Big Yellow Taxi

I’ve built an iconic New York City yellow Checker taxi cab.
Big Yellow Taxi
Throughout building this, the Joni Mitchell song has been running through my head…

Late last night I heard the screen door slam
And a big yellow taxi carried off my old man
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

As usual, click the image above to see all the pictures, or view them as a slideshow.

Glacier National Park Bus

Glacier National Park is famous for its iconic old-fashioned tour buses with ten doors and an open roof. I’ve never been to the park, but I built the bus for BayLUG’s "National Parks" theme building contest at the September 2010 meeting, and displayed it at BrickCon 2010 in Seattle. I’ve made a few minor adjustments since then, but the original build was done in only two hours.
Glacier Bus
The Glacier Park Inc. Web site has the following to say about these famous red buses:

The White Motor Company between 1936 and 1938 built glacier’s red-with-black trim vehicles. This fleet of Red Buses is considered the oldest intact fleet of passenger carrying vehicles anywhere. These 17 passenger convertible touring sedans are more than a mere means of transportation for locals and visitors – they are cherished, elegant icons of Glacier National Park.

Here’s a picture from their site of the real thing in action:
Glacier Park Bus in real life
As always, click on my model to see the rest of the photos in Flickr or view them as a slideshow.

Review: New LEGO Technic Idea Books

There’s something new for LEGO Technic fans from No Starch Press.

These books from Yoshihito Isogawa are a great guide to all the wonderful ways you can combine LEGO Technic gears and related elements. I’ve always been a little wary of Technic myself. Even though I got an Expert Builder parts pack as a kid, I never did a lot with it. (I was probably too young, since I was only 6 when that set came out in 1977.) I’ve built a number of modern Technic sets, most recently the Lego Technic Crane Truck 8258, but I’ve only done minimal work with designing my own Technic machinery. Mostly what I’ve done is simple gearing such as my Scrambler amusement park ride, but I always seem to have trouble getting the gears to do quite what I want without either destroying the gears, skipping teeth, or woefully misjudging speed and/or torque.

The first book is The LEGO Technic Idea Book: Simple Machines which shows a myriad of different ways to combine LEGO gears and pulleys to achieve particular gear ratios and directions. If you’ve ever scratched your head wondering how to get a certain speed or torque out of a LEGO motor, your answer is in here. Even the most experienced builders will certainly find something new they can use. For example maybe you know how to get the gear ratio you want, but the mechanism you’re thinking of is too bulky to fit into the model you’re working on. Take a look through this book and there’s a good chance you’ll find a better way to get the same effect in the space that you need to fit it into.

The LEGO Technic Idea Book: Fantastic Contraptions is full of clever ways to combine gears, pulleys, springs, and magnets to create models that move. There are ideas for shooting projectiles, building shock absorbers, and even using magnets to animage LEGO minifig scenes. The only problem is that the magnets shown have been discontinued (due to fears that a child might swallow magnets which would get stuck in their digestive tract and require surgery – for example, the new train sets have a redesigned coupler with a magnet permanently affixed), so that might be frustrating to some people without extensive collections of older parts.

Finally, the The LEGO Technic Idea Book: Wheeled Wonders is full of great ideas for LEGO vehicles. Drivetrains, steering mechanisms, and other vehicular ideas are illustrated in full detail.

The examples in these books are purely pictures. There are no verbal explanations, which you would think would be a problem. But the pictures are reduced to such a level of simplicity that it’s easy to understand the mechanism without any text, and if you build them you could easily understand how they work. There are a lot of tips that show ways of combining gears that I had never thought of, and as I was flipping through it I kept thinking “Oh, that would be good for X” type thoughts. The lack of text would also be helpful for younger kids or people whose primary language is not English (or Japanese, in this case).

I think the one area where this could have been improved would be to show more complex ideas – instead of just showing the simple combinations of parts to achieve a particular kind of connection, show ways to combine these together to create more intricate machines. Some of the examples in the Fantastic Contraptions and Wheeled Wonders books do this to some extent, but I’d prefer to see that taken to a higher level. Also, instead of just showing each model from a variety of angles, I’d like to see step-by-step building instructions or to see some of the simpler modules combined together to create more detailed ones.

One area that isn’t explored very well is motorizing the sets. There are some examples that use motors, but they are largely built using the older 9V motors instead of the current Power Functions parts, and with the Power Functions remote control system, there are a lot of things you could do that aren’t covered by these examples. Hopefully they will come out with a fourth book featuring Power Functions.

All in all though, these are excellent books showing a lot of great ideas for LEGO mechanisms. Even if you’re an experienced builder, there are surely some ideas in here you’ve never seen.

Full Disclosure: The publisher sent me a free review book and sample galley, and the product links in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Besides Amazon, you can get the books from No Starch Press directly or through their distributor O’Reilly.

Why Does LEGO Ignore Girls?

Blogger and podcaster CC Chapman has set up a great video series where his daughter Emily pontificates on the issues that matter to her.  The latest one is “Why Does LEGO Ignore Girls?” where she makes the case for LEGO to make more products that are accessible to girls.

I’ve always been bothered by this.  They say time and again that their target market is boys ages 8-11 and that’s what they target all their products toward, and they offer token girl sets such as the lame Belleville line and pink brick buckets, which don’t sell well because they are lame!

Like Emily says, girls like the town sets a lot.  She suggests a shopping mall.  I’ve heard this from other girl LEGO fans as well: build sets that model everyday life, and girls will love them.  The town sets always seem to be about police and firefighters historically.  Lately the farm line has some promise, as do the Cafe Corner type buildings (though these tend to be for an older age group, and you’d lose the girls before they got to be old enough to be able to build them without frustration).

Another suggestion I’ve heard many times is to make LEGO babies.  The new 1×1 stud footprint figures used in the LEGO games might be a good starting point for this.

Anyway, watch the video  for yourself, and share it with anyone you know who has girls that might feel the same way.  And more than anything, keep pestering LEGO about this issue.  They won’t do anything about it until there’s a large groundswell of support for LEGO sets aimed toward girls.

Let Your Android Control Your Robot

Today, LEGO has announce a new Android App for LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT.  If you have an Android based phone, you can use this to manipulate your LEGO robots using Bluetooth.  I have a Motorola Droid, and I have two MINDSTORMS NXT sets, but have never built anything with them.  I really should get around to doing something about that.

(About half the words in this post are trademarks of someone or other, but I don’t feel like inserting all of the ® and “TM” indicators….)

BayLUG September Meeting

BayLUG had its September 2010 meeting on Saturday, September 18 at Johannes’s church in San Leandro, CA.  The contest theme was “National Parks” and I put together a model for it in just a couple of hours before leaving home for the meeting.  My model is a Glacier National Park tour bus.  I’ll post more about that with better pictures soon, but you can see it in the photos of the meeting.  Click the image to view the pictures or see them as a slideshow.