lostcarpark: (Default)

Originally published at James's GUFF Trip. Please leave any comments there.

(a retrospective entry)

I arrive in Melbourne on an early morning flight, and Trevor very kindly meets me at the airport. I'd got a very early flight, which proved a little unnecessary, as the MUGS meeting isn't due to get underway for a couple of hours.

MUGS is the Melbourne Lego Users Group, a loose gathering of fans of the brick from Melbourne and the surrounding areas (like Ireland). They meet in a community hall once a month, and hald an event called Brickvention every January.

Sue Ann hasn't been feeling well, but she persaveres and heads to the meeting anyway. Unfortunately, she couldn't stay long, so she leaves me in the care of the MUGS members. I feel bad for Sue Ann, as I know she'd been really looking forward to the event.

The rest behind the cut... )
lostcarpark: (Default)

Originally published at James's GUFF Trip. Please leave any comments there.

When I won GUFF, I asked the Aussiecon committee if I could run a LEGO related event, as I really wanted to do something to bring my hobbies of LEGO and Science Fiction together.

At first it was just going to be something general, but then I thought there should be a science fiction connection. I was hearing from a number of sources that Doctor Who was big in Australia, so I thought a Doctor Who connection would be a good idea. 

I had ideas around recreating one of the lost Doctor Who episodes using LEGO figures and bricks, but I soon realised that would be much to much to try to achieve in an hour, so I settled on just one aspect, which everyone loves: the Daleks!

Having found a fantastic Dalek design (thanks Kaptain Kobold), I set about collecting enough parts to make a hundred of them. This took quite a bit of effort as some of the parts are tricky to get hold of in quantity, but it all worked out in the end.

The rest behind the cut... )
lostcarpark: (Lego Spaceman)
I'm not the first to make this comparison, but I see building websites based on the Drupal content management system as a lot like building models with LEGO bricks.

For anyone unfamiliar with Drupal, it's an open source content management system written in PHP. It has been growing massively in popularity over the last few years, and is fast becomming the fifth member of the LAMP alliance (the original four being Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP), which I've already heard referred to as LAMPD.

Why is Drupal like LEGO? Well, out of the box, Drupal doesn't do a whole lot. It lets you create web pages and post blog entries, and allows people to post comments, and has a user management system, and a few other bits, but nothing very exciting. However, everything in Drupal is modular. It comes as a collection of about thirty modules, but only a dozen or so of the ones most central to website building are enabled by default. You add or remove modules to build the website functionality you want, a bit like clicking LEGO bricks together to make a model.

But LEGO only really comes into its own when you combine two or more sets to make a larger module, and Drupal is similar. There are now thousands of add on modules that enable new functionality. The beauty of the modular design is that modules can modify almost any aspect of the site behaviour.

Modules can do simple things like adding search terms to a page's meta tags, or they can do complex things like providing a shopping cart system, but building a Drupal site becomes more about selecting the right modules and configuring them the best way for the site, and less about writing code. Of course you can always write code if you need to, but more about that later.

I'm not saying Drupal is the only modular CMS in town - I'm sure there are many others. Joomla is probably the next most popular. However, the ones I've experimented with have always felt a little like playing with clone building bricks - a few shiny pieces that grab your attention, but the resultant model just doesn't feel as nice as a proper LEGO one.

Of course there are down sides to Drupal. The biggest is the fact that it often takes more effort to achieve the same result in a generalised system like Drupal as it does with something dedicated for a single purpose. For example, if all you want is a blog site, you could set one up in a few minutes with something like WordPress. Or for a forum site you can get a full featured forum out of the box with PHPBB. Drupal can do all this, but it does take a little more configuration to get the same result. In particular, the forum that comes with Drupal is quite basic. There are a number of add ons to add featured that PHPBB has built in.

Following the LEGO analagy, I see WordPress and PHPBB as rather like PlayMobil. Let's say you want a police car model, so you go to the toy store and buy the police car set, and the police car model pops out of the box ready to play with. It's a lovely police car, but that's all it will ever be. With LEGO, you could buy aa police car set, but chances are you could build a very nice police car from the pieces you already have.

It's the same with Drupal, you instead of installing WordPress or PHPBB, you build the same functionality from Drupal modules. It does take a little more work in the beginning, but this often reaps rewards when you need some functionality that the PlayMobil style sites don't offer.

Even with thousands of modules on offer, it's likely that you'll eventually need to do something that isn't included in an off the shelf module. There are a number of options, and like anything, opinions differ. However you may notice that tweeking a few lines of the source code in a Drupal module or even the Drupal core will solve your problem. This is a dangerous path, and like the people who attack LEGO bricks with a sharp knife when a brick doesn't fit, you risk being shunned by the community.

The problem is that security patches and new versions of both Drupal core and modules come along on a regular basis. If you modify the source, then you'll have to remember to make the same changes when a new version comes along, and that can become a real pain.

And because Drupal is designed to be modular, that sort of sloppy quick fix approach is usually unnecessary. There are a number of places you can override default behaviour in neater ways that won't interfere with the upgrate path, and won't get you branded a filthy part modder.

Of course, having built a number of large sites with Drupal, I've found a couple of specific things I'd like to do, and I'm not sure where the LEGO anagaly fits. There are a few people who mould their own custom parts, such as Big Ben Bricks and Brick Arms, but there's a high entry barrier to custom brick creation. With Drupal, anyone with a bit of coding knowledge can create their own modules.

The only problem I'm finding is that sometimes I spend so long building Drupal sites that I don't get time to build with LEGO.

Posted via LjBeetle
lostcarpark: (Lego Manga Figure)
I'm working to put together the next couple of issues of my fanzine, Brick Fix. Issue 3 should be ready quite soon - possibly early July, but I still have a few gaps to fill, so if you can get something to me by next weekend, it will be received enthuastically. Issue 4 will be to bring to the Worldcon in Australia and will be printed in mid August. I'm hoping you'll contribute to either or both.

The overall theme is still Lego and Science fiction, and anything that loosly connects with either or both is very welcome. I do also have specific subthemes for these issues, so I'd be especially interested in pieces that link into those.

Issue 3 will have a bit of a trains theme. So I'd be really interested in pieces about Lego trains or science fictional trains.

The theme of issue 4 is a bit harder to sum up in one sentence. Over the past few decades technology changes have made it easy to build and maintain relationships over longer distances to the point where I know people on the other side of the world better than I do my next door neighbour. Both sci-fi and Lego communities have embraced these technologies and rely on them heavily - in fact Lego fandon among adults almost wouldn't exist without the internet. So I'm interested in your thoughts on how this affects us as a species, whether these developments are a good thing, and how we'd cope if we lost them.

I'd also like to do a bit of a Doctor Who feature in issue 4.

Please leave a comment or email me if you'd like to contribute to either.
lostcarpark: (Lego Spaceman)
Though I don't often write about Lego fandom here, I'm making an exception.

Today I was very saddened to hear of the tragic death of Nath Nielson, better known to Lego fans as Nnenn. He died in a road accident and leaves a loving wife and two young boys behind.

I was honoured to have worked with Nnenn on a project to celebrate 30 years of Lego Space, and though we only communicated by email, he was a pleasure to work with and made an amazing contribution to the project. I've written a short tribute here.
lostcarpark: (Lego Train)
I've been taking part in a project for Lego called "My Way". The project entails building Lego models of famous UK landmarks, then taking them to a school for the schoolchildren to dismantle and to build something else out of the pieces. For my bit of it I built a 1m tall model of the Angel of the North. A few people have already seen the photos, but I can't show them publicly until Lego have got their publicity out of the project.

I'll be in Newcastle visiting a school on the 1st June (Monday week), but my flight home isn't till Tuesday morning. Anyone in Newcastle want to meet up for a beer or two on Monday eventing?

Second, I don't mind paying £43 for a Travelodge, but if anyone in the area has a sofa I could borrow, I feel it's money that could be better spent on beer. Don't you?
lostcarpark: (Lego Dudes Chilling)
Happy Christmas everyone.

Christmas Tree

I hope you all made it onto the "nice" list!

lostcarpark: (Lego Manga Figure)
My collection of Lego Minifig Sketches went through a major growth spurt at the weekend. I'm uploading them over the next few days.

I'm particularly fond of Michael Lark's Daredevil:

Michael Lark - Lego Daredevil

But there are some even better ones still to come.

lostcarpark: (Lego Spaceman)
Someone's made a fantastic Lego model inspired by Singularity Sky...

Singularity Sky

More info here.

Hope someone brings this to Charlie's attention!
lostcarpark: (Lego Harry Potter)
That's two radio interviews in the one week. I'm hoping I can get copies of them. Reasonably with how they went, though Tuesday's went a little better than today's, possibly because today my head is full of cotton wool, and thinking is a bit of a struggle.
lostcarpark: (Default)
I'm going to be interviewed on Spin 103.8 FM at about 1.30 today. In case you can't guess, it's about Lego.

If anyone has the ability to record it, I'd love to get a copy (in case I can't find in their Pod Casts.
lostcarpark: (Lego Spiderman)
Someone seems unimpressed at my earlier post about the 50th birthday of Lego bricks.

We've discussed it before, and I know he doesn't "get" Lego.

However, I think anagrams are something he does "get":

lostcarpark: (Lego Big Air)
Lego Bricks are 50 today!

Even Google is celebrating:

lostcarpark: (Lego Dudes Chilling)
It happens that I'm in London for the weekend that the LegoLand theme park opens for the season. Officially it doesn't open until Saturday (well, that's today), but I learned from the grapevine that they were secretly opening a day early for annual pass holders. As it happens I had a free voucher for an annual pass because I bought a bunch of sets that I'd have bought anyway before Christmas.

After landing in Gatwick, I got the train up to Blackwater, where I met with David, Stuart and Naomi. From there it was about a half hour up to Windsor.

The others already had their annual passes, so I went to get mine sorted out. There was a little girl ahead of me in the queue, sitting on the counter, having her annual pass bought for her. The man behind the counter asked her "and do you know when your birthday is?" The poor child's face suddenly fell, and in a very sad voice she replied, "I've had my birthday." Realising his blunder the man quickly reassured her that it was okay, she could still have her pass and a parent provided the necessary details.

My pass sorted, I rejoined the others and after a browse around the shop, we headed down towards Miniland. We spent a good while browsing around the fantastic models, trying to spot what was new this year, and arguing over whether we'd seen a particular model before. It was a bit tricky, because while there weren't any major new sections, there were quite a few new models that had been slotted into existing displays. The last time I saw it was back in December, when we had a sneaky behind the scenes look while it was closed, so it was good to see it with the water features filled and cars, trucks, trains and boats scurrying about. We did notice a DLR train that had overshot its buffers.

After that we headed down to the Jungle Coaster, which is the best roller coaster in the park, because we thought we ought to get to it before there was a big crowd. We needn't have worried - there was no queue at all. We got straight on, and when we got to the end we had to wait until they got another couple of cars off before we could get off. We went around a second time, but even that was a matter of getting out of our car and into one a couple ahead of us. First time I've ever been on a roller coaster that had a longer queue to get off than to get on!

After wandering around and jumping on a couple of silly kiddy rides, we stopped for a bite to eat (fish and chips). We then found the Pick-a-Brick store, which has now moved from the area near the entrance and is slightly larger. There were some quite good parts available, and I bought a little bit more than I really should have, but you can never have too many Lego bricks, can you?

After a little more wandering, we found ourselves back at the Jungle Coaster, and there was still no queue. Well, why not? We then tried out some JCB diggers and took a train ride around the park before finding ourselves at the castle and popping on to the Dragon Coaster.

As it was getting cold, we started heading back to the entrance area, but we stopped to have a look at the works on the new Viking ride. This is going to be a huge water ride where you are guaranteed to get wet. It sounds a lot of fun, and it certainly looks like they are moving a lot of earth to build it. Apparently they expect to have it finished this summer, so I'll have to come back to see it in action.

It was a fun day out, and it's great to be in a place like that when there aren't too many others there and the queues aren't too long. I picked up a couple on nice things in the shop, most notably a Harry Potter set for less than half price. Special thanks must go to Phil, who we met at the end of the day and very kindly went out of his way to give me a lift over to Stef's.

More photos here.
lostcarpark: (Lego Spaceman)
If I ever did, I take it all back!

Some guys in Germany have built a production line for building Lego cars - entirely out of Lego bricks. It uses lots of Lego Mindstorms RCX robotic controllers to make it all work. You can pick the colours and it will select the parts and assemble the car. Very very impressive.

This link shows a 6 minute video of it manufacturing a car.
lostcarpark: (Lego Big Air)
I am in London for a short weekend break.

Tomorrow I'm going to the Brickish Christmas Party, where I will spend some time with other Lego geeks. This takes place in LegoLand in Windsor. Although the theme park will be closed, we'll have exclusive access to the Lego shops there, and one or two special offers. It should also be a good chance to meet up some other like minded people. I'm quite looking forward to it. It should be fun, though I will have to resist the temptation to come home with huge amounts of Lego!

I'm not sure about Sunday yet. Anyone want to meet up for a drink somewhere in the London area?

Life has been a bit complicated of late, and I haven't posted very much. This is partly because I'm not comfortable talking about everything that's been going on in a big anonymous forum like LiveJournal. The problem then is that when I meet up with people in person, it gets hard to remember who knows what.

Hopefully I'll get to post a few updates over the next week or two.

The short version is that I've taking a long hard look at my life over the last few months, and at the end of it I'm pretty excited about the future.

Hope to meet up with some of you guys soon!
lostcarpark: (Lego Dude on Rail)
On Friday I flew into Gatwick and got the train up to London bridge (it took just over 30 mins - why would anyone bother paying for the Gatwick Express?).

I met with Stef and we found our way to Flick and Mike's wedding. It was a fantastic party all round, and I believe the earlier part of the day was just amazing. Well done bride and groom.

The Happy Couple

More photos here!

On Saturday, James, Simoné and I went to Elvis's new house to experiment with Latex and stuff. Their Halloween party should be fun! We came home with several extra fingers, and scoped out a potential convention hotel while we were there.

Sunday, and after Simoné cooked a lovely brunch, we headed for Camden and found a giant bookshelf:

James Reading by Giant Bookends

Later we headed out for a most excellent Chinese (still stuffed), and on to the pub to meet people for pints.

Must go to bed now, as tomorrow I'm off to Billund and the Lego factory.
lostcarpark: (Lego Big Air)
I'll be doing a bit of travelling this weekend...

I fly into London, arriving 17:05, then getting the train into London Bridge for [livejournal.com profile] flickgc's and [livejournal.com profile] drplokta's wedding reception.

I'm meeting some people over the weekend, but I'm not quite sure who yet as I'm my usual lazy self about organising these things. If you'd like to meet up over the course of the weekend send me a text (you'll get my mobile number here).

On Monday I'm meeting some Lego fans in Gatwick, and we're flying on to Billund in Denmark where we will be treated to a tour of the Lego factory.

On Tuesday, we'll be meeting one of the Lego designers, then spending a few hours in the Danish LegoLand park. We'll then catch a flight back to Gatwick, and from there I'll get my flight back to Dublin.

I can't wait!

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