Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A picture is worth a thousand words

Who ever came up with that saying was a lazy writer, but so am I. Here are some pictures from the Caribbean cruise Bert and I just took. It was wonderful :)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

July and August 2011

While I have long ago abandoned the concept of this blog as weekly or even monthly, here are a few wonderful occurrences from this summer so far. View some photos from this summer here

Mom and Dad
For Christmas last year, one of the things Bert and I got for Mom and Dad was tickets to a game at Wrigley Field, since none of us had ever been to that stadium ( in fact, Bert had never been to any professional baseball game ever). They came out a couple days before the game and we had a great weekend together. We started out by seeing the last Harry Potter movie together and then had a nice dinner outside at Keefer's steakhouse. This was before the heat wave really hit, so sitting outside was the perfect temperature.
The next day was stifling. We had a nice brunch at Frasca and then hung out at the apartment for a while (this was the first time they saw it in person since the redesign). That afternoon we went to the Art Institute to see the scale miniature rooms, which somehow I had never seen before. We took them through some of the famous paintings (giant pointy one being my favorite) and then we saw Chagall's windows. Wow. How had I not seen those before? I could have spent half an hour staring at them ( one panel is currently my iPhone desktop background ) but after about 10 minutes I realized everyone else was ready to go so west off in search of ice cream. The one ice cream place I knew of nearby (Rainbow Cone at State And Lake) turned out to be both farther away than I thought and no longer in business. Luckily there was a tiny food court in it's place so we were able to get milkshakes and such instead. We took a cab back to where we parked rather than walk through the heat. Bert went home since he had work the next day. Back at their hotel room, Mom and I chatted while Dad took a nap. Later we had dinner at PF Chang's and got ice cream at Baskin Robbin's.
On Monday the three of us had an excellent breakfast at Kitcsh'n and then we did some brainstorming for an animation I will be making for them as part of their Kickstarter reward. If all goes according to plan it should be ready in time for next year's Relay for Life. Then I made them cookies and showed them my new animation set up and Mom helped me animate 1 second of animation for the next NNN episode. When Bert got home we got pizza from Frasca for dinner and then headed to the ball game. We got there late and left early (it was really hot out and the Phillies were losing) but we had a good time while we were there. It was a wonderful few days.

Farnsworth House
Bert and I trekked out to Plano, IL to see the world-famous glass house designed by Mies Van Der Rohe. My favorite part of the trip was walking around the wooded grounds, but the story about how the architect and the client fought about her having a closet was pretty funny. It's absurd to me how much money has been poured into maintaining the house over the years. The house is too close to a river and so it has flooded several times. I get that it's an unparalleled achievement in architecture and all that, but if they are really interested in conservation they should move it up the hill so they don't have to keep pouring more money than it originally cost into restoring it every few decades. I'm not the most practical person, but this house doesn't meet even my small needs for practicality. Congratulations Mies, you win the impractical competition.
My pictures from our trip.

RenFair
We had such a blast with Tiffany and Seth last year that we decided to go the Renaissance Fair once again. This year we went with Jay, John, Mitch, Jeremy and Andy for Rainbow Days. It got rained out on Saturday, but luckily we were all able to try again on Sunday and the weather was perfect. We saw the cool costumes ( the Ent wins) and ate the ridiculous food (mmm... turkey leg).

We saw the funny acrobats and the world championship whip cracker (ooo... fire whip). We watched the joust, but this time we were sitting in the section of the lame good knight instead of the awesome evil knight. Jay did the pirate bungee trampoline bounce.

We saw elephants and fairies and the queen's parade. not a bad day.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

BrickFair 2011


This was my first year attending BrickFair, the largest LEGO fan convention in the US (and possibly the world). It is held every August in Chantilly VA, which is very close to where Dad worked for a couple years when I was in Middle School. I didn't have a lot of time to nostalgically explore the area as I was in town for just 54 hours, most of which was devoted to LEGO or sleep, but I drove past a couple familiar landmarks between the hotel and the expo hall.
BrickFair is large not only in the sense that is is held in a a massive expo hall, but also it has the most public attendees of any convention in the US. The numbers for this year were about 17,000 over two days. I think BrickWorld and BrickCon draw about half that.
Since this was my first time going I had no sense of how busy it would really be, so I only reserved 1 vendor table. I originally registered both Bert and myself, but Bert was not able to attend because he is still new to his position at the YMCA. I had heard rumors of the insanity of the public days, especially Saturday, so I was fearful of being completely overwhelmed. Luckily, I was able to benefit from the kindness of strangers.
After getting in Friday afternoon, I checked in at my hotel and picked up the packages I had shipped to myself. Then I went to see the expo hall and get start setting up. I assembled my brand new roaring pegboard displays ( only to discover that you can't unassemble them which was going to make shipping them back interesting), assessed what I would have space for on my single table, and took stock of the things I needed to print at kinko's or buy at staples. I returned to the hotel to finish designing some fliers and signs, got dinner, went to kinko's, staples, and Kmart, and then returned to the expo hall to begin setting up in earnest. It was then 8 PM and I had 6 hours before I would be kicked out of the Expo Hall. I took stock of the daunting list of tasks ahead of me before I'd be ready for the public on Saturday:
-Put over 700 minifigs on hooks on my new rotating pegboard displays sorted by price
-About half of those needed to be put into individual plastic bags first
-most of those bags needed to be hole punched (I am going to buy pre hole-punched bags in the future, that's for sure)
- determine prices for a handful of new minifigs
- package Citizen Brick's custom heads and torsos in hole punched bags too
- Package 25 custom robot kits
Thankfully as I was starting on my mountain of work a kid came by and asked if I needed help setting up. I immediately laid out a job for him and set him to it. When he finished I set him to a new task and while we were working on that his mom came by to check on him and started helping out too. Soon another mom and her two boys came by and joined in as well. At this point my table had become a flurry of activity and I simply did my best to control it. An hour later nearly everything was done and I was able to spend the rest of the night finessing the display at a leisurely pace.

The next morning the kid and his mom (I do know their names, just not posting them here) came by again and agreed to stay and help out during the public hours. I can not thank them enough. Saturday was absolute insanity. During the rush hours (11-2) probably I could barely take money fast enough to keep up with the sales. They watched the other end of the table and took orders for me to price ( I instituted a color coded price system the next day) and handled a number of cash sales for me. By Saturday afternoon the minfig displays were looking pretty barren. I went to the local Lego store that night to stock up, but even then it looked pretty spartan on Sunday. Sunday was not nearly as intense, but still very good. Overall, I sold over 500 minifigs over the weekend.


Being a vendor at these events has definitely changed my perspective. Even though I spent the whole weekend in a gigantic room full of LEGO, I barely got a chance to look around and see the cool creations on display. When I attended my first LEGO fan event, all I did was look at other people's stuff. Because I had so little time at the event, I rarely left the corner where the vendors were, let alone my table. After the public hours on Saturday I was heading out, intending to go to the hotel and take a nap, when I ran into a bunch of the other vendors who invited me to join them for dinner.
One of the defining characteristics of the LEGO fan community is that it is fragmented into many different sub-communities. The big divisions are typically by what genre of creation people like to build (castle, space, pirates, steampunk, Bionicle, post-apocalyptic, etc.), but there are also communities based on where people post their creations online (MOCpages, EuroBricks, flickr, etc.) and dividing lines between adult, teen, and kid fans (people who make animations using LEGO are yet another sub-community, but don't attend conventions en masse the way these other groups do, something I am looking to change). Vendors are yet another community with their own set of needs and priorities.
It was nice to have dinner with the other vendors, most of whom, like me, are still working day jobs and only moonlighting as vendors. Hearing my own concerns echoed from another mouth was reaffirming (e.g. The importance of packaging merchandise at home before the show so you don't have to scramble at the event) and the fact that I was sitting next to a guy who has turned his passion into a full-time business and was able to pick his brain a little was simply awesome.
After dinner we all headed to the local LEGO store. It's nice not being the only adult at the store purchasing large quantities of LEGO for one's self. Spending $500 on minifigs doesn't seem so bad when a) there are other people spending more and saying they are holding themselves back and b) I know I will be able to sell most of those minifigs the next day. I felt bad for the LEGO store employees though. You could tell they had spent the whole day answering the same questions from mega-fans and ringing up our enormous orders.
All told, it was an exciting weekend. Once I got back home, I immediately booked tables for next year and got the date on Mom and Dad's calendar so they can help Bert and I work the booth and see one of my events in person. I'm already excited!

Monday, July 11, 2011

New Animations and YouTube Partner Meetup

First things first, I've got a short animation in a contest Eddie Izzard is holding. The top ten will play during some of his live shows Go here and look for the LEGO giraffe to vote for it. Thanks!

In addition to making that quick video (took about 2 hours to animate), this weekend I started principle photography on the next NNN episode. However, in a turn of events, I wasn't animating alone. There have only been a couple times where I have animated with other people (my Fire Escape Intro projects, working with Tiffany and Seth on Color City Hide and Seek, and working with Adam on the Anti-Green commercial), even when Jeremy and Adam and I worked on LEGO Movie 2, we mostly did our own scenes. This Saturday I had 4-5 people helping out at all times. I did not do a good job of taking pictures, so some people only exists as arms and backs of heads



It was great having multiple animators so each could focus on one character as well as having Stephanie be in charge of taking pictures and running the animation software. I don't know how I ever did all this by myself. We worked for 4 hours and got through about 10 seconds of the 100 second episode. Here is a clip:


Last Thursday I took the day off work so i could attend the day-long YouTube partner Meetup at Columbia College downtown. There were about 50 partners in attendance and it was great to be among so many people who are trying to do the same type of thing I am. There were talks by the guys behind BarelyPolitical and many YouTube staff on-hand and of course lots of time for mingling. I met a few cool people and I got interviewed by a reporter from Wired and I got a YouTube T-Shirt, so all in all it was a good day.

Bert and I also painted our bedroom last weekend. I should post some pictures of that.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

I've said it before and I'll say it again...

my favorite thing about summer is peach & nectarine season

Friday, June 24, 2011

BrickWorld Chicago 2011

This past week was a rollercoaster, lots of anticipation leading up to a ride that was exhilarating and over far too soon. Allow me to unpack it.

Wednesday

I took Wednesday off work so I'd have a whole day to finish preparing. I had minifigs to bag and inventory, custom robot kits to design and print instructions and label for, a DVD to burn, a presentation to prepare for, and lots of packing to do. Then I got sick. Really sick. So instead I spent most of the night tossing and turning and was too weak to do anything other than lie in bed most of Wednesday. I think this was my body getting revenge for working so much the past few months. luckily it was a 24 hour sickness so I was already feeling better by Wednesday evening and was able to get some prep work done.

Thursday

Thursday at 1 I was scheduled to give a joint presentation on LEGO animation with David Pagano, so that was a hard deadline for arriving. I spent the morning finishing what prep work I could and then furiously packing. I pulled into the parking lot just a few minutes before the presentation began. Thankfully David got there early and set everything up.

The presentation went really well, we had an audience of about 50 who asked a lot of questions. We were using David's PowerPoint from the past three years he has given the presentation and just took turns talking through the various topics and fielding questions. It went really well especially when you consider we spent very little time planning who should say what. It lasted just over two hours and we had lots of people coming up to us throughout the weekend to compliment us on the class.

After that we both checked in and then went to grab late lunch / early dinner at Potbelly's. We traded war stories about working with difficult clients, talked about our current projects and otherwise caught up. When we got back to the hotel we started walking around the convention space and ran into some other brick animators and chatted with them a little. Then I went and took a much needed nap.

When I woke up it was time to start setting up in the vendor room. I spent the rest of the evening figuring out how to arrange my three display tables and then unpacking minifigs and setting them out for display. During this time I also had the first flood of NNN fans stop by the table.



I put the three Carroll brothers (collectively they are probably my biggest fans, you may remember them from previous years) to work packaging pinchbots, which saved me a lot of time and also was pretty cool since they were more than happy to be paid in minifigs. When they kicked me out of the ballroom around midnight I took my minifigs up to my room and stayed up very late inventorying the rest of my minifigs while grand visions of the future raced through my head. Eventually I fell asleep in my comfy hotel bed. ( I'm so happy I stayed there this year. Being able to roll out of bed and take the elevator downstairs and be right back in the thick of it was fabulous. )



Friday

As late as I had stayed up the night before, I knew I needed to get up early on Friday because attendees would be at the Vendor's ballroom as soon as it opened wanting to buy things. Even before I was done setting out all my merchandise I had people buying things. This was the first time I sold stuff at a LEGO event without first having a lot of change on hand. It ended up working out fine, I just asked for exact change from the first few customers and used that to make change for subsequent ones.



I also need to put in a plug for SquareUp here. At BrickWorld Indiana we used their credit card reader to accept credit card sales via iPhone and were very pleased. The iPad version of the app has the added functionality of having an inventory of items with set prices. So you just have to tap the items the customer wants and it adds it all up and then you can swipe their card or just record it as a cash transaction. Then you can email a receipt if they want. Simple and easy.
The rest of the day went smoothly. I finished setting up my displays while casually selling merchandise to people passing by, chatting with fans and generally having a good time. I also made a mini-presentation about animation to a couple groups of children being led around the exhibition.



That evening, Bert took the Metra up from downtown. I picked him up from the train station and we had dinner at Olive Garden. After Bert went to sleep I went downstairs to put the final touches on my display so everything would be ready for the public throngs on Saturday.



Saturday

I don't think it was as busy as Brickworld Indy, but we had a steady stream of people buying things from our table. Bert and David Pagano both helped out immensely. There were times when all three of us had our hands full explaining and selling. David brought copies of the informational sheet we passed out at our workshop and did a great job fielding all the animation questions when I was otherwise occupied. Bert really enjoyed running the iPad register and refused to let me touch it or the money when he was in the zone.



After the insanity of public hours Bert headed home for a book club meeting. David and I hung around the table for a while before heading up to the cocktail hour thrown by the organizers for all the coordinators and sponsors. On the balcony of the presidential suite I got my first chance this Brickworld to talk with Mark Larson and catch up on the previous 2 years (since he went off to California to be a LEGO master builder). We barely saw each other at last year's Brickworld, so it was great to be able to chat with him. Then we rounded up a bunch of other people from the Eurobricks forums and took a trip to the LEGO store where we all put the %30 discount to good use. I got to know another EuroBricker, Phred, and after the LEGO store the three of us went to Subway to get some food.

We arrived back at the convention just in time for World of Lights (that's when they turn off the lights in the halls and people who added lights to their creations turn them on). Unfortunately this was also my first chance to really spend time walking around seeing the creations, so I was squinting at most of them. In past years I have taken hundreds of pictures of the cool creations on display, this year I didn't take any. I would have loved to have a couple more hours to check out all the stuff on display, but I chose to spend that time hanging out with people instead (check out these pictures of the Lord of the Rings display though). For instance, I walked around World of Lights with Sean Carroll. Later I ran into Stacy Sterling and spent time catching up with her. Even later I was chatting with Jamie Berard (who works for LEGO designing models and was one of my Kickstarter backers). Even later than that I was chatting with one of my fellow vendors. Somewhere in there there were Amaretto sours. It's not often I get a chance to hang out with LEGO fanatics, but it's always a good time.

Sunday

I got much less sleep than I should have, but I woke up early Sunday to prepare for the public. I again got some of my teenage fans/friends to help me out with the business by putting minifigs together and into little baggies. One of them even handled a transaction (though he was very confused when someone handed him money). Bert showed up once the public hours were underway. It was much less crazy than Saturday, but it's always good to have multiple hands.

At one point Nathan Sawaya came by my table and I to my credit I did not dissolve into gibberish, but answered his questions about animation and very happily sold him a DVD. OMG! Fangirl squee!

After the public hours we broke everything down and packed up. Bert and I went to have dinner at Buca di Beppo while David Pagano stayed for the closing ceremony. I went back and said my good-byes and then we three headed south. There was just enough room in the car for all the stuff and three bodies.

Monday and Tuesday

David Pagano stayed with us for 2 days after Brickworld so he and I could work on our SUPER-SECRET COLLABORATION. We've been talking about it since October, but this was the first chance we had to sit down and hash it all out. We decided on a name, outlined the entire scope, started brainstorming specifics, and sent an e-mail to LEGO asking for their blessing (basically we just want to make sure they shut us down before we get too far into the project).

It was also the most extended period David and I had ever spent together, we've hung out several times in the past, but it was nice to really get to know each other better, especially as we are preparing to launch a joint-venture. I was not surprised to find that we get along very well, many people have made the joke that we were separated at birth and it's not without a kernel of truth.

Bert and I took him for Chicago style pizza on Monday night and David and I went out for brunch at restaurants in the neighborhood, but otherwise the two days were mostly spent with the two of us sitting at the dining room table with our laptops working on GoogleDocs, showing each other YouTube videos/ pictures of LEGO sets, and playing with LEGO. And now you can see why I'm trying to turn all of this into a profitable business.

Wednesday

My body decided to get back at me for all the sleep deprivation and heightened activity of the preceding week by getting sick again.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Updates from the front lines - BrickWorld day 1

As described to Karan via IM
  • this afternoon I co-presented a 2 hour presentation about how to make LEGO films to a captive audience of about 60 or so
  • then had dinner with my co-presenter and LEGO doppelganger and we bonded over our struggles working with clients as video producers (his client being LEGO)
  • I gave out an autograph and had several people come up to me and tell me what big fans they are of NNN
  • I spent most of the evening setting up my three tables that I will be displaying at while children and adults crowded around my computer to watch my animations
  • and I got three brothers to package pinchbots for me so I can sell them over the next few days

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Some photos from our trip to San Fransisco in April

They are hosted on Facebook, but you don't need a Facebook account to see them. I won't be doing the usual long write-up for the vacation, but here are some (non-visual) highlights.
  • Walking around in nice weather the same weekend it snowed in Chicago
  • Bert and I getting mani-pedis in the Castro
  • Driving along the coast on highway 1
  • Dinner at La Flora
  • Dinner at some random Thai place

Sunday, June 5, 2011

On Leadership

I’m going to take a page out of my good friend T.A.S’s book and abandon my traditional journal entry approach and attempt something more like an essay for this entry. A lot has happened since my last entry, but rather than try to recount it I’m going to focus on some of the themes that have been running through my thoughts in the past few months.

I’ve never wanted to be the leader. I vividly remember a Boy Scout meeting where the Scoutmaster from another troop was giving a presentation about leadership to the Patrol Leaders and Assistant Senior Patrol Leaders. At one point he posed the question to us “Raise your hand if you want to be Senior Patrol Leader someday!” I didn’t raise my hand. “Every one of should have your hand up right now.” I silently begged to differ.
I eventually became Senior Patrol Leader, not out of any volition of my own, at a certain point I was simply the oldest boy left who hadn’t been Senior Patrol Leader yet (the Scoutmasters relentless overturned the patrol leadership so every boy got a chance to be the leader). I didn’t mind being in charge, but I didn’t particularly enjoy it either. What I enjoyed about Boy Scouts were the friendships I built and the cool trips we went on. Being the leader didn’t enhance those, if anything it made them less enjoyable because it set me apart from everyone else.
That being said, I did enjoy being an Assistant Senior Patrol Leader. I like making things happen and I like helping people, so working with the various Patrol Leaders to plan our weekly meetings and monthly trips was all good. I don’t have any problems being a leader, so long as I’m not the leader. In all the various committees and leadership groups I’ve been a part of since high school, I’ve always aimed to find a niche where I can be helpful and get things done without being the guy at the top.

Bert and I have been watching (and really enjoying) the HBO series Game of Thrones, which, as the title suggests, is all about the political machinations of various noble families as they try to take control of the throne. Everybody wants to be the king, which leads to lots of scheming and backstabbing. It’s a lot of fun to watch, but I would never want to be involved in power-grabbing like that.
In the first episode of Game of Thrones, Ned Stark, a relentlessly honest and noble man, is asked by the king to be the king’s Hand (think a combination of Vice-President and Chief of Staff). Ned is reluctant to accept because it will mean leaving his own kingdom in the north and splitting his family in half (not to mention that the last Hand of the king died under mysterious circumstances). Ned accepts the position and almost immediately regrets it.
Ned bristles at the shady dealings and loose morals of the capitol. He is constantly at odds with the King and the King’s council. He is unwilling to compromise his morals. He knows what honor and virtue would demand for every situation and expects that simply pointing out what the “right” thing to do is will end all debate on the topic. The A.V. Club suggests LINK this is the series’ central theme: “whether this kind of nobility can survive in any way, shape, or form in a political system that rewards those who play the game the best.” Ned sticks to his morals, but things don’t work out well for him.

I have a lot of sympathy for Ned Stark, and while I don’t think I’m quite as blind or strongly principled as Ned, I do have the same tendency to steadfastly refuse to do things that conflict with my sense of how the world should be. This unwillingness to compromise is probably not a good trait for the leader as a majority of what the leader does is make compromises with and between people.
Does that mean the best leaders are unprincipled or amoral? It depends on what you mean by best. I think the difficulty of maintaining a highly principled stance when in a leadership position accounts for many of the negative connotations of the word politician. The people who succeed at the political game are often those who are best at convincing people they represent the peoples’ beliefs, not the ones with strong beliefs of their own. This can lead to politicians who seem to lack convictions as they change their stance to suit the popular mood. Nobody wants to be led by someone like that, you can’t trust them. The best leaders are the ones you can trust (and the “Arab Spring” has given us many examples of the worst type of leader). But if politics is a game best played by the untrustworthy, how can the trustworthy win?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

My latest excuse for not posting

I've been pouring all my webpage building energies into a "How To Animate" section on my personal website. I'm happy it's finally done.

Some quick updates:
  • The redecoration of the apartment is basically done, pictures will be forthcoming.
  • The KickStarter campaign is almost %100 funded! Thanks to all of you who have donated
  • Next weekend we'll be at BrickWorld Indianapolis representing NNN
  • Tiffany and I (using Krista's amazing art direction) have made a lot of progress building the set for the next CSP animation. Here's a sneak peak:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Help support my animations

Hello my long neglected blog readers,

I suppose you're used to my long bouts of silence by now, but that doesn't make them any less painful for both of us. Luckily, I finally got a replacement for my work laptop which was stolen in October, so I can once more use my daily commute to work on blog posts. (Whether that translates into an increased frequency of posts is another matter.)

Things have been good but busy, Bert and I are redesigning the apartment and that has taken up most of our nights and weekends for the past few weeks. Here's a quick video to show you the progress of the apartment so far:

As always I'm hard at work on my next animation. However, I need some more funding in order to make it as awesome as it should be. So I've started a Kickstarter project to try and raise some funds. The way Kick starter works is you can pledge to back a creative project, but your money doesn't get taken unless the whole project gets funded, they way you don't end up giving money to something that won't come to fruition. Also, while any donation is welcomed, there are certain tiers that get you cool rewards. For instance, someone who pledges $12 or more to my project will receive a copy of the DVD when the animation is finished and a cool little LEGO pinchbot. Many of you have supported my animations in many ways over the years: recording voices, reading scripts, giving me your LEGO collections, composing music, putting up with the beeping noise of the camera as I take a thousand pictures in a row, etc. I am very grateful for all you've done and continue to do. Please take a look at the Kickstarter project, share it with your friends, and donate if you are so inclined. I set the deadline for the project to my birthday, so feel free to donate in lieu of getting me a present ;)



And here's that link to the Kickstarter project again.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Our tiny tiny hotel room in NYC

Bert had some pictures of this and they definitely need to be shared


This one is where you can best get the sense of just how small it was. There's about a foot of carpet between the bunkbed and the mirror. That's it.

But each bunk had it's own TV.