Friday Night Fights [Round 40]

Welcome back fight fans, to Sin City Nevada for another shanghai edition of Friday Night Fights! This week’s bout is the battle of the shipwrights, with at least a month’s worth of bragging rights and and a dram of top-shelf whiskey on the line.   Tonight’s bout is a little unusual in that the fighters in question recently challenged each other to see who could come up with the most accurate model of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Asagiri class destroyer from the mid 1980’s.  The rules were simple: the Asagiri would be built in 1:350 scale, using only parts that are available IRL. The match-up has some added importance in my mind, because these guys went out of their way to challenge each other and they are not currently getting any help from the community to resolve the challenge.  The handful of comments is typically weak, never more than a sentence and avoids the topic of comparison entirely.  Let’s do these gents a solid and determine the winner here, on the blood-stained floors of the Manifesto arena.

Without further preamble, let’s go to the tale of the tape.

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Fighting out of the red corner, from a long patrol somewhere in the Sea of Japan,  it’s Mark “The Machete” B. and his “JDS Asagiri (DD-151)”.

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And fighting out of the blue corner, from the top of a swell in the East China Sea, it’s “Lock and Load” Locutus666 and his “JDS Asagiri DD-151“.

JDS Asagiri DD-151

As usual, constant reader, you are tasked with deciding the outcome of this pugilistic endeavor and determine who will receive a week’s worth of bragging rights. Simply leave a comment below and vote for the model that best suits your individual taste. I will tally up the votes next Friday and declare a winner.

Last time, on Friday Night Fights….

It was the battle of the big rock candy mountain, with a bottle of hooch and a bulging bindle of SWAG on the line.  In the end, David “MagnetoZambito and his “Country Side Tunnel took his opponent to the woodshed with a bruising 14-3 victory over Jason “The Axeman” Allemann  and his “Moutain Train“. Zambito scores his first victory (1-0) while Allemann runs his record to (0-1).

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2018 LSB Contest: Week 1 Wrap Up

The first week of the LSB contest has flown by in the blink of an eye and unfortunately the turnout so far has been tepid at best.  I do realize that it’s too early in the process to be alarmed and that most established builders prefer to wait until the very end to unveil their masterpieces.  That said, 7 entries in as many days seems to be a much slower pace than the last year, when there were 17 entries after the first week.  I don’t really have a theory as to why there seems to be a drop-off this year, maybe it’s fatigue with the topic, a lack of promotion on big blogs, a lack of the familiar front-man Cole Blaq, declining participation on Flickr in general, the Manifesto’s crappy prizes or even intimidation.  Some of you might be thinking “Intimidation?  Who would be intimidated by something as innocuous as a speeder bike contest?”  but there is some evidence out there that it might be a factor.  For example, Mike M. is an established builder of considerable skill who has been featured on this blog and many others.  In the comment section for his entry he had this to say:

“I shy away from lego related contest, not only is the competition fierce,but I know its filled with badass builders, and I’m way outa my league I’m sure, contest not over yet!!!”

While Mike did indeed offer up a viable contest entry, I doubt he’s alone in his line of thinking.  A few builders witnessed the quality level and competition last year and they appear hesitant to enter, fearing that their skill set is not up to the task, or that they will be crushed by veteran builders.  Instead of rising to the challenge, they shrink or worse still, refuse to engage.  Another prospective combatant, Dan The Imposter who has yet to enter the arena had this to offer in the announcement thread:

“I hope I can still be good enough to stand a chance!” 

Still another perfectly able builder Deltassius had this to say:

“Not going to lie, after last year’s builds I am a little intimidated. I liked this contest more when I didn’t know any better!” 

While Ted and I tried to offer encouragement from the sidelines, it would have been nice to see more voices (including the other two admins) jump in the conversation to urge these nervous Nancys to sack-up and get in the game.  Plenty of great builders got their asses handed to them last year by the likes of Carter Baldwin and there is nothing wrong with that, in theory it should only improve performance in the future.  I’m not sure what the solution is to the intimidation factor, but it’s a shame to lose potential participants over something so silly.

On to the bikes….I have to admit that I’ve been underwhelmed by the early crop of entries, although competent, none of them are particularly memorable.  We need a hero, we need the “Ice Breaker” as defined by Ted in one of his Talks:

Guest #1: The Ice Breaker – The “Ice Breaker” is the personal hero of every contest host.  They enter the contest first, and now you can breathe a huge sigh of relief.  Their entries offer you an early gauge of how the contest will go, and if you need to course correct if they are way off the mark.  Allowing people to swap entries until the deadline also relieves much of the risk of being the “Ice Breaker”.  It lets them rework their entry if a better idea happens to comes along…like one from…

I was hoping F@bz might be the Ice Breaker, when I saw him dive in early.  He possesses both the requisite mad building skillz, and a huge Flickr following that might bring fresh competitors, but his offering was kind of mundane.  While the saddle blanket is without a doubt a cool and clever detail and the bike as a whole is competently constructed, it doesn’t exactly bowl me over.  I won’t even get into the Chinese knockoff figure.

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Although there are a couple of  entries that have an interesting idea or detail here and there, the only other bike worth mentioning at the one week mark is this shark carcass bike by  Marcel V.  Much like F@bz’ speeder, it relies heavily on a single gimmick to carry the build and the rest of it is pretty standard boilerplate.  It reminds me of a La-Z-Boy recliner with a dead shark strapped to the bottom.

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It’s also worth giving some love to the contest’s first digital entry, by Luke, not only is it a nice looking ride, but the builder showed that he’s able to absorb apply constructive criticism.  He took good advantage of the contest’s rather liberal policy of allowing builders to improve and replace their entries right up until the end of the competition.  Ted Andes mentioned somewhere in the proceedings that the unspoken mission of the event is to promote feedback between builders, and that’s great, but I think it should be very much spoken, and spoken loudly…it’s really what separates this contest from so many of it’s brethren.

Unfortunately my favorite speeder in the LSB group pool isn’t even entered into the contest, it’s apparently from a Star Wars movie that I refused to see and it looks pretty great.  The builder is Inthert, and I sincerely hope he takes a crack at an official entry because he’s obviously got the mojo for it, providing of course he can break away from the pre-packaged theme.  The bike did draw my attention to a sort of confusing aspect of the contest, that there are quite a few bikes in the pool that have nothing to do with the contest, which seems both odd and unfortunate to me.   It made me wish that the contest existed in it’s own separate group, because I’m never sure whether or not I should comment on half the bikes in the pool.  I feel more jackassy than usual offering my constructive criticism on stuff that isn’t meant for the contest.  I’m also confused as to why you would post a speeder bike and not enter it?  I don’t know if it’s a reading comprehension issue or lack of clarity in the rules but I see a few people who don’t seem to be putting the bikes in the proper threads to ensure their eligibility for judgement and possibly a prize.

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I’m confident things will pick up in the coming weeks, but at the quarter mile post I was hoping for a little more action.

Battle For District 18: The Lego Speeder Bike Contest returns

The Manifesto is a proud sponsor of the 2018 Lego Speeder Bike Contest that started today over on Flickr.  The familiar trio of Cole Blaq_zenn and friend of the blog Ted Andes are back in action, providing the arena, some rad brick-built trophies and assorted prizes.

By far the most fun I had with Lego in 2017 was the annual LSB contest, it inspired me to get off my ass and start building again.  Unlike many challenges where people work feverishly in relative isolation, last year’s event saw a great deal of teamwork where builders would provide each other with constructive criticism and encouragement.  For once the social aspect of the contest was almost equal to the raw output of cool models.  There was also an interesting arms-race that developed where dioramas came to the forefront (even though they did not factor in the judging) and builders engaged in an escalating battle to one-up each other.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it and I’m sure this year’s iteration will generate it’s own unique character.  So if you’ve got some free time in the next month (the contest ends midnight March 4th), you really have no excuse not to give it a shot.  One of the best things about LSB is that it’s very low-impact in terms of time and the amount of building required.  For the first time digital entries are permitted so throw those excuses out the window and get working on your bike.

For more information, check out the on LSB GROUP Flickr.

ENFORCE ABIDE REBEL

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Mecabricks Interview (Blog or Die! Entry #16)

Accepted entry for the “Interview” category.

Author: Caleb Inman (VAkkron)

Word Count: 1,674

Mecabricks Interview

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It is my pleasure to present an interview with the mysterious man known online as Scrubs, creator and supporter of Lego CAD and rendering software Mecabricks.  Ladies, gentlemen, and constant readers, please put your hands together and lend your ears as we pull back the curtain on the life and work of the one and only Mr. Nicolas Jarraud!

[Caleb Inman: CI; Nicolas Jarraud: NJ]

CI: Hello Nicolas!  Can you give me a brief description of yourself, either education or career, and your interest in Lego?

NJ: I was born in France in the early 80s and like most kids there I played with LEGO in my childhood. The sets that we owned with my sister are now in a big case stored at my parents’ place. I currently live on the other side of the globe in New Zealand where I moved more than a decade ago. Until recently I was designing production equipment for a medical company. I am now working for a big tech company as an optical engineer where we design the next generation cockpits for traditional and self-driving cars.

My dark age finished somewhere in 2011 when I started Mecabricks. I had to catch up on 15 years of LEGO products and history! From this date, I accumulated a big amount of sets. Way too many according to my wife. Some of them to keep like the modular buildings and others only for parts that I model.

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Render credit: Nicolas

CI: Impressive to hear you actually buy parts in order to model them for your parts library.  That’s an amazing level of dedication.  Do you actually use those Lego pieces that you’ve bought to build anything?  What made you decide to devote your time to virtual building, and why do you believe virtual building is important?  What are benefits of digital Lego modelling over physical building?

NJ: I am not really a builder. I can barely follow the instructions from the LEGO manuals and I always have pieces remaining at the end! I am not bringing any news by saying that LEGO is expensive. Building virtually allows to use any quantities of any parts in any colours. Freedom! You are not constrained by physics. Parts can intersect and are not subject to gravity. This is a different way of thinking and it can appeal to both people wishing to build their creations later with real bricks or simply create something more abstract that is not possible in real life.

To put it in a wider context, this is also a fun way for kids (or adults) to discover CAD (Computer-Aided Design) and maybe generate vocations. With the likes of 3D printing or laser cutting being more and more accessible to the public, understanding CAD system is a nice to have skill.

CI: I know exactly what you mean, and in fact I was one of those kids who decided to be an engineer because of my experiences with Lego CAD programs.  However, I used LDD, and there were other CAD programs available for Lego building before Mecabricks.  Can you describe your experience with them, and the problems they had that you are trying to solve with Mecabricks?

NJ: LDD is not for me. Too many constraints. I am not able to build anything with it. I always end up fighting with parts to put them in the right orientation at the right place. LDraw based CAD software were maybe the opposite at the time. Too much freedom and therefore the same issues. I have also been asked multiple times why Mecabricks was not using the LDraw part library – For the same reason I wanted something unique for the building tool, I did not want to depend on a third-party library. I managed to create a whole separate system using modern tools and modern formats.

Overall, I love technical challenges which was probably the main driver. Bringing more options to people is also not a bad thing. All of them are very different in the way they work.

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Render and model by saabfan2013

CI: So Mecabricks is essentially build from the ground up.  Very impressive.  What else makes Mecabricks unique?  Has developing a community forum and website helped to generate interest in your CAD program?

NJ: Mecabricks doesn’t need to be installed. This is only online. You open your browser on your computer or your tablet and you have all your files available with the latest version of the tools and the parts. It all happens seamlessly. This is a big advantage for example for schools where it can be a complicated process to get anything installed on the kids’ machines.

Mecabricks is also a great place to discuss everything about digital LEGO. The forum is still pretty basic but includes a lot of great tips for building and rendering. You will find there talented people with different skills: Renderbricks for technical stuff, Zanna for the artistic side, Saabfan (one of the designer of the Apollo Saturn V set)  for the building technics to name a few.

CI: You are doing some ground-breaking work with digital render systems.  First, tell me how these renders are becoming more and more realistic, and closer to mimicking real-life photography.

NJ: It is only in 2014 that I have been pushed by user Renderbricks to create export tools so that models could be opened in traditional 3D software. This has brought Mecabricks to a new level and I am now working at making this even easier and more accessible to a wider audience.

My favourite software is of course Blender and in the recent years the community has been really active. The rendering engine called Cycles is now mature and powerful. I am closely following the development and every new feature they provide is implemented in the Add-ons available on Mecabricks.

In the past few years I also spent way too much time observing and taking close shots of LEGO elements to understand how they interact with light. Being an optical engineer was a big help.

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Render credit: Nicolas

CI: I wouldn’t have thought of that.  That’s a great way to combine career experience with your hobby.  I am sure the technical expertise extends far beyond light and computer programming. Is the hardware system just as complex?  Also, what will be the availability of this render feature?

NJ: This new feature of Mecabricks will be available in the second half of January 2018. It will be possible to create stunning images in your browser without special knowledge. Although the use is very simple, this is not the case of the system that is running in the background.

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Render by Renderbricks

CI: I have heard the phrase “render farm” used.  Can you describe what that means and how is this the best option for builders who want to render their models?

NJ: The main issue with 3D rendering is that it takes a lot of power and a lot of time. It can take multiple hours for common home computers to calculate a single frame. So, the idea here is to send the LEGO scene to special computers that are built for this task only. When the render button is clicked, a 3D file is created and sent to New Zealand. This file is then converted to a Blender scene and shared among multiple computers to be rendered. The final image is assembled and composited before being sent back to the user.

As an example, a 4K images (3840×2160) that would take more than 3 hours to be generated on my 3-year-old iMac is only taking about 7 minutes with the system I designed and built. Everything is optimized for LEGO rendering.

Ease of use, quick turnaround and guarantee to use the latest render features available are the key aspects of the Mecabricks render farm.

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Render by Nicolas; Model by IstakaCiti (link unavailable)

CI: Who is your target audience?  Can builders from other Lego CAD software export their models into Mecabricks?

NJ: Anybody willing to showcase a digital 3D LEGO creation. I think it will be popular among designers posting projects on the LEGO Ideas platform. Having nice presentation images is a bonus to ensure a good visibility.

It is currently possible to import LDD models in Mecabricks with some limitations. But with minimal rework in the workshop the result it pretty good. Obviously, I am not a wizard and parts not available yet in Mecabricks cannot be imported.

CI: What will be the cost to use the rendering feature?

NJ: To be announced very soon but very affordable anyway. The goal is to find a balance to be able to pay for electrical power and any future hardware development.

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Render by Renderbricks

CI: What do you plan to do next?  Where will your innovations take you in the future?

NJ: The to-do list is never ending and the community growing. So, I try to share my time between running what is currently existing and designing the future of Mecabricks.

The next big feature that is long overdue is an instruction builder. The goal is to make a tool that is both easy to use and powerful enough to create high quality manuals.

CI: I know many builders from both the physical and virtual branches of the hobby have been waiting for an easy, comprehensive instruction builder for a long time.  That will be a massive innovation.  Before I conclude this interview, is there anything else you’d like to share with these wonderful constant readers?

NJ: Building digital LEGO models is fun and the possibilities endless. Give it a try.

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Render and model by saabfan2013

CI: You do incredible work and I have seen the excitement of people who have been able to use the render farm.  The results look spectacular.  Thank you for doing this interview, and I hope you keep up your excellent work!  Best of luck in the future.

 

*All images in this interview are made with the Mecabricks render engine and courtesy of their respective creators.

Friday Night Fights [Round 31]

Welcome back fight fans, to Sin City Nevada for another kick in the head edition of Friday Night Fights! This week’s bout is the battle of the digital multipeds, with state of the art heat-sinks and the lamentation of the enemy’s women on the line.  Without further preamble, let’s go to the tale of the tape.

Fighting out of the red corner, from the deepest recesses of study-hall, it’s Nicola “The Sledgehammer” Stocchi and his “Tallneck”.

Tallneck - Horizon Zero Dawn

And fighting out of the blue corner, from the core of the MCP Cone, it’s “MalevolentMax his “Punisher“.

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As usual, constant reader, you are tasked with deciding the outcome of this pugilistic endeavor and determine who will receive a week’s worth of bragging rights.  Simply leave a comment below and vote for the model that best suits your individual taste. I will tally up the votes next Friday and declare a winner.

Last time, on Friday Night Fights….

It was the battle of the snowflakes, with spiked eggnog and access to the mistletoe on the line.  In the end, Aaron “The Argonaut” Van Cleave and his “Christmas Day” scored a highly questionable 6-2 victory over Keith “Goldmember” Goldman and his “Blue, Blue Christmas“.  Van Cleave scores his first victory (1-0) while Goldman runs his record to (0-1).

Rendezvous With Geisel

Digital Dreams  is a veteran builder from the UK who has flown largely under the radar (at least my radar), unrecognized by the warm and embracing communitay, but the big blog’s loss is definitely our gain here at the Manifesto.  For today’s spotlight offering we’re going to examine a Digital gem from 2014.  Recently I was feeling inexplicably and inexcusably maudlin for a simpler time in my misspent youth and I started googling images of the main library at the University of San Diego, nicknamed “The Spaceship”.  No, I didn’t quite have the grades or motivation to actually attend the well regarded school but I dated someone who did and I’d meet her for lunch every Thursday between her rigorous class schedule.  Our designated rendezvous point was always the magnificently futuristic Geisel library, of Dr. Seuss fame.  The place made me feel like I’d stepped onto the set of Logan’s Run or Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, indeed as if I’d stepped into the dystopian future.  Some people have their spirits moved by cathedrals or skyscrapers but for me it was Brutalism, always Brutalism and in sunny San Diego the pickings were pretty slim in when it came to that architectural style.   When you apply that style to a library, it really doesn’t get much better for me.  I’ve been to the famous main branch of the New York public library and it can’t hold a candle to the Geisel, in part because you can’t actually walk the stacks, the books are all inaccessible in a downstairs vault and you have to wait in a lobby for your selected tomes to be brought to you.

I’d always make it a point to arrive a little early and enjoy a bit o’ the halfling’s leaf before wandering around the building and grounds.  As I strolled I would imagine all sorts of  bizarre and unlikely scenarios, some of which would turn up in my pitiful attempts at writing science fiction.  I wasn’t into Lego at that point but if I had been I would no doubt have tried at least a micro-scale version of the imposing edifice.   So you can imagine my delight when my google search revealed that not only was there a Lego version of the building out there, but it was a spectacular, perhaps definitive example of my beloved library.

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Strangely it was actually this next photo of the footbridge that I encountered first and it might as well have been a time machine because it immediately transported me back to 1987, when I rocked an epic mullet and drove my beloved ’79 RX-7.  I always appreciate it when town builders who favor large structures take the time and care to include at least a little of the surrounding grounds.  It’s fine to show a car or a spaceship out of context, but buildings really suffer from that treatment.  Everything is where it should be at the digital Geisel, the bike racks the staircase entry the planters, it’s all there in meticulous, sometimes understated detail.  This was the exact lunchtime rendezvous point, right where the red-shirted minifig is standing. You can hear the distant echoes of this concrete palace in my Logan’s Run diorama from a few years ago.  It’s not too often that I find such a personal connection with a model, much less a digital one, so hopefully you’ll excuse my nostalgic musings.

The only way to really appreciate the model is to check it out at MOCpages, where Digital Dreams has made the most of the otherwise dodgy site’s one great advantage: story telling.  You’ll find, among other things, a much better backstory on both the building and the model than I could hope to provide here, and more importantly you’ll see the fully detailed interiors, comparison shots galore and schematics.  He’s also included a few thoughts on the building process which are a pretty insightful look into the daunting process of creating the digital Geisel.  I’m pretty sure there are larger and more intricate digital models out there but at 117000 pieces this one has got to be towards the top of the list.  You’ll also find some cool animated GIFs as well.  The presentation amplifies the model in the best possible way.

If you have a nagging feeling you’ve seen the Geisel before, it was used in the frequently overrated but popular film Inception, where it co-starred as an evil arctic base.  for my money it was the best part of the movie.  Was it a dream?…Was it real?…I couldn’t tell you constant reader because I feel asleep 3/4 of the way through.  Such a deep film…so very deep. Everyone remembers the hallway fight but I submit that the only thing worth remembering were the brief seconds my beloved library graced the screen.  Inception…the film that found a way to make dreams boring.

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If you dig the Geisel you should check out the rest of Digital Dream’s photostream, he’s got some crazy cool shit to get lost in.

3 from 3!

3! is a middle school teacher in Cedar Hill Texas who joined Flickr the same year I did, yet I just discovered his stuff a few weeks ago.  3! also enjoys owning gats, drawing comix and creating some very cool posters suitable for display on a Legoratory wall.  The model you see below is the one that initially attracted my attention when it popped up in the “recommended” field when I was browsing. It was remarkable because the suggestions that questionable feature usually provides are the furthest thing from inspiring.  I don’t care how well built your fire truck is, I just can’t do it anymore.  I can’t do it.  As many of you constant readers know, I’m a big fan of flying boats, both the fanciful futuristic kind and the more mundane real world variety.  I loved the Yamato as a kid just as much as the Enterprise or the Falcon and the space boat sub-genre is the only kissin’ cousin of steampunk that I’m willing to get in bed with.  The “Liberator” uses relatively basic shapes to great effect and comes across like a greatest hits package of WW2 boilerplate: conning tower, twin-tails, battleship turret, etc.  The only thing missing is some kind of nation-state graphic, nose art or giant stenciled number.  Since I’m a nitpicky bastard I will say that I don’t dig the tacked-on looking rotary engines at all, I think it would have looked better with a less anachronistic approach.  A more futuristic form of propulsion might have made it less…romantic and a little more like a war machine.

I can’t really separate my appreciation of 3’s building and his sense of graphic design, and I think the best example of this creative combination might be the right side photo of the “Vindictus“.  This is where I think he really hits the sweet spot and elevates what is a pretty simple model into something special, at least in comparison to most of the digital models I come across.  If any of you happen to know what style of digital chicanery this is, would you please educate me in the comments?  I guess this was done with LDD but it doesn’t look like the typical style, with softer edges and more cartoonish colors.

Despite some reservations I have with the name of this third model by 3!, I’m posting it anyway because I dig the old school styling and it’s a good example of the kind of work Mr. 3! is capable of with the living breathing brick.  I know some narrow-minded Lego nerds don’t seem to be able to really give the digital builders their props without seeing it realized in plastic, so here you go.  The hover car reminds me in the best way of the designs of long time crony Andrew Lee, with a full interior, pimped-out styling and a great use of train bogies.

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3! calls it the “Gay Deceiver” and I’m gonna choose to think of it like “Zorro, the Gay Blade!” which is criminally underrated in my book.  You’re welcome rountRee.

Truth be told, I find 3!’s Lego offerings to be very hit and miss, but I had a lot of fun traveling down the rabbit hole of his Flickrstream.  I wish my middle school teachers were this interesting, most of them were either utterly forgettable or outright insufferable.  Never fear, it is not my intention to bore you with my personal tales of middle school hell…the coach that liked to watch young boys wrestle a little too much, the wood shop teacher who liked to burn students with overheated coping saw blades or the drunken art teacher who was fond about referring to the Vietnamese kids in our class as “zipper heads”…I think you get the idea, we all went to middle school.   Instead, I’ve decided to include an example of 3!’s other creative impulse as the house band plays us out.  I could swear my old alarm clock bore the same message on at least one occasion.

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Oh yeah…since I can’t very well write a fresh post after a layoff of several months without referencing Rutherford, here is your obligatory smack.  Thanks 3!, anytime is the right time to lay down a sick burn on Mr. Fire and Forget…er…Fire for Effect.

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