Thursday, 12 February 2015

Names and faces

Last time out, I said I’d mention the Star Wars sets that I’d bought and built, and I will - the writing has started and the photos are (mostly) ready - but I’m aware that quite a lot happened in the nine months that I wasn’t blogging, and one or two were worth mentioning.

So.  What was going on in the compartment marked ‘Lego’ while I was failing to get any writing done?

Well I’ve picked some stuff up.  Nothing huge (1) - a Lego Movie set (Super Cycle Chase), an Architecture set (United Nations Building) and the ‘Ideas’ set, Ghostbusters Ecto-1.  For the most part though, it’s been polybags from newspaper giveaways.  Plus some Star Wars Microfighters, but I’ll come back to those next time.

But more importantly, I met a good number of the Brickset gang back in July, which was both fascinating and fun.

In late June / early July, we became aware that the latest Ideas set, Pete Reid’s Exo-Suit, was going to not only be available a week before the official launch date of August 1st, but the reason it was going to be available early was because Pete himself was going to be at the Lego Bluewater store, signing the boxes!

Now some grumpy old so and so’s might have previously gone on record saying they had no interest in purchasing one of these.  I can’t imagine who might have done such a thing.

/looks sheepish

But anyway, let’s gloss over that and move on...

Part of the reason I wanted to pick a set up is because one of our nephews was about to start the next stage of his degree (Phd?  Masters?  Something complicated.) and he was going to be contributing the electrical engineering to… an Exo-Skeleton!  For DARPA no less. (2)  So I thought I’d go along and pick up a signed copy for him.  And let’s face it, how often to you get the opportunity to meet a Lego designer, and have him sign your set.  I would have had to have been something of a grouch not to get one for myself.

So July 26th saw me up and out early getting the shopping done in order to get round to Bluewater before 12.00.  The journey was ok, and I was there by 11.00.  An hour early!  I’ll be first in the queue, right?  There probably won’t be a queue, right!  It’s just a small Lego set, and how many people collect Lego?

There was a queue.

And the queue was long.

There had been talk running on the Brickset forum about this event, and due to the fact that the two minifigs in the set were modelled on Classic Space minifigs, but were breaking new ground by being green, it had been suggested that people turn up wearing a green t-shirt.  I’d rummaged around and come to the conclusion that I didn’t own a green t-shirt, so had gone with a blue Technic shirt instead.

Well you have to make a bit of an effort. 

Plenty of others had managed to find green apparel though.

The Lego shop team were doing a great job of organising people, and encouraged us to go into the store, buy our (no more than two) Exo-Suit sets and then get in the queue for signing.  The queue was outside the store, and as Bluewater seems to have been created by a greenhouse designer, it was pretty warm!

Huw ‘Grand Fromage’ Millington, owner, creator and overseer-General of Brickset had said that if you came and found him and whispered the secret code-phrase. then you’d get a polybag, so as I came out of the store clutching my sets, I went and said hello, and wandered back to my spot at the end of the queue, clutching a 30280 Piece of Resistance poly from the Lego Movie.

Result!  Thanks, Huw!

In addition, the store had been doing a polybag giveaway, and so with my Exo-Suits, I’d also been given a 30265 Worriz’ Fire Bike.  I have to admit, I don’t really ‘do’ polybags.  I’ve never opened and built any, and yet looking back through my records I seem to have acquired more than sixty.  They do come in handy for Christmas presents, swaps and so on though, and they don’t take up much room.  And the vast majority have been free.

So I’m not complaining.

Now I knew that there was going to be a good turnout from the Brickset brigade, but the trouble with web forums is that, by and large, you don’t know what people look like.  And with most usernames, you can’t even tell which gender they are, let alone age or appearance.

So ‘shib’ for example, could have been anyone.  But he turned out to be the chap standing next to me, with his other half, who said she was a registered-but-not-very-frequent-contributor who went by the name of kioko21.  Really nice to meet them both, and we whiled away some time, talking about, understandably, Lego.

Modern times being what they are, most people are never too far away from the internet, and shib had been keeping an eye on the Brickset forum, when he mentioned that LostInTranslation was looking for me.  I’d been fortunate enough to win a prize in the annual Brickset shindig that is the FairyBricks raffle, and Lost… was going to hand over some of my goodies at the event, thus saving on some postage.
A few messages, descriptions posted and a bit of arm waving later, we found each other, and the loot was mine!

I’d taken a camera along with me, and by the time I’d left, managed to get some snaps of a few Bricksetters.  Some were a little more shy than others…

Still.  Very nice to meet them all.

Fast forwarding to October, and Mrs Boo had a significant birthday.  There was a zero at the end and I shall leave it there.  But it was worthy of celebration, and so she’d decided she’d like to go to New York for a week.  Much trawling of the internet later, the flights and hotel were booked and we were airborne.  We’d spent the previous few weeks making a list of things to see and places to go, and it just so happened that the weekend we were there was the grand opening of the new Lego store by the Flatiron building. (3)  These things are normally a three day affair, with day one having a T-shirt giveaway, day two having a model Lego store giveaway and day three being an exclusive set of three minifigs.
As it was, they were pushing the boat out and having a fourth day giveaway of a Statue of Liberty model.

I knew the T-shirt was going to be a child’s size, so didn’t really interest me, and I’d managed to acquire two of the Lego brand store models (4).  What I really wanted was the minifigs.  But that was the Sunday giveaway, and we flew home on the Saturday.


To cut a long story short, the store manager was awesome, and having picked up the Architecture sets of the White House and the Trevi Fountain, I walked out with both a T-Shirt and a set of Minifigs!

Manager dude! You rock!

Managed to pick up a few more things since then.  The Tumbler was too good to miss.  Thanks to an online friend and a 3 for 2 deal at Argos, I managed to get the UCS X-Wing Red 5 for 33% off, and I may have gone a bit collectoholic when the 2015 Technic range was released.

More of that later.  

Coming up next, Star Wars, large and small.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

(1)  Delays between me starting to write this and actually publishing it means that ‘Nothing huge’ is now incorrect.  Details later.

(2)  DARPA is the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, part of the US government, and thanks to DARPAnet, played a signicant role in the creation of the Internet / World Wide Web. 

(3) Coincidence.  Honestly.

(4) One from the Watford Grand opening, one from the Brickset / Fairybricks raffle.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

And now for a brief interlude...

As may be evident from the title, this is a blog concerned with Lego.  However, “Other construction toys”, as the BBC might say, “are available”.  Casting my mind back to the days of my childhood, I vaguely remember having some Stickle Bricks, which were blocks that were more akin to velcro than a viable building material.  Whatever good intentions you started out with, it always ended up as just a large wodge of bricks stuck together. (1)

The other thing I had was Meccano.  I had a small basic set, and a larger ‘Mountain Engineer’s set’.  The cover of the dog-eared box showed a number of exciting things that could be made, from station wagons and buses to cable cars and funicular railways.

The Meccano Mountain Engineers set
(Image courtesy of

What I largely remember of Meccano though, is scraped knuckles, sore fingers and crawling around looking for tiny nuts and bolts which would lose themselves in the carpet, only turning up when they announced themselves by rattling around inside the hoover.  While you could make some detailed models, they always seemed to take ages and the build seemed like a bit of a chore.

So when, back in 2012, I got back into Lego, I didn’t look any further to see what else was on the market.  At the Christmas just gone though, I recieved a parcel from my sister-in-law and her husband, that rattled in an interesting fashion, and when I opened it, it turned out to be a model of the Empire State Building.  But it wasn’t the Lego Architecture series, but Nanoblocks, which was new to me.

The Nanoblocks box

Nanoblocks are construction sets that use similarly shaped bricks to the basic Lego building blocks, but, as the name suggests, are considerably smaller.  You can see a comparison between some Nanoblocks and their Lego equivalents, here.

Lego bricks & Nanoblocks bricks

Some research shows that Nanoblocks, from the Kawada Company in Tokyo, have been around since 2008, and include models of famous buildings, animals, musical instruments, and various licensed sets based on films and TV series.  The piece count varies from around 100 to over 2000 and my Empire State Building, according to the box, had ‘over 740 pieces’.

So having an evening free recently, I sat down, opened the box and had a look.  The contents consisted of a couple of bags of pieces and a base plate - so far, so familiar, and a single instruction sheet. This was different to the booklets that you usually get with a Lego set.

While other sets are undoubtedly more complex, this particular set simply starts at the bottom and builds up, one layer on top of another, in about 35 steps. (2)   I empted all the pieces into a couple of bowls, put the baseplate down in front of me and peered at the sheet.

The first thing you notice is how small the parts are.  While the 4x1 and 8x1 bricks are reasonably easy to grasp and position, the 1x1 blocks - of which there are many - are fiddly as anything.  I remember someone saying that you could do with tweezers to place them, and they weren’t far wrong.  A couple of hours of peering at the sheet and fiddling with the pieces (and retreiving a few escapees along the way), and I was about a dozen layers up.  The instructions took a bit of getting used to, as they show a birds eye view of the build, and the previous layer is shown as light blue (irrespective of what colour the blocks were), while the new blocks are either grey or a darker shade of blue.

Next evening I went back and finished it off.  The middle section, consisting of 24 layers in a repeating 4 layer pattern did, it has to be said, get a bit boring, but once you’re past that, you’re onto the home stretch which is completed fairly quickly.

You’re left with a model about 6” tall, and remarkably close to the original in looks.

The finished model

It was an interesting build overall.  I doubt whether I’m going to switch allegience from Lego to Nanoblocks - I’ll leave that to those with nimbler fingers than I - but as a ‘change of scenery’ it was a fun little side project.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

(1) Some googling suggests that while there are one or two valiant souls who’ve managed to create something impressive out of Stickle Bricks, most people are in the same boat as me.  

(2) It’s actually more than this, as the main section repeats, so there’s a small note telling you to repeat 4 steps another 6 times, resulting in the final tally being more like 60 steps.