Monday 29 February 2016

"The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless."

A month or so ago me and Opeie were having one of our many LEGO sessions, which usually involve him coming up with something and us trying to build it together. This time though he wanted us to make a spy phone each, as he told me that he thought "there are baddies everywhere and they need to be defeated". I thought this was adorable so we began building right away. Usually when we build something together he breaks it up before we've even put the LEGO away, but this time was different.

The phones were finished and we instantly started receiving phone calls from a mysterious person known only as 'The Boss'. Each call comes with the most bizarre missions. When the Boss calls Opeie, no one knows where we will end up or what the day has in store for us. In London this week we captured an evil Owl, a villian named Tiny Joe (who can get in to buildings through the key hole), various London pigeons and an army of Taxidermy ducks. 

When the boss calls me I use the mission for exciting home schooling exercises. If we are at home one of Opeie's toys might get kidnapped and we are left with an activity sheet at the door of every room in the house. To search for his missing friend he must complete the activity to progress through the house. The phones have given us a never ending amount of entertainment.

The great things about these phones are you can get reception anywhere, we've not been conned into a rolling contract that keeps getting more expensive and there's no need for insurance, because if they break we just get more LEGO! (take note EE).

"RING RING....." Sorry guys adventure calls!!!

"By seeing London, I have seen as much of life as the world can show."

In the world of blogging you meet some amazing people, but a lot of the time never in person, which is really unfortunate. Emails can go back and forth for years and you can build some pretty amazing relationships with companies. So when the chance arises to meet one of these amazing people it can be both exciting and a little unnerving, especially as I worry that I come across a lot less confident in the flesh. So this week I was invited by Micro-Scooters to attend an event to showcase the new Emicro one, their latest electric scooter which (being a HUGE scooter enthusiast) I was really excited about. The meeting gave me and Opeie the chance to have a couple of days adventuring in London (with of course, our scooters for getting about).

If the thought of a couple of days in London scooting wasn't enough, on the train down we received an email to say that one of our previous trips to London had made it on to Micro-scooters blog, titled 'Opeie's no tube scooter challenge' , so Opeie spent the journey down there telling me he was famous and the news had made us even more eager to get some wheels under our feet. We got off of the train and headed straight for the science museum as per Opeie's request and after checking our scooters in to the cloak room we had a great look around talking about all the things we could see. Opeie informed me that he would like to do a Space project at 'Daddy school' and after watching a video of Charles Michel he would like to attempt some food art this week so I'm looking forward to that.

Ive talked about it before but the great thing about having the Micro-scooters with us in London is that you get to see a different side to this amazing city. The none visually stimulating dark tunnels lined with posters for theatre productions and movies becomes amazing architecture, interesting people (not crammed together like sardines) and beautiful street art. From a home schooling point of view there really is no better way to take in London for everything it is.

When we have the scooters with us we always do a little investigating around Hyde park, the park itself is so much fun on wheels and aside from all of the amazing things to look at it can be used for getting to different parts of the city quickly while entertaining the kids. I love that with the scooters we can go long distance, in great time and without the 'daddy my legs are hurting'.

We always try and investigate areas we've not been to before as I think its important to show Opeie that there is so much out there. In London EVERYWHERE makes you think, there is so much diversity and taking Opeie to places where he is asking questions and constantly looking about for inspiration for things he wants to do is what home schooling (for us) is all about.

Day two of our trip and we woke up and made a bee line for Southbank after being told by our friend Katy that we should check it out. Its somewhere we had been meaning to go during other visits but until we arrived there I hadn't realised how close we had been to there on a few occasions. We had been on the London eye last year and around that area and had almost made it there when scooting along the Thames from the Tate Modern.

There are lots of interesting things to do around London and so much of it is free, having the option to dip in and out of these places and not having to worry about spending a fortune is great. we popped in to the Tate Modern and had a great trip to the Horneman Museum, which had an interesting dinosaur exhibit on, aimed at children. But aside from all of the museums and culture there is a never ending amount of fun to be had outdoors and being on the scooters really opens that up to us. Opeie developed his own form of parkour while out and it was great watching him climbing up pillars and walls around Waterloo station.

By the time we reached the apartment late that afternoon we were exhausted, but I still had the Micro-scooter event to look forward to that evening, so I mustered up the remainder of my energy and made my way back towards where we had spent our afternoon. Rather than scoot there (which I really should have done) I decided to walk and I can honestly say it wasn't for me, haha. When you've been whizzing around all day on wheels and have been reaching your destinations it great time, being on foot just doesn't cut it.

There's something pretty fun about walking in to a bar and seeing those scooters that I adore so much lined up and ready for action. As always though I was a little apprehensive walking in, not having the troops with me to break the ice but Ive never had a warmer welcome. All those years of passing emails back and forth and I finally got to meet the lovely Dannii who made me feel very special. Dannii was the first person I ever spoke to since working with Micro Scooters so it meant a lot to finally meet her, as expected it was like we had been the best of friends for years.

Getting to chat to other scooter enthusiasts was so much fun and I met some really interesting people. the star of the show 'The Emicro' is a really awesome bit of kit. It is the first motion controlled electric scooter which had my undivided attention from the moment I pushed off. Instead of just getting on and being ferried about, the Emicro still needs a physical kick off and an occasional push and thrusting motion every now and then to keep up momentum, which I love as it continues to keep the scoot physical. The more energy that you kick off with the better assisted the battery and journey is, genius. Racing it along the side of the Thames was the perfect place to scoot and I could get up to a great speed, not quite the Emicro's top speed of 15mph though. As I scooted around it got me thinking how great the scooter would be for Seth, because of his muscle condition he has days where he struggles on his scooter, the Emicro could definitely keep him up to speed with us which would be great for his confidence.

During the event we got to see an Emicro being put together which was really interesting as I had no idea that the motor was in the rear wheel. I would love to get my hands on one of these to go out for a solo adventure to really put it to the test. With it needing only 60 minutes to fully charge you could do some serious distance in the space of a day, scooting from train station to train station while charging during the journeys.

The event was everything I was hoping it would be and as I said before I met some really amazing people. It makes all the difference when you turn up to events like this and everyone there is passionate about the products.

With a few more hours left of our London adventure the following morning, we made the most of the scooters before heading on our journey home. Micro scooters from day one have brought me closer to the boys and having these as something we can share has been very special to me. We are already planning our next scooting adventure which looks like it is going to be lots of fun so stay tuned.

Tuesday 23 February 2016

"Literature transmits incontrovertible condensed experience... from generation to generation."

It was a lovely surprise today to see the sun out and brightly shining. Even more surprising though was finding that the temperature was also on the up. Days like this, when we have nothing else planned means only one thing, Micro Scooters time!

There was a pile of read books by the boys bedroom door waiting to be returned to the library and the sudden change in weather gave us all we needed for a scoot to the library for something new to read. there is a lot of anticipation around Shropshire at the moment with the possible closure of some of our libraries and maybe no more mobile library because of funding cuts, which is a depressing thought. The Library is playing a huge part in the development of the boys, Opeie especially because we go so much and although our local library is not on that list I can't help but think how sad it is for the people local to them that rely on the information and literature to get by.

Anyway that's enough doom and gloom for one post! I love scooting down to the library with Opeie, it's around 20 minutes away from the house but it's safe and smooth which is great. Opeie is like a rocket so I spend most of my journey trying to keep up with him.

At the library he takes care of everything himself, he returns his books, makes his way to the children's area, picks a pile of books and then books them out himself. I'm slowly starting to become obsolete.

With Opeie reading by himself now we've started using the ready to read section of the library which is great. I love watching Opeie develop into the awesome kid that he is and the library has played a big part in just how awesome he is.

After sitting down briefly and Opeie reading 'The Magic Melon' to me, it was Time to get back on our library mobiles and head home. Micro scooters have changed the way we do everything and have really helped with Opeie's independence. Until next time readers... Vrooooom!!! (That would be the sound of Opeie's Micro noise maker).

Sunday 21 February 2016

"You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to playbetter than anyone else."

Back in 2014 on the build up to Christmas, me and the boys embarked on big build LEGO adventure, when we decided to build a festive version of the iconic LEGO Deathstar. The build came out better than we had imagined and has really surprised me that so many people have been talking about it over the years. Its great when we are chatting with people at LEGO events and the boys drop in "we built the Christmas Deathstar". Especially for the amount of times that whoever we have been talking too has said 'wow that was you guys? I've seen that' (or words to that effect). The boys love that something we have built has been seen all over the world.

Since then the Deathstar has been sitting on a shelf in their bedroom collecting dust. It came down occasionally to be played with but the boys are builders and they love creating new things. Whenever I went in to their room, I always felt like our creation wasn't getting the love it deserved and I desperately wanted it on display in the house. I toyed with all sorts of display case ideas but it wasn't until I got chatting to a very good friend of mine over at 3rd Dim3nsion Arcades that ideas started to take shape.

Steve has become an amazing friend over the last few years and it all started with a chance meeting in a toy store. I can't even begin to explain how awesome it is to have someone who lives around the corner to talk all things geek with and although I love all the crazy ideas and creations I come up with, with the boys, Sometimes its great to have another adult to go over ideas with, especially as
some of Steve's creative ideas blow my mind. 

So.... last year Steve designed and built something AMAZING for his friends 40th birthday which got me thinking about my display case predicament and as we chatted about it one night, we were bouncing ideas off of each other and we were both getting very excited about a possible joint build, combining Steve's creative flair with power tools and electronics and my love of LEGO.

Recently, after some time putting it off (due to all manner of reasons getting in our way) we decided to just go for it and the last few weeks have been hectic to say the least. Our idea was to combine LEGO's classic bricks (which take up so much of my time), with the digital side of this awesome company. Creating something completely different to anything else in the past, while displaying that dusty Deathstar too, restoring it to its former glory. The plan was to build a LEGO arcade machine which played all of the LEGO games that me and the boys love, but unlike any other machine that we have seen. Both myself and Steve are gaming fans and the Lego games have been really important to me especially as they have been something that have been played with the boys for years. 

Tt's LEGO games fun started with Seth when Mrs M Was ill in hospital carrying Opeie. We would sit around the Hospital grounds, under a weeping willow outside her room between visiting hours playing LEGO Starwars on our DS'. It was a really tough time for everyone but it took the edge of the worry and was great father/son bonding for me and Seth

So this was going to be a fully customised and creative build, including a lot of things that were personal to our family.

When the build started there wasn't much I could do, Steve is one of those guys that seems to know how to do EVERYTHING! If he gets stuck on anything he does the research and makes sure he knows what he is doing. He is a whizz with electronics and woodwork and he got stuck in to the wood casing of the machine while I put my feet up and thought about the LEGO side of things. At first the plan was to make the entire thing personal to Me, Mrs M and the boys but as I started playing with the LEGO and coming up with ideas I started swaying towards a celebration of Tt games and the themes that we love the most, without of course losing that personal touch that me and the boys have in all of our builds.
With the casing built, Steve moved on to the computer side of things. We had purchased every PC LEGO game that we could find and I was surprised at just how many there were, quite a few I'd not heard of before. While Steve was busy working his magic with the wiring I measured up and began what turned out to be an amazing few weeks of Lego creating.

The plan was to have the PC and all of the electrics in the upper half of the machine freeing up the base to have the Deathstar inside and spinning. I thought that was going to take some time to work out but Steve had it suspended and spinning in no time, using a plastic pipe threaded through the centre of the build attached to a motor, genius! 

Although it looked awesome spinning there, below looked pretty sparse so I decided to build a miniature Hoth scene below. Its important to know that I have a lot of respect for the designers at LEGO and I wanted to show that in some of the pieces I created for the arcade I wanted to use some of my favorite parts and designs from kits I love. For the Hoth scene it was all about the Microfighters, the AT-AT especially as despite being small it was one of my favorite builds from last year. I also used the Micro figures from the Battle of Hoth LEGO game which were a great addition to the lower area.

In keeping with the Christmas Deathstar theme, the AT-AT and a Tie fighter also received a festive makeover for the under section of the build.

The arcade machine was designed to completely showcase LEGO as the most amazing toy on the market and while I was busy designing panels and scenes for different areas Steve cut out large sections of the side panels for a great idea he had for displaying a minifigure collection. This gave Steve a chance to get out part of his minifigure series collection for photos. The series figures look amazing in the sides because of the variety of different figures. Using the Sides for more LEGO was a really interesting touch as it gave the machine more character where there would have typically been artwork. Steve also very kindly ordered some custom made signs from Lazer frame to finish of the panels

I'm a super hero geek through and through and the Tt Marvel and DC games have given me and the boys hours of fun family time together so it was only right that the main area of the machine, the part that would be viewed the most while playing, was built around both the Marvel and DC universe. A while back Mrs M had brought me the Daily bugle kit. It was a great build but inevitably ended up mixed into our LEGO to go towards future builds. I always thought this was a shame but that's how LEGO is in our house. I spotted the J Jonah Jameson stickered screen in a box one afternoon and thought how great it would be to have the Daily Bugle built along side the screen, with office workers looking distressed because clearly I was going to include a barrage of Marvel Villains.

With the Marvel side of things taken care of it was time to come up with an idea for the right hand side of the screen. We had quite a few DC villains in our collection which we wanted to use and we had previously built some Joker creations such as the Joker ice cream parlour a year or so ago. With the Daily Bugle side being heavy on the beige I wanted the other side of the screen to be as colourful as possible. To start with I had planned to create Jokers fun house, including all of the other baddies in our collection. I built two joker style doorways but then found myself building the next layer in green to try and create Jokers hair, that soon changed course though when I tried to use leaves for the Jokers eyebrows and found myself building a second level in the style of poison ivy, using leaves, vines and all the LEGO shrubbery I could find. That's what I love about LEGO, just handling the bricks sparks all sorts of building creativity.

Mr freeze claimed the next level which gave me the chance to use parts from Elsa's Frozen palace that had been sitting on a shelf, followed by Penguin, Riddler and a cat shaped rooftop fit for Catwoman. Making accessories for this section of the build was so much fun and the boys got involved too. Seth made some mini penguins and Opeie helped with Poison Ivy adding in Robin hanging from vines which I thought was a lovely touch.

 There was still plenty of room left for building, especially around the controls area. Our original plan was to create some artwork to cover that whole area but after measuring the space we had Steve came up with the great idea to purchase a couple of large base plates, cut to shape and use that area for the boys to build on as they are playing. In the meantime though there was room for me to build a couple of larger sized villains. We had bought the Rhino and Sandman super villain team up kit a while back and apart from the minifigures the kit had been sitting in a box. I had been wanting to do something with Sandman for quite some time and this was my chance. Using various plates I created a sand spill and built him up changing into his sand form with a giant hand. This sort of creative, freestyle building is what LEGO is all about for me and using one piece at a time with no design is how I have always built.

I'd just like to say here that while I was in my element at this point building with those much loved bricks, Steve was grafting hard every night wiring up the system, adding lighting to all areas (which changes to a great selection of colours via remote) and creating some amazing menus and extra's. I wish I could write more about what he was doing in detail but I looked inside of the back of the machine one day and I kept thinking to myself "all hose wires look like a bowl of noodles". I honestly wouldn't have a clue where to start, the man is a genius! Pretty much all of this building was done from his kitchen, which probably wasn't much fun for his wife but she let him get on with it, thats love.

 So with Sandman built we needed a super sized DC baddie to fill up some of the grey base plate and after chatting with Steve one night we decided that Clayface was going to be the most obvious choice. That night I left Steve's, grabbed the brown LEGO (It is stored in colour order at home), turned on the Avengers (because a good Super hero movie always gets me in the zone) and spent an hour building an evil looking blob of clay with a giant hand. Steve had a car sitting around his house from what I think was a Superman kit so I decided to make use of it and have Clayface holding it with a distressed looking civilian in the driving seat.

I dread to think how many messages me and Steve sent to each other over the course of this build. We were both so in to what we were doing that every time we finished a part (no matter how small) we sent a celebratory photo. At times I would chuckle to myself about about how nerdy we both were but we were creating something we thought was amazing and having a team mate to share the excitement of the development with really made the team experience. I was building most nights until late which was exhausting and Steve was at one point working night shifts, sleeping briefly and then wiring all the way up until his next shift, we were a team possessed by the finished piece.

The upper part of the machine where the name of the game would typically be was causing me some concern as I had no idea what I wanted to do with it. After another spit balling session though we decided I should make a Gifts from the Pirates sign using (of course) Lego and have a big 'ARCADE' next to it. Steve picked up some lights to illuminate the sign and asked if I could create something with Lego to make them look a bit more fun but I didn't have much space to play with because of the glass panel so what ever I came up with needed to be quite simple. I spent ages trying to work these out and it was driving me insane until I spotted some large wheels in our LEGO wheel box and thought 'those tires will fit on that light'. I love a good eureka moment like that and within minutes there were lighting rigs with control panels built. A great, yet simple touch.

The only thing left to complete on the Logo section of the machine was the two creators in their LEGO forms. In the words of Warwick Davis when we were at the Golden Brickies "When you are immortalised in LEGO there is nowhere else to go, that's it! My life is complete"

So, by this point in the build we had reached last Thursday. The software was complete and all of the LEGO I had created so far was attached and the machine was looking amazing. Steve's minifigure collection was beautifully displayed on the sides after Steve's hours of painstaking gluing of black bricks perfectly spaced out to give us a clean and tidy finish. To do this we sat down and measured the areas we needed to fill and I went home and made a rig that we could use with gaps to hold the bricks perfectly as they were being stuck.

I was shocked that Steve had finished the software when he did but was more shocked to find out when I arrived at his house that day that he had created two extra (and very clever) additions to an already awesome creation. Using a few LEGO bricks and some wire he had created a switch that could power up the whole machine. To look at it didn't seem like much but this was by far my favorite part of the entire build because it gave me the chance again to let my creative juices run wild. Thanks to this creative little piece I managed to build An on/off switch that looks like a Jack in a box, this was some serious teamwork.

Steve also handed me a 2x10 base plate that had been cut to fit 2x USB ports and Headphones and Mic Ports. Ive said it before and Ill say it again, the guy's a genius. It didn't fit into the build looking how it did but after 15 minutes of tinkering I managed to turn it into a newspaper stand to sit at the base of the Daily Bugle. Thursday evening the arcade was transported from Steve's house to my house,  (thanks to my awesome neighbor Rikki), giving me one evening to work on the final piece between the screen and the control area starting last night. Typical that last night I was drawing a blank and I felt like the creativity had run out. I wasted a good two hours trying to figure out how to lay base plates against a really awkward angle. I was fed up until I thought about a conversation me and Steve had had a week or so before about LEGO's modular kits. Could I make the mid section look like a row of shops with the sand and clay creeping up? Yes I could is the answer to that question and at 3am that following morning I had completed it, hurrah.

One of the last things to add in to the build was of course ourselves. We've been in pretty much all of our builds and most of our LEGO kit reviews, fighting bad guys and getting up to all sorts of mischief, so it was important to be a part of this too. I had Mrs M as the damsel in distress, hanging from Venom's webs but she informed me that that was sexist, so I became the damsel while she concentrated on battling Sandman. When Seth was younger and I read to him before bed he loved a series of books we had called Spidey's Special Helpers. In each story Spider-man would get the help of two children to defeat whichever villain he was trying to stop. In the Sandman book the children help to defeat Sandman by using a vacuum so I thought it would be fun to sit and build a Vacuum with Seth and have his character trying to suck him up. Opeie made it clear he wanted to be fighting Clayface with a water hose so we made that happen too...

My friend Chris was visiting the following day and I had asked him if he wouldn't mind photographing the machine as he knew his way around a camera being a photographer. Ive always used my phone in the past as it is great for getting into smaller areas for close up shots but with the size of the machine I thought I definitely needed someone pro for the full length shots. After going to bed at 3am and then getting up with Opeie at 7:30am I was exhausted so you can imagine the stress on top of that when I powered the unit up and was greeted by a horrible crackly sound that was like something blowing and a dead machine! Aaaaarrrrggggghhhhhh!!!! I was straight on the phone to Steve and he was straight round to rectify the situation. I would love to have built this machine with brand new parts but we were on a budget so everything we used was second hand and if I am honest the parts could definitely do with being a little more up to date for smother play, we had to change the graphics card 3 times and the PC itself could really do with an upgrade but we worked with what we had. Hopefully we can change to up to date parts at a later date.

As I was taking pictures earlier I realised we were missing something really obvious in the build, I did say 'celebration of Tt games' after all. We had spoken about me including the Logo somewhere and it had slipped my mind, so this afternoon I took care of that...

So that's it! What started off as a conversation between two friends over a cup of tea about the display options for a custom LEGO kit, actually turned in to what I think is a pretty amazing machine and that is the magic of LEGO. Not only did those amazing bricks help to creative something unique and visually appealing but it also made me realise that as a team me and that tag team partner of mine Steve can achieve anything we put our mind to.