Sunday, January 22, 2017

Giant Ball Contraption at BrickFair Alabama

Name of Model: The Giant Ball Contraption Machine
Created by: Phil Eudy
Found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRXL85ukplc and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T7oJEYf1yGM
Details: Remember the fantastic "Totally Tubular" Giant Ball Contraption featured here back in 2009? Phil Eudy is still at it, and has put a few clips up on YouTube in recent years. The latest iteration of his Giant Ball Contraption appeared at BrickFair Alabama last week. While some parts may seem familiar, the sections that are new or revised are impressive. Some highlights:
  • An EV3 is used to control a robotic arm. The robotic arm is handled brilliantly - it moves enough to make you realize that something is happening, but the actual grab/release mechanism is geared down to the point that you can't tell that it's actually moving. It subtle enough to take on the appearance of magic, an effect that really stands out in person.
  • The "gear rack" system for the robotic arm doesn't actually use the Technic gear rack element LEGO makes (which can be expensive and imprecise in some applications). Look closely, and you'll spot a pre-Technic gear (I think this one) meshing with spindled fences.
  • The Archimedes' screw tube made out of many of 4083 Bar 1 x 4 x 2 with Studs has returned in a more prominent way.
  • Two exciting features that appeared in last year's layout (which didn't get the attention it deserves) are back: get a load of the massive curved tunnels made out of ladders and the ball run section made out of 4-wide train track.
  • Back to those ladder tunnels: note that there are two of them. An NXT sends balls down two separate paths, which combine back into one at the beginning of the train track.
  • The robotic arm picks balls up out of a rotating platform that uses 4x4 Macaroni bricks to catch and hold the DUPLO balls.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Truly Building Blind

Name of Resource: Lego for the Blind
Created by: Matthew Shifrin
Found at: http://legofortheblind.com/
Details: The "Blind Build" is a popular game at LEGO conventions, but it doesn't truly capture the experience of a blind person building a LEGO set. Being blind doesn't mean only not being able to see the parts - it also means that you can't see the box or the instructions. Depending on how long someone has been without sight, it might even mean never having seen a LEGO piece. While bricks and plates are very tactile elements, most of us who experiment with a "Blind Build" as a game are very familiar with what the parts look like, and we're usually looking right at the instructions while we build. A blind person attempting to build even a fairly simple kit will need to be able to interact with all of the parts - and the instructions - without ever seeing them.

This challenge has been met by an exciting website launched recently called "Lego for the Blind". Matthew Shifrin has compiled a series of written instructions in English for a variety of popular LEGO sets (19 of them as of this writing). These instructions can then be read aloud by screen reading software. Some preparation is required (besides acquiring a set listed on the site) - a sighted person needs to sort the parts first. I suspect that that step could be skipped for a set that doesn't include the same part in multiple colors, but so far the sets the site has instructions for lean towards the larger size. Then again, having to feel through 2000+ parts to find the right shape would bring back the "goofy convention challenge" aspect...

Thursday, January 19, 2017

In Memoriam: Notable AFOLs We Lost in 2016


The biggest reason this blog got quieter in 2016 isn't actually personal issues getting in the way. It's the difficulty with figuring out how to write this post. We lost many notable figures in the LEGO fan community this past year. I'm not even talking about Carrie Fisher (Star Wars' Princess Leia) or any of the other "celebrities" the rest of the world knows. I'm saying we've lost many of our friends, our inspirations, and predecessors.

Not knowing how to grapple with that made it difficult to say something right away. Over time, I quickly started to think that more fitting and thorough tributes were required to properly eulogize and remember why these people were important. Then the terrifying realizations started settling in: people will want you to say something more meaningful now that you've taken longer to say anything. More people have died and it's not fair to any of them to compress them all into one post. Nobody else is saying anything. Wait, really? None of the big AFOL blogs noticed Seymour Papert died? Or Ed Boxer? Or Robin Werner? What kind of community are we? How little do we know about our history, or care about people who are active in different parts of the country than we are in? How many more important AFOLs has our community lost that I don't know about? What does it say about us "LEGO news blogs" in the "AFOL community" that when we lose someone important in our community, we don't say or do ANYTHING to honor the departed? Can we really claim to be a community if we don't do anything in these situations?

The guilt set in. I knew I had to write something about it, but anything I said would be too little, too late. We've disrespected our elders too much already, and even focusing on what's wrong with us as a community instead of what we loved about those we've lost is unfair to their memory. I just can't win, and it feels like most of our "community" doesn't even realize that we should be fighting to preserve our community.


Without further ado; here is too little, too late (in roughly chronological order):

  • Seymour Papert
    A giant in a few different worlds, Seymour Papert is probably best known to LEGO fans for his role in creating the LEGO Mindstorms range. He's not just a major figure in bringing LEGO into the classroom, though - he's also the major figure in bringing computers into the classroom. Before Mindstorms, he was instrumental in developing the LOGO language, he spoke at one of the earliest LEGO fan events, and he did much of the research underpinning the bringing both play and programming into education. Like I said - I can't do him justice in a short blurb.

    Further reading:
    The ACM published a thorough obituary
    HispaBrick published a short blog post about his passing, and also republished an article on his role in inspiring the evolution of the LEGO MINDSTORMS line
    The LEGO Foundation posted a brief tribute
    Wikipedia Bio
    Slashdot report and comment thread
    Bio on Daily Papert

  • Ed Boxer
    If you're a "real AFOL" (tm), you know about Ed Boxer's LEGO Castle. It was impossible to miss in the late 90s, especially after it was recognized as the first "Cool LEGO Site of the Week" (he was later featured two more times). Admittedly, he had been quiet in the community for some years before he passed last summer, but he will still be missed.

    Further reading:
    Cool LEGO Site of the Week : Site #1
    Ed Boxer's LEGO Castle as saved by the Internet Archive
    Ed Boxer's site as saved by Library of the Collective Human Record

  • Robin Werner
    Robin Werner spent was active in the AFOL community for a longer time than most, but he primarily focused on town and train layouts in his home state of Florida. He was a founder of both the Greater Florida LEGO User Group (GFLUG) and the Greater Florida LEGO Train Club (GFLTC) - and in many ways, he was the indispensable man keeping GFLUG rolling. Best known for his stunningly ambitious downtown Tampa layout, he passed very suddenly just after returning from a month-long tour of three AFOL events.

    Further reading:
    GFLUG.org (as of this writing, still frozen in time with reports of events from before Robin's last outing)
    GFLTC history (a summary of 1996-2004, which shows how important Robin was in establishing his state's LEGO scene)
    GFLTC on Brickshelf
    Cool LEGO Site of the Week : Site #120 was "Robin's LEGO® Zone", which seems to be lost to history (if you can find it, let us know).

  • Paul Quigley
    Barely a month after Robin's passing, GFLUG was still reeling from the news when we found out that Paul Quigley was gone as well. While he didn't have the travel itinerary of others on this list, I knew him as a passionate builder, friendly vendor, and devoted family man. He was a constant, active force in a LUG that badly needed the support, and it's unclear how the LUG will continue after losing two of its most active members.

    Further reading:
    Jurassic World MOC as captured by The Brick Show

  • Durrell Reichley
    A fixture at AFOL events in recent years, Durrell Reichley was a key person in running ColonialLUG, the first recognized LEGO User Group aimed primarily at teenagers. Part of a rare family of FOLs, he was often more of a supporting player for his wife (Mary) and two sons (Zane and Nathaniel), who remain active in the hobby.

    Further reading:
    Obituary
    ColonialLUG website

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas with a Reindeer Mech

Name of Model: LEGO Mech Reindeer
Created by: Mitsuru Nikaido
Found at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/142497481@N02/albums/72157676942777796
Details: This year, Santa's got a new ride. Someone ought to make a movie about this model and use that as the tagline.

There's lots to love in this modernized interpretation of Santa's sleigh and reindeer, but even with all the space-y greebles and twists, it's still faithful to the sleigh-and-reindeer formula. Santa's throttles (in place of reins) round out his one-seater carrying a bag of toys - which also seems to have a thruster of its own beyond the reindeer pulling it. At this scale, a few long Star Wars blasters make for great antlers, and a pair of pearl gold 1 x 1 round plates with holes mounted on what looks like minifig handlebars make for excellent eyes.

Other great details include the use of wheels as hooves, a white Technic wheel to represent the fur around the neck, a minifig ski for the top of the reindeer's head (not to be confused with the larger skis used for the front of the sleigh), and a plate with a tooth for the gold trim on Santa's sleigh. Make sure to check out all of the photos - the Reindeer Mech can be posed in a surprising amount of ways (probably more than are shown).

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

LEGO-related Charitable Opportunities

There are a few exciting LEGO-related charitable opportunities currently going on:

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Microscale Tanks (with instructions!)

Name of Model: Mini tank
Created by: Mike "mikevd" Dung
Found at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikevd/28815286630/in/pool-44124304756@N01
Details: These fantastic microscale tanks are practically begging us to build some large battle scenes at a smaller scale. They make excellent use of the rotation joint element from the large Knight's Kingdom figures, which has always felt like a part waiting to be rediscovered. I figured someone would find a great way to use it as space-y greebling first, but it looks perfect as a tank turret here. The complete breakdown of how they were built should enable anyone to build these, with the possible exception of the center connecting the treads - the combination of Technic, Axle and Pin Connector Perpendicular and Technic, Pin Connector Round 1L can be replaced with Technic, Axle and Pin Connector Perpendicular 3L with Center Pin Hole (which is also available in more colors so far).

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Robotics Monday: Controlling Power Functions Motors from an Arduino

Name of Model: Take Control Over Lego Power Functions
Created by: Patrick Müller
Found at: https://www.hackster.io/Notthemarsian/take-control-over-lego-power-functions-ee0bfa
Details: Recently spotted in Hackster.io's news e-mail: Take Control Over Lego Power Functions. This quick tutorial is not purist (it involves cutting Power Functions extension wires, in addition to using an Arduino and other non-LEGO parts), but it clearly explains how to make it all work together. The Arduino platform is rapidly becoming the most popular hobby electronics and robotics platform, but it doesn't have a 9-volt output. Yes, I know we refer to the previous LEGO electrical system as 9 Volt, but the Power Functions system also has 9 volts under the hood (it's unfortunate that the official LEGO terminology doesn't provide more insight into how the systems actually work). Among the other useful tips in the article is a recommendation for a particular integrated Texas Instruments Dual H-Bridge motor driver chip (L293D), which handles the correct voltages and much of the work of controlling motors for you.

Sure, most of us will probably stick to using the Power Functions system and IR controllers to handle our Technic motor control needs, but it's great to see someone making it straightforward enough that even a novice at electronics could quickly get up and running with an Arduino- and Bluetooth-based control system instead. I may be one of the purists who prefer the all-in-one nature of the off-the-shelf Mindstorms kits, but we need to be able to do these things with more modern microcontrollers too.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Buzz Lightyear's X-Wing Fighter

Name of Model: Buzz Lightyear's X-Wing
Created by: Duncan "donuts_ftw" Lindbo
Found at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/124874271@N06/28419695121/
Details: Duncan "donuts_ftw" Lindbo recently came across the Buzz Lightyear wing element from the Disney series of Collectible Minifigures and built this beauty. This microscale version of the X-Wing Fighter (from Star Wars, now also owned by Disney) also makes great use of the new Flat Tile 1X1 ½ Circle, White element (found in a few Mixels sets) to get the shaping of the wings right at this scale. There's also some clever studs-not-on-top (SNOT) work - note the lime clip ring plate in the cockpit to connect the two 1x1 plate with tooth elements on the sides. Notice that (although I'm not sure how he did it - perhaps white clip ring plates attached to either side of the lime one?) the bottom set of wings is attached upside-down relative to the cockpit and top set of wings - a nice bit of symmetry that keeps the handle bar plates from marring the shape of the spaceship.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

News from Some Friends of LMOTD

Some brief news from some of our friends:

LEGOLAND Discovery Center Atlanta is hosting an Adult Night TONIGHT from 7-9 PM, featuring three classes with Master Model Builder Aries Viera. The classes will focus on detailing with small pieces, making Minilanders, and using studs-not-on-top techniques. This is also a great opportunity to check out their rides, miniland displays, and 4D cinema without needing to be accompanied by a kid.

The Atlanta LEGOLAND Discovery Center will also be hosting a Ninjago Weekend August 20th and 21st, as well as a Homeschool Day (register here) on August 24th.

Bionicle community BZPower turned 15 years old yesterday. They've been running raffles to commemorate the anniversary, many of which are free to enter. They've been celebrating all month and have also marked down their fantastic Themes to Revive T-shirts and offered a discount (with code) on their Premier Membership program.

Finally, BrickFair Virginia is right around the corner! There are other LEGO fan conventions out there, but this one is the biggest, best, and our personal favorite. The Dulles Expo Center recently expanded their facilities, and the full expanded space will be filled with fan displays of original LEGO creations (there will be some vendors and activities, too, but you're here for fascinating LEGO models, right?). Full event registration (for Wednesday, August 3rd through Sunday, August 7th) is open through August 5th for $80. Tickets for public days are available now for $15, with an online-only discounted option for people entering after 2 PM.

You can also register now to attend upcoming BrickFair conventions in New Jersey, Alabama, Massachusetts, and Virginia (2017). Sure, tickets for the weekend show part of it will be available later (you can sign up for e-mails on when shows come up and tickets become available), but we want to see you build something exciting, bring it to show off, and get to know fellow builders.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

BrickUniverse Raleigh 2016 LEGO Online Community Panel

Name of Video: BrickUniverse Raleigh 2016 LEGO Online Community Panel
Created by: BZPower
Found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EvvzdklRu_4
Details: Our friends at BZPower recently posted video of the BrickUniverse Raleigh 2016 LEGO Online Community Panel. LMOTD contributors Dan and Matthew were both on the panel - myself (Dan) representing this blog and Matthew representing Beyond the Brick. Also featured on the panel were Scott Barnick (contributor at New Elementary), Andrew Bulthaupt (admin at BZPower), George Barnick of Brickipedia, and Stephen Forthofer from The Brick Show. We discussed a number of aspects of the online LEGO fan community, focusing on how each of our outlets within the community uses various sites and platforms that are a part of our ever-growing community. You may find interesting the parts where the history and future direction of this blog are covered, but much of the conversation was about the sheer size of the fan community today - which is more interesting for those of us who are willing to jump on panels but are shy about the whole self-promotion thing.

We will (eventually) be covering BrickUniverse Raleigh 2016 in more detail.