Monday, 4 March 2013

Lego Technic 9390 - Mini Tow Truck

(There is a review in here - honest.  You'll have to get past a bit of rambling first, though.)

By this time, I'd signed up to a couple of Lego websites, both of which have active forums.  And I have to confess, I didn't like them very much.

I'm not a member of many on-line forums.  I do sign up to the odd one now and again, but in almost all cases, I lose interest for any number of reasons, and never go back.  In fact there's only one forum that I've been with for the long haul, and that is the very-awesome-indeed  At the time of writing, I've been an active member for a shade under 10 years.  It's a videogaming site, and the main news site is excellent, and well respected throughout the gaming world.  It also has an extremely active forum, with well over half a million members. So while I wasn't one of the very first to sign up, with a UserId of 4068, I was definitely in there near the beginning.  In fact many of us believe that the whole place started going to the dogs with the arrival of those idiot 5k'ers.

But I digress.

The thing that I like, nay love, about the forum, is that both the site's owners (all hail the great Rauper!), and the forum moderators treat you like adults.  There is, to my knowledge, no age restriction on joining, definitely no probationary period, and no rankings based on length of membership or number of posts. (1)

You sign up and you're in.

There are some guidelines, and they can broadly be summarised thus:

'Use some common sense and you won't go far wrong.  If you're an idiot you're likely to get banned.  The end.'

It's a forum on a videogaming site, but I reckon only about a third of the threads are actually about videogames.  There are long running threads such as 'So, what's for tea tonight?', 'What are you listening to right now?', 'Rate the last book you read.' and 'Does anyone know any good jokes?'

On a more serious note, there was a thread that basically documented the life of one of the forumites as he dealt with his wife being diagnosed with cancer, and eventually dying at a criminally young age.  While we may have been geographically distant, a group of us were all there for him, whenever he need someone to talk to.

Indeed, when my Mum passed away suddenly about a year ago, the EG bunch were some of the most supportive people I had around me, even though in almost all cases, I've never actually met them.

All of which is getting :

a) a bit maudlin, and
b) off the point.

The point I am trying to make, is that there's very little interference from the forum mods and admins. Nobody says 'You can't make a thread about that.'  Nobody says 'You haven't been here long enough to do that''  Nobody says 'If you're going to write something, it has to be this way.'

Basically, if you create a dull, or stupid thread, then it's just going to get ignored.  Or maybe you'll get flamed for a bit, and then ignored.

If you're an idiot, someone will tell you you're being an idiot.  And if you want to write a long rambling reveiw of a videogame / film / book / whatever, then you're free to do so.  There will be an official review of a game on the main site, done by one of the staff, but if you want to write your own, then nobody's going to stop you.

Which is markedly different from the two Lego forums I'd joined.

Both have a policy of no under 16's, which seems a bit odd, given that they owe their existence to a toy.  Both have a policy of 'If you start threads about anything other than Lego they're likely to get removed.'  And both have policies on reader reviews.  One site insists on a staff member checking your review before it's published, until you've submitted enough to be 'trusted', after which you can self-publish.  Even then, your reviews can be marked as 'useful' or 'not useful' by readers, and any that have too many 'not usefuls' are removed.

I've got no problem with peer review.  But to remove something just because a few people didn't like it?

However, that's nothing compared to the other site.

When you sign up, you're given a status, which is based on the feudal system.  You move up through the ranks, depending mostly on how many posts you've made.
If we were to transplant this to, say, the office environment, ranks might be:

Office Junior
Team Leader
Department Manager

And so on.  It's a very divisive method of doing things, and marks newer members out as being in some way 'inferior' to those that have been there for a while.  In addition, you are restricted in what you can do.  You can't start a thread (other than a 'hello' thread), until you've made a certain number of posts.  You can't add a poll into a thread until you've made... etc etc

But their review policy is, to my mind, anal to the point of lunacy.

They have a 'Reveiwers Academy', and to be able to publish a review in a thread (and that's all it is, mind - you starting a thread saying 'this is what I think of set x), you have to go through a number of lessons, and be marked by 'senior members'.  You have to 'pass' all of the lessons in the view of these 'senior members' before you can start writing reviews.  Two of the lessons are advice on taking photos and publishing them to the web. This is fine - I'd much rather look at a good photo than a bad one.

However, they have a long post on 'writing a good review'.

This sticks in my craw.

I've been writing, and developing my own style for the best part of 40 years, and I object to someone telling me how to write.  What makes it worse, is when the person telling me how to do it - and presumably one of those who would stand in judgement on my work - can't, themselves, write properly!

As I said, they have a long post on writing a good review, and if I were to take a red pen to all the spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, punctuation errors and plain bad English it would look like a bloodbath!  Judging by the author's location, it's entirely possible that English isn't his/her first language.  If that's the case, then I would question why they felt they had the authority to write such a piece.  I've been studying Japanese for three years, but I wouldn't have the temerity to tell someone from Kyoto how to write in their own language.

Anyway - rant over.  The whole point is, I quite like the idea of writing reviews of Lego sets, but I'm less keen on having someone else tell me how I can or can't write it.  I'm not at school any more.

So I decided, after publishing one review on the first site, that I wouldn't bother with that any more, and it would be simpler to publish them here, as I get on very well with the editor...

If you read it and don't like it, that's a whole other thing, and you're well within your rights to say so.

So without further ado, my first review:

o o o o o

Lego Technic 9390 - Mini Tow Truck

9390 Box

I’ve never built a Technic kit before.  In fact, before this set, I hadn’t built any Lego at all for 30 years!  So this review isn’t going to have any useful information as to whether 9390 contains unique parts, or unusual building techniques.  

Because I don’t have a clue!

This is just the impressions of a 40-something rediscovering the simple joys of building a Lego set.

I picked the 9390 Mini Tow truck - known by some as the Mini-Mog because of it’s similarity to the considerably larger 8110 Unimog - simply because I wanted to start small.  Thanks to Father Christmas, or more specifically my wife, I have some large Technic sets to build, but not having dipped a toe in this particular pool for some time, I figured I’d start at the shallow end.

9390 comes in a small cardboard box and contains two plastic bags with 130-odd pieces.
And odd pieces is right.  I think out of the whole set there were two (count ‘em!) parts that I actually recognised as the Lego of my childhood.  They were the two 2 x 1 clear plates that serve as headlights.  Everything else…

Well everything else looks like a colourful, shiny hybrid of regular Lego, and another construction toy from my younger days - Meccano.  Girders, axles, rods, and those little short, black, cylinder things that clip pieces together and almost certainly have a proper name, but I haven’t got the faintest what it is!

Also in the box are three instruction manuals : two for building the ‘A’ model, the Tow Truck, and a third manual for the ‘B’ model, a Racing Car.  I separated the parts into piles, sat down at the kitchen table and started building.

Starting the build

Some time (and a few choice words after I realised I’d missed a step and had to do some emergency deconstruction) later I sat back to admire my handiwork.

What a great little truck!

As far as complex moving parts go, you’ll need to look elsewhere.  The front wheels steer, the crane hook raises and lowers, and that’s about it.  But that’s not the point.  For a truck that’s small enough to sit in the palm of your hand it’s chock full of clever stuff!

I love the way that something so small can be instantly recognisable.  I love the fact that it has a feeling of solidity about it.  But most of all I love the ingenious engineering that the Lego designers have used.

Back when I played with toy cars, there was no steering.  And on the few rare occasions that there was, it was a simple fixed axle that pivoted around a central point.  You steered, and the whole axle moved.

But this little truck, with a couple of dozen plastic pieces, has an amazing replica of real steering!  The axle is fixed, and the wheels pivot on the ends.  The designers have come up with a Lego solution to a real world engineering problem.

And this is one of the smallest Technic sets you can buy!

The finished model

The other thing that impressed me is how the ‘B’ model uses almost all the same parts to build something completely different.  Do the designers sit down with a deconstructed truck and think ‘What else can we do with these pieces?’, or do they already have something else in mind, and both models have to be compromised in order to save on parts?

There certainly didn’t feel like any compromise - the Racing Car looked like a proper model in its own right, not ‘something that we managed to bodge together out of the parts we had’. 

9390 'B' Model - Race car

I thought that for a small kit, costing only a few pounds, it’s a tremendous introduction to the world of Lego Technic.  I’d thoroughly recommend it.

I can’t wait to get to the big stuff!  

o o o o o

You will have noticed that I haven't mentioned either site by name, and I don't intend to.  Anyone who's active in the Lego community will probably be able to figure out which sites I'm talking about, but they both have their good points too, so I'm not going to slate them too publicly.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

(1) I stand corrected.  EG do have some limits on what new members can do :

35 threads per 1 day
21 posts per 60 seconds
420 posts per hour

Although to be frank, none of them sound like a limit in any practical sense.

High-five to ZuluHero for spotting that!

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