Thursday, March 24, 2011

My country, my label

During last Summer's visit to Paris, I admitted to kind of pretending not to be American. Not actively lying, but -- since I was visiting from Switzerland -- just kind of letting people assume I'm Swiss.

And since then, I've asked myself Why? Is it so terrible to be American?

Here in Switzerland, I've been told many times that the foreigners that the Swiss really don't like are the Germans. The Swiss don't seem to have all that strong an opinion either way about Americans. It's actually kind of a relaxing change from living in France -- France and the US apparently have the most unbelievably passionate mutual love-hate relationship, whereas US and Switzerland have kind of a "friendly acquaintances" kind of relationship (as in "Who did you say you were again? Sweeden?").

Upon reflection, though, I don't think my problem is that people's assumptions about Americans are terribly negative (certainly not compared to their assumptions about people from various other countries). It's more that I'd rather not have people mentally lumping me with all the other Americans right off the bat. Let me be the "mystery foreigner" for a little while! ;^)

This is also why I enjoy telling people I was raised Mormon than telling people I was raised American. Growing up Mormon is exotic -- especially here in Europe. People I meet don't generally have any mental stereotypes about Mormons because they've never met any Mormons. All they have is wild stories they've heard (which they only half-believe) -- and that is so much more fun than a solid, garden-variety stereotype.

These musings partially inspired by Andrew's post on labels.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

How to build a Lego Crane!

A couple of Lego Power Miners sets my kids got had some structural pieces that looked like crane parts. So, when they dismantled those sets and we started building a Lego city, a construction site with a crane was naturally on the to-build list!

The crane pieces were so obviously crane pieces that I figured I'd save myself some design time by looking up the instructions on or google for pictures of how others had built cranes out of these Power Miners pieces. Strangely, I didn't find anything. So -- since the crane I designed worked out pretty well -- I thought I'd do a quick explanation of how to make one.

Start with the stem of the crane. For stability, rods should hold the pieces together wherever possible (though sometimes it's not possible, such as when adding the turntable to allow the crane top to rotate). A round piece should be included below the platform (and connected with a rod) for added stability.

The crane arm also needs to be reinforced with support rods, and -- naturally -- also needs angle pieces to attach it to the base and to the part that extends above the base.

Then there's the cable mechanism, which starts from the weight/reel on the short end of the crane arm, goes through the loop at the top of the crane stem, and is directed by a moveable attachment that goes around the long end of the crane arm. Here, I've taken the little ball off the end of the reel axel so that you can see how the reel fits together.

The last bit is the crane operator's cabin. There's a lot of leeway in precisely how to design it (depending on the pieces you have). The only important part is to include a piece with two holes near the top so you can connect it to the top of the crane stem:

Then, all that's left is to put the components together!

Now, at this point, probably a lot of people are asking: "Are you doing this for yourself, or for your kids?"

Answer: both. I think that -- in order to spend quality time with your kids -- it helps to take a sincere interest in the things they're interested in, and talk with them about things they care about. And these kids love Legos!!! Here they are taking publicity photos for their own invented Bionicle sets:

I wanted to make a city for the kids to play with so that they'd see what you can really do with Legos when you get a certain number of them. And Leo absolutely got into it -- here's the city he made, inspired by the one I made:

Legos were some of my very favorite toys as a kid, so it's easy to get excited about what they're up to! Here are a few more vehicles I made for Leo this morning:

Monday, March 14, 2011

See the sights in my amazing Lego city!

And now I'd like to tell you about the fun I had making this city!

The restaurant in the bottom-right corner is based on the 3-in-1 Log Cabin set. The version with a large, arched window seemed like the right combination of rustic with modern chic to be a Swiss restaurant.

You can see that I basically took the idea and ran with it, adding a rustic chimney and extra ivy. Instead of having it open (as per the instructions), I made the front half of the roof come off easily so that the interior is accessible (not that there's anything in there...). I absolutely love these 3-in-1 Creator sets because they show you how to make very different things out of the same pieces.

As an aside, one of my friends sorts all of her son's Lego pieces according to which set they came from so he can always reassemble them -- and she got annoyed with him for taking all of his sets apart and making one big tower out of them. I told her that the point of Legos isn't to make the same set over and over, but to build the set once, and then take it apart and use the pieces to make something else. Here's that principle at work in my Lego swimming pool:

You can see from the stickers on top that the red arches came from some sort of vehicle. (Perhaps they were wheel-wells?) Anyway, they made very pretty asymmetrical arches for my pool!

The school is not a set. It's probably the prettiest building that I designed myself. I had a lot of fun with the stairs and the trim.

I also designed the blue-black-green garage. That's my "I'm running out of pieces" building -- which is why the color-scheme is so crazy. I think it would be prettier if the dark blue walls were some light color like yellow. Note that I again used wheel-wells as architectural arches: the black arches over the garage doors are from the Toy Story locomotive.

It was also due to color-piece limitations that I made my gas station a "bp". Considering the disaster in the Gulf, I wouldn't normally have picked that one. Any I don't drive, so this is not an endorsement of their products.

The grocery store is also my own invention. That's the only building that actually has anything in the interior. (There's a cashier, and the shelves are stocked with things to buy.) Most of the buildings are open in the back, but I haven't put much in them.

I also designed the little post office in the front left corner of the city and the bridge that the fisherman is on. The drink machine beside the table-tennis match is from a "Power Miners" set. I can't get over how cute it is that you can push the little Lego $100 bill into it, and a can of Lego soda-pop comes out!

The apartment building in the center is another 3-in-1 Creator set. Basically, my kids were watching a video on showing that if you build this set as a two-story house, you can expand it by adding extra floors. And that was when I said "I must have that set!" So, since I want to be involved in my kids interests, and since they like websites advertising toys, I end up getting marketed-to as well. ;^) I only added one extra floor because I didn't want it to be too much taller than the rest of the city.

I designed the train station myself, along with the train platform and the kiosk. The fun part was stocking the display case with items to buy! If the train platform steps seem a little steep, that's just because I wanted to make sure the platform was high enough for people to board the train.

The passenger car is based on one of the cars from the Lego Toy Story train, and the locomotive is a silly fantasy locomotive that I made out of spaceship parts. (Note that the driver is a gorilla.)

Tune in next time for how I built the crane!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

My most awesome Lego city ever!!!

If I ever go more than a week or two without blogging, you may rest assured that it's because I'm spending my time on some similarly-worthy creative pursuit! In this case, I've been devoting my free time over the past couple of weeks to constructing the coolest Lego city I have ever made!

Here's what it looks like:

If you look at the details, you may notice that -- though my kids named it "Imaginary City" -- it's Imagniary City, Switzerland.

In the coming week, I'll post some more pictures of Imaginary City, Switzerland, with some details about the different buildings and other sites! :D