for two years. -less often, now

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Did you get all your presents earlier this week?

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Bandits got away with one of Santa’s sacks.

Just act natural

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Surrounded by murderous robots programmed to destroy all humans, Steve hoped his camouflage would hold up.

Snow Bunny

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Easter Bunny in the off-season.

on this eve

I hope everyone has an excellent Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. Enjoy family, friends, presents, and most importantly: food. I’ve been home for approximately 48 hours and have already eaten enough of my mother’s Christmas cookies to last a month. Merry Christmas everyone!

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Santa visits the troops on Hoth.

’tis the season

Good news everyone!

I’m home in Syracuse for the holidays with friends and family, and I brought my camera. Be on the lookout for some LEGO photos this week! I’ve already taken a few, and there are more on the way. It’s a Festivus miracle!
It’s late right now, on Sunday night, so in the meantime enjoy this picture of Chainsaw enjoying the snow.

Toodles!

chainsaw

Three new LEGO titles from No Starch Press

The folks over and No Starch Press have sent me another batch of excellent LEGO titles to write some blurbs on. These have been available for a little while – I’ve been pretty busy at school so I haven’t had a lot of extra time to look through the books and write a proper review, so if you like what you see here, head over to the No Starch website and check them out!  I must say that I have been very impressed with the quality of books coming from independent publishers – especially since these books are usually developed and written by average Joes like you and me. These three books are no exception. The two dealing with general LEGO blocks and building are very neat, and while I found the third one on LEGO Technic to be well done, I’ve never been into Technic myself. But, I know a lot of you are so I think you’ll enjoy it.

ULBG2The Unofficial LEGO Builder’s Guide (2nd ed.) can be an essential piece of literature to builders of any age who are going to take freestyle building seriously. That has always been the nitty-gritty of LEGO: what can you build on your own? Sure, the sets you buy in store can be exceedingly intricate, but no matter what the Danes come up with over there, sometimes it’s no match for the imagination of a six-year old child. Or a 46-year old adult.

The second edition of the book has made the jump to full-color, making the models 100 times easier to decipher. Contained within the book’s 200+ pages are countless tips, tricks, and directions for helping even the most casual freestyle builder accomplish amazing feats of LEGO. Learn how to make interlocking walls for your buildings the right way, columns and pillars that would make Atlas jealous, and how to choose the best pieces for your project. To that end, included at the rear of the book is an index of some of the most well-known and used pieces in the LEGO catalogue. Each entry is detailed with a piece’s specifications, size, description, and part number.

My favorite part of the book is how author Allan Bedford instructs readers on how to build to various scales. In layman’s terms: how to make tiny models imitating real-life objects, jumbo sized models that could take up whole shelves, or models inviting your favorite minifigs to hop on board. This is perhaps one of my favorite things about LEGO: size has no limits. Look at LEGO-Land. Giant heads, and statues and landmarks, and football stadiums. Or, conversely, as shown in this book, an entire ocean-going oil tanker that will fit in the palm of your hand.

If you don’t already own the first edition of The Unofficial LEGO Builder’s Guide, I’d say this is essential for any avid builder’s LEGO book library. Truthfully, I’d never thought to consult literature when it came to freestyle building, but this, and the two other books below have changed that.

The second book will line up nicely on your shelf with the book above. The Unofficial LEGO Technic Builder’s Guide, by unofficial_lego_builders_guideSariel Kmiec, offers readers a plethora of information about making the most of your Technic sets and pieces. The book is full color, complete with tons and tons of diagrams as detailed as you could want. Now, I’ve never been into the Technic sets, but I do know there are some amazing things you can do with them. Not to mention children who are interested in LEGO robotics can get their start here. The Technic sets offer a variety of configurations to build incredibly intricate objects, with the added bonus of moveable parts, gears, and driveshafts.

The great thing about this book is how down-to-Earth Kmiec is with his building directions. Not to mention how rich the text is. His descriptions of pieces, how they connect, and their uses shows incredible depth. The book will appeal to all levels of builders as it progresses from easy builds to incredibly complicated models including transmissions. The sheer magnitude of the information and presentation here almost mind boggling. I will say it may be a bit overwhelming for younger children, but can be thoroughly instructional for adults. But if you’re a LEGO Technic fan, and builder, this book is a must have.

Finally, we have The LEGO Adventure Book. I must say I am in love with this book. Right from the front cover, author Megan Rothrock had my attention. I mean, the subtitle is “Cars, Castles, Dinosaurs, & More!” Did you see that? Dinosaurs! There’s no way this book can be bad. But the real awesomeness comes from the fact the contents of the book, and all it’s builds, are crowd-sourced. Rothrock, a former LEGO designer herself (color me extremely jealous), has done a great job compiling some of the coolest builds from some of the best non-LEGO-employed builders from around the world.

lab-web_0A downfall of the book is a lack of clear, precise directions – like those found with official LEGO sets. But, then again, that’s to be expected so we can’t rack up too many demerits there. Before most of the builds, though, there are a few pictures detailing all the pieces you’ll need. Some of the quicker, easier builds just jump right into the steps. Thankfully the intervals at which pieces are added between each picture keeps it manageable. Another downside is many of the builds require specialized pieces that either need to come from sets you may already own and can cannibalize, or they will need to be special ordered. But, if you’ve got access to the pieces some really badass configurations and models await you.

While the world of LEGO seems to be dominated by boys and men, I was pleased to see Rothrock did manage to include at least one section from a female. And I’ll give a special shout out to her, Katie Walker, because she is also an elementary school teacher.

Lastly, I’d love to point out the entire book is color coded, with each section tied to its build author. Personally, I’m thrilled with nearly every aspect of this book. The LEGO Adventure Book is an excellent offering for builders of any age looking to expand their LEGO world with some new styles and models. The book is infused with plenty of silly comics that serve as introductions to the builders and the models. Most are photographed in the same way as my photos here on a LEGO a day.

Overall, these are three solid offerings from No Starch. I look forward to future building guides.

Two New LEGO Books (Not by me this time!)

As you’ve seen in the past, publishers often contact me to help promote new LEGO books being released. I’m always happy to oblige! I love books! Here is a quick look at two books that are already available from Skyhorse Publishing, and my old pals DK Publishing. My apologies to both the publishers, and fans of a LEGO a day; these books have been available for a while but I have not had a chance to make a post due to some good old fashioned surgery. But all is well, and here is my long overdue look at these books.

The first is A Million Little Bricks: The Unofficial History of the LEGO Phenomenon. In it, British author Sarah Herman takes readers all the way back to the beginning, when The LEGO Group was in its infancy. From there, she explores not only the founding of the official LEGO Group, and its manufacturing ideas, but divides the succession of collectible sets into chapters cataloguing years of releases. Possibly one of the most interesting facts (I didn’t even know this) was that LEGO started out as a plastic toy company, with its bricks being a secondary product. It wasn’t until the mid-late 1950′s the bricks and sets we know today began to show their amazing potential and jumped to the forefront of their product line.

Chapters three & four chronicle the incredible boom of popularity of LEGO products from the late 70′s through the end of the century. This truly was the LEGO Group’s time of glory, though it’s obvious that tenacity for success has not died down. The final two chapters look at the LEGO presence after the year 2000, and begin to highlight how LEGO has expanded itself even further with a litany of accessories and related items. (Giant LED flashlights, anyone?) Of incredible interest to me, was discovering how new accessories began rolling into sets (such as animals, weapons, flowers, etc). While myself, a child of the 80′s, was quite familiar with the fantastical sets released during my childhood, I was of course not in the right mindset to be thinking about the addition of tiny new pieces. Also of interest to readers will be how many of the themes had roots almost all the way back at the beginning.

Herman’s book does a good job of sorting through the hefty sum of details associated with the rise of such a successful company. I will say at times my head was absolutely full of a million different dates, names, locations, and ideas – and that was just the first 50 pages explaining where LEGO even came from! The rest of the book catalogues the copious amounts of different themed sets (from City, to Bionicle, and more). It helps that Herman is a LEGO fan as well, not just a random author tasked with citing the company’s history of products. Herman’s insights from her own experience with the toys helps readers relate much better to the tone of the book. After all, if you’re not a fan of LEGO – why are you reading about it’s history in the first place?

The one downfall of A Million Little Bricks, at least to me, was the poor quality of many of the illustrations. The book is absolutely full of pictures to help readers along on their journey. While it is of interest, and commendable, that Herman thought to basically crowdsource the visual aspect of her book, it’s obvious many of the photos used were taken unprofessionally by children, or adults who can hardly find their way around a camera. Now, you’re probably saying “Dan, you’re just being critical because you’re a photographer yourself – lighten up.” Well, OK, I probably am being a little overly critical, but I feel it really takes away from the overall presentation of the book. Many of the photos have harsh, pop-up flash tones, or include sets with dirty bricks. There are terrible shadows, or distracting backgrounds. While I understand it would have been incredibly hard to include as many pictures as there are by only using professional grade photos, I do feel it could have been better. On a positive note, however, the older illustrations from the 1940′s-1960′s are quite good. Seeing firsthand the old sets and toys being used by people, and their rag-tag used boxes was very neat. But, it’s obvious that the deluge of digital cameras has made everyone and their mother a photographer, and thusly populating the internet with sub-par pictures. But I digress…

In the end A Million Little Bricks is a book for LEGO fans curious about the evolution of their favorite toy. It’s no short read, either – clocking in at just under 300 pages. I don’t think most children will fancy this, considering most of it is probably over their heads. But for young adults and adults with a thirst for as much LEGO info as their bricks can support, this unofficial illustrated history is a great resource. There are other books out there chronicling the LEGO corporation and its fans, but I haven’t read them, so I can’t offer you a true comparison.

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Next, we have the latest in a series of themed LEGO books from our go-to publisher for awesome LEGO books. In the same vein as the LEGO Star Wars, & Harry Potter Visual Dictionaries, comes the first in the DC Universe Super Heroes collection: the  LEGO Batman Visual Dictionary

Like its predecessors, this book comes with a special collectible minifigure – in this case Electro Suit Batman. Personally, I would have loved a basic, yet special, traditional Batman figure with a cape. But, beggars can’t be choosers. Well, they can, it’s just that it usually won’t work out for them.

On the inside, the book is everything we’ve come to expect from this series. Large, colorful pages greet readers, chock full of details, details, details. Each set in the Batman theme is featured with a picture and a description. There are far more Batman sets than I ever knew – and some of them are pretty fantastic. The info moves from Batman, to Robin, to Batman’s foes, including the Joker, Catwoman, and Bane. Finally, readers get a look behind the scenes of the DC LEGO universe, and even get a look at two LEGO Batman video games. New, though, are a handful of two-page comics peppered throughout the book.

I suppose there isn’t much else to say about the book itself, as fans of the series will know exactly what to expect from the Batman Visual Dictionary. Like the previous books from DK in the series, it’s large format, and vibrant colors will attract the eyes of kids of all ages. Author Daniel Lipkowitz has done a great job of detailing the sets, as well as giving a short history of them – even some intriguing trivia. While the book may seem to most just a glorified picture book, it really is much more. For being less than 100 pages, the amount of text is staggering. I’m glad to have it as part of my DK LEGO collection. Here is a quick look inside:

Happy reading everyone!
And I can’t go without a shameless plug, of course. Remember you can get a copy of both of my books over at Blurb!  (as soon as they send another coupon code, I’ll be sure to post it!)

 

Venus Transit

Gah! I meant to post about this yesterday as a heads up, and only remembered to do it now as this historic event is actually happening. Hopefully some of you will be able to catch it in time!

Venus is moving across the solar disc RIGHT NOW (between the Sun & the Earth so we see it), and it won’t happen again for another 105 years.

If you don’t have a telescope with a solar filter, or some hardcore sun-watching glasses – check out the various live streams of the event here: http://venustransit.nasa.gov/webcasts/nasaedge/

Obviously this is not LEGO related, but you all know I’m a devout lover of science and space! So, check it out!
Here are some screenshots from the feeds I’m watching:


New Book: “LEGO Heavy Weapons” by Jack Streat

The nice folks over at No Starch Press asked if I’d like a copy of this new LEGO book to review and talk a little about on the blog. Obviously I said yes. I wasn’t familiar with the book before it arrived, but after I thumbed through it and read the release notes accompanying from No Starch, two things immediately jumped out at me:

1) The book is incredible
2) The author, Jack Streat, is only 17

So, what exactly is LEGO Heavy Weapons?
Streat is an accomplished LEGO weapons builder. No, he is not a mold designer and builder that pops out the little plastic guns the pirate minifigures hold. He literally takes a metric crap-ton (note: measuring crap-tons in metric units makes them larger) of a plethora of different bricks and pieces and assembles them into 1:1 scale models of modern day weaponry. And they’re functional. No, you don’t need to worry about your child picking off squirrels in the backyard because they only fire LEGO bricks. So, maybe just stunning the squirrels a bit…

While this is Streat’s premiere book, his history in the LEGO weapons community goes back over four years. At the age of 13, he posted a build of his first gun to an online community board. It got a little attention, but enough to make him try harder. After that, he began pushing his design skills further. He began uploading instructional videos to YouTube on a regular basis showing his builds, and directions. The resulting years of trial and error have finally culminated in this book.

Streat writes the introduction to the book himself, letting readers into his world of LEGO armaments. He talks briefly about his methods for piecing together his models, including what bricks to use. Perhaps most interesting is his explanation of the LEGO CAD software he uses to virtually assemble the models before putting them together in reality. The software works like any CAD software, allowing users to choose from a variety of pieces in the LEGO menagerie and Tetris them into whatever design your heart desires. Most useful, however, is how to acquire the multitude of specialty and normal LEGO bricks needed for such an undertaking. There is a brief explanation of how to follow the directions in the book, and some of the terminology used. Overall, it’s as useful as the rest of the book so be sure not to skip it.

LEGO Heavy Weapons features instructions for building Streat’s 1:1 scale version of four of the most widely recognizable (and awesome) guns around:

  • Desert Eagle .50
  • AKS-74U
  • Lee Enfield Carbine rifle
  • SPAS 12 shotgun

Here are a few excerpted title pages:


As you can see, the guns are incredibly detailed, and truly show a resemblance to their real-life counterparts. As a person who holds and appreciation for weaponry in general, I’m impressed with the model’s realism. Not only does Streat show incredible ingenuity in the designing and building of these replicas, but it shows, once again, how simple toy bricks can be transformed into an amazing array of things.

LEGO Heavy Weapons has a lot of great things going for it. Even being the LEGO fan I am, I often find that I abhor their assembly direction booklets. The colors are never quite a match (especially for grays, and darker colors), and a lot of times you can miss small pieces that were added in a step because there is not always something to tell you Hey! Make sure you add this piece! See! This little tiny one right here around the back you can barely see because of this angle! LEGO Heavy Weapons succeeds where LEGO fails in this aspect because of how each step is shaded to reflect new pieces against those assemble in previous steps. And since the majority of the bricks are grey or black anyway no color is actually needed in the instructions. See some excerpts from build pages below:

Finally, and perhaps most useful, before you even begin Streat has included a “Bill of Materials” (BOM). LEGO builders will find it looks remarkably similar to the listing found at the front of ever directions booklet. Not only will this be helpful is setting everything out before you begin, but it also will let you know which pieces you need to go hunting around for to buy or dig out of your giant bucket of miscellaneous pieces.

The last thing worth mentioning is at the beginning of the “chapter” for each individual gun, Streat gives you a bit of history on two fronts: the history of the gun in real-life, and the history of the iterations of his builds. During the later, Streat goes through detailed diagrams and descriptions on how the functioning mechanisms within the guns work. I admire and love this inclusion.

While this is not the kind of book that will appeal to every LEGO lover out there, those in this particular niche will find this book providing hours upon hours of [useful] entertainment. The directions are straight to follow, and easy to manage. I commend young Mr. Streat on his ingenuity and dedication in building such incredible replicas. I’ll leave you with a video advertisement for the book from Streat’s YouTube channel that shows all four models in action. Watch it. Buy it. Build it. Stun some squirrels.

My Mom:

My giant

My bank

My chef

My defense from scary monsters

My friend

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

the fighter still remains

And he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down or cut him
’till he cried out in his anger and his shame
“I am leaving, I am leaving,”

but the fighter still remains

The Boxer

In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade

The Test

As his mentors eagerly watched, Eric began the final trial: defeating the cat of doom.

Bananas

The ninjas get a new pet.

a trip

I went with Annie on one of her ventures into the mountains for her Graduate Project on Saturday. We went to Linville Falls, NC. Hiker came with us.

Worlds Collide

“Well,” said the Inspector, “it’s an inspector!”

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