Monthly Archives: May 2013

Cute robot is cute.

Kristof’s (legoalbert) T-Jay 22-637 is perhaps one of the most adorable little robots I have ever had the pleasure of looking at. He says that he was inspired by the Science Guys from Adventure Time, and I must admit that I have never watched the show but this makes me want to check it out all the more.

T-Jay 22-637

The use of the sticker sheet scraps to add subtle detail to the body as well as to make the face is expertly done. And the design of the head with the recessed ‘screen’ and rubber band detailing is nothing to sneeze at either.

A build such as this is the perfect thing to put a smile on your face!

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team and Sen. Daniel Inouye in LEGO

This post isn’t about politics. Well, mostly. On Monday, I expressed some anger about the way Memorial Day has become increasingly trivialized here in the United States, but I didn’t apply the nuance I usually expect from myself, even when writing about the intersection of our LEGO hobby and the real world — of which complex political issues (including my pacifist viewpoint) are most certainly a part. I’ll try to do better as I explore an issue that I think lies a bit closer to home for LEGO fans reading this blog.

Why is it that ethnic minorities are so under-represented in our LEGO depictions of military history — World War II in particular? Why are the LEGO minifigs storming beaches and liberating France presumably all white? Where are the Tuskegee Airmen, the Nisei soldiers, the Filipino sailors, the Navajo Code Talkers, and many more?

I realized recently that I was guilty of this oversight myself, as illustrated amply in the links to my own models above. I’m correcting this today with a rather simple photograph depicting 2nd Lt. Daniel K. Inouye as he marches with his platoon toward the ridge in Tuscany where he would single-handedly take out three German machine gun nests, losing his arm — and earning a Medal of Honor — in the process.

The 442nd Moves Out (B&W)

Daniel Inouye went on to become a US Representative and Senator from Hawaii, serving his state from the first day of statehood in 1959 through his death at the end of 2012.

(Frustratingly, I also realized that I don’t have the LEGO landscaping talent to attempt the ridge scene itself. And as an infantry regiment, the 442nd wasn’t equipped with the “interesting” tanks and other armor I’ve been building.)

There are historical reasons that answer my questions, of course. The United States military was officially segregated until after World War II ended, and most non-white units did not serve in front-line combat roles. Thus, the ever-popular and exciting scenes depicting the first moments of D-Day, for example, sadly but accurately exclude minorities like African-Americans and Japanese-Americans.

It’s also challenging to use LEGO as a medium to reflect real-world diversity. With LEGO Friends as a welcome exception — Heartlake City is certainly a multi-ethnic LEGO society — theoretically, only LEGO sets from licensed themes like Star Wars and the Lone Ranger include explicitly non-white characters. Why is it that a person of color has to be in a movie in order to be included accurately in a LEGO set? (Try asking LEGO that the next time you call Customer Service.) LEGO has claimed in the past that yellow minifigs are somehow race-neutral. Rubbish — tell that to a 9-year-old African-American girl wondering why people like her are so grossly under-represented in LEGO minifigs. And yes, LEGO is a Danish company, but that’s no excuse either.

Thanks to LEGO, we builders don’t actually have too many “non-white” minifigs to work with. For my Nisei soldiers of the 442nd, I had to dig up LEGO Ninjas minifigs from the 1990s, along with a few Ninjago minifigs. I shouldn’t need to go to themes with stereotypical ninjas in their name to find Asian minifigs. And for my African-American tank crew from the 761st Tank Battalion (below), my choices were even more restricted.

M4A3E2 Sherman "Jumbo" of the 761st (1)

But I can’t give us WW2 LEGO builders a pass for focusing so obsessively on Normandy (with a bit of North Africa or Stalingrad thrown in from time to time) at the expense of the much-larger historical context, which did indeed include people from every thread of the vast tapestry of American society. Nor is the “limited LEGO palette” an excuse. What’s a bit sad about our collective obsession with D-Day is that we’re overlooking heroism and drama that is just as interesting and just as “buildable” in LEGO. By starting with the question “What can I build?” I’ve learned about people and events I’d never have learned in my high school American history classes (and certainly not in the Japanese history classes during elementary school earlier in my life).

Unfortunately, I’ve also encountered darker obsessions among some LEGO World War II builders. I can’t count the number of teens (apparently) who’ve included references to the Third Reich in their Flickr screen names — some going as far as to include the SS lightning bolts or even swastikas. I’ve also seen casual use of dated and hateful terms like “Jap” and “Kraut.” It makes me angry, but it also makes me very sad. Such behavior is unacceptable, and flies in the face of the very values that the Allies fought to defend in World War II. These are the kinds of actions I was alluding to with my “trite hand-wringing about ‘kids these days'” in my Memorial Day post. It’s hard to believe such attitudes toward fellow human beings don’t color what these builders choose to create with LEGO (or how they treat their fellow human beings in real life).

Whatever the reasons, we can and must do better.

The LEGO Military Annual Build Competition is happening now through July 10. With that in mind, I’d like to issue a challenge to those of us who are building something in the numerous contest categories: Build your models and minifigs in ways that reflect the true diversity of the men and women in the armed forces — whether you’re building something historical from World War II, Vietnam, or more-recent conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan, or whether you’re creating something from an alternate or future timeline.

African-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Filipino-Americans, and other minorities fought racism and prejudice during World War II even as they battled the Axis Powers in the war itself. When they arrived home, they built on that experience to begin the Civil Rights movement, as well as the drive toward Hawaiian statehood and an independent Philippines. Those of us building LEGO creations based on historical conflicts like World War II owe it to the men and women who served to accurately reflect their experience.

Skyskipping the Light Fantastic

These new little “Skyskipper” space fighters, by ROOK, really are the bee’s knees. They’ve got a fun, sleek, shape, and a nice clean color scheme. The part that really got me interested, though, was the nesting of parts for the cockpit canopies, to give an integrated feel. In fact, when I saw the first thumbnail, which had closed cockpits, I thought there might be a new canopy piece involved.


Dragons in orbit?

I distinctly remember hearing about the Space Shuttle Challenger exploding in 1986. I was having dinner with my parents and sister, eating grapefruit for dessert, when the news came on the radio. It was a highly publicised flight, even before lift-off, because Christa McAuliffe was on board, as part of the teacher in space project. Before her flight, the Shuttle was the exclusive domain of scientists, engineers and test pilots. The explosion came as a shock, not just in the United States, but also for a then ten-year old boy from the Netherlands, sitting next to the radio. I also have distinct memories of the Columbia disaster in 2003. I had recently moved to a new apartment and had organised a house-warming party for that evening, with my friends (mostly fellow physicists). That evening we could talk about little else.

Both events highlighted problems with NASA’s approach to safety and showed that the Shuttle itself was a deeply flawed concept. Yet, last year’s pictures of NASA’s Boeing 747SCA flying the Shuttles around the US to their resting places at museums, fill me with sadness. Rather than making giant leaps, it feels as though we are slowly crawling backwards. American and European Astronauts are now resigned to flying in the cramped confines of Russian Soyuz capsules, that really aren’t all that different from the capsule that carried Yuri Gagarin into orbit more than 50 years ago.

There is a glimmer of progress though, in the form of the Dragon. Stephen Pakbaz (Apojove) has built a very nice model of this spacecraft, doing a good job of representing the round shape with its conic end.

DRAGON 20130528-01

Last week I attended a lecture by André Kuipers, a Dutch astronaut who was on board the International Space Station from December 2011 to July 2012. A Dragon docked with the station during this time, and Kuipers described the new-car smell that greeted the crew when they opened the hatch. It’s not as sexy as the Space Shuttle, but the significance of the Dragon is that it is the first commercially developed space craft intended for manned missions in orbit. Previously this was exclusively done by governments. So far the Dragon has only been used as an unmanned supply vehicle, but it has been developed with manned missions in mind and plans are afoot for a first crewed flight in 2015. It’s a small step, but hopefully, in the non-too-distant future, commercial companies will be cheaply doing the nitty-gritty of lifting stuff and people to orbit, allowing NASA to do the more exciting stuff further out there.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Derrick van R.

Derrick van R. promises to bring us various adventures starring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s inimitable consulting detective over the coming weeks, but I was immediately captivated today by this simple scene with a single minifig. I say “simple,” but what I’m so impressed by is the incredible landscaping Derrick has built around Mr. Holmes, from a gorgeously curving tree to a brook with water cascading into a frigid-looking pool. The base itself is noteworthy, for hugging the contours of the landscape.

The world of Sherlock Holmes

Check out many more photos showcasing Derrick’s landscaping talents in his photostream on Flickr.

MAKS’ Liebherr crane is a lot smaller than you may think

This is probably not a sentence you read every day, but I happen to have a weak spot for well-built cranes. It’s the reason why I absolutely love the minifig-scale Liebherr 1050-3 mobile crane built by Polish builder Maksymilian Majchrzak (MAKS).

Liebherr LTM 1050-3.1(2)

I built one of these myself more than a year ago, on a larger scale, and consequently am very familiar with the shape and the details. We have also previously blogged a Liebherr 1050 built by Makorol, who also happens to be from Poland (what do they put in the water there?). This model, which was remote controlled with Power Functions, was even larger than mine.
What is particularly impressive about the crane built by MAKS is that, despite being only 8 studs wide, it really isn’t a lot less detailed than either of the larger models. In fact, it looks just like the photographs of die-cast models I used as an inspiration.

The Lord of the Rings 79006: The Council of Elrond [Review]

The summer wave of sets is here, and LEGO has focused its Tolkien license back onto the Lord of the Rings trilogy, while we wait on the new Hobbit movies. The Council of Elrond is the medium sized set in this wave at $29.99 USD, with 243 pieces.

Lord of the Rings 79006 The Council of Elrond

Get to de choppa I find it interesting that LEGO chose to capture this moment from the series in playset form, because although the Council of Elrond is of paramount importance in the ultimate narrative, it’s basically a glorified committee meeting. Not exactly the stuff of Saturday morning cartoon action on which LEGO playsets generally focus. Nevertheless, LEGO has managed to fit in some play features here. The boxes for this summer wave have been redesigned from last year’s Lord of the Rings sets, and I love the new look. The right end of the boxes features a orange-tinted map of Middle Earth, which extends onto the closed flaps. This gives the boxes quite a striking look on the shelf.

Get to de choppaNow down to the set itself. Opening the box will dump out two numbered bags, the instruction manual, and that ever-present sheet of stickers. Fortunately my sheet wasn’t crumpled, but I’ll say yet again that LEGO needs to be putting sticker sheets in some sort of protective material. The stickers are for the 3 chair backs, and the Eye of Sauron. The Council of Elrond builds two small structures from Rivendell, the home of Elf-lord Elrond, and his daughter Arwen. The first bag builds the council room, which in the nature of the elves, is more of a patio than a room, being open to the air and shaded by a tree. It includes 3 chairs around a central plinth, where the One Ring resides during the council. The only action feature in the set is also built here. It’s a minifig flinger located in the floor next to the plinth. It’s used to recreate the scene from the film where Gimli brashly gives the One Ring a good whack with his axe, and is sent sprawling backwards. If you’ve watched The Fellowship of the Ring recently, you may also recall that the screen flashes to the Eye of Sauron for a split-second as Gimli hits the ring. In the floor when the fig-flinger lifts up, there’s a red slope that’s stickered with the Eye of Sauron, so you can briefly glimpse it before the floor shuts again. It’s more than a little corny, but also an amusing interpretation of the film into a playset. I tried it, and it actually flings Gimli quite effectively.

Get to de choppaThe second bag builds the remainder of the set, which is a small segment of a roofed structure. It contains a removable weapon rack for holding Arwen’s bow and Elrond’s spear. This part looks really lovely, using a mixture of white, dark tan, and light grey. It includes another tree, and this segment clips into the adjoining council room segment with two Technic pins. This building also features the first ever appearance of the new Gothic half-arches, which are a long yearned-for piece for Castle builders everywhere. Sadly, this new piece follows suit with the newer design of the full arches, and uses thin walls that disallow studs being placed on the underside, a common fan technique. Other interesting pieces in this set include the first appearance of dark orange large leaves, which in combination with the recently released dark red leaves puts Get to de choppa fans well on their way to making an autumnal forest. There are also olive green small leaves here, which aren’t new, but are still hard to find. All told, there are 4 white half-arches, 3 dark orange large leaves, and 5 olive green small leaves. Personally, I’ll be buying this set in droves, just for the leaves and arches.

There are 4 minifigs in this set: Elrond, Arwen, Gimli, and Frodo. This seems a very logical selection of minifigs. Elrond must be present–it is the Council of Elrond, after all. And Frodo has to bring the ring. And Gimli’s got to go flying to give the discussions some play value. Get to de choppa Arwen might be the odd character out, but given her limited role in the series, this is probably about the most logical place for her to show up, short of a Black Rider chase set or the Coronation of Aragorn. The figs are all high quality with front and back printing. Gimli and Frodo are identical to those found in previous sets, so I’ll skip over them. Arwen is a fantastic addition to the female medieval population, and her dress is generic enough to pass for any lady in a Castle setting. Both Arwen and Elrond have rubbery hair, with painted ears. Elrond has a meticulously detailed gold printing, and a terrific double-sided cape. The outside of the cap is dark red, with a painted tan inside. I don’t even remember the last time a set included a two-sided cape, though I know it’s been done before.

Get to de choppaAll in all, this a good set for fans, or parts collectors. I can’t imagine that there’s a lot here to be excited about for kids who aren’t major fans of the movie, since the structure isn’t even defensible. Still, each of the weapons in the set (except Gimli’s axe) have an extra included, so it’s not a bad weapons pack, plus there are 2 extras of the 1 Ring (good thing Sauron didn’t have backups). It seems like a big opportunity missed not to include a statue with Narsil and maybe a shield inside the building, though. Still, I expect most of the lovers of this set will be people like me looking for those new arches and leaves.

The Value of a Piece

The_jetboy is taking the concept of a “seed part”* to a whole new level. He’s used a single piece, the wide track link, 92 times to create this crazy microscale citadel. It’s not often I find visually interesting models made of only one part type.

*A seed part is single part type that must be used in a model, ideally in a highly ingenious manner. “Seed Part” contests are a staple among fan sites. If you’re not as crazy as the_jetboy, you also use other parts in conjunction with the seed part.

CVF-104 – Microscale Aircraft Carrier

Jacob Unterreiner (4estfeller) says he was inspired by Stijn’s awesome Marine Air Ground Task Force and that inspiration has resulted in quite the spectacular near-future microscale aircraft carrier. This thing just screams to be played with…and we all know Jacob is sitting in his room right now pew-pewing and swooshing to his heart’s content!

Check out Jacob’s full Flickr photoset for detail shots of the air fleet and the build progress.

And here is a video of the play features:

To top it off, community poster maker and all around nice guy Pascal did the photo editing for Jacob. Now is that the sign of a great community or what? ;)

Only the monstrous anger of the guns / Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle

I get angrier and angrier with each passing Memorial Day here in the United States. Baseball announcers blithely wish each other “Happy Memorial Day!”, car companies attempt to entice me with “low, low APR”, and everyone celebrates the service of active-duty and surviving military personnel. No, Memorial Day is a day of somber remembrance, not to be confused with Veterans Day, and it’s a day — like Remembrance Day in other parts of the world — to honor those murdered by their governments in defense of long-forgotten political agendas. It’s a day that should remind us just how evil and unnecessary war is — not how cool it is.

And yet, there is real heroism in what many men and women in the armed forces accomplish in the face of such horror. I’ve mentioned before how much World War II fascinates me, not least because I grew up surrounded by abandoned bomb shelters in Japan and because my American grandfather served as a medic during the war.

One way I explore that fascination — and learn quite a bit of history in the process — is to research the people, places, and equipment of World War II. This year, I’ve been building for more than a month leading up to Memorial Day, and I have quite a few new builds to share.

The M7 Priest was self-propelled artillery (a “Howitzer Motor Carriage” in WW2 parlance) based on the chassis of the M3 Lee/Grant series of medium tanks.

M7 Priest (1)

My M7 Priest incorporates a 105mm gun that I reverse-engineered from the Brickmania M2A1 Howitzer kit (since I’d built a complete one to tow behind my GMC CCKW).

The Priest has an open top, so I spent quite a bit of time trying to get the interior right. I built ammunition stowage (by inverting 1×1 bricks and attaching them with the One Ring) and gave the floor corrugated steel plating with printed tiles from Citizen Brick.

M7 Priest (5)

See more photos in my M7 Priest photoset on Flickr.

The GMC CCKW 2.5-ton truck, or “Deuce and a Half,” served in many roles during and after World War II, with numerous variants to support all those roles. Even though I’m quite happy with the other models I’m unveiling in this post, my favorite is definitely this maintenance/recovery version of the CCKW.

GMC CCKW Maintenance/Recovery Truck (1)

The details are all modular, and I can quickly convert this rather complex truck into a number of other variants, including this one with a towable M45 Quadmount anti-aircraft gun.

GMC CCKW Truck with M45 Quadmount (1) GMC CCKW Truck with M45 Quadmount (2)

My Willys MB Jeeps also got an upgrade, with two new variants — both with Bantam trailers.

Willys MB Jeep with Bantam Trailer Willys MB Jeep Ambulance with Bantam Trailer

All these non-combat vehicles were making my minifig soldiers feel a little under-powered, so I built them an M5A1 Stuart light tank and an M8 Greyhound armored car.

M5A1 Stuart Light Tank (1) M8 Greyhound Armored Car (1)

Finally, it occurred to me recently just how little the average World War II LEGO model reflects the real-world diversity of the men and women who served in the United States armed forces during World War II. The segregated U.S. Army resisted placing African-Americans in front-line combat roles until fairly late in the war, but the all-black 761st Tank Battalion served with distinction in major engagements like the Battle of the Bulge. I made some minor modifications to my M4A3 Sherman tank, including the addition of a lip that overhangs the wider tracks, thus making this the M4A3E2 variant. While I was at it, I replaced my crew with members of the 761st.

M4A3E2 Sherman "Jumbo" of the 761st (1)

I’m currently working on something for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, or “Nisei Soldiers.” In the meantime, you can see more photos of everything I’ve posted here in my photostream on Flickr.

The title of the post is an excerpt from “Anthem for Doomed Youth,” by Wilfred Owen, an English poet who died in combat one week before the end of World War I. It seems doubtful that I can convince a generation of youth who’ve learned more about war from the “Medal of Honor” video games than from challenging poetry to read Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, but it’s worth a try…

Starship ISIS (or) Manifest Cronyism

What is the point of being a Brother Brick with the all privilege and status that goes along with it, if you can’t abuse the power to promote the agendas of your closest associates? That was the question I asked myself when deciding whether or not to blog the latest massive S.H.I.P. by professional percussionist and raconteur Iain (~Ara~). I can hear the cries of the disenfranchised now…

“Goldman, this is outrageous, TBB always tells us we must have flawless photography on eye-burning white backgrounds! This photo doesn’t qualify at all: there is non LEGO clutter in the background, some kind of barbecue and is that an ashtray with butts in it? Butts on TBB!.”

Relax my excitable friends, this is Iain, and if you’d ever met him you’d realize that his inherent coolness allows him to supersede those concerns.


Sure, the SHIP is great, especially the bridge, but this post is less about how cool the model is and more about how cool the builder is. However, Iain cannot quite escape unpunished for his unwillingness to bow to the conventions of this site and the hobby in general.

How do you tell if the stage is level? The drummer is drooling from both sides of his mouth.

How can you tell a drummer’s at the door? The knocking speeds up.

What’s the last thing a drummer says in a band? “Hey guys, why don’t we try one of my songs?”

What do you call a drummer that breaks up with his girlfriend? Homeless.

How can you tell when a drummer’s at the door? He doesn’t know when to come in.

So please add your favorite drummer joke in the comments if you are motivated to take the piss out of Iain too.

Going a bit crackers – Beyond the Brick interview D-Town Cracka

One of the wackier categories in this year’s LEGO Military Build Competition is “Friends vs. Fabuland,” in which two rather unlikely foes go head to head. Andy Baumgart ( D-Town Cracka), who is one of the judges, was the mad genius behind this one.

Friends Propaganda Poster

He was recently interviewed by the guys from Beyond the Brick. If you’re interested in what makes Andy tick, how he discovered and joined the military build community on Flickr, or want to hear about the pleasures of having your models blogged on TBB, I heartily recommend you watch the interview on Youtube.