Monday, May 28, 2012


For the past year, I have been working on what is now called the Monorail Project. Kinda neat name with the idea of bringing in LEGO monorails back, with a twist. Instead of bringing back the old classic monorail, the Monorail Project is about creating a new system using off-the-shelf parts.

This approach was first pioneered by Masao Hidaka in Japan, and you can see his work here:

Besides the monorail, he has designed track and switches also:

Very clever building here. Masao bends bricks to make curves and switches, which means that the parts needed to make the track are no more than 2-wide bricks, plates, and tiles.

For those who are monorail junkies, you might recognize Masao's model as resembling the monorails at Tokyo Disneyland. I spotted that and started thinking about building my own monorail last year based on Disney World's Mark VI monorail:

Here's video for Red and then I built Blue:
and then a Mark VII from Disneyland:
All three have head/taillights and use the same track as developed by Masao.

Meanwhile, at the same time, Steven Walker in Washington was developing his own monorail, using the airliner fuselage and a different drive system:

A Flickr video can be seen here of his monorail. His track is much the same as Masao's, but his curved track is a stiffer design. One important thing that Steven's monorail has is a rear wheel caster that allows the monorail to take curves much smoother than my original design. Since then I have revised, and what was a pretty slow monorail has become a consistent moving train.

So there is an active research effort being done with the monorail. Brickbuilt monorails have been created in New York and in Florida.  However, a monorail that was presented at BrickMagic 2012 went a completely different direction.

Nathaniel Brill of PENNLug built a suspended monorail.

Using 4.5 v track (which are separate rail parts), Nate created a track that was light and strong. From there, he built a train that hangs from the track and runs on two contact points, reducing friction. And he did this in only a couple of days.

Here's a video:

Amazing and elegant work. And this appears to only be the beginning.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Building a Robot....

So I got to do a display last weekend, but I had to build a model for this. It was Free Comic Book Day and I decided to build Atomic Robo:

His writer was going to be at this event, and this was something I wanted to try anyways..a figure.

It took a couple of days of hammering at the head shape to get something - using SNOT mostly. After that, it was the neck and shoulders that were done. I followed the graphic above for the look:

The collar was the thing I really wanted to work. After that, the pockets came into play, but those were pretty easy compared to the collar. The head originally had a round brick to slide  a flextube that held the neck in place, but I later made it so the head simply slid into the neck. Because of its looseness, the head can turn and pivot up and down slightly.

And the next week the model just sat for a week. Then it was mentioned to the organizers that this would be at the event, so Atomic Robo HAD to be

His waist was worked on, and his legs started coming into shape.

Here's where things get really tough. The hinges that LEGO has available are not meant for things like these. I had to figure out what hinges to use and how to optimize their strength. The newer large click swivels were used for the waist, elbow and shoulder joints. For the knees I used two technic click joints, and ended up with this:


The wrist is another click swivel, but the fingers are simple clip parts. The finger tips are bricks so I can use plates to make bent fingers if needed.

I liked him, but he looked incomplete. He needed a gun. However, having him hold a gun proved to be a real challenge - his balance standing straight is easy to manage. All the hinges are meant to stay straight - in this case straight vertical.

Take a look at this pic and I will tell you the various tricks I used to make this work:

1. The pose - I really didn't like the straight standing. So I had Atomic Robo stand on a raised hill. This affected the balance tremendously. The model was bent forward to make the balance work. And unseen here is that the boots only attach on a 2x4 brick. The shins protect the joints, which slide in. Yes, you can slide the him off the boots. I did that for portability.

2. The gun and arm - I originally made a big gun - a REAL big gun. But two issues came up - the weight threw the balance off. Way off. I had to cut the gun in half. I also had to secure the gun to the hand, so I rebuilt the hand and gun so the hand fit in it and the gun is attached to the inside of the elbow. The right arm is a gun/arm, and there is a lot of weight on it. So how does it stay?

3. A pistol?? - If you look under the arm, there is a pistol in holster. It's not really, but the holster is there. It turns out that if the joints were moved to a certain position, the arm would rest on the holster and be stable. Bt a solid bump would knock the arm off, and the gun would swing down and literally tear the arm off with its momentum, which would lead to complete collapse. That was solved by...

4. The OTHER arm - I wanted the other arm to hold the barrel anyways, so I built a quick attachment point in the hand to the barrel, and after some fumbling, I got them to meet and join. Both arms kept the gun in place and made for a very stable position.

5. Details - I am really proud of the grenades. Really. And the collar. And the head.

I tried to build this for travel, so the head is removable, the arms and legs are movable, and the body removes from the stand. Takes a little setup, but when done, he get a good impression:

even from Brian Clevinger, the writer of Atomic Robo!

Now to see if I can build another figure....and get the legs closer together...

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Other Side of Making Things...

Okay, so I was on a soapbox about LEGO CUUSOO (more about the community than the site) on the previous blog post. Now I am going to another website where things seem to be a little clear-cut.

Kickstarter is a site where people can submit projects that can be funded. The threshold is determined by the project leaders, and the time limit is variable (I think). There are projects in every field, and there are a growing number of LEGO-related projects going online. Here are some projects worth note:

Little Space! A LEGO® Fan Film from Paganomation - a film being proposed by David Pagano, a brick animator who was part of BrickJournal 14. This project is close to deadline, so if you want to support it, act soon!

STUDS Collectible Cards - a set of trading cards proposed by Brandon Griffith, who was in BrickJournal 6. The cards are of AFOLs and community, and I was asked to be one of the cards as well as BrickJournal! I think this is a great idea, as these could be sold and and seen at cool would that be?

I am a supporter of the above projects and encourage others to join. There's other projects too, so go look!

For me, the question I see here is whether or not the Kickstarter model of donating funding is a better model than the LEGO CUUSOO model of voting. There are pros and cons to either way:

1. Doesn't require any money.
2. Easy to vote.
3. Specifically LEGO, so a set would be an official LEGO set

1. No guarantee of production, just review
2. No indication of practicality on a proposed set - a zillion part set isn't given any deference (when it should...any set over 1000 parts becomes a costly set, which I woudl think would make it harder to pass muster)
3. No real vestment by voters - when they say they will buy doesn't mean they will...

1. Funders have a vested interest in success.
2. Easy to vote
3. Can be a LEGO-related item, not LEGO specific

1. Funding may not be successful
2. Not official LEGO associated company
3. Need money to participate

So which one is better? Depends on what you want. If you want a set, LEGO CUUSOO is the only way to go, but it's tough. If you want something else, Kickstarter is a way to go that may not be as hard, depending on the funding target and the validity of the idea.


Making New Things....

Been watching LEGO CUUSOO since the beginning, and I am fascinated by what has happened so far. For those who are unfamiliar with the site, it's a wish site, for lack of a better term. People submit wish sets or parts or themes to be considered for production by the LEGO Group. If 10,000 people support the idea, it wins a review round for production.

10,000 is a big number. And for a while, it looked that the number was beyond the reach of many projects. But that changed in the past month or so, with 5 projects hitting the threshold:

Shaun of the Dead
EVE Online Ships
Back to the Future
The Legend of Zelda
Firefly Serenity Set

Two have already been reviewed: Firefly Serenity and Shaun of the Dead. Both were declined production for not being appropriate for the target audience of children 6 - 11.

I am not going to go on a soapbox about why these were not selected. The LEGO Group has final say on any given project, and they can do as they choose. And honestly, what they have to do is dance a fine line. I feel a little bad for them because they have upset 10,000 people with each decline at the very least.

What I AM going to go on a soapbox on is: WHERE ARE THE AFOL projects????

I mean, really....the AFOL community likes to talk about how big and important they are, but look at the list above - how many were mobilized by the AFOL community? The LEGO Minecraft set was mobilized to 10,000 in 48 hours after Mojang posted the model on their blog and twitter and who knows what... Shaun of the Dead got tweeted by Simon Pegg, and numbers shot through the roof! Where are the AFOL projects?

The closest project that I have seen is the Modular Western Town, which is almost up there, but has been online since October. It has been posted constantly on Eurobricks and I think mentioned on Brothers Brick, but it's been going slow.

How can the community rally behind a set and push it to review? If there is an established community behind it, like a movie or game, it's not that hard. However, that would appear to mean that only licensed properties will have a chance with this environment, which is less than a positive thing.

Why? Because the creativity that AFOLs have is being passed over for the new Star Wars set or the set based on (fill in the blank). The worse thing is that we, the AFOLs, are letting that happen.

We can make excuses about how hard it is to navigate the CUUSOO page and find the things we want to support, and we can make excuses about other factors. But when it comes down to the core issue, the AFOL community appears not organized enough to push its own set or sets to review.

And I know better. We need to push a project, and as fast as any other - for one VERY important reason: We need to show the LEGO Group that we have the influence we claim we have.

LEGO CUUSOO was designed to show how strong our community is...and right now, we don't look strong at all.

Okay, I am off my soapbox.

Next blog post will be on another crowdsource site - Kickstarter!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Watching the Community Grow...

I started in this hobby in 2000. That makes it 12 years that I have been building, and that's a long time.

How long?

When I got in the hobby, there was only one website: LUGNET.

There was one photo site: Brickshelf.

There were only a handful of LEGO stores, and LEGO Shop at Home was just beginning.

LEGO conventions? They were just starting.

LEGO Users Group? There was one in my state (NCLUG). It was a small group in number, but the amount of stuff built was amazing.

And me? I just was starting out. My first MOC was an alternate build of the first X-Wing set (the grey one) No, I don't know the set number (and I tend to not try to remember them - it's the box I remember).

And when I posted the model online, it was greeted with positive comments from people online, and that led to me building more. I was encouraged by others from places across the country, and I built and improved my craft. At the time, that's all I thought I could do - just build.

It was my first convention, which was BrickFest 2001, that opened me up to a new universe - I met some friends that have become very close friends there, and I met many of the builders that I looked up to...and they were just like me. That was a big epiphany.

A lot has happened since. I can tell you the story, but the short of it is that I took a different route from the expected, as I realized that I wanted to do more than build. It became apparent to me that the LEGO community needed a document to record it as it grew. Coming from a publishing background, it was too obvious to me, but it took some time to fully realize what I wanted to do. What happened was BrickJournal.

That was 7 years ago.  BrickJournal went to print from online 4 years ago, in a printing environment that wasn't positive. However, the magazine has persevered and is still growing.

The community has also grown by leaps and bounds all over the world too. Events have been done in the US and Europe and Asia. And BrickJournal has been able to cover many of them, from Brickworld in Chicago to Bricking Bavaria in Germany to BrickFan Town and Brick Fan Castle in Japan. It's amazing to see this growth happen, and to be part of a growing, vibrant community.

But the most important thing that I keep sight of now, that manages my direction of the magazine, is the simple act of discovery. I want BrickJournal to discover the people of this community. I want this spirit of discovery be the inspiration to the next generation of builders, whoever they may be.

The community still grows, and I have seen the generations of AFOLs take their shot at moving the community. I saw the community expand from one website to many, and with that I felt a little sadness as fragmentation began. I also saw the community get closer to the LEGO Group thanks to efforts of the company and the best AFOLs on the planet.

Think about it. We now are able to submit our ideas to the LEGO Group on LEGO CUUSOO and have it produced, if there is enough interest. That was something completely impossible when I started. There are now other AFOL publications too, which I welcome. The community can only grow better.

We live in incredible times, and so we are left to discover what lies out there for each of us. We can make a difference. You can do the same. Explore what you can do. Inspire a new builder. Build an astonishing model. Volunteer for an event.

I know that because I started as a builder, but decided to see what was out there and I did all those things. And now I am going back to my roots, back to NCLUG, back to building. I was hit by inspiration again. There's so much more to do...

So here's to another twelve years in the hobby at least.

And even more exciting things happening.

An Event Coordinator's Lament

It's been a while since I have posted here, and there are a variety of reasons why...working on another issue of BrickJournal, off on a trip to an event, or in this case, up  to planning an event.

BrickMagic is an event that I run in May - it's a modest-sized convention, and it attracts people from as far north as Pennsylvania, as far south as Florida, and as far west as Texas. That's pretty cool - and what I really enjoy about the event is that many of the attendees are people that I have known in the hobby for several years. A lot of the event is making a great party for my friends.

But there are always the challenges that are posed every year. In many ways, setting up an event with a 150 people and a group of volunteers is like a military operation - there has to be advanced planning, mobilizing, then the actual campaign. Most of these aspects are easily managed - budget is the most onerous one, but after that, there's logistics.

One would think that setting up a floor plan would be easy for an event, but it really isn't. While it appears that the effort done is simply moving tables and stantions, there is some thought that has to go into this. It's not easy, and the toughest variable is literally the unknown.

Let me explain this - every year, people signup and pay for their registrations and get ready to go an event. However, there is one thing that isn't always noted: the registrant's MOCs.

There are many reasons why a MOC may not be registered, such as not being finished, or too busy, or maybe not deciding until the last minute. The validity of these arguments is pretty much a relative thing to me, but ultimately, this is a challenge for me and other event coordinators.

Why is this such a challenge? Using the military operation metaphor, it's hard to figure out an operation if you don't know your troops. What that really means is that it's hard to plan out table space for MOCs if we don't know completely what is coming in. And the margin of MOCs that are registered as opposed to the "surprise MOCs" is a pretty high margin.

For any event coordinator, mapping out the tables is one of the most important things at an event. A good layout showcases everyone and allows viewers to easily go from one place to another...while this is easy to manage at the attendee part of an event, the public part is much more difficult, as the traffic goes significantly higher.

Tables and layouts have to be set up with stantions, which means that a footprint for the layout will be bigger than the layout itself,  then walkspace has to be added. Here's some rules of thumb: There is usually a 3 foot gap from a table to a stantion (although it can be reduced to 2 feet) and walkspace is usually 10 feet to allow for people to "clump up" and look as well as let people pass. For larger events, this is pushed larger.

This isn't that big of a deal until a lot of smaller displays end up being separate displays - the space between them requires both the stantion buffer and walkspace between  them. This is one of the reasons why there are themed areas, so tables can be lined up together. One large group only has one set of buffers and walkway so it's more efficient.

It's very important that MOCs be listed to allow for better planning. Many of the attendees at BrickMagic have already told me their layout sizes and table requests, and that's what I want to know. I have a floor plan for these people already in mind, but I have to also try to figure out who else will be coming and bringing things.

I don't expect everyone to tell me exactly what they are bringing - there are always new models that come and things just happen, for lack of a better term. However, it must be understood that while it is relatively easy to add one model to a table, or two, or even three, when a table has to be added that wasn't on the floor plan before, that can be pretty disruptive. And honestly, dozens of MOCs come in that are not listed.

So if you really want to help an event out, do it a favor - register, and register your MOCs. You'll give a good impression to the event staff, and you'll be helping in planning. If you have a large display, the sooner you inform the event, the better. Keep in mind that all these events are for you to show off, so we are doing our best for you. Any help you give will only make the events better.

And from all of us coordinators...thanks in advance!