Hi there! After five glorious years, I have decided to retire this blog.
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Or follow my latest blogging exploits over at the Brothers Brick.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"Intersh*t F*ckxplorer!"

Chris McVeigh (aka Powerpig) entitled this scene "Nerd Rage" but I think this digital version of road rage is something everyone in this day and age experiences on an almost hourly basis.

Hmmm, maybe the title actually refers to the rage that we all feel towards the nerds that make our technology so hard to use (...among whose ranks I must sadly count myself, although I am fighting the good fight, by trying to bring down the system from the inside).

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy East-ant

I carefully reviewed the usual hoard of Easter themed Lego offerings this year and decided they were all trite and predictable and overly cute (sorry guys). Hardly any new ones of guys nailed to trees. Ergo: Missing the point entirely!

So instead I will just fall back on one of this blog's main-stay themes: wildlife. And this ant by Théo (aka Titolian) was just the ticket (I am currently engaged in a protracted and bitter war with some local ants, and all the droppings from my kid's Easter egg hunts is just going to make things worse).


Friday, April 22, 2011

A slice of life

Chris McVeigh (aka PowerPig) frequently builds everyday objects out of Lego, and the results are always delicious. Especially in this instance...


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Showtime at the Plaza

There's a huge fan-created Lego exhibition going on at the Cityplaza in Hong Kong at the moment, and my favorite local builder tkh has plenty of great images to share of all the things on display. Not to mention the fact that he's also crafted this fine set of figures for the event...

And when you're done marvelling at these, The Brothers Brick has links to a bunch of other images of the event. But I'll save you the bother and just show you this most awesome pyramid diorama by ArzLan...


Righteous One Because Of The Story

Scruffy Mynxbane, also known as SHANE (Slave Hammer Android, Not Employed) massively abuses the concept of acronyms to build us this heartwarming tale of RON (Radar Operator Node) and his wife LINDA (Logic Induced Negative Diagnostic Android), welcoming their SON (Synthesized Original Newbuilt) named SCOTTY (Sorta Cognitive Object That Toddles and Yammers) into the world after RON gets back from a long sea space voyage. Hopefully one that lasted less than 9 months! Although I don't know how it works with robots. Are e-mail attachments involved?


Put on a friendly face

Facebook. It all seemed like such innocent fun at first. "Funville", if you will. Then one day, we all woke up and realized we were all friend-whores with 537 friends. Brickshelf builder azumu uses a little punning to poke fun at us all (...ok, no further pun intended there; well, maybe just a little one)


Instantly recognizer-ble

As a hopeless Tron fan, I'm always amused by (and occasionally guilty of) Lego creations with a Tron theme. Even, begrudingly, when the bricks are virtual! Such as in the case of all this fab stuff created by the mysterious tronlegocy...

Ok, but you know you've gotta build these for real next, man!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Way Out West

I recently got a new car, one that actually has electricity and therefore 'features', and one of those 'features' is a device called a ray-di-oh. Through some aetheric process this wonderous device delivers music from the further corners of the globe, most of which I'm sad to say is complete codswallop.

However, I have been quite enjoying the musical stylings of a nice young lady by the name of Katy Perry, who as well as being an avid fan of flavored lip balm, is focusing her attention this week on Extraterrestrials. Who she apparently wants to kiss. What's wrong with this woman? It seems like she needs to kiss every thing or one that she sings about.

Anyway, imagine my horror to hear this song totally desecrated by the presence of none other than THE BIPOLAR SPAWN OF SATAN'S UNDERPANTS. By which I mean Kayne West, of course. Here he is on TV being a spaz...

And here he is being modelled in Lego being a spaz, courtesy of Dave Kaleta...

Dave is a man of wit and education and reason, so I shall assume his creation was intended as a mockery of The Swift Basher. Because if not, then I shall be forced to label him as one of the devil's minions. Or devil's onions, which you've got to admit sounds a lot funnier.

US nanoblock set review. With video! And 3D!!

As I mentioned last month, nanoblock is now available in the US. And as promised, here is my review of the current US product line.

Last year I did a thorough review of some nanoblock sets I obtained from Japan. I don't want to repeat too much of what I already covered in that review, but I'll give you the essentials... nanoblock is a brick building system, much smaller in size than Lego, consisting entirely of plates (no bricks or slopes), and with a focus on accurate sculptures of real world objects (animals and buildings - no figs, no wheels, no themes). I'm guessing that in Japan the primary market is adults.

So now that nanoblock is available in the US, what's changed? Let's take a look!

-= Packaging =-

This appears to be a full English rebranding of the product. All the packaging and instructions are now in English, and there is even a dedicated English website, mynanoblock.com. The overall style of the original product has been maintained, and conveys the feeling of 'quality' (the box and resealable bags are very glossy and covered in nice color pictures).

-= Materials =-

The nanoblock I reviewed last year was a noticely 'thinner' ABS mix: the bricks were slightly bendable and the colors a little translucent (although the selection of colors was very good, mostly primaries and pastels).

The new product appears to be a different ABS formula. It's much tougher, glossier, and more opaque. So it feels much more like Lego now. But the grip is basically the same since they don't use tubes underneath like Lego, so it's more push-pull-slide than snap-and-pop. The color palette seems to be growing, with all kinds of lovely darker tones. I particularly like the dark yellow, a color that I wish Lego would explore some day. Transparent colors have also appeared this year, including a trans-clear and a trans-blue.

-= Instructions =-

As well being in English now, there are more hints than in the Japanese version, and all instructions are now in full color (not just in the boxed sets). Another big improvement is the introduction of 'plan view' steps in some places, where each layer is shown top-down rather than in perspective. This helps a lot with the larger sets.

The instructions still show bricks from prior steps as "faded out", which takes some getting used to. But now they use a pale blue for this instead of white, which was a blessing when building the Taj Mahal set! However, we did notice that trans-clear is represented using the same pale blue tone, which lead to some confusion in one case.

-= The Build =-

Construction can be fiddly, with the instructions requiring a lot of concentration to interpret correctly. Each numbered step shows multiple stacked layers, with vertical guide arrows to help you line them up correctly. Layers need to be built bottom-up rather than top-down, although this isn't obvious at first glance. Definitely not the 'no brainer' process you might be used to with Lego instructions!

They are still using a 5-level difficulty rating system, and the sets we got were all level 2 or 3. While my 12-year old had no trouble with any of the sets, my 9-year old had a very tough time indeed making sense of the instructions, and required a lot of help. So I would recommend this product for ages 10+.

We had 9 sets to play with: 6 animals (giraffe, pig, panda, koala, frog and dog) and 3 buildings (Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal, and Neuschwanstein Castle). The animals took about 30 minutes each to build, while the buildings took nearer 60 minutes each.

The panda and pig had very satisfyingly "barrel-like" designs and looked great. The koala and giraffe had some hanging elements that had a tendency to work loose - illustrating the limitations of the tube-less interlock system. But all the animals were adorable!

The Taj Mahal is a somewhat uninteresting set, since it is one color and at this scale relatively undetailed and box-like. The Eiffel Tower is lovely - the building's shape is well captured, with lots of cute ground features at the bottom. The Neuschwanstein Castle set is the winner of this group, though. Lots of great color and a very detailed chaotic/organic design with all the various turrets and landscaping.

-= Overall =-

Really the only downside to the nanoblock system is that construction is less than fun, especially for grown-up sized fingers and middle-ages eyes! But in every other respect this is a great product. Every set is a tiny little work of art, that will look great on your dashboard, computer monitor, or mantlepiece. The choice of subjects is very imaginative and growing all the time, and the range of colors is really good. Street prices in the US seem pretty reasonable. Plus, each set comes with plenty of spare bricks.

And to address the elephant in the room here: I don't really see nanoblock and Lego as direct competitors. They seem to serve different niches and markets. Nanoblock will probably never have the same mass market all-ages appeal as Lego, and its bricks are not as advanced as Lego's. But by squarely focusing on the art/sculture angle, nanoblock only has to worry about competing with a relatively small proportion of Lego's product line, namely the Creator series. I don't think we'll be seeing original 'theme based' sets from nanoblock like Lego's; the emphasis is more on the beauty rather than playability of the models. And that is one reason why I enjoy them so much.

The current US product line is fairly modest. The full product line (as seen in Japan) is pretty extensive and includes some really radical stuff, as hinted at in my prior nanoblock article. I just hope we start to see that stuff arrive on our shores pretty soon! The US distributors also tell me we should expect to see a number of specifically US-themed sets in the near future, which may further increase nanoblock's appeal over here.

But I thoroughly recommend that next time you're racing down the Lego aisle at Toys R Us, arms outstretched to scoop endless Lego sets into your cart, you at least toss a nanoblock set or two in there as well, and give it a try!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Humppa an oompa lumpa in your jumpa

Teen builder Pate-keetongu and his friend Luuranko collaborated to create this lively diorama of Finnish hummpa band Eläkeläiset.

I particularly like the facial hair, beer bottles lying all over the place, and the fact that one of the instruments is being operated with a hammer.

I know they say Icelandic is one of the wierdest languages out there, but reading Eläkeläiset's discography I've concluded Finnish leaves it in the dust... It's like someone fed Klingon through the anagram server website running inside the pig-latin generator website. Who can forget such memorable and suggestively titled albums as Humppaelämää, Humppaorgiat, Huipputähtien Ykköshitit, or Humppasirkus. And of course the classic Jenkkapolkkahumppa and Werbung, Baby!.

Click here to enjoy closeup shots of the above scene, in all its festive glory, while you ponder whether Ochre Jelly is either a racist or a xenophobe. In actual fact, I am a räciophöbe. As I always like to say, "It's funny because they're not like us". :-)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

"I'm late, I'm late, for a very important post"

Kudos to Bruce for allowing the Miniland Bricks blog to go dangerously off-topic and bring the following work to my attention! ;-)

Brickshelf builder M and M has created a set of wonderfully quirky sculpts of Alice, the March Hare and the Caterpillar from some book you've probably never heard of...

Judging by their facial expressions, I'm guessing the Caterpillar must have been experimenting with something 'special' in that hookah pipe! "Woah dude, I think some parts of this story are actually finally beginning to make sense..."

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Tale Of Two Conventions

Last week I had the pleasure of making the trip down to the San Jose area to attend the 2nd annual Bricks by Bay Lego convention. And since BBTB is the ancestral birthplace of Bricks of Character, it was also a bit of a pilgrimage (except without the bandits and dyssentry). This year the event took place at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Santa Clara. Going to a convention in a hotel that's hundreds of miles of from home has many advantages. Such as being in a hotel. That's hundreds of miles from home. Because PLAYTIME!

Now if you're reading this and thinking "Oh god, here comes another turgid report on another random nerd-filled Lego convention", then I'm afraid you're only 50% right. Because by an amazing twist of fate, the Nova Albion steampunk convention was going on in the same hotel at the same time. And even for those of us that were not already massive Lego steampunk fans like my buddy Guy Himber, this was an opportunity not to be missed!

Guy and I had already planned for this well in advance, growing as much Victorian-issue face fungus as our childish faces could muster, and putting together some appropriately outlandish and anachronistic costumes.

The exhibition space for BBTB was several times larger than last year, providing most themes with a veritable orgy of display space. The Bricks of Character theme was present once again (hosted by yours truly) and our 'piece de resistance' this time was the 8-foot long Santas Workshop scene by rising talent Carl Merriam.

This is the first time the entire thing has been on display since it left the store window at Macys in Fresno. And quite the sight it was to behold!

I particularly liked the elf that's all hopped up on coffee from the little coffee machine, and the fact that these elves are able to fabricate videogame consoles!

   The other highlight of the show was the Cyber City collaborative diorama, made by the guys at RoninLUG. This was a densely packed Bladerunner-like nighttime city scape that came alive with all kinds of lights, sounds, LCD screens and even a monorail. You'll find a million photos of this on the web by now, so instead I've created a video 'fly through' of the diorama, with music.

   Among other awesome works at the Space table were Charles Esseltine's fleet of super-greebly ships and Andrew Lee's impeccibly detailed MEGA Destroy Super Action diorama, featuring a giant Japanese-style mecha stomping on a Japanese-style town eating monster in the middle of a Japanese-style microscale rush-hour cityscape.

   Over in the Medieval & Fantasy area there were many large castle dioramas, a good steampunk presence, and this wonderfully original curiosity: a series of vigettes by Brandon Griffith and Ayleen Gaspar depicting memorable scenes from the movie Blazing Saddles. This was just about as "out there" as anything anyone has ever seen at a Lego convention. Hilarious. Politically incorrect. Wish I'd thought of it!

Meanwhile, on the Nova Albion side of the building, a very different set of MOCs were on display, in much quieter and more civilized surroundings, at the Museum of Curiosities. All manner of brassy, leathery, 'punked-up' artifacts and gadgets, from weapons to gas masks to medical devices to dead fairies and even a steam powered tricycle (...nah, that'll never catch on).

    Guy, Carl and I had an equally squeee-worthy time perousing the many vendor areas, looking at all kinds of wonderous merchandise, from aethericly-powered vacuum-tube-encrusted wrist-wearable nerf-firing crossbows, to a plethora of goggles, goggles and more goggles.

Meanwhile meanwhile, across a lobby filled with people in the most elaborate and peculiar costumes you have ever seen (and the occasional Dalek), a wholly other group of nerds fans were enjoying typical Lego convention fayre such as games, contests, sessions, shopping and a floor-load of loose brick, as we continued to feverishly try and complete our setups for the public exhibition.

     Because these two conventions had collided, the organizers of both had arranged for some cross-pollination. BBTB attendees could buy extra badge bricks to gain entry to the steampunk con, while Nova Albion attendees could buy ribbons to stick to their badges to gain direct access to our space. Many of the punkers I spoke to were very suprised - and then immediately very excited (Sarah!) - to learn that a Lego con was going on barely a league away! Which meant that during table setup I did run into some rather atypical sights for a Lego convention. But it was all 'pleasantly diverting' nonetheless!

Our duties at BBTB meant than Guy and I had to yo-yo continuously, in full cosplay regalia, between both conventions. The highlight of the Steampunk con were the evening balls. As far as we could tell, the objective was to get your photograph taken with as many young ladies in corsets as possible. Well I don't know if that really was the idea, but we certainly made it our mission! And that wasn't particularly difficult since Guy had fabricated an amazing brass top hat, which meant we basically got stopped every 30 seconds to get our picture taken or explain how it was made or let people fondle it. It was quite the head turner, I can tell you!

Along the way we also got to show Guy's steampunk Lego weapons to the League of Steam, who were demonstrating a working net gun and plunger shooter. Then later on a bunch of shadowy figures inducted us into the League of Proper Villains (details of which I cannot divulge as I am sworn to secrecy). Erm, so how many times is that for the word 'league' now exactly?

On the final day of the festivities, the public were invited to come and see the fruits of our Lego. Well over 3000 people showed up, and due to better space, a better hotel, better planning and better weather, the atmosphere was relaxed and everyone got through in relatively short order. When I eventually got outside to photograph the queue around the block, there wasn't one. There wasn't even a queue for the door!

During the public hours we hung out inside the Bricks of Character pen and tried to amuse ourselves by working on some steampunk respirator mask kits (...which would have come in handy earlier in the day, when it smelled like one of the visitors had been recently sprayed by a skunk!). By this time Guy had unceremoniously shaved off his mutton chops, and the brass top hat now doubled as a combination waste paper basket / spitoon.

When it was all over, the displays had all been packed away, and the closing ceremonies completed, a few of us lingered in the hotel lobby for the remainder of the evening, watching the number of Steampunk cosplayers gradually diminish. And we unanimously concluded that "cross-conning" was such an awesome experience, that every Lego con from now on should do double duty like this! And from what I hear, the organizers of BBTB and Nova Albion kind of agree. Now if I could somehow get the organizers of BrickCon and SteamCon in a room together...

Additional photos by Guy Himber and Tim Inman

And for those of you that get all squishy when you think about the combination of steampunk and Lego, make sure to check out the forthcoming summer steampunk issue of BrickJournal magazine, guest edited by Guy Himber, and featuring a ton of Lego steampunk related articles, including a full writeup of the Bricks by the Bay / Nova Albion 'mashup'.