Star Wars TIE Fighter

This short film about a squadron of Imperial TIE Fighters is the best video I've watched in a while. Blending all the best Star Wars ships with a 1980s anime style and a killer guitar solo, it chronicles a brief space battle between rebels and imperial forces from the point of view of the Empire. And did I mention that it's hand-drawn by one person over 4 years?

Star Wars is a product of the 70s and 80s, so a somewhat antiquated anime aesthetic reminiscent of Macross, Gundam, and other shows works surprisingly well. Look for classic anime tropes like missile clusters, targeting reticles dancing over the eyes, close-ups of exploding pilots, rapid keypad typing, and half-shaded smirking faces. If only the camera swoops in the next Star Wars film could be this dynamic!

Oh, and of course there's a poster.

- Via Ars Technica

Becoming Steve Jobs

The reaction to Walter Isaacson's 2011 biography of Steve Jobs was lukewarm to negative in the Apple community. Steve came off as abrasive and rude, while Isaacson (and Bill Gates) got multiple technical details wrong. It was a disappointment that Steve's hand-picked biographer may simply have been the wrong guy.

Four years later, Apple has thrown its weight behind an alternative book, Becoming Steve Jobs, out tomorrow by longtime tech journalist Brent Schlender. It's available for pre-order at Amazon and iBooks. This book has the full support of Apple's executive crowd and Jobs' family, getting a feature page on iBooks and an exclusive early sample. It's a much more positive narrative, and it's obvious that this is the story Apple prefers to tell.

I'm conflicted by this. Isaacson's book may not have been perfect, but there's no denying that Steve did some inexplicably horrible things. There's no good way to spin the fact that he abandoned his girlfriend and unborn daughter, refusing to acknowledge their existence or pay child support as a multi-millionaire until forced by the courts. But at the same time, this new book has even deeper access to the people who knew Jobs best. Obviously Isaacson had the advantage of speaking with the man himself, but Schlender has interviews with just about everyone else who worked or lived with Jobs. The book may well turn out to be PR spin, but Steve was indeed a very confusing man. He reconciled with his oldest daughter in the mid-80s, and she eventually moved in with his family. Perhaps this new book can explain how such massive contradictions could exist in one person.

New Genius Bar appointment system

Apple is changing how customers visit the Genius Bar. For most of the last decade, you either walked in or went online, made an appointment for a specific time, and came back. Now, walk-ins will be assigned a priority based on the severity of their problem and then texted when it's time to return to the store. Big problems will be addressed first, and small issues will have to wait their turn.

This was the old system used when Apple stores first opened, but it was abandoned when too many people needed help. I don't see how this will work unless the number of Genius Bar staff increases dramatically. Online booking remains unchanged, but I've never been able to schedule a same-day appointment at any of the three stores near me. It's always booked at least three days out. They must set aside a large percentage of time just for walk-ins.

Apple repair program for MacBook Pro GPU issue

After suffering through almost 6 months of unexpected restarts, black screens, and a total inability to connect to an external display, I am happy that Apple is formally addressing this widespread problem. While I can't say for sure that my laptop has this issue, the symptoms are almost identical. I'm looking forward to having a fully-functional machine again.

Return to Ice Planet 2002

For those of you who might be drowning in snow this winter, just remember it could be worse – you could live on a whole planet made of ice. And your home wouldn’t even have walls! At least you could take pride in your spaceship, one of the best space sets LEGO ever designed.

That’s right, we’re returning to Ice Planet 2002 to review set 6973: the Deep Freeze Defender. This ship has a well-deserved reputation among space fans because it combines just about everything you could want in a single package: a huge footprint, cool design, detachable mini ships, sliding doors, hidden rockets, magnets, and of course those neon orange chainsaws![1]

I really enjoy snow and ice themed LEGO. It’s the perfect marketing idea: buy a set for Christmas, and your child can play with it outside that day. That probably leads to lost pieces, but the idea has always appealed to me. When I was a child I played with my LEGO submarines in the bathtub and with my Adventurers sets in the woods – there’s something more exciting about a LEGO set in its “natural” setting. That’s why I chose to carry my Deep Freeze Defender back to Wisconsin to photograph last winter. I think it looks much better out in the freezing weather rather than sitting on a shelf.

This spaceship has always appealed to me, even though I was much too young to own it back in 1993. I can say this with certainty because I pored over old LEGO catalogs to a rather embarrassing degree as a child. Those pages captivated me in large part because all the sets had been retired for years — inaccessible until I discovered Bricklink. Now that I have my own Ice Planet sets 20 years later, I can finally see what I was missing.

Design and features: The most interesting thing about this ship, aside from the size, is its ability to split apart into modular sections. This allows the twin forward cabins to separate into small fighter or scout craft. Not only that, but you can recombine the modules in several different ways, conceivably creating two or three ships for more variety.

Each of the segments has its own surprises. The central section is mostly composed of wings, but a central module opens up to store a rocket and satellite. This fits with the loose goal of the Ice Planeteers, which has something to do with satellite surveillance or mapping. Almost all the sets come with either a rocket or a satellite receiver to communicate with machines in orbit. The rockets are a clear holdover from the early days of Classic Space, but I always wondered why these futuristic explorers are still relying on 20th century rockets when they clearly have streamlined spaceships that have no trouble flying through an atmosphere.

The back of the ship holds a miniature ship that can emerge from a sliding panel door. The mechanism is set up so that pulling the door back will pop the ship out from the interior, ready to blast off. It’s a simple but ingenious way of adding a little more interest to what could have been a fairly boring hangar bay. The little ship is the commander’s personal craft, and it can also attach to the rocket with magnets. Of course, the rocket is basically one big engine, while the tiny ship has no visible propulsion. When the commander’s craft attaches, who is controlling who? Maybe the rocket is a gigantic booster engine, or maybe he’s meant to maneuver the rocket into position and detach before it ignites.

The Ice Planeteers are a peaceful bunch – you won’t find any guns or missiles here. I find that refreshing, since almost all the more recent sets have been packed with weapons and conflict-oriented storylines. Perhaps the most extreme example is the 2008 Mars Mission flagship, 7644 MX–81 Hypersonic Operations Aircraft, which boasts at least 21 guns. The [Galaxy Squad] sets are similarly well-armed. In comparison, the early ’90s sets were almost too afraid to portray violence. The villainous Blacktron was reworked to a less threatening color scheme, Space Police lost almost all their firepower, and M:Tron never used weapons in their job as engineers and merchants. Ice Planet 2002 was definitely part of this period of galactic de-escalation, filling the role of scientists and explorers. Nevertheless, they could take care of themselves if necessary, using the harsh environment to their advantage.

Minifigs: Any starship needs a crew, and the Deep Freeze Defender includes three minifigs. The Ice Planet figs are typical of the classic 90s style. Probably because I grew up in this era, this sort of figure is my favorite. Plenty of detail and color in the printing, yet still retaining a cartoonish charm. Not the sparse space figs of the 80s nor overly complex like some modern figures. No leg, arm, back, or reverse head printing here. You can see that the uniforms are lined with practical fur and have some sort of tubing system which probably supplies heat. There’s Commander Cold, the leader of the Ice Planet faction, along with a white-blond younger man and a red-haired woman — the first woman in LEGO Space, given the unfortunate name of Ice Babe. For all its modern issues with the Friends sets, let’s be glad that LEGO can no longer get away with one lone woman in 15 years of space sets. (Or maybe they can…) The accessories are some of the best ever made for a Space set. The neon orange skis and chainsaws are iconic, and I really like the vizors as well. It’s too bad that this mold is so little utilized. The one problem is the lack of chainsaw handles – instead the common “space gun” pieces act as hand holds.

Downsides: There are no serious problems with this set, but I would have preferred to see a larger internal space that can hold a couple crew members. This is a common problem due to LEGO’s scale, remedied lately by a large cockpit and hidden compartment in Benny’s Spaceship, Spaceship, SPACESHIP but not in the Galaxy Squad sets. LEGO Space is a lonely place, where you’re lucky to have an enclosed canopy at all, much less a shared one.

The other main drawback is a function of the color and age of this set. Old white bricks have a tendency to yellow, and mine have done so with a vengeance. When this set arrived from a Bricklink seller, all pieces were pure white as advertised. I carefully stored it in a closet, knowing that UV in sunlight triggers the yellowing process. Unfortunately, the yellowing can occur retroactively, and nearly every brick had a jaundiced hue when I pulled the set out again. This is caused by a brominated flame retardant in the plastic, and practically unavoidable with old bricks. The good news is the process is reversible, at least temporarily. Soaking the parts in Retr0bright, composed of easy-to-obtain chemicals like hydrogen peroxide and OxiClean, will restore them to their former white. It does not damage printing, so the process is mostly harmless. However, the yellowing is free to begin anew once the treatment is finished. Unfortunately Retr0bright is not for sale and must be mixed yourself, and repeated treatments are rumored to weaken the plastic. I am loath to try it myself, but I’ll probably give it a shot at some point.

This set is unquestionably a classic, possibly the best spaceship LEGO has ever made. The twin-cockpit modular design, bright orange and blue color scheme, and fun play features set it apart. The part count is nowhere near a modern set, but the size more than makes up for it. The build is hardly easy either, thanks to the old instructions[2]. There were no part callouts back then, so you have to be careful building a set this size. It’s quite easy to miss a piece here and there! I’m happy I bought it, and Ice Planet 2002 remains one of my favorite Space themes. In fact, another set just arrived in the mail. I’ll have to return next winter for more icy adventures!

  1. The photo here also shows set 1704, which is not included with the Deep Freeze Defender. I also wrote about this set in my first Ice Planet 2002 review.  ↩

  2. Since my goal is to collect old space sets as cheaply as possible, I do not have the box or instructions. Scanned instructions for any set can easily be found online.  ↩

Evan Brus and hold no copyright over the LEGO or Mac brands, and are not affiliated with the LEGO Group or Apple.