Nerd Goals: The 501st Legion

Not long ago I had a serious conversation with my wife after telling her that I had a confession to make. She was, understandably, concerned. We’ve been happily married for ten years now. I’m fortunate that she supports, embraces, and frequently indulges in my multifaceted “geekdom.” Remarkable compatibility is a great thing in a marriage!

 

Finally I took a deep breath and dropped the bomb…

 

Me: “Sweetheart, there’s something I’ve always kind of wanted to do that I want to tell you about. After keeping it in my head for a while I think I’m ready to say it out loud….”

Wife: <worried look>

Me: “My ultimate nerdy goal is to join the 501st Legion.”

Wife: <eye roll>

 

That’s right, I want to be a costumed Stormtrooper.

 

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Let’s back up a bit… I’m not a religious person, but my lifelong love of Star Wars can most likely qualify as a religion. That fantastical far, far away galaxy from a long time ago serves as as much of a comfort zone in adulthood for me as it did in my childhood. I can safely declare that my perpetual fascination with George Lucas’s whimsical imagining of good versus evil will never subside.

 

The characters in Star Wars are second to none. Its heroes are worthy of adoration and emulation. However, it’s the villains who have always captured my interest. The bad guys have it all: Power, raw emotion, galactic might, OCD-pleasing visual consistency, and humble room for improvement in their engineering/design departments. I’m Team Empire all the way!

 

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So where can this obsessive love be practically applied to the real (boring) universe? I learned the answer to this question several years ago when I first heard about The 501st Legion. For the unfamiliar, the 501st is an all volunteer organization of costumed Star Wars enthusiasts. Stormtroopers are the primary focus with countless sub groups for other types of troopers, non-armored characters, heroes, villains, bounty hunters, etc. The list is long enough for an opening title crawl because the Star Wars universe is really THAT BIG.

 

Members of the 501st and its plethora of Garrisons are committed to admirable extremes. Ever been to a parade or an event where you saw characters in full Star Wars garb? Did they look like they could have just finished a battle with Rebel scum? That is the 501st Legion!! It’s important to note that Lucas Film *does not* officially endorse the 501st thanks to those pesky copyright laws. Instead, the 501st enjoys a well-earned status of mutual respect and understanding with Lucas Film which keeps everyone in line. They are rightfully the preferred costuming group which is often used by Disney for certain events. The most important result of this unofficial arrangement is that members of the Legion are forbidden from selling their costume creations or doing anything that would result in profit earned.

 

The requirements for Active Membership, a pinnacle of fandom, are incredibly rigid. Costume standards are strictly enforced to ensure members maintain a standard deserving of the Galactic Empire. Next time you see a costumed Stormtrooper at an event, take a second to appreciate the fact that what you’re seeing is the result of hours upon hours of painstaking, handmade effort. Members must make everything themselves to protect the relationship they have with Lucas Film (and vicariously Disney). Techniques are learned, honed, and practiced thanks to other troopers contributing experience to a legacy of honoring a shared obsession. All this effort is to join the ranks of other members marching in parades or visiting sick kids in hospitals. They’ve turned a love of a fictional universe into a powerful force in the real world.

 

Now that you hopefully have some respect for the Legionnaires and what they stand for, let’s get back to that underwhelming confession to my sarcastically unsurprised bride…..

 

One of the newest movements by the Legion struck me as the perfect time to share this longtime nerd goal with my better half. A t-shirt fundraiser was arranged in total support of the Make-A-Wish foundation. Their first goal was 2000 shirts to raise $20,000. The ultimate goal is 5000 shirts for an amazing $50,000+ raised. I jumped at the chance to join the first 2000! This was a great opportunity to spell out my true desire to elevate my fandom to the ultimate level. As far as I can tell, my wife is very supportive of this goal… she’s pretty damn cool so I expected nothing less.

 

The 501st’s cause is really an amazing one so please help them hit the goal of 5000. At the time of writing this post they are sitting at 4265 with twelve days to go. It’s an achievable milestone that will make an enormous difference in the lives of kids who need it most. Help make Vader proud!

 

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Force Friday (September 30th – when the new Rogue One toys became available) arrived shortly after my overly dramatic confession. My minions and I hit up most multiple retailers in the Richmond, VA area looking for the variety of new collectibles. We bumped into a very nice fellow at the local Walmart who vocally approved of my daughter’s toy selection (Sabine Wren from Star Wars Rebels). After chatting with him, I learned that he’s actually Darth Vader and sometimes Darth Maul in the local 501st group. The fact that this encounter happened so close to openly embracing my goal definitely cemented my interests.

 

Our friendly local “Darth” told me all about Garrison Tyranus – Virginia’s chapter of the 501st Legion. Everything he said made it sound like a wonderful group of people! The entire conversation only intensified my desire to wear the armor. My son brings it up at least every other day reminding me how I need to become part of the 501st. Excitement aside, it’s incredibly daunting to even know where to begin. I’ve joined the forums and plan to start getting involved. Aside from that, I’ll hopefully figure out where the hell I’m supposed to begin with constructing my white suit. One thing at a time!

 

As I eventually get closer to accomplishing my goal I’ll be sure to share the experience here. In the meantime, I’m going to proudly wear my Make-A-Wish shirt while taking every opportunity to spread the word about how much good can come from the bad guys.

 

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To support the Make-A-Wish Endowment Fund please go to  https://www.booster.com/501st

 

To learn more about The 501st Legion and what they do check out their website: http://www.501st.com or their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/The501stLegion/

LEGO Display Methods and Techniques

<Steps to podium> “Hi. My name is Nathan and I’m a collector.”

 

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Collecting – it’s essentially an addiction. This veritable compulsion serves as an outlet for our inner hunter/gatherer while simultaneously stroking the ego of the hoarders we’re most likely destined to become. And you know what? It’s not such a bad thing to be! A full display shelf offers a unique type of satisfaction that is hard to come by through other means.

 

I’ve had my share of display shelves. Shelves are sort of a prerequisite when you’re a lifelong collector, a notorious nerd, and a kid LEGO nut turned AFOL functioning in society. If you’ve acquired some item collection-worthy item, it’s only natural to want to show it off like your own personal museum. My collection makes me happy because each piece stirs up its own unique memory or feeling. Looking at my display shelf (shelves, truthfully) is almost like flipping through a tangible photo album. The mix of items span from yesterday all the way back to my childhood.

 

If your situation is anything close to mine, you have a spouse that is supportive of your collecting…. to an extent. There’s a line that’s constantly walked between clutter and style. My wife has graciously allowed me to display items primarily on one wall in our bedroom. Sure, there are various items sporadically throughout the house, but it is my collectors wall that is my true pride and joy.

 

LEGO can be a very complicated thing to show off. When space is limited, the complications increase exponentially. After experimenting with a multitude of different techniques over the years I feel I’ve found an efficient, yet effective, balance of displayed minifigures/builds. These techniques are also pretty cost effective since I’d much rather save my money for more collectibles (or bills, or food for my children, or all those boring things).

 

Minifigures

 

When it comes to displaying LEGO Minifigures, their miniscule footprint is something that will consistently work in your favor. They typically take up such a small horizontal space that a ledge can be around an inch deep to hold them with the black base that is usually included. I recommend you use this base plate to prevent any ‘domino’ effect from slightly bumping the shelf…. a lesson I learned the hard way.

 

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The first ‘minifig exclusive’ shelf I created was made using wood, wood glue, and black glossy spray paint. Quality materials make a massive difference in the end product here – don’t go cheap with scrap wood. Using cheaper oak planks will get you a warped/uneven ledge that isn’t as smooth as it should be for items as small as LEGO minifigures. I’ve had the most success with poplar or cedar. These wood types warp less and sand without altering the integrity of the shape.

 

Two planks will suffice for this shelf type. A perpendicular connection will provide a base wide enough for the stock minifigure stand. The top ledge is perfectly sized for any plate that’s two studs deep. Using the top ledge can get a tad precarious so double sided tape might be needed to ensure the plate stays put.

 

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If you want to pack a lot into a condensed space, you can add multiple levels. This takes some patience as the glue must dry on each level prior to adding another. I made the one in the picture below to display Series 14 (the only series I’ve sought to collect in its entirety) and a few other monster-related singles.

 

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In order to properly mount these shelves to the wall, you must be willing to drill a hole in the spot. I tried several other ways hoping to limit the amount of drywall damage – none were able to cut it like an anchored screw. Fortunately, minifigs weigh next to nothing so it doesn’t take much to secure a shelf. The best method is to drill a single hole centered in the shelf then use one 2-3 inch screw with a proper wall anchor. A major advantage to having a centrally drilled hole is you can easily shift the shelf to level it out without needing to re-drill anything in the wall.

 

Shelves are all well and good, but what if you don’t have enough space to mount one? Or what if you can’t do anything that will leave a lasting mark/hole on the wall? The problem I ran into is that my collection quickly surpassed the maximum capacity of the shelves I mounted. In order to make the most of the space you have all you have to do is implement some LEGO-styled ingenuity….

 

Here’s what you need for an individual row:

  1. One 2×16 plate
  2. Six 1×2 plates
  3. Two 3M Command mounting strips

 

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This tactic allows the minifigure to stay put in a standing position with surprising stability. Five figures can comfortably fit in each 2×16 position with enough clearance to hold any given accessory. Using 1×2 plates provides enough room for them to stand upright without being forced into a bent or leaning stance. You may need to get creative with a 1×1 plate or an extra 1×2 if the minifig has any piece (like a backpack or a wide head/hair piece) that would require more space from the wall.

 

By using the 3M command strips you have nothing but flexibility in how rows are arranged. It enables you to make full use of a space without limiting the display via a permanent mounting. Using a level is advisable for any shelf; it helps the end aesthetic and appeases the obsessive compulsives of the world.

 

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A portion of what my kids call “the toy museum.”

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They have a surprising amount of strength considering the minimal connected bricks.

 

A bit more work is required for any “short-legged” minifig if you want to utilize the command strip method. Their lack of connection points on the back of their legs means they must stand. It’s still possible to do this by adding an extra 2×16 plate positioned perpendicularly with any brick meant to change build direction. This works out for the line of their heads is at the level of a normal figure so you don’t disrupt any overall symmetry on the line. You’ll need at four to five of these short figures to occupy a section – having a normal one on the same plate will stick out like a sore thumb.

 

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Looking for an easy way to display minifigures without building anything or mounting anything? Find a wooden drawer organizer in the houseware section near the cooking utensils. These are easily obtained from Walmart or Target for between $9 and $15. It must be wooden because then you’re guaranteed to have flat surfaces as opposed to the space-conserving rounded edges of a plastic organizer. Turn the drawer organizer on its side and you instantly have a perfect display shelf. Each section is designed to hold knives, forks, and spoons yet the dimensions are perfect for your LEGO army. I found the one below at Walmart for nine bucks. It has expandable sides for additional rows. One row was glued in the expanded position while the other is there for when the need inevitably arrives. As a bonus, each level has enough surface area to accomodate minifigures with large bases. LEGO has evolved a lot in the last ten years so you can’t count on mifigures to all follow the same profile.

 

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Sets

 

Diversify your arrangement with some smaller sets mixed in. With some slight modification you can show off a constructed set amongst the rows of minifigures. These sets can take up considerably more space, so you’ll like be presented with some choices to make down the road. Remember, you’re working with one of the most versitle toys ever made – it’s alright to use that to your advantage. Use additional bricks to create a stable base or shift the profile to something suitbale on a couple inches of ledge. Some builds can be shown securely on narrow shelves if you anchor them to the wall with a small section of fishing line and a clear thumb tack.

 

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Mix up the monotony!

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This would be a disaster without having it anchored – the ledge is far too narrow for the build.

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Adding a jointed or clear piece can adapt a set for display.

 

How about full sets? Sometimes it isn’t the minifigure that prompted the purchase, it’s the build! I recently encountered this situation when I picked up the Millennium Falcon. As a set that’s as gorgeous as it is huge, I knew allowing it to sit atop a bookshelf wouldn’t do it justice. Instead, I tracked down a load of transparent bricks. The lot I bought was 1x2x2, but 2x2x2 would have worked just as well (if not better). I toyed with multiple configurations before settling on one that utilized the landing gear built in as part of the original design. The Falcon is a heavy build, so having evenly spaced mounts allowed the weight to be distributed equally enough to have an angled final position. 1×2 plates modified with handles paired with 2×16 plates created a flexible enough attachment to obtain the angle I sought. I took pictures from a few angles to demonstrate the connection along with the tremendously satisfying final result.

 

 

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The Ultimate Collector’s Slave I joined recently. Thankfully, LEGO includes the means for an upright stand with the build.

 

Are you just as crazy as I am with showing off your LEGO treasures? What display methods do you use? I consider this an ongoing project so ideas are always welcomed. Keep building!

 

 

Reflections for the end of the world and THE REAPER VIRUS

The day of reckoning is upon us…..
Current versions of my REAPER VIRUS story contain a month and day but no year. However, the original  ‘THE R33PR VIRUS’ blog and its first published copies established that the world would end in 2015. Later printings abandoned this notion as the book was further polished into its current state.
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I stumbled across this fake article I created for the original blog. If the Sunday paper resembles it in any way then I Richmond Times Dispatch owes me some money.

I started writing my original story blog exactly 6 years ago. The story, based on my own life at the time, was imagined to take place six years in my future set to the tune of a viral apocalypse. Back then I found myself discouraged, despondent, and eager to do something more. A frightening story ran through my head during my 10:30PM drive into work at the police station. All I could think about was what I would do to be going the opposite direction, back home to my young family, regardless of what stood in my way.
A few hours later, once the evening insanity died down, I realized that the story I imagined was still in my thoughts. Desperate for an outlet, I composed an email to myself with the beginning of what would become THE REAPER VIRUS. I sent the email (from my work email to my personal email) then moved on. A couple weeks later I opened that email, read it through, and was surprised by how much my restless brain yearned for the tale to continue. I found myself at a crossroads with two options: 1) see where this zombie drabble goes and possibly accomplish the lifelong goal of writing a book, or 2) dismiss it all as the byproduct of a rough patch. The choice I made is what brings us to this point six years later.
Life has changed significantly since then. Any longing for the end of days has significantly lessened. Looking back on it all, the thought of my frustrated middle-of-the-night musings in between rare breaks of a buzzing police radio or emergency line seem like just another story of an alternate me. My goal of writing a book/story was accomplished four times over. Then I was able to see it taken to the next level through the typically frustrating trials and tribulations involved with the publishing industry. As the day I originally chose for the outbreak to go ‘full scale’ draws near, I’m given this chance to reflect on how I arrived at this point as well as what’s to come.
Now for the real reason for my reflections…… After a great deal of thought, I’ve decided to abandon the Facebook page the was so integral in my success. The original formula was a pairing of a blog website with a Facebook fan page. Through Facebook I was able to connect with potential readers and get to know some really amazing people. I doubt I ever would have made enough impact to get noticed if this hadn’t worked so well for me. Then, Facebook changed.
Their introduction of “Sponsored Posts” would be the death of genuine social media. Don’t believe me? Check this out:
These are the insights for The Reaper Virus from when FB started tracking them in July of 2011 through February of 2014. The first big dead zone corresponds with when the sponsored posts were rolled out. In June of 2013 I caved and paid for a post to advertise the release of the book – that tiny spike in the middle of the plateau is all I got. Increases at the end were due to the new support of fellow Permuted Press authors.
An image like that doesn’t lie. I’ve never been fully inactive with the page. All those spikes before sponsored posts were from people liking then involving themselves. Granted, I was much more active with the page then while I posted the regular blog updates, but that doesn’t change the fact that once Facebook implemented this “great new strategy” everything came to a halt.
Almost two years later things have only become more dire. Facebook added the ability to see how many each post reaches. My current average is a dozen people if I’m lucky (out of over 1100 page followers) all because I refuse to pay them money for wanting to connect with people. This less-than-social network has become counter productive, a disheartening spinning of wheels. I say shame on you, Facebook. If my situation from six years ago was just now unfolding then I don’t know my goals would have been realized.
Don’t see this as a sob story because it couldn’t be farther from that. It’s actually a revelation that I’m ready to move on from the roots that elevated me to where I wanted to be. So I’m deactivating my Belligerent Barnes (formally The Reaper Virus) Facebook page on Sunday, November 15th. That was the day the world was supposed to end so I can’t imagine a more fitting exit.
If you’re reading this, THANK YOU! I appreciate you and feel grateful from the bottom of my black heart. Without the support I received I don’t know I would have escaped that version of me from six years ago. I’ll stay on Twitter (@thereapervirus) for now since I can’t figure out if it’s a good thing or SkyNet. My activity on this blog will continue unimpeded. I love reviewing books/etc and do have plans to resume novel work in the near future.
As I used to say leading up to the end of the world – Sacrifice, Survive, or Succumb. 
-Nathan (The Belligerent Barnes)