Lego of Me: Canberra Brick Expo 2013

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 20th August 2013.

As a kid during the eighties, I’d look forward to the school holidays because that meant that it might be time for the Lego World Show. Once a year or so, a Grace Bros. store in Sydney would host a travelling themed display, all made from Lego bricks. I was in kid heaven exploring the larger than life creations. One year the theme was dinosaurs, the next ships of the sea, followed by the circus and then space exploration. Of course, each show would ultimately spill out into the Lego part of the toy section. I’m pretty sure a great deal of my childhood big bag of bricks was obtained via pleading and begging at the exit of the Lego World Shows.

Earlier this year, I inadvertently wandered into the Lego store in New York City with my travelling companion to discover that he was a Lego fanatic. I walked out with a few photographs and a cheap souvenir or two. Jeff carried out a couple of hundred dollars worth of playsets. And you think that you know somebody.

Fast forward a few months and Jeff has invited me to visit Brick Expo 2013 in Canberra. Held every year since 2010, the expo is a not for profit event run by the Canberra Lego Users Group, a collective of adults and children that love, well, Lego. Last year, the event raised over $40,000 to purchase much needed equipment (not made out of Lego) for the paediatric ward at the Canberra Hospital.

The first expo attracted 4,000 people. This year, the Brick Expo was the hottest ticket in town, with the event’s 12,000 tickets completely sold out. Take that Pink! Not bad for an organisation that started out a few years ago with 4 members and now boasts a membership of 70. That’s more than the Democrats.

Wandering around the expo, I was amazed to see the wide variety of styles and themes that keep the Lego nerds of Canberra off the streets: Star Wars, Batman, trains, pirates, Star Wars, cars and ships. Did I mention Star Wars?

Obviously there were plenty of displays made from official Lego kits and playsets but I was most impressed by the original creations. Apparently, it is possible to purchase bricks of almost any colour and size directly from Lego in Denmark. It works out to about 13c per brick. My favourites were a full size playable Lego guitar and a huge framed Superman picture. My respect also goes to the guy making a life size Tardis out of bricks. Blue Lego may be a little hard to come by until he finishes it.

Brick Expo is so popular that you only get a 90 minute window to explore before your session ends and you are sent on your way. Despite the incredibly complex displays on show, it was heartwarming to see kids happily sitting around and building their own creations. It reminded me of my childhood where I would spend hours building stuff, demolishing it, building again, and then sticking pieces up my nose.

Although I’m not convinced that adult Lego fandom is for me, I have a new respect for the little Danish plastic bricks and their devotees. Now please exit through the gift shop.


Crowdfunding Conundrum


This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 12th March 2013.

In my very first column for the Central Western Daily way back in 2009, I discussed my interest in microloans via This fantastic non-profit organisation allows investors worldwide to collectively loan small amounts of money to entrepreneurs. No interest is charged by Kiva and when the loan is repaid, investors may reinvest their $25 share in another project.

Since then, this model of collective finance has become popular and is now known as crowdfunding. There are many different platforms for investors and entrepreneurs but the emphasis has shifted away from loans towards investment and incentives.

Music fans can purchase “parts” in musicians and bands through and receive limited edition CDs should enough investors pledge to fund a new project, usually an album., and allow punters to invest in creative and technological projects in exchange for incentives.

There are literally thousands of projects available, from short films and theatre productions to books and inventions, each with its own range of incentives and offers. For a dollar or so, you might get a thank you acknowledgement online. For $20 – $50, you may receive a DVD, CD or t-shirt. For $1000 or more, you may receive an executive producer credit on a film, or a private gig with your chosen band.

Like all investments, there is an inherent risk. There have been reports of some entrepreneurs disappearing after funding has been released as well as complaints about extended delays with fulfilment of incentives.

One of the many success stories of crowdfunding has been lounge singer Richard Cheese, portrayed by Mark Jonathan Davis. With cheeky album titles such as I’d Like a Virgin, Aperitif for Destruction, Tuxicity and Lounge Against the Machine, Cheese has developed a cult following for his swinging arrangements of popular hits.

To date, two new Richard Cheese albums and a biography have been crowdfunded via  With a busy tour schedule, online merchandise store and worldwide fanbase, I assumed RC could be considered a successful independent musical act, so I was surprised to receive an email inviting me to participate in another Richard Cheese crowdfunding project, corneal transplant surgery.

Cheese is seeking $19500 to help fund the surgery on his left eye. Cursed with congenital eye problems since birth, RC has been unable to get health insurance and had been saving towards the vision restoring operation until two unplanned abdominal surgeries over the past year wiped out his finances. With failing vision, it has become almost impossible to tour and music piracy has decreased his income from record sales.

After pledging $35 towards RC’s operation in exchange for a signed photo, I went for a quick scout around and found over 1000 different health related projects seeking funding, from assisting a stroke victim to return to work, to a couple wanting financial help to adopt twins.

I was floored.

A week later, I still have mixed feelings about crowdfunding shifting into the realms of health. Firstly, it’s a sad indictment of the American health system and I’m really glad I live in a country with Medicare. However, I’m impressed by the ingenuity of Richard Cheese and others to seek alternate means to improve their health. On the other hand, I’m concerned about the lack of fairness in an open market where the flashiest project may get more attention than others, which may be just as worthy. What do you do if you don’t have CDs and autographed photos to give away?

Anyway, whilst pondering the pros and cons of health crowdfunding, please visit and send a few bucks towards my (or your new) favourite lounge singer, Richard Cheese.

Help Richard Cheese now

I hate Christmas shopping

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 30th November 2010.

It’s a big shame that Christmas falls at such a busy time of the year. Moving it to a quieter month would give me much more time to do my shopping.

I was in a fancy candle shop this past weekend, purchasing a Christmas tree shaped candle. Don’t ask me why. I suppose I’ll be able to experience the spirit of Christmas next time there’s a blackout. Anyhow, the shop assistant approaches me and asks if she can help. I ask her if she’ll do my Christmas shopping. She looks unimpressed, although not nearly as unimpressed as when she took my EFTPOS card and asks what account I would like it on, and I replied, “Yours.”

It was during this shopping trip I realised that with so little time left until the big day and with so many presents to buy, plus the fact that I hate present shopping, I should come up with a plan to purchase as many gifts as possible in one transaction.

I didn’t last much longer in the candle shop. Giving someone you love a Christmas themed candle on December 25 is pretty much a gift for the year after, much like giving someone a Christmas album. You also need to consider that no matter how beautiful a fancy candle may be, once it has be used, it will look exactly the same as every ordinary candle. Coincidentally, I’ve been told that after too much beer and turkey at Christmas time, and no exercise, my body resembles a melted candle, but that’s a different story.

Why not give everyone a calendar? They’re practical and unlike Bieber fever, will last a whole year. The problem is too much choice. There seems to be more calendar themes than there are people to buy them. Is there really a market for that,” Black Cats Looking Rather Startled and Slightly to the Left of the Camera” calendar? And I object to paying full price for something that will be heavily discounted eight days later, on January 2.

Gift vouchers can be awkward. Not only does the recipient know how much, or how little, you have spent on them, but it also indicates a lack of trust. “Here, instead of giving you money to buy whatever you want wherever you want, I’m going to force you to buy something in the store of my choosing, and you only have six months to do it or you miss out. Merry Christmas.”

Those charity cards are a great idea, but not necessarily a great gift to receive. Basically, you give somebody a card that says that you have bought a goat for someone in Africa. They’re a worthy concept, but a complete non-event in terms of Christmas excitement. I tried them on my family a few years ago and they were not impressed. I’m pretty sure the only way they could have been more unimpressed was if I actually bought them a goat each.

With Christmas ever looming, I decided that my only course of action was to bite the bullet and set myself a challenge. I went on one shopping trip to one store with two hours to buy all of my presents. I picked one of those big chain bookstores that also stocks movies, music and giftware. Two hours, one transaction and five shopping bags later, I was out the door and Christmas shopping 2010 was done.

So this Christmas time, why not save time and effort by purchasing all of your gifts at the one time with as little thought as possible? That way, you can spend your time enjoying the finer things in life, like relaxing by the pool, watching the cricket and laughing at people who still haven’t started their Christmas shopping.

Published in: on December 19, 2010 at 20:15  Leave a Comment  
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Charity begins in the home (and in the shopping mall)

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 9th November 2010.

They say that charity begins in the home. In my case, that would be at around seven on a weekday evening just as I am about to sit down for dinner. The phone rings and it’s an annoying charity telemarketer. I’ve developed a tactic to avoid these calls. Usually there is a delay between the moment you pick up the phone and the salesperson at the other end speaking. That is because a computer randomly picks you and your number from a marketing list or the phone book, calls you and when you answer, it then connects you to a salesperson.

My unproven theory is that by hanging up during the delay, you get to avoid a long sales pitch but the computer still records you as a successful call connection with the telemarketer. So far, this tactic has worked well for me, with the exception of a few times when my mum was a little slow off the mark and I hung up on her. If a call does manage to get through, the promised two minute sales pitch is inevitably a twenty five minute one. I have taken great delight in allowing the telemarketer to give me his or her full length spiel about children in Africa with Bieber fever before calmly telling them that I wasn’t interested. For those short of time, dismissing them at the very beginning of the call works too. However, if the telemarketer gets to start their speech, it is pretty hard to cut in as I’m certain that their script is deliberately written to have no gaps. In that case, try snoring sounds or faking the engaged tone.

Those charity people in shopping centres annoy me too. I really don’t mind someone collecting money for a good cause, but these bubbly and friendly kids don’t want your cash, they want your bank details. They’re not working for the charity as volunteers either. For the life of your monthly payments, someone must be getting a commission. I’d rather my charity dollar go directly to a needy cause. Supporting backpackers is not a needy cause.

If you get a chance, watch the area where the charity folk are spruiking from afar. It is amazing how far shoppers will go out of their way to avoid them. Whether it is pretending to check out that really interesting walking frame in that window over there, or simply taking the scenic route, just as Darwin predicted, we’ve all naturally evolved to evade predators.

Have you noticed how they try to draw you in by saying something quirky to you as you pass, usually about your clothes? Last week I got, “Hello, Mr red shoes, baggy pants, fancy jacket and messy hair.” I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Perhaps Bozo the Clown was walking behind me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big supporter of charities and the work that they do. I just strongly feel that I should approach them to assist and not the other way around. Once I’ve shown interest in a charity, then sure, bombard me with information and requests for money but at least the initial contact wasn’t unsolicited.

If my call is going to be used for training purposes, then I trust that your trainer will use this recording to teach you the importance of not interrupting me when I’m trying to enjoy a meal with my family or friends.

Published in: on November 9, 2010 at 07:38  Leave a Comment  
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