistently kicks ass!) and that it fosters improvement.

But there is more to the VALUE of COMPETITION.  It is CULTURALLY UNIVERSAL.  War is competition.  Religion is competition (lots of overlap with war).  Commerce is competition (again, with the overlap).  Exploration, science, agriculture… almost every field of human culture (non-natural) has a competitive aspect.  Yea rowntRee… Art as well.  Further, all these fields overlap and interconnect.  It’s quite a weave actually.  All humans from all cultures do this stuff.  You might even say it’s universal.  Makes for some tough problems.  COMPETITION CAN ALL BE HIGHLY DESTRUCTIVE!   I mean… I started the list with WAR for god’s sake!   Let’s review the concept of LIMITS… Yea?

Limited competition is all the competition that happens within agreed upon parameters.  Sometimes vague, as with underlying cultural assumptions, and sometimes specific, as with… wait for it… rules.  If ANY participant in a limited completion abandons these parameters, these rules… then the competition becomes unlimited again.

Continue reading “Fire for Effect:”Give me the prize!””

Fire for Effect: “Brace yourselves, the area of penetration will no doubt be sensitive.”

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

Generalizations.  We love to use them and we chafe when we spot others using them.  We love the notions implied by the noun: AFOL.  I know, it’s actually an acronym… but an acronym is just a type of noun… so shut your grammar-nazi mouth already!  The notion AFOL, what does it suggest?  What do you think about when you hear it?  If you’re reading this text, the odds are that you self-identify as an AFOL.  The acronym suggests that AFOL is a thing.  If it is a thing, then it has traits that describe the thing, right? A denotative description would be a definition.   I’m not about that today, no definition is required.  No list of criteria which when applied to the subject, describe that subject in consistent and accurate detail.  Nope.  Today I’m feeling connotative.  I speak in terms of trends, norms and ambiguous suggestions that are often affiliated with the subject.

Water landing

WARNING!  We are now leaving the realm of absolutes and categoricals!  Variations, or even substantial deltas between my proffered connotations of the term AFOL and your personal traits are to be expected!  This does not indicate a catastrophic cognitive disconnect, or even that a water landing is imminent.   I do ask that you remain focused and keep your seat belt fastened while we pass through this turbulent airspace.   I’m talking about AFOLs as a population and offering some unflattering observations (Duh… Want a pat on the back?  You’ve come to the wrong shop brother!)  I’m not talking about you, or that guy next to you… or even old boy who lives way down town (on the other side of the tracks… yeah, not even that guy).  I’m talking population level generalities… and I challenge you all: Come back at me at the same level.  With counter observations (or arguments even!) that apply to the AFOL as a population.  Remember, if AFOL is a thing, then some generalizations should apply.

So let’s talk generalizations.  Here are TWO generalizations about AFOLs that I am pretty comfortable throwing out there for public consumption.  They may seem contradictory on first examination, but try these generalizations on for size:

AFOLs are sensitive people.

AFOLs are insensitive people.

Both?

Both.

How?

How:

SENSITIVE: AFOLs are quiet, introverted, creative people who persue a hobby that begins with a spark of inspiration and then takes form at a table, or a keyboard.  Usually in their home and often in hours of darkness.  Maybe with some music playing in the background or a favorite movie.  It’s an exercise in two parts: first in creativity and then in sharing.  Communication regarding their MOCs often take place in an on-line context and is often tumultuous and fraught with peril.  They often chafe at negative observations by fellow hobbyists regarding their MOCs, and they thrive on praise.  (STOP!  This is a description, not a value judgement!  Don’t be so sensitive!).  The AFOL is sensitive… to their own feelings.

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Continue reading “Fire for Effect: “Brace yourselves, the area of penetration will no doubt be sensitive.””

Fire for Effect: Give Credit its Due

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

It is amazing what you can accomplish…

Harry S Truman did some pretty cool stuff.  He took the wheel during WWII and ended that mess in less than 4 months.  Old “Give ’em hell, Harry” checked the expansion of communism both at home and abroad and at the same time…championed the UN…helped rebuild Europe and the global economy… pulled off the Berlin Air Lift… racially integrated the U.S. military… started NATO… stopped the entire Chinese Army, in Asia, without WMDs (a cool trick in anybody’s book)…got General Douglas MacArthur under control (Almost as big a deal as that thing with the Chinese Army!) and he had a few other pots on the stove.  Somewhere in and amongst all those little distractions, he had time to utter a saying that has stuck with me since the first time I heard it.

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit”

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Credit.  Recognition.  Acknowledgment.  One of the sweetest nectars to be found in the garden of AFOL delights, as well as one of its most insidious toxins.

The Desire For Credit (DFC) is a classic motivator.  The idea that our peers will acknowledge our efforts as exemplary.  That some lasting accomplishment will be attributed specifically to us for a very long time.  We long to see our name and our contribution carved into the marble of history next to other reputable guys and their great achievements: Euclid’s Elements, Newton’s Constant, the Van Allen Belt, the Pickard  Picard Maneuver

It’s an attractive notion that speaks directly to our self-worth.  It taps directly into our narcissistic tendencies, a sirens call both irresistible and destructive.  It might even be primal, this desire for the approval of the group.

And like most primitive urges, we often suppress and deny it, like our intense desire to stare at attractive people in public.  Like our deep-seated need to establish dominance in social situations, or our intense need to eat food from Chick Fill’A.  These are all very natural behaviors, and all suppressed (usually with only marginal levels of success).   We get busted checking people out, we get pissed off when slighted in public and we eat the hell out of those damn chicken sandwiches…just like we all know a Cro-Magnon would!  Many of us reject the notion that this desire exists at all, but this denial is of course false.  We want credit for our effort, but WE THINK IT IS BASE to want the credit, so we SAY that we don’t.  Only for a few, a very select few, is this rejection sincere.  In fact, recent satellite images of the Earth suggest that there are precisely FIVE people alive on Earth today who don’t care at all about getting credit for their work.  Oh shit… Mother Teresa is dead?  Make that FOUR people. Then again, even the beloved Mother Theresa had her issues with credit.

This Desire For Credit (DFC) is a pervasive element of the AFOLs life.  Isolating the DFC from everything else, for the purpose of discussion is largely artificial.  Like ethics, safety, respect, faith, trust…and bunch of other stuff…The DFC is part of everything we do.  Maybe a small part, maybe not so small, but it always OVERLAPS with a lot of other topics. A transition sentence is one that helps your reader move to the next concept smoothly (like my thesis for example), but I don’t have a good transition sentence, so…JUMP NOW!

THESIS: The desire for credit (DFC) can both motivate and prevent the artistic growth of AFOLs and the hobby, and acknowledging our DFC allows us to mitigate it’s destructive side.

We can see the impact of credit (or the Desire For Credit) in at least three areas of the hobby: Parts and Techniques, Building Efforts and Disputed Credit.

PARTS and TECHNIQUES.  From time to time, one of us will use a part effectively in a MOC and receive the curt but salutary accolade: “NPU!”  Ah yes…that use of the yellow minifig life jacket to capture the subtle curves of Hasselhoff’s ear lobe…that was quite clever wasn’t it?  You KNEW they would dig it, “But soft!  They speak!… NPU bro!”  Ah yes, time to smile and sip the sweet nectar of credit.  But once per era, one of us, usually the seventh son of a seventh son will use a part to devastating an affect and with such relentless frequency that the part becomes synonymous with that builder!  Or a mind will conceive of and execute a technique… teachable, learnable, re-producible on demand and guaranteed to increase crop yield by thirty percent!  Part and builder, part and technique… bonded forever in AFOL song and lore!   It’s a real hallmark.  No, really, it’s cool.  And chicks dig it too!  In fact, I hear it also reduces home mortgages by a quarter of a percent!  Examples of this rare CREDITUS MAXIMUS include:

Nnenn, a beloved and departed AFOL who brought us this enduring design criteria.  True, the Vic Viper is not called the Nnenn Viper, but the formal and recorded design criteria for the Vic Viper is synonymous with this artist.  His design remains an enduring challenge to our entire community.  Nnenns idea endures, an ongoing dialogue within the community about the tension that will always exist between conformity and creativity.  The below image conveys two messages.  First, Nnenns vital contribution to the greater Lego dialogue: conformity and creativity are NOT mutually exclusive.  Second, all of these MOCs were built by different AFOLs and brought to Brickworld Chicago in 2010 in order to commemorate Nnenns passing.

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The man had IMPACT on AFOLs and the Art of Lego.  He created and shared an idea that resulted in an explosion of creative effort, AFOL improvement, and vigorous dialogue.  I never saw or heard of him chasing credit… but we all know he earned it, and I for one will say without hesitation, that it is a good thing to recognize his contribution (by name).  Not base, not crude, but unambiguously inspiring.  Oh, and his influence is seen at the highest level an AFOL can achieve: Lego product design, as documented so excellently by TBB.  And of course… just to nail down the trifecta in a supernova of CREDITUS MAXIMUS, we all still call this part the Nnenn:

Other examples of CREDIT in the realm of Parts and Techniques include:

The Travis brick: Named for a remarkable AFOL who passed away too soon.

The Lowell sphere: Invented by a man questing for the perfect round cap on the end of the engine thingy on his Y-Wing…

The Bram sphere: As hydrogen warheads followed on the heels of atomic warheads, so the Bram sphere followed on the heels of the Lowell sphere…marvel at the vast and cool intellect of one of our greatest builders.

Reality check: I Can’t KNOW how or even IF the DFC effected the cognitive processes of these esteemed colleagues and I make no such claim.  What I do say is this: most of us would really dig achieving this level of notoriety.  STOP!  Yes you would!  Don’t deny!  Don’t succumb to the notion of what you THINK is more civilized and ignore the savage TRUTH!   Instead, I urge you to make peace with this base motive, acknowledge it and then having befriended it you must learn to tame it and always strive to keep it in check.  Again, I do NOT claim that the DFC motivated these builders.  Creative impulse.  The need to invent the technique in order to achieve some higher level effort.  Accident!  I declare that Keith should interview each of these cats and get their take on the whole business!  (Do it Keith… Do it!)  I’m just saying, it’s pretty cool that they have parts or techniques named after them and if I was ever able to achieve the same,  I would be pretty jazzed about it.  Because I’m base, crude and think like a Neanderthal?  Maybe.  Or maybe just because I have a rather pedestrian world view.

Continue reading “Fire for Effect: Give Credit its Due”