Author: Bill

Bay Area LEGO Train Club at Pleasanton Train Show in Nov. 2005

Published / by Bill
Bay Area LEGO Train Club at Pleasanton Train Show in Nov. 2005

Last November, BayLTC participated in the Pleasanton, CA, Great Western & Atlantic Train Show at the Alameda County Fairgrounds. The event was held on the weekend following Thanksgiving. View the pictures on Flickr or on Brickshelf (once moderated).

Our next show will be at the TCA Cal-Stewart Meet in Santa Clara, which will be open to the public on Sunday, March 12.
[tags]LEGO, BayLUG, BayLTC, Train Show[/tags]

Bay Area LEGO Users’ Group Meeting on Jan. 22, 2006

Published / by Bill
Bay Area LEGO Users' Group Meeting at Dave Porter's house on Jan. 22, 2006

Yesterday I attended a BayLUG club meeting at the home of one of our members, Dave Porter, in Woodside, CA. Dave sets up a [tag]LEGO[/tag] train layout in his upstairs loft every year around the holidays and it is going to be torn down in a week, so he invited the club to come to his house to see it while we still could. [tag]BayLUG[/tag] members brought their latest models to show off, and there was a lot of buying and selling of parts, including “Uncle Dan” and his bulk LEGO by the pound. View the pictures on Flickr or on Brickshelf (once moderated).

It all starts with LEGO

Published / by Bill

When I was a little kid my great passion was building things (usually spacecraft) out of LEGO. When I was 10 I learned about computer programming thanks to the Commodore PET computers at my school. I really think that the mental process is much the same, and that my experience with LEGO led directly to my ability to pick up computer programming skills.

The basic idea is that with LEGO bricks, they fit together to build some kind of creation. And they can only fit together in certain ways and not in others. For example you can’t fit two bricks together stud-to-stud, or bottom-to-bottom (at least, not without other pieces to hold them in that position). Similarly, there are syntax rules with software that limit the ways you can put statements and expressions together. And just as you can create a given shape using a wide number of possible arrangements of various LEGO bricks, you can implement a particular software feature using any number of different combinations of statements and expressions. So if a LEGO creation is like a software program, a LEGO element is like a variable or an operator.

For years when I have talked to parents at train shows and BayLUG meetings, I have been telling them that all the years I spent building LEGO etched certain pathways into my brain which prepared me for computer programming, and that’s a reason they should encourage their kids to do LEGO. And I think the fact that we’re based in Silicon Valley is not the only reason that many of our BayLUG members come from software, engineering, or other technical backgrounds.

Today, I came across a link to an interesting article by one of the foundes of Macromedia Flash on Jake McKee’s blog. His story is basically identical to mine through his childhood years – except that he got into Apple ][ and Mac computers and I was a Commodore guy.

Kellogg’s LEGO Sculptures at Williamsport Airport

Published / by Bill / 8 Comments on Kellogg’s LEGO Sculptures at Williamsport Airport

My wife and I visited her family in Williamsport, PA last September. There is a very small airport there which just has one gate, served by US Airways Express turboprop planes. So imagine my surprise when I saw LEGO on display there! They had a glass display case with LEGO sculptures of Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger and Toucan Sam characters, along with some of the Kellogg’s product boxes.

I don’t know why these were there, or if any other airports were included in this program, but I was very impressed with the models and very surprised to see them in such an unexpected location. As far as I know, neither LEGO nor Kellogg’s have any particular connection to Williamsport.

Display case at Williamsport Airport

LEGO models at Williamsport Airport

Bay Area LEGO Train Club at San Jose Train Show in Sep. 2005

Published / by Bill
Bay Area LEGO Train Club at San Jose Train Show in Sep. 2005

Another long-delayed set of photos from a club event. This time, the BayLTC layout from the Great Western & Atlantic Train Show is featured. The show was held at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds in San José, CA. View the pictures on Flickr or on Brickshelf (once moderated).

Our next show will be at the TCA Cal-Stewart Meet in Santa Clara. Perhaps you can come see us there! That show is open to the public on Sunday, March 12 only.
[tags]LEGO, BayLUG, BayLTC, Train Show[/tags]

Bay Area LEGO Users’ Group Meeting on Sep. 11, 2005

Published / by Bill
BayLUG Meeting on Sep. 11, 2005

I am finally getting around to posting pictures from this meeting. We met at the Museum of American Heritage in Palo Alto, CA on September 11, 2005. The meeting featured models on display and a lot of buying, selling, and trading of parts. See the rest of my pictures on Flickr or on Brickshelf (once moderated).

We hope to continue meeting there in 2006 and you are welcome to come! Monitor the BayLUG Web site to keep up with announcements of upcoming events (and join the announce mailing list) if you’re interested.
[tags]LEGO, BayLUG[/tags]

BayLUG exhibit at MoAH

Published / by Bill

For the past few weeks (starting just before Christmas), we have been running a display at the Museum of American Heritage in Palo Alto. It has been insanely popular, with more people coming to see the exhibit than the room could even hold at once.

This is the second year that we’ve had a show there over the holidays, and I think it’s fair to say we’ll be doing this every year for some time to come.

If you missed this exhibit, don’t fret – check the BayLUG Web site for information about upcoming events or how you can join the club.

I took photos of the layout yesterday afternoon just prior to teardown of the display. You can see the photos on Flickr or on Brickshelf (once moderated).
[tags]LEGO, BayLUG, MoAH, LEGO Trains[/tags]

Hot Mindstorms NXT News from MacWorld

Published / by Bill

At MacWorld I was talking to the LEGO Education (Dacta) guy there and he told me some interesting things about [tag]Mindstorms[/tag] NXT that I hadn’t heard anywhere else.

I already knew that the [tag]FIRST LEGO League[/tag] would be allowing use of both the old style Mindstorms RCX and the new NXT in the coming season. But since the NXT uses different sensors and motors, the question of backward compatibility has been an area of much speculation in the online [tag]LEGO[/tag] forums such as the LUGNET Robotics group. According to my source, LEGO Education will offer a cable that can connect legacy Mindstorms sensors and motors to the new NXT. He didn’t have specifics about the electrical connections, but it would be a cable that had the 2×2 brick connector used by the current Mindstorms on one end, and the offset RJ12 connector used by NXT on the other.

Also I was wondering about the ongoing life of the original Mindstorms once NXT is available. He was surprised when I told him that LEGO Shop-at-Home has already discontinued their Mindstorms Robotics Invention System kits (which include the 2.0 version of the RCX) but he assured me that [tag]LEGO Education[/tag] will continue to sell their Mindstorms sets (which use the 1.0 version that has a 9V DC power port), even after the NXT becomes available. I believe this is to avoid forcing teachers to replace their entire inventory with NXT sets.

Also, I asked about the power adapters for the NXT bricks. He said that there will not be a power adapter port in the NXT sold by LEGO Education, but that they would offer a special rechargeable battery pack which can be used instead of the usual 6 AA cell batteries. Teachers and AFOL’s who love the power port will be disappointed by this news, but at least the battery pack may have better life than the equivalent set of AA batteries would.

Finally, he confirmed that the NXT units can talk to one another using Bluetooth (but not using USB, as the NXT’s USB port is “slave only”), and that they will have a single address space rather than the current RCX design which segments the memory into five partitions for different programs.
[tags]Dacta[/tags]

Mindstorms strikes again

Published / by Bill

A little over a week ago I finally got around to ordering a [tag]LEGO[/tag] [tag]Mindstorms[/tag] set for the first time. I’ve been a LEGO fan for years but never got around to trying Mindstorms, LEGO’s [tag]robotics[/tag] kit that has been around since 1998. One big reason was that I usually buy LEGO in increments of $10-100 at a time, not the $200 that the Mindstorms Robotics Invention System would have cost. When I did get around to buying it, I chose the educational version from LEGO Education (aka Pitsco aka [tag]Dacta[/tag]). I got the ROBO Technology Set for $159 which should arrive in a few days.

Just a day or so after that, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, LEGO announced their next-generation Mindstorms kit, the Mindstorms NXT. Boasting a new 32-bit processor, Bluetooth, built-in USB 2.0, and a whole new set of motors and sensors, the new system promises to bring LEGO robotics to a whole new level. An article in Wired magazine shows how they involved adult LEGO fans to help design the new product, which was a great move by LEGO. They’re finally starting to realize that adults are a significant part of their customer base – and 50% of their robotics customer base, according to their own numbers. Hopefully they will be as accepting of “hacking” the new kit as they were of the original one. I bet someone gets Linux running on it by year’s end!

I’m looking forward to getting my new old Mindstorms set, but I’ll still be counting the days until I can get the new version in the fall when it comes out…