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!

Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance

Carrie Fisher with Paul Simon, from People magazine

Yes, of course I’m sad about the loss today of Carrie Fisher, probably my first preteen crush and certainly my first model of a strong female lead. (At least in A New Hope.) And then she was my first seriously funny, seriously damaged novelist (I read Postcards from the Edge in high school), and later a kind of shamanic touchstone in any movie in which she appeared. But the main thing is she was there, fiercely telling critics even this year to blow her. As more people who seemed eternal verities in our cultural hoard are taken by 2016, of course I want to roar.

But I’m also wistful. Paul Simon, Fisher’s ex husband and longtime friend, in some ways eulogized her best in songs on Hearts and Bones, Graceland, and Rhythm of the Saints, the youngest of which is now over 25 years old. And today I think about “Hearts and Bones”:

Thinking back to the season before

Looking back through the cracks in the door

Two people were married

The act was outrageous

The bride was contagious

She burned like a bride

These events may have had some effect

On the man with the girl by his side

The arc of a love affair

His hands rolling down her hair

Love like lightning, shaking till it moans

Hearts and bones

And “Train in the Distance”:

The thought that life could be better

Is woven indelibly

Into our hearts

And our brains

And “Graceland”:

She comes back to tell me she’s gone

As if I didn’t know that

As if I didn’t know my own bed

As if I never noticed

The way she brushed her hair from her forehead

And she said “Losing love is like a window in your heart

Everybody sees you’re blown apart

Everybody feels the wind blow”

And “She Moves On”:

And she says “maybe these emotions are as near to love as love will ever be”

So I agree

The moon breaks

She takes a corner, that’s all she takes, she moves on.

Dammit. And now I want to read her autobiography and hear her side of the story.

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.

That strange fragile feeling

This has been a winter of illness, unusually so for me. Between Thanksgiving and New Years I was down for almost six weeks with a hacking cough that started with a week of fever and was so hard-pressed to clear stuff from my lungs that I ended up fracturing (or at least pulling) a rib. And now at the end of the winter or beginning of spring I was laid low for several days with another fever + upper respiratory condition, just in time for Easter.

And man, I had forgotten how logy I get when I have a fever. I’m three days on from the last fever and still tired around the edges.

It reminds me of the summer after my third year at the University of Virginia. I had just finished my first summer away from home, doing a lab internship, and I headed back to my family home and slept. For like a day. That in itself was not so unusual, but the fever was. The doctor confirmed that I had finally contracted mono. My third year roommate had had a bad case of it before we went home for break, so apparently it incubated over the summer and then started out slowly.

The end result was brutal. I had enough energy to do a few things, if I forced myself, but then had to sleep for hours. I pulled myself together well enough to get back to the University of Virginia, where the truly painful part of the sickness revealed itself: I was going to have to tough it out without air conditioning, since I was living that fall in a Lawn room in Mr. Jefferson’s original part of the University Grounds. So there were a great many afternoons spent exhausted, sweating, sleepless. And, reinforcing the ambience, I was reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s The General In His Labyrinth, about Simón Bolívar’s dying journey down the Magdalena River. Languishing in the August (and September) Charlottesville heat, I felt as the Liberator must have felt.

I still feel little echoes of that day any time I spend more than a few days sick, as though I’m preparing to return to that sweat-dampened bed with barely enough energy to stand. At this point in my life I know that one day, I hope many years from now, it’ll be a return for good. These illnesses, inconsequential as they are, are just brief glimpses of that ultimate end.

—And that’s why men have a reputation for being bad patients.


Geese at Peepers Pond.

Geese at Peepers Pond. Full size at Flickr.

Another Easter has come and gone. This year I was sick, with a bad cold that came on suddenly after our first performance of the Kancheli “Dixi” and didn’t abate until partway through the day… after I had sung two services at church. There is something restorative about singing the Hallelujah Chorus, if it doesn’t kill you first.

I’ve been thinking a little about something one of our student ministers said yesterday to the children. He talked about Easter and the opening of the cave as a promise from God to us that we can all have that resurrection experience—not just in the context of literal resurrection, but as a second chance, as the removal of the metaphorical stone keeping us in whatever cave we currently occupy. I think about that as I look out on a cold, drizzly spring morning. I’d like to find some sunshine.

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…