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…


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.

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


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!


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.


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

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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.


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

lego-snowflake AFOL

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!


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.

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