Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Another Blog You Should Read: the LEGO Community Team Blog

Name of Blog: Community Team Blog
Created by the LEGO company's Community Engagement & Events team
Found at: http://ceeteamblog.com/
Details: If you've been following our coverage of LEGO-related events over the years, you've probably come across some interesting examples of official visitors to these events and official support for these events from various parts of the LEGO company. This is something that has been in flux over the years as LEGO tries to determine how unofficial events can be of use to the LEGO company and how best to support unofficial events. Those constant changes can make it hard to keep track of what LEGO does and doesn't do for the fan community, but all of the official efforts are managed by LEGO's Community Engagement & Events (CEE) team, which (since November 2012) has a blog to help you stay in the loop. It won't tell you everything (because some community support programs are relatively secret pilot programs), but it's a great resource and will show you many fascinating aspects of the LEGO fan community and the LEGO company.

We really can't thank the CEE team enough - they're out there trying to keep track of every LEGO User Group in the world, listening to a ridiculous amount of concerns from LEGO fans, and constantly answering the same questions (even though most of the answers are as follows: "No, we can't confirm or deny anything about the future or upcoming products", monorail/old grey/Bionicle/9V trains are not coming back, LEGO does not have the license to make that, and no, we can't supply you with free LEGO pieces for your personal projects). I don't know how they do it, but they are fantastic and do an excellent job of being our voice inside of the company and representing the company to the larger community of LEGO hobbyists.

Full disclosure: Senior Community Coordinator for the Americas Kevin Hinkle is a "somewhat awesome" friend-of-the-blog who has previously featured my work on the CEE team blog (see screenshot above) and may or may not secretly be on our payroll. Those may be excellent ways to get my attention, but I'm still not above razzing Kevin for not making it to every LEGO convention in the world.

Further disclosure: We don't actually have a "payroll" and much of this blog's relationship with Kevin (and his team) is based on our previous relationship with Beyond the Brick. Beyond the Brick recently interviewed Kevin in his Enfield, Connecticut office and Kim Thomsen, Community Coordinator for the EU, blogged about that video.

I'll be disclosing more (about a project I've gotten involved with that has indirectly received support from LEGO) in the near future.

L3-G0 - Life-size Motorized R2-D2

Name of Model: L3-G0
Created by: Shawn & Lara Steele with help from Nikita Steele, Laurel Lee Steele and Hosik Lee
Found at: http://l3-g0.blogspot.de/
Details: Sure, this isn't a purist LEGO model (it uses both non-LEGO electronics and non-LEGO mechanical parts), and its status as a still-evolving model sort-of violates my own rule of not covering Work-In-Progress (WIP) creations, but this is too exciting not to cover. I think it's safe to say that most of us who have displayed our LEGO creations at events where members of the R2-D2 Builders Club are also displaying their astromech droids have wondered if it would be possible to combine the two. You can stop thinking that's a clever and original idea now, because it's been done, and done very well. Interestingly, the builders of this 'bot actually joined the R2-D2 Builders Club and borrowed ideas from that community, but ultimately had to design a unique internal structure to compensate for the LEGO portions being thicker than most of the materials typically used for building astromech droids.

This model has already appeared at BrickCon 2013 as a mostly stationary model (this still involved head movements, lights, and sound), at Emerald City Comic Con 2014 as a functional moving radio-controlled vehicle. You can see it at BrickCon 2014, with additional not-yet-built features. I don't usually like to speculate (it can be hard to find time to get big projects working right), but judging by how ambitious and successful this has been so far, I think by BrickCon it will fit into a matching fully-function X-Wing Fighter.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Revisiting "Another Blog You Should Read"

Yes, more wordy news. This time we're revisiting our "Another Blog You Should Read." series, before we start adding new posts to the series. Here's where things stand now with our previously featured favorite bloggers:
  1. Bruce nh/Bricktales and the "_Bricks" blogs - these are still going strong and there are even more of them now - in addition to the previously mentioned MicroBricks, VignetteBricks, GodBricks, and MinilandBricks, there's now also ArtisticBricks, ContestBricks, ComicBricks, DisneyBricks, SciBricks, and TolkienBricks. All of which are quite good, and updated fairly frequently. Incidentally, you can also use ContestBricks as something of a replacement for that Contests calendar layer we recently covered the demise of.
  2. Mariann Asanuma's Model Building Secrets - Model Building Secrets is still as fantastic as always, although perhaps updated a bit less frequently these days (justified by her ongoing career as a professional LEGO artist). Since 2009, she's also become a fixture on the convention circuit, allowing more of us to put a face to the name behind the blog. She's been getting more commissions lately, including a recent Rocketship House for the upcoming game WildStar Online.
  3. TechnicBRICKs - TechnicBRICKs remains up to date and largely the same as it was when I recommended it in 2009 - the emphasis is still primarily on set news, with videos, techniques, and original creations being more occasional features. It's a must-read if you have even a passing interest in Technic, and a good way to keep up to date with the seemingly endless stream of new Technic pieces we've seen in recent years.
  4. The NXT Step - The transition from the NXT kits to the EV3 kits didn't stop The NXT Step. Although updated a little less frequently than it was in 2010, it's still a good source of Mindstorms news - the best Mindstorms news source in RSS format that I know of (although I may be slipping, since the Mindstorms community tends to gather around forums instead of blogs).
  5. reMOCable - Mike Doyle's reMOCable was apparently a bad call - it hasn't been updated since September 2011 (and we only featured it in August of 2011). It was a fairly new blog when I recommended it, although his Snap blog was more established at the time. Snap primarily focuses on his own creations and displays instead of covering other people's models, but is certainly worth keeping up with (and can take reMOCable's place on this list). Entertainingly, I described reMOCable as a cross between a blog of LEGO creations and a coffee table art book - and now Mike Doyle's gone on to release a coffee table art book of LEGO creations (a second volume is on the way). We probably won't end up reviewing the book (since it came out during our unintentional hiatus), but No Starch Press lets you see some pages from it online.
As a housekeeping sidenote, while we are still using the "Another Blog You Should Read" tag, most of our tags/labels will be in flux until this site's new format is settled in (and we have no idea when that will be). The handling of tags/labels was one of the things we didn't like about the 2012 update of Blogger, and we weren't terribly organized with them beforehand.

As another sidenote, at one point, we were planning on making a Google Reader Bundle for all of the other blogs we've highlighted here. Now that we're up to fourteen (14) blogs (with more that I intend to cover soon), it seems more important than ever to make it simple to start following blogs to keep up with the online LEGO community, but the days of easy RSS-based blog reading in Google Reader ended last year.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

On the BrickJournal Shared Calendars...

Over the years, we've written about and contributed to the BrickJournal Shared Calendars many times, going back to October 2008. We've had a link to their Google Calendars on our sidebar for years, and I was added to the list of people allowed to update these calendars in November 2008 (over time, I've granted myself access on other e-mail accounts).

I've decided (for a number of reasons, not all of which I'm comfortable sharing at this time) to withdraw my support of the shared calendars and remove our sidebar link, effective immediately. When I first got involved with the shared calendars, they were truly a shared project updated by a large pool of community-minded AFOLs (Adult Fans of LEGO). One of the main appeals was that there were many different layers, all of which had a variety of events on them. While I haven't added as many events in recent years as I used to, it appears that the majority of contributors have dropped off of it entirely. Several of the layers have become entirely useless, while the others are now updated so inconsistently that I can't comfortably recommend them anymore. Further, a look at who contributed the remaining upcoming events reveals very little variety in who still contributes: there are four people left, one of which added most of what's there. The second most active contributor (myself, with 3 upcoming events) lives in the same part of Florida as the most active one (but the two rarely speak). The other two contributors have added one event each. These sorts of community projects only work if they are actively maintained, but as it stands, it's too far gone for me to justify my further support.

The LEGO Displays layer appears to be almost entirely abandoned. I recently added LEGOPalooza, which has not been officially announced online yet, but is this weekend in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (full disclosure: I was previously NCLUG's "website guy", but between when I offered to announce the event and when I actually had the event's running time in-hand, someone else stepped up to "run" the website and simply removed all news). The only other upcoming events on it are Scouting for Bricks (May 3rd-4th in Leesburg, VA, although the calendar incorrectly lists the 5th as well), and "Kärleksmisär", which is on August 30th but the calendar doesn't give any clue as to where that is (a quick Google search doesn't clarify the situation).

The Events/Conventions layer appears to still be relatively maintained, albeit almost exclusively by one person. I've recently added BrickFiesta (Fourth of July weekend in Texas) and Bricks By the Bay (August 7th-10th in the San Francisco area).

The "Mindstorms and FLL Events", "Contests", and "Fan Club Meetings/Events" layers all seem to have been abandoned entirely.

I am not prepared to endorse any other calendars for LEGO events at this time, although we will continue sporadically announcing specific events on this blog.

Although we will not be advertising them anymore, you can still bookmark a link to the BrickJournal Shared Calendars.

An Update on Beyond the Brick

Yes, we have more site news already. As mentioned a month ago (already?), the new website we promised to merge this blog into has not yet come to pass. Surprisingly, we've gotten to the bottom of the issue and determined that it's simply not viable to launch a combined website. Although Beyond the Brick probably looks like a simple video channel to many people today, the truth is that it is a complex and sophisticated organization with lots of connections and ongoing projects. Bringing in so many big names in the LEGO company and LEGO community requires considerable effort, and the priority is to continue building on the exciting videos they've been releasing lately. Additionally, much of the original podcasts and posts we had planned to integrate into the site are the property of NetCast Studio, and could not be made available on the new site (since the original idea was to combine those posts and LMOTD posts into a combined site, our original concept for the website is entirely moot). Now that it's clear that a combined website wouldn't work, we will return to operating separately. In this blog's case, that also means that we are once again open to suggestions and interested in trying to combine our efforts with other blogs to create something more useful to the LEGO fan community.

All of that said, we're all on good terms - this is an amicable split caused by circumstances and limited resources. The decision was mutual and primarily the result of all of us realizing that our original vision for a shared website simply isn't a viable option. You're still likely to see us hanging out together at conventions. Matthew will continue to appear as a regular contributor on the videos and as an occasional contributor on this blog. Since the YouTube channel is actually newer than when we backed off of LMOTD to work on the new site, we hadn't really plugged it before, but expect us to plug their videos from time to time going forward.

For the foreseeable future, you can find the classic Beyond the Brick Podcasts at NetCast Studio.
Beyond the Brick's flagship YouTube channel can still be found at brickpodcast.com - if you haven't been keeping up with them, you should at least check out their most recent video, featuring Kevin Hinkle, a friend-of-the-blog and The LEGO Group's Senior Community Coordinator for the Americas (In the weeks to come, I'll be covering more of Kevin's support of projects in our neck of the woods).
The classic audio-only episode of Beyond the Brick (then known as "A Look at LEGO") where I (Dan) and Matthew (before he was a co-host) were interviewed on air can be found at http://netcaststudio.com/lego-with-mathew-and-danny-from-lmotd/
...and we'll let you know if/when LMOTD relocates to somewhere besides lmotd.blogspot.com

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Clever Robot

Name of Model: Don't need hugs no more...
Created by: Karf Oohlu
Found at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dragon55/13372468015/
Details: One of the drawbacks of having backed away from blogging for a bit is missing the chance to write about some of the new parts that have come out recently. The 1x1 round tile is a pretty popular piece (released in late 2011) that really sells this model and makes the Technic engine piston rod look fairly natural as a joint element (where previously, you'd have to deal with something sticking out from whichever Technic pin you used to connect the two rods - at a minimum, an extra stud from a half pin). The eye-printed version of those same tiles quickly creates a face. The new elements that most radically change how we can build now are the joint elements from the new Mixels sets. These joints use the old "towball" elements (yes, like we've had since 1970) on one side, and new sockets that introduce a poseable level of friction on the other side. The result is a wonderfully simple blend of "system" and "constraction", allowing Bionicle-style action figure building ("constraction") and traditional LEGO building ("system") to fit together in a small space with very little effort. Since the Technic pistons always worked with the towball system (a great example of how complaints about "single purpose" LEGO elements are usually wrong), the piston rods fit perfectly in this clever little robot.

Confused by this model's title? It's a reference to an earlier version that was a bit more cutesy and didn't use that awesome piston-rod-to-Mixels-ball-receptacle connection.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

BZPower New Member Raffle

If you're like me, you probably have a hard time deciding which LEGO-related forums to join and figuring out which ones will be worth the time and effort to keep up with. Among the theme-specific fora, BZPower easily stands out as one of the most exciting to watch. There are other cases of a LEGO forum trying to make a splash at a LEGO convention, but only BZPower has an actual program for sending member creations to multiple different conventions across the United States (you'll have to join to find out how to get involved). BioniLUG has also broken new ground as a "virtual" LEGO Users Group that still has a large presence and collaborative builds at several conventions. They've recently announced some new incentives to join for those of you who build/enjoy Bionicle and have not joined yet - now through April 30th, new members (people who signed up for accounts within the last 30 days) can enter a raffle for set 70131 Rogon's Rock Flinger.

Existing BZPower members can also participate in other current raffles.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

LEGO and Open Source

Name of Model: LEGO and Open Source
Created by: yours truly
Found at: http://danny316p.github.io/LEGO_and_Open_Source/s5/s5-lego_and_open_source.html
Details: Last year at BrickFair VA, I hosted a seminar on the relationship between the LEGO fan community and the open source software community. Presumably most people who read this blog are already familiar with LEGO, but I think most LEGO fans don't really think about how our community resources and favorite software tools came about, or what makes a particular program likely to be maintained for the LEGO community once the program's creator has moved on.

The bulk of the seminar was a slideshow hosted on GitHub. Although this is a topic I had wanted to address for years (originally the plan was to debut the slides at NCSU's annual FOSS Fair event, however I have not been able to attend since putting the slides together), I was surprised when I focused in on it just how broad the topic really is. The version presented at BrickFair still felt rushed together (to me, anyway), and I've continued to make improvements to it since. There's still plenty of room to improve the slides yet, but I like to think they're a useful resource and a good starting point that anyone can use to talk about LEGO at an open source event or about open source at a LEGO event. In the spirit of open source and community-building, the slides themselves are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License and the source is available for contributions on GitHub.