Ted Talks – “The sun shines bright…”

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

Ted Talks – “The suns shines bright…”

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

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

Re-Con:

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

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

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

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

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The Nerd-tastic Four! – by AdamDodge

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

Ted Talks: “Sweep the Leg!” (Blog or Die! Entry #2)

Accepted entry for the “Article” category.

Author: Ted Andes

Word Count: 2,090

Ted Talks: “Sweep the Leg!”

 

If you are a “constant reader” of the Manifesto, you may have read past articles about award motivation (“Give me the prize!”“), or about tips for throwing a good building contest (“Party Hosting Tips”)… But what about how to actually win them, you ask? Gather round, young grasshoppers. It’s time for me to lay down some advice on how to compete at the highest level, and how to take down those heavyweight champions of the world.

Who am I to give that kind of advice? I’m just some bum in a fedora hat and black leather jacket… a bum who clawed his way out of the unwashed masses of “also-rans” to win 7 building contests (and counting) and place in the prize categories of at least 5 more. Yo Adrien! Be warned that once you are armed with this advice I’m about to give you, victory is still never assured. It is still dependent on how the contests are judged and who else shows up to compete. However, if you DO want to be a champion of the MOC-tagon, then it’s time that you started training like a champion. Now “Bow to your sensei!

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Hit the gym
Your gym training ritual is still built on the foundation of becoming a better builder: “Wax on. Wax off.”… Oops, I mean “Build your collection – Build some contest MOC’s – Get critiqued – Repeat”. Over time, you will develop your signature style and a bevy of NPU techniques in your personal arsenal. Whenever you lose a bout, put down those sour grapes, pick yourself up, and learn from the builders who are winning these contests. What have they got that you haven’t got?…

Know your enemy
For each contest you enter, study the genre, the judges, and the competition (and the rules too; don’t be “that guy”). See what has been done before. Learn what defines the genre. Learn the judges’ style preferences. Learn the techniques and tricks of the top builders of the genre… then look for their blind spots. What haven’t they done before? Are there any ruts that your competition have fallen into that you can exploit? Will they be overconfident and rely on their old bag of tricks? Can you anticipate what they will do?

Choose your “finishing move”
Aw man! You just thought up the most awesome idea for the latest contest? Good… Now get it out of your system and think up a new one. Odds are it was the most obvious idea that half of the other entrants will end up building too. You can either try to be the best at executing that obvious idea, or instead you can kick it up a notch by adding a twist. Most of my winning entries were never that first idea that I had.

For that added twist, I try to think up a “fusion” idea that takes the contest genre in a new and different direction. For the “Rock n’ Roll Steampunk” contest, I built a snow covered floating island instead of the typical verdant grassy knoll. I also merged a steam train with a steamboat. For speeder bikes, I fused them into the Wild West setting of the “Lone Ranger”. Judges tend to gravitate towards builds that have a good mix of both the familiar and new.

Don’t “settle” for second best
Now that you’ve finally come up with your true killer idea, it’s time to get building. As your build comes together, remember that what’s “good enough” to meet the rules is not necessarily “good enough” to beat your competition. You aren’t competing against the contest rules. You are competing against your fellow builders. Be aware of what they actually do, and make any needed adjustments during the fight.

I see too many builders who appear to settle. They give the impression that they think their contest entries are like raffle tickets. They think they have an equal chance of winning as long as they just enter something good enough by the deadline that meets the rules. Nope. Building contests are won on merit (typically), and not random chance (typically). The folks who settle like this are the contest’s cannon fodder, barely worthy of a participation brick badge. It’s even worse is when they are the “turd polishers” too, writing elaborate descriptions and backstories for their inferior MOCs. If they put that much time and effort into the building as they did in overcompensating they might stand a better chance. So keep buying those raffle tickets, chumps. I’m sure you’ll win someday… Or you can wake up, like I did, and tighten things up. “Push it to the limit!

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As I’ve said in a prior article, I used to think 2-3 really cool NPU ideas/shapes for a build were good enough, and I “settled” by neglecting the details on the rest of it. That all changed with my M-Wing victory. I realized that you have to give equal importance to the entirety of the build. Now I’ve established a “one day” rule for myself; Every time I think the build is done, I let it rest at least 24 hours. If I don’t come up with any further improvement ideas in that time, then it likely is done.

Get some good sparing partners
Getting an early critique from others on your WIP (work in progress) can be helpful to identify those areas of your MOC that you might be “settling” on. This isn’t something that I normally do during a contest, but I know it has helped others. You can send a pal a private e-mail with the WIP photos, or use the private image feature in flickr and send a link. You can even expand these sparring sessions into some live build-chats with a bunch of other folks from your ‘dojo’. This can really raise the level of competition, amp up the competitive spirit, and be a helluva lot of fun… but it may also lead you astray from achieving victory if you get too caught up in it. Remember this when you join up with the Cobra Kai dojo – YMMV (your mileage may vary). In the end, it’s Johnny that gets to the finals and is still the dojo’s favorite to win.

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Commit
The “commit” part is to build your MOCs like you are never going to take them apart… Ever. Get those stickers/parts that you need to finish the model in style. You hear those builders saying “I’m not going to Bricklink any parts this time” for their entry? That mentality is for suckers who don’t want to win, or suckers who want to have a ready-made excuse for when they don’t win (the exception being people who already have a crap-ton of bricks in the first place, and likely already have all the parts they need… if they could only find them).

Starting my collection out of my dark age, I always viewed contests as the “Lego rich getting Lego richer”. The people that have the good parts selection are going to have the good builds. Doing the best you have with what you’ve got usually won’t even get you a cookie. To even that playing field, you have to go and buy those needed parts and stickers that make your model look its best. For the M-wing, I bought the smoke colored canopy, stickers to put on the canopy and wings, and the mini-figure pilot. I do draw the line on cutting parts, and most contest rules do too anyways.

Back to stickers. If the contest allows, get them (or make them) and apply them. What’s that you say? You don’t wanna, because you’re a “purist”? You don’t wanna because you plan to use those parts again for something else? With that lack of commitment, I guess you don’t wanna win either. “It’s a waste of life!

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Making your own stickers is easier that you think if you have a printer at home. This is all it takes – Once you find a cool graphic or font to use, go buy some print-on address label stickers (the ones that are 2-5/8 inch x 1 inch). With the size of most Lego parts, you usually won’t need to print out anything larger. This also allows you to “print on demand” without wasting an entire sticker sheet. Just print what you need, peel, and save the rest of the sheet for later. Generally the white labels are the best to use. I’ve tried out the transparent/translucent address labels, and they are only really good on white or light gray parts.

You may also want to apply some shiny clear packaging tape over them. This is to give the sticker some strength, protect the printing, and give it a shiny look to match the shine of the plastic surrounding it. To do this added step, it is handy to have an already spent sticker sheet that you can use to put it all together. You can temporarily apply the printed label to the left over wax paper, then apply that shiny tape over the label, and then cut around the printed graphic to complete your sticker. I use the scissors of a small Swiss army pocket knife to cut around the graphic, and then the tweezers to peel off the backing and apply the sticker…. “It’s a good thing.”

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You could even go the extra mile and buy some custom parts. I bought some chromed parts out of Europe for one of the speederbike contests, although I never ended up using them (part tolerances, ugh). You could buy some custom screen printed bricks too. For on-line build contests though, I think the stickers get the job done. If your build will be shown in public, you may want to get custom printed bricks done instead (if allowed in the rules).

Discipline your image
This means taking good photos, with good lighting and clean photo editing. This means going the extra mile, stretching the rules, and building sweet dioramas. However don’t let that overshadow the model itself (that can lead you back down the path of “turd polishing”)

Photography and photo-editing merit their own dedicated articles. There are plenty of resources out there that can help you out, especially if you are on flickr. In the end, you will have to find the solution that works best for your situation. To get the win, you will likely need to practice your photography and photo-editing just as much as building.

And finally, “Sweep the leg!”
Well… not exactly. “Sweep the leg” in the context of this article means that you need to do the things that you may not want to do to win… like waking up at the crack of dawn, and cracking open some raw eggs to guzzle down. To have any chance of winning, you can’t be lazy. You have to do those little things that give you an edge, and that sharpen your gladiator sword. It does not mean resorting to underhanded tactics against your competitors, or poor sportsmanship. That’s just bad karma.

What’s even more important that winning the contest is maintaining a good standing within the building community. You want to be competitive, not combative. It’s that community that judges these contests too (especially in FBTB contests with open voting). If you ever want to be invited back to compete, don’t bite off a piece of your competitor’s ear. “Fly high now!

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Victory!
All of this advice alone isn’t enough to get you the win, but it paves the way to become a consistent title contender. Along with this knowledge, you still need that competitive fire within you to improve your building skills, that “Eye of the Tiger”, and a little bit of luck. Rocky didn’t win his first championship bout, but he gave it a good fight against Creed that kept the people talking about rematches and sequels. The Karate Kid took his lumps, and his limp, and eked out a dubiously edited victory (…C’mon man. There’s no way that he actually gets past Dutch).

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“Blog or Die!”
… and what about this “Blog or Die!” contest thingy? “Get them a body bag… yeahhhhhh!!!” because this article just laid the competition flat on their backs. You think you’ve got what it takes? Then get off your backsides and show me what you’ve got! MATANGO!

Hey Mr.Miyagi! We did it! We did it! Alright! Woohoo!”

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Ted Talks: Building Buddies

Welcome back to another rousing edition of Ted Talks, where friend of the blog and bon vivant Ted Andes tackles topics that are near and dear to his heart.  Without further ado, take it away Ted!

 

“Do any of you have non-human building companion(s) that are always with you when you are building?” 

Way back during the speederbike contest (you know the one), halfbeak posted the picture below of his dog Saffie.  That got me wondering how many other FOLs build with their dogs, or other kinds of pets …excluding those hairless monkeys some of you call children…

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halfbeak – Saffie helping build the speederbike chase

 Our dachshund Pepper was my “building buddy”, and “playing Legos*” was our thing to do together.  She was by my side anytime I went down to the basement to build, and she would get upset if I went down there without her.  I’d just say the word “Legos*”, and Pepper would run to the basement door and paw at it, eager to get downstairs.

Her enjoyment was all about chasing the light reflections that occurred when I opened/closed my storage bins.  Sometimes I’d get so focused on building and forget she was down there under my feet.  But then I’d open a part drawer, and she’d start barking and pawing at the reflections (she was crazy about chasing laser pointers too, and the word “Legos*” sounded a lot like “laser” to her)… As for our other two dogs, well they couldn’t have cared less.

Eventually, I had to place cardboard along the basement wall, because Pepper would get “happy tail” injuries.  She was so excited to chase reflections that she’d wag her tail hard against the coarse concrete wall (and dachshunds wag their tails a lot to begin with).   The end of her tail would get rubbed raw, and then little blood dots would be splattered all over the place.  At first, I thought it was some dirty/rusty water somehow being sprayed out from our nearby sump-pump.  That “red spot mystery” took us few weeks to figure out.

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Cardboard vs. butcher paper

Unfortunately, we had to put her down in June 2015 due to an inoperable cancer tumor.  Seeing the photo that halfbeak posted above reminded me of the huge void that Pepper’s passing left in my building area.   After she passed, it took me some time to want to go down into the basement and build again.  I lost a true friend, and I still I keep that cardboard along the wall as a tribute to her.  I’m not sure if there was ever a bigger “Pet-FOL” than her, but I’d love to hear your stories too.  Plead your cases down in the comments below.

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Pepper – Note: She was also as smart as heck, feisty, and an avid hunter.  In this shot, she caught the scent of a mole and was probing the snow for it with her snout.  If I recall correctly, her kill list included 17 garter snakes, 3 moles, 1 vole, 3 chipmunks, a couple birds, and a baby rabbit (ooh, that was a rough day, but at least she’d be considered a friend to Elvis)…she never caught a squirrel though, despite numerous attempts.

The other “FOL + Pet” tag teams that I’m aware of…

– Of course we have to start this list right with the person who the Manifesto is all about…

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– I remember rowntRee mentioning his dog(s) name in the Manifesto comments somewhere.  Here’s a photo of Coda in his “Matt Cave”.

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– A local Louisville builder I know, Charley Harper, builds/sorts with his pet rabbit “Commander Carrot” by his side.

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Millie McKenzie’s cat actually did bomb her photos.  Of course, we all know cats can’t resist slapping around toys on a string.

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Lia Chan has a least two cats to help her out with her builds too

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Shannon Young and the greatest threat to the city of Shannonia.2905651363_75db68a70b_o.jpg

-The building of cathedrals is serious business for  Stefan Johannes Kubin and his cat.

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– And I don’t know who “LovinLego” is, but they’ve got a sizable Legoratory… and a cat running the show.

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Adam Dodge and his SHIPtember collaborator.

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John Patrick measures his SHIP attempts in dog lengths…

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Marcos Bessa felt inspired by the pug in his life, and decided to build one all for himself…except without all of their trademark wheezing and snorting.

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Joel Baker was inspired by his pup Zoe, and he made her a brick buddy too.  Dachshund pups, FTW!  He said that “she is good around LEGO now, but she used to try to pick up bricks and move them around the room”

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– You can count Dunechaser in the both the dachshund and pug camps…

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– And of courseLino would have a pet dachshund.  Since Lulu  has no interest in the Lego (or at least no interest in destroying his MOC’s) I wasn’t going to count him at first.  However, I then saw this picture of them being a luchador tag-team, and that earns major bonus points.

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Final thoughts…

There are couple things that I noticed when I was trying to research other builders and dig up these photos:

1) There are a lot of people who have named their dogs “Lego”.  When they call for them outdoors, I wonder how many people yell back “…my Eggo!”

2) There are quite a few other builders that have dachshunds too.  Way to represent, fellow wiener lovers!… Umm , wait.  That didn’t come out right…

3) Finally, I’ll end with this Public Service Announcement. – No pet in the world is impressed with photos of minifigs posed in real world environments (or Duplo), so leave your pets out of it.  That concept is lame, and you should feel lame.  You already put them through enough embarrassment by dressing them in your silly costumes.  Enough is enough.  End the abuse!

Sarah McLachlan – “In the Arms of the Angles”

(full disclosure: despite the levity of me linking this video, we actually donate to our local Humane Society, and have adopted a rescue too. Such a great dog)

So who else?

We need stories.

We need pictures.

We need videos.

*…and I don’t want to hear any crap about “It’s Lego, not Legos”, so “lighten up, Francis”.  I didn’t get it correct in all my other articles just to forget that now.  That’s a phrase I’m quoting, and me saying it to my dog was not going to erode TLG’s intellectual property by her ever repeating it. “Bark, bark.”

Ted Talks: Rock ‘N’ Roll Star

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What truly motivates you, constant reader, to build your MOC’s and share them with the masses?  We already know you enjoy building your castles, and trains, and SHIPs (oh my).  You also do it to help your fellow builders with tips, share techniques, and provide positive feedback… for the good of the building community.  What more could anyone ask for, right?  Gee, Wally. How altruistic of you.

C’mon, people… you know, and I know, there is something else stirring underneath the surface…

It starts out as a little burning ember at first.  You’re hooked on getting the MOC views, and now you are yearning for a little more recognition. Fanned by the faves and encouraging comments from other builders, it burns brighter and grows inside you.  Eventually it consumes you, in a raging inferno that craves the FULL ATTENTION of the community!  You’re not looking for mere recognition from your peers anymore.  You’re looking for acclaim!  It is your DESTINY to become one of the “LEGO ROCK STARS”!!!

♪♫ “So you want to be a rock ‘n’ roll star? / Then listen now to what I say”.♫♪ – The Byrds

Look at me! Blog me! Love me! Name a build technique after me! Put my MOC’s onto trading cards… Hire me to be a designer at LEGO!”

 ♪♫ “Just get a [LEGO set] / then take some time and learn how to play.”♫♪

Well, duh!  Starting out, I think everyone understands that essential step of honing your craft.  It’s a long way to the top, if you want to Rock N’ Roll.  There’s not much else that really needs to be said.  If for some reason you are considering a spiritual training camp with an Indian guru to be further enlightened, let me save you the trouble.  Your meditation mantra is this: “Build my collection… Build some MOC’s… Build my collection… Build some MOC’s…”

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♪♫ “And in a week or two if you make the [blogs] / the girls’ll tear you apart”♫♪

If you’re a “LEGO savant”, maybe it does only take you a week or two to get your first blog post.  Typically though, it’s a gradual build up, as your skills and parts collection improve over time… but either way, it has finally happened!!!  You’ve made the “Cover of the Rolling Stone”  and have gotten your first “Top-40 hit”.  The web-traffic and views on your photo page have gone through the roof!!!  …But slow down there, “Stillwater”.  Don’t get ahead of yourself.  You’re still only a one-hit-wonder and merely “Almost Famous”…

If you start racking up more blog hits, you’ll also start racking up the favorites and the followers too.  At some point those builders that you considered “Rock Star Legends” will actually start following you.  Eventually, you build up enough confidence to go out on the LEGO CON-cert Tour with them.  You’ll play your solo act on stage, and then play in a collaborative jam session for the final encore.  Once the public has gone home, you play late night poker after the show with the roadies, sitting around a DUPLO table and trading your MOC’s for a few cans of “The Brown Note”… Rock N’ Roll, baby!!!

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Fame can be fleeting though, and new acts are always appearing on the scene.  To stay on the radio play lists, you’ll need to keep “Feeding that Monster!” by churning out those pop song hits.  Building a MOC in a popular licensed theme is a smart choice (Star Wars builds are always perineal chart toppers – the exception being “clones on a plate”)… might I also recommend participating in an Iron Builder contest?

♪♫ “Sell your soul to the company / who are waiting there to sell plastic ware.”♫♪

There are plenty of “LEGO Rock Stars” that reached the pinnacle and cashed in to become TLG “company men” and “company women”.  You’ll notice that they seldom get the time to build/post their own MOC’s anymore.  They don’t even want to build after a full workday of pushing brick-shaped pixels around a monitor screen.  Now they are just another Technic gear in TLG’s “hit making machine”.  They are chained to their desks, creating watered-down “Danish pop songs” that can appeal to everyone, especially to kids ages 8-and-Up, and that fit neatly into a certain market-determined piece-count/price-point.  They’re “getting’ hygee with it”… ♪♫ Happy Happy Joy Joy…♫♪

Stinky Wizzelteats – “I’ll teach you to be happy!…  I’ll teach your grandmother to suck eggs!”.

 Even if you don’t catch the eye of the major TLG Label and become a full-time contract-artist, don’t worry.  You can still get a taste of the action as a one-time guest performer.  Maybe you submit a few LEGO set ideas to CUUSO, IDEAS, or whatever it is that “American Idol” reality show is called these days.  If your idea goes “GOLD”, at least there’s still a modest chance the final design will maintain some modicum of your artistic vision.  But first you’ll need to thoroughly humiliate yourself by pimping for those votes… week… after week… after week….  Once you DO hit ‘GOLD’, and if TLG thinks you’ve handed them a bona fide hit, they’ll start pumping out the plastic.  They’ll even give you a 1% royalty on every record sold!  ONE PERCENT!!!

But that’s not the only way to cash in on your “Rock Star” acclaim.  You can also sign on with an independent label, or create your own. Rather than “selling yourself out” to TLG, you’re trying to sell out of your commissioned MOCs, custom printed figures, trading cards, action wear, etc.   You take your “Don’t Tread On Me” concert T-shirts with you on every stop of the LEGO CON-cert Tour, and then sell them on-line when you get home.  If your fans really like what you do, then surely they will pay up and support you, right?  They know you’ve got bills to pay, and more bricks to buy?  Maybe giving away MOAR free prototypes will entice them? Or maybe you need to find some other way to promote your wares? (…might I recommend sponsoring an Iron Builder contest?)

Pine Barons – Clowns “I am just a clown like you, and we fake smiles for pay…feeling so transparent.”

♪♫ “The money, the fame, and the public acclaim… ”♫♪

Up to this point I’ve been talking about “Rock N’ Roll” stars. They still have to crank out that “rock n’ roll” music that appeases the masses… “FREEBIRD!”  …But then there are the “MEGA STARS” that Leg Godt on a whole different level.  They can build whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want.  They are the trend setters (sometimes accidentally) and meme creators (sometimes purposefully).  They have been featured performers in Block-umentaries.  You know of whom I speak.

“Mega Stars” have followers in the thousands (like > 7,500).  Those large numbers have only gotten worse (I mean better) with LEGO being in the mainstream now.  On a bad day, they get 20 more new flickr followers, 15 of which have empty photostreams and those generic flickr camera avatars. On a bad day, they only get 150 favorites on a new MOC that hasn’t even been blogged yet.

"Fried Chicken!" - A tribute to Freddie Mercury

Ochre Jelly and “Fried Chicken!” (yum)

For their ‘fans’, which even include the “Rock Stars”, there is almost no hope of making any deep personal connections with the “Mega Stars” anymore.  Don’t get me wrong.  They aren’t cold hearted elitists.  They just can’t keep up with all the fan mail, let alone all of their fans’ photostreams to reciprocate the love. I wonder if they even fave other people’s MOCs anymore, let alone comment. (Perhaps they need to hire personal assistants – actually, I know that has already happened…. “Hey mom. Can you check my flickr to see if there is anyone I need to respond to while at BW?”).

When you are a “MEGA Star”, you don’t need to connect with everyone on a one-on-one basic anymore.  “We ain’t one-at-a-timin’ here! We’re mass communicatin’!”   Your MOC concerts are filling MEGA-STADIUMS now! You’re headlining ROCK FESTIVALS!  YOU Control The Action!  You have truly arrived.

Orange Stage at LEGO World

♪♫ “The price you paid for your riches and fame, / was it all a strange game? You’re a little insane”♫♪

Jonatha Brooke – “Careful what you wish for…”

There is a price to be paid for being a “Mega Star”.  To avoid the paparazzi, they have to build their own private LEGO Neverland compounds, and only invite the people over who knew them “before they were famous”.  They have to register at LEGO CON-cert hotels under false names too (…psst… I know who you are Mr. Bricky McBrickface).  When they walk through the LEGO CON-cert hall, they overhear jealous comments about their latest hairstyle, and the MOC’s they brought with them (btw – does TLG print the “Law of Jante” in the fine print of every instructions booklet, or something?)

LEGO “Mega Stars” must miss those halcyon days when they were up-and-coming builders, trading critiques on Lugnet and playing the “open-mic night” at the Corner Café.  I can’t fathom what it is TRULY like to be a “Mega Star”, and I’m too lazy to reach out to some of them and ask.  I’m no “Rock Star” myself either; being put onto a trading card just isn’t my goal in life (however, I’m always down for a lunch box lid).  I’m happy simply being an “Almost Famous” kind of builder; doing just enough to be relevant, but not enough to edge over that slippery slope.  Having seen the various endings to this cautionary tale, I don’t aspire to fly much higher.  I have my “Piece of Mind

 

Boston – “Piece of Mind”

Despite dragging my feet, I still net a couple new random flickr followers a week, for God knows why.  I’m at 1,800 flickr followers right now, which is a little insane, and with no hope of ever keeping up with them all…. Speaking of being “a little insane”, aren’t most creative types?  We’re never gonna’ survive unless we get at a little crazy… (…being A LOT crazy is a whole other matter…).

♪♫ “Don’t forget who you are, you’re a rock and roll star!”♫♪

So, where does this chase for “fame and acclaim” lead in the end?  Right back to the same question I asked at the very beginning: “What truly motivates us to build and share with the community?” Why are we doing all this?  To what end?  When our heads start to swell up from the moments of praise, we should probably ask ourselves this question time and again.

If it IS to become a “LEGO Rock Star”, now’s the time in this article for the reality check.  Remember that “Rock Star” status is mainly limited to within our own FOL Universe, and in our own minds.  It’s no more than that juvenile battle in the “LEGO High School” cafeteria to climb the lunch-table pecking order.  I assure you, no one outside of our FOL Universe gives a rat’s ass.  To most outsiders, we’re ALL just bunch of neo-maxi-zoom-dweebi’s, no matter where we are sitting; man-kinder, women-kinder, and sometimes actual kinder, just playing with toys.  That’s right.  They’re toys; we should be out there having fun with them, and playing well with each other.  Why so serious?

Space Cafe

BricksTreasure – Space Cafe

If our personal motivation is to become better builders, then we need to remember that all of these counts of views, faves, and awards are but arbitrary measures.  The means to become better builders comes from continually pushing ourselves to improve, by learning from others who inspire us, seeking out feedback, and not being overly defensive in the face of an occasional critique.  We’ll rise up by helping others rise up with us.  As cliché as it is, in The End, “the love you take is equal to the love you make”…  But don’t just take it from me.  Take it from the Walrus…

Paul McCartney – Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight / The End

“ENCORE!  … ENCORE! … ENCORE! …”

With that, I think this musically themed satire has rambled on long enough.  It’s time for YOU to step up to the mic for the encore, and take over the comments stage.  Bring it on home!  Tell us about your stardom, or just rip on my playlist choices.  If you not a “Rock Star” yet, then you can just give us your best Neil Diamond cover (or whatever it is that your generation listens to these days).  This is your chance to shine!

 

 

Ted Talks: An AFOL’s Journey to Enlightenment

Welcome back to the third edition of Ted Talks, where friend of the blog and bon vivant Ted Andes tackles topics that are near and dear to his heart.  Without further ado, take it away Ted!

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I’M THE DARK KNIGHT!!! Artwork by polywen

Are you ready to read yet another AFOL’s boilerplate “coming-out” backstory?  Me neither.  Despite that consensus, it does make perfect fodder for an article (along with minifigs, replica models, and critiques).  This one’s my story:

My 1st LEGO set was…

Lame.  Seriously lame.

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I received this police set for my birthday in 1977, and I was not impressed.  My aunt was telling us that LEGO was a toy company in Denmark, and that their building block sets were the “hottest toys around”.  This police set was one of the only sets she could find.  “What eva”. Spider-man was my thing back then, and soon after the original Battlestar Galactica (and that recalled  Cylon Raider toy I had was so rad!!!).  Besides, who the heck were these stumpy, no-armed torsos that LEGO called police men going to arrest anyway?  Some random stack of 1×2 bricks?  Pfft, please.  Maybe they could hop around like pogo-sticks, or play “steamroller” with each other, but that’s about it.

“Steamroller!!!”

That birthday, I also got a set with some of those moon-faced maxi figs (or whatever the heck they are called – I don’t keep up on all our LEGO geek-speak). It was probably the set below.  I remember that it had some big spoked wheels.  I sure hoped that LEGO would include more wheels in their sets someday…  They could keep all of those stumpy, no-faced figures to themselves in Denmark for all I cared.  You’ll find no nostalgia here.

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What eventually got me hooked on LEGO was…

Space minifigs and the “Space Shuttle” set!  Hot damn, were they cool!  Maybe those toy builders in Denmark knew what they were doing after all!… Minifigs with posable arms AND legs!… And faces?!…And look at all those GREEBLE PARTS!…  And angled plates!?…  And a RAY GUN!?!  … And what a cool space logo!!!

The “space shuttle” flew into my life on Christmas Day, 1979.  I swooshed that thing everywhere.  I had an epic swoosh-fest when we went to Christmas mass later that morning too.  Those church pew kneelers made the best space runways… Swoosh!….Hey. Maybe that’s why they are called pews… “PEW! PEW! PEW!”  From that point on, Space was always where my heart belonged.

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“Pardon Me. Would you have any “LEGO Dark Age”? 

But of course…  My “dark age” began when I was 12 years old.  That was around the time that the LEGO catalogs started getting stale.  It was just more rehashed Classic Space sets, Castle sets, City sets, a Monorail we wanted but couldn’t never afford – rinse and repeat for next year.  I just got bored with it all.  I had diverse toy interests anyway.  At home, there was all the Star Wars playsets, the Erector sets, the original die-cast Transformers, and by then home video games started appearing on the scene;  TRS-80 Color Computer FTW!!!

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My Dark Age became official when I gave my entire LEGO collection to some undeserving neighbor-kid… (despite being nice to him, he turned out to be such an annoying, lying weasel; any time he got into trouble, that turd would try to pin the blame on me somehow… sheesh.  EVERYONE knows you’re supposed to blame it on those anonymous “kids on the school bus”).  My LEGO collection wasn’t all that large at that point, so “don’t cry for me Argentina….”

 “The truth is I never left you…”

So a few months after I gave away my entire LEGO collection, we learned that my mom was pregnant with my soon-to-be younger brother.  Damn.  Sorry bro.  No “hand-me-down” LEGO sets for you!… But this was actually a blessing in disguise.  We would need to get him new LEGO sets now.  By the time he was of LEGO-age, LEGO themselves were starting into their first “Golden Age”; the advent of Blacktron, Forestmen, and those wondrous Pirate ships.  I was off at college by then, but on my visits home I would always look forward to helping him build his latest sets (and I was soooo tempted to take a Blacktron minifig back to college with me when I left).

And once he got too old for it?  Well, he never truly did, but around the time he might have my sister gave birth to my nephew.  The “Circle of LEGO” would remain unbroken.  I’d eventually get my nephew a new LEGO set every Christmas, which got me back onto that wonderful LEGO Catalog mailing list.

“All Aboard the AFOL Train!”

Sometime in 2002, I was flipping through the latest LEGO catalog and there I saw it; the Santa Fe Super Chief.  Wow, that was pretty damn cool!  I always wanted one of those expensive LEGO trains/monorails as a kid (again, who didn’t?). It was then that I first thought, “Hey! Why not buy a LEGO set for myself?”…  But getting a LEGO train layout started was still going to be pretty damn expensive, as I’d need the engine and at least 5 train cars, all that 9v track, a motor, power converter…and what will the wife think?  Hmm… It was probably best for me to save up and wait for next year, or so I thought.

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New year.  New LEGO catalog.  No Super Chief.  WTF!?!  I went on-line to find out where it went.  Flippin’ retired?  RETIRED!?! It was during that desperate search for answers that I came across the Lugnet Train forum.  They had all the answers that I was seeking, and then some (SAVE 9V TRAINS!!!).  More importantly, I realized that the Super Chief was a fan designed engine, and these gents in the train forum were designing their own MOC’s too.  Well, of course they were!  “LIGHTBULB!”  So it was LEGO trains, Lugnet, and the builders in that community that brought me out of my nearly 20-year Dark Age.

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Q: “What’s black, and white, and red all over?”

A: My LEGO part collection starting out again.

Starting over from scratch, my part selection sucked horribly, and my building skills were admittedly no better.  The starting point for my collection was the Hobby Train Set and the Corner Café (and all that 9v gear).  Lacking in bricks, eventually I designed a train using LDD and purchased the parts via LEGO Factory / “Design by Me”.  I thought it turned out great given the constraints.  I proudly took pictures of my “Pennsylvania Rail Road T1 Class Duplex Drive 4-4-4-4 Steam Locomotive” and shared them on MOC Pages and the Lugnet forums for all to see…

Well, that build that I thought was “pretty close” was a dud in retrospect (and let’s not even talk about my photography skills at the time – cringe).  Sava and Cale were kind enough to give this newbie AFOL a pat on the head, and some words of encouragement… but deep down, I knew I just built the equivalent of a rainbow warrior in the train world.

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Look what I can do!

Trains weren’t the best place for a newbie AFOL like me to be starting out.  The creativity used for trains is predominantly focused on finding the right parts to make a replica model look as close to its real-life inspiration as possible, and to scale… and preferably in 7-wide.  Not having the parts to accomplish this, or the OCD passion that is hard-wired into these train folk, my train MOC’s were going to be DOA.

After that, I took a break from building and focused more on photography (only natural with that FOL migration to flickr).  Eventually, I was inspired to start building in the more “openly-creative” themes.  That’s when my heart found space again.  That’s also when I started plaguing brickshelf, flickr, the Classic Space forum, and the YCTA contests with photos of anything I could make out of those damn parts from the Hobby Train Set and the Corner Café.  I milked those sets to death, man!  Beat them into submission!  If you dare delve into the depths of my flickr photostream (I don’t recommend it), you’ll be able to tell.  The MOC’s are truly “black, and white, and red all over.”

Progress

But I kept at it, slowly building up my collection, poly-bag by poly-bag, clearance sale by clearance sale, holiday by holiday, and eventually Bricklink order by Bricklink order.  Note for any new AFOL’s out there; the sooner that you can “come out of the storage closet” as an AFOL to your friends and family, the better.  LEGO sets will become their go-to gift idea for you, and your collection will grow exponentially.

I built more and more, with various on-line contests being both my muses and measuring sticks on how my skills had progressed.  Eventually I got my first blog-age by the TBB back in April 2011 for the Bionicle/System infused beast below.  That was just the encouragement and validation that I needed.

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The Parasite

So if you’re counting, it was roughly 8 years from when I took the first steps on my AFOL journey until I finally got blogged. I finally built something worthy of recognition by the “building legends” that I had been chasing for so long.  I wasn’t looking for any acclaim (and I’m still not… but that’s a topic for my next article…).  I was just looking for something to indicate that I was making some progress, and closing the gap between me and those AFOL artisans that I continue to admire.

I wouldn’t get blogged again until 15 months later, but that was even sweeter.  It was for the MOC that would eventually become my first significant on-line contest win; The “M-Wing” (not to be confused with Jon Palmer’s M-Wing… )

Enlightenment                                                                                                            

It was none other than Dan Rubin that blogged my M-Wing version… and it was none other than Dan Rubin who subsequently commented “Ok, the underside is a little disappointing …”  I could have just let the comment pass, but I wanted to know more.  If I was going to accept his favorable opinion of the top, then I needed to equally accept his unfavorable opinion of the bottom.  I reached out for his candid critique.

An aside: I know we’ve beaten the critique topic to death, but if you want a critique, ask for a critique.  Dan cracked open the door of the opportunity, and I threw it wide open. In this brave new on-line world, you have to ask for what you want.  It is YOU that controls that action!  Don’t just whine about how no one throws critiques around like they’re parade candy anymore…

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“No one critiques my builds anymore…”

Dan replied, “I would either smooth out the bottom or greeble it up substantially more. Right now, it holds a middle ground that’s a mix of boring and ugly (those anti-studs make a bad impression)… I guess it either needs more style or more substance, but it’s currently not offering enough of either for me.” Truer words were never spoken.

This would eventually lead to my moment of “AFOL Enlightenment”, which is this:

-= Building a MOC based on a cool idea is not enough.  You have to give equal importance to the rest of the build, and commit to it like you will never take it apart again. =-

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The “M” shape of the M-Wing from above was my “cool idea”, and I had nailed it… but Dan opened my eyes to the fact that I just ‘settled’ on many of my other part choices.  I thought they were ‘good enough’ in relation to the “M”, but in reality they were anything but good. Since then, I’ve taken that lesson to heart, and try to consider all aspects of the build.  If I can go at least a full 24 hours without thinking of some kind of improvement for it, the build is usually pretty well baked… admittedly though, I still settle from time-to-time, even if it is as small as a 1×2 slope.

The Journey Continues…

So from there, it has been a matter of having the personal motivation and inspiration to build.  Some times that motivation has been sparked by on-line contests.  Other times, it has been sparked by seeing a cool build from someone else that gets me thinking of building in new ways.  Sometimes it’s taking on a self-inflicted project, like the 8×8 x 52week vignette series.  Lately it has been driven internally, by wondering how I can expand certain themes in unique ways (steambugs, aeronaut speederbikes, space nouveau, etc.).

Finally attending a LEGO Convention in 2016 was like receiving that final “sacrament of confirmation” as a FOL. There is no more lurking anonymously behind on-line avatars anymore, and wearing the FOL badge when it is convenient.  That brick badge is etched with my name now, for all to see. The next phase of the journey has begun…

It has been great to finally get to know fellow builders in person, and put some real faces (and personalities) to their otherwise anonymous avatars.  It helps to keep people strait too, since so many have on-line screen names with “Brick”, or “Block”, or “Builder”, or “Model”, or “MOCs”, or “Lego” embedded into them.  (BTW – maybe it’s just me, but the people with “Master” in their screen names always seem to be the sketchy ones?…  Those “MOCs” guys?  Well, they’re ok, I guess…). We can certainly be a dysfunctional family at times, but that’s what makes for the most entertaining family reunions of all… Now, get over there and give your Aunt Carol a big hug.

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“Public hours begin in 5… 4…. 3….”

“SWOOSH…”

And with that, it’s time to end this edition of “Ted Talks” with a mighty “SWOOSH….”  Shoot your flick-fire missiles at me down in the comments below.  “PEW! PEW!…” (…but please don’t shoot them down your own wind-pipe.  We don’t need another toy recall…)

– How did you find the FOL community (or did they find you)?

– Did you have a similar FOL journey?  What makes yours unique?

– Have you had any “moments of enlightenment” yourself?

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Editors Note: By including this final photo, the author issued a clear invitation to critique by the Manifesto’s Style Council.  Unfortunately the photo is viciously cropped and therefore not ideal for a comprehensive analysis, nevertheless a verdict must be rendered.  The ubiquitous T-Shirt is boilerplate attire for the hungry, unwashed Lego-nerd masses, but this one breaks a couple of rules.  First of all, the shirt advertises a corporate football team instead of a corporate toy and everyone knows that sports and Lego are not compatible.  The other big problem is the particular sports team being promoted is objectively terrible, with an overall franchise win-loss record of  344-408 and no Superbowl victories in their 50 year history of mediocrity .

Since Ted is only pictured from the waste up, the Style Council must assume that he is not wearing any clothing from the waste down which actually elevates his status from mild to wild.  The pose also works in his favor, it’s evokes the flair of a Vegas off-Strip magician or a particularly snappy waiter.  After considerable deliberation the verdict is in:

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