Monday, December 29, 2008

Busy Week

I'm working on a few long-running projects this week. I'm taking a break now from a rather gruesome round of housework. Lots of shelves and bins are being reorganized.

I'm still working on my big LEGO/robotics project for February as well. I might bring a different computer than originally planned - some issues with software are scaring me a bit as far as getting the older machine ready goes. No programming has been done yet (which I'm really disappointed about, but I'm sure I'll get to it soon).

Anyone interested in buying Bionicle parts in bulk? I have way too many of them out right now and I'd be willing to sell half-sorted things of it fairly cheap ($10-15 for a full gallon bag).

E-mail Address

Just a quick note - if you'd like to send me an e-mail, my spam-ready personal e-mail address is

Yes, I really don't mind just printing it here and letting the spammers get it too - I'm pretty happy with Gmail's (Google Mail in some countries) anti-spam feature, and pretty darn trusting with it.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

How Seagate Ruined Christmas

Ever thought it was about time to invest in a good external hard drive and start trying to back everything up? My family started trying to earlier this year. Another big project we did last year was digitizing all the Christmas music we owned and putting together a several-days-long playlist of just the recordings we like (which could be played in random order and enjoyed while decorating and on Christmas day).

...the seasonal material was put on the same fancy expensive drive that we were planning on using to back everything up.

Thanks a lot Seagate - thanks to your unusually short warranty and incredibly shoddy product, we now have no backups of any data, no chance of getting stuff backed up now that we finally have time off to try backing files up, no Christmas music (at all) and we're out more money than we want to think about. We'll never buy one of your crummy products again.

A whole terabyte drive, shiny and new, less than a year old. We had barely started actually backing things up on there. The most expensive external drive we ever bought. It was all a waste - and for extra fun, it's colossal failure was the first thing we woke up to on Christmas morning.

Seagate, don't you care about your employees safety? When you sell such an obscenely bad product, you risk the lives of your employees. I'd certainly like to strangle anyone I could hold responsible for this - and this was a relatively minor failure, with most of the data existing in another location (of course, it's extremely unfortunate that we lost all of the Christmas music on Christmas day - and yes, we had the drive working just last night).

I hope all my readers are having a happier and much less quiet Christmas.

Of course, it's still not much of a silent night around here - we're still panicking about losing the drive and arguing about just how much money was wasted buying the huge drive that we thought would last many years instead of just a few months. Also, every few minutes I shout something else about wanting to kill any Seagate employee I meet from here on out, just to hold someone responsible (alternatively, a few thousand dollars for our time, trouble, and expenses might calm me down a bit, but I can't promise anything).

Figures - I spend so much time worrying about losing data and thinking I should back more files up, and it's the EXPENSIVE BRAND-NEW drive that turns out to be garbage. I repeat - DON'T buy a Seagate product. Also, if you're a deranged madman in a Santa suit, try to find somebody who's responsible for putting Seagate products on the shelves. I'm sure at least some of their employees don't have bodyguards.

If you need me, I'll be here trying to verify that we didn't lose even more data than we think and trying to put together some sort of Christmas playlist for the family to enjoy tonight - and tomorrow. Yes, Seagate, because of you, all gifts had to be delayed and Santa was told to come a different day. You really ruined the year for us - and 30 years from now, the next generation in our family will be hearing about the year that the expensive new Seagate drive died and postponed Christmas.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Reference Photos

Found myself searching a bit for some local landmarks that would provide good subject matter for LEGO displays. What's the point of having LUGs be regional if we're not going to show some local color?

Here are a few photos I liked and thought should be saved somewhere, perhaps somewhere public where other people in the group could see them.

J.S. Dorton Arena (no idea where to start here, but we discussed a few potential things to try at a dinner meeting a while back):

The NC State Wolfline buses look like a fun thing to try:

I need a good photo of the other side, but I count 5 windows on this side:

Will need to buy black train windows - probably about a dozen of them for each bus - to do this. Anyone have extra locally? I'm pretty sure that "smoke"/"trans-black" glass should be easy to find for that as well. Red and white, of course, are pretty darn common LEGO colors. I doubt any other University bus would be this easy to attempt (getting the details right is where building skill comes in, of course).

I love how these look, but I don't know if it could reasonably be done in LEGO form:

Now that this is posted publicly, I can also point to it should anyone ever arrest me for suspiciously taking photos of buses. See! It really is just a LEGO thing.

If you want to talk stalkerish, though, anyone else been to Scotts Ridge Trail (or really, any road in the Scott's Mill subdivision) in Apex, NC? Cool houses, mostly in "sand" colors and quite buildable in LEGO form. Last time I was there, I even spotted a house in medium blue with Fabuland-y accents. If I were to try building one of these, though, there'd always be the off-chance that somebody there might see my version of their house - now that would be creepy.

On an interesting sidenote, I bought a stack of LEGO catalogs and magazines off a kid in that neighborhood once. We actually talked a little about the unusually bold colors in that neighborhood, and about how we just can't build beige buildings. His parents joked that we could try using their house color, but clearly they don't know how rare sand red is!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Gas update?

Once again, I didn't end up getting my own gas. I wound up driving for a yard sale route this past weekend (best find: $12 for most of both Toby at Wellsworth Station and James and Percy Tunnel Set - got all of Toby and James, all but one part for Percy, the tunnel, and a ton of DUPLO track), but I never wound up heading back out later in the day (and dad - perennial misplacer of receipts - volunteered to get gas).

Here's a rough data point, based on how much gas he thought he pumped and what the odometer said when I got back in this morning (traffic was AWFUL, and I was late even without having to stop for gas).

13.5 gallons?
311 miles ?

23.03 MPG

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Input Wanted On Upcoming LEGO Shopping Guide

I know most people here are interested in LEGO (since most projects I've blogged are about that hobby of mine), so I have some questions for my fellow LEGO fans: What are you picking up this year? Where are you finding good deals? What are you buying/hoping for for Christmas?

I will be developing a multiple vendor Christmas value guide for the LMOTD blog at some point in the near future. Some stuff's a given (Beach House, Cool Convertibles, Green Grocer, Cafe Corner, Market Street, VW Beetle, etc), but I'm looking to find the best prices I can (Amazon and LEGO are already available to me for sponsored links, and I believe TRU and Target are also in the LinkShare network) and help readers find some cool kits that aren't really LMOTD worthy (like the current town gas station kit and the Agents Mobile Command Center). I'm sure there are tons of great bargains and sets out there that I just don't know about as well (some themes excite me more than others, and I'm yet to start taking the newer Bionicle or Belville sets, or anything "Power Functions" seriously). Feel free to recommend unofficial items (storage units, books, software, gear, whatever else) as well.

So, have any thoughts to share? Leave them in the comments here (open to everyone, no registration required) or e-mail them to

Post-Election Thoughts

Believe it or not, I do have some good project ideas related to this recent election that I'd like to share. I doubt I'll get to doing much with them myself, but I'd like to encourage all other web development/policy nerds to look into them whenever they get the chance.

The long-and-short of it is that both Presidential candidates were instrumental, as Senators and elsewhere in their careers, in bringing forth government transparency initiatives that are useful to bloggers and journalists. Surprisingly, neither campaign was up front about this (I was very disappointed in both campaigns this election for not discussing the candidates' records enough). Somewhere along the way, however, both initiatives picked up API's of use to us web programming nerds.

I'm not new to the world of trying to link to policy data online. I've been frustrated by the THOMAS Library of Congress website on several occasions.

I only recently found out that one of the website ideas Obama has been championing is already available at - this is particularly noteworthy as a certain nutcase on the Republican ticket claimed that she would start this idea, in spite of the fact that the law mandating this passed in 2006. Bloggers and web developers, take a look at that API - we could seriously inform people about up-to-the-minute facts on US spending directly on our websites (with server-side code, of course - cross-site scripting is now blocked by most modern browsers). The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act was passed in 2006 and deployment quickly sped along, thanks to subcontracting with OMB Watch, details at the Wikipedia link above.

McCain smartly co-sponsored that as a Senator as well (it's just a great bill, and I like to think everyone can back legislation like that, even if not everyone can write it). More noteworthy, though, is his involvement as one of the 40 national leaders co-founding Project Vote Smart back in 1992. The non-partisan, non-profit group is dedicated to getting out the facts about candidates' stances on a variety of major issues. There is now an API in open beta and a start at providing RSS support as well.

I'd like to see bloggers everywhere take the initiative and work these resources into their sites. I suspect that both sites (and many other similar sites) will expand the resources available as the demand for them is shown. Again, I'm a bit too busy to take this up as a hobby right now, but I think other web developers should have at it for their political blogs and websites (and of course, I could probably find time if appropriately compensated :) ).

...and on a more personal note, I hope I enjoy my "win" on the general Presidential election more than I enjoyed my "win" during the Republican primary. I'm still feeling a bit disillusioned about how things played out these past few months, and I really hope that the next few years of an Obama administration are much more serious than anything I saw during this election. I also find this bittersweet - as this post shows, I really respected both of these guys as Senators, and I think that there isn't a way to truly replace Obama as a Senator - it's the Senate's loss, in a way. I do still hope to get more involved as a blogger, but it still doesn't look likely that I will. Still, the transparency initiatives are very promising for letting everybody get more involved, and looks like a decent start on making the office of the President more transparent as well (although it looks like his stance on community service has changed since the election - is that an error from a lower-level staffer, or is that intentional?)

EDIT: Either that "mandatory community service" bit was a mistake or we have a cover-up conspiracy here (choose depending on your political persuasion): has been updated to remove the bizarre policy I asked about at the end of that last paragraph. I'd like to think that it was removed BECAUSE of people like me (but with more clout) pointing out that it was a bad idea...but somehow I doubt that that error is an issue we'll ever hear revisited. In any case, the stance I liked during the campaign is now what's listed on the website.

LMOTD This Week

LMOTD will be having a themed week this upcoming week - yes, a theme that meets all of my "variety" requirements! You're welcome to guess it in the comments of this post - I don't plan on announcing it there.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Track Designer

I'm not really working on this project (I need to try out Visual C++, but as of yet, I have not started using it) - but this is awesome. After years of being unable to update one of the most popular LEGO CAD programs for collaborative layouts - as well as a few competing software packages, including one where someone tried to reverse engineer TD - the Track Designer source code has finally been found. This LUGNET thread has the details. If you're new to all this, you're better off reading RailBricks issue 2 than anything else I have to say on the topic.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


NCLUGers - is this model by anyone we know? Are there photos online of my 4504-based convention center?

I find it very bizarre that we'd see somebody else build something this way so soon after I brought my WIP model to an NCLUG meeting. As far as I know, no photos from that meeting are "in the wild" yet - am I mistaken there?

In any case, I bought another partial 4504 on the cheap last weekend (the person selling it had already cherry-picked the rare bits for the SW collectors, and wanted to pass along a bargain on the other parts). I'm thinking I'll try to grow the WIP version into more of a behemoth.

Sorry I'm falling behind on the other blog too - I'm thinking of doing some shorter-than-usual cheap catch-up posts to make up the difference.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Brief, Scattershot Update

My laptop finally came back today - with a new motherboard. With any luck, this means that I'll get back to life as we know it.

A few more unfulfilling follow-ups:

Regarding flickr - I'm now planning on rotating photos to BrickShelf periodically. This way people can take advantage of the notes and commenting features for a limited time, and then the photos will be archived in a less useable but still accessible format. OK, I'll use flickr more often if someone offers to buy a "pro account" there for me.

Regarding gas - We continue to have shortages here, although it's relatively easy to find petrol in Raleigh. It's still the most expensive gas in the continental United States, but it'll do for now. My Dad volunteered to be the family gas scout shortly after my hysteric post here (and I would like to follow up on the politics of that properly soon, but I don't have time to do so properly at the moment). Since we had to settle for getting gas whenever we could, Dad rushed to places with limited supplies a few times this past month, and no useful MPG data could be recorded. I was able to fill my tank this past Thursday in Raleigh, and that will be the new starting point for MPG data. From now on, I'll be trying to protect myself from disastrous shortages by trying to refuel at the half-way point (instead of near empty), and I'll be finding the MPG based on the displacement instead of based on the mileage for a full tank. I don't know if this has been suggested elsewhere, but it seems to me like a more accurate and safe way to go.

Regarding the last NCLUG meeting - a proper wrap-up should be done sometime this month, if I can. My little printout (a short list of what I brought and a copy of an e-mail I sent about Collector's Guides) went missing at some point - anyone know where that is?

I have a few half-written posts here and elsewhere that I plan on cleaning up and posting soon, but I also still have quite a bit of "real work" to do - I'm afraid that that still has to be the priority.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Futuron Labs - A Town / Space Model

I just rushed up a flickr set ( ) of my Futuron Labs model. It has been substantially expanded since a work-in-progress (WIP) version of it was shown at DGXPO - it's also possible that this is the last time I'll open it up to show the things inside.

Normally, I know better than to goof around with Town or Space ideas while I have so many other things to do, but this really only needed some tiles and a few more clever vignettes to brush it up for the Brick Science contest at Reasonably Clever.

This is my first "real" MOC to be presented thoroughly online. I really thought I'd do that here, but I like the idea of making things available to fellow LEGO fans who might like to try the "note" feature. I don't know if I'll ever go pro (I'm out of sets already) but I'm thinking flickr's interface has some definite advantages. I also tried out their new flash uploader here and was satisfied with it.

I might put up some other photos this weekend if I get the chance as well, although the extra time I found myself with in the previous post has since been used up.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Attacked by Corrupt Politicians - For A Different Reason Now

So if you're here in the states, you've probably been hearing BS for weeks about how safe off-shore drilling is and how we've supposedly never lost a drop of oil. Now I can't leave the house because of a gas scare...and we're not even sure if it's real or manufactured. Apparently the gas companies are saying right now that they're losing oil and shutting down operations because of a hurricane. Now there are 45-minute lines to get petrol - blocking off highways in parts of the state.

...and people really keep electing these morons, and continuing to enable this garbage? This is not a political blog, but when your idiotic political ideas ruin my ability to pursue my projects, I'm not going to let you off the hook.

SUPPORT GAS MILEAGE REQUIREMENTS WITHOUT GIVING OIL COMPANIES CORPORATE WELFARE. FORCE ACCOUNTABILITY INSTEAD OF VOTING FOR PEOPLE BASED ON PROMISES TO OIL COMPANIES. ACTUAL terrorist attacks do less to screw up the economy and people's lives - if we don't tolerate those, why should we tolerate this?

Seriously, how can anyone consider voting for McCain / Palin when they're openly lying to us and forcing us into situations like this? Their policies and lies are now DIRECTLY ruining the lives of ordinary people, and we're still seeing nearly half of the country take them seriously. I have other gripes with these fools, but now it's become even more personal. What the hell is wrong with this country?

Just a quick edit: I will allow sensible discussion in the comments here, but not trolls. The McCain campaign has infamously encouraged supporters to engage in internet trolling, and I will tolerate none of that. Any despicable or dishonest comments left here will never be shown on this site, so don't bother trying. You're welcome to try to defend the McCain campaign or the oil companies involved in this snafu, but I suspect it'd be too difficult to be worth your time.

A second edit: Don't insult me by pretending Bush hasn't done any damage. I have no interest in maintaining contact with anyone that morally bankrupt. It's unlikely that the damage done to our country's reputation and budget or our citizens' rights, beliefs, and property will be fixed in my lifetime, and it's fundamentally dishonest for anyone to pretend that we don't need to reverse the disgusting damage done these past few years. I will certainly not post any comments featuring a distorted view of Iraq here either, and I will never take seriously any complaints about verbal gaffes made by someone who has trouble with spelling and grammar (computers have spelling and grammar checkers - at least be decent enough to use such a check before being unfairly harsh on others).

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Busy Day

Nothing tops off a busy day of studying, working, mailing, driving, and otherwise ignoring your blog duties quite like getting back at the end of the day and realizing you've just been plugged by the Brothers Brick (and not just a "via" link, I mean a real link where they mention you by name). Should I get a screen cap and frame it? Some people get really excited about these things.

Of course, it's not for anything I built, and it forced me to rush up a few posts so that first-time visitors wouldn't see my "new format" announcement at the top of the page, but it's still exciting.

...since I know people are going to ask, I am planning on properly doing that LAML radio post on the NCLUG site sometime tomorrow - and that's when I'll figure out what's going on with those Collector's Guides as well (not sure how people will feel about me not having time to send an e-mail properly but finding time to talk about it...but oh well - it's all get done soon enough).

I hear we have a hurricane coming up this way - not sure if that means I'll be taking Saturday off of yard saling or not yet. There aren't that many people having sales, anyway. Of course, it looks like I'll be stuck on campus at least part of the weekend, working on a Java server project (then again, I like JSP - they're fun and remind me of those thrilling days working with ASP as a kid).

As for building projects - as of yesterday the final parts for the...rockin' blockin' robot I'm planning on bringing to the September NCLUG meeting are now in the mail. I'm also planning on putting finishing touches on something and entering it in Reasonably Clever's Brick Science contest. I'll probably bring both of those to the next meeting (work permitting), along with my newly-replenished bley tile bin (still 10 cents each, any size). There's also a slight chance that I'll explain that NXT idea I've uploaded to my flickr account sometime in the near future too - I mostly just photographed it to make the parts available again for...that Bionicle thing.

OK, it's after midnight here now and I've just rambled on for several paragraphs about how I don't have time to type up several paragraphs because I have better things to do. Time for some sleep so I can go back at it full-throttle tomorrow.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Trolley System Build: A Failed Attempt with some Good Ideas

A few weeks ago, I described a bizarre building standard without explaining what it was for. It was for a trolley system. The polarity of the 9V power changes when the train hits the trigger mechanism - on one side that's hooked directly into the switch, on the other end the mechanism is geared in through a long axle lineup. The reason for the standard was to figure out how long a stretch of track this would work for.

I have a fairly limited LEGO workspace these days, so I wasn't able to test a decent-length stretch of track. When we tested it at the big table at the library, we found out that it was able to go about 5 inches further than my previous test had shown - and that the result didn't get any better with a heavier vehicle (I was running my tests with DUPLO Thomas - which I'll blog soon). Additionally, the speeds were higher than optimal for a layout like this, so the stops were a bit abrupt even at the lowest speeds that the mechanism could handle. Thanks to Mike Walsh for letting me use his trolley at the meeting.

Photos and explanations of how to build the various modules of the mechanism are on flickr ( ), if you are interested in trying this out or improving on it yourself.

I sold a few sets there as well - I have records of that elsewhere so I won't post it here.

I'll do a proper wrap-up of the meeting on the NCLUG website soon. Here are picture links in the meantime.

Matthew's photos:
Dan's photos:

Trip Odometer reading 8/21/2008

When I refilled my empty gas tank on August 21st, my trip odometer read 333.6 miles.

That is all.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


It dawned on me today that my slower time when I was hoping to post more here is quickly coming to a close. There's still a ton of stuff to do, and a few nearly essential offline chores that need to be done before things get busy again for the fall.

This will be my busiest semester ever, with 7 courses (5 is considered a full courseload). This blog will probably fall apart.

I will try to get something up here occasionally - after all, this blog was originally intended to be rarely updated and exist more as an idea archive. I don't expect to see frequent updates here anymore, though.

I am contemplating doing weekly yard sale recap entries. Not sure if that'll work out or not.

Matthew - did you get any photos of my trolley track set up? I didn't get any good shots of them, and I'd like to do a follow-up on my "group build" post on the NCLUG blog.

Oh, and in case anyone's wondering, it was a complete failure - went about 5 inches further than I had been able to test previously. It's a good thing I don't embarass easily, and that we didn't have too much effort invested in it.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Older site

EDIT: This site is no longer available.

Just a quick update to mark something on my to-do list - a while back I did a lousy project with a small website. You can find it at: - there's info there on an earlier version of my CD holder, as well as on the lamp and a compressor.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Harry Potter sets

At the last proper NCLUG meeting, I mentioned that I might be willing to part with a few of my smaller Harry Potter sets - and there was a surprising amount of interest. Here's the list of sets, what they're going for on BrickLink, and links to the BrickLink Price Guide page for each set. All sets are as complete parts- and minifig-wise as they were at LEGOPalooza this past February. I'm not interested in going much lower than the lowest prices on BrickLink - I'll just keep them if I can't cash in :).

All of these items are being "auctioned". Send me your offers at - I will post the current high offers here once they start coming in.

In addition to the list below, I'm also looking to sell two sealed bags from 4709 Hogwart's Castle. I'm not sure what to offer as a price guideline there...they're probably worth at least $10 each - they have quite a few great tan parts, old greys and special bits. You can see the two bags side-by-side here and here.

4735 Slytherin BL:$12-$20 Box flap only (no instructions)

4727 Aragog in the Dark Forest BL:$10-$20 Both flap and instructions

4712 Troll on the Loose BL:$9.50-$12 Both flap and instructions

4701 Sorting Hat BL:$5-$10 No box flap or instructions

I'll be bringing all of these to Sunday's NCLUG meeting, where I figure a few of them will be wanted. Oh, and my usual BrickLink spiel's good there too...

I want a LEGO part that does this...

If you've seen my work area in the past 8 years or so, you know that I'm working on an alarm clock casing. I've uploaded photos of one of the knobs in hopes of somebody recommending a part that can replace it and interface with the electronics. Brickshelf:

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

New "Author"

In the interest of getting posts live faster, the LMOTD blog account has now been added as an "author" on this blog. It's still written by the same people it always has been, though.

I'm still hoping to dump a bunch of posts here this week. Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hello, EuroBricks!

Hi - I just noticed that this site has been getting a hefty amount of traffic lately. Apparently my little reflection on mixing my political interests with my hobbies was linked on the classic-castle site. Sadly, I haven't been following Eurobricks and I don't have the time to catch up on four pages of discussion right now, but I'll try to catch up in the next few days.

I've also noticed quite a bit of search traffic coming in. I'll avoid mentioning the upcoming event that I'm not even going to that's apparently has me in its' top 20 search results on Google, but that's definitely not helping me find the info they're looking for.

I kind of like getting web traffic here (after all, I do have ads on this site), but I'm increasingly posting things on the NCLUG website instead. Speaking of which, today's meeting went well - more details will be posted on the NCLUG site later. We're talking about getting some counter tools on that site too - which is what brought me to check back in at my StatCounter account and find out about the other stuff mentioned here.

Anyway, I still have a ton of AI work to do for Wednesday - not to mention BrickLink orders I need to ship - so it's back to net silence for a bit.

Friday, July 18, 2008

How to Write A Memorable Yard Sale Ad

I'm sick of seeing crazy people with enormous egos write absurdly fraudulent yard sale ads. They all claim to be the biggest in town, to have everything, and to be huge and amazing. It sounds enormously trashy, and read in the right voice, they could be describing porno films instead of yard sales.

THIS is how you write a distinctive yard sale ad. Free cookies and change in rare currency! It's appealing and it's not a blatant lie that any idiot can immediately spot. Further, if I go there, I can get a cookie!

I'll let you know if I end up getting to that one, and how the cookie is.

EDIT: I did not end up going there - my route led me elsewhere and there just weren't many other sales in that part of town (which is beyond the sale holder's control, but still a factor when planning a yard sale route).

I see I'm getting lots of hits for this entry through Google. I'm thrilled that people are trying to look this up and take the effort to write a good ad, so I will make a point to write a proper article on the topic in the near future. In the meantime, the best advice I can give is to be clear and honest - use your space to give useful info (start and end time, address (at least to the street name), some details on what you're selling (especially if you're only selling clothes or baby things, you should note that), and any other relevent info (Are you in a new area that Mapquest and Google Maps can't find? Are there parking concerns? Is this a multi-family sale?)). As mentioned above, nobody takes you seriously if you talk about how huge your sale is or how much stuff you think you have - skip the hyperbole and stick to describing things accurately. If you can, take out an ad on Craigslist (a free classifieds website) and go into detail there - since there's no space limit (newspapers charge by the line), you're free to explain more.

If you do have a specific question about writing good ads, feel free to write me at - I am a seasoned yard sale shopper, with over 10 years of being out there early nearly every Saturday morning. I'm generally pretty fast at responding to short e-mails, but on Friday nights I'm likely busy planning my yard sale route.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

LEGO Furniture - A Stool

I built a stool a few weeks back. In the spirit of rushing some things up, I've dumped some photos onto FlickR. You can see them at

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Quick Ethical Question

If you receive a BrickLink order that's missing a few parts, but also has extra parts that are more expensive than the missing parts, do you tell the seller? Also, what do you tell the seller?

I'm considering just leaving glowing feedback without mentioning it - in the end, he's out less than a dollar because of the mistake. The missing parts were just parts I wanted to have on hand and not something I needed for a particular project.

Additionally, the guy's already out a couple of bucks because shipping was more expensive than expected. Working out additional shipping in either direction doesn't seem worth the effort (ironically, if not for the last time I moved cross-country, I'd probably have met the seller in person by now).

EDIT: I decided to just leave good feedback and not bring it up.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

This Week's Finds

A few finds to report:

1. There was a guy on BrickLink with seats for 4 cents each! I placed an order last week and it should be in soon.

2. DUPLO cheap at a yard sale Saturday morning! Got a ton of nice parts including a few complete sets. They need to be cleaned up a bit, but mom's claimed one of the Winnie the Pooh sets to be used as a gift. Of course, I'm keeping the other Winnie the Pooh set so that Winnie and Tigger can roam my LEGO town layouts in the future.

3. Kid2Kid stores buy MegaBloks! I had been just throwing them out, but apparently it's bad for the environment to put off-brand bricks in landfills. They're apparently worth about $6 a bag - enough to get me a "free" Bionicle set every time I go in there (although I think I'll save up my store credit for something more exciting instead). I always like free money.

Anyway, I have building and organizing to do. It's coming along well, actually - and I might just have used the DUPLO to start building a large sculpture and some furniture. What? You didn't think I really had that much DUPLO?

...and that's just the DUPLO I've bought recently. The sets I had when I was little are still packed away separately.

I'll try to have photos up soon of the stool, but I think I'll keep the sculpture a surprise.

Not Going to BrickFair

Just wanted to clear that up. I was browsing the site earlier, and I see it'll be lots of fun and that many friends of mine are going (hey, even an AFOL I know from Londonderry!), but I just can't make it. I have the Monday afterwards off for Labor Day weekend, not the Friday before, so I'd have to miss the MOC-setup period and the Store special event. Also, this is darn expensive and I don't think I can justify the expense. Between getting up there, expenses, the inevitably large amount of stuff I'd want to buy, and the $200 to register for the two days... this is just more than I can do right now.

...I might try to send something small along with somebody else who's going (and I think I'll try to pass a wishlist along to anyone who's willing to use the Store discount to help me get a good deal), but I'll be sitting this one out.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Hmm. Maybe I Don't Get Blogging After All.

So I finally re-started the LMOTD blog today. It was kind of strange, though, that a model came up that gave me an excuse to do some political activism. I'm still very excited about that, but I do have to worry a little bit about taking that blog too off-course. If I'm being honest, I have to admit that Klocki and the Brothers Brick have improved drastically since I decided to start LMOTD, and they now do many of the things I hoped to do with LMOTD. They've also been great catalysts for other LEGO fan blogs and for making some of the "big" blogs go legit (it's noticeable that Wired, BoingBoing, Gizmodo, and a few other big obnoxious blog sites have started properly crediting builders since they started reading Klocki and TBB).

I like that I'm going in my own direction, but I'm increasingly finding the content to be torn between my own viewpoint and a more kid-friendly one. I don't mind being the kid-friendly little brother to the big boys at TBB, but I do like being able to use the LMOTD platform to spread the word on events I've been a part of (or will be a part of) too. Of course, the all-too-political times we live in means that accurately praising the LEGO company for building something awesome occasionally means accidentally getting into civil rights issues and endorsing Barack Obama on a blog that's allegedly kid-safe. Autism rights is a part of the LEGO experience for me - just as a result of the way I grew up with LEGO and clung to it over the years. It's great that LEGO UK sees things my way, but I suspect that they're just trying to be good people too - and also only accidentally making a bold political statement. In a time when simply being myself and being out in public counts as discrediting popular political views, it's too hard to try to avoid being political.

...and then there's the I-feel-like-scum element. There's a feeling that I have to properly catch up with my own models here at Dan's Projects, and that I have to properly represent myself and speak up when I feel obligated to. There's a certain sense that I'd just be a (more) irresponsible person if I didn't do some of these things. If I don't do well in school or keep up with the blogging efforts I've started, it's that much harder to be an example of someone who's a "successful" autistic adult. There's just a certain amount of pressure to be a sort of role model in that respect too. Realistically, you can say all you want that people don't think of me as autistic when they see me, but it's hard to spend more than a few hours with me before it becomes obvious. Still, as much as clear as it is after a while, my mom's friends are still surprised when they realize that I can speak (and fairly well at that) - there's still just too much of a stigma and too much misinformation out there, especially here in the states.

With any luck, rushing to speak up about autism issues and applaud LEGO UK for what they're doing will help to raise a little money for the cause. I know I ostensibly blog to make money for myself, but this is important too and if I had a bit more money, I'd certainly donate to most of the groups plugged on that entry, too. Of course, if I were in the UK and had the opportunity to see a LEGO Roadshow AND buy LEGO sets in a way that supports the cause, that would be much cooler, but hey, at least I'm doing something.

I posted a normal post for Wednesday just afterwards to lessen the impact of me being so off-focus for a kid-safe blog, but I still think it will be interesting to see how many e-mails I get along the lines of "My kid asked me, 'Mommy, why did you vote for the bad lady who hates the LMOTD guy'? - what should I say to her??". Of course, it's just my luck that the brilliant and kid-safe model I blogged afterwards is part of a contest where people made models that illustrate the phrase "and monkeys could fly out of my butt".

Anyway - there is some small news over here. The BrickLink store is doing fairly well. I've started doing some DGXPO wrap-up stuff, and while it looks like there might not be a podcast after all (the recording wasn't all that exciting and had a ton of background noise), there'll probably be stuff up here and at the NCLUG site too. I might end up doing some heavier work over at the NCLUG site too - an RSS tutorial and an improved resource list for NC LEGO fans seem like high-priorities. Also, this upcoming Tuesday is the start of my Artificial Intelligence class. That should be exciting.

I hope I'm not causing too much trouble around here and that nobody will sue me soon. No, seriously - Autism Speaks has had a few websites taken down for pointing out that they claim to speak for autistic people but don't allow any autistic people on their staff.

Should advocacy projects count as my projects? I don't know.

If this type of thing does interest you, though, I do know of some more good news, actually: S. 1810, an anti-abortion bill that promises to counteract anti-autism (and other anti-genetic minority) campaigns with true information about how "difficult" it is to raise "special" children versus normal ones. While Oprah Winfrey's happy to say I'm something awful that should never happen, pro-choice politicians are looking to end wrongful abortions and give the next generation of people like me a chance, and pro-life politicians are supporting policies that keep "choice" from sounding like a farce. If that bill passes (I think Hillary is the person crazy enough to vote against it, but then again, some people actually supported her), it'll be a pretty big victory - it'll mean that Nazi-style eugenics will be prevented regardless of what the corrupt powers that be try to do about it. Realistically, it looks like we're a few years out from pre-natal tests for autism, but there have already been substantial problems with doctors recommending unnecessary abortions because they often lack first-hand experience with Down's syndrome or dwarfism. Yes, apparently there's an equally large and unjustified social stigma against bringing up children who are short too (I honestly didn't know that before I started following this legislation).

As far as I know, nobody's built anything LEGO-related that ties into that. That could be funny, though - I can just imagine someone starting a political LEGO webcomic with minifig senators. They all wear their hair like LEGO men anyway.

So, politics, LEGO, autism, being myself and just trying to be responsible ultimately end up way too close to each other. I've thought about maybe starting another blog for political stuff (with autism issues being something of a focus), but I don't think I have the time/stamina for it. I guess it's going to end up here for now, and I'll just have to deal with ruffling some feathers.

...and, uh, sometimes a LEGO model can be just a LEGO model. I think this oil platform is awesome even though I don't care for expanding offshore drilling (or honestly, even consider it a priority as issues to vote on go). I'd probably feature it this week, but I should probably go easy on stuff that could be taken as too political for a while.

Maybe I'm just being too sensitive here - does anyone know if people complained to Sean Kenney about his red-white-and-blue SUV sculpture? I didn't feature that as a model-of-the-day either. Perhaps more frightening, though, is that the most popular blog entry on LMOTD (as judged by incoming hits from search engines) is a vignette of the World Trade Center attacks in 2001. Seriously, it's a good model but it's not that great (neither was my write-up), so why do people keep going back to it? OK, fine, it's better than my flag-colored vignette of it that I built in '01 (I also built a little plane for it, and when you stick the plane into one of the buildings, the top of the tower falls off! It was in terribly bad taste - and no, I'm not planning on posting pictures or instructions).

Monday, June 30, 2008


OK, I thought that title would get some attention. Here's the deal: If you don't have a Revolution MoneyExchange account yet, and you sign up for it through the link below, you get $8 off in my BrickLink store. That's $8 off in general, not if you spend some amount of money. I'm also allowing this to be combined with other offers - so if you're an NCLUG member who wants free-delivery to the next NCLUG meeting (July 20th, Cameron Village Library), you can get $8.90 worth of LEGO absolutely free.

So if you live near the Cary/Raleigh/Apex area and you or your kids could use some parts, sets, minifigs, instructions, etc, this is your chance to get some for FREE. Oh, and you can buy stuff too. My store is called Who Will Guard the Bricks? and is at - I have a fairly wide selection, ranging from vintage 1970s figures to last year's Bionicle sets. I upload new inventory almost daily and I also take requests - e-mail me ( if you want something I don't have listed, and I'll see if I can get it for you. If you're not in the area, I can always ship things too, but you know how that is - it costs money. Oh, what the heck - I'll do 5% for people who aren't in NCLUG but mention in the comments section of their order that they read this blog.

Do get in on this sooner rather than later, though - the deal's off if they cut the affiliate program on me, and stuff sells pretty quickly. Half of the sets I listed yesterday have already sold, for example. I price things fairly low by BrickLink standards (and yes, I know that this is occasionally more than retail for popular discontinued items) so there are some seriously in-demand bargains.

Refer A Friend using Revolution Money Exchange

LEGO sales

OK, I know I owe people some real posts here, but there's just too much going on over at LEGO Shop-at-Home. So what're you still doing here? Find the LEGO bricks you need at The Official LEGO Shop!

Sunday, June 29, 2008


Refer A Friend using Revolution Money Exchange

Apparently the Revolution Money Exchange referral program is still running. RME is a free way to pay online. It's preferred over PayPal by many sellers on BrickLink. Sign up with the link above, and I'll give you $8 off in my BrickLink store.

...and even if you don't care for anything in my store, you really ought to sign up anyways. It's just a great service.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Ball Instructions

My ball design, as seen at DGXPO and LEGOPALOOZA, is now available online. MLCAD format directions are now at:

...the reason for the sides-and-core implementation will be clear when you see the directions for building a lamp (Yes! They are coming!)

EDIT new links:
Ball on flickr
Lamp info

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Wrap-Up Warm-Up

I know I need to actually post all of my half-written stuff I've done for this blog over the past two weeks, but I thought that it was worth posting this e-mail I just wrote for the NCLUG mailing list regarding DGXPO:

I'm working on getting my photos online now. I didn't catch
everything, though, and I know at least four more cameras were going
around getting stuff. Two of them literally were going around, thanks
to Carin having a train car that was perfect for letting cameras get
video of the layouts. Skimming through my photos, it looks like I have
about 100 good ones (including my planning shots, which I'm planning
on using to figure out just how much of Carin's 9V track I stole -
I'll bring whatever I have of hers to the next meeting).

I've also already started editing our podcast. I figure I'll wait to
post a recap on our website until after that's live, and the videos
surface. That should give everybody plenty of time to get their photos

Also, we took advantage of the small turnout to get in some informal
idea-sharing, so we have quite a few ideas for Palooza to share for
the next meeting. Specifically, there was a lot of interest into
making our loose town standard into something fairly official
involving high-rises and sky-scrapers but without some of the fussier
constraints of true modular Cafe Corner style building. It sounds like
post-apoc and planetary space are the other big things to discuss next

As for the "big" things we tried: The water part of the town didn't go
so well but already is a funny story to look back on. The proper town
layout came out exceptionally well, thanks to myself, Carin, and
Matthew all bringing several original buildings on the same scale. My
weird Primo sculptures had no problem standing up the whole time and
were surprisingly popular, to the point of several people asking what
the heck Primo is and how I got so much of it. My experiments in using
real glass in buildings turned out to be too unstable in a regular
layout, but my Thomas engine (and Matthew's excellent new RC train
MOC) both were hits. The smaller Star Wars display was also
well-received and all the kids I talked to about the droids really
liked them. The DUPLO stuff I brought in was mostly noted for the Bob
the Builder characters. Thanks to the bad weather, I was able to get
back from yardsaling and hit the show pretty early in the morning, but
I also got a bit rained on while loading up at the end of the day (I
think everybody else's stuff stayed dry though). As Carin mentioned,
we connected with a lot of new people who want to join NCLUG, and the
support from the venue was excellent too.

I know that's not a fair or complete write-up, but I think that covers
all of the surprises and things that could have gone wrong.

Thanks to everyone involved,

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Train Idea Book

Here's a link to the infamous train idea book, cited both in the new issue of RailBricks and at the most recent NCLUG meeting. It's free to see at:

Did I mention that some of the ideas in there are awesome? Plenty of stuff in there that I'd like to try someday.

Of course, I'm currently stuck in a brutal heatwave with a broken air conditioner - so no building for me right now. It's anyone's guess whether or not I'll actually complete anything else in time for DGXPO now.

It's really starting to bug me that my "big" crazy idea for doing a town differently isn't going anywhere. We're still planning on doing it, but now it seems like a pretty big hassle for a very small payoff. The entire town has to be on stilts for a few of the worst MOCs I've ever built. That just feels wrong. I keep thinking I'll get a chance to build something decent for it, but at this rate...

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Follow Up on the Rant

There's a new service up right now called BlueBrick which I plan on looking into soon, it's at - I hope it meets my track designing needs, but realistically, I don't have many left. Carin's bringing most of the track to DGXPO, and my train yard is pretty much done.

I'm really interested in a good adjustable-height table or two right now, though, for reasons that will be very clear soon. I got a great DUPLO Alligator this weekend though! That will be fun, and again, you'll know why soon.

So anyway, I'm in the process of getting organized to do LEGO resale stuff for real - you know, with a BrickLink store and such. (I know you're reading this Steven, and I do plan on sending you some stuff soon). I'm not happy with the way my store is set up so far, so it could be a while before parts start showing up there in any real quantity. If you want to visit my store, cleverly entitled "Who Will Guard the Bricks?", it's at - and there's a standing 10% off discount for NCLUG members, just e-mail me with your user info and I'll put the coupon together.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


After a few hours spread over the last week of coming up with a rail yard design in Track Designer, I finally sat down and tried to dry-run my little train layout. It turns out, though, that TD isn't quite as precise as I thought, and in several spots, things are off by half of a stud. Which doesn't sound like a big deal, but we can't afford that sort of loss of sturdiness since the rail yard is already going to be balanced on DUPLO stilts. With any luck, I'll still be able to work something out, but this is...argggh. If I had realized that this sort of mistake was possible in TD, I probably would have used MLCAD and just dealt with the curves manually (which isn't easy either).

Anyone know if LDD has decent track planning support? I'm hoping to have a layout plan set-in-stone by the end of the week, so any help I can get at this point would be appreciated.

...I get the feeling that Alanis Morrisette would find this ironic. Nothing says you-know-what to you quite like finding out that the digital interface you're using to plan a layout at the Digital Gaming Expo doesn't really work the way you think it does.

I'm off to go try to get the rail yard to work by's a good thing I decided to dry-run this and find this stuff now instead of after we get to Wake Tech...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

LEGO Sets For Sale/Trade


I have a few sets I've bought recently that I'm looking to sell. I'm primarily looking to sell these locally, either to NCLUG members or to parents in NC who can pick these up at an NCLUG event (the plane in particular is more of a kid's set than a set I can use). We're hoping to have a meeting sometime in the next two weeks in the Raleigh area, and there will be a show at Wake Tech on June 20th and 21st.

There are three sets, listed below with links to info on them. I'm asking for half price on all three, and to be honest that's roughly what I paid on the two smaller sets, which are both still sealed in the box, never opened. The 7893 Passenger Plane has been previously opened, but the original owner never finished assembling it and all the parts are there (along with the box and instructions). The bag for part 3 of the model is still sealed. I went ahead and assembled part 1 and part 2 to verify that all the parts were there. Those parts are now partially assembled and in the box with the instructions. I did not apply any of the stickers, however, two of the stickers had previously been removed from the sticker sheet and placed properly on the steps leading up to the plane. The rest of the stickers are still on the sticker sheet.

Here's what I'd like for each of the sets:
$20 for 7893 Passenger Plane (lightly used condition, see above)
$5 for 7654 Droids Battle Pack (MINT condition)
$4 for 4750 Draco's Encounter with Buckbeak (MINT condition) claimed

I'm also open to trading these for other sets or parts - I'm always looking for basic bricks, useful special parts, and parts in special colors (light/dark greys, light/dark bleys, dark blue/red/orange/green, light blue/yellow/green, tan, orange...)

Although I am willing to ship these if someone really wants them and is willing to pay the shipping costs (this would likely involve buying special shipping boxes), I would really prefer to sell these locally instead.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Cafe-Corner-Styled WIP models

I wanted to share a sneak peak of some stuff I'll have ready for DGXPO. Most of this stuff is loosely Café Corner style. My 9V Thomas the Tank Engine got in there too (building him means I have now officially done everything that was on my to-do list when I was 6!)

The pictures are worth a few thousand words, and have some great techniques that I expect everyone will copy before I actually get around to using them in "real" models. Yes - all of the second floor details in this photo really are made of LEGO® parts - the one glass pane on the first floor is the only non-LEGO part there.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Keebler Elf refurbishing (Shoes)

Several years back (between 2000 and 2002 I think) my mom bought this ridiculous promotional sculpture at the Londonderry, NH Goodwill store. We've found many exciting collectibles there dirt cheap (Chilly the polar bear FTW!) but when she brought the elf back, I had no idea what to do with it. We've been storing him in a ridiculous half-glued unable-to-stand state for years, but with DGXPO coming up, I saw an opportunity to finish the guy off. It also helps that the Belaire Toy/Brick/whatever-they-call-themselves-this-week Museum out in Ohio got their hands on a new-in-the-box copy of this promotional sculpture. Of course, the original has brown shoes, but hey, pre-2003 brown bricks are hard to come by! I was able to use MLCAD to create an exact copy of the shoes from the original sculpture by working off of photos of the model at the Belaire Museum. I took screenshots of the MLCAD version so that I could build the shoes quickly without needing to install all the CAD software on another computer.

Of course, some less-noteworthy parts were added too - mine has partially new hands, partially new legs, and a nose job. The nose is no longer an exact match for this one, but I had to cover up a huge scratch with something that looked passable.

Both the finished product and the screenshots are in the Brickshelf gallery:

I ought to clean this post up and put more links in sooner or later, but it's anyone's guess if/when I'll get to that.


I posted a few photos of the Cake I built for LEGOPalooza. It was the 50th anniversary of the patented design of the LEGO brick, so naturally a birthday cake was needed. I'm aware, by the way, that I was immediately bested by artist Sean Kenney. The main reason to rush this one was to take it apart and put the parts away. I'm not posting any building instructions because the interior construction is I-would-bring-shame-upon-my-family bad. If you do try to build a similar cake to this one, try doing it as a layer cake instead - several people told me that that would be more effective in making it recognizable.

Of course, the real fun was having actually found enough 2x2 round bricks in a Belville set the previous weekend - I had some nice candles there!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

WIP Metro Station Mod

OK, so in a rare move, this has to do with a set that many people I've known for years are familiar with: the 4554 Metro Station. Aunt Debbie (hey - did I ever give her the address for this blog?) gave me this set when I graduated Kindergarten. My friend Steven (who I know is reading this) did a mod of this set with me when he was over some years back. I don't have any photos of that version, but it was built on a grey 15" square baseplate, had yellow walls all the way around and red walls inside - it changed the set from a simple station to a Train line headquarters, with several offices for various train officials. There wasn't a proper roof for that mod, but it worked well for a little while. I don't recall when I took that apart (probably during one of the moves), but I never did reattach the station to the base it originally came with.

I've previously mentioned here and elsewhere that I got my hands on some nice little bits of glass that I thought would make good windows for gigantic minifig-scale models - such as a shopping mall or European train station. I forget where I read it, but I seem to recall some more dedicated train fan explaining that the official set has that sort of European look already, so it wasn't hard to decide that that would be a fun project. Of course, if it were truly built similar to the Brussels station I was thinking of, there would be two trains that would have their lines end in the station - and for a display that won't be pre-programmed or micromanaged, it's better to set it up so that the train can go all the way through instead.

I hope to eventually come up with a solution that will be modular in Cafe-Corner fashion (and thus be easy to adjust to a few different shapes), but for now, it's going to just be this long, rough, open-to-the-rear shape. I hope to give it a real roof soon too.

Brickshelf link:

Hmm - looks like some other WIP stuff got in in the background.

Off-Topic: used for XKCD?

EDIT 1/1/2009: The subdomain points to an unrelated server. A bit more explanation is provided in the comments to this post.

I'm guessing that this isn't what it looks like, but it looks like the popular LEGO set inventory website might be hosting an IRC (Internet Relay Chat) server and a geohashing script based on a webcomic. I feel kind of silly about being guilted into visiting the LEGO shop online through their links now that it looks like they're giving away bandwidth for something like that. Of course, now there's this magic link:

Sunday, May 18, 2008

BrickLink Store Name?

I thought I'd get the grunt work out of the way today so that I could work on listing a few LEGO things for sale during the week. I'm not sure, though, what I want to name my store. I'm open to any suggestions - the only rule is that we're not allowed to have "LEGO" in a store's name.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Exciting Times

So I've been having a good share of excitement in the few days since my schedule started to open up again. Haven't done too much that people would notice on the computer - most of the online work I've done has been related to getting set up to sell things on various sites (I'm a new LinkShare affilliate now and by the end of the week I hope to be MetaExchange seller and BrickLink seller). The LinkShare thing will start appearing on my blogs in the near future.

Speaking of which, I might try to pick up music blogging again. One of the best parts of living in North Carolina this past week was a pair of free Arcade Fire shows. Arcade Fire has been one of the hottest bands around for the last couple years, and last year around this time I seriously considered paying $90 plus gas for a 12 hour round trip to see them. Now that NC matters for a primary, and both me and the band are Barack Obama supporters, they decided to throw a free concert at an Obama rally for all of us who are early voters (the official primary was yesterday, but I voted the previous Tuesday). Arcade Fire played a full set, covering half of Funeral and most of the highlights from Neon Bible, and they also did a cover of David Bowie's "Heroes". I'll go into more details if/when I get Unfound Bloom back in shape, but that project probably isn't going to improve much in the near future.

After that awesome show in Carrboro on Friday, I stopped by Durham to visit Sandy and trade some LEGO® parts. His WIP buildings are all excellent, but that's to be expected at this point. I got the Destroyer Droids parts I wanted (along with the book and box to complete the set, and some nice extra parts), and I gave him some Ninja minifigs, parts from larger UFO sets (I've somehow managed to buy the entire UFO line used once over without ever getting enough parts to complete one of the better sets), Harry Potter books, a HTF Bionicle part and some tan cylinder portions.

Saturday turned out well, too. I bought the perfect piece of electronics for a larger project I'm working on (I'm keeping the project secret for now). I got it free at a church sale, but it works and I've already successfully gotten some basic stuff working with it. I also grabbed a nice new shelf - it was apparently a child-size shoe rack originally, but it's the right size for small storage bins and for smaller models and sets. I'm primarily putting long-term storage in the back and small models in the front - this is trickling down throughout the room, with larger shelfs now not having anything small on them, and lots of little things clearing up other storage areas. The only downside is that the perfect spot for the new shelf is where I had been storing stock to sell on the MetaExchange. So now I have to really hurry up and get some stuff sold.

I've been doing quite a bit of building and cleaning lately. My LEGO area is unrecognizable right now. The Cafe Corner and the Destroyer Droid are both finished. The 2xX storage unit that I put together 5 years ago (man - I hadn't realized it's been so long. I think it's been another 3 years since it's been accessible) went back up on the wall this morning. Lots of storage and display space is being juggled around.

OK, a few days have passed since I started writing this so I'll just put it up as-is for now. With any luck I'll get around to posting some other stuff soon too.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Things to Discuss with the LUG

This is more of a note-to-self kind of thing, but if any of these ideas catch your attention, feel free to comment.

List of things to discuss with the LUG:
  • 12-high stilts for town, DUPLO, PRIMO, and QUATRO versions of these - 5/15 - this will be joined by DUPLO characters!
  • Is NCLTC still around? Mike Walsh cleared this up.
  • Destroyer Droid parts (trade with Sandy) - apparently most of the parts Sandy wants that I did have extra of aren't available anymore. I hope this photo doesn't leak too much of the stuff I'd like to finish soon. I am taking roofing suggestions, though, if you have any. I suppose I'll also field a few questions after people do the inevitable zoom-in-and-spot-the-parts-and-ideas-game. - 5/15 - we completed the trade, as per the 5/9 post.
  • Are the tables at DGXPO really only going to be wide enough to hold just one 32x32 baseplate? That's going to make building a decent town a bit difficult. I misread the original announcement - that's 12 FEET by 30 inches, not 12 inches by 30 inches.
  • When is Joe Meno leaving us for WAMALUG? False alarm. Is Team Joe sitting out DGXPO for another event? - 5/15 - Brickworld.
  • Am I allowed to "cheat" and use non-LEGO parts in a group layout? I'm interested in using real panes of glass to build a large minifig-scale model (such as a shopping mall or European-style train station). Also, I have some suspicious looking 2x2 trans-dark-blue tiles that may or may not be clone-brand.
  • Is anybody else interested in doing Aquazone, Space, Pirates, Batman, Star Wars, Star Wars Technic Droids, Mindstorms (NXT or otherwise), Castle, Rock Raiders, or Great Ball Contraption at DGXPO? Since I'm going to miss a large chunk of the show day, I want to focus on stuff I know that other people are interested in doing (or perhaps arranging to split a table between two themes) so that my stuff still has an eye on it all day. Otherwise, I'll only bring in town stuff, Bionicle sets, and a stripped-down version of the history display (which reminds me, I still owe our visitor from last December an e-mail - and come to think of it, I owe the Apex FLL coach an e-mail still too.)
  • Does anyone have any of the sets/people from the LEGO ISLAND video game? That might be a nice theme tie-in. I could have sworn that I had a Brickster minifig, but I could only find a Brickster keychain when I actually went to look for him (of course, I could probably work that in anyway...but I don't actually have a police station for a town either - could we work in a way to put him in a helicopter above the town?)
  • We should plan on a one-table Bionicle display - I have enough sets to do a decent one (although I will also likely be parting out my largest Bionicle set into a town building, just to show off ways to make "stupid" parts useful).
  • The refurbished Keebler elf will have black shoes instead of brown ones. Deal with it.
  • When we say we're "booked" for a show, does that mean there's money involved? If so, who gets it? (Just curious - although I would love to make some money off of the hobby)
  • April meeting? (it looks like we're fishing for a location at the moment) I really ought to pick up the phone and see about booking a library.
  • Will there be a train yard at DGXPO? Who will build it? I kind of want to try some of the ideas out of the old train idea book (I like the crane and the automatic unloading in particular). Someday, I'd like to see about automated freight loading that makes a "normal" town secretly a giant Great Ball Contraption.
  • New slope bricks in Beach House set (visible in this photo - look closely at the difference in texture and the smudges on the 2x2s)
  • Alternate beach house platform (probably won't be used)
  • I have an extra chassis / remote combo from the first RC Racer set - I'd like to have this out for kids to play with at our events. Anyone want to build something on top of it?
I'll probably edit this as I think of other things / send e-mails to solve some of these. I did a big edit of this on April 26th, for example.`Another May 15th.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

NCLUG January February Meeting

EDIT 4/13/2008: Why didn't anyone tell me that I had the wrong month on here? This was the FEBRUARY meeting. There was no "real" meeting in January, just the previously-blogged-about dinner.

I have posted a Brickshelf gallery of photos from the January NCLUG Meeting. They're of varying quality, but I tried to get all the models I could and I let a few other people take photos with it too. More photos of everything mentioned below can be seen in that gallery, but I'm really hoping that more of the models shown will get their own pages online eventually.

  • The DGXPO show I mentioned previously was announced by Carin Proctor. She's also booking the tables (apparently a specific layout of tables is already set-in-stone)

  • Team Joe brought back goodies from the NYC Toy Fair, which they covered for BrickJournal Magazine. They had a number of pamphlets directed towards retailers, as well as a limited edition promo collector's item featuring Han Solo and Indiana Jones (and no, they don't want to know how much it sells for on eBay).
  • The walker mechanism that showed up at the NCLUG Christmas party was revealed to be part of a very surprising model - a large steampunk airship with wings that flap in several places. There were a ton of great details here, but I tried to get most of them in photos - and missed quite a bit. If only I rememberd that there's a video feature on my camera...
  • Matthew brought an apartment building built out of three Beach House sets, and also brought a train maintenance building that had been robbed.
  • Sandy brought a few exciting creations - I forget what the big black one's going to end up being (but it has some great details that I didn't get any shots of) - a to-scale passenger bus and a large boat.
  • I brought the beginnings of a few displays I'm putting together for future shows - a Star Wars droid display, a Bionicle display, and a large robotics/bionicle project that I'm keeping fairly secret for now (I intend to debut it next February at LEGOPalooza). I also brought in a music box mechanism that I wasn't able to run because I forgot to bring a power source.
  • Joe Meno brought in the first print issue of BrickJournal - I didn't get past the first few pages, but it looks great so far!
  • An interesting temple showed up near the end. It shows off some fancy parts and techniques, but I'm pretty sure that it's not based on any existing temples out there.
  • I returned the extra parts I had after LEGOPalooza. Carin's planning on making the sign bigger before the next show (I thought it looked great already, but bigger can't hurt). I also brought my laptop along to show the awful ABC 11 report on LEGOPalooza (seriously, where do they find these local news teams? Are they actually trying to make fools of themselves?)

It was an exciting meeting overall - we were at that library in north Cary for a few hours but it went by rather quickly because there was so much to discuss.

Monday, February 25, 2008


NCLUG has been booked for DGXPO. Here's some quick info (there will be more when official announcements are made):
Wikipedia List of LEGO Computer and Video Games
DGXPO website (with countdown!)

I will be reprising my history display (with changes to make it more on-topic), and I'll also be bringing Creator, LEGO Island, Bionicle, and Star Wars themed models. I'll have some schedule stuff to work out (Saturday mornings in June are prime yard sale time) but I should be able to be there for most of our show (and I'll be in to set up as well).

The great thing about this is that it's specialized, but it's still very much a general display. Between fan-released software and videogame mods, and the sheer amount of official LEGO games, CAD software, and robotics kits available, there really isn't much of anything not relevant to the digital gaming theme. The list of video games linked above doesn't include Mindstorms/Cybermaster/LDraw/MLCAD/rendering/Track Designer/From the Vaults/DACTA/etc, so there's even more space to play around with that hasn't been outlined there.

EDIT: This is news from yesterday's NCLUG meeting. I'll post more about the meeting when I get around to uploading the pictures.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

LEGOPalooza - Saturday

I was a bit slow getting out of the house on Saturday - I didn't actually get to the Planetarium until nearly noon, even though I had been trying to get there for 10. Fortunately, everything worked well with the Aquazone layout, the history layout, and the plates for the town engine shed. There were also a few more people who pitched in to get the town/city set up. Even though the road layout was just about done and most of the houses and such had been set up, the train layout still needed to be worked out.

At this point, the train was starting to look a bit scary. There were a ton of loose cars and loose parts on the floor, and it wasn't really clear who brought what or what went with what anymore. With only 45 minutes until we opened to the public, we still had to figure out how many trains we could put on the layout and finalize where the track would be going. I wound up setting up trains until about a half hour after we opened to the public. Having extra parts out with little kids around, though, meant that we kept getting asked to get different trains running. Matthew wound up taking requests to get one train at a time going on the outer track while I tried to finalize the inner tracks and figure out which trains to put out. Matthew wound up swapping trains throughout the day, and it went pretty well overall.

I spent a good deal of time manning the Aquazone and history displays. At some point on Friday, a large mosaic of Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble went in between the two, so I wound up explaining the PicToBrick software to a few people too. The kids responded pretty well to both displays, but I had to explain what Aquazone was to most people. I guess "failed LEGO themes of the 1990s" isn't taught in schools these days. I did have one kid who had obviously read up on the topic come up to me and ask me where my bad guys were. That was embarrassing - I had been hoping that the little kids didn't know my sets well enough to spot the missing parts (although I had wound up not putting out the Crystal Scavenger set for similar reasons, which are a bit embarrassing to put in writing). Even though most people didn't "get" the theme (quite a few people didn't even get the "Finding Nemo" bit or the "Octopus' Garden" either), everybody seemed to like the light up cave, lit-up base, and lit up ships. There was even one kid taking video of my motorized sub.

The strangest part of manning Aquazone and history came when some kids got out of one the Planetarium's paid courses and saw Aquazone first. I explained that the Aquazone sets were from the 90's, and since these kids didn't realize yet that my other display was mostly based on stuff from the 60's, the kids were saying "so that's OLD!". Their parents found this as funny as I did.

Quite a few people were surprised by my lamp in the history display. Apparently most of them hadn't seen the Sopwith Camel set before, either (to be fair though, it is a rather-impressive looking set). I wasn't sure how many people would really stick around to read the poster, but quite a few actually did - maybe a third of the people who came by. I had to take a few parts out of my LEGO logo mosaic at one point to convince people that it was really built and not printed on. Several parents recognized some of the older sets and parts on display, and quite a few kids seemed really interested in it. The people who stuck around the longest were people who didn't really have any clue about this stuff though - we had quite a few people come in who were obviously just curious UNC students. I got the impression that they didn't realize that it had been 50 years since the LEGO brick had been patented. Now that i think about it, though, I'm not sure that anybody commented on my "50" sign or the slice of birthday cake.

I was surprised by how excited the kids got about some of the newer sets. Once I realized how much attention the three Bionicle sets I brought were getting, I decided to grab some more for Sunday (naturally, I have two or three whole collections of Bionicle that I've bought at yard sales, so grabbing an impressive-looking pile of sets is pretty trivial).

A few people complained about the lack of non-Star Wars space sets this year (I get the impression that people thought I'd be a safe guy to complain to since the sign and poster looked a bit "official" - and besides, what fan of LEGO history doesn't love Classic Space?). I decided to bring in a small spaceship for Sunday too. I did have a few people who were wondering about whether or not their kid could join NCLUG too (I tried to dodge the question, mostly - I didn't really know what the rules were on kids joining NCLUG until we sorted it out online the week after Palooza). The coach of the Apex FIRST LEGO League team gave me his business card too - apparently they're interested in doing a display too (I need to get back to him and let him know what he needs to about joining the group, though).

I was going back-and-forth between town and history/Aquazone for most of the day. I did get some pictures in, but Joe insisted I use his camera instead once he saw me having a hard time getting good shots. I only got in a few dozen shots, though, before I was needed to keep an eye on some displays again. We were pretty busy for most of the day, and every time paid courses got out, we had another wave of people come in (I probably noticed this more than most because I had the wall directly outside the part of the ballroom where the "challenge courses" were going on).

After closing on Saturday, most of us went to a pub in Durham. I didn't particularly care for the place, to be honest. It was a bit hard to follow the conversation, too, and we had a large enough group that it made sense to switch ends of the table a few times to try to catch everything that was going on. After dinner, everybody raced to Target and Toys'R'Us to browse the LEGO selection. I didn't buy anything (and I even got lost on the way to TRU!), but that was fun.

That was a bit of a long night though, and I was planning on being there as early as I could on Sunday to set up a Bionicle display (and believe it or not, we still had a few town things we wanted to fix).

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

LEGOPalooza - Setup on Friday

When Friday, February 1st rolled around, I still wasn't entirely ready for LEGOPalooza. Most of the poster still had to be done. Carin stepped in to build the NCLUG sign (I know I should have made a little sign to credit her as the builder for that - sorry. That's her sign in all of the photos of my display), which freed me up from a rather large project that I wouldn't have been able to have ready in time. I had been hoping to start heading out towards Chapel Hill fairly early in the day, but that wound up not happening because of how long the poster took to finish. I wound up eating lunch before I left in the afternoon.

Oh, and did I mention that I had to get gas on the way out? Mom's car had been in the shop (so I had to pick that up on Thursday) and because mum had been out-of-commission since falling in the garage the previous weekend, I had to pick the car up and get fresh gas in it to take it to Palooza. Of course, we had drizzle outside on Friday too, so suddenly I had to find coverings for all of the open-top containers that I had packed.

Things got better once I finally got on the road. I was able to get to the Planetarium without any problems thanks to some new directions from Google Maps (last time I went up to the Planetarium parking lot at UNC was for a Nickel Creek concert in 2006, and I got lost on the way there).

Unloading went pretty well. I had a really light load compared to some of the more seasoned NCLUG members, so I was able to get to setting up fairly quickly. There's a bit of a twisty route between the parking lot and the ballroom where LEGOPalooza is held, but everything got in just fine. Joe Meno (editor of BrickJournal magazine, who we're lucky enough to have as an NCLUG member right now) was there setting up the tables and he helped me bring stuff in.

Joe Meno had brought a few things for the history display too - and they were all great additions that caught a lot of attention. He had a large wooden box with a variety of vintage pieces from the early 60s. I didn't really have a chance to look through it until Saturday, but there were a ton of easy-to-spot signs in there, as well as parts from the first Esso Station set and the very first lighting elements (which were missing the battery box, so we have no idea if they still work or not). Joe also had an awesome Formula 1 set from 1975 and a helicopter from the early 70s that was apparently very popular back in the day (quite a few parents told me that they had that one when they were little). Joe also had some official history of LEGO literature that he picked up last time he was in Billund, and he brought some print versions of earlier issues of BrickJournal too (BrickJournal was an online-only publication when it was first launched and is only now going into print).

There was plenty of other exciting stuff getting set up around the room, too. Joe Meno had gotten us the new Green Grocer set (which comes out in March and is a must-have kit with a ton of great details - I could probably write a small book just about all the neat ideas and parts in that set). The Green Grocer was a mere rumour at the beginning of that week - the first photo of it was leaked on Tuesday, and apparently NCLUG and another group doing a show that weekend in Belgium were the first to display it publicly. I'm a bit behind on the impressive newer town sets (they're great sets but they are a bit expensive, even if they are actually cheaper-per-part than the smaller sets are), so I also had my first chance to get a good look at the Cafe Corner set on Friday too.

Set-up at my display was fairly uneventful. It took a while to get the electricity hooked up (I had brought my lamp, and I also needed enough cable set up behind my display to reach the various electric things in the Aquazone layout). Once the electricity stuff was done, I set up my history table. I used one of my Coke trays as a riser, but besides that I was able to squeeze everything onto just one table (Of course, I had moved on to one-and-a-half tables by the time we opened on Saturday, and I took up two full tables by the time we opened on Sunday...) Somewhere along the way, Joe Cool lent me a build-in-a-bag for the history display too.

Setting up the Aquazone stuff proved a little bit more complicated. Joe Cool and Joe Meno were both bringing Aquazone stuff too, and everyone built more than they had originally expected too. At one point, I had dry-ran all of my pre-built sets and original models as a separate layout, but shortly after that we settled on putting the Neptune Discovery Lab set on one side of Team Joe's layout and setting up the rest of my sets and models on the other side. This looked great, but it did present a new electrical challenge that wasn't resolved until the next morning - I had added lights to both the Neptune Discovery Lab and the Shark's Crystal Cave (the latter required hollowing out most of the original set so that the lights would show through windows in what were originally separate chambers). I had brought one train speed regulator for all of my electrical needs in the Aquazone layout (which included those two sets and an original Aquashark sub that I rigged with motorized propellers and a fiber optic unit), so I had to bring in some extra cables on Saturday to get the whole thing going. I'll post more later about the lighting process, the motorized sub, and the other original sub I came up with (it could take months for me to get around to writing all that, though, and I doubt that as many people will find it interesting).

With the Aquazone stuff ready, I moved on to Harry Potter. Even though I'm not a Harry Potter fan, I actually have a decent-sized collection of it by now because of two HP collections that I bought at yard sales this past summer (which had about 8 sets total in them (including the castle), 5 of which were complete (the rest I'll use for parts)). I had modified a pair of Hogwarts Express cars to look "runnable", and those went towards Jen's displays (Jen builds dioramas of scenes from the books and movies). She only wound up using one, but it still came out pretty well. I put four other sets over in the display that Sabrina's mom (sorry, I didn't catch her name!) was doing, too, but it turned out that we both had brought those sets (so next year I should probably leave mine at home).

You'd think things would slow down once I had prepared all the displays that I was "really" contributing to, but things actually got busier for the rest of the night. It took me a few minutes to get my Carribean Clipper ready for the Pirates display (I know that I have a ton of other (and later) Pirates sets too, but that was the only one I had ready). After that, I went to put some of my road plates in the town/city, which was already starting to shape up (the Cafe Corner-Market Street-Green Grocer trifecta had already been snapped in and a few other sets and original models were out too). Sabrina's mom had built an awesome fire station from scratch - I'll have to find some more photos of it somewhere, though, because I don't have any good pictures of the interiors (which were extremely detailed). I was just about done putting roads in front of houses and such when Matthew came in with a few city blocks pre-built. The city blocks looked good and worked into the layout easily enough.

The next big change was that Matthew had brought in a spectacular train station of his own design. On the Yahoo! group, nobody had expressed interest in doing a train, so I had assumed that all of the train stuff that I was bringing "just in case" wouldn't be used - but once you have a great train station, you kind of have to set up some train track. Once I started taking track out, train sets, buildings, etc. just started coming out of the woodwork. Matthew (who doesn't even own any 9V trains of his own) somehow wound up in charge of setting up several trains in a much larger layout than anyone was expecting. I wound up being a sort of "train guru", and I was over there helping out quite a bit on all three days. By the end of the night, we had two rounds of track set up, completely encompassing the town layout, the Spongebob Squarepants layout, and Sandy's Eastern architecture-themed models (which, by the way, are also really good, but required a hefty amount of special-parts-ordering). I wound up setting up my Train Engine Shed, but we ran into some trouble because I hadn't brought the baseplates for that set (I brought them in on Saturday, though). We actually didn't finish setting up the town layout on Friday - but a big part of that was because we were waiting for Carin to show up (and somehow, none of us knew quite what she was bringing).

Carin showed up with a few pre-assembled models for the town and a large pile of unopened sets that needed to be built. She had the new 50th Anniversary Town Plan set assembled too, which was exciting to see (that's also on my list of current-sets-I-have-to-get). We wound up using the table that was set aside for Mindstorms displays to do a group build - I think most of us got to build at least one set there. I got to build one of the newer train stations (which was nice enough, but I still prefer my Metro Station set that's still packed away somewhere) and I also built two of the new fire/rescue sets. The group build lasted well into the night. I didn't actually have a chance to stop and eat - I just started building with one hand and eating pizza with the other. I was surprised at how good I got at opening the boxes and bags with just my left hand.

By the time that the end of the night rolled around, I had a small list of little things that needed to be brought in for Saturday. I still had to make the smaller signs for my history display, and there were a few little things (like the wires and baseplates I mentioned earlier) that I needed to add for town and Aquazone. A few people were worried about the way that my history poster was hanging off of the table a bit, so we decided that I'd have to reorganize my table on Saturday morning too.

The Planetarium more-or-less kicked us out on Friday night, leaving plenty of work left to do for Saturday morning before the crowds showed up. That's another post, though.

LEGOPalooza background

This is some background info on how I got involved with NCLUG. It's intended for friends and family members who aren't familiar with LEGOPalooza, LUGNET, etc.

I first became aware of the online LEGO hobbyist community in late 1996. Browsing through detailed models (or MOC's, which stands for My Own Creation) was one of the first things I learned to do online. Before long, I was also using the early online databases to look up sets (today's databases are much better though, and now we have access to set reviews and set inventories and such too).

I did not join NELUG (New England LEGO Users Group) because they do not allow kids in and because I was worried about the travel time to get to most of the things they were doing. That was before they started doing more events and such in NH. Things were starting to pick up for the LUG out in Seattle when I was in the area, but with my age and such, it still didn't make much sense to get involved right away (also, every event of theirs that I found out about had bad timing that kept me from getting to it).

When I first moved to North Carolina, I decided to check online to see if I could find a LEGO Users Group or LEGO Train Club. LUGNET claimed that both existed, but had dead links for both groups. I assumed that both were defunct until Mum came across a NCLTC display in December 2006. By then, Mike Walsh had fixed the NCLUG and NCLTC websites, and I started to follow them. I had been planning on going to LEGOPalooza 2007 as an attendee, but the timing did not work out for me. I found out that fall that I could join the group by joining a Yahoo! Group (Yahoo! Groups are essentially glorified online mailing lists) and then showing up to some meetings.

The first NCLUG meeting I went to was Carin's NCLUG Christmas party. This went really well. We did a parts-swapping activity called a "draft", which I'll probably explain here next time it comes up. There was already a good deal of excitement about LEGOPalooza 2008, and it seemed like people were asking me what I wanted to bring to Palooza almost as soon as they caught my name. We had a guest from a LUG in Taiwan with us that week too, and she showed us a DVD of the last major event the Taiwan LEGO Users Group had done. There were a lot of great models and ideas in there, but one that stuck with me was the outer wall that they used to explain the history of their group and of the LEGO Company.

After the major ideas had been thrown around online, I settled on trying to get most of my "Aquazone" sets back together in time to contribute to Team Joe's underwater display. I also settled on running a LEGO history display myself - featuring a poster with brief background and a variety of sets and models I had built over the years.

Mum didn't let me take any of her old LEGO sets out of the house, so my vintage 50s/60s/70s parts and models are all based on various yard sale finds I've had over the years. One more recent yard sale trip also got me quite a few more Aquazone sets, including the remainder of the Aquashark line (I am missing a few people though, and a part here or there, but it looks pretty nice set up on a shelf anyway). I also sorted through some other recent yard sale finds to gather up some sets to contribute to other displays and find enough parts to build a few new original models (I'll write more about those later).

We finished most of the major planning at a NCLUG meeting at Brier Creek in January 2008. From there through Palooza, things are fairly well documented on this blog.