So as we pulled into Wendover, Nevada/Wendover, Utah my check engine light comes on and I start to worry. This isn’t the first time it happened on this trip. The first time was in San Francisco and the folks at MINI Roadside Assistance, cleared the code and told me it wasn’t anything, if it happened again to let them know. They did actually check back with me the entire first day to make sure everything was OK, which was really nice. I started getting a little grumpy since I had just had the car in for a once over before leaving, until I realized that service call was over 3,000 miles ago. Fortunately for me there were a number of highly experienced and technical people on the road with me and when I pulled into the hotel, Way (from Way Motor Works) was waiting with his computer to diagnose the problem (thank you MINIons for giving him the heads up)… but thought Lucas’ only infested classic Minis.
A little over two years ago As I took on the role of “Magnet Integration Specialist” I decided that since the school had spent a bazillion dollars on LEGO bricks, I should learn more about how they could work in the classroom. So one weekend I headed to Fort Wayne, Indiana to go to “Brickworld Fort Wayne” There I ran into a friend who invited me to the next LUG (LEGO Users Group) Meeting. After doing My Geek Odyssey for a few years I had learned that I had only scratched the surface of geek culture. One of the major things I had learned is that everyone is a geek about something… be it football, basketball, curling (GOOOOO Sportsteam!), dogs, model airplanes, books, cooking… you name it and there are people who are really passionate about something that other people don’t care a hoot about. SO two years ago I started to see what the AFOL (Adult Fan Of LEGO) world was all about.
This whole post comes about because while attending Brickworld Chicago (a LEGO Convention) I kept getting questions from friends about LEGO and specifically Lego Conventions. I was going to post this after that (life got in the way) so after attending my third Brickworld Fort Wayne (link to my Flickr Set) over the weekend I decided it was long overdue. I know I’ve covered some of that in other posts, but thought I would consolidate everything here.
What is it all about? Lego is just a toy isn’t it?
From “The LEGO Movie”
The Man Upstairs: You know the rules, this isn’t a toy!
Finn: Um… it kind of is.
The Man Upstairs: No, actually it’s a highly sophisticated inter-locking brick system.
Finn: But we bought it at the toy store.
The Man Upstairs: We did, but the way I’m using it makes it an adult thing.
Finn: The box for this one said “Ages 8 to 14″!
The Man Upstairs: That’s a suggestion. They have to put that on there.
Yes, “The Man Upstairs” is an AFOL… which actually upsets some AFOLs since they “aren’t like that at all” – and comic books are “graphic novels.”
My experience with Lego Conventions (i.e. Brickworld) is this is a place for Fans of Lego to show off and be honored. This is where they can sit back and have crowds of people look at them in awe. While LEGO is a “toy” there is so much more that can be done with it and going to a LEGO Convention is a way to see just the tip of the iceberg of what can be done with a simple plastic brick and some imagination.
At a comic book conventions you have the Exhibit Hall that really isn’t an Exhibit Hall since the majority of the floor space is taken up by people selling things. They call it an Exhibit Hall, but in the old days they called it the Vendor Hall and it still is that. At a Lego Convention it is mostly an Exhibit Hall, a place to see what others have done. Table upon table of things real people have built using the same materials, little plastic bricks. There are vendors, selling a variety of LEGO related items, from old sets to custom pieces, but they tend to be on the periphery, the reason to go is to be inspired by what these artists & engineers have created. So adults and kids wander around screaming with joy over a discovery or just in utter amazement over what is in front of them.
MOC stands for My Own Creation and this is what happens when someone builds something that they want from whatever reference they have and it isn’t a LEGO kit. It might have started out that way, but now it is something no one else has ever seen before. Yes, it might have some elements from a store kit, but the colors might be different, or there’s a tweak here or there. I keep looking at the Arkham Asylum set and shutter at how it is a toy (a toy for kids who want to play in an Insane Asylum) but it isn’t enclosed its a playset. The Haunted House is a play set also but was designed to be a show piece also since it closes up like a freaky dollhouse. So what did a Batman fanboy and AFOL do? they built Arkham Asylum they is should have been done and it is a thing of beauty.
MOCS are inspired by the other things that AFOLs are passionate about maybe it’s a book, or movie… could be a genre like steampunk. My only MOC to date has been a portion of the Death Star trench from Star Wars. LEGO had created X-Wing and TIE fighters at a certain scale so I decided to build a scale model of the trench and include something LEGO hadn’t done Y-Wing Fighter/Bombers. Yes, LEGO had at one time created a kit, but as a old school Star Wars fan they didn’t look right, mine may not be perfect but were a lot closer to what was in the film.
Massive Displays & Collaborative Projects
Tables with massive cityscapes, interplanetary mining operations, feudal keeps, pirate ships and treasure filled islands fill the hall, some done by single people, but a number of them are collaborations put together the day before the show opens. People bring what they have and set them all together. With the popularity of “The LEGO Movie” Bricksburg has become a staple. And besides marveling at the detail people also search for Minifigs since they help tell the story. Most AFOLs will put in little jokes “easter eggs” for the worthy person. In many cases it’s a way to keep kids
mesmerized as they search for the familiar figure.
The Great Ball Contraption
Something I marvel at, but just haven’t had the energy, motivation, or bravery to try is the Great Ball Contraption or GBC. This collaborative build has nothing to do with a theme like “pirates” or “super-heroes” this is heavy duty engineering- the purpose is to move a ball around the table. There are guidelines since everyone who participates has only one segment of the machine so everything must line up. Tab A needs to line up with Slot A or all is lost (or at least a whole lot of LEGO balls are going to be lost. As I said, I haven’t even attempted at building a component for this, so all I can say is they are just awesome (as is everything).
Other things happening at the Con
While every Con is different there are usually other things to do besides wandering around looking at LEGO creations. A lot of this is on the Techic side of things- the more engineering and mechanical view, to help kids and parents see that while these are a “toy” you can learn a lot from LEGO. Like remote control LEGO cars that they can drive over a LEGO terrain. Sumo Bots (again remote control) – were you attempt to flip your opponent. The don’t look like Sumo wrestlers the are more like wedges with wheels. Mindstorms robots playing games like Connect Four, or solving a Rubik’s Cube. One of my favorites is RoboRally and Monster Chess that end up at GenCon. Programmable Robots that play chess or RoboRally. Besides this families can build mosaics using LEGO bricks or just build with a table covered with “elements.”
What I’ve tried to describe to you is just a part of the Brickworlds I have attended, they are basically for the public to see what people can do with LEGO elements. Brickworld Chicago takes it to the next level. It isn’t just for the public, but actually has two days of workshops and presentations before the public arrives. Where LEGO Fans get together, talk and learn from other LEGO Fans. There are a bunch of different competitions for people to enter. The old pinewood derby race, a regatta in the hotel pool, auction and raffles. Think of a typical convention for a professional organization and that’s the “Non-Public” Days for Brickworld.
I haven’t attended any of the other conventions across the country (Brickworld is expanding to Tampa this year) because of other commitments, so I’m no expert, but I’m pretty happy with the experience I have had and really would suggest it to be added to anyone who is creative’s bucket list. Even if you don’t care for LEGO, or haven’t built anything since you were a kid, like going to a Comic-Con or a MINI Cooper rally, it’s just wonderful to see people happy and passionate about something. Oh and I apologize to any diehard AFOLs who feel that I used “LEGO” incorrectly in this entry… It’s not the end of the world (like when the person auctioning off LEGO variant covers of Marvel Comics had no clue what they were- now that was a tragedy).
Yesterday I took the day to go back in time (it’s just a jump to the left) and try something I hadn’t done since I was about 10- play music. Music?!? yes, unlike almost every kid I know I really have no musical background. I took piano lessons as a kid, but didn’t practice and my parents gave up on them after a short time. In school we really didn’t have music class, so it was the typical sing songs- I don’t recall having a formal music class ever. Then came fourth grade and Mr. Welch.
Mr. Welch was one of those “cool teachers” he did fun things with his class. One of those was teach those kids interested to play the ukulele. Being the new kid in the school I (or my parents) tried to get me involved in everything. So before school started I would walk to school and learn how to play the uke. Mr. Welch had his reasons- see he closed out the year with his class musical “The Woolybooger” play and he needed a ukulele choir. I had a soprano uke and then for Christmas I got a banjo uke… and had earned my place in the the uke choir playing “Proud Mary” to the tearful audience on parents. Then I went to fifth grade and my uke gathered dust. I don’t know what happened to either one, but in a fit of nostalgia when we were on a family vacation (Sue and my only family vacation with my parents) in Maui I decided to buy a nice ukulele as a souvenir. So for the past 5 years it has sat in my office until yesterday.
Yesterday I headed down to Metamora, Indiana where my friends Rick and Holly were putting on a Uke Day at their shop. Metamora is one of those old towns that opens for tourists on the weekend and during the many festivals the hold (Canal Days being the biggie). They have a train that stops there and a canal boat (hence Canal Days). When I taught 4th grade we used to travel here to learn about olde tyme Indiana. I was not here to learn about Indiana History, but the ukulele, by the end of the day I had learned quite a bit about myself.
The day was divided up into various workshops for different abilities. I signed up for all of them in hopes that something would stick. I won’t go into detail about each presentation, but learned once again that everyone is a geek about something, and I was in the land of uke-geek.
Most people only have experience with the uke as a Hawaiian instrument through things like “Over the Rainbow” performed by Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole or Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” which is frankly just a little frightening. The internet has changed the view of the ukulele but you have to kind of search it out… Artists like Jake Shimabukuro perform everything on four strings (his documentary is “Life on Four Strings”). My hope for yesterday was pretty simple- figure out what I’m doing with this thing and start to decide if I should make time to really learn how to play it.
I tend to try to stay in my comfort zone with most things. This was way out there (like that time I tried to learn to knit). I was a little afraid- I never have been a musician. I like listening to music, I appreciate the work and effort that goes into it, but like when someone asks me how I can draw… to me there is magic to music and I don’t know even the basic spells.
The actual day ended up being a whirlwind from some basics to “chunking” and playing pop songs to the care and feeding of a uke to more basics to some music theory which, by that time, I was spent. Each presentation was well done, but for a beginner, I think I wouldn’t have minded having (and I could have taken it, but I didn’t want to miss anything) some time set aside to practice what we had just learned with the presenter or one of the many uke experts mentoring us. I headed home with sore fingers and still feeling a little lost- but willing to give it a try. I ended the day having tried to play a few songs, knowing how to take care of my uke (I was told I will start collecting them) and having some basics and a lot of encouragement to keep at it, even though I discovered I have no rhythm, at all. I missed the concert that night, which would have been cool, but needed to get home and just figure it all out. I am planning on spending a day at the Uke World Congress just to hang out and learn more, but that isn’t until June. My thanks to everyone who presented and are inspiring me to keep at it and the new friends I met along the away.
So what is my fate? With everything going on in my life ,will I decide to chunk in all and become a ukulele virtuso?
I have decided I want to give it a try, but some other things will end up being neglected (no, not the comic strip- I’ve got some ideas about this adventure, but there are only so many hours in a day to grade papers). Some say it will only take 15 minutes a day of practice…and a good ukulele tuner. Cecil is asking that I learn “I Like Bananas” as quickly as possible. All I can say is when I’m ready to storm the internet with my videos you’ll see them here first!
Here some pictures from Mosiac’s Ukulele Day (hopefully the first of many):
Last week I gave you a simple project for your class… take a scene from a book and make it into a comic. this should have been maybe a page or two, but nothing too complex, just rewriting a scene. How do you branch beyond that- here is another idea. Next week you’ll get an even more open ended one, but again we are focusing on the basics, building a foundation.
The Comic “Book Review”. This is another simple one page project, but it gets the students to start writing their own scripts. A script is important as they branch into longer stories. I have hunted down some trade paper backs that include the original script. My current favorite for this is Code Monkey Save World. While not completely all ages – the song isn’t for younger kids due to some language (PG- but will get giggles and irate parents in a younger classroom). I use the script by Greg Pak and a copy of the first page to show how the process works. It’s pretty simple since the lyrics used for page one are just “Code Monkey get up, get coffee, Code Monkey go to job.”
It becomes much more as a comic…
and a script including the notes about changes (proving that writers do go through drafts).
So for Mentor Texts I bring up The Comic Critic and Unshelved’s Book Club both are web comics that are simple one page reviews of books and movies. As with any internet resource some may not be appropriate for all classes, you know your community. We can analyze how they provide limited information and persuade us one way or another.
As the students work on this they start to work a little more on drafts, scripts, page layout and character design. Some will find that the author has given them no details about the main character, and setting while others have overwhelmed us with exacting details. As a teacher this is where you guide them into searching out details and making a list. If the author mentions a characters favorite color… write it down. If they like baseball, make sure they wear a baseball cap, those kinds of things. If the author doesn’t, then the student needs to fill in the details, and create the character. Fortunately, in most cases students are reading realistic fiction so it’s pretty easy for them to draw someone.
The review is also a great chance for you, the teacher, to model what you want. Pick a book that you have read aloud in class and use that as an example. When I did this with my class I chose Funerals and Fly Fishing by Mary Bartek. As a class we talked about the major plot points and what I shouldn’t tell people in my review/summary *spoilers*. As I plotted and laid out the page I used it as an example of how to finish a panel. I had enough panels that I could do it over and over again with multiple students. Like the first example last week, it will take longer than you think.
You can see in my example one- that it isn’t finished and two- that I used blue pencil. to draw with. Why? I’m pretty old school I draw my comics using non-photo blue pencil and then ink over that. When I scan my work anything blue magically vanishes, all that’s left is the black line. I use a Prismacolor Verithin pencil, but there are others out there. When I did this project each student got a non-photo blue pencil and a piece of comic book paper (I chose the cheapest paper from Blueline Pro) but the kids thought they were cool drawing on real comic book pages. When they were done, I scanned each page and then printed it out. Each student had their original art and a black and white finished product that they could hand color if they wanted to.
So far we’ve focused mostly on using comics in Language Arts. Next week I’m going to share a larger comic project that involves integrating Science.
So you’ve visited your local comic book shop and actually talked to a “Comic Book Guy.” You’ve started to buy comics, trade paper backs, for your classroom. Now you’re trying to figure out how to integrate comics into your classroom. It’s easier than you think. You probably have been asked to have Reader’s and Writer’s Notebooks so add a drawing sketchbook to that and you’re ready to begin.
First of all don’t over think it… like so many things in education we spend a lot of time trying to get round pegs to fit into square holes. To start most kids (unless they’ve been squashed) like to draw, or doodle. If they say they can’t start with simple drawing lessons. For years I’ve used Mark Kistler’s Draw Squad which has 180 lessons. Is it a coincidence that we have 180 days in a school year? Probably. I have used these lessons with every grade I have taught and amazingly enough they tend to be one of the things my students remember the most about my class. One year I was asked to cover for the technology teacher… that class actually took over the daily lesson (thank you Elaine) they were third graders. To me this is an addition to handwriting (which we don’t teach anymore). Start accepting student illustrations of things. A scene from a book, a science experiment… have them tell a story with their pictures. When you meet with them, ask them to write down what is happening in the pictures, a caption if you like. I had a special ed student one year who if I asked him to write I’d get nothing, if I asked him to draw, the page was amazing, then I could ask him to add text and I ended up with finished pieces that would rival my gifted kids.
So get your class is drawing every day. After a week or so of this talk to them now about the basic parts of a comic, the language of comics:
Gutter - the space between panels
Panel - a picture representing a moment in time
Speech Bubble - what a person says
Thought Bubble - what a person thinks
Special Effects - SHRAAKOOOOOOM!
Have them take their drawings to the next level using comic construction to tell about things they do in the classroom. A math problem? A class rule?
In the beginning these should be fairly simple. so as not to stop the fun of creating a comic. Remind your class that simple scenes might not need much planning but as they get more complex you need to work a little harder.
Project #1- A Scene from a Book/Story
Have your students take a story they are reading and adapt it to a comic. I would have them find a scene that has either action or dialogue. The first chapter introducing the characters and plot, are a little more difficult. This should start off with just stick figures. Keep it simple, they can always make it more complex later on.
Once the student has chosen the scene, make a copy of that so you can conference and make sure it includes everything. You can look for storyboards from films to use as examples, since they are basically comics, although they may frustrate some kids thinking that they must produce something like that, which they may not have the drawing skill. You know your students.
Teacher Tip: This will take more time that you think so be flexible. Some students will love it, others will need a little convincing, but give them time… I wish I could tell you how long, but each class is different.
Once they have a quick draft plotting out the beats of the scene, then talk to them about details. The setting and the characters will need some kind of detail so you can tell them apart. Does it happen inside or outside? Kids talking to adults? A boy talking to a girl? Two girls talking? What makes them look different? Did the author give you enough detail or leave it to you?
This keeps you away from having the kids write a script (next week) until they have an idea as to how a comic is constructed. They use the author’s script from a book they are reading.
This is a fairly easy project to grade on the comic end (you can always grade on spelling & grammar). Take that copy of the scene and walk through it with the student. If it is a faithful adaptation, smile and give it a good grade. Remember the idea will always be to communicate. If the student succeeded in doing that, then they deserve a good grade. For advanced students you can always shoe them Wally Wood’s 22 panels that always work as a way to vary dialogue panels.
So, there’s a start a simple scene, which could be taken into a moment in history, a science experiment… give your class illustration as a option when it comes to written projects. If they can tell you what happened with pictures then you can move into having them describing things is words.
MINIUSA sponsors an event every two years for their owners. Yes, some would say it’s a great marketing ploy, and while that is somewhat true, the effort put into this event makes it much more than that. I’ve noticed throughout Social Media some concern from new owners and some grumbling from trolls so I thought I’d post my history as an “old timer” and some suggestions for everyone. I bought my first MINI in 2005, I am not a car person. I bought it because I liked it, it stood out from the crowd. I didn’t know I would be joining a cult at that time. Currently we have three MINIs, a 2012 MCS Roadster (R59), 2011 MCS Hardtop (R56), and a Mark VI Mini (righthand drive), and I’m still not a car person. We’ve owned a 2005 MCS Hardtop (R53), and a 2008 MCS Hardtop (R56).
This rundown may not be entirely accurate, but it’s how I saw things.
MINI Takes The States 2006 – Monterey, CA to LimeRock, CT
MINI Takes The States was set around the release of the John Cooper Works GP, the limited edition, high performance MINI, and the last R53 before changing to the R56. Due to timing I was only able to do one leg, and as a member of the MINI Car Club of Indiana volunteered to help at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I drove from Indianapolis to St. Louis and back, where we did a parade lap around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In St. Louis, I learned that if you only stay at a hotel for three hours, they only charge you the hourly rate for parking, and that you really shouldn’t consider this a race. On this leg I discovered that even though MINI hadn’t planned anything after the lap around IMS, it was supposed to be a rest.. the motorers didn’t want to rest and kept asking about where dinner was going to be and what the nightly activity was… MINICCI had to tell them “We were told not to plan anything.” Memorable Moment: seeing all the MINIs parked under the St. Louis Arch… And meeting the McGills after Gromit got hit outside the Motor Speedway. Everyone was fine, and we all signed the crushed door panel in a parking lot! A spirit of community was born!
MINI tried something new in attempts to emulate MINI United in Europe. Four parties around the country. We went to two (“Chicago” and Los Angeles). It was fun, but I think MINI discovered that in the US the drive is just as important as the party. The interesting part was trying to get out of Chicago to the actual venue at Road America in Wisconsin. Those of us in the midwest know that there are only two seasons- Winter and Road Construction. L.A. was nice being held at the Rose Bowl, but again something was missing, an epic drive. Memorable Moment: Driving a MINI with my dad around the cones in L.A. and being instructed to be gentle… it seems that all the MINIs in L.A. were the ones that had been at all the other events and they were having issues with the clutches. Which brings up something overheard at Road America- Someone there said “It was great I spent the whole day learning how to drive a stick in a JCW MINI!” and we wonder why the cars were on their last leg in L.A.
MINI United 2009 – Silverstone, UK
This was an epic trip to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Mini. I could see why MINIUSA had tried to have an epic party, because this was amazing. Seeing MINIs from around the world and how people had “You-i-fied” them was great. MINIUSA set us up with a nice dinner (pub crawl) the night before and all access badges for the event. During that time we had a chance to Meet Paddy Hopkirk, Rauno Aaltonen, and Mike Cooper (son of John Cooper) MINIUSA had arranged all these things for us and it was an unforgettable time. While a small group we really got to know each other. Memorable Moment: Touring MINI Oxford and meeting for the first time some folks I had only chatted online with, that group became the core of Cecil’s MINIons.
MINI Takes The States 2010 - Denver, CO
Here is where MINI tried to put everything together multiple routes heading to a one day party in Denver. The best of both worlds. We started in Indianapolis, where all the eastern routes converged. By this time we had a group of friends from around the country who we drove with. This was the MTTS I drew a comic strip for which means I was dead for most of the trip. We would drive all day, socialize, and then I would draw, color, and scan a comic about the day’s events. Memorable Moment: Dodge City. We all kind of laughed at Dodge City, it was the stop a bunch of people skipped, which was their loss. This was when we really got to get know the people who work tirelessly for MINI owners. That and this was the first infamous squirt gun ambush of Jim McDowell, then head of MINIUSA. The best things can happen when you least expect it. This was when knew MINI wasn’t just a brand, it was a way of life (as if I hadn’t figured that out already). I’m sure some other people have fonder memories (like getting married)… oh you crazy kids!
MINI Takes The States 2012 – New York, NY to Los Angeles, CA
After trying different things MINIUSA went back to the epic road trip. I had planned for this to be the swan song for my 2005 MCS, but it had other plans. So with about three days ownership under my belt, I drove out my 2012 Roadster… This was the first appearance of the oval MINIon badge as the group we drove with got larger, more friends from all over the place. I remember wondering why there wasn’t a stop in Indy this time around, but didn’t care once we got to Joliet and Autobahn. It was amazing, with each day holding new surprises and delights. Sue and I lived out of the boot of a Roadster the entire trip with one laundry stop and a quick stop at home on the way to Chicago to make sure the house was still there. We left everything to MINIUSA and I don’t regret it for a minute. Show up for breakfast, start on the road, we missed a few things due to our own detours, but I would do it again in a heartbeat… I am doing it again- sort of.
MINI Takes The States 2014 – San Francisco, CA to Boston, MA
Due to work (as a school teacher I kinda need to be there at the beginning of the school year or else I’ll pay for it the rest of the year and we start back August 4) I’ll be going as far as Lubbock, TX. Lubbock TX – this year’s Dodge City- I’m thinking it’s going to be great! The small group from MINI United has grown to over 50 people. This will be a chance for us to get together again. I’ve heard grumbling about everything from venues to parking to people not paying but going along for the ride… whatever. Social Media has brought out the Trolls and Worrywarts. I remember when I was one of them. I now put my trust in MINIUSA, and TPG that I will have an awesome experience no matter far I go, and that I will see new and exciting things along the journey.
I think with a month to go people are really excited and are overthinking it. Remember they have stores in every place we stop, if you forget your toothbrush, no problem. need a new pair of pants (don’t ask) you can stop along the route. Recently MINI’s tagline was “Not Normal.” It isn’t normal for a car company to do this kind of thing… embrace the adventure. Don’t set your expectations too high, just have fun- I know I will. Hopefully they won’t run out of food in St. Louis like they in in 2010, and you won’t have to listen to a football coach who doesn’t own a MINI (doesn’t even know what kind of car the University bought him) drone on about whatever- at least the steak was good. Yes, some moments will not be perfect… but I don’t know of any day in my life where everything went perfectly.
- Don’t listen to the trolls (or feed them)
- Wear sunscreen
- Pack a towel
- My comic from 2010 is still pretty accurate when it comes to packing.
If you are going, I look forward to meeting you- I’ll be the one with the monkey. If you aren’t going… maybe next time or at another event there are some great events around the country – MINIs on the Dragon, Mickey & MINI, MINIs on Top, MINIs in the Mountains, A MINI Vacation in Vegas, just to name a few. Catch up on what’s going on with MINI through places like White Roof Radio. Owning a MINI is an adventure… embrace it, live outside your comfort zone for a few days. Who knows? You might like it.