BrickCon 2014

As I’ve done every year since 2008, I went to this year’s BrickCon LEGO convention in Seattle. But this year my trip to BrickCon was a part of an extended vacation which included my trip to the LEGO Fan Weekend 2014, Skærbæk Denmark.

After my travels in Denmark and Germany, I flew to Seattle from Frankfurt, with a layover in Houston – not the most direct way of getting there by any stretch, but that’s what happens when you redeem frequent flyer miles for a Saver Award. It also didn’t help that I was really sick the whole way.

I’d been taking Sudafed (actually the Danish equivalent, but pseudoephedrine is pseudoephedrine) for several days by that point, but my nose was still running madly all day. I had brought one pocket pack of tissues, and used it all up on that flight, and had to ask a flight attendant for a box of them from their lavatory supplies, which I carried with me throughout my layover in Houston and all the way to Seattle. Needless to say, with the recent news about Ebola in Texas (though in Dallas, not Houston) some of the fellow passengers were not too comfortable with my constant sniffling, coughing, sneezing, and nose-blowing…

Before I left Germany though, I had done my best to prepare for traveling while sick. I spent the night before my flight at the Hyatt Regency Mainz, near Frankfurt. Thanks to my Hyatt credit card, I get one free night at any Hyatt hotel each year, and I used that to good effect. The hotel has nice spa facilities, so in the morning after breakfast I used the sauna, steam bath, and hot tub to try to get my sinuses ready for the trip, which helped a lot, but that didn’t last all day.

I don’t sleep well on planes, apparently, so I watched several movies on the flight to Houston (Bad Teacher, How to Marry a Millionaire, and Chef, plus some TV shows – the new seatback movie system was really cool). In Houston I had to go through a series of government screenings – passport control, customs, and TSA – and at each one there was almost no line and no hassle. I was very pleased and surprised. The only wait was for baggage claim – it took forever to get my suitcase, just to pull it through the customs inspection and drop it back off to re-check it for my flight to Seattle.

Our flight from Houston left an hour late due to thunderstorms in the area, so we got into Seattle about 1am local time – add 9 hours for my body being on European time, and I had a loooooong day! I got my rental car and checked into my hotel and finally got to bed around 3.

I slept in a bit Friday morning and went to a grocery store to get some iced tea, a sandwich for lunch, and some 12-hour cold meds, and headed over to Seattle Center in plenty of time for BrickCon opening ceremonies. I met up with the other representatives from BayLUG there. This year for the first time BrickCon is using a theater located adjacent to the expo hall for the ceremonies, which is a really nice change. The rooms they had used in past years (which were a good 5 minute walk uphill anyway) having been closed for demolition, this was very handy to have nextdoor and worked very well. I hope they can use it for years to come.

After the ceremony I went to see what games I had gotten into and the answer was all of them! I chose to participate in the Box Build and Blind Build contests. For Box Build we had a Christmas wreath polybag and a 3-in-1 Creator airplane set in a small plastic container, so no box per se, but it was still interesting trying to build the airplane and wreath as quickly as possible without the benefit of instructions. Blind Build was a police van, which I had to build without being able to see the parts, and I completed it with only 4 errors, all based on color mistakes which you can hardly blame me for. I didn’t do very well in the Box Build but I came in 16th on the Blind Build, which meant I was in good standing to participate in the Finals the next day. We finished fairly early on the Blind Build so I went to the last part of the BrickLink Roundtable, then went over to the exhibit hall for a while.

I had some pizza for dinner and went to the keynote address. The speaker was Ryan McNaught from Australia, who told some irreverent stories about his career and country. After the address I went back to the hall for a while, then back to my hotel and to bed.

All afternoon I had been bragging about how I was not jetlagged, and how the time felt like it was right, and how lucky I was to beat the jet lag… except I couldn’t sleep one wink that night. Partly it was the pseudoephedrine, I’m sure. But in any case nothing I could think to do would let me sleep. After a long night of tossing and turning, I gave up and got up. I showered and dressed and went down to the hotel breakfast room for a crappy waffle. I ate with the Portland convention (Bricks Cascade) board members who were staying at my hotel.

After breakfast I drove over to BrickCon and took a bunch of photos of MOCs, but when the crowds came in for the public day, I left to go to some of the attendee activities.

By contrast to Friday, where I got into all 4 of the games I signed up for (2 of them going on at the same time as the ones I went to), on Saturday I didn’t get into any of them. I went to the BrickLink CAD presentation, which is about a new CAD program based on LDraw that they are working on for the BrickLink MOC store, then went to the Armory to get lunch (fish sandwich and fries) which I ate on my way back to and in the theater/classroom building. I finished my lunch sitting in the back of the classroom listening to the presentation on creating custom kits, which renewed my interest in making kits out of some of my own MOCs. After that I went to “Seeing Beyond the Piece” which was a presentation about Nice Parts Usage. I had to leave a little early to see if I was going to be in the Blind Build Final, and as it turned out I was the 2nd alternate. However they only needed one alternate, so I was turned away. Instead I went to the exhibit hall to take more photos now that the public hours were over, and then back to the classroom area for the Sorting Roundtable.

For dinner I finally met up with friends at The Rock, the pizza restaurant inside the Maxwell. I had a chicken sandwich and fries, and gave out BR minifigs I had brought back from Denmark to a couple people. After that we all went back to the theater for the awards ceremony, and I won a Chima set in the door prize drawing, which I wrapped up in some newspaper and used as my gift in the Dirty Brickster game that followed. I came away with an Atlantis board game, which I felt was a nice upgrade, and went back to the exhibit hall to take pictures until they kicked everyone out. After one round of Cards Against Humanity in the Maxwell Hotel, I decided to leave and try to get some sleep, as I had to give my Brick Geometry presentation at 11am the next day. I stopped at the QFC supermarket and got some Benedryl, which I took along with the rest of my pills that night, and I did sleep pretty well.

Sunday morning I went to BrickCon and brought with me the Ghostbusters set I had bought in Germany to use for props in my talk, but realized that a whole bag of parts from it was missing! I built a few props out of the rest of the set, abandoning the idea of just building the whole car to show off and talk about its building techniques, and brought that to my class. (Normally when I give the Brick Geometry talk, I bring a few MOCs along with me to use as examples, but when I packed for the trip I decided I didn’t have space in my luggage to carry them to Europe and back.)

I was still pretty sick, but luckily they had a microphone and amplifier set up, so I didn’t have to worry about projecting my voice. The presentation went very well, and I realized along the way that I should prepare props specifically for the class that illustrate just the features in the presentation, and don’t necessarily need to bring the actual MOCs along! I’ll prepare a kit of just those assemblies and next time I give the class just bring that. Also I realized that the school bus example is poor and probably should be replaced with something else.

After my talk, a friend and I went out for lunch at a Thai restaurant up the road. After lunch I went to the NMRA roundtable where we talked about layout ideas, hotels, and other topics. Russell and I were there representing BayLTC / BayLUG and I signed up to work on a group hotel block for all the LEGO people. After that I finished out my day by going to a LEGO Open Source talk, which was a nice overview of the intersection between open source practices and the LEGO hobby. After that I hung out around the expo hall while they closed out the public, and we had the closing ceremony during which I had a chance to remind people about Bricks by the Bay.

After the closing ceremonies everyone busied themselves tearing down their exhibits, and I hung out for a while saying farewell to some people. I had dinner with some of my friends at the Maxwell Hotel and then we went downstairs to play Cards Against Humanity, but I left while the night was still fairly young to go pack and sleep.

In the morning I got up and had breakfast at the hotel and went to the airport and flew home. I was still sick and spent the next few days in bed. I saw on Facebook that a bunch of other people from BrickCon were sick too, and I sure hope I didn’t give it to them! All weekend I tried to keep my distance, not touch or hug or cough on anyone, etc., and anyway I’d been sick all week so hopefully I was no longer very contagious… and since I was sick for another week after BrickCon, I now think that I probably caught a second cold while I was there while my immune system was suppressed from dealing with the European con crud.

Overall though I had a great time on the trip. I really enjoyed both LEGO events, and saw lots of incredible LEGO creations, spent time with some great people, and really enjoyed the talks and games I participated in. I highly recommend attending LEGO conventions – the camaraderie and creative inspiration is well worth the expense in time and money.

Check out my photos from BrickCon on Flickr and start building today!