Lego reviews


It’s reached the part of my Lego collecting lifetime where I’m starting to upgrade sets that I bought years ago—in some cases at the dawn of my adult Lego life. As I noted a year or so ago, I’m a grown up who still likes Lego, a so-called AFOL, and have now been so for close to 15 years. In that time Lego has dramatically improved their range and building techniques have evolved. So I’ve started replacing sets that I built when they first came out with the latest and greatest.

So far there have been three: the Burj Khalifa (21031 replacing 21008), the Guggenheim Museum (21035 replacing 21004), and the Y-Wing (75172 replacing one of the models in 7152). I’ve previously published a review of 21031 incorporating a comparison with the older model on Brickset, and just published (and am awaiting moderation on) a comparison of the Y-Wings. There may be more coming in the future…

Redding up

It was a busy weekend, the kind that began with a clean and purge of the basement (four more boxes unpacked! more floor space opened up!) and ended with a trip to IKEA to build a desk for The Boy. The Girl spent most of the weekend with Lisa working on cleaning out her room and bagging up enormous amounts of trash, books to donate, and so on.

I said in passing to someone that they were “redding up” and I got a look of utter confusion. It occurred to me that the use of “redd” as a verb is not one that I hear much outside of my Lancaster County relatives, so I went hunting.

To my utter delight, it turns out that “to redd” is not a Pennsylvania Dutch utterance—it actually comes from Scots/Irish/northern English dialect and appears to be related to the Middle English verb riddan “to clear (an area, a way).”

So now I can continue to use my word in perfect satisfaction that it’s good English… just slightly older than most people use.

New year, new resolutions

Here we are at the beginning of 2017. Last year I made my first ever public New Years resolution. It’s a time to check in on how I did and to do the next turn of the page.

The resolution last year was an easy one: write more, on my blog. It was easy because I wanted to do it. It was hard because it meant finding time to do it. But I managed to pull it off. I did a statistical check-in back in September on how I did, and reached the conclusion that I was keeping to the goal of writing every weekday at about an 88% success rate. I finished the last four months of the year at 92% average, thanks to a very strong September. So yay me!

The reward was substantial in other ways as well. I started finding writing was easier, both on the blog and at work, and started finding it easier to dig deeper and say more interesting things. That later in the year I got my first public speaking conference slots, in New York, Bristol, and Seville, I attribute at least in part to this trend. That is a classic unexpected outcome to a relatively simple change in habit.

Personally, I found the writing took me in some unexpected directions. I knew I liked learning about cocktails; now I like writing about them as well. And on a more serious note, I didn’t start digging deep into America’s history of slavery until this year, when I started finding the fossilized remnants of it lurking just beneath the surface.

So what’s next? This is a harder question. I have some harder habits to change, but I need to change them. First, I need to get more exercise. Second, I need to change my diet to lose some weight.

I’m not committing to how I’m going to do the exercise, but I know how I’m going to measure it. We’re going to close the rings, with a goal of increasing my number of weeks that I close all three.

Regarding the weight thing, I’m not concerned about the amount of weight I want to lose, though I have an idea. Mostly I just want to eat healthier. And I’m going to start with the low hanging fruit: no beer on weeknights. I’m in the habit of drinking beer with dinner, and I think I need to unwind that habit, or at least make it a less frequent thing. Wil Wheaton’s reboot is my inspiration here. I hope I don’t completely go off beer as he did, but I think it’s a reasonable starting point. So we’ll see!

The long way around the sea

Christmas is a complicated time for me. On the one hand, I love the holiday—tree, lights, carols, smiling kids, what’s not to love?

On the other hand… the weeks before and after the solstice are the hardest weeks of the year for me. I’m prone to fits of the Black Dog at odd times but it hits especially hard in these dark days of the year.

I’ve been reading Comet in Moominland to The Boy for a few weeks. He didn’t quite get hooked on the Moomins with Finn Family Moomintroll, but the narrative sweep of the journey of Moomintroll, Sniff and Snufkin (not to mention the Snork Maiden) to learn about the approaching comet and then try to get home, where “Moominmama will know what to do,” seems to resonate. And last night I found an image that resonated for me within its pages.

The wanderers are on their way back home but are challenged on the journey because the hot approaching comet has boiled away much of the water. This is a subtheme for a few chapters, which talk about streams running low, until they get to the ocean and find it’s gone.

They can’t cross the ocean on a boat—no water. They can’t cross it on foot—they’ll get mired in the muck that was the ocean floor. So they cross it on stilts.

It feels like that sometimes. You can’t get down too close to things because you’ll get trapped in the muck. So you have to approach them at a distance, or else (as Low once sang) take the long way around the sea.

Our brickbuilt future

Fan-built massive Lego spaceship from BrickCon 2016; photo courtesy Tom Alphin/Flickr
Fan-built massive Lego spaceship from BrickCon 2016; photo courtesy Tom Alphin/Flickr

Having fun paging through Tom Alphin‘s photos from Seattle’s BrickCon 2016. I think if you had showed me this much Classic Space LEGO in one place as a kid, my head would have exploded.

Is that a Lego wave motion gun on that thing in the background? I’d love more pictures of it.

Columns for microscale Lego buildings

As my cryptic post the other day hinted, I’ve gone full on AFOL – that is, Adult Fan of Lego. It started slowly, with a few Star Wars sets and some of the modular buildings, but over time I got drawn in more and more. One of the big things that pulled me in was the Lego Architecture line. The simplicity of the projects combined with exposure to some advanced building techniques was a great way to learn

As teased last week, my current obsession is applying what I’ve learned about Lego architecture to landmarks that I know well. Without giving away the whole game, let’s say that an important part of the project is building convincing columns in Lego. There are several good how-to resources available for building medium scale columns (a Flickr pool, a couple of YouTube videos, some more elaborate and authentic tutorials focused on Greek and Roman styles, some really elaborate stuff on the Corinthian order specifically), but not a whole lot summarizing the options for building Architecture-scale columns. By Architecture-scale I mean miniature models such that the scale might be 1 brick height = 5, 10, or even 20 feet, as is the case with some of the moderate size models in the line.

Fortunately the Architecture line itself provides a pretty good set of options, and there are a few others that might be worth your consideration. Let’s explore!

Note: There’s a whole ‘nother topic on capitals. We’ll come back to that another time.

Cylinder bricks

lego cylinder columns

The humble cylinder brick (aka Brick 1 x 1 Round, #3062a or #3062b), which I first encountered in trans yellow and green in the classic Space days, has both advantages and disadvantages for building columns. Pro: you can stack it to create whatever height you like. Cons: if all you have is the common grooved model (as opposed to the older variant with no bottom lip), the groove can be distracting.



This approach combines the Bar 3L (#87994, also available in 4L version) with the Plate 1×1 Round with Open Stud (#85861). You simply push the bar down into the open stud and off you go. Bars are versatile for columns, as you can also use them with clips (e.g. #4085) to hold them to a façade. I’ve topped the columns with simple round 1×1 plates (e.g. #4073), but see my note about capitals above.



The minifig telescope (#64644) provides surprisingly ornate, if small, columns, as seen on the Lego Architecture Louvre set. Here I’ve paired them with #4073 again.



There are a couple of fence-type items that make good, if plain, columns. The spindled fence (#30055) is probably the most straightforward.



For cases where columns combine with arches, using an arch part (like this Arch Panel, #90195, also known as a “castle window”) can work just fine.

Handle bricks


If you’re building in a really small scale, the Brick with Handle (#2921) can do the trick. The disadvantage is that you have to raise the brick, since the handle extends the full height.

There are probably more options, and I’ll probably figure out a few more as I build, but I thought I’d start this list and see if anyone else has additional ideas.


Rands in Repose: N.A.D.D. I somehow managed to make it this long without reading this seminal essay (which Rands linked back to yesterday). My current attention stack:

  1. Writing this blog post
  2. Updating internal wiki page
  3. Updating internal BI dashboard
  4. Listening to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds play “Song of Joy”
  5. Watching Slack
  6. Working on slides for a webinar at noon
  7. Double checking my shopping app to replace the shirt whose elbow tore on me yesterday
  8. And Bricksmith waits in the dock for when I have a spare moment
  9. And I’m sure I’m forgetting something.

(Aside: what is it with men’s dress shirts and elbows that tear? I’m losing track of the number of good dress shirts (thankfully, not the bespoke ones) I’ve had to dispose of because of elbow wear.)

So yeah, I’ve got full blown N.A.D.D. The good news is that I can also hyperfocus when necessary. Now to go off and find the thing that’s going to trigger the hyperfocus today…

First month driving report: 2012 VW GTI

Long time readers of the blog may be surprised to learn that, when it was time to purchase a new car, I got a new Volkswagen GTI. After all, I had a very poor experience with my 2003 Passat, which even before I drove it off the lot suffered from a broken windshield wiper and later experienced several ignition coil failures while I was driving.

But the company has come a long way in the last ten years, and I’ve been very pleased with the month (and about 1500 miles) I’ve spent behind the wheel of my new GTI. Specific notes:

  • I’m too grandfatherly a driver to really appreciate how fast this thing can get off the line, but it definitely comes in handy when you’re trying to merge.
  • I haven’t really tried “launch control” — the feature that lets you go from 0 – 60 in less than 7 seconds — but it looks like fun.
  • The car is pretty comfortable. I spent sixteen hours in it this past weekend and was less fatigued and sore than after shorter drives in my Passat.
  • Mileage is acceptable. I posted 30.9 MPG driving from DC to Boston in light Sunday traffic, and a lower 28.9 MPG in summer Saturday driving on the way down. In town I regularly get better than 25MPG between my house and my office.
  • I love the convenience of integrated Bluetooth in the audio stack. It’s perfect for phone. However…
  • …integrated Bluetooth for audio has some problems. Due either to a GTI bug or to my iPhone 4s, I usually only get one audio channel. So if I’m in the car for any length of time I plug it into the dock connector instead.
  • Cargo room is pretty good for my needs. I remember my 1996 Golf being more spacious, but that’s probably just because I drove that car before I drove the Passat with its more capacious trunk. As long as I’m not taking a family of four on a long trip it’s just fine.

So yeah, I’m kind of glad I gave Volkswagen another chance. So far it’s paying off well.

The Diamond Sea

I am often awakened these days at 4 am by our dogs. As I stumble over the pile of clothes I leave beside the bed for the early morning wakeups, our girl dog whines urgently. I take them outside in the early morning pearl-light and return to bed.

This day, like many, the next step is my son awakening at 5:15. My wife takes pity on me this morning and gets him, leaving me to unsettled dreams. I am just starting to get past the unsettled sleep schedule that has kept REM sleep at bay for almost a year, and my dreams crowd in resentfully when they are allowed.

This morning, after I rolled back over, I helped house guests down to our basement, where we walked through the tunnels that connected the house to Boston’s Red Line. Arriving a few stops later, we were in DC, where we walked past the Space Needle and along the booths of an outdoor festival. I spotted a pair of students from the University of Virginia, who helped me find graduation programs and band posters from the early 1990s. It struck me that it was like eBay but with sellers you could actually talk to. And then I woke up.

It seems as though the last 17 years, since I started as a young, know-nothing business analyst at American Management Systems, have flown by. It was only a few years after that that I picked up Sonic Youth’s Washing Machine and had the top of my head removed. I’m listening this morning to the uncut version of “The Diamond Sea,” and as always I’m floating in infinity, carried along by the interplay between Thurston and Lee. Then hits the point about 11 minutes in where the ripples have calmed and all that is left is the drone, until a new voice clusters around the second and diminished second in the chord. A storm has blown up. All I can do is hold on and ride.