LEGO Labs

(A guest post by CJ)

Several years ago, the Kalamazoo Public Library started a LEGO contest – what could you imagine and build with LEGOs inside a 12”x12” space?

The question stuck with me, and for the last couple years – whenever I was playing LEGOs with the girls – I’d also think about what I’d like to build. I imagined a sort of LEGO lab headquarters. It would be a place where mini-fig mad-scientists would work to create exciting new forms of mayhem, er, technology.

And for my birthday this year, I decided to take the time to build it.

I started the weekend before my birthday. I knew it was going to take me a full week to get it done since I was making it up as I went along. There was a fair amount of building, demolishing, and then re-building as I realized that I needed to add this or that brick in the middle of an already built wall or desk.

And I couldn’t have gotten it done without Mark and Lucy. Lucy was enthralled with the process – she helped make several of the desks and the more elaborate scientific consoles. She also handled the ‘casting’ – she made almost all of the mini-figures that occupy the lab. Mark offered himself up as my chief minion – I’d ask for this or that piece and he’d go find it for me while I kept building. And then he went above and beyond to create… well… you’ll see.

We had so much fun that we decided to take photos and share with all of you. So without further ado…

Welcome to my vision of LEGO labs!

clip_image002

The first floor has a receptionist, waiting area, and café for both visitors and employees. When you first walk in the main entrance, you can see the LEGO mural by the café.

clip_image004

The receptionist is a hardworking and friendly student from a local college.

clip_image006

She oversees the waiting area, which is stocked with the local newspapers and pretty flowers.

clip_image008

The café is small but serves a variety of hot and cold items.

clip_image010

Here are a couple of hard-working lab assistants taking a lunch break together. Anyone can pull up a stool and chat!

clip_image012

And yes, that is a restroom door behind them.

clip_image014

You can’t see the sink, but it our staff clearly know the importance of washing their hands! (We’re especially proud of the grey hand-dryer over the counter and the toilet paper by the toilet!)

If you go up the stairs to the second floor, you’ll encounter the mechanical lab area first. They have a fully stocked tool bench (including a vise) and are working on creating a small robot that can help people during a natural disaster.

clip_image016

Meanwhile, another scientist seems to be working on our more powerful computer. We’re don’t remember what he’s working on, but it seems to involve birds and the physics of flight perhaps?

clip_image018

Over in the corner, it looks like our chemist is analyzing some compounds under the microscope. She’s a little short, so we built a step-stool for her.

clip_image020

A short walk up the stairs, and then you’ll arrive at the third floor. (Uh-oh… it looks like this lab tech is busy looking at her tablet while she’s walking on the stairs! I hope she doesn’t get hurt!)

clip_image022

Initially… I only had plans for half of the third floor. And Mark decided to take his minion-skills up a notch and build something to serve as his application for Chief Assistant Minion.

clip_image024

WOW! Well, I couldn’t turn this down, so we immediately added it to the top floor. Rumor has that it may have initially been called a ‘death ray’ but since our LEGO Lab is one of scientific exploration (not bent on world domination), we adapted it into an especially powerful telescope. Right now I think they’re working on seeing Pluto.

clip_image026

Lucy really outdid herself in building the consoles for the telescope and our next area. So many levers and lights!

And finally, the last area of our lab is where we are engaged in some exciting new research on humans, er, mini-figs:

clip_image028

As you can see, this is some pretty complicated machinery with a very advanced control panel. We insist that all visitors stay behind the red line for both their safety and that of our test subject.

clip_image030

As you can see, we have a special secure containment unit where we bombard the mini-fig subject with blue-purple lightning to see if we can stimulate the development of super-mini-fig powers. (Mark wants me to call it a transmogrification chamber, but really… we’re trying to sound scientific here)

Thank you for enjoying our tour of LEGO labs!

CJ & Katherine go to Shuto-Con 2017 (Part 1)

[A guest blog by CJ]

This past fall, Katherine discovered that one of her favorite online artists, Crayon Queen (a.k.a. Loverofpiggies), would be coming to Lansing’s Shuto-Con in March 2017. Shuto-Con is a convention celebrating anime, gaming and cosplay. When I asked her what she’d like for Christmas, Katherine answered that she’d REALLY like to be able to go to Shuto-Con and hear Crayon Queen (CQ) speak. Kat’s been a huge fan of all CQ’s online comics for years, and she’s learned a lot about the process of (and persistence needed for) online comics from CQ’s Tumblr/blog.

So for Christmas, Mark and I made Katherine a ‘gift certificate’ to attend the conference, and Lucy decided that she wanted to help Katherine create a cosplay for the conference. (For those who don’t know, cosplay is essentially dressing in costume as a character from a movie, book, game, or comic.)

Lucy hams it up as Kat opens her Harold Gloom cosplay gift and looks appropriately gloomy.

Katherine immediately recognized that we had given her the first few pieces of clothing needed to make her very own cosplay based on one of her favorite CQ characters: Harold Gloom, a hobo candy magician from CrayonQueen’s comic Gloomverse.

Here’s a fan-art picture that Katherine drew of Harold:

Kat's fan art of Harold Gloom of Gloomverse

Harold has the magical ability to make a seemingly infinite amount of candy, and he also has little talking pieces of candy (called Lemon Kids) that occasionally pop out from under his hat. So while Kat worked on the actual clothes for her cosplay, I worked on making a Lemon Kid purse that she could fill with candy canes to pass out at the convention. If she’s going as a gloomy hobo candy magician, she should be able to make candy appear on demand, right?

Plus, we made a Lemon Kid that could sit on her shoulder.

Katie looks down at the Lemon Kid on her shoulder

In the days leading up to the con, Katherine was filled with the kind of nervous excitement that typically accompanies weddings, spaceship launches, and fan-girls getting to meet their heroes. The morning of the con, we were on the road by 7 a.m. The Shuto-Con Facebook page warned us that they might sell out of Saturday passes, so we wanted to get there when they opened at 9 a.m.

We had a little adventure on the way to the con (which may be shared in a separate blog), but we finally arrived there just before 9:30 and soon had our day-passes in hand! We immediately went to a nearby bathroom so that Katie could get into her costume. (It was a busy place, as several women had the same idea. I actually helped a female Deadpool zip up the back of her hood so her hair wouldn’t get caught in the zipper.)

Eventually though… Harold Gloom was ready to enter Shuto-Con 2017!

Katherine stands by the Shuto-Con Photoshoot sign

[Full-disclosure – this pic is from later in the con, but it fits the story best here!]

The convention hall with the artists wasn’t scheduled to open until 11 a.m., so for the first hour we just walked around and enjoyed admiring everyone else’s cosplays.

clip_image010

Lucy loves Pokémon, so I had to get a photo with Pikachu!

clip_image012

Look – it’s Jack Frost and the Tooth Fairy (from Rise of the Guardians)!

clip_image014

Say hi to Hiro and Baymax from Big Hero 6!

We had only been walking around for about 10 minutes when suddenly another teenage girl squealed and literally ran over to Katherine.

“Ohmigosh! I’ve never seen anyone dress up as Harold before! You look so awesome! Can I please get your photo?!?!”

Katherine briefly mimicked a deer in headlights, and then she said “Sure” and struck an appropriate gloomy-Harold-like pose. The girl briefly chatted with Katherine about how much she liked Gloomverse and asked if Katherine knew that Crayon Queen was at Shuto-Con. Yep – that’s why we’re here!

As we continued through the lobby, we saw several people dressed up as characters from RWBY (an American anime that we love), and we discovered that there would be a RWBY-themed photo-shoot at 11 a.m. We decided to wander down that way and found a LOT of people doing some pretty awesome RWBY cosplays.

clip_image016

And that’s only about a quarter of the RWBY cosplayers! I’ll post more photos on the next blog post, but Katherine and I were both amused at this shot with several people dressed up as Qrow. He’s something of a black sheep character who is always drinking so we were amused to see that one of them actually brought a flask to use as a prop.

clip_image018

By the time we were finished taking RWBY photos, the convention hall was finally open… which meant that Katherine could go meet Crayon Queen in person.

It turned out there was a line at CQ’s table, so Kat initially tried to hide behind me. It didn’t work very well because the other CQ fans in line saw Katherine and immediately began to exclaim and point: “Look, it’s Harold from Gloomverse!”

That, of course, caught Crayon Queen’s attention, and when she caught sight of Katherine, her whole face lit up. As we patiently waited for our turn at the table, Katherine picked out which poster and pins she wanted to buy with her own money, and I agreed to buy her a Gloomverse book as an early birthday present. Once we were at the table, there was some mutual fan-girling going on as Katherine shared how much she liked CQ’s work and CQ admired Katherine’s cosplay. Katie was too shy to ask, so I popped the question – could we get a picture?

clip_image020

And the answer was yes!

Elated at having successfully spoken with CQ, Katherine decided to try visiting the table of another of her favorite online artists – Alexis Royce, who writes Evil Plan and Sire. We not only got to meet her, but when she found out that Katherine was a fan of Evil Plan, she gave Katie a button of Tal A. Kinesis from Evil Plan to go along side the Harold button we bought at CQ’s table.

clip_image022

With the two ‘must-see’ artists checked off Katie’s list, we then browsed the rest of the artists’ hall, the gaming hall, and made a few more loops of the general convention center to check out more cosplays, the combat area, etc. etc.

When we got in line to eat lunch, Katherine suddenly grabbed my arm and pointed urgently at someone in the nearby crowd. At first she was so excited, I couldn’t understand what she was saying, but then she slowed down her speech and explained that someone had decided to cosplay as another one of CQ’s characters, UnderFresh Sans. Katherine went over to her and the two girls had some mutual squeals over each other’s costumes and then we got a picture of the two of them:

clip_image024

Later in the day, Katherine would also confront the great Papyrus from Undertale and they would engage in a brief battle of puns – a skele-TON of puns, as Katie would say

clip_image026

After lunch, we attended a workshop on creating digital art. The speaker, Yhasmin Wilder of Boymonsta.com, was very informative and also quite hysterical to listen to. For part of the workshop, she showed us how she used digital layers upon layers (so many layers!) to create fan art for the characters Miraculous Ladybug and Cat Noir. Since Lucy is a big fan of Miraculous Ladybug, we stopped by Ms. Wilder’s artist booth afterwards and bought a poster for Lucy – and got it autographed on the back by the artist!

clip_image028

(Check out our next post for photos of people cosplaying as these characters too!)

We did some more crowd-watching and then had some dinner. The big event for us, though, was CrayonQueen’s Q&A panel. After dinner, we went to sit outside the panel room about 45 minutes ahead of time to make sure we got in. Kat used the time to get in a little drawing.

clip_image030

Yes, all those people are waiting for CQ’s panel! The crowd all clearly loved CQ – many of them were Patreons of her work – and CQ felt comfortable joking around with all of us. The questions ranged from silly to serious, from probing questions about backstories of characters to hypothetical “what if” questions that made the crowd gasp and/or break out in laughter.

CQ warned everyone that she wouldn’t spoil anything big in the stories to come, but she had lots of fun taunting the fans with hints and half-truths. And then to crown the night off, the crowd got to see the first few pages of her newest and latest comic, Lucidia.

clip_image032

Katherine actually did ask a question of CQ – and so did I. Being a teacher, mine was fairly predictable – what advice would CQ have for young artists out there and the adults who are trying to support them? She shared a few tips, but the one that surprised me was that she encouraged all artists to learn to draw with good posture and to take care of their bodies (CQ shared that she learned that the hard way!). Katherine proved herself to be a true CQ fan because asked a hypothetical question about how one characters in her new comic, Lucidia, who had also been in one of CQ’s earliest comics, Mortifer would react to meeting some of his old companions from Mortifer while in the world of Lucidia. That made CQ stop and smile, but she wouldn’t reveal any spoilers!

The panel eventually came to an end, but before we could leave the con, another girl (who was cosplaying as Toriel from Undertale) shyly came up to Kat and asked for her photo. I offered to get a picture of the two of them together, and I swear Toriel almost did a happy dance right then. Over the course of the day, Kat had actually been recognized by quite a few people and had her picture taken at least 6 or 7 times.

clip_image034

After that, we went home with sore feet and happy faces. It was a somewhat stressful drive back (yucky roads, no working shake machines at any McDonalds, and an apparently drunk or distracted semi-truck driver on I-94), but we made it THERE AND BACK AGAIN! (Not exactly a hobbit’s tale, but definitely an adventure nonetheless!)

Stay tuned for another post with just a bunch’o’fun pics.

Linguistic Spaghetti

CJ (to Lucy): You’re the birthday girl, so you wanted the head of Caterpie, right?

 

Lucy: Pretty much if you see me going for weapons, it’s not a good sign  (on obtaining LEGO accoutrements).

 

CJ: Lucy has homework tonight.
Mark: Is it diabolical homework?
Lucy: Sadly, no.

 

Corey (friend of Katherine): I want to watch a shrimp documentary.

 

Lucy: I just un-huge-ified the video.

 

(Lucy avoids stepping on a slug.)
CJ: Lucy shows mercy to slugs.
Katherine: Yeah, ‘cuz we’re total pacifists.
Lucy: Except for spiders.  Then it’s genocide.

 

Lucy: My hair is a fat booger-butt.

 

CJ (started by a creeper while playing Minecraft): Ahh!  Screeper!
Mark: “Screeper”?
CJ: Keeper!  No wait.  Craper!  (descending into laughter)  It go boom!

Swingset

Spoiler Alert – We finished the swingset last Saturday!

What started out as a large Christmas gift turned into an all-summer project.  You may recall that in "Kitchen Faucet", I included an in-progress picture of "the pit" as a teaser.  Here is the full story.

In the spring, CJ downloaded the instructions for the swingset, and found that the manufacturer recommended a 25’x36′ box, filled with at least 9 inches of mulch or pea-gravel for safety.  We didn’t relish having a 9" or 12" step up to get to the swingset, so we made the decision to dig down, and sink the box into the ground.

Let’s see – 25′ x 36′ x 9" = 25 cubic yards. 

“Moving 25 cubic yards of root-laden, rock-infested dirt shouldn’t be too hard by hand, “ said No One Ever.

I spent one entire Saturday in June trying it, and managed to move less than 1 cubic yard.  We needed a better option.  CJ and I talked about hiring it done, but we were trying to keep costs down.  Then CJ asked, "Could we just rent a Bobcat?"

10

Yes.  Yes we could.  Things went a LOT faster after that.

20

Of course, being a family project, the entire family had to get in on it.

 

30

40

And we were all geeking out about it.

50

Driving the Bobcat never got old.

It took us all Saturday, and part of Sunday, but we got the pit dug.  The following weekend, we started laying out the box that would keep the wood chips in, and the rest of the yard out.  I looked for several weeks for something I could attach to a 2×10 that could be driven into the ground.  My solution was hacky-at-best.  CJ swooped in again to save the day with her find – garden-framing brackets from FrameItAll:

52

These brackets mount to the end of a 1×6, and the spikes drive into the ground. 

54

The spikes come in two varieties – ground spikes and stacking spikes.  The latter would allow us to stack two boards, one on top of the other.

We started in the back corner, and worked our way around the pit.

60

Random math factoid.  Katherine + Power Tools = Fear and Chaos

70

80

We intentionally left out one entire section of the box as a "ramp", thinking ahead to when we would have dozens (if not hundreds) of wheelbarrow-fulls of mulch to drop in.

90

Before we could get there, though, we found we needed to put some of the dirt back.  Apparently, we went a little overboard with the Bobcat in taking it out, and there were places that were several inches deeper than we wanted.

100

That took us several weekends to complete, mostly because a) it kept raining on the days we were going to work on it, and b) we were really, REALLY getting sick of moving dirt around.  The day we finished it could not come soon enough.

Now it was on to the swingset itself.

110

We unboxed it, and found our first step was to pummel the snot out of innocent scraps of wood.

120

130

Ok, the pummeling served to drive the A-frame pieces together so they were snug, but the wood wasn’t fooled for one second.

Then we got to step 2.

Ah yes, step 2.  We need how many bolts?  And we have HOW many bolts?

We found we were missing at least one entire bag of hardware.  So, we assembled what we could, and put in a call to the manufacturer for replacement parts.

140

The parts came in a week or so later, and we resumed assembly.

150

160

170

Only to find that we STILL didn’t have enough parts.  CJ, not wanting to wait another week or more for parts, ran out to Lowe’s and found screws that matched what we were short on.  That allowed us to keep going, and not waste the rest of the day.

CJ and I got the swingset upright, and I tightened everything down.

180

The two of us moved the set into position, and discovered to our utter amazement that it was nearly perfectly level right where it was.

Then, of course, we had to try it out.  You know – break it in?

190

We added the swings themselves, guestimating how high they would need to be once the mulch was in place.

200

Before we could get the mulch in, though, we needed to lay down weed fabric.  It didn’t take very long, but it sucked – literally – because of all of the mosquitos out that night.

210

And then came the mulch.

220

22 cubic yards of it.

And an army of helpers to move it.

230

We put wood down the ramp, and through the middle of the pit to keep the wheelbarrows from tearing up the weed fabric.  Then we raked the mulch into position.  It worked fairly well.

240

Once the bulk of the mulch was in, we finished the wall.

250

We were storing the extra wood behind the house, where it was shielded from the sun most of the day.  When you put those next to the ones that had been out in the sun for weeks, you can really see the difference.

260

We strapped some pool noodles to the cross-beams on the swingset ’cause running into those things with your forehead ends the happy thoughts.

270

Ask CJ how she knows.

We filled in the rest of the mulch, and also filled in the outside of the box with dirt to level things out again. 

280

The big pieces of this project were now done.

A huge thank you to all the grandparents, John from down the street (not pictured), and my brother for helping bring this massive project to a successful conclusion.

290

The girls love it, and every day since we finished have asked "Can I go out and swing?"

300

That Sinking Feeling

CJ made it clear yesterday that she wanted the newly cleaned sink to be KEPT clean, for at least 48 hours.  “Let me enjoy it being clean” she said.

The girls and I Cheat Commandos had other ideas.  They decided the sink looked SO nice and inviting, that they’d have a picnic there.  Unfortunately, they weren’t as tidy as they should have been.

0814161345a

From left to right:

“Ahhhhhhh!!!”

“Oh my G-O-S-H!”

“Mom’s gonna go thermal!”

“Quick!  Hide the evidence!”

 

CJ took the discovery remarkably well.

Kitchen Faucet

For the last month or so, we’ve been working on prepping the backyard for the new swingset.  Unfortunately, three out of the last four Saturdays, the “pit” that will eventually hold the swingset has looked like this:

10

(More on that project later.)  Needless to say, we decided to work inside today.  We chose another home improvement project – replacing the kitchen sink faucet.

20

The old faucet had been leaking slowly for months.  I’m actually more comfortable working with electrons than water (even though the electrical projects frustrate me sometimes), but CJ and I decided it was time for it to go.

So, even though I approached the project with more than a little trepidation, I threw myself into it.

30

Literally.

The first task was to get the old faucet off.  Two out of the three plastic nuts holding the faucet in place came off without too much trouble.  The third one wouldn’t budge.  There wasn’t a whole lot of clearance to get a wrench or a pair of pliers in, and I was working above my head while lying on my back, so it got increasingly frustrating to work on.  After several minutes of swearing praising the solid construction, I decided to take things to the next level, which included options such as hammer, chisel, and my electric drill.

40

Victory!

After we cleaned up the sink, CJ ran out to get the new water lines, and Katherine and I got the new faucet mounted.

50

Wow – that’s going to look pretty nice.

60

Ah, dang.  Seriously?

70

Dad, this is why we can’t have nice things.

80

There.  That’s better.

90

Yes.  Much.

Surprisingly, installing the new faucet seemed to be going very smoothly, but twice when I was coming out from under the sink, I nailed my head on these.

100

More loud comments about the solid construction.

CJ soon returned with the water lines, and with lunch.  After we ate, I finished hooking up the water lines, and tentatively tried the new faucet.

110

Success!

And no leaks!

And the hot and cold handles even deliver hot and cold water, respectively!

It was nice to have a working sink again.  And even with the shenanigans getting the old faucet off, it only took a few hours on one day.

That definitely qualifies as a win.

Saturns

In late 1996, CJ and I purchased our first Saturn – a burgundy SL1, which became CJ’s primary vehicle.  We were so happy with it that we purchased another one in 1999 – this time a blue SL1.  "Blue" became my primary vehicle for the next 7 years before being traded in for my current vehicle (a white Kia Rio).

We traded in "Red" for our third Saturn in 2004, this time a burgundy Ion.  The Ion became CJ’s primary vehicle up until this week, when on Monday she got rear-ended.  She texted me right after it happened:

The good news: I’m fine & the car is mostly fine.

The bad news: I got rear-ended and the trunk doesn’t shut because the bumper is crumpled.

Happy Monday!

The car was still drivable, and the bumper was still attached, so after dealing with the police, CJ just bungeed the trunk down and came home.  Our insurance company (Progressive) was awesome – arranging for the car to get into a local body shop the next day, and also arranging for a rental for CJ while it was in the shop.

Then I got this text from CJ yesterday:

When you have a moment, please call me at home

Uh-oh.  When I called, CJ said she just spoke with Progressive.  The agent said that the cost of the repairs would exceed the value of the Ion, so they offered to cut us a check for it.  In other words, the car was officially totaled.  The amount they were offering for the car was generous given its age – nearly 12 years – and its mileage.  We decided to let the Ion go.

When I got home, though, I found there was an unexpected side effect of us letting it go.  Lucy was on the verge of tears when CJ told her.  She insisted that she wanted to ride in the "red car" one more time.  Lucy has grown up with the Ion.  The Ion and the Rio are the only two family cars she has ever known.

So, this week – a week that literally started with a "Bang!" – we said goodbye to the longest-running vehicle we’ve ever owned.  It also brings to a close nearly 20 years of Saturns for us.  While they’ve had their share of quirks, recalls, and repairs, our Saturns were very reliable vehicles.

10

Thank you, Saturn, for keeping us safe, and getting us from point A to point B all those years.