And the Winner of SHIPtember 2018 is…

File this under excessive tardiness but our foundational traditions must be observed regardless of conventional time frame.  Your winner of SHIPtember 2018 is…Brama!, by Mr. Zac Lowing, a man and a mustache who every constant reader of this esteemed blog should be familiar with by now.  He’s the same MAN who took top honors in both 2017 and 2016.  The rest of you losers can go home now…try harder next year!

brama-jpg_display

There was some minor discussion around the water cooler that 2018 was a down year for the annual challenge, but there were definitley some memorable gems to be found in the inky blackness between the starts.  To my eyes, I found this year in general to be more interesting than usual because no single identifiable style dominated the field.  Even though the numbers might have been down in terms of overall participation, I think creativity and uniqueness was extremely high this year.  There were no endless fleets of lozenge-shaped HomeWorld inspired starships or generic, geriatric Star Wars designs or any other franchise for that matter.  After pouring through the results (my own results because as is customary, Simon Liu has not yet wrapped up the proceedings almost 4 months later) I thought I’d share them here.  I don’t want to drag Simon too much because I’ve done it enough in past years and he truly is one of the most generous people I’ve met in my Lego related travels.  That said, the natives seem to be restless this year and complaining about his laissez-faire leadership style more than I’ve seen before.  It’s a shame because SHIPtember is obviously one of the most dependable, influential and long-lasting challenge/contests we have in the genre or in the hobby at large.  Completing the month-long challenge is a rite of passage for most “serious” sci-fi builders and every year it draws in new talent and provides a nice stage to get your models actually looked at and commented on.  I almost wish Si would pass the torch to somebody more motivated rather than let it continue to deteriorate like so many other things in community.  Listen, I’ve experienced my fair share of suffering the slings and arrows of running contests and challenges…it’s largely a thankless job that requires time, followthrough, straight up cash homie and a good deal of all-purpose hassle over any number of issues (mostly shipping in my case).  I don’t blame Simon in the slightest for burning out, but I do blame him for not finding a way to breathe some new life into SHIPtember, either personally, or by getting some help.

If you’re curious, these are the highly unofficial results I came up with on the old quasi-reliable abacus.  The public was tasked with listing their top 3 favorite SHIPs of the year and these are your winners.  It was both interesting and kind of cool that a digital SHIP took home top honors in 2018, maybe that’s progress?  I think it’s the first one to ever do so, but I could certainly be wrong.  At the time of posting Simon was not available for commnet to confirm or disavow.

1st Place People’s Choice: Pleurotus Flight by Inthert, with 7 first place votes.

44274706384_3d3d91b4d0_o.png

2nd Place People’s Choice: Xylethrus-AMV by Halfbeak with 6 second place votes.

44080207515_2c091374a4_o.png

3rd Place People’s Choice: MOTH by Oscar Cederwall (oOger) with 5 third place votes.

44993253691_983e8e88ee_o.jpg

In case you’re curious my favorite was the Doomsday Disco by the one true king Pierre E Fieschi.  Concept, style, presentation and cool name, it checks all the boxes for me.  It might not be the most unique or fanciest but he’s my go-to guy for all things SHIP related and I’d never cheat on him with some Jenny of the moment in high heels and fishnets.

29994565687_cbdc043a86_o.jpg

So you three weirdos enjoy your well-earned spots on the medal podium, but we all know who wears the crown…every year.  Every.  Year.

Dropping Ballast on Flickr

Since Flickr/SmugMug has become a recurring topic of conversation recently, I thought I’d add my unsolicited two cents to the discussion.  Until recently I really haven’t given much thought to the platform as a whole, it has simply been good enough since I joined in 2006.  Other than the interval when Flickr made the terrible decision to eliminate the ‘notes’ function, I really haven’t had much to complain about in almost 13 years of use, and to their credit, they were ultimately responsive enough to their customer base to reinstate the feature recently.  Flickr may not the perfect solution where the community at large is concerned, but it has been a stabilizing force in the hobby when Brickshelf, LUGnet and MOCPages all ceased being viable options with room for growth.  So while I acknowledge that the recent decision to limit free accounts to 1000 photos is both irritating and restrictive to many users, it’s still the best option we have in this era of echo chambers and tribal splintering.  I appreciate the fact that not everybody has the money to pay for an account and that they find the principle of having to pay to post photos online to be unfair, but Smugmug is just another company trying to turn a profit and they’re under no obligation to provide us with a free community hub or place to hang photos.  As I’ve said before in the comments, if somebody comes up with a better option I’m willing to jump ship, but I’ve yet to see anything more than good intentions and declarations of good things to come.

2018 was an abysmal year for me in terms of building and by extension, posting to Flickr. I only managed one finished model at the tail end of December, in large part because the lion’s share of my Lego related free time was taken up by DA3 on MOCPages.  There were a few disastrous collaborative and solo projects that went up in flames behind the scenes but nothing I cared to share with my fellow builders at large.  So I haven’t paid all that much attention to Flickr in quite some time, but I went back to it over the weekend with relatively fresh eyes and a sense of curiosity, and that’s what I want to talk about for the bulk of this article.  To the point, I was surprised to discover that I had 768 contacts, I just don’t look at that particular statistic very often and it seemed like an absurdly unmanageable number. A high percentage of the people I follow came as a direct result of my time spent blogging for the Brother’s Brick.  Back then I had a policy of following just about anyone who showed a modicum of skill or even a vague promise of developing skill with the brick.  I was forever on the lookout for young or obscure builders who were about to break onto the larger scene.  At that point in time I also had a hard-core reciprocal policy of adding anyone as a contact who added me.  When you write for TBB, all of a sudden everyone wants to be your contact, especially when you’ve displayed a willingness to blog more than just the obvious glossy choices.

I’m sure some of you are reading this and are thinking some version of: who cares how high that number gets?  The more the merrier, everything and everyone really is awesome in our hobby!  In essence, I’m curious if there is any value in pairing down my contacts to the point that I can increase my own sense of “community” with my fellow builders by making it more likely that I’ll communicate in a meaningful way with the ones who mean most to me.  Too often it seems as though important or interesting people and models slip past my radar because they are surrounded and obscured by the never-ending shit-show of cube dudes, minifigs and perhaps worst of all, photos of unopened sets. I think with fewer contacts I’ll be able to communicate better and more frequently with the people I care about….to stop grousing and do something productive.   So I decided it was time to trim the fat, excise the necrotic tissue…drop some digital ballast.

4449283026_1449848905_o.jpg

It was an interesting process and I was surprised how many marginal or average builders I kept, and how many high-viz and/or highly skilled builders I let go.  I cut anyone that I didn’t like personally where in the past I would follow people regardless of how much of an asshole I thought them to be.  Fortunately that ended up being a pretty small and select group of people but it was actually fun to surgically remove them like the human-shaped tumors they are.  During the procedure some interesting trends emerged pretty quickly during the great culling, although none of them were absolute of course, I would make exceptions for people I’d met before or who I find entertaining regardless of skill….but there was definitely a fast-track to the digital guillotine.

  • An excessive quantity of cube dudes.
  • An excessive quantity of Star Wars or Marvel themed models.
  • Even a single example of a “Nerdly“.
  • An excessive quantity of Minifig-photography.
  • An excessive quantity of Classic Space models or overt product nostalgia.
  • An excessive quantity of photos of unopened sets or other official product.

Although I never set out with a prejudice against Castle-themed builders, I ended up dumping a disproportionate number of them despite their often elevated skill level.  I have a developing theory that Castle building must be the easiest gateway into the hobby, I think it’s the easiest theme to be good at and achieve a level of notoriety the quickest.  Unlike other themes there is an easily discoverable and digestible collection of well-established building techniques that a novice can access and master in a relatively short period of time.  The result has been a homogenization of the genre where the vast majority of models end up looking like knock offs from the Luke Watkins Huchinson school of building.  It’s a fine style, Hutchinson is awesome (I kept him as a contact) and it was clearly groundbreaking and hugely influential style but I’m tired of it, there has to be more than that parts-intensive, super dense, mumblety-peg buildings with everything set at an odd angle and a very specific color palette and boilerplate terrain.   I’m tired of the boilerplate, even when it’s done well and until something changes I want to see less Castle when I go to Flickr.

I also cut anyone with a Brickarmz laden minifig as an avatar and anyone with SS bolts in their screen name.  That was a considerable number of people, as it turns out.  In general I cut a good deal of builders whose favorite theme was modern military and I think some of the criticisms I have of the current state of castle building apply to Military: the talent has never been higher, but creativity has rarely been lower.  I think Trains are more innovative these days and that’s saying something.Culling.png

In the end I cut over 500 builders, a massacre by most accounting.  Once the scale of the bloodshed was apparent, I decided to save (by favoriting) a single photo from each of the people I eliminated from the list, even though that proved challenging at times.  That way I can chop away with relative impunity, knowing I have some reference point to return to if I need it.  I’ve included a smattering of those builds here for your enjoyment.  I’m sure it’s not surprising to you well-healed constant readers but it turns out that just about anyone is capable of at least one good model, but that kind of surprised me.

By far the most irritating thing I discovered in the process of culling my Flickr contacts was the alarming number of good friends who were inexplicably no longer on my list, people who I’m certain I never dropped and would never drop.  I always suspected that builders had gone missing out of my contacts over the years, there were many instances where I would be very surprised to find out that I somehow wasn’t following a well established builder or friend. But after thoroughly examining each and every person on the list, I’m now convinced of it.  Take long time crony Brian “mondaynOOdle” Kescenovitz for example, we’ve been buddies for over ten years, we’ve collaborated on several projects and he’s stayed at my palatial estate in Vegas…and yet I didn’t find him anywhere in the ranks of my 768 contacts.  I thought he’d slipped back into a dark age for the last 2 years, only to find out I’ve missed 10 models.  Then there’s the awkwardness of adding him again, so much so that I felt the need to send him an email to explain it.  Although there is no way to know how many friends and favorite builders have fallen off my list, but I was able to identify 7 of them before I ran out of gas on the topic.  So if you see me add you in the next couple of weeks it’s not because I hate you, (although I hate some of you) , it’s because Flickr has decided we’re not a good match and I’m trying to right that wrong.  I’ve included a shot of one of Brian’s latest efforts, because it’s completely rad and maybe you missed it too.  He remains one of my favorite all timers and I think I’ve just found my subject for the next Two for Tuesday article.

31021179897_df31b51989_o.jpg

The “last upload” statistic on the contact list also proved to be an interesting if occasionally discouraging piece of information to consider.  One guy in particular left me with an uneasy feeling when I noted his lengthy absence, Worker201. Leigh has been around the hobby as long as I remember and was also one of the few valuable crontributors remaining on the Brother’s Brick roster until recently.  Even though he was never exactly a prolific builder, Leigh was a regular and valued voice in places like LUGNET, JLUG, and AFOL 16+ on Flickr.  I reached out to him just to let him know he was missed but I’ve yet to hear back so if anyone has an update on Leigh they can share, please let me know in the comments.  I’ll throw in a photo of one of his models since some of you might not be familiar with his work and I frankly need some photos to pad this rambling article.    There were other examples of this phenomenon, where people just seemed to abruptly drop out of the hobby, too many in fact, but I think that’s also a product for me being as old as dirt and knowing so many builders at this point.14482873791_f1d643a206_o.jpg

One positive thing to come out of the process was that it forced me to really take a hard look at the work of builders who I considered to borderline cases for the guillotine.  Most were either young or new people and folks who might not have the best presentation or super-polished models but have good ideas and the promise of growth.  I tried to make it a point to leave some encouragement as time permitted if they showed any hint of recent activity in the last year or two. Looking back I was much better about that kind of behavior or communication when I was an invested citizen of MOCpages and I don’t feel the same urge on Flickr to reach out to those types of builders anymore.  I’m not sure why that is, but hopefully I can change that a little bit because the only way to make the Flickr experience a better one is by putting in the same type of effort.

So long story short I’m now down to just 200 builders (and counting) on my contact list and I’m armed with a determination to leave more comments for them and focus on the stuff and people I care the most about.  Why 200 you ask? No good reason, but I’ve read a few articles that say you can’t really maintain more than a hundred friendships in real life and I figured I can double that for the online world. Look, I’m not advocating that any of you follow my lead here, there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a massive, super inclusive stable of builders to flow, but I think this was a necessary step for me in my recent (last couple of years) quest to redefine the hobby to make it more enjoyable.  I will leave you with a gentle nudge of encouragement to look at your own list, you may find some surprises.

“…If that railroad train was mine…I bet I’d move it on a little farther down the line”

I’m happy to report that old school curmudgeon and longtime KeithLUG crony Shannon Young has returned to the fold after an extended absence and he’s got a message for Sean Kenney that will resonate with many of our readers and manages to crystallize my thoughts concerning the current dilapidated state of MOCpages more eloquently than I could ever hope to.  It’s nice to see a fellow traveler with roots in same dirty small town with his own set of baggage like the one I’ve been hauling around since the demise of DA3 and longer.  Of course We’ll both get over it in the fullness of time, but for this particular moment everything about the image you’re about to see feels right.  I’m also happy to report that Shannon has been recently spotted haunting the comment section here on the Manifesto while resolving to make 2019 a more active one.  Welcome back you intolerable bastard.

For our younger readers that might not be familiar with this famous photo, Johnny Cash once played a concert at California’s San Quentin Prison in 1969, and this was how he responded when a photographer suggested they do a “shot for the warden”.  Shannon has chosen the perfect image to serve as his MOCpages tombstone, and send one last message to it’s warden before departing.  We’re long past constructive suggestions, volunteerism and gentle pleas for some small scrap of attention…unfortunately the finger is all we have left.

Screenshot_2019-01-05 The Skunk Works is closed for business MOCpages com.png

Again, for the younger readers or those who are relatively new to the scene this departure from a crumbling site might not hold the same weight or dare I say gravitas that it does for us crusty veterans, but let me assure you that very few builders were more important and influential in the formative, vital years of MOCPages (see the first link in the article for more info).  The reason this image resonates so profoundly for a certain group of builders is that MOCpages used to be a place worth caring about, with a thriving community that launched any number of fresh ideas, contests, games and collaborations that influenced much of what we now perceive as boilerplate.  I wanted to capture this image before it was reported for a TOS violation by a brown-shirted home-schooled zealot or a member of the dreaded FTC (Fire Truck Cabal)…or Nick Pascale.  There are so many possible narcs to choose from, it’s difficult to pick just one.  If Shannon and I seem bitter about the current state of affairs, it shows you how much we once cared about the place and what an important engine of creativity it used to be before Kenney let it diminish without a conversation.  Perhaps the worst thing about Shannon’s departure is all the accompanying text that will disappear along with the models.  He was (is) one of the rare builders who is admired as much for his way with words as his way with bricks and the comment section was can’t-miss reading back in the day because Shannon was not afraid to mix it up with his fellow nerds.  I wish I had an example I could link to, but he’s burned it all down and I can’t say as I blame him.  Since writing is in his blood, I selfishly hope Shannon will deign to grace this ramshackle site with a column or two, the place would be better for it and Flickr really isn’t designed to exploit what he does best.

There is simply no substitute currently available that can provide the same format and features that MOCpages once did.  Sure this posting may appear crude, perhaps offensive or over the top to many of you, but for those of us who were invested in MOCpages it’s the perfect salute to a sinking ship that has all but slipped quietly beneath the wine-dark waves.  As a side-note, although he left without the same fanfare, our own uncle roonTree recently departed the site as well (he is after all a documented master of the Irish Goodbye) and I want to thank him for pointing me towards this image because it deserves to be preserved and I haven’t seen it pop up on Flickr yet.

In the interest of ending this rant on a more positive note, I’ll hopefully tantalize you with a few of Shannon’s greatest hits, which are available on Flickr, having him back in the game is a great way to start the new year.

6403470579_db81f1c323_o6551034015_5311f63209_o3239751375_c82fb8bc33_o2701310395_3e27e47a56_o

And finally, I’ll leave you with a tune from that same concert where the infamous photo was taken.  Welcome back Shannon, it didn’t seem right having to rely on just the Australian Shannon, and at least some modicum of balance has been restored to the universe.  Long Live Shanonia!

Ted Talks – LOZ 4 LULZ

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!

“I’m just waiting for my man.”

Many regrettable life decisions have been made after an acquaintance says something like, “Hey. I’ve got something really cool that you might be interested in.”  It is usually something taboo, like in those cautionary tales of an “after-school special”, or shown in a public service ad; “Just Say No.”.  Of course YOU would never consider doing such things, and yet here you are.  It is no longer hypothetical. Someone has “the stuff” conveniently placed in front of you, right here, right now.  What do you do?  There is no harm in having a little taste, right?… But that little taste is all it takes.  You have just become another statistic, jonesing for your next fix.  I’m not talking about the dangers of playing MMORPG-style video games, or putting back a couple shots of Malört.  I’m talking about what lurks in the deepest, darkest, yet most adorable corner of the LEGO clone brick underworld. I’m talking about LOZ.

 “Ahhhh… That’s the stuff.”

For those not familiar with LOZ, here are some links to their websites.  I would guess that the vast majority of you reading this would walk the path of the righteous, and not give these parts a second thought; “Yet another Chinese company blatantly knocking off LEGO sets?  And knocking off the alt-build designs of AFOL’s too? Boooooo!!!” That’s what I had thought too… but there is a catch that you might not have expected from seeing the photos of their pirated sets; all of their parts have been shrunken down to 3/4 the scale of their LEGO sized counterparts.

Customer Site: LOZ Diamond Building Blocks iBlock Fun | Loz-blocks

Corporate Site: http://loz.en.alibaba.com/ (scroll down to watch their corporate video)

Zhenfeng toys – “20years – Plastic toys, Building block & Baby potty / With Rich Professional Experience”

Based on their corporate website, it looks like LOZ is mainly focused on targeting the European markets.  The numbers seem too evenly balanced on their map (almost everything is set at 10%), so who really knows for sure.

Flint Griffin (a.k.a. “Random Vector”) was the acquaintance giving out demos at Brickworld Chicago to anyone who wanted to give them some play; “You want to see the most adorable bricks ever? It will blow your mind!” he said, or something to that effect.  “If you build something cool with them, I’ll even let you keep the MOC.”   The first time he beckoned, I was still busy getting that darned speeder coaster to work.  Once Saturday’s public display hours had ended, however, I needed a little something to take the edge off.  “Give me a hit of that micro play brick, will ya?”

16229356429_b51d62aa5c_o.jpg

“Psst. Over here….  Aren’t these the most adorable bricks you’ve ever seen?”

Huddled around a back table at Brickworld, we gathered and played with Flint’s random pile of LOZ.  Once the visceral reactions to these being pirated bricks had subsided, the novelty of these pint-sized parts shined through. For those of us that have the LEGO parts catalog ingrained into our psyche when we build, the transition to using LOZ was relatively seamless.  Whenever I started wondering if LOZ had made such-and-such a part, sure enough I found it on the table; Pneumatic T’s? Technic bricks? Clips with bars? Click-hinges? Dishes? Travis (Jr.) bricks? Printed BrickHeadz eyes?  Yes to all.  LOZ has made a three-quarters-scale copy of most new LEGO parts you might wonder about… and of course in the typical LEGO colors.  It really was just like building with shrunken down LEGO parts.  (I’d be curious to see the reactions of people who thought they were actually buying standard scale LEGO knock-offs, only to find much smaller bricks upon receipt… priceless).  They even have some of the parts you always wished LEGO would make, like double-sided plates with studs on both sides.

This sharing (plagiarizing) of the LEGO parts catalog is both a blessing and a curse.  Many times sitting at the table, I was thinking “I’ll just stop here and finish the rest at home with my own LEGO parts… Oh wait. I can’t. These aren’t LEGO, and mine won’t work with them.”   Putting random pieces together, I noticed that the part quality was really good. The only breakage I had witnessed was on a small chain linkage, which was understandable. The parts can be really difficult to both assemble and separate at that scale, so having their 3/4 scaled brick separator would have definitely helped at the time (they do actually make one!).

Before playing with these LOZ bricks, I would never have given them a second thought.  No way would I ever be interested in messing with them, let alone buy them. Who needs them? Who cares?…  But in the setting of a brick convention, they made for the prefect curiosity; a jigsaw puzzle, drawing like-minded builders around a table together to “MOC and chill”.  Part, part, pass.

“Stop and think about everyone you are hurting.”

LOZ were brought back into my consciousness a couple weeks ago, after I saw a post on flickr about the latest LOZ set; a knock-off of the LEGO VW Beetle and Gerald Cacas’s alternate build.  Here are the links to do the comparison; LOZ  Vs  “My alternate MOC was cloned!!!”

41804333390_c7cdaeefa0_o.jpg

“SHAME!!!  … SHAME!!!!”

Seeing the blatant plagiarism of Gerald’s design, the reactions from the building community were as expected, including the suggestion that he “sell instructions so they lose sales.”  However that is not exactly a counter move against LOZ, since they are selling a 3/4 scale version, using 3/4 scale bricks. The only way that would impact LOZ is if they in turn have their own knock-off competitor, also making all of the LEGO parts at their 3/4 scale size (is that meta enough for you?).

Gerald mentioned that he tried to reach out to The LEGO Group (TLG) to let them know, but he said that they just shrugged their shoulders. It makes you wonder what TLG ‘s strategy is in defending their intellectual property (IP) when it comes to LOZ:

  • Did TLG balk since their main brick patent had expired, and the 3/4 scale parts are not a direct 1-for-1 knock-off (unlike the worst offender, LEPIN)?
  • When the cloning is being done in China, is the Great Wall of government protectionism and red tape is not worth the effort to surmount?… or is it a situation of “Sigh. We know. Just add it to the pile.”?
  • At this stage, what IP does TLG consider the most vital to protect? The LEGO trademarks? The set designs?  Their other individual part designs? The minifig? … We all know how they feel about anyone calling the building blocks “LEGOS” vs. “LEGO bricks” (to protect the brand), and any photo leaks of to-be-released set designs (to ensure they are first-to-market before any bootlegs can surface).

On top of all of those TLG specific considerations, there are also all of the licensed themes that LOZ have made into “Brickheadz”, Disney’s catalog being a MAJOR one. Does LOZ actually have the licensing to market these sets?  I can’t see how. For TLG to be paying a licensing fee to Disney, one would expect some kind of contracted exclusivity so that TLG is the only company licensed to produce building-block sets of the licensed theme.  So then that means that LOZ are REALLY thumbing their noses at not only TLG, but a bunch of other mighty big companies.  That’s crazy… Crazy like a fox.

LOZ might be taking the approach of “any publicity is good publicity”. Want to get the attention of the largest hive of building bees?  You could plant some nice original designs of flowers or something to attract them… or instead you can kick the hive!  This plagiarism of part designs, set designs, and licensed themes is a sure fire way to drop a cherry-bomb into the hive and get those bees to take notice (and maybe one even writes a blog article, despite knowing full well that he is playing right into their hands…). Sure, the bees all want to sting LOZ now, but it still creates a buzz that will draw at least few new people in.

All of their blatant plagiarism was a hard conflict for me to overcome in buying anything from LOZ.  As with all creative endeavors, I want to ensure my support goes directly to those who developed the IP, as best that I can… however, the small scale of those LOZ parts themselves were still very intriguing.  After much deliberation, I finally decided to purchase a couple of sets as research for this article… and for the lulz.

“Treat every customer with your heart”… as for everyone else, well…

loz-brown-bear-toilet-9430-with.jpg

I ordered 3 LOZ sets; the aforementioned knock-off VW Beetle (with its equally knocked-off alternate AFOL design), Spongebob Blue Hero, and a yellow Transformers Scorpion.  Their sets were priced cheaper if you bought them without their packaging, so that is exactly what I did.  LOZ offers free shipping on orders over $25 US too, which is amazing for international shipments. I placed my order on August 2nd, and the box arrived in my mailbox in Kentucky 11 days later.  That’s pretty fast for a shipment being sent half way around the world.

The shipping box was made from that rice paper cardboard that most recycling centers in the USA refuse to take (the fiber length is too short to be reprocessed back into paper products… now you know). It was also the kind of shipping box that your postal carrier will have no reservations in trying to cram into your much smaller mailbox, because they are too lazy to get out of their vehicle and walk to your door.… Just “crease, crumple, cram”… You ‘ll do fine.

Inside the box were all three sets and their instructions, each placed in their own plastic zip-bag. I wasn’t actually planning to build any of these sets, but for the sake of this article I sucked it up and built the knock-off VW Beetle (to me, the only thing less enjoyable than sorting is being obligated to build the set first… it’s why I have a growing pile of unopened LEGO set boxes collecting dust). Each complete LOZ set comes in unnumbered ploy-bags, so if you plan to build them you WILL have to do some sorting first.

29206197627_46f1e90dc3_o.jpg

What’s inside?…

Their instructions are printed on a movie poster sized fold-out, harkening back to those massive fold-out roadmaps that many of us used before car-mounted GPS navigation became all the rage.  The instructions themselves were straight-forward enough, apart from an odd 1×1 round plate that they wanted me to attach onto a hidden underside somewhere.  Each step shows a lot of parts added at once, so you will need to pay close attention.

Part separation is still an issue with these parts, so place them thoughtfully.  This is especially true if you didn’t get a part separator included with the set – the one I found was included in the yellow “Transformer” set. There was a moment or two where I thought I might be missing a part, but everything was accounted for in the end.  After the ‘Blue Beach Car’ was completed, there were tons of parts left over too.  That made it a little deceiving as to how much longer it would take for me to complete the build. I assume most of those extra parts were used for the alternate knock-off build, but I think LOZ also erred on providing extras just in case.  That deserves a “LOZ size” bit of praise.

Messing around with the leftover parts, I discovered that LOZ bricks are actually compatible with LEGO bricks. At the 3/4 scale, the LOZ anti-stud tube is the same diameter as a LEGO stud. This means that a LOZ tube can fit inside of anyplace that a LEGO stud could, and that a LEGO stud can fit into anywhere that a LOZ tube would.  Here is a pic illustrating this fact (along with showing the 3/4 scale difference side-by-side in a 2×4 plate, and the brick separator).

44143893931_2ed306ebcd_o.jpg

LOZ vs LEGO bricks

There is no real point in reviewing the ‘Blue Beach Car’ design itself, as it is just a slightly altered version of the original.  Instead, I think a rundown of how LOZ Brickheadz compare to LEGO Brickheadz works just as well…. And plagiarizing the plagiarizer’s mouth-piece blogger while doing it… (with my own added comments in parentheses)

  • LOZ offers characters that LEGO doesn’t – we think that’s awesome! (well of course you would, since you blatantly ignore international copyright and product licensing laws)
  • Both sets had easy-to-follow instructions with colored illustrations (meh. I guess you got me there. LOZ’s instructions were indeed colored)
  • LEGO pieces are chunkier which *may* make handling/building easier for novices (Oooooh. Hear that, novices? LOZ are hard to handle now…)
  • LOZ Brickheadz have more detail and more play-factor (play-factor? You mean that mask that flops up to imply that all Brickhedz are all androids? A classic knock-off toy company move, if there ever was one)
  • LEGO Brickheadz are ideal for model collectors who want to create a display (Um… okay? Care to explain this point?…wouldn’t LOZ be better, since you could fit more of them on a shelf?)
  • LOZ Brickheadz have “daintier” proportions which may make them less suitable for kids (HEY! NO TOUCHING!)
  • We had a ridiculous amount of fun building both models! (I have no counterpoint for that – they ARE copying the original designs from LEGO, so it stands to reason they would be equally fun)

“Be gone, foul demon! The power of Ole Kirk Christiansen compels you!”

For the final chapter in this morality play, I took the ‘Blue Beach Car’ model and the loose LOZ bricks to recent meeting of local builders for some show-and tell. You might remember Charley and Nate from reading my BrickUniverse Louisville 2018 round-up.  Charley is a dyed-in-the-wool LEGO man through and through; he has the original LEGO brick patent number memorized, celebrates Ole Kirk Christiansen Day every year, prefers to set our local meeting times to those printed on the LEGO clock tiles, etc. You get the gist – Everything is Awesome… if it’s LEGO!  Nate is more of a pragmatic man, and falls near the other end of the building-block spectrum.  He’s open to whatever is readily available, and he has been working the Duplo like a boss.

When I originally mentioned LOZ blocks to Charley three weeks ago, his baseline reaction was the equivalent of “wake me up when I care.”  Seeing them in person didn’t change his opinion that much, but he didn’t come down on them as hard as I thought he might either. It turns out that he is a “live and let live” kind of guy.  His feeling is that someone was considering LOZ, it would be when they cared more about building the set-model than about what parts they were actually using to build it.

Nate thought the LOZ were intriguing, but our conversation led to a discovery that was even more intriguing to me.  I learned that Nate is working on a massive Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles MOC exclusively using Mega Bloks.  As a challenge, he is purposefully going to exclude any LEGO from the MOC.  Because of that he thought it wouldn’t be kosher for him to bring it to the next BrickUniverse Louisville (mark it on your calendars everyone – January 19th-20th, 2019!). I told him, “Bring it! You definitely need to bring it!” If someone is purposefully buying Mega Bloks by choice to build an individual MOC layout, then LEGO purism be damned!  That is something I just have to see!

“No matter how hard I scrub, I still feel so dirty.”

My original intent in writing this article was to take a hard look at how LOZ sails the seas of piracy, and I ended up telling someone to bring Mega Bloks MOCs to a brick convention.  What a crazy turn of events (I think I need help).  I have certainly used my fair share of 3rd party LEGO-compatible parts when LEGO didn’t currently have a viable solution; Big Ben Bricks train wheels, the CDX rollercoaster, BRKS baseplates, custom stickers and printed parts, and who can forget butcher paper!  Using a majority of non-LEGO building blocks has never been in consideration for me, but should that mean everyone else has to build that way too?

So what say ye’, constant readers of the Manifesto?  Would the novelty of LOZ’s 3/4 scale bricks mark an exception to your purist ways?  If you planned to build a certain LEGO set model, like the VW Beetle, do you think you would be tempted to buy a 3/4 scale version of it from LOZ (and at only 45% the cost, depending on location)? Ignoring the long list of corporate ethics violations and moral dilemmas for just a brief moment, I can’t find too much to take issue with in the actual part quality, the price, or the service. Their discovery that they are semi-compatible with LEGO parts also made for an intriguing development.

In the end, however, the facts remain.  I simply can’t ignore that LOZ are pirating set designs and disregarding copywrites (no matter how well they “treat every customer with their heart”).  As informed consumers, we should all strive to be patrons to the creative design originators, rather than those who are knocking-off their works. For me, this first LOZ purchase will most likely be my last…. The shame… -=scrub=-… -=scrub=-… the shame just won’t wash off…

PIRATKOPI GODT!!!

Crack is whack! (bonus link to the classic, and highly improbable “Just say no.” ad)

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.

IMG_5181

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

Please take a moment to self-assess your level of pain.

I was browsing through the seemingly never-ending catalogue of photos from last month’s BrickWorld Chicago, when I was stopped dead in my tracks by the intoxicating creature you see below.  She has the shoulders of a linebacker, the elegant hands of a Hebrew golem and the open-mouthed visage of a blow-up doll that loosely resembles the dreamy Lucius Malfoy.    For those of you not in the know, the subject matter is the current version of Captain Marvel / a.k.a. Miss Marvel, a.k.a. Carol Danvers, a second tier superhero from Marvel comics, not to be confused with the DC hero of the same name.

35128083650_b2400bf618_o.jpg
Photo courtesy of John Tooker.

IowaLUG’s own Doug Kinney is the builder responsible for creating my next wife and I must give him some whole-hearted praise for not relying on the crutch of a metal frame, or resorting to glue.  Even if our pin-headed hero here enjoys some odd proportions and even stranger abdominal muscles, it’s all legit and Doug seems like a good dude who definitely succeeded in giving me a chuckle.  I’d argue that Captain Marvel here is much more entertaining and thought-provoking than the much ballyhooed artsy statues of Certified Lego Professional Nathan Sawaya Esquire.  I think Doug may be on to something here, re-inventing the full-size sculpture genre with non-traditional proportions and facial composition.  Think Superman with a beer-gut or Wolverine with spindly old-man legs.  If it’s not yet clear to new readers, I offer this kind of post in the spirit of good-natured ball-busting, and not mean-spirited attack (I’ll save that for another Brickworld-related post).  I doubt very much I could do as well as Doug managed.

The builder also clearly demonstrates that he’s got a sense of humor about the final product, as he apparently gave a well received presentation on the topic entitled: “Captain Marvel: Keeping It Together“, where he explained the challenges of creating a giant sculpture with no previous experience.  I wish I could have attended and asked Doug in person about the odd decision to put the trans-yellow letters in her palms and if he’d be willing to part with her.  From the official BrickWorld website:

How a glueless amateur kept it together. Doug Kinney will describe his trials and errors in building a life-size statue. This will be an in-depth look into how he keeps the statue together without using either glue or a metal skeleton.

19149431_10154331301331525_6957993369397959297_n.jpg

On the great LPAT scale (created by Brendan Powell Smith) I’m a solid 6 because this photo definitely interfered with my concentration to the point that I had to write this post in order to get some relief.  I’m also pained because I will unfortunately never know Captain Marvel’s impure caress in person.  I once took advantage of an Iron Man statue at a convention in Texas, but it was quite brief and unsatisfying and I’ve been looking to erase that memory.

4823645612_c63b9589a6_o.jpg

It has nothing to do with the sculpture, but I’d also like to mention the big IOWALUG standee next to Carol, that’s a slick piece of work!  It’s also a far cry from the basic banners that have been the norm for advertising LUGs at conventions.  It’s freaking huge!  It looks like something you’d see outside a shopping mall Optometrist’s office, advertising a free eye exam and two pair of frames for the price of one.  I thought it was my ticket to identifying the builder (who was not credited in the photo), but when I went to IOWALUG.com as the standee suggested, I was greeted with a redirect to a domain name sales website.  Apparently they changed the address to IowaLUG.org but obviously couldn’t change the standee.

So please take a moment to self-assess your level of pain in the comments.

I don’t know dude…

A couple of weeks ago, in the comments section of this thread, friend of the blog and skilled builder Christopher Hoffman had this to say:

And if I may make a recommendation, this dude does some unique stuff and only has 2(!) followers on Flickr so far.

Now, I’m always up for a suggestion, especially from a valued reader who contributes regularly in the comments, so I took the link with high hopes.  I was not prepared for what I found on Geng Lee’s Flickrstream, and even though I’ve had a few days to chew on the bone, I still can’t decide if the models are great or bullshit.  I think of the guy as “Murmurdog” because the builder uses the signature to irritating effect on all of his photos.  The name is kind of creepy and interesting but I hate when people put their stupid logos and signature lines on their models.  It seems incredibly pretentious to me, all the more so because the medium of choice is a childrens toy and more often than not the people who use such icons don’t produce compelling models.

On the upside, Murmurdog has his own distinct style, even within a relatively small sample size of creations.  His models and general style of building don’t really remind me of any other builder and that is kind of rare these days.  My favorite of his efforts to date is the Donald Duck image you see below, it’s a wonderful perversion of the classic Disney character with a hidden stomach cavity that contains the brushed gold device you see him brandishing.  I’m probably a little more inclined to like this one because I have a strong aversion to all things Disney and the cult of people who worship at the mercantile temple of the mechano-rat god.  But no matter how much I can appreciate demented Donald, he’s terribly low-resolution and kind of crappy when you get down to the nuts and bolts.  After spending way too much time considering the issue, I was left asking the question: is weird and artsy enough to be considered ‘good’? Or is this some sloppy action masquerading as something more.

On the downside it’s probably worth noting that he’s only got 18 followers (including me) and a handful of favorites.  Perhaps the most damning evidence is that the Manifesto seems to be the first and only blog to pick up his work.  BrickNerd posts just about anything Disney themed and TBB is so thirsty these days they will post anything that is remotely interesting, so if neither one has taken a flier on Mr. Lee, then I think it’s safe to say that the models don’t conform to the widely excepted standard of what makes a compelling Lego creation.  I know it’s stupid to base a decision like this on popularity slone, but people don’t seem to be all that receptive to Murmurdog’s models and that’s probably worth pointing out, if it may seem a little mean-spirited to do so.

In the end I guess Murmurdog and Christopher Hoffman win because I had enough doubt to make this post, but I’m putting the issue in front of the jury of their peers.  What say you, constant reader?  For those of you who refuse to comment because of a language barrier, Aspy-based fear or the all-encompassing death by inches of apathy, I have included a poll to make things easier and less time-consuming.

maxresdefault.jpg