Brickvention 2017

After the flurry of activity on my blog in December for the Advent Calendars you may have wondered why I disappeared… well the reason was I took a vacation to Australia right after Christmas!

Brickvention Selfie

I spent New Year’s in Sydney, did lots of sightseeing, and ended up at Brickvention in Melbourne. I’ll be posting the travel photos soon on a new travel blog I’m going to be starting, and will post a link to it here when it is live so you can check those out if you want. But the photos from Brickvention are now available online, and here they are! (Click images for a bigger one, or see links at the bottom to Flickr albums.)
Continue reading “Brickvention 2017”

BrickCon 2013

As I have done every year since 2008, I went to BrickCon (the LEGO convention in Seattle, Washington) again this year. Here is my trip report.

I left home Wednesday morning, October 2nd, around 10am. I live in El Cerrito, California, which is near Berkeley, and it’s about 16 hours drive to Seattle from there if done in one step. However, that’s more driving than I can do in a day, so I need to spend the night somewhere along the way. I drove all day and got about halfway through Oregon by the time I decided to find a place to sleep for the night.

Mossy tree and creek

I camped in my van along a forest road in Willamette National Forest, just east of Sweet Home, Oregon. As it was pouring down rain, I had to set up my bed without the benefit of opening the doors and going outside. I was ferrying a bunch of boxes of merchandise for Miguel Monje (one of the vendors at BrickCon who is based in the bay area and often sells at BayLUG meetings), and had to rearrange the load to make room for my cot. Unfolding the cot in those tight confines was a challenge, but I finally got it open, and though I wasn’t able to get the foot of the bed locked open it was good enough to sleep on. I set up my sleeping bag and turned in for the night. However, it was only 8pm, and though I was really tired, I wasn’t actually all that sleepy. I read a few of the Sherlock Holmes stories on my iPad, and after an hour or two I was able to sleep. In the morning, the sun was out and the light through the moss-covered trees was beautiful. The road back to the Interstate went through some lovely small towns and by a lake (reservoir) that was really scenic in the morning light. I took a few pictures along the way, which were the only photos I took the entire trip, apart from the LEGO convention itself of course.

I stopped in Portland for breakfast and did some shopping. I had a delicious vegan waffle at my favorite Portland food cart, Flavour Spot, with fried chicken as a “Dutch taco.” After that I headed to downtown and went to Powell’s Books. I lucked out and found a parking space on the street just across from the main entrance to the store. I picked up some Kim Stanley Robinson books and Storm Front: Book one of The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. On my way out of town I swung by Voodoo Doughnut and got some fuel for the final push to Seattle.

Rainbow Connection: Kermit the Frog with Banjo

When I got to BrickCon, I met up with Miguel and unloaded his stuff and my LEGO models at the loading dock, then parked my van and went in to set up Kermit and my Micropolis display. After reconnecting with a few LEGO friends, I went over to where I would be staying, the home of a friend I met dancing a few years ago. We went out for Japanese food and she busied herself prepping for her trip – she was ironically enough going to be spending the weekend in the bay area, so I would have her house to myself until she returned Monday. In the morning I met another friend for an early lunch, then headed to BrickCon just in time for the opening ceremony.

I was in Seattle this weekend for two events – besides BrickCon, there’s also a dance convention (Seattle Fusion Festival) that I was attending. They had dance classes all afternoon on Friday through Sunday, but because of the distance between where they are held and BrickCon I had to choose between them and BrickCon, and I chose LEGO. Last year when I attended both events, the dance classes were held right there at Seattle Center, and it was easy to bounce back and forth between the two events, but this year I wasn’t so lucky. However, when I registered for the dance weekend, I had a super early bird discount, which was only $10 more than the dance-only pass, so missing all those dance classes didn’t cost me much, and as you’ll hear later on, I did make it to one dance class on Sunday. But in the future if these events are held the same weekend, I will probably just sign up for the dance-only pass and opt out of all the dance classes.

So after the ceremony, I signed up for several activities at the convention, and participated in the Bag Build and Master Build contests. For the Bag Build, we had to assemble a small LEGO set with all the parts placed inside a Ziploc quart bag. That’s always a difficult challenge, but this one was particularly bad as it was such a small bag. The Master Build was also quite challenging – the theme was Pigs vs Cows, and we were given 3 sets to open up and use all the parts, plus two pig heads and two cow heads, but we had to do it in teams of two. I teamed up with a teenager named Gus, and we came up with a pigs vs cows podrace scene, with the cow’s podracer crashed. It didn’t win, but the team next to us did. There were also three entries built by LEGO designers in Denmark and placed among our entries, but those didn’t even come close to winning according to the judges. But with both these games, even though I didn’t win, I scored plenty of free LEGO, and that’s the point! After that was over I joined some California LEGO builders for dinner back at the hotel where they were staying.

When we finished dinner, I put my leftovers in the car and we all walked back over to the convention for the evening ceremonies and keynote speeches. There were two speakers: David Robertson, author of Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry, a business history of the LEGO company, who talked about the incredible comeback from crisis and recent incredible growth of the company sales; and Hillel Cooperman, a local fan who has been giving keynote speeches at BrickCon for several years, who cautioned that LEGO is completely missing out on the 3D printing revolution and being eaten alive online by Minecraft. There was also a new set unveiled, the Parisian Restaurant, which has some awesome new parts and details. The designer, Jamie Berard (featured in that video), was on hand to talk about it and after the ceremony was over I spent some time in a small group going over some of the details and hearing insider tales of LEGO designers, and walked and talked one-on-one with him back to the exhibition hall, where he went inside while I left to go dancing.

I drove over to the Seattle Fusion Festival and finally checked in and got my wristband, and danced until 2am. One of the key highlights was when my friend Emily Zisman was on stage singing as a part of the band Chance’s End. That was a great performance and the dancers seemed to really enjoy it. A couple of my bay area dancer friends, Reeva and Jasmine, did a “DJ battle” as well. I didn’t know many of the dancers, but recognized a few from the bay area and met a few nice locals. The dancing continued until 5, but I needed to get to bed as I had to give my “Brick Geometry” presentation in the morning.

In the morning I had to pick up some of my models to use as props for my talk. I had brought my Caltrain locomotive and lunar school bus, and had built special for this talk a truss bridge and some Pythagorean triangle examples. These were all in a box in the exhibition hall, so I needed to get in there, preferably before they let the public in, and grab those as well as the Micropolis hospital, and take them up to where the talk would be given. They announced on the PA that the public was coming in at 10am, right as I was picking up this stuff, so I timed it pretty thin. I hurried out before it got too crowded and went up the hill, found my room and set up my props.

After giving my talk (which was pretty well attended, including Jamie Berard who is one of the LEGO model design managers), I met up with Gus (my partner from the Master Build competition) and we divvied the parts from the sets we had received. I got some take-out for lunch from a nearby market and took it back to the con and ate while picking out my parts for the “101 Bricks” game, which I then won! (I think that the final round gave me a bit of an advantage, with the theme of “Golden Gate Bridge” … I built a studs-down model in brown and dark green: wrong colors, but it had the right silhouette.) The next event I attended was a talk by Jamie Berard where he explained the process and particular challenges of designing the Sydney Opera House set. It was a fascinating look behind the scenes, and it’s an amazing set that I’m looking forward to building. From there I went down to the exhibition hall to put my props back where they had been (now that the public had gone home).

I went to my car and swapped my laptop for my camera, and started back to take pictures of models, but saw some friends (and LEGO employees) heading into the hotel restaurant so I followed and joined them instead. The restaurant couldn’t accommodate us all as one group, so we broke up into two groups of six and sat down. The two LEGO reps in the group, Jamie and Kevin, each stayed with one group. Kevin Hinkle, the LEGO fan liaison for the Americas, was in my group, and we talked Bricks by the Bay business a lot. Wayne Hussey (the guy who runs BrickCon) and his wife walked in as we were all eating, and I bade them join us.

Micropolis at BrickCon 2013

After dinner we all went up to the meeting rooms for the award ceremonies. They announced the winners of all the various speed builds, but somehow didn’t include 101 Bricks in the results unfortunately. However when they announced the winners in Microscale, I was pleased to learn that my train station was selected as the “Size Matters: Building” winner. I got a nice little trophy as a prize.

When the ceremony was over, I went back to the exhibition hall and finally started taking pictures. With a brief stop in the middle to go transfer the photos to my laptop, I got almost all of the picture-taking done but my camera battery died, so I still had to go back in the morning to get pictures of a few more things. I went dancing again, this time staying until 1am, and went back to my friend’s house to sleep.

Sunday morning was the last day of both BrickCon and the Fusion Festival, and I finally made it to a dance class! But first, the night before I had a few pictures left to take of the LEGO models since my camera battery died, so I charged it up overnight and went during the public hours to finish the job. I was able to get around and take pictures over people’s shoulders or to squeeze between people. Once that was done I headed up to the breakout rooms for the sorting and storage roundtable. This was a really good discussion of the ways people sort and store their parts. I didn’t get much out of it in terms of ideas I could use, but I shared my recent color sorting changes and discussed the containers I use for storage. One idea that I may try is to use storage containers intended for beading to store Technic axles, as you can apparently customize the sizes of the compartments by removing the inner walls in a way that is much more suitable to LEGO than the fishing tackle boxes I had tried a few years back. It was fascinating to see how different people approach the problems of organizing their collections. I also talked to the guy who was moderating it about having him come to BBTB and run a military theme. I gave him a business card and he said he might be interested. I walked back to the exhibition hall and hung out in the Microscale area for a while, and then left to go to catch the one dance class I had room in my schedule for.

The dance class was on micro dancing, which is basically holding still with your partner and using breath and upper body isolations to dance rather than moving about. We did exercises involving things like dancing for 2 minutes without shifting your weight or taking a step. I’d done that kind of thing before, and it’s really nice, and a wonderful peaceful way to wrap up a weekend of activity.

After that one class, however, I couldn’t stick around for more as I had to return to BrickCon for teardown and closing ceremonies. I packed up all my models into their boxes, and as soon as they opened up the loading dock at 5pm I got my van and drove it around to the back of the building. I loaded my stuff into the van and parked it, then went back to the exhibition hall to hang out with people for a while. Eventually a group of us went out for dinner and then to the hotel lobby to play Cards Against Humanity. After the hilarity had ended, we all parted ways and I drove off to the dance.

At the dance I had some wonderful dances, including an epic polka that was Ted Maddry’s last song – he even announced that people should clear a lane for the polka dancers. I made some new Facebook friends and had some nice conversations as well as great dances, and left around 3am.

Monday morning, I went to the LEGO store in Bellevue with a LEGO friend from England who needed to stock up on LEGO Star Wars sets, and while I was there I got a Pick-A-Brick cup, and noticed they had some sets on sale, so I stocked up on them as prizes or speed-build fodder for Bricks by the Bay 2014. Ed and I had lunch, and then I did some thrift shopping and went back to my friend’s house. She had returned from her trip, and we went out for Thai food and had a pleasant evening catching up. In the morning my friend took me for breakfast, and then I loaded up my van and hit the road.

It had been raining a little all morning, but it got worse as the day went on. There was plenty of thunder and lightning, and when I was just south of Tacoma there was a lightning bolt very close by, where the thunder actually shook the van! It felt like a boulder being dropped on the back of the van from a great height. I suspect it was cloud-to-cloud lightning directly above me, as there was some delay (though not much) between the flash and the boom, and the shock wave hit me so hard. The rain petered out by the time I got to Oregon though. In Portland I stopped at Voodoo Doughnut again for more yummies, of course, and then went to the LEGO store. Since LEGO has discontinued the convention discounts this year, my only way to get discounts on exclusive items is to shop in Oregon where there’s no sales tax. I bought a few big items (including the Sydney Opera House) and while I was there I also picked up some of the sale items for Bricks by the Bay similar to how I did in Washington.

As I mentioned at the top, it’s not realistic to expect me to make it from Seattle to home in one day, and I was hoping to make a stopover in Eugene at a dancing friend’s house, but she had to work late and wasn’t going to be able to get away even for dinner, so I decided to press on and see her some other time. I ended up sleeping in a rest area near Shasta Lake in northern California. I had bought so many LEGO sets (mostly for Bricks by the Bay) that my cot was covered in boxes of LEGO, and there was no way to keep my bed clear while driving, so I had to shift a bunch of them to the front seats to make room for myself to sleep!

Wednesday morning, I ate my last Voodoo Doughnut for breakfast as I made my way south on I-5. Instead of going home though, I went straight to the Bricks by the Bay storage locker to unload the prizes and to my own to drop off camping supplies and other items. I finally got home in the early evening, not quite missing the rush hour traffic, and collapsed.

You can see my pictures from BrickCon, as well as a few pictures I took near my campsite the first night, in my BrickCon 2013 Flickr set, which you can also view as a slideshow.

Bricks Cascade 2012

Last weekend, I went up to Portland, Oregon for the first-ever Bricks Cascade LEGO convention.

I had a real ordeal getting up there. I had standby tickets to fly up Thursday morning from San Francisco, but the flights were all full. I bought a one-way ticket using miles instead on another airline, and then realized that flight was out of San Jose! So I had to take two BART trains, a Caltrain, and a bus to change airports. I got to the airport in plenty of time, but the plane was late coming in… and after unloading the incoming passengers, they didn’t load us right away. After a while we finally heard the mechanic was looking into an oil pressure problem, and after an hour or two delay (during which another – full – flight to Portland took off without us), they canceled the flight. We had a choice to be put on a flight from Oakland – yet another airport – that evening, but I didn’t relish the idea of riding in a crowded shuttle bus in rush-hour traffic and told them to just cancel me and give my miles back. I decided to drive up instead… it’s about a 12 hour drive, and at that point (Thursday evening around 5) I thought I could make it up there by noon Friday and still enjoy the convention events.

However, I didn’t get a ton of sleep the night before, and spending the entire day trying to fly wasn’t exactly restful. I didn’t quite make it to Redding before I started getting drowsy, so I pulled off in a rest area to take a nap. It was too warm to really sleep and I didn’t get more than a catnap before pressing on. I spent the night at a truck stop in Weed. I also took some rest breaks the next morning, and between all the sleeping, and a few stops for gas and munchies and stuff – oh, and I had to stop at a tire shop and buy two new tires for my van – I didn’t get into Portland until 5pm. I missed all the Friday activities at the convention, but at least I made it. I went to the airport and got my luggage (which made it on the first flight I missed), and went to my friend’s house where I’d be staying for the weekend, and collapsed into bed.

My hay fever allergies had been acting up even before I left, but when I got up to Oregon, they really kicked into high gear. I was completely stuffed up, and had to take a Benadryl when I went to bed in order to sleep. I had to take plenty of allergy meds all weekend just to function, but I almost completely lost my voice anyway. As I write this Thursday evening, I still have a residual cough and my voice isn’t quite right.

Saturday morning I checked in at the convention and set up Kermit before the doors opened to the public. I took a few photos, then went out for lunch (vegan waffle with fried chicken from the Flavour Spot food cart) and did my shopping at the LEGO store, then went back to the convention center. I took part in the team speed build event, where we formed four teams of six to put together the LEGO Tower Bridge #10214 set. My team finished last, but at least we got to divvy up the set and each keep 1/6 of the parts. At the award ceremony Saturday evening, they gave me a special “Planes Trains & Automobiles” award in honor of my travel misadventures, and Kermit won “Most Iconic” in the Art theme. After the ceremony I went out for dinner and Voodoo Doughnut with a couple friends, and then went back to my host’s house and to bed.

Sunday, I spent the entire day onsite, except for a brief time away for lunch at Red Robin nearby. I took a lot of photos and spent time chatting with people. Overall, the attendance was fairly light for this event, but that is probably for the best their first year. I’m sure as the word gets out, they’ll have more crowds next time. I really enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere that a lighter density crowd brings. They closed the doors at 3, and had a brief closing ceremonies in which my name finally came up in the drawing and I got a Friends set. We packed up all our things and cleared out the hall. One unexpected surprise was another Toyota Sienna van with Oregon “I LEGO” license plates! Turns out, one of the local Play-Well people had a Toyota minivan with a license plate to match my California “I ♥ LEGO” plates.

I spent the evening hanging out with my hosts and headed out in the morning, but did some shopping on my way out of town and didn’t really get on the road until after noon. I got home around 5am, after a few nap breaks. It was quite an ordeal of driving, and I really should stop trying to drive all the way to/from Portland by myself in one step. Road trips are so much easier if you drive no more than 6-8 hours per day. They’re better still if not preceded by a day struggling to get on board an airplane, though.

Anyway, overall I had a great time and am looking forward to BrickCon in Seattle in October, and seeing what Bricks Cascade does for 2013! To see all my photos, click the image, or view a slideshow.

Brickworld Trip Wrapup

This is the rest of my travel journal from Brickworld 2011 LEGO convention in Chicago. I’ve been home from Chicago for two days now, but it’s time to wrap up the journal. My previous installment took us up to Friday afternoon, before I even started taking photos of the exhibits. Carrying forward from that point:

I spent an hour or two photographing everything in the Lake Michigan ballroom, and afterward was feeling really tired, achy, and hungry. So I set my computer to the task of uploading all those photos, and headed out for dinner.

I walked down Milwaukee Ave to where I knew there was a lot of retail and restaurants, at least fast food. I was hungry for something like fish & chips, greasy and salty and filling, but I spotted a little sushi place in a strip mall and decided to check that out. It turned out to be expensive too (Food around there is super expensive! At first I thought it was the hotel, but everywhere seems to be pricey) but I had a large platter of tempura shrimp and vegetables, and a couple pieces of sushi. The food was decent, but I’ve had much better. The place was called “Sushi Gallery.”

After dinner I stopped at Walgreen’s for a few snacks and beverages, and walked back to the hotel. The roads around here are really bad when it comes to sidewalks. Milwaukee Ave has sidewalks on both sides up until about 50 feet from the intersection where I needed to cross for the hotel. I had to walk on the grass (which was luckily dry) to get to the intersection, then after crossing at the crosswalk (at least they had that) I had to walk on the grass again as there was no sidewalk leading up to the hotel entrance (though with a slight detour I could have walked across the parking lot). In California, there would have been more complete sidewalkage, I am sure.

When I got back to my computer it had finished uploading all the photos so I spent some time fixing the ones that were rotated 90 degrees one way or the other. I left my computer and most of my stuff in the hotel room and went to tackle the Ravinia ballroom.

I stayed up late Friday night until around 2am taking pictures in Ravinia, and still didn’t finish. I got up in the morning in time to finish taking pictures there, which I did, but not before I ran into some technological issues. Late at night when I was trying to dump my camera I ran out of disk space. So Saturday morning I was talking to one of the guys from the local train club and he offered to take me to Wal-Mart. I bought a 1TB small hard disk and a large cheap suitcase for all the LEGO sets I had bought.

I copied all my files to the new disk, but it’s really slow. I’m not sure why but it seems USB activity on my computer is significantly affected by its presence (I think it’s not capable of talking USB to two devices at once, and my laptop’s memory card reader slot counts as USB). Every time I take a picture it saves both a 10 megapixel JPG file and a RAW file – the latter being several times larger than its corresponding JPG, containing the original data captured by the camera for post processing purposes. I’m considering turning off the RAW feature when I take pictures at events like this but it still seems like a good idea in case I ever need to go back and reprocess a picture.

Anyway, once the crowds came pouring in, I spent a lot of time in the hotel room, where I managed to get all the LEGO sets I’d bought into the suitcase – by removing them from their boxes and putting them into extra plastic bags that I’d got from the LEGO store. I did go down and take some pictures though, to show what it’s like full of people. Once the crowds left I went over to the next ballroom, Botanic Garden, and took pictures of the models there. One large display in the center of the room was being torn down while I was there – someone had received news that a family member was in the hospital, and he had to go right away. One other thing that won’t come through in the photos is the Christmas music that was constantly coming out of one holiday-themed display. The owner of the display was nowhere to be found, but the music was pretty pervasive throughout the room. Christmas music, especially highly religious songs, should not be played in a secular public event in June, full stop.

While I was taking pictures in that room, the announcement came over the PA for all attendees to gather in front of the hotel for a group photo by Joe Meno, editor of BrickJournal. We stood on and in front of the fountain by the hotel entrance and smiled on the count of 3, then I went back inside to take more pictures in Botanic Garden, and back to my room to download them onto my computer and hard drive.

Saturday night at 10pm, one of the best things about Brickworld happened – the World of Lights and Sound. The “World of Lights” was started two years ago, when I came to Brickworld for the first time in 2009, and now they’ve added sound to it. It’s promoted by LifeLites, a company that produces white LED lamps for use in LEGO models. Lots of people added the lights to their creations and when 10pm on Saturday rolled around, the room lights were turned off, leaving the models to shine for all to appreciate.

Most of the models were unlit, but those that were did some pretty amazing things. Some people used black light, which causes transparent LEGO parts (especially the transparent greenish yellow color) to glow. Many of the town buildings were lit, and a few of the vehicles (such as trains) had interior lighting and/or running lights. There were some mosaics built out of transparent colored parts (like stained glass) that were backlit to good effect.

There was a contest, sponsored by LifeLites, and by far the most popular (and, as it turned out later during the closing ceremonies, winning) entry was the Star Wars Death Star Disco model. It was filled with all kinds of lights including in the dance floor, and was accompanied by a playlist of disco music. On the dance floor Princes Leia was getting down with Darth Vader while a variety of Star Wars characters were standing around in various poses.

Also announced in the closing ceremonies: Next year they’re adding “and Motion” to the “World of Lights” theme.

I stayed up way too late that night. I had a lot of technical difficulties with my pictures stemming from the disorganization that came about due to filling up my laptop’s disk. It turns out that a few files from the Ravinia Ballroom were filed under Lake Michigan by mistake, but only on my hard disk (not on Flickr). I noticed there was a discrepancy in the number of photos in the Lake Michigan folder on my computer and the set on Flickr, so I uploaded them to Flickr and filed them under Lake Michigan … only to look at them and realize they were really in Ravinia. So I deleted them from Flickr. And then I realized that I had not uploaded them under Ravinia either, and should have just edited the descriptions instead of deleting them. So next I undertook a full scale audit to verify the location of each image, check where it was on Flickr compared to on my hard drive, and then to upload whatever’s missing. This took many hours, largely because I keep stopping what I’m doing to chat with people, and I stayed up until about 3am to do it.

Sunday morning, I went downstairs just in time to take photos of the vendor’s room before it opened up to the public. I brought all the LEGO store bags I had left over, including the extra ones I was given to help pack my things, and gave them to Larry Pienazek and his wife. Larry is a friend and long distance (Michigan) BayLUG member whom I’ve known for as long as I’ve been into LEGO, and they are selling off some of their excess inventory of older LEGO sets. They gave me a small set by way of thanks, which was really nice.

I also sat down with Jim Foulds in the LEGO booth for quite a while and we talked about the LEGO conventions. We discussed some of the differences between the various conventions and I asked him for feedback on Bricks by the Bay. He suggested having more group activities, and we talked at length about how to lay out the vendor room and deal with the crowds of kids who act like ants looking for Brickarms.

Afterward I went off in search of a quiet place to work some more on the photo organization and uploading. I went over to the build room, where kids were given a chance to build whatever they wanted out of a huge quantity of dark grey 2×4 bricks. I plugged my laptop in and uploaded the remaining photos that were missing, deleted some duplicates, and rotated ones that were sideways. Partway through the process of fixing sideways pictures, my laptop died due to lack of battery power. Turns out the outlet I was using was dead! Something similar happened Saturday night too, with an outlet in the hallway. I ran into a hotel employee who asked how I was doing and I told him about the dead outlets. Then I went up to the hotel room where I finished the job (but I couldn’t upload photos over the cellular connection I was using) and ate some Fritos and had a quick chat with Valerie on the phone.

After the public left, everyone set about tearing down their models. Having no models on display, teardown was a breeze for me :-)

I was in the vendor room when the public hours ended and teardown began. I talked to several vendors about coming to sell at Bricks by the Bay, and about possible sponsorship opportunities. I also went over to the next room where Vincent Kessels (the guy from Holland who had agreed to go on the boat tour with me the next day) was taking down his things, and talked to him for a bit. But then they locked down the ballrooms and we gathered in the Ravinia room for closing ceremonies.

In Ravinia they had taken down all the tables in one corner of the ballroom and set up a video screen and chairs facing it for closing ceremonies. That area had been largely free of tables anyway, as it had some floor-based robotics exhibits (including the giant chess and Robo Rally boards). The winners in several categories of MOC contests were announced, along with instructions for the final door prize giveaways.

After that I arranged for a taxi to the train station for our trip into Chicago, leaving the airport at 7am to catch a 7:30 train, and went up to my room. I organized my things a bit, read a bit, and took a little nap, until Mariann came in and started talking about dinner. We went down to the lobby and met up with a group of people, 10 in all, and all agreed to go get dinner. We sent two people to scout ahead to see if we could get a table at the Cooper’s Hawk restaurant next to the hotel. They reported success so we all trooped across the parking lot and sat down. The service was rather slow, but the food was excellent. I had salmon with asparagus and broccoli (special version of their salmon dish meant to be dairy-free). As we were leaving we tried to pay for our meal, only to be told it had been taken care of. Apparently one of the people in our group had quietly settled the bill (and this was not a cheap restaurant, especially with the alcohol some of the people had to drink with their meals!) and disappeared.

After dinner I packed up my belongings as much as possible and went to bed.

In the morning we checked out of the hotel. We had a bellhop take our bags out of the room and stack them in the taxi (a minivan, thankfully). Vincent met Mariann and me in the lobby and we left a little late, due to some trouble working out how to split the bill and still give Mariann her receipt for tax purposes.

When we arrived at the train station, we paid the cab in cash and went inside to get the tickets and as we were fumbling with our money we heard the train arrive. We were planning to get on a train that left at 7:30am, and it was the last train to Chicago for the day so we couldn’t afford to miss it. In a panic we got the tickets and rushed aboard, where we settled the splitting of the taxi and train fares… my brain does not work well for doing arithmetic on so little sleep :-)

Eventually we got to Union Station a bit earlier than planned, and I figured out that we had actually gotten on the penultimate train, which was apparently running about five minutes late! We found the luggage lockers and put our bags away for the day, then headed out to see the city. We took the El train for a couple of stops, just so we could say we did it, and then walked to a Corner Bakery cafe that was across the river from where Vincent said the boat tour left.

We left the restaurant with just enough time for a leisurely stroll across the river and down to the dock… only it turned out that he was talking about a different boat tour company, and ours was another three long blocks or so away! I called them to confirm their location as we were walking there, and realized the error. But as we jog/walked to the correct location I realized we weren’t going to make it there by 10, so I called them and told them we were just a block away and they said they would hold it for us. We got there a few minutes after 10, bought our tickets, and went aboard.

The boat tour was great. The weather was a little questionable – warm, but with an intermittent light drizzle. We sat under a canopy, but there were open seats in the front row so we could still have a great view. The tour guide explained about the different architects and styles of the various skyscrapers along the river, mixed with history about the city and the river. The tour lasted 90 minutes and included excursions up both the north and south forks.

After the boat tour, we had some time to kill, since it was 11:30 and Mariann and I didn’t have to be at the airport until 2:30 or so. We walked over to Navy Pier and wandered around it, admiring the stained glass window exhibit and having lunch. We took a taxi back to the Union Station and Mariann and I got our luggage. Vincent helped us schlep our luggage over to the El train, which Mariann rode to Midway airport where we got on our respective flights and went home. (Vincent had a later flight to Amsterdam out of O’Hare.)

Brickworld 2011 Photos

Here are all my pictures from the Brickworld LEGO convention in Chicago:

Miscellaneous (14 photos)

Brickworld 2011: Miscellaneous
Update: added 6/22/2011

River Ballroom (Vendors) (79 photos)

Brickworld 2011: River Ballroom (Vendors)

World of Lights (100 photos)

Brickworld 2011: World of Lights

Botanic Garden Ballroom (434 photos)

Brickworld 2011: Botanic Garden Ballroom

Ravinia Ballroom (1,014 photos)

Brickworld 2011: Ravinia Ballroom

Lake Michigan Ballroom (512 photos, 1 video)

Brickworld 2011: Lake Michigan Ballroom

Events (51 photos)

Brickworld 2011: Events


All the above sets are also available through the All Brickworld 2011 Photos collection.

Brickworld 2011 Part 2

Here’s the second installment of my trip report to the Brickworld LEGO convention in Chicago, for Day 2 (Friday, June 17). I went to a bunch of presentations and events:

9am: A session led by Ben Ellerman regarding the effort in 2007 by LEGO to bring in members of the adult fan community to provide input for the new castle products then under development. He showed a slide show with a bunch of prototypes from that process, and described his experiences in that project. The Q&A session devolved into a discussion about LEGO licensed products, new parts & themes, etc.

10am: Train Forum with Q&A by Jim Foulds of LEGO and the guys from ME Models (makers of aftermarket train tracks)

11am: Olivia Donahue (15 year old girl) gave a presentation on what kinds of sets she would design if she worked at LEGO

noon: Bluebrick – software for designing LEGO displays (e.g. train layouts)

1pm: LEGO Cuusoo – a new program where people can suggest new things for LEGO to make, and if 10,000 people support it, LEGO will consider making it and give 1% to the idea’s originator

2pm: Boat Races – LEGO robotics tackle the high seas of the hotel pool

3pm: Nice Part Usage – Christopher Doyle presenting some examples of uses of LEGO parts that go way beyond their designer’s intentions

I made video recordings of Olivia’s and Christopher’s presentations with my camcorder, but I won’t be able to upload them to the Web until after I get home. (I also made a videotape recording of Arthur Gugick’s architecture presentation yesterday.)

Also this afternoon I took about 20 minutes to go through all the ballrooms and make a video (using my digital camera) of all the MOCs and vendors. That’s uploading to YouTube as I type this [Update: YouTube rejected it because it is longer than 15 minutes. Sigh. I will have to wait till I get home to edit it]. It’s kind of amazing that even at a pretty fast pace it takes that much time to get around the halls. This hotel has 4 huge ballrooms, and Brickworld is using all of them.

Now, all the presentations and workshops are over and I’m taking advantage of the empty room where Christopher Doyle gave his talk to upload things to the Internet and update my blog. Soon I will go around and take photos of all (well I doubt I’ll get all of them, but I’ll do what I can) the models on display. I just uploaded all the photos I took yesterday and today so far, which you can see in the previous entry.

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.

My Video of BrickCon 2008 (Part 2) on LAMLtv

As promised, I made a second episode for LAMLtv about BrickCon. The main feature is an interview with Joe Meno, editor of BrickJournal.

This video stuff is a lot of fun. I’ve got a lot more ideas for video projects. For example:

  • BayLUG meeting and event footage
  • Interviews with BayLUG members
  • My MOCs and those of other local folks who will consent to being taped
  • Other LEGO conventions (I’m already planning on BrickFest PDX in 2009)

If you have any thoughts about LEGO video projects, you can share them with me here or over on the LAMLradio blog.