Great Train Expo Pleasanton 2008, Day 1

The Bay Area LEGO Train Club is taking part in the Great Train Expo at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton, CA, this weekend, November 29-30.BayLTC at Pleasanton Train Show

My contributions to the show include the “Blackburn Hotel” and the block that it’s on, a bunch of cars and other small scenic details, and a few train models.

We set up the exhibit all afternoon Friday, with some additional setup time Saturday morning before the show opened. If you missed it, you still have another chance to see it tomorrow; the show is open from 10am-4pm. Also, next weekend we’ll be setting up a somewhat smaller display at the Museum of American Heritage in Palo Alto, which will be on exhibit until January 11.

John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt

So I was looking at my RSS feed of incoming links to brickpile.com in Google Reader, and came across one that surprised me: BillWardWriter.com. I’ve always known my name is not that unique – the most famous of my homonyms being a certain musician who was the drummer for Black Sabbath. However, it still caught me by surprise when I saw my name – mine! – attached to other people’s web sites and blogs.

Anyway, Bill Ward (the Writer) has a list of links to Bill Wards around the Internet, and I’m on it. I don’t really feel like I want to add the same to my blogroll – my sidebars are too cluttered as it is – but I wanted to share some link love anyway, so here they are:

Actually regarding that last one, it turns out there are a lot of entries in IMDB with my name, none of which are me. As of this writing, the list has seventeen entries!

PS: In case you don’t catch the reference of the title of this post, check the Wikipedia page for the song “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt”.

PPS: Sorry about the lack of LEGO content… does this help?
BILL WARD in LEGO

BrickForge, BrickArms, or MegaBloks?

Lately it seems everyone is getting all excited about the latest from BrickForge and BrickArms. Every LEGO convention includes a sample of their products in the kit. They’re featured all the time on sites such as the Brothers Brick blog and LAMLradio podcasts. Frankly I just don’t get it. Yes, they make parts that are not sold by LEGO, which some people really need to complete their MOC.

But then, so does MegaBloks.

Most people in the AFOL (Adult Fan of LEGO) community wouldn’t be caught dead with a MegaBloks set, or even with a MegaBloks part included in their model. When you buy a big pile of random LEGO parts at a garage sale or flea market or eBay auction, there are often “clone brands” parts included, since many kids (or their parents or other well-meaning gift-giver) don’t really understand the difference. What do you do with those parts? Most AFOLs I know would either throw them away, or perhaps collect them to give to a children’s charity, but would certainly not build with them.

True, the BrickForge and BrickArms guys came from the AFOL community, unlike MegaBloks which is a big company that sells products in big toy and department stores. But I think they are clones – producing parts that compete directly with some of the parts LEGO makes. BrickForge produced a set of barnyard animals last year, and now LEGO makes cows too. Both companies produce realistic weapons, but some of the recent Star Wars and Indiana Jones sets include them too; plus you can create a lot of realistic weapons using unmodified LEGO parts, as Nannan points out with his Guns Museum. Looking only at the products, the only difference between MegaBloks and BrickForge/BrickArms is that the latter don’t make basic parts or complete sets, just accessories.

Is it just because BrickForge and BrickArms are fan-run, small companies? What if one of them got a big infusion of capital and scaled up operations to a large scale, and started appearing on the shelves of Toys ‘R’ Us?

So if people are happy to use BrickForge and BrickArms products, why not MegaBloks? People complain about MegaBloks having poor quality standards, which is true to a point, but even if they changed to a higher grade of plastic and met LEGO’s exacting standards, I still don’t think the AFOL community would flock to the MegaBloks banner – there’s more to it than just quality, something more abstract and harder to pin down.

To me, the LEGO hobby is an art form using a limited palette of parts to achieve a desired goal. Once you open up that palette to parts from other sources, it’s a different art form. Using parts from other companies lets you get around the limitations of the medium, which in my opinion changes its essence entirely. And it doesn’t matter if those other companies are a multinational company or a guy in his garage; it’s still not LEGO.

What do you think?

New “About Me” page

I finally got around to creating an “About Me” page. It tells the story of how LEGO came in and out of my life. Hope you find it interesting, and if you have small kids, I urge you to encourage them to be creative with LEGO. I attribute a lot of my mathematical, scientific, and computer programming skills to my childhood obsession with LEGO.

What prompted me to write this finally? I came across an article on “Delivering the Best Customer Experience” on erica.biz, one of my favorite inspirational business blogs, where she said:

Have an About page that talks about you, not just your company. One of the first pages I click on on any website is the “About Us” page. I want to put a face to the name. Why are you doing what you’re doing?
If your blog doesn’t have an About page, I won’t subscribe. It leaves me feeling “empty” — even if the content is fantastic, I have nothing to anchor that to.

I don’t expect Erica to subscribe to a LEGO blog, but I think the sentiment is important, so I wrote one….