Sorting LEGO Bricks and Pieces for Larger Building Projects on the Horizon

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One of the important tasks that I had set for myself over the Spring Recess was to sort my LEGO brick collection. For many, many years, I would painstakingly look through my bins of bricks for types and colors of bricks as needed for a given project. While it was fun and relaxing to spend time searching and accumulating the bricks that I sought and discover other useful bricks during this process, it was also excessively time consuming. I have bought and sold enormous LEGO collections, but I have never properly sorted any of them. Now, I have ideas that I would like to attempt to build, but they will require a more thought out and planned approach to building than my previous work. Therefore, I realized that I had to sort my bricks so that I could take stock of what I had and be able to access my brick stock as efficiently as possible. Essentially, I would put in time sorting now to improve my knowledge about what I had, access to that inventory, and efficiency when selecting bricks with which to build.

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Initially, I wanted to use what I had on hand to begin the sorting process. I often recycled shipping boxes for working with LEGO, so I began there.

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My cardboard sorting tray worked well enough to separate bricks and pieces during sorting, but I quickly learned that extracting those bricks and pieces without their intermixing under my makeshift barriers was impossible.

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Thus, I invested in a 44-drawer Akro-Mils storage bin. Manufactured one town over from Kent State University in Akron, Ohio, this drawer system works really well for my novice sorting needs.

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I follow an iterative process for my brick sorting. I have several 12.7 quart Sterilite latch boxes full of LEGO bricks. I pick one box and see what bricks seem to be in greater quantity. I pull out drawers from the Akro-Mils storage bin and being pulling only those types of bricks (focusing on type of brick and collecting all colors of that brick). This reduces the quantity of bricks in this that Sterilite box until it is small enough to dump the remaining bricks into the next Sterilite box. Then, I repeat the process again. However, I focus on different brick types depending on what dominates in a given Sterilite box.

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With those bricks (and plates) that I have more than will fit in the drawers of the Akro-Mils bin, I repurpose the empty Sterilite boxes for those larger quantities. For example, one Sterilite box is only 1×1 or larger bricks, and another is only plates 1×3 or larger. I will use another Sterilite for slopes, another for arches, etc. With my system, I am focusing on type of brick instead of colors, because I can’t afford to purchase enough Akro-Mils bins to separate by type and color.

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Posted in Lego, Personal

Building City Tech’s New Academic Building at 285 Jay Street With LEGO

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Over the past few days, I build a small scale model of the new City Tech academic building at 285 Jay Street. Still under construction, this model highlights its eventual glass-covered transparency (see this PDF for additional renderings of the building’s completed construction) with the model’s approximately 160 clear 1×2 bricks:

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My Serious Change Through Play collaborator Patrick Corbett original gave me the idea to build a model of the new building after we made our first grant-funded LEGO brick purchase. Here is what that first, simple model looked like:

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With only a few LEGO and Duplo bricks, I was able to capture the glass structure, upper floors overhang, and intersecting curve of the auditorium. Eventually, we incorporated this model into the Serious Change Through Play branding logo. While I like this smaller model, I wanted to build one that was larger and captured more detail without breaking the bank.

To begin my larger design and assess what extra LEGO pieces that I would need beyond those that I already own, I copied LEGO brick/plate design grids (see Duckingham Design’s grids, which are terrific) into Microsoft Windows’ Paint and drew in a rough sketch of each side’s elevation:

After these initial designs, I knew that I had most of what I would need to build the base and solid-color aspects. However, I didn’t have any of the clear bricks. Luckily, I saw a bin full of clear 1×2 bricks at the Flatiron LEGO store a week ago, so I returned there to purchase those and spare bricks that I thought might be useful during the build:

After disassembling all of the bricks in the pick-a-brick container (NB: if you purchase a pick-a-brick container from the LEGO store, you should assemble all of the bricks in order to maximize how many bricks can fit and minimize wasted empty space), I used plates and bricks to construct a 20×20 stud base with a height of 1 brick and two plates (one plate level on top and one plate level on bottom):

Next, I began the fun part of the build, which I like to think about as similar to the writing process–brainstorm, draft, and revise. While I had my elevations to work from, I thought of specific ways to put the bricks together that represented the building better and served to make a stronger model. For example, using overlapping joints and interlocking corners in the upper stories look good and make the model sturdier.

The intersecting auditorium provided some of the best challenges during this build, because it has an interesting curve that is like the forward leading edge of an airplane wing. This required a lot of digging through my boxes of bricks to find pieces that conveyed this as best as possible at this scale and appear close to the colors in the building design documents:

You might have noticed a white, silver, and blue structure in the rear of the building. I felt that I would be remiss if I neglected to include the spirit of the building that used to be at 285 Jay Street–City Tech’s previous auditorium with its Klitgord mosaic (see page 8 of City Tech Connections vol. 6 no. 2 here for more information, or speak to Dr. Mary Nilles, who taught me about the history of the mosaics). The original Klitgord mosaics, crafted by Nathiel Choate and Joseph von Tury in 1962 for the auditorium building, look like this (photo by William Avery Hudson):

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Photo by William Avery Hudson.

Using the microscale of my model, I wanted to capture the color scheme and figures despite the terrible resolution of the medium at this scale. Nevertheless, I figured that I could convey that there are six human figures and a color scheme of white, silver, and blue. Therefore, I built this model of the mosaic–perhaps the preserved mosaic will have a home in the new building?

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Posted in City Tech, Lego, making, Personal

Making My Own Business Cards with a Rubber Stamp and Dip Pen

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This Saturday afternoon, I wanted to make something useful by doing something fun, so I made a small batch of custom business cards using a rubber stamp and one of Y’s nib or dip pens.

First, I assembled the materials for my business cards. I picked up “Message Card” packs in white and kraft from Muji in Manhattan.

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Next, I found a cute neko hanko/pottering cat rubber stamp that I liked at Kinokuniya by Bryant Park. This particular rubber stamp shows a cat brushing his teeth with the message おはよう (prounounced as ohayo), and translated as “good morning.” (NB: Y told me that the trick to properly inking the stamp is to hold the ink pad upside down and bring the stamp into contact with the pad from below in an upward motion–tap tap tap.)

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Since I wanted to write each card’s message by hand, I figured that using a dip pen would lead to a more interesting end product due to my being a novice using that kind of pen. I knew that there would be more variability with my writing than if I used a ball point pen, which is the look that I wanted each business card to have. (NB: Y instructed me to dip the nib into the ink well and then to dab off excess ink on the rim of the ink well before beginning to write.)

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With my materials gathered, I cleared a bit of desk space and put a scrap piece of paper down to catch any stray ink from the ink pad and stamp or the ink well and nib pen. Also, I used the scrap paper to plan out what exactly I wanted to write on each business card, which in this case was:

Jason W. Ellis

Science Fiction
Computers
LEGO

dynamicsubspace.net
dynamicsubspace@gmail

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With this first batch, I made ten business cards to give out to special contacts. Each card is slightly different. Because each is handmade, each card is unique. Perhaps this uniqueness and care put into each card will itself represent something important about me and my work ethic to those persons who receive one of these cards.

Also, I found this work to be enjoyable and relaxing. Inking the stamp, pressing the stamp, dipping the pen into ink, dabbing excess ink on the edge of the ink well, carefully writing with the nib are all satisfying activities. I found stamping and handwriting to be pleasurable during the act of making the cards. It was gratifying to see the finished cards peppered all over my desk.

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If you make your own business card, share it with me on Twitter!

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Posted in making, Personal, Science Fiction

Workshop on Communication, LEGO, and Serious Play. Led by Patrick Corbett and Me: Wed, Apr 5, 12-1pm

scholars-exchange-legoIf you’re around City Tech tomorrow and would like to learn how Patrick Corbett and I are building students’ communication skills with LEGO and Serious Play activities, stop by the Faculty Commons in N-227, Wed, Apr 5, 12-1:00PM. We’re only talking for about 5 minutes. The rest of the time will be hands-on activities with the same LEGO kits that we use with our students, but the workshop will be fine tuned for the faculty participants. We welcome participants’ feedback, questions, and ideas.

More information about the workshop is included below:

What Is Serious Play? How Does It Work? Who Learns What?

Our research introduces City Tech students to “serious play” as a way to think about how they communicate in a variety of situations. In our serious play workshops, small groups of students complete structured LEGO-based challenges that require them to design, and then share, their solutions with each other. Each challenge builds on some aspect of their identities as communicators as a way to productively highlight and discuss differences in communications needs and styles of individuals in group contexts.

What Can You Expect If You Show Up?

An interactive and fun Scholars Exchange event! Following a brief introduction outlining our approach to learning, research methodology, and workshop design, we are going to demonstrate several of the modules from our student workshops. Come prepared to play with LEGO bricks, discuss what you create, and share your ideas with each other (and us)!

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Posted in City Tech, Lego, Pedagogy, Personal

My City Tech Nucleus Article, “Multimodal Writing and Sci-Fi” with OpenLab

ellis-openlabI wrote a brief article titled “Multimodal Writing and Sci-Fi” published in the Winter 2017 issue of Nucleus about how I use City Tech’s homegrown, open-publishing platform called OpenLab in my teaching and professional collaborations, such as the Science Fiction at City Tech initiative and the City Tech Science Fiction Collection. You can find the article here on page 18 or click on the image to the left.

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Posted in City Tech, Pedagogy, Personal, Science Fiction

On Reading J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Books

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I read J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books over the winter break. All of them: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (1997), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000), Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2003), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005), and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007). I couldn’t stop there. Then, I read Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2001), Quidditch Through the Ages (2002), and of course, The Tales of Beedle the Bard (2008). Luckily, there were more stories to be read in the Pottermore Presents series: Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship, and Dangerous Hobbies (2016), Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics, and Pesky Poltergeists (2016), and Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide (2016). There’s more to be read on Pottermore, I think, but I haven’t yet fully explored the site.

Why did I voraciously read all of these stories about Harry Potter and the magical world he inhabits in parallel to our muggle world? Rowling’s books and stories filled me with delight and joy! They transported me across time (I’m almost 40 years old), place (back to the United Kingdom), and imagination (the self-consistent fantastic elements of magic, magical creatures, and magical history).

Rowling guides readers to her magical world through Harry and his two closest friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. Then, the world widens through the development of Harry’s nemesis Draco Malfoy, and his widening circle of friends, including Luna Lovegood, Neville Longbottom, Fred and George Weasley, and Ginny Weasley. We discover more about Harry’s past through his godfather Sirius Black and his favorite defense against the dark arts teacher Professor Remus Lupin. We learn about different forms of evil from the controlling Delores Umbridge to the megalomaniacal Tom Marvolo Riddle/Lord Voldemort. We witness tragedy through terrible loss–from Harry’s parents’ sacrifice and the sacrifices Harry’s closest friends and secret ally.

Through the lives of these characters, Rowling weaves struggle and triumph; mundane and wonder; bravery and fear; happiness and angst; courage and uncertainty; kindness and cruelty; and love and hatred. These themes explored and experienced by Harry and his friends drew me into the books unlike anything that I have read in a very long time. I felt the things that Rowling wrote her characters experiencing.

I felt an affinity with Harry and his friends as they confronted the challenges presented by youth, school, and Lord Voldemort. I encouragingly agreed with some of their choices, and I steadfastly disagreed with others. This tension between their choosing the path that I would choose and choosing the path that I would not choose endeared them to me as would real friends. Their youthful humanity made their world as alive and real to me–if not more so in some respects–as anything considered mainstream fiction.

Besides reading about Harry Potter, I consider myself very lucky that I can return to his adventures with LEGO. For those of you who know me, I enjoy building with LEGO. Even though Y and I had not read Harry Potter before, she bought some of the last LEGO Harry Potter sets when we lived in Ohio–4867 Hogwarts, 4841 Hogwarts Express, 4842 Hogwarts Castle. We had left these with my parents in Georgia, who I visited before school started back. I made a point of filling my checked bag with all of the LEGO that I could hold, including those Harry Potter sets and some LEGO train gear (motor, battery pack, IR receiver, IR controller, and track).

During the snow day last week, I assembled all of our Harry Potter LEGO sets and recorded a short video of the Hogwarts Express (with the Weasley’s car flying overhead) traveling past Hogwarts. Over the weekend, I modified Hogwarts to be three bricks higher and the buildings rearranged to be slightly closer to their film arrangement (I have only seen the first three films and those many years ago, so I have all eight films to see in order now, too!). I also made a LEGO vignette of the final duel between Harry and Lord Voldemort. Unfortunately, the aftermarket for Harry Potter LEGO sets is through the roof! I hope that I can get some of the other sets such as Hagrid’s Hut (4738), Graveyard Duel (4766) and Snape’s Class (4706)–I’ll have to save my galleons!

If you have never read any of the Harry Potter books, do yourself a favor and pick up the first one. After you begin reading, you won’t want to stop until you find out how it works out for The Boy Who Lived! In the meantime, you can watch the Hogwarts Express make its way to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry below.

 

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Posted in Fantasy, Personal

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Special Issue of NANO Deadline Extended to March 5, 2017

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Special Issue Editors Sean Scanlan, Alan Lovegreen, and I have extended the deadline for the special issue of NANO: New American Notes Online on Star Wars: The Force Awakens to March 5, 2017.

We are working with the contributors and their submissions that we have received so far, but we wanted to keep the window open for a few additional essays that might be ready to send in soon.

If you have written something insightful about The Force Awakens and want to share it with NANO’s readers, please visit our submissions page here.

For more information about the TFA special issue, please read below:

This thing [Star Wars] communicates. It is in a language that is talking to young people today, and that’s marvelous.

                                       —Joseph Campbell in conversation with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth (1988)

There are certainly many more themes in The Force Awakens that speak to us, and help us to learn more about these characters and what makes them tick.

                                       —Dan Zehr, “Studying Skywalkers” column on starwars.com (May 18, 2016)

 

It is the aim of this special issue of NANO to address the significance of the latest installment of Star Wars by exploring its narrative, characters, media, and event. Across nearly four decades, audiences spanning generations have experienced Star Wars through films, television programs, books, video games, special events such as the annual “celebrations,” and other storytelling media, including action figures and LEGO. Following Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm, George Lucas’ production company, audiences experienced a new transmedia event and a continuation of the old stories with the release of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens in 2015. Joseph Campbell’s earlier observations about the first film raises new questions that deserve to be answered about the latest: How does this new film communicate? What language does it use? And, to whom is it speaking?

One way to approach these issues of communication and language is through the convergence of the film’s narrative and characters, especially how the transmission of this convergence gets revealed through a variety of media as an event. For example, how does the film’s narrative respond to, continue, and challenge those that it follows? And what about the cast of characters—some returning and some new? What do these characters and their performance of the narrative have to say about the here-and-now as well as the past? Of course, the narrative is told through media, which includes different film technologies, digital distribution, DVD and Blu-Ray discs, websites, video games, and apps. And stepping back for a larger perspective, the release of the film and its transmedia supporting elements inform The Force Awakens as an event, in part orchestrated by Disney/Lucasfilm, and in part connected to contemporary events, including #oscarssowhite, #womeninfilm, and #paygap. Furthermore, how does its event(s) relate to those of the past, including specifically those centered on the release of the earlier films and subsequent events awakening fans’ nostalgic enthusiasm. The Force Awakens’ considerable box office performance and tie-in successes signal how significant this film (and its progenitors) is, and it is the aim of this special issue to explore the promise and pitfalls of its cultural influence.

This issue welcomes multimodal essays up to 4,000 words (excluding works cited) exploring topics relating to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, including but not limited to the following:

  • transmedia storytelling and The Force Awakens (including “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” publications, such as Chuck Wendig’s novel, Star Wars: Aftermath, and comic books Star Wars: Shattered Empire and Star Wars: Poe Dameron
  • media transformation and adaptation (e.g., comparing the film with Alan Dean Foster’s novelization)
  • materiality and The Force Awakens (e.g., LEGO, play, and collecting)
  • Star Wars fandom and cosplay
  • Star Wars reference materials and publications
  • starwars.com and the official Star Wars app
  • Star Wars videogames including LEGO Star Wars: The Force AwakensStar Wars Battlefront, and the now defunct Disney Infinity tie-ins
  • Jakku Spy VR experience
  • Star Wars Celebration and ComicCon special events
  • social and political movements’ coinciding/connecting with The Force Awakens
  • the hero’s journey and the heroes’ journeys
  • movement and storytelling
  • vehicles as characters
  • nostalgia and familiarity
  • inclusive casting/characters
  • droids and aliens
  • hidden bodies/cgi characters (e.g., Maz Kanata/ Lupita Nyong’o and Captain Phasma/Gwendoline Christie)
  • race and gender in The Force Awakens
  • terrorism, insurgency, war, and militarism
  • surveillance

Direct questions to the Special Issue co-editors: Jason W. Ellis [jellis@citytech.cuny.edu], Alan Lovegreen [alanlovegreen@yahoo.com], and Sean Scanlan [sscanlan@citytech.cuny.edu].

NANO is a multimodal journal. Therefore, we encourage submissions that include images, sound, or video in support of a written argument. These multimodal components may consist of objects and data sets that go beyond traditional media. The multimodal components of the essay must be owned or licensed by the author, come from the public domain, or fall within reasonable fair use (see Stanford University Libraries’ Copyright & Fair Use site, http://fairuse.stanford.edu/overview/fair-use/ and the U.S. Copyright Office’s Fair Use site, http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html for more information. NANO’s Fair Use Statement is available on its submission page, http://www.nanocrit.com/submissions-information/).

For questions about video, audio, or image usage, please contact NANO: editornano@citytech.cuny.edu.

NANO uses modified MLA (Modern Language Association) formatting and style.

Submission style guidelines: http://www.nanocrit.com/submissions-information/style-guide-nano/

Submission form: http://www.nanocrit.com/submissions-information/submission-form-page-nano1

Keywords and abstract: Each author is asked to submit 5 keywords and a 150-word abstract to accompany their submission.

Schedule: Deadlines concerning the special issue to be published in NANO:

  • Submission deadline: March 5, 2017
  • Complete comments and peer review June 2017
  • Pre-production begins August 2017

We look forward to receiving your contributions.

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Posted in City Tech, Personal, Science Fiction
Who is Dynamic Subspace?

Dr. Jason W. Ellis shares his interdisciplinary research and pedagogy on DynamicSubspace.net. Its focus includes the exploration of science, technology, and cultural issues through science fiction and neuroscientific approaches. It includes vintage computing, LEGO, and other wonderful things, too.

He is an Assistant Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY (City Tech) where he teaches college writing, technical communication, and science fiction.

He holds a Ph.D. in English from Kent State University, M.A. in Science Fiction Studies from the University of Liverpool, and B.S. in Science, Technology, and Culture from Georgia Tech.

He welcomes questions, comments, and inquiries for collaboration via email at jellis at citytech dot cuny dot edu or Twitter @dynamicsubspace.

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