Tag Archives: Essay

Here at The Brothers Brick, we have some pretty strong opinions from time to time about news, trends, and events in the LEGO fan community. You can read our essays and editorials here.

Pardon the dust while we sort and build

Me, Circa 1977Regular readers will likely have noticed a bit of a decrease in the frequency of our posts the last little while. That’s because summer has arrived — at least for the 86% of us who are here in the Northern Hemisphere — and that means less TV shows to distract, good natural lighting for pictures, and a whole bunch of LEGO conventions to attend.

In other words, the bloggers at The Brothers Brick are feverishly building rather than blogging.

So, bear with us over the next little while as we try to keep pace with all the great LEGO creations people are posting for the same reasons that we’re building ourselves.

We’ll still keep things fresh (or not), but if you’re itching to see a great LEGO creation that deserves to get blogged here on The Brothers Brick, get out your LEGO and build something awesome!

Personally, I’m starting the summer with a bit of sorting…

Why buying LEGO through the LEGO fan sites you visit is so important [Editorial]

Andrew and his many hatsJosh, Caylin, and I attended our local LEGO Users Group meeting yesterday, and someone asked us why Brothers-Brick.com was so slow, and if there was anything he — as a programmer — could do to help. My answer was, “Buy more LEGO. No, seriously!” Readers ask us this question frequently enough that I thought it was important to share our answer with all of you out there on the Web. Read on to learn why.

Over 150,000 of you visit The Brothers Brick every month, loading pages on the site over one million times. Running a website that generates this much traffic costs several thousand dollars a year.

The Brothers Brick relies on you, our readers, to help cover these expenses by clicking through to one of our advertisers when you buy your LEGO. The site then gets a very small percentage back (3%-6%), which in turn we use to pay for servers, bandwidth, software, and other technical expenses. We’re aware that The Brothers Brick isn’t the fastest site on the web, but we just don’t have that extra level of revenue to enable us to upgrade our servers and reliably pay for the increased performance.

Nevertheless, after basic hosting expenses have been covered, we turn everything else back to the community, whether through prizes and giveaways for contests, helping to cover travel and accommodation for LEGO fans attending conventions, or the occasional gift of a Flickr Pro account to talented builders whose work might otherwise disappear when they hit their upload limit.

Realistically, we know that many of us will continue buying LEGO from brick-and-mortar stores — our local independent toy store, Toys R Us, the LEGO Store in the mall, or wherever. But it’s also important that everyone understand how much high-traffic LEGO fans sites like The Brothers Brick, FBTB, and Brickset rely on our readers to pay the bills. Helping to secure some level of financial stability is one way to make sure these community resources don’t go away.

So, if you want a faster TBB experience, if you want to make sure Brickset is always available as a reference, or if you want to ensure FBTB continues to have awesome contests, please consider buying at least some of your LEGO online by clicking through from the LEGO fan sites you visit.

No it is not *your* technique – credit is currency and should be paid [Editorial]

In what I believe is a first (apologies if I’m neglecting credit) for The Brothers Brick I’ve decided to write a somewhat counterpoint editorial to Andrew’s latest editorial.

Andrew argues, with merit, that demands for credit are excessive and potentially “stifling (of) others’ creativity”. While I don’t disagree with his major points I do feel that his post has risky consequences which I do disagree with: discouraging credit when it can and should be given.

As a medium with a finite parts pallette, building technique is not just a means of aiding the design process but an integral part of the design process. Technique is not just a tool but can be an inseparable part of a creation. This is, for me at least, one the most interesting aspects of building with LEGO (and/or other construction toys).

The LEGO fan community has developed in an environment of sharing, cooperation and mingling of ideas. From the earliest days of rec.toys.lego through to the diaspora of today one of the key elements of the online community has been the active sharing of the techniques that go into a model in addition to the sharing of the model itself.

However, this sharing is encouraged, at least in part, by the giving of credit where credit is due. If someone knows that a clever trick they’ve spent hours developing will be used by others without so much as a thank you they may not feel so compelled to spend the time to show a cutaway version.

Likewise if someone sees a neat idea they’d agonised over being used and lauded without acknowledgement a week later by a more experienced builder they may feel justifiably aggrieved. Credit isn’t just polite, it is a driver of the shared creativity that drives the hobby.

So no, it is not your technique. If you got it from someone else then give them the credit they deserve for their creativity so that they’ll feel happy sharing other techniques. Credit is a currency and if you don’t pay for the service you may find it goes away.

No, it is *not* your technique – it’s time for “open source” LEGO design [Editorial]

Merriam-Webster defines the act of plagiarism as:

to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own : [to] use (another’s production) without crediting the source.

Unfortunately, plagiarism is something we LEGO fans witness all too often online. “Hey, some kid on LEGO.com stole my photo and entered it in a contest. And he won!” or “There’s this scumbag on eBay selling copies of a MOC that I designed!”

I think we can all agree that stealing photos or selling someone else’s design for profit are both damaging to the legitimacy of LEGO as an artform and to LEGO builders as a community.

(Some good news is that the Brick-Busters are doing a good job of dealing with the kids on LEGO.com, though the problem is much broader than their scope.)

However, accusations of plagiarism seem just as common between LEGO builders. “Dude, aren’t you going to credit me for combining these three pieces in this particular way?” or “Here’s a photo of an awesome technique I just thought up. I call it SNOT. Please credit me if you use it.”

I believe that claiming ownership or requesting credit for building techniques can have a stifling effect on the creativity we all value so much, and therefore doing so can be just as damaging — in different ways — as real plagiarism. I’m proposing that we embrace a more open approach to building techniques by abandoning the possessive attitude too many of us have about the way we’ve put a few LEGO bricks together.

copyleft symbolOf course, what I’m suggesting as it applies to LEGO isn’t unique either. Open source software has proved competitive with traditional boxed products. An increasing number of writers are embracing “copyleft” and open content philosophies as alternatives to traditional copyright.

Creative Commons logoBoing Boing contributor and science fiction author Cory Doctorow releases his work under a Creative Commons license — specifically, the same license under which The Brothers Brick releases our original content. (All of my own LEGO photos on Flickr are also posted with the same CC license.)

What I love about LEGO builders as a community is how collaborative we are. In most cases, someone who finds what they consider a new type of connection or an innovative use for a part shares it with their LEGO friends expecting nothing in return. It might be easy to dismiss my earlier examples as coming only from the sticky typing fingers of the pre-teens and early teens crawling all over Flickr these days, but I read those kinds of comments from adults all too frequently too.

This attitude is self-congratulatory at best, and has the danger of stifling others’ creativity. Before I had my “open LEGO” epiphany, there was more than one occasion when I paused while building to think whether I wanted to bother listing in my photo description later all the potential places where I might have first seen the technique I was using.

In a creative medium that values collaboration and innovation, I don’t believe claims of ownership for building techniques have any place.

What do you think? Are these claims just annoying, or worse? Sound off in the comments.

Sorting, organizing, and storing your LEGO – the second hobby [Essay]

As I started building my second major creation (more on the first later), it became quite obvious to me that I was paying the price for over 10 years of nonexistent or half-ass sorting. It was almost impossible to build because I couldn’t find anything. So I got sucked into covering my entire living room with 25 years of accumulated LEGO in an effort to make some sense of it. Hopefully the lessons I learned from my mistakes and the help I got from my friends can help some of you who are struggling through the same process or paralyzed by the mere prospect (that was me for 10 years).

Model Shop BinsTo begin with, there is no single perfect way to organize a LEGO collection that will satisfy everyone. The closest thing is a receptacle for every element in every color ever made. But even The LEGO Group can’t have all the elements in all the colors up at any single time (thus a common [silly] complaint about Pick A Brick). There’s no point setting an impossible standard for yourself. And if you’re anything like me in the early stages of hobbying, you probably don’t have enough pieces to justify hyper-organization. (Photo at right, LEGOLAND Model Shop bins, courtesy of Tim Inman)

Broadly, the two most common ways to sort are either by color (yellow, gray, pink, etc) or by type of element (wheel, tile, brick, plate, etc.). Josh has also reviewed the Box4Blox, a device that allows you to dump unsorted elements in a box and then sift them down by size, after which you can sort those sizes into appropriate colors or types.

I’ve found sorting by type and size works best for me. It’s easier for me to spot the blue 2×4 plate among the other 2 x n plates, rather than finding the 2×4 plate among the other blue pieces. If taken to it’s crazy logical conclusion, both systems will result in sorting everything by color and element, but in the interim, I find sorting by type easier to both do and use for building.

That brings us to one of the other truths about sorting and organizing your collection: It will depend on your personality, patience and what you like to build. Sorting isn’t a must either, some people don’t do it. They just break down sets and keep them separated in boxes or baggies, then use Peeron or other resources to find the pieces they want, then dig out the set and find the piece they want. Some of the best builders out there have such huge collections that it’s out of control.

Sorting UnderwayDuring the actual sorting, I used 16-quart tubs to sort into plates, bricks, Technic, slopes, minifigs/accessories, vehicle parts, vehicle elements, and large building elements. As a tub filled up, I split it further, for example separating my 1 x n bricks from my 2 x n bricks. I also bought a couple 39-drawer hardware units to put all the smaller elements into. Lots of people use craft trays, drawers or they recycle yogurt/margarine containers.

Once you’re going for a fairly permanent home for your bricks, here are four broad characteristics of a good permanent containment system:

  1. Transparent. Clear containers are my choice, but others use labels or double-sided tape to stick an example element on the outside of the container. It’s just nice being able to look at a container and know what’s inside.
  2. Diverse, but compatible. Lots of drawers or boxes of various sizes. Hundreds of a small element will only take a tiny drawer, while a few dozen big pieces can take up a pretty large space. It helps if the types of containers you use are in some way compatible with each other. (Below, Alyse and Remi’s building table is a good example)
  3. Stackable. Use vertical space well by having boxes, drawers and/or shelves that stack on top of each other, or by just using tall units with lots of drawers.
  4. Expandable. As a collection grows, it’s good to have a system that you can just buy more of the same containers to expand. It’s also important to start a containment system that will be around for a while, so during a later round of expansion you’ll actually be able to find more of the same.

Bolt of Blue Desk

If you want to strive toward even greater perfection, here are a few specific things that I and others have found pretty helpful:

  • Hardware drawers that have anywhere from 6 to 40 small and medium sized drawers for holding bolts, screws and nails are ideal for smaller elements and specialty pieces.
  • Fishing tackle or craft boxes with lots of little dividers are also pretty handy. Be careful with any container that has removable dividers, if flimsy, they just result in everything spilling together when bumped.
  • Rubbermaid, Sterilite, Plano and other companies make a variety of stackable plastic boxes and 3-drawer systems that are exceptionally versatile.
  • Especially for sorting and building, drawers/boxes/bins with rounded bottoms and corners make it easier to scoop pieces out.
  • In a pinch, zip-loc bags, recycled margarine containers and the more solid LEGO boxes are great for both sorting and sub-diving within other bins.

Stacked BruceywanOddly enough, I find contrast is quite helpful, both in shape and color. For example, I keep my black and white 1×1 square plates together, I can see with my own eyes easily enough which is black or white, that way I can keep those elements that I have in huge quantities together. (Photo at right, Bruce Lowell does something similar). My 1×4 tiles and 2×2 tiles are also together; I’m not going to get them mixed up very easily and I really only have enough tile to justify 3 small containers. For me, the point is to be able to find something, not have a perfectly orderly universe.

Right now I don’t have enough of most of my large specialty elements to justify separate containers for them. Though I’m not 100% satisfied with the results, I’ve dumped them in boxes by general categories, such as architectural, vehicular, printed, tires, big ugly rock pieces, maritime, etc. Which brings me to one of the most important things: It’s an ongoing process. As needs, interests, patience and size of collection change, you’ll modify the system. Because of that, flexibility is good. Finding one or two compatible containment systems will help you adapt as time goes on and make sorting easier down the road.

Fortunately or unfortunately, because of BrickCon I now have a huge cardboard box packed full of unsorted LEGO, which has set me back a bit. My wife and I are also still in the process of the complicated marriage negotiation of where/how to make room for my LEGO amongst her Barbie, pottery, sewing and scrapbook collections. Thus my stuff is stacked in the living room:

My LEGO as is

A deeper look at the LEGO building experience

Have you ever contemplated LEGO as a profound life experience? For the intellectuals out there, you can pick up a copy of Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Chabon‘s recent book Manhood for Amateurs where you’ll find an essay dedicated to a stimulating discussion of the author’s experiences with LEGO and how they have progressed through various stages of evolution.

Adult fan of LEGO and college professor Roy T. Cook has read the essay and gave us an academic summary below:

In “To The LEGOland Station”, the seventh essay in Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son (2009, Harper Collins), Michael Chabon briefly relates his own experiences with LEGO bricks: First, there was the “limited repertoire of shapes and the absolute, even cruel, set of axioms that governed they could and couldn’t be arranged” (p. 53) that characterized his own childhood exposure to LEGO. Second are the experiences he had building more contemporary sets – in particular, licensed sets – with his children, an experience he describes as having “far more in common with puzzle-solving, a process of moving incrementally toward an ideal, pre-established, and above all, a provided solution.” (p. 55) Apparently viewing this emphasis on building official models as depicted on the box-front as the sole credo of the ‘new’ LEGO, Chabon reports that he “resented the authoritarian nature of the new LEGO.” (p. 55). The third stage of his evolution is when he observes his children (eventually) disassembling their official sets and recombining them, resulting in models of impressive complexity and creativity. Unfortunately, Chabon characterizes this final, creative revolution as a rebellion, on the part of his children, against the “realism” and “quirks and limitations” of the LEGO system.” (p. 56), instead of recognizing that the passage from building-as-rote-instruction to building-as-original-creation is a transition that was, and is, intended, encouraged, and accounted for in the design of the system by LEGO all along. Thus, Chabon mistakenly characterizes his children’s passage through these stages as a sort of transgressive rejection of LEGO’s “structure of control and implied obedience to the norms of the instruction manual” (p. 55).

You can download Roy’s full synopsis here.

Tim’s brief guide to Flickr groups

I’ve recently spent some time thinking about and subsequently altering some of the groups I’ve created on Flickr. In part this has come from me adapting to a new ‘user generated content’ internet but also in response to difficulties I’ve been having with new members in some of my groups. While I can deal with the former by wielding my administrator powers the latter is a bit more difficult.

As such I present the following loose guidelines to getting along in a Flickr group. These aren’t rules and they’re heavily biased to what I like to see but perhaps they’ll provide some food for thought. I welcome commentary on them as I’m keen to learn more about how to approach all this.

  1. Always read the guidelines of the group before joining. Some groups are free-for-alls and might not have guidelines but other’s are quite strict about what should be posted or added.
  2. Lurk for a bit. There’s no easier way to get a feel for a place than to see what the existing members do.
  3. Don’t get upset. Maybe your offering to a group isn’t what it’s interested in but that’s not a personal attack.
  4. Look for another group. If you don’t like how one group is run there might be a similar one with an atmosphere you prefer.
  5. Make your own group. If there is nothing that suits your tastes go make your own. It’s easier than whingeing about something someone else has made.

Anyway, that’s my five step program to getting along in flickr groups. I await the comments.

What is creativity?

Creativity is a term that defines the LEGO hobby, but have you ever thought why some works are more creative than others? Nnenn shares a metaphor about his interpretation of creativity that many builders can benefit from knowing. In summary, each creation is a dot on a clustered diagram; while most fall near the center, the truly creative ones are the outliers. Read the short essay to find out how you can build something that stands out from the crowd.

Tales of a Sir Thanel the Newb: Getting involved in the online community

Within a few days of going to my first LEGO Users Group (LUG) meeting, I decided to get involved in several of the online venues where adult LEGO fans get together to show off their creations, talk LEGO and learn about the hobby from each other. It was quite an education. Here are a few tips that might be useful for newer users of any online LEGO forum, but especially those that host pictures. These may also serve as good reminders for veteran users.

My sigfigs will be there to walk you through it. Or the sigfigs are a transparent device to add some graphic interest to an otherwise text-heavy post. Whatever.

Sir Thanel’s 13 Edicts

Thanel Yeoman sigfig

  1. Lurk. Spend some time exploring, looking around, and learning the etiquette before deciding on which online community to join. Especially before starting to make comments.
  2. Read and think before writing. Read titles, descriptions, captions and other comments before leaving your own. It may have already been covered. On Flickr, for example, each photoset has a description of the entire set, which might give you the background or story, while each picture might have less information. The answer may already be waiting for you. Even if you really WANT to say something, if it would be repetitive, don’t do it.
  3. Limit the number of comments and questions. Try to keep it to your 1 or 2 most important. Otherwise the builder might become tired of responding. Most veterans are happy to answer honest questions and are online specifically to promote the adult hobby, so they appreciate curiosity about their creations, but it can sometimes be a little overwhelming. One of the most common questions is “Instructions please?” (with varied spelling) The answer is usually “No.” Most builders had a challenging enough time building it in the first place, much less meticulously documenting each step. Some do it for fun, but they advertise the service. Part of the fun as an adult is figuring out how to do it yourself.
  4. When you assume, it makes an ass out of you and me. Be careful about including assumptions in your questions or comments. “I didn’t know LEGO made a Smurf sets!” would reveal your ignorance, because, well, LEGO hasn’t done a Smurf theme and it isn’t a set. Whereas a more general “Where did that curved head piece come from?” or “Smurfs!” about the same Smurf creation would hopefully give the creator an opportunity to explain how it was built with standard pieces, or about the custom accessories they used.
  5. Be specific. Instead of a very general “How did you do that?” or “Where did you get that?”, try to describe in detail and as specifically as possible what you’re asking, like “How did you connect ___ with ___?” This especially applies to sites that don’t allow a person to leave notes ON the picture.
  6. Keep it on topic. Make comments about the picture or topic in discussion, rather than about yourself or your own crazy agenda. Avoid leaving comments like “I did this AGES ago!” with a link to your creations, or otherwise shamelessly promoting yourself. It’s a little rude. Likewise, if you think a discussion is pointless, what’s the point of making a comment saying so?
  7. Thanel bailiff sigfig

  8. Follow group guidelines. Various sites or groups have specific purposes or rules. Read them to see if the group is for you and what the expectations are. One of the most common violations on Flickr is people putting too many pictures in group photo pools. Limit the number to your one or two best, three max.
  9. Be gracious. If people leave constructive criticism of your creations or photos, accept the comments. If it’s just mean, screw ’em! You can ignore them. On Flickr you can even block them from commenting on any of your stuff in the future. It’s not worth starting flame wars. If there’s a discussion thread you find annoying, don’t visit or leave comments, it only serves to keep it alive and rewards the most common denominators.
  10. Don’t pester people to trade or sell to you. Most online LEGO communities are not for buying, trading or selling. There are specialized sites or subsections of larger sites for those kinds of activities. If a particular builder or user is interested in trading, they will usually have it on their profile pages or a link to their website. Many of the LEGO specific forums have links to various places to buy or sell. The equivalent of calling your friends and telling them your dog had puppies and you’re looking for a good home for the puppies is OK. That’s usually done by either directing people to an eBay, craigslist or bricklink sale or very rarely by people posting something on one of their more close-knit sub-group, rather than trying to complete the transaction on a large forum for everyone to see.
  11. Remember the children. If you are under 13, you are too young for most adult forums, especially those hosted in the United States. It’s illegal here for adults and kiddies to play together online. Minors are ironically (and disturbingly) the most revealing about themselves online. Kids, don’t use your entire real names as your screen names. Don’t give your age or birthday. Don’t offer to give adults your address. Don’t post all that information on your profile for everyone to see. Very, very bad ideas. Parents, please talk to your kids about how everyone on the internet is a stranger. Remember the stranger talk? Have it.
  12. Bluemoose prohibition

  13. Give credit where credit is due. If someone inspired or helped you somehow, give them props. Recently I posted a poor quality photo and two different Flickr users took the photos and enhanced the quality, then re-posted them (Right: bluemoose‘s version), giving me proper credit as the initial photographer under their picture and also leaving a little note to let me know. They did the right thing, so instead of being mad, I was pleased that I could see more cool details.
  14. You have the option of being discrete. If you don’t want to publicly embarrass somebody about their spelling or don’t want to get into an online fight, try sending an e-mail. As an international community, this comes up quite a bit with attempts at bilingual communication. Sometimes people aren’t young or stupid, their language just has different (often more sensible) rules than in English. Flickr has an especially handy FlckrMail (FM) feature that allows quick private communication.
  15. Thanel knight sigfig

  16. Call for mommy. Most forums have moderators and administrators who are responsible for keeping things civil. If things seem to be getting out of hand, let them know. It’s in the interest of the whole online LEGO community to be the exception by playing well. Don’t assume that they’re monitoring everything either, this is just their hobby too and they have other things they need to be doing.

As most of you could tell, my experiences are based almost exclusively on Flickr. The other contributors to TBB have been involved in the online community for years on a wide variety of sites such as MOCpages, Brickshelf and the numerous theme-based groups or specialized forum, which are mostly pre-Flickr. Some even helped the growth of Flickr as a LEGO fan hub. I, however, am new and selecting my web involvement based solely on personal taste.

Go forth and play well.

Lugging pt. 4: Starting a LUG

What if you’re interested in joining a LEGO User Group (LUG) because of Part 1, but the tips in Part 2 let you down and you couldn’t find a LUG? Or what if the experiences described in Part 3 weren’t quite up to snuff? Then you have the option to start your own LUG. Since I have absolutely no experience doing that, I’ve gathered a sort of panel of experts to help describe how they’ve gone about organizing their LUGs.

Chris Piccirillo, Jeremy Scott, and Dave Shaddix are members of CactusBrick, a LUG in the Phoenix, Arizona area. They’ve recently begun formally organizing (they explain why) as a sub-group of AZLUG, which covers all of Arizona. Gary McIntire is currently a Master Model Builder at LEGOLAND California, but started off as a member of SEALUG in Seattle, then moved to Utah, where he helped revive ULUG, then moved to San Diego and helped revive SandLUG as well. Gary is generally acknowledged to be awesome.

I’ll let them speak for themselves first, but at the end I’ll add a couple editorial comments about what I noticed from the interchange and what I’ve gathered from my exhaustive and authoritative research (cough – BS! – cough).

The Brothers Brick: How did you go about organizing or reviving your LUG?
Chris Piccirillo: You need people and a place to meet. If you make it too complicated, everyone will run away screaming. Plan some fun things to do, research how other LUGs have fun, and hold that meeting. I gave a lot of my personal time to get that first meeting held. After that, it was easy. It was like watering a plant.
Jeremy Scott: Yeah, save the details for later. We didn’t want leaders, we wanted to have fun. Now that most of us are deeply into it one year later, do we find ourselves with the need for the details.
Dave Shaddix: We have a few things that we try to accomplish for every meeting, a speed build and parts draft, but its pretty chaotic and just down right entertaining most of the time. Fun is still our foremost concern, but we are realizing that we’ll need some structure if we are to become an active, viable member of the community.
Gary McIntire: Personal contact is key! When I restarted ULUG I first started scouring the internet for other LEGO fans out there. I sent out numerous emails and finally made contact with two guys who were doing the LEGO thing. Reviving SandLUG was much easier, since I was coming in contact with so many local LEGO fans at LEGOLAND. The main thing is to be outgoing and make friends with local people who are into LEGO and just start hanging out and talking LEGO.

TBB: Where did you find other members so it wasn’t just you talking to yourself in a mirror?
GM: The internet is awesome! Check out Facebook, Flickr, and of course LUGNET. Even a Google search can deliver surprising results sometimes.
JS: Some LEGO fans in Arizona had tried to organize a few times in the years before. A few of us were part of those failed attempts. We never got further because there weren’t enough people. I saved some names and email addresses of these people I found on LUGNET, etc, and hoped to try again one day.
CP: When I decided it was time for our LUG to finally form, Jeremy and other’s efforts had been long before my time. I told him about my plan, and he shared his mostly out-of-date contact list with me and said ‘good luck’. On my side was our upcoming LEGO brand store opening soon; local fans were in a buzz. I threw a few announcements out onto Craigslist and asked everyone who contacted me to pass around the news and soon we had a list of 20 or so people. From that list, six people showed up. From those six, 5 haven’t missed out since.
DS: Chris’s mom actually told me about group…

AZLUG R2-D2 BuildTBB: What was the key to the group starting to coalesce?
CP: For us, it was the opening of the LEGO store (photo, right). Not only did the upcoming opening have people excited, but LEGO needed its adult fans to help with it. Steve Witt [LEGO community relations representative] was very enthusiastic, calling me an answer to his prayers, and got me in contact with an ambassador to help me turn our spark into a fire. Having the group of us staff the master build and grand opening was awesome fun for us, and helped us new co-club members become instant friends.
GM: Pick a day that the club will always meet and stick to it! Try to find a day that works for the few people that are involved initially, say the first Saturday of every month, or every third Thursday night. Make it the same day every month and always meet on that day, roughly around the same time. That way everyone knows that every month on that day, rain or shine, there will be a meeting. sometimes not everyone will be able to make it, but have it anyway, even if it’s just two guys having a good time!

Gary Umbrella ManTBB: How is your LUG organized, if at all? Why is that?
GM (photo, left): I think that too much organization creates unnecessary politics. Every meeting the only points of business that are necessary to be addressed are where the next meeting is going to be and what, if anything, are we going to plan on doing there. Every LUG I have been part of has rotated meetings around to different peoples’ houses every month and most of the meetings feature a set draft or a dirty brickster of some kind, and sometimes have additional activities like games/competitions or parts trading.
CP: At first we all unanimously decided that we wanted nothing in the way of organization. No leader, no officers, no money, no rules, no nothing.
JS: However, we learned the hard way: we need it. Right now, we are writing the by-laws and such that will officially organize us. We have decided to pursue organizing as a US-charity (or 501(c)3) so we can be tax-exempt and also use our club as a community youth-outreach platform as well as a social hang-out for us dirty-mouthed adults.
DS: Yeah, we are pushing for some loose leadership right now, without some structure we will ultimately regress to trading our Garbage Pail Kids cards and random LEGO-centric conversations. There are a bunch of great guys (and even some females!) in the group, with a little direction we will be able to get some really cool stuff going in the future. And there is a real part of me that would like to somehow be involved in the direction of a bunch of dirty-mouthed adults …oh and LEGO stuff!

TBB: What were some of the challenges of starting the LUG?
CP: Getting people to come to the meeting. LEGO collecting is an easy-to-hide geek hobby. We aren’t known for our social geekiness, like the [Dungeons and Dragons] geeks and Pokemon collectors. So, getting the adults who aren’t afraid to admit their habits to come out of the closet is hard. What they learn when they join a LUG is that LEGO is more fun in public. Our hobby doesn’t have a Comic-Con yet, but we’re getting there.
GM: Finding the first few people and getting a day for the first meeting nailed down.
JS: Honestly, I feel the hardest part of getting the club together was finding people. With the large realignment of the online LEGO community away from the LUGNET-centralized community we had a few years ago, you have to go to every corner of the net to find people. It would be nice to have a general announcement board again. (*ahem*, LEGOfan.org)

TBB: What would happen to the LUG if you were suddenly raptured?
JS: They would breathe a sigh of relief.
CP: They would lose their best man.
JS: Seriously though, we have enough excited people in the LUG that it couldn’t possibly go away. We are more in danger of death by disagreement than by death through the loss of one of our members.
GM: Well, I kind of was, from ULUG. I was raptured away to LEGOLAND, and now the LUG is more than twice the size it was when I left. A fact of which I am very proud. If a club is centered around one or two pivotal members it can easily fall apart. That’s why I am happy to take credit for helping to organize a club and get it off the ground, but I don’t want to be the “leader”.

TBB: How does the group make decisions? How do you deal with drama/conflict if it arises?
JS: The drama so far has been minimal. What we have encountered so far led to our desire to formally organize. We determined that the things that bugged us couldn’t be addressed because no such rules were in place. So first we are going to write the rules. As for decision making, we haven’t had many to make. A yes-no vote on the next month’s draft has been the most heated debate yet. When we organize we plan to use online voting for all minor decisions, and in-person elections once a year.
GM: You’d be surprised how easily a group of like-minded people can make decisions. Majority rule and general consensus have always worked for me.

TBB: What’s your vision for where you want the LUG to be in a few years?
CP: We want to be one of those LUGs that people name by name when they discuss the “great” LUGs. We have the organizational manpower to do it, and we have a push to see it done.
JS: We want achieve this with a secondary focus, beyond our primary focus of club socialization, on outreach, both within our greater LEGO fan community, and within our local community. We chose to become a charity so we can benefit our local community in educational and youth support programs. Though not all of our members want to participate in that aspect, those who do will have wonderful personal reward from it. We also plan to begin the process of hosting a southwestern states convention for LEGO fans and the public, and intend to forge partnerships with other southwestern LUGs to have this convention travel around the southwest annually, with each lug taking a turn hosting every few years.
CP: Obviously some of this is in our longer-term agenda.
GM: I would love to see SandLUG big enough to host a LEGO convention in the next few years. I think it’s well on its way.

TBB: Thanks guys!

I sure learned a lot doing research for this series, and I hope it helped some of you out there. A few themes in the interview deserve bullet points and others didn’t show up in their comments, but could be pretty helpful so I’ll pass them along:

  • Find people. It’s hard, but kind of the whole point.
  • Wait to decide on the structure/organization until you have people. Come to some sort of consensus that gets buy-in from the core members. There are no formal requirements for the rules or structure. It’s up to the members.
  • If a dead LUG already used the name you want, you may be able to find the original members of that LUG and just ask nicely if you can resurrect it. You may even get additional members that way.
  • Keep a routine.
  • Don’t over-complicate things. Having a website or other infrastructure can be great, but sometimes free tools like Google groups or Yahoo Groups can be easier to use and meet all the communication needs of the LUG, especially early on.
  • If your LUG gets too big, covers too large an area or otherwise just isn’t doing it for everybody, don’t be afraid to reorganize or support and encourage members to start a new nearby LUG.
  • Be welcoming, try to avoid drama, and most importantly: PLAY WELL!

Comic-Con Barbecue

A lot of people have helped me in this project, especially members of SandLUG (Above: Comic-Con Barbecue at Monsterbrick’s house) as well as luggers from around the world who participated in my lugging discussion and group on flickr. They have have passed on a wealth of information to me that I’ve tried incorporated in the series, but can’t possibly do full justice. Thank you all!

What it is ... is beautiful – LEGO ad from 1981

I’m not generally one to look to the past as somehow superior to the present or future. Nevertheless, seeing this LEGO ad from 1981 struck a nerve.

What it is is beautiful

Most LEGO ads today emphasize action and playability. Both wonderfully effective attributes to sell toys, I’m sure. It’s not so much that The LEGO Group has changed as much as LEGO has had to adapt to a different advertising climate. I get it, I really do.

Still, I miss the days when LEGO emphasized the basics: quality, creativity, and — as in this beautiful ad — pride in accomplishment. (There’s also something to be said about gender neutrality, but I’ll leave that for another day.)

Hat-tip to Moose Greebles for the scan from the back of Decorating and Craft Idea magazine.

Lugging Pt. 3: Actually lugging (tips, etiquette and activities)

Now that you’ve become interested in LEGO user groups (LUGs) because of “Lugging Pt. 1” and have found a LUG because of “Lugging Pt. 2“, you’re thinking about going to your first meeting (I cling to the delusion that I’ve solved everybody’s issues). Here are a few tips on how to gird your loins for battle:

  • Join online ahead of time. I showed up over an hour early to my first meeting because I hadn’t signed up to the e-mail list, so I didn’t get the message about the meeting time getting pushed back. Brian Heins, the host that month, was kind enough to let me chill for a bit at his house ’til everyone else showed up, but still a little embarrassing.
  • Take money, just in case there’s something worth buying or doing that costs. Many LUGs also have membership dues, though collection methods vary.
  • Minors should generally be accompanied by a responsible adult, though some LUGs do not allow minors at all, and a few (rare) LUGs allow teenage fans of LEGO (TFOLs) to attend without adult supervision.
  • SandLUG and Co.

  • Expect it to take more time than you planned, my first two LUG activities were huge and some of us went to dinner after (4-8 hours total). My recent excursions to a group display at Star Wars Days at LEGOLAND California was 12 or more hours on both days. My wife has pretty much written off LUG days.
  • Don’t be cocky. Somebody there is better than you.
  • Don’t be embarrassed. Somebody there was cockier than you when they first showed up.
  • Be yourself. If you’re shy, that’s fine. After all, these are adults who sit indoors and play with toys. Watch and listen. Get to know the lay of the land if you’re not comfortable diving right in. If you’re comfortable, join right in.
  • DO bring your own creations.
  • Ask before touching somebody else’s creation.
  • Don’t bring a huge set or your entire LEGO collection and expect help with it. Most other luggers have their own massive projects they’re trying to deal with.
  • Don’t be surprised if the members are far more functional, intelligent, hot, wise, professional and kind than you might expect.
  • Somebody in any group is guaranteed to be or become a jerk at some point, take it in stride. They may just be awkward, and/or you may have misunderstood. Some are very aware of their foibles and take it well when you playfully point out their little quirks. I also raise my eyebrows and smile.

Most LUGs have some activity or activities to get involved in, some structured, some not. Here are some of the possible things you may run across at a meeting:

Maria Pini Browniefig

  • Show off your stuff and admire others’
  • Buy/sell/trade
  • Plan and create cooperatively
  • LUG business meeting: good LEGO deals, location of the next meeting, upcoming activities etc.
  • Play with LEGO
  • Talk amongst yourselves
  • Contests such as LEGO car races or building competitions
  • Food and drinks (this seems to be a Western US thing)
  • Dirty Brickster (a LEGO unwanted gift exchange)
  • A draft

Drafts are last, but definitely not least, they have been the core of my LUG’s monthly meeting so far, though we’ve branched out in recent meetings, just for some variety.
All you need:

  1. Enough boxes of a particular set for everybody
  2. Everyone participating buys a set
  3. Open everything up and sort by piece and color (bring lots of cups, trays and baggies)
  4. Determine an order for picking
  5. Everyone goes around in order and picks a particular pile of pieces until you run out (see below, photo courtesy of Ryan Wood)

Monster Draft

There are variations, fun sub-plots to insert in the middle, different ways of determining the order, ways of dealing with the runt pieces and whatnot, but y’all can pick that up as you go along.

So what do you do if you either can’t find a LUG or the one you find bites? Try starting your own. That’s in the next and final installment of Lugging.