“LEGO didn’t make those specialized parts when I was a kid”

Have you ever been talking about LEGO with someone who said “LEGO didn’t make those specialized parts when I was a kid”? It happens all the time at shows. Whenever we have a BayLUG exhibit at a model train show or museum or Maker Faire, or on the public day at Bricks by the Bay or other conventions, there are always adults coming through who look at the clever uses of parts in our MOCs and make a comment like this. Continue reading ““LEGO didn’t make those specialized parts when I was a kid””

Back Online

You may have noticed this site has been down a lot lately.

The machine that hosted the Brickpile, along with BayLUG and Bricks by the Bay, along with some other personal domains that I and some friends owned, was hacked back in January, and then we got another site up briefly and it too was almost immediately compromised. But now this is the third try, this time hosted on Amazon EC3. Wish me luck.

Speaking of Bricks by the Bay, we’re ramping things up for the convention this year and I’m really excited about it. Come down to Santa Clara in August and spend a weekend immersing yourself in LEGO fan culture! The convention is Thursday through Sunday, August 7-10, 2014, with a Public Exhibition on Sunday. I’m putting the final touches on the registration system for this year now, and we’ll have it open shortly. Check out the Bricks by the Bay website for more information and I hope to see you there!

P.S.: I’m also going to be at Brickworld in Chicago this year, and later in the year BrickCon in Seattle. If you’re going to be there, look for me.

Colors and Sorting

I’ve been recently going through my LEGO collection adjusting some of the organization with respect to color. With all the new colors from the Friends sets coming in, I’ve been really at a loss to find an organization system that is consistent and clear, both while sorting and while looking for parts, and takes into account the vast differences in available parts across the color pallette.

Anyone who’s undertaken to sort LEGO has faced the age-old question – sort by color, or by shape? Like most people, my first attempt at sorting LEGO was by color, and like most people I immediately ran into some major drawbacks to that style of sorting:

  • You can’t find the small pieces easily, which tend to drift to the bottom of the bin
  • It’s a lot easier to find a red 1×4 among a pile of 1×4’s of all colors, than to find a 1×4 among a sea of red
  • Tendency to make monochromatic MOCs, because it’s extra work to get parts of other colors

I didn’t stay with that sorting system for very long. For the past 10 years or so, I’ve been mainly sorting by shape, with color as a secondary sort parameter in some cases. Over the years I’ve evolved the following system:

  • Bricks, plates (1x and 2x only), and tiles (except round ones): each color has its own container, and within that container each size is in a ziploc bag.
  • Slopes: sorted into containers by angle (45, 33, etc.) and then ziploc bags within that container for each color. Corner and peak slopes are separated out from ordinary slopes as well.
  • Everything else: all colors mixed together, sorted by shapes or categories of parts.

This has worked well as long as LEGO’s color pallette was fairly consistent. But in the past few years, especially with Friends coming out, I’ve had a hard time integrating new colors into my sorting system. The problem is that the new pastels, purple, etc. – as well as older colors such as the sand, medium, and dark colors – just don’t exist in the kinds of quantities that mainline/primary colors do. LEGO doesn’t make all sizes and shapes in each color, and I don’t have as many of them. So while it’s not hard to spot a purple part among a sea of same-shape/size parts of all colors, it can still take a fair amount of digging and raking through parts because there are so few of them. And since the new colors only include a small range of shapes/sizes, it’s hard to remember “Did LEGO make one of these in purple?”

So my thinking has evolved toward the conclusion that it’s better to have these rare colors separated out from the general population of my collection. If I’m going to build something out of purple parts, my options are more constrained by “what did LEGO make in this color?” than “can I find a specific part in this color?” anyway.

But then the question became, which colors get this treatment? Obviously colors I don’t have much of, such as Maersk blue or the new colors only found in Friends sets, do. But what about Orange? Lime? Sand green? Dark blue? Dark tan? These colors are a lot more common in recent sets, and LEGO have made a pretty complete pallette of them (at least compared to colors like purple), but still I don’t have that many and in some cases they are easily confused for colors such as grey or black.

I bet you can see where I’m going with this – I came to the realization that there are three types of color of LEGO parts.

  1. Main colors: white, black, light/dark stone grey, red, blue, yellow, tan, brown, dark red, green
  2. Intermediate colors: orange, lime, dark blue, dark green, medium blue, sand green
  3. Rare colors: purple, sand red, sand blue, sand green, Maersk blue, dark brown, dark tan, dark flesh/nougat, bright green, pastels, azure, teal, etc.

Main colors continue to be sorted as described above. I’ve been going through all my bins to pull out any Intermediate or Rare colors, however. The Intermediate colors get placed back in the bins where they were found, but in a separate ziploc bag. So I’m putting all those colors together in one bag in some cases, or where there is a lot of them into separate bags. For bricks and plates and tiles, they still get their own color bins, stored alongside the main color bins. Dark red has reached sufficient ubiquity to be counted as a Main Color, and some of the other dark or sand colors come close but didn’t quite make the cut.

But all the Rare color parts, regardless of what type or shape of part it is, get pulled out of the general population. These will be collected by color, and placed into a Rare Colors bin. All parts of the same color will go into one bag in most cases, except so far only Purple has enough parts to justify its own bin (because I bought a dozen #7591 Construct a Zurg sets on sale, so I have a lot of large purple parts). In most cases the parts are further divided into ziploc bags by type, and then those bags are placed together into a gallon ziploc bag.

I’ve gone through most of my bins and pulled out all the non-Main colors, and I’m feeling good about it so far. But I haven’t tried building anything with the Rare colors yet…

How do you tackle this issue?

Set up my room at last!

I moved this past March from Mountain View, CA to El Cerrito (just north of Berkeley). In the process, I had to consolidate my bedroom and my LEGO studio into one room. That’s fine, as the new room is plenty big enough, but there was a small disaster during the move that prevented me from finishing setting up the room until just now.

You see, I keep my LEGO in these “PAX” wardrobe cabinets from IKEA. I have two of the 39 1/4″ x 23 1/2″ x 93 1/8″ wardrobes, with shelves in them that get filled up with plastic bins full of sorted LEGO parts. But because the wardrobes are so tall, the movers couldn’t fit them around the corner into my room, and so I had to disassemble them in the kitchen to be rebuilt in my room. Unfortunately, as I was taking the first one apart, I made the mistake of standing on the floor of the cabinet, which broke under my weight. I did get the other one taken apart and put back together without incident, having learned that lesson… and so, in my bedroom for the past four months, I’ve had one PAX cabinet full of LEGO, with stacks and stacks of plastic bins of parts in front of it, and the remains of the other cabinet leaning against the wall.

I finally got around to fixing the problem this week. Here’s what I did. I bought a new regular shelf from IKEA’s “as-is” department (actually 2 of them, since that’s the only way they sell them) and converted it to be a new floor. I cut pieces off the old floor shelf and used them to make brackets that the new one could sit on, and screwed/glued it all together. (Sadly, I couldn’t use the clever screws that IKEA furniture is normally held together with as that would have required precision drilling to make them fit into the new shelf/floor.) Thanks to my friend Zonker Harris for suggesting this idea, by the way. So yesterday after a few hours of mucking about with power tools and screws and glue, I managed to get the busted PAX put together, if not good as new, then at least good enough, and put all my LEGO bins away finally.

Now, it’s theoretically possible for me to start building again. I don’t know if I’ll get around to it, as I have so much work to do for Bricks by the Bay, but I’m sure I will eventually.

And speaking of Bricks by the Bay, public day tickets are now available (but you can still register for the whole convention). Hope to see you in a couple of weeks at the show!

Flickr Changes

Have you seen the latest stupid decision from Yahoo? They’ve not only completely redesigned the Flickr user interface, they’re phasing out the Flickr Pro account system. According to this article from Mashable, they’ve stopped selling Pro accounts, and they’ve taken away almost all the advantages that Pro account holders have had. In fact, it would seem that Pro accounts now have a smaller maximum file size than free ones (50MB vs 200MB, 90 seconds vs 3 minutes for video)!

So for those of us who have Pro accounts, the only real advantage that seems to be left is unlimited (vs. 1 TB) storage, and the ability to see view counts and referrer statistics.

Oh yeah, and they royally screwed up the UI. Sigh. Yahoo, what were you thinking?

Should I still upload my Maker Faire photos? I’m tempted to just stop using Flickr altogether… but then I have to figure out where to put my photos, and then there’s all the past posts in the blog to think about.. Ugh.

BayLTC at TCA 2012

The Bay Area LEGO Train Club displayed a train layout at the Train Collectors’ Association Cal-Stewart Spring Meet, in Santa Clara, California, on March 2-4, 2012.

This is one of our favorite events to display at, as they have a fairly low stress environment and it is in a very nice facility. We set up our exhibit on Friday afternoon, March 2, and finished setup Saturday morning. On Saturday, however, the show was only open to members of the TCA who were there for the Meet, so the crowd levels were low-stress. Sunday was busier, as it was open to the public from 10am-2pm. In past years, the attendance for the public day at this event has been fairly light, and we haven’t bothered putting up our “sneeze guards” (Plexiglass barriers that keep the little kids from reaching into the layout), but this year we quickly realized they had done a much better job promoting it, and we had to scramble to get the sneeze guards up before too many fingers found their way into places they shouldn’t (or worse yet, took things they shouldn’t … you know how grabby little kids can be around toys). Once we had them up, the crowd lightened up again, but we were still glad we did it.

This event was held at the Santa Clara Convention Center, where we will be holding Bricks by the Bay in two weeks. While we were there, I had a chance to meet with our representative from the Convention Center and tour the facilities we will be using along with some of the convention volunteers who were also participating in the layout. We finalized the BBTB event schedule and locations where all the activities will be held.

This year the layout was a rather unusual shape for us. Usually we make a big ring of tables, and Bruce brings a gate that carries two tracks across it, so we can have two loops of track circling the entire layout. But Bruce wasn’t able to attend so we tried a new design, making a large “C” shape instead, with the two loops of track doubling back at each end, making a total of four tracks around the layout. It worked quite well, but it presented us with a new esthetic challenge, as there was now a stretch with four parallel tracks and no structures. When I saw that Friday night, I decided we needed a signal gantry, so that night I whipped one up and I am quite happy how it came out.

Take a look at the pictures from the show. Click the image below, or view all the photos as a slideshow.

BayLTC at TCA 2012

Wrapping up the Living LEGO-cy Show

The last day of BayLUG‘s annual “Living LEGO-cy” show and teardown took place on Sunday, January 15th. My pictures are available online. This is an event we do every year at the Museum of American Heritage in Palo Alto, CA, as a fundraiser for the club and for the museum. This year we had excellent attendance, with a peak of 841 people coming through on the 30th, which was the most people we’ve had in one day since we started keeping track (and charging $2 admission).

Here’s a group photo of club members taken during teardown. Click the photo to see the rest of the images, or view them as a slideshow.

Group Photo

Our next event is the Train Collectors Association Cal-Stewart Spring convention, open to the public on Sunday March 4th, from 10:00am-2pm. It’s a toy train show and one of our favorite events of the year. Two weeks after that is the Bricks by the Bay 2012 convention – the convention runs Friday through Sunday, March 16-18, and is open to the public on Sunday the 18th.

Setting up my LEGO studio

I’m writing this from my new LEGO studio, which is a work in progress that I’m in the process of setting up.

A little backstory: Just under two years ago, my wife Holly and I decided to break up. At first, she stayed in our bedroom, and I moved into the second bedroom. At that time, the second bedroom was a combination office and LEGO room, but to a large extent was really just a storage room. You know how a lot of the time one room in the house becomes the catch-all dumping ground when you need to clean up the rest of the house? That room served that purpose. Anyway, I cleared the junk out of that room, went to IKEA and bought a bed and some other furnishings, and moved into it. In the meantime Holly redecorated what had been our bedroom – I put our queen size bed into storage, and she got a new folding couch/bed and set that room up as her own space. We lived like that for a few months, and then in the spring she had to suddenly move across the country to Pennsylvania to help her mother, who had fallen ill. Although her mother recovered pretty quickly, she stayed there, and rented her own apartment in a nearby town. In the meantime, her room (our old room) was left pretty much as she left it. She flew out to visit once, and stayed in her room, and for a while she was paying me a part of the rent to keep her room available for her.

Eventually it became clear that I should take over the room, but I took a long time to get around to doing it. After living together for 18 years, it was hard for me to make those final steps of moving her out of the house. Finally though, this month, I finished packing up her stuff and putting it into a rented storage unit for her, and in the past few days I’ve been moving my stuff into the room. My LEGO collection had outgrown the two IKEA PAX armoires I was keeping it in, and now having the entire bedroom will allow me to organize things so that everything is easily accessible to me. Moving the LEGO out of my bedroom allowed me to reorganize the room to have a lot more elbow room, and the new LEGO studio is shaping up nicely.

The Advent calendar project, recently finished, was done in the living room until the 22nd day. The last two days were photographed in the studio, and I’ve just finished building my birthday present from Holly – the Battle of Alamut (Set 7573 from the Prince of Persia line). Hopefully with the new studio I will be more active building LEGO. But I have a lot of sorting and organizing to do first…

My MOC featured in Australian housing article

My Yellow Victorian House MOC (“My Own Creation”) has been featured in an article about the housing boom/bubble in Australia. Since I use the Creative Commons licensing for my photos, that’s just fine with me, and they gave my name (“Bill Ward’s brickpile”) so people can easily Google me and find the rest of my work. That’s what Creative Commons is for!

Thanks to Tim “gambort” Gould for pointing this out to me.

Amazon links are back

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!