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!

Sunday, 22 September 2013

It’s not as easy as it looks…


Strange as it may seem, I spend more time discussing Lego online on a videogaming site than a Lego site.  Probably because I spend more time on the videogaming site - Eurogamer - than anywhere else online.

Anyway, the ‘LEGO LEGO LEGO’ thread was started back in December 2011 by one of my EG compatriots, Tonka, and it’s been going strong ever since.  Topics of discussion usually revolve around :

What someone has bought.
What someone wants to buy.
What someone is building.
What someone’s child has just swallowed / stuck up their nose / fed to the dog.

Last week, just as a throwaway comment, I suggested that it might be fun to have a weekly building competition.  Someone suggests a topic on a Monday, and you have until 8pm on the following Sunday to construct something (1) and post a picture or pictures of it.  Whoever sets the challenge gets to judge the winner and then someone else sets the following week’s subject.

No prizes, just a bit of fun.

Well a few people thought it was a good idea, so on Monday, I set the challenge of a…

Lego Spacecraft

I said that as I was judging, I couldn’t compete, but might have a go at making something, just for fun.

So one evening this week, I fished my parts crate down from the spare bedroom, stared at the mass of Technic sitting on the table and…

...was stumped.

It’s considerably more difficult than it appears, to scratch build something from Technic.  After pushing a few parts round the table for a while, I happened upon a number of rectangular plates that ordinarily make up the base and sides of the Unimog trailer.  Combined with a few other parts, I managed to make a flat section with one of the panels hinged at one end, which made a sort of ramp.

That got me thinking about a dropship - the sort of thing that they had in Aliens, that didn’t do interstellar distances, but acted as a go-between for the main orbiting spacecraft and the planet’s surface, and carried crew and supplies.  A sort of flying Transit van.




The 'Cheyenne' Dropship from 'Aliens'

(Image taken from d6holocron.com)


A few minutes later, and I realised that given the scale of the load platform, if I made the rest of the ship to an appropriate scale, it would end up about two feet long.  A quick check revealed that I probably didn’t have the parts, and certainly didn’t have the know how to finish it.

So then I thought ‘What if it wasn’t a completely enclosed ship.  What if it was just a flying platform with a small pilot’s cabin attached.
We often go on holiday to Cornwall, and one of my favourite things is the river crossing to Fowey on the Bodinnick Ferry.  Which as you can see, is exactly what I was thinking of.  Small crew section, attached to a large flat area for cars.



The Bodinnick Ferry, between Bodinnick and Fowey, Cornwall


Then further rummaging through the parts bags revealed a couple of turntables.  This dropship would need to be manoueverable, like… like a Hawker Harrier!  With it’s jets that can rotate.



A Harrier Jump Jet, doing what very few aircraft can

(Image from The Guardian)

The turntables got duly bolted onto the sides.

And sad to say, that’s as far as I got.  Technically I’ve got about four hours to finish something off for the 8pm deadline, but I do have a few other things to get done today, so I suspect it’s not going to happen.

And having seen the quality of some of the other entries, even if I wasn’t judging, I wouldn’t be winning.

But it was interesting, and something of an eye-opener to see how difficult it could be, so next week, when I can legitimately take part…

I’ll be starting a darn sight earlier!



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(1) Something original, not an official Lego set that fits the theme.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Review : Lego Technic 42001 Mini Off-Roader


Review coming up shortly, but there’s news of some new acquisitions to deal with before we get started on the Off-Roader.

First up : I’ve never said this before, and I’m fairly certain I’ll never say it again, but ‘Three cheers for Government bureaucracy!’ (1) 

Why?  

Well there is a school of thought that our nation’s laws regarding tax, pay and what have you should be able to fit on a single page of A4.  That way, everybody could understand it, and it would make it a lot more difficult for people (and large multi-nationals) to find convenient loopholes which means they can avoid paying millions in tax.

But it’s not the case, and the rules covering this aspect of life are numerous and complex.  And because of this complexity, it recently came to light that the company I work for - the John Lewis Partnership - had in fact been paying it’s employees incorrectly when it came to holiday pay under certain circumstances, like bank holidays, periods when people were on evening and weekend callout and so on.

As soon as this issue was understood, the company took steps to ensure it didn’t happen again.  And that was all they were legally obliged to do.  If they’d wanted to show a gesture of good faith, they could have retrospectively paid people for the last 3 months, if it could be shown that they’d lost out as a result.

But they didn’t.

They went back seven years!

Like I say, they didn’t have to, and it’s costing the business the thick end of £50m, but not for the first time, I am grateful to work for a company that does the right thing - willingly - not just what they’re forced to do.

Because although I haven’t been on callout for some time, I was one of those affected, and was delighted to find an unexpected windfall in my salary last month.

Not enough to retire on, but certainly enough to take Mrs Boo out to dinner somewhere nice.

And to buy myself some Technic…

I mentioned recently that I was still mulling over the two big Technic sets that had been released in August.

I mull no longer!

I am now the proud owner of the 42008 Service Truck and the 42009 Mobile Crane Mk II.


The 42008 Service Truck...





...and the 42009 Mobile Crane Mk II

(Images courtesy of Brickset.com)


And by anyone’s reckoning, that would have been a very good month indeed.  But it wasn’t over yet…

Last week was our Wedding Anniversary.  Eight years I have been married to my lovely wife (and we were together for another seven before I finally got around to popping the question).  Eight’s not a significant one on the list.  Twenty-five is Silver, forty is Ruby and fifty is Gold and so on.  I had to go and look up eight.  Depending on whether you follow the ‘traditional’ or ‘modern’ lists, it’s either Bronze or Salt.

Salt?

Seriously?

Anyway.  According to Mrs Boo, Eight is also Lego, as I was presented with something I’ve been drooling over for quite a long time…


I have been after this for ages.  Thank you, lovely wife of mine!

(Image also courtesy of Brickset.com)

Have I mentioned how fabulous my wife is?

Look out for a Fallingwater review in the near future.  

And talking of reviews…

Review : Lego Technic 42001 Mini Off-Roader

The few sets that I’ve built so far have been excellent.  Clever engineering.  Amazing detail from a handful of plastic pieces.  Interesting builds.

This one?

Mmm… not so much…

Let’s be fair.  It retails for £7.99, it’s only 100 pieces and it has a box that you could fit in a coat pocket.  This is nothing more than a fun, fifteen minute build and it doesn’t pretend to be anything else.

So with that caveat in mind, let’s get on and have a look at it.

Here’s the box :


The (very small) box

(Image courtesy of Brickset.com)


And here’s what we find when we open it up :


A couple of manuals...




...and a couple of bags.


And opening up the bags gives us the following:



It's really difficult to get these pieces lined up neatly.  Which is why they aren't.


At first glance, the manuals are odd.  Typically you get one manual for the ‘A’ model and another for the ‘B’ set.  This time we have two manuals, but No. 1 is considerably thinner than No.2.  
What’s that all about?

We shall find out shortly.

Manual 1, page 1, here we go…

A couple of minutes and we have the basis of a chassis, which is flopping about like a wet fish.



Not the most complex build ever


But moments later, and I’m introduced to yet another type of Lego suspension.  I’ve seen a basic axle type and double wishbone, both on the Quad bike, but now something different.  Elastic band suspension!


It's suspension.  With elastic bands!


It’s simple, but, as we shall see, very effective.  After fitting the tyres on the wheels, and the wheels to the chassis, all becomes clear as to why the two manuals are so different.  This basic chassis is the same for both the ‘A’ and ‘B’ model, so the rather skinny manual No.1 just gets you to the point where you’ve completed that.  Opening manual No.2 give you the option of carrying straight on with the ‘A’ model, or hopping forward 20 pages, and starting on the ‘B’ model.



The completed chassis.  Not much ground clearance for an Off-Roader.
Oh, hang on.  It's upside down.



Ever the traditionalist, I start with the ‘A’ model, the Mini Off-Roader.

As the following shows, there really isn’t too much to this particular set.  Five minutes or so, and we’re clipping the body to the chassis and the job is done.



The two halves, complete but separate



...and we're done.  The 'A' model is complete



It’s… ok.  I have to admit, the elastic band suspension is far better than it has any right to be.  Each wheel moves independently and it bounces in a most satisfactory manner.  I’m not sure how much punishment it would take before the bands broke, and once they’ve gone kaput I can see that it might be difficult to find some more of exactly the right size.
Get them too long and the truck will look like a dog that’s just come in from a long walk and has just flopped flat on the floor.  Too short and it’ll look like a ballerina up on her toes.

Still - go easy with it and it’s a fun thing to go careening round the living room with.

Not long after this, I took the body apart and tried the ‘B’ model.  It’s not that much different really.  The ‘A’ model has opening doors, and… well that’s about it.
It looks like this…



Close up of the 'B' model bodywork.  Don't worry about the chassis, it's exactly the same as further up the page



Overall?  Well you can’t complain about a set that costs less than eight quid.  It’s a bit of fun that takes minutes to build, and (assuming you aren’t precious about breaking sets up) a nice addition to the parts box.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, but if you ended up with it as a present, or you have a spare tenner in your pocket and you’ve got a Technic shaped itch to scratch, this fits the bill nicely.



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(1)  I’m pretty sure nobody’s ever said - not just me.  
Well.  Maybe some Government bureaucrats...

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Just looking...


‘A picture’, someone once said, ‘paints a thousand words.’  Or ten thousand words.  Or is worth a thousand words.

There was definitely something about a picture and some words, and how one equated to quite a lot of the other.

Anyway.

Catalogues.

In the days before the internet, if you wanted to shop from the comfort of your sofa, you did it via a catalogue.  It was a ‘Mum’ thing.  Everybody’s Mum seemed to have one or other of these books.  ‘Grattan’ was one that rings a bell.  And Marshall Ward.  My Mum had a Kays catalogue, and it was an absolute doorstop of a thing.  You’d get a Spring/Summer one, and an Autumn/Winter one.




This, children, is what the internet used to look like.



As a youngster, the Winter one was always the best, because it would have 30-odd pages of toys in it, and you’d eagerly thumb through it making Christmas lists that you knew were never going to be fulfilled.  An Action Man Helicopter and an Action Man Scorpion Tank?  And a Scalextric set? I don't think so...

And so on and so on.

In later years I had less of an interest in the toys and more in the ladies underwear section, but I was a teenage boy, your honour!  I was a slave to raging hormones!

Moving swiftly on...

The catalogue was an Aladdin’s cave of, well, seemingly everything!  Toys, clothes, bicycles, kitchen accessories, furniture… you name it, it was in there.  And all payable in weekly installments.
I remember wondering whether I could get the Atari VCS videogame system, which was a staggering £99.99, but was available for about £2.00 something a week for what seemed like the rest of my life. (1)

Later (although a bit of research suggests that it’s been around far longer than I thought), came the Argos catalogue.  This, despite the advent of the 21st Century, still appears to be going strong, even though the more traditional mail-order catalogues now seem like relics from the age of dinosaurs.  We’ve got the latest Argos catalogue sitting on our bookshelf, although now I come to think about it, I don’t know how it got there.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t pick it up from a branch, and it’s clearly too big to go through the letter box...

Do they just leave them on the doorstep like they used to do with the Yellow Pages?  Before people realised that the internet could do all that stuff and the Yellow Pages pretty much went bust.

They must do.

And the Argos catalogue is pretty much universal - it covers most of the country and it’s very easy to get hold of, which comes in handy sometimes.

I married into a large family and went from no nephews and nieces to (at the last count) thirteen.  This can make things like Christmas shopping something of a nightmare.  My eldest three nephews however, when younger, were eager to help and came up with a system.

They’d each go through the Argos catalogue, come up with a Christmas list, and these would be duly posted up on the noticeboard by the phone.  In early December then, we could phone up my sister-in-law, who could just quote us some catalogue numbers, and hey presto!  

Problem solved. (2)

So when I started getting back into Lego, I obviously had a look at the Lego website.  And what do I see?

I can order a catalogue!

Sign me up!!

A few days later, said catalogue dropped through the door, and they’ve been arriving on a regular basis ever since.

Because (as I keep banging on about) I broadly speaking stick to Technic, I don’t tend to look at much of the other Lego ranges if I’m wandering though a shop (3).  But when you’ve got a catalogue, and a few minutes (and as the catalogue lives in the magazine box in the smallest room of the house, I usually do have a few minutes), you read it all.

It never ceases to amaze me, when I consider that in my youth, Lego was basically just a bunch of bricks, how many specific themes there are.  City.  Monster Fighters.  Star Wars.  Legends of Chima.  The Hobbit / Lord Of The Rings. Technic (obviously).  

The list goes on.  
And on.

I guess that most people just pick a few themes and stick to it.  I mean… if you decided you wanted everything, you’d be broke!

Although if your home was repossesed, you’d probably have enough Lego to build yourself somewhere to live. (4)

So I tend to just flick through.  There’s always something that catches my eye.  The Architecture range and the Star Wars range are the usual suspects, but I have to confess to an admiration of the big LOTR sets.  And the modular buildings.

And with Christmas on the horizon, I really fancy a Winter Cottage from the Creator line… (5)

But what I’ve found myself doing lately is playing ‘guess the piece count’.

Without looking at the description, I have 10 seconds to study a picture of a set at random, and then (as the name suggests) I try and guess the number of pieces in the set.

I am, I can tell you, rubbish at this!

Basically, Lego sets are far more complicated (as I found with the recent build of the Back To The Future Delorean) than I think.

So I look at something like, say 60013, the Coast Guard Helicopter set.  Maybe 50 odd pieces in the helicopter itself, and then a couple of dozen for the rest of it?

Let’s say 84 pieces.


84 pieces.  90 tops.

(Image courtesy of Brickset.com)


Nope.

230.

What?  Where?  Where are all these pieces going?  Is that helicopter twice the size I think it is?  Is it built entirely out of 1x1 tiles?

Maybe the shark swallowed a few parts…

But I keep trying.  

I don’t seem to get any better at it, but it does mean that I study the catalogue far more intently than I used to study the Kays catalogue.

With the possible exception of the lingerie section…



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(1)  When you’re 10, 48 weeks is about 9% of your entire life, so not an unreasonable view.

(2) Many big department stores offer a similar service for weddings and the like, where the happy couple choose a number of items, and their guests can ring up, or go into a branch, look at what’s on the list and purchase something.  The stores can dress it up with fancy names and touchscreen computers, but basically it’s just the Argos catalogue all over again.

(3) It’s a bit different if I’m in the Watford Lego Store, as I will have made a special trip, and so usually end up having a look at everything.  

Although I’ve never felt the need to go anywhere near the Pick-A-Brick wall.

(4) James May (the sensible one from BBC’s Top Gear) built a house from 3.3 million Lego bricks.  You can read about the result here.

(5) I think it would work well as a sort of Christmas ornament type of thing, but the management has other ideas.

I will not be getting a Winter Cottage.