LEGO is heading Back to the Future

“If you’re going to build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?”

That’s probably what CUUSOO users Masashi Togami and Sakuretsu thought when they created this fantastic DeLorean Time Machine. This model has been up on CUUSOO for a long time and steadily accumulated votes until it passed 10,000 late Saturday night. The car is well done for minifig scale, but the minifigs are the real stunners here. Since Back to the Future is a trilogy, they just had to include exquisitely detailed Marty and Doc figures (and hover modifications for the DeLorean) from all three films. Check out the official project page for more photos.

LEGO’s official comments are promising, although they’d obviously have to get an official license to sell the set. I don’t know what mindshare Back to the Future holds with kids these days, but I imagine the legions of older fans who would purchase this set could more than make up for its age. The films practically define the 80’s, and I’d wager the franchise still has more fans than Minecraft, EVE Online, and Shaun of the Dead put together. LEGO seems to like the idea of releasing a commemorative set for the trilogy’s upcoming 30th anniversary, though that won’t happen until 2015.

I’m just glad that an outstanding, kid-friendly MOC finally got voted to the top. Back to the Future is one of my favorite films, and I’d snap this up faster than you can say “Great Scott!” Let’s hope LEGO feels the same.

CUUSOO Happenings

LEGO CUUSOO had a busy day, with a new model reaching 10,000 votes and one being rejected.

First, the Shaun of the Dead Winchester MOC that reached 10,000 last month has been officially turned down by LEGO. It’s a great model, but LEGO ultimately decided that a violent, R-rated movie wasn’t appropriate for its target market. You can read the press release here. Nevertheless, LEGO was very complimentary towards Greg, the model’s designer, praising his dedication and constructive attitude. Hopefully he’ll be back with a great new model in the future!

Second, this EVE Online Rifter has reached the 10,000 votes needed to enter production. Unfortunately, it’s just not very well done. My eyes hurt just looking at all those studs! Hopefully LEGO will rebuild the model in a sleeker design, as their comments might suggest. At least, as LEGO points out, they have a history of crafting impressive spaceships.

Once again, CUUSOO has been discovered by the Internet, where MMORPG games, zombie movies, and Minecraft are bigger than life. This time, Joystiq and Kotaku featured the MOC, helping to boost the numbers with massive traffic. I’m still skeptical that niche licensed themes like this can attract enough customers to make CUUSOO profitable for LEGO. Only time will tell, but I hope the success stories aren’t limited to video games.

Review: uni-ball Power Tank (original capped model)

The uni-ball Power Tank is a mass-market take on the famous Fisher Space Pen‘s pressurized ink technology. The special ink can write in extreme heat and cold, underwater, or in the vacuum of space. I don’t really need it to do all those things, but it’s a comfort to know how reliable the pen can be.

This original model was my favorite go-to pen during high school. Since that time, the original capped version has been retired in favor of a retractable model (and more recently the Smart Series). While the pen’s legacy lives on, the newer iterations pale in comparison to the original. Not only does the classic blue Power Tank look fantastic, but it also writes more smoothly than any ballpoint I’ve ever used.

I still have a couple ink refills and one barrel, but I’m writing with a dinosaur. Not even Brad Dowdy, the Pen Addict himself, knows where to pick this pen up anymore. JetPens doesn’t stock it, and uni-ball’s U.S. website doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of the Power Tank line. Of course the world moves on from any product, but it’s a pity that the new models neither look nor write as well as the old one.

When I originally bought the Power Tank, it came in three-packs at OfficeMax (black, blue, and red). The blue was always the standout, and later I found it sold singly in such mainstream locations as Walgreens. Once it was even paired with a stick of gum for some promotion. Not exactly where one expects to find a top-notch writing instrument. By 2007 they were hard to find, and I picked up my last two at a bookstore.

The Power Tank has a very small cap, which means its balance is barely affected by posting. Meaning you can either set the cap aside or post it without feeling like you’re using the pen “the wrong way.” The tapered shape nestles nicely in the hand, and the wide grip is just rubbery enough to grasp without feeling too squishy.

I always appreciated the little window in the cap. It’s utterly unnecessary of course, but a cool touch.

The barrel has a reflective label set under the surface which reads “Pressurized Refill – 3000hPa” That’s equivalent to 43.5 psi. I’ve no idea how that compares to the Fisher Space Pen’s internals or the modern Power Tanks.

As far as I know, the original Power Tank was only sold in the 1.0 mm variety in the U.S. The modern RT and Smart Series are available in .7 as well. That might seem pretty thick, especially compared to many foreign pens, but the 1.0 mm is actually thinner than your everyday American ballpoint. Here I’ve compared it to my two other pressurized ink pens – you can see that Fisher’s “fine” tip is identical to uni-ball’s widest size.

Notice the ink consistency (click the image for a larger view). The old Power Tank – virtually unused for 5 years – writes better than the Fisher, which I use every day. (It has been dropped a few times on its nose, so that might have something to do with its poor performance.) The Smart Series High Grade started off very faint – I actually had to draw the first line twice to get much of anything down on the paper. It never felt as smooth as the older model, even after it warmed up. Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but I’m left feeling that uni-ball is slacking a bit on the Smart Series.

The one downside to the Power Tank is its relatively fragile body. The eye-catching translucent plastic is prone to cracking, and the grip wears down easily. Indeed, my current barrel has a strange crack near the end, despite sitting in a drawer for years. I’ve also snapped off the clip when using it on a jean pocket. So in the end, the Power Tank really isn’t suited for an everyday carry, especially when I can’t find any more to replace it.

Of course, feel free to get in touch if you know where to pick some up!

Things I’ve Missed

I was lazy last week and didn’t write anything here. Funnily enough, the world kept turning and interesting and significant things kept happening. Here’s what I missed:

Companies clam up about China

Nick Bilton of the New York Times asked Microsoft, Barnes & Noble, HP, Samsung, Lenovo, Amazon, and Dell about their Chinese factories. Not one company gave a straight answer, though Microsoft came close.

And people still think Apple is the only one using Chinese labor.

Flashback: Macs finally attract the bad guys

Last week brought disturbing news for the Mac community. With the advent of the Flashback Java exploit, malware made its way onto a significant portion of Macs for the first time since the late ’80s. While Flashback doesn’t signal the end of the world, it is a wake-up call of sorts and should be taken seriously by Mac users and especially Apple’s security team.

What is Flashback?
Simply put, it’s “drive-by” malware that automatically installs itself on your Mac if you visit an infected website. It only works if your Mac is running Java, which unfortunately is extremely common. Your Mac almost certainly has Java installed if you bought it before last year. It’s Java, not the Mac OS itself, which contains the vulnerability that Flashback uses to get onto your computer. Once it’s installed itself, Flashback starts scanning your web activity (presumably for usernames and passwords, etc) and sends its findings back to whoever developed it.

How do I get rid of it?
Oracle, the company that owns and produces Java, found this particular hole back in February and patched it for Windows users. Apple, however, releases its own Java updates on a much slower schedule, and didn’t offer a fix until last week. But once news started pouring in from antivirus companies about Flashback, Apple leapt into action with three Java updates, the last of which patches Java, turns it off until you actually need it, and removes Flashback from your system. The fix is available through Software Update (under the Apple menu) for Snow Leopard and Lion, so get downloading if you haven’t already. If you’re running an older version of OS X (Tiger, Leopard, or anything else), then follow the instructions here to test your Mac and uninstall Flashback. I still wouldn’t recommend running antivirus software, since Flashback is really the only Mac malware out there right now. If you really want to, ClamXav is highly reviewed.

It’s a safe bet that Java has more, as yet undiscovered, chinks in it that future malware could exploit. Due to its complex nature, Java is somewhat of a leaky ship, with a long history of security holes. If you don’t absolutely need it, consider disabling Java entirely. The latest update from Apple does this already, but go to Applications -> Utilities -> Java Preferences in the Finder to do it manually. You can also disable Java in Safari under Preferences -> Security. For Google Chrome, the process is significantly more complicated. (It’s almost like Google doesn’t want you finding too many privacy settings!)

Why is Flashback important?
Flashback is relatively tame malware, especially compared to the truly nasty stuff found on Windows. But it’s impressive that it managed to infect over 600,000 Macs within only a few weeks. That’s peanuts for Windows (there are actually more than 600,000 unique varieties of Windows malware, to say nothing of the computers they infect) but it’s about 1% of all Macs. The most widespread Windows worm in memory, Conficker, only managed to get .7% of all PCs. This gives Apple a pretty noticeable black eye, and leaves a lot of questions about how secure the Mac really is.

So are Macs going to become a virus-ridden mess just like PCs? Only time will tell, but I wouldn’t bet on it. It’s true that Mac marketshare is on the rise, and with each new gain comes added attention from hackers and cybercriminals. But Macs won’t take a majority share from Windows anytime soon, and probably never will. If you’re going to make a virus, it only makes sense to target the majority, so economics works strongly in the Mac’s favor.

That line of reasoning only works if you assume PCs and Macs are equally protected, and it’s currently unclear how exactly they stack up. As renowned Mac-cracker Charlie Miller says, “Mac OS X is like living in a farmhouse in the country with no locks, and Windows is living in a house with bars on the windows in the bad part of town.” Both platforms are practically secure, though one is far more likely to be attacked.

Overall, Apple has historically been very slow to patch vulnerabilities and doesn’t seem to acknowledge the existence of Mac malware until absolutely necessary. That culture has to change soon if they are to prevent any more malware from becoming this widespread. While Apple hasn’t been very proactive with its security, I’m hopeful that Tim Cook will seize the opportunity to tighten up his company’s reaction time and focus more on securing the Mac. Tim seems more pragmatic than Steve, and I doubt he wants anything to tarnish his legacy. An explosion in Mac malware would certainly do that. To its credit, Apple has been working on Mac security for some time, introducing daily updates to its virus definitions, app sandboxing later this year, and Gatekeeper with the Mountain Lion update due this summer.

I should note that iOS has almost no security risk, and Apple is clearly heading towards an iOS future. There are a handful of theoretical exploits that can affect the iPhone, but the real-world risk is nonexistent.

So in summary: Flashback is a wide-spread threat, but Apple has taken care of it already. The real question is whether Apple can keep up with malware in the future. Their track record so far isn’t stellar, but there are some promising signs of change.

For more in-depth coverage of Flashback and some sound security advice, read this Macworld article. It’s written by Rich Mogull, probably the preeminent Mac security researcher today. (And winner of the Wealthiest-sounding Name contest, if such a thing existed.)

– image from the 1992 cinematic platformer Flashback, as seen on

Hulk vs Wolverine

The Marvel superheroes sets are now available, and people are having lots of fun with the new figures. This Wolverine by Legoagogo takes it to the next level because he’s wearing Indiana Jones’ jacket and Han Solo’s pants.

GM uses LEGO for 3-D Data Visualization

Despite the sensationalist headline, GM is more creative than I thought. I can’t imagine a giant corporation using bricks in their reports, but I suppose it works for them. Or they’re simply cheap bastards.

Edit: Commenters claim Rovio (developer of Angry Birds) uses the same system. I wonder if they launch little birds at the LEGO towers when they’re done?