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.


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 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. )


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.


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.


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.


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?