for two years. -less often, now

Author Archive

The End. The Beginning.

Well folks, this is it.
I know there are still a few of you that check here periodically for updates and I thank you for continued interest and curiosity. This platform served me very well during my projects, in between, and after. But, I don’t foresee myself doing another engrossing project, and there isn’t much LEGO news to post about.

Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 10.58.40 PM
As I mentioned, I am starting a new blog:  the Surly Biker. It’s an all-purpose blog. There’s some great science stuff, random Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 10.59.22 PMthoughts, and don’t worry, if you still want LEGO posts, there will be some. In fact, I already posted a few thoughts about the new upcoming LEGO movie, and I just received another LEGO-oriented book from No Starch Press to look over and review. And I will continue these in the future, too. When I finally move out of apartment life and into a house and can build my LEGO city, there will be photos. I already have another modular building waiting to be assembled. I also have been holding on to the collector’s series Star Destroyer (the one that’s about 3 feet long by 1.5 feet tall) for the last six years. It’s still in the box. But I’ve had no place to put it once assembled (especially living with cats). So, if you came to me because of LEGO stuff, please continue to follow my new blog!

But I also wanted a place to talk about movies, and books, and biking, and photography at large, and being a teacher, and anything else. I didn’t think this blog was the right spot for that. I wanted a new look, and a new start.

So for those of you still around, please head on over to the Surly Biker and subscribe/bookmark/follow/whatever! My Twitter feed shows up there as well, but feel free to follow me @theSurlyBiker as well for more.

This blog will remain up – I’m not going to delete it. Who knows why will stumble across it and have a good laugh sifting through the archives. Photo prints and calendars and other things are still available on RedBubble, and the photobooks still on Blurb.

Thank you to everyone who followed my photos for two awesome years. Thanks for all the comments, suggestions, ideas, and fun. I’m glad you enjoyed it because I know I did.

Two more LEGO titles from No Starch Press

I know I’ve been light on the photos lately – well, ok, for about a year. But I’m thankful to those of you who still check in from time to time. Lots going on – we just recently moved to Texas, and I’m unemployed. Seems like a perfect time to take lots of LEGO photos, right? I’ve been filling most of my time binge-watching all five seasons of Breaking Bad, job searching (which sucks) and biking.

Speaking of which, I’m starting a new blog ( but it has no content yet. It’s going to be more of a general blog for biking trips/topics/activism, teaching related articles/thoughts, and just regular randomness. It will not be exclusively cycling related – it’s just a name I liked. I will probably also post LEGO photos there as well from time to time. Check back in the next few weeks. I feel like this blog has run its course. I’m thankful for the thousands of people who followed me through the two years of the project, and had a ton of fun. The two photobooks are still available on Blurb, and my RedBubble store still has prints, cards, calendars, and iPhone cases. Those will remain as long as it’s free to have a store!

I’ve also started a Twitter account (only about 6 years behind the curve, there) so feel free to follow me @thesurlybiker.  Any LEGO photos will also be tweeted there too. Since I don’t post every article or thought I have to the blog, Twitter would be a good place to see what kinds of things I’m talking about or interested in. (Warning: there’s a lot of me being angry at the state of education!) And I promise to take more photos soon. I collected all 16 of the Series 11 minifigures, so, I’ve got some ammunition – just need some ideas.

Anyway, as the title of this post hints at, the folks over at No Starch Press have released two more titles in their ever growing catalogue of LEGO related books. One is the 2nd volume in a continuing Build-It Book series, and the other is a collection of mind-numbingly awesome creativity. Let’s take a look…

The LEGO Build-It Book Vol.2: More Amazing Vehicles

 There isn’t much to review here, to be honest. The majority of my review would be exactly the same as my review of Volume 1: Amazing Vehicles so go read that for all the details (it’s also the post beneath this one). All 10 of these builds are still created using only the bricks found in the LEGO Creator set #5867, the Super Speedster. As mentioned previously, unfortunately it is a discontinued product which makes it very hard for a lot of people to properly enjoy the fruits of these two building books. I’m sure you could pick it up on eBay or something, but you never know if you’re going to end up missing some pieces or whatnot. During the introduction, though, the authors do list several options for finding the bricks you need. Myself, I’d probably end up buying about five times the amount of each brick because I know I want to make more than just one of these models. Of course, you can always use existing bricks of your own in any color so if you have a lot of extras lying around in giant tubs look there first before spending money.

The book’s layout mirrors that of Volume 1, handy design notes accompany each build, along with useful tips and tricks for using pieces in various ways. The building steps are pretty easy to follow and are quite thorough.

I will say I’m quite pleased with the quality of the vehicles this time around. In Volume 1, I thought a few of the designs were lacking, or just useless. But Volume 2, here, has really put together 10 solid builds. I can safely say I would build all 10 of them to put in a LEGO city setting. Check them out:

So there you have Volume 2 in what I hope to be a long-running series of alternative building designs. I think my favorite part of this whole idea is how the builds use existing sets. A fantastic idea that allows people to either already have the parts needed, or know what to go get. Nicely done.

Beautiful LEGO

As you can see, the title says it all. In Beautiful LEGO, Mike Doyle has compiled a collection of extraordinary builds from some extraordinary creators all over the planet. Doyle refers to them as artists – and I’ve have a hard time disagreeing with him.  Doyle himself is a LEGO artist – having created the six-foot monstrosity of awesomeness you see on the book’s cover above, called “Contact 1: The Millennial Celebration of the Eternal Choir at K’al Yne, Odan.” Which is exactly the title I would have come up with as well.

From there, Doyle takes readers on a journey through the world of LEGO art. Chapters vary from showcasing specific artists and their creations to themed sections containing builds from many various artists. The artist-centric chapters include some excellent interview Q&A from the artists themselves: why they chose LEGO as their medium, what are their favorite bricks, how do they plan, how long does it take, and most importantly – who are they and why do they do what they do.

The great thing about Beautiful LEGO, is that it’s heavy on the eye candy, and light on the drudgery. Many LEGO fans are like me: “who wants to talk? Show me the LEGO!” But I will say reading through the interviews were very interesting. When you see the end result of creation on these pages, sometimes its equally as interesting to explore the minds from whence they came – even if it’s only on the surface. The interviews are not long, usually a few pages. I highly recommend reading them.

What’s most amazing is how LEGO as an art form can exist at almost any scale. Take for instance these:

which then gives way to

which then makes way for

The creativity at all different sizes is astounding. Some creations requires a mere handful of the tiniest bricks LEGO makes, while others, like Doyle’s Contact on the book’s cover, requires over 200,000 and 600 hours to make. If anything, Beautiful LEGO will give readers an appreciation for creativity on any scale. What it did most for me was open my eyes to how you can manipulate bricks to look like anything – and do it well. You’d never think to yourself oh how can a bunch of squares and rectangles resemble something to intricate and detailed?! Well. They can.

Something else the book does right is attribution. While I find it unlikely a book of this caliber and scope would get published without the due diligence to the original artists, in this day in age – the age of the internet where intellectual property flies around in seconds, it’s nice to see people get the proper credit. Each page is stamped with the name of the artist, the name of the build, and the year it was made. In the back of the book is a list of all the artists and their various contributions and websites for readers to check them out individually.

So there you have two more dynamite books from No Starch Press. The Amazing Vehicles book is definitely geared more toward the younger crowd as it’s merely a building book, while Beautiful LEGO places itself nicely in the coffee table book department. I think kids and adults alike will revel in the glory of the amazing feats of LEGO creation.

What? Yes. I’m still alive. Look! A new LEGO book!

So, a brief update. I’ve fallen out of photography for a little while mostly because I have not been able to afford a new camera, and I’ve been spending my time doing other things. My wife and I have recently gotten very much back into biking, so recreational rides are taking up a lot of our time. She is just about to finish her masters thesis, and then we are moving to Texas. That’s coming up at the end of the month. Life’s been busy, and LEGO photography hasn’t been at the top of my list.

I’ve still been collecting the new minifigs, and have been still buying new sets every once in a while. My lovely mother got me the new movie theater modular building for my birthday, but I haven’t assembled it because I knew I was moving and transporting LEGO buildings 900 miles in a U-Haul has its drawbacks, obviously. I also received about 7 giant garbage bags full of random pieces, sets, and various other LEGO things. I had to go buy a whole new drawer set, and 2 very large plastic bins to accommodate them all. The mega-awesome thing? In those bags were 4 more of the large modular buildings: fire station, pet store/townhouse, grand emporium, and, wait for it…the green grocer. Whoa. Now, they weren’t assembled, but I think the majority of the pieces are all there. The green grocer is going to be the hardest one to reconstruct as all I was able to find assembled was its baseplate – which is how I identified it. Other pieces are there, but it could be a struggle to find them and reconstruct it. We’ll see.

Now, a new book you say?
I do.
Well actually, it came out last month, but I just got it delivered to me last week.

Click to buy

A while ago I reviewed a few other books from No Starch Press boasting a number of new, fun builds to enjoy from your existing LEGO bricks.  They were pretty rad. I’m happy to report the trend appears to be continuing here with this first volume in a two-volume (or probably more!) series: The LEGO Build-It Book Volume 1: Amazing Vehicles, by Nathanael Kuipers & Mattia Zamboni.

There is a laundry list of things to like about this book. Let me start right at the beginning.

Each of the 10 different vehicle models contained in the book are made with the same set of bricks. Genius. No more digging through your buckets to find that one elusive piece because you decided to make the one build out of the book that used that one infernal brick. But wait, it gets better. If you own LEGO set #5867, the Creator Super Speedster – you already have all the bricks you need. That set is retired, however – otherwise I’d go buy three right now. Just kidding, I couldn’t afford that. The fact the models all come from a discontinued set is unfortunate as it will make buildings these to exact specifications much harder for many.

Let us presume, like me, you do not own the Super Speedster and have no clue what the pieces are you’ll need. Problem solved on page…uh, well there is no page number. But right there in the front of the book is the “bill of materials,” that classic picture list of pieces you find on every official LEGO instruction book. It tells you which bricks, colors, and how many.

Past that, the books gives a little insight into some of the more creative building with parts. Many of the techniques are used often within the builds – such as using simple cylinders for exhaust pipes, or shock absorbers. The next page goes on to explain how certain pieces can substitute for other normal pieces, making the same size and shape but allowing for more color or detail. This is a helpful utility especially when you need bricks to point a certain way to create the correct shape for a car or truck – or anything for that matter. It’s not an encyclopedic dive into various alternate building techniques, but over the course of a few pages it does point out a few creative choices that fit perfectly with these models.

Ok, so, the models:

As you can see, there is a lot to choose from. I haven’t built any yet, obviously, but just from the book and pictures alone I can safely say I will be building the Jeep (#1 Off-roader), #3 the muscle car, and #9 the street rod. I can’t say I have much love for the #4 the stroller, but it’s gimmicky so I’ll let it slide. Overall, I’m happy with the selection of vehicle choices, especially given Volume 2 is coming soon with 10 more builds. These 10 will fit nicely into any City themed play area, and easily compliment the regular LEGO City sets.

One thing concerns me: none of the pictures show a minifigure in the build. I was also not able to find any info from the authors saying these builds are useable with minifigs. The reason I mention this is as we all know there were some really cool LEGO Technic sets and even some of the new 3-in-1 Creator sets that were built just for show, basically. They don’t fit minifigs and apparently aren’t designed to by used with them. However, based on what I see in the building instructions it looks like the seats are designed to fit a minifig. So let’s hope. Those of you who own the Super Speedster set all of these can be made from might be able to shed a little light on that.

Bottom line: if these cars and trucks (stroller not withstanding) don’t fit a minifigure for use with it, the entire book becomes worthless – at least to me. If I wanted to display models I’d go to a hobby store and buy real models. I want my LEGO sets to be useable; dare I say play-with-able.

Clearly, that small tirade bears little slight to the book itself. I will say No Starch has once again put together an excellent book, and the authors/builders have created some fabulous sets to build. The inside reads and looks just like official LEGO building instructions. Each new step clearly shows the added pieces, and thankfully, in case your eyesight is as bad as mine sometimes – has a key to the side of each step showing which pieces you are using and adding. Here’s a look inside at a few random pages:

As you can see the pages are very well laid out with easy directions to follow, and above all – the colors are clear and brilliant. Another fine addition is the key at the front of each different model giving technical specs such as the complexity of the build, how many extra functions it has, and how many pieces are required. Also included are special features and some design notes from the authors. Half way through the builds, the models graduate from “regular building” to “advanced building” based on the techniques used to construct the models. There is a three-page spread helping to explain some of the more advanced building techniques and how they work in these models, and can be applied to building almost anything else.

Once again, No Starch Press has offered LEGO enthusiasts a great book full of extra fun for both kids and adults. The beauty of LEGO is even though you buy a set – you can still break it down and do whatever you want to it in the end. It’s the creativity of the toy that makes it so wondrous. I’ve been impressed with most of No Starch’s LEGO offerings in the past, and this certainly continues that impression. I’m looking forward to the Volume 2, and more vehicles to add to my LEGO city.

The LEGO Built-It Book Volume 1: Amazing Vehicles is available direct from No Starch Press’ website for $19.95.

Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there! However, you probably didn’t know that May 12th is also National Limerick Day! So instead of just wishing your mom a good day and signing your name on a lame card, write her a limerick instead!
Here’s mine:

My mom was a shining beacon of light
Always stood by to relieve my plight
She watched me climb trees
Then patched my skinned knees
But kept my allowance ever so slight

Love you mom!

Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day

Over the past few weeks, the Pink Floyd website has been adding special Dark Side of the Moon prism artwork to their index page from artist Storm Thorgerson (who created the majority of the Pink Floyd album artwork over the years – guy is awesome). It has been in celebration of the 40th anniversary of one of the most absolutely badass albums of all time. In 1973, Pink Floyd released Dark Side of the Moon, and it has since been the longest running album on the Billboard charts. It was the first Floyd album I bought way back in middle school that helped turn Pink Floyd into one of my favorite bands. And now, 40 years later it hasn’t lost a shred of its sheer awesomeness. (40 years since its release – not since I was in middle school!)

To all my young readers, this is a perfect opportunity to begin your journey into musical discovery. Ask your parents, I’m sure they’ve got the CD, the cassette, or, hopefully, even the LP. Though, I suppose you don’t know what an LP is. There’s something else you can ask your parents about.

Anyway, the whole point here was that all the special artwork has been revealed, and it has been made into a downloadable poster in three different sizes. Click the link above or the poster below to go to the site, and download whatever size you want. A preview of the poster is below. Enjoy. See you on the dark side of the moon.


Wind Up

8529096419_3cab8fedff_bTK-341 plays with his new toy.







Keep Calm & Costume On




That kid reviews books

Screen shot 2013-03-06 at 9.52.03 PMIt’s not often I post about other blogs – or even get a chance to steal a look at some of the millions of blogs out there. But, I wanted to give a long overdue shout out to a particular site run by 11-year-old Erik that I think deserves some extra kudos. Erik has been a devoted follower of my blog (thanks dude!), and in his spare time has been running a fantastic service of his own, for other like minded kids of his age.

Erik reviews books. Books for kids. Of all ages. Picture books, novels, comic books, graphic novels, and more. You can find his reviews on his site This Kid Reviews Books.

Perhaps one reason I’m so enthralled with Erik’s site, is because as you all well know, I’m a 5th grade teacher. There is nothing more near and dear to my heart than seeing a student of his age thoroughly enjoy reading, be excited by it, want to pick up book after book, and then share it with others. Browsing through the pages of his reviews I can easily recognize countless books I have on the shelves of my own classroom library. The same books my students and I order from the Scholastic Book Club every month. Erik reads a few books per week, and blogs about most of them. I think one of my favorite parts of his blog is his Accelerated Reader (AR) counter. For those unfamiliar, the AR program quizzes readers on comprehension, plot devices, etc. Different books are worth different amounts of points – depending on length, complexity, and reading level. An average 5th grade novel is usually about 10 points. Some larger books like Harry Potter can be worth as much as 30. Right now, his total is just a hair over 1,000 points. My class’s total so far this year? 890. Yup, Erik alone has out-read all 23 of my students put together. Awesome job, dude!

Erik’s reviews aren’t lengthy, and in his short blurbs does a great job of rounding up a book’s perspective, story, characters, and points out if anything might be inappropriate for younger readers. They’re perfect for kids to read. He writes them all himself, too. His parents help with the behind the scenes functions of the site, and preview some more young adult books for him. I’d like to tip my hat to them for being so incredibly proactive in Erik’s love of reading. I wish all my students had parents as engaged in their child’s education.

So parents, kids, everyone – make sure you head on over to Erik’s site and find some books to read. I’m sure he can help you out.

Erik takes suggestions for books to read and review, so I’ve got a couple for you, buddy. (And I highly, highly recommend these for any and all students of a higher reading level in grades 5 and up:
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Haroun & the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie (currently my read aloud book in class)

Happy reading!


8530315670_e34eea7494_bMany awesome thanks to the folks at for helping Lord Vader KCCO with BFM.
The custom torsos came out fantastic. Another Chive shirt coming up tomorrow!
(Parents: Please be aware the Chive is a very popular website but it’s not for kids. Please be mindful.)

The Cyclops also gardens

8529098625_e6705552b8_bOrmus tends his rooftop garden.

The Toilet Ninja

8526129521_967b1378cc_hContact Sensei Flush for service so fast you’d swear he was a ninja.
(He really is)

Wanted to thank you all for your suggestions on where to look to get some custom minifigs made. I ended up using the website, and the “design your own” option. It was very simple. They have a nice simple downloadable torso template that you can put your design or picture onto, then upload it to the site as you are choosing your options and checking out. Their customer support was quick and helpful too because when I first tried it, the site kept yelling at me and not accepting my upload. So I contacted them, let them know the problem, and it was fixed the next day.

Pricing was reasonable as well. I paid about $20 for two custom torsos with standard rest of the body, and international shipping. If you want more customizations, there are added costs, but they are also reasonable – $1 or 2 for premium colors, or leg designs, etc.

While I can’t vouch for the quality of the pieces yet – as they won’t arrive for about 2-3 weeks – I’ll say things look good so far! Clearly there shall be a picture or two when they arrive.

In other news. I did go get most of the Series 9 minifigs yesterday. The chicken suit is so boss. Pictures forthcoming this week, I think. I can’t reist.

In place



IMGP6667Standing watch for all in 2013.

Trekking into the new year


Mithrandir & the Hiker are going on an adventure.

Beware, 2013. We’re ready.



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