Friday, 27 December 2013

It's Christmastime...

It’s simultaneously both depressing and a testament to the songwriters art that for a long time now, I have been unable to hear the words ‘It’s Christmastime’, without mentally adding ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ to it.  I mean, if you’re going to have a Christmas song stuck in your head, at least make it a good one.  Or indeed, the greatest Christmas song ever! (1)

But while I’ve had Christmas songs on in the background since the first of December (2), the other thing I’ve been doing since the the first of the month is opening the doors on my Lego Star Wars Advent Calender.

As mentioned elsewhere, I missed out on this last year, so ended up with a City one, which was ok, but I didn’t really get excited about it.

But this year though, thanks to some forward planning, it was going to be 24 days of Star Wars.  X-Wings!  Tie Fighters! Luke! Leia! Maybe a Millenium Falcon if we’re lucky!

Were we lucky?

No.  

Having now opened all 24 windows, I would suggest we were not.

It would appear that  all I want for Christmas, despite Mariah Carey’s protestations to the contrary, is a time machine so I can go back and get a 2011 Lego Star Wars Advent Calender.  Because that was the one that had all the good stuff!  The X-Wing!  Chewbacca!  A Falcon, a Tie Fighter!  Yoda as Santa Claus!

2012 seemed to be a bit of a mixed bag, although most people seemed to appreciate the ‘Darth Maul as Santa’ minifig.

But this year?  I haven’t checked thoroughly yet, but at a guess I’d say that at least 20 of the 24 models are from the prequel trilogy.  I mean come on, guys!  At least make it a 50/50 split between the three rubbish ones and the Holy Trinity!



The 2013 Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar - not as great as it might have been

(Image courtesy of Brickset.com)



Maybe it’s just because I’m old.  Maybe it’s because I grew up with the originals, which were simple tales of goodies vs baddies, plus some cool spaceships.  Maybe it’s because I can’t help looking upon the prequels as overly flashy, overly complicated vehicles to sell toys, but this was a disappointment.

Chances are there are plenty of youngsters out there for whom Episodes I, II and III are what Star Wars is all about, and who think that the original trilogy are just some boring films that their Dad makes them watch periodically.  Maybe they look upon a young Boba Fett minifig as an exciting addition to their collection, or immediately recognised the Acclamator Class Republic Assault Ship which appeared briefly at the end of Episode II : Attack of the Clones.

Frankly I was grateful to CapnRex101, over at Brickset.com, who did a daily mini-review of each model.  If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have a clue what half the things were supposed to be!

Still.  It’s been fun having a little mini model to build every day, and if nothing else, I’ve got a few handfuls of spares to go in the parts box.

Maybe next year will be better…

On a jollier note, as it’s now December the 27th, I know what loot (3) I got for Christmas, and I was fortunate that some of it was Lego-related!

Thanks to my Sister and her husband, I got the book ‘Lego Space’ by Peter Reid and Tim Goddard.  It’s an unusual mix of a story, illustrated by Lego models and punctuated by building intructions for some of the more interesting creations.  Ok, Dostoevsky it ain’t, but a bit of relaxing over Christmas and getting some inspiration for building is just what I wanted.



Lego Space - Building the Future.  Out of Lego.

(Image courtesy of Amazon.co.uk

Courtesy of our good friends Tracey & Terry (not forgetting Daisy, Lily and Bertie, their trio of Westies), I got another book, ‘Beautiful Lego’ by Mike Doyle.  No instructions this time, just a photographic compilation of some of the most incredible creations by some of the most talented Lego builders out there.



Beautiful Lego, by Mike Doyle

(Image courtesy of Amazon.co.uk)


And did I get any actual Lego?  Yes.  Yes I did!

A big high-five, a jaffa cake and much thanks to my Eurogamer.net Secret Santa for my parcel of goodies, which included the Lego Architecture set, Seattle Space Needle.  I’ve recently got into the Architecture range, and I am really looking forward to building that.


Lego Architecture 21003 - Seattle Space Needle

(Image courtesy of Brickset.com)

And finally, big hugs to Mrs Boo, who bought me the Mindstorms EV3 set that I’ve been drooling over since before it was actually released.  I’ve treated myself to a copy of Daniele Benedettelli’s ‘The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Laboratory’, which the reviews suggest is a good reference book for those starting out and wishing to dig into the nitty gritty of the set.
Thanks to a certain on-line retailer, I ordered it Christmas evening, and the delivery chap has just dropped it off.



Mindstorms EV3 - Robot-tastic!

(Image courtesy of Brickset.com)





And some help on understanding it!

(Image courtesy of Amazon.co.uk)





Good thing I’ve got next week off work...




~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~



(1)  At mention of ‘the greatest Christmas song’, many of you will be (incorrectly) thinking of ‘White Christmas’.  Some of the more savvy amongst you will be thinking ‘Of course it’s not White Christmas!  It’s ‘A Fairytale Of New York’ by The Pogues and the late, lovely and lamented Kirsty MacColl.’  This, of course, would also be incorrect.

The greatest Christmas song ever is ‘Christmas Wrapping’ by The Waitresses.

Great story, awesome ‘ching, chinga ching’ guitar riff, brass stabs, Tracy Wormworth’s fantastic bassline and the whole thing dripping in 80’s cheese.

It’s the best Christmas song of all time!

FACT!

(2) More like the second week of October!  I love Christmas!


(3) I’m a huge Calvin & Hobbes fan.  For me, Christmas presents will always be ‘loot’!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

I bought a Ferrari the other day...

Like many men of un certain ├óge, I have a passing interest in fast cars (1), and so read one or two car magazines now and again.  Something that I find strange, and indeed mildly amusing (as it’s never likely to affect me directly), is that when you start talking about real exotica - the limited edition stuff, ‘Only 249 to be built.’ etc, they’re quite difficult to get hold of.  And this is not wholly down to the astronomical price tags that these cars can command (the Bugatti Veyron was one of the first to break the £1m barrier if memory serves correctly, but since then, there have been several in that £1m+ bracket).  

It’s the fact that in many cases, you have to be invited to buy the car.  Just having the money isn’t enough.  You have to qualify!

With some of the rarer Ferrari’s, like the FXX, they were only offered to people who already had a Ferrari-buying history.  And not just ‘a rusty old 308 GTB like Magnum used to drive’. (2) You had to have bought the good stuff.  And plenty of it.

So I was amused when Shell (3) announced that they were going to be running a promotion in association with Ferrari and Lego.  They would have a set of polybags comprising of five cars, a truck and a set of minifigs available.  

But they weren’t giving them away, oh no.  You had to buy them.

But in order to be allowed to buy them, you had to purchase £30 of their fuel.  And not the ordinary fuel.  The good stuff.  The premium stuff.

The expensive stuff.

And then, when you’d bought the petrol, could you buy the polys?

No.

Poly.  Singular.  At £1.49 each.

So in order to collect the set of vehicles, assuming your petrol pump skills were good enough to stop the counter on £30.00 exactly, you would have to spend £188.94.

And what of the minifigs?

Yes, they were another £1.49.  But to get them, you had to buy a carton of oil, the cheapest of which appears to be abour £11.00.

So all in, a shade over £200 to complete the set.

Ouch!

Ok, to be fair, for that money you are getting £180 worth of fuel, which you’re almost certainly going to use (4), and some oil which you may also use.

It so happens that I’d already tried the premium Shell petrol (5) and now use it as a matter of course (6), so when the promo was announced, I thought I’d pick up some models.

It was discussed at length on the forum over at Brickset, and once the campaign kicked off, it became immediately apparent that the communication coming out from Shell headquarters to their filling stations was wildly inconsistent.  People were reporting that some filling stations knew nothing about it, others were sticking rigidly to the ‘one bag per £30 fill up’, while a few were happily selling you whatever you wanted to buy. 

I have a Shell garage around the corner from me, so early one Sunday morning, went in, bought my £30 of petrol (rather than filling the car up as I’d normally do), and went in to pay.  

The lady behind the counter was baffled when I started talking about Lego, but when I pointed to a) the leaflet on the counter, and b) the box of polys on the wall behind her, she seemed to get it.  Then instead of asking which set I wanted, she reached back, grabbed a minifig set, scanned it and handed it over.

I should really have told her that I was only allowed to have this set if I’d bought some oil that I didn’t need, but shamefully, I kept my mouth shut and waltzed out with my minifig set.

That evening, I went back to put another £30 in.  This time, the guy behind the counter  did ask me which one I wanted.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained…

“Well actually I’m after the complete set.  Don’t suppose I’m allowed to buy them all, am I?” I said, feigning ignorance.

“Don’t see why not.” said the nice man, and proceeded to scan all six vehicles through the till.
What a nice man.  What a nice garage!

Since then, some clarification has clearly been sent out, and now they only let me have one at a time, although they recognise me now, and have got to the point where they know which ones I still need.  They’re also good enough to go rummaging through the stock room for me if the model I need isn’t in the box.

Due to various long distance trips to visit family and friends in the run up to Christmas, we’re going through petrol a bit quicker than we normally would, which means that thus far I’ve managed to pick up two complete sets, and I’m two cars into my third set.

The first set I’m going to squirrel away unopened.  The second set is going to be a prize in SirKevBags annual Brickset charity raffle, while the current set I’m actually going to build.

So are they any good?

Well I’m not sure, not having opened any of the bags yet!  I’m going to wait until I’ve got the (third) set, and then build them all at once.

We do have some pictures though…


Ferrari 150 Italia



Scuderia Ferrari Truck



Ferrari F40



Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta



Ferrari 458 Italia



Ferrari FXX



Ferrari Pit Crew

(All images courtesy of Brickset.com)


I shall report back after another tankful!




~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~





(1) However, after a visit to a software conference held at Mercedes Benz World at Brooklands a couple of years ago, where I ‘won’ a ride in a 6.3 litre AMG estate, going round the handling track for 6 laps, I have rather less inclination to actually buy a fast car.

I have never felt so ill in all my life.

(2) I’m not saying that Magnum drove a rusty 308 - he didn’t.  As far as I know, it was a very nice car.  I’m just saying that these days, 308’s tend to be in less than stellar condition unless you can find a beautifully cared for example.

(3) Other petrol retailers are available.

(4) If you’re spending £180 on petrol or diesel and you don’t drive, then you’re probably taking this hobby a little too seriously.

(5) It’s called V-Power, which sounds like it’ll make your car go at 200mph even with the engine switched off.


(6) I am in no way affiliated with Shell.  I’ve used the stuff and I think it does a good job.  It keeps the engine slightly cleaner, and because of the extra oomph it gives you, you don’t have to accelerate so hard.  The upshot is, it’s a few pounds extra to fill the car up, but I usually get enough ‘extra’ miles out of a tank to more than offset the cost.  I can’t guarantee it’ll make any difference to you, but it works for me.


Wednesday, 13 November 2013

So. That 'Technic only' rule...

As I’ve mentioned before, the only way I can keep this Lego habit of mine down to reasonable proportions is to restrict it to just Technic.  Ok, I’ve drifted once or twice, usually with Star Wars stuff, but that’s allowed.

Because it’s Star Wars.

Rewind to last Christmas.  I think Lego had hit my radar about November time, which is why Mrs Boo ended up buying me the Supercar that started all this off.  Anyway - a friend at work mentioned that she and her husband had bought the Lego Star Wars Advent calendar.  The reason she mentioned this was because she’d opened that day’s window, had built whatever it was she had to build that day, and was still none the wiser as to what it was supposed to be.  A bit of googling and I was able to tell her that it was an MTT, or Multi-Troop Transport, from Episode 1 : The Phantom Menace.

Although it looked like a small, brown dog to me.

After a couple of days of this, I began to get the itch for an Advent calendar of my own.  Of course, searching high and low revealed that absolutely everywhere had sold out, and unless I wanted to pay scalper prices on ebay, then I wasn’t having one.

I didn’t, and I wasn’t.

Fast forward 12 months, and I wouldn’t be making the same mistake again.  A visit to John Lewis at Brent Cross to look for fabric for new sofa covers (1), and I ended up in the toy department.  There’s a valid reason for this.  We have a new office policy at work, which means that we have to clear our desks every night and put all our stuff in a locker.  Now this was proving to be hassle, due to the large number of ‘bits’ that live on my desk (2).  So I’d spotted that a few people had these large Lego brick containers that happened to be a perfect fit for the lockers.  

And I ended up purchasing one.



It's a big Lego brick.  For putting stuff in.


And while I was there, I spotted the Star Wars Advent calendar.  Not, as previously mentioned, wanting to miss out again, that went on the pile.  And I also picked up a second 42010 Off-Road Racer and 42011 Race Car (3).

But the important thing was the Advent calendar.  And it’s sitting in a cupboard upstairs, just waiting for December the 1st.




Christmas is coming!

(Image courtesy of Brickset.com)


Meanwhile, some other bits and bobs have crept into the house.  I swear I have no idea how they get here.

Well.  Maybe a bit of an idea…

We were over in Watford a few weeks back, for some reason that now escapes me, but while my beloved was off investigating nail polish, or hand cream or something, I had time for a quick mooch round the Lego in John Lewis.  It’s interesting (4) how quickly you get to know the RRP for things, and also what the going rate is on Amazon.  So when you find, say, an 8293 Power Functions set on offer, and discount means 47% off the original price, well - you know you’d be a fool to miss it.

So I didn’t.

And when, a while later, you see that JL are matching a competitor’s price on the 42006 Technic Excavator, and that with discount, it’s another set that’s virtually half price, well it would be silly not to buy one for the parts box.

The next couple, courtesy of an event at the Watford Lego Store, were not quite so serendipitous. (5)  To cut a long story short, I recently built the Architecture set, Fallingwater, and have since become really quite keen on some (not all!) of the Architecture line.  So it was I walked out with the Villa Savoye.


21014 : Architecture Series, Villa Savoye

(Image courtesy of Brickset.com)

And as it’s nearly Christmas, a ‘Decorating the Tree’.



Decorating the Tree, Lego style

(Image courtesy of Brickset.com)

Which brings us up to date.

Almost.

Some months ago, Lego released the set 21050, Architecture Studio.  This is (to be blunt) a rather overpriced box of white bricks and trans-clear parts.  The big selling point (for me anyway), is that included in the box is a rather nice book, created in collaboration with some major Architect's studios around the world, which gives you ideas and suggestions.  Different architectural styles.  Use of space.  Repeating elements.

It is not a set to build any particular model, but to let the inner architect in you play about.
Yes, you could do this with any old bunch of Lego bricks, but there’s something about this set that called to me.

Unfortunately, Lego saw fit that I shouldn’t have it.

It was not available in the UK, and there didn’t seem to be any plans to make it available here.  I mailed the ever helpful customer services team at Lego UK, who thanked me for my interest and told me that no, I couldn’t order it from the US Lego site.

Oh well.  Your loss is Amazon’s gain.  I’ve ordered Lego from them before (the Imperial Shuttle, for example).  Off to the website.

And there it is for (gulp) $149.99.  Place in basket, checkout and…

"There appears to be a problem with your order."

Er, no there doesn’t.

"Yes, yes there is.  We don’t ship to that address."

Presumably because it’s a UK address.

I’ve tried about half a dozen times over the past few months to order this set, in case they’ve relented, and decided to start selling things to people who want to buy them, but to no avail.

Eventually, last week, I got fed up, and mailed Amazon’s Customer Service desk in the USA.  I explained the situation, and wondered why, exactly, they wouldn’t sell it to me.

“Sometimes,” they said “we don’t ship stuff overseas.”

They put it rather more eloquently (and indeed long-windedly) than that, but they were very polite all the same.

The very next day, presumably because they thought it was funny, they sent me one of those emails that suggests things you might like to buy, based on your browsing history.

“Have you considered,” they asked, “the 21050 Lego Architecture Studio?  We reckon that would be right up your street.”

Hilarious.

Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I added the set to my basket and tried to check out, just to prove to myself that they were heartless bastards with an evil sense of humour.

But wait!  What’s this?

Confirm order...

Confirm order?

Confirm order!!!

Hell yes, I’ll confirm that!

I spent the next 24 hours waiting for an email to drop into my inbox saying either:

a) "We’re very sorry, we appear to have made a mistake, and we’re having to cancel this order."  Or,

b)  "Sucker!  You didn’t really think we’d let you have it, did you?"

But no!  48 hours later I did get an email.

“Your order has shipped.”

/does a little dance

And when I got home yesterday, the courier company had dropped a parcel off with my neighbours.  And now I’m sitting here looking at a rather swish box.


Lego 21050 Architecture Studio.  At last!

(Image courtesy of Lego.com)


I haven’t even opened it yet.  It took me long enough to get hold of it.

I’m going to savour this one...




~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~




(1) See!  I do buy grown up things on occasion.  Well.  I accompany my wife and make approving noises at her choice of fabric, but it amounts to much the same thing.

(2) Photo of my lovely wife.  Mug with pencils and pens in.  Scissors.  Stapler.  Paper hankies.  Ink for my fountain pen, you know the sort of stuff.

(3) I may have already mentioned this.  You can combine the two sets to make a dragster.  But that would involve messing the parts of the two sets up, which makes me twitchy.  So I picked up the second sets specifically to build the larger model, while keeping the originals neatly separate.  It keeps me happy.

(4) Sad.

(5) Not serendipitious at all.  Planned.  Well, sort of planned.  I knew I was going, just didn’t know what I was going to buy.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

The House that Boo built...


It’s been a while since my last post.  Unfortunately life (1) has been getting in the way recently.  With evenings drawing in, any photos I take are under artificial light, which despite some fiddling with a graphic manipulation program, still come out with a rosy hue, when what you want is a nice bright white background.

So at the moment, I try and leave building for the weekend, when there’s still some daylight about.  However, after three or four weekends had gone by without the time to break open a box of bricks, I figured ‘what the hell’ and cleared the dining room table the other night.

I had a couple of Technic sets lined up (2), but at the last minute, had a change of mind.  As mentioned previously, Mrs Boo bought me the Architecture set 21005 Fallingwater as an anniversary present, and after sitting and staring at the box for over a month, I couldn’t wait any more.

Time to start house building!


Lego Architecture 21005 - Fallingwater


The whole set oozes class.  Although it’s still cardboard, there’s something about the box that seems to set it apart from most of the other Lego boxes I’ve had.  I think it helps that you can slice through a single seal and open the box properly, without ripping it to pieces which is what happens with an lot of sets. (3)

And once the box is open, what have we got?  Lots of bags, and a rather lush manual, which is ring bound and stiff backed, rather than the usual flimsy booklet.


A cut above the usual manual



Bags full of predominantly tan coloured parts


And before we move on, that book really is very nice indeed!  Several pages about the original Frank Lloyd Wright designed house in Pennsylvania and some notes from Adam Reed Tucker, the Lego designer who came up with the model.  

Along with the building instructions.
Obviously.

Talking of which, let’s get building!

I tend to separate the parts into bowls before I start, to make it a bit easier to find pieces as I go along.  So I laid out seven bowls.  The first one was filled with small tan coloured parts.
As was the second.
And the third.
And the fourth.
And the fifth.

There’s a lot of tan parts in this set!

There was also a bowl with some green, grey and black bricks, and a good handful of clear pieces.  811 in all.

We kick off with a 16 x 32 grey baseplate, and before too long we have the outline of the walls, and the beginnings of the waterfall that gives the house its name.


From small acorns...


As the walls started to build up, there was an odd set of bricks along the front edge of the house, making me wonder why I’d never noticed that Frank Lloyd Wright had designed a set of small portholes under the bridge...


Portholes?


Turning the page of the manual over, revealed that  rather than FLW having a naval fetish, it was simply the method by which the nameplate was attached.


No.  Not portholes.

Stupid?  Me? (4)

Anyway.  The other thing that was coming along was the water, which looks a bit lumpy up close, but from a distance, works beautifully. 



Water, Lego style


Each page of instructions only added about another six to eight pieces, so it wasn’t the quickest build I’d attempted.  Half an hour later and this is where I’d got to…


Starting to take shape

Another half an hour later and we’d also started a bit of gardening, as some greenery appeared.  At this point, the build was pushed to one side, and work commenced on a completely separate part.  

This.  Took.  Ages.

It was built up almost entirely from small flat plates, an there must have been twenty levels of it if there was one.  And wouldn’t you know, three quarters of the way through, it became apparent that I’d made a mistake.  Fortunately I decided to go back though the book, compare it to what I’d got, and was able to move a section into the correct place, rather than (as I’d first envisaged) have to take the whole thing to pieces and start again.
When the element was complete, I had this…


Doesn't look much like a house to me


This section then attached to the main block, held in place by a single stud!  Not for the last time on this build, I thought to myself, ‘That’s clever!’


May the cleverness of the construction overshadow the pinkness of the background


The remainder of the build consisted of making up each level of the living accomodation separately, and then stacking them together.  Unusually, they don’t clip together at all, they just sit on top of each other, with a plate, or plates on the bottom of each section mirroring the aperture of the section it sits on.

Clever, clever stuff.

The stacked sections then simply slide into a waiting aperture, and Robert is very much your Mother’s brother!


The finished model
(Image courtesy of Brickset.com)


I thoroughly enjoyed this set.  With my Technic, I tend to leave a completed set out for a couple of weeks, then dismantle it, box it up and start on the next one.  With this one, however, I think I’ll try and find a place for it to sit for a while.  It’s the sort of set that you find yourself admiring as you walk past, and finding neat little details, like the balconies, or the stones in the river.

It’s certainly made me want to visit the actual house if I ever get out to that part of the USA. (5)

It doesn’t do anything.  There are no moving parts.  There’s little or no play value.  So from that perspective, it won’t appeal to everyone.  But if you have an interest in architecture, then I’d urge you to try this set.  At approx. £75.00 it’s by no means cheap, but when I compare it to some of the other sets in the Lego Architecture range, which can give ‘an impression’ of the original building, rather than a detailed replica, I think this is well worth saving up for.

Recommended.  




~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~




(1) Not life at all.  Work.

(2)  42010 & 42011, the Off-Road Racer & Race Car that can be combined to make a dragster.  Watch this space for a monster, three-model review, soon!

(3) Although a bit of care and a sharp knife means you can get the boxes open without too much damage.

(4) Apparently, yes.

(5) You can find details of the house here : Fallingwater

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

And the winner is...


So as mentioned the other day, we’ve had a Lego building competition running, just for fun, over at Eurogamer.  In a nutshell, someone decides a theme on a Monday and you have until 8pm on Sunday night to post a photo (or photos) of your creation.

Whoever sets the challenge decides the winner, and then off we go again.

I set the first challenge, which was to build a Lego Spacecraft, and the entries were wide ranging, but uniformly excellent.

First out of the blocks was Nexus_6, with a mini-scale, but epic sized craft…



Nexus_6's oil refinery in space


ZuluHero was next, with a few work in progress shots of a one-man (minifig!) Scout ship…



ZuluHero's Scout ship


Carlo took a different approach entirely, and went for a full blown spaceship, and threw in the launch pad for good measure…


Carlo's Spaceship & launchpad

More photos here.

Tonka went down yet another route, and went micro-scale.  I love the jet streams (?) coming from the engines…


Tonka's ship.  Small is beautiful.

More pics here.


motti82 went for ‘small but perfectly formed (and big enough to have a minifig pilot)…


motti82's one-minifig ship

And there are more pics of motti82's ship here.


Plant came up with a none-more-black Police cruiser…


"Do you realise you were doing point three past lightspeed, sir?"

More of Plant's creation here.

But in the end, ZuluHero won the day with his completed one man Scout ship.


We have a winner!

\



Congrats, ZuluHero!


Results could have been different in Flying_Pig hadn’t missed the deadline, as he came up with an epic effort…


Flying_Pig's multi-part epic!

See more of F_P's ship here.

Great fun all round, and it has inspired me to do a bit better this week.

Which also sounds like fun, as ZuluHero has chosen a theme of...

Robots!

Bring it on!