The world has gone online this year, and BrickCon is no exception. Normally held the first weekend in October in Seattle, the convention went virtual and I was able to attend for the first time in a few years.
Continue reading “BrickCon 2020”
Just got back from Seattle where I attended the latest edition of BrickCon, their annual Adult Fan of LEGO (AFOL) convention. I had a great time – played some games, won some free LEGO, and got a trophy (Best Sculpture) for my Teddy Bear.
I also gave an updated version of my “Brick Geometry” talk, and a new presentation on “Studs on All Sides” which talks about techniques I’ve used in models such as the Teddy, Easter Bunny, Q*bert, etc. (Which reminds me, I really should do a photo shoot of Teddy Bear and blog about him.) Here are the slides to the talks:
I didn’t take any photos at BrickCon, but plenty of other people did. I’ll post links to them here as I find them:
I’m going to Denmark tomorrow! Flying from San Francisco to Frankfurt, then on to Billund, for my first-ever visit to Denmark and LEGO HQ! I’m going to the annual Fan Weekend in SkÃ¦rbÃ¦k Friday through Sunday, then visiting Billund on Monday, and on to Copenhagen and Hamburg before flying out of Frankfurt on Thursday.
But am I flying home? Not quite yet! I’m going directly from Frankfurt to Seattle (with a stop in Houston) and attending BrickCon. It’s going to be an exciting vacation and I’m really looking forward to it. Watch this space for photos and stories from my trip.
The slides from my Brick Geometry Presentation from BrickCon 2013 (PDF) are now available online. In this presentation I described several techniques involving half-plate offsets (based on my Half Plate Offsets talk from BrickCon 2008, but updated with some new examples) as well as a discussion of Pythagorean right triangles (e.g. 3-4-5 triangles) and how to use these to make a truss type structure in LEGO. Enjoy!
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.
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.
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.
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 Maddryâ€™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.
I’m in Seattle for the BrickCon LEGO convention this weekend. It’s a really busy weekend for me, though, because I’m also here for my other hobby, dancing – I’m attending the Seattle Fusion Festival which is taking place at the same time. Luckily the dance classes are held right at Seattle Center, which is where BrickCon is, so I can bounce back and forth between the two events, as I have been doing all weekend. Actually it’s not just this weekend that was so busy – I’m at the tail end of a two-week road trip. Last weekend I was in Colorado at the Aspen Alt. Blues Recess, another dance event, and have been exploring the western US in my van in the week in between. After BrickCon I’m heading home by way of Portland; I should be home by Wednesday.
Due to the dancing I haven’t had much time to participate in BrickCon activities. I signed up for a couple of events but didn’t make the cut for most of them. I did get to participate in a relay speed build, where teams of four people took turns assembling steps in a model. Our team finished fourth I think, but there’s only a prize for the fastest team. We did get to keep the parts from the set we built, however. The set we built was Alien Conquest Tripod Invader (7051) and we divided the parts up four ways.
Saturday night we had the BrickCon awards ceremony, and I’m pleased to report that my Kermit sculpture won yet another trophy! This time it was the “Sublime Shape” trophy (best sculpture). Kermit has now won four trophies: two at Bricks by the Bay and one at BricksCascade in Portland, and now this one. Here’s Kermit with his trophy:
Tonight (Saturday night) before going out dancing, I walked around the exhibition hall and took pictures of all the MOCs, and uploaded them to Flickr. You can see all my photos from BrickCon on Flickr by clicking the image below or viewing them as a slideshow:
If you’re in the Seattle area and read this in time, come on by Sunday October 7, from 9am-3pm we will be open to the public. If you missed it, it’s always the first weekend in October so add it to your calendar.
Missing “LEGO Girl” Heather Braaten has been found dead. The LEGO community mourns her loss.
I never knew her well, but Heather “LEGO Girl” Braaten was a fixture in the Seattle LEGO community and a regular at BrickCon. She went missing last week, and her body has been found. Lino Martins created this tribute image for her and is in touch with her family.
Rest in peace, Heather.
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 â€œWill it Blend?â€ videos. The blender was then given out as part of that nightâ€™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 afternoonâ€™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 teamâ€™s bridge failed at 35 lbs, but the winning team supported 115 lbs! I did the same event last year and the best teamsâ€™ 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:
- 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!
- Venus Flytrap – I built a rather bad looking model of the plant
- Rustic Log Cabin – I had a small pile of brown bricks, a roof, and a chimney
- Iâ€™m Going To Kill You, James Bond – I had a yellow figure with white shorts and a laser coming at him between his legs
- Godzilla – I built an Anime style super hero (think Voltron)
- I think that I shall never see a thing as lovely as a tree – I did a blackened (burned) tree
- 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 heâ€™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 gameâ€™s winner, a guy named Chad, who was still there. I gave them the theme â€œEscape from the Zooâ€ 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.