Month: October 2011

Amazon links are back

Published / by Bill

I got an email from Amazon the other day, saying “As you may have heard, California Governor Jerry Brown has signed legislation repealing the law that had forced us to terminate our California Associates. We are pleased to invite all California Associates whose accounts were closed due to the prior legislation to re-enroll in the Associates Program.”

I think it was a low blow for Amazon to pull their California Associates, and really I don’t see anything wrong with charging sales tax for mail order, but I went ahead and added back the Amazon link. So if you like my site, please consider buying something using an Amazon button on this site. Thanks!

BrickCon 2011 Trip Report, Part 2

Published / by Bill

This is a continuation of the trip report which I started while I was waiting in the airport, interrupted by the boarding of my plane….

The contest sign-ups were first-come, first-served, and only the first N people to sign up got in. Since I didn’t sign up until after opening ceremonies I missed out on the first contest, the blind build. That contest had a maximum of 70 people (2 groups of 35 each). In the blind build, you are given a small LEGO set to assemble without being able to see the parts. This is done by having a triangular shaped “blind” placed over the parts, so that the only thing you can see is the instructions, and you have to build the model by feel only. The fastest time wins, with 10 seconds added for each error (wrong color, wrong part, sticker misaligned, etc.). It was fun to watch, and to tease some of my friends who were participating. At the end, everyone got to keep the set they built, and the best 10 from each group went into a final competition with a larger set to determine the overall winner.

After watching the blind build, the time came for the speed build contest. Here we don’t have any special handicaps, we just need to assemble the provided set as quickly as possible. For this contest 50 people could participate, and though I wasn’t in the top 50, there were enough no-shows that I could take part anyway. The set we built was set 8080 Undersea Explorer, part of the Atlantis line. I didn’t win – the winner finished 10 minutes before I did – but I got to keep the set so all was not lost.

The next contest was the Master Build, where contestants were given a set and told to use those parts to build something of their own imagining using a provided theme. Since I had been in the Speed Build I wasn’t allowed to be in this one, so I left and went down to the Exhibition Hall to see the models on display (and being set up).

I looked at the models for a while, visiting all the tables. I didn’t take any pictures, just let myself look around. Too often at conventions I get so focused on photographing things that I don’t really get a good look at them. So this time I wanted to take time for just that. In the process I ran into some Bay Area folks who were headed to a nearby pizza place for dinner, and invited me to join them.

After dinner we rushed back to the convention for the evening program, which consisted of a few announcements and presentations and the keynote from Hillel Cooperman about what LEGO fans love to hate: Megabloks. He told us about the crappy quality of some Mega sets he had bought, and then brought out a blender which was provided by the Blendtec company, makers of the “Will it Blend?” videos. The blender was then given out as part of that night’s door prizes. By the time the evening program was over it was about 10 pm and there was just an hour to look around the exhibition hall before we had to leave.

In the morning I did some work on the Bricks by the Bay registration system and went to the LEGO store. The line there was enormous! I guess I wasn’t the only one who wanted to take advantage of the combination of their convention discount (up to 30% off) and the double VIP points in October. A friend picked me up and took me there and we stood in line for an hour and a half or so, making forays from our spot in line to grab more and more LEGO sets. I had planned to meet a non-LEGO friend for breakfast but the shopping trip took so long we had to cancel that plan. After shopping we headed back over by the convention and went to McMenamin’s for lunch. We ran into some BrickCon friends there and joined them.

We finished lunch just in time to dash over to the con for the afternoon’s activities. The first one was the Iron Brick contest where, given a fixed number of 2×8 bricks, each team of 4 was to build a bridge that could span 20 inches and hold as much weight as possible. My team’s bridge failed at 35 lbs, but the winning team supported 115 lbs! I did the same event last year and the best teams’ bridges were so strong they ran out of weights and had to use 2.5gal water bottles as 20 lb weights.

Following the Iron Brick contest there was another contest, the Relay Build. We again broke up into teams of 4 people and had to build a set as a group. The parts from the set were divided among three tables, and each of us stood at one of the tables while the fourth member ran back and forth, and each time we added something to the model the people swapped roles, so each of us got a turn to run to another table. There was a cheating controversy, but overall it was a fun game and I’d like to try something similar at Bricks by the Bay.

I took a break from activities after that to work on the BBTB site some more and chat with my friend Holger Matthes, who had hosted me for a night when I was visiting Germany 10 years ago, and we did some LEGO building in his living room with some of his friends. We were both amazed that it had been that long.

The next event I did was the “101 bricks” challenge. For this you bring an assortment of 101 LEGO parts to the game, and the organizer assigns you a topic on which you need to build for only 3 minutes, using only the parts you brought. One person is chosen as the winner and this is repeated for 10 rounds, with more rounds in case of a tie. It ended in a 3-way tie, but in the first bonus round there was a clear winner. Some of the themes were:

  1. The President of the US – I missed this round as I had to go run to the other room and find 101 parts to build with from the play brick table!
  2. Venus Flytrap – I built a rather bad looking model of the plant
  3. Rustic Log Cabin – I had a small pile of brown bricks, a roof, and a chimney
  4. I’m Going To Kill You, James Bond – I had a yellow figure with white shorts and a laser coming at him between his legs
  5. Godzilla – I built an Anime style super hero (think Voltron)
  6. I think that I shall never see a thing as lovely as a tree – I did a blackened (burned) tree
  7. Timepiece (clock, etc.) – I did an hourglass

There were 3 other rounds but I forgot what they were already. After the event I talked to Roger Hill (the guy who was running it) about how I wanted to try running this game at BayLUG meetings and/or Bricks by the Bay. He gave me some tips and allowed that he’d never played it as he is always the one running it. So I challenged him to build something with my pieces up against the game’s winner, a guy named Chad, who was still there. I gave them the theme “Escape from the Zoo” and they both did a creditable job, but Chad was the clear winner.

I worked on the BBTB site through the dinner break and went to the evening ceremonies room, where I talked to the organizers to get permission to announce the BBTB site being available. I ran out for some takeout from the deli counter at the Metropolitan Market and was munching on that as the ceremonies began. The emcee (Shawn? Shaun? Sean? I’m not sure how he spells it, which is funny since he made several jokes about people spelling his name wrong…) was late getting back from dinner, so they had to stall with some impromptu Q&A from Gary McIntire (Master Model Builder at LEGOLAND who used to be a Seattle AFOL) and Wayne Hussey (BrickCon main organizer). When the program began properly I was invited up to announce BBTB registration being open and got a strong response from the audience when I asked who was planning to come. There was a lot of enthusiasm for the fact that we have the steampunk convention in the same hotel.

(Last year, I went to BrickCon and really flogged BBTB in a lot of my interactions with people, to the point where I heard through the grapevine that I had been annoying people with my persistent “Are you coming to Bricks by the Bay?” questions. I really tried to keep that to a minimum this year. I hope I succeeded.)

After my turn on the stage the evening ceremonies really got underway with a presentation about the financial ups and downs of the LEGO company, followed by the awards ceremony for all the MOCs. There were more door prize drawings but I still didn’t win any.

After the ceremonies I went down to the exhibit hall to take pictures, and got all the steampunk and art stuff before we had to leave. I also took pictures of Zack’s stuff (an awesomely detailed house, bust of Bender from Futurama, and a wedding cake topper), as he was leaving that night. They lock down the facilities at 11pm each night, which I found disappointing. I took a bus back to my friend’s house and went to bed.

Sunday morning I slept in and got to the convention around 11, which of course was full of public by then. But I still managed to go around and take lots of pictures, and I hope I got all the models on display… at least I got most of them. At 2 I went over to the meeting rooms for a panel on LEGO blogging, but I already covered that in another post.

The closing ceremonies featured people other than me winning prizes again, and then the teardown really got rolling. I loitered around the Exhibition Hall for a while and then went out to dinner with a group of people, and we were joined by a couple of the convention organizers. After eating we had a lively discussion about BrickCon “post mortem” and hopefully that will contribute to making it even better in the future. We kept talking until the restaurant closed, and then continued in a nearby hotel lobby until about 2am. I got a lot of great ideas for Bricks by the Bay out of that too.

In the morning I rode the bus to downtown Seattle and walked around a bit, had some lunch, then took the light rail to the airport and flew back to San Francisco.

BrickCon 2011 Trip Report

Published / by Bill

Another year, another BrickCon. The annual Seattle, WA LEGO convention has come to an end and I am writing this sitting in the Seattle airport, waiting for my flight to board.

After foolishly staying up until 2am the night before, I got up at 5am Friday morning (that’s right, 3 hours of sleep) and drove to the San Francisco airport. I parked my car and rode the shuttle to the terminal, checked my bag, and flew to Seattle. I didn’t bring any LEGO to the convention. I had a checked bag with all my clothes, toiletries, etc., and a carryon backpack with my laptop and camera. I brought a large suitcase – the one I had bought in Chicago at Brickworld – and packed an empty duffel bag as well in case I would need more luggage for the return trip (to carry all the prizes I hoped to win, and the LEGO I planned to buy). Since I was staying on the floor at a friend’s house, I brought along my Aero Bed mattress, which added to the bulk and weight of my suitcase, but not too badly.

The Seattle airport is a happy place for me. As a child I used to fly to Seattle at least once a year with my parents to visit my grandparents, aunt and uncle, and cousins, and we would always arrive at the N terminal on United. My flight this time was on Alaska but we did fly into the N terminal. Sea-TAC Airport has this underground “train” system (I use quotes because it uses rubber tires on a concrete guideway, so it’s not really a train) that connects the N terminal island to the rest of the airport. As a kid I used to love standing at the front of the train and watch out the front window, and even though I’m 40 years old now, I still enjoy it.

I picked up my bag and made my way by light rail and bus to my friend’s house where I took a brief nap before heading down to the convention. The location of the convention and my friend’s apartment were perfect for this – the #28 bus runs directly from downtown, right by Seattle Center, and continues on to a point a few blocks from her place. It follows the exact route I would take if I were driving, and runs frequently, and all day, from 5am to midnight.

I attended the opening ceremonies, which was mostly an orientation type presentation to explain the program of events and location of things, and then went to a meetup of the California LUG (LEGO Users Group) members. There were a couple of us from BayLUG but many more from southern California. We talked about our LUGs’ upcoming event plans and a little about Bricks by the Bay, about which I mentioned that we would shortly be opening up registration and looking for volunteers. After that, I spent the afternoon watching and participating in various contests.

My plane is starting to board, so I’ll continue this later.

BrickCon 2011: Blogging Panel

Published / by Bill

I am at BrickCon, writing this in a classroom in the Seattle Center, in the audience of a panel on LEGO blogging. Josh Wedin and Andrew Becraft from The Brothers Brick (TBB), and Ace Kim from TBB and From Bricks to Bothans (FBTB), are talking about their experiences in the LEGO blogging community.

I don’t have one of those T-shirts that says “I’m Blogging This.” but I am anyway. There’s a video recording being made, so you’ll be able to watch it later if you wish.

Topics include:

  • Search engine optimization and blogging strategies
  • “Hiring” other contributors to write for the site
  • Using Amazon affiliate links
  • Shifts in the online LEGO community (LUGNET, Flickr, Brickshelf, blogs, etc.)
  • In-person events (BrickCon, other conventions, LUG meetings, etc.)
  • Not profitable to run a LEGO site
    • income not enough to live on
    • TBB gives back to the community instead of profiting (incorporated as a for-profit org, but run as if it were a not-for-profit)
    • FBTB is a sole proprietorship
  • What benefit do you get from it?
    • Andrew: Not the fame. Acts as a journal of his experiences in the community
    • Josh: Just likes to write about LEGO, to day what he thinks
    • Ace: Not a MOC builder, so it is his way to feel part of the community; also likes running contests

Registration is now open for Bricks by the Bay 2012

Published / by Bill

The 2012 Bricks by the Bay Convention registration is now open!

The 2012 LEGO convention for the bay area will be held Friday-Sunday, March 16-18. Benefits of attending the convention include:

  • Custom engraved name badge made out of LEGO bricks
  • Access to speeches, presentations, and discussion sessions
  • Show your models in the Grand Ballroom for convention attendees and the public
  • Become a vendor (additional fee applies) to sell LEGO and related products at the convention and public show
  • Exclusive discounts at the LEGO store (TBD)
  • Chance to receive free LEGO sets in Prize drawings and contests

The event theme this year is “Green.” It is inspired by the fact that St. Patrick’s Day takes place that weekend, but we’re not limiting it to that: any creative use of the color green, subjects relating to the environment, and of course Ireland or St. Patrick’s Day themed models are suitable. In 2010 our theme was “The Brick Artistic” and in 2011 it was “Creative Combinations.”

If you’re interested in attending the whole convention, read all about the Convention, Hotel, Registration, and Schedule, along with more information about the weekend’s events.

Not sure if you want to come to the convention or just the public day? Read our FAQ to find out more.

How to Register:

  1. Go to the hotel site and reserve your room if you’re staying at the hotel – $10 discount per room on convention fees.
  2. Go to our convention registration form and register for the con.

Participation Options:

  • If you’re bringing anything to display, we are using a wiki workspace to plan space for each theme. Request a wiki account and add what you are bringing to the appropriate wiki page(s). (Click the Edit tab at the top of the page you want to edit to get started).
  • If you want to volunteer to help behind the scenes, subscribe to our planning mailing list.
  • If you wish to be a vendor, first register for the convention, and then fill out out Vendor Registration form (everyone working your booth must be a registered attendee).