HOT: Lego and Brickvention 2011

Sunday morning. 9:45am.

The line was longer than anything I’d ever seen for the Melbourne Comedy Festival, Melbourne Film Festival, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra or any other event held at the Melbourne Town Hall. The event this time? Brickvention 2011, Australia’s premier Lego fan convention!

I love Lego. I spent many hours in my room as a kid building houses, hospitals, garages and space buggies. In primary school, one forward-thinking teacher spent a whole term getting us to use Lego Technic sets in order to teach us the basics of physics and mechanics. Every school holidays my parents would take me to see the roving Lego World exhibition where I marvelled at grant Lego structures and remembered learning about the Kon-Tiki and explorer Magellan. I still have my plastic crate of Lego stored away for the day I have my own kids and I love the fact that it’s not a passive toy – it requires imagination and patience and problem-solving skills and manual dexterity.

Lots of adults and kids feel the same way, as evidenced by the thousands of people at the public day of Brickvention, Entry was a mere $6 for adults and $3 for children to wander (or push and shove) their way around the ballroom of the Melbourne Town Hall filled with Lego structures.

Obviously with so many people in the space there was limited opportunity to appreciate the tiny details involved in some of the works, but here are some pictures of the fabulous creations.

The awe-inspiring cutaway version of the Love Boat required 250,000 bricks and who knows how many man hours. There were five ship-related movie moments hidden in the structure – we found two….

Hogwarts Castle and the Hogwarts Express from the Harry Potter books. I’m impressed that the figurines actually resemble Harry, Hermione, Ron and Draco. I want a Harry Potter set!

A market garden in El Bricko, a fun montage of a frontier town complete with mustachioed Mariachi band, farm animals, saloon brothels, a shootout – and a lynching (a bit of adult humour evident there).

Lunch anyone?

A perennial favourite – famous structures of the world. Here, the Taj Mahal and Tower Bridge.

My dream was always to own one Lego pirate ship. This wasn’t just one pirate ship, it was a whole flotilla of pirate ships! Awesome.

Winner of Best in Show – Drachenburg Castle complete with surrounding German village.

Finally, there was a mob scene at the sellers’ area, where retails stores and enthusiasts could sell their Lego sets. While Tim’s Uncle Ian, an architecture student, was particularly enamoured of the Architecture series (with structures including the Empire State Building, the Guggenheim Museum and Frank Llloyd Wright’s Fallingwater),  Tim and I couldn’t go past Creationary – like Pictionary with Lego. I haven’t played Lego in probably 20 years but it’s easy to get back into the spirit of it – the game is really fun (just look at the expression on those Lego people)! The structures you have to build range from easy (banana) to hard (Great Wall of China) but you’d be surprised that it is actually possible to guess in less than a minute that a three-brick yellow and grey structure is a bumble bee.

While I’ll never be a devotee to Lego in the same way as some of the exhibitors at Brickvention, I loved renewing my enthusiasm for the best building block toy ever. I’ve taken to lurking around Bricks to the World, an online store based in Victoria with only $5 postage for any item. I’ve got my eye on the Medieval Market Village….

HOT: Roomba

Thanks to Joyce’s parents, we are currently the proud hosts of a Roomba, a robotic vacuum cleaner produced by iRobot. It’s an amusing thing to watch in action, it’s basically like a creepy-crawly for your living room.

The Economist recently blogged about the swings and round abouts of robotic labour saving devices On the plus side – it’s great theatre:

As with all labour-saving devices, we expected that purchasing it would turn our home into a scene from the “Jetsons”. Press the button and lie back on our chaises longue, we thought, and the rest will follow. Mrs Babbage even named her Rosie. Our children sit on chairs, feet out of the way, and cheer Rosie on as if she were in a dust-bunny rodeo.

Similarly, it has a really strong psychological appeal. Every time it’s running I think to myself “I’m totally saving labour at the moment”.

However, I do wonder how much time/labour it actually saves in reality. Before you can let it loose, you need to make sure there aren’t too many extraneous things laying around on the floor to confuse it. Power chords and other bits and pieces that could screw up its rollers also need to be cleared away. And then, as The Economist continues:

Rosie must be cleaned after each use, and serviced more deeply at regular intervals. A receptacle slips out of the side for easy dumping of the day’s takings, but even this contains a filter that must be tapped out and occasionally replaced. Hairs wind around Rosie’s rollers, and a special comb tool is needed to brush them out. Grime gets trapped in places that only dampened ear swabs can reach effectively. Are we running a spa for robots?

Offsetting that though, it’s a pretty quick job to clean it and once you prepare the ground, it’s pretty well set and forget. Plus, it’s just really cool. It’s totally Jetsons like. A must have toy for any Geek Parents.

NOT: Time to let go

So I’ve been a bit quiet on the blogging front lately as, miracles of miracles, my pregnancy has been proceeding smoothly in a textbook fashion. Doesn’t make for very interesting blogging content if all I keep saying is ‘all is well’ :)

I’m now nearing my 37th week of pregnancy so if NKOTB decided to make an appearance now she’d be considered full term. I’m so excited to meet her and to see her (how will my Chinese genes and her father’s Anglo-Saxon genes combine?), yet on the other hand I’m almost a little sad that my pregnancy will be over soon.

Yes. You heard me.

Despite my early moaning about getting fatter, heavier, more puffed and more tired, ever since about the 4-5 month mark I have to admit that I’ve generally enjoyed being pregnant. Mostly I’ve enjoyed feeling her kick and swim and squirm inside me. I haven’t been able to decipher any particular relationship between what is going on in the world around her and her movements, but I suspect she may like chocolate, ice cream, bike-riding, jazz piano and Barbra Streisand musicals.

While my legs, butt muscles and lower back sometimes strain with her weight these days, having her inside me instead of outside of me is actually very convenient for my day-to-day life. I’m still cycle short distances which means that I can run errands. I can visit the cinema and go out to dinner. I successfully moved house, organised Christmas lunch and hosted a New Years shindig while 36 weeks pregnant.

Also, being visibly pregnant has meant that people have been uber-helpful. I have no qualms asking for people to help me lift things, give up their seat for me on public transport and people bring me glasses of water and help carrying my shopping basket.

But I know it’s time to let go and time to get my hospital bag packed. Any time now!

HOT: Giant Jenga

During the unscheduled (and definitely unwanted) extension to my time in London late last year, the friends who very graciously allowed me to stay in their home rather than the snowbound travel apocalypse of Heathrow airport put me onto a fantastic innovation in children’s board games: when you make it bigger, you make it better!

After a particularly rich and boozy dinner, my hosts par excellence brought out the Giant Tower  (definitely not to be described as Giant ‘Jenga‘) set from behind the couch. I have to say that the usual psychological intensity of this test of nerves is significantly heightened when the size of the tower is heightened to close to six foot. The fear of the tower not just collapsing, but falling on top of you definitely adds a dimension. And if I was impressed by the size of this tower, I can only imagine what a five year old would make of it.

Apparently plus sizing traditional kids games is a real thing now days and you can easily find a range of other giant games online, including a Giant Connect 4 that looks pretty intriguing too.

Just don’t yell ‘Jenga’ when your Giant Tower is falling over…

HOT: MMR Vaccination

As someone who has spent a good part of their professional life dealing with the media, I used to think that nothing a journalist could do would ever surprise me. Having seen the sausage making up close, I thought that nothing could pierce my weary cynicism.

But today, Tracey Spicer (!) has genuinely shocked me with an act of journalism that was so good, that it has restored my faith in the fourth estate.

In light of the British Medical Journal’s finding that the key study that alleged a link between autism and the MMR vaccine was based on fraudulent research, Tracey Spicer interviewed The Australian Vaccination Network Inc (link intentionally withheld) President, Meryl Dorey about her groups extraordinarily misleading and damaging vaccination scare campaign.

Do yourself a favour and have a listen here.

It’s not often that you actually see a journalist step out of the ‘he-said, she-said’ school of reporting and actively call bullshit on an issue on the basis of good quality background research. It’s even rarer that it happens on prime time on one of the highest rating radio stations in Australia.

So kudos, Tracey Spicer! My thanks to you as a parent and a citizen.

And if you haven’t had the time to do the reading yourself, check out this excellent publication on vaccination myths from the Australian Health Department and keep in mind that:

Immunisation has been repeatedly demonstrated to be one of the most effective medical interventions to
prevent disease. It has been estimated that immunisations currently save 3 million lives per year throughout the world and are one of the most cost effective health interventions that exist.
Modern vaccines provide high levels of protection against several diseases, and the consequent disability and death that can occur with these diseases. Furthermore, serious reactions to immunisation are rare. Vaccines are administered to healthy people to prevent diseases which have become rare, largely thanks to vaccination.
In some instances, unwarranted concerns about the safety of certain vaccines have led to downturns in
immunisation rates and outbreaks of disease.
So if you’re refusing to vaccinate your children, your ignorance isn’t just risking the health of your own child, it’s risking the health of other children too.

HOT: Children’s Art Shows

JJ and I are keen to ensure that NKOTB grows up with a similar passion for the arts and culture as we do. I’ve already written about my plans for training the NKOTB to be a passionate supporter of the Brisbane Bears. However, our ambitions are as broad as they are high so we’re always on the look out for ways to plant the seeds of future appreciation across the cultural landscape.

For this reason, I was interested to read this piece by Christopher Turner writes at The Tate describing a 1983 gallery exhibition held by Andy Warhol and targeted at children:

In 1983 Andy Warhol exhibited 128 paintings made especially for children at his European dealer Bruno Bischofberger’s gallery in Zurich. Though they aren’t toys in themselves, they are paintings of toys – their imagery taken from the boxes of vintage and wind-up toys he collected. Most of the silkscreen Toy Paintings – a drumming panda, an airplane, a parrot, a spaceship, a police car, a monkey and a helicopter – are composed of three bold colours, overlaid in such a way as to make it seem as though they should be looked at through 3-D glasses. They were also published as a Pop Art board book, and hark back to the artist’s earlier career in the late 1950s as a children’s book illustrator (he illustrated several volumes for the Doubleday Book Club).

This sounds pretty cool to me in itself, but Bruno Bischofberger goes on to describe what I think is the coolest part of the show:

Warhol designed wallpaper of silver fish swimming on a blue background which made the gallery look like an aquarium, and the paintings were hung at eye level for three- to five-year-old children. Adults had to squat to examine the paintings closely, the opposite of me having to lift up my little children when looking at paintings in museums. We even went so far as to charge an entry fee for adults not accompanied by children under six, the proceeds being donated to a Swiss children’s charity.

I think that an art exhibition where kids saw that the paintings were hung for them and that the adults had to crawl around on their hands and knees to properly appreciate them would be extremely memorable for a kid. It’s just the kind of thing that could plant the seed for a long term interest.

So NGV – what say you? NKOTB will be 5 in 2016 – is that enough time to arrange a Toy Paintings retrospective in Melbourne?

HT: Daddy Types.

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