Brickworld 2011 part 1

I flew to Chicago yesterday (Wednesday, June 15) for the Brickworld LEGO convention. I used my Frontier air miles to travel from San Francisco to Chicago Midway by way of Denver. It was a long trip – I left SFO at 9am and got to Chicago at 6pm local time – but it was very pleasant and had no problems. I shared a cab from the airport to the hotel with two other guys, who had flown in from Florida.

When I arrived at the hotel, I checked in at the front desk and took my stuff up. I changed into jeans and a Bricks by the Bay T-shirt, and went downstairs. I saw the tail end of the opening ceremonies – a presentation about the new LEGOLAND Florida which opens in October.

After that I milled about in the lobby for a while. I talked to a couple of people including Arthur Gugick, the guy running Thursday afternoon’s architecture workshop, about doing the architectural boat tour on Monday. He seemed positive about it, and said he would give me some time during that workshop to mention it and gauge interest.

I went across the road to get some takeout dinner, and ate it in the room, and went to bed.

Thursday morning, I attended a workshop on sculpture and landscaping, presented by one of the builders from LEGOLAND, Mark Larson. He’s a very entertaining speaker and showed a lot of great photos of waterfalls and rocks and stuff, such as this one by Mark Kelso:
Mark Larson Waterfall

A specific building technique he described that I had not thought of is illustrated by this image:
The top row is not lined up with the bottom row – it is offset by one stud. This helps significantly strengthen the wall, so that if twisted it won’t come apart as easily.

For the presentation he used some random bits of LEGO to demonstrate some of the concepts, but it was hard to see from the back of the room. I wished they’d had a video camera (webcam?) connected to the projector so we could all see it.

To conclude the session we took time to build hemispheres (domes) out of LEGO bricks. We used “brick paper” to design the circles in both axes out of LEGO parts and then built them out of assorted parts of various colors that were provided. It was a bit chaotic because the parts weren’t sorted or organized, and the assortment of parts provided didn’t match up with our needs very well, but it was still interesting to work on it.

The big lesson in making a sphere out of LEGO is to remember that any way you slice up a sphere you get a circle, not just at the 90 degree surfaces but also at all angles throughout the sphere you should see circles all over the surface. He showed a picture of a large LEGO sphere (designed by computer) that they did at LEGOLAND in which you could see circles all over it.

The afternoon workshop that I attended was on LEGO architecture, presented by Arthur Gugick with a special guest appearance by Shannon Sproule (aka Shannon Ocean), a great builder from Australia. I video-recorded the entire thing. Arthur began by talking about his experiences building LEGO buildings and how he was chosen to build the Taj Mahal model used in the Australian indie movie “Taj” and how he was flown to Australia where he built an exact copy of the model so the film could have a backup prop. He then introduced Shannon, who was the on-set LEGO guy responsible for the models after Arthur went home. After all this, Arthur showed a short video of a TV commercial he was in for a now-defunct independent LEGO toy store. I had been talking to Arthur about the architectural boat tour, and he let me make an announcement to the group at this point about it. Only one person came forward to sign up, a guy visiting from Holland who is flying home Monday evening. Arthur is interested too but needs to confirm child care before staying an extra half-day. After my announcement, Arthur then brought out the bricks that Shannon had schlepped back from Australia for the prop that was destroyed during the filming (at one point the protagonist destroys it in a fit of frustration/rage). The parts were dumped on the floor and everyone there got to take some.

I wandered around for a bit after that, and eventually met someone who was thinking about going to the LEGO store soon, and we did that. I’m afraid I got a little carried away and spent over $700 on LEGO sets at 30% off. Only one of them was for someone else – one of the BayLUG members responded to my call for requests for stuff to bring home. Luckily these people had a large vehicle and we were able to get everything back to the hotel.

When I returned to the hotel there was a robotics contest going on. The challenge had been issued in the early afternoon to build a MINDSTORMS robot that could deposit balls in five different containers placed around the field of play. The game was contained in a wooden box – a flat table surface with about 6” high walls all the way around, all made of plywood. The various containers, all made of LEGO, were worth 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 points each, in varying degrees of difficulty in terms of size and placement. If you got balls in all 5, you would earn 55 points. The amazing thing is you had to build and program a robot in just a few hours to accomplish this task! There were several very clever solutions, and it was fun to watch them attempt (with varying degrees of success) to earn as many points as possible in several rounds of competition. In the end, naturally, Steve Hassenplug won (he always wins these sort of things) but some of the other competitors were quite good too.

After that I sort of roamed around for a bit. They had a “ballroom crawl” where soft drinks were provided and everyone roamed around the ballrooms full of displays as a group, socializing and admiring what people brought. After going through all the ballrooms, I went upstairs to write this and go to bed.