A Short Confession by Ron L. Mitchell

Welcome back to the Manifesto, constant reader, after some serious deliberation and a lengthy blackout here at the dive bar, I decided to pony up the annual fee and get the blog viewable for another trip around the sun.  A handful of you guys were squatting in the dark anyway, drinking roonTree’s bathtub gin, carving obscenities into the wood flooring and gambling for each other’s shoes, so I thought the least I could do was pay the electricity bill. I’m not sure how active I’ll be (if at all) in the coming weeks, but with 225 posts there should be enough content in the dusty archives to keep the average reader interested.  As usual, if you have something Lego related that you’d like to post here, just let me know through the Contact tab or shoot me a Flickrmail an I’ll make it happen.

I can offer you one small offering of new material however.  A while back I posted about Ron L. Mitchell’s new blog, Ron’s Brick Bastion.  Unfortunately it look’s like Ron has been a little silent lately as well, but maybe this posting will inspire him to re-ignite the engines.  Today it’s my pleasure to present Ron’s reaction piece to my original post.  Take it away, Mr. Mitchell (née Archon Caledonia).

Keith has been after me for a while to write for his blog.  I tend to procrastinate.  I have good Ideas but tend to not get them in a completed form, or maybe it just takes a while to get there.  Keith gave me a promotional, for which I thank him, and it spurred me to look at the drivel I started and try to finish it.  It was to no avail!  Humor requires a foil, a self-deprecation, a turn of commonality.  I told you what I wrote was drivel?  Yep, the asinine meanderings of a CBD oil marinated sitcom writer made me look bad.  So, I decided to do this.  I decided to come clean and maybe through admission of this problem I could get a handle on it.  I saw a shrink on TV say something like that once, maybe it was Frazier, I am unsure.  It stuck with me.  So here goes…

Constant readers, I have a confession to make.  No, I am not Bricks Noir!  I am not that talented with the digitally aided design stuff.  I acknowledge the talent and time that goes into that work, but, no.  It is not I.  Rather my confession before the magnanimous Manifesto league and support group regards the fact that I have a bad attitude.  Yes, my name is Ron and I have a bad attitude.  (Hi Ron).  I can hear it now, that semi-mocking slightly superior tone she took when I shared with a former beauty queen I short term dated that I was a Lego nerd…dweeb…otaku.  Not that she even knew what otaku was.  She semi dreamed of being a Cosmo girl, a swim suit model for Sports Illustrated…you know, something that would be really important and world changing!  Whereas, I just wanted to have some challenging fun building MOC’s of cool stuff.

I should not still have a bad attitude!

It was decades ago…

But occasionally I hear the same condescension and sad disappointment in the tone of people I want to respect when I tell them my hobby; or more likely my wife of over 30 years tells them my hobby.  “You…still…play with Lego…how…urm…sweet.” Sufferin’ sassafras and succotash!!!!  What’s your hobby?  Oh, you collect dolls?  You drink exotic wine, you make craft beer, you change the oil in your 1968 Camaro SS but it never leaves your garage!?!?  Okay, I know.  Calm down a bit, Ron.  Use your brain for something other than the trigger on a knee jerk reaction.  You asked what I did for fun and I told you.  I like to make things out of ABS blocks, bricks (though Goldman hates the term), Lego system IS my hobby!  MY hobby…

Okay, so bad attitude.  Christian’s should not have a bad attitude, they should be all lovey dovey and hunky dory kumbaya singing, turn the other cheek types.  Correct?

My response to that is that Jesus took a rope, made a whip out of it and tore up a Wal-Mart set up in the temple grounds driving out all the employees and customers alike.  Saint Nick, the guy most people recognize as Santa Claus, or the root of that legend, got ticked off in a church meeting and punched the lights out of another member of the council.  Peter hacked off a guy’s ear with a sword!   Remind your Sunday School teacher of that, why doncha.  Yet…it is Lego we are talking about.  It is a kid’s toy intended to entertain youngsters.  I do wonder what ole Ole would think of what his toy became.  I wonder what he would think of the new sets, special parts, the turns and twists of his legacy in ABS?  I would like to see his reaction to the massive conventions and large dioramas, third party parts and to Bricks Noir’s projects…maybe not.

I sit here at my laptop on this snowy day in the Ozarks with my bad attitude all stirred up.  I heard that tone again recently.  The one that questions your adult maturity because you still play with toys.  They keep that look on their face until I show them videos from the last convention attended, videos of the sheer massive crowds, pics of the ISS in Lego, models of buildings in New York, flowers and frogs by “he who shall go unnamed on the Manifesto but who could care no less for a poorly run website called MOCpages”, how there is this huge world wide community of TFOLs and AFOLs…and it reminds me that despite all…I am still Otaku.  I am still a dweeb.  I am still a bit socially awkward, I am an introvert after all!  Maybe that is why I like Keith and the Manifesto.  I have a bad attitude, too.  I like sarcasm and sass, trash talk and…. Constant reader, Ole named his toy Lego.  It means, as we all know, to “play well”.  So I look at my reflection on the dark corner of my laptop and remind myself that I, the Lego Otaku, the ABS Ascetic, the Hermit of Plastic, needs to play well.  I can have the bad attitude but still play well with others.  My last work evaluation shows that I play well with others!

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Yes, I know, I am preaching to the choir.  You, gentle reader, understand the battle.  You recognize that there are those who do not understand or even worse do not want to understand.  Well, I don’t want to understand Magic the Gathering!!!  My investment in Lego parts and elements is more important to me than a retirement portfolio, sports memorabilia and man cave esthetic!  My Pinterest has sections on storing Lego and cleaning modular buildings, how to mod a 9volt power supply and which batteries work best in trains.  Aw well, maybe I just am too passionate for my hobby.  Maybe I let such things just get under my skin…or maybe I have a real problem.  But then again, it is why I am here, with Keith, hanging around with Matt Roontwit in the virtual world, thinking about Decisive Action: the game, and knocking back the hot wings waiting for the drunks to need a ride home…

 

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!

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

Fire for Effect: Alas Alas That Great City LUGNET

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

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

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

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

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

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What happened to LUGNET?

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

Why is our home world all but dead?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fire for Effect: Unique is not Special

The Manifesto is proud to present the first installment of a regular column by Michael Rutherford entitled Fire for Effect.  “Fire for Effect” is a military term used by spotters for indirect fire weapons. Examples of indirect fire weapons include cannons and mortars which are usually fired from a position from which the gunners cannot see the target because of terrain. To determine the proper aiming of the weapon, a spotter who can see the target relays basic coordinates to the gunners who then fire a few ranging rounds, allowing the spotter to see how far off target the guns are aimed. This process is sometimes referred to a “zeroing in.” When, by this trial and error procedure, a shot lands on the target, the instruction will be “fire for effect” telling the gun crew that they are on the target, and to fire one or more salvos of several rounds rapidly to blanket the target with the explosive projectiles…or in Rutherford’s case, explosive rhetoric.

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Without further preamble, please enjoy Fire for Effect: Unique is not Special.

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True or False: Every snowflake is special.

Answer: False.

Every snowflake is not SPECIAL… but rather UNIQUE… and unique is no big deal.

Now get up off your ass and start cataloguing snowflakes.  You will have UNIQUE coming out of your ears in no time.    After you have catalogued say… 15K individual snowflakes… photographed them, weighed them, inventoried their chemical components… you will see that while no two are exactly the same, they do start to fall into large categories pretty quickly.  Eventually, it will occur to you that most snowflakes are in fact… very similar… to many other snowflakes.   And what’s more… only a very small number of snowflakes will really stand out.  Keith… You jacked up your sample.  Go back outside and catalogue 15K more.

SPECIAL… (I looked it up just to be sure) means “BETTER, GREATER, or OTHERWISE DIFFERENT from what is normal.   Yep, DIFERENT is a part of the meaning… but don’t fixate on that small overlap.  BETTER and GREATER are right there up front, and the clause “from what is normal” nails down the ass end of this definition pretty tight.   SPECIAL = BETTER THAN NORMAL.  Embrace this truth now, or leave this essay at once!

Can every snowflake be BETTER and GREATER than the normal snowflake?  No it cannot.  Not mathematically, not empirically, and not operationally.  The assertion that every snowflake is SPECIAL is flat-out WRONG in every way, except from the cultural perspective (AKA the pretend perspective).

“Every snowflake is special” is a very powerful cultural metaphor.  It has its place, and does some good.  At its core, it contains some notions we would all do well to remember.

When applied correctly, the metaphor can re-enforce the notion that every person has some intrinsic worth.  It celebrates the inherent value of being unique.  The unspoken assertion is that this uniqueness is in and of itself a good thing, and that every variation is a potential benefit.   The metaphor is a tool.  But as with so many other valuable tools, like alcohol, duct tape, or spear guns… we seldom apply the metaphor correctly… and it is often used to suggest that every person’s contribution to every endeavor is superior and merits praise.  Perhaps MOST IMPORTANTLY, the myth contributes to a culture where CRITICAL FEEDBACK IS DISCOURAGED.  It is a tragic and dangerous self-delusion which often results in such dubious claims such as: Wearing pajamas at Wal-Mart is OK, or “If she is too dumb to see what a catch you are, then it’s her loss” or “Destroying the enemy force before it reaches the capital isn’t the most important thing… it only matters that you tried” This is destructive thinking.  Anybody who wants to do better… Athletic trainers, military commanders, lawyers, sales people and yes … wait for it… artists… They all understand that not every snowflake is special, and that honest critical feedback is essential for enhancing performance.

History, science, mythology, and often our own painful personal experience should tell us all… many snowflakes are not special… in fact, many snowflakes are trampled, defeated, destroyed, outclassed and/or never ever ever have dates on Saturday night.

So whats my point?  Why does this matter?  Am I ever going to connect this crap to our hobby, and will this essay EVER BECOME INTERESTING?  Well I’m glad you asked!  Spoiler: If you’re not interested yet, STOP READING… this essay doesn’t get any better!

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Now, if you would, I need you to re-read the paragraphs above, and every time you see the word snowflake, replace it with the acronym AFOL.  So for example, the first line of text becomes: “True or False: Every AFOL is special.”   I will now subtly introduce my thesis…

THESIS: AFOLs should abandon the SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE metaphor because it retards our individual improvement, and the improvement of Lego as an art form.

Continue reading “Fire for Effect: Unique is not Special”