Sunday, March 05, 2006

Grown-Up Toy Stories, III: Timesucks and the Division of Labor

by Tom Bozzo

Especially now that Julia is fully mobile, we maintain the peace in our household in no small part by maintaining the semi-finished end of the basement as a playspace that's exclusive to John for the time being. Since my record collection and the LEGO collection are down there, as is the turntable and the home networking gear, it's also my playspace. I know this may come as a shock, but it had reached a State which led Suzanne to suggest that significant brownie points could be earned if I were to tame the sprawling stuff. (*)

Now, I am not a natural at organizing my physical environment. And sorting LEGO pieces takes a combination of patience, including tolerance for repetition and tedium, manual dexterity, and a sharp eye (**) which, posessed in abundance, are the sort of things that one might think would predict success in skilled trades. My marginal utility of money is now in the territory that rather than cultivating such skills as I might possess, I prefer to cultivate relationships with skilled tradespeople.

So when I had finished with John's bedtime routine, with Suzanne out with friends and a plan of making a little headway on the basement and then settling in with the Harry Potter I DVD to fill in what I'd missed prior to the latest film (***), I went downstairs only to look up at the wall clock and think that somewhere along the way I'd accelerated to a large enough fraction of lightspeed to experience significant time dilation. Needless to say, less was done than one might have thought, and I ended up substituting the balance of a Mr. Show DVD (****) after assessing my ability to stretch my own bedtime.

Interestingly, the market does allow some division of labor between people who have comparative advantage in LEGO sorting and those of us who don't, in the form of BrickLink, the unofficial online secondary market. It had achieved some notoriety over the case of William Swanberg, who was accused of stealing $200,000 worth of LEGO sets from Target and possibly other big-box retailers via a complicated scam that involved replacing UPCs for expensive sets with UPCs for cheap sets and betting on the inattention of checkout clerks — not quite inattentive enough, as it turns out.

The M.O. of typical BrickLink sellers is to make use of the fact that there's a segment of the LEGO community for which the sum of the parts is worth more than the whole: Builders of large creations that require more copies of certain parts than can be economically collected from the wild. The sellers get paid, in effect, for specializing in sorting pieces. (Trolling for legitimate bargains increases their margins, of course.) It probably would be efficient for me to trade my unsorted parts for a credit at someone's sufficiently well-stocked BrickLink outlet, but at least on the scale of my problem, that market effectively is missing.

Dark Forces...

A little bit of John's mess, much more of mine...


(*) This is a prelude to a future trip to Ikea to obtain storage furniture to replace a motley crew of tired Billy bookcases that have been with me since college and a surplus Techline cabinet from the office (whose shelves are not quite robust to a full load of vinyl records), and to accommodate a variety of stuff that have been sitting out in various types of storage containers. This is in lieu of fully fiinishing the basement, which would unduly delay the project that would encompass construction of a garage.

(**) Try telling the old light gray apart from the new light gray in imperfect light.

(***) Up to the trip to see the latest film, I was in the position of knowing less about Harry Potter than just about anyone not living in a mass media exclusion zone. Most of my HP knowledge derives from LEGO set descriptions and Phantom Scribbler's Huge HP Spoiler Thread.

(****) David Cross is a f***ing genius.
Glad to hear you picked up Mr Show! and don't short-change Bob either ;-) I think the Sen. Tankerbell episode in season one with the Jack Black musical take on a farmers-daughter joke is one of the funniest things I've seen in years.
The farmer's daughter sketch was a riot, and Jack Black's Mephistopheles-meets-Meat Loaf was perfect for the application.

Unfortunately, season 2 is several months down in the queue, unless we really pick up our TV-watching...
There is no time sucking whole like lego sorting. In part because sorting invariably means resorting.

"When I stared I thought this tackle box would handle all my white slopes. I guess I'll use the bigger tackle box, Ohh that frees that one up for my sand green"

Sound familiar?
Anon: Oh, yes. I'm now at the point of needing to develop solution #3 for light and dark 'bley,' which are finally outgrowing the big organizer drawers that followed the little organizer drawers.
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